Thursday, December 31, 2009

Happy New Year Everyone!

Today I went over my parents to try to pay the owner or his representative for the 12 days I said we would stay. But he wouldn't take it until I looked at his offer and either accepted it or turned it down. I will turn it down, but first I will talk to my dad one more time about it, just in case he changes his mind.
I had a conversation with my mom, who makes no sense at all anymore. She told me how the people who visit her come mostly in the morning and around dinner time. Then they disappear. She seemed disappointed, frustrated, since they sometimes disappear in the middle of a conversation, apparently. But she says she knows they'll be back. I wonder sometimes what it is she is actually seeing, although I know they most probably are evidence of the Loey's body lesions in her brain, pure figments. Something in me wonders.

Maybe a solution

I called the B of A about the medallion stamp so we could send in the check to be reissued in my father's name. I didn't want to carry them all the way out to the bank, only to have nothing happen again. SO I explained the problem and that person said to open a joint account for them online and add myself later on, then put the check into the bank via ATM. I said great, and opened the account, but then I remembered that my mom isn't capable of signing the check. So I talked to someone on online chat, and they told me it will take 2-3 business days, and then I can bring her into the bank and have her sign the check again, or make a mark on it. With any luck, this will work.

Wednesday, December 30, 2009

The Saga Continues

The people who issued the check for the stock thickened the plot today by telling me that they cannot reissue the check differently unless we transfer ownership of the stock just to my father or to me. To do that, we have to take my mother and father to the bank and ask them to stamp a form with a medallion stamp. They may refuse to do that because my mother is going to be unable to understand what is going on. I will take my power of attorney forms, but they are not originals. I no longer know where the original forms are. I have the feeling this is going to be another nightmare. Meanwhile, I have change of address stuff to do. And I still have not been able to do my syllabus for the upcoming semester, though I have written my first, two part assignment (the first two papers of the class). I have a very good idea where the syllabus should proceed from there, but it is totally a new topic, and I have not done the thing yet. When will I have time to do it, with all of this nightmare stuff unfolding? I wish the bank would just cash the Q#@*E@! check and done with it.

Tuesday, December 29, 2009

The #&@^#(! Bank

Today I am thinking about the things Lou used to write about dealings with her parents' bank, when she was trying to sell their house after they died, how the banks (one of them, anyhow) made things difficult for her, threw bureaucratic obstacles in her way when she didn't need that at all.
I was experiencing just this with the B of A today. Needing some money for my parents' expenses, I sold some of their stock, the last of the halfway valuable stock they had. I had the check since about the day before Christmas, and when I took it over to the bank yesterday, I realized too late that I had forgotten to get it signed by my parents. The banker told me to come back today. He said I could bring one of my parents with, and even without a signature, they would put the check in the account. But when I went to get them to sign it, I found out my mother doesn't know how to write her name anymore. She tried, but just ended up making a huge mess on the back of the check. So I took dad to the bank, and thought that would be good enough. But it turns out that because the check was made out jointly to him and her, and they can't have a joint account because the state of CA refused to issue an ID card to my mom, and she doesn't have any other recent ID, never having driven in any state and being born in another country, the check has to be torn up and reissued, either as two equal checks, one to him and one to her, or with an "or" between their names instead of "and." I am not sure that is possible, but I will call tomorrow morning early, before we leave for the SD Zoo, to find out. I tried calling today, but I was too late, and the office was closed.
Any ideas where we should go eat in San Diego, somewhere on the way back from the zoo? We like funky ethnic places with good food, especially Asian, but R likes Mexican too.

Monday, December 28, 2009

The owner of the new place

I met the owner of the new Board and Care. We were supposed to meet at 11, and so I was a bit put off when I got there and not only was he not there, but had gone shopping and wouldn't be there for another half an hour. I chatted with the main caregiver, who was very nice though she asked a lot of questions.
After a while, the owner arrived. He was a florid, red haired man, maybe about 35, with a nascent pot belly, wearing a clean white shirt and low slung pants of the kind much older men wear, with the stretch waistband. His eyes were pale, slightly faded blue. I heard right away that he had an accent, southern I thought, and asked him where he was from. It turns out he was from Virginia, not far from where Richard's parents live. He was surprised to learn that Richard and his family hail from that area, and that I went to school there too.
He spent a long time talking, speaking very frankly about himself and why he went into this business and why he bought this particular place. Though he is a lawyer, he is not a sharpie.
My parents' caregiver says there are many violations of code in the new house, and she will help him change those things so he won't get in trouble with the state licensing board.
So I told him all about my parents and the terms of our living there and he accepted them. I did not hold back all the difficult things about my parents and asked that the place make an exception for them, getting them washed and dressed at 5:00 or 6:00 AM, whenever they wanted to get up, while most of the time, people have to wait until 7 AM to get washed if they need help.
It was important to my father that he have this modicum of control over his life. He has been an early riser all his life, and he wants to go on being one. The owner says that their caregiver can get them up herself, and she expects to do so.
I think this is going to work, though he admits that we will probably have to move out of the big room if someone with much more money to offer asks to live there. There are lots of empty double rooms with private bathrooms. I think it will work out.

Sunday, December 27, 2009

Giving Notice

By the way, I gave notice this morning by phone, which was awful and horrendous. I feel like a criminal. The guy who used to own the house (and still owns it in everything but name) began to cry and accuse me of betraying him, etc. I stuck to my guns and told him quite bluntly why we are leaving, but I did give in a little, saying I would try to give him some notice, though not 30 days.

Her Fearful Symmetry

I am now exploiting my winter break, reading a fat new novel by Audrey Niffenegger, Her Fearful Symmetry. I loved her previous book, The Time Traveler's Wife, which was made into a movie that looked awful in its posters. I never saw or heard anything else about it but that, so I assume it was fully as bad as the posters made it look. It would be easy to turn the delicate souffle of that book into mush, too much sentiment, etc. Niffenegger is very romantic, in a lyrical, fairy tale sort of way that I love. So even if there are elements of the overly romantic about her work, I eat it up, and so, I imagine, do lots of other women who love books, fantasy, and things of the imagination.
The new book is wonderful in the same way as the other. It features two sets, two generations of girl twins, one twin of the second set the amazing mirror double of the other, internal organs reversed. I have only a week in all to read this book, which I rented from the library. Every day beyond a week is an extra .25. Right now, about 4 days into the rental, I am about half done the book, but probably will finish it in time. I stay up late into the night reading it.

Saturday, December 26, 2009

Lookin for a home

Remember the boll weevil song? I do. And he was, in deep bass tones, "Lookin for a home." So are we, it seems.
We have pretty much decided to leave the board and care where my parents have lived for about 4 years now, so today we visited another one, which is close to the yoga studio where I often practice, the Steinmart we like to shop in, and the Trader Joe's I go to for my parents' groceries (a few treats like gouda cheese, etc.) every week.
The place was amazing. However, we were not able to negotiate a rent, etc. with the owner since he was not there today. However, it is much much nicer than the place they live in. There are several caregivers, not just one, as at the place where they live. The furniture is sparkling new, and the room we saw was absolutely House Beautiful. It had a private bath with a big big tub and shower, a lovely sink, and new toilet/bidet. There is a walk in closet in what would be their room, and lovely french doors leading to the big patio/garden where my dad can keep his plants and worm farm. There is a "fireplace" that is actually a central heater that goes on by itself. The place where they live now is so stingy with heat and air conditioning. This place isn't.
The caregivers do not look half-dead and exhausted because they have shifts, around the clock. Right now there are only three people living in the sizable house, one of them an artist, who had her first commission from the city of L.A. at age 12! She is 86 now, and very chatty. She got up out of bed to meet and talk to us, though she was recently in the hospital because of lung problems she got doing the restoration work she used to do on masterpieces owned by Hearst and L.A. area museums.
My dad would have someone eager to talk to him, which would be great. He doesn't have that now.
I am due to meet with the owner on Monday at 11, and I hope we can reach an agreement. Now the unpleasant part of the deal is that I have to give notice to the place where we live now, and they begged my father to stay. The woman who owns it is a very sweet lovely person, and she works very hard, but she has not been able to hire a caregiver to take my parents' caregiver's place, and I don't know how they will deal with my dad's very complicated medication or my mom's little habits, like throwing all the clothes in her closet on the floor on a regular basis and burying important documents and other things in the wads of used tissues she stashes everywhere.
The only thing that worries me is that if the economy perks up considerably, he may raise the rent beyond our meager means. We really cannot afford to pay anymore than we now do. Even the place where we live wants to raise the rent, or so it says in the contract, which I pointedly have not signed. I'm sure they expect us to leave, and we will. Now I just hope this place works out.

Boxing Day

I plan to go shopping today for a birthday present for my mother in law. I know I'm nuts, but I think I can get a very nice thing for less than it would usually cost, so I'll take a chance of crazy traffic, etc. I probably should have gone out earlier, but I've been cleaning, and it's best not to let that mood pass without taking advantage of it.
I have to do unpleasant things today, looking at a new place to live for my parents. The place where they live now has begged them not to go and threatened the former care giver if she "steals" us that she will be sued. Since I hate dishonesty and underhanded dealings of any kind, as well as giving anyone really bad news, I don't like sneaking around like this and will not at all enjoy telling these people that we are leaving, but I truly feel that they will not be capable of taking care of my parents properly. Between the two of them, they are quite a challenge.
Wish me luck!

Thursday, December 24, 2009

The previous post

The previous post, which I hope is visible as readable English and not computer gobbledygook, is one I wrote for an anthology intended for parents of children with disabilities. Linda Dann is a very good friend of mine who served as an advocate to Jeremy for a number of years, all without taking a cent. She lives in Philadelphia, and does not read blogs, so I sent her the piece by email.

A Village

To Linda Dann

There’s a picture in my mind: a sturdy golden haired child, about three years old, stands on the grass of a sunlit playground, one hand pushed as far as it will go into his mouth, while the other tugs at his earlobe. This was my son, Jeremy, who is now almost a man, at 19, lean and handsome.

I used to ponder, engaged in the toughest task I had ever undertaken, that probably no one would become a parent if she really knew what the job would entail. Fortunately for the continuation of the human race, however, no one would ever believe it if you told her. We all remain trusting and blissfully ignorant, sure in the knowledge that it has all been done, albeit with varying degrees of competence, countless times before. So looking down at the tiny helpless being entrusted to us, splayed like a starfish and wriggling all its four perfect limbs, we feel nothing but love, and the certainty that we will puzzle it all out. And should we hit a snag, well, there are always the countless doctors, experts, and even family wisdom to fall back on.

We imagine ourselves as part of the largest village: parents, but for some, bringing up a child can be the loneliest endeavor of all, and all of the accumulated wisdom in the world does not seem to apply or even to be available to us.

When people don’t understand a phenomenon or the feelings it invokes in them are too strong, they prefer not to see it. This was true of the difficulties presented by my son, who had inherited some pretty heavy neurological baggage: Tourette Syndrome, OCD, ADHD, and most likely bipolar disorder, from my family. Instead of recognizing and treating these disorders early on, however, my son’s doctors and teachers and the community around us seemed invested in the idea that, in the words of one clueless neighbor, my son was simply a “bad apple,” with parents who had caused his problems by inconsistent or absent discipline.

Family elders shook their head, and people in the supermarket shamed me, demanding that I silence my child. The implication was that I in particular, the mother, must be responsible, and of course, genetically I was, so I carried a heavy burden of guilt.

I scrupulously examined my own behavior, and read books on childrearing that I can still find on the shelves around me, though the child has grown. We went to therapists, and applied behavioral methods as elaborate as plans for the invasion of a small country, all to no avail. My son refused to have bowel movements for weeks at a time, refused to eat (lest he have bowel movements), seemed never to sleep, and would rage and cry uncontrollably, apropos of nothing at all.

At the same time, he was frequently a happy little chap, athletic and popular with children his own age, full of energy and charisma. It was not until Jeremy was about seven years old and had developed his first obvious tic—a dry cough that would not go away—that a doctor paid any attention at all.

The cough had begun as a lung infection, so he was treated by a specialist and spent hours on a contraption designed to open his airways. But when the infection subsided, the cough persisted for years, and the steroids he was given by a doctor who suspected allergies caused sustained rages, screaming, violent fits that scared us silly. It would not be the last time that the “cures” doctors prescribed turned out to be much worse than the disease they were intended to treat.

It was not until I begged the boy’s doctor for a referral to a psychiatrist that we finally got a diagnosis of Tourettes. By then, he had the complex arm tic that still surfaces to this day, rippling up from the lower arm to the shoulder, which he would quickly flex like a chicken wing, and the doctor immediately noted it, referring us to a support group sponsored by the Tourette Syndrome Association.

We wept tears of gratitude to know that this problem had a name. Anything with a name has been studied and categorized. Treatments most likely exist for it. Most importantly, we were no longer alone or to blame.

Listening to other parents unburdening themselves at the support group meeting, we learned that others had even less support than we did. Other parents and even family members shunned them and their children, and many had no access to medical insurance. One parent went to 15 doctors before the last finally correctly diagnosed her son.

I took away from this that it was essential that one of us at least become a scholar of the disorder, that we turn our academically trained skills to archiving the latest research on Tourettes Syndrome and the other disorders our son had been diagnosed with, so we could request the latest medication or therapy.

There should be no reason for this. I myself have correctly diagnosed the disorder, and it is not all that uncommon either, but doctors tend to know almost nothing about it, and parents like me have taught them all they know. If I had ever harbored the belief that I could rely on experts, I gave it up now that my son’s education and medical treatment, as well as his social wellbeing, depended entirely upon my own advocacy.

I wrangled on a regular basis with teachers, the principal, the district, who insisted simultaneously and entirely irrationally that our son, intelligent and articulate as he was, didn’t need any special services, while they at the same time complained that he was unmanageable. One teacher, when he was in second grade, a narrow, biased woman seemingly returned from retirement solely to torture our son, left him in a corner facing away from the other children in the class for two months, except during my weekly visits as a volunteer, when he sat as the others did. I only learned about it when another volunteering parent told me, and then I demanded that this treatment stop. It was only threat of legal action that worked to stop it, but by then, the child was despondent, even saying he wanted to die.

I consulted the Internet, and joined a parent support group. That proved to be the best thing I had ever done, both for my son and for us, for it was in other parents that I found the most solid and generous source of advice, information, wisdom, and support, as well as much needed friendship from people who well understood what we had been experiencing. There were thousands of invisible others in cyberspace who had to deal every day with their children’s (and sometimes their own) irrational obsessions and bizarre symptoms, like a friend whose brilliant daughter, gifted intellectually and artistically, insisted there were gremlins in the toilet, or the parent who was several times almost killed by her psychotic child.

We learned how lucky we were to have a child with comparatively mild symptoms, to be capable of advocating for our son, and to have insurance and access to a doctor who recognized the disorders our son had. For the options available to the poor, uneducated, and uninsured are shockingly few and far worse than inadequate, bordering sometimes on the criminal, with children as young as 10 sometimes sent to juvenile hall for exhibiting symptoms of neurological disorders they cannot control.

Though the world has changed in myriad ways since my 93 year old father first exhibited signs of severe Tourettes as a child and was completely abandoned, placed in a charity hospital for months at a time without visitors because people feared non-existent contagion, and thrown out of school for his bizarre outbursts, things haven’t changed much for some. Parents are still often offered no assistance paying for the very expensive medications the children need (and which still, unfortunately, often return uncertain benefits), given no respite to regain their own spent energy. I have seen such parents turn their children over to the state in the mistaken belief that this will get the children the help the parents themselves could not afford. Indeed, in the years I have spoken to parents on TS-Parents group on Yahoo, these problems have seemed to proliferate, not lessen in both frequency and difficulty.

Yet at the same time, for many, there is hope. I speak with old friends from the difficult early days, and learn that their children, like mine, are finding their own ways in the world, are going to college, as my son is, working, having families of their own, learning to cope with their own disorders.

It is at those times that I think of the best and most loving community I have known—the fellowship of parents with children like my own, who have had to fight for their wellbeing, and now turn with generosity to others struggling up the same rocky path. I strive to be one of those parents. Now I pass the mantle to you.

