Wednesday, February 28, 2007

Desired Things

I've been thinking a lot about "Desiderata." I know that was a long post yesterday and to tag this poem onto the end was perhaps unfair. I've been familiar with it for a long time; Mrs. P posted it on our closet door when we shared a room in college. As a result, as soon as Psycopat started reciting, I knew what it was. Now I find myself coming back to it, seeking.

"Speak your truth quietly and clearly;"

I am still learning to do this, and have to remind myself in the scary moments that nothing bad has ever come of me asking for what I need, or saying what I believe. YaYa Words of Thunder and Desi keep me honest on this.

"...and listen to others,
even to the dull and the ignorant;
they too have their story.

I'm taking this as a reminder to be patient. It's not just listening but waiting, helping but not interrupting. That "finishing someone else's sentence" thing? Really, it's not okay and I need to stop doing it.

"Beyond a wholesome discipline,
be gentle with yourself."

Uhhh, if I don't hold myself to high standards, who will? And if I don't flagellate myself for not meeting them, who will? The executive director at Harry's Mother said to me once, "You're 'shoulding' all over yourself." Of course then I can get all over my case for not lightening up enough. I can't win, some days.

"You are a child of the universe
no less than the trees and the stars;
you have a right to be here.
And whether or not it is clear to you,
no doubt the universe is unfolding as it should."

I don't need to say anything else about this, I think. Max Ehrmann expressed how I think the universe works, forty years before I was born. But just to keep me humble, it turns out there is "Deteriorata" (which I found on Wikipedia while searching the original):

You are a fluke of the universe.
You have no right to be here.

Whether you can hear it or not,

The universe is laughing behind your back.

I'm taking the attitude that the universe is laughing with me, rather than at me. Even when some days are "If I weren't laughing I'd be crying" days.

Tuesday, February 27, 2007

The most exciting blog post ever!

Tuesday 2/27/07

Well friends, I did not write every day while I was at Playa Fiesta attending my brother and sister-in-law's wedding and celebration. The thing is, if there's an opportunity to hang out with people I like, I will take that over anything else. If there's a party, I want to be there. Sleep is optional when fun is possible. I saw this same trait in my mother this last week, which I'd never really noticed before. If there's something going on, she doesn't want to miss it and will stay up or or stick around until she just can't anymore.

Since I can't write when I'm with other people, I didn't. I did write a few of the days, and I thought about writing the other days. So what follows is either what I actually wrote, or thought about blogging about on those days.

Sunday 2/18/07

No looks so happy. I don't really know how to describe it. He just looks really really healthy. KT is beyond perma-grin and into perma-laughter.

Completing my visa application presented me with a puzzle. Part of the information the form requests is your “occupation.” I didn't want to write “unemployed” and I should have written “volunteer” but I guess I thought someone would actually look at it closely, compile statistics, and that wasn't specific enough. I wondered if I should write “homemaker” because I don't really feel like I'm doing whatever “homemaking” is (do I picture Laura Ingalls Wilder's Ma, out on the prairie making a home out of an underground sod house?). I didn't know what else would be the right thing to write. I couldn't even justify it in a global way of “By volunteering I'm making Hayward, Berkeley, and San Francisco more home-like, more livable.”

So “homemaker” it was. What difference does it make, anyway? And yet it's another word whose meaning I have to try on, like “wife,” and make of it what I will. If I have to.

Side note: A couple days after I wrote this I was discussing with a man who is another brother, who is a stay-at-home dad. I asked him what he wrote on that line and he said he wrote “House Dad” and chuckled.

Monday 2/20/07

Last night I was dancing with one of my brother's father-in-laws, doing some salsa, which he and KT's mother are really into, and showing him some basic rumba. Later Charlie, one of the bartenders, complimented me on my “beautiful and strong legs.” Wow! I feel like if I hadn't shaved my legs he wouldn't have seen them at all. It was odd to get a compliment on my legs when I've always felt insecure about them for one reason or another. I think my relationship with my legs has changed somewhat, also: Since the car accident and the resultant physical therapy and weight training I see them more as helpful machines, and as such I am more aware of what they do for me rather than how they look.

Charlie also said that I don't dance like a gringa.

I had a quintessential No experience today. He and I were going to meet a couple for breakfast at a restaurant called Spiaggia, owned by – surprise! - a friend of No's from fifteen years ago. We were going to meet at noon and left Playa Fiesta at 1230. It's not so much that No and KT are late to everything as it is that minutes aren't necessarily as short in their world as they are in ours. Plus, we were in Mexico and on vacation.

Here's something you don't see in California: Your brother drinking a light beer, before breakfast, while driving you.

Tuesday 2/21/07

Waiting for people to arrive is as fun as arriving. It reminded me a lot of the second and third year of summer camp when the parents drove the campers up and we sat around the main courtyard waiting for last year's friends to arrive. The anticipation was exciting, and I would look up each time I heard someone on the stairs. Zirpu's plane was due in at 230, and I didn't go to the restroom or back to our room and I didn't hang out at the bar flirting with Charlie so I could watch the entrance. The nice thing about Playa Fiesta was that everyone staying at the hotel was there for the wedding. If I didn't know someone when they arrived, I knew I would soon.

