Meredith Sue Willis Blog Archives2004

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Italy 2005
Archives 2005



December 31
    Last day of the year! One of my friends says she just can't wait for this year to end, having had deaths in her family, bad news in the world. The other side of it, of course, is always that there is next year, which could be worse. We're going out to dinner with some friends, probably Joel with go with us, then out with his buds. All I have to do today is get to P.O. and clean up a little for the guests to come after dinner. The whole trick for me is to think one day at time, at least in terms of what tasks I have to perform. I get crazy when I start thinking about too many days and too many tasks and projects.... So I won't think about the whole year coming, just today.


December 26
Back from WV, ate homemade peanut brittle and fudge and cookies and Abruzzino bakery pecan pie and sticky buns from Weaver's in Hancock, MD, and lots of Joel and Andy with dueling computers on the kitchen table and cooking and washing dishes with my mother and worry about my dad who is eating less, not even demanding candy, probably depressed. The santa on the tree was one that has been on every tree since he was born: starting in 1917 when he was six weeks old! There is a delicate old ceramic bell, too, but it is so delicate my mother only puts it on the tree for a little while and then takes it off. We visited Margie Hardesty and Ina, saw Edith Burnett, bought Mom's exercycle, and generally were busy, and not there very long so I feel guilty. Driving back, snow on the ground in West Virginia and Maryland, then none in Pennsylvania, then snow in New Jersey!

Hazy gold treetips
Green black hillside evergreens:
The pink of winter!


December 23, 2004
We're off to sunny-- well, closer to the sun in altitude anyhow-- West Virginia tomorrow morning. I've got tons of gifts, have to buy a can of sweet potatoes and marshmallows to go with Mom's turkey breast and stuffing and stuff. She had to get a new stove– just delivered Monday, after a lifetime of the old Tappan, which finally was mostly not working and often smelling of gas. She was down to two burners and a possible explosion.
   Yesterday, Joel's old babysitter (from when she was a student) Charlene stopped by– great to see her, and we sent her home with a bag of frozen garden sauce from my garden–my tomatoes, basil, etc, but I guess it had commercial onions and garlic as I've pretty much given upon growing them. I pulled up two of the sunbrella-cold frames yesterday to get some lovely lettuce, Winter Marvel and Brune d'hiver, but the ground was more frozen that I realized, and I think I did some damage to the sunbrellas.


December 21
    Solstice, and now the days will get longer! My son is home from college, and we'll all be going to West Virginia to visit my parents for Christmas. We're an all-denominational family: Christmas and Hanukkah, and I just learned about Diwali this year (I was reading The Death of Vishnu by Manil Suri). And our local school district in New Jersey has been making national news because of a disagreement about the interpretation of No Religious Celebrations with a probably overly strict interpretation in the musical performance area. We've got a suit from a right wing foundation that, ironically enough, names itself after Thomas More, and lots of jokes from radio guys, and now a New Jersey gubernatorial hopeful comes to demonstrate by singing Christmas carols in front of the high school where they're having the Winter Concert. Busy, busy, busy


December 18
    Such a pleasure today to go down and cut a fair amount of kale fro the garden (plus a little mustard greens and collards and komatsura) to go in a sausage soup. Sun shining, cold, ground hard with a little frost in the shady places. This feels like a good day: Joel comes home tomorrow evening, we're driving to West Virginia in a few days to check on my parents and be with them for


December 13, 2004
    There's this huge controversy going on in town about Christmas music being played by the high school brass ensembled-- that is to say, wordless music. It's an interesting issue because of the emotions expressed both by people who have for years felt furious and offended by songs about Jesus and his birthday filling the air-- people who feel left out and even culturally threatenes-- and of course those to whom the Christmas songs are like mother's milk--safe and warm and all-encompassing. One line of thinking is that you can't study Western music without Christian music, to which there is the answer: Yes, but not at the time of celebrating the holidays! We've been on national news and local. And now the local South Orange-Maplewood bulletin board has positions by a conservative friend of my son's-- and my son too! See, a thread called "Maplewood-South Orange Schools Promote Secular Ideology" under "Education."


December 12, 2004
     I really love winter sky– I've been out for a walk, after getting a Coalition executive committee meeting ready for tonight, and before going to the meeting. We've had two days of rain followed by two days of gray, but just as I was going up Midland Boulevard and about to turn south again, all of a sudden there was a break in the clouds, and the low sun broke through and made the trees and houses had this magical gilded-glow briefly. Then it faded, but there was still a nice mix of gray blue and white overhead, and a little later a muted glare between two layers of nimbus.
Nine days until solstice, and then lengthening days. I'm facing a lot of travelling in the next month–West Virginia, possibly a real vacation with airplanes, too, which would thrill most people, but scares me spitless.


December 8, 2004
     I was at Warren Street School in Newark, New Jersey today as part of the artists-in-residence program of the Newark Museum. This was a day of one-shot author-visits as part of an art-writing project. I even had kindergarteners, who were cute and gave hugs (more and more hugs, as some observed the others hugging-- all girls). Later in the day I had one fifth grade boy ask, "Are Hispanics Caucasian? Because they look like it!" At that school, the whitest kids other than the teachers are some kids with Spanish last names.
    I had just wowed the class by talking about my old fashioned school and how I knew people who had "outhouses," and were poor. I saw this look of disbelief that I have seen in other contexts with Newark kids, and I said, "You know, a lot of kids in Newark think all white people are rich, but where I came from there are a LOT of poor people who are white."
   Which required some kind of evidence, and all I could come up with was how, until fairly recently, there were people back in the hollows with outdoor toilets. Which is more impressive to urban kids than to people who live in the country and grow up going in the weeds if you're on, say, a hike, even if you have a Jacuzzi back at the house...

December 5, 2004
      Lots of tentative travel plans: we're driving to West Virginia for Christmas, then Joel wants to spend some of the money he earned last summer going to Arizona with his suite mates to visit the one from Arizona and then down to Mexico where Arizona suite mate's family has a house and they have in mind to hang out in Puerto Penasco on the Sea of Cortez and, no doubt, party. Why does he want to see the suite mates he sees all the time? And Andy has an idea to fly to London for a few days– what is this about? I don't like to fly and don't like my loved ones flying either!

December 1, 2004
     This is International AIDS day, I hear on WBAI on the radio. Also a decision to destroy some community gardens in the South Bronx--giving them some new empty lots, but apparently also destroying some magnificent homemade gardens with crabapple trees, peaches, and all those perennials lost. The announcer all deeply moved and irate, and me so much less exercised that I used to be. Corrupted by association with all this compromising out here in the 'burbs and being part of an actual organization? Perhaps. Perhaps more cynical. But no, not cynicism, only with this extra awareness of all sides, and of the downside of endless sympathy for the downtrodden, never fighting directly for your ownself, always for the others. Isn't this a good and necessary thing? Yes, but how much better when we are all fighting for something we are in together: Social Security, maybe, or clean air. I don't want to be reaching down anymore.

November 30, 2004
     There's that terrible loss of that thing, that bubble of attractiveness that made people respond to your tears, pay attention to you without regard to what you were saying (and how you hated that!). It was sex, freshness, life force. Everyone loves children, everyone is drawn to the young and nubile. Now eyes shift over you– unless you are in direct relation. This is not always bad, far from it– the streets of New York have become truly comfortable to me, as if the city had become softer and more welcoming, and indeed I think it probably has, a little, and I spend more time in places like the West Village and other affluent spots than in the old days. But I'm not prey in the way I once was: sex bait.
     When you reach even older, with no brown left in your hair, if your step becomes a little inform, then you'll be prey again.
     My late mother-in-law (nineteen thirties glamour girl!) alerted me to how people feel about losing that aura of attractiveness. She complained about it bitterly, all the time, and I felt my inner disdain for things I was sure I'd never do or I'd never feel. Like eating off my child's plate.
    Yeah right. That particular voice in my brain is a certain sign I have a fall coming.



November 26, 2004
     Well, it's still sunny, and we're back from Connecticut where Andy and I stayed at the Clinton motel, Joel at Ellen's along with her family, andthe other Weinbergers in another room at the Clinton motel. It was a bellyaching good time, too much food and wine-- Ellen's usual delicious turkey, carrot souffle with walnut crisp top, turnips. taters red and white, beans, stuffings, etc. etc., and for dessert, pumpkin pie, cheesecake, brownies. Pound cake and whipped cream and berries. And more. Joel shaggy haired and distinctly not wanting suggestions from his parents. Lots of laughing, the traditional viewing of Jurassic Park, a late evening walk with the sky suddenly clear and windy with the temperature dropped thirty degrees. In the morning, we got up at six thirty a.m. to go shopping at Clinton Corners: Kenneth Cole, Geoffrey Beene, all the guys. Joel has moved his taste in clothing to DKNY. Everyone did okay, although I was less in the mood to consume material goods than I sometimes am. An orgy of consumption, but relaxing to be all belly and eye and fingertips on fabric.


November 21, 2004

November Evening Poem

Red magenta pink
Black trunk, crimson gold edged leaves–
Trees, you create light!


November 19, 2004
   I'm a special kind of wiped out today– an important meeting of the Commnity Coalition Trustees last night, as well as a lot of prepartion for today, so that was tense. The trustees went well in the end, and then it was up at six a.m. to get over to Seton Hall University by 6:30 a.m. for the fund-raiser breakfast, which was in the Atrium at Kozlowski Hall, a beautiful space, a little tough in the acoustics department, but we had ninety people! Raised some money, made some friends, we hope, and got out at 8:30, having started at 7:40! I came home for an hour, then went to Warren Street School in Newark. That took the usual serious but rewarding effort, came home, ate too much lunch, napped for twenty minutes, made chili for dinner, and now turns out that Andy is off, wants to go to a movie so we may not get to eat it.

November 17
     I'm looking forward to the winter solstice-- can't come too soon. It is very dark these days, and I find myself if I'm out among 'em chipper enough, and on days I work at home, work is fine too, but darkness falls, and it seems to fall around the corneers of my eyes. I make up haiku when I take my run:

Only air between
My forehead and high bright sky:
Oh, November light!

November darkness
Darker than January
Days getting shorter.

The problem with this time of year is that even what is cheerful seems dim, and the bad things we hear-- illness nearby, murder and war abroad-- that darkness sucks the bright.


November 12
      Two views of the past: One, the books I hadn't looked at in a long time, all covered with dust, plus a little square block of a baby book of Joel's– a coat of dust, so sad and dry. And then, Two, within ten minutes, I was looking at publications from the old 1976 Phillip Lopate comic book project at P.S. 75, and Bob Sievert's comic of the comic book project, and my fotonovela "The 4 Winds," with the girlsl from the bilingual class--black and white photos with little white balloon tags, and suddenly the past was very alive, the past is with us, enriching, today.
     It was very striking– in a context of getting together some word/picture stuff for the Newark Museum project where I'll be doing some comix and graphic novels again with kids, in some form– starting later this morning. But the main thing was how within one swath of time (I was tired of course, always a factor as I get older) I went from feeling so sad and overwhelmed by books it has been so long since I've read, most poignantly the ones from Joel's babyhood, to that flash of revivifying memory from the seventies and our work at P.S. 75.
    Thus: my Daily Insight: That the future and the past are analogous for the young and the old. I am just on the cusp, future getting short fast. But the more important point is that both of these things live in the imagination– the elder's long past, edited and embellished perhaps, and the young person's wildly powerful hoped-for future. Both playing fields of the imagination. For me, I hope, the past will be rich and enriching to others.

November 8, 2004
     I am getting more and more sure that there's this place people have that can be reached through meditation, what some call prayer, that I tend to call "creativity" or some such.  It is the quick, the vital core, from which insights and ideas spring up, full-fledged, with feathers and the ability to fly. It is the finest thing I know, to work at my writing or sometimes to leave my writing and go sit in the back yard or to take a run– and it happens: a vision, an idea, a solution, a whole scene springs up.
      My belief is that this is the human doing its thing, integrating whatever is floating around in me, my experiences, voices I've heard, the movement of my muscles. But if someone could prove to me beyond the shadow of a doubt that this came from some god, or from Oneness with the Universe, or from a Jungian archetype of past human experience– I wouldn't be particularly surprised.
      In other words, I think my creative insights are probably made of the same stuff as my mother's prayers and someone else's meditation and someone else's mystical experience. It is the most wonderful sensation, and I think it must be fairly common, more common to some that to others– it is totally wonderful, but has no more ethical content than sex or biting into a big sweet ripe peach. Albert Speer no doubt felt it, the rush, as he envisioned some imperial monstrosity to express the ambitions of  the Third Reich.
     What is needed along with this thing is reason and experience and ethics. Omigod, I'm getting a philosophy: this place where creative stuff arises is totally amoral and non-ethical. Ethics, it seems to me rises from reason and experience, although probably the greatest leaders (speaking broadly here– poets and the first people who figured out you could sow the seed you'd been gathering--as well as political leaders) probably had both things, the ethical outlook and that great upsurge from the place I don't have a name for. It's the brain/heart, feeling/thinking thing.

November 5
     The mistake was actually thinking the good guys might come out on top when they didn't have a single message except maybe Bush Sucks. I have always kept myself a little aloof from the battle over which branch of the ruling class wins– always voting for the party with the marginally better policies and possibility of appointing judges– but this time I thought there was a chance, and that way depression lies. Yes, it would have made a difference, but we would not have withdrawn from Iraq. I arrived at writers' group last night to hear Carol Emshwiller and Rebecca Kavaler laughing hilariously inside: they were speculating that the North should have let the South go during the Civil War– and maybe we should leave the union now! On WBAI they were saying the map looked like India after the partition of Pakistan. November 4, 2004
   Update on the weather: outside gray with rain coming later (but gray sky means the orange and yellow look especially fine), and I've have an early morning Coalition meeting that reminds me we have other work to do. Also a long conversation with Joel at college last night--I had asked him for some of his Libertarian friends' arguments for why it isn't the end of the world. The Libertarians say, well, if those middle class Americans can't see their own interests are being screwed by this administration, well, screw them, us more affluent folks will be just fine. For the real deal, see The Brown Daily Squeal, especally scroll down to Rob Montz. So that's where the smart young money is? Of course, I believe they're idealists at heart, but heart-wounded by this world. And even if the anti-altruism is a problem, the fact is that we are so far lucky, to be breathing, having plenty to eat, beautiful turning trees for everyday visions. No bubonic plague, legal slavery outlawed. No shooting civil war yet.

November 3, 2004
  Well, it's Wednesday morning and it looks a lot like Bush is going to get what he interprets as a mandate, shades of Orwellian Newspeak. They are still counting votes, but you have to put your money on Bush, and we will be looking at four more years of degrading the environment and robbing the poor of education and health care to feed the investment portfolios of the rich. Of bullying abroad, of giving Israel free rein to impoverish and fence off the Palestinians, of more recruitment for Al Queda because of our heavy handed international bullying, of decreasing civil rights at home. It's a grim prospect, and I'm old enough that the cushion of biological hope is gone: I not longer believe that it just has to turn out okay!
During a short night of bad sleep, I half dreamed about a sort of two dimensional map in which we in the Northeast were boxed in and surrounded by by rigid triumphant evangelical Christians at home and rigid triumphant evangelical Islam abroad. And us secular Jews and ethical culturists and gaia goddess people and pointy headed intelectuals not to mention African-Americans and self-identified anti-racists-- that we were finally separated out by the zealots and put in concentration camps.
      And us all saying, "How could it happen? We didn't hate anybody! We paid our taxes! We were good Germans--I mean Americans. This isn't rational!"
     Which is, of course, the point. It isn't rational for blue collar Ameridcans to vote against their economic self-interest for an ideologue and bully like Bush. But maybe this huge rush of irrationality is the underside of democracy? That religious fantatics and Hindu nationalists are able to energize people to feel their own righteousness until there is a critical mass that begins to push public policy down a slippery slope away from reason and toward stepping on those who don't really count as people becaue they aren't part of the majority.
     This vision makes old fashioned venal ward heelers and patrician do-gooders and maybe even Wall street tycoons look good. I wonder if the masses will ever get smart, or are masses indeed by definition stupid? This is disheartening to me, as I've always been a sort of Carl Sandburg populist at heart (The People Yes!). But something has degenerated badly about the People, or maybe I've just stopped trusting them.
      It's a gorgeous golden day outside, very windy, and I'm feeling enormous loss.
      Wouldn't it be nice to believe it didn't matter how sad and suffering now, everything will be just fine On the Other Side. No wonder Al Queda and Hamas and Pat Robertson and the rest have no trouble finding followers.


October 31, 2004
     I'm worn out from answering the doorbell for trick-or-treaters, eating little "funsized" candy bars, and repeating my stupid joke--asking the kids if they had brought me my candy. A few got the joke, but most of them were in very serious mode and either told me "No, you're supposed to give us candy!" (the little ones) or didn't hear me at all (the big kids who were trick-or-treating while they talked on their cell phones). One girl said to her friends, "That means she's out of candy," and she turned on her heel to leave! Anyhow, I gave them all candy, and also threw away a diaper for a teenage brother or possibly father. One boy was wearing a George Bush mask and a cowboy outfit labelled "Mad Cowboy Disease." He said everyone was giving him extra candy...
   They started while it was still bright. So warm for the last day of October, also the first day back on Eastern Standard Time, so darkness seemed to come on fast. A splendid day while it lasted, though.

October 25, 2004
     We're back from Parents Week-end at Brown-- always such a thrill to see Joel in his new context, also a thrill to visit interesting old city of Providence, but above all the hint of that wonderful college experience. They feed their parents hot hors d'oeuvres and fruit plates and tea bread breakfasts, and tell us how wonderful we and our kids are. Everyone loves pesident Ruth Simmons -- well enough that students were selling tee shirts with her picture on the green! The special lectures and talks were terrific, of course: a keynote by Chris Matthews, Brown parent and Hardball t.v. guy, a terrific if long lecture by a professor named Gordon Wood on Benjamin Franklin; a lecture by the chair of the economics department on game theory that showed a clip of A Beautiful Mind; and a talk that needed the basketball arena to hold the audience with Brown parent Dustin Hoffman. It included clips from his movies, talk about his acting, funny stories about how he passed as a woman on the set of Tootsie as well as how bad he felt when guys who didn't know who he was didn't express any interest in her. Andy went to the mike and asked the first question about the meaning of the end of The Graduate, and they projected his picture twenty feet high on the simulcast screen! We also took a tour that included the terrific splendid enormous white frame Baptist church, built in 1775, but founded, by Roger Williams in 1638, and we also saw the big fancy 18th century John Brown mansion, first owned by the slave trade Browns, but later generations of Brown got consciences and moved their money into the China trade. Oh, and I got to see the club that wouldn't let mayor Buddy Cianci in, and the condo where he lived and may or may not have thrust a poker at the guy he thought was sleeping with his wife! Fancy lunch at a seafood place, a dance concert that premiered four works, one of them starring blenders while the dancers cried out: "Whip! Frappe! Liquefy!"
    It was totally exhausting, and on Sunday morning we saw Joel in his tap dance group, What's On Tap, in an open rehearsal. We managed to do all of this plus get to hug Joel...

October 17
     Drove back from Shinnston today, sunny, reds and oranges among the greens coming over through Cumberland. There was a lot of rain in Shinnston-- high points, aside from eating pecan pie from Abruzzino's bakery, included Shelli Z's Exotic birds: I visited twice and got to hold a cockatiel and a big red macaw. Great birds! Also visited Edith Burnett's cockatiel Baby. Mom goes for dogs, and birds do it for me. I thought about this a while, and I suppose the basic thing is that I had parakeets when I was a kid and got used to them, and then spent the better part of ten years keeping company with another one, but the gift to me was always that it was so exotic, the communication with a creature who really isn't bred so long in company with people like a dog. My mom doesn't get it; she thinks birds are pretty and interesting, but she kisses dogs, carries treats for them, shouts to them from a block away. Treats them totally like particularly nice people you can be free with. Which reminds me of the long story I read in the big collection Worlds Of Fiction. It's much too big for reading cover to cover, so I've been doing the stories by African writers, and really liked "Mrs. Plum" by Es'kia Mphahlele. One of the plot elements is the attitudes towards dogs of the white South African "madams" and the servants. It's funny and crucial, and embarrassing for us of the dog loving persuasion, which no doubt has a lot more to do with socio economic status than with race-- that is, if you've got money to feed and care for and love a puppy, you are wealthy by the standards of most of the people in the world.


