Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Taking Chances

I guess that by choosing to teach A Clockwork Orange, I'm taking chances. It was more than likely that something like what happened would occur. In fact, I'm a bit surprised there was just that one case. But it's such an amazing virtuoso piece of film making, and so full of important topics for discussion, that I thought it was worth it. So far, it has richly repaid those hopes.
The segue, when it comes, to Foucault, in the second paper, will be bizarre and more than a little jarring. But I hope they make the transition well. Being able to link those abstractions to such concrete images should help. And Foucault uses the same technique in both the chapters of beginning with shocking, strong images to anchor his theories.

Mixed Bag

I had only one student complain about the film. Although some students in my Mon/Weds class did not like the film and found it repellent, they did not argue that they should not be asked to watch it, and instead did exactly as I would hope: they watched it and had thought about lots of reasons that it was repellent. In other words, they were thinking, paying attention, and wanted to talk about the film. Some others, many, perhaps the majority, were fascinated by the film, and none seemed to have difficulty understanding it as was suggested last week by my colleague. I provided something of a historical context, discussing attitudes about poverty and crime that existed at the time (mostly environmental arguments about the causes of crime, and the subsequent implications of these views), the youth culture of the late 60s and 70s, the Cold War, etc. They seemed to understand very well how these things related to the film, and I got very good in class writing on it, for the start of a discussion on a text.
Of course, I am still deciding what to do about the student who dredged up the censorship appeal, arguing that the film was banned by the Church, something I have not been able to find evidence of, by the way. I am not at all certain that the Catholic Church still has a list of banned texts, though I know they did at the time the film was released.
The student wants to stay in the class and essentially have me teach a whole separate class to her, although I explained the difficulty of this. She cannot take the department chair's class, though he offered two sections of it for her to choose from, or so she says. I am not ready to teach her, but perhaps this is a teachable moment for both of us.

Monday, August 30, 2010

Wrinkle of the Month

I was concerned when I chose Kubrick's film A Clockwork Orange to base this class upon that someone, some few students, would object to my choice, and refuse, on ethical, religious, and moral grounds, to watch the film. That is why I developed an assignment about the film that would permit students to argue, if they wished, that the film was pornographic and harmful, providing analysis and evidence from the film to bolster their views. But I now have a student who says she cannot bear to watch the film through even once, never mind the several times she would need to in order to write such a paper. And, upon researching the topic, she has found it is banned by the Catholic church, of which she is an observant member.
I was not aware that the church was still banning books and films. Perhaps they only banned it back in 72, when it was released. But it has rather thrown me for a loop because it means that if this student is to stay in my class, I must come up with an alternative assignment. I would say she could read the book, and I could create a paper topic about it (though I haven't read the book, never mind studied it as of this moment). But that might be banned as well, though Burgess was a religious Catholic, I believe, and in the book, the final chapter has Alex truly reforming and having a conversion of sorts.
I have written to the department chairs and asked if there is some other section she can be transferred to. Of course, this will not be a simple matter, finding one that will be convenient to her schedule, etc.
Alternatively, R has suggested that the student could begin her research subject now, taking on the issue of censorship, since this film was banned in England until quite recently, and examining the arguments surrounding freedom of speech and censorship. Of course, without having watched the film, that would be difficult. I would have to do a tutorial version of the class for her until we got to the second paper. I could manage this I suppose. It might be interesting, though quite a lot of work, obviously, and not just for the student.

Saturday, August 28, 2010

The Sea of Memory

Our trip to the Balboa Peninsula for the whale watch was a trip back in time as well as in space. When we first arrived in California in 1980, we lived on the Peninsula because there was no room in the graduate student housing at Verano Place for the first year we were here. So we found a little place a block from the water, unfortunately next door to a drunken couple who were always brawling. I would hear things break, hear her shrieking, and call the police. The police would come and yank the two, cursing and screaming, out of the house. She would never want him to be arrested, so the police would let them both go with a warning.
The second time, we lived up the Peninsula a bit, on 11th St., and in winter, had to slog through the flooded streets. Our apartment was infested with huge roaches. It was a terrible place.
We haven't been back since, really. So when we traveled up to the whale watch place, it was strange. The place has become much more seedy even than it was then. Many storefronts are empty and windows broken. But the whale watch was wonderful.
Walking on the boat while it cut through the waves was like riding on a big, powerful horse, maybe a Percheron, standing up in the saddle. The water was dark, and boiled with small swells. The sky was a perfect blue. And then, after an hour and a half or more, we finally saw the blue whale(s) break the surface repeatedly. It was amazing how long the creature was, and how close to the ship. I feel very lucky to have seen it.

Yesterday's Poem, Today's Whale Watch

I revised and pretty much finished the poem from yesterday. When I showed it to Richard, he wanted me to send it to Floyd County's new literary magazine, Floyd County Moonshine, so I did. Haven't heard anything yet, of course. Floyd has a very large presence on the web, beyond its size, I would say.
Today, as the heading above suggests, we are going on a whale watch to scout for blue whales, which are migrating this time of year. I've never seen a blue whale in the flesh, I don't think, only humpbacks. They were big enough! These guys are much bigger. Of course, one never knows whether the whales will oblige and show up, but where would they hide?
I'll let you know how it goes.

Friday, August 27, 2010

New Poem I'm Working On

This is about Richard's grandfather on his mother's side. Will's Ridge is a place in Floyd, the site where his grandfather's farm used to be.

Will’s Ridge

Your grandfather’s a mountain.
Though he passed some time ago,
his name endures, enshrined
on maps and part of local lore.

In contrast, Greeks and Romans
once made gods of sea and storm,
each willow housed a dryad,
all the earth alive, divine.

Egyptian pharaohs, who fancied
themselves gods, charted their
immortal course from pyramids
built up by human hands, while

moderns mark their graves
with chunks of polished granite,
piles of sea-smooth stones,
marble mausoleums, built
to last, if what’s within is not..

Your grandfather outdoes them all,
a modest farmer, his mountain
stands unchanged, and will
as long as there are maps, and even

beyond that, for named
or nameless, the mountain
shapes the world around it,
makes this a place, marked by
its jagged silhouette against the sky.

Thursday, August 26, 2010

Further Impressions on the Classes

It seems that my Tuesday/Thurs. class is more on the ball than the other, at least so far. This class has several people in it who have taken film classes also, and are excited about A Clockwork Orange. Some have already watched it, and have begun to ask specific questions about it, though I didn't technically ask them to watch it until next Monday and Tuesday! So that's a good sign. They seem engaged too, while the Mon/Weds class has some sleepers in it.

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

Second Day of Class

Today class begins in earnest. I hope this new curriculum works better than the last one I did, on adaptation from literature to film. The one thing I am apprehensive about is relying on the students to watch the film A CLockwork Orange themselves, since it is just shy of 3 hours long--too long to show in class because it would take up a whole week, more or less. I also hope I can prove my colleague wrong and make it comprehensible to the students, so that they can write about it without too much pain. Starting a class with a film, especially one like this one, is something I've never really done before, though last spring a short film wasn't too bad for the first paper. Judging from the diagnostics, there are some folks with serious reading issues, or maybe they didn't bother to read it at all. These people are going to struggle with whatever I give them, most likely.

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

Of Many Minds

I have always known that Richard would love to move back to Floyd to be with his family. His parents are quite elderly, and while they are living independently and show no signs of needing to be looked after the way my parents were (they are about 8 years younger than my parents were when they died, I think), they want Richard close by.
He left Floyd very young, almost being run out of town, as he tells it, because he was a poet, and that seemed unacceptable to local townspeople. If he had been a novelist, they would have understood that. But a poet--that was, to them, effeminate, not to be tolerated. He needed to leave anyhow, and had no interest in the place anyway at the time. He traveled to Chicago, San Francisco, and never came back to live. When he married me, it seemed good to him that I would take him far away from his home, where he would be immersed in cultures totally alien to the one he grew up in.
Later though, as often happens, he changed his mind. He took up his parents' hobby, golf, a game his father used to play every day of the year, snow or shine. His father and a group of friends helped to found the town's golf course, which is a small gem, I am told, and he still hangs out there with his old friends. When he visits the place, once a year, to play a father-son tournament with his dad, he comes home glowing. He is happier than he is going to be for the rest of the year.
I know he would love to go back there, and his parents wanted us to live in their house, which they would vacate. But while Floyd is a beautiful place, in the shelter of the Buffalo, a modest peak, part of the Blue Ridge chain, and on the Blue Ridge Parkway, it is not really a good place for me. I feel out of place there even on visits.
I planned to buy a house here, but it saddens me to think of Richard's and his parents' disappointment. While I couldn't live in Floyd, maybe I could live somewhere else in the region. The problem is, Southwestern Virginia is not a place with a thriving Jewish population, never mind the kind of progressive synagogue I belong to, and there is no Iyengar yoga teacher or studio, at least not one with a presence on the Web. Places to teach are also few and far between, though they do exist (they'd pay quite a bit less than I get here too, maybe half of what I get, which is already not a lot, all told). And I hate to leave my community. What to do?

Monday, August 23, 2010


One of my colleagues, one I seldom speak to, blasted me today for writing assignments and texts that she sees as totally inappropriate for the students I am teaching. she said that they assume knowledge the students could never have, and that the students she sees at the writing center are totally at sea.
I see some of her students who are at sea also, though she assumes the material she teaches is so much closer to their experience. I insist that it's not the material, but the way it's taught that makes the difference.
Of course, some students are going to fail, no matter what you teach them. But all the same, aside from my defensive reaction, she may be right that I really should be teaching at another level.
I try hard to make whatever I'm teaching accessible to the students, and see my colleagues teaching material that is at least as challenging. In fact, I am often surprised at just how much they ask of their students, and they are getting it from them too. So perhaps it is just that our perceptions about teaching and these students are worlds apart, something I had already guessed, though we hadn't spoken much.

New Drawings

Speaking of kindness, my cousin, who has never met me, has done more yoga drawings. I just sent her a book with lots of photos of Iyengar poses recommended by my teacher, Denise. I include here the headstand illustration, even though, as she says, the butt is too big. She is redoing it.

Random Acts of Kindness

The theme of kindness continues this season. Yesterday, I went over to the house of a friend from the choir to get a ride to Long Beach, where a choir party would take place. Though I COULD conceivably drive there, it would take hours on PCH, at night, in a strange neighborhood because I do not take freeways. Rather than do this, I asked to tag along with a choir member, and got a couple of offers.
I had been to this person's house (the person I was riding with), so I just looked up the address on Google Maps, and printed out the directions. Unfortunately, as before with the Santa Ana address, I didn't put in the whole address--it had a NORTH on it that I didn't notice. So I got very lost, and was wandering around in a complex, behind a security gate. A resident there was getting out of her car (in fact, her car was the reason I was able to get through the gate at all), so I asked her for assistance. She insisted on me getting in the car and she drove all around to look for the address. So I called this friend, and she talked to the woman with the car, who led me as I drove all around the complex, and then went back home when I got to my destination.
I have to remember to return this kindness to the first person who requires it, as well a the kindness of another synagogue friend who is assisting me with financial issues and will not take any money for it, although I expected to pay it, and indeed offered it. When I feel grouchy and put-upon, I must remember this, and return the favors.

Sunday, August 22, 2010

Echoey Feeling

Do you know the feeling when you're in an empty room, and you know from the feel of it that there is no one there, has been no one there for some time? That is how I feel now about my parents. Somehow, as long as I had some of their stuff to go through, it felt as if they were somehow still there. Now I have gone through and arranged everything except the painting of my grandfather my uncle still has, the one done by my great-uncle Isaac Rosenberg. It was a very early effort, certainly not proficient, but I feel affection for it. Once I get it, I will have to have it professionally cleaned. I'm not sure when that will happen, but my uncle said he would come out some time to California, maybe in the winter. Perhaps then we will be in a new house. He is waiting for that to come.
We are getting announcements for condos in our complex below $300,000. It is hard to believe because two years ago, they were running in the $500,000, almost $600,000. ! Of course, that was ridiculous. It will make it easier for us to buy a place, though it probably will not be in this neighborhood, depending on what we find. We want a townhouse, and this was not a townhouse.

Saturday, August 21, 2010

Early beginning to my semester

One of my students wrote to me and told me that she must work next week, so could not attend class. I told her that was not okay with me because many people want to add the class, and I cannot hold it for a whole week. However, I made a deal with her. If she met me at the Heritage Park Library today and did the writing sample (plus listened to my spiel about the class), I would excuse her from class next week. She will meet with me probably on Weds. afternoon for a private showing of the 2nd class, and to get her writing sample back.
She is a conscientious girl, and I liked her very much. She was Brenda's Writing 1 student, and I would bet she did well. I'm sure she won't complain about me after being in Brenda's class.

Holiday China

Every holiday, anniversary, or significant social gathering, my mother would bring down the good china from the cabinet. It wasn't an important occasion without it. I learned to associate this china with delicious food, good company, and mostly happy times. So it was wonderful to unpack each piece and pack it away again securely in an airtight plastic bag inside another plastic container for storage. Amazingly, only one small bowl got broken.
I don't have all the pieces. The teapot, pitcher, and gravy bowl never made it here (unless I have them elsewhere and forgot them, but I don't think so), but the rest, service for 6--dinner plates, salad plates, tea cups, saucers, and one little odd staffordshire gravy boat and one matching little oval serving dish, made it fine.

Friday, August 20, 2010

Technology Headaches

Obviously, I don't have too many problems with using computers and other such modern technology, or else you would not be reading this now! However, sometimes, these things can create as many problems as they solve. When computers balk or do their strange thing that humans do not often comprehend, it can cause screaming fits on the user's part. It is true that sometimes though, these problems are caused by user error, often in my case.
The new semester starts on Monday. I thought I was all ready for it. Knowing that the college was about to set up a new version of the Blackboard program, I have been working for a while setting up the sites for each section on the staging platform for this new version of the program, gathering documents from databases to be used as resources they can use while writing the first and second papers, linking the sites to webpages, downloading paper topics, syllabi, information sheets, and blank forms I will use throughout the semester. It took me a lot of time and a lot of editing, thinking, and redoing before I got these sites into shape, ready to be archived and imported to the new platform.
However, when I archived the first site and tried to unzip it in the new program, I learned the archived site was corrupt. I wasn't sure what to do. Retrying it didn't help. The tech guy didn't answer his phone. If I were him, I wouldn't either, frankly. Rather than dealing with people like me, who aren't too handy with this sort of thing, I would do the transferring myself and tell the person I had done it. But he's very busy just now, dealing with the whole system, too busy to do things like that for me. I may have to do it all over again before Monday and Tuesday, regathering these files and reinserting them painstakingly into their slots in the shells of the new sites. I hope that is not the case, but if I don't hear from him by Sunday, I will begin doing it myself, if I can.
Today I had another frustration. I didn't order enough death certificates for either of my parents, especially my mom. It is a hassle to order them by phone, because one must fill out a separate form for each separate certificate and have each notarized--expensive and time-consuming. So this afternoon, after yoga class and some last minute stuff at the college, I drove to Santa Ana to get the certificates. I had gone to Google Maps, feeding in an address on South Main St. But initially, I went to North Main Street. As I parked and got out of the car, I glanced at the instructions to check the room number and saw it was South Main St, not north.
What do you think? When I drove back there, it turned out I was initially correct after all; there was no 1200 S. Main St., or rather, it was a school, not a public building. By that time, I was fed up, and just went home. I'll have to try it again sometime next week. What a hassle!

Thursday, August 19, 2010

Family Tree

The other day when I was cleaning out my parents' stuff in the spare room, I found the partial family tree of my mother's family, the Rosenbergs, tracing back to one person in Russia or Lithuania. I had heard this existed, but I had no idea where it was.
I would have put it up earlier, but I was trying to figure out how to do it. My scanner cannot convert documents to PDF. The one at school can, so I am trying to put it up here. Let's see whether it is possible. If you click on the image, it will enlarge. It takes a bit of time though, or did on my computer.

More Writing News

I got a piece (the one on cleaning out my parents' house) back from a journal, Sycamore Review. They didn't take it, but they said they love the way I write and asked for more stuff. Everything was out, almost. I sent them two of the yoga poems, the ones with illustrations. And then I got back a prose piece, "My First Real Lesson," the first non-fiction story I wrote, and sent it to them. It's nice to have people ask for stuff! I could get used to that. But I have to get on the stick and start writing again.
Right now, I just want to finish up my poetry collection and send it out. I don't think I will be able to do anything else till that is out. It's on my mind.
Today I had to deal with my disorganization again. I was trying to get together some financial records so I can take them to a financial analyst who will help me sort this thing out intelligently, to maximize what we have. I couldn't find the place where I'd toted up all the money to go toward the house.
I looked and looked, and then found it in the very file I had in my hand! I'd say it was a senior moment except that I have been like this my whole life. In fact, I might be a bit better, since I've developed coping mechanisms since I was younger.
And when I think of my parents' neurological baggage, I got off easy, didn't I?

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

Back To School

Today at the college there was a long norming session where we read and discussed student essays about the prompt we will use again this semester on the first day of class (Monday and Tuesday of next week). I liked the honest and relaxed discussion of these papers. I have been part of many departments, and in most, these events are marked by much bravado and one upsmanship. Here, everyone was an equal, it seemed. There were honest disagreements about the papers and what score they deserved and, interestingly, for the first time, discussions about the implications of these scores, what they would mean for the student's ability to function in the class. Though it was a long day, I came away energized rather than fatigued. I enjoyed hearing from my colleagues and seeing everyone again after a long and difficult summer.

More Stuff

Just as I thought I was through with my parents' stuff, packing it all away in airtight plastic bags for about 6 months before I'll pore through the photos and hang some on the walls of our new place, if we have one by then, two enormous boxes arrived from my uncle's house. Though he had said he was going to sell the English china and few pieces of silver I salvaged from the house on Ebay, he apparently did not do that, or at least this is how I interpret the rattling from the boxes. However, if these are indeed from my parents' house, I must be very careful in unpacking them and disposing of the boxes and newspapers or popcorn he used to pack them. My parents' house was infested will all sorts of insects and other terrible things. I will unpack outside, and wash up immediately thereafter. I do not look forward to that, and have no idea where I will put the china and silver... perhaps in the garage, in a plastic crate, if they fit. Someday I will have a kitchen big enough to put them in the cabinet, I hope.

Monday, August 16, 2010

High Holidays

The cycle of the holidays gives a feeling of consistency to life. Now that it is almost the Jewish New Year, the choir is preparing the same songs we sing every year, for the most part. Though we don't have many days to get ready, we aren't sounding too great at the moment. Many of the usual people who sing with us at the holidays have not been coming to rehearsal. Everyone seems lax and unconcerned. Sometimes, I should say, the choir director seems paralyzed with anxiety over the idea that things will not come together, but since we are mostly (not all) old hands, and have sung these things very well a number of times before, and since she works a difficult and time-consuming job, she is not as worried this year. I think she decided that being anxious didn't help, so she wasn't going to allow herself to panic. A good idea if you can manage it, I say.
But oddly, I was suddenly struck that I feel precisely the same as I did the year before my parents came out to California, back in that same exact place, singing the same songs, feeling the same way. I wasn't sure that was a good thing, but there it is.

Sunday, August 15, 2010

What I Want

After my parents died, part of the reason I was so devastated was not just that I had lost my parents and my whole life was going to change, but that this meant I had to ask myself how I wanted my life to change, what I really wanted for my life, now that I could actually pursue something I wanted. I realized I didn't really know, but the more I have sat with that thought, the more I have realized that I want to write more and more, want to teach other things besides only composition, more workshops, literature. To do that I have to ask myself what I want to do. Do I look for part-time jobs elsewhere in addition to the one I have, such as teaching Humanities Core at the University, if that comes up (I loved that job, when I had it) or do I wait for my books to get published, which I hope will someday happen, and then hope some more that I receive enough notice to perhaps pick up MFA residency positions? How likely is that? Am I engaging in a total fantasy here?
And what does that mean about buying a house? Should I buy a house here, or simply move to a different apartment and wait to see how all this turns out? So many things to think about. So confusing.

People Watching

Last night, we went up to L.A., tagging along with Manny and Robin, who drove up there to watch a free performance of a Haitian group, the Tabou Combo, one of the most famous musical groups of the Caribbean, according to their website. It seemed to be true, since they were obviously very accomplished musicians, who attracted an enormous and enthusiastic audience filled with people of all sorts and ages.
The costumes alone were worth going for. One guy in front of us had a glow-in-the-dark metallic gold-tone suit with matching hat. It was a zoot suit type of style, with an extra long jacket, with huge lapels, and long long pants that fell over the shoes. He danced with a woman who was probably my age, but was dressed in 60s garb, a poor boy hat, macrame vest, and black tights. Not to mention the large hanging earrings that brought back bygone decades.
Dancers abounded. Dirty dancers particularly. One Latino couple did a sizzling dance off in a corner, while we all watched, fascinated. The music energized all of us. Though I do not dance, I could not keep still either, tapping my feet.
After the concert, waiting for the streets to clear, we walked down the block to gawk at Disney Hall and MOCA. I hardly know L.A., since there is no way I am driving up there, and R hates to drive there too. But Manny knows the town very well. I am glad of that, since I really enjoyed going.

