Wednesday, April 30, 2014

Homelessness, Racism, the Sports-Industrial Complex, and Dyslexia

Skid Row, Los Angeles

I've mentioned it before, but my son Oliver has a pretty severe case of dyslexia and associated learning difficulties. While the few months we've been homeschooling have done wonders for his self-esteem, he continues to struggle with his feelings for the disorder, and while the prevailing one is shame (and very common in dyslexics), he is also impatient with it and at best, angry, as opposed to accepting. Oliver is with me much of the time as I traverse this great and diverse city, and one of our favorite sights is in the heart of Hollywood, right at the intersection of Hollywood Blvd and Highland. If we're lucky enough to catch a red light, we look at the opposite corner to see the same elderly man holding up a cardboard sign that says, FUCK YOU. I don't know why this makes us laugh -- perhaps it's the audaciousness of it, mixed as it is among the crowds of tourists, the hucksters dressed as superheroes, the equally elderly man perched on top of a U.S. mailbox with the sign YOU'RE GOING TO HELL, JESUS SAVES (who I've always thought was incredibly hopeful and ambitious, given the location).  Yesterday, we were pulling out of a Chick-Fil-A (I know, we're not supposed to support a homophobic organization, but this is the Hollywood Chick-Fil-A), when we noticed a guy sitting on the curb across the street with his homemade sign that read I WOULD BE ALERT BUT I'M HOMELESS AND HUNGRY. I HAVE MORALS AND HERPES. Oh good Lord, I thought, steeling myself for Oliver's questions. Sure enough, he asked me what it all meant, so I told him. He thought for a few seconds and then said, Well, anyone who can spell those words is probably fine. That made me laugh out loud and then think in my mind about just how hard it is for Oliver to be dyslexic -- so hard that a man with apparently no possessions other than a dirty, weird sign would seem, to Oliver, to be in a better position. Then I worried that Oliver might need a little more perspective, so I lectured a bit, as I am wont, on compassion and perspective, and he tolerated it. Later on in the day, when I heard for the gazillionth time about the asshole basketball team owner and his sordid mistress and the outcome of his racist conversation being his swift dismissal and ban from the NBA, I wondered why some wrongs get such quick and relatively easy responses from the Powers That Be. Privacy issues aside, and trust me, I don't give a flying foo-foo about sports in general, much less the business of sports, what about that particular story warranted the enormous outcry that something like the growing number of homeless people living on our streets doesn't -- or children being denied medication like medical marijuana -- or women not making the same amount of money as men in similar jobs -- or people getting laid off when the CEOs of their companies pull in tens of millions of dollars in salary alone? Or, let's face it -- the growing number of citizens here who live in poverty alongside people who buy and drive $150,000 cars, or send their children to elementary schools that cost $40,000 a year?

Is it all relative?

One of my Facebook acquaintances (let's face it, not all of our Facebook peeps are friends) posted something about how awful it is that Obama had something to say about that basketball owner but, so far, hasn't said anything about removing marijuana from the Schedule 1 class of drugs. He was pretty angry about that as were most of his "friends," and if it weren't for the many racist comments on that string (not from him), I would have agreed with his frustration. I'm not a moral relativist and actually hate the expression it's all relative, but I have to wonder what, exactly, drives people other than money. I'm curious why, exactly, this particular instance got this particular enormous response. I guess it's a good thing, but it does make me wonder. Oliver's anguish over dyslexia seems to trump the homelessness of that man in his mind. Obama not taking a stand on medical marijuana trumps his taking a stand against racism for some. Freely using the word retarded which basically dehumanizes and denigrates millions of people is not nearly as bad, apparently, as denigrating millions of black people.

I don't know what to think, but I'm thinking. And it makes me think the guy with the FUCK YOU sign might have the answer.

Tuesday, April 29, 2014

The Face of Epilepsy with Cannabis:

First, I'd like you to go back and look at this post from November, 2013, nearly six months ago.

Did you go back or do I need to put that photo here, again? Let me know.

