Meredith Sue Willis Blog Archives 2009




December 29, 2009
I’m reading about and excited about getting an e-reader sometime  (I'm guessing) in the next year.  I am certainly not an early adopter, but I’m very very interested.  The idea of having all the classics-- all of Trollope, all of George Eliot and Dickens--  in my bag at all times– that is just super.
      My ideal device would be first for reading, with easy-to-read screen, light weight, but also with at least email and note taking capability because I would be carrying this instead of my netbook Acer when I go into the city or on trips. 
      Meanwhile, of course, I also feel the the gentle mourning for books, for the weight, for dog-earring a corner feeling transgressive for doing it, for the pretty covers, and how you flip back to the pictures section (as in the history of abolitionism I just finished, Bound for Canaan  to look at old nineteenth century images of, say, William Still the abolitionist or Clay Calhoun and Dan’l Webster and Mary Ann Shadd (Carey) and a whole slew of people I never knew of.
       Going to the pictures or the cover– the multimedia-- is actually familiar to me, as I was a comix aficionada before I was a reader, or simultaneous with it.  So I have no intrinsic problem with mixed media (although it makes me a little nervous to think I might be reading books on the same device as doing email, which is definitely a distraction).
       And it is a fact that I have almost entirely turned to the Internet for information these days– Wikipedia and more. But would I be as able, I wonder, to pick and choose what I need had I not been trained in college and reading for a critical look at sources, comparing sources, and all that?  How is that being taught today?

December 28, 2009


Joel and Sarah left for South Africa this morning! Mom and I took their packed gifts to the post office and mailed to Joel's office at Berkeley, and also mailed the save-the-date magnets! Big production, and big fun coming!

December 23, 2009
Well, last night was noisy, but fun-- the Prospect Street Alumni Party-- and I never quite figured out everyone who was there– people stopped by Katherine’s but didn’t come on to our house, and others showed up only at Krois. We had Andrew Sedlak and his mom Susan who I talked to longer that every before in all the twenty plus years I’ve known her; I was up till nearly one watching the logs burn down and finishing clean up. Just grand to see Tony and Mary and Anne and Ryan (who drove straight down from Boston). Ed and Joan and Caitlin and Holly and Katherine and Gorden and Lily and Noel and their au pair and us and Joel and Sarah. Sixth grader Lily and her friend spent a lot of time observing Taxi. Lily (who has a dog and at least 2 cats) said “I’ve never held a bird before!” with Taxi on her finger, and then very astutely asked about the safety of a bird in the kitchen due to gas fumes, and I told her about my decision that company was more important for a parakeet/budgie.
We're due for a quiet day today, and then getting ready for Christmas dinner-- Howard and Alice joining us!
December 22




That Season is here! Mom decorated the tree and packages, and we've got the Prospect Street alums tonight (Krois family, Sciainos, us, Gordon and Katherine) starting at G&K's, then to us for ham and turleu breast, then Krois for dessert! Much fun and tumult!

December 18

I’m sitting here in my office at eight thirty in the morning tracking the weather because tomorrow Joel and Sarah are flying in to JFK and we've got a major winter storm possibly coming up the coast, and we’re supposed to be picking them up at JFK late tomorrow night. There is always something over which you have no control to worry about.

I have a morning for writing, or at least planning the next coming busy days, but instead I’ve got weather paralysis! Time passes either way.

December 12
This has been a really busy week with teaching, including a special one day workshop for Seniors at the Newark Museum . We did writing in the African Galleries with the wonderful Yoruba crown and the Fantasy Coffin from Ghana in the form of a great eagle. I also had a writers' group (see photo below) that former member Kate Riley visited (see even farther below!) and last night the Mom's group with Maddy, Nancy, Jody, Evelyn and me. For me, maybe the best thing about getting older is that I feel so strongly connected to friends.
December 11, 2009
Writers' group : I've been wanting this photo for a long time: Joan Liebovitz, Carole Rosenthal, MSW, Shelley Ettinger, Suzanne McConnell, Carol Emshwiller, and Edith Konecky at Suzanne's table in her loft on 24th street. Terrific lentil soup, Suzanne!

Joel took this at Josh Kastan's house
November 29
Here goes another month! Oh my! Right now Joel and Sarah are somewhere over Ontario,flying back to San Francisco, and her parents Jan and Phil are flying back to Los Angeles a couple of hours ahead of them. We had a wildly social and wonderful Thanksgiving holiday with Sarah's whole immediate family, including her brother Daniel and sister Esther--Thanksgiving day in Clinton, CT with Ellen and David and Ann and Jennie and Leah and Nathan and Greg and Jon and Bethany and my mother and some friends of Ellen's, eating and the traditional viewing of Jurassic Parkand getting up at 6:45 a.m. to go to the outlets shopping and I got a great pair of walkable black Clarks booties, and then cheescake and pumpkin pie for breakfast and finally back to New Jersey, and a pre-cooked brisket dinner. On Saturday it was off to a bagel and lox brunch in Montvale to meet Sarah's sister Esther's boyfriend Josh's family! Followed by Cafe Arugula for dinner and Andy's cornmeal pancakes with maple syrup for breakfast today and oh my! So much talk and wedding discussions and family stories and laughing, cool and sunny, and I hope they all make it home safely.
November 15
Lots of bad news today-- illness, operations, a memorial service yesterday for Anita Roberts. I have these days when it is very clear, where we're all headed.
November 12
Cherry in November
And have I never seen this tree before?
The bright brown rustle of its final leaves,
The silver, warted bands slashed through
To orange underbark like some
Medieval lover’s satin sleeves?
O children, don’t forget to look!




Meredith Sue Willis's

Books for Readers #125

November 9, 2009

For a free email subscription to Books for Readers,
send a blank email to


Special Contents of this Issue:

Review of Lee Maynard's new book By Guest Editor Cat Pleska
Books and more on John Brown



This issue is guest-edited by writer and West Virginia Public Radio commentator Cat Pleska who reviews Lee Maynard's newest book.. Full disclosure: I blurbed Lee Maynard’s book for West Virginia University Press, with great enthusiasm!

                                                                                  -- Meredith Sue Willis


Lee Maynard and his new book



The Pale Light of Sunset: Scattershots and
Hallucinations in an Imagined Life

By Lee Maynard   
(Morgantown, WV: West Virginia University Press, 2009)

Reviewed by Cat Pleska


Lee Maynard’s third novel is based in the world he knows best—his own. Pale Light is Maynard’s third book, following Crum and Screaming with the Cannibals. Crum and Cannibals are the first and second books in a trilogy, (the third, Scrummers, is a work in progress). Meredith Sue Willis alluded [in a book blurb] to the category under which this new book falls: fictionalized memoir. Maynard allows that it’s a fair description, but he prefers to call it a novel.
A novel, regardless of how much fact is used, is a moldable thing: fold, staple, and mutilate—it’s all fine. As Maynard stated to me recently in an interview: “The most important thing is the story.” Still, when a book is classified as “fictionalized memoir” it causes an immediate question that’s just human nature to wonder: What parts are real?” Maynard has said that his first book, Crum, is “about 50% truth.” Pale Light, too, begins in Crum, West Virginia, so maybe the 50% formula holds for this one too. Maynard quotes his friend and author, Chuck Kinder: “All stories are true, if they are well written. The question is what they are telling the truth about.”

Pale Light is set up chronologically and each chapter is titled with a year and a title, beginning with the protagonist’s birth in “1936, The Parlor,” and then each subsequent year of his life through 2005 (Maynard said that the publisher used perhaps 1/3 of the stories he had written). The protagonist is unnamed, but is referred to as Hit Man in one story. As we read the events that unfold, the overwhelming sense is one of longing, of searching for something, perhaps something buried deeply in the imagination—or the protagonist’s hallucinations—and the realization of either longing or searching comes in between lucid imagery written like poetry. These scattershot interludes of peace amid the struggling ones seem as if Maynard is aiming to include all the elements in a life to achieve the larger picture. In this sense, Maynard weaves an amazing tapestry, creating a synergy that leaves you wondering: How’d he do that?

We all know people who were born with a heavy load to bear; maybe this leads them to wander, and things happen to them—over and over, mostly bad stuff, like poverty and violence. As a child, the protagonist is battered by life repeatedly even during the times he runs away. Surrounded by apathy and greed, his mother is an oasis of love that maybe is a saving grace. She tells him after he runs away the first time: “Real people don’t run away from. That isn’t the way to live your life. But real people can run away to, if there’s something there that’s better.” He takes this message to heart. As he ages, he travels widely, never settling down in one place, struggling for food, safety, and survival, but that survival becomes a drive to challenge himself by climbing mountains, rafting wild rivers, riding a motorcycle from New Mexico to the Arctic Circle, and in a late chapter, he faces a scorpion in a way that will leave you cringing long afterward.

A bit of comic relief comes along in some chapters, such as “1977, The Funeral of Cousin Elijah,” who passes away as every man should want to. And then there are the connections he makes with some people whose path he crosses, like Helen, who he first meets in 1967.
And in the middle of graft, smacking and punching, driving to something or away from something, he makes dead stops, like the dead calm in the eye of a hurricane, and notes the beauty of everything around him, such as in the chapter “Where I’m From, 2003”:

. . . mountains that seem to form us and send us tearing along their sides and down and across the ridges to run staring-eyed out into the world like mythical beings charging out of the forests of Valhalla.. . . hollows, those dark, pungent, quiet places that instill in us a way of moving, a way of seeing, a way of being. Hollows capped with smoke and mist, bottling us up, aging us, keeping us still, our lives clear and silent, like mason jars of crystal moonshine gathering dust on a wooden shelf in a shed long forgotten on the back side of an abandoned ridge-top farm.

Even with a respite here and there, much happens to this protagonist: It is easy to keep turning the pages, which is testimony to a good story. Some places of violence I’m just downright uncomfortable (which I should be), but I mean I almost squint at the words. Read the chapter titled “1965, Faggot” and see if you don’t squirm too.

But the reality always bears down upon the protagonist as he moves through his life. It’s like watching the progression of a soul, like a monk in search of enlightenment through the tests that come with an arduous journey. Maynard gives a clue to this choice in a quote from Willa Cather: “The end is nothing. The road is all.”

And along that road, we all need a little light, like the pale light of sunset, illuminating just enough for the reader to sense the scattershot magic that exists in every life—no matter the trials—if we permit ourselves to see it.



