Saturday, July 31, 2010

Dad's Birthday Memorial

After yoga this morning in Costa Mesa, Liz and I drove over to Garden Grove to eat at 4 Seasons Hotpot Restaurant. I chose it because it was in Garden Grove, not too far from Joe's Italian Ice, where we were all anxious to go. Dad loved soup also, even in the summertime, so hotpot seemed a good choice, and after reading a review in OC Weekly of this restaurant, I decided to give it a try.
It wasn't too far from Costa Mesa, though our friends in Laguna and Richard and Jeremy coming from Irvine had a distance to go to get there. By the time everyone else arrived, we had already eaten our fill of velvety silken tofu, peppery Chinese greens of three different kinds, oyster mushrooms, noodles, and a special spicy sauce, swirled in a boiling broth at the table. This created a tasty soup that we sampled occasionally.
When Richard and Jeremy arrived, they ordered small pieces of fish and thinly sliced beef, and we all sampled that as well, learning as we went how long each needed to be cooked. R and M ordered sea cucumber, just for fun, and some more fish.
Everyone had a good time swirling and cooking, mixing and matching the various ingredients and condiments. It was fun and tasty; the owner of the restaurant was only too happy to explain everything to us in his enthusiastic way, reminding me so much of my father. He even brought us all the separate ingredients to show how he made the broth, the sauces, etc.. He pressed us to try things westerners don't usually try, such as salt fish, and I said I would think about it, if he promised to go to Katella Deli and order the whitefish, a dish from my culture's cuisine. I don't think he knew what I was talking about, but there were smiles all around, and we enjoyed ourselves, learning something new every minute.
Following this, we all headed over to Joe's Italian Ice, also in Garden Grove, but on Harbor Blvd.. It took us a little while to find it, but the striped exterior was unmistakable once we did. Everyone tried a different flavor... Richard and Jeremy got strawberry and strawberry banana. I got the tangerine, which just so happened to be sugar free. And Liz hit the jackpot by ordering bada-bing cherry, with big chunks of fresh bing cherries in it. What a great taste! We enjoyed our brain freeze before heading back to Irvine, all thinking how my dad would have approved of my choice of activities to honor his birthday.

Friday, July 30, 2010

Aswim in the Aquarium

Liz and I had a lovely day in the aquarium. I used to have a small (20 gallon) salt water tank in my house, and I just loved the amount of life that went on, even in that small space. But 20 gallons is too small a tank to manage the water for a salt water aquarium, unless one is a much better chemist and a more practiced aquariast than I am. So when the tank crashed some years ago, I never tried to start it up again. When we move, I will someday get a much larger tank, and then I will make an effort again.
My favorites were always the invertebrates, things like crabs, anemones, shrimp, sea urchins, and corals. The lovely, bright colored fish are nice as well, but I always seemed to spend more time watching the things on the bottom, also including bottom fish like jawfish, blennies, and oddities like the sarcastic fringehead, like those we saw at the aquarium today.
I stood for a long time before many of the large show tanks, but the things that pleased me most, besides the otters, puffins, and sea lions, were things like the garden eels, those tiny creatures of different colors and patterns, who spend their lives half-buried in the sand, heads sticking up. They pop up and down in a way that seems synchronized, checking to see if any of their neighbors have designs on their holes in the sand. And we watched the octopus scope out the tank, looking for something to eat, while also at the same time keeping a careful eye on us. Fascinating creature. The amazing pattern on some of the fish was also wonderful to behold, as well as the tank of fish that change sex, seemingly at will, if the need or desire arises.
The diver hand fed some very large rays, who would not leave his side until every scrap of food was gone. It was fun to watch him stroke their bellies and stuff food into their mouths, mouths that seemed to grin in satisfaction after each bite of restaurant quality calamari and scallop. No wonder!

Revised Atlantic City Piece

I replaced the old version with the new one. It is more streamlined.
Today I am going to the Long Beach Aquarium with Liz, who generously offered her two for one coupon. I love the aquarium, and haven't been there in years! Thanks Liz. More on this when I return.
Tomorrow would have been my dad's 94th birthday. I decided a good tribute to him, since he loved to investigate ethnic foods as much as I do, was to go to a new joint of this kind, and then to eat water ice (Italian ice), a Philadelphia snack generally not available out here. I always meant to take my parents to Joe's Italian Ice, in Garden Grove, but being reluctant to drive on freeways, I never made it there. Now we will go, and we'll down our Mongolian hot pot and water ice in his honor.

Wednesday, July 28, 2010

I Forget Sometimes

I forget sometimes that my parents are gone. I am walking along, usually in a grocery store, where I see items my father would have liked or my mother once enjoyed, and I think for just a second, "Oh! Maybe I should buy this for them?" Then I remember that they are no longer around, and it strikes me that this will probably go on happening to me for a very long time, if not the rest of my life.

Where Is Everyone?

I know summer is a time when many people are traveling and away from home or busy with the things they couldn't do all year long, but where are you people?

