Thursday, August 29, 2013

Far From the Tree

I'm reading Andrew Solomon's extraordinary book Far From the Tree, and my mind has been whirling in response to it.

I've not written a lot about it, but I did not have the best of childhoods. I won't go into it here, but I my father had MS, and most of my childhood was shadowed by having a disabled and ill parent.  I've dealt with a lot of it.  It was not a movie of the week lovefest. There weren't a lot of resources in the early - mid seventies.  I remember, in the year after my parents divorce, my Dad fighting to get handicapped placards and parking spaces implemented in Nebraska. We even went to Washington and met with our state senator.  I think about it now, and it's quite amazing, in the midst of all that personal pain, that that was happening.  But overall, it was not an easy row to hoe.

His book isn't about illness, but it is about difference; children who are deaf, dwarfs, transgender, schizophrenic, down's syndrome, autistic, and how the families and the children themselves cope.
It's a beautiful, difficult, exhausting, exhaustively researched book.  I have many reactions, and I'm only about half way through.  Here's one, and one that I've been thinking about for a while -

Difference is hard, and I'm always struck by the disconnect between lived experience and the stories we tell ourselves.  Overwhelmingly, the love that these families have discovered by dealing with the challenges is awesome. As always, though, the truth of living with these differences is very different than the stories we tell ourselves about difference.  We watch films and write stories about underdogs, appreciating difference and how in the end, we all are and the difference that was so hard will turn out to be the gift.  In reading this book, I can see how that is true and not true.  Most of these families have discovered a great love and would not trade their experiences, but not all. Lives have been deepened and transformed.  And, at the same time, it's hard and a continual process. There is no ending. We all want it all to be okay at the end of the story, but we know life goes on and the process continues.  I had a parent in a wheelchair, and I remember, to my shame somewhat, what that was like as an adolescent to feel so self-conscious. Being a gay kid already I was hyper self-conscious, and this was another level. Add to that a complicated, the polite way of putting it, relationship with my father, and things were not easy. And I wasn't even the one in the wheelchair. I guess I'm reacting to the fictitious we're-all-a-rainbow-of-happiness-by-the-end things that I read and see in popular culture (which, yes, I know, are fiction).  At the end of it I always think, okay, it's great here, but now you have to go to another high school and this will happen all over again. Or you just have to go into a restaurant and a whole new crew of people are going to stare.

As a gay person I have to continually come out. I have to think before I travel to foreign countries, or even certain places in my own country, with another man. Or hell, even with myself.  Solomon sometimes brings up discussion of his sexuality and depression as an analog to the identities he writes about in his book. They are somewhat facile, and I'm not sure 100% analogous, but the feeling underneath that he is identifying is right on - I am different and no one knows what I feel like. Or even, I will never truly fit in. I am different even than my family, which is key. Unlike race or ethnicity, you feel a stranger within your own tribe. There is something, and Solomon describes it here, about knowing that you are in a larger world where there is something different about you. Though there may be acceptance, you always know that there is a chance of rejection. Or at the very least, you will have to explain something about yourself, and be a teacher to someone. The onus is on you, being the one who is different, not on them. There are times when you will be only with people of your kind, and you have to create community that way, but there will always be the larger world in which you exist.

I'm not saying at all that my sexuality is the same as being deaf or having down's syndrome, or any of the other identities he writes about, but there is something about how the world is not constructed for one particularly that I identify with.  I suppose that's why that disconnect has been on my mind lately.  Of course, most fictions are wish fulfillment, so it shouldn't surprise me that they can feel untrue.  We tell ourselves stories of the best parts of us, and who we wish we were. In some cases in real life, we fall short, and in some cases, as in many in this book, we far exceed any expectation. The stories in this book have made me even more in love with the human spirit, and more fascinated by how extra-ordinary people can be.

So I guess in the end, I'm saying the fictions of difference that I read not only over-simplify acceptance and understanding, but underestimate the complexity of response, compassion, heart, and reality.  I suppose that's should not surprise me.  In this realm, everything that is not reality feels like a fairy tale.

Boy, do I hope that made sense. In any event, read the book. It's well-worth your time.

Tuesday, August 27, 2013


I talk a lot.  It's not a bad trait, but it does mean I have a lot of ideas, and then get mired in the actual application.  Polite way of saying it's easier for me to dream and chat than do. I have an active mind, so the downside of dreaming is the imagined disaster.  That leaves you stuck in an eddy most of the time; much is swirling around, but you're standing in one place.

Tonight I had a meeting with a guy about filming a short that I have a goal to finish. We set a (tentative) date. We had a good talk about how it should be done, and I have some work to do.

A couple weeks ago a friend pitched me a short film, and I've written two drafts of it. I've asked for feedback and incorporated it.

Even more impressively, I have see-through color folders that I have different writing projects in. I'm revising a story to submit thoughtfully to a journal that might actually be interested. What is happening?!

It's not like I have done nothing in my life; I'm a very active person. Some would say a little too busy.  And who wouldn't be when there is so much to see and experience and do? I went to college for nine years - I'm a pro at taking classes. I'm even really good at taking polls and asking for advice. Action in one concentrated area in a focussed and thoughtful way towards a specific, rather than nebulous, goal is a new one. Some other things are falling by the wayside.  That even feels right to me at the moment.

I'm loving also, since I started criticizing myself for it as I'm doing it, that I can write something personal here, and tomorrow, maybe not so much.  It's all up for grabs.

Who knew when they said that you were free to do all this that it meant you really are?

Lights, camera...

Monday, August 26, 2013


I don't want it to sound like I have an answer to this; I don't.

I drove by an add for Insidious 2 today. I'm not a fan of scary movies, probably because I'm easily scared.  Also, they seem to get bloodier and bloodier. I started wondering about fear, about collective versus individual fear.

While I was driving, I was listening to a Radiolab piece about a child being born prematurely, and fighting for life. When I was born, scary movies were Rosemary's Baby or The Exorcist.  Now they are Insidious, or Saw.  Now, I'm not saying horrible or scary things didn't happen before, and our fear is commensurate with things that are happening in our world. I don't know if that's true - awful, disturbing things happen in any age, and we know from history that we haven't invented anything.  I'm just wondering how more and more disturbing our images are getting is a reflection of who we are, if we need that kind of catharsis.

I was also thinking what it must be like to be born into that world. I'm sure my parents thought the same things of the time I was growing up in, but I wonder if there is some kind of collective unconscious that pushes us further and further, and that is what a child born today is born into.  Even though that child is a blank state, their experience will be one where seeing something like Insidious is par for the course by the time they are a young adult. They will perhaps even push it further.

It makes me wonder, even with all the self-help books and seminars about getting rid of and past your fear, that we will keep finding things that will scare us.  That's the basis of catharsis - to relieve us of those feelings. So perhaps we will never be free of them, we will just push further to find things that scare us more.

I'm not talking about the fear inherent in vulnerability, or trying something new.  I'm talking about old-fashioned wolf at the door fear. Since our movies get crazier and crazier, I have to wonder. I wonder if these kinds of movies will seem old fashioned, or if (grabbed from today's headlines!) Miley Cyrus simulating sex while basically wearing underwear will seem sadly old fashioned to any random 3 year old 20 years from now.  Perhaps then we'll be going to watch surgeries.

I digress.  While we're talking about fear, though, here's one of my favorite poems about it: Desert Places, by Robert Frost.

Snow falling and night falling fast, oh, fast In a field I looked into going past, And the ground almost covered smooth in snow, But a few weeds and stubble showing last. The woods around it have it--it is theirs. All animals are smothered in their lairs. I am too absent-spirited to count; The loneliness includes me unawares. And lonely as it is that loneliness Will be more lonely ere it will be less-- A blanker whiteness of benighted snow With no expression, nothing to express. They cannot scare me with their empty spaces Between stars--on stars where no human race is. I have it in me so much nearer home To scare myself with my own desert places.

Saturday, August 24, 2013


Yesterday was the first day I haven't written on the blog in over a month, since I started to write daily.

The great news is that I still wrote, just not on the blog. Part of the intention, or most, of the daily practice on here was to write daily, so it felt great that I've not broken that chain.

I'm challenged by finding something to write here daily, but it is spurring me on to daily practice. That means I'm working on other pieces, too, which is what I've wanted to do.

So check back. Hopefully I'll have something a little more interesting than a progress report tomorrow.

Thursday, August 22, 2013


I'm feeling emotional. I don't necessarily love it.  I'm actually surprised I'm feeling what I'm feeling.

I would say it's a surprise, but actually emotion always is.  Aside from the usual ones that you can expect to have when you would - you can kind of predict if you get bad news you get sad, bad traffic makes you angry and frustrated, etc - all the others are always a surprise.

They are indicators I'm feeling something deeper than I realized.  So I'm breathing.

I don't know what else to write about right now, except that I'm feeling sad. It's probably completely out of proportion to what is happening.  That, unfortunately, is not surprising.

Wednesday, August 21, 2013

Nobody, not even the rain

I showed Hannah and Her Sisters to my boyfriend about a week ago, as he had never seen it, or a Woody Allen movie.  It's a favorite, and has been for a group of friends and myself since it came out when we were in high school.  There are many things I love about it. It still holds up, especially the great performances, including Dianne Wiest in her Oscar winning supporting actress role. 

What sticks with me most, though, is the beautiful poem by e e cummings called somewhere i have never travelled, gladly beyond that Michael Caine's character Eliot gives to Barbara Hershey's character Lee.  For a teenager, as I still was then, this poem was the epitome of romantic love.  I even cut out letters from magazines to assemble it on my wall in college. It's still one of my favorites.  My understanding of it is different, though it is still romantic.  I think it's one of the most beautiful poems I've ever read, if not the most.  Just strikes at the heart. Then again, I am prone to wistful things - I just watched a google doodle because it animated Clair de lune for Debussy's birthday, one of my favorite pieces of music ever.  Sigh.

somewhere i have never travelled, gladly beyond
any experience,your eyes have their silence:
in your most frail gesture are things which enclose me,
or which i cannot touch because they are too near

your slightest look easily will unclose me
though i have closed myself as fingers,
you open always petal by petal myself as Spring opens
(touching skilfully,mysteriously) her first rose

or if your wish be to close me, i and
my life will shut very beautifully, suddenly,
as when the heart of this flower imagines
the snow carefully everywhere descending;

nothing which we are to perceive in this world equals
the power of your intense fragility: whose texture
compels me with the color of its countries,
rendering death and forever with each breathing

(i do not know what it is about you that closes
and opens; only something in me understands
the voice of your eyes is deeper than all roses)
nobody, not even the rain, has such small hands

Tuesday, August 20, 2013

Many hands make light work

I stage managed an event today. It was quite a deal - an employee appreciation day/career fair for several hundred people. I worked to make sure the show portion ran smooth, which had its challenges.  I'm the person in charge backstage, and things move quickly and change quickly.  You have to be nimble and juggle a lot of information while projecting into the near future, problem solving sometimes along the way. There are even people to help, though sometimes I forget or find it challenging to ask. Most of the time I have to when I'm forced into a corner, but I see I'll just do it myself a lot of the time.

I dated a radical faerie when I lived in New York. We would go to gatherings where we would camp in the woods, and two of the most favorite sayings were, "eat lightly so others may lightly eat," and "many hands make light work."  Both stuck with me, but the second feels profound.  It's true. The event today was gargantuan, and it took multitudes to make it happen. Similarly, almost nothing I own or come across in my day, is made by a single person. This computer wasn't. My apartment, my car, my phone, my clothes, what I eat, were all made or touched by many hands. I do not know that the repetitive work is light, but I know without many hands, much of what I experience in a day would not be possible.

I should remember that more often. Give aid when asked, and ask when needed.

My favorite proverb is "a stitch in time saves nine."  That's another one to work on and remember.

Two other quick thoughts - I posted something on Instagram with a proverbial sense like the above, and labeled it #proverb.  Immediately, I had several Christian users like my photo. The internet, when things like that happen, freaks me out a little. Or maybe it was spam.

When I was at lunch during the event, at a Carl's Jr., a woman walked up to me and asked for money, saying she was in a local women's shelter. I almost stopped her from speaking, but listened. I also told her that everyone there, which was almost the whole place, wearing shirts of the same color as each other, all worked for a non-profit org and might have resources.  She said, "yeah, but you're the only one wearing a suit."  It's true, I was.  I gave her a dollar, and she introduced herself.  She tried to give me a piece of candy for the dollar, but I didn't take it. She smiled and said she'd include me in her prayers. Her name is LeeAnn. I'm putting it out there so you might do the same.  Many hands make light work.

Monday, August 19, 2013


So many post ideas have gone through my head recently, but they all feel like topics that require some thoughtfulness.  I'm therefore not writing this evening about the royal baby and our need for celebrity; my theory about corporate structures mimicking the monarchy; the God idea and what need it might fulfill. These all feel a little deep tonight.

I did look at some notes for ideas I wrote down, so here they are in lieu of solid ideas.

"Many ways to say the same thing" - I'm sure that was in reference to something.  Now it's just a line in comic sans in my notes app.  If anyone, by the way, knows how to change the font to something besides comic sans, I'd be grateful.

Presbycousis - I heard this the word the other day and this was by stab at spelling it.  It's actually presbycusis.  The audiologist used it to describe my tinnitus. It's gradual hearing loss as you age.  That's a fun one.  Yay.

"When do the decisions start being made for you" - I've had that one in there for a while. January 11th. 6:55pm.  I was wondering how long you can be indecisive before the decisions start being made for you, and the options begin to decrease.  Still don't have an answer.

"It's too late to be a wunderkind. When did that happen?"  About 15 years ago.

City of 10,000 Buddhas on the site of former mental hospital. Ukiah, CA.  Sounds fascinating. They have a restaurant.

"Disappointed farms. Art and kindness mutually exclusive?" I wonder what bleakness I was pondering on September 12, 2012.  What was disappointed farms describing.  I think art can be kind, too. I must have had a bout of cynicism.  Hm.  And what's a disappointed farm?

So many questions. I'll keep asking them, and probably write about some of my notes sometime.  I'll keep you posted.

Sunday, August 18, 2013

Know your audience

We hung out a bit after the show, which was enjoyable. Usually, I'm beat, or have to get up in the morning, or something that means I leave pretty close to when the show is done.  I also don't always love socializing after a show. It's true.  But tonight was a fun exception, and I really like this group of people - we've done two shows together now.

We talked about a lot of things, shared stories, etc., but the first thing we talked about was tonight's show. I forget that talk, and love it - characterizing the audience.  It's an interesting feature when you're performing -  each audience has a different character. It's easy to forget, and the show can go of the rails if a cast feels the audience isn't with them.  People will change performances, strain, push, psych themselves out, if they feel the audience is not responding. The reality, of course, is that you never know what the audience is thinking, and you have to do what you rehearsed even if you feel the ship is sinking.

The ship was by no means sinking tonight; it was a fun show and the audience had a great time. They laughed at different places than usual, though, and yelled at others. They were also pretty verbal.  So it was a different experience. A fun one, just different than usual. It struck me while we were talking about it that this may be an aspect of performing that you wouldn't know about if you've not been on stage.  Performers notice what you're doing. They characterize like the audience is one giant person.

And in some way it is - that's the miracle of it. A whole group of strangers sit in a room and laugh together at something. They will not meet or ever see each other again. To the people on stage, though, they form a collective, and we're watching and listening to see how that collective moves. We want to make it happy.

Such a bizarre thing to do. I think about it now and so much is second nature, but how it odd it would be to someone who's never been involved. Each night you don't know who you'll get. It's always a surprise.

Saturday, August 17, 2013


Second night of our show. I always forget how tiring it is to do a show. Of course, we did walk around the Huntington Gardens in the hot sun today, too, which is tiring.

I love the Huntington, and haven't been there in years. The gardens are beautiful and extensive. The book collection and exhibits are great. The art collection is eclectic, heavy on the 18th and 19th century, including the famous Gainsborough Blue Boy. I was looking at the suit on the Blue Boy portrait, at the broad color strokes that are called out on the placard beside the painting.

It reminded me of the fabric painting of El Greco, who was painting a few years before. Like 200.  I can't help but think there is an influence, though it's not stated.

Neither here nor there; I'm an armchair art critic. It's always surprising how many things reference either other, or remind. Aside from that, I love El Greco. I've seen his influence in so many artists. Ahead of his time. Even though, like I said, he's not called out as a reference.  That fabric makes me wonder.

Speaking of El Greco, look at this:

I mean, that almost looks expressionist. In the 17th century! Amazing. And his people look so gaunt and haunted. It's no wonder he's lasted. A master.

On the topic at hand, though - go visit the Huntington if you can. It's a wonderful place.

Friday, August 16, 2013


The show opened tonight.  Very fun, crowd loved it.  It's great that they're having a great time.  We are, too, though performing in the basement of a Mexican restaurant in LA is very hot.  So gratified, but tired and sweaty. I'm sure I will have something profound-er or interesting-er to say tomorrow.  Right now, sleep.

5 more shows - tomorrow, Sunday, and next Friday, Saturday, and Sunday.

Thursday, August 15, 2013

Everything old...

I was thinking about Russia, and the anti-gay sentiment that is revealing itself, the hatred. It's in our country as well, this vile judgment and self-righteousness (surely one of my least favorite words).

After reading Susan Bakewell's wonderful How to Live: Or A Life of Montaigne in One Question and Twenty Attempts at an Answer last year, I picked up some Montaigne.  Like with Buber, I sometimes pick it up and just see where it is.  I didn't know what to blog about, and I read this:

See the horrible impudence with which we bandy divine reasons about....
     I see this evident, that we willingly accord to piety only the services that flatter our passions.  There is no hostility that excels Christian hostility. Our zeal does wonders when it is seconding out leaning toward hatred, cruetly, ambition, avaraice, detraction, rebellion.  Against the grain, toward goodness, benignity, moderation, unless as by a miracle some rare nature bears it, it will neither walk nor fly.
     Our religion is made to extirpate vices; it covers them, fosters them, incites them.

Written about inter-faith warfare in France in the 16th century. Plus ca change.., as the French say.  We are still living in it.  I hope this bald use of ignorance and fear to scapegoat fails.  I hope it fails spectacularly.  I hope no more have to die.

In the meantime, in some ways, how little has changed.

Wednesday, August 14, 2013


I did something I rarely do tonight. I was re-formatting a short that I wrote, so I had the TV on the in the background. I usually don't do this.  Now I am reminded why.  Something about TV makes me feel really warm after I'm watching it for a while.  Between the TV and the laptop, I started sweating.  TMI, probably, but just a reminder. I am a uni-tasker.  Music, yes.  TV, no.

I was first watching a very uninteresting, slow gay movie on Netflix, but then changed to one of my favorite movies, 8 1/2.  Perhaps it was all the fast Italian in the background that did it.  Sadly, Netflix does not have my favorite Felllini movie, Nights of Cabiria, on streaming. In fact, I'm not even sure they have it to mail. Too bad, too, because it's brilliant.

8 1/2, though, has one of the most lyrical scenes in cinema, when the children are being washed and put to bed. It also has one of the most joyous/ridiculous/sweet scenes, too, that is parodied often - Saraghina on the beach.  They're both on youtube, so I've posted them and enjoy. At about 3 minutes the fortune tellers guess the words, and that's when he has a reverie.

Tuesday, August 13, 2013


Today I finished the screenplay for a short film that a friend pitched to me, which made me really happy. I love the feeling of having a draft of something done.

Then I went to rehearsal for this. We had a sold out run in April, and now we're doing the next few weeks. One forgets how tiring it is to rehearse after a full day.

One is tired, and going to bed.  Lots of ideas, but more later.  Come and see our show. You can purchase tickets here.

Monday, August 12, 2013

Living in the Muppets

I have a few muppet familiars.  Some days, when I’m having what some might call “negative” emotions, I find that personifying them as muppets makes me giggle just a little bit and gives me the space that I need to let them go.

Cookie Monster is hunger, need.  Today, for instance, when I’m trying to give up sugar again and not eat a cookie and or ice cream all day, it’s a cookie monster day.  I love Cookie Monster, although, truth be told, Grover is probably my favorite.  Cookie Monster just wants what he wants, and will do anything to get it.  He’s got a one-track mind.

Animal is another one. He’s anger, destruction.  Animal will try to destroy and freak out whenever he can, just like Cookie Monster will try to eat cookies. It’s in his nature.  Entertaining, yes, and cute, but ultimately, he really wants to destroy everything he comes into contact with.

And last, but not least, is Beaker.  He’s fear, dread, worry. He means well, and does what he’s told, but it always ends up in an explosion.  He’s cute, too, but whenever he comes on screen you know something’s going to go wrong.  He’s terrified, and too  terrified to even say he’s terrified.

Cookie Monster is the most articulate, but ever notice that the other two are non-verbal? And Cookie Monster speaks like an old movie version of Frankenstein’s Monster. They are all urge.

Most days, I’m probably closer to Kermit (or like to think I am), the sensible stage manager who is attempting to keep his cool while everything falls apart around him.  And when it all works out, as it always does, he gets to flail his arms and scream, “yay!!”, which is the best part.

Sunday, August 11, 2013

Tough things

This weekend, I finished my friend Tanya's beautiful memoir, Leaving Tinkertown. I cried. Can't help it. I don't know if it's possible to read it without tearing up, but there is so much that's true about love, family, loss, friendship in it. It's a beautiful elegy for a parent, about caring for a sick parent.  It's an appreciation of what is true in that relationship, respecting and facing all that is difficult while not losing what is wonderful.  It's about family and creating a family. You put down the book with an appreciation of the great bond this father and daughter had, what a village this man created, not just in his backyard, but in his life, and something his daughter has done as well.  It makes me teary even to write that. Just beautiful.

This song above I just heard today.  Also, not an easy subject, but somehow this performer and the song really touched me. Being in New York on 9/11 probably means I'll feel this stuff in a different way always because of its proximity, but I do think this song does something so wonderful in a few minutes - a full relationship, mourning, appreciation, and moving on.  Kind of amazing.  Don't know why it's striking me the way it does, but hopefully you will feel the same.

I have an impulse to sum this up, and I guess the sum would be that I'm glad we have art to mirror us, to acknowledge how painful it is at times, and then remind us how beautiful it is, too.

Saturday, August 10, 2013


Roses are red,
Violets are blue,
We drove to Arrowhead last night and back today,
And I'm tired. And we saw a lot of birds.

More tomorrow.

Friday, August 09, 2013

Martin Buber

I have a secret: I love Hasidic stories. I first discovered them reading "Souls on Fire: Portraits and Legends of Hasidic Masters" by Elie Wiesel, a great book that gives the history of the Baal Shem Tov, the father of what we know today as Hasidism through stories passed down through generations.  Each tale is a life and spiritual teaching lesson, and I've always found them wise and revelatory, changing depending on what is happening in my life.

Another wonderful book is The Way of Man, Jewish philosopher Martin Buber's insights about Hasidic teachings and stories. I like it so much I keep a copy on my nightstand, and sometimes just flip to a random page before I go to bed.  I actually have this little version with "The Ten Rungs," another collection of Hasidic sayings.  In both of these, the religiosity is not too overpowering, or I've been able to ignore what doesn't work for me and listen to what does.

Either way, I do like the stories.  Buber is a philosopher, and not as much of a storyteller as Wiesel, so the book is not as entertaining. It has some great wisdom, though, and that's what I take away. I know I would not be welcomed in any Hasidic community, nor would it be a path I'm interested in, but wisdom is wisdom. Stories are stories and parables are parables. My imagination responds.

Here's what a little of what I opened to last night, and it's a favorite:

I will close this chapter with an old jest as retold by a zaddik. Rabbi Hanokh told this story: There was once a man who was very stupid. When he got up in the morning it was so hard for him to find his clothes that at night he almost hesitated to go to bed for thinking of the trouble he would have on waking. One evening he finally made a great effort, took paper and pencil and as he undressed noted down exactly where he put everything he had on. The next morning, very well pleased with himself, he took the slip of paper in his hand and read: “cap” “pants” — there it was, he set it on his head; there they lay, he got into them; and so it went until he was fully dressed. “That’s all very well, but now where am I myself?” he asked in great consternation. “Where in the world am I?” He looked and looked, but it was a vain search; he could not find himself. “And that is how it is with us,” said the rabbi.

Thursday, August 08, 2013


Friends of mine posted a link to a New Yorker article about Breaking Bad and Albuquerque today.  My dearest lifelong friends, who are like family now, whom I can’t imagine not in my life, I met in Albuquerque when we were in high school. (I have to take a moment here to plug Tanya Ward Goodman's beautiful, aching memoir "Leaving Tinkertown" here, and not only because she is a friend mentioned above, but it's about New Mexico and is beautifully written.)  

I moved to New Mexico when I was in 8th grade to go live with my mother and step-father, desperate to escape my ill, difficult father and Omaha, Nebraska. I lived there until I was 21, desperate to escape New Mexico, what we jokingly called “the Land of Entrapment.” In every city I've lived in as an adult, I've known or met the New Mexicans my age who live there.

I feel a little odd, though, claiming New Mexico to be part of who I am, though it is the place I lived my formative years, developed formative relationships, and started on my path to personhood.  Still, as a friend pointed out when I visited a few years ago and was surprised by my difficulty breathing at that altitude, I had only lived there for eight years 20 years ago, with annual pilgrimages back until a few years ago, when my last close friend moved away. I am not a true native.

I still have a few friends there, and people who have moved back. I still feel comfortable in New Mexico as I don’t in most other places. My friend Brian would joke when I came for the holidays that I'd always get sick, as my body finally felt able to relax once I got back.  I'd spend two days in his family's mountain house, ill with some cold or strep, watching country music television and playing mahjong until I was healed enough to venture out.  The big sky I missed was the main reason I moved out of New York, realizing after a depression, a summer in Vermont, and downright exhaustion, that I missed the space of the West.

Somewhere, though, I still feel rootless. I was born in Florida, lived there for two weeks, St. Louis for 18 months, Omaha for 10 ½ years living in 6 houses and going to seven schools. I lived in New Mexico for 8 years, Seattle and Long Island for 3 each, New York for 8, and now Los Angeles for 9. I may break a record here.   My mother is from St. Louis where my grandmother and uncle still live, my Dad from Kansas and Ft. Worth, my step-father from South Dakota.  My mother, step-father, brother and his family live in Phoenix.

I guess the only thing I can claim is that I am a child of the West.  I loved New York while I was there, and love the people, I love Broadway, but I only feel free when I’m around mountains and trees.  My imagination, though, still lives a lot of the time in Manhattan. Who knows?

I am feeling the ache of rootlessness. I’d love to claim New Mexico as my home state, as it feels more home than any others to me, but in reality I’m a little bit all over. I’ll never know what it’s like to be a native, except of the country, and maybe of the Western United states.  I will, though, look for green chile and sopapillas wherever I can find them. When I see anyone with a zia tattoo, I ask if they are from New Mexico, or if they like the symbol, and what high school they went to.  I met a guy on the AIDS ride with a New Mexico Zia on his jersey. He said he'd been accosted all day by talkative New Mexicans who were excited to meet a fellow. I admit to that. I know I covet others' feelings of home the way they might admire my rootlessness.

My mother and grandmother joke that between me and my brother, I got the "Jew gene," even though we have different fathers -  his is Jewish while mine is not. It's a matrilineal descent by halakhah (Jewish law), so having a Jewish mother has made me Jewish in the eyes of most Jewish people.  My mother had a plant in the kitchen called a "wandering Jew." and those two words stuck together for me. A wandering people, in diaspora.  I looked up the word, and the definition is "a scattered population with a common origin in a smaller geographic area." If that's true, then all the people I went to high school with, all over the country now, are the New Mexico diaspora. They're the reason, when I moved to Seattle, I ran into people walking down the street I've known since high school and college.  Same with New York. Same with LA.  So maybe even though I'm a little rootless, the common experience pulls us together, despite our geography.

Years ago, in elementary school in Nebraska, we took a trip out to a national park west of Omaha. I remember a sign with mileage to Ogallala, in the center of the state, named for one of the native Souix tribes, the Oglala. I spent most of the time solo.  Up on a bluff, there were graves of pioneers, dating back to the 19th century.  Our guide mentioned Willa Cather being from Nebraska, and though I didn’t know who she was, I knew there was a school named for her. When I hear her name I think of that grassy bluff in Eastern Nebraska. We made crayon rubbings of the graves.  Little did I know that Willa Cather wrote her most famous novels about Nebraska and New Mexico, while living in New York. I guess we have a little in common, living in cities with imaginations that remain in other places.

Wednesday, August 07, 2013


This is new: I actually wrote four pages of a new script today.  A friend pitched a great idea to me that he's had for a while, and asked if I wanted to write it.  Of course, I couldn't concentrate on anything else, and wrote the first scene. This even though I have a backlog of a bunch of other stuff I've been sketching out but haven't started. Tomorrow I start a comedy pilot writing class for four weeks.

Now, as I look at the sidebar of my blog and see so many things I planned to read or see in 2011 and still haven't, I have the impulse to start with the "yeah but you won't finish"-its.  But I don't think that's necessary.  Even this couple of weeks of daily writing has given me a boost of confidence to just do it and put it out there.

Who new?

Tuesday, August 06, 2013

Word Cloud

I searched my blog and found out I've never done a word cloud. How is that even possible? They do them over at  I also had a couple of technical difficulties, so these are screencaps.

I liked the first one, possibly because the font reminds me of Robin Hood, which is the fantasy LA architecture time that I love.  Women in pointed hats with feathers, odd shingled fairy tale houses, leaded windows.  Peasants. Swashbuckling.  Leather pouches.

What is "workve"?  Do I have a typo?

I like this one, too. More serious. Earth tones, serif.  This word cloud is instructive.

And, I see now, shaped like a foot. 

I did this last one since I kind of love this color combo. It's electric.

I'm also noticing the two most prominent words are "something" and "like", which may be telling me to be more specific in my writing.  Or that I'm looking for the words to describe....something. 

Then rest are "work", "never", "know", "English", and "school."  Obviously, this is mostly from my last post.  Perhaps the lesson is to not try and glean meaning from a random internet word generator.

Monday, August 05, 2013


I had a series of extraordinary high school A.P/Honors English teachers.  All women.  Mrs. Church in 9th grade, with her gray ponytail and expansive mind, encouraged us to think broadly. She seemed like she could tackle anything.  It's so long ago I can't remember what we read, but I remember her smile, her excitement, and her love of literature.

Alice Brice, and former Vogue model who I had as a sophomore and junior, would challenge us as soon as the bell rang to open our books to a particular poem, and write for the period about what the author was trying to say and how s/he said it.  I read some great poems my sophomore year. She had a wonderful sardonic sense of humor. She told us she didn't particularly like young kids, and didn't like college students, either, just smart high-schoolers.  I found out later she was one of the four fellows from our school had who had won national fellowships to intensively study their field over a summer at any University.  She studied poetry at Harvard. Having four from one school was some kind of record.  At a public school in New Mexico.  Looking back, I can see how fortunate we were.

The first half of the year and when Brice was out, I had Ms. Piper, who smoked outside her classroom, her black hair shellacked into a permanent Jackie Kennedy, clad in impeccable houndstooth skirt suits.  She intimidated.  When we saw Piper, we knew it was essay day.

I was in in A.P. or "Honors" English. Through my colleagues on the speech team, I knew what my contemporaries were studying. While we were assigned to write an essay about MacBeth in terms of tragic form, character or rhythm, the "Enriched" class was drawing pictures of quotes from the play. The Regular classes were listening to "Romeo and Juliet" on record.

Even though I was a solid A/B student in English, Brice suggested that my junior be spent in her "Enriched" class to work on grammar, as my sentence structure needed work. That's all changed. (pause for laugh)

I spent my junior year in Brice's class, goofing off with my friend Dan, learning how to diagram sentences, and sitting behind the impossible preppy and handsome Hal Richardson, who played tennis. Of course he did.

I almost flunked out of Enriched English. I have a bad habit that when I'm not challenged I stop working hard. Or maybe I just don't like to study.  I was a straight A student in French, but the one test I studied hard for I got a C.  I vowed to not study again. Anyhow, I was almost getting a D in English, which was unfathomable. In English, my favorite subject. By some thankful stroke of luck, the final was in spelling, which has never been a challenge. I pulled my grade up to an 81, and Brice recommended I be put back in Honors.

Senior year, I had to catch up with all my peers, who had spent the last year reading Moby Dick along with some other choice classes taught by a guy they all loved.  In 12th grade A.P. with Meredith Kopald, we dissected "Cry, The Beloved Country," "Hamlet," "The SOund and The Fury" among others.  She even had us over to her house for an afternoon weekend party - impossibly adult.

Meanwhile, I developed one of my worst habits. I got an A on a paper I wrote on "Anna Karenina" with my independent study group, though I hadn't finished the book.  I got the highest marks awarded on the A.P. exam writing about the Quentin section of "The Sound and The Fury," even though I had not finished reading the book. I'm convinced no one understands that section, so even writing about it gives you points.  A couple of years later, in college, I got an A on a paper on "Women in Love" from a visiting Lawrence scholar even though I had only read the first third, skimming the rest for quotes that backed up my thesis.  Not a great habit to start. I believe it's colloquially called "bullshitting."  I suppose that's why I loved the poetry essays.  You can read the whole thing, more than once if you need, and really take the time to explore. I do finish books, though, even though sometimes it takes me a year.

Brice passed away in a car crash with her best friend, the absolute favorite teacher of many friends of mine at another high school, on a remote road in New Mexico. They were both teaching at the same school at the time. I'll never forget her broad smile, her brain, her sarcasm, and her love of what she did. I'd always been amazed that she'd been a model and given it up to teach English in Albuquerque.  I don't know where the other teachers who taught me such an appreciation of learning and literature are.  There are so many. I had an array of extraordinary teachers in high school in French, History, Chemistry, Drama, Chorus, Speech. Each could warrant an essay. If I ventured into my college years I'd have to write countless pages.

I think of this now, and how good it is to have a teacher; how good it is to let yourself be taught.  It's easy to forget that when you get a little older. I will always remember that desk, and the moss green book in which I read "Out, Out -" and "Dulce Et Decorum Est" for the first time.  And the poem below, one of my favorites.  Since I've been thinking about distance and perspective the last few days, this poem came to mind.  I thank all of these teachers that it did.

Page 79. What is this poem saying and how does it say it?

Musee des Beaux Arts

W. H. Auden

About suffering they were never wrong,

The old Masters: how well they understood

Its human position: how it takes place

While someone else is eating or opening a window or just walking dully along;

How, when the aged are reverently, passionately waiting

For the miraculous birth, there always must be

Children who did not specially want it to happen, skating

On a pond at the edge of the wood:

They never forgot

That even the dreadful martyrdom must run its course

Anyhow in a corner, some untidy spot

Where the dogs go on with their doggy life and the torturer's horse

Scratches its innocent behind on a tree.

In Breughel's Icarus, for instance: how everything turns away

Quite leisurely from the disaster; the ploughman may

Have heard the splash, the forsaken cry,

But for him it was not an important failure; the sun shone

As it had to on the white legs disappearing into the green

Water, and the expensive delicate ship that must have seen

Something amazing, a boy falling out of the sky,

Had somewhere to get to and sailed calmly on.

Sunday, August 04, 2013

Critical Distance

This is one of my favorite passages from Howards End by E.M. Forster, one of my favorite books:

Margaret realised the chaotic nature of our daily life, and its difference from the orderly sequence that has been fabricated by historians. Actual life is full of false clues and sign-posts that lead nowhere. With infinite effort we nerve ourselves for a crisis that never comes. The most successful career must show a waste of strength that might have removed mountains, and the most unsuccessful is not that of the man who is taken unprepared, but of him who has prepared and is never taken. On a tragedy of that kind our national morality is duly silent. It assumes that preparation against danger is in itself a good, and that men, like nations, are the better for staggering through life fully armed. The tragedy of preparedness has scarcely been handled, save by the Greeks. Life is indeed dangerous, but not in the way morality would have us believe. It is indeed unmanageable, but the essence of it is not a battle. It is unmanageable because it is a romance, and its essence is romantic beauty. Margaret hoped that for the future she would be less cautious, not more cautious, than she had been in the past.

Earlier today I was thinking of writing about distance. One of the strategies to save yourself from feeling pain is to remain cautious. We know it doesn't work, movies and books tell us this all the time, but we have to go and learn it ourselves. There's no way around pain, and by trying to spare yourself the pain you spare yourself the connection and the feeling of belonging, too. Sometimes, even, you cause a greater pain.

I was thinking about this in relation to creating something.  You have to be in something completely to create it, but to form it you have to have distance. Sometimes you have to have distance to create something at all - a different way of seeing or a way of seeing outside of what's happening.  I suppose this is why the classic writer is a loner.  Yes, that feeling of being outsider works brilliantly for being an artist, or creating something about the world you live in. Works brilliantly for scientists, too.   Where it doesn't work so brilliantly is in human relations.  If you keep yourself from participating, you keep yourself from feeling.  You may keep a critical distance, but if you do that when you're supposed to be involved, you can shortchange yourself. 

I don't know that there is much point to this post, except that I've always had a strategy to keep an eye on things, mainly in a controlling sense to make sure everything is okay, nothing is messy, and no one gets hurt. Then, of course, with theater training, keeping track in case anything can be used later, and analyzing behavior.  It's good for seeing a big picture, and it's good for safety, but for some things (living your life as it comes), it's not very helpful. I'm not even thinking I have done this for some feeling of wanting to be a great artist of some kind. That may be a dream, but never a day to day goal. The outside eye, though, needs to be covered every once in a while.  It's a hard muscle to select how to use once you have it. You don't really feel like you can blink.

Another literary reference I've always remembered in this regard is Trigorin, in the Seagull - 

Here I am talking to you, excited and delighted, yet never for one moment do I forget that there is an unfinished story waiting for me indoors. I see a cloud shaped like a grand piano. I think: I must mention somewhere in a story that a cloud went by, shaped like a grand piano. I smell heliotrope. I say to myself: Sickly smell, mourning shade, must be mentioned in describing a summer evening. I lie in wait for each phrase, for each word that falls from my lips or yours and hasten to lock all these words and phrases away in my literary storeroom: they may come in handy some day. When I finish a piece of work, I fly to the theatre or go fishing, in the hope of resting, of forgetting myself, but no, a new subject is already turning, like a heavy iron ball, in my brain, some invisible force drags me to my table and I must make haste to write and write. And so on for ever and ever. I have no rest from myself; I feel that I am devouring my own life, that for the honey which I give to unknown mouths out in the void, I rob my choicest flowers of their pollen, pluck the flowers themselves and trample on their roots.

The outside eye. Critical distance. I think it's possible that it can be less torturous that Trigorin, that hopefully there is a way to stop analyzing and look up at choice moments, stop trying to figure it out.  I know there's a practice for it. I also know I'm not alone, or Power Of Now wouldn't have sold as many copies as it did.  I'll skirt excessive cultural criticism, hopefully, but I'll just say the advent of video and cameras haven't made it much easier.  Or blogs, for that matter.


No easy answers, but maybe a little less distance a little more of the time is the answer. Having faith that the rest will take care of itself, and you'll remember things to write down later when you need to.

Saturday, August 03, 2013

Critical Kindness

"So here’s something I know to be true, although it’s a little corny, and I don’t quite know what to do with it:
What I regret most in my life are failures of kindness." 
I think this is brilliant. It's George's Saunder's advice to graduates at Syracuse.
I’ve been thinking about this a bit lately, I suppose my post about teasing and feeling over-sensitive was about this somewhat.  I love that he calls these “failures in kindness.”  Not only directed at me, but at everyone.  We hurt for others, sometimes as much as ourselves, and sometimes to the point that these are painful memories.

The beautiful girl from Kentucky in my 4th grade class who was asked to read by the teacher and had to say, in front of the class, “I can’t read.”  The teacher was embarrassed, knowing this already but having forgotten, wanting only to include her but instead marking her in front of the class. I can still see her face from when I was 10, the shame I felt on her behalf, and anger that she would be passed from grade to grade without learning anything.

Apropos of things I write about, I notice in criticism how when we talk about movies, shows, art, etc., people can be outright mean. I have recently heard quite a few strident opinions from people trashing work, mean-spirited dismissals from others in the same discipline. It’s hard to listen to. I understand it, certainly. I get angry when something is bad. It’s very challenging to find something good, when something is bad enough to make you angry. I’ve changed, recently, though, appreciating just how hard it is to create work at all.  I’ve always been a bit of a cheerleader, so it’s probably natural for me to move in that direction, but I’ve finding myself trying to find what's positive first. What works. It can be challenging after a lifetime believing that criticizing something is a mark of intelligence, while blindly admiring something is possibly dull, and at worst, stupid. You have to think of something smart to say, after all, and what's wrong is usually much easier to reach for.

I don’t know that I’ve been cruel ever in my assessments, but I’ve been watching what I say and how I say it more and more. I’ve been working on how to honor what has been done, or what is being attempted. The default strategy when something isn't good is to stay engaged by figuring out what doesn’t work. That is its own kind of enjoyment.  In fact, sometimes I learn more that way. I’ve heard a few people recently who are just dissatisfied with whatever it is they are seeing – the John Simons of the world – and I’ve begun to dismiss what they are saying. I find if there isn’t humanity in the criticism, there is not much point in reading or listening to it.  It takes a great deal to produce anything, so honoring that is paramount.  After that, we can take it apart to see how it does or doesn’t work. Sometimes, with criticism, it’s necessary to sift through schadenfreude, bitterness, or simple burnout, even just the critic’s inability to figure out what they don’t like.

The point is, we are all looking for something but we can’t quite put our finger on it.  We don’t know it, but we know it when we see it. When we see it or feel it, it's magic. When we see it we try to explain it. I hope when we do, we do it with kindness. People kill themselves over creating work, sadly sometimes literally. The least we can do is put on a smile and give it our best attention. If criticism is only mean, or just aims to hurt, then it doesn't give the artist/writer/performer anything to work with.  At best, they will discard it for its lack of compassion, at worst it will stymie, freeze, or destroy them. On all sides, we get passionate. I feel like it's best when that passion acknowledges that others have the same desire,

Over the last few years, I’ve had the gift of attending elementary school performances of a dear (family, really), friend’s children.  I never miss a chance to go. The kids are adorable, ridiculous, hysterical, endearing, committed, terrified, elated. When I go to these performances, I am nothing but thrilled for every performer on that stage, whatever level of ability. I leave filled with happiness.  Seriously, if you’re ever sad, go see an elementary school talent show.  It cannot fail to raise your spirits.  I’ve been cultivating that kindness in every show and movie I go to recently.  It’s not easy to put things on. Hopefully the creators have been thinking about us, and trying to entertain us.  Sometimes it works, sometimes it doesn’t. Just like in third grade.

If the aim is to make work better, or more what it wants to be, then there must be kindness and compassion beneath what's being said.  Some would argue that's not the function of criticism. Perhaps it's not.  Criticism has many functions: to contextualize, to understand, to argue for, to argue against, to teach, to improve. My aim is at the criticism whose main function is to tear down. I admit I love to read a well-written bad review, but I don't know if I would put that in the pool of criticism.  Criticism, when it works, enlightens me.  As I'm finding in the world that there is no solution in anger, there is no solution in haranguing. One of the main rules in improv is never saying no, as that just stops the scene.  Similarly, if all you have to say is "that actress is fat and ugly and she should never be playing that role," you've served only to damage her ego, and probably make yourself look like an idiot. By all means, have an opinion, but at least acknowledge that someone else has put in some effort, even when, by your standards, it doesn't look like it.

I remember playing Frankenstein in elementary school, covered in green makeup. I sang a song about believing in yourself. Right before going on, I accidentally sat in a one of those shallow gray metal grades school trash cans. For a few moments, I couldn’t get out.  Uncharacteristically, instead of berating myself, I laughed and encouraged others to laugh at it, too.  Then I found my way out, went on stage, and sang my song.

Friday, August 02, 2013

Index of First Lines

For my slim volume of yet to be written poetry.

(And if anyone can show me how to use tab on this site, or format tabs, so this comes out even, I'd be thankful).

Are you sure it’s nothing worse?......................................................................12
Completely drawing a blank.............................................................................4
Do I really need to outline?...............................................................................17
I don’t think it’s possible to have a tumor there.................................................5
I feel better when I don’t eat that.......................................................................14
I have a question................................................................................................15
I haven’t read/seen/heard/downloaded that.........................................................2
I just forgot what I was saying as I said it...........................................................1
I love this weather...............................................................................................7
I refuse to buy that waist size again.....................................................................10
If there’s an app for that, I haven’t found it.........................................................10
It’s the last place because you stop looking.........................................................8
On Flexibility......................................................................................................6
On Letting Go.....................................................................................................18
O, please..............................................................................................................3
Perfectionism is ruining my perfectionism...........................................................9
That can’t be the right answer.............................................................................19
That is so loud.....................................................................................................16
When I win the lottery.........................................................................................21
You call that affordable?......................................................................................20

Thursday, August 01, 2013

Sick Day

I was home sick today. Doctor. Much sleep. Horrible dream about being on roller skates and mugged by a 12 year old.  Oh, the mind.

I'm working on some other posts. This daily blogging thing has made me wonder what it is I'm writing about daily. It really is all over the place right now, but thank you for checking.

In the meantime, enjoy this beautiful picture of Rudolph Nureyev. I saw an exhibit in San Francisco of photos, performance clips, and costumes. This photo is arresting.