Friday, November 30, 2012

I once read that the definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over and expecting different results. I fundamentally disagree with this idea. I think that doing the same thing over and over and expecting different results is the definition of hope. We might keep making mistakes but the struggle gives us a sense of empathy and connectivity that we would not experience otherwise. I believe this empathy improves our ability to see the unseen and better know the unknown.
Debbie Millman, in Look Both Ways: Illustrated Essays on the Intersection of Life and Design 
Limbourg Brothers, plan of the Monuments of Rome
illuminated manuscript from the Tres Riche Heures du Duc de Berry, ca 1416

Rain for Angelenos is rain for so many ninnies, should I go out or should I not?, brake lights, minivans parked too close, the quandary of wet shopping carts and a gray blanket over the hills.

Natasha Trethewey, the poet laureate of Mississippi and the United States has a mellifluous voice and read poem after poem from her book thrall, weaving together her interracial roots, relationship with her poet father, eighteenth century paintings, the 14th century myth of the miracle transplant (black donor, white recipient) -- my hands lay in my lap, clenched and relaxed, the weird tension of loving words.

I ate ramen afterward in a small restaurant in Little Tokyo, wide bowls of steaming broth, a flaky hard-boiled egg cooked soft in soy sauce, melting in my mouth before the crunch of scallions, noodles slipping from the chopsticks, sliding down my throat, the voice of the host, keeping things moving, his Angeleno Japanese voice. The mix of the city, young, old, Asian, Hispanic, white and black -- we passed the tents of skid row, one after the other squared up neatly, their backs against low-slung buildings.

The idealized painting above of the monuments of Rome was commissioned by Jean de Berry who was very angry with divisions of the Church. It is said that he liked to run his fingers over the forty churches depicted, tracing the former path of the Bishop of Rome. The little white square on the left, in the middle, depicts snow, ordered by the Virgin Mary on a warm summer night to fall and mark where a church should be built. The idealized painting had little to do with reality, it is said.


Like the moon that night, my father --
        a distant body, white and luminous.
How small I was back then,
        looking up as if from dark earth.

Distant, his body white and luminous,
        my father stood in the doorway.
Looking up as if from dark earth,
        I saw him outlined in a scrim of light.

My father stood in the doorway
      as if to watch over me as I dreamed.
When I saw him outlined - a scrim of light -
      he was already waning, turning to go.

Once, he watched over me as I dreamed.
       How small I was. Back then,
he was already turning to go, waning
       like the moon that night - my father.

Natasha Trethewey

Thursday, November 29, 2012

How women like me get excited

I'm going out tonight to hear the U.S. Poet Laureate, Natasha Trethewey, read from her poetry and speak a bit at our downtown library. And you thought this post was going to be inappropriate, didn't you? HA! I just thought I'd throw a wrench in, seeing that I've spent the last day or so ranting and raving about health insurance. I haven't been out at night for weeks and will be meeting a friend and having drinks beforehand. I know nothing of Trethewey or her poetry, so I'm excited. I found this poem online and liked it.

Vespertina Cognito

Overhead, pelicans glide in threes—
         their shadows across the sand
                  dark thoughts crossing the mind.

Beyond the fringe of coast, shrimpers
         hoist their nets, weighing the harvest
                  against the day's losses. Light waning,

concentration is a lone gull
         circling what's thrown back. Debris
                  weights the trawl like stones.

All day, this dredging—beneath the tug
         of waves—rhythm of what goes out, 
                  comes back, comes back, comes back.

Natasha Trethewey, via

Calling on the Posse, Part II

Just in case you've stumbled upon this blog as the result of searching for "big guns," "women with guns," "right to bear arms," or some other such bullhonky, this post is actually another rant of a crazed politically liberal woman with an independent health insurance policy and a child with exceptional healthcare needs who is waiting in fear for the envelope from Anthem Blue Cross that will inform her that her monthly premium will be rising by some outrageous amount in February of 2013. If you were, in fact, hoping for a photo of a woman with a gun or were just shopping around the internets looking for confirmation of your insane need to protect your gun rights now that the country has elected -- for the second time -- a half-black socialist who is intent on taking over the country you love -- well, you've come to the wrong place. Because this blog is actually about the ridiculous fear that many of us who own Anthem Blue Cross insurance policies have about the upcoming proposed rate increases. It's also about the confusing parts of The Affordable Care Act and insurance exchanges and what they might mean to us and when they kick in and what more do we have to do and how do we do it? This post is also about the chat I had over the counter with the nice pharmacist at The Rite-Aid yesterday about whether or not Anthem has added clobazam, the drug that actually helps Sophie, to its formulary so that it will cost $30.00 instead of $400.00 or whether I should just make my plans to fly up to Vancouver in a couple of months to purchase the drug for $63.00 because evidently the pharmaceutical company is jacking up the price here in the United States but not in Canada. The pharmacist confirmed that I will be flying to Vancouver. This post is also meant to provoke my Readers' insurance questions, all of which I'm going to compile into some sort of document and then try to find the answers to them, collectively (not socialist, but collectively).

So, Reader, do you have any questions about your insurance coverage and/or what you might expect as we move forward with the lumbering Affordable Care Act? Feel free to rant a bit about the fact that we don't have universal health care coverage in this country, and if you live in one of the many states that are refusing to enact health care exchanges or implement the ACA, leave a rant here, too. And if you're one of those people who thinks we're all lazy bums for wanting universal healthcare coverage, you can just keep googling "big guns," and "right to bear arms" and click right on off this page.

We have our own posse, and it's growing.

Wednesday, November 28, 2012

Calling on the Posse

I just read that Anthem Blue Cross is preparing to raise rates up to 25% for its independent subscribers. Sophie has an independent policy with Anthem Blue Cross, separate from The Husband, who carries the boys and me on his. I'm not sure people realize that despite the terrific improvements of the Affordable Care Act, it didn't do much to address the serious problems that those with independent policies have in affording them. Basically, Big Insurance and Big Pharm kept all the perks and continue to rake in the profits at our expense. It does look like California is addressing this latest travesty, but God forbid we should have universal healthcare coverage, or what the right calls socialized medicine ( I think I'll take to my grave someone I heard with the thickest redneck accident saying pre-Affordable Care Act that she didn't want no government comin' between me and my doctor.

I guess the 630,000 individual policyholders here in California, including Sophie, Henry, Oliver, The Husband and myself, need to get off our lazy asses and work harder.

I'm more inclined to raise a posse.

How about you?


Henry and Sophie, Hilton Head 2010

You could use a bit more faith. Instead
of working hard to clear a path, believe that 
the path before you is already being cleared.

That was my horoscope in today's morning paper, over which I glanced and then paused. I threw up the shackles at the word faith, and then I thought hmmmmmm and wondered if I let go of my current path of worry and doing (Oliver's troubles, Sophie's seizures, filing for guardianship for Sophie and SSI, how and when and whether to go to Vancouver for Sophie's drug, the path is long, seemingly endless) what might happen? Is that a path of sand or boards? Is it clear to the ocean or are those weeds? Who and what is clearing it for me?

I'm giving it a try -- at least for the moment which, I imagine is all we can possibly do.

Christmas in Beverly Hills

Tuesday, November 27, 2012

How We Do It: Part XIX of a Series

There was a moment last evening when I was eighteen years old, when I found it astonishing that one of my sons, spooning apple pie and ice-cream into his mouth, laughing with his brother and their friend from across the street, would ask me a question. Can we have more? he asked, not realizing that I was only eighteen years old, not a parent, not a mother. I had just changed Sophie's diaper, and was moving through the kitchen to the alley beside the house where the garbage cans lay. I had to put the diaper into a plastic bag and then dispose of it, and in that moment, moving through the kitchen with a diaper from an eighteen year old, I felt no older than my eighteen year old self, books on my hip, Balzac's Père Goriot, perhaps, or Introduction to Psychology, the crunch of leaves under my feet, deciding whether or not to pass through the Arboretum after dark on the way home to my dorm. My hair was impossibly shiny and my legs long and thin, a curly-haired boy with an enormous dimple would tutor me later that night in calculus and debate with his god on whether or not to take me into his bed, and a boy I would later marry climbed out of another girl's dorm room window with his guitar. No, that's enough, I answered, as I passed back through and grabbed some matches to light the candle in Sophie's room to mask the smell, and neither of the boys, nor their friend, nor Sophie who lay on the bed and looked through me had any idea that the person passing through was only eighteen years old, not a parent, not a mother at all.

