Sunday, January 31, 2010

Visiting the New Place

Today after yoga, I dropped off at my parents' place, ready to take them to the 99 market, where my dad hoped to score some striped bass. I wasn't able to get any for him at the farmer's market on Friday because the doctor took too long to examine them, and besides, I had no cash. I couldn't go to the Saturday Farmer's Market because of the play, so I thought the 99 would do for this purpose, though the fish wouldn't, I was sure, be as good or as ecologically correct.
When I came in the door, my father was collapsed, unconscious, in an armchair close to the door, wearing his outside jacket. His face was white, his lips blue. His hands were covered in dirt. I asked the caregiver, not the usual one, what was up. Apparently, he had been working in the garden three times that morning, doing who knows what, and it was too much for him, by far. He gasped for breath, the caregiver told me, and she was afraid to make him walk to his room. Instead, she encouraged him to nap right there, the way he was, until he had gained enough strength to wheel himself back on the walker to the bathroom to wash and to sit in his chair by the tv. in his room.
I told her that if that happened again, or worse, it might be a good idea to call an ambulance, but then I wondered: is it better to send him to the hospital, where he has twice had heart attacks, and where he would most likely die at this point, or to leave him right there, where he might recover, as he did today, or else die peacefully in his own bed? Of course, from the perspective of the board and care, they don't want to be held responsible for his death, so the former is infinitely preferable, but from his perspective, and mine, the second is looking better all the time.
I found myself praying, horribly, that my mother would not outlive my dad since it would be so awful for her, so difficult to keep her from running off to look for him, thinking he was somewhere else, perhaps back in the old place, or in the hospital. But it is more than likely that she will outlive him. And we will have to deal with things as they come.
POSTSCRIPT: I took mom to the 99 market, where she stared at all the multi-colored fish corpses laid out before us on a gigantic bed of ice. The woman in line behind me, hand and lower arm covered in a plastic bag, showed me how to peel back the gills of the fish to gauge their freshness, and together, we chose a couple of likely prospects from the pile. She took one too. Then I pointed to a gigantic golden carp, looking like a magic fish from a fable, and told her about gefilte fish, and how I thought she could make it. She liked the sound of that, and as we went to pay for our prize, she was hefting the gigantic fish up with her plasticked hand. We stopped at the Chinese bakery, near our parking spot, and bought mom a lovely pastry, and then went home, where we found dad working on his puzzles.

Saturday, January 30, 2010


I have a 5 play subscription to SCR, and I enjoy going to the plays. However, it has not escaped my attention that the choices the theater management generally makes are safe, boring, often mediocre plays. Maybe it is because of the thoroughly white bread, middle class nature of the OC that this occurs. Whatever the reason, it is only occasionally that they step out of this safety zone and put on a really powerful work.
Today, I have seen an exception to that rule, a production of August Wilson's play, Fences. I have certainly known of Wilson, but I have never read or seen one of his plays. It seems I have been missing a lot, and I plan to remedy that as soon as possible, as far as reading all of them goes.
From the moment I laid eyes on the set, which was an amazing evocation of a rundown urban landscape, with just a patch of hopeful blue sky hovering out of reach, I sensed I was in for something other than the norm.
The dialogue was raw at times, and I could see the audience squirming in its seats. But the acting was absolutely first rate, just about all of it, even the over-the-top part of Gabe, the brain injured, hallucinating brother of the main character, was convincing. But it was particularly the part of Troy, that main character himself, that was hard to get one's arms around.
This is a difficult, complicated character. hard to understand and possibly off-putting, but the actor who played him here gave us a feeling of 3 dimensionality, a feeling that we could understand what made him the way he was. And the role of his wife, Rose, was also beautifully modulated.
I count this as a red letter day, which introduced me to a playwright I should know and teach to my classes in the future. If there are still seats to be had, go and see the play, while it is still here.

Tebot Bach

The most homey and friendliest open mic/reading around is Tebot Bach's monthly gathering at Golden West College. This is a group of honest to God poetry enthusiasts, publishers and philanthropists who take poetry to the underprivileged, prisoners, the homeless all around Southern California and publish a lovely assortment of poetry collections, staging these monthly readings.
They meet in a run-down, dark, and chilly community hall at Golden West, in Huntington Beach. One can barely see the poems she is reading, but the spirit is strong, if the light isn't.
Last night, two readers, Tony Barnstone, who I had heard read previously at Casa Romantica, a venue of a completely different sort, and Brian Michael Tracy, a poet who said he had stopped writing poems, much as I had, for a long period, and was brought back into it by a spiritual awakening involving yoga.
The two were completely different in mood--Tracy dark and intense, Barnstone, though he read some very graphically violent, even gross works, essentially light and full of showmanship. His showstoppers, some of which I have heard before, were a series of double sonnets based on Tarot Cards. I can't wait till the illustrations are done (and the poems too) and he publishes them, as a pack of Tarot cards, he says. I will certainly want to own a copy. He is also a noted translator of Chinese poetry, erotic and otherwise, an extremely intelligent and gifted writer.
I read two yoga poems. Usually, the regulars in Tebot Bach praise my writing and invite me to have tea after the reading, but this time, they seemed restrained, puzzled. Clearly, these yoga poems, though they are the best things I have done and I chose what I saw as the best of the best, are divisive. I won't let that stop me in my effort to get them out there.

Friday, January 29, 2010

Medical Appointment

When I checked my messages yesterday, I heard that my parents had an appointment with their regular doctor this morning. I of course had planned to go to yoga class, since I couldn't go yesterday. But the appointment conflicted with these plans. It was at 8:40. Since I don't drive on freeways, and this was just the time people are trying to get to work, I had to leave the house at 6:30 AM to pick them up. But since I couldn't sleep last night, I was up in plenty of time, even able to bake the croissants from Trader Joe's that had been proofing in the kitchen all night. I made three, hoping Richard and Jeremy would like one. But Jeremy was sleeping at the new apartment. Richard dropped him off fairly late last night, after I went to bed.
Richard didn't want one. He had to catch the bus for school. I ate mine and took the other two to my parents' house, thinking that even if dad couldn't eat his, mom would like them. They'll probably be eating them now for tea.
Their doctor was much more hopeful about my dad's prognosis than the docs in the hospital. For one thing, he's doing much better now, though he's surely not 100%, which is not surprising.
She is sending us to a cardiologist, who may be able to do a modified angiogram without the dye that would shut down his kidneys, or with less of it than usual anyhow, or he may be able to give us medication if he can't do the angiogram. My father was heartened by the news. It lightens his downheartedness at the restricted diet he must be on, and the fact that they cannot go to the Center for at least another week, possibly more.
Poor mom, but she is happy to have dad back, and is eating again, as long as the caregiver feeds her every bite.

