Monthly Archives: February 2010

laura writes, a cleaner version of the old title. dumped?

It hit me last week that I might just clean up and simplify the old title a bit and it would be enough.  Or as we say in Hebrew, Dayenu.    And then I did figure out how to find the header page and edit it, which was a something techno that had eluded me.  So I changed it from LauraWrites1’s Blog to laura writes.  All good. 

But now, I may have to dump it.  The new title.  I forgot to Google, but then I did.  Which is sort of like a routine teeth cleaning for a modern writer– simple.  Routine.  Just checking things out.  When I did Google here is what I turned up.  I turned up a Laura Writes blog– by a writer named Laura, a Lisa and Laura Write blog– two sisters who write young adult fiction, a Laura Jane Writes, but can’t think of a clever blog title– zany woman writer about topics I cannot discern, and last but not least a Laura Writes Beauty 🙂 — bargain finds and adventures of a self-professed 19 year old shopaholic.  Oy, this is tougher work than I thought– and most likely not so interesting to a reader.  I’ll give it a rest for a few days, and maybe there will or maybe there won’t be a change.  But sadly, I think I have to give up laura writes.  I’m not even going to ask you to stretch your brain on this one again– it’s one of those things that is really important though utterly unimportant– so you shouldn’t spend 10 more seconds on it.

Split this Rock

Split this Rock was a poetry festival, two years ago– a poetry festival celebrating poetry of provocation and witness.  It was a festival about the role of poetry in activism and social change.  The next Split this Rock festival is coming up in Washington, DC –Wednesday, March 10- Saturday March 13, 2010.  Although I have been getting their emails for almost two years, I have only just taken a little time to look closely at some of what they send– they send a link to their “Blog this Rock” which is full of amazing poems and news of interesting and very alive people doing very interesting and very alive things with poetry and writing. 

In 2008 I got to hear Naomi Shihab Nye read– and brought my daughter to hear her and meet her.  I heard Martin Espada whose work I have known for a long time, but it just got better hearing him in person; I was introduced to the work of Alix Olson whose work is part of a remarkable and wonderful new generation of female spoken word artists/ writers/ performers — and Alicia Ostriker whose work is part of an immeasurably important and also inspiring older generation of women poets.  Remember how I said I wasn’t feeling so great on Thursday?  Well I got better, but then much worse today.  I have a hope that I can soon find some way to sit on the couch and read a little for awhile this evening.  You should check out Split this Rock– the webiste and the blog.

In the past few days, in addition to doing a little bit of writing, I have spent some time trying to painstakingly and slowly (I don’t wish for it to be slow and painstaking, it just goes that way) figure out simple things, like inserting the links above into a post– and I would still like to be able to do it that cleaner way– by just writing Alix Olson and having the link to her website embedded in her name…but I still have to learn how.  So check out Split this Rock and keep the patience with me as I learn on this blog.

The blog entry that wasn’t

Sometimes I think the real story of women’s lives is the story of how you got anything done at all between the interruptions.  Or maybe it is the untold story of all the things you actually did before you got to the part you counted as “doing something”.  I have to go back and check but I think that is what Tillie Olsen’s I Stand Here Ironing was about.   And also several stories in Grace Paley’s Enormous Changes at the Last Minute.  So I am not the first woman to think of this or to bother to write it down. 

Although men get interrupted a lot I am sure, for all kinds of equally bad and equally interesting reasons, there is something about our lives as women that makes this story strangely the norm, unquestioningly the norm.  And although many of you are so familiar with this it will seem strange to have bothered to write it at all, still I want to write it.  If you could hear me, you’d know that though I do complain about many things, I am really not complaining.  And I could be more disciplined about managing my time.  This is a completely unremarkable account of a few hours of my day yesterday.   

I came home from work early.  Quite early, like 1:30.  I wasn’t feeling so well and I brought work from my office to do at home after I finished with a long morning meeting at work.  I had in my mind that I wanted to sit and write just a little.  I wanted to start a longer piece about adoption and race  generally.  I was also thinking about a particular, interesting email dialogue I am having with someone and thinking maybe I would write a little about that.  Or maybe I’d write about something that has been rattling around in my mind about girls and gender roles in third grade, or a next piece, more about race and racism, to follow up from the writing I did earlier here, called “Student Council”, because there is more since then to tell. 