Monday, November 26, 2012

She in there, she know (a re-post)

Hilton Head, August 2008

This was one of my first posts, when I began blogging over four years and 2,275 posts ago. I'd forgotten about it and wanted to share it with you, particularly since when I first began blogging, only about ten people read anything I wrote. I was flipping through photos, looking for inspiration and prompts to write last night when I scrolled down to the one above of Sophie on a family trip to Hilton Head. I needed not only a prompt but the reminder of my Sophie's connection to this world. Seizures and the drudgery of daily life sometimes get in the way of the essential, and the air I breathe gets too close. The inhale is often easier than the exhale, and these words with this photo help me to release the breath outward, to fill up the world.

Here you go.

Sunday, November 25, 2012

Tequila and hot dogs

I told the boys that they were in charge of dinner tonight, that there were really good hot dogs from The Husband's butcher in the fridge and that we had french fries in the freezer. Get busy, I told them, and don't forget to make a salad.

I wandered in to check how things were going and was able to catch Oliver in a dance around the kitchen. Turn the volume up.

Sunday reading

Odilon Redon, The Birth of Venus, 1912

It's a gray morning in Los Angeles, and I'm lying in bed, nursing a cold and reading. Sophie is in her bedroom, humming and messing around with her things, the boys are out with The Husband getting haircuts and breakfast -- please, take them out! I pleaded earlier, before you go to work or they'll drive me crazy! If it weren't for the nagging guilt I perpetually feel to do something with Sophie, I'd feel perfect. The issue of The New Yorker that I'm reading is the kind that you can literally read from cover to cover without skimming the boring things. I enjoyed Adam Gopnik's comments about the Petraeus scandal, admittedly because they confirm my own iconoclastic feelings (who gives a damn about who is sleeping with whom, even if they are spies?) and I loved the short article about actor Bryan Cranston of Breaking Bad and now Argo fame. Some of you might remember my obsession with the first four seasons of Breaking Bad, which I watched in bed, alone with my Kindle Fire, while my husband's business detonated, leaking into our personal life. I got it -- the breaking bad part -- and am thankful that watching the show was a substitute for any over-the-top actions on my part. I read a horrifying article about a Korean American woman who allegedly damaged a baby in her care and was sent to prison. The article was written by her grown son, and I don't know if it was well written or just seductively ambiguous. That article was followed by a very long one about The Grateful Dead, and while I did skim part of it, I was plunged in memory to my college days when I hung out with a group of boys attached to my boyfriend who carted around suitcases full of bootleg Dead tapes, tapes that they'd listen to while smoking pot out of bongs while watching Tar Heel basketball with the sound off. I didn't smoke much pot and really only enjoyed the more commercial Dead songs -- Ripple, Brown-Eyed Women, Scarlet Begonias, Box of Rain, etc., but I did enjoy those boys and their shenanigans. Those memories segued into the ones of my evangelical friends in college, a group of girls who went to Bible studies and had personal relationships with Jesus, even praying to him for good grades on history exams or resolutions to relationship problems with boys. I loved these girls, most are still my friends, thirty years later, and I gamely went to a few of their meetings. I even went to hear the Reverend Billy Graham speak in a stadium and was a tiny bit caught up in the fervor of giving one's life to Christ, but in the end, love and lust won out and I always felt like an outsider with very inchoate beliefs. The article about the controversial evangelist Rob Bell who preaches in a church with ten thousand worshipers was well-written but left me shaking my head, again, at human intention and need. People whose beliefs are that strong and unwavering about anything make me feel intensely lonely. I'm moving on to the fiction, movie and book review that are next. I hope ya'll are having a good end of Thanksgiving week day.

Saturday, November 24, 2012

Andrew Solomon's new book

I keep reading about Andrew Solomon's new book Far from the Tree: Parents, Children and the Search for Identity. Solomon writes about children with disabilities, children conceived by rape, children who are transgendered and children with schizophrenia, among others, and the impact these differences have on families. You would think that I'd run toward this book, but I've actually felt overwhelmed by it, if that makes sense. I've felt weary at the prospect of reading it. I'm living the life that it evidently exhaustively describes (and Solomon himself is a gay dyslexic who suffered from and wrote brilliantly about his own clinical depression in The Noonday Demon: An Atlas of Depression). But I saw this promotional video this morning and decided that it's next on my list of books to read.

Friday, November 23, 2012

Thanksgiving Redux

This is a picture of my two boys, just after our rather large turkey banquet in Palm Springs yesterday. We drove up to Palm Springs on Wednesday morning, spent the night and had dinner at the hotel on Thursday afternoon with my friend Cara and her family.

Cara and I

I used to turn my nose up at eating Thanksgiving dinner out, but let me tell you something. It's awfully nice to sit around and have people clear the plate you're eating from so that you can go back to a different area and load it up again. Afterward, you can walk out of the dining room and into your car and drive back to your house and get into bed. Call me apathetic or Thanksgiving-secular, but it was fantastic.

This is a picture of my parents. My dad will be 77 years old next April, and my mother just turned 74. They're crazy good-looking, right? They've been staying with us for the past week and are going back to Atlanta tomorrow morning. Despite a few fractious political arguments, we had a wonderful time, and I always feel a tad melancholy when they leave.

Oliver insisted on having his photo taken in front of this garish ice sculpture. He was overcome by its fabulousness and decided that when he grows up, he'd like to be an ice carver. I just love my boys' aspirations.

This is the only photo that is halfway decent of my three chickens. Or maybe this one, although Sophie looks tortured (probably appropriately so).

I was hoping for a Christmas card photo, but no go. I've decided that this year (for the first time in eighteen years) I'm not sending Christmas cards. Call me secular.

I'm hoping to be inspired very soon to write a bit more than I've done the past week. How are things your way?

Morning mermaid

Mermaids lie in sun slants when you sleep in Sophie's light-soaked bedroom. It's something you haven't ever noticed, tossing and turning, your own bed out of reach. May the long time sun shine upon you. All love surround you. And the pure light within you, guide your way on.

Tuesday, November 20, 2012

Requiem for a Television

Pop Pop surprised us with the purchase of this flat-screen television:

Rest in peace, 1996 behemoth television that lived with us in New York City, traveled across the country and sat in our living room for so many years. You served us well.

We're just spoiled rotten.

We should be especially grateful for having to deal with annoying people and difficult situations, because without them we would have nothing to work with. Without them, how could we practice patience, exertion, mindfulness, loving-kindness or compassion? It is by dealing with such challenges that we grow and develop.

Judy Lief, via Tricycle Magazine

Monday, November 19, 2012


My Uncle Tony (Anthony Romano, on the left) and my father, (Michele Benito on the right) are talking to their Sister Mary in New Jersey. Uncle Tony and my father are fraternal twins, and they like to mess with her. They sound so much alike that she thought she was talking only to my father. Henry and Oliver thought this was hysterical, but my mother and I just rolled our eyes.

Fun fact: My father and Uncle Tony were born the fourth and fifth children in New York City to my grandmother Josephine who was a recent immigrant from southern Italy. She could neither read nor write in Italian or English, was a devout Catholic and retained her thick accent until the day she died at nearly ninety years old. Her surprise twins (she didn't know she was carrying two until she gave birth) were named after Benito Mussolini, a hero, at the time, to southern Italian peasants. Romano was Mussolini's youngest son. Evidently, anything bad in the world was quickly called communiste in my Noni's thick Italian accent. Bad actions were all those things that went against the norm: not going to mass, late garbage pick-up, etc. I have only fond memories of my grandmother, although I'm certain I would have been called communiste if she were alive.

The Units are here

My parents are visiting from Atlanta, so it's going to be slim pickings on this blog. I'll keep you posted, probably with photos, and I hope you have a wonderful Thanksgiving week!

Sunday, November 18, 2012

You will find that it is necessary to let things go, simply for the reason that they are heavy. So let them go, let go of them. I tie no weights to my ankles.

C. JoyBell C.

Saturday, November 17, 2012

The letter p, Flemish paintings and rain with some f'-bombs

The Love Potion - 15th c. Belgium

It's raining in Los Angeles this morning, a soft, gray rain that doesn't stifle the crows squawking outside my back door but relieves the lot of us from the pressures of sunshine. I ripped a page off my tiny desk calendar, a copy of the painting that I posted above. Isn't it weird and fantastic? The man at the door, the curlicues, her shoes -- what's happening here? I have a few new readers on my blog or old readers who've chosen to comment. Welcome! One of them pointed out that she received the same email in her inbox about the drug Perampanel, the one I mused about the other day, wondering why its other name was Fycoma. Well, it turns out that I missed a letter p and that the drug is actually called Fycompa. So much for our wondering who the hell named an epilepsy drug suggesting the deadening of the brain. Here's the thing, though. I looked up compa on the Internets and saw this definition in Urban Dictionary:

1. compa: Spanish slang for compadre. Ei compa, get you ass over here.
2. compa: Pocho slang for compadre; pal, chum, dawg. Yo compa, bust out with the yesca... 

Fy in the Urban Dictionary stands for Fuck Yeah! and even Fuck You! 

Fycompa, then, could possibly suggest that after luring you to take it -- get you ass over here! -- there's the very obvious possibility that you will be seizure free -- fuck yeah! -- or fucked over -- fuck you!

New Reader, I stand corrected but ever valiant.

I should have been a drug namer, don't you think?

Thursday, November 15, 2012

Gratitude, dropping

When I carried a bag out to the garbage cans in the street tonight, I stopped and listened for a moment to the rain dropping. We so rarely hear that phrase -- rain dropping -- not technically a phrase but different than the noun raindrop. The rain has been dropping for a few hours, slowly and gently, pattering on the metal awning on my back door. I am filled with calm.

I have no idea why I am filled with calm. There has been no effort on my part. Today was partly unbloggable, not because it was bad but because it contained private things that I won't discuss here. There is a lot going on, and I feel a bit like the Cat in the Hat who not only can balance ridiculous things while standing on a ball, but also maintains a kind of sense of the absurdity of doing what he's doing. He is goofy in his confidence.

I began the morning feeling nauseous as I scanned Facebook and saw a thread on one of my old high school classmates' page that discussed the election results. There was talk of doom and destruction, of arming oneself. Those who voted for Obama were called idiots. Evidently, we have no idea what's coming. Debacles of the financial sort. A different America. Debacles of the social sort. Let's move to Texas, one said. There was a photo of a young daughter with a semi-automatic rifle in her hands, its ugly, black force a grotesque contrast to her young beauty. She was out, I guess, for a jolly day of hunting or learning how to shoot, she and her father, exercising their right to bear arms. Raising her up right, said one of my classmates. Way to go! another one said. Girls and guns! with a smile emoticon next to it, said another. Better stock up on ammunition, said another. I don't think I need to say that these are all very successful, well-to-do people who went to an exclusive private prep school in Atlanta, Georgia. Or maybe I need to point that out.

A friend of mine encouraged me tonight that I'm doing a good job, balancing on that ball with all that shit in my hands. I told her that I had a heroin habit and put a smiley emoticon next to it.

I know many people use November to express gratitude. Gratitude schmatitude is what I've thought for the last month, obstreperous, refusing the tyranny of the zeitgeist. A woman with a hairdo and small ballet shoes with kitten heels and a simple lined notepad let me talk today about Oliver. She leaned over a balcony as I walked away and said cheerily, Tell him that help is on the way! Don't despair! I could suddenly hold my troubles more securely. Tipping, I got my balance.

