Sunday, November 30, 2008

Waiting


It's the first Sunday of Advent which traditionally means we are awaiting the birth of Christ. I pull out the advent calendars for the kids, and this year there are three. I couldn't resist and bought a string of tiny, knitted stockings. In each stocking is a felt puppet, animals and angels, a Christmas tree, some elves. It was made by craftswomen in South America and I hung it on the bookcase tonight as a surprise for the kids tomorrow morning. The old calendar is a felt globe with 24 pockets and inside of each pocket is a little felt person dressed in the traditional garb of his or her country. At the top it says, "PEACE." The other is an old Starbucks cardboard box shaped like a Christmas tree. There are 24 tiny little boxes that you pull out and turn around. Eventually, you have a winter wonderland scene, and I put a little chocolate into each box. The boys and Sophie each have a turn taking out a chocolate and hanging a felt person on the globe. They always argue over who gets to start and who gets to finish, but the main thing is that they are waiting for Christmas.

I went to church this morning by myself. That was after I had pulled a quick u-turn in the middle of my street and screeched back up to my house. "Get out," I said to Henry and Oliver, "get out of the car and go inside." I won't go into the details but it was partly their incessant complaining and partly my own short temper. But they were suitably silenced when I "kicked them out" (what Oliver said, later) of the car. They looked back as I pulled away and while I didn't feel exactly good, I felt triumphant. I suddenly remembered my own mother and her periods of aggrievement when she'd lash out how no one appreciated her, how she just thought only of us, etc. etc. I remember feeling annoyed with her and guilty, too. Because she was right. We didn't think about her feelings nearly enough. And I wonder whether any children really do.

But, I raced off to church alone in my car feeling pissed off and strangely free. The priest was uncharacteristically inspirational and spoke about advent and waiting. When he said that waiting was a unique and peculiar human condition, I didn't think much of it. But then he mentioned a boy in our parish who had a terrible accident while skateboarding on Thanksgiving Day. He has a severe brain injury and his parents are basically waiting for his brain to stop swelling, for him to wake up from a medically-induced coma, for him to show what he can still do, still remember. I felt, for a moment, those parents' terror. The terror of waiting. I thought of the near-constant waiting that I do. That Michael, the boys and I do. With Sophie. Waiting for her seizure to stop. Waiting for her clusters of seizures to stop. Waiting for her seizure disorder to stop. Waiting and wondering, will it ever stop? I sat in the pew, a mother alone and wiped tears from my face. I sat and cried for the parents, for the boy, for me and my husband, for my boys and for Sophie. For all of us, waiting.

When I got home I pretended to still be a little bit mad, but the boys were sorry and Henry asked whether we could put it behind us. Then they ran around outside, playing with some marbles and sticks. They were waiting for the day to be over, because I had promised them they could go with Sophie and me to a birthday party at Chuckie Cheez. Now that's a post worthy of its own, but we went to the party. On the way home, Henry said, "I wish I were a grown-up right now and going to college, Mom."
I said, "Henry, then you wouldn't be a kid anymore and all your kid days would be finished." He thought about that for a second, at the most, and said, "Oh, then I guess I just want to wait."

Saturday, November 29, 2008

Blue Saturday



My parents left today after four days in Los Angeles. I always feel blue and melancholy when they go. They live far away and when I dropped them off at the airport, Oliver waved out the window, weeping. I'm amazed that despite the distance and the lack of contact, my boys appear to adore my parents. I imagine the bond between them is just something ineffable, constructed of unconditional love, blood and air. Sophie loves them, too, I think.

 
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I feel like it's Sunday instead of Saturday, heavy under the weight of their absence, guilty that I'm not enough for them in many ways and thankful that they made me who I am in others.

Friday, November 28, 2008

Peace


I snapped this with my cell phone at LACMA today. We went wandering in the museum and into this big sunny room. Statues posed throughout, white and ageless. I love their eyes, not seeing but ancient.

Thursday, November 27, 2008

A Thanksgiving Poem

I was reminded of this beautiful poem posted on one of my favorite blogs, the spirit~of~the~river


Love After Love

The time will come
when, with elation
you will greet yourself arriving
at your own door, in your own mirror
and each will smile at the other’s welcome,

and say, sit here. Eat.
You will love again the stranger who was your self.
Give wine. Give bread. Give back your heart
to itself, to the stranger who has loved you

all your life, whom you ignored
for another, who knows you by heart.
Take down the love letters from the bookshelf,

the photographs, the desperate notes,
peel your own image from the mirror.
Sit. Feast on your life.

