Yesterday I went to my dreaming out of the box seminar. We met early on a Sunday morning at the home of Madaline Blau--a self-described healer, psychic, witch or therapist. She said there is no name for what she does in our culture. We sat in her sacred space--19 women and one man--and she worked with us. Yesterday our unconscious., in January our conscious. We have homework in between. She talk of many things, but this was one of my favorite tidbits. She said she had lived for awhile on an Indian reservation--I forget where. And the women had to go to a dark place on the western edge of the reservation to dream. They would enter this dark structure where there was no light, no sound, and they would stay in there until they had their vision. Then, they would emerge with their vision for the tribe. It was the women who safeguarded the soul of the tribe, who kept it on track and who did its collective dreaming. I LOVE that. And I think it is true. I wish I had a sweat lodge to go into for my dreaming--but maybe I can just go into my closet with some incense. I need a vision for my tribe!
Yesterday we were trapped in the house with rain, ear-infections, the flu and exhaustion. But we ended up having the perfect Christmas, two weeks before Christmas. We decorated the tree and played Christmas carols. We built a fire and the boys brought down sleeping bags and comforters and we read books and took a nap in a big pile in front of the fire. Jonathan made a very Latin Ropa Vieja beef stew which made the whole house smell divine for four hours. Then, at dinner we turned off all the lights so all we had were candles, hot pepper lights strung over the piano (so it looks like a whore house, Jonathan noted) Christmas tree lights and a fire. Then we ate our Ropa Vieja to the dramatic choruses of La Boheme. The boys read MORE books and then Jonathan and I curled up and read The Curious Case of Benjamin Button--to be released on Christmas Day. There was no family, no gifts, no hype. And yet, it was Christmas in all the ways you want Christmas to be: family, beauty, music, Christmas lights and yummy food. Whatever happens now, I don't care. I had my perfect Christmas!
Earlier this year William Styron's daughter wrote a beautiful essay in the New Yorker about her father, and her life growing up. There were many points to her poignant piece, but one part I took away was her portrait of her mother (I am already one of Styron's greatest fans--he is one of my favorite novelists of all time). The family lived on a farm out in rural Connecticut (or upstate New York, can't quite keep it straight) They lived there in financial precariousness, with artists, thinkers and authors moving through their house. Her father, the brilliant novelist, was often distant, distracted and depressed. But her mother labored to make their childhood magical. Despite financial ups and downs, she worked to make life magical for her four children. She was frugal, but also took them shopping at Saks in NYC. She mixed creativity, self-sufficiency with love and strength. I decided she was the kind of mother I wanted to be. I want my children to look back at their childhood as a time of magic. I want them to hold perfect memories, of beauty, tradition, and something to shoot for. I believe our house--however long we can live in it--has already instilled in them a longing for light, big windows, romantic architecture and wild, overgrown gardens with secret paths to explore. I believe our cooking has given them a taste for the finest parmesan cheese, fresh veggies and food prepared with love. I believe our adventures as a family have given them a love of trees, oceans, forests and a love of exploration and the outdoors--as a temple and cathedral to whatever God they choose to worship. But this Christmas I think a lot about what I want them to remember. I think of how many wonderful memories my parents gave me. I want them to know all the words to the Christmas carols and to know the harmonies. I want them to know the taste of home-made panettone, the feeling of being surrounded by family and cousins. I want them to put on a Christmas play, and to watch family movies on a sheet set up on the porch. I want them to make Christmas cookies, to make Christmas cards, and to give sweet, thoughtful gifts that show a deep knowledge of another person. I want them to taste frothy home-made egg nog and to go to a candle-light service. And I want them to go snow-shoeing in Yosemite by moonlight. That will be a trove of memories.
"You are materialistic," Jonathan told me the other day. He didn't say it meanly. Just matter-of-factly. "It's OK," he said. "You were deprived. It's to be expected." In my mind I live a simple, almost monastic life, and am still able to cram all my possessions into a Honda Civic. But my view of myself is outdated. I have more "stuff" now. I think of myself as not being materialistic, because I do not want most of what American consumers want. But I do love beautiful things. I love beautiful fabrics, beautiful art, beautiful gardens, beautiful teacups, beautiful books, music and clothes. The rest of it--who cares. I would rather have three beautiful things than 100 mediocre things. I sat in a temple service last night trying to get used to my materialistic self, and suddently I thought (a bright mind can rationalize anything): it is not that I am materialistic, it is that I love beauty. I love oceans and trees and stars. And I love a beautiful meal and a fire and candlelight. I love a perfect piece of art, and a beautiful label. I love beautiful designs, beautiful yarn, beautiful fabrics. I love beautiful music, and I love beautiful books, beautiful words, and I want them to fill my house and to surround me like old friends when I am sad or lonely. And aren't these part of life, too? Isn't a beautiful dress, a beautiful duvet, a beautiful plate or beautiful music--aren't objects of perfect design a celebration of human creativity. I do not find all my joy in objects, not by far. But surrounding myself with beauty DOES make me happy. It is not the price-tag, the status or the quantity, but beautiful objects do bring me joy. So I own it. I AM a material girl, I suppose. I know I can't take it with me. But for now, que bellissima!
Driving down Pico looking for a Jewish bookstore to buy a tzedakah box for my dear friend who was converting to Judaism and CRASH, I ran into Harriet Roth. Benji was sleeping and woke up screaming. I crashed in front of a bustop, right at a busy busy intersection. The people waiting at the busstop watched in horror. I stopped the traffic, Benji was screaming and I was terrified I had killed him--given him internal injuries. The car wouldn't start and a nice Latino man jumped out and started directing traffic around me, saying call someone call someone. I pulled my sweet Benji out and sat him at the busstop, then, Thank God, the car started. Harriet Roth was sweet, and unharmed. Jonathan came to the rescue, and a busstop spectator came and brought pieces of the car to me to stick in my purse. We are OK.
Benji walked out of the bathroom with dental floss in his hands. "I want some," he said. He began to drag it across his lips, like his father--only missing his teeth completely. "Do you want to do it like Daddy?" I asked. "Yes." "Do you want to be just like Daddy?" I asked, mourning that no one in this family will ever model their behavior on me. "Yes." "What else do you want to do that Daddy does?" "I want to sleep with you in your bed." Awwwwwww.
I am a girl--a woman -- and though I am a tomboy at heart, I am also a princess, a queen. I love earrings and necklaces and bubble baths and goddess tarot cards and coffee cups with gold trim and big bouquets of flowers. I love cats and perfume and pink. But in a house of boys slowly everything turns male. The colors are earth tones, the food less spicy, the decor more male bachelor than bohemian chick. I fight it in small ways--but it is a losing battle. Jonathan--a remarkably open man -- sniffs when I get sheer curtains of underwater scenes in aqua for Theo's room, or European school shoes in red for Benji. "Aren't these a little girlie?" he asks. When I painted my former study (now Benji's bedroom) cloud blue instead of princess pink I mourned. But yesterday I reclaimed a little feminine boho beauty. I splurged and bought a colorful, patterned duvet from anthropologie. It is made of exotic Indian fabric--paisleys and flowers and deep reds and aqua/turquoise greens. I checked it out before I got it-- I choose my husband over fabric--and he said, sure my love, get it. So yesterday I did. The purchase was not without ominous signs. While we were waiting for the saleswoman to fish it out of the upstairs store-room Theo knocked over a tower of precariously stocked ceramic candles-which all came crashing to the floor. Ay caramba! But I got my duvet. I brought it home and put it on the bed. O beauty! i just adore it! I want to roll around on it all day, curled up with classic literature and listening to sitar music. When Jonathan saw it he said, "It is pretty girlie. I don't think many men would sleep under this." "Men in India would, my Raj," I said. But he curled up beneath it and we had the most glorious night of sleep. And when I woke up and saw flowers and paisleys and patterns I felt so happy. I can have a little corner of femininity in my home of the three peniiiiii.
My boys are obsessed with trains. It feels like a stage all boys go through. Today Benji built the longest train track ever built in the history of this household. It stretches from the TV room, through the front hall, across the living room, under the coffee table, all the way to the Christmas tree. It must be about as long as a human intestine--about 26 feet. It is quite magnificent.
If you are an aspiring authoress, with a novel in the works, or a personal essay in progress, would you like to start a writing group with me? It is time. I am looking for fellow writers and brainy women to share work with. Let me know if you would like to jump in. Only the coolest women need apply :-)
When we joined our co-op down the block four years ago we never imagined how much it would influence us. It is only a few hundred yards from our house, so we can walk. That was our number one criteria. We heard different things: it's bohemian. it's a hippy dippy place. the director is amazing, she has been written up in LA magazine. We went because it was here, and I did not even cooperate for the first two years, because I was still working. I was a non-working parent, riding off the labors of the other hard-working parents in the community, and paying a little extra cash. When I was still at the paper I used to dream that I, too, could shed my office clothes and hang out and drink coffee, do projects and clean the bathroom with all the cool mamas and papas at Canyon School. Really!@#@!!! But as I look back--and we still have another year and a half there, so this is not good-bye--I see that this tiny school has affected us far more than I could have anticipated. First, it is a little oasis of community in a world where community is fading away. You really are cleaning bathrooms side-by-side, making snack for 40, and raising children together. I think the school has taught us to jump in, to take on our share of the load to make the world a better place, and, really and truly, to raise children like it is a village. The consumer attitude that pervades many schools (what are you going to give ME for sending my child here? what are you going to guarantee?) does not exist here. There is no one to blame if things go wrong--because we all did it. If you don't like something don't whine about it, stand up and change it. Volunteer yourself. Rich and poor, black, white and yellow, we are all there doing the same thing. But over time I see bigger lessons. I see that when we joined in to help start a charter school we, and all our friends from the co-op were already used to jumping in to help out, to cooperate, to work with others. We were old hands, and we knew what a community could do. I also see that the parents at this co-op, while not the richest or most conventionally successful (though some are) have chosen their own paths in life, more than almost any other group I have known. There are parents who are musicians, composers, psychoanalysts, architects, writers, directors, film-makers, furniture designers, fundraisers, journalists and actors. There are authors, artists, and simply fabulous parents. Many of these parents are pursuing their creative dreams, but also putting their kids first, choosing to be there for much of their lives--something that is tremendously difficult in an economy that requires two parents to work, that often requires one parent to work for a big company to get health insurance. In many ways, these parents ARE the counter-culture of today. When I think about it, the inspiration for my book really came from these parents who came up with innovative ways to live their lives to spend time with their families, and pursue their creative dreams. They put these goals above conventional success--in terms of pure money or prestige or status. In today's world, they are verging on radical. Last night we went to see the show of one of our parents: Joe's Garage. It is Frank Zappa's opera--written in 1974, but never performed live, until now. Our fellow parent, Pat Towne, a die-hard Frank Zappa fan, grew up on Zappa music and dreamed of putting on this show. After years of schmoozing and dreaming he made his way to Gail Zappa who gave him permission to stage his dream show. He did. It is sold out and had it's run extended. It was funny, raunchy and moving. I walked out of the theater exhilarated by the show, but also once again delighted to have fallen in with this troupe of creative artists, doing their best to raise their children in a sweet little co-op on a ratty street corner in Hollywood. So cool.
