Archive for January, 2012

AT&T and phone scams

January 30, 2012

Monday. A very nice AT&T technician came and quickly got me connected again. BUT. After he left, I found I could not access the internet without reinstalling my service and ten years or so after the fact, no way could I remember my password and ID and the page that popped up gave no way to get those provided. So, seeing as how I now had a phone line, I called high speed internet tech support, but what I kept getting connected to was U-verse sales. These people phone me all the time anyway though I keep asking them to take me off their call list since I live in a one-bedroom apartment with a single 12″ TV and have no use for their connect-all-your-television-sets-in-every-room program. It’s like I keep telling the finance companies that phone to harass me about refinancing my mortgage: I’m a renter. I have no mortgage. Finally, I got someone to connect me to California DSL support. And I’m on hold. Waiting. And waiting. And in the meantime I’m trying every old password I can think of, and it finally goes through. Then I get a guy on the line and he’s asking me all the details and we go through the whole story and I’m waiting to see if the operation now in progress for many minutes, resetting my modem, is working, and finally the guy tells me he’s in North Carolina and cannot assist a customer in California. Tell me why AT&T, a phone company, can’t get its phone lines straight.

I hang up and keep fooling with the website myself and now I’m back on-line. And maybe there’s a silver lining. I usually get several calls a day from a scam operator calling itself US Pharmacy about my order. Well, there is no order. There was never an order. I’m not going to give them my credit card. The callers always have a South Asian accent. I’ve told them not to call back. I’ve told them I understand they are just trying to make a living. (I have been looking for employment for two years now but I do draw the line at telemarketing. Which is too often falsely advertised. I’ve been a field interviewer for social service programs like HIV prevention. But these days, “field interviewer” too often means phoning people at night for bullshit consumer surveys. No!) I’ve told these callers that what they are doing is illegal. That gets them angry. I’ve told them I’ve reported them to the FCC and the FBI. (Yeah, right. My complaints get a boilerplate response that is entirely unresponsive.) But I haven’t yet heard from them today. Usually there’d be at least two calls by now. Maybe they got the erroneous disconnect notice and I’m finally off the list!

update: Feb 6 – I spoke (or wrote) too soon. The phone calls for US Online Pharmacy continue. Including one that woke me this morning.

Peripecias: On unforeseen ups and downs ( Notes on Chicago, Latin America, snowstorms, border closings, aflatoxins, cars accidents, and AT&T)

January 30, 2012

Well, I did want to post more about Chicago, about the two-faced stop signs that had me totally confused. (Glad I wasn’t driving. Thank you again, Stephanie Friedman.)

About the pleasure of being in buildings that unlike my apartment are heated! Walking around naked in the hotel room, feeling the warm air–ah!–on my skin. About Hector Aristizábal’s performance of Nightwind. The grad student at the University of Chicago — I wish I knew her name — who talked about her work in Chile on theatre in Chile under Pinochet. We met at the brown bag lunch at the Center for Latin American Studies. One point she made struck me: she said during the repression, political statements were often made in theatre through very abstract devices and I wondered if that sort of experimental abstraction has carried over into the post-Pinochet era. Specifically, I’m thinking about Andrea Lagos and her solo show Un beso es un beso es un beso which I saw her perform at International Theatre Festival for Peace in Barrancabermeja, Colombia. Her performance was strange, startling and powerful, but I really didn’t understand what she meant in her commentary about it being a reflection of the continuing impact of the era of repression on her generation. Certainly, language in the piece is broken, partial, silenced. And her physicality at times grotesquely controlled. But maybe the abstract aspect is immediately understood as a political comment by people in Chile.

I want to write about the Friday snowstorm that made roads impassable so that I couldn’t make it to Or Chadash for my presentation there, and that left us all worried about whether Hector would get to O’Hare in time after his Awakening the Imagination for Social Justice workshop and whether his flight would get him to LAX for his connection for Guatemala. (I haven’t heard from him so I’m assuming he arrived OK. I think someone would have heard from him if he got stuck.) (And I guess snow disruptions in Chicago are not exactly unforeseen.)

I wanted to post about the writing for social justice workshop at the Graham School–such enthusiastic and willing participants (including Stephanie Friedman and Naty Vesga)

and the trip up to Barrington to work with the Barrington Writers Workshop thanks to Tamara Tabel whose work I was so happy to read and my friend, Natalie Pepa who recommended me. Someone take note and publish Natalie’s tango memoir! and her funny, sad, evocative short pieces about Buenos Aires.

