It's a windy, wonderfully typical March Sunday. Joel and Sarah were here for two nights, and are now driving to Stowe, Vermont, to meet Seb and his family, to ski a little, then go on to Montreal. The two of them share an absolute delight in friends and communication. Joel calls from his cell phone time after time, and both of them are on phones, on email, talk about their friends' personalities, successes, problems all the time. They amaze and delight me with this sociability. I miss having Joel in the house sharply, but also enjoy the solitude, the quiet.
A day like today, after they left: I spent a while outside working on my deer netting “tent,” which is now more than half done. And I'm counting on the deer to have good enough sense not to get tangled up in it. There’s a ton more garden work to do, and I’ve spent a lot of time on papers today, started on lengthening the house dress, watered the indoor plants. Generally setting things to rights.
This just in! Photos from Sarah and Joel of the Gala at Brown last week-end! See March 12 below.
Just barely past midnight, and we’re at the downtown Sheraton in Boston. Boston always looks so well-groomed to me compared to New York– smaller, cozier. In spite of the John Hancock building. We’re on the 17th floor, view of a flat roof, but beyond that, the Charles River, MIT, Cambridge. Lovely lights in the night, bridges, cars. We had dinner with David and Ann and Nathan, and will be meeting Joel and Sarah and Ryan and Anne tomorrow night
In the morning....almost ten thirty, and I’ve finished by NYU papers, diddled with email, been for a swim! Looking out at that vast dun and dark orange/pink brown and brick and gray city scape, although it should be noted that there are hills in the distacne. Now some museums.
Ten thirty again, but p.m.! Andy studying, belly full from dinner at Durgin Park with Joel, Sarah, and Ryan. Earlier, I went to the Isabelle Stewart Gardner museum, totally delightful, brand new Italian palace created for her art collection in early 1900's, a splendid central garden with a skylight, long loggias and halls and galleries, a Botticelli, various other Renaissance pieces, a John Singer Sergeant of Mrs. Jack herself, a wonderful Dutch room with a Vermeer of Phillip of Spain, a youngish self-portrait of Rembrandt, and the empty frames of the 13 masterpieces stolen in 1990 and never yet recovered– who has them? Long walk to get there past the Boston Symphony, Northeastern University, Museum of Fine Arts. Bright sun, very cold, then walking around on Newberry Street, lunch of noodle soup with kimchi, then Joel and Sarah and more walking around.
Busy day in Shinnston! Got up, took a run, ate a bagel, showered, then mom and I went to to Clarksburg, had breakfast at a Denny’s (my first senior meal! Coffee one egg grits one slice bacon one biscuit.) then a real West Virginia treat: Wal-Mart where she got groceries and I got some neutral pants for summer wearing and a couple of overshirts, $3.00 apiece! Everything needs a little work, shortening narrowing, but I had a good time. Next, back in Shinnston, we dropped off the ice cream at the house and went out Enterprise road to the Maley place where my old school fellow Woody Maley has-- a camel. Mercy upon us. Thick brown fur, very eager to stick out its nose–for food no doubt. Why?
Then it was off to Lumberport and Shelley Z’s birds! I got to hold two Senegal parrots and a white cockatoo, big fluffy Maggie who wanted to rip off my cowrie shell earrings and necklace. All the birds willing to be handled, even liking it. Maggie’s enormous black beak and black feet deliberately one over the other on my hands. One gorgeous blue and yellow macaw who Shelly had to buy back from an abusive owner who beat it with a belt and threatened to shoot it and stuff it if she wouldn’t buy it back. Later, dinner at Jimmy’s where some people I know were having the Lions club meeting in the back in yellow vests with a big yellow Lion's banner. Mom is doing cross word puzzles to keep her mind busy.
Andy and I went to see Madea’s Family Reunion last night, and I believe we were the only white folks in the Essex Green theater-- still after all these years not easy to be a "minority." But it was a good crowd to see it with– enthusiastic and appreciative. A movie full of stock characters and melodrama, yet sincere and moving. I could have done without some of the long speeches, but even those ended up touching you, and of course you knew they would be followed by something funny and irreverent. Tyler Perry is a very talented young guy, and if he gets really taken up by Hollywood in a big way you have to wonder what will happen to him.
Afterwards, Andy went to the Sears tool store that is shutting down and I went to the pet store and looked at the parakeets being charming and squabbling, but discovered in their closed room some gorgeous finches and cockatiels and a Jenday conure that I was allowed to pet! What a charmer! Small northern Brazilian parrot orange, red, gold and green that looked just like the one to the right. It delighted in finger-sitting on my finger through the bars, wanted its head and belly scratched, black bill bit a little, but not so much I pulled away. Only $599, Yeah right.