Saturday, August 14, 2010

Ethnic Food

The synagogue was hopping last night. In addition to the monthly Synaplex, a musical service that combines lovely melodies and musical performances (a duo of violinists with a piano accompaniment, this time)with the usual Shabbat service, there was also a fascinating talk by a writer. Jane Spiegelmann authored a book called 97 Orchard about the story of the families who inhabited the house that became the Tenement Museum on the Lower East Side of New York. Although most of us in the audience had family members who once inhabited such tenements in New York and elsewhere, we had no real idea how those people lived, so it was amazing to hear of this.
Spiegelmann spent 5 years researching this, and learned some unexpected facts, such as that fois gras, the livers of force fed geese, was a staple of the shtetl table in Eastern Europe and in the new world. Ashkanzi Jews regularly consumed geese, making use not only of their livers, but their fat and their flesh. Since the families were uniformly Kosher, they had to witness animals being killed to accept that their meat was Kosher. So they lived with their fowl, only later buying their live chickens and geese at marketplaces, as is still done in many places throughout the world.
Spiegelmann spoke also about the Italian families who inhabited the house at one time. Apparently, the upper crust commentators who observed their gustatory habits were uniformly critical, speaking from a racist perspective in which Italians were judged to be dirty, lazy, and unhealthy, as well as hostile and aggressive. How ironic that the very foods that health department representatives judged to be devoid of nutrition would later be touted as the best foods, nutritionally speaking, of them all. Things like olive oil, tomato sauce, garlic, etc., staples of the Italian diet, were dubiously regarded. Settlement workers tried to get the children of these immigrants to learn American (read "bland") cooking. They rejected it.
Instead, as Spiegelmann illustrated by reciting the current menu of a local diner in her neighborhood of New York, American culture absorbed like blotting paper all the various ethnic influences and foodways of the many cultures that inhabit it.
It's a fascinating book, and one I plan to get, though I didn't buy a signed copy last night. Perhaps I can pick one up on Amazon used or get it from UCI's library.

Friday, August 13, 2010


I dreamed I saw my father, sitting in an old lawn chair outside the room where he and my mother died. He was thinner, and his catheter was gone. He didn't need a walker anymore. But otherwise, he was the same. I wondered at how warm his hands were, as I held them. He said only, "It's okay to cry" and I did.
But the dream wasn't just about him. I found an old bag in the corner, full of Jeremy's old toys and schoolwork (in the dream), and pictures from my wedding. It was about all the stages of my life that I have left behind. And that reminded me of Hopkins poem "Spring and Fall." Since Lou, in her blog, gifted us with a beautiful Hopkins poem, I will do that as well here.

Spring and Fall: To a young child
by Gerard Manley Hopkins

Margaret, are you grieving
Over Goldengrove unleaving?
Leaves, like the things of man, you
With your fresh thoughts care for, can you?
Ah! as the heart grows older
It will come to such sights colder
By and by, nor spare a sigh
Though worlds of wanwood leafmeal lie;
And yet you will weep and know why.
Now no matter, child, the name:
Sorrow's springs are the same.
Nor mouth had, no nor mind, expressed
What heart heard of, ghost guessed:
It is the blight man was born for,
It is Margaret you mourn for.

Thursday, August 12, 2010

In Between Season

The beginning of fall is always a bittersweet time for me, and has been since I was very small for some reason. It is the start of the school year and the beginning of the Jewish year as well. And this year, it is perhaps the start of a different life, one without my parents. I have long been the "parent" anyway, caring for my parents as they aged and became more and more helpless, particularly my mom. My dad even called me "Mom," inadvertently. I think I got too pushy and bossy with them. It was hard not to, since I made just about all the decisions, by my dad's request.
I have hopes for the manuscripts I have put together, even though I keep getting back things I have sent out with the same response--they ALMOST made it into the anthologies, etc. or ALMOST won the contest, but not quite. I know this is why Richard gave up writing, and it is a difficult shoal to avoid wrecking myself upon too. I stopped writing once for a similar reason. I learned from that experience that one just has to keep on writing. It is the process, not the product that is important anyhow.

Wednesday, August 11, 2010

Blow Out

This morning, as I was driving to yoga class, my tires blew out. It didn't feel like the usual flat, or sound like it either. It sounded like something falling out of the car, like a clunk sound. And then things started to rattle. So I pulled over onto the shoulder of Irvine Blvd, as the cars and trucks whizzed past, and sat there for a half an hour or more waiting for the tow truck to take me back to the 76 station, where I knew I'd be overcharged for tires, but at least I'd be off the road.
It seems that I have again forgotten to fill the tires up with air. I have a habit of doing that. Now I have to remember air and oil. These are two things my car gets short on regularly.
One of the back tires was spectacularly shredded. I'm lucky I didn't lose control over the car, and shocked that no one signaled me to let me know about it. In the past, people have done that.

Tuesday, August 10, 2010

Summer Job

On the way home from the last Torah session for a while, I was listening to The Story on Public Radio. This is a show where people tell stories about their families, about themselves, about incredible/ordinary events that have occurred in their lifetimes. In this particular show, a woman was talking about a summer job she had held 20 years before, when she was a college student on holiday at Cape Cod. The job was selling timeshares, but it turned out that the whole thing was a scam, and she realized that when people would rush out to the bank immediately to cash their checks, lest the money run out before they got there, which apparently happened sometimes. She told one story about a diabetic salesperson who binged out on Twinkies and died. The other salespeople ripped apart his room because it was rumored that he hid money in there. They tore the tiles off his ceiling in case that's where the money was hidden.
The host of the show invited others to write in and tell him about their own summer jobs. I thought then about a job I had when I was first in college. It was the summer between my first and second year of school, in late 1972. I was broke because I didn't work while school was in session. So when my friend's parents, concentration camp survivors who seemed to know every Jewish person in the United States, suggested that I take a summer camp job along with their daughter, I agreed to do it, even though I had never been a camp sort of person, to say the least.
It was a job as a nature counselor. I didn't have to take care of a bunk of kids by myself, which was a selling point for me because the prospect of doing that didn't sound particularly good. I had only been to camp once myself, and it was not a pleasant experience. I was locked outside my bunk naked and tormented in various ways by the girls in the bunk. I seemed destined for torture of all kinds in a place where difference is tantamount to a "kick me" sign and the only real law is the law of public opinion.
My friend was the art counselor, and perhaps because of the connection between her parents and the Camp Director, a cigar chomping drill sergeant type, she didn't have to look after a bunk of kids at all. I, on the other hand, did have to watch over children, along with the music counselor, who I remember as a short girl with particularly large breasts, lank hair, and a whisky-rough voice who, at the piano, would work herself up almost to a faint, flinging herself at the keyboard. She told me that during the regular year, between classes, she worked in a peep show, as a dancer. She showed me how she would dance, though of course, with clothes on. It was perfectly safe, she claimed. The men couldn't touch her through the glass of the cage. However, if they paid more money, she could take them to a small room, where they could put a hand through a small opening and touch her breast or watch her masturbate.
The children in our bunk were the very smallest and most vulnerable children at the camp, from 4 to 5 years old. Their parents were mostly rich, many married types who dumped the kiddies at camp and took off for Europe for 6 weeks. These children would weep piteously every night, and we would have to soothe them, singing them to sleep and telling them stories. I remember feeling very sympathetic toward these helpless tots, indignant that their parents seldom answered their letters, which we helped them to write, and it was clear that the future held long therapy sessions or worse for them. But I didn't have the first idea how to take care of or talk to these kids. I was not ready for the responsibility and had no resources to draw on, being an only child, who only rarely babysat, the youngest in the immediate family. When discipline problems arose, as they did daily, I had no one to ask for advice, since the camp director was worse than useless, and the staff were all as young and clueless as I was.
It was a Jewish camp, and the guy who ran the camp exploited the staff, making them work 6 1/2 days per week, and listening in on their phone conversations at the one and only pay phone at the camp. At night, after lights out, our work was not finished, though we had worked a 10 hour day. We still had to patrol the bunks for a 2 hour shift, making the circuit gingerly, with a flashlight, looking for intruders or bears.
The director made every staff member, even the non-Jewish ones, go to services, and even had the right to dictate where someone went and what she did on the one evening a week she had off.
Though I liked being a nature counselor, and accumulated a raft of fans who liked to help take care of the menagerie I put together--the gerbils, frogs, lizards, and fish--I did NOT care for the atmosphere in the camp, which was distinctly military, if not fascist, and the totalitarian control the camp director held over all of us.
One day, perhaps a month into the session, I called my parents and told them I had had enough. The camp director, or his spies, were listening in, and hung up the phone. My father got into his car and immediately drove the 4 hours up to the mountains to take me home. There was lots of screaming and yelling, with the camp director shrieking that he would sue me.
I felt terrible about leaving those children, who had been abandoned by everyone else, especially about leaving them with the art counselor, who was not the kind of person I saw as particularly appropriate as a surrogate mother, though I probably would have judged their real mothers that way as well. But I was feeling oppressed, and at the miniscule salary he was offering, I was not about to be a slave to this person any longer, particularly since he charged big bucks to the parents of these children. So I left, and never took a job like that again. I do not believe I was ever paid for any of the time I spent at this place.

More Clearing Out

Today is the last day of 2nd summer session for me. I'll walk over to school for what I assume will be a very busy day, though yesterday was only half busy. Then this evening is the last Torah session before the hiatus till after the holidays, which will be upon us soon enough. We're through our first go-round of the Torah and will be reading Ecclesiastes after the break.
I decided to make another pass at the stuff in the spare room. Today I found some of mom's jewelry, though not of course the rings, a wooden painted brooch, some Italian clip on earrings (beautiful, but I have pierced ears), my dad's dog tags and wings, his uniform and Air Force portrait, and Isaac Rosenberg books my mother had collected.
In case you don't know or have forgotten, Rosenberg was my great-uncle, my mom's uncle. He was a famous WWI poet and artist, killed at age 26 in the trenches. Though Pound denigrated Rosenberg by calling him "that little Jew," he also published his most anthologized poem, "Break of Day in the Trenches" in Poetry Magazine, and made it famous.
There is lots more to go, but not today.

Monday, August 9, 2010

Picking Up

I haven't been able to look for a new place yet, since we're waiting to hear whether the U will give R the 10% of his salary they took back last year. In addition, he's due a raise for taking James' supervisory position at LARC. The U had one year to give him this raise. So if they give him one or the other, we can go ahead with the house buying plans. I asked R what would happen if they gave him neither, and he said that after another year, he would leave the job and collect SS. I hope I do not have to wait another year in this place, with its broken toilets, broken fixtures, and general mess, much, admittedly,that can be blamed on me. Though we have made our way through the worst of that mess, some will not be fixed until we get into a place with a linen closet, something this place does not have, where we can put towels and sheets that are now piled on bureaus. In fact, we will get all new (to us) furniture, especially a new bed and mattress, one with drawers where I can store more things.
But this morning, I sewed on buttons and snaps that had been gone for years, so I can wear some things in my closet that have just been hanging there, waiting for me to do it. It's a good feeling.
I hope that by September the U tells Richard what they have decided. I know they were thinking of getting rid of LARC and starting a Writing Center. I don't know why they need to. LARC seems to work fine, in my estimation. But maybe they just want a change and to bring in totally new people? Perhaps they would hire me for a full time position, I don't know. That would be ironic.

Sunday, August 8, 2010

Get Low

Yesterday afternoon we went to see the new film Get Low, which stars two of my favorite actors--Cissy Spacek (sp?) and Robert Duvall. I really liked the film, despite the fact that the NYT and other reviewers gave it relatively low grades as a whole, though they enjoyed these actors' performances. Bill Murray was good in it also, though I don't think he's a particularly good actor, in general. He IS funny, and this film allowed him to be funny, which worked well.
The character Duvall plays, or perhaps just the way he plays it, is particularly interesting, and the plot has some nice sharp curves in it that will surprise, so I won't say too much. The period stuff is interesting too (it's set in the Depression in the south).
So if you're hesitating about going to see the film, go ahead.

Saturday, August 7, 2010

Illustrations for the yoga chapbook

My cousin Nina has done some illustrations of a couple poses and wants me to choose among them. I will try to post them here, and you can tell me what you think.

Important Service

Last night the synagogue had a Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual, and Transexual night. Many people I knew and some I didn't engaged in a panel discussion about their experiences. Though of course I knew in the abstract the difficulties people had faced with their variant sexualities because of the intolerance and worse that they faced, it was enlightening to say the least to be exposed first hand to the feelings a transexual who had been brought up in the synagogue as a girl and was now transitioning into a guy was having, and to hear about another such case of a person who is now a guy and has become a rabbi, though no congregation as yet will hire him. He's doing okay though, about to be married to a millionaire heiress. He will also be the parent of an adopted child. A teacher at the religious school bravely stepped up to discuss her sexuality (I hope no parents pull their kids out of the school for this reason, though in our congregation, I'd be pretty surprised if they did). Several people discussed what it was like to come out to their parents. The person from the religious school had also converted from Catholicism, and it was this, mostly, she said, that made her parents disown her, not the fact she was a lesbian.
I am really proud that we were able to discuss this openly, and I see it as a recognition of all people who are different, for whatever reason, and a pledge to support and accept them on the part of our community.

Friday, August 6, 2010

What I've Been Reading

This is frustrating. I just wrote a long post, and it seems that I have accidentally erased it with the slip of a finger, and cannot get it back.. Let's try this again.
A couple of weeks ago, I read A.S. Byatt's fat novel, The Children's Book. I like Byatt, and admire the way she weaves in her knowledge of the Victorian era in England and elsewhere with sharp and perceptive portrayals of characters. But I found this book frustrating because she tries both to create a history of the period from the mid-nineteenth to post WWI Britain, while also doing the business of a novel and exploring the psyches and lives of a number of diverse and interesting characters. There is the poor child of the coalfields who wants so much to be a master potter that he runs away and hides in a museum, living in the tunnels underneath the collection so he can study the pots, the writer who produces fantasy works for children while her relationship with her own rather large brood remains somewhat troubled, her various children, each of whom goes in his or her own direction, the better to allow Byatt to explore nuances of the period's political, social, literary, and artistic movements.
Yet the work as a whole is not satisfying. Just when one settles in to learn more about the individual characters, drawn so clearly and sharply, Byatt shifts away again until we lose the sense of the individuals and end up not caring about them at all.
Tolstoi managed to bring us history via the lives of characters, but Byatt was ambitious here, and wanted more. I guess I can admire that desire, while finding the work less satisfying on the whole than it could have been.
For the last week or so, I have been reading a nonfiction work, The Great Oom, an amazing story about a man history has forgotten who was responsible for bringing Hatha yoga to the U.S. . Although he had to hide what he was doing, disguising it in various ways from a public suspicious of yoga's foreignness, its alien metaphysics, for a while there, the man ran a yoga empire from his compound in Nyack NY, involving not just yoga, but baseball, dog racing, a circus--complete with amazing trained elephants--and enough high society love triangles to keep yellow journalists all over the States in business. Of course, Nyack itself is interesting, being a place that has been the home to much that is strange and occult in the past.
The book made me realize that even today, the same element that found yoga scandalous is still alive and well. In fact, I was remembering that a year or so ago, in the studio where I practice yoga, someone called up the manager and told her that if the studio did not get rid of the statue of the Hindu goddess that graced the basement studio, she would tell everyone she knew that the studio was against Christianity. Her pastor had apparently warned the congregation against accepting Hinduism via the practice of yoga, and started his own "Christian yoga" practice. Concerned for the bottom line, the studio got rid of the statue, though there are still similar statues in its other branches. So it wasn't too surprising to read of people's past suspicions about the foreignness of yoga and its alien metaphysics.
But this guy, Pierre Bernard (a pseudonym that was, like much about the man, his invention), created something that infiltrated the culture, even if he himself was forgotten.
The man who wrote the book, Robert Love, got interested in the subject because he was living in one of the buildings that was once part of the Nyack compound. He wondered about the strange markings and Sanskrit words written on the walls, and began to research the place. This work is the result. I recommend it. A fascinating read, probably even if you do not do yoga.

Now What?

Because of the momentous events in my life that have happened lately, I feel that I should be making enormous strides every day to change. But that is not, truthfully, the way life happens. After first summer session ended, I ran with a big burst of energy to revise and send out my entire manuscript to be looked at, wanting immediately to dig into it with both hands and maybe my teeth too, revising and perfecting it. But people have lives, and I have not yet gotten it back, now that I have the time to revise it. I do not feel like writing new poems right now, but maybe I should try to do it anyway. I know once I start, something will probably happen. That's the way it generally is.
I am waiting too for my cousin to do some illustrations for the yoga book, so I can send it out (again, this time with the illustrations).
And I am wondering whether I should look for other gigs to do at the same time as teaching at the college, maybe teaching at another school as well, or something. I don't know.
In short, I am in between, at the proverbial turning point, but instead of turning, I am hesitating, looking hard at the roads open to me, sitting down in the dust to think it over.

Thursday, August 5, 2010

Time To Waste

Last night I went on Facebook for the first time in a long time and decided to take up a friend on one of those pleas to play a game. Normally, I just ignore those, and they pile up. I never had time before to think about it, and generally, it seemed like just a waste anyway, but there's a Scrabble type game and I decided to play it. I don't like to read instructions on those things, so at first, it took me a while to figure out what to do because obviously, it differs a little from board play and it isn't QUITE Scrabble. For example, I got the blank, and tried to play it in the way I would have a blank in a regular game. It didn't work, and no one would help me out, though I asked for help. So I just kept it till the end. I will read the instructions next time, or go on somewhere and ask more experienced players for help. Anyway, I blew away a passel of newbie players, getting nearly 600 on my score. It wasn't much of a challenge. I'm still on 80% to level 2! So I guess I will do that sometimes.
But I think I will also rejoin the Tikkun Olam committee at the synagogue now that I have more time. I'd rather be useful to someone who needs me than to sit playing games in front of the computer. I ought to be doing some writing too.

Tuesday, August 3, 2010

Idle Hands

It's strange not to have half a dozen tasks I ought to be doing. I'm not used to it. In the past, there were too many things to get done in a day. Now I have to think hard to dredge up a couple. I guess I could always clean the house, huh?

What Determines The Price of A Flight?

Yesterday, I decided to go to Chicago after all--that is, if I could find a reasonable price for a flight. I know from past experience that the price of a flight is a mysterious thing that can change from one minute to another... not just a little, but by huge leaps.
It was slow... no, dead at the Center yesterday during my hours, so I started to poke around online, and found a round trip for $197. on American Airlines. I was so excited that I called Jeremy, who has his 20th birthday coming up on the 14th, and invited him to come with me. But I couldn't buy the tickets online at the Center, on a public computer. When I got home, I found no trace of the fare at all. The cheapest I could find was $279., a fare too high for me to take Jeremy with me. Besides, as R points out, Jeremy and I fight a lot. We do not have the same taste in activities at all. I would want to go to art museums and natural history museums and to visit relatives, maybe getting in a yoga class or two along the way. Jeremy would want to go to baseball games and concerts or who knows what. We would not enjoy ourselves together, most likely. But I didn't want to miss his birthday, and that's why I thought about taking him with me to begin with.
So I can't go on the 11th, or I'd miss his birthday, and on the 15th, the price goes up considerably, beyond my reach. So much for Chicago, at least for now.

Monday, August 2, 2010

Another Qarrtsiluni publication

Just wanted to tell you that "The World is a Sound" is finally up on Qarrtsiluni! Visit and send others!


My dad's 2nd cousin (and mine), Bebe, is a fan of my writing. That started many years ago when I wrote a poem about her mother and aunt after their death. After that, she wanted to see all of my work. She got copies of my two creative writing theses, and I sent her my yoga chapbook. She loves it all. Though my parents never could make head or tails out of this stuff, she is a different kind of person altogether.
At eighty something, she is still working, and teaches Focusing, which I don't really know much about, but visualize as an approach to the psychological via the physical, kind of like rolfing. She goes to conferences all over the world in Focusing. This year, she will go both to San Francisco and Argentina.
When Jeremy was born, she didn't have any grandchildren, so she adopted him as her surrogate grandchild, and came to see him at least once a year till he was maybe 5, when her own grandchildren began to be born. She still calls and asks about him and about my work.
She called several times a week for at least a month after my parents died. So the other day when she called, she invited me to come stay with her in her Frank Lloyd Wright-designed apartment in Oak Park, in Chicago. I've stayed there before. It's a nice place. But I hardly know Chicago because I was only there for a day, when Jeremy was little, on my way to Virginia with Richard.
So I thought maybe I could take advantage of the week between when classes end and fall semester starts. But when I looked up the price of travel to Chicago, an airline hub, it was ridiculously high right now. Oh well.

Sunday, August 1, 2010


After yesterday's tribute, I felt fortified to start tackling my parents' belongings in the spare room. I didn't by any means get a significant amount done, but each bit of excavation required painstaking investigative examination. Here were checks my dad had gotten for his stocks, and never signed or given to me, letters from people I should inform of their deaths, belongings that I would find a use for. Each box brought fresh surprises, and the feeling that my dad, especially, was right there with me. It wasn't a sad feeling, not now, though it would have been a month ago. I'm glad I waited. I've got plenty more to go. Now I was able to throw out old sudoku books I couldn't have tossed a few weeks ago, and keep the truly valuable things, pictures, letters, etc. Another day, I will dip back into the pile and work at it again.

Fixing What Ails Me

Yesterday, Bob taught a class he presented as "the secrets of the yogis." They were not the spectacular or superficially impressive poses, but the grunt work, the plain, simple poses held and held and held. Thus, it was a painful class. By the middle of the hour and a half, I thought I felt something give, and decided it was either very good, meaning that the lack of alignment in my hips, which I have been trying to fix for years, was going to improve or even disappear, or very bad, meaning that I will have a hip replacement in my future. I decided it was good because it wasn't the latter sort of pain, but one that suggested that something rusty, long stiff and sore, was loosening again. Last night I slept wonderfully. The pain that generally wakes me was gone. I just want to keep it up, so it stays gone. I don't know how it happened to begin with. I think it has something to do with the large amounts of driving I used to do, taking my parents hither and yon. I won't be doing that much driving again. Maybe that will also help.