Dreama Frisk writes: “Here is something from my journal written on the plane on the way to Russia: The first thing I read on the plane was Books for Readers #123. I loved MSW's comment about Joyce Carol Oates and Jodi Picoult and entitlement. Also, I found it helpful to read about their dipping into places they haven't bothered to imagine fully. It goes well with the Ella Fitzgerald I am listening to on the headset. MSW's judgment is so shrewd. In review of THE BOOK THIEF ‘I wish we all could trust our stories to be enough in themselves.’ (About death as a narrator.) I would like to find THE STORY OF AN AFRICAN FARM by Olive Schreiner.”



(See Jeffrey’s notes on John Brown and the 150th anniversary of the raid on Harpers Ferry . Now he offers some sources for learning more about John Brown.


JOHN BROWN by W. E. B. Du Bois

“Also,” writes Jeffrey, “when the inevitable ‘isn't violence bad?’ question is asked, I'd add my comment on contextualization: Historical events have to be viewed in context. Today [in the United States] we have a democratic republic with basic human rights taken for granted (not that our society is perfect; far from it). In 1859, the Supreme Court had ruled that ‘a black man had no rights that a white man was bound to respect,’ Congress had imposed a gag rule refusing to hear abolitionist petitions, and had passed a fugitive slave act that criminalized the underground railroad and gave agents of the Slave Power full rein to head north and kidnap African Americans living in the free states, and the executive branch was controlled by supporters of slavery. In my opinion, at that time and place, there was no alternative to war except continued acquiescence to slavery. Resistance to the Slave Power was as justified as armed resistance to the Nazis.

“That said, John Brown's justification of violence by appealing to a ‘higher law’ (that of God) cannot be used today to justify violent acts, whether undertaken by rightwingers shooting abortion doctors or by leftwingers blowing up animal labs. The historical context is totally different. What John Brown can serve for today is as a model for antiracist dedication to the cause of human equality, not a guide to tactics.”

He adds a note on John Brown's daughter, Annie Brown: “Among other reasons Annie did not participate is that she was 15 years old at the time. Her pregnant sister-in-law Martha, Oliver Brown's new bride, was 17. They returned to North Elba, where Martha gave birth after learning of Oliver's death in the battle. The baby died a few weeks later and Martha followed in death shortly thereafter, saying ‘Many women have given money for a cause but I have given everything.’ Breaks your heart. What heroines they were.”




Reamy Jansen writes: “I'm finishing up Richard Flanagan's WANTING, an excellent novel where Sir John Franklin, Charles Dickens (a Manchester production of his and Wilkie Collins' THE FROZEN DEEP was performed), and exiled blacks in Van Dieman's Land converge. I also thought highly of Lorrie Moore's THE GATE AT THE STAIRS.”





Phyllis Wilson Moore asks, “Does it get any better than this?”and then proceeds to list these recent West Virginia successes: Jeanette Walls (grew up in McDowell County): her HALF BROKE HORSES is number 9 on the current New York Times Best Seller list in hard cover fiction. Jayne Anne Phillips (grew up in Upshur County) has LARK AND TERMITE as a finalist for the National Book Award in fiction. BATTLE OF TRENCHMOUTH TAGGART by M. Glenn Taylor (grew up in Cabell County) is a Barnes & Noble Discover Great New Writers selection and finalist for the 2008 National Book Critics Circle Award in fiction. Lee Maynard (grew up in Wayne County)’s THE PALE LIGHT OF SUNSET: SCATTERSHOTS AND HALLUCINATIONS IN AN IMAGINED LIFE (see review above) is a finalist in New Mexico Book Award adventure fiction category. And Anna Egan Smucker (grew up in Hancock County)’s GOLDEN DELICIOUS: A CINDERELLA APPLE STORY represented the state's literary heritage at the 2009 National Book Festival.




TOP TEN GHOST WRITTEN BOOKS sends out an occasional email, hoping to sell books of course, but interesting nonetheless. For Halloween it was Famous Ghost Writers or maybe famous books that were ghostwritten. Ghost writers include Katherine Anne Porter and Theodore Sturgeon among many others. See the list.



Check out Coral Press and their list of Top Forty bests Music Novels:


R.T. Smith’s stories, THE CALABOOSE EPISTLES has just been published by Iris Press (see Ann Pancake says of Smith’s book that it is “Part bluegrass symphony, part speaking in tongues...the most beautiful sung story collection I have read in years.” George Singleton calls is a collection that will “thrive and endure.”



Barbara Crooker is interviewed by Russell Bitner on THE POET'S CORNER at . There are three poems embedded, two from her new book due from C&R Press in April 2010..




“Finishing Touches,” a workshop with Thaddeus Rutkowski will begin on Monday evening, Nov. 23, 2009 at The Writer's Voice of the West Side YMCA. The class is designed to follow Rutkowski’s "Generating Fiction," but there is no prerequisite. The workshop will focus on improving/polishing fiction. Creative nonfiction and experimental approaches will also be welcome. Open to everyone. Four meetings. Register online at or in person at the front registration desk at 5 West 63rd Street. For info, call Casey Slone at (212) 875-4124, or e-mail




Read some wonderful poems by Ingrid Hughes online at
Cat Pleska’s latest public radio program is online at . Click on the speaker or download mp3 to hear the essay.



I’m still liking Paperback Swap Paper Back Swap, a low cost (postage only) way to get rid of old books and get new ones!
October 30

It’s been a pleasant day. I have a lot of deadline work coming up all of a sudden – an article for The Writer came through, and is now due, and I got a .pdf of the catalog copy for Out of the Mountains, and I’ve got final galleys for Ten Strategies, and what I am really into doing for the moment is a hand-edit of Melisandre which I yearn to do straight through, but see it isn't going to happen.

And of course papers due and teaching to prepare and oh dear political work. Well, all of this is good stuff, just feeling exploded in my brain at the moment, all at once.


Andy was off today, and wanted to try Hobby’s Deli in downtown Newark, between the courts and the Prudential center. It’s family run, nice fresh turkey sandwich for me (and they asked me if I wanted white meat or mixed!) plus a chocolate egg cream! Andy had pastrami and a knish plus a really good cherry cheese strudel. The old guy who founded the business seated us, a veteran of WWII, recently honored with others in his outfit by the French, two middle aged sons, a huge staff, patrons seem to be friends, all ages, all races– cops, tie ‘n jacket lawyers, dreadlocks, athletes, us.


Tomorrow is Halloween, followed by back to Eastern Standard Time.





October 25, 2009


End of October: Saturday was gray and rainy, Sunday brilliant with color, and in our backyard...the everbearing red raspberries:

October 20

We have just passed the 150th anniversary of John Brown's raid on Harpers Ferry. Some years back we had a rousing debate at my Ethical Culture Society over what John Brown was and what he did. Our leader at the time supported him as a freedom fighter, and a longtime member insisted on Brown as terrorist and criminal.

Here, is a fascinating account by an old friend about attending the commemorative events at Harpers Ferry last week-end.



Jeffrey Sokolow writes:

I have just returned from an amazing week at Harpers Ferry.

On the evening of October 16, from the front porch of the Kennedy Farm in Maryland, four and a half miles from Harpers Ferry, John Brown's great great great granddaughter read the words of her great great grandmother Annie Brown's account of the time she spent at the farm in the summer and fall of 1859, maintaining the pretense that a family was in residence rather than a provisional army about to launch a frontal assault on the Slave Power.

A park ranger read a passage from Isaiah that Brown read to his men that night 150 years ago (it's a passage from the selection from the prophets that is read in synagogues worldwide on Yom Kippur, urging us to let the oppressed go free) and his injunction to take no life needlessly, but if necessary to take life to preserve their own, to "make sure work of it."

At 8 pm, the precise hour these words had been uttered a century and a half ago, Harpers Ferry chief park historian Dennis Frye, dressed in a gray great coat and broad-brimmed hat, shouldered a Sharps carbine rifle and spoke these words Brown spoke that night before setting off into history: "Put on your arms. We will proceed to the ferry."

In a cold drizzling rain, weather remarkably like that on that night in 1859, several hundred people set off to recreate the march of John Brown's provisional army to Harpers Ferry, following a horse-drawn wagon. Along the way, Frye would stop the column to let us know what we were passing. Always he spoke of us as if we were the raiders, saying: "You are coming to make war on slavery."

As we approached the bridge across the Potomic some two and a half hours later, ghostly forms materialized out of the mist, living history reenactors posting sentry on the bridge. And as we approached our destination, the fire engine house known to history as "John Brown's Fort," in the flickering lantern light in front of the fort we saw Brown and his men, guns and pikes in hand, a spectral sight.

This is just one of a series of memorable events that took place at Harpers Ferry this past week. Other events included:

-- a four-day scholarly symposium with noted John Brown historians (look to CSPAN in the weeks ahead for the keynote speeches) and scores of academic papers presented

-- a recitation before 400 people in a giant tent sheltered from the pouring rain of the oration by Frederick Douglass first delivered at historic Storer College at Harpers Ferry in 1881, the speech that Douglass concluded with these words: "If John Brown did not end the war that ended slavery, he began the war that ended slavery," remarks that triggered thunderous applause and a standing ovation

-- a walking tour of Harpers Ferry at which descendents of those who were there in 1859 read the words of their ancestors on the very spot that they fought and died, this as part of a two hour walk through the town led by a hugely eloquent park ranger steeped in the details of the events

-- a laying of memorial stones engraved with the names of the raiders at the Kennedy Farm memorial site, which were then ritually washed in cleansing water, this carried out by some of the 55 descendents of black Oberlin raider John Copeland who came to the Ferry for the commemoration

-- a play based on the letters between John and his equally remarkable wife Mary Brown in the months before his murder by the state of Virginia, culminating in their last meeting in his cell the night before his execution

-- a visit to the site where John Brown hung half way between heaven and earth after penning his immortal last words: "I John Brown am quite certain that the crimes of this guilty land can never be purged away but with blood."

This was one of the most remarkable events I have ever attended. The Park Service is to be commended for what it has done to commemorate John Brown's raid, which truly began the war that ended chattel slavery of African Americans. Harpers Ferry in their hands is a shrine to Abolition, to the Niagra Movement, and to the spirits of John Brown and Dr. W.E.B. DuBois.

A particularly moving moment for me was a discussion I had with a native Southerner, a young Civil War history buff who had come to the academic symposium with the preconception that Brown was a kook and a terrorist, as he had learned in school. After hearing all Brown and his family had done, in New York and Kansas and Missouri before his raid on Harpers Ferry, this young man concluded that he had realized that "John Brown was right." You may recognize this phrase as the last in Reynolds's new biography of Brown; they are the words used a century ago by DuBois.

