Saturday, December 29, 2007

I can't think of a title for this post because they all sound like my mom's dying, but she's not (e.g. "Saying goodbye to mom," "Letting mom go home")

My mother left today to go back home to her retirement community. She's 82 years old, and doing remarkably well: she walked across Paris with me during the transport strike; she's talking about going to Istanbul with the elderly pack of "teenagers" she runs around with; she reads, goes to plays, symphonies, the opera. But there are also small signs that tell me she's no longer precisely who she was - mainly that she is more easily confused and dithering. Also, when she's in new situations she's uncertain,nervous, and dependent. My mother, who, by stubbornness and will, got the hell out of the stultifying debutante South and lived all over Asia; who, during my childhood, dealt calmly with snakes in the bathroom, coup d'etats behind our house, rioters destroying our possessions; who, when she and my father moved to Beijing right after Nixon established relations, worked in a Chinese factory as part of her language studies. It's very hard for me to see this woman even momentarily lost and confused. it whispers to me of decline, death.

Before my father died two-and-a-half years ago, I didn't truly believe that my parents would ever die. I mean, I knew it, in the way you know the sun will someday go cold; it would happen, but in a great distant future that had no real relevance to me. Which was, of course, especially stupid because my father had Parkinson's - an incurable degenerative disease- for fourteen years before he died. But, somehow, my fairy tale mind held on to a happy ending. So it shook me hard when he went into a sudden, steep decline and died.

Well, now I know better, and every moment with my mother feels incredibly precious. But, simultaneously, she's still just my mom - who gets on my nerves, whose nerves I get on. Nobody can push my buttons more than she can, and I expect I can do some extreme button buzzing myself. She loves me, loves my kids, and after a visit, loves to go back to her calm, orderly retirement community four hours away. I understand it. And yet it bugs the shit out of me because I want to have every minute of her that is left. But, of course, she just wants to be herself, and I have to let her, don't I? Even if she's 82, fragile and dithery, I have to let her focus on living. And I have to try to not focus on her, someday, dying. But every small goodbye, now - even, "Bye. Call me when you get home so I'll know you made it safely." - reminds me of the big goodbye and makes it hard, makes me sad, to let her go.

Friday, December 28, 2007

"If a bullet should enter my brain...."

Ever since Benazir Bhutto's death, I keep thinking of Harvey Milk who, like Bhutto, suspected he would be assassinated yet kept to his dangerous chosen path. Before he died, he tape recorded something he called a "political will." It said, "If a bullet should enter my brain, let that bullet destroy every closet door." Doors, of all kinds, are still closed, yet because of his life, and his death, many more have been opened. I can only hope it will be so for Ms. Bhutto - that the insanity that led to her assassination will, in reaction, swing her country toward sanity. It does not seem to be doing so now, but only time will tell.

Wednesday, December 26, 2007

What child is this...?

A cousin of mine, through marriage, is in China with her husband where they have just adopted a daughter. Reading her blog brings back so vividly our experience, fourteen years ago almost exactly, adopting our oldest girls. We had been through the misery of infertility, surgery to remove scar tissue, two pregnancies, and two miscarriages. One of the few things I've always known clearly about myself was that I wanted to have kids, and after going through all that, i was a basket case. After the second miscarriage, my husband - who is the sweetest, truest, and most patient of men - took things in his own hands and announced, "We're going to adopt." I know he wanted to be a father, but at that point what I think he really wanted was a his wife back instead of the pitiful creature who wept every day and could only go to the grocery store after 10 pm, when all the babies were safely in bed (so as to avoid more and public weeping).

We tried, first, to adopt from China, because I was born in Taiwan. But the bizarre, internecine world of international adoption made that impossible. Then, on a fluke, we tried an agency that had been working in Cambodia (where I had also lived). They were no longer working there, but were working in Vietnam. Two months later, we were on our way to meet our daughters.

I have to say that it is one of the weirdest feelings in the world, knowing there is a kid out there in the world that is your kid - that is being held for you, like a priceless artwork put away for you on a K-mart shelf - but that you haven't seen, touched, held yet. Pregnancy is a whole different thing; the baby is separate in ways, but also so directly part of you - eating your food, sapping your energy, making you waddle like a manatee on stilts at the end. But with adoption it's tenuous, theoretical, mystical. Yet every atom of your being is vibrating toward that little mysterious baby that you might, someday if you're lucky, hold in your arms. And if she's in an orphanage in the third world, as our girls were, there is the agony of knowing that a host of things - cholera, malaria, hepatitis, dengue fever, and untreated infection - could kill her at any time.

I'll post, some other time, about the joys of finally holding them, of our wild parental ineptness those first nights we had them, and of being terrified that they'd be snatched away from us, I'd lose my babies again, until the moment our plane lifted off the runway in Vietnam. But today, what I'm feeling most, is the unfathomable mystery, and though I'm a pretty earth-bound person, mysticism of it. Fourteen and a half years ago, a woman in rural Vietnam gave birth to twin girls. I wonder if any part of me knew, that day, that moment, that my daughters had just been born? Or was I just dragging my sorry ass through another sad day beating my head against the brick walls of pregnancy, and of adopting from China? Then, amazingly, the barriers evaporated, as if the universe had just been waiting for us to finally blunder onto the right path. A few months later we were parents.

My mother and I took the twins to the mall today. Thing 1 had to buy a Christmas present for her boyfriend. Thing 2 was sick of everyone copying the clothes that she and her sister wear. Grandma was buying and the girl was eager to blaze a new fashion trail, shake off those imitators. They're gorgeous, elegant young women who observe the world sharply and critically behind a quiet reserve. They are bright, artistically gifted, make good grades, and are popular. ' Why, thank you, yes, they are great kids. They take after my husband,' I tell people. Because they're our kids and I don't think about the fact that there was once a time when they existed in the world and I didn't know it. Or a time when they were orphanage babies with scabby infected cradle cap all over their shaved heads and eczema all over their faces. that when we flew home the American stewardesses looked at us with pity because the girls were so unpromising. That somewhere in the world, there is a woman who carried them in her, gave birth to them, made the wrenching decision to leave them behind in the hospital.

So reading my cousin's blog brings it all back and bowls me right over. This strange story, with its many twists and sad turns, that ended, at last, with the only possible, imaginable, right ending when I took them in my arms and held them, finally, against that place in my heart that only they could fit and fill.

Monday, December 24, 2007

I hope that light and love shine the way for you through the coming year.
namaste (The light in me honors the light in you),
Love, elizabeth

Sunday, December 23, 2007

Tis the season to be....

I'm sitting here looking at our fat, happy Christmas tree. it's decorated with multicolored lights, and loaded with a mishmash of ornaments -some from my childhood, some from last week. it fills me with a pagan spirit of hopefulness that, here on this shortest day of the year, light will return to us after all. For me, Christmas does what it's supposed to do. It makes me happy.

My husband, on the other hand, is miserable this time of year. He always goes emotionally MIA a couple of weeks before Christmas. There are plenty of rational reasons for that; he's a naturally frugal guy, so he hates to see the consumer feeding frenzy, etc., etc. But that doesn't touch the heart of it. Even i can't know all the sad corners of it. But there's one image i carry with me. When he was a kid, his parents always went out to a party on Christmas Eve and got wasted (leaving my Husband home with is younger brother and sister). Then, on Christmas morning, they'd be really hung over, so they'd sleep late and my husband, a child himself, would have to keep the younger ones quiet and away from the presents for hours, till the parents finally dragged their selfish, sorry asses out of bed. It's hard for me to think of someone I love having to endure that. i wish I could go back in time and whoosh into their lives like Mary Poppins - bringing a basket of fresh, hot muffins for the kids to eat while I roust the parents out of bed, lecture them firmly on their many derelictions of duty, and make them see the error of their ways. But then my husband wouldn't be the man i fell in love with, the man I still love 23 years later. So the fantasy falls apart.

