Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Post Script

In my last blog I wrote ..."our nation is fucked."

The words were so strong, and so unlike me, that my husband called to inquire.

He never limits me. His only request is that I not write about our sex life--which would be so fun!

But otherwise he is resigned, and even encouraging. "Write what you want. Sometimes it takes my breath away, but I married a writer. It's OK."

That is why I love him.

But that last little phrase threw him.

"Do you really think that?" he asked.

It was lazy writing. Using profanity to express strong emotion is so lame. I do not condone it, and I do not do it. If you are going to choose to do it, usage should be careful, and carefully considered.

Still, I will not retract it here.

It is not that I feel no hope. Obama gives me hope. Our little school gives me hope. My boys give me hope.

But, as a country, I feel dark. I feel that we have become so fat, happy, ignorant and passive, we simply do not move, even when things are really really bad. I am not letting myself off the hook here. I am just as much to blame. I am not running for office. I am not contributing greatness.

My feelings of foreboding stem from a series of disasters which we Americans simply cannot stand up to. Our financial system is rotten, still we cannot reform. Our health care system is untenable, still we do not reform it, and the small reforms that were passed are being chipped away at by corporations. We are polluting our seas and forests and world, but even when BP destroys the Gulf, probably for years to come in ways we cannot understand, we cannot muster the political will to put a stop to deep oil drilling, or even try to drive smaller cars, or drive less, or think about what is pushing this insane technology beyond its limits.

Our economy is flailing, and no one knows what to do.

The fact that our government is gridlocked, evil corporations rule the world, and our environment is under extreme stress make me blue. Throw in that when I walk through my supermarket I literally can be poisoned by many of the items on the shelves--from medicines, to pesticides, to eggs, to simply over-processed bad food with healthy labels, to fish that live in our oceans are thus are too full of toxins to eat frequently, I feel discouraged.

I am darker than my husband.

But on one point I do agree. I do agree that there are pockets of hope, and that the change will burble up from below in tiny small acts by brave figures who are not performing solely to make as much money as they possibly can. I am inspired by our school, and by a gardener I heard of who knocks on doors, begs to plant a garden in the front yard, gives the family within all the veggie bounty they can use, and donates the rest to homeless people. I am inspired by Alice Waters, who is trying to change the way children eat. I am inspired by a guy in our neighborhood who took a scrappy piece of dirt by the side of the road and planted flowers at his own expense. Now the strip is purple and white and gorgeous with blossoms. I am inspired by Jay and Marya of Retrospecs who donate all the eyeglasses they cannot refurbish to sell at their high end store to places in Africa. I am inspired by Allison Cohen who started two community newspapers in an age where people say newspapers cannot make money, and is contributing to her community, and her pocketbook. I am inspired by teachers who labor on in LAUSD without any recognition at all, just trying to make their students have better lives. I am inspired by guerilla gardeners and visionaries and lovers of children. I am inspired by all people who create beauty--whether on canvasses, in their community, with their children, or in their kitchens.

And I believe that eventually, in a long, long time, all these little spots of hope will join together and form something new.

But I do think it will take awhile.

And in the meantime I am often depressed about how mean-spirited Americans have become, how little they care about children who are not their own, poor people they do not know, or libraries whose books they do not read.

What do you think?


We took the summer off and did not volunteer an hour at LCW.

So last Saturday when I drove to the St. Ambrose campus of LCW, where our students will finally be all together, the transformation of the site took my breath away.

You have got to understand. This site has been the incubation tank for every charter school on this side of town. Larchmont started there, then Los Feliz Arts Charter, then back to Larchmont, then us and Larchmont, then Larchmont, and now all us.

The site has been painted and repainted by ambitious parents and hopeful educators. I really did not think it could be improved.

But it has.

This is the mural outside--just a tiny portion of it--coordinated by Joey, father of Presley--a realtor and muralist (so L.A.!).
The wall is covered with colored stencils from one end to the other. There are birds, Tahitian masks, elephants, yoga poses (that was me!) fish, and frogs balancing on reeds. Around the corner a blue butterfly soars to the heavens.

The mural is so simple and so elegant. Even better is knowing that dozens of parents (and children!) worked on it.

The economy is crashing, and our nation is fucked, but my school makes me inordinately happy.

I feel so blessed, so extraordinarily blessed, to be part of this tiny community, an incubator of hope.

Morning Swim

Every year the Y pool shuts down right as I should be ante-ing up my swimming for my Alcatraz training. Two weeks of no pool, no child care, and no Ricardo pushing me during Fitness swim.

So today I rose at 6 and drove to the West Hollywood pool.

How beautiful LA is at 6:15. The air is pink, the mountains are rose. The streets are empty and the palms cast long shadows over the boulevards. Everything looks magical.

The air is still cool, but I dove into the warm water and swam my 2000 yards (not quite as long as the race). By 7:45 I was home, tired, blissed out, surrounded by an aura of positive ions that cling to me like a cloud from my time in the water.

If only every day could start this way.

Friday, August 27, 2010

Say YES!

When you are in the middle of a mid-life crisis, when you have no idea what is coming next, when your profession is dead and you don't know what the future holds, you can see a therapist, a life coach, cry, laugh, whine--or you can just say YES! to whatever comes along.

I will do it all.

That is why I said YES when a friend who runs an improv theater asked me to participate in her upcoming show "My Bad!" on Sept. 11. (no, this is not a sick joke).

Am I crazy?

All the other performers are superbly trained improv actors, who either teach, act daily, or have been on TV. They are professional funny people.

Then there will be me, earnestly reading from my papers, nervously shuffling and muttering, as I read my deeply personal stories for strangers.

Perhaps I will be there to make the others look good. The ugly girl to make the beautiful girls look even better.

But I accept.

I am so lost, so at sea, so up for anything, how can I say no?

Bang, Sept. 11, 8 p.m..

My Bad.

Friday, August 20, 2010

Too Much Joy

I was raised by a harsh father (he had many good qualities, too) who believed in a cruel and punishing God.

I reject his God, and his way of looking at the world, but those feelings he implanted in my young brain linger on like toxic mold.

One feeling, implanted very very young, is that when good things happen, and when I dare to enjoy them, to really revel them, I will later be punished. One never knows where the punishment may come--it is God you are up against after all.

Perhaps the birth of a perfect child means the death of someone you love. Perhaps enjoying your job means your relationship will fall apart. Perhaps loving yourself means you are vain and God will find a way to punish your vanity and take you down a notch.

I was not even aware of how deeply lodged this "good-thing-will-be-followed-by-something-bad" fear was in my brain until I wrote a story about a strange, but fascinating program called The Art of Living. The program was all about using this secret yogic breathing technique to purge yourself and make your dreams come true.

Before the secret breathing exercises we had to write on a card our deepest dreams. At the time my deepest dream was to have a second child. I wrote it on the card. But even wanting--I had been taught--was bad. So I watched what happened when I wrote.

I wrote: "I hope I have a child. I hope I have a healthy child. I hope my other child will not die. I hope my husband will not die. I hope I do not get a horrible disease." It went on and on on like this on my little 5"x7" index card. Each time I asked for something--even if it was just maintaining hte status quo, fear broke out like a cold sweat that something else dear would be taken away. I kept the card for years because it was like the Diary of a Madwoman.

What this has meant in my life, in practical, therapy terms, is that I am scared to want anything. If I believe that good just happened to me, that I did not will it, or desire it, or make it happen, then I will not be punished. But if I go after it, I begin to fear. If I get it, the fears begin to grow like radioactive vegetables. They cannot be stopped.

I have been told, by a wise therapist, to just soldier through. To dare to dream, and to dare to dream bigger, and when bad things do not happen, I will learn it is OK. And my fear, gradually, will begin to diminish. Could take years. Maybe life. But that is my work.

And I have gotten better.


When something is truly great, like this summer, the fears run wild. They cannot be stopped.

I had the sweetest of summers, in the most beautiful places, with wonderful friends. I feel full. Full of beauty, of love, and of delicious food. That should be good.

Yesterday, as we walked to our gate at LaGuardia, I saw a man sitting, avidly reading the Koran. How do I know it was the Koran? Well, I don't. But it was a Holy-looking book, it was written in Arabic, it had an elaborate gold tassel of fine silk, a beautiful cover, well-fingered pages, and he was reading it with great devotion (I swear!)

I panicked.

I was sure I was going to die.

I had had a perfect summer and now my family was going to go down in a terrorist plane crash on the way home. My beautiful boys, my gorgeous husband. We would crash into a fiery field. I tried to hold my paranoia in. But I couldn't. I was ready to pay hundreds of dollars on our non refundable tickets to change to another flight. I just wanted to live. It all made sense. American Airlines (its always American) out of New York (always out of New York) and late August (probably some elaborate date composed of adding and subtracting and 9-ll and important numbers and dates on the Muslim calendar). I knew everything I was thinking was crazy, but I couldn't stop.

I told Jonathan who said we had nothing to worry about.

Then a dark (very cute) young guy sat down and pulled out a computer. He looked Arab, too. It was starting to feel like a team job. Now Jonathan started to get paranoid. But then his mother came over and we thought a terrorist would not take his mother on his final trip to meet the 400 virgins.

So I kissed Jonathan sweetly and told him I had loved my perfect summer. I watched my boys and was not bored when they told me over and over for an hour about each airplane that was landing. I was devoted.

Well, obviously we did not die.

And when we reached the John Wayne airport, the Koran-reading man was hugging his relatives and looked so sweet and huggable I hated myself for even thinking he was a terrorist. I wanted to apologize. To say, "I am sorry, I saw you reading the Koran so I thought you were a Muslim terrorist, but it is not fair. It is not fair that every time I see someone reading a Koran at an airport I am sure I am going to die!!!! I mean if you really were going to kill us, you wouldn't have been so obvious as to bring your Koran and read it to us, would you? I like Muslim people. I do. I don't care if you build a mosque two blocks from the world trade center site, I don't. You should. You really really should."

Later that night Jonathan laughed at me. You always think you are going to die when soemthing is great, he reminded me. It just means you had a perfect summer.


And I must celebrate my life by not giving into the fear of a tyrannical God that my father planted in my head before I had a chance to say "No."

NO, says my 43-year-old self. I do not believe it.

I will not be punished for desiring, for dreaming, for enjoying.

Talk to me next summer, and I will let you know how it went.

Does this ever happen to you? Do you ever believe you will be punished for too much happiness?

post script: Benji was conceived during that Art of Living seminar. They told me to write down my dream and it would come true. And it did. And no one died, or got a horrible disease.

Monday, August 9, 2010

Mommy Orgasm

I am embarassed to admit this entry is not sexual. It is mental. Emotional.

While at Stinson a raggedy looking van pulled up in front of our house. It looked the like the home of a beach bum or a child molester. But actually, it was the moving office and nerve center of Surfer Tommy, who runs a surf camp at Stinson. He had long sun bleached hair, baggy old jeans and a laid back surfer manner. His van was filled with dozens of sandy foam surfboards.

He wasn't like an L.A. camp counselor, professional, dangling their credentials around their neck, demanding reams of paperwork. He was just a dude in a van. But he had appeared at our door. Wasn't that a sign from God that I was supposed to sign Theo up for surf camp?

I will not deny it. From the moment I drove down the coast from San Francisco to my first home in Ventura-where I landed as a cub reporter--i have had a love affair with surfing. That night, cruising down the 101 freeway I saw surfers sitting in the waves, zipping up and down like little water bugs. It was the most beautiful thing in the world.

Within weeks of being in Ventura I had borrowed a colleagues old too small diving wetsuit and bribed another reporter to take me out surfing. I never got to be great, but surfing has brought me more joy than I can convey.

When I got pregnant with Theo Jonathan and I walked up and down Zuma beach fantasizing about how one day our little one would play in the sand, run in the waves, ride a boogie board, and yes, I hoped, be a little surfer boy zipped into one of those tiny little boy wet suits.

This vacation it happened.

I sent him out for a morning with Surfer Tommy. Tommy stood in the waves and kicked the board in the right direction. His instruction was low key and mellow to the point of non-existence. At least that is how it looked from shore.

I sat in the sand in the San Francisco fog, wrapped in layers of sweaters and scarves, sipping strong coffee, and watched my boy try to get up over and over again.

And he did it.

Within four hours he was riding the waves to shore. Whitewater, sure. But he was up and he had the bug.

And Surfer Tommy wasn't as mellow as he looked. He taught my boy a lot out there in the waves.

It is strange to say, but it was a highlight of motherhood. To see your child fall in love with something you dreamed of. Especially when they fall in love with something YOU love.

I'm sorry to say I have no pictures. I have lost too many cameras to water for Jonathan to let me near sand and waves to shoot. But just know, it was beautiful.

Vacation Food

Every time my husband and I go on vacation in Northern California we wonder: Is the food better here? Or are we just happier?

While in San Francisco we ate kale plucked daily from Gospel Flats and eaten within hours. We bought it at a roadside stand where you just slip money into a box and walk away with a bunch of kale leaves in your hand. We ate Cowgirl Creamery Cheese made by a bunch of women in Point Reyes and thick, heavy delicious bread made by the Brick Maiden bread company next doors. Disillusioned lesbians living on a commune in one of the most beautiful places in the world?

I don't know. But their bread is so good I could live on it. (Last year I was so bewitched I made Jonathan drive to Point Reyes so we could visit the bakery and eat the bread out of the oven, but the brick maidens are shy and elusive. They bake their bread in a small clapboard house and deliver it for miles around. No one is allowed into the bakery. No one sees the women. Their bread is their message to the world.)

We ate pancakes filled with blackberries plucked minutes before by Theo and me, from bushes growing by the side of the read, the juice bleeding out in sweet purple stains all over the batter, the plates, our chins. We stuffed ourselves with fried oysters, hoisted from Tamales Bay within the day. Insane!

Our conclusion: the food really was better.

But it also made me realize: if you eat the freshest food, harvested right at the source, consumed within the day, everything is simple. No spices are necessary, no elaborate cooking. A meal of bread, cheese and a plum is the most delicious thing you have ever had. Throw in good friends and natural beauty and the ocean (that is the vacation part) and a bottle of cheap wine and could heaven be any better?

I resolve to buy more food that is locally grown. Not just for political reasons anymore, but for my tastebuds, my body, my link to my local environment

I hereby declare myself, as a bumper sticker in Bolinas put it:



This is the door of a Mongolian yurt owned by my friends Raam and Sophia Pandeya. They are Ayurvedic practitioners who just moved to Glen Ellen. They used to live in Hollywood, where I met them.

They are wonderful people, in the world, and yet always true to their dream and their calling. They have made many bold choices along the way, always quietly but firmly.

Finally after years of searching they have found the property where they will set up their Samadhi retreat. They will do their Ayurvedic treatments, train other Ayurvedic practioners, grow a tiny vineyard of Shiraz grapes which Raam will turn into restorative wine elixirs filled with healing herbs (kind of like low-fat cookies...) . But best of all, they have set up two beautiful Mongolian yurts.

These yurts are authentic: the painting, the fabric, the ropes woven of horsehair. They are simple, but unbelievably beautiful. They found them on the internet. A Swiss man in Canada imports them from Mongolia, then travels with his yurts to install them. They cost $8,000 apiece. I could definitely live in one.

For this afternoon my boys played in one with Kabir, their son.

When we drove up, he shouted to the boys:

"Come into my yurt!"

They ran in, and so did I.

Middle Age

Wading into the frigid waves at Stinson, clutching our boogie boards, Jonathan shouted to me:

"Middle age is weird!"

It is.

Each year we go to Stinson Beach outside San Francisco and dear friends rent houses up and down the beach and we form our own little community. We walk to each others houses, go on hikes together, play in the waves, drink too much wine and eat way too much delicious, locally grown, organic, divine food. We look at each other's kids and marvel. We get annual in depth updates on everyone--a tiny perfect snapshot of a year and what it has brought.

One thing we know: we are now officially middle aged. We are still energetic but life is made up of sick parents, kid concerns, health issues, job security and insecurity. Hair is going grey and we are looking deeply at the second half of our lives. No matter how we look or deceive ourselves, this can no longer be denied.

I like it.

I like what you see at Middle Age. I think of it as a big peak in life on the way up the mountain to the biggest peak that will be the end. Of course you can lift your head anywhere along the way, or hike out to a ridge. But mid life forces you there--no matter where you have chosen to look along the way.

We have all lived a long time with choices we made. At one time they seemed not so important. But now we have all lived with our choices for 15-20 years. These are choices about who to marry, how to treat family and friends, what kind of job we chose, how much money we made, who we hung out with, and the values we embraced along the way. Each decision felt small, but cumulatively it all begins to really show at middle age.

At 30 my best friends all felt like me. We were striving for greatness and to be great journalists. We felt similar--even if our differences were there. From that developed great cameraderie. But how, 15 years later, it all feels apparent. Some have chosen career, some family, some both. I love seeing what emerges. I mean I love it. We are all morality tales. Stories. Novels.

Our character traits have taken their toll. Our fears have led us one way, our bravery another. All the different aspects of our personality have played out.

And now we get a chance to stop, look around, and decide what next. We still have a lot to go--if we are lucky. But we have a chance to change direction, to go a new way, to pick a new career or a new way of being. It is not too late to change, but it will be hard.

But to me, life feels so rich.

I like the depth of middle age, the layers of being. I love seeing old friends I have known or many years and seeing how they turned out, what part of their 20 year old selves remain and what part was shed like a skin or an outfit of the age.

I feel like I am emerging from a long period of apprenticeship (working for a newspaper, working for an editor, trying to please whoever was paying my salary or was established in the world as a success) to a time of full fledgedness. It is a time to test myself, to take chances, to take all I have learned in this crazy life of mine and channel it in some unexpected way. It is my time to give back, to do something good for the world, to really be bold.

Perhaps this is just a blog fueled by too much espresso and a lot of sleep and the thoughtfulness that comes during a good vacation. Or perhaps it is true and when I am feeling weak and unfocused I can return here and remember what this time is all about.

I pray I choose boldness and dreams over fear.

What about you?