December 28


My new toy: An Acer Aspire One. Two pounds and it takes pictures!

A nice long walk in the windy, rainy-but-not-yet-raining sixties. Color is leached out, and it is dark enough in this Sunday mid-afternoon, for lights to be on in people's houses, and that wonderful transparency into windowed golden lives of other people. Families out for walks, kids on Daddy’s back, golden retrievers, boys with action figures on the floor of their porch.

Today’s Times Magazine has articles about people we lost this year, and I was especially touched by Mildred Loving, a long time widow and church woman in rural Virginia whose marriage to a white man back more than forty years became the suit that struck down miscegenation laws in the US. And especially touching, that she came out for gay marriage after long refusing interviews and public life at all.

Whether or not we want to live in public-- whether we hide from it, as she did, or want it, as I do, we are all about the same size.

At Ethical today: a discussion on health care, and I finally got straight the difference between socialized medicine (govt. owns hospitals, pays doctors– like the VA system) versus single payer (govt pays but money goes to various place: private or public). Duh.





December 26


‘Twas the day after Christmas, and gray in the sky,
Snow on the ground and hangovers from pie....

We spent two hours opening presents yesterday-- Joel insisting that each present be unwrapped and watched and enjoyed by all of us. This year, though, I had cleverly planned my cooking tasks so that I wasn’t anxious doing this: the ham was roasting and a bread was in the bread maker and the vegetables for roasting were already prepared.

I got my best Christmas present in years– the tiny Acer Aspire "netbook" computer . It is just 2 pounds and under $300 (barely under of course), and it is so cute ! I've wanted one of these subnotebooks for almost a year, since I started reading about them: solid state and with a Linux operating system. I wanted it for its true portability (I have a laptop but it's heavy and the battery has died). Anyhow this little job does email and word processing and is all I need for traveling.

Also for looking cool in Starbucks.

The keyboard is small, but I’d tried it at J&R and compared to my first “netbook” crush, an Asus eee (screen 7 inches diagonal), this one (screen 8.9) is downright roomy. Thinner and lighter than a hardcover book.

We had eight for Christmas dinner-- Mom, Andy and me, Sarah and Joel, and Howard and Alice and daughter Molly. A lot of cooking, and everyone helped (Joel and Sarah made some amazing garlic mashed with pre-roasted garlic) , ditto with clean-up. The work has already this morning faded into a general haze of warmth. Joel, Sarah, and Molly went to Sciainos’ after dinner, where Joel ate sausage and manicotti and cookies. Groan.

After Christmas dinner, we did Hanukkah candles, and no Christmas songs– but we were 3 to 1 Jewish to gentile. We tend to have Jews for Christmas and gentiles for Pesach. Seriously.






December 24

It's the day before Christmas, rain on snow, icy, slushy, Joel and Sarah's plane last night was two hours late, but they're here, and my mom, Sarah working on her computer, long distance; I made my plan (what to cook, when) and talked to Alice, talked to Christy, everything under control as we say.




December 22


Yesterday started with snow and sleet, eventually lightened, and today is just deep cold, barely made double digits. There is that special short day pale orange light with the trees dark with brass highlights, the sky pale, shadows on snow. The speaker cancelled at Ethical yesterday, and we hung around awhile and then went and picked up mom at Prospect Presbyterian and went back to Prospect in late afternoon to hear their chancel choir do “The Messiah Part I.”

This was at Adrienne Bolden’s invitation, as she had the first alto solo, and she sounded tremendous, a long rounded sound to her voice, not low at all, but rich and muscular in a restrainted way. I had forgotten who all sings in their choir: solosalso by John Pearson and David Huemer and Ellie Winslow the librarian.

I always forget how much I like music, sitting and listening to it, watching singers and performers (small string group too, and their choir director played a harpsichord). I don’t like ambient music, but I like focusing on it, going where it is.

Much of the text of that part of “The Messiah” is from the Book of Isaiah.


And now, for the first time ever-- we are proudly flying the flag of a country
where the a majority of the voters chose hope over business as usual.  We sincerely hope!




December 18


A quick two day drive to and from Shinnston to pick up Mom for Chirstmas. And today, my last class (tomorrow's is being rescheduled!) before the holidays and getting to concentrate on family, food, tree, etc.!

Meanwhile in the news--the continued Splat! of the greed bubble bursting. Bernie Madoff now is being called perpetrator of a Ponzi scheme. Oh the Wall Streeters! What were they thinking? It has all been so wrong, so very wrong, and now everyone is beginning to get it, to see, that the greed was insane. For me and my Aged Radicals, it is a major vindication. Crooked finger shaking: You see? You see?

What lessons to learn of course? The lesson for my parents' Great Depression was to keep your nose to the grindstone, take care of your own frugally, save, plan for retirement. Too narrow for my generation, spendthrift in resources and extreme in choices: We need a new system top to bottom!  Socialism is too timid! Change everything!

Followed by the ones who came of age with Reagan and Greed is Good. Who, along with the rapacious ones who surround W., have caused immense harm.

And greed is not good, nor is narrowness out of fear.   We need to be expansive in caring for the common good.  

Will Obama’s administration be able to manage it? Will they make enough structural change? Will they keep Obama alive?



December 13


I'm looking at another super busy week with teaching-- this time a couple of the classes are ending: my last NYU Novel I, my last day with the fourth graders in Mendham, also with the Prose Narrative adults in Madison. I had my last Advanced Novel down at the Woolworth building a couple of days ago. This week I also have a day at the Newark Museum with the Jersey City teachers and a trip to West Virginia to pick up my mother for her visit! I get strung out on no writing.

I did go to writers' group on Thursday and presented a short short story that I enjoyed tinkering with-- a story that came from an exercise at the fall New Jersey Writers Project meeting. I don't remember the exercise, but was in need of a creative outlet at that moment, I guess.

I have really different periods in my life: periods when my house is full of people, periods when it is mostly still and I alternate writing and housework.

And then teaching extravaganzas like these first two weeks of December 2008.

Today the Mothers got together at La Lunchonette for brunch-- very enjoyable to be with Maddy and Jody and Nancy and Evelyn. Home to do papers, all day tomorrow to plan stuff for the coming week.




December 9

Thanks to Sarah's mom Jan for passing on this picture of Joel playing with Sarah's little first cousin once removed.

It has been an intense period of work for me. Part of the intensity is dealing with different administrators and teachers. I’m doing the school in Mendham that I’ve visited several years in a row, and this one works well because the teachers themselves bring me in as an author and teaching writer to supplement their realistic fiction unit. I've also got an adult ed class Madison, my usual two NYU classes in the evening, and making a double day yesterday, on top of having to go into New York to teach at night, I had a day at the Newark Museum with the Jersey City teachers. It’s great to be part of the museum, but it’s requiring a lot of thinking on my feet as the plans change radically session to session, and I spent a lot of time over the week-end making little booklet of Asian literature to go with the art materials. I’m also signed on to write/edit for them, too, and probably need to cut something out this spring to make room for it. I like each thing I do, but there is also work for the Coalition and Ethical Culture and dinner to make the nights I’m home, and we're out of this and that from the grocery store and out of underwear. I feel energetic and productive, but also scattered by the different people I work with. I get days or at least mornings to write, sometimes, but no real days off. No boredom, and much drawing myself up like an actor, deep breathing for the performance to come


I had a dream of deer. I was walking up on the hill in East Shinnston behind the houses, and I was on this side of the fence with small brushy trees. On the other side was field, and six deer started and ran, some does with fawns, also yearlings, whitetailing it over the rolls and swells of the hill. And then directly ahead of me, on my side of the fence, was a big bodied buck like the only one I saw in the back yard this year, silver blue dense fur, thick neck, fine looking animal, and he faced me, and I assumed would then run, but charged me instead, and I held my ground, and it was a feint, as he reached me, he got smaller, melted into air, or passed me by. I marveled at the lack of fear.



December 1, 2008


Joel and Sarah made it back to California after horrendous delays at Newark Liberty, but they didn't seem to affect them much--their plane sat for only forty-five minutes or an hour on the tarmac, and then arrived 40 minutes early in San Francisco.

After a day and a half of snow and rain, it is lovely looking today, the pink and blue of November when most leaves are down, and I woke up planning work: on the 25 Steps book, and maybe some news ideas, even though I hate to lay aside Melisandre.


November 28


We are just back from visiting Andy's sister Ellen in Clinton, CT for Thanksgiving. We drove drove back today-- Andy, me, Joel, Sarah. It was a good Thanksgiving--lots of laughing and eating, Ellen and her son Jon and daughter-in-law Bethany and dog Dombey; her neighbors across the street, then Andy and Ellen's brother David, his wife Ann, plus Leah and Nathan, and then Joel, Sarah, Andy, and me. The usual suspects-- Ellen's other son Greg off to Japan where he is doing Zen sittings. We had turkey, carrot souffle, two kinds of potatoes, squash, beans, Brussels sprouts, gravy, rolls, stuffing, and seven or eight desserts. And then came our crazy idiosyncratic traditions: the movie Jurassic Park, which the kids have been demanding since it first came out on tape, lots of cheering for favorite scenes (when the lawyer gets eaten hiding in the toilet; the "Things In the Mirror Are Closer than they Appear" T Rex chase scene; the Australian hunter and the "clever girl;" the kids and the velociraptors in the kitchen scene.

And then! At midnight! about half of us went shopping! That's right, Ellen's outlet mall had something called "Midnight Madness" with huge discounts and there were so many people you could hardly move. It was totally unpleasant and also very funny. Joel said that after last night the economy should be in great shape. (For David's take, see his blog here then look for November 28 Black Friday entry--and in the comments for my husband's comment on his comments). I walked around buffeted by the crowds and groggy with weariness, but did manage to buy two colors of a nice rayon-nylon sweater, very warm. Also, yet another black jacket that needs sleeves shortened.

We got to bed in the motel by 3 a.m. or so and then up and at Ellen's for breakfast (bagels, pumpkin pie, cheesecake, pound cake, cookies, date nut bread..), then off for New Jersey.


Back home, I went down to the garden to get salad and cilantro for cilantro pesto over pasta. The cilantro pesto tasted so green and alive– I loved going down to the garden in the fading light, hands cold, birds on the feeder behind me, that dun and brown calm with gray branches, last clinging leaves, sharp cleanliness of late November. Very late November, actually: two days left. And now I'm waiting for Joel and Sarah to finish visiting with Alice and Howard Robinson Gilman and bring the parakeet home!



November 18



Well, Alex is en avion (over Illinois as I write this). We have had a spit of snow this morning and now good clouds. The highest layer of trees is bare but some yellow and brown below.

I got up at 4:45 a.m. to take Alex to the plane, was cozied back in bed by 5:45 and asleep a hour later. Good sleep, actually, and I feel okay right now. Alex was a real pleasure, much as I expected him to be, but even more responsive as a human being-- sweeter, in fact. He seemed truly pleased to be cared for and cared about by us, and delighted with the success of his and Kirsi-Marja’s performance on Sunday. Last night, while I went to NYU to teach, Andy took him to the new James Bond movie! I was very pleased to get to know him a little.




Meredith Sue Willis's

Books for Readers #114

November 15 , 2008


As I write this, a week-and a half after the 2008 Presidential election, I am still stunned and gratified that a black man has won the American presidency. A few weeks before the election, I read President-elect Obama’s memoir, DREAMS FROM MY FATHER, a serious, good book, written with considerable grace and a great deal of self-reflection, and I recommend it for its own interest, aside from who wrote it.   We have elected a president who not only has a brain (Bill Clinton was smart) but has an inner life as well. Anyhow, good luck to him and to all of us as he takes on that enormous job.

In the last weeks I’ve been reading somewhat randomly, for entertainment, for pleasure, to learn something. I’ve read a couple of literary novels, an excellent nonfiction book, some science fiction and – new for me– high fantasy.

I rented and liked, although maybe less than I thought I was going to, was the National Book Award winner THE NEWS FROM PARAGUAY by Lily Tuck. This story of a nineteenth century South American dictator’s common-law Irish wife was gripping, vivid, and apparently grimly accurate in many of its details. Lily Tuck includes the lives and deaths of characters at many levels of society. I like the story for the breadth of its characters and for the lively adventuress-protagonist. The farther you go in the story, however, the more you become aware of how the downfall of a dictator takes so many living beings with him. Ella is a survivor, but that doesn’t mean that the rest of her life turns out well. There is so much venality and violence– it’s a rousing yarn that left a bad taste in my mouth, anyhow.

Also set south of the U.S. border was SENSELESSNESS by Horacio Castellanos Moya (photo below).   In this novel, a writer is hired to copy edit the stories of witnesses to hundreds of murders of “indigenous people” during the bloody ascendancy of the Guatemalan military in the 1980's. The writer goes nearly crazy from reading of the horrors (and discovering that one woman who was repeatedly raped and unspeakably brutalized works in the same office he does) Increasingly he becomes convinced that the military is going to try to kill him too. He also has an unfortunate one night stand with an attractive woman whose feet stink, and he becomes convinced that her boyfriend is also trying to kill him. You think at a certain point that the novel is going for a story about insanity, but at the same time, the military really IS still in charge, and there is evidence that something is going on but you can’t quite figure out what it is. It’s an interesting novel that keeps you off balance.

I also read the redoubtable Jared Diamond’s THE THIRD CHIMPANZEE, another of his excellent surveys of how human beings got to be who we are, and where we’re likely to go next. This one chronicles our similarities to the primates and other animals as well as our similarities to our precursor species– especially our tendency to commit genocide and to cause the extinction of other species. We killed off, for example, all the giant birds– moas, elephant birds, dodos, etc. I wonder how the ostriches survived? Maybe just because they had more time to learn how to avoid the nasty tool wielding little primates? Diamond’s work is always stimulating and worth reading.

