Sunday, September 28, 2014

Sunday Street Scene

Click to "embiggen"

Another hamburger joint. LA is full of them. The multicolored lanterns, the Palos Verde stone facing, the streamline silhouette. The pinkening sky.

Saturday, September 27, 2014

Applying myself

Kid in a candy shop - click to "embiggen"
Making a decision to go to graduate school for a Creative Writing MFA isn't a trivial one, I've learned. There's a lot of planning to do, and a lot of work. Now that the idea is more concrete than is was a month ago, I've made some progress. I feel like I'm committed to this.
I've short-listed ten schools. Five of them are "for sure" choices; the other five are likely choices that I need to learn more about. I might narrow down the list. 

I've selected only schools that offer a concentration in non-fiction or allow students to work in multiple genres. I don't rule out working on fiction, or even poetry, but my strength is in non-fiction right now. It's my interest and my strongest work is non-fiction.

I've chosen three schools in Southern California. The other schools are out of state. When I first got the notion to do this, I limited myself to Southern California schools, but [The Man I Love] urged me to explore other places. "If you're going to do it, why not look at all the possibilities?" he said, and he's right. 

An MFA degree in Creative Writing is usually a two, sometimes a three year program. Living somewhere else for two or three years is not a hardship - in fact, I'm kind of excited by the idea. 

Expanding my horizon also lead me to thinking about the financial side of it. Many MFA programs provide full funding for the students they admit. Students work as teaching assistants or as editors for departmental journals, but tuition is covered and often there's a living stipend. Why shouldn't I compete for these positions? 

If I am offered a funded position at a distant school, naturally I will have to quit my job - which means I will take my retirement. That gives me a modest income, something that will supplement a graduate student stipend.

If I take an offer in Southern California, I can decide whether to quit my job or not; whether to drop to part-time, or even whether to go to school only part time and keep working. That's a bridge to cross in March, when the acceptance or rejection letters come in.

But before I can made any decisions, I have to complete the applications, and right now this makes me feel like a juggler spinning a dozen plates in the air.

All the schools I'm applying to have an online application process. But they're all different, and complicated, so I've created a spreadsheet to keep track of them. I need to coordinate letters of recommendation, and delivery of transcripts, and upload my CV and statements of purpose, and writing samples. 

Another big deal is the GRE, or Graduate Record Exam. Not all schools require it for the MFA degree, but two of the schools I'm very interested in do. So I have to take it. I took the GRE about 15 years ago, and did pretty well, but I need current scores. I'm reading study guides and taking practice tests, and hope to take the exam in mid-October.

It also costs money - each application fee is about $50. The GRE is $195. I'm trying to budget and plan out each fee.

The deadlines for application range from December 10 to January 15, and I feel I'm on track to meet that. 

This has given me quite a sense of purpose in my life, which feels really good, but I'm also scared and worried I'll blow it. I could use any advice or encouragement you all could give me. 

Monday, September 22, 2014

Feeling the burn

Mural on Vermont Blvd. in Koreatown. Click to "embiggen"
OK, now she's working me.

The first couple appointments with my physical therapist, we worked on little micro exercises; stretches with toes and things. She massaged my muscles and my knee-cap joint.

But today - ooh, today I put in time on the treadmill and then did some quadriceps exercises on a Nautilus-type machine. Yee-ouch!!!! I can feel the burn!

Sunday, September 21, 2014

Sunday Street Sight

Click to "embiggen"

From my photo files - a scene from the streets in Southern California. Jim's Restaurant, East Los Angeles.

Friday, September 19, 2014

Self-improvement projects

This seems to be a turning point year for me. I am moving forward on a long-range plan to go to graduate school. At the same time, I'm working on repairing my knees, feet and legs, to maintain my mobility. Yesterday, I learned yet another piece of the machinery needs repair.

I went for my regular eye exam. It was time for a check-up, plus I wanted to get my contact lenses update - I've been wearing an old prescription lens in my right eye ever since I lost my lens down the sink in Paso Robles last month. 

My doctor was puzzled at how my prescription seems to have deteriorated, especially in my left eye. So he did a few tests, and dropped a bombshell on me. 

I have the beginning stages of cataracts in both eyes. He recommends surgery.

Oh, it's not urgent, and it's not even 100 % certain. But there's enough of an indication that he suggests I schedule a consultation in the next few months, at the UCLA Jules Stein Eye Institute.

My eye doctor says cataract surgery is simple and recovery is quick - and indeed, both my mother and my mother-in-law have had it, and have done well. The new lenses they would insert would correct my nearsightedness and astigmatism so that I would need only minor correction for reading or for driving. My mother was delighted with the results of her surgery.

