Thursday, March 31, 2011


I'm driving home from work and hearing a long stream of bad news on the radio: Yemen rebels fired on by the military, Egyptian rebels protesting the interim government, anti-government rebels retreating behind Gaddafi's advancing army; and more—we might be arming the wrong rebels in Libya, actually, arming al-Qaeda, all 15 of them, and I wonder, does it look as silly as it sounds?

Ernie as al-Qaeda

Meanwhile plutonium is drenching the ground around the Fukushima Nuclear Plant and scientist speculate how far it's spreading; however, no one at TEPCO is talking (especially since boss, Masataka Shimizu, is in hospital, as of yesterday), but don't eat the spinach or drink the milk and by the way, farmers, please do not farm! And workers are still trudging through the sludge (who are these saintly men who've put their lives at risk?). And back in the US of A, a majority disapprove of the way the prez is handling everything. And I've had a bad day at work, no, scratch that, a bad week, and the radio of despair is washing over me all the way to Ave. 52, where I pull off the freeway, and there, in front of me, is a car with a license plate that reads: "Joyism." Joyism. I'm stupified. It's so simple. Feel joy. Be joyful. An ism I suddenly find myself behind.

It's good to know that amongst the terrible and the tragic, there's still joy in the normal: kids home from college for spring break. Maya came home with her friend Maggie last weekend and the house was once again filled with laughter, tears and dirty dishes.

A few days ago, right before the rain, the L.A. sky was dark and dramatic.

I rushed home to get my camera, and try and convince Maya and Maggie to come along. They'd been holed up inside all day, on their computers, finishing papers that were due before the break, so it wasn't like they immediately jumped up to follow. But once outside, they seemed transformed: two girls out in nature....where, by the looks of it, they belonged.

Maya and Maggie

A few days later, in Santa Monica:

Maggie and Maya continuing the adventure...

Sunday, March 27, 2011

Dear Students of Takasago...

Following are some letters my students wrote to the students of Takasago, whose school is sheltering 1000 homeless victims of Japan's earthquake in the Rikuzen-Takasago neighborhood, north of Tokyo. With resources tight and need great, Stu Levy, the founder of Tokyopop thought it'd be a great idea if people could send letters to encourage these students, who are working hard to rebuild; (his request was sent via Louise on fb—thanks Louise). 

I teach an advanced ESL class to Iranian, Korean and Russian students, who I realized would be perfect candidates to write these letters, as most have experienced disasters in their own countries. I just had to ask: my students immediately set about writing, gripping their pencils tight, diligently referring to their dictionaries for meaning and spelling. I told them spelling wasn't important; what was important was that they wrote from the heart. For an entire twenty minutes, no one talked. 

Here's a sampling of their letters (produced exactly as written):

Dear students of Takasago. we are in Los Angeles. we are thinking about your Live all the time and we are sorry for your lost. we know what you're going through. I am very angree and I wish I was there to help you. In my country we also experienced an earthquake.
we hope you can start your good life again. we are thinking about you and your life I wish Japan gets better faster. the Japanese pepale are picking themselves up and your story showed it in Nacazacy and hyroshima, you are special peaple in the world. 
God help you.
kindly S.

Dear Students of Takasago
I am sorry that earthquake from Japan all of the world countries feels very sorrow
In my country we also experienced an earthquake
So Please don't despair of suffering
I hope you overcome quickly
my family, my country, all of people are thinking about Japanse people
Quen Shiteimasu!
Sincerely, K

Dear students of Takasago
Helo to the geat pepol Japan
wer heard about your terrible earthquak
and we were very sorry about it
we know what happend. that is very blues
you were and are a great nation and prograssive in the world
we have a bad experiance about earthquak terrible,
and you have a bitter remember about atomic bomb
in the end of 2 world war, I heard, after fifty years
all the fishes in the sea had blood cancer
So we're very worried about you
I believ you can make yourself same the past with honor
we're thinking about you in LA
with the best kindly, N

Two letter writers

Friday, March 18, 2011

The Ninth Ward

You know how it is when something of importance happens and you take it in as much as you can, but in a minor way, as what has happened has happened to someone else, somewhere else. Yes, you empathize, but you can go on with your life. Then years later, well for me years later, you recall this thing and the importance of it is so overwhelming, set off by something, say, like a piece of music you've listened to a hundred times before, but one day, you hear it for the first time. 

What got me started on this was I was looking through boxes of old pictures last week and I came across this one:

New Orleans, 1982

This was taken during the New Orleans Jazz and Heritage Festival, when I was down there with my brother and his friends, whom I had met on various Southern excursions— which might have been the reason I was getting my crawfish on. 

In 2006, the first year after Hurricane Katrina, Tom and I went down to N.O. to the same festival; on that occasion, we hired a guide to take us around to see the areas affected. As soon as we crossed the bridge into the Ninth Ward, we were hit with destruction as we'd never seen it—a war, a terrible war had flattened everything, and both Tom and I burst into tears. We walked around and took pictures, but mostly, we just felt numb. A year after Katrina, not one house had been rebuilt, not one tree had grown; everything was just as it had been after the flood.

My son is down there now celebrating Mardi Gras, or I should say, still celebrating Mardi Gras, which took place last Tuesday (March 8th). When I heard this piece of music by Charlie Miller from "Our New Orleans: Benefit Album for the Gulf Coast," while driving around L.A. last week, I was struck on a level deeper than my usual "observer;" then Japan happened. I was suddenly back in New Orleans: the waters rushing in and the world stopping and all that had been, gone and forgotten. 

So here's a little bit of remembrance of that time in the Ninth Ward, using a modified version of Miller's tune, "A Prayer for New Orleans."