Sunday, November 29, 2015

Chocolate and Dirty Martinis

Jean-Étienne Liotard: La Chocolatiere, 1743-1745

I could stare at that portrait all night long. The pink of her cap and cheeks, the folds in her apron, the tray with the cup of chocolate and clear water. How do people paint like that? I read about Jean-Etienne Liotard in this article and wish I could go to Scotland and look at the other portraits. I've never been to Scotland. Have you? Actually, the exhibit is now in London. I've never been to London, either. Have you? Liotard, the painter, is Swiss-French. I've been to the French part of Switzerland, and I've been to France. Have you?

Reader, what's new?

This is what I'm reading:

Right Ho, Jeeves by P.G. Wodehouse is the book that we're discussing this Friday at my Books & Bakes literary salon. I've got a friend who's just finished a nine-month stint at Le Cordon Bleu in Paris helping to cook the meal. It's going to be a good one!

Fighting God by David Silverman is a non-fiction book that some publicist asked me to read and perhaps review on the old blog. It's sub-titled An Atheist Manifesto for a Religious World. I don't think I've ever read an atheist manifesto, so I'm curious. Stay tuned.

I saw the new James Bond movie on Friday night. It was the usual fun with one too many weird dystopian torture scenes. Missing more fun and  wishing for less dark and weird dystopian torture scenes makes me seem old, no? But Daniel Craig in his tight suits that hearken back to the 1960s makes me feel young, yes. I love Daniel Craig. Dirty vodka martini this time, still shaken, not stirred. I love a dirty martini, too.

I'd put on a pink cap and rouge up my cheeks, bring Daniel Craig as Bond some chocolat on a tray, too. You?

Saturday, November 28, 2015

Who Mocked My Firepit Parenting Idea?

So, a couple of weeks ago I revealed a picture of our new backyard, grass-stripped and re-designed with drought-tolerant and California native plants. I also described my intent to keep my teenage boys at home with their friends as opposed to carousing the streets of the big shitty in low-rider cars, smoking pot and drinking beer. Last night, there were friends, marshmallows, Hershey bars, graham crackers and carols 'round the fire-pit.

Just kidding on the carols.

In other news, my friend Allison Ray Benavides of Pediatric Cannabis Support has written a remarkable post about caregiving, epilepsy and what she calls both Chronic Horrific-Trauma Integration Experience and just fucking bullshit. She describes some very interesting resources, too, including Neurogenic Yoga and Trauma Releasing Exercises. Check it out.

I'm laying low these days as we transition to two households. I won't be writing about that sort of thing, but please know that we'll all be okay. This morning was the first that the children set out with their father for breakfast in different parts. I thought I might want to drive myself around the big shitty in my sexy white Mazda, smoking pot, drinking vodka and listening to Van Morrison, but instead I'm feeling quite peaceful here in my beautiful, quiet house.

Julian of Norwich said, All shall be well, and all shall be well and all manner of thing shall be well.

Sunday, November 22, 2015

Advocacy While Laying Low

from Mimi and Dona
a documentary by Sophie Sartain

My college friend Sophie Sartain's new documentary is set to air on Monday, November 23rd on the PBS series The Independent Lens. Here's a link to the website for the documentary, and I believe it's airing at 10:30 pm.

As an accompaniment to the documentary, Sophie made this short video, highlighting two families whose children with intellectual disabilities will be aging out of the school system. My friend Michelle Wolf and her son Danny, as well as yours truly with our Sophie are both featured. I've pasted the video below, and you can also see it on the PBS Independent Lens Facebook page.

It was a wonderful experience and honor to help advocate for the intellectually disabled, their caregivers and family. Thank you, Sophie, for the work you're doing to highlight this pressing need!

Now I'm going to lay low for a bit. I'll see you soon.

Friday, November 20, 2015

Sneak Peak on Xeriscaping Project

We've ripped up our front and back yards and replaced the grass with planting beds, California native plants and mulch. It's been four weeks of work, and it's starting to come together and look really great. I bought a small fire pit and some funky chairs for that back right corner and hope that The Brothers will invite their friends over to roast marshmallows, toast weiners and drink lemonade rather than cavort around the big shitty in low-riders, eating pot brownies and drinking beer. Maybe I'll put in a chocolate fountain to ensure they prefer the pleasures of home to carousing.

A mother can dream.

The front yard is just a big pile of dirt and manure right now with millions of small bugs buzzing around, so I won't take a photo until it's all done.

Now, we're going to hunker down and wait for the big rains that are due to come in January. I suppose I could have left the grass and hoped for revival for at least another year before the drought begins again, but now I'm thinking I have a number of swimming pools should we be flooded with water.

Wednesday, November 18, 2015

My Syrian Relatives, Part 4

Splendor in the Grass

Well, we had quite a brouhaha when I posted earlier about my Syrian relatives. One of my cousins was extremely upset and let loose a personal attack in response to what she and other relatives thought was a shameful depiction of my Syrian grandfather as an angry man. My cousin apologized later, but I made the mistake of not accepting it as graciously as I might have, and my cousin took offense again. I decided that going back and forth on my blog was too upsetting for everyone, so I closed the comments. Thank you to those of you who had such thoughtful, interesting responses to both that post and to the spat as it unfolded. I did not paint a full portrait of my grandfather -- he was, obviously, a complex man and having strong opinions was only one of his characteristics (that I've apparently inherited and that I grapple with almost daily!). I thought this would be understood, but I offended not only my cousins but my dear Uncle Charles, my grandfather's only son. He wrote me a loving message on my Facebook page that I am going to post here. I think you'll get a far richer picture of my grandfather than mine, and also see where I might even get my wicked sense of humor.

Elizabeth ,I hope this does not start a family feud ( Hatfield and Mc Coys ) but i felt i had to respond .My Dad was not an angry Man and was not against Jews or Moslem he worked for many years for a Jewish boss and they were like family he was always invited to all his children's weddings and if you could picture it wore a yomica( spelling is bad ). I went deep sea fishing many times with his Syrian Jewish and Moslem friends out of Sheepshead Bay to the Jersey coast. He had strong feelings ( like you on many subjects ) on what is going on in the Middle East. Remember he lived in the period after World War 1 ,when Britain and France chopped up the area creating new countries out of other peoples land (ex Trans Jordan ) i know its before your time and your interest in the Middle East History while you studied Chinese and cooking might not have existed .loved my Dad and was so proud of how people looked up to him ,coming over for his advise and reading letters from Syria that they received and could not read. I have many good memories of my dad and so does Amy . He loved all his Grandchildren equally and it hurt her and yes your uncle Charles . He showed so much love to my beloved Vivian as well as to all his son in-laws. I remember when we were young my Dad would take us onSunday rides and we would all sing as we rode and i could see the happiness in his eyes. He would try to sing but he only knew a part of a song ( cherrie cherrie be ) an old song it was a happy time. i know Mom went thru times like all married people go thru ( im sure you can relate ) but i remember after all of us left the nest and they lived in a apartment in New Jersey when we would visit them they seemed so happy. He worked with Mom on a assembly line together in a factory and later he worked for a Jewish Lady who owned a candy newspaper store in Danville N.J. and a wonderful relation with her he was so honored that she let him open and close. II am sorry that all you remember is a terrible legacy . I write this with love, and a am blesses to have so many nieices and nephews who i love dearly and they all treat me with so much respect.

Thanks for that, Uncle Charles, and I apologize for hurting you. (As for the potential family feud, I know for a fact that my cousins are far better armed and better shots than I'd ever be, so I'm keeping my distance from here on out!)


Grateful for these guys. Along with the other Brother, they keep my head on straight, are testament to me doing something right. Or maybe I'm just over-the-top lucky. Blessed.

Watch this.

It's National Let Elvis Costello Say It Day

La Dolce Vita

(What's So Funny 'Bout) Peace, Love And Understanding

As I walk through
This wicked world
Searchin' for light in the darkness of insanity.
I ask myself
Is all hope lost?
Is there only pain and hatred, and misery?

And each time I feel like this inside,
There's one thing I wanna know:
What's so funny 'bout peace love & understanding? Ohhhh
What's so funny 'bout peace love & understanding?

And as I walked on
Through troubled times
My spirit gets so downhearted sometimes
So where are the strong
And who are the trusted?
And where is the harmony?
Sweet harmony.

'Cause each time I feel it slippin' away, just makes me wanna cry.
What's so funny 'bout peace love & understanding? Ohhhh
What's so funny 'bout peace love & understanding?

So where are the strong?
And who are the trusted?
And where is the harmony?
Sweet harmony.

'Cause each time I feel it slippin' away, just makes me wanna cry.
What's so funny 'bout peace love & understanding? Ohhhh
What's so funny 'bout peace love & understanding? Ohhhh
What's so funny 'bout peace love & understanding?

Tuesday, November 17, 2015

My Syrian Relatives, Part 3 (edited with other links for clarity)

My Syrian Grandfather
My Syrian Relatives, Part Two

Wow. A lot has happened since I posted about my Syrian relatives in early September when the plight of the more than 3 million refugees from the fighting and chaos in Syria was underscored in a photo of a little boy drowned and washed up, face-down on some godforsaken stretch of water. Now we've got a bereaved country bombing the shit out of another in retaliation for the grossest and most cowardly of massacres last weekend. We ourselves as Americans are complicit in turning a blind eye toward our own leaders who've led the world in constant drone strikes against perceived enemies in a part of the world that other leaders helped to destabilize in false war. We've got governors of some of the most backward of states, crying out about sealed borders and denying refugee status to people based on their religion. I know people who send chain emails about the threat to America from Muslims, comparing my "complacency" to that of the Germans during World War II. The Muslims are coming! The Muslims are coming! a funny friend responded when I shared that email with him, and the image of a Paul Revere riding on the back of a horse through colonial streets came to mind.

What the hell?

My grandfather immigrated to the United States from Homs, Syria in 1907 when he was eight years old. Legend has it that he and his family were Christian refugees. I doubt he was asked what religion he practiced when he fled Syria and persecution, seeking refuge in the United States of America. Or maybe there was a blank on the form he had to fill out in Arabic for religion, but surely his welcome wasn't conditioned by his response. Given that he's Christian, I guess everything was a-ok. As I remember him, though, an often angry man of rants about those of different religions comes to mind. I think that's a sad legacy.

Honestly, I don't think we live in united states anymore. To tell you the truth, I don't want anything to do with people that think we should turn away refugees based on their religion and am grateful that I live in California whose arms appear to be open to all, both historically and at present. I know, though, that I will have to have everything to do with these people because -- well -- it's complex. I will choose to not engage with them on these topics and feel sick about that, about my own complicity.

Are the white robed men in the cone hats and black holes for eyes, holding flaming torches, burning crosses on lawns, lynching men and terrorizing families representative of Christians? Are the murderous fanatics who strap bombs onto themselves, load submachine guns with bullets and spray them into people sitting at Parisian cafes and concert halls or shopping in Lebanese markets representative of Muslims? Is there a difference?

I don't believe in bombing the shit out of anyone for retaliation or dropping bombs with planes or drones in targeted strikes. I don't believe in turning away displaced people who have traveled thousands of miles with nothing but rags on their backs, at least as long as I drive around in a sexy white Mazda, live in a million dollar bungalow, turn my grassy yard into a xeriscaped paradise, upholster my daughter's walls so that she doesn't hurt herself during a seizure, pay cash for cannabis and pay taxes that support the leaders who have contributed to that displacement and the soldiers who carry out those leaders' orders.

I don't know what to do or what not to do, what to think, how to respond or any of it. I do know that I can stand firm in my desire for peace and in my resistance to violence, and that violence includes the turning away of anyone who needs help. I will stand firm in that fully aware of my own complicity as a citizen of a country who is divided, now, even in the most basic of human impulses to help desperate human beings. I owe my Syrian relatives, some of whom might very well share the same blood as I. I want a different legacy for my own children's children than the one my angry Syrian grandfather left.

Patti Smith

First off, I should say that I've never been a Patti Smith person. If you're a Patti Smith person, you know exactly what I mean. And if you're not a Patti Smith person, you probably know what I mean and might not even know who I mean.

I'm now a Patti Smith person.

I read Just Kids when it came out and loved it -- not just because Smith is a good and engaging writer, but because she wrote about that transcendent time in New York when art was Art and there was the Chelsea Hotel and grit and grime and music and being poor and doing your thing took precedence over commerce and Wall Street and all that stuff. I don't really know Patti Smith, though, other than through those iconic photographs and the language of her groupies. I got a ticket to go hear her through our library foundation, and because she is Patti Smith, it wasn't a free ticket like the other library foundation tickets but the slightly more expensive ticket that gave me a seat on the third row of this beautiful old theater in downtown Los Angeles. The place was filled to capacity with hundreds, if not thousands of Patti Smith people. Oh, and me.

But now I'm a Patti Smith person.

She was "interviewed" or rather was engaged in conversation at first with the writer Jonathan Letham and sort of spell-bound us with stories and jokes and observations and anecdotes. At one point she talked about how many books she'd read as a child, and she mentioned that when she went to a library and went to the children's section, even now, she had read all the books. She sort of had love and fierceness as an aura around her. Her eyes twinkled. She was reverent and really funny. She talked about art and music and gender and Bob Dylan (truly the greatest Bob Dylan story I've ever heard) and her children and her husband and Robert Mapplethorpe and writing and her poetry and what it means to be alive. She was transcendent. Seriously. Sweet and funny and not giving a fuckish in the best way. A bodhisattva.

And then it was over -- at least the conversation. She stood up and Tony Shanahan came out (see, since I'm now a Patti Smith person, I know who that is) with a guitar and then she sang. She sang two beautiful ballads -- one that she'd written for her daughter and another about her husband. I felt like I was floating at this point, such was her effect on me. Then she dedicated a song to the young people who had died in Paris and we all stood up and sang it with her. Because the night was made for lovers. It was crazy beautiful.

That's it. Some of you will be jealous. I understand. Some of you will have no idea what I'm talking about. I understand that, too.

Monday, November 16, 2015

End Epilepsy

I know I've said it before, but it'd be great if we could end epilepsy, stop seizures from happening, change lives, etc. by snapping our fingers or praying or wishing or wiggling our noses. In lieu of that, we can walk and support those who are working toward that end and those that are living well with epilepsy and those that are living the hell that is epilepsy. 

Please consider donating to Team Sophalofa. Here's a copy of our page on the walk website. Below it is the link for your donation. And if you feel like it, please just come out and walk with us at the Rose Bowl! We'd love you to join our team!

Team Sophalofa

Welcome to our team page for the Walk to End Epilepsy! 
The epilepsies are the world’s most common, serious brain disorders worldwide with no age, racial, social class, national or geographic boundaries. Seizures steal moments and memories, can change lives, impact development, affect learning and can even result in death. There are no cures. 
As most of you know, our Sophie has had epilepsy since she was three months old. We walk every year at the End Epilepsy Walk to help raise awareness about epilepsy, to advocate for research and treatment and most of all to support our fellow companions on this often arduous journey. We are fortunate to have finally found relief for Sophie from constant seizures through cannabis and are passionate in our support of medical marijuana. We believe that every family should have the option to explore this treatment, particularly with refractory seizures and are happy to answer any questions about it. We are so grateful for all the hard work of the EFGLA, for Sophie's supportive neurologist, and for our family and friends. We hope you'll come and walk with us and/or support our team with a donation. See you soon! 
 For the reasons above and many more, we have banded together to participate in the Walk to End Epilepsy on Sunday, November 22, 2015 at the Rose Bowl Stadium in Pasadena to END EPILEPSY.

Please support our efforts by making a donation to the team or a member of the team. Your involvement provides care, advocacy and education today while investing in research and hope for tomorrow. 

Your contribution makes a difference. Thank you!

Sunday, November 15, 2015

Word Sips


No, things don't usually go on as if nothing ever happened, because something did happen and more will probably happen and until it does, we'll all be subject to despair and worry and grief and anxiety and -- well -- annoyance, particularly for me --  at the yammering and yammering on and on of opinion. I'm going to sit tight and be quiet and maybe dip my toes in one article or another but politely decline from engagement in anything but an assertion of peace, love and my vote when the time comes.