My kids all seem to have a fairly simple and straightforward happiness about the holiday. I'm pretty good about bustling around and making things fun - I make cookies, I welcome back all our old, tacky ornaments with glee each year. i'm good at thinking up presents people like. So it's rewarding to see them growing up with a happy healthy attitude. But I can't ever quite reach that little boy that haunts me, the one my husband once was, the little man looking after his baby brother and sister alone on Christmas morning. So I guess the only thing I can do is to be merry enough for both of us.

Thursday, December 20, 2007

The company we keep

The United Nation General Assembly voted for a global moratorium on the death penalty. The vote was 104 to 54 (with 29 abstentions). Who did the U.S. choose to side and vote with? Iran, Iraq, China, Pakistan, and Sudan. Even Rwanda, now shamed by it's own history of genocide, voted against the Death Penalty! Shouldn't this tell us something about ourselves?

Wednesday, December 19, 2007

A little sip of my my own medicine

I read a quote last night that really struck me. It was, “You must accept the truth from whatever source it comes” (from the Spanish/Jewish philosopher Maimonides). And I thought, "That's the problem with with this administration. THEY aren't open to truths outside their accepted sources. THEY don't listen." And I felt pretty pleased with myself and my own expansive openness. I even thought, "I might blog about that." So you know I'm getting shot down.

Well, today Thing 2 (one of my 14 year old twins) says, out of nowhere, "Mom, Mary is turning me into a republican." I snapped tartly back, "Oh no she's NOT!" Another friend was in the room at the time, and her parents are republicans. So I restrained myself and simply added, "I'll talk to you about why later." Now, I'm not (usually) an idiot, and I know the best way to create a focus for rebellion is to absolutely forbid something. But I am the deepest, dyed (pinko) in the wool, knee jerk, bleeding heart Democrat. My grandmother worked on the campaigns of F.D.R., Harry Truman, J.F.K., and L.B.J. Through her, I met John Kennedy in the oval office. I'll never forget him stopping in front of me and bending way, way down to shake my hand. I still have the dress I wore that day (forest green, peter pan collar, sash with a big bow in the back). Moreover, I truly believe that, right now, the Democrats are our country's best, maybe only, hope for a sane international and domestic policy. So you can see that if my daughter wanted to find one perfect way to rebel, it would be by becoming a Republican.

Later on, I was telling my husband about it, and I thought about what Maimonides said. And I remembered that there was that one Republican president.... Abraham Lincoln.... who had some pretty important truths he was working for. I do believe that if we are committed to hearing the truth, then we must be open to any source it might come from. Further, I really believe that the only way we can combat the climate of destructive partisan rancor that exists now, is by not accepting it or expressing it ourselves. And I was ashamed of myself.

But I'm still not going to let my daughter become a Republican.

Monday, December 17, 2007

Spy in our midst

There's a spy in my house. I found a little home-made book (two sheets of paper stapled together) on our dining room table. On the cover was written, "Private! Dare to open this secret book!" with a picture of a skull and cross bones. Clearly the handiwork of my eight-year old daughter. I think she meant to write "Don't dare...." but I took her at her word and, reader, I dared. (Of course I would have opened it anyway. Evidence in plain sight and all. And I'm super nosy.)

Here's what our V. Plame wanna be (but, I hope, without the unhappy ending) wrote:
1. Dad reads newspaper aloud to mom. Seems worried.
2. Now Dad is typing on the computer without stopping or blinking. Angry at computer. Holds his head murmuring. Eats a carrot.
3. Thing 1 and Thing 2 GONE!!!!!
3. Mom absorbed in work. Doesn't want us to read page on website. Suspicious.

Or maybe she's a Jane Austen wanna be. Because in four succinct lines, you have our entire life in a nutshell. My husband is home on sabbatical, writing a book. He spends a lot of time either worried about things in the newspaper and ranting, or working and "angry at the computer." He's also a health nut, so when he simply can't take it anymore, he gets up and takes it out on a carrot. My teenagers are always gone. Two minutes ago, they were babies and now they're "GONE!!!" I'm shocked too. And, look, there's me! Ignoring my adorable youngest, and sitting at this machine trying to write, pleading, "Honey, could you please not look over my shoulder? I'll be done soon, and then we'll do something fun. OK?"

Boring? Yep. "Suspicious?" Sadly not.

Saturday, December 15, 2007

Shining our lights against the darkness

When I was a little girl living in Laos, I remember one day there was a commotion outside our house. We went outside and discovered that the sun was being eclipsed by the moon. A crowd had formed on the dirt road and many of the men had shotguns. My father could speak Lao (he never met a language he didn't learn) and found out that in Lao mythology it waas thought that, at such times, a huge frog is eating the sun. It sounds ludicrous here and now. But at the time - watching the strange dusk falling in the middle of the day, seeing flocks of confused birds fleeing to their roosts, hearing the wild dogs howling - it seemed entirely possible. As the frog took bigger and bigger bites out of the sun, men began shooting up into the sky, trying to kill or chase away the frog. I realize, now, that we were probably in some danger of being hit by bullets falling to earth, but it was an amazing thing to be part of. It was one of the great things about my father; he always charged headlong into the worlds we lived in, whether it was sensible or not. And he always took us along for the ride.

And here, on this gray December day, a world away from that sun-drenched place, it's afternoon and the sun is setting. The light is weaker and and the days shorter. The nights are long and cold. All up and down my street, my neighbors have wrapped their trees and porches in light, draped greenery on their snowy houses, brought trees indoors. If you look at it objectively, it's as logical as, though probably less dangerous than, shooting a giant frog in the sky. The Lao knew that, whether or not they shot that frog, the sun would come back. We know that, whether or not we drape our dwellings with evergreens and light the long night with artificial lights, the days will, eventually, grow longer again. But it's like knocking wood or saying "God Bless You" after a sneeze; we do it just in case.....

And it's incredibly touching to me, one of those things that shows us all in our most basic humanity - banding together in the darkness, shining lights to push it away. In Judaism there is the miracle of the oil that lasted eight days instead of one. In Christianity there is the star that guided the wise men to the baby Jesus. In Asia there is the Lunar New Year, with people wearing red, the color of luck, and setting off fire crackers to scare away the bad spirits. All of us doing our bit to roll the world back toward light.

So whether you lit Hanukkah candles, are trimming a tree, or are chanting at a Buddhist altar - or you're shooting at frogs in the sky - I hope there is light enough, warmth enough, and love enough around you to push the darkness back for another year.

Friday, December 14, 2007

She makes me feel like a (natural woman)

This picture fromSquare America just makes me happy. Look at her, all chubby and fine and blissed to be in her own body. Hope she makes you happy too.

Wednesday, December 12, 2007

Instant Karma's gonna get you

I am smiling so widely this morning. Remember James Watson, the Nobel-winning scientist who said Africans didn't have the same intelligence as caucasians? (See, if you want to jog your memory, my post The Ugly Past Creeps in . Well, "a molecular full-monty" was done on him and it turns out that he, himself, has African ancestry!

This is the man who also recently said, "there are many people of color who are very talented," but that "people who have to deal with black employees find this not true." I guess you could say this is a case of the pot calling the kettle, well, black.

