My last year, the last semester of my last year of college, about to graduate, I was struck with a need to know what it was all for. I was studying ENGLISH. Beautiful, meaningful books, collected and dissected for students. And I loved every minute of it, only frustrated with not having enough time to talk more in the classes. These books and scenes and characters walked with me, as real as the students sitting next to me in class. MORE real. I did not know much about what my neighbors were doing, but I knew about Tess and Deerslayer and Song Liling.

Yet. As wonderful as it was to contemplate all of these people, and the people who created these people, I felt as if I were merely amusing myself. What purpose did this exercise serve? What for is this examination of scene and plot and character and inevitability? Yes, I loved it more than a sunny day, but there are many things that people love—it does not follow that you pursue what you love for love’s sake only.

No. There must be a purpose, a product, a reason, a destination. Perhaps, after all those classes, I had missed the point, the most important point, of why I was taking the classes at all.

Naturally, I had to ask. I went to most of my professors, maybe all of my professors, and said, “What is the purpose of studying literature?”

And I found that I had to say it again, differently. I have learned to do this. In Russia, when I was speaking the listeners’ language badly, or speaking my language for a hard-of-understanding listener, I learned to do this. I call it “learning the other person’s vocabulary.”

I thought that my professors had better vocabularies than I did. Perhaps they do, but vocabularies also have the underpinnings of ideas; if the ideas you express in a familiar vocabulary are foreign, even using well-known words won’t help you.

Surprisingly, my idea was foreign. It seemed to verge on blasphemy. Maybe like an upstart Galilean fisherman telling the educated elite than they missed a spot, I pointed at a hole in the fabric of my education.

Why study literature? What product is expected? What end result? What is the point? “Well, if you don’t know, perhaps you should not be studying in this field.”

Oh no…I have heard these kinds of question-parries before. The man I respect least in the world, the pastor of my childhood church, gave me those kinds of replies to hard questions. The ones that say, “By asking the question, you have betrayed yourself as unworthy of the answer.”

I am a question asker. I find no shame in betraying my ignorance. For me, the greatest shame is willfully sustained ignorance, and the best cure for that foul state is a question.

No, I know about the glory of books and words. I know how amazing they are, how they can be. That was not my question, Dr. Squelch.

I was reminded of that conversation, perhaps still stinging from the accusation that I did not really appreciate literature deeply, when I was listening to Kingsolver’s The Poisonwood Bible on tape this weekend.

I had a long road trip to get through, and I love listening to a good story as I drive. This was my chosen tale.

The story pulled me in, with the strangest familial recognition, like meeting a cousin after forever and comparing the eerily identical stories of childhood memories with someone who was basically a stranger. I knew these people; I knew them because I had been them—and in ways that most of the universe never had been. As I was looking at myself by hearing the story of someone else, the process began. The first papery, painless layers of my onion-self peeled off easily, with the revealed experience-truth of the story women. I was there, unarmored, hearing and knowing what the women said. I smiled as I listened, a wry, knowing smile.

But the book did not stop at the shallow layers; it went on. It peeled away more, taking me further into their lives and my own than I had bargained for. In this story that I was now a part of, more and more was stripped away. It was painful, I felt the pulling away of live heart from the center. I was crying out loud long before the end or even the middle.

I was slain; this book made me look at places I didn’t even know were they to look at before. At first, I would have sworn that this book must have been autobiographical, it was that true. But then, I saw that it was fiction, and was truer than any true story. It could be nothing else.

This is what the beauty of literature is about. This kind of self-revelation that can be done by a total stranger. Telling a story in a way that makes it so true it changes your life.

In the aftermath of September

In the aftermath of September 11th, there have been a lot of changes. President W. Bush created a position for Secretary of Homeland Security, and has taken some measures to take control of the situation.

I, like the whole world, am concerned about stopping further attacks and about finding the people who perpetrated the original attack.

but I am also nervous about what “Homeland Security” means. What freedoms will I have to sacrifice?

There are a lot of people who feel that W. Bush has gone too far. Some prominent activists and intellectuals got together to make a statement about it.

They call it “Not in Our Name.”

I respect many of the people who have signed this document; people such as Gloria Steinem, Edward Said and others have done things that I admire. I would be inclined to listen carefully to what they have to say.


This document is filled with unsubstantiated claims and does not point to any action to resolve the problems.