October 12
      I'm off to Shinnston, where I don't have access to the Internet-- actually, it isn't that Shinnston lacks access. My friends there are extremely computer-active, having found the Web a perfect way to be in touch with the world fully and still live in Almost Heaven-- it's rather the household where I'll be, my parents', age 85 and 87, that isn't wired to the Internet. And even that isn't entirely true. My mother after much nagging finally accepted a gift of a Mailstation, which is a small dedicated e-mail machine, and she likes it and uses it, but isn't interested in a computer. So it's going to be me and my aged portable computer without a modem, plus the mailstation for emergencies, telephone, of course, lots of neighbors dropping by, bowls of candy to stave off neurosis.October 6
     I have been busy busy. We used to have a postcard from my father's father that said "Busy as button on outhouse door." Which I thought, at age six, was pretty risque. NYU has started up again, "Beginning Your Novel," with sixteen people-- more than I'm used to. I just finished sending back the homework from my final session of the Back to School special online writing class. I spent yesterday finishing a rapid final polish of a new novel, doing a lot of mailing out of portfolios about jobs, and meetings for the Coalition, and a lot of time this morning with Coalition phone calls. Tomorrow is my new gold crown going in, plus baking a cake for Andy's birthday, but at least I don't have to go to Federal Plaza in New York to the National Labor Relations Board-- I was supposed to testify in an adjuncts' union case against NYU (we were trying to get NYU to include people who teach online to be included in the bargaining unit!), but NYU decided to accept the online teachers. It was annoying to have to make the trips, but I was just beginning to get interested in the process of testifying and being cross-examined...

September 28
     The weather people keep going on about the rain today--"tropical depression Jeanne," they call it, yearning to be part of the big excitement of this hurricane season. More serious to me was the big fire in some of the Long Island Railroad tunnels under the East Side of New York-- they closed Penn Station, which was okay with me becasue trains were rerouted to Hoboken, and it was my first night of Beginning Your Novel at NYU. So I took a train that usually goes to Penn Station, but they said was going to Hoboken-- and halfway there announced it was going to Penn after all! Only moderately annoying for me, as I simply walked over a block and took the PATH down to the Village. But one of my students was from way out on Long Island, and she was worried about getting home.
    And of course, when you hear sirens, see firefighters, learn Penn Station is closed, what do you think of these days? However well you think you understand the world, politics-- you're still afraid of being blown up by some misguided or desperate idealist. Lord save us from True Believers of all stripes.

September 22
     I've been yearning for a working fountain pen-- you can't buy the cheap old Parker cartridge pens in Staples or Office Max anymore. Apparently profits reside with the new smearing ball points. Well, I've now got a company that sells beautiful incredibly expensive pens with a handful of affordable ones, and I ordered a pen! Maybe I won't any longer hate handwriting.
     This is another gorgeous day-- on the hot side and windy, but lots of shade of course. Tomorrow will be the first day of autumn. I got a little writing done, went out for Very Important Errands-- not doctors for once! And got myself some photos done from the digital camera to send to mom. Also Green Market, DVD store, wine for writers' group, and a shirt for Daddy's birthday, some cheapola jewelrey for me. Plus a big sushi box to go from the new Japanese on SO Ave, Sakana. Andy is out, so I just indulged myself in Japanese food, which he doesn't like.

September 17
     Andy's Aunt Roz forwarded some little stories that are sentimental but humanist. I burst into tears over one of them– the little boy who thought he had to died to save his sister? Most of them sound pretty apocryphal at best, and I do hate it when sentimentality sets me off! The little story that got to me was this one:

Many years ago, when I worked as a volunteer at a hospital, I got to know a little girl named Liz who was suffering from a rare &serious disease. Her only chance of recovery appeared to be a blood transfusion from her 5-year old brother, who had miraculously survived the same disease and had developed the antibodies needed to combat the illness. The doctor explained the situation to her little brother, and asked the little boy if he would be willing to give his blood to his sister. I saw him hesitate for only a moment before taking a deep breath and saying, "Yes I'll do it if it will save her." As the transfusion progressed, he lay in bed next to his sister and smiled, as we all did, seeing the color returning to her cheek. Then his face grew pale and his smile faded. He looked up at the doctor and asked with a trembling voice, "Will I start to die right away". Being young, the little boy had misunderstood the doctor; he thought he was going to have to give his sister all of his blood in order to save her.

     I don't know if it was my mood or what. Probably the mood. Killing time last evening before the movies at Essex Green, I went in to see the parakeets in the pet shop, and almost but not quite started crying. Among the annoying sentimental things that sometimes make me cry are: parakeets in petstore or photographs of my dead parakeet or sometimes cutting the grass near where we laid her to rest. Also, sometimes a blatantly sentimental piece of cinematic, literary, or even sub-literary material will set me off. I don't mind the parakeets so much, but I really hate having my heartstrings plucked, almost mechanical, as if I had electrodes implanted in my brain like the poor guys in the movie we saw last night, The Manchurian Candidate.
      Something that makes me laugh instead: a conversation with a techie at Symantec, a young woman who tried to describe to me the importance of Norton Internet Security: "Your operating system," she said, "It's like the engine of your car, and Norton Internet Security is like the oil that makes the car run and all the other programs are like hood ornaments." Some imagery!

(Photo of Charley Brown Willis-Weinberger, 1993-2003)


September 15
     Started the day as Scourge of the Slugs: I go down in the morning with a one pound rock in my hand and overturn boards and smash slugs on the ground, against the boards, against rocks. It gives me this nasty shiver of– forgive me!– pleasure. I'm doing it to save the tender little lettuce just started to be salad for fall and then over wintered under clear plastic umbrellas for spring. It's one the chief pleasures of the garden– f resh lettuce from the garden harvested throughout the winter.



September 13
     I had a busy day in the community yesterday with the first Ethical Culture meeting (Boe Meyerson talking about Kant!) plus a Coalition meeting of the Interfaith Outreach Committee in the evening, but mainly a huge successful, beautiful Block Party of the Village Colonials Neighborhood Association! See pix!


September 11, 2001
     September 11, 2004 Sirens woke us this morning– much too early to be noting the WTC attacks or building collapses, annoying. The WTC artwork was by Mahasin Pomarico for the Ethical Culture website. It was her reaction to the attacks.
      It's beautiful if a little damp today, and I've already made pesto for coming parties with Village Colonial Neighborhood Association tomorrow and Betty Levin's Jewish New Year event. We've got Ethical tomorrow. Frustrating time last night failing to install Labels Unlimited on Andy's old computer/Ethical's new one. And the Ethical site is somehow blocked out–a page marker saying the transfer was successful, but no Ethical site.
      So lots of little frustrations plus the general reminders of how bad things can be in the Times (guess which town has more children teens and under orphaned by 9-11 than any other? Basking Ridge, New Jersey! Followed by something in Long Island, maybe Valley Stream, and then Middletown, NJ). Disappointing garden this year– only one winter squash that I see coming on, very little summer squash (rain, squash vine borers). Still, good basil, decent tomatoes (although none for a couple of days), lettuce all summer (rain again). Except for the increasing shadiness, I guess it's just an ordinary summer. 8:30 PM They're showing pictures and pictures on t.v. of 9-11. Much of it is shocking, moving, important, but after about fifteen minutes you start to realize that something else is happening-- it isn't just the chocolate pudding of the towers collapsing (not my image) but a kind of fakery, of a message being given that more shocking is more meaningful when it's really numbing. Most meaningful to me was one person's story at a time: Suzanne's story-- she and Gary rode bikes south to see what was happening as everyone else struggled north-- plus the teachers I worked with for the 9-11 Teachers College Press project. For me, real people's stories, verbal and in writing. T.V. is corrupted by selling: can't distingish experience from what will make a profit for the sponsors.

