Thursday, July 29, 2010

The Morning Glory and a bowl of cereal

Every time I drive down El Paso I spot a profusion of morning glories so glorious that I screech to a halt just to look at them, at the same time reaching for my camera, which I've inevitably left at home. And the inability to capture this beauty reminds me of the title poem in Robert Bly's small book of poems, The Morning Glory

So this morning I remembered to bring my camera, and when I got home I searched my book shelves and found the book, but then the weirdest thing: when I looked for the morning glory poem it had totally disappeared. I thumbed through my yellowed edition at least three times before I realized I must have torn it out for some reason—to send to a friend, to pin up on a dorm room wall, to... to... what? What did I do with that poem so many years ago? I looked one more time, this time very slowly, and discovered I'd copied it on the back of the title page, but without a title, without proper punctuation, just the poem in dark purple ink. The poem in its original form has been lost to me, but here's what I wrote down, close enough I'd like to think to Bly's original intention: 

"There's an old occult saying: whoever wants to penetrate more deeply into the invisible has to penetrate more deeply into the visible.
All through Taoist and "curving lines" thought there is the idea that our disasters come from letting nothing live for itself, come from the longing we have to pull everything even friends into ourselves, and not let anything alone.
When we first sense that a pine tree really doesn't need us—we feel fearful and depressed. The second time we sense it, we feel joyful.

          Basho"s wonderful poem goes: 

          The morning glory—
          another thing 
          that will never be my friend."



Finally, some good news in the paper (besides Lola the missing parrot being found!). And because of this good news, I'm taking inspiration from outwalkingthedog's "Bird Neck Appreciation Day," and proclaiming this day, "Eat a Bowl of Kellogg's Cereal Day!" (doesn't quite have the same ring, does it?) 

 Eat a Bowl of Kellogg's Cereal Day!

As reported in the LA Times yesterday, the W.K. Kellogg Foundation awarded Cal Poly Pomona a $42 million dollar grant to increase its enrollment of "first generation college students, recently emancipated foster youth, military veterans and under represented populations of California." How cool is that? Kudos to the foundation—whose slogan is "Helping Communities Stand up for Children"—for realizing the state cannot survive without an educated populace, inclusive of all, especially immigrant children, who make up the bulk of first in their families to go to college. 

A few years ago, before Green Dot Charter School took over Locke High School in South Central, I helped out the college counselor, a woman by the name of Regina Risi. She needed someone to edit students' personal essays, part of the application process to UCs and State colleges. She expected each senior to apply. She led them, or rather, dragged them through the often tedious and difficult steps to turn in a college application. It wasn't easy. Many of them felt college wasn't necessary because they already had jobs (i.e., at the corner grocery store or an uncle's auto repair shop), or they didn't have the needed support from family members to leave home; in fact, it was surprising how little support, and I'm not just talking money, they had. There was a lot of fear —fear about what was out there beyond their neighborhood (many students had never traveled beyond the hood). For most, they would be the first in their families to graduate high school. 

But Risi wouldn't take no for an answer; she worked with each student above and beyond what was expected of a teacher at Locke, which as we know from LAUSD's failed attempts at control, wasn't much. And that year the results of Risi's hard work bore fruit: 6-8 students were accepted into UCs, including UCLA, Berkeley and Santa Barbara, twice as many got into Cal States, and that many more into community colleges. So along with the foundation, here's to Regina, wherever she is, who deserves an award too.

Regina Risi, college counselor, with her son Sammy

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

Blogging for the Library

 Sign of the times: library protest in front of Central Public Library

If you think librarians are quiet, mousey people (meaning, given to uttering tiny squeaks and wearing buns) you are so wrong. Needless to say, I'm thinking of the librarians of my youth and promoted in films and on TV; even now, we think of librarians as having small voices. But tell that to Erica Silverman, a children's librarian and book author, who gave an impassioned speech in front of the Central Public Library on Monday morning, where people had gathered to protest the Monday library closures. She wasn't buying it, not for a moment, and told the crowd so when she raised her head and shouted to the top of the uppermost office buildings surrounding the library (let me just say, I'm sure they heard her), "Unslam these Doors!" 