As I drove down Wilshire Blvd. to pick up the boys from school, I was filled with gratitude. With no effort on my part, I was calm.

Wednesday, November 14, 2012

Jack Gilbert (1925-2012)

Jack Gilbert was one of my favorite living poets, until yesterday when he died at age 87. If you haven't read his poetry and you're so inclined, I highly recommend him.

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 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
come 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 coming to the end of his triumph.

Jack Gilbert, from Refusing Heaven

This is a wonderful article that appeared in this past Monday's Los Angeles Times newspaper, and I've quoted quite liberally from his poetry on this blog, here, here, here -- well, that's a start.

The Drug Mule Muses

I woke up at 5 this morning in the dim gray light of daylight savings and felt the delicious release of the too- early rising, when you don't have to get up for almost two hours! and while I'm usually able to fall soundly back asleep, I lay instead on my back and pondered. I thought about Oliver and his school troubles, his -- what I'm now deciding -- dyslexia and whether the school he's in is sufficient in resources to deal with it. I thought about a school some distance from us that is known for its excellence in the area of learning disabilities but is also quite expensive -- far too expensive for us to afford unless we were to apply for financial aid for which I'm not sure we'd qualify. That thought led me to the looming property tax bill sitting on my desk and the arranging and re-arranging The Husband and I will have to do to pay it on time. I was not yet agitated, actually, by these thoughts as they were free-flowing, one into the next, and the next was the high school tour Henry and I are going on this morning, one of the three choices we are considering for him for next year. What if he doesn't get into the school of his choice? I thought and let that one ride by, the anxiety it produced a fluffy, self-indulgent kind, one that I'm aware of and try to remain vigilant about because I know I would be sucked into the Where is My Child Going to School Bullshit that so many of my peers find themselves in, a vortex that I'd rather watch with equanimity from the outside, so redolent is it of prestige and elitism and privilege. As the clock ticked toward six o'clock, I read some emails on my phone, one of which described a new epilepsy drug called Perampanel that I hadn't heard about. Lest you think me an idiot to pursue such reading before I'd even gotten out of bed, I clicked the phone and email off and lay back down, closed my eyes, did a silent meditation and drifted off to sleep. 

The drug mule is dogged, though, and plods along with dolor, her burdens secure on her back. Later, when the children were off, I put on my straw hat and began to chew. I read that Perampanel, otherwise known as Fycoma is a novel drug showing some promise with resistant epilepsies. The word novel is one that is used quite often in the epilepsy/pharmacology world, and it makes me shiver. I'd rather associate it with the beloved objects that lie everywhere I can see in my house, or with the Russians, whose novels are quite novel in their depictions of the tragedy of the human condition. But I digress. Why is this drug called Fycoma? I muse and scan the rest of the article, dismissing the other usual words of description -- unknown mechanism of action -- noncompetitive antagonist of a particular glutamate receptor known as AMPA -- those of you in the world of drug-resistant seizures will perhaps identify with my lack of enthusiasm only infinitesimally tinged by hope. The following paragraph came at the end:

The drug does have some known adverse effects associated with this drug. The most common ones are anxiety, confusion, imbalance, double vision, dizziness, gastrointestinal distress or nausea, imbalance – some of which may lead to falls on some occasions, and increased weight. The effects of Perampanel on tasks involving alertness and vigilance, such as driving, were additive to the effects of alcohol itself. Multiple doses of Perampanel increased levels of anger, confusion, and depression, particularly when taken with alcohol. Fycompa may lead to euphoria and other similar feelings in some patients. Thus, the drug will be a scheduled in the United States. Final labeling and information is not yet available.

The drug mule chews on these words placidly -- anger, confusion, depression, euphoria and other similar feelings -- and then spits them out, wet and sour, tumbling to the ground. The word coma should not be used in a name for a drug meant for the delicate wiring of the brain, the drug mule thinks. 

Fuckycoma would be better, don't you think?

Tuesday, November 13, 2012


Henry, 11/10/12

The History of Mothers of 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 (via Poetry Foundation)

Monday, November 12, 2012

Secrets and endurance

Jacob, wrestling with the angel, while viewed by Breton maidens
Paul Gauguin 

Sometimes, after Sophie has a big seizure, and my back is aching from holding her and my lip is smarting from where her hand accidentally slapped it while jerking, I pray in a whisper to God. Please take these seizures from her. Make them stop. Give her -- and us -- peace. I don't feel better when I pray, though, because the thought crosses my mind that God might answer the prayer and take her from me. Perhaps that's why I endure.

Veteran's Day and Vonnegut

I want to stand as close to the edge as I can without going over. Out on the edge you see all kinds of things you can't see from the center.
That's one of my favorite quotes of Kurt Vonnegut, whose birthday was yesterday, November 11th. He died in 2007 and thus never saw the inauguration of Obama, never mind the second, but he was notorious for his vocal hatred of all things related to war and particularly despised Bush for invading Iraq. I've read nearly everything Vonnegut wrote and like Cat's Cradle and Slaughterhouse 5 the best of all his books, but I love reading about him, too. A friend once told me that she passed him on the street in New York City when he was quite old, and she was struck by his big white-haired head and by the way he nodded it in greeting. This morning, I read a terrific interview with his daughter Nanette who has written the introduction to the newly released We Are What We Pretend to Be: The First and Last Works, which spans the beginning and end of Vonnegut's fifty-year career. Here's an excerpt, but you might want to read the whole thing on The Rumpus:

Rumpus: He never talked about his experiences in World War II with your mom?

Vonnegut: No. And he was a textbook PTSD sufferer. It’s only recently that veterans are encouraged to talk, let alone cry. My dad could be triggered by something like watching the news coverage of the Vietnam War. Both he and my mother were tuned in to what a load of crap it was. I remember him ripshit yelling at the TV saying, “Fucking lies!” I’ll never forget that. My mother was red-faced, saying, “They’re not going to take my boys. They’re not.”
My father was remembering what it was like and he knew: these are a batch of babies going off to war for nothing. There was a reviewer, William Deresiewicz, who writes for The Nation. He said Slaughterhouse-Five is not a book about flying saucers; it’s a book about post-traumatic stress disorder.
It's the day after Veteran's Day, and my kids are off from school. I'm going to do some laundry and other housekeeping things, perhaps knit a bit more of my sweater, take Sophie out and about in the sunshine and maybe delve, again, into Slaughterhouse 5. I'm going to feel grateful that I can do all of these things, freely, because of people like Vonnegut whose literal fighting as a soldier is only a small part of what he contributed to humanity.

Sunday, November 11, 2012

Mt. Wilson on a Sunday afternoon

We drove up and up to Mt. Wilson, known for its observatory, about an hour away from our home in Los Angeles. The sky was blue, the air was thin but clear and clean, the ocean shimmered in the distance, and the downtown skyline that we all know so well looked like a small pile of Legos in a vast basin. Despite protestations about going, the boys ended up enjoying themselves, and I felt grateful, again, to live in this amazing state.

These were some attempts at a Christmas card, none of which I'll use. In fact, I think I'm not going to send Christmas cards this year, for the first time in nearly twenty years.

The sun was shining so brilliantly, and I couldn't really see what I was photographing (not to mention, I was using my camera phone!), but this shot was of the Los Angeles basin, the small city in the middle and the ocean glimmering behind it. Very cool to see --

 You could smell the pine and juniper up there -- pungent and redolent of Christmas.

Many of the trees are burnt to cinders, remnants of the fires that ravaged the area a couple of years ago.

That yellow, sparkly stuff is the Pacific ocean!

The thin, dry air made Henry's and my hair absurdly flat, and we got a good laugh at the flip on Henry's.

We indulged in Frito Pie, hotdogs and hummus at the cafe and tried to keep warm in the frigid 50 degree air. We're weather wimps.

Even Oliver declared that there was no room for Sunday blues, today.

Dulce et Decorum est

Civil War family via Dream Dogs Art

I never have much to say on these holidays that memorialize soldiers and war and killing and dying. I shirk from expressions like freedom isn't free. I feel a roiling conflict when asked to honor the soldier and not the war and risk the censure of those who take to these easily. I might even envy them. I don't begin to understand the life of a Marine, the dedication, the camaraderie, the duty. I saw the movie Lincoln this weekend and was struck, again, by the simpler brutality of the Civil War when men fought against men, most of the time, in hand to hand combat. It is at once heroic to watch and absurd. I also happened to read an article in the New Yorker magazine called Atonement about a very young Iraqi veteran tortured by a debacle in 2009 when his unit in Iraq opened fire in a street battle and brutally murdered members of a family, including a baby. He eventually tracks down the remaining members of the family and asks for forgiveness, which they give to him, but the cost of this atonement took my breath away. Over 4,000 American soldiers died in Iraq and over 150,000 Iraqis died. This morning, the Los Angeles Times newspaper includes an article titled 2 Wars, 11 Years, 725 fallen Californians. The article states that 41% of these soldiers who died were not yet 22 years old. Sixty-three of them were still teenagers. Those numbers don't make me feel proud; they make me feel ashamed. No, freedom isn't free, but sending boys away to fight and kill never works, has never worked and will never work. On Veterans' Day, I will honor those who have fallen and those who have had to kill others in the name of freedom or liberty or God, but I feel sad for just about everyone.

Dulce Et Decorum Est

Bent double, like old beggars under sacks,
Knock-kneed, coughing like hags, we cursed through sludge,
Till on the haunting flares we turned our backs
And towards our distant rest began to trudge.
Men marched asleep. Many had lost their boots
But limped on, blood-shod. All went lame; all blind;
Drunk with fatigue; deaf even to the hoots
Of disappointed shells that dropped behind.

GAS! Gas! Quick, boys!-- An ecstasy of fumbling,
Fitting the clumsy helmets just in time;
But someone still was yelling out and stumbling
And floundering like a man in fire or lime.--
Dim, through the misty panes and thick green light
As under a green sea, I saw him drowning.

In all my dreams, before my helpless sight,
He plunges at me, guttering, choking, drowning.

If in some smothering dreams you too could pace
Behind the wagon that we flung him in,
And watch the white eyes writhing in his face,
His hanging face, like a devil's sick of sin;
If you could hear, at every jolt, the blood
Come gargling from the froth-corrupted lungs,
Obscene as cancer, bitter as the cud
Of vile, incurable sores on innocent tongues,--
My friend, you would not tell with such high zest
To children ardent for some desperate glory,
The old Lie: Dulce et decorum est
Pro patria mori

Wilfred Owen (1893-1918)

Saturday, November 10, 2012

The Worker

I rarely speak of it here, but my third child, Oliver, has some significant learning disabilities and despite astounding perceptive abilities and an intelligence that can be jaw-dropping, he struggles mightily in school. He's in sixth grade this year, and I wouldn't be exaggerating if I told you that he despises school. Despite going to an excellent progressive charter school with a wonderful resource team, the acts of reading, writing and doing math are agony to him, and the last couple of months have been miserable. I'm not exaggerating, either, when I say that he is having literal existential nausea. He is able to articulate all of this to me and does so, all the time, every single day which has, to say the least, taxed my capabilities as a mother and -- honestly -- a human being. Sometimes it's like living with a glummer version of Jean-Paul Sartre, which is hard to imagine. That being said, Oliver's talent to make me laugh also seems to grow each year, and I am often helpless with it. This morning, he and I spent a few hours at a distant baseball park in Encino, watching Henry play. I talked for quite some time to another parent of a kid on Henry's team who told me about his older son, now a freshman in college, who struggled with learning disabilities as a kid and who reminded me, in the describing, of Oliver. I asked this man to tell Oliver about his son, which he did while Oliver listened.

Oliver: Yeah, I hate school. I wish I could just have a job.

Nice Man: Well, school is your job!

Without missing a beat, in the blink of an eye:

Oliver: Then, I wish I could get fired from my job. I wouldn't care and could probably get a better one.

As my father would say, He's a real piece of work.


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