Sunday, March 31, 2013

Post Easter Melancholy, Robert Burton and Language, Really Great Literature

This post is dedicated to my comrades in epilepsy arms but might amuse anyone

Much of today was spent like this:

I guess there's something to be said for staying in one's pajamas nearly all day, reading two collections of short stories -- one by George Saunders and the other by Jamie Quatro -- and allowing both of my sons to play video games all day and to somewhat neglect my daughter. Both books were so fantastic that I was nearly yanked out of my Easter Sunday melancholy, but not quite. I'm feeling obsessed by the Quatro book in particular and am sorry that I finished it. I won't tell you what the short stories are about but think infidelity, sex, religion, the south, Flannery O'Connor weirdness and you'll have some idea. It might be my Every Five Years Or So Book.**

Speaking of literature, I got this email and thought to make it just one post, titled The Bastardization of Language.

Reader, why?

I suppose the definition of literature might include those writings of scientific or medical interest, but the literature on pediatric antiepileptic drugs? To be read on Easter Sunday when in a state of melancholy? Speaking of melancholy, even Robert Burton, the esteemed writer of the seventeenth century titled his tome The Anatomy of Melancholy, What it is: With all the Kinds, Causes, Symptomes, Prognostickes, and Several Cures of it. In Three Maine Partitions with their several Sections, Members, and Subsections. Philosophically, Medicinally, Historically, Opened and Cut Up. That was in 1621. 

If Robert Burton were to have written a book about pediatric anti-epileptic drugs, I figure he'd title it something like The Anatomy of Hell, What it is: With all the Kinds, Causes, Symptomes, Side Effectes, False Prognostickes, and Never a Cure for the Epilepsies. In One Thousand Maine Partitions with their several Sections, Members, and Subsections. Philosophically, Medicinally, Historically, The Braine Opened and Fucked Up.

**I read pretty voraciously -- sometimes up to fifty books a year, not counting poetry and The New Yorker, but it's only every five years or so that I read a novel that knocks me out. The last one I can remember doing so was Colum McCann's Let the Great World Spin, and that was in late 2009, so it's a little early to be counting it, but I Want to Show You More might be a contender.

Happy Easter and a Sibling Story, in the Vein of Jesus Wept

We decorated.

We glared.
(at our brother while coloring eggs)

We threw.
(our brother's shoe, where it miraculously wrapped around a branch and got stuck)

We yelled.
(to get that shoe out of the tree, immediately)

We tried.
(over and over with a basketball, to get the shoe out of the tree)

It stuck.
(the basketball, miraculously, in a fork of the tree, above the shoe)

We climbed.
 (the tree) 

We screamed.
(the mother did, while the boy climbed)

We retreated.
(The mother went inside)

We succeeded.
(We defied gravity, used an orange picker)

(He looked, despite the shenanigans)

Saturday, March 30, 2013

Happy Birthday Vincent Van Gogh**

 When I have a terrible need of — shall I say the word — religion. Then I go out and paint the stars.
Vincent Van Gogh 

via s.landry

**Van Gogh is a famous epileptic and therefore dear to my heart. Stumbling upon this quote on Facebook this morning seemed significant and has effectively dispelled my Easter melancholy. Read the whole letter here.

Bewildered by so many flowers

I woke up this morning, literally thinking, thinking that I needed to call on Monday and change Sophie's doctor's appointment from Wednesday when she'd have to miss school, to later in June when she's out of school. I thought about Easter, how I had no plans. I wondered what machinations of the brain had happened in the moment before that thought, how I'd gone from sleep to wake to thought to navel.

Navel-gazing -- I've always hated that term, probably because I do a lot of it. I lay in bed this morning, mourning Easter and the fact that I have no plans. I have no plans because I've made no plans, other than the filling of Easter baskets for the children. I won't be the Catholic that goes to church on Easter Sunday, but I will be the person who thinks deeply about the day's meaning in our culture, about the love reborn, about the spring.

Thought lies heavy in the morning over the navel. It depresses the bed beneath it.

There's this:

The Palm at the End of the Mind

After fulfilling everything
one two three he came back again
free, no more prophecy requiring
that he enter the city just this way,
no more set-up treacheries.
It was the day after Easter. He adored
the eggshell litter and the cellophane
caught in the grass. Each door he passed
swung with its own business, all the 
witnesses along his route of pain
again distracted by fear of loss
or hope of gain. It was wonderful
to be a man, bewildered by 
so many flowers, the rush
and ebb of hours, his own
ambiguous gestures--his 
whole heart exposed, then
taking cover.

--Kay Ryan

Friday, March 29, 2013

Easter, Anthem, Manna from Heaven and Paradox

what I imagine Anthem Blue Cross headquarters to look like

Are you sitting down?
I received the following notice in my inbox this morning:

Your rates may be reduced and you could get a refund.
We have reached agreements with the California Department of Managed Healthcare and the California Department of Insurance to lower our average Individual rates. This agreement does not impact our California HIPAA and Conversion plans and policies
That means your rates may be coming down soon! We are currently recalculating the change to your medical premium and potential refund. We expect to have the new rates finished, filed and updated in our May billing cycle. This information will be provided to you soon.
If you cancelled your coverage after receiving the notice of your rate change, you will be given the chance to reactivate your Individual health benefit plan.
We value your membership. More information will be mailed to you in the coming weeks.

I was just thinking that since I left the Catholic Church, celebrating Easter seems hollow and a bit depressing. I haven't quite figured out how to celebrate its message of love renouncing death, but perhaps this email from Anthem holds the answer -- either that or bunnies really do hop around with baskets of colored eggs and chocolates.

Thursday, March 28, 2013

Anonymous reminds me of a poem

William Butler Yeats and his wife Georgie, late 1920s

The other day, an anonymous commenter alluded to a Yeats poem that I had not read or if I had, it was forgotten. Strange to me -- that the image of coats and capes and robes and being naked are haunting me of late -- it's all been said before, but there's something comforting about poetry buried deep in the unconscious peering out through my same eyes.

A Coat

I made my song a coat
Covered with embroideries
Out of old mythologies
From heel to throat:
But the fools caught it,
Wore it in the world's eyes
As though they'd wrought it.
Song, let them take it,
For there's more enterprise
In walking naked.

William Butler Yeats

How We Do It: Part XXVI in a series

I went for a walk yesterday with Sophie in her stroller, and my frustration and anger only grew as I bounced over roots in the sidewalk and struggled to maneuver the stroller over curbs not cut away for the handicapped. A litany of complaints, bourgeois, the sun was still shining, and when Sophie had a huge seizure, I stopped and bent over her, containing her limbs as they banged and her back arched up and out, the strap straining between her legs, my breath a curse, many curses. That's how we do it, sometimes, pissed and bitter and filled not with blessing but with imprecation. That's how we do it. Afterward, we rolled down a side street and I sat on the stoop of someone's house and cried as Sophie continued to jerk, her hands plucking at the jacket draped over her. We sat there a long time in our separate worlds, and when I snapped the photo, I did it blindly the light in my eyes.

Wednesday, March 27, 2013

The Santa Monica Pier, Costumes and Carnivals

I know it's freezing in much of the country, but here in southern California, it's decidedly spring, cloudy in the morning and clearing to a glorious blue in the afternoon. The boys are sleeping in every morning, their laundry is done with the only error being two ink pens found in the washer, thankfully not broken open, and the red-buds are blooming over the winter's roses. We went to the pier yesterday in Santa Monica, and I shot the above photo of Henry in front of the ferris wheel. Carnivals lend themselves to easy art, but I've already grown tired of conjecturing how the Men and Women in Robes will decide the gay marriage case, enervated by the spectacle of some of the Men in Robes equating marriage with procreation or as having the novelty of the cell phone or the internet. It's difficult to take seriously those who put on costumes to do their job, no matter their beliefs (I have the same trouble with the supposedly holy Cardinals in Robes in Rome) and while I've a fantasy of ordering a chauffeur's costume to finish out the job of mothering over the next decade or so, I prefer to be naked.

What are you up to today in your corner of the world?

Tuesday, March 26, 2013

Applying for SSI - Day Three

For those still following my progress toward obtaining SSI for Sophie, now that she's eighteen years old, please note that today, at approximately 10:32 am, Pacific Time, after holding for approximately twenty dogged Neil Sedaka-free minutes, I made contact with the Social Security office and spoke to a representative. I also made an appointment to appear at our local office, with Sophie, in late April. 

At the point of contact, the roof of the house blew off, and when the agent spoke and was courteous and helpful, fireworks could be seen as far away as the Mojave. When she made the appointment efficiently and told me what to expect, the house sighed and shuddered, spent and relaxed. I imagine that those of fundamentalist faith would think prayers had been answered. I prefer to think the contact was akin to something much more profane.

Supremely Right

There's something a tiny bit annoying about posting an avatar for one's photo on social media, and it makes me feel terribly self-conscious to do so, but the fact that the Supreme Court of this country has to get involved to decide whether a ban on gay marriage is constitutional or not drove me to it. I hate this country, Henry said to me the other day in the car on the way home from school. They're studying civil rights in American history, and he was listening to a radio show about veterans from the Iraq war and their mental health needs, how they weren't even close to being met. I told him these were not grounds for hate, but I understood his frustration. Both of my boys have very good friends, several of them, that have gay parents. This is as normal to them as having a mother who goes on a laundry strike or a father that wears chef pants every day and an apron. I sure hope the Supreme Court of the land does the moral thing so I won't have to do any explaining -- or packing.

Monday, March 25, 2013

On Strike

The pile in the center of the room is clean laundry that I've officially refused to fold. All the rest is dirty. I've decided to go on strike until more gratitude flows my way and flowers are strewn at my feet. I imagine nothing but mushrooms sprouting in their piles.

Tying shoes and friendship

Yesterday, two of my dearest and oldest friends came over to our house to join me in a walk with Sophie. I brought her out of her room and put her in her stroller and then busied myself putting on my socks and shoes while we all chattered about one thing or another. I always feel slightly flustered getting Sophie ready to do anything when friends are around. I feel self-conscious, aware of all that I'm doing and need to do, even for something as simple as a walk. Our life is so profoundly different than that of most of my friends, different in a way that is impossible to articulate and probably only completely understandable if you live it. When J sat down in front of Sophie and put her shoes on, gently fitting her tiny feet into the sneakers and then lacing and tying them, I thought I would weep in gratitude, not for the task but for the doing. The giving. That's all it takes.

Sunday, March 24, 2013

What I wondered about today


This morning, the first day of spring break for my chilluns', I chose to stay in my bed for a couple of hours and leaf through the stack of magazines that I subscribe to and am reluctant to stop. I love glossy pages, you see. Oliver sat next to me on the floor, on top of all the pillows that I'd thrown there, and played with his iPod Touch. The Husband was puttering around the kitchen as he is wont, and Sophie was humming in her room. Henry slept. I read a profile of an interior decorator who is nationally famous but who lives here in Los  Angeles. I've actually seen her about town before, because one of her sons is the same age as mine and plays sports in our local park.  In any case, the interior designer is fabulously chic and hip and beautiful. It's hard not to stare at her. She looks a little like Botticelli's Venus, except that she's thin. I read about her daily regime which consisted of this:

  1. Rise and go to Barry's Bootcamp at 5:30 am SEVEN DAYS A WEEK
  2. Stop at the local juicery and juice
  3. Juice for lunch and maybe later that day
  4. A "normal" dinner of grilled chicken and vegetables or a salad

That was IT. Every single day. Exercise and juicing and one meal. The interior designer reported incredible well-being and energy and rarely deviates from this regime. 

I have no desire to do Barry's BootCamp every single day or even one single day, as I understand it to be grueling and I'm not into gruel. I also have no interest in juicing all day and grilled chicken with salad at night. However, I wonder if I worked out that hard every single day and then juiced would I feel full of well-being and energy? I am not being judgmental here or snarky or even snide. I also wondered if the interior designer had my life, would she go to Barry's BootCamp and juice every day and would that help her to cope and do the job well?

Which comes first, Reader? The chicken or the egg?


Saturday, March 23, 2013

Kicking off from center field and tulips

 At 7:30 am, I was doing this:

I was watching him:

At 10:00 am, I bought these as a sort of reward and incentive to get through the rest of the day:

At noon, I was doing this:

(disclosure: the photo is taken from another game earlier in the season, but you get the gist)

Some of you might remember when I described my Italian grandmother, in her very old age, walking around the house in her black dress muttering Pray that I die, Pray that I die. Well, I'm going to confess that the prospect of another basketball game contingent upon that one, provoked a similar response in me. Pray that they lose. Pray that they lose. If anyone is reading this who happens to be on our team, please forgive me. My prayer was answered, and they lost. Basketball season is officially over.

At 2:20 pm, I was watching him:

Henry broke a long batting slump, so bad that he had been plunged into the depths of despondency and failure just two days ago. He hit a DOUBLE and a TRIPLE. I screamed myself hoarse.

At 4:00 pm I'm watching this:

I just remarked on Facebook that the trouble with Facebook is that superlatives have become cliche, and there's just no way to properly describe Van Morrison in this video without using one.

Friday, March 22, 2013

Conservatorship and the Boddhisatva

I drove to Pasadena this morning for the second meeting of the process of conservatorship. For those of you not in the know -- isn't that a weird phrase? -- since Sophie turned eighteen, The Husband and I have to formally apply to the state to become Sophie's guardians. The process involves, basically, stripping her of her rights to make life decisions, including medical, sexual, partnership, etc. for herself. Fortunately, there's a wonderful organization here in Los Angeles called Bet Tzedek that runs clinics and helps you to do the necessary paperwork, reams of it. The people who work for Bet Tzedek are extremely helpful, sensitive and caring individuals and make the whole process a piece of cake.

Well, maybe not a piece of cake. Given the strange and wondrous workings of my own brain, my take on the process is perhaps more perverse than cake and I periodically have to yank myself back into the present as I check off boxes, date pages and sign my name. I sat at a little table in a busy courthouse building with five other people each doing the same thing while an elderly lady walked around peering over our shoulders, a handy bottle of White-out (have ya'll seen the new White-out because I hadn't and it's magical!) in her hand to erase errant marks and typos. There was a Vietnamese couple across from me, applying for twins and next to me sat an African American man applying for conservatorship of his second child. Next to him was an African American woman in a wheelchair and next to her an Hispanic couple, with myself rounding out the Syrian/Italian/Scotch English ancestry. We were a veritable kaleidoscope, and all of us there for the same purpose! On about page 657, each of us read and checked for accuracy a paragraph describing our children's limitations which had been drawn from a questionnaire that we had filled out on the first visit. The paragraph about Sophie listed, literally, everything that she could not do, and let me tell you, Reader, it takes some serious dissociation to read that list for accuracy and sign your name with a flourish. She cannot clean herself. She cannot use the bathroom. She cannot talk. She cannot take her medication safely. She wanders and is confused. Etc. Literally, everything you can think of.

That's where my wild and wonderful brain steps in for my heart and does circus gymnastics alongside the other members of the rainbow coalition around that table in the courthouse in Pasadena.

Afterward, I wandered about the beautiful streets of Pasadena and into an Asian museum that was completely empty of people but whose rooms were filled with cases of ancient Bodhisattvas, their thousands of years old faces staring serenely out at me in my circus garb. I stood for a long time in front of the one above until my costume fell away, I wriggled out of my leotard, kicked off my big red shoes and stood there, naked, my heart beating steadily in the dim light.

Thursday, March 21, 2013

War, Suicide and Confusion

Most of you have probably read a bit about the disabled veteran Tomas Young who penned an evisceration of a letter to former President George Bush and Dick Cheney, protesting the war that ruined not only his life but those of hundreds of thousands of other people. Young is evidently going to kill himself in protest but also because his disabilities limit him from living what he feels is a decent life. The letter is powerful insofar as it describes the enormous ramifications of the dozen years our young men and women have been fighting in Iraq and Afghanistan, and as someone who believes that both Bush and Cheney should be tried as war criminals, I found much in it with which to sympathize. I thought of the Buddhist monk who immolated himself in 1963, protesting the persecution of Buddhists by the South Vietnamese -- an act forever stamped in our consciousness because of the powerful photo that circulated afterward. What I had not thought about, though, was how Young's possible suicide affects the disability world and perhaps perpetuates the ignorance and cultural stereotypes that those of us in the disability world fight against every day. I read about this on two blogs this morning, and both have left me feeling confused. Here are the links to both:

Bad Cripple
Planet of the Blind

I'd love to know your take on this story beyond the obvious sympathy.

Wednesday, March 20, 2013

Applying for SSI, Day Two

I'm not boring you, am I? I thought I'd make this milestone -- applying for Social Security Income for my disabled now eighteen year old daughter  -- more like a game and therefore not only educate you in the finer navigational arts of the disability world but amuse you, too. The photo of me is right after I had my eyes dilated this morning in an annual eye exam. I forgot to bring my sunglasses, so the doctor gave me that nifty pair that I wore for pretty much the entire morning and well into the afternoon. My eyes are dark, very dark, and at this 3 pm writing, they're still a tad dilated, and it's uncomfortable to look outside or even to read. I chose to use my time wisely, though, and work a bit more on the online application and make another call to the Social Security office. As I explained yesterday, I was on hold for nearly fifteen minutes and then quite suddenly disconnected. One moment I was listening to Neil Sedaka and the next just silence. The Neil Sedaka made me wonder if perhaps I'd stepped into some sort of time warp and had actually made the call in 1975 and was still on hold. Today, I dialed the number and nimbly made my way through the labyrinth and was then politely told by the machine to call back at a later time. There was no hold time, no Neil Sedaka, no love will keep us together. I waited five minutes and did the same and was told the same. Not even a think of me babe whenever, some sweet talkin guy comes around.

I forgot to tell you that earlier, as I made my home through my urban neighborhood, squinting through my sexy, curled sunglasses, I thought about the concept of dilation -- how eyes dilate in darkness to let in more light and then contract to protect the eye from too much of it. I thought, though, how the pupil grows larger and darker when light is needed and shrinks to a tiny pinprick when it's too much. Reader, do you follow me here? Does your mind grapple with such paradox on a continuous basis?

Applying for SSI, Day One

Alice, Mystery, Wonderland

It is to Alice’s credit that she doesn't hesitate for a moment to discard her preconceptions when she comes across situations that patently refute them. In doing so, she displays an admirable readiness to encounter reality on its own terms, a receptive cast of mind that many philosophers would include among the most important “intellectual virtues” or character traits that assist in the discovery of truth.
George Dunn and Brian McDonald in Six Impossible Things Before Breakfast
via Brain Pickings 
I don't know what the hell was wrong with me yesterday that I felt so upset the entire day. I happened to read a bit more about the high school football rapists in some godforsaken town in this country and I also listened to some economists talk about the cost of the Iraq war -- not just in dollars but in lives lost, both Iraqis and Americans. I heard Terri Gross interview someone talking about the toll of that war and the one in Afghanistan on literally hundreds of thousands of American soldiers and how that toll will be tolling for decades and decades. I briefly thought about George W. Bush whacking weeds on his ranch in Texas and Dick Cheney exulting with no regrets at the evil he wrought. I wished that they, like the two young football players who raped a drunk sixteen year old girl could sit in a jail cell with regret imposed on them like a pall. If I were an evangelical, I'd pray for the soul of America which seems, on some days, to have been swallowed up and spit back out in the form of people fighting for their right to protect themselves with assault weapons. I don't know what the hell was wrong with me yesterday other than that, the news. I took a walk in my neighborhood by the purple lavender bush scraggly on the Orthodox lawn. I ran my hand over the papery pink bougainvillea draped over a chain link fence and squinted my eyes at a Louisiana sheriff's car parked alone. The encyclopedia I carry with me told me that vampires could very possibly be in that house behind the car. I might have eaten a dark-capped fungus and shrunk to a size commensurate with a long tunnel, the dark a mystery, light at the end.

Tuesday, March 19, 2013

Applying for SSI, Day One

It's begun. I emailed Sally over at Maggie's World with a plea for advice. She wrote me back with her usual fantastic sense of humor, walked me through it, and so I began. I labored for nearly an hour on the computer, filling out one million boxes and simultaneously waited for nearly fifteen minutes on hold with the Social Security office trying to make an appointment. Given that I was disconnected mysteriously from that call and then felt faint at the prospect of filling out Sophie's various hospitalizations -- do I need to go through the files I have in that white filing cabinet in the kitchen or do I need to contact the miasma that is the administration of UCLA?  -- I've decided to dissociate from the "work" I did and change the sheets on my bed.

Reader, what are you up to?

Monday, March 18, 2013

Good Lord! -- Part 4,562,896 (with clarification)**

I bought these Cadbury candy-coated dark chocolate eggs today at Target and never imagined the colors would look like this. Good Lord! They're beautiful! I put them in a glass dish that belonged to my Mississippi grandmother, Ida Mae. My good friend D has been bugging me to tell more stories, to "anchor myself in my family," so I'll leave you with that tantalizing bit of family lore. Good Lord.

Oliver disappeared into the bathroom after school, and since we live in a tiny bungalow, I heard him talking from my bedroom where I stood folding laundry. I couldn't make out what he was saying, but he appeared animated, and I know he wasn't on the phone (he doesn't yet have one).  I called out, What are you doing? He yelled back, I'm in the bathroom! I heard some more conversation, so I said Who are you talking to? He yelled back something something, so I put down the five millionth pair of white socks, walked out into the hallway and said through the closed door, Who are you talking to?

SIRI!!!!!! he shouted.

Good Lord, I thought and walked back to fold the rest of the laundry.

**As the wise Ms. Moon pointed out in the comments, if he doesn't have a phone, how was Oliver speaking with Siri? Well, Reader, Oliver is not insane. He actually has an iPod Touch 5 which apparently does have Siri. Good Lord.

We sit here, stranded, 'tho we're all doing our best to deny it

At risk of same old, same old, all I've got this morning, Monday-style, is a desire to climb in a car with my friend Christy Shake of Calvin's Story and if not fly over the desert to oblivion, then over the sea to Bora Bora and never come back. There's nothing wrong in particular same old, same old, and visions of Bora Bora  never 'scape my mind. There's a song in there somewhere, but I think Bob Dylan already wrote it. But these visions ... they make it all seem so cruel.

I think I've included enough cultural references in three sentences; I have oodles of laundry to do and children in foster care to tend. Reader, what are you up to this Monday morning?

Sunday, March 17, 2013


Breakfast is not my strong suit, and Sophie's sweaty palms (from seizures) call for dissociation. I'll sweep the crumbs from the floor and wrap the pizza from last night in foil, might even go so far as to put the pills in the tiny plastic cup, the half juice half water in the cup, but I'd rather wait for the Saint That Comes at 9 than hobble with her down the hallway and inch her onto the stool. In the morning the bib is a reproach, the sweaty palms.  Everything to get the job done - penguin-shaped sponges was the subject line of an email, not sufficient to the task. I'd rather wait over the humming, sip my coffee, fiddle with the filters, her face from dinner last night. Dinner is my strong suit.

Saturday, March 16, 2013

Saturday Rapture

Last night, I drove Henry to the Pacific Palisades -- a twenty mile drive that took about an hour on a Friday night in Los Angeles --  for a baseball game, and no sooner had the boys begun to play then the fog rolled in and it was cancelled. We drove home.

This morning, The Husband informed me that Sophie had wet through the bed -- again -- so I pulled her sheets off, down to the mattress and put them in the wash -- again. I brought her into bed with me and read.

I'm reading a book of poetry called Incarnadine by Mary Szybist and feel enraptured. I wrote an essay of sorts a while back about the effect of a painting called The Annunciation by Fr'a Angelico on me when I visited Florence, Italy. You can read it here. I have copies of the painting everywhere in my house, under the glass top to my desk, on my bookshelves -- it informs me.

Szybists' book of poetry takes the moment when the angel Gabriel announces what the future has in store for the human Mary and uses that to spin poems about paradox of the spirit and the body. The poems are not religious but rapturous. They are sensuous, nearly erotic. One describes the annunciation from the point of view of the grass:

how many moments did it hover before we felt
it was like nothing else, it was not bird
light as mosquito, the aroma of walnut husks
while the girl's knees pressed into us
every spear of us rising, sunlit and coarse
the wild bees murmuring through

It's overcast here in Los Angeles, and there are no baseball games. I'm a woman of leisure with three children on a Saturday, reading poems.

Friday, March 15, 2013

Poinsettia Tree

I actually hate poinsettias and force myself to buy them at Christmas, putting one small plant on either side of my front door at the behest of my children who insist. As soon as the holiday is over, though, I chunk them in the trash. I actually don't care much for red flowers in general, but I gasped when I rounded the corner this afternoon on my street and saw this poinsettia in full bloom in someone's yard. The red heralded not just the weekend but the fact that eggshells had clogged up the sink and not tree roots.

A word for calm when you're not calm

Sirens, always, in the distance. When I wake, I burn. I turn my head to the right and then the left, no kindle for the fire that burns up and down. The toilet overflows and later we pull our chairs in closer around the small table, the better to enfold the slumped shoulders and bowed head in our embrace. At home, the sink has overflowed, and there's a veil of coffee grounds over it. Sharp words pour out and down, acid to the murk could it be tree roots below.


I slept before a wall of books and they
calmed everything in the room, even
their contents, even me, woken
by the cold and thrill, and still
they said, like the Dutch verb for falling
silent that English has no accommodation for
in the attics and rafters of its intimacies.

Saskia Hamilton (1967)

Thursday, March 14, 2013

How We Do It: Part XXV in a series

She came to the house in spiked heels to update Sophie's files. She is afraid of dogs, even white poodles. Her hair was streaked and her lashes thick with mascara, her cleavage generous. She lay the papers on the dining room table, looked up and smiled cheerfully.

So, now that Sophie is eighteen, have you thought about conservatorship? she asked.

Yes, I've already begun the filing, I answered, and she checked off a box. She has been coming to the house for these updates for more than three years.

We, too, will have to meet with you and the courts when you're ready to file, she said and I raised my eyebrows.

Our interest is, of course, that Sophie is treated like an adult and that her needs as an adult are met, she explained. She might have used different words, but her intent was to educate me.

I nodded and asserted that my interests were the same.

Well, you know, she added, are you prepared for something like Sophie meeting a man and perhaps falling in love and wanting to be married? 

I smiled back and explained that surely she remembered that Sophie's intellectual disabilities were such that falling in love and marriage were probably not in the future.

She placated me by stating that Sophie had dignity as a human being, and while she checked off another of her boxes, I took the hatchet that I carry in the back pocket of my jeans, raised it over her head and sliced right through the middle of the box that she'd checked, her magenta-tipped nails resting lightly on either side, the only evidence a thin swirl of white smoke obscuring her view.


Does infinity mean the same thing as endless? Am I alone in wondering why there is endless talk of the new pope's humility because he rides the bus? The hopeful believe in small steps forward, but if the small step goes on endlessly, do things change? The notion of being point one four Catholic, into infinity, endless.

Wednesday, March 13, 2013

Emotional Eating

For once, let go of cupcakes, of bread slathered in butter, a screw-it-all I'll just have fries sprinkled with Parmesan. Scrub a sweet potato and roast in a 375 degree oven for 45 minutes. While it's cooking, cut up a bunch of good feta cheese into cubes and throw them into a bowl with cherry tomatoes and olives. Chop up some parsley and some chives and add a bit of ground cumin and a bit of ground cardamon. Hell, add a bit of za' atar  if you have it. Add a few tablespoons of olive oil and squeeze a half of a lemon over the whole mess. Sprinkle some salt on that, and let it sit and marinate until the potato is soft. Split the potato and spoon the salad over it. Eat it for lunch while listening to this and for once in your crazy life feel virtuous.

**recipe adapted from The Wednesday Chef

A Call for Comments on Homeschooling

OK. I'm just looking into it, but as life stays harder than my instincts say it should be, I'm wondering about home-school options for a middle schooler. If you have any comments or resources you'd like to share, I would appreciate them.

I don't want to hear anything about evangelical Christianity and home-schooling, though, or Islamic madrassas. Home-schooling in Bora Bora  or Tibet is fine.

Tuesday, March 12, 2013

What I Want to Tell My Son When He's a Little Older


Bad things are going to happen.
Your tomatoes will grow a fungus
and your cat will get run over.
Someone will leave the bag with the ice cream
melting in the car and throw
your blue cashmere sweater in the drier.
Your husband will sleep
with a girl your daughter's age, her breasts spilling
out of her blouse. Or your wife
will remember she's a lesbian
and leave you for the woman next door. The other cat --
the one you never really liked -- will contract a disease
that requires you to pry open its feverish mouth
every four hours for a month.
Your parents will die.
No matter how many vitamins you take,
how much Pilates, you'll lose your keys,
your hair and your memory. If your daughter
doesn't plug her heart
into every live socket she passes,
you'll come home to find your son has emptied
your refrigerator, dragged it to the curb,
and called the used appliance store for a pick up -- drug money.
There's a Buddhist story of a woman chased by a tiger.
When she comes to a cliff, she sees a sturdy vine
and climbs half way down. But there's also a tiger below.
And two mice -- one white, one black -- scurry out
and begin to gnaw at the vine. At this point
she notices a wild strawberry growing from a crevice.
She looks up, down, at the mice.
Then she eats the strawberry.
So here's the view, the breeze, the pulse
in your throat. Your wallet will be stolen, you'll get fat,
slip on the bathroom tiles of a foreign hotel
and crack your hip. You'll be lonely.
Oh taste how sweet and tart
the red juice is, how the tiny seeds
crunch between your teeth.

Ellen Bass

Big World, Small Thoughts

When he got out of the car this morning, his shoulders slumped under his backpack, his hair stuck up straight from the back, he muttered I didn't even have any breakfast, and I gripped the steering wheel a little tighter than my lips in a thin, determined line. Resolve. On the way to the car-wash, I listened to the Vatican reporter talk about the coming papal vote. The ballot is simple, he reported. They're encouraged to disguise their handwriting. Paul Ryan is busy trying to dismantle the Affordable Care Act and a baby was shot five times in a minivan while his father changed his diaper, but there was a massage chair at the car-wash and it cost one dollar for five minutes. I lay back and closed my eyes for a moment and my legs were squeezed, the nodules rolled up my back and toward my shoulders but the intrepid pain in my shoulder blade continued to radiate. Afterward, while the man finished my car, I stood in the sunshine and read Mark Doty's essay on Bram Stoker and Walt Whitman. You did well to write to me so unconventionally, so fresh, so manly & so affectionately, wrote Whitman to Stoker in March of 1876. It's a big world.

Monday, March 11, 2013

It was a dream of a party

I ordered fried chicken and salads from the local grocery store. I made dozens and dozens of cupcakes. Oliver helped me decorate them, and Henry helped us schlep everything down to the beach. We gathered on the beach in Santa Monica, at a place that we have been to countless times over the years and that cemented my love for southern California. It's also the place that Sophie The Mermaid loves best.

Photographer: J. Werndorf

Sophie and her dad
photographer J. Werndorf

photographer: J. Werndorf

photographer: J. Werndorf

Mirtha, Sophie and Uncle Tony

Uncle Tony and Sophie

photographer: J. Werndorf

There were many, many friends there.

Sophie and her friend Michelle

My beloved Dr. Jin

The sunset was glorious and a perfect ending to a perfect day.

photographer: J. Werndorf

 And then we went home, laden with presents that Oliver insisted on opening while Sophie lay in her bed, exhausted.

Sophie admiring her mermaid necklace

It was quite an afternoon and evening, one that I'll always remember. Our family is so blessed in friendship and love.


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