Thursday, January 28, 2010

No Secrets

One knows theoretically that anything said in this forum is fair game for peepers and schemers. But I have felt pretty safe saying what I please on this blog because so few people read it, to my knowledge. But yesterday in class, a student who had evidently shown initiative and some pretty good research skills (bodes well for his performance in the class, I guess) surprised me by reeling out a list of facts about me that I didn't even know were available online.
Besides my poems, this blog, my teaching, he also knew what synagogue I belonged to, and said I had a personal web page. Really? I didn't make one. Where is it? He can't be right about that. It gave me a bit of a scare.
I am naturally not one to hide things, believing I don't really have much to hide (aside from financial information, passwords, and that sort of thing). But this felt like a bit of an invasion, though he evidently meant no harm.

Wednesday, January 27, 2010

Back From the Hospital

I just brought dad back from his stay at the hospital. He went there in bad shape, with kidney failure, weak and sick. While there, he suffered a heart attack, the worst yet. Last year he had a small heart attack while in the hospital. This one was much worse. He was unconscious for over an hour, he says, and his breathing is still halting, different from before. He is stooped over and silent, barely able to walk with the walker, though the doctors say he must exercise, getting back to his usual routine as soon as possible.
He must be on a strict diet and limited liquid because of the danger of congested heart failure. This concerns him more than anything else, it seems. He will not be able to eat the wonderful foods he loves so much, like a big bowl of matzo ball soup or a lamb chop. He must be weighed every day, so I stopped and bought a scale on the way home, which we put in the bathroom. If he gains more than 3 lbs in a day, he must go to the emergency room.
So many rules. He doesn't think he will be able to go to the center anymore because the food they get there will not suit his diet.
Meanwhile, when we got there, the caregiver told me that my mom will not eat. She wanders around all night. The caregiver had to lie down next to her to get her to stay in bed, and had to feed her to get her to eat anything at all. My mom keeps saying she wants to go home. I don't know what to do about this.
Clearly, this is close to the end. He may improve somewhat, but I don't think he is ever going to be the same again. This episode has diminished him, has made him grasp his mortality, and saddened all of us.

Tuesday, January 26, 2010

Bureaucracy at the hospital and other Bullshit

This evening when I arrived for work at the Writing Center, my cell phone rang. I didn't dare turn it off because of my father. I had been speaking to doctors and nurses and my father himself all day. The cardiologist had explained to me that the doctors could not do the cardiac stress test they had planned (as I had thought they'd decide) because by doing it, they would stress his kidneys, and they were already failing. So it's a hard choice: go by kidneys or by the heart. One way or another, he'll surely have a traumatic, and probably fatal, event the next time.
I told them that I was fully aware of the problem when he went into the hospital, and had already told the doctor in the ER as much myself. We've been through all of this before. So she said they'd release him tomorrow, and that the hospital would arrange transportation for me.
I laughed because I knew that was a fantasy. The only transportation available is me, unless I pay the driver to do it, and that's not an option because the damn hospital makes a person wait around for hours, during which she would be charging me, just to get the paper work together and find a nurse to disconnect the patient from tubes and machines and dress him.
So the ninnies called the owner of the board and care and told him to come get my father! He was quite upset, and had the caregiver call me and ask why I had them call him. Of course, I had nothing to do with it! And for another thing, dad wasn't even being released today!
So tomorrow, when I have to work till fairly late in the afternoon, I will have to get him after work, and will no doubt be standing around for hours and hours and then have to stop somewhere for dinner so we both don't starve.
I had hoped to go to the final Casa Romantica reading tomorrow. Oh well. It's awfully far for me at night, anyhow.


My dad is still in the hospital, but he sounds much better than yesterday, and is up and about with the physical therapist. Probably I will be taking him home by the end of this week. But the doctor made it clear that we need to make a plan for end of life care because that is swiftly approaching .This is the first time the doctors have stressed this subject, which is a ticklish one because my dad refuses to make any such decisions, and leaves me to take responsibility for them. I would have to say that full code--resuscitation under all circumstances, heroic measures, etc., is not a good idea. But I'd have to make that decision on a case by case basis.
I'm sure my cousin felt the same way, but he made the decision to pull the plug on his wife, who had been dying of heart failure for years and years. In the face of prolonged suffering, you do what you have to do, I suppose. But that doesn't make it easier to deal with the decision.

Sunday, January 24, 2010

Visit with Cousins

When I was a little girl, I was the youngest cousin of my generation. My dad used to take me to play with my cousins, who were all at least 4 or 5 years older than I. They were his brother's kids. On one hand, I felt that his brother and his wife treated us as sort of second class citizens. My dad hadn't gone to college because of his mental and neurological illnesses, even though he had been offered an apprenticeship in vet school and scholarships. Back then, people hid their shame, and they regarded my dad's condition as shameful for the family, or at least my grandmom did.
Also, my uncle and aunt were Orthodox, pillars in their synagogues, and my parents were rather against religion. So they looked down on us for that reason, and my grandmom, who lived next to her eldest son, a brilliant scholar in something related to math (I'm not sure what), was I think the origin of this attitude.
But I dearly loved to play with my cousins. We spent weekends playing, eating waffles, making volcanoes, climbing and skating and doing boy stuff I didn't get to do by myself. My cousins were scientific sorts, always building things, developing photos, etc. It was exciting to hang out with them. Now one is an engineer, I think, the other an economist. One lives in New York, surrounded by his children and grandchildren, and the other in Israel, and his kids are about Jeremy's age. One of them wants to be a writer. He has one grandchild, who is about 2, I think.
Today they were going to visit anyway, since my Israeli cousin was working in San Diego for a couple of weeks. They were planning to see my parents at their new home. So they went to the house and met me there, and together we went to visit my dad in the hospital. I don't have any pictures, but they promised to send some, and I will post them when I get them.
We had a good visit, getting a bit lost in the new parts of UCI hospital, stopping for tea at the cafeteria, and having a good talk with dad, who seemed very tired, worse than this morning. SO many doctors were doing tests on him, taking blood, I think it was a bit too much. I hope they just let him rest for the day. He's going to be there at least for the rest of the week.
I need to figure out how to take care of his worms.

