When I was a kid, going door to door meant padding down the hallways in our prewar apartment building, walking down a flight of stairs and ringing doorbells. It was anyone's guess whether people were home. No porch, no windows, scant decorations. But it was a ritual and it was fun. When I was a teenager and in college, Halloween costumes became about sexy and parties and dancing. Now Halloween is all about the kids again, but this time I'm an observer and coach.
Damian went to his morning school in his pajamas (as did all the other kids and the teachers, too) and changed into his costume (with Daddy's help) for his afternoon school's Halloween parade and party. Then home through horrendous traffic and on to the main event: trick or treating. We always choose a street a few blocks west of our house for trick or treating. Our block has too many apartment buildings, the one we choose is all quaint old houses and sloping front lawns and intricately carved pumpkins.
We have friends on the block and we usually end the night at one of their houses. This year we started at the top of the block so we hit those houses first and ended up at a stranger's house -- or someone we thought was a stranger. But Dan took a step forward, peered at the man's face. Said his name with a question mark. Turns out they worked together a few years back. So we ended up inside the house, visiting. After we came home, Damian commented sleepily, "We ended at a nice house."
Damian was cute this year. Two years ago, it was all he could do to choke out the words "trick or treat!" and then he'd clam up. Last year he had his speeches all prepared: "Trick or treat!" "I'm a knight!" and "Thanks! Bye!" It was work, though. This year he'd ring the bell, get distracted by the cool jack o'lanterns, comment on the bales of hay or cobwebs, realize belatedly the door was now open, accept his candy, tell the homeowner, "Yes, I'm a black cat," and then at the end I'd whisper in his ear, "What do you say?" and he'd blurt out, "Thanks and also trick or treat!"
Damian with a Power Ranger buddy.
Iíve been working to lose weight since the beginning of July. Thereís no graceful phrase for the task, is there? Itís not a diet but a change in mindset and action. And weight loss isnít the only goal but itís the most concrete one. Itís a convenient shorthand but one that implies Iím in it for the short term Ė lose weight, be done with the thing, go back to pigging out. Iíll be damned if I know what to call it. Getting in shape, getting fit? That sounds so politically correct, sugar-coating (aspartame-coating?) the true intent. So losing weight will have to do for now.
Anyway. Iíve been working on this project of self and body (better? not so much? worse, even? damn) for four months now. Iíve had some hiccups along the way, some ďI canít do it!Ē moments, some ďI hate this!Ē pissy fits, some ďpoor fat old me, my body doesnít do what I wantĒ pity fests. But mostly itís been going well. Bit by bit I get more fit, have more stamina, more endorphins and healthier skin, my clothes fit better and smaller clothes fit again. All that good stuff. And Iíve stayed on the eating plan: counting my Weight Watchers points, measuring portion sizes, writing everything down, eating more veggies and a lot more fruit, switching to whole grain, changing my snack habits and even enjoying (pared down) expansive weekend dinners, inordinately proud of myself and my wondrous self-control. I was obnoxiously smug, in fact.
Until last week.
I donít know what triggered it. A combination of stress and exhaustion, I think. And no, it wasnít PMS. But I wanted to eat everything in sight. I felt like I absolutely had to put things in my mouth whether or not I was hungry, even if Iíd eaten ten minutes earlier, had to stuff my mouth my throat coat my stomach with FOOD. Comforting starchy sweet crunchy salty FOOD.
At least I was careful about it. I chose Pria bars, Asian pears, melon, lowfat chocolate cookies (4 small ones for a single WW point), nonfat chocolate sorbet bars (2 points apiece), Wasa crackers and rice cakes out the wazoo. And I wrote every single thing down in my food journal, wincing as I did, adding up the count and wincing again. And every night, Iíd say to myself, ďWhat the hell was that about?Ē And ďShit, my flex points are almost gone.Ē And ďI refuse to do that again tomorrow.Ē But every day I did it again. Compulsively.
I hated the way it made me feel, like I was waterlogged and squishing with it. Hated what it was doing to my self-confidence, my heretofore absolute knowledge that I was going to get to my goal weight and be so deliriously happy with it. For the first time this go-round, I thought I might fall off the weight loss wagon, lose my willpower and give in to whatever demon inside me craved more-more-ever-more. Iíve had this kind of insane-craving binge week before but since I wasnít working consciously to be healthy/lose weight, it just made me feel fat and slothful instead of precipitating the kind of flat-out fear I felt last week.
I had to change something. So I did. I talked out my stress with Dan and he helped me feel better about life stuff. So did my mom. I took naps and got to bed a bit earlier. I wrote some on my novel but let myself off the hook regarding page counts and forward progress. I took an entire morning off to read a good book and take a bath in Epsom salts. I brought the boom box into the bathroom, put on a plinky plunky New Age CD, and made the water as hot as I could stand. I canít remember the last time I did that. It felt amazing. Such luxury. A stolen morning.
That one bath broke the binge cycle.
The first day I ate normally Ė breakfast, a single snack when I got hungry, a sensible lunch and no snack till I got hungry againÖ that sort of a day Ė a wait until you feel your stomach talk back to you before heading to the fridge day, the first day that happened, I felt like crying. I was finally back in control.
I didnít know how much this mattered to me until I almost lost my way. I still donít even know why it happened. But I do know now that I can stumble and get back up. That insane cravings, so-called emotional eating episodes, can last days but they do end. That I have the tools to make it so.
This is a good thing to know.
I spilled water on my PowerBook this morning. This is not the first time this has happened: a year or so ago, Damian accidentally sprayed a water/pear juice mixture on my keyboard (the straw slipped out of his mouth). A combination of spew and a repair shop's unbelievable ineptitude killed that computer. I wasn't too concerned this time. That experience taught me that the most important thing you can do in this situation is absolutely nothing. Turn the machine off and wait for it to dry. Which is exactly what that inept tech did NOT do: he opened the computer up, saw the liquid inside, dried some of it out, then closed it up and turned it on. The live current ran through water and wham. Dead computer.
So today I shut the computer down, unplugged it and took out the battery, then set it upside down for the next several hours, like a piece of clothing on a drying rack.
The end result, and the reason I'm telling this story: I was without computer access all day today. I was momentarily stricken. No computer? No email? No web? No writing? No solitaire? No iPhoto? What am I going to DO???
I exercised. I transported Damian and his buddy (Carpool Moms R Us) from school (Damian's) to school (his friend's) to school (their shared afternoon program). I ate lunch. I shopped. I transported Damian home. I said hi to Damain's floor time therapist. I organized and cleaned and cooked. I read a little. I talked to Damian a lot.
Periodically, I'd think, "I want to go check my email" and realize I couldn't. Sort of like starting to twist a ring on your finger and realizing it's gone, an unconscious reflex. And occasionally I'd think, "I need to look that up" and realize the information was on my dormant machine. But mostly it was amazingly freeing. I got a lot done. I also realized how much more relaxing it is to be just a mom and not also a writer (computer's down, novel's on the computer, no writing today). I wasn't trying to juggle. I just was.
I don't think the answer is to lose the computer, and certainly not to lose the writing that's so important for my sanity and pleasure and self. But I do think it's good to wean myself from an overdependence on the machine. So I'm thinking of going on a computer diet. Checking less often. Cutting down on the fatty web surfing, the starchy computer games, the unneeded and unhealthy (for me, right now) excess.
Oh yes, and I turned the computer on tonight. Works just fine.
When your child says something painful to hear, when you know he's hurting and you want to help, the trick is finding the right words to say that will heal but in a thoughtful, respectful way. This entry in This Woman's Work talks about just such a moment. I think Dawn found exactly the right words. I hope I can too when Damian needs that from me.
The sky is an unusual color or, more appropriately, colors. Pale blue in places, misty gray in others, and also a kind of earthen brown Ė the light brown of dust swirled into mud. The sun, this late afternoon, is bright and yellow-orange, but muted through haze, a daylight moon. My eyes sting, I keep coughing and sipping water but it doesnít ease this burning itch in my throat, my breath sounds like a soft wheeze. My sonís voice is hoarse and he canít stop sniffling. People say they see a fine white ash everywhere. I believe them but I canít see it. I saw a woman standing outside a school in Santa Monica today. Her nose and mouth were covered by a white mask. I simultaneously thought: How dramatic is that? And Where can I get one?
I feel so very lucky to be here and not in Simi Valley or out by Lake Arrowhead or down around Julian, east of San Diego. Our house isnít endangered, our schools and shops are open and life goes on as normal. You might almost think it is normal except for the smoky overlay and the burn in your eyes.
You know why California is called the Golden State? I used to think it was dubbed that for remembrance of the Gold Rush days that made the state famous. But now I think itís so named because itís so very dry. Golden grass waving under the hot sun, golden canyons baking through the summer heat, dry brush ready to burst into flame with the rush of a hot autumn wind. We dare live here in the midst of a desert climate and we pay the price in houses on fire. Every year, people pay the price. This is the worst year since we moved here, fifteen years ago. Fifteen hundred houses engulfed. White ash on the wind.
As we got home this evening, Damian plucked a takeout menu from the front gate. He ran ahead of me up the porch steps and I heard him "reading" from the menu. Apparently the restaurant serves "organic email in a dot.com."
In case you don't know -- and you may not if you're not a Californian -- the union workers are striking the state's three largest grocery chains: Ralph's, Vons, and Albertson's. They decided to picket just Vons to reduce shopper stress, but, in a display of pure ugliness, the other two chains shut them out.
Every time I drive past a market, Damian comments on the picketers with their signs. He knows what's going on. He knows, too, why I honk in solidarity. It's such a tiny thing to do and I know from my time on picket lines that it means a lot to know that random strangers are in agreement.
You know what gets me, though? When the strike started, I was impressed by how empty the parking lots were, how few people were actually crossing the strike lines. But now, more than a week into it, the parking lots are practically full -- at least, on the wealthy Westside.
It's not like there's nowhere else to shop: true, Gelson's and Bristol Farm are more expensive and Whole Foods (my market of choice) is both more expensive and more granolahead, but there's Trader Joe's and farmer's markets and and minimall markets and Costco and Smart & Final and pharmacies for paper products. You just have to go out of your way, you have to think about it a minute, you have to actually care. I don't get it. How can you be against workers getting decent health insurance?
It's not that, though, is it? Grocery workers aren't real people, apparently. Dan told me today about a guy we know who says he likes the strike. Why? He doesn't have to fight the crowd at Albertson's now.
Welcome to LA, land of the narcissist.
I found a notice at the library for a weekly writer's meeting at a different branch. It's at a time I could go. But do I want to? Why do people join writer's groups, anyway? Is it for feedback? That's the idea, I guess, but it has to be just the right combination of voices for good quality, constructive feedback, doesn't it? I've been in writer's groups for screenwriting, thus my hesitation. The social aspect is fun. The feedback aspect? Not necessarily. I was in one that was positively brutal and when you're critiquing something in progress, you run the risk of permanently derailing the story. I was in another group that was warm and fuzzy and a lot of fun, but the feedback, although well meaning and certainly not hurtful, was a little clueless and ultimately not at all helpful. That writing group led me astray because I started writing toward what I perceived they liked instead of writing what I needed to write.
A group by its nature, I think, tends to want things easy to digest. Material that's more like other work they've read/seen than fresh, new and challenging. And as you read, you may feel one way toward a character based on a single action, but later on that character surprises you and you change your mind. But if you're reading in bits and pieces, your early feeling may solidify -- and, more problematically, the writer will hear how you feel and may therefore make different choices as he or she writes forward, compromising the work.
This writing group that meets at the library is a somewhat different beast: they write from prompts. Writing exercises. Then I think they talk about the exercises and maybe talk a bit about other work too. It could be a chance to get my writing style and method critiqued without submitting my more tender work to the critical knife. And it would be nice to be among a community of writers. If indeed that's the nature of the group.
How do I decide? Do I commit the time to this, taking it away from my other writing projects? Good idea or bad? I don't know. I just don't know.
Iíve spent too much time the past few days reading various online journal accounts about JournalCon, or, as it was known this year, the Web Writerís Weekend. I find myself oddly removed from the experience. I say odd because I registered for the conference last year and was disappointed when I had to cancel. Odd too because I started my first online journal in 1999, just around the corner from now but practically the Jurassic era when it comes to online writing. Back then, I cared about the Community. I saw the popular journallers as cool kids, rock stars, celebrities. I desperately wanted Diarist Awards. But when I got a few nominations and even won one (or two? I think two), when the cool kids started learning my name and my site, it stopped mattering so much. I realized it was a relatively small, insular community and that everyone was just us folks. Which in fact all celebrities are. Movie stars, rock stars, big name politicians. They squabble with their spouses and brush their teeth and tie their shoes the same as everyone else. Iíve come to realize that too, over time. Iíve met people with real-world success and seen their personal struggles and recognized a kind of comforting universality in that. But now reading many of the JournalCon reports, I see a kind of giggly ďIím meeting YOU! And ohmygod, you know who I am!Ē astonishment about other journallers that amazes me. I understand it, I guess, but it seemsÖ wellÖ young. Innocent. Self-deprecating. It makes me a little sad even though it probably shouldnít.
I should add, though, that thereís a group who went Ė Melissa, Eliza, Kymm, Mo and their cohorts Ė and Iíd have loved to have stayed up late gossiping and talking and joking with them all. There are several journallers, some who went and more who didnít, that Iíd love to have met and gotten to know. And now that Iím entering the blogoverse, Iím discovering a whole new set of writers Iíd like to meet. So I understand the impulse to go to these things, definitely. It just felt odd to read those gushing, star-struck self-doubting entries.
Iíve been thinking too about journals Ė my journal, old and new Ė versus weblogs Ė my weblog, brand new. My first journal, visions and revisions, started as an experiment in telling personal stories, slice of life but with a shape to each essay. I loved it and through it I learned that I love writing narrative prose. With time, though, the personal became more personal, more revealing, more, well, therapeutic. And that felt uncomfortable. Why do we reveal ourselves to strangers online? For the attention? So we feel less alone? Because itís easier than talking to friends? Why is that? How is that? Itís an odd phenomenon, the kind of thing that starts to fall apart if you examine it too closely. Which I started to do.
But then my son was diagnosed with a developmental disorder and the journal had a new purpose. Which it still has, though under a new name. I know from some rather extraordinary (and much appreciated) feedback that my site has helped other parents going through the same thing and so it feels important to continue writing of that journey even when I wanted to pull back from writing online at all. Pull back from being so open to so many people.
Why am I back, then? Why in this form? Why now? Do I need the same things from it? I donít think so. I think this serves a new function. I havenít defined the need yet Ė I suspect, as has happened before, that the need will define itself Ė but I think I can define what I want to do with this weblog. I want to talk about what I think. Not (or mostly not) what I do with my daily life but my thoughts and observations on my life and othersí. The weblog format is perfect for this. Quick, succinct if appropriate, so easy to link to other peopleís words and reflect on them with my own. And the community I see in the blog worldĖ or rather, the many interlocking communities Ė they intrigue me. It often feels like an ongoing roundtable dialogue on various issues and I love that and hope to be part of that conversational flow. I also hope to capture my thoughts about various aspects of my life: writing a novel, losing weight, finding the right school placement for my son (which entails many thoughts about the purposes of education, Iím sure). All that and undoubtedly more. Itís still my life, still about me, but perhaps less intimate than it was before. My world redefined, broadened to include the rest of the universe.
I have been making an effort to stop telling Rebecca she's beautiful. Not that I probably say it that much anyway, but I'm finding more specific things to say to her. That's she smart or sweet or whatever. She's so beautiful to me, but it has nothing to do with how she looks and I don't want her to think I give a hoot about her appearance (other than, you know, hygiene). It makes me uncomfortable, really, when people say she's cute. It's about looks and I hate that our society is so hung up on a certain set of features that are considered attractive. There are plenty of years for Rebecca to learn about how people judge each other. Hopefully she will be confident enough to figure it all out for herself.
I completely understand the sentiment Aimee is expressing, and I think sheís absolutely right to foster her daughterís confidence in herself (her self) apart from looks. Women are so often conditioned to judge themselves (and judge harshly) based on how cute or not-cute they are, as measured by some arbitrary societal standard. Itís crucial, I think, to lay a broader foundation than that for our children, especially of course daughters. Smart, sweet, thoughtful, talented, strong, brave. All these things, and I make sure to use them as appropriate with Damian.
But thereís another side of this which I think is also important to consider. My parents were hippy-lefty semi-bohemians. This was lucky for me in many respects. But they too felt it was wrong to comment too much on a girl's looks, to make her too dependent on that superficial non-character trait. And so they never told me I was pretty and discouraged other adults from saying that sort of flattering folderol to the solemn-faced little girl that was me. They instead said I was so smart and that I could do anything I set my mind to try. All good, right? But I thought nobody said I was cute because I wasnít cute. And that hurt. It wasnít until years later, looking at old photos, that I realized: I was more than cute. I was a beautiful child.
I literally had no idea.
When I told my mother the wide chasm that had existed between my self-image and the reality, she was shocked. But a child only knows these things through othersí eyes. I think itís important for every child to feel loved and cherished in so many ways, and that includes knowing that your family appreciates your physical self. It, too, gives confidence. Yes, itís possible to go overboard with it, but itís just as possible to underplay it so badly that you end up with a teenage girl who thinks sheís not attractive enough to draw boys to her flame, who dresses like a schlub, hiding her face behind a curtain of unwashed hair, and who thinks sheís only good for her brain. Brains are good but so are bodies. It's taken me a long time to be able to look in the mirror and like what I see.
I just read in TidBITS that they're trying a new format. Adam Engst and the staff write the weekly email newsletter for Macheads essentially as a labor of love. They also write how-to-be-a-computer-geek books for (presumably) more money. They've now combined the two, or rather, invented something in between: Take Control ebooks. The idea is that we often need more information on a piece of software than the manual provides (or in the case of OS X, the nonexistent manual) but that we don't want to fork over a twenty for some big clunky book that takes up too much space on our shelves and will be obsolete within the year. Thus, short techie ebooks in PDF format. Easily updatable, right where you need them (with your computer at all times) and cheaper too, at five bucks a pop.
It's interesting. The web has changed the way I search out information, especially pertaining to computers. My first resource is always Google, my second is to search forums, and only then if I run dry do I go out and find a book on the subject. But of course random web pages and forum denizens aren't always as expert as one would like and you probably won't find what you want -- everything you want -- in one place. An ebook does seem easier all around while still fitting into the new paradigm of finding everything at your fingertips. You even download the things, after all. But I'm not sure five dollars is the sweet spot for this convenience. Two or three, absolutely. Five I have to think about for a minute longer. I'm sure I'll buy a few of these new books, though, if only to support the concept and the authors. I like this group and what they stand for. And I'd like to see them succeed in this.
Thereís this story I started a few months ago. I liked where it was going but I put it down nevertheless. I wasnít sure why I stopped writing; I thought maybe I just wasnít in the mood. This was shortly after I went on hiatus from my novel. I figured I was just written out, all the words drained out of me like water swirling away down the sink. But I realized a few weeks ago that in fact I had a dilemma.
The story, like many short stories and like most of mine (though curiously enough not my novel), is loosely based on a real incident. But this incident could get me in trouble. People can be awfully prickly about how you present their foibles, even in fiction. And you can only protest ďbut I made it up!Ē so long and then you sort of have to shut up. The law's not always with you.
I wanted to change the scenario a bit to protect myself and the story but couldnít think of a better locale. So I stopped writing. A friend came up with what I thought was a brilliant solution, though: change, not the locale, but the character. I ran it through the movie projector in my mind and it worked even better than the original. Great. Wonderful. Yay friends!
But I realized something today. The solution only works in an ideal, non-politicized world. In other words, it doesnít work. The solution involved changing a flamboyant woman into a flamboyant gay man. Sounds easy, and it would be. But the character has, well, foibles. And these foibles could be construed as unlikable, though I donít necessarily feel that way. And that would Ė if you look at things through a certain filter Ė mean I cast a gay guy as my villain. Again, I donít consider this person a villain, just a trifle deluded. But letís be realistic here. If youíre reading submissions for some literary magazine and you read a story where the only gay person is not altogether wonderful, youíll probably assume the writer is a homophobe.
Itís ironic because itís so far from true you canít get there from here. I would guess more of my friends are gay than straight. I get bent out of shape at the Boy Scoutsí ridiculous prejudices, I abhor the fact that gay marriage isnít legal, I donít understand why anyone should care what anyone elseís sexual orientation is and why that should set people apart in any way. I also believe thereís a spectrum of straight-to-gay sexuality, that we all fall somewhere on that curve and that most people are neither one hundred percent straight nor one hundred percent gay but somewhere in between, whether we choose to acknowledge it or not.
But itís not like I can append a note to the story, telling all readers not to judge me and my story by this one character. And maybe in some sense I would be culpable if I wrote it that way. Iíd be perpetuating a stereotype, the queeny gay man who does outrageous, socially unacceptable things with an enormous sense of entitlement. And since thereís no balancing character, itís pretty doomed. If I were reading that story, Iíd wonder about the writer and her politics too. It reminds me of the hullabaloo some years ago about Basic Instinct, that it showed lesbians as villains at a time when there were no good dykes in the movies except maybe in tiny-budgeted well-intentioned indies.
It frustrates me that I have to give up my perfect characterization, but this is not a perfect world. Things are better, but gay men and women are still mostly stereotyped in the media. Itís still an identifier. It still matters when it shouldnít. And so I have to be careful not to play into the prejudice myself. I wish it were otherwise, I wish one negative portrayal didnít mean a condemnation of a huge sector of humanity. If I write a mean straight white woman, it wonít offend anyone unless my portrayal reeks of misogyny. But if I write a mean gay man Ė or gay woman Ė my portrayal automatically reeks of homophobia. Even if it doesnít.
Very early in the morning, I lie dreaming in the quiet dark alongside my slumbering spouse. Until a tap-tap-tap on my arm wakes me up. I open my eyes to find a pajama-clad child looking at me expectantly.
ďI have to go pee, Mommy.Ē
ďMmm hmm.Ē God, am I groggy. And what was that snippet of dream? I almost have it, if I can only go back to sleep I'll get it back.
Now the catch: ďMommy, check my underpants to see if theyíre dry.Ē
As many kids do, Damian had a round of bed-wetting a while back. We found nothing that worked except a reward system. If he restrained himself, if he kept his bed and his clothes dry and actually got up to use the toilet, weíd give him a small treat. And even though heís been quite good about it for months, he still expects the treat. After I say ďYour pants are dry,Ē he says, ďMommy, get me a gummy heart.Ē
Rewards of this sort mostly fall away after their usefulness fades, but I think in this case itís about the ritual of it. That, and a desire for my company. If we no longer gave him the heart, heíd probably find some other excuse. Which he sometimes does anyway: ďMommy, itís too dark, hold my hand.Ē And so I guide him to the bathroom, open the door and stumble out into the dining room in quest of that small sweet for my small sweetie, dodging hungry, mewling cats as I go. When I return to the bathroom, Damian grins at me, far too chipper for four thirty a.m. ďMommy, do you have to go pee too?Ē
By the time we get into bed (he comes into our bed at this point, always has), Iíve lost the sleep mojo. He sometimes settles into an instant slumber wedged between his parents, but other times heís all elbows and bony knees pressing into various tender parts of my body. Hard to fall back to sleep.
I know children all have comforting rituals to help them feel like the world is a safe, somewhat predictable place. My child perhaps needs this more than most. And thatís okay. In fact, Iím glad to give him that reassurance that we love him and are there for him even in the predawn hour of the wolf. But I have got to get a better nightís sleep. I feel like a walking zombie, nearly as tired as when this kid was a newborn waking to nurse every few hours. Like water slowly dripping creates a groove into solid rock, cumulative sleep deprivation is carving a groove into my brain.
So tonight when Damian taps my arm, Iíll roll over and tap Danís shoulder. Tonight is Daddyís turn on gummy heart duty. Danís amenable and Iím needful. And hey, a small change in the routine will do Damian some good.
Diane, if it's any consolation, we just unpacked the last of our boxes from the move. We moved in here in June... of 2001.
The last set of boxes were books; I looked at all the volumes, especially genre books, with an eye for what to donate, and ended up with three full boxes. Truth is, I could have sifted out more novels I'll never read again, but the books themselves: the pictures on the jackets, the fonts on the spine, even the weight of them, bring back memories of the stories inside and I couldn't part with them quite yet. Maybe next year.
Sadly, one of the reasons I'll never reread a lot of the paperbacks I once loved? The pages are brittle and yellowing around the edges. I'm sorry, but this is impossible. I remember pulling down paperbacks from my father's shelves when I was a teenager, Asimov novels and books by Heinlein, with the fifties-style futuristic covers. The pages were a creamy yellow and they crackled as I turned them. I read carefully, afraid the books would disintegrate in my hands. I expected that; after all, those books were published before I was born. But now? I bought these books myself. In bookstores. Brand new. How can I possibly be old enough for them to be yellow?
I was intrigued by the reviews of 20 Dates when it came out in 1999 but somehow (kid) never (small kid) got around (not even a toddler yet) to seeing it. So I was pleased when it showed up on HBOís rotation and we nabbed it with TiVo. Well, it wasnít quite what I thought it would be, and Iím still processing what I think of it. It was clever, amusing, and not exactly on the level.
The concept in a nutshell: Myles Berkowitz is a recently divorced 30something obnoxious Jewish nebbish of a screenwriter living in LA. Heís likeable in his way, though he does tend to put people on the spot. He sets out to make a documentary following his theoretical search for love: heíll have a small crew film each of twenty dates. Along the way, round about date fifteen, he falls for the woman heís dating and it turns into a sweet romantic comedy, complete with a starry-eyed couple romping in the surf and cuddling in front of the fire. The dilemma then becomes: does he finish his movie, his set of twenty dates and risk his now-girlfriendís growing displeasure, or does he stop and find out if his nasty producer really means all those threats? Thatís right, the movie has the same dramatic arc it would if it were fiction. Iím not altogether sure itís not.
I got on Google and found a few interviews with the filmmaker. He variously called his work a documentary and mockumentary, admitted to tampering with the dramatic process a bit, but mostly by way of putting himself and his camera in situations that caused drama Ė ie: trying to get onto studio lots to film his opening monologue without first getting a drive-on pass. Was he being disingenuous in the interviews or was he for real? The people in his movie all went under their true names, and he had a date set for his marriage to the woman in his movie.
My guess is that it was a bit of both. He saw that the movie wasnít gelling and so he goosed the drama by staging some scenes and exaggerating others. I think itís a documentary in the sense that Survivor, with all its staged challenges, is reality TV. Is this a bad thing? Iím not sure. It makes good watching, but it feels like a cheat. But itís in keeping with some of the dates early in the film, like the one where the woman discovers that a film crew has been filming their date and is hurt and appalled, feeling like sheís been manipulated and made a figure of fun. I felt for Berkowitz in that moment; his desire for a real date was, I think, sincere. But I felt more for this woman who found out that she was on some bizarre 21st century form of Candid Camera. It seems to me that if youíre the kind of person who thinks itís acceptable to film a woman on a first date without her knowledge, youíre also the kind of person who has no moral problems with pulling a fast one on the audience and turning a documentary into a piece of fiction.
It was an entertaining movie and as I watched, I found myself liking the fast-talking, neurotic Myles Berkowitz and being happy for him that heíd found love. But I nevertheless walked away with a sour taste in my mouth. Nobody Ė not a hapless woman on a blind date, not me the viewer sitting on my couch late at night Ė likes being a patsy.
Twelve ten p.m. I drop Damian off at school. A little under three hours to myself, time to get to work.
Ten minutes later, I walk into my cafť of choice. I prefer the library for its peacefulness and plethora of outlets, but itís closed on Fridays and this place is a good consolation prize, with WiFi access for my intermittent internet jonesing. I park, walk to the cafť past film trucks on the way. I guess theyíre shooting in the yoga studio on the corner. Good thing itís not the cafť, that would really bite.
I walk through the busy front room, head to the quieter side room with its few but all-important outlets for my PowerBookís AC adapter. Walk through the room. Boy, there sure are a lot of people in here, guess itís the overflow crew from the shoot. Good thing I have headphones to drown out the chatter. I sit down at my favorite table. A slender woman, her dark hair back in a loose pony tail, comes straight over. ďExcuse me, but you canít sit here.Ē Her French accent is pleasant, light. Her words, not so much. Turns out they are shooting here. I stand up, not too happy. ďYou should put a sign up,Ē I say. She says yes, sheíd hoped the cafť management would do that. I say ďYou should do it, itís your responsibility.Ē Iíve been around enough film sets to know. This is amateur hour and Iím pissed.
I settle in near the one outlet by the front door. The table is pretty; inlaid tile. The air is cooler in here. If I wasnít still so disgruntled, Iíd even admit this is a better spot. I slip on my headphones and get online. (Hey, I have to ease into writing, canít just start cold like that.)
Half an hour passes. The French woman comes up to me again, looking apologetic. What? Youíre going to kick me out of this spot too?
Turns out she needs a favor. Apparently they have to get access to their casting website but the cafťís pay-for-minutes terminal isnít giving them images. Do I have accessÖ?
Soon I have a casting agent and three producers (I assume thatís what they are, they certainly seem self-impressed enough) peering at head shots on my PowerBook, offering me bribes of desserts (no thanks, Iím on Weight Watchers) and coffee (no thanks, I donít do caffeine). Itís more than a little surreal, this cluster around me. I normally feel cloaked in anonymity here, slipping into the cafť to write my pages and then disappear into the afternoon, private with my novel. But now Iím public and in the middle of that which I resent.
Turns out itís not a film shoot, though, but a photo shoot. Which explains why we can still sit in the front room and why nobodyís hushing us every five minutes.
First they look at girls, ages eight to eleven. Theyíre looking for someone young and cute. I like the one they choose, she looks more genuine than the others, more spunky. Then they want someone to portray the dad. The casting director has me click on the "Men, 35" page. Up comes a series of smiling faces. These men look older than Dan. Either these men are prematurely aging or Dan is unusually young looking for his forty two years. Or theyíre lying about their ages. (Ya think?)
I comment idly that my spouse is better looking than just about all the men here. Heís in SAG, too. (The Screen Actorís Guild.) They perk up, say, ďWell, if these guys donít work outĒ (theyíve chosen four possibilities, all of whom look somewhat like Dan), ďweíll take a look.Ē The casting director stays behind to see pictures. I fumble with iPhoto, opening albums, searching for a decent shot. I know I have plenty on CDs at home, but do I have any here, where I need them? I see money, I see a fun unexpected Saturday photo shoot to give Dan something to smile about at work the next Monday.
I find a few tolerable shots, show them to the casting director, telling her Iíve got better but these will do for now. ďYou werenít kidding, he is attractive.Ē She sounds genuinely surprised. Heh. I say ďYeah, Iím not prejudiced.Ē Well, not too.
If this were a true Hollywood Fairy Tale story, the other guys would all have fallen through and weíd be hustling Dan off to the set for his day in the sun tomorrow. But itís real life and one of the guys comes through. Of course he does; itís his job and Iím sure he needs the money too. But as I pack up my things to go get Damian, I decide to look around for that casting director, show her the better pictures Iíve unearthed. Sheís sitting in the corner by the shoot. She thanks me again, gives me her card, and says she wants me to email the pictures of Dan. ďYour son too,Ē she says. (The pictures I showed her of Dan had Damian in them too.) ďAnd you. Weíre always looking for real families.Ē She sounds serious.
I have no idea if this will come to pass. Iím not sure I care. It would be something a bit different, a story to tell, nothing more. It brings back a memory Iíd forgotten, of a photo shoot at our loft in SoHo when I was a young teenager. It was for some brochure on textbooks, I think. I remember lying on the floor looking like I was having such a good time reading these thick tomes. That was fun. This might be too. If it ever happens.
Mostly, though, I walk to the car Ė my beat-up old Honda Ė thinking, Man. How Hollywood is that?
After posting the other day about my writerly stage fright, I went on to write two new pages. Apparently this blog has magic powers. Either that, or I just needed to say it aloud (so to speak) to exorcise the fear.
The problem wasnít just writing ahead into the great unknown, though. It was something else too. I had a chunk of information to impart in the next scene. I had this idea that the character with the information would ask the female lead to meet her so they could talk, and that during the course of this conversation, she could both cry on Female Leadís shoulder and regurgitate exposition. This works. Sort of. In a clunky, obvious, potboiler way. Which is precisely the tone Iíve been working so hard to avoid for the past two hundred plus pages. So I stopped, not knowing why. Not until I talked it through with Dan. He asked what the conflict was in the scene. I said I didnít know.
Dan suggested I instead have the Exposition Character talk to the Male Lead, who doesnít like her. Presto, conflict.
What Iíve come to realize is that the conflict in my novel is primarily internal and unspoken. Unlike my screenplays, where everything tended to be up front and in the open, this is interior, subtextual tension. If a man is confronted with a woman he doesnít like and she says something that reveals her own personal pain, heís going to feel a bittersweet pang, right? Right. Internal conflict. Interesting tension. Bingo. I've got my tone back.
Sometimes itís just a matter of trying the oblique approach. That, and asking your spouse for help.
It's been fascinating watching Damian begin to/get ready to read. He's much more conscious now of words and how they're formed. He's been trying to suss out rationales. He asked his teacher yesterday if baseball is so called because it has bases, and he told me today that musicians are named that because they play music. Which I liked, because it's a "sh" sound, changed from the "k" sound of the root word. It shows he's really analyzing the words even though he's not seeing them written down.
Of course, he also told me that mushrooms are called that because you mush them in rooms. And he wanted to know if his friend Isaac was named that because he has eyes. And then went on to say, "But everyone has eyes." True.
What I find myself wondering: should I find some etymology dictionary and translate the real Latin/Greek/Germanic/whatever roots of these words? The kid may not know how to add but he'll know the ancient derivation of the word mushroom. Could be interesting.
I may have come off a bit holier-than-thou in that last entry. I donít mean to. Iím well aware of both how easy it is to gain weight and how hard to excise it. I am, after all, working to lose forty five pounds myself. I wasnít obese, not yet, but the scale kept going up, and I felt unhealthy and uncomfortable. But I know what itís like to come home at dinner time, too hungry to think about cooking something real. I know what itís like to have a long commute and nothing to eat in the car but goldfish crackers and nutter butters meant for a young child. I know what itís like to get so used to larger portions you eat a carefully-apportioned normal sized meal and walk away hungry and frustrated. I know what itís like to be so exhausted and overwhelmed the thought of exercise, of working your body hard, seems like the last thing in the world you should be doing for yourself. I know itís like to be so restless, bored, upset, stressed or wired that you want to stop it somehow and the easiest way, the most immediately emotionally satisfying way, is to stuff something sweet or lusciously fatty in your mouth. You may be craving something you canít have Ė a happier life, a calmer life, fewer worries Ė so you turn to something you can. And itís right in your cabinet or fridge and it stops the pain for a moment and you can rationalize it so easily. After all, that one square of chocolate/bowl of ice cream/bag of chips wonít put another ten pounds on all by itself, right? And it wonít, but the next hundred times you do that? It will.
So yes, I know how I put forty five pounds on my five foot not-quite-four frame and I know intimately how much commitment and discipline it takes to get that excess poundage off again. I know how I got this way, and I can guess how everyone else too. Itís a complex weave of loneliness, busyness, convenience, pleasure and exhaustion, plus some. The mix is different for everyone, albeit with common threads. I donít judge anyone for letting their weight creep up. In fact, I find I judge less now, twenty pounds down from my highest weight, than I did even four months ago. Iíve read more first-person accounts since then and thought about the issue a great deal and so I have a sense of what itís like inside everyoneís minds. Itís a lot like the terrain inside my own.
I also think itís evil the way our culture condemns the extra weight it fosters, the way models and actresses are forced to starve themselves down to the bone and then their non-menstrual, concave bodies are held up as the sexual ideal. Large women (and men) are sexual beings too and can be just as beautiful but our eyes are no longer used to processing the world that way, and thereís something deeply disturbing about that too.
But thereís a difference between non-skeletal beauty and fat-as-health-risk. Obesity is a societal problem of enormous proportions (pun intended). We need to take charge of our own destinies and not let commercialism and big business dictate what we do to and for ourselves. When I was in college, a recurring slogan for the feminist movement was ďWomen unite, take back the night!Ē Another was ďThe personal is political.Ē Well, people, letís unite to take back our bodies and our lives. The personal is indeed political.
An interesting article in this Sundayís New York Times Magazine posits a new reason for Americaís obesity epidemic: an overabundance of crops, particularly corn. When corn gets dirt cheap, farmers harvest more so they can continue to make a living, thus flooding the market and of course driving the price even further down. Corn goes into snack food as cornmeal, of course, but also high fructose corn syrup and meal to feed chickens and cows, which then are cheaper to raise and bring to market. Instead of passing the savings on to the consumer, fast food chains start supersizing everything. So for the same price, you get more food. What do you do with more food? You eat it, thereby tripling your calories from the average Whopper-plus-fries quick fix meal. Hardening of the arteries, here we come. The farming explosion also explains the ever-growing number of crunchy, salty choices dangling from supermarket racks, enticing you as you walk by.
Thereís more to the article, a lot more, about how this happened with alcohol a hundred years ago (farmers had too much grain, grain went into alcohol which became so cheap, people started drinking it for breakfast, lunch and dinner) and about how Nixonís administration dismantled the New Deal-implemented grain reserve, put in place to stave off just this situation: cheap produce, farmers suffering the consequences. When did the obesity epidemic take off? In the seventies, after the end of the grain bank.
Food for thought, certainly. And a lot of it make sense. But Iím left with one nagging question: are we really that susceptible as a people to the vagaries of pricing and marketing to the point that we ignore our own bodiesí signals to stop eating when weíre full? Do we care so little about our health that we go for the fix of high fructose corn syrup and ignore the fresh fruit in the next aisle? Are we really a nation of five year olds, intent on our momentary gluttonous pleasure? How did that happen? Is it human nature or something else, some societal sloughing off of individual responsibility?
Itís obviously not a recent phenomenon Ė I mean, whiskey for breakfast? But itís a pervasive one. Acting without thinking. Do we need a New Millennium version of Prohibition for unhealthy eating, that external punishment for personal actions? Iíve always thought Prohibition was a ridiculous, overly puritan concept but now I canít help wondering. Is that what it takes? You donít expect five year olds to have self-control. They need rules, parental supervision. Do we as a childish nation need that too? How awful to contemplate. Nearly Ashcroftian in its paternalistic rigidity. Surely thereís a better way, but what? Suing the fast food companies doesnít begin to address the problem. Farm subsidies for less production would help, but I suspect we need a Democratic president for that Ė and a strong reason (a weak economy and a plummeting dollar) to do it. It could happen, I guess. But will it? In time? Did you know our children have a shorter life expectancy than we do and itís because of the health-related complications of obesity? Weíre literally killing ourselves here. A nation intent on instant gratification, not willing or able to look into the future.
Last night at a Greek restaurant, I saw a large Asian family: nine adults and one child. Everyone was talking, engaged, familial. Seemed like a good group.
Then I noticed one woman. Early, mid twenties. Seated in the back corner. Facing down. Looking intently into the cell phone in the palm of her hand. It wasn't hard to figure out what she was doing. Might have been email, I guess, but I think she was playing a computer game. In the middle of a family gathering.
They seemed like nice enough people. Why did she feel the need to retreat so far away?
A strange thing happened last week. I went to a get-together, a group of screenwriters and would-be screenwriters. I liked everyone there, some of them very much. I was looking forward to it. But once thereÖ wellÖ something didnít click. I started making snide comments under my breath, saying things that werenít exactly kosher to say, those ďOh man, did that come out of my mouth? Shoot me nowĒ sorts of in-your-face faux-pas. (And no, Iím not going to relate the specifics, Iíve already forgotten them. No, really. Total blank. I swear.)
Anyway. I started thinking afterwards. Iím fairly social adept, or so Iíd like to think. And people seem to like me well enough. I donít usually have such severe foot-in-mouth disease. Why that night? Someone else who was there later commented that everyone seemed off at dinner, it didnít gel. So it wasnít just me, though I think I was the only snark shark. The rest were super nice, super polite. To the extreme, in fact. Almost everyone there was doing a sales job. I did this, Iím doing that, Iíve got this possibility and arenít I grand? Itís human nature. Especially in Hollywood, the land of the perennial sales pitch. You are what youíve done, what youíre doing, what you claim youíre about to do. Youíre judged as a person by it (well, that and what car you drive). Are you Somebody in Town this week? Did your last movie do good box office? Do you have play dates with the studio chiefís kids? Do you Know People? Are you important, if not in and of yourself, then at least by degree of separation from People Who Matter? Oh, youíre not? Nice talking to you, I have to go replenish my designer water bottle. Waiter!
If youíre not Anyone Important, how do you survive? By making yourself sound like youíre tomorrowís flavor of the hour. Sort of like youíre at an endless cocktail party version of your high school reunion, you want to spin a tale that sounds believable enough to impress at close range, though not necessarily a story that holds up long term.
It gets worse when thereís an agent or producer or manager in the room, though in fact theyíre the worst offenders, adept in the two-step sideways hyped-up dance around the truth. And a manager was there that night. A nice guy too, someone I usually enjoy. And hell, I donít want or need a manager right now. I have no scripts to shill, no finished novel longing for the right adaptation. I donít need anything from anyone. Not right now, I donít.
Thatís the problem right there, I think. I canít do the dance, I donít want to do the dance, I in fact abhor the dance. And so Iím standing outside watching all the high stepping eyes-alight, hands-spinning hip-hop fancy footwork going on and the bile rises in my throat and causes me to spew inane but nasty gibberish. Iím outside it but not far enough outside. I too want bragging rights. I too want to matter in that vainglorious insubstantial Hollywood chit-chat sort of way. But right now I donít. And that has to be okay too.
Maybe I should avoid those parties in the future. Or maybe I should go (these are good people, after all, and some I even consider friends) but learn to stop caring. No bile, just amusement.
Easier said than done. Hunger floats in the sun drenched air here, blows down from the mountains along with the November Santa Ana winds. Hunger to Be Somebody. Itís catching, like the flu. And just as debilitating.
Every day I drive past a clothing store on Santa Monica Boulevard. Sometimes the light turns red as I approach and I have time to read the slogans on the T-shirts in the window. One says, ďFuck Fame.Ē Iím thinking about buying it.
I just spent too much time last night and today researching for our upcoming trip to the Central Coast. We've been there plenty of times, but I wanted to find out if there are any new restaurants I should know about. Used to be I'd dip into Zagat's and take a look but more often than not we've been disappointed by their recommendations, and besides, the books only come out once a year and they're far from comprehensive.
Enter Chowhound. Man, I love this site. I went to their general California forum and, in a relatively short time (well, okay, maybe it took a little longer, but that was because I kept reading irrrelevant posts because they were fun), I discovered that:
Cambria has a new top restaurant called Black Cat Bistro, but it's small and you'll need reservations.
McPhee's Grill in Templeton has gone way downhill, forget about it.
There's a classy French restaurant in Paso Robles, called Bistro Laurent. It may not be appropriate for this trip, but I'll sure keep it in mind for the future.
The Madonna Inn in San Luis Obispo (crazy place, I've always wanted to visit) has great eclairs in their little restaurant.
Buono Tavola, an outstanding Italian place in San Luis Obispo, (we ate there four years ago and I still remember the silky pasta), now has another outpost in Paso Robles.
The Albertson's supermarket in Morro Bay has a good selection of local wines, cheap.
In addition to dozens of wineries in the area with assorted tasting rooms, there's also a local brewery with a tap room.
There's a little Mexican deli in a gas station (!) in Morro Bay that has great tamales.
I mean, really. How else can you stumble across this information except with a combination of blind luck and lots of free time? And Chowhound covers the entire US plus some.
I'm really really hungry after writing all that down. Must. Go. Eat.
Ciao. (Or should that be chow?) (ow)
Itís always odd to talk about the writing process without either giving concrete examples from the text or just devolving into page counts. (I wrote ten pages today! Iím so happy! or I rewrote the same paragraph twenty times! Iím going to go jump off a cliff now, goodbye cruel world.) Nevertheless, itís an enormous part of my life and thoughts and part of what I want to do with this blog is record that process, writing a novel for the first time. So bear with me if it doesnít always make sense. Or, well, call me on it. Thatís what the comments are for. (Only be nice, okay? Okay.)
Here I am with it: Iím approximately halfway through my novel. 216 pages, to be exact. 43,502 words, to be more exact. Sometimes Iím convinced the whole thing is overly dramatic, has a hokey concept, and lacks all subtlety or human truth to it. Other times I reread a passage and think, ďHey, I wrote that. Cool.Ē
I took two months off, came back to it, read through from page 100 or so, made copious notes, rewrote (painfully slowly Ė I hate rewriting), and now Iím ready to begin moving forward again. And Iím scared. Why is that?
I think itís simple. I donít know what comes next. When I read the pages Iíve already written, I see what Iíve done wrong and some of what Iíve done right. I see the shape of it and it feels as if it was meant to be like that Ė or, if not, then a fairly close approximation thereof. Itís a tangible object, words on a page, shapes in your mind. But when I then go to write forward, well, thatís all make-believe, isnít it? Chimerical, an optical illusion on the road, shimmering and disappearing in my mind. If I have a thought-picture of what comes next, thatís sometimes enough and I can write a sentence or two and then step back into the flow. But sometimes itís not. Sometimes I wrote that bit and then stop dead, stuck.
I think itís a kind of stage fright. You have to be both hyper-conscious and semi-unconscious to write well. Evaluating, shaping, imagining, but not thinking too hard about the process itself. Right now? Iím thinking too hard. I havenít told new story since mid-summer. Iím afraid of new story. What if I get it wrong?
Someone give me a kick in the pants. For now, Iím going to go stare at the screen some more and hope my fingers decide to type something more than gibberish.
It's cute kid's bedtime. Cute kid comes into the room crying. "I wasn't ready, Mommy!" I tell cute kid if he wants to negotiate, he can do it without crying. Tears magically disappear. He asks for one more minute. I acquiesce.
A minute later. Cute kid comes back into the room. "Is one minute up or not?"
"Yeah, I think the minute's up."
"You think it's up or it's up?"
"But you said you think it's up. It's not really up. You think it's up." Pleased with his lawyerly self, cute kid runs off, carefully (though I don't realize it at the time) closing the bedroom door behind him.
Naturally, I shout out to the living room: "Damian! It's pajama time! Come back in here!"
And naturally, from the living room (albeit muffled by the aforementioned door) I hear, "What did you say, Mommy? I can't hear you!"
Also known as: Gotcha, Mommy.
For those of us working on slimming down: Our Lady of Weight Loss can watch over us. Love the artwork. Very early Renaissance. I'm particularly tickled by Our Lady of Aromatic Vegetables.
(Link discovered via Skinnycat.com, a wonderfully written weight loss blog.)
An upcoming adventure, of sorts. One I'd rather not have -- or, more importantly, put Damian through, but so be it. Here.
I was planning to come here and say that I love Weight Watchers because I can eat a brownie with complete pleasure and no guilt, knowing I'm still on the program.
I was going to say that. It was even true while I was chewing, swallowing and savoring the chocolate crunchy-skin chewy-center pleasure of it. But somewhere near home, the regret kicked in. If I hadn't gotten the brownie, I'd be at my target points for the day. What will this do to my weight this week? Was it really worth it? Why did I do that? I was so close and now Iím so far.
Dumb voice. Dumb, predictable, pedantic voice-of-guilt. Because I exercised today for an hour, I earned a minimum of two activity points. (A point equals somewhere between fifty and seventy calories.) And I had plenty of flex points to dip into and enjoy. (Flex points are an above-your-daily-allotment weekly allowance of points.) Flex points are actually good to use so your body doesn't become used to a set number of calories per day and become efficient at using that number, thereby shedding less excess poundage. And itís not like I stuffed my face with sugar and fat all day; I ate my protein, my veggies, my fruit. I ate like a sensible person who wants to become a slim sensible person.
I know all this. I do. Intellectually, logically, I know that brownie was just fine, and boy did it taste good. But somewhere inside, I simply canít accept that I can indulge like that and not pay the price. That I can do this, that I can have fun and not deprive myself and still stay on course with this. If itís not hard all the time, is it still working? How can it be?
Yes. It can. And if Iím going to spend the rest of my life eating this way (though with more points once I hit my goal), I absolutely have to get it into my head Ė particularly my non-logical animal-brain guilt-brain that I can indulge every now and then and not fall into a sea of whipped cream disaster. I guess only time will do that, huh? Time and a new habit of thinking.
I usually avoid talking politics, particularly online. There are plenty of blogs that go there, I see no reason to add my voice when I donít know what Iím talking about. And from what I see, people are rarely able to change each otherís minds in this ongoing, often nasty debate.
Having said that, Iím going to go ahead and talk politics. Iím sure youíve heard the sexual harassment allegations against Arnold Schwarzenegger. Iíve been waiting for a story about it; I read the Premiere article a couple of years ago with disgust and was baffled that nobody was talking about it now. Then the LA Times article hit. I guess they just needed time to get their sources lined up, as well they should. Itís incendiary stuff.
I keep reading conservatives complaining that liberals were all for keeping Clintonís sexual peccadilloes separate from his policies but now weíre hypocrites for claiming that Arnoldís actions should make a difference. Itís a legitimate criticism, at least on the surface. But hereís the thing: What Clinton did was stupid and more than a little sleazy, but in every report Iíve ever read, it was always consensual. He had affairs, one night stands, assignations but he always waited for a response from the woman. All the accounts Iíve ever read Ė in the LA Times and Premiere Ė show Schwarzenegger as a predator, an aggressor, someone who gets off on the power he wields. Thatís scary. Thatís one step away from rape. I saw Arnold Schwarzenegger once, standing outside Barneyís New York with his entourage. Most movie stars are diminished in real life, just normal size. Not this man. Heís big. Dominating. If you were a woman alone in a bungalow bathroom with him, if he shoved you against the wall, ignoring your protests, how would you feel?
Yeah. Itís different.
I hereby introduce you to one of my vices. When I was ten-eleven-twelve years old, I used to spread pieces of a puzzle across my bedroom floor for days on end. Something about the slide-connect feel of the pieces fitting together was oh so satisfying. I think I also liked having something to do with my hands and part of my brain while leaving the other part free to listen to the radio and daydream. But that passed and I moved on, shuffling tiny colorful cardboard pieces under the bed and desk and rug. The jigsaw phase was past.
Until one weekend ten or eleven years ago. Dan and I went down to stay at a bed and breakfast inn on a working farm outside San Diego, an incredibly peaceful spot, perfect for afternoon siestas in the hammock by the brook, a bungled morning attempt at badminton, and yes, evenings by the fire putting jigsaw puzzles together along with other inn denizens.
Maybe I was trying to carry a little of that lazy weekend into my daily life, maybe I just had remembered that satisfying slide-connect of the pieces, but I found Puzzle Zoo on the Third Street Promenade and started bringing home jigsaw puzzles which took over the dining room table for days and weeks at a time.
That was fun. But it did make it kind of hard to eat dinner, have company over, and, well, get stuff done. Not to mention the cat's glee at jumping up onto the table, scattering pieces which he'd then bat around the apartment until he lost them under the couch. So, more sadly this time, I boxed up the puzzles and stacked them in a closet.
Here's the thing, though: does this jigsaw lust make me a little old lady at heart?
Over the years, Iíve watched my hair stylist, an attractive woman around my age. Iíve seen her hair change shape and color, of course Ė thatís her job, after all. Iíve also seen her body change. It happens as you get older, as you have kids, as you get stressed and overworked and overwhelmed. It happened to me, god knows. And I almost liked that she too gained weight with the years. Nice to have companionship in this image-conscious land of the skinny. But last time I saw her, toward the end of June, she looked great.
When I complimented her, she beamed and told me sheíd lost seventeen pounds on Weight Watchers. She said she had more to go, and I could see that she did, but it was amazing the difference that much of a loss made. Her face looked different, less full. Her body, that too, of course. I wasnít jealous. I was encouraged. If she could do it, maybe I could too.
A week later, I brought Damian to a kiddie gym class with his buddy Corey. Coreyís mom complimented the instructor, a faux-grouchy older man, on his noticeable weight loss. He beamed and said heíd lost thirty five pounds on Weight Watcherís.
Weight Watchers again. Hmm. I read through the growing thread on TUS, puzzling out if this was something I could do. I started following along at home. I couldnít count points but I could become more conscious of what I ate. I dropped four pounds in two weeks. Well, good. But ten pounds is my wall. I get to ten pounds and something happens Ė I face a buffet, a yearning for chocolate, a panic attack. I eat. And once I give in to the urge, Iím off the wagon but good. Until next time, when I lose that ten pounds and hit that selfsame wall again.
I joined Weight Watchers. I like its commonsense approach. No fad diets here, just a simple calculation of calories, fat and fiber (the points system), with encouragement to exercise and eat your fruits and veggies. Iíve been to eleven meetings now, weighed in and participated in the meeting afterward.
Iíve lost eighteen pounds so far. I'm well past that ten pound barrier and truly addicted to the process. Like my stylist back in June, my face and body have already transformed. Itís happened in such small increments, I look in the mirror and wonder how it happened at all, where the changes I see came from. But I canít wait to go in for my next haircut and show her what she started.
I recently finished Three Junes, by Julia Glass. I never used to read anything designated as a Good Book (a/k/a National Book Award winners and the like); they were usually too depressing and besides, I preferred something with a story rather than a self-reflecting ponderous trudge through the thesaurus. But either literary novels have changed or I have. Iíve been reading them with more pleasure lately. Iíve even (dare I admit this) (come closer, Iíll whisper it in your ear) started to choose them over the genre novels stacked to the ceiling in my guest room.
So I started Three Junes after hearing glowing things about the book and reading at least one interview with the author that made me fall half in love with her (she lives (lived?) with her partner and their two boys in a tiny apartment in Greenwich Village, she studied art, she sounds funny and wise). I was looking forward to it but worried, too. I mean, I bought the book, I didnít take it out of the library. I made a commitment. What if it was deadly dark and smugly self-congratulatory after all?
Itís split into three sections. The three Junes, you see. I wasnít sure what to think at first. Glassís supple but uncluttered writing kept me involved, as did her real-feeling characterizations, but I wasnít quite hooked. That didnít happen until the second section, the one centering on (and narrated by) Fenno, the gay Scotsman living in New York.
In interviews, Glass has likened her novel to a triptych, with two smaller images flanking a central scene. I completely see this. The first and third sections, each with their own main character, both serve to illuminate the longer middle section. This both works and doesnít work. I loved the way the novel opened up or, rather, became deeper and more emotionally textured once we hit Fennoís story. A blossoming, an unfolding. What you want in a story. But it felt odd to then switch voices and become involved in yet another personís story. And itís a smaller story in its way, though certainly still involving issues of life and death, birth and grief. I started falling out of the book at this point, was finally able to put it down and go do things like take showers and make dinner. An impressive thing to try, though. And it does resolve much of the ďwhat happened to him after that?Ē emotional tangle without hitting you over the head with it.
Donít mistake me, this criticism is minor compared to the overall. This is one of those books that stay with you, that make you feel sad and not-sad, closing it with a smile and an open heart. Fenno and his complex weave of relationships (especially the central one) stay with me now, weeks later. I think this is one of those books that will linger always.
Did I mention? I'm planning to post at least once a day for the next three weeks. As Diane said when she started up again, it's a good way to make it become habit.
Did you know Hurricane Juan tore through Nova Scotia last Sunday? Did you know it devastated the Public Gardens in Halifax, overturned boats, smashed cars, tore down power lines and reduced wood buildings to rubble? My mother just got her electricity back today. Six days later.
Funny thing. When my mom and brother called me Monday morning to let me know they'd weathered the weather but boy was it a big one, I looked online. Nothing in the LA Times or the New York Times. CNN had it, but only as a link on the sidebar. The worst storm to hit the Maritimes in two decades and it was virtually invisible on the US side of the border.
Was everyone exhausted from covering the (admittedly gargantuan) Isabel or does Canada simply not register on the radar map? It's still a state of emergency no matter how you look at it. What gives? When is news not news?
Yes, I have finally succumbed to the lure of the simple interface, seduced by the idea that I can post a snippet of a thought and have it instantly appear. So easy. So freeing. Now I can say anything anytime and don't have to finish more than a thought or two, no need for full essay-length contemplation. Don't get me wrong, I still love writing Hidden Laughter but its focus has become so narrow and that's not all of me. I get pleasure out of posting on Postcards from LA, too, but a photoblog is a different beast and satisfies a different urge.
And hey, I'm not the only one seduced by simplicity: Diane started up again in blog form and her journal morphed into a blog, Pamie's got (a shared) one alongside her regular online journal, Jenfu has a reading/writing blog, Mo's got a weight loss blog as an adjunct. You don't have to be journaller or blogger now, you can be both. I like that idea. I'm going to give it a try.