On another note, this afternoon I am going to hear the great Ursula K. Le Guin speak at Royce Hall. I'm so looking forward to her and then to Patti Smith tomorrow night. I bought both tickets months ago and feel a tad self-indulgent going two evenings in a row to an event, especially given my deadlines for work and just all the other stuff, but those feelings are tads and as soon as I'm in my seat, I'll be thrilled. And grateful.

Reader, what are you reading? I'm immersed in City on Fire and thrilled that I'm once again able to plow through a 900-plus page book. I had thought that skill was lost as the last few tomes I'd attempted were ditched around 150 pages in, with 500 pages looming. I wasn't sure if I was getting old and decrepit and losing my mojo as a reader extraordinaire or that those other books were just duds for me. They were duds for me. I might also be losing my mojo, at least in tolerance for what I don't love. I don't feel like being a critic, so I won't tell which ones, but they were literary sensations and best-sellers by wunderkinds. City on Fire, on the other hand, keeps getting better and better. It's a great story about numerous characters in gritty, 1970s New York City, and the writing is plot driven and literary. I'm generally a hardback novel reader, but I downloaded this one on my Kindle, and other than having no idea what page I'm on (27% through so far, but I'm IN), I'm enjoying the ability to look up some words that I'd never seen used. All you have to do is push on them with your finger and the definition pops up. This never ceases to amaze me and make me glad to be alive in 2015. Here they are:

horripilation: the erection of hairs on the skin due to cold, fear, or excitement

oubliette: a secret dungeon with access only through a trapdoor in its ceiling

vigorish: an excessive rate of interest on a loan, typically one from an illegal moneylender

monorchid: (of a person or animal) having only one testicle

Here's a sentence using all the vocabulary words:

I knew I owed him, so I descended into the oubliette, the sack of coins a monorchid hanging in front of me, a horripilating woman with the vigorish he demanded.

I challenge you to give it a whirl.

Saturday, November 14, 2015

Anything Can Happen*

Anything Can Happen

After Horace, Odes, I, 34

Anything can happen. You know how Jupiter
Will mostly wait for clouds to gather head
Before he hurls the lightning? Well just now
He galloped his thunder cart and his horses

Across a clear blue sky.. It shook the earth
and the clogged underearth, the River Styx,
the winding streams, the Atlantic shore itself.
Anything can happen, the tallest towers

Be overturned, those in high places daunted,
Those overlooked regarded. Stropped-beak Fortune
Swoops, making the air gasp, tearing the crest off one,
Setting it down bleading on the next.

Ground gives. The heaven's weight
Lifts up off Atlas like a kettle lid.
Capstones shift. Nothing resettles right.
Telluric ash and fire-spores boil away.

Seamus Heaney

*Thank you, Yvonne W.

Thursday, November 12, 2015


Oliver, my darling number three

... isn't that the conceit of mothers -- that we conceal our youth and exist only for our children? It is the province of mothers to preserve the myth that we are unburdened with our own problems. Placed in a circle of immunity, we carry only the crises of those we love. We mask our needs as the needs of others. If ever there was a story without a shadow, it would be this: that we as women exist in direct sunlight only.
When women were birds, we knew otherwise. We knew our greatest freedom was in taking flight at night, when we could steal the heavenly darkness for ourselves, navigating through the intelligence of stars and the constellations of our own making in the delight and terror of our uncertainty. 
What my mother wanted to do and what she was able to do remains her secret.
We all have our secrets. I hold mine. To withhold words is power. But to share our words with others, openly and honestly, is also power.

from Terry Tempest Williams' When Women Were Birds

I go back, over and over, to verses of poems and passages in novels and memoir that speak to me in the timeless way of touchstones. I've posted the above passage before, but it came back to me this morning when the border between yesterday and now was still blurry. When Sophie seizes, we say, over and over, It's okay. It's okay. It's okay. I say it as incantation, waiting for the seizure to stop, and then I gather her up in my arms and sit with her curled in my lap much as she might have lain when inside me more than twenty years ago. My softness envelops her but doesn't suffocate. I imagine it holds everything. Just like all paradox that we learn to hold as mothers of these children, inherent in that simple phrase it's okay, it's okay, it's okay is  holy shit, holy shit, holy shit. Acceptance and anger. Despair and peace. Wonder and disbelief. A long time ago my father gave me a check to put toward some treatment or another for Sophie that I've long since forgotten. He wrapped the check in a small piece of paper that I've kept folded in a little bag in my purse that holds other tokens and charms -- a sort of nest that I've woven and sit in, come back to, over and over. There's a New York City subway token, a small rock that Henry picked up on a nature trail overlooking Malibu and proudly gave to me, a cheap, beaded bracelet that Oliver made in preschool and the silver clip and pale pink ribbon that held Sophie's first and only pacifier, the one she spit out soon after steroids were injected into her body, her screams began and then were silenced, forever. She's never had words. The piece of paper that my father wrapped his money in and gave to me is smudged and soft and creased, the fine script barely discernible, words faded. It says, This is going to work. It's okay. His words. It's okay, it's okay, it's okay. The recent spat with the developer over felled trees, the admonition to be silent, to be less angry, less righteous, less expressive. Their words. To withhold words is power. But to share our words with others, openly and honestly, is power. And yes, holy shit, holy shit, holy shit. And it's okay, it's okay, it's okay.


