A Little Bit of Magic

Answering an impulse to clean, I grab a broom and sweep the bathroom floor. Down on my hands and knees, I peer into the two-inch gap beneath the cabinet that holds my sink, anticipating mounds of dust and lint. Instead I see a decorative hair comb trying to slide under the washing machine. I navigate the broom to grab it and draw it towards me.

Seeing the comb takes me back to a barefoot day on the beach fifteen years ago. My wedding. The somewhat sparkly accessory draws the hair off my face. A time in my life before so much experience. A time before so much history. A time when I believed in the love I was pledging.

That love is long gone.

I look at the comb in my hand: it’s time to get this out of my house. I feel that the wedding ornament hiding in my bathroom has kept me stuck, bonding me to my past. I don’t normally believe in such things, but I don’t question the thought. And the message goes deeper: don’t simply put the comb in the trash. I don’t know why I know this, but I do, and as my intuition is often demure, when it speaks up, I try to listen. The disposal of the comb requires something ceremonial.

I picture burying it on the beach, but that instantly feels wrong as if I’m offering it a permanent spot in my life, as if it will live in my own backyard, in my soil, and be a part of my future. I want it gone, not living with me, so instead I imagine leaving it out in the open, someplace that someone will pick it up, desire it, give it a different life.

Later in the day, just before leaving home, I remember the comb and shove it in my purse. I drop my son at his friend’s and head towards a movie theater to attend a documentary film. But I’m early. Really early. I stop at one of those warehouse-type shoe stores. Look around. Try on boots. Sightsee. And suddenly I realize this is where I must leave the comb. An accessory amongst accessories. I’m abandoning it amidst its peers.

I pull the comb from my purse, wander down one aisle, looking left, looking right. I glance about like a shoplifter. And then I see the spot, an inviting gap between two welcoming shoes on display. I place the comb carefully and quickly. It feels right, and I scurry off with a smile.

At the theater, I buy my ticket and move into line. A passing man catches my eye. Slightly shaggy hair. Walking alone. And then he’s gone. The line starts walking towards the theater. I stop in the bathroom, delaying my entry to take a seat.

Eventually I enter the theater and walk to my preferred row, close but not too close. I duck in to the right. And there he is. The man from outside, two seats away from me. As the lights go down, he leans over and asks why I came to this film. I only choke out a brief response about my general interest in documentary film rather than my more specific answer, for the first trailer is playing and the crowd is already silent.

The powerful film transports me deep into thought. I no longer think of the man beside me. If he suddenly spoke to me, I wouldn’t manage small talk. Films do that to me, take me so far outside myself that I need some time for reentry. That’s why I often go to movies alone. I need post-film silent time to process and return to the living.

But when the lights come up, my neighbor starts talking to me. I say that I wanted to see the film after reading an article explaining how the story of Jonestown and the Peoples Temple was far more complex than the media lead us to believe in the late 70s when the mass suicide/murder occurred. We leave the theater in conversation and end up having a drink. We talk about seeing another film together. We exchange numbers.

A spontaneous encounter like this hasn’t happened to me in a long time. Driving home, I remember that I recently had an image of meeting a man at a movie theater. And I realize that it’s odd that I didn’t think of that all evening.

I’m not saying my movie encounter means anything. I’m not claiming this man and I will ever see each other again. But our drink felt like the capping moment on my comb disposal ceremony. For that alone, I am grateful and willing to believe in a little magic.


Dream Weaving

I’ve been dreaming of cell phones, really specific dreams about their features and their functionality, their form and how they serve my life. I could use the word obsession.

I don’t upgrade my cellular equipment as often as my plan allows, ignoring the every two years free phone with a renewed contract offer. Free doesn’t exist. Free-er, perhaps. Read the fine print. You pay tax. Full, retail price, tax. You pay for all the money-grabbing accessories that don’t migrate from phone to phone – the car charger with the unique fit, the headset with a unique personality, and any other add-ons your sales rep can convince you are must haves.

But at this point, I am long overdue for a new phone. I can only make one call before it needs recharging. While I could simply buy a new battery, the dangling carrot tells me it’s better to leap for the new phone. Purchasing a battery for an ancient phone falls into the category of ‘throwing good money after bad’. Don’t you love such expressions? Don’t you wish you could originate one that would follow you and others around for decades as you proudly say, “I made that up”? Naturally, no one would believe you, but you’d know the truth and could find joy in that alone.

But I digress.

While it’s more environmentally responsible to keep an old phone than to participate in our disposable society, my older model is rumored to emit far more radiation than newer models, so if it’s between me and the planet, I pick me. Call me selfish.

By now, diving in and selecting a new phone feels like a considerable decision. I see how long I hold onto a phone. If I buy the next device prematurely without proper investigation, I’m stuck with it for two years, unless I want to outlay a healthy chunk of money.

Perhaps I shouldn’t be so concerned about my choice. Until recently, I hadn’t noticed that I’ll soon be celebrating my current phone’s fourth birthday, which in electronic terms is far beyond retirement age. However, I might not linger so comfortably with my next phone. With all the new properties phones possess, I could miss out on a key feature if I buy today instead of tomorrow. They already offer a cell phone that has a navigational system. They might soon come out with one that can locate my misplaced item du jour. Such things must not be passed up lightly.

For purchasing guidance, I reexamine my cell phone dreams, the dreams that would likely serve me far better if they revolved around hot sex that allowed me to wake up with a smile on my face. Instead I’m REM-ing through visions of a beautiful, sleek, minute, indestructible cell phone sliding into my pocket. It’s fantasy of the consumer kind. This phone doesn’t exist.

In an effort to understand my subconscious’ longings, I visit an online dream dictionary and jump to ‘C’.

Cell Phone
To see or use a cell phone in your dream indicates that you are being receptive to new information. It also represents your mobility.

Hmmm, this is very interesting. Only, I’m a bit skeptical. Well, really skeptical. Perhaps dreaming of a cell phone means I spent an hour at the Verizon store without any sales person ever becoming available to help me. Or maybe it means I then went online and tried to decipher all the different models without getting to hold them in my hand. Or maybe it reflects back on my conversation with a kind Verizon rep I phoned to ask if she knew when the next batch of new phones was slated for release. Maybe my phone dreams were about how many of my waking hours I wasted thinking about my new device.

Or maybe this dictionary is right and I am open to new information.

So I go back to the resource. I read through many listings, fascinated by how they cover all bases. For instance, dreaming of cake signifies: needing to learn to share, selfishness, your accomplishments, missed opportunities, and learning to be comfortable in the spotlight.

I’m condensing and paraphrasing.

The listing for accordion catches my attention:
To hear the music of an accordion signifies that some amusement and joy will take your mind off a saddening and depressing matter.
To dream that you play the accordion denotes intense emotions that are causing you some physical strain and body weariness.

I used to be married to an accordion player. I heard accordion music all the time. The fact that his playing drifted into my dreams seems natural, even dismissive if it didn’t. And if he dreamt about it, am I really to believe the negative implications this dictionary suggests? I feel a disclaimer for actual accordion players and their spouses is called for. Just a suggestion.

The more entries I read, the more I think I am wading through what a bunch of drunks scrawled on bar napkins after a drinking game. I’d like to write for one of these sites. It seems like a lot of fun. Talk about creative writing.

I don’t mean to fully malign dream analysis. I suspect there are recurring themes to our dreams, common sentiments that speak to us through symbols. But overall, I just don’t see all of us as reducible to such broad generalizations. Are we really to believe that our daily encounters and experiences don’t guest star in our dreams, that it’s only the deep psyche that speaks to us as we sleep? And most obviously, how do we verify any of the claims of dream dictionaries?

For now, I will return to the loudest message from my dreams: Go buy a cell phone and get over it. It is a phone, merely a phone. You have one month to commit, and then I don’t want to hear any more of this nonsense. Buyer’s remorse be damned.

