Tuesday, May 29, 2012

Busy Day

  Today I went to hear Erwin Chemerinsky speak at the synagogue. He is a famous lawyer on matters related to the Constitution and is the Dean of the law school at U.C. Irvine.
  He is a brilliant speaker and I'm sure teacher as well, so it is a pleasure to listen to him at any time, but today, what he had to say was very compelling on its own terms. His subject was the current Supreme Court, which he dubbed as "easily the most conservative court since the 30s." He qualified that statement by examining some important cases of the last few years, and analyzed how the outcome came to be what it was.
 Like the U.S. as a whole, the Supreme Court is split between liberals and conservatives, with only Anthony Kennedy as buffer zone between the two. He generally goes with the majority in the case of 5/4 splits, Chemerinsky told us, but that means that he most often sides with the conservatives.
  On the basis of this analysis, he made some projections of how the upcoming cases might be settled, but seemed not to be able to make such a call in the case of the Affordable Care Act. He did say that he was quite sure that if they overruled the mandatory coverage element of the law, the statute against pre-existing conditions would also fall. And he was quite sure it would be, as everything else is right now in this country, a matter of polarized ideologies. Sigh...

Sunday, May 27, 2012

Back to the Trail

   This morning I did a short hike with my friend, Judy, from the choir. It was too far for me to drive, at Oak Canyon at Caspers Park, and we had to take a rather hairy rural highway to get there. But it was worth it.
  There were still many flowers blooming out there--mariposa lilies and cactus flowers in all colors, devil's paintbrush and Jimson weed, assorted and (to me) nameless blooms of all sizes and shades.
We didn't see any wildlife, and for this I am actually grateful, since this is rattlesnake season, and there are several species of the beasts in those hills.
  My hip has been troubling me, so I was a bit concerned about how I would fare on the hike, but it was only 4 miles or so, and the only part that really challenged me was the first bit, a big long hill that left me and most of the others panting.
  Tomorrow I am scheduled to go on another hike, again with Judy, and have to leave very early in the morning because it's a long drive, at least 1 1/2 hours. That's quite a bit longer and more challenging, but this hike leader has ankle problems and goes very slowly, which is good for me, especially now with my hip acting up.
  I enjoyed the hike, and hope it goes well tomorrow and that I'm not being unrealistic about what I can manage. I think I'll skip yoga class today though, and not push my luck.

Wednesday, May 23, 2012

Dreaming Again

  Supposedly, we all dream every night, though we may not remember it. Dreams last only a few moment of intense REM sleep, though they may feel as though they have gone on for hours.
  I had one of those dreams last night, in which I was visiting a campus in some other state, something like a cross between Florida and Indiana... bizarre hybrid! I had with me my son, who was about 11 or 12 and my mother, who did not have dementia in the dream though she did in real life, but had a broken hip and difficulty walking (she never had a broken hip though, that I recall, in real life).
  I was in the bookstore buying something, and the cashier told me to take care of my son. I looked around, and he was gone. I didn't seem too worried about it though.
  I ran into my mother, having a snack at the cafeteria outside, and I just left her there, went out and got on a bus, though my car was parked somewhere. A block later I realized I had left my son and mother behind, and jumped off the bus, but found I was in a completely unfamiliar part of the campus. I started going into all the buildings, but never found the ones I had been in before, where my son and mother might be. One building was the gym. It was particularly strange. To get into it, one had to climb a wooden staircase that moved and swung loose in the air as one climbed. It was frightening, and I didn't make it more than two steps before I jumped off. I knew that wasn't the right building anyway.
  One place that looked like an underground garage was actually a florist's shop, where, in the half-darkness, thousands of flowers glowed. I never did find either my mother or my son.

Sunday, May 20, 2012

New Profile on Boston Literary Journal

  Writer and editor Robin Stratton has published an interview with me about Balance on her magazine, Boston Literary Journal's site. You can find it here:http://bostonliterarymagazine.com/sum12interview.html
Visit and see!

