Saturday, June 30, 2012

Trying Something New

  The only way I seem to leap into the breach and try something new and scary is when I am forced to by circumstances. Now I am teaching a graduate class in critical theory online. True, it's nothing like the sort of graduate class I had at U.C.I. . Well, the material is the same, but the methods, being online, are looser and much more forgiving to the student.
  I don't think that's a bad thing. This material should not be reserved for the elite, the way it was when I went to graduate school. But of course, it isn't cutting edge anymore, as it was then, so it's infiltrated everywhere. All grad students probably get an opportunity to be exposed to it.
  Its practical use is questionable, but for a writer, it gives me a different way to think about the endeavor of reading and interpreting literature, and that is welcome. And perhaps, material for poems.
  I am meaning to write an essay about the way writers tend to feel about theory. When I first began graduate school, I felt it was a sort of adversary. After all, Derrida and the Deconstructionists insisted on the irrelevancy of the author, the author's death or non-existence, and unraveled all the beautiful skeins of language, insisting they were powerless against entropy and lack of meaning.
  But the truth is, he was just another writer, putting language through its tricks.

Thursday, June 28, 2012

Live, at the Mug!

  Last night I made my way over to the Ugly Mug's poetry night to hear my poetry friend John Buckley give his farewell reading. John is an obsessive writer. During the open portion of the Mug's readings, he constantly scribbles notes, listing who read, how many poems, titles, and how long each person took at the mic. These he has posted on his poetry blog, which I have never visited, but knew of as a sort of treasure trove of information about poets and would-be poets in Orange County and thereabouts.
  John is funny and gifted. His readings resemble nothing so much as a one-act play or stand up routine. He writes obsessively, and lately, much of what he sends out has been accepted. He brought with him last night a few copies of a tiny chapbook, small enough to fit in one palm. I didn't get a copy, but Robin has one, so I will have a look at it. He also read with his collaborator on a long book-length poem that will soon be published. His energy and humor will be missed at the Mug and elsewhere.
  I didn't mention that it is his successes that are taking him from Orange County: though he has a couple of degrees, he is going to the U of Michigan to their MFA program, where he hopes to take a break from teaching for a little while and work on another book.
  I wasn't feeling all that well last night. But I wasn't going to miss this reading after I had not been able to make it to his others, which were too far afield, in Long Beach. Though I had to leave early, I was glad to be there, and hope to return soon, to announce my featured reading in Riverside, on July 14, at the Arlington branch of the Riverside Public Library.

Tuesday, June 26, 2012


  I was pondering life's irony today after trying to teach Structuralist theory to a group of online students. When I first arrived at U.C.I., those many years ago, I had never seen or heard of critical theory of any variety before. I distrusted and disliked it, and was in turn viewed as a "stupid writer" by some of the faculty and most of the PhD students. The harsh and difficult language of the post-structuralists just made me angry, and I didn't take Derrida's class when he was teaching there for that very reason.
And here I am now teaching the stuff, or trying to. Ha!

Monday, June 25, 2012

Summer Doldrums

Not much is brewing since I last wrote in this blog. I went on a lovely hike on Sunday, up to the Vedanta Monastery, up and up a steep hill covered with poison oak. I huffed and puffed, and was utterly last, except for the cautious hike leader, a curious fellow from India named Harish. He always has interesting stories. That day, he told us about growing up in India, where the cows slept with his family. I thanked my parents for being Jewish and for living in the U.S., where the worst kind of stuff I had to clean up as a child was dog poo. Imagine the constant hassle of having a cow, nay, half a dozen of the blighters, in your house? I do.
But Harish said he had a favorite calf. I forget her name, and he would paint her face and put bangles on her legs. He said she was very vain and very intelligent, turning her big ears toward the speaker whenever she heard her name.
Last night we went to a Shakespeare festival at a local theater. After I found it (I had to drive around for quite a while before I did), we chose seats in the front row, overlooking the playground/stage, where the play would be put on.
It was Taming of the Shrew. I never felt this way about the play before, though it is famously sexist, but I found it hard to watch, even though the casting was perfect, the use of the playground clever, and the improvised bits of physical business brilliant, creating a constant subtext in the play. I am sure it was thus during Shakespeare's time.
Richard got to play a small part in the play, despite or probably because of the fact that he had said before the play started that he hoped this wasn't one of those interactive plays, where the audience had to take part.
A bit player ran straight to him and shoved a sword in his hand. He had to get up and fight, though we never could figure out why. Everyone was quite amused, especially me.

Monday, June 18, 2012

A Mouth on Me

   I have inherited from my family a tendency toward impulsive and tactless speech. I always tell the truth as I see it, but sometimes not at the most opportune time. I don't edit myself. It is odd because I totally recognize the importance of words, as a writer, and do not want to hurt or wound people with them. But often I do. Sometimes I just wound myself, get myself in trouble. Too often.
  A couple of days ago on the online workshop I belong to I commented too freely on someone's work. This person has talent as a writer, but he is apparently very green. I knew from the way he had responded in the past that he didn't have experience in workshops. But I was very blunt about a couple of his poems and now, I fear, have made enemies of him and perhaps everyone in the workshop. I did write a response to his angry letter explaining how I saw the purpose of a workshop and how everyone I knew had been dragged through the briars in a poetry workshop at least once. It isn't personal. But I will have to tone it way down. That's not a bad idea at all, actually. If I can tiptoe a bit more and still tell the truth as I see it, I will not hurt feelings or make enemies. I can't afford to make anymore enemies, for sure.

