Friday, December 29, 2006
Wednesday, December 27, 2006
The front page of the Sunday New York Times had been sitting on my kitchen table for a few days as I built up the emotional fortitude to read the article about the juvenile justice system in Africa. As someone who's reported on jails, prisons and the system in this country, I've heard my share of horror stories. It's an outrage how we treat our most vulnerable, and demonized, section of the population.
As I expected, the situation in Africa is, if possible, even more shocking. Given the poverty, political corruption and social chaos of those countries, how could it be otherwise? In the jails, no electricity, no food, no separation of children from abusive adult prisoners. Kids are imprisioned for years without due process, without even getting to see a lawyer. "Defilement" -- sex with an underage girl -- is a frequent charge. The penalty, in theory, is death, unless the young man can come up with about $40 to pay off the girl's family.
The article portrays a situation that is infuriating, terrifying and very, very sad. Least we in this country feel self-satisfied, the reporter rightly points out that even with the abuses, "African nations sometimes hew closer to United Nations standards than do parts of the United States."
Shame on all of us.
You can read the article at www.nytimes.com/2006/12/24/world/africa/24africa.html?_r=1&oref=slogin
Monday, December 25, 2006
1 sunrise in my purple chair, enjoying the simple peace
1 orange sweater perfect for Nancy
3 hours chopping onions at the Vets Hall for the meal for the homeless
1 Christmas eve movie, Night at the Museum
2 hours hunting for presents, Alex saying the search is the best part
3 CDs in the new Tom Waits
2 shiny hoop earrings with orange beads
12 hours leaving the wrapping all over the living room
73 years of life for James Brown
4 mile bike ride with Gwen
50 stones tossed into the surf at Waddell
12 months in the traditional photo calendar I made for my parents, the first calendar in many years
40 minutes of surprising laughs with Gladys and Steve
30 minutes with South Park Merry Fucking Christmas
1 slice of homemade banana bread
10 golf balls hit down the railroad tracks
6 people around the fireplace at George's house
1 bowl of tofu, vegetables and rice with onion rings at Santa Cruz Diner
$10 bill handed to a homeless man
1 woman eating alone rescued by a friend
1 spectacular sunset
Countless blessings of family, friends, health and the awareness to appreciate them
Thursday, December 21, 2006
The word solstice comes from the Latin sol (sun) and sistere (to stand still). Twice a year, the sun stands still as it reaches its maximum or a minimum arc.
Today was as the late December solstice should be, cold and windy, wet with a minus low tide, red and orange sea stars littering the beach.
So, winter begins.
By 5:30, Alex and I were both saying how sleepy, almost dreamy, we were, how it felt so late. But like so many others, we ignored nature's invitation to stay home to rest and pushed ourselves out into the noisy, electrified and very busy downtown. We both noticed how the garbage can outside of Bookshop overflowed with empty coffee cups-- an entire culture determined not to live with the flow of seasons, to be blind to the parallel gifts of short winter days and long summer ones. Alex recalled that for the Navajo, it was taboo not to be awake for the sunrise and the sunset.
I hope someday to live more in tune with the ever-changing light and gift of the seasons, to experience a quieter existence with less pushing against the natural ebb and flow. I love waking with the sun. But at night, I'm full of resistence. Even as a little girl, I always fought going to sleep. Now, even when I'm tired, my body and mind resist letting go and saying good-bye to the day. I've always had trouble with endings. I hold on to things longer than I should. Maybe it's fear. Maybe greed. Something for me to think about.
So on this solstice night, I'm still awake at midnight, warm in a bathrobe, listening to a blues CD that I bought Alex for the holidays and watching the Hanukah candles burn down. Maybe today is the night of the Hanukah miracle and the candles will keep burning. Maybe the shortest day of the year will miraculously become the longest.
No, not tonight.
Tuesday, December 19, 2006
My annual latke party (this year for about 20) was a lot of fun, attended by some regulars, some newcomers including a delightful baby, some landesman from the East Coast and some heimish honorary Jews. With six menorahs glowing, there was a spontaneous hora around my too-small living room, a hot game of dreidel and lots of interesting music. Mitch on guitar; Alex on drums; Moreah with great vocals. My friend Helen recently found an old Hanukah 45 that she played as a kid during family gatherings. Another friend brought an amazing record that spoke to Hanukah's theme of political oppression. The Comedian Harmonists were a German singing sensation of the 1920s and '30s. Celebrated today as Germany's first "Boy-Group," the Comedian Harmonists'close-harmony sound brings to mind the Mills Brothers. I learned more about the group on the web site noted below. The elegant sextet, five vocalists and a pianist all dressed in tails, had a repertoire that encompassed styles ranging from folk songs to sentimental hits, all of which was accompanied by silliness on stage and vocal imitation of musical instruments.
Their songs -- most by Jewish composers -- were criticized by the Nazis as early as 1932, when they were not yet in power, as "Jewish-marxist noise." Indeed, three of the group -- Frommermann, Collin, and Cycowski -- were Jews. Cycowski's wife Mary had converted to Judaism, and Bootz's wife Ursula was Jewish. The popular, politically naive musicians ignored all the warning signs. But then in 1934, the unapproved Jewish members of the group were forbidden to perform, and the Comedian Harmonists split up. They gave their last concert in Munich on March 25, 1934. You can learn more about them at www.geocities.com/Vienna/Strasse/1945/WSB/comhar.html
There is also a movie about the group that's now first up on my Netflix queue.
So, let me know if you want an invitation to next year's latke fest!
Sunday, December 17, 2006
I went to two poetry readings this week. Poetry Santa Cruz, organized by my pal Dennis Morton, is really quite an enterprise, with readings by some terrific poets, local and nationally-recognized, taking place at least monthly. Every time I attend readings, I get inspired by the amazing talent in Santa Cruz and the drive of so many people to work in a genre that doesn't exactly rake in the big bucks.
The first reading at Capitola Book Cafe: Gary Young, David Swanger and Joseph Stroud, three local poets with national reputations. My daughter Gwen, not the biggest fan of middle-age parents, paid them the highest tribute: "I want to be a middle-aged man!" What I think she was responding to--what I responded to-- was their self-awareness that rang with humor and insight into the human condition. All three were such generous readers -- to the audience and to each other. I loved seeing men being so encouaging and appreciative of other men, hanging on to each other's words.
Joseph Stroud, author of "Country of Light, "among other works, struck me as the most classically imaginative. Here's the blurb from Amazon: Whether trekking through Mexico or Vietnam, living in the High Sierras, or "painting paradise" in the voice of Renaissance painter Giotto, Stroud's lyrics, prose poems, elegies, and odes articulate a journey of uncommon attention and startling perception.
David Swanger read from his newest book, "Wayne's College of Beauty," which I was eager to hear since it was inspired by the beauty college on the corner of Walnut and Center Sts. I think only the walking dead could pass by the building and not be inspired in some way by the mirrors, swivel chairs, mannequin heads with wigs and white-robed young women who spend their days with hair dyes and curlers and pedicure clippers. I didn't think Swanger's title poem was the strongest thing he read (maybe because my gut reaction to Wayne's is so different than his). But overall, I loved his humor and strong imagery. His short poem about visiting his son in Tassajara (Zen Buddhist retreat center where I've spent many countless, silent hours)cracked me up.
I attended the reading primarily to hear Gary Young, who was Gwen's poetry teacher at Kirby last year and who remains an inspiration to her. Most recently, Gary, who is also a master letterpress printer, helped Gwen put together a gorgeous book of her photos as a gift to a friend. This was my first time hearing Gary read and I fell in love with his ability to say so much with so few words.
Coincidentally, the second poetry reading this week was a Community Read, where various people (this time in Davenport) were invited to read a poem that is particularly meaningful to them. My friend Peggy picked a Gary Young poem that she keeps by her computer at the local newspaper. Peggy talked about how the poem speaks to her as a journalist, whose work is ruled by the disasters of life, rather than by the simple, profound everyday occurances.
I also now have this poem by my computer, a reminder to keep my eyes and heart open.
Two girls were struck by lightning at the harbor mouth.
An orange flame lifted them up and laid them down again.
Their thin suits had been melted away.
It’s a miracle they survived.
It’s a miracle they were ever born at all.
Sunday, December 10, 2006
With today's big rain storm came a huge swell with some crazy waves. Here's the view along West Cliff near the Lane. There were a handful of surfers out there, some of the infamous big wave riders.
Coincidentally, this morning's New York Times had a front page story about surfing Lake Erie in Cleveland. "It was the kind of day that lives mostly in Cleveland surfers’ fantasies. Pushed by the storm’s winds, water the color of chocolate milk rose 10 feet in the air before slamming onto a beach of boulders and logs....“Surfing Lake Erie is basically disgusting,” said Bill Weeber, known as Mongo, 44."
You can read the entire article at http://www.nytimes.com/2006/12/10/us/10surf.html?_r=1&oref=slogin
Wednesday, December 06, 2006
Tuesday, December 05, 2006
I got into the spirit of the season by checking out the seasonal tchotchkes available for the right price on Ebay. So many must-haves, like this Ducky nativity scene. Or this:
And wait! There's more creche kitsch from the North Pole:
And to give equal time to dogs, thanks to my friend Carol for sending me this other link: www.goingjesus.com/cavalcade.shtml
Captions welcome! If you share this kind of holiday spirit, feel free to send anything else my way and I'll post it.
Coming Tomorrow: Equal time for Chanukah
Monday, December 04, 2006
What fun yesterday to read aloud a few sections of my novel at Capitola Book Cafe. I'm pretty shy when it comes to public readings (okay, near phobic), so it's a treat to stand before my local audience of supportive friends and readers. I read with another writer of young adult fiction, Ann Jaramillo (middle), who's written a terrific novel about a young Mexican boy trying to make his way north to the U.S. to join his parents. As I listened to her read, I realized that both of our novels revolve around children who have been separated from their parents and families and are dealing with the ensuing swirl of emotions -- fear, anger, and yes, excitement.
I'm always happy when CASA (Court-Appointed Special Advocates) co-sponsors my readings because it's an opportunity to get a public discussion going about the plight of foster kids and parents who, because of drugs or their own mental/emotional limitations, are at risk of losing their kids to the system.
Coincidentally, the local alternative paper ran an article this same week about a recent rise in the official child abuse numbers in Santa Cruz, which are higher than the state average. I always caution audiences about the meaning of such numbers. Yes, the numbers may be high because of drug use and the high cost of living in Santa Cruz (two risk factors). But ironically, high numbers can be good signs -- that people's eyes are open and they are reporting more often. It can also mean that our community takes a broad definition of abuse that includes not only physical abuse, but the more insidious incidences of neglect and emotional abuse. To me, it's a positive that Santa Cruz is a rare county that considers exposure to ongoing domestic violence as a form of reportable child abuse. There may be no physical scars, but the most current brain studies warn how early childhood trauma actually rewires the brain in ways that can cause lifelong post-traumatic stress syndrome, which in turn can contribute to learning disabilities, drug dependence and a whole array of physical and emotional difficulties.
Thanks to Book Cafe, Ann and Joanne Sanchez of Santa Cruz CASA (left in above photo) for making yesterday such a meaningful community forum.
Friday, December 01, 2006
A few days ago, my friend Sara's wonderful dog Ella died. I haven't had any dogs of my own, and I consider myself lucky to have had Ella in my life. Named for the great jazz singer, Ella the dog was big, happy and furry, plus kind of nutty in that big, happy, furry dog kind of way. Loud noises terrified her and much to her family's frustration, she was always breaking out of the garage and finding her way into the backyards of strangers who instantly fell in love with her friendliness. She would greet visitors to the house by flopping on her back and making sure you rubbed and rubbed and rubbed her belly.
Walking with Ella along West Cliff Drive felt like walking with a celebrity, a world famous comic. People couldn't pass her without breaking out into a grin. I think they were most struck by her tongue which was ridiculously long and bounced along as she walked.
When Ella developed a tumor, the vet didn't give her long to live, but she survived longer than expected, continuing to demand belly rubs almost to the end. I will miss Ella and send condolences to Sara, Rich, Ben, Max and Jesse.
The picture shows Sara with Ella in her favorite position.