Wednesday, December 23, 2009

More Jeremy

Jeremy and I had one of our little talks again. It always happens when I get a little bent out of shape, and he thinks he can correct that. I had been cleaning out the fridge, thoroughly washing the glass shelves and the bottom, under the crispers. But then I had to get the glass, etc. back into the fridge, and it wouldn't budge. I was afraid I would break it, and became a bit snappish in my effort to get it all done before supper, especially when it turned out that the shredded cheese I needed for Jeremy's dinner of leftover turkey tacos had just been mostly consumed by Richard and he had to go to the store for more.
While Richard made his cheese run, Jeremy started to work on me, pressing me to respond about what made me behave in that way. I finally said that sometimes I didn't want to come home because I was afraid he would start this, and we jointly figured out that it was this very cycle of my avoidance that got him started when I would come home, and he would sense my feeling of anxiety. This would spur in him a compulsion to "fix" things. Since he has OCD, he cannot drop things once he has begun them, spending hours straightening his hair or turning on and off the light incessantly-- or berating me.
Of course, understanding these things is only the first step. One has to know what to do about them. I again asked him to come to the therapist with me, but he hates therapists, having experienced his share of them since childhood. Though he knows he should go with me, he won't, but he promised that if he cannot stop this behavior, he would go .

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Torah at the end of the (secular) year

Tonight our Torah group met again. We did not discuss two books, as usual, but only one, spending a lot of time particularly on a particular ritual for determining the guilt or innocence of a woman accused of being unfaithful to her husband. Instead of being weighed down with a stone, as the witches were later, and dying whether she was innocent or guilty, the woman in this trial, the "sotah," was made to drink water with dirt taken off the temple floor before the entire community. If nothing happened to her, she was innocent. If her belly sagged (many commentators thought this was a reference to miscarriage), she was guilty and thus shamed before everyone. We know how grody that temple floor was, slick with blood from the constant sacrifices, but it wouldn't kill her, so the consensus was that this was actually a humane way of dealing with suspicions, far preferable to killing her because of suspicions one could not prove.
In the same book, we read about the Nazarites, who, like Samson, dedicated themselves or were dedicated by their parents to God and grew their hair as a sign of being set apart. No one seems to know exactly what their role was in the Temple, but women were also Nazarites. One wonders what their families had to say about that. Maybe they were widows or orphans, and, like the convent for Catholic women in Europe, the Temple provided a place for them to be protected. In any case, it was interesting in the midst of another book that was largely taken up with numbers few know how to interpret, like the census of books we had read recently. No one knows whether these numbers are meant to be read primarily as a sort of numerological code or to be taken literally, boasting of the multitudinous Hebrew populations in the desert. So these other details provide something a bit more intriguing to grasp a hold of in the midst of this parashah.


Ever since my son was old enough to talk, I have had a strange relationship with him. He and I are alike in many ways, in our intensity, verbal propensity, desire to hash things out with others. But instead of this likeness making us extremely loving toward each other, most of the time the relationship has taken the form of argument. From a very early age, he made demands, and I resisted them. For some reason, I have never been able to laugh off these demands, even when he was 5. They chafed me. And I know that mine have often struck him the same way.
When he was 5 1/2, he told me that I had been making the rules for all his life, and now he wanted to make them. Then I was able to play the wise adult and tell him that it would be a few years till that happened. Now he is an adult himself, just barely, but an adult in age anyhow. And it is time for him to make that demand for real, and he does.
But it is not just his freedom that he wants, but to mold and change me. Some of these changes are positive, I know. He wants me to shake my anxiety, to drop my negative pall of thought and try to see things from the bright side for a change. He wants me to clean up my act and live in an orderly space. These are good things, but you cannot bully someone into doing them, and that is more or less what he does, every opportunity he gets.
When I am doing something, which I nearly always am, every second I am awake, he stops me in the middle and demands to have an intense discussion. So yesterday and the day before and the day before that, as I sat at the table grading interminable essays, he stopped me and demanded I look him in the eye and share my feelings with him.
It is rare enough for men to want to talk about their feelings, but Jeremy's way of doing this is aggressive and unrelenting. He is obsessive about this as about everything else. My response to this is to shut down. It is too much like my father, who could, before medication, turn on a dime from a cheerful and friendly demeanor to a dark and threatening one. And though Jeremy is not my father, even if has inherited some of the same neurological baggage, I cannot help to respond by cautiously avoiding his eyes, not saying anything that might set him off.
I love my son. I would like to mend our relationship, and so invited him to come to the therapist with me. In that safe environment, with a mediator, it might be the place to explore our relationship the way he wants to do, instead of pinning me to the spot every afternoon, so that I often avoid coming home.
When Richard intervened, after about an hour of listening to this go on, Jeremy became very angry for a moment, and then took hold of himself and left for work. But I know that today, the discussion will resume.
I shouldn't make myself sound like a victim. The spurts of anger and resentment I feel when Jeremy nails me that way make me say things out of aggravation. Yesterday I looked up from a student paper, a very good one, about chocolate slavery, and read a quotation from a former chocolate slave who had been kept since age nine, starved and beaten, carrying 60 lb sacks of cocoa. The boy said that every time we in the west ate a chocolate bar, we were eating his flesh.
Jeremy became infuriated, and said it was a lie, and even if it weren't, it wasn't his problem. I don't think he means that. Like the rest of us, when we hear this, he didn't know what to do with the feelings of guilt for a terrible situation he didn't realize he was responsible for. His response was to reject the feeling of guilt rather than to embrace it and promise only to consume fair trade chocolate from here on in. I don't eat chocolate, for medical reasons, so it is easier for me. But given Jeremy's mood, I should not have said that.

Monday, December 21, 2009

Concert with Liz

Last night Liz and I went out to dinner at the Mongolian bbq (we didn't make our sauce spicy enough, but no one to blame it on but ourselves!) and then to a concert at Laguna Hills HS, of all places. Liz was anxious to introduce me to the music of David Arkenstone, who I had never heard before. Arkenstone is a delightful gnome with long tangled blonde hair and red sneakers who composes and plays tinkly instrumentals that merge jazz, traditional, and new age. He radiates warmth and a quiet energy. The people who played with him, as he switched back and forth from keyboard to various kinds and shapes of guitar, were a wonderful pianist/accordianist, an amazing woman on flute, pennywhistle, and various kinds of things resembling flute, including one with what looked like the sort of pipe one finds underneath the sink attached to it, two wonderful violinists, and a bass guitarist whose instrument had a personality all its own.
In that tiny space, it felt as if we were having a private concert all to ourselves, and I really was impressed and pleased. All the same, I giggled a bit at Liz's son's comment, which she related to me when describing Arkenstone's music. He said that the guy plays "pirate music," and I could definitely hear it.