Later, Joel called to ask whether the bow tie goes over the tuxedo collar or under–I’d say it was really to let us know that he and Sarah were going to the Brown gala! I’d love to see them all dressed up.
Here's something interesting: something called the mirror project in which people have submitted photographic self-portraits of their own reflections: my friend Jill's son Scott Perez-Fox has one. We spent last evening with Jill and José at Alice Robinson Gilman's little surprise birthday party that Howard set up at his cousin's house in Maplewood.
Well,here's something I really like. The Museum of Bad Art (in Boston). Especially enjoyable is the story of how the first painting in the collection ("Lucy in the Field with Flowers") was found in the trash, became the heart of the collection, then was put in the newspaper--where "Lucy"'s granddaughter saw it. And became a supporter of the Museum... It's a funny idea, moderately mean (after all, those paintings were all painted by someone), but I couldn't help giggling, especially about what a good sport "Lucy"'s granddaughter was.
I really love these photos of Mars. I've got another one below. This one is from back in 1996 when the first Mars Probe, the Pathfinder. I'm using it as an idea for material in a novel I'm drafting, possibly young adult, called Melisandre. I'm enjoying this writing, probably too much, just coming up with stuff that appeals to me. I think I don't spend as many hours writing as I used to, but I have more fun...
Takeshi sent a photo of him, Chiaki, and Alex that I like: I wrote him to say that I thought they were very handsome young people. Alex, of course, is Alex Kato Willis, my sister's son, Joel's cousin of the same exact age, and Takeshi is Alex's cousin on his father's side and of course our friend too. Chiaki is married to Takeshi, and we are extremely fond of all of them!
Well, yesterday Andy and I met the governor and the secretary of state! I finally found out how I got invited-- it was from the NJ Council on the Arts, and they pulled out their list of Distinguished Teaching Artists, and I got invited and BJ Ward and Ruth Clark the dancer who is now at the Morris County School of Technology special program for performing arts and Randy James the dancer and a couple of other people I knew more or less. I met Robin Middleton and David Miller of the Arts Council along with Secretary of State Nina Mitchell Wells and Governor Corzine who was much better one-on-one than as a public speaker. When he found out I was a writer, he asked if I knew anyone to help him write speeches! He says he writes his own, but wants a "shadow" to think as he does and help him write better speeches. I was amazed he writes his own (I bet that doesn't last), and he had this pleasant way about him that made me think he actually would take a suggestion for such a person, to spend time with him and help him write his thoughts! I guess that's part of political talent-- to seem-- perhaps even be-- very open and connected. They say Bill Clinton makes whoever he talks to feel like the most important person in his life at that moment. They really thrive on this, shaking hands and connecting. Me, it exhausts totally.
It's the last day of February! End of the month! I'm all wrapped up in teaching, doing NYU papers, setting up a spring workshop at a high school. And needing to get to West Virginiafor a visit! I haven't been there in months!
Well, let’s see, what’s right with the world? Sunny today, if cold. A splendid party for Betty Levin at Cryan’s in South Orange on Saturday, which had lots of testimony about her friendship, including mine which was that she appeared to me when I first started going to the Ethical Culture Society as an alternate future for me– that is, my mother’s life was not the only option, and by seeing Betty with her new beginnings and peace projects as a role model, I came actually to value my mother’s path more.
Yesterday afternoon, a last minute invitation from Christie Harrington via Lienne to go hear classical guitar at Saint George’s played by Leighann Narum, who we had met. It was at St. George’s, and I almost didn’t go, but at the last minute said yes, and enjoyed it so much, Scarlatti sounded so warm (Andy’s description) on the guitar and there was a piece inspired by Turkish music that I liked a lot. All of it, really. Then we tried dinner at Ginger Taste in the old IHOP in Millburn.
I haven’t cooked in days, it seems like. Until this morning, when I put some chicken and veggies in the crock pot with a Jyoti simmer sauce for Andy’s dinner. (I buy cases of these things, turn the most ordinary stuff into tasty Indian style flavors if not really Indian). I’m off to see Ingrid and teach Making Your Novel Happen.
Snapshots below are from last night's South Orange Maplewood Community Coalition Trustees meeting. We have a new Executive Director and a new Chair; an interesting exericise last night thinking about where we were ten years ago, where we are now. This is coming up our tenth anniversary year. Big changes with new people, and we're about to move into a new office, and there's a not of upheaval, but I'm happy to be a past chair, don't mind working, but mind thinking about it all the time.