And as far as my dreams, I’ll see if I can nudge them towards a sexier variety. Maybe I’ll shop in a different kind of store this afternoon.


A Hoop of My Own

Yesterday afternoon I arrived at my friend’s home for her birthday party. The invitation said to wear yoga-like clothes, as little as possible. I certainly didn’t know how to interpret that, and I just didn’t ask.

The guests – a small group of six women – deposit our potluck offerings, introduce ourselves to each other, and journey through entrĂ©e small talk. Suddenly the hostess/birthday girl speaks up. “It’s time,” she says. Time. I have no idea what awaits us.

She ushers us into her welcoming California backyard with a nicely sculpted grass area ringed in tall plants. Beside the lawn sits a professional music system. Next to it, a pile of hula hoops.

Oh, God,” I think. “Save me.”

We each grab a hoop of our liking having no idea on what to base our selection. I go about it much like I pick a car, reaching for a color combination that pleases me. Red, yellow, and orange. I’m normally the cool color type, but this one just speaks to me.

I never could hula hoop as a child. Despite exceptional athletic skills that took me from baseball field to football game, from the volleyball court to the eventual destination as a tournament tennis player, the hula hoop was my nemesis. That ring would circle me twice and hit the ground.

My inability to hula hoop, as well as my affection for sports favored by boys, made me feel like an outsider amongst girls. Every girl past the age of five seemed to have the natural ability to shake her hips and make that thing spin. I stood there in my attempts and felt I belonged to the wrong gender.

Now, decades later, I stand in a circle of women, focusing on the fact that the homemade variety of hula hoop – as in the ones our instructor has brought – is rumored to be easier to swing, that in fact it’s nearly guaranteed. I’m hopeful. I give it a go, and it almost works. I keep at it and I can actually do it, and I’m kind of excited. Phew. Mission accomplished. Can we eat now?

“Now we’ll move onto tricks,” our kind, acrobatic instructor tells us.


She gets her whole body into the action – arms, calves, neck. I reflexively gag when the hoop hits her windpipe. She lifts the hoop over her head, whips it around, does some impressive jumping maneuver – the whole time the hoop spinning flawlessly. Somehow Cirque du Soleil comes to mind.

We move to twirling the hoop with our outstretched hands. Mine keeps going AWOL and nearly decapitating the woman beside me. Luckily, she’s my one old friend amongst the guests, so she smiles kindly and encourages me on. I feel as if it’s first grade all over again.

I’m lagging behind the group. In my overly developed need to excel, I tunnel inward and focus. My neighbors move on to mimic our leader, pulling the spinning hoop up off their waists and raising it above their heads, spinning it behind their backs, and jumping through it. Okay, no one but our leader actuality achieves all these moves, but the combination seems within reach of several of my fellow partygoers. And they’re discussing the technique really seriously as I desperately restrain the jokes trying to leap from my mouth.

I decide to return to trying to spin the hoop over my hand without killing the friend beside me. And I get it! And I feel extraordinarily successful. Two skills mastered in one night – spinning around my waist and twirling in my hand. Not bad for a 1960s’ playground failure.

The most amazing discovery is how much work this all is. I feel my breath accelerating, my shoulder muscles growing sore, and my waist trimming with every spin. “This is good exercise,” I think to myself. And it’s oddly meditative. I close my eyes and picture myself on my beachside roof deck gyrating in the ocean breeze.

By the time we’re eating dinner, I’m asking the instructor where to get a hula hoop. “I make my own,” she answers. She explains she uses PVC pipe and colorful tape for decoration, though admits finding the pipe is challenging. I ask her how much she charges for the hoops, and she says, “It depends on the decoration. The sparkly ones cost more. It also depends how many colors I use. But typically, I sell a hoop for $40.”

Forty dollars? This is no impulse purchase.

I decide to investigate making one on my own. I go home and Google ‘Making your own hula hoop,’ and discover that there is a hooping.org magazine. I’m fascinated. I had no idea the trend was so big, but then again, if you base your judgment on the existence of an online magazine, I imagine that’s deceiving. Tomorrow I could launch ExpatsOfBeverlyHills.org – which would welcome those who endured endless questions in their childhood about The Beverly Hillbillies and Beverly Hills 90210 – and an innocent Googler would envision a movement.

I work my way through the hooping website and discover lots of information on making your own hoop with the concurring opinion that finding the pvc piping is a challenge. You may luck out and be able to buy 100 ft. of it at Home Depot. While that’s useful information, I hardly want such a quantity (enough for eight hula hoops, the informative site tells me.) I’m not really interested in turning this into a cottage industry out of my Venice condo, though if any location would be suited to such a business, I suspect Venice Beach is a likely success story.

I’m planning to call my friend to ask for the hula hoop instructor’s number and making what just days ago would have sounded to me like a ridiculous purchase. But after an afternoon of communal hooping, I’ve felled one of my childhood demons, albeit not the most threatening one. If I can do that for forty dollars and dive into some meditative exercise that may prime me for a future gig in a talent show, that sounds mighty inviting.


Objects of My Affection

Behind the wheel far from the city, whipping by wide-open land, I pull alongside a truckload of old tires tossed haphazardly upon each other, a giant heap cruising down the highway. I overhear their conversation, their moaning about how hard it is to be a passenger after all the years of transporting others. And while they could look at if differently, could relish the chance to relax, they feel old and useless and can’t celebrate the passage from carrier to cargo.

Further along, I turn onto a narrow road that runs through trees with occasional clearings to the left and right. At the base of a hill, I see a Christmas tree farm, field after field of pines being raised for slaughter.

The smallest and youngest trees, just a couple feet tall, glance to the neighboring field of older and taller pines. “We’ll be there soon,” one youngster says with a sigh to his neighbor.

They know where it all leads.

Seeing these budding trees makes me sad, makes me think how our holiday is not a holiday for them. Makes me feel their glum resignation. And later I share my experience with my friend who passed by the same farm on her way to meet me and hadn’t seen it that way. But on her way back over the hill two days later, she calls me and says, “I couldn’t see the trees in the same way as before. I imagined them talking, and I felt sad.

Lately, all sorts of objects have been speaking to me. I hear my clock talking to my stereo. I imagine my car complaining to the road. I write the dialogue of the ocean with the shore.

And as these objects come to life, they draw me in more than the people around me, more than those who pass me in their cars, who shop beside me for food. I find myself more interested in what the celery is saying to the carrots, to what the dish soap is saying to the paper towels. These conversations are new and fresh, comedic and heartfelt. They make me smile even when they make me cry.

What can it possibly mean that I want to a have a drink with my drink rather than the person sitting beside me?




Fingers struggle with the pinched clasp of the clear plastic box. Release. The contents explode, fly out into the room. Multicolored beads scatter to the floor. A light tickle of sound echoes off the linoleum.

The creator lowers to her knees, stares, takes in the arrangement on the floor, reaching for a needle already bound to string. As if collecting a predestined bracelet, she starts poking the needle through the beads’ tiny holes, pushing to make the evening deadline she promised, the sun already setting.

To maintain momentum, to stay interested, she sees herself crawling through the teeny holes and coming out the other side into another world. With each bead, she takes a fresh journey as a creature on the tip of a needle, emerging and becoming life-size only long enough to absorb the scene, enjoy, and depart.

She wants it to be that easy to move from life to life, to collect memories upon a strand of string. Glancing down upon the dangling beads, she sees that it is. And she knows she must close the loop, tie the knot, and hand over the very personal creation to a woman who will toss it into a box of countless other pieces of jewelry unaware of where this simple bracelet has taken its maker.


Us and Them

“That could never be me.”

Many think such words when hearing of the detainees being held year after year by the U.S. government without charge. Honest citizens and residents want to believe that those in custody are where they are because of their actions or affiliations, something that indicates guilt.

There is so much that disturbs me about the current actions of this administration that it’s hard to know what most to single out, but holding detainees without charge rises to the top.

Thankfully, many cry this complaint. Sadly, more do not. As I drove home today hearing a lawyer speak of this issue on the radio, I thought about the future, about what I would be ashamed of having not done, of having not said. It’s easy to justify inaction by believing that someone at a higher level has a better chance of being heard. It’s easy to turn this over to the columnists of major newspapers, to claim it's all been said. But only when common citizens use their individual voices does the argument gain power.

If concern for others doesn't draw you into this issue – people possibly guilty of nothing at all – examine it via concern for yourself. You may feel safe from suspicion at this point, but why? Can’t that change with the whim of politics? What stops an outspoken critic from suddenly being rounded up and tucked away out of view? I used to consider that unthinkable, but not any more. Not in our current climate. Not with the new laws being written. Why, as a country, aren’t we uniformly outraged by this twist in our politics? Why aren’t we afraid for ourselves?

I can’t think of a better way to keep people cowering and silent, fearful of being critical of behavior and views they see as wrong, than to wave the threat of indeterminate detention. I don’t understand how anyone can see this as anything other than a complete violation of human rights. If a detainee is guilty of a crime, charge him. Let him – and us – know the accusation. Let the evidence be presented in court. With anything less, we are guilty of the appalling behavior of which we criticize other governments.

When history examines this period in the future, I don’t want to hang my head in shame for my silence. I don’t want to use the excuse, “There was nothing I could have done.” I want to use my voice in any way that I can to express my outrage at what is being done in the name of security for this country. I want to call out to others to speak up as well. I want to scream that this is not the country I was raised to value. If we are so cloaked in fear that we cease to trust our own judicial system to serve our security, we have far greater problems than the threat of terrorism. We are terrorizing ourselves, and allowing common decency to evaporate.

I agree with those who point out that terrorists aren’t concerned with our rights. In response, I say, “That’s what separates us from them.” But if we don’t speak up, no one will ever know.


What I Learned From My Clock

Spiritual leaders teach us to live in the moment, to be present, to not fear the passage of time. I’ve never been gifted in living this way. No matter how much I try, a part of me always glances forward, partially out of concern, partially out of curiosity. In my dance with life, a clock is my metronome.

A few weeks back after a power outage in my neighborhood, the surging return of electricity murdered one of my computers. I mournfully said good-bye, removed its hard drive, and moved on.

Little did I know there was another victim in the house.

After a day lost in work, I glance to my clock radio on my nightstand – one of the many timepieces I’d reset after the outage – and am stunned by how late it is. Where has the evening gone? But then I look to the time display on the cable box. My clock radio of glowing blue numbers that has traveled with me from abode to abode since I was sixteen is about an hour and a half ahead.

I reset it to the proper time assuming I had erred earlier in the day, and go to sleep.

My internal body clock painfully reliable, I no longer depend on an alarm, so when I open my eyes the next morning and am greeted with the blue numbers screaming that I have overslept by nearly an hour, I leap up. My heart racing, I catch sight of the wall clock, which calms me by revealing that I have in fact awakened at my normal time.

I study my clock radio. As if on speed, it is racing ahead of reality at an alarming rate, gaining roughly ten minutes each hour. I can understand a power surge frying my clock, but giving it an adrenaline rush?

Due to our long history, I give the clock one more chance, resetting the time and placing it back on my nightstand. But as the day progresses, it continues to run ahead, which completely unnerves me every time I forget about its condition, the nearby wall clock called in to bring me back to reality. As if aiming to physically demonstrate that ‘time is relative,’ these two clocks continue to charge forward through the day displaying completely differing perceptions of the march of time.

Finally, in an act of self-defense, I unplug the deviant clock radio, leaving a blank black screen staring at me. I can’t toss it in the trash. We’ve been together too long.

Weeks pass. Out of curiosity, I plug the clock radio back into the wall. I want to see exactly how fast it’s racing ahead, still marveling over its ability to move at an increased rate after a jolt of energy. But to my surprise, after a day of operation, the clock is in sync with my others, not gaining or losing time.

And oddly enough, I’m sad. When the clock moved at its own rate, as annoying as it was, it sang with personality. It refused to honor the duty bestowed upon it by its maker. It embraced a life of rebellion, albeit an amped up and slightly neurotic one, appearing unable to live calmly in the moment.

Like someone else I know.

Suddenly I wonder if for those odd few days, my clock was mimicking my behavior like cohabitants who live together for too long and begin to assume a shared personality. With my clock’s odd behavior, I certainly started to look at my own obsession with time.

While I suspect there’s a reasonable, scientific explanation for the journey my clock has taken, I’m not willing to let go of the mystery of the magical clock. I now look to it repeatedly throughout the day, not to check the time, but to check on the clock, to see if it’s honoring its duty to the local time zone or running ahead on its own accord.

So far it’s staying loyal to its job. At first I didn’t think I’d be able to trust this clock again, to have faith I could depend on it to wake me for a critical early morning departure. But as I stare at my old friend, I realize I either keep the clock and return to a place of trusting it or toss it out. The middle ground is pointless. Just like in any relationship where a break in behavior throws you off track, time is the healer. Funny what you can learn from a clock.


The Big Picture

Violence enters our lives. Sometimes by chance, sometimes by choice.

Unlike many, I enjoy attending films alone, to fully immerse myself in the drama onscreen and leave my present life behind. So, with a free night, I head to the movies.

A Guide to Recognizing Your Saints. I know little of the film, having seen the trailer but not recalling much beyond a hint of the movie’s intensity. I vaguely remember a blurb touting its merits. That’s enough for me. I prefer to arrive at a theater blind, not wanting advance knowledge to spoil the unfolding adventure.

It’s Saturday night and I sit along the center aisle of the theater, a room decently populated for an indie film with minor marketing. A couple arrives and climbs over me to take seats at the end of my row just as the opening credits begin.

The film moves powerfully through a harsh and intense depiction of life in Queens, New York in the 80s, a coming-of-age tale of the writer and his friends navigating their world and their friendships, the impact of violence a central focus of the film. Late into the movie, the man in my row turns to his date and starts complaining. “Two free nights and I’m not about to waste one watching…” I don’t know how he ends the sentence as I try to refocus my ears to the screen.

But he continues to talk in a full voice as if he were sitting in his own living room, unconcerned with the theater of people around him. And while I try to tune him out, he draws my attention – and others’ – away from the screen. A guy sitting two rows ahead turns and asks the offending talker to be quiet.

And the drama begins.

The man in my row rises, and I assume he’s on his way out of the theater. Instead, he climbs over me, walks two rows forward, and slides up to the guy who asked for his silence. He gets right down in the seated viewer’s face, his large standing stature undeniably intimidating. Focus in the room shifts to this scene, an odd parallel to the violence and tension on the screen.

The guy beside the husher tries to enter the conversation, but burly dude silences him with, “I’m not talking to you!” At this point others in the theater beg the guy to back off, but anyone who speaks to him just becomes the next object of his rage.

I’m shocked by the escalation of the incident, and can’t stand how this man is dominating the room. In favor of justice, I, too, call for his silence. He walks briskly towards me, leans over, and counters, “I paid as much for my ticket as everyone else, so I have just as much right to talk!


Where in the fine print does a ticket allow you to talk? How about, a ticket allows you to sit silently in a theater and enjoy – or hate – a film? To speak in a full voice? I don’t think so.

At this point investing even one more second in this guy is going to completely take me out of the film, so I let it go. But my heart is racing. I’m not sure whether it’s a response of fear – he does have at least a hundred pounds on me – or a rush of internal glee in standing up to a bully.

He leaves the theater. His date quickly follows, though if body language means anything, she was disgusted and embarrassed by his behavior. She certainly didn’t seem to be on his side.

The movie ends, highlighting the devastating effects of violence. As the lights come up, everyone near me is still stunned by the incident in the theater.

“The message of the film was definitely lost on that guy,” I say to those sitting across the aisle from me. Nods of agreement, accompanied by the words, “I’ll say.”

The two guys who took on Mr. Burly – older teenagers, to my surprise – walk up the aisle towards me.

“You shouldn’t have had to deal with that guy,” I say. “He was a real jerk.”

“Maybe I was wrong to say something,” the husher says sheepishly. He looks truly shaken.

“No. You did us all a favor. He was being a jerk,” I respond.

But he just shrugs. “Now I’ll have to talk to him,” he says, with real concern on his face.

“Nah, I’m sure he left,” I say, convinced he stormed out.

But when I leave the theater, I see I’m wrong. The dude is standing opposite the two teenagers who cower against the wall as a theater employee is trying to calm down the angry patron. A crowd hovers at a safe distance, amazed by this guy’s behavior and soaring outrage. His date is long gone. Word has it that she left in a hurry without him.

He asks to see the manager.

“I am the manager,” the employee responds. The irate man then asks for his superior, and they walk away as I overhear the manager say something about contacting the theater chain via a website.

The people filling the lobby certainly wouldn’t typically linger after a film, but the car-crash spectacle of the event has grabbed onlookers willing to come to the defense of the teens as well as to debrief like those who have suffered intense turbulence on a flight, eager to share their experience of the incident. The man takes a few more verbal swipes at patrons on his way out. At this point, we mostly shake our heads.

I walk over to the manager, fueled by a desire to assure him that the guy was a jerk and that the kids – despite their lingering feelings of guilt – had done nothing wrong.

And then it’s all over.

I hesitate before leaving the theater, cautious that the angry man could still be walking to his car, not certain I want to encounter him alone on the street. I wonder what sets a man off like that, why the anger that resides in him is so easily sparked, why it can’t die down. And despite all the violence that was played out on the screen, the incident in the movie theater resonates more.

I am fortunate to have a life where violence plays such a peripheral role. I imagine how different I would be if I encountered such events – or worse – daily, how I would learn to look upon everyone with suspicion, how I would always be prepared to fight or defend myself. The most heartening aspect of the night was the way the theatergoers bonded together. The most frightening, the way one man could put a room full of strangers on edge.

Nothing in that theater compares to the global tensions of our day. But if such a minor event can lead to such aggression, I do wonder how we can possibly begin to tackle the larger issues.



There are days when your brain just begs to be left alone, to have a little time to itself and not have to answer questions, address concerns, and decipher emotions.

Like yesterday.

I tried bargaining, pointing out to my brain that it gets to sleep quite regularly, and doesn’t that amount to time off, until Brain replies, “Uh, who do you think is keeping you alive all night? You certainly aren’t pumping blood and breathing without my assistance. In other words, I never get a night off, so if I want to take a leisure day, I say, ‘Back off!’”

Message received. Loud and clear.

But what am I supposed to do in the meantime with a brain that only wants to attend to essentials, which, by the way, has been clarified to not include dealing with my life. Essentials goes back to that breathing and pumping stuff, with several other add ons that doctors and well-informed Googlers can easily sum up.

To fill the emptiness of being abandoned by Brain, I walked around my neighborhood and happened upon a romantic rendezvous of two police cruisers in an isolated and quite idyllic setting. That was sweet. Looking at their obvious love connection, I felt a bit jealous, but then silently celebrated their finding each other.

Venice is known for its eccentricity, so imagine my delight in spying a unique purchasing opportunity right at the end of my street.

I thrilled to be able to capture these moments, but struggled to not call up Brain, my best friend. But true to my word, I let Brain rest, figuring we’d share a laugh in a day or so.

Funny things happen in a day without a brain. You worry less. You strive for less achievement. You even dip into your child’s year-old Halloween candy.


Brain came back online today, and we had a little fight. I’m still trying to figure out who started it. I guess I wanted a little credit for giving Brain recharging space, but Brain told me that if I only took things more lightly, recharging wouldn’t be so necessary. With impatience, Brain tells me to relax, to not press so hard, and just find inner peace. I tell Brain that it can’t possibly understand the pressure I’m under, to which Brain plays the trump card, “You don’t think I’m under pressure? I keep you alive.”

It’s so unfair. With that little task up Brain’s sleeve, I’ll never successfully plead my case. Still, I claim that I carry the responsibility of making my life meaningful, and that’s a lot to shoulder.

Brain recommends getting a sense of humor, which I think is a pretty damn good suggestion. On my way there, I chant all the things not wrong with my life, which is a lengthy list and should definitely keep me content. Only, I have memory issues so as soon as I stop chanting, I start wanting. Wanting sucks. There should be repellent cream against the condition.

I take full responsibility for my immature perspective on my blessed life, and when I apologize to Brain for being such a pain in the ass, the room grows quiet. After a mighty sigh, Brain speaks up. “It’s my fault, too. We are in this together.” And I smile. I think that’s all I wanted to hear, that I had a partner in this mess, because maybe together we can do better.


On My Playlist

A sunny day in Venice, California, I leave home on foot wearing earphones that plaster an artificial soundtrack upon the life I pass. I enjoy the music I’ve selected, yet feel unsettled by not hearing the natural sounds of the scene around me. The beach without the roll and crash of ocean waves. Children running and playing, lips moving but emitting silence like home movies of decades past. And in seeing how my imported soundtrack alters the landscape, I recognize how much we impact our daily experiences through simple actions.

Music has long been a passion of mine, not only enriching my life in the obvious ways but also tugging at my heart, evidenced by a musician ex-husband and an accumulation of musical love interests that preceded him. But despite my affection for both music and technology, I was slow to embrace the iPod. I found countless reasons to stay away. I like the tactile and the tangible, and was loathe to relegating my CDs to dust-collecting shelves. I didn’t want to spend hours loading music and creating playlists. I romanticized my bond to having one CD spin over and over as the soundtrack to that day’s (or week’s or month’s) creative venture. And I’ve never been a fan of headphones.

But coaxed by my son and gifted by my mother, I found myself in possession of an iPod and speakers.

My iPod and I have developed a fine relationship. I’ve turned to my in-house DJ to create my playlists because I’m not anal enough to be so precise. Luckily, my son is, and he knows me well enough to create Mama’s Party Mix. I’m thrilled to have all my music in one handy rectangular contraption, and my CDs are in fact collecting dust. I applaud this technological progress.

But before the day on the beach, I hadn’t turned to headphones. And after my experience that day, I doubt I’ll use them much in the future. While many people simply enjoy having music or podcasts or books-on-tape serenading them on the go, others rely on headphones as a protective shield against unwanted intrusions.

I may not welcome all the commotion of city life – the horn honks or the squeal of tires, the shouting homeless guy or the wailing baby – but these sounds inform my life. And I question what we lose in order to maintain control over our environment, to constantly choose to bounce down the street oblivious to society’s natural incursions. The man sitting next to me as I drink coffee may be rudely shouting his opinions, but forcing myself to listen teaches me about those with whom I may never socialize. Or learning how to ask him to speak more quietly teaches us to better interact with each other.

I understand the desire to keep the unwanted out, but going through life in headphones keeps everything out, other than our carefully filtered selections, and I just don’t think that’s good for us as a society. Or as a species.

I should be forced to overhear the politics of my neighbor. I should hear the homeless person ranting or the assault of the chaos of my city, for only by encountering things that we may not like are we motivated to enact change. Only via a “Hello” to a passerby do we reach outside our world. But if we’re all armored in headphones – or with cellphones pressed to our ears – we miss these opportunities for engagement.

If we always opt to tune out that which is unpleasant, we may protect ourselves, but we also limit ourselves. I want to give an unanticipated birdcall a chance to intrude. Or a gust of laughter. As much as I love my music, I love the audible serendipity of life more.