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Bringing it on home

Thursday, May 15th, 2008

How do other people know who they are? If you know who your father was, does it make a difference in who you think you are? Where is “home”? I’ve been playing Aaron Neville’s latest CD, Bring It On Home,  and it calls me back from this sense of diffusion that keeps carrying me off into the clouds over Portland. “Tell it like it is,” Aaron sings, “Respect yourself.” Last night I listened to a woman read a couple of chapters from her (so far) unpublished (but spellbinding and well-crafted) novel about young gay men in Japan just before the bombing of Hiroshima. She’s certain she was Japanese in past lives–she can dimly but unmistakably remember Japan, and when she lived there (in this life), many of the places she went to for the first time were as familiar to her as the streets of the town in Michigan where she grew up. She knew what was around the corner before she rounded the corner. She attributes that to karmic ancestry rather than genes. What explains affinity?  Some people who’ve never been to Morocco long for all things Moroccan. Others are drawn to Chinese art. Some feel truly worshipful in front of Byzantine icons. I’ve lost all sense of who I am or why I ever wanted to know and cannot proceed with my autobiographical novel right now. I’m letting that be. At the same time I’ve received some terrific emails that also serve to bring me on home. [read on]

Losing my bearings

Tuesday, May 13th, 2008

When I chose to retire and move to Portland, I thought I knew, however dimly, what I was doing. I wanted to write full-time. I wanted to be done grading papers written by nineteen-year-olds who didn’t want to write them.  I was worn out by seven-day work-weeks, by short courses I taught during holidays in order to earn extra money, by broken relationships and the relentless difficulty of parenting, and by migraines. Sharply aware that I was on the threshold of “old age” and the dissolution of this mind and body, I wanted some joy and ease before this life was over: time to read, walk, daydream, sit on a park bench in a rose garden. I wanted a room of my own and time to write this autobiographical novel I’ve been composing in the back of my mind since I was seven years old. After a lifetime of Buddhist practice, I thought I was ready to write the answer to the koan, “Who am I?” The first sentence came to me during that ten-day Vipassana meditation course: “I have always wanted to be a saintly person.” It would be a comic epic. As a way of doing “research” for the book, I began in earnest to seek out where this fool who calls herself Kendall came from–who her phantom father was, who her people were, how her pieces fit together. I stumbled into a possible whole new family. Very dramatic, but suddenly I’m stunned into silence. The book disintegrates. I can’t find the central character. She is neither fiction nor non-fiction. She is neither Narcissus nor Goldmund, contemplative nor adventurer, Gentile nor Jew. I look at the pages I’ve written since I came here, and I feel nausea. I’m sick of this story. I feel lonely and displaced. Lost. What am I doing here? [read on]

Playing house, Brokeheifers 2

Monday, July 9th, 2007

I love my new apartment! After 41 years of living in places with various constellations of other people I was supporting, I’m now living in a doll house, or a cradle in the tree tops (oak to the left, pine to the right, and their boughs intertwine right in front of my balcony). I love the simplicity (I can see everything at a glance), the beauty (those freshly-painted walls, my last few collected things from all over the world), the grace of it–because to me, simplicity is grace. This place isn’t quite as small as the one-room efficiency-with-bathroom-in-the-hall where I lived in Greenwich Village in 1971, but it’s close. Basho is settling in, chattering his teeth at the birds and squirrels in the two trees. So that’s the good news. Manko and Kendra, on the other hand, who have been selling Kirby Vacuum Cleaners 12 hours a day, six days a week since May 25, have still not been paid the promised $1950 a month guarantee due at the end of their first month of work. [read on]

The best thing about getting old…

Tuesday, June 12th, 2007

What I like best about getting old is the clarity that comes from watching the roller coasters soar and sink for so many years that, while I never lose interest in what will happen next, I am also less likely to expect that whatever is happening now will go on happening. Buddhists call it impermanence. The breath arises and falls away, and that becomes a metaphor…. I’ve received a wealth of emails from old friends over the last few days, and I sit here with my arms outstretched, as if I could embrace us all. [read on]

4,3,2,1: LIFT OFF!

Sunday, June 10th, 2007

Manko and Kendra are spending their first night in their new home tonight. They took what they absolutely needed with them today. Tomorrow morning the moving men come, to load up what has been my household and take it over to their place. I’ll supervise the move and delivery while the girls are at work. The Grand Scheme is in motion. Is this really happening? I feel a little like I’m in the middle of that Dali painting with the melting clocks. [read on]

Energy, Zulu traditional doctors, Kirby vacuums

Sunday, June 3rd, 2007

Today is my second full day of not-teaching (till mid-August), and I feel as though I’m on intravenous Life Force. I went for a walk this morning, and I could feel energy surging through me like electric voltage. I think it’s related to a concept I learned from Zulu traditional doctors, about which I’ll say more beneath the line. Meanwhile, as I was finishing off my course, Manko and Kendra started training for a new job. At first they thought they were training to be telephone consumer service reps, and later they realized they were training to be Kirby vacuum cleaner salespeople. [read on]

The book, the movie, the T-shirt

Friday, May 25th, 2007

Ever since the day of, I have been obsessed by the drama of the lives of Manko and Kendra. Not just as a mom, but as an artist and social activist, I am gripped by the power of this coming-of-age in America story of two young African-American women, one with a GED, the other with a high school diploma; both with no sense of direction, no marketable skills or talents; both with a terrific sense of humor and zest for life: what will happen when they strike out on their own in Houston in mid-2007? Almost anything is possible. The story they are about to create should be told. [read on]


Wednesday, May 23rd, 2007

I spent today looking at apartments with Manko and her friend Kendra, who’s going to be Manko’s roommate. They’ve been friends since they were twelve. Kendra’s a fine big strapping girl, taller than I am, mature and sensible, hard-working, well-grounded, great sense of humor. Kendra is still living with her mom and her mom’s five younger kids and has been working at the Wal-Mart in Wharton for the past year, and she’s making $700 a month now, although at the moment she has no money at all and barely had enough gas to get here. Manko, of course, has been working for Hollywood Video, although lately they haven’t been giving her more than 12 hours a week, and her bank account is overdrawn. I withdrew enough money from my savings to cover a deposit and first month’s rent on an apartment for the two of them, and off we went, in search of a two-bedroom apartment under $550 a month. We laughed till we cried, and I laughed so hard my cheeks are sore from so much laughter. [read on]

Daughter poem

Wednesday, May 16th, 2007

Alicia just returned from her daughter’s commencement ceremonies at NYU this past weekend. Alicia said she didn’t expect the waves of emotion that overpowered her as they made this passage together, she and her daughter. Alicia brought to the poetry group this heart-stopping poem by Philip Booth, from his book, Lifelines: Selected Poems 1950-1999. It says exactly what Alicia and I both hope will be true for our daughters: [read on]

Leaving Paradise

Sunday, April 29th, 2007

A good friend who has daughters aged 30 and 23 is visiting for the weekend. She sits with me in my concern that my daughter doesn’t seem ready to take control of her life yet. This daughter, my fourth and last child, is 21 but dropped out of college and is working for a minimum-wage employer that never gives her more than 30 hours a week of work. She has not, so far, been able to find any other kind of job. Just this week, wrapping up my World Lit class, I taught the conclusion to Milton’s Paradise Lost and asked my room full of 24 college students, “When do you think it’s time for a person to leave home, get their own apartment, let their parents move on in their lives?” Their answers were revealing. [read on]