Monday, December 10, 2007

Score one for the gathers

History, as we know, was written by the guys with the spears. Or by their male descendants, at least. In the past, when scientists thought about our hunting/gathering forebearers, they thought mainly about the hunters. The gals back at home gathering roots and tubers so the kids could eat every day (as opposed to a meal of hunted mammoth once a month) didn't seem to count for much. But a new study (published in Nature Genentics) tells us that the thing that makes us what we are today (the value of which we'll debate at another time), the size of our brains, is a direct result of the gatherers. Humans produce a protein in our saliva that breaks down starch into glucose. The human brain runs on glucose. So it was those insignificant gatherering moms, feeding their kids on starches, day in and day out, that enabled the human brain to grow and us to become human.

Which throws into even starker contrast than usual, the true value vs. the societal valuation of the nurturer. I'm also absolutely certain that it was, and still is, not only those actual tubers and roots that contributed to human development, but also the emotional tubers and roots - the hugs, the cossetting, the crooning to sleep - those early mothers gave, and that we give still. And finally, this new study also makes me understand that here is a good reason I eat ice cream when I'm stressed and have to sort things out. ice cream=starch=brain food. Yay!!!

Saturday, December 8, 2007

Happy birthday (yesterday) Tom Waits

I L.O.V.E. love this man.

Vitamin Z

It's a gray December morning - the beginning of a long, slushy, gray winter here in the rustbelt, the beginning of the S.A.D. season. Soon my neighbor Marsha will start saying, "I've got to get one of those full-spectrum lamps!" She and I agree on that every winter, but neither of us does it because it's just too icky to go out. Then every Spring we forget. But if a door-to-door salesman came down our street tomorrow, selling those lamps at a reasonable price, he could clear out his inventory on our block alone. So if I'm a little down today, a little blah, there's nothing out of the ordinary in that. Except that, in my family, every brush with depression is like walking near a precipice; as my mother says, depression doesn't just run in our family, it gallops. Here's an incomplete list of the toll it has taken on us. My great great grandfather - a mostly white man who had tried to help the Eastern cherokee - died in an insane asylum speaking only Cherokee. My grandmother's sister hung herself after having the flu. Her brother committed suicide too, (they say he had a forbidden love for an Asian woman. Eeek!). My grandmother's husband, my mother's father, committed suicide by jumping out the window of his law office.

When I was little, my mother used to tell me, among many other stories, the stories of these people. They were all had comfortable lives, people who loved them, reasons to live. Most often, she would tell me about her beloved father, driven to insanity at the end of his life because he was terrified he was getting alzheimers. And she used to say things to me like, "If you ever get the flu and feel like doing something 'bad' to yourself, promise you'll call me first."
"OK mommy," I'd answer. "I'll call you," not exactly knowing what we were talking about.

My mother also says, "It's not that the depression is so bad. It's the cure we choose that's awful." By which she means, when the door to the unthinkable is opened, it never closes completely again. Knowing my grandfather walked out a sixth-floor window one day, gives any height a double fear for me: 1. I might fall accidentally 2. I might fall on purpose. Because of what he did, I always know that "cure" is an option. So, ten years ago, when my middle daughter was diagnosed with autism, I followed my kin toward the edge, and had a nervous break down. Even though I had a wonderful husband and two beloved daughters, a comfortable life, and many, many people who loved and needed me (not least of all, my disabled daughter). The diagnosis simply snapped the ropes that held me to those moorings, and I drifted away into full, nonfunctional, depression. I remember lying in bed, unable to move because I was pinned down by an unbearable weight. It was like lying at the bottom of a dead ocean; and it wasn't so much that I wanted to kill myself. It was more that I wanted to stop living. It sapped all the love out of me. and it just hurt so damn much for my lungs to breathe, for my heart to pump blood.

But unlike any of my kin, I broke down in the age of pharmaceuticals. My doctor prescribed Zoloft, and within two weeks I no longer wanted to stop existing. Within a month I was able to remember love, to get out of bed and care for my people. So I am still here. I take my low dose of "Vitamin Z" every morning, because my mother was right; the depression is not so bad, and a very little bit of extra serotonin makes it all manageable. Which is not to say it's entirely disappeared. There are gray days and gray times when I hear my ancestors whispering. But I'm not afraid, anymore, that they'll pull me over the edge. One little pill, and magically, no one in my generation has taken that final step off the ledge. i don't tell my children cautionary tales of flu and ropes and the dangers of high windows. I tell them that I take a pill, that if they need help, they can take pills. And i have hope that the sad list of wasted lives ends here, with me.

Friday, November 30, 2007

Art, art everywhere (except in some of the museums)

One of the things I loved most about being in the non-touristy, funky 10th arondissement, was that there was street art all over the place. Some of it sanctioned, most of it not, but all of it wonderful. I think street art is, like folk art, a pure expression of the desire to communicate your vision, simply for it's own sake and without concern for status or gain. (Hey! kind of like blogs!) Here are some of the images I saw around town.

I love this because he's so normal, with his tennis shoes, shopping bag, and nylon jacket, and yet so very French - with his too-cool-for-school glance and his deadpan face.

What an odd, interesting thing to celebrate in guerilla street art - this end-of-the-work-day business man, with his very French face.

Amen (You don't want to get me started on the state of arts funding in our country.)

The gates to Damascus in an out-of-the-way Paris neighborhood. I love these ancient looking pillars with their terra cotta background, giving the quiet street the air of an ancient ruin.

All of which somewhat made up for the fact that, because of the transport strike, many of the museums had the art we really wanted to see, closed off. The Musee D'Orsay - with the best impressionist and post impressionist collection in France - was showing only its academic art. The top two floors - with all the impressionist & post work - were closed. Yet all of the museum's eateries, on all the floors, were open and fully staffed! Which expresses something about the priorities of the French. Food vs. Art? (or anything else for that matter) No contest. When i asked a museum staffer about the gallery closings, and when they might be open for visitors from far, far away to view, she said, "vous voulez trop." You want too much! Zut alors!

Monday, November 26, 2007

Paris, je veux retourner!

In spite of a nation-wide transport strike the entire time we were there, we had a lovely time in Paris. Here's a quick overview of the trip, with more to come after I de-jetlag.

The 82 year old mother was a COMPLETE champ, and many miles, or I should say, kilometers were walked because of the strike. When we got footsore, we jammed ourselves into the few-and-far-between Metro trains. I spent one entire ride being spooned by a Frenchman (as I said, an excellent trip!).

Art! art! art!!! Went to many museums, but I had a near religious experience in the Orangerie, where Monet's water lillies are installed. I had only seen individual panels of the Water Lillies before, so to be in the rooms and surrounded, as if swimming in his world, by his vision, of water and sky, shifting surfaces. I was overwhelmed. When I walked in the first room, I literally stood with my mouth open, dumbfounded, for several minutes. Monet! An artist I thought I had already comprehended in his fullness.

Wine & food. Even with the dollar in the toilet compared to the Euro, the wine was affordable and excellent. The Beaujolais Nouveau had just been released, so that was fun. We shopped in the local markets(indoor and outdoor), and ate in alot to save money. Let me say that France has the most gorgeous produce I've ever seen. I bought an exquisite looking bunch of radishes (see below)- and I don't even like radishes - because they were so lovely. I saw bunches of grapes and thought, those are the grapes that Chardin and Fantin Latour painted. Suffice it to say, we ate and drank well.

Language - My accent, if I do say so myself, is fabulous. And since I'm small with dark hair and eyes, I can pass for French if I don't get into in-depth conversations that require any, well, intelligent vocabulary. Sigh. I used to read Camus and Sartre in the original. Now I don't think I could read Tin Tin in the original. Oh well.

Finally, It was lovely to have our own flat to return to at the end of walking, seeing art, eating, drinking, (and spooning!).

Here are a few more pix. More soon!

Wednesday, November 14, 2007

Oooh La La, I'm Leaving

On Friday morning this lovely building, in the 10th arrondissement of Paris, will be my home for a week. It's in a quiet neighborhood, near a still-working canal, (below) and about a mile or so from most of the museums I want to go to.

The distance between the apartment and our intended destinations is, suddenly, critical because, as of midnight tonight, there's going to be a transport workers strike, so there will be no metro or trains service at all. We'll be doing LOTS of walking and some taxi taking. Luckily I lived in New York for a while, so I can fight off the most determined cab stealer, French or otherwise. This is the bedroom where I'll rest my aching feet at the end of the day. Oh, c'est jolie!

The last time I went to Paris was on my honeymoon, 23 years ago. The new husband and I stayed in a lovely little hotel on the left bank. It was January and as we wandered the streets, it snowed. We ate cassoulet at a neighborhood brasserie, and visited my husband's French relatives, one of whom was a famous surrealist painter. It was all impossibly romantic.

This time I'm going with my 81 year-old mother, so romantic it will not be. But we are going to have a blast. We've been going to museums together, talking about art, making each other crazy, and laughing at (and with) each other since I was tiny. So we'll do that in Paris too and it will be wonderful fun.

I've packed my walking shoes, and I'm brushing up on my French - "Je sais que les travailleurs n'aime pas M. Sarkosy!" I've been humming the Marsailles all day and doing the can can (only in spirit, because You don't want to see me throwing up my skirts in real life). Wish me a bon voyage or wish you were coming with me! Either way, Hurrah! I'm going to PARIS!!!!!!

Flight of the Conchords 'Foux Da Fa Fa'

While I'm gone, enjoy the fab "Flight of the Conchord" singing their French fantasy, "Foux da Fa fa." My French is about this good.

Saturday, November 10, 2007

My baby

I have been suffering from Artus Interuptus for sometime now, because I hadn't seen the grouted end-result of a window I was commissioned to make. I make my windows by gluing salvaged stained glass (I go to the dump of a stained glass factory and take their rejects) to old salvaged (a fancy word for trash picked) windows. I had glued the glass on to the window, but had to leave town, so a friend grouted it for me and I never saw it completed. So finally, here it is, in all its pulled-together grouted beauty. It's an image of Mt. Chimborazo (a mountain in Ecquador) in the distance, behind a Star of Panama (aka Poinsettia) tree. This was the view the people I made it for saw out the window of their home in Ecquador. They emigrated long ago and live in the US now, but this view, from this place will always be the home of their hearts. There's a lot of me in it: the vivid, tropical colors of my childhood; the longing for it in this cold, gray place. It's a joy when the image I'm making for someone else speaks so much of me as well. I'm really happy with it.

The amazing, the gorgeous, Rufus

I'm so pumped! I got third-row seats to see him! He's the total package; he sings like a drunken angel, he's as attractive as an earthl-bound devil, and he's gay. I'm in hag heaven.

Friday, November 9, 2007


Hey all, I can't believe I'm doing this, but I started another blog (see link on the right) called Ridiculon. It's where I make fun of idiotic things, you laugh with (or at) me, and we all feel better. Please feel free to send me any news of stupidity, nitwittery, or utter ridiculousness you see in the world. (Sadly, it's all to easy to find these days,)

Wednesday, November 7, 2007

Last roses

Last week we were having global warming. As a citizen of the world, I knew I should be worried. But as a tropical flower and reluctant transplant from the West coast, I was in bliss. It was the beginning of November, and the temperatures were in the 70s. I was picking tomatoes and roses.

Yesterday, clouds snuck down from the North (curse you, Canada, with your cold, cold winds!) and by afternoon we had the first smattering of snowflakes. It would freeze overnight. So I went out and cut all the end-of-summer roses off my ancient, thorny, no-varietal-name, granny rose bush and brought them in for one last breathe of Summer. I've been smelling their scent of apples, honey, and sunshine, all day and trying to store it up to last me through winter.

Monday, November 5, 2007

Oh, sad, sad...

I got a call this weekend from the mother of this month's girl-bully victim. She read me a text message that one of my teens, Thing 1, had accidentally misdirected when she hit send, and which got around to her. It started "LMFAO," (Laugh My Fucking Ass Off) and went on to talk about how great it was that she had gotten this girl in trouble by reporting to me that the girl smoked pot (which I reported to the mom, because we're good friends). So my good friend is reading me a mean-girl message that my child has written about her child - someone we've known for years. What sadness all around. My friend is worried that her child might hurt herself and I'm sick at heart because my child piled on with the abusers rather than defending the abused.

Appropriate measures have been taken: cellphone is gone, daughter is grounded, computer is off-limits, apology has been made to the victim, and I have talked, and talked, and talked, about it all. But I've especially talked about how we are all only responsible for our own behavior, how there is no excuse - not rumors of something someone might have done or said about you, not nothin' - for wrong behavior, for inflicting pain on others. She seems to have heard me (she'd better, if she knows what's good for her).

As for me, I'm trying to educate myself about this problem better (so maybe I can educate the school). I'm reading a book called, "The Bully, the Bullied, and the Bystander," which approaches the issue both on the macro/societal level and on the micro/practical level. So we're all working on it here. And I'll leave you with this awful nugget I learned from the book. There is now a word, Bullycide, for suicide caused by bullying.

Saturday, November 3, 2007

help for hapless parents

My parents pretty much dropped the supervision ball with me (last kid, they were pooped) when I turned 14. I had no curfews, no chores, no limits, no consequenses, and did a LOT of dumb things. So it shouldn't have surprised me that, when my teens turned 14, I suddenly lost my moorings and felt I had no idea how to be a good, effective mom to them. After floundering for a while, I found a child and family therapist, and once a week I go and ask him really nuts-and-bolts questions: How much academic supervision does a 9th grader need? How much allowance should they get? What chores should they be doing? It's been really helpful to have someone to go to and cover all the lame-brain basics that no one covered with me.

But last week I finally got around to talking about the big stuff - sex, drugs. And the bummer is that, when it comes to the tough stuff, even an expert can't, finally, be expert for me. I have to figure it out myself. Shit! I hate that! Because the risks are so dire now: Drugs offenses are prosecuted more seriously; unprotected sex can be deadly.... And we can say (as the therapist essentially reccommended I do) NO, NO, NO!! Don't ever do drugs, don't have sex till you're in a committed, monogamous relationship with someone who has tested clean for everything. But to me that doesn't seem like a very nuanced, realistic answer to the very tough questions and challenges ahead of them. Which means I have to delve into my heart and figure out what I really believe and cross my fingers and hope i do OK for them. Scary. So this graffitti made me laugh. And really, it's not a bad anti-drug argument!

Wednesday, October 31, 2007

Teen Toxemia

As my mother always says, be careful what you wish for, it might come true. My teenaged twins - the darling chubby dumpling babies that I travelled across the world to adopt, that I coaxed and nurtured through deeply debilitating shyness, that I worried would never have more than one friend - are, all of a sudden, very popular in school. They are popular enough that some of the girls they hang with are really popular. And you know what that means. Mean girls. Toxic teens.

To clarify (which I spent much of the weekend doing with various teens and mothers of teens), my daughters don't actually do any bullying or soul destroying. But they are good friends with people who do. And I know they're not five anymore and I can't plan playdates for them and be in control of who they're friends with. This is a sin of omission rather than commision. But there's still the troubling little part about the sin.... Isn't there a poem about this?

First they came for the math nerds, but I was not a math nerd so I did not speak out.
Then they came for the potheads, but I was not a pothead out so I did not speak out.
Then they came for the fashion challenged, but I was not fashion challenged so I did not speak out.
And when they came for me, there was no one left to speak out (except my mom and dad, but I'd rather die than have them show up at school).

So I'm relieved that my kids aren't the ones saying mean-spirited, cutting remarks to girls they've known since they were six. But I'm also saddened that they're not fighting at the barricades of highschool decency, dumping the queen bees and defending the wanna bees. But they're 14, and that's more than a lot of grown ups can manage. Still....

Tuesday, October 23, 2007

Dumbledore is gay? Part II

My husband heard a comentary on NPR on Rowlings belated "outing" of Dumbledore. It's funny and poignant.

click here to listen.

Monday, October 22, 2007

Dumbledore is gay?

Full disclosure here: I've written a young adult fantasy novel, which I will submit to my publsher soon, in which a young girl runs away from home and washes up on the sparkling shores of pre-AIDS Castro street. She and the gay man who takes her in are the two main characters in the book, the heroes. Though I think the book is very good, I have some concerns that a major publishing house with a family-values reputation (hint: it's the same one that published Harry Potter) will be reluctant to publish a young peoples book, however good it may be, that not only accepts, but heroizes gay men and the culture of joy and openness they created, in that time and place.

So back to the good professor Dumbledore. How is it that, in seven books and four gazillion pages of text, Rowling neglected to tell us that, as she said last night in Carnegie Hall, "Dumbledore is gay," and that he was "smitten" with Gellert Grindlewald, who he fought in a battle between good and evil. She went on to add that "his love was his great tragedy." There are so many things I want to say here: homosexual love = great tragedy?; his great love also happens to be a stand-in for evil?; if his love, and loss of it, are his great tragedy, then would the grief of that not somehow have motivated, or at least informed, his self sacrifice at the end of the series?; did the fear of losing, say, 5% of your richer-than-god sales to a few homophobes keep you from telling us, your many fans? These are all deep questions that, no doubt, Rowling will have to answer somehow, somewhere. But really, my main and completely self-interested question is: Why didn't you step up to the plate, show Dumbledore in all his multiplicity of selves - hero, Christ figure, teacher, protector, gay man - so that generations of little witches and wizards and readers could have had him as a fully fleshed out character? And - in very open self interest here - perhaps, if she had, my little book would be a little less scary to publish.

A few final notes. If Dumbledore is gay, then McGonigle's definitely a lesbian and I don't buy for a minute that he would have had that desperately shaggy beard. Though the dress was good.

Sunday, October 21, 2007

OK, but only if I can have my big hair back too.

What a relief! Finally the New York Times Style section has announced that shoulder pads are back in style. They write, "At Balenciaga, shoulders of tops rise into stiff peaks or explode into fuzzy pompoms of fabric." I can't wait to get to my neighborhood Goodwill store and buy those faulous 80s big-shouldered shirts before the super models snap them all up. Because I think exploding "fuzzy pompoms of fabric" on my shoulders are just what my larger-than-it-used-to-be figure needs to acheive that "female linebacker" look I've been dying for. But if I add these hot new shoes

by Marc Jacobs to the ensemble - Lucky me! - I can look like this!

Friday, October 19, 2007

The ugly past creeps in, part 2

So what did I hear when I finally emerged from the pile of crumpled Kleenex I was buried under?

Nobel-prize-winning scientist James Watson told The Sunday Times that he was "inherently gloomy about the prospect of Africa" because "all our social policies are based on the fact that their intelligence is the same as ours – whereas all the testing says not really."

So my grandmother has some distinguished company. To continue on from my earlier post, "Radical Compassion," the past seeps up, like toxic ground water, to taint the present. Unless we examine our individual pasts, our national past, the flawed assumptions and assertions that those in the past called truth will find their way into the so-called "truths" of today. In the 19th century, "scientists" measured human skulls and made declarations about intelligence and ability based on these measurements. (See the lovely chart, above.) Guess who came out as superior?

It's an absolute wonder to me that - with all the dangerous, discredited theories (humors, skull shape, bleeding the sick) that we have gone through in the name of Science - scientists don't have a deeper sense of humility about what they do. And how can ANYONE make such sweeping statements about an entire continent, with its multiplicity of peoples? Which also just happens to be the continent responsible for the development of all human life. What standards are they using and who invented those standards? "Western" scientists, of course, with their deep cultural biases.

You'd think with a Nobel, he'd show signs of intelligence. whereas all the evidence says, "not really."

There, I've vented. Think I'll go hide my head again.

Thursday, October 18, 2007


"With violence you can solve one problem, but you sow the seeds for another."
Tenzin Gyatso, the 14th Dalai Lama

(Still sick and too pooped out to come up with my own words or images. But the Dalai Lama won the congressional medal of honor today, so at least it's topical.)

God it sucks being sick when you have kids

because you can't just fall apart and not function. Little pests need to eat, and wear clothes, and go to school and stuff. So below, for your pleasure, and for my relaxation, are some of my favorite moments from the Wooster Collective site. They document street art all over the world and it's amazing stuff. Enjoy.

These amazing images are made by farmers in Japan planting two different colors of rice. Yow! that's some commitment to art!

Monday, October 15, 2007

Radical Compassion

I've been thinking about the climate of vitriolic extremes gripping our country - a lot of judgement is being splashed around, a lot of stones being thrown. And it makes me think of one of the Bible's best, yet least heeded, moments. The one when Jesus said, "Let he who is without sin cast the first stone."

So who among us is blameless? Not me. There are things I've done in my life that I think are shameful. OK, admittedly, I've never started a war, or ordered torture, but I've done hurtful things to people who deserved better. And yet I think I'm a good, kind person. So both of those things exist within me, but neither defines me entirely.

And I think about my family: My mother is a truly sweet person, adored by almost anyone who meets her. But she also believes that our ancestors, who were slave owners, were "good" slave owners (!) because the records show that they bought their slaves shoes. I have fussed at her endlessly about this: told her that the shoes were, no doubt, bought to increase productivity; that there can be no "good" ever in the enslavement of another person. She shuts up about it now, which is something. But I think, in her heart, she wants to believe that our kin were better than those other, bad slave owners. Good woman, silly woman, self-deluding woman all in one person.

Then there was her mother, an activist in getting women the right to vote, who worked on the campaigns of every democratic presidential candidate since women got the right to vote. She knew FDR and JFK, who appointed her to the UN as ambassador for women's rights. But she was a Democrat by way of our family being Dixicrats. Dixicrats were the lovely folks who, after the Civil War, worked to divide the suddenly mixed-race working/farming-class vote by racial fear mongering. In North Carolina my kin did this by starting the Klu Klux Kan. So, back to my Grandmother, the admirable suffragette. When I was in college, visiting her, she asked me to make ONE sandwich for the gardener, who was black. He'd been working hard all morning, so I said I thought two would better. "Just one," she says. "Because if you make more, he'll always want more. Also, don't invite him in to eat." Ouch. The ugly past finds its way into the present.

My past, everyone's, is an unwieldy mix of pride and shame. I come from crofters (subsistence farmers), who were driven off the Isle of Skye by greedy lords in "The Clearances." The children of these abused and disposessed crofters later became slaveholders and Klansmen, abusing and dispossessing others. I'm sure that I have black "cousins" whose great great grandmothers were raped by my kin. but I also come from the Cherokee (dna test proven!) who were murdered and driven off their lands by the U.S. government. All of them inform but, I hope, don't define who I am.

So I've been pondering all this as I listen to pundits skewering people, left and right (yes, pun intended). Because I have friends who are (gasp) Republican. We disagree entirely on the solutions to most of the problems facing the world today. But we share our experience of those problems. We have the same worries and goals: we want our children to be safe, to be educated; we ache over their missteps and worry that we are not doing our jobs as mothers well enough; we pinch pennies and do without things ourselves, so our kids can have the things they need; we hope that when we retire we'll be able to get by. We might see eachother as misguided fools, but not as irretrievably evil because we've shared our fear and exhasution, rallied each other to keep going. My knowing them helps me to not dehumanize others who share their views. I hope that knowing me, an openly pinko, knee-jerk, bleeding-heart liberal, does the same for them. Because it's the dehumanization of others that allows us to abuse them, and so become less fully human ourselves. Now, I loathe George Bush and Dick Cheney as much as anyone (who is a pinko bleeding heart liberal) does. but I also feel, in some vague way, that that's a failing in me. I want to be able to judge the actions of the human, but leave their (and my) humanity intact. It's hard. I'm working on it.

In Buddhism there is the concept of "Radical compassion," using love like a sword to break the chains of misery and rage that bind most humans to rebirth. I don't know what I think about rebirth, but I like the strength implied in radical compassion. We certainly need to be strong, to rebuke and repudiate the evil acts of those around us. But we also need to break the "chains of rage" that bind and dehumanize us all by seeing the essential humanity, especially, perhaps, of those we rebuke most strongly.

Saturday, October 13, 2007

Love letter

Oh Al. You're such an adorable boy scout of a geek. I truly love a man who over explains things (after all I married an academic). And even when I thought to myself "Shut up and land the plane already. Get to the point, man!"; even when you were V.P. and neutered by the limits of the office; even when you were dimmed by the dazzle of Bill's 500 watt charisma; even when you lost the election that you won, you, the good boy, had my heart. I knew you'd never get or need a blow job from an intern to feel like a man. And look at you now! Saying fearlessly what you really think (and I won't dwell on how you could have done a teeny tiny bit more of that when you were campaigning), winning your Oscars and Nobels, jetting off into the sunset like the Alan Cummings ubergeek at the end of "Romy and Michelle's High School Reunion."

Now maybe I can stop aching about what our country would have been like if you had actually taken office after you won that election, and get on with my life. Being on the fringes myself, I was always a George (occasionally even Ringo) Beatle girl. It's wonderful to see a nice guy kicking some ass.

So Congratulations and Love always, your #2 fan (because, of course, you're married and I'm married, so Tipper has to be #1. Sigh.)

Thursday, October 11, 2007

Pledge to speak out against bias

I read in this morning's paper that "A majority of U.S. citizens support equal treatment for gay people," and I thought, 'Alright America! We're on the right track!' Then I read that it's only 56% of Americans, which means that 44% are still in the soul-darkness of fear and bigotry. Oh well, at least it's a majority..... Anyway, here's a link to the Straight For Equality website:


You can pledge to challenge anti-gay sentiments and download a guide to help you do so. I'm pledging!

Tuesday, October 9, 2007

Homecoming and then coming home

Last week we were all aflutter getting the twins (14) ready for their first high school dance. The list of necessities was long:

Dresses - Much research, mall treking, and negotiation was involved in this most-critical element of all. They wanted lovely and VERY expensive Jessica McClintock dresses. We countered with discout store, craig's list, or ebay dresses. We acheived a truce at new, but affordable mail order.
Accesories to the dresses were:
Dates- check. Two Tenth (!) graders had asked and been accepted. They were told to wear ties that matched the girl's dresses.
Shoes - Must "go" but not "match," and "I don't know, Mom! But I'll know it when I see it. Also, they can't be the same as Tina's or she'll get mad at me for copying."
Jewelry - Mom's heirlooms anyone? No, way too outre. It's got to be cheap crap from the hot store at the mall.
Makeup - All I can say is thank God for Target.

Finally the big night came. The boys, driven by a mom in a minivan, arrived. Let me just say here, because I only have girls and haven't observed the young male of the species closely for quite some time: fifteen year old boys are like great gangly uncoordinated puppies! Cute, but in a sort of silly way. The mom was great. She kept saying "Stand up straight! Her dress isn't apple red. It's cranberry. Why did you tell me it was Apple red? Now you don't match!"

Humiliation by camera was endured. They had been delighted for me to buy them all this stuff, but were horrified that we might actually want to record the event (and our purchases) for posterity. But she who holds the credit card holds the power.

When the great, longed-for event was all over and the girls came home, I asked, "Did you have fun?" The answer was a dull, "I guess." And in that answer I heard the crashing sound of dreams meeting reality. I don't know exactly what they expected, but it wasn't provided by lovely dresses and fifteen-year-old dorks.

I remember going to a prom in tenth grade (my first and last!). I had a lovely red velvet dress. I was nominated and (to my surprise) won Sophomore princess, so I got a tiarra too. A dress, an actual boy as a date, and a tiarra! We're talking serious little girl (me at least) fantasy territory. But, after the prom we went for drinks (this was in Taiwan. No drinking age or carding.) I got a Singapore sling, which had a maraschino cherry in it. I hate maraschino cherries. So innocently and stupidly, I held it out to my date and asked, "Do you want the cherry?" To which he, OF COURSE, replied. "That's not the cherry I want." Yuck! Which is, I recall, what I actually said to him. And all around me was the icky squelching sound of fantasy sliding into the gutter. As I said, it was my last prom.

Saturday, October 6, 2007

Cynicism and secret hope

I just figured out why I don't post about politics and politicians directly (though, of course, the personal is political....). It's because I grew up in the lap of the US government, surrounded by politics and politicians and nothing they do, no matter how dishonest, two-faced, self-serving, or powerhungry, surprises me. Functioning as part of a large organization of almost any sort - but especially one that gnaws and fights over the bones of power - depersonalizes and dehumanizes. It's not complete, but it's enough. I once listened to my own father talk to a reporter for fifteen minutes without saying anything. It was stunning and almost admirable to watch him seeming so friendly and forthright, while being so entirely evasive. Many of my friends fathers were spies who had lied successfully and endlessly to their families till congress outed them. Then suddenly it all crumbled and my shell-shocked friends were unmoored, adrift in a sea of lies. Just doing my job, dear.

So when the husband rants about George Bush, Dick Cheney, Larry Craig, I just give him my Diplomatic-corps-bred world-weary sigh, and ask, "Really? You're surprised by this?" Me, short of murder or genocide, I'm never surprised by anything the powerful or the power seekers do. Disgusted, yes, surprised, no.

Oddly enough, or maybe it's just what I do to maintain my sanity, I'm entirely optimistic to the point of being Pollyanna-ish, about individuals. I really do believe that each of us always has the capacity for change, for goodness, that it's never to late, or at the very least, that trying is better than the alternative. And somewhere in me I hope that if each of us is as true and brave and kind as we can be, if each of us takes our little inch of the world and, within it, fights against racism, homophobia, lying, greed - all those soul-deforming behaviors - then our inches will meet and our transformations will become social change. Oh dear, I've exposed the soft spot in my armour. Be kind.

Ok. What the hell. Since I'm exposing my ill-advised lapses in cynicism, I'll let it all hang out. There is one living human in a position of power that, I hope, is as good and he appears to be. The Dali Lama. I will be so bummed if Kitty Kelly writes a tell-all book about how he parties with hookers, does drugs, doesn't wear underpants, and needs to go to celebrity rehab.

But then, I guess, I'd just have to pick myself up, dust myself off, and weed on my own little garden again.

Tuesday, October 2, 2007

Empty Alms Bowls in Myanmar

I don't usually blog about politics. I don't know why exactly, because I care passionately. It might be because I feel that other people do it so much better than I can, or perhaps it's sadness and distaste for the idiotic and increasingly destructive polarization of our country.... But, as a person who spent her childhood in many Buddhist countries, as a person who is always reaching toward (and never reaching) the Buddhist ideal of not judging, of compassion, I have to mark this.

The photos express more than I can ever say, so I will just add this. In Southeast Asian Buddhist countries (where I grew up), people can earn merit (and so move closer to stepping off the wheel of rebirth, Samsara) by giving food to the monks. The monks, in their bright colors - saffron or cinnamon red - walk through towns and villages with their empty bowls and people give what they can. This is what the monks eat for the day and this simple daily giving and receiving is one of the pillars that supports the entire structure of these societies. So for the monks to walk, in mass, with their alms bowls turned upside down, was a huge statement. It said that this government had become so corrupted that it had gone beyond any possible redemption. I think, again, of the Buddhist monks in Vietnam who set themselves on fire to protest the war and how that inched us all toward rightness. I hope that, for these monks, it will be the same.

Namaste - The light in me honors the light in you.

Sunday, September 30, 2007

Leave Bjork Alone!!!! Just Leave her alone!

I've been blogging for about nine months now. I've written about such hot-button topics as race, class, religion, homophobia, and the sorry state of public schools in our country and left it open for anyone to read and comment on. And there's only ONE posting that got any nasty comments: The posting in which I said I knew I should like her, but listening to Bjork made me feel like sticking a fork in my ear. Two ANNONYMOUS (too scared to take on a fifty-year-old mom cyberface to cyberface?) Bjork advocates left deep, thoughtful comments. e,g.: "Don't listen to Bjork. It might destroy the one brain cell in your head!"

Here's the thing: IT WAS A JOKE!!! And a self depricating on at that! I know she's a genius; I know she's using her howls and shrieks to experiment sonically and expand all kinds of artistic envelopes. And anyone who could name a band "Snot and Spit" has my undying admiration as a true punk (as opposed to, say, these cute little emo boys with their eyeliner and their pretend-punk posing). But just as her partner, Mathew Barney, makes art that I accept is brilliant but that doesn't speak to me, so her music leaves me cold. And for God's sake
So come on, lighten up you annonymous (and apparently cowardly) Bjork lovers.

An Asian girl walks into a cafeteria.....

Here's a funny little thing that happened, in the usually unfunny arena of racial assumptions.

So Twin 1, was in line at the school cafeteria, and a kid who didn't know her looked at her and said, "Hey, does your mother make you home-cooked Chinese meals?" Twin 1 said, simply, "Yes." Because she does have a mother that makes her Chinese food. (Then the other kid added idiocy to ignorance and said, "Oh well can you save me a plate?" To which Twin 1 replied - after giving the kid that extra-specially withering die-now glare which she usually reserves only for her parents- "No." And walked away.)

What I love about this is, that the kid's ignorant assumption that this cute Asian girl had an industrious little Chinese immigrant mommy at home cooking away, leapt, with glorious obliviousness, over all the cultural/ethnic complications of our family (white mom born and raised in Asia and who is not US-identified, raising twins born in Vietnam but ethnically Cambodian, adopted at six months, who have no memory of Asia, and are very US identified) and landed squarely on the one question Twin 1 could answer simply and honestly: Does your mom cook chinese food? She told me about it when she got home and the teens and I actually shared a giggle over it. Thank you nitwit stranger!

Friday, September 28, 2007

Van Gough, me, and the angel of the possible

When I was a kid I believed adamantly that I couldn't "really" draw. (See my earlier post on this, "Comfort," if you like.) Which is not to say that I didn't draw. I drew constantly, copying comics, illustrations, photos, anything. My mother would look over my shoulder and say, "That's wonderful! You're so talented." And my response was always, (in a dismissive, frustrated wail) "I'm NOT talented! It's just copying!" In art class, I always felt in awe of people who could pull an image out of thin air and put it on the page before them. That was real talent. Still, I kept up my inadequate copying and, eventually, began copying in "pleine aire" from the world around me.

So I was reading, in the New York Times this morning, about a new Van Gough exhibit at the Morgan Library. The article says, "He [Van Gough] writes, as if about a disability, that he can make art only from real models, things in the world. He says, '...I have such a fear of separating myself from what's possible."

I read that and thought, "I know that fear! That's my fear." I grapple with it still. I've written a children's book that I want to illustrate myself. I even have a publisher that will look at it. But children's illustration seems so firmly set in the realm of the imaginary, seems so much the province of those amazing people who pull pictures out of empty air, that I don't know where to start. I'm a person of very few fears. I've swum after highly poisonous sea snakes just to see where they hid. On my first day of first grade, my school bus was turned back by a guerilla armed with a machine gun, and I thought it was a great lark. I've had dysentery and most of the parasites known to man and felt that they were more than worth the great joy of going barefoot and eating street food during my childhood in Asia. But I am truely afraid to set pencil to paper - to try and make this little picture-book world come into being because I'm afraid I will have to leave behind my inspiration, my lifelong crutch, my angel of joy, the visual world before me.

Van Gough, speaking of Rembrandt's self portraits, wrote, "Rembrandt, behind this old man who bears a resemblance to himself, paints a supernatural angel with a da Vinci smile." Yet "Rembrandt invented nothing, and that angel and that strange Christ - he knew them, felt them there." I've had glimpses of that angel, or one of her lesser followers, when I draw. And having seen her can never stop looking for her. Van Gough wrote, "I adore the true, the possible." I guess I'll just have to find a way to bring that angel of the true, the possible, with me into the pages of my children's book. Wish me luck.

Monday, September 24, 2007

Street Art

Just in case you can't read it, the text on the sign reads, "Try this tasty combo of free-range rodent, Tainted tomato, Savory Salmonella Sauce, and lettuce." Yum. But I prefer my rodent cage-bred. Makes 'em less stringy.

To see more of this artist's work visit vinchen


Yesterday Mattel apologized to their Chinese manufacturers for making them look bad to American consumers. You might remember that Mattel had a tiny problem with the toys that were being made for them in China being painted with lead paint? So now they're saying they're sorry they told us and made the Chinese lose face.

I have a daughter just young enough to think that Toys R Us is the most enchanting place in the world. So I've just decided I'm boycotting Mattel this Christmas. Care to join me?

Saturday, September 22, 2007

Some unfinished business

After a restorative dip into frivolity, I'm ready to post, one last time, about the whole school district battle. First of all, I want to thank all of you who read, listened, and cheered us on from these, and other, sidelines. It meant a lot to have sympathy and stick-it-to-the-bastards support along the way. You know who you are, and I hope you know it helped. Now, on to business.

Chances are that anyone reading this already knows, or will know soon, a family like ours - a family trying to persuade an unwilling public-school bureacracy to agree to a private placement for their autistic child. (When Charlotte was diagnosed the statistics said that one in every ten thousand children would be autistic. Now it's one in one hundred fifty!) So here are the things we did that led to us getting what we wanted out of them, and please pass this on to anyone who you think might need it:

1. Hire a lawyer with passion for the work and a fire in her belly. ( Many thanks to our attorney, Pamela Berger!)

2.Find an "approved private school" that you want your child to go to. "Approved" means that the feds will, at some point, begin to pay 60% of the tuition.

3.Make sure it's a school that you're REALLY enthusiatic about. This will make it easier, when the district says no, to....

4.Scrimp, save, borrow against your future to pay the more-expensive-than-Harvard tuition yourself and make it clear to the district that you are willing to go farther down this road than they are. Because one thing you have on your side, that they don't, is the determination that only love can give you. It's just a job to them. To you, it's your sweet baby's life and future on the line. I didn't have much certainty about how all this would go, but I did know with unshakeable clarity that only over my dead body would my daughter ever set foot into that dreadful public-school autistic support classroom.

5.Hurt them where they'll feel it - right on their bottom line. The school district is legally required to bus your child to any school within ten miles of your house. It costs them an astonishing amount of money to bus special-needs kids. Because of the special busses and aids necessary, our district would have had to pay $36,000 a year to bus our daughter to her school! The bussing alone was 2/3 of the tuition. Then tell them if they'll pay tuition, you'll waive bussing and drive her to school. They'll add things up and realize that once the federal aid money kicks in, their costs will be relatively modest. And if they don't go to court they'll save even more money. Court cases are expensive. They're all about that bottom line.

6.Go over the heads of the special-ed people. The school board is the boss of everyone (in theory anyway), so I spoke to, and wrote gracious, rational, yet passionate letters to, the president and vice president of the school board, laying out why our daughter desperately needed this placement. I made them see her as a person rather than as a precident (and I reminded them how much bussing and attorneys would cost the district).

7.And that's, finally, what did it. The school board "talked it over" and overruled the head of special ed. Two days later we got a letter saying that if we would waive bussing, they'd pay the tuition.

And God shined down his light, and the angels sang because that day one of their own on Earth, my baby, found the way before her smoother and her heavy load lightened.

PS - After it was all over, I took flowers to the president and vp of the school board.

Middle-aged woman's nightmare

I had a nightmare last night, and it tells me - as much as the box of Clairol in my bathroom cabinet, the tri focals on my face - that I'm middle aged. I dreamed I had gone on a trip and not packed enough/appropriate clothes (OK, that's many women's nightmare) so I had to go to a store to buy a fancy dress. The proprietress of the store kept bringing out hideous sequined old-lady dresses for me to try on - the kind of dresses I remember Dr. Ruth wearing in the 80's. Occasionally the woman would bring out something pretty and, of course, it would be four sizes too small (the size I was wearing in the 80's!). There was one particularly stylish skirt she brought out. I held it up to my waist and it was like holding up a little girl's skirt against my cartoonish largeness.

How pitiful is that? Even in my dreams, now, I can't be lithe and lovely.

Tuesday, September 18, 2007

Fashion Survivor: Goodwill

I was vegging out this evening, watching Tim Gunn's Guide to Style. This was after I had spent a portion of the day at Goodwill buying clothes for my new-to-school-but-growing-like-a-weed twelve year old. And some for myself, e.g. a sky-blue Pashmina! Now ladies, I think any one of us could look completely fabulous if a world-famous fashionista took us under his wing (and, more to the point, into his expense account) and dolled us up. A much more interesting (though much less fantasy inducing) show would be for someone to challenge Tim Gunn to do a total make over on some normal woman, but have him be limited entirely to thrift, consignment, and discount clothing stores. I'd like to see him pawing through the polyester hodge podge on the Goodwill racks, tossing off incisive sartorial advice while treasure hunting - "Ladies,If you're top heavy avoid the 80s shoulder-pad leopard-print shirts!" - and pouncing triumphantly on that Barney's New York sweater (I really found one!) or that Donna Karan tank. I think, toe-to-toe, on my home turf, I could take him.

Sunday, September 16, 2007


The day we got the letter from the school district saying they'd pay the private school tuition, Kirk and I each read it over again and again to make sure we hadn't missed the part that said, "April fools suckers!" Every indication we'd gotten from the school had led us to believe this process was going to be a long and bloody one, involving many lawyers and much heartache. It is such a miracle that we were able to break through the school district's insane tangle of fear, bureaucracy, and short sightedness without going all nine rounds.

This summer I was talking to my aunt about the case and she turned to me and said wonderingly, "You've had to fight and scratch for every little thing you've gotten for her, haven't you?" And we have. I feel like someone has lifted a boulder off my back; there's the strange, dizzy bouyancy of a body that had long adjusted to strain when, poof, suddenly the strain is gone. Wonder of wonders: sometimes things work the way they're supposed to; sometimes, even within the dehumanizing maw of the machine, we are able to be, and be seen as, human. I don't think I ever need another present for as long as I live.

Thursday, September 13, 2007


The school district has agreed to pay the $52,000 tuition for our (autistic) daughter's placement in an appropriate private school!!!!! We got the letter today, out of nowhere; at our last conversation with them the head of special ed said "a private placement is not going to happen." HA HA HA


Tuesday, September 11, 2007


It's September 11th, I've been thinking of grief and comfort and how the two, paradoxically, create each other. For me, my first soul-shaking grief came with my first true heart break. I was in my early 20s. I'd dropped out of my Ivy-league college, moved to San Francisco, and taken up with a poet whose eyes were the color of green sea glass. He was older than me and he was going to be such a great writer someday that he couldn't waste time with a regular job. Sometimes he worked under-the-table construction jobs. Most days he wrote while I - confused college kid - went off to work eight hours a day on my feet at Cliff's Variety store on Castro Street. The job was tedious but the place and time were amazing.

We moved in together, to a dark desolate apartment in a bad neighborhood. Our upstairs neighber grew pot and dealt drugs. I got mugged once, walking home one evening. He cheated on me routinely but I didn't know. Except that I was in a constant state of paranoia and hysterical jealousy. He told me I was crazy. I remember one night he never came home. I sayed up late waiting. At 2 am i heard a woman outside screaming on and on and I wanted to help her but I was too scared to go outside. I remember weeping because I couldn't help her and I couldn't help myself.

After a year, I decided to go back to college, this time at Berkeley. I got accepted and moved, by myself, across the bay. (The boyfriend said, "This apartment, this city, is my furnace. I need to hammer out my art here." ) And slowly, back in school, I came to my senses. And we broke up. And I was fine. And he took up with another woman and I was, idiotically, inexplicably, devastated. for months I couldn't sleep, I barely ate, I wore black all the time. In Spring I took a studio art course. It was just for fun because I thought I couldn't really draw. Our teacher sent us outside into the greening California Spring to draw the world. When I drew, I focussed completely on the tree, house, hill I was looking at. My self dropped away and I was just a hand tracing the shapes and colors around me. For that time desolation was gone and the ridiculous, excessive beauty of the world filled every part of me. It was rapture, it was worship, it was peace.

After I got my degree in English, I got a second degree in studio art. I still felt I wasn't a natural at it, but I worked hard and it gave me joy. My high point in art school was when Elmer Bischoff (famous CA artist) told me in a critique that drawing was too easy for me and I should try to challenge myself more.

I don't know what became of the green-eyed poet (or the "lying, cheating, scum bag," as I now refer to him). But I've been making art ever since and in times of despair it's still what I turn to - the world around me, imperfect as it is, offers me, every day, its careless gorgeousness. it is, for me, a sight of God's hand, a refuge, a comfort for all the greater heart breaks that have and will come my way.