Wednesday, October 30, 2013


I went to a funeral today. The woman who passed died of a virulent form of cancer that she contracted in June.  I went with a work colleague who had also been introduced to my boss by her.  Because of her both of us have jobs. I wanted to pay my respects, she had always been kind to me.

Her best friend spoke during the short ceremony, and spoke of all the memorial services they had been to together for friends in the 1980s.  They had become a regular occurrence. I can only imagine his grief at saying goodbye to a friend he'd known for over three decades.  He played a song they played at those memorials, sung by a famous singer I've met. Her nephew coincidentally works in my group.

To make the world even smaller, a friend who sells plots at that cemetery remembered the woman who was being buried, remembered working with her on her mother's memorial stone as it had been unique. She was sad to hear of her passing, and enjoyed working with her.  I don't know why I take comfort in all these connections, but I do.

We drove to the top of the hill to inter the body into a wall.  The small pine coffin was set to go into a large marble wall, adjacent to her parents. In lieu of dirt, the man who had been her closest friend gave out white roses for people to place on the casket. He struggled with the thorns. A much older woman who had been her neighbor stood up to read a poem about ship, which meant a lot to her.  The man who was her best friend passed out sheets of paper with a poem he wanted to hand out and read as well. When they handed it out I read it. I can't have a piece of text in my hand and not read it. I couldn't follow, couldn't comprehend. It felt as inconsequential as the paper it was printed on.

Any grief brings to the forefront the losses one has already suffered. The pain is universal, the moment specific. The moment is universal, the pain specific. It bleeds into other memories until it encompasses what's around it.  Tears sharpen colors; you are aware of the ground you are standing on. What is mundane falls away in the face of a universal truth.

The man read the poem, which had also been a favorite in the 80s.  The poet had died young, full of unfulfilled promise. He was overcome for a moment. I could feel his pain reading this particular poem at the service for someone with whom he had survived, with whom he had a long shared history. Someone who was taken unexpectedly, and too young.  He was a survivor of cancer himself.   I've known people who have survived, and those who haven't. It is impossible.

A girl standing next to me dropped her water bottle and giggled from embarrassment with her mother, with whom she had been crying moments before.  Grief knocks up against laughter somehow; any relief is welcome.  The group placed roses on the pine box and it was elevated and lifted into the sepulcher.  We watched as two workmen pushed the body to where it would rest on the wall.

A man I know was asked to recite the mourner's kaddish, which he recited it in English. The prayer, said at most services for those remembering lost loved ones, is about the magnificence of God, the praise to him. A blessing and piece for all, for Israel. The words felt inconsequential.  I mouthed what I knew of the Aramaic original under my breath, wanting to hear that rhythm. Thankfully, someone asked for the man from the cemetery to speak it in the original language. Perhaps because I know it well, I get some sense of comfort from it, the intonations, the parts led and those spoken together.

Grief is too big.  Words are drops of rain on a roof. We can't not speak, but we can't wholly define the ineffable enormity of what we are feeling.  We keep trying.

Monday, October 21, 2013

Books and worms

When I was in Palm Springs this weekend, I impulsively bought Elizabeth Gilbert's new novel, which is being described as a ripping yarn about an independent woman of the 19th century. It's supposedly exhaustively researched, and breathlessly exciting. I'm hoping so.

Right now, I'm adding it to the pile, which just a cursory look at my bookshelf includes

A Beautiful Mind
Patti Lupone's Memoir
God, A Biogra[y
Let the Great World Spin
A Great Unrecorded History: A new life of E.M. Forster
A Walk in the Woods
Why Does the World Exist

And that's just in front on the stacks. I can't help it. I'm a bookworm from way back. I have 3 books in my car at the moment. I've been reading Far From the Tree for about  months because it kind of breaks my heart every time I open it.  I read "Rapture Practice" in one day. I still haven't found my reading rhythm in LA after ten years, but I'm finding I'm much more likely to come home and crack open a book than I am to turn on the TV.   Luckily, I got rid of my DVR; it was a higher pressured bookshelf, as the programs would expire.  Now it's all streaming.  Without the pressure, I think I watch more.

I guess to take its place,  I re-upped my subscription to the New Yorker, since I missed it in print.  Luckily, those don't expire, but they do stack up like titles on a TiVo.

All this is to say, I don't have any business buying more books at the moment.  And yet, there are so many of interest. What can you do?

The other worms I've been thinking about are ear worms, those phrases of songs that get stuck in your ear for days, refusing to leave.  Kelly Clarkson's "Because of You" bops into my head fairly frequently.  The last couple of weeks it has been Miley Cyrus, god help me.

It must be how our brains work, recycling bits of catchiness that runs in the background like Muzak in a grocery store that we leave humming without even knowing we've heard.  I imagine all the books on my bookshelf started that way, with the thought equivalent that kept someone up, haunted them, hummed in the background until they finally wrote it down. It can happen with words, stories, memories, images.  Somethings lodge in our heads and just won't let go.

I like reading of others. It gives me some relief from my own.

Sunday, October 20, 2013

The World, The Ocean, and smaller

I just got back from a trip to do a play in Palm Springs.  I didn't bring my computer, so for the most part I didn't look at facebook, or check the news. Occasionally I did so with my phone, but I tried to vacate. I'm not very good at it. It takes a few days to get in the groove of relaxing, and we really only had a couple days without rehearsal, and those had shows. It was nice spending time with people, and getting to know the cast more. My boyfriend was able to tag along, as I had my own room, so that was nice as well. I notice, though, once again, that I'm not a champion relaxer.

It was nice, though, to take a bit of a break from the world. I'm not quite ready to go back to work tomorrow.  I logged onto facebook and saw some great things, but also this upsetting article about the horrible state of our oceans. Do not read unless you like feeling sad and powerless.

I can only control my own little world. And really, I can't even control that. I can only be in it. I jumped on here today just to give my fingers some exercise and to run my brain a little. I'm not sure I even have a point, except that I can only be where I am.

I don't think I really missed facebook. It was nice to sit and actually chat with people. We had a couple of mornings around the pool, and some time around tables and meals. I feel fortunate that I have the chance to do things like this with great people.

The state of the ocean can make me despondent, but there is no point in despair. If anything, I'm learning that despair, depression, despondency, fatalism, complaint, anger have little solution embedded in them unless they spur you on to action.

I'm very sad about the ocean, but I can't wring my hands. I can possibly do some research and see what I can do, if anything.

Like I said, I don't really have a point. The world can be overwhelming. I know it's important to take the chance to step out of the usual every once in a while or my engine will be completely flooded, but it's also important to do things so that when I do step out, its worthwhile.

Or maybe it's time to notice that I'm looking at a four day trip with two days of rehearsal and three performances as a vacation.

Um. I think I'm tired.  Good night.

Wednesday, October 09, 2013


I feel myself getting angry at the slightest little thing lately. I'm not really sure why, though I have my theories. They include: sugar, sleep, over-information and the inability to find an exit off the information super highway, powerlessness in the face of all that's happening around us on a day to day basis.

I'm sure any could be a culprit. I've had enough experience to know that anger unexpressed turns inward. I've had much experience in that.  Anger turned outward feels ineffectual, though. I've always been frustrated by calm politicians, but I see that there is no solution in anger. It feels good, we need to get it out, but there is no common ground. There is nothing but scorched earth.  Even when I express anger, I feel ridiculous about halfway through, and always feel the need to apologize.  Lately I think it's just a surplus of information and nowhere to store it.  Overwhelm and powerlessness.  They're looking for a way out. Anger is the easiest way.  There's no target; I'm not the kind of person who attacks anyone or anything.  During a bout of this a few years ago I went to a batting cage and batted balls for an hour.  That felt great. Exercise works, too.  With the current yahoos in Congress stopping all discussion and blaming things on everyone but themselves, it's hard to even turn on the radio.

Meanwhile, I hear meditation helps.

I was amazed today at this young woman, Malala Yousafzai. I saw this clip of her on the Daily Show, explaining what she would think about being attacked, which she was, and the understanding she would show - that her first thought was anger, and then she reminded herself that anger would not help, only make her the same as her attacker.  No wonder she may end up being the youngest recipient of the Nobel Peace Prize. I know my problems do not compare to this, though they feel real nonetheless.  I can only hope for some of her compassion and understanding, while also being grateful that I am not in  a country where this threat is a daily reality.

Monday, October 07, 2013

The Santa Ana's

I remember reading Janet Fitch's book "White Oleander" years ago. One of the motifs is the evocation of the Santa Ana winds, the hot, dusty winds that come through Southern California this time of year. I lived in New York then, which has no equivalent I can think of, except sudden inclement weather every month of the year, barring possibly a two week window at the end of April and beginning of May.

The Santa Ana's I know about now. They don't possess me to do crazy things like the characters in the book, rather they bring dust and pollen. It's more mundane, but it certainly has an effect. Once again, I am sneezing all day, even with allergy medication, and unsure if I will wake up tomorrow with a full-blown cold or feeling better. My check engine light went on yesterday, too, resulting in another bill for several hundred dollars on my car, the second time in as many months. I'm blaming it on the Santa Ana's.

On the bright side, I got to eat the slightly junky food I like when I have a cold - macaroni and cheese with peas and grocery store rotisserie chicken - while watching junk food TV.   I also get to drive a rental car for two days, courtesy of my mechanic, which is pristine white and much cleaner than my car.  I'm trying to find maybe something else with the wind -  the hope and remembrance that things will blow over as quickly as they blew in. SoCal problems.

Ah- choo.

Tuesday, October 01, 2013

West Hollywood Book Fair

I went to the fair on Sunday. The West Hollywood Book Fair. I always enjoy it, as it's smaller than the UCLA/USC book fair, and I also know a lot more people involved.

I swung by my friend Charles' booth for Bloom, his award-winning literary journal. I ran into the effervescent Paul McCullough, who was facilitating Q & A's for the food stage and also signing his new book on Roma tomatoes called Roma Therapy.  Eduardo Santiago was signing his new book Midnight Rumba as well. I also saw someone I know who was playing keyboard for a friend of his doing a piece on the poetry stage and I helped him move the keyboard from his car.  So I like this one, as I end up knowing people from around.  Even though I don't live in Weho, it feels neighborhood-y.

The people I didn't know (though turns out a couple are connected to other people I know, since the world is very small) were the ones whose panel I went to on memoir and secrets.  The panelists were Daniel Stern, the author of Swingland, his account of the Swinging subculture; Kimberly Rae Miller, the author of Coming Clean, her memoir of growing up with a hoarder as a father; and Aaron Hertzler, whose memoir Rapture Practice is about growing up gay in a fundamentalist Christian household.  The talk was informative, and I'm interested in reading all three.  Miller's seems a little more serious in tone, though Hertzler's book definitely deals with some weighty issues, though targeted to a young adult audience. Stern's is an interesting comic escapade/how-to manual, which is a fascinating hybrid.  All three deal with writing something that is usually hidden or kept secret to varying degrees.  There was talk of shame, or difficulty, in writing these things, and also how the others involved have reacted.  It's an interesting topic with confessional or personal writing.  I think of that Joan Didion quote that a writer  is always selling someone out.  I don't know that I'd agree with that, but it takes bravery to put one's own experience on a page, knowing that others involved will see themselves portrayed, possibly unflatteringly. Each of the authors had a story about that, as well as their own trepidation of putting something personal out there. Interesting factoid - they are all actors.  Miller has a BFA in acting, and Hertlzer and Stern both have MFAs.  The moderator, Dinah Lenney, is an actress, memoirist, and writing teacher as well.  I bring it up as she did. Interesting coincidence.

I have an MFA, too - is a memoir in my future?

It was a nice afternoon. I'll go again.  I would have loved to buy more books, but that's always the case. I need to get better at reading them all, too. One at a time, I guess. That's the way.