-Derek Walcott

Wednesday, November 26, 2008

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

The Neurologist

Jean-Martin Charcot (1825-1893),the French Neurologist with Some of His Patients Depicted in the Background

Our Neurologist is new. She's got a strange name and a strange, beautiful face. She is young and thoughtful and would probably be my friend if she weren't The Neurologist. I took Sophie to see her today because I was up last night trying to keep myself calm while Sophie seized for the better part of an hour. At 2:30am. Now, for those of you unfamiliar with the hundred and one ways to have a seizure (and I do believe Sophie has had them all), the type seizure Sophie has for an hour isn't the kind of lose-consciousness, jerk and drool thing that most people think of when they think of epilepsy. The kind that Sophie has and that woke me up from a sound sleep beside her was a very physical, violent thing. I woke up because I took a hard right in the face. The seizures are spasm-like and happen one on top of the other and are interspersed by wild rolling and flailing. Her legs shoot out and her arms fly sideways. Sometimes she flips completely over and rolls onto her stomach. Like I said this goes on for the better part of an hour and in the beginning I just try to hold her and keep her and me from getting hurt. I usually then start to get frustrated and mutter some imprecations and then I start praying about mercy and then I usually try to breathe in and out (Thich Nhat Hanh says: Breathing in I calm myself, breathing out I smile) and then I sort of lie down next to her and hope for the best.

I'm thankful that when all this happens I'm with her, that she's not alone.

Then we go back to sleep.

And ironically, we had a visit to The Neurologist scheduled today. She didn't have much to say but nodded sympathetically and defined the type seizure it sounded like. Evidently, it's coming from the frontal lobe and I didn't catch the rest.

It looks like we're headed for an overnight EEG sometime in December. Just to see what's going on, she said.

Going on fourteen years and we're still trying to figure out what's going on. But the good doctor Charcot (see picture above) doesn't look like he's too happy with what's going on in neurology, either, and that was over 150 years ago.

Docteur, tant pis pour elle (roughly translated, it means Doctor, too bad for her, and it's an actual line from a memorized dictation in my high school French class).

Monday, November 24, 2008

Fruit


I'm plum out of words.

I'm supposed to be writing every single day the month of November but it's getting difficult. I guess I could write about the hours I was up with Sophie last night as she seized or just plain shimmied around her bed, but I'm sort of bored by it. Not bored -- yes, bored.

The circus is always in town around here. We're all just plum crazy.

Sunday, November 23, 2008

An Adoption Blog

One of my writer friends, Denise, has a new blog. She's written a book about giving her baby up for adoption when she was seventeen and is waiting for word from a publisher. In the meantime, check out the blog and tell anyone you know who might be interested. Here's the link to her beautiful, clear writing.

Art

 
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Last night I drove to Culver City to a gallery called indie collective to see a show of artwork by my friend Susan Arena. You can see her work here.

I don't own any "real" art. The kind that you really go look at and then buy. The "good" art that I do have has been either given to me or it's just something that I like and spend virtually nothing on. Like the above posted portrait. It's me when I was pregnant with Sophie. My friend, Jessica King, painted it in her apartment in New York City. I was so happy pregnant and remember sitting for long hours while Jessica dipped her brush in the ink and periodically brought us both tall glasses of mixed juices to drink. I remember thinking that she was painting my last face before being a mother. She told me that I had amazing pink cheeks. When my boys look at that face, they say that I look funny. Different. And I was.

I love Susan's art because it's got a haunting mix of the sweet and the ominous. For years I've wanted to own something by her. It was a strange night last night in Los Angeles. The air had suddenly turned cooler in the late afternoon, and the sun disappeared, melting into gray. By nightfall, the air was wet and misty and when I drove to the gallery I could hardly see through the fog. It seemed to be rolling in from the west, the ocean, and I was driving toward the coast. The gallery was tiny and fairly crowded and I talked a little to Susan and some of her friends. I kept staring at the row of paintings and works on paper, neatly arranged on one wall. I was drawn to their almost folkloric beauty but felt nervous around them, as well. I think the nervousness came, though, from excitement -- I knew I was going to buy something and knew, too, that I probably shouldn't spend the money.

I bought a painting that is pink and white and has a small house and flowers coming out of the roof and a tiny, ominous black fox on the pathway leading up to the door. Underneath it says SWEET. It's mixed media -- a bit of collage and fabric and paint and is about 12" square in size. I don't have a picture but when I get it, I'll post what it looks like.

I'm giving it to Michael for Christmas as a surprise. Home Sweet Home.

Friday, November 21, 2008

Editing



Since I don't have a scanner, I took this picture directly from the computer screen. It's my first real page of editing notes. Sometime next spring, an essay I wrote will appear in the series Cup of Comfort, an actual hard-bound, available on Amazon and bookstores everywhere kind of book. I've had other stuff published, but I've never gotten an email with real editing notes on it, from some sort of incredibly complex (although the editor says it's simple) program. I have to say that I was very intimidated by the amount of red ink all over it, the delete column stretched down the entire page. But the editing was, for the most part, perfect and I feel really official.
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Thursday, November 20, 2008

At my window with a broken wing


So much to post and so little time. There's pizza dough on the counter and the boys are yelling that they're hungry. I have three articles to edit, but I'm not complaining about that! My daughter said a word, yesterday, and I saw Toni Morrison last night. Where to start?

The Word: I'm wondering whether all the seizure activity of the last couple of months, the intensity of it, was the effect of new brain activity, new connections. I have this vision of Sophie's dysfunctional brain trying so hard, so diligently to perform in the right way. I imagine it as intricate and just when things are going to connect %G^FG^%#G(TKFXX@%. Overstimulation. Start over. Or the opposite. Sensorystimulicominginandconnectionsmadesmells smelledeyesseeskinfeelsrecognizethisfeelthatknowherknowthatsound and everything is so fast and then r$%$%^d@@@, another misfire. But maybe something is happening and maybe it'll keep happening.

I've certainly been on the short side of sanity the last few weeks. With her. Thinking the worst. And now this.

Grace comes softly.

HOPE
Hope is the thing with feathers
That perches in the soul,
And sings the tune--without the words,
And never stops at all,

And sweetest in the gale is heard;
And sore must be the storm
That could abash the little bird
That kept so many warm.

I've heard it in the chillest land,
And on the strangest sea;
Yet, never, in extremity,
It asked a crumb of me.

-Emily Dickinson

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Memory


This is what I read today in the newspaper about memory loss:

Episodes of high stress, intense happiness, love and sadness can preserve a sharp memory. But when stress is constant and the brain is bathed chronically in stress hormones such as cortisol, attention grows weak and events are stored fitfully in short-term memory and fitfully committed to long-term memory. Established memories are poorly retrieved. Cortisol overload will cause many of the brain cells with memory functions to power down. And over time, chronic stress will degrade communications between cells in brain regions important to learning and memory.

Now I'm trying to figure out what constitutes "constant stress" and "cortisol overload." What are the inner workings of my own brain? I consider myself to have a formidable memory, still, at the ripe middle age of 45. None of that forgetting what I meant to say or go and get or who is that? Maybe fourteen years of dealing with Sophie's seizures is just not enough stress to cause memory loss. At least not yet. And I know it's silly to quantify stress or is it qualify stress (I mean what does someone feel in, say, the Congo, who has a child that seizes all day?), but sometimes what gets me through it all is the thought wow, you've been dealing with this for almost fourteen years and you're doing pretty good. But when I read an article like the one above, I start thinking things like I guess it's really not all that stressful. You're over-reacting. You're still sharp, despite your brain being bathed in all that cortisol. Maybe you shouldn't complain.

Which leads me to that visual imagery of the brain bathed in anything at all. Those spongy gray folds, shrinking back from the acrid liquid of primitive response, of anger and despair and desperation. Shrinking so far back that they just fold in on themselves and start to forget.

Monday, November 17, 2008

The Things We Do

I think I mentioned that I'm the leader of my seven year old's Cub Scout den. Don't ask how and why I got suckered into this exhausting position, but I'm actually enjoying it despite my complete and utter lack of knowledge about anything that has to do with scouting. At the beginning of the year, the Pack Leader, a large man with an even larger heart and a scouting agenda that makes me quail in fear suggested that all the Den Leaders should wear a UNIFORM. You've got to be kidding, I thought. I'd rather strip naked and run through the school halls than wear a scout uniform. I have a really strong memory of seeing Former President Gerald Ford in a commercial or a photo, wearing a scout uniform, and even at that tender age felt embarrassed.

I know it's a personal idiosyncrasy, but I'm just not that into a man in a uniform, except if he's a fireman. And a woman certainly should NOT wear a scout uniform:

But back to me -- I told said Pack leader that I wouldn't be caught dead in a scouting uniform and if that was a requirement for the job, well, then, I'd have to resign. The man doesn't know me too well and didn't find much humor in my remark. But I got my way. I am the leader of the Wolf Den and I don't wear a uniform.

I mentioned a while back that I had a little spat with the other den leaders when I questioned putting together care packages for the troops in Iraq. (You can refresh your memory, here) Feeling overwhelmed with activities, I just didn't want to take it on. I changed my mind, though, simultaneously with the pack and den leaders' chastisement and decided that our little den would write letters to the troops at our next den meeting. I even made a trip to the Los Angeles Scout Store (and was helped by a very large woman dressed in full scout regalia)and bought patriotic and Wolf Cub stickers to decorate the letters.

And that brings us to today. There are eight little boys in my den and they are like a wild bunch of puppies. I literally have to scream at them to SIT! and COME HERE!. I explained to them that we were going to write letters of appreciation to the soldiers in Iraq. We talked about sacrifice and what it meant to fight in a war. Then they got busy and started writing and drawing. They did a great job:




My older son, Henry, was there too and asked whether he could write a letter as well. While I helped the younger boys, he came up to me and whispered in my ear, "Why are those soldiers in Iraq again, Mom? I forgot why." "Ummm," I said. And I just couldn't answer him.

Sunday, November 16, 2008

The Yellow Room


I haven't written about Sophie in a while. She's all right -- been through a rough patch, but the week before that she had a wonderful, easy time of it. This is an excerpt from the book I'm writing -- something that happened several years ago and on this smoky, hard-to-breathe day when we're all cooped up inside, I thought it was fitting.


COWBOYS AND THE VIRGIN MARY

Sophie’s brothers, Henry and Oliver, have a cowboy-themed bedroom. The windows are covered with red shades, patterned with tiny, black bucking broncos, the cowboys holding on exuberantly. Hooks on the wall, shaped like horseshoes, hold straw cowboy hats and a lampshade is held aloft by a rustler’s lariat. Cowboys in various antics pose or dance on the walls, careful to avoid the cactus that they are interspersed with. At night the boys climb into their respective bunks and wrap themselves in cowboy sheets. They are sweaty sleepers, kicking off their covers, muttering verbs, emphatic even in dreams. Next door, Sophie sleeps in yellow and lavender. Fairies fly gracefully on the walls; a delicate mobile of angels holding a small sign that says “Dream” hangs from an air-conditioning vent. A white wooden plaque reads, “Send miracles” and an evaporating bottle of holy water from Lourdes sits prominently on her dresser. Sunshine spills through three windows and when Sophie lies on her purple beanbag she watches the palm trees in the back yard, swaying. Yellow and lavender are colors to soothe the soul, or so they say. But it is Sophie’s mind that needs soothing and, so far, no color has succeeded in quieting the constant seizures that she suffers.
Recently, after a precipitous decline in her ability to walk, eat and drink, it was discovered that Sophie was having seizures during 90% of her sleep. These were sub-clinical, we were told, nothing that you could see. The angry brainwaves, though, were clear enough on the overnight EEG to qualify the diagnosis of a new, particularly rare form of epilepsy and accounted for the dramatic regression in her motor skills. We could now add Electrical Status Epilepticus in Slow Wave Sleep to Sophie’s official diagnosis of Seizure Disorder of Unknown Origin. The treatment is an intravenous immunoglobulin infusion, often used by those with autoimmune disorders but rarely by epileptics. Since the trouble started, Sophie has lost almost twelve pounds from her already slim frame. She is walking, again, but her brain seems to have forgotten how to eat. We have to puree her food, now, and literally coax it into her mouth, massaging her cheeks and encouraging her to swallow.
The boys are naturally aware of the stepped-up tension in the house, but because they are younger than Sophie, her seizures, her crises and ups and downs are as familiar as the dancing cowboys they open their eyes to every morning. Henry, the oldest, is in kindergarten at a neighborhood Catholic school. He has become a “God-squadder” of late, talking frequently of keeping God’s world clean and praying for small achievements, like successful tree climbs. While I was raised Catholic, I would call myself an ironic Christian now, and Henry’s religious chatter is sweet but sometimes tedious. One night, Henry and I read together in Sophie’s room. Oliver had already fallen asleep and Sophie lay seemingly asleep in her bed. We were interrupted by the guttural groan she utters before having a large seizure. I dropped the book and Henry ran to get a tissue to wipe her drool. I anxiously bent over her, murmuring that it was alright, it was alright, but it really wasn’t alright. Sophie had had at least five of these big episodes during the previous fifteen minutes and I decided to page a neurologist on call. While I waited for the phone to ring, Henry climbed into my lap.
“Are you nervous a little bit, Henry?” I asked.
“A little,” he admitted.
“I am, too, but everything will be alright. Sophie’s doctors and we are taking good care of her.” The phone is silent.
Henry says, “But only God can help Sophie.”
I say, “Well, God will work through the doctors if they pray to Him.”
Henry says that God is “in here,” and he points to my heart.
“Yes,” I whisper.
“You have to be very quiet to hear Him. The doctors have to be very quiet to hear Him. Tell them, Mommy, tell them to be quiet and listen, “ he insists and stares, brown-eyed into my eyes. The phone rings.


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Saturday, November 15, 2008

Smoke and Mirrors and Ash


We do have trees that change color here in LA.

But it's the middle of November, and this is a scene outside my house this afternoon.


Shorts, Crocs and scooters. And sweat. November in Los Angeles this year is hot, hot, hot.

The sacrifice for pomegranates hanging heavy from trees


and roses blooming in winter




is this:

and this:


The orange isn't the sunset. It's the peculiar color the skies get when there are fires burning. They're miles and miles away from my house, but there's smoke in the air tht makes your throat rough and your nostrils twitch. There's fine, fine ash floating around. It lands on your purse, on your clothes like wisps of gray and white, and when you touch it, it dissolves, leaving the tiniest smear on your finger.

Thursday, November 13, 2008

Why I Love LA or Comments from a Culture Vulture


I left my riotous household tonight and headed west, to UCLA's Royce Hall. I had bought tickets to a Writers' Series and tonight was the first and it was John Updike. Yes, the great man of letters himself, in conversation with David Ulin (the editor of the Los Angeles Times Book Review and a wonderful writer, as well). It took me what seemed like forever to drive to the west side, making my way through traffic and driving into the sun. No matter how many times I go to UCLA (Sophie's doctors, at least ten writing workshops and more than I can count concerts and discussions), I always, always get lost. When I finally found my way to Parking Structure 4, I was caught up in a long line of cars waiting to get in to park and go to the first basketball game. All this set-up set me on edge and since I was going to the talk alone, I felt, well, lonely.

But when I emerged from the parking deck I was right below an enormous stairway that I had somehow missed all the other times I'd been at Royce Hall. When I climbed up and turned around, the sky was big and open and halfway dark, lit by urban light. The campus was spread all over, swaths of stadium-lit green, gorgeous towers back lit and the scurrying of people with backpacks.

I loved college. Absolutely loved every minute of it. And not just the books and the learning but the whole collegiate thing. The halls and the quads and the big trees and the falling leaves and the grand library with the old, wizened man who rang a cowbell as he walked through the stacks at closing time. My Alma mater, the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill was particularly collegiate but even UCLA, all spread out and airy with palm tree silhouettes and 80 degree November weather evokes that excitement that I guess for me is literary.

And here I was standing in a sweater in late November in balmy Los Angeles getting ready to see John Updike, the quintessential Ivy League don. I had seats in the middle of the third row and saw the lines of his aquiline nose and every wrinkle of his aged, earnest face. He walked out with a smile and sat down in a ridiculous red velvet armchair, or rather arranged his extraordinarily thin legs and arms and torso in it. David Ulin sat in the other and they began to talk. Updike speaks like he writes -- a strange and wonderful amalgamation of proper English and common talk. He is at once charming and just this side of condescending. He is aged and apparently both amused and terrified by mortality. I sat mesmerized by his soft voice and the way his fingers traced the air. He has incredibly long, thin fingers and moved his hands in the air as if he were spinning an awkward web. I have only recently read the Rabbit books and find his writing elevated and proper but almost effortlessly vulgar as well. And he is a working writer and really never stopped talking about that. How his goal was always to be in print, a novel every other year and in between articles and essays and criticism. It really takes this writer's breath away.

I'm not embarrassed to say that it was all enthralling. He had enthusiastic things to say about Obama -- his intelligence, his ability to think and write -- and as I walked back to Parking Structure 4 I couldn't help but think that John Updike's opinion mattered to me in ways more than, well, my parents. And that sort of embarrassed me.

Such is my infatuation with The Writer.

So why else do I love LA? Because I went to see John Updike on a balmy November evening on a beautiful college campus. Because I drove home through Beverly Hills, past the Ferrari and Lamborghini show rooms and clusters of paparazzi at the corner of Doheny and Wilshire. Because the palm trees along Little Santa Monica Blvd. were already draped with lit snowflakes. Because on the seat next to me was John Updike's newest novel, signed on the title page in a beautiful learned script.

And because on Monday I'm going downtown to the Japanese Theatre to hear Toni Morrison.

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Good News


I heard back about two submissions of my work. The first is from a group called expressing motherhood. I sent in an essay about a walk that I took with my children one afternoon in our neighborhood when we looked up and saw a man with a gun standing on the sidewalk. It turns out that the piece is something that I have to perform with other mothers in January. At a theatre in Venice Beach. More on that later.

The other acceptance, or semi-acceptance is from an online literary journal called Literary Mama. This particular essay is called "A History of Sleep," and the nonfiction editors want to do a little editing before giving it to their senior editor and publication. I'm very excited about this acceptance because the online journal is excellent.

Now if I could just get cracking on this dang book of mine that is a whole lot of pages and whole lot of disorganisation.

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Santa Baby


The other night, I asked the boys what they were going to put on their Christmas lists for Santa. Oliver said, "Santa is fake. You just get all the toys and put them out when we're sleeping." Henry looked really nervous and glanced at me.

I said, "Oliver, why do you say that? Do you not believe that there's a Santa Claus?"

He replied, "I don't know but you probably order it all from a catalog. I saw a lady wrapping presents and putting them under her tree on tv." Oliver's tone was really angry and defiant, put-out, really. I told him that some people didn't believe in Santa Claus but that I believed in magic -- I said this in a light tone of voice and Henry added, "Yeah, Oliver, Mommy and Daddy don't have enough money to buy all those toys that we get." (He's right about that but forgot about credit).

We went back and forth for a little while, though, and I got the distinct feeling that both of my boys just plain want to believe. Henry, I think, decided a year or so ago when he first had doubts that he was going to believe. I think he's capable of that -- knowing and not-knowing. Oliver, on the other hand, seems desperate to believe but equally desperate not to.

I know some of you think it's all nonsense, this Santa stuff, and that kids shouldn't be, well, deceived. I have friends that feel this way and I've largely been polite and accepting of that. But I'm in the camp that wants to prolong the magic and wish that my boys would believe in some form or another for the rest of their lives.

We left it at uncertainty, and the whole exchange sort of depressed me. When I told my good friend J about it, she said that when Christmas morning comes, it doesn't really matter whether they believe or not. They'll be caught up in all the excitement, no matter where it comes from. And I know she's right.

It's not just about Santa, though. It's about them growing up and out and beyond. And they were so little, once, so utterly mine.

Monday, November 10, 2008

Check it Out

This was a 2005 roast of Rahm Emanuel at a benefit for CURE which is a Chicago-based non-profit that raises money for research in pediatric epilepsy. Susan Axelrod, the founder, is married to David Axelrod, Obama's campaign strategist.

I couldn't figure out how to post this video despite numerous tries, but check it out:

Wow. It's really so cool to see our next PRESIDENT standing in front of the word EPILEPSY. Maybe we'll get somewhere.

Sunday, November 9, 2008

A Poem

How to Be a Poet
by Wendell Berry

(to remind myself)

Make a place to sit down.
Sit down. Be quiet.
You must depend upon
affection, reading, knowledge,
skill—more of each
than you have—inspiration,
work, growing older, patience,
for patience joins time
to eternity. Any readers
who like your work,
doubt their judgment.

Breathe with unconditional breath
the unconditioned air.
Shun electric wire.
Communicate slowly. Live
a three-dimensioned life;
stay away from screens.
Stay away from anything
that obscures the place it is in.
There are no unsacred places;
there are only sacred places
and desecrated places.

Accept what comes from silence.
Make the best you can of it.
Of the little words that come
out of the silence, like prayers
prayed back to the one who prays,
make a poem that does not disturb
the silence from which it came.

Saturday, November 8, 2008

Not So Nice


A good friend of mine told me a story tonight about Oprah and her boyfriend Steadman. I guess Oprah was waxing on something and at some point said, "I mean, I'm a nice person and..." and Steadmen evidently interrupted and said, "You know what? You are blank, blank, and blank [all good things and qualities to be proud of] but you're not nice." And Oprah had one of her "Aha!" moments and realized it was so.

I know several truly nice people, those who don't just do good deeds and are thoughtful and cheerful but who, rather, exude a goodness that is inherent. They're sweet. They might have good senses of humor or sharp wits; they might be sarcastic or reclusive or artistic or not, but they exude a goodness that seems inherent and unrelated to the other qualities.

I think I've always known about myself that I'm not nice, but it was only tonight that it was put into words. And it's sort of the base of an inner conflict that I've had for years as well. It's the one about trying to be good, to be perfect, to be pleasing and liked and, well, you know the rest. When those things aren't inherent, you can only strive to be them and most of the time I try and think I succeed but often I just plain don't. And that gets me to whether I used to be nice but have slowly but surely hardened over the years into not-so-nice, not-so-patient, etc.

And then I think if niceness is inherent and I used to be sweet, could I find that part of myself again? Or not, because it would be so entirely self-conscious. But all of that is just plain navel-gazing, right?

This past week, despite the almost euphoric heights of the Obama election, I was brought right smack into my not-niceness -- the several conflicted encounters on Facebook, the run-ins with the turbo-moms, a real spat with a close friend. I felt like I was on a runaway train, aware that I was gathering speed but scrambling to stop. My final blow was a quick reply to an email requesting yet another activity that I had to "volunteer" for -- this time engaging seven and eight year old Cub Scouts to write letters and gather what seemed to be millions of items for care packages for the troops in Iraq! I practically screamed a response when I got this request: NO MORE, NOT NOW, I JUST CAN'T DO IT. I'M SORRY FOR THE TROOPS BUT I JUST CAN'T DO IT.

You could have heard a pin drop in cyberland when I sent this email out to my fellow den leaders, all men. And then came their responses -- all about scouting and how wonderful it is for their boys and how wonderful the troops are, etc. etc. I, the sole woman, was a pariah -- unpatriotic, stingy, couldn't even muster up energy to instill good American values in the boys who had been entrusted to her. (And no one said that, but ever full of conflict between the nice and the not-so-nice, I imagined it).

Suffice it to say that I came to my senses and found my inner nice, and my little den of boys will be writing letters to the brave boys of Iraq next week. But you know what made me relent? My Swiss husband said, "I mean, those guys volunteered to be there, right? Why the hell do you have to send them care packages?" I made a sort of lame attempt to be patriotic and then dissolved into laughter at his not-niceness.

So, I'm searching for my old sweet self.

Friday, November 7, 2008

Van the Man


I went to a Van Morrison concert tonight at the Hollywood Bowl. The stars were out, the California flag was blowing and it was just cool enough for a sweater and a wrap. I had really good seats, smack in the center of the Bowl and when I closed my eyes I felt like I was nineteen, again, listening to Van while lying on a couch in an old apartment in Druid Hills, waiting for the boy I loved. Van sounds almost exactly the same as he did so many years ago and his wail reaches so deep that I am cast back there and then here.

If I ventured in the slipstream
Between the viaducts of your dream
Where immobile steel rims crack
And the ditch in the back roads stop
Could you find me?
Would you kiss-a my eyes?
To lay me down
In silence easy
To be born again
To be born again
From the far side of the ocean
If I put the wheels in motion
And I stand with my arms behind me
And Im pushin on the door
Could you find me?
Would you kiss-a my eyes?
To lay me down
In silence easy
To be born again
To be born again
There you go
Standin with the look of avarice
Talkin to huddie ledbetter
Showin pictures on the wall
Whisperin in the hall
And pointin a finger at me
There you go, there you go
Standin in the sun darlin
With your arms behind you
And your eyes before
There you go
Takin good care of your boy
Seein that hes got clean clothes
Puttin on his little red shoes
I see you know hes got clean clothes
A-puttin on his little red shoes
A-pointin a finger at me
And here I am
Standing in your sad arrest
Trying to do my very best
Lookin straight at you
Comin through, darlin
Yeah, yeah, yeah
If I ventured in the slipstream
Between the viaducts of your dreams
Where immobile steel rims crack
And the ditch in the back roads stop
Could you find me
Would you kiss-a my eyes
Lay me down
In silence easy
To be born again
To be born again
To be born again
In another world
In another world
In another time
Got a home on high
Aint nothing but a stranger in this world
Im nothing but a stranger in this world
I got a home on high
In another land
So far away
So far away
Way up in the heaven
Way up in the heaven
Way up in the heaven
Way up in the heaven
In another time
In another place
In another time
In another place
Way up in the heaven
Way up in the heaven
We are goin up to heaven
We are goin to heaven
In another time
In another place
In another time
In another place
In another face

Thursday, November 6, 2008

Looking for a Cave

I feel utterly strung out and exhausted today. I've had far too many emails and spent far too much time online. "It's a time-suck," one of my friends says about the computer. Normally, it's great -- getting away from the mundane to write and converse and read and laugh.

I got a couple of really angry emails today -- not about the election but about some sort of cockamamie mix-up at school with over-zealous volunteer mothers. Turbo-mothers is what I call them. And it's a fine line that sometimes separates me from them. But it's a line, nonetheless. I'm a formidable typist, capable of way, way over 100 words a minute. I have high finger dexterity according to the career profile I received during my senior year in high school. I also had a high Idea-a-phoria number which basically means that I can write down a whole lot of words, rapidly, without stopping. And I think that's why I get in trouble on the computer. I think I can type as fast as I can think. When I learned how to type in ninth grade, we used Manual Typewriters. Yep. I still remember how difficult it was to really press down that "p" with your right pinkie.

But I was good. Still am. Except that now I can type and send as fast as I can think. And that's dangerous.

I'm thinking about moving into a cave for a little while and burning some incense. Like this one in Turkey:


Or this one:

Wednesday, November 5, 2008

Whew!


The morning after. I woke up feeling jubilant, bright and light. No strangers in this bed!

And then the day went on and amidst all the sharing of joy between like-minded friends, I went on Facebook and had a big, fat online argument with someone I went to high school with. Someone who I've only been reacquainted with for a few weeks, ONLINE and someone who I never was really acquainted with during high school, anyway.

