Friday, April 30, 2010

Dueling Phonecalls

I went to yoga class again this morning, which let out at 10:30. During class, I heard my phone beeping, meaning that someone had called me. I should have turned it off, since I didn't intend to jump up and go answer it during class. But I forgot, so there it was. Luckily, it didn't seem to bother anyone but me.
After class, I listened to the message and found that the call was the vet, saying that my cat, Whistler, who was boarding at the vet prior to his dental appointment, had a cavity, and the doctors wanted my permission to fill it. I would have given permission, but by that time, he was already up from the anesthetic.
The vet called again later to say that his kidney numbers were up, and would I give permission for a blood test. Blood tests for cats are very very expensive, but I gave permission. Whistler is obese, and despite the fact that I watch him carefully to make sure he eats only his own food and not Shadow's, he has lost only 2 ounces. There is probably a hormone problem or something going on there. This is complicated by the fact that he is very allergic to most foods, so I cannot give him a weight loss food. He would get sick. I have tried to switch him to wet food, thinking it would be less fattening, but he can't tolerate it, even when it contains no chicken or eggs. Maybe he'd get used to it, but I am afraid to persevere, since his diarrhea is so severe.
Meanwhile, at the same time, I went to the hospital and learned the operation was going to be performed at 1:30 PM instead of 9 AM. It is going on right now, as I am writing. I found mom completely unresponsive to me today, though she is now eating and drinking finely chopped food and liquids. Her medications must be chopped up too.
She was yelling when I came in, though she didn't open her eyes, as the orderlies turned her to avoid bed sores. They told me she generally didn't want to be touched at all. It didn't seem to calm her when I stroked her brow and talked to her.
I talked to both the orthopedic surgeon and the plastic surgeon who is doing the surgery today. More permissions, more explanations. My head is going around.
As I pulled into my complex, I saw with alarm that a building was on fire somewhee close by. Black smoke filled the air.
I think I'll just stay home for a while.

Thursday, April 29, 2010

So much energy

I did quite a bit today--everything I said I'd do, despite being late leaving from my last appointment with my student at 2. But in spite of that, I do not feel tired. Perhaps it's hanging upside down from the ropes for such a long time that, as Liz has it, shook all the crap out of my head (and everyone else's who was there in Bob's rope yoga class tonight!). I went into the class distracted and anxious, and left full of vigor, despite hunger and my mom's 2nd operation tomorrow morning.
Liz and I went to the hospital to visit mom before going to the yoga class. Mom was uncommunicative, despite being taken off of pain and all other meds. She could not eat or drink because she had aspirated whatever they gave her. Before I left, the nurses said she was going to be given water and chopped food again soon. But in spite of having her eyes closed and clearly being elsewhere in her mind, she smiled when I kissed her brow, and, the nurse said, fully opened her eyes and smiled when my dad came to visit her earlier in the day.
I don't know whether she will live through this ordeal. But she is not in pain and not sad or upset. I should be thankful for that.

Catch Up

Yesterday I had a good class explaining to those who showed up what went wrong with the drafts. I discussed the kinds of approaches to the issue I saw in the papers, and how to undertake a causal argument and an evaluation argument. Some papers combined these and other approaches--definition/evaluating, causal/evaluation, for instance.
And I am having meetings with students continuing today. The ones whom I have seen so far understand what they need to do.
I will also finally take the cat to the vet, if I can catch him. Sometimes he realizes what is up and disappears under a bed or into the black hole of the closet and it is hopeless. No amount of wheedling or food rattling will coax him out.
And I will visit my mom, and go on from there to the monthly sale at the consignment store and yoga class in Laguna Beach.
I have a busy day planned, one filled with important and necessary things as well as with fun.

Wednesday, April 28, 2010

Getting the Picture

Also, I thought you might want to know that I've been working with an illustrator who lives in Orange on the yoga poems. She hasn't yet completed any drawings for the chapbook, but I have looked at a few of her other things and we have discussed media, settling for the moment on watercolor and ink, media she often works in. It seems she has long wanted to do a book of yoga drawings, but was looking for the right writer. Coincidence? We'll see how it goes.

Too much to do

At about 9 PM, I heard from the surgeon that my mom came through the operation really well. She had a spinal, so was only a bit sleepy, and responding to the surgeons as well as expected (which isn't too well since she can't hear and probably couldn't understand either, even if she did hear, because of the dementia), and the doctors were happy about what they were able to do, putting a metal plate in her leg. They say she will need at least two other operations and will be in the hospital a few weeks at least. This is her first break, and it is a doozy.
At 2 AM, I heard from the nursing staff that she needed a transfusion. I didn't mind being woken up, and went right back to sleep. The cats, for once, did not disturb me until about 4 AM. I was plenty tired.
This morning, I will go to yoga class, then to my parents' house to return the wheelchair I borrowed and to class. I hope after I speak with the students today I can go visit my mother, but I have errands to do as well. That cat has to go to the vet sometime!