Thursday, June 14, 2012


  Today I visited a friend in the hospital. He had the misfortune to become dizzy while climbing a high ladder, and fell, breaking his spine in three places as well as his neck and a rib. Amazingly, he did not become paralyzed, and has already begun the long task of regaining mobility.
   I visited him on Sunday, but he was completely out of it, so I left, and didn't have the opportunity to return till today, when I found him much improved. That is to say, he was awake and aware, and though he was obviously in some pain, we were able to have a long conversation before the phone started to ring and nurses arrived to take vital signs and bring his lunch.
  He complained a little about the indignities of the body, which refuses to behave like the well-domesticated animal it usually is, regressing to a form of infancy that requires him to be tended and coddled.
  It may be the last time I can visit him in the hospital because he is about to be transferred to a VA Hospital too far away for me to get to, so I'm glad I saw him. I will try to make time to go tomorrow too.
  It is the 2nd anniversary also of my mother's death, but going to the hospital didn't bring the rush of emotions it had on Sunday. Maybe that's because mom never went to this hospital. She was hospitalized far less frequently than dad altogether, in fact, though she had cancer that we discovered when I took her to the hospital (a different hospital) to have her broken arm treated and went back on a regular basis for chemo until she could no longer tolerate it.
  Though both of them died the same week, my father first, I feel far more regret about my father's death than my mother's because she had dementia, and it was only getting worse, and she could not leave the bed because of her broken leg. My father, on the other hand, still loved life and had the strongest desire to enjoy it of anyone I have ever known. It felt as though I had already lost my mother long ago, while, in one way, I had only just gained my dad during the 5 years at the end of his life, when he was treated for his bipolar disorder, and could live a happy and relatively normal life. Still, it was a difficult, terrible time, and it affected me far more than I realized at the time, leading to all kinds of unforeseen consequences in my life that are still in fact unfolding in a way.
  Not all of these are bad. In a way, I was able to break loose as far as my writing was concerned much more than before. Maybe it was because of all the emotions roiling around in there that made it possible for me to write more effectively than I had before, and gave me time and space to work on this.
  I hope for my friend and his family that positive changes come about for them, despite the exceedingly difficult and painful period that lies before them.

Monday, June 11, 2012

Shrimp from a Shrimp

  Everyone who knows me knows I am small, a shrimp, so to say. But though I enjoy eating some seafood, especially shrimp, I never was able to cook the stuff well, or at least to my satisfaction. They would get overcooked or seemed tasteless, and the time spent processing them was hardly worth the result.
  At last, I have prepared a shrimp dish I really thought was excellent. First I should say that I am not used to cooking seafood, except fish, and never saw my mother prepare it because I am Jewish, and seafood, aside from fish with scales, is verboten for Jews who keep kosher. Though I don't follow the laws of kashruth,  I feel a bit ambivalent about the stuff. It is just not what I am used to, and, like many Jewish people, I have allergies to certain kinds of seafood--scallops and lobster, which seem to be too rich for me to digest well.
  However, after reading Saturday's meager offerings on the food page, I got an idea for a dish. In an offhand kind of way, the writer mentioned a combination of ingredients that sounded very good: shrimp, chives, shallots, and mayonnaise. There was no recipe. I was left to imagine all the various ways to combine these. First I thought of Hong Kong dim sum, which frequently combines juicy, succulent shrimp with mayonnaise, as in shrimp with carmelized walnuts, one of my favorite Chinese restaurant dishes. Then, of course, the obvious shrimp salad.
  When I had made shrimp salad in the past, it was tasteless and watery, but I was inspired to try it again. First, I combined extremely fresh shrimp, with head off and shell on. I boiled the water and dropped the shrimp in whole, unshelled and uncleaned. Boiling them for only a couple of minutes, just till it turned pink and no longer, I quickly scooped them out and ran them under cold water in a colander, so they would stop cooking, shelled, and cleaned them.
  Then I cut up a large shallot very fine, squeezed in a Meyer lemon (my favorite kind because of their sweet spiciness!), and spooned out about 1/2 cup of olive oil mayonnaise. I decided to throw in some capers too,  and a few fronts of chopped fresh dill, and scattered the pale green Chinese chives on the top before I mixed the whole thing to produce a lovely salad, which tasted as good as it looked.
  On the side, I served some asparagus roasted in the toaster oven with garlic and freshly ground sea salt and some orzo pasta mixed with more lemon juice, parsley, and a taste of olive oil.
  It looked and tasted restaurant worthy! I guess watching all those cooking shows is paying off.

Friday, June 8, 2012

Good News!

   I will be teaching a graduate class in critical theory online. I never imagined that I would be teaching online, thinking that my power as a teacher was a matter of personal chemistry in front of the class, but the truth is that I spend so much time online, and I express myself far better in writing than any other way. I am probably a natural for teaching online.
  I remember about 5 years ago, I once lost my voice for a day and had to write everything I wanted to say to my class on the board. My hand got sore and tired, but it was not as hard otherwise as I had assumed it would be.
  I guess teaching online will be something like this, except that the students, located all over the world or at least all over the country, will not be in the same virtual room I am in when I am there, necessarily.

Monday, June 4, 2012

Anniversary of My Mother's Death

   My parents died two years ago, four days apart. On the first day of June, it was two years since my father's death. My mother followed him, four days later. She said, even as he lay dying next to her in his bed in their shared hospice room, that she heard him calling to her.
  To all appearances, he could not call anyone, and, being totally deaf and almost wholly oblivious in her dementia, she could not have perceived any such literal call, but all the same, I am sure it was true,
and that he guided her away from the wreck of her body to whatever was to follow.
  I could not be sorry that she had left because I knew she didn't prefer to delay any longer her leavetaking. But all the same, of course, I was overwhelmed by the loss, not the least because of these mixed feelings.
  Today I honor her memory, though I will wait to formalize that till Friday when the synagogue will mark their yartzeit, the anniversary of their deaths, according to the Hebrew calendar.