For those who want to honor one of America's greatest heros --- not a terrorist but rather a man who attacked a state-sponsored terrorist regime that had enslaved four million Americans on U.S. soil and had at the time a tight grip on the throat of all three branches of government --- another opportunity may be found here:

More information about this past week's activities may be found here under "pressroom articles":

                                                                         Yours for freedom,

                                                                        -- Jeff Sokolow


Jeff also recommends these articles and events:
John Brown conference at Yale October 29–31:
Many of these speakers were in Harpers Ferry this past week.

John Brown exhibit in New York: John Brown: The Abolitionist and his Legacy, New York Historical Society, September 15, 2009–March 25, 2010.
Another writer recommends a book called Lies My Teacher Told Me: Everything Your American History Textbook Got Wrong by James Loewen. Also in this book, Woodrow Wilson's ties to the KKK and Helen Keller's strong involvement in the Wobblies and Socialist Party.

One of the great truths, it seems to me, is the obvious but worth-repeating fact that all of us human beings are mixes of many things: good deeds, high principles, jealousy, neurosis, evil deeds-- no wonder it's so easy for Christianity, say, to give evidence of human depravity.

                                                                        October 17

This is the first day of Diwali, the Hindu Festival of Lights.


It is raining like crazy here, grim days, allthough the Yankees managed to beat the Angels last night in the Bronx. I am feeling low because Taxi the parakeet has something wrong with his left foot (See him in better days below). About four mornings ago, he was favoring it, and it has gotten worse: no idea how he hurt it (do budgies have strokes?). He limps around, doesn't leave the cage as much, sits tipped to the side a little. The good news is that he also sings with the radio, and in the afternoons comes out and kisses me and does his thing with keys-- he also likes napkins and watches and eyeglasses and pop cans. We feel so sad for him, but on the other hand, he just goes along. Will he get better? Will he die? We get so wrapped up in our little beasts.

Also going on: local brouhaha about whether or not lights should be installed at the football field, which borders our neighborhood. Most of the Village Colonials (yes, it's an unfortunate but time-honored name for the neighborhood association) are yelling Stop the Lights! But some of the local teens have gotten involved, and one of our neighbors (a freshman field hockey player) rang the doorbell asking us to sign a petition saying we supported the lights because the kids need them for their sports. So we had to make a choice ("Which side are you on, boys?") and I signed. There is something so knee jerk selfish about a lot of extremely local (as in neighborhood and PTA politics). Of course, easy for me to take the high road when my house does not border on the field.




October 2, 2009


Just back from West Virginia and Mom's cataract operation. I'm as tired as if I had been the patient! And we have a big week-end coming up, Coaltion Celebration, and event for Boe Meyerson, and a lovely invitation from Mary and Tony Sciaino for Sunday Night.

The drive today was uneventful, listening to a course on the Philosophy of Science which I alternate between enjoying for its astringent logicalness and getting annoyed at it for the same reason. Today's largely on Thomas Kuhn who wrote an important 1962 book about revolutions in science-- originator of what has become a general phrase: "paradigm shift."


Lots of fun yesterday over the NYTimes article on pepperoni rolls coincidentally mentioning (indeed it was dateline) Shinnston!


Also yesterday when we went into downtown Clarksburg for Mom's doc appointment, . I especially loved Clarksburg, some fine buff brick office buildings, the big vaguely art deco courthouse with not-so-huge Stonewall Jackson mounted out front. My homeboy, only it was Clarksburg, Virginia when he was born. So many retail stores empty, but a big new Fairmont University branch there, and law offices, a boutique or two.


I took a whole series of pictures of Mom with her eye unmasked, feeding dog cookies to the neighborhood pooches....









Well, it's over, Mom is napping, all went smoothly, and we went and ate at Shoney's! An hour and a half after she went to the OR, we were at the buffet4 table. She has a complicated regime of eye drops now, the antibiotic every hour, some kind of prednisone or something against swelling four times. I'm exhausted. Everyone, all the women, very sweet and cheerful, treated Mom with great respect, and kindness. The RN at the end talked to her directly. She isn't seeing well because she isn't wearing her glasses of course and is looking with one eye. I'm ready myself for a long sleep.



September 23



Mono No Aware

Each thing goes on, and there is a loss, the poignancy of wa that splendid Japanese term about how the most beautiful is the most fleeting. So Mono no aware apparently means mono things plus an old (Heian) term of exclamation, so the phrase was something along the lines of -- "The Ahness of things" or "the pathos of things" or "an empathy toward things," or "a sensitivity to ephemera." Very Tale of Genji, an aesthetic that goes way back in Japanese art, music and poetry, probably traced to \ Zen Buddhism.





September 22--The Vernal Equinox


I think I am really not a blogger, or at least, I still haven't figured out how to use it.

My friend Shelley Ettinger is a writer who also blogs, successfully, I think, at Read Red-- successful because she has an angle (well, she's a good writer too!)-- writes about books and public affairs from a frankly leftist point of view. My brother-in-law David Weinberger is a professional blogger, almost a pundit! -- with a lot of knowledge and interest in the web and digital social networking and such topics. But I have not yet found what I want to do with this space, and its sister on I know a few friends check here to see what my family is up to-- thus:


Joel and Sarah were here for 36 hours this week-end! They had a wedding in lower upstate New York, and Sarah's friend Claire, a chemistry came too and took our picture on the back porch:



Meanwhile, I keep a journal that is not for public consumption, and I do something bloggish, which is really a newsletter. I work hard on it, too, my booksforreaders, using the kind of informal, unfinished writing that is probably closer to blogging than to essay writing. But I like the gathering up of the thing, the creation of something with a shape. I collect stuff, toss it in a word processing file, and then, every month or six weeks or so, put together a newsletter. Informal, honoring the announcements and accomplishments of friends-- getting ideas for what to read. It has been quite a pleasure to write. I do a newsletter for the Coalition on Race, too. But I haven't quite got the knack of the blog.




September 21

Bronze trees already?
Underfoot some crisp brown leaves--
Precious autumn green!

September 8


As the usual 9/11 remembrances begin, think occasionally also of the other famous event on a different 9/11: On Sept. 11, 1906, Gandhi introduced the idea of civil disobedience to 3,000 people at a meeting in Joahannesburg, South Africa.


September 5, 2009


Final week-end of summer-- at the lake with Ellen, David and Ann coming tonight late (after taking Nathan to Brown to start college), and in the morning John and Jane Nickelsberg will be stopping by and we have a date with Adrianne and Harvey for hors d'oeuvres and dinner.


Gone to the lake...




September 3


Check out Holly St. Lifer's blog on health on AOL, and her website.


September 1


There is a lot of brouhaha going on right now about the Google-Authors’ Guild settlement for Google’s digitalizing of books. It brings up a whole lot of feelings and facts, and since there is a deadline Friday for opting out of the settlement– that is, preserving your right to sue Google on your own– there are suddenly many emails and articles.

Here’s what I know and think at this point, as I have been following it somewhat desultorily. National Writers Union (which opposes the settlement, I think) and the Authors' Guild (who instigated the lawsuit and settled with Google) have been sending out information. The bottom line is that you still own your copyright, and you can withdraw your work from access via Google's digitalized library at any time. The September 4 deadline is about your right to litigate against Google on your own, not about your copyright.

The settlement, as I understand it, will include payments from Google's advertising as well as initial payments to copyright holders in many cases. I've gone online and listed my books officially with Google and claimed my rights. You can do this at any time, now or later.
The copyrights are still ours, unless our publishers claimed them (one of my university press publishers claimed one of my books, which means I'll have to split any fees with them). If you have every written anything, and you look your name up, whether you've published books or not, you're likely to find articles from scholarly and semi-scholarly publications with your work in it already scanned.

Is Google making a grab? Of course-- they want to be the source of all the digitalized information in the world.

Do authors still own our rights? Absolutely.

Will we be compensated appropriately for the use of our works? We'll be compensated, but probably not appropriately.

Is this a bad thing? I don't like International Octopus reaching its tentacles out over the world, but I like very much having information and literature available to everyone-- especially my own previously obscure articles and books.

For a popular FAQ explaination, go here:
Also, my brother-in-law David Weinberger has written a lot about copyright in general, and here’s a nice piece he did for tucows:





August 21


Carol Barry-Austin and I made a presentation about the Community Coalition on Race to new teachers in the district.





August 16





Royalty Free from Dover! A Concert by Lorenzo Costa, @ 1490







We're back in New Jersey—I came early to avoid traffic and to do the post vacation work: three loads of wash so far, the lake linens and towels in a bag ready to go back, other clothes finishing drying. I picked a lot of really nice sun gold tomatoes and the small paste tomato, Juliet, and and made raw sauce with pasta for dinner—excellent,with one of my mucho nacho peppers in it and our basil and parsley. Unpacking, transferring work from thumb drive to main computer, groceries, cut grass, threw out a couple of days worth of mail. Andy didn't leave till after one—they took Nathan skiing– and he turned around on the trick skis! Andy also sawed up a branch and caught a lot of traffic

Saturday was our last vacation day, a real beauty, cool (although there was a whitening of clouds so you could see humidity was coming back). We hung around the lake, I row boated, Paula came over, and then Andy and I went to see at S & Company a play called The Dreamer Examines His Pillow, a twenty year old effort by What's His Name Shanley who did Doubt the play and movie. Anyhow, it had John Douglas Thompson and two other excellent folks, all African American, which raised interesting questions about the play, which, as best I can tell, was played in the past by an all white cast and appears to be set in an emotional dreamscape neverland with no ethnic or economic grounding. To me, this felt too lacking in any social context-- what do these people live on? have they been to college? I'm sure that Shanley (20 years ago) thought this was fine to leave out. In the end, Andy said it well: the actors were better than their material.

And they were super! All three of them, but, my fave, John Douglas Thompson, the Obie award winning Othello was in it, and since it was opening night, there were champagne, cupcakes, fruit, etc.and lots of actors: Tina Packer and Dennis Krausnick, and Tony Simotes and Tod Randolph (who directed) and most of the kids from Measure for Measure.

But mainly we got to shake hands with John Douglas Thompson himself! A dreamboat in a tight black Shakespeare & Company tee shirt and still glowing from the performance. I asked him how he could do this play in the evening after (as he had on Friday) after starring in Othello in the afternoon. He said he took a lot of vitamin B! Very charming and handsome handsome handsome.

We are complete ga-ga fans for Shakespeare & Company.







August 7

We went to S&Co’s Twelfth Night yesterday afternoon, and it was excellent, as good a production as they’ve ever done. Jonathan Croy directed, and was hanging around for kudos as they do– is that a requirement, to be nice and public and meet and greet? Are a couple of the big names assigned to be out there every day? Anyhow, it was super, the Viola was the same young woman (Merrit Janson) who plays Desdemona to Mr. Thompson’s Othello. Ann and I agreed that this time the “torture” of Malvolio seemed only distant (something from the seventeenth century, not ours) rather than appalling. And Ann pointed out that this time it was clear that Malvolio wasn’t a nice person at all. Anyhow, it was still awful, what they did to someone they perceived as crazy, but it was just a part of the play’s whole, whereas the rest of it was hilarious and all the wonderful moving and understandable language.

Then we went to a lecture with Kevin Coleman on Shakespeare and high school kids, and it was more of an Hour with Kevin Coleman than a real lecture, and we tended to think our experience of Shakespeare in high school was much better than what he suggested, but once he got rolling, it was highly entertaining, and then when he finally showed off some of the techniques they use with kids– the mimed basketball layups and, especially, the “canape small bite” method of one person reading a line of Shakespeare and the other repeating it, acting it, without memorizing ro reading– just excellent. And the next stage is to do whole scenes this way, until the actors memorize in this way. So the emphasis is on the contact between the actors, eye contact and gesture, not remembering.

Excellent dinner afterward at Siam Square in Great Barrington wher they were having an old car show– old and very old creampuffs on all the streets, and also peeling out and smoking and screaming on Main Street!

Then, today, a less terrific but intriguing Measure for Measure, which is causing a lot of conversation between me and Ann especially, Harold Bloom's take, etc.-- and I'm redirecting the play in my mnd. Tomorrow Andy and I have one more set of tickets for tomorrow night, not Shakespeare.






August 6


More lake fun: The cottage: the electronic cottage; giving Taxi a liberty up in the bedroom.





August 4, 2009

We've been up here three days now, enjoying calm with no one here but me and Andy, Ellen coming today, David and Ann tomorrow. With Nathan? We went out Saturday night to see Norm and Nancy, Sunday was rainy, but I swam in the rain and we went to see Hurt Locker, the Iraq war movie, not bad, but nerve wracking.




And on Monday Andy did the Connecticut to Vermont bike ride! Almost seventy miles, and he did it in four and a half riding hours, although it was longer in real time. The first picture is him in Canaan, CT, at the start, and the second he took himself just after he'd gone over the Vermont line.


And I had a great day at the Clark in WIlliamstown, O'Keeffe and Dove, their new space you have to hike up to, generally feeling good, treating myself. And while Andy was doing his three state ride, Joel biked around Lake Tahoe in CA! Even more miles, and high altitude.

We dined-- very nice-- in the bar off the bar menu at Pearl's. Big burger for Andy, a salmon sandwich and a Bass-on-tap for me.






July 30


We're heading off for vacation soon, and I've put my vacation responder on, and we already started, yesterday! We went to the Metropolitan Museum, and walked back through the park with thunder threatening, a continuing sticky hot miserable day.

But the museum was cool, in all senses, and the subway and NJ Transit have air conditioning. Actually, in the 20 years since we've been living in the 'burbs, the NY Subways have improved their service a lot.

But I digress. We started with a Francis Bacon retrospective, which Andy really hated—saying all the people looked like open-mouthed lampreys, which is hard to disagree with. Open mouths and screaming popes. I was fascinated, but find Bacon very detatched, and a kind of silence surroundihg his screams. Does that make sense? The crucified sides of beef or maybe lovers have always seemed a little histrionic to me, but I was moved by the portraits, isolated twisted people with demoiselle d'avignon heads centered in the middle of nowhere. Also in the earlier paintings, the white and yellow lines suggesting boxes and prisons around the figures—anyhow, I was fascinated, Andy repelled.

I just read Wikipedia's piece on Bacon which sketches out a lot of what I wanted to know: sickly childhood, descendant of older half brother of Francis Bacon the Elizabethan scholar, self-made furniture designer and interior decorator. “Gentleman's companion.” Rough trade boyfriends (with a wiki link to “rough trade,” which apparently has more to do with class than style of lovemaking—who knew).

We tried out the new American Wing cafeteria, then stepped over to the Augustus Saint-Gaudens exhibit, which was a funny contrast to Bacon, although both were born in Ireland. Saint-Gaudens has some nice work, especially his relief portraits, and it's always fun to learn something about the makers of public monuments, but this exhibit was too aligned with the robber barons for my taste-- allthough I don't suppose there'd be my beloved museum without their rapacious collecting.

We saw more, a seventies and eighties exhibit with some fun Cindy Sherman stuff and others, and at the very end, “Michelangelo's earliest Painting.”  What a trip! It was a Torment of St. Anthony recently cleaned in stunning clarity of colors, beautiful little piece, monsters and rocks-- a thirteen year old genius's work, so bright and happy and thirteen year oldly enthusiasm for the ugly! See the detail of some tormenters above.

And then! At home, rain! and on the back porch, sleeping between the porch screen and the outsdie banister from before the porch was screened-- a small opossum! I called her (just guessing) Little Pearl the Possum, and she opened her long pink mouth and hissed and then went back to sleep. Slept thorugh storm, me reading, and finally left when Andy sprayed her with water. Something very sweet about that rough prickly furred side rising up and down in sleep. So relaxed.










July 26


And now it’s a really sticky gray day that feels like we're swimming through a thin jelly, damp, temperature and humidity the same in and out.

But I'm finally getting a few days with no big demands-- trying to nail down the Melisandre story, cut grass, weed in the garden, sewing projects, got off a newsletter. Silent hot stuff that feels lazy, not because I'm inactive, but mentally less focused? Not pushing myself? I'm just following where my inclinations go. Take a walk or a run. sew up the jeans that were too loose. Play with the parakeet. The quiet like a (damp) cotton blanket surrounds me.




July 23, 2009


All righty then! It's a week since I last wrote in this blog, and the last time I was looking forward to-- this moment, which is the moment when teaching is over for the summer. It has been a productive but stressful six weeks or so, and now that part is over.

I've spent much of the morning doing a couple of last things for Novel II, which ended last night., and also email.

I really enjoyed New York on my dash across Fourteenth street where a Shoemania was having a half price sale, yes, that's right everything included Dansko and I think even Mephisto shoes. I didn't need shoes, but bought some little tan skimmer style Crocs. I really wished for more time and money. And maybe less company in the store. It was a real peak shopping experience: elbows and piles of shoe boxes!

New York was full of skin, all these young women and girl showing legs that were sometimes stubby but always in short shirts and lovely bosoms undulating over little slippy dresses.. I tried to remember what it was like to feel the necessity of wearing mini skirts. I was never comfortable in them, but I had no idea of an alternative, and was determined to show I was free, although what I usually did was spend a lot of time making sure I wasn't exposing myself as I sat in the subway.

Last night, though, I was wearing black cotton, my cheap maxi broom skirt from Wal-mart (bought in West Virginia! That's one of my principles: I only shop at Wal-mart when I'm in West Virginia with my mother who always shops at Walmart.) The skirt was very comfortable and had that vague reference to style that makes me feel like I'm having fun. Not that I need props when I'm in New York: New York just lifts me up.





July 15, 2009



Wednesday morning, and I just finished the last papers for tonight’s class and I have to prepare the class a little later, but I am at this moment tremulous with hope– hope that this high pressure, stressful period is actually ending. Andy has moved his office, although we still have a lot of his stuff in the back hall waiting to go to the basement. My mom has been visited, and now I’m thinking of bringing her up while Joel is here. I’ve got all three books in–more work to come on them, but the Big Pushes are over. The weather is pleasant , and while teaching isn’t over, with less going on, I can enjoy it.

In the garden I’ve been layering newsprint and salt hay, and for some reason that makes the garden seem far less weedy than when I’ve done the actual veggie patches first: maybe it’s that I can sit, kneel comfortably and weed a small patch at a time. Or maybe it’s just that the weather is so perfect, dry air and sun, heat moderate.

So what's wrong today? Surely something. My left wrist hurts from some twist I gave it. But I trust that will resolve itself eventually.

I have been thinking a lot since Joel graduated from college and plunged into his life, getting engaged, moving to the West Coast– about what is different now, on this side of life. There’s the loss of biological optimism--the youthful belief that however upset, bereft you are, the future hasn’t come yet. Young people who lose this often kill themselves.

Well, over on this side, the future is here, no longer imminent but immanent– and what does that imply? You aren’t at the pinnacle you thought you were climbing. Does that mean you've I failed? Is this an edifying question? Probably not. Most global pronouncements like that are unedifying. You're less special, more one of the crowd than you had thought, and I find this comforting: I'm not as lonely as I was as a girl.

Other changes in me:I have come to admire the practical people. I was seduced for forty years or so by rhetoric, by visions of Big Change. But now I find myself impressed by people who have actually made concrete things happen– the ones who have ideals but focus on doing something here and now. Who cut deals. It makes me a little sad: not my admiration, but the loss of perfect righteousness.

Of course single payer health care is the only rational health care system! But won’t more people be healthier with a better system, even if still a ridiculously irrational system?

I picked my first little pepper, a mucho nacho jalapeno. Beans are coming in. Cukes and tomatoes forming!






July 5, 2009

It has been three an a half grueling days for me, and worse for Andy. Saturday was hardest. Andy is moving his office. He is totally exhausted on 4 an a half hours sleep last night because of a hospital call with a very sick patient.

Thursday p.m. and Friday I wored with Sheri his office person on packing charts and making runs to Staples for supplies. She wasn't available this holiday week-end, and yesterday we hit the wall, when it just looks impossible, can’t happen, no way, etc. etc. Massive amounts of garbage in black plastic bags on the sidewalk for the Millburn Commons private haulers, massive amounts of stuff to come here, home. Massive amounts to go to the new office which is another of the famous Atkins medical buildings, very nice, but much less space for him in Howard Holz's office.

Today, some nice Jersey City moving guys, four of them, two black guys, a probable Latino, and an Israeli former sergeant from the Israeli army who was having his 32nd birthday today. The company we found via Carol’s suggestion of Christian Quartius who is a realtor with Weichert and this is the company Weichert always recommends. They were very nice guys, and we all worked hard and they left us at home with the house full of stuff (I haven't looked in the basement).

Andy and I had a bite, went back to Millburn, cleaned up for two hours, and I vacuumed, even though he’s mad at the people he was renting from, we decided to be classy and vacuum. Sad to see the old place empty– nine years for Andy there, and was it nine with St. Barnabas and nine in Elizabeth and nine with Charley Plotz? Too perfect? Meaningful? I doubt it.

Finally, we put in a couple of hours at the new office, where the chaos is not contained. He and Sheri will work tomorrow with phone guys, unpacking, no patients, but Howard Holz’s office will be in operation.

And I don’t have to go! I have my life back! I feel like I’ve been far away, for a long time. Just happy to write in my blog, prepare a session of my online class for tomorrow.

July 1!


A new month! Have you ever felt like the lady to the left? Computers and the new world of technology are in so many ways just like old ways of doing things, and fascinating, and helpful-- and also totally foreign and frustrating. Anyhow, when I'm not obsessed with a new software program (I'm teaching myself some Desktop Publishing right now) , or delighted to hear from a stranger (a French webmaster has asked to translate some of my exercises for writers into French-- no money, but quite flattering)-- I am furious at the machine for its stupidities and demands for attention to things I never meant to pay attention to! (The image, by the way, is from Fotolia, where you can buy for a buck or two royalty free images of things like children that you have to be very careful about putting up on the 'net without heavy-duty permissions. Anyhow, the lady-biting-laptop cost a dollar, for a low resolution version. I didn't really need her, but I was experimenting.

June 30

We’ve had so much rain, and now unsettled, as they like to say. I sat through one storm on the back porch, so perfectly, thrillingly, green. How the branches moved their shoulders to the wind and how a bird just swooped by looking for night shelter in the lilac bush, and how lightning unzipped the thunder and made its brilliant narrow crack through the sky.

Andy picks black and red raspberries and some blueberries every morning for our cereal. The tiger lilies are blazing up their patches.

I read an article in the New York Review of Books by Timothy Snyder called “Holocaust: The Ignored Legacy.” (The New York Review of Books, Volume 56, Number 12 , July 16, 2009. P.14 - 16) . I'm reading old issues-- letting my subscription go again, I never read it much—but figuring of course I'll get a deal in a few months and start it up again. It is always such a high for me when I finally do read it– the riches of culture and thought spread out like a great world covering spread on my lap, out to the horizon.

Anyhow, this article talks about how the real center of the Holocaust was not Auschwitz and the Western European Jews but farther east, where the killings were not only in camps, but also by less industrialized means: hundreds of thousands of simple mass shootings on the rim of pits and also (this was the newest part to me) planned starvation and famines. And in some places, notably Belarus and Ukraine, these things were done in the thirties by Stalin’s minions and then in the forties by the Nazis. Belarus: a third of the population killed.
I also read Irving Howe’s LEON TROTSKY, which was fascinating. He admires Trotsky, but also sees that Trotsky and certainly Bolshevism did do enough– perhaps even encouraged– the conditions that led to the ravages of Stalin.



June 24

I've been spending a lot of time on the back porch working on the hand go-through of Ten Strategies. Joel and Sarah were here over the week-end for a wedding in Cape May (yes, they fly across the country for a week-end), and at some point all four of us were out there watching the rain come in again, and I said the porch is one of my two favorite places, the porch at the lake being the other. Joel was surprised: "Your favorite place in the world?" So then I had to rethink it, and the thought was that those two screened porches, the one with Lake Buel and the white pines, the other with the complete domination of New Jersey green, are the most relaxing places to me. I'm usually reading or now checking something on the little Acer netbook, and this summer, maybe because it's been so cool so far, and I've got these manuscripts and papers to do, I've been working out there. Even had a meeting with Carol B-A about Schools Committee business. Anyhow, it's a pleasure in my life.








June 18


Rain again!  Drippy splashing wet air wet feet wet grocery bags wet garden soggy soggy drip drip. Everything pulled down, like gravity turned to gray droplets beating us down instead of dragging.










June 17, 2009




I am back to keeping my journal pretty intensely, and therefore less interested in this vaguely public maundering.Or I think that's what's going on. Shall I turn this into my photo pages? Make it less personal? When I want to write public-personal stuff, put it on the blogger blog?

The photo above is from "Celebrate South Orange" Saturday, in the rain: This was the Coaltion's table with trustees Alice Baldwin-Jones, Abby Cotler, Mark Mucci, and me-- it was raining, but still fun. Chatted at length with Abby and her friend Gloria. Nancy Heins-Glaser took the photo. I'm not sure what I was doing!



May 28, 2009


Back from the lake, where the weather was stunning, cool, sunny, just gorgeous. We had the usual brouhaha of people, Ellen and Andy and David cleaning and fixing, Ann and Nathan celebrating the Sabbath, Lean and Greg there too. Me up in my room working on the manuscript of Ten Strategies to Start Your Novel, parakeet to deal with, boat and dock to put in, futon covers, Andy and I went out to dinner with Harvey and Adrianne in Lee. Movies Sunday night (new Star Trek).  Many pleasures.

Then back to enormous piles of email, preparations for a Coalition working session on the Academic Achievement Gap last night (see Two Towns) . Tonight, last Writers' Group of the season. Summer class at NYU starts next week.

From Memorial Day weekend 2009: Andy, Taxi, and me taking Taxi's picture.



May 16, 2009


It’s foggy and to rain later, and Andy off on a bike trip, me planning and plotting the next few weeks, going to Bill Higginson’s memorial this afternoon, Joel and Sarah flying to L.A. again-- how can they fly so much. Just back from Atlanta, planning this week-end in L.A., to come to the East Coast for a wedding in June.

I’m feeling low from, I think, the long hours I’ve been putting in reading the last book of Robin Hobbs’s Farseer Trilogy. I am totally caught up in this, although in spite of its solid writing, it seems to be longer than necessary. I just want to know what happens at page 575 or wherever I am with 200 pages left to go. It really is good, and I feel like I’ve been overindulging.

I put tomatoes in yesterday and a couple of them swooned with that silly loss of turgor that some tomato plants have faced with breezes and handling, but this morning, all of them, including the swooner were up and shaking their bright green heads happily. The cabbages don’t seem any bigger, but I feel them reaching down and getting themselves situated deep below before they solidify above. And last fall’s winter density lettuces have developed big soft heads the size of softballs, lovely things to know I grew.








Mother's Day evening and I'm writing in the back yard on a spectacular clear cool evening, the velvety green (for the moment) grass that I cut this afternoon. A surprisingly good Mother's day, given that I worked all day: the back grass, the lot, some weeding and thinking about where to place some of the vegetables: it's time almost for beans and setting out tomatoes. I've already set out peppers that came by mail. I love the slow, nudging necessity of the growing:

I also did some papers, getting started for Tuesday night, and there's a Hamilton Stone meeting tomorrow. I led a carding at Ethical Culture today with the Social action committee on the INSIDE OUT business.Joel called twice and I talked to him once. He's in Atlanta for Sarah's sister Esther's graduation, along with all the Zakowskis and the Weinbergs. I called my mother, who heads back to Shinnston on Tuesday

And yesterday was our anniversary-- We went to Bobby's Burger Palace (That's Bobby Flay's little burger chain), up in Paramus, and we ate what were really good and reasonably priced burgers, I had one with goat cheese and watercress, and we had two kinds of fries, sweet potato and regular, and Andy had a chocolate malted with his. Then we actually shopped a little, Nordstrom Rack, Filene's, Marshalls,, then drove home, watched the rest of the 1995 Pride and Prejudice.

All lazy and vacation indulgent.





May Day


International Workers' Day? Pagan Dance of the Maypole? Commemoration of the Haymarket Martyrs?
A Holiday Worth Researching, because of its amazingly different celebrattions. A good place to start is with Wikipedia, but if you already know you are commemorating the Haymarket Martyrs, take a look at Shelley Ettinger's blog and her list of books about Haymarket. One way of looking at the holiday is to distinguish between "green root" celebrations relating to the ancient rites of spring and the "red root" celebrations that relate to labor and the struggle for the eight hour working day.

Shelley is off marching today, but I'm home enjoying my first actual writing day in about three weeks--that is to say, I've been writing on a book for the Newark Museum Arts Catalyst project, but today I could actually take a look at my own private, on spec, no one is expecting it, no deadline writing.

Or, just play with the parakeet.... (photo taken with the built-in web cam on the little bitty Acer).












Andy, MSW, Joel, Sarah, and Sarah's parents Jan and Phil Zakowski on Passover at Sarah's grandparents' ranch near Los Angeles

Joel and Sarah got engaged!


April 22



In Honor of National Poetry Month and Just Spring.....




Spring Scumble
Commercial buildings' sharp edges
Climb the low hill above
Flat roofs, one church steeple
And then the soft explosion--
Blur of trees awash in filmy lime.
No question now it's leaves,
That pastel tinted mist and spray.
The sky just clearing:
Pale clouds pale sky
Then the sheer curtain of color--
Inexorable, spreading, new.






April 17


More Family Birthdays! Lucille Willis turns 90!








April 15, 2009



For the rest of the world, it's Tax Day:
For us, it's Joel's 24th birthday!
Happy Birthday, Joel!









MSW & Andy Weinberger 4-9-09 Southern California







April 12, 2009

Easter, and we're back from L.A.


Andy and I just got back from L.A. on the red eye, came home, slept a few hours, and now it’s evening East Coast time on a bright cool day with jonquils and forsythia below and blue sky, bare branches above with just the faint tease of a few green leaves coming on. So it’s good to be home.


And what a five days! Fun, Sarah’s family and– and engagement! Joel did it the old fashioned way, even designing a ring for her himself, and she was ecstatic, both of them as happy as they can be. Andy and I are deeply happy also, but not surprised (how could we be?). Their romantic old-fashionedness is so different from Andy and me living together 12 years and then sort of sidling into the whole thing. This took place at her birthday dinner, on one knee, the whole shebang! No wedding date set..


Sarah feeding Joel a loquat


The night we arrived, Sarah’s parents Phil and Jan took us with their exhuberant generosity to dine at Spago, which was super! The famous Wolfgang Puck restaurant, with great creative food (salmon pizza scattered with little red jewels of roe!) and a sort of post modern art nouveau decor that I liked a lot. The next day, it was the Weinberg ranch, which is absolutely the most wonderful place, created for family, and the happiest home of all the children– swimming, bunnies ponies a great pack of Labrador retrievers who love people and lie on the porch welcoming visitors. Mr. And Mrs. Weinberg were so open and welcoming to have us at their family Seder, and we met Sarah’s uncles and aunts on that side, plus many many cousins, and little first cousins once removed so that you had the feeling of the generations, and then, if you added in the actual Seder, which emphasizes discussion rather than ritual, you get a sense of a family that consciously and lovingly situates itself in history and love as well as in the beauty of Southern California.