Tuesday, July 27, 2010

Summers Past

Here is that essay I said I was going to write.
Beach Days
Summers in Philadelphia during my childhood burn in my memory, hot and sultry. As cold as the winters were, snow piled high against the sides of the house, the summers were at least as extreme. Green leaves, so lately unfolded, wilted on the branches. The place smelled of fermenting garbage and dog manure.
The humidity dragged the clouds down like shirts left too long on the line. Rain would sometimes fall sporadically, but it wasn’t much of a relief. Yet it provided drama to otherwise hot and monotonous days. Dark clouds would gather like a gang up to nothing good, scowling down on the ground below. The air would become unbearably heavy, like a sodden towel, and the big, slow, heavy drops would start, building up momentum until they hammered down thrillingly.
As a small child, I would run up the driveway in my bathing suit, arms wide open and face to the sky, just to feel that blessed wetness for a moment, and to see jagged fingers of lightning probe the darkened sky. I hoped with a desire for novelty that every child feels that the electricity would go out, just so I could sit with a flashlight and read in the darkened living room. In an hour or less, the storm would be over, and the heat back, even more oppressive than before.
In this kind of weather, the only relief a person could hope for was to head for “the shore,” usually Atlantic City, in our case, about an hour or so drive from Philadelphia.
For a small child, the ride seemed to go on forever. While the rest of the cars, low and sleek, with wings extending half the width of the car, blew by us, tinted windows closed to the heat and humidity, our two-tone snub-nosed Chevy sat high on the road. Since we had no air-conditioning in our stolidly unfashionable car, we rolled the windows down as far as they would go, so the breeze, pitiful though it was, could blow through the car. Even my mother, who was always cold, would not complain on days like these. Instead, she closed her eyes, the better to let the cool air circulate over her eyelids, as her hair swept off her forehead in lacquered arcs.
I knew we were almost there gulls flew overhead, and the land flattened out appreciably, as though some giant hand had smoothed it. The shrubs growing by the side of road grew short and windblown, instead of the trees I was used to, and billboards for motels, restaurants, and Coppertone suntan lotion sprouted on the highway like weeds.
Places to stay at the beach were plentiful, but instead of the giant hotels imperiously fronting the boardwalk or the low-riding motels, with their garish signs, exclaiming “Vacancy! Salt water pool! Color TV!” my thrifty father opted for old boarding houses with worn cane rockers on the front porch. Though we generally had a kitchenette, we would sometimes have to share a bathroom, and the suite, though it was certainly clean, if a bit threadbare, smelled slightly musty.
These places, which would in a dozen years be torn down to make way for the casinos and lavish hotels to come, were bad news for me because they required some blocks walk to the boardwalk, and I was impatient to see the ocean and to feel the wet sand between my toes. But the good thing about this is that if we were far enough away from the beach, we might be able to take a jitney, a small bus, bearing the names of places straight off a Monopoly Board—Park Place, Boardwalk, Oriental Ave..
The Boardwalk assaulted the nostrils well before it met the eye. A thousand odors, many of them pleasant, like the sweetness of cotton candy, the tantalizing lure of roasting peanuts, and the smoke from charbroiling hotdogs, mingled and met with the suspect hint of cigar smoke, half empty beer cans, and sewage. Hundreds of people traveled the boards by foot and by the small, half-moon shaped wicker conveyances, topped by fringed sunshades, that I have seen no other place since, a relic of the good old days of my grandmother, when Atlantic City was the exclusive haunt of rich Philadelphians, who might otherwise be found promenading in their straw boaters, white linen suits, and long stiff skirts, parasols held high overhead.
All the while, hucksters of various kinds called out their wares. Atlantic City was the home of the original infomercial. The Vitamix, an early blender, produced, in the hands of the salesman demonstrating its healthful benefits, a wonderful drink composed of fruits and vegetables. However, once we took the blender home, the best we could do was to produce a noxious sludge the color of a bad bruise. Half the charm of these items was the amazing sleight of hand the salesmen would demonstrate, calling in the aid of shills in the crowd. Without fail, once my parents took these things home, they would prove disappointing and ineffective and would be consigned to the junk drawer in perpetuity.
The shrine to all things Atlantic City was the amazing Steel Pier. It was a long walk down the boards, but it was worth it to watch the prancing white horse, with its intrepid rider, tricked out in a spangled swimsuit, dive from a platform tottering high overhead into an inadequate and somewhat rickety swimming pool perched on the pier below. And the freak show both repelled and drew me, with its inevitable shrunken mermaids in a jar, two-headed calves, and the obese bearded ladies, looking dreadfully bored, with their multiple chins like untended suburban lawns, sprouting an occasional spiky tuft, consuming frozen custard cones in the shade.
But I still hadn’t dipped my toes into the ocean. Truthfully, the beach at Atlantic City is no great shakes. I have seen many other far more beautiful shorelines in Massachusetts, Florida, California, Oregon, and Baja California since then, but for me as a child, with nothing to compare it to, this beach was heaven. The wide blue sky, full of looping skywriters trailing bright advertising banners, stretched out above me as I lay baking on the scratchy brown sand, where one might, with a little effort, unearth coins, rings, and other untold treasures and trash (including used hypodermic needles and condoms).
The sea, with its unpredictable moods, met this blue field of sky at a line I imagined as accessible to the surf skimmers and riders who, unlike me, the non-swimmer, strode and bobbed purposefully into the waves toward the farthest buoys. My father, hairy and smiling in his baggy blue bathing trunks, was one of these, and he wanted me to enjoy this pleasure as well, touting salt water as the best remedy for the eternal poison ivy from which we both suffered every summer, so he would scoop me up and throw me into the biggest waves, while my mother, another non-swimmer, wept and begged him to stop it before I drowned. I screamed, half-laughing, half panicking, swallowing water, as the glassy green tunnels closed over my head.
Sometimes, escaping from my father’s eager grasp, I would slip down the strand, in search of an ice cream cone or some other children to play with, trying to keep my parents’ blanket and umbrella within sight. I would line it up with a landmark on the boardwalk, like a particular hotel or restaurant, occasionally glancing back, like Hansel and Gretel leaving their trail of crumbs, but just as with these two unfortunate denizens of the fairytale, when I wanted to head back “home,” the landmarks seemed to have slipped entirely from my sight. I wandered in circles, weeping and calling, trying to spot their umbrella and towels among the thousands exactly like them.
By the time I finally found my parents, the salt water had dried on my skin, leaving it tight and crawly. Sand flies lighted on my legs, biting the tempting calves and feet. It was time to change for supper.
This was perhaps the most embarrassing and unpleasant part of the day. Though I was only a small child, I was not happy about the prospect of stripping out of my bathing suit behind a towel, as my mother pulled the damp, salty mess from my body, wiped me down with cold water and a washcloth, and dried me with another clean towel. The scratchy dried on grains of sand covering every inch of my body would scrape my legs and back like some form of exotic torture, as the children the next blanket over would smirk at me smugly. Though I squirmed and whined, my mother remained undeterred, and soon I was clean and dry again, ready to go eat dinner on the boardwalk.
Going out to eat for our family was a very momentous and rare event. My parents seldom splurged on restaurants, believing that home food was best, as well as cheapest. We always traveled with the same safe and boring roast beef sandwiches and watery salad mom made for us at home. So when my parents deigned to go to a seafood restaurant, since after all, we WERE at the beach, where the fish was bound to be fresh, it was something special. Though I was small and extremely skinny, I had a very large appetite, especially after a day of playing on the beach.
One particular time, the forbidden, and because of that attractive, shrimp and scallop plate, breaded and fried and piled atop a greasy sheaf of French fries, looked good to me, so I begged and begged my parents to order it. Although they could hardly claim to keep Kosher at home or anywhere else, they still felt queasy about me ordering such flagrant treif. But they relented, and even nibbled a bit themselves, admitting that the shellfish tasted rather nice, but stuck to good old cod or flounder for themselves, no different than mom would have fixed at home.
For me, vacations have always been about doing something out of the ordinary, seeing new sights and people, eating new foods. But for my parents, who had traveled the world before I was born, this novelty apparently held little charm. The idea for them was to make one’s temporary digs as much like the home they had left as they could. For this reason, they packed enormous amounts of things— beach bags, towels, clothes, pots and pans, food, and other goods they found to be necessary. There was always so much of this stuff in the car that I could barely be packed myself into a tiny square of seat, unable to move my legs. Though I always wanted to bring a friend with us on vacation, it would have been impossible to fit anyone else into that car.
We spent evenings on the Boardwalk, where the salt water taffy looped in unending pastel parabolas, and snacks on a stick beckoned from every storefront. Since I was already full, what spoke to me most was the gigantic stuffed animals on offer at the games of chance, where, for a quarter, one could attempt to toss a half dozen ping pong balls into a far off bucket in an effort to win a prize. For the most part, my father forbade such gambling, admonishing me each time with tales of my notorious great-grandfather, who, he claimed, had lost the family farm playing poker, leaving his family homeless.
To reinforce the lesson, we would always stop at the spectacular toy store on the boardwalk, its show windows full of stuffed animals of every description, a cadre of creatures arranged around a synthetic waterhole: a nearly life-size Stegosaurus, an antelope, and two exceedingly realistic lions, resting by a stuffed palm. Magnanimously, he would allow me to pick out a stuffed animal (though not a tremendously large one—where, after all, would we put it?), and this generally silenced my pleas. It is worth noting that years later, my father bought a lottery ticket every day, breaking his own rules, nothing if not inconsistent.
Finally, we tired of eating, walking, looking, our senses frayed. Beneath a featureless silver moon, the ocean, as full of phosphorescent sparks as the night sky, thundered and thudded. We sat on a bench, silent, sated, satisfied with our day at the beach, a brief escape from the city’s heat.

