Saturday, April 30, 2011

A Better World

Yesterday I went to see the movie A Better World, winner of this year's academy awards for foreign film. The film was made in Denmark, but set partly there (with several Swedish characters) and partly in Africa, reflecting a trend of "foreign" films that do not really belong to any particular country.
The film was one of those issue movies. Sometimes they are overly simplistic, but popular because everyone wants to be politically correct. This one, however, was artistic enough to complicate the moral issues around what it means to be an ethical human being in this world full of moral complexities.
The main characters were two twelve year olds, one of whom was a very disturbed and angry young boy whose mother had just died of Cancer and another the son of Swedish immigrants to Denmark (I hadn't realized Swedes there were an underclass of sorts) who was bullied and unpopular. The angry kid was this kid's only friend, but this new friend got the unpopular kid involved in lots of dangerous business, including planting a pipe bomb to destroy the car belonging to an adult bully who had assaulted the other child's father.
The film cut back and forth between Denmark and these kids' situation and Africa, where the Swedish father of the unpopular child served as a surgeon in refugee camps, dealing with yet other barbarians, who were killing pregnant women.
Ultimately, though this might not have been a magnificent piece of film making, it was worth watching and thought provoking. If you get a chance, I recommend you see it.

Wednesday, April 27, 2011

Well I've Done It

Despite being somewhat nervous about money, now that we've got the house to keep up, I decided to ease up on myself next fall. I am hoping that I get the full load of classes at the college, but I am not going to teach at CSU next semester (in the fall, I mean) so I can get some mental and physical strength back. Today in yoga I felt so weak I couldn't even stay up in shoulder stand. I look worn out too. I am going to take some time to enjoy my life and my new place. Let's hope I get the usual classes, or I'll be in trouble.

Tuesday, April 26, 2011

Last Night With the Choir

Last night was the last night of Passover, which ends this afternoon officially, meaning that I can go back to eating cereal for breakfast and my favorite grains for supper! Yay for carbs that aren't matzo!
I didn't get to go to a seder or find the energy to make one on the first or second or subsequent nights, so last night, R and I went to the choir's seder, an annual event held at a rec center of a couple members' community. It is a catered affair, quick and dirty, with exceptionally good food, and at a much lower price than the synagogue's official seder. The company is good too!
As usual, it was a jolly event, a good time to catch up on news from all the choir members (though not all showed) and have a good time. Richard appreciated how fast the service went (no more than 40 minutes, I would guess), which make it easy for us to leave early, since we had to get up at 5 and head for work by 6:15 this morning.
There was one controversy: I distinctly remember, unless I am losing my mind, which is entirely possible, especially at this point in the semester, telling Wilma, the member who organizes this event, that my husband was going to be coming to the seder. But she claims I never told her. I probably told her out loud, and she wasn't listening. Or perhaps I sent an email she never got. Who knows?

Sunday, April 24, 2011

Stuff Caught Up With Me

Now that we are moved in and most of the things are out of the boxes (not all, it's true), now that I ought be heaving a big breath and feeling freer than I was, I don't. I feel as though I cannot focus. I am spent. I need a rest, but I am not going to have one.
I still haven't done anything for the summer class, including picking that story or short novel for the end of the class. I don't have a clue what that would be. I am just limping from one class session to the other, and feeling a bit done in.

Saturday, April 23, 2011

Happy Easter!

Passover is almost over, and it seemed rather painless this year, as I continued to prepare tasty dishes in my new kitchen. Perhaps I will keep this up, now that I have a pleasant, relatively well-organized place to prepare food. Last night, I made myself a rare piece of red meat, a broiled shoulder lamb chop and a baked yam, along with one of those tasty bags of microwaved mixed vegetables in olive oil and butter that are available now; it took a while to bake the yam, but otherwise, not long. I fixed R. crab cakes, Trader Joe's frozen ones. I can make crab cakes myself, but since I wasn't going to eat them, it was faster this way.
When I was a child, I used to think it was an accident that Passover and Easter came so close together, but then I learned the story connected to Easter and realized, that despite the apparent and enormous differences between us, the Jewish community of the U.S., and the Christian majority, there was indeed a very important connection. And then, of course, the fact that we were scorned in some quarters and even hated became an even greater mystery to me, and that ironically, for large patches of history, Jews had to celebrate Passover with their doors open because of the blood libel, the notion that Jews made their matzo out of Christian children's blood. I like that Jews turned this into a part of the seder, the notion that the door was to be opened for the wandering prophet Elijah, and a place set at the table for him. Otherwise, wouldn't the children be terrified to think that people might come in at any moment and murder them where they sat for the imagined sin of killing Christian children?
I wish all of you a lovely and sweet holiday, and am glad that we are able to live together in peace at this turn in history. I hope that one day this is so of Muslims and Jews, Muslims and Christians and the rest of us as well.

Thursday, April 21, 2011

Trying Day

Today was a long day, but in between my two classes--the 7:30 AM one and the 4 PM one-- the cat got stuck in the bed. The handyman/electrician put a board under the bed so the cats couldn't get to the mattress and ruin it and they did the old one, tunneling in it and hollowing out a little cat cave. There are two drawers at the foot of the bed, so even though they couldn't get in at the head of the bed, one of them, the smaller (Shadow) went in at the foot, through the drawers, and then got stuck, meowing piteously. I rescued her, and then couldn't get the drawer closed again. I was rather shaken when I went to class, which was troublesome because I was being observed today, at last. There were a few cancellations when I sprained my ankle and she got sick, but she made it today.
A few of the students made it a point to complain in order to shake me up, I think. They are upset that I am asking them to do so much work at the end of the semester. I keep telling them that the community college students, who are freshmen and sophomores, are writing the same papers, and none of them assumes I should not be giving them so much work. I am sure they will not give me positive evaluations, but as far as I am concerned, I am doing my job the way it needs to be done. Not that I couldn't improve the class; I would start the research much sooner if I did it again. But I wouldn't change the substance of the assignments.

Wednesday, April 20, 2011

Haunted Study

Life goes on around the new place. I was just sitting in my study, preparing to post this, and the lights went on and on, apropos of nothing. R and I had a theory that the mysterious lights going on and off (mostly on) were related to the downstairs remotes for the tv and the downstairs fan light. But he hadn't used either one. I had turned off the fan, though, and this was followed with a little flurry of on and offs till it finally settled down to a steady beam without the fan, all by itself, apparently. Odd.
I am enjoying initiating my kitchen though. Since I did not go to a seder this Monday or Tuesday (though I will be going to one next Monday with the choir, as I did with my dad last year), I have been cooking fairly elaborate dinners this week to make up for that and feel the holiday spirit. Eating at Passover can be a bit boring and bedraggled since there are so many things (grains, flour, soy sauce) that make for interesting eating that one cannot eat. So making a fuss over meals is a way to make that seem less onerous.
Yesterday, despite working till 6 or so (conferencing with CSU students after class, which ended at 5:30), I made a trout with almonds and matzo ball soup. The matzo balls (as usual) didn't turn out well. I never boil them long enough, but it was long enough to make a mess on the stove when they boiled over. Today I roasted a chicken, covered with a marinade of sorts of my own devising: olive oil, garlic, rosemary, and parsley all processed together and poured over the bird before I cooked it. It turned out lovely and moist. I stuffed it with my mother's matzo stuffing. The smell was heavenly and reminded me of her so much! She wasn't an enthusiastic cook. There were the same 5 or so dishes she made over and over, but she made them well. She liked to open packages. I guess I take after her in this because I served the chicken with my favorite Trader Joe's package of golden potatoes and wild mushrooms. A bit more upscale than the packages she used to open!
Tomorrow I will make another one of her dishes: Passover salmon croquettes. Another favorite! I'll probably roast some potatoes with the left over rosemary to go with it. And asparagus, though I don't know what I'll do with them. Maybe just steam them with some garlic.


The end of the semester is quickly approaching and I feel squeezed, along with everyone else, as a well-juiced orange. If I knew I was going to get some rest after this semester is over, it would be bearable. However, I will have about 2 weeks before the summer semester, if that, and during that time will have jury duty. I was hoping to be able to devote a week to putting together a syllabus for summer and one for fall, but that isn't likely. Yet with the state budget the way it is, I have to work all I can while it's still possible. Community college campuses may have to close, if the proposed budget goes through, and at the very least, part-timers will be canned. There are many hot younger teachers in the pool now, and they are winning prizes for best part-timer, while I never have. So I have to work while I can and hope for the best.
Oh well! At least I am comfortable and happy in my new place, and if things go well, will continue to have a job.

Monday, April 18, 2011

Summer Book

What I need for this summer's class is a novelette with some years on it that has some critical material written about it. The last paper in the class is the segue to the research class. I usually require students to use two critical commentaries or so and do a works cited. Therefore, it cannot be a brand new or popular piece, unless the popular piece has some critical commentaries written about it. For example, I often teach Octavia Butler's story science fiction "Bloodchild" in my slavery class. I could use that piece in this class because there is her preface to the piece and one or two commentaries on it. I will tell the bookstore to cancel the James.

Sunday, April 17, 2011

Uh Oh

My summer class is approaching, and I have just finished rereading James' What Maisie Knew with an eye to teaching it. However, it strikes me that it is too long and too subtle for this purpose. It is hard enough to teach The Turn of the Screw, which I often do, and generally swear each time that I will never do it again when the students find nothing but frustration in the discussion. This is even more subtle and much longer. While I love it, it is not the sort of thing that really is suitable for this purpose. I am pondering whether I ought to switch, which I must do immediately, but to what? To Kill a Mockingbird? Most have read it in high school. I haven't read it in years and years! I would appreciate any help in choosing short and appealing but rich literary works (classic ones are best) written from the pov of a child. They should be short or relatively quick reads.

Saturday, April 16, 2011

What to believe?

Sometimes yoga lore conflicts so strikingly with what I have learned as an educated westerner that I do not know how to think about it. On one hand, I know what yoga has done for me, and this effect cannot be doubted, even though I am certain that a dozen experimental scientists who put electrodes on the sides of my skull as I practice could not perceive it. On the other, yogis like Mr. Iyengar speak about the effects of yoga in a way that makes me at the very least skeptical. This is perhaps why I have preferred to do yoga to reading about it.
Today, for example, I went to Denise's pranayama workshop, where a curious and rather attractive doctrine was imparted to me, the notion that people who get along well do so in large part because they breathe habitually out of the nostril on the same side. On one hand, being a dim westerner, I had never before noticed that we only breathe out of one nostril at a time, though which one this is changes periodically. On the other, to be told that personal likes and dislikes can be attributed to one's preferred nostril was a rather quaint idea for me, to say the least. But I guess it is another way of saying that we think alike, and if it is in fact true that the nostril one favors can be linked to the side of the brain one favors, and this side of the brain is linked to one's interests and values, I could construct a causal chain of a sort that would come down to the same sort of things as a western notion of why one prefers the company of particular other people. Does it matter after all how one describes something if we are in the end talking about the same thing?

Interesting Lecture

Last night at synagogue there was a fascinating speaker. He was such a young guy--he looked maybe 25, if that, but had been the editor of The Jewish Forward, a venerable and influential publication, and held at least one or two other important journalistic posts, but was a riveting speaker. It was plain too from the way he spoke that he was a formidable writer, very intelligent and well read. He has written an enormous tome, When They Come For Us, We'll All Be Gone, which is a history of the Soviet Jewry movement. His insights into how the Israelis covertly sparked this movement and how it grew rather quickly and in an unlikely way into a worldwide phenomenon was amazing. I definitely want to read the book, but I didn't buy a copy there. Too expensive. I will pick up a used copy from a synagogue member or from Amazon. It's too bad I couldn't get a signed copy. I'm sure this guy is going to become famous, if he isn't already.
And it was interesting too that someone at the synagogue I had known for some time, even attended yoga class with, turned out to be refusenik royalty of a sort back in the 70s. She was married to one of the leaders of that movement, though she no longer is. I had no idea.

Thursday, April 14, 2011

Upcoming Holiday

Passover is nearly here again. It is wonderful to be in my new house for the holiday! However, I do not plan to make a seder. Now that mom and dad are gone, there is no one to make one for, and it is so much work, when I must work nearly every day and struggle to prepare my class for the upcoming summer semester. I am glad that the choir will have a seder on the last day, and I will go to that.

Wednesday, April 13, 2011

Reading Season

Yesterday I got the contributor's copies of the anthology, Flashlight Memories, in which my little piece is published. They recommend that we sally forth and do readings at local places, but it seems odd and presumptuous when I am only one of many people in this collection. I wrote to the publisher and asked whether there was anyone else close by who is in this collection. Perhaps we can meet somewhere and read together? I think that would be interesting and would attract far more attention! However, perhaps some local book stores or colleges would let me read my poems if I only have a book to sell, even if it doesn't contain my poems? The only way to know is to ask.
Also, I have signed up for the faculty lecture series at the college. I asked if it were okay that I read my poems instead of giving a lecture. I appended some poems so they can make an informed decision. I hope they say yes.

Tuesday, April 12, 2011

The House, At Last

Liz came over and took some pictures of the house, now that we have everything set up. The neighbor showed us how to get them off of her camera, and now I can post them!

Monday, April 11, 2011

Awards Ceremony

I went to the awards ceremony at school for the English club writing awards. I was one of the judges. The other two couldn't find a time to meet with me, so we did it by email, and the truth is, they let me choose the poems. It wasn't hard to do. Actually, I agreed almost completely with one of the judges and not at all with the other, but she wasn't very invested in which poems got chosen, and none of them came except me. The fiction was very very good, but the poems were far weaker as a group. They have had good teaching in fiction workshops, evidently. Perhaps not so much in poetry workshops, where they have had no consistency since Michelle left. One of the winners said she would like to be in my class, so I told her to ask the chairs if I can teach it come next spring. That would be nice, wouldn't it?

Am I Sleeping?

Last night was one of those nights when I woke up at 3 AM, as usual, leaned over to feed the cats, and didn't go back to sleep. Those have been much rarer in the new place than in the old one. But I laid there for hours with my eyes closed, and even had vivid dreams. Was I sleeping? Part of my brain said no. I don't really know.

Saturday, April 9, 2011

Silent Sky

Today I went to South Coast Rep theater and saw a new play. I think it was a world premiere. It's called Silent Sky, and I am so glad I went to see it today, despite not being able to find my ticket. I have an educator's subscription, so I called up and asked if I could get a replacement ticket for free, and I did!
The play was a period piece about an astronomer named Henrietta Leavitt who lived early in the 20th century, about when Einstein was making his first arguments about relativity.
She was educated at Radcliffe, but couldn't get to use the telescope at Harvard or receive a faculty position anywhere because of her gender. But she was brilliant and determined, and too young to give up, so she managed to discover a method of locating stars in space by the frequency of their light, and it was through her discovery that astronomers learned there were other galaxies beyond our own.
She got very ill, and I think probably died early, but at the last, she got some recognition for her work, according to the play anyhow. I want to learn more about her because the play is about anyone who aspires to do something beyond the everyday, and how "real life" and this work often seem impossible to fit together, particularly for women.

Friday, April 8, 2011

Shadow's Say

Here is that poem I have been working on from the pov of the cat. I'd appreciate comments.

Night Patrol

What is that shining
beyond the branches
here and nowhere
everywhere at once
silver as a saucer
filling all the windows
with ribbons of cold light?

A spectral creature
my shadow self
conjured out of bluish
light lifts her paw as I
lift mine in warning
or salute. Her eyes
burn golden in the glass.
Her fur feels cold
raises no spark of scent.

Surely this room
this creature in the glass
the shocked books
on their shelves
exist only at night
and then only
halfway between
inside and out
in the wild light
of the swollen sphere;
gilded by morning
this room is somewhere else.

I sheathe my claws
in the powdery shroud
shed by the pane
shred it to fine floss
sit like a sphinx
in the very center
of my domain.
Something stirs
beneath the stove.

Wednesday, April 6, 2011


For years I have followed, in an abstracted sort of way, the poetry of Louise Gluck, taking it for granted, a fixture of American poetry. I did not thrill to it, as I did Kunitz's work, but I admired it, as one admires, but does not particularly favor, a well-crafted landscape hanging in the museum. But this evening, despite the perpetual sense I have these days of hurtling around without thinking from one task to another, without getting things done, despite R's return from Augusta, and the desire to sit down quietly in our new house together, I went to her reading, which I had anticipated for some months, thinking that because I had never heard her read, I ought to.
I am very glad I went. Aside from slams, which I don't attend, one does not think of poetry being a performance art, but the best of it really is. The poem read in the poet's own voice, whatever sort of voice that is, is really an entirely different animal than the poem on the page or read by some actor, however good the actor is and however well s/he knows the poem. But this reading put an altogether different shine on each of these well-polished gems from her collection In the Village. And I loved that she answered questions in a serious way and therefore got serious questions out of her audience, not the usual, "Where do you get your ideas for poems?" asked by earnest, pencil-gripping undergraduates, taking notes for their workshops.
I will definitely read her poems more carefully and thoughtfully in the future, will seek out her words in whatever form. I bought her essays, so I anticipate spending some time with her yet. As for spending time with her actually, since parking on the UCI campus is so expensive, I couldn't afford to; in order to avoid a ticket, I had to make like Cinderella and flee, though there were plenty of interesting people to talk to. I'm just glad I went.

Trying to Channel the Cat

My blog title has announced for some time that "Shadow Knows." Now I am trying to channel the cat, write a poem for her, through her. It isn't easy. What does she know? How would she say it? She wouldn't, clearly, having no time for the likes of letters, except perhaps to sniff the keyboard, scornfully, to ask why I would much rather spend hours caressing these keys than her soft, well-tended fur.

Tuesday, April 5, 2011

Much of a Muchness

Now that I have a house, I wish I had a break to spend some time on it. But I suppose there's plenty of time for that. It seems as though I am always distracted. Some good time for deep attention to reading, writing, or whatever.
The poltergeists have taken another turn. It is 6 AM. I am up here on the computer, and all of a sudden the cat started meowing frantically, and the tv came on by itself. I often listen to the radio on the television (cable). Now it is playing.

Monday, April 4, 2011

Keeping It Clean

Yesterday afternoon, the electrician, Dan, took me to Orange to buy a wooden file cabinet from a young guy who was left with lots of assorted things after his father's sudden death. The burden of dealing with this estate hung heavy on the guy, who couldn't have been more than 19. So he sold it to me for a good price, and I brought it home. A solid, heavy piece of wood, which I will soon fill with teaching files and poems.
Meanwhile, I remember to wipe up behind me, and today I will get cleaning pads for my Swiffer, so I can clean the floors every week, at least, especially since the cat puked on the laminate yesterday.
So far so good. I am doing okay keeping up with detritus, and it has not yet gotten the better of me. But there is lots more to unpack. Things can threaten to overwhelm me any moment. I just need to keep that feeling at bay, or I will give up.

Sunday, April 3, 2011

Mysterious Force

Though we know better how to control electricity than the people in 18th-19th century Europe did, it is still essentially a mysterious force linked somehow with life. In the past, mesmerists linked it with the soul, and perhaps, in some ways, they were not far wrong.
The goings on in this house, with lights coming on in the middle of the night and remotes meant for one room will suddenly work not on their intended devices but on a light upstairs, on an altogether different circuit, almost convince me of the existence of spirits, electrical will-o-the-wisps, illuminating the rooms at their whim.
Yet if this is a haunted house, it is not one with a malign spirit. I feel comfortable drifting off to sleep in the half-light shed by the street lights or downstairs on the sofa. I feel preternaturally at-home here, like nowhere I have ever lived, including and especially my parents' home in Philadelphia, where I grew up.
The cats too recognize the benign spirits of this house, and spend their days taking possession of all of its nooks and niches. They are playful and happy, though Whistler, my formerly fat Snowshoe/Siamese, threatens to make the leap from the study to the first floor, one that scares me for him.
I will have to find my camera and get a cable so I can post those promised pictures.

Saturday, April 2, 2011

So many boxes

There are still tons of boxes out in the garage and in the third bedroom that Jeremy will claim when he moves in this summer. I'd like to start opening them, but I don't know what to do with a lot of the stuff I find. Richard is developing systems for deciding which books will go inside and which in the garage. I will wait till he returns to begin opening books. The other boxes, for the office,require a filing cabinet I don't have yet.

Friday, April 1, 2011

A New Life

I am not used to living in a community. As a child in Philadelphia, I was surrounded by a hostile group that verbally and physically attacked me and my parents from the time I was very small.
I will never forget being a child of 5 or 6 walking down the block, where the neighbors sat on the steps on summer evenings staring down at me and my mother as we walked down the block from the bakery or the library. They would yell insults, and sometimes the children, taking a cue from their parents, would throw things at me.
The person to the immediate right of us claimed that several inches of our yard(a tiny postage stamp affair) belonged to her, and she would place an overflowing trash can full of smelly garbage under our window in the summer. Since we had no air conditioner, we had to keep the window open or risk suffocation.
Now that we have bought a house, we are blessed for the first time with the most wonderful group of neighbors I could imagine! They are helpful and kind, and seem to be sincere. For example, a couple of nights ago, the neighbor helped me bring in a new nightstand for beside my bed from the furniture consignment store. He carried it upstairs, and I forgot to close the garage door. The cat didn't turn up after that for supper, and didn't answer my calls. I looked in the closets and outside. She has never been out in her life, so I was worried.
I told some of my neighbors, many of whom I had never met before, and they began combing the neighborhood looking for her, calling and poking into the bushes. It turned out she was hiding in the closet, afraid that someone she didn't know had come into her domain. But I was so touched by the helpfulness of my new neighbors! I hope I can overcome my customary aloofness, born of all the hostility I have experienced in the past, and be as good a neighbor to them as these people are to me.