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Thursday, December 31, 2015

Star Wars, Carrie Fisher's Mouth

Dear Princess Leia. I just watched the new Star Wars film, and I thought your performance warm and gentle, though I did miss your old feist.

My kid, however, did not recognize you until I softly sung, "She had a Danish on each ear, and Darth Vader drawing near."

But what is the deal with your mouth? You are only, what, 59? Why do you sound like you have bad dentures? We know it's not being in politics. Hilary Clinton is older than you, and so is Angela Merkel and neither one of them sounds like their bridge is coming out. Okay, you were a revolutionary. Hey, Angela Davis sounds just fine.

My big kid said it might be bad plastic surgery, but I know that revolutionaries don't get plastic surgery. They just have really, really long hair that takes a long time to wash and comb and braid and pin into interesting buns, whether they're over each ear or behind the head.

At any rate, if we see you in the next film--enunciate, enunciate, enunciate.

Thank you.

More about Bunchy Carter, singer, poet, dancer, child actor, scholar, intellectual, revolutionary. And Acquarius. . .

You know I've written a bit about Alprentice "Bunchy" Carter, a complicated young man who was assassinated in 1969 at UCLA. I stopped writing because I ran out of further information about him.

In the meantime, NBC began a TV series, "Aquarius," about a white detective in Los Angeles that stumbles into Mr. Carter and the Black Panthers in Los Angeles. I have not yet seen the series, so I don't know how Mr. Carter is handled, and I have heard that his family is not happy with his treatment. I'll have to take a look.

I'm more interested in Mr. Carter as a person, and I learned something new about him today: he was  a poet and a singer. Elaine Brown wrote that the Panthers sometimes sang together. "John (Huggins) sang bass to my contralto and Bunchy's falsetto, and that he was a great dancer. This makes sense in some ways--like Doris Day, he suffered childhood polio and his mother enrolled in "therapeutic" dance classes to try to strengthen his limbs.

Bunchy worked at a department store on Wilshire and had a job working at the Teen Post in Los Angeles, for a woman named Caffee Greene. Her son, Raymond Nat Turner (Black Agenda Report's poet-in-residence), says, "Yeah, I heard Bunchy sing Stevie" "I'm Wondering," and "I Was Made To Love Her," and I used to hear Tommy (Lewis) play piano at the Teen Post my mom directed. It was also fun to watch Bunchy dance--Philly Dog, Jerk & Twine . . . a lil' 'Bitter Dog' with the Philly Dog ever once in a while. . . "Bepop Santa From the Cool North Pole. "Black Mother" were also great to hear."

Bunchy Carter, singer, poet, dancer, child actor in the Little Rascals, felon, scholar, intellectual and revolutionary. Like I said, a complicated young man. Too bad he didn't

Wednesday, December 30, 2015

Research Quandaries, Biographer Battles and Anna Leonowens--which one is right?

Love that hair!
So, I'm reading two biographies of Anna Leonowens. Recent ones. And in many places, they flat-out contradict one another.

One is called Bombay Anna, The Real Story and Remarkable Adventures of the King and I Governess p. 2008 by Susan Morgan. (Distinguished professor of English at University of Miami.) Morgan's writing is fun (so far) In this book, Morgan presents a reasonable view of Anna's life and choices, beginning with upward-rising ancestors, proof of her grandmother's marriage, and a wild, free-range childhood where she her voracious intellect was able to inhale several languages beyond the ones she would have learned at home. She manages to make

The other is: Masked, The Life of Anna Leonowens, Schoolmistress at the court of Siam, by Alfred Habegger, a professor emeritus, again of English, at the University of Kansas, and biographer of Henry James Sr. and Emily Dickinson. Habegger really dislikes his heroine, who he explains with great disdain,  falsified things she wrote about her own past (at a time of such bigotry against being a "half-caste," or in Anna's case, one quarter East-Indian, that it was like being a quadroon (one quarter African) while living as white in high society 1850's New Orleans.

He is also given to saying, with high dudgeon, that none of the other white people dealing with King Monghut thought he was highhanded with them, while neglecting to notice that none of the other people he's mentioning are women, and when he mentions Anna's son, Louis, who was with her in Thailand, writing of his fears of King Monghut, Habegger decides not that there might be a reason for fear in an absolute monarchy where opposition is suppressed, but that his mother's "paranoia" must have affected him. 

And he speaks in the simplest psychologicaleese, something that, in general, irritates the heck out of me. Very few things are that simple. Certainly not Anna Leonowens, King Monghut, or the politics of Siam or America or Britain during the years about which he writes. 

But he seems to have done a tremendous amount of detailed detective work and research, as does Susan Morgan. 

So what do I do when they disagree? 

And would anybody know anything about the Bombay Education Society's School during the years of, say, 1840 to 1855? If you do, I'd love to hear from you.

Would you have any idea of whether or how much an Anglo-Indian East India Army brat might encounter Mohommedans, Parsis--(Zoroastrians originally from Persia) Marathis, thugs (a tribe or gang of criminals known as thuggees, believe it or not) Nautch girls, Turban folders, gold-thread weavers, road sweepers, Brahmins and every cast between, cow patty makers, (or did Anna herself make cow patties to line the walls, burn for fuel, etc?) 

Did Anna join her mother with a group of women washing laundry in the river or lake? 

How the heck can I learn about these things? Even if I could afford to travel to India, Australia, Indonesia and Thailand, I couldn't get to 1840 Poona, a now-destroyed Australian outpost, or the brick house outside the palace from that time. 

Though why anybody who had grown up in the heat of India, lived in Australia's dry heat, and Indonesia's humidity, think that a brick house would make sense for living in in Thailand? 

Any ideas? 

The Cloning of Star Wars Heroines. Part 1.