If I do get accepted into an MFA program, I want to take care of this before I go back to school. So that would mean sometime next spring or summer.

It's unsettling to realize how my "physical plant" is beginning to break down. Whether it's my gut, my joints, or my eyes, aging is hard to deny.

Tuesday, September 16, 2014


Using this image again, because it's so right!
I had my first physical therapy appointment yesterday to work on my bum knee, and I got a surprise.

It's not my knees, it's my feet.

The therapist interviewed me and asked me questions about my knee pain, and then went on to ask about other pain - hips, back, feet, etc. She got very interested as I talked about my right foot, which has had some plantar fasciitis pain in recent years. She nodded, went "Hmmm," several times, and wrote things down on her pad.

The whole thing is like that old song, "Dem Bones":
Toe bone connected to the foot bone
Foot bone connected to the heel bone
Heel bone connected to the ankle bone
Ankle bone connected to the shin bone
Shin bone connected to the knee bone
Knee bone connected to the thigh bone
Thigh bone connected to the hip bone

To compensate for the weakness of my left knee, which I injured at the age of 22 when I fell off a trapeze, I have been favoring my right leg all these years, letting it take most of my weight. To firm up that right leg, I have been broadening my "base" by toeing out slightly on the diagonal, canting my foot in a way that has developed a strap of muscle on the outside of my knee - which under stress, pulls my knee out of whack.

I've been given some stretching and balance exercises, to realign my foot so the center of gravity is where it's supposed to be.  These are tiny, minute exercises; holding position for thirty seconds. Yet they are more difficult than I could have imagined.

Hip bone connected to the back bone
Back bone connected to the shoulder bone
Shoulder bone connected to the neck bone
Neck bone connected to the head bone

The hardest thing about it is THINKING about changing my walk, and REMEMBERING to do it. I will never totally get rid of knee pain, much of it is due to osteoarthritis. But if I keep working on it, perhaps I'll correct my stance, and keep this poor kneecap where it's supposed to be.

Dem bones, dem bones gonna walk around
Now hear the word of the Lord.

Monday, September 15, 2014

Life in the inferno

On Friday, according to Weather Underground, the high was 104. Saturday it was 106. Sunday it was 107, but the thermometer in our carport showed it higher than that.

In the months of August, September, and October, the coastal mists abandon us, and the hot wind from the valleys and desert envelope us.

Our house was built in the 1960s, when electricity rates were cheap, and no one in Southern California thought about conserving energy. The house is built facing the canyon view to the southwest, and has floor-to-ceiling windows to take in that view - unfortunately, it also takes in the full blast of the sun's rays.

We have a flat roof, with no insulation, so the sun simply bakes down through a layer of composite and tarpaper, some tongue-and-groove redwood, and then it heats up the house.

Our first week in the house, I remember, we proudly set the table in our southwest facing dining room with some beautiful taper candles that come as a housewarming gift. 

By four-thirty in the afternoon, they had softened and sagged, slumping in their holders like drooping balloons.

Keeping our house livable in the summer is a day-long process, with steps to take at each time of the day. In the morning, we close all the windows and blinds, to preserve the coolness that remains from night-time.  This lasts until about 4:00, when the southwest windows get the sun's full blast, and the living room and kitchen heat up till they match the outdoors.

When the sun goes down, we open the doors and windows and position fans to blow through the house, cooling it once again.

The upper part of the house is shaded by the massive oaks in our front yard. These rooms stay cool until evening, when the hot air flows up and back into them. We've installed room air-conditioners in the bedrooms, and batten down the hatches and close the doors.

Yesterday, when the evening cool-down should have come, the thermometer was in the 90s, and the air was still, with no relief. I was limp with heat, spent with heat. I tried to read the paper on the deck, but my glasses slipped down my sweaty nose, and my damp hands smeared the newsprint.

I gave up at 9:00 pm and shut myself in the bedroom with a glass of ice water and the air conditioner rumbling full blast.

These are trying times.

Sunday, September 14, 2014

Saturday, September 13, 2014

A real scorcher

Seen in my local CVS store.

It's 103 degrees Fahrenheit at my house right now.

Saturday, September 6, 2014

Eat your lima beans

Lima beans at Gjelina
As a child of the sixties in America, I have eaten my share of frozen mixed vegetables, served up by my mother, who, though raised on a Texas farm where her family grew fresh vegetables in their own garden, chose to feed her family with Clarence Birdseye's modern invention of convenience. Purchased in waxy paper blocks in the freezer section of the supermarket, these usually included peas, carrots, yellow corn kernels, short lengths of green beans, and lima beans.

