Wednesday, August 31, 2005

Heaven Begins at Home

I am a certified minister of the Universal Life Church. My friend Joel, himself a Universal Life minister, ordained me so that I could minister his marriage to Sharon. I'm about to perform my second wedding ceremony, and I'm looking forward to it.

Over the internet, I was certified as a legitimate UCL minister, which meant that I could, if I so wanted, start my own church -- either an internet church or a bricks and mortar version. I laughed, "Ha, ha, ha, wouldn't that be funny -- me with my very own church!" I closed the email from the ULC and went on to the next email, which was a request for a letter of recommendation from a student's mom. Her salutation was "Dear Christ."

I had a good friend in graduate school who for a while believed I was the second coming. She was diagnosed with manic depression and temporary schizophrenia soon after this belief blossomed, but nonetheless, SHE WAS CONVINCED.

The other day, headed south on Highway 59, I passed the new Lakewood Church in what was formerly the Compaq Center -- once the home of the legendary Houston Rockets. Christians now flock to the refurbished arena, where their shepherd, Joel Osteen, leads them in their worship of a "God of Restoration" (from the As I drove past, I thought, that guy Osteen is making bookoo bucks. My next thought was, I could do that, start my own church.

L. Ron did it. J.C. did it. L. Ron Hubbard said the way to make millions is to start one's own religion.

I admit now: I want to make millions. Nay, squillions.

But Jesus didn't necessarily want to get rich. He hung out with the poor folk. I hang out with poor folk too, come to think of it: artists and theater types, teachers and writers. J.C.'s earthly dad was a carpenter. Mine was a NAPA auto parts salesman.

The Universal Life Church isn't about Jesus, though, which is fine by me, because I'm not really about Jesus either. I am about divinity, though. And my lapsed Catholic soul DIGS the Blessed Virgin of Guadalupe. I choose to believe that there is a greater power, a higher power (I need to say it here: I'm not an AA advocate). I consider that higher power a sort of spiritual network -- an ethereal intelligence, a circular cosmic order. This higher order is the sum of all the individual consciousnesses and energies in the universe, which is why I believe it's important for people to be nice to one another, that being nice to one another and offering love and peace to one another is, in deed, heaven on earth.

Tuesday, August 30, 2005

For All the People Suffering Because of Hurricane Katrina

May you have health.

May you have safety.

May you have peace.

May you have love.

May you have joy.

Clara Has A Cold

She does, and there is mucous everywhere, all over her face. All over me. I watched David kiss her hands this morning and shrieked: BE CAREFUL! SHE'S A GERM FACTORY!

Her whining has penetrated my soul, and I can't remember a world where there was no whining.

Last night the cry/whine escalated into a mysterious wail that would not cease unless I were dancing to Wilco and Billy Bragg's Mermaid Avenue. I tried a couple other CDs, like the brilliant bossanova album Elis and Tom, but she wailed even louder. Since it was late at night, I couldn't dance around to Wilco and Billy Bragg for too long because I was tired, and David was in bed because I thought I could do better than he could at calming her down -- breasts and all that -- so he wasn't any help. I finally gave her some baby tylenol, thinking she had a headache or something. As soon as the tylenol was in her mouth, she fell asleep, like she just KNEW it was gonna make everything better.

Drugs. What else can I say?

This morning I called the doctor to make sure that I shouldn't be bringing her in, to be reassured that this is only a cold and will pass like all colds do. The nurse who returned my call -- my new friend Sherry -- said that yes, I do need to bring her in, because she may have an ear infection.

S H I T.

I want to explain to Sherry that I can't just be bringing her in for every little thing because, according to my new insurance, I only get four doctor's visits a year, but I keep it to myself because Clara's ears are super important and her health is worth anything.

But I want to take this opportunity to reaffirm how much I HATE THE AMERICAN HEALTH INSURANCE INDUSTRY, and point people to this recent article by Malcolm Gladwell in The New Yorker: THE MORAL-HAZARD MYTH

Monday, August 29, 2005


As a graduate of K-8 Catholic education, my best subject when I was 13 was Penmanship. And I knew how to diagram a sentence like nobody's business. The nuns, fierce Franciscans, were all about handwriting, diagramming complex sentences, and teaching us alternatives to cussing. "When you feel upset, just say MICHIGAN!" suggested Sr. Mary Alexandra.

Every week in 7th grade, Sr. Alexandra would make us practice our handwriting. After 30 to 45 minutes of working on our cursive, she'd pick the three best examples and send them to Sr. Doreen, the principal, to have her judge the VERY best. I got chosen as one of the three often, along with Ya Lin Chu and Gregory Zenzina. Periodically, Sr. Doreen stuck the gold star on my sheaf.