Sunday, December 20, 2009

First run movies on a Saturday night

There are no first-run theaters in my immediate vicinity. One has to drive a little to find one, and when she does find them, they are packed, particularly on a Saturday night. The parking lots take bravery and boldness to negotiate, something I don't have in the driver's seat, particularly when it comes to parking. And the lines are long.
For the past two weeks, I've wanted to see that new Clooney film, Up in the Air, that has been advertised so aggressively that one would think it would immediately spring to a 1000 screens upon release. But it still has not come to the proverbial "theater near me." So last night, R and I ventured down to Aliso Viejo to meet Robin and Manny there, in order to see for ourselves whether the dialogue and acting were really as snappy as we had heard.
The theater was as well-developed as a small village, and lit up twice as brightly. I have noticed that in South Orange County, shopping centers tend to cluster together. Instead of a strip mall here and a strip mall there, as in Irvine, they conglomerate, so that one shopping center has half a dozen stores one might seek out and as many restaurants and maybe a multi-screen theater complex, like this one . So in Mission Viejo, the shopping center across the street from Yoga Works where I spend so much time has not only Stein Mart, but Trader Joe's, Big Lots, Party City, and a bowling alley. One almost need not leave that center to fill all of her daily needs.
The center in Aliso Viejo is even more packed full of anchors, like Trader Joe's (again), Lowes, TJ Maxx, the theaters, and lots of good restaurants one might otherwise have to drive hither and yon to get to--Philly's steak sandwiches, Native Foods, and not one but TWO frozen dessert stores.
I was glad I wasn't the one driving when I saw the enormous boats of SUVs and Hummers attempting to negotiate the parking lot's narrow aisles. There were some scary moments there, but we snagged a spot, and hustled up to the ticket booth 45 minutes early to buy our tickets, then to the ice cream place. I didn't feel like ice cream, but R created his own mix at Cold Stone. I noticed I didn't have my cell phone (it turned out I had left it in a different purse the night before, when we attended a party at California Pizza Kitchen), so it was just luck that allowed us to meet up with M and R outside the theater. But by the time they bellied up to the booth, the movie was full. So we got our money refunded and went home to our house to watch Smooth Talk, the film I will be teaching next semester, along with Oates' story, "Where Are You Going, Where Have You Been," from which it has been adapted.
It turned out to be a nice evening, with a few snags. But I don't think I'll be going to a first-run theater any time soon again.

Friday, December 18, 2009

More Stuff To Do

I ran out my anxiety medication today, which given the tasks before me, is not a good thing. I just got back from yoga, which helped, and grocery shopping, which was okay, until I was faced with the enormous task of packing the stuff I bought into the over-full fridge and freezer. That always puts me on edge. And now I'm avoiding some of the tasks, like grading, that I have to do. This evening, one of the choir, an 83 year old with advanced memory problems (who is nonetheless still singing, dressing beautifully, driving, and taking cruises with his wife), is going to go up on the bimah (the stage at synagogue) and read part of the Torah, a sort of second bar mitzvah, since in Jewish tradition, 13 is the age for the first synagogue and then 70 is a lifetime. If you live to 83, you're entitled to a second bar or bat mitzvah!
We will celebrate together at the California Pizza Kitchen and then go sing at synagogue. We haven't practiced the song in a while. I'm trying not to get anxious.

Thursday, December 17, 2009

Uneasy Night

I am not sleeping too well because my parents' caregiver IS leaving after all. Those signs we spotted a while back were truly an indication she was leaving. I didn't know why because the man who owns the board and care never tells us the truth. I suspect he never tells anyone the truth, ever.
According to the caregiver herself, he deceived her, promising to sponsor her in her bid for residency and citizenship, but he never did. That was 7 years ago. Now immigration has caught up with her, and she was allowed to apply, via her brother, who is a legal resident, but she cannot work anymore for a while. Of course, she still needs to work, but it won't be via legal channels.
She wanted us to let her work for us privately, and that would suit us fine, but we must be inspected by VA, and under the table won't work for us. So someone new, probably someone without experience, will take over. That makes me very nervous, so I am on the lookout for a new place, which I might have to move my parents to at a moment's notice, if something egregious happens.

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Sitting with Kitty redux

I have a little cat story in the latest incarnation of Robin's Sitting With Kitty page. Go on over and have a look at it. Take a look at my buddy Shadow, who appears in the cat gallery.
The link is

Monday, December 14, 2009

Jeremy and exams

My son is anxious, like his mom. He doesn't like to admit it, and last year took himself off all the medications he had been on since he was 8 years old. He has done quite well, and actually, the cognitive dulling the medications caused has lifted, so he has been doing very well in that department. However, sometimes he has a hard time, and exam season I'm afraid is conducive to this sort of problem.
He takes his philosophy exam tomorrow. He has studied a lot for it, but has failed every exam this semester, despite studying. He should probably not be taking regular timed exams because of his disabilities, but he refuses all assistance, although he is entitled to it. So he is not sleeping, is angry, feels helpless, and doesn't know if he'll ever make it through college. He failed most of his classes last year because of this very reason.
I told him he might think about going to Disabled Students, but that would require him to go back to a psychiatrist and probably on a few meds again, and I don't think he is willing to do that or even that it would be the best thing for him right now, in most ways.
He has done very well in English class, but then there are no exams in this English class, and he has two English professor/writer parents, so it's not a surprise. I feel for him, but I don't think there is anything else I can do for him.

Sunday, December 13, 2009

Next semester's class

As I've said before, next semester I'll be teaching a class in lit to film adaptation. I had been thinking of having the students write about a text and film I chose first, using criticism I picked out and discussed in class, and then having them launch into their own choice of lit/film, with the help of the textbook and me, of course. It will be difficult, more difficult than the theme I've been doing (modern slavery) because the stuff they'll be reading will be written in jargon sometimes so thick they won't be able to understand it. I will have to help with the texts too, which means I will probably be spending a lot of time individually with the students.
I was going to do a Hitchcock film and the text it came from (The Birds or Strangers On A Train, but I found that not much is written about the adaptations, and that I really disliked Highsmith's novel, so I decided to do Oates' short story "Where Are You Going, Where Have You Been?" with the movie Smooth Talk. I think they will really like both of these, and will be engaged in the process for that reason. Also, I have the story online to put on Blackboard and the movie was cheap on Amazon ($3.00). I bought two copies, one for the library, and there was a bibliography online too. Of course, lots of buyable papers are online, so I will have to watch out for that, but the assignments should be specific enough that they won't be able to use those papers, I hope.

Last Asana of the Sequence

Savasana--Corpse Pose

It is late night in the desert.
Miles of cool highway
slip by in the dark.
Thin saguaros, tall as a man,
stand guard by the roadside,
their arms full of blossoms
gathered in the night, haunted
by pale luna moths, the color
of twilight. In a sky deep
as breath, a circus of stars
tumbles and twirls, though no one
is watching, not even me.
All along the spine of the sleeping
mountains, the white line glows.

Saturday, December 12, 2009

Why I Write

I spent a sleepless night last night, between the perceived snub of not being able to reach Mr. Iyengar directly to show some of my poems and thank him for creating this system of yoga that has given so much to my life and the pain in my hip/back. Richard and I sat up talking about this for quite a while, and he asked me why I wrote these poems. Were they, as he perceived them, works of art, written for their own sakes, ultimately, or were they emblems of hero worship? Since I had myself looked with great suspicion on the hero worship bestowed on Mr. Iyengar (or on anyone for that matter), refusing to think of him as anything but a human being--one who has achieved great things, but human for all of that--I had to stop and think hard about this question. Of course, the poems are poems, whatever they are about. I wrote them for whatever reason I write anything, no matter what their subject matter is, or the impetus that gave them birth.
That's when I started to think about how I began writing, and why. I apparently began making things out of words long before I could write. My parents' friend, Vivien, told me that when I was barely big enough to talk, I began telling her a story I had made up and asked her to write it down. I always loved books, and one of my early memories is seeing things written and being frustrated at not being able to make them out. I tried and tried, but it eluded me. When I studied foreign languages, this feeling again reemerged, particularly languages like Russian, with its script entirely unlike ours.
In middle school, where I was entirely out of place, I used storytelling as a way in to the society of my peers, who adopted me as an unofficial entertainer, rather like the artists who hung about the medieval courts. And, I realized, I have never entirely given up this role, though in college I found a group of people like myself. But, as John Sayles realized and ironically reflected, an anarchist's convention is a paradoxical thing, a group of people who never quite fit in still is not quite a group.
As I grew, I learned to hold these writerly impulses a little closer to the chest, because there were others who would steal them, or because, more often, they would not be understood or respected. This happened to me anyway, since, out of impulses I could not control, I wrote poems to celebrate various things, such as Jewish holidays, people, general feelings of unfocused joy, only to get in return a shrug of incomprehension.
Once, as a college student, to merge my love of poetry and tropical fish, I wrote some poems and sent them to Tropical Fish Hobbyist. I knew they did not belong there, but still was a bit put out when I got in return a note instructing me on how to write limericks.
So the poems in my yoga series are poems, and I guess I knew when I wrote them that it was likely that people who don't read poems, don't get them, would not be likely to see these poems as what they are: a gift I give in the only way I can, because I cannot express my feelings in the way others can, directly, anywhere near as well as I can in writing.

Friday, December 11, 2009


Last night, or probably early this morning, I had an alarming dream, though somewhat silly as well. I dreamed I was wearing a ridiculous vintage mink or muskrat cape (something I used to own, actually, back in the late 60s, in my pseudo-hippie days). It had really broad shoulders, and looked as though the cat had been chewing on it. Probably it was some other, more distasteful animal, actually. I was wheeling the box I use for classes, to put papers in, and in the hustle and bustle, had lost my purse, which I found, with the wallet gone, of course, open on the stairs. As I woke, I felt violated and afraid. Probably I am telling myself of the dangers implicit in putting up drafts of poems I am working on here, exposing myself.

Thursday, December 10, 2009

Not resisting rhyme

Today I could not help feeling that the last poem needed to rhyme. It was wrong of me not to let it.
So here's a revision:
Viloma Pranayama
In the quiet darkness, the stately
planets prance, wheeling in their
orbits, like partners in a dance.
The sun inspects its minions,
reclining on its throne. Mars, then Venus
passes, until Earth stands alone.
It bows before his majesty, low,
then lower, lowest. Then seems to
bite off brightness, in incrimental bits,
so that the sun shrinks to one line
and finally disappears. For me,
beneath the coral tree, a thousand
shadows mass, ghostly-green
coronas, wavering on the path.

