List of Lists – or – Emptying My Head

Card list
Shopping list
To Do list
To Be list
To See list
To Know list
To Taste list
To Feel list
To Dream list
To Mourn list
To Appreciate list
To Scream Of list
To Thank list
To Let Go Of list
To Embrace list
To Find list
To Release list
To Purge list
To Avoid list
To Understand list
To Remember list

There. I feel lighter now.


Learning is Doing

My mom always says to me, “I need to learn to do all the things you can on the computer.” She says it like it’s a project that lays ahead, one that must be committed to and planned for. But today, as I looked at how I manipulate my machine to make cards and gifts, to edit movies and create DVDs, I realize that learning is doing. I never set out to know these things. I didn’t one day say, “I must figure out how to make a photo book.” I just did it. Trial and error. Navigating through screens and tools, mistakes and successes. Had someone taught me how to get the results I wanted, I wouldn’t have gotten the results I wanted because I didn’t know what I wanted until I saw it and built it and lived it.

Maybe I need to remember this when I grow frustrated with the progress – or apparent lack thereof – in my life. I always come back to fighting the process and longing for the results. I do live by doing, but the doing can feel slow and tedious. The doing can hit serious ditches in the road that fling me from the seat I ride in, toss me in the air with no way to navigate. I flap my wings, but I’m no bird, so I hit the ground hard. I stay prone and cry a little, secretly, into covers pulled up to my eyes so no one sees and no one knows. After all, I have my pride.

Pride. My other demon. Pride and Success laugh at me because they know I hold them in such high esteem. They know that as long as they are my goal, they will dine without me. They know to get to sit at the table with them I must take a circuitous route. A smarter tack would be for me to turn my back on those beasts who taunt me so.

So I called up Process and asked if we could have coffee. Process smiled knowingly into her end of the phone line. She’d been waiting for my invitation. She doesn’t know how hard it is for me to be her friend, to even want to be her friend. She doesn’t know that even when I want to appreciate her, others plant fear in my mind. They tell me that I may go broke. They tell me with their eyes that I am being foolish, that I am a sweet dreamer. Those looks activate my inbred fear, give life to what rests buried within, bring to the surface what I must struggle to shove down again.

Over our steaming brew I ask Process how to better embrace her. I ask her where to find Trust, a necessary companion for the journey. Process tells me that she can’t tell me, that the answer lies within her and is only accessible to me through our friendship.

For a moment I feel cheated, deprived of instant answers and the comfort of knowing. I tell Process that everyday I try to believe in myself. I try to quiet the dissenting voices of Security and Instant Gratification. I try to not need.

But I do need. And needing is hard. We live in this vast community of fractured ties. We come together in times of real trouble, but I don’t know how much we’re there for each other when only simple questions arise, questions that may seem personal and specific. We don’t slow the way the support demands. We talk about this and we know this, but we don’t know how to climb off the treadmill. We have become addicted to our habits. We don’t know how to break loose.

Except when we do, when we pause and say, “I can do this differently.” Those are the glorious days. Those are the nights that we go to bed not exhausted but exhilarated. Those are the times we most dream of. This is when we find our true selves.

My true self needs to work hard on my relationship with Process. A casual coffee is not enough. It needs to not let you scare me with your words of concern, with your “How will you earn money now?”

“I don’t know,” I whisper gently into the wind, hoping my words will float to the land where what I say and do matters, where the images in my mind have meaning and value, where I can be me and live and flourish and appreciate Process. If I see it, perhaps it can be.



x & y

By definition it was inevitable that she and her son would end up in different generational classifications, but it didn’t mean she had to like it. So when she sat him down to discuss the gap between them, she had all her points carefully inked and bulleted on a lined index card for clarity.

“We need to talk,” she started, sounding more like a woman about to end a relationship than one trying to speak to her own offspring.

“Um,” he responded in perfect teen pitch that signaled obligation rather than interest.

But before she could continue, she flashed on her childhood of wonder, the time of bb guns and endless bike rides, of games of ditch in hotel corridors and shoplifting at the local five and dime. Hers was the more disobedient generation, the one operating outside parental observation.

Be home before dark’ was the extent of adult guidance. That and ‘The Golden Rule.’

What if she could shift right now in this precise moment and offer her son those few words? She could tear up her list and allow him the freedom to encounter error and hurt, to walk his own path and learn his own way. She could give him that gift, if only she could do so and still breathe.


The Water's Edge

I’ve been away. Mostly inside myself. Today I venture back to the water’s edge, dip my toe in, see how it feels. I don’t exactly know what took me away but it was potent and strong, like a demon who shows up in your dreams without revealing origin or motive.

Hidden in the folds was crisis of confidence, now replaced with glimmer of belief and a willingness to see what unfolds. New documents opened, stories combined, word counts and page clicks. Walks down avoided paths, a loosening of the tongue, a maybe.


Being Good

Are you being a good person if you’re trying to be a good person? Does it count if you’re conscious of the fact, if you’re measuring your own progress, which then by definition contains some self-congratulations? Doesn’t that negate the goodness or at least diminish the selflessness of it?

How about those who are just good by nature, who operate unconsciously? One could argue that since their goodness is effortless they deserve less credit. However, we tend to praise those born into goodness as if somehow, somewhere, they created their own nature.

My nature feels born of less goodness. My quibbling brain. The scowls my face births effortlessly. The judgments of my mind I strive to silence even though they exist only in thought. Does fighting what I dislike about my nature elevate my goodness rating or does my innate badness trump action? And does my interest in my rating further lower my goodness factor?

In this Catch 22, my striving for goodness casts my actions as disingenuous. When I bought a new baby gift for the neighbor below me, a neighbor I almost never see or speak to, was I just purchasing goodness points in the package of cute onesies? What did she think when I knocked on her door and handed over my purchase? “Thank you,” or “Why now?” When I left after our short visit where I got the birth story and commented on the girl’s full head of hair and inaudible cries, why did I think, “I did it,” as if it had been a challenge?

When I let a signaling driver into my lane, I do it out of courtesy, but also to show I am good. When I make a charitable contribution, more attempts at goodness, even if I genuinely support and care about the cause. Goodness is my constant barometer.

In yesterday’s state of dysfunction when my brain begged to cocoon, to not speak or interact, to say no to the phone, it still offered me all these questions. It sat me down and stuck a pen in my hand. It told me, “Go ahead. Explore.” It told me that questions can matter as much as answers. And when I ran out or words, it took me to the movies to see “In the Shadow of the Moon,” a documentary that not only took me into space but took me back to a precious childhood moment that made me swell with nostalgia and the sensation of wonder.

I walked out of the theater glad I had gone alone, glad that no one else’s experience of the film could debate my own, glad that I could just be in that moment. And all the questions of goodness fell away, for I can only be who I am, like it or not. I will not walk on the moon as I once dreamed. I will not be remembered for goodness. But those who knew me may chew on my understated perseverance. Or maybe not.

And I will still try to be good, rating be damned.


In Lieu of My Writing...

...go check out my friend's new book and help send her up those bestseller lists.

(click on the photo for a link to her website...)


It Started as a Letter

I worked through the first two weeks of my editing job, and now I'm on hiatus for three weeks until I dive back in till the end (supposedly three weeks.) It's bizarre to be back in the editing room realizing I have these skills that I seldom think about, realizing how disconnected I am in many ways from the work I did for years and years. And now, here I am, time off, able to write if I choose, and not so inspired in that arena. I think I'm just a wanderer and explorer in my soul, that all these other things I do are just things I do.

Things I do. The things I do. It’s odd to have this sensation of passing the time (and to encounter the ‘v’ key on my computer refusing to depress unless I assault it harshly with repeated stabs. Maybe completing my words is simply what the ‘v’ key does, not what resides in its soul.) Some people – fortunate souls, perhaps – connect with the life they lead. They wander into the day they call community. They exchange tidbits with friends about the progress and amusement of their kids’ lives. They strive to move upward in a career, in a passion, in a framework carefully crafted and nurtured.

I find them a mystery.

I live life as if I’ve been dropped here from a passing spacecraft, deposited to do a job of observation, taking notes, analyzing data, all the while wondering when my ship will return and take me back to a home I don’t remember but that somehow I believe must exist. It exists here for others, so mine must, too, but just not here.

So I pass my days doing things of sweet interest. I disappear joyously into assembling those horrendously addictive photo books one can create through iPhoto. I stare at my dog and try to crawl into his brain to imagine his experience of sunshine and a carelessly tossed towel that becomes his well-designed bed after tugs and molding. I shuttle my teen around wondering where he will be in thirty years and if any of my current thoughts will be his. I suspect not, though, because I believe he is of this earth, less peripheral than I, and he will find his way. His current angst only emerges in spurts due to a shot of hormones and too many late nights strung together. He is not waiting for his spaceship to return.

As I leap from blog to blog – most recently in the mode of drive-by, sorry – I marvel at the growing communities and the cheerleading comments. I wonder where the dissenters are, wonder if they fall into the category of the silent lurkers, or if they just don’t read there. It’s not possible for everyone who comments to have such common feelings. Have comments just become one giant cheering section? Is that the etiquette? It that what people want? Slap me, but I miss the discussion that goes beyond, “Good on you.”* (I’m sure I’ve just opened the door to scathing words in my own back yard. Let me step away to adorn armor. I’ll be right back.)

But I digress from the opening letter, from my drifting in and out of assorted identities, at wondering whether I’d rather be a storyteller or a photographer (which is really just a storyteller with pictures over words) or an on call computer tech nerd for those who respond to my help with, “How do you know all this?” or a dog rescuer or a person with just a backpack and no permanent address.

Then again, I am a parent, so I must assume some degree of concrete foundation, for my son does not desire the untethered life that I do. For him, I will remain solid and here, but I will still wonder, wonder why I don’t understand the world around me, wonder why I don’t feel so tickled by the things that others work towards, wonder why while I crave gadgets all the time in my admiration for technology I have no relationship with shopping and consumerism (that alone makes me an alien in this current societal structure.) And I will wonder when my spaceship will return.

*picked up on an overseas job amongst Aussies in Sydney many, many moons ago...

**allow me to tag that this was not crafted or thought out. (uh, did I have to tell you that?) This was my version of an online coughing up of morning thoughts and a partial explanation of my recent silence here that goes beyond, “I’m working.”

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I am not dead. I am not gone. I am earning money, and by the time I walk through the door at the end of the day I spin around looking for a horizontal surface to call home.

This will not last forever, but it will make me appear to be off on some kind of exotic vacation. And it is kind of exotic, barreling through hours and hours of Moroccan footage and filmic bits. The downside to this creative enterprise is that little remains of what I affectionately refer to as ‘my brain’ come night. Ten hours at a mystery job, two hours of accumulated commute, a weak stab at parenting…I suspect humans were not constructed for this.

I will pop around here in fits and spurts over the next couple weeks. I may even return with a tale up my sleeve.

Meanwhile, enjoy the sunshine on my behalf…and leave me pearls for sustenance...



In My Backyard

I almost wish I just got rear-ended, not because I’m after insurance money or I’m trying to do away with my car, but as I drove towards home, I looked in my rear view mirror and the woman behind me was driving holding a parrot, a big white parrot that probably could almost have driven the car itself.

And they say cell phones are a distraction.

I figure collecting this story by way of a collision would have upped the dramatic value, but it was not to be. The vision of parrot in driver’s seat was enhanced by the fact that the parrot-toting driver didn’t need to be holding the bird while navigating her vehicle, for beside her sat an able-bodied passenger who could have cared for the parrot or at least driven the car. So, of course, I questioned the decision to drive while holding a bird, but I also questioned this motoring couple’s choice of driving with their top down, which not only seemed risky but also a taunting gesture to the parrot as if saying, “Feel the breeze through your feathers? See the open sky above you? Isn’t it beautiful? Sorry, you’re relegated to my captive arms. This is all just a tease.”

Maybe parrots love living in the confines of human life. Maybe a ride in the car is the equivalent of taking a dog on a walk. You see, I don’t know much about parrots, but I do know you can’t give full attention to driving while holding a bird. Think of ‘wing flap.’

I have heard that parrots live an extraordinarily long life – up to eighty years – so an owner must be prepared to will the pet to a future owner, for the bird is nearly certain to outlive the human caregiver. Now that is commitment. I’m worried about finding someone to watch my dog if I want to go out of town for the weekend. Finding a friend you can bank on outliving you who is parrot friendly and interested in a hand-me-down pet? Phew. Talk about stress.

The parrot-driver and I parted ways three blocks from my home as I watched in concern/amusement while the driver successfully achieved a one-handed right turn onto a street that dead ends into beach parking. I suspect that means that the parrot got to go for a walk, which is a nice gesture on the part of the pet owners. Hopefully they headed south on the boardwalk, for then they were likely to encounter a long time Venice regular, a guy who totes around his own parrot of the royal blue variety whenever he goes out for a bike ride (another brave undertaking). Bike rider and parrot park at a local restaurant, and then dine al fresco, the human ordering off the menu while the parrot enjoys carted-in sunflower seeds and then spews shells everywhere creating impromptu art upon the gravely boardwalk.

The fact that this image no longer registers as odd to me shows that I’ve been living in Venice a long time. We collect these kind of visuals in my neighborhood, though I wonder how much longer that will last. Venice is changing under the escalating real estate values, and I don’t imagine many new colorful creatures moving into town. These days when I discard furniture to the alley for any taker, items actually sit there for up to a day. They used to vanish with the speed of a David Copperfield trick. Ah, the good old days when a donation trip to Good Will was a waste of gasoline. Nowadays I suspect my tabletop-size tree of clustered, fake red apples that create the canopy – supposedly quite valuable in its day (and received by me with an awkward smile upon completion of a film job) – would establish a rather secure spot in my alley.

I have to wonder if the days of traveling parrots, rollerskating guitarists, and python-carrying walkers will come to a close, and crazy Venice will only live on as a memory. I hope not, for a slice of history will die when that day comes. In order to preserve the insanity I’m even willing to (cautiously) accept some parrot drivers. And I do hope that the white and blue parrot got to have an encounter. That would be a true Venice Beach moment.

(if anyone is interested in my red apple tree, email me and we can arrange a hand off before it journeys to the alley...)


An Open Letter to David Sedaris

July 21, 2007

Dear David,

I’m standing at the counter at a Mexican/Cuban eatery at the Farmer’s Market in Hollywood with my son by my side. A young woman stands next to him hearing me ask what he wants, and she jumps in and says, “Aren’t you the David Sedaris kid?” He answers yes, and she says, “I saw you two years in a row.” She goes on to express sadness that you’re not coming back to appear this year, and we compete to see which of us has seen you the most years in a row. I win, which is an odd thing to boast of, but we bond over the moment and she advises my son as to what to order because she’s been through this menu a few times and can comment on the effect of the spices.

“Don’t skip the potato soft tacos,” she says. “They’re like Mexican potato knishes.” My son has no idea what that means, but he smiles and says okay. An older woman who seems to be her mother walks up to join her, and our dining advisor turns and says, “Look, it’s the David Sedaris kid. You were with me when we saw him.”

We get down to ordering and thank our consultant as we add to our meal one soft potato taco, which is called something far more elegant in the Spanish we don’t speak. Sitting down at a table, I turn to Anthony and say, “Well, David Sedaris doesn’t have kids, but he kind of has you.” We laugh, loving this little recurring appearance in the spotlight. He gets noticed every once in a while, but usually not with such gusto as this time.

I’m sad that you’re not coming back in 2008. I’ve started the rumor that you’re probably busy writing a book on your experiences in Japan. I don’t imply that you told me as much, but I can imagine you sifting through all those wonderful tales you shared during your last visit to Royce Hall. In 1986 I spent two months in Japan hiding from Hollywood and trying to recover from an extraordinarily long stint on a film job. I took six Japanese lessons in Tokyo over the course of two weeks and then decided I was good to go in rural Japan. Amusement did follow. While I’m certain the country has changed a lot since then, I related to more of your stories than you can imagine.

Just thought I’d share this tale. Sorry we won’t see you in 2008. Los Angeles will miss you.

Anthony’s mom

for the back story, go here for part one, and here for part two...


You Gotta Be Good at Something

A funny thing happened on the way to this post. I became an “expert” (picture my fingers miming in the air) on internet dating. Yes, I have people ringing me up for advice that ranges from which sites to join, which includes questions about the peculiarities of each one (an acknowledgement that points to my site hopping tendencies) to how to conduct the entire process.

Once I place my friends onto the appropriate site for their personality and goals, I graduate to an actual Cyrano, which is great because I love that my writing skills aren’t going to waste. These friends audition their email responses seeking my input on tone and word choice, and allow me small tweaks to rein in over-eagerness or to up the level of enthusiasm. Balance, I say. You must maintain balance. They then seek further guidance when trying to decipher a response by way of “What does he mean by that?” I cheerfully weigh in, tossing around advice as if I actually know what I’m doing. It is fun.

But I must pose the obvious question: Why would my friends want my advice on internet dating when I am impressively single after journeying around these sites on and off for years? Yes, I’ve developed a wealth of good stories, have tucked away a healthy dose of flings, and can entertain with tales of younger (and I mean younger!) men. But would you want me helping you to find the love of your life? Doubtful. On the other hand, if you’d like guidance as to how to become a career internet dater, I’m your go-to girl.

The first thing to know is not to take it too seriously. In other words, don’t agonize about what you write on your profile, and those self-timer photos with dodgy lighting and focus are just fine. Only the truly serious run their writings past friends for feedback and enlist others to snap the stills. Jeez. That would be too much group activity for me, not to mention far too revealing. I’m fine with strangers hearing my wacked words on how I present myself, but I certainly don’t want to reveal the five things I can’t live without to my friends.

The first thing you need to know if you want to remain in the dating pool is to be sure not to be too flexible. My age range is nice and narrow – 40 to 50. At least that’s my public declaration. The reality is that I’ve dipped into the 20s for the right letter writer, but I’m certainly not going to post that option for fear of being labeled as one of those ‘cougar’ types. I’ve yet to cross the divide past 50, which I know is pretty brutal of me, but remember the goal here: Remain single!

Create a healthy list of reasons to knock people out of consideration. Wrong job. Wrong height. Wrong part of town. For the unplanned accidental meeting with a charming lad live in front of you in line at the dry cleaners you can be flexible and toss all these requirements out the window, but in internet dateland you’re hiring and it’s all about the quick romp through resume. This is what makes it so efficient. You don’t want to wade too long in the vast pool of probably nots.

If you’re a man, this process is far quicker and simpler: Don’t bother reading anything but just scroll through the photos in gallery mode. Distracting yourself with words will just get confusing and is counterintuitive to the male dating model. Remember, if you want to remain single, basing all you criteria on appearance is the perfect way to assure delightful flings with no risk of long-term connection.

Much gets debated as to how quickly to respond to emails. Too immediate and you seem desperate and without a life. Too slow and you project a lack of interest. With this I say, “It doesn’t matter.” Most email exchanges vanish after two back and forth letters, which is just enough to allow you to maintain the illusion of ‘polite.’ Usage of a nails on the chalkboard phrase, such as ‘nails on the chalkboard,’ can speed this demise along. Other common clichés that knock you out of the running are ‘I love walks on the beach at sunset,’ ‘I’m as comfortable in jeans and T-shirt as a little black dress,’ and ‘don’t be on meds.’ That last one really limits the pool in my town, for nearly everyone I know is on meds.

I warn women that guys offer up their phone number almost immediately and expect a call often before you’ve revealed your name, so you must come up with a way to identify yourself. (Funny, guys don’t care much about getting that name first.) So, while you’re dialing prepare yourself to say, “I’m the woman from the email,” and then be ready for a long pause as he runs through the lengthy list of woman he emailed his number to. The other option is to refer to yourself by your screen name, which should be the first cautionary tale in internet dating: If you can’t say the name out loud, you might want to choose a handle besides the boastful ‘GoodInBed.’

Don’t worry too much about what you will say on this preliminary phone call. Basically, it’s just the equivalent of looking at a photo. You’re sizing up each other’s voice for desirability. If you have a tendency when nervous to constrict and screech, this would be a good time to rein that in unless you actually believe that your soul mate would love that quality in you. Of course while this isn’t about finding your soul mate (remember goal: Lifetime internet dater!), even the short-termers don’t like screechers.

If you actually decide to meet, enter Starbucks – why doesn’t Starbucks just have it’s own online dating site and cut out the middleman? – and scour the room for someone who once upon a time might have looked like the photo you saw online. As mentioned, I’ve been dancing with this process on and off for years and several of the men I met still have the same photo posted from before our meeting four years ago, and even then it was hard to match photo with face. Men, you have no authority to complain about old photos of women. You can claim laziness when it comes to putting down the toilet seat, but that camera on your cell phone? It’s there for a reason.

One side note on dating the younger men: You don’t have to worry about looking too old when you show up for your date. They want old. That’s why they emailed you. You can’t fail in this arena, so relax and let the guy pay for your drink. He’ll want to, trust me, to prove that he’s old enough to have a job or that he’s good at saving his allowance.

Gosh, I could go on and on here, but I have an email in my inbox demanding my attention. If you want more of my pearls of wisdom, just drop me a note. I’m excellent at the one on one. I love my expert status.


Unrelated piece of trivia:
For those locals who would like an opportunity to experience me in person, I’m reading Sunday, July 22nd at 2 p.m. on Dutton’s patio on San Vicente in Brentwood. I’m not trespassing; I was invited.

If my words and those of my fellow readers don’t lure you (some stellar folks who far outshine me in their brilliance), perhaps the offer of free wine, cheese, and home-baked goods will. Go ahead, pull yourself away from your computers and face the glare of the outdoors.

As far as you singles, you may meet someone to add to your list of, “I can’t believe I ever went out with him/her!” That alone is worth the trek.


When Asked to Write about Courage

I close my eyes and look for courage, look for the incidents, look for the word. And letter by letter it comes at me through space, first the ‘C’ growing large and then shrinking to make way for the ‘O’ and then right down the line.

But no incidents come, no memories, no grand gestures of overcoming fear. And I realize that as a child I just did. My relationship with fear and banishing it with courage didn’t exist. Every act of every day was courageous. I never considered being otherwise. Either that or I have a convenient memory.

And now. Me and courage. We do well together. I take risks. I decide that if something has a hold on me I must take it on, and with that acknowledgment an act of courage leaps forward demanding attention, saying, “Remember me? Remember me?” The act wants to be recounted, wants the spotlight, wants me to tell you of the time my college roommate comes to me and says, “There’s a guy coming to our dorm to talk about skydiving. I’m gonna go listen to him. Come with me.”

I think she’s crazy, but I walk downstairs with her. We sit through a presentation of photos and description, how the training will last eight hours and then we’ll go up in a plane, line up, and one by one leap from 3000 feet. No need to pull the ripcord – we’ll be on static lines that do the work. Unless they don’t. Then you’re up.

When his words wind down, I turn to my roommate and say, “Okay. I’m in.” And she responds, “Are you crazy? No way.”

But I go, and it is a story. I’ve never faced fear like I did when I dangled my legs out that open airplane door, felt the rush of speed, and saw the tiny doll-sized life on the ground. I convince myself to jump by saying, “I don’t think this is my time to die,” and I cap it with, “I was drawn to this for a reason.” These sentiments partnered with the jump instructor’s palm on the small of my back giving me a less than gentle nudge send me through the door to hit the wind, to try to scream out 6-5-4-3-2-1 as instructed, hoping to never hit ‘1,’ for if I do it’s time to go into emergency action through a set of learned steps ending with “Pull ripcord on emergency chute.” But I never even get to ‘5.’ The speed of descent contorts my mouth to unmovable motion locking my lips apart and, I’m convinced, pressed somewhere around my ears. Stunned by my inability to vocalize, I lose count and pray that my distraction won’t render me a cartoon pancake upon the ground.

Luckily, the chute opens with a reassuring assault that sends me skyward in defiance of gravity. And then I float through the most beautiful two minutes of my life.

I come in hard on the landing, on an angle, they say, and take all the impact in my left ankle. I can barely stand to celebrate my act, the pain great, but I don’t care. This was all a gift.

But I must say that that was an easy act of courage, and I almost didn’t speak of it when considering the topic. Doing is not my nemesis. I can do. But there is a foe, the kind of courage I can speak of if I dare, and that is the courage to step forward and be willing to be seen beyond the casing of my being. What demands my courage is the willingness to strip off the façade and let you know the weakness that lurks within. The power does well for itself, but the weakness has never had a turn on stage, and letting it out would be an act of courage far beyond leaping from an airplane.


On Editing

Bill stood and opened the lid to the toilet, unscrewed the top off the bottle of red nail polish, and poured the flamboyant color into the water. When he flushed, it swirled around like spin art and disappeared down the drain. He threw the empty bottle into the trash and covered it with used tissues like a murderer hiding his weapon.

“I don’t think nail polish would behave like that,” my editor says. “I don’t think it would spin and go down the drain.”

I deflate, bonded to the image my brain had concocted. Could she be right? Am I prepared to offer up my own toilet bowl as a guinea pig?

I sit on her note for a long time, but finally my curiosity speaks and demands resolution. I open my bathroom medicine chest and locate the two bottles of nail polish I own. I opt for the tiny container of light blue thinking that if something goes wrong, the color is more subtle. I unscrew the top and tip it sideways to peer inside. The contents are all dried out. Useless. I reach for the other bottle. Blood red like in my story. I give it a good unifying shake. Plenty of liquid within.

I close the sink drain and fill the basin with a couple inches of water considering it a more manageable locale to navigate than the toilet bowl. Slowly I pour in a few drops of polish. More dramatic than spin art, the color scurries across the surface separating into odd flat creatures that get me thinking of amoeba. Some race to the edges and cling to the porcelain. I stare for a moment and then release the drain. The water descends leaving behind all the red – filmy and flat – to decorate my sink.


I quickly reach for nail polish remover, splash it onto tissue, and rub away. Some comes off easily. Some hangs onto the basin. With a little elbow grease, my sink returns to its original white.

Time for a rewrite.

Bill stood and opened the lid to the toilet, unscrewed the top off the bottle of red nail polish, and poured the flamboyant color into the bowl. The color dispersed quickly dancing on the surface of the water, splitting into odd-shaped particles that resembled amoeba. He flushed. The color clung to the porcelain walls as if mocking his desire to banish it. Bill sighed and vowed to deal with it later. He threw the empty bottle into the trash and covered it with used tissues like a murderer hiding his weapon.

I thank my editor for catching my creative gaffe. I’m still learning about the writing world, about what literary editors offer and how they work. Through the many years of my career as a film editor, I encountered the question, “So you get to decide what to take out of a movie?” and I’ve had to explain that film editing isn’t really the act of ‘taking out.’ That comes in at a point, but film editing is the act of putting a film together, that every time the image on the screen changes, an editor made a cut. As editors, we sit with miles of film (now in digital format) broken down by scene. We have assorted angles to work with from wide shot to two shot to close ups, over the shoulders and inserts of objects. We pour through it all selecting performances and figuring out where to be during each moment of a scene. Do we want to watch the speaker speak or the listener listen? Where does the heart of the moment reside? At what point do we go in tight for emphasis? When do we pull back for air?

To me editing is the act of creating visual music. What motivates a cut is often the editor’s sense of rhythm. We work with the director to incorporate his/her notes and desires, and then are sent off to “do what you do.” And what we do includes little tweaks of frames here and frames there, mere fractions of seconds that if left untouched make an editor squirm.

I have been away from editing for nearly two years. It’s trying to lure me back due to less than stellar progress in the writing arena and a bank account that’s crying, “Foul.” My heart wishes it could keep thinking of spin art nail polish and dancing amoeba blobs. I’d love to know that this blind walk down an unmarked path will get me through the woods, but the reality is that right now I know nothing. And going on when we know nothing is the real art of life. Saying ‘no’ to a paying job because I must get Amber and Cassidy, my newest born characters, through their lives is a leap of faith, and these days I’m finding it easier to help them find their way than to find my own.


Drive By

As I stroll down the street with my strutting Chihuahua, I detect a voice to my left. A wisp of a voice. I turn and see a black SUV pulled alongside a parked car. Window down. Male inside. His face turned my way, lips moving, a hint of sound floating through the rolled down passenger-side window.

“Excuse me?” I ask.

More near-silent lip movement.

“Sorry?” I say formatted as a question.

“Do you live here?” he says, finally in an audible tone.

“Yes,” I reply imagining he’s about to ask for directions.

“Do you want to get coffee some time?” he asks.

Okay, is this really how it’s done? Drive by pick up? Perhaps I should be flattered, but the lack of precision to the event leaves me less than.

“Uh, that’s kind of random,” I say, not certain how else to respond to a stranger, motor running, tossing out an invite from ten feet away based on, uh, how I walk my dog.

It’s been a dry spell. Very dry. Drought dry. But no, sir, I can’t leap to for a drive by. I can’t believe you are very discerning. I can’t accept an invite that way. I can’t. I’m sorry. Maybe if you had parked, walked down the sidewalk and appeared to have happened upon me, struck up conversation. Maybe if you’d at least given me something to go on besides, “He drives a black SUV and speaks the same language as I.”

The driver pulls away, and I continue towards the park with Speck who always gets a lot of action in the sniffin’ meet ‘n greet scene. Despite his diminutive size, he’s very bold in his encounters. I’m the one who grows cautious when the bigger beasts come bounding up imagining my precious one carted away in the jaws of a stranger.

But it wasn’t caution that kept me from exchanging numbers with Mr. SUV. It just felt off. LA has a reputation for being a tough place to meet new people. We move through space in our encapsulated vehicles, our portable homes, my trunk stuffed with every need a whim could desire. That is, except for one. The chance encounter. I love them. Crave them. Smile over them. Some people prefer the fix up, a history laid out in advance, a guarantee of civility assured by a mutual friend, but not I. I like mystery and happenstance.

But again, the drive by factor. Looking back, I’d now like to question this guy on his method. I’d like to sit him down like an investigative reporter removing my personal role in the story and ask, “What prompted you? Is this your normal m.o.? Has it worked before?” I’d like to know if he headed out with the cruising in mind or if he’d leapt forth on a whim. I mean, when I said how random it was, he didn’t come back with a witty reply. He didn’t work to lure me in.

Being the initiator is tough, and in response to Mr. SUV’s gesture I have decided to put myself in the driver’s seat by pledging to reach out and launch my next encounter. The one thing is, I plan to get out of the car.


Reach Out and Touch Someone

I’ve been thinking about prisons and the absence of touch. The two go hand in hand, don’t they? Can’t an absence of touch land someone in prison, and can’t prison bring others to an absence of touch?

And then there is the prison that is the absence of touch, the prison that moves with you wherever you go. We don’t talk about that one, but we should. A lot of people live in that prison and something really should be done about it.

Not to defend the wrongdoers, but if we lock someone away for a crime committed, we must choose between a desire for punishment and a desire to return a healthy being to the world at the end of incarceration. If you have ever lived in the absence of touch, if you have ever lived in pockets of aloneness that turned to pockets of loneliness, you know that that is not the way to become whole. Maybe for short periods of time where there are lessons to be learned, but prolonged, that absence of touch is a killer mightier than any sword, deadlier than any weapon of mass destruction. It may not kill your body, but it kills your spirit.

I think of what gets prisoners to prison in the first place, what turned the innocent child into the not so innocent, what birthed the cruel and the heartless, the one to be feared and hated. If we want a healed society, we all must care. We must reconcile the religious view of good vs. evil and the belief in the Devil embodied with earthly context and opportunity and injustice and inequity. We must remember what hurt and sadness and isolation breed.

My stepfather was a doctor who believed in the healing power of hugs. He mandated a hug a day for everyone, prescribed it like medicine. And you could see the instant effect from resistance to acceptance to easing into the moment.

And no, I have no idea how to apply this to prisons and prisoners. I have to idea how to connect the unconnected in the world, the criminals and upstanding citizens alike, the ones who go days and weeks and years without the simple touch of affection, the ones who never get to spill the words choking the base of their throats, who want to bond with another, who want to find a way to liberate what is buried within, who want feedback and guidance and consolation and comfort, who want to offer the same in exchange. I have no idea.

I think of the traveling prison of isolation and what that does to our society. Despite the connection that technology offers, that solution is feeble compared to the power of touch to heal all that wounds. But maybe if we put our heads together, if those who live enfolded share their success, the rest can find a way to join in. Maybe if we reexamine the goal of incarceration, if we intervene sooner and better, maybe we can cut the number of victims. And maybe, just maybe, if we start talking about all this we can move forward towards a whole lot of healing.

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Unrelated (except in the way that everything is related)...
Please visit this site and watch the video on how our supermarket workers are currently suffering. Please. Please. And then sign the pledge...


By Coming Here

I have realized that my imagination is more important than my opinion, that I can persevere even when I don’t want to, that how things begin is seldom how they end. I have discovered that there is more anger and pain in the world than imaginable, that we have forgotten much about joy, but that many discoveries are just a moment away. I have witnessed the universal longing for connection and the various ways that individuals seek to reach out, that it is often easier to reach forward to the distant stranger than to reach across the room to someone who shares your life.

Daily we move furiously past the familiar faces we don't slow to meet because we think what we want is further down the road, and we tell ourselves that we must race to get there or else. Or else. Or else we will be here with what we don’t quite want. Wanting what we have is a lost art because we believe the commercials of endless promises laced with temptation. Or endless temptation laced with promises.

We are more confused than we admit.

But somehow at some point in some day something sneaks in. A sunset glowing red and orange. A small child waddling with chubby little legs in a soggy and sagging bathing suit. A glimpse of dolphins leaping through the air. These small things invite us back, remind us of what to celebrate. A taste against our tongue. A stranger holding the door. A task accomplished. And if we go to sleep with these small things in our mind, we stand a chance. We wake up with a smile and savor more of the next day because we’ve digested a clue.

And we cling to this sensation of nourishing fullness that fills our chest, to this encounter with happy. We think that if we could bottle and sell it, we would be rich because everyone wants this same feeling. But despite our promises to self, despite our desire, the fullness vanishes, drifts away into the air. We just can’t hold on.

The feeling roams looking for a home in need, and when you’re lucky it descends upon you.


Care to Lend a Hand?

In a few weeks I will participate in LA Bloggers Live by getting onstage and reading my words.

The big question: what to read?

I’ve been bouncing around, revisiting some of my older posts, the ones many of you may never have read because they showed up before we became acquainted. Some of these are early posts, and thus may seem loose and flabby before my tightening exercises worked some magic, but still...

Some possibilities…

(the time my dog and computer broke on the same day)

Inside the Animal Kingdom
(some key things I’ve learned from my dog)

Safe Deposit Box Buddy
(my attempt at becoming a grownup...minus the political tag, which feels dated)

Car Talk
(insight on how we Angelenos use our horns and might better communicate)

(how moms get out of whack and how I tried to climb back)

I promise this isn't just a way to avoid writing and send you back to old posts (though wouldn't that be clever). I need your help and beloved guidance. If you were to see me march forward and use my voice, what would you like to hear? (and rumor has it that the reading may live as a recording archived online at some point.)

And if you’ve read something else that stuck in your brain that you want to suggest, please do. Really. Please do. And then there's the option of requesting a new post, but that simply can't be guaranteed.

Finally, if you are a local, come out and join the fun…

And thank you in advance to all who offer up advice.


Last Kiss

If I had known it was to be my last kiss for a year I would have paid greater attention. I would have made it linger or been more inventive. I might have drawn my partner in closer or kept my eyes open to seek a hint of what he was thinking. I might have done a lot of things, but I wouldn’t have pulled away so casually as if the next kiss were waiting for me the next day from the next partner, the one I imagined really wanting me and I really wanting in return, the one with whom I would share a kiss unlike the kiss with the one filling in during a gap where we each found ourselves far from love.

I wonder if during my last kiss, my kissing partner thought of his future girlfriend as his lips touched mine or if he could bury himself in our moment. Had I known I would go kissless for a year, I might have asked that question as we pulled apart, for his answer could have made the kiss significant beyond its lastness, transformed it to a wondrous incident to add to the pages of my life, one to be underlined in pink highlighter, the time I learned what a man was thinking.

But I didn’t ask because I didn’t know. I didn’t know how kissless I would become. And now, a year later, I wonder where all my unused kisses have gone. Are they annoyed and hanging at a bus stop hoping to find someone else to carry them on to an adventure, or are they enjoying a little time for self in the shallow end of a pretty pool with palm trees overhead and waitresses with cocktail trays circling in colorful sarongs and bikini tops? Maybe they’ve enjoyed the time away, a sparing from all the kissing that wasn’t quite right. Or maybe my unused kisses are right here inside me lying dormant waiting to spring forth like a budding virus.

Some days I tell myself that I am the discerning restaurant patron who waits patiently to encounter a tasty dish, that my patience improves my palate by not deadening it with wrong encounters. Those are the strong days, the days I don't ask questions, but just go about my business until the next kiss appears.



How do you have faith?

If you turn to religion, how do you justify the suffering? If your answer is a bigger picture, I want to discuss the pain of the detail in the bottom right corner. If your answer is closed eyes, how do you quiet the observations of the dreaming mind? If your answer is one foot in front of the other, how do you do that? Really. How do you? How is the motion sufficient? How do you feel that you’re doing enough?

I know I should walk out my door and pursue my life, but confusion blocks my way. I know that I should trust that all works out, but I don’t know how, for even if it works out for me I ache over wounded children and generations haunted by war. I know I should have faith, but after driving into so many brick walls that my front bumper now sits exhausted in the back seat, I fear I do not see properly.

Existential crisis and I are one. We wake and make coffee together. He takes cream. I drink it black. We both use wooden stirrers even though mine is just for the calming effect the soothing motion offers, the same way I look at a conductor’s baton and find it more satisfying than the music.

Some say suffering is inevitable and I shouldn’t feel sad about how the world motors on. But I do. I can’t accept inevitable. I must believe that it can be better, profoundly better. I fear we have been lulled into acceptance, into shrugging our shoulders and saying, “Human nature.” If human nature is so cruel, how tragic. And if not, we should stage a worldwide rally to claim our true nature. We should stand up and say, “Not one more day of violence. Not one more day of hostility.” We should stop marching towards commercial gain and throw a picnic where we mobilize for the beautiful world we dare imagine, for if we don’t, soon our imaginations will be consumed by ghastly images that massacre optimism.

Or maybe that’s just me. There are wonderful people who reach out to cure the harm and don't get discouraged. But isn’t the mopping up exhausting? Can’t we launch a global campaign of preventative medicine of good? If it sounds like whining, is it whining? Or is it just appropriate introspection to seek to evolve the species?



You start off smart, gathering tools and planning. You’ve waited long enough, ignoring the annoyance of the never-properly-installed under-cabinet Lazy Susan that has shifted so that it rests too far to the right thus preventing the right-angle shaped cabinet door from closing. But today you are ready. You want a remedy.

You remove all pantry items from the top shelf of Lazy Susan (you drop the article because today it has a personality and is just ‘Lazy Susan’) claiming “I’ll put everything back in a more organized fashion so that I will actually know what keen food options lurk behind closed doors instead of saying to my son, ‘We have no food in the house. Eat something from the freezer or make yourself a peanut butter and jelly sandwich.’” You reach for the Phillip’s head screwdriver and for a minute wonder who Phillip was, or is it Phillips? You loosen the screw and slide Lazy Susan’s upper shelf to the left so that its right angle lines up with the cupboard’s opening right angle. You spin it a few times because you know it has a tendency to migrate to the right.

It stays in place.

You rearrange all food items so that rice offerings – “I really bought two kinds of jasmine rice?” – and boxed Italian sauces – “If its ‘best by’ date was six months ago can I count that as a recommendation rather than a health warning?” – and all those canned things like water chestnuts and canned coconut milk that sounded good at the time but are unlikely to ever get eaten are grouped with their peers. After clearing the counter and nearly applauding the beauty you’ve created in your organization, you give Lazy Susan a spin.

It lines up exactly where it did before the process started, preventing cabinet door closure.

Hell if you’re going to remove everything again. You’ll just sit on the floor and wedge your left hand and arm under the shelf to support it while you loosen the screw with your right hand just a bit to reposition the shelf once again to the left. You face inward so that you can’t see the idiot light flashing behind your back screaming, “Bad idea!” You turn the screw one turn, and whoa, the shelf heavy as can be – you think? – slides down and crushes your left hand and arm. You try to pull it out, but you’re wedged in. You try to lift the shelf saying, “Think like a mother with her child stuck under a car!” only you can’t muster the same rescuing power for yourself as you could for your kid. Your heart starts to race and you realize you’re pinned and your hand is really starting to hurt and the pressure across your forearm is moving towards numbness and you can’t reach the phone and no one would come if you cried out because there is no one.

You close your eyes close to panic. You let out a groan and a yelp for dramatic effect. You pull again. Nothing. Panic builds. You look to your front door as if a fireman is bounding up the building’s stairs to save you, but all is quiet. You breathe fast and then go for a deliberate inhale. You tug hard and fast and glare at the shelf with all the anger and hatred you can access, and your arm comes free. You place it in your lap and see the deep line that adorns the top of the hand. You breathe relief. You’ve set yourself free, but with the freedom of your limb comes the freedom of your tears. You realize how bad it could have been, trapped with no one coming, circulation cut off. You cry with the pain, but mostly with the embarrassment of your actions and the knowledge that there was no one to rescue you from your own stupidity.

You banish the budding tears and wipe away those that escaped onto your face. You stand and yank all items off the Lazy Susan, cursing your inept and uncaring contractor. You adjust the shelf one more time compensating a little extra to the left. You don’t put any food away, thinking, “Now would be a good time to come up with an innovative menu to use all this.”

But you can’t. Not quite yet. So you leave it all strewn about the kitchen as if you’ve just done a major shopping trip to replenish the earthquake kit. You head to the bedroom where you lie down next to your Chihuahua who as much as he would have liked could not have been your Lassie.

And you wonder if you do it all yourself because you were born in the 60s and taught to be self-reliant or if it’s just your personality. You wonder why the thought of calling out for help was as painful as the compressing shelf on your arm. And you think about how there are now courses to teach women to learn to receive, to ask for assistance, to be less self-sufficient because apparently we’ve tipped the scale so far in one direction following the promise of an equal society that we didn’t know we’d passed middle and are doing too much on our own.

So here we are trying to learn how not to prove that we can do it all by ourselves. We struggle with accepting the idea that needing someone is okay because we’ve thought we should want rather than need, that our independence was seductive, that we are our own best helper. And maybe we are, but my self-reliance has turned me into an island. Sitting on the floor, trapped, I both needed and wanted.

addendum: Upon relating tale to teen son, he interrupts and asks, “So you just started taking things off the shelf to liberate yourself?” I paused. You see, when in the midst of panic, you really can get stupid.


How Did We Get Here?

Like Dorothy singing ‘Over the Rainbow’ we imagine a better place because there has to be, because this can’t be it. To solve the dilemma of not here, not now, you think to convene a town hall meeting, but you don’t want to invite all to attend because you know there’s poison out there and you always recognize it too late, once it already circulates through your blood. You cut your finger to bleed yourself, and you think of leeches doing a job of good over harm. They’re black and ugly and you prefer the poison to their cure. How many times you’ve preferred the poison.

You don’t believe this is life intended. More like a rollercoaster that’s jumped its tracks and flies out of control still diving and twisting and turning out of habit, not because its wheels are held to do so. Everyone’s going crazy. Smiles drug induced because we’ve forgotten the art of conversation. We race past those with little voices not slowing to hear as we build walls of protection to keep out what we most need. Our filters are clogged and we no longer can distinguish the good from the bad. We run when we should walk and sit when we should dance. We’ve lost the ability to navigate, so we cruise like automatons unable to feel breezes and sunrays. Our skin burns, and we don’t know. Our lips grow cracked and dry, and only after the fact do we apply balm, a mere band-aid to the dysfunctional life society breeds when progress takes us backwards.

Dreams offer visions of marshmallow clouds but awakeness burns our retina. “Glaring pain,” you said, or was it I? Did I speak of the pain the last time we lunched or did I offer encouragement and platitudes. “It will all be fine.” But is that true with no one at the helm? Can we just trust the drive without a driver?

The only thing that keeps me going beside the dictatorial rant of the ticking clock are the images of fantasy. The small lives of microscopic proportions. The couch talking to the pillow. It’s the maybe’s and the could be's that I love. They ignore the clock for it doesn’t speak to them. They reside outside in a world they’ve conjured from knowledge through resistance. “We need not follow,” they say. “Your rules aren’t ours.” And I want to echo their words. “Your rules. Your rules.” No one cares about my rules. My rules unsanctioned sit on the steps of the pool tapping toes against water wanting to play. The fight in me diminishes and I think of running, but sprinters don’t carry suitcases and I have a dog. Once you’re in you can’t easily get out. That’s the fine print on the back of the birth certificate. No one flips the document until it’s too late.

Not too late. What would not too late look like? More no’s, perhaps. Shoulder shrugs. Why explain especially to ears that don’t listen? Cashing in and cashing out. Remembering sudden death that suddenly makes the money look sufficient. Yes, plenty to live until tomorrow. But you plan beyond tomorrow and then walk around in concrete shoes, box-like and ugly. “Who designed this fashion?” you ask, but passersby whiz in their dainty collection. They don’t feel your weight, but they also can close their eyes to slaughtered animals and eat meat, to bloodied children and wave the flag. Your eyes don’t close as easily so the pain sneaks in via your pupils. Too late you shut your eyes. Too late because the images are within and no matter how tight you squeeze your eyelids, you can’t stop seeing.

When you put color upon the walls you blot out the images, lulled into rhythm by the up down up down of the saturated bristles hued in the color du jour. When all the walls are covered, you panic because how now will you escape? You skittle through your house looking for scuffmarks on baseboards saying, “Hold on. I’ll fix you,” but you know the baseboards are fine and you’re fixing yourself. They know it, too, but don’t mind a sprucing up layer of white. “Spring time,” they say.

But then the baseboards are clean and all that’s left is to wash the brushes. Paint mixes with water and goes downstream trailing color like a road map. “Follow me,” it says, and you do until your feet are muddy and your legs are tired. You sit on the banks of the jungle river and sigh, “How did I get here?” And then a chorus echoes from behind thick vines singing, “How did I get here? How did I get here?” A musical erupts around you and you’re on stage with a smiling audience filling the theatre. The crowd sways involuntarily caught up in the music and you invite all to sing along, and soon an entire auditorium is singing, “How did I get here?”

The music ends and you take a bow. The orchestra packs up instruments as the audience exits through doors at the back, left, and right. Streams of people forget about the chant and forget about the questioning and get back on freeways to drive the speed of the car ahead of them. We once listened to radio but now we mostly talk on cell phones, which apparently is much better than actually driving over and seeing the person whose voice comes through our earpiece. If we’re with them we can’t do anything else, and in the religion of multitasking that would be a sin.

“Sinner!” they scream as they stone me, for I held a dinner party with no purpose of moving forwards. I refused to denounce my crime during sentencing, so the judge was harsh. “You’re sentenced to forever,” he said, which I found vague. “Forever what?” I tried to ask, but my lawyer shoved an elbow into my side, which made me buckle and lose my wind.

In my cell I reflect on my choices and wonder if I’d really earned punishment or if I’d just landed in a parallel reality when I finally got to slow down. “Maybe I need to be more specific in stating my wishes,” I think, but it hardly matters now for it’s too late to undo the confusion.

I reach for a piece of black coal upon the stone floor, rub it between thumb and index finger. I then turn to the blank slate of the prison walls and start to write myself out of my reality one coal mark at a time.


All I Want for Christmas is an Industrial-Strength Paper Shredder

I’ve drunk the Kool-Aid. The fear of God has been bred into me. My mail stacks up and my file cabinets are overflowing. I’m afraid to throw away even junk mail without shredding it first. Never in my early childhood dreams could I have imagined that my simple name and address would be of value, and not because I’m a celebrity and people are interested in coming to gawk, but because someone could want to become me, at least in the steal-my-identity financial sense.

I haven’t actually tracked how name and address results in five credit cards and a car lease, but I’ve heard the horror stories. Why I end up responsible baffles me. My friend could easily prove she wasn’t the woman receiving unemployment checks issued to her social security number in someone else’s name at a different address. Did that get her off the hook? No. Or the MasterCard account opened in her name by someone who wasn’t her, a suspected inside job at the issuing company. A lawyer simply told her that her best option to clear up her – uh, someone else’s – debt linked to her identity was to declare bankruptcy. She did and left the country. (For other truly romantic reasons, but still.)

So now I sit over a paper-eating machine begrudgingly shredding pieces of mail that should be of no interest to anyone. I waste time and energy – both mine and that of the electric kind – and at the end of it all, all I’ve succeeded in doing is theoretically protecting myself from some unknown thief. I willingly put locks on my door, but this other kind of protection I don’t understand. The territory I must guard is so vast and so invisible that I can’t imagine successfully defending it, at least not on my own.

I suspect someone else should be in charge of this.

Perhaps if the crime were more vigorously investigated and prosecuted the benefit of it would vanish. Perhaps if regular folks like me had a shred of protection from this practice we wouldn’t all have to buy shredders. If someone steals my car and crashes into a street-load of pedestrians, I’m not carted off to jail. If someone steals my identity and goes and buys that car, too bad. The debt is mine. Logic, please?

We now are offered identity theft insurance. Why should we pay for crimes perpetrated in our name but without our knowledge?

Recently a friend of mine was talking about cleaning out her files. With the average shredder disposing of six sheets at a time, she figured she could spend the next year shredding for protection. Her husband offered to burn the papers in their barbeque. I suggested the fireplace despite the fact that spring has arrived. Then we discussed whether she wouldn’t be adding to pollution from this mass burning. Endless shredding versus air pollution versus potential identity theft. Can we get an intervention here?

Some believe the shredding of junk mail is an exercise in over-caution, yet another friend of mine insists that is how her identity was snatched, which led her down the path of clearing her good name for months. When this happens one can only guess the origin of the thievery, so now we examine all our identifying documents and ask, “Could it be you? Could you betray me?”

Others say that they refuse to live in fear, and I was one of you until last year. I tossed my mail into the trash figuring the likelihood of a dumpster diver barreling to the bottom of a twelve-unit condo building’s garbage heap and poking around through rotting food and dirty disposable diapers was unlikely. But then I discovered that we could put mixed paper into our recycling bins, and being the God fearing environmentalist that I am (exaggeration noted), I started depositing papers and cereal boxes inside a tidy bin that smelled just fine. Suddenly I saw my papers as actually inviting theft, as if I’d placed them in an ornate and calligraphy-addressed envelope and sent them out to Mr. & Mrs. Identity Thief.

I bought a shredder.

It was fun for about twelve minutes. Commercial shredders fill up fast and require constant bag replacement. A financial statement ready for disposal requires two to three passes to reduce it to the six-sheet maximum. Sometimes I get cocky and feed in a few extra pages. When it shreds to a halt, I get to learn how to use the ‘Reverse’ setting, pulling my half-shredded identity from its clutches as if rescuing a treasured body part from the teeth of a shark. (Less blood, of course.)

I’ve made it through my recent mail, but my file cabinets are due for a purging. I honestly can’t face the task. One acquaintance suggested watching TV as I shred claiming it could be relaxing. At that moment I decided he wasn’t very bright. “Ah, the serenade of the shredder burying the dialogue of ‘Without a Trace.’” (Guilty pleasure revealed.)

Please, oh Federal Government, come up with a system to protect your citizens. Free us from endless shredding and endless guarding of who we are and where we live and where we bank and how we paid for last summer’s vacation. Let me run free through the wind, hair flowing behind me, carefree and spewing my personal data for all to hear. Let me shift my worries to something that betters the world, or better yet, you can go ahead and wipe out world problems while you’re at it. (A girl can dream.)

In lieu of the above, please deliver an industrial-strength shredder to our multi-car communal garage and set it conveniently to dump into the recycling bin. If it weren’t springtime, I’d ask Santa.



I want to talk about the cows, but not just about the cows, but about how they reached out to save me, the cows that need saving, the cows that live impossibly crammed in pastures of dirt off Hwy 5 between Los Angeles and San Francisco awaiting their slaughter.

Every time I drive past the cows that live so innocently, grazing, walking around amongst one another, it breaks my heart. They have no idea. One time I’m driving past, and a bunch of fresh young calves have joined the herd. As I look at them I think ‘pack’ instead of ‘herd’ because to me somehow ‘pack’ implies choice, an intentional coming together. I’m funny that way.

So the young calves have joined, and they’re romping around, running on super skinny legs, buoyant and playful. And they make me laugh out loud. I stop to go near them, stop in a place I never stop, and I walk towards the fence that imprisons them, look around, wonder how to liberate them. I glance down to my left and see a large stone that would require both my hands to lift it. And I do. I pick it up and start pounding the wooden stake of the fence trying to hammer it into the ground. I imagine that if I keep hitting it over and over it will vanish into the earth and the cows can run free and escape their death. But I’m not making any progress with the post. It doesn’t give at all, and the cows see my trying and we speak with our eyes. “I want to save you,” I convey, but they tell me to save myself. They tell me to take the rock and move on.

And I do because I sense the cows know something. I cradle the stone in my two hands and it becomes my heart, and I walk holding my heart out in front of me like it’s an offering. I’m not really surprised when I meet the cowboy even though I don’t really like cowboys. We face each other, and suddenly my heart/rock becomes a balloon filled with helium and it soars into the clouds.

So there I am left to decide, do I follow my heart or stay with the cowboy? In an ideal world my heart would lead me to the cowboy or to a cowboy or to someone as available as the cowboy. With my balloon heart soaring towards the clouds I can’t be certain where it is headed and where it will take me if I follow. Will it continue to climb high or will it veer off to the left, take a sudden dive and land me in a quiet field of wildflowers? It could happen just like how the innocent, penned cows told me to save myself. It’s all in the listening and the looking, the messages and signs around us daily, the ones we miss because we rush past in a predetermined hurry to stay on a schedule that we create not imagining the wise cows and soaring hearts.

While the cowboy is cute and standing before me, I opt to follow my heart, for flying without wings is an experience not to be missed. I will myself high and extend my arm to catch the teeny string tail of the heart balloon. With two hands I cling to the string and look down at my dangling feet remembering those years on the monkey bars with too-weak arms, where kicking of legs propelled me across the overhead railroad track of hot grey metal coated with the grimy sweat of elementary school primates. I kick my legs to direct the balloon as I kicked my young legs to move me forward towards my playground destination.

The cowboy grows tiny on the ground beneath my swaying legs, and I lift my head. Before me I see forever, knowing it’s forever even though I’ve never seen forever before and couldn’t have previously described what forever looks like. But here it is: forever is limitless hope. It contains every color and every dream, every motel and every rest stop. It offers the previously seen and the yet to be imagined. It’s both bumpy and flat at the same time and yet is not contradictory. Forever is like the universe with no foreseeable end. Forever promises things it can’t prove. Forever demands faith. Forever appears like a board game of fresh rules, a descent into a land once unknown but when you finally enter makes all the sense in the world.

Gliding beneath the balloon heart I get lost in sensation as cool wind slaps my bare legs and swirls my hair into a beehive. I want to offer the view to the cows, for they live too close to the ground. “They deserve this,” I think, “because they thought to save me first.” I wish them free once again, not wanting to soar at their expense.

Now that I am out of his sight the cowboy vanishes, for he was never truly real but merely a roadside mirage. Thankfully I didn’t stay to hold his hand. As a city girl, I made the right choice. The heart balloon twirls riding the air currents like a surfer on a wave. Finally we touch down in a vast field of dry California weeds. After the brief life in the sky, solid ground feels foreign and unsteady. I shake out my legs and work through a quick jig to find balance. Tall grass tickles my legs, the kind of grass the cows like to eat. I wonder if I can fall in love while the cows stay penned. It seems unfair, even if it’s what they wanted for me.


The Weight of Words

Sipping a cup of coffee, you consider what people do and where people go and what phrases appear in the descriptions of these life events, and you remember the time you witnessed a child’s caution and you concluded, “He didn’t want to get in trouble.”

In trouble. What a phrase.

In trouble, as if it’s a dish cooking on the stove. A pot of trouble. Stovetop trouble bubbles furiously like tomato soup being cooked over too high a flame. But it’s trouble, so it’s not that it’s angry. Bubbling is just one of trouble’s characteristics, for trouble is never completely stagnant. Trouble tends to rumble like a hungry stomach wanting attention.

In trouble, as if it were a place like a small town. Kind of rural with a tiny main drag, a Western town, or maybe more desert-like. Not much water around trouble. The sign on the edge of town says ‘TROUBLE, elevation 11 ft., pop. 57.’ You cross the border the sign marks and you’re in Trouble. You spend some time there, meet the locals, and drink at the saloon because you’ve always wanted to pass through swinging doors with Saloon stenciled overhead. You shop at the Five & Dime because you haven’t been to one in a long while and it sparks a fond childhood memory. The woman at the cash register ringing you up invites you home for supper because in Trouble strangers don’t remain strangers for long.

Around the table, the food is fine and the family is simple with a working wife, two children, and the kind of husband who would find himself in this small town, a man who used to roam the highways shaking it up and lifting his fist until he found himself in Trouble. You finish your meal and play Parchisi in the living room and you thank your hosts as you leave through the front door.

After a couple days – or is it hours? – you leave Trouble just as you arrived: casually, without much thought.

When people ask where you’ve been and you answer, “In Trouble,” they scrunch up their faces with concern. ‘In trouble’ is the kind of answer kids and criminals give, and you’re neither. In the 1950s a pregnant unmarried woman might use the phrase, or at least the gossiping neighbors would. “She got herself in trouble.”

Being in trouble speaks of going against the rules and getting caught. Being in trouble links with punishment. But after your detour to the small town, those two words will forever sound sly when they crop up in conversation like they’re winking with a bigger story to tell.


A Year Later

We often encounter markers of time’s passage. Birthdays, anniversaries, New Years. For me it’s the annual trek to see David Sedaris at UCLA’s Royce Hall. Wednesday night was year seven for me, if memory serves. Assorted friends often recount the time they were my guest, sitting beside me, laughing till their stomachs hurt, grabbing at key phrases and tales to stash away for future recall, to facilitate a laugh on demand. Each year around the beginning of April, my phone rings with a caller inquiring, “Who are you taking to David Sedaris this year?” It’s a subtle way of asking for an invite to secure one of the most sought after tickets in town.

Last year my son was my date, the night David Sedaris asked my then twelve-year-old to introduce him on stage, a simple request that lead to a memorable evening. Following that night, I wrote a piece about the adventure and then boldly mailed it off to David along with a thank you and a photo I’d snapped of him with my son. Not long after, I received a warm and witty reply full of details of his recent vacation with his boyfriend that included an anecdote about a midget bouncer at a bar. In order to respect the privacy of personal correspondence, I’ll leave it at that. Beside, you may read about it someday in The New Yorker.

When April rolled around this year, I found myself starting to dream about David Sedaris, odd dreams of nervousness as if I might forget to attend his reading. The morning of the event I worried that I would leave the tickets tucked in my living room drawer or would somehow lose them on the way to UCLA. Weird anxiety, I confess.

My son was to be my date again. We arrived at UCLA early with the plan of seeing if my son could say hi to David. And I really mean, ‘my son.’ I’ve more than let go of the idea of a budding friendship with the admired writer. That rapport belongs to David and my teen with me as a mere observational bystander.

We entered Royce’s lobby and looked for the woman who had taken us backstage last year. No walkie-talkie wielding employees to be seen, I considered approaching the box office and asking for assistance. A table sat in the lobby selling books, so we first wandered over to catch a glimpse of the offerings. My anxiety must have blinded me to the long line snaking from the table, but finally after observing all the books for sale and noting that I owned all except those by an author David was promoting, I glanced left. There sat David signing books. Pre-show. Calm as can be.

“He’s right there,” I said to my son. “Let’s get in line to say hi.”

We waited patiently, the only patrons not holding a book for signing. The line moved slowly, David taking the time to talk with each fan, sharing a personal moment with an anecdote attached. Finally we reached the front of the line. I pushed my son ahead of me and took a step back.

“Hi,” he said. “I’m Anthony. I don’t know if you remember me, but I introduced you last year.”

“Anthony, hi. I was thinking about you,” replied David. “You wanna do it again?”

“Sure,” said my son, and David reached for his wallet, pulled out a twenty, “Your stage fee,” he said, and handed it to my son. “Could you sign it?” my son asked, and he did. Anthony had doubled his earning potential in one year, but it hardly mattered. The ten was neatly tucked in his bedroom drawer and the twenty would take a place beside it.

David told us to meet him back at the table in twenty-five minutes. This year he’d be signing books right up until show time. As we stepped away, my son said, “‘Stage fee.’ See, I told you that’s what he said. Not ‘stage pay.’” I wondered if my son was requesting an edit of last year’s piece.

A UCLA Live employee offered us to wait in the green room and eat David’s food. “He never eats it,” she said, but this year we decided to just linger in the lobby. When time came for Anthony to go backstage with David, I didn’t follow. In the passage of a year, I’d seen that this was my son’s moment, that he deserved a private interaction with David to find the words he would say on stage, that I didn’t need to hover and interfere. David had been kind when I’d said hello, but just like last year, I felt his discomfort in small talk with me. And I was fine with that. Really. We are strangers who pass each other once a year, usually with me in the audience and David on stage. That is the natural order of things, at least for now.

As my son disappeared through the lobby by David’s side, I entered the auditorium. Despite the ban on photos, I’d been given permission to snap away while my son was on stage, so I pressed against a pillar up front to the right and waited. I peered into the wings, and finally I saw David and my son arrive deep in conversation. David saw me standing within view and pointed me out to my son who waved and looked really happy and relaxed. I appeared oddly conspicuous standing with my tiny digital camera in hand. In this age of fear, I wondered if anyone found my behavior suspicious, and I launched into a fantasy of my being jumped as the lights came down and I snuck forward camera ready to capture a precious moment. I’d lift the camera and threaten with a flash of light, be tackled by a well-meaning patron or usher, get removed from the theater, and miss my son’s moment.

Of course, none of that happened. The lights went down, my son emerged, I snuck forward and snapped largely worthless photos with my pocket camera’s weak flash just as my son said, “No photos, videos, or recordings.” Like last year but with the modification of a few words and a deeper voice, he told everyone to turn off “cell phones and pagers and anything annoying.” He added his praise of David as a writer who’d told him a funny story about kidney stones backstage.

And then he was done and replaced by David on stage.

I took my seat climbing over fans who seemed annoyed, but when Anthony took his seat beside me, my status was instantly elevated as if those around us were thinking, “Ah, she must be his mom.”

After David read his first piece, he paused, and like last year, thanked my son for his courage to come on stage with little warning in front of a room of nearly two thousand people. He then went on to say something like if he had a kid, he’d want him to grow up to be like Anthony, that anyone would want their kid to grow up to be like Anthony.

I couldn’t agree more. And I thank David Sedaris again for a wonderful evening and memory.


A Semblance

She sat down at the table and tapped the seat beside her. “Sit down, denial,” she said. “We need to talk.” She proceeded to praise denial, the often maligned guest in the room, for following a week of achievement and well being, she realized what she had done best was to dance with denial, denial in the form of the unspoken self-critique, denial in the form of the over-obsessing worry sidelined, denial in the form of pure celebration of what is.

In waltzing with denial, she glided through life with ease, found new energy to greet life, spent time doing rather than imagining.

With denial’s urging, she gave her life a makeover. When the new furniture arrived unexpectedly in boxes with the declaration “Some assembly required,” she chuckled rather than groaned. “Just like life,” she said. “Assembly required.” So as she placed part A next to part B and joined them with screw C, she saw her life coming together. And when she stripped the paint off the layered and tattered closet doors getting down to the core in order to start fresh and build back up, she again saw her life paralleling the journey. The old layers of trash and garbage stripped away for new color to emerge. And with all the work done and pictures newly hung and the bed freshly made, she sat herself down and leaned against supportive pillows. She looked at the masterpiece she’d created and understood the newness before her. Some assembly required indeed.

(to see a before shot...go here)


Bowing to the King

When you place a beating heart upon a throne and adorn it with a crown, like any other ruler it gets mighty full of itself and starts bossing around others. The body parts gather to listen, for the heart’s been away for a while and like any admired traveler that returns from a lengthy journey, its subjects wanted to hear a good story.

I’d expected a place of exalted honor for delivering heart back to its home, but I was quickly pushed to the back of the crowd, my view obscured by arms and livers, a gallbladder or two, and even an overgrown ear. Heart stood high and claimed knowledge the other body parts were too ignorant to know. I didn’t like heart’s pompous tone, so I pushed out of the crowd and decided to wander along the highway that bisected the vast nothingness of undeveloped terrain.

Fields spread wide on both sides of the road, and I wondered why heart had asked to return home rather than enjoy wildflowers and discarded aluminum cans. One could learn a lot about travelers by studying the trash they threw from their windows. I could never do that, brazenly toss my garbage from a car, not since those anti-littering ads starring the crying Indian in full headdress. Years later when attending a university that once had an Indian as a mascot, I learned of the sacrilege of dressing an actor in Native American religious wear to cheer on a football team or for use in advertising campaigns. I think that may have been one of the key things I learned in college.

The two-lane highway was void of all cars, a simple dotted line dividing it into its two parts. I stayed to the right and walked mimicking the invisible flow of traffic, but I longed for a car for company, for life on a highway without cars was lonely and unexciting.

Restless with my walk and curious about how heart was getting on, I turned around. I heard the echo of heart passionately spewing from the throne, thinking it rules the body, getting all bossy and dogmatic about the importance of its role including mandates that it must not be neglected. Meanwhile, brain sits on the sidelines shaking its head – its head? itself? – anyway, shaking in amusement over heart’s overblown self-importance. On the other hand, brain relates to feeling all knowing in its role. It, too, has wanted undying admiration.

When the gathering of body parts ended and heart had said its piece about love and passion and paying attention to when it beats hardest, the crowd dispersed and brain saw its opening. It walked over to heart and asked to talk, defying the protocol of requesting a formal audience. Heart was initially suspicious remembering the last time the two of them had gotten into it over what heart called a failed romance and brain called an act of stupidity. The chill and silence between them had lasted for weeks until they were forced into an encounter at a whole body symposium. In each other’s presence they’d both finally conceded the value of the other and had agreed to a truce, though with notably less enthusiasm than was required to peacefully coexist.

But since brain was approaching nicely this time and heart was feeling generous in light of a warm welcome home, well, heart warmly embraced brain.

They stood in silence before each other for a moment. Finally heart opened the door. “You wanted to speak to me.”

“Yes,” said brain, but brain was uncertain how to begin.

“Well?” prodded heart.

“Well, I just wanted to say that I’m sorry for challenging you all these years, for trying to diminish your importance.” Brain paused.

Heart waited.

And then brain started to weep, a role usually played by heart. Heart softened, stunned by this shift in brain. Heart had wanted this for brain for so long, a letting down of its guard, a willingness to melt. In another era, heart might have been smug, but not today. And in an embrace, heart and brain finally realized they were on the same side.


Margaritas and Sushi

Last night I sat beside two men at a sushi bar, the ones who struck up conversation by asking how a margarita, which I was drinking, goes with sushi as opposed to the traditional sake or beer, and to whom I responded, “Well, I guess I’m always a bit of a rebel, but besides, it’s only vegetarian sushi, a veggie roll, so it’s kind of like having a margarita with a salad.”

These men next tried to draw me in with, “So, what do you think of Hillary for president?” And I told them that I refuse to talk about the presidential election at this point, that I’d rather these elected officials go do the current job they’ve been granted, that I could gather far more information about them by watching them perform as senators and civic leaders than by hearing them on the campaign trail. And besides, whoever has my attention at this point is completely irrelevant because eight months from now they could be long gone following a presidential race implosion.

So they got me to talk a little bit about the campaign, but my heart and head weren’t feeling political. I’d come for food and drink and the noise of the room.

The men started maligning assorted public figures as I sipped my margarita and dipped my not-tightly-enough-rolled sushi into soy sauce and wasabi, watching the rice and shredded carrots leak from the middle to create a textured landscape in my dish. I lightly continued my sideline participation in the conversation and eventually tossed out with a smile that I was certainly more liberal than they were, at which point they grabbed onto ‘liberal’ and told me what I believed, how I wanted to take their hard-fought-for money and hand it out to bums and partiers.

Despite the words, their tone was not aggressive and I took no personal offense, for from my perch on the counter-high stool I was relaxed listening to how others think. We were in communal drinks and sushi mode and I had no need to be right or understood. I uttered a few phrases that contained words like “not everyone starts on equal footing,” but I never let the softness leave my face for these men had come to their opinions long ago, as had I. I did say that if my neighbor is living better, I live better, that giving more isn’t a taking from me but a bettering of community. But I said little else. I didn’t discuss how far reaching ‘liberal’ goes for me because they set it in the corner with money and I didn’t uproot it to bring it to the table with justice.

Near the end of the trialogue when they suggested switching the conversation from politics to religion, which brought a huge smile to my face and the comment, “I don’t think we want to go to religion,” the man closest to me leaned back and spoke to the woman on my other side. She dismissed his question, “Are you a liberal?” with, “I’m a capitalist!” and they giggled together – really giggled – and I offered to switch seats since they seemed much better suited to each other as opposed to gentle dissenting me who was sliding into mentioning those who work very hard but may not be blessed with a mind best suited for navigating society’s complexities. I pointed out that I don’t take credit for the way my brain makes things easy for me, that I only take a little credit for what I do with that brain, but even then… I trailed off.

I didn’t go into my philosophy that I’m not certain I can take any credit for hard work because my brain is what pushes me to do what I do, and I was born with the brain I was born with. I did say, though, to the man who was certain that I wanted to take his money and give it to lazy partiers, that he may have a head for business while I know someone who works very hard but who has a head for art and music. When given a task he digs in, but forced to find his own way in a world of commerce he becomes a little immobilized, not from lack of desire but from being blessed with a different skill set. The sake drinker paused at that one. I saw a glimpse of new thought cross his face. His head even nodded a bit, though perhaps involuntarily.

I paid my bill, said good-bye to my accidental dinner companions, and walked out into the cool night air with a huge smile on my face. “I’ve grown,” I thought. “I didn’t need to strut my stuff or get stern and argumentative. I could simply allow that we would never see the world the same way.” I walked with a fresh understanding of how hard it is to get those with differing views to have the same conversation. I realized that maybe it’s okay to not even try to discuss the details, not when we’re all sitting firmly in our chair of belief. I didn’t make friends while dining, but I didn’t make enemies either. I wasn’t angry at their assertions about me, or their stances that I didn’t share. In talking to them, I simply saw ‘different’ sitting beside me. I understood that they feel they’ve earned what they have, and those who haven’t achieved as much don’t want it with the same will and determination. I don’t agree, but now I at least know what conversation lurks below the surface, and a night out gathering information and experience is always a blessing.