Monday, April 30, 2007

Clay Feet

When I was involved with Camp Odyssey I started working with the people who designed the curriculum and the program. I really thought that they embodied the values of the program. In fact, it was D who came up with the thing about staying in the boat, and T who encouraged everyone to close loops. M always seemed to bring a soft consciousness to the hard parts. Because J was so tall, I felt like he was able to see what was going on everywhere in the big meetings, and would step in if something was going haywire.

Then in the summer of 1997 we had the Camp From Hell, when it seemed like everything that could go wrong did. Because Camp was so intense, even small things going wrong felt much bigger. I had participants bolt out of meetings and people not talking to each other by the end of the week, and that kind of thing was happening in other meetings too. At the time I blamed a lot of what went wrong on one person, who happened to be someone with whom I had had a lot of personal conflicts and didn't like very much.

It didn't occur to me that maybe those people who were the Curriculum Committee had anything to do with the craziness. I now remember that, in a place where structure was the highest priority, they were deleting some things and reducing the time allowed for others while Camp was running. At the time, that seemed like the last thing that group of people would do, which is probably why I couldn't see it was they who were making those changes to the curriculum. It's so clear now, but that's partly because YaYaWOT, who was there, reminded me of some things that happened after Camp ended that summer, things that are reflected in my journal from that period.

I've recently come to see that these people were flawed like we all are. If I cared about any of it now with anything like the emotion I felt then, I would be angry at them for not being much like how I imagined. When I asked for help then and didn't get it I thought it was because they were too busy to help, but now I think it may have been because they were too overwhelmed themselves. It was so long ago that I don't now remember if I was disappointed in them then. I suspect that I thought that they would fix everything, because they could do what was best for Camp. They were giants to me.

I didn't go to Odyssey the next year, a long story sort of related to this post. I don't know what happened in '98 but the program as I had known it ended that summer or in 1999. YaYaWOT says that partly happened because some people chose to honor a personal relationship over Odyssey ideals. It's too bad Odyssey was the casualty, because I thought then and think now that it was a powerful transformative experience and could have had a huge impact on our communities. Choosing friendship isn't a bad thing for humans to do.

Sunday, April 29, 2007

Be Prepared

Even if you don't live here you may have heard that a gasoline tanker truck rolled and blew up on the highway at 3:40 this morning, and that the resulting fire was so hot and lasted so long that it caused bolts to melt and the ramp above to collapse. Miraculously, the driver survived with second-degree burns, and no one else was hurt, let alone killed. Whatever happens next to him, clearly his mission on earth is unfinished.

Really amazing video can be seen at YouTube, of course. A good map of the Maze can be seen here. There is a reason why that area is called the MacArthur Maze; those highways are like Pickup Sticks, one laid over the other. The part of the highway that collapsed affects eastbound traffic coming off the Bay Bridge going almost everywhere else in the east bay. I was talking to a friend today and explained that it would be like the I-5 bridge over the Columbia River between Portland and Vancouver collapsing.

Everyone who works in SF is planning to telecommute or working on an alternate route home tomorrow. Zirpu is planning to telecommute, not being willing to brave what will probably be intensely crowded BART trains for a day that doesn't include any meetings. I am still planning to drive to the food bank tomorrow, knowing that the ride home may be much slower than usual - and if it is much much slower, I'll plan to walk from the Lake Merritt BART station to the FB and back (about1.75 miles, some of which is through the Posey Tunnel) the next time I go. I don't expect my commute to the FB to be affected that much, since I get off well before the Maze and travel after the morning rush, but the afternoon will probably be affected as 880 is the only way anywhere until this gets repaired.

We live in an earthquake zone. I think CalTrans, the governator, and the legislators, as well as all the public transpo agencies, should think of this as a small rehearsal. There's been much made of the fact that if a major quake comes from the Hayward Fault (which runs through our neighborhood) it could break chunks of 80, 580, 880, and/or 980 freeways, any of which would affect the trip to or from the Bay Bridge, a major major artery in the miles of highways around here. They can observe and plan what to do, and hope that it doesn't happen.

Saturday, April 28, 2007

Apple Blossoms

The first owners of our house were a family that included a son who I think is at least ten years older than Zirpu and I. They owned the house from 1952, when it was built, until the early '70s.

Our neighbor, who is the original owner of his house, said that he went to a furniture store for a Washington's Birthday sale because they were giving away apple trees. He gave the tree he received to the above-mentioned son, who was between eight and ten at the time.

Friday, April 27, 2007


I have finally finished Tim Reiterman's book about Jim Jones and Peoples Temple. At 580 pages, it's exhaustive, but very difficult to put down. I limited my time reading it though, because the material is so heavy. All through the book, I knew what was going to happen at the end, which made it hard to read.

Reiterman does a good job of explaining that Jim Jones held sway over his flock, and how. Did you know that they did not consider themselves Christians? They worshipped socialism and Jim Jones (though no one was supposed to admit to the latter).

I'm not a religious person and I am naturally rather skeptical. While I understand Reiterman's explanations about why people followed Jones into the jungle, let alone over the edge of the abyss, I still don't really "get" it. I don't understand why people send money to The 700 Club and similar shows, so I don't understand why someone would have sold their property and moved into Temple housing, which is described as almost always crowded and often substandard in other ways.

A friend said that she wondered if she would have gotten sucked in had she been in her late twenties when Peoples Temple existed. She said that she had been seeking, confused, disillusioned with traditional religion, and wanting to "belong" at that time. And since I too was seeking, and cut loose from a lot of the things I thought I'd known when I was in my mid-20s, I can understand that a little bit. But I still don't really understand why all those older people, middle-aged and elderly, joined up and tolerated that life. I guess I think that they would have been wiser somehow, even though Jones tricked educated, politically-savvy people such as Willie Brown, Angela Davis, and George Moscone (not to mention Rosalynn Carter and Harvey Milk).

We know why people didn't leave, but we'll never know why all those people followed Jones to Jonestown. I imagine that each person's reasons were different, and they took those reasons to their graves.

Thursday, April 26, 2007

Planning ahead

We finished the "Living Well With Diabetes" course at Kaiser tonight. We attended the first class in February, and then because Zirpu was sick one night and we were in Mexico for another night, we attended the rest of the sessions, two weeks ago and tonight, to finish up. The Registered Dietitian teaching the course even had "graduation certificates" for everyone.

There were only about half the people in the class during tonight's session than there were two weeks ago. I was interested to see who wasn't there. One was a man who asked repeated questions trying to get the RD teaching the class to tell him that he could continue having his customary two scotch-on-the-rocks each night. The RD didn't lay down any hard rule about not drinking, though alcohol can make blood glucose go wacky. She pointed out, several times, that alcohol is made up of carbohydrates and diabetics need to limit their carbohydrate intake (more so than non-diabetics). The visual that came to my mind was similar to the riddle we used to ask each other in elementary school, "Which is heavier? A ton of feathers or a ton of lead?" The lead takes up much less room, just the way that a small butterscotch holds about the same amount of carbohydrates as a piece of bread.

People in the health professions have learned that coming down hard on patients about their lifestyles doesn't inspire much more than guilt, so it's all about presenting choices or possibilities now, like "How about smoking less?" or "Try walking ten more minutes a day." The RD tried hard with this man, but he was either being really obtuse or just resistant. All through the course, the RD took this approach about making choices and said it is no big crime to "mess up" and eat something you shouldn't, or eat more than you should, like at a party or something. You just start over. When someone else in the class said that she had been with a group of friends who wanted to go to a restaurant that didn't have anything she was supposed to eat, the RD suggested that she say she is taking better care of her health now and she won't be able to eat there, and they can go there and she'll go somewhere else and meet up later, if need be.

Another man who was there last week and not this week had clearly showed up because someone had told him he better go. I imagined a family member ordered that he show up. He came late, didn't listen to most of the lecture and discussion, and then left early saying it was time for his beer.

At the end of the class, the RD put up an overhead saying what she had said in the first class: "This is YOUR diabetes, only YOU can manage it. If you don't IT will manage you." I learned a lot about diabetes and how I can support Zirpu in managing it so we avoid all the complications that come with unmanaged diabetes.

The course reinforced my idea that this is the only body I have, and the few replacements parts are expensive and slow to be installed, kind of like those for my mom's old Renault 12. I'm operating with the assumption I am going to be around for a long time, and I want Zirpu to be around at least as long. I want our bodies to last as long as our lives do.

Wednesday, April 25, 2007

Justice Kennedy will save me from myself

I was listening to Forum on KQED Radio the other day and learned that Supreme Court Justice Kennedy has the opinion that "some women come to regret their choice to abort the infant life they once created and sustained," which is why he dissented in the Gonzalez v. Carhart abortion case. This has resulted in a ban on "partial birth abortion," whose medical term is "dilation and extraction."

Well, thank goodness Kennedy is willing to save me and other women from the decisions we make because we might regret them later. I wonder if he is also willing to save us from regrets due to decisions we make about the colleges we attend, getting married, moving to new cities, the jobs we accept, joining the Armed Forces, the children we have, and the families in which we grew up. I know at least one person for each of these categories, and not all of them are women.

It sounds to me like Kennedy is infantilizing women, which isn't all that uncommon in this society. A few years back there was a move to void any surrogate-mother contracts a woman signs, because there were women who regretted signing the contract and didn't want to give the baby to the parents for whom she had agreed to be a surrogate. A friend pointed out that passing a law voiding these kinds of contracts was paramount to saying a pregnant woman had no more legal standing than a child or a mentally ill person.

I am in full agreement with the bumper sticker that reads, "Against abortion? Don't have one!" only I extend that to a whole range of things. No one gets to choose my life for me; I'm stubborn that way.

Tuesday, April 24, 2007

Journal Keeping

I mentioned not very long ago that I have been keeping a journal for many years. I remember when I thought that "keeping a journal" was something more dignified than "writing in a diary." Diaries were small books that locked, not notebooks, and something girly girls kept under their mattresses. "Real writers" used journals. In the past, I've used my journals for writing exercises, much the way this one started, writing on a word a day, as well as for "regular" journaling. I even did this at Camp Odyssey, and who knows how I found the time to do that while Camp was on!

I don't usually read my old journals, unless I'm looking for something specific I think I'm not remembering correctly or completely. Sometimes I can see my own evolution, but reading stuff like that only looks that way because now, with 20/20 hindsight, I know where it was leading. My experiences of "just flipping pages" have sometimes been disappointing - certainly sometimes I've written down things I was glad to have forgotten.

A good example of this is that my memory of a particular wedding I attended in 2000 is that I had a good time. What I remember is that I really enjoyed seeing some of the people who had come from out of state. The guy I was living with and I had decided to separate but had not actually done so yet, and we were getting along well that day since the pressure was off. My journal, however, records that I was miserable the entire time because these out-of-state friends were nagging me about the break-up. It's possible that had the wedding not been on a boat I would have left right after dinner - I wrote that I spent the evening wishing the boat would return to the pier.

Anyway, the other night I was moving some boxes and noticed a journal from the summer of 1997. In fact, it starts on the night before that year's Camp Odyssey began, and probably inspired me to actually write that post. Because I've been thinking about Odyssey so much lately I read a big chunk of that journal. I remember that some years ago I had decided that I would concentrate on writing what I felt rather than what happened to make me feel that way. This came about because I was spending a lot of time writing chronology and it was getting in the way of my feelings and/or thoughts about an event - especially when a lot of events tumbled close upon each other.

What I discovered the other night was that I didn't remember some of the things I was having feelings and/or thoughts about when I had written those entries. That night I read several entries in which I had written that I had found something or someone particularly challenging, and wrote why I felt so challenged, but not very much about what the actual incident or person was that triggered all those feelings. So it's rather obscured, especially as I do not remember names very well.

On the other hand, I was reminded of someone I really liked and respected in those days but with whom I haven't been in contact since I moved to California. I had forgotten that we had been so loyal to each other, and the journal reminded me. I asked YaYaWOT, who talks to him every week, for his email and sent one off to him, telling him exactly that.

Monday, April 23, 2007

Appearances Can Be Deceiving

But does it matter?

There is a woman who occasionally stands on the corner of the big busy intersection near my house. The light is long, and she stands on the sidewalk with a sign that says "Will Work For Food." I've seen her several times; she has straight black hair and dark skin, and from the car looks to be in her late twenties. Whenever a hand reaches out of a car, she makes the sign of the cross twice, old-school style, kissing her hand at the end.

I very very rarely give money to panhandlers. I don't want my money to go toward a 40, or a bottle of MD20/20 or a rock, and I can't give cash and not feel attached to where it's going. The food bank director pointed out that sometimes that people sometimes need to self-medicate to get through the day (or the night), to keep the demons, or even just the cold or discomfort, at bay. I'm still thinking about that, and in the meantime feel much more comfortable giving some kind of consumable.

I realized that I had an extra loaf of bread and a ball of store-brand mozzarella cheese in the freezer and when I got home I tossed them in a plastic sack to take out to her. She looks young, maybe she has some children. I added a can of tuna, one of soup, and a handful of Hershey's kisses. I looked up the words for "frozen" and "can opener" in my Spanish/English dictionary and headed out.

When I returned to the corner, I saw that she was standing with a man who was sitting on a low wall behind a landscaping bush. She appeared to be much older than I thought, even accounting for how much more quickly street living ages people. When I said, "I have some food for you" she responded in English. I explained that some of the food was frozen and asked if they had a can opener. In our two-minute conversation she told me that she and her companion had lost their jobs and were living in a tent, and which churches' soup kitchens they go to. She offered to do some yard work, or wash my car, and apologized several times for smoking.

Afterwards I was thinking how she had not turned out to be at all what I had thought, except female. I found myself thinking that if I had known she wasn't what I had thought, would I have still given her the cheese and the bread?

Sunday, April 22, 2007

What was Odyssey?

Recently I've been thinking a lot about my Camp Odyssey experience, which was transformative at the same time that it was difficult. Without comparing Odyssey to Peoples Temple, seeing that movie about Jonestown and reading Raven (which I got from the library) has me thinking about my own experience with "trying to change the world."

Camp Odyssey was an immersion diversity training for youth and adults. When I was on staff, I (and others, obviously) worked with youth entering 10th through 12th grades and examined all the "isms" - racism, sexism, heterosexism, prejudice against immigrants, ageism, and even touched on classism (when I moved back to California we were thinking about working more class issues into the curriculum). Everyone who attended was split into ethnic groups according to their identification, into gender groups, and into sharing circles which were carefully balanced for ethnic identity and gender. Each group would meet with each other group to talk about stereotypes and then the sharing circles would meet to process the experiences of the day. It is very difficult to explain, and it was really really intense.

One of the things I believed was that Odyssey was led by some amazing, fabulous, dedicated people who saw things clearly. I also felt like a lot of the "regular" staff people were pretty amazing as well - Odyssey consisted of two demanding weekends and one really demanding week each year and we all worked very hard during those times. Ironically, the person who was the Camp Director was not someone I believed was any of those things. He and I didn't like each other, and I thought it was because I was in the not-straight group and the only strongly-identified bi person in Camp for the time I was involved, which was about two years, I knew it, and he knew that I knew it. Also, I have a memory of heated disagreements between us, including at Advisory Council meetings when I was in the leadership circle.

I don't know where the curriculum came from, though some of it came from other diversity programs and some of it grew out of the work that had been going on. When I got involved in 1996 Odyssey had been around for about three years (it only lasted maybe two years after I left). There were several two or three day adult trainings a year, but Odyssey was really focused on the Camp for youth which lasted for one week in late June. After Camp in 1997 I "forgot" to turn in my script/agenda/curriculum and while I haven't looked at it in years I haven't been ready to shred it.

Hard as it was, I loved Odyssey. I thought the things we did were important and there are lessons I carry to this day. I wonder what the people who were 14 to 18 years old at the time think now of that experience (some of them are as old now as I was then). We had some guidelines that were posted on a banner in the main hall, and I have found them pretty good guidelines to live by, some of which I see now are woven together for me:

Be honest

Take risks - a hard one for me, being naturally risk-averse.

Respect others

Close the loop - it's not always easy to follow up when I think I've offended someone or when someone has offended me, but working it out means I don't have to fret about it anymore.

Take responsibility for Self - this ranges from going when I need to go to the bathroom to being responsible for doing something stupid or hurtful.

Use "I" statements - I joke that my favorite "I" statement is "I feel you are a jerk" but I've noticed I get heard more easily if I really do say "I feel X when Y" and "It's been my experience that..."

There's more to write about Odyssey but not today. Odyssey was hugely important part of my growing up, even though I was 27 when I got involved. I don't think I would be the person I am today if I hadn't had that experience.

Saturday, April 21, 2007

Not too sure

I went to the first of two training sessions for Literacy Plus, a program that trains and matches tutors with adult non-readers. The training was from 9am to 4pm and we had a half-hour lunch. The trainer asked a few times if we wanted to take a break, but we all (nine women) declined, and I know this is because all of us were stressed out because the trainer kept saying how she was behind and was only giving us three or four minutes to do the exercises. We weren't a particularly chatty group, either. I think they either need to re-examine what they want us to learn in 13 hours or they need to make a more realistic schedule.

Anyway, I'm not sure I want to do it. I am feeling overwhelmed. Among the things we discussed today were learning styles (such as reading, writing, listening, moving) and examples of different teaching methods; the material we may have to cover with a given student ("when two vowels go walking, the first one does the talking" and word families); and how to check reading comprehension, just for starters.

I'm also feeling some anxiety about the actual pairing and teaching part. Do I really want to teach? I'm not very patient, and I grew up in a pretty demanding educational environment.
The experience I've had with the Homework Help program has bored me at times and I must admit sometimes I feel judgmental toward "the schools," like the time I was doing long division with a child who didn't seem to know how to multiply. I said something about the long division thing to the trainer today, during a private conversation - for all I know she's already thinking I am not a suitable candidate to be a Literacy Plus tutor.

Now that I've taken one whole day of the two-day training I'm already feeling kind of obligated to follow through and be a tutor. They ask for a six-month commitment and generally I feel like I can do anything for six months (though I've been proven wrong a couple times), and the tutoring commitment is only one or two days a week, not five.

Because I was thinking about this, the best part of the training today was when two tutor/student pairs came in to talk about their experiences and to answer questions. Both tutors have been working with Literacy Plus for about three years and both students had been in the program for about a year; everyone praised the LP staff and each other, and the students expressed a lot of gratitude for the program. I asked the question so all four could answer: What did you feel uncertain about when you started tutoring or started the program?

The first tutor answered with what I know I wanted to hear. She said that she didn't think she would be good enough, that she would do something wrong, and that she would let her students down. Then she went on to say that the students "are so hungry to learn" that you can't really let them down, because anything you teach them is something they want to know. The second student said that she was so excited to start learning that she hadn't slept the night before her first tutoring session. In that way, I suppose, it is really different than compulsory education; no one is forcing these students to come into the program, and I know that it is easier and more interesting to teach an engaged learner.

At the moment I am still undecided, however.

Friday, April 20, 2007

Not really worth reading

So, I knew I should have written this earlier in the day, but I got up late and had less than an hour here before leaving for the food bank (to which I arrived about twenty minutes late anyway). It takes me about an hour to write the easy posts - even the short ones start out as much longer and sometimes as about something else entirely.

Now it's after 10pm and I've gotten home after a fundraiser for The Clarence Foundation at which I had three lemon drops and not much in the way of food and I'm sleeeeeeepy. And sore from standing most of the day, including at Dragon Bar where the fundraiser was. I did write today, while I was on the train into SF, but it's not in the shape in which I could just type it into this window.

Think along the lines of "Coming Attractions" while you read the following possible post ideas:

Heroes and their clay feet
Youth doing good works
The Governator's appearance on "Pimp My Ride"
Defensive routes
Camp Odyssey
Reading old journals
Other People's Kids
Peoples Temple

I think part of why my posts have been short lately is because a big section of my mind has been mulling over a lot of things related to Peoples Temple, cults, and my own experience with religion. I haven't been able to synthesize any of it into coherent pieces, let alone one piece. I know I have at least one more Peoples Temple post inside me and I may have two.

Tomorrow I will be at a training all day for the Literacy Plus program so I'm sure I'll have something to say about that as well.

Nighty-night ~

Thursday, April 19, 2007

You can read this

But thirty million Americans can't. The lowest level of literacy in this country is defined as being able to read a bus schedule or total a deposit slip and about 15% of us can't do that. An additional 63 million of us can do that but not much else, which means that they aren't reading to their kids, succeeding in the classroom, working in higher-level positions, or even completing detailed paperwork (like a job application or insurance disclosure) without assistance. All of this is according to the National Assessment of Adult Literacy study done in 2003.

I attended an orientation last week as part of the Literacy Plus program at the library. It was the first step of training; there are all-day trainings both of the next two Saturdays and a follow-up shortly after we are matched with our first "tutees." There were eight people at the orientation, one man, seven women; three retirees; two people who work in schools; four under forty; one who was a literacy tutor in Atlanta before moving here.

We talked about the different roles in which one reads: Family member, someone who pays bills and makes household decisions; worker; community member; and life-long learner. The person leading the orientation asked us to think about what we did that day and separate all the reading we did into the different roles we had played. I hadn't really done much that day except stop by the bank on my way to a healthy checkup appointment in Oakland, but when I broke it down it sounded like a lot.

A) As a family member, I deposited a check, read the Patient's Right to Privacy document requiring my signature, and avoided getting a ticket by reading the street-sweeping-no-parking sign.

B) As a worker, well, I hadn't worked that day at the food bank or the Homework Help program, but I had read the news and the blogs I follow as well as the alumni magazine so I could write this later that evening. Of course I sent and received multiple emails about a number of things.

C) As a community member, I followed the directions to the clinic, and when I got lost getting back to the highway (which often happens to me in Oakland) I read the street signs and the "Entrance 880 North" signs while trying to get back to an 880 South entrance.

D) As a life-long learner, I read the instructions for the appointment (which told me to avoid ingesting anything but water before the appointment), read a memoir while waiting for my appointment, and reviewed the nurse practitioner's summary sheet at the end of the appointment.

I've been reading since before I can remember, and I don't even notice it unless I'm looking at a computer screen or holding a book. The people who had gone into an office and worked that day had even more detailed lists than I, and I was staggered by my own list. Are you?

Wednesday, April 18, 2007

Virginia Tech

After taking Zirpu to BART this morning I turned on KQED radio like always for the NPR feed. Renee Montaigne was reporting on the candlelight vigil held at Virginia Tech last night. Toward the end of the story, Montaigne reports that a few people on one end of the crowd started singing "Amazing Grace" while people on the other started shouting Virginia Tech cheers.

I am really moved by the sound of the cheers drowning out the song. It's the sound of power taking over the sound of sadness.

Tuesday, April 17, 2007

A Birthday

I took my mom to a tattoo parlor today for her birthday.

She's been talking about getting her ears pierced for awhile, and when I mentioned to my food bank buddies that I was going to take my mom to the mall, the FB director said his wife would tell me to go to a piercing parlor. The word from her is that those guns they use in stores can't be totally sterilized, and that if we went to a parlor she would get really clean needles and stuff.

She suggested Braindrops on Hayes and Ashbury. They have a location on Haight but somehow she knew that my mom might not be comfortable with a Haight Street shop. In fact, when I told Mom it was on Hayes, she thought I had said Haight and cried, "I'm going to get my ears pierced on Haight Street?!?!" in a no-way-Jose voice.

The store has a lot of really cool looking jewelry - I saw stuff I liked but would never fit in my (mall-pierced) ears. There is a spiral staircase leading up through a low mirrored ceiling to where they do the tattoos. Paul, the guy who pierced my mom, had five piercings I could see, and tattoos on both arms and one of his hands. I thought she'd be uncomfortable in a place like that, but she totally wasn't. She's very hip, you know.

The FB directors' wife was right about the sanitation: Paul changed his gloves five times before he even picked up the needle. He very carefully went over the aftercare instructions with Mom, detailing the difference between regular soap and antimicrobial soap, and warning her to keep her head out of the water when she goes swimming for the next couple weeks. Mom got stainless steel hoops with carnelian beads. Later Mom and I laughed about our momentary confusion when we read in the instructions that one should soak her ears in a glass of water with a pinch of salt, or if filling a bathtub to use 2-3 cups of salt. It was that moment of forgetting that there are lots of places to pierce below the neck.

So, she got her ears pierced after all these years, and I went to a tattoo parlor with my mom.

Monday, April 16, 2007

National Poetry Month

You may have heard by now that April is National Poetry Month (and if you did hear that, did you hear that the week of April 1-7 is National Root Canal Awareness Week?).

I've been thinking about the poems I wrote earlier in my life, the pathetic ones I wrote in junior high school, and the passionate ones I wrote later that I liked. I haven't written anything more complex than a limerick in ten years and I wrote a song one time, with help from The Killer Lady. I don't know what made that one a song, but it felt different from a poem even while I was writing it. In fact I was almost humming while it was coming together.

My favorite poem is "This Is Just To Say" by William Carlos Williams. I just read that the reader "is free to decide whether it is 'about' temptation, a re-enactment of the fall, or the triumph of the physical over the spiritual." I don't think it's any of these; I think that it's an unadorned and simple refrigerator note. I imagine that the apology is offered before the recipient knows the plums are gone, and in that sense is a confession and a demonstration of honesty: Not for one moment will there be any question about what happened to the plums. Sometimes it is difficult to offer an apology. Receiving one can be as sweet as a plum.

This Is Just To Say
I have eaten
the plums
that were in
the icebox

and which
you were probably
for breakfast

Forgive me
they were delicious
so sweet
and so cold

Sunday, April 15, 2007

I-5 Boogie

Because I went to college and then chose to live 800 miles away from my hometown, I've done the I-5 Boogie to and from the Bay Area a number of times. Once I moved to Portland from Tacoma, I went up to Seattle often, a trip I did so many times that it started to seem as though I would leave Vancouver, blink and leave Olympia, blink and be driving through Tacoma.

My favorite part of the trip north is the section driving past Lake and Mount Shasta. It's pretty year 'round and the road is narrow and twisty, making for interesting driving. My least favorite part is wherever the road becomes the highway through town and I have to change my thought processes from long-distance driving to "pay attention to all this traffic!"

On each occasion I head north, I never feel like the trip has actually started until Dunnigan is receding in the rearview and I am actually on 5. Coming south, I feel like the trip is winding down once I get to Vacaville and 80.

Saturday, April 14, 2007

I'm A Believer!

I never did get around to writing my toast for No and KT's wedding during that week in Mexico. I kept thinking I would and then suddenly it was the wedding day and then it was the reception, and then it was dinner, and I didn't even have a paper napkin to write on. Now that I temporarily have the DVD, I took the time to transcribe my toast. I wanted to share it.

I had given it a lot of thought so I had a pretty specific idea of what I wanted to say. This being No and KT's wedding, where pretty much everything was ad libbed, my little speech came out pretty well. If I had written it down ahead of time, it probably would have come out more smoothly, and I was afraid that without a script I would cry and/or babble, and I did neither.


I'm a big believer in love...

(cries of Yeah! and Woo!)

The first thing is, being an older sister - and those of us are are the older sister, we have a perspective on our younger sibling that might be a little bit less than the most generous.


One of the things that KT has given me is to see No as a man, to see No as a person who is willing and able to take on responsibility and love. And what I would say to everyone here who's loved KT longer than I have - longer than we [meaning Mom and myself] have - is that No will take care of KT. She can take care of herself, but what KT gives No is someone to take care of. No, the most loyal friend, is going to do that always.

Here's to love! Always, always!

**Photos by Michelle Turner.

Friday, April 13, 2007

No Big Deal

Last night around 830 Zirpu and I were coming back from Kaiser and the second session of the diabetes class. We were having an animated discussion about the tree pruning and removal that we are planning - he is planning, which is why it was animated, because I wasn't clear on for much work Zirpu was getting the estimate. Both of us had been extremely annoyed by one of the people in the class, which was adding to the "animation" of our conversation.

Anyway, I was driving a little too fast when we turned off the highway and I didn't feel like I was paying close enough attention. People tend to be a little careless about red lights (and about getting out of the way of emergency vehicles) in Hayward, and I ran a yellow light. We were approaching another light and when I saw it was turning yellow I decided I would stop for it, even though it would be a rather sudden stop.

Did you know that I've had to take two defensive driving courses for jobs I've held in the past? I saw that there was a car waiting to turn right from a gas station, but we were in the left-hand lane. I looked out the rearview mirror to see that there were no cars behind us, and I slammed on the brakes and we stopped. Right afterwards, we got bumped.

I was severely startled. Mind you, the last time I was bumped by another car it was when I got t-boned on the highway and she hit me going probably at least 50mph. My first thought was that we had to get out of the road and was momentarily confused about whether to leave the car in "drive" and move it, or just put it in park and turn on the blinkers.

I asked Zirpu to hop out and talk to the guy. I needed a minute to catch my breath and pull myself together. A minute was about all it took for Zirpu and the other driver to determine that our bumper was slightly scratched on the right corner and he'd lost a left headlight, and neither were worth exchanging information over. Zirpu got back in the car and advised me that "sometimes it's better just to go through the light."

I was furious.

I took a walk when we got home. I could feel that my lower back was cramping up and my left hip was hurting. I figured that the hip was a psychosomatic reaction, and that walking was probably the right thing to do, plus I had some adrenalin that needed expressing. For the first two years after the big wreck my big fear was that I would be in another car accident before I was recovered from that one. One of the reasons I keep doing weight training and in particular exercises for my back and hips is that I think I was in pretty good health when I was in that wreck and wasn't hurt nearly as badly as I could have been. When I wasn't in the best possible health, when I was still recovering, being re-injured was a huge concern for me. I want to be in the best possible health should something like that happen again.

It was no big deal. But it seemed like my body thought it was.

Thursday, April 12, 2007

I realized that I have struck the phrase "drink the Kool-Aid" from my speech.

"No one joins a cult. No one joins something they think is going to hurt them. You join a religious organization, you join a political movement, and you join with people that you really like."

- Deborah Layton Blakeley, who escaped Jonestown in June 1978

I watched "Jonestown: The Life and Death of Peoples Temple" the other day and it's really given me the heebie-jeebies, almost making me physically sick at times. I remember standing outside Saint Mary's Cathedral during George Moscone's funeral, but I remember nothing about Jonestown, which happened the same year. I think this is because at ten years old I didn't read newspapers or watch the news - and anyway I'm fairly certain that had I been a kid who watched the news my mother would have kept me from seeing the pictures from Jonestown.

Things I Didn't Know:

I didn't know that the Jonestowners knew what was in the Kool-Aid; I have always thought that most of them were tricked into drinking it. I didn't know that one person had questioned the plan for "revolutionary suicide." I didn't know that as many as eighty of the thousand people in Jonestown survived, most of them because they were not there that day. I thought only a few had lived through it by hiding under bunks or in the fields, like Jews in Nazi-occupied countries. I didn't know that elderly people went to Guyana because I didn't know that Peoples Temple had a lot of middle-aged and elderly members. I thought it was full of a bunch of young people from SF or new to SF, a city famous for seekers, who were sucked into Jones' church because they were looking for answers to their own questions and to social problems and he seemed to have answers for both.

I'm sure everyone made what seemed like (to them) rational decisions all along. It sounds like, though, that people's ability to think for themselves was usurped, through lack of sleep and through total involvement in Peoples Temple and Jim Jones' charisma. How do you know when you've allowed someone else to do all your thinking for you? If you can't think for yourself, how do you question it, especially if you are totally isolated by fear while surrounded by others who are equally isolated? How do you know when the leader is going crazy, when there's no one there to tell you so?

Every time the subject of Jonestown comes up my mother says that the butcher at Petrini's from whom she used to buy meat lost his daughter in Jonestown. When I was talking to her the other day about this documentary I'd just seen and about the Moscone/Milk murders, she said in a very sad voice still full of helplessness, "Jonestown was the last of the murders. That was a terrible, terrible time. A terrible time."

Wednesday, April 11, 2007

Published again!

The Hayward Daily Review has published me again! About three weeks ago they asked for people to submit recipes for macaroni and cheese and I submitted mine. Well, I should put "mine" in quotations because it really belongs to the Moosewood Restaurant, I just don't bother with the topping and I put in more cheese than their recipe calls for.

I sent in my recipe because I knew it was likely to get published with its probably lower amounts of calories, fat, sodium, and cholesterol, and because regular mac-n-cheese, good as it is, is just so darn bad for you. Indeed, compared to the other recipes submitted it does have lower numbers, though I wouldn't turn up my nose if offered any of them. I think they all sound good, even the Velveeta one, because there are two places for Velveeta and they are mac-n-cheese and Ro-Tel dip. I wanted a version that would give people an option and who knows, maybe even introduce some folks to Westernized ways to use tofu.

I'm particularly proud of "Lest you mac-a-holics think the tofu version isn't worth trying, let it be said it was the very favorite of more than one taster." My brother, himself a fantastic mac-n-cheese maker, and his wife (hee, hee, so fun to write that!) also really like it.

I told a friend that the Review had contacted me saying they planned to publish my recipe and she said it means that I can now never compete in the Pillsbury Bake-Off. I think it means that I'm more of a housewife than I think I am. Never mind the fact that I am a poor baker with few specialties, I looked up the rules: Because I haven't been paid for my "food writing" I could still compete if I wanted to enter.

Now I'm off to the newspaper office to get a couple more copies of today's food section.

Tuesday, April 10, 2007

The Dragon Lady

I read in my college alumni magazine that one of my professors is retiring this year. I was intimidated by her from the beginning because she had questioned my ability, as a mere first-term sophomore, to keep up with a 300-level history course. She was stern in class and demanding on papers, which we had to write every week. I was majoring in English so I wrote pretty well but even so I received back papers bleeding corrections and suggestions all over them. I said"groovy" in a discussion once and she let me know that word was too casual for an academic setting.

I respected her, but she scared me, so I called her The Dragon Lady.

One afternoon, perhaps as class was starting (because I can't imagine the context otherwise), she walked from the window side of the room to the middle and announced, "On my fiftieth birthday, I turned to my husband and said, 'I thought growing up would be easier than this, and I thought I'd be done with it by now."

As I remember it we all looked at her, mouths agape. Not only was everyone intimidated by her, but we were all under 22 years old. At the time I was thinking it was a funny thing to say to a bunch of people half or less of her age.

Now I know that it's the most valuable thing I learned all semester. I tell stories about my professors, but The Dragon Lady is the only one I quote word-for-word.

Monday, April 9, 2007

Taking a risk

My dental office is on Mission Street. Even once I started working in the east bay I stayed with them, because although the dentists (and the owners) have changed several times, it's the only office I've ever been in where I haven't had to explain my teeth x-rays to the hygienists. The dentists have all been great too. I was just there for a cleaning (thank you Sonicare!) so the appointment didn't last long, but I was pretty hungry by the time I got out of there since it's my habit to not eat before visiting the dentist.

I was walking up Mission to the BART station and thinking about breakfast. I was considering a coffee-and-pastry type breakfast when I looked up and saw a restaurant window filled with Latino men in baseball caps and jackets. I can't remember the name of the restaurant but I went right over: !Huevos Rancheros! I love huevos rancheros and I've never had them in Mexico or even in Texas. I think part of the appeal is that I love to eat with my fingers and I love eating things wrapped in tortillas with beans. I sat at a little table and ordered HRs, over medium, and decaf coffee.

Now, I knew that ordering decaf was a risk, but I was on my way to work and I needed to be able to concentrate. It wasn't even 10am so I thought it was a strong possibility that the pot on the coffeemaker had been cooking there for at least an hour if not since the place had opened. I've had my coffee snob days and am over it - besides, I like milk in my coffee.

The waitress returned shortly with a small plate on which were sitting a coffee cup, a few sugar packets, several little plastic cup things of half-and-half (what are those called, anyway? They look like really big white thimbles) and a little teapot. I thought something along the lines of "How classy, they brought me my own little coffeepot."

As is my wont (ha ha, I've always wanted to write that) I poured the milk into the cup first. I then picked up the little silver coffeepot and poured steaming-hot water into the milk.

One of the sugar packets was actually a packet of Sanka.

Sunday, April 8, 2007

Between bad and bad...

Perhaps you've heard that there's a big stink over Don Imus calling the Rutgers University women's basketball team "some nappy-headed hos" and his apology for doing so. MSNBC, which carries the show, can't get far away enough too quickly - though so far no one at his home station, WFAN, or his distributor, Westwood One, is saying anything about canning him.

I have never listened to him as my taste in talk radio runs to NPR, PRI, and the BBC on KQED Radio. It should be said also that I do not follow college or professional basketball.

On Tuesday morning, when Rutgers' [Women] Scarlet Knights and the Tennessee Lady Volunteers would be playing in the NCAA championship game that night, Imus and his producer Bernard McGuirk, who seems to be some kind of idiot in his own right, were discussing it when:

Imus: "That's some rough girls from Rutgers. Man, they got tattoos ..."

McGuirk: "Some hardcore ho's."

Imus: "That's some nappy-headed ho's there, I'm going to tell you that."

Since then Imus has been falling all over himself to apologize for the racist remark and, I understand, will be appearing on Al Sharpton's radio program tomorrow (4/9) despite the fact that Sharpton is clear he wants Imus fired.

What I don't hear anyone pointing out is that McGuirk's remark was disrespectful toward women, in particular these women, by calling them "ho's" in the first place. It's all about Imus and "nappy-headed" and that Imus should get fired, with only one story pointing out that there were sexist remarks made as well as racist ones. Nothing I've seen says anything about McGuirk at all, except in excerpts like the one I've posted above.

I'm definitely not saying that there shouldn't be consequences for racist remarks. I just don't get why there's not even half the stink about the sexist remark by the sidekick.

Oh, wait, those last five words are probably why. . .

Update: Someone else makes the point in the SF Chronicle on 4/10.

Another update: Imus lost his job on 4/12 because advertisers were leaving in droves. Because everyone else and her brother commented on the Imus remarks (and eventually others were pointing out the sexist remarks as well) I suppose I sound like "just one more voice" that was ranting. I had no idea it would receive so much attention - and, of course, neither did Imus or NBC...

Too bad Ann Coulter doesn't have a radio program from which she could get canned.

Saturday, April 7, 2007

Dear Diary

I listened to part of Prairie Home Companion today, a rebroadcast celebrating spring. I suspect that it might have been a show put together from pieces of other shows, rather than a regular rerun, because Garrison Keillor never announced the original broadcast date. One of the sections was a singer named Sally Dworsky reading from the diary of Mary Theresa Hill, the wife of railroad magnate James J. Hill, about the family's trip to Paris in the spring of 1900. Ms. Dworsky sang some of the sections from which she was reading, like one about "Papa" and their daughters going to the flower market - lovely because it wasn't a song with rhyme and meter, just simple description and music.

I was listening to this diary being read on "PHC" and found myself thinking about Mrs. Hill and her record of every day goings-on, like taking a carriage to Versailles and attending a formal but "quite pleasant" dinner party. I don't imagine that she was writing for posterity, but here were her words about a bothersome cough being read on the radio (a very, very new invention at the time), over 100 years later. She may have been writing to keep a record to tell her friends at home, or just to express herself honestly at a time when she probably wasn't able to do so with other people.

When I was in fifth grade I read Harriet The Spy by Louise Fitzhugh and Anne Frank's The Diary of a Young Girl (both, incidentally, banned at different times). I may have been an impressionable ten year old but those books have had a lifelong influence on me: I started keeping a journal, generally in black-speckled comp books like Harriet uses.

I think I had an idea that someone might read them in forty years and find out how a girl grew up in the 1980s... though I didn't report that much on my neighbors like Harriet and as it's turned out so far I haven't lived through "history being made" like Anne did. I probably also thought that I could later mine the notebooks for characters, plots, and what I later learned is called "an honest voice" whenever I started writing novels. Which was Harriet's plan, too.

Friday, April 6, 2007

FA, Far away

Two months ago I wrote about how I used to identify with being a Financial Aid Administrator. These days I feel like that is far, far away. In fact, I feel closer to my job at Letty Owings, which I left in 1998, than I do to being an FAA, even though I just left that last year.

An acquaintance of mine writes a blog called "Finding the Right College." In January I wrote a post for his blog, and I offered to write another one about how to read award letters. Finally I did, but it took me a couple weeks to actually sit down and do it. When I did, I felt like I was going into the back room in my mom's basement to get something I haven't used in a long time. I had to check FinAid because I remembered hearing that USED was going to raise the loan limit for freshmen but I haven't been paying close enough attention to the CASFAA listserv to know for sure if they did.

There is a huge student-loan scandal going on right now, and I probably was acquainted with people at at least one of the schools involved and I knew lots of people on the lender's side. I know that if I were still an FAA I would be talking about this with my colleagues every day, but I'm out of touch with all but one of my friends from what I think of as my FA days. Because I'm not an FAA now, the scandal is barely a blip on my radar screen.

At the same time, the CASFAA newsletter editor had sent out a request for news for the "Transitions" section of the newsletter. Usually these announcements are people's news about new jobs, marriages, or babies (it seems like there are a lot of people in FA, but in fact it's a small industry: If you didn't work with someone once, someone you work with now used to). I decided to send in a little announcement about what I'm doing, and I really had to work hard to come up with something that sounds like I plan to return to higher ed at the end of this "year on." What I sent in was pretty weak, but it was something.

It was hard to write the "Transitions" thing because I'm not totally sure I will return to FA. Anything can happen in a year and no one knows what's going to happen (least of all me, which is why this blog is called "Always Learning" and not, for example, "Always Right") so I'm not shutting the door in any way. Like I said above, though: FA seems far away. It feels like I'm moving in a line away from it rather than in a parabola.

Thursday, April 5, 2007

Striking It Rich... And Just Striking

The big news yesterday was that by the end of the first quarter, Hillary Clinton had raised $26 million dollars and Barack Obama had raised $25 million dollars for their respective campaigns for president.

Fifty-one million dollars. $51,000,000. That's a lot of money, to buy ads, to print flyers and postcards, to pay campaign workers, to travel, and to do all the other stuff candidates do to get people to vote for them. Not only does not everyone vote for one candidate, but a lot of people just don't vote at all, wasting a lot of that money.


The teachers in Hayward started striking today for better pay. What's at issue is that the teachers want a 16.84% pay raise and the Hayward Unified School District, as of this morning, was offering between 7% and 8.6%. They already gave a 16.84% raise to a couple of superintendents last year and the teachers are asking for the same amount. It should be noted that teachers pay 100% of their health benefits; a teacher I spoke with today said she spends a third of her salary on benefits for herself and her children.

It seems that a lot of students and parents are honoring the strike, with so few students and substitutes showing up at Mount Eden High that administrators tell the students to either go home or work in the school's gym. Parents saw the striking teachers at Lorin Eden Elementary and didn't drop off their kids.

I could not find out how many regular, full-time teachers are in the district, but the Hayward USD includes twenty elementary schools, five middle schools, and three high schools (as well as two adult schools and student assessment centers).

$51,000,000 divided by 33 is a little over $1.54 million dollars per school.

Wednesday, April 4, 2007

Corporate education

I've been following the discussion and debate about the reach of corporations into schools, ranging from Coke machines in the hallways to Channel One's commercials in the classrooms. There is certainly the position of the cash-strapped school districts, which can receive a portion of proceeds from vending machine sales, or which need "someone else" (read: fast food companies) to manage their cafeterias so they don't have to pay for workers, and sometimes need some inexpensive (free) way to engage students in learning. There are also the people who wonder about the health of the kids when they're drinking and eating food with high fat and high sugar content - food that kids would eat if they were able to leave campus at lunch, and who worry about a captive TV audience. I had heard that companies were providing classroom materials, but that they were mostly science or environment programs with questionable objectivity.

Full disclosure: I went to high school years before Channel One, and anyway we only had four TV sets in the whole place. Hostess stuff was available for purchase and I usually got an apple pie three times a week. Few people ever left campus for lunch, because it was only 36 minutes long and the nearest McDonald's was 15 minutes away. When people left campus at lunch time it was to sit in someone's car and make out, smoke dope, or drink wine. I didn't do any of those things so I never left campus.

Yesterday at the library I was helping a third grader with his reading comprehension homework (the first part of which was me saying, "Settle down and read this so you don't have to do this later"). The article he was reading was about the Wham-O toy company. The first paragraph was a short overview of the company, and each following paragraph described one toy for which Wham-O is famous, without actually naming the toy. On the back side of the page, there was a message to the parent about how the purpose of the exercise was to determine if the student could figure out the main message of the article. There were also some questions the student had to answer:

What are the three toys described in the article?

What is the main thing you remember about Wham-O from the article?

What is your favorite Wham-O toy? Hint: Which Wham-O toy do you have at home?

My student had never heard of a Slip-n-Slide so I just told him the answer. I don't usually do that but it's not a very common product around here, and he knew the other two were the Hula Hoop and the Frisbee. Without any prompting from me he wrote that the main thing he remembers from the article is that "Wham-O makes great toys" and that his favorite Wham-O toy is the Frisbee, "because," he said, "that's the only one we have."

It was so obvious to me that this article, probably provided free of charge to the school, was really about creating brand recognition in the 7-to-9 year old set. So now I've seen it with my own eyes.

*For the record, this student does not attend a public school.

Tuesday, April 3, 2007

More thoughts on the Seder

Last night's Seder plate, clockwise from left: Lamb shank; parsley; matzo; roasted egg; charoset; horseradish; an orange in the center. Manishewitz Concord Grape Wine and Kedem Grape Juice are the traditional beverages, though most people prefer a wine that isn't as sweet as Manishewitz.

Having had some time to mull over what I was feeling last night, I'm following up.

Firstly, that warm feeling was the feeling that I was sitting with Shmeen and her family even though we are a couple hundred miles apart from each other. That's community!

I've thought more about why the phrase "This is what G-d did for me when He brought me out of Egypt" (which is how I learned it, a slightly different version than the one we used last night) strikes such a chord with me. It's because it says that there is nothing between me and the Divine; that the Divine is directly interested and paying attention to my life. I call this the Universe, but the idea is the same: Wasn't it Gandhi, a Jain, who said that God is known by many names?

Monday, April 2, 2007

Passover Seder

I attended a Seder this evening for the first time in several years, and a Seder on the first night of Passover for the first time in many years.

I literally got a warm feeling thinking that as I was at the home of friends in Oakland, Shmeen and her family were doing the exact same thing we were doing: Telling the story of the Exodus. And it wasn't just us, my group and Shmeen's, but Jews all over the west coast were sitting down to the Seder. It seems that each Seder is a little different, depending on not just the kind of religious observance each group keeps, but also on the family traditions and rituals, new and old, that have become part of the Seder. Additionally, people add and subtract from their family Haggadah as they incorporate their own beliefs, practices, and parts of other Haggadot.

In the past the part of the script that has meant the most for me is in response to the wicked child or the wicked person, who asks, "What is this [celebration, story, observance] to you? [Why do you tell this story of being led out of Egypt?]" The answer is, "It is because of what G-d did for me when I went forth from Egypt." I'm not a religious person and I don't even believe in that God, but for some reason, it has always felt like the line between me and my ancestors is direct and tangible.

This evening, however, the piece that struck me was when I read (we passed the leadership around the table):

"...For it has not been just one person alone who has stood against us to destroy us;
but in every generation, groups and movements have arisen who have sought to destroy us.
In each generation, we have come together with the help of the Holy One and sustained each other and were delivered from their hands."

Perhaps because this is the first Seder I've attended that was specifically designed for a queer group, which we were, with our personal awareness of and experiences with oppression and freedom. Perhaps it was because I've read a couple of books about the Nazi era recently, about those who were not saved ("The Lost: A Search for Six of Six Million") and those who were ("Schindler's List").

I will be writing more about this tomorrow when I have had some time to think all of this through.

Sunday, April 1, 2007

Following up on forgetting

I received my inheritance from my grandmother with a formal note from my aunt on Thursday. It brought up a bunch of crap about how I'm angry that my aunt is angry at me and has not accepted my apologies (as I've already discussed). I'm also sad that there is someone out there who doesn't like me when I have done EVERYTHING I can think of, everything I've been trained to do, to close the loop and make it better. Part of it is also that my aunt stands between me and No and anything of my father's that my grandmother had (photos, letters, etc.) and that by all rights No and I should receive. I was talking to my mom about "the thing with my aunt" and really, her advice was to just let it go, because why would I want to fix a relationship with someone as "toxic" (her word) to me as this aunt?

Mom is right. I think I've felt upset because I've felt an obligation to this aunt because she is Dad's sister. But I'm her dead brother's daughter and who knows what she's feeling. My mother is a saint to have maintained a connection with my dad's family for the sake of No and myself, because the relationship with them was difficult for her.

Mom said that she would talk to my aunt about anything Noah and I "should" have. I think my aunt might think she should have them because he was her brother, but Mom says my aunt's mellowed as she's gotten older. Nothing in my experience as an adult leads me to think she is generous at all. But we'll see - and at least I don't have to feel responsible for that conversation.

As nice as it is that she sent our inheritances, I am more interested in photos and stuff. When I was there in '96 our grandmother gave me the yarmulke and tallit that Dad wore for his bar mitzvah, as well as a few pictures, one of which is below:

I immediately gave the yarmulke and tallis to No, even though I knew he wouldn't use them. Maybe he and KT will have a child who will choose to bar or bat mitvah and will wear them.

So I am letting go of the aunt thing. Watch me...