Sunday, July 25, 2010

Birthday Party in the Hills

This afternoon and evening I went to the surprise 70th birthday party for a friend from the choir. He lives up in the hills, in a huge beautiful house overlooking a canyon. He had an accident a couple of years ago skiing, and was paralyzed. No one was sure he would ever walk again. But he fought his way back, and now walks with crutches. He travels and does everything, just about, that he used to do. His wife is a totally amazing person, with a high powered job, who nonetheless dropped everything to be with him everyday in the hospital and help him regain his health and his strength. She arranged this absolutely amazing big party of family and friends, with wonderful food and even entertainment. There was a magician who did a long and amazing show, a combination of all the usual tricks--the cup and bowl, making a woman disappear, etc., but also some tricks with a twist--such as pulling a dollar bill out of a banana (and making it come together again after being cut in pieces). It was also interesting to speak to some people I knew from synagogue, but had never really sat down and talked to. One woman grew up in Germany before WWII, and was 17 when her parents sent her away to California after the Nazis began sending Jews away. She didn't see her parents or siblings for 23 years after that. The family had escaped to Argentina, but she had three children by the time she saw them again. She told us stories about her village in Germany before the war, and the beautiful life she and her family lived.
Another friend from choir told me she had won a series of yoga lessons at Yoga Works, where I go to yoga. She wanted to know which classes I attended, and when they were, so we could go together. Unfortunately, she works during most of the times I go to class, but she said that when she went to pick up the gift certificate, it was just after my mother's funeral, and she told the person at Yoga Works that she couldn't pick it up that day as she was supposed to because of this funeral, and the person at the desk asked whether it was my mother's funeral. She was so shocked to hear my name! So she feels I should guide her through this yoga experience. I hope she will be able to come to class next Sunday when Denise comes back from India. I think she will like Denise a lot.

Saturday, July 24, 2010

Good News!!!

Just as I was sitting here feeling pissed and sorry for myself because I got the essay I wrote for Real Simple's contest last year back again, this time from Riverteeth, I heard from Kay Marner, who is putting together that anthology for parents of children with disabilities. You might remember the essay about Jeremy, which I published on this very blog last year some time. She has tentatively accepted the essay for her book, except that she has some edits she wants me to make that she isn't sure I'll accept. I'll have to see them, but I feel optimistic about it. That would be a first for me--publication in an anthology!!! I've been thinking about writing another essay about going to the beach with my parents when I was small. This is the impetus I need to do that.