Coalition Folks: New ED Robin, Old Chair MSW, New Chair Carol B-A
More Coalition pix: Trustees doing an exercise about what the organization has accomplished and failed to accomplish; South Orange Trustee Arthur Taylor, Carol, Maplewood Mayor Profeta
Well, Joel is in Las Vegas with Sarah and her family–for her grandparents’ 58th wedding anniversary! They are putting the whole family up (probably fifteen or twenty people) in a hotel, with theater tickets, food, etc. Meanwhile, along with having to keep Joel's plane in the air tomorrow when he flies back to Providence,
I’m giving the platform at Ethical Culture today. You’d think I would be calmer about giving a talk–to friendly people, many of whom have parent-to-child feelings toward me. But no, I'm a mess, can’t remember the point of this talk, etc., or why anyone would want to come to it. This is called stage fright, and what I can never tell is if it’s necessary to having an edge or if it’s a waste of energy.
Me speaking today at Ethical Culture on children and literature
Some reading I'm doing: I finished Freedomland by Richard Price who I don't know but was in the Columbia MFA program when I was. I enjoyed it, partly. I think all this stuff is much better than the average best-seller-to-movie stuff out there, but after awhile all the sweat and funkiness began to get to me. Price likes his characters to breathless as they rush up stairs and sleepless with crummy apartments they rarely use, needing a shower and a shave etc. That kind of male-world-view of the jaded-but-still-idealistic-inside character as the ultimate hero, and even better if he suffers a lot. The movie is coming out this week, with Samuel Jackson and Juliann Moore, which make good choices, although she’s probably a little old (unusual complaint for the movies– a too old actress). Towards the end, the book borders on, and maybe crosses the border into, the imitative fallacy, that is, to create a turgid atmosphere, the story gets turgid. I wonder, do black people read Richard Price's books? Spike Lee must, because he's used Price's work.
Meanwhile, I'm in the middle of Iris Murdoch's The Sea, The Sea and I am just blown away by her total conviction about the quirky world she writes about. Does she know how off-kilter it is? Or is it like El Greco, according to one theory, whose attenuated figures looked normal to him because of some astigmatism or something in his eyesight?
We've got 14 inches and counting: a really big snow storm. Ethical cancelled (Boe stayed over last night, slept in her office on the futon), and I don't know if the executive committee will meet tonight or not. I did some shovelling, Andy is out snowblowing, although snow is still coming down). Joel called a few minutes ago to say he had been to tap dance rehearsal ("What's On Tap?" -- see below-- Joel's the male dancer!) and was walking home in the snow. He doesn't have boots with him at college (of course) but does want us to send him his skiing bibs for a ski trip the first week-end in March. He's studying several high level computer science courses plus Greek History in the time of Alexander and an economics class on Race and Inequality.
Happy Valentine's Day from the Monk Parrots
Photo Courtesy of Steve Baldwin
Steve Baldwin, who keeps a delightful website called Brooklynparrots.com gave me permission to use an occasional picture of his of the wonderful Monk Parrots he tracks, writes about, and photographs. I've had some of them at my bird feeder here in New Jersey in the past and have seen them squawking around the South Orange train station as well. Noisy and social, quarrelsome and infinitely interesting -- what other species does this remind you of?
Pleasantly warm again, fourth warmest January in recorded history, which is only about 130 years. I'm gearing up for a big week, starting two new classes at NYU and a new school in Basking Ridge. Plus I just got the text for Hamilton Stone Review # 8, which means a lot of tedious spacing out the poems and nonsense-- considerably better since moving up to Dreamweaver 8, however. Calls from and to my mother. Andy and I watched Drumline, which was a ton of fun!
February 2-- Groundhog day, and his shadow is in full view!
Sunny and warm today, and I’ve just finished my last two days at Ridge Street School in Newark, kids I especially enjoy– mostly Latino kids, with an easy expression of affection toward adults (maybe cultural?) that reminds me of when I worked in New York at the very beginning of my career as a writer-in-the-schools.
H ow much is oddly the same– and how much different.
I wonder if those New York schools P.S. 75 and P.S. 84 are as well integrated as they used to be?
New Jersey School “report cards” came out today, and of course there are the usual statistical penalties for being an integrated school– Columbia High School has an 18% poverty rate, as opposed to 1% or 0% in good old Livingston and Millburn/Short Hills. Of course, in our neighbors to the eats, the poverty rate is over half and rising: East Orange, Irvington, Newark, including the test-in Newark schools, which have skimmed the best students and do very well. The only places in Essex County with poverty rates (and racial mix) comparable to CHS are, of course, Montclair and West Orange.
