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.

Thursday, September 6, 2007

If you need a good laugh (and who doesn't?)

I found this on the internet and it made me laugh and laugh. Enjoy.

Each year the Washington Post's Style Invitational asks readers to take
any word from the dictionary, alter it by adding, subtracting, or changing only one letter and supply a new definition. Here are the 2002 winners:

Intaxication: Euphoria at getting a tax refund, which lasts until you realize it was your money to start with.

Reintarnation: Coming back to life as a hillbilly.

Foreploy: Any misrepresentation about yourself for the purpose of getting laid.

Giraffiti: Vandalism painted very, very high.

Sarchasm: The gulf between the author of sarcastic wit and the person who doesn't get it.

Inoculatte: To take coffee intravenously when you are running late.

Hipatitis: Terminal coolness.

Osteopornosis: A degenerate disease. (This one got extra credit).

Karmageddon: It's like, when everybody is sending off all these really bad vibes, right? And then, like, the Earth explodes and it's like, a serious bummer.

Glibido: All talk and no action.

Dopeer Effect: The tendency of stupid ideas to seem smarter when they come at you rapidly.

And, the winner of the Washington Post's Style Invitational:

Ignoranus: A person who's both stupid and an assh0le.

Tuesday, September 4, 2007

Happy in the (sometimes) empty nest

So all four of my daughters went to school today. Sounds normal, but given that one of them has autism and has been home schooled for the last four thousand years (no, it just seems like that. Really only a decade.....) it's a BIG BIG BIG day!

Yes, we've let our lawyer off her leash and are probably going to be in a lawsuit with the school district soon. Yes, we're paying the $52,000 tuition out of our retirement money. But still, it's a day for the happy dance because all the little chickies spread their wings and left us behind. The house is so quiet it's like a deep silent forest. Ahhh.....

Sunday, September 2, 2007

Amazing grace

50 years ago a young woman named Dorothy Counts integrated a high school in Charlotte, NC. Please click on the link below and watch a slide show of that day. I marvel at her grace in the face of all that ignorance, fear, and hate. I imagine how carefully she chose that dress she's wearing, with its femine billow, and sweet bow, so it could move and speak her goodness for her. But I also examine the faces of those white boys following her, to see if I recognize any of them. My family is from Charlotte and those boys could be, might in fact be, my cousins (in the inclusive Southern sense of the word).

Yes, "the moral arc of the universe is long, but it bends toward justice." These days in Charlotte, my good-ol'-boy cousin just adopted a Chinese baby girl and we all went down to welcome her to the family (while my granddaddy, who would have called her "colored" was turning in his grave). And these days in Washington, a black woman is Secretary of State. And still, around us, there's fear and hate, and all we can hope to do is walk through it with grace.
Click here for the slide show

Saturday, September 1, 2007


Five years ago, when my husband was in the ICU and in danger of dying, and my life fell apart, I couldn't read fiction anymore. It was too exhausting, the meanings too hidden in plot and metaphor for me to work through. But I could read poetry; poetry cuts to the quick, pulsing heart of things. I still turn to it when I'm in deep need. So a friend gave me this poem when we started this struggle with the school district. I was cleaning off the kitchen table today and found it again. It's Rilke and breathtaking, as he always is.... Perhaps some of you have need of it too.

God speaks to each of us as he makes us,
then walks with us silently out of the night.

These are the words we dimly hear:

You, sent out beyond your recall,
go to the limits of your longing.
Embody me.

Flare up like flame
and make big shadows I can move in.

Let everything happen to you: beauty and terror.
Just keep going. No feeling is final.
Don't let yourself lose me.

Nearby is the country they call life.
You will know it by its seriousness.

Give me your hand.