Back to Shul

Last night I went to synagogue for the first time since my parents died. It was a very very small gathering, since it was a low key service at which we would not have a speaker but instead discuss a passage of Deuteronomy in which all the major themes of the Torah return for the last time, a sort of finale.
I really enjoyed seeing people, and felt very much at home. Almost everyone asked me how I was, whether I was recovering okay from my parents' death.
The service was interesting, with a very stimulating discussion at which the members of the Torah group sat together and responded to each others' comments on the passage we were looking at. The Rabbi pointed out that the Shma, the declaration that is central to Judaism and can be said to be the only "doctrine" in the whole religion, is quite ambiguous, typically. We usually assume it means "Hear O Israel, the Lord is One," a monotheistic cry of faith. But it probably did not mean that, as the Rabbi points out, since the Jewish religion at the point this was written was not really monotheistic in the sense that people believed there were other Gods, but that they had been chosen to worship only this one. That was the reason for God's intense jealousy and concern that his people would pick up other practices and beliefs from the other peoples around them. So the firmest statement in Judaism is itself fodder for an argument.

Friday, July 23, 2010

Bring in the Clones

I keep dreaming about my mother. It is odd because I don't dream about dad. Last night in the dream, for some reason I was getting married again to R. Perhaps it was because the first time, many years ago, I couldn't invite any of my relatives except my parents because if I did, my parents said they would not come. They said they didn't want my grandmother to know I was marrying a non-Jew. I cried my whole wedding night because I was so sad I could not tell my cousins and because my parents blackmailed me like that.
In this dream, I was very surprised to see my mother. She was facing away from me when I came into the room, and all I saw at first was the disembodied wedding dress standing in the middle of the room, waiting for me. But she was sitting in a chair, having her hair done by my cousin, who is a hairdresser. When I saw her, I thought she was me, and I wondered what I was doing sitting in the middle of the room when I was supposed to be standing where I was.
Her mental state was awful, and though she could walk in this dream, she mostly crept around under the table, rather like the woman in The Yellow Wallpaper, and ran away. I ran after her, my wedding dress streaming behind me.
I know I am afraid that my mental state will deteriorate as my mother's did, and that in fact it is already going in that direction, with the hoarding. But my mother's life was very different from mine, and so was her personality. I am hoping that my yoga, reading, writing, and working will save me.

Thursday, July 22, 2010

Teacher's Pet

When I first started doing yoga, over 20 years ago, I never imagined that I would be the model for difficult poses, with the teacher shaming the others and admonishing them to look just like me when they did this pose. There are plenty of poses I still cannot do, especially anything involving upper body strength, such as handstand, but I seem to be very good at the moment at doing standing poses and also some twists, and when there's a standing pose that involves twisting, I'm good at that too.
For someone who failed high school gym class, I've done pretty well, I guess. But I won't let it go to my head. I still hurt like everyone else after a difficult class.

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

Feeling the Walk

I wasn't tired or stiff when I finished my walk yesterday, after two days of such walks, 12 miles in all. However, this morning in yoga class was a different experience. I was sore and stiff as I made my way down the stairs, thinking apprehensively about the yoga class to come. As usual, I told Bob about the stiff groin muscles, and he responded by offering a class that stretched them painfully out. But they feel better now, so much so that I was in the mood for the sale at the Hanger consignment store in Tustin.
The Hanger is a charity consignment store that sometimes carries beautiful designer and specialty items, mostly women's, but sometimes men's as well. In July, they always have a 75% off sale, so I made my way over there after yoga class, and found some wonderful stuff, including a 3 piece black dressy pants suit. With a bit of tailoring, it will look lovely on me. Most everything I buy needs tailoring, though the beautiful pale green sweater, turquoise silk shirt, and Hawaiian print two-piece shorts outfit I bought didn't need any alteration. In fact, I got the shorts outfit as part of a 3 for $10.00 deal, with a long sleeved cotton blouse and a pair of jeans, just the right length. That's the good thing about consignment stores: sometimes the things belonged to other short people like me. The sale is going on till Friday. If you're in the area, I recommend it.

A Grey Morning

Aside from a couple of burst blisters, the two 6 mile walks I took the last couple of days have had no ill effects on me. I have not even been winded or sore in any way. In fact, I felt quite good, if a bit hot, after each walk. If I had time, it would be a good idea to do such walks every day. Perhaps I can manage shorter walks on days when I go to yoga class as well, which would be the rest of the week, when I am not working this session. Once fall semester starts, it will be much more difficult to find the time, and I'll have loads of books that will make the walk very difficult, even though I'll be rolling them. I'm not sure one of those carts will tolerate a regular 6 mile roll.
The hospice called me again yesterday and asked if I was okay. I find myself rather resistant to talking about my feelings with them. The sharpness of the feelings are beginning to fade, though I do think about my parents. It is mostly the good things I think about that happened in the past, not the last days and moments. To me, that is a good thing. I don't want to dredge those feelings of helplessness and sadness up again.
My body is resilient, and I hope my mind is as well.

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

Summer Days Aren't Lazy

I remember as a child and a teen sitting out on the hot cement stoop waiting for the ice cream truck, or just looking up at the small sliver of sky allotted me in Philadelphia. I didn't realize that one day, I'd live in California, with more than my share of sky. In fact, that is the first thing that struck me when I came out here. It was even a little bit scary. I felt vulnerable, with all this wide scope of cloud and sky above me, after living hemmed in by buildings and trees for my whole life on the east coast.
This summer, I am getting an opportunity to spend some time under that sky. Besides our trip to the Zoo and Wild Animal Park, I have decided to start walking to and from work on the two days I work this session. It's 6 miles altogether. I found that it takes, at my slow pace, shlepping the books and purse I carry, one and one quarter hour to get there. It doesn't help that the book I am taking to read is fat and heavy, but I am anxious to finish it before I have to return it to the library, so it comes with me.

Sunday, July 18, 2010

Home Again, Jiggity Jig!