Tuesday, April 27, 2010

Truly a Medical Emergency

I spent most of today in the E.R. at Mission, and then later in pre-op, grading papers and working on study questions for the summer. It gave me a lot of time to think about what to say to each student in the conference I need to have with him or her to whip this things into any kind of shape.
But as I thought about all of this, I had much to deal with. It turns out that my mother has broken some kind of record as the oldest person ever to have this kind of rare break of the tibia, just below the head of the bone, and straight through. The bone is all out of place, poking through the skin, and causing enormous magenta raspberries to break out in the vicinity of the break. They are angry looking blood blisters, caused by shearing of the skin, according to the orthopedic surgeon, a young guy who looks about Jeremy's age, but is apparently the latest wunderkind at the hospital. He certainly seemed to know what he was about.
My mother was in a lot of pain, which I'm sure isn't surprising. The nurse kept on doling out the morphine to help her, and finally she was peaceful, ready to go into surgery. I hope it goes well.

If it's Tuesday, this must be a medical emergency

My dad is on hospice now, but not my mom, who I secretly think ought to be. But no one has recommended it or said she has a limited lifespan, so I cannot ask for it. Now she has gotten up to use the commode in the night and fallen, and her knee is now swollen. She cannot walk at all.
Today was to be a busy day of grading those awful drafts, doing samples for class, taking the cat (at last) for his shots, if I could catch him, and going to work at 2. In the evening, I am supposed to go to Torah class. I didn't make the last Torah class because of my dad's medical emergency. I wasn't even going to yoga today so I could get all the other stuff done. Sigh.

Monday, April 26, 2010

About the picture

There is something not right here. The horse ought to be cute, but somehow, it seems grotesque to me. The proportions are all off.

The Titanic Sails

Today I got those drafts I expected, and I must say that they are mostly quite a disaster area. I think this is pretty hopeless, and I am not sure how or IF I'll be able to salvage any of them. I have hopes for the next papers, on the films adapted from these texts. But perhaps in vain.
Students forgot how to quote from, analyze, and cite the texts and the sources, despite all the time we spent doing this on papers 1 and 2. It seems that left to their own devices, they are unable to transfer these skills to another context. Now I have unshakable proof, in case I ever thought I needed it, that independent analysis of literary texts doesn't work in a composition class except in a context where we have studied several of an author's works and they can now apply what they know to a new work by that author. Then they will have some context, which they lack here.
If I ever do an adaptation class again, it won't be a composition class. It will be strictly a class in adaptation. And you can bet I'll choose the texts they can write on very very carefully, making them texts I have read. It helps to be able to reach in and guide the student, as I have the one who is writing about Frankenstein, a text I know well, and the one who is writing about Solaris. The others, writing about texts I haven't read, and movies I haven't seen, are on their own.
Of course, in a class about research, one has this problem, no matter what kinds of texts and subjects they are writing about. I am not an expert on these topics. I can only help them make sense of the arguments they think they find in the literature, and perhaps some of these are figments of their imaginations. Perhaps when the subject is literature, the problem is that I feel I OUGHT to be an expert, and I can't be. I can't let myself off the hook as I do if they are writing about slavery in the agricultural fields in Florida, for instance.

Where's the Spring?

This year we have a gray spring. Either we've been catapulted forward into June gloom, or backward into February rains. Of course, we haven't been actually getting that much rain, but the air doesn't have that soft and gentle feel of most late Aprils. As if we didn't have evidence of climate change, this is it, since it feels as if we've shifted northward a state or so.
Human beings, most of them anyhow, are not really all that affected by this sort of change, unless they are trying to grow some crop that does not find such change congenial. So I guess I shouldn't complain, and I'm not, really, just wondering at it, as I would any sort of change, being glad I'm not some delicate native plant or lizard that counts on the usual state of affairs.

Sunday, April 25, 2010

Top of another cycle

Jeremy was here last night, and all was well. I didn't take any bait he dangled in front of me, so we didn't argue. He shared my rotisserie chicken and chatted amiably, then promised to try to come to my parents' house to have dinner today. It turned out he couldn't because he is working most of the day, but it was a good thought. We'll do it next week, if all goes as planned.
In the evening, R and I watched the film Bright Star, about John Keats and the girl next door he loved, Fanny Brawne. It was directed by Australian director, Jane Campion, and had lovely images of the English or proto-English countryside. It was good to get a feminine perspective of a love affair, from the woman's pov, particularly when the woman was not famous and the man was.

Saturday, April 24, 2010

Worn out

Richard helped me take my parents to the farmer's market this morning. I couldn't face taking them alone, and in any case, if my dad had needed a wheelchair, I couldn't have taken them alone, with my mom in the wheel chair. So he drove, and I sat in the back, the walker crammed in front of me, with its feet on mine. Ow!
We got there okay, and Richard, who has never been there before, seemed to be having a very good time. He stood there with my mom's wheelchair, listening to the musician do his thing, chatting with him between sets, and trying many samples. He bought a few things I wouldn't have thought of buying for himself, including a nice loaf of fresh bread (I would have bought something a little more elaborate, but it was good) and some goat's cheese. Hating cheese as I do, I wouldn't have bought that, would I?

What does it mean?

Yesterday, my dad signed the papers for hospice. I am not sure about all the implications of this. It seems to mean no more doctors' appointments. I feel a bit nervous about this. We didn't go see the cardiologist or the nephrologist before we canned traditional medicine. I hope that wasn't a mistake.
The physician's assistant we saw on Thursday afternoon seemed to suggest it was too early to sign my dad up for hospice, but he wanted to be sure he never had to go back to the hospital, and I respected those wishes.
Of course, my mom still has doctors' appointments. It would make sense to put her on hospice too, but I don't think she qualifies for it yet.

