Wednesday, August 26, 2015

New Writings

Allison and Me

Allison Bechdel's graphic memoir, Fun Home, has become an award-winning Broadway musical, and I'm reminded of how much I identified with parts of her life when I read the book some years ago.

Her father was gay and closeted. She learned this during his life. My father was also gay and closeted, but it was only after his death that I understood what my mother had been trying to tell me about his friends and roomers. I wish we had had the chance to discuss our shared homosexuality and how it affected our lives.

Her father was run down by a truck on a road near their home, and she believes he committed suicide by throwing himself in its path.

My father overdosed on prescription medications that he had reportedly abused for years. His death certificate raised some question of suicide. But I don't believe he would deliberately overdose, then sit reading the newspaper in the living room of his own house, for his daughter to find him in the morning. But I imagine he was in such poor mental health that his intentions may have wavered. I'll never know for sure.


I May Have Been Drunk

As the child of an alcoholic mother, who missed being raised by her because of that alcoholism, I have a healthy respect for booze. It helps that I dislike the taste of most of it. And it can easily upset my stomach.

When in bars, I usually have nonalcoholic Shirley Temples - which are Seven Up with grenadine syrup. Sometimes I'll have Kahlua and cream, on the rocks. The cream counters the acidity of the booze, and the melting ice dilutes it to an acceptable taste.

That being said, I think I was drunk once. During or shortly after law school, I somehow grew a little close to my straight male dentist. This may have been during my period of trying to be straight, for religious reasons. Or he may have known me for a lesbian and thought he could cure me of that affliction. Yes, on second thought, I think he know that I favored women. One evening, he took me out to dinner (whether after an office visit or on a separate occasion, I can't remember). I do remember having one or two drinks before dinner and drinking two glasses of wine during the meal. I may have been drunk, but I retained control over my behavior.

We had some very pleasant farewell kissing, and he was surprised at my ability. I said to him, Lesbians kiss, too - or something similar. That's where we left it, and he deposited me at my door.

Maybe I was more drunk than I recall, because I was sick as a dog the next day. Completely hung over, I called in sick to work and tried to believe that I was suffering from food poisoning.


A Skill no Longer Needed

When I was much, much younger, and much, much lighter, I rode my bike all over Harrisburg, Pennsylvania. It was a blue Schwinn, I seem to recall, that I would occasionally customize with playing cards clothes-pinned to the wheel fork, that made a magical roar against the spinning spokes.

I had energy, and balance, and stamina, and the bike was the right size for my little legs. I flew down the street, the wind in my hair. I often rode in a skirt - believe it or not - since I was too young to be allowed to choose my own clothes.

Then I moved to Berkeley, California, and bikes were useless in the hills. I could have gotten another bike in flat Santa Monica four years later, but I didn't need one: I took the bus to high school, and was driven to the beach, and then was given a car in my senior year.

I did buy another bike and rode it in an AIDS benefit in San Francisco many years later. The ride was only 25 miles, and I trained for it for a month. But it was a deadly slog, especially since my partner at the time had injured herself and I rode alone, reaching the end long after the bulk of the riders.

That pretty much clinched it for me - I'm never going to be a cyclist again.

Tuesday, August 11, 2015

What's Up

So I'm starting to get back into the swing of my pre-show retired life. I'm picking off some of the chores that were stacking up.

In particular, I've been working on my will. I've mostly settled the questions around distributing my estate, but I'm still working on the disposition of my remains and household goods, and on what kind of memorial to have.

These efforts are complicated by my frequent desire to sleep all morning and spend the rest of the day on my sofa. I got out most days this past week: went out to shows Tuesday and Friday, sang karaoke on Saturday, and went to a dance class on Sunday.

Next week I'm off to San Rafael for a week-long meditation retreat that I attended a couple of years ago. I don't need to get away from my home to be silent, but the energy of a whole group of people seeking to quiet their minds and nourish their spirits pulls me along with it.