It was fun going to the Zoo and Wild Animal Park, but it is nice to be home again, the more so because the cats did not take our absence very well. Jeremy called this morning, just as we were beginning to explore the Wild Animal Park, to tell me that the cats had been freaked out. They didn't come to him when he called, which is unusual because they love him, particularly Shadow. And Whistler, he said, even more strangely, refused to eat. This is a cat who lives to eat, so when HE won't eat, something is really wrong. Jeremy said he couldn't find Shadow anywhere, though he finally did find her on the top shelf of the closet in what had been his room. And he left the food for them in places he thought they would find and eat it--Shadow's up on the cat tree, where Whistler wouldn't venture, and Whistler's somewhere else. I still haven't found where, so I had to use a different bowl for his dinner.
I must have known somehow that there was a problem because I had a nightmare, and found myself saying that I wanted to go home very early this morning, when I love to go away for weekends like these, and love the Zoo and Wild Animal Park. But it seems to have all turned out okay.
The animals were interesting. We got to watch the young gorilla toddler, Frank, play tag with the children staring at him through the glass. He made his entrance by leaping up and beating his breast, vocalising, which delighted everyone, especially kids. Then he raced up and down the enclosure, putting his hands on the spot where children in the front row, looking in at him through the glass, had put theirs. He would look back and hoot, as though he wondered why they weren't following him off into the back corners of the enclosures.
We also got to spend a lot of time very very close to two hippos, floating in the water, a polar bear, digging a hole in the sand like a gigantic dog, and two sleeping lionesses. I was so close I could see the lion's tongue protruding slightly from her mouth, and gauge the size of her gigantic footpads, so like our own cats' but so very much larger.
It is grounding for me to be so close to these animals. I feel as if things make sense when I spend time with them, particularly the large orangutan, who sat and faced the crowd for at least 10 minutes, watching us watch him.

Friday, July 16, 2010

Tired, but still fishing for ideas

This weekend we are going to the San Diego Zoo AND the Wild Animal Park, taking advantage of our membership. I love the Zoo, and find that it energizes me, and perhaps I need that energy, since I find that by afternoon, I am uncommonly exhausted and pale, my eyes red rimmed. I can't say why I am tired since I do sleep, most of the time, these days. I wanted to go to synagogue tonight, but again, like the past Friday nights, I feel just too exhausted to make the drive.
I have been feeling as though I am regaining balance, to some degree, but I guess that mentally, I am still exhausted by the events of the past couple of months. It will take a while to gain strength back, I suppose.
Today I read articles about Stanley Milgram's obedience experiment and the related Stanford Prison study. There are wonderful things online about these, including a video on the SPS, from BBC. I can show the video in class and have the students read the articles. There is even an article about using A Clockwork Orange to discuss topics related to the prison system and modes of punishment and a blog entry on Foucault and A Clockwork Orange.
Like the ocean or the Torah, the Internet seems to contain everything, if one knows how to cast the nets.

Thursday, July 15, 2010

Another Good Day

Today I pressed forward with the preparations for my class. Though I haven't quite ironed out the structure of the semester, I have created a first paper topic and study questions for A Clockwork Orange, study questions on two chapters from Foucault's Discipline and Punish, and tomorrow will work on reading over an article about the Stanford Prison Study and a video on the subject and preparing study questions and perhaps a paper topic on that. Then I will read a book on the Forgiveness Instinct posited by a biologist, and make up study questions on that. I will then be ready to make a syllabus.
After the finished the study questions, I read a new Byatt book, The Children's Book, for a while, and drove off to Laguna for rope yoga. After yoga, I met up with R and M for dinner. We planned to try that new place, House of Big Fish and Ice Cold Beer, but it was mobbed. Another time. A lovely evening, with a rainbow, and some actual rain!

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

Bereavement Group?

I got a questionnaire from the hospice asking me questions about the care my parents got. But they only sent me one questionnaire. I had to double-answer the questions, and it got complicated. My feelings about hospice in general are complicated too. For my mom, there was really no other choice, and it should have come sooner. For my dad, there was probably no other choice, but I don't think I understood hospice as well as I could have. All I knew was that I couldn't drag my dad from one doctor to another anymore. I just couldn't keep it up. And it wasn't doing any good. For that to be possible, and for him not to have to go back to the hospital, which was his wish, we had to go with hospice. But some of the people who looked after him were very doctrinaire about hospice, extremists even. They wouldn't administer any antibiotics unless prodded. They wouldn't call the doctor, even when they suspected an ailment that might be cured. The person was dying anyway. I found this upsetting, and it certainly didn't escape my father, who was sensitive and sharp. It depressed him and made him feel as if we were all in a hurry for him to die.
Now they are asking me whether I want a bereavement group or to have some little trinket made up from scraps of my parent's belongings. I don't want any tchotchkes to remember them by. I remember them just fine, and always will. And I don't know if any bereavement group is going to hasten my recovery time or make things any better than they are. Plus, it occupies time I can ill afford, especially during fall semester. Am I in denial? I don't think so. If anyone has been in such a group and had it help them a lot, let me know. I tend to think that as a writer, I am very reflective about my feelings. I see a therapist also. So I don't think it is necessary.

Wonderful Summer Evening

Yesterday I couldn't go to yoga in the morning, so I went in the late afternoon in Laguna. Laguna traffic is a nightmare in the summer. There's only a few routes through the town, and all are congested, particularly PCH, the main drag, where beachgoers congregate, crossing against the light, buses and firetrucks endeavor to get through, and routine traffic creeps along at 10-20 mph in the center of town. People randomly stop, trying to make illegal left turns, and clog traffic further. It took me nearly half an hour to make it down the small stretch from downtown to South Laguna, but I made it to class in time, and enjoyed it very much. It was taught by a fellow yoga classmate of mine because the regular teacher is having a baby and will be out till October. So there weren't many people, but it was a splendid class, and I felt magnificent driving home in the cool early evening. Lucky for me, there wasn't nearly as much traffic either.
At home I fixed a lovely potato salad with pickles in it and chickpea bourekas (frozen, I admit it). On the side, a great summery salad with butter lettuce, avocados, and lovely grape tomatoes. I usually don't like them, but they tasted splendid with the other ingredients and a dressing I made of pomegranate, sweet lemon, and olive oil.