"We HEAR you."

If you haven't heard: the Los Angeles City Council voted to eliminate hundreds of library positions, 20 of which were full-time librarians and that many more library clerks, extend furlough days and close library doors on Sundays and Mondays as a result of a 22 million dollar budget shortfall. Expect more cuts in October; at the same time the Mayor has hired a "Job Czar" whose salary we can only imagine. What the heck? That makes no sense. The city's broke, there's no arguing the fact, but nothing could be worse in a recession, say the librarians, their union and their patrons, then limiting library hours now, just when people need the library the most. 

Another sign of the times held by a protester

So, I'm doing what these librarians have asked us, as bloggers, to do: reach out to those who love our city libraries. Please call or email your City Council member and protest these closings. For children everywhere who need the library on Monday, who need it on Tuesday and Wednesday and the rest of the week; for job seekers who need the library's resources now more than ever; for the homeless who need somewhere to sit and something to read; for teenagers who love computer games but don't own computers; for researchers and scholars who uncover the library's treasures; and for just ordinary people like you and me who want to check out books: tell the Mayor and your Councilmember to "Unslam these Doors!"

 Kerry Madden, YA author and biographer of Harper Lee

Tony what-me-worry?

This library worker's sign says it all

To keep up with activities related to the Los Angeles Public Library closures, check out

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

What to DO with the kids?

This is the color of the sky today, no clouds anywhere on the horizon.

 Los Angeles sky today

It's burning hot and a little humid today—nothing like NYC though, sympathies go out to all living creatures—and lizards are darting in and out of rocks. One could say it's officially summer now that the weather's gotten hotter, but for me what makes it summer is seeing the worried look on women's faces. You see it in Silverlake, Highland Park, even Mt. Washington, that look of despair: worried mothers wondering what to do with their children over the summer break. 

The results of all that worry are varied, and you can see that too: kids waiting for buses to take them to day camp, or families packing up the car to deliver their children to camp somewhere in Utah. But for those not going anywhere this summer, there's plenty of angst: what will the kids DO? I can tell you, a mother feels guilty when her kid lies on the couch all summer long reading comic books. I remember that fear so clearly, that despair, that panic as summer approached and I had nothing for my kids to DO. That's over now, as they're both grown, but I know that look and I can see it everywhere.

I never sent my own kids to camp, which is ironic I suppose, as I spent every summer, from the age of seven on, at overnight camp near Louisville.  But in Junior High that changed, which leads to this story about Ann Myerson, who I hadn't thought about in years until hearing a program about summer camp on "This American Life" a few weeks ago. Here's my own "this American life" summer camp story without the commercials:

In the summer between seventh and eighth grade my parents had the idea that I should go to camp far from Louisville. I had no say in the matter; earlier that year my father had caught me sneaking around with my next-door neighbor, a Catholic boy. My father was terrified I'd get in trouble like another neighbor, a tall-for-her-age, precocious preteen, who one day disappeared to go off, we imagined, to a home for unwed mothers in Cincinnati. Perhaps my father's sense of it was real, but I was only thirteen when his decision was made: that summer I'd be going to Jewish summer camp in the middle of nowhere.

I flew down to Camp Blue Star in Hendersonville, North Carolina, in the beautiful Blue Ridge Mountains, and landed in a field of green. This picture found online is pretty much how I remember it—a camp surrounded by dense woods, with ticks on every leaf and blade of grass, and nocturnal creatures rustling behind every bush, causing me to sleep with one eye open, a flashlight in my hand and my clothes on.

 Camp Blue Star, Hendersonville, N.C.

I bunked with a cabin full of Louisville girls, gung-ho joiners who were there to have some fun; but I wanted nothing to do with them. Our counselor Susan Green, the daughter of Alan Guttmacher, an early president of Planned Parenthood, was my only advocate; I was a loner, that is, until I befriended Ann Myerson from the next cabin over, the first real beatnik I'd ever met.

