Monday, October 26, 2015


For the past six months, I've been taking oil painting classes at Barnsdall Art Park with a weed-smoking, Aztec loving, UFO believing art wizard, who lets me do whatever I want, because 1) he probably knows I can't paint any other way, and 2) he looked at my canvas and then launched into a lecture on how "ugly" is worth striving for. Here are a few of my favorite paintings:

 (Yellow Elbows)

(Lejos in Blue)

 (Weird Boobs)

Descansar (Rest)

Thursday, July 30, 2015

I had to buy a hat!

I'm lost in Mexico City's Zocalo, going around in circles. The streets are filled with millions of tourists, shysters, salespeople, street urchins, shrunken matrons and to be avoided at all costs, heavily armed policia. It doesn't help that I can't explain clearly in Spanish where I need to be going. I'm close to losing it under the excruciating sun; if I want to keep going, I have to drink some water, I have to buy a hat! I look across from the Cathedral and find water, 10 pesos, OK! Check! I find a hat, the ugliest hat ever made but I'm desperate. 50 pesos, Ok! Check! Following the water lady's directions to Calle Argentina, I'm on my way. I don't care what I look like in my ugly hat. I don't care that I'm invisible, a ghost, walking through this crowd....until I look at my reflection in a car window. Holy Crap! I look ridiculous!

The next morning I'm wondering, what do I do with this hat? I could leave it behind, but Carlos my airbnb host would throw it away. Didn't he say a homeless man lives on the corner of Orizaba and Guanauato? I'll give it to him, along with the rest of my change, which I won't need since I'm leaving tomorrow. I only noticed the man, I mean really saw him lying there, yesterday, after Carlos mentioned he's been there for years, a fabric of the community. He's tucked away next to the hip cafe. When I passed by before my attention was drawn to the customers sipping their drinks, throwing their heads back in hilarity, instead of to the man camped out on the corner.

I run downstairs, hat in hand. The man's perched on his blankets, either darning a sock or fiddling with his fingers. I ask, ¿quieres un sombrero. He seems not to understand, which is totally understandable given my deplorable Spanish. I hold out the hat and he nods. When I pass him later, he's lying back on his blankets with his beanie on his head and the hat on top of the beanie, slightly off balance, reminding me of that children's book, Caps for Sale, where the hats are balanced one on top of the other.  

On my way to the airport the next day, I tell the taxi to stop at the corner. I jump out and leave the man a sandwich, but he ignores me....and the sandwich. The hat is gone.


In Mexico my days are normal, I go to Plaza Rio de Janiero in the morning and sketch before I catch up with Maya at noon. The plaza is famous for it's ugly replica of Michelangelo's David. I don't know why, but I love sitting in this plaza observing the daily life of Colonia Roma around this solid, ugly statue. Everyday is different, everyday new groupings in the neighborhood: some days it's the huffers; some days the school children and their nannies; other days the mango sellers and the clean-up crews. I could sit here all day watching.

David questioning his existence

Neighborhood kids retrieving a soccer ball in the fountain

The Plaza

 Dog Training


In the evenings, though, my head is filled with weird situations and worry. Remembering my dreams in Mexico is a little like gaining eyesight after a childhood of blindness; it's been years since I've remembered my dreams and now they're coming at me, night after night after night.

Dream 6/26. I'm almost paralyzed, but then I realize Buck is Dead!:

Dream 7/2. John Malkovich engages me in an intimate conversation about Alice's Adventures in Wonderland:

Dream 7/4. Tom and I plan building a house for our children:

What does this all mean? I don't want to find out because when I do I know my dreams will stop. And...they do.

Wednesday, May 13, 2015

Hell and beyond

A very tiny woman, no kidding she wasn’t taller than 4 ft, was in the road when I parked, around sunset. The woman, I guessed in her 80s, was walking down the street wearing Chinese pajamas, leaning on a thin stick. I thought she might be Chinese. I looked at her and smiled; she said hello. She had a deeply resonant voice— it boomed among the branches— projecting a much bigger presence than her small frame. Definitely not Chinese. Was I seeing things? A neighborhood cat walked over to her. She didn’t want that cat anywhere near her. She took her switch and whacked it 3 times on its nose. Whack whack whack. Her aim was true. I was stunned at how precise she was, like she’d been practicing hitting a tennis ball against a wall. 

Later I found out that her name was Diamond and she wasn't a figment of my imagination, but a former actor who lived up the street at Rose Villa.


I’d driven to Astoria to see my friend Susan who’d just moved there and was still in the midst of unpacking boxes. Astoria is on the edge of the world, looking out over the wide bay of the Columbia River leading to the Ocean, with football field-long cargo ships floating by, fog rolling in, gulls balancing on chartreuse studded beams, old wreckage from days gone by. 

The town protects itself from the ravages of gentrification by being vigilant about its past. Historical plaques appear in strategical spots around town, with words like, Logging Baron! Cannery Magnate! Ship Captain! Other plaques tell the story of aging structures. Here’s one I found up the hill from Susan’s:


When I got back to Milwaukie (20 minutes south of Portland) I was so happy to be in my woodsy little cabin again, so quiet and remote. Okay, not that remote and not so cabin-y, and not exactly in the woods, but surrounded by tall firs, overlooking the Willamette River. I heated up the take-out, put on the music, looked at the work I’d done the week before as part of my 10-day retreat. Nothing great, but I'd started working again, which is something, better than nothing. Although, don’t mean to downplay nothing. Nothing has its place. Old age has its place. Death has its place.

Speaking about death, one of the first things I did when I got to Portland was buy a copy of Dante’s Inferno, which describes the 9 circles of Hell. Limbo, the first circle, I'd come to learn, was the worst kind of hell— being unsettled, undecided, not knowing what you wanted, being torn hither and thither, repeated a thousand times over, was hell. As Jews we don’t believe in Hell, but I believe in Limbo, and Limbo is Hell.

pasted up at Lone Fir Cemetery, Portland, OR

(A little bit about Lone Fir Cemetery, one of Portland's oldest cemeteries: westward pioneers, Eastern European immigrants and Chinese workers, who came to Oregon to do the most dangerous jobs, were all interred there. A totally volunteer core keeps the cemetery going and raises money for it's upkeep. It's a beautiful place to walk, and the next day after pasting up the rat, Janet and I strolled slowly among the headstones.)


Which takes me back to death and Dante's Inferno and the beautiful wood engravings by Gustave Doré...


Not that I plan to imitate him, or could, but in my own fashion I set out to sketch some circles of hell, which I hope to later work on as wood cuts. Here are a few from the week:

Geryon and wild dogs


Thanks to Martha Banyas and Michael Hoeye for the incredible space and time I was given at Far Lookout retreat. They've created a very special place, a gift to artists and writers.

Thanks to Janet and Chris for being such gracious hosts, and Susan for tour of Astoria!

And thanks especially to Bill and LeBrie for being my partners in crime. Couldn't have done it without you!

Tuesday, April 14, 2015


*(I took a bad fall while climbing in Joshua Tree a few weeks back and since then, I can not draw; I mean I can put pen to paper but what comes out is another thing. It's distressing but the truth. Just giving you a head's up on this awkward situation.)


Let's just suppose, while I was climbing in Joshua Tree...

(What the heck, what is this? A mime?)

...I had fallen on my head instead of my back...

and let's just suppose I had died instantly, instead of living. And the nurse (at the Palm Springs ER where I ended up) came to collect my brain fragments and she, Nurse Ratchet we'll call her, laid the pieces out on the boulders to dry, and like a meat chart.... 

....she points to sections of the brain intact, and those not intact, and says, See here, see how this frontal lobe is void of the requisite feelings of forgiveness, and this area, where deep empathy resides, is severely deficient ('147 Nigerians dead,' hardly comprehended, but 'He shot puppy, point blank range,' grasped immediately)...
...and appreciation for all the little things and for all the little problems of the everyday, for the people in her life, that center proves to be missing. What do we call that area, it's got a name, it'll come to me....

But here! Take a look! The only part left intact is this area we call the Rattus Callosum. Here she's able to absorb the nuanced comings and goings of rodents. Go figure. But other than that, Nurse Ratchet says while wiping her hands clean, we can pretty much trash the whole thing.


But...but, luckily that didn't happen, I landed on my back first,

...then my head, and rolled backwards down the rocks until a boulder stopped me. My head was surprisingly sturdy, no concussion, and although my back took a beating— couldn't walk and had to be airlifted out— two weeks later I'm walking, and I see people everyday making their way in much worse shape than I. How do people live with such pain, I wonder. No spiritual insights here, I've tried, but the one thought that keeps recurring is how incredibly lucky I was.


Afterwards, in the hospital, while waiting for the test results, my nurse, Nurse Ratchet, casually waltzes in the room and announces, "I know the doctors wouldn't like me telling you this, but they found a tumor in your brain."

Then she turns to my brother, who was with me when I fell, and says, "Oh I heard you were looking for something to eat. I know a place with the most delicious crusty bread! Let me tell you how to get there."

They spend the next 5 minutes talking crusty bread and directions, while I'm thinking, I have a brain tumor?! A Brain Tumor!?! A tumor in my brain?!? What the fuck?!!?

By the time the doc comes in to tell me I'm okay, I'm in a state. He says nothing about a brain tumor. I ask tentatively, "The nurse said something about, uh, my brain?" "Oh that," he says, "nothing to worry about it's called a M_____, totally benign, You'll want to keep an eye on it." And he leaves. 

Where is that horrible nurse? If I wasn't hooked up on morphine, I'd kill her. Oh god, here she comes, she insists I get out of bed and walk. If I don't I won't be discharged. She practically drags me out of bed. I walk only so I can get out of that room with its ringing bells and sobbing family members— someone has died next door, I hear their plaintive calls through the wall.

I must get out of here! 

I make my way slowly down the hall, and not that I want to but I must hold on to this woman, as painful as it is. 

A beautiful older black woman sitting in the hall looks at me and says,

Kindness. Her words sting me with their kindness.

That's the part that's missing. The brain deficiency, what's lacking. I knew it had a name.

Wednesday, March 11, 2015

Library Sketches, Part 2

A friend of mine was in Alabama last week, commemorating the 50th anniversary of the Voting Rights Act, ending in a walk with 80,000 others across the Edmund Pettus Bridge. I’d been thinking about her a lot while she made her pilgrimage south, so it seemed appropriate then to be at the Central Public library last week to hear Eric Foner on his new book, Gateway to Freedom: the Hidden History of the Underground Railroad, a mix of black and white faces in the crowd:

Randall Kennedy, Harvard Law Professor and a former student of Foner's, began the program by asking the question, why hidden?

Foner called his book a hidden history because so many of the people who formed the loose network of conductors and footmen that made up the Underground Railroad were unknown to American history. During Foner's research, he came across names he'd never heard before, accounts hidden away in library stacks, unread.

"What interests me about these underground conductors is that it was actually an interracial organization, or set of organizations. It’s an example not that common in American history, of black and white people working together for a common cause. There was tension, there were problems, but they managed to communicate with each other, [to send] people to each other and that’s what strikes me."

Kennedy brings up Louis Napoleon as one of his favorite unknowns.

Napoleon, an illiterate, free black man, worked as a porter for abolitionist and editor, Sidney Howard Gay; Napoleon did the footwork for much of Gay's abolitionist activities in and around New York City, finding fleeing slaves at the docks and train stations. Despite signing his name with an X, Napoleon managed to go to court and get writs of habeus corpus in support of fugitive slaves. In one famous case, a lawyer for a slave owner asked sarcastically, "Who is this Louis Napoleon, the Emperor of France?" and John Jay II, the lawyer representing the slave, said, "No, he’s a much better man." 


After the program I ran into Peggy Powell, Nancy Gilmore and Samuel Foster, docents at LA museums— Powell and Foster at the CA African American Museum, Gilmore at the Science Center and a volunteer archivist at the Mayme Clayton Library and Museum, which houses a large collection of African American memorabilia. 

They were eager to talk; Gilmore wished the program were twice as long. Foster found it informative. All wanted to see a continuation of the conversation.

Peggy Powell revealed a hidden family history of her own when she talked about her great, great grandfather, Thomas Jefferson Lightfoot, and his journey along the Underground Railroad, from Kentucky to Ontario, led by a conductor named Henson, a story she had just discovered.


Which proves a point about the system we call the Underground Railroad. It was a fluid moving river, a many branched tributary, for people to help fugitive slaves along the way to freedom. I would be overly optimistic to think anything might change in the narrative that's told in our history books, due to Foner's Gateway to Freedom, but in the meanwhile, let's continue the conversation.

A podcast of this talk (and all ALOUD programs) can be found at:

Friday, February 20, 2015

Library sketches 1

The other night I plopped myself into a seat at the Central Library to hear, "Who We Be: Race and Image at the Twilight of the Obama Era," with Justin Simien, director of Dear White People, and Jeff Chang, author of Who We Be: The Colorization of America, moderated by journalist Erin Aubry Kaplan. Before everyone took the stage I sat there with my sketch book open and began to draw. But once the program began, forget it! I tried sketching, while writing everything down, which didn't work I later found out. I couldn't focus on the conversation because I was trying to get the scene down and I couldn't get the scene down because I was writing down the conversation. Next time, I'll try one thing at a time.

Waiting for the program to begin

   Erin Aubry Kaplan                                                                  

                                                                                                                       Jeff Chang

Justin Simien

In all honestly, Justin's the one I came to see. I loved his cuttingly funny and satirical film about an American college with all the race, gender and cultural appropriation problems inherent to campuses these days. I'm not going to write a review, you can google it, better yet, see it, but Justin's approach to talking about race spoke to me the most:

"I've often been a black face in a white [crowd] most of my life and navigated btw mostly white dominated spaces, whether that’s a college or an office space. And one thing that I felt uniquely oppressed by, and almost had a paranoia about feeling that way, was color blindness: this idea we are color blind. We don’t see race. In a way it made me feel as if that's just another way of saying, you're blind to the fact that as a person of color I’m having a different experience than you, and I’m not allowed to bring up the things that I see and the things I’m feeling because you are colorblind. And because you are personally beyond racism. That means you're completely blind to the ways in which you may have made me feel when the minute I got in your car you switched it to 50 Cent.

"This idea of micro aggressions, which wasn’t really a word when i first started writing the film, but i quickly appropriated once I saw people giving it a word, a phrase, is a way to describe the fact it may not be lynch-mob style racism, but I feel in some way I'm being kept from a part of the culture. It's underneath these layers of, well, it's a post racial society and I’m personally not racist, so therefore your feelings aren't valid. I wanted the world of the film to take place in that version of America. Really this school is a microcosm of the American experience, you know, there’s plenty of black people on the brochure of the school, but you can’t find them when you get there, and they’re not allowed to live in the same dorm if they want to."

An audience member who asked the first question after the talk, also spoke of colorblindness:
"I work and study race and the law, and the Supreme Court, as you know, has been one of the main propagators of colorblindness; in fact has disciplined state and federal governments who are trying to use race to dislodge these entrenched patterns. Just today the Supreme Court heard oral arguments on a case which may eviscerate the Fair Housing Act. One of the few times the Supreme Court has upheld use of race, like affirmative action, was when it benefited universities and corporations. I think there’s this really interesting corporatizing of diversity and this very milquetoast version of diversity when it benefits American capitalism, and this fascinating way in which colorblindness is being dispersed around legal and cultural spaces."

Amen, lady!


Dear Readers; I would like to know what you think of this page. Do these sketches help your understand better, even in a minimal way, the nature of the event? would you like to see more? less? or more realistic? (knowing that I can't really do verisimilitude), or what works best do you think? Your feedback would be much appreciated. Thank you Readers!

A podcast of this talk (and all ALOUD programs) can be found at: