Meredith Sue Willis Blog Archives 2005


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Archives 2004




December 30
   Some family time, Andy, Joel, and me. We went to a new barbecue place way the heck out in Somerset county called R.U.B.
 , which was thoroughly delicious, then took a short trip to the L.L. Bean outlet to get Joel a new duffle bag (with the name "Butch" stitched on it, hence the cheap price). Then home to watch Serenity, the DVD of the movie of the Firefly t.v. series, which I really like. I'm not used to being a fan, but I was really upset when a couple of the crew actually got killed in the movie. Very satisfying. You like the people in this quirky cowbody science fiction show so much.

December 28
      Joel's friend Sarah is having problems with her Volvo. She had to go back to Providence (today, by bus) where she is meeting a friend to bring down to some other friends in New York City, while Joel takes the car into a Volvo dealer on Friday morning and gets the electronic throttle reprogrammed or something so she can drive to Atlanta and give the car to her sister at Emory before flying out of Atlanta home to Los Angeles a day before Joel flies out to join her... and I think her family will be back from Hawaii and oh yes two of Joel's friends are flying out later in the week for a L.A. Lakers game against Cleveland who just lost to the Nets. Well, you get the picture.... Much more relaxing was a lovely lunch at Mary and Tony's for me and Mom and Joel, with Ryan and Ann there, their green table cloth and beautiful Christmas dishes and everything Christmas and delicious.

December 26
    Great fun yesterday with Takeshi, Chiaki, Tak's Aunt Yazuko, Joel, Sarah, friend Kasper, and Andy and me! Christmas and Hanukkah! Exhaustion today, and latkes and applesauce for dinner to come. Photo thanks to Takeshi Achiwa:

Sarah, Joel, MSW, Takeshi Achiwa, Chiaki Achiwa, Lucille Willis, Andy, Yasuko Oishi

December 24
     Christmas Eve Day, and I'm cooking and running around getting ready for Christmas! I wrote this for my Books For Readers friends:


Dear Friends,
Please accept my best wishes for the coming year, and my hopes that you are all enjoying a holiday of family, friends, good food, fires, candles, and whatever is reassuring and hopeful to you in this dark season. My mother and son Joel are here with me and Andy today, and two of Joel’s friends are arriving later (one is his girlfriend!). Tomorrow come three friends from Japan. We will have Christmas with Buddhists, Jews, one serious Christian and a couple of secular humanists, followed by the first night of Hanukkah. This newsletter is all the writing I’ll get to do today, and I don’t expect anyone to read it till after the holidays. When you do get a chance, please get back to me with your suggestions and thoughts.
     Meanwhile, Happy, Happy, Holidays!

December 22
     Here's a poem I like a lot by Halvard Johnson, one of the Hamilton Stone Co-opers:

Old Virginia Trees

Here's one called "Only Our Chagrin Remains"
standing alone in the middle of a cow pasture, forsaken
by its leaves, left starkly branched against a partly clouded sky.
Another called "Liberation of the Mind" hunches
over the road to the highway, dropping its late fruit
on passersby. A nearby copse cries out, "Come!
Join us! We, united, shall prevail!"

Our refusal does not stop there. It is insatiable
and knows no bounds. Our leader, thinking beyond
the limitations of space and time, says, "At the hour
in which I write, new tremors fill the air above the field.
We must be brave enough to face them." His collected works
wave from his branches like tiny hands. His name,
we think, is "Poverty is Not a Crime."

"The hand that writes," he says, "is worth the hand
that ploughs." And we all say, "Amen." Our revolutionary
will is strong in us. We wish the transformation
of the world to be as radical as it can be. On this mental
slope, the mirrors of inconstancy do not disturb us.
What, indeed, could they expect of us? Everything leads us
to our belief that "The Last Days of March" will be our savior.

                                           -- Halvard Johnson

December 18
     Another all day Coalition Day yesterday, interviewing for the Executive Director position, the Village Trattoria in Maplewood last night, a lovely solstice event today at Ethical, and Mom went to the Prospect Presbyterian church. Then she and I came home and built a gingerbread house from a Costco kit, and now I'm in desperate need of a nap, but I think I'll walk instead..


December 14
    We've got single digit temperatures this week! My mother visiting, Joel not coming till next week, Andy working till all hours. Last night Adrienne Bolden and I spoke to a mixed group at Wincester Gardens, mixed of League of Women Voters (it was their yearly party) and Wincester Gardens residents. Except for major problems with their PA system ("Speak UP!!!") it went very very well. I so enjoy these public outreaches. Give me an audience and I'll be high as a kite. Adrienne said her cold felt better after speaking!

December 9
     Snow is down, a good six or eight inches of it--and as I write, Mom is en avion coming from Phoenix to here. Supposed to arrive just before 5:00 P.M, and Andy wants to come along to pick her up. I've got dinner under control, a Sherry Weinberger pot roast sliced and
ready to heat; potatoes to heat; bread in the bread maker, an apple and cabbage cole slaw, and a fruicake for dessert. I wish the Coalition were so well under control...

December 6
    My mom in California with brother-in-law Goro, viewing the elephant seals! She's coming to New Jersey on Friday.


December 4
     The first serious snow of the season! Just a couple of inches, but enough to have to shovel (Andy got out his new Big Blower). There will be more tomorrow night, they're saying, my last class at NYU. Also the day the Provost says he's going to lower the boom on the graduate students who are striking to have their union recognized. Bad days for workers uniting, I'd say.
      Boe did a nice Colloquy on Acceptance today at Ethical. Buddhist quotations about how we will do harm, so the objective is to do as little as possible. Also a fable about a woman who goes to a fortune teller and is told that she will have ups and downs for six months, and beyond that, the fortune teller says, she can make out nothing. The woman is terribly anxious for the full six months, and then, at the end of the six months, the fortune teller dies. This isn't quite as good as Appointment in Samarra, but it's good.

November 29
     Reading Ted Hughes' The Birthday Poems -- wonderful stuff, his incredible belief in language that is at once admirable and enviable and also old like polished oak panels on walls: the muscularity of the poems. People write that sometimes about poets, usually guy poets. When my revision work is going best, it feels that way, like a strong forearm, flexed, taut, impulses moving up and down its length. Very apparent in these poems, which don’t have a lot of his mystical Jungian hoo-hah. I just read the Diane Middlebrook book about him and Sylvia Plath, Her Husband.
     I’ve been intrigued occupied by couples lately: Hughes and Plath, then Carter and Cash thanks to the movie and the internet. I found an image of John Carter Cash, the late baby of Johnny and June, who is in his mid thirties now, and his parents both gone. Even if Andy and I live into our eighties, we’ll be gone when Joel is our age, so I hope he does get himself attached to some big family, his own or another.

November 27
      End of the long week-end which included going in to NYC Wednesday night to have dinner with Ken and Linda and see their hotel room which was really a one bedroom apartment, then early the next a.m. off to Ellen's for Thanksgiving-- after Andy dealing with a broken lock on the door, scrambling around to find keys to the old lock in the door handle that we never use. Then Weinbergers and Cavanaghs and Joel and Sarah and a couple of Ellen's friends for dinner, followed by Jurassic Park and the traditional walk and shopping at the outlets at seven a.m. the next morning like real Americans.

Weinberger-Cavanagh-Geller-Willis Thanksgiving Clinton, Connecticut

Sarah and Joel drove down together in her car behind and then ahead of us, then hanging out with Joel and Sarah when they weren't hanging out with Joel's other friends.

November 21
    I just solved a website problem. Took a late run, had Petro the oil service guys here for the second time in a week, waited for them five hours! But did a couple of errands and now have to get ready to go to my NYU class, which is going to be at Hatch Mott MacDonald again because of the strike.


November's last leaves


November 18
     Eleven a.m., and I feel ready for a nap– we had the the Fund-raiser breakfast this morning, and I felt good about my little speech, I don't know why, but this was one of the ones where at a certain moment you feel the people out there, that a line of energy has opened up between you and them

     I've been especially happy to have Andy home--I think it's because this was the first time he's been gone since my dad died, and I had that sense of the missing person in your life, and in this case it was Andy only missing for five days. Daddy, of course, I haven't lived with in forty years. He's in most ways as present in my imaginative life as ever– but of course for my mother, whose life for five years was totally centered around the man in the chair and his physical needs– well, it’s a great rent in the fabric for her, as well as the loss of the love of her life and companion since girlhood.
I’m re-reading Tess of the D’Urbervilles and can hardly stand it. It’s a wonderful book, but you feel doom foreshadowed from the first page. By golly Thomas Hardy had a grim view of this vale of tears.

November 17
      Andy is back from San Diego, now I can sleep better at night! I’m not particularly fearful, but there is something about an old house that is better when there are more people around. He flew all night and is exhaused. Meanwhile, I’m in the middle of a busy period– executive committee of the Coalition tonight, our big fund raising breakfast in the morning, a meeting with publisher Ed Myers about my new children’s book, have to talk with Alice about our platform on Sunday, have to prepare my part of the platform
on Sunday! Have papers for NYU– have the platform on Sunday! Oh dear.

November 15
My NYU class met at midtown in a lovely conference room at one of the students' offices--and it had windows! This was in support of the Graduate Student Strike. There was a good article in the Village Voice today--I really don't get why NYU is being to hard-nosed about this, and it makes me suspect they'd like to get rid of our union too, the adjuncts. Which has made me feel so safe.

November 10
It’s a return to the colors, not as brilliant as some years, but bright oranges and yellows, the leave falling fast now. We still haven’t had a true hard frost, but I’m down to my last three tomatoes (ripening in the house), and I’ve had to cover the greens and lettuce not against frost, which they can take a little of or they wouldn’t be out all winter, but because Somebeast chomped the radicchios.

Is this another deer? A cat wanting a tonic for a bad stomach?

November 8
      I’m feeling extremely affectionate towards my Beginning Your Novel class this fall. Great group, full of talk, and even the people are not the big talkers feel present and accounted for. I was heartened last night by their willingness, indeed eagerness, not to cross the picket lines if the NYU graduate students strike tomorrow. This was especially funny because we were reading from a novel in which a grocery store-owning family has trouble with the grocery workers union!  Anyhow, they all agreed they’d like to meet off campus if there’s a strike, and two people volunteered offices. I look forward to the class– comfort with liveliness, familiarity of situation including my own confidence in my ability to teach this class, and, always, the fun of talking about writing plus Life.


November 5, 2005
       This would have been my father's 88th birthday. The photo is from the early 1970's, when he was principal of Victory High School in Clarksburg, West Virginia.


November 4, 2005
      I’m getting very close to having things fixed up with the computer: as my husband says, I’m having a few days “up close and personal” with my computer. I would like to be writing but find it hard not to be obsessed with getting my website whipped back into shape, and now I’m fooling with the Big Dreamweaver, #8, which I’ve got on a 30 day free trial, and while I’m not doing anywhere near what it’s capable of , it has some solid improvements: you can have the “properties” screen and the code available while you’re looking at the “design.” I’m not convinced that all my work with the web is truly useful– and yet, aside from being a certain kind of fun, I keep thinking there is something important about it, to be able to publish this way.

     I really enjoyed Writers’ group last night. My friends there are wonderful writers and people. Carole Rosenthal read a very interesting beginning to her memoir, really lovely. Rebecca read some new fiction, don’t know if it’s old or new, but definitely strong, and if it’s new, that’s great news. Also of course in the group are Edith Konecky and Vera Williams along with Joan and Suzanne. And they liked my bar mitzvah boy story.


October 27, 2005
      Parrots galore! Okay, I admit I've always loved parrots. My aunt and uncle had one that actually said, "Polly want a cracker" when I was a tiny girl, and I have owned parakeets and tried to put at least one parrot or parrot image in each of my novels. So take all that into account as I share my enthusiasm for this website, which was mentioned in today's New York Times. This is a guy who's more obsessed, and a much better photographer, than I am: His interest is the wild monk parrots of Brooklyn, but we've got them in New Jersey as well.


October 22
     Here's something a little more philosophical than the things I usually write on this blog. I imagine sometimes taking a little vacation and sitting down with all the good reviews and nice comments people have made about my books (and none of the not nice ones!). To lie back in that warm bath of love. Only, it's not love-- that was a slip– not love, but a substitute. I don't think other animals do so many things to get back to the sensation of unconditional love as we do: we do drink, drugs, sex, reading our good reviews.
     The cat, writes Borges, lives now: " lives in time, in successiveness, while the magical animal lives in the present, in the eternity of the instant."
     It is both our lust for the future and our powerful nostalgia for the past that so cripple us. If you judge the success of a species by the happiness of the individual, then, I think cats and English sparrows probably beat us hands down.


October 27, 2005
      Parrots galore! Okay, I admit I've always loved parrots. My aunt and uncle had one that actually said, "Polly want a cracker" when I was a tiny girl, and I have owned parakeets and tried to put at least one parrot or parrot image in each of my novels. So take all that into account as I share my enthusiasm for this website, which was mentioned in today's New York Times. This is a guy who's more obsessed, and a much better photographer, than I am: His interest is the wild monk parrots of Brooklyn, but we've got them in New Jersey as well.


October 22
     Here's something a little more philosophical than the things I usually write on this blog. I imagine sometimes taking a little vacation and sitting down with all the good reviews and nice comments people have made about my books (and none of the not nice ones!). To lie back in that warm bath of love. Only, it's not love-- that was a slip– not love, but a substitute. I don't think other animals do so many things to get back to the sensation of unconditional love as we do: we do drink, drugs, sex, reading our good reviews.
     The cat, writes Borges, lives now: " lives in time, in successiveness, while the magical animal lives in the present, in the eternity of the instant."
     It is both our lust for the future and our powerful nostalgia for the past that so cripple us. If you judge the success of a species by the happiness of the individual, then, I think cats and English sparrows probably beat us hands down.

Last Rose & tomatoes of Summer

October 20
     I'm hitting one of my periods when writing seems the least of the things I do. I've got teaching, but mainly, at this moment, endless tasks and conundrums and relationships within the South Orange Maplewood Community Coalition on Race. Chairing this large, vital, wonderful oganization has been like a half time job. For which I don't get paid. And which fills computer time, writing time. This week there were committee meetings, one-on-one meetings, a crisis or two, which always means many phone calls, many e-mails, plus drafting and mailing letters, more e-mails, today giving a tour to people in Leadership New Jersey-- it goes on and on.
     I'm working on a YA novel, maybe YA, and it makes me aware of how much I want to focus on literature again, and yet at the same time these other things have raised my admiration for people who are activists, in the world, not just observers of the world. It makes me see that literature, too, is limited, is one small part of the world of thinking and acting, not the whole thing. Balance never easy. Not to mention the drain on family finances from Our Ivy.


October 16, 2005
      Just back from Parents' Week-end at Brown, where we spent time with Joel and Sarah Zakowski. Below: MSW, Joel, Sarah, & Andy. The usual excellent good time-- meals at Rue de l'Espoir, Adesso, and Mill's Tavern-- lectures by Brown faculty, continental breakfasts compliments of the university, a tour of Providence as loved by H.P. Lovecraft the horror writer, speeches by President Ruth Simmons and parent Candice Bergen, a play, Joel's "What's On Tap" open rehearsal. And now back to things besides eating and drinking and taking in culture...








October 10
     Lovely small birthday supper for Andy with Sciainos, and Joel came home too! He was on his way to Rutgers to see WVU beat New Jersey's University--visiting Doug Parsons-- but he stopped off for Friday evening. We're on our way to Brown in a couple of days to see him again for parents' week-end. Chocolate raspberry cake AND apple pie with apples from our ancient tree.


October 6
    Well, I had an e-mail today from Reverend Ivan Hawkins of the Shinnston First Baptist church. He's the pastor at my mother's church, my old church. He sent this extremely interesting photo of my mother relaxing on-- his motorcycle!

October 5
     Warm as the dickens today, and I had some business in Maplewood VIllage (okay, looking for a gift for Andy), and it was impossible to park-- it's the second day off from school for the Jewish Holidays, and everyone is having lunch, taking kids to the matinees, etc. etc. I had an adventure yesterday-- picked up a strange lady in front of Freeman's Fish Market and took her to her daughter's house. She'd just come in on the train, and couldn't get her daughter to answer the phone (at shul she thought), so I took her across town--she saw the daugther pushing a baby stroller down the street, everyone happy.

October 2
    Boe spoke about religious extremism today, and quoted extensively from Yeats's "Slouching Toward Bethlehem," which remains one of the creepiest poems ever--wonderful, but scary:

The best lack all conviction, while the worst
Are full of passionate intensity.

And then later, when theThing comes, it comes

moving its slow thighs, while all about it
Reel shadows of the indignant desert birds.

Then I came home and built a new cold frame, picked the yellow sunflowerlike blossoms of the Jerusalem artichokes.


October 1
    This is the new month, the early fall always a favorite for me, because I actually get more work done, both because of clement weather weather and teaching's slow start-up in my life, and a general industriousness of the people around me. I've been working on a new story, sending off some potential projects, finishing up with my new book for children, to be published in January.
    And it's a beautiful day.



September 24
   Planting the very last seeds today, some mache, rouge d'hiver lettuce and a little bit of French Breakfast radish. I made cilantro pesto to freeze, picked more tomatoes and jalapeno peppers, also beans that I'll cook in the dinner tonight. I've had a pleasant day with the garden, reorganizing the extra fridge, sending off my mother's travel stuff, diddling with my website and blogger– but I did not until just now, 5:30 PM, remember the demonstration. Wow. I guess I really didn't want to go to that.
I did check CNN online, and they said "[Washington, D.C.] Police Chief Charles H. Ramsey, noting that organizers had hoped to draw 100,000 people, said, ‘I think they probably hit that.'"
   Delighted to hear it. Delighted that I've been here in the silvery clear air, back yard, running, paying a short visit to Hannah and Maggie Hart.


September 22
   Takeshi Achiwa, our friend and Joel's cousin Alex's cousin, is in New York for two years working at the Port Authority. I was invited to go out with him, his wife Chiaki, and his parents. The photo is of us having an elegant dinner at Petrossian, where even the gazpacho has a touch of caviar!



September 19
   I had a rather too typically busy Sunday yesterday–everything from a Social Action committee meeting after a presentation by Madelyn Hoffman on her trip to Afghanistan to an hour at the South Orange Newcomers meeting and greeting, and then also talking to Art Taylor and Mark Rosner and SO police Chief Chelel. Then a quick trip to the Livingston Mall for gifts for a baby and for our Japanese friends whom I'm meeting in New York tomorrow. Is that all? It felt like more.

September 18
     The weather has lifted! It's golden cool and warm sun, just right. I'm only way to ethical, with a social action committee meeting, with some time at SO newcomers this afternoon, and what I'd really like to do is sit on the back porch and read. I did sit on the back porch and put notes in my gardening book after some more sowing of fall lettuces etc. yesterday.

September 14
    I've been working on getting tickets for my mother's Big Trip. She's going to go to Knoxville to visit my Dad's great nieces, then from there to San Luis Obispo to visit my sister, then from San Luis back to New Jersey for Christmas--and now we're working on New Jersey to Cleveland where's she'll visit her nephew and his extended family, then back to Pittsburgh, where family friend and West Virginia artist Charlie Cowger will pick her up! This will cost a bundle, but it's great she's so popular with her family.

September 12, 2005
More gorgeous weather, although it's supposed to get hot today. The usual million and a half things preying on my mind, including "reformatting" of my office. Listen to that language. Oh, yes, I've gone over to the dark side. Every night I spend at least forty five minutes just surfing. On the one hand, I am just having a good time with this stuff. On the other hand, I think it's taking away from writing time (although I can't totally be sure– the nervous-pleasurable-quicktime of digital is now associated through e-mail and websites with a lot of projects I didn't used to do: Coalition, writing, Ethical.) I like to think that this digital stuff is taking the place of some of my old depressions. I think, more definitely, it's a space where I once watched more t.v. (All before Joel was born, so more than twenty years ago). I've been using a computre for more than twenty years now! I began with something Zorba (see below). What a trip that thing was! "Portable" sewing machine size and shape, and weight. I thought it was essentially a glorified selectric typewriter. My first MS-Dos system came after we moved to New Jersey. I insisted on amber letters on black, but I wanted no images. Then, a computer later, you couldn't get them without color and imagery, and I then there was e-mail, and then I began to play with the idea that a website – I've always loved art and design in an amateurish way– and began, thanks as usual to brother-in-law David Weinberger, to dabble in HTML, or rather, programs that use HTML, and once I got Dreamweaver, and saw how that eases certain kinds of communication–well, I was hooked, and I remain hooked, and sometimes that I am indeed addicted-- maybe not to gaming or gambling or raw sex images, but, I think, to the flickering screen, to the quickness of information (example--I thought nostalgically of Zorba, clicked over to the Internet, Googled "Old Computers Zorba" and got an image and information within fifteen seconds)


September 11, 2005
     This is four years with two wars, one continuing endlessly, plus Hurricane Katrina. Art by Mahasin Nor-Pomarico

September 5, 2005
     Back from the lake, closing all day, always sad to see the last day of the season at the house, and the lake was just splendid, cool sunny, perfect


September 1
    I planted fall lettuce today--indoors in pots because the slugs did in one small patch of lettuce and one of radicchio. On the other hand, I have several surviving radicchios and a couple of patches of lettuce. What is with this nature? Slugs eating my tiny lettuces, hurricanes eating half of Louisiana. I'm trying to be amusing, but one is reminded that we are not alone here on our planet. Judy Moffett has an interesting science fiction novel called Pennterra in which a planet rejects the colonists whose approach is ownership rather than community with the ecosystem.

August 30
   We'll be going to the lake this week-end and then plunging into lots of activities with the Coalition and gearing up for teaching. I've been cleaning my office-- that is to say, throwing out endless stacks of paper-- old book projects, records of a magazine I was fiction editor for, putting away records of schools where I worked last year, etc. etc. It's very satisfying, and gives a certain sense of control. I've even taken photos and bits of art work and actually put up nails on the walls and hung 'em up. For eighteen years they've been propped here and there, charmingly disheveled. I guess this means I've decided to stay awhile. Joel, meanwhile, called, and he is in his new room, but not unpacked yet. He had to move himself, two trips, in a borrowed car. I felt bad he didn't ask me to come up and help him move. I seem to have turned exactly into what I didn't want to be-- what he calls "such a mother." I really didn't mean to. I swore I'd never eat food that my kid left on his plate, and of course I did. I swore a lot of things. Motherhood is strewn with broken vows....


August 26
     Well, the skunk was released. Andy set the trap to catch raccoon, got a skunk instead. The town Animal Control guy doesn’t take skunks or 'possums away, only raccoons, so he apparently crept down while I was out and used a long stick to open the Hav-a-hart and let the dear little skunk go free.
      Meanwhile, the deer are totally brazen-- the mangy looking mother– definitely a teenmother, maybe younger– plus twins Bambi and Bambino. They leave deposits of their shiny black scat and eat the growing points off the cucumber and squash plants, and seem to have retarded the tomatoes too. Worse garden in years, although we did have our own carrots, mini-cukes, kohlrabi, and peppers for dinner last night.

And tonight-- Trader Joe's and the movies in Westfield where we saw....



Yes, March of the Penguins. I liked it a lot. For a funny comment on it, see Miles Klee's blog at --entry for August 15.



August 21
   Mary and Tony Sciaino kindly invited us to their (air-conditioned!) West Orange home for grilled steaks last night. Joel came too, and he and Ryan went out to the movies afterward. I like our new neighbors in South Orange a lot, but there'll never be neighbors like Mary and Tony! They were across the street from us for fifteen years, always ready to let Joel come over to play with Ryan and Ann (Joel is exactly nine months younger than Ryan and nine months older than Ann), always including us in their family events, inviting us over for soup on snowy days when the schools were closed (they're both educators) and generally making life in the suburbs just what I had always been afraid it wouldn't be!
     In a couple of hours, Joel heads back to Providence for his last week of work, then training to be a Teaching Assistant, then back to school.
     I have the kind of twisted mind that misses him most when he's here...



August 20
      This is what summer looks like to me, in spite of deer, slow ripening fruits and vegetables. It's always these lovely things that want to grow for me.

August 19

     I had such a lovely visit to the museum yesterday. I was going to go out with Chiaki in the afternoon and take her to an English tea at Tea and Sympathy (expensive but fun), so I went to the Metropolitan Museum first and did one of my go-where-you-will visits.
      I grabbed a bun and iced tea first, then looked at some things in the photo and print gallery, pretty random, photos of American slaves and free people, 16th century drawings and etchings of saints being tortured by their enemies, the slaughter of the innocents, a battle, which really set me up for the thing that sucked me in most, which was the Indian sculptures.
      I hadn't been in there for a long time–I was desultorily looking for the Chinese brush painting which I never found, but instead walked into one of these galleries where you have to read the scorecard to tell the Buddha from Lord Shiva– well, Buddha usually only has two arms and never has a lady consort. There were a couple of mithunas, the loving couples with the tiny waists and bodies that you just want to hug and hold. There was a wonderful Durga (not this one, but one with some of the same elements) wonderful Durga, many-armed and busty saving the world from the water buffalo demon– I don't know, but the grace and pulsing life (there's a Sanskrit word for this that I can't remember) and the dark rooms like elegant caves, just blew me away.
     I took a few steps over and sat in the entrance to the Chinese meditation garden to calm down a little. That's why I love that museum so much– I had just been thinking how different I feel towards it after having been in Rome where the art is in its place-- Caravaggio in every church you wander into, Roman ruins sticking up beside the trolley people grab to go to work– how our art is largely stolen from elsewhere by Robber Baron types–and then I step into the Indian galleries and just want to laugh with delight. Thankful that if they had to go over there and buy the store out, at least it's here in a public place where I can see it.


August 18
     Andy and I went to the nearest Cindy vigil-- Maplecrest Park in Maplewood. There were probably 200 people there, and MoveOn.Org directs people to a Flickr site that has a slide show of vigils all over the country. Click here for the slide show.

August 15
  A little late, but here are some photos of folks from the Appalachian Writers Workshop at the Hindman Settlement House in Hindman, Kentucky. All photos courtesy of Fred First.

To see the full sized images, visit Fred's Flickr site at

In order: The town of Hindman at dawn; Lee Maynard; Joyce Dyer; George Ella Lyon; Mike Mullins (director, Hindman Settlement House). Gurney Norman, Rita Quillen, and Dr. Jack Higgs.


August 14

      We had dinner with our good friends Marc Kaminsky and Maddy Santner from the old 317 Sixth Avenue Co-op in Brooklyn. When we all began moving to houses, they moved farther out into Brooklyn while we came to New Jersey. So good to talk of the things they like to talk about-- she's a school social worker in some of the toughest high schools in Brooklyn, he is a poet and psychotherapist. The great freedom of talking to people from your cohort-- in this case, having gone through serious things together, having had babies two months apart.