More hospital stuff

This morning I had a call from my father's doctor. He is a young intern, very bright and perceptive, and he listens carefully. He said my father had a small heart attack last night, as he did when he was in the hospital last year. The doctors were very concerned about his high blood pressure and wanted to raise his level of blood pressure medication, but I warned them that when that had been done during other hospital stays, it had ended up almost killing him. They tried to find ways around it, but it comes down to the fact that either we let the blood pressure rise and give him a heart attack or stroke or we risk the medication killing him. Rock and hard place.
Then I talked to my dad and he got hysterical, telling me to come and to bring a lawyer or even the FBI. He claimed the doctors there were ignoring his pleas not to hurt him, and that he knew exactly what time all this happened, etc. I tried to calm him down, and told him, quite reasonably, that I could not bring any lawyer--never mind the FBI--to the hospital. So I had his brother call him, and asked my cousin in Jersey to call too, and to help calm him down.
When I came, I put his glasses on him, gave him a newspaper, held his hand for a few minutes and let him talk, and asked if he wanted his hearing aid. I spoke with all his doctors, and discerned truth from fact as best I could. I think being deaf and scared and being transferred to the cardiac unit in the middle of the night was pretty alarming. I also think there's more than a little of that hospital psychosis thing again. THat has happened to him before.
It's hard enough without that.

Saturday, January 23, 2010

What if you gave a movie series, and no one came?

Tonight R., Liz, and I made our way over to P0 for the film only to find the room locked and dark. We went over to the police station and that was closed too, so we called the police on the number they had posted at the door, and they said they didn't know anything about any movie. I guess no one else did either because no one, not even one person, came. We watched the film anyhow, and I have to confess it scared me silly, as much as the first time I watched it, and I was annoyed, just as the first and second times, at the behavior of the wife, Wendy. What a ninny. She just stood there and cried and acted like a moron. It strikes me that I felt that way because it reminded me of the way that my mother dealt (or didn't deal) with my father's violent behavior when I was a child. I am sure that is why that movie still scares me so much.

Friday, January 22, 2010

First ER Visit of 2010

I cancelled the followup appointment for my dad yesterday because of the immanent big storm that was supposed to arrive; it turned out to be (here at least) merely about a half hour of very hard rain and hail late in the evening, though I understand it was worse elsewhere, including in Orange where the appointment would have been. I rescheduled the appt. for today, and it was raining, sometimes hard, as I was driving there to pick them up at the Rehabilitation Center (Daycare) and then on to UCI to the appointment. My dad was very weak, much worse than last week. He was pale and could barely walk. He hurt, and had scratched his skin bloody all up and down his legs and on his feet.
The nurses were very disturbed by the fact he couldn't keep his eyes open and did not talk and joke as usual. He was in obvious discomfort, and most disturbing, his kidneys had shut down, according to blood levels, so we went to the hospital, where we were immediately told he would be admitted, though when I left at 8:30 this evening, he did not have a room in the hospital, but remained in the E.R.--albeit in a room with a door and a tv!
I don't know what this will mean for this weekend's plans--the yoga workshop (in Orange) tomorrow, the movie tomorrow night, the visit with my cousins on Sunday. I don't know when he will get out of the hospital. The doctors still don't know exactly why his kidneys have shut down, though they have concluded that the antibiotic he was taking for his most recent urinary infection didn't kill the bug.
We'll see what they can do about the frequent urinary infections and the problems with his kidneys, if there is anything they can do.

Thursday, January 21, 2010


I suppose I have been audacious lately, acting on my idea of starting a film series, when the college, I have learned, has actually hired full time film people who haven't started one. And also, today, speaking with two artists about the yoga chapbook project and writing to a third as well about this project.
While I was at it, I decided to write to Chapman's reading venue and ask if they would be interested in me coming there and doing a reading. I attached some of the yoga poems. I got an immediate answer, and although they didn't have space for me (booked through 2012), the University has a reading series in the fall, and the director invited me to submit another letter next summer and to join their group on Facebook in the meantime.
I would dearly love to teach a workshop at Chapman, so perhaps this is a way in. I hope by next fall to have whipped the yoga collection and artwork into some kind of shape and possibly also the entire poetry manuscript. I don't think the autobiographical nonfiction manuscript will be finished by then, but who knows, with the number of essays I have been turning out in the process of answering those calls to submit!

Where is everyone?

I haven't heard from many of you in the past few days. Hope all is well.
I am instituting a film series on campus starting this Saturday night. The idea was to introduce students in my class (and others) to films they probably haven't seen, but should.
This semester, as I've said before, my Writing 2 class focuses on adaptation from literature to film. I figure that students will have a hard time choosing appropriate films though because they haven't seen many, only the latest blockbusters. So I will be showing a film every Saturday night, starting with this Saturday at 7 PM in room P0 on campus. The film I've chosen to begin with is The Shining. I have been told that there is a tv miniseries of this film that is far closer to King's original than Kubrick's film, but no one (besides newspapers and trade magazines) has had anything in particular to say about that second version, so it isn't appropriate for a research paper.
In the future, if anyone shows up, I will screen Whale's Frankenstein, Treasure of the Sierra Madre, Double Indemnity, Maltese Falcon, Prizzi's Honor, A Streetcar Called Desire, A Clockwork Orange, Blade Runner, and Solaris (the original Russian version).
I have checked most of these and found that the right kind of research exists for each, so students could easily use them for the project.
If you're around, please drop by to the series. I'd love to see you. BYOP (Bring Your Own Popcorn).

Tuesday, January 19, 2010

Out in the storm

Today at 1:30, I was on campus in the thick of the worst storm I have ever seen. I went to the Writing Center at 1 to meet with a student who was supposed to take the writing diagnostic and be added to the class, but unknown to me, she had sent an email saying that she found she had another class that conflicted with this one, so would not be coming.
When I arrived on campus, it was raining, but nothing particularly bad. But while I was inside the Writing Center, talking to colleagues, the sky was getting darker and the rain heavier, until at about 1:20, when I had to go across campus to the library to be videotaped for the college's anniversary celebration, I suddenly realized that the sky was dark as night, lit up only by lightning. Thunder boomed constantly, and I knew that the storm was very close to where I was, vulnerable with my useless umbrella--useless because the wind was blowing so hard that I was wet from top to bottom, my hair flying in the wind. I honestly thought I might be blown away or be hit by lightning. But in an hour, the storm had passed, and though we were told a tornado had passed over very close by, and one had actually touched down in Fullerton, about 30 minutes away, and another in Costa Mesa, about 20 minutes away, we were okay for the moment. The sun was out, and people continued about their business.

Monday, January 18, 2010

Another anthology

I just heard today about another anthology called the list. It is made up of poems that include 6 words chosen by guest editors. The words are Anteros (the god of thwarted love, brother of Eros), crippled, spindles, stairwell, threshold, and whirligig. I have always liked such exercises, though these words did not strike me as particularly promising. But I did write a poem. You will find it below.

In the bad dream you keep having,
a spare stranger stands at the threshold
bearing news you would rather not hear.
He leans on a stick, crippled leg twisted,
peering like a falcon into the room.
Around the edge of his crumpled
raincoat, a bit of bright wing
protrudes. At the sight, all
the spindles stop turning.
The whirligigs cease their merry clatter.
The stairwells echo your empty howl.

Sunday, January 17, 2010

My Reading Essay

Confessions of a Book Addict

“Reading is Fundamental,” proclaims a well known slogan designed to entice children to read. The statement suggests that literacy is not only a virtue, like vegetables perhaps, but actually worth doing for its own sake. But I would argue that the sentiment is a bit forced, and grows out of a popular, if unspoken, feeling we as a society might not be so quick to admit that habitual reading is essentially somehow adverse to one’s own natural instincts, and that it is therefore not likely that any child, left to her own devices, would embrace it, and regard it, without being told to, as an activity worthy of one’s precious and scarce free time. It is only by holding one’s nose and taking the medicine, the covert message implies, that one can actually convince herself that reading is recreation and not primarily a chore.
I am one of those comparatively rare souls who never needed slogans to want to read, someone for whom the smell of library stacks arouses pleasant memories of lazy hours immersed in a favorite activity. In fact, I can say, as a person at an AA meeting might, that I am an addict, who cannot imagine life without books, but that, much as an alcoholic might, I have had to hide this at various parts of my life, have had to pretend that for me, as for most, reading was just a tool and not an end in itself.
When I was a child, I lived in a suburban Philadelphia neighborhood of the very sort this slogan targets. It was a compact place, lined with brick row homes the color of dried blood, with neat postage stamp lawns or patios. Within easy reach, one could find schools, a bakery, a butcher, post-office, grocery, and most important to me, a branch of the free library, right across the street.
The Bushrod branch was very small, boasting at most a couple of thousand volumes, most of which I had read by the time I went away to school at 19. The collection aimed to please the locals, with special displays of romance novels and best sellers on many of the central shelves, and on racks near the circulation desk. But there were plenty of other, less conspicuous, books on the back shelves, in the poetry section, the prose fiction section, the science fiction and fantasy section, whole worlds quietly waiting, yet to be plumbed. I aimed to explore these worlds.
I spent the dark ages before I could read trying to puzzle out the hieroglyphs on the page and on street signs. It was a painful itch, the desire to know what they said, much like the feeling I still have in a restaurant when I cannot make out the sheet of specials written out in Chinese, where I suspect all the choicest dishes are hidden. Once, I even stole a newspaper from the still-warm stack on the corner, reasoning that perhaps if I could claim a copy for myself (since my father never let me touch his), I would be able to crack the code.
At five, I joined the club of literate citizens, and was permitted my very own personal library card, a day I recall as a major milestone in my early life. Each week thereafter, I carefully combed the shelves for books of all kinds—stories, poems, biographies, coffee table books as wide as the day—checking out the limit of 11 books I would carry home in bags, one on each shoulder.
One would think that school would be a haven for such a bookish child, but it was not. Instead, I plainly felt that to admit my addiction would be unwise. I had seen this clearly at home, where my mother, on finding me immersed in a novel on a sunny weekend in summer, would unceremoniously boot me out of the house to play with the neighborhood kids, as though to stay inside on such a day were entirely unnatural.
So perhaps it is not so surprising then that my favorite place to read was the top step of the cold, unfinished basement, dark as a cave. By the light of a single swinging bulb, I would sit in silence, reading the dwindling pile, hoping not to be discovered. I knew that if my mother found me, she would send me outside to play. At the same time that reading was supposed to be good for me, a virtue, it was also a kind of guilty secret I had to hide. I knew it wasn’t considered quite normal to want to read as much as I did, and that’s why I hid away to do it, as alcoholics hide quarts of vodka in the cupboard or in the sock drawers.
Further confirmation of this came in first grade, an academic summit I had imagined in kindergarten as a world full of stories and books, which was actually something far more dull and expected—just a continuation of the same old thing, without the naps. The only reading matter were Dick and Jane readers, where the ninnies populating the pages would exclaim endlessly over an ice cream cone or the antics of the equally vapid dog and cat. Still, slim pickings were better than none, and as the class waited its turn to read these books aloud, one halting sentence at a time, I had already read the book twice from one cover to the other, and thus did not know which line I was supposed to read. This my teachers interpreted as solid evidence of my lack of intellect.
I could not wait to get out of the school so I could head home, not to the house, but to the library, where I could indulge my craving undisturbed. It was cool on the hottest day, and held others like myself, who would look up occasionally from their books or magazines with pure gratitude, knowing the others there would not judge them for good or for ill. The librarian in particular was always glad to see me, and would rush up as soon as she saw me, holding out her latest find, one set of false eyelashes hanging loose on her cheek like a demented daddy long legs.
As a teacher today, a professional reader, I can never reclaim the pure joy of these earliest forays into reading. But sometimes, with luck, I can relive them in flashes. In these rare moments, the moment expands indefinitely. I am no longer a resident of this world, but of another, permitted the magical power to live whole lifetimes in another’s mind, another’s world. I emerge slowly, blinking and dazed, like a prophet returned from the wilderness or a warrior from the vision quest. My world is altered forever.

A Challenge

Yesterday or perhaps the day before an email arrived in my mailbox, announcing a call for submissions. An anthology about childhood reading experiences is asking for essays, stories, or poems about that subject. I am working on an essay, but how about some of you folks? I'll put a link up, and you can send in your own work. If you do though, I'd love to see it too.
It's for an anthology called Flashlight Moments.
This morning I went to the first film in the Jewish film festival, an Israeli comedy called A Matter of Size. It was a character study of five overweight people--4 men and 1 woman--who decide to give up fruitless dieting and become sumo wrestlers. In the process, they find strength and dignity and, predictably, empowerment.
It was a very sweet and funny film. If you can rent it, I recommend it, even though I find it a bit baffling to learn that it won 3 Israeli academy awards, and was nominated for even more. It's a small country, I guess.

Saturday, January 16, 2010

Saturday--Day 2, Holiday Weekend

My dad was so out of sorts and obviously in pain yesterday that I decided I had to distract him from it somehow, so I told the caregivers I would be there at 7:30 AM today to get them and take them to the Farmer's Market in Irvine. My parents love the market's free samples, its cheerfulness, everything about it, so despite the fact that I wanted to get to my yoga teacher Isabella's first Saturday morning class in Laguna Beach, and wasn't sure I could swing it, I took them to the market.
Dad cheered right up. He complained only once about the pain, and said nothing about the nervous disorder (probably Tourette tics) that had been troubling him, though I saw quite a few tics during our drive to the market.
Dad bought a beautiful new candy-striped succulent (green and red) and a whole striped bass for the caregiver to cook up tomorrow. I bought a pound of tremendously expensive (but delicious) Opakapaka, Hawaiian pink snapper filet. Yum. I cooked it with a crust of crushed macademia nuts--actually very simple and fast, tiny roasted potatoes, and mixed veggies.
Then I drove straight down to Laguna on Crown Valley, getting there half an hour early for class! I was so pleased with myself, I hardly noticed the ominous stirrings of my own pain.
For years, I have had problems with my hip. I think it began when I learned to drive, about 10 years ago. Being a short person, I find that cars are not made for people my size. I can't see over the windshield without two pillows, and in some cars, can't reach the pedals either. In my Toyota, I reach the pedals and see over the windshield (just barely) when I sit on my pillows. However, they are not even, and one leg just sits there while the other stretches mightily. So I have developed a misalignment.
Yoga helps a lot, but at times, it gets really severe. A few years ago, I had two classes in a row and by the end of them, I would be in tears, since walking to and fro or standing there teaching aggravated the hip so that I could barely walk. I never liked standing at a lecturn or sitting in a tall chair in front of the class. I need to move.
Back then, I went to an orthopedist, who diagnosed a tight ilio-tibial band, and prescribed Physical Therapy. Between the Physical therapy and the yoga, I straightened that out soon enough, but the pain in my hip simply morphed into something else. Now it is at the back of the leg, in the attachment of the hamstring, and I have trouble walking when I get out of the car.
I probably have to go back to the doctor, but I am so afraid he'll say I need an operation! Maybe I ought to go acupuncture? But first I think I will take the car to the new repair guys and ask about a custom adult booster seat. Yeah, it feels stupid and embarassing, but I need it.

Friday, January 15, 2010

Dad's Misbehavior

My dad is a sneaky guy. He enjoys working himself into a frazzle, and then suffers the consequences for it, but he doesn't seem to learn. Deep into the pain and suffering of those muscle pulls, nervous exhaustion, and back pains, he swears he'll never do it again, but he forgets really fast, and in a few days, will be up and at em again, proclaiming that he'd rather be dead than perpetually sitting in a chair.
In the recent move, my dad didn't HAVE to do anything. I was steadily packing things up and transporting them during the week leading up to the move. My husband, son, his friend, and the friend's truck ably transported things on the day of the move itself. We didn't require my father's assistance. But he was so wound up, so anxious to be out of the old place, and so sure that we bungling young ones were not going to manage it without him that he bent, lifted, sorted, and carried for the entire week, and then had to remember not to trip on the boxes he had stacked in the room for the rest of the week, the ones I couldn't lift without injuring myself.
Yesterday, he was pale and sweating when I came into his room, crying out with pain. Because he had an untreated bladder infection, everyone assumed the worst--it had gone to his kidneys, and he would probably have to be hospitalized. Now you may ask why his bladder infection hadn't been treated; the problem is that he has developed allergies to several key antibiotics, and the doctors were unsure what their options were at this point for curing this infection. They wanted to see him, and that's where I was taking him yesterday afternoon after work.
It was difficult for him to make his way down the long long driveway and into the car, to get out of the car and slowly slowly make his way to the nearest medical building at UCMedical Center, where we were already nearly half an hour late for the blood testing that was supposed to take place at 2.
I had not factored in the extra half an hour or so it took to get to the new place from school and from that place to the Medical Center. But it all eventually worked out, my father telling me off, even through the pain, because I refused to get on the freeway.
I can't think of a worse nightmare than to be on the freeway with my father. It brings back awful memories of being a teenager on the Expressway with my father hitting me and pulling my hair, the tears streaming so hard down my face that I could barely see. I was in a state of anxiety and terror so awful that it leaves its traces on me even today.
I have driven on freeways, but they are awful. Shifting lanes and going fast are not something I am comfortable with, and being surrounded by huge trucks and aggressive drivers does NOT suit me at all. I prefer to make my way at a fairly reasonable pace on surface streets, staying in one lane for the entire time, if possible.
It turned out that he did NOT have a kidney infection, but had injured and exhausted himself with the move. He claimed to have no clue how that happened, but at the same time, admitted he had hidden the pain for two weeks, since a fall in the garden of the old place. Sigh.

Thursday, January 14, 2010

A reading

Last night, with the teaching week over (except for some hours today at the Center), I decided to go over to a new coffee house with an open mic across the street from the college and give some of those yoga poems a whirl. I knew when I went that it wasn't likely to be a crowd serious about poetry or any kind of crowd at all for that matter, but I must say I didn't expect what I got.
When I arrived, I looked around for five minutes in vain for this coffee house. I couldn't see its name on the sign, and it didn't appear to be in any of the places I looked in the shopping center. Finally, in an obscure corner on the far far left side, hidden by a building and in the darkness, I found it.
It was actually a very large place, with much unused space, divided into two parts. The first part was the business end of the cafe, selling hot drinks and pastries. The other half, which apparently can open up into a patio in warm weather, was a performance space. There were maybe 7 people scattered in this space, so big it echoed.
The master of ceremony was a big florid man in a Hawaiian shirt with the most insincere manner of any person I have met. He managed to make "Hello" sound as if he didn't really mean it at all. He sat down with me and asked me a bunch of questions as we waited for some kind of audience to show up (in vain, as it turned out), asking me what exactly I taught, and then starting a conversation about women vs male writers, telling me he had always assumed that women wrote lighter stuff than men, but then he read some of Oates' stories, and was startled at their darkness. I told him that there was no particular female subject matter or style. He said he had taken many writing workshops, so I wondered how he had come to that conclusion.
At this point, if there had been some way I could have slipped out easily, I would have left, but it wasn't possible. So I sat through the performance of a novice guitarist and singer who had never performed before. I was rooting for her. The mother of three, she wanted to return to college to study music, but her husband thought it was a waste of time. I guess if she wanted to be a professional musician, that might have been the case, but there are other things she could do, and she said she loved working with kids. I encouraged her to take classes, not just in music, but toward a degree with a certification, in case she wanted to teach. She hadn't thought of that before, but I think she liked the idea.
Then I was up. The blank faces of the audience told me that these people had no idea at all what to expect from a poem. The fact that these were also some of the yoga poems, and having eaten, I could not really perform the asanas for them , didn't help.
To them, these poems were no different from the off-key singing of the performer before me or the mutterings of the half-cocked magician who followed me.
But the performance of the master of ceremonies was one of the strangest I have ever witnessed. I have always been interested in religion, though I wouldn't say I truly adhere to an orthodoxy of any kind. Studying spiritual practices and yearning toward the immaterial, I find ritual fascinating and revealing. But fundamentalism or orthodoxy for its own sake, cloaked in the conventional words, holds no charm for me. And my brush up against self-righteous born-again people in VA and elsewhere didn't endear these sects to me either, since they always assumed I, as a Jew, must have no belief in the true God at all. So this guy's presentation--I have to call it that because I don't know what else to call it--was kind of amazing to me.
Truly, this person has a gift of some kind. His voice was oddly mesmerizing, and his manner that of a natural teacher. I am sure he could teach anything he chose to. What he chose to do last night was a kind of Powerpoint presentation centered on two poems. These were not poems by poets, really. One was written by a fallen unknown confederate soldier, a kind of a prayer, with a purity of its own because it was not pretentious.
The other was another story. It was written by a millionaire of the late 19th century, a Chicago land developer whose name I do not recall. His life seemed charmed; he had a happy family, with 5 kids, several million dollars, owned much of the lake front property in Chicago, etc. But then came the Chicago fire and burned the lot down. He helped to rebuild some of this and to house those who were rendered homeless by the fire, but then he decided to take a cruise with his family to Europe. As it turned out, they left without him, since the city fathers needed him to help them with something. And predictably, as these narrative arcs go, the ship with his family on it ran into something and broke in half, or so I understood, and all of his children were lost, though the wife survived.
So the guy took a ship out to that point in the Atlantic and wrote what the master of ceremonies thought was an "amazing" poem, evidence of his great gifts as a writer, that had been preserved in its original manuscript form. Of course, this was doggerel. It revealed nothing true at all of the man's great pain, which was certainly in itself true and understandable, and the story itself was worth telling. But the poem... should have been forgotten. It is a private prayer, nothing more. I'm sure it gave the man himself solace, but it has nothing to offer us today, unlike the story itself.
There are plenty of gifted Christian writers, an abundance. When he could have chosen from among this lot, for him to choose this poem was a kind of perversity, it seemed to me. It's too bad, but I won't be going back there.

Tuesday, January 12, 2010

In the Writing Center, Tuesday Afternoon

It is so quiet in the Writing Center right now it's hard to believe that in a week or so it will begin to get crazy, crowded, chaotic. In my hour here so far, I saw one student. I admire this student for the question he asked about the difficult diagnostic prompt, a piece from Thoreau's Walden. He asked: "What did you guys expect me to do with this? What kind of answer SHOULD I have made to this question? "I asked him what he thought the question was, and he had a very intelligent answer, but said he was used to writing stories, not essays, and I endeavored to explain the difference. Then he asked me whether I thought he was in the right level of class, and I explained the difference between the bottom level of developmental writing and the next one up. He decided he was in the right level, and that was the end of our discussion.

Monday, January 11, 2010

Not Quite Finished With the Old Place

Today the caregiver called me and said that the owner of the place where my parents used to live accused us of stealing. Apparently, when my son and husband picked up my parents' TV, they accidentally took a signal booster the old place let us use. I wasn't there to tell them it didn't belong to us, and probably my parents were not paying attention, or perhaps they were already en route to the new place. But anyway, the owner threw a fit, and someone called the caregiver and told her we'd better give it back. Someone came over and got it. But I still have to go over to that place and sign more papers, according to the current administrator.
The caregiver warned me to read what I was going to sign very very carefully before signing it. I don't know what more they could want from me. I signed receipt of medication and property papers. What more could they want? I have done this before at an assisted living place. There were many papers I had to sign there, but for a board and care with only a few people in it, I have never had to do it before. We didn't have a contract; we lived there month to month.
If they press me to hurry and sign, I may just tell them to send me the papers, and I will read them at my leisure and send them back. I won't sign anything without reading it carefully. And I may refuse to sign something that seems objectionable and show it to the new owner, who is a lawyer, or to licensing.

First Day

Today was the first day of the new semester. I have started a new class, a new year, and a new syllabus all at once. The class is quite assorted. An aspiring add is a very intriguing older gentleman I have heard playing the violin on campus. He appears to be from Iran. I haven't seen his writing yet. I have a couple of other older guys and an English major from UCI. This class again has many more guys than girls. That seems to be a pattern the last year or so.
I'll know more when I look at the diagnostics. I haven't touched them yet, as I am going to choir and must ready dinner and also take Jeremy to work. We'll see how it goes.

Sunday, January 10, 2010

Got out of that place

As I was driving away with my parents this morning from the home where they have lived for the last almost 4 years, I found myself singing an old top 40 hit--"We Gotta Get Out of This Place," and laughing to myself.
We did it. All of my mom's many many clothes (most of which she has never worn, and some of which still have tags on them), all of my dad's gardening stuff and plants, all of the books, papers, magazines, etc. my dad just can't let go of, all of the books of photographs and framed pictures, my dad's worm farm, and my parents themselves are out of there.
I found as I was signing papers to acknowledge receipt of their medication that they were not using current medication information, but information from early last year, which means that they were giving my parents the wrong amounts and in some cases the wrong medications entirely. But they seem none the worse for wear, and are happily adjusting to their new place.
We scouted around the grounds, arranging my dad's plants. These grounds are so large, dotted with little houses where the caregivers stay, gardening sheds, picnic benches, umbrellas, and tchtchkes of various kinds, including cherub fountains and a large plastic dinosaur of uncertain origin, that one could get lost in them. They will make a good place for a birthday or holiday party for either parent during the year.
I found the nearest Costco, delivered mom's diapers and their vitamins, then went shopping for my son's frozen foods, and went home, too late for yoga, but satisfied and admiring the gorgeous blue sky, stratified with clouds of various textures--one layer like a ribbed palate, the next like a length of white silk ribbon, the next like a field full of dandelions gone to seed, happy to be finished the move.

Saturday, January 9, 2010


After I finished at my parents' new house last night, I got into the car, exhausted and hungry, to go home. It was totally dark, and there were not any street lights to guide me. In the daytime, I found the place without problem (except for one wrong turn), but at night, I drove around and around in the same loose circle until I followed a hunch and turned on a street that looked somehow right. I couldn't see any street sign, but for some reason, I liked the looks of the street, and it turned out to be right. After solving that one problem, I got home without incident, but it was already 7 PM, and no one knew where I was. My dad called up Richard and asked if I had gotten home yet, and was very worried when I wasn't. Richard was worried too, though I left a message for him when I was going around in circles and told him why I wasn't there yet.
Everything turned out okay, and we're both going there this afternoon with a big load of stuff. On Sunday, only the big things will be there, and I might even be able to go to yoga class and not be there at all, though I think it would be best if I am, to take my parents to the new place.

Friday, January 8, 2010

The Move

I took the first load of about 4 suitcases full of clothes, underwear, coats, and pjs to the new place, putting away as much of it as I could. In the process, I learned some more about the new place and the person who owns it as well as the caregivers and the person who will be my parents' neighbor. She had a lot of junk in what will be their closet, and was thoroughly miffed when I had it moved somewhere else so I could put my parents' clothes away. I hope she isn't as contentious with my dad as she was with me this afternoon. My dad will give as good as he gets in that department if she is.
Speaking of dad, he was in a panic, afraid that we would not be able to move all the stuff because he feared that Jeremy and his friend, who is helping us with his truck and his strong back to move the majority of the stuff on Sunday morning, would not come through for us, but I impressed him by packing tons of things into the suitcases and somehow picking them up, even the big one, and putting them in the car.
Meanwhile, my mom thought we were going to leave her there. I assured her that was not the case, and filled a suitcase with her underwear, socks, and pjs.
When I got to the room, I asked the owner to give my dad a desk so he can continue to do his puzzles every day, and to put a ramp on the door to the patio so he can go in and out by himself with his walker. This guy doesn't really know very much about the board and care business, and that's why the house is so empty, I think.
I'll be glad if he can help him learn the ropes and get some more clients.
I hope my parents are happy in the new place. It won't be like what they've been used to in some ways, but the physical situation will be much nicer, I think.

Thursday, January 7, 2010

What Friends Do

My friend Steve from synagogue probably saved my life this week. He needed a ride back home from choir practice Monday because his son was using his car. While we were riding back to his house, he noticed that the car was making a kind of grinding sound whenever I stopped at the lights. I don't hear so well, and though I sort of noticed a sound, I am sure it wasn't anywhere near as pronounced for me as it would be for someone with normal hearing.
I decided I didn't trust our regular garage to fix it since when I went there last week to get the blowout fixed, I heard them say something things to other customers I found pretty appalling. For example, one woman had left her car there to be fixed last week. After she picked it up, when it was supposed to have been fixed, she found it was still stopping dead in the middle of traffic, and she was, justifiably, afraid. The guy at the counter said the shop was too busy to fix it. She should take it home and bring it back tomorrow. The truth is, she should not have been driving the damn thing at all, never mind bringing it back tomorrow, and he should have shown concern and apologized for sending home a customer in a car that could have gotten her and other people killed. This is the same garage that about a month ago sent me away when I requested help putting air in the tires, saying they didn't have time to do it. How much time would that take? Low air may have ultimately been the reason the tire blew out.
So Steve recommended a garage in Tustin, the next town over, and I went there today. Not only did I find the garage really good and helpful, but I think they charged less for things than the previous place, and in addition, they are located in old town Tustin, a little village of a place I had driven through many times, but never gotten out of the car and walked. I found when I did that that all kinds of little shops emerged from the alleyways, places that remained invisible to me as I zipped by them in the car, bound from one place to another.
Today I had time, while I was waiting for the garage to assess the damage to my car (which turned out to be completely shot front breaks and three leaks that needed patching in the oil system and a new hose and clamps for the radiator), I had time to wander aimlessly. I went into the shopping center across the street and had a yogurt, poked around in the Laxmi Indian grocery and sweets story, taking time to check out their pungent lunch buffet (just looking) and to sniff the sweet smell of the Japanese bakery and Cream Pan (just sniffing), and then wandered down the long block looking at the funky little stores and alleyways. I had a thoroughly terrific time, particularly since I was discovering something that had been hidden in plain sight. I have always loved quaint little towns, and it seems that this was one I had completely overlooked, though I've been in it dozens of times.
I'll pick up the car tomorrow morning. Hope it's fixed.

Squared Away

I have finally gotten everything ready for my parents' move. The only thing we have to do now is actually get the stuff to the new place. Also, I am concerned because my dad's bed will be moved on Saturday night, which means he has to spend that night at our house. That won't be easy. We have to give him his medications, and I don't know how. So I'll have to contact Suzie, and ask her about it. Or else we can send him to the new place for Saturday night, but that probably won't work. I could ask the place where they live now to put another bed back in their present room, but I really don't want to ask them for anything. It's the details that make things difficult.

Wednesday, January 6, 2010

Torah for the new year

Last night, a few diehard Torah groupies met in the freezing library at the synagogue to discuss a parashah--Numbers 8-12, B'haalot'cha. I hadn't paid too much attention to which book we were supposed to read, and actually had gotten a few books ahead of the game.
In this book, the Israelites were griping about the lousy accommodations in the desert and Moses' faulty leadership. But management, in the form of Aaron and Miriam, Moses' siblings, got in on the act, criticizing Moses for marrying an outsider--a criticism that seemed to have racist overtones, since the word used to describe his wife might be one that describes a person of a dark-skinned nationality. The thing is, no one is exactly sure what this ancient Hebrew means in a given context, so it's anyone's guess.
It's kind of like that classic mistranslation of Cinderella's slipper. In the French, it was made out of "vair"--fur; but the translator read it as "verre"--glass. So we in English are stuck with images of a glass slipper in our heads that did not exist in the original. Of course, as one who believes that every reading necessarily transforms a text, even if it is nominally in one's own language to begin with, I don't mind that so much.
Moses, in turn, complains to God that he has had enough of all of this kvetching. And God, his alter-ego, who acts on mild-mannered Moses' impulses, concocts punishments to fit the crimes. For the Israelites, who were complaining that they were sick of eating Manna, Manna, Manna every day, and demanded meat, he swept in millions of quail, which they gobbled avidly. Seeing them greedily stuffing their faces, God struck them with a plague, which killed thousands of them.
Then God called out Aaron and Miriam, but as usual, Aaron was spared. We have all noted this, and have become fed up with his continual escape from punishment, though one might very well argue that seeing his sons' destruction was punishment enough, since God zapped them for not following instructions exactly during their first gig as priests in the Temple. Instead, Miriam gets struck with a kind of leprosy that covers her skin with white scales, rendering her impure. This causes her to be excluded from the community for 7 days. It probably would have been worse, but her brothers prayed for her healing, and the people, usually impatient at best, waited for her to be allowed back into the camp before packing up and leaving again.
I see where Dante got his idea for inventive and appropriate punishments. It's right there in the Bible.

Tuesday, January 5, 2010

Loose Ends

I continued to persevere today to finish my syllabus and to get that check of my parents' taken care of, as well as calling hither and yon to arrange change of address stuff. We got the medallion signatures and will now send the check back to be rewritten in my father's name. We were not able to figure out how to get a joint account, though I have some ideas for the future I want to pursue.
Visiting my parents' house today made me feel very sad that he is leaving. The owner's wife is a really nice person, very kind, but yesterday, the caregiver gave my dad the wrong amount of medication. Luckily, he knows what he is supposed to take. But he didn't say anything to her because he didn't want to hurt her feelings. I told him that someone's life could depend on that information, so please tell the caregiver when it happens. But my dad is essentially a very kind and sensitive person. I have always known that. Even when he was a brutal monster, it seemed, down underneath, this person was always there.

Monday, January 4, 2010

Jeremy again

When Jeremy gets his driver's license back in February, he is planning to move out of the house. Like any kid his age, he can't wait to go. I remember that feeling, and sympathize, but I am really concerned about his plans.
Jeremy likes nice places, even though he doesn't have much money, so he is planning to move in with 4 people who work at Ralph's--one of them a girl, a former student of mine, who I don't like very much at all. And she is going to be his roommate.
It is not just because she didn't do any work in my class and stopped coming almost immediately (though that doesn't help, of course), but also because she seems like a completely inane and stupid girl, who will set him back, just when he has begun to make progress on his education.
As far as I know, he hasn't really gotten involved with anyone, hasn't even dated anyone more than once. And it's about time, I guess, that he try it, but I really don't like the idea of him signing a year lease with this girl, living in a room with her. I think it will make it impossible for him to continue in school, just because she is such a goofball.
He sat down with me and told me his plans, to get my input, so I gave it to him, that I don't like this girl, that I think he is making a mistake. I thought his friend Scott and he were going to share a room, but the place is too expensive for Scott. It must then also be too expensive for Jeremy, but he'll find out the hard way, and then we'll end up paying for it; that is my fear.
Jeremy wanted us to move into a one bedroom apartment after he left, but considering how many clothes and books I have--we have, as far as books are concerned--and how crowded and cluttered our two bedroom place is, I don't like that idea at all. Richard was thinking if we moved into a one bedroom we'd have more money for Jeremy's new place. I don't think that's a good idea either. He needs to find out what it is like to have to pay for things himself. We'll continue to pay for his education, but not this. Because it isn't a good idea, not the way he's set it up. Not at all.
I suppose I am just another worried parent. But that's the way it is.

Saturday, January 2, 2010


It seems Suzie may not take the job after all. The owner of the old place was so enraged when I told them we were not staying that he threatened to hurt Suzie anyway, even if going with us was not her idea but mine. Her brother was afraid and told her she shouldn't take the job. I think she will eventually make her way, even if she doesn't take the job, but frankly, I am worried about my mother. I think in a totally new place with unfamiliar caregivers, she will not be okay. I don't want to leave her in the old place now, without caregivers at all and give the guy the satisfaction that he kept us from leaving, controlled us. He is a bully.

Mishaps Come In Threes

Today was a trying day. First thing this morning, I got an email about the account I tried to set up for my parents so I could cash that check. Guess what? It didn't work. They won't accept mom without a DMV ID, and the state won't issue her one because she was not born in the U.S. and has no alternative ID. And round and round we go!
So after yoga class, I picked them up at the house and was heading out to the bank when... my back tire blew! I pulled into the nearest turn lane and called AAA and Richard. Luckily, we were only a street away from home, so he came and got them and took them to our house. A cop pulled up behind me and protected us till he came and got them, and then the AAA guy came and changed the tire to the spare, and I drove up the street to the garage. Two tires later, I drove to my parents' house and paid the rent for the days we will be there. I tried to call the owner of the house, but he is in Las Vegas with his family, so I just told the administrator. They don't even HAVE a caregiver at the house, just the administrator. She told me she thought I was doing the right thing because my mom is really freaked out with Suzie gone. She is taking all her clothes out of the closet and is anxious and fretful. When the administrator bathed her, she didn't want to take the towel away from her body. She was reluctant to let this stranger touch her. So it will be good for her to be with Suzie, even if it is a totally new place, which is bound to be a bit confusing at first.
Monday I'll try to take care of the bank business and ask the credit union whether they would set up such an account for my parents if I am on it too.