Tuesday, September 22, 2015

I want 'true love' she said...


Sorry.  Let me start again.

Gevalt.  I guess it just starts with gevalt. And with me rolling my eyes, which is downright mean, I suppose, given that this is a good friend I'm talking about.

"What's wrong?" I asked, "you look sour." Okay, not my best conversation starter, but it was the best that I could do. And the most polite I was likely manage.

She started crying. And she had reason to cry. Someone close to her had died recently. But this look wasn't that. Sour. That's what I called it.

"I don't have true love," she said. "Like you do." And she wasn't referring to my current partner.

Huh?  And that's a big 'huh?'

Here's where I'm about to sound incredibly cold and callous. And stupid.

Do people really cry over such things? Never once in my life have I thought about the notion of 'true love.' I always thought it was a construct for the movies. Princess Bride, and the like. And even there, they're pretty much making fun of it. At least, that's what I thought.

At any rate, I was shocked by this, and I'm sorry to say it put me on a bit of a tirade, of the usual kind.

"What are you talking about?" I said. "I don't do 'true love.' I do road trips."

She gave me that look of incomprehension, and so I went on a bit. Here's what I do, and it has nothing to do with 'true love' —or I think, 'love' of any kind. I do:

crossroads: when you meet someone, and it's this moment, a juncture, and the two of you make that incredibly hard transition take place. This was the one she was calling 'true love'—it was standing in the crossroad with someone who needed to go the opposite direction. It wasn't about permanence, or holding on, or staying together. None of that. It was about crying, wailing really, in the crossroads, being afraid to cross over to the other side.

parallel roads: this one's really nice. Moving along in the same direction, but not quite on the same path. This one can be short or long. The most I've managed is two or three decades worth. But eventually, something else happens—because parallel roads can get boring after a while and you can reach a

dead end: dead ends aren't bad, really. When I was a kid I used to ride the busses all over the place wanting to see what the end looked like. I always liked knowing the end. When I read, I read the end first. Movies, I read the reviews first. It's not that everything stops at a dead end, it's that you get to

u-turn: and look at the same road, but from the other side. And it's funny, now the other side of the road feels so different. Coming might have been filled with expectation, surprise, a little fear, and  a lot of adventure. You thought the road would look a certain way. But it just doesn't. Leaving feels great! You've mastered this road. You know it well. Been there, done that—and hopefully, it was a good road, a really good one. It's not that you were a tourist, exactly, but

timed lights: at a certain point, you were hitting all the lights at exactly the right speed. Which meant that you couldn't see anything new anymore, because all you're thinking about is making the next milestone at exactly the right moment. Think of those folks with their five-year plans... or longer. They want all the lights to line up, they're just zipping through checking off the milestones. Worst part about it is they can be completely

derailed: when the lights don't line up in accordance with their expectation. Well, I really like stop lights. They give me a chance to look around and appreciate the landscape. And I like being

just a passenger: sometimes. Because I really have gotten tired of

doing all the driving: I had this dream once. This omen, really. In the dream, I was trying to drive my husband's car and my car at the same time. Which I was perfectly capable of doing, apparently. But one of the cars rebelled—I think it was mine—and started driving itself. And as we struggled for control, my car took over, and backed us over a ledge and down into the depths of the 7th Avenue reservoir. And we (my car and I) sank. And as the water started to fill around me, I didn't struggle or try to escape. I said, with relief: "I forfeit."  And that was the end of that. I think we call that a

car wreck: and car wrecks can do a lot of permanent damage. And it's hard to get back on the road again. And you have to make a really big change.

And you find yourself back at the crossroads...

So. Don't speak to me about 'true love.'

But. I've been on some quite beautiful roads. And what they say is true: It is the journey and not the destination that makes 'it' all worthwhile.

Monday, September 21, 2015

once upon a time there was a cool day with breezes...

"Tell it again," they said—

Just one more time.

So.  Okay.

Once upon a time, there was a cool day with breezes. The ocean waves rose and fell, and you could stand on the cliff and watch whales playfully spouting on some days, And on other days, you could see dolphins leaping in unison like ballerinas.  Only in their proper seasons, of course. But it did happen, I swear.

Fisherman hung out in little clumps on certain auspicious spots upon the beach. They caught real fish and carried home three and four footers that didn't quite fit inside their red and white coolers.

The sand was white with specks of mica gleaming, In some places it was so spotless white that even in the sun it was cool to your feet.  In those days, you could walk barefoot upon the beach. I know you don't believe me but it's true. Sand wasn't black and glossy then.   And it didn't leave sticky smears on the bottom of your feet if you walked without footwear at the ocean's edge.

Children collected sand dollars, and made sure not to step on the occasional jellyfish. That too, in their own season. Kids could sit directly on the sand for hours at a time making sand castles with motes that ran with water  each time the tide came in. Or  they'd bury each other up to the neck in the cool, clean sand. They'd even taste the sand sometimes, not believing it was salty.

You could walk for miles without seeing swarms of flies busying themselves around the rotting seagulls, seals, and things called whales. A walk for the most part without the stench of death.

Sure, everything does die, of course, somehow, somewhere. Just not all at once, and not all together in piles—or strewn in lines that run for miles upon the shore.

There were long strands of seaweed with bulbous heads that we could whip around and play with, turn into instruments, or braid into baskets. It was okay to bring them home, let them dry, and even give them away as presents. We could put fruit in seaweed baskets and keep them on the kitchen table.  And they weren't poison.

"You know the rest," I said, "about the glass and plastic bottles that weren't there, the cardboard wrappers, and paper coffee cups and plastic bags—that did not exist and did not blow about and sink beneath the sea..."

I know you don't believe me. And it's not a proper story, after all. For how can you tell a tale of things that weren't there?

"I like that story," one of them said. "It's funny."

Wednesday, July 22, 2015

blindness at the break of dawn

I had this panic attack, I think that's what they're called.  A real first.  It was about a month ago, one 5:00 AM or so.  My usual time for waking up and worrying about the seas rising. Trying to calculate whether I live in the flood zone or out of it. And by how much either way. Worrying about liquefaction.  Yup, I worry about things like that. Worry about whether I can pay my bills, balance the checkbook to the penny, live long enough to prosper.  I'm really good at worry.  But not panic.

This was a panic attack.  A real one.

It was about blindness.  My eyes have been misbehaving more and more of late. And in the place of my usual global-sized concerns came this quite visceral and personal one.  I contemplated life without sight, and what that might be like, and whether I would be willing to live that life., or let life go. I thought of every single thing in the world that I'd have to give up.

Could I live without color?  I really wasn't sure I'd be willing to try. I thought of every pleasure in my life, and every drop of it for me was visual.  Petty little things. Like hiking on the cliffs, picking fruit in the market, driving.  I included driving—and I hate driving. But it made for a good panic.

Got into a disagreement (too short to call a fight) with my partner's mother over dinner not long ago.  Or maybe it was breakfast.  Something I made, and I apologized.  It didn't look right.

"As long as it tastes good," she said. And I begged to differ.  How could it taste good if it wasn't beautiful?

And we dropped the subject. It would not have been a fruitful question to explore.

So. The panic.

I should note, that even now as I write, my eyes are starting to fail.  I'm not sure if I can finish this post before the screen fades completely before my eyes. Solution: I'll keep it short. Very short.

Went to the eye doctor, and what did he say? Cataracts still 'not visually significant' but getting there. And okay, so panic gone. Something can be done about it, right?

And the panic went away, making me feel silly. And selfish. I had panicked over something so personal, rather than something larger than the self. I felt ashamed.

But in my panic, I visualized life without sight. Right down to the minutest of details. I practiced, even. Waking up and going through the morning rituals with my eyes closed.  A shower's not so bad, unless the bar of soap slips out of your hand. Then it's a bit more treacherous...

A couple days ago, someone I hold dear went suddenly blind. And she may or may not regain her sight. She did not panic. She faltered. It was more than her sight she was losing. Her platelets were rebelling against platelets. An autoimmune disease.I find it all so inexplicable. There is no why.

She's handling it with such grace, except for the eyedrops she must endure every four hours. She's relying on other senses to get her by until her malady passes.  And I insist it must, it must pass. And she must live. And I look at her, and all I want for her is life. And she shows me how it can be done.

They key, of course, is that she's surrounded by so much love. Humans who adore her more than anything else in the world. She is cared for. Protected. And most of all, adored. She has those loving bodies curled up next to her, warm against her skin. The love wards off panic and fear, and maybe some of the confusion. She's calm. And greeting each and every moment.

And I? I'm a bit jealous.


I'm not proof reading this. The blur and haze are setting in for the night...

Saturday, June 13, 2015

les troyens —the trojans, more or less

Okay.  Now that I've sat through the whole 5 ½ hour opera that Berlioz wrote and composed, I get to forever more call it by its French name, Les Troyens, instead of The Trojans. And of course, I never have to see it again.  Which is not to say that I didn't like it enough to see again (which I didn't), but rather that it is unlikely to be produced in its entirety ever again in my lifetime, at least in San Francisco.

My worries about Les Troyens started before we even got there. I was hoping they'd skip the whole dying soprano thing. But no. Long-winded female suicides started even before the first intermission.  And the really long-winded soprano suicide, well—we had to wait 5 hours to get to that one.

Berlioz was obsessed with telling this story since his dad read to him about Troy when he was a kid. So. It just festered until he finally got to write a version for himself (words and music both). Clearly a work of love. Only I think nobody told him that works of love require an editor. A really brutal editor. I think the first two or three acts could have been taken care of in about 5 minutes.  Ten minutes, tops.  But Berlioz really wanted us to suffer along with everyone else in the production.

I started suffering long before we found parking. Mostly about whether I could make it through the whole thing without running out to go pee. Turned out that was on a lot of people's minds. The silver-haired set predominate at the opera.

The curtain finally opens. And I'm already confused. Everyone's dressed in clothes from the wrong period. So. Clearly, I say to myself,  this opera is supposed to be a parable about something. But the program said nothing about it. And I didn't do my homework early enough to already know. Looks like the 1850s to me. I figure, Troy. Hm, that's Turkey. 1850's the Ottoman Empire was strong, but also just starting to fall apart. The Tanzimat reforms at that time tried to raise enough money to keep the Empire going... Maybe it's a commentary about the fall of the Ottoman Empire? But, no—the Empire hadn't fallen yet. And Berlioz wasn't that prescient, was he?

Trying to figure out the time period got me through the first couple of acts. And already a bunch of suicides, Cassandra's being the most prominent.

Turns out it wasn't entirely an Ottoman parable, but  a commentary on the Crimean War. Which did have something to do with the Ottomans. But also the Russians (apparently, they lost), the French and the British. During the first intermission the place lit up in iPhones tuned to Wikipedia trying to figure out the same thing.  Now, I'm pretty fuzzy about the Crimean War in the 1850's—but didn't Putin just invade and take over Crimea. Again?

So. Berlioz was on to something.

Needless suffering. That's what opera is about. And this opera is full of it. Needless to say, all the main female characters reminded me of my mother. Especially when they're groveling on the stage floor, tearing their hair out and threatening suicide.

There's also a lot of steampunk touches. The Trojan Horse, piles of military crap lying around here and there, and a giant Trojan Warrior that's meant (I think) to be heroic, but has a prominent cable holding up its arm. Very broken marionette. Very distracting.

I didn't think I was going to make it past the first intermission. But I thought I'd be brave and try. At Act III I was rewarded grandly when the curtain lifted onto an enormous North African ksar, or citadel—nicely accurate, at least for the northern Sahara—though I'm not sure Carthage ever looked like that. Still. It was beautiful! Finally some color! No more drab Crimean War steampunk and gray, but just the right reds and yellows and greens and stripes, and Berber tattoo patterns on the mud walls of the ksar.  I was a happy camper.  And so were the (entirely new) set of characters. Sweetness and joy and beauty and generosity ensued for a brief moment in time. At least until the Trojans hit town. After that, it's more rending, needless torment, and even more needless female suicide.

So. What I learned is that thinking about the fall of the Ottoman Empire can get me through more than an hour of drab scenery and singing. And the sight of something blatantly North Africa after all these years still instantly brings me joy. A ksar on the stage of the San Francisco Opera House can keep me staying put for 5 ½ hours, no problem.

The entirety of Les Troyens—and maybe all operas—really ought to be rewritten. By women. Not to supplant all the great operas out there. But as just plain antidote.

Saturday, February 7, 2015

spanish boots of spanish leather

Her name was Liz, and she scared me. I admired her too, but she scared me tons.  Tons being the operative word.  I had never met anyone obese before.  Wildly, actively obese.  Or whatever the word is that comes after 'obese.'  'Morbidly obese' is probably right, but that's not what she died from.

Liz was the most brilliant woman I'd ever met.  She was wildly, actively brilliant.  It was the 1970s, and she had started a women's newspaper in Detroit.  And as I recall, it was wildly, actively subversive for the times.  And certainly for the place.

I admired her wildly. Actively. Fearfully. I knew I'd never have the energy or inclination to be that innovative, progressive, radical, and whatever word comes after 'radical.'  Libertarian is probably right. In the old sense. No one. Ever. Should impede her.

She was a powerhouse.

So this would be the moment to say "But—" and start telling you why she scared me so much. And that's what I was about to do. But. I remember more.

Her husband was a sweet and tolerant man. At peace with himself in many ways. Like someone who meditates. Not like someone who smokes too much weed. I admired him, too.

But this is all beside the point. Brilliant. Feminist. Those were the parts I admired in her.

It was the screaming, raging, and fressing that terrified me. Watching her interact with food. Watching the food fly. Watching it shoveled. Watching it fall all over her body. Watching it hit the floor.

She was a very angry woman.

And she was also by far the most interesting person I had met in my three years in Detroit.

And this, too, is prologue.

At a certain point not long after our sojourn in Detroit, she became quite ill. Terminal, in fact. Cancer.

Let me step back a few years. To pre-Detroit. To hitchhiking around Europe with my officially sanctioned, mother-vetted  'boyfriend' at the time. To Madrid. To the most beautiful store window I'd ever seen. A mannequin dressed in black, covered in an antelope cape and matching antelope knee-high boots.

Spanish boots of Spanish leather.

And me, with all my travel money in hand for the whole of my summer travels before having to return Stateside. After a year abroad. And a war. So. The year must have been 1967. I was 19 years old. There were no credit cards. There was lots of Dylan. That song had been on the first album of his I had ever heard and owned. The Times They Are a-Changing. From 1964.

You couldn't ignore an image like that. Spanish boots...

And so. I spent my small fortune on an antelope cape and matching boots of Spanish leather. And as a result, by Athens I had promptly run out of money, ended up in Constitution Square looking for a hitchhiking partner to finish my travels on the cheap. Instead, I met the 'him' who would many years later be the father of my children.

That's what those boots mean to me. And the antelope cape as well.

But y'know. You come home at last from your travels. And who the hell is gonna wear such things? An antelope cape better suited for a matador. With matching boots. A line of silver frou-frou down the sides. Gevalt. What had I been smoking?

I never wore them. Might of put them on once or twice, and taken them all right off a second or two later.

It was the first time I thought about consumerism (a word that did not yet exist). It was the first time I read about conspicuous consumption. And the weird thing is, I owned next to nothing at the time. Which made the possession of these luxuries even more ludicrous.

She wanted them. Liz, that is. The raging, fressing, ranting, brilliant feminist. She wanted to be buried in Spanish boots of Spanish leather. She wanted to be buried in an antelope cape.

And I thought, well yes. Let me bury my own indulgences with her.  And never ever ever be that impulsive and consumptive ever again.  A fitting tribute. A fitting farewell.

And then credit cards were invented.

Thursday, January 1, 2015

malkah looks in the mirror on new year's day: a fairy tale

So.  When Malkah was a girl she identified heavily with Snow White.  Little abused girl, sent off to scrub the floors and dishes, dust and mow. Whatever needed doing, there'd be a note for her day's tasks attached to a magnet on the fridge.  Her mother, the witch, aka Mrs Tzaddik, spent her days looking in the mirror wearing nothing but a silken slip.  She also answered the door that way.  Think Mrs Robinson. Very scary.

But Malkah grew up and had a daughter of her own. And vowed she'd be the opposite of her bipolar narcissistic infantile maternal unit.  Such was her hatred, fear, and yes, loathing.  And Malkah's daughter, Anat, was beautiful.  Oh so beautiful.  And the more beautiful her daughter grew, the more Malkah decided that she herself must fade and let her daughter shine.

On New Year's Day, the yahrzeit of Mrs Tzaddik, Malkah at long last looked in the mirror. And what she saw was downright hideous. Frightening. And unhealthy. After years of making sure she was no competition for anybody, she had succeeded beyond her wildest dreams.

The story of Snow White, it turned out,  was not just about the curse of narcissism, but also a lot about the post-menopausal freak-out that follows beauty's inevitable fall. At least as seen in one's own mirror.

But a strange thing happened in this tale of ours.  Malkah's beautiful daughter was not another feudal princess locked in a tower or hounded through the inhospitable forest. No. She was astute and thoughtful, and sought after health rather than beauty. And immersed in the health-paradigm as she was, and being a little Scorpio (direct and to the point), she confronted Malkah, her mother.

"Time to see a nutritionist, mum," she said. And she had a lot more to say as well.

Malkah looked in the mirror, New Year's Day.  Yahrzeit of her mother the witch.  And what she saw was frightening, unhealthy and downright the fuck scary.

And it was not okay.

In a reversal of the original tale, it was as if Snow White turned around, went home, and helped the wicked queen deal with her own post-menopausal decline.  What Malkah's daughter needed was not a mother who made sure she was no competition.  What she needed was a healthy mother who could live long enough to enjoy even another generation to come.

Malkah looked in the mirror. It was time to make some changes.  After all, that's what New Years are for.

Mum, you picked a wonderful day for a yahrzeit.  Don't act too surprised,  but I miss you madly.

Sunday, November 9, 2014

the magic chair

Ok.  I got a new chair.  I've tried a whole bunch of chairs through the years.  I was looking for the magic chair.

The first chair that applied for the position the tzaddik got for me at Clars auction as a surprise. He knew I was looking. He decided to act. It was about 200 years old. Intricately hand-carved, and it had an embroidered seat. Nobody would sit in it. They were all afraid.  But it was great to look at.  So Vladdie, our black kitty, took it upon himself to inaugurate it as kitties do. It lasted a number of years, and then it went back to Clars. Nobody appreciated it there, either.

The second chair was the Mormon chair. Hand carved, austere, and just plain awesome quarter sawn oak. Carved by a Mormon farmer in Utah about 100 years ago. I had dreamt this chair. And the next day it appeared to me in the flesh at the Alameda Flea Market, and so of course I had to bring it home. Nobody would sit in this chair either. I moved it from spot to spot for years. Until eventually it went off to auction as well. I miss it. Nice to look at.

The third chair was a bright orange Scandinavian Designs jobbie that was one of those trick chairs. It was comfortable as hell in the store, but when you got it home it crippled your lower back. So the solution, of course, was to order the matching ottoman, thinking that feet up might do the job. Uh. No.

I complained about the third chair to a good friend.  I had forgotten that I'd given her my dad's 'grading chair'—a cushy chaise that he never got to use because Mrs Tzaddik had stolen it from him because it was a thing of beauty.  She never sat in it either.  It was there to be looked at.  My friend, who was sitting in said bright orange back-breaker while I was complaining about it, said she liked it just fine, in fact quite a bit better than my dad's grading chair. I proposed we trade.

Why the bad colors in chairs? Floor models. Half price. You should see the couches. Purple. Now faded, so they embarrass my daughter less. She still thinks I should get rid of them. But hey, the dogs like 'em.

So the fourth chair to apply for the position for comfotable-chair-in-the-living-room was the tzaddik's pristine cushy Italian green chaise, same as my own old grading chair that sits across the living room. Also from Scandinavian Designs (a winner but they don't make it anymore). I now had two grading chairs virtually side by side, and they battled it out for the territory. The dogs preferred my old grading chair and had beaten it down pretty well. It was a glory of a broken in chair.  I had gotten it many years before as a present to myself for getting tenure. Or full professor.  Or something like that. But they duked it out and the Tzaddik's grading chair won.  It was a shock to me.  My beloved old grading chair had to go.

Luckily, I had a former student who was participating in our Beit Malkhut Study Group. Now in a PhD program. And she has claimed, (though I think she's being both sweet and sardonic and kind, and doesn't mean it at all) that she wants to grow up to be me. So. What better person to appreciate my old grading chair? After all, her own papers (generally turned in late or very late, but very well worth the read) were read and graded in that very chair. She accepted the wonderful old grading chair with all the pomp it deserved. And put it in storage along with her daughter's furniture.

We have ascertained that I am not good at this.

I sat down (low kitchen stool) to really analyze  my chair history. I had tried chairs based on beauty alone (as I'd been raised to do). As if chairs (and everything else) were only about aesthetics. I had purchased chairs because they were so hideous they were affordable. I had tried chairs because they were gifts and you couldn't turn them away. Because they were used. Because cats had already dug into them, so nothing to worry about them. Because they reminded me of someone I loved. Hm. Beauty and comfort didn't go hand in hand. And now my spine was making its own demands.

So. What are we up to, fifth chair. Now, in the Middle East, the number five has great protective value. Against the evil eye. For good health. You know the word 'hamsa' and maybe you wear a little hamsa that looks like a hand (five fingers) around your neck or on a keychain. Or have one up as an amulet about your desk.  At any rate, I now realize we had reached the fifth chair.

The magic chair.

I decided to go for the real deal. It had to be beautiful. It had to be new. The color had to be decent. And it had to be comfortable. And Stickley was having a sale. The tzaddik and the Mrs Tzaddik would be pleased in their graves. I think.

So I tried the fifth chair, my new Stickley recliner. A piece of absolute beauty. And I'm not going to admit that it takes some adjustment and compromise to be truly comfortable. But it's good enough. I mean, my god, it's a Stickley. And it's not from the flea market. A miracle.

So. I sat in it. I brought a tall glass of water with me to keep me put (I'm supposed to drink a ton of water. Ugh). I did not bring my iPhone or iPad. It was just me and the Stickley and the glass of water. All alone. Nobody home.

And I looked up. And I saw my living room. I saw the purple couches. The tzaddik's green grading chair. The old brass trays. The overgrown plants. The 'rescued' Moroccan armoire from the Middle Atlas Mountains. And the paintings.

I have two paintings in the living room. One over the purple couch. One over the (fake) fireplace. Over the couch is an 8' wide painting of an enormous red bull, and a person struggling to pull it in a direction it is not willing to go. Everyone I know hates the painting. It used to be kept in the red bull room (essentially, my closet) so it didn't disturb anyone. I'd wake up every morning, look at the painting, and think 'don't do that'  at least for today. Just. Don't. Do. That. And I'd be set for the day. No need of coffee. But no one else seems to 'get' the red bull painting. Some of them remember Red Bull Bob, a long ago student who had painted the red bull for a class project. He went to grad school. And stopped painting.

The other painting is a poster framed by the online poster company, but it does the job. It's La Belle Rafaela, by Tamara de Lempicka. de Lempicka was walking through the Jardin du Luxembourg one afternoon, and noticed that everyone was staring in a certain direction, and so she turned. And there was Rafaela. She approached. And the glorious odalisque painting that emerged shocked even 1920s Paris.

So. I'm sitting in my Stickley both looking, and seeing as if for the first time. The Red Bull that my friends despise. And the de Lempicka they adore. Or at least don't complain about. Two such different paintings. The red bull in bright thick strokes of red and red umber oil paint. The struggling white man (painted quite literally in white) trying to move the enormous red bull. A parable of colonialism and resistance. A domination game the white man will never win. And La Belle Rafaela, stretched out in all her orgasmic glory in tender strokes of evening colors.

And there they are, right there on my living room walls. The agony and the ecstasy. The paintings are perfect together. Neighboring figures emoting in accordance with the choices that they make. Blunt and to the point. Guiding us. Before, I saw them as individual works of art. Now I contemplate them together.

The Stickley. It's a keeper.