Thursday, April 22, 2010

More of the Same

I just came back from a heartbreaking and harrowing trip to the doctor's with both my parents. My mom is same as always. Her UTI has cleared up, and her eyes are open most of the day because of that, though her mental state is really not much better and her mobility not at all better. She must get about in a wheelchair now, and cannot go to the bathroom or anywhere else by herself.
My dad is worse. He looks gray and tired, startling easily, and can barely push his walker along the path. He has told the caregivers and me that he will not go back to the hospital. Should he have another small heart attack like the one he had last week, he said, he will not tell anyone because he just wants to die in peace, since there is nothing to be done about it. He has asked to go on hospice, a decision that startled and saddened the physician's assistant who was speaking with him, since he has always been the most alive person in the room. But his mind is made up. He is ready to get a wheelchair, and to give up.

Holding Pattern

Lately, I feel like those stranded travelers waiting for the volcano in Iceland to stop spewing lava. I am waiting for this awful semester to finish up, in a failed class and a train wreck of a research paper set that I can do nothing about at this point. I am also dealing with my father's prognosis, which is very poor, and feeling helpless to do anything about that. Yes, I guess I have entered another phase of response to the news of his untreatable heart disease. And I am struck by the knowledge that Jeremy needs medication quite badly, but can do nothing about it.
It is the fate of all of us to acknowledge that we are ultimately helpless to control most of the things around us, from natural disasters like volcanos to our bodies' vagaries and the will of others, not ourselves. Even the consequences of our own failed experiments give us occasion to realize that we can often only sit back and gaze with wonder or despair at the show.

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

How To Feel

People have asked me how I feel and how my dad reacted to the news that his heart disease is untreatable. His response was sober and stoic. He is clearly sad, but resigned. I feel a crazy sense of relief. Maybe that is horrible. After all, despite the tough times with my father before he was medicated and the insanity of the demands both my parents' health and welfare have made on me, I love them and care about them.
I would do anything to keep them safe. But there is something freeing in knowing I cannot do, cannot be expected to do, anything more for my father, and very little for my mom.
I know there will be difficult times ahead, but perhaps it is because I know they will have a limit that I feel this way. But feelings are feelings, and I know better than to condemn or second guess them.

Sunday, April 18, 2010

Today and Yesterday

I didn't end up going to the wilderness workshop yesterday. Chalk it up to my inability to find new places and fear of highway driving.
But I did have interesting experiences.
On her blog, Lou talked about a blackout in Irvine, around 9 PM or so. At that time, I was showing the movie A Streetcar Named Desire, which was far more amazing than I had remembered. Marlon Brando seemed to have stepped off the pages of GQ in his cool black and white perfection. Vivien Leigh was painful and eloquent. Karl Malden was wonderfully dense in his role of the wronged, slightly pea-brained suitor. But about 3/4 of the way through the movie, the lights (and computer image) all went off, scaring the daylights out of all of us. Luckily, R and M, who were there watching the film, whipped out their ultra-bright mini flashlights, and we were soon in business again, when the lights came back on. However, a few minutes later, the image froze, never to return. The disc was gouged and scratched. We didn't get to watch the end of the movie.
Today I went after yoga class to get my father out of the hospital. I brought a change of clothes and underwear, even though I was pretty sure there was clean underwear he hadn't used that I brought the day after he was admitted. But he was out of it, when I arrived, his mouth hanging open, his breathing shallow, and he didn't seem to understand or care what was going on around him. His face was gray and unshaven (unshaven for the whole time he was there because I didn't think of bringing the new electric shaver and using it on his face). He couldn't walk on his walker, and had to be wheeled from the car to the house by the caregiver.
But in an hour or so, the caregivers had lavished him with attention, shaved him, changed him again (he didn't make it to the bathroom in time), and plonked him down in front of a ballgame in his favorite chair with the newspaper and a big glass of soymilk, his beverage of choice. He wasn't hungry, but he promised me he would eat something because of his diabetes.
We had talked to the cardiac surgeon, a cool customer, who told us that the decision against surgery we made was probably the one he would have made himself. The chance of stroke, kidney destruction, and massive heart attack was just too great for a man of his age and health. And he apparently had told my dad that there was no chance at all of the medication helping him enough to stabilize him and live a while longer. He shouldn't have said that.

Saturday, April 17, 2010

Feeling Better

At least I'm not so tired, and my butt doesn't hurt... yet. Haven't had yoga class.
I don't know why I feel better. After all, nothing was settled, really. And hard times for my father and for all of us are yet to come, yet I feel relieved. He made it over that hurdle. The future seems certain, if not rosy. And at 93, the future holds death anyway, fairly soon. But I'll take advantage of the feelings of relief and the burst of energy I feel to do things I love to do today. I won't be trying to go alone to the wilderness workshop, so with any luck, I will find the group.
Going to visit my dad at the hospital now! Have a good day!
Let's all send some love to Lou, who is having hard times with her partner,whose health is not good. I am sending some strength I had left over from yesterday. xo

Friday, April 16, 2010

What happened today

It was a difficult day. It started out okay, at the morning egg-stravaganza transfer conference at the college. We had a wonderful plate of fresh fruit, muffins, bagels, and breakfast burritos, including a custom burrito made just for me without cheese--just turkey sausage, hashbrowns, and more eggs than I've eaten in years. No wonder I didn't feel well, though it was so tasty I couldn't stop eating it. The conference was stimulating and interesting too. And I connected with a UCI library intern who said she would come to IVC to do a presentation on doing research at UCI library, or else we can go there (better idea). It's too late this semester, but next year I'll start out fall semester with one of those.
Afterwards, I went to the hospital, where my dad's procedure was scheduled for 4 PM. My dad was nervous and impatient. He wanted the nurse to come bathe him, so I got her. Then he was upset because there was a little blood in his IV tube, so I had to go get her again. And then they took him down to do the procedure.
I have had a crazy stomach all day, and I really don't think it had anything to do with the eggs. It was just jitters. Even now I feel drained and tired. I won't be going anywhere till tomorrow.
Dad was awake all during the procedure, and he was alert and talking when he got out of it. The cardiologist had a talk with me and gave me a little picture of my dad's heart, which is apparently pretty blocked up with plaque, not just in one artery, but in all of them. I know that the arteries in his neck are also blocked, so this didn't really surprise me.
There wasn't much the surgeon could do because of the extent of the disease. He said he thought my dad was pretty active, and he liked that, as far as prospects for surgery went, but he said that recovery from surgery at his age was dicey at best, and that his mental state could be badly compromised.
Given that it already is somewhat compromised, and he was very upset about that just a few days ago, mourning what he had lost, I don't think that prospect was good. I feel at the moment that surgery isn't a good idea, and he tended to agree with me.
My uncle has had several heart attacks, and has suggested some alternatives, such as daily doses of fish oil. I first have to check whether he can take it with the amount of anti-depressant medications he takes. I have heard there could be interaction. There were a couple of other alternative things he suggested, and of course, eating less red meat.
But I feel numb, and tired, and my butt hurts.

Thursday, April 15, 2010

Making Plans

I spoke with the surgeon this morning and told him to go ahead with the angiogram and placing of the stent in my father's heart, if necessary and/or possible. I realize as does my dad that the angiogram may kill my father and end the whole thing there, or kill his kidneys and put him on dialysis for the rest of his life, but as the doctor (and my father) see it, he is due for a big heart attack sometime soon that would probably kill him anyway. It is his choice. Left to my own devices, I probably wouldn't do it.

Wednesday, April 14, 2010

One of (another of) Those Days

Weds. can be a good day sometimes. I go to yoga in the morning, then teach, and go home, to a nice dinner... sometimes. But today was different. Though I went to yoga with Bob this morning (good class, wasn't it Liz?), and then on to class (not a bad class either), I had two difficult things (make that 3) to do... First, my student who is somewhat unbalanced was again troubled. Then the student who lost her fiance a month before the wedding came to class, after being out for 2 1/2 weeks. I taught a class that backed up and explained the upcoming paper again, for her and for everyone else, and it helped a lot, I think. But it doesn't make the upcoming task any less daunting. These students are studying literary texts by themselves, finding secondary materials, reading and analyzing them... by themselves. Pretty tough going. I tried to help them choose texts they already knew, for the most part. I have one student doing Mice and Men, another Twelve Angry Men, another couple the novel from which Blade Runner was made, Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?, Fight Club, Frankenstein, and other such stuff. A student today changed her text to James Cain's Double Indemnity because she loves the movie and has studied it before. The next paper is on the movie adaptation of the book.
After class I had a discussion with the girl who lost her fiance, and she told me what happened. It was pretty awful, one those freak heart problems that no one knew existed, despite the fact that he had in fact just had a complete physical, including being seen by a cardiologist. After death, the coroner said he had the heart of an 80 year old. The guy was probably under 30. She is, of course, devastated. Who wouldn't be?
While I was talking to her, my father's cardiologist called (another coincidence) and said that in his view, my father will have a large heart attack, soon, and it will probably kill him. He wants to do an angiogram.
You may recall that in the past, doctors have not done this because of my father's dicey kidneys. To do an angiogram, the doctors must inject a dye, which is not easily tolerated by the kidneys. They could entirely shut down kidneys, in a worst case scenario.
However, this doctor, who has not seen my father before, says that in his view, the kidneys look considerably better than they did last time he was in the hospital, so he feels that if he thoroughly hydrates my father, he could find out what's going on in there, and put in a stent that would keep the heart attack from happening.
I plan to talk it over with my father and with his doctor tomorrow, if I get a chance to do that.
I also tried to take my mother for bloodtests for her upcoming doctor's appt. Friday, but I missed the lab by 10 minutes because I couldn't get the car door open and because my mother forgot how to walk through the parking lot to the lab. Sigh.


If you read my post of two days ago, you will see that there are multiple postings from a new reader, Patty, who does not know me, or if she is someone whom I have met, neither of us are aware of it.
It seems that Patty attended a workshop at Denise's Orange studio (the Emotional Stability sequence, as it turns out), and Denise read some of my poems to the class from the chapbook series. She evidently did not mention my name though.
After the workshop, Patty says that she Googled Iyengar yoga, and found this blog. She has also applied for a part time position teaching English at IVC! Heretofore, she has been teaching at SCC, where Jeremy used to go before he transferred to IVC this year.
Small and smaller world.

Pointless Ambitions

I have been teaching since 1980, going from one semester to the next mostly without expectations or ambitions. I have become fully involved in what I was teaching at the moment, without much thinking of what else I could be doing or where else I could be teaching.
Mostly this was because I was first in graduate school, next taking care of a small child with challenges (both mine and the child's), and then taking care of my parents, which of course, I am still doing. It seemed impossible to dream of a full time job teaching writing, literature, etc., as well as composition, though I did spend years trying to apply for such jobs all over the world. How many times I regretted turning down some of the offers I have gotten over the years, I can't tell you! I turned them down because of the child, the parents, the fears I had that I couldn't hack it. And maybe, insofar as the job in CompLit at the U was concerned, I really couldn't because my language skills are poor, no matter how hard I've worked at it.
But now that I am writing again seriously, these ambitions have woken up, and made me look longingly at positions I know I could fill, teaching creative writing at liberal arts colleges. Especially since I recently helped to judge a poetry contest at the college and found them uninspired at best, for the most part, uneducated about poetry, naive, I have been thinking that I could turn some of those people into real poets, if they wanted to be poets. I could at least teach them how it's done, if they wanted to know.
But I still can't go anywhere. I'm still responsible for my parents, still waiting for R's job at the U to wind up. Unless something local should fall into my lap, I am going to go on doing what I am doing till I drop. Could be worse I guess. I get to teach whatever I want, among people I like, and maybe I can talk someone at another college into letting me teach a workshop. Who knows?

Tuesday, April 13, 2010

Dad and the hospital--again

I forgot my cell phone again when I went to work today, but today it mattered because my dad had to go to the hospital. I was at school till 5:30, so I could not give permission to send him there. Luckily, R was at his office, and he gave permission.
It seems that dad had a very small heart attack--again. He is at the hospital closest to him, which is good because it makes him easy to visit and to get home. The doctor thinks he will be able to go home in a couple of days. I saw him, and he is in good spirits and not in pain.
My mother is better, after taking the antibiotics, but now that she is more active, she is getting into trouble. Today she walked into a wall because she walks around with her eyes closed.

Monday, April 12, 2010


My class is small now, as it usually is this time in the semester. There are 13 students actively attending class, and one who lost her fiance a month before the wedding whom I have not seen for a while. She says she will be back to class on Weds. For some reason, she has lots of legal business to transact with her would-be in laws. Perhaps they had bought a home or something. In any case, there will be a lot to do to help her try to catch up. She refuses to take a W or an Incomplete because she has been accepted to the University for next semester, on the condition that she completes all the classes she is taking now suitably.
But I have been speaking with each of the students about his or her research topic, and I am especially pleased that I helped one of them to choose just the right book and film for him. This student is from Russia. He is an excellent, exceedingly bright student, who wants to transfer to the philosophy department at the university next year.
Given his interests and nationality, I recommended Stanislaus Lem's novel, Solaris, and Tarkovsky's film of the same title. I knew he would find them congenial, and he does. He is really quite taken with the novel especially, but had never heard of Lem before I mentioned the book. Since it is such a philosophical work (actually, both the movie and the book are), I thought he would like them. Perhaps this is the best suggestion I've ever made to a student of a topic to research.

So Green

Yesterday I was luxuriating in the greenness of the grass and the leaves. That might seem ordinary and expected for those of you who live in temperate climates. What else would one see in April, after all? But most of the year out here, things are wheat colored and dry, unless they are deliberately watered. The hills' contours are exposed, like the flanks of a shaven dog, so the traces of earthquake folds can be plainly seen, the lines on a palm one scans and sees that earthquakes are our destiny in this part of the world.
This year we have gotten a little bit of rain at a time, and the grass and trees have responded with neon green leaves and shoots. We had our spring flowers (for the most part) a couple of months ago, but the summer is unfolding, and within a few weeks, will fade to its usual brown. This would be the time to go exploring in the hills. I am supposed to go on a wilderness workshop hike in Laguna Canyon Saturday. Somehow I will manage to find it, I hope not alone, since I don't have a very good record for that, do I?

Sunday, April 11, 2010

Lizard News

Here's an interesting blog post about captive komodo dragons.

Saturday, April 10, 2010

Yoga Miracle

This morning when I left for yoga, after grading papers all morning, I felt terrible. I couldn't go back to sleep after getting up at 3:30 to feed the cats, and was anxious and fretting about this and that and the other. But after a wonderful yoga class in Laguna Beach, with the blue water shining in the sunshine, I was a different person. I came home and went to see The Secret of Kells with Liz. It is an absolutely beautiful, magical film, and I heartily recommend it, but you better hurry! I don't think it will be playing long.
Then we went to eat Iranian chicken. Richard was supposed to meet us, but he didn't find us. He refuses to have a cell phone, so I couldn't call him and meet up. Too bad. It was quite good, and I had enough for two. Brought most of it home.


Thought you might enjoy this crazy cat video Liz sent me.

Friday, April 9, 2010

When I grow up

When I was younger, I wanted to be either a naturalist, prowling the rainforests to study the habits of some interesting beast, or a vet, caring for animals. However, as I grew, it became plain that though I was curious, observant of certain things, and had a pretty good mind, I didn't have the math skills or the ability to divorce myself emotionally from what I was doing to make a vet or probably any kind of scientist. The questions I ask of the objects of my study seem to be different from the kinds of questions scientists ask.
While scientists must ask "What is this?" "How did it come to be the way it is?" looking for a biochemical,biological, or geological answer, I want to know where it came from and why, how it thinks and feels. These are metaphysical, psychological, philosophical questions, not scientific ones.
It started me thinking about these very different branches of knowledge, and how scientific knowledge has been in ascendence for centuries, while the kind of knowledge I naturally pursue has been marginalized.
Somewhere along the line, I made that choice, and knew its implications.

Thursday, April 8, 2010

More sad stuff

I took my dad to the psychiatrist at Veterans today. It is right down La Paz from their home, so it is little trouble; however, I would have liked to be home grading papers since the Center was crowded and bustling most of the time I was there, and I couldn't get any grading done today.
The psychiatrist is a pleasant man, like someone I might know in synagogue or in the choir. He has sympathetic crinkly eyes and curly brown hair, graying at the temples. His book shelves are not impressively packed with hardback leather volumes, but rather old paperbacks, mostly, like ones I might have on my own shelves, worn and battered, obviously much-read.
I took my dad to see him because bipolar medications are a delicate thing. My dad's recent fit of boredom and desperation merited a trip to see if the cocktail needed to be re-stirred. And the doctor decided that he was going to cut one of the medication doses in half because the dose he is on can make bipolar episodes speed up. He then tested and tweaked to see how fast my father would plunge into a depressive state. He asked my dad how he felt watching my mom go downhill mentally. He was more depressed than I have ever seen him, even so much that he said he would kill himself if it were not for his sudoku puzzles.
It wasn't just mom's mental deterioration, but his own, and his own utter helplessness, unable to do anything anymore, even button his shirt, that had him in so much despair.
So the doctor dismissed us, after leaving my father in a dangerously depressed state. I thought that was rather reckless. Yes, he learned what he wanted to, but now what? What are we to do until the medications arrive?


Remember that student of mine (did I mention her here?) whose fiance died a month before the wedding, very suddenly? I wasn't sure what to do because she wanted to stay in the class but of course finds herself unable to do the work or even to come to class? She was out of class for two weeks, during which she missed a paper and the start of another paper, and there are only a few weeks left of the semester and two more papers at the least to go (and an exam).
I had put up detailed emails going over what I taught in class last week, partly because several students just didn't show up for peer review and one was at a Model UN debate in New York city for the entire week also. I was thinking that perhaps this student could read those emails and since she is a very good, prepared student (an English major), she would be okay. But she didn't read her email. She was busy dealing with the legal issues around his death, working with lawyers, etc. I don't know what happened; I didn't ask.
But I decided it just couldn't wait anymore, and emailed her that I thought she should drop the class because she didn't have enough grades to take an incomplete.
She asked me to call her, and it was terrible, because of course she begged me and wept. And of course I gave in, though frankly I don't know how this is going to work.
She has been accepted to the University as a transfer student for next semester and must pass this class (with a very good grade too) to go on as planned.
I had offered to go to her house and teach her everything I had taught the class for the past two weeks and she at last took me up on it. I don't know how I will do it, but she wants me to come tomorrow, and of course I will.
Meanwhile, I have the papers to grade. It seems like a lot is happening this weekend--two yoga workshops I turned down because of school stuff (including the Emotional Stability workshop I wrote about being repeated again), political stuff that would have otherwise interested me, and of course, I have to prepare my class for next week, a feat since they are now working on their individual projects, and I must pull topics out of the air that I think will help them.

Wednesday, April 7, 2010

Again with the poem?

Earthquake, 4/4/10

This solid-seeming earth’s a mist, a rolling
sea of subatomic particles. It takes a day like this,
when tectonic plates sing out like struck bells,
to put us straight. What we know as solid
isn’t—a seething, shifting mass.
Made of the same stuff as that
old redwood, we rise like bracket
fungus, overnight and all the many
cities that we build are made of air.
Perhaps geologists, in their spotless
coats, probing and measuring, so sure
in what they know, will any minute feel
the jolt, and fall down on their knees, afraid.

Revised Earthquake

Here's a slightly revised poem.

Earthquake, 4/4/10

This solid-seeming earth’s a mist, a rolling
sea of subatomic particles. It takes a day like this,
when tectonic plates sing out like struck bells,
to put us straight. What we know as solid isn’t—
a seething, shifting, undifferentiated mass.
Made of the same stuff as that old redwood,
we rise like bracket fungus, overnight
from the trunk of that old redwood, and all
the many cities that we build are made of air.
Perhaps geologists, in their spotless coats,
probing and measuring, looking so sure
in what they know, will any minute feel
the jolt, and fall down on their knees, afraid.

A first

Earlier this year I entered a literary contest to win a fellowship for a workshop in Montreal or Kenya. I always thought I would travel when I was a child. My parents had, after all, and I had family all over the world, particularly with my mom being from South Africa.
The family is still represented in many countries--Australia, Africa, Europe (and yes, I know it's a continent, not a country--the countries are France, Holland, and England), Canada, Israel to name a few. There are still some family members I don't know in Russia. So travel has been there at the back of my mind as something I'd like to do if I ever had the money and the time.
I didn't win the full fellowship. If I had, I would have gone to one of these workshops, probably Kenya in December. But I was offered a 20% tuition waiver. I don't know how much it would cost me to go to Montreal, a city I have loved in the past, but probably not enough to give up my summer class. Still, it's nice to be admired, particularly since the letter says they got thousands of entries. Mine was, according to the letter, in the top 6th.

Tuesday, April 6, 2010

Last Seder of the Spring

Last night I took my father to the choir's seder. It is a nice, varied bunch, which has met for the last two Passovers to celebrate the holiday and our years together. We hire our own caterer and meet at the recreation center at one of our member's housing complex, which is spacious enough for everyone and has a fully equipped kitchen.
I took my dad, who wanted desperately to get away from the house, even if it meant waiting for hours to eat the meal that beckoned from the kitchen while we carried on our service.
A seder, for those who do not know, is a ritual meal that celebrates the exodus of the Israelites out of Egypt. Everything in the meal has a symbolic part in that story. It is an ideal holiday for someone like me, who is essentially a storyteller in one form or another because that's what the holiday's purpose is: to tell the story to each new generation, to remind everyone that we were once slaves, so have to keep in mind this reality still exists for others, and work to free them and to keep ourselves free of "the narrow place" (the literal meaning of "Egypt") in our lives, all those things that make us less than free.
Jesus' last supper was a seder, for those of you from another tradition, so it isn't foreign to Christianity either. I have indeed been to many Catholic seders over the years as well, and helped them to get the details right.
In any case, my dad loved it--the company of others he did not know well, the wonderful food, the novelty. He was so pleased to be there.
I didn't take my mother because it seemed pointless. She cannot hear, doesn't interact with others, frets constantly if it is getting late (anything past 5 PM is late for her), and has to go to the bathroom, which is difficult and takes perhaps 15 minutes each time, several times an outing. She can barely walk, and must be fed. I couldn't pay attention to the seder or enjoy it at all with her there. Perhaps it was selfish for me to have left her home, but my dad says she is out cold about half an hour after supper, and stays asleep all night. She doesn't even want to go to the Center anymore.
It was a bittersweet evening because she wasn't there, because I left her. Was I being realistic or selfish? Perhaps a bit of each.

Monday, April 5, 2010


I guess the scientist I watched on the news yesterday after the earthquake ticked me off. She seemed so annoyed, when she ought after all to be in her element.

Earthquake, 4/4/10

This solid-seeming earth’s a mist, a rolling
sea of subatomic particles. It takes a day like this,
when tectonic plates sing out like struck bells,
to put us straight. What we know as solid isn’t—
a seething, shifting, undifferentiated mass.
We rise like spongy bracket fungus
from the trunk of that old redwood, feeding
where we can. Made of the same stuff
as the tree, although it doesn’t seem so.
Perhaps geologists, in their spotless coats,
probing and measuring, looking so satisfied
in what they know, will any minute feel
the jolt, and fall down on their knees, afraid.

Dead Radio

I am a fan of NPR. I listen all the time--in the car, in the house. That's why, now that my boombox has bitten the dust, I feel bereft. I have been looking around for a new radio, but one that isn't super-expensive and fancy, intended to serve as an IPOD station. I don't have an IPOD or an MP3 player. I just listen to music on the radio and CDs, when I listen at all. But I guess I'll have to take what I can get, particularly because my virus program won't allow me to listen live to the online station. I was thinking of having the computer guy, a student at the college who has named my file of documents (embarrassingly) "RabbiNester'sdocuments," come and set up my computer's fax so I can email/fax my cousin in Israel. She doesn't use computers, but has a fax machine. So I can ask him to set up the radio online too. That way, I won't have to buy a new radio, though perhaps it would be a good idea, just in case of an emergency, to have one.
I took my parents out yesterday afternoon. There were not many places to choose from. It was too cool for the beach, as predicted, and the mall was closed, but I took them in Farrell's ice cream parlor anyhow, and they had little sundaes, while I ate my bald fat free vanilla scoop with strawberries. Tonight I take my dad to the choir seder. It's the last full day of Passover for this year.
I am working on a poem about yesterday's earthquake.

Sunday, April 4, 2010

Happy Easter to my friends!

Happy Easter to you, if you are celebrating it! It looks like a possibly gray day, but perhaps it is just too early to know for sure. Probably the sun will come out, though it may be rather cool, as it was yesterday, not the best day for taking my parents to the beach.
Since I don't know what else to do with them today, I will break Passover to take them out to eat Vietnamese food. I am eying a restaurant in Little Saigon that my favorite food blog has touted. It looks good and it is reasonable.
Tomorrow night, I will take my father to the choir's seder. He has been so bored and at loose ends, I have to devise special treats to calm him down all the time, as if he were 5 years old.
Last night I showed the Russian film Solaris (1972), by the famous director Andrei Tarkovsky. It is very slow and stately, like a 19th century Russian novel, and dated in a few parts, such as the strange, interminable sequence of freeways. I suppose in Russia at that time freeways were an oddity, and seemed like a mark of the future. Since the film was set in an undetermined future of manned distant space travel and stations on far away planets, using this footage of Japanese freeways seemed futuristic. The contrast with the bucolic Russia of the film was certainly plain.
After last week's film, A Clockwork Orange, where music featured so very centrally, the quiet of this film, which used almost no music and very little sound aside from the diagetic dialogue and ambient noises, was striking. And I enjoyed the sound of Russian, which I have not heard for so long.
I am beginning to work on my 60 second Torah discussion for a service in May. One person in the synagogue will represent each parashah of the Torah. I got Numbers 19:1-22:1. So much of consequence happens in this section, it will be difficult to do any kind of justice to it at all. This is the part where Miriam dies, Aaron dies, and the doctrine of the red heifer is outlined.
For those who have never heard of this, the red heifer is a special, extra-powerful sacrifice used to counteract the taint of death in sacred places. In the sacrificial system of the temple, this was the foremost tool in the priests' arsenal to overcome contamination.
Linking this new doctrine with the death of Miriam suggests that her death was a kind of sacrifice too for the people Israel and their continued success. We are more used to associating this idea (dying for the sins of others) with Christianity, but apparently it is not entirely alien to Judaism.

Friday, April 2, 2010

Trip to the Moon

This morning I took my mom to have a CAT scan of the chest and abdomen at Hoag Imaging Center. It took about 1 hour and 20 minutes to get there, plus the 30 minutes or so it took me to get to their house at 6:30 AM this morning.
When I got there, my dad was munching his toast and peanut butter, waiting for the bus to take him to the Center. I heard later that it never arrived because the Access people suddenly forgot the three months he has been traveling from the new place and went back to the old one. So the caregiver is taking him shopping today to look for new plants and then he will help put them into the ground.
The owner of the house, she tells me, is afraid of my father, and won't tell him he can't cut things down, but I told him that if I hear he has done it again, I will take away his tools. I know this would be tantamount to castration to him, so I take it very seriously, and I hope I never actually have to follow through. I gave away his old tools because they were old and too heavy to ship; my uncle advised me to, but my father never forgave me that error. He was in no shape at the time to be consulted.
My mom gave me a scare when I arrived this morning. The right side of her face was drooping, and again, as when she had a UTI a month or so ago, she could not walk, could not open her eyes, understood and paid no attention to anything going on around her. She had to be wheeled in a lightweight wheelchair because, in her words, "It's too hard to walk." Luckily, I managed it, but it was dicey for a while there, and it was painful too to force her to drink that disgusting berry flavored barium milkshake and to endure the needles, the machine, the cold breeze on her naked arms as the images were taken.
But it's over. And my father's appointment next Weds. is on again. I remembered he had that ultrasound after all. I'm not taking him though. The driver is; and she's taking my mom to the oncologist too. So until Sunday afternoon, after yoga, I am free. Then I will have to find some kind of restaurant to take them to. I guess there goes the rest of Passover because there is almost nothing at a restaurant I could eat, except maybe chicken and potatoes.

Thursday, April 1, 2010

Parental Woes

Right now there is a whole cluster of medical procedures scheduled for my parents. Tomorrow morning at 8:45, my mom has a CAT scan scheduled at Hoag. And I have only just realized that the mysterious notation for next Weds. at 9 AM refers to my father, who has an appointment with his urologist at UCI. But there is no point taking him there since, according to the appointment slip, he was supposed to have an ultrasound 2 weeks before the appointment and a cystoscopy (whatever that is) after that. I don't know where the order for the bloodwork he needs for the urologist or the ultrasound order might be... lost somewhere in the chaotic mess on my dining room table.
Today I took mom to get a mammogram, but she couldn't manage it. She is shaking too much and is too unsteady on her feet. The mammographer couldn't do it and says to tell the doctor to call off all future attempts to scan her this way. I think I'll tell the doctor at Hoag I want to call off future CAT scans too. It is so hard for her just to get in and out of the car. She walks as if her legs are tied together or her ankles are bound, and I am afraid she will fall and injure herself or get her hand shut in the car door again.
Meanwhile, my dad is going to pieces. He is really bored because the Center is closed until next Tuesday. In the interim, he has taken out his handsaw and begun trying to saw down the enormous gnarled wisteria vine growing against the garden wall. He claims it is dead. It isn't, but that isn't why I don't want him to do it. He has cut huge gouges in his hands and arms, and screams at everyone who tells him to stop. I have no time, absolutely none at all, to take him anywhere and entertain him. I have papers coming in next week, and have to prepare a whole new unit of lessons for the next paper.
I haven't been to yoga since Monday, and I feel like crap. I have to remind myself that all this will pass.

April Fool

I hate April Fool's Day. Maybe this is because though I have a sense of humor, sometimes I can be incredibly dense and not see the humor in what people are saying at the moment. So I fear looking like a fool if I am caught in one of those situations where I take something literally when it is merely teasing or a joke.
Luckily, though I am at work today, no one has decided to tease me, probably because I am not feeling so well today and look it. I got lots and lots of sleep last night, except that it was continually interrupted by the cats, who were confused about how long I had been in bed (I went to bed before 8 because I didn't sleep the night before) and whether it was time for me to feed them. Also, I had lots of strange nightmares. For example, I dreamed I had to drive backwards, for some reason, and I was driving a bus! I ended up on the freeway (always fodder for nightmare), driving backwards. Ugh! That will spoil one's sleep, for sure.
At least my stomach is better. Now it's R's turn, so I guess I had a virus after all.