Thursday, June 25, 2015

We Rolled Up the Pants

We performed Pants, The Musical, three times this week at the African-American Arts and Culture Complex. Their facilities are palatial compared to the variety of homes, churches, etc., where we rehearsed - two full dressing rooms and an elegant green room, not to mention lights and sound.

I met lots of charming and talented women, and managed to retain all my lines, songs, costume changes, and stage business. There weren't that many lines, but they were distributed among three different characters.

Our biggest and most energetic audience was on Tuesday night, and it was well provided with women from various arenas of my past - including one that I haven't yet identified.

I didn't panic before or during any of the performances, but the uncontrollable shaking of one hand while holding the mike for one of my solos makes me wonder about the state of my nerves, and whether there's some Parkinsonism in the family.

Anyway, I got compliments from my friends in the audience. One stranger hugged me and said I had broken her heart both nights. At something of a loss to respond, I was trying to apologize and offer her some glue.

Now I need to regather the threads of my life that I left hanging while focusing on the show.

Wednesday, May 13, 2015

Poems for Janell's Last Class

Two Prose Poems About Common Objects

A wooden box without a bottom, solid on top except for an oval hole in the middle. It probably has a name, but I know it as a cover to hold down the kleenex box while I pluck tissues from its stomach.


Standing in your base, a sentinel of sanitation, light blinking under soft button while charging, steady when charged. You serve your purpose when I pick you up, anoint you with the sacred cream, and stick you in my mouth.


Two more poems on the topic of lost and found:

A flake

of something white and papery

fell from the heavens

into my lap

as I sat at the front of the church,

casting about

for a way

to stanch the bleeding

of a scab I'd just picked.


When I finally got around to watching the movie Rent,

it included a wedding scene

in a sanctuary I used to know

like the back of my hand.

It had been decades

since I'd helped lead services there,

or sung in the choir.

Seeing that old familiar place

was like a cool breeze

from a younger sky.

Wednesday, May 6, 2015

How I Got to Read My Writing on Public Radio

I write twice a month with a group of people led by a published non-fiction writer and editor. After we had been together for a month or two, the leader, Kathy, suggested that I try to get one of my pieces on the radio, the Perspectives spot on KQED FM. I'd heard one or two Perspectives - I'm seldom listening to the radio at the times they are aired - and had thought to myself: I could do that.

Whether I could write something radio-worthy was my main concern; I'd done enough public speaking and acting that I enjoy interpreting my pieces aloud. I looked up the submission guidelines for a Perspective, and let the thought fade away.

About two weeks ago, though, all the pieces came together. I had chosen to participate in a vigil, march, and demonstration concerning a questionable police killing. The pastor who had conducted the funeral and I both belonged to an interfaith community organizing group. When he told me about the event, I volunteered to either supply a rabbi to participate in the prayers or to come and do so myself, to show Jewish support. Although I'm not formally trained as a rabbi or cantor, I've led dozens of services at my synagogue. Since the event was on a Friday evening, I couldn't find a rabbi, so I donned my yarmulke and prayer shawl and came myself.

That was April 24. On the 27th, I was in a different writing class and wrote three paragraphs about the event and how I felt about the spate of police killings that's dominated the news lately. Kind of a vignette about the march and a little rant against senseless killings.

On the 28th, I read the stuff to my writing group at Kathy's. She told me that someone who had come to our public reading on the 13th had told her that she loved my works and how I read them, and that I belong on NPR. This time, I absorbed the compliment and assessment of my writing, and another member of the group looked up the submission guidelines and gave me the name and email I needed to submit the piece.

I went home and, the next day, emailed an edited version to KQED, and left a message on the editor's phone mail so he could hear my voice.

Two days later, on Friday May 1, he sent me an email accepting the piece and asking me to make it longer. I did so. I read it aloud to him over the phone, and now it was too long. He edited it a bit, and decided to air it the following Tuesday. He instructed me to contact the station and make an appointment to record it at the studio on Monday. I did so, excited out of my mind.

And immediately my body hit the panic button with a sore throat that turned into a head cold over the weekend. Monday I called the editor to be sure they would let me do the recording. My voice was cloudy and lower-pitched, but still serviceable. He said to go ahead.

I didn't want to spread the news of my success until after I'd made the recording, at which point I could be fairly confident that the universe wouldn't snatch the victory out of my hands.

So, after I finished recording an acceptable take of the piece, I got on Facebook and spread the word. Congratulations poured in from friends from all sectors of my life: synagogue, DIFO, SFOP/PIA, fellow writers, a former co-worker, and other contacts going back to my college and junior high years. I was so jazzed by the taping that my hands were shaking for hours afterwards, and I could hardly sleep that night.

Not only did I get to read my piece on the radio, but the tape and transcript of the piece, and a picture of me, are archived on Here's the link to Perspectives; my piece is dated May 5, 2015.

My internal committee is flabbergasted. One voice, the one that had said "I can do that," is now saying, "I told you so. Why did it take you so long to do it?"

Another voice marvels that I was able to sell a piece of my creative writing to KQED on my first try. Most writers have to shop their stuff around enough to collect a pile of rejection slips.

A third voice says that I do well with short writings. I'd already published several prayers in my synagogue's prayerbook. I might take forever to write a novel and another eternity to sell it, but I can turn out several of my little creative non-fictions in an hour or so. So their number alone increases the odds that I'll kick out something interesting to someone.

And another voice suggests that spending over a decade writing little pieces for my blog (and another decade before that writing pieces for Mothertongue Feminist Readers' Theater), not to mention a 31-year career in technical writing and editing, may also have contributed to the quality of my work.

So now it's the day after my piece aired. I listened to one airing live, and recorded the last airing on my DVR for future reference. It's so cool hearing real radio announcers say my name, correctly.

I went to a brunch, a rehearsal, and a meeting of that writing group yesterday, where I shared with them the events of the past week. It was a full and draining day. Now my cold is worse, with a cough and my voice is really bad. Sure glad it waited until today to fall apart. I hear a nap calling my name.

Saturday, May 2, 2015

A Morning Ritual

When I leave the house, I usually pray a Thank You song to God, for the morning and each new day, for friends and family, for my occupations, for every small pleasure, for music, light, and gladness. I pray thanks for folks who aggravate or intimidate me, and pray that I not be the one doing the aggravating or intimidating, and that I continue to grow into my role in the human family. I've always felt different and other, having social anxiety and abandonment issues.

I pray this prayer (sing it sometimes, when I'm alone in the car) to prepare myself for the day: to set my mind to notice good things, to set my heart open to other people, to counter my natural pessimism with a hint of hope, to at least acknowledge a possibility that the universe can be a friendly place and that I can both enjoy and contribute to it.

Tuesday, April 28, 2015

The Cars of My Youth

Grandpa Lou drove a red pickup truck with the words "Vinicoff Electric Company" on the side. I think I rode in it only once, when he picked me up at a friend's house after he had an accident at work.

Grandma Mil drove an ancient black Volvo, like an overgrown Beetle. It had a small, rectangular window in the curved back. I was told she drove it so slowly that its transmission had grown accustomed to shifting into third gear at an absurdly low speed.

Family friend Nancy drove a little Karmann Ghia - I don't remember its color - that she described at a sheep in wolf's clothing - a sports car with no guts.

Dad's first car was a 1956 Ford Thunderbird convertible. It was white, with a white removable hardtop and a black ragtop. There were little porthole windows in the hardtop, and I think it was a two-seater. I faintly recall an occasion in which we somehow crammed three adults and two children into those two seats. Dad liked to drive with the top down. Often, I was so cold that I'd curl up on the floor in front of the passenger seat.

After my brother and I came to live with him, Dad bought a green Ford Mustang, which at least had a back seat. I liked its shape and the round logo on its rear end.

My brother inherited the T-bird after Dad died. It had an electrically adjustable seat, and so much horsepower that my mother worried about me driving it. But there was no need for worry. With the seat up and forward as far as it could go, and my leg and foot stretched out as far as they could go, that car wasn't going more than 30 mph. My legs were too short for speed.