Why would this group not be careful to substantiate claims about the abuses of authority in America? If it is a true accusation, it should be incredibly simple to include hard facts about one or two cases, to give good proof.

And if there is a problem, that they would like to bring to the attention of the American people, then they should either propose a solution or send out a call asking others for a solution. There is no way to treat the problem, nothing suggested in the wording of this document to give the reader a place to go. If there is a wrong being committed, by all means, let us band together to right it!

But no such path is suggested.

I do not know, after reading their complaint, whether it is valid or not.

I say, Shame on you! Get your facts straight!

You cannot be an activist if you have no plan of action.


You know, so much of understanding the world is putting it into the right context.

My world right now has to do with finding work. It’s a hard job, looking for work. There are so many unknowns.

I hate unknowns. My favorite way to combat them is to take stock of the things I DO know.

For example, I know that I can get unemployment checks for a 6 month period. These checks are 330 bucks a week.

That equals out to 8.25 an hour…That is, if I were working 40 hours a week.

Interesting little mathematical fact, that 8.25 an hour.

It’s more than minimum wage. But it’s less than working at In’N’Out burger. They advertise at 9.25, starting.

But _I_ have ambitions. I want to get a GOOD job, right?

So I look harder. I have to find a job that uses my skills, and pays me what I’m worth.

That little phrase begs the question. “What I’m worth”

I’m worth what I’m paid. But I’m not paid at all. Or, I’m paid 8.25 an hour.

And they are gonna lay me off after 6 months.

don’t argue

Today was the longest day of the year: the summer solstice. It seems like most people remember the solstice the day after it happens, or a week before it happens. Some of them might think, “I should do something to celebrate the first day of summer.” Then the day actually rolls around, and they forget or they find themselves without any ideas of how to celebrate this significant day.

I used to be one of those people. When I stopped to think about it, solstices are a really important occasion. They are an incredibly sincere and sensible holiday. They do not celebrate a religion I don’t agree with, or perpetuate an incorrect and damaging revision of history.

Solstices mark an incontrovertible fact that the earth has reached an apex. In summer, the days stop getting longer and start becoming shorter. Seasons come and go, and change is inevitable.

The earth measures it’s time on a longer scale than people do. Maybe summer solstice is like noon on the earth’s watch.

You can’t argue with solstice. It is bigger than you. Every person from every civilization over the whole history of time has recognized the solstice; that is awesome.

Maybe some of them were like us, thinking, “This is an important day. I ought to celebrate it”

The Egyptians made pyramids that marked the solstice season, capturing the special angle of light that happens only on that day. Stonehenge in Britain and NewGrange in Ireland mark the special days.

Perhaps these lasting and impressive structures were the product of those people decided to do something to mark the day.

In my hometown, there is a solstice marker. Sunnyvale chose to put some municipal art on the corner near city hall. The artist decided to create a marker that would commemorate the summer and winter solstices.

My friend and her niece decided to come with me and watch the sun rise. The lawn was beautiful, and the sky was dark. Unfortunately, the clouds were so thick that we did not get to see the light phenomenon.

Too bad. Maybe the winter solstice will be more spectacular. The niece swore she would be back to see it in the winter.


One of the other things I had an opportunity to see while in SoCal this last weekend was the symptoms of THE INDUSTRY.

Here is Silicon Valley, THE INDUSTRY is high tech. Poor high tech. But in the LA area, THE INDUSTRY is entertainment. I met a screenwriter. He was quite a nice guy. Perhaps he had more personality than the rest of the world knew how to deal with, but I quite enjoyed talking with him.

I asked him about the format of screenplay writing. He grew even more animated, and gave me a book called “Screenplay” all about how to write a script.

As it turns out, there is pretty much only one way to organize the events in a movie. In the first thirty minutes, you have to introduce all the major characters, and create a dilemma for the characters to work on. Then the next 60 minutes is everyone working on the dilemma, and then creates a second plot twist or problem. The last 30 minutes resolves and wraps up the story.

Pretty much, that’s it. Almost all the movies in the world, and they all have the same structure.

I find that astounding. As I think about it, I can recognize the pattern in movies I’ve seen.

Perhaps I should be disgusted that “the masses” are so easily satisfied, so easily entertained. Maybe if I were feeling more cynical, I would feel that way.

But I don’t. I am amazed and in awe of the creative power humans possess. I have often been astounded, as I play my piano, how the same notes, and the same structures in music can create such fabulous variety. I love all the songs I play, and yet they are so similar. They all have the same kinds of chords and patterns in their structure.

So movies, which seem as different as snowflakes, can follow the same pattern. But that structure gives a container to the creative minds. A writer or a director can know where to place the pieces and give thousands, millions of people a scary, hilarious, or profound experience.


For the last year or so, I have been interested in the causes and effects of the First World War. Really, it seems to encapsulate so much of what went before and to set the stage for everything that came after.

The whole war seemed to be fought on poorly understood, or at least poorly tested, ideals. The Victorian English came to the battlefield with a great “sense of duty.” This duty had become the replacement for the faith they had lost (or cast off, depending on your point of view) during the 1800s.

The Germans, and I admit I am hazier on this point, seemed to fight the war based on their ideals of how the world should become. They felt themselves to be far advanced in the area of ideals and philosophies; they wanted to be the leaders of the new modern age.

So, my reading and studying of the previous eras seem to lead inevitably to the enactment of WWI.

But then the Second World War seems to arise inevitably out of the aftermath of the first war.

The modern age, the age of the flapper and Jazz, the age of disaffection and disillusionment rose out of the failure that WWI turned into. What was the point of the war? What was the point of all those who were killed?

And what was the point of all those that survived?

The loss of faith, then the loss of the sense of duty, which replaced the lost faith, left a tremendous void. What was left? Eat, drink, and be merry. Right?

Maybe. That was part of what World War I taught us, the taste left in people’s mouths.

As for WWII, for me, it has always been about the Holocaust. The terrifying nearness of the “almost’; the genocide attempt on the Jewish people is soul-chilling.

How could so many people have been involved in such wholesale murder? And not even the murders, but also the horrifying conditions of the concentration camps? How do people allow such suffering of fellow humans beings to occur without being aroused to compassion? How could this be?

So my concept of WWII has centered around the idea of “Never Again!” The message of that war was about resisting the kind of acquiescent evil illustrated by the Nazi atrocities.

But I was listening to a novel on tape, Mr. Sammler’s Planet by Saul Bellows. Sammler, the main character, has an opportunity to speak with a Punjabi Indian professor about his experiences as a Polish Jew during the war.

It occurred to me that other cultures might have a completely different image of the war. I know for certain that Chinese survivors of WWII have resentments towards the Japanese. I wondered what Indians would have thought about the war. What would be the general conception of WWII and its results in other countries than the US?

I suppose the idea is not terribly original, but it was original to me. I imagine that the interpretation of the results of WWII and how it affected each individual’s homeland would be very important for understanding the world climate of the 20th century.

I wish I could take a peek into the history books of different nations to know how other peoples saw the events.


I had the opportunity to visit Southern California this weekend. I expect I may be down there more often as time goes by…Anyway, my funny boyfriend and I were looking at the different neighborhoods in LA.

As a northern Californian, LA is known as nothing else. Subtle distinctions such as “Orange County” or “San Bernardino” are seen as a sign of denial–a way for LA residents to distance themselves from the horror that is LA. After all, they are all just a bunch of uncultured, conformist, republican suburbanites, aren’t they? And the fact that LA has spread into several counties is startling to Bay Area residents, but not surprising once you consider their water-consuming, smog-producing habits.

With a sniff, we turn away and feel that someone ought to pass a law curbing the environmental hazard that IS Los Angeles.

So when my LA native boyfriend decided to show me around the area, I was astonished to discover that there were neighborhoods.

Traffic was awful; smog was incredibly awful, even leaving white buildings permanently smudged.
But through the air-muck, I could see mountains. There is nature there!
And there were places where the desert flora was untouched.

There are neighborhoods there, and cities. Here, I live in Sunnyvale, which butts up against Mountain View, Santa Clara and Los Altos. I couldn’t tell you exactly where the borders are, but I have a general idea. There are signs placed in discreet and ambiguous spots, to let you know that somewhere nearby, the next city begins.

In So Cal, you KNOW. There is some sort of edifice marking the entry into the next city. A stone concoction, or a large wooden sign saying “City Of Orange” or “WELCOME TO RANCHO CUCAMONGA” or “WELCOME TO CLAREMONT.”

I find this disorienting. I mean, I am pleased to know what city I am in, but I feel like it is too sudden! I haven’t had time to say goodbye to the city I am leaving. I was only beginning to enjoy the welcome of Upland, and appreciate the trees and flowers, when I am whiplashed into the welcome of Claremont. It’s terribly abrupt. It seems like there should be a buffer between the cities, a margin, or a no-man’s land to allow for some differentiation.

As with everything, there is a trick to the names of cities, too. I had learned some of this here, already. When cities were first settled, most of the time they were formed in the fertile valleys. All the people would go to the valleys, and make their houses and businesses there, and before you knew it, you had a city! Marvelous. But then all the people who had done especially well in the fertile valleys began to feel crowded and common, so they had to find a way to look down on the rest of the not-so-successful city-dwellers. They moved up the hill a little bit. Therefore, neighborhoods with “Hills” after the name are ritzy neighborhoods: Los Altos Hills, Oakland Hills. This holds true in So Cal, too. I got to go visit the very ritzy neighborhood of Claremont Hills, where the rapper Snoop Doggy Dogg lives.

But there are more! In So Cal, if “Beach” comes after a name, it’s expensive. Long Beach, Huntington Beach. That one is not so hard to figure out, even though there aren’t any beach neighborhoods in my neck of the woods. The one that surprised me was “Ranch.” If you have “Ranch” at the end of a name, it is also ritzy.

So I asked my boyfriend and anthropological guide for the day, “Does that include ‘Rancho’?”

“No,” he said. “Rancho is different.”

Hmm….These people are surprisingly subtle. They bear watching. Pay attention!


I’m listening to NPR, my favorite radio station. Greg Palast is talking with Angie Coiro…
He’s an investigative reporter.

I should say, I hate the news. I have occasionally thought I would be a great journalist, because I love to write, and I am incredibly nosy. But then I think, “I hate the news. I can’t stand to read it or to watch it”

I Do hate the news. Where do I begin?
It saddens me tremendously to hear stories of the kidnapped children. And these stories are covered daily. Every local news program interviews the parents, the boyfriend of the mother, crying and wailing. I usually feel like crying and wailing too.

Then you discover that it was one of THEM, usually the boyfriend, who has RAPED AND KILLED THE CHILD!


You know, if I could do something about it, I would. But most of the time, it’s just depressing.

Then, should there actually be a story I want to know about, I never hear enough. They tell me about 5 seconds of information. What?! WHAT?!?! Say that again! Tell me more!

But no. We are on to the next missing child, or shoplifting celebrity.

I have almost no interest in celebrities. I don’t care about Robert Downey Jr. or Britney Spears. I don’t want to know about P Diddy and J-Lo.

I want to know more about those economic statistics. Or that foreign negotiation. I’d like to know more about campaign scandals.

But They never tell you enough. And they never finish the story. Should I happen upon a story that interests me, I want to read more. I’ll go on the Internet and find out more

Why do the news people assume I am stupid and only want the 15 seconds of information they give me? I want to know where I can get more. I think that Americans deserve more respect. And I do believe we are being manipulated by people who think they can get away with it.

Greg Palast, who I had never heard of before today, apparently has written a book called The Best Democracy Money Can Buy: An Investigative Reporter Exposes the Truth about Globalization, Corporate Cons, and High Finance Fraudsters

I may just have to check it out. He has an interesting story.

I’m tired of being jerked around by the news. I wouldn’t mind having some of these stories be brought to my attention a little bit sooner.

re ZOOM may

I am bogged down in that dreaded task, revising my resume.

As I take a look at my skill and experience, I am kind of impressed by what I have done.
I’ve handled some pretty amazing jobs and projects!

But then I look at the descriptions of jobs posted on the web or wherever, and I think “I can’t do that! I don’t know how to do that specific thing! I can’t do anything.”

Sometimes it’s difficult to have self-confidence. When I look at the things I have done, I am objectively aware that I have done difficult things, things that I would admire in someone else.

But at the same time, when I think about applying for a job that would ask me to do similar hard things, I have huge self-doubt.

That wasn’t really ME that did all those great things. It must have been a fluke. Like the mother that could lift the car off the little child and save her. It couldn’t be repeated.

But…I DID do those amazing things, and I did them for months at a time. It wasn’t a single miraculous occurance; it was long hard grueling work.

So why do I feel like I’m lying when I take credit for it?


I have a SITEMETER on this blog, and I have noticed that there are a few visitors from outside the US.


I’m very happy to see people are reading my blog. Please, feel free to email me if you would like, and introduce yourself.

I see a number of visitors from other places…aol, and others.

I just wanted to address you all. Thank you for reading my blog, and feel free to comment on anything.