Tuesday, September 23, 2014

Writing With Janell

Openhouse has started a writers' group led by Janell Moon, an author, college writing instructor, and hypnotherapist. Here's what I wrote:

It was fun running into Mickey at the entrance to the LGBT Center, and recognizing three of the five women in the writing group (4 of 6 if you include the leader), so I feel a hint of belonging.

In two weeks, I'll have this writing group on Monday and the 24th Street one on Tuesday, which makes me feel positively wealthy. It almost makes me want to undertake a writing project of some sort, with that amount of support.


Women of the Castro

Too many of the women I see in the Castro appear to be straight -- e.g., arm in adoring arm with a man. Many women of the City have been priced into the East Bay. Those who are left seem to be towards both ends of the socioeconomic spectrum. But it could be that my economic judgment is as poor as my gaydar. What kind of person do I appear to be, when I shuffle around the Castro?


My mother, brother, cousin, and I spent the whole night reciting poetry in the Disneyland Hotel room. (Mr. Disney would want you to pick up your lamb chop to eat it.) Our voices were hoarse in the morning, spent with the energy of our recitals, but we stood in enough lines to rest up for the rides.

What would a list of the pieces we'd memorized show about teachers' tastes in poetry over two generations and on both coasts? Did Sir Launfal have his vision on Main Street, U.S.A.?

Everything in Disneyland is part of the show. We played our roles in the production with the last of our speaking voices.


The man who held my hand while we bought a building in San Francisco had learned real estate at his mother's knee, long before I met him in the Bay Area Lutheran Chorale. All six foot, five inches of him were immersed in the beauty of the music and the Spirit of the Divine. When we dined together, he picked up the tab gracefully and often. He doted on Victorian architecture, knowing his Stick from Edwardian from Romeo.

Handsome enough to have a partner whenever he wanted one, which was all the time; his nest of a home gave him strength. A devout country western dancer, with well-broken in boots, he naturally held his 60th birthday party at the Sundance Saloon.

Monday, September 15, 2014

Writing for Social Change

I took a brief workshop on this topic at the Feminist Festival of Transformative Arts yesterday, and here's what I wrote:

I had a textbook in high school called The Irony of Democracy. As best as I can recall, it claimed that democracy became less effective when more people participated in it. I wonder if the authors were Republicans.

In theory, the more people participate in political discourse, the more ideas are presented and discussed and thought through, and the decisions reached after such an inclusive process should be wiser and better than the alternative.

If, however, a group that has power and seeks to keep it despite the way it crushes others into the dirt, their goal is to keep those others from having power. Make money into speech, so people without money don't get heard. Allow fewer days for voting, so people who work many hours can't get to the polls or stay in lines the hours it would take to cast their votes. Challenge everybody with an unfamiliar name to prove their right to vote with documents they may not have. Especially make it hard for anyone who might vote Democratic - students, minorities, the elderly. Let's go back to the days when you had to be a white, male, property owner to have any voice in running the country. Those guys knew what was what. We can't let just anybody vote; they might upset our applecart.

More writing with Eanlai

A Clock and A Time When Time Was Important

When I was in college, there was a clock in every classroom, so I stopped wearing a watch for a while. It took some getting used to, since I kept looking by habit at my left wrist and seeing only a band of lighter skin, but I managed to get to my classes on time somehow.

Then, however, I decided to try wearing contact lenses. Suddenly my appearance was more important than the familiar security of my specs. I can't quite remember what prompted this decision. Maybe I had recently become lovers with my roommate, and the glasses were awkward. However, I needed to be very accurate about how long I wore the lenses while I was still trying to break them in, and back came the watch. Just my luck, my eyeballs are too delicate for contact lenses, hard or soft, so I gave up on them, but kept wearing the watch.

Nowadays, younger folks use their smart phones to tell time, and the only ones who still wear wristwatches are old fossils like myself. I must confess, though, I carry an ipod touch in my breast pocket, mostly for reading and sudoku, and I do occasionally resort to pulling it out to confirm what date or day of the week it is, and, if it's in my hands already, I will sometimes press the button that brings up the time in digital format, instead of turning my wrist to read the time on the face of my analog watch.

I also use the itouch as a timer when I'm sitting with kittens in the medical wing of the SPCA, and my watch is covered by a plastic gown and latex gloves. The alarm tone on the timer lets me know when my visit is complete, if I remembered to start the timer before starting the visit.

Nature and Self-Worth

Are you a religious person? Does the spirit move you to pray when you meet the beauties of nature, in forest groves, or when being misted by a waterfall? God creates such wonderful beauty, and some creatures reveal her sense of humor, and yet we so seldom think of ourselves as beautiful parts of God's creation.

On the other hand, something rubs me the wrong way about some people who seem too pleased with themselves, too comfortable in their skin, too perfect. I get angry with them - want to point out the mistakes they will make, that they'll grow old and die, like the rest of us. I get defensive when I compare my insides with their outsides.

I want to really believe that I'm doing the best I can with what I've got to work with. But there's a critical slave-driver sitting on the committee in my head, who always thinks I could be doing more, doing better, in justifying my place on earth. But waterfalls don't have to pass tests, forests don't have to meet quotas. They simply
are, valuable and beautiful as they were created.

What I really want to say is to wonder what would happen if I really accepted myself as I am, if I didn't compare myself with Mother Teresa or Bill Gates, but simply lived out being Dana. Would I stop contributing anything to the world and lose all self-respect? Would I become the self-satisfied, smug sort of person who grates on my nerves?

The Natives are Restless

There was a wildlife convention this morning in my backyard. I saw this mid-sized, mid-brown bird pecking at the recently cleared dirt next to the stepping stones. I grabbed the binoculars that live near my back windows, and tried to focus my weak eyes on it as well as I could. It pecked at the earth, and also seemed to be digging in it, with both feet at a time, in a hopping move. I really wondered what it was doing -- digging for food, digging a nest, performing a display of territory or courtship? Whatever it was doing came to a halt, and it disappeared.

A few moments later, I saw more motion, on the side fence. It was a squirrel, standing atop the fence and batting at the neighbor's tree with its paws. Also quite mysterious.

Finally, I saw a pair of smaller birds, back on the ground, pecking at the pink knotweed that the gardeners had cleared of weeds. Were they finding insects on the blossoms or sipping nectar and pollinating them? Heck if I know, but this morning I saw more animals not our cats than I've seen in the entire previous year.

Wednesday, September 3, 2014

Write Now!

So I joined this writing group that meets at a bookstore on 24th Street once a month. I wasn't taken with anything I wrote last month, but here's something kinda nice that I wrote last night.

Soundtrack of My Life

The music that comes to mind from my Harrisburg years is Broadway show tunes, played on a stereo encased in a wide wooden cabinet that matched the rest of the furniture.

The music that comes to mind from my Berkeley years is Laura Webber's folk guitar instruction book, which I wrote to the TV station for, and folk songs that I sang with Joyce Roop and her mother (and her sister, before her suicide). I still remember when we were singing for some people and I began the song alone, an octave too high, and Mrs. Roop stopped and corrected me.

The music that comes to mind from my Santa Monica years is Eric Coates' London Suite, and whosit's Grand Tarentella, that mother put on the record player to enliven our efforts at housecleaning.

The music that comes to mind from my UCLA years I listened to in the music laboratory, which had maybe 20 stations with headphones where you could listen to the assigned music, and I chose to work on my musicianship with the Rutgers University Music Dictation Course. I also sang with the UCLA Madrigal Singers one year, and the Brentwood Church Choir for at least two years, including challenging music like Poulenc's Stabat Mater and Mozart's Requiem.

The music that comes to mind from my law school years is hymns and anthems I sang every week with the church choir, and played on the bass recorder with my tiny hands because I was the only player who knew both the bass fingerings and the bass clef. I also remember singing Britten's War Requiem with the Civic Chorale.

Post-law school, the music that comes to mind includes what I worked on in voice lessons, like the duet from Delibes' Lakme, and what I played on the recorder at the memorial for a friend's mother - a Bach selection that was just a bit beyond my capabilities.

Nowadays, I enjoy whatever music the classical radio station sends my way.

Friday, August 22, 2014

New Poems

I write about what's on my mind. See below.


My legs ache
when I sit too long
in most chairs.
The ache starts
in the backs of my thighs
and steadily grows.
Stretching doesn't help
jiggling my legs doesn't help.
The only thing that helps,
other than getting up and walking,
is propping my feet
on a footrest,
to get the pressure off
the backs of my thighs.

A Few Good Things

My mother learned
a few good things
in those twelve-step rooms,
while smoking like a chimney
and swimming in coffee.
She learned to avoid
getting too Hungry, Angry, Lonely, Tired.
She learned to seek out others -
"When I'm alone, I'm in bad company."
She learned the trap of stillness -
"Action is the magic word" and
"Pray for potatoes and pick up the plow."
She learned that you can choose
how to respond to challenges -
"Pain is inevitable; suffering is optional."
She took care of herself
and her sponsees -
her children, not so much.

Friday, August 15, 2014

Fun with Haiku and Tanka

Another evening at the poetry class, and I learn that the haiku form, which I've known about since high school, descended from a much earlier Japanese poem type called tanka.

Longer than the 5-7-5 syllable lines of haiku, a Japanese tanka has five unrhymed lines of 5-7-5-7-7 syllables, but English writers of tanka take more freedom with the syllable count, and mostly produce five-lined poems with lines that are short-long-short-long-long, with as few as ten syllables total, up to the standard size of 31.

Anyway, we had some time to write, and examples ranging from classical descriptions of nature to cynical and angry poems about modern life. Here's what I came up with:

Stomp brake pedal down
Omigod; where'd that come from?
This time, I still live.

White mold on my cheese.
I guess it has been too long
since I cleaned the fridge.

Smallness is Asian
My cars are all Japanese
I'm really quite short.

Sturdy old Bay Bridge,
Rust like cancer in your bones,
Please don't fall on me.

I'm on a Segway
Lean into the turns
Can't seem to shift my weight forward,
My feet hurt too much.
Oh boy, a panic attack.

I can write haiku;
English class in seventh grade.
Tanka not so much
Because I'm used to ending
after the third line.

Naked ladies grow
Next to the Berkeley sidewalk,
Shiver without leaves
But beautiful nonetheless
Even as the blossoms droop.

Why would a cop shoot
A boy with his hands in air?
Bigotry unleashed
Little man with a big gun
His guilt has turned into fear.

Convoy of white trucks:
Humanitarian aid
or troops with more guns?

Friday, August 1, 2014

First Fruits of a Poetry Class

Either I just noticed or I just became interested, but last night I started going to a poetry class that's part of Roke's Feminist Arts festival. It was especially attractive since it includes not only the opportunity to perform a piece or two, but also to have it published in a booklet.

Anyway, we're trying to write portraits of a person, place, or event that reveal the pertinent emotions. My memory being nearly as bad as my imagination, I figured I'd start with something recent that I wanted to write about anyway - the dance at the OLOC (Old Lesbians Organizing for Change) gathering that I attended last week. So here it is.

Old Lesbians’ Dance

I had a high old time

the other night

at the Old Lesbians’ Dance.

I duded up,

jewelry and all,

and tucked my stuff

in a fanny pack

to clear the decks for action.

The band played a few songs

I recognized from the 70s

and it was way too loud

for talking.

Most women were eager to dance,

and we danced together or apart.

Scent-free, of course -

this being a lesbian feminist gathering.

At one point, I found myself

dancing next to a petite white-haired

firecracker; we sang

“Rolling on the river”

to each other

on the choruses.

We began to glow

with our efforts

as the evening wore on;

breasts nestled against breasts

during the slow dances.

One partner started

to intertwine her legs with mine,

but my inhibitions


A 92-year-old woman,

looking mighty fine in her

embroidered vest and smile,

leaves her scooter to dance

by attaching one hand to her partner

and the other to her cane.

I surprise myself

by lasting through three or four

dances before heading off

for a cup of cold water

and an upholstered bench.

Women from my past

swim into view,

fellow recorder players

a lesbian studies professor

women from my synagogue

the author of a play I acted in a few years ago

and two others from the cast.

I notice one old friend

wasting the dance floor

by talking with others.

I nip over to her

and plant one on her kisser,

surprising the spit out of her.

There were no snacks,

and I skipped the wine,

but I got plenty high

on the women

and the dancing

and belonging.