August 11
   Hot and humid again, and we'll be continuing this way for days and days. The deer got in my garden yesterday and I actually saw her, the mother of the twins, munching tomato leaves, but she had knocked off the only fruit anywhere near ripe! *&#@!!**#!!

   Well, it's back in the community saddle. I attended, but managed to keep my mouth shut at, a community meeting last night at Ethical, ably moderated by Matthew Johnson, the local psychologist and social activist. People who spoke included the families of the three 14 year old boys who were arrested, Larry Hamm of People's Organization for Progress , Dr. Peter Horoshack, Superintendent of Schools, and a number of other people who recounted incidents in which children of color, usually male, were followed, ticketed, and generally experienced unhappy interactions with the Maplewood police force. Also there were at least three members of the Board of Ed, at least two members of the school administration, and at least four members of the Maplewood Township committee as well as members of the Community Coaltion on Race (me and Audrey), the Ethical Culture Society, and other community organizations. There was a sign-up sheet and a number of ideas about the future. Overall, I hope something comes out of it-- maybe a Civilian Police Review Board? For white people, it is important to hear how many stories there are about black boys and police.

August 8
    I just drove back from West Virginia today, where's I visited my mother and helped her babysit Ina Hardesty's Westie, Raggs, while Ina was at her nephew's wedding. My mother is thinking about whether or not she wants to get a dog for company, and this was a sort of dry run-- Raggs charming and expressive, and they slept together!
Kentucky trip was for the annual Appalachian Writers' Conference at the Hindman Settlement House, in Hindman, Kentucky. I taught a short story workshop, and really enjoyed the intensity of all the readings and conferences and Dr. Jack Higgs's Appalachian Literature lectures (here's one of his short reading lists with a photo). So beautiful to be there, beautiful dense green, beautiful accents of Eastern Kentucky, Tennessee, southwestern Virginian, Western North Carolina, and all the rest of them. At the conference there is a wonderful combination of sophisticated and deep appreciation of literature and words and those voices of the mountains. I had a great time.


July 29
   I'm back from the lake for a few hours--and here is David's photo of the hummingbirds we spent a lot of time watching! If you want to see the bigger and better picture, go to his website at Joho the Blog.
  We did the usual take-a-run, soak in the lake, generally hang out, eat bread and cheese, go see Shakespeare (we went to a preview of the rarely performed King John last night and really liked it-- although 14 year old Nathan said he could have used more sword fights). Andy, Joel, and I also went to see a performance of The Importance of Being Earnest at the Barrington Stage Company, which was tremendous fun. And now I'm back, they are all still there, and I'm about to head for WV and then Kentucky, the Appalachian Writers Conference at the Forks of Troublesome Creek!







July 22
There is this photo of me on the Coalition's website, in the Two Towns in Harmony section that isn't pretty, but it is me as I always wanted to be: La Pasionaria. That would be Dolores Ibárruri Gómez, the Spanish Civil War figure, and her nickname meant "Passion Flower," not "The Passionate One," which was what I thought. Probably a pun, though. She was a great public speaker, and I always wanted to be the Passionate One, standing up in front of a crowd, I think I said in Trespassers or somewhere, to be an exclamation point on the wave of history or something. (Surely I said it better than that?) You get the idea, anyhow. So this photo is of me totally focussed on the text and the microphone, and the crowd, and very intense. I had no idea what I looked like, and for once, didn't care, and that's why I like this picture.


July 20
We're about to go away-- the lake for a week, then me to Troublesome Creek to work at the Appalachian Writers Conference.

July 15    Caveat lector! Warning! The following blog entry is about Indo-European roots which I find fascinating and may very well make most people sleepy!

   I adore word history. There's nothing, nothing like Indo-European roots, which are words or rather proto-words, that have been reconstructed from present day languages. They are spoken in no language now, but painstaking scholarship has worked backward to find the words that over millennia were transformed into words we used today.
   Indo-European, the proto-language that I have read a little about, probably was spoken in the western middle east– like maybe Kazakhstan, although no one really knows. But at any rate, way back in time, the language spoken there was spread in all directions, possibly by invaders. Now its descendent languages (and this probably has significance in political but not racial history) include all the Germanic languages (English and Dutch and Yiddish etc.) and all the Slavic languages plus Greek and Latin and even Welsh and Gaelic. Languages descended from Indo-European are also spoken in northern India. Not among its descendent languages are the Semitic languages (Hebrew and Arabic and Aramaic), American Indian Languages, African languages, Polynesian, Chinese, Japanese–oh, tons of languages. What always amazes me, repeatedly and magnificently, is first the intense scholarship that reconstructed this ancient language, but even more how there are amazing but not illogical connections between English words.
   For example, I looked up "story," which, unsurprisingly, is closely connected to "history" via French and Latin. But both "story" and "history" go back much further following paths of words through many many changes of pronunciation (forget spelling which is a whole other ball game) to a reconstructed Indo-European word "weid," which mean something like "to see." And from this ancient word come all of the following English words and more, some relatively recently arriving in English from Latin, some from farther back through French at the Norman conquest, some even farther back from the Germanic language Anglo-Saxon. But all going back to that one word/idea for "See": "story" and "history," "wisdom," and "guide"– but also "idea" and "unwitting" plus, most amazing, "envy," "kaleidoscope," and "penguin"!
   So many different ideas that the original general verb "to see." It developed into "kaleidoscope" from a Greek word "eidos" for "form" or "shape," which makes sense as a descendent from a word for "see." The connection between "wisdom" and "guide" isn't surprising– the only surprise is how the words followed different pronunciation paths. "Guise" makes sense too, as if comes from an Old French word about "appearance" or "form." Similarly, all the "view" and "visage" words are also about what is seen– they came to English via Latin.
   My fave, though is "penguin," from Welsh "gwynn" for white, which is probably "white" in the sense of "clearly visible."

   I don't know if EVERYTHING is connected, but human beings certainly have a history and we TRY to connect everything. I always wonder if the scholars will ever find the show what language from which ALL human languages are descended. Or was human language invented several times?

For more on Indo-European, click here.


July 10
    Andy and I went to Aston Magna while we were in the Berkshires this week-end. It's now at a real hall at the beautiful new performing arts center at Simon's Rock Collete, and they did the Art of the Fugue, which was just delightful and surprising. First, I don't think I ever heard the whole thing in a sitting (72 minutes) and second, what I have heard was always on a keyboard. They had a harpsichord, and it played a couple of pieces solo, but much of it was done in small ensembles, a baroque bassoon, oboe, and flute; the harpsichord with a viola di gamba, a violin, viola, and baroque cello. Eight players, and I was just blown away by the music--I forget how much I actually like music. This time, when I was listening (as opposed to surreptitiously stretching my leg or wondering where we'd eat dinner) I think I was really listening to the music. Not making up an imagistic movie to go with it, but listening. I kept saying, Oh I have to remember this one with the slow viola di gamba, so touching, but I can't hold music in my head. Still, I'm ready to listen again soon.

July 8
    Last night, late, looking out the window: dark black-green street trees, pools of shimmery light in the damp air, some kids walking and biking past, just talking. I had a shiver of excitement–that excitement that being alive is all you need, the open ended hope of fruition, change, endless excitement. Which is the definition of youth, I think, endemic in youth, innate in youth.
    And to be this old?  In reasonable health (it's taking a lot of time and energy to keep this way and will take more)– what do I see? Back and forward broadly. Still enormous sinkholes that I fall into occasionally. Much enjoyment, perhaps more now than in youth, but to look forward is to know quite clearly that we won't be here in forty years, well, fifty for sure. And of course, meanwhile, the terrorist attacks on old London, but this time (more than, say Madrid) I have a sense of resignation: This is how we're going to live now. Think of the Blitz, think of Kigali in 1994. Think of all the people whose future is balanced on the edge of a razor. One isn't resigned to dying, one is alive now, but you see for the moment how it is. And that what is, is.


July 5
   I'm still a little stunned by TTIH. There was the all day "Neighborhood Village" with neighborhood associations and organizations and face painting and food etc. etc. And in the evening, the enormous 200 plus person (choral and instrumental) performance of the suite written just for our community (Grant from American Composers Forum Continental Harmony project ). It was pretty amazing, all those voices, ranging from an opera star to a chorus of children eight to twelve plus classical strings plus a jazz combo– quite wonderful. Our friends from Japan (and now New York for two years) Tak and Chiaki came out for it, and Joel was in, too, sort of (he spent MOST of his time with friends in NYC!). He went back on on the train with them. At the end of the program, the composer, Janet Albright , presented a print-out copy of her complete score to us–the South Orange Maplewood Community Coalition on Race, and I'm keeping it for now. It is enormous!

July 3
    Two Towns in Harmony is over! A long exhausting day, inspiring music, and I'm wiped.


July 2
   I haven't been dreaming a lot lately, I think I wake before the time of dreams that I remember. But I had a dream last night with Joel in some kind of school trouble at CHS, and I was going to insist that they go look at the wonderful entry he wrote for Wikipedia about CHS!   
    But mostly, my dream had puffins in it, wonderful flights of puffins.


June 30
   I was cutting the grass, sweaty and miserable, and this man was standing and looking at me, so I finally stopped and took off my sound blockers. He had white hair, a plaid flannel shirt (in all this heat!) and a rich Irish accent. He said, "And where is the slight little lady who was always out here? She was slight and hard of hearing, and I saw her every day when I went to mass." I was a million miles away, thought he meant Jackie Fahey or the Marshalls, and I said I'd been living here for 18 years, so was it before that? "No, no," he said, "it was the little slight lady who didn't hear well but was so jolly and always working on the flowers..." And finally I realized– he meant my mother! The man is the father of the contracter who lives down the street. He seemed a little lonely, going back to Ireland soon, missing his encounters with Mom.
   Meanwhile, Norma and Valerie are gone, I believe. They were closing today, and earlier I saw the new family, some older adults and two small girls, Asian, with braids walking around--the famous walk-through to make sure the sellers haven't pulled out the plumbing. Then I saw Norma and Valerie's car and a rental van they are taking with them, and now it's all locked up tight as a drum. Nice to see children coming, but sad to see endings, any kind of endings.


June 28
     I'm still not sure if this is a Blog or a journal-- I treat it like a friendly journal to be read by friends and family, for mostly happy talk. I save most of my literary talk for my private journal or for my free newsletter Books for Readers (to subscribe, see the column on the right!). I generally leave out public affairs, even though that's one area where a lot my time and energy goes.
     So here's an article from the Star-Ledger about the Mt. Laurel decision in New Jersey that makes reference to our work in South Orange Maplewood-- quotes from our Executive Director Barbara Heisler Williams. I give a lot of time to this organization, the South Orange Maplewood Community Coalition on Race.
     When I was very young I believed I could do something enormous, like become a missionary and save human souls. Then I moved on to saving the world by stopping poverty and/or the War in Vietnam. After I moved to New Jersey, I got involved in helping stop the resegregation of this community: it has seemed like narrowing and narrowing. And have we even really stopped resegregation, or only paused it? And if we have stopped it, have we stopped it only by having black and white stand together against the poor?


June 26
      I put the famous 13th century (I think) poem on my index page instead of a picture of me for a while. The rough translation is "Summer is coming in, Loud sings the cuckkoo bird! The seed is gowing, the meadow is blowing, and the woods spring anew. Sing, cuckoo!

Sumer is icumen in
Lhude sing cucu.
Groweth sed and bloweth med
And springth the woode nu.
Sing cucu!

The Cuckoo Bird Song, from about 1250

Somehow, the heat seems okay today, thinking of the old days when I was a little girl in Shinnston, West Virginia, that crisp smell as of secret burning in the grass, the light haze to the blue. No air conditioning in anyone's house then.


June 25
     Well, the heat is back. I spent three hours in front of the Post Office giving out literature and selling merchandise for Two Towns in Harmony -- a week from tomorrow is the big day. They're saying a shower is possible-- for a while it was rain, then cloudy, now a shower possible. So many people have been working on this thing-- I have this "It just has to!" feeling about it.
     The sun about did me
in. I spent a lot of time lying aorund, barely able to move. And kind of liking it.

June 17
   I thought I had lost a word, for what you want to be instead of rigid, and all I've been able to think of is "flexible," which may be the word, but seems too physical. "Adaptable" may be it. But neither one sounds right. Do you ever lose a word? I lost "autism" once for a week or two. I thought, or rather didn't think of it, when we were driving back from the country past a school for those kids (giant size swings, for adolescents), and I didn't have access to a dictionary or computer, and forgot about it when I got home, and kept thinking of it at the wrong time, got panicky over losing the word, and finally, it just came back while I was doing something else, running or walking, probably. But this time, I'm not sure there is a word. Maybe that extremely concrete "flexible" is the word. "Adaptable" is okay. Now what seems to be missing, is a perfect word

June 16
   More Museum! Writers group at Suzanne's last night, but I went early to do what amounts to finishing my visit last week--to see the Max Ernst retrospective. I was feeling some jealousy over the supreme
self-confidence of all those twentieth century artists with their manifestos and convictions. In this case, the Surrealistes. I've been mostly interested in modern/20th century art lately, since I've been back from Italy, as if in my desire for the appropriate cultural manifestations of a place, the real thing to see in New York is modern and twentieth century.
    Anyhow, some of Ernst's really did it for me– in general, the colorful ones, his famous Bride with the thick grattage, one absolutely splendid red mountain (maybe after he was spending time in the U.S. Southwest?) The foreboding forests too, and the various cities in decline--a lot of his work very similar to science fiction illustration, probably some of the same horror and fascination at what was/is happening to civilization. Anyhow, I liked least, was least moved by, the most precisely demonstrated theories, the most self-consciously intellectual, or perhaps in the case of a professing surrealist, anti-intellectual, the less I liked it. The big lush splendor of imaginary landscapes and some of the most complex dreamscapes, the more I was moved. I also liked his little "novels" and illustrations that were collages of nineteenth century prints. Lots of wit and humor: which reminds me not forget the the hilarious Blessed Virgin spanking the Baby Jesus that got him into so much trouble in Cologne, I believe. Ernst's life is interesting, too, soldier in WWI, living in France with no papers, being interned as a foreign national during WWII, etc.. Really exciting and good stuff.

June 10
    Yesterday, Museum, New York, Ingrid. We have rain so far today, and although it is damp and gray, at least the sun isn't turning this office into a torture box. An oven. Hot enough to fry eggs. No, just boil them.
    Anyhow, I had a lovely day yesterday in spite of some New York adversity– namely the southbound 6 train not running, so I had to spend a fortune on getting downtown in a cab, which was both hard to find (millions of them, all occupied, on Park Avenue, plus people jumping ahead to get them.) I almost shared one with a young woman, but am glad in the end I didn't, because she had to go a little East, and traffic was terrible down to the Metropolitan life building, my cabby jerking, cutting in and out, me with feet and arms braced. After the around and under at forty-second street, though, you come up below 34th, and it was reasonable in speed, if not in price, the rest of the way. In the end, I was only ten minutes late to Ingrid, and we sat for a long time at Pane e Cioccolato sharing a pastry and drinking ice coffee, talking about writing and our mothers.
    At the museum, I had been just wandering, choosing modern stuff because I didn't want to feel let down with Rome and Florence still rich in my mind (and when I did drift past Medieval and Renaissance stuff, it seemed so enclosed by the museum compared to Italy, where it's just all-the-heck-over-everywhere. Came across some up-to-the-minute stuff by Tony Oursler, a "studio" and a piece called "climax." The studio was amusing–tons of stuff going on, much by his friends and wife, t.v.s draped in gauze, sound and pictures, etc. But his piece, and similarly his separate piece "Climax," were these five foot tall blobs of plastic or something with lumps and then blinking eyes and moving mouths projected on them, with sound, of course, and in the case of "Climax," the sound of an explosion. I wouldn't say I exactly liked them, but was fascinated, stimulated, and highly entertained. Glad I went.
     Also ran across some Balthus, and then looked him up online–some pretty startling material (the only one I'd remembered from MOMA or somewhere was Joan Miro and His Daughter, much tamer). I didn't have time for the Max Ernst, which I really want to go back for. Like the Balthus, but with political content instead of pedophilia.

June 8
     I was on a real
roller coaster of the Past last week end. Friday I went in a cool gentle raininess to my college roommate's rehearsal for the MOTH at Barnard. She had submitted a piece on going in to Low Library during the 1968sit-ins and was chosen to story-tell it. I couldn't make the actual story telling (this is what MOTH does), but the rehearsal was neat–a seminar room where I'm pretty sure I had some English classes, up on the fourth floor of Barnard Hall. The three stories from the sixties were best: a Day Kennedy was Shot story, a My Meeting With Malcolm X, and Barbara's. The others ranged from a class-of-1940 story about being married and pregnant at Barnard (after being asked to leave Vassar for being married!)–and having Minor Latham for her theater teacher (and I always thought Minor Latham was some obscure male playwright). Others from class of 1950 and 1990, not as serious, but enjoyable. But being with Barbara and hearing her evoke that experience– that really started me on the Past, only to be followed Saturday by being with "The Mothers" and our male consorts at Jody Porter's– Jody and Gabe, Marc and Maddy, Evelyn and Michael, Nancy and Norm. And us– Andy able to go after all, at the last minute, only thought he was on.  Everyone looked wonderful– the wonderful glow of being with people I still value, being connect to all these people, both events was extraordinary.



June 2
  My birthday Tuesday. Andy and Joel took me to a restaurant called Spanish Sangria in Newark's Ironbound. We overate; I had baked cod with boiled potatoes, Andy had a super rich scallops and crab dish; great shrimp first course, lentil soup included. Really good flan and tiramisu. There was a party going on next to us that ended up expanding into our space: fifty or sixty middle aged longshoremen for a retirement party. Big bellies, gray hair. The six black guys sat together. .
   Then, yesterday, and this is what's really on my mind, we packed Joel and he and I drove to Providence (he has an internship with the Computer Science department at Brown). Met his landlord, who is a guy maybe 38 or 40, tall and good looking, perfectly gray hair. Steve something-Italian. They were hard at work cleaning the apartment, to my delight, because I had imagined really dirty. It's a typical student joint, totally furnished, some garish blue paint, couch, rugs, dishes, everything. Rundown and charming. Just what you want for a student apartment, and reminds me of why I often describe our house as still being graduate student housing: we're a little cleaner, with a little better furniture, but we're probably closer to that style than to really grown up Shelter Mag housing.
   Photos are of Joel, Subaru and front of his house (his apartment is bay window to left) and Joel in living room.

   Anyhow, we unpacked, then drove around for a frustrating hour looking for a place to buy sheets (we had to go over the line to Massachusetts to find a K-Mart!).
   Then I had to drive back. I did better than I expected, stopping for an ice cream on the Connecticut turnpike, not getting any serious traffic at all, bad traffic coming east out of New Haven, but not much going west like me, and then bad traffic an hour later coming out of the City into Darien-Stamford region, but much less going my way, and by the time I got to the Tappan Zee Bridge, it was fine too. I listened to some more of the Buddhism tapes, learned about the Dalai Lama this time. The professor seems to be a fan of his.



May 26
   So far a lot of good things this week. Having Joel around has been fun: dinner Tuesday night for him, Jacob and Doug. Andy was out, and Joel asked for the fruit and nut chili (Jacob is a modified vegan, Doug on a diet–looking at my Popcorn Factory catalog while they waited to eat.)
Monday night I went to a book group, the Barbara Heisler-Williams/Lorraine Graves group, and participated in a discussion of Oradell at Sea, which was a lot of fun– to feel my most- fully-me work participating, as it were, in a conversation.
   And yesterday, at Ridge Street School, Rodney Gilbert and a crew of young actors performed monologues by my students there. It was a tremendous amount of fun--They did cuddly puppies and whining chihuahuas and a rotting appendix and blind children and deaf children and Ray Charles and rats and feet in tight shoes and various kids talking about themselves-- oh my it was fun! I'm so glad to have been a part of that. Tonight is my Coalition meeting, but I'm feeling less dread than sometimes. I hope that is a new confidence rather than bad luck.

May 22
      Back from picking up Joel at Brown yesterday, a really long day. I started driving at seven a.m. without Andy, who is on call, at seven a.m. Four hours to Providence, then parking illegally among hundreds of other illegally parked families, and Joel said that if you didn't get out of the dormitories by 12 noon (this was eleven o'clock a.m.) that there would be maybe fines or worse. So we hurried up and down the stairs with trunks and boxes and bags– (all of his clothes are dirty, and right now the dining room is full of large smelly piles of dirty Joel clothes plus a slowly increasing number of stacks and piles of warm, nice smelling clean clothes).
      I don't know if he was right about the fines, but at twelve noon, teams of men with vacuum cleaners and women with clipboards and pens marched into the dormitories and started going over the rooms for damage, then cleaning them!
      They were actually nice people, but they scared Joel. We were a little late getting out, and in the end, when we got home, we discovered that he had somehow left a tube of his beloved posters– the funny one about Providence and his Bruce Lee karate poster, and one from Pulp Fiction. I don't know how we forgot them, but I feel bad.
      Joel and I had a nice lunch of wraps at a restaurant on Wickendon, and then drove back, through some pretty mean traffic on the Cross Westchester (an accident in New Jersey) and then, after a quick run down the Sprain Book, traffic on the Cross Bronx to the George Washington Bridge instead. . I drove all the way, but Joel talked almost all the way.
      The next problem is that he starts work on June 1st, and has an apartment, but we have to get his stuff back up there. This morning though, I'm just worn out and glad to have him home for a couple of days. He says the past month was the hardest in his life because of all the papers and projects– and the hardest week of all was the one when he had all nighters plus the tap dance concert.

    My Advanced Novel Class isn't running at NYU because of lack of sign-ups, which is a little annoying, but I'm also annoyed with how I can't tell who is in charge of my program with their new organizational flow chart nonsense. They seem to have decided to take on a business model, so they fired a ton of people, and the ones left seem vague at best about what's going on. A phone message saying that the course isn't running from someone who says my e-mail bounced; regular e-mail correspondence from three other people who were busily signing up students, a couple of whom had tried to sign up weeks ago and sort of been left hanging.
Meanwhile, though, I've already got several people who sound serious for the July High online class. The July High I can run for many or few, of course, and do it in my nightgown if I choose. On the other hand, I don't get to go to New York and hang out in Washington Square Park watching the dogs.
My Mom has been back to West Virginia, then got picked up by her nephew, my cousin Harley, who took her home to Avon Ohio. I'm going very early tomorrow to pick up Joel, whose dorm is closing at noon. That wouldn't be bad, but he goes into an apartment up there on June 1 when his job starts in the Computer Science lab.


May 16
     Erica's wedding: she is the child of Andy's best friend, around thirty, and finally decided she'd found the man she wanted, and they had their wedding in their yard, beautifully planted by her mother Linda, tents, a small combo and dance floor, stems of a pale green and pink orchids on the tables.
    Erica is pregnant, and wore a slim black dress with a deep neck and tight over the belly, which was truly beautiful, all the clothes she wore all week end showed it off, either in shape or by glimpses under a short smock. Handsome heavy featured Thomas stood behind her while Ken spoke (Ken in his handsome fluid tan suit) and Thomas held her, held the pregnancy, and Erica was in a perpetual smile. They recited some chants to the sun, Buddhist, maybe Tantric, and the crowd was to turn toward the sun with the strong chants behind us, very calming- all these well-dressed mostly affluent folks you have to picture us (orthopedic surgeons and neurologists, Marta and her husband Miguel from Guadalajara, tons of Danes from Denmark–Thomas's relatives– Dennis and his Sue, Alice and Ronnie, Ken's niece Lauren, many many) facing the sun with Erica and Thomas's chants behind us, and then they said vows and then it was all classy food and classy party. Erica's Poppy Elliot did a Hebrew blessing over a homemade challah. I wonder what that former president of his temple thought of the pagan wedding. Well, all those people, Ken and Linda and the Lipitzes, love their kids more than they love the rules.
      I envied Erica being happy and proud of being pregnant.


May 7
    Very physical week-end: Mom and I took a walk, I cut ALL the grass, as in the lot, back near the neighbors', plus the front. Mom is digging in the dirt around the flowers in the front, making a big band of space where the weeds are cleared away. And we're supposed to clean the back porch, maybe both, for Mother's Day.


April 29
     My mom is back-- arrived a few minutes early on a place from Las Vegas from San Luis Obispo. She's sleeping, after the all night flight, and tomorrow we go to Brown to see Joel's tap dance recital. I look forward to being in the same time/space with him, although these group affairs don't give me what I miss most, which is his presence here, the daily life, little conversations over breakfast, lunch, whatever.
     Meanwhile, I felt good about the meeting of the trustees last (South Orange Maplewood Community Coalition on Race). I've been feeling that I'm not a very good chair, and indeed, I still think I'm probably not a very good chair if only because I'd rather write about people's personalities than think up organizational actions. Still, this time, in spite of some bumps in the road, and indeed because the bumps were there and I still felt some satisfaction, I think this was a good one. There was dutiful attention to the Two Towns in Harmony event, and I think some genuine excitement over "leveraging" local elections toward intentional and stable integration.


April 26
     There was an interesting article in the Times Book Review on Sunday about self-publishing.

April 24
    We had a good Passover Seder last night, most of my overwintered lettuce, my horseradish root and parsley on the plate, brisket, turkey, matzoh ball soup, two kinds of kugel--oh, tons of stuff. I'm exhausted this morning from cooking, socializing, strenuous teaching early in the week. Photo is by Andy's cousin Sam Rabin, the travel agent extraordinaire. In the picture, counter-clockwise, are Andy's sister Ellen, Ellen's sons Jon and Greg, then Eddie Rabin and me. Missing are Andy and Sam. Also missing because they couldn't come were Joel and Roslyn Rabin, Andy's aunt, Sam and Eddie mother, who is getting out of the hospital today, and we hope she's okay!


April 19
    Very warm today, school board elections, me buying stuff for the Seder on Saturday. Joel won't be coming. Lovely sun this evening in the back yard, the faintest blush of green on the trees-- not here a week ago. I'll use the overwintered little lettuces on Saturday.

April 13
      Joel turns 20 on Friday, and it just occurred to me that I won't be around when he is the age I am now! I feel so vigorous (in spite of an achey knee) and full of things to do, plans, controversies here in town, books to write, etc.-- but the chances are very strong that I won't know Joel when he's this age because I would be like 98. That was a shock. Well, maybe I'll reach 98. I'd like to be puttereing around at the computer on a sunny day at that point, recording what it's like to be 98. Writing how I can't believe I've lived almost a century, etc. etc. But experiences are never quite what you expect.

April 10
     Joel and his Ultimate team eating during a rainy tournament!

April 9
     Gorgeous day-- working in the garden in the sunshine. Digging up nasty perennial weeds, sowing turnips and more lettuce and radish. Very close to treegreen--overwintered lettuce and kale, tiny new pease coming up, and arugula, and lettuce and radish! Sowed more lettuce plus turnips today. Last night Andy and I ate at Caribbean Cuisine and had roti and jerk chicken and platanos! I feel food and future food all around me.

April 6
    Teaching day and night this week, finished the lovely school in Newark, majority hispanic, Ridge Street School, old style building, high ceilings, hissing radiators, homey and affectionate, large classes and a lot of pride in themselves, but only one bathroom for all the teachers! NYU two nights, and the other days for Forrestdale School in Rumson: enormous contrast to Ridge Street in some ways, but both have a high esprit de corps among the staff and sense of themselves as schools for achievers. The Rumson school, of course, is Where the White Kids Are: So far I've seen one little girl who is Asian, and the kids with tan
skin are the ones who just got back from a few family days in Barbados. At the age of nine or ten, they are all charming, of course, and certainly take academics seriously. The building has a new wing, couches in a several of the rooms, all year art and music, not to mention the lessons and sports the families provide.

March 27
      Well, it is finally quiet here at eleven a.m. after having the eleven college boys here for two nights, filling the house with backpacks and laughter. Joel's Brown Ultimate Frisbee team C. They have gone off to today's games (they are, ironically, playing Columbia High School, the only high school in the tournament) and then on to Haverford to cheer on the B team, and then on to North Carolina to the beach for their week of frisbee on the beach. On the way back, they have the tournament at Franklin and Marshall next week-end, then back to Brown. I wish Joel were spending more time here, but it isn't as sad as last year when we only saw him the one afternoon while he was playing. This week-end, with all the guys here, he did a wash (and asked me to put it in the dryer so he could go to bed) and also asked me to patch a pair of favorite pants-- the only person in the world who is allowed to make that kind of demand on me!
      I'm not going to Ethical Culture this morning even though the topic sounds interesting, out of respect for, or perhaps even as a kind of backhanded observance of, Easter. I saw the neighbors going off to church, the littlest girl with a puffy white skirt and tights and shoes and a white hat and the big girl with a striking orange hat and dress. It reminds me of all those Easter outfits back in Shinnston, and also the Easter baskets full of colored foil covered eggs. Easter was never a holiday I particularly liked– there were a lot of mixed messages from Mom, for example: the bunny and dyeing eggs, but also a kind of guilt over how this is the most sacred Christian Holiday, and cetera and cetera. New outfits not really approrpiate, but of course we got them, the lilies at church, and I recall at least one sermon (Louis McCord, I believe) that lambasted all the people who only came on Easter. Anyhow, such mixed messages: Up from the Grave He Arose with checking out the fancy hats and feeling sick from eating half a chocolate bunny.


Smell of young men in the house–
Two dozen sneakers by the door,
Bodies burrowed in blankets
On the couches,
Wrapped in sleeping bags on the beds.

The bathrooms linger with a touch of aftershave,
A little grape juice spilled here
Mud stains in the rug there.
Today I have a glass of wine
Lovely solitude
And make Joel's bed–

His house, he got sheets
And organized everything:
Rock Paper Scissors for
Who showers first!
First round, one two three: Yes!
Intense as rock musicians
Lovers Learners
Second round, Yes!
The house enriched with
The echoes of their visit.


March 24, 2005
     Thursday morning, Coalition meeting to plan, snow on the ground! I hope the last of the year? We are in spring! (I exclaim this just like everyone else, indignant that we should get weather that doesn't fit our categories: if it's spring, there must be pink blossoms and bunnies!) Meanwhile, I had a sterling but exhausting day yesterday in my teaching: maybe because I had the least orderly class first thing in the day, and they were both extremely orderly and extremely engaging kids, and maybe because I was party to a situation where an excellent veteran teacher was having a struggle with a good but disrespectful kid (and this was what he called himself in a piece he wrote for me, which became part of the whole exchange, so I felt part of more than just standing up and entertaining), and maybe it was just that the kids were glad to see me two days in a row, and maybe because it was a more-or-less new lesson that I was intent on figuring out how to deliver (on writing monologue– not that I've never done that before, but I haven't featured it in a while, and this is leading to the presentation for the school later in the year).  And then the evening novel class was excellent–I'm beginning really to like the intimacy of the small class, and of course having strong students, strong personalities, a lot of the teaching comes from them– I was very satisfied with the day.
       And the tiredness didn't seem a negative, but a positive, until my mind started rushing over all the things I have to do, have failed to do, will never do. Meanwhile, I have to prepare my monthly Coalition meeting. And tomorrow the Ultimate team arrives to eat spaghetti and sleep in our house! Twelve kids, but at least Joel is one of them. If we want to see him, we'll have to go watch him play ultimate frisbee down at Rutgers forty five minutes away!


March 16, 2005
    Here is the sad, brave, and most likely true statement of a humanist agnostic:

Beings Unvisited by Angels

      ....No radiant angel came across the gloom with a clear message for her. In those times, as now, there were human beings who never saw angels or heard perfectly clear messages. Such truth as came to them was brought confusedly in the voices and deeds of men not at all like the seraphs of unfailing wing and piercing vision,–men who believed falsities as well as truth, and did the wrong as well as the right. The helping hands stretched out to them were the hands of men who stumbled and often saw dimly, so that these beings unvisited by angels had no other choice than to grasp that stumbling guidance along the path of reliance and action which is the path of life, or else to pause in loneliness and disbelief, which is no path, the arrest of inaction and death.

       George Eliot, in Romola, in The Best-Known Novels of George Eliot (Modern Library edition: New York), p. 1163.


March 17, 2005
     St. Patrick's Day, and I planted peas!
I lived today like a retiree– that is, I gathered seeds and garden catalogs and I went down, just to see how the garden was, and dug a little, and raked, and set in one of the bean towers– and I planted peas! Super sugar snaps and Oregon Sugar Pod II's, and a new one, Sugar Lace II!! I also thinned the cabbages now under lights, still in their egg carton, not peat pots yet. It was sunny and 40 ish today, and I kept thinking, This is what I want to do, I want to be retired for a while, and garden and write memoir (I'm finishing up a short piece about poor old Miss Shreve to submit to Maggie Anderson's book about schooling.)
       Also cut lettuce from under the umbrellas and dug up parsnips and carrots planted last April, baked them with potatoes, had salad and ham, a funeral gift.

March 16, 2005
    This is an unusual picture of my sister, my mother and me. My father passed away a week ago after several years of being sadly disabled, and we were gathered in West Virginia for the funeral and remembering and celebrating him. The celebration came largely in the form of many of his former students who came to the funeral home and the funeral to say he had been their best teacher.


March 9, 2005
     We stayed up past our bedtime to watch the Nightline show on bloggers which had a quick background view or two of my husband Andy's brother David Weinberger. The Nightline reporter was all portentous and pompous about this new phenomenon while appearing to remain remarkably clueless about the impulse to communicate and participate in this enormous amorphous thing of proto-democracy on the Internet.


March 6, 2005
We just got back from an overnight in Connecticut at Andy's sister's Ellen's. She went with us yesterday up to see Joel and Brown, and then we slept at her house. When we were dropping him off after dinner on Federal Hill in Providence, Joel said, "Aren't you going to get out?" and of course I wanted nothing so much as to hug him, so I got out and did.

His demands have always told me what I want to do. Well, I'm thinking about when he was a baby and I was an ignorant old mother. Then there was a message on the phone when we got back, from him, asking if he could bring twenty or forty ultimate player friends to sleep on the floor before a tournament at Rutgers! Mercy upon us.

I'm thinking about how first there is imagination; then there is experiencing; then there is memory. I"m good on 1) and 3), and less good on the experiencing. I'm thinking about Italy, and about yesterday, and how already yesterday has started to glow: when we arrived and saw Joel coming toward us with his skully on and Ellen yelling "The Chia pet!" (for his hairstyle) and Joel's room very neat with the Indian blanket cover over his comforter, and the floor clear, and shirts hanging in the open closet. And really good omelettes at Rue d'espoir. And a kind of bronzed gentle hanging out in his room, him showing us books, things on the Internet, Phil and Kyle in and out. Walking around campus, always so beautiful even in dirty snow weather, eating dinner at theBombay Club and driving around busy gay Providence, some big event at the Performing Art center or else the Dunkin Donut arena.

And fast fading some of the actual experience: an upset stomach, no place to sit, feeling hot, sleepy, at different times. But it smooths out in memory–I guess Italy did too, but it's so far now that I really have to stretch and make an effort to recall the discomforts, the squabbles

In looking for some online pictures of Brooklyn for my biography page, I found a nice painter named Ella Yang who paints a lot of things, but I especially like her paintings of Brooklyn. She responded promptly to my e-mail and gave permission for me to use her work on my website as long as I gave the title and a link. Take a look at her website!

February 26, 2005
  I've been trying to get ahead of desk work to clear time/space for writing. This is always the objective. We saw Sweet Smell of Success last night on DVD--a really good old noir (also black and white) movie, lots of shots of wonderful New York City as it used to be with phones at the tables in the 21 Club etc. Tony Curtis was so slimy he shone, so attractive that you root for him whatever he does. Burt Lancaster does a terrific job too, as the power broker columnist J.J. Hunsecker, but he plays it-- appropriately-- like a man with his face frozen, someone so heavy with his own importance and power that you imagine the human being is so far inside the caverns of stone he'll never come out. Whereas Curtis is all over the place, quicksilver, meteoric, trying something new if the other thing doesn't work. He has all this youth and hope and a kind of animal energy. The "good" guys in the movie, potato faced Martin Millner and Susan Harrison (who never did much of anything else as far as I know) were totally missing in action (although Millner's character gets to attack Hunsecker's false patriotism in a neat slap at red baiting-- Cliff Odets a co-writer of this). And surely I'm not the only person who saw that Hunsecker was dying of incestuous love for his little sister?

February 20, 2005
    We've got the Food Network again! Wow! Are they trying to suck us into buying the expensive cable? I don't care, but just watched someone named Sarah teaching saute, seafood over noodles, turkey cutlets with hot salsa, chicken stock and cider vinegar! to deglaze the turkey pan. Beat out turkey cutlets with water, beteween plastic wrap sheets. I don't know why I like food network so much– I expect it's partly because it does something that t.v. is best at, which is spontaneity of a certain sort: I always remember in 1963 that the best tv was the coverage of the Kennedy assassination and the funeral after. They did Ronald Reagan's funeral well. Anything that lends itself to channel surfing, just sort of drifting in and out. The cooking shows are scripted in a general sort of way, but you get the sense that it is happening now. The breaks from real time are pretty transparent: you go away for a commerical and the turkey cutlets are finished cooking, but you know this is a five minute procedure, so you haven't been really tricked. I think the desire for this witnessing through the little window into the big neighborhood outside is part of what draws people to reality tv and the live talk shows. Anyhow, this is one of the first things I've really liked on television, and I'm thrilled we've got it back, at least for the moment
    Another recent happy media experience is the Wikipedia article. I put up my little note and it got added to, although not changed. The idea of this kind of communal pooling of knowledge really thrills me.

February 15, 2005
  This week is a little too much like last week. Double jobs, exhausting work at Lincoln Park, lots of Community Coaltion stuff. I had a recommendation to write today, a nerve wracking phone call, exchanges with George Brosi at Appalachian Heritage over my article about novelist Gretchen Laskas, an hour at Columbia High School for their student ACLU meeting and a speaker on race and justice, make dinner, prepare Advanced Novel for tomorrow night and 7th graders for tomorrow day. Just part of it. I'm cheerful when I'm like this, though. Still having sort of commentary flashes of Italy. Amazing that a month ago were were there, in that place not this one. Amazing thing: I wrote a Wikipedia article on Harriette Arnow, and within a day, one of their editors had added more information--I learned something new from the article I wrote. Is that amazing or what?

February 10, 2005
What a week of teaching! Two new classes starting at NYU, two days in Lincoln Park, a teacher workshop, meetings. So thankful to be with no meeting, no work tonight. So loxed out, I watched a cheap bio pic about Michael Jackson.
t seems so long since we got back from Italy. Italy was like a restart on the computer, somehow, a lot of rough edges smoothed, things that seemed tangled smoothed out. You push the restart and problems disappear. Like the old depression treatment of shock therapy, only delightful instead of traumatic!
  Yesterday, in Lincoln Park, NJ, I saw a woman in a pink sweatshirt with a waddling little gray old dog that squatted in some dirty snow. I found it moving for some reason, the sad tragedy of this country, people stumbling along, thinking somehow they are righteous and have the right to stomp on whoever.
  In Washington Square, in New York, when I go to teach there, the big Judson Memorial church keeps on its message board the count of American service people dead in Afghanistan and Iraq, well over a thousand now, but also over a hundred thousdan Afghanis and Iraquis. The question is: for those other people we don't count (Saddam is beaten, full speed ahead!) who are dead or whose families are dead, was it worth it? I doubt it, but the real point to me is, why did the people in Washington, riding on the ignorance of the pink lady with the fat dog, get to decide?
The rawness the sharp edges here in the United States are just blowing me away, the new homes in the developmets are are attractive– spacious, but the sharp edges are what I keep comparing to the buildings seen from a distance in Tuscany, on the train from Rome to Florence. But even in the cities there was a roundness of the the cobblestones the piazzas, the old stone work in Florence.

February 5, 2005
We had our final event with the fall Newark Museum program-- at the Museum, the court full of kids from various schools, art projects.
Ours from Warren Street School was our books, art and words. Satisfying to end so well, all those kids, all that art.

Last evening, I slogged down through the snow to the garden, pulled up a sunbrella (damaging it, I think, and cut some lettuce and radicchio for dinner. Whatever the weather, there is brightness of days getting longer at this time of year.

January 27, 2005
I'm posting a fuller version of my Italy notes for anyone who really likes travelogs. That's what it is, of course, enthusiastic tourists, but also the strange wonder of differentness: this is the first time I've
been totally clear about why so many people look forward to, say, retiring and traveling. There is really something rejuvenating about being in a place where even--especially--the little things are different. I reread John Cheever's masterful and sad story of different kinds of American expatriates in "The Bella Lingua" which is in his collected stories and probably elsewhere, and was just thrilled to read about places I have just been. His character walks through the Piazza della Rotunda past the Pantheon, which our hotel room in Rome looked out on. For me, it's the reality of the larger world: juice boxes of wine in the cafeteria of the Vatican museums! I mean, come on!

January 24, 2005

We are back from Italy! Amazing that we went, amazing that we are back. Among the amazing things: that we left Rome on a splendid sunny day with no coats required, and arrived (delayed flight) at the end of a major snowstorm and single digit Farenheit temperatures. Quick memories: Thinking at the Colosseum about gladiators, "We Who Are About To Die Salute You," and all the Medicis and the Borgias and the Augustuses and Constantines -- so many dead. Rome in the sun but also the Pantheon roof next to our hotel just before dawn, deep deep blue, white sudden explosions of gulls between me and Orion's belt: deep salmon bricks, deep blue sky, chips of white flung agains. Also: tiny pink roses in bloom near the circus maximus. Sound of music below, rising from "our" piazza. At the Capitoline museum the beautiful brass lupa with the little bambini from a thousand years later. An Escher exhibit, very popular locally, and one I'd love to see at my leisure in NYC. High point: almost back to the hotel at 4:30, we stopped at a cafe and sat outside (in the third week of January!) and the waiter was friendly, we took his picture, and I got up my courage and said, "Somos americanos ma non votamo per il Bush!" And the waiter shook my hand and each of our hands! Very satisfying. I tried it again on the cab to the airport, and again got a delighted reaction, the cabbie saying that the Italian president and Bush are like that (fingers pressed together)-- "due putti!"

January 14
   In a few hours, the taxi will come to take us to the airport-- the plane is scheduled to leave at 5:30 p.m., and to arrive in Rome eight hours later-- which will be morning there. Then we take a short train into Rome, a longer train ride on to Florence. Everyone has been so wonderful--suggesting pizza places in Rome, best museums in both cities, lending guidebooks. Travel agent and Andy's cousin Sam Rabin called this morning to see if we had any last minute questions. The only problem is me being terrified of the Unknown, which ranges from airplane sounds to death.

January 12
   Two days till lift off-- less than forty-eight hours. Frantically getting ready to teach tomorrow, travel on Friday. Chores, terrors.

January 7
    We've passed Twelfth Night El Dia de los Reyes, so I think we can stop giving one another New Year's greetings. I spent yesterday with 3rd and 4th graders in Linden, NJ at School # 8, pleasant place, very well run classes, children pleased to meet a real author, lots of questions about Marco. Then today it was Warren Streeet School in Newark.

January 1
   Early today, a beautiful low 60's day with lots of sun, I officially finished my holiday messages and end-of-year donation. I also went to Maplewood's reorganization meeting which was nice and colorful--a lot of folks show up, there is a clipped-step police color guard, lots of swearing in of trustees and officers, and the magnificent Lori Brown Mirabal sang "God Bless America" and more. Prayers Christian and Muslim--a visit from Congressman Payne. I wish South Orange did something similar!
   Last night, we went out to Verjus with Joel and the Graveses, and afterwards, Joel went out to a party and we four elders came home and sat in front of the fire and the Christmas tree.

This evening, a walk:

Pink fingernail scrapes
On a chalkboard of sky–jets
Pass: New Year's evening.




     I think I'm blogging to be where the action is. I've kept a personal journal for years, and continue to do so. This is a kind of public extension of it. In my private journal, I put dreams, and truly private things, certainly raw feelings and ideas. I also include copies of endlessly cheerful notes to my mother, who is 86 years old. These entries are somewhere in between-- fresh, if not raw; public but not necessarily nice.
      My brother-in-law David Weinberger, the Internet maven, often blogs about blogging itself or about conferences he attends (he actually sits in meetings with his laptop fired up, blogging his notes on the speakers).
     I'm not knowledgeable enough or interested enough in blogging qua blogging to do that. It reminds me of fiction about written about writing fiction. to which I much prefer fiction about almost anything else. Driving buses or eating watercress sandwiches.

     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.
                                        -- written sometimes in early 2004






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