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December 2008

Out With the Old

PeaceGirl Usually, when I'm home alone on New Year's I like to write a long blog post and contemplate the year gone and the year coming. Somehow, I'm not feeling very philosophical this year, despite the couple of fingers of Glenmorangie sitting in a glass on my desk. Probably because I've been getting my New Year's cards ready to mail and cooking a quiche for Eva's open house tomorrow. So now I'm tired. Plus I've still got a stinking cold. Going on week 4 now.

Despite that, what I am feeling is content, which is a good thing, since there were some big changes this year. For one thing, I started this blog, six months ago, to kind of officially announce that I was taking a different spiritual path than the one I'd grown up in. I haven't talked a lot about that here because it's progressing very slowly. I've been reading a lot about Buddhism, but haven't taken the plunge yet and gone to a sesshin, partially because I haven't made up my mind about what school, let alone what temple or zendo to try. I'm leaning toward Zen rather than Tibetan Buddhism. It seems less encumbered with other religious overlays and I like the austerity of it, and the discipline. I like what meditating does to me and I like the emphasis on compassion. But this is all theory at this point.

The other reason I haven't gone to a sesshin anywhere is because sitting's been kinda problematic for the past year. In a year and a half I'll be 50 and for the last several years, my body's been telling me about it: more arthritis in my hands, stiffness in the morning, more aches and pains, and just generally being nibbled to death by minnows: nothing drastic or life threatening, but some highly inconvenient things. I've had two minor surgeries this year and the everlasting, reoccurring cold since I started teaching, both of which have made it hard to get out and do things, and to get enough exercise. I haven't walked around the city as much as I wanted to because I haven't had the energy.

So I've had kind of a slow year, and a year full of changes and new and ongoing projects. In February, I started teaching again, as an adjunct at the College of New Rochelle's School of New Resources in the South Bronx. Just tutoring at first, then a class on journal writing, and most recently, two remedial writing labs, a literary analysis class, and one on logic and argument. That, by far, has been the highlight of this year. I'm glad to be in the classroom again, happier than I thought I'd be. The most shocking thing is that it's so much easier this time around. In the ten or so years it's been since I last taught, I've somehow learned enough to actually talk about literature in a coherent manner for a couple of hours without notes. I know how to take a story or a poem apart and put it back together. I'm a little amazed at myself. It was always fun before, but it was also a bit of a struggle to fill the time and to trust myself as a teacher. Not now.

And I love my students. They're smart and funny and eager to learn, which is really a joy. I've never had a class as full of people who are as hungry as my students are. Oh, sure, there are a few ringers, but a lot of them are my age or older, almost all of them have families and are working too. They're wonderful people, African American and Hispanic, many of them new immigrants. They give the lie to every racist slur I've ever heard. The things they have overcome to be where they are, to get an education and to better themselves would stymie most of the nice middle class people I know, including me. I just want to get behind them and push. There's a wealth of talent and intelligence being thrown away by not offering free college educations to the poor.

When I was teaching the journal writing class in the summer and tutoring, I was lucky enough to read some of the really extraordinary personal stories that are typical of many of the students at this school. I started thinking about putting together an anthology of some of them, and at the same time, met another teacher who had a theater background and who was putting together a show of the same kinds of pieces. And thus was born Bronx Voices, which we hope will morph, eventually, into Voices from the Five, and an anthology of poetry and prose. I've met some really extraordinary people at this school, this year.

And I've reconnected up with a number of people I thought I'd lost, or with whom I'd been in sort of desultory contact. Helen Kay, a friend from grad school, decided to move over here part time for her business, so I've been helping her set up her new apartment in Carnegie Hill. It's almost ready now, and I'm really looking forward to having her here in the city several months a year. Don Mawson, a friend from my Chatham Days, was down in the city working at Morgan Stanley before the bottom fell out of the economy. It was great to see him again, and I'm hoping to go up to Boston and see him sometime this winter too. We have these long stretches between visits, but always pick up right where we left off. A while back, I ran into Victoria Rosen in St. Mark's bookstore; we hadn't spoken in a couple of years, even though she lives right up the street from Roz & Eva, but we've started going to shows together this year. Victoria gets cheap, last minute tickets to some interesting off-Broadway productions and some of them have been a lot of fun. Even when they're not, I'm really glad to have reconnect with Victoria. Her own spiritual journey was one of the things that made me reconsider mine. We even ended up at one of Steven Eng's shows this year, which was great. He and Neal and Marcia and I all need to get together again too, but at least we're keeping in touch.

Then I got back into Facebook, and a whole new world opened up. I found a couple of people I thought I'd lost track of for good, a bunch from high school and one from my classes at Bergen CC, some from college and grad school, and made some more new ones. Eva introduced me to her friend Julie Kessler this year, too. We'd met at Eva's 60th but really started to hang out with each other this year, doing art crawls in Chelsea, which was a lot of fun since Julie's a painter. And Gretl, with whom I've been hanging out a lot, has introduced me to some really great people too. And there's D.L. and a bunch of other people from New Rochelle, including Daisha, who I think is turning into a really fine poet.

So I'm rich in friends this year. I already have so many I can barely keep up with them all, but hey, you can never have too many friends. I'm not making too much money, but neither is anyone else right now. I've got enough to keep me for a while, even if it tanks out some of my retirement fund. I won't be the only person in that boat. And I hope I'll keep teaching. The editing gigs are getting more frequent and better, but we'll see how that goes. I'm blogging for Jen now, and am going to start blogging for actual money this year too. Wow. Who'd a thunk it?

I didn't get to go to China this year with Laurie when she went to pick up her new daughter, but that was a minor disappointment. The important thing is that Laurie's got a new daughter (whom I haven't met yet) and she's awfully excited about it.

All in all, it's been a very good year, the minor cons canceled out by the very numerous pros: good work, good friends, a cozy roof over my head, good food,

So up next: finishing up the looming projects: books, poems, novels, Bronx Voices. Rejoicing in my friends, continuing the work on my spirituality, hopefully getting over some of the health hurdles that have cropped up (and learning to deal with the new hot flashes! Woohoo! Menopause!). But most of all, just continuing to have a really good life by learning to be more thankful for what and who I've got, without any expectations of them or life in general. Every moment is a new now.

    Sun After Rain in the South Bronx

The sudden sun transforms everything
even here—especially here:
scrub trees in a trash-strewn ravine
become a peridot glade behind their razor wire;
cut stone facades robe themselves in rose gold;
brick walls glow with the fire
that hardened them;
asphalt, rainwashed, glitters like snakeskin,
slithering water;
taxis quiver and run with yolky yellow;
the green of meadows veils, briefly,
the vacant lots and postage-stamp lawns
—all revealed in glory
by the simple, ready grace of light.

–New York, 2008

Happy New Year!

the best gift

PeaceGirl Glitter Text Generator
Happy Holidays to all!

Apollo08_earthrise I still haven't adopted Christmas as a holiday, and I doubt I will, but the sentiments are certainly worth propagating. Since Christmas originally sprang out of various solstice celebrations and the Roman Saturnalia, I'm more likely to mark the passing of the year, than an erroneous date of the birth of Christ. It's now become so hopelessly commercialized that I feel absolutely no attraction to it. But it means a lot to many of my friends, so I wish them all, and everyone to whom it means something important, happy holidays. Likewise to many many Jewish friends celebrating Hanukkah.

what it means to be inclusive

RadicalMoi I've been known to hold a few extreme and even radical ideas in my day. In a male-dominated society, feminism itself is a pretty radical notion, as Marilyn French said. I will go so far as to say that some of my view points are pretty binary: either on or off, with no gray areas or extenuating circumstances attached: women deserve the same opportunities and compensation as men; white people are not smarter or better than anybody else; education should be free through the Ph.D.; affordable healthcare is a right, not a privilege; every human life has value (where "human life" begins is another, separate matter). As I get older, though, the gray areas get bigger until I find myself backing off from the sweeping statements I used to make about issues. Sometimes I can't even define my own feelings or opinions about an issue. For example, the idea of abortion has always made me uncomfortable, but I've never felt I had the right to impose my feelings on other women—nor that anyone else has the right to make that decision for individual women. People are full of contradictory beliefs they can't resolve in themselves, me included.

So it's starting to irritate the crap out of me when people pile on President-Elect Obama for not following their agenda. We had a regime like that for eight years, in which a deeply conservative moral agenda was forced down the throats of both moderates and liberals. And while I would go so far so to call myself a far-left liberal, even a socialist, I don't want "my side" to do the same thing. Why? Because it stymies progress, making it a tug of war between two opposing sides, rather than a set of compromises that everyone can live with. It's polarizing and unproductive.

Here's an example of what I mean from Shakesville's Melissa McEwan, who's pissed off at Obama's choice of his personal friend, Rev. Rick Warren to lead prayers at his

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Grudge Match: NYTBR vs. WRB

LibraryMoi I've gone on here and in other places about how badly the New York Times Book Review and the reviewing establishment in general ignores books by women and women's opinions on books. With book reviewing on the wane (hell, books are on the wane), it's hard to find a good source of book reviews that doesn't entail subscribing to a number of different journals and blogs. I'm terminally fed up with the Times, and yet I keep going back to it because there's so little else. In desperation, I subscribed to Book Forum, which I like, but which is also heavily skewed toward art and academics. Not that I've got anything against either art or academic books, but I'm a writer, among other things, and I want to read about fiction and history and poetry and biography and okay, yeah, some politics for general readers. There are still some of us, yanno, who actually read books.

Today, like the infamous dog returning to its vomit, I glanced over the Times list of the year's ten best books, which is a dubious proposition anyway. I mean, ten best book for whom? Never mind in whose opinion. How many women made the cut? Three. Four (see comments below). Oh so predictably, two in fiction, one in non-fiction: Toni Morrison for A Mercy and Jhumpa Lahiri for Unaccustomed Earth (excellent writers both); Jane Meyer for The Dark Side:The Inside Story of How the War on Terror Turned Into a War on American Ideals. I'm a fan of both Morrison and Lahiri and happy to see them on the list. Would one more women author have killed them? Like, oh, Marilynne Robinson's Home? or Louise Erdrich's The Plague of Doves? Jane Meyer's investigative reporting on the Bush administration's adoption of horrific policies like sanctioned torture, suspension of habeas corpus, and extraordinary rendition is a great piece of work and belongs on the list. But instead of, say, honoring yet another book about the Civil War (it's OVER, people; quit fighting it), it would have been nice to showcase, for example, Joanna Bourke's Rape: Sex, Violence, History, given the continuing conditions in Darfur and the widespread use of rape as a tactic of war in Africa.

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Damned if you do, damned if you don't

Bitchbutton In the You Can't Fucking Win Department, this just in:

A new study in Psychology of Women Quarterly finds that women who present themselves as confident and ambitious in job interviews are viewed as highly competent but also lacking social skills. Women who present themselves as modest and cooperative, while well liked, are perceived as low on competence. By contrast, confident and ambitious male candidates are viewed as both competent and likable and therefore are more likely to be hired as a manager than either confident or modest women. . . .

Results show how disparate hiring criteria further discriminates against ambitious, competent women. When judging the ambitious women's hirability, a perceived lack of social skills formed the basis of the hiring decision, and the womens' high competence was relatively neglected. For ambitious men, however, perceived competence and interpersonal skills were weighed equally in the hiring decision. Women were doubly disadvantaged because even when female applicants adhered to stereotypic expectations by presenting themselves as modest, they were unlikely to be hired because evaluators emphasized their relatively low competence and discounted their (high) social skills.

The double standard is alive and well: "He's ambitious; she's a bitch." Men are still not expected to have social skills; women are still expected to fill that role in society. Ambition and competence conflict with social skills (where did that one come from?) Women should be modest, not toot their own horns, not have goals and dreams and desires that might conflict with men's. Women who present themselves as confident and ambitious are still seen as dangerous aggressors who threaten the social order and the

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Resistance is Futile

HurlingMoi I have been assimilated. I'm back on Facebook, though it seems to be not quite as annoying as it was the first time I joined. At least I haven't been poked and friended by people with whom I have nothing in common, and an awful lot of my friends are there too. I even found a couple of people I'd lost track of, one from my sophomore year of high school, another from graduate school. I think it might actually be a useful networking tool for some of my art projects too.

All this in the midst of a Vicodin haze. That's my excuse and I'm stickin' to it. Find me here.

World AIDS Day, 2008

20anniversaryimage_mediumTwenty years is too long to live with something that can be prevented so easily, people. Infection rates are still rising worldwide, though the numbers in the developed world show that public information campaigns help prevent transmission. Respect yourself and your partners and protect yourself and your partners. Speak out about it. Urge the government to rescind the gag order on reproductive health organizations that offer condoms as birth control and std prevention in developing nations. The truth works. In the meanwhile, help us find a cure. For a list of AIDS organizations who need your time or your money, click here.