Saturday, May 19, 2012

A Voice is Missing

   Last night, the choir sang at services. There were not many present. The evening was billed as a
Town Meeting on Israel." Apparently, people are feeling rather queasy about that subject right now. Of course, I have long felt that way. Although I was almost born in Israel, and my parents met and married there right before the original War of Independence, I always knew that the land people regarded as uninhabited was far from being so at that time.
  Be that as it may, the set went well. These were two old favorites, songs I have been singing with the choir for many years. But something sounded different... David was missing in the bass section.
  We have long known that David has Alzheimer. It was hard to miss, even though he would always remember there was a performance, arriving attired immaculately in suit and tie, no hair out of place. For too long, he even drove himself, though he could barely remember his own name. And he never forgot a word of the music we sang either. But his kind elbowing was beginning to transform into something else. The disease was changing him, and his wife, at age 90, could no longer manage a man who was still physically quite strong, though mentally reduced.
  Now he has moved into an assisted living place for people with Alzheimer and dementia. We hear he is adjusting fine, but we can't visit him just yet, not for a while.
  I know the choir will never sound quite the same to me without his cheerful, sweet voice.

Friday, May 18, 2012

No Numbers

I just don't think in numbers. I cannot remember them, even getting my address wrong at times and forgetting my phone number at inopportune times. Now I have done it again. I've been touting my poems in Balance as having 15 lines (15 poems of 15 lines each). While that sounds good, the poems are only 14 lines each (sonnets, if line numbers make them that). I counted them, as I was being interviewed and one of the questions was about the number 15. Good thing I counted them! It made me realize that it has been 4 years since I've written those poems, though the book was published only this past February. Amazing! So much has changed. I am trying to figure out now how to get to Riverside, where I have been invited to read. The train goes there, but only in the evening. It means I'd have to stay the whole weekend! What are these schedulers thinking?

Wednesday, May 16, 2012

What would I say to 16 year old me?

Stop trying so hard, and calmly go on with being yourself. You're in the wrong place at the wrong time, but soon, in a few years, you'll stumble into a place where you belong and are happy. You'll meet people you want to know for the rest of your life and leave behind the misery of living in a place where you have to keep the curtains closed tight even on the steamiest days of summer, sans air conditioning. Where people jeer at you because they always have, reflexively, in a way that has nothing to do with you. You exist only when you read, the grey Kansas of your life becoming technicolor when you open the pages of Bishop and Keats and Tolstoy. When you enter the branch library across the street from your house, someone, the librarian, Phyllis, is glad to see you. This is your true home. You are embarrassed by a body that is too mature for your mind, one the boys in your class furtively ogle, and the girls ridicule. How to hide it in a time where skirts skim the tops of your thighs? Your hair flies everywhere, unruly, in curls that never go in the direction you'd like. You fancy yourself a radical, get yourself nearly killed by going places you know you don't belong, riding a subway deep into neighborhoods where taxi drivers won't go, even in the daytime, 4'8" you. You join the S.D.S., and find that the others in the group are silly and worse, insisting that Manson is "cute," having little understanding of the consequences of their actions. You are a writer who hasn't yet learned the skills you need to know, but you will. Be patient. Keep being who you are. The world is bigger than you know.