Natalie’s pareja (we agreed English lacks a good word for in a couple regardless of marital status) is Dennis, a scientist who works with, among other things, toxin-binding clays that protect livestock from aflatoxins, fungal infections that grow on grains, especially corn. In the fields, the aflatoxins protect the plant from being eaten, but after harvest, especially if the corn is stored in a warm and humid area, the stuff grows and spreads and can make livestock sick. For animal feed, you add specific clay to the feed. It coats the toxins so the bad stuff passes right through the animal’s body and causes no harm. There are many kinds of toxins and a different kind of clay is best suited to deal with each. Even under a microscope, all clay crystals look alike, so you need more elaborate instrumentation to identify what you’ve got.

But right now, I’m not sure when any of this will be posted. It’s been crazy here. First, a minor car accident on Wednesday en route to Moorpark, dealing with insurance, etc.

Today, Saturday, turns out the border between Argentina and Bolivia is closed due to some controversy over the gas fields, so mi compa Silvana Gariboldi, with whom I was going to collaborate in Bolivia, can’t get there. Edson Quezada, of Educar es fiesta, the organization we–or now I–will work with warns me that as I’m arriving in Bolivia on Sunday, the buses may not keep to their schedule–which may affect my 8 or so hour ride from La Paz to Cochabamba. Arriving in Cochabamba, I’m to phone him. Apparently not a good safe idea to get into a taxi alone. And I’m bringing a sleeping bag and will sleep on the floor of the office. But maybe that will mean internet access which is more than what I’ve got now.

Phone line dead. Internet dead. Without phone or internet, I couldn’t call for service, but I saw the AT&T van in the street and spoke to the repairman. He was working in a neighbor’s apartment and agreed to see what my problem was when he finished with her. I kept going out to see how he was doing, and all of a sudden his ladder was gone and so was his van. Used neighbor Claudia’s cell phone to call AT&T and went through one of their ridiculous phone trees which required me to specify either landline or internet. Of course I’ve lost both. But I chose landline as the internet is accessed via the landline. But the phone tree switched me over to internet as a choice. Whatever. I had to leave Claudia’s as a contact # and the recorded message said a repair person would come by 6:00 on Monday.

What joy. The other party to the car accident thought I was lying about my phone number when she tried to call it and it didn’t ring in my pocketbook or car.  It’s ringing at home, I said. She wanted the number for my cell phone and didn’t want to believe I don’t have one. Well, if she tries to call my phone now, she’s not going to get through. I didn’t plan it this way!!!! (The people at Safeco, my insurance company, have been calm, friendly, reassuring, and very nice.)

And I commented on our “peripecias”* in an email to Bolivia and Argentina–the unforeseen sudden accidents or complications to our plans — but now it seems that’s a Mexican word and I’m not sure I was understood. Ah, one more unforeseen complication.

PS My cat, being female, I refer to her as “gata” but Natalie Pepa told me in some countries–and I can’t remember which–the word means “prostitute.” To avoid any misunderstanding and potential peripecias, I will transgender my Desi–mi gato–while traveling.

* Peripecias – it sounded familiar. It’s not in my standard Spanish dictionary, only in the Mexican dictionary. Then I realized, I know it from Oedipus. peripeteia — Greek word — reversal of fortune. Though I understand that today in Greek it means adventure. Appropriate?

Hello to Moorpark and to the new Rainstorm Press authors page

January 27, 2012

Even a car accident en route to my performance/reading at Moorpark College didn’t totally throw me and certainly didn’t take away from the sheer pleasure of seeing Jerry and Melody Mansfield again.

Melody’s collection of Bug Stories — yes, insects — will be out from Kitsune Books in 2013. And I want to post news of a book of Jerry’s soon.

January 2013 update: Sadly, Kitsune is no longer in business, but Melody’s Bug Collection is now accepted by Red Hen Press. I was lucky enough to see it in advance of publication, and this is what I wrote in response:

In the bizarre enchantment of this collection, all the glories and dilemmas of Western civilization are second nature to the dung beetles, katydids, and fireflies while Melody Mansfield’s reverence for all life makes her intimately acquainted with every pedipalp and scutellum. Immerse yourself in these strange pages: erudite, ecstatic, and suffused with gentle humor.

Beneath the Blindfold

January 25, 2012

Wednesday, January 18

Protesting at the gates of Ft Benning in Georgia, November 2006, I met Kathy Berger and Ines Sommer, Chicago filmmakers, who were dedicating years of their lives to making a documentary about torture survivors. Instead on focusing on the horrific acts, on the scandals, the exposés, they wanted to show the aftermath in the lives of human beings. Hector was one of the survivors whose lives they planned to film.