We visited Sophie's neurologist today at USC, and can I tell you that it was THE BEST neurology appointment I've ever been to in the nearly twenty years I've been going to neurology appointments? Let me say it again: today's appointment with The Neurologist was THE BEST neurology appointment I've ever been to in the nearly twenty years I've been going to neurology appointments.

Why? you ask.

The Neurologist is someone whom we really like and respect. When I told her that Sophie has been going weeks at a time without any seizures to speak of, she was astonished. Honestly, her jaw might have dropped. Sophie looked her in the eye and smiled throughout the appointment which made her jaw drop so far that I could see all the way down her esophagus into her lungs. I'm serious.

Reader, this appointment was not just The Best Neurology Appointment of the last two decades but maybe one of The Best Appointments In General of the last twenty years. At one point, I told The Neurologist that she should run up and down the hallway and shout and scream about her seizure-free with cannabis patient, Sophie. Right when I said that, she stood up and darted out the door. I'm serious. I almost expected to hear hooting and hollering, but what actually happened was she went looking for someone to tell and no one of significance was around (the person of significance, whose name will not be spoken here, was evidently one of those Neurologists Who Doubts Anything Unless It's Been Through The Proper Research, Including Double-Blind Placebo Controlled Trials). Oh, well. As one of my French dictations went: Tant pis pour elle.***

The rest of the appointment was me extolling the benefits we're seeing as Sophie goes longer and longer without significant seizure activity -- benefits for our entire family, not to mention Sophie's entire being. Then we talked about further reductions in the Onfi (the benzodiazepine that has been tested out the wazoo in double-blind placebo controlled studies for its efficacy in controlling seizures) and agreed that the slower we do it, the better. Withdrawal from benzos is an ugly, ugly matter, but we've managed to do two weans already, and The Neurologist was pleased to hear that the cannabis seems to be helping in that regard as well.

As they say in certain parts of the country, It don't get much better than that.

***Too bad for her.

Dreaming of Guatemala

There's a dear man who works at the parking garage in an office building that Oliver and I frequent, and every week he calls Oliver handsome and smiles gently at me. He was gone for a few weeks, replaced by a surly young man who couldn't be bothered to ask whether I needed a receipt or not, much less a greeting, so this morning when we drove in to see our friend we were quite pleased. I asked him whether he'd been on vacation, and he said yes, that he'd been home to Guatemala for three weeks. I asked him why he came back, and he said that he'd lived and worked here for nearly forty years. He was going to work for three more and then retire there. He told us that it's beautiful in Guatemala and that while the country can be dangerous, it's also very relaxing. He said, though, that you can't earn a living there, that when you're young you need to get out and come north to earn some money. He said that here, in America, it's about work, work, work. We both sighed. When I pulled away, I felt a sort of stifled despair -- a yearning toward simplicity. Why are we living like this, here? Must we always be thankful, grateful for this supposed "high" standard of living? I know that I must be content -- or not must -- but somehow acknowledge and sit with where I am now, and the now being the place to be. Now.

I think.

Monday, April 28, 2014

The Dilemma of Finishing Novels in Middle Age, My Friend Moye and Life After Life

My old friend Moye and I, in a library in another life after life

So, I stayed up until after 1:00 in the morning last night, reading. I haven't done that, literally, in years. I haven't read a book, literally, in years that was worth staying up until 1:00 in the morning (except for the books of my friends Tanya, Carrie, and Karen, of course). Recently, my old friend Moye and I discussed our slight anxiety about the fact that we were having a difficult time getting through novels. I discarded The Goldfinch about 300 pages in, bored and distracted to tears. I got to around page 400 of The Luminaries before calling it a day, realizing that I had no idea of who was whom and what had been happening. Now, let me tell you that my friend Moye is brilliant. She's an artist and a writer and physically beautiful and just about perfect in every single way, so if she's having difficulty getting through novels, well, I feel a teensy tinesy bit better. Like maybe it's not just me. We batted around theories, one of which included our age (this is the one that causes the bit of anxiety because what will life be like if we can't read novels until we die?), another that maybe, just maybe, these gigantic tomes that get so much literary acclaim are actually not that great after all (this is the one where we rest on our secret collective brilliance) and then there's the very real fact that both of us find reading on an e-reader might be part of the problem (this is arguable, though, as I bought the hard copy of The Goldfinch). Moye's very brilliant, artistic and good-looking architect husband suggested, apparently, that there's something to the heft of a book, the literal tactile sense of it, that aids in the reading. We exclaimed as true book nerds might, about how much we love the look of fonts and how lacking an e-reader is in that regard.