Monday, May 14, 2012

Beyond Baroque at Last

No, I didn't get a featured reading at the place, as I've been trying to do. But I did attend my friend Lavina Blossom's reading, along with two other, more published writers, at Beyond Baroque. The reading was part of an interesting series called Hitched that puts together three poets: one without any book and few publications; one with a book, chapbook, and some assorted published works, and one accomplished, even distinguished poet, with several books and other honors to her name. This time, it was Lavina in the "emerging" spot, with Cati Porter, editor of Poemeleon, who also has a hand in making the journal Inlandia, and Judy Kronenfeld as the distinguished writer. I had heard Judy read at the Mug, and greatly admired her book Light Lowering in Diminished Sevenths, winner of the Litchfield Review Poetry Book Prize, 2007, as the cover informs me. She has a new book, Shimmer, which I haven't read yet. I sold three books last night, after doing a bit of a Mother's Day open reading (2 poems), and traded that money up for this book. Lavina and I have been friends, albeit ones who don't see each other all that much, for years and years, since 1980, when both of us came to UCI's MFA program. If we hadn't met here, we were apparently destined to meet elsewhere, for we had applied to the same MFA programs, but both chose this one, lured by the mystique of Southern CA. Lavina is from the exotic (to me) realms of Upper Peninsula Michigan, hailing from a poor farm family. She writes sharp, incisive poems, but doesn't send them out, and has managed not to gather up a manuscript. She also paints, and has worked on and off on stories and a novel. She and I began taking Iyengar yoga many years ago, and for a while, she taught yoga. Now she practices at home, nursing her injured back. I can't convince her that doing yoga with a good teacher might help that. Though she works at UCI at the library, and has for many years, she lives in Riverside, so we don't get to spend as much time together as I'd like. It's a long way to OC from there. The other two poets on the schedule are her pals in Riverside. They lead a regular workshop she takes part in, and work with her on Inlandia, where Lavina is the poetry editor. It is a very long way to Venice from OC, I can tell you. The ride went on and on, using up half a tank of ridiculously expensive gas. However, we easily found parking on the street, and found the Beyond Baroque building, a well seasoned edifice that is filled to the proverbial gills with arts activities. When we arrived, there was a group of kids and parents taking part in a theatrical group of some kind in the same room we would occupy in an hour or so. No one was around save one lone administrator perched at the very top of the building. I introduced myself to her, and asked where the reading would be. At around 5, a very small group, composed mostly of the poets, us, and a few administrators from Beyond Baroque, showed up. It was clear there would not be a large audience. One person whom I recognized, though I could never quite figure out from where, showed up. She knew Judy from somewhere. I re-introduced myself to her too. The reading was good. Lavina read a group of poems she had shown to me a couple of months ago. I thoroughly enjoyed how they sounded when she read them. I hope she will start sending out, as she is a gifted poet. Cati's poems I think would read better on the page. They are complex. One sestina was hard to get my mind around when she read it aloud. I look forward to taking a better look at them sometime. Judy's set was much the same one she read at the Mug. She is such an accomplished reader that it was amazing just to examine how she presented each poem, now that I knew them from hearing and reading many of them on the page. I know she works over the reading, and I'd love to know more, so I could put some of those techniques to work myself. After the reading, just as it ended, a familiar looking person arrived, breathless, bike helmet in hand. It was Peter, our old friend from UCI. Lavina and I were in graduate school at the same time as Peter, years ago. He had the wrong time for the reading, and missed it, but we spent some time together, talking. I got to read two poems about "mothers"--one about my mom that I had published in Caesura in 2008, and another, suggested by Bob, my yoga teacher, about shoulder stand, the mother of all asanas, according to the Iyengars and other Indian practitioners of yoga. As Richard says, I am completely shameless when it comes to self-promotion, so I was thoroughly enjoying myself. It was a great Mother's Day! Hope yours was good too.

Thursday, May 10, 2012

Sleeping In

I have always gotten up extremely early in the morning, and seem to have inherited this from my parents. My father used to wake me with a kiss before he went off to work on weekdays. For years, he worked as a milkman and pieman, delivering fresh supplies to far off towns. He would leave at 3 AM or so, rattling around in the kitchen before he set off into what was often forbidding weather. On weekends, unable to stay in bed, he still got up about 5, and would ask me to join him as he took the dog for a walk. I don't remember whether my mother was up at that point, or whether she was getting ready to get up. We had only one bathroom in that house. Even now, I still get up at 5 or so. The cats insist that I do it, even on weekends. They want to be fed, want me to throw open the shades so they can stand watch from the window. There might after all be some lizard they could stalk from their vantage point on the six foot cat tree, or a neighbor's dog they could growl at from the safety of their perch near the door. This morning though, for the first time I can remember, after feeding them at 5, I went back to bed and got up quite late. It feels as if the morning light is already well used, softened, like a much worn shirt.

Tuesday, May 8, 2012

Invitation I Can't Accept

Since I began driving, perhaps 12 years ago, I have ranged the county far and wide. Without driving on freeways though, going beyond the county, to L.A., San Diego, and even Long Beach, is not really feasible. When I lived in the Northeast and Southeast, driving an hour was seen to be a really long haul. Here, it is an everyday jaunt to the market or yoga class. Things are spread out, as they are not back there. If one were unwilling to go that far, s/he'd never go anywhere at all! But since freeways are not in the picture for me (too fast, too many lanes, too much going on for me to feel I can safely manage it), I cannot accept the invitation to take part in an open reading in Long Beach this evening. It would take over 2 hours each way for me to get there on surface streets. That is just too much to be driving late at night, when these things inevitably let out. And it feels rude to get up and leave partway through the reading, when I have had a chance to read, but others have not. Though I would be willing to drive to someone's house and get a ride from there, if I knew that person fairly well, that hasn't emerged as a possibility. People live too far away from me, too close to that far northern part of the county to make much of a difference anyhow. And on a weeknight, people want to be in early, so they wouldn't go from this part of the county anyhow. Oh well. I hate to turn down invitations, which might lead to a featured reading sometime, there's not much I can do about it!

Saturday, May 5, 2012

Writer's Night at University Synagogue

I have been a member at the synagogue for many years. During that time, I have come to recognize many people by sight, have talked to a number of them, have become friendly with them. But most do not know me as a writer, except in the very most abstract way, because poetry does not generally come up in the course of any ordinary conversation. But for the first time, the Rabbi decided to tap the writers in the congregation and have them present one piece each. It started with me. The Rabbi had read my book, Balance/ and admired it. He wanted to find a way to introduce the congregation to my work, to help me get the word out. But it still needed to be a service fit for a Friday night. So he decided to open it up to anyone in the congregation who had a Jewish-themed or spiritual piece (poetry or prose) to present. The group quickly grew to unmanageable numbers, and soon there were 14 people who thought they were going to do 3-4 poems or one good-sized work of prose each. As it turned out, we each got to do one piece each, except for last minute additions, one of whom waltzed up and did TWO good sized pieces, when it should have been clear that we were limited to one. Still, it was an interesting experience. I got to read first (my favorite position), doing one short poem, a new one, "Benediction to the Earth." Afterwards, though many people came between me and the end of the reading, many people came up to me full of enthusiasm for my work. I gave out a lot of cards featuring the book. I sold one that will be given to the synagogue's library. I met another writer who teaches in a low-residency creative writing program, and told her I am very much in the market for such a position myself. It was a good evening.

Thursday, May 3, 2012

Another Evening at the Mug

Everytime I go to a featured/open reading at the Ugly Mug, I meet new people and make new connections. Last night the featured reader was an extremely accomplished young poet, Dina Hardy, who has racked up honors and prizes right and left during her writing life as well as making her living as a freelancer at the very top of her game. Dina was kind enough to trade her beautiful chapbook, Selections from The World Book, published by the Convulsive Editions, for Balance. Though I haven't had time to sit down and read the book yet, I will perhaps write a more complete and formal review when I have. The book, which the writer plans to turn into a full collection eventually, stems from her fortuitous acquisition of a 1947 set (incomplete) of the World Book encyclopedia. She chooses pages of the book and researchers the items on them, linking them into a poetic network. I can say that her reading was wonderful, and I enjoyed learning of her work. In addition to this poet, I also was pleased to be introduced to the work of Neil Aitken, editor of Boxcar magazine. He is a passionate poet whose work I admire. Perhaps I can get hold of his first book, The Lost County of Sight, which won the 2007 Phillip Levine Poetry award. He told me that at that time, this was the last contest he planned to enter, having spent untold amounts on fruitless efforts to win elsewhere. He asked me to send one of my poems, "Duet," about the whale/human connection, to the journal he edits come June, their open submission period, and recommended a press to which I could send my manuscript (Persea). We had a long conversation following the reading, and though it was very late, and Phil, the owner of the Mug, couldn't wait to turn out the light and go home, we spent a long time talking about our lives and work and the people we mutually knew. Another wonderful evening. I wish I could stray further from home, where most of the readings happen, in Long Beach, Venice, and L.A. But I am happy to have this opportunity to extend my world.