Various family members led discussions at different points, and Sarah had invited me and Andy to come up with readings relating the struggle for freedom to those beyond the Jews, appropriate since I am rather by definition beyond the Jews, and I found a favorite passage from the Autobiography of Frederick Douglass where he learns the power of education, plus a passage in Leaves of Grass where Walt Whitman imagines being a conductor on the Underground Railroad.

The second day we spent walking around and meeting ponies and bunnies and swans (on their nest, and the male swan put on a pretty terrific display of expanding feathers and hissing when one of the chocolate lab puppies approached). We swam, we ate lunch and dinner, we got to know the family members a little more.




Friday, Sarah worked long distance and Joel drove us to L.A. for the Getty museum and a little tourist stuff– Hollywood, which is wonderfully commercialized, and it seems just right. We had dinner back in Westlake Village, near our hotel (the really lovely Westlake Village Inn) and a powerful discussion with Joel about his thoughts for the future, his Judaism, my recent readings of the Cecil Roth and Abram Leon Sachar histories of the Jews.

Saturday we had Sarah for our sightseeing, too, and went back to Los Angeles and met my nephew (graduate student in piano at USC) Alex Kato-Willis and his girlfriend (USC undergraduate in vocal music) Kiry for lunch.




This was a lot of fun, photos of Joel and Sarah and Alex and Kiry and me and Andy, sitting on the porch of a café with South Central nonsense happening outside– some USC cops arresting an old drunk on a bicycle. About 5 cop cars to do this! We really enjoyed talking with them, then walking around USC a little, and then driving the Venice Beach, which is, as Andy said, like the Lower East Side thirty years ago with a beach– surfers, jewelry vendors, neat street theater types– a gold painted black man with a fake dog who holds still like a statue. A stilt walker dressed like a tree god, and the really quite wonderful Calypso Tumblers who were part break dance and part circus tumblers and part gymnasts– a couple of whiteboys did the gymnastics style floor work. A big troop, begging money, occasionally shouting out that drugs are bad. Something quite special about live acts like that-- guys flying through the air over cement with just their own muscles and skill. And, as Joel pointed out, all the people hoping they'd crack open their heads!

And then– the pleasures of LAX, and a crowded plane home next to a Lady with a Lapdog in a box. Mostly.







Interesting piece to think about by one of this spring's speakers at Ethical Culture, Dean Sluyter.






Taxi Contemplating a Stone                                                     MSW with glasses April 2009

April 4


Just had lunch after my walk, and I'm writing this in the kitchen to give Taxi some extra liberty. I've been working on my desk work and checks, dong odds 'n ends before the Big Trip to Los Angeles, going over the “stories” for the Coalition's April 28 Forum, which I have to miss. Sigh. We have at least 25 stories, really good contribution from the community.

I had a dream about Taxi-- someone wasn't taking good care of him. The bird was sick or somehow damaged, but I was not going to be allowed to see him. I was told this by a very serious and abrupt woman, slim, in charge and very cool. Somehow, I wasn't allowed to make demands. I was so sorry I'd left him with her.

Windy and cold today, but I pulled up some turnip greens and cilantro in the garden and overturned the soil there, getting ready for the next sowing, which should be around April 15.

Today, since we're travelling and not teaching next week, I am not overwhelmed with absolute-right-now have-to's.

What I've been observing about my fear of flying, is that, if I can lay it aside for a few minutes, I'll immediately start thinking about some other awful way to die: pancreatic cancer or Alzheimer's are my current favorites.

A moving poem by some guy my age with Alzheimer's in the T&W magazine.



April 3


Last night, walking across 23rd Street, I looked up and saw the mist topped buildings in NYC-- that incredible color of mist-concrete-lights, straight edges softened magically, the burnished glow, the simultaneous hard/soft. Something so unique to New York. I didn’t mind at all being at the bottom of that canyon. Nature moves us, but so do the monuments of our own construction.



April Morning

April 1, 2009


Is it All Computers Crash Day? Is it my late grandmother's birthday? Or is it Daffodils Are Out in Force Day??








March 26, 2009



Why I Love Third Graders


I pretend I am a skullface ninja.
I pretend I fight crime and eat sushi.
I also give people hugs and toys.
3rd grader from Butler New Jersey

Books for Readers #118

March 24,2009

(for the full version with lots of recommendations and news
about people and books, click here.)





                  Jeanette Winterson                                   Kasuo  Ishiguro


I sometimes think of myself as not reading very much anymore– and this is partly true, or at least psychologically true, because when I was a kid and teenager I lived much of my life in books. Truly, much of my experience came from books. Today, a larger portion of my experience comes from life, and I find people recommending books to me, and I get a panicked feeling that I will never catch up. I still read a lot, but I’m no longer the one who reads the mostest and the fastest. And where did I ever get the idea it was a contest?

These last weeks, between a lot of teaching (and student writing to go over), a lot of meetings of our local integration organization, traveling, and personal business, I’ve read three children’s chapter books that are part of the curriculum in the middle schools of Jersey City (this is related to one of my jobs). These are SWEETGRASS (Jan Hudson), A SINGLE SHARD (Linda Sue Parks), and SILENT THUNDER (Andrea Davis Pinkney). These are well done historical reconstructions that ought to give kids some insight into things they’re studying in school. SWEETGRASS is the story of a young Blackfoot Indian girl’s life at a time when enormous changes are happening to her people. It shows the heroism of daily survival. A SINGLE SHARD is about a thirteenth century Korean boy who wants to make celadon pots, and this book too honors the value of labor and craft. SILENT THUNDER is a solid escape-from-slavery novel.

Also a quick read was a Dennis Lehane novel, A DRINK BEFORE THE WAR. I like Lehane except for the portentousness of his tone. And I read the first two Robin Hobbs sword and sorcery novels, but I want to write about them later, as do I want to write about two histories of the Jews– not quick reads!

Let me say a little more here about one nonfiction book and two novels. The nonfiction book was very personal to me: WILL YOU MISS ME WHEN I’M GONE: THE CARTER FAMILY & THEIR LEGACY IN AMERICAN MUSIC by Mark Zwonitzer with Charles Hirshberg. It isn’t that I am such a huge fan, although I like their music, it's more like I've always felt the Carters were part of my family. The book is full of stories about the sources of Carter family (and other country) songs: borrowed from 19th century sheet music, from traditional ballads from Britain, new words to old hymn tunes, a little Mexican mariachi music mixed in by Mother Maybelle when the group was singing down around the border on a high power radio station. The music was all about community and tradition and borrowing and sharing– and then about broadcasting and big business. The Carters themselves are a wonderful example of people who both loved music and loved to perform, and then grabbed the opportunity to make money for their families.

For me, though, along with the innate interest and Americana of the story, there is the background of life in the Appalachians at the time of my grandparents. The Carters’ homeplace is just a couple of ridges over from Lee County, Virginia, where my father’s parents grew up, and over another couple of mountains from Wise County where my father was born. So this book, good in itself, had personal meaning for me.

Less personally meaningful, but a great favorite of mine is the work of the contemporary British novelist, Kasuo Ishiguro.  I read his first novel, A PALE VIEW OF HILLS , set in Nagasaki and England. These are places from his real life, but the story is indirect and delicately moving. It is suffused with the sadness of the pale view of hills, of lost daughters, of family members who died off-stage in the American bombing of Nagasaki. There is a hint that someone may have done something regrettable before the war; there is the unanswered question of why Etsuko the narrator leaves her husband and father-in-law, and then why her children leave her. Things at the outer edges of consciousness taint the lives of the multiple parent-child pairs. There is one interesting technical/structural anomaly near the end in which for one passage the point of view switches from Etsuko to her friend Sachiko, and there is a hint that the two women are the same woman. I prefer things like this to be made clear, but Ishiguro is so good, I’m willing to go where he goes.

Finally, I had a rousing good time with another first novel, Jeanette Winterson’s ORANGES ARE NOT THE ONLY FRUIT. This is an excellent combination of British Lower Middle Class realism with Winterson’s off-kilter literary experimentalism (although I don’t know if Winterson experiments so much as writes just exactly the way she sees the world). As the novel progresses, there are long passages of story telling in the voice of the main character, “Jeanette.” There is a retelling of a King Arthur tale and a story of a character called Winnet StoneJar, and lots of dream narratives. The more representational part was my greatest delight, however, as the narrator discovers first her religious calling in a woman-centric Pentecostal church, and then her sexuality, wildly unacceptable to the church family. The girl is feisty and smart and loving, and her mother is a terrifically colorful and engaging monster. Everyone eats oranges in the novel, but at the end, the missionary mother decides that the “coloured heathen” might prefer pineapples.


Who recommended this to me? I’m pretty sure the recommendation appeared in this newsletter– maybe it was Evelyn Codd who recommended it. I’ve also read SEXING THE CHERRY (the 1600's London story) and WRITTEN ON THE BODY.



March 22, 2009
There's a depth, an intensification of green,
Crocuses, pansies, bud velvet are seen
In the cold air while the sun is warm:
An itch in my foot, a rejoice in my arm–




March 21


Yesterday was the first day of spring, and it was snowing when I headed off for Glen Rock, my last day up there with the Third Graders and one class of Fourth Graders. BIg soft flakes that floated for a while, touched down on the tops of the grass, but never even whitened the streets. It was mostly gone long before I made my way up the Garden State.

Today was sunny, cold, and dry, and I started tomatoes and basil and a couple of other nightshades in egg cartons. My clever idea this year was to tear the egg cartons crossways in the middle, overlap them and thus form ten cells instead of twelve, which fits in my under-the-lights trays. I planted fewer tomatoes than usual this year: it's like I've narrowed what I'm going to plant, but I'm seeing it much more sharply. With less terror over the deer (and I sure hope I'm right, because I tore down my bird nets that had covered the entire garden for two years), I feel resigned and calm and looking forward to the garden.







March 15


I dug in the garden today, getting a place ready for the pease on St. Patrick's Day, should it not be frozen and snowy. Also a patch next to them composed with old compost, black and wormy, for the cabbage plants, presently under lights without even true leaves yet. A good time of year, and no one invited the crocuses, but here they are again.


