Saturday, January 31, 2009

Pinata Dilemma

Tomorrow is Theo's sixth birthday party. He is excited beyond belief. We will have a bouncer, strawberry shortcake, capture the flag and three legged races. Yesterday we went to pinata alley to get an AMAZING pinata (more on that later!!!!). But here is my dilemma. My boys don't love candy. Or I guess I should say one does, and one doesn't. But our house is filled with party favor bags full of candy from pinatas. They love pinatas, but the candy bags become trophiess and ant magnets stashed in secret drawers and under pillows, and little more. So I have been wracking my brain trying to find a creative way to fill our big green tyranasaurus rex pinata with something different. I decided on art supplies, but some are heavy, and could fall like bricks on their heads. I also wonder whether they will like them. Or rebel. Or roll their eyes.

When I was buying my various erasers and sprarkly glue containers and wacky pencils at the art store I told the woman my dilemma. She said she knew a grandmother who decided to boot the candy habit and fill her child's pinata with oranges, peanuts and empty pill jars filled with multi-vitamins. She said when the pinata broke open and the loot rained down, the children ran towards it with their baggies then stopped in their tracks in shock. They were not happy.

So I wonder, am I being too PC? Too health conscious? Too coercive? I also realized that it is cheap to fill a pinata with candy. Will the children run for the hills when they see erasers, pencils, stickers and buttons raining down instead of lollipops?

What would you do?

I'll let you know how it goes. Perhaps this will start a pinata revolution!

Thursday, January 29, 2009

Sick Food

Chicken soup with home-made broth. Bananas. Home-made apple-sauce. Ritz crackers. Gatorade. Toast.

My First Entry

It seems to be the new trendy thing: Keep a gratitude journal. List three things every day that you are grateful for. Simple pleasures. It is zen. It is cognitive therapy. It is the stuff of blogs and books.

The idea is that if you focus on what you are grateful for you will 1) feel better and 2) you will have better context in your life for when the really hard things come along. My gratitude journal will be a small, private one I carry in my purse, along with writing notes. But my first one, for my first day, will be here.

Today, January 29:

o I love being at the Y. I love my yoga class, I love the steam room, and I love running into friends for a few minutes while I am panting on some exercise machine. I love that I can walk there and walk home. I love that it is a real community, made up of homeless people and movie stars.

o I love the way Benji feels when he is hot from fever and his cheeks are flushed and he snuggles up against me and I know that I am the one thing in the world that can make him feel better. It is the sweetest of feelings.

o I love to write, to muse, to scribble, to read, to blog, and today, Thursday, I get to do it because I have help.

o I love the smell of jasmine when you walk through Whitley Heights on a sunny afternoon--like today.

Making Space

You have to make space for things to come into your life. Psychological, physical, emotional. It's so corny and trite. But true.

When we went to Joe Forte's to pick out a painting we trooped out back to the art studio he and Meg have made. It is filled with paint and art and pieces of inspiration and drawers of treasures that will go in future collages. It is a converted garage, 100% devoted to making art. He said making it a studio made him make art. He had only scratched out a few pictures before he made his studio. But once he made the space the art started to emerge. Now he has painted on an old mattress, dozens of huge canvasses and endless pieces of paper. He has had shows downtown and at Bergamot Station. It all started because he made a space for it.

Clutterbusters say leave an empty bookcase for new books. Love counselors say make room for love. A friend said hire a nanny if you want to write. You have to make the space to work, not earn it or prove it to yourself.

So here are two spaces I will make.

An Art Room: Upstairs I have a room I love. It is a magical room filled with light and views. It is all exposed wood and windows that look out into a giant pine tree from the 1920s and across the hill to Camrose and Hightower. One friend said we should make it our dining room it is so spectacular. It is a tree house and a secret place off the rest of the house. It is a room for dreaming, floating in the air. We have long called it the computer room. I told the boys I wanted to make it the art room. Now they call it that, preparing me, although I have done nothing to make it an art room. But naming it is a first step. And when I call it the computer room Theo always corrects me. No, Mommy, you mean the art room. I have done a wall of inspiration. Next I will get a table for the boys, and art supplies. Then a rug that you can spill things on. And then we will be ready. We will have our space.

A Writing Time: My other space is time. I need to work on my book every day. This is the hard part. I can crank out copy, but it is harder to reframe, reimagine, re-structure the same material. That is where I am. It involves thinking, but not necessarily pages. It is hard. But if I work every day a little I do better. I am high on Thursdays, when I have time to work, buzzing with ideas percolating in my head. But by Saturday I have lost my momentum. The buzzing thoughts have just settled down and been forgotten again. So this week I will make a space for writing. This Monday through Friday, for one week, I will get up at 6 and work for 45 minutes. No coffee. No tea. No wake up stretching. I will just rise, trot into the ART room, and plop myself down and spend time on the book, pushing myself to do whatever I can. And maybe something wonderful will emerge.

I write this here to make myself accountable. To out myself!

And I ask you: What would you make space for in your life if you could?

Writers Inspiration

Here is a new blog by the writer's group of a blogger whose work I like, who encouraged ME to start my writing group. Check it out!

Rebel Without a Cause

Theo is six, and he is having his first attack of rebelliousness. Some days he has a sad look in his eyes. Some days a sullen expression like a bored preteen. My innocent angel with the bright eyes looks different. He has gotten in trouble twice this last week, and yesterday his teacher came to talk to me again. Academically he continues to do well, she said, but he is trying too hard to fit in. Oh, my heart started to break. It is a battle that never ends. I guess Jonathan and I were lucky we learned we were weird early.
Each night I have spoken to him, trying to implant a reassuring voice in his head. Be yourself. Everyone is different, unique. You are, too. If you are just yourself, people will flock to you.
But he is obsessed. With making his friend Omeed laugh. With making his two best friends like him. I mean really like him.
So he is acting out. Saying he wants to escape from school. Putting his feet up on the table. Laughing loudly.
None of it is so bad. It is more an attitude.
But I worry. I worry that his curious mind is not fully engaged in school. It is not that he is brilliant. But he is so curious, and can take in almost any story or factoid. He delights in them. It is not enough to hear that an alligator has webbed feet and scales. He knows that. He likes learning that when you see you receive the image upside down and then your brain flips it right side up. I'm sure being a kindergarten teacher is hard. You have children of every level. Some can read, some can't. Some can follow a story. Some can't. I feel that my boys imagination and curiousity are not being harnessed. I know it is my job, too. And I try. Each night he pores over The Way We Work by David McCauley, looking at elaborate illustrations of the heart, the circulation system, the eye, the ear. He can't read it, but it sets him afire.
I feel he is not being set afire at school. And all his energy is going to making his friends laugh, to fitting in, to experimenting socially, like he is trying on new clothes. That is important, too. But what can I do to keep his curiousity alive?
In the meantime I make him sing: "All the Freaky People Make the Beauty of the World."

Writer Group Update

So here is how it went. We arrived. We were a little awkward. Some of us carried entire manuscripts, some of us wads of paper in our back pockets, some of us giant binders. We didn't all know each other, which is both good, AND intimidating. Several members emailed me before to tell me they were excited but NERVOUS!!!! When they all arrived (everyone came!) and we arrayed ourselves around the table, I offered tea, coffee or wine. Everyone picked wine. (Jonathan had said, DON"T SERVE WINE!) We explained why we were there and what we wanted to get out of it. People were shockingly honest. It was not like a college course requirement full of sullen non-participatory people. Just the fact that everybody really wanted to be there elevated the mood. Then we read. I asked each person to bring a 2-3 page selection just to introduce themselves and their writing to the group. One woman read part of a story about her child being attacked in the face by the pet rottweiler of a friend, one woman a chapter from a memoir about her childhood in Louisianna, about abuse and her friendship with a black girl that carried her through, my fellow nanowrimo writer Leslie read the first chapter of her novel, a memoir about the summer she spent with a step-mother after her mother died. Our lone man read an essay about a lifelong encyclopedia project that he started at seven and continues to this day, documenting the weird, the warped, the disturbing, starting with martyred saints and moving up to the interests of his 40-something self. My fellow journalist read a heart-breaking story about her sister and the legacy of divorce, the beginning of a memoir, and a new friend read a chapter from her 900 page novel about the Armenian diaspora, told through four generations of women. I read from my fictionalized NANOWRIMO memoir/novel.

The talent in the group was prodigious, and scary. The evening was powerful. As one participant (an actress) said, when the words are powerful, you do not need to act. This was true here tonight.

There was something profound about the experience of reading aloud. We sat and listened together to the power of another's words. And you could feel people reacting to YOUR words.

People were supportive and also insightful in their comments.

We continue. We will meet twice a month. We will read three to five pages aloud. We decided reading aloud and having a shared experience is more important than submitting chapters for commentary. We will share sources, advice, and book recommendations. We will mix it up with on the spot rotating writing exercises. We will continue to drink wine. Not tea. (It was unanimous).

I can't speak for others, but I couldn't get to sleep I was so excited.

Journalism 101

Here is the course I will be teaching this spring at UCSD, as it will be listed in the course catalog for the literature department.

This is an introductory reporting course for adrenaline junkies, adventurers and true storytellers. In this practical journalism workshop students will learn how to write and report a basic news story, pitch and deliver a feature, turn around a lively profile, keep a blog, and perhaps pound out a passionate personal essay. The class will introduce different journalistic forms and discuss the relative strengths and weaknesses of each. We will debate the role of journalism in society, and how (and why) journalism must evolve in the 21st century. On occasion guest journalists will speak.
Students will be required to read a newspaper daily, and must be ready to discuss print and on-line news coverage in each class. We will read and analyze articles from local and national newspapers such as The Wall Street Journal, the Washington Post, the Los Angeles Times, the New York Times, the San Diego Tribune, the Huffington Post and the Onion. Students will complete this course having reported real stories, and been edited as if for publication. In addition to submitting articles, active class participation will count significantly towards the final grade.

Would you sign up?

Wednesday, January 28, 2009

Feeling the Pinch

The crashing economy is starting to show, and not just in the number of houses for sale in the neighborhood. Here are some things we have seen around us.

1. People are going through our garbage for recycling five to six times a day, sometimes it is Latino mothers, pushing their kids in strollers.

2. There was a stick-up at the parking lot on our corner two weeks ago for some petty cash.

3. Our cleaning lady found a lump in her breast. I think it is stress. She has said over and over she is losing jobs.

4. One of our favorite babysitters is moving back to NYC to be with her family in East Harlem, after 18 years here. She wanted to stay in the sunshine, but couldn't find a job.

5. We saw one of our past swimming instructors from the Y fishing through our trash with his uncle over Christmas break.

6. My beloved LA Times has declared bankruptcy.

Tuesday, January 27, 2009


We got new art! Purchased from our dear friend and true artiste Joe Forte His art is collages and layers and pictures and bright colors and lots of French and Chinese and other languages. In our case, Spanish. Our piece a huge yellow canvas with pieces of Cuba embedded in it--sugar packets, train tracks, Scrabble pieces, Spanish clippings. It is unlike anything we have and I think we will move all our art around to accommodate. It was so hard to choose--one other piece still sticks in my mind--a huge, bold canvas of a man and his inner thoughts. (Really. They are scribbled all over the canvas.) But for today we chose Cuba, which means a lot to both of us. Jonathan's mysterious, tightlipped grandfather, and probably his family name, came from Cuba. And for me, my trip to Cuba--days after the pope left, was one of the best trips of my life. I loved the music, the rum, the sky, the storms (the day we landed our plane was rerouted from Havana the winds were so strong, then a storm broke and by the time we got into the city after driving through lightening and thunder for an hour, our taxi was half underwater) the crumbling colonial buildings, the shadow of Castro and Che, and being in a non-capitalist country.

Our furniture is cheap, old, worn out, and covered with wine, vomit, child-stains and life. But our art is beautiful. I am surrounded by pieces made by friends and family. All of it is spectacular. Right down to the primitive tiger with a man-head drawn by Theo, pasted on my refrigerator door.

And now I must go.

I'm going to pull out my beautiful new canvas from the behind the couch, toast it with a shot of tequila, and drink in its beauty!

Cinderella, Boys' version

So my sister-in-law took Theo and Benji to a theatrical production of Cinderella at the Santa Monica Playhouse for Theo's birthday last Sunday. It was a sweet gift, and a sweet theater, the kind of place that is almost extinct, and is just hanging on by a thread, and is so incredibly lovely. The boys sat in the front row and loved it. We reviewed the story and acted it out before going--just so they would know what was going on. And when they got home they didn't talk much about it, except to say that Cinderella and the Prince were really old. But it didn't really bother them. It was just a fact.
But suddenly, last night at dinner, they wanted to re-enact a scene from the play. They chose the moment when the fairy godmother appears to Cinderella, and gives her all she needs to go to the ball. One of us played each role: Cinderella, Fairy-Godmother and lone audience member. I was Cinderella first. Theo walked up to me and said, "Hello Cinderella, do you want to go to the ball?" I said, "Yes." He said, "Do you have anything to wear?" I said no. Then he turned out the light and threw me an apron. I put it on and voila, I was dressed in a ball gown. Then I did him.
The best part was lights out, and the transformation.
So he was Cinderella, and I was the fairy godmother. I said, do you have anything to wear? He said no. And I turned out the light, voila, he had an apron. I said do you have a coach? He said no. I turned out the light and voila, he had a firetruck to take him. I said do you have someone to pull your carriage? He said no, and I turned out the light and voila, two teddy bears appeared to pull the carriage. I said do you have a glass slipper? I turned out the light and gave him my star spangled cowboy boots.
Benji watched it all, then leaped up and demanded to be the fairy godmother. Theo was Cinderella.
"Do you want to go to the ball?" he demanded. Yes. "Do you have anything to wear?" No. Then he climbed up on the stool, turned out the light, and balanced precariously in the dark. He ran off and handed Theo something. Then he turned on the light. Theo was wearing a pirate costume and carrying a ping-pong ball machine gun. He was transformed. He was ready for the ball. He was dashing and armed with up-to-date weaponry. That was the boy version of Cinderella.
They laughed so hard they fell on the floor and rolled around. Really! People really do that.

