A home

Chris was reading me an article about gentrification yesterday. One of the problems with gentrification is, although it makes the housing values rise in the neighborhood it also makes the property taxes rise. That means that the previous people who have lived there for a long time can’t afford to live there even if they own their houses outright.

If a neighborhood has become a tight community people who are less affluent have resources they can draw on. It’s more than just borrowing a cup of sugar. Sometimes you need a ride when your car breaks down. Sometimes you need to borrow an outfit for interview.

People who can buy a home and then fix it up have extra resources. It looks great after the home is fixed up. But the people who have been there for a while living in the houses with delayed maintenance are not just irresponsible. Maybe they’re very responsible. Maybe they don’t have the resources to do all the beautiful maintenance and upgrades.

Maybe their responsibility extends towards things of more immediate need than granite countertops.

So those people get pushed out. They must move because they simply cannot afford the taxes. California has prop 13 but most States do not have a property tax cap. People with less means get pushed out of gentrified areas into somewhere else. And their support system is broken causing a crisis.

Which may mean they need to rely on some form of public assistance. Which is why some people want to raise property taxes. It’s a bit of a cycle.

But I also wonder about communities. If you need an instant community when you are new to an area that has often meant going to a church. And churches that have strong communities are often fostered by charismatic personalities. That sort of despotic personality-whim based leadership leaves me shuddering. A bunch of insecure people in a new place are very vulnerable to spiritual manipulation.

But leaving that aside. Are churches those sort of support communities or are they another form of public assistance? Are they real communities or are they a committee that might grant you a dispensation of cash or help? What kind of community are our churches now?

How easy is it to fit in? It is hard to ask for help. it helps if you know you can grant some in return. Being uprooted can also upset the confidence that one day you could also help someone.

Communities are changing.

I did it

I moved to Los Angeles in 2002. July, I think, or maybe August. I had just graduated from college, and so the I decide I missed classes. First thing I took a journalism class at a jr. College. It was barely worthy of the name “class.”

I decided LA county jr colleges sucked. So I went to an extension class. This must have been early 2003. I think. UCLA extension class on Memoir writing.

And after that class was done, I started. I began to work on what became The Russian American School of Tomorrow.

See that link? That means I published it.

I was very excited about it in the years 2003, 2004 and 2005. I really thought I would finish it in 2005.

I did not finish it.

In 2006 I published a book I wrote while mostly working on RASOT. The Parable of Miriam the Camel Driver. That’s my first one. It’s a real book too and I’m proud of it. But it didn’t feel like a serious book.

I published two others.

But here is the real one. Today. I did it. So long it took me.

And I did it.

How many times when I was feeling really low did I think about how long I”d worked on it, and if I didnt finish it how it would never exist. How if I died, no one would gather my notes and make the book for me.

Now it’s done.

I will never work this hard on another book ever again. I didn’t know it would take twelve years. There is an odd symmetry with how long it took to publish this book and how long it took me to graduate form college. That took twelve years too. And there were gaps when I wasn’t really pushing it forward either.

Imagine! Twelve years on a book that no one else could see but me. I guess that is what art means. twleve years. I wonder if my next book will matter that much. I can’t imagine that it would .

Maybe I should start on the sequel right away. Because, after all…the sequel, if I manage to tell it, has the TRUE meat of the matter.

I just couldn’t get to that meat without telling this part first

And maybe there is enough meat.

I’m full for today. This is a good feeling.

Rooms I have been In

It’s coming friends! The Russian American School of Tomorrow, the book I’ve been working on for more than a decade, will be available for purchase soon. It is my true coming-of-age story starting in Alaska and ending in the crumbling Soviet Union Asian middle-of-nowhere.

When I went to Russia back in 1991, I didn’t speak the language. I knew the alphabet slightly when we landed. But I could barely ask where the bathroom was:”Gdye toilet?”

For sure I couldn’t understand the answers. Hand signals, please.

But I got better. I started to understand after a lot of trying and failing. I made friends with people who could speak my language and asked them to teach me.

After about a year I made friends with a neighbor who did not speak English at all. I delighted to visit their apartment and drink tea and talk. I could tell them about what I had done that day in Russian, and we had a grand time.

Here’s the thing: I could talk and I knew what I was saying. The conversations went smoothly and quickly if I was doing most of the talking. I felt a little bad about dominating the time with my stories, but as long as I was talking I knew what was being said. Once the sisters started talking, I couldn’t be sure of what they meant.

That was awkward, and required flipping out the translation dictionary to look up and be sure what was communicated.

I was learning. I was figuring out this country and it’s language.

But there is another thing I’ve learned since. It’s the inverse of the same thing. If I am the one talking, I know what is being said. That’s not a very powerful position to be in.

It doesn’t do me much good to repeat what I already know. How am I supposed to learn anything if I am always talking? Or, for that matter, if I am hanging out with people who are not going to say anything I don’t already know.

If it turns out I am the smartest person in the room, I better find a different room.

Multiple perspectives

This morning I put the Bhagavad Gita on my kindle. It is way short! So I started reading it before church

There is a taste of cruel predestination about it.

I better finish it to get the whole picture

Teacher said

Veronica told me that winter is over, and that it is the first day of spring.

How wonderful! I almost always forget the equinox.

“Mrs. Applebee told us in science class.”

Which was all good until we got in the car, and she declared that she didn’t need to wear a coat.

“Winter is over. I do not need to wear a coat anymore.”

“It can still be cold sometimes in spring. You can take your coat off when it gets warmer.”

Its only natural

“We learned about nature today, Mommy. Where is nature?”

umm… “Nature is all around us. Anything that was made my God is nature.”

ooh…good one.

“So a tree is nature?”

“Yes, God made trees.”

“Are telephone poles nature?”

“No people made those.”

“yes! God made trees.  Anything that people made isn’t. A car isn’t nature.”

As soon as I say it, I see the flaw. She hones in on it within seconds.

“But mommy…we grow babies in tummies. Are babies made by people or are they nature?”


“Well, God makes the babies in our tummies. Things that people make using science and math and inventions, those re not nature.”

She seemed to accept it. And I am so proud that she found the flaw in my logic as fast as I did.


Waving my hand in the air

So my daughter started school this year and she loves math. She’ll tell anybody.

Mostly people say “Good for her! Math is important for girls.”

And I cringe a little. There is a huge SHOULD in this. There is a historic should coming from the cold war era, that America needs mathematicians to have primacy on the global arena. There is a more recent should, that females should be encouraged in STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Math) so that gender imbalances and misogyny can be diminished.

She’s only in kindergarten. I want her to like what she likes. I wonder how she interprets these well-intentioned responses to her love of math.

She’s doing well in school, but I’m a little worried about how they are teaching reading. It doesn’t make sense to her or me. She reads fine for her age, but I want her to feel confident about what she’s doing when she reads.

I love her teacher, she’s great. But teachers don’t know everything. And I think my daughter needs more than what she’s getting.

I remember struggling with certain parts of reading. I remember so well. I remember a lot of things, and other things I forget.

I have had this box of old notebooks I needed to sort through. Some of the things in the notebooks were worth keeping, and some were not. Time to render down the pile.

I always keep notebooks. I write down grocery lists and phone numbers. I also write out my big projects plans. And poems and journal entries. I wanted to keep the big stuff.

And of course it brings me back to the times when those things were happening. I found letters I’d written but never sent to Chris when we were first dating. Oh! The agony of fresh love.

I was younger, for sure. I hesitate to say I was young. 27 years old and seen a bit of life.

I kept running across this idea in what I was writing to Chris, “I want you to hear my ideas and tell me what they mean.”

I was so sure that there was meaning. I didn’t know the meaning and I was looking outside myself for the answer. I was very confident that most people–well, the smart people that I liked and respected–would know more than I did, and could crack the puzzle box of my mind.

As a child I had heard so often that I should listen to my betters, and I had learned it. When I grew up I still clung to this idea that someone else knew better than I did and could explain it to me.

Waving my hand high, “Teacher! Teacher! I have a question.”

It is a nice dream to think that the answer to all my questions was so close by. That someone with the answer book was right there to help me.

So, when I first met Chris I put him on that pedestal. I wanted him to be the one with all the answers. Bless him; he didn’t take advantage of my insecurity. He was patient, and never pushed me into what I didn’t want

Our relationship has come past that immature expectation I had. Looking back at my old notebooks I see it now and realize I have changed.

And still, I have not changed that much. I can see a lot of ways that I still give away my authority to know.

It was only a couple of years ago that a teacher told me “All your empowerment comes from inside of you.”

When I heard it, it gonged my bones and I knew it was true. I still had to work hard to find a way to practice it. I’m still working on it. I have a feeling that I am going to want someone else to tell me the answer my whole life.

I also know that when it comes down to it, I am the one who has to figure it out. Especially when it is a question of something original- a new idea or a work of art. I’m the only one who can tell if it’s right because I’m the only one who thought of it.

Life doesn’t have letter grades. It is only attendance.

The filthy and sublime

I’m going to go meta. It used to be called navel-gazing. But I want to talk a little about what I’m doing with this weekly wonder thing.
I started my blog in 2002. Thirteen lucky years ago Chris told me about web logs. “They are called blogs.”I was intrigued.

“If the name Wonderblog is available, I’m doing it.” It was and I did.  From blogger, to typepad to wordpress I’ve been writing on it ever since.

Experiences, thoughts and musings. I have written the way I want want, not giving in to formulas.

I’ve tried to improve what I write over time. Right around the time that facebook gained ascendancy, I learned that people couldn’t be bothered to go to my website anymore. I created the Weekly Wonder as an email to send my blog to your inboxes.

When I started the Weekly Wonder, I felt a sense of embarrassment. I figured I should up my game a bit. Chicken scratches weren’t enough anymore. I was pushing this onto people. The least I could do was spell check. And maybe I could try to have a point.

I think I have gotten better at whatever this is I’m doing. I hope to keep that trend going.

This week I signed up for an online course. Kevin Alison, the incomparable founder of the very not-safe-for-work storytelling podcast Risk! created a course called “Storytelling for Business”.

This ain’t exactly business, but I figured I’d learn something. In lecture two, Kevin describes that stories for business require a point, a take-away, what used to be called a ‘moral.’

The constructed story. The crafted story. You know that part of the movie, whatever movie, where the music swells because of some emotion? My eyes get wet, just as they are meant to.

And I get so angry. I blink at the tears and resent the hell out of these movie makers playing me like  harp.  Don’t tell me what’s cute or worthwhile. I get to decide. I am the one in the drivers seat.

If I’m going to cry, I don’t want it to be when the music swells. I don’t want it to be a forgone conclusion.

So. Stories have a moral. O yes they do, and they are rigidly required. The good guy wins, the bad guys get theirs in the end. The immoral woman is severely punishes (always and forever), and the world is in the order it should be.

Except not in all stories.

And particularly, not in mine. My meta story, what I strive for, is to create something my audience does not expect. Red rose in an orange pot? Beautiful. The wonder and the glory of the filthy and sublime. The ordinary and the divine and all the ways that everything is both.

That’s my story, and that’s what I wonder. Not just weekly. Daily, minute by minute. If it catches my ideas, hooks my attention it is worth sharing. The moral is not always clear. But the wonder shimmers through it all.

Watch out for Tigers

Talking to Veronica this morning:

“Remember Uncle Mark? He went to Disneyland with us.”

“Uh huh. I want to go to Disneyland again!”

“We will go again sometime. Uncle Mark went to China to be a teacher. Right around the same time you started kindergarten. But he doesn’t teach kindergarten. He teaches grownups.”

She nods.

“He got sick and he is in the hospital right now. That is what daddy and I have been talking about.”

“But what is he sick with?”

“He has a cough.”

“I have a cough.”

“yes, you have a cough. You are getting better. Uncle Mark needed help getting better so he’s in the hospital.”

“I want to go to China.”

Se we got out her National Geographic Animal Atlas. I showed her where we are, which she already knew. And then I showed her where China is.

“Look! That’s where Pandas live. They don’t live in the cities though. They are not near Uncle Mark.”

She recently had to do a research project for school (THE THINGS THEY MAKE KINDERGARTNERS DO!!!). We had to research a zoo animal, and she picked tigers. She had to write where tigers live, what they eat and an interesting fact about about them. I helped her find out from wikipedia that tigers live in Asia, they eat buffaloes and deer, and that the are disappearing. There are a lot fewer of them than there used to be.

So I went on. “Oh! China is in Asia. There are tigers there, remember? Maybe the tigers eat the pandas.”

She was horrified. “Mommy! Tigers don’t eat pandas! Tigers eat people!”

Where have you been?

At my last job, I went down to shoot the breeze with a colleague at work. We had some work things to talk about, but mostly I just wanted a break and a chance to vent. He happened to be African American, and had expressed his dislike of Africa. I was giving him a hard time about it, going on about how Africa is a continent not a country and many parts of it are magnificent. We had been talking for more than a half hour, when the person in the cube next to us joined it.

She had been listening to us for the whole time. We were ignorantly tossing around opinions about Africa. It turns out she had been to African frequently, her husband was from Ghana. She actually had first hand knowledge to share. But she couldn’t join in our conversation until her official break. She had a headset, and was part of the call center.

Me and my friend, in the council of ignorance, didn’t have that kind of restriction. We didn’t have timed breaks, or a computer keeping track of our productivity.

This woman did. She shared her experience with us and I learned more about modern Ghana. I also learned more about what kind of privilege I’d been enjoying so effortlessly in my career.

I’ve never had to do that kind of job. I would have a lot of trouble in that kind of tight control where I couldn’t make my own decisions about when to move around.

I remember my dad telling me is about Henry Ford and how he came up with the assembly line, and what a champion of the worker he was. “He paid his workers enough so that they could afford to buy one of the cars they were manufacturing.” The implication was that he wanted the cars to be for the common man, and he wanted the common man to do well.

Such a very American idea. America was founded on equality, all men (whoops…not women quite yet!) are created equal. If we are all equal we are all the same. Except we are not all exactly the same.

Women are only the most obvious example of those excluded. We are equal with lots of differences. And the work we do is part of the differences.

It wasn’t until I started reading David Halberstam’s The Reckoning a few years ago that I learned another part of the story. The highly paid Ford assembly line workers? They were miserable. He hired the best mechanics to turn widgets like machines all day. Very little skill was required and none of the genius that had turned them into the best mechanics so desired by Ford. The inhuman work conditions required high pay to keep people from leaving. And even so these engineering types would still leave, to have an opportunity to use the skills they had worked to achieve.

All this flashes through my mind as I talk to this woman at work about Ghana. She spent her 10-minute break talking to us, headset around her neck. Not getting coffee or visiting the bathroom as I was free to do at any moment of the day.

I think of all the choices I have, and the choices I didn’t have. The risks I took, and paths I didn’t take. The schools I went to and the ones I didn’t.

My daughter is in school now. We planned for her school since before she was born. My husband went to this same public school. It’s so different from the one I went to.

Mercedes, BMWs and Teslas drive through the unloading areas. Other cars too. But the affluence is intimidating. There is a friendly man who holds the stop sign in the crosswalk to keep the kids safe. Sometimes he is in cargo shorts and flip flops, sometimes in a suit. Turns out he is Executive Vice President for a national enterprise of something. Other moms and dads of similar employment volunteer at the school in a flood of community involvement.

I don’t think they have timed breaks on their jobs. Then again, I wonder how many have been to Ghana. I hear it’s beautiful.