Sunday, February 24, 2013

New Open Reading In Fullerton

Yesterday R and I went to a new reading in Fullerton. I had been invited to it by a young man who is a FB friend and did a featured reading there. He was among 7 readers originally scheduled to appear, along with musicians.
As it happens, the majority didn't show up. Strangely, they kept texting the poor organizer throughout the three hours or so we were there at that restaurant, Steamers, where that reading took place, tantalizing her with promises that they were on their way, stuck in traffic, etc. I tend not to believe it, though traffic in L.A. can be horrendous.
Open readings can be odd. You never know who is going to read. On this day, an 87 year old fellow with a vanity-press book was there. I hadn't run into him before, but I have never read in Fullerton before, so perhaps that explains it.
There were also some people from Redondo poets reading work that was as unlike my own as poetry could possibly get, except for one fellow, Larry, who I had run into at the Mug previously, whose work I admired.
Like me, he is waiting for his manuscript to be published, but I gather that someone has promised to publish his, though he didn't say who that was. He seemed to have proofs that he was reading from.
Most of the poets read very emotional set pieces, with the emphasis on performance.
Lately I am having trouble projecting myself and my voice when I read. The poems are fine, but for some reason, I am not getting along at all well with the microphone.
Of course, I am so short that I have to maneuver it so people can hear. Sometimes I end up clutching the mic stand, just so that I can be heard. R thinks I shall have to grasp the mic itself from now on, leaving the pole to fend for itself.
I hope for featured reading sometime, but first I will have to learn to deal with this problem.

Sunday, February 17, 2013

I Never Saw Another Butterfly

Last night I went with some fellow choir members and R to Laguna Playhouse to see a youth theater production that also featured my friend from choir, Steve Hirsch,  the Holocaust drama, "I Never Saw Another Butterfly."
The original book featured poems and paintings done by inmates of the Terezin Concentration Camp, most of whom subsequently were transported to Auschwitz, where they died. Only about 100 were left of the thousands who had gone through that camp. Most were all alone by the end of the war.
Then in the 1950s, a nun, Hana Volavkova, who saw the poems and paintings in a bookshop in Prague, turned it into a short novel including the poems. By all accounts, it was hard to get Jews to talk to a nun so soon after the Holocaust. Some of the people she spoke too probably had bad experiences with the Church, which often was indifferent to their sufferings. But she did persevere, and wrote a lovely play making use of this material.
There were many children in the audience, and the cast was largely composed of children as well, some quite young, as young as 7 or 8, I would say.
It might seem shocking that a work like this, as frank and dark as it was, would be presented for children, but Jews have customarily taught quite young children about the Holocaust, and presented them with books and dramatizations without too much ill effect. It is all in the way it is done. I certainly know of people from my childhood whose parents were in the camp who terrified their children with stories of the camps, but told this way, it doesn't seem to have that effect. I know that though I was unusually sensitive as a child to horror films and frightening tales, it didn't trouble me that much, though of course it made me sad and raised a lot of questions.
But the play was very well done. I was so impressed by the professional performances by the children, in particular. The lead in the play, a young Asian actress, expressed the enormous range of emotions the part demanded like a pro. At the start of the play, the character, Rya Englanderova, was totally traumatized by witnessing the death of her father at Auschwitz. The actress convincingly portrayed this, as well as the slow emerging from trauma with a child's resilience, to become part of the community of bereft children at the camp, then a young woman feeling first love. The other children also did a wonderful job with everything, from singing the snippets of the camp opera telling in story the tale of the imprisoned children to playing the roles of children later murdered in other camps.
Steve, as Rabbi, expressed the gentle intelligence and cultivation of a lost civilization.
The play was engrossing and well done. I think its run is now over, which is unfortunately, as I'd love to recommend it to you.
After the play, a wonderful real-life character, an 86 year old concentration camp survivor from Berlin, spoke for a long time about his experience. Before he spoke, he showed a short documentary film made by his grandson about his experience in the Holocaust. His story was very moving because after his father deserted the family, when his mother was quite young and he was just a baby, she remarried to a non-Jewish German, who converted to Judaism just to marry her. She subsequently had three more children, who passed for non-Jews, as did she, somehow. And she cast out her 15 year old son to fend for himself because he would make it impossible to pretend that she and her young children were not Jewish.
He was a young rebel who in the place of the yellow star sewed to his clothing, wore a dime-store star of a deputy he could take off whenever he wanted to, hiding out in department stores and using his quick wits to make escapes from the Nazis until that became impossible.
That was the sort of spirit that helped him to survive, to cover over his tatooed numbers from Buchenwald with the tatoo of roses (tatoos are forbidden to Jews, but he clearly never let any orthodoxies stand in his way of living). And at 85, for his birthday, he went sky-diving with his grandson. He says he'll do it again at 90 if he's feeling good. I fully believe he will. I felt privileged to feel his zest and appreciation for life and to be among the last to hear from the mouth of a survivor himself about his experience in the camps.

Friday, February 15, 2013

Starting the Kar-ma

   The other day, my yoga teacher, Denise, asked me why I try to help people so often, eagerly reaching out to those who are in trouble even if it means trouble for me. I am not sure, but ever since I can remember, this has been a major part of who I am. One of my first memories is of perhaps the first time I tried to help a wounded creature.
  I must have been about 3 years old. As I recall, I was standing on the corner near my house, looking down at a shining pile of glass fragments. Someone had filled a jar with bees and thrown the jar at a brick wall, where it shattered, killing some of the bees, freeing others. One of the bees, mortally wounded, with a shard of glass protruding from its body on both sides, struggled on the ground.
  I didn't really know yet about bees. I wasn't afraid to put my hand down in the glittering pile and take it into my hand, feeling its soft fur against my cupped fingers. Of course, the bee didn't understand what I was trying to do, and there was really nothing I could have done anyhow, but as I brought the wounded creature toward my face for a better look, it stung me in the hand.
  I remember feeling betrayed. That hurt much worse than the sting, but it was a lesson well taken because sometimes, helping others can be a dangerous thing. They don't always want to be helped or understand what one is trying to do as helping.
  Despite this early lesson, a parade of wounded creatures ensued. There were fledgling birds at various stages, from featherless lumps, eyes still closed, to pin-feathered young birdlings, hungry cats, neighborhood strays. My mother, fearful of all animals, wouldn't allow me to take them into the house, but my father, more sympathetic to this effort, smuggled many of them in. There was even one swallowtail butterfly that might not have needed rescuing at all. I kept it inside, by the window, where it fanned its enormous wings in the sunshine.
 Most of the birds died. I didn't know what to feed them or how to care for them properly, and most were broken by the fall beyond all redemption. But just when the efforts extended to people, I am not sure.
Early on, I was drawn to those who were outsiders, shunned and teased. I didn't have the courage to step fully into the breech, since it would have meant that I too would have been shunned, since the cruelty of the schoolyard dictated this. I would half-heartedly watch the teasing, meeting eyes with the victim, and both of us would know how wrong this was, but I said nothing, did nothing.
Later, emboldened by my own more secure adult position, I would actually intervene to stop whatever cruelty I saw, to correct it. I flared up when I heard about injustices, and tried to remedy them.
I can't say that my efforts ever had the success I hoped for, but I felt encouraged by them anyway, encouraged to continue. Probably I would have continued even if they had met with disaster. There was just some reason I had to do it.
Working in a soup kitchen on a regular basis, as I once did, stoked that fire, but I craved the more personal connection of a one-to-one effort. Being friends was something I could do, knew how to do.
Lately, this habit of mine has escalated. It was rare up to now to have more than one of these rescue missions going on at the same time. There are now two different friends I am trying to help, crippled by my own significant limitations, but using my wits as best I can to help these people out of their fixes.
Even if it doesn't work, I will have made that connection, made the person feel less alone. Perhaps this is why I do it... I too need to feel connected, and of use.

Wednesday, February 13, 2013

Prompted by my friend Marly Youmans, I have returned to say a few words on this blog. If you do drop by and read it, please let me know. I had the feeling before that I was speaking into the cyber void. To know people are out there would be a help.
During the hiatus, I have been writing... a lot. I've been writing poems, and some of them are collaborations with artists and other writers. I would post some of the work I responded to, but the poems are not published yet. It will have to wait.
However, I did interview a friend, Judy Kronenfeld, a very fine poet from Riverside, CA, and the interview was recently published in Switchback. I can give a link to that.

I've also been writing for a freelance position writing content for an educational content site. It's required quite a bit of dragging old books off shelves, old notes out of boxes, creaky knowledge out of the dusty back of my mind. The topic I've been working on is Modernism. I've had to define it, analyze it,
choose its major figures, do a timeline, etc. Quite a task for someone who has been out of grad school for 20 years and has not had the opportunity to teach literature in a class specifically on the period. It has been interesting. We'll see whether any of it makes it to the website though. I tend to write in my own style, because I can't help it, when there is a very particular style I need to emulate. That may well be the hardest part of the job.
They asked me to design a class on Nabokov too, but having no experience in designing online classes, I declined. I would love to learn this task, but I think I'll need a bit of training first. I wouldn't mind teaching the class though, after working with a designer to put one together.
Meanwhile, I've been keeping busy going to open readings, and now have interested a new friend from choir who joined the synagogue quite recently to come along! Last night we had a delightful time at Murray Thomas' monthly Barnes and Noble reading in Long Beach, where I heard an array of talented writers, most of whom I had never met before. Some of the usual suspects were there too.
Richard and I read some new poems of ours we like a lot and I think that went pretty well. Now if only I could get a magazine to accept some! I've been getting them back non-stop for months, and I am still waiting to be offered a featured reading. I hope that wherever it is, when it finally arrives, there is a microphone. My voice tends to be quite soft, though I don't think of myself as a quiet person. Guess I'll have to work on projecting it toward the back of the room, where someone is checking his email on his phone, flipping through a magazine, and taking a quick nip from a hip flask. Or maybe a fire alarm is going off (this has happened) or the battery alarm is blipping periodically in an annoying way. Last night, the PA system periodically went off too. Hard to compete with.
I get lots of invitations to attend readings, but most are hours away. Richard doesn't like to drive those distances much and I can't do it because of the freeways. So we stick to the few tried and true local ones.
I'd go there to do a featured reading, but it's not worth it just to read at an open reading, where I can get it no more than two or three poems, fewer perhaps because I'm writing long stuff lately.
But I'm having a pretty good time.
Happy Valentine's Day to you! Drop a line and let me know that you're there.