Monday, December 15, 2008

I Am a Bear

When winter comes I want to sleep. I want to eat huge bowls of pasta and just crawl into a cave (with books and comforters) and not come out until Spring. I am made to hibernate.

We are the Dreamers

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!

Sunday, December 14, 2008

Christmas before Christmas

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!

Saturday, December 13, 2008

A Magical Mama

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.

Material Girl

"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.

Thursday, December 11, 2008

Strange Children's Words to Remember


Unjamas = pajamas
unstroy = destroy

Theo: (at three, not five)

I need piracy = I need privacy
chicken luggages = chicken nuggets

A Little Oedipal Complex in the Making?

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.
"Do you want to be just like Daddy?" I asked, mourning that no one in this family will ever model their behavior on me.
"What else do you want to do that Daddy does?"
"I want to sleep with you in your bed."

The House of the Three Peniiiii

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.

Wednesday, December 10, 2008


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.

Monday, December 8, 2008

Looking for Writers

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 :-)

The Tree is Up!

My Magical Co-op

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.

Saturday, December 6, 2008


My artist mother-in-law spent hours over Thanksgiving teaching my son how to compose an artistic photo. Here is my favorite (mama is the muse, of course...)


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?

The Coffee Song

This is a song I learned when I was in second grade, and now I have taught my boys. Having them sing it is my penance for my addiction. It goes like this:

C-O-F-F-E-E , coffee is noooot for me
It's a drink some people wake up with
That it makes them nervous is no myth
Slaves to a coffee cup
They can't give coffee up!

I will try to get a recording posted here. It is delightful.

I LOVE COFFEE!!!!!!!!!!!!(*&(*&%*%&&%@

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!

Friday, December 5, 2008

Another Visitation

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.

Check This Out

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.

Dreaming Outside the Box

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.

An update

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!

Novel Synopsis

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…

Thursday, December 4, 2008

Our Characters in Relief

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?