Jeez. Like a moth to flame, like a fly to ..., well, what was I thinking to spout off my mouth in such a way? I think it was his comment about impending socialism, about people who get handouts, about no tolerance for the Democrats, etc. etc. I just couldn't help myself. I left our back and forth volley and went to drive my son to religion class and when I got back saw that I'd been "defriended." Ouch. I'm tempted to chuck the whole Facebook thing and pretend like I never got sucked into it in the first place. There's something so addictive, so seductive about it. An intimacy that isn't really an intimacy -- it's a place to be ironic, clever, interesting. Except when you're not. And then you can be excised with the touch of a key.

A good friend had a bit of a spat with one of her closest friends who voted the other way. I haven't even spoken to my mother, yet. My point is that even though Obama won and I'm shocked, thrilled, thankful, etc., there's still this pall, this icky feeling in my stomach. I'm not sure what it's about -- the fact that the closest of friends, members of the same family, can't agree. The fact that this election was, as one friend put it, HEATED?

My dear husband isn't on Facebook. Thank God. He's also not a United States citizen (although he works very, very hard and pays taxes) and claims that he doesn't want to be one because of jury duty. I've long since stopped arguing with him about that and instead just gently mock. He gets me, the whole raw deal of me. HE's happy today with "the Americans." We found this poster from his native Switzerland. Terrific, right?

Tuesday, November 4, 2008

Cynicism RIP



I sat on the couch for hours tonight at my best friend's house, watching the election returns. I sat next to Michael and Sophie who remained calm and preternaturally present despite all the hooting and hollering.

My God, isn't it great?

I remember holding Oliver in my arms on the day after 9/11 at a yoga class where we danced around to the tune of "Everything is Gonna Be All Right," and I didn't feel it then. At all. I was afraid. Afraid of what was in store for us, for my children. And as the years unfolded and we went to war and then watched as our leaders betrayed us again and again, I sort of retreated into a cynical haze. Hurricanes, global warming, tsunamis, Abu Ghraib, and then another shattering election. I remember thinking, Henry will be TEN before we have a new president! and that was depressing on so many levels.

Who knew "ten" would come round so fast, so far and so fabulously?

2 VOTES

Monday, November 3, 2008

Jinxes


photo courtesy of here

Almost all the people I know who are voting for Obama are incredibly nervous today, waiting for tomorrow. And all of them don't want to "jinx" it. I feel a little like that but far less so than I did four years ago. I don't even have butterflies in my stomach tonight. I'm not sure why and hesitate to say that I feel Obama is going to win -- I don't want to jinx it.

But, there, I've said it. I'm anticipating a Wednesday morning where I'll be able to tell my sons and my daughter and my non-citizen husband that, yes, we live in a wonderful country where things like this can happen. The world is lighter today.

I positively imagine a more ebullient world and while I know this is partly fantasy, I'm not sure why it can't really be so. Even for a moment. What if the economy is failing in a way that it'll never come back to where it was? What if our way of life is going to change irrevocably? When I meditate I am filled with a vision of a world that demands these things -- I'm not sure the planet will survive otherwise. I also am a firm believer in the things never change philosophy -- in fact, I wrote a whole post about Ecclesiastes and All is Vanity. If there's anything that I need to do it's figuring out some sort of balance between "there's nothing new under the sun" and "the world is evolving into the Aquarian Age."

But all this is rambling and perhaps my own way of dissolving butterflies. I actually really don't want to even think about the prospect of the election going the other way. Now THAT would be a jinx.

Sunday, November 2, 2008

Epilepsy Freedom Walk


Today my dearest friends joined Michael, Sophie, Henry, Oliver and me at Griffith Park here in Los Angeles for an afternoon of walking, playing and just having fun. We raised money for the Epilepsy Foundation of Los Angeles -- and the goal was to increase awareness of seizure disorders and be free of them. A most worthy cause, of course. It's weird to be a part of these things -- I've been to many a non-profit fundraiser, and there's a certain exhilaration to having the party be for YOU (or a member of your family). The beauty of the day, a crisp, just after rain in Los Angeles kind of day, and the even greater beauty of the many children and adults who battle this terrible disease made me feel warm, connected despite our differences.

But it's hard not to HATE being there as well.

Despite the camaraderie, the joy of knowing that my friends stand behind me, it's a bummer to have to be there at all. There are a lot of children like Sophie, and a lot of children who appear worse off. There were several children walking around with the telltale scars of major brain surgery. And when I looked around at the other parents, the families and siblings of those affected by epilepsy, it was hard not to feel that we're all damaged. It's so damn tiring, this fight.



A beautiful woman who I recognized from last year's walk was with a very small group. They all held up signs with a photo of a little girl's face and the dates of her life and death. Her name was Lulu and I remembered her coloring last year at a table. She was nine years old when she died after a bout of status epilepticus last March and her mother was so brave to come. I can't imagine being able to do that.

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