South Orange and Maplewood also have, of course, lots of affluent people of color, but poverty still correlates generally with race. This makes for complexities and difficulties– assumptions by white people that if you’re of color you must be poor, which is a bad assumption – also needs for services which are harder to get if you’re middle income. Financing schools through property taxes is essentially a regressive tax system, causing tax burdens that favor segregation– Abbott districts get state funding that middle class districts don’t get, and the lily-white suburbs in Western NJ have low taxes (lots of corporate headquarters, malls). People are thus systematically encouraged to move west, encouraging further segregation, because people of color who can afford the move, prefer not to go out there and feel isolated.
More to this story, of course.
We went to the Berkshires for the day! That's Andy, standing on the lake! We went out and examined some ice fishermen's lines and took a look of pictures and ate sour dough bread and bought Polar diet orange that you can only get in New England and otherwise enjoyed ourselves. See some more pictures.
January 2 7, 2006
I am no longer chair of the South Orange Maplewood Community Coalition on Race. My good friend Carol Barry-Austin is the new chair. I don't feel that a great burden has been lifted in the usual sense of a lightness of my being, but I had a moment of intensely enjoying the colors and arrangement of the plaid in my flannel nightgown as it was stretched over my knee last night: a sense of being able to focus on the world in my way, not to strain to be something I am not, don't want to be (a Board Chair!). I continue on the Executive Committee of the Coalition, and I have ideas for parts of the mission of stable and continuing integration that I particularly want to work on, but I am deeply relieved that the world will now call Carol first. We have a contract with our new Executive Director, we voted on a public statement on gang activity and ordinances, and I felt that the Trustees had a sense of satisfaction in last night's meeting. We are still about to be turned out of our office and have to find a new one; we are on probably the last year of one of our major grants, and all of our money is continually shaky. Still, we had a good meeting last night and made a good statement.
The famous Mothers' group last night at Caffe Rosso in the West Village. We love seeing each other– we smile a lot because our pasts of beginning a family are in each other's eyes. Evelyn brought photos of the party last June with fathers as well as mothers and a few kids too! She's going to be presenting a paper on Hemingway and Cather at a conference, Nancy and Jody have been madly working with younger daughters on college applications, Jody going to London to visit Kate who is over there for a semester, Julia in Argentina– we talked about our kids’ love lives! Ate salmon, cod, bucatini, mista salad with pears and gorgonzola. Drank wine. Twenty one years. Matt turns twenty one in a few days, Theresa’s already twenty one, Joel in April, then Julia and Kate. It’s been a lovely river of life.
Photo of me and Andy by Evelyn Codd:
Exceptionally warm and pretty today, houses a little naked without their bushes and trees, generally in colors of dun brown and a fair amount of green. I've been working on what seeds I have in the freezer-- next comes ordering seeds, then preparations for the Big Deer Exclusion. Meanwhile, on the family front, Joel is about to rent an apartment for next year! I remember my apartment when I was at Barnard. Not my first, because I had two the year I was in VISTA, but the 929 West End Avenue was the real thing.
Well, the power finally came on-- Just four houses were without it, due to a blown down tree, and the almost-twelve hours due to the tens of thousands of other folks without power. Total disruption of my day's plans, of course, but at the end, I was in front of a fire with a candleabra burning beside me, reading-- and the light of fire and candle was making me calm in a way that these flickering screens can never do, which makes me wonder if we're really living right. But when it came on-- after I'd gone out on the porch and cheered for the "overhead" crew up in a cherry picker -- I got so excited: setting clocks, starting a wash that had been planned for first thing this morning, listening to the heat go on-- checking the stove with its electric spark-- the old light calm and making a safe place in the darkness, the new light all eager and chipper and full of activity!
The Interfaith Outreach Committee's MLK celebration was excellent today-- Dr. Clement Price was the speaker, with Muslim, Jewish, Baptist, and Unitarian prayers or readings. The Voices in Harmony choir sang, with a super splendid solo by someone I don't know who just woke me up and got me soaring up into the arches of Our Lady of Sorrows. A big crowd, and downstairs, Barbara Heisler-Williams's book collection plus several tables suggesting help on the Academic Achievment gap, so the Achieve tutoring program was there, and a mentoring group or two plus us, the Schools Committee of the Coalition and the Coalition itself. It is so good at least once or twice a year to be part of something harmonious-- a hint (as several of the speakers said) of what we are all struggling to create, the taste of the Beloved Community, which is of course what all of our wrangling is about: the possibility of a place where people really do live together across races and religions and not lose their group identity, but learn from each other and sometimes create something new. Music always does it for me.
