Friday, October 31, 2008

Studs Terkel is Dead

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.

We Run Our Country Like a Corporation

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 Can't Wait

...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.

Thursday, October 30, 2008

Theo's Comment on the Barack Infomercial 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?

Ah, my pint-sized philosopher...

Benji says

...Mommy, I want to tell you a smooky story.


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
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?

Thursday, October 23, 2008

Something I Am Grateful For

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.

I Miss New England in the Fall

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!

My Final Bill for Services

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.


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.

Wednesday, October 22, 2008

My Challenge. My Confession.

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!

He Can Do It!

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!

Tuesday, October 21, 2008

A Few Things I Want to Make Sure I Do Before I Die...

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

Monday, October 20, 2008

Things That Stick In Your Mind

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?

Friday, October 17, 2008

A Visitation

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.

Thursday, October 16, 2008

What is Buried Within

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.

Dirty Air

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.

Bitter Old Man

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.

My Biggest Challenge

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.

Saturday, October 11, 2008

A Pledge That Is Hard To Keep

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.

Friday, October 10, 2008


...a poem I love from the Yom Kippur service we went to...maybe because I love stories above all else

Let us write our story,
Let us sign our names.
Let the wishes of our hearts be sealed
In the Book of Life.

The book of blessing and peace,
The book of life, of strength,
of wisdom and love.
Let us write our story.
Let us sign our names.

Let the wishes of our hearts be sealed
In the Book of Life.

Yom Kippur

We don't do much to celebrate this highest of high holy days on the Jewish calendar. But slowly we are building our traditions. This year, again, we went to the children's Yom Kippur service in Simi Valley, where Adina, our favorite pre-school teacher, and her father, a canter, sing and teach the children. It is a beautiful synagogue, full of white stone and light, and high stained glass windows that look like they were designed by Chagall's offspring. Adina sang like an angel, and I nearly wept. And here is my Jewish family observing the holiday:

My men in yarmulkes.

A yarmulke can be a fashion statement and an expression of personal style, if you wear it like this! Jaunty!

Theo playing the shofar -- in this case the horn of a South African antelope called the kudu. He practiced on the bugle all morning before the service and he produced a long, beautiful, haunting tone! He may turn into a trumpeter, a trombonist, a bugler or a canter.

Thought of the day: I want to go to Israel.

Day of Atonement

I'm not Jewish--even if my husband is. But thanks to an upbringing by a father raised as a Catholic, converted to Born Again Christianity, who lived his life as a military man and believes that guilt is the most powerful motivator out there, I am always drawn to holidays that require restraint and repression (fasting) and reflection on what you have done wrong. And so I took yesterday-Yom Kippur- to reflect deeply on what I could have done better this past year. I think that not working gives me more time to pay attention, and to help out others in small ways and large, that I did not have before. For this I am grateful. And I do not feel like I coasted through important moments blindly, to be plagued with regret later on. But as I worked through my yoga yesterday I felt a powerful anger rise up in me.
It was a mama anger. A deep, protective, instinctive mama bear anger. I am angry at my sister-in-law. She had a baby in June. I was so excited to have a local niece. I have two adorable nieces far, far away on the other side of the world, but by the time I see them again they will have forgotten who I am. And I really want to be an aunt. I want to be the aunt I never had. My sister-in-law was the most fabulous aunt in the world. She spent a lot of time with my boys. She worked with them, got to know them, taught them art and did special projects with them. They adored her! In Theo's school assessment at St. James the only thing he told the school about his family was that his aunt was an artist, and that he did projects with her. She was a dream.
She had her baby girl, and she has disappeared. Her birth was traumatic, and the months after birth are always hard, so hard, and hard to recall once you are no longer in that sleep-deprived, slightly panicked hell. And I try to remember that.
But since her baby was born she has barely seen my boys. She just dropped them. One day we brought her a roast chicken, and Benji was allowed into the apartment and touched Elaina's toe. It turned out he had hand-foot-and-mouth disease--an alarming sounding but not very serious illness that causes little discomfort but is highly contagious.
The baby never got it. But that was it. Since then we have been quarantined. When she sees my boys she will not touch them. We only meet in outdoor public places--parks. We do not enter her home, she does not enter ours. We do not touch the baby. I held the baby once when she was just born, and Carolyn was still in a drug-induced state. Since then, no touching. When the baby goes outside it is under a black mosquito netting type contraption so no one will see how cute she is and inadvertently reach out and touch her, or be able to.
I am a grown up. If she does not want me to touch or be near her baby, I must deal. Although I do believe that babies bring joy, and if you are blessed enough to have a baby, how wonderful to share that joy with others. They are so beautiful!!! But I am so hurt that she will not see or be near my boys. That she will walk away from them. Not touch them. No explanation. Just a quiet, cold avoidance. We are not allowed to talk about it.
And as I was stretching and breathing I felt this deep anger inside. I felt this hurt for my boys. That someone they love so much made the time for them, then cut it off completely with no explanation. I know her family comes first, but it hurts so much. And as their protector I feel rage.
And so, I am atoning for my feelings. I hope that I can accept Carolyn's rejection of me, and my boys, but I hope I do not punish Elaina, so cute and young and having no responsilibity for any of this. I hope that I can forgive, and remain with an open heart towards this sweet baby. And I hope that I can find compassion in my heart for her treatment of my boys, who I love so much. This is probably more of a journal entry than a blog--and yet, I write it here because this is my record of all the complex emotions that children bring up in families. My other nieces are so far away, in Singapore, and yet, as little as I have seen them, I have seen them more than my local neice. And, in those rare times when I do see them I feel like they are shared, and family is celebrated. Children holding children, aunts and uncles caring for nieces. I wanted this so much as a child, and I wish I could give my boys this. Perhaps it will come in another form, through friends...

Wednesday, October 8, 2008

Today is the Day

Today, after a half year of interviews and months of transcribing, editing and refining, I ship my book proposal off to my dream agent, Jill Marsal at the Sandy Dijikstra Agency. In doing this I am ignoring every piece of advice I have gotten. Every person in publishing, and every person who has gotten a book published, says connections are everything. And, for once, I actually do have connections. I have a lot of friends who have written amazing books. And yet, after I saw Sandy Dijikstra on a panel at the UCLA book fair, where she sat before a packed auditorium of desperate author wanna-bes like myself, and dared to say not only that her agency reads through their slush pile (pretty much unprecedented at a big, successful agency) but then went on to pass out profiles of her sub agents and what they want to see in a book proposal and query letter.
Not only that, as I sat in that audience and listened to these four top boutique agencies talk about books, publishing, editing and authors, I realized that though I might respect ALL of them, the only one I would want near this opus I am slaving away on, that means sooo much to me, was Sandy Dijikstra. She felt smart and strong, but also compassionate and open. I love everything about her agency. First off, I loved, and have read most of her big authors--from Amy Tan and Lisa See to Chalmers Johnson. Second, I love that she is big-time, but dared to live on the West Coast. And not even in Los Angeles or San Francisco--no, in Del Mar. I love that she is training subagents--that she is grooming more people, and thinks that is worthwhile. And I felt that she was tough--but also visionary.
So, I am ignoring all conventional wisdom and going for it.
I shook the trees and the incredibly talented and generous Sarah Shun Lien Bynum (Miss Hempel Chronicles and Madeleine is Sleeping, National Book Award Finalist) hooked me up with her friend Ali Liebegott, a talented poet and now graphic novelist, represented by the agency, who then did an e-introduction for me.
And now, I will send my passion project off into the universe and wait and see. If this fails I will return to more conventional methods. But for today, and the next six weeks, I will cross my fingers and pray that Jill Marsal loves my project, and that I love her.

Look Ma, No Teeth

Look at my boy! Two weeks ago Theo lost his first tooth. Today, he swallowed his second while eating a bowl of familia. I feel as emotional as a mother watching her child enter puberty. He is losing his sweet, perfect baby teeth. He is growing man teeth. He is growing up, away, into the person he will finally become.

Monday, October 6, 2008

The Power of Words

My parents never said what they wanted us to be. When I was younger it drove me crazy. I just wanted someone (my parents! God! a teacher! Buddha!) to tell me what i was supposed to do with my life. I guess I would still like it if it happened--but I no longer have faith that it will, and I look most of all to myself to find out what it is exactly I am supposed to be doing here on this earth. Often, I am lost.
Anyway, the other day I was in the car with my boys, and Theo asked about predictions. What is a prediction? I said it was someone guessing -- with some knowledge -- about what would happen in the future. I used a weather example. And then I predicted what they would turn into. I said I predict Theo will become a great builder and architect, and Benjamin will make movies. I just threw it out as I drove too fast down an L.A. freeway.
Two days later I overheard him talking to Jonathan while curled up in his lap. He said, "I am a junk food junkie (what self-knowledge!) and Mommy said I am going to grow up to make movies. Pirate movies!" He was so pleased. So happy. And he has said it several times since. As parents we speak off the cuff. But our words are so incredibly powerful. I feel like I have planted a tiny seed in him. And now it might grow to be true.

One Perfect Wave

I love to surf. It may be the one thing that just never, ever lets me down. Whether I catch a wave or no, it just brings joy.
When I moved to California, I had myself a borrowed surf board and a too-small scuba suit to go out in within days. I managed to fineigle the surfing essentials out of some older, native Californians on the LA Times staff in Ventura. I surfed a couple of times a week for years. It took me a long time to get off, and I still can't call myself a great surfer. But life is good when you are out on a surf board.

Since kids it has been harder. I live too far away from the ocean. It is hard to add a surfboard to the mountain of necessities I already need to lug down to the sand for my two boys--food, towels, umbrella, sand toys, sunblock, water, shoes, and often, the boys themselves.

I only surfed twice last year--once with Natalie off the spit in Bolinas (perfect break, all to myself!) and once in Ventura, with Jonathan.

This whole summer went by and I never got on a board once, though I did some awesome boogie boarding, and even got my head inside the green room once--a first for me!

But we went out to Leo Carrillo this weekend to go camping with our favorite adventuring family--the Marcos. We camped, told stories, roasted s'mores, and on Sunday morning I got to head out into the surf on my board. The waves were huge--intimidatingly huge for someone who had not been out for a year and a half. The entry was rocky and rough. You had to walk across a hundred feet of barnacly rocks you couldn't see while waves crashed and your board got thrown around and pulled you over.

Then, the best spot at Leo Carrillo, where all the real hard-core surfers take off, is a narrow spot between a mountain of jagged rocks. The hotshots take off right behind them and surf within feet of these sharp outcroppings. Some of them you can't even see. As I was about to get in half a surfboard washed up on shore--without a rider. It felt like a bad omen. (The guy, who eventually floated in, said he had to throw the board onto the rocks to save himself) But we had lugged the board out to Malibu, with the straps whistling for 60 miles. I was determined to go out, no matter how scary it was.

So I paddled out, with my little team of Theo, Benji, Jonathan, Violet, Vivian and Jill all watching from the beach. Jill wanted me to surf to inspire her amazing girls. How could I let them down???? It took me forever to get out. I almost got decapitated a few times by some crazy shortboarders. The rocks scared me. I didn't know the terrain. And legends of mean local surfers in Malibu kept running through my head. By the time I got out to the lineup I was so tired I didn't even know if I had the strength to paddle for a wave.

I kept paddling and missing and getting thrashed, and I even bonked a good surfer on the head with my board, but he was cool. Finally, an old dude on a board gave me the tip of the day. Paddle hard, he said. You have to get on it when it is really, really steep. It has to look like it is breaking on top of you. These are the scariest waves to ride, but I knew he was right.

The weirdest thing is, although I never knew it, I guess facing towards the wave, riding the wave, diving into the wave, are all metaphors in Buddhism, and gestalt therapy. At least in the gestalt and Buddhism my friend Natalie practiced, and the books on Buddhism I have been reading since her death. The idea is, even if something huge is coming, you have to face it head on. You have to look at it, know what you are up against, and dive through it. And, of course, you have to give into the wave on some level, and let it carry you--whether you are riding it, or trying to get to the other side. When Natalie was going in and out at the end, she kept saying, I can't ride the wave. I thought she was talking to me because we had surfed and boogie boarded together, but Chris said it was a gestalt thing...

Anyway, these thoughts kept running through my head out there. I have to go through the wave. I have to ride the wave. I am scared to wait until the wave is on top of me over a rocky bottom, but if I don't have faith, I will never ride a wave here, today, on my one day of surfing for 2008. I got on my knees a few times, and the waves were so fast I was startled. But I remembered the old dude's words. A big wave came and I got right under it, in the position where you must commit or you will be thrashed beyond belief. I paddled. I was scared, but I was committed. And I took off, and it was perfect. It was one of the most perfect, longest waves I have ever ridden. I went up the wave, then down, then up, then down. Time slowed down. It was just me on top of the wave. There is nothing like it. I rode as far as I could--I didn't want it to end. I turned and my whole posse of supporters had seen it. I was glad, because I didn't know when I would get a wave like that again.

And here is the amazing thing about a perfect wave: it sticks in your mind. You can hold it. You can hold the complete experience, and play it over and over again and still feel it--what it is like to have the water under your feet, heading towards shore, going up and down the wave. For me there is no other physical thing like that...

I didn't get another wave like that. It was my one perfect wave. But what a lesson. You do need to commit in life. You just have to go, you have to take off and commit. You can't think about what is going to happen if you fall, and you get tangled in your leash on top of a bed of barnacly rocks. Because if you do not commit 100% and believe that that wave will carry you, you cannot ride it. So I am holding that feeling today--not just the joy of the wave. But that memory--that I have to commit to those things that scare me. And if I don't go all out, they simply cannot happen.

Friday, October 3, 2008

A Shock of Recognition...

and not entirely pleasant.
My sophomore year at Wellesley a huge hurricane blew up the east coast towards Boston. We taped the windows of our glorious old, gothic dorm and hunkered down to wait out the storm. We walked by underground tunnel to the dining hall (so we wouldn't be blown away?) and basically hung out in our dorm rooms experimenting with interesting new kinds of alcohol. (kahlua! midori!) There was a group of five of us, tight as only new college students can be, who decided to play a game to pass the time. We would make predictions about our own futures--and where we would all be in 20 years.
This was the game. Each person got a prediction. While the group was coming up with the prediction the person had to wait in the hall--no campaigning or complaining. It was what your dearest friends imagined. We would throw out our ideas, settle on a narrative, then store it somewhere safe and check it in 20 years when of course we would still be best friends.
We have lost the predictions, and we have lost touch with at least one of the people there completely. Last I heard she was divorced, had a child, and was a lawyer for the EU in the Hague.
It was not entirely comfortable.
But we were eerily on the mark for some things. We predicted one friend would marry a doctor from Harvard medical school. She did. We predicted another would marry a doctor and stay in New England. She did. We predicted a third would never get married, but would be best friends with her boyfriend for years and years and live in a super cool loft in Boston. Well, mostly true. They did eventually get married, and they do now have a child--but she did live with him and remain best friends with him for about 15 years before that, and he did have some kind of super cool architectural pad in Boston, though I have never laid eyes on it.
As for me: they predicted I would marry my boyfriend at the time (a world class sailor and mechanical engineer from MIT) and that I would have kids and run the PTA.
I was soooo repulsed.
The rules said we couldn't argue the decision, but I did. I swore I would NEVER run a PTA, and that I would never marry Dave Lyons (who was a really nice guy, but marriage was the farthest thing from my mind at that point).
I said I probably would not have children and I planned to travel the world and make a difference. I was huffy and sullen, but they wouldn't budge.
Well, I did not marry Dave Lyons. And I waited about as long as one could to have children. And I did travel the world and I think I have made a little tiny bit of a difference. But, this morning I received news that I will be the parent representative for the Board of Directors for Larchmont Charter West Hollywood. Were my friends right?
I remember how their prediction filled me with feminist rage. It was so fucking traditional! It turned my stomach!
And yet, I am thrilled that I will be on the Board of this school. I am humbled, and in awe, and excited. I can't believe I will get a front-row seat to watching and building this school, which we hope will be a model for educating children of every socio-economic class sucessfully. I still plan to travel more, and I plan to write lots and lots. And I do not see this as my main thing. But it is funny to note: what they predicted came true. And it doesn't seem so bad any more. Life is so strange. And unnerving.

My Sweet Boy

I forget how sensitive my boy is. Theo will never talk about school when I press and interrogate reporter style (a lesson here for me?) But often, later in the day, post-bath, or curled up before going to sleep, he dumps out his daily triumphs, dreams and worries from school. Yesterday I learned that he secretly longs to be the teacher's helper. He knows that the teacher has let Alison, who cries for her mother every day, be the teacher's helper for more than one day, because it helps her not to cry. But he wants to do it.
Then he told me that he read a book at school that made him sad. I was confused. I can't imagine that the kindergarten room is full of sad stories. He said the teacher read a book about a hospital (they are learning about community) and it made him really sad. Still I was confused. He said it reminded him of Natalie, and how sick she was. I wondered if he was just saying this to say what I want to hear, because he is hyper-perceptive and does try to meet you where you are, and he knows I have been sad. Then he said, "Mommy it made me so sad I couldn't listen. I wanted to put my hands over my ears so I didn't have to hear. But I knew my teacher wouldn't let me."
Oh. what have I done? Is it wrong that I let him love someone so sick? That she was so much part of our lives? Has he seen me too sad? Or is it good for him, to know that you can love, and still hold someone in your heart. And for him to know that he made her extraordinarily happy while she was alive.
These are things I never thought I would have to deal with until he was older. I love him and his big, sensitive heart.

Wednesday, October 1, 2008

Reflections on Art

Long, long ago, when I was a globetrotting twenty-something struggling to find my place and role in the world, we stopped our travels in Indonesia. We had been traveling for four months, my friend and I, and when we hit Jogyakarta, we just stopped. We needed to put down roots, if only for a week. Jogya, as the natives called it, is famous for its fabulous fabrics and batiks. They make most of the sarongs in the world, or at least the beautiful ones. My friend and I signed up for a batik class. We studied with a guy who was pretty famous. He did amazing sculptures and showed his work all over the world. And yet, he invited us into his run-down colonial courtyard to teach us art. Like everyone in the world, he was curious about America. And we were agonizing about what to do with our lives. He said I was talented. I had to make sure I kept doing art. I said my parents would never let me become an artist. He looked confused. He said, everyone needs to do art. I said people in America are artists as a profession--otherwise you didn't really have time. He said Indonesians believed that it was essential for the human soul that every person have some art they practiced, whether it was dance, music, drumming, painting, just something beautiful. When I said people in America were artists full-time, that was your job, he said that must drive them crazy. It must distort the art. Art is simply something everyone must do, to feel alive. You are not supposed to do it ALL the time, that is just as crazy as no art at all. It made me think. It was such a balanced way to look at the world. And he was so talented. So it was extra powerful from him.
Last night I started a new art class at the Barnsdall Art Center. It is a class in collage. For some reason the people in this class are so much more serious than those in the figure drawing class. We looked at artists, people took notes, we practiced new techniques. It is conceptual. And so fun!!!! I felt so overjoyed after the class.
I was reminded so vividly of the Indonesian artist and what he said: Everyone does need art in their lives. It is part of being human.