Category Archives: Writing

Outsiders versus Insiders

I am sitting in a quiet room, having just said goodnight to my student, after spending many hours today on the telephone with her researching and writing about two Cuban poets, Heberto Padilla and Nicolas Guillan. We share a google doc as we develop a term paper on these two men who were famous for their powerful poetry and their opposing views of the Castro regime. Padilla was the outside; Guillan, the insider, and their futures reflect that status, with Padilla going into exile in the U.S. and Guillan remaining in Cuba. Padilla’s counterrevolutionary stance put him in opposition to the Castro government and made his life very tough. Guillan’s willingness to support the regime provided him with a cushy job position as the head of the Union for Writers and Artists for twenty-five years.

Outsiders, insiders. This concept and its subsequent consequences repeat itself over and over in life. The iconoclasts; the conformers.  The outspoken, the silent. The skeptics, the believers.  We are a world filled with these two types of people and those who fall in-between.  The outsiders often do not fare as well as the insiders.  They often suffer consequences for their outspokenness, for their unwillingness to adhere to the “accepted” political regime, for their defense of the right to express their opinions freely and without fear. They often are regarded as the “other,” trouble-makers who refuse to go with the flow.

However, consider what our world would look like without them…

Dictators and totalitarian regimes depend on conforming silent believers.  Change can only occur when people are willing to rebel, to speak up, to actively question.

As Padilla wrote:


Tell the truth.
Say, at least, your truth.
And then
let anything happen:
that you break the page dear,
that you knock the door with stones,
that people
crowd in front of your body
as if you were
a prodigy or a dead person.







The Cuban Poet, Heberto Padilla

I have been working with one of my college students on a paper on Cuban poets from the 1960s.  The one who we’ve researched today is Heberto Padilla.  He was initially pro-Castro then became a counterrevolutionary after Castro started demanding that poets write poetry that supported the Revolution.

Here is a portion of one of his poems:


Here is another:


He was a very brave man to write those poems at that time in Cuba.  He was imprisoned for a period of time and then the authorities demanded that he write a confession if he wanted to be released.  He wrote one that communicated between the lines that he was being forced to say what he said.  Poets and other literary figures from all over the world came together and tried to get him out of Cuba. It took 8 years, during which time none of his poetry could be published there.

He came to the United States and taught at several prestigious universities.  However, he missed Cuba and would have preferred to live there rather than in exile. He died in 2000 at the age of 68.

Here is a link to learn more about him:




Finally Watched Breaking Bad – All Five Seasons

Spoiler alert for anyone who hasn’t already seen this series.

Ray and I are definitely behind the times.  We just finished binge-watching the television series, Breaking Bad.  I will admit to staying up until 3 am on Sunday morning so we could see the finale.  Yes, and it was worth it.  Walter White will go down as one of the most brilliant main characters I’ve seen on tv or in the movies with a penchant for lying without a shred of conscience, a vindictive side that is pure mean, and a sense of loyalty that eventually makes him a tragic hero.  After all, he saves Jesse in the end and releases him from the bondage that came the day that Walter White walked into his life.

I will also admit that I’m glad to be finished with the series. While it was expertly crafted to keep the viewer hooked, the endless vicissitudes of being a meth cook/dealer can wear a person out. And there just isn’t much comic relief in that life either, from the looks of it.  Or happiness.  No, that pile of money didn’t appear to bring a shred of happiness, just a sense of relief for Walter that he was going to reach his goal of providing for his family after his death.

I decided to watch Breaking Bad after talking to a fellow traveler on a shuttle bus at LAX.  I mentioned that we were looking for a new series to watch and he asked if I had ever seen BB.  When I shook my head, he said, “Well, the decision is made then. If you don’t, you will have missed one of the best shows that has ever been seen on television.”  Ray and I started watching that night and committed ourselves to watching an episode or two or three daily beginning at around 10 pm.  (Yes, now you know why I’ve been complaining so much about being tired.)

Am I glad I watched it?  Absolutely.  The characters are multi-dimensional, the action fast-paced and believable, and the ethical conflicts regarding bad, really bad and downright evil keep the viewer thinking maybe one more episode might be a good idea, even if it’s already midnight and you’ll be getting up at 6.

Besides, it’s a relief not to have such a complicated life.  While Walter White admitted he loved feeling “fully awake,” I have to say that I am happy to feel a bit sleepy and live a lot more calmly.

If you haven’t seen this series, then I would highly recommend it. If you have seen it, then enough said.

I’ll be checking in again with you all tomorrow. Until then, try not to stay up too late.maxresdefault

Ray’s Birthday

Low-key.  Family-filled.  Perfect.  We had a great day at Sarah and Gregorio’s place, celebrating Ray’s 60th birthday.  Lots of laughter, great food and loads of love.  Hard to beat.  Gregorio and Sarah made the soup, vegatables and rice, Liz made the salad and Rachael baked two honey-sweetened desserts. Ray and I just sat and enjoyed it all.

Happy Birthday, Ray.  Living this past almost 38 years with you has been a treat.  You are one-of-a-kind, in the best possible way.

Here are a few photos commemorating this event.  Our Mexico beach house trip was also part of Ray’s birthday celebration since the kids paid for everything. This was icing on the cake.

How lucky we are to have these wonderful daughters, sons-in-law and grandkids in our lives.

Here’s to another 60 years, Ray!



A Pre-Birthday Visit to the Getty

Liz, Ray and I went today to the Getty for Ray’s birthday, which is tomorrow.  The big 60th for Ray on March 18th.  Tomorrow, we will celebrate by joining the whole family out at Sarah and Gregorio’s for lunch and a day together.  I am so looking forward to seeing everyone and just hanging out. Of course, seeing my grandbabies will be a major part of that treat.

Today, we had a wonderful time.  We ate lunch in the cafe at the Getty, then headed over to see an exhibition on art exhibition curator, Harald Szeemann.

Here is a description of the exhibition:

“One of the most distinguished advocates of conceptual art and postminimalism, and a figure who became synonymous with the advent of globalism in contemporary art, Harald Szeemann (Swiss, 1933–2005) developed a new form of exhibition-making that centered on close collaborations with artists and a sweeping international vision of contemporary culture.”

Afterward, we had coffee, then headed over to a photography exhibition on Paper Promises, Early American Photography

Here is a description of that exhibition:

“This exhibition explores the formative years of photography in nineteenth-century America. Featuring rare photographs and negatives as well as iconic images from the Gold Rush and Civil War, it traces early experimentation with photography on paper. The show also reveals how photographic reproduction helped shape perceptions of the United States during a critical period of political tension and territorial expansion.”

And also, one more exhibition, entitled, “Cut! Paper Play in Contemporary Photography.”

Here is a description of that exhibition:

“Many photographers working today use paper in unique and innovative ways. Some create paper models with images gleaned from current events, popular magazines, or the internet for the express purpose of photographing them. Others cut, layer, fold, and assemble representational photographs to introduce tactile or narrative elements. This exhibition features works by Thomas Demand, Christiane Feser, Daniel Gordon, Soo Kim, Matt Lipps, and Christopher Russell.”

Liz was very brave to offer to go with us to an art museum. We are known to be there for hours.  She was a good sport, looking at all the art and then waiting patiently while Ray and I looked and looked and then looked some more.

This was a lovely afternoon and just perfect as a pre-birthday celebration before Ray’s official birthday tomorrow. We had a wonderful time together.

Thank you, Liz!



A Luxury

The house smells of Murphy’s Soap because our weekly housekeeper of the past 22 years has just left. She swept and mopped this floor just an hour ago and the room feels clean and free of corgi hair that will soon begin accumulating again on the area rug and wooden floor.

I grew up with a daily housekeeper, first Louise Love and then Lorene Massey. They were both African American women who cooked and cleaned for my five siblings, me and my parents. I appreciated them then and I appreciate Elda now for her weekly dusting, sweeping, mopping and bathroom cleaning. I didn’t have a housekeeper after I got married until I was in my early 40s and I never, not ever, take Elda for granted.  I have been on my knees plenty of times over the years, cleaning bathtubs and toilets and I know exactly how unglamorous it is. The truth is that I would gladly clean our bathrooms if need be as long as Elda would dust and do the floors. Those are my failings. It is hard for me to ever want to pick up a dust rag or plug in a vacuum cleaner. Luckily, Ray loves to vacuum so he often goes from room to room with his “Shark,” making sure that corgi hair doesn’t bury us between Elda’s visits.

I understand that I am a privileged person to have a weekly housekeeper.  I work every day so I’m not all that privileged, but clearly, I have enough resources to allow for this luxury. I am grateful I have this option since I know exactly how tired I would be – how tired I was with three little kids – when I didn’t have that choice. 

One day I said to my mother that I didn’t feel as if I deserved to live in a beautiful house or have more than most of the rest of the world.  Her response has stuck with me. “No one deserves the life they are born into – good or bad. Our job is to do the best we can with what we’ve been given with the help of God’s grace.”

I live in one of the wealthiest communities in the United States and am far from the top of the economic heap here. Many people live in much bigger houses, drive more expensive cars and have much more impressive bank accounts than I ever will. At first, this bothered me; now, I don’t care. I’ve lived here long enough not to be dazzled by externals and to also understand that comparisons are unproductive and often downright destructive. Just like recognizing that there will always be someone out there (or many someones) who are smarter, it is undeniable there will also always be many people who are more well-off.  But I have come to know from experience that quality of life is not dependent on excessive money, simply enough to ensure a safe and comfortable place to live as well as enough extra to pay bills, buy nutritious food, and allow access to decent health care. The rest is nice, but not necessary to have a rich and meaningful life.

But there’s no denying that a housekeeper, daily, weekly, monthly or even quarterly, is a true luxury. One I am deeply grateful to enjoy.


One of Those Days

I have had one of those days where everything I’m doing is in mid-process with nothing coming to a logical (and satisfying) conclusion.  I have been working on a paper with a student that is frustrating to organize, tackling an ongoing problem up in Ojai with our land partners that refuses to right itself, figuring out a project with Ray that brings up more questions than the answers, putting a nice big STOP to definitive steps forward. I even got stuck in bumper-to-bumper traffic today on a street that’s usually smooth sailing. ARGHHH!

I am assuming I am being given opportunities to develop extreme patience.  What else could explain these obstacles that seem to be popping up, willy-nilly?

Whatever the case, I am aware that as of now my work day is done and I can stop all these frustrating tasks until tomorrow.  I am happy about that. Maybe tomorrow, I’ll look at these things and they’ll seem simple and easy to handle.  That would be nice.

Until then, have a good evening.  Here’s hoping your day has gone a bit more smoothly than mine.