Tuesday, July 13, 2010

The Weird Mind

Sometimes looking at my own weird ways is surprising. For example, I have been having an inordinately hard time putting together my fall Writing 2 class, as you know.
This morning I realized that I am reliving, via this effort, the disaster of my PhD exams. In those exams, I chose to examine a topic I didn't know much about, but wanted to learn about--Science and Literature. Many of my papers and poems too hovered about this subject, and I had long been interested in what gave disciplines the authority and power to overtake one another as the master perspective from which all in a given culture would be judged. So I thought I would learn more about that, and it could inform the work I did from that point onward.
My advisors at UCI thought I had something there, and that my proposal for the list sounded good, very good, in fact. This was a topic that piqued their interests as well, as people teaching critical theory. But the problem was, and indeed still is, that while I am extremely well read in the field of literature, I have not read much history, political science, philosophy, etc. I am not a well-rounded person, but, despite my extensive (if one-sided) education, more like an autodidact in the scope of my knowledge.
The list grew and grew and grew, until it was a bloated and impossible eight-armed monster. I read everything on it. I did! But it was impossible, for me at least, to draw the kinds of conclusions about it that I had hoped. My mind simply did not seem to be made in that way. And more so because I was quickly abandoned by my advisors, who gave me no guidance or indeed advice, at all.
From there, my constitutional weakness, severe anxiety, took over, and I quickly unraveled. The essays I produced in the exam were, because of my ability to write and to discuss individual literary works, excellent, for the most part. However, I totally failed to create an overarching theory that responded to the question I myself had formulated.
I see myself drawn into the same vortex now, perhaps in a sort of neo-Freudian compulsion to relive the trauma of that exam. Maybe by seeing this, I can free myself from the vortex. Hope so.

Monday, July 12, 2010

Richard's B-day, Sushilicious, UCI library, etc.

It's been a full (yoga-less) day. This morning early I headed over to UCI library to find the books I'd scouted out online and in the library catalog. All but one were in, so I picked them up, plus a nice fat summer read, what looks to be another dark fantasy by A.S. Byatt. I was engrossed from the second I opened it, though I haven't had time to get very far.
Then I went to work at the Center, but very few students interrupted my reading. Instead, it was the Administration office, calling to chew us out for the latest error a new instructor has made, sending students to Admissions and Records to sign up for the Writing Center. Today was the last day they could sign up. They were lined up in the Center, looking concerned, but all of it was eventually straightened out. I also had to do a few grade changes for students from last semester's Writing Center, who had completed their hours but were accidentally given no credit.
After that, I met my colleague who covered for me last semester while I was out taking care of my father's funeral (and my mother's too, though I didn't take off extra time for that). We went to Sushilicious and tucked into a lunch special including a wonderful Japanese curry croquette, in addition to the sushi. We decided to head up to Yogurtland and the Korean market after that for a little produce shopping and yogurt. Fun.
Though R had told me he was going to be out playing golf till 8 PM, he was home at 4 when I got there, as was J. Too windy for golf today, he said. I just fixed the peach cobbler he requested. Outstanding!
Last night's crab cakes were good too. Anyone want the recipe?

Sunday, July 11, 2010

Riding the train

Richard likes trains. It is, in fact, one of the few things he always enjoys, outside of golf, playing the harmonica, walking, and eating breakfast and Cajun food. So I often avail myself of this suggestion when his birthday or other occasions come around. His birthday is tomorrow, and he is not very receptive to gifts or parties, so I suggested going to San Juan Capistrano on the train and eating breakfast there. A friend from yoga suggested the restaurant in the train station, but when I did some poking around, I found a local joint, about half a mile away perhaps, that served a nice breakfast for a much better price. Since breakfast, more or less, is breakfast, as far as I am concerned, and I don't see paying an enormous price for it, we did just that. It took time and effort to find the place, and we ended up walking more like 2 miles to find it, of course initially choosing the wrong direction to go in (he wouldn't take the GPS, and since it was his birthday, I humored him). What the hey! We found it eventually, and enjoyed our breakfast. However, we found that the town has fallen on hard times. Many of the little stores are closed, and the one place I was looking for, a food-themed gift store where that friend from yoga had bought bagel and lox earrings, was nowhere to be found. We didn't find much of interest. Neither of us are into antiques or most of the stuff for sale there. I did find a darling garden store that sells all one needs to fix miniature gardens. I plan to go back when I have a gift to get for someone. I'll make a garden or two then, maybe with a tiny hoe, rake, or some other little trinket in them.

Saturday, July 10, 2010


We went to see The Secret In Their Eyes, a film from Argentina. I had heard that it was really good, but hadn't gotten around to seeing it. It is a thriller, but more than that, like all good films. I liked the main character, a desk cop, Esposito, who was a very talented detective, but didn't have the status to gain that job officially, I think. All the characters were interesting and quirky, and the story, about a cold case involving a young girl who was brutally raped and murdered by an old beau from her home town, was compelling. I won't tell you more, in case you go and see it, while you still can.