My brother B hated the carrots - he managed to eat around them without touching them with his fork, leaving little orange cubes randomly scattered on his plate. I, on the other hand, didn't object to them, but I swallowed them down as though they were medicine, without any enjoyment. They were just food, something I was supposed to eat.

Since then, I have learned to appreciate these vegetables. I have gloried in fresh farmers' market carrots in a rainbow of colors from yellow to orange to crimson to purple - fire-roasted and served with creme fraiche and Moroccan spices in a Santa Monica restaurant, they are amazing. I have eaten fresh, farm-grown corn on the cob, grilled over charcoal and smeared with chile and lime. I have delighted in the bright green sweetness of newly picked and shelled baby peas, flash-sauted in butter or in sesame oil. But lima beans? No, sorry. Why would I want to eat those?

Knee capped

My knee pain has been diagnosed as a patellar subluxation - this is when the kneecap partially pops out of its place. Ice, ibuprofen and a knee brace help; I've also been given a referral to a physical therapist.

Thursday, September 4, 2014


I blew out my left knee in 1977, when I was about 22 years old. I tore my anterior cruciate ligament when I fell off a trapeze.

It's a pretty good story, if I do say so myself. I was working as the head electrician for a small urban circus in New York City. We were playing a tent show in a Hell's Kitchen parking lot for three months, two and three shows a day for six days a week.  The trapeze act, a guy named Warren, had a practice trap where he'd work out during the off times. It was a simple trapeze, about eight or ten feet off the ground, and there were athletic mats beneath it.

I asked Warren to teach me trapeze, and he did. This was single trap, not the flying trapeze. I loved the tricks, where you'd wrap your legs around the ropes so that friction would hold you. Warren was a good teacher. He emphasize two really important rules - 1) never practice without a spotter and 2) if you're getting tired, stop.

I broke both those rules, and one day I was coming out of a trick and my sweaty hands slipped off the bar and I fell - I was already upright, but I came down a little crooked and when my feet landed on the athletic mats, my weight distribution was wrong and I heard a sickening crack in my knee and I fell on the ground.

I had no health insurance, so I stupidly tried to deal with it on my own. Another circus artist - a Russian clown - insisted that what my stressed and sprained knee needed was HEAT - he advocated a hot pad. Since then, of course, I've learned that while heat helps a chronic injury, a fresh injury needs ICE, not heat.

Because young people are resilient, I healed. I was strong, doing the kind of work I do, and my muscles helped shore up my knee joint.  I worked for the next twenty years as a stagehand - climbing ladders, loading trucks, humping cable - and while I often had twinges and pains, ibuprofen, ice and elastic knee braces seemed to keep it stable enough for me to work.

Compensating for the weak knee sometimes seemed to throw the other knee into trouble, and by the time I was fifty, I had arthritis pain in both knees. A misstep on a mountain trail would cause a painful sprain, or a long day's walk on city streets would bring stiffness and aches. I'd have to ice down and pop more pills for relief.

But by then, I was working a desk job, and it didn't seem like such a big deal. I couldn't wear high heels anymore, but it wouldn't slow me down.

Today, [The Man I Love] stopped by my office and took me to lunch. We walked a block and a half to a restaurant. On the way back, while on the smooth, straight city sidewalk, without an obstacle in my path, something seemed to go "pop" and there was a sharp pain, so sharp I couldn't walk normally.

I will not bore you with the details. But just like in 1977, the first instinct was denial - "Oh, it's nothing, just a twinge!" - followed by a determination to carry on.  I urged [The Man I Love] to keep the after-lunch appointment he had. I finished my work day, limping from my office to pick up pages from the printer. I drove home, put an ice pack on my knee and popped a couple Advils. I poured a glass of pinot noir.

I've convinced myself it doesn't feel so bad right now. But I know that my infrastructure is breaking down, and needs some serious shoring up.

Tomorrow is my day off. I'm calling the doctor first thing in the morning.

Monday, September 1, 2014


I just found this video at YouTube - it's a video montage of the "Miss Saigon" tour I worked on, put together as a farewell to the company, at the time of the tour closing in 2000.

It's wonderful to see the faces of old friends, and to remember how amazing it was that we brought all that gear into a building and made a show out of it!

The intricacy of life backstage  - crowded, fast-moving, sometimes boring, sometimes funny - always wonderful.