September 10, 2001
     Daily Show Polls favoring Bush, but John Kerry showed up on Jon Stewart’s Daily Show last night, a little stiff, very earnest about his health plan etc., but also with a gorgeous grin and seeming honestly appreciative of Stewart’s humor (“You may be a fourth Jew, but I’m the whole thing–” and “Tell me, is it true that every time I put ketchup on my fries that your wife gets five cents?”). I've been watching the Daily Show while I exercise my bad shoulder, and I especially like the Stephen Colbert bits-- last night, he has his charming 8 year old daughter acting the part of "Big Oil," and telling her feelings!

September 6, 2004
    Summer is officially over! We closed up the lake house-- I took a final photo of the hammock where I like to lie and look up at the white pine the hammock is hanging from. Sometimes I look out at the lake as well, but up is something special. It's my summer quietude where I think about eating and floating in the lake and no Community Coallition business and some writing but very little business, hardly even e-mail.








August 30, 2004
   Tak and Chiaki, our newlywed visitors from Japan are charming together, so interested in each other. Tak is the cousin of Joel's cousin--that is, my sister's husband's nephew. Chiaki is from Shikoku Island, and is working on a Ph.D. in vocal music! Specializing in Japanese "classical:" composers like Yamada, Taki, Nakata, and Takemitsu. She has lovely skin, and Tak is so slim now (he was chubby when we first met him when he was a high school exchange students). He has a confident, pleasant face and strong deep voice. She laughs and covers her mouth just a little, Japanese style, not nearly as much as older Japanese women. Her English has limited vocabulary, but she nods as if she understands everything, although I think much of it is good acting. However, when she does speak– in answer to a question, she speaks with an excellent accent. Is this because she is trained singer to whom sounds come with manifold distinctions, more than the rest of us hear? She seems very happy and cheerful, and together they are– I feel so old saying this!– so cute!
    They brought us gifts from Japan, and from Takeshi's mother a lovely bag designed by a famous Japanese writer named Uno Chiyo who I've now looked up, and ordered a book by. "Most famous Japanese woman writer of the twentieth century."

August 24
    It's another "back again entry." Joel and I went to West Virginia to visit with the Willises, who are doing not too badly, all things considered. It was pleasant weather-- this has indeed been a cool and rainy summer-- and we had visits from an old friend from the neighborhood and her granddaughter, who Joel entertained by carrying on his back and running up and downstairs....I paid some other visits, took some photos of Shinnston, ate take-out from Sunset Ellis-- spaghetti with good West Virginia Italian sauce-- and Joel discovered a place to get great pecan pie, Abruzzino's bakery. This made us all happy. We also went to church at the First Baptist Church of Shinnston, where I am still an official member, and enjoyed the personality if not necessarily the theology of Reverend Ivan Hawkins, the new minister. It's a whole new set of people there now, since the church split up and a lot of Mom's old friends went off with the last minister. They look active and young, and Reverend Hawkins seems to emphasize being happy and loving much more than fire insurance, which strikes me as good. It is also amazing to me that the old First Baptist called an African-American to be the pastor-- they are suddenly beginning to be an integrated church! Mercy Mercy Mercy.

August 19, 2004
   I went to the Met where I saw a big exhibition of Childe Hassam, and liked some of his things a lot– the snowy and rainy street scenes in NYC and Boston, maybe the Bostons best, actually, and also his Barbizon style block dark countrysides. But I am vaguely tired of the art of the wealthy– I understand that in as far as art is a luxury, there has to be added value in someone's economy or bankbook to support it, thus the Church in the Middle Ages, thus the people wealthy enough to buy paintings in the Gilded Age through WWI. Anyhow, Hassam was explicitly avoiding poor people in his later work. Anyhow, I'm a little tired of it (a lot of things at the Sterling in Williamstown, even my story about Gustav Klimt.)   But, exciting and new-to-me was was the photography of August Sander, his huge project of indexing German people. All those face on people in the brown prints. A group called "People who came to my door" included a beggar, a peddler, and a bailiff! Also revolutionaries and the odd Nazi. What an amazing collection. I bought 6 or 7 postcards as samples, but it was the sheer mass of art work as well as the individual portraits that got to me.


August 12
   It's gray with rain and thunderstorms planned for today-- "grainy," I used to call it, back when I was into inventing words. I had a big bout with the dentist yesterday and feel pretty beat up about it. My summer vacation, it appears, will be full of check-ups and dentist's chairs. Sigh.

August 8
   Back from a wedding in Williamsport, PA, where we stayed at the fabulous Genetti Hotel, which really was a nice old fashioned hotel (our room was the Jackie Gleason room!), even though it was wildly noisy with a regional convention of Narcotics Anonymous. I'm trying to figure out why being a recovering addict means that you embrace your friends for long hugs (okay, that I understand), then step back ten paces and SHOUT at each other. Yes, dozens of people in the lobby and in front, SHOUTING happily at one another. The lake was great this year-- fewer mosquito bites because of the very cold weather, I expect, and with the new roof, knock on wood, no bats. Got back a few hours ago, and I've been happily doing the wash (sheets and towels from the lake) and freezing beans, making sauce, variously using up garden stuff. David and Nathan are still there, David practicing with his new camera which took some neat pictures of the kids water skiing, plus some arty interiors like this one of the colorful blobs of glass with ceramic apple and other things that Sherry keeps (and we still keep) in a blue bowl on the inside dining room table: So now I've got an exterior of the lake house AND an interior. I'm a lot more relaxed this year than I've been in the recent past, perhaps because of the lack of the flying creatures. Today just as nice at home as at the lake.


July 29
July is almost over, and the Democrats are building up to Kerry's speech-- there are some fine speakers, but I understand that Kerry isn't one of them. I just read brother-in-law David Weinberger's blog from the Fleet Center in Boston (he's one of the handful of bloggers who got convention passes). He says he has decided to watch the Speech the way it was meant to be-- on television! And he went home! It's so funny...