We’ve stayed in touch but Jan 18 was my first chance to see the finished product, Beneath the Blindfold, at a screening at International House, University of Chicago, organized to coincide with the events planned for Hector and me. It was extra exciting because the documentary had just had a sold-out screening at the Gene Siskel Film Center, which meant an extra show was quickly scheduled. And we were thrilled to see the work get attention from The Atlantic, even before its real release.

Besides Hector, they profile Matilde de la Sierra, a physician from Guatemala who made the mistake of trying to provide medical care to the indigenous; Blama Massaquoi, of Liberia, forced into service as a child soldier and then forced to drink a caustic substance that destroyed his esophagus; Mario Venegas of Chile; Donald Vance, the former Navy man who was detained and tortured by US forces at Camp Cropper (same facility that held Saddam Hussein) after he became a private contractor and blew the whistle on his employer selling US arms to insurgents.

We had dinner with Sarah Moberg of the University’s Human Rights Program who helped make the screening possible. Thank you, Sarah!

It was gratifying to see the audience response to these very human stories. And I very much enjoyed seeing Hector’s kids, Gabo and Camilla as they looked years ago. (They’re all grown up now and very sophisticated teens.) And his mother, who is usually so quiet being outspoken enough to loudly argue that Hector’s performances prove his masochism. Less pleasing, the footage of me — at Ft. Benning and at the Healing Club event at the Program for Torture Victims as we celebrated the grant of asylum to Meluleki, survivor from Zimbabwe.

I hope this film gets seen!

January 25, 2012
 While I was out-of-town, Willow Springs published my story “Sin-Tra-La!” in the print issue but also posted it online where you can read it (click where indicated) along with an author profile, pasted below.

Willow Springs and Sam Ligon and Laura Ender and Jason Sommer were a pleasure to work with. Why isn’t it always that way?

Hey, other writers — have you noticed that some publications never respond to your work? I don’t send out hard copies anymore — why bother with printing and postage and SASE when the magazines and journals never get back to you?

And years ago, when I was a kid, in Mexico with my parents, I tried to buy Chiclets from a little boy. My mother said he was selling, working, he wasn’t begging, but he was poor so I shouldn’t take the gum but give him the money and leave the gum for him to sell later to someone else. Is that what literary journals are doing now? Has that happened to you? Is it a new trend? You get a story accepted by a journal that “pays in copies.” It gets published. You hear about it but never see an actual copy. If you’re gauche enough to contact the editor and ask for your copy of the issue, don’t expect a response.

With no further whining, here’s the website page from Willow Springs:

     Read “Sin-Tra-La!” from Willow Springs 69.
Notes on 'Sin-Tra-La!'After “Sin-Tra-La!” was accepted, Laura Ender at WS asked specific questions about the legalities of shipping bodies. I love it that she raised issues of factual accuracy. When I have to make my fiction conform to reality, it almost always opens up new possibilities for revision and acts as a spur to my imagination. But the origin of the story goes back decades, to when I had a clerical job with the airlines in order to get travel benefits—free flights. I was briefly in Portugal and spent only a couple of hours in beautiful Sintra. In those days, my idea of a great weekend was to take the shuttle bus to JFK after work on Friday and fly all night to Rio de Janeiro, then fly back to NY Sunday night and make it to the office by 8:30 AM. One day in 1972, on the cable-car traveling up Pão de Açúcar I sat directly across from a row of somber men dressed in black. They never smiled. They seemed unmoved by the views of Ipanema, Corcovado, Guanabara Bay. It turned out they were members of a delegation from Portugal tasked with delivering a special gift to Brazil: the exhumed body of Emperor Pedro I, dead since 1834. I was haunted by these men and their mission. I knew this would work its way into a story someday but I didn’t know how. So why now? And why Santa Monica? Months ago I would have said all I know is that a writer who lives long enough gets to use everything. But the question about the origin of the story and how it evolved made me think harder. Here in Los Angeles I was spending a lot of time with young people and with families who’d survived or had perpetrated violence or had to mourn the violent death of people they loved. And there were the sidewalk memorials, the car washes to raise money for funeral expenses, and all the emotions that come up at these times. Maybe it was all percolating in the back of my head, the different ways of mourning and the rituals and behaviors we fall back on to cope with grief and to find the words and actions we offer the grieving.Notes on ReadingAs a freshman in college, El Señor Presidente came into my hands, a novel by the Guatemalan Nobel Laureate Miguel Angel Asturias. My Spanish was rudimentary, but the poetry of his language and the sociopolitical power of the book hit me so hard, I became intent on learning his language. His novel also opened up my curiosity about Latin America. Soon I was reading all the authors of the Boom. At the time, I felt oppressed by the so-called rules young fiction writers were supposed to abide by in the U.S. You can’t switch point of view. (Tell that to Carlos Fuentes or Juan Rulfo.) Show, don’t tell. (Good thing García Márquez didn’t hear that. Or if he did, he ignored it along with the point-of-view rule later when he was writing Autumn of the Patriarch.) As I read, I was also learning about U.S. intervention in those countries and of the ongoing struggles there for social justice. I dropped out of school and ran away to Mexico. My first published stories were set there and my ongoing connections with Latin America tend to combine activism with art. I guess you wouldn’t know that from “Sin-Tra-La!” which I set in California instead of Brazil!

About Diane LeferDiane Lefer is an author, playwright, advocacy journalist, and activist whose most recent short story collection, California Transit, was awarded the Mary McCarthy Prize and published by Sarabande Books. With Colombian exile Hector Aristizábal she is co-author of the nonfiction book, The Blessing Next to the Wound (Lantern Books, 2010) while their theatrical collaboration, Nightwind, has toured the world, including for human rights organizations in Colombia and Afghanistan, as part of the global movement to end the practice of torture. A recipient of fellowships from the National Endowment for the Arts, New York Foundation for the Arts, and City of Los Angeles Department of Cultural Affairs, Diane taught for 23 years in the MFA in Writing Program at Vermont College of Fine Arts. She has been a guest artist at colleges, writing conferences, and festivals and has led arts-based workshops for young people in foster care as well as those caught up in the juvenile in/justice system. In 2011, she offered Spanish-language workshops at the International Theatre Festival for Peace in Barrancabermeja, Colombia and will do so in February 2012 in Cochabamba, Bolivia for Educar es Fiesta, a nonprofit that works with families in crisis, including children who live in the streets. On her return she hopes to finish the first draft of a novel-in-progress and plunge into publicity for Nobody Wakes Up Pretty, her short crime novel which Rainstorm Press will publish at the end of May.

Hello, Chicago! (and Stephanie Friedman, Carol Anshaw, Natalie Vesga)

January 23, 2012

So one of the joys of getting to Chicago was being reconnected with two friends, Carol Anshaw (author and painter) and Natalie Vesga (my roommate from my first trip to Colombia).

Met Carol for lunch and heard her good news, all the exciting pre-pub buzz for her new novel, Carry the One.  I mean, Carol’s earlier novels, three of them, got great reviews and enthusiastic readers, but without drawing real attention to her work or, how shall I say?, lifting her. This time around, her publisher has her traveling the country before the book comes out. Her book is the Indie Next List #1 pick for March, but this time around Simon & Schuster isn’t relying on bookstores alone. The publishing business model keeps changing. So besides the before-the-fact tour, they sent out hundreds of copies to bloggers and to people who post frequently on Goodreads and seem to have the right sensibility. It seems to be working and I am so happy for Carol!

(Carol, however, was somewhat disapproving of the fact I’d been invited to speak at Or Chadash, the LGBT synagogue. “Why did they invite a straight woman to speak? Couldn’t they find a lesbian?”  I was supposed to be there to read the section of The Blessing Next to the Wound about Hector Aristizábal’s youngest brother, who was gay, and to give an update on the status of gay rights in Latin America. But Carol had her way: the Friday snowstorm blocked the route and I never made it to the shul!)

Back to Stephanie Friedman’s office at the University of Chicago where I stashed my luggage and made a general nuisance of myself. Check out Steph’s blog, The Winding Stitch.  Writer, poet, teacher, wife, mother, associate director of the writers studio and summer session in continuing ed. She bakes pies and keeps kosher — the woman has enough to do without organizing several days’ worth of events for me and Hector , getting almost a dozen different organizations on the campus to cooperate when I suspect they usually don’t even recognize each other’s existence.

Naty Vesga in Bogota, Colombia

Naty and I finally reached each other by phone and she came to the office to pick me up and we were squealing in the street with excitement like the kind of teenage girl I never was.  We went back to her place where we talked nonstop for hours and I got to meet the “babies” – the dogs that figured in her Lariam-induced delirium in Bogotá when she awoke in terror (and woke me in a rage) believing we were on a bus being attacked by paramilitaries and, as if that weren’t bad enough, that I had called her dogs “hillbillies.” She gradually calmed down that night when I assured her that I knew her dogs were wonderful. I also got to meet her husband, Giano Cromley, who gave up a career in politics to do something honorable and meaningful. He got his MFA and writes fiction (Check out a sample story on-line here and teaches at King-Kennedy alongside poet Martha Vertreace— small world — who I know from Vermont College.

Naty is getting her Masters in Social Work and she told me about the project she’s getting off the ground. I will share it because if you like it and steal it and implement it elsewhere, she’ll be thrilled. So much the better! Programs already exist where troubled youth work with animals to learn responsibility and caring for others. She wants to connect at-risk and gang-involved youth with organizations that do pit bull rehabilitation. She thinks the dogs and young people have a lot in common, both groups have been stigmatized as dangerous and face banning, lock-up, extermination; they’ve been molded to be aggressive and violent (whether by humans or by their environment). The youth already know pit bulls and know them as marvelously dangerous. They can identify with them, and as they work to socialize them and teach them gentleness, Naty believes dogs will transform youth at the same time that youth transform dogs. More effectively than when kids who’ve been traumatized by violence work with, say, golden retrievers, or other dogs who are mellow to begin with. Great idea, no? I love it. I want to connect her to Micaela Myers at Stubby Dog  which works to improve the reputation and lives of pit bulls. Naty wants to meet Cesar Millan!

Martin Luther King, Jr. Day event at Valparaiso University in Indiana

January 23, 2012

Monday, January 16, 2012 – the Martin Luther King, Jr. Day celebration at Valparaiso University, Indiana

Urban Prep Academies in Chicago has to provide students–all African American, all male, all from low-income communities–with “Swords and Shields” is what Tim King, the founder, president, and CEO told us during lunch, after his keynote address. The Swords? Their weapon is intellectual prowess. The students, coming out of the dysfunctional Chicago public school system, take double sessions of English and math to catch up. I love it that students are chosen through lottery and the schools don’t give up on anyone. Kids can get in trouble, but they don’t get thrown out. The school works with them to keep them moving forward. None of this zero-tolerance crap that I’ve written about before, kids criminalized for tardiness, a system that pushes kids out of school and into the school-to-prison pipeline. Maybe I shouldn’t even say “kids.” Tim King addresses students by Mr. and their last name. He wants 13-year-olds to experience being treated with respect, adult to adult male. Beautiful. They start each morning with a community ritual in which they reinforce their commitments to themselves, the school, and their education. The Shields? The sense of identity, confidence, self-esteem, and character they will need once they go out into the wider which, as he said, often means whiter world. They need that inner strength to withstand all the crap the world is gonna throw at them. I think of my friend Karen Taylor. The multitalented Karen D. Taylor, writer, vocalist, who also needs all her talent and vision in raising a black son in this society. She recently posted this link to a report about a Yale study which showed black boys receive harsher punishment and less attention (regardless of socioeconomic status) than white counterparts. Duh. When do we stop funding academics to research the obvious and start funding inner city schools? Instead we continue to fund our schools through property taxes so that the students who need the most attention consistently get the least.

Someone asked Tim King the secret of his success with Urban Prep. He said he didn’t know yet whether the schools were a success. Yes, 100% of the students have gone on to 4-year colleges, but till they graduate and till we see what they do with their lives, the question remains open.

I led a two-hour focus session in the afternoon–my workshop that uses the arts to improve literacy and writing ability. I had a great group–some Valpo freshman, some non-matriculated foreign students who are on campus to learn English, and Stuart Schussler of the Mexico Solidarity Network also attended. The Network recently initiated a unique study-abroad program–unique because participants never leave the US. College students live for a week or two with immigrant families in Chicago. It’s Spanish-language immersion and consciousness-raising rolled into one.

Interesting time at Valpo, staying with Prof. Nelly Blacker-Hanson, and distracting her from what promises to be an enlightening paper on Lucio Cabañas, schoolteacher, who went to the sierra as a guerrilla after his peaceful protestand strike in 1967, Guerrero (Mexico) led to violence and government attempt on his life. (Click here for a taste of  her earlier work on the struggle in Guerrero.) Also fun to meet Nelly’s dog, Mischa, a huge Russian breed that looks like an Old English Sheepdog crossed with a bear. It’s a good thing a canine that size is so utterly mellow and gentle. And it’s no surprise children look at her with all that hair covering her face and ask “Does your dog have eyes?”

Guantanamo must close!

January 13, 2012


Thank you, Dorothy De Felitta and Lisa Alvarez who spotted this yesterday in the LA TImes, and Jennie Webb who sent me a copy.

Guantanamo – Ten Years of Shame Later

January 11, 2012

Al Capone Wakes Up Pretty

January 3, 2012

or at least prettier than most prisoners did at Eastern State Penitentiary in Philadelphia. Then, as now, criminal justice isn’t one size fits all. You get what you pay for.

A cell:

Al Capone’s cell: