A True Story

After a long silence, my body is making demands. It began with a request for exercise, and then in a confusing example of self-interest, it started asking for less food.

Now a bit trimmer, it feels like it owns the room.

“I want a friend,” it asks, protesting my recent lifestyle of solitude, as if I can so simply comply.

“But we're doing so well alone,” I counter, a bit annoyed with Body’s sudden demands. “Why mess it up now with complications?”

But Body just snorts as if my words are too stupid to acknowledge. Body wants more.

It’s my fault. I broke the calm by speaking to a man, a man with whom there was just enough history to spark Memory. The voice – the carefully placed laugh, the gentle-toned question, a genuine, ‘Ah, that’s so sweet,’ to my reply – sprung Body from its passive state that allows me hours on my couch with books and laptop.

It feels risky to disturb the peace by suddenly looking outside for pleasure. Looking is always the problem. Interactions I can handle. They are alive, active. But looking is just Desire, and Desire isn’t very smart. Desire has bad judgment. Desire can take you down dark alleys at foolish times.

But Body no longer has patience, so in pushing Desire in my face, I must counter with Reason, though Reason is dull. No one likes to hang with Reason. Reason gets invited to fewer parties.

In an attempt to please Body, I stop at a bar for a cold beer on my way home. The place is packed, social, friendly. Bodies crashing into bodies. Casual conversation is easy and expected. But in coming, I forgot to bring Interest. When you take Interest and Desire with you to a bar, you make greater effort and a bit more eye contact. But by not stopping home to pick up Interest, I lack the proper companion to launch conversation.

I park Body on a cushioned bench by the window where I can look out at the sidewalk smokers and in at the potion drinkers. Without Interest, I sit and sip my beer. After a quarter of a glass, Boredom speaks, “Can we go home now?”

“But I didn’t give Body what it wants,” I reply.

“You gave it cold beer on a hot night. It can’t be so greedy.”

So Boredom accompanied by Reason walk me to my car. Luckily, Disappointment doesn’t climb into the passenger seat. Instead, Calm sits down and says, “Well, that was interesting. You saw what it was like to go back out in the world with a bit of Intent.”

“Intent!” I cry. “I left Intent in the bar.”

“Intent will find its way home,” Calm reassures.

Calm is very smart. In trying to please Body, I will remember to bring Calm with me.

“What about me?!” Mind speaks up.

“Ach, you’ve been getting all the attention,” Body jumps in. “Don’t be so Greedy.”

“Hey, I resent that,” Greedy chimes in. “You always use me as an example of what not to be. I have good qualities, too.”

“Name one,” says Calm in a nearly silent voice.

“I spark Need.”

“Need does fine on its own,” Body says dismissively.

But I feel I must speak. “Need sometimes needs help,” I say, nudging into the conversation. “Need’s been patient and has been ignored. And, Body, if it weren’t for Greedy, I may not have stopped for beer after an already pleasant night out.”

Body and Calm suddenly feel sheepish, even judgmental.

“We’re sorry, Need,” they say in unison. “You, too, Greedy. We forgot we all have a purpose.”

The ride home is silent. Not bad, just silent.

But one little adventure isn’t enough for Body. Body wants results not just attempts, so Body gets more demanding. It starts reading the paper looking for events to attend, using its secret weapon on me.

“Doesn’t this look interesting?” Curiosity says, pointing to a live music event at a local museum. “Or this?” citing a bookstore anniversary party.

“Maybe,” I reply.

“’Maybe’ isn’t enough,” Greedy jumps in.

“Okay. Tonight. I promise. We’ll go somewhere.”

“You better bring me!” says Intent.

“And me,” says Interest.

“But most of all, me,” whispers Calm.

Destination: two-year anniversary party for the nearby art bookstore and gallery. The black and white postcard invite reads, ‘In dog years we’ve been here a lot longer.’

A hot muggy night. I dress for the weather. Short skirt. A top of thin straps and material. Body-hugging. Flip flops for an easy walk.

I hesitate as I exit my home, not sure if I really want to venture out, not sure if out there is better than in here. But Body nudges me, “You promised.”

And I had. So I go.

I arrive. The room populated with a few lured to early arrival by free entry before 9 p.m. and an open bar. I take a quick spin through the room lined with first editions protected in plastic covers. Books and periodicals celebrating assorted artists, designers, musicians – anyone who has contributed to the creative landscape through the years – cozy up with the collectibles. A room divider displays the night’s offering of art prints by a guy working through his romantic woes. On one, hand scrawled letters read, ‘Today I Lost The Love Of My Life, What Did You Do?’

I grab a vodka and cranberry, the drink the sweating bartenders are pouring in the-room-that-has-no-moving-air, and walk towards an open door seeking breeze, but I’m quickly fumigated by a team of chain smokers.

The band is setting up, and I notice that they’re teenagers and I can’t tell if that makes me feel old or feel young. A little of both, actually. And then I pass him, a guy I could set my eye on. Satchel over shoulder, slightly shaggy hair, rectangular glasses, casual dress. A sense of art hovers around him. Our eyes meet. He smiles. I smile back. And he continues to move through the room. Observing. Surveying. But it was a moment. I know it. Body knows it.

I move to a counter-high ledge between me and the teenage band battling with amps and cords and instruments as the store’s owner prods them, “Ten minutes. You gotta start in ten minutes. And you’ve got twenty to play. Twenty.”

“Twenty?” mutters the lead guitarist as if it’s an insult, a boy of shoulder-length splayed blond dreadlocks colored with turquoise and green.

I fidget and play with a fountain pen and watch a two-year-old child crawl along the counter destroying the center divide of native desert plants as parents look on with amusement.

He stands across the divide, playing with the strap of his satchel. He doesn’t see me seeing him. I go back to my fountain pen willing the music to start. Patience enters and nuzzles up against me. “I know it’s hot, but just hang in there.” I listen as I wipe the sweat off my forehead. He walks over, towards me, to me, near me. “This is why we came,” Body whispers in my ear.

“Nice woodwork in here,” he says, and before I know it, we’ve made it through the obligatory entrée words, and in my mind, I’m agreeing with Body. It’s been a long time, but I remember what mutual attraction feels like. I recognize Intent in another. I can’t help but leap forward as Anticipation joins the conversation.

A photographer, web designer, graphic artist. I like the combo. I like his ease. I like that he came to me. He tells me of the home he owns cross-town and the trips he takes to a retreat he owns in the desert. Solvent. Good. Finally.

And I tell him of my visit to that desert town, how when hiking I felt vulnerable in the quiet as if danger could hide behind tumbleweed.

“Were you alone?” he asks. And I hesitate as Fear saddles up beside me.

“Well, my son was with me,” I say as I look for a disappointed reaction in his eyes but find none.

“How old?”

“Twelve now, but he was about ten at the time.” And we clear that hurdle and Fear leaves for fresh air.

My new friend recommends we do the same, move closer to the door. He asks the bartender for another beer, asks if I want something, but I decline. The room grows crowded and we’re forced away from the hint-of-air back towards the band. And somewhere out of nowhere, no prompt remembered, my new friend says, “I have a two-year-old. He’s with my partner back east for two months.” I’m sure he continued talking, giving me details, but Mind is waving arms wildly, screaming, “Partner? Is he gay? Partner!” as if my friend had just confessed to a horrendous felony rather than simply misleading me.

Hope slumps. Interest fades. Calm feels emboldened. “This is what I’m here for.”

“She’s a successful artist,” my friend continues, “and had to go away for work, but my work’s keeping me here.”

And I actually don’t care anymore. Don’t care that it’s she and not he. In this context, they're interchangeable. Interest turns to Small Talk. We go outside to escape the heat and the unimpressive sounds of the teen band. I’m ready to leave, Disappointment having joined the party.

We stand on the sidewalk, and I can’t help but notice how Friend is looking over my body. “It’s nice to get out and meet people. It’s lonely with the family gone,” he adds. “So, do you do yoga?” he asks in a curiously timed non sequitur. “I mean, how do you stay in such good shape?”

I don’t even want to answer. Does my exercise routine matter or is this all about his partner being away and his loneliness and his wanting to meet new people?

I walk to my car after wishing him a fun remainder of his evening. Strength glides in to hold my hand. Good Sense puts a hand upon my shoulder. I want to call myself stupid, but I wasn’t. I didn’t imagine his attention, his focus. Our meeting was just like any other that leads somewhere, somewhere beyond a sidewalk and a discussion of how having a kid changes life.

“You did the right thing, leaving when you did,” Good Sense congratulates.

And I nod, slowly, still lost in where I was, wondering how something that had felt so close was so profoundly far away.

Today Body gives me a break, a sympathetic gesture after seeing how its demands jolted my spirit last night. In exchange, I smile and I mean it, and I promise Body that I won’t return to my shell, that I’ll embrace Daring and let them both push me out the door again.


Extra Time

Wednesday nights. Weekly. A room full of writers.

The instructions are clear – “Never stop writing. Don’t think. Don’t lift pen from paper. If you get stuck, write about being stuck.”

We don’t know precisely how long we have for the second exercise. We write and write, and the time ticks by. Our internal clocks, masters of habit, accustomed to a fifteen to twenty minute limit, automatically pace us.

But the buzzer doesn’t ring. We grow agitated, restless, edgy. The energy in the room deflates. Pens stop moving. Fidgeting gets more pronounced. Assorted writers stand and stretch and head off to the bathroom, bumping by one writer scribbling away, determined to stay inside the exercise.

I keep writing. Or attempt to, but the movements in the room and my internal metronome distract me.

And I write, “I’m running out of thought and wish I knew how much longer we had. How fitting. I bet we all wish we knew how much longer we had…”

“…Sometimes I imagine how I would live if I knew my time limit…”

“…Here I am again, aware of the sounds of movement in the room, the pens that have stopped. I’m back to wanting to know how much time, and why we don’t know – was that by design or by inadvertent omission? How would it make a difference if I knew how to pace myself?”

A fine question, indeed.

How would it make a difference if you knew how much time you had? A lack of knowledge by design or by inadvertent omission? Turns out writing class isn’t so different from life.

Finally, after thirty minutes, the buzzer goes off.

“Uh, I don’t know if this goes against your teaching methods,” one student tentatively starts, “but is it okay to know if it’s going to be a long or short write?” Nods and grunts of agreement fill the room.

“Sure. Okay,” the teacher replies. “I’ll let you know from now on.”

Even though I nod along with the others, even though I’ve written the above words, why does it matter how long we have to write? We are a room of writers. If we finish one piece, we can jump to another. We don’t need permission to write. In this case we only need permission to stop.

And that is the ideal view, the enlightened view, the view I’d like to march or lounge with through life. Only I know it’s not that simple. We depend on time for our structure, for our limits and our freedom. We use time to figure out how deeply we can go or how concise we must be. In both writing and life.

How we react to the quantity of time surprises us. The brief affair that takes us deeper than the lengthy relationship. The death sentence that liberates and allows the dying to live more fully. The precision of language that a short piece requires.

Short can be good.

Planning for the future puts on the handcuffs. The practical side dominates and dreams fall away. With six months to live, I’d cram in all possible play and adventure. I’d leave nothing unsaid. I’d be completely free.

But as much as we love the beautifully crafted vignette, its brevity and precision, we never get invested in the same way as the novel that takes us through the lengthy journey.

So long is also good.

My grandparents lived into their nineties and were married for seventy-one years. I will never know that kind of longevity with another, a truly unique experience that writers attempt to capture but are unable to place in our core. Without living through the love, lust, boredom, disappointment, acceptance, renewal of love, respect, and peace, we’re just spectators. Oh yeah, and the bickering. My grandparents exchanged pokes through countless petty arguments, but I never saw two people look upon each other with more pride. The reward of endurance.

Like the finished novel.

So how to reconcile the relationship with time and with not knowing how long we have?

I play with both, some days tapping out a vignette and on others addressing the novel. Some days I imagine a long life stretched before me and sometimes I picture a short sprint, and I choose my behavior accordingly. By mixing it up, I can experience it all, or at least have a taste.

But despite the exercise, I crave the crystal ball. I want to know how long I have. I want the chance to tie up loose ends, to say the meaningful words, to get my characters home.

But unlike writing class, in life there is no teacher who can answer, “How long?” Whether by accident or design, our amount of time is a mystery. And I hope in the future if I find myself with extra time, I won’t sit back and wait for the buzzer. I’ll keep writing and living, right till the end.


Within the 310

Fellow 310 residents,

Today I share your pain, as from this day forth we must affix 1 + 310 to all our local phone calls.

Years ago amidst many protests we fended off the attack, but at some point with our backs turned the mighty powers reinstated the plan of the area code overlay. So now we share our no longer distinct zone with 424.

Eleven-digit dialing is annoying, but even worse, since my home number is blocked - displayed as 'private' - on certain calls I must unblock to proceed, for instance to pick up my voice mail messages or to call my sister who doesn’t want anyone sneaking up on her. At that point, I engage fourteen-digit dialing. Compared to poverty or dodging bombs or no phone service at all this counts as a small inconvenience, but it’s still worth a grumble.

When my phone company announced the date of implementation of the overlay last year, it recommended starting to dial the extra digits immediately, ahead of necessity, for practice, to get used to the chore.

Did any of you 310 dwellers heed that advice?

Why, may I ask, would you adopt an unnecessary practice ahead of schedule? This is not preventative medicine. It has no advance benefit other than sparing you an encounter with…with what? I don’t actually know. I assume some evil recording will come on when you forget to add the required extra numbers, but I don’t officially know.

Well, since as of today, 1 + 310 is no longer optional, it should be an easy test.

I pick up my phone and dial a 310 number without the 1 + area code. It goes through. As always. Glitchless. And I’m actually disappointed. In an odd act of reverse psychology, I’m now dialing every fifteen minutes wanting the recording or a horrid tone or any admonition for ignoring the rules.

Okay, I’m crazy but I swear the phone company has brought this on me. I’m normally a very even keeled citizen. I simply can’t believe that this date has been waved before me for months and months, and now when I just want to know what happens at the crossover juncture, it’s a mirage.

I breathe. I will be patient. The time will come.

And I remember my complaint. The overlay.

I already suffered at the hands of the phone company once – okay, many times; we all have phone company stories – with my personal farewell to 213 when Los Angeles’ original area code was split, my area code since birth. I made the transition and even learned to love my new area code.

But now arrives the overlay, a pain that only subsides into habit. Like a permanent limp, it never goes away. You just get used to it.

Excuse me while I go dial.

UPDATE: I’ve heard the recording and now I can relax. If you want to hear it for yourself, invite yourself over. We can misdial together.


The Kiss and Tell

The discussion around The Devil Wears Prada has died down, but the film remains on my mind. So much went unsaid around the book-to-film transition, conversations far more interesting than Meryl Streep’s fine acting and other little dissections of the movie, and some of it gets uncomfortably personal for me.

In the book, the boss was an out-of-control, clearly unsympathetic character. The extreme behavior made it clear that this was one disagreeable human, regardless of gender. She had nasty self-centered person written all over her. But when that boss made it onto the big screen, she was softer. Not all the time and not in all ways. But enough. Enough to come to her defense. Enough to generate the conversation that if her character were a man, she’d be considered tough but not the devil.

I don’t buy the defense, and I hate that feminists saw the discussion as applicable in this case. Even in the watered-down version, I find the Meryl Streep character despicable – I’d say so of any boss who routinely disregards the humanity of an employee – but I see the lure. The movie tinted Streep’s character with kindness, an occasional glimpse and lingering expression that says, “I’m-doing-this-for-your-own-good-and-you’ll-thank-me-one-day.” Lauren Weisberger, the novel’s author, may ironically agree at this point, but the book remained completely unambiguous, the boss always out of control and cruel, insensitive and demanding, and overall insane.

Usually with a book-to-film adaptation, these points are hideously dissected. In this case, they’re surprisingly overlooked. By softening Streep’s character through speeches and scenes not in the book, the film weakens the drama of the ingénue’s transformation. Her good to evil barely exists in the movie, her transformation mostly visual. In the book, you truly feel as if she’s been seduced by the dark side, adopting offensive behavior unnecessarily. In the movie, I see her as doing what is required to keep her job, which is where it gets personal for me.

In Hollywood, we all have our kiss and tell stories, yet most go untold because of the keeping your job factor. Or more accurately, the remaining in the industry factor. Hollywood is web-like. You bite any of the spiders, and you’re cast from the mesh. For good. At least that’s the aura of the threat, so bad behavior gets gossiped about but never reported, at least not by those who can get hurt by squealing, which is a shame because I’d like to splash my kiss and tells all over the place, to offer a little comeuppance for the proud and the boastful of the Hollywood elite.

But, like my peers, I remain silent. Some call me smart for I am protecting myself. But in truth, I’m protecting more than that. I’m protecting an ideal. I’m protecting the cause.

Weisberger was harshly criticized by some for her kiss and tell with tauntings like “Poor you. You took a job. Worked less than a year. Wrote your exposé and made a bundle and a name for yourself. How disgusting.”

Excuse me. Why disgusting? If she’d taken the job with that intent, maybe. But still maybe not. In reading the book, I bought the innocence of her character. I believed the writer woke up in a story rather than shrewdly seeking one. She has every right to write what she lived. Maybe even a duty.

And this is where it gets personal again.

Much is asserted of the liberal media, how liberals are in control and why all the good work of conservatives goes unreported or gets skewed. Iraq is going better than reported; it’s the liberal media bias that makes the world look as if it’s falling apart. That argument is so full of holes, I won’t even go there. Besides books have covered the issue.

But I do see a liberal bias, a different liberal bias, the kind where you don’t out bosses or coworkers for the kind of behavior liberals despise because you support their cause. So you remain silent, do your job, let the press cover your boss in a glowing way while all the little worker bees behind the scenes cackle and gossip about the truth, about the hypocrisy. And in remaining silent, you add to the duplicity, but you justify it – in fact mandate it – because you don’t want to join the other side and undo the work you so believe in. The bad behavior – the not paying of health benefits or overtime, the insensitivity of excessive work hours and in not regarding employees as people with families at home, the skirting of unions – continues because no liberal whistleblower wants to undermine a film that reveals greater evils. To support the cause, you remain mum and grow bitter and feel dishonest.

I should be writing a kiss and tell, taking that bold step of courage and exposing the wrongs that lurk behind the work I do. But in a political climate so deeply entrenched in us vs. them, all adhere to their own camp. The crime must be pretty brutal for the whistleblower to come out, and even then in this era, that brave individual gets massacred and the claims seldom addressed. It’s a suicide dive, seldom with the desired results.

My liberal friends support me as I rail against my own hypocrisy in betraying my liberal values. “Both sides do it, and no one on the right would come out and betray their own,” they say. Fine, but I hold my side to higher standards. I thought the point of being liberal was to strive for justice. If you make a film exposing evil business practices while putting your employees through the same conditions, I think that’s big news. A story worth revealing.

But as my friends point out, in a country divided by hostility, it’s foolish to kiss and tell unilaterally. You do arm ‘the other side’ and thus weaken the grand cause of your goals.

My friend suggests that the filmmakers behind The Devil Wears Prada had to play nice – or nicer – to get the fashion industry behind the film, that perhaps otherwise designers would have run from the production for fear of angering Anna Wintour, the real life human behind Meryl Streep’s character. Maybe the choice was practical. Or maybe the filmmakers believed they had to make a powerful female character more palatable. Either way it’s sad when we soften or hide our stories.

But obviously we all make our deals with the devil.


In Praise of Selfish

I have a new escape route. It’s called, “I’m writing.” It puts space between me and the world, between me and demands, and between me and conversations I’m not eager to have. Sometimes it puts space between me and you, but don’t take it personally. If you called and I said I was writing, I really was.

The line is not an idle excuse. Writing is my new yoga. Without the body benefits.

After a week of explosive writing – quantity-wise, quality assessment to me determined – I’ve discovered that if I feel my mood shifting, if I feel the world intruding, if I don’t feel like writing, I reach for the laptop. And I force myself to type at least a few words, which turn into a paragraph and then morph into the start of something.

And my mood stays solid. The earth remains below my feet, a lofty accomplishment for a dreamer. And this discovery makes me feel as if I’ve found my way, or a part of my way, the beginning of my roadmap. It makes me feel as if I’m doing something right even if it’s a directionless float.

For me it’s writing, but we all have an “I’m writing” up our sleeves. The trick is finding yours, the song you must sing, the dance that soothes, the smile-producing dream.

A hint that you’re on the right path is that you feel guilty as you reach for your pleasure. You might sense you’re escaping. Or, like the all-inclusive horoscope, you might have the opposite reaction, the sense you don’t want to go there. But once you do, your breathing shifts and you know you’ve hit on something.

I used to grab a camera and leave home when I sought clarity. Simply looking through a narrow mechanical lens broadened my vision, a beautiful contradiction.

But now my tool for clear thinking has morphed to the written word, and on the days when I’m pulled away from writing, I start to cramp up, an emotional cramp that usually emerges as an explosion of sorts, a raise in my voice that my son greets with, “Why are you so mad??!!”

Mad. Crazy. The words are truly interchangeable in this case. The hardest thing is finding what calls to you. The second is being kept from it.

I’ve always worn the hat of helping others. Lately I feel torn because I want to assist unsettled folks find their emotional yoga, but at the same time, I want to leave behind the need to heal others. I want to stay inside my muse, to try on selfish for a bit.

After my husband and I split, his life fell apart. He’d been used to my help, my answering all his questions. And though we were no longer married, perhaps due to my guilt or my inability to handle seeing others in pain, I continued to advise him and often came to his rescue. I thought I was being a good person in this role. But my desire to help him also reeked of the fact that I didn’t trust him to help himself.

Things between us remained tense for years, and I felt bitter because I thought I was being so generous towards him. Finally, I said, ‘no more’ by changing my behavior, willing to listen if he had a problem, but not offering solutions. Once I got out of his way, he began to negotiate his life far better, and I felt much lighter. The tension between us vanished. By trusting someone else to find his own way, by getting selfish, I was being generous.

As I spoke with a friend yesterday, we talked about how the term ‘selfish’ gets such a bum rap.

“Is the novelist – let’s pretend someone like J.D Salinger – who hides indoors his whole life, refusing to interact with others, turning down requests, but penning beautiful books that move millions selfish?” I posed. “Isn’t that actually an incredibly generous act?”

Once a friend told me she didn’t want to have kids, that she was too selfish. I bet some would label her that for her decision. But why is knowing what we want and honoring our true self seen as selfish? Can we remember that generosity comes in many forms?

So if you’re one who struggles with making time for yourself, who thinks doing what you enjoy, what makes you smile, what takes you away from friends and family is selfish, please reconsider. Sharing your subsequent happiness is a much bigger gift than grimacing through an act of kindness.


Disproportionate Reaction

The world is exploding and countries are warring and the biggest story of the past week is that Bush was caught on an open mike saying ‘shit’? Talk about a disproportionate reaction. No wonder why I feel disconnected from the flow.

I never defend Bush. I despise all that he stands for, his posture on the international stage, the atmospheric shift in this country and the world since his arrival – I could go on and on.

But now, after all he’s done, in the context of all the world calamity, the press is all over ‘shit’?

Bush was talking to his buddy, Blair. Do we really think this is the harshest expletive our president has uttered in dialogue over the years? I certainly hope not. I hope his passion has run higher, his concern graver, his need to vent more explosive.

If only we could restrict Bush’s venting to language.

This is yet another case of misguided media coverage. Why do we repeatedly glam on to such headline grabbers – shock over the word ‘shit’ – rather than demanding an honest dissection of the real issues? Where is the appropriately placed outrage? Am I the only one on the verge of suffering self-inflicted whiplash from all the headshaking I’ve been doing lately?

Another tsunami went without warning, among a zillion other catastrophes. As a planet, we gather enough resources to bomb and bomb and bomb. When will we find the same motivation to extend resources to save?

I don’t know how the few rational voices on the op-ed pages have the energy to go on. Columnists, do you ever feel as if your hard work is meaningless? You examine issues, word arguments, reword arguments, repackage arguments – rational, well-thought out arguments – about the horribly skewed priorities of our planet, yet nothing really changes. Not on a grand scale. Not as it must.

Pardon me, but Bush said ‘shit.’ Who the fuck cares?


The Politics of Cleaning

When your housekeeper shows up in really nice clothes, is it okay to question her commitment to cleaning?

I’ve done my own cleaning for years, or at least my version of it, the version where the inside of the oven doesn’t exist and the thought of washing windows is quickly replaced with, “Well, it might rain tomorrow.” Eventually, that caught up with me.

The first day Veronica arrived, she came to impress. She scrubbed the floors, the inside of the oven sparkled, she vanquished the dust, and I wondered how I’d lived so long amongst so much dirt.

But now, as we enter month five, she arrives in a skirt and dress sandals, cell phone pressed to her ear immersed in conversation as she waves a feather duster like a disinterested conductor. She’s hardly getting rich off me, but at $65 for three hours work, she’s not doing too badly either, and I feel as if she’s taking me for a ride.

I’ve thought about ending our relationship, handing her a final check and asking for my keys back. She’ll look at me through eyes empty of understanding, and I won’t find the courage to be honest. In the break-up equivalent of “It’s not you, it’s me,” I’ll tell her, “I just can’t afford you right now.”

She deserves to hear the truth, that the love between us is gone, that I’ve expected her to enter my home like a crazed commando desperate to find every last morsel of dirt and leave me in jaw-dropping awe with each of her visits, and that she has disappointed me in her contentment with rearranging my piles, that hiding cooking utensils in any available cupboard so that I must crawl through my kitchen searching for the strainer or the measuring cup after each of her departures is not the same as cleaning.

But as in all relationships that go sour, where one loses love for the other, no one really wants to hear the painful causes. We always say that we do, but that’s because we don’t anticipate how brutal honest rejection can be.

When I was a child, my mom always raced around cleaning before the housekeeper arrived. It was the most annoying behavior a child could witness, the first glimpse of parental insanity. From then on, any words from the parent were met with suspicion. It’s hard to trust a crazy person.

“Veronica’s coming today, so clean your room,” I bellow before clapping a hand over my mouth to prevent the words from emerging. Too late. I’ve crossed over, engaged parental psychosis, and I anticipate my son’s rolling eyes. But oddly, since I birthed a Virgo, he scurries to tidy his room, hiding valuable items from the potential death claw of a-stranger-who-dusts and who may inadvertently adjust the perfectly positioned arms on the collectible Gorillaz statues.

I can’t shake the guilty feeling of having a cleaning woman. I hate the elitism it suggests, regardless of how pervasive the employment has become, and I always feel the need to join her in tasks as if sitting at my computer likens me to a plantation owner. Short of cowering in my room, the only alternative is fleeing my home entirely during her bi-monthly visit, which is what I’ve resorted to lately. But then I resent her even more for my forced exile.

This relationship clearly isn’t working.

Subconsciously, I may want Veronica to fail so that I have a reason to let her go. I really can’t afford her right now. Only I don’t want to let her go. I want her to figure out how to take the screens off my third story windows so that she can clean off the grimy streaks and the trail one bird left behind that no rain seems to be able to wash away. I want to make peace with the class system of this country and to believe that I’m helping her by employing her rather than imagining her scorn for my home and my lifestyle. I want to believe that America is like Egypt where the well off are expected to employ those less so, that doing your own driving, cooking, and cleaning is considered stingy rather than noble.

But when Veronica enters my home, I don’t think I’m doing her a favor, not when my son is off at camp and her daughter, not as privileged, must on occasion come and watch her mother clean. I hate the inequity of it all, but I also hate that Veronica shows up not taking the job seriously, never getting dirty or sweating or moving a piece of furniture to clean what lurks behind or below.

And I don’t know how to reconcile these feelings. Or the silence that surrounds this subject. I’m baffled that so many can employ others in their homes without the slightest hint of self-consciousness. This may be just a sliver of the complexity of life these days, but it feels so much bigger than simple housecleaning.

For now, I am keeping Veronica. I can’t lie to her and I can’t tell her the truth. Maybe with gentle nudges, I can get her to clean better, and maybe with her continued presence, I can learn to feel less guilty for my privileged status.

Such is the complexity of the politics of cleaning.


Finding Self

When my son went off to sleep-away camp, all proper parents asked me if I was lonely, if it felt weird to have him gone. The expected parental response was, “Yes. It’s so odd, so quiet without him.” But the truth is, I’ve found myself these past ten days. And the truth is that it feels as if he’s only been gone three.

In these days, I’ve stayed up later and slept in longer. I’ve worked without interruption and then slid off into a nap. I’ve answered to no one except my own impulses, and I haven’t felt this freedom and calm since becoming a parent.

And I’m scared to give it up because in this looseness, I don’t anticipate. I don’t plan ahead or slide into preventative sleeping. I’ve found the moment, found in me what I most like, and I want to cling to this sensation.

But I’m scared it will vanish when my son gets off that camp bus. I’m scared that I’ll slide right back into being a parent and that I’ll forget how to be me.

I envy those who can be both.

Tonight I think of staying out really late because I can, getting drunk, coming home and leaving the lights blazing, turning on the TV and watching a movie, maybe all night, and not caring about tomorrow. Thinking like a parent means always caring about tomorrow, means going to bed at a reasonable hour.

The fine print of parenting.

Everyone talks about the love and the sacrifice, but where are the memos on keeping hold of ‘self’?

Yes, parenting has introduced me to a different version of self, but parents always talk about that. We know about that. We never deny that. This is something different. This is what parents are shamed into not saying.

When I don’t think like a parent, I imagine I can always sell my home, pack a few changes of clothes, a camera, and my laptop and fly to Europe. I won’t need much. I’ll work in a store. Or teach English. I’ll earn just enough money for shelter and food. Hand to mouth.

I feel no anxiety when I live in this picture. I’m always afloat. I’m never homeless or unable to pay for healthcare in my old age.

But when I think like a parent, I get anchored in a lust for stability. I must own this home forever, for it is my son’s home, his link to all he’s known, the home of his memories. And I can imagine myself old and feeble and unable to find the way to care for myself.

When I don’t think like a parent, I’m ageless, and when I do, I’m grounded in reality. It’s quite a dramatic shift.

This tug-o-war of thought startles me. Until this week, when the noise settled, when I slowed the pace and sat with myself, I didn’t know how far parenting had taken me from me, a ‘me’ perhaps I never really knew.

Though foggy memories won’t confirm or deny, I sense I’m feeling my true link to self for the first time, for when younger, before becoming a parent or a partner, I was in a constant state of becoming, a different state of becoming, looking to what lay ahead with huge expectation and desire. In that state, life is anticipation. You’re never fully relaxed.

But these two weeks, peeling away responsibility to others leaves me able to just be. I’d imagined wanting to fill the time with random meetings with new men, with searching for all things frivolous. I anticipated time filled with documentary films and excursions to clubs. But instead, I’m spending time with the quiet. I’m finding me and I’m finding strength and peace and purpose.

When my son climbs off the bus, I’ll give him the biggest of hugs. I’ll ask him for all the gory details of camp, and I’ll really want to know. I’ll disappear in his smiles and his anecdotes. I’ll punctuate with ‘ooohs’ and ‘ahs’ at all the right places.

And in a moment of exchange, I’ll tell him what I learned about me. I’ll admit to relishing the freedom I felt with him off having a blast. I’ll confess to watching TV in the afternoon, to driving across town to eat in someplace different for no reason other than the difference, to waking up really early one day, still tired but inspired by the pre-dawn light, and getting a jump at work knowing that in the afternoon I could replenish the hours of sleep whenever I wanted, not having to ask for his tolerance, not having to worry about the example I was setting.

I wish I could tell him that sometimes parents want their kids – or their partners – to go away, and not just for a day or two but long enough to find self, to cement that relationship so that it can be called up at will. And it doesn’t mean you don’t love your kids or spouse or lover or friends, but sometimes it’s hard to find yourself in all the noise.

I shouldn't feel guilty to say that to my son, but because I think like a parent and I want to protect his feelings, I do. But I will share the sentiment in disguise and ask him to help me stay connected to self and to not think like a parent, while at the same time striving to be a damn good one.


The Meeting

I just came from a meeting, more specifically, a Hollywood meeting, the kind where the person sitting opposite me spent just the right amount of time that morning applying gel to make his hair perfectly pliable so that it sticks up just so. He thinks he looks hip and cool, and I think he looks forced and ridiculous.

He’s obscenely young to be deciding my fate, but in a town where the religion is youth, he fits the part. He reveals himself via a recitation of his resume followed by a rapid spin through the company’s current and upcoming projects. Speaking insanely fast, he drops names that blitz by me undoubtedly nullifying the intended effect, unless he believes never resting on a name implies it doesn’t much impress him because he is such a part of things.

I kind of wonder what information I’ve missed, but only a bit because in truth, we’re both feigning interest in the conversation. The bigger picture is that I’ve come to ask this company to consider buying my scripts or to hire me as a writer, and his job is to get me back out the door as quickly as possible. That is the reality.

He accepted the meeting as a favor to someone else, the one who phoned on my behalf, the one he will later call and mention that I came by so that he can then ask for a favor in return. No one really wants to do anything for anyone in this town, so the favors leap from person to person like a hot potato, never hanging around long enough for anyone to actually follow through.

This is Hollywood.

The biggest obstacle to my scripts getting bought is that they star women over thirty-five, which make the projects completely undesirable both to executives and to actresses.

“Most actresses don’t want to play anyone over thirty-five or with kids,” the near-pubescent exec tells me, as if I haven’t heard this since I emerged from the womb.

In Hollywood, no woman is over thirty-five unless she’s over fifty-five. Then she can reappear on the screen as a grandmother. In a supporting role. Unless she’s Diane Keaton or Meryl Streep or a few other high profile actresses.

“You could cast someone older to play younger,” he suggests as if I have the power to cast anyone at all. “However, only a major female star will get a picture green lit.” The same major stars who won’t admit to being over thirty-five. The Catch 22 is painful.

It all turns into a dreadful cycle. When older actresses play younger, that makes thirty-five-year-old women look old – or at least a lot older than reality – because they’re often played by forty-five-year-old actresses, the only ones grateful to greet thirty-five. And then thirty-five-year-old actresses really don’t want to play thirty-five because look how old thirty-five looks. The logic could only exist in this town.

When I penned my first screenplay, Pushing 40, I was warned to change the title.

“But that’s the point of the script,” I explain, “how no one wants to admit to forty.”

“Yeah, but no actress will take the role. Couldn’t you call it Pushing 39? Wouldn’t that be funnier? Or maybe 35. That would be even better.”

I wanted to scream. Apparently life issues past a certain age are off limits.

The best solution would be for me to stop writing screenplays about anyone like myself. That’s how Hollywood would like it, for they believe that’s how moviegoers like it. Marketers cite statistics of who plucks down their bucks to buy tickets. Only those stats don’t take into account which films are being offered up. Forty-year-old women may actually attend more movies if they could view other forty-year-old women on the screen, but when the forty-year-old roles are played by near fifty-year-olds, we get depressed. “Where are our peers?” we cry.

If we could send the message to Hollywood that we want to see real people on the screen living lives we can imagine – or at least fantasies we could imagine starring in – maybe we could shift this obnoxious sexism. Men are allowed to age. Hey, they even get paired with young love interests. But an older woman being sexual? Oooh, that’s too European.

Okay, rant aside, the young exec won’t recommend buying my scripts. I seriously doubt he will even read them. He smiled and ushered me through his space in a total of twenty minutes. And almost as an after thought as I gather my things, he asks me what I’m writing now.

“Well, I’ve realized that I could end up in the poorhouse writing spec scripts, so I’m kind of writing other things right now.”

“You mean like novels and short stories?” he asks with a spark.

“Well, short pieces, articles and some things moving towards a book. Last year I was working on a kind of odd novel.”

“That’s where I came out of,” he says. “Novels and short stories and theater. Then I thought I should get practical and move into film.” And then he snorts, ever so subtly, and he reveals a little piece of humanity, a hint of a different past as a different person, someone he’d like to meet again, a moment of whimsy. It was like he was experiencing a piece of cellular memory, as if he recalled what it feels like to care about the written word and the act of creation and the story, as if he wonders if he could go back. He smiles, the first genuine emotion of our meeting.

At that moment, I like him better, and can see that he’s simply been seduced by Hollywood and that maybe a real person does lurk inside. And I want to take back my thoughts about his goofy hair and his unoriginal thinking. I want to cut him some slack because suddenly I see that he, too, is just trying to find his way in the world. Maybe this job is his path, and maybe it’s his detour.

I no longer see the meeting as a waste of time. Yeah, I still think the whole Hollywood business is absurd and narrow and frightened of new approaches, but I also see that on some level it’s populated by real people. At least one or two.



Roadtrips offer magic. They give you permission to keep moving, to not settle into your life, any life, and to believe as you pull in and out of hotels or the homes of friends that you are fulfilling exactly what is being asked of you.

It makes it hard to go home.

I’ve been struggling with whether or not to accept an editing job on a documentary film. My heart knows I don’t want the job, but my head toys with the idea as it imagines a short cut to validation, the ability to whip out anecdotes at social gatherings, to not disappear into the confusing anonymity of directionless career abandonment.

I’ve fled home to find clarity, to be able to confront the ‘yes’ or ‘no’ of ‘Do I sacrifice my life and sanity once again to pursue someone else’s dream to completion?

A five-hour drive allows escape from the gridlock of L.A., a chance to encounter the forgotten feeling of racing down an open highway, the speed limit mocked by jovial drivers passing one another as they glance to speedometers hitting numbers far above the legal limit. It’s a kind of safe fuck you to authority, and it feels damn good.

The convertible down, I position my hair beneath a hat to avoid a wind-swept beehive, to shade my face to please my dermatologist, a woman who believes you can go through life without a drop of sun hitting your skin.

Like I would want such a perfectly careful life.

While I would welcome skin where spots of brown and white haven’t replaced the proud tans of youth, I need the outdoors, the twenty minutes each day where I parade my dog past his friends, letting him sniff and socialize and find the perfect place to pee. I need my runs where my head is free to wander, a roadtrip of the feet. I need the top down on the car to remember that motion expands beyond necessity and practicality, that sometimes it’s just for fun.

So I accept the call of the roadtrip, and now, on day three with one to go, I wonder how I’ll return home, how I’ll go back to the idle inertia where I must create movement within a stagnant building, where I must look at my life parked.

On the road, all that matters is a place to sleep and a few stops to eat, a gas tank that never hits empty, and the fresh visions that appear outside the window. All that matters are the spontaneous exchanges of ideas with people you were lucky enough to encounter, with the friends who answered the phone when you called before pulling into their town, where a night on their couch after the exhaustion of driving always feels like the most comfortable of beds.

You realize how adaptable you are and how few comforts you need, how the chance to live other people’s lives for a night offers you a new lens to examine your own. Sometimes the view makes you feel behind and sometimes you feel ahead, but mostly you’re startled by all the grand and subtle differences of choice – how we each set up our homes, which teas we buy and how we make our coffee, what freedoms your friends allow their children, and how everyone feels a little guilty and apologetic for turning to the TV as babysitter until you tell them that they deserve the time to look away and to sit with you or themselves and just be.

And after one night on the strange couch, you really are ready to move on, how one night is enough rest, but beyond that you settle into life again and get a little restless and the road calls, and you explain why you must go even though it’s not that you must but that you want to. And you have the freedom to shower or not, to turn left or right, to get lost because you’ve left a rigid relationship with time back home. And tripping over friends’ training potties for their children, you feel glad you’re far past that phase even if it means your kid is now happier with his friends than in your hugs.

On the road, you discover your life isn’t so bad, that you know how to navigate the world with just a map and your common sense, that you really can’t worry about the next paycheck because when you’re in motion there’s no way the money could find you. So you keep moving to avoid all the questions that bottle up inside when you remain still.

And you’re not sure how you’ll take the highway back towards home where you’ll have to call that film director and say, “No, I can’t take the job, but thanks for the offer,” when you really want to say, “You’re not paying me enough to abandon my dreams for yours,” that the pitiful paycheck can’t lure you away from conversations about dating and girls with your near-teen, that the few extra dollars and a possible chance to attend a film festival and act all cool and casual is not as exciting as it once was, that you’ve discovered that life is better than that, the simple living, that is, and that the promises of maybe do nothing for you now, that uncertainty is damn scary but better than the horror of living in what you know you don’t like.

Yes, I need the money, but not at those costs. I’ll choose to believe that it’ll come some another way, and if necessary, I’ll hit the road again to find that safe place of denial. If you don’t bring in the mail, you can’t get the bills. If you’re not at home, you can’t see the house getting dirty. If you’re always sleeping on a tiny couch, hugged on one side by the back cushions, you don’t feel alone, you don’t expect a partner because there’s no room for one, and you go to sleep and wake up happy knowing you have choices.

And finding these moments make all the rest bearable.

So, if you’re anything like me and you sometimes feel stuck, hit the road. Stock up with travel snacks and a huge mug of coffee, the same mug you’ll drink for five hours not caring that it’s taken on the temperature of the air. Leave your comfort zone that is really more familiar than comfortable, and seek something new. And when it’s time to come home, adorn a little roadtrip armor of memories and awareness. Then it’ll be safe to bring in the mail.



My dog, deprived of the need to hunt and gather, now recognizes UPS, FedEx, and postal trucks. Our regular carriers always offer him dog treats, and after six years of this luxury, Speck, the wonder Chihuahua, can spot one of those trucks a block away. Motivated by his stomach, my dog drags me to greet these men in uniform, even if we’re a mile from home and the driver is a complete stranger.

Darwin would be proud.

Once, when our mailman was on vacation and a naïve new female carrier stepped into his route, she encountered my charging Chihuahua eager to greet her and secure his reward. She panicked and reached for the pepper spray.

“Around here, all the delivery people offer the dogs cookies,” I said, stepping in harm’s way to protect my dog. “They work much better than assault weapons.” In other words, more flies with honey than vinegar. She looked at me dubiously as if I were conning her, and I could tell my dog wouldn’t be getting any love from this woman.

Not only can my dog feed himself courtesy of delivery trucks, he’s also learned to compensate for the absence of trees in our neighborhood. Living beachside, we’re more about sand, concrete, and carelessly tossed garbage, so my dog has taken to peeing on abandoned plastic bags, which I now refer to as urination destinations.

Had we bred our animal, would he have passed this learned behavior onto the next generation?

Unfortunately, that’s a question that will go untested, for young Speck was such a horny little beast, gleefully humping any guest who gave him access by sitting upon our couch, that there was no doubt that he’d have to be fixed. While this is the humane request of animal advocates, Speck could never have escaped our third floor condo and repopulated the neighborhood. First of all, he’s never attempted the sex act with another dog. Second, there aren’t a lot of options in his height category. But regardless, for the comfort and sanity of my human guests, young Speck was clipped.

While Speck doesn’t have to forage for food or a safe place to sleep, he has modified his behavior to live in a human world, as have I to accommodate my loving pet.

When I first brought our charming Chihuahua home, I swore I’d never allow him to sleep on my bed, but I hadn’t taken into account his unstoppable will or cold winter nights and my long time single status. But trust me, our affection begins and ends with cuddling. In an ever-evolving world, we all come up with our own methods of survival.


Something Different

She woke up as a person she no longer recognized, trapped in a life she’d never anticipated. All the shine from the past had dulled, and she figured she was being forced to see how the other half lived.

It wasn’t fun.

“I can’t claim this is a phase anymore,” she confessed to her friend. “This in now my life.”

The reality disturbed her, a grand step up from not caring. Disturbance provoked change. Disturbance rattled the norm. But behind the desire to change lurked the fear that she was unworthy. While she fully believed in her own responsibility for her life, she couldn’t release the sensation that she was being humbled. Humbled, by an unseen force, by an unbelieved in God, by something beyond her power.

As much as she’d like to take credit for the positive changes in her life along the way, she had to admit that the jumps forward had come effortlessly and had surprised her. In the midst, she’d glance over her shoulder as if looking for the puppeteer, only to catch a stranger’s gaze. Flashing an awkward smile, she’d march forward, puzzled by her good fortune.

Those were distant memories. The good fortune she felt these days was simple. Good health. Nice home. Great kid. Things others dream of, but things she had taken for granted as the starting point. She dismissed the awareness of her greed as an old story. Yes, she was blessed, but those blessings did nothing to alleviate her inner sorrow.

When Katrina took New Orleans, and survivors struggled as a community, she felt envious. They had each other. Her aloneness was suffocating her. Moving through her day, she choked back every emotion in order to maintain her strong and polished exterior, a habit she couldn’t shake. And like a wax figurine, she began to look less and less lifelike, further repelling others and adding to her isolation.

Seven years. Seven years since her marriage ended and the current journey began. The seven-year itch in a new context. The clichéd sentiment, “it wasn’t supposed to be like this” ran through her head like an overplayed torch song. She stopped talking to friends for fear of sounding redundant. She imagined moving to a new city where starting fresh was the only option.

But she had her son, and he required stability. She couldn’t move. She couldn’t impose her solution on him. No, she’d signed on as parent, and in her world that required self-sacrifice. As a local solution, she traveled her familiar city looking for spots of unfamiliarity, any opportunity to make a first impression. But her old tricks no longer worked.


All she really wanted was a little encouragement. A wink or a nod saying that, yes, she was headed in the right direction, that all her attempts were not misguided. And maybe someone to watch her back. At least some of the time.


Clearly a Californian

Whenever I see collectibles lovingly arranged upon a shelf, I think of earthquakes. Clearly I am either a product of my shaky west coast state, a pessimist, or a realist. Or maybe a little of all three.

We all walk through life with our specifically crafted lenses that shade our worldview. While I read and travel and talk and listen, all this input must pass through my unique strainer, a rather imprisoning phenomenon.

I’ve always wanted the opportunity to see through someone else’s eyes – both literally and figuratively. When I was young, I began to imagine that we all have the same favorite color, but through the filter of our eyes and brain have assigned it a different name. Perhaps what I call blue you call yellow, and what you call red I see as green. Scientists may argue that they can tell what color the eye is seeing, but can they truly tell what color the mind is seeing?

As I look out my window on green palm trees and multicolored dwellings, a cement path and a distant blue ocean, I shift to visualize this in a completely different color palette, one that possibly aligns with my neighbor’s, where the browns in my lexicon become vibrant reds, and greens warm shades of orange. The sky is a glowing yellow and the path to the beach a glossy jet-black.

At first glance, this may look all wrong like a painting from a skewed drug trip. But if this truly does reflect someone else’s vision, how glorious to get to step behind a different filter for a peek.

Many years ago, eight months after the U.S. launched Shock and Awe, I sat opposite my sister-in-law, a devout Catholic, in my hotel restaurant the morning after a Thanksgiving feast at her home. Our talk moved to the war as I shook my head and she proudly supported the president’s actions.

“Don’t you think of all the children, the ones terrified in their homes, the ones who have been killed?” I ask her.

She explains she believes that Saddam is the Devil personified. Literally. I pause, getting a glimpse through eyes so different from my own. As someone outside her religion, I don’t believe in the Devil, not symbolically or literally. Yes, I see evil in the world, but not as a force competing for our souls. But my sister-in-law views a literal battle between good and evil. The Devil must be stopped at all costs.

“If I didn’t believe in the Devil, I could never justify what’s happening in Iraq,” she clarifies.

I had never taken this position into account in all my political dialogues up till that point. She didn’t mention nonexistent WMDs or 911 or a threat to the U.S. She did mention how Saddam was torturing his own people. Yes, I could have attempted to further debate her, but oddly, I was more intrigued by kind of having understood her for the first time.

For a moment, I saw through her eyes.

When I see an impoverished out-of-work soul walking with a bounce in his step, I want a chance to be him for an hour or two. When a perpetually depressed friend grimaces through the most beautiful of experiences, I want to see it as she does simply for a chance to understand.

Maybe if for just a few moments of everyday I can free myself, even a little bit, from my restrictive filters I can stop the urge to convince and sway. Maybe I can move away from worry and find a few more cherished moments of optimism. Maybe I can place a vase high upon a shelf. The possibilities are endless.