Then I read my first high fantasy– which is fantasy in the wizards and magic and epic vein of Tolkien. I thought I didn’t care for ti, but ASSASSIN’S APPRENTICE by Robin Hobb (the pseudonym of Margaret Astrid Lindholm Ogden, a prolific fantasy and science fiction writer) was a real pleasure. Lots of blood and guts and action and love and mysterious events and also animals and coming of age. There was a little too much world building for me– an invented history in the form of epigraphs for each chapter, but I just read that part rapidly and got on with the story. The world is in technology and general aspect a version of medieval Europe, Scandinavia or maybe the northernmost British Isles, but it is that world as if Christianity had never arrived, and where some people have certain specific magic abilities which generally need to be nurtured and mastered. The precision of the limitations on the magic particularly pleased me. Also, Hobb does animals wonderfully, and the primary evil, aside from some nasty individuals, is that sea raiders are somehow creating soulless people– they kidnap people then send them home as monsters who look fine but have no morality, no sense of community at all– are individualistic eating and killing machines. I assume this will be in later volumes of the trilogy. Also, the protagonist is a young boy who is being trained to kill people– as a political poisoner.

And finally, I read the long-awaited last novel of Judith Moffett’s (see photo right) science fiction Holy Ground trilogy, THE BIRD SHAMAN. It was a very gratifying book, especially to have questions answered that were raised in the first two novels in the trilogy, THE RAGGED WORLD an TIME LIKE AN EVER ROLLING STREAM. I loved finding out what happened to the characters, but you don’t need to have read the first books to read THE BIRD SHAMAN. It follows the other volumes by many years and has all the information you need to make sense of things. The novel is about the last act of a humans and aliens story, in which two alien forms, the Hefn and the Gafr, are trying to force human beings to stop trashing earth. The way they do this is refreshingly unviolent (although they are capable of violence too). They have created a general ban on human reproduction. A handful of children is still being born, enough that the species won’t die out if the ban isn’t lifted, but the world as everyone knows it is fading fast. The novel is set in the final year of the human opportunity to change their ways before the ban is made permanent.

What happens is not what you would expect of, course: the alien species are not, in the end, all-powerful or, for that matter, all-altruistic. Moffett’s main character is the acerbic Pam Pruitt, who has been in therapy for years learning to deal with herself and her past with an abusive father and distant mother. Other important characters include a young girl, one of the few children born in recent years, who is also abused– and a popular actress! Much of the story is set in Utah, with splendid landscapes as well as the misdeeds and courage of the Church of the Latter Day Saints. There is child abuse in many forms, native cave paintings, shamanism, lucid dreaming, gardening and birds– a wonderful cornucopia of unexpected delights (unless you are already a fan of Moffett, in which case you know what to expect).

It is also, as is all the best science fiction, a suspenseful and rousing good story.

                                                                                       -- Meredith Sue Willis





Christine Willis writes to recommend THE LAST LECTURE:  “Maybe the idea of THE LAST LECTURE appealed to me because a cousin was dying with a variation of Randy Pausch’s disease: pancreatic cancer, or maybe it was because I thought that someone so certainly facing his mortality might have some interesting insights into life. The notion of a final lecture, a summation of sorts, is appealing on its own. But Pausch was facing the additional challenge of leaving as much of himself via language as he could for his children who would be too young at the time of his death to be able to recall him.

“Pausch’s little book (written with Jeffrey Zaslow) explains what a last lecture is, and the lecture frames his book in the world of academia. He was a professor at Carnegie Mellon and was approached to prepare and give his last lecture in the throes of his final months of life.

“The chapters include Randy’s wooing and winning his wife, how he was able to realize his childhood dreams, and how to live life. He even left words of wisdom for his eighteen month old daughter: ‘When it comes to men who are romantically interested in you, it’s really simple. Just ignore everything they say and only pay attention to what they do.’

My favorite chapter, however, is ‘The Parent Lottery.’ The first two sentences are: ‘I won the parent lottery. I was born with the winning ticket, a major reason I was able to live out my childhood dreams.’  It is a chapter of gratitude and a description of superior parenting. The environment his parents provided for him yielded this world view:  ‘…I thought there were two types of families: 1) Those who need a dictionary to get through dinner. 2) Those who don’t.’

“Pausch’s book is uplifting even with the knowledge that he is relinquishing his children, his wife, his students, and indeed, his life."




I asked Susan Scott for recommendations of intelligently written books about Christianity to recommend to a young friend. She wrote: “I have to be honest that I don't read much in the way of Christian apologetics these days, but I have a few ideas for books, though I can't guarantee that they are ‘assumption-less.’ C.S. Lewis is an oldie but goody – MERE CHRISTIANITY and THE CASE FOR CHRISTIANITY are two titles.
“A local church minister friend of mine also suggested an author whose name is Lee Strobel, who if his name is googled gets you to his website and books of his. I not sure whether Strobel's apologetics approach is up my theological alley or not, but that's not necessarily important. If I come across other titles/authors I will advise.
To my mind, Judaism is less of a stretch theologically than Christianity which presents the whole hurdle of understanding what it means for Jesus to be called the Son of God, and some camps of Christianity have taken to worshiping Jesus rather than God, which I don't think Jesus ever intended. The whole ‘dying for our sins’ tradition of interpreting Jesus' death on the cross, is another hurdle – not to mention the Trinity! I have my own approaches to some of these that are probably less than ‘traditional,’ but which make it possible for me to still self-identify as a Christian.

“The reader may also want to read Sharon Salzberg's book, entitled, FAITH: TRUSTING YOUR OWN DEEPEST EXPERIENCE (Riverhead Books, 2002) --- not a Christian apologetic, but written by a Buddhist who is looking less at God and more at faith itself in our human experience. . . hence the title!”


At Susan Scott’s suggestion, I read that one, and found that Salzberg’s FAITH: TRUSTING YOUR OWN DEEPEST EXPERIENCE really fits my understanding of how things work: human beings have these insights, these moments of being, these break-throughs into something else, these moments of sensing oneness and wholeness (as well as all the opposites of those things), and we then seek ways to put these insights and feelings in different containers: Christians say they’ve received grace, Buddhists say they’ve discovered the Buddha within.
Jews and Buddhists and Ethical Humanists and some others don’t demand exclusivity in dogma for everyone. All of us of course are dealing with our human knowledge of coming of our own deaths. We assume the animals and plants don’t know they’re going to die, but maybe dying as an individual is meaningless to them–certainly to some bacteria that divides and divides and divides or to a honey bee whose self is about the larger structure, individual death isn’t very significant.

Salzberg talks a lot about faith as simply a kind of willingness to live, to go on the journey, which we are all part of anyhow, so the choice is between embracing it and avoiding the truth of it. These are my words, not hers. Suffering and change are the constants in the Buddhist universe, and their basic profession of faith is the ‘I take refuge,’ – in the Buddha, which means in the possibility of enlightenment/awareness within ones self; in the way or practice; in the community. Salzberg says, “With faith we can draw near to the truth of the present moment, which is dissolving into the unknown even as we meet it. (Sharon Salzberg, FAITH: TRUSTING YOUR OWN DEEPEST EXPERIENCE, New York: Riverhead, 2002, p. 14). I’m not a Buddhist, but there is a lot here that, as they say, resonates.


Children’s author Anna Smucker writes to say, “Just a quick note to thank you for putting the info about my new book GOLDEN DELICIOUS: A CINDERELLA APPLE STORY on your terrific Books for Readers newsletter. The book made its grand debut at the WV Book Festival last weekend. I was delighted with the response. Both the WV Book Company and Borders sold out of their copies! Quite a few of the descendants of Anderson Mullins, the Clay County farmer who discovered the apple, came to the festival to hear my presentation, some from as far away as Washington, D.C. They're all very proud to have their "family story" in a book. As always, the festival was a great energizer for me. I love being with so many other authors and with all of those great people who love books. I was especially impressed with Ann Pancake who read from her powerful STRANGE AS THIS WEATHER HAS BEEN. Take care and keep up the good work. Thanks for keeping us all informed.”



“How to Mark a Book” by Mortimer J. Adler, Ph.D. ( ) is a wonderful and wonderfully old-fashioned essay about books as physical objects versus books as interactive communications. Adler compares books to the scores of musical works--the music happens in the performance, and the book really “happens” in the responsive reader’s interaction with it. I think there is probably some relationship here to the swirling controversies over ownership of creative works and new technologies.




Nigel Beale has a blog that includes audio interviews of writers: NOTA BENE BOOKS . . The current interviewee is Nam Le, winner of the 2008 Dylan Thomas Prize, author of THE BOAT.





November 15, 2008


This is a big Social Responsibilities week-end– I’ve got my nephew Alex Kato-Willis the pianist and Master’s student at USC and a violinist friend of his Kirsi Marja Alanen from Julliard staying. They are out at Ethical Culture right now practicing for a performance in Stanford, New York tomorrow at the Stanford Friends of Music . They’ll take NJ Transit to Penn Station tomoprrow early and catch an Amtrak north, where they’ll be picked up and ferried to the place where the concert is.

They are both young, in their early twenties, Alex the same age as Joel, very passionate about music, which he both performs and composes, but also his studies in Nietzsche’s work. He is very interesting to talk to, and charming– I haven’t seen him, by the way, since he was 15 or 16. “Maria” as we seem to be supposed to call her, is Finnish, and has a near perfect American accent, a good ear for languages as well as music. She is studying with some one that Joe Gluck, our friend who is retired from the New Jersey Symphony, recognizes– Lewis Kaplan.  Alex says that the west coast classical music scene is largely separate from the one in the east. His teacher is Daniel Pollack , and Alex is very enthusiastic about him.

They tell stories about their teachers, who they admire, and they talk about the “imagination” that is require to play, and about the pieces of music they are playing. We talked about pianists and hand sizes–Alex’s fingers are small but he has a wide reach. He says big hands require far more precision to hit piano keys cleanly! I love the stimulation of a glance at a new world like this!

Oh my– what I wonder at is how they speak articulately about music and other things, and yet what they love most is not made of words, whereas my art form uses words just as ordinary language does. In my piece about Jayne Anne Phillips for Appalachian Heritage, I was able to quote hersaying of her fiction that the prose she writes, the language itself, “becomes a seduction, especially in the paragraph form. Unlike the formal lines of poetry, prose seems, visually, the same ordinary language in which we read instruction manuals and newspapers. Reading prose, the reader perceives something ordinary,” and then is, as she says, sucked into something extra-ordinary.




November 6, 2008


I think I wasn't dreaming-- I think it really happened!


Some election blogging:

Evelyn Codd for Vice-President!

Peggy Backman's Canvassing Blog

A Blog of women's views of the
Republican Vice-Presidential candidate

Sherry Suttles on the election

Paul Bloom's report on the Democratic convention in Denver




November 5, 2008


I woke up this morning, and I'd had a dream that Barack Obama & the Democrats had won the presidency-- oh, wait, that really happened!

I just feeling like saying it: for this one time, the good guys really have won.  Whether they will stay good, succeed or fail, we can't know.  Will they end the war?  Change the minds of bigots?  Stop the horrific degradation of the environment?  We don't know yet.
    But it was an amazing feeling to see the Obama and Biden families up there on the podium in Chicago last night. 
    They looked like America.





November 1, 2008


We're back! Flew all night, uneventful and short, and once I took my xanax, I had to make an effort to think of death and destruction. Of course, I've still got trips of Joel and Sarah here twice, plus Alex coming up, plus who knows who else, so I can get up a real head of steam if I want to. I make light of my fear of flying, as I should, but it gets in my way.

Over all a lovely week, and I am looking forward to all the little tasks: doing a wash, doing my papers, making some kind of nice pasta for dinner, maybe with the tomatoes still ripening on the counter.

Joel is such a loving person, so eager to please, to make us enjoy our visit, appreciate his life. Sarah is a truly good person, naturally, as far as I can see, and one who extends her goodness beyond her immediate friends and family. She was tired yesterday, for example, from giving blood, which she does every month. She showed us around her office on Friday, and we went to see Joel rock climb. It struck me as an interestingly different sport, the calm of it, people contemplating their next try/attempt/assault as they recover.

We ate lunch at a fish place near Joel’s old apartment and I had really good fish tacos. Then to Sarah’s office, and then we walked up to City Lights bookstore, which I somehow expected to be funky and reeking of marijuana: but is actually clean and inviting, encouraging sitting and reading, pretty floors, up-to-date books (along with the big collection of Ginzberg, Di Palma, Kerouac, and Ferlinghetti himself of course). Then we walked around North Beach, the old Italian places, then sat in a park near Telegraph hill until Sarah came to meet us, then on to the wharves where an enormous Star Princess cruise ship was just setting out, stories and stories tall, a couple of blocks long.

And I had never before seen the sea lions that just hang out by the several hundreds fifty feet from the tourists at Pier 39, as if they'd been hired for photo ops. Click here for an an astounding image  of them. They don't smell very good, but they are deep splendid browns for the old guys, light tan for the younger, black and shiny for the ones just out of the water, some play fights, mostly male animals, said the information boards.

Then Joel and Sarah drove us to the airport through droves of Halloween appareled Critical Mass bikers who zipped in and out among traffic to join their big demonstration aimed at slowing traffic. Joel and Sarah are pretty po’d at critical mass for balling up traffic etc. once a month-- including of course, not only cars, but public transportation. Their website, though, says they're not supposed to be confrontational. Don't know which it is.


It was a wonderful week-- now just let's get the Democrats elected and return to our comfortable role of loyal opposition.


Christine Willis and MSW on October 28, 2008


October 29, 2008

It’s Wednesday, and I’m exhausted after a night at my sister Chrissie’s in San Luis Obispo. Joel drove me down as Andy still had the conference. I worked yesterday morning Tuesday, and then took the BART out to Berkeley where I was picked up by Joel and we headed down 880 to 101 through Oakland then South Bay then towns like Gilroy and Bradley in the middle of farming nowhere (garlic! kale! cabbages! romain lettuce!) and then to San Luis Obispo. I really enjoyed riding with him stopping for Bun and Run I mean In and Out, talking talking about religion about our family about Sarah’s family. Chrissie was home to meet us, then Goro arrived with an enormous platter of sushi which we consumed with gusto, and then custard pie and home-made brownies and figs from down the street and Japanese persimmons from Chrissie’s tree .Finally a long walk with Chrissie, stunning stars and Milky Way overhead, cats she petted, friendly Tillie and Marvin, feral Sophie who sleeps outside her sliding doors, and a conversation about religion and other big topics. Bed, got up early, drove 3 and a half hours back, Joel and me talking all the time about family, religion, and economics. We stopped at Garlic World or something lke that in Gilroy.

Back, Andy done with conference, we had lunch at the bakery Tartine, then walked past Mission Dolores, and he went off to ride the Cable Cars and I to the Asian Museum where I overdosed on narrow-waisted Hindu gods and calm golden buddhas. Much bigger museum than I expected.

Then dinner at Shalimar in the Tenderloin and a drink at Bourbon and Branch.

Hard work, having fun!



October 28

Notes on the Contemporary Jewish Museum yesterday: Beautiful, clean, relaxing space. I would have paid at least half the fee just to walk around the space. I adored the "In the Beginning" exhibit, especially the aphorism-God slot machine game. It made me laugh out loud. Actually, all the participatory works engaged me a lot-- I made a contract to create a word/art work, stuck my face in the big metal Gramophone thing. Andy Warhol's ten top Jews of the 20th century was fun, too. Had a great time, altogether.


October 27

Report on yesterday: journal and reading in the a.m., then Joel and Sarah picked me up and we went over to the Mission District to to Precita Eyes for the mural tour. Precita Eyes, which appears to be run by artists of the old hippy and hipster variety, the office actually is a working space with post cards but also materials for sale and workrooms. Everything nice and funky. The tour guide was a crusty 70 year old who looked like people I know, three day beard, big headed Jewish from San Francisco and Richmond and East Bay. Loved the little Balmy Alley with murals all along, from last year to done in the seventies. The tour ran an hour and a half, and part of what impressed me was the rehabs of old work, the occasionally little tags by graffiti artists, the sheer exuberance.

Andy met us for Shanghai dumplings, then he went back to a meeting and Joel and Sarah and I went on to Muir woods which was much for fun than I expected because of how we ended up on a semi strenuous ( “moderate”) hike on reddish yellow redwood duff, up a hill quite steep, in deepening dusk/fog. Then we met Andy back downtown and grabbed fast food at a food court and went to see W. ! So that was a super busy day, and today was quieter, revising an article for Appalachian Heritage then the Jewish Contemporary Museum with a great exhibit of artists reacting to the first chapter of Genesis. Then I hung out here and there, at the pier watching birds and an otter, coffee and reading, Borders, finally meeting Andy and Sarah and having dinner in Oakland at Zachary's pizza with Fenton's homemade ice cream and then home. I'm beginning to get into this indulgence and relaxing.

October 26

Joel, MSW, Andy, & Sarah on Saturday night at a freeloaders' delight for rheumatologists & friends

Andy took off very early for meetings and I went down and did the stationary bike for ten minutes, have been reading The Third Chimpanzee by Jared Diamond. Today, Joel and Sarah are taking me to the Precita Eyes tour and then maybe dumplings, maybe Muir woods. Not sure. I’m really feeling on vacation, eating mucho too much! Yesterday, as today, it was Starbucks coffee and muffin to start, but then we had the lunch at Chez Panisse, and my first trip to East Bay, West Oakland looking pretty funky, North Oakland and Berkeley as pretty and cute as can be. Young professionals and young families country, the inexorable sun and medium heat, the tropical traces: palm trees, brilliant purple vines and red, and some huge hanging yellow blossoms. Houses mostly single, although J & S are in a six unit apartment, and the ambiance is of small craftsman style cottage houses, not much property per house, but trees, flowers, and this style I have trouble naming, which is part craftsman, part a wooden interpretation of Japanese? Berkeley campus quite stunning, on a slope, a gorgeous giant eucalyptus tree grove that blew me away. Sproul square, the free speech movement A “free speech” café full of kids and laptops, and images of the free speech movement.

Before that, though, Chez Panisse: again the lovely cozy wood, rafter, brick style. Open kitchens to watch, a yellow tomato soup with creme fraiche that was splendid, and pesto ravioli with tomato coulis for me, some name brand ranch turkey for Joel, salmon with corn and cilantro for Andy, and etc. etc. Glass of wine, plus desserts. Too much, and then in the evening, a big drug extravaganza at the Museum of Modern Art, the whole lobby with tables and foods stations and wine tastings! Sushi, shrimp! I really loaded up on shrimp in hopes of not entirely gorging. A walk through the museum’s modern holdings, a little O’Keeffe, a couple of Riveras and a Kahlo, lots of Klee (arthritis sufferer) and big nice red and black Rothko. And then back down to sit near the dessert extravaganza (creme brulee! Tiramisu! Cookies, berries with whipped cream oh my). Long conversation about drug companies and their relationship to doctors, to ethics, to capitalism.

I think I want to ask Sarah sometime today what she thinks of the endless arguments.

And the big news: Tak and Chiaki had twin baby girls!


October 25


Saturday morning in the Hotel Whitcomb in San Francisco, regrouping! The room is small, but the hotel is terrific with high ceilings and a sort of marble and steak and whisky mahogany elegance in the public areas. It was once, briefly, the town hall of San Francisco.

I’ve got my Starbucks coffee from the shop downstairs at hand, and I’ve had an apple-bran muffin and read a little in the New York times. I’m headachy and all, but slept reasonably considering that we had dinner at eleven p.m. Eastern Daylight. We ate at a neat place called B-Star that is Burmese Fusion– Sarah had soft shelled crabs and deviled tea eggs, and Joel had a neat thing with meatballs and rice porridge, Andy had a fancy salad but with the peppered french fries and curry mayonnaise! And I had an absolutely delicious wild rice dish with peanuts, cilantro, red cabbage, and shiitake mushrooms– I don’t know that this sounds as good as it was. Ginger lemonade, etc. And a big helping of discussion about religion and belief in God! Andy takes the position that we probably shouldn’t have discussions like this, and Sarah’s family, as I understand it, prefers to avoid conflict, but Sarah likes to discuss, and Joel and I apparently adore this.

We had just been to services at Beth Shalom with plenty of singing and good feelings. At dinner, we had a big religious discussion: Andy takes the basic line that If there is an all-powerful ostensibly loving God, what the hell does he think he’s doing with the Holocaust for starters?   Sarah essentially is deeply culturally Jewish, but sounds like a Deist in belief: God may have been involved in a daily way at one time, started it all rolling, but no longer. Joel is looking to believe, and was never satisfied with Ethical Culture as a religion. And I’m looking for the psychological connection (and I do believe this) that we all humans have experiences, awareness of something greater, epiphanies, mystical moments, connections to the oneness, whatever, and we put it in various containers built of culture.

So except for being really tired, that was fun.

It was an okay flight, rather a lot of turbulence that I breathed my way through, eyes closed in and out. Xanax thank you. I didn’t sleep as much as I’d hoped, but (is the drug an amnesiac?) I don’t remember suffering too much. Stuffed 737 plane, whimpering and yowling babies, but not as bad somehow as it could have been. And I didn’t get out of the seat the whole time. So something was relaxed. Dry muffin in the airport, biscuit and egg and fruit on the plane plus a tiny yogurt later, then a big La Taq burrito that left me feeling bloated the rest of the day and finally that meal at night. So that looks like four or five meals yesterday, and we're scheduled for lunch at Chez Panisse!.




October 18


Lovely reading at the Ardsley (New York) United Methodist Church (“My Boy Elroy.”) It was a real church supper with pot luck deliciousness, an apple theme (“Apples for Appalachia”), and today they’re having a sale of crafts from Eastern Kentucky with sisters from the Mt. Tabor Monastery.

The event felt at once like an Ethical Culture supper and also for me like the First Baptist Church of Shinnston, West Virginia when I was growing up. Sister Kathleen talked about Mountaintop Removal and knows Silas House. I had been vaguely expecting an affluent upscale bunch, and I’m sure some of the Methodists there are plenty affluent, but at least for this meeting in this church basement, there was a terrific homey-ness, a diversity of race and ethnic group, and a wonderfully genuine interest in sharing Appalachia, learning about Appalachia, helping the Appalachians who need help.

And it was fun to have Andy with me, too. I usually do these writer events alone, but he was a good sport in all ways, had fun appreciated the food.

And those Methodists know how to eat! Incredibly succulent pork roast and roast potatoes, several kinds of Waldorf salad, lasagne, beans carrots– apple crisp with ice cream for dessert.



October 14


Haiku poet died:
Yellow birch leaves spiral through
Golden shafts of sun



October 13


Bill Higginson, poet and haiku guru died on October 11, 2008. See obituary and one of his websites. There are several obituaries on various blogs if you Google his name. I didn't know him well, but he was an important member of the New Jersey literary community for many years, and a teacher with the New Jersey Writers project. Lovely man, contributed to my newsletter a few months ago, just because I asked.













October 12, 2008


Well, I got off my newsletter and finished reading Obama’s Dreams from My Father , which gave me a very strange sensation–is it possible that we might have a president who can write a graceful sentence, and more to the point, has an inner life? An interest in his own personal past, a desire to explore other people, other cultures? Was once a community organizer? Has a father who was African and a mother who was from Kansas?

It seems too heady a possibility, just the phrase, "a president with an inner life"– now, I believe all human beings have inner lives, but recent presidents, even someone intelligent like Bill Clinton, have run from that part of themselves full speed. At least for the time it took him to write his first book, Barack Obama did the opposite. The book ends, by the way, with his wedding, which he uses as a symbol of coming together--many nationalities, many religions, his Kenyan sister and brother as well as his white mother and half-Indonesian sister, Michelle's South Side Chicago family. Touching and inspiring, and a neat closing to his book.

And now-- Obama's lead is narrowing, and I had a brief conversation with my recently deceased cousin’s widow in which she listened in dead silence as I said the usual things about William Ayers having done some despicable things, but having also paid his debt to society (although he never did jail time), working as a college teacher, education reformer, etc., and mainly that Obama was eight years old at the time of the Weatherman implosion. She watches television and goes to church. Education by Fox News.

But my mother voted by absentee ballot!   And she's an 89 year old Obamagirl, bless her heart.

And yet, part of me says, we don't deserve thoughtful presidents. Presidents don’t agonize over the meaning of life.

My most realistic assessment is that the Democrats CAN win, but that it is going to be much closer than it has been in the last few days, that the attack via William Ayers is doing damage, racism is still alive out there. Karl Rove's slimy nastiness thrives in these last weeks before the election.





Andy and I went up to the lake for an overnight, and driving back, saw this in Western Berkshire County! A Democratic farmer!





October 9, 2008

Lake Buel

The silence of cottages when nobody comes,
Muffling leaf mold, shades pulled tight
A branch-pierced ceiling, family name sign
Swinging loose, the man died last year--
The house for sale and saplings in the gutter.
The lake knows nothing, cares less, in the afternoon sun.
Rippled with a warm breeze, deep green here, over there
Reflections of yellow trees and smudges of maroon and rust.
There is meaning in the absence of shifting floorboards,
scraping chairs, distant shouts and barking, motors,
Radio, the calls of children running to the lake
To test the hammock check for fish nests throw stones wade--
Under layers of leaf mold, behind the doors
In the silence of cottages.

It’s nearly ten p.m., and I’m practicing typing with my new fingerless glovelets ($1.99 at Kmart, It’s three pairs of gloves in one! Actually two pairs, one regular black gloves and the tipless gray ones). We had a very nice dinner at Pearl’s, which ran us 50 bucks plus each, expensive, but Andy's birthday celebration dinner. We had all we wanted: soup for Andy, a very rich clam chowder NE style, and I had a huge “local” arugula/pear/cheese/sweet walnut salad; then a big chop with mashed and leeks for Andy and a “lavender” sauce over halibut with haystack potatoes with me, one wine, one coffee, one enormous dessert with strawberry, guava, and plum.

The lake is stunning as always at this season, the air outside warmer thanin the uninsulated house.







September 18, 2008


This election frenzy has infected me. I've been looking at the polls far too often, and talking, of course, almost strictly to people who agree with me, and we all wail: Why aren't the Democrats up by ten points? Actually, I think I know why. I think the reason is that white Americans really are having a serious problem voting for a man of color, even if his mother and her family are white Kansans. He isn't a white guy. He bespeaks the coming end of a white majority in this country. There would have been a problem with Hillary Clinton too-- more or less I don't know.

Here's my prediciton, which I'm making in public in my totally unprofessional way: It is going to be an extremely tight election, and if the Democrats win-- and I think they can-- it will be because of the organizing at the precinct level that Howard Dean et alia have been working on for four years, and if they make sure there is no hanky panky in the toss-up states.

Sarah Palin's biggest contribution to McCain's campaign is that she has energized the fundamentalist Christian right wing, which is truly an asset, but she has also been energizing progressive women who see her selection as an insult.




September 11, 2001


This is the end of the seventh anniversary of 9/11, and Obama and McCain were in New York doing the required. Various voices on radio, reading the names of the dead, on NPR two families honoring their lost sons with volunteer work.

Emails have been going around like crazy from an ad hoc group asking women to say why they are NOT voting for Sarah Palin ("we invite you to reply here with a short, succinct message"). One of my Barnard classmates (president of the class) wrote the following and gave me permission to include it here:


I, Sherry A. Suttles....add my voice to those opposed to Gov. Sarah Palin representing women in the  Vice Presidential Candidacy she recently launched.  

I was a staunch Billary fan for years, though voted for Barack Obama in the South Carolina primary as an absentee voter (before moving to FL), and am African American by the way.  

And that is the point, Hillary was not my choice just because she is a woman, but because she is an intelligent, competent, experienced woman who has paid her dues as an active first lady (health plan) to an equally intelligent, competent and experienced husband President Bill Clinton and as a U.S. Senator from New York State for six years.

And now I wholeheartedly endorse and campaign for the Democratic nominee Barack Obama, not because he is African American, but because he is an intelligent, competent, experienced (yes State Senate and the only African American U.S. Senator of 100), who has paid his dues, not as long perhaps as others, but long enough to get the big picture and to move the country forward.  

Both the Democratic prospective nominees are family-oriented, law abiding, ethical, and global minded, and lawyers trained at the highest education institutions in the land.  

Sarah Palin has some credentials as a small town mayor and a small state governor, but her stated positions on sex education, choice, the environment, free speech, church and state, etc., are typical of her experiences--they are small, exclusive, diminishing, and petty.  

This is 2008--the 21st, not the 18th century.   

More power to her as a woman, mother of five, including one unwed teen, making her soon to be a grandmother at 44, with a stay at home husband.  In our community, though, that combination would be considered "ghetto" and "irresponsible".

Now, the Republicans are lifting that up not only as a role model, but as the perfect person to stand (not sit nursing) a heartbeat away from the oldest President to be seated (if elected).  

Unconscionable and Unacceptable.   

                                                                                          Sherry A. Suttles  9/11/08

September 5

I'm working on the West Virginia issue of the Hamilton Stone Review. Response has been amazing, big names, less well known names, that wonderful mountain equality. The mechanics of creating the web pages can be if not a pain at least repetitive, but I'm enjoying the virtual camaraderie and the poems and prose alike-- whether the subject is redbud or Starbuck's, it feels like home.

September 1
   We had an exhausting Labor Day--everyone up early, cleaning and moving boats.  Andy hung the kayak from the ceiling of the boat house, Aunt Ellen scrubbed the kitchen floor twice, etc. etc.  Nathan and hid friend went water-skiing, then we all packed hurriedly because David had to be on a plane to Norway at 7:15 PM.  Took the boat out at the boat ramp  (Nathan drove it over), the Geller Weinbergers headed off for Brookline, Andy and Taxi and I took the boat to Connecticut and dropped it off, came home, unpacked, washed clothes, picked tomatoes, made the season's first raw tomato sauce over penne--very nice.

I'm on a listserv with other veterans of the 1968 student protests at sit-ins at Columbia University-- a fascinating group of people. Paul Bloom gave me permission to include this report of his time in Denver outside the Democratic convention, which seems appropriate as the Republicans go about their business hampered by Hurricane Gustav and perhaps by unexpected fecundities. Here's Paul's piece:



I was outside the DNC for the four days of its life in Denver. The heavily armed, massive police presence in Denver was daunting even to convention delegates. Police on horseback, police on motorcycles, SUV’s rolling down the street with three or four helmeted police on both side running boards and on the rear bumper, squadrons of cops leaning against buildings, lurking in alleys, and poised on street corners suited in protective gear reminiscent of Star Wars, armed with gas guns, tasers, shotguns, semi-automatics, and who-knows-what gadgetry; Denver police and sheriffs, police from other jurisdictions (one afternoon i found my way blocked by mounted police from Cheyenne, Wyoming), dozens of federal police agencies and countless armed private security guards were ubiquitous.

One evening i was walking down the street past a federal courthouse talking into a cell phone when a guy pulled up and jumped out of his car to take a picture of a church across the street. Immediately, a couple of armed security guards ran out of the building and grabbed his camera. “Hey, that’s a nice church, make a nice picture,” i volunteered. “Just keep moving!” was the reply. “I’m not in your way,” i rejoined. “This is federal property, just keep moving!” I was on the city sidewalk.

Still conversing on the cell phone, describing to my friend what was happening, i moved to a bus bench at the end of the block and watched as more guards and police emerged from the courthouse. One of them (Federal Protective Police) came over to me and demanded ID. As i handed it to him i asked ”What’s the problem?” “You were interfering with the officers.” “No, i wasn’t in their way at all.” “What have you been smoking?” “I don’t smoke.” “Put that cell phone down when i’m talking to you.” “I’ll just keep it on, thanks.” Wham! He grabbed the phone and shut it, and put me in handcuffs. “For your protection and mine.”

Ten minutes later, after ID checks had run their course, he let me go. This was not an uncommon experience --- in the days following i heard countless similar tales.

Unlike Chicago ’68, where a peace plank had been introduced on the floor, and where Connecticut Senator Ribicoff in his nominating speech for George McGovern denounced the “Gestapo tactics” of Mayor Daley and the Chicago police, there was a great disconnect between the official Democratic Party convention agenda and protesters. Denver Mayor Hickenlooper, a Democrat, did everything he could to isolate demonstrations and make protesters invisible. Only as a result of the Iraq Veterans Against the War march was a bridge put in place between street demonstrations and the party inside.

Prior to the opening of the convention, a federal judge had ruled that security needs outweighed First Amendment considerations, and affirmed the city’s right to restrict protesters to a fenced-in area out of sight of convention attendees.  The Free Speech Zone, which actually appears as such on official maps, consisted of a 50,000 square foot parking lot surrounded by a 10 foot high chain link fence and an inner rail iron fence, with no bathroom or porta-potties.

Addressing a rally Sunday prior to the convention, Ron Kovic pledged: “I gave three-fourths of my body in Vietnam and i’m not going to be put into a cage in silence.”

No demonstrations took place in the Free Speech Zone.

However, in a park far from downtown and the Pepsi (convention) Center, the mayor had permitted organizers to place tents and hold support activities but forbidden them to sleep. There a national group called Tent State University facilitated much of the organizing, including logistics for Wednesday’s IVAW-sponsored Rage Against the Machine concert at the Coliseum, and including Resurrection City Free University, a 4-day series of more than 40 colloquiums on the park lawn with presenters such as Vincent Harding, Cynthia McKinney, Vincent Bugliosi, and Stephen Zunes.

Because they were forbidden to camp at Tent State, at the end of long, hot days 30 or 40 people trekked to what they called the Freedom Cage to sleep. No fires were permitted, amended to “no heat sources” after someone tried to cook breakfast on a battery-powered hot plate. Campers had to walk three or four blocks to bathrooms, harassed at police blockades coming and going. Stadium lights were kept on at all times and, as people started to retire, giant floodlights were turned on for the remainder of the night. Police in cherrypickers kept an all-night vigil over the 30 or 40 campers who woke each morning to find themselves surrounded on the ground by Secret Service among others.

On Wednesday, after a free concert by Rage Against the Machine which opened with a stirring speech by Ron Kovic, about 100 Iraq war veterans, many in uniforms, led a crowd of four or five thousand around the Free Speech Zone to one of the barricaded roads leading to the Pepsi Center. There everyone waited hopefully for a response to a letter the Vets had sent into the Obama camp which read in part: “Sen. Obama, millions of people are looking to you to restore our reputation around the world ... In this ominous time, you symbolize a hope for a better America.”

The letter went on to express three goals: immediately removing U.S. troops from Iraq, providing full health-care benefits to returning veterans, and paying reparations to Iraqis for damage done during the war.

When no one from the Obama campaign emerged from the arena to speak to the group after more than an hour, veterans led demonstrators to another Pepsi Center entrance where we were met by lines of police in riot gear, and above us sharpshooters in cherrypickers poised to shoot pepper balls and who knows what into the crowd.

The veterans made a line of their own facing the police, and began walking toward them. Police warned them to stop or face pepper spray and arrest. As protestors behind them began to prepare for mass arrest, many donning bandanas to protect against gas, two white-shirted Obama staffers arrived and asked that representatives of IVAW be escorted over to speak with them.

After a brief conversation, the representatives returned to the crowd to announce that they had been promised a meeting with Phil Carter, Obama’s liaison for veteran’s affairs, and that Obama would receive their letter.

A cheer went up, and many cried tears of relief that victory was achieved, and a dangerous confrontation avoided.

The discipline of the march, the joy of success, and the spirit of the people resulted in the warm and amazing sight of demonstrators shaking hands with police and thanking them. The police, too, seemed relieved. To one crowd of six heavily armored police Ron Kovic introduced himself: “I was a Marine wounded in Vietnam 40 years ago. I wrote Born on the Fourth of July.” The officers took off their helmets, shook his hand, and asked to be photographed with him. As all six gathered around him, one of his friends took picture after picture with each of the officers’ cameras. An unforgettable moment!



August 29


As I watched Obama's speech last night, every time the camera panned around those thousands and thousands of people in a big establishing shot, I waited for the jump-cut to the close-up of the assassin meticulously putting together his rifle-- too many cliched movies, but the danger is really real.


August 27, 2008


I gave myself a treat today: five hours in New York not working, enjoying. I went to the Turner exhibit at the Met, used an audio guide, learned about the sublime, bought a small Abrams art book about Turner. How I coveted a small water color or two for my own!

Walking over through the park, and not getting lost this time, a really bright fresh day, and so many people, lovely children and youth, women in good shape, young guys. Didn’t you used to see more Hispanic kids and black back when I lived in New York? Is the city more segregated? Or only around the museum and on line waiting for free tickets at the Delacourt. It was such white light, and the grass looking fresh, trees. A beautiful park, more beautiful than the seventies, when I remember dust– also an edge, so much more fear in me. Was the fear more realistic then? Or was it in me? I know being young was, for me, feeling like prey, and now I sit and walk and feel unbothered by the sexual predators. One good aspect of age.

Then at the Metropolitan Museum I rented the audio guide, did a quick run through the enormous Turner exhibit, took a break for an early lunch at the Petrie court café: looking outside at the green, observing all the interesting people, lots of children, young parents with back packs and kids in each hand. Two boys with skateboards. A runner looking at her watch, and I think I had seen her coming in– an hour and a half before?? Pasta with English peas, arugula, a little tomato sauce (they called it confit, for the thickness I guess), and a dollop of ricotta with lemon. Odd, interesting flavors. Hard roll, Chardonnay. It was pricey but a pleasure. It was the pleasure I had scheduled for myself.

I was blown away by Turner’s prolific painting, as I had been by Courbet– those guys just kept on turning out paintings! And then also saw and enjoyed an exhibit of photographs “framing” the first hundred years of photography: from Fox Talbot’s experiment concurrent with Daguerre’s to Walker Evans, with Nadar, with Julia Cameron, along the way. Parisian prostitutes, dreamy literary images, reflections leaves. All the It’s alive stuff. We’re alive, the oriel window Fox Talbot made an image of is part of life. Those gap toothed gypsy men with long cigarettes, a brief instant a century and a half ago. The light in Central Park, the towers in the sky, the yellow vortex skies of the late Turners, the lemon in the ricotta.

August 24
It's very green looking out from my screened back porch as evening comes on. I've been reading Saramago's Seeing, the Olympics are over, the Conventions beginning. Obama has picked Biden for his running mate; there is the fear that Bush will come up with an October surprise to get McCain elected (bomb Iran?)

Meanwhile, T.V. doing the one thing it does very well, which is to "cover" things, new things, real things, as-they-are-happening things.

The last week of August coming up, and there is a dire illness of a family member of mine that I'm not in a daily relationship with, but that affects my 89 year old mother a lot; my son is in the process of moving from one apartment to another (and his move is going very normally, which means it's been awful-- a broken truck and cat pee on the new carpet being only the easiest things). We went to see Tropic Thunder last night, and ate at the texmex chain Desert Moon, and I helped distribute flyers for the the Village Colonials' block party and several little chores like thinning plastic storage containers, and a bike ride, humid today, but the temperature in the low eighties, so it's been an inexplicably relaxing, pleasant, happy day




August 22


Joel sent a whole slew of his Israel pictures, but here are some representative ones. He was especially moved by history (the Kotel or Western wall, Masada, and the church of the Holy Sepulcher) but he aslo rode a camel and really enjoyed the food. Below, Joel on the top of Masada at dawn, looking toward Jordan, then Joel and his Birthright roommate on a camel, and finally an Israeli feast on his last night. The blackened stuff is what he called the best chicken wings he ever had.



Joel on Masadajoel on a camel






August 19


My Glowing Career

It is a disappointment when you discover that when you weren’t looking, you slipped from being a talent with a wide open future to being someone on the downhill side who is probably not ever going to be famous. Reasons for this include the state of publishing, but also that my particular obsessions have not been the ones that masses of  people resonate with. Perhaps even more important is that the changes in entertainment habits and reading are making conditions not conducive to creative writing as a career.

I am as I write this editing an issue of a literary journal that will appear totally online-- digitalized poems and fiction and essays. Reading these poems and stories and essays will be a very different experience from reading a book or hard-copy journal. The private joy of curling up with a good book has not been replaced, but is sharing the position of leisure time activity with a whole slew of technologies– including my brother-in-law's Kindle with its downloaded books and newspapers on a small cool paper-like screen.

There are other technologies that have created activities that are related to reading, but different, especially by being interactive. There is this blogging world of relatively unpolished ideas and stories that people read and then respond to both in messages on the blog and in their own blogs. There is fan fiction in which readers write their own adventures and chapters for popular books– usually genre fiction. There is the constant stream of text messaging and emailing that people of all ages are doing– which is, of course, a new form of letter writing, a favorite literary activity of the past.  I myself turn to the Internet for more and more of my information, and I adore the group-created public encyclopedia Wikipedia– we are like a hive there, working, on the whole, for the good of the group. Who would have imagined that tens of thousands of people would join together to create such a thing?

One doesn’t even know if the kind of novel writing career I imagined as a college student will even exist in fifty years. My personal opinion is not that we will stop reading, and not that there will be no novels, but that we are probably returning to a time when literature will be once again primarily an amateur activity. The amateurs I'm imagining, of course, include folks like Lady Murasaki Shikibu and Geoffrey Chaucer. Shakespeare himself never made a living as a writer but rather as a theater person who did whatever his troop needed to make theater, whether it was business activities or acting or writing plays. In the past, far fewer people could read, so the reading public was small; we are now coming out of a brief period when enough people could read and had the time to read to support professional prose and poetry writers. During the nineteenth and into the middle of the twentieth centuries, people read for entertainment– and for a large part of that period, the only entertainment was the printed word. Thus, people consumed everything thing written– narrative poems, novels, serialized stories in periodicals, broadsides, sermons, long letters– and here's the special thing: highly personal and artistic and experimental work was consumed right along with the conventional and the trashy because people needed material to read.

Today, the available materials for entertainment are myriad: movies and television and all the forms of entertainment like video and role playing games– the choice is vast, and the number of people who can make a living selling their creative writing is shrinking.  The fact that so many people want to write (or at least to be writers) is an interesting sideline to this. Is it the experience of reading that has led them to this? Or the myth of the heroic novelist who suffers and then wins the Nobel Prize for Literature? Or is it only the leisurely life style people imagine novelists having?  Thousands take writing classes, thousands more spend time writing privately. The general American belief that you can do what you put your mind to, plus the increasing interactivity of many of our media, supports this, and with the incredible affordability of book publishing with print on demand technology, many more will write, fewer will read; almost none will make a living as professional poets and fiction writers.

Had I been given the choice, would I have preferred to be a female Philip Roth– an artist but also popular, making a good living? Of course I would have chosen that. So, laying aside the whiff of sour grapes, I am having an exciting and deeply satisfying life in writing. I began by imitating (and wanting to be part of) the comic books that delighted me when I was five or six. I continued without any special awareness of what I was doing, playing as children do, imitating, engaging in dialog with, all the books I read, and the movies and television I saw, and of course with the life I lived.

Mirabile dictu, I have been writing for more than fifty years, and I expect always to be writing-- until they pry my cold dead fingers off keyboard– or my brain gets too fuzzy to bother with making sense of the world.



August 16


It’s all wrapping up fast– the official summer, the different rhythms of vacation time. it’s seven a.m. Saturday and Joel leaves tonight, and I have an hour long meeting with the Coalition taking a first look at the DVD they’ve been making.  Andy has had a virus and been sleeping a lot and sweating, and Sarah’s wrist that we thought she broke in Israel was not really broken and the half cast is off and she took the Acela to Washington D.C. with Beth and then business on Monday.

It's been damp and cool, mostly, and we’ve spent a strange lot of time cozy with the t.v., watching Joel's 1274 images from Israel which give me a strange feeling, after looking at them on the big screen, of having been there. We watched pieces of a delightfully bad Schwarzenegger film Eraser . A lot of time in the little dark t.v. room, and Joel said he is so glad to veg out after the wonderful experience of travel, but exhausting.

These people fly in airlines so much, travel so much, and Andy's brother David travels like that too, to Italy to Spain to California to Norway and back. Perfectly common for him. And, oh, last evening I thought Well maybe it’s okay, maybe most of the time they'll all come home safely, to which I answered Danger danger! Never think it’s okay that’s when they whack you!   And then the third turn: All we can do is live. Obvious and old news, but not something I always accept.



Lake Buel in Mist and Cloud, August 2008


August 11

Back at my desk after a week away, waiting for the tremor of nerves and pressure to build up.  I often pooh-pooh the importance, the power, of relaxation, but I felt it this vacation: first the pressure of finishing my online class papers, then, once that was over (not quite, but I knew I was relaxing because the "not quite" seemed acceptable), and then the theater and museum and white pines in a high sky, the nordic walking and kayaking, the long bike ride-- all followed by dips and soaks in the lake, sometimes to cool me off, sometimes when the water was warmer than the air-- it seems like it would be so easy to stay in that surprised delight of calm and no hurry. So many of my deadlines and commitments are self-imposed, and my fears-- the things I expect to be wildly difficult or great firey walls of danger, are often whipped-up out of a lifetime of imagining the worst-- real possibilities, but I create them unnecessarily vividly in my imagination. Since these things are largely chance (which airplane goes down, which house is damaged by a drunk driver on Prospect Street as happened last night to one of the neighbors) -- why not imagine the happier possibilities?



August 10

Back from the lake-- rainy and cool, the garden still has no tomatoes ripe, but there was a foot long Raven zucchini and some enormous cucumbers that would no doubt have been better smaller and the first kohlrabi and some small peppers, and lots of greens, but I haven't gotten to them yet. Fourth load of laundry in, lake sheets out of dryer, Tax delighted to fly around the kitchen. I called the Harringtons to hear about Lienne, who broke her leg stealing home for her softball team! What a thing!



August 6


Andy and I went to MassMOCA (Massachusetts Museum of Contemporary Art) in North Adams on the campus of former factories, wonderful spaces, much exposed steel, brick, even the bathrooms. We drove up parallel to where we took the bike ride Monday, took a tour with a bright enthusiastic docent, saw something called Badlands, which was a group show on environmental themes, and got to put my head in a biosphere thing with moss and ferns, damp and warm little world of its own. There were photos and paintings of not very subtle environmental protest but also what appeared to be a subtle light cast in the silhouette of a window with trees but was a trompe d’oeil– all painted on the wall and a section of floor.

Also several very large wonderful works by Anselm Keifer, a German, heavy and serious and Germanic, all about war through its weight and imagery (although the info card talked about the ring of the Niebelung and Icarus and the Kabbala – but the big triptych of post apocalyptic scenery with a receding horizon and impasto’d paint and a foreground field of either skulls or flowers– wonderfully moving in spite of the heaviness. I also loved his huge concrete and reebar wave thing like a highway after the earthquake.



August 4


David just read us a graduation address he is giving to graduate students s at Marboro College, or is it a university? It talks about how hyperlinks are emminently moral because they help us explore, reach out, learn more about, each other. This was last night, after the day's events of Andy’s 56 mile ride, to Pittsfield then on to the mall and the 22 mile to and from Adams on the rail-to-trail. I did the 22 mile part too. I liked it a lot– it was without motorized vehicles, paved, some roller bladers, bikers, walkers, families. No runners though. Much of it through wetlands, past the Cheshire Reservoir with a view of Mount Greylock, sighted around ten brown bunnies munching along the sides without regard to all the recreating human beings, there were a few flowers I knew– Queen Anne’s Lace, clover, Joe Pye weed, purple aster, waterlily and cattail (and none of the ubiquitous Egyptian water dweller that has invaded the marshes of New Jersey)– all the wonderful northeastern edge plants. Part of the time were got rained on, chips and power bars at the visitors’ station in Adams, pizza with David tonight. I have now mostly finished the online class.




August 3, 2008


Well, we're at the lake, David and Andy in town, Ellen downstairs, Ann off to Nantucket to see the end of her sister's camp, Taxi downstairs. None of the younger generation. I'm working assiduously on the book of Appalachian stories, and also various other items for writing business--David and Andy both did some photos of me yesterday, which I like for looking my age, pretty much. I really got into photo shopping and picking photos yesterday.

And it is cool! We were all shivering last night! After three weeks or so of pretty steady heat.



July 27


I've not been writing much in this--what with my online class to write and then do people's "papers," which are digital, and working on the new collection of Appalachian Stories and preparing Love Palace to the agent's specifications, and soliciting for the West Virginia issue of the Hamilton Stone Review.All this on the hot third floor, and meanwhile, Joel came and went on his way to Israel, and my mother here to see him. I drove her to West Virginia yesterday, Saturday, and back today. I don't think I've ever done it in two days-- I've made the long drive from Kentucky one day and then from Shinnston back, but this was fast. I've been in Shinnston in March, in May, in June, and now July. I love being there: the seasons not so different from New Jersey, but the life very different.

Mom and I took a walk after arriving yesterday, which mostly consisted of me standing and smacking horseflies while she wandered through back yards of East Shinnston distributing dog cookies. We had nice visits with Sally Butler and Linda Zuspan Holler and others in cars, on porches. There were so many lovely flowers, people make their houses lovely with verbena and petunia pots and black eyed susans.

During the drives, I listened to a lot of Teaching Company lectures, this time an introduction to Poetry . I especially liked the lecture on free verse, which pointed out the King James Bible as source of 19th c. American Oratory and of the Bible and oratory as a source for Whitman’s long perorations which are the invention of free verse– use of Anaphora, which is repeated beginning word or sound or phrase at the beginning.

Today, more lectures, more heat, the drive a little longer, and I called Mom from the driveway, knowing she would be worried because it took me longer than yesterday. Lots of haze-- the mountains blue and gray , and you could see the storms gathering. I took my little five minute hikes at Sideling Hill in Maryland and two at rest stops on I-81 in Pennsylvania. Saw distant Amish carriages moving along at a good clip, from church I expect. Motor cycles, so many motorcycles! And in Pennsylvania, a lot of them without helmets.





July 17


We're having heat, and my mother and Joel are arriving in the next two days, and I'm in the middle of what seems iike a tremendous amount of stuff going on-- preparing a manuscript, an agent interested in Love Palace, the issue of HSR, a probable drive to West Virginia. Why are we so busy? On the other hand, there are moments when I feel relaxedd-- it's me driving me.

Andy bikes whenever possible: came home after an early ride yesterday and was joined by Taxi:



July 11


Here’s the thing about emails: very very safe, but no body language or voice tone and no follow up questions. I’ve embraced it all, of course, and the other technological computer stuff I’m surrounded by, but there are losses. You are reminded when you read older novels and other narratives of daily life.

I'm reading Mary Lee Settle's memoir of her years during the Second World War in England in the WAAF as a 21 or 22 year old. Not the best written of her work-- fascinating but repetitive and depends on swoops of rhetoric and generalizations like  "one of that type of English lady who..."   Smoking and partying, conversation as entertainment. More boredom, at least among the upper classes, ennui among the lower in their repetitive tasks.

Today, we’re in a buzz cloud haze of messages and images. Sometimes I think it’s the technology depressing me. Sometimes I think it’s just weariness or a night of bad sleep, or maybe it's old age opening up in front like the mouth of a cave, sloping down, and surprisingly bright, but bright that loses some details.

Here's an interesting corporate take on the etiquette of email.



July 10, 2008

I couldn't get online last night and, to make a two and a half hour  story short, I found out from Verizon (our DSL provider) that Microsoft had sent out a recent automatic security update that was "interfering with some customers' ability to get online."  There were calls to Microsoft, there was disabling Zone Alarm, there was much wailing and gnashing of teeth, but they did tell me, finally, how to uninstall the security update. I'm beginning to agree with Greg about how Microsoft really is the devil.

Meanwhile, Joel is about to make the next big change in his life: he's finishing up a year as a software engineer, coming to see us and visiting Israel, starting graduate school. See below for where. The view is of San Francisco from their window in the apartment they'll be leaving soon.




June 30, 2008

Well, I just finished a decent draft of a short story called “The Roy Critchfield Scandals.”   As usual, the hardest but most necessary part, especially in a short story, is to cut. HOWEVER! I have now officially found a great use for journals and blogs! I'm going to put my best outtake here!I took out one of my favorite passages in the story for slowing down the pace-- it'sll all philosophy and travel memories. So here’s the passage, which is in the voice of a woman named Ann Harding, who mentions both her late beloved husband John and her present boyfriend, Abe, who takes her to Europe:



One of the things John Harding taught me is that growing up means learning to live with many truths and many falsehoods in the same person, including yourself. So I try not to complain about some of the nonsense people believe at the First Baptist of Kingfield because there’s so much I value there: the words of the King James translation of the Bible, a fine peroration at the end of a solidly argued sermon. Old fashioned hymns that put you in the spirit whether you take it literally or not. I love the whole thing, although to be perfectly candid I consider it as much of an artifact as great painting or a bridge or the Parthenon in Greece which I hope to visit someday.

Or the Pantheon in Rome, which I have visited. Abe and I stayed in a hotel on our last trip overlooking that domed church that was originally a temple to the Roman gods, and is still called “All Gods” even though it’s a Catholic church! This amuses me no end, how people can keep the sense of the sacred but change what the thing is sacred to.

Mostly, though, that Pantheon was simply the most beautiful human-made building I’d seen up to that point in my life. The window in our hotel bathroom opened directly overlooking the dome, and in the evening, I pressed my face out at its huge dark curvature, nothing between it and my face but air. Voices and car horns came up from the piazza and someone’s apartment was nestled in next to the dome on the other side, and pigeons flapped rose up into the immensely dark blue sky.

Abe said "Let’s go eat, Annie," and I said, "Not yet. "



View of Clarksburg, WV by Jim Moore


June 28

Dear Friends:
      A few days ago I got caught by an unscrupulous social networking site called PAGII. It opened my entire email list and sent "invitations" from me to them. See Mark Blevis' blog entry here for more information. But please! Let's all pledge to ignore these invitations to be Friends with people unless we really want to be part of the social networking sites. I spent a lot of time sending out apologies-- so many that gmail froze my account for awhile on the theory I was probably spamming!



Here are some images I like by Randi Ward from her exhibit "Holdfast"




June 24

      I’m just back from a few days in West Virginia– had an excellent one day workshop with the Morgantown branch of the West Virginia Writers, George Lies and Mary Lucille DeBerry and others organized a just-right sized workshop with Robert Tinnell the screen writer and Robert W. Walker the novelist (both of whom live in WV now) and me and more. There were workshops, some critiquing, a panel, socializing– around 40 participants with that wonderful West Virginia mix of high school, college, retired and everything in between. I got to visit a little with Norman Julian and met lots of new people, all interesting– it took place at the Monongalia Arts Center.

The rest of the time I spent with Mom, who is rushing around getting ready to leave for a few weeks– she is going to Ohio with my cousin Harley, then she’ll fly to us to see Joel when he is in, then either I’ll take her home or she’ll go back to Harley’s. Not clear yet.

I’ll probably end up taking her, as, in spite of the grueling drive, I so enjoy just being in West Virginia with the blue haze on the intense green of the nearby hills with their choppy tree-topped summits– I can never describe those northern West Virginia hills: they are shorter than farther south, not so steep, still have some open fields. They always feel very close by, and the silhouette when the light is behind them is of a badly cut little boy’s hair: irregular and endearing.






June 12

I finally read a Christmas gift from Joel, I think-- Al Gore's An Inconvenient Truth. It was very short, like an article in the New York Review of Books but with nicer pictures) I had avoided and dreaded this, but it is actually such a pretty book, and I think a lot of what I read is going to make more sense to me now– the temperature of water, the relative fragility of the arctic ice, how the drowning of coastal cities is maybe less crucial than weather patterns (and this month we've had a lot of severe weather). Why didn’t Gore get elected president? There would be no war in Iraq, we would have signed on to the Kyoto treaty, there would be two more reasonable people on the Supremes. Some of his sidebars were a bit much about his family, but he two interesting analogies: his sister dying of lung cancer apparently in her late forties or early fifties and the misinformation from the tobacco companies, and the relative success of the ozone layer crisis: governments CAN work together etc. etc.




June 10, 2008

We are in the middle of a major heat wave– the Accuweather report on the Internet has an alarming red thermometer with cartoon heat wiggles, and here in Essex County, NJ we had a power outage yesterday for six hours, 75,000 customers, and meanwhile ’m reading An Inconvenient Truth which I’m glad I’m doing as I had been dreading it, and it’s actually pretty simplified and straight forward and the pictures are too pretty to be really depressing.

I hope I don’t get caught in a blackout in NYC today, final writers’ group at Edith’s.

I had hoped for really intense work this week, too, my first week with days having NO teaching or meetings (Not many, but a couple). I’ve been trying to catch up, actually vacuuming the bedroom around the just-installed air-conditioner when the power faded, then went out. I took it as a message from the Powers That Be that I wasn’t meant to run a vacuum...

Last week I had a visit to a school in Jersey City, my regular Advanced Novel Workshop, Social Action Committee, Schools Committee, the North Wildwood Beach Writers Conference, AND my Jump Start Your Novel One-shot on Saturday. Plus Sunday was Ethical and the Sciaino family graduation party for Ryan and Anne. I hasten to add that there was nothing here I don't get pleasure and satisfaction from doing, but it was a lot, and I'll be going to West Virginia for a couple of days next week.


May 28. 2008

Hilton Obenzinger has a good summary of the 40th anniversary of the Columbia University sit-ins here. What has been so amazing to me is how much has been written, how much said, in general, but with a lot of emphasis on the suffering of the black kids at Columbia (more, I believe, than at Barnard? Is that true?). Except for the ones who have embraced their Jewishness instead/as well as. It did seem a little too mea culpa mea culpa to me, but then, I had just spent a year as a VISTA volunteer with at least some awareness of the intersection of race, racism, and poverty in these U.S. And in the years since, I've spent many years working for stable integration here in New Jersey, so maybe I dealt with the white guilt in my own way. The way Columbia Univesity treated black students in 1968 was a surprise, though-- I hadn't realized it was so racist. I guess the white people I knew were trying hard not to be racist, so I sort of assumed everyone else was too.


Lake Buel Trees


May 27. 2008

We've been at the lake for the long week-end, mostly bright and cool, and everyone spent time lying on the beach all bundled up and I shot up at the sky and got some trees. David took photos I liked of me and Andy: You can see we're bundled up but happy. Paula Hatch gave us tickets on Saturday night to see the Shakespeare & Company farce Ladies' Man, and on Sunday night we were part of the millions who went to see the next Indiana Jones. Sometimes it's good to be part of the crowd? I worked hard on the manuscript I've been finishing up, and not I'm looking at some busy weeks--when did June get so busy?










Illustrations by Rachel Burgess-- see more at her website.



You find so many nice things on the web-- Rachel Burgess is a young artist with a beautiful nuevo-Victorian style, at least in her books illustrations. Take a look at her website!



VIew from Sideling Hill in Western Maryland May 7, 2008


May 12, 2008


I gave the Sunday Morning platform at the Ethical Culture Society yesterday, and it went very well. It was called “We Were Your Children: Forty Years Later,” and it was a talk/discussion that centered on a couple of readings, the longest one coming from Hilton Obenzinger's memoir Busy Dying , the pages where he described how the SDS sundial rally on April 23, 1968 at Columbia University turned into the taking of Hamilton Hall and the big sit-ins and protests there. I Included a little bit from Trespassers and a bit from Cathy Wilkerson's memoir. Mostly it was putting everything in some context, including handing out a sheet with a timeline of events, some events, during the first half of 1968: Tet offensive, LBJ saying he wasn't going to run, Prague Spring, King assassinated, etc. etc. We were just a little part. The questions/comments were interesting, mostly very supportive, but included one saying how there had been so much other political work going on, and how annoying it was that Columbia University got all the media attention, and one who was in librarian school at Pratt Institute and how she and her co-students were terrified the student strikes would spread and get in the way of their education...

For an outline of the talk with some materials, click here.




May 10, 2008

Back from the long drive home from West Virgina. My mom is doing well-- took her cast off and is walking around smartly, taking biscuits to her doggy friends, etc. etc. We visited with Edith, also Margie Haresty. Made trips to Wal-Mart, ate out, and hiked around East Shinnston. Such green, everywhere, Sideling hill, Shinnston, and then back driving down Prospect Street.


Margie Hardesty Lucille Willis 5-9-08

Tomorrow is my talk on 1968 at Ethical Culture, and I'm nervous about it-- had trouble focusing on it while I was down there. Well, after this, I've a pretty low key, for me, span coming up. Looking forward to a good sleep, then get up and complete this-- a way to share, to put us all in a kind of perspective.






5-5-08 lettuce, radishes, turnip greens on their way up...


May 3

More gray-rainy (grainy?) days, but it is also getting densely green. Green beginning to close in overhead as the leaves come out, green underfoot in the yards, already ahead of us grass cutters.


This has been a wide ranging day. Andy and I went up to Montclair to the art show to see the pottery work by young Ethical Culture member Christopher Geissler, and ran into an artist whose work we have on the wall downstairs, Linda Adato -- the sweet "umber" colored "Morning Mail" with a radiator and a chair. Her new work is in color, and reminds me, when she does cityscapes, of Ella Yang , but Adato's are smaller, not oils, some she does now are monoprints, but also etchings. So that was nice, and Chris got interviewed for TV, and Andy bought a cup and a small pitcher. We ate, also in Montclair, at an interesting Turkish restaurant, Lalezar that I enjoyed a lot, drove up to Eagle Rock reservation, looked at the 9/11 memorial with its rather awkward old fashioned art, but a great view-- of fog mostly, today. Then to Garden of Eden, Andy's first visit, and he liked the cheese. And home, and we watched the Kentucky Derby and the Place horse, the only filly in the race, ran her heart out and broke her two front ankles and had to be destroyed. That was a really sad moment--you get excited for an hour because it's the Derby, and then there's this.

Sometimes your feelings are displaced-- or the surprise of the one poor horse dying for doing what it was bred and trained to do-- easier to feel than the 3000 names in polished granite.  3000 families' pain is much, much too much?

Someone on the radio earlier this week, was it WBAI's Armand Dimele's show? Anyhow, yes, I think it was, trying to distinguish between Buddhist style compassion where you feel for another's suffering and the kind of empathy where people feel someone else's pain to the point that the empathizer's suffering becomes the real point. That was so interesting to me--when we are young, we often suffer horribly over the terrible things in the world we are just learning about-- we literally ache with the other. But when you are suffering physically, or, say, mourning, it isn't necessarily someone who is groaning in concert with you that you want, is it? The program is here.

Boy, this blog entry sure has a lot of links-- I spend my time now combining writing and looking things up on the web, and then linking to them-- the new world.


April 30, 2008

The Community Coalition on Race had a terrific forum last night on Language, Stereotypes, & Communication, and Carolyn Hunt did a really super job of directing the actors she and Alysia Souder assembled. The table discussions were apparently quite deep– several people said they’d never have gone so far so fast without the improvisations.

I was personally deeply moved by the actors: Luis Marmolejo, Horace Jackson, Naja Selby, and Kate McAteer--- their human energy and skill. It occurred to me that, among other things, they gave the lie to another set of stereotypes-- about actors being narcissistic, can’t talk without someone writing their lines, etc. etc. They opened up so wonderfully to each other and to us, and added all sorts of good stuff to the material we gave them.

I especially loved the Evil Word fluid sculpture– wished for it to go on and on–brilliant idea to do several of them as positive/negative (the girl who seems to love being a ‘ho, the woman offended; the kid calling out to his friend “Yo, Nigga!” etc.) My only regret is that the town officials did not come out in force (some of them were there but I wish the others had come too). Another amazing thing: the whole evening was right on schedule, which almost never happens, James VanOosting and Sandye Wilson brief and strong, a full half hour of table discussions, and at the end, I think people felt energized rather than exhausted.





April 27, 2008

Rainy Sunday, and I finally had my moment of being seen last night: I read well from Trespassers Chapter 12, received much applause, laughs in all the right places, as they apparently got it, the SDS meeting I was describing. Women especially responsive. Once again I left early. This is part of my reputation, to leave early: sometimes there are complaints, but someone usually defends me: Oh, she has to catch a train. I'm the commuter, who of necessity misses things. Mary Gordon spoke of being different, a commuter at Barnard, having to go home, deal with family, how her mother saw her on t. v. praising Linda LeClair.)   As I left, people grabbed my hand, followed me out to speak. My fifteen minutes. So I got the glow.

I greatly enjoyed being part of it. I was invited to read at the Morningside bookshop , heard some sterling presentations, had the pleasure of reading on the same bill with Mary Gordon, Sharon Olds, Paul Auster, Thulani Davis (although I didn’t stay for all of Sharon’s or Thulani or Paul’s) plus James Kunen, Paul Spike, Bob Holman (what a trip! A performance poem on the ?? Other idea?? That is impossible to think?? All noises and jokes and gestures–wow. ) Also, Ntozake Shange , who sat beside me, has been ill, dressed up in purple dreads, flowing clothes, a walker, read two poems (although I could see she had more) and then left. Jonah Raskin’s piece was good. Hilton Obenzinger started it all off-- Paul Spike very emotional on his father and others. I felt like I got what I wanted

Good discussions and information today too: The Ethics and Protest Panel was interesting, but I especially enjoyed the youth panel with all the young people, mainly female, from Lucha which used a fishbowl technique around a big table-- we could have profited from that technique in '68.

I talked after with a young guy who belongs to PL (which got hissed whenever mentioned, and reminded me of the endless Choosing Up Sides and Smelling Armpits sectarianism that was the underbelly of all the good camaraderie and deep friendships. )

Other talks with interesting people: Judge Reichbach, James Kunen , whose book The Strawberry Statement remains in print– very nice unassuming guy, longtime writer for Time and several books. Also with Hilton, with Alan Senauke, who is one of Hilton’s close compadres and now a Buddhist priest.

Well, what can I say? It was good, it was powerful, the University itself perhaps the greatest delight--refreshing stimulating smells architecture cherry blossoms lights.

I’m glad I participated, was interested to observe myself being one of the ones who grabs at the more famous for a moment of contact instead of being the one grabbed at (as I often am in my small circle, or when I do workshops)–- have some regrets about my life, but not really ones I can blame myself for: wish I had been mentally healthier sooner, for example.

The real thing that happens is never quite what you expect.





         April 25, 2008

It’s late, and I’m back from Day 1 at the ‘68 - ‘08 events. The first panel I attended, the feminist one (Catherine Stimpson, Sharon Olds, Ti-Grace Atkinson, Grace Linda LeClair and more) and the law panel (Gus Reichenbach, Lee Bollinger, Ray Brown, Sam ??) were extremely interesting.

Speakers that were especially gripping to me included Grace Linda LeClair the “sex girl” of Barnard who got expelled for living with her boyfriend-- who did not, of course, get expelled from Columbia. She made front page news– and spoke about learning how that icon, “Linda LeClair the sex girl” was so unlike herself-- now a pleasant faced smiling woman with good speaking skills, a sense of humor, grown children, a career (I’m not sure what, but she has run capital campaigns, she says). Sharon Olds appears to be very nice, too– I think I’m looking forward to reading with her tonight.

At the law panel: Gus Reichbach I could have listened to a lot longer, telling about his struggle to stay in Law School, to get accepted by the bar. How nice that we have one of us as a Justice of the New York Supreme Court!   Also Ray Brown, very handsome and beautifully dressed, talked about the fact that his cohort was the first (at Columbia College, anyhow) to have a reasonable number of black students– total of 70 or 75 not counting Barnard.

At the black studies panel Thulani Davis told a wonderful story about her father, which I wish Andy's father Howard Weinberger had been alive to hear. The story is that her father, a light-skinned man, was studying for a Ph.D. at Columbia in the 1920's. The professors, he said, seemed to be avoiding him, and he assumed it was old fashioned racism, but then one professor called him in to his office and said, “Davis, exactly what are you?”

To which Mr. Davis replied, “Why, I’m a Negro.”

And the professor said, “Well thank God! We thought you were a Jew!”

Andy’s dad always said how Columbia was incredibly anti-Semitic– and I never got it, because it seemed that everyone I knew there (my roommates, the SDS people) was Jewish.

There was, however, a little more to her story: Later, when her Dad was working on his thesis, he was told he should start over with a new subject (was this engineering? Chemistry? Not sure) because there was some German doing the same research, and they couldn’t have a Negro beating out or shaking the glory. So her Dad left Columbia, and we can all relax-- they were racist too.



April 26


It was a very pure delight to be on campus yesterday sunny, cool. It made me at least partly want to be part of now, not to keep gasping over the old black and white photos of Ted Gold and J.J. and Rudd and all the rest. There were pink balloons all over campus, some kind of festival with food and games, people with little kids, all the lovely students tossing frisbees, showing their bodies off, playing baseball in the field with the red flag (which means you’re supposed to stay off the grass) Our graying group not the main event at all, and frankly, that is a good thing.

At the sundial, people reading off the deaths of all 90,000 victims so far of the Iraq war. They hit a gong for each death. This was all day, you’d come out to go to the next venue, and there were the pink balloons and the green lawns with frisbee players and some black and white antiwar banners waving in the breeze, people eating and strolling and the pink and granite buildings– and then the brass gong and softly amplified voices giving a date, “four American soldiers, one four year old Iraqi, in Fallujah...”  And then five solemn gongs.

At the law school, across the plaza, that huge chunk of steel in front of Law– twisted horses and hammers--a whole plaza roofing over Amsterdam Avenue that didn't used to be there-- reminder of how the university dominates up there. There was a rather elegantly dressed black woman from a tenants’ organization from Harlem who was heckling Lee Bollinger at the Law panel. She shut up when she was promised to be the first speaker in the Q&A– and of course Bollinger didn’t stay to listen.




April 24


This week-end marks the 40th anniversary of the Columbia University Sit-ins and strike: come to the panels and events! I'll be going up Friday and Saturday to listen to panels, see a few folks, push my book TRESPASSERS a little.


It’s almost nine-thirty and I am at my desk, cool breeze through open window, taking pictures of that incredible green outside, doing email, sending off Fiction I papers for drop-out students, no phone calls yet, putting stuff away, my non-computer desk looks clean (things are in neat piles, of course).

Last night a mini-crisis at NYU– someone was using our classroom! But they finally gave us one where they train ultrasound technicians– a big plastic torso of a pregnant woman, illustrative charts of menstrual cycles, four-month fetuses, etc. A good group, a little self-deprecating about their writing ability, but eager to try things, and very satisfying to me to see the changes in the work.
People choose their classes for a reason: sometimes there is less difference in what they’ve accomplished than in how they feel about their accomplishments.

April 19
Tonight is the first night of Passover, and we're having one of our All-Goyim seders. Well, there's Andy and maybe one other Jew. Joel and Sarah are in Los Angeles with her family, my mom is on her way to celebrate Harley and Faye's 50th wedding anniversary. It's a very warm, gently greening April day, and I'd like to curl up for a nap. Strange to think of how people are in so many places all at once doing many things, while I'm here in my office, casement windows cranked open, birds all excited about spring, me thinking about the Coalition Forum on Language, Stereotypes, & Communication coming up in a week-and-a-half, and also the 40th anniversary events coming up next week for the 1968 sit-ins at Columbia University --I don't know, I feel like I'm at the center of a web, or maybe not the center, but it doesn't matter because there are many centers, or many nodules, and all the threads are humming.


spring sky, my window


April 18

Well, it's been, as usually a busy roller coaster few days: Tuesday was Joel's birthday, and yesterday Thursday was my mother's 89th. I talked to her-- she went to the doctor and got essentially a clean bill of health and she'll be going tomorrow to Harley's for his 50th anniversary. Meanwhile, I spent her birthday going to New York for Rebecca Kavaler's funeral:. Rebecca has been a wonderful member of the writers' group for a long time, and Sharon Lynne Schwartz did one of the lovely eulogies, including reading some prose and poetry from her books with Hamilton Stone Editions , including the new and wonderful poems. Big hits to Hamilton Stone this spring, losing Rebecca and Rochelle Ratner as well. Before the service, as I was walking up Amsterdam on a really gorgeous sunny day, I was stopped outside a new Chipotle restaurant by camera people and an interviewer from Good Morning America to ask me my opinion of calorie counts on restaurant menus. And I got an email from Barry Zack this morning saying he saw me! Such a disconnect: my 30 seconds of fame (everything is speeding up) when my main interest was in Rebecca, her sons, writers' group friends, Hamilton Stone cooperative.


Here is a funny poem by Billy Collins about workshopping poetry.

April 13

We had dinner last night with Tony and Mary, such fun to be with them after so much time passed. We discussed aged parents and youthful offspring. Tony is going back to work as a principal after retiring! Ryan and Anne about to graduated respectively from Northeastern and Rutgers. I still miss having them across the street, that terrible storm of a summer when Joel left for college, they moved, and Charley Brown kicked the bucket while being boarded at the Maplewood pet store. That came up during our conversation, and I almost cried. Mary said, “Imagine how you’d feel about a dog!”


Magnolia Haiku

Magnolia blossoms
Sweet and potent hanging there–
Defiance of gray.
Grass suddenly green:
Magnolia time has arrived:
Pink backyard geysers.
April 6, 2008

I've had two welcome days of being pretty much able to do catch up-- including a new issue of my newsletter, which I always enjoy getting out. I'm presently reading a couple of thing that are relevant to the upcoming commemorations at Columbia University, 40th anniversary of the Columbia sit-ins. It's also the 40th anniversary of the founding of Teachers & Writers Collaborative

April 5, 2008



Coming soon, to an apple tree near you....





A verse from Phyllis Wilson Moore



first frost--

jonquils bow

above the greening grass


April 3, 2008

A friend, who had been ill, died, but unexpectedly. This was the writer, poet, and great friend of other writers, Rochelle Ratner:


In Memoriam:
Rochelle Ratner


Rochelle Ratner's Home Page
Visual Work
(including the World Trade Center Photo above)
From her new novel
issue no. 2, spring 2004
issue no. 5, winter 2005
issue no. 12, summer 2007
In the Salt River Review


March 30


Well, the Coal Miner’s Dinner for Ethical went off smoothly! Eleven paying guests (one less than originally planned) plus me and Andy. Butter pie was a big hit, as was apple butter. I had a song on Jack Wright's the “Music of Coal” about being poor and eating corn bread and pinto beans, which was part of the meal. We also sampled moonshine and pronounced it excellent! I made slaw using my mother's recipe,, pork chops (but grilled on the George Foreman--too many people for me to handle pas), fried potatoes, the three kinds of bread (sliced white bread, cornbread, biscuits), and then many pies. Everyone seemed to have a good time.   I did put out the bench at my mom's request, because her family only had chairs for the parents, but in the end, our guests preferred chairs!


March 26


Lilac crocus here–
Overhead maroon leaf buds
Pale scumble of spring!


March 22
My Shinnston friend Charlie Cowger, a professional artist (see his web page at ), sent these neat photos he took of Shinnston. The big open photo is the view we used to see from what we called "Up On the Hill," and the one with the high school is Shinnston High School, Shinnston, West Virginia!


March 20

Spring begins, and also the the beginning of the sixth year of the war in Iraq. I didn't demonstrate yesterday in the rain; went instead to have dinner at North Square with the old mom's group. That isn't that the moms are old, but that we have been together 22 years or so-- since we had babies in Brooklyn (see photo) . It is always invigorating to be with them-- they all had another child after the ones we had together-- Evelyn had two more, so she makes up my singlet. Eva's Theresa is teaching for the first year in Canarsie; Maddie's Julia Kaminsky is in El Salvador, Nancy's Matt is working at a financial firm in Jersey City, Jody's Kate is teaching in Brookline. And Joel still deciding if it's continue to work or start graduate school! This time a year ago we were thinking about his upcoming graduation-- yes, yes, it goes fast, but also the things we worry about (and I suppose enjoy too) change so fast!





March 18, 2008

It is after all very close to spring-- St. Patrick's Day is over, and I had a busy day yesterday working at the Newark Museum with the Jersey City teachers, not presenting as much, but feeling more of a sense of what the thing is about-- I'm going back Monday to see how the hands-on art stuff goes.

AND!! I got home and had an hour or two before making a presentation with Marlon to the SO/Ma Board of Education-- and I planted peas! And the yard has lots of little crocuses hanging out in the grass which is always that unexpected end-of-winter green which reminds us that the grass never really dies and in fact grows whenever there's a break in the frost and freeze.

So, I had quite a day: work at the Museum, stuck the peas in the ground because it was St. Patrick's Day and supposedly he or some other saint will make 'em grow if you do it on the right day, and also sowed indoors in a cardboard egg carton some cabbage (which should have been done two weeks ago) and got some dinner, did the political thing-- everything but write and exercise.






Playing around with the camera--self-portrait: everyone else in my family is in California or West Virginia. And the Parakeet won't hold still.
March 15

I went to New York yesterday and started off at J&R down at City Hall after coming in at the World Trade Center site: that is still an amazing, experience, how the first light you see after the tunnels is this vast stone and concrete pit, looking more crowded than a year ago, cranes, workers, the big sewage drains or other pipes studding the exterior walls, and then up, several levels, lots more work going on, and then you're out on the street with Century 21 blaring out its wares and the church yard of St. Paul's chapel.

Then I went to J&R to hold in my hands and type on the Asus eee, which is as cute as a button, with the keyboard very tight, to the point I have trouble imagining anyone really using it with hands larger than mine, so I was a little clumsy. Linux rulz, of course, and the tiny screen was remarkably readable. Really nice for $300. I want one But not pink or blue.


Then to the subway City Hall Brooklyn Bridge station a whitish gray day, all the New York people looking pretty withdrawn, dark colors, hurrying, and I was actually relieved to see one big girl striding by with lip jewelry, wearing an odd flared plaid skirt over baggy jeans, short sleeved tee shirt to show off some kind of braces or splints on her arms, decorative, not medical.


Then up to the East Side, a different world with très expensive little boutiques for toddlers, the the museum, all the little carts outside selling photos and original art, or at least craft. Lots of school groups and inside the Greek and Roman galleries, students giggling over the naked people. I wandered past various old friends, the Chinese vases, Syrian sculptures, Lady X, lots of Sargeants and Picasso's monumental Gertrude Stein, Rosa Bonheur's Horse Fair, and finally, not absolutely enthusiastic, went to this season's Big Exhibit, the Courbet ,

Which I didn't get into right away: it begins with a lot of showy, melodramatic self portraits of the young man, but gradually, as the sheer volume and skill and breadth of his work became obvious, I got more and more interested: he is, after all, the visual expression of what Zola was doing. The sex room was pretty funny, and titillating, including a little dark cul-de-sac with genuine French Picture photographs and his famous crotch painting Origin of the World (which, I should have guessed, if you goggle Courbet, comes up first and often. Then on to really wonderful landscapes and I particularly enjoyed his apples, painted along with a lot of trout when he was in prison for political activity in the 1870-71 Commune: spotted apples, more appealing to me that Cezanne's famous ones (that Joel famously critiqued at age 2 in Williamstown: "App-ul, Mommy! App-up!")

Also dogs, hunting, dying stags, especially winter scenes, just so much sheer splendor that I forgave him his self-dramatizations in his twenties. I'm sure he appreciates my forgiveness.

Anyhow, I had a nice lunch at the Petrie Court -- “organic” chicken and greens and some kind of special blue cheese and apple and a little bacon, also special and a dinner roll shaped like an upside down apostrophe. View of the park, eating on a stool overlooking all the people, white ladies of a certain age-- mine, lots of young couples too. I went back to Courbet again, looked a little more, bought the Phaidon   book as cheapest and easiest to transport. I don't really particularly need the big museum book with his long semi-specialist articles on more aspects of Courbet than I want to learn about right now.

So I had a really nice day, got home in time to use my off-peak NJT ticket and to finish some work. Talked to Andy and Joel,everyone in California excited about how Andy went rock climbing with Joel. Joel and Sarah were cooking some kind of very California-sounding asparagus and morel pasta for him.

March 10


I’m back in the swing, some kind of swing. It’s 9:12, and I’m at my desk at what would be an early hour, except that we’re on Daylight Savings, so it isn't early anymore. Andy leaves in the morning for his conference in SF, and I'm already feeling sorry for myself--he's going to see Joel and they're going to have all kinds o ffun without me! And everyone says, You could have come too!

Yesterday Jim White spoke at Ethical on “A Humanist Looks at Death.”   He gave several humanist answers to death: the negative one that the idea of a punishing/rewarding God doesn’t work for so many of us; then the one that we live on in our genetic issue, which is okay but minor for most people in the twenty-first century; then that we live on in our effect on people we know and love (and he detailed things he admired about his great grand and his grand and his mom). He also talked about the impact of martyrs– people who died in the civil rights movement, for example, including some of the less famous ones. That was the big thing, I guess, the impact we have, which we don’t even know all of, the spreading ripples in the water of humanity. Surrounding a lot of this was the preciousness of now because it is all we have. So he didn’t have anything new (I guess I’m still waiting for Humanist Heaven), but it was laid our powerfully. We have now: we have what people leave us and what we leave people– and he had a lovely image of each of us having a colorful thread in the great cloth of being and how our beautiful bright thread ends, but is still part of the whole thing, the fabric still strong.

March 6

I am still catching up from being away, a couple of hours of odds and ends including clearing out the dining room of all the clean clothes and sewing up the torn sheet from the guest room (but haven’t made the bed down there yet) and putting away all my travel clothes, at last– anyhow, if I could just do some writing I would feel very good, I think. It's amazing how many chores have to be done even in a household with no kids at home and me being a really minimal housekeeper. I've always been harrassed by the sheer length of the list: feed the parakeet, put away the clean dishes, clean clothes upstairs, in drawers, buy groceries, put on something to eat. And also, many of the things that began as exciting political events turn into chores: the institutionalization of the Coalition has meant fewer impassioned speeches about racism and more uploading information to the website and carrying flyers to the schools etc. Funny connection to all this: the upcoming 40th anniversary of the Columbia University sit-ins and strikes. There is a lot happening with that, including a spontaneous Sundial rally being planned (is it still spontaneous?). Back then, there were fewer details and more passion, although of course someone always had to do the details-- who made the peanut butter sandwiches when we were sitting in Low Library and Math Building? I remember I made a point of not doing it-- it looked like girl work, which I had scorned from earliest infancy, except of course one does do girl work in the end, or else nothing happens....

March 4, 2008

Back from the whirlwind tour of West Virginia and Pennsylvania in the rain! I drove today from Shinnston (looking magical in the early morning light on the amazing 3rd of March, which was superbly warm and brilliant with light unmitigated by leaves.


But today-- rain "heavy at times" as in hour after hour I drove to Wheeling to appear at Lunch with Books then home to New Jersey, listening to John McWhorter's Teaching Company Lectures on the history of language. Thankful to be home on one piece and really weary.

March 2, 2008


I'm in West Virginia after driving my mother down today. I'll be here tomorrow, then Tuesday on to Wheeling and then a long drive home. My big success was getting her DSL turned on! I am really proud of myself with that– it went pretty smoothly, the filters on the phones, ethernet, phone wires--wires all over the place, the modem, the excitement of the moment when I realized we were communicating with the internet. All this technology, and she likes email, but all she really wants to do is to lay out her collections of stones that look like faces and shells and other people's discarded boxes.

There was snow in the Maryland Allegheny front, the mountains Andy and I call the Ethnic Slur range because they all have names like Big Savage and Polish Mountain. Lots of light today, and out of the highest area, the fields bright tan with no snow. Ridges with straight thin tall trees lined up and light coming in a band between their thicker upper branches and their trunks against the hillside.

We ate at Jimmy's on the West Side of Shinnston, near closing time on a Sunday, and Jimmy was sitting down to eat with his sister and her kids and some friends. It felt like being in his living room: Mom had a pizza burger which wasn't a burger at all but an open faced sauce and cheese and pepperoni on a bun. I had the Rosie's special of course, big sausage patty with hot and sweet peppers and mozzarella. My fave.

Portrait of Taxicab, Pet Parakeet


February 22


Snowed in! Well, not really. That's Prospect Street from our house on the third floor with my Christmas camera set for bright-when-it's bright out.

February 21

Well, we’ve cancelled writers group for tonight because of few people and one member having a serious illness in the family. I was disappointed at first, because I look forward to writers group, which is really just for me, but of course I'm also thrilled not to have to go to NYC again immediately after teaching last night.

I had soup with Ingrid at Round the Clock, a wooden floored place very near Cooper Square where I teach. She is all excited about her daughter Stasha nearing term with pregnancy, and she talked about the inspiration she got from a memorial reading for Grace Paley, also things Grace said at a workshop once: First, tell the truth, in reference to memoir and not pulling your punches. Second, Tell the truth in reference to fiction, which I interpret to mean use that as a guide–what is the truth for this character, this situation,this plot? Grace also recommended going back in imagination (is that the same as "getting in touch with?") the voices of the community of your childhood. For Grace, New York immigrants, for me, West Virginia. But Ingrid grew up in various American overseas posts (Greece, Saigon) and wonders what her voices were.

We talked inevitably about the hundreds of thousands of people studying writing and hoping for glory if not money and also at the same time wanting to participate in this world of literature, of seeking the truth through stories.


Great photos of West Virginia mining towns, steel mills, and much more at Kevin Scanlon's site-- and an exhibit in Grafton, WV-- AND-- you are invited to the opening reception! Click here!



Feb 15



E.P. Thompson talks about what amounts to the “soft bigotry of low expectations” in the context of social class in academia, which in early twentieth century Britain had enough similarities to race in U.S. to be of special interest now. Not the same thing, I hasten to add, but class lines then, marked by easily identifiable accent and dialect, were extremely sharp:

....The pure in heart may indeed be blessed: but they may also offer themselves as a fertile pastureland upon which the demagogue and the careerist may safely graze. It may be true and important to insist that we value men not by their class or educational attributes but my their moral worth: but if men – and especially if educationally-disadvantaged men – begin to value themselves too complacently in this way it can serve too easily as an excuse for the giving up of intellectual effort. My fellow tutors here will, I suspect, make the point: they know, only too well, the student to whom I refer. They may also know the tutor who has made himself accomplice to the giving-up, and who has been happy to accept the moral wort of his students in place of their essays. They may even have seen him, as I have, late i the evening, in the mirror. (E.P. Thompson, “Education and Experience,” The Romantics, New York: The New Press, 1997, p. 25.)

There’s another passage in the second lecture where Thompson, writing about Wordsworth and Coleridge and others, distinguishes between disenchantment and apostasy. The context here is the end of the 18th century and the very early 19th century when people like the Romantic poets were first enchanted with the French revolution, then to varying degrees horrified by its excesses, then often(and this is the part we rarely read) in serious political jeopardy in England for being Jacobins. There was major political repression as war broke out between France and England. Anyhow, Thompson makes some really interesting observations about how the honest changing of your mind due to historical events is one things, but denigrating your younger mind for its previous views is another thing altogether:


The theme of this lecture is apostasy and disenchantment. There is a difference between the two. My argument is: the creative impulse came out of the heart of this conflict. There is a tension between a boundless aspiration – for liberty, reason, égalité, perfectibility – and a peculiarly harsh and unregenerate reality. So long as that tension persists, the creative impulse can be felt. But once the tension slackens, the creative impulse fails also. There is nothing in disenchantment inimical to art. But when aspiration is actively denied, we are at the edges of apostasy and apostasy is a moral failure, and an imaginative failure....because it involves forgetting – or manipulating improperly – the authenticity of experience: a mutilation of the writers’s own previous existential being. (E.P. Thompson, “Disenchantment or Default?” The Romantics, New York: The New Press, 1997, p. 37-38.)

This is what I always feel about people who reject their entire past, whether they are poets like Coleridge or political figures like some of the neoconservatives. Wordsworth, Thompson makes the case, was a much more nuanced thinker, whose views changed gradually over many years.





Feb 13


Last night I stayed up later than I would have wanted because Andy turned on the t.v. and the whole wide screen tv was filled with sharp black and white Japanese images, big crowd scenes, vaguely medieval setting, two shlumpy peasant guys going crazy over finding gold, appearance of large handsome samurai without armor or sword-- anyhow, it turned out to be Toshiro Mifune in the 1958 Kurosawa flick Hidden Fortress, complete with a long spear duel and a princess in short pants with a bizarre screeching high voice and lots of heavy handed humor and amazing last minute escapes and stylized acting, and I really liked it!





February 12


California Dreamers! I wish I had been there! Left to right, Goro Kato, Christine Willis,
Sarah Zakowski, Joel Weinberger, Alex Kato-Willis, and in front, Lucille Willis
(More pix from Joel's visit to San Luis Obispo)





February 8


So it's late Friday afternoon, and , I did a little writing, a quick prep for the Jump Start Your Novel workshop tomorrow, went to have my ears cleaned and checked, and had my afternoon meeting at CCR cancelled, and I’m glad– went to Costco with Andy instead. Secret delight in pushing the cart until it seems to stop of its own accord, and I stared stupefied at the ranks of blue flat screens, the acres of Gloria Vanderbilt jeans, the free samples of pork barbecue, frozen cheesecake, and shrimp salad, the stacked cases of water, the supersized bags of everything. I get mentally bloated, and somehow that relaxes me. It’s like my mind goes dull, and then I can start over. Bought a roasted chicken for dinner, will watch a movie probably. Could use more of the same.




February 4

I'm having one of my super busy weeks: five days of teaching, with meetings in the evenings. Still thinking about Joel and Sarah visiting my mother and my sister, still thinking about the AWP and the 7,000 writers and poets scrambling for fame and fortune, but meanwhile it's Super Bowl last night and Super Tuesday tomorrow, both of which events have been treated pretty much in the same way by the news media.

I'm doing three days with third graders in Butler, New Jersey. I had been expecting my new Fiction I class would not run, but it seems to have ten people and be up and at 'em. So that's Wednesday night, and Saturday I have the four hour Jump Start Your novel class, with Making Your Novel Happen starting next Monday! Whew! Altogether too busy this week, a meeting tomorrow night and Writers' group Thursday and I've been doing a lot of web site work for the Hamilton Stone Review which has a new issue coming up, and lots of ideas and actions, and tomorrow it's Hillary versus Obama. Just a little too much this week, although the following one seems to have a few more spaces for writing, which would be nice.



January 31


I was at my first AWP conference today-- New York Hilton, three floors of book tables, small and large presses, magazines, writing programs, famous writers reading, panels: I'm going to be on one tomorrow reading from After the Bell, the anthology of prose about schooling, teachers, etc. Many people there I knew, some I actually saw, others I just missed: at the Hamilton Stone table with Edith Konecky and Rochelle Ratner, saw Maggie Anderson, West Virginia friend and editor of After the Bell, Shelley Ettinger, Tayari Jones, Dahlia Elsayed from NJWP, people at The Writer, Suzanne McConnell just left, ditto Jayne Anne Phillips. I saw Willard Cook and Pamela Erens. I suppose, especially in New York, I shouldn't be surprised by the numbers.  7,000 participants, and they had to close registration-- at once a wonderful feeling, all those people who care about books and writing-- that what we do is serious, and at the same time the horror, the horror: they all are or want to be writers? And so many of them training more? Who will read what we all write? Young people from the programs, fragrant with ambition, old people with twisted mouths, self-involved, not having achieved all they wanted, ready to talk about themselves, not others. Double and tripling of exhilaration and dismay.


January 30, 2008


I finished another residency, this one at Wyoming School in Millburn. Fourth graders wear me out! It's good, though, to work with kids. So much smooth skin and bright eyes and all the silliness whenever they have the opportunity!   

Presidential race getting interesting: John McCain on the Repubs and Hillary and Barack for the Dems. Will all those guys out there vote for a woman or a person of color? Terrified they'll pick another Republican.


Taxi contemplating one of the objects of his affection


January 27
There’s sunshine today
On the bare branches lifting
Toward majesty.
January 19, 2008
Clammy, gray old day,
Tree branches bare, nickel sky–
So glad I’m alive!
January 17, 2008


My friend Phyllis Moore, the doyenne of West Virginia literature, is wintering on the Alabama gulf coast. She sent this poem with a picture by Jim Moore. They call the bird R. Sea Byrd, which will make sense to those of you who know our redoubtable West Virginia senior senator:



Winter on Little Lagoon
Each day,
a white heron claims
the same spot.
Like a whore
working a corner,
it waits for its prey.    
Phyllis Wilson Moore, 2007
Saturday, January 12, 2008
It’s going on eleven p.m. now and I finished a big manuscript I've been evaluating for a former student. And got a check for the next one up. I have taken on a lot of work this winter, not quite sure how it creeps up on me.
Still, it was Saturday night, and Andy and I watched a thriller movie while my mom finished one book and started another (she finished The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time and started her second Harry Potter). We watched The Bourne Ultimatum, which is good of its kind, but, really, don’t men every get tired of identifying with being chased and chasing and shooting and getting shot and cut and banged and generally beat up and then chasing and being chased some more?
One nicely done scene has three people chasing through buildings in Morocco up stairs down stairs, leap from building to building, stalk, flee, with different throbbing music depending on whether the camera has cut to the stalker or the fleer or the all-out runner coming to save the fleer– it had a nice symphonic quality: fast fast pump pump slow slow minor key– fast fast fast. Basically what the whole thing was, various speeds, throbbing, flashing.
I was eating stoned wheat crackers with hummous and a glass of wine. We had had lunch late at Hunan Spring with mom for lunch specials, soup, rice and main course.
So a little intense relaxation, then back to preparing classes and other work.


January 7, 2008

I'm not doing much blogging lately-- I'm working on evaluating people's manuscripts and getting my mother's meds arranged and I need a hair cut and other annoying appointments, with my online class starting tomorrow and a new school with fourth graders on Friday! Yikes! Christmas vacation was not exactly relaxing, but certainly a different kind of busyness....



January 1, 2008

We've been out to a neighborhood open house today, saw several of the Village Colonials Neigborhood Association people, this after some hours of Andy working on the Coalition computers, cleaning up cookies and such things, and then Mom and I took a walk at dusk, very lovely, really, still Christmas lights out, red sky fading, houses with lots of people moving around in the lighted windows, Christmas trees, t.v.s, tables set. Then I worked on the big manuscript I'm going over, and I've got a fire flickering and the Christmas tree glowing for its last night.

And Joel and Sarah are in one of those metal tubes hurtling across Iowa right now, still three hours from San Francisco.






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