Friday, July 9, 2010

Day Off

I had a really nice day today, although I didn't sleep well because of that injury I did myself practicing yoga this week. I now have two bum hips (at least they're a matched set, I guess!), and this means it's hard to get up from chairs, and that the yoga that will eventually restore me to normal hurts more than usual. But I'll live.
After a tough yoga class, in which I could feel the pain diminish, at least for the moment, I went to seek out some new cat food for Shadow, who has developed a new allergy to fish, as if she hasn't got enough already. Between her and Whistler, they cannot eat chicken, eggs, turkey, or duck. I haven't tried out beef because I've been warned that many cats are sensitive to it. I also avoid any additives or wheat in the food because many cats are allergic to it. Now Shadow has added fish to the list; their dry food is salmon and sweet potato, and Whistler still seems okay with it. I thought I could get some rabbit dry food (they love the wet food made of rabbit put out by that company), but it turns out it has chicken in it, so it didn't work out.
I'll have to keep looking, I guess.
Then we went to Liz's house and watched the final disk of Kieslowski's Decalogue, which is a series of 10 short films made in the 80s by the great Polish director. I believe I have written about these before. The films can be slow, but they are interesting, usually, and certainly not like anything else one has seen recently in this country.
Then we took our Steinmart coupons and did a little shopping and I came home. And yes, I hit the jackpot and brought home a lovely green silk outfit and matching shirt!
I haven't had such a relaxing day in some time.
Recently, I finished reading a new short novel by Chitra Banerjee Divakaruni called One Amazing Thing. I won't spoil it for you, so will say only that it is about a group of very assorted strangers who are waiting in a passport office to get their papers so they may travel to India when a serious earthquake strikes. At first they are suspicious of each other, and some of the guys even fight, but they end up telling each other stories, which changes everything. It was a wonderful novel, and I hope to be able to use it in a class sometime.
I hope to be able to get back to the library where I can get some more things to read soon. I'm looking for the novel Cloud Atlas (I forget the writer's name), having heard how terrific it is. It's nice to have the time to read.

Thursday, July 8, 2010


Give me a little time, and all sorts of ideas start springing up, like grass on a newly fertilized field. I was just watching A Clockwork Orange today, getting ready to teach it, when I suddenly thought, while in the midst of watching the documentaries and commentaries that come on the accompanying disk, that I didn't necessarily need to teach a class in prisons and punishment, the way I had imagined. I could make it a class in all the issues brought up by the film. The students will, after all, be doing the research. So we will watch and discuss the film, first thing, and discuss analyzing film, and they will write a paper about it, on a topic I assign. It will involve research, using two or three sources I choose, to give them practice citing, integrating, and discussing sources. Then they will choose a topic and begin working on the second paper, a definition of the problem they have chosen, and begin researching it themselves.
There are other topics aplenty that the film suggests, among them the role of the media in crime, and banned books, and yes, even film adaptation, since this film is famously an adaptation of Burgess' book of the same title. And those who wish to can explore the issue of state punishment and its morality (conditioning, the psychology of the prisoner, revenge, etc.).
If I do not have the kind of theme I had in the slavery class, and just suggest and discuss some of the topics the film brings up, it will put less pressure on me to be an expert on something I know nothing about, and students will truthfully choose their own topics and research them. Of course, it will leave me the issue of what to discuss in class, since argumentation and writing can't take up every bit of time in class. I guess I would have to consider ordering a rhetoric/reader, which I have not done up to this time.

Wednesday, July 7, 2010

Difficult Student

Yes, my class is over, and I am not teaching this session. But I am still receiving mail from the same student who would periodically tug at my sleeve (metaphorically at least) and beg for extra credit, when he was not doing the work I assigned to him and was coming in three-quarters of the way through class most days.
Since he failed the class, after an awful final essay exam, he has been begging me to change my grade so he can transfer to another school. Apparently, without this grade, he cannot do it now. But, I tell him, he should have thought of that before. It is not as though he was making any effort.
I expect his tone to change as he realizes I am serious. I am ready for him, though I hope, of course, he gives up without a fight.

Near the End--Torah

We're nearing the end of our first time through the Torah as a group. In the parashah we discussed last night, Ki Tavo, Moses foretells the "future" for the assembled new generation of Israelites that stands before him. According to a knowledgeable member of the group, the book was written after the Babylonian captivity, a holocaust rivaling the 20th century one, in which a formerly prosperous community of Jews living under the aegis of Babylonian rule were destroyed, taken captive, and reduced to cannibalism because they got uppity and refused to pay the taxes levied on them by their rulers. Thus, the book has two implicit audiences--the Israelites about to enter the Land of Israel without the guidance of Moses, who will die after he delivers his message, and the post-Exile community, looking for a way to explain their fate.
Unlike earlier books, where blessings more than balanced out curses, this book was dark and angry, full of graphic and horrible curses and savage ironies. The most famous of these involves the assertion that even the most "dainty and tender" mothers would not only eat their infants, but withhold this dubious source of nourishment from the rest of their families. Since this had in fact already come to pass, the warning implied here was all the stronger.
We discussed how this book became the root for the infamous railings of t.v. preachers eager to blame Katrina, 9-11, or whatever source of suffering one can name on some individuals who stray from God's law. However, in contrast to these vindictive condemnations, this part of the Torah pins the blame squarely on the entire community. Whatever secret sins its individuals can be blamed for, it is the community that is ultimately responsible here.

Tuesday, July 6, 2010

Old Friend Remet

My friend called me while we were at the movie. I called her, but she was out. After a brief game of phone tag, I had a long conversation with her on the phone. Funny how her voice hasn't changed. Mine probably hasn't either. And we still remembered the moments, the code words for years spent together as children and young adults before we went in our own directions.
It brought back those times for me, and she was one of the only bright spots in those years. Her family house became a sanctuary for me when the craziness of my own overwhelmed me, and her mother's sensible advice a touchstone.
Now her house, she says, has become that sanctuary for her own daughter's friends. She has taken on the mantle her mother once wore. I'm not surprised.

