Thursday, May 29, 2008

I flew into a window

A cat found me

Sniffed, pawed me with little interest

And walked away.

My life ended; you ignored my death

as you ignored my life.

The world ends a little every day

You take the picture

and walk away.

Thursday, May 22, 2008

David Cook and Women of a Certain Age

Why are 42-year-old women the average demographic for American Idol's eighth season?
What self-respecting adult female would rabidly support Mr. Cook above all others? For that matter, what self-respecting 40-something would even WATCH American Idol, unless she has a kid to blame for having to sit for hours in front of the television every Tuesday and Wednesday evening for MONTHS??

We are not simply a gaggle of horny women, desperate to conquer Mr. Cook's youth and take advantage of his soulful inexperience. No, even though I confess to feeling rather fond of the new Idol, it's more than a simple primal urge to rip off his clothes and teach him a few things I've learned in the last few--ahem--decades.

No, sadly, it's more about the fact that we have entered an age where such dreams have been over for awhile: the dreams of becoming the singing star, the famous dancer, or the adored actress. Celebrity and precocious talent, so admired and even revered in our culture, have abandoned us forever. There is no second chance for us, no possibility of becoming the next American Idol, or the equivalent in any other field of entertainment. We will never be the gifted wunderkind, the amazing Next Big Thing; we have to face the fact that whatever we have accomplished at this stage in our life was either expected of us, or isn't all that impressive to begin with.

In our twenties, we still believe that fame and public adoration are possible; in fact, we KNOW that we can "make it" if we just work really, really hard and maybe catch a couple of lucky breaks. Then, during our thirties, we enter a protracted state of denial as we manage families, divorces, job changes, and the rest of the chaos of becoming an adult. By the time we have entered our forties, we finally have to confront the truth, come face to face with the twenty five year old that we were, and tell her how sorry we are; we didn't live up to our own expectations, and now it's too late.

That's what David Cook is for us: the embodiment of the lost dream of eighteen or so years ago. We live through him, enjoying the attraction we feel, believing that he would want us if we had the chance to seduce him, since that's the only way we're getting close to the dream that just came true for him. We try not to think that we are close to his mother's age. We try not to think about the fact that we betrayed our dreams, or worse yet, we just didn't have the talent or the ambition to realize them. Our dreams are different now, more subtle and less grandiose. The expectations have become "realistic," and so we need to nurture those fantasies that smooth the transition into middle age.

I thought I would be in my twenties forever, that I could be anything I wanted to be, do anything I wanted to do, if I just pursued that dream, whatever it was. I didn't define it, or I ignored it, and it slipped away. David's soft eyes and amazed and joyful smile as he soaks in the applause of his happy fans eases the pain somehow; I still feel the warmth of that possibility in me, even though there is very little left of it now.

Tuesday, May 20, 2008


I met him on the rooftop. At first, he backed off with ears pinned back. The longer I stood there posing no threat, the closer he came. At last, I was able to reach up and scratch his head. His name was Thomas, but due to the tooth most people called him Tom. He wasn't always so scraggly, he apologized, but he was old and the current owners had recently brought home a kitten in a basket. He was, he explained, last on the list of priorities now.

I told him in no uncertain terms that I considered his tooth and his battle scars to be marks of glory and character. "How can this tooth be glorious?" he queried, amused. Well, it's the first adjective that came to mind. We stared at each other awhile, realizing at the same time that he was a cat, and I was a human, so he lumbered off to the open bedroom window and climbed in, not without a long, last look at me.

And I, well, I continued down the path I had started upon, a little sadder than when I began.

Friday, May 9, 2008

As the gloom settled over me today, I decided to take a walk. I took a street I had never seen before, and followed it to the end. At the end of the street there was a path, with acorn trees arching over it. I continued along this path until I discovered a meadow, where wild mint was growing in clumps.
In the wild mint there were lady bugs, maybe 10 or 20. Out past the meadow the trail continued. I followed into the foothills until I feared I would not find my way home.

The sudden, expected sights of a new place brought me out of my mood and elevated everything to a different reality, one where I was no longer the obsessive center of my own attention. The world is out there waiting for me, for all of us, and there are wonders in our back yard.

The trick is to develop the eyes with which to see them.

Thursday, May 8, 2008

Tomorrow I turn 43. Here I am, trying to look happy about it, and not too old. I've been depressed all day, hell, all week. It's hard to grow older in the So Cal culture; I'm supposed to look 25 well into my 60s, and that is hard to do. Not only is it an impossible task, it requires relentless selfishness and extreme vanity. I admit that I am vain. I confess that I post this picture in the hope that you won't think I look my age, because looking my age is terrifying and unacceptable, somehow.

I know that I am espousing false values, that believing I have some obligation to myself and my spectators to continue this farce is a soul-draining exercise in futility. I am also acutely aware how this kind of vanity takes one away from the world and discourages selfless behavior, obliterates the desire to act for the betterment of the most wretched and needy among us. I try to remind myself that my age doesn't matter, and indeed, is a distraction from what is truly important and significant. And yet . . . it does matter, for it signals another move closer to death, another step forward in my mortality. This makes me wonder how I am supposed to live the rest of my life, for no matter what a cliche it has become to affirm this, my time is limited. I do not have forever to become the person I wish to be, or to make the changes in my community and environment that I wish to make. To grow older is to force yourself to define what your priorities are, to understand yourself on a deeper level so that you can "become the change you wish to see in the world".

The problem is, much of the time I feel exactly the way I did 20 years ago; in fact, I am often shocked to look in the mirror and not see the old me looking back (the old me, of course, was the young me, 'the child is the father of the man'). My heart and my head are the same, with some tweaking and maturation, yet essentially I don't see the huge difference that I am supposed to see by now--I thought in my twenties that by the time I reached my forties I would be DIFFERENT. I didn't know how, I hadn't defined what I meant by that, but I assumed that I would have some wise perspective on life that would negate my need to battle wrinkles and struggle with the softening of my jaw line. It was impossible, then, that I would ever face 40, much less 43; and it's still impossible. Yet here I am, a child stuck with an adult's body and an adult's responsibilities.

I don't know what to do about that. Everything I thought would happen by now has not happened. Everything I believed would be clear, is totally unclear. The wisdom I expected to enjoy never showed up. I just continue on, myself, Kirsten, in an older body with an older face. I used to believe in constant progression and transformation, taking for granted that I would undergo such intense changes that my inner self would match my aging outer shell; I wouldn't care what I looked like, since I would be so much closer to Enlightenment.

I feel cheated; either by myself, or by my circumstances, I don't know which. I know that I have to change, I have to let go of the child, the adolescent, the young girl. She has to grow up, somehow, or her disillusionment and anger will poison the rest of my adult life. What I don't know, have never known, is how to move on with grace and enthusiasm to the next stage. I am hanging onto something by my fingernails, desperately trying to keep from falling over the cliff, yet I will fall.

I am falling. I just hope that whatever catches me is soft, warm, and understanding.

Wednesday, May 7, 2008


I have it on good authority that children, even up into adolescence, are not able to understand the concept of consequences. You can tell them that if they leave candles lit in their bedroom, the drapes will catch fire, but they won't understand that until it actually happens; even then, the lesson has only been learned temporarily.

My stepdaughter has been told to be kind with the cat. "Don't be so rough," we say, over and over and over again. It means nothing, since she doesn't FEEL the consequences; they are nebulous, vague. They don't apply to her, or she can't see how she would be negatively impacted by snatching the cat and holding her too snugly. "You'll end up with a cat that runs from you and scratches you," we say, and at the moment, she grasps that. Of course, she says, "I'll be more careful. Sorry." Ten minutes later, the behavior returns, without malice: she can't make the connection between our warning and her subsequent actions.

This occurs to me as an epidemic in the culture. It's not just children who fail to see how their actions affect others, or them; I see this in my (supposedly) adult students all of the time. At the beginning of a semester, I warn them about the consequences of not studying, the consequences of poor attendance, the negative results of ignoring homework and not participating in discussion; and every single semester, around week 13 or so, reality hits. Thirty percent will fail. They can't believe it; they are astounded. It can't possibly be happening--they studied! It becomes my fault (I don't like them; I have some personal issue with them), or the tests' fault, or the textbook's fault, or the fault of the language itself. In their bid to avoid personal responsibility, we enter surreal territory, a desperate landscape where I am the Evil One denying them the water they need to survive. When the bargaining begins, it never focuses on whether or not they have learned the material, on whether or not they can speak, read, write or understand Spanish. "I have to pass this class to get into UCLA," "I need to pass this class or my mom will kill me," or "If I don't pass this class, I'll lose my scholarship."

Of course, we do this dance every semester with the same, lamentable results. They fail, some will petition for a grade change, they won't get it, and by the time I have finally made the bad news sink in, a new semester starts and I start the useless discussion regarding actions and consequences all over again. I suppose that it's normal for me to get depressed, and I do, with regularity. I feel impotent and useless, a talking head that repeats herself endlessly to a deaf audience. I am paid to undergo this tri-annual disappointment, but the money doesn't take away the sting of it. It feels as if I am running in circles, always dragging along students through the new college experience before they are ready for it, before they can understand it.

On a national level, I see the same thing happen. We clearly don't learn from history and are aggressive in our ignorance and willful refusal to think, to contemplate and to revise our behavior. We engage in the same wars again and again, believing that this time the results will be different. The people in power don't listen to the voices of reason and education, since to do so would contradict our image of ourselves as constant innovators and pioneers. Everything we do is by definition different and new and unique, since we are Americans. Ingrained in our collective consciousness is the idea that our actions are always good and right, because we are who we are. The consequences of our foreign policy have nothing to do with our decisions; the blame lies with whoever is the latest scapegoat for our failures.

Don't play rough with the cat. She's almost wild, and she's turning on you. But you won't know that until it's your blood that is shed.

Tuesday, May 6, 2008


Reader in Acres of Books, Long Beach. They close in October; the City of Long Beach is forcing the sale of the property.

This place has history. They opened for business in 1934, moving to their present location in 1960. They have six miles of bookshelves--I guarantee you'll never see another place like this. Please go before they close, and be prepared to spend the day.

I will miss this landmark with all my heart.


When you're young, you can't imagine that aging pertains to you; when you're older, you can't imagine that youth has deserted you.