Thursday, February 26, 2015

Back In One Piece

A few of my hopes came true:

I petted a few kangaroos and a wallaby. I saw koalas and Tasmanian devils. I ate some exotic tropical fruits I'd never had before - passion fruit and dragon fruit.

I set foot in Sydney, Australia; Hobart, Tasmania; Dunedin (accent on the second syllable, and the 'e' is long), New Zealand; the port town nearest to Tauranga and Rotorua, New Zealand; and Auckland, New Zealand.

I met some lovely women from all over the world. Danced a wild tango (with the ship's rolling casting us towards and away from each other} with an Aussie named Lizanne. Exited the Syndey Hop On Hop Off bus at King's Cross station after eyeing a likely looking lady {who I later met in the line to board the ship}, and found my way back to my hotel with a little help from a local lass who was handing out free passes to a gym. Sat at a table in the Lido Restaurant with a woman I knew I had met before. When she gave me her name, I remembered that we had met in the Chinese Garden in Sydney and that she had been knitting something complex.

What are the chances of running into someone I know on the opposite end of the world? A few hours after we disembarked the Oosterdam in Auckland and were back at the ferry terminal for a harbour tour, I heard a male voice call "Dana?" It was Glen Shannon - an East Bay-dwelling recorder player and composer friend of mine. He was headed to board the Oosterdam for a gay male cruise to Sydney for the upcoming gay Mardi Gras festivities.

I'll try to upload some of my better pictures, but don't get your hopes up - they were taken with my ipod touch.

Be it ever so humble, ...

Sunday, February 8, 2015

Tomorrow I Travel

How many months have I been planning this trip? Since last July, I learn from checking the paperwork. Which I'm now sorting through several times to see what can be recycled, what left behind, what can be packed, and what needs to go to the airport with me.

It's been raining pretty steadily the last several days and is to continue raining tomorrow. May lots and lots of the rain find its way into the reservoirs. Ordinarily I would be getting pretty depressed about now, since my emotions are solar-powered, but my pre-trip anticipation/anxiety is an effective antidote.

Since I was reminded that my flight leaves in the evening (somehow it had morphed into morning in my mind a few months ago), and especially since learning that I had bid for and won a moderate-cost upgrade to first class, I'm looking forward to the 13-hour flight with much less trepidation, and even a little anticipation. It's also helping with my pre-trip anxiety that I posted my flight on the cruise's Facebook group and found five other cruisers who will be on the flight. We plan to band together Down Under to make our way out of the airport and to our hotels.

A few ladies from Australia and New Zealand seem to be finding their way to this blog from my postings to the FB group. Kia ora, gals, and hope to see you soon!

Saturday, February 7, 2015

Pre-Trip Wish List

Written at Write Now! to the prompt "What I want is."

What I want is to have a safe trip Down Under. To get myself where I need to be when I need to be there, in a relatively unfrazzled state.

I want to have packed wisely with clothes and accessories that contribute equal amounts of comfort and attractiveness.

I want to have fun adventures with a minimum of injury, illness, or anxiety. I want to make good enough decisions about what to eat and what to do - not to paralyze myself by trying for perfection.

I want to get to know some of my fellow cruisers better and have deep, nourishing conversations with them. I want to be helpful to my fellow travelers by sharing any information or expertise I can offer.

I want to have cared wisely for myself in choosing when to get out and about, and when to recharge alone in my cabin. I want to fall asleep within a reasonable time each night, and awaken in the morning with as much energy and enthusiasm as I can reasonably expect from myself.

I want to experience no dyke drama. I want to come home with good pictures and stories, and postcards, T-shirts, and maybe a new journal or two.

Friday, January 30, 2015

How to Sort?

So I've been thinking about how to arrange my blog files, and even dreaming about the possibilities. Maybe putting the options down in writing will help clarify matters.

My chief temptation is to present the files sorted chronologically, as if they were historical data whose value rests in part on their timing. There are some older writings that I've copied into the blog, which I'd have to pull out and label separately - writings from junior high and high school, writings from college and law school years, writings for Mothertongue Readers' Theatre - but the bulk of the blog was written for the blog or at least was posted there near the time of its writing.

