Monday, August 24, 2009

Alcatraz Update II

I swam at least a mile 5 times last week. Good! I am getting stronger.

I rented my wetsuit (with arms). Phew. I will not freeze to death.

I collected info from a guy at the Y who swam last year. His words: It is not the sharks, the cold or the currents that get there. That provides all the drama. It is the fact that right when you are about to jump off the ferry a huge tanker honks its horn and the whole race has to stop so all 500 participants do not get run over. Egads. I did not even think to be scared of tankers!!!

Comments from Jonathan's relatives. His aunt. A dull stare. No comment. Just incredulity. His father. It's good that she takes care of herself (like this is an elaborate form of aerobics)

Some Writer's Inspiration...

excerpted from the bottom of a review in this week's New York Times Review of Books (found and read aloud to me by Jonathan):

"This collection is a wonderful reminder of that good writing is not about knowing words, grammar or Faulkner, but having that rare ability to tell the truth, an ability that education and sophistication often serve to conceal."

Thursday, August 20, 2009

Ice Cream

This is so sad.

I cannot believe parents would go after ice-cream vendors. Isn't the lesson of life to be able to move through the world and know that you do not get every single thing that crosses your path every time you want it? To learn self-control. To see that just because something wonderful is there does not mean you get it automatically?

Isn't the burden on us as parents to teach our children that they cannot always have everything?

But sometimes they can, and then it is even better!

Charters to Watch

Check out thisarticle in today's LA Times about Birmingham High School's conversion to a Charter. This great story highlights the challenges of switching to charter status, and all the forces at work. This is a school to watch, a pioneer and a microcosm for the kind of experiments we will see in upcoming years.

Our school (Larchmont Charter West Hollywood) will share a campus with Rosewood Elementary (LAUSD) this year. But I wonder, in the future, will more charter schools merge with existing LAUSD schools in an effort to regain more control, escape the endless red tape of LAUSD, and retain control over their own funds in a school district where funding increasingly falls short of what parents even need to operate the school? Is it fair that parents raise more and more money at public schools, and yet their campus does not have complete decision making power about how that money is used?

I will be watching...

Do you think there will be a revolution?

A Story In Pictures, Part III

On a long deserted beach with no footprints we find patterns in the kelp

A giant dragon with wings and a cape, made out of driftwood

All our secrets on this stretch of beautiful, deserted beach at the end of the world


A Story In Pictures, Part II

We walk silently through a grove of wind-bent pines

Down a path of woodchips

Into the world beyond...

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

A Story In Pictures, Part I

The second week we were at Stinson lifeguards spotted a 10-foot great white shark right off shore and shut down the whole beach. (Stinson is within miles of a marine sanctuary off the Farallon Islands, which is considered the world's largest breeding ground for great whites in the world). As a result we were forced to search for new adventures. Friends told us to head out past Bolinas to a sign that read Commonweal 451 and hike down the road to the sea. There, they said, we would find magic. They handed us a carefully annotated hand-drawm map, and the next morning we set off into the fog.

First the deer appeared.

Then we found a little house.

Full of offerings to people they beloved and dead, but not forgotten--poems, notes, folded pictures. Seashells, seaweed, pastel patterns on the walls.

If I were a painter, this would be my picture.

Alcatraz Update

I DID finish the Naples Island Swim, winding through the canals of Long Beach. The day was cloudy, the water murky, but the experience divine. We swam under bridges like in Venice, and people in bathrobes drinking coffee cheered us from their private docks. When I flipped over to do backstroke in the canals because I was so exhausted, I could smell bacon in the air. It was as long as Alcatraz (one and a quarter miles) I got second in my age group, I swam with two super cool women from the Y, and the wonderful Lisa Callamaro came out to cheer me on.

I may be slightly sick from breathing the toxic fumes and swallowing the dirty water, but it was worth it. I wore my medal around my neck all day long -- to the park to play baseball, over my apron as I cooked dinner. Benji wore one of his old medals, too. It all felt very Olympian.

Training continues...

The Art of Waiting

This is a deer we saw on on one of our most magical hikes during our stay at Stinson. It appeared out of the mist, and stood before us. It was the only spectacular sighting we could capture on film. During our two weeks we also saw: a great white shark fin, flipping seals, diving pelicans, a spotted owl, a whale spouting, a domesticated wolf from Montana named Masai and a shower of shooting stars.

Some of these sightings were ordinary (but still wonderful) and some extraordinary. But each felt like a touch of grace, a piece of magic, a blessing or a visitation. The deer, the pelicans, the leaping seals--if you went out you would see them, and they were wonderful. Other animals or sights we would go in search of. Maybe we would see them, and maybe we wouldn't. We had no control.

You could go to the place, you could sit down, and then you could wait. There were no guarantees (as I had to tell Theo and Benji over and over). You just had to be there, in the right place, and then open your mind, your eyes, your peripheral vision, and be alert. Trying hard wouldn't help. Neither would getting impatient.

And I thought a lot about myself and how I walk through life. I try so hard. I try hard to make the people I love happy. I try hard to be a good mama. I tried so hard to be a great journalist. I try hard to do good in the world and to make my house clean. I try hard to work out and keep my mind alert. I am always trying. When I was younger--working in Japan for my Japanese parliamentarian--I got to go down and get a shiatsu from the women who massaged and worked on the backs of all the Japanese politicians. As I lay there in the bowels of the Diet building in the middle of Tokyo, the masseuse to the politicians told me: Gambarisugiru. You try too hard.

And I thought, as I sat looking for wild animal visitations and shooting stars, that is NOT how you do it. You cannot will things to happen. And they often are not more likely to happen just because you really really try and you really really want them to. You have an obligation: work hard, get to the place where you can see, park yourself and be still. Then, and only then, can the magic happen, can the animals appear, can the stars shower down.

If you get impatient, if you keep shifting your gaze, if you get jealous of the person next to you who saw the whale spout when you didn't, you will not see. You just have to go into the zone of looking and waiting.

So yes, we must try. But once we get to the right place--psychological, geographical, physical, emotional -- we must just wait and be open. And even then, there are no guarantees. And if that beauty comes, if it chooses to show itself to you, that is grace. And how much more incredible it is because you cannot guarantee it through hard work, effort, will. That is the magic.

Has that ever happened to you?

Saturday, August 15, 2009


Less than a month til Alcatraz and my training has been pathetic. Yes, I swam the Coronado Rough Water Swim in 55 degree water with my aunt's wetsuit--and felt pretty empowered by that. But then I got a scary freckle removed from my toe, pulling me out of the water for 10 days, swam a few times, and then we were off to Stinson for vacation for two weeks. I did hike and run and play outside all day long from morning til night--but I did not swim much. (Although the trip did MUCH to acclimate me to cold water...I was in every day, until the Great White Shark sighting shut down the beach...more on that later)

So now I really need to buckle down, or I will be in BIG trouble with the cold, the currents and the crowds.

Tomorrow I will do the Naples Island Swim. It is a one mile swim in Long Beach, supposedly out to an island, down some canals and back. Cool! Supposedly the island really is like an island in the Mediterranean, or designed to be that way. Jonathan is worried about the pollution. I am worried I am just sluggish and weak. At least the water will be warm!!!!

So to lower expectations tonight I drank half a bottle of champagne. Bad, bad Hilary.

Wish me luck tomorrow.

I hope I will return to tell the tale...

Home to the Homeless

We just returned from 2 1/2 glorious weeks away (more on that to come) to find a tiny Hooverville just steps from our front gate. The homeless have snuck in behind the Quality Inn and set up camp. This is not a tiny camp, or a tired man sleeping on the ground. In two weeks there are mattresses, towels hanging down from branches, lots of supersize plastic Coke bottles, drying clothing, and lots and lots of trash. When we left there was a hedge. Now there is a well-beaten path leading into this secret outdoor room. Behind the gate of the fire escape from the hotel (it fronts on Highland, and the back gate over a little bridge is perpetually locked) someone had hung a sheet. Behind that was a perfect mattress, made up with clean white sheets, fresh pillows and a warm blanket -- (It looked so clean I wanted to climb in, Jonathan noted) -- all swiped from the laundry room of the hotel.

I feel the conflict of every over-educated, socially responsible-aspiring person in the city. I want to help. I do not believe in shunting homeless people onto the street, or arresting them so they can go off to hunt for another place to crash until they are kicked out there. On the other hand I do not want mentally unstable, or drug addicted people lighting fires and hanging out mere steps from my front door.

It is as if the recession has washed up on our doorstep.

Now what?

Worst of all, the homeless are technically on city property-camped out on a strip of land between our street and the hotel. But the hotel does care. They said earlier this year a homeless man was camping there who kept sneaking into the back door and breaking into guests' rooms, until the manager found him and tackled him to the ground. He was sent to prison for three months, but it looks like he is back.

What a difference three weeks can make. I walked down to get coffee this morning and there was a gang of dudes swaggering down a lower street of Whitley Heights, and some permanent encampments down by our preschool. The Starbucks stairs were even more crowded with homeless people begging for money--some of them reading library books! Our area is always the line where grit and glamour meet--but this feels different. It feels sadder, more desperate, and a little scarier.

This is Hollywood, 2009.

What is our role as socially conscious citizens?

I just don't know.