Thursday, December 15, 2016

Post-surgery notes from the cancer ward

My husband has been home from the hospital for six days, and is 13 days post-surgery. The surgeons believe they got everything--the mass, the nodes, the secondary lymph nodes. He is weak, and mostly incredulous at how weak he is. As he has been unobtrusively healthy his entire long life, he has never really experienced to what extent surgery in your body flattens you. The day of the surgery found high gusty winds, up to 55 mph, slamming trees against the windows of the waiting area. This made waiting even more unsettling than it already was.

Sunday, November 20, 2016

The Turing Test: a memory of mansplaining

I don't know why I recalled, this morning, an incident from 1983. I had recently been hired as a psychologist in a university counseling center. As new staff on a big campus, I decided to attend one of those well-intentioned social hours and get acquainted with some of the people outside my office. 

One guy approached me and we exchanged the usual identifications--degrees, schools, departments. He was in Computer Sciences. He asked me if I knew what the Turing Test was. Yes, I told him, I did know. He proceeded to explain it to me. Just so you know, the Turing test was proposed by Alan Turing, mathematician and problem-solver extraordinaire. In a 1950 paper entitled "The Imitation Game," Turing suggested that a test for intelligence in a computer would be to require that a human being should be unable to distinguish the machine from another human being by using the replies to questions put to both. I cannot remember whether or not I told the mansplainer that he had just flunked the Turing test.

Sunday, November 13, 2016

After the US election: Gore Vidal calls it in 1960

An oddly divided light on our bedroom ceiling

From Gore Vidal's 1960 play, The Best Man. Also a rather good movie after its successful run.

CANTWELL [conscience-less 'populist' candidate]
  I don't understand you.

RUSSELL [flawed but principled candidate]
  I know you don't. Because you have no sense of responsibility toward anybody or anything and that is a tragedy in a man and is a disaster in a President! You said you were religious. Well, I'm not. But I believe profoundly in this life and what we do to one another and how this monstrous "I," the self, must become "we" and draw the line at murder in the games we play with one another, and try to be good even when there is no one to force us to be good.

(CANTWELL rises. He speaks carefully, without rancor)
  You don't understand me. You don't understand politics and the way it is and the way this country is and the way we are. You are a fool.

  We're not the way you think we are. At least not yet.

Friday, October 14, 2016

It's a Book! Part 2: The Book of Knots and their Untying is here--and ready for you

At last. After nine years of writing and who can say how many years of living, my first book length collection has been published by Karen Kelsay of Aldrich Press. You can get it through Amazon (click the link) or I can mail you a signed and dedicated copy. You can pay through PayPal at btw, thanks to Lynn Maya for wearing the shoes that provided me with the cover photo.

If you wish, click on the link at the upper left, just for the hell of it, and read the truly kind and generous things that Richard Garcia, Charlotte Davidson, and, David Ebenbach have written about my poems.

Below, the title poem:

Knots and Their Untying 

See how easy others write of knots.
Books show pliant ropes
lying over and under. Loaded knots
cannot be undone by crushing.
Always the challenge, pulling against holding.  

For mathematicians there are no knots, only
the counting of loops and crossings.
All knots are Gordian, made to slice.
Knot knuckle netting knitting: 
not one related to another.
Sounds entwined
yet nothing ties the words together. 

I learned knots that would not hold
in the enduring mystery
of tying my shoes.
Others found it easy, quick.
My unclever fingers worked
to manage the weaving.
Hold pinched what you cannot see.
Pull tight, not too soon, not too slow.

Untying a knot, easy
as talking to people who do not listen.
Persuade the fold to release both parts,
though the center promises to hold forever
against tugging and anger, hunger and haste.
Each knot works to be one though it is two,
two moving back to back,
mirrored without looking,
craning to catch the other pretending to oneness.

Tie a knot for memory, to outwit
the gap between you and your desire
when it eludes you, reminds you
             it is not you     it is not yours   
You are not the string around your finger,
holding close what wants to flee.
Step out of your shoes, unbind your feet.
Time to walk away.

I am very very pleased also to note that this poem received a Special Merit award in the (prestigious) Muriel Craft Bailey Memorial poetry contest sponsored by Comstock Poetry Review. I made it to the top 10! out of more than 1000 entries!!

Monday, October 10, 2016

After the second debate. Warning: heavy irony ahead

Five reasons why I don't mind if Trumpkin gets elected:

1. His posture reminds me of a bear. That's good, right?

2. I grew up with people telling me lies that I was supposed to believe. Just like home!

3. I grew up with people threatening me with violence if I did the right thing. Ah, nostalgia...

4. Similarly, ad hominem arguments are reassuringly familiar.

5. I have always enjoyed Canada.

6. He reminds me viscerally of an abusive ex. It's *good* for me to deal with my PTSD on this.

Essentially, my husband and I are keeping as still as possible until Election Day. To change the taste in our minds after this debate, we watched The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari auf Deutsch. Nothing like a German Expressionist silent movie about a psychopathic director of an old-school insane asylum to lighten the mood.

Above, a friendly French poubelle on a Sunday morning after a solid night's entertaining in the quartier. Note how the bottles are helpfully stood up, rather than flung around to show how some people are too special to follow rules.

Tuesday, September 27, 2016

Found poems from the Los Angeles Times, Kids' Reading Room

Taken at the Metropolitan Museum in New York City in 2007, after a parent in another room called, "You get your brother in here, now!" This photo was published in Caesura.

I found both these writing samples in the Creativity Corner of the LA Times' dedicated kids' page. It takes a certain kind of ambition from someone, not necessarily the child, to submit a kid's writing here. I read them as found poems, requiring nothing from me except presentation.

       I am the smartest in my family. I believe that I am the prettiest in class. I want to be the richest person in the world.

       I feel that I am not the best at sports. I wonder if I am a good friend. I worry about my family when they get hurt. I am the smartest in my family.

       I understand I am not the smartest in my class. I try to be the funniest in my family. I hope to get better in math. I am the smartest in my family.
                                                                          --Stephanie, 8

I suspect that Stephanie's class was given a Sentence-Completion exercise, whether to inspire writing or for some other purpose. For me, her reiteration of "smartest in (her) family gains poignancy each time.

Next, on Yale:

          Yale is old, but not as old as Harvard. Yale has a church. Yale is a fun place. Yale is a university where I want to go. It is hard to get into Yale. I like it because of the challenges it poses. I like Yale because it is a smart school.
                                                                          --Dennes (no age given)

I wish I could achieve the artless juxtaposition of this kid, trying to write about something he doesn't understand. He reminds me of Donald Barthelme. I'm surprised that the teacher didn't catch the 'borrowing' of "challenges it poses." I confess that I completed the sentence stem "Yale is old, but..." with "...not as old as yo mama."

Monday, August 29, 2016

Quote of the week, August 2016

"I don't want to be realistic--it hurts!"
--Overheard at a coffee place, where else?

Monday, August 8, 2016

This is very very rude.

Fantastic mural in San Francisco summer 2016

Someone asked me if I had a lot of time on my hands. Not particularly, but I was trying to find a different title for a new chapbook, and thought maybe anagrams might loosen me up. They didn't, nor for the title, but while I was there, I tried out some other names, including Donald James Trump. More than 18,000 came up; these caught my eye:

Madam Splendor Jut
Dreamland Jump Sot
Mandates Lord Jump
Adman Retold Jumps
Madder Sunlamp Jot
Traded Salmon Jump
Majored Slant Dump
Laden Stardom Jump
Deals Mordant Jump
Modal Rants Jumped
A Rant Molded Jumps
Deadpans Jolt Mr. Um
Ram Pudenda, Jolt Ms.
Ram Dad Pen Jolts Um
Rump Adman Sold Jet
Rump Adds Mean Jolt
Damned Pol Arms Jut
Damned Pol Smut Jar

Sunday, July 31, 2016

How fast does a wildfire move?

As we drove out of Los Angeles on our way to San Francisco, we saw a wildfire just getting started. All but the last photo are taken from a moving car. Time elapsed between the first four is roughly 2 minutes each. The final photo is taken about 30 miles and 40 minutes after the first. As you can see, smoke from the fire has spread to cover most of the horizon. Here is how to read the smoke:  the initial black is soot from the burgeoning fire; the white is steam from the plants that still had a bit of moisture but had it boiled out by the flames; the final dirty white/pale gray is the drape of ash spreading over the landscape. This was in the general area of the Sand fire. When we drove back six days later, the fire was only 40% contained. The air made me cough, hard, every time we got out of the car.

Tuesday, July 12, 2016

More neologisms: riffing on Brexit and Grexit

I'm not crazy about the neologisms BREXIT and GREXIT, so the least I can do is piggyback on them:

DETEXIT: When Columbo seems to give up on the perp and leaves the room, then pops back in with 'just one more little thing.'

ANOREXIT: counter-protest and work-stoppage by unhealthily thin models.

AMEXIT: the break-up of Costco and American Express....

WREXIT: leaving after invading somewhere and really destroying the country.

Sunday, July 10, 2016

I know I've been gone a while

There was the family vacation with two kids under 4, and my daughter-in-law's mother, whom I adore, but it got to be a lot of people. However, I did teach her the meaning of the word tchotchkes, of which our rented house was full. This is the stag's head, and the wooden sculpture of a hand, that greeted us when we walked in.

Then my computer went mute and dark. Our resident savior, Dr. Bob, managed to save all my files, but I didn't have access to them until yesterday. This with the promise of a book getting published in October, if I could get all the materials in by July 15.

Now the computer is back, as are my files. Now I get to reenter every password and upload every program I use regularly. Yes, I'm complaining. Yes, I'm glad to be back.

Thursday, June 9, 2016

The Dragon Speaks

It says it's ART

This morning in June, the skies are overcast and pleasantly gloomy. Within a week we'll have temperatures in the 90s (that's Fahrenheit; in the 30s Celsius). But June and gloom remind me of a poem I came up with using Dragonspeak.

Do you remember Dragonspeak, a program for transmuting spoken input into written word? I think it must have been named for Robert Heinlein's Sir Isaac Newton, a Venusian 'dragon' who carried around a 'voder' that gave simultaneous translation of 'his' Venusian speech into English. Also, dragons, right?

You will not be surprised to read that I consider myself well-spoken, not only articulate but also clear-spoken, properly-pronounced, articulate. Yeah, consider all you want, Karen. Dragonspeak had to be trained, which is to say corrected, to account for individual differences in pronunciation. I set out confidently declaiming Shakespeare's Sonnet 18:  "Shall I compare thee to a summer's day?" Dragonspeak came back with something very different. I tried again, enunciating the hell out of that puppy. What came back was not the same, but was no better.

I confess:  I got annoyed. I started mocking the program, reading back to it what it have me. This made for an interesting positive feedback loop, where my input reflected and (apparently) heightened Dragonspeak's particular algorithm.

What follows below is a section of that bout of petulance, that fit of pique. I would say that it almost means something. It is found, in the sense that I did not change the order of words nor add words, though I did add punctuation. This was one of four poems published in the now-defunct Status Hat Artzine, in the March 2011 issue on Tools, edited by Mojie Davis

I go a little, fall again, but you are here. There is you, meaning a pain, pain and ravine. You are the root of the year. Usually you are here, and so am I. I am in boot camp, easy on you. I love the movie of the June forlorn. I’d utilize one written word (you name it ) in young orange. In pinyu Hang Zhou was written:  one. You were one. In Asia, words mean pain. Gone, and here’s to dwell on:  breathe together every night, until each breath is his. You know you exude those you lose. A savior shocked into flying will save your new moon. Stay cool and unknown. The flaw in downfall never owned old clocks    not Yuma    not Omaha    not Houston no more. Something clean is in that country. Be gone, safety. It comes to be a symptom. Newfound fame was stones seeking family, compensating soaking sleep of time. It was stones, good enough to say goodnight.

Thursday, May 26, 2016

It's a Book!

Or at least, it's going to be a book. Right now it's a couple of file folders and a Word file, entitled The Book of Knots and Their Untying. It is also the latest addition to the Aldrich Press, whose editor, Karen Kelsay, offered me publication Monday. Now I have a raft of new tasks:  develop a cover photo (the above photo is the first mock-up, but I'm not done yet); solicit blurbs from the more esteemed poets of my acquaintance (two refusals already, well, I didn't have to wait very long); get ready to set up readings once I get a publication estimate.

And also try to answer in my heart:  is it good enough? Am I a good enough writer to have a book? I have had reverence for books ever since I knew what they were. I was never a kid who scribbled on printed pages. I thought Doctor Doolittle was real because he was in a book. (Okay, I got past that one.) Maybe a writer is one who writes, as a dancer is one who dances. Maybe good enough needs to be replaced by what W.S. Merwin said in an interview about artists:  "Now is the time to do what only I can be doing."

Friday, May 6, 2016

AWP 2016, part 5: some images

I wish I had not seen this man, so obviously discharged from some hospital to Skid Row.
Pretty sure Baudelaire had something like this in mind.
Sad yet darkly comical vision of someone carefully pacing off 85 feet.
The Braille tells the story, however.

Monday, May 2, 2016

AWP 2016, part 4: Nowhere to hide

Fatigue or despair, who knows?

Who knows, really, what is happening in other people? I was at the Book Fair, staffing the booth of Inlandia, a journal and arts collective of the Inland Empire of California. Yes, seriously. I chatted with people who were there to sign their books, I took money and gave change, and all the while I watched this young man drifting around the booth across the aisle. He picked up an item or two and glanced through, put them back. Suddenly he crouched, then sat on the ground. He huddled into himself and, apparently, fell asleep. Intrusively and carefully I watched him. No signs of sobbing or sighing. Also no inclination to seem the marginally more comfortable chairs or benches scattered around the Convention Center. He was still there when I left 30 minutes later. We will never know.

Thursday, April 7, 2016

AWP 2016, part 3: introverts rampant

See, you got some 20,000 people (I think) roaming all over, up and down the escalators and stairs and over from the Los Angeles Convention Center to the Marriott Hotel, approximately next-door but only by Los Angeles standards (my phone app claims that I walked six miles the first day), and I would guess that more than the usual proportion are introverts. So, you have many people getting very excited at making social contact, very nice, but people who then require some quiet time to replenish.

Some people found islands of quiet in noisy places. Some resorted to the Emily Dickinson Quiet Space. That is, the people who were able to find it. I did find it; it was mostly empty, which was fine, but it was also cold and white, a small banquet room, which was weird. Ten large round tables with ten hard chairs at each one; each table used by only one person; people who jumped and glared when I sneezed, or clicked. No photos came out, btw; what is there to show about starched linen? I had hoped for comfy chairs, even a sofa or two. At least I could prop my chin on my hands and shut my eyes. And I swear:  I have never seen so many blank books in one smallish space, particularly being scribbled into diligently.

Sunday, April 3, 2016

AWP 2016, part 2: cardboard cutouts are people too.

This lovely black and white stand-up cutout smiled back at me as I stood talking to the editors of diode. They thought I was snapping a shot of them and obligingly posed and smiled. My actual subject remained unselfconscious and elegant.

Stand-up cardboard cutouts were a popular booth accessory all over the Book Fair. Here, Mountie with obligatory mustache at the booth for University of British Columbia's creative writing program.

Wednesday, March 30, 2016

AWP 2016: Is it better in Los Angeles?

This photo shows the view from our 7h floor room in Seattle, 2014, at the AWP conference. Or is it convention? I was awake at 4 am because I had broken out in hives 2" across the night before, and had been prescribed PREDNISONE by one of Seattle's Urgent Care centers. Hives itch demoniacally, besides looking scary, and the MD on call gave me IV Benadryl as well as Prednisone. My retired pediatrician publisher, Sammy Greenspan, thought they were a reaction to something I ate, but my GP at home shook his head and said, "Stress can do it all by itself." This year the convention is in Los Angeles, some 45 miles down the road from me. All nearby hotel rooms were booked pretty much instantly, so I'm commuting from home by train and bus (or cab or Lyft, whatever). It will be two very long days without a real break for lunch, and I'll be out of the house pretty much from dawn to dusk. O how convenient a nearby room would be, for a midday nap. There will be no midday nap unless I snatch one in the Emily Dickinson Quiet Room (not making this up). Many panels sound really good, but if they disappoint, there's always the Book Fair, or texting a friend and seeing what they are up to. I'll be back soon or later with photos and reports of odd moments.

Sunday, March 13, 2016

*~*P I*~*~*~* D A Y*~*

In case you're wondering, it's an apple pie.


The basic settings on Windows 10

do not include a graceful symbol for pi.

Happily, Wikipedia has one.

Image result for symbol pi

Much better. Happy Pi Day!

May all you squares become a little bit irrational.

May all you circles go on forever.

May we all extend from our centers.

Friday, February 26, 2016

One is not the other, part 1

Nosy insects and one large snail

Deforestation may disappear if we don't all do our part

You've probably seen the T-shirt reading "I am silently correcting your grammar." I do that. I also flinch when people use one word but clearly mean another similar-sounding word. I think it comes from learning the words only by listening and not by reading. That is the charitable explanation; other days, I think it comes from wanting to be impressive, wanting to make an impression, more than from meaning what you are saying. Hall of annoying examples:

1. uninterested for disinterested. Disinterested is having no stake in the outcome. Uninterested is not being interested. Antonin Scalia often failed to recuse himself from cases in which he had an interest, in which he was not disinterested. Clarence Thomas often looks uninterested, as when he seems not to be paying attention. You may want the executor of your will to be disinterested. Your heirs will want them not to be uninterested.

2. decimate for, oh, slaughter, annihilate. Decimate meant originally to kill one out of every ten. Still does, with metaphorical leeway on the killing. There remain nine to behold the dead one. Ebola did not decimate populations; it killed nine out of ten, leaving but the one. Those communities were not decimated. It was much much worse than that.

3. livid for enraged, furious, boiling mad. Thing is, livid means pale. To be pale with rage is to be coldly, even chillingly angry, ready to act, not impulsively. Most of the time, we are red with rage, ready to do something harsh (and possibly but not necessarily stupid).

That's enough for now. I'll store up some more as they occur. Oh, this is so much better than merely *thinking* the correction.

Tuesday, February 9, 2016

Excellent party favors R us

Sunday 7 February 2016 I was a featured reader at a new poetry series, sponsored by Inlandia and held at Canyon Crest Winery in Riverside, California. To do us honor, or just to be really nice, the winery printed up souvenir labels and bestowed this bottle of pinot noir on me. RL Stevenson said that wine is bottled poetry, but I didn't expect to be the varietal. Thanks, Cati Porter, Judy Kronenberg, Lisa Henry, and Mark who sold the books. A pertinent poem from Napa Writers Conference last summer:

Wine is bottled poetry
–Robert Lous Stevenson

Hah says the poet
Sour grapes says the vintner

Thursday, February 4, 2016

Today is the day

For those of you who groove to such things, note:
today embodies  2=16 . In April we get another one, and then, not until 2025. Good vibrations.

Tuesday, January 26, 2016

You need this word, part 4

We have nouns, single words, for things getting better:  improvement, advance. But I don't know a lone word--not an expression, not an idiom--for things getting worse, especially when the worsening is a result of making a so-called improvement, and I think we need one. I propose  d e p r o v e m e n t for the noun, d e p r o v e for the verb.

For example, I just reluctantly installed Windows 10 in my PC. I gave in because many of the programs I use were getting interrupted, which is to say disrupted. Then Microsot would inform me (rather snottily, I thought) that these programs were no longer compatible with whatever, and that my problems would be solved if I would only accept the Dark Side. I didn't and don't want most of the new features; I'm not fond of getting tracked, and I would gladly sacrifice ease to keep privacy. Well, Windows 10 is in, and I don't like it. I can't set up the appearance that I prefer, all sorts of things keep popping up when I'm trying to do the task I sat down to do, and MS keeps shouldering in with programs and pages that I don't want. For me, it's a solid deprovement.

Sunday, January 10, 2016

You need this word, part 3

You know when you go into the kitchen to get something, and you forget what it is? and you have to go back through the doorway, maybe even back to the point in the house where you started, before you recall what you were going after? and when you get into the kitchen again, you forget it again, except maybe this time you keep going in a particular direction, opening the refrigerator door, or a cupboard door, and you stare like a stoner, and you really don't know what you are looking for, and finally on the third try, by repeating to yourself silently or out loud what the thing is, you achieve the kitchen and you still know what it was, and it was vaguely in the direction you were going but not in the refrigerator nor in that particular cupboard? The word for that is Kitchenheimer's.