From the moment I learned the Palmer Method in the second grade, I'd been "the one to watch" when it came to cursive. I had been writing for years -- loops and loops of jibberish -- but once I learned the actual letters, I could communicate things. More importantly, those beautiful letters felt so good to write. I practiced X over and over -- two sixes having sex, almost 69ing. Q was a mystery: why was it like a 2? Or a backwards L? Those things had nothing seemingly in common with one another.

Over the years, I spent hours trying out different ways to write letters cursively. When I noticed that a friend's G was impressively formed, I'd absorb what I liked about her G into my own G. I wrote lots of notes to my friends, not because I had so much to say but because I loved the act of writing them. Most of them were along the lines of "What's up?" Or "Do you like John DiGiovanni? He likes you."

In sixth grade, a little black cloud in a plaid uniform jumper, named Ya Lin Chu, joined our class. Oh, did she rain on my parade with her exotic and perfect penmanship! Ya Lin, just off the boat from Viet Nam, wrote in an inimitable style. Try as hard as I might, I could not mimic her script. Soon enough, the class thank-you notes to guest speakers were being hand-written by her, where before they'd been my domain, practically my birthright. I had real trouble containing my jealously and being nice to Ya Lin. But I did my best. After all, she was an immigrant who had just crossed the Pacific Ocean in a LIFEBOAT, for god's sake. I seethed and scribbled for hours at night, consciously judging whether I was as impressed by my own handwriting as I was by Ya Lin's. I was not. I'd been surpassed. I had to make peace with being one of the best handwriters in middle school instead of THE best.

Recently, I've been involved in a discussion about the relevance of learning cursive in elementary school. There are some people who argue that it's an unnecessary skill these days, given that most children are now learning keyboarding as early as fifth grade. Many people curse cursive because they were never good at it. Probably they felt weak in it because they were taught to learn it AFTER learning block printing, which is an unnatural order given the way the brain functions develop.

I've been reading a book called Smart Moves: Why Learning Is Not All In Your Head, by Carla Hannaford, Ph.D., and she has this to say about learning cursive:

"By age four or five children naturally love to 'write' stories -- very elaborate stories. They usually write in a pretend cursive style, because they are mimicking grown-up writing, and because they enjoy the natural rhythm and flow of it. This process is anchoring learning in a holistic way and could be an excellent point of departure for new learning....[An] unnatural challenge has to do with learning to print block letters as the first step in writing. Printing is a highly linear process that takes us away from the more continuous rhythmic flow of language, both as it is experienced in the mind and as it is expressed through the hand -- as in cursive script....At [five years old] children have to work very hard at printing since it defies the natural development of brain functions. After age seven, when the brain is developed enough to accommodate the discrete and linear operations necessary for printing, we then teach them cursive. It's a crazy game that only serves to maintain high stress levels in the child and leads to 'learned helplessness'" (Hannaford 84-85).

Maybe my excellent cursive skills have something to do with what David calls my "teacher attitude," by which he means not the fact that I am indeed a teacher, but rather that I have tendency to order him around and act like I always know what I'm talking about as well as more than he does. Maybe there's a connection. You know how teachers most often have good handwriting? Well maybe the reason they became teachers is BECAUSE they have good handwriting -- they have to help all those helpless people who never learned to master cursive.

Someone needs to do a study on this cursive/know-it-all temperment, stat.

Friday, August 26, 2005


I get sick -- SICK! -- of society sometimes. When I think about it at all, it sickens me. So I find myself not thinking about society, not thinking about being a citizen in it, most of the time. I sort of operate unconsciously, which is bad in general and, in this case, bad for the environment, I'm sure. Because I don't recycle (crucify me), for example.

If my neighborhood waste managers offered recycling, I would recycle. I have recycled diligently in the past. It's not like I'm completely insensitive to the global warming situation. However, in order to recycle, I have to litter my house with old bottles, cans, cardboard, newspaper (can anyone say R O A C H M A G N E T S), lug it all downstairs in the heat -- and it's insanely hot here most of the year, probably because of the greenhouse gasses; vicious cycle, I know -- to drive to this very hard-to-find recycling center somewhere on Westpark Street or Lane or Whatever.

It doesn't seem like the City of Houston cares very much about my recycling. If they did, they'd offer their citizens those three types of trashcans -- regular waste, green waste and recyclable waste -- like they have in California (yes, I'm a California chauvinist!)

I don't even have to try to complain about something like this; it just comes naturally.

Here are other things about society that sicken me on a fairly regular basis: politics and politicians, noise pollution (especially leaf blowers!), credit card companies, bank charges, pollution, junk mail, bad water quality, noise pollution (Clear Channel Radio), the cost of housing, "fashion", stupid television, traffic, greenhouse gases, oil costs, noise pollution (did Robertson really say that thing about Sizzler?!), ozone holes, ADHD, drug companies, concrete jungles, "quiet genocides," trash, trash, trash everywhere.

I realize that my anti-social attitude makes me part of the problem. I'm conscious of that much, at least.