Viloma Pranayama--with interrupted inhalation

In the quiet darkness, the stately
planets prance, wheeling in their
orbits like the partners in a minuet.
At some point in its plotted course,
the earth stops before the sun,
so many times its size, bows low,
lower, lowest. But from here,
it seems to break the brightness
off in bits, to eat the sun,
so that it shrinks to one
bright line and disappears.
For me, beneath the coral tree,
hundreds of tiny shadows wink,
mirrored coronas, wavering on the path.

*Pranayama is the controlled exercise of breath. It takes the practice of yoga inside the mind.

Wednesday, December 9, 2009

Chatty this morning

I seem to have a lot to say today. Last night, the Torah group met. I was exhausted because I was thinking so much about how I wanted to finish the yoga series for Mr. Iyengar's 91st birthday, this Sunday, that I couldn't sleep. All kinds of ideas were going through my head, but I didn't get up because I knew I had to work the next day and also go to torah group in the evening, after work.
Meanwhile, I haven't prepared at all for Chanukah, which starts Friday, except by buying and packing a few gifts. The majority remain in piles by the side of my bed, read to be packed. I bought too much wrapping paper, and it is everywhere.
But I went to Torah group, which this time consisted of a special Chanukah presentation, given by a member of the group, Pat Schlup, who grew up on a farm in the midwest (I think it was in Nebraska), and converted to Judaism later in his life. Pat is very knowledgable about Judaism and Torah, reading voraciously. He told us about the origins of the holiday, which have been somewhat mystified by tradition.
Chanukah is the only Jewish holiday not mentioned in the Torah or Jewish Bible. Nominally, it commemorates the Jewish victory over the Greek-influenced forces of Antiochus, a tyrant who wanted, as usual, to wipe out the Jews by preventing them from celebrating the rites and rituals of Judaism and forcing them to assimilate to Greek forms of worship.
The usual version of the tale we are taught has a rag-tag bunch of guerilla fighters, the Macabees, overcoming Antiochus and his forces, against terrible odds, and restoring to Jews their independence and right to worship. We are also told, as children, the tale that the rabbis made up, about the mysterious vial of oil in the temple Antiochus had violated, which was only enough to last one day, but managed to last for 7, so the temple could be rededicated.
The truth of the matter, it seems, is much more complex and dark. The Macabees were a questionable bunch. Brilliant military tactitions (sp?), they were cruel and tyrannical rulers.
So the rabbis banished the tale of their military victory from the bible proper. It survived only as an apocryphal book, Macabees, preserved by the Catholic church.
Yesterday, we read for the first time this banished book. It was very odd. Pat related that the word "macabre" is supposed to have originated from this book, which relates in gory detail the terrible cruelty of Antiochus. Besides blood and gore aplenty, which would make a snuff film addict salivate, the diction and the tone of the book is suspiciously Christian, even though it was supposedly written well before Christ. It speaks of resurrection, an alien concept in Judaism, and seems to embrace martyrdom with the hopes of heaven. At least in the Judaism that has survived to this day, this kind of thinking is certainly not what we're used to hearing. There were martyrs, yes, but they never held out the hope of being reborn because of their faith.
Since the Catholics were the ones who preserved this book, it is possible that the text is corrupt, that they tinkered with it, or perhaps even wrote the whole thing. Or perhaps this is a relic of a suppressed strain of thought in Judaism? We will never know, but it's interesting to think about.

The Sound Is BACK!

I am so happy! I think the green cable I plugged into my computer gave me my sound back! It has been gone since the computer repairman fixed the thing, and apparently didn't plug everything back in. I still can't find the cable for the camera, so I can download pictures. Everything is such a tangled mess back there. Though I am small enough to crawl under the desk and fiddle with it, I somehow haven't been able till now to fix it. So now I should listen to something, just to celebrate!

Still trying to revise Downward Facing Dog!

Tell me what you think of this... I've been thinking about this poem, which will be the first in the series:

Adho Mukha Svanasana--Downward Facing Dog

When I was four, I'd play
with dad's ocilloscopes,
energy made visible, pictures
of sound. I'd turn the knobs
until the line would angle up,
an inchworm, and I'd become
a god of volts and ohms. In this pose
that energy is in me. The legs,
like oaks, desire what is earthly,
all their secret life beneath the skin.
The spine spurns the mundane,
while the head, though distant
as the moon, yearns only to rest
itself against the solid knees.

Tuesday, December 8, 2009

Almost the End of the Semester

There is one more regular class period before the end of the semester. Today, my students were supposed to have brought in drafts for the final section of their research papers, proposals concerning solutions to the problem they have been writing about all semester. Only three students actually had full drafts. To my knowledge, the others had nothing at all, or only other parts of the essay that they were supposed to have brought in earlier. I got only three drafts between the two sections, anyhow.
From those three, two did not do what I asked them to do, providing the criteria they would use to decide which of the two or three solutions they discuss is the best, and organizing the paper as a comparison based on these criteria. Only one did that. The others will have to rewrite. So I was able to tell the students what to do, when they eventually do complete this part of the paper, since the combined essay is due Dec. 15 and 17, for the two sections (the first date for the first, the second for the 2nd). I will have a not very pleasant task then.

Monday, December 7, 2009

Settubanda Sarvangasana --Bridge Pose

On this cold floor, hoisting
my hips, I am standing
in the canyon, waiting
for the full moon to rise.
And now, the sky
so empty in the daylight,
swells full of secrets,
like a darkened hall
before the concert starts,
till a thin sliver of light,
golden, almost a sound,
skims the rock, and the moon,
with a clash of cymbals,
breaks free of the canyon walls.

Rainy Day

The rain has finally come, and it is glorious and above all, wet! Of course, when I went to search out those multiple umbrellas I knew were stashed here and there (in the trunk of the car, in the bedroom, in the closet) I couldn't, of course, find any of them. So I made my umbrella run to the store and bought three overpriced umbrellas. I found a glorious one, iridescent, like a morpho butterfly. So that's good. Now I have to do the wrapping and bed making and class preparation I've put off all weekend.

Sunday, December 6, 2009

Viparita Karani in Sarvangasana on a Chair--Chair shoulder stand with lifted legs

Force arises from surprising places.
The seed knows its strength--
an insistent shoot will crack
the brittle shell, find a way
out of the hard-packed earth.
And the rain, in pinprick
drops, breaks off bits
from the towering nimbus,
wearing down mountains
and turning rocks to sand.
It is not muscle that raises
my legs from the chair,
but a gathering force,
like flame from a struck match.

Saturday, December 5, 2009

Day of Dad and Yoga

This morning I went to yoga class, where I had a bracing encounter with a folding chair... those standing poses can be brutal! Then, I went to pick up my dad's medication and took him and mom to Big Lots and Trader Joe's for our weekly shopping trip. By that time, the medication I brought dad had kicked in, turning his urine a shocking pumpkin-color. Good thing the doctor warned us about that! It would have scared us all silly.
Dad was feeling a bit better, but mom was having a hard time walking, complaining about her hip. If she walked more, it would improve, but I know the process might be painful. I might teach her a few stretches, bringing in her own torture chair for the process. However, I should talk to my teachers first, to be sure what I do is safe and appropriate.

Friday, December 4, 2009

Paschimotinasana--Seated Forward Bend

I am rowing my boat
along the quiet river,
ribs open like a magnolia,
its stiff white petals
only this morning furled
in the burnished bud.
Legs strung tight as sails,
I hoist myself up, out of the hip,
arranging my torso, vessel
of precious cargo, over the knees.
Currents lap at my sides
as I surge forward, pulling
the oars of my feet
till the miles fall away.

End of Semester Angst

The proverbial chickens are coming home to roost. Of course, I have never lived on a farm, never spent any time with chickens, didn't even know they strayed away from home during the daytime.
But I DO know about students, and some of mine are hurting. There was a lot of reported illness, some quite serious, in my sections. At least one student had a fairly severe case of swine flu, and was hospitalized for a weekend, throwing up blood. Many were quite ill with other kinds of flu, and could not come to class for over a week.
One of these just returned, not quite well, and unfortunately for him, he did not keep up with the work. Since there is no time left, I gave him two days extra to finish his paper, due Tuesday, but asked that he combine it with the earlier research paper, the definition of the topic, to form the combined definition and causal essay. He did not come to class yesterday, when that combined essay was due for peer review. And he did not email me. I think he has given up.
Since that student had already written the definition paper earlier in the semester, this was merely a matter of typing up the two together. But he didn't try to do it, apparently.
Another student told me, after getting back his failing causal essay (an essay I spent a month and a half preparing them to write), that he didn't understand how to write a causal essay or how to take information from his sources to do that. Meanwhile, he lives nearly next door to me, and could have knocked on my door any number of times to ask for help. He has delivered papers to my door before, and not been shy generally about requested assistance. It is hard at this point to help him.
When this happens, I feel as if I am the one who has slipped up. My heart beats fast, and I relive that anxiety dream where one goes to take an exam without ever having attended the class.

Thursday, December 3, 2009

Stuff to Do

I'd like to just stop everything and finish my yoga series, but I have two sets of papers (small, blessedly because not everyone gave me a draft today of the annotated bibliography) and my dad is complaining that he isn't feeling well, so I will have to take him to the doctor tomorrow afternoon if she has time. I guess it's a good thing I resolved the insurance debacle. Just in time... .

Wednesday, December 2, 2009


It seems that the Medical Center WILL accept Blue Cross/Blue Shield as a secondary for medicare patients after all! Thank goodness... or at least that is the present state of information I have.

Uttanasana--Standing Forward Bend

Diving down and down
toward the distant floor,
I approach the knees'
locked gates, peering
into the darkened space
between, almost at my
destination. Grasping
the heels, the ropy
tendons, I belly forward.
Chest presses thighs,
buttocks rising and rising.
I am an explorer,
entering the ancient city,
descending into another world.


When I returned from work yesterday, it was quite late. I had an armful of papers--two armfuls in fact, and the promise of more papers every class day through the end of the semester. Because I still had my hearing aids on, I heard the insistent beep of the answering machine in the bedroom calling me with its cricket chirp, and dropped everything by the door.
It seems that my parents' secondary insurance, Blue Cross, is no longer being accepted by UCI Medical Center, where the majority of their doctors are. I don't know what to do. I don't think any insurance company will give them a similar deal, given their age and health. We are almost out of money, but not quite. We cannot transition to MediCal, but we cannot move to a different insurance, I think. Changing all our doctors is not a good option. I don't know what to do or who to ask.

Tuesday, December 1, 2009

The work before me

Until the end of the semester, in two weeks, I will be engaged in a final massive flurry of grading and intensive conferencing with the students in my class. Inevitably, too many have ignored my warnings and left much of their work for the end of the semester, the researching, revision, etc., instead of doing it all along, as I intended, when I gave assignments that would have allowed them to do this. Consequently, a good quarter of the remaining students who could have received very good grades in the class will be just squeaking by, if they manage to pull off the work, that is.
Today and tonight (deadline: midnight) large causal research papers will be coming, and Thursday, annotated bibliographies for the combined research paper. Tuesday are drafts for part one of the final paper; next Thursday, drafts for part two and the works cited page. The following week (Tuesday for one class and Thursday for another) are the revised final papers and presentations. I will be very busy.
I am working on one more poem, but it isn't ready to show yet. After that, 5 more to go. Then I'll have to invent another excuse for writing poems every day, or nearly so.