KT made these little booklets with a picture and a name, like a yearbook. I plan to have everyone sign mine. I know I am a dork.

Wednesday 2/21/07

Psycopat's mother and I went jewelry shopping. She has good taste and a good eye, knows what she's talking about and what things are worth; in fact she was the one No asked to take him ring shopping. Additionally, she can do the negotiating/bargaining thing very well.

I realized that I have felt like Americans coming to Mexico to vacation is a kind of arrogant imperialism (I guess too many liberals at my college, ha ha), solely based on what I thought Mexico was like. And I know Puerto Vallarta isn't representative of Mexico any more than Palm Springs or Lahaina or Fort Lauderdale is of the US, but I realized in the cab yesterday that 1) I felt that way about Americans coming to these resort towns in Mexico and 2) that it isn't true, that Americans coming to Vallarta is all part of the tourist trade, the way Japanese tourists in SF are. Which is an interesting way for me to observe my own inner prejudice or at least preconceived notions (toward traveling Americans). A dollar is a dollar and just because pesos are valued the way they are doesn't mean that I am oppressing the cab driver or anyone because I have dollars and don't really speak the language.

Side notes: I suppose this little reverie just shows how untraveled I am, especially in comparison to my many peripatetic friends.

Later it turned out that that trip into downtown caused a lot of my Spanish to come flooding back. By the time I got back to Playa Fiesta I was able to have entire conversations with the (mostly bilingual) staff in Spanish without having to repeat “Una mas, despacio, por favor” after every sentence. I could only communicate in the present tense, but I could communicate pretty well, and I could definitely understand. I am particularly proud of completely understanding the salsero at the fiesta Cubana even though I thought at the time maybe I hadn't.

Thursday 2/22/07

I had a long conversation with Saj, someone No and I grew up with – and “grow up with” we did, as I remember, kind of, when he was born – I definitely have memories of him as a toddler. No and he were inseparable as kids. He came late to the wedding because of a family health issue (about which we, too, are concerned), but come he did. I've always thought of Saj as a very quiet person – none of my memories of him as a kid include him talking. But Thursday night he talked to me for maybe even as long as two hours about relationship issues. That sounds so evasive and incomplete, but it's not my story to tell and I don't think Saj would appreciate it if I were more specific. I've always told people Saj is quiet, that he always hangs back and listens, participating quietly in whatever is going on. Part of that conversation was me thinking, “He's not quiet at all. I'll have to change how I describe him” and “Not only is he talking, but he's talking about women. Hmm.”

To me it sounded like a lot of drama, probably caused by all parties, even ones outside. I'm sorry that Saj's women troubles are making him sad (or mad, or confused, or whatever) but it did cause me to have a When Harry Met Sally -type moment with Allan the next morning:

Marie (Sally's best friend): Tell me I'll never have to be out there again.

Jess (Harry's best friend): You'll never have to be out there again.

It's not about the other people at all. It's about recognizing and appreciating what you have.

Friday 2/23/07

My most chilled-out bridesmaid experience ever. The wedding was scheduled for 530; I got out of the pool at 330. Since I don't have any hair, and I wasn't going to be required to wear makeup, all I needed to do was put on my dress, and I wanted to wait until the last minute because I was going to be wearing a corset underneath and thought I would cook in it. I see KT all the time so I figured the other two bridesmaids, who live in NYC and Bakersfield, and she would want some of their own time together.

I cry at weddings of people I don't even know. I've said this before and I'll say it again: Look at the hope! Weddings are all about the future. When Zirpu and I got married, for me having a public ceremony was about telling my community that I was imagining my future, my far future, making a promise in front of them that my future would include this man. By bringing all these people from all over the US to Mexico, KT and No had created a wedding party community.

I won't bore you with how wonderful the ceremony was, but I will tell you that No and KT didn't write their vows and they came out very smoothly. Their part of the ceremony was totally unrehearsed and practically undiscussed between them. In one way this is typical of them: Wait so long (six years) that everything is hurry-up, and it comes off great anyhow. One of “the boys” acted as the officiant, and he said, “If there is anyone here who believes in this marriage, speak now or forever hold your peace,” which updated the old version so well, and allowed us to cheer and express our support for their relationship.

Because I was in it and Allan was taking video, I don't have any pictures of the ceremony (yet anyway). Don't they look happy?

Saturday 2/24/07

Last night the toast from which I learned the most was that given by Psycopat. He and No have been friends for over 25 years, and much as I recognize that he is one of No's best friends and must have redeeming qualities, I've always found him rather obnoxious. Even if it is an act, it wears on me pretty quickly. Pyscopat's loud and funny, but I find a lot of his humor to be at others' expense and the things that come out of his mouth at times are extremely sexist and awful. Even though we've known each other for such a long time, I don't know him very well.

I made up my mind about Psycopat's character years ago. I believe he is such-and-such a way, with no soft spot in him... even though in the last few months I've come to see him as having a little bit of sensitivity in him.

Psycopat said two things during his toast that changed how I think about him. I still think he is obnoxious but now I see there's more to him than the bluster. One was that he mentioned our dad in his speech, said that Dad was present with us that day and that he (Dad) is proud of Noah. This especially moved me because Psycopat came into our lives years after Dad passed away, and doesn't have any memories of his own about him. The other thing that he did was say that he had this long quotation on his wall that he thought important to share with people, and among other things, that he wanted his (future) children to learn it. He then recited “Desiderata”:

Go placidly amid the noise and the haste,
and remember what peace there may be in silence.

As far as possible, without surrender,
be on good terms with all persons.
Speak your truth quietly and clearly;
and listen to others,
even to the dull and the ignorant;
they too have their story.
Avoid loud and aggressive persons;
they are vexatious to the spirit.

If you compare yourself with others,
you may become vain or bitter,
for always there will be greater and lesser persons than yourself.
Enjoy your achievements as well as your plans.
Keep interested in your own career, however humble;
it is a real possession in the changing fortunes of time.

Exercise caution in your business affairs,
for the world is full of trickery.
But let this not blind you to what virtue there is;
many persons strive for high ideals,
and everywhere life is full of heroism.
Be yourself. Especially do not feign affection.
Neither be cynical about love,
for in the face of all aridity and disenchantment,
it is as perennial as the grass.

Take kindly the counsel of the years,
gracefully surrendering the things of youth.
Nurture strength of spirit to shield you in sudden misfortune.
But do not distress yourself with dark imaginings.
Many fears are born of fatigue and loneliness.

Beyond a wholesome discipline,
be gentle with yourself.
You are a child of the universe
no less than the trees and the stars;
you have a right to be here.
And whether or not it is clear to you,
no doubt the universe is unfolding as it should.

Therefore be at peace with God,
whatever you conceive Him to be.
And whatever your labors and aspirations,
in the noisy confusion of life,
keep peace in your soul.

With all its sham, drudgery, and broken dreams,
it is still a beautiful world.
Be cheerful. Strive to be happy.

Sunday 2/25/07

It is still a beautiful world, with love in it.

No and I have wedding anniversaries very close together, and for the same reason – reflecting the calendars of our respective industries' high seasons.

More coincidentally, each of us married into families with two sets of parents. KT's folks and Zirpu's folks all remarried years and years ago and now both No and I, who haven't had a father of our own in person, have two fathers-in-law as well as two mothers-in-law and our own amazing Mom.

Our family gets larger, the pie gets bigger, the world becomes smaller. The doors are open – come on in.

Monday 2/26/07

Did I mention Pia's baby was due on the 24th? He has arrived!

Welcome to the world, little one!

Saturday, February 17, 2007

Well, I did it

For weeks now I have been considering getting my legs waxed for Mexico. I didn't have as much angst about it as I thought I would, but as the date to do it got closer, I wound up having more angst than I thought I would. For years I've been clear that I don't shave my legs because I'm lazy, I hate the pricklies, and I think it's stupid for me to do (note: not for anyone else to do - I understand that what people like, people like, and far be it from me to say NO to pleasure), and politics weren't such a big part of it. But when I made the appointment to get it done then the politics came front and foremost.

So I got my legs waxed yesterday and, well, I must admit my legs are beautiful and I feel like I've sold out my beliefs. )-: As if having hairy legs made me a feminist, which I so know isn't the truth. The woman who did it was really cool and the actual experience wasn't nearly as bad as I thought it would be. She was working out of her boyfriend's apartment, which actually worked much better for me than if I'd gone to see her at the day spa she works in; even she said that it would have been a different experience "with all those chi-chi girls" (her words). I told her about my ambivalence and why and she seemed to understand my struggle about getting my legs "dehaired."

See, I've been feeling annoyed about "agreeing" (to myself) to get my legs waxed. I've been annoyed at the societal expectation that women ought to be hairless, and I've been feeling annoyed that I will be uncomfortable around my cute little sister-in-law (I mean that in a good way) and her cute fashionable friends and all those people if I don't wax my legs. But I decided to go through with it feeling that I would be more self-conscious for a week if I don't than I would be annoyed about giving into the societal pressure which I have spent so many years spitting in the eye of. It takes some guts to not shave your legs for fifteen years. Totally aside from the voices in my head and self-consciousness, I've actually received remarks from strangers about my leg hair. One time a young girl asked me if I was a man, because my legs were hairy. I refrained from slapping her and just remarked that "there are a lot of ways to be a woman."

The actual experience wasn't nearly as bad as I thought it would be. It's exactly like psyching yourself out when you have to get blood drawn; it's never as bad as you think (if you get a good phlebotomist, that is). The procedure took an hour longer than I'd been told to expect, mostly because we were chatting so much I think. She described my leg hair as "sparse" which I found reassuring because that's so not what I've always thought. My skin looks much lighter than I thought, without all that black hair on it.

I went to Mom's afterwards for lunch - and of course got really annoyed for a moment when I showed her my legs and she freaked out. She hugged me like I'd just won the spelling bee or something, like I'd finally done the right thing. "Well, you know I'm happy," she said. Grrr. Hers has been one of the voices in my head telling me I ought to shave my legs. I feel like I've spent 15 years defending my decision and now I've gone and done something my mom wanted me to do (yeah, those dynamics are another post).

But I like not having hairy legs, which I suspected would be the case and didn't like it. I wore a knee-length skirt to our anniversary dinner last night because I could do it without tights or nylons for the first time ever (thanks goodness it was warm enough - I would have anyway but still...). I will feel the most normal in a bathing suit I ever have. I'm happy with my body shape and I will have "normal" legs like all the other women.

You can't really imagine how annoying I find this.

So, more than you could ever possibly wish to know about my leg hair and new lack thereof. I'm getting awfully girly, with my sparkly painted nails and hairless legs. Intervene if you hear that I've started wearing pastels or neon colors.

I'm off to Puerto Vallarta tomorrow for No and KT's wedding. I will continue to write every day but I'm not sure how much internet access I will have, especially the first few days. Trust me, I will post whatever I write in order when I have access. In the meantime, have a great Year of the Pig. Gung hay fat choy!

Friday, February 16, 2007

Partners for life

Today is our fourth wedding anniversary.

When Zirpu says "It feels like forever," I know he means that as a good thing. It does feel like forever, as if there wasn't a time when when we weren't together. Yet, if we'd met any earlier than we did, neither of us would have been ready for the lightning bolt so it would have struck another couple.

Most of the times we have met with judges after dance events, each one has commented on our dancing together. When we're off time, we're off time together. We don't pull each other around the floor, but we dance across it together. Judges and other dancers remark on our unison and focus on each other. We've been getting these remarks from the beginning. I often feel that the things people say about our dancing also describe our relationship, and people sometimes use the same words to describe each.

Thursday, February 15, 2007

Wednesday, February 14, 2007

Fractions of tears

"Is the following statement reasonable or unreasonable? Please explain your answer.

At Fairchild Elementary, 1/2 of the children brought their lunches from home on Monday. The rest got their lunches in the cafeteria on Monday. 2/3 of the children at Fairchild Elementary ate lunch from the cafeteria on Monday."

This was the first problem on a sheet of word problems for a fifth grader I worked with yesterday. It was her homework assignment and since I'm a Homework Helper she needed my help with it. When I asked her if she thought the statement about 2/3 of the students was reasonable, she said yes. I asked, "Are you sure?" and with that cue she said, "It's unreasonable." So I asked her why she knew it was unreasonable.

She had no idea. She didn't even recognize it as a multiplication or division problem, and told me their teacher hadn't taught them how to multiply fractions yet (which I knew wasn't true). I asked her if there were 100 kids at the school, and half of them brought lunch, how many of them brought lunch. Her math was perfect: 100/1 divided by 1/2 = 50. But she couldn't tell me how many kids ate lunch in the caf if 50 kids brought lunch. Several times she insisted 2/3, because that's what was on the sheet.

We went over it several times. I told her about the magic of two: that you would always be even if you dividing by two, that two, in this case, equaled half, and halves are always even. I folded a piece of paper in half and described the sheet as "whole" and described the two halves on either side of the fold as "half," pointed out how they were absolutely even. I asked another HH for help. She came over and drew two boxes, coloring half of one of them in and coloring in 2/3 of the other one to demonstrate that 1/2 was smaller than 2/3. The girl nodded but I could tell this drawing didn't explain the concept either.

"Two thirds had lunch in the cafeteria," she would say. She even showed me how many kids were 2/3 of 100. She couldn't make the connection. It reminded me of the scene in Brave New World where Huxley describes the test run on kids, whispering facts to them while they slept. The kids would remember the facts, but only in the way they were whispered, so that while they could repeat something like, "Fifty is half of one hundred" they couldn't answer a question like "How many times does 50 go into 100?."

I realized that the student was crying. I totally understood why because I was that girl once, and I've forgotten more about fractions and word problems than she knows yet. The way I felt when I was in her position was this: "Here's this person who is explaining fractions/algebra/trigonometry to me and I don't get it. I know the explanation should make sense but I don't understand it." That was frustrating enough, but I would start feeling like the tutor was equally frustrated, and would get mad at me and think I was stupid. Most of the time I knew I wasn't stupid, but times like this made me doubt my intelligence: I should understand this, everyone else is... And that thought would oh-so-quickly turn into shame. No wonder math homework made me cry, as it did this girl yesterday.

Like my tutors did with me, I refused to give her the answer. It was her homework, and I'm old-fashioned enough (or went to strict enough schools) that I think a kid should do the homework herself. Ultimately the girl wrote on the sheet, "Unreasonable. 2/3 is bigger than 1/2" and I didn't push her on it. "Let the teacher deal with it," I thought, "It's the right answer for the wrong reason." Just like most of my geometry homework was.

Tuesday, February 13, 2007

A Visit to San Francisco City Hall

Getting legally married in Jalisco turns out to be quite involved, so KT and No did the legal thing yesterday.



Monday, February 12, 2007

The Back of the Bus

As difficult as the religion question is in the US, it seems to be many times more difficult in Israel. The wall that separates church and state here is damaged, but it's still there; we have no state religion and we don't have a Secretary of Faith Outreach as described in Mick LaSalle's serial novel The Event. In Israel, an accommodation for religion was made when the country was founded by allowing religious authority, which was given to the Orthodox community.

I heard on NPR this morning a story (here is another version, less objective about the ultra-Orthodox but a little more detailed) about an Israeli High Court case regarding sex segregation on "Haredi bus lines" in Jerusalem. These lines serve what we would call ultra-Orthodox neighborhoods and, it turns out, have unwritten rules regarding where women can sit on the bus (and also what they can wear). Women who haven't gone to the back of the bus have been verbally abused and harassed by religious men, and one woman was assaulted.

Can any American hear the phrase "the back of the bus" and not think of Rosa Parks?!

It turns out that while the bus system is a private entity, not only is it a monopoly but it also receives subsidies from the Israeli government. The government doesn't want to get involved, saying that Egged Bus Cooperative is a private company, and the company ducks responsibility by saying that there are actually no "rules" (because they are unwritten) and are enforced by the people in the communities they serve (though Egged does require its drivers to enforce these unwritten rules by supporting the men who complain).

An educator at the Haredi College for Women, who I can't help but think of as an apologist, is reported as saying that the Haredi bus restrictions help men focus on their families and their wives and "not on the barely-dressed women entering the bus." It's precisely that kind of thinking that blames the victim of a rape. Men can't control themselves so they must control women.

Along the same lines, last month a committee of Haredi rabbis ruled that Haredi women should not receive an education past high school. I guess they don't care that most Haredi families are mainly supported by the women while the men study Torah, and that a high school education doesn't earn someone very much in a nation as technologically advanced as Israel, just as it doesn't in the US.

Sunday, February 11, 2007

Not now...

Barack Obama announced his candidacy for President yesterday. I like Obama; I, like a lot of people, was impressed by his speech at the Democratic National Convention and I loved his funny appearance on Wait, Wait, Don't Tell Me. I start listening when he comes on the radio (I turn off the radio when Shrub comes on).

I am one of the people who likes him without being able to say why, but I think part of it is that Obama's my peer - he's only seven years older than I am. I think that's because I became politically aware while the oldest man elected to the Presidency got older and older. Bill Clinton is twenty-two years older than I and even I thought of him as a "young man" when I was 23 and he announced. I liked the statements he made in his announcement speech in Springfield, IL, yesterday, good solid Democratic values and goals that I support.

Side note: My favorite pun for this week was on a homemade sign held by someone in the Springfield crowd that read BARACK THE VOTE.

I don't want Obama to be running in this cycle. It's not because "America isn't ready for a Black President" and it's not because he is the child of an immigrant. It's not because he hasn't gotten specific about his programs (and how to pay for them) yet. It's not because he may not be a foreign policy wonk.

It's because he's only been serving in the Senate since 2004. There's been a lot made the last several years of being an "outsider" in the halls of power, in DC and in Sacramento (and probably in other capitals as well), but I think that Obama will get creamed by the pundits who will hammer over and over on his lack of experience at the national level. It is very very difficult to come back from losing a Presidential election: Look at John Kerry or Al Gore. I'd much rather see Obama stay in the Senate and run for the first time in 2012 or 2016.

Of course, now he's announced, it doesn't matter what I wish (and didn't anyway). I'll be supporting Obama until he loses or wins the primary. The fact is, however, that in the Presidential election I will be supporting whoever isn't the Republican, which in the end isn't much of a choice.

Saturday, February 10, 2007

"Confusing yet quite impressive"

Well well well.

That's how we did last night.

Both judges were really impressed with our dancing. Honestly I think that our switch leading had them both so impressed that they didn't look as hard at our Bronze 4 as they might have otherwise, because neither of us felt like we danced as well as we have been in those dances. If you don't mind my bragging, this is what they said about us that I'm really happy about:

Switch lead:
We had excellent timing in foxtrot. We're usually fast - but then, Zirpu's usually leading.

Timing is good in tango. I'm really happy about this because it's hard for me to hear the "one" in tango.

Zirpu's spotting on the under arm turn in salsa is very good (it seems to me that the UAT must feel squished to him, since I'm ten inches shorter).

Regular form:
"It's a joy watching you dance" foxtrot.

Our patterns and lead-and-follow flow beautifully in rumba.

The notes from bolero are MIA. But we know what we thought - our footwork is terrible in bolero, though we dance the steps well.

We got high marks for our frames and for our "unison" - that is dancing together - in all dances. The judge we met with to go over the notes said that we have good discipline as demonstrated by our willingness to learn each other's parts. In his opinion we are ready to dance in Amateur Three competitions, which are comps in which pairs of students dance in one or the other or both of the categories (Amateur 3 Rhythm consists of cha cha, rumba, and swing, and Amateur 3 Smooth includes tango, waltz, and foxtrot). They were very excited about our dancing, which makes me feel a little bad about my cynical remark at the end of Wednesday's post.

The hundred or so people at the event last night loved the switch lead too. I think I led particularly well and that Zirpu followed particularly well.

Our honor dance cha cha was a lot of fun, and we laughed a lot during it because we had a few foot bobbles. A few people told me today that they were touched that we were dancing to our wedding song.

It was a good night.

Friday, February 9, 2007

Heart of my heart

The cover story of February's edition of National Geographic is titled "Healing The Heart." It's appropriate for February, when stylized hearts are everywhere, though I don't think those hearts look as much like hearts as they do the Mound of Venus (if you don't know where that is on a woman's body, the part that looks like a heart really does. It should be obvious to you, if she lets you look at her while she's nude).

The real heart weighs a little over half a pound and pumps a gallon and a half of your blood through your 60,000 miles of arteries. That's two hundred trips from our house in the East Bay to Shmeen and Shman's house in Los Angeles. The arteries that feed the heart look a little like the Mississippi Delta, branching into smaller and smaller arteries. When one of these arteries gets totally blocked, that's when a heart attack happens. The part of the muscle fed by that artery doesn't get oxygen, seizes up, and dies. If too much of the heart goes without oxygen for too long, it won't recover from the damage.

This is an angiogram of Zirpu's heart before he received a stent to open the left anterior descending artery, which serves 40% of the heart with oxygen. If it's not clear, the point of blockage is circled.

The next picture is of the same artery after the stent was inserted. The doctor sends a small tube of tiny chicken wire wrapped around a balloon on the end of a wire through the femoral artery at the groin. When it gets to the right place, she or he inflates the balloon when the stent is in place. Then the balloon is deflated and the balloon and wire are pulled out of the body. These days, they do 5,000 of these procedures at the Kaiser in San Francisco every year, so I felt pretty comfortable that they were going to take care of my husband. Imagine being the first person to agree to this treatment!

I didn't see either of these pictures until after the procedure, of course, and when I saw the "before" picture - which, you have to realize, was after the stent had been put in - I got really scared in retrospect.

Thursday, February 8, 2007


"Who am I anyway?
Am I my resume'?"

- A Chorus Line

Remember how at the beginning of this project I was going to give myself a word to write on each day? I haven't been doing that, but today's word is "identity."

I used to really identify with being a Financial Aid Administrator (the way I did with being a social worker, come to think of it). Besides working for students at my schools, I was really involved in the fin aid community, sitting on our state association's committees, moderating and presenting at conferences, giving Financial Aid Night talks at high schools in the area. People knew who I was, and I was considered a "rising star" even if I say so myself. I was elected to the association's executive council against my will in 2002.

The more time goes by, the more comfortable I'm becoming with "being a member of my community." I've started talking about this as my "year on" and saying "working without pay" rather than "not working." Today when I dropped our tax information off with the CPA he said that with all the volunteering I'm doing I should track my mileage, because I can claim miles driven for volunteering the same way I can claim charitable giving.

I'm volunteering at the Hayward Public Library because I live here. I volunteer at the Pacific Center because I am a member of the LGBT community. I volunteer with the Wallenberg Community Foundation because I attended that high school. I don't have a direct connection to Alameda, but hungry people are my sisters and brothers. I've offered my financial aid expertise for Cash for College events in the area (and am waiting to hear back, still), because I've been a member of the fin aid community.

So I'm a volunteer. I usually tell people what I'm doing because a volunteer can be so many things, including a tree that grows without actually being planted by a person. My mom's yard has a couple of them, cherry trees that must have grown from seeds somehow buried when they fell from the original cherry tree.

The fact is, I don't know how to tell people "what I am." As I have found so often, a few words just aren't enough and I feel like I have to explain, to clarify, to make sure that whoever I'm talking to understands what I mean. It probably tires people out. Sometimes it tires me out.

Here's me in May '06 looking like a Buddhist nun, which I'm not.

Wednesday, February 7, 2007

Switch Lead II

On Friday we are graduating from Full Bronze in the regular format, and from Newcomer and Bronze 1 in (what we're calling) switch lead. In Bronze Four we'll be dancing rumba, foxtrot, and bolero. In Newcomer and B1 I'll be leading Zirpu through foxtrot, rumba, tango, and swing. because we're graduating from a whole section, we'll also get to dance our choice for the "honor dance;" we have decided that we will dance to "Watermelon Man" by Mongo Santamaria, the cha cha which was our "first dance" at our wedding. It's almost our anniversary and we're even going to start it off the same way.

Switch lead is very unusual. The foxtrot routine in which we started with my leading and switched to Allan leading halfway through was described as "very avant-garde" by two coach/judges. It's actually outside the rules for competition so it's not on the schools' agenda. Women learn to lead, of course, but it's not the main focus of most people's lessons. Gender roles are reinforced in Dance Land, and I feel that it's strange that I have chosen a hobby that is so attached to them. The people at our studio aren't attached to the gender roles; in fact, the teachers are rather excited that Zirpu and I are busting through and doing something so different.

The thing about gender roles is that everyone at the studio is "a modern woman" or "a modern man" and sometimes dancing feels like playing more old-fashioned roles. When people ask why we ar eleraning echa otehr's parts, we tell them the official answer, which is that knowing the other person's part makes you a better dancer. I think part of our desire to switch lead came out of our desire to do the nontraditional, unconventional thing... like Zirpu waiting for me to ask him to marry me, rather than asking me to marry him, or when we got our portrait taken at Excalibur with me in the Musketeer costume and him in the dress.

We'll see what happens on Friday night, and learn what the judges' reactions are on Saturday morning. We're not actually competing so it'll be allowed. I'm sure the reaction will be positive - it's a dance school after all, and they wouldn't want to chase away students. I'm interested in hearing what a real live competitor has to say.

Tuesday, February 6, 2007

"Regrets on the Stairs"

Have you ever poked yourself with a pencil, and then did it again? And again? It's annoying, but for some reason you keep doing it? Last night I laid in bed and realized that once again I was thinking about "what I would say if I ran into [any person from Cal]." I don't like thinking about that. First of all, I get all annoyed at those people, and second of all I know that it is totally unproductive to dwell on what I would say, because it's just not going to happen. And then I get annoyed at myself for being annoyed at them.

I seem to go into this dream world in which I can have a real conversation with my former boss, and I imagine all of the things I would say to her about what happened. I don't really try to imagine what she would say... And the problem is, even if I was somehow in a place with her and could say whatever I would say, I know that she wouldn't be able to respond to me as anything other than a representative of my former employer, which would effectively shut down that conversation. That's frustrating because I still don't really understand what happened there. I will never understand as long as I can't ask. And I'm not going to be able to ask. Another thing that's frustrating is that I want to be beyond all the crap, and I have a friend or two who tell me I'm evolving, or evolved, which makes me think I should be beyond all the crap. But I'm just not.

I imagine what I would say to this or that person, something different for each one. Without going into details - because it will just annoy me - I embroider a whole statement for each of, say, five or six people. There was one person who was honest with me when she was angry at me and I wish I could tell her that I appreciated it at the time and I still do. But not enough to overcome the rest of how I feel about that place and some of the people who work there.

The more I think about the situation I was in, the more I'm reminded of grammar school. In grammar school, I laid in my bed at night and thought of all the great or nasty comebacks to the mean girls in my class. The office I was in had some similar dynamics to the classroom, from my perspective, and here I am (and was last year) doing the same thing I did then.

I heard one time that there's a French word for the comebacks you think of after someone has insulted you. I have no idea what the French idiom is, but the literal translation is "regrets on the stairs." I'm spending less time there, but I still find myself on the stairs from time to time.

Monday, February 5, 2007

Butterflies and flames

Yesterday Zirpu and I went to East West Books because he wanted to look at Wild Divine, a computer video game whose purpose is to teach "the player" to reduce stress via biofeedback. East West is a pretty funky, woo-woo New Age store that's filled with interesting things, music, books, music, videos, games, tarot cards, art, yoga stuff, massage stuff, aromatherapy stuff, etc. We usually buy our incense there too (being a former hippie-of-the-80's I'm fond of patchouli; Zirpu likes sandalwood). It's the kind of place I would buy a gift for one of my many woo-woo friends.

Anyway, I was wandering (almost typed that as "wondering" which I was probably doing also; it's that kind of store) around the store and on a low shelf saw some packages of arty butterflies. They were made of paper in bright colors, and maybe also beads, and it looked like there might have been several of these paper butterflies on one string, like a one-string mobile.

Suddenly I remembered an apartment I looked at when I thought I was first going to live alone. It was a studio in Northwest Portland, and despite being mostly below ground was fairly bright. It had white white walls, I remember. I stood in the room and imagined where I would put my furniture - bed, bureau, and TV - and thought about what I would put on those white white walls.

Now, I was never really attached to butterflies. They're pretty and I like the way they flutter around, but I never saw them as anything other than wings. However, looking at that apartment I knew that I was going to pin these paper butterflies I'd seen someplace (I can't now remember where) on the walls. And I was going to do that because I was going through some changes that had me relating to the chrysalis, the idea of going from one form to another form.

I didn't move into that apartment in the end. I can't now remember the reasons. I moved into the refinished attic of a house in inner NE instead. I didn't put anything on those walls; they were hipped at about three and half feet anyway. My feeling about the chrysalis changed, as well. It was about that time that I decided that if I would get a tattoo it would be flames. I even knew the exact image I would get.

My boss at that time told me this story:

As part of his training, a monk has to spend three days and nights in the woods. The first day he tramps off from his teacher and when the sun goes down he gets cold and starts looking for something to start a fire with. He becomes paralyzed with the thought that he shouldn't burn anything, and after a cold night returns to his teacher.

"Teacher," he says, "Who am I to choose for the wood that it will turn to flame and ash?"

The teacher responds, "Who are you to deny the wood that experience?"

Sunday, February 4, 2007

Mean people suck

One of the bloggers I follow has closed comments on a recent post because she's been receiving some very harsh comments and personal attacks because of part of what she'd written. I'll admit that I had left a comment saying that I didn't like the tone of the post, but I think I did it respectfully - she must have thought so too because she vetted and posted my remark. Another blogger had written bitterly about a former employer and was attacked via comments - assumably not by the employers or anyone who knows them. That blogger chose to moderate all comments on her blog, after deleting the attack. The similar thing that happened to me was an online conversation in which the discussion turned from cooking sweet potatoes into a personal attack on me. I ultimately deleted the thread.

Why do people do this? I've been wondering since running into the mean girls in fourth grade (and running into them, and into them, and into them... for five years). In grammar school I can understand it being about power and anger (at the same time that I don't understand it), but why does it happen online? Why would people forget their manners and write things that they would never say? And if they're the kind of people who say nasty things, why are they like that?

Actually the real question I have is, Why does this happen at all? Yet, I think about my experience with someone about whom I cared very much, and I believe that that person's inward-directed anger and self-hatred boiled over onto whoever was standing closest... but without going into the details, I don't think that accounts for everyone. It couldn't be the cause for everyone - trust me.

Whenever someone is mean to me, honestly, my first reaction is, "ME? Why me? I haven't done anything to deserve this poor treatment!" Then my second reaction is to go over and over each interaction to see if indeed I have some responsibility for making the other person angry. I'll admit that I don't do right by everyone all the time, but sometimes it is just a mystery. Those people suck.

Saturday, February 3, 2007

Switch Lead

About two years ago, Zirpu and I decided that when we finished Bronze 4 we would go back and start over, switching the lead and follow. Several months ago we started just that, with me leading and him following. It's not as hard as I thought it was going to be. I thought the confusion of switching from stepping back with my right foot to forward with my left foot was going to last a long time. It wasn't easy to start, but once I got the hang of it that part didn't stay difficult. Basic steps and basic turns aren't as challenging as I expected them to be.

What are difficult are the moves that require stepping to the left or right, such as crossovers. In fact, crossovers are a great example (we are doing one in this photo). This is a step during which both partners step out to the side and open up, then step back and close, and then step to the other side and open up. It's in these steps that I have to turn my brain around, because we are turning the other direction than the one we're turning in when I'm following. Sometimes Zirpu and I switch back to "normal" lead and follow in these steps, back to what we're used to, what feels natural.

We always laugh when that happens.

Sometimes I find it frustrating to be struggling with steps that we already know, even though I know that it's an unfair expectation of myself: Sure, I know this or that step, but I know it as a follow. Leading is a whole different thing. I liked those bumper stickers that said "Ginger Rogers did everything Fred Astaire did, but backwards and in high heels" but the fact is she didn't. Not to discredit Ginger; following isn't much like leading either.

Switching lead and follow is giving us a lot of opportunities to practice communicating! Dance is about body language, so we have to communicate with our bodies in ways we're not used to. When something goes wrong several times, we have to actually talk about what we're trying to make known, or what we're communicating when we don't mean to be body-talking at all, and we have to do it civilly.

Friday, February 2, 2007

Eating in class is allowed - even required

Last night Zirpu and I went to Kaiser for the first session of the "Living Well With Diabetes" class. There were about a dozen people in the class, ranging in age from mid-30s to about 70. One person besides myself was along as a non-diabetic "supportive spouse" and the others were, with the exception of Zirpu, diagnosed between six years and two months ago. I learned a lot about what diabetes actually is, what is going on in the body in Type 1 and in Type 2. The dietitian teaching the class said over and over, "This is YOUR diabetes and YOU can manage it and avoid these problems." I think that she says this in her lectures to get people to understand that they are the only ones who can manage their blood sugar, and the only ones who can track it.

One of the things the dietitian said is that it's important to eat several hours before going to bed. No one at the class had eaten; the class runs from 530 to 8pm, right through dinnertime (in fact, we had come directly from the BART station). I had brought egg-less salad sandwiches, but we didn't eat them until afterwards. It didn't seem to right to break out food when we didn't stop for a break and no one else had any. Next time, the dietitian said, bring something to eat during class. I've already planned to bring sandwiches again next week.

Here's the egg-less salad I made last night:

one block firm tofu, drained and squeezed
low-fat mayonnaise
yellow mustard
turmeric (for color more than anything else)
sweet pickle relish (more than you think is enough)

Combine all to the consistency you like your egg salad. Allow to rest for at least two hours before eating so flavors can meld.

You can also add the stuff you might usually add to egg salad, like celery, or onions, or curry powder, or whatever herbs and seasonings you like. It won't be exactly like egg salad, but it will be more like egg salad than a Gardenburger is like a hamburger. If you're trying to stay away from cholesterol, or you don't like eggs, or you're trying to think of something to serve Kosher friends, this is the way to go.

A short note: Rest in peace, Molly Ivins. Or rather, give 'em hell!

Thursday, February 1, 2007

Definition of a Grown-Up

I was at the library yesterday in my role as a Homework Helper. This is a program for elementary school kids to get help with their homework, and most of the Helpers are high school students. Tuesday I helped a fourth grader with long division and a second grader with a paper about Shirley Chisholm (speaking of black presidential candidates). Yesterday I helped a different second grader with spelling and subtracting by tens.

Yesterday's student and I had the following conversations:

He: How old are you?
Me (after a little thought): 38. How old are you?
He: Eight. How old will you be when I'm 38?
Me: I'm thirty years older than you. I'll be 68. That's probably about your grandmother's age.
He: My grandmother's dead.

About half an hour later he asked, "What grade are you in?" I guess he'd forgotten our previous conversation in which it was determined that I'm almost as old as his father. I told him that I'm not in school, and have been out of school for a long time. He said, with some surprise, "You're a grown-up?"

I immediately thought about how I had wondered, in my 20s, when I was going to start feeling like a grown-up. Would it be once I bought a house? If I had a child? When my hair started turning grey? Except that a patch of grey came in all at once when I was 26, between the beginning of March and Easter that year, a house was far far off at $8.35 an hour, and I didn't want to have a child, and I still felt like I didn't know what was going on.

Now I know. When you finish school, you're a grown-up. Things are so much clearer when you're eight. They're sure not very clear now.