Thursday, August 25, 2005

S H U T U P ! ! !

I'm not sure that there's a noise I hate more than the noise of a leaf blower. The noise is worse than the mounting cries of a colicky baby. Right now it's ridiculously loud on my street in Midtown Houston: there's an 18 wheeler "resting," its generator wheezing, on the curb in front of Zorca's townhouse, a collection of sirens screaming over some misdemeanor or fire somewhere, a leaf blower on MAXIMUM POWER!, and a car alarm going off. And horns -- lots of car horns. This racket completely unnerves me.

I've just been reading about how stress results in the body's becoming vulnerable to disease. This noise creates a mounting stress level in my body. I want to tear that leaf blower person's head off!!

And just like that: the 18 wheeler's gone, the cops or firemen have apprehended the problem, the leaf blower's exchanged his menacing mechanized dragon for the rake (a comforting scrape, scrape against the concrete sidewalk), the car alarm quits, and people drive nicely again.

City living...Urban living, I think it's called now. There's a real estate company in Houston with this name: Urban Living. The agents should record this noise and play it for prospective urban livingites. Just to make sure these people migrating from the suburbs can handle it.

If all the suburbanites are coming into the city, maybe it's time for the urbanites to head for the suburbs.

Then again, I bet there are way more leaf blowers in the suburbs. In fact, I think leaf blowers were invented for the suburbs.


Wednesday, August 24, 2005

Welcome Back

Today is the first day of school at the school where I taught before I decided to become a SAHM (a super-awesome-hot-mama, or, in other words, a stay-at-home-mom). I admit that I feel a twinge of nostalgia about school starting without me. Yesterday, I was on campus to interview some teachers for a freelance writing gig I'm doing for the school website, and the bustle of teachers going from meeting to classroom to copy room to bookstore back to classroom felt organic to me, even though I was no longer doing those things. Rather, I was searching for the art teacher so that I could interview her for a feature about her, and, of course, I couldn't find her. I'm sure she was at some meeting or other. How many times as a teacher had I kept some parent or student waiting because of a faculty meeting or the line at the copy machine, where a host of other teachers waited to xerox their assignments for the next class, caught in copy room gridlock?

When I finally found the art teacher, she seemed inordinately calm despite the litter of students about to descend into her life for the next nine months. As I interviewed her about what inspires her and how she inspires her students, Clara (whom I'd stubbornly brought to work with me -- why else stay at home if you have to hire a babysitter?) decided she wanted to breastfeed RIGHT THEN AND THERE. Luckily the art teacher is also a mom, so when I asked if it was okay for me to breastfeed my daughter during the interview, she said "Of course," without thinking twice. There I was breastfeeding my daughter with one arm and taking down notes and quotes with the other.

How awesome is that?

Sunday, August 14, 2005

Paradise Lost

Just back from visiting my family in Southern California for two weeks, David proclaims how good it is to be home, back in Houston, TX. I wonder: What is it about Houston that would cause a person to prefer Houston to COASTAL Southern California?

Point: This is Houston, Texas, and Texans prefer ALL THINGS TEXAS over ALL else. Hailing from California, I understand, because Californians prefer California over all else, although they are more open minded and tolerant of the benefits of other states. Blue State v. Red State type of thing.

David has a point, though. I, too -- a Californian -- prefer Houston over Southern California, specifically Orange County, where I grew up -- breeding ground of Nixon, Mary Kay LeTourneau, Gwen Stefani and Walt Disney. And a bunch of other people. Like my Dad's family.

My dad's family is old, old California -- known as Californios, the "o" ending signifying people who were native to the region before the Americans took over. My dad's ancestry includes Don Juan Forster. Forster was a Brit who became a Mexican citizen in 1832 when he married Ysidora Pico, the sister of Pio and Andres Pico, the last Mexican Governors of Alta California, before the state entered the Union in 1848. The Picos, being in charge of the area at that time, "owned" a lot of land. Forster began buying land in Southern California in the late 1830s and early 1840s, including the San Juan Capistrano Mission for $710, where he and his family lived for 20 years before Lincoln gave all the California Missions back to the church in the early 1860s.

And blah, blah, blah. I'm supposed to be working on this story -- the novel, the screenplay -- but there's always something that gets in the way. Or else, the story's so big it gets in my way. Something like that.

Here's one thing I know: as I drive the freeways in Southern California, specifically the 5 and the 405, I regard the surroundings from LA to Oceanside as a sort of mythic landscape -- California Pastoral -- even cities like Westminster, even Compton. Once much of the land along those freeways was my family's land. From Saddleback to the Pacific, they owned -- Rancho Santa Margarita y Las Flores. I don't know how to characterize the kind of psychic regret a child feels when, while riding in the car on freeways, she comprehends the reality of the paradise her ancestors lost.

Is it any wonder that I feel at home in this intimate inferno?