Wednesday, January 31, 2007

Vote By Mail

Jennifer Brunner, the Ohio Secretary of State, is proposing a poll duty, like jury duty, to get enough poll workers to run polling places on election days. The average age of poll workers in the US is 72 and they are not being replaced by new poll workers when they "retire" from working on Election Day, not to mention that a lot of these older pollsters are not comfortable with computerized booths and records (which we didn't use in Alameda County last time, due to the controversy about Diebold machines' reliability).

Well, no wonder the states and counties are having a hard time finding poll workers. I can personally attest that working the polls is a very long day for very little compensation. When I did it, in 1998, we had to be at our central location at 5am, and didn't get home until almost 10pm. I worked a polling place in Berkeley, not particularly near home and not in my neighborhood (where I was voting absentee). There were five or six of us at our polling place and we were between 25 and 60 or so, apparently a relatively young crowd. We earned less than $100 for our time, and our Poll Captain's wife brought us a pizza because none of us could leave the site.

One part of the opposition to Sec. Brunner's proposal is that if there were a poll duty drawn from voting registration records and drivers' licenses, like jury duty, people would just not register to vote so they could avoid being drafted to work the polls. Few enough Americans vote as it is to disincentivize voting any further.

I think the answer is to make elections "vote by mail," like they have in Oregon (and thank goodness they did that; I remember an election in which there were 44 issues or political positions open on the ballot). There have been some objections raised about voting by mail because the stamp could be equivalent to a poll tax. I wonder if it would cost much more to have the envelopes prepaid than what it costs to pay all the poll workers and transport the machines to the thousands and thousands of voting precincts across the state.

Maybe more people would vote that way, too (though I would rather have people vote who educated about the issues). Most people don't know that State law requires employers to allow a couple hours for voting, so people have to get up early, or rush home, to vote, or they don't vote, because Election Day is always on a weekday and is never a holiday, like it is in some countries. What's wrong with vote by mail? Would it make a difference?

Tuesday, January 30, 2007

Hold me close, let me go

Ballroom dancing has a reputation for being stuffy. I think this is because so many people have gone through Cotillion classes, where they learn foxtrot and forks at the same time. Tuxedos and gowns have a bad reputation just because they are formalwear - but ask almost anyone if they had fun at the prom and they'll tell you yes (I think those who wouldn't have fun at the prom don't go).

However, because I'm standing so much closer to someone than I would normally, I find myself being a little more formal than I would otherwise. Partner dancing has forced me to break my socialized response to keeping my personal space. Your and your partner's arms are only so long and usually you're standing twelve inches apart - and sometimes much less, as in tango and waltz.

I am gracious about getting stepped on (and about stepping on someone else) and when it happens I echo something someone said to me once at a PEERS event when I apologized for stepping on his feet: "I only need the bottoms, you can have the tops." I have a sense of humor about dancing off time, about dancing one dance to another dance's rhythm (foxtrot steps to tango music, for example), and when I'm dancing with new dancers I always try to follow our first dance teacher's advice, which was "You can always work on the ONE."

Tonight however I had an experience which totally gave me the willies. I attended a group class and was partnered with someone who didn't hold his hand flat against my back when we were in frame. I could feel him holding my shirt, or, most of the time, he was moving his fingers, as if he were scratching my shoulder blade. He was fidgeting around so much I thought he might be high, which would be so weird for our studio I can't even describe it. I have a good tolerance for weirdness but the teacher didn't have us change partners and after about fifteen minutes I could not stand it anymore. I went upstairs and talked to the studio owner about how this man's backscratching was freaking me out.

Daisey said that she would take care of it, and would talk to his dance teacher about working with him on keeping a flat palm.

So this has me thinking about what's weird when someone in your personal space isn't the thing that feels wrong. It's the way the lead is holding me, too low, too wiggly, too strong, that sets me off. Fortunately it doesn't happen very often.

Monday, January 29, 2007

Reap the Whirlwind

Yesterday KT's friend hosted a bridal shower for her, and we had a list of questions KT had to answer about No. This is a pretty common game, I guess: For every one the bride answers incorrectly she has to chew a piece of bubblegum. The idea is that eventually the bride will have a big wad of gum in her mouth (at the last shower I attended when this game was played I think the bride had eight pieces at the end).

KT only missed four questions of twenty, and in fact, talking it over with No later, he said that one of her wrong answers (to "Which celebrity would No like to have dinner with the most?") was a better answer than the one he had originally given to us. So no big wads of gum, though the game was refereed by a seven-year-old who was very strict about the rules: "The answer is 'pimped-out Prius.' You didn't say 'pimped-out.' You have to chew a piece of gum."

I don't think I would have done as well if I was asked those questions about Zirpu. However, No and KT have dated longer than Zirpu and I have even known each other and we're coming up on our fourth wedding anniversary in a couple of weeks. I overheard KT say that Zirpu and I had a real whirlwind of a romance.

It doesn't feel that way, and it didn't at the time, but I did ask him to marry me on the first anniversary of our first date, and we did get married just six months after that. When I tell it that way it seems like quite the hurry-up job. It's certainly something I would advise a friend against doing. I would have said, "You barely know the guy! Maybe you should live together for a couple years first. What's the big hurry?"

At the time, it seemed like the right thing to do - and not the right thing to do like "I found a wallet and mailed it back to the owner" but the "cannot NOT do it" right thing to do.

Even if I did marry a stranger... and he is mighty strange.

Sunday, January 28, 2007

My favorites... EVER

Mick LaSalle, the SF Chronicle's movie critic, over at has proposed that everyone list their favorites in the following categories, with honorable mentions listed in parentheses. His post, response, and the responses of his readers, can be found here.

I know this is one of those meme things, but here goes, if you're interested. If you want to check any of them out, you can always Google (my favorite search engine).

Oh, I reserve the right to change my mind.

Movie M. Butterfly (The Big Chill)

Film Director Kenneth Branagh - maybe

Play Three Sisters (True West)

TV Show Star Trek: The Next Generation (As Time Goes By)

TV Movie or Mini-series A Town Like Alice (The Cathedral)

Playwright William Shakespeare

Album Sgt Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band

Novel Shogun (Sometimes A Great Notion)

Short Story The Day After Superman Died by Ken Kesey

Composer Bob Dylan

Classical Piece Pictures at a Gallery (The Four Seasons)

Opera The Mikado

Actor Edward Norton

Actress Judi Dench

Dancer Gene Kelly

Beatle John Lennon

Poet William Carlos Williams (Nikki Giovanni)

Non-Fiction Book Lies My Teacher Told Me (How The Irish Saved Civilization)

Painting Paris Street, Rainy Day by Gustave Caillebotte (Sunday Afternoon on the Island of La Grande Jatte by George Seurat)

Singer Aretha Franklin (Nancy Griffith)

Sculpture Z'Art by Phil Dix (The Kiss by Auguste Rodin)

Architectural Structure Golden Gate Bridge

Philosopher Richard Bach

Marx Brother Groucho (Harpo)

Saturday, January 27, 2007

Sometimes a bridesmaid

Well, I picked up my bridesmaid's dress from the shop where I took it to have it altered. I asked the lady to bring in the bodice and shorten the straps, which she did, but the straps were too short. I asked her to lengthen them somewhat and they are still too short and are slightly uneven. So I guess I will take the dress to the dry cleaners where I've had pants taken in and hemmed, where maybe I should have gone to begin with.

The shop where I took the dress has "brides" in the name, but it is clearly primarily a quinceaƱera store. I'm probably the only white woman in her 30s to ask for a BM dress alteration there in a long time, if not ever. Perhaps that would explain the lady's bemusement and her disinterest in working on a second dress I brought there. I know the dress is too long, but she insisted it isn't, which made me think that she just didn't want to deal with more straps. Oh well, considering the job she did on this dress it's just as well.

This is only the third time I've been a bridesmaid. I say "only" because I have attended close to three dozen weddings and have been closely involved in about eight, as a reader or in the role of organizing things behind the scenes, a role Mrs. P. played when Zirpu and I got married. In 1998 I stood up in a wedding in a navy blue cocktail dress that I still wear from time to time, and in another one that same year we eight bridesmaids wore burgundy dresses that were the story of that wedding: The necklines on the bodices were much too low, and all eight of us pledged that in any pictures we would be holding our bouquets very close to our bodies.

I like weddings. In my experience, everyone is in a good mood, ready to party and full of general goodwill toward the bride and groom and their families. Every wedding has a story, and even though sometimes when it's happening it's hard to see that it will make a good story later, it usually does.

Friday, January 26, 2007

Warm Fuzzies!

I've been getting a lot of support and that makes me feel all warm and fuzzy, like a big pile of fleece clothing - albeit, a pile of fleece that wants to run around and shout, "Yay!"

Everyone has used phrases like "feeding the heart," "follow your bliss," and "zap your soul." No one has said anything like "That's a risk" or even "Are you sure?" or even-even, "What does Zirpu think?"

On top of all that, I've been officially welcomed to the blogosphere.

The hiring manager responded to my email saying that I hadn't heard from her because she still hadn't received the authorization from HR to offer. I don't know, and don't care to know (really!), if she was going to offer to me, but it must be very frustrating for her to make a decision and not be able to move on it.

If HR had moved at anything like a reasonable pace, I would be working there.

I received an email that said, "I know firsthand what it means to make a decision like this, and the immediate sense of relief and exhilaration it can bring when you finally let go of feeling obligated/scared/indebted/whatever to your prior path and instead follow your passion and instincts."

Reading that, I remembered suddenly that I know several people who have done just what I have done, real people in my own life, who are successful and happy. Three friends who wanted families almost above everything else - and have them, even if they didn't arrive exactly on their own timelines. One friend got a PhD and is very happy teaching in an elementary school garden. Another friend ditched what she thought would be a career in teaching to do - I'm not sure what she would call it, but it's dance and massage and somatics. Yet another friend left working in a bank to strike out as a massage therapist.

I'm surprised that I didn't see it before, I who consider myself so observant. I had all these role models for risk and joy but I just didn't see them.

Thursday, January 25, 2007

Gee whiz!

I'm sick!

This is a weird one - my throat's a little scratchy but mostly it's one of those muscle illnesses: My legs hurt, my low back hurts, and my head hurts. Even four Ibuprofen didn't banish all of the pain.

I was just sick over Christmas, so I don't understand why I'm sick now. I must have been exposed somewhere, but I can't think where... I must have had an open door making me vulnerable to illness; probably stress and depression, because I've been sleeping and I've been wearing hats. Well, actually, now that I think about it, I haven't really been sleeping. I've been sleeping through the night, but not very many hours.

I made some chicken soup out of almost nothing - some egg noodles, "Better Than Boullion," water, peas, corn, and some lemon juice. That felt very adventurous, the lemon juice. I think hanging around foodies is rubbing off on me.

Making the soup reminded me of the first time I saw a boy (other than my brother) cook: I had a crush on this guy in my class, and one day after school I went to his house, and he made some soup for us out of ramen. Though we didn't eat it at home, I was familiar with ramen by then and knew the typical (and only, to my knowledge) preparation of boil water, add noodles, add MSG-laden spice packet. Well, this boy left out the spice packet, put in soy sauce and probably some other things, and added chopped carrots and peas.

I don't remember eating the soup or what we did that afternoon - probably read comic books. I had the crush, not him. Since then I have known several excellent male cooks, but that afternoon I understood that you could actually cook an after-school snack, and you could do it even if you were a boy.

Wednesday, January 24, 2007

See the sign!

Yesterday I realized that I don't want this job for which I interviewed, and it had been ten days and I still hadn't heard what was decided. I thought I was a pretty strong contender for the position, but I spent all day yesterday dreading my phone ringing, in case it was the hiring manager with a job offer. Zirpu and I had a talk over dinner about my continuing to do what I want to do, and doing some new things as well, happiness vs. salary, and dance (which is affected by said salary).

Zirpu's advice was to send an email to the hiring manager and withdraw my application, and to do what I want to do. I'm already volunteering at the food bank, the Pacific Center, and the Wallenberg Community Foundation, but I've wanted to teach reading in the Hayward Public Library's literacy program and I haven't done it because of the time commitment. Today I'm going to go down there and sign up for the training. So last night I wrote the email and proceeded, as usual, to agonize about sending it.

Sending it or not wasn't really about wanting the job, it was more about burning bridges and appearing flaky to the hiring manager, for whom I had been working just over a year when I went to Cal. When I asked Zirpu if this was the right thing to do, he said, "I don't know... But you never do." Which is true, but was unhelpful. Then I conveniently remembered I'd told Desi I would call her, so I did, and when I told her about this new direction I was considering going in, but I was afraid to start the process , she said, "Well, how long do you want to agonize over this?"

In the course of the conversation I told her that I wish I had a sign, telling me that it was the right thing to do. When we hung up, I went back to my computer and continued cleaning out my junk email box (to further postpone hitting "send") and found a message from Chris Baty of National Novel Writing Month which had come in on January 15th - the Monday following my interview. The fortuity of receiving this message in that moment astounded me, and I hit "send."

Here is the important part of Chris Baty's email (emphasis mine).

Dear Novelist, [...]

The truth is that 2007 is the Year We Will Be Trying Big, Fun, Scary Things Together.

Yep. It turns out that November was just a warm-up for a year of stretched brains and uncharted horizons. To help you make the most of TYWWBTBFSTT, the Office of Letters and Light will be hosting a couple great challenges---high-velocity screenplays in June at, and another round of noveling in November.

But there's more.

And it's up to all of us to pull it off.

Think for a moment about those activities, classes, and endeavors that you've long daydreamed about, but have never quite got around to tackling. I'm talking about the roads less traveled---the tuba lessons, the family-history writing, the foreign language learning, the transformation of your living room into a multi-story race course for feral hamsters. These are the nonessential creative activities that get us in over our heads, bring new people into our lives, and help make life more magical.

As adults, we tend to steer clear of these pursuits because they take time and cost money. But putting off all our adventures for later comes with its own set of costs. Our souls become dry and brittle. Our energy levels sag. Our noses fall off.

Which is why I'm inviting you to pick a couple never-before-attempted endeavors that have long intrigued and daunted you, and then do them in 2007.


Yep. Once you have your list of new adventures post it in the Adventure Log, 2007 thread of the brand-new Trying Big, Fun, Scary Things Together 2007 forum on the NaNo site.


Here's to a big, fun, and scary 2007!


Tuesday, January 23, 2007


And so are you. And your significant other. So is your nephew, and your sister, and that person standing on the street corner.

The more I think about this, the less self-conscious I become in my every day life. If I'm thinking this much about myself, chances are other people are thinking about themselves just as much. No one at the Starbucks is going to report that they saw a woman (me) wearing slippers while getting coffee, even if they noticed. It's just not as interesting as thinking about yourself!

However, I do think the Universe is interested in me. I think the Universe gives me opportunities to make choices, and then more opportunities based on those choices. Anyone who's ever watched a parallel-universe episode of Star Trek would understand this idea. I tried to explain it to a friend once and she seemed to think that my idea of how the world works is that everything is fated, and it doesn't matter what you do. It must have been that I wasn't explaining my ideas very well, because I know I have free will: I choose, after all, what to do in these scenarios that are presented to me.

I believe the Universe is an interested, if dispassionate, party to my life. As it is to everyone else's. I wouldn't say that "I lose my doubts and fears," and I wouldn't use the pronoun, but I believe the hymn describes my relationship to the Universe: His eye is on the sparrow.

The Universe doesn't miss a lick.

Monday, January 22, 2007

Everything you want to know about my food bank

Here are some facts about my little food bank:

The (City of) Alameda Food Bank serves between 300-500 households a month averaging 2.5 people per household. We serve people who are primarily on fixed incomes, like disability, pensions/social security, and long term unemployment. A lot of the folks in that category are on disability, but we also serve people whose minimum-wage income primarily goes to pay the rent. 10% are seniors and 30% are families with children. While the income limit for a household of one is about $2200/month, the median income of our clients is only $850/month.

A household of two receives once a month, from our food bank, the following:
a box of cereal
two cans of fruit
two cans of vegetables
one can of soup
one can of tuna
one can of chili/corned beef hash/ravioli/spaghetti
one can of tomatoes/tomato sauce
one pound of pasta
one pound of rice
four potatoes
two apples
two oranges (soon to be two pears, as the price of oranges is about to go up sharply)
two carrots
one onion
two pounds of meat and/or fish
one jar of peanut butter
milk powder to make one quart

** We also include a "treat" in each box or bag that could be a package of cookies, a box of crackers, or a package of cake mix.

** People can choose from whatever fresh produce comes in, which comes from Trader Joe's and the Alameda Farmer's Market. What comes in those deliveries is totally unpredictable except that it always includes bread, egg salad, packaged salads, cooked sushi things, and flowers. Sometimes we get cheese, or a lot of eggs, or just totally random things. Starbucks sends breakfast pastries and today we got a lot of coffee from them and from Peet's.

I have a challenge for you, if you've never done this: Plan two weeks of meals with everything I've listed above. Extra points if one of your household members is under eleven years old.

If you want to know what to take to a canned food drive, canned protein is the best: Tuna, chicken, salmon, Spam. Rice, pasta, and canned or dried beans are also good choices. If you have access, and it hasn't expired, baby formula is wonderful, because of course it costs a fortune. Our food bank can also always use grocery bags.

The food bank has two paid staff and everyone else is a volunteer, some retired, some between jobs, and some with jobs that work second or third shift. Some people come to work community service hours because they are students or because they are working off traffic tickets.

It's easy to do good. Also, I receive a lot of blessings from the clients and we all can use all the blessings we can get.

Sunday, January 21, 2007

Aunt Syl's Enchilada Sauce

When we were in college, Phil made this sauce several times. It was quite the production, involving all of us who lived at Our House. The recipe itself is simple and no trouble, but it does need to simmer for a long time, and as with most simmering of tomato sauces, the longer the better. However, Phil always arranged his classes and his days so that he would leave around 9am and not return until late in the afternoon. He always wanted to make sure the sauce would get stirred, so questioned everyone about our plans for the day and instructed us to stir the sauce. It got to the point where we would joke behind his back that the sauce had to be stirred every 37.5 minutes or it would be ruined.

There were times when we left our 50 year old house empty with the electric burner on low under the pot. Even with eight people living at the house, sometimes we would all have to be gone at one time, especially in the mornings. I like to think that at least in the morning the sauce would still be pretty watery from the tomato juice. I often came home midday, and after calling "hello" and not receiving a response, I would immediately dash to the kitchen and stir the pot.

It should be noted that we never, never burned the sauce.

Tea came over today to learn how to make Aunt Syl's Enchilada Sauce. She went to a tamalada a few weeks ago so I wonder if she was expecting a big production. The sauce went together in half an hour, and we sipped margaritas while it simmered. Even the enchilada caseroles themselves came together very quickly, though we made two batches - both with chicken and one with cheese as well.

I kept my talk about Phil to just a couple stories. He died almost fifteen (!!) years ago, well predating my friendship with Tea, and some stories are hard to tell because someone who didn't know Phil probably wouldn't understand why it is funny that I got the steel pedal guitar when he died, or that I have one of his major sculptures. I always think about Phil when I make this sauce, and about everyone else who loved Phil as I did, and I put all that love into the sauce too.

Phil's 21st birthday, September 1988

I gave the recipe to Tea, but while typing, I realized that really, I don't follow it at all. I'm not the most faithful to recipes, but I'm not just sleeping around on Aunt Syl's Enchilada Sauce, I'm shacked up with its brother. I'm feeling a little sad about giving the recipe to someone I think is a better cook than I am because I wasn't very happy with the sauce we made today, and I know that I have made it better in the past. Maybe today I didn't think about Phil and the Our House folks as much as I usually do.

In general I think sharing is good, and I believe that as long as Phil is remembered he is not totally gone, even if he is remembered by someone who never met him (I imagine Tea saying, "This recipe came from the friend of my friend..."). Share the love, and the enchilada sauce.

Saturday, January 20, 2007

Hot Chocolate Comfort

Mom and I met for lunch yesterday and had a good long talk. Among other things, we talked about how I've been feeling the last few months, the anxiety I was feeling in August/September, my general state of mind that is and is not work-related. It's hard to have work-related issues when I'm not working, but having what-comes-next-related issues loom large. Mom said that she hasn't asked me a lot about what has been going on, not because she's not interested but because she thought I would tell her when I was ready. For me, it wasn't so much not being ready to talk, but not having the words or the sense of what I wanted to say. Writing some of these past posts has actually given me the words at the same time it's helped me figure out what to say.

Thinking about that stuff brought me down somewhat. Zirpu and I had talked about going to the dance studio last night, but he admitted he isn't in the mood (he rarely is, on Friday nights) and I admitted to being torn between feeling I should go and not wanting to. I knew I'm kind of depressed last evening and just wanted to get back to my book.

And some hot chocolate. I watched part of "Emeril Live" the other night and he made this hot chocolate "kicked up" with Kahlua and rum (episode EM1E72 if you must know). Now let me just say I am not a big Emeril fan, though he has grown on me like a truffle. I cannot stand "Kick it up another notch!" or "Oooh yeah, baby," and I hate the way the audience cheers garlic, pork fat, and booze (I feel like Rhoda is walking around behind the cameras with a sign saying CHEER NOW on it, so everyone gives in to the peer pressure). I like the little stirring song that he hums, and I like the faces that he makes. I rarely have seen him a make a dish that I'm inspired to try at home, though, because his food takes too long to cook. But his hot chocolate sounded like it would be good for a time when I won't be driving or dancing. Like last night.

When I'm making "special" hot chocolate I use milk and Ghirardelli cocoa (and sugar if it's the unsweetened cocoa). For everyday use there's Safeway Select European Cafe style hot chocolate powder, and Carnation hot chocolate powder when the fancy stuff is out (we also keep Swiss Miss sugar-free hot choc powder on hand for my Nutrasweetie, but I think it's too sweet). As a teenager I became sort of a connoisseur of hot chocolate, because I didn't start drinking coffee until I was a junior in college (that was before there was a Starbucks on every corner, and most coffee came from cans labelled Yuban or Folger's).

So I drank the fancy powder hot choc (I hate cleaning cooked milk out of pans) with more than a dash of this Maria Lucia chocolaty coffee liqueur we received from a dance studio friend and a lot more than a dash of rum. Next time I think I won't put quite so much rum in my next cup, so I can taste the chocolate.

Friday, January 19, 2007


In the fall of 1999, when I had just started in financial aid at the California Institute of Integral Studies, my boss and I were trying to catch up on work that hadn't been done because there had been no one in the FAO for two months. The floor was covered in piles of student files about ten high. I mean covered - Cathy and I had to hop to get to the file cabinets that were behind our desks (it should be noted that Cathy, myself, ten filing cabinets, a bookshelf, two chairs, our desks and chairs, and a cabinet were crammed into a space about 10'x12').

A student came in, one who had worked for me at the Front Desk, to consult with Cathy. Cathy asked if I knew where her file was, because obviously it wasn't in the filing cabinet. I pointed to a couple of the piles near the corner of my desk, saying, "It's in one of these two." Indeed, the file was in the first pile to which I had pointed. The student remarked, "You must be a Virgo."
(That's the kind of thing you would hear in the hallways of CIIS). Later she ran my chart (without my asking) and we discovered that not only am I a Virgo but almost half my planets are in Virgo, making me, I guess, a pretty intense Virgo.

Virgos, it turns out, like structure, but don't care too much about organization. That is to say, we like to - and often do - know where everything is, but we're not particularly attached to
where exactly that is. For example, I try and try to alphabetize things, like CDs or spices, and I just can't keep them that way. But I will remember generally where in the drawer the rosemary is, even if I haven't used it in awhile.

I've been involved in a couple events where the structure kept things from falling apart - where taking turns to speak prevented a shouting match, where people were allowed to finish a thought without interruption, and where everyone got heard. I've noticed that having a structure gives something for people to invest in when emotions are running high, and in the situations I've been in it's kept people in them, resolving to work through whatever the issue was.

I've also been witness to what happens when the structure breaks down, and have seen people run out of meetings. I knew the structure was broken, but by the time people were running out it was too late to fix.

Personally, I like structure, maybe because I'm a Virgo, maybe because I just like to know what is going to happen. When the structure is wobbly, and is about to fall on our heads, I get really uncomfortable and fidget and stare at the leader of the group, willing that person to pull us back together. There have been a few times when I've considered running out, but I haven't, because I think maybe I can help to somehow get the discussion or agenda back on track.

When I was in Camp Odyssey, one of our leaders likened the Camp to a boat on the sea. He said that if the boat were to start to fall apart, people would dive overboard - but people diving overboard was what would cause the boat to sink. So we all had to stay in the boat, and encourage others to stay in the boat, so we could keep sailing to our destination.

Thursday, January 18, 2007

We are advertis'd by our loving friends

- King Henry the Sixth, V.iii

Art Buchwald passed away yesterday. Looks like his last column was published just two weeks ago. I saw an interview with him from a few months ago on "The News Hour with Jim Lehrer" (again anchored by Ray Suarez - since I always listen to it on KQED Radio, I had no idea he has a beard!) and in it he says that he and his children have planned the memorial service, and that it should be a "pretty hot ticket."

Phil laid out instructions for a memorial service for himself, after his father died. I think he was unsatisfied with whatever had happened at his father's memorial. Phil wanted a wake at the house in Seattle, with a keg of Red Hook ale. When he did die, unexpectedly, the following summer, there were instructions to follow. Thank goodness, because none of us would have known what do otherwise - we were all 24-25 years old, and I'm thankful that nobody had to put on a tie or nylons and sit on benches in a funeral home chapel. Not to mention that that would have irritated Phil to no end. Quite the opposite happened: I understand that the police were called to the wake in Colorado Springs, investigating noise complaints.

On the other hand, Shmeen's father, and my friend, Dick would have been irritated, because when he passed away, there was a traditional memorial service at Temple Emanu-El. B said several times, "Dick would have hated this." She said that he would instruct her to put him in a shoebox and leave it on some hiking trail. In that case, it seemed right to have a more traditional event - Dick's being older, there were a lot of older people at the service who would not have appreciated a backyard kegger or a hilly hike. Even the rabbi commented on Dick's disinterest in a formal ceremony, saying during the eulogy, "Richard never cared too much for religious rigmarole."

How we say goodbye, be it a wake, funeral, memorial service, or celebration of life, is about who is left after someone has passed away. Phil's keg was appropriate for us... Dick's shoebox wasn't. I'm glad we had the wake Phil wanted, because it would have made him happy, and I'm glad we had the memorial service Dick wouldn't have wanted, because he was so funny when he was pretending to be annoyed.

Wednesday, January 17, 2007

This Cold Snap

There's been ice on the car several of these days, something I did not expect to see after leaving the Northwest. I've been wearing a hat and socks to bed. Zirpu has been wearing a long sleeved shirt under his Jacket of Many Pockets. The sun is out, but the air is cold, more Colorado than California.

A few days ago our neighbors asked us to take a bunch of lemons from their tree, and we picked all the oranges we could reach on ours. Having given some away already, we have two grocery sacks oranges and lemons under the counter. I guess we will be some of the few who have access to fresh vitamin C for the next few months... Yesterday it was announced that California citrus growers are going to lose about a billion dollars' worth of fruit (not to mention all the lost avocados, three weeks before the National Day of Guacamole) because of the freezing temperatures in the valleys.

I can't remember when it was, or where I was, but it must have been on one of my many I5 jogs between home and "home." There was an orange grove next to the highway in which the trees were covered in ice sticking out in all directions like bed-head hair. I realize now that the sheet ice must have been caused by the grower spraying the trees with water which subsequently froze, but at the time it was a strange sight and I could not come up with any kind of explanation. The image seems as if from a fairy tale, something you would see in Narnia.

Tuesday, January 16, 2007

Some Things I Don't Understand

* Why does the US do business with China but not with Cuba?

* Why are US politicians and media talking about a "dignified death" for people who have been hanged by the government of their country? What is dignified about hanging in the first place?

* Why is it important that a politician has drug use in his or her past?

* Why is alcohol accepted and marijuana isn't?

* Why can countries with nuclear weapons (the US, the UK, France, Russia, and China) insist that other countries (such as Korea, Iran, India, and Pakistan) cannot have nuclear weapons?

* Why does it matter if an athlete is or was using steroids?

* How do those colleges that earn a lot from football and basketball games justify using students to bring in revenue without compensating those athletes (note that most big-game athletes do not get "free rides")?

* How do people square wanting a small government (social services programs, privatization of Social Security and Medicare) with wanting the same government to regulate social issues (marriage, abortion)?

* Why do people complain about attack ads but - apparently - respond to them, hence encouraging their continued use?

I don't know enough about these issues to understand them. If someone understands the foreign policy issues, the domestic issues, and/or the athletic issues enough to explain what's going on here, I would sure like to listen.

Monday, January 15, 2007

So Emotional!

I've been thinking about what this phrase, "so emotional," really means. I think it might mean,"easy to weep" or "easy to yell," which might better mean "easy to sadness/joy" or "easy to anger."

I have been very emotional for several months now. I've been getting teary easily, and am surprised, in fact, that I didn't cry more yesterday, and didn't burst into tears when I saw Pia very pregnant when she walked in the door. I did however have to wipe my eyes when WOT said hello, because our previous conversation had been so painful. I'm also easily annoyed and sometimes even wake up that way.

I was angry most of November. I was so irritable every day. I'm told that people can't usually tell that I'm irritable, but I didn't hide it much in November. I was very quiet, I think. When I'm easily annoyed I hew (or try to hew) to "If you can't say anything nice, don't say anything at all" as a favor to those around me. When I'm annoyed during a dance lesson (which is not usually because of what's going on in the lesson), I am almost completely silent.

I think it's related to stress, the confusion and depression from the fall, as well as the truth that there have been and are important events happening in our family - No's partner and friend, a man I've known since 1983, Paulo, got married over Thanksgiving weekend, and the preparation and parties for No and KT as well as the wedding itself (39 days to go). Sometimes I can think about what I'm going to say about No at these events coming up and sometimes I have to stop. So it's not all about sadness, because the wedding is a happy thing, just as Pia's having a baby is a happy thing. I avoid thinking about Cal because it just makes me furious, though it made me really sad, too.

I try to focus on superficial things if I'm feeling teary. I can easily throw the day if I allow myself to feel cranky for longer than ten minutes, so I try to pull myself out of the cranky fit by listening to music on the radio. I'm waiting to feel normal, and I don't know how long that is going to take, or what it's going to take to feel normal.

Sunday, January 14, 2007

Just Add Fuel

In the fall of 1995 I held, for the first time, the first child of my circle of friends. It was the first time as an adult I held a baby, and I wept. He was just a few days old and was yellow with jaundice after a traumatic birth. Everything about him was astounding to me, to think that he'd been inside one of my friends - my smallest friend, in fact - and that small as he was that day, he was going to grow up to be bigger than I was. That everything that was his body and would ever be his body was already inside him, installed at the factory, so to speak.

He was the first (and the only, for a several years) of the next generation. Suddenly, I was projecting myself and my friends way into the future.

This photo is from almost two and half years ago but it's the most recent electronic-format photo I have:

Today I attended a baby shower for Princess Word of Thunder's daughter Pia. I always feel like I have to elaborate that Pia is no kid; my age is exactly halfway between hers and her mother's. Pia was 16 when we met, and I've always seen her as adult, or almost an adult; she seemed really together for a teenager, especially compared to me at that age.

After most of the people had left the party, Pia put up her feet and entertained us with belly bounces while Baby was squirming around in there, or whatever it is that babies do before they are born. Everything that this child is going to be is already there... Taking me back to where I was in 1995.

The picture below is from nine weeks ago, but none of the pictures I took today show her standing up with her belly out. Pia said that these days, it takes ten and a half sheets of toilet paper to wrap around her body (apparently TP squares are some standard pregnant-belly measurement, because it came up in a bay shower game too).

The first child of the next next generation is going to arrive in five weeks or so. Now I'm projecting myself and my friends way, way into the future.

Saturday, January 13, 2007

Speaking of rumba...

This morning Zirpu and I attended a rumba workshop given by one of the important Arthur Murray dance coaches, who is a former Latin dance champion and a current judge. The workshop was attended by three female students and nine male students (dance teachers rounded out the class so we would be in pairs). She said to me, "So many men always sign up for my workshops. Why is that?" and I replied, "Because you're the sexiest woman in the world."

She laughed. I think she knows that she is.

The dance coach started the class by saying that she was going to teach us to play roles. It's hard to play the role of a super-seductive person if, like I was today, you're wearing pants that are too big, it's eleven in the morning, and you haven't had any vodka. After awhile my imagination filled in the scene: a dark bar, loud music, sexy strangers everywhere, and I looked like Cyd Charisse in "Singin' In The Rain" (oh, how I wish I had legs like hers!). Rumba is the dance of love and in an exhibition or competition, one of the things the judges look for is the relationship between the couple. If the dancers aren't lovers, they have to pretend they are, or wish to be, for the ninety seconds they're on the floor.

The man across the room from me, as it happened, was Zirpu. I think it would have been even more challenging if my dance partner weren't someone I live with, but it was challenging enough. What am I doing with my arms? My hips? I'm showing off my body and I have to keep constant eye contact as well? Keeping eye contact makes me uncomfortable because it doesn't come naturally: I think we are conditioned to interpret eye contact as a challenge or provocation. On top of that, I'm thinking about my feet, my arms, and my hips!

Eye contact, I think, is the most important piece in the story of the dance. If I'm not looking at my partner, no one is going to believe that we want to jump in the sack when the dance is over. When I talk to people about ballroom dance, they think of the waltz, foxtrot, and tango, in which the partners look over each other's right shoulders. But there is so much more to ballroom than elegance and formality... There's passion and seduction too!

Friday, January 12, 2007

No memories

I've already mentioned the olive tree incident, and I've been working hard to remember other things my brother did. I'm not having much luck with remembering specific incidents.

I mostly have memories about him. When we were little, No said Oreos were good for you - they tasted so good, after all. He loved Steve Austin of The Six Million Dollar Man and he loved Speed Racer. We watched Star Trek together on a black and white TV while he wore 3D-style glasses for his vision therapy. His favorite color was green. He liked to ride the elephants and watch the whale shows at Marine World (much different in those days than it is now), and to visit the shark exhibit. When we went to Camp Beaverbrook, No always took the sweeping chore in his cabin.

He liked graham crackers in milk for breakfast (he would pile five crackers on top of the bowl and, crying "hee yaw!" break them in half with a karate chop) and baloney sandwiches with ketchup. Our family went out for dinner most Friday nights for awhile, rotating who got to choose the restaurant, and No always chose Joky's Burgers, a small place near UCSF. When we went to the Sizzler, he always got the steak and crab legs.

When he graduated from fifth grade, he wanted attend Herbert Hoover Middle School, but Mom sent him to Discovery Center instead. No is loyal, and still spends a lot of time with people he met there, including his business partner. In high school, he signed up for Latin so he wouldn't be expected to speak the language in his regular life, and later lived - and spoke in Spanish - in Mexico for several months. He's about to get married, so he's finally finishing his university education by completing a paper on opportunities for his event-planning business, Perfect Party Plans.

When they were small, No and Saj always wore baseball caps, often backward, which seemed to annoy many of the adults in our lives. One year for Halloween he was Fonzie, wearing his glasses over the mask. In high school, he was usually fashionably dressed and even had one of those red jackets like Michael Jackson wore in the "Thriller" video (though I'm not sure he ever wore it). His pants were '80s tight, he had at least one thin tie for school dances, and owned several Theo Cosby-style sweaters. He got a letterman's jacket for Saint Ignatius, where he wrestled and played football.

No has Mom's curly hair and wore it long as a very small child and again in his mid-20s. The first time around I remember his hair blowing around, coming out of the pathetically small plastic barettes Mom would put it in. His hair was light brown, with blond streaks... Now it is dark brown, with red highlights (and some grey in his beard). When he had long hair as an adult, he usually wore it back in a ponytail, but one morning a friend and I saw him with it down. His hair was halfway down his back, falling in sausage curls all the way, and my friend exclaimed, "He looks like one of the patriarchs!" He did - all he needed was a staff and a long robe to complete the picture.

Here is a memory of No, doing his job as he saw it: In March 1998 I moved back to California with a man, and we planned to live together. The day we arrived, No looked at this man, who was a foot shorter than he, and asked, "What are your intentions toward my sister?"

Thursday, January 11, 2007

Loops of Love

I just wrote about family and I feel compelled to write about family again.

I have been lucky to be taken into not one but two families with children young enough to not remember a time when they didn't know me. I love them, they love me, and we create feedback loops of love.

I met Words of Thunder when her children were 16, six and half, and three and half. The first time I drove up to their house in the woods, Boy was standing on the parking pad and yelled, "She's here!" running inside to spread the news. I was welcomed by a child who was apparently disposed to love me even though we hadn't met yet.

Of course, I was disposed to love him, and Bug, and Pia. It's hard not to love children who love you, who show you when they are brave enough to ride a bike down a hill, who ask you for help with the silent "e," who ask you whether they should eat lunch before they have another popsicle.

The first time I met TL's children TL and I had planned to go for coffee and bring the kids with us (Zocalo has a children's play area). By the time I got to her house, TL's husband had come home and agreed to keep Lizard and Batman with himwhile we went for coffee break. The children were very upset by the change of plans, and while trying to placate them I said to Lizard, "You can come next time."

Every time I came pick up TL for the meeting, which doesn't even start until after their bedtime, Lizard would say accusingly, "This is next time!" Finally we all went for coffee (well, the kids had hot chocolates), and I landed firmly in Lizard's good graces. Lizard is my best four year old friend. When I walk in the door Lizard rushes me with a hug around the waist, cheering my name, and no matter what kind of mood I've been in, I feel like a queen because Lizard loves me.

Wednesday, January 10, 2007

Better Living Through Harmony

A few years ago I joined East Bay Harmony after hearing them sing at the Live Oak Park Fair. I joined right away when I discovered that I didn't need to know how to read music to be part of the chorus. It's a community chorus, part of a project of the Contemporary A Cappella Society; there are wonderful singers and great people in the chorus. I left the chorus when I moved out of Oakland, but I lurk on their listserv, I attend the Friends and Family Concerts (the next one is March 26th), and wish I was back in the chorus.

I never did learn how to read music, but I learned a lot of music theory and all kinds of songs while I sang with them. I loved singing all the songs, though there were few songs in which altos sang the melody. I like singing background, and I enjoyed the circle-singing-style warmups, nonsense syllables that blended and harmonized as our director led us. "Somewhere," "The Longest Time," the old Rice Krispies jingle, and "Embraceable You" were some of the songs in the repertoire when I was in the chorus. The chorus has gotten better and is singing more technically difficult songs, which is why I love the F&F concerts.

The slogans of the chorus were (and probably still are) "peace through harmony" and "community through harmony." One song indicates what a community it was, to me: At the September 17, 2001, rehearsal, one of the tenors brought multiple copies of the lyrics to "Imagine." I'm not a churchgoer or a religious person, and was not seeking divine comfort in that scary time, but singing that song, at that time, with people I didn't know well, is one of the most religious experiences I have ever had.

As I'm writing this, I'm daydreaming about rejoining the chorus. They still don't require the ability to read music, though in all other ways it has gotten more professional-sounding. From the pictures it looks like a fair number of the people who were in the chorus when I left in 2002 are still singing there.

Tuesday, January 9, 2007


Last night Zirpu and I "checked out" of Bronze 4 in the six majors - that is, in waltz, tango, foxtrot, cha cha, rumba, and swing. We checked out of B4 bolero weeks ago. A check-out is a test; you have to demonstrate that you can dance the required steps both with your partner and by yourself. Dancing alone makes it very clear that ballroom dancing is partner dancing!

What this means is that we are now officially Silver students. In the dance universe, the syllabus is broken into sections: Bronze one through four, Silver one through four, and then into Gold levels. Bronze one and two gives you enough to make your way around a dance floor, and three and four gives your technique and steps with more complexity. Silver is very fancy dancing, and Gold is competition-level training. With some differences in the steps at each level in the syllabi, this is true for Arthur Murray and USA Dance.

Many people assume that we started taking lessons at Arthur Murray because I wanted to, and/or because we were a wedding couple who came back. We started dancing on a whim - while driving up Foothill one day Zirpu said, "Look, there's an Arthur Murray studio, let's take lessons." It just happened to be a few months before we got married. Our first dance teacher, Sean Tamashiro, was really enthusiastic and choreographed the recessional as well as our first dance, but we weren't there because of the wedding.

By completing our Full Bronze, Zirpu and I are recognized as very accomplished dancers - it has been unusual for students to finish the Bronze program in our studio (though I think there are going to be a lot more Silver students soon). We have accomplished what we originbally set out to do, and now we have other goals, as well as other dances we have started to learn - salsa, Viennese waltz, West Coast swing, country two-step, and samba.

Among other things, dance:
1) Is the hobby that Zirpu and I share - our lessons are the times in the week when we know we will be together, dancing and learning together.
2) Has changed my perception of my body.
3) Has made Zirpu more comfortable interacting with people, whether he's met them or not.
Has busted my stereotypes of dancers and ballroom dancing (I mean, really, have you seen how sexy a rumba can be?).
5) Has led to friends that we would not have met otherwise.
6) Has given us a community and involved us in activities in the town in which we live.

Monday, January 8, 2007

A seven letter word

I had a major anxiety dream last week, in which I was supposed to meet Zirpu at BART but I couldn't find the car, and there were kids in the parking lot scribbling on cars with permanent markers. I wanted to find my car before the scribbling kids did, and I had to meet Zirpu. Several times I pressed the key to make the car beep, and I would follow the sound only to discover my car wasn't there. It was a very upsetting dream, and I wasn't sure what was triggering so much anxiety. I didn't feel that anxious in my real life last week.

Anxiety is a vibration centered behind my belly button. It's like a wheel spinning back there. When the anxiety is bad and ongoing, I get a pinch in my shoulder blade that I'm convinced would go away if I could take a drill to it.

At the end of August I became so anxious I started to wonder if I was losing my grip (as much of a cliche as that is, I really did feel as though I was losing my grip on myself). I had had to fly from Boston and I could barely stay in my seat, even though I was sitting next to Mom. This fear of flying is relatively new and beyond frustrating for me, who had always traveled at least twice a year since I could remember. Anyway, it felt like the flying fear didn't go away. I faked feeling normal, when I didn't at all. I drove, I rode BART, and I traveled over bridges and skyways, because that's what people do.

I thought at the time that it was because it was the start of a new academic year, and I wasn't doing anything. As I said before, my new year has always started in September. I thought that I might be feeling all that anxiety about driving and BART and bridges because it was transferred from my anxiety about what I was going to do next. Furthermore, I hadn't expected that I would still be unemployed, and have no prospects, by then. Through September I thought that if I was still rationally explaining the source of my anxiety to myself I probably wasn't really losing my grip, I was just feeling very anxious.

What did I do? I must have just kept putting one foot in front of the other, like the song says. I'm not really sure. I didn't talk about it with anyone, because just thinking about it made it worse. I don't feel anxious all the time now, but I can't remember when I stopped feeling so awful, or why.

Sunday, January 7, 2007

Choosing Family

About 15-20 years ago, a big trend came up in the pop psych culture about families and there was much discussion about the "chosen family" vs. "the family of origin." The "family of origin" being the parents and siblings and perhaps grandparents, the tone of the articles seemed to sniff at the possibly dysfunctional family from which all neuroses had sprung.

"Chosen families" were much healthier, it was written, being people who had chosen to become a family-like unit, sharing the family holidays and having more honest and easy relationships because no part of it was based on some disagreeable thing that had happened when the kids were little. The articles treated "chosen families" as if they were a new phenomenon.

Well, choosing family was no news to me. My parents chose their (west coast) family way back during the Nixon administration. My parents married in 1964 and promptly left New England for California, with a stopover in Chicago for my mother to meet her in-laws. They didn't know anyone in San Francisco, though my father had a job waiting for him in a stuffy city planning firm.

Eventually they connected with two families who are still intertwined with ours. The Gans are in our lives because my father was in business with the dad, and the Singhs are in our lives because my parents employed the mom. Sometimes for expediency I'll say someone is an aunt or a cousin, and then later I have to back up and explain how they are from India. English doesn't seem to have a short word for "best family friends."

My definition of family is quite broad, including the usual suspects of stepparents, half-siblings, and domestic partners as well as the former spouse of the noncustodial parent and the child's best friend who came to live with the family a few months ago. Because I've been in an industry that relies on the fantasy of the nuclear family, I find myself, from time to time, explaining that this or that form pretends that the family still looks the way it supposedly did in years past so this or that piece of data is irrelevant. Many families, in fact, didn't look like that anyway - or did, but only for a short time.

There was an ad on TV a few years ago for a cell phone company's family plan in which all the humor was based on the customer trying to get the sales clerk to believe that all these people to whom he "obviously" wasn't related were members of his family. Every time I saw this ad, I thought, "Why does the cell phone company think they can decide who this guy's family is?"

I guess I missed the point of the ad. But I would, wouldn't I?

Saturday, January 6, 2007

The good things

Every Friday night, my dear friend Shmeen and her husband light the Shabbat candles and say the prayers, including the blessings over their daughters. When we sit to eat together, Shman asks everybody at the table to say one good thing that happened to them during the previous week.

Unfortunately I have only been able to participate in this weekly review a few times, as they live far from me and we do not often have dinner together on Friday nights. I like this tradition and I like thinking that over the years their daughters will take part in remembering the good things about each week. To me it feels like it is part of the religious ritual, to make the mundane of the week into a noted event.

I try to think of one good thing that stood out from every week. Some recent examples: One day I saw a rainbow's end near our house. Another day my family's best family friends gave me, my brother, and my mother a picture of my parents (and the back of my toddler's head) posing over a turkey. Another set of my family's best family friends gave me a corset from their store, a spectacular gift as I never would have thought about asking for one or getting one for myself.

The good thing that happened to me this week was that I helped KT, with my mom, prepare wedding invitations so they could go in the mail yesterday. KT got a little stressed at a couple points, but I had a great time (Mom did too). The reason I volunteer to "work on wedding stuff" is that I get to spend time with my brother's future wife, another member of my family.

We received our invitation today. I want to write "Hell yes!" on the RSVP card.

* I was inspired to set up this shot by the 12/2/06 post at Gluten-Free Girl.

Friday, January 5, 2007

Quiet on the set!

Since starting this project I have had to keep my inner editor quiet. It's hard to ignore whisperings of "This isn't very good" and "You used to be so much better at writing." I'm hoping that practice makes my writing better, because when I was writing all the time for a class at that met every two days I loved what I produced and there was evidence others did too.

I have a friend who is living one of my alternate universe lives. In an alternate universe, I go to graduate school and get an MFA (I had my eye on Bloomington, once a upon a time), get a job at a publishing house as an editor (I got one in a publishing house, but as the mail catalogue monkey), and work in my own home office, writing my own book and editing other people's books in between writing articles for magazines and whatnot. In some ways it's very strange to be good friends with a person who took the Other Path. She's even writing a previously-mentioned blog, one that actually has a theme and a point, not to mention marvelous writing, a post from which has been nominated for a "Best Post" award.

Although I haven't done much writing for years, there's a part of me that still thinks of myself as a writer. The way some people always think of themselves as fat no matter how much weight they've lost, my interior self-identity is still partly tied up in my writer persona. It's kind of embarrassing. It occurs to me now though that what makes it embarrassing is the editor, who always says, "No, you're not!" It's not like I'm telling anyone else I think I'm a writer, or used to be.

Maybe 360 days from now I'll feel more comfortable with it - writing, this blog, the editor, the quality of my work. I'll just keep writing on this project, one keystroke behind the other. Maybe I'll just be better, though I'm not sure how I will know because you know how those infernal, internal editors are.

Thursday, January 4, 2007

My brother is getting married in six weeks. Because of the kind of wedding No and KT are having, the gifts requested are memories.

My earliest memory of No is him standing next to me while the gardener was lecturing us about shaking the olive tree. We were in Grasse, so it was 1972 or '73; the lecture must have been in French, but in my memory, which doesn't have subtitles, it was in English.

Ne secouez pas l'olivier!

Post France, I remember standing at the top of the stairs with him when Kaiser sent a doctor to the house (!) because we were so sick with chicken pox. There are a few of things that don't make sense about this memory but Mom confirms the house call.

For the next few weeks I will be mining for pre-high school memories that don't make him look bad. I am the older sister, after all, and mostly what I remember are times when we were fighting. Mostly I have a sense of No in my life rather than specific memories. I plan to ask around other people I know what they remember doing with their siblings to see if anything jogs loose.

Wednesday, January 3, 2007

My Patron Saint

For my birthday in 1994, some friends gave me, as a silly little gift, a small plastic figurine of Wonder Woman. Six weeks later I had broken up with my girlfriend, arranged a new place to live, and gotten a new, even-higher-responsibility job as a Crisis Intervention Counselor at Harry's Mother, where I had been working as a Residential Counselor. Talk about a Saturn Return!

My office was my car, a briefcase, a pager, and a cell phone, and I worked twelve-hour shifts on Wednesday and Thursday nights, and twenty-four hour shifts starting on Friday night. This was in the days before everyone had cell phones, and ours were old then - the old three-pound-brick style phones, which, by then, only held enough charge for 15-35 minutes of conversation. I routinely warned my clients that the phone might cut out while we were talking, extremely frustrating when doing crisis counseling!

When I started working CIS, I myself was in crisis. Everything in my life had changed suddenly, even if it was at my behest, and the friends my girlfriend and I had had pretty much stayed her friends and not mine. I was lonely, confused, angry, sad, lost, et cetera et cetera. But every evening I worked I clipped on my pager and figuratively put on my Crisis Intervention costume. It didn't feel like Clark Kent in a phone booth; it felt like Wonder Woman's bracelets.

Eventually I put the Wonder Woman figurine in my car, taping her to the dash, since most of the physical part of my job was driving to the Harry's Mother office or to the shelter, to juvenile hall, or to pick up a youth who had run away or been thrown away. My favorite thing to do was stroll into juvenile hall and spring a youth, but I also had great conversations with teenagers trying to sort out their relationships with their parents and stepparents, schools, and boyfriends or girlfriends. I'd had enough training to listen reflectively and provide solution-focused therapy, and if necessary I got kids into the program and families into HM family counseling. I knew that I was helping some people.

There's a lot you can do by listening. I learned how to cope with my own catastrophes - with Wonder Woman's help.

Tuesday, January 2, 2007

Like a good neighbor...

Today when I arrived at the Alameda Food Bank the volunteer coordinator was showing a new person around, explaining how to pack the bags and boxes by family size. I usually work on Mondays, which seems to be full of long-time volunteers, but Tuesdays are apparently quiet days with a late afternoon opening rather than at 1:00 pm. For most of the morning it was just me, the new person, and the VC, and when the VC went to Trader Joe's for a pick-up, the she said I was in charge.

Whoo hoo! I haven't been there that long and I was in charge! And supervising someone! Not that packing groceries is difficult... In the 40 minutes the VC was gone we received several phone calls, including a teacher who had received chocolate and/or coffee from all her students and wanted to know if we would take it (yes, we would) and a woman who wanted to know if she and her son could come in and work some hours for his service learning requirement (yes, they could). We also packed twelve boxes and ten bags, and restocked the tables for future packing.

Volunteering has given the most shape to the past year and I wish I had started at the food bank, my third "job," earlier in the year. I started about the time I was feeling the most useless, and not only am I obviously doing something but the work I do is appreciated by others - and those others are nicer than some people with whom I've worked for pay. For example, I have a very high squeamy tolerance, so sorting broken eggs is not a big deal for me, but the VC doesn't like the slime. Smiling at the families and elderly couples that come to the food bank makes me happy. All that talk about how serving others increases self-esteem? I find it to be true.

If you want to volunteer, but don't know where, pick something you like to do or feel strongly about, and go here. If you're looking for a specific kind of place to serve, like a food bank or senior center, go to

Monday, January 1, 2007


After coverage for physical therapy ended a couple months after the car accident in 2003, I decided that I wasn't done recovering my physical self. I could see that my left leg was smaller than my right, and that wasn't good enough. Before starting to dance, it would have been; I don't think I would have pursued more physical recovery. However, I was starting to understand that my body was more than just something to carry my mind around, which was due to dance. Dance is a sport, and I had unconciously started thinking of myself as a sort of athlete.

I took my cane with me when I went to the 24 Hour Fitness down the street to learn about membership plans. I expected to receive some fierce sales pressure, but I knew that if I waved my cane in their faces they would back off - if for no other reason than the company would require a doctor's clearance form before they could sign me up. Utimately I got the doctor's clearance and I signed up. I signed up with a trainer because I knew that I didn't know anything about weight training and I didn't want to hurt myself anymore than I already was. The trainer recommended was a man who has sustained several injuries over the years, someone, I was assured, who would be able to understand where I was coming from when trying to get my body back to doing things it had been able to do before the wreck (and, as it turned out, more).

Each time I've re-signed with a trainer he or she and I go through the nutrition explanation and I politely remind them that I don't care about losing weight. I want to build muscle so I can balance better, carry heavier, survive longer. My father's mother just turned 104, so I expect to be here for a long time - and I do not intend to break a hip someday.

One of the things that Adonis - nor any of the trainers I've worked with there - hasn't really been able to understand was that I was interested only in becoming stronger. I came through the accident, injured relatively lightly because I was in good health to start. I think that if I had been stronger, I would have gotten through injured even less. I do not mean to make light of how serious my injuries were, I'm just very clear that they so easily could have been much much worse if... The big IF of any car accident.

I've been recovering from this accident for a long time. My leg injury is healed, but when the weather is about to change to rain, I usually know. Unlike before the wreck, I have to act as if my back is a fragile thing - even though it's probably stronger, and better supported, now than it ever has been. I've worked with all of the long-term trainers at that gym and noted their different styles; now I combine Adonis' and Smiley's localized muscle training, the Skater's back strength techniques, and the whole-body sets taught me by The Guy Who Looks Like My Brother into my own workout routines.

I like having biceps I can see and muscles in my (matching) legs I can feel, but the best compliment I've received was one day recently when Adonis poked me in the stomach. Because we were laughing, my abs were tightened, and he said, "Damn, girl!"