Monday, July 5, 2010

Winter's Bone

Today, after yoga class, I waited a while for my friend from childhood, Ilene, to call me. She said she would call today. When she didn't, we went to the movie to see a flick at the University--Winter's Bone, a grim film about a mountain matriarchal mafia (something to be said for alliteration!). I was thinking that the place could have been Floyd, the town where Richard is from, in the mountains of SW VA, but it was far uglier, grittier, and poorer than any part of Floyd I had ever seen, so I guess it was elsewhere in the Appalachians--R. suggested Kentucky.
In that film, a 17 year old girl has to take on the responsibility of caring for her young (6 and 8) sister and brother and her mentally ill mother. Her father, a drug pusher who runs meth labs, like all the other men in the community, has disappeared, and so the family will lose its house, which was posted as bond if he did not appear in court. He was dead though, and the girl figured that out, but her effort to get someone to admit it, to show her the bones so she did not lose the house, gets her beaten up and almost killed. This was an ugly ugly world, where 17 was too young to enlist in the army, but not too young to be forced to live in the woods with her young siblings and her mother. No one cared, or if they did, they did the best they could not to show any feelings at all, lest they be vulnerable.
It was quite a performance on the part of the girl who played this character, Ree! I am sure we will be seeing her again.

Not a Party Girl

The party at James and Ann Grey's yesterday was, as usual, excellent. It's a congenial group, great food, comfortable locale, and yet I found myself restless mid-party, feeling there was something else I needed to go and do. I guess I am not too good at relaxing, being unused to it anymore. It might also be that I am not exactly myself. I talked to several people about my parents, and find myself still a bit at loose ends, wondering what to do with myself now that the task of taking care of them is over.
Of course I know that I need to prepare the Writing 2 class, read up as fast as I can and order books, so it's not as though there is nothing to do. Maybe I even concocted that task to keep myself busy, though I chose the topic last spring.
I am also troubled by the illustrator not responding to my urgent email, asking her to please complete ONE drawing so I can see what she can do on this subject. I am going to write her again to ask whether she wants to call it quits. I have no idea who to turn to from there.
I got out all my poems on the floor and started trying to categorize and decide what needed work. Lots of things need work. There is also lots I don't want to use at all. But even with that, I think I still have enough for a book.

Sunday, July 4, 2010

Happy Fourth of July!

I hope you all have something interesting lined up to do. We are going to a picnic at Ann Grey's house. Richard will go make jambalaya (or is it gumbo?) there this morning, while I prepare my contribution to the feast--cornbread from a recipe by Alton Brown, with creamed corn and organic, coarse ground cornmeal and peach cobbler. The peaches now are tantalizing my nostrils as I speak!

Saturday, July 3, 2010

Another Dinner at Xanh Bistro

Tonight we hosted Robin and Manny at Xanh Bistro. I had the idea of inviting her there for a belated birthday dinner to try the place. It was interesting going there after I had some recipes from the cooking lesson. I noticed that the ground chicken mixture we used to make meatballs for the appetizer course appeared in two of the dishes we ordered--a heavenly fried wonton dish with pineapple chutney (it had that same mixture of fresh pineapple, tomato, and fresh basil we tasted in the soup the last time we ate there), and a soup with chicken dumplings that were made of the same meatball mixture we made, only cooked in a soup with mustard greens and other wonderful fresh herbs. As usual, it was interesting and stimulating. This time, we shared a bread pudding with R and M, and found it had an intriguing sauce made out of tamarind and strawberry. What an interesting combination!
I am looking forward to getting some of her sauces in bottles. She is promising to sell them soon at local farmer's markets, but not in Irvine, since they were full. It would be worth going a bit of a distance to find them.

Old New Friend

A friend of mine from my childhood (since about 2nd grade) recently contacted R, looking for me. I had not heard from her in years. She contacted me only sporadically, and at some point, I gave up on her. Perhaps she moved, and we lost contact.
I wrote to her immediately, but she hasn't answered me. Maybe she'll show up here, and she can confirm the tales I tell of my youth. Perhaps she can even add some details I forgot.
I gave her the address for this blog. Ilene, if you are out there, speak up!

Friday, July 2, 2010

Doing it to myself again

In the fall, I will teach a new curriculum in Writing 2. I want to teach a different curriculum because I was not satisfied with the way the OTHER new one on adaptation of film from literature worked out. I just didn't know enough about it and it turned out to be fantastically complicated.
I decided that sociological or political topics are probably best for Wr. 2. So, after watching A Clockwork Orange in my abortive film series last spring, I got an idea for another provocative class. Again, it's a topic I know nothing about... punishment and forgiveness. Now, I've taught a Wr. 1 with the theme of revenge for a year, so I know a bit about that, and it's part of the class I'll teach. But I know nothing at all about prisons, prison reform, rehabilitation, or the death penalty, all topics this one might entail. And choosing books is difficult.
Because I had to make a fast decision and didn't know where to turn, I went to Amazon and studied the available texts I found there, choosing one after going through the table of contents, reading a page, etc. Well, I made a very bad decision. The topic is interesting enough. It's an argument against state punishment of prisoners, but it's in such dense philosophical language that I can barely make it through a page. Not a keeper, and I've had the bookstore order it. Sigh.
I asked the librarians to help me, and will go to the bookstore today to un-order it. I am afraid I am doing what I did to myself last spring. But one can't teach the same curriculum over and over till she croaks. It's so boring, and I couldn't stand that. The only thing is, is not knowing what you're doing worse? I'm trying to get and read and stay a few steps ahead of the students the first time I teach it, as I did with modern slavery, and that worked out very very well. I hope I can do it again.

Thursday, July 1, 2010

Thinking about death

Just Before
A last breath, then darkness
pools beneath your eyes;
can it be found, the moment just
before, when you were still alive?

In dreams I turn back weeks
like sheets, and calculate the odds
if this or this had shifted just a shade,
would things have gone on as before,

yet know at once that I can never
trace this river to its mouth, no north
or south will find me in this place,
until, bone weary, in my time,

the gates of breath swing heavy
on their hinges, and, destination
now in sight, I finally arrive.

Last Day Again

Today the students take their exam in class and that is the end of the semester. It is hard to believe that these difficult weeks have come to a close. It seems like yesterday when all of this started.