Tuesday, August 16, 2016

How I Barely Missed the Bear

I wish I had photos of the event. But when it happened last evening, my cell phone was lying in the house on the counter.

So, background: my husband and I are living in a lovely rented house in Lenox, Mass. Across the street lives little Burt, Poco's playmate and love interest.

Often at the end of the day, I cross the street, and sit with my friend Nancy on her front porch, each of us in rocking chairs, chatting. Meanwhile the puppies play and bark and eat ice chips and rest.

Sometime earlier this summer, I got in the habit of crossing the street about six, carrying a glass of wine with me. Nancy prefers sweeter wines and gin and tonics, so she fixes her own drink.

(If you think I'm going nowhere with all this background, hold on, it does get more interesting!)

Last evening, I was reading but at some point, I noticed Nancy on the porch. So I got off the couch, poured the wine, and headed across the street. I came through the gate,
and headed across the lawn to her porch. I was up one stair when Nancy pointed -- a few feet away was a large black bear!

Had I crossed the lawn ten seconds later I would have -- "met" the bear in the lawn.

Chaos ensued on the porch. We knew that if the puppies saw the bear, they would fly off the porch to bark at the bear, and we had to make sure that didn't happen. I grabbed for Poco but she wriggled away. Nancy went for Burt but he is such a hefty dog she couldn't lift him. I kept yelling, "Poco, stay! Poco stay!" All this time Nancy was trying to get the screen door open so we could get the dogs inside.

At some point in the melee, I dropped the wineglass and it spilled cold wet liquid down Nancy's backside.

By this point, the bear was at Nancy's garbage pail, sorting out what might make a good meal or a snack. We were in the house gazing at him through the front window. The dogs were on the back rest of the sofa barking at the top of their lungs. Finally, Nancy used her remote key to get the car to make its horn noise. At that point the bear climbed up a tree (at least ten or 15 feet up) over the garbage pail and swung over the fence to the neighbor's yard.

It was hard to believe the bear had been so close. Had we not been on the porch with the dogs, they would have sailed off the porch after the bear, and who knows what would have happened.

After settling the dogs down, Nancy went to change her clothes and then she poured me a glass of zinfandel.

I needed it. And another one when I got home.

Monday, August 15, 2016

Puppy Love?

Those lucky folks who read this blog will recall that my puppy, Poco, has turned into a lovesick teenager. Her heart beats for little Burt, the adorable black dog across the street.  Poco spends endless amounts of time lying side by side with Burt, just resting in the shade (or the sun when it's not too hot.)

They love to eat ice. Burt picks up a couple of chips in his mouth and carries them over to Poco, who gladly receives them. They are often nose to  nose on the sofa. Or barking at kids on bikes and the UPS man and just tonight, a bear (more on that next time!)

A couple of weeks ago, Poco and Burt starting rolling around on the floor, which they do all the time (except if they are rolling around in the lawn.)

I guess you could say they engage in what you might call puppy play.

But there are a lot of bared teeth in these "loving" encounters.

Here now is one such encounter. I video taped the session, so here you go, 42 seconds of Poco and Burt chewing each other up!!


Morning Glory

Oh, the glory
of morning
right here
in a single flower.
What a dazzling color:
the same satin blue
the clear
summer sky

All year we wait for
these beloved blooms to arrive.
And then, after just one 
warm day in the sun,
this flower 

in the blink of an eye,
the bloom is off
the summer,
to be
gone by.

Already we see here and
the first yellow red
leaves fall --
it cannot
possibly be
time for this

No matter.
We put all dead
aside and turn
our eyes
that drink the flowers
back to
yellow mums and
pink trumpet vines
and red begonia and
a spread of black eyed Susans.
We keep
be present with
the blossoms
and in our minds’ eye,

Sunday, August 07, 2016

My Dog has Turned into a Teenager!!

I know what it's like to have a teenager, because I raised three (wonderful) kids through those tempestuous years.

Still, I wasn't prepared to have my two-year old puppy named Poco turn into a teenager.

She has. She mopes around the house a lot and we can't get her to chase toys the way she used to.

She's finicky about food, and she snubs her nose at kibble, and even at wet food out of a can. (So we cook her ground turkey and chicken.)

But the real issue is her love life. Poco has fallen head over heels over a cute black dog across the street. She and Burt roll around the grass together and are happy as clams just lying side by side (or nose to nose) on the sofa. Whenever Burt's owner, my neighbor Nancy, calls up to invite her over to play, Poco can tell. She stands by the phone, expectantly, staring up at me intently.

I get off the phone and I say to her, "You want to play with..." and even before I get the word "Burt"
out of my mouth, she is racing to the front door. I open the door and she's like a black and white bullet screaming toward their yard. She waits at Burt's fence, and when I open it for her, she makes a bee line to the door where Nancy and Burt await her.

They are adorable together. (The one on the right is Poco.) But every once in a while I get the feeling I used to have when my kids were teens: they wanted to spend as much time as possible away from the house, with their friends. Sometimes I think Poco would just as soon live at Nancy and Burt's house as ours.
It seems like every time I come to pick her up, she looks at me with the "What are you doing here?" look.

Still, they are so cute together I wouldn't think about keeping them apart.

I guess when you really love someone, you let them do what they want or need to do.

So Poco, go for it. I'll call Nancy later today and we'll make another play date for the cutest pair of puppies I know.

Photo courtesy of Nancy Sorell.

Sunday, July 31, 2016


Now that you know the addiction
realize that SERENITY CAN BE
its own miracle.
Steer yourself gently, feel the
Breath in your gut
As an ever so slight breeze
that guides you
to quiet waters, where all
that matters is
the next

Watch the way you
breathe, watch


Thursday, July 14, 2016

New Play Gives White Parents A Glimpse of Black Parents' Pain

By Richard Kirsch
Just a few days before Alton Sterling and Philando Castile were killed by police officers, my wife and I went to the premier of the play "American Son," which opened in Pittsfield, Massachusetts in June. The play is carefully crafted to leave White audiences feeling the searing pain of finding out that their son was killed by a police officer.
 I left "American Son" stunned but then I realized that my grief was one more example of my White privilege. For 85 minutes I had sat through what the parents of Black boys and men live through their entire lives.
Playwright Christopher Demos-Brown carefully constructs his play to bring privileged White audiences into the story. He adds story elements that intentionally disrupt any neat explanations – life is rarely neat. But no matter how you sort through the contradictions, you are left with the inescapable conclusion that Jamal Ellis would be alive if he were White.
The play takes place entirely in the waiting room of a Miami police station in the early hours of the morning, where Jamal’s parents have gone after hearing that 18- year old has been “detained.” We first meet Jamal’s mother, who is a Black, PhD psychologist. Jamal’s Dad is a White FBI agent. They sent Jamal to an exclusive, almost all-White prep school. His Mom made sure he didn’t talk Black. Jamal is headed to West Point.
 We also learn that after Dad left home recently – he’s having an affair – Jamal started to wear baggy pants, grew dreads and is hanging out with other young Black men, whom his parents don’t know.
The day before he was pulled over Jamal had put a “SHOOT COPS with your cell phone” bumper sticker on the back of the Lexus his Dad gave him as a high school graduation gift. His Mom had thought about telling him he had to take the sticker off, but she wanted to give her West Point bound high school graduate permission to rebel.
 The cop who pulled over Jamal and his friends is Black and, as it turns out, so is the police department’s public affairs officer, whom his parents have been waiting for with increasing dread. That dread deepened after Dad is emailed a grainy video in which a Black man – does he look like Jamal? – appears to have been shot. Dad explodes in anger when the public affair officer still won’t tell them where Jamal is. He lashes out first at a White policeman and then the Black official and is charged with resisting arrest.
 After Dad is taken away for booking, the Black officer sits down with Mom – who has been torn between anger and fear for hours – and tells her she shouldn’t have let her son drive with that bumper sticker, that she couldn’t hide her son’s Blackness no matter how she tried. She listens, her face anguished, and then tells him to “fuck off.”
 All the time I’m hoping, believing that Jamal will be all right. Because I want to believe. I have to believe. Because all my life my White privilege – just as Jamal Dad’s White privilege – has protected him from the tragedy of injustice.
Finally, when Dad is released, the police official reads Jamal’s parents the official report. Jamal was pulled over with the two other young men after one of them bought some marijuana. One of the young men started to run and the other two got out of the car. Jamal, according to the report, put his hand on the police car and the police officer started firing at the fleeing boy. A shot went into Jamal’s head, killing him instantly. There will be a full inquiry we are told, as the curtain falls over his stricken parents.
 And for a few minutes we are stricken too. Powerful drama puts us in the story, into Jamal’s parents’ shoes. The shoes of educated, privileged parents who are like you but different; they tried to construct a world for their son away from the danger that faced him as a Black man. And could not.
 We went home. I turned on the baseball game to break the spell. As painful as that moment was, it was just a moment. As a parent of three kids, I can think of nothing worse than one of my children dying. But Jamal is not my child. While I’m sad and angry when I hear about the killings in Orlando and in France and in Sandy Hook and now in Dallas, I don’t grieve deeply for those families either. My life goes on.
I can go to a nightclub or a cafĂ© without worrying that I will be killed. But if my 27 year old son were Black I would have been worrying about him every day since he was first old enough to walk out of our door on his own. And that, even at my age, I’d worry every time I got in my car.
What can we Whites do? We can start by speaking out, by declaring that we do have White privilege. And by wearing our White privilege as a weight that never be lifted. A weight we can try to lighten by fighting against the systemic racism that shapes our world.
"American Son" premiered at Barrington Stage Company in Pittsfield, Massachusetts from June 17th to July 9th. It won the prestigious Laurents/Hatcher Award for Best New Play of 2016. Richard Kirsch is Director of Our Story - The Hub for American Narrative.

Wednesday, July 06, 2016

Miracles are Here

On a morning when I wake up
wanting some kind of miracle
to happen and nothing
in particular 
that's when I try just
to watch that desire
and breathe it

And then this
thought occurs to me:
Maybe you are asking
for the wrong sort.
Maybe you don’t need the
flashy miracles where some
glowing angel appears or
you suddenly can fly or
you can speak to the dead
or predict the future
with or without tea leaves.


Maybe the point is
that miracles
are right here in these
fingers creating meaning
out of little black squiggles
tapped onto a white screen.

Or in a sunflower bigger
than a dinner plate.
Or in a smiling baby
with toes like tiny pink pearls.
Feel the gentle air
expanding your lungs.
Smell the pine trees on a mountain –
just because I write the words.

All of it, every single thing
is miraculous
if you take the time to notice.

Monday, June 27, 2016

Why Do Donald and Boris Have the Same Bad Hair?

OK, OK, I know I am supposed to be writing about how scary BREXIT is and how it spells the end of the world economy as we know it, but while trying to read about it in the NYTimes today I got distracted by this:

OK is it coincidence or what? Have they consulted with each other about their bad blonde hair?

Like I said, there are far more important issues to be discussed, but it is quite comical that these two populists obviously go to the same hairdresser!

Monday, June 06, 2016

A Brand New Website for My Paintings

I've been painting for 14 years. Now and then, people ask me where they can see my work. So I decided to design a website for the paintings and invite you to take a look:


I have no formal training in art. The way I came to painting was via my first novel, Dreaming Maples. The story features several women who are passionate about their art. Young Candace is devoted to her painting. In order to write about Candace, I spent a lot of time at the Clark Art Institute in Williamstown. The climactic scene in the book takes
place at the Clark, beneath Renoir's "Blonde Bather."

The way I write fiction, I "SEE" every scene before I can write it. Many people say that when they read my books they feel as though they are watching a movie. So as I wrote, I kept seeing and seeing. Some of what I saw were paintings. Some of what I wrote was about painting. My journals from that period are filled with drawings and small pastels and paintings.

Two months after the book was published, in 2002, I was diagnosed with Hodgkin's Disease. The chemo was ruthless. I could barely function. I wrote poetry to get me through. But I also started to wander around the house in a chemo-induced fog, cutting out pieces of paper and making colorful  collages.

One week, when I was headed to Sloan Kettering, my dear friend Leslie Gabosh, who at the time owned an art store, handed me a fistful of colored pencils and a small art pad. She picked a Black-eyed Susan growing outside the door and she told me I should draw while waiting for my chemo at Sloan.  I did. It helped so much. Art cured and healed my soul just as the chemo and radiation healed my body.

At some point during that summer of chemo, I painted my first large canvas.
I remember standing beside our beautiful pond, surrounded by the green lush of summer. My painting: a hillside of fir trees against a beautiful blue sky.  The painting was OK, but I quickly realized that I didn't have much talent as a realistic painter.

So I started throwing paint on the canvas, the way Jason Pollock used to. (By the way, I have taken a workshop or two, and one teacher compared my paintings to those by Joan Mitchell.)

I continued to paint outdoors beside the pond. Whenever a painting wasn't working, I would simply hose it down and start again. Over and over and over, I tried to let the PAINT AND THE DESIGN HAVE THEIR SAY.  My goal always was to just STAY OUT OF THE WAY!

That was 2002. I have been throwing acrylic paint on canvas ever since. What have I learned? That painting is alive. More alive than writing. AS VIBRANT AS DIVINE LIGHT! 

You write a story or a novel, and it is made of paper (or now, it's an ebook.) But one sits on a bookshelf and the other resides in your iPad.  Paintings on the other hand are lively and pulsing. The colors heat up your soul. When you are done, you can hang them, store them in the basement or give them to your family and friends. I think of people who have my paintings and I smile at each one. PAINTING IS SO MUCH FUN!

At one point, my son Noah, who was living in New York, had so many of my paintings in his apartment that I used to joke that I had a very special gallery in Brooklyn :) 

So that's the story, or at least, that's all I need to say right now.


Friday, May 06, 2016

Missing Mom!

She passed on October 17, 2015.

We miss her.

This morning, I was looking for a necklace to wear. I searched my two jewelry boxes. Nothing. Finally, I tried the bottom drawer of my night table, where jewelry sometimes pops up.

There I found this tiny box I didn't recognize.

In it was a magnificent cameo.

And then I remembered.
I bought this for my mom 38 years ago, the first time I was in Florence, on the Ponte Vecchio -- the spot where my husband and I made the decision to get married!

Beneath the cameo was a tiny piece of lined paper folded in half. It read "Cameo is for Claudia" in pencil.

That's when the tears started up. That's when I realized anew that my mother is gone on this Mother's Day. I called my sister Karen and cried some more.

But then we realized, we have each other, and my sister Holly and my brother Rich. And our Dad.

Better to think about what you have than what you don't.  We have so many memories.

We love you Mom!!