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Bird's Blog

Poetry, musings, observations, commentary, rants, confessions...and who knows what else!

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Location: San Francisco Bay Area

Teacher, writer, poet, grandmother, lover, wine-drinker, chocolate eater, beach comber, hiker, traveler, Giants fan, San Franciscan. All work on this blog is copyrighted material.

Thursday, April 30, 2009

Breaking Protocol

She could be a model. She wants to become an airline steward and travel the world. She lives in a tiny apartment in the Tenderloin with her mother, who is an airline steward. Though she has lived abroad, knows financial hardship well, and witnesses the despair and grittiness of the Tenderloin every day, she still has a girlish innocence to her.

While she thinks outside the box – quickly going far below the surface of an issue, making connections between ideas that no one else in the class makes, she is failing the course. Her papers are a consistent and beautiful disarray of provocative ideas, logical arguments, and bizarre twists and turns into intriguing explorations of tangential issues – completely fascinating yet unrelated to her thesis. I am sure she has learning disabilities; I know she has Attention Deficit Disorder and often tunes out – she might be hunting for some scrap of paper upon which she scribbled down a question she had to ask – but while she’s hunting for that bit of paper, we are on a totally different topic and she misses out on new information. She might be fishing through her large leather purse for a cough drop and a tissue for a classmate with a runny nose and cough, but while she’s doing that, we are working on sentence structure and she misses the review of the main principles of sentence focus.

I’m sure too that her distraction often leads her into trouble –because others (and I’ve caught myself doing this as well) misinterpret the distraction as willful disregard for the situation at hand. And I’m sure too that sometimes her mother doesn’t care that the distraction is caused by ADD – the cause of the behavior sometimes becomes irrelevant – it’s the outcome that matters. And at her age, she should have by now developed some compensatory skills to keep her on track. I know this because my son has ADHD and I reached that point with him – the point where you must learn how to manage your ailment – you must be responsible for mitigating the ill effects over which you actually do have some measure of control.

Yesterday, she arrived early to class (unheard of, she is usually late) wearing very large, dark sunglasses (also unusual), but I could see how puffy her face was underneath, she had been crying – and hard – and for some time.

She asked to speak with me in the hallway and out we went. She was trembling and tears rolled down her face in a steady stream. I’ve had students break down on me before, but never with this intensity. I couldn’t be a teacher any more. I could not maintain a safe distance (safe for me – if I take on every emotional crisis of every student, I would never survive – and I am not any student’s mother, aunt, sister, counselor, therapist, friend – I am their teacher and that is how I can best help them – by teaching them how to write, how to question, how to dig deeper). I immediately put my arms around her, patted her on the shoulder, held her tight, smoothed her hair, as if she were my baby girl. I held her like this for several minutes, until her trembling subsided and she could speak clearly. She was on her way to see a therapist on campus but wanted me to know why she wouldn’t be in class, why she didn’t have the essay due. Her life is falling apart – has been really for the whole semester – but the crisis has struck now. Her mother kicked her out of their studio apartment and she is unsure where she will go, where she will sleep. I’m sure that when she calms down, she’ll find a girlfriend willing to take her in. I resist the urge to offer her a port in this storm for the weekend. I cannot take in a student.

I calm her down, tell her that right now, I am not her teacher, just a concerned adult friend and we can save the discussion about her schoolwork for later – now is not the time – her crisis takes priority. I ask if she wants me to walk her to the counseling department but she shakes her head. I hug her one more time, brush the hair away from her forehead and kiss her as I would my own daughter – a breach in protocol with such profound ramifications that it scares me.

Tuesday, April 28, 2009

Bird's Gotta New Blog

Come check it out.

Saturday, April 25, 2009

Congratulations Mackenzie Brown on a Perfect Game

How many times has a woman shaken her head in disgust when some poor schmuck of an awkward guy heard the belittling declaration: “You throw just like a girl!”?

Well guys – you can only hope.

27 batters up, 27 batters down. No hits, walks, runs. A no hitter and a shutout – a pitcher’s perfect game.

In major league history, the perfect game has been pitched only 17 times.

Little Leaguer Mackenzie Brown pitched a perfect game just the other day.

Yeah, baby!

Friday, April 24, 2009

South Carolina woman sees Jesus in her cheese toast

Dear Jesus: Are you aware that somewhere in South Carolina, a grown woman keeps you by her bedside? In a Tupperware container? Your image, seared into burnt cheese toast, is like a funerary relic - not quite as good as the fingernails of St. Francis or a few strands of hair from St. Theresa; and the receptacle is not as grand as a golden box the Egyptians might use, nor does it posess as much character as a 16th century hand-carved, wooden cup with a cover (a kind of sippy cup for Saints' relics).

Dear Jesus: Did you know this woman tried to sell the cheese toast on EBay? She had no takers for this wonder of wonders, this miracle of miracles. Your image on the burnt piece of toast doesn’t quite translate to cyberspace – the image, you know, didn’t upload. That’s why you’re now in a Tupperware container on her nightstand.

(Did I tell you she was making the cheese toast for her boyfriend - a sort of breakfast-in-bed treat?)

I worry this woman will hold a Feast of Relics and eat you. Does that worry you too?

I know you befriend lepers, prostitutes, madmen, the poor – those in your community infirm of heart, mind, body and material – and surely this woman is infirm, but really, do you think you could do something about this? A little divine intervention? What will you do when mold begins to grow across your face?

Just asking, Jesus, what will you do?



P.S. Yes, Jesus, I know – I need to stop watching yahoo news clips. I’m working on that.

Tuesday, April 21, 2009

St. Patrick's Cathedral

Last summer while in NYC, I stopped by St. Patrick's Cathedral. I had not intended to do so, but I was walking by and the church was open. And it is a beautiful church. Even more surprising to me: I stayed for the early evening Mass and then returned the following day for one of the docent-guided tours. During Mass, I felt none of my old angst and resentment toward the Catholic Church, only the peace and beauty of the Mass. I take issue with many of the Catholic Church's stances and practices - all that money - all that pomp and luxury in which the Church's high priests dwell, its anti-choice stance, its homophobia, its pedophile priests, its enslavement of the Native American population of California in an attempt to convert them - there is much to dislike. But the Cathedral was a peaceful and beautiful place so I set my resentments aside and enjoyed the place for those qualities alone.

Sunday, April 19, 2009

14 Year-Old Survives Attack

On Friday, I commented on a horrible incident reported in the papers about a mother who stabbed her nine year old daughter to death. The woman was also approximately 7 months pregnant and stabbed herself, resulting in the termination of the pregnancy. A 14-year-old who called the police was also wounded.

I have been eerily fascinated by this horrible report and curious about the 14 year-old. Who was she? Why was she there? What happened? And how will this incident affect her? Here's the rough draft at a fictive account of the incident from the view of the 14 year-old.

You want me to say what happened. But it’s hard to remember. I know I went over in the afternoon at three to babysit. I am always on time.

I hate babysitting for Mrs. Shui. She is a small woman, very thin and she makes me think of a spider. I really hate spiders. I hate that part in the Lord of the Rings movie where Frodo is captured by the spider. You know a lot of people are afraid of spiders too, not just me – that’s why they use ‘em in movies and make them big. Everyone’s afraid of giant bugs – especially giant spiders. I read somewhere that the average human will swallow hundreds of spiders in their sleep over their whole lifetime. Mama tells me I am being irrational. “Use your head, Amy. Spiders can’t hurt you.” She just doesn’t really understand. I know spiders can’t really hurt me, but I don’t want any spiders crawling across my face at night and getting sucked down my throat as I am breathing in my sleep.

Mrs. Shui has spindly arms and legs, but a fat, swollen body – that’s why she reminds me of a spider. And she has mean eyes too I think. – and that’s like a spider also. She can look at you sharply, and her eyes narrow and you know she isn’t thinking kindly of you at all, but something mean and probably not even true. She’s very suspicious of people. But she really isn’t fat. She’s pregnant. I’ve seen lots of pregnant women. But Mrs. Shui is huge in her belly and the rest of her is so small and skinny. I don’t know how she supports her belly on that body. I would crumple if I had legs and arms so thin and weak and had to carry such a huge baby. I wonder if Mrs. Shui will ever have that baby. But I’m forgetting. She killed the baby, didn’t she? It died? I remember that. She picked up that knife in the kitchen and plunged the knife into her belly. There was a lot of blood, but that didn’t make a difference to Mrs. Shui. I mean, it didn’t stop her. She didn’t faint or even cry out. That’s what you want to know about, right? That’s what I have to tell you about – about what happened and how.

But I don’t understand any of this. She was mad at Lilly that day. And at me too. It was my fault I think. I’m sure of it. It was all my fault. I guess you want to know that too, don’t you? You want to know whose fault it is.

I’ve been teaching Lilly to cook. She is nine. No, I mean, I HAD been teaching Lilly to cook – and she WAS nine. But I’m not supposed to teach Lilly to cook. Mrs. Shui doesn’t really like me to do anything with Lilly. One time, I brought some craft stuff over to keep Lilly busy. We made masks with beads and feathers. Lilly’s mask was a rooster. We punched holes in the masks and ran twine through the holes so we could tie the masks across our faces. Lilly strutted all through the house, crowing like a rooster. But Mrs. Shui found some of the beads on the floor and the scraps of paper and feathers in the trash. “No crafts,” she told me. “Too much of a mess. Lilly can play in her room.” But it’s hard to make someone play in their room all afternoon. Besides, Lilly didn’t really have any toys. She didn’t even have crayons or paints. And I took a whole 4-week babysitting course before I started babysitting. You’re suppose to find creative things to do with the kids you babysit – that’s part of being a good babysitter. But Mrs. Shui didn’t think so.

Mrs. Shui’s house is immaculate. And she doesn’t like anything to be disturbed. When I first started babysitting, she taught me how to fold the laundry exactly the way she likes it. Mrs. Shui showed me how to fold Lilly’s cotton T-shirts. I even have to measure the folds with a ruler.

Mrs. Shui is unhappy. She was unhappy with Lily all the time. I don’t really know why, but they were always arguing. Well, Mrs. Shui calls it an argument, but Lilly doesn’t talk back, not really. Mrs. Shui says Lily can’t pay attention, that Lily ignores her all the time. But I like Lilly even though I think she is not too smart – she doesn’t catch on quick. When we made the rooster mask, I had to watch Lilly very carefully because she kept trying to eat the glue. Kids her age don’t eat glue- that’s something really little kids do. Maybe it’s stuff like that that upset Mrs. Shui so much. I think she’s embarrassed by Lilly. She doesn’t like me to take Lilly outside either. “Neighbors will gossip.” Mrs. Shui says.” Keep Lilly inside.” I wonder what the neighbors are saying now. They saw the ambulance, didn’t they? Mrs. Shui won’t like that.

I think Mrs. Shui is only just as old as my mother, but she looks used up, tired, as though she is a worn-out shoe, or an over-used sponge – you know, a yellow sponge that is getting dingy and has stains on it and really should be thrown out, but because you are trying to save money, you keep pouring bleach over the sponge to make it clean and though it does come clean, bits and pieces of the sponge fall off because the bleach eats away at it. Sooner or later, you have to give it up – forget about using bleach to make the sponge last longer – because it just starts to fall apart. Mrs. Shui is like that. Her house is perfect, but she is falling apart. She has big shadows under her eyes and her lips are thin and always pursed together. My mom’s lips only purse together when she is upset – and that isn’t really all that often. Or when she thinks I’m being irresponsible. That’s sort of often enough I guess though I am not really irresponsible. I get good grades and I babysit all the time for Mrs. Shui. The money I earn is in a large mayonnaise jar. I’m saving that money for something big and important – though I don’t know what yet. Mama cleaned the jar out for me and it sits in the cupboard above the refrigerator. I babysit for other families too in the neighborhood, but not as often as I do for Mrs. Shui. I don’t think anyone will have me babysit anymore – not after all this. I am really responsible even though everything that happened is all my fault.

I started to teach Lilly to cook a little. That’s why this is my fault. If I hadn’t taught Lilly how to cook, none of this would have ever happened. But I was really just trying to do a good job. Mama says you must do a good job, even if you don’t like your job. You must be good at it. But I am a good babysitter even though at the end I didn’t take good care of Lilly. When you babysit, when you are responsible for someone younger than you, you’re suppose to protect them. I didn’t do that. I don’t know why I didn’t do that.

But I’m to remember what happened. It’s not that I can’t remember what happened, but I don’t really know how – or why. And I’m not sure what happened when – the order of things. I should know this, I know. If I was responsible, I’d know how it happened.

I came over to babysit and there was no answer at the door, but I could hear Lilly crying. I knocked louder and finally Mrs. Shui opened the door and let me in. She was upset. Her eyes were super narrow. Her face looked grim. And grey. When I came into the kitchen, I could see why she was upset. Lilly had been trying to cook. “This is your fault.” Mrs. Shui told me. “I have told you, no cooking with Lilly. Now look at the mess she has made all because she wanted to cook for you.”

The kitchen was a mess. The counter was covered with bowls –Lilly must have used almost every bowl in the cupboard and they all had some sort of goopy, batter-like mess in them. Eggshells and flour and sugar were scattered all over the counter. Dirty dishes – more bowls – small ones – and spoons with dried up batter on them – were in the sink. Lilly had peeled oranges. The sections were all in a pile near the sink, and the orange peel was on the chopping board. Lilly must have been trying to dice up the orange peel, but had cut herself, for there was blood on the board and Lilly had a gash on her finger. It was bleeding. I don’t know why she tried to dice orange peel. I had showed her how to rub the orange on the grater to get orange peel for cookie batter. You put the grated orange peel in the batter and it makes the cookies taste like just the hint of orange. Lilly really liked that.

“I’m so sorry, Mrs. Shui.” I remember apologizing. “This is all my fault.” I said. I told her I would clean everything up though. And that I’d take care of Lilly - wash her cut and put a band aid on it and then clean up the kitchen. I kept saying, “Don’t worry Mrs. Shui, I’ll clean everything up.”

“The cut is too deep for a band aid.” Mrs. Shui said. “She will have to go the emergency room. The cut is too deep.”

I moved over to Lilly and looked. The cut didn’t seem too deep to me. Before I started babysitting, I had taken a whole first-aid course. I studied very hard and got an A on my first aid test. The cut seemed pretty small to me. “Oh, Mrs. Shui – Lilly will be fine.” I told her. “Look,” I told her, “it’s already stopped bleeding and it’s not very deep at all.” I held out Lilly’s finger to Mrs. Shui. I wanted her to see that it would be ok.

“That’s not the point.” Mrs. Shui said sharply to me. And she kept on scolding. And I know she was right – I know I deserved the scolding. “You are a bad girl. You are a bad babysitter. If you hadn’t tried to teach Lilly to cook, this mess would never have happened.”

Mrs. Shui’s voice was sharp and shrill. But I know she is right - it is all my fault. And Lilly started crying even louder – her crying got as shrill as Mrs. Shui’s scolding but so much louder.

“Shut up Lilly! Shut up!” Mrs. Shui shouted. I had never heard Mrs. Shui raise her voice before. And it just made Lilly cry harder and louder. I wanted to run out of the kitchen – everything was so loud. But didn’t. I was suppose to babysit and I knew Mrs. Shui would be even more upset if I just ran out. And that’ s not good manners any way.

I just wanted Mrs. Shui to leave – to go out. If she would just leave, I know I could have calmed Lilly down. I kept promising to take care of everything, but Mrs. Shui just seemed like she wasn’t listening, or she didn’t care. Or maybe she just didn’t trust me. But I had to try and convince her. “Don’t worry, Mrs. Shui.” I tried to talk in my calmest, most polite voice, so Mrs. Shui would see that even though I had made a mistake, I was competent and could make things right. “I’ll clean it up and I’ll get Lilly quiet and calm. You go ahead and go out. When you come back, everything will be perfect. I promise, Mrs. Shui, I promise.” I really thought that would work. But it didn’t.

Mrs. Shui looked at me. She looked at the mess. She looked at Lilly. “You are both bad,” said Mrs. Shui. “Irresponsible, thoughtless girls.”

I remember a lot of screaming. Lilly was screaming, her scream so high-pitched, so loud I put my hands over my ears. But that didn’t help at all. She just screamed and screamed. And then I saw Mrs. Shui take a knife from the counter. Or maybe Lilly’s screaming started after that. But I remember seeing the knife go into Lilly – over and over again. And I should have done something. I know I should have. She had Lilly by the arm, her fingers digging into Lilly’s arm and her other hand with the knife coming down over and over again. I don’t know how many times she stuck the knife into Lilly. If I had kept my head I would have counted. Then I could tell you. Mama always tells me it’s important to keep your head in an emergency.

When Mrs. Shui let Lilly go she just fell to the floor, like a puppet you know – as if all the strings that made her move had been cut. That’s when she stopped crying and I think that’s when I finally stepped in between her and Mrs. Shui. But I think it was too late then.

That’s when Mrs. Shui stabbed me. I can’t remember if this was before or after she started stabbing herself. But she was crying now too and that seemed strange, because I had never seen Mrs. Shui cry. She just never seemed like a person who would cry – I bet she didn’t even cry when she was little girl. And I think it made her angry that she was crying, because her whole body shook and her face turned so red. I don’t think she really could see what she was doing. That must have been after she stabbed herself. I think she was crying because she stabbed the baby. She was so upset, she didn’t really get to me too much, only a few stabs and the doctor says I’ll be ok.

Everything happened so fast. There was so much blood and Lilly was screaming and Mrs. Shui was quiet but her face was so grey and her lips clamped down together. And then she was crying and Lily was quiet and there was blood all over the floor.

I don’t remember too much else. Except when that other policeman and my mother looked under the kitchen table and found me and Lilly. I don’t know how we got there. I was holding Lilly. Her eyes looked like the eyes of a dead fish. And then my mother was on the floor next me. “Come here baby,” she said. ”Come here.” Her voice was soft and low – she talks like that to me when I’m sick, not when I’ve done something wrong, not when I’ve let her down. I guess she thinks I didn’t do anything wrong, but I don’t see how anyone can think that. It all started with the cooking. But I remember Mama telling me that I couldn’t do anything more to help Lilly. “You can’t do anything more for Lilly, baby. Just come here.” But she doesn't know – I didn't do anything at all for Lilly. It's all my fault. But I crawled away from Lilly anyway and into my mama’s arms.

Saturday, April 18, 2009

And speaking of monsters

As much as I would like all of those responsible in any way for the despicable use of torture interrogation techniques – those high up in the Bush administration who promoted the policies, those who agreed to it, the lawyers who did the research and parsed words to cloak the torture techniques in legalese, and those who actually carried out the policy – I think President Obama follows a wise course by, as accused by some on the left and the liberal center, ignoring the issue. We will do nothing.

Well almost nothing. He has instructed the Justice Department to assist any CIA operatives who find themselves in courts overseas.

Makes sense to me. Unless we’re going to actually deal with the head honchos (Bush, et al), then let’s help those lower down the food chain cover their butts.

Senator Leahy is still making noises about some sort of inquiry – but that’s just for show. He pushed that idea a while back – a laughable idea at best, a cynical one at worst: We can have all the inquiries we want – but we already know what happened and we already know that any such commission will merely wag its collective finger in pompous indignation at those truly responsible while unfairly squashing any pawns the last administration pushed out in front as canon fodder. Why go after the little guys? Waste of time and money.

Friday, April 17, 2009


QUINCY, Mass. – Authorities in a city just south of Boston say a pregnant woman killed her 9-year-old daughter and stabbed herself in the stomach to kill her unborn child.

Norfolk District Attorney William Keating says 38-year-old Fang Chi Xue (SHWAY) was treated for self-inflicted stab wounds to the arms and abdomen at Boston Medical Center and is expected to be arraigned Friday on two counts of murder. She was 7 1/2 months pregnant.

Police were called to the family home Thursday night by a 14-year-old girl who survived the attack with minor injuries.

Keating says the 9-year-old girl suffered stab wounds to her wrists, but authorities are also investigating whether she was poisoned.

Keating says the incident was sparked by an argument.

Sparked by an argument. The understatement chills me. This incident was more than likely the result of years of repression and depression, desperateness, sickness. What could this woman have been thinking, feeling? Despair must have been her only companion. How she must hate her life – and how much more she must hate it now.

How desperate she must be – to inflict such wounds on herself in an effort to rid herself of the baby she carries inside. What went on in that household between her and her nine year-old daughter? Where was the father? Relatives? Friends? Neighbors? Somehow, this woman languished alone in her own dark thoughts.

Who is the 14 year-old girl? Is she a family member? Friend? She must have witnessed all of this. The yelling, screaming, running. The mother catching up with the nine year-old and wielding a knife against her. That 14-year will carry the color of blood with her all her life.

I don’t want to go to school to teach this morning. I want to stay home and write about this. A poem, a piece of flash fiction … something.

How terrible to turn this “incident” into grist for a creative mill. But isn’t that what we do? How does this incident fit into the picture we have of ourselves? How can we tidy this up, clean up the blood and fear and hate that palpates from this story? How can we make sense out of the senseless? Could not anyone of us been capable of this deed? Isn’t that the truly scary part of this tale? Deep inside humanity there lies a monster – one we impose boundaries on and keep at bay. And when that monster breaks out in any of us, we shudder. We don’t want to see the dark reflection of ourselves. We don’t want to admit that of this too we are capable.

Saturday, April 11, 2009

Make a Dead Man Come

“This is probably going to bankrupt me,” claims Missy Evans, determined to, after harvesting her dead son’s sperm, have a fetus conceived from that sperm, carried to term (by whom?) and born into this world for her to raise because her 21 year-old son spoke of having children - had the names already picked our for his “three sons.” The whole scenario gives new meaning to the lyrics “make a dead man come” from the Rolling Stones song, “Start Me Up.”

Somebody needs to sit this woman down and talk some sense into her. Don’t count on her family to do so – they agreed with her decision.

I suppose I should feel sympathy for this woman who has just lost her son – and indeed I do – but that sympathy is greatly muted by my disapproval and by-stander shock at her irresponsible behavior. And I am a bystander. After all, what’s it to me? But I cringe at the precedent this will set and her clear lack of responsibility and common sense. Some people shouldn’t breed, even by proxy.

At a time of great emotional upheaval, when she is less than clear-headed (and who would be after the death of a child?), she is making major decisions that will not only affect her, but, if all goes as she would like, a child. And she bases this decision on the fantasies of a 21 year-old. When I was in my early adult years, I fantasized about children too. About a lot of things. But as I grew older, I abandoned some of those dreams for they were unrealistic. I came to know that I either didn’t have what it took to make the dream come true, or the dream had no longevity – it was not what I really wanted. I once wanted three children. After my second child was born, I gave up that dream –saw it for the fantasy it was. I realized that two was quite enough.

Each of us is responsible for our dreams and must determine how to make them come true. Sure, parents often help their offspring achieve their goals, their dreams (and we often help our offspring come to the realization that their dreams are unrealistic too and encourage them to find new dreams, new goals), but Evans is not helping her son realize his dream of having children. Her son, after all, is dead. He won’t attend college. He won’t develop a successful career. He won’t have children. His dreams are dead too. As are his fantasies. All of life’s options have been removed from this young man – taken away by force. Surely such a loss requires mourning. And surely the life of that young man should also be celebrated – but not by bringing into the world a child born of semen harvested from his dead body.

That Evans would undertake this endeavor knowing that she might not be able to afford it is egregiously irresponsible. What financial resources will she have left to care for the offspring of her dead son? This child will start life in this world with no father, no mother, and very little financial support.

Great beginning indeed.

But does Evans truly have the right to do this? And beyond the legalities, should she have the right?

Absolutely not.

Tuesday, April 07, 2009

Congratulations Iowa and Vermont!

Blessings upon you all!



Now, if only California would get its act together!

Sunday, April 05, 2009

Wedding Photo Shoot in Central Park, July 2008

I spent several days in New York City last July. One day, I fled the crowds in the Guggenheim Museum and sought refuge in Central Park where I photographed a wedding photo shoot in action.

The roof of this beautiful wedding shoot locale:

Park musicians who appreciate the acoustics and played a wedding song in honor of the newly-married couple:

If you pose for professional pictures in a public place, you risk amateurs capturing you as well:

The shoot's over: