Wednesday, December 31, 2008

Ten birthdays

This was the 10th time we’ve gone to the cemetery to celebrate Paul's birthday, and how I’ve managed to live through all these years is a miracle.

Well, I attribute my survival to how I’ve chosen to live my life since my son died: working, working out, and openly receiving and using the gift of writing that Paul’s death afforded me. And, of course I must also attribute my survival to family and friends who are always here for me. That the grief doesn’t go away in evident just by the way I feel today -- gray and wallowing in self pity like the color of the day -- yet I’m living proof that one can live through the most horrific tragedy of all.

So we’re moving on – we had a nice lunch at the Farmstand, we're writing the last of the charity donation checks, and later we'll go to a movie and dinner with Ben and Marissa to ring in the new year.

But, before I go, here’s a recent poem I wrote for Paul. One I've been saving for today.

What I Miss

Nine years didn’t erase him.
He is still with me everyday.
The memories haven’t dimmed.
His face, his body, his buzzed hair
are clearly visible in my mind.

I miss his sounds,
hearing him play
his music
as his bent fingers
lightly trickled up
and down the keyboard,
hearing his footsteps
on the stairs,
on the hardwood floors
as he prowled
around the house at night,
hearing his deep voice
as he said, “hello”
when he came home from work

I also miss his expertise.
He’d work on our computer problems at night
and leave carefully written instructions
in childish printing
for us to find the next morning.

I don’t miss his smoking,
I don’t miss his bad moods
during his last few years,
I don’t miss that his sickness
sometimes made him angry
and me angry at him.
No, I don’t miss those things.

But, I don’t think about them.
I just think about the things about him
that I miss.

Tuesday, December 30, 2008

A couple more

I wrote the following two poems the last time I was at the Bass/Laux/Millar poetry workshop at Esalen, Big Sur in August 2007. Although I still consider them works in progress, it's time to give them the light of day as well.
I wrote the second poem for Paul. Tomorrow would be his 37th birthday.

Ice Cream Party for One

He opens the freezer door
every night at 10.
He muses,
What will it be tonight?
The rum raisin, the natural vanilla bean with chocolate chunks,
the caramel swirl.
He does not discriminate.
Even the coffee in the back,
probably old and stiff, will do.
He takes out two,
maybe three, containers,
sets them on the red granite counter
and takes out a bowl
from the cabinet above his head.
His fingers curl
under the rim of each container
and pull until the top gives way.
With his serving spoon at the ready
he mounds scoop after scoop
into the bowl
licking his fingers, one at a time,
as he goes.
Finally, he walks to the table,
pulls out his chair
and sits hunched over
spooning the cold ice cream
into his mouth.
Soon I hear the last scraping sound
of spoon against bowl, spoon against bowl
over and over
until all the melted liquid is gone.
He walks back to the kitchen,
leaves the bowl and spoon
unrinsed on the counter
and goes to bed.

I Took You With Me

I took you with me this morning
past the big house and the school.
As we walked,
the gray sky hung over us
like tears.

I took you with me past the garden.
Black crows squawked and called to us
but didn’t interrupt
as we listened to your
Music for Yoga,
the last tunes you wrote for H
in 1999.

You left us eight years ago
with a box of your music
each tape marked by hand.
The jazz melodies sound so true
you could be playing them today.

I took you with me up to the highway.
We inhaled the pine and eucalyptus,
looked out to the colorless sea,
and felt the chill through our clothes.

Like everyday
I took you with me this morning.

Monday, December 29, 2008

Ready for prime time?

Here's a poem that has never seen the light of day except on my computer. I wrote it while sitting in a hotel bar in Bilbau, Spain in the Fall of 2006. I couldn't take my eyes off this man -- yes, he is real -- and felt I needed to immotalize him in a poem.

All comments and critiques welcome.

The Man in the Bar

He sits at the corner table
He doesn’t drink
He looks straight ahead
Or at his lap as he smokes

His hand goes
To his mouth
Away from his mouth

To his mouth
Away from his mouth

A puff and then away
Then back

A puff and then away
Then back.

He gets up, pulls his shoulder bag
Across his body
He looks down, mutters to himself
His eyes rimmed with dark circles
Look down,
His hand clutches his pack of ciggies
As he walks
Out of the bar

He returns a few minutes later
He sits in the same chair
In the same corner
Clutching a cigar in his hand
He takes the cigar
Out of the cellophane wrapper
And he begins again

To his mouth
away from his mouth

He smokes
Until the cigar is gone
He gets up again
He put his bag
Over his shoulder
Clutching his pack of ciggies
And he is gone

Sunday, December 28, 2008

Wishes for 2009

This year ends with bad news about two people I've known for years.

My dear friend's husband is having surgery tomorrow to deal with his prostate cancer. And, my next door neighbor will begin chemotherapy for her pancreatic cancer when she returns from their annual holiday ski trip. Right now, I'm reeling from this news about people so close to me -- and so young, and my hearts and thoughts are with them as they proceed on their journey to recovery.

Friday I spent some quality time with two of my women friends. We had lunch and walked along the beach in Santa Monica remarking about the absolute beauty of our surroundings and being thankful we lived in the mild Southern California climate. Even Catalina was out that afternoon. Sure we had a little wind and I had to borrow a pair of gloves. But, it certainly wasn't so cold that we could see our breath.

During our lunch conversation, one of the women asked what we wished for in the new year. I wished for more rest and no deaths. Those are definitely the things that mean the most right now. I’m forever tired. And I’m tired of the losses in my life.

In just three days it will be Paul’s 37th birthday. And, I’ll have to celebrate it at the cemetery again this year – the 10th of his birthdays I’ve spent there with him. So, no more deaths. Only happy occasions. And stop with the bad news already too. I’ll take the tiredness any day over sickness and death.

Thursday, December 25, 2008

Christmas day -- a day for going to the movies

We saw a terrific movie this afternoon – “Slumdog Millionaire.” Perhaps it’s the best movie I’ve seen all year. Such a vivid portrayal of the streets of India and the life of street children and how they were exploited and abused and even mutilated! It was heavy and then uplifting in the end. And, so full of the sights and sounds of Mumbai -- a part of India that probably no tourist ever gets a chance to see.

Later, after dinner, we went to see "Milk," the story of the first openly gay elected official. The phenomena of Harvey Milk and his gay rights movement happened in the 70s when I was a young mother and too preoccupied to pay attention to what was going on in the world around me. Also, when he finally came into power and was later assassinated we were living on Kwajalein where we were deprived of news of the goings on in the States. That was my loss. Seeing this movie tonight was a look back in a part of history that I unfortunately had no connection to. I’m glad to say I had the opportunity to go back tonight and catch up. The movie is well acted, well written, and definitely well worth seeing. Sean Penn is so believable in the role – he doesn’t shrink from fully acting the part of a homosexual.

So, two good movies in one day -- a great way to spend this day.

Tuesday, December 23, 2008

What can I do without?

The economic downturn has created a situation that I really didn’t want to have to face – ever. Just a little over a year ago we bragged to ourselves how comfortable we felt financially. And, now, it feels like we’re walking on eggshells. Yes, both of us are still working – that’s the good part. So we don’t have to use our dwindling IRAs to eat. At least not yet. But, who knows how long we’ll have viable jobs or be able to keep our jobs because of our age?

This year Bob, who has always earned way more than I, will earn less. Next year appears to be better for him – his consulting expertise still seems to be in high demand. That gives us room to breathe. And, it also looks like I’m secure in my job as well – I hate putting those words down on paper. What I’ve experienced lately is that things change very fast. So, the economic climate at my company could change just like that too.

What we need to do right now is think of ways to cut down on our spending and concentrate mightily on saving the majority of what we earn. And, hopefully (and yes, I know, hope is not a plan) by next year at this time we’ll have both a built up savings account and a reinvigorated IRA balance.

I’ve written down a few things here that I can do without. However, this list seems like tokenism. I really haven’t gone very far beyond very trivial things. It will have to do for now, while I keep thinking about other ways I can save.

Clearly I am spoiled. I still want my cleaning lady and my gardeners, and my facials and massages and manicures and hair dresser and my gym and Pilates instructor. I haven’t put them on the to-go list yet although I have considered limiting the amount of time I use their services.

Here’s what I have put down on my list of things I can do without -- for now:

Shopping at Maxmara
Shopping PERIOD
Eating out more than once a week
Drinking wine every day
Shopping at Bristol Farms – except for fresh fish
Professional eyebrow plucking
Hair color

Monday, December 22, 2008

The year 2008 -- a short review

Here's the letter that will go in with our holiday cards -- that is unless Bob bleeds all over it with his red pen....

The death of my brother, Ken, this year made the importance of seeing and keeping in touch with friends and family even more important.

So, this was a year of reconnection – with friends in town, in Ojai and Santa Barbara, in New York at Bob’s 50th Cooper Union reunion, in Washington State, in Colorado Springs at the Kwajalein reunion, and in Chicago and Winnetka for my 50th New Trier High School reunion.

We also visited family in the Washington DC area and New York twice, made a brief trip to my sister’s home in Oregon, and of course visited Denver many times – before and after Ken’s death. Going to Denver became like going across town on the shuttle bus.

Besides all these little trips we worked hard and sometimes very long – still on proposals to procure contracts worth billions of dollars for Northrop Grumman.

For leisure we saw our fill of movies, plays, and opera. Bob relaxed over his daily crossword and Sudoku puzzles and golf when he could find the time. He also started a training program at our gym and likes the results. I am still a gym rat, logging in at least an hour of some kind of exercise every day. I am also writing, querying agents to interest them in my memoir, and I’ve had a couple of publishing successes in the last few months. Sometimes there is an acceptance mixed in with all the rejections.

Ben starred in and produced a short film that was shown at the Downtown Los Angeles Film Festival, and he’s working to turn it into a “Webisode.” Plus he’s writing two other scripts. However, tennis lessons still provide his daily bread. Marissa is the love of his life – a very lovely and caring partner for him. She’s also an actor.

So, even though it was a tough year of death and economic downturn, we are doing well. It is so reassuring to have so many loving folks in our lives like you.

Sunday, December 21, 2008

Revisiting my bucket list

So, what about the bucket list?

Definitely quitting work at this point is not on it. Our financial life has taken a downward turn along with everyone else’s. I’m just so fortunate to have a job.
Living in Italy will now have to be postponed indefinitely. Staying in my job is not consistent with living in Italy.
Traveling has also moved far down on the list or even off of it for now. We are definitely economizing on that front. We haven’t had a real trip in over two years and don’t have plans for any in the future – either near or far. I even cancelled going to a poetry writing workshop at Esalen in December because of the expense of the workshop and having to take a few days off work for no-pay – I didn’t have enough vacation time.

That is not to say that we’ve stopped living. We’re still eating out – probably much too much. We're still entertaining. We’re still going to movies, theater, and the opera (though I don’t know about re-upping for all of those things next season), and we’ve done a bit of shopping for gifts for the holidays.Thankfully, Bob has gotten some work and gas prices are way back down, so we feel we can afford to spend a little bit.

However, the goal for this coming year (what's on the top of next year's bucket list) is for both of us to keep working while the economy turns around and our IRA nest egg builds back up. Then, by the end of 2009, we can begin to make other plans again. Am I being too optimistic? Well, maybe so, but I better be. How could I stand it otherwise?

Friday, December 12, 2008

Cold versus death -- now there's a choice

I’ve spent most of the last two weeks feeling so ill that I found myself weighing: cold-death, death-cold. Each seemed equally bad to me. (I know. This is a little dramatic!) Finally I snapped out of it. I’m feeling better. The incessant coughing and scratchy throat are over, the aches and headaches are gone, and I seem to be getting some of my energy back. But, I’m still not 100% as my dad used to say. My eyes are watery and red, my voice is not yet my own, and just yesterday I broke into such a sweat I felt like I was having a long series of hot flashes – when I don’t even get hot flashes anymore.

And, throughout all this I kept my routine – up at 5:00; at the gym by 5:30 doing my usual cardio, weight, and/or yoga/pilates exercises; home by no later than 7. Then dress, have breakfast, and at work by 8:30. My friend and sometime workout buddy says I am crazy to continue to exercise while feeling so sick, but if I don’t get up and do my usual routine there is no way I can do my day at work. Plus, sweating after exercise definitely makes me feel better.

Tuesday, December 9, 2008

A turkey day delight

We asked our little great nieces to make decorations for our Thanksgiving table -- one edible turkey for each place at the table -- made from Nilla wafers, cherry cordials, corn candy, butterscotch chips and dried cranberries -- all glued together with chocolate frosting. Needless to say they were delighted with the idea and thrilled with the yummy (and perfect) results. As were we.

The Thanksgiving Turkey Project

Sunday, December 7, 2008

Sick and tired

I've been sick with a cold for a week. I hate being sick. I don't know how to handle being sick. I try to do my normal life, but being sick won't let me. Even after I spent this weekend mostly in bed, taking cough syrup and throat lozenges and Advil, and eating tons of soup, I'm still sick. And work beckons me tomorrow. Needless to say, I haven't done one iota of creative activity during this time.

Here's a poem from the distant past after a happy (and well) time at the opera. Oh, how I love the opera!

At the Opera

The grand salon was ablaze in hues of crimson
enveloping the walls, the settees.
Even the floors, even the drapery,
even the hoop-skirted gowns
were on fire in shades of red.
I looked in awe of this fantastic bordello scene
anxious for more
and was not disappointed.
Writhing down the staircase like snakes,
rattling their teeth,
kicking up their tails
came the black cloaked sirens.
They disrobed revealing legs and arms
and bodies encased in fishnet.
Their long red fingernails
beckoned the divas
and their twirling mates dressed
in gleaming ebony patent
and satin and crisp white linen.
The sirens teased,
while the divas
bellowing their glee, pulsated their throats.
Well, what do you know?
Those girls sure can sing.

Monday, December 1, 2008

The loving couple

Now that all that Turkey Day stuff is over it's time to think about the next major family event. And, that would be my nephew's wedding to this lovely young woman he's standing next to. It took a little coercing, but he finally popped the question last August 20 (on my brother's birthday had he lived to be 71), and they plan to be married on June 20 in a Denver park. They both have sky-blue eyes. I can't wait to see what their baby will look like. Or am I rushing things? No, I don't think so. I understand she's already looking up names that start with a K to honor Jeremy's dad, my brother.

No matter how bad things can get, we always have beautiful things to look forward to. And, I do look forward to seeing this wonderful pair get married. I guess that's what keeps us going.

Monday, November 24, 2008

The women in my life - part 5

The ladies in retail

Rosie serves me at the cleaners. No matter when I go there – mornings, evenings, Saturdays, Sundays she is always there. She calls me Mrs. Sharpless, but I don’t mind. I like that she provides good service and good value and always with a smile. She is a tiny woman with red hair, always worn up off her face. And, she moves like lightening – from the back cleaning area, to the counter, to the racks of cleaned and ready clothes. There is never a hesitation. She knows me when I walk in the door and knows exactly where to find the clothes I’m there to pick up. That’s what I call good service.

Vivian used to serve Bob in the men’s department at Nordstrom, but she branched out in the last year or so to also serve women as a personal buyer. I really love that she’s so ready and willing to go shopping for me because it’s one of the things I dread doing. She lets me know when a big sale is coming up, I call back with a few things I’d like her to find for me, and we’re off and running. I don’t buy much from her, but when I do go over there it’s practically painless. Vivian is vivacious and caring and very glamorous with long flowing brunette hair and a drop dead figure. She’s always concerned about how Bob and I are. Also, she still waits on him when he comes into the store. She knows exactly what he likes.

Brenda is my jeweler. Every woman needs one. Actually, Brenda started out as a friend whom I first met in the 6 am aerobics class I used to take at our local tennis club. But, when I heard from an aerobics classmate that he always bought his wife’s jewelry from Brenda, I had to check her out. And, I’ve never been sorry. She has beautiful taste and designs. Recently she produced a piece for me that receives constant compliments – mostly from perfect strangers. It’s something I’ll be proud to wear for the rest of my life. But, besides being a talented and respected jeweler in our community, Brenda is one of the finest human beings I know. After the crash of Flight 93 on September 11, 2001, Brenda took on the task of repairing, cleaning, putting together the pieces of jewelry found at the sight so they could be returned to the victims’ families. It was such a tearjerker of a job. I came into her store when she had just begun work on the third batch, and she showed me the over 20 pieces – broken and squashed beyond recognition in a baggie still holding residue of the ground where the plane crashed. But, she said with tears in her eyes, she would do anything to fix these bits and pieces so that the survivors could have some sort of memento from their lost loved ones. I’ve written a piece about this experience. One of these days I’ll post it here.

Thursday, November 20, 2008

The women in my life - part 4

The ladies who keep me fit

Rosie is my sometime personal trainer. I’m not working with her right now, but that has more to do with the status of my pocketbook than about her abilities. She is short, energetic, fairly close to my age, and always concerned that I will be in enough balance in my old age so I can get on and off the toilet. I think that’s her mission in life – keeping her women clients in balance. But that’s a good thing. Plus when I work out with her, she never lets up for the whole hour. One exercise after another until I can barely move. I love that she is upbeat and can keep talking on any subject at a fast clip while she’s working me out. Even when I’m not working with her, if she sees I’m doing something incorrectly she’ll come over and make me do it right.

Erica is my adorable personal Pilates trainer. She also is a talker, but she stands close and scrutinizes my every move during each exercise. I’ve learned that Pilates is an exact practice – one little toe out of place and the whole exercise goes wrong. Even though Erica is young enough to be my daughter (maybe even my granddaughter) we have our love of everything Italian and our desire to learn to speak Italian in common. She also bakes bread and kneads it by hand; something I did when I was first married. I love that she took the time to read the poetry in my blog even though some of it is pretty dark.

Becky teaches the always-packed Saturday morning Spinning class and never ceases to entertain. She’s been around the club forever – I’m sure most people think she must own the place. That’s how concerned she is for the people who come there, her own personal training clients, and the status of the equipment and resources in the building. Most of her jokes are about her, her house – just down the block from mine – and her 30 plus year relationship with Fred. Right now I worry a bit about her. She is much too thin. But, boy does she have definition in her upper arms! She’s pretty amazing for a woman over 60. Plus she loves country and western music – one of my faves.

Vanessa teaches the Pilates class I try to attend every other week. I don’t know what it is about these trainers. She’s a talker too. And she always is bringing out Pilates moves I’ve never even seen before let alone know how to do. Last week it was jumps, the week before it was the clap-clap. But all those moves are invigorating and really get to where my body needs it. Plus she knows the website for finding an apartment in Rome.

Kelly is the best Yoga instructor. Her system is Yoga Flow, so for however long I can stand being in class, there is no letting up. She must have us do 50 downward dogs. I haven’t been going to class much lately because I do so much Pilates, but I still do Yoga outside of class. It’s a perfect way to stretch after my morning workouts. Kelly also is a newly-graduated doctor of Chinese medicine. I love her spirituality and calmness and her bright smile. I promise to go back to her class one of these days.

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

A little success story

I got word yesterday that Memoir (and) has accepted two of my poems for its February 2009 edition. I submitted at the end of July and promptly forgot about it. Could that be why I woke at 3 am and couldn’t fall back to sleep? All the excitement? Well, I’m sure feeling the results of that now. Anyhow, I spoke with the editor and she sounds fantastic and very willing to help get me exposure. She’s putting a link to my blog in my bio and links to my other poetry sites at Mamazine and The Emerging Goddess in the bio that will appear online. Who knows, maybe she’ll think of someone for my memoir. In the meantime, I’m very excited she’ll publish the two poems, "The Last Night" and "Thursday Morning" – posted on my blog September 22 and September 18. She thinks of them as a pair – I certainly had never thought of that. But, of course, it makes perfect sense.

Sunday, November 16, 2008

Just over a year

It's just over a year since I started this blog. It's evolved into something quite different from my original intent, but I'm not unhappy about that. I like that I can post any subject that comes to mind. I'm not confined to my blog title, choices.

Today I'm thinking about the air quality and the gray sky left dirty and murky from the fallout from all the fires in Santa Barbara, Slymar, Diamond Bar, Palos Verdes that have been rampaging these last few days. I couldn't even do my usual long Sunday walk to the beach this morning for fear of getting congested and short-winded. It is definitely a day to stay indoors with the windows closed. So, it seems appropriate to post a poem I wrote a while back about star gazing. And, no, I don't expect to see any stars out tonight.

Star Fishing

Today I want to tell you about variable stars.
They intrigue me because they change.
They change in brightness.
Some repeat cycles with almost clocklike precision
others change irregularly.
Some require only hours or days
to return to their starting brightness.
Others require years to change.
Yet, whether they change imperceptibly or violently
all variable stars change.

The most spectacular variable is the Nova.
It can get up to 200,000 times brighter than the Sun.
But, alas, it is temporary.
It periodically blows off a tiny percent of the Sun’s mass
at speeds up to 600 miles a second
until it loses too much mass to continue.
Whereas Supernovas brighten up to 10 billion times
the Sun’s brightness for a few days
and then fade away forever.

One more thing.
Variable stars change their brightness by pulsating
ever expanding and contracting
like a balloon,
They repeat their brightness cycles
from one day to hundreds of days
and are hundreds of times more luminous
than the Sun.

Well, that’s it.
Now go out into your yard
lean back in your recliner
gaze up into that black starry sky
and see if you can find your own variable star
amidst the 8000 stars visible to the naked eye.
See if you can catch its luminosity.
Surely you can.
Surely you can.

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

The women in my life - part 3

My beauty team

Every woman needs a beauty team. These women make up mine:

Ruth does my finger and toe nails and she always entertains. When I first met her she had flowing long blonde hair, now it’s short and spiky. She’s short too with a definite pear-shaped figure. She likes to talk about food – what she’s making for dinner, what I’m making for dinner, who is coming over for dinner, where she’s going out to dinner, and what she just had for lunch while standing up in the supply room between clients. She also likes to gossip a little bit, but that’s what’s supposed to go on in beauty salons. Turns out she works on a few people I know, so we have to be careful about that.

Lori, my hair stylist, is tall and gorgeous and she has the most beautiful tattoos covering her back and arms – and maybe other places I haven’t seen yet. Plus does she know how to do hair. And, she’s been through a lot with my hair – weaving in low lights, dying it totally, and now working with me as I grow out my gray. She also gleefully cut it a few months back when I suggested it on a whim. But now, probably to her dismay, I’ve decided to grow it long again. Maybe that’s what hairdressers do best – just go along with the changing minds of their women clients – to dye or not to dye, to cut or not to cut? Lori is always ready to go along with the flow. And, she’s so sweet about it too.

Ginger gives a massage to die for. In fact last night I told her, her touch was so hard she was killing me. But, there’s a pattern there. When we’re talking she goes in deeper; when we’re quiet her touch is more gentle. But, I do like a hard and deep massage, and she has the arms and hands to make that happen. And she is a marvel. She has successfully lost and kept off about 200 pounds over the few years that I’ve known her, and, she has a successful business at the young age of 34. Not to mention that she is a devoted daughter and sister. She’s been through a lot with her family.

Dinah probably gives the best facials in town. I love her style, her touch, and the concern she has for my skin. It’s never looked better -- and that's saying a lot at my age. She also is working with me as I grow out my over-plucked brows – and gotten me out of my nightly plucking habit. With her care, I haven't looked ragged throughout this process. Dinah is also quick to laugh and engage me in long conversations about her dating life. Ah, the dating life. Thank goodness, I’m no longer doing that. But, it’s definitely interesting to hear about how someone else is doing it. Kudos to Dinah. She is both friendly and professional, and another successful business woman at a very young age. She and Ginger share an office space – each with their own well-decorated small, peaceful studio. They’ve created a spa without the spa.

Sunday, November 9, 2008

My sentiments exactly

I keep thinking I'll stop with the political posts already. But, here's another one I couldn't resist. When I saw the article copied below this morning, I felt I wanted to preserve it for posterity -- as a lesson learned for future women candidates. We treated both Hillary and Sarah poorly, and now we women must gather together to find a way for a woman to succeed in the future. That women pundits were so mean spirited about Hillary was unconscionable, and that the unqualified Sarah was chosen as a vice presidential candidate in the first place did her and our country a huge disservice. Here's what one op ed writer had to say today:

Feminism, post-election
Sexism persists; witness Clinton's treatment and Palin's nomination.

By Vivian Gornick
November 9, 2008

For a second-wave feminist like myself, this election year has been a roller-coaster ride: exciting, and sick-making, and yet again exciting. We have seen an eminently qualified woman contend for a presidential nomination and fail, at least in part because she was demonized as a dragon lady; then we have seen a shamefully unqualified woman handed a vice presidential nomination, at least in part because she was a walking advertisement for Mrs. America. Taken together, such unforeseen events have been remarkable, especially insofar as they remind us of where we are, as a culture, in the centuries-long struggle to normalize equality for women.

The second wave of American feminism is now in a period of quietude, even of setback. After nearly 40 years of noisy activity on behalf of women's rights, a large part of the country thinks the revolution's been won, another large part thinks what feminists have accomplished amounts to a drop in the bucket, and yet a third part remains irredeemably opposed to feminist values. Such an extraordinary division of viewpoint indicates that whatever the gains for women have been, they are by no means indisputable, much less guaranteed a lasting life.

An incontestable piece of evidence that high-level sexism persists in the United States was the astonishing treatment meted out to Hillary Rodham Clinton throughout her tortured campaign to win the Democratic Party's nomination for president. She was trashed all over the country -- in the papers, on television and on the Internet -- solely, repeatedly, insultingly, not as a Washington insider, or as a senator who endorsed the Iraq war, or as a member of a would-be political dynasty, but as a woman.

She was routinely characterized as strident and aggressive; criticized on her hair, her clothing, her figure; called an uppity woman on television; and on the Internet one could see a notice that read, "The bitch is back '08," as well as a video of a man at a rally screaming at Clinton, "Iron my shirt."

The degree to which this trashing persisted administered a shock to the system of anyone who wanted to believe that simple woman-hating was a thing of the near past. It is painful and instructive to realize that it was unthinkable to level equivalent open racism at Barack Obama. Obviously, if you were so inclined, you could think racist thoughts, but you could not speak them; whereas, with sexism, it was no holds barred.

Another indisputable piece of evidence that sexism is still very much with us was the nomination of Sarah Palin for vice president on the Republican ticket: a piece of cynicism that was truly an insult to all of us, women and men alike. Palin was chosen, with an ugly wink at the country, because she was a sexy, cheerleading fundamentalist. It was as though the conservatives felt free to say, "You want a woman? We'll give you a woman" -- as they trotted out a parody of American politics that could have been invented by Thomas Pynchon.

At the same time, it has been thrilling to see thousands upon thousands of women (and men too) rise up in righteous anger against the sexism inherent in both Clinton's defeat and Palin's ascent. The twin event has politicized people who, until that moment, did not think they had feminist politics. The spectacular protest is a true measure of how far American feminism has actually come -- how much deeper it has penetrated the shared sensibility of the body politic than we have generally realized -- and how far it has yet to go. This aspect of a hardly credible election year has been a joy and a high for many of us, and a salutary reminder that the struggle over women's rights remains one of the longest and most resilient on human record.

The modern women's movement dates from the 1792 publication of Mary Wollstonecraft's "Vindication of the Rights of Woman." Written in the wake of the French Revolution, this remarkably radical treatise posits that women need to use their minds more than they need to be mothers and wives, in the same way that men need to use their minds more than they need to be fathers and husbands. Not instead of, just more than.

Every 50 years since that time, the movement has raised its head, opened its mouth, made yet another effort to have that sentiment heard, absorbed and acted on. Each time around, its partisans have been renamed -- new women, odd women, free women, liberated women -- but in actuality, they are always the same women. And, while they have had different issues to take up -- the right to vote, or divorce, own property, go to medical school -- their underlying message has always been the same: The conviction that men by nature take their brains seriously, and women by nature do not, is based not on an inborn reality but on a cultural belief that has served our deepest insecurities. That is the real issue, and around it there has collected over these two centuries a great amount of thought and feeling, and an even greater amount of anxiety, in women and men alike.

It is, I think, safe to say that the question of equality for women, each and every time around, has opened a Pandora's box of fear, hope and confusion that is existential in its very nature and has made its resolution even more recalcitrant than the matter of equality for people of color. In short: Behind the idea that it is natural for women to take an equal part in the world-making enterprise lies an internal self-division -- a conflict of social will -- that, at this moment, is far from clarified. Someday, perhaps, it will be, but today is not that day.

However, an election year such as we have just had in the United States should make every feminist in the country eager to press on.

Vivian Gornick is the author of many books, including "The Solitude of Self: Thinking About Elizabeth Cady Stanton" and the recent collection of essays, "The Men in My Life."

Thursday, November 6, 2008

Finally, a celebration!

Every election night we gather with three other couples to eat, drink, watch the returns, and hopefully celebrate.

In 2000 we watched the election returns with our friends at our home. And, as we said our goodbyes we were celebratory, thinking (and the networks forecasting) that Al Gore had won. The next morning we found out Florida was declared for Bush, and of course the rest is history. The bottom line, though, was we could no longer host an election night event. Our house was unlucky!

In 2004 another one of the couples hosted the event – Bob and I were in Europe so only participated by telephone. Again it turned out to be a night for Bush. So, their home was also considered unlucky.

Well, this year we found the lucky house! And we decided that this year's hosts will host all our election night events in the future. This year we truly had a night with good friends, good food and lots of clinking crystal, and indeed, a result to celebrate. FINALLY!

Wednesday, November 5, 2008

The day after

I know I said this wouldn't be a political blog. But I couldn't help myself again today.

This is the day after Election Day. This is the day to celebrate. This is the day to rejoice that the Republican right wing conservatives will no long lead our country into ruin. This is the day to move forward into a renewed future led by the first black American president of the United States.This is indeed a day that all of America and the world will remember.

But, I must admit I was for Hillary. I wanted there to be a first woman president before the first black American. Obama is young, I thought. He could have waited. This was perhaps Hillary’s last chance and because she didn’t win this time, because she got so much flack from her fellow feminists, I doubt that another woman of her caliber will give it a try for quite some time.

And, even though I was a huge Hillary fan, I went full force for Barack. I had to. There was no other choice. I even worked in the phone bank for him – once. And, I advertised my support on Facebook. Plus I gave him a few bucks – not as much as I gave Hillary, but I did give some.

Now, I hear him, I hear the crowds roar for him, and I see a world dancing in the streets because he won. And I know in my heart that they are right. This is a man who won’t have any baggage to rely on. This is a man who comes with a clean slate. Some said his lack of experience is a drawback. But, in his case I think it is a plus. He has the brains and imagination to turn our country around. And he has the humility to know when he needs help. He won’t hesitate to admit when he is wrong and to get the right people on his side to help move things along.

So, I admit I was wrong. The rest of the country and the world were right. They had faith in this guy while I looked at him as my second choice. He is my president elect now. And I’m very proud that our country made that happen.

Monday, November 3, 2008

Silly things

Some things about our 2008 presidential campaign that we could have done without (sorry, I couldn't resist getting political today):

A 72-year old running for president

A 72-year old picking an inexperienced but beautiful unknown as a running mate. With what was he thinking?

Obama not picking Hillary Clinton as his running mate

Tina Fey and Saturday Night Live lampooning Sarah Palin

A vice presidential candidate with 5 children, one a pregnant, unmarried teenager, and one with Down’s syndrome. Shouldn’t she be home with them more?

$150, 000 reportedly spent on Palin’s clothes, accessories, and styling

$350,000 reportedly spent on one outfit Cindy McCain wore during the Republican National Convention

Equating Obama with terrorists

McCain calling the economy fundamentally sound

Palin’s pointy index fingers – how annoying!

Biden running off at the mouth

Obama’s church and minister

Fear tactics

Spending money on negative ads

Women journalists discrediting both Hillary and Sarah – just because they are women?

And, I'm sure this list isn't complete. More to come -- maybe!

Thursday, October 30, 2008

The women in my life - part 2

My health care providers

Nancy is my internist. I was referred to her by my dentist. She is a wonderful down-to-earth, say-it-like it is kind of woman, probably close to my age. She has longish graying hair that she wears pulled back off her face, she wears no makeup, and she’s always in trousers. Though she’s not too tall, she has a long stride. She also sounds like she comes from the Midwest. I was so tired of feeling slighted by my male internist I was desperate for a change. And, Nancy turned out to be the perfect doctor for me. Fortunately, I don’t have to see her often – my health is excellent – but I’m confident she would take excellent care of me if I needed it.

Gail, my dermatologist, and I, started out as book club buddies in the mid 1980s. But, when I found out that everyone in the club went to her, I wanted to go too. And, that’s not easy. Her office is on the west side, so it’s a real trek for me to get to her. Also, she’s so busy there is always a wait once I get there. Her assistant, Cynthia, suggests I call before leaving my home or office to see how late she’s running – Gail is always running late – so I can gage my departure time from there. She is the most thorough dermatologist I’ve ever known. And, as a result my husband and son see her as well. We don’t care that she doesn’t take insurance (except Medicare). She’s worth every penny.

Sharon, my gynecologist, doesn't take insurance either. Thank goodness for my flexible spending account. But, she is worth it too. A good friend referred her to me and she never disappoints. She is up on the latest facts that pertain to my age and body, and she takes action quickly when it is needed. I also like that she never over reacts and lets me make decisions with her about whether to I should stay on hormones or not. She and I never believed the results of an early study that resulted in millions of women giving up hormones, so I stayed on them, and I’ve never been happier. Even so, she makes me have regular tests to make sure nothing untoward is happening as a result. She shows her respect for me as an individual and professional – quite a contrast from male doctors I’ve experienced who treated me a know-nothing little girl. Also, she respects my time. She always is ready to see me at my allotted appointment time.

Marlene is the gentlest dentist I have ever known or experienced. And, believe me; I know what a sadist dentist is like. She always asks during a procedure if it hurts. Any little grimace or look from me will concern her. I feel like Marlene and I have grown old together. I started seeing her in the mid 1970s when we were both in our mid 30s. She’s also gained a lot of new knowledge along the way. (However, she still has the same hairdo – long hair, graying now, pushed back and into a French roll in the back.) I like that she continues to go to school and is up on the latest procedures. What will I do if she ever decides to retire?

Wednesday, October 29, 2008

Is speaking in public really worse than death?

The public speaking trainer at my company actually said some people think it is. And, come to think about it, it could be true for me.

I’ve been paralyzed for the last couple of weeks obsessing over having to present a training module this morning. Now really I’m at choice about whether to take on this kind of assignment so, why did I do this to myself? I don’t need to do it. I could easily have opted out of today’s assignment. But I didn’t. I still want to keep my hand in. And in my book proposal I state that I have public speaking experience. If I have to promote my book, I’ll have to be well practiced in presenting skills.

I guess that's a good enough reason to get over my fear and go for it.

Another basic question is, once I've decided to accept the assignment, why do I obsess so much? I’ve presented in front of big groups many times over the last few years – and in front of very high level people. And, as usual , as soon as I stand up in front of the room all my angst, my rapid heartbeats, my sweaty arm pits go away. Today, I didn’t even need to hide in the corner. I just stood in the middle of the room, introduced myself and waded right in – without my cheat sheets that I usually have at the ready just in case.

I think what made me feel better was forcing myself to do a rehearsal last Monday morning. I wanted to make sure that was I was going to say passed muster with my colleagues – the folks in charge of the training. After that, I really began to relax a bit.

That is a good lesson. And it’s one I tell orals teams over and over – rehearsing is the key. If you know your stuff cold, if you’ve gone over it a time or two, there is no reason to feel any trepidation at all.

Ironically, I spent the last couple of days critiquing others at their customer briefing rehearsal. And they listen to me as if I’m an oral presentation guru. Well, I have helped many orals teams become successful. In fact, the leader of the team I worked with this week learned a lot of her skills from me. But, like all else, it’s easier said than done.

Well, I'm happy to report I lived through my presentation today -- yet again!

Sunday, October 26, 2008

Calling for votes

I participated in a calling bank today, and I keep asking myself, did it really make a difference? The calls came in electronically, so I had no idea with whom I was speaking -- except someone who lives in Missouri. And, more times than not, my call was either aborted by a hangup before I even had a chance to speak or I was greeted by a hangup as soon as the responder found out whom I was supporting.

However, there were several who responded favorably to my questions. That, I think, made it all worthwhile. In fact, one women who was reluctant to share, said she felt comfortable sharing whom she planned to vote for because she liked my voice.

But, today I didn't get a chance to change anybody's mind or get anyone who wasn't in favor of my candidate to listen to me past my first introductory statement. In fact, I got some guff because I interrupted someone while he was watching his football game.

Oh well, I was calling on a Sunday afternoon.

Saturday, October 25, 2008

Quote of the week -- or maybe the century

I went to the Governor's Women's Conference last Tuesday (October 22, 2008) hosted by Maria Shriver. It's my third time going to this event held every year at the Long Beach Convention Center, and each year the line up of celebrities and the numbers of people attending get bigger and better. This year we heard Warren Buffet, Madeleine Albright, Gloria Steinem, Condeleeza Rice, Billie Jean King, Bonnie Raitt, Bono, Cherie Blair, and a host of others who were on panels in the smaller break-out sessions. I had to practically push my way in to hear the panel Madeleine Albright was on, but it was well worth it. One of the topices was women serving as both vertical and horizontal mentors and helpers to other women just starting out and trying to make a success out of their lives.

Madeleine said: "There should be a special place in hell for women who don't help other women."

What a concept. I've seen so many women at my company hold back other women from advancing. I've seen so many women be mean to one another. I've seen so many not take their women colleagues seriously. These are crimes worth going to hell for. Madeleine sure was right on in my book.

Monday, October 20, 2008

The women in my life

I am supported and served by over 20 women in my life. They maintain my home and garden, take care of my body and teeth, pamper me with beauty treatments, keep me physically fit, provide services in the retail arena, and serve me as mentors and teachers. This list of women doesn’t even include work colleagues, friends, and family who are always there when I need them.

I’ve wanted to write a little essay about each of these wonderful women for a while. This is a start. And, as I write more I’ll post them here.

The at home support group:

Elma is a cute little woman who seems to fly around the house from one room to the other, cleaning and doing the laundry and sweeping the driveway and garage floor. Plus, when she has time, she’ll clean out a drawer or two, and it doesn’t even matter that I have to rearrange things after she puts them away. She walks in saying Ola and leaves saying Adios and always calls me Mrs. Madeline. And, as a result of all her hard work, she has raised three beautiful sons , all high school graduates. And two are now in college. She is truly a pure gem.

Janet, a former gymnast, climbs up huge ladders to wash the high windows in our third-level family room. She also climbs up on the roof to wash these windows on the outside. She is fearless, and like a monkey – short and spritely. She also power washes our front porch and path and cleans all of our hanging light fixtures. She has a wry sense of humor and is a good business person.

Ann and Mimi are my creative and green arborists and gardeners. Ann knows just what to plant when and how to take care of the many trees we have in our garden. I know how much she cares about how our yard looks. She also has helped us get rid of the raccoons who have been visiting my little pond ever since it first appeared in our side yard. When she and Mimi were designing my garden they would come into my new office – before it was even finished – and squat down as if they were sitting at my desk so they could see the view I’d have. Now, little blue, orange, and yellow birds regularly come to my little round cement pond and take a dip.

Sunday, October 12, 2008

"Man plans and God laughs"

I've always liked that quote. My mother said it all the time. John Lennon wrote it another way in one of his songs: "Life is what happens when you're busy making other plans."

So, what all that means to me is there is no sense in planning to do anything right now. No trips, no year in Rome, nothing really beyond today and maybe tomorrow until I know how this financial train wreck is going to turn out. Luckily, I still have a job. Right now any and all thoughts about leaving it are on hold.

Here's a poem about one of my favorite diversions - working out. I definitely need to keep it up now.

Across the Parking Lot, Into the Gym

5:30 A.M.
in the dark, the cold rain,
lines of cars jockey for the space
closest to the door.
The huge gray flatbed
always in the compact section
just to piss me off

blinding light reveals every pore,
frown, furrow,
sleepy eye, yawn, bed head
every drop of sweat,
every added inch
gained chomping on chips,
shoveling in the cookies
pizza pies, McAnythings.

The same folks line up
like race horses
in rows of stairsteppers
rows of treadmills
rows of elliptical trainers
rows of bikes
rows of rowers
ab crunchers, thigh shavers,
hip slimmers, arm deflabbers, chest expanders
dumbbells, barbells, bars with no bells
and no whistles.

They’re on slantboards, flat boards, balance boards,
wood floors, carpeted floors, balls, bozus
You ask what’s a bozu – it’s a half ball.
You have to be there.
They wear
baggy tees, baggy sweats,
long shorts, short shorts, tight shorts,
skin tights, tight tights,
bra tops, tank tops, see-through tops, no tops –
whoops, did I say that?
Really, they all wear tops.
Guzzling, suckling like babies
their sports drinks
from those ubiquitous plastic nipples.

They’re plugged in
to iPods, CDs, cassettes, radios, TVs.
Anything to drown out the drone
the cacophony of weights bouncing off the floor,
feet clip clopping on the treadmill,
Anything to miss
the macho guys yelling across the room,
ridiculing, riling up their buddies,
exposing their pecks
and their sex lives.
Anything to erase
the voice of the brunette with glasses
still gloating over W’s win –
The I told ya sos
And so what?
Others running, climbing, cycling, walking,
flexing, flaunting, strutting their siliconed stuff
The old geezers checking out the babes.
The comes ons, turn ons, hard ons and on and on.

They’re all there when I’m there
every morning
Day in, day out.
5:30 A.M.

Tuesday, October 7, 2008

Old flames; old souls

I recently went to Winnetka, IL -- just north of Chicago -- for my 50th high school reunion. It was a good time though it seems like no one has changed -- the same cliques have prevailed since our high school days. But I saw some good friends -- from our New Trier News clique plus a few relatives and friends while we were there. Being in Chicago always brings back memories of growing up -- especially of being a chubby little girl, having a wonderful grandpa with thick white hair, and a first crush who had a face more handsome than Paul Newman's.

Chicago Days

My grandpa would hoist me high
on top his shop counter
caked and shiny with the glues and polishes
he used to cobble and repair shoes
on Chicago’s West side.
Once he let me try out his pipe
and I decided to leave it alone after that.

My dad got too big for that scene
and we moved north
near Lake Michigan.
Our home had a huge living room
where I dreamed of marrying
in front of the fireplace.

But, too soon we moved again
further north into the suburbs
thick with foliage
that turned bright oranges and reds in the Fall.
I rode my bike to school
played team sports,
lost my baby fat,
and fell in love for the first time.

That guy, with a face like Adonis
and a line I bought too cheap,
gave me my first cigarette.
I kicked the smoking habit early.
He didn’t.
And now he’s with Persephone
permanently underground.

Monday, October 6, 2008

Always something

Bob’s brother, Richard, had a triple bypass surgery this morning. He had had no symptoms. He just went in for a checkup in preparation for knee replacement surgery, and his doctor found a blockage that couldn’t be fixed with a simple angioplasty.

Bob talked to the hospital folks a couple of hours ago, and the surgery seemed to have gone well. Richard was still sleeping and in intensive care.

But the bottom line here, is that there is always something. Bob is very worried. As am I. Richard is a great guy. Unfortunately, he abused his body by smoking three packs of cigarettes for most of his life. However, he’s been cigarette free now for the last two or three years. He quit right after his wife, Vera, died of lung cancer. Now there’s a lesson learned!

Friday, October 3, 2008

Four generations

My aunt has been hosting a Rosh Hashanah lunch for the family for about the last 20 years. Here we are -- four generations -- last Tuesday posing for our annual photo. Auntie is front and center -- 92 years young and still gorgeous!

Wednesday, October 1, 2008

What happened to Fall?

This is the first day of October and it is hotter today than any of the days of summer, 2008. The same was true yesterday. It was even hot in Chicago – over 80 degrees – when we were there last weekend. I can’t tell you how much I’m looking forward to some crisp and drizzly fall days.

And, the air conditioning is out of order at my office. Every once in a while I break out in a sweat – like I’m having a constant hot flash when I don’t even have hot flashes anymore.

Well, Sarah Palin is right about one thing. Now that we have global warming, no matter what the cause, we need to do something about it.

Tuesday, September 23, 2008

September 23, 2008 -- nine years!

So, you might ask, what did I do today? The answer is: I went to the gym as usual, but while I was there, I listened to some of Paul's favorite music -- Cat Stevens, the guy he loved when he was little, and John Lennon, the guy he wanted to emulate. I went to work, wearing a purple t-shirt, Paul's favorite color -- really it's better to go to work than be sad alone at home. And, then Bob and I went to the cemetery at noontime and each of us left a smooth stone on his grave marker -- now dim and old and it's hard to see all the lettering, and one of these days I'm going to have it replaced. Then we went to lunch and ironically the music playing in the restaurant was jazz -- John Coltrane playing sweet jazz on the piano -- somethig I usually avoid if I can because hearing jazz after Paul died was just too painful. And, then back to work, able to concentrate on nothing, and I'm home now. And, I'm sitting at my computer wondering what all this means and whatever I do to remember Paul, doesn't make any difference to him, and it only helps me get through this day. And tomorrow I know I will be better. But more than anything else in the world, I really hope and pray that no other parents will have to experience this kind of loss ever again.

Tonglen Practice

It's the mothers and fathers I care about.

When my son died, I grieved for him
and all mothers and fathers
who ever lost a child.
I breathed in pain,
and with each exhalation prayed
that no parent
would have to feel
the pain of such a loss again.

But I can't do it alone.
The mothers
and fathers
over all the world
must practice Tonglen with me.

We must take the pain into our bodies,
into our souls, into our hearts,
and cleanse it with our healing breath.
Then with our collective breathing out
give this world a chance
to be safe for all our children –
all our sons and daughters.

Breathe in, breathe out
now, forever,

Monday, September 22, 2008

Lucky me!

I was lucky to have a few minutes to talk to Paul on his last night alive. Bob was angry that he did not. And, in that conversation there was no way to know that it would be my last time with him. Yet, in hindsight there were lots of clues. I went over and over the words we spoke in those few minutes and came upon a million what ifs. But, there was no going back. The next morning I knew I would never have the chance to speak to him again.

The Last Night

How could I have known
it would be the last night? A night
like all the others:
the low creaking groan
of the garage door,
tires screeching to maneuver
into the narrow place,
the roar of the engine before silence.
Then slamming the door,
my son, sweeps down the long hall,
calling out hello in his deep friendly voice.
I startle as I hear his heavy strides
pass my door,
I call out to him.
Returning, he enters my room –
standing, staring, looking more calm
than I’ve ever seen him.
His blue eyes like sapphires
fringed with thick dark lashes
never leave mine while we speak.
My lips kiss his cheek
cool as alabaster.
I marvel at his smile – lips
barely turned up not showing his teeth.
He looks like the angel
he will soon become.
He has already found peace.
Only I don’t know it yet.

Sunday, September 21, 2008

Making a memory list

Paul -- 4 years old

I spent some time a few years ago trying to make a list of all the things I wanted to remember about Paul. It became an endless task -- and frustrating too -- because I came upon things that I could no longer remember. Luckily we have his music, loads of photos, some of his writing as well. What I fear the most is after Bob and I are gone, memories of Paul will be gone too.

Remembering Paul

I’ll always remember he slept
without closing his eyes all the way
I’ll always remember he walked fast
and way ahead of us
I’ll always remember he had long, thick, black eyelashes
surrounding clear blue eyes
I’ll always remember he played the piano
legs crossed at the knees, leaning
way down over the keyboard
I’ll always remember he liked to wear
second-hand clothes and didn’t mind
if they were ripped
I’ll always remember he stood
at the pantry door munching almonds
I’ll always remember he liked to climb –
trees, rocks, diving boards
I’ll always remember he was meticulous and anal about his things
I’ll always remember he could play almost any tune by ear
And that he was always a loner
And how much he loved his girlfriend
and wasn’t touched enough after she left him
I’ll always remember he was sensitive
I’ll always remember he drove too fast and erratically
I’ll always remember he got lots of parking tickets
I’ll always remember he was in love with John Lennon
I’ll always remember he liked Doc Martin shoes
I’ll always remember he tapped his foot when he sat down
I’ll always remember how he sat
all folded over like The Thinker
when he drank coffee at Starbucks
I won’t ever forget the feel of his cool pale skin
the last night I saw him
Or the sound of his voice
I’ll always remember his hair was thick
I can’t forget he knew all the nursery rhymes
by the time he was two
and he said he wanted to watch a record
when he lay down on the red and black plaid sofa to take a nap
I’ll always remember he and his brother
called the back of the station wagon,
“the really back”
I’ll always remember he loved to fish.

Saturday, September 20, 2008

Back to Paul's country

Paul was thrilled to be accepted at the New School's jazz music program as a college freshman. He had always loved New York -- even as a little boy. He never minded the fast pace, the smells, the sounds. He thrived on them -- until he had his first manic break. After that he was certain people were lurking in doorways out to get him and his girlfriend. But, he couldn't stay away. We'd bring him back to California for hospital treatment and a short spell of quiet and rest, but as soon as he could he'd go back. Back and forth, back and forth, so many times I didn't keep count -- until he came home for good two and a half years before he died.
We go back to New York often -- it still attracts us. Maybe because Paul is still there everywhere

Another View of New York

New York City
Union Square, the lower East side
Paul’s country.
He blossomed there
He became a musician there
While he learned about the real world
Of cold fourth floor walkups,
Dealers hustling on street corners
Late night gigs, playing for tips in smoky bars
Fast walking just to keep warm
And a first grownup love affair with a girl named ________.

I went back there last month
No, he wasn’t there.
He’s been dead and gone almost two years now
But the reminders were everywhere.

The square where he first lived as
A freshman at the New School
In the tall skinny brick building
66 Park Avenue where the Jazz Department
Held classes and had practice rooms and jam sessions
And young musicians aspiring for fame
It was on the marble steps of that building
Where he first met the girl
With the long flowing auburn hair and piercing blue eyes
The love of his life.
No, she was his life

Beth Israel Hospital, just around the corner
That’s where they took him when he first went crazy
Almost ready to graduate
Getting gig after gig
Staying up all night,
Playing music, drinking Scotch whiskey
Hardly eating,
Smoking one cigarette after another
Ah, it was the life
Until his musician friend
Bill K died of a heroine overdose
And things were never the same again,

Avenue A where he lived after graduation
And recovery from his first break
Now teeming with young people
Bar hopping
Listening to music
It’s a happening place made famous by the musical “Rent.”
For me it was filled with old memories
Of my boy, Paul
And where his dreams would never come true.

Friday, September 19, 2008

September 11, 2001

Before this month is over, I need to reflect on September 11, 2001. I was in a poetry workshop at Esalen Institute in Big Sur, CA in late September that year and was asked to write a poem about how it felt. I could only write it in terms of how it compared to Paul's death. Compassion, sympathy, empathy -- whatever the right word is -- I have it for all those who lost their loved ones in that horrific and terrifying event.

Tragedy in Perspective

They say the poets need to retell the story
To find meaning in the devastation, the incineration
Of 3,000 people. We are
The ones who can make the world feel better
With the beauty of our words.

But, I can’t find the meaning
All I can see is the grief, the disbelief, the yearning,
Searching looks on the relatives, friends, colleagues
Wanting to know why their loved ones
Vanished so quickly
Just like they were sucked up by a UFO
A tornado, an avalanche
Never to be heard from or seen again.

Perhaps if I compare this devastation to the one in my life
I can find the right words.
The day Paul took his life, September 23, 1999, my life,
The lives of my family, were never the same again.
But, is it too selfish, too petty to look at September 11, 2001 that way?

So, let me simply say,
I can relate to those left behind
I can feel their pain
I want to tell them I’ve been there too
I know what it feels like to have a beautiful
Living, breathing human being reduced to
A bag of ashes.

Yet, maybe I’m lucky.
At least I had the ashes
At least I could bury them so when I miss him
I can visit and cry at his grave
And soothe away the dust from his gravestone.

The others have nothing
Only the horrific memory of watching the collapse
Of two massive structures
And the disintegration of thousands of people still inside.

I feel for them all
The grievers, the mourners, the lovers, the children, the mothers
All those left behind.
They are all me
Married to me by their grief
And I know as they know
We will all never be whole again.

Thursday, September 18, 2008

A bad day

For some reason Thursdays have been my bad day. Maybe I fell off my bike that day or maybe an early crush decided he didn't want anything more to do with me. I really don't remember why. But, I do know that we found Paul dead on a Thursday. And, nothing could be worse than that.

Thursday Morning

When all I heard was silence
behind the locked bathroom door
that Thursday morning,
when all I saw was darkness
through the open bedroom door,
when Bob went to investigate,
calling his name, Paul,
pleading with him, Paul,
open the door,
when Bob went to the garage
for a screwdriver to pick the lock,
when he opened the door
and closed it quickly from the inside
while I stood on the stairs,
as Bob found our son in the bathtub,
sitting in a pool of blood,
blue, already cold and stiff,
tongue hanging out of his mouth,
when Bob came out of the bathroom
face red, hands shaking
and told me
Paul is dead,
when all I heard were sirens
and the footsteps of the police
as they stomped though our house,
all I could do was huddle
in the corner of the couch,
my legs drawn under me,
my arms folded around me,
as I rocked back and forth,
my hands clamped into tight fists.

Wednesday, September 17, 2008

Pick a year, any year

I wrote this next poem a year after Paul died. But it could be called Two Years, Three Years, etc. all the way up to Nine Years. The feelings are the same from one year to the next.

One Year

It’s a year, they say
Time to stop mourning for your dead son
Get on with your life.
Okay, I will, I reply.
Look – I work, I work out,
I write, I travel, I read,
I go to movies, I make love, I eat out,
I enjoy the company of friends.
And – I nurture myself with new hairdos, makeup,
massages and manicures.

After all, Paul took his own life a year ago
He didn’t take mine
At least not completely.

What they don’t know is
My life now is just playacting
Meant to fool others as well as myself
Into believing that I can move on
And begin to live my life again.

Tuesday, September 16, 2008

Picking up the pieces

So, instead of moving, instead of getting that "fresh" house, we began to renovate. I got rid of the scene of the crime first, then I took his bedroom and closet and turned them into a beautiful office where I'm sitting right now writing this, and we moved boxes and boxes of things we cannot part with into the garage. All the boxes are meticulously labeled and arranged in deference to him.


We don’t have to look into that room anymore
and wonder if spots of blood still remain
on the floors and walls.
We’ve demolished the scene of the crime.
We will no longer step into that tub and see Paul
in his white long sleeved work shirt
and khaki pants sitting against the shower door
in a bloody puddle.
They’ve taken it all away.
The old aqua blue tub
the toilet, and sinks.
the faux marble counter
with burn stains from the tiny firecrackers
he set off as a teenager.
The god-awful blue and yellow vinyl flooring is gone.
Sterile white tiles and fixtures
will take their place
in a room with no memories
either of life or death.

Six years later
instead of the dark room
he walked out of for the last time
leaving the door slightly ajar
his bed never slept in
his dirty laundry
slung over his over-stuffed chair,
his paychecks left on the side table
uncashed for weeks,
his pictures and posters meticulously thumbtacked
in perfect rows on the walls
his books and records all lined up
in alphabetical order in his closet
along with his shoes and plaid shirts from second-hand stores,
his keyboard, electronic drums, amplifier,
and his music, each tape labeled and packed
in a canvas bag,
so we could easily choose
a piece to play at his funeral.
Instead, the room now totally bare
except for a new bay window
that looks over the garden
and new shiny hardwood floors.
A writing table and a comfortable sofa
will go in there
with space in the closet
for shelves of poetry books,
files of poems hoping to be published.

Boxes labeled Paul’s fiction A-Z
Paul’s jazz records K-O
Paul’s rock and roll A-F
stacked where I can see them
as I open the door
park my car every evening
after a long day at work.
On top of the boxes
a pile of dungeons and dragon games
one tarnished brass duck bookend
he got for his Bar Mitzvah,
the purple treasure chest
where he kept his pot,
a cigar box filled with metals and belt buckles
his uncle brought him from Russia.
Leaning against the wall
a roll of drawings
he made in Bellevue’s psych ward
each declaring his love for Sally
now married with two children.
A photo of her
with high pointing breasts,
slim waist, flat stomach, and round, firm buttocks
shows her proud, and so ready,
though Paul was not.
He let her go
He let it all go
with one sweep of the knife.

Monday, September 15, 2008

A bi-yearly ritual

We go to the cemetery every year on Paul's deathday and his birthday. I always dread it -- probably because it punches me with that jolt of reality right into my gut -- and yet, afterward, I always say to myself that I should go more often. Of course I don't. Twice a year is all I can take. The rest of the year I still let my mind think magically and imaginatively about the boy I miss so much.

Three Cemeteries

On a cool, sunny day in Normandy
the breeze does not disturb
the graves at the American Cemetery.
No matter where you stand,
looking diagonally, horizontally,
or straight back and forth,
each alabaster white grave marker
each chiseled engraving
is in perfect precision
and symmetry
as far as the eye can see.
The grass covering the graves
mowed just the right height
a shade of green
from a Technicolor garden.
The surroundings –
a rectangular reflection pool
the curved wall inscribed with the names
of 1,557 Americans missing in action,
the center bronze statue commemorating
the spirit of American youth,
and the Omaha Beach below –
create a restful setting
for the 10,000 allied soldiers
killed in 1943 or 44
during World War II.

On a gray, rainy day
in Prague,
hordes of tourists stroll
through the Jewish cemetery.
Their feet crunch
the brown and yellow leaves
covering the ground.
Housing 800,000 graves –
some over 12 layers deep –
this cemetery, not functional since 1787,
on the verge of collapse.
The packed gravestones lean
every which way
in a hodgepodge of rectangular, square,
and triangular shapes
so old, so worn and broken
the Hebrew or Yiddish markings
are hardly readable.
Just like the Jews
who were forced to live
crammed together in
the Prague ghetto,
these gravestones want
to escape the barriers
that keep the visitors and vandals out.

On a stormy day
in Los Angeles
we drive through the gates
of Hillside Cemetery
and curve around the drive
to the back wall
and a small plot
of miniature flat rectangular
gray and black marble gravestones
that lay flush
with the closely cropped grass.
Full sun interrupts the downpour
just long enough
for us to kneel
at our son’s grave
on his December 31st birthday,
wipe away the raindrops,
leave a smooth black stone,
and four yellow roses
and allow our tears to fall.

Sunday, September 14, 2008

Ben, my love

We were with Ben and his girlfriend, Marissa, last night. We see him often. Unfortunately for him he has the burden of being our only child now, but he has excelled in this role -- thrust upon him so suddenly and completely. He is all a mom could wish for in a son -- and so beautiful and talented besides.

A Poem That Wants To Be for Ben

They are always about Paul, my dead son
the one who died of his own free will
so many years ago.
My hordes of poems go on like a mantra:
his mania, depression, his delusions, escapades,
his suicide. They never fail to mention
his piercing blue eyes, the little half smile
that never showed his teeth, the smoky smell
and the way he slumped over the piano
like the thinker as he played.
Paul and his death have been my muse.

Ben’s living eyes brim over with love
as he looks down and folds me in his arms.
He is the son who says
I love you
every time we speak.
His smiles are wide
even when he faces disappointment
in his own life.
This son is the reason I choose to live.
Why isn't he the reason I choose to write?

Saturday, September 13, 2008

Choosing my answer carefully

At first the question made my heart pound so furiously that I couldn't get an answer out. Later on, I was adamant about saying I had had two sons and explaining right up front that one was dead. Nowadays, I choose my answer depending on who is asking. I don't want people with young children or planning to have children to hear my sad story. No one should have to go where I've been unwittingly. I believe my blurting out my story in response to a simple, friendly question gives out way too much information. Leaving Paul out makes me feel guilty, but way less guilty than making people asking innocent questions feel bad.

Wrong? Right? Who knows?

The Dreaded Question

It happens again like so many times before.
I’m at my sister’s house,
talking to her neighbor
someone I’ve just met
and she asks me the dreaded question
one that I’m avoiding
by talking about what a great day
this has been in Portland
and isn’t my sister’s garden just beautiful
and what do you do for a living
and where are you from.
And there it is,
after I’ve tossed the salad greens
put the tomatoes in the bowl
and sliced in the avocado
“How many children do you have?” she asks.
And never missing a beat
I say, I had two
but now, only one.
My oldest son died.
Then I leave to get myself together
and wonder what she and my sister are saying
while I am lying down in my room.

Friday, September 12, 2008

No, I didn't need a fresh house!

Many people said we needed to move after Paul killed himself in our house -- too many bad memories, you need a "fresh" house, they said. What they didn't understand was there were memories both good and bad in our house and memories both good and bad everywhere else. I couldn't even escape at the gym -- the place I go to most often as an escape.

Riding It Out

I sat on the saddle
Spinning the wheels
Of the stationery bike
I leaned over the handlebars
Elbows bent, head down
Peddling in time to U2.

“Ride it out,” the instructor said
“Ride it out for 30 seconds.”

The police said
Thirty seconds is
How long it took for
Paul to die after
He cut his throat.
Thirty painless seconds.

I don’t believe it.
How could it be painless?
Could it be less painless
Than the pain of his illness?

Thirty seconds and no more pain.

Was he awake?
Was he thinking?
Was he listening to the music in his head?
Was he riding it out?

Thursday, September 11, 2008

Working out

I've worked out for years, played tennis, jogged, practiced Yoga -- all the stuff. But working out became a matter of life and death after Paul died. Fortunately, just before he died I joined a new gym where I didn't know anyone. I was able to come and go as I pleased, do my workout, get some relief from the pain, and leave. And, that routine became my savior. Instead of slowing down as I got older, I find myself working out more than ever. I still need the physical outlet that turned into a way to balance my emotions and help me deal with my grief. I wrote this next poem very early on.

Making It Hard

The bright room is almost full.
All four walls of mirrors reflect women and men
In baggy shorts and sleek black tights.
The music is so loud
The woman in front of me stuffs ear plugs in her ears.
Lisa G says, “work from the core,
Your workout relates to your real life.”
I want to get on with it.
I don’t come here at 6 a.m. to listen to a lecture.
The neon sign on the wall says, “sweat,”
And that’s what I want to do.
The woman behind me complains.
I don’t know her name, but here she is every week
Always in the same spot, always complaining, always in black.
Black tights, black sports bra, black thong leotard,
Black headband on her head of black hair.
Even her lipstick looks black.
A drill sergeant in baseball cap and high-top aerobic shoes
Lisa begins her litany
“If it were easy, everyone would be fit,” she shouts
“Don’t come here and expect it to be easy.”
She doesn’t know my name. I like it that way.
I like the feeling of being anonymous here
I don’t know anyone and no one knows me.
No one knows about Paul, that he died
Or any other thing about me either.
Being anonymous is a benefit
It keeps me in shape, calms my mind,
Gives me the space to be myself.
It’s a mini vacation from the horrors of my life.
So, I thank Lisa G
For getting me moving,
For making it hard,
For making it hurt,
For showing me how to
Trade one pain for another.

Wednesday, September 10, 2008

A matter of perspective

My mother died three years after Paul. She was 94 years old, and she was ready. In fact, she'd been wishing to die, threatening to die for the 27 years she lived after my father died. There was no comparison in how I felt after she died to how I felt and still feel about Paul's death. This next poem says it all. It was published in the "Survivors After Suicide" newsletter, a program of the Los Angeles-based Didi Hirsch Community Mental Health Center. One of the goals of Didi Hirsch is to erase the stigma of mental illness and suicide. Plus they started one of the nation's first suicide prevention hot lines. If only we had known about it before Paul died.

The Bully

Paul is a bully.
Always waiting to take over my poems.
I’m writing about my mother
who starved herself last year,
hanging on for weeks in a morphine-induced coma,
using up every bit of energy I had
until she finally died.

And here he comes pushing her aside
to get to the front of the line.
He brags so the whole playground can hear.
"My suicide is bigger,
I used a box cutter; she just stopped eating.”

And he's right.
Compared to his death
hers was a bump in the road.
He was my beautiful sick boy,
she, a not-so-nice shriveled old woman
who had wished for death for years.
She'd call me a bad daughter for saying this
but I don't miss her at all.

Tuesday, September 9, 2008


After Paul's death some people just left my life. And, I won't try to guess the reasons why. However, on the plus side, through these last nine years I've made some wonderful new friends and have become closer to those who remained. This poem, one of the first I wrote after Paul died, was published in "The Compassionate Friends" newsletter to accompany an article called, "I'm Not Contagious," written by one of my long-time Esalen buddies who really understands all the trappings of loss.


They came in droves at first
out of concern, out of curiosity.
They sent flowers, cards
and sweet notes saying
call anytime
anytime at all.

Now it is quiet.
A few friends
invite us out,
or come by.
The rest have moved on
glad to have done their duty.

Don’t they know I’m not contagious?
My son’s death will not rub off.
I’m the same person I was before.
A sadder person, perhaps
but needing my friends
just the same.

Monday, September 8, 2008

Magical thinking

Joan Didion wrote about magical thinking the most eloquently, but I think we all do it. We don't want to believe that our loved one is really gone, so we play games with our mind to believe he or she will return somehow, someday. I leave the hall light on to light Paul's way back or think anonymous phone calls could really be him checking in.

Here we are at his last Thanksgiving. We're now in the midst of planning our 9th without him.

September 23, 2002

The phone rings once
startling me awake
from a deep sleep.
I jump out of bed to answer it
knocking the Waterford
perfume bottle from my dresser,
and there is no one on the line.

Only 5 a.m. but I am up
for the third anniversary of Paul’s death,
a day I dread every year.
All I can think is
Paul called to check in,
to let us know he is still around:

I go out on the porch
and watch the orange half moon
set behind the trees.

Sunday, September 7, 2008

Some history

Paul had his first mental break in March of 1993 while he was in his senior year at the New School in NYC. After an unsuccessful attempt to get him home and hospitalized, we went to New York to get him in treatment there. We encountered a huge snow storm almost as soon as we got there, but that storm was small compared to what Paul's breakdown meant to him and our family.

Blizzard in B

It is mid March, 1993,
and a bitter blizzard blows in.
Some predict
the century’s biggest.

Flakes of snow swirl in gusts to the sidewalk.
Cold slaps our cheeks
pushes through our clothes
as we cling to each other,
walk through the cavern
at the feet of New York's skyscrapers.
The sirens set our teeth chattering
as impatient cabbies honk,
inch their way up the streets.

Yet, we trudge forward
uncertain of what
we will discover when we arrive.
A more foreboding blizzard, perhaps,
blows through our boy’s broken brain.

Saturday, September 6, 2008

Paul's things

For me it is important to have his things around. I haven't hidden away his picture, and I don't hesitate to talk about him either. I want to keep remembering him, and I want others to know about how important he was in my life. I wrote this next poem while at a workshop at Esalen with Richard Jones. It's been published in "Mamazine," an online magazine, and in The Great American Poetry Show, Volume 1, the anthology I coedited.

Black Bomber

Swaddled in this
black bomber jacket all weekend,
I am safe from the Big Sur chill.
It’s too large for me.
And that’s okay. It was Paul’s.
I bought it for him
years ago at American et Cie on La Brea
before he went crazy
and decided to leave us
way before his time.
I like how it snuggles me,
like he’s in there too giving me a hug.
It’s the only piece
of his clothing I have left.
I’ve given away the rest:
his favorite plaid shirts
that smelled of sweat and smoke,
the torn jeans he salvaged
from second-hand stores,
his worn brown Doc Martin oxfords
that took him miles on his manic escapades,
and the tan suede jacket
he had me repair over and over
because he couldn’t let it go.
Like this jacket –
I’ll never let it go.
It has stains I can’t remove
and threads unraveling,
My son is gone.
But, this jacket –
try and take it from me.
Just try.

Friday, September 5, 2008

I knew nothing

I thought I understood what was going on in Paul's head during his manic breaks. But, really I knew nothing -- and neither did his doctors. The more I read about this terrible mental disease, the more I realize how little is really known about it -- even now. Even so, I tried to describe it in this poem.


Intoxicated, euphoric.
exhilarated, with visions
of power without bounds,
Paul is like Superman.
He climbs, he circles, he races,
floats above reality.

Then he sees demons lurking in alleyways,
imaginary Mafiosi
poisoning his drinks and cigarettes
and the world’s water supply.
He is left to wander, pace,
click, re-click door latches as he goes in and out.
He babbles unintelligibly, imperceptibly.

The voices he hears echo like violins
ever louder, faster, discordant
until a cacophony of drumbeats
and a tintinnabulation
of scraping symbols
pound his brain.
There is no escape, no way out.

He looks for an exit
where only one exists.

(For a more informed perspective, read Marya Hornbacher's book, Madness. She writes about mania from first hand experience, her own bipolar life.)

Thursday, September 4, 2008

Another view of Paul

He sat like a Buddha when he played music, did his homework, and talked on the phone. And, he always looked so calm. So, today's poem is my attempt to capture that part of him. I now have little Buddha statues all over my house. Not because I'm a Buddhist, but because they remind me of Paul.


“The dead we can imagine to be anything at all.”
Ann Patchett, Bel Canto

He sits cross-legged in a tree
deep in concentration,
the way he would sit on the floor of his room
learning against the bed doing homework,
composing music, talking on the phone.
His closed-mouth grin shows
he is pleased to be where he is.
No longer a skinny rail, his cheeks filled out,
his skin clear, his eyes bright.
His tree has everything – soft jazz sounds
flowing from all directions,
deep vees and pillows for sitting and reclining,
the scent of incense and flowers,
branches of books by Miller, Tolstoy, and Dostoevsky
the music of Davis, Gould, Bach and Lennon,
and virtual communication to those he loves.
He needs no furniture, no bedding, no clothes, no food.
Those necessities are for worldly beings.
The passing clouds give him comfort
and the stars light his way.
Heaven takes care of him
as he imagines himself
to be anything at all.

Wednesday, September 3, 2008

Number three!

Paul was a jazz pianist and composer. Here's one that tries to capture his beat. And, oh how I miss hearing him play.

My Jazzman

My jazzman
beat it out
on the mighty eighty-eights
played those riffs
tapped his feet
bent his head
down to the keys
felt those sounds
on his fingertips.
Yeah, he was a hot man
on those eighty-eights.

But, all too soon
his bag grew dark.
He went down
deep down.
My jazzman
played the blues
lost that spark
closed the lid.
And, yeah,
you got it right.
He quit the scene.
laid himself down
in that bone yard
for the big sleep,
for that really big sleep.

Tuesday, September 2, 2008

Countdown Day 2

Perhaps I have enough poems about Paul to fill up the days until September 23. Here's another poem for Paul written years ago, but still very relevant today.

A Stone Called Son

I sleep with a stone.
It's gray and small enough
To fit in the palm of my hand.
One side is smooth, the other
Has the word, son, cut into it.
And when I put the stone
In the crook of my index finger
I can read the word with my thumb.
I like to place it between my breasts
And feel its coolness on my chest.
It quiets the pain in my heart
And slows down my heartbeats
So I can rest.
Sometimes I hold it all night
And find it in my fist when I wake
When I'm not sleeping it sits next to my bed
On a tiny silk pillow imprinted on one side
With the word, heal.
Well, it takes time.
A healing pillow and a stone called son
Can't do all the work.

April 28, 2003

Monday, September 1, 2008

Remembering Paul

September is the month Paul died. In just 23 days it will be nine years. So, here's a poem in his memory.

Cat Stevens Then and Now

As I walked up the stairs I heard Cat Stevens singing
The familiar words of his song, “Morning has Broken,”
And there I was back in 1973
In our old gray Chrysler station wagon
With the wood trim and fake red leather seats
And Paul was sitting in the back
Belting out the words with him. He was only two then
Still clutching his green stuffed turtle for dear life
As we drove along.
His fat cheeks were rosy red, his blonde hair
Cut like an upside down cereal bowl around his face.
Then I return to this day and my table at the
Westside Pavilion Mall where the lunch crowd
Is beginning to gather not knowing or caring how I grieve
For the chubby little boy sitting in his car seat
When so little made him happy.

Sunday, August 31, 2008

More bragging

Another great niece and a little great nephew

"Rabbit Hole" redux

We went, at Ben and Marissa's urging, to a great performance of "Rabbit Hole" on Friday night. It is a powerful play about the accidental death of a New York couple’s 4-year old son, their relationship with each other and with her sister and mother afterward, the affects of the hanging death of the young mother's heroin addict brother at age 30, and the remorse and need for connection of the young teenager whose car accidentally hit the little boy as he ran out onto the street after his dog.

When I first saw the play two years ago at the Geffen I thought the playwright, David Lindsay-Abaire got the emotions and actions just right – how the couple grieved in different ways, and how the affects of the death of a child never goes away. The grandmother's explanation of the aftermath of her 30-year old son's death is phenomenally on target – she said it was like a brick that one carries around and kind of gets used to, but its weight, its terrible weight, every so often comes into the forefront, similar to being kicked in the gut, and can’t be brushed aside. Also, right on is the issue of keeping or disposing of mementoes. The play starts out with the young mother folding her little dead boy's just washed clothes to get them ready to give to Good Will. All this is done with serious, sad, and funny dialogue. It is really brilliant and well recognized for being so with the Pulitzer Prize for drama in 2007.

One of the scenes that resonates most strongly with me now was with the teenage boy and the young mother. As he told her about his prom experience the night before, she, mostly cool and composed, begins to weep. I know she was weeping because her little boy missed his chance to go to his prom. I still weep now because my boy, Paul, has also missed so much.