Presidential Pin-Up

I had a playdate with a friend the other day--for Benji, not me. We walked in and the house was still decorated for her sister's 40th birthday. There was red, white and blue crepe paper draped over chandeliers and across windows, and baby buntings, like the time of Roosevelt, adorning various pieces of furniture. But best of all, there were full-size posters of Obama tacked up all over the room with personal messages for the birthday girl. There he was, coming out of the ocean in his surf shorts''"Thanks for all your work on the campaign, Allison." And playing basketball, going for a lay-up, "I couldn't have done it without you, Allison." And in the kitchen, looking soulful, "47 is the new 40." Obama looked good. Really good. But I realized in my lifetime we have NEVER had a president who could even pass as a pin-up, whose sexy sports photos would be appropriate birthday party posters. Reagan in surf shorts? I don't think so. George Bush doing a lay-up? I think I'll take a walk outside. Clinton looking soulful? I know he had a way with women, but I don't know if a poster could have done him justice, or if any 40 year old woman would have wanted him leering at her from the wall at her birthday party. But Obama pulled it off. He really looked like another sexy spread in Sports Illustrated. I guess it's just one more great thing about our new president that I personally never even stopped to think about...

Stolen Moments

I love my children, I really do, but I love my husband the most. Last weekend, for the first time in forever, we got to be alone, totally alone, in the middle of the day. The boys fabulous Auntie Carolyn took them to the theater to see Cinderella, and Jonathan and I walked off alone. Free. We walked up and down the bluffs in Santa Monica, and stared out at sailboats and sun on the sea and the mountains of Malibu. We held hands and talked and allowed every tangent to follow to its end before returning to our conversational thread. We spoke uninterrupted for hours and hours. Then we spontaneously decided to get lunch at the Ivy, one of Jonathan's two favorite places in Los Angeles. We sat on the porch, peeking out from under the ivy. The sun streamed in, the air smelled like the ocean, and clean and clear after days of storms. The clouds were huge and puffy, like an Italian Tiepolo ceiling, not like Los Angeles. We sipped Ivy gimlets--o deevine--ate an exotic salad of papaya, shrimp, butter lettuce and avocado, and followed that with the world's best crab cakes. Then we held hands some more and walked back to get our boys. I love him. He is a good date.

Sunday, January 25, 2009

Today is the Day!

Tonight my writing group will meet for the first time. There are six women and one man. We are made up of two actresses, two journalists, one Hollywood guy and smart dude, one novelist, and one dear, dear friend and artist in spirit. I know two people well, and two people barely at all. We are brought together purely by our love of writing, and our desire to be better writers. I seek to create this group to give support, feedback, creative inspiration, artistic community, discipline and accountability. I am excited!

Thursday, January 22, 2009

A Thought...

This blog is meant to be more blog than journal, though I know it often blurs the line. But the subject is, "if my life is my message," so I guess my struggles on this front fit. Plus I want to record for myself, because every thought comes, then passes and then is gone--even though I always think I will remember forever. In our Dreaming Outside the Box seminar we had to list things we enjoyed in the last year. The goal was to get us to figure out how we wanted to spend our energy in the new year. So that during the year we can check in, and not just let life drift by in directions we do not want to go. One of the activities in my Enjoy column was starting our charter school. This did not surprise me. But as we sat in our group two Sundays ago and talked about what we had written, I realized something very powerful. I did not have to believe every day that this dream was going to come true. During the time we worked to open this new charter it often seemed highly unlikely it would ever happen. I was the cynic in the back of the room, inwardly rolling my eyes at the financial goals, the likelihood of it happening, everything. I had a definite plan B, and I was sure that that plan was ready to go. And then I threw myself into the school. I was just one of many, many people. I do not want to overplay my part. BUT, the lesson for me was that I did not have to believe in the success of this project every day to make it happen. I just had to show up and do the work. Once the project had been set in motion others could carry me on the days I had doubts. Kind of like when you have a running partner so that the days you feel like you could not even put your shoes on your friend shows up at the door and DEMANDS that you run five miles, and you cannot let them down.
I guess deep inside me I carried this notion that for something to succeed you must believe it is going to succeed every single day. You must never falter in that belief. In the case of the school my belief faltered on many, many days. I WANTED it to succeed, o boy, did I want it to succeed. But I just really doubted we could pull the whole thing off. For some reason it was so empowering to me that I could have doubts. My attitude did not have to be steadfastly optimistic. I did not have to forge ahead never allowing for the possibility that we might fail. I kept working. And so did everybody else. And really, that work was more important than my belief on any given day.
Madaline Blau said it was faith. I never thought of it that way. But interesting. That is why I was often plagued by doubt, the opposite of faith, I suppose. Her point was that it is more important to go for something you really really want to happen,even if it seems impossible and against the odds, and even if you cannot believe in the success of it every day. I realized that would pick the thing that had the most probability of happening. So let's say I had one dream, but it seemed impossible, and then I had a number two and a number three dream, and those had more of a chance of happening, I would typically go for the dream that might actually come true. She said no. The lesson of the school is to pick the thing that you really want. To go for it against all odds with whatever you have. Maybe you will fail. But it is more important to nurture that dream that you hope for most of all. Huh.
AND, it is OK if you do not have the strength to believe in it every day. If you can set that thing in motion, if you can have the discipline to keep showing up and working, whatever you are feeling inside, you still have a chance of making it come true.
This is a paradigm shift for me. But I am going to try to think this way...I am going to really, really try.

...From Martha Graham (and Anna)

Since you're a quote collector, like me, here's one by Martha Graham that I keep over my desk and have had for maybe 18 years. I never tire of it:

"I am a dancer. I believe we learn by practice. Whether it means to learn to dance by practicing dancing or learn to live by practicing living, the principles are the same. In each it is the performance of a dedicated, precise set of acts physical or intellectual, from which comes shapes of achievement, a sense of one's being, a satisfaction of spirit. One becomes in some area an athlete of God. Practice means to perform, over and over again in the face of all obstacles, some act of vision, of faith, of desires. Practice is a means of inviting the perfection desired."

I love this.

Purple Toes

Feeling a little blue, so I painted my toes purple. No one will see them, because it is the dead of winter. But I will know they are there, hiding deep inside my boots and woolly socks. And they will make me smile.

Wednesday, January 21, 2009

Theo's Thoughts on the Inauguration

For me, yesterday was so important it is hard to put into words. I sat glued to the television at a friend's Inauguration breakfast, listening to Obama. I loved the poem, the music, Obama, and maybe most of all the panning shots of the crowds, stretching out as far as you could see. Americans just so grateful for inspiration, and for a leader who wants to lead, and wants us to be in on the change.
When I picked Theo up from school, he said they had gotten to watch the inauguration at school. How much? I don't know. One time he said a minute, later he said an hour. A friend asked what he thought of what he had seen.
"I could see Obama's breath," he said.
Not the words. Not the black man about to run this country. Not the crowds that stretched forever, or any of the rest of us. What was amazing to my California son was that it was so cold you could see Obama's breath on television. Oh, well.

My Personal Challenge

This is one of my hardest things: how to be a good listener--and NOT a pushy advice-giver-- when someone you know and love is hurting, and there are easy ways out. I struggle with this. I struggle deeply. One of my feelings about therapy is that the best therapists are not necessarily the most insightful people (though many of them are) but they are gifted at helping you to see what you are doing wrong, or could do better, or could be open to, without making you clench up and scream NO NO NO NO NO!!!!
Because the truth of it is, none of us can hear anything until we are open, and ready to hear. Until then, it is like we are deaf. When I first started therapy--and I WANTED to be there--I had searched long and hard to find the right person--in the middle of sessions sometimes my mind would just go off. I couldn't hear any more. I could repeat back words, like a UN interpreter on rewind, but I could not feel them or internalize them. I simply shut down. My brilliant therapist figured out a way to talk to me. She would write me stories. They were elaborate metaphors made up of crazy characters in a fantasy land, who had many many obvious parallels to my life. In that form I could take in the lessons. They could seep into my subconscious and begin to change me. I couldn't listen to stories about Hilary MacGregor, but I COULD listen to stories about the sad, gypsy Zora guitarist (me, in these metaphors).
So many of the things we struggle with are so obvious to all around us. It is easy for those we love to see what makes us angry, miserable, scared, or stuck. And it is hard, when someone you love is in this place to not say, well, obviously you need to just stop X-ing. Especially if they seek you out to complain, if not to seek advice. But if you do give too much, you only drive that person away. So I am trying. I am trying to learn how to listen without seeming judgemental. And also to be open to those who try to show me what I need to know better. Sometimes I think we are surrounded by pools of wisdom in the company of those we love. They know us. They know what we need. They see what makes our souls sick, and our hearts sing. But if any of us are not strong enough to hear the help, the advice, the insights--however simple and naive they are -- all we can do is listen. But--if there is anyone out there who has mastered the art of being a good listener, without launching into giving advice, which can seem like judgement, please o please send me some words of wisdom. I am open. I promise!

Monday, January 19, 2009

Madame. Some Vindaloo for You?

I had strep throat and was in bed for three days. Last night my dear husband made a curry. It was a pork and potato curry to finish off our gigantic Christmas ham. He started at 5 or so. Is there anything more wonderful than having someone cook for you? I mean a big meal that just sends wonderful aromas through the house and you get to lie there and do NOTHING???? It's my heaven. At 6 he came up and said he thought the curry might be too hot for the boys. I said fine, feed them eggs. He kept cooking. It smelled better and better. I came to sit with the boys. I walked to the stairs and the spices were so potent that I started gagging and sneezing as I walked down. By the time I got to the kitchen my eyes were watering and I couldn't stop sneezing. But it smelled divine. O so delicious. LIke cardomon and cumin and turmeric and garlic and paprika and pork and potatoes and mustard seeds. We surmised the spice would burn off a little as it simmered. I came down an hour later. The whole house smelled like curry. It was a gift from the Gods! He served it up on a bed of rice. It was so powerful our eyes started to water. We gulped down beer and ladled on sour cream to dilute the power of the vindaloo stew. But it was one of the best curries I have ever ever had. I couldn't believe my husband from Jersey whipped up this Goan curry that transported me to India. I know--and believe--that spices have powerful curative properties. Research shows that turmeric -- even tiny amounts--which is all that is in a curry -- can help prevent and cure cancers, and other diseases that are caused by inflammation (diabetes, Alzheimers, and more). Doctors at places like MD Anderson and UCLA continue to work with turmeric to figure out how best to use it. Ancient cuisines tend to do amazing things with spices to bring out certain properties in food. Whatever the case may be, I believe that curry cured me. Today I woke up and I felt better. I think the spices burned that bacterial infection out of my throat, my lungs and my body. And I can't wait to have Goan curry for dinner tonight--with a big, cold beer.

Saturday, January 17, 2009

Empowered Mama

Last week I got this invitation in the (e) mail inviting me to a pre-inaugural pot-luck brunch:

Mamas, please join us as we break bread and hold sacred space for
mothers to celebrate and dialogue about our dreams, what inspires us,
and what kind of change we want to see for our family, our community,
and for ourselves.

Filming will take place as part of a new web series for
Empowered Mama.

Now how cool is that?

Alas, I could not go, because I am still sick-ish, and we only had one car, and it was turning into a big old pain. Michelle, our hostess promised there would be more. So i am trying not to mourn. But if I had been able to attend this pre-inaugural brunch, this is what I would have said:

I think Barack Obama has punctured the cloud of selfishness that has engulfed our nation for the past decade or two. We all have selfishness in us, and our nation has chosen to go that route, over and over and over again. Everything has been about taking away, rather than giving back. It shows up from Wall Street, to how corporations screw the employees who are their lifeblood, to people cutting you off while they scream into their cell phones. You want to stand up to it, but it starts to get you down. And then someone comes along who asks you to do more, to give back, who inspires you and gives you a place to plug in. He doesn't sound paternalistic: listen little people, I am here to take care of you. No, he says, it is going to be hard, it is going to take a lot of work, but let's look forward, let's dream, let's have a vision, let's act as a community, not a bunch of splinter groups fighting against each other, and let's make our schools, our hospitals, our environment, our families, better. He is asking us to bring out our better selves, and that request alone, that example alone, has already changed America. I do not heap upon him all expectations. He has already made compromises I wish he hadn't. We need so much change no single person could do it all. BUT, he is trying. He is not afraid to try. He has spoken his mind and held the line, and not bowed down, and done the seemingly impossible just in winning the election. And that already puts so much hope back into the whole world--not just America. I am grateful not just that he is going to make change, but that he is asking us all to be part of it.

When I get the site for the Empowered Mama webcast I will post it HERE!

Hyperbolic Crocheting

Check THIS out! On display now at Bergamot Station's Track 16, this exhibit made me giggle in the moment, and think afterwards. A bunch of crochet-ers, generally considered hobbyists, have reconstructed the Great Barrier Reef in works of crochet. They claim to have made some mathematical breakthrough in the creation of these wild, colorful forms. I don't know about that, but they are delightful. And then, to make an environmental statement, they crocheted a toxic barrier reef, made of garbage and recycling from their homes and the ocean. Their point is powerful, but the toxic reef is almost as beautiful as the natural one. It is the work of a handful of artistic, activist mamas and women, crocheting madly in their garages and living rooms from Highland Park to Australia. Inspiring.

Friday, January 16, 2009

My Clown in the Making

Benji is silly. He has a beautiful smile. But lately he only does this wacky smile where he juts his chin out, and peels back his lips. He does it for photos and for fun. It is hard not to laugh. Now he has added a new face--he pushes his mouth sideways and holds it.
"These are my two funny faces, Mommy," he said. "I don't have any more yet."
He doesn't even practice in the mirror. He can just feel they are strange. (And he is right!)
He is so shy, but SUCH a performer.

Amazing, But True!

Yesterday my husband did a backbend in yoga class. If you knew him, you would know how incredible this is. He is stiff and inflexible (physically, not mentally..)I almost dropped my wine when he told me.
"I don't know, I was on my head, and then I just popped up," he said. "I couldn't believe it."

Thursday, January 15, 2009

...AND #3

...because this one really scares me most of all, and I hide behind the others to give me back-up joy, anticipation, distraction, etc. I really really want to find a publisher for my book. I really want to get it out there, one way or another. I am scared to admit how much it matters, and immobilized by fear on some days. Not of the work, but of putting myself out there. But I am trying. I am trying to do one little thing every day to move that project forward. Today I send out invitations to the five cool women I hope will be in my writing group.

...And #2

Will I have the guts to do it?
My aunt and my cousin are doing a swim from Alcatraz on September 12, 2009. Only 500 people can do it, so it closes out fast. If I want to do it, I need to sign up around now. I love to swim, and am more comfortable in the water than perhaps anywhere else, but I admit, I am scared.
The waters of the San Francisco Bay are shark-infested, cold and full of unpredictable currents. You ARE allowed to wear a wet suit, and I know I can swim that distance in a pool no problem (1.5 miles). But oceans can be scarier. And knowing that the island prison was built so no one could survive the swim only makes the event more exciting--and haunting.
I jumped online to read some accounts this morning.
The participants confirmed everything you would imagine. It is unbelievably cold. The thought of sharks is terrifying. The prison looming behind you is spooky. And completing it is an unbelievable experience!!!!
Participants have to leap off a dock three a time, then go. They are advised to stop in the middle of the bay and look up at the Golden Gate Bridge and take in the view (I love this detail)
I know it would make me happy. And I would be so thrilled to do this event with my super amazing aunt, co-creator of the Ironman Triathlon, and my cousin Courtney. Can I do it?

Am I Going Nuts?

Or just having a midlife crisis?
I am about to commit to two things that terrify me AND excite me. Part of me knows this is why my father never wanted me to move to California-the land of Sodom and Gomorrah, the bold and the beautiful, the wacky and the visionary. The problem is it is always hard to tell which is which.
My first plunge: I am taking a weekend course called The Way of the Shaman. I am deeply curious. When I was a journalist I would have said it was journalistic curiousity that led me to this thing, and would have provided the excuse to participate, while offering cynicism and critique from the inside. Now it is just me. And I have to face that I want to do this wacky thing. It is not just a story. I am genuinely curious. Three years ago Jonathan and I went on a Shamanic journey with a friend. His old friend, an Oscar-winning short film maker and all around amazing guy took us on our journey. It was a small, private affair in our beach house in Stinson. Jeff Brown brought over his drums, some sage, and himself. It was just me, Jonathan and Natalie. She had done it before. He was doing it for her, because she was sick.
The whole things seemed absurd, but delightful. So we lay down on couches and the floor, Jeff lit the sage, started drumming, and talked us down into the underworld. We went down. I was so deeply skeptical. And then something happened. I found my power animal, a fox. It was the most beautiful fox I had ever seen. I was surprised and slightly disappointed. I think of myself as a water creature, and I really hoped for a dolphin, or maybe some bird. I never think of foxes at all. But here was this fox, he was leading me over stone walls and through forests by moonlight. He was incredibly gorgeous. His coat was a brilliant orange with flashes of white. The white almost glowed under the stars. I followed him through the woods, going faster and faster. I could barely keep up. We went on a long journey. Finally he came to a clearing. And then he lay down, and just buried himself in the leaves. He was completely camouflaged, because the fallen leaves were brilliant orange like his coat. And he just lay there, with his head peeking out, and his eyes closed. He did not move again, but he looked like he was in a place of great peace.
I was so surprised. It was not what I expected, in terms of animal or outcome. I didn't feel a clear message. But this beautiful image was in my head, and I have carried it ever since. AFTER we did our journey, came back up into our world again, we talked about where we had been. (Jonathan's power animal was a river otter, but I cannot tell his story. That is his to tell.) Then Jeff gave us some books to look through about the various animals. It was funny--the books only included about 50 animals. And yet all three of us had been visited by animals in the book. Even stranger, the image of the fox resting in leaves turns out to be a classic dream. It means you have reached a time to be still. To lie down. To rest. No time frame was given, of course. Was it just for the week? For a decade? Who knows.
But the experience did two things: it made me feel like there are universal dreams that we can tap into, and that dreams can have power, and can guide us, if we let them in. In my case my dream has often calmed me when I get agitated about what I am doing in my life, because I think of that fox lying in the leaves.
Well, three years later I have signed up for a Way of the Shaman workshop. Perhaps it will be a scam. Perhaps it will change my life. But if I want to know, I have to jump in. That is what life is all about.

Sing, Sing a Song...

Like everyone else in the world, I bitch a lot about my parents, how I was raised, and my various psychological wounds. Being a parent makes me a little more forgiving (hoping to fend off/pre-empt my own children's blame?) but I am not yet clear of the impulse. But there are some things I am extraordinarily grateful for.
My parents loved music. And our house was filled with music. My father (six foot six and big) had a ukelele and a guitar. He was not amazing, but he was good, and he taught us that good is good enough to have a lot of fun. We sang along to musicals we had never seen, and once knew the words to every Peter Paul and Mary song. We knew the Mamas and the Papas. The counterculture sixties passed our family by, except for the music.
On our road trip with my family, one of the things that made me happiest was having our two families sing together as we shot through the dark on an Arizona freeway in a giant mini-van. My brother has a beautiful voice. He has taught my niece Ruth the words to many songs. Only four, she can sing We Three Kings, Catalina Magnalina Hoopensteiner Wallensteiner, Twinkle Twinkle Little Star in Chinese!!!!, The Vatican Rag, and Soldier Soldier Will You Marry Me (NOT from our childhood, but I plan to add it to MY children's childhood). Ian had looked up words and verses to our childhood songs and knew more verses than we had ever known. But I was surprised how much it meant to me to hear us all singing in the car, for miles and miles and miles. We sang The Fox Went out on the Town One Night, and California Dreamin' and a million others. Ian often sang harmony, or filled in all the verses that the rest of us, not even Ruth, remembered.
Singing makes me happy. It makes my boys happy. It makes people happy. We listen to more music now than people ever have before--on computers, iPhones, iPods, in our cars, in stereos coming out of bushes at shopping malls, in elevators, at huge concerts--but we don't sing so much, or make music so much.
This morning at Theo's school all the kids sang If I Had a Hammer. It was one of my favorite songs when I was little, from our Peter Paul and Mary eight track tape. We sang it over and over and over. It is a cliche song, but a powerful one. As I sat in this school gym, holding my boys, belting out If I had a Hammer, knowing Obama is going to be President and that people feel like trying again, like helping each other out again, I felt hope. I felt like the time of that song is returning again. And I felt so grateful that my son goes to a school where everybody sings together in a big room, and gets to feel how beautiful, how amazing, how uplifting that can be. I hope that when he is 40 years old he and Benji will go on a trip somewhere together with their families, and even if other things have come between them over time, I hope the two of them and their two families will be able to sing together, and remember how wonderful that can be.

Wild Parakeets

Every morning, (every other week) when I take Theo out to wait for his ride to school, we sit on our front steps and look up at the moon, and at the rising sun on Runyon Canyon, and smell the green of our neighborhood. Sometimes we see our local peregrine falcon, circling our canyon, ignoring Highland, the 101, and all the city life below. But many mornings we see a flock of wild parakeets. They come chattering across the sky, their golden wings flashing, tiny and talkative. It is like magic. When Jonathan and I went on our honeymoon we saw a flock of wild parakeets in the Andes. They are so exotic, and so loud. I just can't believe a flock of them lives in the middle of Hollywood. I'm sure someone released their pet parakeets, they bred, and now they are a tiny immigrant community--just like those scattered through the rest of L.A.. They love the eucalyptus trees, and they love Whitley Heights. They like Hollywood. And for me, it is like being transported, just for a moment, back to a mountain top in the Andes.

Wednesday, January 14, 2009


I love hair. Not my own. But just hair. I love my husband's hair--brown with curls that pop up when he doesn't cut it, and glints of gold and red when he stands in the sunshine. I love Benji's hair. To me it looks like spun gold, or Rapunzel's hair. I can't believe hair can come out of a head that color. It mesmerizes me. And I love Theo's hair. Theo's hair is like a living sculpture. it doesn't grow down, it just grows higher and higher. He wakes up with a tower of curls on top of his head, that look like I put in giant woman-size pink rollers during the night. When he runs or rides a pony they bounce. He looks like a cartoon.
I realized at the LA Times that I loved the hair of all of my best friends. Was I picking friends because of hair? None of them had mousy brown hair like me. Many of them had cascades of curly hair--in blonde, red, or black. I love dark hair. I love Lisa Richardson's hair--which can look like Tracy Chapman or Michelle Obama.
I am thinking about hair today because this afternoon, in two hours, I go to cut my boys' hair. Benji's hair is so long he can barely see. And Theo's hair adds two inches to his height. My military father kept my brother's hair regulation short, so longer hair--it doesn't even have to be hippy length--thrills me. I say let the hair go wild. Let it do it's thing--the thing it was meant to do--glisten, or curl, or bounce, or make sculptures. But today my boys' hair will be shorn. They will look serious and grown up, and I will see just a little bit more clearly the men they will turn into.

Monday, January 12, 2009


I got my second rejection from an agent today. I am writing this here not for pity, but to record for myself, and for anyone else who undertakes some project with both fear, faith and passion, that this is what it was like. It hurt. The agent's rejection only made it worse because i LIKED her rejection. Her insights were sharp, and true, and I will use them. But I wanted that person's eye and intelligence on my work. But as my friend Meg said over a beer on Saturday night, I'm turning this around, Hilary. Let's see how many rejection letters we can collect by the end of the year. That is just part of the process.

My Theme Has Come to Me...

Sometimes I wonder if I just keep telling the same 17 stories of my life, or on my blog. But maybe retelling stories in a different way, with new perspective, and more time, is our way of digesting our lives and moving forward. So, for any reader who has been around since the beginning, forgive me if I repeat.
BUT, on my final day with my friend this summer, as I drove out of Larkspur, over the San Rafael Bridge and the sparkling San Francisco Bay, I knew deep in my heart I would not see my friend again. She was not dead, but in my heart, I felt she was leaving soon. They had told her she had six weeks to live, but she died in three days. And that afternoon we had looked deep deep into each other's eyes--she could barely talk at that point--and I knew she was saying Goodbye to me--whatever her words were. Whatever her desire.
I had spent the weekend reading to her from the Tibetan Book of Living and Dying, and other Buddhist works. She was surrounded by teachers and gurus who believed in the Buddhist tradition, how long to let the body lie, how long the soul hovered around, what you should talk about, what you shouldn't.
When I left I was overwhelmed with many, many emotions. But beyond the fear and pain of the loss of my friend, one rose above the rest: I had to get my spiritual shit together. I do not know what I believe. I do not practice any religion or spiritual practice. I have been alienated from Christianity by my father, and living abroad makes it hard to ever be the kind of judgemental, absolutist believer which seems required of any serious Christian. I like parts of Judaism, but I cannot be a real Jew--not one who is truly accepted by all Jews--and that in and of itself is alienating.
So what do I believe?
I don't know. But I knew, that minute, as I drove across the bridge, that I needed to know. I need to know what I believe and I need to practice and be true to that belief.
Though there are many things I hope to do this year, many hopes, many dreams, many ambitions, I know, that perhaps above else, I need to tend to my spiritual life. I do not know what form that will take--whether it will be within the confines of conventional religion, through yoga, through Buddhism, or simply through meditation or being in nature. But this year I will turn more of my energy to tending to my spiritual self. Some people need no spirituality. But for me it has always been something I felt, I needed, I sought, and I looked for. This year I need renew that search.

Friday, January 9, 2009

My Stagnating Brain

Before I had kids mothers always complained that kids made your brain rot. I had friends that complained their brains went soft after two months of maternity leave. They didn't attribute their diminished brain capacity to lack of sleep, or the fact that they had turned into milk machines. They attributed it to being out of the workforce. I always disagreed. I felt like my brain was more alive, and freer. I felt like I had more time to think, and I felt more motivated and focused. But nearly six years in I fear my brain has taken a back seat. Once I read the newspaper daily--I mean really read it--and magazines, too. I was well-informed and new the obvious stories, but also the important less obvious ones. I read a lot. And I read books that were challenging, intellectually rigorous--along with my trashy, fun novels, of course! The other morning I did a test. I decided to see how much of an article on Gaza I could get through before a child interrupted me. I could not complete a newspaper paragraph (which, as you are aware, is often ONE sentence) before someone yelled for me. Before completing a 35 inch article I was interrupted 15 times, to look at trains, rebuild helicopters, find shoes, or give a kiss. I am happy I can do all this. But I think my brain muscle, my ability to concentrate and grasp anything but the fluffiest stories, has atrophied and evaporated.
I am trying to read some Borges right now--as a little brain workout. Last night I fell asleep before I finished the second page. It took me three nights to get through the introduction. And I was interested!!!
It is time for me to get my brain back in shape. I need to be nimble and precise in my words and mastery of facts. It is time to read more sophisticated work, and think more complex thoughts. The era of the George Bush sound bites is over. The era of complexity, depth, and reflection is in. I owe this to my boys, my community, and my world.


It is Oscar season, which means we are snowed under by screeners, thanks to Jonathan. I love it. The other night we watched Doubt, with Philip Seymour Hoffman, Amy Adams and Meryl Streep. I had read a fair amount about it, including the fact that in the end, the question of whether the priest really molested the boy is never resolved. That is for the audience to figure out. That, said the director and writer, is the way life is. You don't always get an answer.
The movie started slow but ended powerfully. On stage it would have been magnificent. When it ended I commented that I was surprised. I was surprised, I told Jonathan, that despite what I had read, I did not feel any question at all. I thought it was abundantly clear, not even debateable, that the priest had NOT molested the boy. That this was a tale of suspicion, and how suspicion alone, and gossip, and fear of what you do not know, and the psychic war that ensues, can destroy people. I was astounded when Jonathan completely disagreed. He said it was totally obvious that the priest HAD molested the boy. Now here is what was so strange. Neither of us felt doubt. We both felt conviction--only in completely opposite directions. Have you seen it? What did you think? What did you think the movie was about?

Benji the Snowboy

Benji's first snowboy. Grand Canyon. New Year's Eve, 2008.

All You Need Is Love!

Theo Ruth Benji Oriana

One of Natalia's last wishes was to see LOVE in Las Vegas. She was a music hound, who made the best mix tapes, and CDs and downloads of anyone I ever knew. When she knew time was running out she announced that on of the last trips she wanted to make was to see Cirque de Soleil doing their Beatles show. She wanted to go with a crowd of her dearest friends, to have one last, crazy Vegas weekend. And she really did believe that All You Need Is Love.
Well, we never made it.
We tried, but times didn't work out, and then she was too sick to plan far enough ahead to accommodate ticket scarcity and a lot of busy women. She died without seeing LOVE.
We were in Vegas right before New Years for my brother's 40th birthday road trip. We blew out of town in a huge mini-van, packed with four children, four adults, lots of junk food and a Pooh tape featuring the voice of Lady Judi Dench that we listened to all across the Southwestern US. We booked rooms at the Mirage. As we drove into Vegas the huge billboards lit up the sky. "LOVE at the Mirage," it said.
It was like Nat speaking to me from beyond the grave. Nat, you still send a lot of messages!!!!
The show is always sold out. But we walked in and I got the LAST seat for the 10 p.m. show--a slightly obstructed view on the lower deck.
Confession: If I could live my life over (if I were born as a smaller, more limber person) I would join Cirque de Soleil.
So I went alone. Just me and Nat.
As I sat waiting for the extravaganza to start I thought how crazy it was that she had not made it. That we had not made sure she made it. Only a few hours away. And yet, she didn't make it.
It was dreamy. Like a long, crazy, hallucinatory, supremely sensual, wacky, acid-streaked LSD trip. She would have loved it.
It was my last date with Natalia. My good-bye for 2008. She will always be with me. But my period of deep mourning is over. She wants me to move on and live and love.
But you would have loved the show, Nat. You would have loved it!

Rock Star!

Yup. That's me. Jammin' on the electric guitar. I couldn't stop!!! Could this be my new addiction?


My desk is immaculate! Ready for the New Year! I am ready to reflect, and write, and create beauty. I sit here surrounded by pictures of my children, my husband, inspirational collages by Natalia, a letter from Henry Miller, my post-card wall of my favorite places and art, and a bottle of absinthe for me and Balzac.

Thursday, January 8, 2009


Do we all spend our lives looking for a certain landscape?
I am going through Natalie's box and there is photo after photo of her Japanese town. There are creeks, rivers, redwoody type trees, and quaint landscapes covered with snow. As I sat with her on her porch on her final days at creekside I realized her home was as close to Japan as you could get in the US. There was Mt. Tam, and it twinkled with lights at night like a Japanese village. The houseboats looked like old Japanese houses. The marsh was filled with cranes and herons. And the boardwalk looked like a floating world.
I think I am always looking for Naples. I love the light of the Mediterranean, and the smells of that place. I love bouganvilla and mediterranean herbs and oceans and sea food. L.A. is about as close to Naples as you can get. It was a happy time in my life. When I go back to Connecticut now I am struck by how beautiful it is. Almost awed. I like it. But I like it like a tourist. A foreigner. It does not speak to my soul. I find the light cold and hard, and somehow depressing. It doesn't affect me fora weekend or a week, but after that that coldness starts to seep into me and bring me down.
I also love Northern Pacific beaches and forests. I think this is my genetic makeup. I am made for mist and fog and mountains and cold seas.
What is the landscape of your soul?

...And Now...a Few More Words From Ghandi

Ok, my entire blog is inspired by Ghandi--so in the process of sorting my pile (YES! I am procrastinating again...but at least I have reached the dreaded boxes, and Franti is singing to me) I found my original Ghandi research. And so here is another centering Ghandi quote, from me to you. May it guide your 2009:

"Your beliefs become your thoughts. Your thoughts become your words. Your words become your actions. Your actions become your habits. Your habits become your values. Your values become your destiny."

Heavy. But so inspiring. It is up to us!

What is your inspiring, guiding quote for 2009. Send it to me!


Benji loves to play airport. He wakes up in the morning and runs to get his helicopter. He places it beside him on the kitchen table while he eats breakfast, and flies it up the stairs when he goes to get dressed, dragging the injured person on a long string as it hits every stair. He talks about the "hello pad" and cries when Theo demands a turn with the helicopter. All day he asks me to play airport with him. Today his nanny came. He has anticipated this day for weeks. He has been playing airport for three hours, and the game continues. Debbie--the nanny -- is indefatiguable. She will play airport with him all day if he wants. Sometimes I feel bad. I am unable to play airport for more than 20 minutes. But then I think this is wonderful. How lucky I am to have a nanny who will play airport once a week for eight hours a day--while Benji runs up the stairs every half hour or so to brief me on the highlights.

I'm Trying, I'm Really Trying

On the floor, beside my workspace, is a pile. It is a huge pile, and it has been growing since Sept. 6 of last year. It has gotten so big that it is constantly toppling over and burying other things. I yell at my boys when they get close to it. I dread coming to my desk, because of this pile. At the bottom of this pile--which now holds bills, medical statements, folders about my teaching at UCSD, old newspaper clippings, art, coupons, books and photographs, are two boxes from my dead friend Natalie. I was given them at her ash-scattering. Friends shoved them into my car and I drove away without looking. When I got home I looked in at the piles of photographs, the memorabilia, her journals, this record of her life, and I felt so ill I shut it again. I have not been able to go in since. After her memorial I came home with a pile of her collages. I love them. My favorite is in the shape of a turtle, and full of messages and images that remind me of her and who she wanted to be. I couldn't stand to see the collages thrown away, so I brought them home, too, and piled them on top of the boxes. Now they are deep, and the piles scare me. I know they are holding me back, but I have difficulty moving forward. I read articles about procrastination, and how to prevent it, just to procrastinate. Part of it is this: these are such personal articles. Her father and sister didn't even want them--all the pictures of her life and history. Her pictures and albums were split between me and her dear dear friend Lauren, who has all the organized albums at her house in Austin. I guess part of the problem is, I don't want to safeguard all of her memorabilia, and yet I do not know if I have the strength to throw away these last pieces of her. It would be easier to throw away parts and pieces of myself. Because this is all I have. There will be no new picture and memories to replace these. I feel like a guardian of sorts. For who? I don't know. But it feels like a sacrilege to get rid of it.
I went on a hike with my friend Mitch today--who is always filled with soulful wisdom that seems to come from another place--and she suggested lighting a candle and making the process into a ritual. Brilliant! I picked the candle, and then I decided I need to have some Natalie music, so I got on Jonathan's bike, rode to Amoeba, and bought two Michael Franti albums. She LOVED Michael Franti. How could I have a ritualistic purging ceremony without Michael Franti singing back-up. So now I have the albums, I have exercised, I have opened the windows, I have gotten my candle, my matches, and eaten. And still, I cannot begin. Am I scared that even though I hate this pile, that if I move it I will be sweeping her out of my life?
OK. I am putting in the Michael Franti. I am lighting the candle. I am going to sing "All the Freaky People Make the Beauty of the World." I am going to move forward. She is with me. She is not in this pile. She will stay with me. Even if this pile is gone. I hope.

Wednesday, January 7, 2009

Scrub Away the Old Skin...

..and be someone new.
On Monday my yoga teacher kept talking about shedding the old, the ill-fitting, the ideas, identities, clothes and self-perceptions that are just outdated. It is true! So today, to make that resolution real, I treated myself to a soak at Beverly Hot Springs in Korea Town. Because of my time in Japan I am in love with public baths, o-furos, and anything that involves soaking in hot baths until you are dizzy from heat and sensual pleasure. So after cleaning for three hours I went!
It is the only real hot spring in Los Angeles, nestled on Oxford Street. It is dark, with flickering candles and fake fires and huge, slightly tacky Oriental vases. The rules are strict, verging on fascist, but does that matter?
You strip down, sit on a tiny stone stool, scrub your body clean and pour water over your head, and then slip into a mineral pool that bubbles up from a mile beneath L.A. (Ok, maybe I am exaggerating a little here...). There is a little Buddhist garden in the corner, filled with an old stone lantern, a Buddha, big ferns and a shaft of light that must go up to the street, but makes you feel like you really have crawled into a secret, subterranean wonderland. I don't know what is in the water, but it makes your skin silky, slippery and soft. You just want to touch yourself! When I was so dizzy I thought I was going to pass out a rail-thin Korean grandmother in a black speedo called me into the back room for a body scrub. I had signed up for a scrub that promised to remove all old dead skin with a scrub that would leave you feeling red and fresh and soft as a newborn. As she led me to the back room she touched my shoulder and then made a Korean grunting sound that sounded like, "Wow! You do need a body scrub! Your body feels like old dirty leather!) I smiled, a smile that said, "Yes. Please help me." I crawled onto my table under an old tile ceiling that dripped cold drips like an ancient cave at moments when I thought I couldn't stand the heat anymore. She covered my body in steaming hot towels--so hot I think they came from a vat of boiling water. She would hold them up for a minute to let a little heat escape, then place them on me. Then she went to work--scrubbing away with something abrasive and almost painful. I imagined years of dead skin peeling off and washing away, hatching the new ME of 2009. She scrubbed and scrubbed and rubbed and massaged me and coated me with scents of almond and cucumber and kept rewrapping me in towels, then dousing me with buckets of the hottest water I had ever been under. It almost hurt. But it felt SOOOOO good. I loved her. She moved in a cloud of garlic and kimchee, that clashed with the spa scents--but I didn't care. Down the room I saw other naked white women being pummeled and scrubbed by other old Korean women in what looked like black underwear--panties and conservative bras. I don't know if they really speak English, but they pretend to only know the names of the treatment you have chosen, your name, and "Relax." But that is nice. When I rose from the table I felt like a new woman. I am getting my strength back. My old skin is gone and I am ready to move forward.
I finished off my morning with a giant biminbop combination at the Tofu House on Wilshire Blvd, where a savvy Korean businesswoman has created a special stew that she ships all over the world in giant vats--from Tokyo to LA to Seoul. I gobbled down kimchee and eggs and pickled veggies and tofu stew and rice from stone bowls. I feel good!

Tuesday, January 6, 2009

My Top 10 Books for 2008

All you who know me know that I love reading. Books are my drug, my escape, my love, my secret obsession. I love to read. I am not high literature, nor low. I will read anything I can get my hands on short of cereal boxes and toothpaste tubes (though my husband will read those...) I love fiction and non-, biographies and short stories, mysteries and junkie vampire romance novels Here are the books that left a lasting impression on me in 2008:

1) Persepolis, by Marjane Satrapi: This graphic novel tells of growing up in Iran under the Shah. It is heartbreaking, beautiful AND a fantastic education about Iran. I could not get it out of my head.

2) Murder in Amsterdam: The Death of Theo Van Gogh and the Limits of Tolerance, by Ian Buruma: I have loved Ian Buruma since I was a graduate student in Japan, where he wrote funny, insightful, fantastic non-fiction about Japanese culture, from sex to WW II. This book is a return to his native country, and offers a fascinating look at the inherent contradictions between Muslim culture and democracy. It raises frightening questions about our limits to tolerance, and what effect Muslim immigration will ultimately have on Europe.

3) Infidel, by Ayaan Hirsi Ali: This book should be considered a companion to Buruma's book. The murdered Van Gogh produced Ali's provocative documentary, "Submission" about women in Muslim culture, and was stabbed to death for it. Ali is an African Muslim who was raised all over Africa under various versions of Islam, eventually ending up in Holland, where she became an outspoken critic of Muslim culture, and was elected into the Dutch parliament. She is a provocateur, but her book will leave you changed forever.

4) All For a Few Perfect Waves: The Audacious Life and Legend of Rebel Surfer Miki Dora, by David Rensin: I love surfing, and reading about surfing, and I have watched Dora in a million surf movies over beer and burritos. He is a God, a ballerina on a surf board. He was a strange character and this book could make you love or hate him. My husband finished it seeing him as a con man and a cheap bastard, which is true, but I think a true surfer will recognize his devotion to living a free life, to the ocean he loved, and to the search for the perfect wave (which he found!). He feels pure, and for that reason inspiring to me. This oral history pieces together stories from all the surfing greats all over the world.

5) The Sum of Our Days, by Isabelle Allende: not her best book, but anything by Allende is gold to me. I read this book in Stinson Beach, three weeks after the death of my friend. Allende walked the same hills in Marin, and looked out over the same Bay as me as she mourned her own daughter. What can I say, I love this woman.

6) Norwegian Wood, by Haruki Murakami: A whimsical tale and love story set in sixties Tokyo that has a dreamy quality to it, and also hints at the mysteries and pain of loving someone who is mentally ill. The book made me so nostalgic for Tokyo and the mountains around Kyoto it hurt.

7) Omnivore's Dilemma, by Michael Pollen: If you haven't read this book, DO IT!!! It will change the way you think about food forever. It is painful, uncomfortable, and will make it difficult to ever shop in a supermarket again, and yet, you will be inspired to eat local, support small farmers, and you understand more about our economy, oil, and agribusiness than you ever thought you wanted to know--but you WILL!!! He shows how we have broken down farming from the circularity and sustainability that were once part and parcel of the practice, and reminds us of the joys of eating food that you harvest and prepare yourself. To me this section read like poetry. My promise to myself: I will go hunting for wild mushrooms.

8) Suite Francaise, by Irene Nemirovsky: This manuscript was found in the last couple of years, decades after Nemirovsky was shipped off to a Nazi death camp, never to return. Her meditations on war are haunting in their accuracy, and also an evocative love letter to France.

9) Steve Hagen's book on Buddhism (title to come tomorrow) This book is so small it could fit in your pocket practically. It is a simple, clear, no nonsense introduction to Buddhism that will leave you inspired and clear. I am reading more about Buddhism after Natalie's death and this book spoke to me. I keep it by my bed side to dip into and keep me centered.

10) Miss Hempel Chronicles, by Sarah Shun Lien Bynum: This exquisite collection of short stories is an ode to teaching, to growing up, but most of all it is a collection of stories told in such perfect prose that you want to go slowly and savor every word, every paragraph, like a small gelato that will be gone toooo soon. It is a reminder of what writing can be, the way Jhumpa Lahiri is.

What were YOUR favorite books of 2008???
Send them to this crazy book-lover please!

Happy New Year

May 2009 be deeeeevine. I'm back. I'm tired, but had the most wonderful holidays with my brother, his wife, AND my two beautiful nieces, AND my mother and father, AND sister and her beloved, Rob Roy (yes, that IS his real fitting that he hooked up with a MacGregor) , AND my father-in-law, AND my adventurous and ever-exciting Aunt Judy and Uncle John, AND my sister-in-law, her fabulous gravy-making husband and their lovely baby, the tiny and exquisite Elaina.