More thoughts on magical thinking: My insistence on doing whatever seems to have worked in the past to keep airplanes in the air: staying awake, tracking its progress across the continent, etc. The strange ordinary marvel of a cross country flight. Joan Didion’s Year of Magical Thinking is on my mind too, of course, and how what she marvels at– her own irrational belief out of grief that she can bring back her husband if only she has everything ready for him– is really totally common and maybe even normal. We are the animal that understands the existence of cause and effect, and understand it over greater distances of time and space as the other animals don't, or at least I don't think they do. We are thus are tortured by a sense that if we play the game right, we might manage to influence it.
This is probably one source of religion as well as of superstition and magic. Probably another source of religion is what I think of as the deep calm, the serenity of the center– the feeling of well-being and oneness that may be as natural as the cause-and-effect nonsense. Both of them probably essential to the full human experience. What wise friendly aliens in science fiction always refer to as the youthful, unfinished, and even callow quality of our species...
My mom is safely back in Shinnston, WV, after her marathon travels: from before Thanksgiving to now, West Virginia to Tennessee, to California, to New Jersey to Cleveland and back to WV. Now I have to keep Joel's plane in the air tonight as he returns from California with Doug and Alex K. after their Kobe versus Bron Bron basketball game last night.
5:10 PM or so and my new Toshiba laptop is on my lap in front of the fire. This is what I’ve been waiting for, preparing for. I’m sitting on the couch, with my feet on the big pine IKEA coffee table with a duraflame log flickering away in the fireplace. It’s rainy and I’m damp from having gone out to the garden to get some mâche and greens for salad. Small red pool of Three Buck Chuck in the goblet. I just read an article in The New York Review of Books about Fra Angelico, an exhibition at the Met, which I might possibly see, but even if I don’t is a direct line to having been in Florence and having been in those old churches where the candles for sale and the fresh modern kids are mixed in with the altar pieces that are studied around the world and stun with their human apprehension of what they perceived to be the divine. I have not had an easy day–woke with concern aboutr some phone calls, various difficult business with the Coalition. So there was (to me) strenuous work on a document, various phone calls, schlepping the publicity box back to the Coalition office, difficult phone calls I had to make, and an unexpected invitation to speak at a college in a couple of months and be paid nicely. But all of that nerve wracking in different ways, and this fire and glass of wine and article about the Florentine painter like a sweet song, a deep breath.
Small sunset on Mars...at once familiar and very, very strange...
Andy and I went to the Beloved Community Award of the South Orange Civic Organization-- a forty year old local civil rights organization that did realtor testing and such way back. This was their 36th Martin Luther King celebration, and getting awards were Carol Barry-Austin, Mila Jasey, and Nancy Heins-Glaser, all associated with the Coalition one way or the other. Coalition trustee and priest at St. Andrews Sandye Wilson spoke; really super music from the choir of the East Orange Elmwood Presbyterian church. Best rendition of "Lift Ev'ry Voice and Sing" I've ever heard.
Three-thirty– Joel arrived at LAX. And here's the brave new world: first he called from the plane shortly before take-off to ask me to wash his black skully cap that he left inadvertently in the driveway at home, then called from the runway after arrival 5 and a half hours later and left a message he’d arrived. I gave a quick call back as he was deplaning.
And in between, I watched the little white cut-out plane as it moved over Ohio, Indiana, Illinois, eventually over the edge of Arizona and on to L.A. Where, as Andy says, the really dangerous part of his trip begins. I’m appalled by how poorly I do on recognizing the big rectangular states Out There. There are some map games that are fun to learn on, though.
Think Light Thoughts : Joel is almost halfway across the country now-- left at 8:45 this a.m., going to L.A. to visit with Sarah and meet her family. The Zakowskis, according to Sarah, are preparing for Joel by having their dog groomed two weeks early. I continue to be terrified of airplanes, but after last year's Xanax soothed trip to Italy, I am willing to say the terror is worth it. Maybe. Sometimes.
January 2, 2006
Fun fact of the day from the New York Times: if the minimum wage had gone up at the same rate as CEO compensation since 1990, the minimum wage today would not be $5.15 but rather $23.00 and change. Greed and injustice. And how many of your think you could live on $42 or even $45 a day? Raise children? make car payments, buy a computer? A house?