It took me awhile to sit down at the computer.  I really wasn’t feeling so great.  As I said.  I got into my pajamas, which is unusual for me.  I did read a really lovely and interesting article that a friend sent me about meeting and developing a friendship with a woman artist whose background is remarkably similar to her somewhat extraordinary background, which did admittedly take a little time to read, and I don’t want to be dishonest here.  I did get to read that piece.

Then there was the something I had to write for work which I did.  Then I was hungry.  I watched a very few minutes of the Olympics and fewer minutes of “Ellen” while I ate.  I also cleaned up from lunch and from breakfast which we had abandoned in a hurry earlier.  By then I thought about taking a nap, but there is something incredibly inviting about a quiet house in the daytime, while the sun is out, as a time to sit and collect my thoughts and write.  So I opted for that. 

As I was settling in to write, I heard the blinds rattling in the other room, which is a common occurence in winter in our slightly overheated apartment where the windows are cracked open a bit but it was especially loud so I went to look.  It turned out not to be the blinds.  Nor was it noise from the hallway of the apartment next door with which we share a wall.  In fact it was a key in the door, which initially scared the hell out of me.  

But it was my partner, home much earlier than planned.  With three children.  Our one and two from up the street.  This stop at home with daughter and two friends definitely wasn’t in the plan for the afternoon.  My partner was going to pick up daughter and go directly to basketball practice.  They entered with their backpacks and their three different versions of a long day at school, needing attention and snacks and they entered with all their interesting ideas and their tangles with each other and all their homework pages.  And so this is just one version of the unremarkable story of the blog entry that wasn’t.  At least not yet.  Not yesterday.

What I am reading too late at night

I find that the more I write the more I read.  I am a slow reader and I read very, few novels.  But I read a lot, often, like a thirst.   And I often read more than one thing at a time.

Right now I am reading the following:

Yarn, Rembembering the Way Home  by Kyoko Mori

A Walk in Chicago, Never a City So Real by Alex Kotlowitz

Never in a Hurry, Essays on People and Places by Naomi Shihab Nye

Fugitive Days, Memoirs of  an Antiwar Activist by Bill Ayers

There are also several books I’d like to write about later– that I read and re-read– one, a book of essays, speeches and stories by Grace Paley which is a favorite, a comfort, a thing I turn to over and over, called, Just as I Thought.  There is also an exquisite and amazing memoir that I have not stopped thinking about since I read it about one and a half years ago, The Latehomecomer, a Hmong Family Memoir by Kao Kalia Yang.  More on her book and on Grace Paley’s book later.  I am just so glad to live in a world in which both of those women have written and published.

I am also re-reading a book by an educator named Vivian Paley (no relation to Grace Paley, I think.) called You Can’t Say You Can’t Play about an early childhood education teacher who instituted a rule in her classroom that the young people could not exclude one another from their play and about her conversations with them about their feelings about this rule and her thinking about issues of exclusion in early childhood classrooms.

What are you reading?  Do any of you read poetry?  Non-fiction? Who and what are you reading?

Digging Out; In praise of long friendship

We are digging out.  Literally and figuratively.  It has been a beautiful and interesting time; this enormous snowfall and huge disruption in our normal routines.  But it has also been for reasons I won’t go into, or perhaps reasons I don’t yet fully understand, a kind of dark and sad time for me beginning a week or two before the snowstorms.  Since it snowed, I have not been writing and I have missed it.  I have also not been sleeping much, which is an on and off chronic struggle for me– more serious than I often let on, although people who know me well, know that I often don’t sleep well.  But the fragility of my sleep has been challenging me lately despite this past 10 days with seemingly so much time on my hands. 

Today was our first day of both work and school since February 5.  After work, with both my daughter and partner along with me, we stopped in at one of our favorite independent bookstores where we ran into a very old friend of mine (and a friend of my partner’s in another context), E.  I don’t see her often, though we live less than 2 miles from each other.  She figures importantly in my life.  She was a brilliant and loving and interesting and encouraging teacher of mine with an amazing life history.  She is a Jew, a Yiddishist, a holocaust survivor, a feminist, lesbian, a mother, a writer, a literature scholar and a teacher.  Among other things.  Now past 75 she has a second Ph.D, is a dancer and does a whole variety of interesting things I cannot even recount.  I cannot wait to see what she does with the next 25 years. 

E. is almost exactly the same age as my mother and it was no coincidence that soon after I arrived at the university (the second time, after dropping out of a smaller school the first time) I asked her to be my undergraduate advisor.  I did then and still do have a kind of intention about friendships and mentors, but I was less scared to go out on a limb then than I am at times now.  I think I knew then that I was asking her to be my friend and advisor for longer than my undergraduate years, but I figured that was a reasonable amount of time to start with.  

She has remained my friend through perseverence, shared history, a love and respect for one another and a series of interesting threads of common interests and concerns–as well as the coincidence and good fortune of having met in the midwest where she was a professor and I a student, and then having moved to the same east coast city for completely different reasons within a year’s time 2o+ years ago.  She has also– consistently encouraged me to write, which is what I have always wanted to do, loved to do, done or not done, but wanted.

I will not recount our conversation tonight which was brief, but very important to me.  Which is exactly what I could say about many of our conversations over many, many years now.  Tonight, as at other times, she helped me dig my way out of a tough spot and get back to writing which is just what I want to be doing.  Although we often go a year or more without seeing one another, I have had more contact with her since the first of this year, than we have had for awhile.  And it was a deep and serious conversation with her at a party in January, about adoption, race, racism and the nature of family, that made the party for me, but much more importantly, jumpstarted this writing that I have been doing.

She had a wonderful and interesting 75th birthday party two years ago, at which I read her two poems, by Grace Paley, another Jewish woman, now gone, who was also very significant to me.  It was E. who introduced me to Grace Paley’s work.  At E.’s party I think I tried, as I am trying now, to let her know that in general, and particularly as a teacher, you never know what you have meant to people, but you can assume it is likely that often it is more than you know.

The big snow day 6

We have entered a different world.  Snow drifts to your waist.  Streets and sidewalks with layers and layers of powdery snow, no matter how often shoveled.  Daughter up until 11:00 p.m.– playing with neighbors in the snow until 10 p.m.  No school all week so far.  Things closed.  Mind a little more turned toward survival, though I don’t believe mine is at stake at all.  But for some it is. 

Exciting, beautiful, a little scary, a lonely feeling some of the time.  In reality I am closer to my neighbors up the street than ever before.  We have called at all hours; been in and out of each other’s homes, asked favors we never asked before.   A close old friend who barely finds time to see me and vice versa– we’ve taken walks and sat at tables for 4 meals in 6 days.  My old friend K. with us from out of town when it all started; but the visit was different, braving the snow together.  A nighttime walk, a trip together to the train station to see him off safely.  A late night walk home with daughter after she played in the snow at the neighbor’s ’til past 10:00.

Tonight we paid two immigrant men to shovel out our car in the back– then asked them in and fixed warm food for them, gave them work gloves.  The gloves are my work; the invitation to sit at our table, my partner’s– though I fixed the warm food. 

Walking home, Wednesday night 11:00 p.m.

daughter, deep in concentration before sled run downhill, Sunday February 7, 2010

Before the sled run, Sunday, February 7, 2010In our neighborhood, more snow. February 10, 2010

The big snow

I thought I would do a lot of writing.  Or some.   But instead I’ve shoveled snow, talked to my neighbors.  I’ve walked outside and marveled at the world, changed.  I’ve played a lot with my daughter and her friends, indoors and out.  I’ve gotten to know those girls even better.  It snowed on Friday afternoon and night.  And Saturday.  It snowed.  And snowed.  Our Saturday afternoon walk looked like this.  And with this, I take what is a small step for you digital natives, but a giant leap forward for me.  I upload my first photo onto this blog.

our block February 6, 2010 at 4  p.m.

Snow day #1. Talk to me.

It’s a snow day here.  School let out early.  I gathered up my daughter and two girls both of whom my daughter and I really like, to spend the afternoon here on this unexpected half day off.  I made lunch.  We all sat and ate and talked.  But other than that, they have games to play and conversations to have, and they are getting along so well, I hardly know what to do with myself.  So I sat down to write.  But I realized that what I really want is for you to write back.

I want to hear from you.  What have you liked (or not)?  Things that are on your mind and you’d like me to write about?  What do these posts make you think of– about young people, women’s friendships, ending racism, schools, other things?  Talk to me.

To L, my first blogging partner

My friend L called me a few days ago.  She is one of my very best friends– and of the people I have known a long time and am still very close to, other than my sister, I think she is my oldest friend.  She is a completely central person in my life, both because of our friendship now and because of our history.  We live on opposite coasts.   

Cell phones have made our lives and our connection to each other better and worse.  We can talk once in awhile when I am on my way home from work or she is driving to take her daughters to their many activities.  On the other hand our conversations are full of bad connections, technically speaking.  Poor reception, weird delays in the pace of the conversation, as well as wrong turns as a result of being distracted by the phone and then rushing off suddenly to actually pay attention to what we are supposed to be doing or where we are going.  It’s one way to keep up but it sure isn’t the same as sitting down over coffee or tea or on someone’s bed or sofa late at night for a nice long talk like we used to do, both in person and by phone.

L and I met when we were 18– I think on our second day at the small liberal arts college in the midwest where we both started school and then both dropped out.  I dropped out before the end of the semester which was the source of great and grave anger and sadness between my father and me.  I am completely serious when I say that I don’t know if he ever really got over it.  My friendship with L is the only thing I left that school with.  I feel more sympathetic now to the feelings he had about the lost tuition– I didn’t even finish the semester or get the credits for his hard-earned money. 

On the other hand, I wish that before he died I could have helped him to understand the immeasurable value of my lifelong friendship with L and now her whole family– her mother and father (now gone), L’s sister, L’s two daughters and her partner.  If I could now repay my father for the cost of that semester, I would do so and consider it a tremendous bargain because of the friendship.     

What I am remembering now is that in our late teens and early twenties, L and I visited each other a lot.  I did less of the travelling , but she would come to visit me for a summer at a time for 4 weeks or 8 weeks sometimes.  She was much more adventuresome than I.  Once she took a cross country bicycle trip with a plan to finish in the Madison, Wisconsin where I had gone back to school and she was coming to stay for the summer.  She called from pay phones along the way.  And then one day she called me, told me what street corner she was on and asked directions to my house.  She was an LPN and could almost always get work within a week of starting to look, so she could visit and and work.  I would go to California to see her too, but never for a month.  Either way our days often included one of us going off to work, while the other hung out waiting for the work day to end and our visit and talks and adventures to resume.

Why I am writing this now is that looking back, she was my very first writing/blogging partner.  We both kept long, detailed, involved journals.  Mine went on and on and on writing-wise.  Hers did too, and were full of interesting things pasted in as well.  Train tickets, ticket stubs, photo booth photos.  I don’t remember when exactly, but there came a time in our friendship– when we developed a tradition.  When we saw each other, one of the things we would do early on in our visit and completely by agreement was that one would spend several hours reading the other’s journal.  And then we would talk about it later– like the comments part of the blog, only more expansive.

After we started doing this, our journals, our experiments with writing and our own thoughts and feelings about so many things, were no longer only our own– they were soon-to-be-published pieces, with a very, very small and particular audience in mind.  I like to think of that time as I do this work– and I like the immediacy of the blog– and I like to think of you who I know and you who I don’t out there– reading, thinking like L and I did back then.

Girls. Undefeated.

My partner has gotten little mention here.  And though she’s the kind of person who would gladly leave it at that, there is a lot to say.  About our shared motherhood and being lesbian mothers in our particular school, neighborhood, community.  About her.  About our long time together before we were parents together.  And about her important work before we ever met.  

But let’s start here.  She is a feminist.  And besides being a wonderful, stand-up, roll-up-her-sleeves- and- get- it- done kind of person who is very good to people and who is easily liked by people, she’s a jock.  Through and through.  I am not.  So when she came home a couple months ago and announced that she was going to assist S. who was coaching our 4th and 5th grade girls basketball team, I didn’t know where she was going to find the time, but I think I said, “great!” and barely looked up from some inconsequential thing I was doing. 

To be truthful, I continued to not pay much attention for awhile, except I knew it was a good thing for her to do.   As part of one of the public school reconfigurations a few years ago, our school added upper grades.  This girls’ basketball team is part of the very early phase of getting the athletic programs going for the older kids.   

The season has rolled along with my partner leaving work early and going to practices regularly on days that I cannot seem to keep straight in my head.  I talk to her often at the end of the day and ask “when are you leaving work?” and she often says “I’m gone, I’m at practice.”  News to me.  

Then the games started.  On game days my partner gets our daughter a little bit before school lets out and they go to get ready for the game.  I hear the reports after work.  “We won!”; “We won again!!”

My partner is simply happy and her eyes shine when she talks about how proud she is of the girls; how much she loves being their coach, playing a little herself, helping them figure out how to play, use their bodies and their minds and work as a team.  She loves this and I love her for loving this.  Yesterday I had to see for myself and went to school for a home game at the end of the day. 

We have a huge, cavernous gymnasium in a very old, grand and dilapidated school building.  I took a seat on one of the two-deep rows of folding chairs on the spectator side of the gym.  My daughter and her best friend were in the team seats on the other side of the gym– well not actually in the seats, but hopping around, jumping up and down, excited.  They help with the uniforms, water bottles and whatever is needed.   Next year they’ll be old enough to be on the team.   

The girls on our team are simply gorgeous and inspiring.  At this age they are all heights and sizes, from very small to near adult height and weight.  For a team that is still just coming together, with some who have never played before, they are remarkable in their focus, support of each other, cooperation.

When I walked in they were warming up.  My coach-partner and Coach S. were out there with them; both women shouting instruction, gesturing, patting them on the back, encouraging.  It’s all encouragement.  The acoustics in the gym are terrible, everything is cacophony– so there was a noisy, exciting atmosphere right from the start.  

The mothers were arriving to watch and cheer.  I know a lot of these moms, some I like more than others, but this was different.  All for one purpose; a group of women there to back their daughters.  It’s a woman’s thing, this effort. 

One woman; a mother in nice business clothes, whose face I recognize but who I’ve never met, came and sat down next to me and we introduced ourselves and talked a little.  Well shouted actually, although we were sitting next to each other.  She had her younger daughter and a friend with her but she was focused on the girls on the floor warming up.   

She said warmly, “you’re our coach’s partner, aren’t you?”  “Yes”, I said– “and she loves this” I said.  “Don’t get me wrong, life with her is good, but life at our house is so much better when she is coaching 4th and 5th grade girls’ basketball.” 

When the visiting team arrived, that mother looked at them, and then at me and said, “uh oh… they’re so much bigger than we are.”   Her daughter is the fearless point guard– literally about 2/3 the height and weight of many of the other girls.  I know that my partner is especially proud of that young girl’s fearless tenacity and she was, as the game unfolded, a sight to behold.  Jumping, waving, just  fiercely bothering anyone from the other team who had the ball while the opponent or the teammate she was passing to, towered above her.  Our girls are a terrific team, with our two women coaches and a phalanx of mothers backing the team. 

They defended, they passed, they shot, they shot again, they looked for each other and worked together and they got that first basket.  And then the next.  And the next after that and the next after that and they kept going.  I think the person managing the scoreboard stopped counting when the score was 34-4.  Yesterday was the fifth win of five games in the season. 

At the end of the game they were what you want for a daughter in this world — if not every single day, at least often enough so they don’t give up on themselves or each other.  Girls.  Undefeated.