July 22, 2004
We've got a little spate of real summer weather going on: hot and damp, but not the kind of deadly heat that makes you want to lie in front of a fan and pant, like an old hound dog. Or else go shopping in a big air conditioned mall somewhere. We'll be going to Andy's family cottage in Western Massachusetts in a week or so, and there when you get hot, you go float in the lake on what we call a "noodle," one of the long colored styrofoam tubes that give you just enough support that you are in the water but don't actually have to swim to keep your head above water. Joel and Andy will make a lot of noise and stink up the atmosphere water skiing. I basically write for an hour, go for a run, get sweaty, soak in the lake, then eat a lot. Very relaxing. Of course, since this is the Berkshires, if you can organize the group (us, Andy's sister, someitmes one of her grown sons, wife, dog, plus Andy's brother, wife, 1 - 3 kids) you go to hear music at Tanglewood, or, for us, more likely, see a Shakespeare production at Shakespeare and Company. We've been taking the kids there since they were toddlers, and Joel still remembers seeing a highly comic scene from Midsummer Night's Dream when he was about three. It was a great way to turn on little kids to culchah. Then I need to get down to West Virginia to check on my parents, and also give them and Joel a chance to spend a little time together. Usually I go to Shinnston and stay for a night or two then go on to a conference or other event, but this will be just visiting. July 16, 2004We saw La Regle Du Jeu tonight, from Netflix, having seen Grand Illusion a few weeks ago. Very nice, slow compared to what movies are like these days-- I remember taking a film course with Andrew Sarris when I was at the School of the Arts at Columbia University. Sarris talked about Renoir all the time. I never got the combination of lightness and blood he would speak of, though, before actually seing the movies (Duh...). I loved all the people, and how sad the mass murder of the rabbits was! The photo is of Nora Gregor in her role as Christine. Renoir himself plays an important character, essential to the movie, but you don't feel the director's ego all over it. There is a lot of easy-access commentary on the web, like this little article, and of course you can get it from Netflix--once we finally send it back.

July 15, 2004
   We live in history and in our social settings, but areconscious of it only rarely. That is to say, we follow the news more or less, and when some great event happens to our nation or our race, we are moved, or we are manipulated to be moved, and we feel some hint of our relationship to the rest. We are more aware of ourselves as part of something larger when we are, say, members of a PTA or Board of a nonprofit. In these things we have some satisfaction, some sense of empowerment. But the things on television, the great public events and disasters (disputed elections, the collapse of the world trade center, a bombing, an earthquake), we feel overcome with our smallness in the face of that thing. Spiritual people take comfort by plugging themselves into the greatness, and political activists take action that they see as confronting evil. For each of us personally, though, history is a mystery-- how a particular tree did not fall on a particular farmer clearing the land, and how a particular woman in childbirth had enough antibodies to bacteria to fight off the infection from the hands of the country doctor or midwife trying to help her. These survivors whose genetic packets came to be me were buffeted by chance, by the big events, the wars: my father's eyes too weak when he tried to volunteer for the second world war, even though they would have been allowed under the draft: thus my father working in a warplane factory in Akron Ohio instead of dying on the beach at Normandy.

July 8, 2004
   This morning: cats in the garden! I went down before breakfast to stick in labels for the potatoes and onions before I forget when planted them, and found the mostly white cat I've been seeing around sprawled out comfortably on the conveniently-supplied salt hay in the earlymorning sun. Oh, and with it was a maybe-eight week old kitten of same colors. "Get out of my garden, cat!" I shouted, and the cat, without any apparent regret toward the kitten, made a mad dash for the far fence, half climbed and half leaped over it– into the weeds and disappeared. Meanwhile, the kitten was running along the inside perimeter of the fence in a panic, couldn't climb, couldn't get under the fence, finally escaped under some loose fence. I am very disappointed in the mothering instincts of our feral cat population. Meanwhile I almost stepped on a headless gray feathered bird carcass– large baby robin, maybe? Fledgling mocking bird? The cats had been sort of lolling around their trophy, enjoying the morning. I don't want them doing it in my vegetable garden! It took two sticks to lift the carcass out, fighting off blue bottle flies, and toss it into the weeds.

July 2, 2004
   And here is what green looks like, in July just after the summer solstice so the days are getting shorter, but still feeling long in their incredible warmth. This is green in the evening when the sun is going down, and the sky is alight with color that you don't even notice because of the green. Which is so dense and deep it could make you cry with its loveliness.


June 29
   It has been an incredibly lovely spate of real June days: dry, sunny, and gorgeous-- sun feels pleasant, not brutal, mosquitoes only come out when it's dusk. And speaking of creatures, we've begun trapping (in Havaharts) raccoons again. Caught one small raccoon and one big possum, but the animal control guy in South Orange won't take away possums: he says they eat dead animals. So Andy puts out crackers with strawberry jam, and we're hoping to catch more of the beasties and maybe empty them out of the carriage house.The weather isn't too hot, but humid, and I've been cutting grass and picking cilantro for cilantro pesto for dinner and leaves of basil that I dried for the winter in the microwave, plus salad. We're working on a short trip to the lake, to check on the new roof and the supply of bats. No wildlife here since since Tuesday. But I did hear some crows-- we used to have the most wonderful flock of crows, but they seemed to have been decimated over the last couple of years, by West Nile virus, maybe. So it was a pleasure to hear a raucus handful of them fly over.

June 20
     Sunday night, and we've had a family sort of week-end-- Father's Day today,me doing papers for the Advanced Novel Class at NYU, mostly on the back porch with that lovely breeze and brilliant sky and clouds.. Andy and I went to Ethical, which was a summer solstice event with Louisa Lubiak in tights and a harlequin skirt-apron, a bright green top cut nineteenforties sexy and a wreath of ivy in her hair. She was great. There was some singing and moving around the room to music, the children doing pranks, and other stuff. We went home-- and mirabile dictu-- a man came from Verizon and fixed the broken phone line! The only problem after he discovered the short in the basement was getting the DSL line active again, which Joel did eventually.
      We went to the Father's Day buffet at Neelam in South Orange-- lovely rice, lovely vegetarian dishes and chicken dishes and pickles and sauces and two kinds of pudding for dessert. And this evening, we watched Jean Renoir's La Grande Illusion. A lovely touching film I've heard of for years and had never seen. The good guys and bad guys were both good. Joel says old black and white movies assume too quickly that you'll identify with the characters they want you to identify with.
     The Times magazine has a short article by someone named Jim Holt on a new study that shows people who are happy tend to be more likely to accept stereotypes in other people! Is it that those who are happy tend to be those who have accepted the status quo?

June 18
     We've had some serious heat the last few days-- or maybe it's just the humidity, as they say. Tomorrow it's supposed to dry out a little-- still sunny, but someplace for the sweat to go. I have the celebration at the Newark Museum for the Maple Avenue children, and then probably yard work-- grass cutting. I've been working in the garden, a little every day-- June is when the crab grass really takes hold, spreading out its tenacious arms from its reddish center and grabbing hold. It's amazing how going away for a couple of days throws me behind in things like the garden. Other activities: watching Master and Commander with Andy, better than I expected, only a few storms when it looks like they should all be drowned but they're not. Ditto the battle scenes, but lots of good stuff in between, places where my imagination fails when I read about ships because I know so little.

June 11
     Last regular day at the Maple Avenue School in Newark-- I really enjoyed working with Mr. John Gierla and teachers like Mrs. McNeill. The kids, satisfying to have some connection with, as always. They really got into their anthologies-- nice orange book this year! We spent the period reading, talking about the reception at the Newark Museum next week. Then we read all their pieces aloud-- slowing down of the action, Mr. G. as a real veteran knows to do this, while I still try to fill every instant of my time, keeping 'em entertained, keep 'em thrilled.


June 8
   Yes, once again I'm back again-- this time from five days in West Virginia, driving to Shinnston, spending almost two days with my parents, then on to Cedar Lakes in Ripley for the 2004 West Virginia Writers Conference where I came up with two new workshops that I was very pleased with, although they need a little refinement: one on scene, and one on the techniques of cinema. I did two sessions of scene, one of cinema techniques. Also gave a reading, saw tons of people I know: George Lies, George and Connie Brosi, Mark DeFoe, Jeff Mann (who gave a neat workshop on some excellent poetry using folk lore themes), Mary Lucille DeBerry, Kate Long, Carter Seaton, Dr. and Dr. Byers, Cheryl Ware, Belinda Anderson-- I could go on and on. Lots of new people too, and my sense as in the past that West Virginia does a great job of bringing together people across the spectrum of folk and elite culture, beginners and accomplished writers: that they really do enjoy and learn from each other. And then drove straight back, ten hours of traveling, with lots of leg-stretching breaks, got home late, helped Joel get ready for his first day of summer job, got up and prepared my class for NYU, etc., etc. Still overwhelmed with teaching (putting together a book of writings for the kids at Maple Avenue School in Newark!), lots going on with the Community Coalition, as always. The house needs fixing, the garden needs weeding! Well, at least I don't have any immediate trips planned. One of the nice things on this drive was listening to the CD's of "In Their Own Country," Kate Long's radio broadcast of interviews and readings of a lot of West Virginia Writers. It was a perfect background for driving through the humpy old West Virginia hill, green, green, green.

May 30
   Back from the lake. (Do I only blog when I've just returned from somewhere? I'm alone, Andy and Joel coming home tomorrow. Big week-end with Joel, Doug, Christian, and Jacob plus Ellen David Andy and me. Visit from Emi Sato. It was cold as anything, too! But I had a whole bed with electric blanket. Andy slept in the tent because of the Creatures. No bats, this time, but our bed had a mouse living in it over his winter. There was mouse poison between the electric blanket and the sheet! Andy's pillow burrowed into. Droppings all over. Yuckapoo. Interesting talk about blogging over the week-end, David and Jacob of course. Jacob has moved to using it for poetry only. David does politics and blogging (i.e. blogging about blogging). I haven't figured out what I'm using this for. Occasional notes and pix, nothing to scandalize my name or the home crowd. I write journals (as does the aforementioned Jacob), and I'm somewhat open and deep there, with only Posterity to make me control my True Feelings, but here, Anyone can read, ergo, gardening notes and family fun. Our whole crew had brunch at 20 Railroad Street with Harvey Robins and Adrianne Robins except Christian who went on to Boston to a family event. Earlier, they put the boat, old Tree Hugger aka Slo-Mo-No-Mo, and Joel, in wet suit, skiied, and we all enjoyed a pristine day with so much white light and trembling green leaves that it could make you cry.Driving up with Jacob yesterday, I got interested in the conversation, and missed the turn for route 84 Driving back today, while Jacob napped, I talked with Doug in the back seat, and missed the turn off Route 280. Joel's friends are a hazard to my driving concentration.I have a lot more to say, but will put it in my diary, for those posterities who still read.

May 17
    Back from West Virginia University where I received an honorary degree with much pleasure and hoopla. Since I missed my own graduation from college in 1969, this was especially nice-- the vast Coliseum at WVU ("the house that Jerry West built"), 15,000 or so happy graduates and family, lovely dinner the night before at the President's house, lots of people I enjoyed meeting, the great Mace of the University thumping three times to open the ceremonies, all the young doctors in green and lawyers in purple and various Ph.D.s and pharmacists and undergrads and a big block of Phys ed graduates-- I had the sappy smile below on my face all week-end.And now back to life here: this is the 50th anniversary of Brown v. Board.May 12A couple of actual hot days-- thunderstorms, stick weather, especially up here in my third floor office, which has a great view, but gets the brunt of the sun-- more than the garden gets these days with our trees grown so huge. The tomatoes and tomatillos are out in their trays to harden off, and I'm hoping to get them in the ground before Andy and I go to West Virginia for the WVU commencement. This is good hardening off weather, of course, the nightshade plants jall smile their hairy-stemmed smiles. They dream of full sun and deep drinks of rain. I dream of their fruits, still warm, chopped with garlic and fresh basil over hot pasta....

May 9
     Mother's Day, of course, also anniversary of me and Andy. This is 22 married years preceded by 12 live-together years, which impresses people far more than the 22 years married. My only heterosexual friends who were together in that state longer finally got married, too, and had restaurants and children, and then she died sadly early. We had phone calls in two directions-- to West Virginia where my mother is, and from Providence where my son is. And we went out for a buffet brunch at Neelam's Indian in South Orange: lots of good spicy stuff to put over briyani rice, condiments, pakora, flatbread, and a funny carrot pudding for dessert. It's been a totally beautiful day-- pulling up a few sunchokes beginning to invade the garden as always, and the beech tree next door is bright colored as fall, while the lilacs are white and purple and the trees, of course, brightest green of all.

April 27
     I'm still shaky about what this blogging is about for me. A friend I work with on the Coalition on Race revealed maybe too much on his blog– on the other hand, he got some people stirred up, and in the end who cares that my old apple tree doesn't have many blossoms this year (it seems to alternate big fruit years)? On the OTHER other hand, it's a delight to write about flowers and fruit when so much of my time seems to be spent on ideas and struggles, teaching work, Community Coalition work. Sensation and satisfaction are as real as struggle and discomfort, aren't they? Brother-in-law and internet maven David Weinberger points out a blog of a vice-president of Iran that is a lot of fun to dip into. He's apparently on the side of their president Khatami, who at least wanted to be a reformer, and he writes about things like the proper way to drink coffee in Arab diplomatic meetings (see entry for April 12)!

April 21
     The Adjuncts Coming Together union at New York University settled at 6:40 a.m. today! We were scheduled to go on strike, but the University settled -- probably afraid of bad publicity. ACT is a local of the United Auto Workers, so we had serious support from a heavyweight labor organization. (The UAW also includes the National Writers Union and other non-factory type workers). I don't know what kind of settlement we got, but this is a case in which anything will be an improvement. I've taught at NYU for over twenty years, inventing several courses, getting great evaluations, etc. etc., and I have absolutely no guarantee I'll be rehired ever. Nor do I have a mailbox or a space where I can meet with students. The pay is pretty poor (strike benefits would have been more than I earn a week at NYU) and there's no insurance, so you get the picture. At the strike meeting I attended, I was struck by the average age of the adjuncts: fine looking people, but generally in our forties and fifties and beyond. In other words, adjunct teaching is something people do for life-- ergo, the need for collective action. I've been hoping for this for a long time. It's a great satisfaction that a great private university has finally decided to give something (it remains to be seen how much) to improve the status of the people who comprise the great majority of their teachers. That's right, more adjuncts than tenured and tenure-track professors.

April 16
     This a day between birthdays--yesterday was Joel's, 19, and tomorrow is my mother's, 85! Both of them are pretty perky characters. It's inspiring weather, too-- blue sky, the barest beginning of tree leaves, but really velvety green grass, plus daffodils and jonquils, hyacinth and forsythia all at once. The tiny reddish arugula sprouts have broken the surface of the earth, as have some of the lettuces. Oh, it's a lovely time of year, especially after four days of gray skies and rain. Bird visitors include a big flock of boat tailed grackles, the males with these shiny greenish bluish casts to their heads and shoulders, and all of them yellow eyed and cheeky.

April 11, 2004
      We had a panel at Ethical Culture today about what we had retained and what we had given up from what we learned as children. Since it was Easter, I made remarks about lessons from this most important Christian holiday for ethical humanists. My main point was that Easter is all about hope..
      The saddest part of the Easter story is what happened to Judas Iscariot, the trusted financial officer of the group of men around Jesus. He committed the one unforgivable sin. Judas is famous for betraying Jesus, which he did in hopes of starting a political uprising against the Roman Empire . That betrayal, however, was not his greatest sin: his unforgivable sin was despair. He lost hope for his cause and for himself. He didn't ask for another chance; he killed himself, and thus died unforgiven. In other words, he did not take the lesson that whatever we have done, or whatever has been done to us, we can continue to hope. He rejected hope, and thus his case was hopeless.
      The message of Easter is that we are all enjoined-- and perhaps even genetically programmed-- to hope. This Easter message– that death itself is only one part of the story– is important to all human beings.

April 8, 2004
     Today was what spring is all about! Gorgeous sun cool air. Working in the back yard-- turning over garden, inside sowing pepper and eggplant seeds in starter mix in egg cartons. Days like this give a kind of splendor to the most quotidian tasks.

April 7, 2004
     We had a small Seder last night, and Joel came home for it. I've had a real Judaeo-Christian couple of days: Church at the Shinnston First Baptist on Sunday, the Passover here at home last night with members of Andy's family. A nice contrast: that this major Jewish celebration is home, small-group based, while the Christian ones seem to be either very public or totally private, like my mother's religious studies at 5:00 a.m. every day. We talked a lot about Ethical Culture, too, and Andy's cousin wondered why a group that sounded good to him would want to be a religion...

April 6, 2004
    I 'm just back from a writing conference— a Fiction Festival, actually, where I met some fine writers I didn't know personally previously — Peter Makuck, Kevin Canty, Richard Schmitt, and Padgett Powell— as well as a couple I've known for years: Gail Adams, Mark Defoe, and Irene McKinney. All of them teach in universities, in writing programs, and it was fun to be deeper into something I'm into usually only slightly. On the other hand, I find myself more grateful than I expected to have plunged into a teaching life that centers on children in real schools rather than MFA programs. What do all the ambitious young writers do for jobs? The "Supremes" below are, left to right, Gail Adams, Irene McKinney (poet laureate of West Virginia !), and me.


March 27, 2004
   Andy and I drove down to Franklin and Marshall College in Lancaster , Pennsylvania to see Joel play Ultimate Frisbee, which, yes, is an actual, real, under-appreciated excellent sport, invented at Columbia High School in Maplewood , New Jersey in the late 1960's. There is a lot to love about the sport, but especially that there are no referees or umpires: part of the culture of the game is that everyone works out disagreements on the spot, between teams, and if someone thinks he's been fouled, but the accused fouler disagrees, they simply go back to the positions before the called foul. Joel is just a freshman, and this was one of Brown's lower level teams, but everyone plays, and these were co-ed teams, each side played with five men and two women. The day started with drizzle and gray skies, but by afternoon there was ample sunshine among the clouds, and this lovely long early spring green length of field with six games going simultaneously. The night before, some kindly parents let the 29 team members sleep on their floors! It was such a lovely day, with more games tomorrow, and then Joel and team are off to North Carolina (via some other team member's home in Washington D.C.!) to spend a couple of days at a beach house before coming back to Pennsylvania for more tournaments. I wanted to pack him in the car and bring him home with us.


M arch 24, 2004
     Today I harvested the last of the kale from the fall and cooked it with with garlic and oil etc. and pasta. Also some bits of radicchio and mache for salad with a store-bought head of romaine. I'm turning over sections of of garden, have cabbage started under lights and the tomato seeds in the dark, waiting to germinate.  Over-wintered lettuce is starting to get big. The garden is so nice at this time of year, with no mosquitoes and not many weeds. Only a little snow left in the shadiest places


March 22, 2004
     Among the "The Longer You Live" bits of wisdom: The law of averages decrees that eventually everything that can happen will happen. Thus, if I live long enough, I come closer and closer to the average: my parents die, and even my children, if I live long enough. I will get whatever illness I dread most; I will die in a terrorist attack on the commuter train; I can fail at something where I've always succeeded in the past. Anything can happen to me. Ideally, this realization would make me more open to the joys and sorrows of others; on a bad day, it makes me want to pull the covers over my head and squeeze my eyes shut. March 21, 2004
     St. Patrick's Day it snowed; the day after, there was snow on the ground, and the day after that, it snowed again. Saturday was warm and pleasant: a perfect day for a political rally and march. Today, March 21, has been cold and windy, mostly gray, occaional sun. Finally I planted the peas that traditionally go in the ground on St. Patrick's Day. These were Oregon Sugar Pod II snow peas and Super Sugar Snaps, both the edible podded type that will be on the table by the first of July, sauteed in oil with some sunflower seeds.



My brother-in-law, David Weinberger, the Internet maven, writes and speaks about blogging and other web activities. His analysis and experimentation is at a professional and philosophical level. His books, The Cluetrain Manifesto and Small Pieces, Loosely Joined, give a whole theory of what this new technology means. In my desire to be a part of it, I made myself a web page and then began a newsletter about books (see and   I've also been keeping a personal journal for many years. A lot of young people essentially use web logs as personal journals-- except that their friends read it! My brother-in-law's blog is often about blogging itself or about conferences he attends (although he and his son, nine at the time, did a terrific blog of their trip to China My blog appears to be, at least in its beginning stages, about gardening, family trips, museums, and the weather! But I'll see what develops.


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Re-visions: Stories from Stories is a collection of spin-offs from myth, fiction, and the Bible. From a new look at Adam and Eve and why they left the Garden to a grown-up Topsy from Uncle Tom's Cabin to the confessions of SaintAugustine's concubine- each story offers a gloss on the original as well as insights into how we canlive today.



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