March 14, 2009


This is Saturday, but another work day for me with a workshop for teachers run by the Newark Teachers' Union.

I've been thinking about how I use the blog, which is still spotty, and not very consistent. I admire the political and bookish blogs (or both-- like my friend Shelley Ettinger's ). There's also my brother-in-law David Weinberger's all purpose but-mostly-about-the-web blog that is followed by lots of techy people. I think my blog is mostly read by friends and family, although like all blogs is out there in public, and I occasionally, on the Blogger version, get comments back from strangers and more often people I have some past connection with. I also keep a personal and private journal, and have for a long time, which often drifts off into writing material that sometimes gets turned into anything from a novel to a poem.

I definitely don't blog my poetry almost ever!

think thIS blog is more comparable to my old "To Joels" that I wrote when he was a baby mostly for my mother, although now that I'm grandmother age myself, looking at them is a happy sunny glimpse of the good side of motherhood back in the day. Mostly my relationship with Baby Joel and Toddler Joel and Boy Joel was all sunny anyhow-- he was a definite light in our lives, and continues to be with his phone calls full of enthusiasms (rock climbing, restaurants in San Francisco and East Bay, skiing, personalities of people he knows, and now Judaism).

But I didn't put my down moments into those documents, and I don't blog about those either-- I'm generally fairly evenly good spirited these days. But private, in my own somewhat exhibitionist way.





March 9, 2009


I'm coming out of a long period of tons of teaching (which continues) but also my mother and that brutal drive to and from West Virginia to take her home. Actually, the only brutal part was the return drive with three hours stuck on Route 78. Anyhow, I have three pretty clear days right now, and plans for some career work, reading. Starting seeds, maybe.

I got a notice from the Columbia '68-'08 listserv that Mark Rudd's book is coming out soon, and he has a website with some very nice FAQ's that answer clearly and directly a lot of the questions people have about what was going on back then-- and he of course has a lot to explain and regret, having gone crazy underground with Weatherman. I guess Mark's great strength has always been his ability to be direct and clear--you find yourself liking him and listening. Do take a look at his website, especially his FAQ.


February 22, 2009


Andy and I went out last night with our good friends from Booklyn and the Berkshires, Harvey and Adrianne Robins (seen below with Joel at graduation). We haven't seen them in a year and a half--usually get together at least once in the summer when we're at the lake and they're in Otis, or meet in the city or somewhere, so it was a great pleasure to see them. We asked Harvey how he's been, and he said, "Great-- since November 4." He is a lifetime public servant, having been part of the Koch and Dinkins administrations and now working wtih nonprofits, and Adrianne is a retired principal of a high school for the deaf-- now doing consulting work. Anyhow, we go back to Brooklyn, and it was a lovely evening, just being with them and catching up-- we ate at North Square, New American cooking, Zagat approved. They let you visit, and it has actually become a kind of favorite restaurant of mine in New York: I'd had lunch there once with Ingrid, then took Andy and Joel when we couldn't get into the place we were looking for, then the Mom's group. A sign of maturity I guess, to have an actually dependable restaurant?



                                                                 February 20, 2009

I'm heading into an overbooked condition, as we say-- Newark Museum on Monday, new class at NYU on Tuesday (at the dread Norman Thomas Center in midtown....) followed by continuing class at NYU. then more teaching, including a new little-kid school and, I think a Jump Start Your Novel on Saturday followed by a run to and from WV to take my mom home. She's been doing any
chores I can give her-- went through the plants watering and trimming, and now she's working on my wrapping paper closet, organizing it pretty well, something it would have taken me months even to get to, especially now. Now meaning with the onset of heavy teaching.

Yesterday I finished a draft of Ten Strategies and got it in to Ed at Montemayor Press for first reactions. A pleasure to dash it off, and even these lesson plans from the Arts Catalyst Program at the Museum are fun, but they don't take me to the deep place that the writing of stories and novels does.

The deep place is something unnamable that we call the sources of creativity, or the unconscious or the muse or maybe even meditation. The nonfiction, especially this nonfiction about how to do something, is sunnier and closer to being with other people-- some of fiction writing is like that too, but it's a second or third stage, revision, not the Deep Place.  I'm feeling good and productive, but I miss the deep place.

On the other hand-- during this productive gregarious period, I've been remembering more dreams at night....



                                                                          February 15, 2009


My mother is here, already in bed. She was exhausted with getting up early and traveling and no naps. Usually she takes one after her religious exercises, then another in the afternoon. So she crashed at seven fifteen, only 4:15 California time. Alex and Kiry with Chrissie and Goro till tomorrow, and I’m pretty tired myself. Yesterday I finished a couple of books, have been doing web site work, eager to see how far I can get on preparing a draft of the novel writing book for Ed to look at before I feel I have to work on the draft for the Newark Museum.

Andy and I had a nice Valentine's evening last night. We went to see Frost/Nixon, which was excellent, then ate at the new Village Trattoria in South Orange (which I just discovered has a branch in Summit as well as in Maplewood), then came home, and I finished the Abram Leon Sachar book A History of the Jews. This was an important accomplishment for me, this big book. Amazing thing, this history over such a span of time of one group of related people-- perhaps the most unique thing that there is a history you can trace-- the political and religious history, the horrors of pogroms. Other people have certainly suffered-- but we don't have such a sustained record. Which native American nation has a five thousand year written history? Where are the lists and photgraphs of those who came on the Middle Passage?





Friday night, February 13, 2009
Lots going on, bloodwork today for my doctor check up, electricty off for an hour and a half following the high winds yesterday, but my Acer Aspire came through and I kept working on my 10 Strategies to Write a Novel book. Also deaths of people I know, and my mother returning on Sunday. Rogan Josh (from a Tasty Bite Simmer Sauce ) for dinner. Reading Oranges Are Not the Only Fruit, Jeanette Winterson's first. She has a touching blog entry on her website about the death of her father just after Christmas,
January 28


I just finished reading The Gift by Lewis Hyde, another Berkman fellow like Andy's brother David Weinberger. I'm just now beginning to get the importance of this institution, which we knew was an honor to David (author of Everything is Miscellaneous as well as co-author of The Cluetrain Manifesto and more). But this book, one of your real public intellectual books like a book length article from The New York Review of Books is really helpful in figuring out about art and the market. Hyde writes in a new epilogue for the twenty-fifth anniversary of the book: “ begin by restating two of THE GIFT’s motivating assumptions....The first is simply that there are categories of human enterprise that are not well organized or supported by market forces. Family life, religious life, public service, pure science, and of course much artistic practice: none of these operates very well when framed simply in terms of exchange value. The second assumption follows: any community that values these things will find non market ways to organized them. It will develop gift-exchange institutions dedicated to their support.“

I guess I wanted reading it to be more fun than it was, but I read so often now when I'm tired, too much work of my own and also t. v. with the quick cut action and interactive internet.. But having said this, the book makes a really important distinction between what we do for money and what we don’t. It begins with folk tales and narratives about hunter gatherer and other societies with strong emphasis on gift exchange and the circulation of valuable things rather than private ownership, and goes on to long essays on Walt Whitman and one on Ezra Pound (who had lots of cockamamie economic schemes plus the brutally ugly anti semitism). Allen Ginsberg figures importantly (especially his late visit to Pound in Italy)




January 26


I had a lovely visit last evening with the South Mountain Monkeys, a local mother-daughter reading group that chose my Billie of Fish House Lane as their January book. The kids are fourth graders, and they were charming, everyone bouncy and full of life force and questions, and I signed books, and the mothers asked serious questions of the kids and me, and we ate cookies. There is nothing quite like being face to face with readers-- and kids are especially gratifying because (after a couple of initial Official Questions) they say pretty much what they really think: "Why was Eutreece so mean to Celia?" "I was reading in bed and I cried when Billie's father was so sick."

I said, "Oh I'm so glad!" and every one laughed-- at the idea I was glad the poor kid had cried -- but that's what we all want, isn't it? Writers? To touch someone with what touched us? Anyhow, it was a lot of fun-- lovely to be in a lovely home, wood fire, feeling appreciated, to know I'd conveyed something important and good.



January 24

Andy and I went to South Orange to the movies and the one we wanted to see was sold out, so we came home, talked to Joel on the phone, and watched Edward Scissorshands from 1990. Very charming, touching, all that. Edward and his naivety and snip snip evergreen art and hair cutting and dog grooming is the real normal, and the appalling tropical fruit colored ticky tacky suburban community is the freak show. Those houses and those people were exactly what I had a horror of finding if we moved to the suburbs-- identical houses, bored housewives, false good cheer.

Johnny Depp is an absolute heart throb in this, an artist, a lover, a suffering outsider who tries to do good. His character is punk in style, the hair, the leather and studs, but the stance and general look is the same as Slovenly Peter of the old Der Struwwelpeter (1845) cautionary tales for kids. A related (?) images in the book is of a horrible man with enormous scissors cutting off a boy's fingers-- anyhow, these have got to have played into the imagery, in my mind, if not in Tim Burton's.









January 20, 2009


George Bush puttered way in a helicopter and




January 19


Yesterday we watched the concert at the Lincoln Memorial, and well, yes, I know we are going to be disappointed in Obama, and yes, he is progressive but not left wing, but --- BY GOLLY at the big concert today Sunday on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial, along with songs from everyone from Stevie Wonder to Beyonce to Bono, they had Pete Seeger up there leading the crowd and Bruce Springsteen in the full version of This Land is Your Land, including the anti-landlord lyrics (The No Trespassing sign with nothing wirtten on the back--"This side was meant for you and me!" ) Pete Freaking The Weavers commy pinko Seeger! So all I can say is GOBAMA!!



January 16


Me and two favorites: Taxicab the parakeet, photgraphed by the webcam on my new ASus Aspired One itty bitty tiny camera.



Ron P., who has his own self-publishing company, is biased, but this little piece from his newsletter/blog is interesting nonetheless. The bottom line is that IUniverse and Xlibris and Authorhouse and all of them are becoming more and more vanity presses. Other businesses are helping self-publishers in what appear to be much more satisfactory ways. See Marion Cuba's recommendation.


January 10


Friday night: Andy and I went to Jayne Anne Phillips’s book party for LARK AND TERMITE. She read, not long, a passage following each of her characters, and the section following Termite, the crucial brilliant consciousness of a developmentally disable boy, had a poetry that I hadn’t caught in reading by eye, with a mind to writing about the book. A ton of people came– her fans, and maybe more than might have come after the terrific review of the book by Michiko Kakutani. Among the folks there– local friends Dawn Williams and James Van Oosting, and, more of a surprise– Wesley Brown! He had come down from upstate to hear Jayne Anne, and said that a novel is such a long hard effort, it deserves to be celebrated– which is such a typical Wesley comment, wise and kind and appropriate.


And then I ran into Dawn again today, at the funeral for Rev. Roy A. Butler Sr. The funeral was a wonderful mixture of heavy hitters from the area churches, mostly American Baptist churches (Roy was active in the American Baptist Churches organization-- latest name of the Baptists I grew up among))– there must have been 20 or more ministers in attendance, along with his many, many friends and his large family, including one sister, a minister herself, who sang and got the crowd up and singing with her and generally roused. People talked about his preaching style and musical abilities and his passion, and of course how he is happy now that he’s gone home. It was also mentioned how he walked the walk as well as talked the talk about welcoming women into the ministry– his wife Marsha is now ordained, and she was an assistant pastor along with Sandra Pendleton-Rock who I’ve know from the earliest days of FAN when I first moved to this area and began to get involved in stable integration work.

I of course knew Roy as a founding trustee of the South Orange/Maplewood Community Coalition on Race. He was an essential member– creating what became the Interfaith Outreach Committee, and participating in some of the deepest, most impassioned discussions of our early days. After he moved on to focus on building his church, he continued to be supportive to us in all ways he could, and I remember one of the last times I saw him, I had called to ask about distributing some of the Coalition’s flyers to his church, and he said, as he always did, Anything he and his church could do, anytime, please ask. You felt like your request was a compliment

So I drove the flyers over and put them in the mailbox as he'd said, and then drove around the building– and there on the other side was Roy, on his hands and knees, wearing a beautiful colorful short sleeved sports shirt and one of his elegant hats– planting flowers. I rolled down my window to speak, and he got up, brushing himself off, looking just a little rueful, then said, indicating the trowel and flowers, “It’s part of the ministry of service.”

We really do miss people when they go. Just speaking yesterday of Andy’s mom, Sherry, who my mother reminded us has been dead for sixteen years. Actually sixteen and a half. They live on, time goes fast, some cultures say the dead one is happier now, has transitioned to the other side! Some howl their mourning. Anyway you slice it, we miss them, and willy nilly carry them with us. And when we go? Do they go too? It would be nice to believe otherwise, but also helps to realize how many there have been, how many loved, how many sterling personalities, how many more precious ones yet living, yet to come.





January 3, 2009

What a week! Joel and Sarah leave tomorrow, and it has felt like nonstop parties and socializing, the house rocking for almost two weeks. New Year's locally, a neat Prospect Street reunion with Mary and Tony and Anne and Gordon and Katherine and Ed and Joan and, oh, a ton of other people.

Yesterday, Mom, Andy, Joel, Sarah, and I went to Liberty Science Center . It was a mad house– Friday after New Year’s, the whole world off from work and school, and apparently everyone with children under ten at LSC! My mother loved looking at the kids and interacting with them when she could. We hadn't been there since long before their expansion. It’s enormous, with lots of things to see and do, and I could have used more time actually to explore some of the learning sections, but it was super crowded. Many artifacts, of course: a great folded beam from the World Trade Center; activities for kids: Suspended I-beams to walk on in the Skyscraper exhibit; Gila monsters, a Gaboon viper (Venom to kill 30 grown men!), a room full of interactive stuff that Joel remembered fondly from childhood. But the sensory deprivation tunnel has been gone for a long time.

Black widows, a floor map of the Hudson estuary so you can walk up to the Berkshires in four steps. Fifty foot tall wave-ladder; views of the harbor and the Statue of Liberty. My mother reverential about Our Lady of the Harbo. Driving over, we had a long discussion about Judaism and the Jewish man’s morning prayer, which Joel, like Andy, thought said Thank you God I wasn’t born a woman but is actually mroe like “Thank you God King of the Universe who didn’t make me a woman.” So according to Sarah and Joel, this puts the emphasis on the thank you for everything including what You made me. And to Joel, this also was maybe also about someone writing the prayer and meaning a sexist world view but God Himself directing the man’s hand so that the words came out in a way subject to interpretation by future generations. Interesting hair splitting or profound Meaning?



January 2, 2009


2009 is here!



December 28


My new toy: An Acer Aspire One. Two pounds and it takes pictures!

A nice long walk in the windy, rainy-but-not-yet-raining sixties. Color is leached out, and it is dark enough in this Sunday mid-afternoon, for lights to be on in people's houses, and that wonderful transparency into windowed golden lives of other people. Families out for walks, kids on Daddy’s back, golden retrievers, boys with action figures on the floor of their porch.

Today’s Times Magazine has articles about people we lost this year, and I was especially touched by Mildred Loving, a long time widow and church woman in rural Virginia whose marriage to a white man back more than forty years became the suit that struck down miscegenation laws in the US. And especially touching, that she came out for gay marriage after long refusing interviews and public life at all.

Whether or not we want to live in public-- whether we hide from it, as she did, or want it, as I do, we are all about the same size.

At Ethical today: a discussion on health care, and I finally got straight the difference between socialized medicine (govt. owns hospitals, pays doctors– like the VA system) versus single payer (govt pays but money goes to various place: private or public). Duh.





December 26


‘Twas the day after Christmas, and gray in the sky,
Snow on the ground and hangovers from pie....

We spent two hours opening presents yesterday-- Joel insisting that each present be unwrapped and watched and enjoyed by all of us. This year, though, I had cleverly planned my cooking tasks so that I wasn’t anxious doing this: the ham was roasting and a bread was in the bread maker and the vegetables for roasting were already prepared.

I got my best Christmas present in years– the tiny Acer Aspire "netbook" computer . It is just 2 pounds and under $300 (barely under of course), and it is so cute ! I've wanted one of these subnotebooks for almost a year, since I started reading about them: solid state and with a Linux operating system. I wanted it for its true portability (I have a laptop but it's heavy and the battery has died). Anyhow this little job does email and word processing and is all I need for traveling.

Also for looking cool in Starbucks.

The keyboard is small, but I’d tried it at J&R and compared to my first “netbook” crush, an Asus eee (screen 7 inches diagonal), this one (screen 8.9) is downright roomy. Thinner and lighter than a hardcover book.

We had eight for Christmas dinner-- Mom, Andy and me, Sarah and Joel, and Howard and Alice and daughter Molly. A lot of cooking, and everyone helped (Joel and Sarah made some amazing garlic mashed with pre-roasted garlic) , ditto with clean-up. The work has already this morning faded into a general haze of warmth. Joel, Sarah, and Molly went to Sciainos’ after dinner, where Joel ate sausage and manicotti and cookies. Groan.

After Christmas dinner, we did Hanukkah candles, and no Christmas songs– but we were 3 to 1 Jewish to gentile. We tend to have Jews for Christmas and gentiles for Pesach. Seriously.






December 24

It's the day before Christmas, rain on snow, icy, slushy, Joel and Sarah's plane last night was two hours late, but they're here, and my mom, Sarah working on her computer, long distance; I made my plan (what to cook, when) and talked to Alice, talked to Christy, everything under control as we say.




December 22


Yesterday started with snow and sleet, eventually lightened, and today is just deep cold, barely made double digits. There is that special short day pale orange light with the trees dark with brass highlights, the sky pale, shadows on snow. The speaker cancelled at Ethical yesterday, and we hung around awhile and then went and picked up mom at Prospect Presbyterian and went back to Prospect in late afternoon to hear their chancel choir do “The Messiah Part I.”

This was at Adrienne Bolden’s invitation, as she had the first alto solo, and she sounded tremendous, a long rounded sound to her voice, not low at all, but rich and muscular in a restrainted way. I had forgotten who all sings in their choir: solosalso by John Pearson and David Huemer and Ellie Winslow the librarian.

I always forget how much I like music, sitting and listening to it, watching singers and performers (small string group too, and their choir director played a harpsichord). I don’t like ambient music, but I like focusing on it, going where it is.

Much of the text of that part of “The Messiah” is from the Book of Isaiah.


And now, for the first time ever-- we are proudly flying the flag of a country
where the a majority of the voters chose hope over business as usual.  We sincerely hope!





December 18


A quick two day drive to and from Shinnston to pick up Mom for Chirstmas. And today, my last class (tomorrow's is being rescheduled!) before the holidays and getting to concentrate on family, food, tree, etc.!

Meanwhile in the news--the continued Splat! of the greed bubble bursting. Bernie Madoff now is being called perpetrator of a Ponzi scheme. Oh the Wall Streeters! What were they thinking? It has all been so wrong, so very wrong, and now everyone is beginning to get it, to see, that the greed was insane. For me and my Aged Radicals, it is a major vindication. Crooked finger shaking: You see? You see?

What lessons to learn of course? The lesson for my parents' Great Depression was to keep your nose to the grindstone, take care of your own frugally, save, plan for retirement. Too narrow for my generation, spendthrift in resources and extreme in choices: We need a new system top to bottom!  Socialism is too timid! Change everything!

Followed by the ones who came of age with Reagan and Greed is Good. Who, along with the rapacious ones who surround W., have caused immense harm.

And greed is not good, nor is narrowness out of fear.   We need to be expansive in caring for the common good.  

Will Obama’s administration be able to manage it? Will they make enough structural change? Will they keep Obama alive?






Subscribe to Meredith Sue Willis's Free Newsletter
for Readers and Writers:

Enter your email to join ReaderBooks today!


Hosted By Topica

Send mail


Photos found on the various pages of this web site may be used by anyone, but please attribute the source when it is specified.



Biography   Blog   Books for Readers    Contact   Home      Kids   MSW Info    MSW's Books    Online Classes      Order Books     MSW Online   Resources for Writers      Teens    Workshops    Writing Exercises 









Book Deal!

[For all of MSW's books, click here.]


Special Price on Meredith Sue Willis's new book of stories from myths and other stories: Re-Visions. Regular Price $14.95 plus S&H now $13.00 plus S&H.

Click on the Book or here.

Re-visions: Stories from Stories is a collection of spin-offs from myth, fiction, and the Bible. From a new look at Adam and Eve and why they left the Garden to a grown-up Topsy from Uncle Tom's Cabin to the confessions of SaintAugustine's concubine- each story offers a gloss on the original as well as insights into how we canlive today.