Wednesday, November 11, 2015

Sunning with Smiles

Casting a long, thin shadow
Rooftop, ArcLight Cinemas, Los Angeles

I was called out by Anonymous yesterday who observed that I'm often angry (mea culpa) and that my particular anger isn't the right kind. He said, I'm frequently angry, righteously angry, smarter than you angry and superior angry. He did compliment my writing, though, so there's that. I'm going to take this comment to heart and work on being -- well -- rarely angry, unrighteously angry, stupider than you angry and inferior to you angry. But angry, all the same.

Here are three poems:

A Poison Tree

I was angry with my friend:
I told my wrath, my wrath did end.
I was angry with my foe:
I told it not, my wrath did grow.

And I watered it in fears,
Night and morning with my tears;
And I sunned it with smiles,
And with soft deceitful wiles.

And it grew both day and night,
Till it bore an apple bright.
And my foe beheld it shine.
And he knew that it was mine,

And into my garden stole
When the night had veiled the pole;
In the morning glad I see
My foe outstretched beneath the tree. 

William Blake

When Ecstasy is Inconvenient

Feign a great calm;
all gay transport soon ends.
Chant: who knows --
flight's end or flight's beginning
for the resting gull?

Heart, be still.
Say there is money but it rusted;
say the time of moon is not right for escape.
It's the color in the lower sky
too broadly suffused,
or even the wind in my tie.

Know amazedly how
often one takes his madness
into his own hands
and keeps it.

Lorine Neidecker


The night is darkening round me,
The wild winds coldly blow;
But a tyrant spell has bound me
And I cannot, cannot go.

The giant trees are bending
Their bare boughs weighed with snow.
And the storm is fast descending,
And yet I cannot go.

Clouds beyond clouds above me,
Wastes beyond wastes below;
But nothing dear can move me;
I will not, cannot go.

Emily Bronte

Tuesday, November 10, 2015

How to Avoid Everything, Part 2

1. Continue to go back and forth with The McMansion Developer in countless emails, listening to him mansplaining and condescending to you before finally realizing that he's not accustomed to a vocal female because of his religious persuasion. When he tells you that world hunger and war are more important things to feel sad about than trees and a peaceful home, thank him for the reminder and then add my daughter's refractory seizures and caregiving to his list. Then read how sorry he is to hear this, how he will pray to God for my children and that I will have the strength to take care of them so just say Bless his heart in your tiny, little mother mind™ and avoid everything.

2. Appease your mounting anxieties about how many books there are to be read by downloading a ridiculous number of them on your Kindle and staring down the hardbacks you have yet to crack on your bedside table, the floor, the shelves -- and then avoid everything.

3. Pull the blinds down in your own room to shield your view of the McMansion workers on the second story of their construction.

4. Read a bunch of poems about nature, love and sex, again, by Jack Gilbert.

5. Stay in bed sipping coffee and feel grateful that you have such good and funny friends.

6. Hang a pretty scarf over the boys' window despite their protestations instead of ordering the new blinds for them since the old ones broke five years ago.

7. Count on the universe to come through.

8. Pray to God that world hunger and war will stop, that epilepsy will as well and that you will continue to be a kick-ass caregiver. Then go demo a house, cut down some old trees, build an enormous mansion, sell it for $3 million and praise His Name. If it's His will, that is.

9. Get the whole bullshit exchange with the developer out of your system by writing incessantly about it and him and Him but realize that you are, in the end, an ineffectual woman with a big mouth who is no match for capitalism, progress and -- well -- God.

10. Accept this, humbly.

11. Accept this humbly, but get your sons to emerge from their room, attach speakers to their various devices and blast the Soviet Republic's national anthem toward the McMansion during an open house. Bribe them with a promise that you will order those new blinds ASAP.

(thank you, my friend who's actually an immigrant from a former Soviet Republic who posted this on my Facebook page)

Monday, November 9, 2015

Speaking of Russians (see yesterday's post)

This morning, Oliver screamed for me to come and look because the workers who have been constructing a McMansion directly behind our home were cutting down the old trees that lined our property. These trees are on their side of the property line, so they are certainly free to do whatever they'd like, but several months ago, when I'd objected to them cutting down those that line OUR property. the developer assured me that he would let me know when any more tree-cutting would happen.

I wrote him an email that expressed my dismay and called him out on his lack of communication and disregard for our community. He replied with his own email, calling me nasty and antagonistic.


Like the proverbial fly to shit, I replied and disagreed that I'd been nasty and antagonistic, that I'd only expressed my dismay that he'd neglected to inform me when he was going to cut down the old trees and that I was concerned about the lack of privacy that would result.

The developer -- let's call him Mr. Potter, shall we -- then had a mini-tirade and, in a nutshell, called me a communist seeking to dictate what sort of changes he should make to his property. Because, you know -- communists do love trees.

Buzz, buzz, buzz. 

I told Mr. Potter that if discussion with members of one's community about radical changes to one's neighborhood constituted communism, then I was a proud member. I signed the email:

товарищ Элизабет

I really did.*

Then I said, Mr. Potter, you're nothing but a scurvy little spider. **

Not really.

Then I riffled through my Barbie closet for this little green communist cap with the red star that one of my roomates in college brought back from Communist China for me many years ago. I thought it'd be fun to parade around in my backyard naked with only the cap and perhaps scare the workers from continuing their work on the second story of the McMansion. I'll come up with a system to do the same when the McMansion goes up for sale. Mr. Potter will have to come up with some kind of disclosure to the future owners of the $3 million dollar heap (yes, that's how much these houses cost and are TRIPLE the size of ours) that a Naked Communist Woman lives directly behind them, and she's closer in form to a Russian gulag operator than Madame Butterfly.

That lonely outpost on the Arctic Circle is looking ever more attractive. I hope Slava will welcome my children and goofy dog as well.

* That's Russian for Comrade Elizabeth

** I'm referring to George Bailey calling Mr. Potter that in It's a Wonderful Life

Sunday, November 8, 2015

I Wonder if Slava is Looking for a Room-mate

Photographer: Evgenia Arbugaeva

Slava Korotki is described as the most cut-off man in the universe. Except for the  problem (for me) of the extreme northern position of his home on the edge of Russia and the Arctic, and those frightfully short winter days, I've a hankering to join him. I thought about it even as I dragged myself to Trader Joe's today and joined the literal throngs of people waiting in line to buy stuff. I imagine I could make a pretty decent matchstick house or two, maybe a castle or one of those lonely wooden towers that Van Morrison crooned of in Purple Heather. You can't go anywhere in Los Angeles, and I mean anywhere, without seeing some of the most destitute people living on the streets, under bridges, in shopping cart villages. The other day, as I pulled out of a gas station and waited at a light, I found myself staring at a man trying to light a match to the contents of a tin can. It was the first chilly morning in forever, my car sat idling. At home, a house rich in the accoutrements of 2015, the buzz of workers creating a drought-tolerant landscape, a saint who helps to tend Sophie yet is desperate for more work.  I closed my eyes and imagined myself stopping the car, stepping out, closing the door behind me and oblivious to the honks and shouts of the others, walking toward him, abiding there. City of Angels. Slava is a weatherman, and according to the woman who wrote the article, he  doesn’t have a sense of self the way most people do. It’s as if he were the wind, or the weather itself.

Making the Vague Bearable

I got up on that little stage and expressed my motherhood and then sat down and listened while other women expressed theirs, and then I and a few of my friends who had come went out for a drink and chatter and laughter. I had an elderflower gimlet and a few calamari and some french fries and lots of laughs. It was a good night.

I had some really good news today about a job -- a really good job that will help to -- well, not help, but rather -- sustain me. Negotiating is still in the works, so I'm not going to say much more, but it's a flexible job that will enable me to be here for my kids and particularly Sophie. I am beyond grateful, sort of hushed by the whole possibility. I guess I'll slip in here that I'm going through a big transition right now, a divorce, to be blunt. Is a blog really the place to say this? Perhaps not. Despite what you think you know of me, you must know that it's not all, and there are certain things about my life that I'm just not going to write about -- ever.

I will include a poem, though, because poetry makes the vague bearable.

Failing and Flying

Everyone forgets that Icarus also flew.
It's the same when love comes to an end,
or the marriage fails and people say
they knew it was a mistake, that everybody
said it would never work. That she was
old enough to know better. But anything
worth doing is worth doing badly.
Like being there by that summer ocean
on the other side of the island while
love was fading out of her, the stars
burning so extravagantly those nights that
anyone could tell you they would never last.
Every morning she was asleep in my bed
like a visitation, the gentleness in her
like antelope standing in the dawn mist.
Each afternoon I watched her coming back
through the hot stony field after swimming,
the sea light behind her and the huge sky
on the other side of that. Listened to her
while we ate lunch. How can they say
the marriage failed? Like the people who
came back from Provence (when it was Provence)
and said it was pretty but the food was greasy.
I believe Icarus was not failing as he fell,
but just coming to the end of his triumph.

Jack Gilbert, from Refusing Heaven

Friday, November 6, 2015

Break My Leg

I'll be reading/performing this Saturday in Los Angeles for Expressing Motherhood, along with ten other women. We had a rehearsal on Monday, and I'm just honored to be in this group of talented, engaging, moving and hilarious women.

The show is sold out, but you can evidently watch it on Babble's Periscope, streaming live at 7:30, Holy Pacific Ocean Time. I'm actually first up (holy shit) and can't promise that I won't have a double chin, but I will promise to have a good time. Word is that the music I walk up on stage to is Motley Crue. Who knew? Oliver just screamed when I told him that I would dance up to the stage.

Lindsay Kavet, the creator of Expressing Motherhood, is a rockstar and either produces or helps to produce shows all over the country. Check out their website for announcements on submissions. She's also beautiful, has three adorable children and has supported me for years. This is my fourth time doing the show, and I can't over-state how great an experience it is --

Here's a link to the live-stream thing:

Expressing Motherhood on Periscope @babble

Thursday, November 5, 2015

Leaving Irony Behind

I feel like I left the tyranny of irony behind me at Tomales Bay. I can only be vague here, but I think most would agree that I am adept at irony, maybe even a mistress of it. The picture above is of an old, abandoned building at the Marconi Conference Center. We walked by this beautiful building several times a day, from the hours just after dawn when northern California mists floated in and around it, to the blackest hours after the sun had set when bats swooped, invisible but heard. In the middle of the day, you could walk up to the many windows, cup your hands at the side of your eyes like blinders and make out the sun-glistened ocean of the harbor, glinting through the windows on the opposite side. Nearly everyone I walked with or spoke to expressed their dislike of this building. 

Creepy. Horrible. Scary. Like a mental institution. 

I thought otherwise, wished I could climb through the broken windows and wander the rooms, dance slowly and silently in the grand room I could barely make out when I squinted. It looked out on the ocean. I liked it especially at dusk when it seemed most haunted, when I could imagine its inhabitants a combination of old world formalism and the rugged frontier that was California in the nineteenth century. The woods and unruly plants and flowers grew up and around it, sometimes if I cocked my head, it appeared slanted, its peaks barely reaching, more earth than sky. I have no idea how old this building was nor what it was used for, and I had no desire to learn.

I left my irony there, a visitor grown pale, wispy, cold and of no use. What remains is vulnerability, something raw and lusty, no blinders, blinding not blinded.

Recalling a Lullaby

My sons, 2003

The History of Mothers and Sons

All sons sleep next to mothers, then alone, then with others
Eventually, all our sons bare molars, incisors
Meanwhile, mothers are wingless things in a room of stairs
A gymnasium of bars and ropes, small arms hauling self over self

Mothers hum nonsense, driving here
and there (Here! There!) in hollow steeds, mothers reflecting
how faint reflections shiver over the road
All the deafening musts along the way

Mothers favor the moon—hook-hung and mirroring the sun—
there, in a berry bramble, calm as a stone

This is enough to wrench our hand out of his
and simply devour him, though he exceeds even the tallest grass

Every mother recalls a lullaby, and the elegy blowing through it

Lisa Furmanski

You can listen to it here.

Wednesday, November 4, 2015

Conversations with Special Ed Bus Drivers

The weather has turned here in Los Angeles to crisper temperatures (meaning around 55 at night and 65 in the day), and we've even had a few drops of rain here and there, probably nature's easing us into what promises to be a brutal El Nino rainy season with apocalyptic flooding and slides. Oy. The light right now is indescribable -- although shortly after I moved to Los Angeles eighteen years ago, I read an article about it in The New Yorker that did perfect justice to its luminescence.  Interestingly, I had only lived in Los Angeles for a few months, was pregnant with Henry and already noticed the light. The last truly huge El Nino winter storms happened that winter as well -- so much rain and craziness that I remember wondering what everyone talked about when they said it never rained in southern California! Unfortunately, the article is available only to subscribers, but here's a brief excerpt from Lawrence Weschler's L.A. Glows in the February, 1998 issue.

I was recalling McWilliams' comments one morning while breakfasting with the architect Coy Howard, a true student of the light, and he concurred. "It's an incredibly loaded subject -- this diaphanous soup we live in," he said, "It feels primeval -- there's a sense of the undifferentiated, the non-hierarchical. It's not exactly a dramatic light. In fact, 'dramatic' is exactly what it's not. If anything, it's meditative. And there's something really peculiar about it. In places where you get a crisp, sharp light with deep, clean shadows -- which we do get here sometimes -- you get confronted with a strong contrasting duality: illumination and opacity. But when you have the kind of veiled light we get here more regularly you become aware of a sort of multiplicity -- not illumination so much as luminosity. Southern California glows, and the opacity melts away into translucency and even transparency."
I wasn't quite getting it, so Howard tried again.
"Things in the light here have a kind of threeness instead of the usual twoness. There's the thing -- the object -- and its shadow, but then a sense of reflection as well. You know how you can be walking along the beach, let's say, and you'll see a seagull walking along ahead of you, and the wave comes in, splashing its feet. At that moment, you'll see the bird, its shadow and its reflection. Well, there's something about the environment here -- the air, the atmosphere, the light -- that makes everything shimmer like that. There's a kind of glowing thickness to the world -- diaphanous soup I was talking about -- which, in turn, grounds a magic - meditative presence." 

This afternoon, while busy working I heard the familiar screech of Sophie's bus come round the corner, and when I emerged from my writing cave, I blinked in the sun and shivered -- both from the chill in the air and the warm sun on my skin. The bus driver got busy letting down the wheelchair ramp, turning to me afterward with a huge smile on his face.

Isn't it beautiful, today? he said, The day, the light reminds me of when I was five years old, running through the fields of my country, El Salvador. Free.

Reader, I don't know why that brought tears to my eyes, but I felt them prick there and could only tell him what a wonderful memory that was and thank you for telling me. Then we both turned to Sophie, busying ourselves with the straps and levers that assured her safety as she descended.

This place I live sustains me.

Tuesday, November 3, 2015

Morning Devotional

Barnside, Marin County, CA 2015

Jack Gilbert's poetry

The blue sky after a bit of rain

A friend's dream of me being pregnant, two times

Not being pregnant in any way but the metaphorical

Suddenly Adult

The train's stopping wakes me.
Weeds in the gully are white
with the the year's first snow.
A lighted train goes
slowly past absolutely empty.
Also going to Fukuoka.
I feel around in myself
to see if I mind. Maybe
I am lonely. It is hard
to know. It could be
hidden in familiarity.

Jack Gilbert

Monday, November 2, 2015

To Be Human Is NOT To Be Powerful

Yesterday's post Things People Say  provoked a bit of discussion in the comments and particularly over on Facebook that I thought we should hash out a bit more. Since I've been feeling as sere and uninspired of late as the California landscape, I thank you for helping to kick me in the fanny and feel a bit of pep in my step.

I am writing a book right now and have been for the last decade or more about the last eighteen years of my life. The book is, of course, about Sophie, about disability, about identity, about what it means to be human, about how we do it, how I do it and about how all these things sort of intersect. I can't attest to the quality of the book-in-progress, but one of the things I do as a writer, one of the things that I find necessary to my survival (a bit of hyperbole, but maybe not) is to write down my observations, even as they happen and to wrest some sort of meaning from my experiences through words. Words equal blood, to tell you the truth. Drip. I strive to be non-judgmental in the telling, sometimes, using words to convey emotion. Sometimes I succeeed, I think, and other times I don't. I'm not sure what happened with the post yesterday, but I do know that it struck a chord and that some people were offended for the woman I called out and others were offended by the woman I called out.

Here's the thing. Things People Say is a "thing" I use throughout my book to convey everyday experiences raising a child with severe disabilities. I try not to write about my own responses to these things but rather to tell them like they are and leave the interpretation up to the reader. That being said, I don't always do a good job, and yesterday's post was probably a good example of my being half-assed and not just coming right out and explaining things.

Beyond my hatred of the use of the word "retarded," I was struck yesterday by the irony of a physically disabled woman putting down a cognitively disabled woman. Sophie, as you remember was standing right with me. Let me say that this is not unusual. The disabled as a population are not some sort of tribe, always recognizing their kin or even backing one another up. Did you know that there are great rifts, even, between those who are disabled themselves and those who parent the disabled? I'd venture to say -- with a pretty certain authority -- that the cognitively disabled are at the bottom of the caste system, if we can stand to be non-politically correct, and while I don't want to assign rankings to discriminated peoples (all the isms), I feel pretty strongly that with few exceptions, to be "retarded" or cognitively disabled is a fate worse than death for many in our culture. And contrary to the increased visibility that others on the fringe of society are earning (not without enormous and grotesque struggle), the cognitively disabled are lagging behind. I'd venture to say that they have no voice -- quite literally -- other than mine. Ours.

I wince when I hear those in wheelchairs object to people condescending to them, not because they are in a wheelchair but because they are taken to be "retarded." The retarded are, in effect, even less than the physically disabled, relegated to an inferior position.

We live in a culture that looks on disability -- both physical and cognitive -- as something "less than." Those of us who walk are "grateful" to not be in a wheelchair.  The formerly abled who through accident become disabled often go through great trauma, feel suicidal, would rather die than lose their "abilities." Pregnant women use invasive medical procedures to determine whether their unborn children are "healthy," and when they discover any abnormality, may decide to abort on the basis of "the difficult life ahead for the child."

This is the way it is. I am passing no judgement, am a firm believer in a woman's right to choose abortion, no matter the reason.

I wonder, though, if disability is more a social construct than otherwise.

We live in a culture that defines people -- their worth and sometimes their very existence -- by their intelligence.

I'm not talking about being inspired by those with disabilities or by those of us who care for individuals with disabilities.

I could never do what you do. I don't know how you do it. 

I'm talking about truly living in concert, without pity or judgement, with those who are different than us -- beyond color, gender or sexuality and "ability."

There is a lack of synchronicity between our society and people with disabilities. A society that honours only the powerful, the clever, and the winners necessarily belittles the weak. It is as if to say: to be human is to be powerful.
 Those who see the heart only as a place of weakness will be fearful of their own hearts. For them, the heart is a place of pain and anguish, of chaos and of transitory emotions. So they reject those who live essentially by their hearts, who cannot develop the same intellectual and rational capacities as others.
Jean Vanier, Becoming Human 

Sunday, November 1, 2015

Things People Say

After driving through the carwash with a mesmerized Sophie, our outing of late that relieves my guilt at not providing enough stimulation, I pulled into a local small restaurant to pick up some food for the workers who are turning my yard into a drought-tolerant paradise. I intended to leave Sophie in the car while I ordered at the outside counter, within eye-shot, in a handicapped space. The spot was filled, though, with a large, red SUV so I pulled into another spot around the corner and took Sophie out. We made our way awkwardly up to the counter (Sophie isn't walking very well these days which I'm attributing to drug withdrawals, but who the hell knows?), and because the handicapped spot is right next to the counter, I saw that there was no indication a handicapped person was in fact using it. In other words, there was no license plate or placard hanging from the rear-view mirror. I waited in a long line, keeping Sophie from sitting on the pavement, one eye on the spot, in hopes that I might call out the person who was using it without a placard. I could see inside the small restaurant, how every table was full but that there were no visible indications of disability. This doesn't mean anything. When I finally got to the window to order, I told the cashier that someone was parked in the handicapped spot without a placard, that I had a handicapped daughter and had to park a distance away, that I hoped he could find the person who had parked there and perhaps let them know. He smiled incomprehensibly at me and told me that he'd let his manager know. I ordered. He did not make any attempt to let his manager know and continued to take orders.

I girded my loins.

Excuse me, I asked a couple dipping curly fries into a white cup of ketchup, is that your red Honda in the handicapped spot?

I asked another couple with two small children the same thing.

I asked a family identically clothed in USC red and gold tee-shirts as well. I tried not to let their choice of college sport regalia affect me, pulled my loincloth a bit tighter.

Excuse me, is that your red Honda in the handicapped spot?

The man rose up and said, Yes, that's mine, and he turned to his wife, and she said, Oh! We forgot to put our placard up! 

And I said, Oh, thank you because I was going to be so upset if it was just someone using the spot! 

And she said, I always forget! I'm physically handicapped, but sometimes I'm retarded, too!

This is, of course, an equal opportunity post.


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