Long ago, in a galaxy far away, and young actress named Keira Knightley played a Kabuki doll version of a Kabuki doll version of a Princess in Star Wars. Now we have another Keira Knightley look alike in Daisy Ridley, the latest Star Wars heroine.

Come on, guys, really? There were times, when Ridley actually got a chance to smile, her face flattened into a virtual Ms. Knightley's Viking cat-face. 

For a long time, the heroes of Star Wars Films were equally identical, even to the chin cleft:
And yes, I know, it's supposed to be Daddy/Big Boy, so they should look alike. 
But finally, now, we get a hero who looks like his own self, not a cardboard cutout of the rest of them.  (Yes, I know we and Billy DeWilliams, but he was a side kick, not a hero. 
In this iteration of the film franchise, we have finally been allowed some variety.

But even when you throw in Princess Leia, there is a definite pattern. (And, no I don't define casting someone not remotely Jewish as a change in the pattern.) Don't even get me started on Disney Princesses and the Short Nose Thing. 
Please, next time, Mr. Lucas, give us a break. Cast the luminous and brilliant Lupita Nyong'o as a young heroine rather than a 1000 year old seer. 
Oh, well, maybe next time.

Tuesday, December 29, 2015

Does Daddy Solo Make the Ultimate Sacrifice to Take Down Voldemort--I Mean, Snape. I Mean Snoke?

Kylo Ren
I'll bet you dollars to donuts that in the latest Star Wars movie, Daddy Solo's big boy Ben really does want to go to the side of the light (or the green, not the red, for those of you still into Christmas colors).

Our creepy young Ben has to prove his essential evil to adopted Papa Voldemort--oh, sorry, Snape. I mean, Snoke, who is already having some suspicions. ("I feel you battling your inner good guy/bad guy, ying/yang, green/red thing, Kylo Ren," Snoke intones in his magnified, best slimy bad-guy voice)

This means that Benjamin Solo has to prove to Snoke that he's truly evil. Otherwise, how can he infiltrate deeply enough to bring down the Galatic Empire--Oops, First Order. Sorry, they did legally process that formal name-change.

Thus Pop Solo, gives his baby boy permission to do the ultimate evil. "Yes, go-ahead, off me. I will be your sacrifice so you can take down the--what did they change their name to again?" And creepy Ben didn't even have to marry his mother and get blinded afterwards in order to fulfill the prophecy. At least not yet.

Oops, sorry, that's that other dad-murdering franchise, Greek Tragedy, and poor old Oedipus Rec.

Monday, December 28, 2015

How Did He Who Must Not Be Named (Voldemort) Wind Up In Star Wars? (warning-spoiler alerts ahead)

I've just returned from seeing the new Star Wars film, watching the plot go gehunky-hunky-hunking along like one of the films many lumbering two-legged robots. Suddenly, mid-film, appears He Who Must Not Be Named. Giant-sized, and gone missing from the Harry Potter movies. What the heck is he doing in Star Wars? Do the villains of long-running film series hop from franchise to franchise? Or do they just all have to have no noses?

Afterwards, my family and the two clerks at the Walgreen's counter were trying to figure out the gaping holes in the plot, particularly those having to do with young Snape (Adam Driver). I can find the answers on-line, and even ideas of how future plots will run, but I can't quite figure out how He Who Must Not Be Named (called Snoke in this iteration, a combination of Snape and Smoke?) saves his protege mini-Snape from the total collapse of a planet not to mention falling into a pit of lava after getting shot with a compound bow and taking several hits with a light saber than can take down trees.

And by the way, foresters of the world, unite in protest! Those were pretty big trees they were chopping down like firewood.

Oh, wait, I forgot. After that, the whole planet goes up in fire and smoke.

Thursday, December 24, 2015

The King and I vs. The Internet and I--Anna Leonowens and Rachel Dolezal part 2.

Last time, I wrote some about Anna Leonowens, of the King and I fame and the challenges that she fought against to create an exceptionally adventurous and productive life.

Now, we come to Rachel Dolezal, the brown-skinned ex-leader of the Coure D'alene NAACP, 

who turned out to be a blonde, fair-freckled, straight-haired woman from an ultra-Christian background. I have learned from sources--not Ms. Dolezal--that she was homeschooled in isolation using a curriculum provided by Christian Liberty Academy Satellite School, (CLASS) which comes with Home School Legal Defense Association (HSLDA) membership and a copy of "To Train A Child." Both are red-flags for child abuse--To Train A Child advocates "blanket training" infants (i.e., put one on a blanket, and if they so much as put a limb off the blanket, spank them) and suggests flexible plumbing pipe and running around a tree all night as discipline tools for older children. (All of which sound like "discipline" Anna Leonowens might have encountered at the Military Asylum run by the Bombay Education Society in 1841.) In the mid-1990's, these parents began to adopt black babies, which is a way for evangelicals to "save souls for Christ," beginning at home. I did not know about this culture before I researched Dolezal's family, but have spent some time researching it since, as well as inter-racial adoptions within this community.

Oh, and by the way, CLASS curriculum is linked to White Supremicist home schoolers, and HSLDA is ignoring several scandals involving sexual abuse linked to its leader and those he supports. To Train Up A Child explains that reasons an adopted child may not look a new parent in the face or may accuses someone of sexual abuse is because they suffer from an attachment disorder. The solution is corporal punishment or banishment to a Christian-linked camp that uses even more corporal punishment. Three of the Dolezal's four adopted children are no longer on speaking terms with them. And witnesses report the Dolezal's "practicing" infant spanking in public in the church parking lot. If they did that there, I can only imagine what they did at home.

Rachel Dolezal fled this environment. Interestingly enough, she headed to a traditionally black college, and what she studied was not religion, but art. She married an African-American man, had a child with him, and took on the responsibility of raising her adopted brother when he was legally emancipated from his parents. She also switched her hair, darkened her skin, and worked for the betterment of a people she adopted, despite the documented hostility, and worse, that people of color routinely faces. Unfortunately for her, she did so in the era of the internet, viral videos and instant research. Anna Leonowens would never have been able to succeed in her life-long masquerade had she done so now. Rachel Dolezal could have disappeared into an African-American world without anyone batting an eyelash had she done so then.

Anna Leonowens and her choices are complicated. It's not possible to sneer at her, to say, "she did this for her own betterment." She had few choices. In fact, the choice she took didn't even exist before she created it.

And she always showed a profound empathy for women of color, especially Asian women, and did so openly. She was a passionate suffragette and life a life of tremendous adventure and vision. And yet, once she crossed the line, she had to defend a racist system in order to remain safe, and to have her two surviving children and her grandchildren remain safe.

Dolezal, too, is complicated. The stories of her finding a noose outside her house are questionable, though a neighbor did admit to dressing a deer in a tree near her house, and leaving the rope hanging. She stepped up for her brother, and for her younger sister, too, who had claimed sexual abuse by Rachel's biological older brother--an examination that was dropped after the parents outed Dolezal. I hope that Dolezal has half of Anna Leonowen's fighting spirit. I'd love to see her transform her experience into something that changes the world, at least in small ways, as, indeed, Leonowens did, to some degree, in 1850's Siam, among early suffragettes in Canada, and in pre-revolutionary Russia. Go for it, Rachel.
Mixed Race Dutch/Indonesian Girls c. 1925-1930.

Wednesday, December 23, 2015

What Did Jane Austen Call Her Beta Readers?

I am always, it seems, urgently seeking a fresh beta reader. Writer friends who have not read my first pages are busy. I rewrote the opening chapters, and have an agent eager to read the revision, but do not think it wise to send them until someone intelligent and thoughtful has vetted them for me.

I got to thinking, how did Jane Austen handle this? I know she read her work aloud to a sister.

Rumer and Jon Godden, novelists

Rumer Godden describes a similar thing, taking her sister, Jon (also a novelist) out on a boat in Kashmir and reading an entire draft to Jon, whose only response is, "It won't do, Rumer."

The Bronte sisters were obviously a fan-club/critique group for one another, at least while they were all alive.

What about people who don't have literary siblings? What can we do?

Lack-of-Doubt Envy

This week, as I dropped off one of my children at school, I heard a mom speaking to her son, a terrific little boy in my child's class. 

“I will work hard today and make sure that my mouth speaks only kindness,” the mother chanted. He repeated it after her. 

She took his chin, stared him in the face, and told him to say it louder and really mean it. Then, she said the next part of the chant, “For I know all things are possible within the love of Christ.” 

This is a little brown boy, single brown mother. He is always on the lookout to help and support in the classroom. In fact, I had just mentioned that to his teacher. How kind he is, how ready to interfere for good. 

After he went in, I told the mother what I had just told the teacher. (It is a family value we teach to try to tell people good things when we can.) 

Then, I headed back into the classroom to give my child another hug. As I went, I admit I felt a bit of envy that I do not have this mother's kind of a faith. I know, in fact, the opposite-- that all things are not possible, no matter who believes in what God. Very bad things can happen to very good people. Anxiety can cripple. Even the most religious can be pushed by depression to commit suicide. Babies can be born with cancer and die within the month. Whole peoples can be wiped out through intensive campaigns, millions within a matter of years. 

But I still envied this mother that certainty. I wished to be able to take my own child's chin and say, "Anything is possible with faith in God." 

Instead, I said my usual, "Be kind, and make sure to ask good questions."  

And then, I hugged my child and gave a kiss on top of the head, did the same to the two best friends in class (I have asked permission long before to do this) Then, I found the affectionate little boy who this year is clearly going through some horrible crises at home. (He is glum, his face so sad this year. He says, "I was up all night last night," and frankly, if a child can fall asleep during morning circle time, you know he is sleepy.) 

"Who's my very favorite boy?" I said, and gave him a hug. He put his hand on top of his head, his eyes wide, and said, "Wow. You kissed my head." 

"Yup," I said, "You said that I could. And I love you. You know that, right?" 

It's the best I can do. 

Tuesday, December 22, 2015

Anna Leonowens vs. Rachel Dolezal Part 1.

Look at the Victorian woman in this photo, sitting there with her parted hair and her the barrel-hooped petticoats under her skirts. She seems comfortable with the various Indian young women around her, some likely Hindu, some Muslim, some Parsee (descended from Persian Zoroastrians who immigrated to India in previous generations) some perhaps untouchable. The white woman is probably a British missionary or perhaps a Headmistress of a school. All the girls grouped around her are very young. The only older Indian woman is the one on our right looking at the others rather than at the camera. Notice how the Indian women sit around the white woman as though she were a queen.

This photo was taken around the era in which Anna Leonowens grew up, like this photo, in British Colonial India. Though she presented herself as the red-headed Welsh widow of a British officer, descended from British gentry, Harriet Anna Leonowens was born in India, her great-great, grandfather a saddler, her great-grandfather a Brimstone-preaching Methodist in the days when Methodism was an outrageous new sect that preached--astonishingly--that all men are equal, her grandfather then barely a "gentleman."

Even more astonishingly, Anna's grandmother, about whom we know next to nothing, was a girl very similar to the young woman of this photo, more than likely a mistress or "concubine," of her grandfather.

Her mother, in what was the very best option for the time for a "half-caste" girl was married at fourteen to a much older enlisted man, Anna's father, who died a few months before Anna was born.  With few other options, a six-month pension and no funds, Mary Ann married again, an Irish blacksmith turned Sapper/Miner in the British Army (the people who dug tunnels and set explosions to bring down walled cities during military campaigns.) Mary Ann, already the mother of three  including Anna, gave this Donohoe nine other children, while living in cramped, close quarters, and providing the British military with yet another tool as she aided her husband in his work. In fact, according to Anna's later stories, Mary Ann risked her life to protect the payroll that her husband was assigned to guard. (Of course, Mary Ann was also risking her life to save her husband's career.)

In this narrow world, the fact of Anna's mixed race meant most doors were closed to her. Her best option was to be removed from her family and sent to a school for mixed-race girls like herself. She, her sister and a cousin attended such a school which sounds a lot worse than Jane Eyre's boarding school and more like Tribal Boarding schools in the U.S. harsh goals designed to remove the girls from "chee-chee," culture and train them to be, like their mother, useful helpmates to British enlisted men.

When they reached the age of fourteen or fifteen, they were kitted out with a small dowry. On a regular basis, older, steady enlisted men visited the school and sat in a parlor where they were given a choice among them such girls for a wife.  Anna's other sister,  Mary Anne, married such a steady older man--twenty-some years older.

Anna refused to do so. Instead, she married a fiery young Anglo-Irishman, and headed off with him to Australia and the beginning of a life of struggle, loss, gain and adventure. She cut all ties with her mixed-race family, claimed her complexion had been forever darkened by her years under the Asian sun, and used the tale of her governessing for the King of Siam as a launching point into American society, where, as a supposedly very proper British woman of very high pedigree, she lectured about how British ideals saved Siam from slavery. Her spine straightened by whalebone, her discipline hardened by a mother raised, as she was, in a harsh British boarding school, her mind forever questioning, Anna broke free of the mold and became the very model of British upper-class uprightness, providing a living for herself and propelling her daughter, Avis, into the Canadian upper class.

Tuesday, December 8, 2015

Anna And the King of Siam--The reinvented helping to reinvent.

I'm still thinking about the discovery that our pale-skinned, red-haired vision of Anna Leonowens, born in Wales, daughter of a captain in the army, widow of a captain in the army, dreaming wistfully about "When the earth smelled of summer, and the sky was streaked with white, and the soft mist of England was sleeping on a hill," was really a fierce, imaginative, inventive, resilient mixed-race woman who was born in India, raised in India and Singapore, married a weak man and not only found a way to support herself throughout her life, but did so by so completely reinventing herself that she inspired the imaginations of millions of people around the world, in a story of "British civilization" taming a "barbarian." 

This is a woman who had never been to England, whose father was an enlisted man, her mother "Eurasian," in a time when that was social death, who may have grown up among the rest of the soldiers' brats, with what little schooling that entailed, and who reinvented herself not only to teach for five years, the children of the King of Siam, but later reinvented herself with a writing and speaking career, and built a far better world for her children--her daughter married well, and lived a life of leisure, probably never knowing that her great-grandmother was Indian and her mother was not from Wales. 

Anna Leonowens cut off her sister, Eliza Julia Edwards, when Eliza married James Millard, a mixed-race Sergeant-Major with the 4th Troop Artillery, Indian Army in Deesa, Banaskantha, Gujarat, India. In fact, Anna cut Eliza off so completely that she threatened to commit suicide when a family member tried to contact her. (Eliza herself died at age 

But her son, Louis Leonowens, the child of The King And I, who was educated for six years in Siam, was sent to Europe for his education, (after the Thais politely asked Anna to leave.) He returned to Thailand, and married Caroline Knox, the daughter of Sir George Thomas Knox and his wife, a Thai noblewoman--which must have been, in some ways, Anna Leonowen's greatest nightmare, that her son was marrying a woman of mixed race. 

What rich, fascinating characters, including King Monghut, who was no slouch at reinvention himself, who spoke 11 languages, was not raised to be King, was in fact, an intellectual, the successful head of a Buddhist monastery, creating a revolution in Thai Buddhism, and was a moving force in the modernization of Siam.

And then, there is Siam's acting prime minister at the time, Somdet Chao Phraya Si Suriyawong.

And Sir George Thomas Knox and his wife and children. 

And the first women doctors who came from many countries to study at the first medical school in the US to accept women. 

And. . .

Ah, research. 

Friday, December 4, 2015

Well Blow Me Down. The history of Anna Leonowens.

Deborah Kerr
You may know about Anna Leonowens, the pale-skinned, red-headed Welsh widow of a British military officer who brought civilization to the sexy King Monghut of Thailand in The King And I, and Anna And the King of Siam.
Gertie Lawrence: 

I knew a long time ago that King Monghut ((King Phra Bat Somdet Phra  Poramanthra Maha Mongkut Phra Chom Klao Chao Yu Hua) looked like this:

rather than this:

What I didn't know was that Anna Leonowens was passing, all over the place. Her mother was of mixed Anglo-Indian race, her husband was a clerk who was bad at holding down a job. She cut off her sister, Eliza, after Eliza married a man of mixed race, and she reinvented herself. A brutal cut-off--when a nephew approached her, she said she would kill herself if he continued to try to make contact.

She made her father a Captain and made up a birthplace in Wales, and she managed to move herself, and her children and grandchildren across the line to gentility in a time when being of mixed race was a prison of its own.

(By the way, Eliza's grandson, William Henry Pratt, also remade himself, as actor Boris Karloff.)  
So here she is, gang, the bold, brave woman herself: Anna Leon Owens. Let's celebrate her courage and inventiveness as we mourn the world that made it necessary for her to lie her way to success. 

Lonely Arts Club

Last night, I attended our city's first ever Lonely Arts Club, a speed dating event to find critique partners for writers. This is a terrific idea. The folk who ran it were playful and cute. They held it at a hip micro-brewery, dressed as waiters and waitresses, and handed us a menu for a communal writing exercise, like the story-telling game you play with little kids, tossing the plot around a circle.

Okay, that worked better in concept than in reality, but it was soon over and we were able to get to the meat of meeting other writers.

After some false starts, the organizers worked out the speed dating aspect as well. My side of the long table wound up hopping sideways, like fleas, to shout across the table at another writer--okay, the acoustics were horrible. I met a damned good short-story writer. I know she can write,
because she was next to me during the writing exercise. I met other writers who exuded confidence and possibilities. All in all, it was just plain fun, even though I have a mild-concussion thanks to a tall teenager who thought the back of my ice skates were third base and slid into them full speed last Sunday.

Writing is a lonely art. I'm an introvert, so that is mostly fine, but I love being able to shoot pages to someone or having them send me theirs. I find, though, that it can be extremely difficult, when you don't write genre and after you reach a certain level of technique, to find a critique group or peers.

Also, right now, I'm desperately seeking someone to read a revision of my first chapters, which an agent has requested and which I finished weeks ago--I think this is a very good revision--but am not willing to send it out without that careful read by an intelligent writer. My go-tos have either read my opening ad nauseum, or this friend's child is in crisis, this one's mother is in the hospital, this one is planning her wedding and applying to Journalism school, several work and are taking classes, too. I love people who can say no--it makes me know where I stand--but I do wish I could find a wise, thoughtful beta reader for these pages. Right now!

Any offers?

Wednesday, December 2, 2015

My First Ever Reading: It Was A Dark And Stormy Night

It was a dark and stormy night at the beginning of this month, when I gave my first ever reading. Moments before we left, the sky lit up while a huge clap of thunder shook the house. My little one was too scared to leave home, I took her with me, hoping my oldest could babysit her outside the hall so my husband could come inside. This would be a necessity, as I had heard that my classmates were all leaning towards pieces with a sexual theme--like my piece.

So, we dripped inside with about thirty brave souls--none of my friends could make it, but my two classmates had brought some and some just came on their own. Reader number one's piece was a funny exploration of loud sex in a tiny North woods summer cabin community, complicated by letters both participants sent to a local Dear Abby and, of course, local gossip.

Reader number two's piece was a witty riff on faking it--in art, in relationships, in sex and even in appearing needy enough to get donations. I loved both readings and both classmates read beautifully. (This is a rip-roaringly talented class.)

Then it was my turn. I was very nervous. We had a five minute limit, and though I had been told they would not use a large hook if we ran over time, I feared I might read too slowly, or conversely, race through.  Mine also included a sex scene, in a section from mid-novel in The Color Of Safety. Here, a character comes home to discover an act of betrayal. Though she does not kill herself, a part of her dies, the part that believes she can make her life safe. It was the most literary of the readings. Except heck, sex is sex, right, even if you're obliquely quoting Shakespeare. There were audible gasps and applause when I finished. "Were you an actor?" someone asked.

 "Whew," I thought. "I can do this if I have to." And of course, I am looking to publish successfully so I hope that I will have to do readings, often.

But the best news is, those who read plus one other extremely gifted classmate want to form a critique group. Everybody interested is a grownup and sane, everybody is committed, and each of them are gifted, interesting writers. I don't write genre and I am not a beginner. This makes it very hard to find valid group support and criticism. When you add the requirement of emotional maturity, it can be impossible. And yet, we've done it. Yahoo.

Saturday, October 24, 2015

Why Do We Shut Our Minds?

I am not one of those people who can think of the right thing to say at the time when I could say it. It's only later that I come to see the underlying issues and what I should have said. Take this week. We have been providing experience and support for a parent with a child with a life-threatening tree-nut allergy and a school district that is ignoring the precautions necessary to keep this child safe. (We do not have children with such an allergy, but know others who do.)

I mentioned the school situation at a completely unrelated gathering last night and an older man snapped, "Peanut allergies are fake. It's all about helicopter parenting. They need to make up something, so they have an excuse to hover."

I thought of the child, an athletic kid, and his parents, panicked because their school's principal is trying to deny them access to the school during the day, although already in the 18 days of school so far, this child's life has been put at risk three times because the school is not following appropriate allergy protocol.

I said, "Do you know anyone with a child who has a peanut allergy?"

He said no.

I said, "I do, and I know that they have had to race their child to the ER and the child has nearly died. Children have died of a peanut allergy."

He shook his head, his face furious, and repeated his attack.

Another woman, his age, leaped in. She had just explained that she has known him since first grade. "I work with someone with a child with a peanut allergy. They have had to race to the ER when the child encounters peanuts. Just inhaling the dust can throw this child into anaphylaxis. Anaphylaxis is no joke."

I said, "You're throat closes up, your eyes swell up, you can't breath. You have maybe fifteen minutes to get it under control."

"But at school," this other woman said, "a teacher made the child put her snack into a basket that also contained a peanut butter sandwich. You better bet that mom is at that school insisting that this child be safe."

"Well, then," said the man as he walked away from us, "if they have such a severe disability, they should go to a special school and not impose on all the rest of the kids."

Later, I explained to him that scientists were starting to think that allergies like this may come from not having the right germs in our innards, and that the rise in Caesareans might be in back of it as well, causing a lack of appropriate flora in the gut of infants delivered via a vaginal delivery might be a cause.

Again, he insisted that these children be sent to special schools and not be in with the rest of them.

I sat around the fire next to another guy who came to realize was this man's life partner.  By things he and the woman said, I realized the thoughtless man was about 59. I'm fairly certain he has no children. Later that night, I had my imaginary conversation when I should have been falling asleep.

Do you know anything about peanut allergies or anaphylaxis? (He would again answer no.)

Do you know anyone with a peanut allergy or with a child with a nut allergy? (He would again answer no.)

Do you have a child with a disability? (No.)

So, why are you passionately attacking someone about something you know nothing? It says a lot more about you than it does about them or their parenting or the reality of your accusations.

And given the complicated disabilities that people have today, do you really think we could have a school for, say, those who have peanut allergies, and one for those with wheat allergies, and one for those allergic to tree nuts? One for those with autism but not anxiety? Ones for those with anxiety but not ADHD? Ones for those this far along the spectrum but not that far?

How can you, who are a member of a harassed minority, have so little empathy for children with such a struggle in the world?

And then, as in the Buddhist story, I laid the man down and went to sleep.

Sunday, October 4, 2015

Rigid Liberals/Rigid Conservatives

When Obama was running for president for the first time, my neighbor said to me, "My acupuncturist says that when people are tortured, it affects their brain. And after that, they're never the same again. They can't think straight, and they can't be trusted in a crisis. John McCain was kept a prisoner in Vietnam and he was tortured. That means he can't think straight. He should never be president."

I was not a McCain supporter, then or now.  I strongly disagree with many if not most his policies. But the idea that his experiences in Vietnam would rule out the possibility of his ever being president--?

I said, "Oh, I know. I know. Just like Nelson Mandela. And Martin Luther King. The way their jail time and torture permanently affected their thinking, too."

There was a long pause. Finally, "Oh," she said. "I guess you're right. But. . . " and she launched into another reason why McCain was mentally unstable.

I know plenty of rigid Conservatives, people whose ideas somehow preclude their ability to think. I met one of those last night, at a religious gathering, an older man who insisted that peanut allergies were fake, made up by helicopter parents so they could justify hanging around their kids. This was a man, who, when confronted with the reality of the dangers of peanut allergies, then insisted that "well, then, those kids should go to their own special school and not inconvenience all the other kids."

I had never, though, thought of a rigid liberal, but now I know they do exist. What is it about people that makes them want to stop thinking? Stop questioning? My neighbor was flattened with grief when her husband died. Would she wish someone else to say, "The brains of those who suffer from depression are never the same again?"

Why would this guy fight passionately for something he literally know nothing about--he had never met any child or parent with a peanut allergy, and I would be willing to bet, has no children of his own?

Why do so many people opt for black-and-white rather than stripes, or plaid or shades of gray?

Prayer Poem

Thank you for my Nice Jewish man, who doesn't have to pretend to a stiff upper lip,
Who can whine like I do when i have a cold,
Who can--and will--spend the years it takes to grow up with me,
While I grow beside him.
Who can find the humor in my flaws as I laugh while locating for him
the Peanut butter in the fridge, literally in front of my nose.
And, Shekhinah, if only his mother were alive to be my mother-in-law,
I would embrace her with love and laugh over any gimlet eye
Turned in my house-cleaning.
"Mother-in-law", I would beg her,
"Teach me how you do it so well,
For I will never be the balabusta you are."
In truth, she would soon realize, I will never be a balabusta
At all. And maybe hire me a cleaning lady.
Oh, Shekhinah,
Help me above all not to buy into
Anglo-Saxon Protestant cultural values that say that no one
Should drop by unannounced.
Remind me, instead, of the richness of my own
Immigrant culture that values closeness,
And men with real feelings, exposed,
And that has, for more time than our memories can hold,
Created both men and women with wits and drive,
Creativity and comedy,
And the wisdom to love one another as we are. 

After a poem in Lilith Magazine

Tuesday, September 15, 2015

What Do Cats Read About?

Other Cats, of course. 

I swear, we did not pose this. Just managed to snap it as she, well, studied the cover.

Sunday, September 13, 2015

The Married Priest At the Renaissance Fair

So, I saw this priest at the Renaissance Fair, striding along in his medieval monks habit, a shepherd's crook in hand. Next to him walked a woman in ordinary clothing, baby in her arms. It was clear to me that they were, at the very least, in a long-term relationship.

They sat on a stone wall to rest, and I approached them. "I know that clerk in Kentucky is refusing to marry priests," I said, "But I want you to know that I'll stand beside you all the way."

They burst out laughing. The "priest" said, "We're not really into large organizations," and I watched it dawn on him at the same time I said it slowly--"Which is why you're a Catholic priest."

And for a moment, within that circle of laughter, life was grand.

Thursday, August 27, 2015

Envy as a Tool, The Writer's Life

Some time ago when I was an actor, a dear friend got a dream part, that of a strong, successful creature, a woman with a woman's sexuality, not a man's fantasy versions of it. Plus, she got to age 40 years without the benefit of makeup. 
She was brilliant--vivid, funny, alive. The world responded: reviews, her face splashed everywhere, award nominations, everything we had dreamed of when we started out as teenagers. I was happy for my hard-working friend, and also, torn up with envy, the kind of evil, gut-eating ache that you can't ignore, no matter how you wrestle with it. 
That's when I realized that the envy was a signpost, a gift. It was telling me that I needed to get out and do what I cared about most. I started to show people my writing, got extremely positive responses and began to work on learning to write the long-form challenge that is the novel. 
I have since watched this friend's career (and life) rise and fall, but I'm never torn with envy, not for her, not for a fellow writer who gets published. I may feel twinges of wistfulness, but not that gut-wrenching envy. I have my dream and I am actively working towards it, all the time, with as much energy as I can spare. I may have to go slowly, because of limitations on my writing time--I have a special needs child. But I know that Winston Churchill had it right, at least as far I am concerned: never, never, never, never, never give up. Hurray for dreams, and the hard work it takes to achieve them. 

Please note, the "envy" photo is from Psychology today. I could not find out who took it to give them credit. 

Wednesday, August 19, 2015

Compulsive OverReaders Anonymous, or My Little Free Libraries And Me

I used to love Little Free Libraries, those adorable little book houses on sticks in somebody's front yard. Every dog-walk turned into a treasure hunt, not to mention a place to off-load booky clutter caused by having Book Velcro.

You see, I have long had Book Velcro, a delicious and dangerous disease. I just have to walk past a bookshelf and ten of them stick to me. I remember once biking home from a library used-book sale, the bike trailer filled with three large boxes of books ($5 dollars/box) and our toddler balanced preciously on top of the lot of them. (Clearly, my spouse has Book Velcro as well.)  Every end of school year, we buy another box or two from the children's school library so they'd have some easily accessible summer reading. And nobody wants to get rid of any, because we might want to read them again. Many times. (Mostly, we do.)

Then, came Little Free Libraries. They were so charming and fun. No more were you stuck with nothing good to read on a  national holiday with the libraries and bookstores all closed. We'd map dog walks around them, off-load books into them, getting rid a little of that book clutter, supposedly, though we always wound up carting more home. My littlest one thinks those are actual libraries. "Let's go to the library," she'll say, when what she means is, let's visit the turquoise book house three blocks over, the one with children's hand prints painted all over it.

But now, these book houses are everywhere. Where we live, I'm talking everywhere. One in front of my mom's old house--that's new. One directly across the street from it--never noticed that before. Okay, we can zig-zag to this one and then back again to the next. Only, within a week, another one is installed four houses up the block--isn't that kind of overkill?

And they all contain such interesting books!

Look, we already knew the ones heavy on mysteries, thrillers, romance, children's books, the ones that lean literary or the ones filled with "Advanced reader's copies," making me wonder which of our neighbors work in publishing or do book reviews. If life is rough and we need the equivalent of a sitcom, we know the Little Free Library most likely to sport humor. If we're reading to dig into something deep, we can swing by the second one on Portland Ave to pick up The Kite Runner," or something by Frank Chin--who tends to write both funny and deep. If we're really lucky, we'll get somebody dumping their library on something we're researching--like the five books on race that I found in front of a "modest" house on the fanciest street in a fancy neighborhood.

Which leads me back to Book Velcro. Okay, I should stop complaining. Because those books on race books were insightful and interesting. And after all, I wouldn't know Frank Chin if it weren't for Little Free Libraries. Somebody else's reading choices introduced me to someone I would not likely have found on my own, an author I love. And remember, these expensive books are free free free, if we happen to stumble across them. Our walks and bike rides (and sometimes drives--brakes screech when we see another one) really are a treasure hunt for books.

 But, if you looked around my dining and living room at the piles and piles waiting to be read, or if you realized how hard it is to work up a good sweat bike-riding when you stop three times in one block--

Okay, maybe it's not fair to blame those adorable little houses. Maybe this post should really be about self-control. Maybe I should begin it with, "Hi, I'm Sakki. And I'm a compulsive OverReader. And I'm willing to turn my life over to a power greater than Little Free Libraries. . ."

Friday, August 14, 2015

Circumcising The Foreskin of the Heart--An Adventure and A Blessed Day.

Yesterday, the kids and I had an "adventure," as they cheerily called it. We were on a busy freeway in the left-lane for an upcoming left exit, when I felt the car lose power.

I switched on the flashers and headed frantically right. One car let me slide by and I kept going. In the rear-view mirror, the vast white weight of a big-rig bore down on us. I didn't even have time to pray, it was more of a breath--"brake, please stop--" and I kept sliding sideways. At least there, we'd get hit by something smaller. I had my head turned right and ahead, to see where we could manage to go before the car died.

To our right ahead, a police car's light flashed, an officer stopped on the shoulder to give a ticket. But the car, though driving more slowly, kept responding, and as I handed my phone over, one kid found a gas-station two blocks away. I hoped to make it all the way there. "Right or left, right or left?" Too late. The light at the top of the incline turned red just as I reached it.

 I stopped the car, my flashers still on. Beside me, on the sidewalk, a beggar, his cardboard sign held out. He was a clean-cut white guy in shorts and a plaid shirt, ordinary mid-Western-looking. I rolled down the window. "Is there a gas-station near here?"

He pointed right. "One that way a few blocks." Left. "One that way about two blocks. You ought of gas?" Now, finally, the light on the dashboard glowed yellow. Since Honda recalled our fuel pump cover and replaced it, the car keeps running out of gas without warning. Clearly, we have to get it back to the dealer. Again.

Cars lined up, irritable. Did I mention a heat-index in the '90's, the kind of humidity that could steam broccoli? Somebody honked. Somebody yelled. "You need money?" asked the homeless guy. "I can give you cash."

"I have a gas can in the car," I said. (Bought the second time this happened, about a week ago.) "We can walk there and bring some back."

"You should steer it to the curb," he said. "When this traffic clears up. Otherwise, you'll get a ticket, and get towed and all that."

I looked at the double line of cars behind us, everybody hot and irritable. "I couldn't do that," I said. "Sure you could," he said. "Coast it." I got the kids out of the car. "Could you do that for me?" He said he could. "I just don't want you to get a ticket." I held out the keys.

A red convertible pulled up behind us, top down. The black woman driving it called, "You need help?" She, too, had a clean, Midwestern vibe to her, her hair long and straightened, her convertible immaculate (unlike my mommy van).

"She ran out of gas," he said.

"Do you have a way to drive to the station? I can take you."

"That's great," said the homeless guy. "I can manage here. Steer the cars around. Last week, one car sat there for twenty minutes. Nobody would let them get around the stall."

"Do we still need to move it?" I asked.

"If she's driving you, it would be fast enough you don't have to worry about getting towed."

Another car pulled up behind her, driven by an older white woman with short, gray hair cut in a straight line above her chin. "You need any help?" she called. I had the gas can in hand by this time. "You need me to drive you to a gas station?"

"Thanks," said the black woman. "I've got this one." My kids hauled the booster seat from my car and loaded it into her convertible's back row. I grabbed the gas can and climbed in front.

"You sure you don't need money?" called the beggar. The woman signaled to move right, around our van. Nobody would let her in.

She edged her car sideways, and snarled at the white guy in the fancy car who blocked her way. "He has to prove he has somewhere important to go," I said, "because he has nowhere important to go." She laughed and put out her hand for a shake. "I'm Fern."

I introduced us back. "Bible names," she said.

"Yes," I said, and left it there. They're also family names, but then, we're Jewish, so it's natural that our family names would also be Biblical. "What do you do when you're not rescuing people?"

"I'm raising eighteen-year-old twins," she said. "Takes a lot of time. I was going to pick up a friend and take her to the doctor, but she'll have to wait." The fancy car passed, and she edged into the right lane, palming her phone and dialing at the same time. I wondered if it was fair to be freaking out when someone was busy rescuing us. She managed the turn one-handed while she told her friend she'd be a titch late, then hung up. "And I'm on disability," she told me. "I just had open-heart surgery three weeks ago."

I eyed her profile. In Sefer D'varim, also known as Deuteronomy, in verse 10, we are commanded to circumcise the foreskin of your heart, therefore, and be no more stiff-necked. "They opened your heart and it's still open," I said. She laughed. "Though I'm sure it was that way before," I said, and she nodded. "Oh, yeah."

I thought of my kid in the back, the one who had been begging me to get a convertible. "My son is in heaven," I said.

She looked at me, startled. "Oh, how terrible."

"No," I said, "I mean, my son in the back is thrilled that he's getting to drive in a convertible."

"I still want to get one," he said from the back, "even though my mom burns in the sun, and we could never put the top down."

The gas station was less than two blocks away. I filled the can with two gallons. Gas leaked. "I'd hate to smell up your car." She opened the trunk so I could put the can in. I hurried back inside and shut the door.

The heavy cross-traffic suddenly opened up so she easily turned left toward the freeway. "Do you think I could offer him money?" Fern turned to me, irritated, mis-hearing that I was offering money to her for her kindness. "No, that homeless man," I said. "It surprised me a little. He was so helpful. And he kept offering us cash. Do you think he'd be offended if I gave him money to thank him?"

She said she did not think so. I pointed to the bus-stop just beside the freeway off-ramp, right next to our van, angry traffic still lined up behind it. "This is a perfect place to stop."

She pulled over. "You have a blessed day," she said. I felt a rush of love and homesickness. "I used to hear that all the time, when we lived in South Central Los Angeles." I hopped out of her car. "Don't forget the booster seat," I told the kids. They wrestled to get the strap out of the slot on the seat. "We loved it there. And they never held it against us that we were black." Fern looked at me, startled, and realized what I had said. "I meant that we were white. Oh, man." She started to laugh, a deep belly laugh. "I am really knocked sideways by this." We shared another true laugh as I got the gas can from the trunk. "You have a blessed day, too," I said, though as a Jew, it probably had a different meaning for me than for her.  The whole trip took maybe ten minutes. She was so kind.

We ran for our car, still surrounded by angry vehicles, like ants foaming out of a hole. "I wish you'd advance me some money so I could give it to him," said my oldest. "To thank him."

I set the gas can down. The homeless man took it from me. "What's your name?"

"Mark," he said. He couldn't figure out how to open the valve on the red plastic gas can. "You have to turn the red part. Over the white." called the Hmong cabdriver stuck behind us now. "Turn it, turn it and push down." His voice didn't sound angry, but kind. Mark pushed down. "Thank you," we called. The cabdriver edged into the right lane and around the car.

As Mark poured, I asked my standard question, though in a variant for a beggar--"What do you do when you're not standing here by the freeway?"

"I work nights cleaning," he said. "At an office over there. And I take care of my nine-year-old daughter." That stupid white valve meant we couldn't get all of the gas into the car; I know, I had the same problem with it both times. Mark kept trying, spilling it all over. He turned the nozzle, he squeezed the bottom of the can. Those droplets in the bottom were clearly worth saving to him. We're super tight for money, but I would not worry about that last half-gallon, not with the temperature climbing and a line of cars honking behind us. "I am so lucky that her mother decided to move to Utah and leave my daughter with me. I love being with my daughter."

"How long do you usually stand here?" He listed a three-hour window. I was certain we had gotten as much gas in as we could. We couldn't stand there longer, just talking with him. I took out my wallet. "Would you be offended if we gave you something to thank you for your help?"

"Absolutely positively no." I counted out a five and five ones. "This is from my son," I said. "He wanted to use his allowance to thank you.

We all clambered in the car. "What an adventure," said one child. "I rode in a convertible," said the oldest. "If only she'd had her teenagers with her, I could say, "I rode in a convertible with a cute girl," and nobody would know that the rest of you were there, too."

"We rode in a convertible, we rode in a convertible," sang the littlest. I turned my mind from the image of that semi barreling down on us, and to our rescuers: the white beggar, the African-American woman, the gray-haired white woman, the Hmong cabdriver. I know that some of the kindness came because I am white, driving a mommy van, clean, healthy children by the side of the road. Still, it was real kindness from many. It was, indeed, an adventure, and something that would open the heart, without even having to circumcise it, easy.