Sunday, January 31, 2010

Frog Funeral

For Christmas we received the most alarming gift ever. This is what happened:

Two days before Christmas Jonathan and I decided to get a jump on things and start wrapping, instead of waiting until after we returned from the Christmas Eve service and staying up all night so we were shot on Christmas morn. So we pulled all the packages that had arrived by mail from the basement and the closets and started to wrap.

We pulled out books and games and clothes. Jonathan opened a box that had arrived about a week earlier by UPS, been thrown over our high spiked fence, and sat in our bedroom since then. He reached into the styrofoam peanuts and pulled out...a plastic bag full of frogs. Live frogs.

He nearly screamed. Then me. Then we wanted to throw up. It was just wrong. How could frogs travel by mail? UPS? In a little bag with no food, no air, no nothing? Why hadn't anyone warned us? I wanted to all up PETA. It was deeply disturbing.

Worst of all, we could not take them out because they needed spring water, and after that they couldn't eat for two days, because they had to calm down after the trauma of travel and a new environment. I felt like they had been sent to us to die.

Worse, as I read the precautions and rules, I began to wonder what kind of frogs they were. They could survive in a box with no food, light or water for at least two weeks. We could not touch them. They were totally toxic. Were they some brand of corporate frog, bred for consumers? It was all so sci fi and wrong, and now we were part of it.

But, in the end, they were not toxic, merely carriers of salmonella. We got the water, set them up in their slightly cracked frog o sphere with bamboo and blue rocks and fed them. And, truth be told, they were kind of cute. It was fun to watch them swimming around. They were easy. They looked happy. The boys named them Silly Hopper and Snowflake. My sister did research. They were South African frogs, which grew up to five inches in the wild (wow!) which meant that if they ate real food, perhaps they could get that big in our house, which, I guess, is why they said to never let the frogs be anywhere near food. Perhaps they would show bionic force and burst from their frogosphere. They started to appear in my dreams--huge, emerging from the terrarium, hopping around, toxic. Deeply disturbing.

We enjoyed a happy month. We calmed down. Some days they were slower. They liked fire and sun. I think you can feel where this is headed...

Well, this morning we came down and the frogs were dead. Both were floating belly up. It was heart wrenching. And we don't even know how to dispose of them in an environmentally safe way. We plan to bury them in the yard, and pray that no bird or coyote will dig them up and become ill and die.

For now the living room is a dead zone. It feels sad. I really don't want to deal. The boys are sad.

The frogs we never asked for, but came to love, are dead.

We don't know what happened to kill them so suddenly. Were they cold? Already sick? We don't know, but we still feel like murderers.

We will give them a proper burial. It is all we can do.

Wednesday, January 27, 2010

Mommy Shock

Last night I went to my first writing group with John Rechy. As some of you may recall from an earlier blog, I forced myself to submit first. My work was critiqued second for the night.

When I was there I realized it had been about nine years ago since I went last. He is older, and a little wackier. Though, when he waded into the writing he was just as brilliant, spot-on and inspired as he was nine years ago.

A lot has happened in my life since then. I got married. I had two children (when I told him that he looked shocked, but said nothing.) I quit my job. And I have done a million things that are fascinating, life-enriching, and have nothing at all to do with writing. At that time my whole life was writing. Really, whatever the quality, that was all I did. Fiction was just one more type.

So I returned.

And I was humbled.

The group went around and gave their comments. They were both kind, and pointed. That is what he allows. Only he gets to do the all out critique, and he is careful to balance the harshness with encouragement.

One woman got so rabid that when he tried to shut her down he failed. She could not reign herself in, about one section that drove her crazy because of my confused point of view. In the moment I felt like laughing. Now I feel like crying.

I left the evening stirred up, overwhelmed, my mind on fire, my body exhausted, my stomach in a knot.

I kept trying to figure out what it was that left my mind pinging in a million different directions. There are many things. But I think one was that fo the first time in three years my writing was being taken really seriously, edited seriously, at a very very high level. And it did not hold up. Or, at least there is much, much to be done.

It is not that I can no longer write. No. I believe I will always be a writer.

