Eli Aminpour: Heading to Stanford for a Summer Research Fellowship

I am very pleased to announce that my writing student Eli Aminpour has been awarded the highly competitive Dr. Michael P. Fischbein Fellowship in Cardiothoracic Surgery Research at Stanford University. Eli, a Beverly Hills High School junior, will head to Stanford for 8 weeks this summer to learn research techniques and conduct research projects in Cardiothoracic Surgery fields.

This fellowship is reserved for students who have shown exceptional leadership skills and who have also been actively involved in volunteer activities. Each applicant was required to write three essays along with providing high school transcripts, a resume of activities and letters of recommendation.

The essay topics were:

a. Provide the admissions committee with a brief 400-500 word narrative of yourself. Consider including information about your intellectual development, educational opportunities you have been exposed, and the ways these experiences have influenced your future academic and career goals.
b. Fully describe your intellectual and professional interests, and your academic, professional, or personal goals. What has led you to these interests and goals? What have you done so far to prepare yourself to accomplish these objectives? (300-500 words)
c. The goals of the fellowship experience include increasing interest in biological sciences and medicine and helping students understand how scientific research is performed. What do you hope to learn and how you do plan on using this experience in the future? (300-500 words)

Eli and I spent a great deal of focused time getting those essays exactly right. I am very pleased that they helped him win this prestigious fellowship.

This is Eli’s second summer at Stanford. Last year he participated in the summer cardiothoracic surgical internship. We worked on essays for that program too.
As you can well imagine the competition for this fellowship was fierce. Not only could high school students apply, but college students as well. In addition, the recipient receives a stipend for his/her work over the summer, which makes this particular fellowship especially enticing. Eli should feel very proud to have been awarded this fellowship amid such a highly qualified field of applicants; he can feel even more pleased because he is only a junior in high school.

Congratulations, Eli! I am certain you’re going to have another memorable summer at Stanford, learning a whole range of research techniques and making many new friends.

I am proud of you and delighted for you.

Hugs to you, my dear. Here’s to a job well done!


Ramblings and Resurrecting My Stowed Away Manuscript

I am sitting in the den in my house where I’ve been sitting almost all day with students. Cars are zipping by out front, not as many as in the height of the day, but still a regular flow of them. The dogs are upstairs with Ray, no doubt snuggled on the bed, sleeping while he watches television. He is waiting for me to come up so we can watch Foyle’s War, one of our favorite BBC offerings, which I have written about and recommended on my blog in the past.

I have no great thoughts, incidents or moments of clarity to share this evening. In fact, I am fairly blank as to a topic. I’ve decided to put in my writing time and see what comes up. Writing my blog is part of my nightly writing discipline so here I am, with or without much to say.

I started re-reading the book I wrote several years ago about our family coming to LA to help my brother Jim as he was dying of AIDS. I worked hard on that book – workshopped the entire thing in John Rechy’s Master Class over several years. I submitted it to several agents when it was done and had a round of “No, not interested” responses. I had fictionalized the story per John’s guidance and, I believe, lost the book’s primary focus at the end. (No one’s fault but my own.) While at the SCN conference, I talked to Linda Joy Myers about my book and explained what I thought had happened. She suggested I revert it to memoir and put the ending in that really happened. I felt good about that talk and have resolved to do just that. I came home and discussed it with my writing friend Michael and my small writing group. They concurred.

What is a surprise is now that I am re-reading the book, I am struck with how strong it is. I thought it was horrible – shallow and hardly worth reading at the time – and now I read it and think, “Okay, there’s some editing issues here and there, but overall, this is a good story.” I haven’t read all the way through and I may find myself not feeling so good as I get deeper into the book, but I can say the first third is reading pretty damn well. That is heartening.

Why, you might ask, do I need to resurrect this book after several years? The answer is that I did the work and need to move on to the next step with this project, whatever that next step is. Whether that is putting it on my blog in installments or creating an ebook or self-publishing it in hard copy or sending it back out to another round of agents, I don’t quite know. But I do know I need to do something. I need to do this so I can progress in my writer’s knowledge, demonstrate that I have done this hard work, have something to show for all my time besides a manuscript stuck in a bottom drawer of a desk. In other words, so I can get on with my life.

I am halfway through another book – a novel – and I do not want to derail myself in the writing of that story, but I know I must shift for a bit and get this other book back to a state that will feel right. I must rewrite the ending – or rather return to the real ending that I wrote and then discarded in favor of fiction – because I have been driven from the beginning to tell this story of my brother, who lost his soul to money and eventually rediscovered his humanity just before he died. That is an important story to me because it is about the transformative power of love.

You see I can get wound up when I start writing about it.

So, here I am now with lots of words on the page when I wasn’t sure I would have any. This is one of the reasons I love writing. I am often pleasantly surprised by what appears on the page.

My goal is to have this first book finished with a clear plan in mind by the end of the summer. We’ll see if that’s possible. I am hoping that is more time than I’ll need. I guess we’ll see how the other 2/3s of the book reads.

I hope you all are having a great evening filled with good stories, whether on television, in books, with friends, or in your imagination.

I’ll be checking back in with you again tomorrow.

Until then, stay well.


Repost: Memory of Mom

I am reposting this piece that I wrote a few years back because today is my mother’s birthday.  While this is only one of many memories I have of my mother, it remains one of the most salient.  Whenever I hear the word individuation, I immediately think of this conversation she and I shared.


Today I worked with a graduate student in Psychology on a paper on “Differentiation in Family Systems.” Differentiation is basically when children establish their own personhood that is separate from the family unit. I remember a moment when I was 13 when this concept played out in my own life.

When I was 13, I hated everything about my mother. The way she walked, talked, and even breathed. I’m sure this was evident to her in my sassy attitude, rolling eyes and long sighs whenever she said anything. Some of this was normal for an adolescent; some of it was born from my anger at her for going to graduate school and leaving our family (and me) for long stretches while she studied in one town, worked in another and lived in a third.

One day my mother, who was working on a Ph.D. in Psychology, sat me down for a chat. I don’t remember the occasion, but I do remember her words very well. She said, “What you’re going through is a developmental phase called individuation. You are becoming your own person separate from the family. This is not only normal but also important for your human development. I can promise you that no matter how much you dislike me now, one of these days, you and I will be friends.”

I remember feeling a huge amount of relief at her words. I felt guilty that I hated her so much. I was glad to know there was a word to describe what I was experiencing.

She was right. Over time, we did become the best of friends. Gone was the need to exercise my power to be different; replaced by my pleasure at having her near.

I was reminded today of how helpful it is to have ways to identify family dynamics in order to facilitate understanding. This is one of the true benefits of psychology and one of the great helps of psychotherapy.

I also am very aware that I was lucky to have a mother who was so tuned in to human behavior. This helped me to shift from guilt to growth and move forward to that time she had predicted.

I emulated my mother’s approach when my own children were teenagers and throwing all their irritation in my direction. I saw relief on their faces when they heard this was “just a phase.”

I am also lucky to have students who give me the opportunity to revisit information that was presented to me so long ago. Nothing like a discussion on individuation to spark memories of my mom. Yes, I was truly fortunate to have that sensitive and sensible woman in my life.


Unexpected Freedom = Heaven

Ray, Liz and I are supposed to be at Barnsdall Art Center tonight for the beginning of our new classes. Ray is taking pottery and Liz and I will be exploring painting with acrylics. However, none of us is there. Liz is leaving early in the morning for a conference in Cleveland and sounded instantly relieved when I suggested that we start next week. Ray and I have been so busy over the past couple of weeks that even though we have paid for these classes and want to go, we are still pinching ourselves that we aren’t in Hollywood at this very hour.

Since that decision, Ray and I have been running around the house like kids who just found out they have a snow day. About every ten minutes Ray walks through the room and says, “I’m so glad we’re not going tonight.” All I can do is nod. There’s nothing like having unexpected freedom from a plan (even one you know you’ll enjoy.) Getting that reprieve (especially when you’ve planned all day to go) is one of the joys of life.

So tonight I have been catching up on some work that has been nagging at me. I am still not completely done, but am a lot closer. The best part is that I have not had to rush. I’ve just been sitting here in my big chair feeling remarkably relaxed. Oh, happy day!

Next week, we’ll be more refreshed and prepared. We might actually arrive with the required art supplies versus tonight when we were going in empty-handed.

I believe Ray and I might also go to bed at an earlier hour than usual. I have heard tell that you can actually catch up on sleep if you go to bed 8 hours before you have to wake up. Is that possible? Tonight might be the night to see!

I hope you’re having a restful night, dear readers.

I am ready to head up to that promised bed.

I’ll be checking back in with you tomorrow.

kids picture

When Life Presses In

I have been playing catch up all evening, communicating with the Story Circle Network online teachers about the upcoming term and responding to reading comments and writing submissions from my current online flash fiction/flash memoir class. This week has been a whirlwind of activity centered around students, family and church. I had two solid days of back-to-back students immediately upon returning from Texas, one and a half babysitting days for Sarah and Gregorio since they are moving, a cooking afternoon for Rachael’s birthday celebration and then literally 7 hours spent at the church on Saturday between the Breakfast Club (our homeless feeding program), a discernment committee meeting for a young man pursuing the priesthood, and then serving as an acolyte at the Vigil mass. Ray and I returned to church this morning where we were there for another 2 ½ hours because, besides attending the early mass, Ray had promised our sexton that he would help set up for coffee hour since he (our sexton) is on vacation. I helped too, of course, so we could work faster.

I returned home after church and stumbled upstairs for a two-hour nap. Afterward, I settled into my chair and watched several news programs (so I won’t be completely out of touch with the world) and then had an hour of catch up on work. After that, I headed to the kitchen to make dinner, which was chicken, yams, baked potatoes and salad. I’ve been back in my chair for several hours now working towards getting slightly ahead of where I need to be with my class. The good news is that I have almost succeeded, and tomorrow I will quickly get up-to-date. Plus, Monday and Tuesday are eBay days, which means I am focused on a very calm and clear task that is restful.

My life is always full of activity, but this past week was even more so. Every time I go out-of-town, I find that it takes me several days to get everything back into a routine. I juggle lots of different activities and sometimes they all press down at once. This past week was one of those times.

Now I am done for the evening and heading upstairs. I hope to watch just a bit of television to wind down before going to sleep. I read that taking a bath before bedtime “washes away the stresses of the day.” Since this is my habit anyway – that nightly bath – then I will certainly be doing that as soon as I head upstairs. I like the visual of washing away the stress. That brings comfort.

I hope you have had a restful weekend and are ready for the upcoming week.

I will be checking back in tomorrow. Until then, I wish you sweet dreams and a happy Monday.


The Meddler – Susan Sarandon’s New Film

We went to see Susan Sarandon’s new movie, “The Meddler,” this evening and while I don’t think it’s a great film, I still was entertained.  Sarandon’s performance alone would justify buying a ticket.  She embodies her character through and through and  there are scenes that, as a mother of three daughters, I could completely relate to. The writing was decent though there were a few scenes that dragged.  Overall, an enjoyable way to spend Saturday night at the movies.

Happy birthday to our sweet friend, David Bode, who picked this film as part of his birthday celebration.



Rachael’s Birthday Dinner w/ Recipe Included

We had our belated birthday dinner for Rachael this evening. Lots of fun at Sarah and Gregorio’s new apartment in Sierra Madre.  I made homemade stuffed shells and peach pie, both Rachael’s favorites.  I have included the stuffed shell recipe before, but it’s so good that I’m going to post it again.  This is truly a recipe you can always count on and is pretty enough to serve for the nicest and most special of dinners.  Here is what I did:

First, I made a marinara sauce with sautéed onions and garlic, spices, canned tomatoes, tomato sauce and red wine. Delicious.

Then I made the filling: Into a big bowl I poured out a 32 ounce container of ricotta cheese, added lots of grated mozzarella cheese, a generous amount of Parmesan cheese, and enough chopped parsley to make it colorful.

At this point, a big pan of water on the stove was coming to a boil. I added two boxes of pasta shells, waited 9 minutes, then drained them.

I stuffed the pasta shells, placed them in a big baking dish over a bit of the marinara sauce, and repeated the process until all the shells and the filling were gone. Then I covered all the shells with marinara sauce, followed by both mozzarella and parmesan cheese, then popped it into a 350 degree oven for 45 minutes.

This recipe is hard to beat.  Tonight we ate a pan and a half of the shells which go perfectly with a great salad.  We also had French bread.  Delicious.

Rachael’s birthday was a success in no small part to the stuffed shells. Tried and true.

I’ll be checking back in tomorrow. Hope you’re looking forward to a good weekend.