Monday, August 31, 2009


The sky is still blue, but I detect an occasional whiff of smoke as the wildfires north of here continue spreading. The major thing we have going for us is that we in Orange County have burned relatively recently. Some of those places had not had a major burn in 30 years, I heard, and the undergrowth was thick and brittle, ready to burn in this hot dry weather.
If I were a picture taking sort, I would post a picture of the great white clouds off in the hills, looking like some mythical snow-covered island in the distance. They look so impressive, and because they are not dark, so unthreatening, but I hear that they signal unpredictable weather patterns caused by the fires. They can bring about tornados, windstorms, and other strange things (strange for this area, anyhow), that would only worsen the fires.
I have heard some amazing stories of people refusing to leave their homes, believing they'd be safe if they stayed in their hot tubs, for instance. They were badly burned, almost killed. Unbelievable how stupid people can be.

Sunday, August 30, 2009

District 9

Last night I went to see the science fiction film District 9. I had been meaning to go see it, but since I am teaching a text that is somewhat similar ("Bloodchild," by Octavia Butler), I decided that it would be a good time to go see the film.
The film was partially an allegory about racism/apartheid, made in South Africa, with a Boer main character. For those who do not remember, the Boers are the people in South Africa of German/Dutch background. They were the founders of apartheid, and the enforcers of racist laws, though of course, the rest of the white population didn't protest too loudly against these policies, for the most part.
In this film, an alien ship stalls over Johannasburg, drops something, and just sits there. The people break into the ship and find millions of dying insectoid aliens. Strangely, they decide to bring these aliens to earth and put them behind barbed wire, into compounds. They do not let them go home or try to communicate them, but instead institute apartheid against them, and use them for medical research, etc.
I won't spoil this for you in case you go to see it, but I can tell you that the main character changes in some unexpected ways.

Friday, August 28, 2009

Picture posted below

I have posted a lovely picture of my yoga teacher, Denise, meeting with Mr. Iyengar, the guru and founder of our school of yoga. As an American, I struggle with the idea of accepting any one individual, however wise and gifted, as a guru, but Denise, though she is as western as I, if not American, has managed to overcome that.


It's horribly hot outside, and parts of the state are burning up. Of course, arsonists always see an opportunity in this kind of weather, and start already flammable tinder going. All I want to do is lie around here and sleep. I never have woken up properly today, although I have managed to go to yoga class, prepare classes for next week, and meet with a student who just added the class. The sky here still looks blessedly blue, not full of smoke, and I hope it stays that way, though I know it's fire season.
I wonder what to do with my parents tomorrow. I don't want to take them to the farmer's market in such weather, though I could forego yoga and take them very early in the morning. Then I could go to the 12:30 yoga class in Mission Viejo. There isn't a movie I think they'd want to see right now, though my dad has been watching DVDs on his new player (I bought it for him last week). So far, he has watched Defiance, Field of Dreams, and I forget what else. We went to the library last week to get some DVDs, and will go back tomorrow to return them and choose others. It's best if dad doesn't spend too much time sitting out in the sun in the garden. The air may not be smoky, but it's pretty lousy quality.

Thursday, August 27, 2009

More poems

There are more poems. I sent a bunch (the Santiago Canyon Suite, that group of poems I wrote on the Wilderness Workshops) to a journal that published women's formed poems after seeing a group of Marly's there. I haven't heard from them, not even an acknowledgement, so I don't know if I ever will hear. I also sent some to Arch and some to another journal I read about in Reb's blog, The Mark on the Wall. I don't, unfortunately, remember what I sent, so I am not going to send anymore poems for a while, unless I write new ones. I know I can send Tzimtzum out again. I think I also sent the parrot poem and one other to Headless Horseman, so I might be able to send those out, but I've got to keep tabs on things from now on!

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Rejects After All

It seems I spoke too soon and too confidently a while back about the things I have sent out. I got two rejects today from journals--one from Qarrtsiluni, for the latest poem I sent out, Tzimtzum. They liked it, but decided it didn't fit the theme of the issue. They asked for spells, incantations, etc. The other was from Headless Horseman--I think that was the journal's name, a call for submissions from Reb's blog that I answered. I thought their rejection was a bit snide, unless I am reading it wrong. "Good luck getting these pieces into another journal," or something of the sort. Oh well. The thing is to keep on going. Two down and several more to go. I have more things out now--the hint fiction stuff, the blog nomination for an anthology, a story to The New Yorker, of all places (why not get rejected from the best?), the Real Simple growing up entry for their contest, a laundromat poem for an anthology about that subject, and a piece of autobiographical stuff at Riverteeth. I can't remember whether there are any more poems out there. There might be. I won't send anything out for a while, just in case.

First day of class

As Lou warned in her blog, the writing classes were really full this semester. I had people standing all along each wall and on the floor, so that I had to choose names out of a hat and dismiss the rest. All the same, no one I sent APC codes to in that second class has added yet. All the ones I sent them to in the first class have already added. Already, this class has involved some shenanegans, though for a good reason. This class has several of my son's old baseball and basketball buddies in it, and one neighbor who is friends with my son. One of these, a kid transferring from San Diego State, whose father is dying of brain cancer, couldn't come to the first day because his father is about to die. So he sent another kid I know from baseball, but haven't seen in 10 years, to sit in for him. This kid answered to the other one's name, but he didn't look like the boy I remembered at all. I chalked it up to faulty memory or changed kid, and administered the diagnostic to him, along with the rest. Today I got a note from the kid who was actually signed up for the class, saying that that was NOT him, and that that kid was not supposed to present himself as the other one. Truth is, had he told me who he was, I would not have accepted that, so probably he did save the first kid's space in the class, but now I have to discard the diagnostic that 2nd kid wrote and re-administer it to the real kid tomorrow! So complicated!
By the way, there's a brand new, much better version of the new story below.

Tuesday, August 25, 2009


It's high holiday season again, the busiest time for the synagogue choir. We've trucked out our music and trained our rusty voices on the old standards and a few relatively unfamiliar tunes, preparing for our big moments of the year, the days we'll be up there singing all day, while the people in the audience doze off or whisper to each other under their breath.
On these days, particularly Yom Kippur, people spend so many hours in the sanctuary you can catch them doing almost anything. Siblings fight, parents admonish, people flip ahead to a more interesting part of the service. Meanwhile, from the bimah, we see it all, getting a rabbi's eye view.

Saturday, August 22, 2009

New and Improved!

Phone Games
The aged black spaniel gave a half hearted woof and started to her feet, then thinking better of it, sank down again in the sunlight on the worn rug, strewn with rings of pile roses that used to be red. The telephone was ringing, and I, as conditioned as any lab rat, was running down the steps to get it before my mother could pick it up. That would be a disaster because the call had to be for me, and she might then spend time talking to whoever it was, asking questions. The telephone was always ringing, except when I was already on it.
It was Terri again, calling to tell me about a new telephone hangout where kids could meet. They called a particular number—7730—and instead of connecting with an operator or an exchange, the phone blatted three times, like a calf calling for its mother. Between these tones, there was about 30 seconds during which kids could call out their names and phone numbers, at least until the phone company discovered this new pastime.
“Uh huh, Terri,” I said dubiously. I wasn’t too sure I wanted to be friends with her anymore, but at 14, I wanted to believe the best of people, wanted to be kind and forgiving, and in any case, it had been a while since those things happened, and besides, I was bored, so I put aside these suspicions, which in the light of day seemed slightly paranoid anyway. Why would Terri want to harm me? Why would anyone?
So I picked up the phone gingerly, staring into its dark depths, and dialed the number. Curiosity took over from there. Sure enough, I heard the tones, then, in the crackly silence before the next set began, the faint voice of someone calling out his number, sounding vaguely like he was calling from the moon. I found a stubbly red pencil and an envelope, scribbling the number down. It wasn’t an exchange I knew, not from this part of the city. I sat down in the chair, stacked with crackly old newspapers brown at the edges and telephone books, making myself comfortable.
“Hello?” the voice said. It was the voice I had heard a few minutes before.
“Did you just get my number from 7730?”
“Yes. What’s your name?”
“Mike,” he said. “I live in Kensington.”
“Hello Mike.” Before I knew it, I had blurted out my name.
“Where do you live?”
“I’d rather not say.” After all, I didn’t know this person at all. Maybe he wasn’t even a kid.
“That’s okay,” he said. “You have my number. You can call me back if you want to.”
“Okay Mike. What grade are you in?” Even if this guy lived in a totally different part of town, one where I would not be welcome, I could still be friendly, I reasoned.
“I started high school this year,” he said in an uncertain voice. “I should tell you that no one likes me. I’m crippled and really ugly.”
I felt a hot surge of pity. “I’m sure that’s not true, Mike.”“It is. I don’t have any friends.”
“I’ll be your friend,” I said nobly. “It doesn’t matter to me what you look like.”
This part wasn’t altogether true, but I didn’t want the boy to feel bad, and I didn’t have to date him. I could be his friend.
“Okay then. I warned you,” he said in a gravelly voice.
Just then, my mother called me in to supper. I said goodbye and promised to call again. It was probably best, I decided, not to mention this to my mother, who was the nervous type. I generally didn’t tell my parents much. They weren’t really listening anyway.
The dining table was covered with a fading plastic table cloth and placemats printed with daisies. Tuesday, so it must be roast beef. Every week, without fail, except for birthdays and holidays, my mother followed the same inevitable round of dishes—Monday, salmon cakes, Tuesday, roast, Wednesday fried fish, etc… .We never went out to eat, and my mother almost never tried any new recipes, which dad would not have liked anyway. No matter what we were eating, there was always the same pale iceberg lettuce salad and mashed potatoes with lumps the size of golf balls. My father thought no one could have a meal, any kind of meal, without potatoes and a plastic pitcher of “bug juice”—an overly sweet mixture my dad made by dumping cans of frozen juice—guava, orange, pineapple, apple, and orange-- into the pitcher, creating a liquid roughly the color and thickness of burning gasoline. No one said anything. The T.V. news blared in the background.
My father sat across from me, shielded by the newspaper. I heard his steady chewing, and the sound of huge spoonfuls of mashed potatoes landing on his plate, but he didn’t say anything, except for an occasional grunt when my mother asked him a question. My mother, on the other hand, ran back and forth between the kitchen and the dining room adding containers of butter, leftover corn, and salad dressing to the already crowded table. As she ran here and there, she kept up a constant chatter to me, to the dog, to no one in particular.
I don’t remember us ever having any conversations at the table, but arguing at dinner was another thing. Once, when my father and I were having a nasty disagreement about the war, just as we sat glaring at each other across the table, having said everything we had to say, the big hanging fixture over the table started to sway on its long elastic cord, attached to the ceiling. My father looked at me, his face red, looking as if he’d like to whack my head off. Suddenly, something shifted; bits plaster fell into the salad, and the cord gave way. The saucer-shaped fixture full of dustballs and dead flies plopped into the bowl of mashed potatoes, splattering mashed potatoes over all three of us. It made me laugh, wiping the gobs of mashed potato out of my hair, but I was the only one laughing.
Today, I only wanted to get dinner over with fast, so I could call Mike back or see who else was on the phone exchange, so I ate like my father, without looking up, and took the plate into the kitchen, dropping it into the sink without a word.
I patted the dog’s soft black fur and fondled her long spaniel ears we walked up the stairs together to use the phone in my parents’ room. Soon I was dialing again, but no one was there, not even Mike or Terri, so I took the dog for a walk in the park down the block.
At the park, a couple of little kids who had broken free of their mothers were climbing up the hot metal shute of the spiral slide and running through the sprinklers, leaving wet footprints that spread like ink on the hot steamy pavement. It might be nice to be so easily pleased.
The stink of ginko fruit filled the air. The city set out to plant only male trees because of the awful smell of the female fruit, like acres of fermented dog crap, but had accidentally planted all female trees instead. Their angel wing leaves left lovely shadows on the ground, but this time of year, the smell carried for miles.
I wondered for a moment whether it was a mistake to keep calling that guy Mike. But my life was so desperately boring I couldn’t resist the opportunity to do something different, to meet new people who would not sound exactly like those I already knew, people who were not in books, but in the real world.
For a week, I spoke to people on the exchange. Soon I came to know all of them. There was always Mike, Terri, a few from school, some boys from Central High School, utter snobs who would have nothing to do with the likes of me—too young, they said. After a while, Mike began pressuring to meet me.
“You said you were my friend.” His voice took on a hard, wheedling tone. “I should have known you were only saying that.”
“You know I mean it.” An edge of guilt pressed on me, like something sharp.
“Then come and meet me. What harm could it do? I know you’re just a friend.”
I instinctively pulled down the leg of my shorts, feeling exposed and uncomfortable, but agreed to meet him at a movie theater in his neighborhood, if he would promise to come alone. After I hung up though, I felt I had made a mistake. But I didn’t want to be a bad or untruthful person. I wanted to be as good as my word.
So the following Saturday, I boarded the Frankford Elevated train, peering anxiously out the window for the stop where he had told me to get off. I knew it was the 4th stop down from where I got on. It wasn’t so easy to tell where I was otherwise because all the platforms, signs, and empty wall space were covered with graffiti. Even the train windows were filled from frame to frame with territorial tags, in red, black, or blue, leaving only the odd corner from which I could scan the landscape for familiar landmarks.
The train lurched and creaked its way around the track, looping through warrens of abandoned buildings, rooftop signs advertising The Starlight Ballroom, which had shut down long before I was born, and turban-shaped roof fans. Sometimes a child would wave from the window of a building as they passed or a woman would look up as she hung the family wash in the courtyard, passing her hand over her eyes to shield them from the bright flash of the train in the sunlight. I wondered about all the lives going on down there, in a place very different from my own dull suburban neighborhood, and thought perhaps it was a good thing after all that I was venturing into one of those places, whatever the doubt I might be feeling. But it was too late now; I put these fears out of my mind and concentrated instead on what I would talk about with Mike.
I got off the train, following Mike’s directions. The stores here were narrow and old, their paint peeling. While in my neighborhood the smell of fresh rye bread filled the air, here the market advertised Wonder Bread and Miracle Whip. Pictures of smiling pigs adorned the butcher shop. Soon the movie theater came into view.
I wore a short, bright red and white striped mini dress and white tights, dark wild curls blowing around my face, looking entirely out of place in this neighborhood, where the women and girls looked at me in disapproval, dour and suspicious, dressed in their mid-calf skirts and neutral colored slacks, broad hats shielding them against the sun.
The marquee at the theater advertised a movie featuring the Rat Pack… something I would never think about seeing under normal circumstances. Frank Sinatra was someone my father liked, not at all my usual choice. I hadn’t thought to ask about the movie we would be seeing.
Then, in front of the theater, I saw a knot of boys standing expectantly by the door. There were four of them. In the center, I recognized immediately, stood Mike, exactly as he had described himself. His face was a swollen mass of acne, red and oozing. His hair stuck out in straw-like hanks like an albino porcupine’s quills. He leaned on a crutch, and grinned like a grotesque jack o’ lantern. Even his eyes, though not pink, like a real albino’s, were horrible, magnified three times the usual size by thick lenses. I almost turned and ran, but pricked on by guilt, kept moving forward, remembering the promise not to be dissuaded by the boy’s looks, even if he had broken his promise to come alone.
I willed my face to look pleased.
“Hi!” I said brightly. “I didn’t expect you’d bring your friends.”
“They wanted to come,” Mike said, glancing sideways at the boys who flanked him on both sides, all of them wearing some variation on the uniform of plaid short sleeved shirt, work pants, and heavy work boots, their hair parted and slicked back on the sides and topped by sad looking plaid caps like fallen layer cakes. It struck me that Mike certainly seemed to have friends, though he had sworn on the phone that he had none at all. I was the one who was alone, unprotected.
I thought immediately about Terri, who had told me about the exchange. I tried to squelch the feeling of betrayal, tried to believe I was wrong about Terri, about the boys’ intentions.
Like guards, the boys on either side of Mike took my arms, not too tightly, but they made it clear I wasn’t going anywhere now, so I slipped like a prisoner into the theater’s worn lobby. Old posters for movies that had long ago passed through my neighborhood movie theaters lined the walls, coming attractions here. The smell of popcorn made me feel vaguely sick.
As the boys laughed among themselves, asking each other which of the Rat Pack they liked best and ignoring me, I looked down the dark aisle and tried to make some kind of plan. Digging my feet into the worn pile of the carpet, I sat down on the very end of the row, holding onto the arms of the chair as hard as I could, but the boys pushed me into the middle, toward the dark wall, on an empty row near the back of the near-empty theater. Fear rose in my throat like swallowed rocks, and I tried to climb over the red velvet seats, their plush worn bald in spots, to a row in front or in back of me, but the boys held me with their strong arms, laughing.
After a few minutes of frantic groping, struggling with more strength than I knew I had, I finally squeezed through the group and ran out the door into the bright sunlight, vomiting in the gutter, the sound of Sinatra and the boys’ raucous laughter in my ears.
I half ran, half walked to the subway stop, looking behind me in a panicked way, but the boys didn’t follow, didn’t even come out of the theater. Once on the train, in the overly bright light of the compartment, I glanced down at my laddered white tights, where a line of scarlet menstrual blood marked my right leg, almost down to the ankle, feeling that I had been here once before.

Friday, August 21, 2009


I have so many things out at magazines and contests right now, I'm afraid to send anything else out, in case I have already sent it somewhere. Of course, I haven't kept track of what I sent. So I'll let it ride for a while, and promise myself that I will note in the future what I sent out to whom and when.
It reminds me of the many job hunts I have carried out in the past. There is always the feeling that the next one or the next will do the trick. So I kept on going. But I think I have much more luck with sending out my work than with applying for jobs. I hope that holds true when it comes to farming out a manuscript, but it probably won't.

Thursday, August 20, 2009


This afternoon I went to see Mizayaki's new animated feature, Ponyo, which he intended as a children's film. Generally, his films are somewhat too intense for children, although they are animated and have child protagonists. They are mythical fables, intensely imaginative and wonderfully rendered. This one, however, was genuinely suitable for children, but that did not stop it from being delightful from the beginning to the end, particularly to someone, like me, who loves to read children's books and see children's films, when they are well done.
Many of Mizayaki's stories are ecological in theme, and feature a disaffected anti-hero sorcerer who is not really human. This one was no exception. It was a re-telling of the little mermaid, but without the sad tone of the Grimm version.
Just as there is always a sorcerer who plays the antagonist in this director's films, there is often a powerful nature goddess, and she was here as well. Ponyo, of the title, is the daughter of the sorcerer and the goddess, who is kept in a bubble under the sea by her father, who seeks to keep her away from all things human, though he was once human himself.
The story resonates on many levels, though the children in the audience had no trouble assimilating it either. I urge you to overcome the notion that it is purely for children, and go see it yourself.

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

Torah Again

Last night we discussed a part of Judaism one would believe did not have much to do with us today: those sections, Vayikra and Tzav, where the intricacies of animal sacrifice in the temple are described. There are rules there for what should be sacrificed, how, for each purpose.
We had all been taught that modern, Rabbinical Judaism had purged these barbarisms from the faith, and taken Judaism in a more rational direction, but we learned that this is not really so.
It seems this part of Judaism is very much alive in the symbols and ideas of the modern faith. Of course we were repelled and amazed by the amount of blood these sacrifices involved, blood that had to be dabbed on the priests' right ears, right thumb, right big toe and splashed against the altar. We discussed a commentary's reading of this: it connects to the purification of the sense of hearing, the work of the hands, the action of the body, and also how, if the temple actually existed as described (since this is not at all certain), the sensory overload for those present must have been incredible. The incense, smell of blood, noise of the people and animals, screams of the dying creatures, smoke of burning meat must have been incredible, enough to bring on religious visions or induce fainting spells, rather like the Greek oracle and her noxious fumes, but here, everyone present must have been affected.
We discussed how this system of sacrifices was a sort of confession to the community, since even if everyone were not present when the animals one brought were sacrificed, in a small town like the community in the desert, one year after the Exodus from Egypt, everyone would know, depending on the kind of offering they saw you bringing to the temple, exactly what you had done wrong. That took us to a discussion of Yom Kippur, a collective confession, and of course, Catholic confession.
Strangely, we found all sorts of connections here, not only to our own lives and what we had been taught (about the laws of kasruth, for example, and the taboo against blood), but also to Christianity. One can see exactly where the practice of indulgences came from in Catholicism, straight out of this section of the Torah, and the symbology of Jesus as the Lamb of God, since a whole animal, a sheep or a goat, was sacrificed whole for the sins of the community in the temple.
I also got an insight about the holiday of Chanukah, which, I realized after reading this, is meant to remind us about the two great temples that were destroyed by invading powers, but which lurk behind many of the symbols and practice of modern Rabbinical Judaism.
Next session we will delve into the laws of kashruth, but we dabbled in those even last night. I had always thought that the taboo against blood (koshered animals are drained of it and menstruating women are strictly forbidden in Orthodox communities to touch men, and this leads to an elaborate system by which men cannot touch any woman, and women are separated in synagogues from men, in case they might be menstruating or otherwise tainted) centered on the notion that women and their blood were unclean, but the torah put me straight on this: it is all about power, the power of life women share with God.
It reminded me of a memory I am not sure is a real memory. When I was 11 and began menstruating, I remember my mother slapping my face, hard. I am not sure it actually happened, but there is a tradition of doing that when a girl gets her first period. Of course, there was great shame connected with that. It probably did happen. Another woman at the table also remembered her mother doing it, but her mother had prepared her for it, and interpreted the act (a tap, in her case, rather than a slap) as a way of being sure that the roses always remained in her cheeks, now that she was a young woman.
I do remember for sure that even though my mother had prepared me by giving me books about the reproduction system to read I, had a visceral reaction when I saw that red red blood--I screamed that my insides must be falling out. I was terribly afraid. Of course, I was very young, not the teenager that many girls are when they get their first periods. I was alarmed at the signs of puberty, which made me a kind of freak among the young, flat girls, unburdened by sanitary napkins and still able to run shirtless down the driveway in the rain.

Monday, August 17, 2009

Bird Line

The other day I was driving back from yoga class along Coast Highway. The crazy traffic of Laguna Beach in summer had given way to the relatively open road, but above me, the sky was filled with a perfectly aligned queue of pelicans, just above and to the left of my car, flying along the shoreline. I wish I could have taken a picture, but you'll just have to trust me when I say that they flew along with me for miles, not in the famed V formation of flocking birds, but in a clothesline of big brown pelicans, slightly staggered, but not a feather out of place, as orderly as the quiet breakers on the sand.

Sunday, August 16, 2009

Revolving Sushi

Last night we went to our friend Manny's birthday dinner at Kuru Sushi, Costa Mesa. Besides being tasty, this sushi is cleverly presented on a revolving belt that entices you with new varieties of sushi, salads, dessert, and other treats as it goes around, passing close to the table each time. Unfortunately, the way things are set up, the people closest to the belt have to take orders from the other, and pass things down. Soon the table is littered with plates of different colors and patterns, each signifying a different price range, and lids that once covered those small plates. The food is good, and very fresh... reasonable for what it is. Sushi can get extremely pricey, but this is truly reasonable. I ate all together too much, which is often the case in such situations. The same happens with dim sum, where I am enticed by the variety and the excitement of the hunt, hastening to grab whatever catches my eye before it goes away. The result is a stomachache and a thinner wallet. However, we all had a good time eating, talking, and celebrating.

Saturday, August 15, 2009


Last night we finally got around to watching the film Defiance on cable. You may recall that it is the true story of the Bielski brothers, during the 40s in Russia. When the Nazis came and wiped out their village, they were off smuggling or engaging in some other shady business. They were used to hiding from the police, so when they arrived at the village to find their father dead and their little brother hiding in the root cellar, traumatized, they took to the woods. As their stay there went on, they accumulated a group of ill-equipped women, elderly people, and children from the Warsaw ghetto and the nearby Jewish villages and towns. The eldest brother amazingly taught all of them to wield weapons and build structures, till they had a synagogue, a school, a hospital, and underground tunnels.
Last year, his grand daughter came to our synagogue and showed us footage from a documentary she was making about her grandfather. It is an amazing and very moving story. Though the characters in the movie we saw last night are poorly defined, it is exciting and worth watching, especially thinking about the truth behind this tale.
The guy was certainly a modern Moses, and the experience shaped him in unexpected ways.

Friday, August 14, 2009

Jeremy's 19th birthday!

Today is Jeremy's birthday. As usual, he is at work. But we did manage to get in lunch at his favorite Japanese restaurant, down the street, with the three of us and my parents. I vowed to take pictures, but as usual, I had my hands full just managing my parents, making sure they got out of the house, into the car, into the restaurant, and also that my mother didn't choke on her chicken or forget to eat her steak. I needn't have worried; she actually polished off most of her sizeable lunch--teryaki steak and chicken, miso soup, rice, and eggrolls. She didn't touch the salad, as usual. There are always many errands to do with my parents, many places to stop. Generally, they stay in the car, with the windows rolled down, and wait for me to come back from Kohls, Trader Joe's, the drugstore, or wherever. Consequently, I am totally fried by the time I get back home. We had to make a detour to my house because Jeremy wouldn't eat his ice cream pie at the restaurant. He wanted us to eat it at home, and it is always very very hard to make sure everyone makes it safely into the house and finds a place to sit, etc. Even after I dropped them off, I couldn't switch off the errand meter: I tried to drop off a big bag of mom's "outgrown" pants at Goodwill, only to find the drop off box gone. AM I DOOMED to drive around forever with this crap in my trunk? I think there are things down at the bottom that I have been missing, like that lost book of high holiday sheet music. Sigh.

Thursday, August 13, 2009

Exam Day!

Today is the exam--the very last day of summer session. I am glad to have this 6 weeks over with, and 10 students officially still on the roster. I don't think all 10 will show for the exam. My guess is that two students who have not been doing well (Ds on the 2nd paper) will not show up today to take the exam. Of course, they never asked me for help, and didn't, so far as I know, go to Wr. 180. Oh well. Six weeks is not long enough for some to get the practice they need. Probably at least one of these students shouldn't have been in Wr. 1 at all, to tell the truth.
I took my dad to the spine specialist. It was one of those appointments that required an hour of waiting (at least) and took about 15 minutes once the doctor came in. Sigh. No problems we didn't already know about. That's good, right?

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

Busy Day

Last day is the last class day of the summer semester; tomorrow I will give the final, so no more teaching this semester after today. I am glad, as this class is very difficult. I think some of the students are still very young, though perhaps not as young as some of the ones I have lost.You have to lead them by the hand, or they will not do anything on their own.
Because there was not much prep to do, I went this morning to the eye doctor to get new glasses. I have been having to wear my glasses to read, which is a brand new phenomenon, so I thought my eyes were worse. But the doctor, one I used to go to at UCI years ago when he was there, told me they are actually better. He just wanted to change the lenses in my current glasses, but I want some new ones, in a completely different configuration, even though it is costing me a few hundred dollars. Actually, with the insurance we have, even for the deluxe frames, bifocals, etc., it is less than $300., while without it would have been almost $800.!
They are very stylish and lightweight, and feel as though I am not wearing glasses at all. In a little over a week, I'll have them.
Right now I am eating a little lunch of shirazi salad made of crisp cubes of Persian cukes, ripe tomato, onion (it's supposed to be red onion, but I used that up for a big container of the stuff last night, which we polished off), olive oil, lime juice, salt, and pepper. I didn't put sumac (the Persian spice) on it because I forgot to. I also made a frozen green onion paratha, a flaky little disc of Indian bread. It was delightful!
Here is the proper recipe, the one I would have made if I weren't so pressed for time and ingredients:
Two med or one large tomatoes, cored and cubed. Throw out seeds. You can use cluster tomatoes, Romas, or any kind, but if it isn't a Roma, throw out the seeds.
Two med. Persian cukes, peeled and cubed
small handful of fresh shredded mint leaves
chopped parsley to taste (1/4 cup?)
half a small chopped (diced) red onion
juice of one lemon, preferably Meyer or Sweet Lemon/Lime
Two Tblsp. olive oil
salt and pepper to taste, fresh ground
Mix and leave out at room temp for a few minutes before eating.
That ought to feed at least two.
a wee sprinkle of ground sumac, a Middle Eastern spice. Not too much! It's strong.

Tuesday, August 11, 2009

New Season

The Jewish New Year approaches. If I didn't know that already, I could know it by the fact that rehearsal season for the choir at the synagogue has begun again. Last night, we gathered over dinner to chat over about summer doings and to reflect on the people who were missing from our ranks. One member, who was quite elderly and unable to drive anymore moved to Heritage Pointe, a senior community for Jewish people, where they have their own synagogue and choir. Another had a skiing accident last winter, and is now in a wheelchair. Though he does not let this slow him down too much, it makes getting to choir practice and performances kind of tough. Yet another, I have heard, has had a serious operation, but apparently wants to keep mum on this until she has recovered.
Though I didn't sing too well (I'm coming down with a cold passed along by one of my students I think), I enjoyed the rehearsal, stretching out the rusty vocal chords, and looking through the tangled mess of sheet music for the high holiday stuff I need. I didn't find much of it. I have no idea what happened to the rest since this morning, a thorough search netted very little I didn't already know I had.
Perhaps the most evident place my ADHD shows itself is in this department: finding sheet music in my various notebooks. It is unfortunately a rather public extension of my poor housekeeping. Remembering back to my early days in school, where my desk was a hopeless mess compared to the others' orderly storage compartments, this is nothing new. I have somehow never been able to put things in any clear order. This is why making a book out of the various poems I've written over the years is hard for me, I suppose. But not so terrible as all that. Once I got started, I think I can see a way to put the poems together. The music is another story.

Monday, August 10, 2009

Closing on 50 Pages

I figure I need 50 pages worth of poems to make a credible manuscript. I have way more than 50 poems in the stockpile, but I found only 40 or so ready for prime time or anywhere near that, maybe 42 at the outside. At least two are a few pages long. So that's not bad. I need to write a few more poems, work up a few old ones to the point where I might not mind putting them into the good pile. Anyone have any challenges or assignments to get me started turning out a few more?

Saturday, August 8, 2009

Wilderness photo

Since I went to the workshop with Lou this time, and she is a photo taking sort of person, I have more than a poem and memories to show for it. I borrowed this picture of me Lou took at the workshop. There was general consensus that when I finally finish a book, this ought to go on the back cover.

Thank you for your wonderful photography skills, Lou.


I have never sold my textbooks. During all the time I spent at school, I never took a class that involved books I wouldn't want after the class finished. I kept all of them, and probably still have them somewhere to this day, except those that were left at the house on Stirling Street and carted away by the person I hired to take and sell the leavings of that place.
However, my son has no such feelings about his books. Not a book or reading person to begin with, college classes hold for him none of the wonder they held for me. I had always hated high school, where I was taunted and tortured outside the classroom and distained within its doors. Teachers didn't have time to deal with someone as different from the norm as I. Sometimes my differences certainly presented challenges for the teachers, as with my math disability. It was easier for them to assume I was stupid, ignoring my performance in English and history, and to let me quickly sink to the bottom and drown in those classes. In English, the teachers often assumed that the work I was doing was plagiarized, and said as much to me. No one with the lack of brains they believed I had could do the work I was turning in. I think about that when I want to accuse someone of plagiarism. I need fairly solid proof that it was not done by the student.
But my son told me to pack up and sell his books, so not having any experience in this department, I went to Amazon and learned how to sell them. I looked up the going price for the books, and listed them. In 5 minutes, one of them was sold. It took overnight to sell the other two. We will use the proceedings to pay for his algebra book, which costs $179.00 new and $117. used.

Friday, August 7, 2009

Poem from the Wilderness

I've been thinking about that Torah portion we read in the group the other day. When I went out to sit in the dark at Red Rock, here's what emerged. It's also relevant to say that the workshop leader, Thea Gavin, told us this before we started: "We're going north at the rate of 1-2" a year; soon we'll be in Alaska if we sit here long enough."

A girdle of red rocks rings me round,
cloud by day, and fire by night,
they swell and shift in the fading light.
Just under a jigsaw edge of sky,
the full moon ripens, prepares to rise,
carving the dark with its golden knife.
Is there room for me in the tent of night?
The sullen sky spills it sack full of stars,
as if to say, "Better stay where you are."

Wilderness hike with Lou

Last night I went on a hike at Red Rock with Lou and the wilderness workshop led by Thea Gavin. We went to write and to watch the Red Moon (one of August's two full moons!) rise. This moon is also called the Sturgeon Moon because those fish are apparently running at this time in some parts of the country.
The red rocks themselves were quite amazing, as red as a hunk of uncooked beef. Everything growing was sere and dry though, so the workshop leader focused on the sense of hearing. Disappointingly, my ears didn't cooperate. I am largely deaf, so didn't hear the dueling great horned owls that everyone else raptly listened to in the dark. However, the moon rise was spectacular. Not being the picture taking kind though, I didn't snap it. I wrote a poem, but am still working on it.

Thursday, August 6, 2009

Bug Lady Reconsiders

When I was a kid, the taunting multitudes in my neighborhood used to call me "bug lady" because I collected caterpillars and other insects and read about them and other natural history voraciously. However, this interest always had its distinct limits: anything that buzzed or stung.
This came home to me again a couple of days ago out in the parking lot at the college, where I was strafed by a gigantic, loud, bright green scarab beetle, who seemed to want to get into my extremely hot car. I, however, did not want to get into the car with this creature, which was buzzing like a very small engine plane, frantically bumping against the windshield and windows of the car and going inside the open door. Meanwhile, I merely stood there, watching its angry bumbling about, unless it got too close for comfort.
Yes, I know--scarab beetles do not sting, bite, or otherwise harm humans. But it was big and loud and reminded me of a hornet, so I had a strong aversion to it. I kept trying to keep in mind the scarab's ancient symbology, its role in Egypt as a fertility totem and a sign of eternal life, its gorgeous laquered green wings, etc. But I couldn't help it... when it got close, it was just a gigantic insect with suspect motives.
It made me think also about a story my mom used to tell about her days in the airforce in South Africa. Despite being popular as a young woman, my mother's size (like mine) made her the victim of bullying. In the airforce, some cruel women in her bunk decided to ridicule her one night when she was out on a date by sewing divebombing beetles, like the one in the parking lot, into her bed clothes. She got into the bed in the dark, and suddenly her sheets began buzzing angrily and actually lifted slightly off the bed as the beetles tried to escape. My mother, very skittish and less accepting of critters than I anyway, freaked out and started to scream. The bunk erupted in laughter.
Seeing Lou's big red dragonfly on her blog made me recall this today.

The End is in sight

The 6 week summer semester ends next week. Before then, however, I will have two sets of papers to grade. I get one of them today, and will get the other, an in class essay, next Thursday.
The students, meanwhile, are blithely floating along, not taking this assignment seriously at all. I would say about half have not bought the text (The Turn ofthe Screw, in the Norton Critical Edition) and the rest, save one or two, have not read it at all carefully.
This semester I tried something new: I heard about an online site called Book Glutton, where classic (and other texts) are available to read collectively. One can chat about particular passages in the "margins," marking them up and discussing them. I thought this would be an excellent idea for this text because it is difficult. Since students like to chat online, perhaps it would make the book a little more palatable and painless, I reasoned. But I did not count on the usual glitches and burps of technology and on my own ineptidude in this department. First I forgot my password and could not get the site to email me a replacement. Then, when I finally got the point and signed up again, starting another group, the students couldn't understand how to sign up for it so we could all chat there. I did acquire two super administrators of the site who are following our discussion, though they haven't joined in. And they did help a little. But now it is too late. We have other fish to fry, and I will have to drop the idea for this semester.

Wednesday, August 5, 2009

Leviticus begins

Last night was another meeting of the Torah group. We finished the book of Exodus and began Leviticus. Exodus was rich and full of Judaism's greatest saga until we got to the Tabernacle section, which is kind of repetitive and dry. Leviticus is all about rules and regulations, but they are strange and interesting in their way, and written in an entirely different sort of voice than the Tabernacle section, so the change is welcome.
The book we were discussing, which I call "Viagra" because the Hebrew name sounds like that, put forward a couple of interesting ideas. The first was the notion that God filled up the entire portable Tent of Meeting when he hovered over it as a cloud by day and a fire by night. Even Moses couldn't go in then because God occupied all the space. But God willingly withdrew just enough to let Moses in. This spurred a conversation about how creation was conceived in Judaism as a kind of relationship, God interacting with creation.
The Jewish mystics had a name for this: Tzimtzum. The idea was that in order to create the world, God had to contract, rather as God contracted in the Tent of Meeting, to make room for the creation. This goes back I suppose to the notion of creating the world as a respiration. The soul, nefesh in Hebrew, is a breath, so this makes sense.
Another thing in the book worthy of notice is the idea that when the priest sins and must make a sacrifice, it is the community that is guilty. Since we all wondered about why Aaron, who made the golden calf, though he offered a lame excuse for it (Gosh darn it! Just threw that lump of gold into the fire, and out came a calf!), was never called to task for it, while thousands of members of the community died of the plague for that reason, I wondered if this doctrine could explain that. Apparently, no one has commented on it, so perhaps I will have to. There are many Torah sites on which I can do that.

Tuesday, August 4, 2009


I'm not sleeping well lately. Usually I think it's because Jeremy comes home in the middle of the night, but last night he apparently called R. when I was already asleep and said he was not coming home but would be staying at a friend's house. I woke up at 2:30 AM anyhow. Usually I get up because he isn't home yet or because the light has been left on, even if he is home, but this time, the lights were out. I couldn't go back to sleep until 5:00 or so, when I had a dream that there was a tiger and her cubs in the house, and she ate one of my cats. Strangely, it was the house in Philadelphia, not the one where we live now. R. woke me up before he left, at about 6:15, and I was still enmeshed in the dream, and could hardly manage to wake up properly at first. Generally I jump out of bed without any trouble, but lately I do not sleep at all well.

Sunday, August 2, 2009

Yoo Hoo! It's Molly Goldberg at the Movies

Today I took my parents to see the documentary on The Goldbergs, the old radio and tv show from the 30s-50s. It was the brainchild of an amazing pioneer of women in modern show biz, Gertrude Berg. I don't remember ever having seen the show, and was not even born when the radio show was on (it started on Black Tuesday of the Depression), but I certainly remember people talking about Molly Goldberg, as if she were a real person rather than a character on TV's first sit com. Jews of course regarded her stardom with pride; she was a huge star, not only among Jews and easterners though, but among most people at that time, and she introduced people who knew nothing of Judaism to Passover by doing a seder with a real rabbi on the radio in her show. I was proud to learn about her, even now, and her amazing talent. She wrote thousands of scripts for her daily radio and tv show, acted on Broadway, and as a 13 year old, effectively ran her father's hotel in the Catskills. If she had the opportunity to go to college, I am sure she would have performed brilliantly there as well.
My mom didn't remember the show at all, and wasn't very interested in the movie. The only movie I have ever seen her enjoy in recently years was Up, actually. It is difficult to maneuver them around in movie theaters, as one might imagine. They almost end up on the floor because they don't know how to manage the seats and can't see in the dark. I have to hang on to them and guide them carefully. Sometimes I ask an usher to help by holding a flashlight on the seats. Then they want popcorn and manage to spill stuff everywhere. But today was relatively event free. My dad was exhausted by the time he got to his seat and slept through much of the movie, but when he was awake, he said he enjoyed it.

Saturday, August 1, 2009

93 Skidoo!

Yesterday was my father's 93rd birthday. We went to the Seoul Garden Korean BBQ in Tustin, where you grill your own stuff at the table. It's always fun and good for a party.
My dad is still subdued, much more quiet than I have ever seen him. However, this didn't affect his appetite. He chowed down seriously, and didn't say a word. Jeremy says that's how we can tell that he likes what he's eating, and he's a person who likes his food for sure.
The caregiver, Susie, came too. She was really helpful. It can get a bit hairy getting my parents out of the car. Sometimes my dad is impatient, and he tries to walk around to get his walker before I can get out of the car on his very unsteady legs. My mom, meanwhile, is complaining that she can't remember how to undo the seat belt, or she has figured it out and is threatening to open the door, possibly knocking my dad to the ground. Sometimes even after I jump out of the car, get the walker out, wheel it around to my dad, the problems haven't ended. Once I turned around to help my mom and the walker rolled across the parking lot. Another time, when I suddenly became ill and had to go to the bathroom, leaving my parents to fend for themselves, it rolled away, and my mom opened the door and knocked my dad down, as I'd always feared. A samaritan had to help them right themselves.

REMINDER: Send your short-short stories in this month!

You might recall that I mentioned an upcoming anthology of short stories, 25 words or less (hint fiction). It's time to send them on to the following URL: