Saturday, December 25, 2004

Tikkun Olam - what really matters

Something to think about, whatever holiday you have celebrated, will celebrate or are at the moment recovering from...Perhaps there is someone out there who longs to hear their own life taken apart for its foulness, excess and banality, but I do not know them, and it would be a risky thing to write this blog hoping that there were thousands of such people. Most people (and I do include myself here) who decry the collapse of our culture into rampant consumerism, the environmental disaster that is modern life, and the sadness of our empty collective experience are extremely tedious, and they do so because they enjoy self-righteousness. Whether they do a great deal or nothing to resist and relieve these conditions, they enjoy the sensation that they care more than the rest of us, feel deeper outrage and are the better for it.

Outrage and compassion are good qualities, but in themselves, they take us nowhere - we may feel the better for experiencing them, but they alter nothing except our interior state, and when we imagine that what is important is our feelings, or our intentions, we glorify ourselves when we are most unworthy. There are two things better than self-righteousness, better than moral outrage, better than mere abstract compassion: courage and principle.

But I have a hard time fixing the problem of overconsumption, and the fact that our language does not really allow for an alternative way of thinking. I am the origin of the difficulty, abetted by corporations, by the notion that money and trade are what matter most, by the notion that being humane is too hard, by the sense that we cannot really make deep alterations in our state, that we are simply cogs in the wheel. But the bottom line is that I did not have to buy what they sold me. I did not have to buy the barbie dolls, the packaged mini-carrots, the notion that grandparents belong in a home because no one can be there to take care of them. And while I am skeptical, even ironic, about these notions, I also have given in at times, conceeded, kept my pleasures and polluted and enslaved and mistreated others.

The reality is that my wealth is borne on the backs of others who are less wealthy. I can have not only vaccinations and urgently needed medical treatment for my children, but they can have orthodontistry to the tune of many thousands of dollars for slightly crooked teeth. But other children cannot have vaccinations, can die from diarrhea or starvation. We all know this, we all believe in our hearts it is wrong, but there is something lost in the translation. Either we do not believe that the one depends on the other, that my wealth deprives another, or we want so badly to give the gift of everything to our families and children that we enjoy our wealth and close our eyes to the consequences. Or perhaps it is that we cannot see how depriving ourselves will help another.

But it is the simple truth that I am wealthy in goods because goods are cheap, and do not represent their ethical cost. I have cheap clothing because people who are effectively slaves sew it for me. I have cheap food because people who are effectively slaves fertilize and spray and pick it for me. I have cheap gas because it is extracted by oil companies who destroy wildlife, pollute seas and rivers, and prop up fascist governments so that I can take all the money I have saved and drive my kids to Disneyland. My wealth is built on slavery just as much as that of the plantation owners before me. And I'm not very wealthy. I struggle to pay my mortgage. I have credit card debt on which I pay the minimum. I am wealthy on paper, in calories and in objects, but my wealth does not translate to a sense of security or confidence, it does not bring me happiness (more people are depressed now than ever before), freedom from fear, or anything but more work to preserve my wealth and more stuff to fill my overflowing home.

Most reasonably well educated and socially conscious people realize that there is something horribly wrong with the way that they live. You do not need me to tell you that on hot days, you can scarcely breath for all the exhaust hanging in the air of your suburb. You don't need me to point out that because you cannot afford housing near your job, you spend an hour a day commuting. You don't need me to tell you that more of our children have asthma and psychological difficulties than when we were young. You don't need me to tell you that by letting our kids watch hours of tv, they are being influenced by powers that you cannot compete with. You don't need me to point out that teenagers (and younger children) are murdering, robbing, raping, abusing at a rate far higher than anything you knew before. You don't need me to tell you that your mortgage and credit card bills are leaving you hanging on the edge of bankruptcy, while things keep accumulating in your house. You don't need me to tell you that the truth is that the oil that finances our economy, that pollutes our planet, that feeds our unending lust for gas, is eventually going to run out, and that some scary things are going to happen in the meantime. You don't need me to tell you that you work longer hours than your parents did, and now, both of you work, and you rarely have any time alone. You don't need me to tell you that an economy based upon consumer spending, all financed with imaginary, credit-card money, is eventually going to collapse inward. You don't need me to point out that it feels increasingly hard to make good choices, to find a way to feed and clothe your family without putting chemicals that you disapprove of into the atmosphere, and without using slave labor to pick or sew or make the things you depend upon. You don't need me to tell you that something is very, very wrong.

We all know all of these things. We know it in our guts and our bones, and we're afraid. And we try desperately to fix some of these things - to make sure that kids at risk have more counselors, to get more exercise, to eat more veggies. Maybe we've even tried some of the more radical approaches, like taking the train instead of driving or eating less meat. Maybe you recycle everything, are a vegetarian, only watch PBS and ride your bicycle to work. You have courage and conviction, a set of principles that say you want the world to be a better place, and you want to do your part to make it that way. But you only have limited time. You can't ride your bike every day, because that takes away time with your children. You can cut down on tv, but not cut it out altogether, because your kids like it, and because you don't have anything to fill the void with - you have to work. You cannot fix it yourself, because you do not have the time and energy and resources and you don’t understand the complicated system that needs to be worked to enact major change. How do you contact your congressman? What does that do if you do it? How do you get a question on the ballot? How do you find like-minded people? How do you make them care?

Even if you care, when you are tired, you buy the grapes coated in pesticides. Even if you care, in a hurry, you drive in just this once. The piecemeal solution depends upon private willpower, individual engagement, and the vagaries of your life permitting you
to make the right choices. Modern, corporate life offers no incentives for you to succeed, and every incentive for you to fail, to feel that you tried biking and it was too time-consuming, too hard, too slow, and it took time away from your family. You give it up because the benefits to you are purely abstract.

The only solution I have been able to come to is the most radical one of all, and because it is radical, it is easier and better than the piecemeal solution. It is to make your life what you want, and to build into that life a set of rules and techniques to do what you think is right. You receive the reward and the incentive simultaneously. You start over, find what you want, and figure out how to make that come about. It involves great sacrifices, for you will get off that other man's back once and for all. It is difficult. But the reward is that you get the thing you most desire - yourself, your family, your love, your life.

It is not easy, and I can't tell you how to do it. I have not yet wholly succeeded in doing it myself. But it seems to me the only goal worth working towards and the only thing worth praying for - that I can break my dependency on doing wrong, and begin, at this moment, to do right, to take up my true share of tikkun olam, the repair of the world.

More on this soon.



Friday, December 24, 2004

Harper's Index

Harper's Index for this month has two interesting statistics in it. Take a look:

"Percentage Change since 2002 in the average U.S. price of gasline: +35.2
Change since then in the amount of gasoline Americans consume per capita: 0"

Interesting conjunction, those statistics. Part of the issue, of course, is that prices simply haven't gotten high enough to make people conserve. Only about 14% of the American population reports having to choose between gas and something else that matters as yet. More will this winter, as heating oil prices rise.

But most people have enough leeway in their budgets that they haven't changed their habits all that much. But I would argue that that lack of change isn't because they don't want to - its because they don't know how, or worse, they *can't*.

While there are certainly places we could easily consume, one of the things most people don't seem to notice is just how hard it will be to alter our usage patterns on any large scale. People *have* to drive to their jobs, and as gas prices rise, and employers find their margins of profit dropping because they have to heat their buildings, transport their goods, etc... their ability to move or be flexible will drop as well. I anticipate during the early stages of peak oil, that a lot of people will pick up and move closer to their jobs.

But that's not a long term solution, and we won't be moving. Because as the cost of oil and gas rises even higher, and salaries are cut (again, as those profit margins drop), those jobs will fold altogether. No employer in the world can operate without lights, heat, transportation. When those things get costly, and the average worker can no longer afford their product anyhow (since they have all they can do to pay for food, which is also rising radically in price), the jobs will be gone.

The simple reality of peak oil is that we have built up our infrastructure around oil to such a degree that we are no longer able to back away from the cliff we have made. Oh, wise leadership and serious attention to this issue could make it better - but not good. We won't stop burning oil until we either stop affording it or the last drops are pulled up - we can't. We no longer have the means to live without it. Only those who find a way as individuals or communities to step off the treadmill will be able to escape the end result - when they have to choose between heat and food, spending most of your salary on transportation to a job or not having one at all.

Wednesday, December 22, 2004

Chanukah is mercifully over!!!

I don't know what I was thinking when I bore two children between the end of November and the middle of December. In a three week period this year, we had Simon's third birthday, 8 nights of wretched excess, and Isaiah's first birthday. My kids got, umm, many, many presents. Far too many.

Actually, I do know why I have two children in such a short period - birthin' by the agricultural calendar. We have our babies at the most convenient time of year, when the garden is done and the next one not yet started, after the CSA deliveries, the canning and preserving, and garden clean up are finished, but before seed-starting, the arrival of chicks and poults, etc...

We have some strange rules about presents, nearly all of which we've violated now and then, but which keep the insanity from getting too intolerable.

1. Nothing that sings, dances, has no volume control or otherwise drives Mommy and Daddy up the wall.

2. Nothing that can only be played with one way - if it has "directive" qualities, it goes to the synagogue yard sale, particularly if it gives you verbal instructions on how to play with it. The sole exceptions to this rule are board games.

3. No batteries - or nothing that can't be played with without them. Many battery operated basic toys (like our otherwise beloved Fisher-Price farm, which sings and makes noises when you put the animals in the "right" place - grrr!) work just fine without batteries. I make exceptions for a few things - we have some musical toys that use batteries, but generally, we're opposed.

4. Anything that says educational, but means "sings the alphabet really loudly while otherwise doing a lot of stupid crap."

5. Natural materials whenever possible. Partly to reduce the appalling quantity of brightly colored plastic in my house (there was a time when I thought about thinks like aesthetics - ie, before I had children), partly to reduce the amount of toxic chemicals and non-renewable garbage, but mostly, because real materials feel nicer. So wood, wool, metal, silk, etc...

6. Mostly no tv/movie tie ins. We have always excepted Sesame Street from this rule - DH has a cookie monster thing. I have come to tolerate a certain amount of Disney Winnie the Pooh crap, since Simon is Pooh obsessed (we're reading _The House at Pooh Corner_ with both boys right now) and it is disturbingly hard to find Shepherd Pooh related toys. We own Thomas trains, but my kids have never seen Thomas, and don't know that it is a tie in. We own a lot of Bob the builder trucks, but since they are primarily trucks, not characters, I tolerate them. I suspect I'll soften further on this subject at some point, but I'm trying to hold a line - no Disney toys, no Halloween character costumes, no Blue's Clues flashlights.

7. No violent toys. This doesn't mean what you probably think it does. The issue is not guns, which so far hasn't come up. For me, the issue is *superheroes* - our neighbor's sons are allowed to watch anything they want, and their three and five year olds are Batman obsessed. All they want to do is play Batman - which pretty much involves kicking and hitting my kids. That's not to say my kids are incapable of violence (hardly), but their kinds of play rarely involve karate kicks...yet. So we're holding the line hard against superheroes. We love our neighbors - this is the only complaint I've ever had about them - but I wanted to cry when I found out that my 2 year old knew who spiderman was already.

For the record, I actually am not opposed to all toy guns. I think trying to make water pistols look like anything other than guns is stupid, and I don't necessarily think that the wooden toy flintlock I had as a girl made me any more violent than I am anyhow. But I suspect most contemporary toy guns violate at least one of the above rules. I'm sure we'll have our own little "Christmas (Chanukah?) Story" moment with guns sooner or later, and again, as long as they are made of wood or wool, have no batteries, make no noise and you can do more than one things with them, they can have as many guns as they want.

8. No toys that Mommy and Daddy deem stupid, gross, unappealing, inappropriate or worthless. This is the rule under which all others are subsumed. No playdough MacDonalds, no Mexican jumping beans on racetracks, no green slime in a tube, no books with farting and vomiting, no pointless commercial tie ins, no hideous clown face puzzles, no toys that indicate on the boxes they are only for girls (I still have not been able to find a tea set for my kids that has children of both genders on the box), no throw-away crap meant to be played with for two minutes and sent to the landfill.

We get a disturbing number of these toys (with three kids and multiple holidays, we simply get a disturbing number of toys), and they are returned, regifted or donated. My kids don't seem to mind (yet) that Mommy scoops up some of their toys and says, "these are for tzedakah" after the kind people who gave them depart. I'm hoping if I keep doing it, it will get to be a routine.

Despite all of this, our house looks like a giant playroom, and while it troubles me some (I am not a fan of excess), I'm happy that there is a lot of good stuff - I'm not a believer in artificial shortages. Just in the last few weeks, my children have received:

1. Woolen dolls (in Simon and Isaiah's case) and a woolen stuffed horse with leather saddle (for Eli). They are beautiful, warm and soft.

2. A table and a train set. This might actually have been for Eric, who is at least as into it as the kids.

3. Many, many, many beautiful children's books.

4. A new top - we break one from overuse every couple of years.

5. A wooden abacus for math games.

6. A puppet theater

7. Assorted trucks for my truck obsessed 1 year old.

8. Assorted stuffed animals for my animal obsessed three year old.

9. A wooden xylophone for my music obsessed 4 1/2 year old.

10. An enormous set of wooden architectural blocks.

My kids are so not deprived it isn't funny - in fact, even my rules aren't keeping the toy level respectable. I feel fortunate not only that my children have wonderful toys to play with, but that many of these will outlast my children, and on to the grandchildren I so fervently hope to have.

I hope your holidays are wonderful, fruitful and over soon!



Sunday, December 12, 2004

100 Things About Me

I'm feeling narcissistic today, and have been reading too much Proust, since it is way too hot to weed the garden. So, to up the banality of this blog, 100 random facts about yours truly, virtually none of them genuinely proustian or of any great interest.

1. I am exactly 6' tall, and share a birthday (60 years apart) with Julia Child, who was also 6' tall. This means nothing, but pleases me.

2. I did not immediately feel overwhelming love for my children when they were born. More like interest, and a certain degree of abstract concern. Love came later, but hard.

3. I will eat pretty much anything except aspic. That has included many things not classed as "food" in this country.

4. I grew up in a family where people made things and did things themselves. I remember helping my father smelt bullets for his target shooting in our home furnace, and watching my grandmother's hands as she knit, thinking that if only I could learn to mimic her movements, I could do that too. My step-mother pretty much singlehandedly turned our house when I was growing up, from a wrecked stable with no heat into a gorgeous period home.

5. I was given at birth, by my grandmother and great aunt, lifetime memberships in the DAR (Daughters of the American Revolution) and Eastern Star (women freemasons). For some strange reason, I have never pursued them, although my friend Steve and I have considered starting a Jewish chapter of the DAR for the fun of annoying them.

6. The Jewish thing isn't even the worst thing about me for the DAR - I'm part Cherokee, and my Mom was raised in a trailer park. I think I get my taste for country music from there. Oh, and Native American may not be the worst shadow on my racial purity, as Grandma took pains to deny strenuously. Terrible, ain't it?

7. I cannot follow any kind of diagram, no matter how obvious. I was 25 before I could read a map. Visual imagery in general doesn't make a lot of sense to me, and I don't think in images.

8. My family has a Groucho Marx thing, and I grew up watching his movies obsessively. Simon's middle name is "Julius" for Groucho.

9. I have been truly, deeply in love three times. Only one of them requited. Fortunately, the requited one I'm married to.

10. I am a real pain in the ass to live with - I have this on excellent authority and with plenty of external corroboration by multiple sources.

11. I never really liked Middlemarch all that much, despite the name of this blog. I prefer _Daniel Deronda_ or even _Silas Marner_. Although, really, I'd just rather read Fielding.

12. I always claimed to hate Melville, but during my last pregnancy was seized with a sudden, desperate desire to read about whales. I didn't hate it, although I haven't changed my dissertation topic or anything.

13. I am a mean Mommy - I have a "only two repetitions of any story in one day" rule. And only one reading per day of _Green Eggs and Ham_.

14. I like cats better than dogs, but only slightly. Cats are less needy, and I already have children if I want needy things.

15. I remember my father heckling Ronald Reagan at a rally in 1980. He called him "Turkey," I think because he knew we were watching and did not want to curse. I was very impressed by this.

16. I really liked LSD the couple of times I tried it. I was fond of pot, too. I have not yet prepared my anti-drug speech for my children, although it will probably have to be a variation of, "Well, I did drugs. Your grandparents did drugs. Great-Grandma smoked pot a couple of times. Maybe you should think of a more original way to rebel, no?"

17. Despite the fact that I have 30+ hours labors, I love being in labor - it gets me the hell out of pregnancy. Pain, schmain, as long as I'm not pregnant any more.

18. I could eat sushi 3 meals a day for the rest of my life and never get tired of it. This would probably not be good for me, nor for my budget.

19. When in doubt, I cook twice as much food as anyone could realistically need. I am nearly always in doubt. It is a compulsion, passed down through several generations, from at least my great grandmother. No one ever runs out of food at my house, although I am perpetually anxious that they will.

20. I am oddly flexible for someone not thin or athletic. I can still do a split and come up without using my hands. Given that I have had three children and am in my 30s, I am proud of this.

21. I made Eric promise to stay married to me at least 75 years. After that (he'll be 103, I'll be 101) we can date whoever we like.

22. I am bisexual. Since I am also monogamous, this is mostly irrelevant, but it makes it fun to go out girl watching with my husband.

23. My mother and step-mother (better known as Susie) got legally married last May in their hometown, Beverly, the first lesbian couple to do so in their community. I am so proud of them, and so pleased that I'm from the state of Massachusetts.

24. In all my years, it would never have occurred (until I read about it recently) to me that there was such a thing as a support group for children of gay parents. A support group for children of narcissistic baby boomers might have been a good thing, however.

25. My father thinks I'm his clone. There is some truth there, enough to be scary, but not quite as much as he imagines. Still, it is always sobering to know that your career choice is pretty much what your father would have picked for you.

26. I like red wine more than white. Last time we went to France, Eric picked Alsace for our wine tour. He owes me a week in Burgundy, maybe for our tenth anniversary.

27. I have had cats named: Gustave Mahler, Entropy, Turnip, Mr. Myxyzptlk, Mnemosyne, Alas Poor Yorick, Tycho Brahe and Angus Og. The dog is named Rufus T. Firefly (points to the first person who gets the reference.)

28. Although I despise virtually everything about pregnancy, I really like babies. This surprised me, because I expected to prefer older children who I could talk to. I like kids a lot too, but there's something about really little babies that I adore.

29. I have four different books in progress, and the worst case of publishing anxiety you could imagine. Expect them in print in 2092.

30. The smell of cabbage makes my happy and nostalgic for my Paternal great-grandmother. I suspect it is a genetic affection, on the polish side.

31. The smell of pipe smoke is pretty much an aphrodisiac for me, but I consider it unethical to press Eric to affect a pipe.

32. I have a fairly impressive vocal range, but a totally mediocre voice. But I can sing tenor, which makes up for a lot, since tenors are always in short supply. In my dreams, I can really sing, and sound a lot like Etta James.

33. The only things I miss about Christianity since becoming a Jew are the smell of pine trees in my house at Christmas (although not the pinetree dog barf on the rug ;-), not having to edit the words to "Chicken Soup with Rice" when reading to my sons, and the concept of poverty as a positive aesthetic virtue.

34. Even though it no longer bears any resemblance to the place I spent my adolescence wandering 15 years ago, I have a certain nostalgia for Harvard Square.

35. The older I get the less I like to read James Joyce (who I once loved) and the less impressed I am by Molly Bloom.

36. I like to organize things. As opposed to cleaning them. I especially like to organize books and yarn.

37. I own enough yarn to open my own shop. I'm gonna have warm socks at the apocalypse, dammit.

38. I like winding skeins into balls as much as knitting - I find it very soothing.

39. I have never read the ending of some of my favorite novels - I just couldn't stand to have them be finished. I still don't know what happens at the end of Nabokov's _Pale Fire_ although I can guess. And I won't tell you (lest someone who might hire me reads this) which one, but there's a Shakespeare play I've never read - I'm saving it as something to look forward to on my 100th birthday.

40. I have never read the end of Fanny Burney's _Cecelia_, but not because I liked it. I'm sure this matters to none of you, but it is a book I'm supposed to have read.

41. I mostly think American Literature before 1900 was a waste of time, with three exceptions -Twain, Dickinson and Whitman. They are the obvious and trite choices, but the only ones. Ok, I've softened a little on Melville, but he still wrote too much, too often.

42. I have two sisters. Rachael and I are 1 year and six days apart. We hated each other for most of our childhoods, but are finally mostly over it. I used to call her "Wurm" - with an odd degree of affection.

43. My other sister, Vicki, is very cool, and to top off her coolness, produced my perfect niece, Abigail. I like this aunt thing very much.

44. My husband's childhood has made me realize that I would not rather have been an only child, although it took quite a while to get there.

45. I was so terrified of motherhood (of the possibility that I might not love my child) that I almost didn't care that I was two weeks past due when Eli was born.

46. I had my third baby at the exact stroke of midnight on December 16. I did not realize, until I did so, that midnight between 12/16 and 12/17 is still 12/16 - it isn't the next day until 12:01. Had I thought about it, I might have been able to figure it out.

47. I am very good at taking other people's ideas to their logical conclusion. I'm not so good at coming up with new ones on my own. But people find the former impressive at times.

48. I don't really care that much for chocolate - except mixed with peanut butter or fruit. The more adulterated, the better.

49. I am not at all afraid of heights, and love to hang off the edge of high things. This scares the heck out of my husband, so I (mostly) try not to do it in front of him.

50. I had cooler taste in music (Punk vs. the ubiquitous boy music, Led Zepplin) that Eric in high school. It is quite a remarkable thing that I was cooler than anyone about anything - ever.

51. I am freaked out by horror movies, fake blood and guts, gross jokes on tv. I am totally unsqueamish about all those things in real life, and have had ample contact with them back when I was doing EMS. I don't understand this about myself at all.

52. I wrote forty pages this past week - and deleted 24 of them.

53. I hate driving - I will do almost anything to get someone else to drive instead of me. I would be delighted never to have to get in a car again.

54. I like to win. This can be very annoying, whether I win or not.

55. If you are sick, I am the nicest person in the world, even if I am sick myself.

56. I believe that the right kind of tea fixes any problem or illness. I own nearly every kind on earth.

57. My husband has been known to refer to me as his "beloved vagina dentata." This is more appropriate than I like.

58. I talk to myself, particularly when I am working out ideas. I particularly like to walk and talk to myself. I cannot chew gum at the same time, and do not try.

59. I have an extremely poor memory for fiction - I can read most mysteries at least twice before the ending isn't a surprise. I read extremely quickly, but I have to read twice to really retain things.

60. I wanted to be Joan Jett when I was 12. Secretly, I'd still like to be her.

61. I actually like doing Latin declensions and complex math problems.

62. If I had my way, we'd live much further from civilization than we do. I like quiet, space and no one remotely in sight.

63. I am wildly shy, and mostly hide it by being kind of obnoxious and talking too much. I hate meeting new people. Mostly, people do not like me that much when we first meet. I am an acquired taste.

64. My first memory is of my parents bringing my sister home from the hospital. We lived on the fourth floor of an apartment with very long, low windows, and I recall looking down with someone (my grandmother, maybe?) as my father helped my mother and the new baby out of the car.

65. I have a "save the world" complex. I used to run off and try and actually do it, now I write about it. This is, perhaps, why one shouldn't trust anyone over 30.

66. I have been pregnant or nursing for almost six consecutive years now. I anticipate at least another few months of nursing Isaiah (Simon stopped at 2, Eli at 3).

67. I have been sleep deprived for five out of the last six years. There is a connection between this statement and the previous one.

68. I am a semi-skeptic, in that I tend to doubt things but do them anyway. I am presently taking homeopathy for carpal tunnel syndrome, and, psychosomatically or not, I think it helps. That does not mean I believe in homeopathy.

69. I am torn between admiration for Romanticism and the wish that there would be a great movement of adult, rather than adolescent ardor. I mostly love Percy Shelley, have come to terms with parts of Wordsworth, and like Coleridge and Byron very much. _Wuthering Heights_, is, however, the most overrated book of all time, and Wordsworth the most overrated poet save Jory Graham.

70. I don't like most contemporary fiction I read, for much the same reason I don't like a lot of movies. You have to surprise me to get me paying attention.

71. I don't like to own first editions of books - I like books I can write in, turn down a page on, etc... The sole exception is the first editiion of US Grant's Memoirs my Dad sent me for my birthday. It was my great-great-great uncle's, I believe.

72. I probably should have gone into advertising. I'd be really, really good at it. Of course, I'd miss my soul. Eric particularly admires my campaign for "FauxFu" a meat-based tofu substitute for lapsed vegetarians.

73. In part, I homestead because no one seems to really believe it is possible to reduce one's consumption to a fair share of the earth's resources. I have not yet fully succeeded, but I believe it is possible, and that someone has to do it.

74. I hate it when people say "yuck" about food, or call something disgusting that they don't like. My children already know better. I've seen enough hungry people to find only that disgusting.

75. I love to teach. I can never believe they pay me for something that's so enjoyable. And I love to teach writing particularly. Lit people are supposed to hate it, to think it isn't very important. But ultimately, teaching people to write well is teaching them to think clearly, and there's nothing that matters more.

94 Years ago today

Grandpa died a week ago. It was a good death - he died with his family around him, and had a period of lucidity and energy greater than he'd had in a while. His wife and I were holding his hands, he had just eaten chocolate with almonds (his favorite food) and he was excited that his son and daughter in law were present.

Today would have been his 94th birthday. I feel most grieved for Grandma, who was his wife for 62 years, since she was 17. She was on the kindertransport at 12, and there were so many things she missed as a servant in England during her teens. So he was nearly everything to her - husband, teacher, protector, father figure. In the last years she devoted herself to caring for him, and I've never seen two people love each other more. It will be very hard for her.

Their daughter, Eric's aunt, was in transit from California when he died, and when she, her daughter and grandson went home from the funeral last night, they took Grandma with them for a month. Its a good thing for her to have a break, and I think a very good thing for us as well. I checked - until Saturday, except to attend the funeral, I hadn't left the house for 2 weeks, since Grandpa and then Grandma required so much care.

I planned the funeral. No one else wanted to do it, and I'm not a weepy sort of person. I'm good for about five minutes of hugging and crying, and then I get to work trying to fix what's broken, and get ready for what's coming. So it was easier for me to make the phone calls and speak all the harsh details, and better for me to have something practical to do.

So I made all the arrangements, and told everyone what to do and say, packed Grandma's suitcase, arranged her plane tickets, got the body sent to the cemetary, arranged the funeral lunch, babysat the kids during the hard parts of the funeral, cooked dinner for the relatives, explained death to Simon, Eli and nephew Jake, made everyone eat and sleep when they didn't want to, even arranged to remove and hide the birthday presents and cards from Grandma. And all because I've never yet been able to shake my basic degree of detachment in any crisis. Its a useful quality - everyone always comments on how calm I am when the chips are down, and I've used it at times in some scary situations. But it comes with a down side - others perceive me as cold, and I'm not sure they are wrong. There's a sense that even the strongest and most passionate moments of my life are always something I perceive simultaneously as though they were happening to me and as though they were occurring to someone else - I am always a little disconnected.

I think it was Emerson (John Burt, one of my wisest and best Profs told me this) who said something along the same lines about the death of his son. Now I've never experienced a death quite like that, and I don't begin to imply that the death of a 94 year old man who I'd known and cared about only 8 years bore any resemblance (God forbid!!!) to what it would be like to lose a child. But I have this evil sneaky feeling that I'd be the kind of person that even in the face of the ugliest of personal tragedies, who could to some degree watch herself mourning, and doubt my own sincerity.

Ok, enough about what a dreadful person I can be.