But if writing is like a discipline, like swimming, track, training for a marathon, I have gone from being an Olympic athlete, writing daily and hard at the paper, being questioned constantly, edited constantly, challenged constantly, to a fat couch potato. Sure, I tell myself, I am still a writer. I write this blog. I write freelance articles when I can. I wrote a novel in a month.

But all of this is solitary. It is being held to no standard, no editing, no outside eye. It keeps me writing, yes, but there is no discipline to it, no one pushing me, challenging me. And I have slipped. I have gotten lazy. Slipped into cliche. I dash things off without really taking the time to slow down and figure out exactly what I want to say, in an original, unique, careful way.

My outdated version of myself as a writer was punctured.

It did not feel good. I had to look at my prose, my sloppiness, my inattention to certain details, and it was not a fun experience. I felt flabby, out of shape, like I had slipped.

I experienced Mommy Shock.

And part of me wanted to run and hide. To say Well, I must take care of my children. I have done so much. To justify my bad writing, my lack of attention. But that is a cop-out. And this is a turning point. Will I look head on at my writing, however shoddy, and learn from the master, and incorporate these lessons without ego, and work, with discipline, to get myself back on the Olympic team?

Or will I hide in my home, scared, and continue to write for no one but myself and a few friends, with an occasional freelance article to show for myself.

I know I am still a good writer. But last night I was faced with the question--now that I am venturing out of my safe, unassailable Mommy lair where no one really evaluates me--do I have the cojones, the discipline, the courage to do what it takes? To join the Olympic writing team again?

Or do I want to hide in my home, behind the excuse of children, and remember my outdated version of myself as a great writer, while my skills, my writing muscles, my tools and discipline atrophy?

I want to write.

Monday, January 25, 2010

You Never Know What Matters...

I try so hard to feed my sons' brains and hearts and souls. To expose, but not pressure, to encourage discipline, but not cripple with expectation. It is hard. I feel I have no model. I had lots of exposure--by Seventies standards--but not much attention to me, and what I might have been good at. Whatever. I am just trying to pay attention for my boys.

Theo has music at school. It is a sweet program and I like the teachers. They have been doing a lot of Peter, Paul and Mary--which is an orgasmic experience for me, the child of the Sixties. It was a time when folk music was so far-reaching that even my buttoned up US Navy father played the guitar, the ukelele and endlessly played Peter Paul and Mary. We sang those songs over and over, in the car, in the rocking chair, everywhere.

So now Theo learns.

A few weeks ago they started learning This Land is Your Land. He learned one verse, and he was proud. And when we drove to Phoenix through the desert he sang it. I told him there were more verses, and I tried to remember. I stumbled through a few. When we got home I searched on the internet and printed out the words. Sometimes I come into his room after I have tucked him in bed, and there is the piece of paper with the words, folded and unfolded, lying on his bureau. He got up to verse 2, then verse 3.

Last night I told him I would come to school sing today. This morning, after I hauled him out of bed, I saw him crouched on the floor in his bedroom with the piece of paper, reading and rereading the verses. Hurry, I shouted. Hurry.

We went, and sat as his class sang with Teacher William. I saw Theo crouching behind his friend, with his wad of paper unfolded, all the verses of This Land Is Your Land in front of him. He was ready to sing, verses I-5.

They didn't sing that song today. But of all the things I do, who would have thought that printing out the words to that song would have meant anything at all?

I guess you just have to throw it at the wall and see if it sticks...

Friday, January 22, 2010


After a week of rain, this appeared today! Wondrous. The most beautiful rainbow I have ever seen. All the way across the sky, from one side to the other. Theo spotted it. We pulled out in the rain and gaped.

How Many Hours

How many hours a day can my son talk about playmobil, castles, catalogues, cameras, policemen, computers and toys he dreams of having. We are going on two hours, now, and he has not slowed down. Oh my.

Thursday, January 21, 2010

Food for Thought

Yesterday a mama I love came over to talk and caffeinate with me. We spoke about creativity, finding time to pursue our dreams as mothers, and how much of your precious time should go to the "art" itself, and how much to the business, the promotion, the endless drumming up of business.

She told me about a documentary about an old Indian jeweler she knew, who used to work up in Malibu. He was ripped, talented, and successful. He looked like a man following his dream, his art, his bliss. But he revealed, in this documentary, that he spends more time on the computer and on the phone doing the business end of things, so that he can do his art.

It made me think.

Someone always has to do the business end of things. You cannot just do art, unless you find a patron, or have a brother with a sales background who will peddle your work with passion and leave you to the paints (Theo Van Gogh, for instance).

Creative people shy away from the business side, but it must be done. And today, it seems, in the creative arts you are expected to do more and more of the business side and promotion yourself. You must be an entrepreneur, too, to be an artist, a writer, a film maker, a poet. Otherwise, you will just be a hobbyist. Which is OK.

And I thought about that. Not that journalism is art--but I was so blessed to write in a place where once I was hired the only person I had to sell my idea to was my editor, whose door was pretty much always open. They might be good, they might be bad, but it didn't take long to get an answer.

Freelancing is a different story. You have to write the story, yes. But that ends up being such a small part of the whole process. You have to find the place to pitch (appropriate voice, etc), see if you have a contact, harass daily or weekly, write up a proposal, wait for them to decide, then, IF they say yes, file the story, wait to be edited, and finally, many months later, get paid. The writing part is probably only 30% of the total.

To me, it feels like not enough. But if your starting point is: you could do something for someone else all the time, OR you could spend three quarters of your time promoting yourself and trying to find the space and means to do this thing you love, well, then it doesn't seem so bad. Indeed, that privilege of doing your passion feels like a gift. Even if it is only for 30% of the time.

What do you think, you artists, writers, film makers, and creative people out there? What is the proper ratio between art and commerce in the life of one who wants to pursue what they love?

It's a Family Affair

Last year I swam the Alcatraz Swim with the South End Rowing Club with my amazing Aunt Judy and my cousin-in-law, Mike. It was one of the highlights of my year, and I think it drove my father nearly mad--just knowing there was a crazy athletic event involving family and danger that he did not take part in.

So this year he begged us all to do it again. He would train, he promised. And we need this promise from him, because he is probably the weakest swimmer of us all, chills easily, and will not give up, even when he should--an endearing, if perhaps life threatening quality.

This year I want a different challenge. But then, I thought, my father turns 70 this August. He really really wants to do this before he dies, and he wants to do it with the whole family. And now, it looks like it might be the whole family. My aunt will do it again. My cousin may do it. Two other cousins may do it. And one cousin's husband may do it.

Two days ago a dude from Seattle contacted me on Facebook about my story, saying his Seattle club wants to swim. I told him my whole family might do it. "Doesn't sound that hard, then, if your whole family is going to do it?"

Do you know my family? I wanted to shout through cyberspace. My aunt is the co-founder of the Ironman. My cousin went to the Olympic tryouts in butterfly. My cousin who swam last year is an astounding year round surfer whose son does big-wave tow in surfing in Asia. My brother swam all through high school and even after years of not swimming can jump in the water and swim a mile no problem. My father? Well--we are going to have to take care of him. But my family? We are astounding!

Today I will sign up. Alcatraz 2010. Will it be with a wetsuit? Or skin, as they say at the South Bay Rowing Club?


The House of the Word

That is what my globe-trotting peripatetic aunt and uncle have dubbed our house.

With a screenwriter and a blogger/journalist and books everywhere in piles, we are the house of the word.

Here is the book they sent to my boys, here in the House of the Word, so they can learn to love words: Ounce, Dice, Trice.

Here is what I have learned so far (and never ever dreamed): My mother is a glot! A glot is someone who cannot bear to waste anything, who stuffs his attic full of treasures which nobody else wants, and who always eats the last chocolate in the box.

I also learned that my father often has a poose on his nose. A poose is a drop which stays on the end of the nose and glistens. It happens to ordinary people when they have colds, or when they come out of the sea for a chittering-bite.

Oh, and I fear our house is full of gonomies. A gonomy is any strange object that is difficult to name, that is curiously unlike anything else, and that serves no useful purpose. Gonomies abound in the houses of glots.

Oh dear, yes, they do!

If you have ever wondered if there is a word to describe some strange and bizaare situation that deserves to be named, I beg of you, look here! In Alastair Reid's Ounce, Dice Thrice.










Wednesday, January 20, 2010

Is This Normal?

Last night, as my boys happily frolicked in the bath, they made their penises disappear, a la Madama Butterfly.

"Look Mommy, I'm a girl!" Theo shouted, thrusting his hip out provocatively.

Benji circled him in the bath, searching for the missing penis. Yes, invisible.

Then Benji tried. His kept popping out. But finally, after many tries, he got it to stay. "Look, Mommy!"

"But mine looks more real," shouted Theo. "Look, I even have a line, like a girl."

I just watched. Laughed a little. Then walked away and let them perform their transgender bathroom games. It was funny. What is a Mama to do?

Has this ever happened to you?

Monday, January 18, 2010


When I worked, and actually had money, I gave almost nothing.

Not nothing. I gave when I was feeling good, or bad, on random occasions, to some particularly needy homeless person I could not resist, even knowing my money would probably go to a bottle of beer, or whiskey, or night train. Fine, I thought. This is all I can do at this moment.

I had a job that forced me to be in the world, to care about the world, to be a voice for the downtrodden--but that very job prevented me from giving to anything that could ever be perceived as political. And these days, that is pretty much everything. Plus, once you started, it was hard to figure out where the line was. So I just avoided it altogether. Probably just an easy excuse--ready made for me.

Now, I have little money, and I give way too much. Partially it is because a lot of people are in need now. Partially it is because I can. Even if I have little money, I have no job limitations. I can't get caught. I can express what I can express and give where I want to give -- with money. That feels good.

And maybe, I think, it is because not being a reporter strips you of your observer status. I am in it now. And I see how much every organization, every school, every library and social program needs money. I see how much I have, even if my life feels uncertain. And so here I am, with less money than I have ever had, giving more. And agreeing to fundraise-- for my preschoo, my elementary school, my Y, when I detest fundraising more than anything in the world. It is never much. But, I tell myself, it is what I can give. And it is something. And if everyone gives what I give to the five organizations or causes they love the most, then the world would be a thousand, million times better.

So I try.

Wednesday, January 13, 2010


My dream--the one that returns time and time again--is that someone comes to me and tells me I have to go. I have ten minutes to pack, and a tiny suitcase. In that time I must decide what I will leave behind, and what I will take with me for the rest of my life.

The suitcase is the size of a carry-on, sometimes a large rolling suitcase, and in that I have to fit everything. My favorite clothes, my art, pictures of my family, my adventures, my life, practical things--hairbrushes, pans, a bathing suit, clothes for cold weather. It all has to fit, and I know it won't, and so I am packing, and each decision is so difficult I cannot move forward.

It is, in part, the legacy of being a Navy brat. I was always moving. Everything physical went with us, but a lot was always left behind. And, the truth was, I had no control over what. I didn't even know most of the time.

My favorite therapist tried to help me by telling me I could have trunk after trunk for my things. I no longer had to fit in a suitcase--especially now that I had a family. The scene was an Indian train, and the trunks were huge colonialist things. Impossible to move. I tried to visualize--but in my dreams there was always not only the fear and pain of moving, I also knew I had to move fast and travel light. Which I did for many many years. Well into my Thirties.

Even when I am awake I play this game a lot. I wander around my house and wonder what I would take with me if I had to flee my house, my city, my life--with my family. They get to go. And truly, they are the only thing that matters of all of this.

And now, as the economy teeters, and everything is uncertain, there are days we know we may have to sell our house. Sometimes I am OK with that. We are healthy. We have each other. We will not starve. A new house could bring a new adventure. You have to embrace change, and see what it brings, not cling blindly to the old. I believe all these things.

But somewhere deep deep inside me, I find it profoundly unsettling. Probably not as unsettling as people who have never moved, never started over, never left. I have done that all a million times. Perhaps I am best at that. Staying still is hard for me. But slowly this house has won me over. It has burrowed into my heart. I love the light, and the big old trees. I love the wavy 1920s glass that casts ripply shadows on our wall, like water. I love the smells of our garden, and the secret terraces, and the giant leaves around my outside dining room. I love that it floats above the city like a treehouse. I love the huge Hearst Castle Fireplace, our bright blue nook in the kitchen, and our giant pink designer lamp. I love the tiled floor that makes you dizzy, and the ghosts of old silent film stars you can feel wandering around, looking for a good party. I love that this house, and this neighborhood, with its fruit trees, its crumbling staircases, and its memories of better times, reminds me of my childhood in Naples--a gritty, crumbling city that still, to me, is one of the most beautiful places on earth.

I love our memories here. I never got to have that as a child. A place that was mine, that I could always go back to.

So, as we face departure, or at least the possibility of it, I feel myself stirred deep deep down. Is it childhood fears? Childhood longings? Tomorrow, when the rain clears and the sun comes out perhaps I will feel hope. I know so many people are facing this right now. But this truly is a magical house. I don't want to lose it.

Tuesday, January 12, 2010

Leaping Through Fear

Not ten minutes ago I e-mailed my submission to literary master John Rechy and my new writing group.

John Rechy is an amazing writer, and an equally talented teacher and critic. I have taken his course before. A fellow journalist who also harbored secret fictional fantasies turned me onto him. Go, he told me. He is amazing. And he will love you.

Well, he turned out to be one of the most gifted editors I have ever come across. And all I did was work with editors. He held his literary workshops in a small apartment. First he would greet you politely at the door, as if you were a Queen, or celebrity from a long ago, more civil time. Then he would lead you, in my memory it is by the elbow, to the back room, where he showed a shelf of his own books, and a shelf of books written by students in his seminar.

Then the seminar began.

You have to write to get in, but he waived the admission requirement for me because I was a professional journalist. This is good, an honor, but also intimidating. Would I have gotten in if I had submitted my fiction? I don't think at that moment I had even written anything. It created doubt in me.

It took me weeks to submit. I watched as he critiqued the writing, and taught us gentle lessons about ourselves, about observation, about writing. At times he could be cutting, and flashed a wit that was wonderful to witness, but left you praying he would not turn his keen powers of observation on you. But of course he saw all. That is what he does!

The night I submitted, I went last. I was so anxious I felt weak. I remember my face was bright red and I wondered if I was going to faint. It was shocking even to me. I mean I wrote every day. But I was always hiding behind the conventions of journalism, which dictates that you never show yourself. This was like being stripped naked before strangers.

He looked at my red face, and said, "Darling, are you alright? Look at her, class, she is so red..." Oh, I know he was much funnier, his adjectives more precise. Listening to him is like eating the richest of desserts for someone who loves words. He fishes out delightful words that are all but dead and flings them around so they sparkle. If only everyone talked like that all the time, with such precision, with such joy, using all the words we have, rather than sticking to the 500 we lead our lives wit!

When I fell in love with Jonathan I made him come to a John Rechy seminar. I felt like I could not marry him--even if I loved him--unless he saw, and appreciated--how great John Rechy is.

Years have passed, and now, due to the gentle persuasion of a woman I adore, I am in again.

This afternoon the call came for submissions. The typical Hilary said, Oh, wait a few weeks. See what people submit. Make sure you are OK. Just wait. But then I thought, NO! This is the point! I have to jump in! If I want to write, I have to leap in, be fearless. I have something written. No, it is not great. It is a rewrite of a novel written in month, itself written in a month -- which I guess makes it doubly shitty.

But I have to own what I am. I am a person who loves to write, who loves stories, who uses many cliches, but also can touch on the universal. It is no literary masterpiece, and yet something is making me keep going on this. I am here to write, to learn.

I had thought that with more years, my fears would abate. But I know I will feel just as faint when he clears his throat to begin his critique. And I felt weak just pushing the send button, sending my submission out to 10 people I do not know.

But I did it!!!!!!! I am not hanging back. I am leaping in, with whatever I have, and facing my writing head on. Procrastinating won't make it any better. It will just allow me to harbor secret delusions of grandeur for a few more weeks, until I am faced with reality.

So here goes! Into 2010 and the rest of my life!

Wednesday, January 6, 2010


OK, notice to readers whose stomachs turn at the sight of vague, New Agey concepts. STOP READING HERE! DO NOT PROCEED!!!!!

All others, carry on.

I am writing this here half to remind myself, and half to share what I have learned.

I am cursed with high expectations of myself. Sure, I know this can lead to greatness. It can also lead to misery. Especially if the expectations are too high, too fast, or just unreachable. So in 2009 I tried to be like Obama. I tried to move forward on all fronts, in tiny steps. I tried not to judge myself daily on what I had NOT done, but rather to think what tiny thing I could do to move forward. No judgement. Only action. If I did not move forward I was not allowed to judge. The action did not have to be big. It could be infinitesimal. So tiny that no one but me knew. Imperceptible. Maybe writing the first line of a cover letter in my head. But it had to happen.

So I did that.

I would say from September on. Training for Alcatraz helped a lot, because there is nothing like training for an event to get you in that mindset. You do not have to be fast, do the best time ever, feel good when you wake up, but if you do not put in the time in the pool or the ocean you will not be strong enough to do the thing. And you will drown. Or be humiliated. So you just have to do it. Again, no judgement. For awhile there will be no effect. That is the hardest, dullest, most isolating period. But then the training kicks in and you KNOW you are getting better, faster, stronger. And suddenly your stroke is changing, you are powering through the water, you wake up CRAVING the water, the workout, like a crazy addiction.

So for me, one who is always at war with my own head--there are a lot of people in there and some of them are VERY judgemental!--quieting those voices and focusing on mental shifts and tiny actions was a huge thing.

And here is what I found. Sometimes a tiny tiny step in a different direction changed everything. Indeed, the change was so dramatic that sometimes it blew my mind.

I know I know, you want examples.

Writing. I dreaded the freelance life. The endless pitching, self promotion, waiting, bargaining. But I made myself do it. I called and called. One call every few days. I stayed on it. Tiny steps. I got my first freelance story (not for the L A Times--that does not count, and I will not support a paper right now that is breaking the back of journalists). Then I went to another dear friend. She is someone I admire deeply, profoundly, but though we are both journalists and she set me up with my husband, I never asked her for help. And sometimes I was hurt that she helped friends of mine, but never me. I was jealous. But I reached out and she responded with such warmth, enthusiasm and help I was blown away. Each of these things built to others. I have to stay on it--but I started to build momentum. I am at week four of training for a swim--but I just took a long weekend off and now I have to build back up again. (When I swam AAU when I was young our coach used to always say every day of missed practice is like losing a week of training. I am sure it was to scare us, but there is some truth to us)

Money. We do not have much to spare now. And I have weaknesses. Clothes. Books. Music. There is a lot of rationalization wrapped in each of those, but I knew if I could stop myself from buying so many clothes, so many books, so much music, it would help my family a lot. But I still wanted those things. Fashion, ideas and music make life great! So, there is Pandora. Endless great music and more fun than a million CDs. I use the library more. Not always the hit of a great day at the bookstore, but good for the checkbook, and I love libraries--even these days when they are filled with homeless people and security guards. I love that they exist, that someone came up with a place where everyone has access to knowledge and you can get it for free. But clothes. What to do? How to stop myself from darting into a store and making an impulse purchase. But everytime I was about to buy someone appeared to give me that thing. I am not kidding! From a winter jacket to cool new boots these things just appeared in my life through clothing swaps and friends. And beautiful! OK. I am not perfect here--but many of my impulses were curbed and I still got what I wanted and much dinero was saved. Leading to happier husband and better marriage. In short, a shift.

I know I know--this is all so gushy and hard to digest and not exactly scientific. But I can tell you--that these tiny shifts make a difference. Just pushing your boat off in a new direction--even if it is the weakest push ever from the dock--it will change your course. And once the wind picks up you will be sailing off in a beautiful new direction that you chose!

If you can stomach it, try it.

I will be trying, too. I will be trying to keep focusing on action, and silencing the critical voices that take up so much energy and get me exactly nowhere.

Which brings me to this: I am procrastinating. I must take some tiny actions!

Have you ever had this happen to you, dear readers?


On the 12th Day of Christmas...

our perfect tree came down. This is the sad part of the season. Our tree was the most beautiful tree we have ever had. I sat before it every night, or nearly, and looked at it, and the fire. Cozy, Christmassy, wonderful. But the new year has begun. Her needles are dried out and done. She barely smells like Noble Fir any more, even if you scratch the trunk to release the smell the way the tree people told us.

Benji and I put on Bing Crosby one last time and started pulling off the ornaments. We savored and wrapped and remembered. Then we put the ornaments in their special box, padded them with Christmas stockings, packed the lights on top and put them away. I took all the beautiful Christmas cards off the mantle--couldn't bear to throw them away--pictures of gorgeous children, the artwork of friends, holiday wishes. I put them in a bunch with a strong rubber band and saved them, too.

It is time to dive into 2010!

Monday, January 4, 2010

Happy New Year!!!!

Dear Friends One and All,

Happy New Year!

Akemashite Omedetou Gozaimasu!

We stayed home alone--just the four of us--and had crabs, champagne and chocolate cake. Take a look at that eponymous label! Found by Jonathan in the bowels of the Wine House! France's Oldest Sparkling Wine!!!! Saint Hilaire!

May your year be filled with beauty, love, health, creative energy, music, art, $$$, adventure and LIFE!!!!

Saturday, January 2, 2010

A Walk In the Woods

On New Year's Day we were alone at last. Just us. It was a beautiful day. It had rained for a day and a half and the air was scrubbed clean and blue. We decided to do a hike in Topanga Canyon that we had not done since we were a' courtin'!

It wasn't the path into Topanga from the top, out of Topanga itself. It was a way into the canyon from below--up a long, wide road off Sunset, near the Center for Self-Realization, just a mile from Gladstones, Dos Banos, and the sea.

We parked. Jonathan couldn't believe I still remembered how to navigate to this random trailhead in a forgotten canyon, near the huge wrought iron gates of a gated community (new and more inpenetrable!)

We walked down into the woods. The air smelled sweet, like fall in New England, and rotting leaves, and fresh water.

Huge leaves drifted down from the California Oaks and other trees I do not recognize. They fell like snow, and caught the sunlight. Our boys ran ahead down the trail. Interesting woodsy trails give them much more energy than dry, desert fire-roads in Griffith Park. They forget they are tired. They forget to whine. They just run ahead exploring.

We were aiming for a waterfall we once knew.

We calculated--it had been 10 years since we had gone--down the path, to the waterfall out of a crevasse. Back then, at the waterfall, (small, but scenic) there had been a rope you could clamber up. It was hard, but we did it. There, beyond the rope was a whole river you could jump rocks on and do what was then a new sport--canyoning. Literally wade upstream through the water. We found another rope, back then, and I managed to swing across the river on it. You had to swing diagonally, then jump off, otherwise you would get smashed as the rope tried to straighten out. Jonathan loved me, so he tried it. And he ended up crashing into the canyon wall and getting a little bloody. And I was such a fucking awful date I just laughed and laughed because I couldn't believe he would swing himself into a rock wall. Part of my laughter was helplessness, part of it was because it really was funny--minus the blood--and part of it was because I was so overjoyed that I had found a man who would try anything with me-climb up a waterfall, swing across a crevasse, and even smash himself into a rockface and not cry and whine and yell, but laugh like a good sport while he wiped the blood off. (I think now he might yell--but he would still try).
I guess he really loved me.

So those were our memories. We walked along on this beautiful trail. It was very quiet. Topanga has been on the list of parks that will lose all funding to balance the state budget for about a year. Every time I read it in the paper I blanche--what happens to parks that are closed? Can you still go in? I love this park. Already it felt like it was being forgotten.

We got to the fork that leads to the waterfall. A sign said: Unmaintained trail ahead. Proceed at your own risk. We slid down the muddy incline and onto the trail. It was overgrown, and had more water than I ever remembered. Often the trail WAS the streambed, which was still filled with water, so the boys (our scouts) and us kept wandering off on little trails that petered out and led nowhere.

It was like walking back into time.

So much has happened in these ten years. When we were here before we were in love, dreaming of being together, giddy with findind a soulmate. There were no children, no marriage, no home, no life together, no engagement. Just the euphoria of finding someone who was on the same path. Or wanted to go down the same path.

Here we were again. So much had grown. So much had been forgotten. No one had been here in a long time. The path had changed shape. We had two boys running ahead who belonged to us. If someone had told me that would happen I would not have believed them. I despaired of ever having children, or ever finding love that lasted more than briefly, if euphorically.

We hiked way off course, back up into the sunshine, across scary rocks with slippery clay stones. We held our boys by the wrist so they wouldn't tumble down the canyon and die. We sat on a tiny trail in the sunshine, lost, with our two boys, wondering what had happened to this once popular trail.

We clambered back down waded and rock-jumped a little, and finally found the waterfall. It was smaller than I remembered, and the rope that we had used to climb up and beyond lay in a pool of water, covered with algae. No one had been here in a long, long time.

I managed to scale the slippery rock (Jonathan decided to remain below this time). I saw the string of linked, clear pools, and looked for the rope we had once swung across on. This trip, with two small boys, we couldn't be so daring.

But the oddest sensation of the day was that this place had closed up after we left. It was as if an entrance to somewhere magical were growing shut, soon to disappear. When we went we could feel how much time had passed--in a way you rarely get to feel. We could reflect on how much had happened, and travel back to the feelings we had had on that one perfect day--because that steep canyon valley held our feelings like a time capsule.

Next time I will bring a rope of my own so we can scale the waterfall and take the boys up and beyond.

It is one of our touchstones and we will return.


A dear friend's lover yesterday made me think a lot about fulfillment. He is French Canadian--super smart, happy go lucky--but never stupid. Probably better read, more informed, more tech savvy and more in love with life than 95% of the people he will meet ever. That is just who he is. He is wonderful.

He is grounded. He knows what he cares about. He does not seem confused. It is not that his life is perfect, or that he does not have things he secretly and not so secretly longs for. But he seems clear on what he wants and what matters to him. He does not waver.

I thought about him a lot. And I began to wonder. Does America cultivate dissatisfaction? Yes, I know we cultivate dissatisfaction of products. You always need better cars, better houses, better appliances, better books, better yoga. But this culture of commodification goes so deep, penetrates so far into our psyches I think we do not even realize. Of course, yes, it begins to apply to people. Tired of your old wife? Your old kids? Your old friends? Trade them in for a newer model. Try again. (More true for men than women). Hate your life? Move somewhere new and start again.

But this feeling of constantly upgrading, it does start to affect you. And my friends are not so materialistic. They would I am sure argue against all of these ideas. But does it still get to us? Even the idea of what success is, what a fulfilled life is--it is affected by this deep dissatisfaction. Could we be MORE successful? Could our store be bigger? Our ambitions larger? Whatever you do, whatever you want, you could always have more.

It also means you never feel like you are enough.

I am too stuck in my provincial L.A. world to claim any larger wisdom at this point. I know humans are by nature restless, dissatisfied, looking for something more. This is part of being human. And then religion, politics, philosophy all try to address or tap into these impulses.

But as I watched my friend's lover I did think: he does not feel dissatisfied. I know he has dreams, and wants more. But his core feels stable, and satisfied. In our culture having children raises the question: can you have children and still be fulfilled? Do what you want to do? To him (he does not have children, so this may be an idealistic hypothetical) children ARE a fulfillment. Not something that gets in the way, but something that is an end in itself. I believe this--but this is not reflected back to me in life, or society.

Do you think capitalism cultivates dissatisfaction on a spiritual level? Tell me what you think.

Can you walk through this world and hold your own against it?