Wednesday, May 27, 2009

Sonia Sotomayor

My husband is a mutt, in the best American sense--a mixed race guy with the blood of a dozen nations and cultures running in his veins. He could embrace one of them as his identity, as so many Americans do, or he could reject them all, as he has. He is Jewish, but he runs from the Jews. He is Latino, but he shuns the Latino identity--or at least refused to name our children any cool latino name (Hilary, I am NOT naming our child Diego or Pablo or Francesco. They are white children. That would be a curse. It is so confusing. They will constantly have to defend themselves! To explain why their parents did this to them!)

He is just himself, and he walks through the world that way.

But every once in awhile he shocks me. And, I think, himself. Yesterday he came home overjoyed that Obama had nominated Sotomayor as the next Supreme Court Justice. He toasted her at dinner, and he told the boys why it mattered. He was giddy.

"I don't know why it matters to me so much," he said. "I am surprised. But it makes me really really happy. This is great for our boys!"

There is a Latino deep inside there. It may come out only when he is watching me dance salsa on the dance floor, or when a Supreme Court Justice with a Hispanic last name emerges from the Bronx to serve on the highest court in the land. But it is there.

I felt great tenderness.


I always think I have a healthy attitude towards food. I made it through high school and college without anorexia or bulimia. I remained academic, sporty and slightly nerdy. I was, in the end, relatively unscathed by the relentless propaganda about body image showered on American teenage girls. At least that is how I remember it.

But then peach season comes, and a parade of memories comes rushing back. I LOVE peaches. To me, a good peach is pretty close to heaven. I love the really juicy ones that are so soft that the nectar just goes dripping down your arms, your chin and all over your clothes. You really should eat them naked, then take a shower afterwards. Those are the best. In Campania, in Italy, they have the world's best peaches. I don't know why. Now that I am a militant food person, I think maybe it is because they are not covered with pesticides and shipped from far away. They are harvested from back yards and sold at the fruttivendolo.

Anyway, one year in college, I decided, when I went back to Naples for the summer vacation, I decided I would live on peaches. I was a lifeguard at Carney Park--a crater near Pozzuoli that had been turned into a tiny sliver of preserved America, with baseball diamonds, hot dogs and an All American pool. I was a lifeguard. I lived in my bathing suit, teaching children to swim, and keeping an eye on horny sailors who came in from sea on aircraft carriers, put on their goggles, and hung out underwater by the diving board, watching for young girls swim suits to dislodge in revealing ways when they jumped into the water. I had to call them on their bizaare behavior and send them to the shallow end, where the view was a little blurrier.

I lived in my bathing suit, and thrived on peaches. I ate peaches for breakfast and peaches for lunch. I ate peaches all afternoon. I would eat them so the nectar ran down my body on my break, and then I would leap into the water, wash them off, and climb back into my lifeguard chair. I would eat 6-8 peaches a day. I would eat something real for dinner, so my mother wouldn't worry, because she was always onto me. Then I would have peaches for dessert. I got very skinny. And then one week I ended up in the hospital--for dehydration. I had a fever and I couldn't eat. Not even peaches.

I got so skinny. I ended up in the hospital. You would think I would hate peaches. But I don't. I love them.

And to me, the peaches of Campana are still the best.

I dream of a newspaper cone of sweet, campana peaches, warm in the sun, dripping down my chin.

Saturday, May 23, 2009

All Stirred Up

One legacy of my peripatetic upbringing is that I never stopped moving. And so my life really has been lived in distinct chapters. When one ends, I move on. There are few links, and little overlap. A hardy few have followed me on my journey. Natalia was one. Now she is gone. As a result, though, I often feel like earlier chapters are like a life that belonged to another person. They are in me, all those places, flavors, sights and scenes, but deep deep in my cells. Not being called upon every day.

Until facebook came along.

All of a sudden voices from all different parts of my past are exploding into the present. They are closed chapters, forgotten closets, sealed brain clusters. And these voices are bringing back all these different times, and my memories, and their memories.

There is Alex Okun, my very very best friend from second grade in Naples, who I loved so much I spent 15 years looking for her, eventually tracking her down when I was 25 after I saw her father's name in a front page Washington Post newspaper story because by then he was a diplomat in Israel. The state dept wouldn't give me her address so I mailed a letter to them, and eventually, after months and months her father called my parents and I found her. So I saw her once in Seattle. But I found her again. She told me what she remembered about my second grade self. Funny.

And then there is Brian Key from High School, a dear dear friend, a constant presence, a fellow Navy kid (only his dad was a POW in Vietnam, something we were not supposed to bring up). He was a neighbor, a playmate, a quiet force for good, always, in a way that most people in high school just are not. There is my very best friend from High School, Kelly Wilkinson, who sketched horses madly through her high school days, covering her bedroom with perfect sketches of horses, then joined the Navy, flew airplanes, joined the Navy reserve, seriously studied painting, and now, truly, paints like the best of the French Impressionists. She has her very own studio in Charlottesville, VA, and I swear, she paints like Mary Cassatt. I am awed by her work, and love her for finally doing the thing she always, always wanted to do. How many people really come back and do that? She really knew herself at 15. And she was true to herself.

Then there is Ian Hoorneman, a wacky and delightful friend from High School, (a Latin scholar and a powder puff cheerleader, both!) who knew me at Wakefield, but also watched the strident, man-hating feminism (it was a phase! I swear! I only hated men, all men, until I was about 25) of Wellesley take root in my soul--and after 20 some years, when I told him I was married to a "screenwriter" had to ask me if the screenwriter was a man or a woman...

And finally, on Thursday night I stopped by the home of Lani Asato, one of Natalia's dearest friends, whose life I have followed and watched over the years. She, like me, (and Natalia) spent years studying Japanese, living in Japan, working for the Japanese. She is, actually, third generation Japanese. But seeing her made all the memories of Japan, JET, Natalia and the flight to Tokyo right after graduation, working for NHK (she worked for TBS) come rushing back. We ate noodles flavored with uniquely Japanese flavored dressings, sat at a table like a kotatsu, and stared up at a gorgeous photo of bamboo, surrounded by other kanji art. I felt safe there. Like I had known her for a long, long time. She knew the places I knew, the people I knew, and this country, that left such a huge mark on me, that I never really talk about any more.

So now here I sit, on a Saturday morning in May 2009, and the doors to all my chapters have been flung open. My head is whirling with memories of homecoming in High School, of my weird days at Wellesley, of my first trip to Japan, of track and calculus and why my high school did leave such an impression on me, even though I don't love it in the way that prep school people love and admire their alma maters.

I have such a set narrative in my head of how it all went, and what it all meant, and where it has all led. So how strange it is to have people emerge and remind me of different things, events I had forgotten, important phases that I have chosen to ignore in the script of my life.

Very very strange.

I don't know what it all means yet.

Except to say that my chapters are very, very, very disjointed.

Friday, May 22, 2009

Red Fish

Hey all you mamas out there, check This out, straight from my sister-in-law, who always finds the coolest, smartest, most clever toys and games for children. It's an exquisite french game site designed to teach children what? mouse skills? how to write music? how to speak french? how to read chinese? how to drive a submarine?

I don't know. But delightful.

My boys can't get enough. And, I confess, neither can I.

Tuesday, May 19, 2009

The Things We Learn in Kindergarten--2009

I love Theo's school. I really do. I love his teachers, the constructivist approach, and I simply adore his principal. In this one year Theo has learned to read, to write, to draw, to sing slightly pushy, propagandist (but very cute) songs about the environment and recycling, and all the parts of a leaf and a flower. Success.

Still, sometimes I am surprised at the other things he learns.

Like this:

"Mommy we are not supposed to share with our friends. Someone might have an allergy."


"Mommy we cannot talk about our play dates or our sleepovers or our birthday parties, because someone's feelings might get hurt."


(Screaming) "Mommy! Do not use that paper!!!!! That is a tree!!!!"

Anatomy of a Mommy

I was lying in a small tent this weekend, wriggling out of my pajamas and into my bathing suit while Benji, nearly 4, and very curious, looked on.

Benji: Why do you have hair down there instead of a penis?
Me: (Oh Dear...not prepared right now for this question) Because I am a girl. A woman. Only boys have penises.
Benji: How do you go to the bathroom?
Me: The same way you do.
Benji: But does the pee pee come out of your booty?
Me: No. I have a vagina, and there is a hole, just like in your penis, to let the pee pee out.
Benji: Just like in my penis?
Me: Yes.
Benji: Oh.

Friday, May 15, 2009

Partying with the 'Poonies--Part I

Right off George Plimpton Way, a night of spectacle and debauchery at the Castle, May, 2009. Pictured here, my hubbie and former Lampoon President (his name is engraved on a giant chair, and all future Lampoon members forced to memorize his name forever after!)

Two weeks ago Jonathan and I traveled to Cambridge for the 100th Anniversary of the Lampoon Castle.

As noted in an earlier blog, few men brought their wives. This was a chance to return to the good old days, alone, to reminisce, make misogynistic jokes, and remember a time when smart, white men in smoking jackets still ruled the world.

Oh, What a weekend it was!

I felt I needed to go to see one of the most powerful influences in my husband's life. After a weekend there, I think we both agreed it influenced him even more than he realized. We walked into the Castle the first afternoon and we both saw with a startled shock that our home in Whitley Heights is like a toned-down version of the 1909 landmark built by William Randolph Hearst. There were exposed beams, soaring ceilings, gorgeous old tiles (in our case, mediterranean, in the Castle's case, delph tiles from Isabella Steward Gardner) plate glass windows and a huge fireplace that looked like it had been stolen from an aristocrat's hunting lodge in Britain. Just like our house! It turned out we were not alone. Many Lampoon alumnae confessed that they, too, lived in Castle-like architecture scattered in pockets of 1920s architecture around the country.

On Friday night the Lampoon threw a party in the Isabella Stuart Gardener Museum. Could there be anything more divine? They rented the whole place and filled it with a hundred years of men and a few women. Built like a Venetian Palazzo, with a huge open courtyard in the center, the museum is a dream. Wellesley art history classes sent us there semester after semester because Ms. Gardener had put together such an astounding collection of masterpieces. She is also a feminist fantasy--a woman who traveled the globe on her own, bringing back Buddhas, Chinese screens and pieces of Japanese temples--because she believed that through art, people really would find truth and beauty. She was an adventurer, an independent thinker and a philanthropist. And she dabbled in the occult. She had a secret Buddha room she would invite only her closest friends into, for a drink, or some opium, perhaps? We sought to gain entry. Alas, it has been dismantled...

That night, a trio played while we imbibed cocktails and strolled through the galleries. Docents hovered to give us private tours. The whole museum was ours. In the Dutch room, two huge gilt frames hung empty--a sobering reminder of the largest unsolved art heist in history--when two men disguised as police broke in and stole hundreds of millions in art, slashing Rembrandts and a Vermeer right out of their frames. (Of course I ended up buying the latest book on the art heist and reading it the rest of the weekend...) The art has have never been recovered.

Art! Beauty! Intrigue! Underworld connections! Heaven!!!!!

(That is what we thought about as we stood in line at the bar, placed strategically in front of the most gorgeous John Singer Sargent painting I have ever seen: a wall size canvas of a dancer in a flamenco cave in Spain, that looks so dramatic and alive that after a few drinks she looks like she will dance out of the piece into the room.)

Saturday morning the Lampoon held a memorial service with eulogies (is this right if they were already dead for awhile?) for George Plimpton (Walter Isaacson) and John Updike (Kurt Anderson). Hilarious anglophile Lampoon undergrads dressed in post-modern Victorian garb tried to sell shots of hard liquor on the steps of the chapel, but their IDs and liquor were confiscated by campus police before they raised much money.

For a writer, the service was nirvana. What perfect bookends the two men were.

Isaacson gave a fabulous, witty and admiring speech about Plimpton, but ended with a cautionary note for the next generation of phools: "Dont' be afraid to try hard. What would Plimpton have done if he had really applied himself? Sure, he threw the most fabulous parties, and directed his life like he was still the president of the Lampoon, and there was no one who was more fun, more outrageous, more decadent, larger than life, but, think, young phools, what could he have done??? As he would say about himself, I cudda been a contender. Could he have made it into the literary pantheon? Or was he just destined to be a fabulous meteoric flame, shooting through the sky and illuminating everything for one brilliant minute, like the fireworks he adored?"


Kurt Anderson saying of John Updike: He made it into the literary pantheon, and that is really cool and we respect that a lot here at Harvard and at the Lampoon. But he hated the Lampoon. Or maybe he hated Harvard. And his books sure are depressing. And maybe he should have tried to have a little more fun. Like George Plimpton.

Much to think about. And...much more to drink.

Tune in for Part II...

A Peek Into the Future

Is this what Theo will look like at 15?


Theo, I think everyone can agree, is a mix of me and Jonathan. Maybe a little more me.

But Benji is a mystery. His legs are long like mine. He is an extreme sportsman like a MacGregor.

Vertically, he is just hard to pin down.

But Jonathan said yesterday that when Benji rotates on his computer, and appears horizontally, he was shocked to find that Benji looks like his mother.

It's all in how you look at it.


Last night a guy named Andrew Donohue came to speak in my journalism class. He is the co-editor of an on-line non profit news organization called Ever since he appeared in a front-page New York Times story about the future of journalism and on-line watchdogs he has been in demand on the "future-of-journalism" speaking circuit. Over and over, he and his organization are cited as one possible model for the future. And they are pretty cool.

Even cooler was that he took the time to come talk to students, on top of everything else he was doing.

The site is small and simple. There are only 11 staff people, of which about 6 are reporters. They are broken down into beats, just like a traditional newspaper. I would classify the writing as "bloggy" in style. But they get the facts. I adore their education reporter, who covers every little movement in the city of San Diego. She is one chick covering a huge city in a lot of small dispatches. But I would argue she does a better job than the biggest, best reporters at the L.A. Times (although I did love the recent series of stories on how extraordinarily, beyond-your-worst nightmares, almost-defying the imagination BAD LAUSD really is.)

But here is the point: Andrew Donohue was inspiring! As I watch the world of journalism I was part of disappear before my eyes in the ugliest way possible, I watch what he is doing and I feel hope. There will be a new way. And it will be cool, and innovative, and wildly different.

There were moments when he spoke when I felt jealous. I want to be a news revolutionary. I want to experiment with the way stories are told.

When we went to Columbia, they told us that is what we would be. The writing for print newspapers was already on the wall. But I, through some quirk of fate, got one of the last great gigs in journalism. And I loved it!!! I loved my job. The experiences I had. The people I met. And most of all, the stories I got to write. It is a huge part of who I am. When I started the world of journalism still felt like the center of the world. In my heart, it still is.

Fifteen years have passed. I am astonished at how little the ideas of where journalism will go have changed. But now people are ready. We, as Columbia graduates, were unleashed into the world of journalism full of ideas of how things could change. We were excited. But that quickly changed as we ran into curmudgeonly older editors who wanted to do things the same old way. The world was changing, but they didn't want to. So we put behind us the revolutionary rhetoric of Columbia and adapted to the real world.

At they literally are trying things we tried at the LA Times--teaming reporters up with local news stations to put out more in depth stories and share information, and garner publicity. It was, as they like to say in the corporate world, a synergistic relationship.

But it couldn't work. The old reporters didn't want to go on air. LA Times reporters had attitude about working with TV reporters, who they regarded as lightweights and inferior journalists.

Donohue said he is doing that same thing with his reporters. But now it works. It is a new crop of people. There are no crusty old journalists who have to be convinced. His reporters are young, feisty, ready to go. And now the world is ready.

My friends were the last ones into the old regimes. A few years after I was hired it seemed the LA Times stopped hiring anybody young, and the newsroom just got older and older, and more and more grumpy and set in their ways.

But here come the young'uns.

I have been reading Malcolm Gladwell's Outliers, in which, among other things, he argues success is based on many things far beyond individual merit (despite our western ideology). Things like, culture, who your family is, the opportunities that come your way, and when you were born!!

At another time I would have been a world-class snowboarder and a news revolutionary.

Ah well.

Life is exciting. There is hope.

Journalism will live.

That is how I feel this morning!!

Tuesday, May 12, 2009

Toddler Stand-Up

Last Saturday we went to a really cool birthday party. The son of one of my friends was turning six. She runs an improv theater down on Fairfax, and they held the party at the theater, Bang. Her son, Daniel, wanted a "Lego, Practical Joke" Birthday Party. And so it was.

During the party a professional improv dude, who is so handsome, so hilarious and so great with kids you cannot believe he does not have a show of his own, set up the stage like a stand-up club. He held a mike and encouraged each kid to come up, perch on the stool, and tell a joke. If they told it, they got a piece of cany. If it was really good they got those goofy Groucho Marx glasses--for keeps. The birthday boy called up the guests for their moment in the spotlight.

The jokes, by and large, were pretty bad. Which only made them more hilarious. They did involve things crossing the road, but what would happen on the other side was anybody's guess. There was a lot of knock knocking, but the punch lines, almost without exception, were mangled, forgotten, or completely made up and nonsensical. Which, again, only made them more funny. My boys are shy. Theo went second to last--and kind of made sense. And then, finally, Benji, the three-year-old taking the stage at the six year old birthday party.

He climbed onto the stage, and shimmied up the huge stool, which was taller than he was. His mind was filled with knock knock jokes and things crossing the road. Bananas, oranges and lots of poo poo. So Ezra, the comedic superstar, started the knock knock joke.

"Knock Knock," said Benji into the mike.
"Who's there," said Ezra, and the whole crowd.
"Orange," said Benji (leftover from a lot of the knock knock jokes which all involved mangling the classic fruit joke)
"Orange who?"
He started going faster, with total confidence.
"Knock knock," said Benji.
"Who's there," said Ezra and the whole room, faster, and with confidence, following Benji's lead.
"Banana," said Benji. Tricky. Smart. Where was he going with all this.
"Banana who?"
Even faster.
"Knock knock."
"Who's there?"
"Tree who?"
Then Benji broke down in tears into the microphone, perched on top of this giant stool, with a spotlight on him in this improve theater and cried,
"I don't know what I am saying..."
And he sobbed, jumped off the stool, jumped of the stage, and ran out into the darkness to me.

Pretty cute. And pretty funny.

Sunday, May 10, 2009

Mother's Day--That's ME!

There was once a time when I prayed--please, God, let "mother" NOT be the primary way I define myself. I still do not want it to be the primary way, or the only way. And yet, on this day, about mothers, I realize, that being a mother is one of the great joys of my life. Of course I fantasize about what I might have been, or could have done, if I did not have children to take care of. But, as some wise friends always remind me, not having children is no guarantee that those dreams would have been any closer to coming true. It's just that now I have an excuse--someone to blame.

And yet, it is also true that the majority of my life force goes to my children, my family, my husband. This from me, a Wellesley woman, a feminist, a career woman, and one who still believes that work, meaningful work, is the key to happiness in life. Or at least contentment. On some days that belief fills me with ambivalence. A feeling that I am being torn in two.

But I sit here tonight, after a perfect day, so grateful that in this life I got to be a mother.

I did not think I would get to. I was 33 and single with no man on the horizon, and I was not the kind of woman to go the test tube route. Though I could have seen myself packing up and teaching poor children in some god forsaken poverty-stricken nation. And I would have loved it.

I called my first son Theodore because to me, he is a gift from God. A gift I never thought I would have in this lifetime. He had been around for about two hours when I turned to Jonathan and said, "I want another one!"

"Let's wait a little and see how this goes," he said.

I still agonize about being a mother on some days. I resent that I have to shop and clean and pick people up and serve serve serve on some days. I am so smart, so educated, so ready to give to the world, I think. How did it come to this? Shopping for healthy vegetables on a Tuesday morning when my energy is high and my soul is ready to do something great. Sweeping the floor when I could be writing a great article about something fabulously interesting

But today I marveled. I marveled at my beautiful children and the joy they give me. Theo dashed into our room at the crack of dawn with a bag of gifts and cards and jumped into bed. Benji presented me with a letter he had written (transcribed of course). My husband made me breakfast and two pots of my favorite super strong espresso. We went to LACMA and saw the Pompeii exhibit and I told my boys all I knew and promised that someday I would take them to the real place, so that they could walk the streets of this buried city that had changed my life in so many ways.

And tonight I think that my boys and my husband are what make my life full. They make my heart sing. I love watching them when they sleep and seeing them stand like statues in the Pompeii exhibit. I love their curiousity about the tar pits and the way they smell when they nuzzle close. I love their sensitivity and their stubborness and their tiny perfect bodies.

And I think, as much as I have fled from the title, the label, of mother, it has brought me more joy than almost anything else. So today, I pause and recognize that. And I take a moment to thank all the mothers of this world, who do their best to love their children and do their best to give them everything they possibly can. Because in the end, I do believe it is mothers who make the world go round. Or people who act like mothers.

Tuesday, May 5, 2009

Back from Boston!

A trip back east is like a trip to a strange foreign land! Bizaarre culture! Strange but friendly people! Quaint scenery!

More soon!