January 1, 2006
This is my decade year--always the sixes, born in 1946, turned ten in 1956, twenty in '66 and so on. I've always thought of sixty as officially old, and I certainly don't like what the mirror tells me, which is that, point by point-- hair by nostril, by tooth-- there's not much that gives pleasure to the eye. In motion, teaching, listening, giving a talk, I think I am attractive enough, but there was a time when the body parts were intrinsically beautiful, and that is what goes-- goes bit by bit, long ago, but I think there is nothing left of it now, just personality, experience, what I've done, what I do, how I make people feel, respond.
It's a strange thing, because I still often feel pretty, if the real meaning of pretty is a kind of glow, a lightness of weight and atmosphere, music in the joints and the voice-- the repeated reflections in one another's eyes and we enjoy and like and feel our natural state of relationship to one another.
This is more serious than I usually write on the blog.
Some family time, Andy, Joel, and me. We went to a new barbecue place way the heck out in Somerset county called R.U.B. , which was thoroughly delicious, then took a short trip to the L.L. Bean outlet to get Joel a new duffle bag (with the name "Butch" stitched on it, hence the cheap price). Then home to watch Serenity, the DVD of the movie of the Firefly t.v. series, which I really like. I'm not used to being a fan, but I was really upset when a couple of the crew actually got killed in the movie. Very satisfying. You like the people in this quirky cowbody science fiction show so much.
Joel's friend Sarah is having problems with her Volvo. She had to go back to Providence (today, by bus) where she is meeting a friend to bring down to some other friends in New York City, while Joel takes the car into a Volvo dealer on Friday morning and gets the electronic throttle reprogrammed or something so she can drive to Atlanta and give the car to her sister at Emory before flying out of Atlanta home to Los Angeles a day before Joel flies out to join her... and I think her family will be back from Hawaii and oh yes two of Joel's friends are flying out later in the week for a L.A. Lakers game against Cleveland who just lost to the Nets. Well, you get the picture....
Much more relaxing was a lovely lunch at Mary and Tony's for me and Mom and Joel, with Ryan and Ann there, their green table cloth and beautiful Christmas dishes and everything Christmas and delicious.
Great fun yesterday with Takeshi, Chiaki, Tak's Aunt Yazuko, Joel, Sarah, friend Kasper, and Andy and me! Christmas and Hanukkah! Exhaustion today, and latkes and applesauce for dinner to come. Photo thanks to Takeshi Achiwa:
Sarah, Joel, MSW, Takeshi Achiwa, Chiaki Achiwa, Lucille Willis, Andy, Yasuko Oishi
Christmas Eve Day, and I'm cooking and running around getting ready for Christmas! I wrote this for my Books For Readers friends:
Please accept my best wishes for the coming year, and my hopes that you are all enjoying a holiday of family, friends, good food, fires, candles, and whatever is reassuring and hopeful to you in this dark season. My mother and son Joel are here with me and Andy today, and two of Joel’s friends are arriving later (one is his girlfriend!). Tomorrow come three friends from Japan. We will have Christmas with Buddhists, Jews, one serious Christian and a couple of secular humanists, followed by the first night of Hanukkah. This newsletter is all the writing I’ll get to do today, and I don’t expect anyone to read it till after the holidays. When you do get a chance, please get back to me with your suggestions and thoughts.
Meanwhile, Happy, Happy, Holidays!
Here's a poem I like a lot by Halvard Johnson, one of the Hamilton Stone Co-opers:
Old Virginia Trees
Here's one called "Only Our Chagrin Remains"
standing alone in the middle of a cow pasture, forsaken
by its leaves, left starkly branched against a partly clouded sky.
Another called "Liberation of the Mind" hunches
over the road to the highway, dropping its late fruit
on passersby. A nearby copse cries out, "Come!
Join us! We, united, shall prevail!"
Our refusal does not stop there. It is insatiable
and knows no bounds. Our leader, thinking beyond
the limitations of space and time, says, "At the hour
in which I write, new tremors fill the air above the field.
We must be brave enough to face them." His collected works
wave from his branches like tiny hands. His name,
we think, is "Poverty is Not a Crime."
"The hand that writes," he says, "is worth the hand
that ploughs." And we all say, "Amen." Our revolutionary
will is strong in us. We wish the transformation
of the world to be as radical as it can be. On this mental
slope, the mirrors of inconstancy do not disturb us.
What, indeed, could they expect of us? Everything leads us
to our belief that "The Last Days of March" will be our savior.
-- Halvard Johnson
Another all day Coalition Day yesterday, interviewing for the Executive Director position, the Village Trattoria in Maplewood last night, a lovely solstice event today at Ethical, and Mom went to the Prospect Presbyterian church. Then she and I came home and built a gingerbread house from a Costco kit, and now I'm in desperate need of a nap, but I think I'll walk instead..
We've got single digit temperatures this week! My mother visiting, Joel not coming till next week, Andy working till all hours. Last night Adrienne Bolden and I spoke to a mixed group at Wincester Gardens, mixed of League of Women Voters (it was their yearly party) and Wincester Gardens residents. Except for major problems with their PA system ("Speak UP!!!") it went very very well. I so enjoy these public outreaches. Give me an audience and I'll be high as a kite. Adrienne said her cold felt better after speaking!
Snow is down, a good six or eight inches of it--and as I write, Mom is en avion coming from Phoenix to here. Supposed to arrive just before 5:00 P.M, and Andy wants to come along to pick her up. I've got dinner under control, a Sherry Weinberger pot roast sliced and ready to heat; potatoes to heat; bread in the bread maker, an apple and cabbage cole slaw, and a fruicake for dessert. I wish the Coalition were so well under control...
My mom in California with brother-in-law Goro, viewing the elephant seals! She's coming to New Jersey on Friday.
The first serious snow of the season! Just a couple of inches, but enough to have to shovel (Andy got out his new Big Blower). There will be more tomorrow night, they're saying, my last class at NYU. Also the day the Provost says he's going to lower the boom on the graduate students who are striking to have their union recognized. Bad days for workers uniting, I'd say.
Boe did a nice Colloquy on Acceptance today at Ethical. Buddhist quotations about how we will do harm, so the objective is to do as little as possible. Also a fable about a woman who goes to a fortune teller and is told that she will have ups and downs for six months, and beyond that, the fortune teller says, she can make out nothing. The woman is terribly anxious for the full six months, and then, at the end of the six months, the fortune teller dies. This isn't quite as good as Appointment in Samarra, but it's good.
Reading Ted Hughes' The Birthday Poems -- wonderful stuff, his incredible belief in language that is at once admirable and enviable and also old like polished oak panels on walls: the muscularity of the poems. People write that sometimes about poets, usually guy poets. When my revision work is going best, it feels that way, like a strong forearm, flexed, taut, impulses moving up and down its length. Very apparent in these poems, which don’t have a lot of his mystical Jungian hoo-hah. I just read the Diane Middlebrook book about him and Sylvia Plath, Her Husband.
I’ve been intrigued occupied by couples lately: Hughes and Plath, then Carter and Cash thanks to the movie and the internet. I found an image of John Carter Cash, the late baby of Johnny and June, who is in his mid thirties now, and his parents both gone. Even if Andy and I live into our eighties, we’ll be gone when Joel is our age, so I hope he does get himself attached to some big family, his own or another.
End of the long week-end which included going in to NYC Wednesday night to have dinner with Ken and Linda and see their hotel room which was really a one bedroom apartment, then early the next a.m. off to Ellen's for Thanksgiving-- after Andy dealing with a broken lock on the door, scrambling around to find keys to the old lock in the door handle that we never use. Then Weinbergers and Cavanaghs and Joel and Sarah and a couple of Ellen's friends for dinner, followed by Jurassic Park and the traditional walk and shopping at the outlets at seven a.m. the next morning like real Americans.
Weinberger-Cavanagh-Geller-Willis Thanksgiving Clinton, Connecticut
Sarah and Joel drove down together in her car behind and then ahead of us, then hanging out with Joel and Sarah when they weren't hanging out with Joel's other friends.
I just solved a website problem. Took a late run, had Petro the oil service guys here for the second time in a week, waited for them five hours! But did a couple of errands and now have to get ready to go to my NYU class, which is going to be at Hatch Mott MacDonald again because of the strike.
November's last leaves
Eleven a.m., and I feel ready for a nap– we had the the Fund-raiser breakfast this morning, and I felt good about my little speech, I don't know why, but this was one of the ones where at a certain moment you feel the people out there, that a line of energy has opened up between you and them
I've been especially happy to have Andy home--I think it's because this was the first time he's been gone since my dad died, and I had that sense of the missing person in your life, and in this case it was Andy only missing for five days. Daddy, of course, I haven't lived with in forty years. He's in most ways as present in my imaginative life as ever– but of course for my mother, whose life for five years was totally centered around the man in the chair and his physical needs– well, it’s a great rent in the fabric for her, as well as the loss of the love of her life and companion since girlhood.
I’m re-reading Tess of the D’Urbervilles and can hardly stand it. It’s a wonderful book, but you feel doom foreshadowed from the first page. By golly Thomas Hardy had a grim view of this vale of tears.
Andy is back from San Diego, now I can sleep better at night! I’m not particularly fearful, but there is something about an old house that is better when there are more people around. He flew all night and is exhaused. Meanwhile, I’m in the middle of a busy period– executive committee of the Coalition tonight, our big fund raising breakfast in the morning, a meeting with publisher Ed Myers about my new children’s book, have to talk with Alice about our platform on Sunday, have to prepare my part of the platform
on Sunday! Have papers for NYU– have the platform on Sunday! Oh dear.
My NYU class met at midtown in a lovely conference room at one of the students' offices--and it had windows! This was in support of the Graduate Student Strike. There was a good article in the Village Voice today--I really don't get why NYU is being to hard-nosed about this, and it makes me suspect they'd like to get rid of our union too, the adjuncts. Which has made me feel so safe.
It’s a return to the colors, not as brilliant as some years, but bright oranges and yellows, the leave falling fast now. We still haven’t had a true hard frost, but I’m down to my last three tomatoes (ripening in the house), and I’ve had to cover the greens and lettuce not against frost, which they can take a little of or they wouldn’t be out all winter, but because Somebeast chomped the radicchios.
Is this another deer? A cat wanting a tonic for a bad stomach?
I’m feeling extremely affectionate towards my Beginning Your Novel class this fall. Great group, full of talk, and even the people are not the big talkers feel present and accounted for. I was heartened last night by their willingness, indeed eagerness, not to cross the picket lines if the NYU graduate students strike tomorrow. This was especially funny because we were reading from a novel in which a grocery store-owning family has trouble with the grocery workers union! Anyhow, they all agreed they’d like to meet off campus if there’s a strike, and two people volunteered offices. I look forward to the class– comfort with liveliness, familiarity of situation including my own confidence in my ability to teach this class, and, always, the fun of talking about writing plus Life.
November 5, 2005
This would have been my father's 88th birthday. The photo is from the early 1970's, when he was principal of Victory High School in Clarksburg, West Virginia.
November 4, 2005
I’m getting very close to having things fixed up with the computer: as my husband says, I’m having a few days “up close and personal” with my computer. I would like to be writing but find it hard not to be obsessed with getting my website whipped back into shape, and now I’m fooling with the Big Dreamweaver, #8, which I’ve got on a 30 day free trial, and while I’m not doing anywhere near what it’s capable of , it has some solid improvements: you can have the “properties” screen and the code available while you’re looking at the “design.” I’m not convinced that all my work with the web is truly useful– and yet, aside from being a certain kind of fun, I keep thinking there is something important about it, to be able to publish this way.
I really enjoyed Writers’ group last night. My friends there are wonderful writers and people. Carole Rosenthal read a very interesting beginning to her memoir, really lovely. Rebecca read some new fiction, don’t know if it’s old or new, but definitely strong, and if it’s new, that’s great news. Also of course in the group are Edith Konecky and Vera Williams along with Joan and Suzanne. And they liked my bar mitzvah boy story.
Parrots galore! Okay, I admit I've
always loved parrots. My aunt and uncle had one that actually said,
"Polly want a cracker" when I was a tiny girl, and I have owned parakeets
and tried to put at least one parrot or parrot image in each of my
novels. So take all that into account as I share my enthusiasm for
this website, which
was mentioned in today's New York Times. This is a guy who's more
obsessed, and a much better photographer, than I am: His interest
is the wild monk parrots of Brooklyn, but we've got them in New Jersey
Here's something a little more philosophical
than the things I usually write on this blog. I imagine sometimes
taking a little vacation and sitting down with all the good reviews
and nice comments people have made about my books (and none of the
not nice ones!). To lie back in that warm bath of love. Only, it's
not love-- that was a slip– not love, but a substitute. I don't think
other animals do so many things to get back to the sensation of unconditional
love as we do: we do drink, drugs, sex, reading our good reviews.
The cat, writes Borges,
lives now: "...man lives in time, in successiveness, while the magical
animal lives in the present, in the eternity of the instant."
It is both our lust for the future and
our powerful nostalgia for the past that so cripple us. If you judge
the success of a species by the happiness of the individual, then,
I think cats and English sparrows probably beat us hands down.