As I recall, Ann lived near Arlington, VA., a Jew with straw-colored hair and a wide, confident smile that covered her braces. I was thin, with a boy's figure, but Ann had a woman's body, with ample breasts, a high waistline and powerful thighs. She was totally committed to a bohemian lifestyle, playing guitar and singing folk tunes (in the vein of Bob Dylan), smoking cigarettes (where she found them I don't know) and cutting afternoon activities. Her favorite thing to do was to climb to the top of one of the cabins, take off her clothes and sunbathe nude, all the while making sure the boys on their way to the swimming hole could spot her. 

Camp Blue Star boys staring up at Ann

I'm not sure whose idea it was, but towards the end of that summer we plotted to be stowaways on a bus heading an hour outside of camp. Our plan was to hide in the back of the bus, jump off after the campers had departed for their field trip, then explore wherever it was we had landed. We bribed the younger kids not to giggle or give our positions away by staring at their feet, where we were hiding—which they readily agreed to do. I want to say we exchanged their loyalty for a few cigarettes and a bag of candy, but I really can't remember.

The ride out went without a hitch, but after the campers debarked, we could hear, with much trepidation, a counselor making his way through the bus checking on what the youngsters had left behind. We held our breaths and tried to make ourselves invisible, but there was no place to hide, and he caught us with our hands over our heads, scrunched down into a ball behind the last seat.


Things happened pretty quickly after that. When the campers returned, we sped back to camp—Ann and I forced to sit up front, humiliated in front of our once loyal minions— straight back to the Camp office, where our counselors and the director were waiting.

Our punishment turned out to be rather benign: the director made us write a letter home informing our parents of our misdeeds, and stating that we'd not be welcomed back if we ever did anything like that again. As it was, I never went back to camp after that summer (although I did keep in touch with Ann for a few years). My father realized that Camp Blue Star hadn't helped like he had hoped in calming my rebellion, which continued throughout my teenage years.

Friday, July 9, 2010


Highland Park

Mt. Washington



On the way to my meditation bench this morning, I was thinking about Pema Chodron's When Things Fall Apart, and in the chapter titled, "It's never too late," she laments how we've become experts at causing harm to ourselves and others. She says the trick is to practice letting go, to relax instead of struggling against the forces of confusion; when you do that, she says, open space is always there.

I thought, okay, I can do that, how hard can it be? And just as I was thinking that, I glanced down and realized I'd been walking over hundreds of tiny, bright red insects, little bugs that covered the path; I'd lain a swath of destruction in my wake: squashed dead bodies were everywhere.

Thursday, July 1, 2010

Hitting the Open Road: Camarillo, a travelogue

Summer is a time for travel, hitting the open road, seeing new places, taking in the lake or the river, and in some cases, even the ocean (if you haven't heard, Angelenos rarely get to the beach). June was hot and gloomy, even when the sun popped through in late morning, but now it's July—July!—and my expectations have risen: give me the High Sierras and I promise I won't complain.

 (photo credit: Tom Harjo)

In light of the possibilities of the open road, I'll be presenting a few travelogues this summer, places I've been or want to go. Here's the first in a series of at least another one. If you have a suggestion, please let me know.

Miriam's Fruit Stand, Camarillo

But before hopping off to Camarillo, I wanted to talk for a minute about a little article I saw in the L.A. Times at the beginning of the week, about pesticide use on strawberries. California's Dept. of Pesticide Regulations is considering replacing a highly toxic pesticide, with an even higher and riskier toxic pesticide. This one, mythyl iodine, won't harm you, the one eating strawberries, but has the potential to cause irreparable neurological damage to farm workers and those in surrounding communities. Why are harmful pesticides allowed on our strawberries anyway, when organic farming is an option? There's a price to pay I know, only we're not paying it—someone else is.

Back to the open road. I present, Camarillo, a travelogue: