Saturday, March 28, 2009

Afternoon Nap

Boys piled on top of me, higgledy piggledy.

A six-year-old leg flung across my thigh,
A three-year-old arm across my chest.

Benji, lying, with my heart as his pillow,
Theo, clinging to me like a baby, something he is now too grown-up to do
except in his sleep.
I look at their curly lashes. Their parted lips. Their new-born freckles.
I feel their soft little boy breath on my cheek.

I marvel at their perfection.
I drink in their beauty.

The late afternoon sun streams across the bed,
painting us gold.

My neck is cricked. My arm is pulled.
But I don't move.

Because this is heaven.

To be sleeping in a pile of boys.

Writing Tip

Each session I gain nuggets of wisdom from the women (and man) in my writing group. Sometimes they are just for me. Sometimes they feel universal. Of six of us, four of us are working on pieces that are largely autobiographical. Victoria, who has been working on her historical novel, a 900-page tale of her family's diaspora over five generations, for ten years, is trying to winnow it down to a publishable length. But the upshot is this: she is WAY ahead of the rest of us. We agonize about what we write. We agonize about whether it is accurate, or our memory is wrong. We agonize over whether the words and story contained within would KILL the ones we love. And this is what she said: "Just write. The first time through it will be pure autobiography. The second time through you start to refine your story, and see it as a story separate from yourself, with some distance, and an ability to tease out the more important events. The third time through you start to fictionalize it."

I take great comfort in this.

Back from New York

Jonathan just returned from Manhattan joyous and alive, with a cold and a nasty cough. By the end of the week he was popping sudafed by the hour, he said, just like he did all the way through college in Boston. He thinks he is allergic to the East Coast. Is that possible?

Thursday, March 26, 2009

A Gift From My Students...

who I have not even met yet.

Next Thursday night I teach my first journalism class at UCSD. I am polishing off my syllabus today. I have spent recent weeks pulling articles and recruiting interesting and various journalists to speak.

But already these students have given me a gift. They have reminded me how much I love journalism, and how deeply I believe in it. Editors, and any kind of writing teacher, always advise writers to write their stories like you are talking to a friend. In other words, you have to imagine your audience.

In recent weeks I have found that I am constantly talking to my students. I am giving them impromptu lectures on why journalism matters as I work out on the elliptical at the Y, and I am telling them stories of how great journalists are and what a privilege it is to work with great reporters as I shop for groceries. I am pleading with them to reinvent journalism--so that it survives--as I walk my son to school in the morning. I feel like I am on a mission: to go and teach them what I know so that they can travel into the future with the best tools of the olden days (my days!) . And can leave the rest behind. (My generation of journalists was oddly caught between the baby boomers and the next group coming up--who were shut out of this system in large part--but will get the chance to create something new).

And as I write these letters and lectures in my head I realize how much I love the world of journalism. Thinking of journalism in recent years has been so painful. I am watching the paper I loved and labored for being driven into the ground. It is literally disappearing before my eyes--sections are disappearing, bylines are disappearing, and the pages are getting smaller and smaller. My friends are being fired and the stories are declining in quality. An institution that took 100 years to build is going to be destroyed in five. So I have dwelt in the place of pain. And tried to focus on new things.

But now I can remember the joys of journalism. I feel it bubbling out from inside me. I can't wait to tell my students that journalism really is the greatest job in the world.

I got to travel to leper colonies in Japan, skunnel with students in Ventura, interview politicians local and state, talk to Marion Nestle, sit in on NIH sponsored prayer studies and cover wildfires, bank robberies and crazy court cases. I never won a Pulitzer, but I tried to change the world every day. I worked with some of the coolest, funniest, smartest, most interesting people in the world. And every day really was an adventure.

I would have done it all for free.

Hansel and Gretel

...starring Theo and Elsa

Here they are in some stills from a short film project dreamed up by Gina East, Elsa's mother. Gina is a director of sorts, but this project is her gift to her daughter. Theo and Elsa are like souls who knew each other in another life--then were lucky enough to meet again at Canyon School this time around. They have grown apart since they have gone to different schools. But Elsa is still Theo's favorite person in the world. She makes him happy.

Here we have Hansel and Gretel--after they killed the witch and escaped--looking for their father.

The film is set in 1930s era Los Angeles--during the first depression-- when the evil stepmother convinces the father to lose his children so they will have enough money to survive. These stills were shot at Hightower, the amazing neighborhood across the hill from us featured in so many famous films, like The Long Road Goodbye. Gina is aiming for a silent film look.

Isn't it cool?

Look for it on the children's film festival circuit! 2010!

Wednesday, March 25, 2009

A Different Day at Whole Foods

Lately I have been avoiding Whole Foods. Despite my commitment to eating well, to locally grown produce, to supporting ethical agricultural cooperatives and such, I, like everyone else have felt the financial pinch. I have been shopping at Trader Joe's, at Costco, at the farmer's market, and, when forced to, at Ralph's.

But today I needed high quality and slightly unusual ingredients for some scones I plan to make, so I dashed into Whole Foods and broke my frugal shopping vows.

I was shocked.

The place was empty.

This is the Whole Foods at Fairfax and Santa Monica. Parking there is such a nightmare they have multiple parking guys helping angry drivers in and out. The salad bar is always packed with healthy yoginis and beautiful people from West Hollywood.

Not anymore.

I cruised the long empty aisles, and had my pick of check out lines. (Usually it is a riot scene.) A six year old could push a full cart down an aisle of precariously balanced tomato cans and not hit a soul.

I quizzed the check out lady. She said this is pretty much how it is now. Some days get the crazy crush of the good old days. But mostly, when push comes to shove, people cut out the expensive groceries.

Which is OK. Because as Michael Pollan pointed out, organic food and whole foods are such a business now it is hard to call them anything different from conventional large scale farm operations.


Tuesday, March 24, 2009


Today my son performed in a circus show after 10 weeks of classes with Clown Julia. At 3:00 his after school classmates and a bunch of parents gathered in the assembly room. After much scurrying and bustling and stomping and whispering and peeking out, the velvet curtains opened and the show began! Theo whirled ribbons artistically like a Chinese gymnast, walked on (low) stilts, and spun plates on sticks (plastic, because a lot of them fell down, a lot). He peddled across the stage at high speed with his arms out wide on a mini unicycle contraption (almost shooting over the edge), and balanced a peacock feather on his hand, his arm and his nose. He wore a huge mad-hatters hat and pranced around the stage like a true performer, dropping his plates and ribbons when his classmates cheered and called his name.

I forgot my camera and tried to shoot blurry seven second video clips with my phone, but alas they are unusable. I befriended a Dad who promised to send me some of his iPhone fotos by tomorrow.

Stay tuned, circus fans!!!

Our Stories

Who are the storytellers? Who are the bards?

When I was younger I was sure that my ancestors--at least on my father's side--were the theatrical traveling troubadors who journeyed from town to town telling great stories from memory in iambic pentameter with heart-stopping dramatic flair. Not actors exactly. Just the keepers of the tales.

I love writers. They are my favorite people. I love how they think and how they use words. There are many people I love--but writers speak to my soul.

But now, as time goes by, I think writers are the truth-tellers. Whether fiction or non (because many of the greatest truths are told in fiction...) writers are the ones who feel the need, the mission, the desire, the compulsion, to tell their story. And to get the story right. Sometimes they tell their story for their own ego or sheer love of language. But I am coming to believe that the calling to write comes from something deep, deep inside. And often it is to tell a story that has not been told, to tell the story no one else has heard, to tell a story for themselves, yes, but also for all the others like them who want, need and deserve to understand and be understood.

I think the need to tell a story can keep someone alive (we talked about this today with two of my favorite friends). Through war, genocide, illness. I think you can literally write for your life. Your sanity. Your sense of self.

But above all I think writers spring from a place where the truth was not told. The story was not known. It was secret. Or it was suppressed. Or it was denied. Writing is an act of defiance, of inves
tigation, of self-realization.

The person who is biggest, strongest, oldest, richest, gets to tell the story their way. But eventually, someone else gets their turn, to tell the story their own way.

It is scary, but so empowering. And--when it comes from a place of absolute truth--beautiful.

Jonathan, this is for you, my first truth-teller. And yes, M, you know this is for you. And, of course, it is for me. It is through writing--that of the many great authors and writers and poets and myth makers and playwrights-- that I can really bear the truth, better than anywhere else.

No Hubbie...

No time to write...

Saturday, March 21, 2009

My Private Chef

Theo cooked us breakfast this morning: perfectly scrambled eggs with cheese and tomatoes, and fresh berries (washed and cut). He is my tiniest chef.

Thursday, March 19, 2009


I may look like a WASP, but beware. I have the restless soul of a gypsy. I don't know if I come by it genetically, or through experience, but I spent the first 18 years traveling the world with my family. When it was time to be on my own, I couldn't stop. I kept traveling and moving and settling down and packing up. I have seen great things, and wouldn't have it any other way. It is who I am.

This is the longest I have ever been anywhere, right here at 2014 N. Las Palmas Ave.. At times my desire to pack up and go becomes so strong I feel like I should tell my husband to restrain me. To lock me in the house. To take me on an exotic vacation to satisfy my hunger for adventure, for living on your wits, for new sounds, sights, colors, experiences, histories and stories. Because for me, traveling was always the one time I felt truly, deeply alive.

Now I have lived in one place for seven years. And I have been in California for 10. For years I would not plant anything in the garden. I loved when my husband did. I love his tomatoes, his peaches, his plums and his herbs. I harvest them and delight in them. But I would not plant. My therapist said it was because I was never anywhere long enough to watch anything grow. Why would I? What was the point?

So I made an effort to plant. Wildflowers. They need no care, and they are the most beautiful of all. I adore the California poppy, the baby blue eyes. The first year they bloomed I almost wept. They were so beautiful. I had planted them. They greeted me every morning as I walked down the stairs.

When I was with child, the one part of my pregnancy my husband looked forward to was me "nesting." Books warned that an overpowering urge to nest would overcome women in the third trimester, and become almost preternaturally intense right before birth. He waited and waited. The nesting urge never came. Not for me.

Instead I would say things like, We are a family now. We would be happy anywhere. We could live in a single room with a burner and a mini fridge and we would be happy. It's a gypsy mentality.

As we filled our house, with boys and toys, I found myself still gravitating toward things we could pack up quickly. I buy art, not refrigerators. I buy rugs, not sofas. I buy comforters and duvets, not bookshelves. The art I buy has gotten nicer. I have expanded beyond the post card collection of my single days--now it just adorns a small wall beside my desk. But the point was the same: It had to be easy to move, or it would be left behind. I am always ready.

But now, six years after my first child was born, and nearly four years after my second, I find myself wanting to nest. It is a crazy urge unlike any I have ever had. I do not recognize it. Perhaps it is brought on by the precariousness of life in this economy--knowing we might have to leave our house, so it feels all the more precious. But all of the sudden I want art hung and bookshelves bought. I want furniture rearranged and beauty and order and thought and feng shui in my living space. I want an oasis of peace in this chaotic, unpredictable world.

My parents had beautiful art--but we moved so much it was never well presented. Half our possessions never came out of boxes as we moved from place to place. Why did we have them I often wondered? Because the Navy paid to move them, I guess.

Since we wed we have bought one chair (beautiful) a bed (for Theo) and two faux-Chinese bed-side tables. Suddenly I want to make my house beautiful. I covet bookshelves, beauty and permanence. I will never believe in it, but I feel a deep, deep craving to create a feeling of permanence, even if that illusion is only temporary.

Hey Jonathan, I feel like nesting! I'm only seven years late. You wanna buy a bookshelf?

Wednesday, March 18, 2009

Have I Created A Monster?

We like to say that our son Benji has a nose--he can smell a horse, a skunk, a piece of bread or a foul odor about two minutes before the rest of us. But it is Theo who has the palate of a gourmande.

Naturally, he just does not like processed foods. He prefers breadsticks to pretzels, brown rice to white, and fruits to bad cookies. (A good cookie still wins.) But his palate really is remarkable. He likes Thai peanut sauce and fresh basil leaves on his pizza. He likes smelly cheeses and loved olives even as a baby. When we go to friends' houses for barbeque he makes comments like: "Wow, this is really good. It tastes like olive oil, lemon juice and garlic." And it is.

Today I picked him up from school. I was running late and had a pile of lasagna ingredients in the back of the car from the farmer's market, including one perfect French baguette from Monsieur Marcel, a real french specialty store, full of real French people and real French ingredients. Theo asked for a hunk, took a bite, and said, "Mommy, where did you get this. This is really good bread."

And it was.

Will he be a chef or an engineer or an architect or a storyteller? Only time will tell.

But, I told him, women LOVE men who cook.

Hey, I'm Not Just A Mom...

I'm a nutritional gatekeeper!!!! Take this quiz to find out what kind of cook you are.

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

The Problem With A Child Who Can Read

We have waited and prayed for this moment. We are two readers, lovers of books, plays, poems, conversation and words. When, when, when we asked, would our darling boy's world open up so that he could read and go find all the stories he loved on his own. And now he can. And it is pretty amazing. But it is also turning out to cramp our communication style in major ways. If we were immigrants, who spoke in our own language, but did not teach our children, we would be fine. Or, if we were scholars who had both mastered the same other language, say Japanese, Russian, Sanskrit or Laotian, we would be fine.

But now, when Jonathan spells out words and sentences to avoid comprehension by our precocious 6-year-old, he does it at his own peril. I mean what is a more motivating spelling exercise than deciphering something you know your parents do not want you to hear. My father is a wonderful man, but sometimes eccentric. I will not go into detail here. So last night Jonathan spelled out: "Your p-a-d-r-e is a m-a-d-m-a-n." He did it fast, and he mixed two languages. But we looked over and there was Theo, sounding it out. Padre. Madman.

I didn't even want to wait to hear him put it all together. Spelling still takes great concentration.

"Bathtime," I yelled. "Now! now! now! If you want a story, Go!"

The Wonders of Boredom

Several weeks ago our amazing principal wrote an impassioned and persuasive letter to parents, begging them to let their kids be bored sometimes. She was not praising lack of stimulation, or recommending that you lock them in a room with no windows or doors. But she was attempting to counter the prevailing wisdom, at least in Los Angeles, that more activities are better.

And small children do a lot of activities. Sometimes when I ask other mothers for playdates, their mothers say things like, "Yes, Omeed would love to come over and play with Theo, except he has after school every day and enrichment classes twice a week and organized sports on the weekends." That does not even take into account that kindergarteners are now in school as long as first graders and every one else, and that my six year old has a half hour to 45 minutes of real homework every night.

So I do not enroll my son in so many activities--out of my own laziness. I am definitely on the less active end of the Mommy spectrum. Theo does swimming on Mondays, and a circus class on Tuesdays. Sometimes he does gardening with me. The rest of the week we make up as we go along. And sometimes I feel guilty. All of his friends do more. They do T-ball and ballet and gymnastics and science classes and instruments and tutoring and soccer and art. They do more than I did as a senior in High School--and I was really really really active. Too active.

But this is not always good, said Kristin, our principal. (I will ask if I can excerpt her essay here--I will not do it justice). But she argued, very persuasively, that it is good for children to be bored, because that is when they learn how to entertain themselves, how to motivate themselves, how to play and imagine and be alone. That is when they really get creative.

So I have been trying to leave more time for boredom. (I am not ignoring my children, I am helping them, I tell myself!) And I have seen some things. If I schedule less, am around more, don't turn on the television, but don't always engage, this is what I notice. Theo draws more, all on his own. He will pick up books and try to read them all on his own. He will build and play more. My younger son will go off and do puzzles all on his own, or build entire kingdoms. Sometimes I walk in and Theo is just staring at the ceiling, at nothing.

It is not that they did not do this before. But they seem to be more comfortable doing it. And they are on their own, figuring out what makes them tick.

And I have come to think that perhaps they are digesting. They are learning so much, so fast, I think it is quite hard to conceive of as an adult. I think sometimes their brains just need to rest, with no more inputs. I think maybe that is where the real learning takes place--between the classes and activities--when they are quietly staring into space or singing to themselves in the corner.

Right now, as i self-indulgently blog away, my three-year-old is talking to himself and assembling eight puzzles all on his own. He wanted me to do it with him. But the truth is, he is so much more proud that he has done them himself.

And now he knows he can do it. All on his own. And isn't that what life is all about?

Thursday, March 12, 2009

What Will Happen to News?

First, read this.

This is the kind of story that makes a former journalist like me weep and gnash my teeth and feel old, outdated and sad.

Yesterday I spoke with a former colleague from the Los Angeles Times, Allison Cohen, who has started her own local newspaper, the Los Feliz Ledger. I am having her come talk to my UCSD class about new things people are doing. In her case she is jumping in to cover local news because the LA Times has given up on it completely, and people still care. She had just crunched her numbers and she did as well this year (when the stock market crashed) as she did the year before, when LA seemed to be booming. She was profitable in a year. And she is ready to start another paper, and start a little newspaper war. I won't say where. That is her secret.

But still she says she loses sleep wondering what will happen to news, to quality journalism, to newspapers.

I am an optimist--so I believe that newspapers and stories will continue in some form. That people will still want to know what is going on. That even if newspapers die eventually society will feel the lack of a watchdog and a new kind of news will spring up. Maybe the stories will be told differently, maybe it will all be on-line, but society will care what is going on, and will realize the value of having someone keep an eye on the government, the schools, the cops, the world--and writing that first, great rough draft of history.

But she had a different view. She said she wondered if people would just stop caring. She said maybe newspapers will die and no one will blink an eye. Maybe people will just swallow tiny blurbs on-line of superficial coverage. She said newspapers are dying, news is getting thin, and she sees no great outcry from anyone except the journalists themselves.

I want to believe she is wrong.

But I can't stop thinking about what she said.

Funny Faces

Today Jonathan and I had lunch outside at a perfect place he discovered only yesterday. On the site of the once famous Morton's in West Hollywood, where the impossibly grand Vanity Oscar party has always been held, the restaurant is the place you dream L.A. will be before you arrive. It is mostly outside, with benches covered with fluffy cushions of white and aqua marine.

You sit outside, but in the shade under a giant awning, with great shafts of sunlight shining through--but never, ever in your eyes.

The table cloths are white linen, and the waiters are pressed and neat and beautiful. Most have British accents, so you feel like you are being served by butlers, and you are the aristocracy.

To me it felt like Capri, or Sorrento.

They have a fabulous prix fix menu (recession special!) which Jonathan insisted I try. And so I did, and it was perfect. A fresh salad of crunchy fresh beans, red onions, tomatoes and tuna carpaccio, and then the most delicious spring risotto, of snapping fresh peas, and curly tender shrimp all sauteed in God knows how much butter, followed by a perfect espresso with a layer of golden foam in a delicate teacup with curves like a woman. Yum.

As we ate, more people filed in. It was a happening place, and the people were stylishly dressed. Jonathan hid his funky writer sneakers under the tablecloth. He was definitely underdressed. This was a place of Balenciaga purses, $500 sunglasses and $1,000 dresses I usually only see on mannequins in store windows.

But there was more. The faces were not real. The women were taut and tight and pulled and stretched. Their hair was fake, their boobs were fake and their faces were fake. As my eyes travelled across the dining room I felt I was in a fun house. Every face seemed off, although after awhile I felt I was losing track of what was normal. What did cheekbones look like? How did non-plumped lips really look? What does someone who really has blonde hair look like?

Jonathan said in a meeting yesterday two of his producers were talking of a medical epidemic sweeping Hollywood, where stars can't stop getting surgery to try to stop time. They are in love with their on-screen selves, and can no longer see what they really look like.

I think probably every beautiful person throughout history has tried to keep themselves young with whatever technology was available. I don't know that this is a new medical phenomenon. But I can tell you that sitting in the middle of a place where people have the money to carry out every technological fantasy and experiment on themselves is a discombobulating experience.

As we walked out I saw a single woman with brown hair, a few wrinkles, normal clothes. I did a double-take. Was she normal? I no longer knew.

When we got to the car I looked at myself in the rear view mirror. I looked so natural. So strange. I had little gray hairs popping out of my scalp, real live wrinkles, brown hair. I looked so fresh. So real. Like I walked out of a different movie. A different plot. A different life.

Maybe I am just made for a different set.


For Christmas I got Jonathan 2666, the 864 page novel by the dead Chilean novelist Roberto Bolano. The book itself is a work of art. I got a beauty edition--the book is divided into three parts in paper back--all fit into a fantastically designed box covered with cool graphics. This way you can still read the book with one hand, and you feel proud just to carry it around.

I waited three months to see if Jonathan would dig into it, but by March I felt I had a right. I dove in. It was slow going at first. It is a book written for a pace of life that I don't think exists in the United States anymore. It felt like you should read it on a train across country, or on a vacation by yourself when you had eight hours a day to do nothing but disappear into this fantastical universe. Or maybe endless days by the pool, punctuated only by pina coladas.

There were originally five books, all of which he asked his heirs to publish separately. Instead, they chose to publish them together as he intended before his death of liver failure--probably due to heroine use earlier in his life.

I just finished the first three books--or the first tome of three.

It is the best book I have read in years. It is journalism and mystery and noir and magical realism and great literature all rolled into one. Ultimately it is the story of the women who kept disappearing in the maquilladoras in Juarez--but a fictionalized account.

I want to lock my door, drop out of life and just finish the rest of it--the next 400 pages.

I don't know what it is about the book that has gotten to me. I will tell you when I finish.

But I realize that I am increasingly drawn to Latin American writers. I don't know why. It used to be the Russians. Part of it, I am sure, is being in Los Angeles, where life is Latin American. Part of it is being married to a Fernandez. But part of it is that Latin American writers are just fantastic.

Last night I quizzed Jonathan, a longtime fan of latin literature, and at least a pop authority on latin american history, why he thought their writing was so brilliant. He didn't even hesitate. He said it was because:

1) The latins are great storytellers. They sit around at cafes and bars and tell the most amazing stories over tequila and coffee. It is still a great tradition.

2) Life really is crazy in Latin America. To Americans Latin stories are magical realism. But a lot of magical, absurd, fantastical things really do happen there. There are killer bees and kidnappings and Indians and folklore and hallucinations from Mezcal and corrupt policemen and haciendas and a mish mash of cultural beliefs from the Aztec to the Mayan to the Indian to the Spanish all marinating together to create this intoxicating, crazy, incomprehensible national narrative.

3) There is a huge unemployed, or underemployed, highly educated intellectual class. They have a lot of time to write.

4) There are a lot of oppressive regimes and horrible dictators who commit crimes against humanity, causing people to lock themselves into their apartments for safety, where their only outlet is to write and write and write to live.

Good answers.

All I know is that Roberto Bolano, Gabriel Garcia Marquez, Isabel Allende, and Mario Vargas Llosa have become some of my favorite writers. Para mi, as I get older, they get better and better and better.

Wednesday, March 11, 2009

Is This a Sign?

When Jonathan pulls up my blog on his iPhone it is called:

if my life is my mess...

Tuesday, March 10, 2009

Sick Day

I am home with my sick boy today, feeling a little sick myself. We read chapter after chapter of the Phantom Tollbooth. Theo loves it, though I know he barely understands it. And I find myself thinking it is a brilliant piece of philosophy and life wisdom for any adult who delights in words. (Milo, Tock and the humbug are currently stuck in the forest of sight, right past the point of view, trapped between reality and illusion, on their way to free rhyme and reason).

Between chapters Theo sat down, drew me an airplane, and wrote me this note:

me + you is love.
I have a lot of fun.
from Theo.
To mommy.


I guess it is all worthwhile.

Sunday, March 8, 2009

A Scene in the Park

Sunday in Griffith Park. Joggers. Tourists. Park Rangers. A parade of traffic to the observatory. A legion of Roman soldiers practicing battle formation in full regalia, with a general in khakis shouting orders. A birthday entertainer with a table full of planets and globes and wild hair, with a 10 foot high rocket made of boxes and tubes standing on the grass behind him, trying to talk over the marching Roman soldiers.

Only in L.A.

A Prayer or a Thought

Today Jonathan talked to an old friend. He and his wife are two of the boldest, bravest, most interesting people we know. They live in Paris. They just found out their nine-year-old son has cancer. It started with a limp. It is a rare form of neuro-blastoma and has metastasized through his body. He has a 50% chance of survival. We met him two years ago. He was a beautiful, dreamy boy with a mop of brown hair and huge brown eyes. He was incredibly sweet to our boys. Though his parents are American, he was more French.

He is doing chemo, radiation, having his bones flushed with stem cells and has a port in his body. Jonathan said he felt dizzy. I feel sick at heart.

If you believe in God, or anything, pray for this boy, that he will be OK, that his parents will be OK, and that his older sister, a magical girl in her own right, will be OK.

The Doctor

When you learn a foreign language, one of the things they teach you is how to talk when you go to the doctor. They do this because the way to answer how you feel is very nuanced, and not ever a direct translation. If you just translate directly from English, the doctor probably will not understand. The more foreign the culture, the more true it is.

Yesterday we took Theo to a new doctor. I liked him. He spoke directly to Theo, now 6, about how he felt. He treated him as an adult. He asked about what hurt, and where. He asked how long. He asked him when he had last peed and if it burned. And then he asked him what his poo looked like.

Theo looked at him like he couldn't believe and adult would ask this question. This is more like what boys on the playground talk about. He looked at me like, "Should I really answer this?"

I said,"Go ahead."

He looked at the doctor and said, "It looked like this," then he drew the shape of a spiral in the air.

It made me laugh so hard. I am sure that IS what it looked like. What the doctor really wanted to know was, were your stools soft. Do you have diarrhea. Both of which Theo would have understood perfectly. But he didn't say that.

I guess learning how to talk to doctors in your own language is as learned as it is in a foreign language. Funny.

Saturday, March 7, 2009


One boy has a flaming fever. The other is covered in spots. I have a headache.

Friday, March 6, 2009

Theo is Amazing

My son has a tiny artist's notebook he carries around. It is about four inches square and has a rubber band to hold it closed. It is the type carried by Bruce Chatwin, Picasso and others. A creative friend gave it to him when he turned four. He draws in it, writes new words. He scribbles and plays tic tac toe when we are trapped somewhere boring where he must be still and quiet. It is a journal of a pre-verbal child, traveling into the world of words. It is all there.

Sometimes he writes words as he follows me around the supermarket, or tries to write sentences in it while I cook dinner.

He knows I have notebooks I am always scribbling in, so he does, too.

One day recently, as I was making breakfast, he asked, "Mommy, how do you spell amazing."

I helped him sound it out.

Then he read aloud his sentence.

"Theo is amazing."

He had written it all over the page, over and over in his oversized letters.

I felt my parents stern response bubbling up inside me. "Be modest! Never say that about yourself. Let other people say that about you."

But then I just smiled. I thought, "What a miracle that he can say this about himself. That he believes this about himself. I have succeeded as a mother. This is the best thing I could possibly teach him as he heads out into the world."

So I gave him a huge hug and said, "Yes, Theo is amazing."

Thursday, March 5, 2009

Therapist Redux

I like Barbara.
A lot.
But I loved Julie.

Someone New

When I was 33 my life fell apart (just like Jesus!). I was working for the Los Angeles Times in the San Fernando Valley, a desolate, industrial plant in Chatsworth -- a step up from Ventura, but a long way from downtown, or Tokyo, where I wanted to be. I had just broken up with someone I thought I would marry. I was glad to be free, but heartbroken and so sad that the only thing I was capable of was lying under my fan in my Valley apartment in the hundred degree heat and staring at the ceiling, listening to Beth Orton's mournful voice over and over and over again. I felt lost, adrift, depressed and utterly hopeless. Where had my life gone wrong?

I called all my friends looking for a therapist. I had had cheap, affordable therapists before, but now I was desperate. I needed someone really really smart and really really good. I was in deep shit.

Finally I found someone everyone raved about. I called her and told her I was poor, but I could see her twice a month. She said she didn't do that, but she would take me on, and we would work it out later. I needed her too much. I said yes. And so I began to trek to Brentwood to see her.

She changed my life.

I told her my life had gone horribly, horribly wrong. I told her I didn't know how I had ended up in an office in the middle of the Valley living in a lonely apartment off Ventura Boulevard. I told her I would never find love again. I told her I hated my life and didn't know how I had gotten here. I told her I thought once I had been on a great river, flowing through life, and now I felt I had drifted down a muddy tributary and I couldn't get out. I was stuck.

She tried to talk to me. Most of what she said was so hard to take in I just shut down completely and couldn't even hear. It was simply to difficult to take in. And I was trying. It was like I went deaf. But she did not give up. She began to send me metaphors. In her stories, I could take it in. Through her metaphors, I could understand what was troubling me. They were fantastical tales set in imaginary countries. I was a sad Zora guitarist, stuck in the land of Time. Her stories were long rambling missives, but they functioned like my own personal fairy tales. And I could hear. She had figured out how to get through to me. I didn't understand it but I felt better. It felt like magic.

It was a hard thing to share, it was so bizaare.

Within a year of seeing her I was in a new apartment I loved, dating the most wonderful man I had ever met and would eventually marry, and had gotten a job in the L.A. Times downtown office.

She was wacky, highly credentialed, gifted, and a true shaman. For years I clung to her, even as she got sicker and sicker with various illnesses. I followed her as she moved farther and farther away from me, and emailed her for more stories when I got stuck. She always came through. She was a true healer. A one of a kind therapist. I feel so blessed to have crossed paths with her. Eventually she grew so ill she could no longer practice. I believe her illnesses stem from taking on the sadness and illness of others. Maybe no one can do that over a lifetime. Not if you really really care.

I don't know.

But even when she stopped formally practicing she would always take my calls and nurse me through a crisis. Until her returned calls became more and more infrequent. Now I just visit her art at various sites on the internet and hungrily read her essays. Her words still move me.

But after years of hoping, praying that she would always be with me. After dreams that she was saying Good-bye, with me chasing after her saying NO, NO, NO, I am finally accepting that our patient/dr. relationship is over.

I am so grateful for what she did for me. She was one of my great teachers. My greatest healer. She appeared in my life at a time when I was breaking down and helped me get back on my path. But I am trying, as more time passes, to accept that she came into my life, taught me what she could, and now I must move on. Not forget her. Not forget what she taught me. But begin my search for my new spiritual and soul mentors.

Tonight is a first step. I am going to see a new therapist.

I'll let you know how it goes...

Reflections on Journalism

As I prepare to teach my journalism class at UCSD I think about what it is I want to teach my students. I want to teach them that being a journalist is one of the greatest jobs there is. I want them to know journalists are one of the last groups in America who get to really experience the world first hand, and tell about it, rather than through a filter, and that this is a privilege, an honor, and something that should be taken seriously. Whether you mean to or not, you change the world and how it thinks. This is a great responsibility. I want them to know they are America's filters, digesters, activists, watchdogs and narrative storytellers. I want them to know that journalists are critical to making democracy work. I want them to know that the world is changing, print newspapers may be dying, but that the profession of telling stories, chronicling your nation, city and community's stories--in whatever form--will always be necessary. I want them to be exposed--in my single course -- to writing traditionally, to writing first person, and to be open to telling stories in different ways. And I want them to know that underneath whatever form journalism takes in the future, they still need how to observe fairly, report accurately, and make sure their facts are correct.

Intellectually, I am open to all of this.

But still, I had an experience the other night that shocked me. I took the first chapter of my mama book to my writing group. I was scared. Really scared. I read it. When I finished the room was quiet. I braced myself. This was the upshot. They like my personal stuff more than my journalistic stuff. They like MY story, laced with others, more than just others.

They want it to sound more personal, and less reported. This doesn't mean they don't want the facts, that they don't want to know what I found out, and that they don't want rigorous process behind it, but they want and delight the personal narrative, and felt less engaged during the more traditional journalism part.

Now I myself have long ridiculed and ranted against journalism's fear of the first person, of opinions, of personal narrative laced with fantastic reporting. As long as the personal is clearly identifiable from the facts, I think that is the most powerful form of storytelling. And I myself laugh at newspaper articles where reporters go through awkward linguistic contortions to avoid saying the word "I" in a story. (Instead saying something like, "A reporter entered the bar and...when they mean themselves).

Still, it was a blow to me to feel in a room how the room was completely taken by the personal story, and how their eyes glazed over when I turned to my journalistic reporting. Sure, I know I could work to make my language more vivid, more powerful, more pithy, sharper. And to an extent, that is all true. But it is also true that personal writing is by nature more powerful. It made me think that newspapers problems with storytelling are bigger than we may even realize. And it made me think that in a world that is increasingly large, impersonal, and corporate, it is the small, personal stories that people crave, that they click into, that captures their interest, and that will serve as the hook to get into the large issues that really matter.

My thoughts are still evolving...

Wednesday, March 4, 2009


A few days ago a friend of mine I adore said, "Hey, Hilary, there is this amazing new store in Silverlake that is all DIY. You want to take a course called women and power tools?"

At the time I scoffed and quaffed some more red wine.

My father was perpetually using me as a child to change tires, to sand paper wood, to hold things while he fixed toilets, windows and doors in our leaky old New England house. As a result I sort of shut down. I had had enough of drills, nails, screws and tools. I can't really do anything very well, though I am not intimidated either.

But that idea took root. I wake up these days thinking, "I would really really like to build some book shelves." We have so many books they are stacked in piles around our bedroom. They are flowing down in cascades from the book shelves we do have, and stacked on every open surface in our home. I love books. They are my best friends. I love other houses with books. I love walking in and seeing what people read, what art books they like, whether they read only high brow literature or only junky, fast-paced novels (I love both!)

We go through our books constantly, giving away books we are done with to people we love, and donating books to our local library. (The last drop-off my husband made to the LA public library the delighted librarian said, we have not had this many books donated since Katie Holmes married Tom Cruise!)

But we have reached the point where I can no longer even find the books we have that I love that I want to reference and use. We are a chaotic library desperately in need of a librarian, and some book shelves.

And I think I can do it. They don't have to be perfect. And I am willing to sand and stain and measure and saw. And I would feel such a tremendous sense of accomplishment if I could build a bookshelf, or two, or three, to make a home for the books I love. So they could be seen, loved, used, appreciated and found.

I am going to go look at the DIY store for inspiration on this rainy day.

Maybe I will be a woman with a power tool.

Successful People

Successful people get up early.

It just seems to be true. They get up and meditate. They get up and jog five miles. They get up and quietly, over a cup of coffee, figure out what they want to achieve that day. It seems to be even more true for mothers. Because there is no other time when you have the world truly all to yourself. Michelle Obama got up at 4:30 to work out. Kristin Elson, principal of LCW, gets up at 5:30, to have an hour alone before her son gets up. Steve Lopez (LA Times columnist, and author of the Soloist, soon to be released as a movie starring Jamie Foxx and Robert Downie Junior) got up every morning at 5 to write before going to work to write columns for the paper. Trollope's mother got up at 4 a.m. to write stories before taking care of her entire family and doing her regular job.

But me, I just can't seem to get up in the morning. By genetic predisposition I am a night owl. I prefer to sleep late, have only coffee for breakfast, live my day, and stay up late. But children change all that. Now I have to get up early, and I do. There is no time to work during the day. And at night I am too tired to work, no matter how determined I am all day.

That leaves the morning. The very early, very wee, very sleepy hours.

Once I am up I am great. I am alert. I am sharp.

I just can't seem to lift myself from under those warm cozy covers and BEGIN.

I set my alarm. I make lists the night before of what I will do when I rise before dawn. But all I do is irritate my husband by setting my alarm at 6 every morning and not getting up. And then feeling bad about myself for not getting up AGAIN!

Are early morning risers just more successful people? Can I train myself to get up early? Does this mean I just don't want it badly enough? How can I carve out the time? How can I get up early?

Does anyone, anyone out there have any advice?

Monday, March 2, 2009

This Just In...

The man on the cross LIVED!

Pictures from the Garden

Here we are in the Larchmont Charter West Hollywood garden, pounding our herbs into butter. Pictures of courtesy of the fabulous Alana Cortes. For more info, go to my Eco-Literacy post. For more on the Chez Panisse Foundation and their fabulous Edible Schoolyard Curriculum check this out!

Just Another Day In L.A...

We were driving to the beach yesterday, to meet some friends, when we hit a roadblock. La Brea had been shut down completely, and beyond the cones and flashing police lights we could see ambulances, fire engines and hooks and ladders, with their ladders stretched to the sky. At first we thought it was a street carnival, because we could see a giant bouncer, the biggest bouncer we had ever seen.

Then we realized, no, that is not a bouncer, that is to catch people leaping from a burning building. We joined the cars on the detour, looping through a tree-lined L.A. neighborhood full of pretty duplexes. There were crowds, and a carnival atmosphere. People with cameras, people walking their dogs, everyone heading toward La Brea. But there was no smoke. We turned a corner and caught another glimpse of the action--the flashing fire-trucks, the ambulances, and the giant, inflatable jumper. It must be a movie, we thought. This is L.A. where movie events always get confused for real ones.

We looked up, and there, poised on a giant, white neon cross on top of a building with a church beneath, was a naked man, holding part of the cross to balance himself, and looking out over the city. In front of him were a half dozen firemen in full gear, hanging off the ladder, talking to him, reaching out to him, gesturing to him. Oh, we realized. He's a jumper.

We craned our necks, looking at his naked buttocks, white in the early morning sunlight, and then we drove on to our day of the beach. Later, I heard he had still been up there on the cross naked at 1. The road was still closed at 3:30 when we came back from the beach. I don't know how he came down.