A new study has just come out showing that happy friends make all the difference in life. One catch: They have to be close by. The farther they are--even if you stay in touch by email or phone--the less their happiness will affect you. Ideally they should be within two miles. A friend within a half mile is the most precious of all. Are we meant to live in small villages or teepees? Would we be happier?
OK, this is the posting of a true addict. I confess, when it comes to coffee I am an addict and a snob. I can drink it until my innards are peeling from the acid, and still I drink more. I like it strong, really strong. I would like to feel the caffeine buzzing through my veins within the second sip. Otherwise, what is the point? I wake up thinking of strong espresso, and I consider my stove top expresso maker (birthday gift from my beloved husband) one of my most treasured possessions. If I had to flee in the case of fire, flood or genocide I would take my family members, some family photos, the rings on my fingers, and my stove top espresso maker. I have reached a point where I do not even enjoy regular coffee. It must be espresso, or at least very strong, very delicious, very powerful, passionate coffee. I find I like others who love coffee. I have trouble understanding people who do not love coffee, need coffee, crave coffee, or struggle with an unhealthy addiction to this delightful god sent substance. When he was 18 months old I came down and Theo was struggling to put the stovetop espresso maker together with coffee, water, etc. When I walked into the kitchen he was balanced on a stool, struggling to turn on the front burner. He knew coffee was the way to his mama's heart. Well this week, thanks to Alison Shore--another true coffee addict -- I found my place, and it is a coffee lover's wet dream. It is called L.A. Mill. It is on Silverlake Blvd., a stone's throw from the dog park. They serve coffee like it is a wine bar. You can get your coffee pressed in a million different ways--from the Clover, to the Eva something or other (the way coffee connoisseurs drink their coffee) You order your coffee from an elaborate menu more like a wine-list. Each coffee comes with a special tale that evokes the exotic coffee plantations and family traditions and environmental struggles of coffee growers in Ethiopia, Guatemala, Columbia, or wherever. The description ends with a few choice adjectives to describe the coffee--again, like a fine wine. Words like chocolatey, fruity, with a whiff of citrus, light, thick. As a writer, I want to write these things! The coffee arrives in a caraffe, zipped into a little gortex jacket that makes it look like it is about to set off to summit Mt. Everest. It keeps the coffee cozy, and the hi-tech fabric keeps the coffee warm for hours of caffeine-fueled conversation. What can I say? It was pretty close to heaven. I drank so much coffee I was scared. When I drink over five cups in a sitting I have been known to go crazy. My nerves just jangle right over the edge and I become a victim of unstable womanly passions: jealousy, insanity, general angst about love, my life, my accomplishments and lack thereof. But not this time. I drank about four to five cups (I lost count I was so blissed out with my zippered coffee companion). I left ready for a psychological outburst of some sort, but told myself it was worth it. It was just so much fun! But it never came. And I wondered: Is coffee like tequila, or pot? Does bad coffee cause slightly negative reactions and psychological effects, while good, prime coffee, pressed in the way of connoisseurs leaves only the sweetest buzz? Has anyone else ever experienced good and bad coffee buzzes? I need to know!
note: this is the posting of an espresso fueled writer!
Do the dead come back to visit? My friend Anna says her father has come back to visit late at night. Never so close in life, he has come tiptoeing into her home, opening doors, turning on lights, looking around. At least she thinks she feels him there. She believes he is checking in on her, in a way he couldn't in life. I find this beautiful.
Well, Thanksgiving Day I was thinking a lot about Natalia, because she colored so much of what happened this year for me, in sad ways, but also in many ways I am deeply, profoundly thankful for.
I was hiking Runyon Canyon with Anna, Matthew, their adorable daughter Claire and my three boys, and suddenly, there was one of Natalia's friends from Larkspur. She just floated by on the trail, ethereal and there. I stopped in my tracks and shouted out, I know her! Her uncle was right behind her and heard me and said, "That's Vanessa." I ran to her and told her I was Natalie's friend. Did she remember serving me a dosa at her restaurant?
It wasn't a profound exchange. And yet, it was one of those strange experiences that make you feel like the dead are up there, pulling us toward and away from each other on invisible strings, leading us to things they want us to remember.
My brilliant friend helped start this blog. I love the idea, and to all of you who pop in, you ARE my sisters. So click on over, and read the column by Paige Orloff, former Hollywood executive, reincarnated as a farmer, mama, writer, activist and gourmet cook in upstate New York.
In two weeks I will do a new age workshop to examine how I have used my life force in the last year, and brainstorm and focus and channel how I will do it in the year to come. I found the teacher through Meg LeFauve, a friend and inspiration, and the truest seeker I know. But just signing up makes you start thinking...
The thing about me is, I KNOW I am a writer. I also know that I cannot go back to what I did. Newspapers are dying. That era is over. I am like an immigrant whose beloved home country has been destroyed. I can be nostalgic, but I cannot return to what once was.
So here are a few things I know:
After ten years of being a journalist, I am ready to be an activist. I have reported on things I cared about too much for too long. Now I get to be an actor, rather than a perpetual critic and observer. That is a relief. A joy. I love it!
I still believe my words can change the world, but I am ready to write with opinions and passion, not just cower under the supposedly unbiased, purely objective, facts-only facade of American newspaper reporting.
I do not want to work for a big corporation again. Writers need freedom, and ultimately corporations are deeply suspicious of both freedom and creativity. Although I had 10 glorious years at the Los Angeles Times, I do not want to return to a corporate environment. I really do believe it is like a slow poison that infects the soul. You can hold your own against it for awhile, but if you stay too long it flattens you and saps you of your life force.
When I have made more money and less, my happiness does not fluctuate wildly. My happiness comes more from things that do not cost money. I need to remember this.
I would love to start a local paper, like the Los Feliz sentinel. I want to keep working to start charter schools and change education. I would love to start a small, local publishing house that puts out beautiful books for adults and children that are grounded in that place, that locale, that community. They might not be best-sellers, but they would put out books and voices that pull people together, and be sold in local bookstores only.
I want to write well-reported, but more personal stories for magazines. I believe in the power of the personal narrative, and I write to have the reason to experience something. I am my own guinea pig!
I think I have a bit of the healer in me. I am not a doctor. But I may (hold your horses there more conservative readers) but I might like to learn to be a shaman, or learn to do spiritual healing of some sort. As western medicine goes more high-tech, I believe we are becoming separated from our own human nature, distanced from the things that make us happiest in life. I would like to help guide myself, and others, back.
Most importantly, I want to finish my book by June. I will keep seeking agents and publishers, but I want to complete it and get it out. It is my passion project, my baby and my holy grail. I must complete it before I can go onto the next stage!
These are my corny thoughts on a December morning, as I prepare to Dream Outside the Box with Madaline Blau.
For my three loyal readers who have been reading to the beginning, and wondering what came to pass with the huge picture of me posted in the window of the corporate headquarters of Color Me Mine, here is what happened.
Once I threatened legal action in a politely worded letter sent by certified mail (as advised by my wedding photographer, who found the picture and told me that by law they need to compensate me or prove it is not me) the COO of the company, Michael Mooslin quickly responded. He said he would only work with my lawyer, so Jonathan put in a call to his mother's old boyfriend who is a top lawyer for a respected firm in Phoenix. He agreed to be the point man.
As you may recall, he had promised me that they had model release forms for the woman in question, that her name was that of a woman who turned out to be a porn star, and that there was no way it could be me. Digging out the forms would take weeks. In the end, with legal pressure, they produced nothing. They had no model release form. They produced the name of a photographer, but it did not correspond to anything to do with this job. I called to try to track down the photographer at his firm, but was stonewalled. They said the picture was only in one window, until I pointed out that I had seen it in another. The upshot is, after pulling in the big guns, I will never know. They have no model release forms, and the COO was not even at the company when it all happened. I agreed to let it go if he would just donate a $250 gift certificate to Benji's preschool. He agreed.
But I did walk away feeling angry. Not angry that I did not get a lot of money. Angry that they lied to me on purpose. Angry that they would not respond to me until I threatened legal action. Angry that they insinuated I was a madwoman who cruised around looking for people to sue for small amounts of money. And angry that they lied about every single thing they said, unless I literally had the evidence to disprove it. This is just a small, sweet franchise that lets kids paint pottery. But I guess this is how America's business runs. It doesn't make you feel good.
I tried to convert the bad feelings into something good. It turned into something good for the preschool. And, in the end, I am nearly certain it was me in the photo--everything matches. The time frame, my clothes, and ME. I was slightly photo-shopped and blurred to make identification difficult. But a younger version of me, with a slightly elongated chin, remains in the window of the Color Me Mine Corporate Headquarters in Glendale on San Fernando Road. Cruise by if you want to see me. I'm cute!
First, a disclaimer: Any resemblance to any real characters referred to in this work is purely coincidental. The story, characters and events herein are purely fictional.
This novel is the story of a Santini like father (military man who is the son of a military man) and his efforts to come to terms with his own sinful past by converting to Christianity and raising his children under a powerful, repressive religious standard. His conversion to Christianity is to atone for his own sexual misdoings, and the mistakes he made. He raises his children, especially his girls, to not talk of sex, to not have sex, to not be sexual. Indeed, his whole life is about denying sexuality. His own warped views take a different toll on all three of his children, who struggle to live up to his Christian standards, which, above all, revolve around sexuality. But late in their lives, a truth comes to light about his sexual past that will change all of their lives forever. The sins of the father are visited upon the children, who never knew what they were up against, or what the truth really was.
One daughter becomes a nymphomaniac, one a lesbian, and the son moves to the other side of the world. The marriage was consummated because the mother was pregnant—an act of nobility—but in this family of propriety and new England waspiness, more sexual secrets come to light…
Now that I have novelized my life, I find the novel affecting how I think of my life. And here I want to write down one thing before I forget it. When we went on the Idyllwild retreat, the opening night's exercise was to think about your character, and how you define them in a movie. The exercise was to define them outside of the action. In other words, you define who they are, what makes them tick, and then you throw them into some crazy situation and see what happens. So late that night Jonathan and I lay in bed in our "Wild West Room", with skins, a revolver, antlers and Indian throws, and thought about our own characters: who we were, before we were thrown into action. Here were Jonathan's character sketches: He is a mellow, low-key guy who doesn't make much of a fuss, and just takes care of his family and who he loves. But when a crisis hits, he is the one who stands up. The blow-hards fall away or flee, but Jonathan will stand up to the bullies and wrong-doers. He will challenge and stand fast and not back down. It is a surprise. This is true. I saw him do this on a train in Peru on our honeymoon. He singlehandedly turned our train car against this obnoxious bully. He was the only one who stood up to them. That is Jonathan. He said I am the quiet one in the crowd doing my own thing. I don't make a big deal. I just focus on what I am doing. And when I don't like what is going on, I do not make a big fuss, I just walk away. And people follow. He said I am a quiet leader with a power far greater than I realize, who exercises that power through freedom, thought and example. I like that. And...since I am thinking differently of my life. Now I really am ready to throw these two characters into a dramatic new situation and see how they react. What should I do to them?
Someone you love opens the door looking different. Is it the hair? The makeup? The get-up? Minutes tick by and you are stuck. What is it? You say, you look good, what's different? Oh, Nothing. I've gained weight. I've lost weight. I cut my hair. I painted my eyebrowd differently. It's a different color. No. No. No. But it helps you define what is different. Something around the eyes. Yes. Denial. Complete denial. But then you get it. She's been cut and stitched and re-shaped. She is looking constantly surprised, and very very interested in what you are saying. All the time. Now you know, but she denies. What do you say? What do you say?
My brother is probably the most brilliant person I know--besides my husband. He is truly gifted. My mother expected great things of him--for him to solve broken economic models and invent perpetual motion machines. I am sure it was a lot of pressure. But in the end, he is just one cool dude. He has traveled the world, and renounced America as his home. His soul is happier in other places. For now he is in Singapore, with his wife and his two beautiful daughters. My neices! He works for an Australian bank and makes mega-million dollar finance deals with foreign governments for infrastructure projects. It is impressive and I am not sure I understand more than the sketchiest details. But he has worked long, and very very hard to get where he is now. He has given his company most of his life force. On Thanksgiving day his company had a round of lay-offs. Although, unlike American banks, his company is not losing money, but rather making less of a profit, they laid off employees across the company, including 25% of his office. He lost two members of his team in the morning, and worked on, feeling slightly ill from some sickness he was fighting off. At 4:30 he was called in and given THE letter. He was out. He had done the biggest deal of his career a month before. He was due for a huge bonus and a promotion. And I know he worked harder than most people there. I feel rage. They cannot lay off my brilliant brother. Now he has two weeks to evacuate the country, and fight for a piece of the bonus that he is owed (did they fire him just to get his bonus? I try not to think that) He is being strong, incredibly strong, as is his wife. He says he is relieved. But what kind of a world do we live in where talents like his are not appreciated? But I also wonder: Are we meant to be shaken up at 40? It is such a turning point. No matter where you are it makes you stop and take stock. I left my job two months before my 40th birthday. Jonathan turned his career around. Ian will turn 40 in a month. Maybe it is a gift to him. To give him his life back for the second half. To lead him to a job, a career that will make him happy AND really satisfy his soul. I hope.
I did it! And now I am back! I wrote a novel in a month and though I haven't had the courage to read through it yet, it does feel like a mighty accomplishment. I am now a member of a secret society of speed novelists. We meet next Saturday at the Grove for drinks, pages of novel in hand--if we dare to read them. But here is what it taught me above all else: even when you think you have no time, you can still write a novel. You can write in the morning, you can write in the evening. You can write instead of watching television and you can write instead of going on social outings you didn't really want to go on anyway. If you concentrate, and put your mind to it, you can do it. Tomorrow I will post my jacket blurb, or novel summary. But for today I will just excerpt from my Winner Certificate:
Through storm and sun, you traversed the noveling seas. Pitted against a merciless deadline and battling hordes of distractions, you persevered. Your dedication to the high-velocity literary arts is remarkable. Your victory shall be recorded for all time in the annals of the Office of Letters and Light, where it will serve as a beacon to writers hoping to someday follow your triumphant path. You did it, novelist. We couldn't be prouder!
One of the coolest things about NANOWRIMO is getting emails of encouragement and tips from famous authors. In Week Three we--all 200,000 of us -- got an email from Janet Fitch, author of White Oleander and Paint it Black. She is one of my favorite authors, and I consider White Oleander one of the most beautiful books about Los Angeles ever written. She evoked the Los Angeles I know, as a reporter and a person. She captures the mood and poetry and pain of every part of this city her character moves through. She told us to push our characters over a cliff. She said their characters are formed, the story is laid out, now it is time to literally, write them into a horrible situation they must struggle with, act in, get out of. She said (I am paraphrasing slightly here) that in real life we often fail to act, and sit stuck in the same situation for days, months, years. But it is action that makes stories, novels and for interesting copy. So tonight I will kill off one of my characters. That was one revelation. But the other was that it is time to act in real life. Life is hard, the economy is crashing, Hollywood is slowed to a standstill. Jonathan and I could sit and watch our world disappear, trying to hold onto what we wish were still true, or we could act, and be characters in our own story, in a story we will never ever forget. It is time to push ourselves over a cliff. To act. To write our own stories. To live the most interesting life possible. I don't want anyone to die. But I think we are getting ready for a dramatic change.
I have bronchitis and a cough so bad it scares strangers. I finally went to the doctor. He said basically I have asthma brought on by filthy air, and all the particulates floating around from the fire. It looks clean, but it is making me sick. He said, yes, I do have bronchitis on top of that, but more of my problem is my body's reactions to the air. Horrifying! So today I treated myself to a deeevine massage with Seva Simran Siri Khaur, my pre-natal yoga guru. She is a sikh who worked at Gurmukh's Golden Bridge when I was pregnant with Theo. I would walk into her class after a day at the paper and just weep as she she told us how lucky we were to be pregnant, how beautiful, what a blessed state it was. She would say we were like Goddesses and tell us to celebrate that baby within. The contrast with my daily corporate environment, where I had to conceal my pregnancy as long as possible, act as absolutely normal as possible (I feel totally normal, aggressive and ON...can somebody please tell me what this GIANT bump under my clothes is? It is really annoying and I have a deadline...) I used to cry there, just silent tears of relief that in this dark room after work someone was telling me that having a baby was a magical and a wonderful thing. Anyway, I loved her for that, and she will be forever special in my heart. She is part of my long list of mother figures I collect, who are full of nurturing maternal energy and love. So I ran to her today for one of her massages. It was glorious and she coated me with narayan oil that opens up your pores and nostrils and all of you. She said that lungs and weak lungs correspond to sadness. It is how you hold sadness in your body. She asked if I had always had weak lungs. Yes. Since I was 17 and I got walking pneumonia for three months and competed through the whole swim season of my senior year, hacking and weak, but still winning, and determined to win. Since then I have gotten bronchitis virtually every year. She said that means I probably have carried that sadness in me since then. Fascinating. Anyway, there is a yogic way to rid myself of my sadness and my weak lungs, she said. Drink a glass of warm milk mixed with eight jalapeno peppers ground up in the blender. Coat your lips with honey so you don't burn yourself and drink it down. She said people who have done it swear it cures them of bronchitis forever. I swear, I am not a wack-job. But I think I might try it. It will be my scorched earth policy for my lungs, and my sadness. It's time to get angry. Not sad. (Seva encouraged me to just go for stable.)
I was introduced to this artistby my art teacher. I love his work!!!! I love his tiny boxes. I love the tiny pictures, the magic of them, and the perfect worlds he creates. He was a mild-mannered madman who lived with his mother. But to me his work is enchanting!
Theo came home yesterday and told us that he had a banana eating contest at school. All the boys brought bananas for snack and they were all eating as fast as they could. Omeed, Theo's friend, said you were finished if you got all the banana in your mouth. Theo said you had to swallow. The girls all voted with Theo: you had to swallow to win. Then they started eating. All the girls were shouting: Theo Theo Theo. Theo swallowed. Omeed stuffed a banana in his mouth. They couldn't decide on the rules and no one won. But how bizaare that the sexes divide out like this in kindergarten. Why weren't there any girls in the banana eating contest? Why were they just cheering?
Because my life is often reduced to lists these days, here is a list of the events of my 41st year that mattered to me. Maybe it was a book I read, something I saw, a sight or sound or song that moved me, or beauty that touched my soul. Maybe it was something sad, or something delicous. But here is my list--in no particular order.
We saw a lunar eclipse from the top of the parking lot at the Grove. The world went dark, the moon disappeared, and no one paid attention, it seemed, except a few random families on top of a corporate parking lot in the middle of Los Angeles. Magic.
We were surrounded by 25,000 dolphins. We went to the Channel Islands with my old, dear friend Athena, her husband Amir and her son Julian. We cruised out to Santa Cruz and suddenly the ocean was filled with dolphins as far as we could see. It was the world before man,before we destroyed it and killed it and made the oceans sick. This is what California was like. The whole ocean was choppy with thousands and thousands of dolphins cutting across our bow and behind our stern, leaping and jumping and playing.
My friend died. I got to be with her for her last 48 hours. I got to hold her and cry with her and take care of her and love her and look in her eyes and watch her go in and out and read to her and help her go to the next world, while I held her hand. It was my blessing.
I scattered her ashes. I spoke her name. I told her stories. I sat in a tiny cottage with my boys, my husband, Lauren, Jim and Sandy, her sister, and we ate simple pasta, got warm in front of the fire, and told our favorite, sweeetest memories of our friend. It was better than anything else.
I hiked half the Dipsea trail. Alone. I walked from Stinson to Muir woods. I hiked through enchanted forests, and up giant moss covered stairs and along ridges that looked out over hundreds of miles of fog. I descended into giant redwoods and sat and ate chocolate.
I climbed a tree bridge in a giant wood, and felt alive.
I reported the stories of 30 women, wrote a book proposal, and sent it out to two agents.
I finished my year as Canyon School President. We were quiet, not perfect. But we restored an era of good feeling, and gently led the school back to a sweeter, more transparent, more hopeful place.
We started a Charter School, and it really opened. It is spectacular and makes me feel plugged into the world, the community, and the world in a way that I don't know that anything else has in my adult life.
I have a new niece.
Obama is our president. I feel hope.
I took a collage class. I did one project about reflections: how your past reflects up from the depths and makes you who you are, and I am doing a second of a woman in a box. She is made up of cast-offs from the kitchen. Her message to me: As happy as I am, I still feel like a woman in a box.
I rode one spectacular, perfect wave in Malibu.
I read a trio of books that changed me: Ian Buruma's book on Theo Van Gogh, Persepolis, the graphic novel of coming of age in Iran under various repressive regimes, and Hirsi Ali's amazing autobiography, Submission, about what it is like to be a Muslim woman, and what muslim immigrants mean for the future of Europe.
I went to my reunion and felt at ease about my choice of college. I felt a love for this place that was still, beautiful, and taught me to feel orgasmic about reading Heidigger. I saw the chairs where I sat in the library and got intellectually turned on and I felt grateful, more grateful than I would have been for better parties, better connections, or more men. Wellesley taught me to be a woman. I am proud.
I took my boy to chess and swimming lessons, and now he can do both.
Jonathan and I went on the best hike we ever had on Cold Springs Trail in Santa Barbara. Three hours after we left it burned to the ground. But I got to hike it one last time. I have a perfect memory to hold onto.
My husband is happier. He is kinder, gentler, and trying to do small, sweet things. I am grateful.
My boys became even more beautiful and fun.
I listen to my a capella CD from the Wellesley Tupelos over and over and over again. I explain the songs to Theo and sing them at the top of my lungs in the car as I drive around Los Angeles. I love it.
Oh yeah...and Benji was hospitalized for two days after he drank a bottle of tylenol and i almost had a nervous breakdown and our marriage struggled, but he is ok. and we are, too.
And we panned for gold on the Little Ranch, and spent time with our dear friends the Marko-Tanners and jumped in swimming holes and ate blueberry ice cream made by Jill. Yum.
I read Isabelle Allenda's memoir and loved it, and The Road, and The Omnivore's Dilemma, and Miss Hempel Chronicles by Sarah Shun Lien Bynum and lots and lots of books on Buddhism.
OK. I have a secret. I am doing national novel writing month. Me and about 200,000 other people the world over. We have all pledged to write 50,000 words in one month--the month of November. The goal is quantity--not quality. You are urged to just write write write--you can revise and edit in December. For November you just crank out the copy. You can meet up with friends, or labor alone in obscurity, hiding your secret project from all you know. At the end of the month you paste your entire manuscript onto the site and they verify whether you reached the goal--and thus can be declared a "winner." I didn't even dare to tell my husband for the first two weeks. I thought he would be angry at me taking on another project. But I am just waiting now. Waiting for an agent to respond--which means sudden flurries of activity, followed by tense periods of waiting. I labored late at night or early in the morning, or while Benji napped, or lasagna was cooking. My perceptive, and perpetually snooping husband could feel something was up, but he didn't know what. When I finally broke my silence at my birthday dinner, when the world was ending, the air smelled of smoke, and we were dining on Il Postinos and fresh burrata at Osteria Mozza, he said: "Good think I am confident in our marriage. It is enough to drive a husband crazy to see his wife slamming the computer closed whenever he approaches, and spending more and more time alone." One writer friend encouraged me to think of my novel as an affair. She said that can be very productive. I am more than half way through. The story is incoherent and out of order. The writing rambly and often repetitive. And yet, by writing this way, amazing things do emerge. You realize which characters matter, and how certain events are linked in ways you never saw. Your subconscious DOES take over and show you incredible things about your life, your mind, the characters in your life, and how you have digested it all--consciously or unconsciously. I cannot reveal my plot here--or I would have to kill you. But trust me. It's good!
I am having trouble breathing. We are poisoning ourselves. I want to take myself and my family somewhere far away. The children stay inside all day to protect them. But you cannot protect yourself from poison air. There is nowhere to go. My chest is closed. My lungs hurt. My sides ache from coughing. What are we doing to ourselves? To our world?
Here is the cake my boys made for me: strawberry surprise. Jonathan gave me the gift of time, and I lay upstairs in my bed, surrounded by books, goddess tarot cards, my journal and my gifts. I lay there doing NOTHING while I listened to Jonathan and the boys rattling around in the kitchen. Then I closed my eyes and just smelled the cooking cake wafting up the stairs. YUMMMMM. The boys ran up occasionally with a spoonful of batter to taste, and a report on the state of the cake. When it was out of the oven, freshly iced, dripping and warm, they came to get me and we all sat in the nook and ate soft, moist, still-warm strawberry cake with giant glasses of cold milk. Heaven!!! We ate half the cake. I was so happy.
Ash is raining down and the air smells like smoke. The smoke is in our hair, in our eyes, in our clothes. Our eyes burn and our lungs hurt. Theo and I can't stop coughing. Most of us have headaches. The air is thick and it looks like the end of the world. Today the sun was blood red like Delhi in the dust, like it will never rise again. It feels apocalyptic.
One of my favorite places in Southern California is burning. I don't know if my favorite trail will be saved. It is the Cold Spring Trail in Santa Barbara. It is up above Montecito, a winding trail through the woods, by swimming holes, water holes, and, in the spring, natural water slides (moss on rock--it rips your panties, but its really fun). For years, Jonathan and I have gone there for our career day. It is where we go to breathe clean air, clear our heads, smell the dirt and refresh our souls. I have soaked there, picnicked there, and been in hot springs there. Before Jonathan I used to go with Chrs and Michele. It was part of our perfect day in Santa Barbara--when we couldn't stand Ventura for another minute. We were there yesterday. We did our best hike ever. Higher than we had ever been, past the fire road. We sat on a rock and looked out over the Channel Islands. Then we hiked down and sat with our feet in an icy creek. We finished our hike at 2. Apparently the fire started at 6. I keep scanning the maps, praying that it is only homes that have been destroyed, not my favorite trail, my refuge, my escape, our secret place. I won't know until it is over--but it is called the Cold Springs Fire and it is right smack in the middle of the evacuation area. My heart is sad. In the last two years we lost the reservoir to a mud slide (still closed), Julia Pfeiffer to fire (Big Sur), Griffith Park to fire, and now Cold Springs. It is hard to live here. My favorite places are being burned away. Where will I go?
I am embarassed to say that almost six years after Theo was born, and three and a half years after Benji was born, it is still rare that Jonathan and I get to spend one complete night together, uninterrupted and alone. Every night some small child comes wandering into the bedroom asking for water, help, love, a pacifier, or comforting from a nightmare. Sometimes I am up several times a night, sometimes--when I am using the sleeping chart--i get a rare night of complete sleep and get to wake up with Jonathan beside me. O Glory! Benji is the cuddler of all cuddlers. Ever since he was a baby he wanted to be held. He would fall asleep in my arms, and then when I gently put him down he would wake up. Zulma devised a way to surround him with pillows so he would feel like there were bodies all around him, and sometimes that worked. But even now, he inches across the bed, any bed, in search of a warm body to snuggle up against. It is like a primal homing device, very finely tuned in his case. Find warm, safe body--hide in there! He is so wiggly, that when he comes to me in his sleep I cannot sleep. So now I turn away. And this is the sweetest. If he has to be separated, our heads or shoulders apart, his ear not on my heart, he needs to have the souls of his feet resting on me somewhere. And so I wake up now, with him stretched and taught, reaching his toes down so that he can touch my leg, or my belly, from wherever he is. And when I move, his toes follow me, trying to make contact again. And as soon as he does, he drifts back off, and his body relaxes. I wonder what it means...
Last night Theo was doing his homework. He was coloring in apples for a vowel exercise, and he observed the apples had different bottoms. I said, well, people have different shaped bottoms, too. He said, no, they don't. And I said, yes, they do. For example, your bottom is a very different shape than Benji's. He said, Really? I said, yes, they really are different. Then he said, Mommy, your bottom is shaped like a triangle. Intriguing. And slightly alarming. I said, really? Which way does the triangle go? He refused to elaborate. Later, we went for a walk. I was wearing some form-fitting jeans. He said, See, Mommy, your bottom is shaped like a triangle. Then he said, not really. It's really shaped like an oval.
Jonathan just heard a two friends of ours are separated, and getting divorced. Worse yet, though we have seen them several times in recent months, he was horrified to find they had been living separately since summer. We do not know them well, but admire them a lot. We do not know the details, or even their relationship. We only know that they are two tremendous people with two beautiful girls in elementary school. We know that they both are civic minded and supremely talented and do great things for the world. And there is something haunting about a relationships like this going wrong. She told Jonathan there were no affairs, no violence, no crazy fights. It actually, she said, has gone quite smoothly. And that, for me, is what is most haunting of all. Violence, affairs, endless fighting--that you understand. It has to stop. It is dramatic. It is horrible. But the slow fizzle of a marriage is the saddest thing of all. Perhaps it is saddest because you can see how it happens. Partners are a little sloppy, a little less kind, a little less considerate, a little less loving over time. They do not treasure and savor and take care. And before long a coldness creeps in. Things are comfortable, but not good. And then it grows worse, until this thing becomes your life and you don't even know why you are together anymore. For me, this has always been the greatest fear. Not an affair, or a fight, but a slow, cold death to a great love. But for Jonathan I think this thing, happening to two people he really likes, is devastating. And we do need to take care, great care of our love, and our loved ones. Love is a fragile thing. So incredibly fragile. When it is strong you think it could never be threatened or grow weak. But it can. And it does. Slowly, so you don't even notice until it is gone.
The other night, before bed, Theo spilled his guts. He has trouble admitting when something bothers him. It can take days, or weeks to get it out. He just tries to take care of it all himself. He said he was frustrated. He said at school he sits with four boys and they play a story game. One boy is the judge (self-appointed.) He calls on the others to tell stories and scores them with points. But Theo said Lucas (the self-appointed judge) never calls on him. He was devastated. But he had a plan. Mommy, I will make a book. You can help me. I will give it to Jennifer (his teacher) and she will read it to the class, and then they will have to listen. I said, you could do that. Or, you could say, I have a really good story. And then you could say something really interesting. He said he tried that, and no one would listen. Then, I said, you could just walk away. But he didn't want to do that. He really really wanted their attention. So I said he could practice telling stories with me, so that he would get really really good. He told me a really bad story with not plot and a lot of pee (boy humor). I said no, no, no. You have so many stories. I told him a few stories about himself that made him laugh so hard he was bouncing up and down on the bed with delight. He couldn't believe they were true, and they were his. I even told him about the time he vomited on an older boy when he was a baby and made the boy run screaming from the room. (catering to his audience). But my heart hurt a little. I don't want him to try to hard to fit in. I don't want him to want their judgement so badly, even though they have no reason to be judges. I don't want him to be so desperate for approval. It hurts me to think of my brilliant boy, sitting at the table, desperately trying to be heard, and not getting called on by a self-appointed Simon Cowell of a peer. But can I help? Jonathan--harsh man--says he has to learn. Boys are cruel. I want to help. Does life have to be that cruel? I want to protect him. I brought it up during the teacher conference. The teacher had no idea, but was concerned because if Theo is distracted or upset, he won't focus as much on his schoolwork. I said I couldn't believe it. Theo is the son of two storytellers, he loves stories and values them. This was such a bad way to go down. We were running tutorials with him and working on his storytelling ability. The teacher suggested we come in and talk to the kids about how to tell a story. So we are going to. I can't wait. I was thinking about what they will be able to digest. Beginning Middle End. (yes) Plot. (maybe) Characters (yes) Fiction vs. Non-fiction (yes) Climax (I think so) Conflict (I hope so). I hope Theo learns to value his own stories. But most of all, I am glad something good will come out of this. And I hope my boy's heart will be preserved for a little bit longer.
On the night of the election I was nervous. Despite every poll saying Barack Obama was up, I still did not believe he could do it. I was scared Americans were too racist, and that McCain was gearing up to fight dirty in Ohio, Florida and every other contested state. The lines to vote on Nov. 4 were staggering. Traffic was a nightmare. Polling stations all over Hollywood had 40 minute to 2 hour waits. And people were waiting. They cared. Whomever they were going to vote for, they were fired up, and I had never, ever seen that before. People knew it was historic. Mothers were photographing their infants sitting in the polling booths, and parents were picking up their kids from school to take them to vote in this historic election.
I turned on the television at 4, as the first returns starting coming in, but there was so little information and so much speculation I couldn't stand it. I turned it off and forced myself to stay off the internet.
I had an art class and Jonathan encouraged me to go. I figured it would keep my mind busy until the real returns came in. But half an hour into the art class another teacher walked in with a paper cup of champagne. He's going to win, she said. He's up to 200. I couldn't believe it. Only three of us had even come to class, and we tried to concentrate on papermaking and printing. But then the call of the television became too powerful. We heard whoops of joy and all the teachers and students ran out into the office to see. The election was called. Obama had won. 125,000 people were crowded into Grant Park in Chicago waiting for Obama to come out and accept. We sat there stunned, amazed. I was crying. The black woman next to me just started sobbing. She ran from the room. I had to go to the bathroom. I could hear her sobbing and sobbing in the stall next to me: in disbelief, joy. I realized I really could not imagine what it would be like as a black person. This woman was a quiet, self-effacing older black woman who is not very expressive and does not say much in class. When she finally emerged from the stall and her eyes were still red, her cheeks, too. All she said was, "I just can't believe it."
I grabbed my art supplies and ran home. We were part of history. I wanted to be with Jonathan and the boys when Obama came out. I heard McCain conceding on the way home. He was gracious, sincere, heartfelt. When his supporters booed Obama he stopped them (unlike during the campaign...) If he had been himself, this man, during the campaign, he might have won. But he wasn't. He wanted to win so badly he lost himself. And right now, people have been so fucked over, so hurt, so lied to and deceived, they needed someone who would talk straight (once his mantra) and not waver.
We sat on the sofa in a big pile and watched Obama. He was magnificent. He made his speech not about himself, but about those who voted him in. He made his speech a call to arms, to volunteer, to give, to sacrifice. He is giving people a place to plug in again. His crowd was big, yes, but also so diverse. There were old people, young people, every color of people. There were oceans of black people, YOUNG black people, who I realized mostly appear in our culture in music and sports videos, or in gang propaganda. They were looking up at Obama with so much hope. He has changed things. Just by achieving this.
Our preschool teacher (black) said she couldn't sleep all night, and that her mother was awake all night crying. She was born in Arkansas in 1929 and never thought she would see the day.
I am moved because this is historical. Because it is a victory over racism, and for what is possible. But more than anything I feel like Obama's victory isa victory of hope. It is a deliberate end to meanness, bitterness, cynicism and hatred.That has been the unifying force in the Republican party for the last two elections--to divide through base level prejudices about religion, abortion, gay rights or race. We have returned to a world that will focus on building something positive--or at least trying--rather than living in fear of something negative.
That night I slept more peacefully than I have in months. He won. There is hope. Things will get better. Americans will aim to be something more than entitled assholes in the world. Hallelujah!
What does it mean that my second child holds whatever possession is sweetest to him in his arms at night, scared to let it go? Depending on the day he sleeps with favorite teddy bears, a cookie from a party, a stick he found in the park, a pile of books from the library, two light sabres, a twinkling, flashing wand, a cauldron of Halloween Candy, a car or a train. And he remembers. When he wakes up in the morning, if he is not clutching the beloved object he comes running into our room crying for help. So we search the sheets, the comforter and under the bed for his treasure of the day. Is it because he feels like in this crazy household nothing is his unless he is holding onto it and guarding it in his sleep?
We may be heading into a global recession. We may lose everything we have. But last night we had the most perfect dinner--all the sweeter because decadence seems wrong when the world is crashing around you. We had Alaskan King Crab legs dipped in butter and lemon, dripping down our arms and fingers, and drank it with champagne. Heaven!
I had just been talking to a mother who is writing a book/memoir about boys who love to wear dresses, but ARE NOT gay, when I talked to my father. He asked what Theo and Benji were going to be for Halloween. I said Theo was going to be a ghost, Benji a witch. Benji chose the witch because one of his favorite books is Room On The Broom, about a witch with ginger hair--just like him! Also, witches are pretty cool. My father was horrified. Hilary! he said. Watch out. That could lead to serious gender confusion! These are very important years. I was so insulted! But also fascinated by his fears. He has not even seen my boy enough to know what his natural predispositions are--whether he likes dolls or balls. But even stranger was this: I know he would not mind if Ruth (his granddaughter) were climbing trees or wearing overalls or pretending to be a race car driver, or dressing up as bob the builder for Halloween. And he himself loves so many things that are "gay" in our culture--including gay men! He loves art, he loves food, he loves music and opera. He loves male choruses and men in uniform. When he meets my friends he is always drawn to the gay men. Now our culture leaves so little room for men. I do not believe that a love of fabric, music, art or food should mean you are gay, or almost gay. But our culture is so scared of homosexuality that we live in a world that any man who is not dressed in khakis and jeans, can speak eloquently about sports and confesses to a love of porn is not a red-blooded American male. And yet, we have no fears in the opposite direction. Girls are encouraged to be more like boys. Tomboys have a special place in our hearts, in our children's fiction. Probably, because historically, for a girl to want to be more like a boy meant to aim for more, to want more, to be bolder, smarter and more full of dreams and moxy. For a boy to want to be like a girl meant to want to be less smart, have less power, to cry and be weak. But that is not the world we live in any more. Little girls know that. A friend's daughter told him (the dad) that she thought being a boy was boring. Girls could be anything; they could be cowboys,astronauts, princesses or mermaids. Boys could only be some things. She got it. Why don't men? Benji was a witch, with a pointed, black, velvet hat and a sparkly cape. He carried a cauldron and a broom. Beneath his costume he wore a Johnny Cash shirt, blue shorts and little boy sneakers. He was a great witch. And he didn't seem confused about his gender at all.
He is my hero. He is my inspiration for my book. He didn't love the rich and famous. He loved ordinary people and their stories. He found power and inspiration in their struggles, their thoughts and their solutions. He was interested in them, and believed that by reading them, listening to them, and watching them carefully you could learn more about America and the human race than any other way. He was an activist, too. But I believe his work, his interviews, his books, his topics, were his most powerful activism. He called himself a "guerilla with a tape recorder." I love it. I want to be just like him. I want to carry on the torch for Studs with my book. I can do it. I want to do it for him.
This is the triumph of the Bush administration: They run our country like an evil corporation. They treat American citizens like clueless employees who don't have a right to know, whose money can used at will to bail them out and finance their interests, who only help their friends and cronies, and who lie and lie and lie about their real motives, and just assume American citizens--if they hear something repeated often enough--will begin to see it is true. I see McCain doing it again in his campaign. Just repeat things that are not true over and over. If you tell people over and over that you will cut taxes, and your opponent will raise them, if you tell them your tax plan will benefit the middle class, even though it is a lie, your sheer repetition will win over some people. But maybe some of us, more of us than ever, have had actual experience in corporations, where we are fed lies, hope, and our companies don't take care of us, break every promise, don't tell us the truth, and ask us to keep trusting them, even as they raise health care costs, stop giving raising, fire our friends, and eventually fire us. They run the company into the ground, destroying as they go, but making huge money for a few people at the top. This is how George Bush has run the country. But Americans are not going to take it anymore. America is NOT a corporation. We are citizens, not employees. And we say no. No more. Work for us. This is our country. That is what Barack Obama is trying to do. Work for us.
...I just can't wait a minute longer. For those of us who want Barack Obama to win, wishing, praying and hoping he will has turned to almost a religion. I wear an Obama talisman around my neck. I watch youtube videos about Obama and cry. I listen to Benji playing with his blocks alone on the living room floor, singing to himself:" Obama, Obama, Obama Obama...we can change the world..." I can't read anything but political news. I am addicted and check every poll. I am obsessed. And if he loses...I cannot even think what I feel. One friend predicted there will be riots in L.A. again.
...as we watched the history making half hour film, Theo carefully watched the segment on the midwestern family where the father is on disability, there are five children, and they are struggling to make ends meet. The made for TV film showed the mother standing in front of her fridge. She said each person in the family had a shelf on the refrigerator door for their snacks for the week. She said if everyone knew they had to make that food last the whole week, they would.
Jonathan: See Theo, they don't have enough money to buy enough food to eat. Theo: If they don't have any money, why do they have so much stuff?
This weekend Jonathan and I escaped to Idyllwild for a screenwriters retreat. Idyllwild is this beautiful artsy town two hours outside of Los Angeles, way up in the mountains, above Palm Springs. It is a little piece of the Sierras that has landed in Southern California, full of giant pines, and huge El Cap type rocks that rise over the town. It was fall there and the stars twinkled. If you climbed up Devil's Slide to the top of Taquitz peak (which I did) you could see forever--the Salton Sea, mountains, and all of San Berdu. It smelled like pine needles and the wind in the branches sounded like the ocean. I was happy. Jonathan was a mentor to aspiring screenwriters, and I was a hanger-on. So there we were, 100 or so mentors and mentees, meeting in the wilderness and over espresso at the Cafe Aroma to talk about movies, themes, life and emotional resonance. Two of the stars of the weekend are Joe Forte and Meg LeFauve, some of Jonathan's oldest and dearest friends. Huddled in the woods these writers really talk about how to make your films emotionally come alive. Part of that, they believe, is writing from the heart, which requires you to tap into your own personal theme. The theme that colors everything you know and care about, and every story you tell. So Meg has an exercise. She makes every student name their three favorite movies, and then she listens, evaluates, looks into their souls, and tells them their theme. Often people think they know their theme, but it takes a sage like Meg to really draw it out of them. She did Jonathan in front of a group of 40 wannabes and her insights were so profound he couldn't talk, or even hear anything that happened afterwards. I would write that here, but that is his story to tell. I didn't get Meg to me-it's like a session with a psychic--you have to pull her aside and get her to sit down and I was not even a paying member of this retreat. But after I got home I did myself. My favorite movies: Sophie's Choice Missing The Official Story Next you have to tell the story of the movie. Because like dreamwork, how you tell the story says as much about you as the choice. Jonathan said all three of my movies were about loss. Yes. True. But this is what I think. In Sophie;s Choice Stingo falls in love with the characters of Meryl Streep and Kevin Klein. He is in love with their love, their passion, their fun and how they live life. He loves them, and he loves their stories. It is enough just to be around them, so he can believe in that kind of love. But it all falls apart. Kevin Klein is not an eccentric genius and a wonderful lover, he is a bipolar crazyman who is deeply, and profoundly, mentally ill. In Missing the father (Jack Lemmon) goes to Argentina (?) to find his wayward son. It is a son he never understood, always thought was a slacker, and always felt irritated by, but now he has disappeared. The father believes deeply in the United States, all it does, and living by conventions, the conventions he has lived by. In the end the son has been killed by a government supported by the United States government. The father learns to love his son, but in the process he loses his faith in the United States, and is broken. In the Official Story the woman, married to a general in Argentina, desperately wants a baby. She wants a baby above all else. Finally her husband brings her one to adopt. She asks no questions, just loves the child. Later she finds out that children have been taken from families who have been murdered by the regime, the regime her husband works for. She does not dare to believe. She loves her child too much. But finally she must confront her husband. And in his rage he becomes violent, and with sudden recognition you not only know he took the child, but that he is capable of all the cruely necessary to run the regime and do the things he is accused of doing. My theme: Believing deeply, too deeply, in something I really want to be true--whether it is love, an ideal, whatever--and in the end seeing the truth, and becoming deeply, deeply disillusioned. And yet, like Stingo, the father, and the wife, I set myself up. I want so desperately to believe in some things, I cannot bear to look at the truth. These are the stories I seem to be drawn to. Is this my story?
I feel sometimes like I grew up in an era different from that of my peers. I was strangely isolated from the world, cut off and enveloped in the universe of my family. It drove me crazy and embarassed me. But within our family the simple joys of another time were preserved. We did things that were free, and the truest joys of humanity. We played outside. We went on trips and played in the sunshine, hiked trails, swam in swimming holes and on wild beaches. We made things at home with my super creative mother. We made amazing food at home. My mother grew vegetables at home before it was a movement. We sang songs as a family for fun. We went on picnics. Somehow we were insulated from advertising, from consumer culture. As I try to bring up my boys, I am so grateful this was my guide, that my parents taught me that a day riding waves at the beach can be more fun than Disneyland, that a meal cooked at home can be better than 95% of restaurants, that art made by a child or a loved one is a better gift than the priciest gift, that nature, music and love are free. It is easy to forget. But me, I know.
This the one season my heart aches for New England. Here in California the air is dry, there are fires and the Santa Ana's blow. People with allergies, and people without cough and sneeze through the season. The morning air frequently smells like ash, the hills are brown and these days there is so little humidity my skin cracks and my scalp flakes. I itch. It is beautiful, but my body does not like it. But ah, fall in New England. I love the shortening days and the Maple leaves on fire. I love the crispness in the air, and the sound of leaves crunching under your feet when you walk. I love clear fall nights when the stars twinkle. I love the smell of fallen leaves with a little bit of sogginess underneath. I love the wabi-sabi thing the Japanese are so mad about--that consciousness of beauty that is intensified and heightened because it is about to disappear. Fall is sad. It is the end. The colors are so vivid and bright, but soon the world will go silent and hibernate. It is melancholy. But it is so intense, so beautiful. It makes me think of college libraries and football games (and I don't even like football!) and pressing leaves, and the Head of the Charles, and jumping in leaf piles. I love fresh apple cider and fall apples. I like summer places deserted now for fall, empty but still beautiful. That is when we went on our family trips to Nantucket, to Squam Lake--when the summer playgrounds had gone quiet and we had them all to ourselves.We had missed the party, and could only imagine what it was like. But it was ours, all ours. i love watching the leaves swirl down, lazy, happy, dancing, floating on the wind. I miss it!
Being a mama in today's world can really make you feel bad. It doesn't build your resumee, it doesn't contribute to the economy or GDP, it doesn't help cover household costs, and no one really cares. And even people who believe in good parenting still can't help themselves--they still just wonder what you do with yourself all day long. That includes good friends, and even my husband. But in this age of farming out every household duty, it is getting easier to quantify how much a mama's services might be worth on the open market--if I were divided into a posse of people with diverse talents (mine, divided into a bunch of people) all specializing in what I specialize in. And here is what I would cost.
Nanny/Childcare services: Highest quality child care for two high energy boys provided by a white, educated woman with two masters degrees, CPR certification, and able to drive your child where he/she needs to go--offers discipline, nutrition, adventurous educational outings and unconditional love. $20/hr. 4 hours off a week. $95,160 per year
Personal Stylist/Shopper--provides excellent taste, advice, for daily wardrobe, helping you to dress like a pro for affordable prices. Will shop with you several times a year, providing in situ advice of the image you wish to present, dialogue and assessment: $2,000 annual retainer fee
Personal Chef: Shops and cooks delicious, nutritious meals of organic and locally grown food from scratch 6 nights a week for a family of four. Teaches family health benefits of food and provides interesting, up-to-date reading materials for family decision makers. Also makes lunches on weekdays and breakfasts several days a week. $350 a week/$18,200 annually
Occasional Clutterbuster Services: Comes in and clears out large, cluttered, disorganized spaces when needed. Buys affordable organizing furniture and boxes to help fight the constant battle against clutter. $2,000 annual retainer fees. Includes site visits and clearing, along with consulting and prioritizing advice, paired with psychological meaning of various cluttering and underlying mental blocks involved. Clutterbuster will personally rid household of items being purged, dropping them off at Goodwill or giving them away to charity organizations, and providing appropriate tax relief forms if relevant.
Personal Tutor: Provides one-on-one tutoring in-house to precocious kindergartener, using both constructivist and Reggio Emilio teaching methods. Tutoring utilizes both traditional learning methods and creative interpretations of classroom exercises that are fun, developmentally appropriate and teach the child to learn. Works on reading, building, and an invidivual development plan tailored to your child's unique, and special needs. $50 an hour. Summers off. $9,000 annually.
Household business manager: In consultation with Jonathan Fernandez, writes checks, monitors financial expenditures, and pays bills for the Fernandez corporation. $100 per month. $5,200 annually.
Birthday Party Consultant: Provides fun party ideas, makes and sends creative, one-of-a-kind invitations and in-house catering for family birthday parties 4 X a year. $1,000
Mills Act Consultant: Gathers information, takes pictures, draws architectural renderings, files and follows Mills Act application through city bureaucracy to save household thousands of dollars annually in property taxes. Follow-up with any bureaucratic snafus. $3,000 one-time fee.
Schools Consultant: Works with family to visit schools, share knowledge, to discern which school and teaching method would work best for children of the household. Involves financial analysis, observation of children, and visititation of 5-10 campuses around Los Angeles, to be set up by said consultant. Parents may attend if they wish, or consultant can do rundown. Consultant also files applications for magnets, charters, public schools that require documentation. $500
Spiritual Advisor: Provides spiritual and soulful spaces for contemplation. Services Free.
Spousal Therapy and Coaching: Provides ongoing encouragement and iteration of goals, both professional and personal, with occasional day-long retreats to assess progress and form new goals. Therapist is an endless cheerleader and on-call 24-7 for balancing, support, new perspective, talking off the ledge. Normally charges $50 per half hour, but discount offered for friend and lover. $200 week. $10,400, plus extra for all-day retreats.
Catering for in-house dinner parties and family holiday dinners: Serves high-quality dinners in magical surroundings with appetizers, dessert, fine wines and interesting conversation. $200 per dinner, minimum of 10 per year. $2,000.
Chess Enrichment Courses: Hour-long chess games once a week, and access and interactions with certified chess teachers around the city on a part-time basis. $200 per 12-week course. Twice annually. $400.
TOTAL ANNUAL SALARY: 148,860
Sexual Services Also Provided upon request if household manager finds head of household attractive. These fees cannot be posted here for legal reasons, but a large discount is offered if love is involved.
Last Thursday my first-choice book agent called me to say no. She said she loved my writing, but she was just not taking on anything in the mommy category. No momoirs. No fertility stories. Nothing. She said they just are not selling the way publishers would like them to right now (no specifics on numbers, sales, publishing runs). She mentioned a book one of her authors had done three years ago. A series of 10 interviews with celebrity moms and how they really do it. Like mine, in some ways. She said her author was on all the talk shows, got tons of publicity. The book just didn't sell the way the publisher wanted it to. I went and looked it up. It did a hardcover run and a paper back run. That's more than a lot of books. And she did get a lot of publicity. I also jumped on Amazon and read the reviews. Many of them commented on how they did not want to read about celebrity mothers, whose lives do not compare to theirs. They wanted to read about mothers like themselves. ( A book like mine, perhaps?) I confess. I was sad. I am coming from journalism. You always feel like your editor is beating you down. But, as long as you go along with your editor--and you can fight and argue if you are on staff -- you will be published. That is nice. You can also pretend to yourself and the world that anything in the story you didn't like was a result of editing, cutting, etc. And most of the time that is true, too. The point is, you get published, and you never have to take full responsibility for what you write. Not completely. Within that framework you can be as passive or feisty as you wish. So this is different. My idea was rejected. If I do not find someone to publish it, to believe in it, it will not be published. But this is good for me. A break through point. On some level I know that getting this book out there is breaking down a barrier I have been fighting to climb over my whole life. In my family things are not worth doing if you cannot do them perfectly. Not writing, not art. No credit is given to people for just doing it. Indeed, to get something painted, published or produced when it is not fantastic (and the critics will be severe) is to simply litter the world with more mediocrity. Better to do nothing at all. This is the unspoken family philosophy. And within the family I can safely say that I am the least intellectual. I am not a mathematical prodigy (as my mother believed my brilliant brother was) I am not a talented, but tortured artist scientist--fascinating in the very depths of her depression--as my sister is. I am just pretty normal. (insert boring, here) We were taught not to sell ourselves, or fight for ourselves, but to be, and let the world recognize our brilliance. To work quietly and perfectly, and let the admirers, the pay, the recognition come. And it probably wouldn't. Because most people--even the critics, are just not that smart, the reasoning goes. (the inferior superiority complex) And so, to forge on with my book idea, is hard. I have been told by someone it is just something too many people are doing. Which means, not original. Which means littering the world with more mediocrity. So now I have to fight, and sell, and hustle, and finish this thing I believe in, even if nobody else does. I know my book is not the most original, creative work on mommyhood ever. And yet I believe that in its very groundedness, its very ordinariness, its very focus on regular people and their very personal stories, I will be contributing to history, to anthropology, and to women themselves, who struggle to navigate motherhood in a time where the standards are high, and the help and social support are nearly nonexistent. This is not a book to show my brilliance, my creativity, my genius, or make my mark as an intellectual of my generation. This is, simply, the book I wish I had had when I became a mother, when I was trying to decide whether to work or stay home. I wanted the nitty gritty details of lots and lots of families and how they made it work. I wanted the range of emotions, of financial arrangements, and the subtle changes in ambition, love, and within relationships. I didn't want the one size fits all formula--because I tried some of those on and they weren't working. I wanted input, research, stories, ideas. I wanted my book! And so, with my next step--to blast my proposal out to a million agents--I must overcome my MacGregorness. I must believe in myself and my idea and fight for it. I must believe it is worthwhile and will make a difference in the world even if it not the most creative, most original, most one-of-a-kind revolutionary book ever. I must forge on because I believe in it. And because I believe in myself. I am writing this here so I can be honest. So I can record my failures and learn from them. So that when i DO get an agent, a publisher and a book published, I can remember that at the beginning it felt impossible. After my dream agent rejected me--gently and cordially -- I hopped on-line to read the bylines of some friends still at the paper. These are brilliant friends, whose minds are curious and bright. And their stories were by and large, boring. Not because they are boring, but because that is what they are being asked to write. And I thought: I would rather fight my hardest to get this thing I care about published, than to have all the recognition in the world for stories that were not my true passion. I am trying. And having the courage to do that--to suffer rejection and not give up, because you believe you have something to offer even when no one else does--is a personal victory. It has taken me 42 years of life, five years of therapy, 11 years of daily journalism, the death of a friend and the birth of two boys to get here. But here I am. And here I go. Wish me luck!
Educators who study every stage of child development say that they still do not know what happens in the brain that enables a child to suddenly click into learning to read. It is still a magical thing that no one quite understands. I have bought my boy phonetic books. I have gone over letters. He has done a year of pre-K and he is excellent at memorizing stories and telling them by heart--even turning the page at the right time--as if he is reading. And he is good at memorizing the shape of words he sees a lot: stop. milk. yes. no. theo. benji. I have not pushed as hard as I could. I focused on exposing him to other things: bike riding, violin lessons, chess. But yesterday it happened! He started reading! He had been doing simple sight reading flashcards from school. More like reading kanji than reading phonetically. But yesterday afternoon Benji and I put the magnetic letters back up on our new refrigerator, and I wrote a sentence: dad can pee. Theo read it. He giggled. He couldn't believe he had read it himself. And he couldn't believe that is what it said. I put up two more (the alphabet is lacking certain letters, so the sentences were a bit strange): mom is big, i met a bug. He read them both. He can do it! When did his brain figure it out? When did his brain switch from identifying shapes that are words to reading them phonetically? I don't know. But it is a miraculous and wonderful thing!
1) go wild mushroom hunting and cook with my morsels (inspired by the Omnivore's Dilemma) 2) Write a book or two that really tries to make the world a better place 3) See Angor Wat 4) Swim in Squam Lake in the fall again, and canoe by moonlight, with Jonathan and the boys 5) Go to Las Posas in Mexico, an ancient garden in the middle of nowhere filled with sculptures, plants, and magic 6) Own a simple house in a wild place 7) Paint big, beautiful pictures with wild abandon 8) Learn to cook Moroccan stews 9) Spend a summer in Anacapri 10) Learn to speak Spanish fluently
Why is it that some movies and books and art stick in your mind, while others just melt away. It is not always the things I think it will be. Some movies and books feel big, important, epic as I read them--but then when I walk away, they leave no imprint on me whatsoever. Other times the simplest, seemingly unimportant things stick in my mind, and I find myself going back over them days and weeks later. And I am surprised. Last weekend our friend Lisa Cassandra showed her short film at the Kids Film Festival at Kidspace in Pasadena. It was a 12 minute film about a class of third graders who studied Jackson Pollock, then made a Jackson Pollock of their own. I know the project, and I have seen her do it, and yet the tiny film blew me away. It was exquisite. And I can't get it out of my head. First she had the kids talk about Jackson Pollock and what they knew about him. They were up against the wall like talking heads. Some talked deeply about his art. Others talked about how he died in a car accident. Some said they didn't like his art at all. That added. Then she tool them out on a huge grassy lawn and dressed them in a big white painting shirt. They had to say the emotion they were going to express in their paint splattering. Then they selected an implement, a color, and danced around the canvas. They used egg beaters, turkey basters, spoons and spatulas. They dropped in a seashell and a penny. They danced in the sunshine and talked about their feelings. All the while jazz played in the background. Simple. And I knew what to expect. And yet, I can't get it out of my head. Now I want to do it at Canyon School. I want the kids to run across the lawn and splatter paint. I want to do it at my birthday party. I want uptight ambitious wonderful brainiac mamas to grab kitchen implements and splatter wine and paint all over a giant canvas. I have the contagion. Isn't that what art is supposed to do?
We live in such a human world, it is rare, and breathtaking, when nature suddenly roars into your face. When it does, it can feel spiritual, strange, and like you are being sent a strange message from beyond. There is something haunting about it. Three years ago we were walking in Yosemite when a giant crow flew right at Jonathan, low and powerful. It was just the four of us, on a deserted road, with the biggest crow we had ever seen flying directly at us. It looked like death. At the last minute, right before Jonathan, it swerved away. But it did feel like some strange Indian message.
Last night we had another. We were sitting in Theo's room and we heard an unfamiliar noise--very close. I thought it was bats. So we rushed to the window. I was last. But there on the balustrade of our rear balcony--just six feet from the window--was a huge bird. It was half as big as Theo. It was noble, and frightening. It had a huge white head, giant wings, and it was just sitting right there. I rushed to the light to turn it out, so we could see out more clearly. When we returned it was gone. Theo saw it best. He said the wings were as long as his arms, and the face was big, and flat. We think it was a giant owl--extremely rare for this area. But it came to us. Just like the owl came to Harry Potter. It has stuck in my mind. It felt prehistoric, primal, and like it was trying to send us a message from another world. And then it was gone. LIke a dream.
Jonathan told me a story this morning that blew my mind. He was shopping at Costco with Theo and a Latino family was in his way. He said Perdoname in Spanish. Theo looked at him and asked why he was speaking that way, and quizzed him about how/why he knew Spanish. Jonathan said he started talking to Theo in Spanish and Theo understood every word. But the weirdest part was, Theo himself could not believe he understood every word. His comprehension was perfect (from years with his beloved Latino nanny) but he did not know why he understood this language, and he cannot speak a word--except the most gringo-esque phrases that have entered the mainstream English language. And yet, he understands it all. He and Jonathan were equally stunned by his perfect Spanish comprehension. Just wild.
It is a beautiful fall day. The sky is blue, the air is dry. I hiked up into Griffith Park with Mitch and we could see the sludgy yellow/brown haze floating over the city. It's ash from the fires. The air is making me sick.
I can't stop watching the debates. I know the candidates keep saying the same thing over and over again, and yet, I am glued to the television. And when I watch John McCain I have an almost visceral reaction of disgust. I once liked the man. From a distance, without close examination, I admired him for doing his own thing in the Republican party, and standing up for what he believes in. But now I have changed. Far beyond his decision to scrap everything he believes in and follow the Rove-ian formula he is fed of what it takes to win, I am turned off by his condescension and eye-rolling. I had heard that men of a certain age could not listen to Hilary Clinton because she reminded them too much of their own mothers. Well, I am having a similar reaction to McCain. As they show his face listening to Obama during the debates, all I can see is his eye-rolling, his fake-smile, his flat statements that he is right, with confidence but no supporting evidence or even an effort to explain how or why his plan would work. I see his condescension--a look I feel is often reserved for women, but here seems to be for all Americans who do not agree with him. And his looks are like so many men of that era. An inability to be publicly challenged, and a refusal to answer--preferring instead to just speak with the confidence and arrogance of a position of entitlement in American society-that of the white male. He cannot listen without condescension. He cannot talk without sounding bitter and blaming. And he is always looking backwards. But most of all, he has that look of so many fathers of his generation--men who feel right and are affronted that anyone is challenging them. Men who do not feel a need to explain. Men who have little compassion for others, and little interest. He is a bitter old man. He is a national hero, and I respect him for that. But I am done with bitterness, condescension and eye-rolling. I want someone who respects my intelligence, who rises above a cynical political formula, and who does not look down on his opponent, American citizens, or deign to answer the important questions posed by even those who support him. It's a new era. That is just not going to work anymore.
I love being a mother. I love it. I don't mind getting up in the night, so much. I am used to permanent sleep deprivation and loss of brain power. I don't mind perpetually serving people--milk, food, orange juice, water, wine. I don't mind arriving at the table late, and leaving early to set, clean, cook. I don't mind shepherding slow, small people around the world most of the time. I have adapted, mostly. I don't even mind losing almost all that is mine--space, art, colores, rooms. That is all OK. What is really really hard for me is the absolute lack of quiet time. Of time to myself. Quiet time is my re-calibration time. It is my time to digest my life, and my time to calm myself. It is my time to work through things and figure it all out. It is my ultimate anti-depressant. And, as a mother, it seems you get no quiet time EVER! I can't get up early to have quiet time--the boys hear me and get up, too. I can't get any time during the day. They follow me around like small puppies, yapping at the door even when I go to the bathroom. "I don't want to be alone," Benji says under the door, or through the crack. And, by the time they go to bed--even if they do stay in bed, which seems never to happen--I am so tired it barely feels like I am alone. If I am alone then I just fall asleep. I don't want to use my costly child care time to wander aimlessly--and yet I need it to regain my equilibrium. I know one day, in the not too distant future, they won't want to be with me every second of the time. They won't want to tell me every detail of their lives, show me every structure they build, every picture they draw, or cuddle me every time they feel sad or off-balance. And then, I will be crushed. I will miss it, this sweet sweet need they have, of me being the absolute center of their universes. And yet, for now, sometimes, it is so hard. I am waiting for the nanny to arrive. So I can have a completed thought.
This summer, as we walked alongside the San Francisco Bay, Jonathan and I pledged that we would work harder to invest the money we had in companies that were doing some good in the world. As small as our investments were, we decided we would try to remain morally pure and not support corporations engaged in making a lot of money, but destroying a lot of other things in the process. Now the stocks are down, and my savvy husband is ready to invest. So this morning at the breakfast table we sat down and looked through the top 100 companies or so--now available at firesale prices. This is what we saw: oil companies, pharmaceuticals, a few tech firms, some financial firms, some defense firms, and a lot of insurance companies. There were also the same old companies,famous for doing horrible things to their employees or our health, but always a good investment. Out of 100 companies it was really hard to feel good about investing in ANY of them. We could invest in Pfizer--o wait, they suppressed medical studies in an effort to get their cholesterol lowering drug on the market and ended up killing people. We could invest in Cigna, o wait, they are part of the health care industry that will not accept people with a pre-existing condition and works to cheat their clients out of getting the health care they thought they were supposed to get. We could invest in Halliburton--o wait, friends with Cheney, and HUGE beneficiaries of the war in Iraq, so much so that you wonder whether we went to war to support companies like this. How about Boeing? A beneficiary of defense spending, supported by a war? McDonalds--not inherently evil, but probably contributing more to ill health in this country than any other single corporation. Ok, fine, Wal-Mart, that should do well in a recession--people will still need affordable clothes and food. But that company, single-handedly, has done more to undermine health care for families, and underpay employees, and kill unions fighting for real benefits people should get, than perhaps any other company in America? Fine, how about a financial market. Well, it is hard to stomach doing that right now. Along with the rest of America, I am inclined to believe that all the financial gains of the past decade come from a few really rich guys manipuating stocks largely for their own gain, taking over the world, living the high life, and now asking the rest of us to bail them out of their corrupt speculation which most closely resembles gambling, all the while continuing their lives the same way they always have. I found about three companies I felt I could support through investment. But I did have to lower my standard. It could no longer be a standard of doing good in the world, I had to lower it to not actively doing bad. That left me with Amgen, a pharmaceutical who I do believe is principled and has worked hard to bring important drugs on the market, Apple, who at least brings stylish, cool computers to the market and believes in serving consumers at a time when most companies ridicule you and wear you down before you ever get to help--maybe Google, though they are feeling increasingly corporate. And I supposed Target, which still has some problems, but I still believe does a service to the world by trying to bring stylish clothes and supplies to average citizens. And that was it. Would I invest in Ford, Jonathan asked? I would like to be patriotic. But I am disgusted with Ford. They have spend the last 5-10 years building huge, gas guzzling pick-up trucks that block the roads, use too much gas, and look backwards. I would sooner invest in Toyota, or Audi, or Mini. Not because I am anti-American, but because I look to the future--not to the past. I am angry at American companies that cling to the past and actively lobby and work to kill anything new that might cause them to change. In the end, I feel this says something awful about our markets. All of these companies, all of these top earners in our national economy, are engaged in behavior so morally repulsive, I really believe I cannot take their profits without being deeply tainted. Is it possible to be a top company without engaging in morally questionable behavior? Or is that the new American way? I don't know.
I am an ex-journalist and a mother of two boys. I live in Los Angeles. I am a traveler, an adventurer, a writer. These are my philosophical investigations -- from the kitchen, the playground, and the streets of LA.