Wednesday, December 30, 2015

A long time ago, in a galaxy where all the cats are polydactyl...

Well, we saw the new Star Wars movie/episode today. I saw the original three when they first ran, when I was in my late 20s. I never bothered with the second three. Some observations from this afternoon:

1. Storm troopers still can't shoot for shizzle.
2. All tropes from the originals are here. If you wanted to play a drinking game, taking a shot every time you recognized some plot movement (never mind every time an original character shows up) you would be quite soused.
3. Despite action including fires, explosions, running through forests, and desert planets where water is scarce, no one's face ever gets smudged, no one's clothing rips or gets grimy, and everyone's fingernails stay clean.
4. Mark Hamill has no lines, but I bet he got paid a lot more than several others--and, he gets top billing, over the title.
5. There is even a reprise of the infamous bar scene, said bar run by a character who looks like a cross between ET and Edna Mode, although I have read that said character is modeled on a writer's high school English teacher.
6. The new generation's evil and petulant dark lord looks like the love child of Ben Stiller and John Travolta. Also, why are all his features too big for his face?
7. They still can't get units right (e.g., parsec as a unit of time??).
8. Similarly, in this galaxy far far away, vacuum transmits sound.
9. Also, F=ma has been suspended for the duration.
10. However, this time around, there is underwear in space.
11. I didn't know light sabers could stab.
12. I'm not sure, but I thought I saw Jar Jar Binks get slaughtered in the first attack scene. (I may not have seen the second three, but, hey, I keep up.)
13. There seems to be an awful lot of burlap, extraterrestrially and fashionistically speaking .

Saturday, December 26, 2015

Distressing accident: death of a hawk


The top photo is the underside of the wing of a hawk that crashed into a window and broke its neck. The lower photo is a close-up of the delicately and fiercely articulated feet. We must not have been home, because its impact would have made a noise like a car crash--and it was, essentially, a high-speed collision. We had noticed a new hawk in the tree in our front yard the day before. This is, I think, a sharp-shinned hawk; they have a sneaky habit of zooming through our backyard and trying to pick off smaller birds from the bird feeder, which is why we moved the feeder into the patio a few years ago. This one probably mistook a plastic barrier for a clear pathway. The plastic is rather dirty and streaked with cobwebs (not proud of this) so the hawk should have been able to tell that it was not an open passageway. We try to keep the bird feeder from becoming a hawk-feeder, but I'd rather have the live hawk. Hawks maun live, after all.

Tuesday, December 15, 2015

All this is true


I've sung in the local Messiah sing-along for 24 years. All sorts of people show up. I have seen professional singers, former interns' former clients, church ladies, my husband's tone-deaf ex, and once...

David Lynch at the Messiah Sing-Along

I heard him fussing his way through the altos,
scraping chair after wooden chair,
demanding to sit next to someone
who knew the score.

He told me he planned
to become an Episcopal priest
when he retired from his career.
You have to know the right people, he said darkly,
remembering who had thwarted him,
and you have to spread some money around.

 He sang mostly in falsetto,
hooting on high notes as counter-tenors often do.
He damned the mezzo soloist—
no passion, no feeling at all;
I myself have sung those arias
so many times I’ve lost all count.

 His voice wasn’t half-bad, and he could hit his notes,
but he didn’t know the music as well as he thought,
and he jumped the cues for entrances,
darting in early, spooking other altos so
All They Like Sheep Did Go Astray.

 And after we’d sung, he had no pleasantries,
just handed me his glossy business card
with its blurred head-shot.
“Call me if you ever need a lawyer,” he said,
and headed up the aisle.
--first published in Viral Cat, 2011

Saturday, December 12, 2015

Weird things I overhear, again

Overheard at the yoga studio I use, near the shoes-and-coats cubbies:

"See you next time!"  "'Bye!"  "Have a good weekend!"

                             "Yogi up!"

Tuesday, December 1, 2015

Now playing on K-REN

Above, a sheet music store on the Left Bank of the Seine, across from the bouquinistes.
Below, Tuvan musicians playing outside the Beaubourg Pompidou.

I get earworms. It's not a medical condition, although it may perhaps be a neurological one. I'll get a tune in my head and it will play and play, and repeat and play some more. I think of it as K-REN, the soundtrack of my life. Today, for instance, I've got an entire set, including so far:


"I Feel Free"

"Denn alles Fleisch, es ist wie Gras"

I know, I know--it's a very weird playlist. I don't really have a good interpretation of why these pieces of music are insisting that I listen to them. These particular clips have ads, but you can usually skip them after a few seconds.

Friday, November 13, 2015

With Paris

What happened? and what will happen next?

Paris feels like home to me in ways that actual home does not. I like the self that I am when I have been there--perceptive, understated, witty, responsive.

And why attack the locals, the people who are simply living? How could this improve anything?

We are filled with horror when we are not numb.

Our time is so fleeting, so brief. No need to shorten anyone's. Paradise is only here.

Sunday, November 8, 2015

You need this word, part 2. Also many cool shoes.

The next needed word comes from someone, also in Doug Powell's workshop, who apparently had not been paying attention to the sound or sight of words in his many years, and who pronounced a word to be "sartori." But, it is a good new word, s a r t o r i, useful for the many of us who fret over dressing properly for some--for any--social situation, from going to the market to, oh, attending a writing conference. I define it as the state of bliss, the state of freedom from desire, induced by knowing that you have chosen precisely the right clothing for the situation.

Also, has anyone else ever noticed that, however oddly or idiosyncratically writers may dress, they always have *really* cool shoes?

Monday, November 2, 2015

You need this word, part 1

At last summer's Napa Valley Writers Conference, I had the grace to choose Doug Powell's workshop. Doug always presents wrapped in flannel and knitted vests, with a tractor cap jammed down on his skull. He may run cold, but his seminar was hot. I still cannot encompass how marvelously he got back to the roots of writing. One of his exercises was to write one-word poems. Go ahead. You think about what makes a poem, and how to pack that into one evocative word. Another was to create a new word, a word that we need but that does not exist in English. I am still sorting these out.

I propose a new word:  t o n e d e f t . It means the opposite of "tone-deaf;" that is, the quality of using precisely the right word, or words, for the situation and the task. For instance, "D.A. Powell is tonedeft."

Tuesday, October 27, 2015

How to make your point

Our printer gave up the ghost recently, and we went online to read reviews of new printers. There was one that Consumer Reports liked, and it got decent ratings on Amazon. There was, however, a negative review that made the decision for us. I paraphrase:  I hate this printer. I cannot express strongly enough how much I hate this printer. It has sucked my time, my money, and my energy. I hate this printer so much that, if I had a gun with two bullets, and I went into in a room with Adolf Hitler, Osama Bin Laden and this printer, I would shoot the printer. Twice.

Made us laugh, and scared us off!

Monday, October 19, 2015

Emerson, making music before your very eyes

Yesterday I heard a wonderful chamber concert, courtesy of the Emerson String Quartet. When I first learned about this quartet, many years ago, they were known for playing new music, under-heard music, not the kind I like to listen to. For me, for music to be musical, it has to stir something in the body--desire to dance, goose-bumps, tears, a sense of something building. Most atonal music is only cerebral to me. So, I never really tracked what Emerson was doing. They were young! which is to say, roughly my own age. They are still roughly my own age, no longer young. Eugene Drucker and Philip Setzer  – violins. Lawrence Dutton – viola. Paul Watkins - cello, who replaced David Finckel in 2013 (I like David just fine, but he is really over-extended, and I'm glad he let this one go). And their musicality is a river and all its tributaries. The cellist is seated, as he has to be, and on a dais, so that his head is level with the other three, who all play standing. This lets them really lean into the music, really get free with the bow arm, almost dance themselves. First and second violins alternate 'chairs' between pieces, which has got to contribute to the cohesion of the group. They also generally synchronize their bowing, a beautiful thing to see with the music under it. The cellist has what looks like a lot of fun getting into the character of the music, facial expressions showing how he means. The violist does not play a particularly large instrument (I've seen some that look like young cellos) but has no trouble at all producing rich sound and big tone. A lot of play of the eyes among all four. And, I always love seeing as well as hearing the theme passed from instrument to instrument.

Yesterday they played Haydn's Quinten Quartet op. 76 no. 2. A beautiful, rigorous, well-seated job, made the music fresh. Then a hair-raising performance of Shostakovich's Quartet no. 10, composed in 1964. I had never listened to this work before, and it was thrilling. I hadn't known that music like this was being composed during my lifetime. The violist played the second movement roughly, fiercely. Faaantastic! I'm not big on standing ovations, but I jumped up for this one. The concert closed with Dvorak's "American" Quartet, something of a warhorse by now. Emerson played it like a hoedown. Whee.

There really is nothing, nothing, nothing, like hearing good music played live by dedicated musicians. I'm grateful that we have chamber concerts available within driving range.

Monday, September 7, 2015

More than meets the eyes for a Google surprise

I checked myself out in Google today. Never you mind why. It wasn't vanity. OK, I needed to know if a poem I wanted to submit would show up on a Google search--I had posted it on a message board for an on-line class. (It did not, by the way, so I'll send it out this afternoon.)

My first surprise:  my name generated more than 77,000 hits! Granted, only 180 or so were for my name, and not for some scattered combination of my name's three elements or for repetitions of the 180, but still pages and pages.

My second surprise:  poetry hits dominated. The psychology hits are fading off the screen. This is fine, as I have been retired from practice for nearly three years, and gave up my business phone number and address at that time; I haven't taught or supervised in a doctoral program for ten years, so no more listings linking me to staff in those settings.

My third surprise, the big one:  I have been reprinted and quoted and reviewed, and I never ever knew. I'll put some links right here:,_Karen_Greenbaum_Maya(

"Conductor" was a poem I could not get accepted for publication. I finally sent it to a blog about trains. Apparently it has been passed on from there without getting my permission, though to be fair, they always give me credit. Same thing for "Passing Through", a poem I wrote because I needed to write it. Another reference calls me "award-winning", something I never thought to apply to myself, though it is, technically, true. It's a big world out there.

Tuesday, August 18, 2015

Does size matter?

Forgive the tawdry title. Recently I read a piece by Adam Gopnik in the New Yorker, August 3, 2015. He is using the occasion of a reprinting of some Max Beerbohm's work to present Beerbohm as Proust manqué. He closes the piece by arguing that there are, really, no minor writers nor great writers, because the only thing that matters is whether a writer is read at all, and that everyone who is read at all is the same 'size'.

Several thoughts on this. My first reaction was very pleased: I often get blocked by judging before I write, namely, judging that what occurs to me is not "great". Which of course it isn't, and a criterion like that is a sure-fire silencer of my own idiosyncratic voice, whatever stature it may have. So, if I am read at all, I am 'great' enough. My second thought was that Gopnik may well be frustrated with his own topping out--that is, that he has risen about as far as he is going to rise. His books are pleasant, he is a regular staff writer at the New Yorker fer gawd's sake, he has written about Paris (which makes him dear to me), and he wrote a fine autobiographical piece, "Man Goes to See a Doctor" about his psychoanalysis, in which he confesses what his readers surely perceived, namely, that he is a narcissist who has some trouble remembering that he needs to make others interested.

And my third thought was, Well, isn't it pretty to think so. Major or minor, great or just OK, there are indeed great writers, and we are not those. We may be good-enough. We may be interesting enough, true enough to say what only we can say. It is a valuable development to be able to write despite not being great, and to be able to tolerate knowing this about ourselves.

Saturday, July 18, 2015

Room in the room: ten women I read

 Recently, another online poetry person challenged her readers to name ten writing women they liked to read. Many of the names were of great and well-known women. I had no trouble naming women who write, but I found that naming the women I actually read, regularly, did not produce the same list. So, I give you ten women, living and dead, whose work keeps speaking to me:

1. Hillary Gravendyk--Harm. Hillary lived the same town as I do. She died last year after many years of medical travail, including a failed lung transplant. Her book-length collection deals with griefs of the body as well as anything I could ever wish to write.

2. Mary Barnard--Sappho. Bernard attended, studied, and graduated from the same college as I did. To think that she performed these translations before she was 30 is to sit down hard and sigh. A small book packed with beauty. I keep it on my desk.

3. MFK Fisher--The Art of Eating. O Mary Francis, you write beauty, and you live beautifully, or at least give us hope of doing so. She opens to the reader a world of feeling-full bounty.

4. Virginia Adair--Ants on the Melon. Another resident of my town. She had lived in the shadow of her husband, a gifted history professor who inspired a generation of students and who committed suicide, but not until he had finished grading that semester's papers. Something wrong with that. She had got her work published before their marriage, then wrote, quietly, until friends sat with her and on her and got her to send poems out again. Immediate acceptance to the New Yorker. Her friends also worked with her through her later blindness, so she could edit and revise.

5. Karen An-Hwei-Li--Phyla of Joy. Ardor. In Medias Res. She packs a punch. I've heard her read. Go find, go find.

6. Wislawa Symborska--View in a Grain of Sand. She was a Nobelist. She wrote from points of view that made me say, over and over, "I wish I'd written that." Funny, heart-wrenching, true as an arrow.

7. Nickole Brown--Fanny Speaks. Another one I came across in a journal I was submitting to. Loved her so much I wrote to her. She sent me her book. I read it three-quarters through before I looked up. How often can you say this about a book of poetry? She was a delightful lunch guest when we gave her lunch before she read for Fourth Sundays. One of her dogs is named Oscar Wild.

8. Kay Ryan--brings the singsong back into poems, in a good way. Her rhymes and chimes surprise and arise to make her point--and there is always a point.

9. Lydia Davis--can't and won't. Prose poems, dreams, short shorts. She loves language(s). Kafka lives. Also, a smooth-reading translation of Proust. Just wow.

10. Hilary Mantel--Wolf Hall, Bring Up the Bodies, The Assassination of Margaret Thatcher. She can write about intelligent perceptive people because she is one. Wotta page-turner. I'll read anything she writes.

Saturday, July 4, 2015

When strange things start to emerge, part 2

Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, the great composer and detective, is waiting for his mid-morning repast of cherry muffins when he is visited by the great French detective inspector Charles LeChat. All the muffins have disappeared from Paris, and Inspector LeChat fears that the same fate is befalling Vienna. The culprit may be the nobleman, Don Pastrami, who has been known to sing as the great operatic tenor Apollo Grosso-Fortissimo. After exciting adventures and terrible musical puns, Mozart lures him out of hiding by playing the tiny violin that he played when he was five. Then the great and terrifying confrontation scene commences:

Mozart:  "Don Pastrami! I've come to get you!"

Don Pastrami:  "You'll never get me!"

M: "You are the awwwwwful mufffffin fieeeeend!"

DP: "I am!"

M: "Why did you take the muffins?"

DP:  "I did it. I felt like it. That's all."

M:  "You must have had a reason."

DP:  "I didn't have a reason. Go away."

M: "Tell me. Tell me why you took the muffins."

DP:  "No!"

M:  "Tell me!"

DP:  "No! "

M:  "Tell!"

DP:  "No!"

M:  ''Tell!  Tell!"

DP:  "No! No!"

M:  "At least shake show.........that you're not chiiiiiicken."

Truly one of the great scenes in opera, children's literature, or anywhere else.
--from The Muffin Fiend, Daniel Pinkwater. Lothrup, Lee & Shepherd, 1986

Friday, July 3, 2015

Lexus Verses & Flow, part 4: Diva diving in

 I didn't get the name of this gorgeous singer. Pamela Johnson? Jackson? Not Pamela at all? in any case, she is serious old-school, digging deep into her songs. Towards the end of the show, when they brought her back on to close things out, we the audience had become kinda tired, and weren't responding the way the sponsors liked to see. The emcee had her repeat her number, not once but twice. On the third run-through, she took matters into her own hands. "Everyone stand up now," she told us, and once we were on our feet, we responded all right, dancing in place, swaying arms overhead (some of us), looking like a live crowd come yet more alive, thanks to her music. I loved this one.

Wednesday, June 17, 2015

Verses and Flow 2015 by Lexus, part 3: Things I Can't Say

The warm-up emcee knew his crowd. Think about it:  you've pulled together a group of hip urban black people with enough money to be interesting to Lexus. They are out to have a good evening with friends, not necessarily to perform as a studio audience. The warm-up emcee has to gather them as a group into a group, get them having enough fun as a group to relinquish the people they came with. They've already been seated by prettiness or interestingness, cautioned about keeping purses off the very shiny tables. He starts off by miming how tacky it looks to be on TV caught chewing gum. Then he engages some of the more resistant (that is, not attending to him) audience members by the reliable insult-method. Hey man, what's all that? Blazer on top, Air Jordans on the bottom? You don't look comfortable, you just look confused. Then he starts his routine. The crowd loved it a lot. I kept thinking Damn, that's funny, but I could never say it. I mean, I'm a white woman just past middle age. I could not, would not even think of saying Lexus is a good car--faster than a runaway slave! I tried that one on for size, to see if my quoting it here would be racist. My method for doing that is to reconfigure the remark for Jewish people, my people. In this instance:  how would I feel if someone said, "That car is faster than a Jew escaping Dachau." Ya know, I would be fine with it. I would say, "That is one fast car." I hope I am right, because I am going to publish this post--now.

Sunday, June 14, 2015

Verses and Flow 2015, by Lexus: Pernickety work

Behind the Siren sound stage in Hollywood sits an unobtrusive trailer, sort of a truncated Aerostar with the sort of perforated metal steps you might associate with sneaking into a factory. The Aerostar houses the crew and equipment that produce the show. Last year the atmosphere was funky, like the saggy sofa over against a wall. (How did they ever get that thing through the doorway?) This year it is sleek and cool, like the efficient climate control that keeps crew and equipment from overheating while they scan every one of those screens in real time. Andrew-do-not-call-me-Andy explains that he has to choose views of performer and audience that convey the flow and mood of the performance and the audience's response, and set them in packages four to six minutes long, to allow for station ID and other FCC requirements. It is not simple to manage the mood and the length and the coherence all at once. Sometimes he gets it by shaving fractions of seconds from different shots. I commented that this sounded like pernickety work. Yes, it is! That is exactly the word I've been looking for! My cousin-escort informs me sardonically that the crew will not thank me, because now they will be hearing this word all day and night. Yes, but getting the right word is worth it. I take one red M&M from the hygienic plastic cup on the console.

Wednesday, May 27, 2015

Verses and Flow 2015, sponsored by Lexus, part 1

Ya gotta hand it to Lexus for sponsoring this performance series. This is the fifth season that they have presented half-hour shows of performance poets who know who they are and where they are from. The crowd trends under 40, black, and friendly. Thank you, Delvis, for offering me your seat when my heels overcame me, and for offering to get me a drink. It was another exhilarating event. Once again, the color was violet.

Poetry is alive and well and rocking at the Siren!

Wednesday, May 13, 2015

Not a good time, folks

I know I haven't posted anything new for a while. I haven't been writing, or noticing, much of anything. Our beloved cat Betty, lower pic, died last month of kidney failure. She was 17. She died in my arms, and I cried and cried. A month later, we acquired Freddie, first pic, an adorable 11-month-old tom, playful, affectionate, and smart. He is the only cat I've ever had who found his own toys, such as a shoelace and one of the smaller plush toys we keep for our grandson. We took him to the veterinarian today and learned that he has a horrible immune disorder, and that he will not be with us for very long. I can't do anything for him, and it is breaking my heart. Two cats gone in two months.

Saturday, April 25, 2015

On a non-writing topic, check out the Mar Vista Garden Showcase tour!

Just fyi, my son and daughter-in-law are included in the classy and ecologically savvy Mar Vista Garden Showcase. Fiona designed the yard, and Ted did a lot of the digging and planting. Their gardeners cleared out the horrible crabgrass and installed irrigation. Fiona cleverly chose plants that chime beautifully with the lavender-gray house paint. The house should have been designated a fixer-upper when they bought it, and they have been applying sweat-equity and thought to fix it up ever since.

This seems to be the only photo I have that shows their yard (albeit backyard). You can see where my interests are fixed, namely, on my grandson, sez his Nana.

Monday, April 13, 2015

Intimate under the oaks: poetry in the botanical garden

Alice Pero caught in uncharacteristic repose
Bruce Williams rocking the hat
Turns out Cati Porter reads with her eyes cast down down down

Cindy Bosquet Harris looking uncharacteristically serious--maybe she was putting it on?

Lavina Blossom consulting the oaks as she reads
shali Nicholson prefers her given name lower-case and her hair fuchsia-pink. So pretty.
 Karen Greenbaum-Maya, Cindy Bosquet Harris, Cati Porter, Alice Pero, Lavina Blossom

I just hosted a magical event in the Rancho Santa Ana Botanical Garden, a wonderful place where you see what California could be like if it had just a little more rain. Oaks, irises, milkweed; butterflies, towhees and finches; squirrels, rabbits, hawks. We read poems about Nature or Spring or the environment at five different places in this setting. My station was under old oaks, warm and cool, shady and dappled, quiet and alive with birdsong and wind in the many leaves. Above:  Alice Pero, Bruce Williams (rocking the hat), Cati Porter, Cindy Harris, Lavina Blossom, shali Nicholson (digging the hair), and a friendly group shot including me. Other readers as well. Also the sheltering oaks, an intimate setting where we immersed ourselves in poetry.

Wednesday, April 8, 2015

Yeah yeah, I know, I know

A few months ago I was diagnosed with a serious chronic disorder that is requiring blunt changes in what I eat, how much I exercise, and how many times daily I am fearful about my health. It's like a bad part-time job:  you don't get much back for all your work, it doesn't leave much for you to do what you enjoy, and you don't dare quit because you need the pay. What's more, I haven't written anything new since I got the diagnosis. I was grousing to my husband about this, and he responded compassionately. "Don't be so hard on yourself! Give yourself a break! It was a big shock to you. Besides, it's not as though editors were hounding you to send them work." Oh, don't I know it.

Tuesday, March 31, 2015

C'mon, c'mon, take a closer look

One of my mentors says that, if you really intend to get published, you should have at least 40 submissions out at all times. Right now I have 45. Of these, two have been out for 245 days, 60 days longer than the journal estimated. In fact, 30 of the 45 have been out longer than the editors estimated. Now, if those editors are holding on to the poems or photos because these are still in the running, well OK, but make up yer minds awready. C'mon! You're not keeping Lent, you're not chasing down or sweeping up chametz for Passover. You can do this. If you like what I sent you, accept it and let me know!!

Saturday, March 14, 2015

Happy Pi Day--the 3 Americas

1. There are three Americas. The first knows that today is Pi Day, and rejoices. The second doesn't know what you are talking about. The third doesn't know what you are talking about, and resents you for knowing and being happy about it.

2. In 1887, the Indiana State House of Representatives passed a bill setting the value of pi at 3.2. To be fair, this bill did not pass the other chamber.

3.The above photo is an example of squaring the circle, which cannot be done.

4. Chocolate makes all things possible. Below, an example of how pi can be square.