This is the sort of thing that Moye and I can talk about, endlessly, on the phone. We've known each other since seventh grade, through boyfriends and husbands and brothers and sisters and mothers and fathers. We're godmothers to each other's daughters. We share the same sense of humor and brown eyes. Moye is quieter than I and certainly more talented. She listens to books on tape at a startling speed (not my forte, at all) and she's a hell of a lot thinner than I, but she'll tell you that my skin is enviable, and that I sleep much better than she does (not because of anything we've done or not done -- I just don't suffer from The Insomnia) -- and well -- I adore her.

What about this book that I read until bleary-eyed? It's Kate Atkinson's Life After Life. Reader, I can't stop reading it. I honestly carried it with me today and read snatches of it whenever I had to stop the car, wait in the carpool line, wait for Oliver to finish some assignment I'd given him. Hell, I even propped it open on the bed and read while I folded clothes. I don't even know how to describe it to you, other than to exclaim over the story -- a real, romantic, convoluted story whose characters are real, romantic, convoluted and terribly interesting. The story is a web woven by a wickedly funny spider who might just be a descendant of the queen bee of spiders, Virginia Woolf. Not really. That's just a lame metaphor, and I felt like I had to get Virginia Woolf in there as much of the writing takes me to the same joyous spot I've been in reading To the Lighthouse or The Waves or Orlando. You know: when you're in the writer's subconscious. There's a dream life running throughout the pages of Life After Life, there is drama and mystery and sex and rape and World War I and abuse and love and early psychotherapy, babies and beautiful men and women -- hell, you need to take my word. Buy a copy, the hefty hardback and read it.

I'm halfway through and believe I just might finish it in record speed. Not bad for a fifty year old gal, right Moye?

Sunday, April 27, 2014


Oliver, Sophie, my friend D and I drove out to the Antelope Valley today to see the California poppy fields. I had read that since the heavy rainfall days in March, the wild poppies had bloomed like crazy, so we decided to take a drive and see --

Good Lord, ya'll.

 That's Oliver, above, wrapped in my red scarf -- it was incredibly windy and he had forgotten to bring a sweatshirt. Oh, sorry. I cleaned out the car yesterday afternoon and brought three dirty sweatshirts in the house to be washed. When we got to the poppy fields, which are in the high desert, and Oliver realized that I'd removed them, he blamed me. That's why I leave them in there, Mom! went the recrimination. You had to go and clean out the car. That's just great.


Back to the poppies:

Do you feel as if you're in an opium haze?

Rest your eyes on this beautiful high desert site and then those snow-capped mountains beyond.

This land is your land, this land is my land

From California --

Saturday, April 26, 2014


Anyone there?
Perhaps you're out enjoying the spectacular weather or have buried yourself under the covers and are reading?
Or maybe you're cramming in the last few episodes of House of Cards and then having to take a long, hot shower?
Is blogging over?
Has Typepad recovered so that I can leave comments on those of you who use it as your blogging platform?
Must we always be grateful and cheerful?
Must we always complain?
Do we need a little poetry?

The Pleasures of Merely Circulating

The garden flew round with the angel
The angel flew round with the clouds,
And the clouds flew round and the clouds flew
And the clouds flew round with the clouds.

Is there any secret in skulls,
The cattle skulls in the woods?
Do the drummers in black hoods
Rumble anything out of their drums?

Mrs. Anderson's Swedish baby
Might well have been German or Spanish,
Yet that things go round and again go round
Has rather a classical sound.

Wallace Stevens

Dispatch from the Homeschool Revolution: Field Trip to Cal-Earth in Hesperia, California

Earth turns to gold, in the hands of the wise.

Nader Khalili was an Iranian-American architect and innovator of the Geltaftan (Earth and Fire)system known as Ceramic Houses, and of the Superadobe construction technology. He founded Cal-Earth Institute in 1991 in Hesperia, California to build and test earth architecture prototypes. Nader Khalili was also a lover of the Persian poet Rumi, and he translated much of his poetry. According to the informational pamphlet, his work has inspired a global movement, and the institute's current mission is to develop an international workshop program to help the developing as well as the industrialized world's disaster victims and displaced persons to understand and utilize earth architecture technologies and designs. Khalili died in the nineties, but his life's work lives on in this amazing place where young people are trained who then go out into the world and carry on its principles.

Our group had a wonderful tour of the barren and quite desolate facilities, bordered by a strange and vast tract housing development and miles of sand dotted with Joshua trees on the edge of the Mojave desert. We climbed on, in and around the structures -- both living structures and those used as temporary shelter in countries like Haiti and the Philippines  -- and then participated in actually building one, using only earth (the Institute never uses the word dirt) and sandbags.

I was struck by the structures' simplicity and by their great beauty. The director and the young interns on the site demonstrated that any family can construct using these principles on their own, in a matter of hours. The more sophisticated structures would, of course, take longer, but they, too, were a marvel of simplicity and stark beauty.

The photos, I think, speak for themselves. Throughout the day, it was impossible not to think about and to reflect upon how privileged we are, how grotesquely we exploit the world's resources here in the United States and how out of touch we are, as a rule, with our environment.

An arch is like a prayer
its strength is in its unity
its beauty in its repetition.

N. Khalili

Those bags are filled, literally, with earth -- the same earth you see on the ground. They are tamped down, and then a line of barbed wire runs down the center of the bag, serving as a kind of Velcro and helping to anchor the bags. The structures are completely wind-resistant and remain intact through even the strongest earthquakes.

Friday, April 25, 2014

Dispatch from the Revolution: Homeschool Adventures

By the time you read this, Oliver and I will have traveled to the edge of the Mojave Desert and will be participating in a wonderful field trip at a place called The California Institute for Earth Architecture. Here's a wonderful short video that I hope you'll watch as a preview:

If, for some reason, you don't see the video, you can watch it at this link, which also has a great description of the place.

Thursday, April 24, 2014

Staycation, Day Four

Today's activities included a visit to the Annenberg Center for Photography and an over-the-top free exhibit celebrating 125 years of National Geographic. The exhibit was called The Power of Photography, with "powerful" an understatement. The way the photos were arranged, the video installations, the explanatory movie about the power of photography -- well, it was really mind-blowing. I was overwhelmed with emotion several times -- and both Henry and Oliver were mesmerized as well. My favorites were the photographs shot in Afghanistan by Lindsay Addario -- this one in particular (there was no photography allowed in the exhibit, so I pulled it online). Addario's commentary in the short movie shown was compelling -- particularly when she spoke about the power of photography to change the world, how an image is seared into our consciousness and how her desire was to show, expressly, the plight of women.

I learned a lot more about the suffering in the Congo -- Marcus Bleasdale's photographs of the children who fight in the wars and are then conscripted to mine for gold (most barely into their teen years) -- our gold, our insatiable need for gold -- and the more than 5 million people who have died there in the last decade. 

It took my breath away, made me think about the over-the-top response our country has over the deaths of several thousand. The whole exhibit made me think of the wide world, the breath-taking world, the scope of the planet and all living things and our own, often spoiled existence here in the United States.

The Garden of Benign Neglect

I literally do nothing but water occasionally. The roses are a riot, the lemons are abundant, the lavender is bee buzzing, the kumquats are budding, and even the weeds are beautiful. The universe is abundant, even when we pay it no attention.

I have found that waiting patiently is the way to do it. Or is it patiently waiting? Waiting patiently or patiently waiting doesn't take away anguish. The line between despair and peace is blurry, as is that between clinging and release. Waiting lies in the between space, the scrim of acceptance.

Wednesday, April 23, 2014

Medical Marijuana/CBD Update

Sophie is back at school, pictured above on a field trip to the Science Center aquarium. She has recovered from the virus she had for nearly a week and is seizure-free, again.

Let's all breathe a sigh of relief and praise cannabis!

That's all I've got this afternoon, but I think it's pretty damn great.

Let's talk about the gun

The other day I posted the above photo and got several inquiries about what looks like a gun pointed directly at the fireplace.

So, that's not a gun. It's a brass telescope, readers. Yes, we lived in what was known as the boonies of Atlanta, Georgia in the mid-1970s. Perhaps there were others in that part of Georgia who would proudly display a gun in their family room, but those people weren't us. We'd moved to what was then the hinterlands of the city proper and lived in a large subdivision whose borders were still being drawn even as I sat there at our faux aged fireplace, dark paneling around me, enveloped by the lustrous sateen browns and rusts of the decade. Just behind me were two sliding glass doors that led to a deck that overlooked a small backyard and the deep, dark woods. The Toll's lived on one side of us in a dark, gloomy Tudor, and the Deal's lived on the other side in a colonial. Why a brass telescope was set up and what, exactly, there was to peer at, is beyond me, but perhaps it just looked good, in the same vein as that fabric on the couch, my red and white checked jumper with the white turtleneck and my curling-ironed hair.


Tuesday, April 22, 2014

Staycation, Day Two

Henry and Oliver are on spring break this week, and we have no plans. Sophie is back in school. We're sleeping in when we can and hanging out for the most part. Today, we took a trip downtown on the metro for a visit to Little Tokyo, or Japantown.

We got out of the train at beautiful Union Station and then walked a few blocks to a tiny restaurant that served typical Japanese ramen, teriyaki and tempura.

Then we wandered into and out of little stores, filled with Japanese stuff, both traditional and hip. I've never really "gotten" the modern Japanese culture -- anime, Hello Kitty, metrosexual fashions -- but I did like these glasses:

Dang. I should have bought them.

After browsing through many of these stores and arguing with Oliver over his desire to own a Japanese saw (they're so cool, Mom, and they cut wood so much better!), we made our way to the Japanese-American Museum. Oliver's disappointment was transformed by an interesting Los Angeles Dodgers baseball exhibit that demonstrated the integration of African American, Japanese and other minority players on the team. I feigned interest, relieved that they were largely silent and, for once, united in their mutual love of baseball.

We then walked upstairs and saw an incredible Japanese tattoo exhibit called Perseverance. 

I was bowled over by the beauty and artistry of the tattoos.

Remember when I said that I was going to get one when I turned 50 last August? Hmmmmmmm.

Monday, April 21, 2014

All I've got is cake, some Emily Dickinson (who loved to bake them) and some Lord Byron (who loved another kind of cake)

Love's oven is warm

Emily Dickinson
 (from one of her letters)

from Don Juan, Canto 1, Stanzas 60-63

Her eye (I'm very fond of handsome eyes)
   Was large and dark, suppressing half its fire
Until she spoke, then through its soft disguise
   Flash'd an expression more of pride than ire,
And love than either; and there would arise
   A something in them which was not desire,
But would have been, perhaps, but for the soul
Which struggled through and chasten'd down the whole.

Her glossy hair was cluster'd o'er a brow
   Bright with intelligence, and fair, and smooth;
Her eyebrow's shape was like the aerial bow,
   Her cheek all purple with the beam of youth,
Mounting at times to a transparent glow,
   As if her veins ran lightning; she, in sooth,
Possess'd an air and grace by no means common:
Her stature tall—I hate a dumpy woman.

Wedded she was some years, and to a man
   Of fifty, and such husbands are in plenty;
And yet, I think, instead of such a ONE
   'Twere better to have TWO of five-and-twenty,
Especially in countries near the sun:
   And now I think on't, 'mi vien in mente,'
Ladies even of the most uneasy virtue
Prefer a spouse whose age is short of thirty.

'Tis a sad thing, I cannot choose but say,
   And all the fault of that indecent sun,
Who cannot leave alone our helpless clay,
   But will keep baking, broiling, burning on,
That howsoever people fast and pray,
   The flesh is frail, and so the soul undone:
What men call gallantry, and gods adultery,
Is much more common where the climate 's sultry.


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