Friday, December 31, 2010


it's new year's eve, which seems to call for some sort of statement.  resolutions, wise observations,  witty comments on the passing year.  all of which seems beyond me at the moment.  personally it's been a pretty good year.  thanks to this blog i've written more of my own stuff than i have in years.  i'm mega grateful for the 'co-authoring' i've done for others, especially susan love, and --book plug warning--the fifth edition of the breast book that came out in october.  i'm proud of that writing, which is more creative than it may sound; and being part of susan's important work is in itself pride-worthy.  but the blog is more directly mine, and the fact that it actually gets read, sometimes by people i don't know in countries around the world, is encouraging.  further this was the year i finally caved in and got onto facebook, so i know what friends i never see are up to, and above all, what castle kids past are doing.

politically, what can i add? obama has still been better than anyone else would have been ---mc cain and  palin are even scarier now than they were when they were campaigning.  but the democrats have proven the accuracy of most leftists' cynicism; mostly wimps at bests and collaborators with the rich and richer at worst.  the cynicism of the republicans' overt lying is fairly depressing, and of course their wins in november are horrifying.

sarah palin sees herself as mama grizzly; i see her as mama 'alien,' with her spawn destroying human lives--those ghastly, unintelligent, smarmy females who certainly prove that women can be as vile as men, given half a chance.  it's been fun watching jan brewer's meltdown, sharon engle's pompous comparisons of herself to thomas jefferson and jesus, and of course the ever popular non-witch and antisexual flirt christine o'donnell.  and perhaps it's somewhat comforting to learn that except for the already-in -power brewer, they lost.  even more comforting to see the loss of the official republican [male] candidate in alaska to the snubbed incumbent with her write-in campaign.  i'd certainly rather have seen the democrat win, but mckowski is a big step past miller, and the write-in's success comes close to real democracy.

don't ask don't tell.  a shaky  victory, given who will be in congress next year.  but a victory nonetheless.

echoes of old songs--the rich get richer and the poor get poorer; empty pockets don't ever make the grade. it will be a hell of a year, for the unemployed, the underemployed, the lower middle class, and the people even obama is terrified to mention----the poor.  the rhetoric of liberals can no longer embrace that class, as though being poor is important only as a danger to the middle class, not as a horrible reality for those who never got near middle class. more islamophobia seems inevitable, more gay bashing.

maybe, maybe, maybe  more resistance.  the memory of those 800 emerson kids marching against the homophobes is warming.    one hopes. i hope.

happy and productive new year.....

Friday, December 17, 2010

Scylla and Charybdis--and the Democrats

So they have passed The Bill.  the compromise that, depending on who you listen to, really was or wasn't a compromise.  progressives are vehemently divided on this point, within and outside of the Democratic Party.  the one clear thing that  is that no progressive liked it. even obama, who has proven himself far from progressive, didn't like it.  but with the recent elections, the Democrats were trapped between two awful choices, so obama and most of the congressional democrats went with what they felt was the least awful one.  scylla and charybdis.

interesting story, the original s&c.  as the Odyssey tells it, in order to get home to Ithaca, Odysseus and his crew had to go past one or the other.  Scylla was a multiheaded monster who swallowed up all who came close to her; Charybdis was a giant whirlpool.  Scylla would kill six men, one per head.  Charybdis would kill them all.  Odysseus chose the lesser horror.  end of story.

but not quite.  there was a third option, about which Odysseus lied.  "Of Scylla I said nothing," Odysseus narrates, "lest my friends, held fast by fear, desert their oars and cringe down in the hold."
in fact, his "friends"--the sailors he commanded--would likely have done more than that.  they were leaving a paradise,  ruled by the beautiful demigoddess Circe, who would have been perfectly willing to have them stay.  It was 20 years since the men had left Ithaca; some, maybe all, might have preferred to stay on the goddess's island rather than risk a terrible death on the hope of getting home.  So Odysseus lied to them, and in the end, after many more deadly adventures, all but he himself died.

So now, we have a Democrat who, during two years of an administration, has clung to his
precious but peculiar goal of 'compromise'  with an enemy no more interested in compromise than Scylla or Charybdis.  he betrayed a constituency that had believed in his rhetoric of change.  doubtless he was fooling himself as well as us, making him perhaps less culpable but also less shrewd than Odysseus. and no less dangerous to the people that followed him.  he ended up with a new mega-conservative majority in Congress.  he still bleats his favorite word, 'compromise,' as though the situation he helped create will somehow make the conservatives more, rather than less, willing to negotiate. his scylla will swallow up her fewer victims, leaving a few temporarily better off.  in the long run, i very much fear we'll end up with Charybdis after all.


compromise makes strange bedfellows.  let me be clear; i believe in getting rid of the pernicious 'don't ask don't tell' policy, for the obvious reason that it is a result of bigotry.  it has to go.  but there is something odd about fighting to get more people in the military, so they can risk their own lives and very likely kill other people in a war that two presidents have foisted on us.  leftists of my generation spent a lot of time marching against the war of our youth, encouraging young men to avoid the draft in whatever ways they could. in stirring demonstrations, some of the bravest [or most reckless] among these men publicly  burned their draft cards. These soldiers of anti-battle  helped pave the way for the elimination of draft cards and of the draft itself.  Remember 'what if they gave a war and no one came?'?  i have recently made contact, after many years, with a friend i last saw when some of us visited him in canada, where he had fled and where he happily remains.  some straight guys pretended to be gay in order to get that coveted 4F--the category for draft-age men whose health or other factors caused the military to reject them.  some stayed underground in the US. some went to jail.

there's  no more draft, but there are two grim wars with countries that the US invaded.  and now we find ourselves in the absurd but necessary position of protesting the wars while trying to enable more soldiers to fight in them.  so what would i say to a young gay or lesbian fighting to fight?  passionately i would support them: you have every right to be an army along with straight people.  passionately i would then add, but for god's sake, don't do it!

dear old sylla! dear old charybdis!  dear old dying, disintegrating planet!


[Each year, my holiday greeting card is a poem, which keeps me writing poetry at least once a year. so here is my season's greeting to you all....including, most certainly my new FB buddies]

Stained glass refracting churchlight rays and
the chorus singing like it knows it's sacred.

In the back seat, alone, an old lady cuddles
a doll she thinks is jesus.
When they sing silent night she mouths the words quietly
and tears fill her eyes.

Who is she?
She could be you, she could be me.
It is the holiest of evenings: she could even be god.

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

God Help Us, Everyone

i love christmas. i love it fiercely, passionately,  irrationally.  i loved it as a catholic child, and i have loved it as much through my adult life as a quasi-pagan agnostic.  i love the tackiness that has grown into it over the past century, as much as i hate the crass-materialism  that infests it.  capitalism and banal religion, those inevitable bedfellows, have tainted it, turning the impulse to give and the love of ceremony into greed, competitiveness, and pettyness of soul no grinch could possibly match. but they can't destroy it.  for one thing, it's older than its specific origins.  it goes far back into pagan, and probably pre-pagan, times.  sun-worship, tree worship, fear of dark and of winter cold, huddling together for survival.  for another, its own variant of the ancient myth is indescribably moving:  hope, love, redemption, born where it is least expected, and in the least expected form, the birth of a lower-class infant.   that child in the manger. that poverty-born outcast of the rich. i can never understand how  so many apparent believers in that child can claim in his name the right to be rich, the right to throw away the health and lives of other children.  anyway, i'm digressing, and this is about to turn into a different piece than i want to write now.  the point is, i love christmas and its images of faith-hope-and, the greatest of these, charity.

so, 'tis the season.  for a lot of stuff, including the annual battle to keep christ in christmas, by god!  it starts each year with the first signs that anyone who isn't christian dares to challenge the celebration of the myth.  one of the glories of this country is that we are not a theocracy.  no one denies that christianity is the dominant belief system; that the puritan forefolk were christians determined to live out their own form of christianity but whose beliefs didn't appear to extend to those who lived out other visions of ultimate truth.  nonetheless, as the various states and statelets started moving toward nationhood, someone figured out that it was a bad idea to have any religion control the law.

we have continued growing into a multi-beliefed society.  most christians seem to accept that. some have even learned to respect the range of other beliefs.  but  too often this apparent tolerance is merely condescension.  if you're dumb enough to believe something different, go right ahead.  just let me do everything i want. don't impose your belief, or even worse, your disbelief, on my awareness. we are 'tolerant,' as long as nothing gets in our way.

christmas brings this out, bigtime.  some jews, some atheists, some agnostics don't want christianity shoved in their faces.  they know it will be--they're not stupid.  they walk past churches every day. they realize that people's lawns will have plastic mangers with haloed virgins and haloed babies with kings and shepherds  kneeling plastically in front of them.

but some unChristians prefer not to see such images in spaces defined as public.  it's one thing to walk past neighbors' homes and churches; it's another to be accosted by an alien faith in non-parochial schools, courthouses, or other places that are part of all our lives.

it isn't really a lot to ask.  if citizenry is shared, it has no business being represented by symbols of a specific religious creed.  and for the most, that's all the nonbelievers are asking.  whether santa claus has much of the 'saint' remaining in his iconography is dabateable, but who really suffers when we get frosty the snowman in his place?

i have an uncle who is a lovely person, but who gets upset when people want to eliminate christian iconography from public places.  he is convinced that they are trying to eliminate it from private places.  last year he told me that he was going to put a christmas tree up in his living room, and no one could stop him.  i assured him that no one was trying to.  finally i offered a promise.  if anyone tried to stop him from having a tree in his house or indeed anywhere on his property, i would enlist the help of the ACLU to defend his christmas tree.

personally i like the trees. and i love the creches.   as a kid, i went with my mother and brothers to 6 o'clock mass on christmas morning--we walked in the dark, and at the end of the sparsely attended mass we went up the creche and lit candles to the baby jesus and his mother.  when we left, it had turned light, and that banal, daily miracle of morning merged with the miracle of jesus's birth. the church, and the world around it, smelled of holiness. it's one of my few happy catholic memories.  i'm glad there are christians who have creches in their churches, in their houses, on their lawns.  i get to see them there; why do i have to see them in community spaces?

of course, the hard core atheists can be something of a bore. and sometimes, inadvertantly comical. a friend once told me of  her neighbor, a very serious marxist, who in mockery of religion,  put up a tree one christmas and decorated it with hammers-and-sickels. point made, she thought, looking at the tree through his window.  she thought the same thing the next year--and every year thereafter. she wondered when it had ceased to be mere mockery and became instead a ritual followed...well, religiously.

but atheists, like followers of any religion, vary greatly, as H.L. Mencken showed in a wonderfully funny 1944  New Yorker story. 'there are as many variations in doctrine between infidels as between christians,' he wrote.  i have seen such variations among my atheist friends, some of whom i think of as  fundamentalists.  two such freinds, unacquainted with each other, faced serious and life-threatening illnesses, and each declared that we were not to pray for them.  the less orthodox of them softened his ultimatum: if we wanted to pray for him, he couldn't stop us, but he insisted that we do it quietly and not tell him about it. i refrained from asking him if that was also true of sending healing light, and assumed that i had the same rights as his prayer-prone acquaintances. i have sent light for years.

 i made the mistake of reassuring my other friend that i didn't pray, i sent light. she was appalled and made me promise never to send her light.  i asked if i could wish her luck, and she said, certainly, and she wished me luck as well.  i have honored the promise i made her, and in my daily ritual, i lurch out of the white light long enough to silently wish her luck.  if a little light sometimes seeps into the luck, there's nothing i can do about it.

 my other atheist friends are fine with it; pray, send light, invoke the roman or hindu gods; it doesn't bother them.  they like people wishing them well.

 though these freinds are scions of a long line of atheist jews, they have no problem with christmas.  in fact, we always spend christmas together, along with my ex-catholic brother and his culturally jewish wife, who have too much  skepticism to embrace atheism.  my freinds enjoy my wishing them merry christmas, and they wish me the same.  they could as easily wish me happy hanukkah or happy Eid or happy Saturnalia--they like happy.

i have other jewish friends who dislike christmas intensely; for them, the birth of jesus was the beginning of centuries of oppression, and they try to get past the season with as little attention to it as possible. they don't like hearing 'merry christmas.'  astonishingly, to me, they have friends who insist on wishing them merry christmas and even on giving them christmas presents.

 it seems to me to a deeply unchristian, and bizarre, thing to do.  why, celebrating the idea of love of one's fellow human, would they inflict discomfort on others?   if you're going to make someone feel less merry, haven't you pretty much defeated your own purpose?

if this is 'politically correct,' as so many people love to say with a sneer, so be it.  'p.c.' is an unfortunate expression, whose inventors have no doubt lived to regret it.  what politically correct really comes down to is doing unto others as you would have them do unto you.  i don't want people to shove their ideals down my throat. i don't want to use  an expression of joy as a slap in the face.  if this means saying 'happy holidays' instead of 'merry christmas' to people who might find that phrase offensive, i can manage that [though i find it funny that religious people object to hearing wishes for happy holy-days].  if i have reason to think someone doesn't like even 'happy holidays', i can try to shut up about it altogether.

one of my favorite small, perfect  moments occured a few years ago at the end of the semester. as the students dribbled out of the last class, i wished most of them a happy holiday. one was a boston-irish lad, and i grinned and said, 'you, i can wish a merry christmas!' and he beamed at me. he was followed by a quiet young muslim; i was pretty sure there wasn't a muslim holiday upcoming, so i wished him a good break from classes. he smiled gravely and said, 'merry christmas.'

that was a gift, a magi-worthy gift.  it was offered in the spirit of whatever good force exists among us,  from whatever source it comes.   and i remember it and cherish it every year. is this  politically correct? sentimental? i can plead guilty to both.  and to anyone who reads this, i wish the joy of every season, in whatever way joy offers itself to you. you can't get much merrier than that.

Thursday, December 2, 2010

The Stupidest Legend in the World

i enjoy legends;  they're rarely realistic, and they tend to lack the depth of real mythology.  but they're fun and romantic and often tell us something about the ways we think.  then today i came across this one, in a catalogue called 'collectables.'  it seemed so bizarre that i wondered if they had made it up, so i ran to my computer and googled it. yep, there it is.

the product is a lovely pendant and earring set with images of the forget-me-not.  there are several legends about this flower, some more interesting or reasonable than others.  but here's the one the catalogue used:

in medieval times, a knight and his lady were walking along a river. he saw the flowers and bent down to create a bouquet. alas, the weight of his armor pulled him into the river, and he drowned.  but as he was going down, he threw her the bouquet, crying 'forget me not.' and since then women wear them as signs of faithful and enduring love.

none of the places i looked said when the legend began, but i'd guess at the height of 19th century romanticism.  it certainly didn't began with anyone who knew anything about the middle ages.

why is this guy wearing armor to walk along the river with his beloved?   i'm not a scholar in the field, but i know enough to be pretty sure you didn't wear your armor for courting, or for any reason at all except a battle or a joust.  the stuff is heavy!  and if you've fallen in the water but are close enough to the shore to throw a bouquet to someone on the ground, you're probably close enough to grab onto the shore and dig in until she can get someone to come and help yank her idiot lover out of the water.  unless of course she's too busy laughing at you.  in which case, women would wear the flowers as a sign warning other women  not to get involved with madmen who are running all over the place in their armor. faithful and enduring, indeed......

Saturday, November 20, 2010

emerson college dancers..a not-quite-review

i never go to modern dance, and i have long since decided that rock is the devil's answer to music and that with the death of irving berlin the last hope of bearable pop music was gone.

and so there i was, in an orchestra seat close to the stage, watching modern dancers dancing modernly to music that, for the most part, ranged from early-ugly to hip hop hideous.  [there was a wonderful interlude of sorts when a bunch of them tap-danced to 'singin' in the rain,'  but halfway through, that morphed into some sort of rap piece, though the dancers tapped gamely on.]

in spite of this, i enjoyed myself immensely.  i was there because some of the members of the 90-person dance club were former students of mine, of whom i am immensely fond [yes, that's right; they were castle kids] who needed a 'supervisor' from emerson's faculty or staff,  because it was held at an off-campus site. since there were three time slots that they needed filled, they were approaching all the credentialed folk they knew.  and i, as always, was putty in the hands of a castle dweller.

actually, they were a pleasure to watch.  they were all clearly talented, and all hard working.  and they included a nice range of dance skills, though it was heavy on the rock-rap modern side.  still there were the terrific tap dancers and, in one piece, three ballet dancers, on toe---to me the most beautiful single position the human body can achieve.  then, creating variation within variation, there was a routine from a guest company, the newly formed cheerleaders club.  i have my political issues with the whole idea of cheerleading, but how could i possibly fault the skill and bravery of these very athletic young women?

it was also fun seeing kids i was used to seeing sporting torn jeans and t- shirts and  stumbling through questions about the Odyssey, now fluidly and confidently moving their bodies into and out of positions that made my own flaccid muscles ache at the sight:, it was what we like to call these days a humbling experience.  i fear that being a 'supervisor' was the closest i'll ever come, or ever could have come, to that suppleness.

i wondered why they were doing their show so far from the campus, and decided it must be because this 800-seat main stage at Roxbury Community College was such a good theatre for a large dance troup.  but when i asked one of the dancers about it later, she said they'd wanted to do it at emerson, but that all the emerson venues had been booked up, even with the three new sites in the old paramount theatre that the college had bought.  it seemed a pity; i thought an emerson performance space would attract a bigger audience.  but i had no need to worry; they had sold out quickly, and were having to turn down reservations.  

still it seemed strange.  last night i had been to a performance at the college's largest theatre, in which another educational institution, the new england conservatory of music, put on a delightful 'magic flute.' this is an old arrangement; i've been going to the NECE's major student performance there every year. but i find it peculiar to see another college's performance at an emerson theatre when an emerson group wasn't able to find space at any of the college's performance areas.  ah well, i'm in neither  marketing nor the performing arts, and their processes are mysterious to me. clearly the somewhat out-of-the-way venue didn't put off dancers or audience members, and there's no question that it's a great theatre for such a performance.  and for myself, i got to sit back and enjoy the show---and to get brownie points for my generosity in doing so!

i do hope that emerson knows how good these kids are, and what a credit they are to the college.  wherever they perform, these are 'emerson kids,' poster-people for what students can do in the extra-curricular vocations they pursue.  what a credit they are to the image of college students!  i left feeling honored to have been part of their club for those three hours.

Sunday, November 14, 2010


i never  used to watch weather--the seasons within each season, the daily differences in apparent sameness. now i watch it all the time. autumn is the most amazing season to me, both for weather and for its memories.  september is the beginning of the real new year.  summer has been quiet, moody, sometimes cruel in its insistence on feeling like vacation when, once you're past grade school, life rarely goes along with the feeling.  you want to be outdoors in the summer, or you want to want to be outdoors.  you feel you should be on the beach, or at least your backyard sipping lemonade from a package that pretends to be real lemonade like grandma used to make, whether grandma ever made lemonade or not.  i have an almost religious attachment to having iced coffee in the afternoon: summer begins with putting coffee cups away and ends with digging them out again.

autumn is a season of renewal as much as of dying, and that commonplace paradox always hits me anew. the leaves are so astoundingly alive in their dying.  add to that the fact that schools begin again and,  far more important to a kid raised right outside manhattan, the theatre season begins.  plays, ballets, operas--all start up again.  even television starts up again.  by the official new year, january, we're jaded and cold and tired.  but autumn is always full of promise.

in my childhood, the thought of school wasn't upsetting, and the thought of theatre was exhilarating. and there was the smell! long before we thought about pollution, everyone in a neighborhood of houses burned leaves in the fall.  for the adults it was doubtless annoying. not for the kids though.  first there was the business of raking the leaves into huge piles which, when you had  formed, you jumped or ran into.  twigs scratched and bugs got into your nose, but lord playing in the leaves was fun!  and then you reraked and rejumped and reslapped the dirt and broken leaves off yourself and then started the whole thing over again, until parents lost patience  and brought out the matches.  and no one minded that we'd lost our game; we knew there were plenty of leaves and lots more piling before the winter began. besides, watching the leaves burn was gorgeous, the color of the leaves and the color of the flames and the smell that was like no other smell in the world, the smell of clean, contained burning.  better even than chimney smoke because it was right there beside you.

we lived in a lower-middle-class neighborhood in queens, a linoleum rug sort of neighborhood which we believed--i did, anyway--was a 'suburb.'   well, it certainly wasn't the city, that golden dream of a city you could get to in half an hour from the subway, the city that inspired our dreams as much as they did the dreams of kids from the midwest or the rest of the east coast, for that matter.  but in the real city, so vastly superior in my young mind to our cozy-houses home, they didn't burn leaves in the fall, and so  i was happy enough to live outside the dreamworld in that time.  i was lucky too, though i didn't realize it, that large maple trees lined the streets, forming a block-long canopy even in winter, and turned our ordinary street into something spectacularly beautiful.

i missed those maples when i moved away from home, and at first i was disappointed in the less flashy trees in my boston-area homes.  it took a few years living in brookline to start seeing that   the quieter leaves have their own changing beauty.  now it amazes me to look at the yellow leaves falling outside my window and recall how i had never noticed them.  they go from green to light green to dark yellow to light yellow, a little sparser with each iteration.  one tree is a different sort than the others and it's now totally bare, but its neighbor retains its changing leaves, only very slowly letting go of them.

and then there's the magic forest.  i see the magic forest only from the trolley that goes a dozen stops or so above ground before it grinds into the dreary if convenient underworld of the subway.  i always read on subways, partly just for the chance to read, partly because it helps me forget i'm underground.  now i almost never read until we start going under.....there's too much to see in every season.  in the fall, this ride comprises a daily mini-foliage viewing for me. so many different trees and bushes, so many different gradations of autumn! who needs to drive into the country to experience the leaves'  colors? the bush across the street from the elders home is extraordinary, green that begins turning red from the top down, so it looks first like a fringe of red hair, then snakes its way  toward the bottom, streaking the green with odd, living patterns.  the other trees turn mostly shades of yellow and green, highlighted the peculiar reddening bush.  across the street,  the vines climbing up the small white house with the travel agency on the first floor are thick, thicker than the window they cover, and are fire yellow this time of year until they get sparser and sparser and you see the window again, and then they're gone.

but back to the magic forest.  my street is blessedly flat, and thus good for an aging asthmatic who needs to take walks, but right behind it are steep-hilled streets, whose tops you can see nicely from the trolley windows. right at washington street (across from the white house with the vines and the travel agent) the hilltops are covered with multiple trees.  for three seasons, they get so full and so large you can see only the partial facade of one building in their midst, and it is pretty and big enough to be a castle.  i don't know when i decided to people that area with fairies and goblins and bambi-deer and mysterious unnamed beasties, but it grew into my consciousness fully formed, and now each day i find the seat on the train from which i can best see the magic forest.  it is at its most magic in the autumn, with even a few apparent maples in its midst.  20 seconds of  bliss a day....

 the season is turning toward winter now, the leaves thinner and thinner on the branches, thicker and thicker on the ground.  still lovely, but with the death-essence of autumn visible.  more buildings show through the magic forests, and though they are pleasant looking homes, they are not castles or palaces, and no fairy beings inhabit them.  the magic will return for a day or two in winter, and of course there is a regal, stem beauty in bare branches that is its own enchantment.  but the fairies have retreated and the humans have returned to the hill.  the magic of the forest lies fallow, but it waits for spring.  me, i have no time for waiting.  the autumn is leaving, there's a new season to be lived and watched, and cherished.

Saturday, November 13, 2010

The season has begun!

ignore this post of you don't care about figure skating.  i'm about to enthuse.

you know how baseball fans get about their sport's season beginning.  and that's just a sport-sport.  figure skating is an art-sport, and i love it for several reasons.  while it's horribly gendered [even to the singles events being called 'the men's' and 'the ladies', and costumes that demand a woman show much more of her body than a man], it's also one of the few sports in which the women's competitions are more popular than the men's, and where male/female teams compete together [dance and pairs]. but shit, this isn't really political for me---it's romantic! i am in love with the sport.

i love its audiences. on the one hand there's a big fuss about patriotism--flags all over, that sort of thing. yet the audiences at the competitions are almost always civilized.  they may clap more for 'their' skaters, but they clap a lot for every skater.  furthermore, they don't get pissed when their skaters make a mistake.  when a skater falls, from whatever country, the audience applauds with sympathy  and encouragement as they pull themself up and begin again.  wave whatever flag you want, it's really the skating, and the skaters, that matter.

furthermore, the sport keeps becoming more and more international in terms of the skaters themselves.  the more open a country is about the rules of citizenship, the  more you find, say, an american skating for australia.  the big skating countries have lots of terrific skaters; some of these, if they can, move briefly to another, smaller or less wealthy country and skate for that country. which is great, as it gives very good skaters a chance to compete, the smaller  country a place in the games, and the audience a greater variety of excellent skaters.
some skaters have dual citizenship. any jew, for example, is considered a citizen by israel.  if they choose, and some have done so over the years, they can skate for  that country. dual citizenship isn't always necessary or possible.  canadian tanith belbin skated with her american partner for months; then, for olympic eligibility, she applied for and eventually got american citizenship. aliona savchenko, originally from one of the old soviet union countries, married german coach and former skater ingo stoia, who paired her with german skater robin szolkowy and they skate for germany.  italian american sylvia fontana skated for italy for several years.

i was reminded of this tonight watching two new sister-and-brother dance teams, both literally japanese-american.  maya and alex shibutani skated for the US; and Cathy and Christopher Reed skated for japan.  (the older reed will soon, at 22, have to choose which country to remain a citizen of; her brother will face that decision later).  i love the implicit slap in the face to chauvinism. the great dancer nureyev once said that as a dancer, he had no country; his country was dance.  that seems to hold true for a  lot of skaters as well.

skate america is the 3rd of the 'grand prix' contests, and the first i've gotten excited about as i watch. in this post-olympic year, there are lots of new skaters in the senior ranks, and some are amazing.japan's kanako urakami is a great, exciting new 'lady', following in a tradition that began over a decade ago with midori ito and has continued with  fumi susguri, miki ando,  and mao asada, to name a few.

dance, at the moment, is even more interesting.  for years there have been 3 dance performances in a competition: compulsory, original, and free. the compulsory was a holdover from the days when singles and pairs had compulsory figures, which basically meant skating over and over the same figure 8.  the compulsory dance was more interesting, because it was an actual dance, but watching dozens of teams do precisely the same minute-long routine gets pretty tedious--and it seemed oddly out of balance with the other disciplines and their short and long programs.

.rather than drop it completely, the international skating union has combined it with the old original into a short program [mirroring the short program of the other disciplines].  now each dance team must incorporate the exact same dance into a short program of their own choice.  if it sounds like it should be awkward, it has been so far, a bit.  a different one of a specific series of compulsory dances is chosen by the ISU each year, and it can be hard to fit the steps of that particular dance into one's short program.  but these folks did wonderfully, and for many it was seamless: if you didn't know it was happening you wouldn't notice it.  it worked least well with the first american team, who chose a rock n roll theme--the Golden Waltz simply doesn't lend itself to rock.  but it blended quite beautifully with jazz in the Reeds' number.  the Shibutani's did a waltz theme, wisely and elegantly , as did the breathtaking new canadian team, weaver and page. the top americans, meryl davis and charlie white, are ahead so far; less exciting to me than the other teams, but plenty good. and these are just the short programs. i can't wait for the long ones!

i'm a happy puppy!

Tuesday, November 9, 2010

perfectly choreographed

switching trains, in a hurry. scurry down stairs from green line to red line. wait a few minutes, impatient. train arrives. wait for exiting passengers. holly emerges. quick surprise, quick smiles, quick hug. i run into the train, holly runs up the stairs. wonder if she's grinning too.

Tuesday, November 2, 2010


This has been my mantra these past few weeks.  Alas, reality rears its sorry head.  this time, dewey has won, all over the place.  a few democratic wins as of 11 p.m.,  and so far no worse than we thought it would be.....

silver lining?  at the moment, at least, in spite of the Brown win in the last special election, massachusetts is earning its liberal reputation.  barney frank stays in congress, and he's a great fighter.  and deval patrick remains governor!  maybe not the world's most leftist liberal, but we had years of republican governors, and the survival of even a moderate democrat is good news.

further, as the msnbc pundits keep reminding us, now the republicans are going to have to live up to their promises.  but these have been pretty vague--when they have to decide specifically what 'discretionary spending' programs to cut, it may be dicy for them.  ditto for the jobs that don't materialize.  obama may have been a disappointment to many of us who saw him as the great, post-bush hope, but the tea party and the conservatives who have used it have been promising the moon, with not much of a program to get us there.

the morning will be interesting.  it's rare that i go to sleep dreaming of harry reid, but tonight that dreary little man is the closest i can imagine to a prince charming-----and that ghastly, heartless coward engel , who can't even face reporters with semi-challenging questions, is a pretty good imitation of a dragon.

it's  time for a new New Left to arise and take up the good fight!

Monday, October 25, 2010

Another Subway Tale

red line, an hour or so before rush hour, so the train is nearly full, but comfortable. a beggar is walking around the car asking for money. he needs $25, he announces, and explains something about a permit he needs to get section 8 housing, but it costs $25, and he has to get it today, before the place closes in an hour. he's young, a boy, really,  and unkempt but not dirty. he sounds rambling, but seems neither drunk nor stoned.  still, i'm not so rich myself; i don't want to pay for someone else's booze or drugs. the same conversation i've had with myself for years,  now a bit sharper with the economic mess and a harder, crueler society. the political discourse these days, which once included at least reference to the poor, is now all about the problems of the middle class. even the liberals stick to the middle class as victims of big business and conservative greed.  the poor appear to have vanished, or to have failed to merit our concern.

so it's not quite as easy to dismiss a beggar as a drunk or drug addict.  maybe he is, maybe not.  you can't be sure what it is you're paying for.  i reach into my pocketbook for the inevitable compromise: one dollar.  not enough to get him where he says he needs to be, but also not enough to make me pissed for losing hard-earned money.

other passengers seem to be having the same interior discussions, because they too begin to search their wallets and pockets, and soon the kid has $10, $11, $12.....his desperate but subdued monologue continues, and a few more people contribute.  then the young man opposite me, who was the first to give a dollar, opens his wallet, looks at some bills for a moment, then hands them to the kid.  an elderly woman next to him sighs, says, 'i don't understand what you need, and i don't have much money, but i hope this helps,' and gives him two dollars.  later she says to me, 'i couldn't really afford it, but i have a grandson, and i hope someone would help him.'

the boy counts the bills, and is elated.  he has his $25.  he strews thank-yous  around our end of the train. then a woman who has been sitting a ways back, holds a dollar out to him.  he won't take it. 'thank you,' he says earnestly, 'but i don't need it.  i got the $25 now.' and leaves at the next stop,  murmuring 'i hope i get there before they close.'

i hope so too.

Wednesday, October 20, 2010


I have been struck, as i'm sure many of  us have, by the overwhelming number of very religious christians among the republican candidates in the upcoming elections, and so i deduce that their supporters are likewise predominantly christian and fundamentalists.  They are consumed by horror at the sins of the world, and specifically of Americans.  Surely, God must want them to do something about this.  And so I offer them a piece of advice.

The country is indeed full of the people you fear.  Everywhere you turn there are fornicators, masturbaters, socialists, atheists, builders of mosques and other satanic centers,  same sex marriers, welfare recipients, lazy collectors of unemployment, taxers of the innocent rich, illegal aliens, legal aliens who look like illegal aliens, headless mexicans,  grinding homosexuals, islamic terrorists, medicare recipients, social security spenders, believers in federal government, anarchists,  evolutionists, communists, deniers of the social bonds between our ancestors and the dinosaurs,  tolerant christians, opponents of capital punishment, gun controllers, and reporters who ask questions.  We are in great danger.

And what is the greatest remedy of all evils?  Prayer, of course.  God wants you to pray. God wants you to pray a lot.

So I am humbly suggesting that you set aside November 2nd as a day of prayer.  Do not go out and mingle with the sinners!  Above all, do not go into voting booths.  Who knows what unspeakable acts have gone on behind those innocent-looking curtains?  What communists and lesbians have stood in those boxes, grasped those pens, leaned on those sin-stained walls?  Sin is infectious, and all the diseases of the soul are waiting for you in those booths of bestiality!  Stay in the purity of your homes on that day, or if you must go out, go to a church where you can meet with others among the saved.  Above all, pray!  From midnight to midnight, do nothing but pray!  Eat, if you must, and sip some water, but do not stop praying.  Do not engage in idle conversation with each other. Do  not answer your telephones.  Just pray.

Glen Beck asked God for a miracle, and God sent him a flock of geese.  who knows what God might do for thousands of  you, all at once, praying your hearts out all day? 

It will be an election to remember.

Thursday, October 14, 2010

"bigotry for sport"

for the first 1/2 of the commentary, you might have thought this was keith olberman talking. but it was glen beck,  the king of the crackpot right, making a long and, yes, moving, commentary on the bronx beating and torturing of three gay men.  he sounded sincere, but then sounding sincere is part of his stock in trade, even when he's rhapsodizing about the sign god sent him during his washington rally, when a flock of canada geese flew overhead. [god sends an awful lot of canada geese over an awful lot of places with a fair degree of frequency.]

but when glen beck expresses deep horror and anger over gay bashing,  you have to take notice.  he seemed to actually understand that the victims--even the 30 year old who, as beck nonjudgmentally noted, was dressed very flashingly, and who had apparently had sex with 2 teenagers--were people who mattered.  i was waiting for some qualification here--surely beck would suggest that somehow, though he didn't deserve this, the man had asked for it, or deserved some lesser punishment or maybe an arrest for statutory rape.  yet this really seemed not to occur to beck.  it's an amazing clip to watch.  he acknowledged this was a hate crime, he acknowledged that it was homophobic, for all the world as if he believed homophobia was a bad thing.  he used the word 'evil' several times, describing the attack as 'bigotry for sport.'  he then took the incident as a crime not only against homosexuals, but against humanity itself. frankly, i'd never have suspected beck of knowing that homosexuals were part of humanity.

the attackers were hispanic, and a few  of the many comments posted about the article suggested that it wasn't really about compassion, but about hatred of hispanics  trumping contempt for homosexuals.  but he didn't emphasize the ethnicity of the attackers at all; mostly he talked about their youth, such hatred acted out so horrendously by men barely out of their teens.

i would love to say that he was faking it, that he didn't really give squat about a bunch of gay men being tortured, and was just trying to show how nice a guy he really is.  but i don't believe it.  for one thing, he wasn't speaking to a liberal or even moderate audience; he was speaking to the folks who watch his tv show, who tend, as he does, toward rabid conservatism.

the sad thing is that beck doesn't seem to know that he bears some of the responsibility for the mindsets that create such brutality; that he who speaks so eloquently here against hate is a purveyor of hate.  he referred several times to the fact that he had read the story in the paper on a plane as he was returning from some medical tests, which he would explain later in the show but which showed he had no major illness.  could we hope that for just a few minutes, the fear that he might be facing death [and thus the judgement of the god he believes in] made him think about his life and his message with some honesty, and rethink his prejudice against pretty much everyone who isn't white, straight, conservative, and wealthy?  i suppose not: he isn't the saul -of -tarsus type.  but for once, however breifly, he has spoken well.  and for this once, however briefly, he has earned a moment of praise.

Wednesday, October 6, 2010

VOTE NOV.2!!!!!

i know i tend to do long posts, but this one is short, inelegant, and likely just preaching to the choir.  that's okay--listen up, choir!

it's more fun to vote for a candidate you're excited about.  especially in a midterm election.  but look at who's running on the republican side---everywhere!  we're not looking at a bunch of bill welds or olympia snows here. hell, we're not even looking at mitt romney! we're looking at very scary people who will take away reproductive rights, gay marriage, anti-pollution laws, and financial assistance to the poor, the working class, and the less affluent members of the middle class.  VOTE AGAINST THEM! rain or shine, enthusiasm or boredom, whatever.  however unappetizing a particular democrat may be, s/he will at least fill up a space that will be of use to the worst conservatives in the country.  vote, and vote for a Democrat, not a 3rd party member, b/c a 3rd party member won't win. a Republican very well might.  remember this is the party that has been voting its more moderate members out of the primaries.

this message is by me, and is not approved [or disapproved] by the Democrats. [end of political message...]

Saturday, October 2, 2010

countering the protesters!

"the laramie project," a play based on the murder of matthew shepherd in the late 1990s, was giving the last performance of its revival at the cutler majestic theatre, which is owned by emerson college, one of the two colleges at which i teach.  shepherd, as i'm sure most of you know, was a gay college kid, murdered hideously by a pair of homophobes.  as if his family hadn't suffered enough, members of a local christian church came to the funeral, bearing signs proclaiming that shepherd's death was god's punishment for his homosexuality and that the young man was now in hell.

the  good christians of westboro church apparently can't let go of their anger at shepherd's homosexuality and at the stubborn insistence on his humanity by supporters of gay rights [or, for that matter, of opponents of murder], and were planning to picket the theatre today.

if they weren't so foul, i could almost have felt sorry for them today.  they had really picked the wrong place.  emerson college has a lot of gay students, and a lot of other students, staff, and faculty who are perfectly happy these kids are here.  emerson isn't fond of bigotry.  so some of the students organized a counter-protest and publicized it on facebook.

about 800 students showed up--i think even the organizers were surprised at the numbers.  college kids, after all, have a lot of things to do on a gorgeous spring saturday.

it was a high-energy, excited demo, 'gay' in both senses of the word, by kids who seemed truly angry at homophobia and  truly joyful at the chance to act on their pride and/or their identification with their gay friends.  but there was no ugliness in their gusto.

for me, it was both a glorious time warp and a boost to optimism in the midst of a social and political climate that doesn't lend itself much to hope.  i could almost believe myself a 20 year old among my peers, 40 years ago.  the chants were different, and to my ears pleasanter.  "love is louder!' these kids cried. it was an energy slightly different than either my generation's civil rights and anti war energy, or the later brasher ambiance of the gay pride demonstrations: something of each, but very much its own, colorful in a way that would be recognizable to both groups. passers by--including the driver of at least one tour bus--honked their horns and cheered us on. lots of them--more than i'd ever seen, and i've been to a lot of demos in my life.

several of the demonstrators were students i know, and seeing them was a double  joy. it reminded me of something a friend said at another rally, ten years ago.  'other people have class reunions: we have rallies and marches."

our poor homophobes never did show up.  their van drove by, and seeing us in our hundreds apparently intimidated them.  one opened a window long enough to announce the upcoming end of the world, which pleased one of my students because it's the day of her birthday.  [don't worry, gentle reader, it's not till next may, so you have time to prepare].

so the moral of my story is,  yes we can!  if these 800 kids could come out for a barely publicized demo and scare the loonies away,  that famed apathy that will supposedly put the teapartiers in power november 4 doesn't have to be.  however disappointing the Democrats in congress and the white house may be, they're there, and they're what we need to keep the scarier right wingers at bay. the climate will be a lot more conducive to movements for progressive change than a political power structure committed to getting rid of homosexuals, muslims, abortionists, and the poor.  [the poor, as they become even more powerless, will also become more numerous.]

i hope these kids today got a sense of the excitement of self-empowerment, of joining to fight for what we believe in.  and that others become inspired by them.

they may be right; love may be louder.  if we make it be.

Thursday, September 30, 2010

maybe baby

It's late and the handful of passengers look wilted when the crazy man gets on. He glares at them all and begins singing bits of an old Buddy Holly song, "Maybe Baby." They look at him quickly, then at each other, the brief glance of recognition you give strangers when the crazy one enters. We are not like him, the glance says, and then they look away again, elaborately reading newspapers or staring out the window. He goes on singing--angrily, almost barking the lyrics.

They all know the song, though Buddy died fifty years ago, a young man in a small plane, traveling from song to song and his life ahead of him.

The crazy man sings and in their heads they all hear Buddy's voice, their minds jumping the cheerful lyrics. Well you are the one that makes me glad, sings one memory, and you will love me someday, sings another.

They im
agine that the crazy man is sane, that he inspires them and they all sing with him. They imagine his joy in the sudden companionship, they imagine that they all get up and dance in the train. They imagine that Buddy dances with them, that they will spend all night together in the train, Buddy and the crazy man and all of them in a train that never stops for anyone else, and Buddy sings to them, all his old songs plus a new one they can't quite hear, that he is inventing just for them.

Their faces don't show their fantasy. The train pulls into the next station and the crazy man glares one last glare and leaves. His song stays on, thinning and slowing till it sounds like an old old blues song, a sad hurting lonely song. It's funny honey, you don't care...

And they don't, so the song unsings itself and floats away, to the crazy man, or maybe back to Buddy in the sky. It doesn't matter. They are only strangers on a late-night subway, relieved that the crazy man is gone and the song is gone, that they can ignore each other again. No one dances on subways, and Buddy died on a plane a long time ago. They have already forgotten the dance that never happened, a thought that flitted through tired minds and died with the music, on a night long ago, when a crazy man walked in singing.

Monday, September 20, 2010

Dojna on the Green Line

I was sitting on the T this morning, staring out the window, when i saw Dojna's reflection from the other side of the train, a few seats ahead.
Only it couldn't be Dojna, because dojna lives in the Netherlands and has never been to America. If she'd decided suddenly to come here, it wouldn't be this week, when the new students had just arrived there and everything at the castle program was hectic. and even then, if she'd somehow decided to abandon the castle and come to boston, she'd have told me and her other friends here, and facebook would be buzzing with the news.

yet everything in the reflection was Dojna--the glasses, the large sweater, the small, wry half smile.

so i forced myself to look directly at her. she wasn't dojna; she didn't even look like doijna. I was annoyed: how dare she pretend to be doina in my window? I looked away from her and back at the window, where she became dojna again, and sat watching until the woman got off at boylston street, which is where the college is, and where, if she had been doijna, she most certainly would have gotten off to see all the kids who love her.
my annoyance dissipated, giving way to gratitude. this stranger, after all, had generously lent me her reflection.

and i did so love seeing dojna again.....

Thursday, September 16, 2010

republican governor candidates

well, the current crop of teabaggers running for senate may be politically horrifying, but at least they're good for a laugh....

my current favorites are the wannabe senators delaware and ny, and i do hope that if they get in, they work together on some sort of morals crusade...

christine o'donnell's current claim to fame is that she has been lecturing about the evils of all nonmarital sex, and has been adamant on including among the forbidden acts, masturbation [still a form of lust, she notes. in the clips they showed last night of one of her early discussions, a colleague of hers observes disapprovingly that the act 'is very selfish']

carl paledina is known for a mini-scandel in which he sent rashes of porn to everyone he knew, including apparently a lovely selection of human-animal ... interactions.

so i've been trying to work on a slogan for them.....

"Why go it alone? adopt a pet today!'

sick,i suppose--but not as sick as the prospect of either of those 2 winning the election.....

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

st francis and the koran

a freind just emailed me a wonderful quote attributed to saint francis of assisi during a crusade in the middle ages: He had met the Sultan during the Crusades, and returned to Assisi, where he admonished his followers:

If you find even a page of the Qur'an upon the road, pick it up carefully and place it safely in your home for it is a page of a sacred book.

Saturday, September 11, 2010

koran burning

the ny times this morning had a thoughtful article about the media reaction to the florida wannabe bookburner pastor. did the coverage of his [thankfully abandoned] plan to burn the koran today in commemoration of the 9/11 victims give him a prominence that his marginalized position didn't earn? he has a congregation of about 50; he clearly doesn't represent his own town; and no one outside of that town had ever heard of him before. in the larger scope of current US politics, he shouldn't matter. there are always fringe lunatics around; why give this one special attention? why take an insignificant preacher who is the moral equivalent of osama bin ladin without the influence that makes bin ladin a danger, and vault him into worldwide fame?

it's a worthwhile question, and a perennial one with the press. do the media cover a story, or invent one? certainly that ungodly preacher got his 15 minutes of fame, and then some.

but i'm not sure it's such a bad thing that he got so much press. as the same article noted, timing is everything. there have been other hate-mongering koran burners in the years since 9/11, and they have been duly noted somewhere in the middle of the paper or of the newscast, in a paragraph or two. there's a reason for jones' flare of publicity, coming as it does in the middle of the misnamed "ground zero mosque" controversy, and the other, less publicized, protests against mosques throughout the country.

something very ugly and very scarey is crawling out of the woodwork, and we need to know it and fight it. the economy is terrible, people are out of work, we're all scared. the mega-consrvatives are playing on that fear all over the place. despite all evidence to the contrary, they are skillfully trying to frighten us into electing not only conservatives, but fanatic conservatives, with a series of lies about our president [the black guy with the foreign sounding name], about the causes of the bad economy, about the dangers of health care and of taxing the rich. they want a scapegoat--or scapegoats. and there are all these darkskinned people in our midst with their strange god and their mysterious clothing, and they all want to kill us. their places of worship are terrorist cells; their sacred writings are the devil's handbook. we have to get them before they get us.

it's a familiar scenario. think germany; think 1930s. what happened then could never have happened. only it did.

the useful thing about pastor jones is the naked hatred of his proposed action. sympathy for victims of 9/11 makes it easy to skew the danger of what some of the survivors are doing. who can argue with a mother's grief, a husband's anguish? they are perhaps misguided, we say, but they have a point. let the imam be sensitive, and voluntarily abandon the site.

i don't argue with the genuine grief of the 9/11 survivors who object to the mosque. i do object to their logic, or to covering up their logic with compassion. we can have both, compassion and impassioned disagreement. 'islamophobia' is a good word; this is fear, irrational fear, and it can't be allowed to determine anything we as a country do. these survivors don't speak for all survivors of the attack; many have organized against their opposition. some of those, we must constantly remind ourselves, are themselves muslims.

pastor jones has no lost loved ones to justify his bigotry. there is no misguided anguish here, only a man with the soul of a nazi. let us use him, in his unambiguous foulness, as the model for what may well happen if we let it.

Friday, September 10, 2010

the old obama?

for the past couple of days, obama sounds like he did when we voted for him.  since he got in, he has seemed more interested in making nice with republicans who clearly didn't care what he did.  the man is bloody brilliant--it took him a year and a half to figure out what any bright ten year old could have told him? finally, finally! he is addressing that!  but why spend the first half of his term making useless compromises that doomed him to inefficiency?  his own politics are way too "moderate" for my tastes, but they are something, and it's that something that caused many of us to vote for him.  does it take a huge downturn  in the popularity of his party to de-wimp him?  does it take a looney pastor threatening to burn the koran to make him see the terrifying upsurge of bigotry against muslims?

people who want conservatives in office will vote republican; people who want liberals want real liberals to vote for.   hell, at this point in our history, even leftists want real liberals to vote for. it was true with clinton, and it's even truer now.  and the haters--the birthers, the bigots on all levels--will keep making up inane stories about him, because that's what they do. he's a secret muslim, and therefore a terrorist, since islam isn't a real religion; only christianity is a real religion. he's also a socialist--thus possibly the one radical islamacist socialist in the world.   he is raising the taxes of small business owners, and pretty much everyone else.  facts are irrelevant.

it was so weird watching his speech about the supposed end of the iraqi war. his affect was the worst i've ever seen it. it was the first time i've noticed him reading from a teleprompter; he was lifeless, like a kid whose lit teacher is forcing him to read out loud from beowulf. i couldn't beleive the energy of his speech for the democratic candidates earlier this week, the intensity of his defense of islam.

is it too late?  the rise of the nutso far right makes it more important than ever to keep the country in Democratic hands.  we can't hope for even intelligent right wingers any more; they're getting driven out of their own party.

maybe his return to the old, vital, risk-taking obama will fire up the democrats running in november.  they need fire; they need to convince the disaffected liberals that they're worth bothering to vote for.

the Great Hero of 2008 is gone, but that was bound to happen.  honeymoons don't last.  maybe, just maybe, this echo of the candidate who made us hope can evoke some of that emotion again, even if only an older-but-wiser version.

is this too pollyana? maybe.  but i never thought he'd get in to begin with.  on that november night, while i was watching msnbc's election report, i had almost just shrugged and gone to bed: i didn't need the bad news right away. and then they said it.  obama had won.  i refused to get excited; it was clear that he hadn't--olberman and maddow were indulging in wishful thinking.  i had to go through every channel twice before i beleived it.  america had elected  a black president.  a liberal black president.

so maybe a little hope isn't a bad thing, even at this stage.  for now anyway, i'm holding on to it.  i hope our president does too.

Wednesday, September 8, 2010


summer is one of those things that seems never to really happen, because it's different than it was when i was young. so summer was a part of my long-ago childhood.  i can catch that elusive feeling in memory, but briefly and a bit painfully.

it's not like i did a lot in summer, or any other season, as a kid.  sometimes my father would drag us to the beach, which i usually didn't like much. the water was briefly fun; so was drying off on the sheet.  i remember once falling under a wave and trying to get up and getting knocked down again, and knowing i would never ever get up again and my father didn't know i'd fallen so he wouldn't save me and i'd drown.

it seemed like long minutes or half an hour but when i finally got myself up pop was right beside me and didn't know i'd fallen, so it can't have been more than a few seconds.

pop told me and my brothers about sand crabs, so we dug for them, right where the white bubbles of the waves touched the shore.  you'd  shove your hand into the wet sand, and pull up a handful of sand, often with a sandcrab in it.  the crab would patiently wait you out, or sometimes sit on your hand, and they never tried to bite you or get away.  they were beautiful creatures, like marble tinted with rays of soft and near-invisible blue.  their long, thin legs tickled the palms of your hand.  and then you let them go into  the sand again, and it felt like a very important visit had happened.

at home, we played punchball in the street; i stunk, as i did in any sport, and never played long.  more fun was stoop-ball,  on sylvia's large stoop.

once i tried to climb into a fat lowbranched tree, so i could sit there and read. it was uncomfortable and i didn't like it, but i was reading little women and jo climbed into trees to read, and i wanted to be just like jo. i called myself a tomboy, which my parents disliked, and which in fact i wasn't.  i wasn't a girly girl though, and tomboy was the only alternative i knew.  i should have known, through alcott's books, that there was another word that did fit: i was a bookworm.   sometimes i sat out in the backyard to read. but reading wasn't an especially summer thing; there was no time of year i couldn't curl up on my bed or in a chair and get lost in a book. there still isn't.

we had a little swingset in the backyard, and i would spend hours on the swing, daydreaming and thinking.  i loved those times, but only when i was alone. opposite me from the swings was our garage window, dirty, and with a dark, hard-to-see reflection of me.  i loved the girl in the window. she was mysterious and lovely, and i knew she was smarter and stronger and far less vulnerable than i was, and i felt like she looked after me.  when i was 10 my five year old brother would come out and start hassling me on the swings. i don't remember what he did or said, but i hated it. his presence made the world real again, it took away the power of the karen in the window.  i would yell at him and he wouldn't stop; i would tell my mother but she'd say, leave him alone, he's younger than you. one day sitting next to me on the other swing he started up.  i raised my hand, and i meant to say, 'stop or i'll hit you.' instead, the hand, of its own volition,  threw itself at him, hard, and knocked him off the swing.  my mother was furious and yelled, and probably punished me, but i didn't care. hitting him was a joyful, freeing experience, surprising me as much as it did him and mom.
that was how i told the story, for years--the arm took over and hit him.  i loved the story. then one year i was telling it to my shrink, laura, and i heard myself say, "and then i came out of the window and hit him!"  so i was right; she had been looking after me.  [there's more to the story of me and the girl in the window, but it's a different story than this one.]

the  summer thing that stays most in my soul, though, that defines the petite-madeleine quality of summer, was summer evenings sitting on our tiny porch.  there must have been other people with us at other times, but i remember only as me alone, or with one or both of my parents.  we talked, if at all, softly. the sun had gone down, and it was slowly, slowly, turning dark.  i put my hand out, and a firefly would land on it. it was a wonderful thing to hold a firefly. other bugs would flee if you went near them, but the fireflies were friendly. the only thing was, that when they sat on your hand, the light went out of the firefly, and it was just an ordinary insect with reddish wings.  but you knew it had the fire, that was how you'd seen it in the first place, and you knew the fire would return as soon as the firefly left.  it was sociable, but its fire belonged only to itself.  and the night slowly darkened and soon i couldn't see the purple hydrangea bush next to the stoop----those wonderful huge flowers that were made up of dozens of tiny flowers.  i liked blue ones better, but i got to watch them in the front yard across the street, where the   vasquezes lived--tony, charley, and beautiful baby linda, and their parents poppy and peppy, and their grandmother, yaya-sinya.  everyone was afraid of yaya-sinya.  but she couldn't stop anyone from looking at her blue hydrangeas.

somehow over time, summer got away from me. i still use the word summer, but i don't think it, or feel it: it's just the hot weather.  but in recent years i've evolved other seasonal rituals, even passions.  i still love to sit outside and read; failing that, to sit as close to the open window as possible to feel the breeze through my experience with the book.   i enjoy the beach now and then, but have never again found sandcrabs.  there is no more window with strong-karen watching over me, but i live alone, and strong-karen is now part of me, not distanced.  i think if i hit anyone now, i'd know it was me doing it--not my independent arm, and not the karen in the window.

i love summer trees--i love all-season trees. there are great big trees outside my window, and my windows are big here.  lying in bed or on the couch, i see nothing but the trees: they block out the  street and the very handy but unlovely supermarket across the way.   i love the smell of the ocean.  mostly, and fiercely, i love the weeds that grow out of the cement ground, pushing their way up toward the sun.  the best ones are on the tram tracks.  i wait for the train and i watch these tiny tough plants.  some are actually on the tracks themselves, so they must be run over a lot. they don't seem to mind it; they don't break, they just keep on growing. the prettiest though are on the sides. most are just leaves, leaves of many different shapes, curling into themselves or reaching upward, acting like they thought they were the most wonderful plants in the world, whatever the silly gardeners thought about them.  a lot are flowered: one looks like a doll's house sunflower, a perfect miniature.  some are like dandelions until you look closer. some, tiny daisies.  lots of yellows, then. but bushy pink ones too. relatives, perhaps, of my long-ago fireflies.

their presence is an incredible gift--small gardens with no work put into them, simply appearing, with no need to be admired.  and they are everywhere--everywhere dirty, abandoned, untended.  once, walking past a row of scruffy old apartment buildings with filthy windows, i saw the wall of one building nearly covered with ivy-type weeds, climbing up the side.  there was a potted plant inside one window. one of the ivies had climbed up just that far, and they looked for all the world like old friends passing each other unexpectedly and stopping to chat.

Tuesday, August 31, 2010

glenn beck at rally

one of the great quotes of all time...

''i felt like  god dropped a sandbag on my head....''

indeed.....He did that very long ago....

Thursday, August 26, 2010

congratulations to osama!

 dear mr. b:

i just wanted to say that i am very impressed with your skillful use of p.r. these days.  it must have cost a lot to hire all these people, but i'm sure it's worth it! all these anglo-americans fighting against the rights  fellow americans who are muslims; why, you even got a minister to create a burn- the- koran day for all his parishioners!

i hope you know what a great job you're doing.  i'm sure this tactic is convincing many young muslims   who might otherwise support  a muslim community center and peaceful mosques around the country that your portrait of us as dangerous muslim-haters is accurate, and that their place is with al qaeda. your brave crew of recruiters are doing a bang-up job --and i mean that literally.  the ground zero business is truly splendid.  here, you are killing two birds with one stone.  not only are you showcasing american racism, but you are disarming one of your worst enemies, a sufi imam!   what damage such an imam can do to your cause if allowed to freely expound a nonviolent approach to islam!  hey, it's muslims like him that give  terrorism a bad name!

if you don't mind my asking, how much are you contributing to the extremists in congress who are doing such a splendid job encouraging anti-muslim bigotry?  many are campaigning for the november elections, and i know you'll want to help them in their tireless efforts to create more and more hatred for america around the world.

and by the way, the campaign to discredit obama by 'accusing' him of being a muslim is truly the icing on the cake. as i'm sure you foresaw, this equation of obama with islam, and islam with your terrorists, will work wonders for your efforts to destroy america.

your campaign is an inspiration to bigots everywhere!

yours untruly ......

then and now

i've just finished teaching the watergate hearings in my Television in American Life class.  it occurs to me that much has changed since those days.  gone are the arduous break-ins to democratic hq or psychiatrist's offices.    today it's much easier.  now you simply look into the camera and lie.  obama is a muslim.  the constitution doesn't separate church and state.  taxing the rich will make the middle class poor.  say it often enough and everyone will believe you.

get rid of the messy burglars of yesteryear! easier, faster, and the perfect soundbite!

Monday, August 23, 2010

this morning

i was running late so i got dressed in a hurry, deciding i'd look quite fey in turquoise pants, a turquoise blouse, turquoise shoes and turquoise sox.  as i ran out the door, i caught a glimpse of myself in the mirror.   i looked like i was going to a costume party dressed as a vat of cotton candy.
i'd forgotten about this by the time i changed trains at park street, and found myself scurrying to the red line behind two men who were holding hands. i felt a flash of pride in massachusetts, which allowed these men the freedom to so un-self-consciously display their love.  i hoped they'd get married, and silently wished them a joyful life together.   then i got closer and realized it wasn't two men, it was one man and a short-haired woman. so i stopped caring about whether they got married and had a happy life together.  
i thought of both these events as i got on the train, and realized with some comfort what a totally human jackass i was. grinning back at an invisible Puck on the train, i found a seat, and read my book all the way to the jfk-umass station.

Sunday, August 22, 2010

how to cure the world of evil

okay, so here's my idea.  it covers so many bases--a multitasking idea.  it was inspired by an article in today's NY Times about how the increasing, or increasingly visible, anti-muslim attacks are fueling the taliban types' calls for destroying the west b/c it wants to destroy islam.

first, we build a huge coliseum on the site of the world trade center.  then we get hold of [i'm not sure yet how we get hold of them; it's an idea in progress]...anyway we get hold of all the taliban-types in the world, and all the western bigots who really do want to destroy islam, and we put them in separate cages, and on special days--i'd recommend religious holidays of any persuasion--have huge gladiatorial combats.  like the real ones, you know, to the death.

this will help the economy enormously, b/c of course we'll charge high admission fees, and there will be plenty of seats in our coliseum, with the first few rows very expensive, with special prices for group orders. tourism to new york will soar, and pay for tv will cost a lot;  if we limit it right, hotels all over the country will do whopping businesses because they will be the only place you  can watch it on live tv.

of course our main market will be reasonable muslims and christians, but that's a large market, and if the first few combats do as well as i think they will, we can find ways to market to other constituents.   there must be many jews who would enjoy watching christians and muslims battle it out.  buddhists will be a harder sell, because they don't believe in violence, so maybe we can arrange for a few combats that aren't to the death, like those compassionate bullfights where the bulls don't get killed.  that would add another advantage because any combatants we don't get killed can be recycled for a later performance.

i know this isn't a new idea--i've read numerous fantasties about putting all the warriors together so they can kill each other off and then leave the rest of us in peace.  but you have to admit it's a very 21st-century spin.  and even some republicans might support government funding for such a useful public project, when they realize how much money it will bring in.

Saturday, August 21, 2010

a call for a universal burn-the-bible day

this is something i would never have considered, but the church group planning the universal burn the koran day has made me see how important it is.  since we know that the koran is directly responsible for the 9/11 attacks, we must also realize that the bible is responsible for all the sexual abuse of children by catholic priests.  and of course, we must realize that all christians are, by extension, child rapists.

come to think of it, it seems a shame to waste a couple of good bonfires.  let's find all the other books some among us find offensive, and track down the beleifs of those books' authors--and of course of anyone who has read the books.

if there are any books left afterwards, let's find the 10 innocent people left in the world and they can all sit down and read.  anyone checked on the bobbsey twins lately?

the thought that dare not know its name

i keep wondering about the upsurge of conservative hate, which seems more prevalent, or larger, or more acceptable than it's been in past years.  i've lived through the civil rights movement, the vietnam war, the birth of the 2nd wave of feminism and of the stonewall-inspired gay rights movement.  i've lived through the 2 presidencies of george w. bush.  i've been pretty attuned to the hostility of the right against all sorts of things.  but nothing prepared me for the open lies and the cruel small-mindedness of the recent right wing. it seems like in the bad old days, unless you were Bull Conner in  the 1950s south, you muted the ugliest of your hates and you attempted to lie with some degree of subtlety.

rachel maddow recently noted that by today's standards, dwight eisenhower would be seen as a liberal.

everywhere you turn, it's hitting at you. legislating bigotry against arizona hispanics, so that american-born citizens must carry proof of citizenship wherever they go, if their ethnic origins are hispanic. so that the claim of gay citizens to marriage is knocked down by people who, ironically, are self-described as ''pro-marriage.'  so that a church calls for a 'koran-burning day,' while a debate about the right of muslims to build mosques is carried on around the country.  so that a serious political candidate can proclaim that he deserves to win because he's 'the only one not wearing high heels.'  so that roe v. wade is being dangerously threatened by, among others, conservative women who use feminist rhetoric in their self-descriptions. and a talk show host nearly gets away with  reciting a litany of 'nigger' on the air, and resigns because her 'freedom of speech' is being curbed.

[yes, i used the word. it's an ugly, hateful word and in this context, it needs to be named. i promise not to repeat it 10 times, or even once.]

and what i don't want to face, but seems increasingly clear, is that it is very much connected to one of the proudest moments of our history:  the election of a president who is black.  as a country, we showed that we were capable of voting on the issues, on the best candidate, regardless of skin color.  that he has failed to be the messiah may be a cause of disappointment for some of us, and his liberalism, however mild, displeases others,  is not enough in itself to trigger this extreme venom.

the almost obligatory need for right wing talk show hosts and their cronies to seize on the word 'racism,' turning its meaning around, using it as  a word describing perceived black attitudes towards whites, is telling.  racism is exactly what's happening--real racism, not this perverse invention of the right.  one of those n-folks has gotten into the white house, and [whatever he has said on any related issues] has brought with him all his devils--homosexuals, muslims, mexicans, liberals, africans, lazy unemployed people,  enemies of big business, exaggerators of dangers to the planet, and lord-knows-who-else.

the lies about obama are many and strange--and all rooted in the great lie.  what other president has been accused of, literally, not being american?  this lie, with all its absurdity, echoes the underlying wishful thinking of many americans.  it's not because his family traveled to different countries, in any of which he might have been, but was not, born.  don't you get it? the n-people can't be real americans.  even one whose  mother is white, who is himself more intelligent than probably 9/10th of all of us, regardless of race.  maybe even because he's more intelligent than 9/10th of us. we won't get any minstrel show from this guy.  we won't get any uncle-tom shenanigans.  we won't even get displays of anger against whites, so we could dismiss him as some sort of hostile militant.

all they can do is lash out, lying, attacking all 'foreigners,' real or imagined; all liberals who would vote a black man into the presidency.   it's sickening, it's pathetic, it's tragic. and it's dangerous.

say it isn't so......

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

war, heroism, and human beings

i've been watching msmbc on the departure of the troops from iraq.  touching, frustrating.  [there will still be 50,000 troops still there, so how final the war will be is questionable].  the program is 'countdown,' and keith olberman, god bless him, is pointing out and highlighting the length of the war, the lies that our president used to get us into the war, the deaths of american soldiers, iraqui troops, iraqui civilians.   olberman has been a constant truthteller in this and other situations of american policy that has been based on lies and deaths and government cynicism.

and yet--like his brilliant colleague rachel maddow--olberman has adopted the universal euphemism about the american troops.  they are all categorically 'brave' and 'heroic.' they have risked and often lost their lives in the service of our country.  they are all noble and wonderful human beings.

okay, we learned from the errors of the antiwar movements in the vietnam era; too often and too publicly, the troops were categorized toward the end as vicious murderers of innocent civilians, and when that image spread to the public, the soldiers who returned were greeted with sneers and hate.  so we have gone back to older images of soldiers--plaster saints.

in my last post i quarrelled with one sentimental synonym-- the site of the world trade center bombings was 'hallowed ground.' now i am quarrelling with another one.  it is also one i find ultimately unfair to the people described.  soldiers are not devils or angels.  they are young people trained to kill, to hate, to view the enemies as monsters to be destroyed.  it's probably a wise way to train them; if you're going to be in combat, with people aiming guns at you, you'll need instincts that tell you to shoot first. you need to be brave, yes. noble and heroic? no.  whatever decent, compassionate elements are in your personality, you must have the ability to keep them locked up a lot of the time.

so that the original training teaches hardness, cruelty.  what must the battles themselves do? to be thrown into daily horrors most of us can't even fathom, you need that training to guide you.  and you can't always drop the training when you're not in immediate danger.

and who are 'you'?  you are a lot of different young people from a lot of different families and different life experiences. you are not a legion of cookie-cutter figures.  you have been formed until now by a lot of different forces, and you are now formed by one major force.  if you are decent, with luck that decency will play out where it can.  if you are sadistic, that sadism  will have a freer range than it ever had.  if you're like most of us, you are some  combination of wise and stupid, loving and hating, compassionate and mean-spirited....all sorts of things.  and your new experiences will change you in all sorts of ways.

heroism?  that's there for you to exercise.  remember a few years ago, that guy in the NY subway who jumped onto the tracks of an oncoming train to save the life of a stranger who had fallen there? he became, at least for awhile, a folk hero, and deservedly so. few of us are put in the face of potential heroism.  he was, and we celebrate his response to it.  i love to imagine that in his place i'd do what he did.  but i doubt it.

soldiers face situations as  profound as that one, daily.  many of them respond as that man did, risking their lives to save civilians, or their own comrades.  it's heartwarming to see the features on tv showing american soldiers in afghanistan providing food and medicine to local children--good human beings, acting nobly when the opportunity presents itself.

but equally, soldiers face more opportunity than the rest of us to act with impunity on their uglier instincts. they are allowed to kill, and to survive they sometimes must kill. will they all restrict their killing to the times when it's absolutely essential? not always.  who knows what extremes of both heroism and sadism go on in battles, unmarked, unacknowledged?  sometimes the sadism spreads out of the battlefield; we see small reports of this occasionally. sometimes the rest of the world finds out about a particularly awful example. mi lai. abu graib. how many such events don't get reported or even witnessed?  people who work with soldiers in hospitals sometimes hear terrible confessions from men now dying, who have lived with the horrors of what they did to others in war.   again, the rest of us must ask ourselves whether, given free range, we would kill and maim innocent people. and again, i want to believe that i would be incapable of such brutality: i want to believe that of myself even more than i want to believe in my innate heroism. but it too is unlikely to open itself to the test, and i have no way of knowing if my  pretty self-portrait is real.

it sickened me in the 1970s to see what happened to returning soldiers when americans found out about atrocities.  to come home from war as damaged as anyone must be who has been through all that, and be greeted with scorn and anger from civilians---the very people they have been told they suffered for--is horrible.  equally horrible is the subtler abuse they go through from the the government that sent them there: refusal to pay for medical and psychological care for these people?  or only so much care, and then  it's your own problem?  soldiers are by definition in the dual position of  victims and victimizers.

perhaps it is the realization of how much they have suffered that causes us to give them blanket adulation.  but it's phony, as phony as blanket blame.  what is real is to allow for the human complexity that follows them through all the experiences they have been through, and to make certain they get what they need to heal, and get it from the government that has  caused their  conditions in the first place.

so i watch on tv, those huge tanks going back across the border to kuwait, on their way home.  i hope they are greeted with welcome and compassion. i hope they have families and friends who love them and will support them as they try to make new lives, even to help them through whatever guilt they  carry over things they have done.  but i don't thank them for what they did; i don't know what they did. each of them has done some different combinations of things, and each will deal with it based on who they are. there are surely some heroes among them. there are surely some sadists. very surely, there are some who are complicated mixtures of both.

they should be greeted kindly; they should be helped when they need help.  but they shouldn't be canonized by mass sentimentality.  let them be saints in heaven.  as long as they're here, they're people.  there are reasons popes create their saints only from the dead, who have lost the opportunity to sin.

in my most hopeful moments, i believe that rational humanity is something we are capable of.  i believe in those moments even more--that we are capable of expanding this humanity to all soldiers, including the "enemy" soldiers, who have believed their governments as much as american soldiers have believed theirs.  we all respond in some ways to the truths and lies our governments and our societies have told us.
we all are capable of trying  to face our responsibilities to humanity.

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

on freedom and 'hallowed ground'

i don't feel like writing about the muslim community center that is being inaccurately called a 'mosque.' i'm a fan of accuracy. i hate bigotry.  i hate stating the obvious.  it's uninteresting, and unchallenging.  but not arguing against an injustice, even when others are doing so and doing it well, seems to be some sort of complicity with the injustice.

so i'll try  to echo only breifly what so many other liberals, leftists, humanists, etc. are saying. my first echo is this: freedom of religion means freedom of religion. it doesn't mean, we have freedom of religion but your religion is bad so please shut up and go away. echo number 2 is that 2 blocks away from ground zero is not ground zero.  echo number 3 is, muslims were killed in the attacks on the world trade center,  which means that muslims lost loved ones, which means that muslims overall are unlikely to think the attack was good. and it also means that the tragedy 'belongs' to all americans; hence it belongs as much to muslim americans as to christian, jewish, hindu, buddhist, atheist, and any other americans.  so much for the echo.

so what do i have to add?  that i cringe when people use the expression 'hallowed ground' to describe ground zero. it's vague, it's sentimental, it's inaccurate.  ground zero is the site of an horrific mass murder.  its victims included a range of people, and unless the only thing happening there on 9/11 was a convocation of saints, that range very likely included good people and not so good people, heroes and cowards and villains. PEOPLE were murdered. humans. their deaths don't make them holy; they make them dead. they make them victims. all of them.  'hallowed ground' sounds cruelly dehumanizing, like a bad painting of gentle saints wafting up to heaven.   maybe they are in heaven; i certainly hope so.  but they still deserve to be remembered as once-living humans. they deserve better than being morphed into memory as something sacred and unreal.

and they deserve not to be used as instruments of bigotry.  islam is a religion. believe it, don't believe it. love it; hate it.  maybe even try to learn about it, since it has become such a visible part of american life. but as long as we can allow churches and synogogues and other houses of worship or associations of religious believers to be built anywhere, we cannot allow anything less to muslims.  nor should muslims be asked to politely make themselves invisible in lower manhattan, as though, simply by being muslims, they should feel guilty about 9/11.  they shouldn't.  and the rest of us should damn well understand that.

Friday, August 13, 2010

of laughter and remembering

 it seems a while since i've blogged, and i've missed it. summer classes are hectic and demanding; and a summer cold-cum-asthma exacerbation has used up whatever energy i've had. i was looking forward to today as a self-proclaimed holiday during which i would catch up with the television show post, or maybe shakespeare, or maybe another thought i've taken notes on, the wonderful weed flowers on the tram track. but this morning  at breakfast , while i was reading milan kundera's 'the book of laughter and forgetting,' i knew what today's post had to be.
i read 'the unbearable lightness of being' earlier this summer at the anonymous advice of some of my castle students, who in their evaluations suggested i teach that book in the section of european literature i devote to czech works, right before we have the class trip to prague.  i was pretty underwhelmed by the book, which for my taste is  often irritating and tiresome, with occasional bursts of moving  and/or intriguing writing, but deciding to give kundera another try and see if there might be a shorter piece that would be useful for the class, I plunged into the odd combination of short stories and demi-essays that make up this 'novel,' as kundera calls it.  i had the same reaction, but in reverse: moving and intriguing, with bits that are irritating and tiresome.  i had planned to finish it and put it away until late fall, when i start preparing my spring castle classes.

But then i came across this wonderful section on the dead body. 'death has two faces,' he writes.  'one is nonbeing; the other is the terrifying material being that is the corpse.'  because the mind can't really envision nonbeing, we see it as blue space, 'and there is nothing more beautiful and comforting than blue.'   a few quotes and paraphrases from this section do little to convey its power, and i want to get on to the next part, the physical presence of the corpse.  and that part is not beautiful.  "one minute you are a human being protected by modesty--the sanctity of nudity and privacy--and the next you die and your body is suddenly up for grabs.  Anyone can tear your clothes off, rip you open, inspect your insides, and--holding his nose to keep the stink away--stick you into the deepfreeze or the flames.' he illustrates this in part through his character, Tamina, who has watched her husband die, and through his own experience of his father's death.  This reaction is, inevitably, the reaction of the living, both to their experience of another's dying and to the imagining of their own.  Few of us could face these feelings and explore them as kundera does, but most of us, i think, have experienced them to some degree.   The imaginings of one's own body after death is pretty scary, and we tend to run away from the thought as quickly as possible.  we run away from death in general anyway, but the idea of oneself as corpse is so visual, so physically real, that it has its own component of horror.  i still have that horror, as i had done for as long back as i knew there was such a thing as death, and i try not to see the body when i'm at an open-casket funeral. yet the last time i forced myself to look at a body, at the funeral of my uncle mick a few years ago, i found myself very peacefully bending down to kiss him goodbye.  it didn't bother me at all. it didn't bother me because i knew--in the core of my being, i knew--that mick was there with us, but he wasn't in his body, which had lost its use to him.

I knew because my brother keith told me so,  in october 1981, at his funeral.

until that day i had never seen a dead body.  i was not expecting to then, as i walked into the funeral parlor.  i had not considered that keith's wife, who is from equador, would arrange an open-casket funeral.  so there i stood, staring at my brother's corpse, the first i had ever seen.

to understand the rest of this tale,  you need to know a couple of things about keith.  one is that he had always been a clown.  most of my family have been jokers of one sort or another. none of us have been especially happy people, and we had all been, as my remaining brother, warren, and i, still are, wise-crackers.  humor keeps us alive, or at least sane.  keith was the silliest of us all; he had loud, high pitched laugh, and once something amused him, he never let it go, like a dog extracting every morsel of flavor from a long-used bone.  he and his closest friend spent much of their time together spinning out a pun long past its origin, for minutes, half hours, hours at a time.
the other thing is that in the year and three quarters of his illness, keith had developed a spiritual part of himself the rest of us never suspected was there.  it was a large, undoctrined faith, that helped him a lot. it also helped me. i liked, still like, to send healing energy toward people, envisioned as it so often is in the form of white light.  it's the kind of praying people do when they don't believe in a god but do believe in a something.  and whatever else that does or doesn't do, it gives us the only power we have in the face of a loved one's dying.  we can't perform surgery or administer chemo or do any of the things that might make someone better.  but we can pray, we can send light, we can love.  keith and i grew close around that. i found him a psychic healer who worked with him, i surrounded him with healing stones, i sent light whenever i wasn't doing something else.  he hated his chemo treatments and tensed up when he had them, so the needle hurt when it went in. i asked him to tell me  when he knew what time a treatment was scheduled , so i could stop whatever i was doing at that time and send light. he always called; i always worked around the time so i could send the light.  and each time after that, he told me, that as soon as he'd start to tense up at the sight of the needle, he'd say to himself, 'it's okay, karen's sending light,' and the muscle would relax and the needle wouldn't hurt.  nothing in my life has meant more  to me than knowing i was able to do that one thing for him.

there was a church near his house.  keith never rejected the church deliberately, as warren and i did; he was a fairly typical 'lapsed catholic' and so it seemed natural to him to go to that church for spiritual solace.  i suppose he was looking for a priest, but he found a Brother, Brother Ronald, with whom he formed a deep, and deeply comforting, bond. when keith died, my father, agnostic as he was, tried to call a local priest who spoke at funerals, but no one answered the phone, and i was glad.  i knew that was a sign--we didn't need a stranger priest, we needed the man who was so close to keith's spiritual life, and so brother ronald came for the funeral.

i wanted desperately to be there when brother ronald spoke; i thought it would be the most spiritual instant, the forces of faith connecting us to my brother.  eventually, through all the odd partying quality of such gatherings, i had the most banal of human needs: i had to go to the bathroom. sitting on the toilet, in that absolutely graceless position, i started to sob and sat there sobbing and sobbing. the image of keith lying there in the coffin burned into my brain; he seemed to be there, on the door in front of me. I started talking out loud to him. 'i'm scared.  i'm afraid i'll never sleep again,' i sobbed.  'i know you've left your body and you're not there anymore, but i'm so scared i'll always see you there, in my  mind, for the rest of my life.'

so keith jumped up from the casket, stood on top of it, and began tap dancing.  'but seriously, folks,' he laughed in a sort of groucho marx voice, and grinned down at me.  and i laughed back, we laughed together and i sobbed out, 'thank you, keithie,'   and laughed again, because what would keith enjoy more than the sight of his big sister sobbing and laughing and peeing all at once?

when i left the ladies room, somebody came up to me, upset.  'we looked all over for you,' she said. 'brother ronald just gave his talk and we knew you wanted to be there!'  i thanked her and tried to look sorry that i'd missed it; it was kind of her to care.  how could i tell her that i really had been 'there,' at that moment when all keith's loved ones were surrounding his spirit, when all the things that we call prayer and love and communion were centering and mingling with him beyond his body?

i have never doubted that moment of seeing keith. had he come to me in a more traditional vision, solemnly announcing that he was at peace, i would have taken it for, at best, a metaphor from my own mind.   keith didn't do those things.  keith...tap-danced on coffins.  it was very very funny, and the most spiritual experience of my life.

he has come to me since, when i've needed him, though never so dramatically. his signs have been more traditional and less intense. he came a  few times in 1994, the year both my parents died, when  i called to him that it was too much for warren and me alone and he had to help us.  i have also strongly felt my father's presense once in a great while. but i've never had another experience like i had with keith at his funeral---maybe because i haven't needed it.

now, reading kundera's passages, it comes back to me very strongly. it pulls together some threads in my life--i still don't like thinking about my body being dead, but it doesn't bother too much.  i have willed my body to the harvard medical school, as a sensible sort of recycling which will also leave whoever gets stuck with my death the least trouble and expense. friends have found the idea horrifying, reminding me of what some medical students do with the corpses they work on.  i don't mind that. if my corpse can help someone learn medical skills, i'm happy. if it allows some laughter to relieve the grimness of their studies, so much the better.  i'm fairly sure that if i am aware after my death of what goes on with my body i'll be there with keith, and we'll giggle together---'but seriously, folks.....'