Sunday, June 17, 2007

up the creek with water wings

So I was reading one of those personal interest stories on the Internet. A 5 year-old girl, named Hannah Klamecki and presumed drowned was found after two days. She and her grandfather had been swimming and were swept away by a current. The grandfather drowned and the little girl, who had water wings on, somehow made it to shore down river and pulled herself out of the water onto the shore. She found some raspberries to eat and was wandering around naked for two days, being scratched by poison ivy with her feet all cut up and imbedded with thorns. Imagine the joy of her family to discover she was alive. Imagine the tears and embraces that greeted her. Probably ice cream too.

Resilient girl. Was she already so in love with life that she marshaled up all her courage and common sense and kept pushing forward? Did she think about what she had already lost and what she could lose still or is that beyond a 5 year olds’ ability? It had to be so hard to keep going when she was so scared. And so very alone. What makes some people push on through the blisters and thorns while others sit on the rocky shoals and wait and some just let the current take them away?

There is a little girl or boy like one of those I mention inside of us all. Please let me be the one who is frightened but keeps moving forward, who sustains loss but finds raspberries and armed with only a pair of water wings and a lust for life, pushes tenaciously and ever forward and eventually finds peace and comfort on a loving shore.

Welcome home, Hannah.

Monday, June 04, 2007

Big Ups to Anna Swir

Dithyramb of a Happy Woman
BY Anna Swir

Song of excess,
strength, mighty tenderness, pliant ecstasy.
lovingly dancing.

I quiver as a body in rapture,
I quiver as a wing,
I am an explosion,
I overstep myself,
I am a fountain,
I have its resilience.
a thousand excesses,
song of gushing strength.

There are gifts in me,
Flowerings of abundance,
curls of light are sobbing,
a flame is foaming, its lofty ripeness
is ripening.
Oceans of glare,
rosy as the palate
of a big mouth in ecstasy.

I am astonished
up to my nostrils, I snort,
a snorting universe of astonishment
inundates me.
I am gulping excess,
I am choking with fullness.
I am impossible as reality.

Sunday, June 03, 2007

o brave new world

After 19 years in a coma, a Polish railworker Jan Grzebski awoke this week. I found this story amazing – second only to the Cleveland Cavs pulling off a victory against the Detroit Pistons led by a kid the age of my college students. While I marvel at the abilities of LeBron James, I’m more intrigued by Grzebski. What would it be like to be him? My son is amazed that I lived in a time before videos and cds and that I grew up with two tv channels which later expanded to – what? 12? I don’t really remember. Imagine the other way around. Grzebski fell into his coma before so many things were invented that have become household essentials, before so many landmark events occurred in the world, before so many words ( truthiness for example) had not yet been coined)

He was asleep when Poland was still under Communist rule. Lech Walesa would have already won the Nobel Peace Prize but not yet been elected. He would have been familiar with Glasnost and Perestroika and the Fall of the Berlin Wall but not of the fall of Gorbachev. He would not have known that the dissident playwright Vaclav Havel would become last president of the Czech Republic , or that Nelson Mandela would lead South Africa and he slept through the end of apartheid altogether. Interestingly enough he would have been award that The Police broke up and he woke up just in time for their ignominious ( or so I heard) reunion. Grzebski would have been aware of the burgeoning AIDs epidemic and maybe even the clinical trials of AZT but not of the HIV vaccine and all the other drug breakthroughs around the illness and who’s going to be the one to explain to him that we can find cures for diseases old and new and yet people in Africa still die of them by the millions? Who will explain to him that genocide is bad, but pharmaceutical genocide is okay if the companies satisfy their stockholders? Was he awake when corporations were granted personhood? I don’t remember that date.

Said Grzebski: “Now I see people on the streets with cell phones and there are so many goods in the shops it makes my head spin." Indeed. He was asleep when we embraced IPOds cellphones and the internet – rendering them necessities so that 8 year olds don’t leave home without their cell in case Mom needs to text them about where to meet for carpool. Oh yeah and texting, googling, spamming, uploading, downloading are all part of the lexicon now (though in Polish they’re called texnitxh, spamzolisch, googlech etc) And we don’t have to run home for our favorite opiate tv show because we can TIVO it and watch it on our HDTV ( is that the same as a plasma tv – I don’t even know.)

More that anything he’s dealt with though – what must really blow his mind is that his four children have all married and produced 11 grandchildren during his years in hospital. Little wonder that he says “the world seems prettier now.”

What would it be like to enter this pretty new world, I wonder? It’s a story that holds such allure for us – Rip van Winkle redux. The world has gone on without us. It’s oddly comforting, I think. What could be so important – what missed train, what unfilled paperwork when your disappearance from the temporal world has so little effect on its progression/regression?

I feel like Jan Grzebski in one way. For longer than 19 years I have been out of the dating pool and am now just dipping a toe into the shallow end. That world has gone on without me and I don’t know the rules, the protocol, the extent of the real dangers, etc. But like Grzebski, I want to see the world as prettier, not scarier. I feel something like Miranda in the Tempest when she says “O wonder! How many goodly creatures are there here! How beautious mankind is! O brave new world: That has such people in't!"

I salute you Jan Grzebski and wish I could see the world the way you must see it right now – a series of marvels and miracles. There’ll be time for the stupid stuff once you acclimate.

Saturday, June 02, 2007

Sherry Reinhardt

I’m so unbelievably sad this morning. I visited the hospice site of Sherry Reinhardt after finding out last night she is dying. Sherry is an East Bay institution. She was the facilitator of countless mother’s groups. What’s a mothers group, you ask? That’s that I wondered when I first saw the ad. I had just moved to the Bay Area. We had a three -month old baby and I knew absolutely no one. I didn’t know how to drive so I would spend my days strolling up and down Solano missing NYC. I was adrift. Sherry’s ad read “Mother’s Support Group” and I needed support, alright. I showed up on the first day – the sun streamed in through the windows of the cheery den, which was festooned with group shots of babies sans vertebrae schlumping into each other on her white sofa with those blank baby looks. Sitting in a circle were women who I would come to count as some of my best friends in years to come. Women who would eventually see me through serious illness, imminent divorce and performing triumphs, who would love my son like family and accept us for who we are even though we are so very different from them in some ways. Women who practically raised me and who taught me how to be a woman. I didn’t see into the future that day but if I did, I would have seen several divorces, cancer, cancer scares, severely ill children, learning disabilities, menopause, depression, undiagnosed illness, grief, parents dying and shit loads of silly jokes and crème bruliere. But back then, they were just pleasant women with cute babies, talking about baby stuff and domestic engineering issues that sounded like Sanskrit to these urban ears.

I think it took awhile for me to grow on some of them. ( not you, Wendy – you always tolerated me, Berkeley girl that you are) I think I’m a good mom, but I have NEVER been a traditional mom as witnessed by the fact that from the time he was two my son refused to call me anything but Carla no matter what kind of strategies I called upon. In the middle of the night bad dream? “CARLA!” Hurts his knee and cries? “CARLA” You can’t imagine how low your status is when a two year old sighs and looks at you patronizingly and says “Yes, I know you’re my mommy, Carla.” I also thought that mother’s groups were a self-indulgent bourgeois luxury that most families would never have time for. Silly thing for me to think, really. I worked in NY briefly with Augusto Boal (Theater of the Oppressed) and he told us about working with Swedish postal workers who felt oppressed because of the number of pieces of mail they needed to sort per hour. A postcard from a beautiful place would come along and they couldn't even flip it to see where it was from. Boal had been a political prisoner in Brazil in the 70s and he thought “This is not oppression – where is the cop putting cigarettes out on their chest – that’s oppression” Until he realized that the “cop in the head” was just as powerful as the one hitting you on the head and that we all need compassion for the oppression we endure. Clearly this can be taken to an extreme. Like my friend Kathy said last night about something relatively trivial “you’re not giving birth in a tree in Africa” in reference to the floods. Perspective is good.

But back to why I had to grow on them…I don’t think all babies are cute and I am not particularly interested in them as a social class. I think babies I love are cute and babies that as my brother would put it are “objectively beautiful” are cute but not all babies. I tended to make inappropriate and sometimes offensive jokes about the babies – called one of them the Eddie Haskell of babies and made a joke that to this day I wish I could take back about Kaia the beautiful porcelain doll baby and her proclivity to throwing up. Her Mom quietly and with dignity put me in my place and I’ve respected her ever since as a powerful person who doesn’t take shit. As the kids grew older the domestic failure gap widened between me and the other moms– they cut grapes in half and put them in the freezer for the kids’ snacks, I picked up chicken Mc Nuggets. They organized color coordinated, perfectly appointed parties for one another, I hired a male stripper for one of the baby showers. I showed up at Halloween parties in costumes like a giant penis and worse…Tina Turner. What the hell was I thinking? I wanted to be “one of the gang” just as much as I did things to challenge my position in same. They grew to love me anyway and I’m eternally grateful to Sherry because she insisted on a level of acceptance, self-care, active listening etc, within the group, then she pushed us out of the nest to try to figure out our relationships on our own. Kind of like raising kids only with that stop time photography – which I’ve been thinking about a lot lately but that’s another blog…or not.

Thank you Sherry for your kindness and unforced compassion, for your safe haven and for your ability to see a need in the community and fill it so beautifully. You have done more on this earth than most people ever do. My heart ( and eyes) are full.

I close with a monologue from one of my many unfinished plays. It was inspired by my experiences with the Mom’s group and it has a character modeled after Sherry. I feel a renewed sense of purpose to get it out there and add to her already powerful legacy. The character below is loosely based on yours truly.


So I had this dream the other night. I’m at a party and there are these kids there – the oldest one’s around 10 or something and I can’t take my eyes off of them. They’re running around, playing some war game. Very intense. Boys against girls. You know how intense games can be at that age. There’s this one pretty dark haired girl and she looks like someone I could be best friends with. She’s making faces and arguing with the boys and running. Running so hard. And as I’m watching her, the other kids come into focus or something and they become more familiar to me –and this is when I realize– okay this isn’t a dream –it’s a premonition – cause the girl, my best friend - it’s Miriam. They’re all our kids. The lens widens and we’re having this big party because it’s the 10th anniversary of the group. And over in the corner – there’s all of you and … I think you’ve been working out. You look great. The husbands are there too and they look – okay. Some of them ….aren’t around anymore. Matt is. I’m still with him, I guess. Laugh if you want. So I’m watching this party and somehow I know - in the dream, I know, that we’ve been through some major shit together. Deaths. Divorces. Sick children. The group has already had its first hot flash. We’ve had miscarriages, abortions, affairs, depressions. We’ve vacationed together and had horrible fights about politics and said we’d never speak to each other again. We’ve fed each other 10,000 times, brought buckets of chicken soup to one another and we’ve cried and cried and cried. If you put all our tears together there would be enough to make our own salt lake. We can’t be separated any more than I could extract just my tears from that lake. So there we are and we’re all dancing together to Earth, Wind and Fire. And we’re laughing and drinking wine and just celebrating who we are and what we’ve come through and we’re glad for all of it. All of it. And I’m so filled with joy cause I know this sweet secret that the other me from 10 years ago doesn’t know: We show up. That’s all we need to do. We just show up. I’ll do that because I want to be your friend. I want to drink coffee with you and help you move and catch your kids smoking their first cigarettes. And I’ll tell you another secret. You don’t know it but you need me too. You can go on with the group without me if you want, but it won’t be the same. It won’t be this group. So have a cookie, think it over…… It was a really nice dream.

That’s all for now. Blessings to you Sherry.