Or, I could sort the pieces by the purpose for which they were written: English classes and writing workshops, the blog itself, Mothertongue, the synagogue, and Christian self-expression.

Or, finally and most difficult, would be to organize the pieces by the subject of the writing. There are many different subjects and ways of splitting them up, and a single piece often touches on two different subjects. My original subject list: current happenings, my past, my mental blocks, spirituality, commentary on others' writings, and general non-fiction. A list proposed by my writing coach includes: inspiration, observations, musings, memories, faith/shul, san francisco, outside, and panic.

I suppose that the decision should rest less on my convenience and more on what would be most accessible and interesting to a reader. Some authors can tell a story with graceful interjections that seem fairly far afield. I'm reading a book that's the story of the life of a pet pig in New Hampshire, but every so often the author spends a few months in India or Brazil studying other animals, and she manages to weave these trips into the narrative without any loss of momentum.

If I were to identify a basic story arc, say moving into retirement or recovering from major depression, maybe I could weave my political, artistic, and other excursions into the narrative. Maybe.

My original sorting included prioritizing my first three topics: current happenings, my past, and my mental blocks. But the downside of that was that the chosen topics included some relatively dull stuff and this sorting omitted some pieces I really liked from the excluded topics. So then I pulled out some of the duller stuff and pulled in some stuff from the other topics. But then I resorted the pages in chronological order and lost the original sort. And the more I look at the current pile of pages, the less cohesive and more amorphous it seems.

Maybe some subjects need to be in chronological order. Certainly reports of what I was then doing would make more sense in the order of their occurrence. But even a biography is seldom told in strict chronology; the author chooses an angle of approach and opens with a good hook before digging into the subject's ancestors and early childhood.

I seem to have a bit of a dilemma: I can't find a good arrangement for the pieces until I decide what I'm trying to accomplish with them, and I can't figure out what I'm saying with them until I get the pieces sorted in my mind. Along with whatever explanation and expansion seems necessary.

And part of the problem is that the pieces are so disparate in origin, subject, and purpose. Por ejemplo, I've got prayers and sermons on the one hand, and bawdy pieces about sexuality and lesbianism on the other hand. Now, reconciling these parts of myself has been one of the major themes of my life. Maybe that could be an organizing principle. Hmm.

Alternatively, breaking the pieces into several different projects may be the way to go. For example, I could pull together all the Christian, Jewish, and Buddhist material, and enough of the circumstances of my life to explain my interest in all three religions. But queer spirituality has been written about in each flavor, I'm sure. Don't think I'd buy a book on that subject alone.

Well, this has all been pretty helpful. I'll be curious to see if I stop dreaming about editing the files or if the content of the dreams changes.

Stay tuned for future developments.

Thursday, January 22, 2015

Some New Stuff

German Coincidences

This morning I was talking to myself in German, which I do from time to time. I never lived in Germany; I only studied German in college. But every so often, a simple phrase or sentence springs from me, apparently without cause.

This morning, though, it occurred to me to wonder why. I've studied other languages, and while an occasional French exclamation will issue from me, that's about it. No Hebrew, no Spanish, no Latin (aside from the one saying I can't resist), no Italian or New Testament Greek.

So it occurred to me, maybe German arises spontaneously because I grew up with relatives who spoke Yiddish, which is essentially German written with Hebrew characters.

Then later this morning I met with my weekly coffee/brunch group. I shared with the three women sitting nearest me, who were all Jewish, what I had realized about my Yiddish and German experiences. They seemed to agree with my reasoning.

A bit later still, Maria came to the group for the first time in several months. She had returned to her home in Germany after her stay in San Francisco, and was now back for another visit.

So, first I spoke to myself in German, then I wondered about why I spoke in German, then I talked with my friends about why I speak in German, then finally an actual speaker of German returns to our group after a long absence. What are the odds of all that happening within a few hours?


Fast Food

Fast food is the choice of the poor, unhappy, or both. It's cheap and readily available. To put together even a hamburger from fresh, organic scratch would cost considerably more than the buck price of a fast food burger. And a restaurant burger? Forget it.

As for the unhappy, I tend to equate unhappiness with depression. And as I well know, a depressed person thinks so little of herself and is so immobilized that she's not about to take herself out to a nice restaurant or buy and fix herself a lovely meal.

And that's assuming she's even hungry. When I was depressed, I had no interest in food. I lost some 60 pounds because I just didn't want to eat anything. So, no food at all would have been my choice then, not fast food.

And I think that patience and anticipation are both characteristics that are not abundant in unhappy or depressed folks. And the ability to plan ahead and then follow that plan? Not so much. I don't think about food until I'm hungry or in a restaurant, and then I want that food now.

Fast food is also tremendously unhealthy - see "Supersize Me." If you weren't unhappy before eating it, indigestion and ill health are likely to sour your mood afterwards.

That said, about once a year I just have to have some Jack in the Box tacos. Because they remind me of Santa Monica beach tacos, they have major nostalgia value.


Disputing About Tastes

My favorite Latin saying comes to mind, and usually then issues from my mouth, every couple of weeks. The saying is "De gustibus non disputandum est," there can be no arguing about tastes.

I probably picked it up in a Latin class. I continue to use it because I live by the sentiment and love the way it sounds. It's certainly less sexist than the roughly equivalent saying, "One man's meat is another man's poison." And it's much more elegant than "Different strokes for different folks." And I'm not sure how to pronounce the French version, "Chacun a son gout" (or spell it, for that matter).

More to the point, I keep on needing to assert this concept because I'm surrounded by people who believe that their own tastes are eternal verities, and that, if mine differ, I must be flawed, stupid, cowardly, or dull.

No, no, no, no!

Every person has the right to her own likes and dislikes. The only fault that could possibly attach to a dislike is to assert it without actually having tried the substance or activity in question. And I would maintain that we have no moral duty to try any new thing. Some activities I can be fairly confident that I won't enjoy without having to sample them - especially ones that are apt to result in pain, bleeding, or nausea.

Keeping an open mind is a virtue to some folks, so I usually try a new food or drink, say, at least once.. On the other hand, my mind doesn't need to be so open that things fall out. By which I mean that revisiting known pleasures is also a good thing.


State of the Union Rant

Pres. Obama certainly deserves to take a victory lap after all the disrespect, trash talk, lies, and nearly treasonous obstruction he has received from Republicans and other haters.

He inherited several steaming messes courtesy of the Decider, Bush Junior - Iraq, Afghanistan, Wall Street collapse, real estate collapse, job losses, etc. etc.

And by ignoring the haters and following Democratic principles and just plain persistence, he saved the American economy, encouraged the creation of millions of new jobs, got millions of people health insurance, got Don't Ask Don't Tell repealed and the Defense of Marriage Act off the books, and cut gas prices by half, and saved the American auto industry, and, oh yeah, while bringing budget deficits way down.

If anything, we need to be spending much more federal money to repair roads and bridges, and on education, child care, and Social Security.

Our economy is doing so much better, yet the country is still so divided. Why people vote to preserve the privileges of the 1% at their own expense is nearly impossible to understand. My best guess is that they believe Republican lies about the government getting in the way of opportunity. And they think that they actually have a decent chance of getting rich without relying on their parents' wealth or government help re education, policing, roads, food and water safety, etc. etc. But the evidence is strongly to the contrary. In fact, upward mobility in other countries is strongly tied to the extent to which the government maintains a strong safety net.

Having Too Much

In this age of clutter-consciousness and voluntary simplicity, having too much stuff is a problem for all but the homeless, and maybe for some of them. Our problems with stuff support reality shows about hoarding, and new books about clearing out clutter appear every day.

I buy too much stuff. I'm given too much stuff. I have no place to put all my stuff. I don't remember where I put my stuff.

After two complete rounds of going through every item I own, paring them down, and organizing the remainder, things are starting to build up again. And it's oppressive and depressing. And that's literally depression-inducing, which is a risk I shouldn't be running.

There must be some member of my interior committee who wants to have lots and lost of stuff, who is greedy and acquisitive. Well, acquisitiveness is a very common failing (and one deemed patriotic for us 'consumers'), especially for Americans. But, more charitably, maybe my inner child, who got plucked up and transplanted twice during her tender years, gets security from having stuff that stays with her. Surrounding herself with toys and memories and books acts as a barrier to change, as a cushion against threat and danger.

Thinking about my talismans, books, and teddy bears, and the records that have given me joy, brings a warm feeling to my chest.

I like knowing where my next teddy bear and my next good read are coming from. I don't have to be greedy to want some touchstones for security. But enough is probably enough.

Friday, January 9, 2015

More Editing, Less Writing

So, what I've been up to in recent weeks is working with the last ten years of blog entries and other writings that I've posted in the blog. I dumped it all into a single Word document, and it was nearly 400 pages long!

I got it printed out on heavy paper, and sorted it into rough categories: current happenings, my past, my mental blocks, spiritual matters, poems and songs, general writings, and my responses to others' writings.

I asked Kathy (the leader of Write Now!, a professional "Editorial Strategist") for some guidance, and her first suggestion was to choose the 50% of the pieces that most interest me. Not wanting to undo my sorting efforts, I chose the first three categories as my favorites. However, they included pieces that weren't so fascinating and left out other pieces that were pretty good. So I went back to Kathy with an update. She didn't know I had already done the sorting, and her second suggestion would have been to sort my favorites. So I went back to the rejected categories and pulled in my favorite pieces, and went through the chosen categories and pulled out my less favorite pieces.

I've been doing the sorting and choosing in the paper version, and updating the Word document as I go along. This morning I've been deleting the deselected pieces and copying in the newly chosen ones. Then I don't know what I'll do, but am inclining to want to stick to working with the paper version for the nonce.

Tuesday, December 9, 2014

Last Week with Eanlai

I spent last Saturday afternoon back at Eanlai's for prompted writing using the Amherst Writers and Artists method. The first prompt was to write about something that happened behind a wall.

What I really want to say is that sometimes I feel like I'm behind a wall from everybody and everything else already. I feel distant and other and unworthy, and like I'm observing people who are speaking an unknown language. There must be meaning to what they're saying, but I don't get it.

That said, sometimes I do have some empathy, and can sense how other folk are feeling, and I wish them well and want to help them or let them know that I share their feelings.

Things that happen behind a wall from others are meant to be private, not necessarily something to be ashamed of, but something meant only for the participants -- drawing so much meaning from their relationship that even in the absence of the literal wall, a metaphorical wall keeps the observer from appreciating how much of the interaction already happened. How much of the hidden iceberg consists of past adventures and arguments, pet names and in jokes, unexpressed judgments or compliments about each other's actions, attire, or attitude. Together, a couple or family, or pair of friends create a separate life, that arises from and between them, a life that is mysterious and hidden.

In a more literal frame of mind, I watch a lot of TV shows about factories that make various items, including food. And I am endlessly fascinated by the machinery, the ingredients, how the parts of the process fit together and produce the final result. Often the workers have to open a cover or slow down the mechanism to reveal the process.

In these shows, they take us behind the walls and inside the machines. And I start to wonder why I would want to eat anything that was made in a factory.

The next prompt was to write a story where the weather plays a role. Ever the over-achiever, I wrote two:

Somebody left the outside door open at the end of the hall where my bedroom was. I wanted to close it, but feared I would lock someone outside, in the cold.

But I was astoundingly cold that night. Changing into pajamas for sleep was as unthinkable as wearing a bikini in a blizzard. I wore two pair of socks, two pair of pants, five layers of T-shirts, shirts, overshirts, and coat, and still shivered.

Now this was Northern California; the temperature could not have been below freezing, but I was chilled to the bone, through the bone, into some bony dimension of being hitherto unexplored.

The night was endless. I curled up on one side, and the other side chilled. I turned over and the chill shifted accordingly. The very air burned inside my nose unless it had been warmed by passing through the blanket. But then it seemed to lack oxygen, so I cycled between the burning air and the burned out air.

Then post-nasal slime choked its way down the back of my throat, and I began to suspect that the chill was not so much in the room as in myself. And when I finally reached daylight, my lack of a voice confirmed that I was sick, not just cold.


The still warmth of that day in '89 has always struck me since as earthquake weather.

After the BART train shuddered to a halt at Embarcadero Station, we mystified travelers made our way through the partly lit station and stationary escalators up to the slightly crumpled sidewalk. The air was a pleasantly warm temperature, but the unavailability of public transportation had me walking uphill towards my home, and I gradually overheated, removing layers of clothing and tying them around my waist.

The power was out most places, but I found one store still doing business, with an ancient manual cash register, and bought a bottle of water and a snack.

Time passed, the sky grew dark (except for the glow of fire over the Marina), and I finally spotted a light at the home of a friend, who gave me a ride the rest of the way back to my own home.

The next prompt was a poem by Noel Coward claiming that all the notes we ever heard and all the phrases those we loved have spoken to us lie deep in our minds waiting to be recalled:

All the notes I ever heard linger in my mind much more clearly than words spoken by loved ones, tho' I do remember some of them as well. Or do I remember remembering them?

My memories pale and shift with the recalling. I remember trying to remember a particularly sweet moment with a dear friend, and the sweetness ebbed every time I remembered it - like the fading clarity of a xerox of a xerox of a xerox. The juice gets pressed out and worn down with each visit.

But how does that compare with how well a memory retains its sweetness while unopened? If years pass before the event comes to mind, is there going to be any juice left at all? Or will I even be able to remember the event? Or even to believe that such events once happened to me?

If the risk in leaving the book of memories closed is total erasure, then I really should savor any sweet memory while it lasts, and write it down in as much detail as possible, both to cement it more firmly in my present recollection, and to have enough of a prompt in the writing to perhaps ignite the embers of the memory's lingering warmth.

I think I almost deliberately wiped my memory of people, places, and events when I was plucked out of Harrisburg at the age of 11 and dropped in Berkeley to live with a different relative, and again when he died four years later and I was moved to Southern California. My emotional survival in each new situation seemed to require letting go of what came before, to minimize the pain of looking backward, and to motivate me to become rooted in my new home.

But I've lived in the same city for 40 years now, and there is no value to me in washing away my past. So, can I hope that Mr. Coward is correct, and that all of those memories lie hidden somewhere in the subbasement of my consciousness? Maybe with practice I can get more of them to come swimming up, perhaps in response to writing prompts, bits of what I read or see on a screen, or my dreams.

Music seems to linger more securely in my mind than words. I've always been a singer, and music that I've learned and performed sticks pretty well in my mind. And I studied music in college, so a lot of orchestral music came into my consciousness then and lingers there, helped by the LPs I bought so I could enjoy them again. I seldom play those LPs, though, in part because I seem to lack the patience to just sit there and listen, but if I read or do other things, the music goes by unheard. It's a puzzlement, and a growth opportunity.


And, finally, we wrote four minutes to the prompt "What I meant to tell you." This piece should be read after rereading the one about the last time I talked to my mother, from the previous post.

What I meant to tell you is that I now realize you intended that core dump of wisdom as a gift, since you had nothing else of value to leave me. You intended me to profit from your mistakes and experience, and to avoid some of the pain you felt. I meant to tell you that I realize you did the best for us that you could, that your own upbringing did not equip you to raise healthy children, so you passed us on to relatives that you believed would do a better job than you could.

I meant to tell you that I enjoyed Santa Monica summers and Christmases at Disneyland. That I realize how you must have scrimped and saved all year to pay for those trips and provide us with the season's best toys. I meant to tell you that I forgive you for your failings and thank you for what you were able to give us.