Wednesday, November 19, 2014

More Stuff

On the cue, what do I want to do with my writing:

I've always wanted to be published, and self-publishing is a piece of cake nowadays, if I can put together a reasonable number of pages of stuff I'm willing to share with the world.

I want people to want to read what I've written, to be warmed and moved and amused and inspired by it.

I want a written representation of valuable parts of me to be preserved for posterity.

I want to improve myself--self-discipline, clarity of thought, preservation of memory.

I want to move politicians and citizens to make choices that make life better in this city, state, country, and planet.

I want to be remembered as a capable writer and a spiritual person.

I want, why not, to have an audience for my blog that watches for new entries, hangs on every word, and raves about it to all their friends.


Writing to the cue, you'll accomplish more later if you have a little fun this weekend.

This is obviously not addressed to retirees, who have room for fun every day of the week. That being said, I do approach Monday in a more positive frame of mind if I have some fun thing from the weekend to report if someone asks.

And being in a positive frame of mind certainly helps me to accomplish more. Feeling hopeful rather than depressed or sad helps me decide to just do what I need to get done. Contrariwise, feeling deprived or sorry for myself makes me want to suck my thumb and disappear into several books of mind candy, and real candy, too, for that matter. But if I've had some fun and am feeling comfortable in the world, I have more confidence in my ability to get stuff done and do it correctly.

As I have heard said, life is short, eat dessert first. I think starting with doing something fun helps me ease into accomplishment better than holding off until I've finished the job to have some fun, or, really, a steady alternation between fun and duty may be best. This is, of course, assuming that we are not in the best of all possible worlds, where I can somehow manage to have fun at the same time as I accomplish what needs doing. Which happens now and then, I'm sure, even if I can't remember many occasions now. I do enjoy doing the oddest things, such as stuffing envelopes at the SPCA.

Written to a cue to write about a block other than writer's block, such as blocks about exercise or travel, or agoraphobia.

I've had all three types of these suggested blocks, over the years. They come and go. I've moved through each of them for a time, every so often.

I travel at least one week each year, and I try not to go more than a single day without leaving my house. As to exercise, I've joined several different gyms and quit, and started various exercise regimes: XBX, Wii Fit, yoga, tai chi. I can't seem to keep up with any of them for longer than a few weeks. If I have enough different programs that I can tolerate for a while, though, maybe I can cycle through them long enough to be doing something more often than not.

My personal theory of change is that I don't. The thought of adopting any particular practice every day of my life until I die makes me feel trapped and sad. I have no faith in my ability to make any change in myself and maintain it indefinitely.

But I can do a little thing most days, or one of several things most days. Especially if the consequences of not doing that particular thing are, say, painful. I can be motivated for a while to stretch, say, to avoid pain. But not indefinitely. Once I get used to the absence of a particular pain, I'm less motivated to do what kept it at bay, and gradually I forget about the activity, until the pain returns.

A flicker of motion

on the telephone pole.

My gaze fixes on

a large squirrel,

with an extra-fluffy tail,

climbing down the pole

in defiance of gravity.


Two eyes glinted at me from atop my bed. Too far apart to be my cat's, and, anyway, it takes only a second to see that they are actually buttons on my pajama top.

I must have blackwatch plaid flannel pjs and bathrobe nowadays. can't remember when, but at some point that plaid became the color scheme of comfort and sleep.

I recently bought a blackwatch flannel shirt, and I'm afraid to wear it most places--either folks with thing it a pj top, or I'll be so comfortable in it that I'll nod off behind the wheel.

The eyes looking from atop my pillow are wise and bright. The iridescence arises from their origin as the shells of a sleepy sea creature, attached to the rocks in a tidepool, clinging firmly against the rushing waters.

The eyes speak of tenacity in all circumstances, of knowing your place and clinging to it in the face of all odds, of letting the universe bring all that you need directly to you, because you are so firmly planted where you are, where you need to be, where you belong.

What does the book say?

"Dust me," or "read me," or "I remember when you put in a pile of books on your dresser and stood on me to change a light bulb," or "This is the third time you reassembled that tacky metal bookcase and crammed me into it. Why can't I go live on a wooden shelf?"

Wednesday, November 5, 2014

This Week's Crop

another personification piece:

The wall outlet screams in silent shock.

Writings on an outrageous thing I did, first in prose and then as a poem.

The kids who lived in the Berkeley hills rode the same number 7 bus to school each weekday morning. We knew each other, and we got familiar with the back of the driver's head. For no reason we could see, he usually parked the bus on University Avenue and stepped outside of it for a minute or two each morning.

I watched closely as he opened and closed the door for himself, and one day I left my seat after he left the bus, and closed the door behind him.

He yelled at me to open it up again, and told me that if he hadn't set the parking brake before leaving the bus, it would have rolled downhill when I closed the door. So now I know that a separate brake engages when the door is open.

I've occasionally wondered why I did that. I'm usually a goody two-shoes, color inside the lines, kind of gal. Only now, nearly 50 years later, do I have an idea. I've had abandonment issues most of my life. And I think that his leaving us alone in the bus frightened me a little bit and angered me a lot.

Step away from us, will you? OK, we don't need you either, so there.



The 7 Euclid bus
took us to school each day.
We made it ours.
The driver, not so much.
For some reason,
he stepped out of the bus
for a time
each morning on University Avenue.
This didn't sit
well with me.
I studied the controls, and
one day
I closed the door
behind him.


Limbs Dance

Trees thrash in the wind,
their green and brown
arms telegraph the speed
of the air moving from
one place to another.
They bend, but any
sound they make is
barred by the window.
Some moments
they don't move at all
and I think maybe
the wind has died.
Then the whole tree
shudders in renewed response,
and I sit inside
cozy and warm
and applaud.


I write because my mother and brother wrote novels and short stories. It may be a genetic predisposition.

I write because I can - because grammar and syntax and spelling and organization all come easily to me.

I write to cement my memories, so I can be reminded of them when they've faded from my mind.

I write to get down what I'm thinking and how I feel about some sticky situation.

I write to record achievements, accomplishments, and other good things.

I write because reading has given me such pleasure and insight, in the hope that I can do the same for others.

I write to leave something of myself in the world after I am gone.

I write because something may pass unnoticed if I don't write about it - something good I want to remember, or something not so good that I need to confess.

I write because minds live on in the written word, and mine deserves its time in the sun.

I write to encourage my friends to exercise their political power in good causes.

I write so others can recognize themselves in my struggles.

I write to make folks laugh.

I write to fill the many journals that I've bought because their empty innards seduce me with the possibility of filling them to the betterment of myself and the world.

Friday, October 24, 2014

A List Poem

Written in Janell's class last Monday:

My Longest Plane Trip So Far

Packing proceeds smoothly,
I find everything I seek
after remembering everything I might need.
I am calm and optimistic --
no headache, no indigestion troubles me.

The airport shuttle comes
precisely when promised,
blue paint gleaming in the sun.

My bags nearly hop aboard themselves,
so eager do they seem to travel.
The ride to the airport is smooth,
nice women converse with me
and carsickness does not dare intrude.

My bag practically checks itself in,
and I proceed through security
in a meditative state.
After locating the gate,
I buy a book of sudoku
a bottle of water
sugarless gum
and a few snacks,
then hit a candy store or bakery
for some true indulgence.

I remember more than a dozen
cross-country flights in my youth,
starting when I was small enough
to sit in the aisle and sing to myself
while the stewardesses stepped over me.

The long flight unrolls at a stately pace,
classical music
followed by an adorable comedy,
followed by an acceptable meal.
Then I use alcohol
and meditation
to get somewhere close to sleep.

When I swim up to consciousness,
scrape the sleepseed out of my eyes,
and look around the cabin,
I feel comaraderie with my fellow travelers.
That sound is the landing gear descending.
That was the flaps opening.
Bump, we're back on land.
Here I am in Auckland,
en route to Sydney.
Another, much shorter, flight to go today,
but nearly there.

Being a kid who commuted cross-country
really helped build my travel muscles
for today's marathon flight.

Tuesday, October 21, 2014

My Performance Piece

This is what I delivered from memory at the Feminist Festival of Transformational Art. It's assembled from pieces I wrote for various Mothertongue scripts, for my synagogue's prayerbooks, for the heck of it, and for the festival itself:

Hi, there, my name is Dana.

I joined the Festival because I wanted people to laugh at my wit and recognize themselves in my foibles and trials.
I wanted to help the other performers realize their intentions.
And I wanted to hear what they have to say and learn from it.

So, here’s what I have to say. When I was little, I hated the color pink. It was too girly and feminine, and conflicted with my self-image as a tomboy. Blue was my favorite color then, the boys' color, the color of strength and action.

When I was in law school, a woman friend told me that pink blouses would look good with the blue clothes I usually wore. You know what; they do. Now I'm a fairly butch lesbian, so all of my pink blouses come from L.L. Bean, and my favorite one is plaid flannel.

How did I become butch? It might have something to do with being raised by single men from when I was nine years old until age 15, first my widowed grandfather, and then my divorced Dad. When I was 15, Dad died, and my brother and I finally went to live with our mother.

Here are some things my mother said to me:

"When I'm alone, I'm in bad company."
"Pain is inevitable; suffering is optional."
"Pray for potatoes and pick up the plow."
"They tell me I was a cuddly drunk."

"That poncho is ugly," the one I designed and made for myself out of fake fur.

When we first came to live with her, she said to us, “I figure you’re grown up enough, and I won't try to raise you. I’ll just make meals and write checks from the money your father left you.”

Many years later, she said: "I want you to complete the following sentence: Mother, I hate you because ..." I declined to respond, knowing that I wasn't ready to say, and she wasn't ready to hear, what might come up. My brother, not so canny, had replied - 'I don't hate you, but I don't love you either, since you weren't there while we were growing up.' After that, she never had a good word to say about him.

In light of that caliber of mothering, it makes sense that I’d be fond of flannel. I'm driven to seek softness to make up for my lack of cuddling as a child. In fact, I have quite a fetish for softness - for really soft sheets, towels, and T-shirts, for fuzzy plants and my cat's fur. My nearly irresistible urge to pat a crew cut - on a man or a woman - or to stroke velvet or fur that's being worn near me.

I also wonder about my thing for silver foxes. From my 30s, at least, I've had a soft spot for women with short silvery hair. So much so that my longest relationship was with a woman 15 years my senior. I'm probably still seeking the mothering that I missed as a child. But now I'm the one with short silvery hair. Hey, maybe I can be the mother that I've been looking for.

Getting back to my father, though, he never remarried after the divorce, but sometimes there was another man living in his house when my brother and I visited him. Only after his death did I learn that he was also gay. So, we never talked about his gayness or mine. Maybe it would have helped me with my lesbian identity. God knows, my years as a Christian didn’t help.

In fact, I’m still angry at the Christian Church because of the damage it did to my developing sexuality. As a little kid, I played doctor with my friends, male and female alike. I got crushes on my girlfriends in school, but it wasn’t until college that I had a full-fledged affair, with my roommate. So far, I knew my sexual activities should be kept secret—but I had no problem enjoying them.

Then, when I got involved with Campus Crusade for Christ, I was told that homosexual behavior is an abomination. OK, I thought. I was in love with God at the time, and it didn’t seem too much of a sacrifice to end the affair.

After moving to San Francisco, I started meeting gay Christians and Jews and envied their freedom to be both spiritual and sexual. But I couldn’t just pick up my sexuality where I left it. By rejecting my entire sexual being, I damaged it big time.

For example, sometimes I “clutch” during sex. I start wondering if and when I’m going to have an orgasm, and then I shut down.

I think, “Am I going to come?” “What can I get her to do that would make me come?” “Could I ask for the vibrator without hurting her feelings?” or “How long before I can just get her to stop?”

Then I try to stop thinking at all, and maybe start up my mantra to help with the rapidly mounting anxiety. I want sex to be fun again.

I was also left with body image issues:

Two different women look at me from the mirror. The one I see most often has a round face, a pasty complexion, and acne. Her expression is blank; she is plain. The other woman has cheekbones and a chin line. Her skin is clear and she looks wise and confident. She is attractive and I enjoy looking at her.

How can the women be so different? How can they both be me? If beauty is in the eye of the beholder, is the difference in my head rather than my face? Is it that how I feel about myself affects how I look? Or maybe I just look better at some times than others.
I don't know. But it would be nice if that attractive woman were the one I saw most often. 

And I’m still working on other issues. I put off doing the things I need to do, and I do other things I know I’ll regret. In short, I’m at odds with myself. I have this committee inside my head, and not only does control shift wildly from one member to another, but sometimes it’s completely deadlocked.

So how do I kindly and gently, and with curiosity and humor, recognize all the recalcitrant parts of myself, and persuade us that we're all on the same team? That we'll accomplish more and be happier if we act together? Perfection ain’t gonna happen, but a little progress now and then would be nice.

I'd like to have compassion for myself when I get stuck in a painful place, instead of beating myself up about it. I'd like to remember that hope can return when I journal, meditate, take a walk, stretch.

Even if I just remember to breathe with awareness. Although each breath is a new one, I'm inhaling molecules that originated in the stars and have been breathed before by many, many people over the millenia since they were created.

Remembering these things helps me realize that I’m just another human being, no better and no worse than others. And that’s enough.

So now I’m going to close with a hope of mine:

I want to write something with such beautiful images that reading it would lift anyone's heart, would give hope to the most despairing person, would bring a smile or a tear to any face. I want to write a picture so beautiful that it creates in all who read it a yearning to be better, a yearning to live in hope, and the recognition that this beauty is here and now, right here, right now.

Monday, October 13, 2014

Recent Writings

I got to do two writing sessions in the past week. Here are the better bits:

A good day tomorrow would begin with a good sleep tonight. My car won't get a parking ticket. My SFOP meeting will be productive, relaxed, and fun. The weather, or a friend, or the hand of the Goddess will draw me outside for air and exercise, and I'll find in myself a modicum of discipline, enough to get my chores done. And enough to do a little tai chi or yoga, to keep my body from seizing up. What I write in my journal will be pithy and gratifying. And the food I eat will be tasty, good for me, and easily digested.


Asked to write something about the flow of nature, I wrote:

Thinking about flow brings other people's poetry to mind. Nature and I interact like snapshots on postcards--fall colored trees, red mingling with green mixed with yellow. A sunset with that magenta shade of pink against the blue and white of clouds, some mysterious erection black and featureless beneath the sky.

Such moments of beauty prompt me to praise and thank their creator: good job on the sunset, God; that's quite nice.

What nature has done for me lately, though, is to make it so hot outside that I'm even less likely to go out than usual--which isn't much to begin with. Mouth-breathing to get enough air dries the inside of my mouth to dust in seconds, while my hair squishes against my sweaty scalp.


A thank-you letter to Sen. Elizabeth Warren:

You are my heroine. I was watching you being interviewed by Rachel Maddow tonight and had to tear myself away to come here to write. But I comfort myself that the DVR is watching for me, so I can finish watching you when I get home.

You are so straight-forward, so honest, so candid about who you are fighting for - America's vanishing middle class. You clearly see and explain how the game has been rigged against us, and you have moved mountains to get the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau established. It was a major snub that the Republican Congresscritters wouldn't let you head the bureau, but their opposition backfired on them. Now you're a Senator, and are free to champion all manner of middle class causes.

Many of us would love to see you become President. I can't help believing that your good-hearted wisdom would be so refreshing for this country. Even if you were able to accomplish only a quarter of what you took on, we would be so much better off.

I admire your optimistic approach to stating your convictions, your hopefulness and absence of cynicism. Maybe you get grumpy and tired in private, but we'll probably never know for sure.

Thank you, Senator Warren, for what you have achieved so far and all the promise that you bear.


I also wrote about a time I asked a teacher for help.

When I asked Corky for help, I was literally asking a teacher, because she teaches public speaking at SF State. I was also asking metaphorically, because her performance in Mothertongue Readers Theater so many years ago was so inspiring that I joined the group for a decade.

Many years after leaving Mothertongue, I joined a weekly brunch group that Corky also attended, and we resumed our friendship.

A few months ago, I was trying to construct an 8-10 minute monologue, using an assortment of pieces that I had written over the years - not just for Mothertongue but also for my synagogue's prayerbook and for this feminist festival of transformational arts that I was preparing to perform in.

I lack perspective on my own pieces, and asked Corky to come over and help me deal with them. She told me which pieces she found most powerful, reminding me of what I already knew - that the most idiosyncratic, revealing, and discomfiting pieces were where the juice was. She also helped me put them in a good theatrical order. And she made costume suggestions and lent me a lovely floral necktie to complete my ensemble.

I memorized my script, and performed it without memory gaps, to great acclaim.

My mentor, Corky, really came through for me, and I love her.

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.