February 29, 2004

Oscar day in Hollywood

Want to know what the Academy Awards show means to me? It means Sunset Boulevard was a parking lot this morning when I left the house heading to the farmerís market. I had to duck down side streets and even those were jammed. It means cops were out in force, traffic cones everywhere.

It means when I walked from the farmerís market with my cart full of produce, I passed not one but three tow trucks on the block between Ivar and Vine. Is the Kodak theater there? Not at all, itís a good dozen blocks away at Highland. But apparently on Oscar day, you canít park on Sunset. Period. End of story. Die if you try. Or at least pay big bucks to get your car out of hock.

Oscar Day also means periodic sweeps of helicopters overhead, strafing the neighborhood with their sudden bursts of sound. An odd sort of war zone. A war of images and glamour. And it means traffic through West Hollywood in the early evening is like a weekday rush hour, which makes no sense (we were a few miles from Ground Zero there) until you pass a restaurant on a side street with a white tent engulfing its front patio and a limo out front Ė and absolute gridlock down that narrow street. Oscar parties. Ah yes. Glitz, smiles, and the constant lightning strikes of camera flashbulbs. We turned onto a residential street for the rest of our journey, bypassing the official party trail.

On a different note, Oscar night means walking into a restaurant thatís normally a minimum of a half hour wait for tables and being seated Ė immediately? Oscar night means no traffic at all heading home. Everyoneís at their viewing parties, the after parties have yet to begin. The town is ghostly, everyone glued to the flickering light of their TV screens, jeering and shouting and quipping and clapping. Except for the few hundred in the theater up there on Hollywood Boulevard, a mere mile from here.

Know how Iíll know what time the show ends? When the copters come back overhead. Right now they're still quiet.

Oh, the awards themselves? I think Tim Robbins totally deserved the best supporting actor award. His performance was perfectly pitched. In a role that could have easily been histrionic and horrid, he was raw yet understated and wasnít afraid to let himself be both pathetic and frightening. Wonderful, wonderful acting. Sean Penn, on the other hand, was too one note in this. I guess his award was cumulative, though, and I can get behind that. Havenít seen the other Oscar bait movies yet. Will comment after I do.

Also? Did any of you TiVO the show? I forgot to set it up beforehand; weíre missing the first half hour including Billy Crystalís opening monologue. Iím not happy. If anyone can send me a tape, Iíd love you forever.

Posted by Tamar at 09:08 PM | Comments (1)

February 28, 2004

Harvard does a good thing

My alma mater is doing something extremely cool. According to The New York Times:

Aiming to get more low-income students to enroll, Harvard will stop asking parents who earn less than $40,000 to make any contribution toward the cost of their children's education. Harvard will also reduce the amount it seeks from parents with incomes between $40,000 and $60,000.

"When only 10 percent of the students in elite higher education come from families in the lower half of the income distribution, we are not doing enough," said Lawrence H. Summers, president of Harvard.

I love that.

I started thinking about it today, trying to remember what the socioeconomic issues were when I was there. Truth is, I know there weren't that many lower income kids, but I wasn't too aware of money as a big issue. Not like Los Angeles. Not even like Princeton, which I visited a few times during college. Princeton was like an elite boarding school only at the university level. Very much not my world.

Harvard, though. Well, a sweetheart of a guy in my freshman dorm was the first kid from Harlem to get into the school. His best buddy was later my sophomore roommate. She too was from a poor family, but New England countryside rather than inner city. Did they feel out of place there? I think they did, yes. In fact, I know they did. Both dropped out, though he later came back and I believe finished his education.

Truth is, it was fine to be middle class and ethnic and even a little odd at Harvard. You simply didn't socialize much with jet set if you were, but there were plenty of other interesting folk who liked you just fine. But it wasn't so easy to be from a lower class, underprivileged background. Nobody ostracised you but you also didn't know the unspoken rules of this society and there was hardly anyone else like you to hold hands and go through it together.

So I think what they're doing now, balancing things out, making it more accessible for people who can't afford even part of the cost, that's a mitzvah. It could change the nature of the undergraduate experience for everyone and certainly for the better.

(Thanks for the heads-up on this, Chris!)

Posted by Tamar at 11:59 PM | Comments (3)

February 27, 2004

requiem for a car

goodbye car

This is the car we bought when we moved to Los Angeles. We drove a rusty Rent-a-Wreck behemoth to a small Silver Lake apartment complex, went down to the garage to see this dark blue hatchback named Louie. The couple were our age, which means they were in their twenties too. They were moving from Los Angeles to New York. It was as if they were our doppelgangers, switching lives with us. We took their car, they took off into our past.

This is the car we bought because it was reminiscent of my fatherís dark blue Camry station wagon which was the car I learned to drive on and so this little Corolla was a comforting reminder of our far away home.

This is the car I learned to drive stick on, grinding the gears as I drove up a short ramp and back down again, stalling out as I wove through parked cars in a half-deserted lot, Dan mostly patient, more so than I would have been, until I finally got the hang of it.

This is the car I drove to get my first driverís license. Hands on the wheel, eyes straight ahead, pretend the official test person in the passenger seat is a nice person who wants to see me do well. Walk out of the car. Find out the tester actually is a nice person. Obtain the piece of paper that allows me to drive in this city of wheels.

This is the car I drove home the night of my first day-long assistant editing gig in this new city. Drove all the way to the apartment before I realized Iíd forgotten to turn on the headlights. Good thing it wasnít far.

This is the car I was driving when I had my first accident, when a motorcycle slammed into the passenger side door. The cyclist was high on pot, didnít account for my fearful beginner slow-as-molasses turning style. We brought him into our apartment, gave him some ice for his head and a glass of water. We had the huge dent in the door fixed a month later.

This is the car I shared with Dan for the first nine months we lived here, coordinating schedules, drop offs and pick-ups Ė just like having a kid in school, come to think of it.

This is the car we drove up the coast the first time we went to Santa Barbara, to Big Sur, to San Francisco. I have photos of this car against stunning backdrops. The small blue Toyota. The little engine that could.

This is the car I walked to every night as I left my assistant editing job on the Fox lot. I would get inside, turn on the defrost and wait for the dew and mist to dissolve. In the dark in an isolated parking area on a quiet studio lot. In this car.

This is the car Dan began driving to work every day after I finally got over my fear of driving a different car from the one I learned on (ie: our also-old burgundy Accord). This is, therefore, the car Damian always referred to as "Daddy's car." It was the subject of his first three word sentence, at eighteen months: "Dadda go car," as Daddy pulled out of the driveway heading to the cutting room.

This is the car I said goodbye to yesterday. I handed the key to a man who got inside, drove it across the street, and hooked it up to a tow truck. It will be auctioned off within the month, the proceeds to go to a womenís assistance organization. Iíve already gotten a thank-you letter from the charity. The money will mean a lot to them, more than it would to a larger organization.

This is the car that encompassed most of my Ė of our Ė adult lives, that marked the transition to life in Los Angeles. My first car. Itís no longer ours. Watching it go felt like the end of an epoch, like the marker ring on a tree. That time is over, a new time is beginning.

This is that car.

Goodbye, sweet blue Corolla.

Posted by Tamar at 11:40 PM

February 26, 2004

schools revisited

So yesterday I finally had the long-awaited meeting with the head of School NotSoFar, also known as Plan B. I wrote a good deal about it in a half-finished entry, but it was all terribly angst-ridden and Iím not feeling even a little bit angsty tonight, so Iím not going to post that. Itís amazing what a phone call will do to oneís outlook. This morning I called a different charter school, one that has amazing test scores and also a nice warm fuzzy feeling to its web page and parental word of mouth. Turns out? This school accepted everyone who applied last year. Itís on the other side of town (theyíre all far away, it seems), a very posh neighborhood, but this is another Plan B. Bb, perhaps, or BA or rather BaBrBqsB, a better representation of how complex this is getting in my head.

Iím not the only one. Today I went to pick Damian up at five after what is now a triple play date with a floor time therapist and two classmate buddies, Corey and Jules. Five p.m. Ended up talking to Coreyís mom and Julesí dad for an hour. Shivering in my thin sweatshirt while the kids played around us. Talking about? Schools. Next year. Terror and amusement combined. What to do? How to judge? What tricks/strings/secrets do we not know about? Whatís best for our kids? Where will we end up?

Sometimes you have to laugh and shrug. You try your best, you sort through the whole big mess, and you take your chances. Lifeís like that more often than not, I think. There are no guarantees but so far itís all worked out pretty well for us. So it goes.

Anyway. The meeting yesterday. Sheíd stood me up two weeks ago. Turned out she was home with a massive headache and nobody remembered to call. Theyíre a little disorganized over there. Itís a small school. I may have mentioned earlier that it feels a little like some parents got together and said ďHey, letís put on a show!Ē Itís an ongoing improvisational performance of an alternative school. The philosophy is enticing, though. When I told the director about floor time and Greenspan, I said we went that route partly because it was in tune with our attachment parenting style and she nodded. I didnít have to explain myself. And later, it turned out Iíd forgotten to fill out the back of the application and when I said ďI donít know how to describe my parenting philosophy.Ē And she said ďAttachment parenting, that pretty much tells me what I need to know.Ē Tells her that weíre in sync, she meant. I like that. I like the idea that a school can be run on that kind of nurturing, respectful system. Does it work in the real world, though? In the public school system? Hell if I know. Does this implementation of it work best for my quirky kid? Thatís the biggest question. At home we can adjust our ideal parenting style to suit his needs and his stumbling blocks. But at a school like that, the implementation might be more idealized and therefore not as useful for a kid like him.

Thereís a more concrete issue, though. Because theyíre an independent charter school, with no home (a/k/a local) school element, they donít get the same funding as a regular LAUSD school. This means our extra services as mandated by the IEP are not unquestionably met. This means, in fact, some of them might not be met at all. This means, yes, I am seriously questioning whether my son should be in this place. I know his services will be phased out over the next few years, I understand that he will need less over time and thatís part of growing out of this diagnosis, but for godís sake, donít pull them before heís ready!

Sheís not sure yet how much theyíll be able to provide. She has to meet with her co-head and I gather also check Damian out in his natural habitat (ie: preschool) and then get back to me. This will all take time. At that point, assuming she says something like ďWe can provide X but not Y and not as much Z as you have in your IEP,Ē we will have choices. To enroll him anyway and make it work (pay for a part time aide out of pocket, for instance, and get floor time at home through our regional center instead of the school district). Or find a different school. Fortunately, this morning I may have found at least one, maybe two other good charter options and these schools also are home schools for their areas, so they have full LAUSD funding. So we have Plan A (still School FarAway) and plan BaAlternative and plan BbSureSoundsGood, the schools of the phone calls. I have to see them, of course. And others as well. Iím going to be Mommy On The Go this next month, fitting in school tours all over the city in between drop off and carpool time. But things are looking better tonight.

Choices. I like choices.

Posted by Tamar at 11:26 PM

checking in

My DSL host was down all afternoon and evening. It felt eerie, like I was oddly alone. Just me and Damian in the house, no other voices on my computer. Just as well, though. I had little time for the computer.

I went to see our second choice school again today, finally sat down with the administrator. This is such a complicated issue, kindergarten for the somewhat different child. I'll have more to say about that tomorrow.

Posted by Tamar at 12:17 AM

February 24, 2004

wedding bells

Okay, here's substance. From someone else. I've read a lot of good commentary on the gay marriages in San Francisco (I have just one thing to say on that: Yay! Okay, two. Also Woo Hoo!) but the best point I've seen is Rob Rummel-Hudson's. I just hope he's right.

Oh, I do have one more thing to say. I think it's fascinating that this is happening -- San Francisco and Massachusetts (and what's up with Hawaii these days?) making steps toward making it legal for two people to wed regardless of gender -- during such an oppressive, backwards regime. It's as if the overarching government mindset has nothing to do with the populace. Could it be? A sea change is necessarily underwater, tugging at you from beneath the surface. This is the more powerful kind of transformation.

Posted by Tamar at 11:09 PM

what, you expected substance?

Tired. Very tired. Busy day from top to bottom, but in a good way. Though maybe Dan doesn't think so; at eleven p.m., he just got home from work. Me, I wrote a thousand words on my novel, spent good time with my kid, even exercised (Damian tried out the Nordic Track while I did ab crunches, experimented with the ab cruncher while I lifted weights -- didn't try the weights, though). Good day. Nothing much to say here, though. No brain left. Tomorrow. Maybe I'll have something more interesting to say then.

Or maybe not. Dan says he'll be working even later tomorrow night.

Posted by Tamar at 11:00 PM

February 23, 2004

The Handler bums me out

This TV season sucks rocks. I thought it was going to be okay, a grand total of two new shows to watch (Joan of Arcadia and The Handler) but now Iíve reconsidered. The Handler went from impressive to imbecilic in record time. Is this the first time a show jumped the shark before the first thirteen episode run ended? Because it did. Iím still in shock. Wondering who was responsible, how that went down. I know someone who works on the show, maybe I could ask. But can you imagine that conversation? ďHi, I havenít spoken to you in a while, howís it going?Ē Bla bla bladee bla. ďOh yeah, sounds great. Hey, Iíve been watching your show. Yeah. It started out so great, what happened?Ē What do you mean, what happened? ďWell, why does it stink now?Ē Bla anger bladee bite me bla bla go away and never call again.

So maybe not. But really. The pilot and at least half a dozen episodes after that were terrifically crafted hours. The show is about an FBI team that goes undercover on a regular basis to uncover and nail criminals in the act. It dealt Ė at least at first Ė with the bigger issues like going so deeply undercover you lose your real identity, like becoming over-fond of the bad guys, like being asked to do something by the bad guy that is morally repugnant and then what do you do? And, most compellingly, being afraid every single second that youíll blow your cover and end up dead.

The situation is inherently fascinating: actors who take on roles as real-life people. How do you do that? How do you make it believable in every improvised moment? What toll does it take on your life and your psyche? Add to that a stable of good storytellers and youíve got the makings of something memorable.

But the last few episodes, somethingís happened to the sharpness, the darkness, the intensity of it. Itís all gone. A recent episode involved a woman going undercover as an Irish nanny in a house where the previous nanny had gone missing, presumed murdered. Was it the dad or the teenage son? Why was the younger son so scared? It had its moments, but it all felt like a cookie cutter whodunit mystery, with a screamingly obvious answer. All that was left was a bit of creepiness all around and some oddly flat characterizations. Plus an affecting moment Ė just one Ė with the little boy. That was disappointing enough, but every show has a clunker every now and then. The one after it was a little better, though also terribly obvious and not all that interesting. In it, a senator accused of having an affair with and then murdering an intern sends his lawyer to give the internís roommate hush money. Was it what it seemed? Could they find out what really went down? Do I care? I donít watch this show for the mysteries, I watch it for the characterizations, the depth, the scares. And the last episode, something about putting down horses for the insurance money, that one was downright bad. Obvious plot setup, repeated dialogue, tons of exposition and very little of anything else. Bad.

When Dan is between shows Ė that is, when one series ends and heís out of work till he finds a new gig Ė we end up watching a lot of different series. Every time he gets an interview we (or at least he) tries to catch up on the series (or in the case of a new show, sit down with the pilot). Itís a reminder of how very much bad TV is out there. Pedestrian. Obvious. No subtlety, no surprises, no freshness. Is it that writers are under-trained or is this what the networks think they want? It obviously doesnít work, judging from the trail of cancelled shows this season leaves in its wake. HBO trumps the competition every year at the Emmys for a reason. A Sex and the City or a Six Feet Under is so different, so much more engaging than a District or a Tarzan. Monk was fun and fresh and actually funny the first season but then hit the predictables in its second season when it turned into a Murder She Wrote style unravel-the-mystery serial. Itís just not that interesting. Nor is another new soap opera a la Melrose Place (The L Word, The OC). Nor is another new law show following the path trod by LA Law and the many shows that came after it. Meet the plaintiff, hear the emotional story, but oh, it's unwinnable, but wait, a twist: a witness breaks down on the stand. Yeah, fascinating. The first time you see it. After the umpteeth show, not so fascinating anymore.

Iím pissed that The Handler is turning into a clunker. I wish it had kept the promise it made with the pilot. A promise to be daring, a promise to ask hard questions and thrill me. I want good TV, damnit. And thereís hardly any to be found.

Posted by Tamar at 10:06 PM | Comments (2)

February 22, 2004

sometimes when it rains

Sometimes when it rains in Los Angeles, not a wild downpour like someone dumped a ton of water from some storm drain in the sky, not like the fierce rains of spring, but a milder, gentler spattering of misty drops, sometimes when the streets are so wet they shimmer and the clouds rest on the hilltops like pillows on dark green beds and the palm trees are hidden in the mist, on days like that I relish the rain. The clean, sweet air, the way the tip of my nose gets wet, even the way I shiver in my leather jacket. Watching Damian trot ahead down a deserted park path, his little blue umbrella cocked at an angle over his hooded head, his thick socks showing with every step, yes, that too.

Sometimes when it rains in Los Angeles itís almost like we live somewhere else for this small snippet of time. Somewhere with drama in the swirling clouds, with cold that sweeps through you, with weather worth comment. After all these years in Southern California, this is almost like playing pretend, like stepping onto a movie set: cue the rain machine, cue the wet and cold.

Sometimes when it rains in Los Angeles, I sit in a cozy bungalow of a brunch place and look out the curtained window, watching the steam swirl up from a Styrofoam cup of coffee outside on the porch rail. I imagine the sensation of that liquid sliding down my throat, chill outside and curling warmth in my belly. Sometimes I sit inside on a cloud-filled day and watch the incessant pattering rain wilt the flowerbeds and oh, sometimes I like my world.

Posted by Tamar at 09:50 PM

February 21, 2004

best friends

During a play date today, Damian's buddy D declared that Damian wasn't his best friend anymore.

Damian, who I don't think had ever entertained the notion that they were in fact best friends, was hurt by this. He said he wanted to be best friends still and why wouldn't D and that was mean and so on in that vein.

D decided that they could be best friends after all, but only on Sundays. Not the rest of the week. He was adamant.

Also Fridays, Damian said.

Okay, Fridays too, said D. And Saturdays.

They agreed that Fridays, Saturdays and Sundays were best friend days but the rest of the week? Not even friends.

Damian now has three best friends. T is his best friend at the morning school, C is his bud at the afternoon school, and D, who doesn't go to school with him, is the weekend designate.

I worry: is he spreading himself too thin? Will it be like this when he's ready to date? Does he know what he's getting himself into? And what does he do at his birthday party when all the best friends converge? Preschool social configurations can be brutal.

Maybe we should have a contract drawn up, like the kind they do in divorce settlements. Splitting Damian's best friend quota between the three boys, with special dispensation for occasional pre-agreed play dates after school hours. Know any good lawyers for the kindergarten set? They'd have to take play doh and toy cars in payment.

Posted by Tamar at 10:29 PM

February 20, 2004

behind the screen

Something odd happened today. I went to Danís cutting room to pick Damian up. No, thatís not the odd part. Though yes, it is odd, because Iíd completely forgotten that Damianís morning preschool had the day off. Thus precipitating a phone call from Dan standing outside the preschool in question, which, though mere blocks from his workplace, is miles away from our house. Thus precipitating a scramble to get out of the house, said scramble involving unwashed hair scrabbled into a dreary ponytail, some random shirt thrown on Ė you get the idea. Run out of house carrying way too much stuff. Twist ankle. Cry in pain. Hobble to car. Drive to the studio lot. Walk into the cutting room to discover my men both on computers. Dan actually, yíknow, working while Damian was engrossed in Kid Pix on the TiBook. So engrossed, in fact, that I didnít even get my usual ďHi Mommy!Ē

None of that was the odd moment, though it did lead into it. Me, in full dowdy mom mode, chatting with Damian about his toy frog as we walked out of the building into the drizzly day. As we approached the front door, a man came in. Beret, long jacket. Sleek looking. He said hello, brushed past. Went into the main post-production room. I could easily have turned around and gone back in.

I was tempted. You see, I worked on a TV series several years ago, a very successful show. I was an assistant editor in LA, the show was shot out of state, I never met the cast. This man who just brushed past? The star.

So I thought about introducing myself. ďThat show, the one that made you famous? I worked on it too. I spent hours alone with your face in a dark room. I know your line delivery, your intonation, the rumors about you on the set. And you donít know me from a hole in the wall.Ē

Thereís a class divide in Hollywood, and itís not just the blatant one between illegal immigrant gardener and home owner. Thereís also one between so-called above the line talent Ė director, writer, also obviously actors Ė and those below the line Ė everyone else. On top of that, editors, though theyíre at least as important to the process as cinematographers and production designers, usually make half as much money and have far less respect. I think itís partly because nobody really knows what they do, a topic for another time: what do editors actually do in those dark cutting rooms? Which may call for a guest blog appearance by my spouse. But itís also because theyíre practically invisible. You can see the cameraman strutting around between takes, the boss of his crew; he says ďLet there be light!Ē and ten burly men and a woman rush around moving stands and plugs and wire and then Lo! There is light! You can see the production designer huddling with the director and then instructing a crew of burly folk to paint and assemble and generally do very visible things to massive chunks of scenery. The editing crew Ė on a TV show, thatís three editors in rotation with two or three assistants between them Ė they just sit in their rooms far from the set. Thatís all. Itís a lot, in actuality. But does it look like a lot? Does it look like anything? And then afterward, the director and the producer talk as if they were the ones working the material. ďI tried that and then I recut it this way.Ē Like a homeowner saying he remodeled his kitchen when all he did was get out of the way while the contractor and crew did the work.

Hmm. I guess I have more resentment built up around this than I thought. Anyway. I remember the first show I worked on. The first wrap party. I was young and unafraid. And this was not an ongoing episodic series, this was a show in which every episode had a different self-contained storyline with all-new characters and very few of them were big names. So at that wrap party, I had a little to drink, I flirted with a producer or two, and I went up to one of the episode stars (a little star, not a household name) and said I was an apprentice editor and that Iíd seen her face on my Steenbeck every day for the past month. She looked completely blank. As if Iíd said something so gauche no response was possible. I was mortified and backed away quickly.

Itís an odd relationship, that between actor and editor. Very one way. It shouldnít be, if you think about it. The editor knows an actorís performance highs and lows better than anyone, and is therefore an actorís best ally (or worst enemy, hah). And yet the editor is strangely anonymous. And me, I was never a full-on editor. I left before I was promoted up from assistant. Iíd cut a decent amount of footage, especially the last year or so, but I wasnít The Editor. So what was I going to say to this beret-wearing star today? I once knew you intimately but anonymously? Heíd smile and look blank and say something polite and think ďI should care?Ē

There was a time Iíd have done it anyway. Looking for some kind of affirmation, I think. Some acknowledgement I wasnít about to get. But really, he and I have no relationship. We did, but Iíve left it behind and he never knew about it.

So I walked out into the grey morning with my little boy and enjoyed that tangible, two way relationship. Living in the present.

Posted by Tamar at 11:13 PM | Comments (1)

February 19, 2004

no rewrite?

A few weeks ago, a friend of mine finished the first draft of her first novel. ďYay,Ē I said, expecting to read it and give notes for the inevitable first rewrite. But no. Instead, after a cursory run-through for line tweaks, off the manuscript went in a box to New York and her agent connection there. Iím sad for my friend. Also frustrated and even angry. She just shot herself in the foot. The book isnít ready. Not nearly. And you rarely get second chances with this. Sending the novel off before itís ready is self-sabotage.

This made it hard for me to read something John Scalzi wrote in his blog the other day. Heís just finished his third novel. Which is a fantastic accomplishment, and it sounds like a fun book, too. And I enjoyed his post-mortem entry on it. But he says in the comments to the entry that heís going to send the manuscript off to his publisher in the next few days after just a cursory proofread. He says,

I rewrite only very rarely, mostly because I tend to resolve most of my writing issues during the initial writing. In some sense I think "re-writing" is an artifact of the days of typewriters, when it wasn't easy or practical to rework material on the fly. With computers, it's much simpler to makes changes as you go along.

Now, I have tremendous respect for John Scalzi as an essayist and I suspect he does know how to tell a story. But I strongly disagree with this assertion. This method may very well work for him, heís got the chops and experience to potentially pull it off. And I havenít read the novel, so I obviously canít comment on the particulars. But it scares me to think of some writer out there taking his opinion to heart, someone like my friend, looking for validation and an outside justification to avoid the work that needs doing. The world already has too many bad, unedited novels.

I admit that Iím coming from a very different position and background on this. Scalzi has been a nonfiction writer for a long time, short pieces evolving into longer works, but everything with a distinct and clear format. Iím sure itís quite possible to turn in a polished first draft of a nonfiction book. On the other hand, Iíve been writing screenplays, which demand extreme tightness in the writing as well as a streamlined plot, since the scripts are often nothing but plot. Every beat has to count in multiple ways. Itís like a sonnet, except with more rules. Those puppies need to be massaged every which way. Lots of rewriting unless you get incredibly lucky with the first draft and everything magically falls into place. This can happen but itís rare as hell. Ten drafts are more the rule than the exception, and thatís before you even send the thing to your agent for a look-see. So naturally I expect to go through multiple drafts of a novel.

I think itís facile to say that you can catch errors as you move forward, therefore youíre rewriting on the fly. Yes, to some extent you can, but that doesnít account for larger pacing issues Ė the first half of story sags while the second half has uneven leaps, that kind of thing. Or unexpected character development. Your main character is leaving her job and her kids to sail around the world? How did she come to that conclusion? Set that up sooner, seed it through the earlier chapters. Uneven character development can trip you up too; if you read through your novel after youíre done, you may realize that a character acts one way and then switches tone with no explanation.

And frankly, thatís all small stuff. The larger issues are often about clarifying what youíre trying to say and making sure the climax is satisfying because of everything youíve set up going into it emotionally as well as plot-wise. Or maybe it involves restructuring the story, shifting chapters around, rebalancing. Stuff you simply canít do mid-flow because it doesnít yet exist in toto.

I also think thereís a danger in writing your first draft with too close an eye on the editing. It can make you write tight and not in a good way. Tight as in overly controlled. Tight as in leaving little room for invention, for freeform world and character building, for wild attacks of the muse that may or may not fit the parameters of what youíre creating but if you let them in, they may inform and enrich the work and after all you can always decide later how they fit. If, that is, you allow yourself a later. If you do a proper rewrite. I say this as one who has made this mistake, by the way. I've written too tight, too carefully, and it's bitten me in the ass.

Some people think what Iím saying only applies to mainstream, literary fiction. But Iíve picked up an awful lot of genre fiction over the years. Mystery and romance but mostly SF and fantasy. A tremendous percentage of it is badly written. Maybe that could be fixed only with intensive applications of writing seminars and sleep-deprivation brainwashing tactics. Or maybe the authors just canít write. But I think more often the culprit is sloppy editing. Sloppy self-editing, to be exact. A writer, looking at deadlines, wanting that next installment of the advance, decides sheís done and sends the manuscript off without the rethinking that would turn something mildly readable into a memorable work. In trying to avoid wasting her own time with a so-called unneeded rewrite, she ends up wasting mine as a reader. These days Iíll just put the book down and walk away if the writing is slipshod. With more time and editing, maybe the author could have hooked another new reader, maybe risen above the dreaded midlist limbo of small first runs and quick trips to the remainder tables. (Or in the case of my friend, maybe gotten her work published for very the first time.)

Having said all that, Iím about to contradict myself. Because my basic policy is to rewrite until I and my trusted cadre of three readers think the thing is ready. With most of my short stories, thatís meant a fair amount of massaging and even some rethinking. With the last story, it just meant lopping off the first half of the narrative and tweaking lines to make them sing. It was ready to send off within a week after I finished the first draft. Of course, it was also thirteen pages long. My novel wonít be ready that quickly. Iím sure of it. Even though my cadre likes the novel a lot and seems to have fewer notes as I go deeper into it, none of us will know (myself included) until we read the entire work in one go.

The larger issue, Iím realizing, is knowing when somethingís done. Iíve met writers who tinker until the work is massively overwritten, well past done, and theyíre past making it better, now theyíre just making a bigger mess. So yes, they exist too. But they donít generally get published or produced, maybe because they canít let go of the pages. The trick is knowing exactly how much to do, no less and no more. Thatís the art and the mystery of it.

Posted by Tamar at 09:35 PM

February 18, 2004

Damian's domain

I don't usually do this, but I just found a google search in my referrer logs that actually made me laugh. Instead of typing "Domain Name Server" (something I've been intimately acquainted with the past few days), someone typed "Damian Name Serves."

Apparently my kid can host websites. Either that, or he names tennis serves. He'd probably call them Ayoo Two and Emuff The Big Chase.

Posted by Tamar at 11:19 PM

that key

It turns out these online databases, these blogs, they're more fragile than they look. If you, say, delete a weblog accidentally (who would do that?) (Oh, nobody I know) (ducking and running now), you can still see all the files, every single one, on the server. Just sitting there hanging out. Index file, every archive page. Everything. But you can't get there from here. Whatever that mysterious something is (some cgi scripting key) that connects the main Movable Type interface with the files it created, that's gone and you're locked out of your online house.

I guess the same thing is true when you delete a file from your hard drive -- the file's still there but the link to it is gone -- but you can't see the thing anymore so for you it really is gone. In this case, it was frustratingly close but infinitely far.

So strange. So fragile. We type and we save and we go on as if everything's concrete, tangible, like the hardcover books on the shelf or the key in your hand. Illusory. Everything on my hard drive. Illusory. Blow on it, spill water on it. Bye bye novel, bye bye email, bye bye online life.

As my friend Otto said last night this goes to show: the maxim back up! back up! and when in doubt, back up! applies to websites too.

Because everyone hits the delete key by accident every now and again. Everyone makes dumb mistakes. If you want proof, go look at my photoblog. The format is wonky on the entry archives. Why? Um... hmm... yeah. I'll get on that today. Moving a domain from one server to another is trickier than it looks. On the surface everything remains the same, the still surface of a pond on a windless day. Underneath? Like water, it shifts, it moves, it eddies and flows. It's ephemeral. Looks solid. Isn't.

Posted by Tamar at 10:22 AM

February 16, 2004

sick points

It's very strange to have a stomach bug while on a diet. For one thing, you're only supposed to eat bland, easy to digest food, right? Well, um. The bread is whole wheat, the cereal is all high fiber, the carbohydrates are all complex. There's nothing in the house right for a sick person. Where's the Wonder Bread and cream of wheat when I need it?

Then there's the fact that on Weight Watcher's you're supposed to make sure to eat at least twenty points a day, that's the rock-bottom minimum for anyone. But my target points for the day is twenty. So I'm essentially supposed to eat a more-or-less normal amount of food. I know it's insanity to try that while your stomach is doing flip-flops and contemplating exiting your body by whatever means, fair or foul. And I didn't even try on Saturday. Yesterday I did it by a fluke. Bagels are six points each, two slices of toast with jam and margarine is five. I filled my belly with bland starch and sailed on forward. Today was/is strange, though. I'm well enough to leave the house. And my body is hungry but irritated at the idea. As if the nobler thing would be to starve, but it just can't seem to get there. It makes meals difficult when your body is telling you it hates you for making it eat. My brain wants three course meals, my body wants to be anorexic. It's kind of a problem. So maybe Weight Watchers is a good thing. It offers a compromise. Twenty points is usually too little, a struggle, a pain in the butt. This weekend it's maybe just right.

Dieting the easy way: get sick. Or is that the hard way?

Posted by Tamar at 11:29 PM | Comments (1)

February 15, 2004

just so you know

Things may be a little screwy here for a few days. I'm going to be switching webhosts, probably tomorrow. There's some behind-the-scenes tinkering involved. Also, the weird port number version of the URL (postcardsfromla:16080) may no longer take you anywhere. It's all a great big mystery.

Posted by Tamar at 11:03 PM

February 14, 2004

consolation

It seems it is now my turn to lie in bed and make grumbling noises. I'm not nearly as sick as Damian was, thankfully, but I've been better.

Since I have no Jennifer Crusie novels on hand, I spent most of my wakeful time web surfing. (The combination of PowerBook and wifi is a splendid thing.) I came across an interview with Ursula LeGuin (via Blog of a Bookslut). She's such a graceful, thoughtful woman. Also, she said this, which resonated for me:

Soon after A Wizard of Earthsea came out in England it received a review in a science-fiction periodical which took the book to task for being "consolatory" and "reassuring". Well, fair enough, I thought, if the consolation is false, if the reassurance is unwarranted; but are consolation and reassurance inherently false, unwarranted - foolish, soft, silly, childish - sentimental? Are we writers only to threaten, terrify, and depress our readers with our ruthless honesty: have we not as good a right to offer them whatever comfort we've come by honestly?

I wrote the reviewer and told him what I thought, and that I thought I had Tolkien to back me up. He wrote back nicely enough saying that of course he hadn't been thinking of the book as being written for children. Apparently it is permissible to reassure or console children, but not adults.

Such an attitude seems to me to be based on a strange notion that the Common Reader is so happy, so foolishly confident, so stupidly trustful, that the Common Writer's whole duty is to convince him that life is hard and full of grief and that there is no consolation. Most adults I know already know that life is hard and full of grief; and they look for both confirmation of this knowledge, and consolation for it, in art.

I tend toward positive conclusions in my own writing: reconciliations, growth, even happiness. This is not necessarily fashionable. I think some people feel it makes a work too accessible, too lowest common denominator, too pretty. Fuck that.

LeGuin, of course, said it far far better.

Posted by Tamar at 09:59 PM | Comments (1)

February 13, 2004

Brontosaurus mysterious

I may be the last reasonably well educated person on the planet to discover this, but did you know the Brontosaurus never existed? Apparently the big skeleton I used to gaze at in a kind of "wow, big!" way at the Museum of Natural History in New York was an inadvertent fake. A paleontologist found the body of an Apatosaurus but no head. Looked around the vicinity, found a head, stuck it on. Much, much later people figured out, well, no, that's not the right head. It belongs to this other dino dude, the Camarasaurus. But in the meantime, at least three museums had done the same thing, stuck one animal's head on another animal's body and displayed it proudly in their central hall. The mistake has since been rectified. Twenty years ago or thereabouts, they switched the heads around and fixed the labels and now the Apatosaur has an appropriately small, narrow head instead of the flat, wide one I remember.

I don't know why I find this amusing. Maybe because it seems like we're light years past finding dinosaur bones and imagining fire breathing dragons and then whoa, we're really not. We know so little that we stick a random head on a body and call it a beast it never was and stand tall in our incomprehension.

Alas, poor Brontosaur. I knew ye well. Or thought I did.

Posted by Tamar at 11:15 PM

February 12, 2004

sick kid

There's this splinter, it lodges in the base of your throat, right where a necklace would rest. It's made out of ice, cold and sharp. It forms when your child vomits up his breakfast and continues when he cries, miserable, at the idea of another trip to the bathroom and doesn't melt away until he starts chattering and acting like himself again and eating white rice for a very late supper.

It's not like getting sick yourself, spending the day wondering whether you can stomach another sip of water. That's awful and icky and depressing. But it's happening to you and you know you've been through it before and you can -- or feel you can -- control your own body, you can ride this wave of illness. When it happens to your young, defenseless child, the protective instinct rushes up in your chest but you can't slay this dragon. Only time will do that. And so you hold him close all afternoon and feel helpless and worried because you would rather cut your heart out and feed it to a pack of feral dogs than let anything terrible happen to your child. And even though this isn't terrible, it's a run-of-the-mill stomach bug, you still feel shaky and scared with the echoes of parental vulnerability and you want to cry when he drinks half a small glass of water and keeps it down this time. Overreaction? Welcome to parenthood.

Posted by Tamar at 11:01 PM | Comments (2)

February 11, 2004

boycott Hollywhat?

For a while this morning, several blocks at least, I drove behind a large black SUV, an older model, chipped around the edges and festooned with bumper stickers. The license plate frame caught my eye. ďBoycott Hollywood,Ē it said. ďHeh,Ē I said, and kept driving. The words attracted my eyes again. Hm, I thought. Boycott Hollywood, huh? How would you do that? Stop seeing movies, unplug the TV, yeah that could work. Not that you could get anyone to actually do it, but if enough people did, itís probably more powerful than avoiding grapes. Hitting a bigger industry, at any rate.

But why would you want to do that? Whatís your boycotting slogan, whatís the picket line chant? Well, itís kind of obvious, isnít it? ďMake Better Movies!Ē ďNo More Bad Films!Ē ďWe Hate Lame-ass Action Movies!Ē ďEnd Sequelitis!Ē ďDonít Fuck With The Writers!Ē (Well, okay, maybe that last one is just me.)

Think it would work, if we stopped going to the movies? Would they make better ones or just spend less money on the same dumb ideas? Think it would work if we shut the TV off? Could we shut the TV off? Itís on grocery store checkout lines now, in emergency room waiting areas, itís background noise and an inanimate babysitter. How could you organize a big enough boycott to make that change?

Nevertheless, itís an intriguing idea. Power to the people. Make your voice heard. Demand quality, let your eyeballs do the walking.

Of course, a few blocks later, still gazing at the carís rear bumper, I realized. The American flag waving from the roof rack, the bumper sticker extolling the war in Iraq, they were clues. US out of UN, another sticker said. I had to think about that one for a bit, itís so foreign to my thinking, but I suspect it was another attempt at a futile boycott Ė this car seemed to feel strongly about boycotts and withdrawals, except when it came to war-type invasive behavior.

Itís kind of obvious, huh? The carís owner thinks Hollywood is too liberal and thinks if you turn off West Wing and donít go see Cold Mountain, thatíll make studios start propagating pro-war propaganda. Sadly, it might work. But it might work for a very simple reason: Hollywood is not that liberal. I mean, think about it. Our current governor, that Republican promise-breaker and education-decimator, was a movie star and producer and go-to greenlight man for macho shoot-em-up reactionary gorefests. And heís hardly the only one around here. But letís say for the sake of argument that the majority of Hollywood professionals are indeed liberal. Itís quite possible. But really. Do you see many movies taking chances, going out on a limb to validate gay marriage, condemn modern day warmongering, say anything controversial about the world we live in? Come on. The most daring politics in most mainstream movies say things like Racism is Bad and Gays are Not Bad (but we wonít show them kissing anyway). And maybe, if theyíre really bold, theyíll say ďGovernment is Not Trustworthy. Yeah. Shocking, ainít it. Really makes you think, no?

And I question how liberal the so-called liberals are here. Yes, theyíre probably mostly registered Democrats, though thatís a majority, not a given. And itís also common to most other urban areas. I donít think LA is as liberal as Boston, for instance. And certainly not San Francisco. Or New York. I remember the first Iraq invasion. I was working on LA L@w at the time. A show with a political bent, wouldnít you say? But when the bombing started in Baghdad, everyone headed over to the main production building to watch on the snowy television someone had set up in an office upstairs. Their faces were eager, watching the TV. Fascinated. I looked around the room and realized I was the only one there sick to my stomach. The rest of them saw it as fireworks, a spectacular video game on a large scale. I felt very alone in that room, too liberal for the crowd I was in. So I got up and walked out, back outside to the green grass and the rickety editing bungalow on the edge of the studio lot steeped in history. Alone with my thoughts.

Nobody wants to take a chance here. Nobody cares that much, except the independents who havenít grown too accustomed to the horn of plenty and are willing to say what they truly think and think what they feel instead of whatís easy.

Boycott Hollywood? For what? They censor themselves.

Now about that other kind of boycottÖ let me know where youíre holding the rally. Iíll be there, chants at the ready.

Posted by Tamar at 09:39 PM | Comments (1)

February 10, 2004

froggie heart

Yesterday Damian and I were playing with play-doh in his room. Correction: Damian and I and a stretchy blue frog were playing with the play-doh. Damian does many activities with amphibian accompaniment.

I rolled out some of the clay, stamped it out with a heart-shaped cookie cutter. Decorated it a bit and then gave it to Damian. "Happy early Valentine's Day, sweetie."

He accepted it, then got busy making one of his own. Out of blue play-doh to match his frog. With polka dots (finger holes pressed into the dough). Then he presented it to me.

"Thank you, Damian."

"It's not from me. It's from the peeper." (The blue frog is a spring peeper, you see.)

"I'd rather it were from you. I love you, I don't love the frog."

"But you have to love your pets."

"Well, sure, and I do love the cats. But the peeper isn't my pet, it's yours."

"But Dante and Cocoa are your cats and they're also mine. So we can share pets. The peeper is both of ours too."

What could I do? This child can argue circles around me. I accepted the blue heart from my newly beloved pet spring peeper.

Posted by Tamar at 09:21 PM

February 09, 2004

clunky writing

I took most of last week off from writing. Dan has had some time between episodes (his last one was already cut and locked, his next one hasnít started shooting yet) and so we spent the time together. Saw a movie in the theater (wow), had a leisurely lunch another day. We played. It was fun. And when I sat down this afternoon to write, I realized I'd forgotten how.

Yes, I had one of those bad writing days. One filled with at least three false starts and a lot more head scratching and finely honed procrastination techniques.

The problem was this: the scene I had to write involved the two main characters coming together after a night apart and a painful secret revealed. The obvious choice was to have them talk about the painful secret, but theyíd already done that to the extent I think these two people could, and besides, a conversation delineating the pain and anger? Too on the nose, subtext made text. Inelegant writing. (Also known as False Start Number One.)

So here they were and here I was, none of us sure what to do. I wrote a bit of shoe leather (so named after what it usually involves, people walking from one place to another. ďHe went here and then he went there and then he took the bus downtown to the Canal Street stop.Ē Yawn. Interstitial material the eye glides over while waiting for the story to resume. Best not to write in the first place.) This wasnít your typical shoe leather, admittedly. Two people moving around each other in tense silence. But still. Not quite right. It felt like I was gliding on the surface of the story. It felt flat. False Start Number Two.

Well, okay. Maybe there should be some sex involved. Check gut: should they have sex? Gut says not a terrible idea. People do strange things under pressure. So I started to move the characters toward sex. This I can do. I have a goal, a plan, actual story material to write.

Then why did it come out sounding like a bad romance novel clinch? Somehow the mechanics of people getting undressed, fumbling to touch each other, responding physically, itís too easy to fall into standard cadences as you write, to fit into how youíd expect something like that to read. Or maybe as a reader itís too easy to make assumptions when you read certain phrases, Iím not sure. But I do know that it didnít work for this moment in the story. That was False Start Number Three. And probably Number Four and maybe even Number Five, as I fumbled with words to undress my characters from within.

I kept writing, though. Trying different things. Deleting just about everything. I ended up jumping ahead, writing truly from within. Letís say you write ďI kissed him.Ē Thatís plot, thatís what happened. If you write instead ďThe experience felt like a dream of something that was happening to someone else,Ē then you start to separate from the nuts and bolts of the action and you can play with time and emotion. At which point itís easy to avoid the clichťs of a clinch, the expected sequence of events, and so you can write something that goes where you need it to go and feels like part of the story youíre telling.

When I get stuck like I did today, I often find myself resorting to standard prose. Something that sounds an awful lot like what Iíve read before, and not in a National Book Award finalist either. Thereís a kind of writing thatís easy to do but, well, pedestrian. So when I find myself writing like that, it means I have to take another path, find another way to present the same bit of plot. Because the way you tell it affects the story itself. And that may be the hardest thing to master as a writer.

Posted by Tamar at 10:35 PM | Comments (3)

February 08, 2004

yellow walls (pix)

Our living room as of today. Good morning, sunshine.

lvrm1a.jpg


lvrm2a.jpg


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Posted by Tamar at 11:06 PM | Comments (7)

February 07, 2004

new hidden laughter entry

Here. Called Three Road Markers. The words every parent of a spectrum child hopes to hear.

Posted by Tamar at 02:18 PM | Comments (7)

February 06, 2004

stupid things people say

This makes me almost glad I spent the last month of my pregnancy on bedrest. I didn't have to deal with the idiotspeak that seems to flood people's vocal cords when faced with a woman in late pregnancy.

Of course, I didn't escape altogether. There was that woman who laughed and said "Any day now!" and "You've got the biggest belly I've ever seen!" I was six and a half months pregnant at the time.

She didn't try to touch it, though.

(Good luck, Jessie. I'll be thinking of you next month and hoping for a splendid birth experience. And you're a better woman than I for holding your tongue with those boneheads.)

Posted by Tamar at 08:49 PM | Comments (2)

say the word

Today I stopped a friend of Damian's from instigating a game wherein they'd hit each other with water bottles. Fortunately, he discussed his idea with Damian before actually, y'know, clonking him over the head with a full sports bottle. I said no, don't, bad idea, and explained that it's never okay to hit another person.

Damian said, "If it's not okay to hit, why is there the word 'hit'?"

Semiotics boy strikes again.

Actually, I love-love-love that he's asking and considering issues like this. Abstract thinking; if this then that and why? Mind stretching stuff for young brains. He's been making all kinds of similar links lately, his mind constantly working in "this because that" connections. I want to try to write more of them down before they disappear in the overly cluttered recesses of my brain. Because this, to me, is the amazing part. Abstract, symbolic thinking. It's the final emotional milestone according to Stanley Greenspan, the last building block in an emotionally complex brain.

Incidentally, I answered Damian by telling him we need the word to describe the action that we're not supposed to do. Because people do hit even though they're not supposed to. It's an intriging thought, though. If we didn't have the word, would people stop hitting each other?

Yeah, I know. Not quite that simple, is it?

Posted by Tamar at 08:40 PM

February 05, 2004

Two Weeks Off and romcom musings

Alias and The Handler have been on winter hiatus, presumably storing their nuts for fall Ė err, I mean, stockpiling their episodes for February sweeps. But I need something to watch while exercising. Iíve been making my slow way through the Angels in America miniseries and Iím sure Iíll have something to say about it once I finish, but honestly? Itís fascinating but not ideal for aerobic sessions. Too talky, too serious. These are not flaws in the work, but definitely flaws in the workout.

So I switched to Two Weeks Notice, which Iíd taped off HBO. I didnít expect much beyond some snappy cute dialogue and some wincingly clichť situations. The first time I put it on the VCR, I ended up sweating my way up to forty minutes (my usual has been thirty). Obviously it held my interest.

I thought the first half of the movie was one of the best told romantic comedies Iíd seen in a while. Sprightly, fun, the characters nicely delineated and not ones weíve seen a million times. I admit to a soft spot for a woman whoís a fiery political activist and whose parents are too. Nice way to portray a lawyer for a change. And Hugh Grantís character was pretty damn similar to Dudley Mooreís in Arthur except without the alcoholism or the butler Ė no, actually he has a butler-type chauffer dude, so I stand corrected Ė but he was nevertheless charming in that Hugh Grant sort of way, and the character was written self-aware and intelligent enough to make him quite likeable. Beyond that, though, I loved how the relationship between the characters built into something with a real back-and-forth and attitude built in. Sheís his lawyer but he values her opinion so highly he asks for her advice on pretty much everything. Thereís a lot of affection in that scenario, and also a lot of natural exasperation. The movie still has a typical romcom larger-than-life trying-too-hard dishonest sheen, but in a genial, fun way.

Then came the twist: she wants to quit. (Hey, itís in the title, itís not exactly a big shocker of a spoiler.) And after that the movie turned to shit. Genial, pleasant shit, but shit nevertheless. Thereís a new pretty lady lawyer in a classic All About Eve setup. She poaches on Sandra Bullockís man Ė I mean employer. Bullock doesnít care but she does. Bullock and Grant share a kiss only it doesnít count. He acts out. She acts out. They deny feelings. They have a big fight. And so on. Romantic Comedy Boilerplate Number Forty Two on the movie factory assembly line. All the individuality in the script was washed away by a river of clichťs. I ceased caring about the characters because they ceased relating to each other, instead they were just pacing out their emotional beats in some formula cheat sheet sent out by a studio directive.

Man, was I pissed. I donít know who was responsible for sabotaging that script, whether it was a flaw in the original script version or a result of some idiotís notes, but they turned what was shaping up to be one of the freshest, most enjoyable romantic comedies I can remember into a cheap plastic toy of a movie.

Romantic comedies are hard. Iíve written a few myself. I donít know why I did. In retrospect, itís obviously not my mťtier. But I like good ones. And good ones are rare as hell. The problem is, itís hard to keep two people apart in a funny way that allows them enough time actually in the same room to create sparks. When social spheres rarely mixed, marriage was forever, people didnít have sex first (at least not on screen) and the Hayes Code was in full bloom, it was easier. There were plenty of ways to create emotional/sexual/romantic tension without resorting to bizarrely convoluted situations that seem as real as a photoshopped portrait of an emu in flight. Now? Not so easy. When Harry Met Sally did it well because it stayed real. It also had very little story, but that was okay. Now you need more story to get something made, though, and you end up with these meet-cute fight-cuter high concept nobody-really-lives-that-way formula pieces. Itís too bad. I do love good funny romance. Itís just hard to pull off.

I understand, I think, why someone decided Two Weeks Off needed some goosing in the second act. Fear of box office disaster. Fear of the great unknown. I just wish the filmmakers had trusted what they had a little (a lot) more. It would have been a far better movie.

Posted by Tamar at 11:20 PM | Comments (3)

February 04, 2004

a painted house

Color is a trickster god. Luscious, seductive, sucking you in, making you go buy a quart of paint in that color, yes, that chip, yes isnít it so lovely you could eat it out of the can? And then when itís got you in its clutches, itíll turn around and bite you in the ass.

I painted the living room this weekend. It was a lovely shade on the chip. Palest sunset, it was called. Isnít that evocative? The hint of orange to warm our walls. It was just a hint, all right. Iíd call it white with diluted homeopathic essence of yellow-orange. Iíd call it palest off-white maybe-cream-if-you-want-to-stretch-the-truth. Nice color, I guess. If youíre looking for white. But we were looking for an orangey-yellowy sort of color. Not too dark, the room is dark to begin with. Not so strong, we canít overpower the beautiful wood built-ins. Something soft and cheering as you walk in after a long drive home.

Color is an odd sort of beast. Pick the wrong one and everything in the room seems off. The color seems pasted on, too garish or too mild or too dingy or just plain tacky. The room itself takes on an aura, stops fitting together, as if it suddenly broke, realigned, misconformed. How do you find the right one amidst all the hundreds of chips on the color wheel?

Iíve talked about this before, but we saw a place three years ago while we were house-hunting. The house itself was small. If you stepped back to analyze the room layout and built-in details, it was not unlike many other Spanish style houses in the area. But the way the owners had painted and landscaped and decorated, oh. Everyone who walked in wanted to buy the place. And yet. They chose absurd color combinations, a wall sponged with not two or three shades off the same color chip the way youíre supposed to, but half a dozen different colors, all jumbled and splattered on top of each other. The effect was oddly soothing. They painted stripes on the hallway wall, not complimentary colors either. Peach and green. Ugh, right? But no. The green was soft and just right and the effect of the two together? Delicious.

I walked away from that house Ė I think we both did Ė feeling inspired. We can do that too. We can mix and match and sponge and marbelize and paint diamonds on the walls. When we have a house, of course. Because we didnít put an offer on that one. It was, after all, too small. And too perfect unto itself. Not a house we could claim as our own, put our imprint on. But we were thrilled that someday soon we too could do that.

I see other houses, too, friendsí houses. They have deepest red on the walls in one room, deep green in another, intense yellow in the kitchen. The effect is invigorating. Maybe we could do that too, I think.

Well, we canít. Because this house we have, it wonít let us. We managed to slip a deep blue onto two walls of Damianís room. It seemed to know that was a kidís room and so it let us. But we tried medium purple on the kitchen moldings. No go. And every time we try to imagine a strong color anywhere else, it says ďNoĒ and ďDonít you dare.Ē And so we donít. We bow to the houseís superior knowledge and grandfatherís wisdom (it is, after all, ninety one years old) and agree to treat it gently with only the softest of colors. A pale sage green in the guest room, cream walls in the kitchen (with pickled orange cabinets and those muted purple moldings, not the typical definition of conservative, I know, but trust me, itís hardly a Technicolor daydream). And the living room, a pale orangey yellow. The color of sunshine, ideally. The sun this shaded house rarely gets.

At least that was the plan. But we went too conservative in this case and the color was very nearly white. And the off white room was sallow and unpretty, like a hungover starlet without her morning makeup. We thought about living with it for a while, seeing if it grew on us. We worried that anything darker would be too much, too bold, too strong. We went out and bought another quart of paint anyway. This one called Warm Rays.

I painted. Again. Two coats of primer over the holiday break. Two coats of Palest Not A Color this weekend. Two coats of the sweetest warmest orange-hued yellow yesterday and today. My shoulder hurts with repetitive stress, my arms are spattered with a fine coat of latex, but the room is so very pretty. It just woke up from a long winter nap. Itís come alive.

The right color seems like itís been there on the walls forever. Thatís how you know when you find it.

(Photos tomorrow, if I can.)

Posted by Tamar at 11:05 PM

February 03, 2004

sometimes a paint can is just a paint can

Dan just walked through with what looked like a can of paint, but on closer inspection had the words "John Grisham's A Painted House" on the side, with "DVD for your consideration" in smaller letters.

Dan held the can up. "Know what's in here?"

"Uh, a DVD?"

"Wrong." He grinned.

Oh yeah.

Last spring when we were painting our kitchen (a long, complex saga equivalent to Gone With The Wind only with fewer curtains), we tried to find the right muted purple shade for the moldings. After two tries failed miserably (one was way too dark, the other too blue), I bought pint cans of two new potential choices. Sadly, neither worked. One was too lavender, the other too pink. What we wanted was something in between, but there were no in-between paint chips. So we mixed them in a flimsy paper container left over from Damian's birthday party tie-dying extravaganza. Got the perfect color. Painted. Beautiful.

Now the hard part: How to store the new shade? Answer: Dan gets inundated every spring with TV Academy For Your Consideration tapes and DVDs. Some come in clever packaging. This particular clever packaging worked quite well. If you remember to use the contents correctly, that is. It might damage your DVD player. And would be about as fun to watch as... paint drying.

Dan's off to do some touch-up work now.

Posted by Tamar at 10:27 PM

February 02, 2004

woo!

Toni's back! (You may notice from the URL that I had a little something to do with that. Yes, you can thank me.) (Diane's hosting us so she did too. Thanks all around, yes.) (Let's comment a lot, make her feel welcome, maybe she'll stick around this time.) (I think she will, though. Movable Type is fun.) (So are parentheticals.)

Posted by Tamar at 10:15 PM

getting high in the library

Caren Lissner recently linked to a description of a new book (and interview with that bookís author). The book is The Midnight Disease, by Alice Weaver Flaherty. Itís about hypergraphia, defined as the overwhelming urge to write. As Flaherty describes it, it sounds like the creative urge is found somewhere in the temporal lobes. Brain injuries can affect it, as can neurological conditions. Fascinating stuff.

This ties into something Iíve been contemplating recently. If you ask me why I write, I have a pile of reasons. Theyíre all true, maybe some more than others. But the real reason I write is far simpler. I write because it gives me a rush. A physical rush. Oh, not the kind of writing Iím doing right now, putting words together to describe or muse on a given topic. Fiction. Dipping into the stream of semi-conscious right-brain meets left-brain word/sentence/story shaping. That kind of writing. Sometimes I hate it, sometimes itís like slogging through week-old city slush in slippers, wet and cold and probably contaminated. But sometimes Ė oh, yes. Sometimes itís like a drunken sleepy dream, a delicious sherry dream but no, thatís not quite it either.

One day last week I spent my afternoon writing in the library, sinking deep into the prose. I was surprised when it was already almost three. I staggered (well, walked) to the car, started the ignition, drove the few blocks to school. Halfway there, I realized I was still in a daze. It was almost like a hypnotic trance. An altered state. Like I should get a blood test to make sure I was legal to drive. So it doesnít surprise me that thereís some neurochemical element to the writing process. It only surprises me that people donít talk about it more.

Posted by Tamar at 10:10 PM | Comments (2)

February 01, 2004

dying to succeed

Thereís a long article in todayís LA Times (registration required) about a young woman who was found dead in Laurel Canyon, about two miles from here. She was an aspiring actor. She thought she was going on an audition for a role in a James Bond film. The guy apparently had used this scam before, though itís unclear if he was aiming for rape or murder. Itís so ugly I could scream.

I think what gets me most about it is how vulnerable ambition makes us. Iím sure many, if not most, women would be suspicious of a man approaching in a shopping mall, offering a chance at a movie role. But what if he sounded like he knew what he was talking about? There are all sorts of stories of careers that got started in public places, from the legendary discovery of Lana Turner sitting on a fountain stool at Schwabís on down. And hell, Iíve been approached in a mall. Someone wanted me to bring Damian in to get auditioned at some kiddie casting company. I never followed it up, but I did and do think the woman was for real.

So hereís the question: what if you were young Ė very young Ė and hungry, oh so hungry. Youíd moved to the City of Angels thinking the roads would be paved with gold and your name would be engraved on a star on Hollywood Boulevard by the time you turned thirty, and yet here you were, three or five years later, waitressing at some dive or someoneís gofer or nanny, with maybe a commercial under your belt, maybe some student shorts, but really nothing to say you were the next big thing, and now youíre having trouble paying the rent and youíre looking in the mirror and the face that looks back at you doesnít look so fresh anymore. And then a man comes up to you in a mall. Smart, well dressed. He says you have the right look, itís a small part, mostly eye candy, but it will get you into SAG and Iíll make sure youíll be noticed after that. Please come in and audition for us.

Would you do it?

Someone desperate enough, hungry enough, someone whoís been hoping for her big break but seeing the possibilities slipping away, someone like that might have her doubts about this guy, but might feel like it was worth that risk. One guy, what could he do to her anyway? And what if it was for real? How could she pass up the chance?

The horror of Hollywood is that that brass ring is so close. You brush up against fame practically every day. Itís driving the Ferrari zooming next to you on Olympic Boulevard, itís strolling down Montana Avenue on a mild Saturday afternoon, itís even shopping at Bristol Farms for eggs and oranges in the next aisle. What do they have that you donít? Success, thatís what. Someone gave them that chance or they created it for themselves. And you can taste it too, itís in the air and in the over-chlorinated water that nobody drinks. You can smell it in the perfume of night blooming jasmine on February nights. You pick up the trades, read about the latest hot thing. You overhear conversations at the local Coffee Bean, someoneís casting that role but itís too late by the time you get there, the partís been filled. Fame. Success. Itís so close. So impossibly far. And so you go up Laurel Canyon wearing the stilettos and stockings he gave you. You go up to your death because you wanted fame too much.

Itís an old story. Clichť, even. But damnit all, itís still too horribly true.

Posted by Tamar at 10:12 PM