Itís been a while since I've written about weight loss, hasnít it? Thereís a reason for that. Yes, the obvious one. After I quit Weight Watcherís, I fell off the wagon but good. I feel no guilt, though perhaps a bit of chagrin. I had an intensive March, a busy April, and a stressful May. I didnít have the emotional wherewithal to be careful about what I ate and conscientious about how much exercise I got.
I do think itís possible to lose weight when youíve got a lot going on in your life; I lost ten pounds around the time Damian was diagnosed (on purpose, I should add), though I quickly regained it plus some. But it is harder. Weight loss is like a job. Not a full time job, thankfully, or nobody would do it, but itís an extra commitment. Time to plan your meals, to figure out how to organize your life differently, to shop with more focus and attention, time to exercise enough to lose the weight and firm the body. Itís self-sustaining at a certain point: the endorphins make the exercise become its own reward, healthy food makes you feel better and gives you more energy, the compliments and the way you fit into your clothes give you the positive reinforcement to continue.
But then something throws you off track. And once youíre off, it takes nearly as much willpower to get back on as it did to start in the first place. Iíve tried a few times over the past few months but in a half-hearted, canít-I-get-away-without-a-food-log? sort of way. And of course I couldnít. And of course I didnít. I still felt greedy, felt deprived at the very idea of not being able to eat whatever I wanted whenever I wanted. I wasnít ready. But somethingís shifted lately, and itís not just that my jeans are a little too snug now. Itís the same thing that happened just before I started on Weight Watcherís last July. Iíve been eating the same indulgent way but not enjoying it as much. It felt like almost a duty. Like a habit of thinking. I Must Eat Sweet, Rich Food. I Must Be Decadent. Itís almost as if something changes inside, that greedy needy part of my brain finally releases me and I can turn back into a weight-watching careful person. I like this woman, the one who sweats hard every day and who takes pleasure, not just in the weight loss, but in the way she feels along the way, in control and powerful.
I believe now that I need breaks. When losing weight starts to feel like an annoying chore, itís time to stop. When it feels like something I miss for my own self-image and sense of well-being, itís time to start again.
I ate twenty one pointsí worth of food today. I also did twenty two minutes on the Nordic Track. Iím ready again.
This morning a small plastic frog named Stripey whiled away the time outside a brunch place in Pasadena by trying to steal small objects away from me and jumping down my shirt. We placed Stripey in jail but Judge Damian was lenient and the lowlife frog was released all too soon. Fortunately for my dignity, we were then ushered into the restaurant.
In the parking lot after brunch, Damian asked me what Stripeyís middle and last names should be. I suggested a few. He shook his head. Stripeyís middle name should be Sneaky, his last name Thief. Stripey Sneaky Thief.
In the car on our way home much later, Damian asked if we had any food in the car. I gave him a box of raisins. He munched peacefully for a bit, then said, ďDo you know what they use for mulch in Froggy Land?Ē
Danís comment: ďThatís handy, when theyíre done using the mulch, they can eat it. Maybe it looks like flies.Ē
But no. ďIf they eat it, theyíll get more weeds.Ē Then he ate some raisins, um, I mean, some mulch. And a little voice (sounding suspiciously like Damian in a higher-key) said, ďHey, thatís my mulch! You canít eat that!Ē Thence followed some kind of tussle, but it was hard to hear the specifics from the front seat. I believe the frog won. Stripey Sneaky Thief strikes again.
Did you know that drowning is the second most common cause of child death? Did you know that nine out of ten children who drown are under adult supervision when it happens? I can't say I'm surprised. Appalled, yes. Surprised, no. I've seen parents at the playground. Their kids so far away, out of sight, while they chat on their cell phones. We've become an absentee culture. Not there when it matters most. Heartbreaking.
Damian is going to start swim lessons soon. I'll be in the water with him during free play time. You better believe it.
Stealth Punch has been thinking about parenthood lately and so therefore has naturally started to read mom blogs. Really, blogs are like these flashlights into the dark recesses of alternate lives, different choices, what an amazing resource that can be. But she has therefore Ė unsurprisingly Ė become very, very scared. Because when youíre a parent, you bitch. And yes, thereís a lot to bitch about. And yes, itís a humongous even-if-you-know-you-donít-know-till-it-hits life change. And yes, I sometimes remember the days BC (before child) with a kind of awe that I had so little responsibility.
But you know what? Theyíre with you in your house, eating your food, for a mere eighteen years and they get more independent with every year and thatís even besides the point because the real point is how it feels when your baby smiles at you for the first time and you know he means it, when youíre driving one day and you hand something to the back and this tiny hand reaches forward and removes it from your grip and you think ďhe did that!Ē, when he Ė much later Ė tucks his hand in yours to cross the street, trusting in you to look out for him, when he comes to find you to show you something amazingly brilliant thatís so him, when he yells at you using such grownup words and stomps off and you no longer have to suppress the giggle rising in your throat because dammit, that hissy fit was just so cute.
The pleasures of parenting are hard to quantify sometimes but itís very much like living with a lover or spouse. He or she can be a pain in the butt sometimes, just so horribly dense, how could you ever have thought you loved this person? But then other times itís just right, you fit together so beautifully and you canít imagine ever not having this in your life. Itís like that. I canít imagine my life without Damian. Has my parenting role made my life harder? Of course it has. More than I ever could have imagined. Would I trade it for all the extra time and peace of mind I had seven years ago? Hell no.
Because I can't seem to process things without writing them down and because I've become committed to chronicling Damian's story as it unfolds, I've started to write entries about this whole kindergarten mess. But I still want to avoid Googlebots and prying school district eyes. So I've created yet another blog specifically for this material. I hope to someday be able to move it over to Hidden Laughter, but for now this will suffice. And "now" may last a while...
Email me for the URL and password if you want to read it. I'll be updating whenever I have something relevant to say. Which right now is a lot. (Email info is at the bottom of the right column/sidebar/thingamajig.)
Our three year/transitional IEP meeting is tomorrow. Also known as the day things really begin, we see where we stand, we have something solid (ie: ďNo, you canít do thatĒ) and therefore get a hint of the next step in this convoluted process. And yet right now I feel calm. Even happy.
I think it has everything to do with a dream I had last night. In the dream, I was driving Damian to school but Iíd forgotten his gummy bear vitamins (an important part of the morning driving ritual) and so I had to stop and get them. Only somehow, in the logic of dreams, we were in New York and so I was going to stop at my fatherís place to pick some up (because of course we keep gummy vitamins there Ė dream logic again). New York parking being what it is, I parked a block away and went off to fetch the gummies. Leaving Damian in the car because it was only going to be a minute, after all. (Again, dream logic. I would NEVER EVER do that.) Got to my fatherís building, told him a bit about what was going on with the (see above) convoluted, freaky kindergarten situation. Then ran back to the car. Which wasnít there. Car and Damian both. Gone. In the midst of a busy New York City street.
Not a good dream. But an important one, I think. I canít lose sight of Damian in this. Yes, weíre doing all this on his behalf. Nevertheless, how he is right now, being his parents right now, helping him continue to develop right now, those are just as important as making sure his future will be okay. Iíve been distracted, stressed, overwhelmed, in intense strategizing mode. I need to be calm, engaged, playful, pushy. Iím not saying I should pretend or that I should suppress out the very real things Iím going through. But thatís not all there is. It canít be.
So today on the way home from school, I asked Damian a lot of questions about the bus he now takes from his morning school three days a week. We talked about the nonsense song he was singing (it was in Froggy Language), he told me what the various words meant. He said ďmeekĒ meant ďduh.Ē Or at least thatís what I thought he said. He got impatient with me, kept trying to correct me. Finally he said ďYou spell it ĎTee Aitch Eee.íĒ Oh. The. Which made me feel good, too, because heíd thought of clarifying via spelling. Which means reading is starting to become more internalized the way a new language does when youíre more fluent. Which is very cool.
And later we played street hockey in the back yard and we laughed and slammed the puck back and forth between us and his eye contact was great and his affect was high and we were both having fun and I thought, ďItís going to be okay, itís all going to work out.Ē Because worst case scenario? His school placement is still up in the air come September and so I home school him for a few months. That would actually be fun.
My dream was on target. I needed to focus on him again. Itís one thing to be an advocate. And a mighty powerful thing it is. Itís another thing altogether to simply be a parent. Remembering what itís like to connect with the child you love. Thatís the most powerful role of all.
This will probably surprise you, but I believe in omens. Not that things happen for the sole purpose of sending signals to us, but that this is a side effect, as it were, a bonus.
Which is to say:
When the baby bird died last week, I felt deeply sad. I couldnít shake it and I didnít know why. It felt like more than that small vulnerable thing, that maybe it had to do with another small vulnerable being in my life. A few days later the school shit started to accumulate, hurtling toward the proverbial fan.
Which is to say:
About a month ago, my watch disappeared. It was a birthday present from Dan. Itís gold and silver and smooth and elegant and I love it. I looked through my daypack, looked through my other bag, looked through my pockets, looked through my daypack again, swept my hand under the sofa, took apart the cushions, did the same to the armchair, moved my nightstand and the dresser too, crawled under my bed. Found scraps of paper. Rubber bands. Tumbleweed-sized furballs. Some stray rubber frogs. No watch.
The past few day Iíve been dismantling my office, preparing to finally strip down the hideous disco-glitter acoustic ceiling. This morning I walked through, laying down the plastic drop cloth. Something caught my eye in the west window. There on the ledge, behind the lowest glass louver, were several Bob beginning reader books. Behind them, my watch.
Iím in a good mood tonight. I have no reason to be, but I am. Maybe itís just the endorphins from a day of hard muscle work (scraping that stuff off the ceiling, grunting and ducking falling debris). But maybe itís something else. After all, I have my watch back. Things are bound to get better now.
Before I began submitting stories to literary magazines, I never understood the concept of a good rejection. A rejection is a rejection is a painfully throbbing abscess, right?
Dan called today. He was home, I was out. ďIf you got bad news, small bad news, would that completely depress you?Ē IE: are you in good enough shape to hear more awful shit?
ďSmall bad news?Ē
ďWell, you got an envelope. Self addressed. Thatís not good, right?Ē
ďItís a rejection. Open it anyway.Ē
So he opened it. And read it. Sure enough, Tin House said no. But with a handwritten Ė and signed Ė note addressed to me by name, saying they liked my writing, would love to see more. Tin House is one of my favorite lit mags as well as a very prestigious one. I donít think Dan quite understands why I was delighted by that note, but he wasnít about to kill my good mood. But this is how people get published. The editors read your work, become acquainted it, start to smile when they see your name on the first page. Next thing you know, youíre in. Thatís what happened to Melissa Banks, I believe. She developed a relationship with the Zoetrope editor over a series of near-misses, ended up with a commission to write a story, which became the lynchpin for a set of linked short stories, A Girl's Guide to Hunting and Fishing. Her first book.
This short story of mine, the one I wrote in December and January, the one I said was a breakthrough for me, thatís the one thatís now garnered three requests to see more. This has never happened before. For me, handwritten notes are a step up. Granted, Iíve sent few stories out thus far and those to few venues, but still. I didnít get more aggressive because I could tell they werenít ready for prime time. This one is, it seems. Enough so to get past the first two, maybe three, readers at Tin House and land me a handwritten note from the classy Missouri Review too. And also to make it to the top five choices at the respected Folio (thanks, Lara). And who knows? Maybe in the next batch of submissions, itíll garner an even nicer phone call, one saying ďWe want to publish it.Ē It feels eminently possible. Within reach.
Iím thinking the time is nearly right to begin sending out the next story. And write another new one, too. Because this slush pile lottery? Itís getting fun.
We went to Disneyland a couple of weeks ago with a group of high functioning autistic boys, all buddies from school. They were super well behaved and had a great time together.
When we got there, we did the same thing I did last year, the same thing most parents of special needs children do when they get to the park: we went into the office at ďCity HallĒ where they hand out special assistance passes which allow you to skip the long line and go straight to the Fast Pass lane. But this time it didnít work.
You see, the Disneyland management has decided to do away with special assistance passes. As of March, if you have an autistic son or a daughter with Downs, thatís too bad for you. You still have to wait on those lines that snake around and loop back on themselves, sometimes as much as an hour to take a three minute ride. No allowances made anymore, not for anyone. If your child canít wait like that, if his cystic fibrosis makes it so he canít remain standing that long or his autism makes it so he has no understanding of the concept of delayed gratification and has a meltdown right there on line, well, thatís just too bad, isnít it? You shouldnít come to the park. You donít belong there and you shouldnít try.
I sort of understand it. Sort of. I know many people took advantage of the pass, exaggerating their condition, making up problems, using the loophole. You could say we did. I mean, Damian is capable of standing on line, probably as much as any other child his age. Though it can take a toll on him that it wouldnít on a typically developing child: he might space out and not come back for hours. He might become remote and withdrawn or become so fidgety and sensory-seeking he canít concentrate anymore. And all for a ride thatís supposed to be fun. But mostly, yeah, he probably can wait on at least a few lines.
My internal justification last year for the pass was twofold: weíve paid the price over and over for having a special needs child. Weíve had to work harder, run faster, worry more, and spend more money too. So now we finally get a perk? Hell yeah, letís take it! We Ė and he Ė have earned it. Also? The rides, especially the roller coasters, are amazing occupational therapy. Last year at Legoland, after going on his very first roller coaster ride ever, Damian went to a playground that would have been impossibly challenging (rope ladders and shaky bridges and such) and jumped right in. His body was more regulated than Iíd ever seen it. All because of a roller coaster. That makes the special passes logical, even for a mildly affected child like him.
Imagine a more severely affected child who canít enjoy the park at all without bypassing the long lines and who could reap enormous benefits from the rides. For that child, the pass is not a plus, itís a necessity.
Canceling the special assistance pass is yet another example of discrimination against those who need help the most but are, it seems, least likely to get it. A friend said she wouldnít be back. Iíll have to think twice.
Dan found a notice at our door today. Apparently they're shooting a movie around the corner this week. They did last week too. Different movie, though. This one stars Sandra Bullock.
This is how I know I've been in LA too long. My response to the note each time was, "Oh man. Big trucks lining our block. Hope they're not here too long."
Will I crane my neck as I drive by? Probably, yeah. Will I walk up the block to watch the "walk and talk" exterior scene? Probably not. Watching a shoot is interesting... for about five minutes. It's more interesting if you're doing something on set. Otherwise, well, lots of waiting around. A little action. Then more identical action. And then again, only this time from a different angle, necessitating lighting changes. Men and occasionally women moving huge light stand around, putting up scrims and gels. Then the same exact action all over again. Send me a postcard, tell me when the movie's in the theater.
So yeah. Big white trucks lining both sides of our street, making it hard to get past. Cops stationed at the perimeter. Intermittent traffic blockages. Blindingly bright lights at night. Coffee cups in our driveway. A film shoot coming here. Glamour? Just life in action. Slow motion action.
On the other hand, it's fun to go to the movies and spot familiar landmarks. In An Unmarried Woman, Jill Clayburgh barfed into a trash can around the corner from where I grew up and I grinned at the scenery. In The Player, Tim Robbins had lunch in the Fox commissary and I grinned at the extra who was my next door neighbor and the studio lot I called home for a year. Glimpses of my tangible reality on celluloid. That part is very cool, like a snapshot writ large, real life turned into the background for fiction.
I just don't like the coffee-cups-in-the-driveway part.
This is just to say that I regret not responding to comments right now (email too). My head's been somewhere else. Life is deeply stressful right now, the future so unknown.
I also wanted to say that I'll definitely make swim lessons a priority! It seems to be a consensus, which is incredibly helpful to hear. There's a swim school near here that fits the bill (one on one lessons, outdoor heated pool, instructors experienced with special needs kids).
So that's what I would have written in the comments if I'd been faster.
I havenít done a kindergarten search update in a while. Thereís a reason. I wanted to be able to point to good news or at least say something definitive about next year. I canít. In fact, we may now be headed to court. Because of that, I probably shouldnít be too concrete in a public forum until everythingís resolved.
But man. Can you believe it? I just want a good elementary school experience for my kid. Doesnít have to be a stellar one, even. Just a good, solid education with nurturing teachers and a warm environment. Somewhere he can continue to grow, not backslide and end up emotionally damaged. And it might lead us to court. We need to either move or have a hearing. Weíre leaning toward the latter. Moving is tricky with the current real estate insanity. So. Lawyer, mediation, a courtroom.
Monday night I cried. Yesterday I felt panic-stricken. This morning I felt strangely calm, getting used to the idea. Now I feel excited. We can finally do something concrete. Itís a big something with no guarantee of success (though we have an excellent case) and thatís scary. But itís also an adventure.
(A few hours later: I now feel jittery and anxious. I think this is going to go in waves. I suppose if it lasts months, Iíll get used to it.)
What Remains. I talk about the idea of a cure, also about some stuff we're seeing right now and what to do about it.
We went to a party Saturday night. An adultís birthday, for a change, though a few kids (including our own) floated through and went off to watch Shrek in 3D glasses. We had fun talking to people we knew and even a few we didnít. The food was great. Then came the entertainment. The birthday boy (man) had apparently wanted strippers, but that was nixed on account of younglings. So they settled on Samba dancers. Sounded interesting, I thought.
Well. Interesting. I suppose Ė no, I know Ė thereís some training involved, some skill, that this is a creative endeavor. But. Well. The main difference I saw between the two dancers and equivalent strippers was that these women started out mostly naked and stayed that way, doing an awful lot of jiggling along the way. Especially their buttocks. Shiny sparkly costumes Ė what there was of them Ė and great big headdresses and bright, fast music and everyone, it seemed, had a good time and some even danced, and a big part of me says I shouldnít complain, that by doing so, I come off as a prude and easily shocked. Iím not. Easily shocked, that is. But if Iíd been warned of a stripper, Iíd have gotten up and left, joined the kids in front of the television. This sounded like something more comfortable and so I stayed. That was a mistake, I think. Because all I could think was, ďWhat does it feel like, to be jiggling your body, nearly naked, in front of all these laughing men? What does it feel like to be making money at something that purports to be dancing but presents as a sexual tease? What does that feel like, to have your body on display, to be the entrťe at a party?Ē
Itís not prudery, this discomfort. Itís something else. I have trouble accepting the common use of a womanís body this way. As if it were a party favor. After the gluttony of the cake comes the impersonal lust object. What is that? Why is that? How is that okay? But it is, and it was, and nobody objected or even looked uncomfortable. And maybe when I was twenty, I would have gotten into a heated argument with someone there about the objectification of women and maybe that would have been the right thing to do here, but these are my friends and my hosts and at one point Damian came out and sat in my lap (ignoring the dancing women, just interested in the masks and maracas we held) and it seemed the wiser and more mature move to stay silent. Iím not about to change anyoneís mind there. They thought it was fun. I didnít.
I think human sexuality is a good thing. A blessing, if you will. I think there are ways and times that flaunting your body is even more of a blessing, that itís right to enjoy your sexuality and take pleasure in watching someoneís reaction as you move and your skirt swirls around your hips. But this is something different. These women are paid to shake their buttocks so fast they look battery-operated, to titillate and mostly to be undressed in a patio filled with partygoers. The entertainment.
As I look at samba dancers via Googleís image search, it seems this is normal, the scanty costumes Ė like a belly dancerís, I suppose, though more so Ė and of course the shake-your-booty element is part of the dance. So it is the dance itself that I find offensive or the fact of it at this party, where it was so sexualized and in an objectifying way? And did the dancers mind or were they proud that they have this ability and that they draw this attention? Is it a cultural conceit, my middle class American upbringing, that makes me see it through a certain filter and call it demeaning? Or is it really and truly so, and part of a larger cultural rubric that allows for rape and ugliness perpetrated on women because theyíve made into objects in magazines and movies and at parties too? I find I have no answers. And that may be the main difference between my twenty year old hotheaded argumentative self and who I am now. I donít know as much as I thought I did. Things are not black and white, cut and dried, even those that seem to be.
One of the pleasures of blogging like this is the ability to send you other places. So here goes:
For an antidote to my melancholy bird story, Otto tells the hysterical tale of a demented but determined squirrel.
Jessie went down to City Hall (in Cambridge, I assume) last night to watch a wonderful historic moment. Who believed it would happen this fast?
Someone named Carol wrote in to Neil Gaiman with some of the best advice for aspiring writers I've read in a while. (Note: the link to the entry doesn't work, so scroll down to the bottom of this archive page. It's the second part of the May 9th entry.)
Tiny Coconut has her own valuable perspective to add to my "Don't let your kids grow up to be screenwriters" rant from the other day.
Eve summed up how I often feel. Super-mom? Yeah, right.
Allison's thinking about naming her baby French Fry.
And finally, congratulations to Laura, who may have just bought a house (rather close to my in-laws, actually). Apartment 11D no longer? I remember that panic/giddy/shock/panic feeling extremely well. Three years ago last month that was us. Best decision we ever made. Not our perfect dream home (well, location), but crucial for all kinds of reasons. No regrets here. Good luck with it, Laura.
More of my own words tomorrow night. Till then, enjoy other people's.
This was fun. My first blog jog.
A baby bird died today. They die every day; they fall out of nests or get caught by predators. Itís the way things go and you have to accept that. And I do. But this one matters to me.
Two days ago, Dan found it on the cement under the leaning Star Pine in our back yard. A nestling, so naked, so scrawny, so very young. Lying very still but breathing so heavily. We investigated online. We called wildlife rescue organizations for advice. We put it in a small takeout container with holes cut in the bottom and attached it to a branch as high as Dan could reach with the ladder, just a few branches under the nest. We watched and we hoped.
Every time his makeshift nest was jiggled, that tiny bird tilted his head up and opened his beak: ďFeed me! Oh, feed me!Ē And we wished we could have. I think thatís why this one bothers me so much. Itís that nurturing instinct, wanting to protect and comfort and give aid. But this baby needed its mommyís magical regurgitation brew. So we watched and waited and thought about bringing it in but theyíd said wait a few days, watch for the mother. And indeed a sleek mourning dove seemed to be around a lot, watching from the garage roof, swooping into the tree, chasing a squirrel out of the yard.
Yesterday I saw her feeding the baby. I did. I walked out onto the back porch and spotted her leaning over that black takeout container in a posture that could only mean one thing. And I felt so glad. So relieved. Giving life, a true mitzvah. But this morning when I climbed the ladder and jiggled the container, no baby head popped up. And when I looked inside, he was lying as if asleep, head stretched out. So restful. But not breathing.
We donít know what happened: if the night was too cold and our paper towel nest lining too thin, if mom didnít come back enough with food, if the baby was in fact fatally injured from that harsh fall. Ultimately, as with all these sorts of things, we canít second guess. We can only try to accept that we tried and failed. But I mourn that tiny bird. I canít help it.
What makes a marriage last? Can you know when you're standing in front of the judge or priest or rabbi, slipping the rings onto each other's hands? Can you see into the future with surety? Are there signs? Or are those signs just measures of how things are now and might be then? When you look back on a life you can know the decisions you made, the life you led. That's the only way you can tell.
What makes a marriage? Two people in love? What's love, then? Romantic, companionable, a spark, comfortable silences, convergent views? What about when you dislike each other; when two people live together, their lives enmeshed, that can happen and then can reverse itself too. Two people. A relationship. A living organism.
I went to a wedding once. Thought the couple would stay together forever. They didn't. I went to another wedding. Thought the couple was doomed. That was over a decade ago. They're not only still together, but I believe happily so.
I went to another wedding. Actually, no. I was in another wedding. This one, it felt right from the inside out. Felt like reality. Felt like comfort and family and rightness, the way a hand fits into your hand, they clasp, they hold.
This one held. Thirteen years today. Longer than my parents' marriage. That ring still on my finger, a matching one on his. You don't always know but sometimes you do. And sometimes you're right.
Thirteen years today.
More proof we're living with a scaled-down teenager:
His favorite response when you tell him something he doesn't like: "WhatEVER."
When I told him that no, I really couldn't do the convoluted, backwards thing he was trying to insist on, he said, "Ooookay, this time, but from now on I'm the boss!"
On the car ride home today, Dan asked Damian what game he and his friend T. played this morning at school. Damian said, "I don't want to tell you because you won't understand it."
Someone asked me in email why I think scriptwriting isnít for me. Itís a huge question and I thought Iíd try to answer it here. (And by the way, feel free to do the same. If I like the question, Iíll try to answer it. I always welcome blog fodder.)
There are three parts to the answer. My personal reasons, what it's like to be a writer in Hollywood, and what it's like to try and break in.
First: me. Iím not congenitally suited to the screenplay form. I imagine stories in images, yes, and that sounds like it makes me an ideal candidate to jot down those pictures and turn them into movies. But not really because I want to capture all the images, write down every bit of what I see. You canít do that in a script. Spare is the operative word there. The way the room looks? Thatís production design. The way the street looks? Location scout. The way the light slants through the window? Gaffer working with cinematographer. The expressions that flit across the main characterís face? Acting and editing choices. Your only tools in a script are dialogue, plot and overall structure. Your palette is as much what you leave out as what you put in. Subtext is everything, but please for godís sake donít spell it out in parenthetical notes. And language? If you can add a fillip to a spare description, great. But thatís all. A script, as writing teachers will never tire of telling you, is a blueprint, not the final edifice.
Itís not for me. I want to wallow in prose. I want to enjoy language, creating mood and color with it like a weaver at her loom. Beyond that, I want to be God. I want to describe and describe and describe. I want to create the complete experience. I want you to close the book with a sigh and a smile. I want to give you that. Me. On my own, with the help of a few editors perhaps, but mostly me. Itís not arrogance, itís a need. And Iíve seen what happens to screenwriters in Hollywood.
Which brings me to the second issue. Hollywood is not about the words. Screenwriters do not own their work. They usually donít even stay on their movies through the entire development process, and they consider themselves fortunate Ė the creators of these characters, the spinners of these words, consider themselves fortunate Ė to be allowed onto the set, to sit quietly in a corner and observe. If theyíre given that much. If theyíre lucky enough. I think it goes back to the origin of film. Silent movies. Short silents. Screenwriting back then consisted of ďHey, I have an idea!Ē and an ďAnd then he can do that and that and the other thing too!Ē and a ďYeah, cool!Ē to wrap it up. Then they went off and shot the notes scribbled on a commissary napkin. Writers like this didnít take themselves seriously, they didnít push for co-authorship with the studios and directors. After all, they were just scribbling simple little scenarios on napkins, right? Thus it began. Now we have films written by committee. One writer comes up with the idea, pitches it, gets a little money (or maybe a lot) and writes a draft, hoping beyond hope that she stays on the project. But then she turns it in to the studio. ďWe want wittier dialogue.Ē On to the next writer for a dialogue polish. Another writer is good at action set pieces. A third is good at long monologues that set up character. And on it goes. The real author? The studio executive giving notes. Maybe the director. The star, who wants to beef up his part and definitely get rid of all shades of gray, his audience must only see him doing macho hero type things. The writer? Um, which writer was that again?
Working screenwriters are not a terribly happy group.
Aspiring screenwriters are an even more unhappy lot. Well, if theyíve been around for a while trying to break in and failing time and time again, always hoping against hope. This meeting, this connection, this agent, this contest, this opportunity, thatíll be the answer, thatís how Iíll finally get past the gatekeepers and make it into the magic kingdom. (That magic kingdom? See above. Not so magic.)
Six thousand would-be screenwriters apply for the Nicholl Fellowship every year, which is probably an infinitesimal percentage of the total number of writers struggling to break in. But letís just take those six thousand for now. And letís take another number. Last time I looked, twelve spec scripts by brand new (ie: previously unsold) writers were bought by studios to make into movies per year. Twelve. In the course of a year. If the six thousand were the only aspiring writers (and you know theyíre not), the odds against any one of them seeing a check for their efforts would be 500:1. And we know the odds are actually far worse.
Odds aside, though, I saw it myself. I had an agent. She sent a script of mine out. Producers and development executives liked it. One wanted to option it, the others wanted to meet me. So I went on a round of what they call meet-and-greet meetings wherein production company folk told me why they hadnít bought my script and why they wouldnít be hiring me to write an adaptation or a rewrite of someone elseís idea. Why they couldnít do business with me. It all boiled down to: ďI canít sell you to the studio. You have no track record.Ē
In other words, you canít make it till you make it. Itís not the idea, they say. Itís the execution. The script. Itís not the script, they say, the script can be rewritten. Itís the idea, that perfect high concept logline. Itís not any of that, they say. Itís whether you can get a star attached. Preferably male. Preferably young. Itís not that, they say, stars are too expensive, thatíll sink your movie. Itís the special effects; is this a summer tentpole movie?
As an aspiring wannabe, you run in circles second and third guessing yourself and your writing, getting closer to getting past that door but never getting through as you get older and grayer and therefore less desirable in this youth-obsessed Angelino culture.
Oh, there are other ways in. You can write an independent movie, raise the money yourself from a conglomerate of dentists and realtors, then direct it on hi-def video. That has the plus of being a lot of fun and the bigger plus that you have something to show for your work at the end of the day. After all, you canít sit down with a bowl of popcorn and watch a script. And if you make enough of these baby movies, you might get some festival attention which leads to some industry attention which leads toÖ? Maybe. Yes. It can. Though the competition in the low budget indie world can be fierce too. You have to do it as an end in itself, I think. Not a means to an end.
Or you can move to LA and get a low paying job as a TV writerís assistant. Lots of down time to write your own scripts, lots of professional writers around to give you feedback and help you improve your craft, and most of all, a gaping maw of need for twenty two scripts per season including at least one or two from freelancers (as mandated by the WGA) and you, the friendly neighborhood aspiring writer, are right there. Smiling and eager and oh so nice. After a few freelance scripts here and there around town, you can get a staff job on a series. After a few of those, maybe you can produce a series of your own (the best place for a writer in Hollywood is series creator) or branch out into feature films. And youíre in.
So there are indeed ways into the jungle. If this is in fact your heartís desire. But most people donít choose those methods. Most people do what I did: they write feature scripts from their own ideas, figuring if itís good enough, itíll find its way in. Thatís what all the script writing books say, what all the gurus teach. Quality wins in the end. So they all hope and pray and write their hearts out and it rarely, if ever, works.
I have more to say on this, on why so many people try to write scripts despite the almost inevitable heartbreak involved, but thatís for another day. Maybe tomorrow.
Sometimes I have so much to say, thoughts bursting out of my stuffing all day long, barely waiting for the nightly computer time to jump out onto the screen and make themselves pixels and bits. Other times, thoughÖ other times thereís not a whole lot going on. Or if there is, itís not the kind of things I can easily shape into interesting material. Unless you want to hear about my search for the perfect photo management program, how fed up Iíve gotten with iPhoto, its deadly slowness, itís insistence on a proprietary filing system which buries your jpegs ten folders deep, its lack of real organizational features. How Iíve searched and read forums and finally found at least half of what I need. Photo Mechanic looks good for the sorting-through-the-pile part, now I just need a thumbnails-of-everything-I-have-on-CD database part, and I have three possible choices there. So the search continues.
Fascinating stuff, huh? Yeah. Thought so.
On the other hand, maybe thereís something hidden in this topic after all. Did I tell you about my photo sale? Tuesday night I got an email from a guy who had scoured the web from Google to Altavista searching for just the right image for an ad, looking for that perfect peach. He found it here. In my photoblog archives. He wanted to know if I held the rights. I did indeed.
I consulted with my photographer friend Otto. (Professional jargon for: ďOtto! Help!!!Ē) I emailed the ad guy with pertinent questions, secure in the fact that email serves as the ideal buffer Ė you can consult with twenty Ottos in the time between query and response.
ExceptÖ the next morning the guy emailed back. He told me his budget. Not huge but not peanuts. Itíd pay for a nice meal out for us, maybe even two depending in the restaurant. His deadline: this afternoon. Can we do business?
This was Wednesday. Damianís birthday. Complete with school party and presents and a last minute rush to gather goodie bags for his classmates. Not the ideal day for dealing with brand new business issues. But I talked to Otto (for his photo savvy), I talked to Toni (for her business savvy) and I talked to a local friend who runs a photography business with her husband and who said I could use her fax if necessary for the contract. Itís not exactly a complex deal. Iím just a complete neophyte in this arena. But I felt more or less prepared. Then I called the guy. It felt easy on the phone. We were thisclose to finalizing the deal when I said, ďSingle use rights, right?Ē ďUm, Iím not sure what you mean.Ē Turned out he wanted the rights for the summer, not the week. Back and forth and hemming and hawing and the price went up.
When I got off the phone, I gave myself a high five, which mustíve looked odd to the drivers in the cars flanking mine on La Cienega Boulevard. My first business negotiation without a net. It worked out just fine. I could get back to hyperventilating about toys and balloons and birthday cake.
Otto emailed the guy the hi-res jpeg and license thereof while I was somewhere between Culver City and Santa Monica, chatting with Damian about his morning and munching on a birthday cookie. Thanks again, Otto. Iím lucky in my friends. Iím also maybe perhaps tentatively a minor league not-quite-but-hey-why-not-a-professional photographer. Iíve now sold two pictures, one to Jill (hey, it counts!) and one to an ad agency. Cool.
The best part? I donít care if this goes any further, if I sell more pictures. I love taking them. I like showing them off. Thatís enough, that makes me happy. If it develops into something else, well, sure. But unlike my writing, I feel absolutely no pressure to make it grow into more.
But I still want better photo management software. Iím a professional, after all.
Funny thing: when I chose that image last year and posted it, I thought, "This looks like an ad." And now it is one.
And then there are times real life is all too real. Abu Ghraib. I can't write about it, not in any coherent way, and yet I have to say something or it'll be an odd emptiness in my blog archives, as if I didn't care when I care too much. I've been reading with disgust and literal nausea. I have nothing to say that hasn't been said elsewhere with vehemence and eloquence. It's a travesty and a disgrace and a horror and I'm absolutely certain is endemic to this administration's parody of governance, commanded or at least condoned by higher ups all the way to the top. People aren't human unless they're our kind of folk. How fucked, how absolutely and completely fucked.
A thought left over from the LA Times Book Fair: how do memoir and fiction differ when the fiction sometimes stays this-close to what really occurred and the memoir often strays? What does it mean to be writing one or the other? How do you stay true the form? Most important to me: if you have a story in mind, something that happened to you, how do you decide which form is right?
Iíve found myself musing on this the past several days. My novel is not autobiographical, not even a little (Iím not a circus performer) but of course some of the feelings and attitudes inevitably are. I have another novel in mind, perhaps the next one Iíll write. That one is more autobiographical, which is to say the time and place and some of the details are from my life but the character and the main events of the story are fictional (Iíve never had a meeting with a dead person). Those are both clear cut, they need to be fiction, they need the ability to weave stories from my imagination with a dollop here or there from life.
But I keep a third novel in the back of my mind. An entirely autobiographical one Ė beginning, middle, and end. And my stories are mostly from life, though sometimes perhaps not entirely so and Iíll never tell you which is which (unless you ask, of course) (which means, yes, I will tell) (I think) (then again, maybe not). So sometimes I wonder if I should write one as a creative nonfiction piece, a memoir.
But Iíve done that. In my original online journal. And while I find it sometimes cathartic to go back and re-imagine, reshape and rethink events, I donít know that theyíre always best served in nonfiction form. Itís so raw. You canít step behind a curtain and say ďthis isnít me, itís a character,Ē youíre exposed. And after a while that feels too uncomfortable and you start to realize there are things you canít say freely in that form. For one thing, youíre talking about real people with real feelings and real law firmsí phone numbers in their real Palm Pilots.
Writers get sued for fictional portrayals too, of course. Thinly disguising events in a roman a clef is ultimately little protection and then you have people constantly wondering as they read, ďIs that part real? Did that actually happen?Ē which can derail the full submersion experience reading should be.
After I got home from the book fair, I read up a little on some of the memoirists. One of them has written a book on writing personal essays. Apparently sheís stirred up some controversy by admitting sheís not telling the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth when she writes. She squishes together different events and disparate people and of course makes up entire conversations. Yup, she makes stuff up. Sheís writing about events that took place decades ago. Who remembers that fully? I remember certain events with clarity, situations that carried emotional freight. But I donít remember enough to tell my life as a satisfying story. If I were to write a book about my childhood, Iíd probably fudge all over the place to make it feel real for you. Is it wrong to do that? It feels kind of wrong to me and kind of right too. Is the goal in memoir writing to impart a journalistic purity to the work or is it to tell a compelling story that happens to (mostly) be true?
Itís a whole lot easier, I think, to write the same story as fiction. There you have the license, in fact sometimes the imperative, to make stuff up. Ironically, I think you can get closer to the fundamental emotional truth that way, without the constraints of real life getting in the way.
Why then does anyone ever write memoir instead of fiction? I think because thereís something compelling about knowing that this really happened, that itís all true. I think thatís why people have trouble with deviations from this reality, when they find out about the fudges. Because it makes the story less real and therefore less valuable as a touchstone.
I think both are valid, both have their purpose and meaning, both inform and shape our sense of an experience, a life. As a writer, you have to measure the story itself, let it tell you which to write. Do you want freedom or do you want verisimilitude? Which kind of reality do you seek this time?
When I spoke with my former boss at the wrap party a few weeks ago, I told her things will get better with her teenage daughter. That my mother and I fought terribly when I was fifteen and sixteen (and seventeen too). That sheís now one of my best friends and we talk at least once a week. My old boss asked how long it took to get from there to here. I laughed. ďDonít ask.Ē
Itís been a gradual thing, a rapprochement in stages as we both matured and grew into ourselves. But now my mom is my confidante, a trusted critiquer, thoughtful and reflective, a terrific blogger, and we have fun, too. And as a Buddhist artist iconoclast, sheís taught me you donít have to fit into anyone elseís mold. And I love her. So does it matter how long it took for us to become close again? Not to me.
Happy Motherís Day to my favorite mom.
Last year, Damian's birthday party was lots of fun... for the grownups. I think many of the kids may have had fun too, but Damian felt uncomfortable. Too many people invading our house, especially too many children. Roving, rambunctious alien hordes. Not so great for a sometimes overly sensitive child.
So this year we invited fewer children and made sure they were all specific buddies: kids he's had play dates with and identifies as his friends. Not just classmates or children of people we like. We ended up with nine children. Damian, six friends and two siblings of friends. (Everyone we'd invited came, too, with only one exception. A first.) We filled the wading pool, set up an inflatable tugboat ball pit and filled several squirt bottles with water. That was it. No elaborate party games, no magicians or bubble demonstrations or petting zoos. Everyone does that stuff and we'd like to do it too but not this year.
This year we watched as the children -- eight boys and one two year old girl -- squirted each other, rode trikes through arcs of hose water, stood in the wading pool and tossed lightweight plastic balls at each other, ran away from each other as they shouted in delight, and raced each other on various ride-on toys.
And Damian was one of those kids. Shouting. Tossing. Splashing. Happy.
Sometimes it's not about what you want, you know? Sometimes you don't throw the perfect bash with the greatest entertainment and the best food ever. Sometimes you order in pizza and let children splash. Because that's what's best for the birthday boy. The party isn't you. You're the conduit.
The odd thing about central air in a house where there was no such thing just a week ago -- no, a few days ago -- is that you lose track. You start thinking it is in fact not hot out, it's warm and comfortable with a slight breeze that's somehow mysteriously wafting in from outside through vents instead of windows. Because your house, it reflects its environment. Then you go out into the heat (a mere ninety degrees, nothing like last week) and it's a surprise. What is this thing called heat that envelops like an invisible fog, that surrounds you and holds you close in too tight an embrace? Why isn't the world air conditioned? How can this be?
Stepping back into the house. Cool again. Feels like cheating, like you just found a loophole in the summertime contract. Odd.
(If I owe you email, please forgive me. It's been an incredibly busy week. Birthdays, group excursions to Disneyland, parties to plan and cakes to bake, not to mention an unexpected photo sale to negotiate. Busyness. Exhaustion. Email meltdown. Soon to be rectified.)
Damian was born six years ago yesterday morning at four a.m. The Jacaranda were just coming into bloom, trees tipped with lavender blossoms, the air was clear and warm and he was so badly stuck inside my body he couldnít come out even after hours of agonizing pushing, with a midwifeís hands inside me trying to turn his head during contractions.
Itís probably my single worst memory, the night of his birth. He nearly died. I might have, too, considering my blood pressure readings.
I want to say the moment of his birth was transcendent, rendering the previous fourteen hours into a footnote, but in truth it was more of a relief from suffering, a numbness in body and mind. I saw Damian for the first time while I was strapped down on the table. I couldnít hold him yet. I wanted to, if only to experience this new little person up close, to make him tangible. Because he wasnít real to me yet. Wasnít mine.
Itís hard to talk about that day. Hard to think about it. And yet every year this celebration of his birthday Ė a wonderful thing, a road marker of growth, a day he gets to wear the crown (literally, in this case Ė a green paper crown in his morning class and the goofy felt birthday hat in his afternoon class) Ė is also the anniversary of the day of his birth. The first couple of years, when the memory was still raw, I had trouble with the dissonance, the happy with the painful. I can separate it out better now, I think. I love Damian entirely. Heís worth that gauntlet of fear and pain. Heís changed me profoundly, enriched and complicated my life in incalculable ways. I canít imagine life without him. The day of his birth, it was part of the journey. Not an easy part, but it doesnít all have to be easy, does it?
Damian had a good birthday yesterday. Heís delighted to be six years old now. He handed out home-baked cookies during snack time at his morning school, wearing his colorful handmade birthday crown. When I picked him up, a couple of the kids said ďGoodbye birthday boy!Ē and his carpool mate greeted him with a ďHappy birthday!Ē He wore the floppy-candle-adorned birthday hat all afternoon in class and counted the real candles on the cake he and his friend Jules shared that afternoon (Jules was born on May 4th). Six down one side, six up the other. They each blew their own candles out and then blew out the number six together. He enjoyed his presents more than Iíve ever seen, he was more involved and talkative and responsive about it all, and at his favorite restaurant last night, he told the waiter what he wanted for dessert: ďAn ice cream sundae with a candle on it because itís my birthday.Ē He had it all figured out.
When he got out of the car as we got home from school, he announced, ďIím not going to say what I say anymore because now Iím six.Ē For the past couple of months, heís been saying ďDo we have everything we need?Ē as he leaves the car. Itís a ritual and a meaningless one because even if we say ďNo, we donít,Ē he still closes his door and heads into the house. He knows we think itís silly, but weíve never worked to get him to stop. He decided on his own that it was time to let go of that little routine. Heís six years old, after all. A big boy and proud of it. As am I.
So no, I canít regret what happened six years ago. I wish it hadnít been so harsh an introduction to one of the loves of my life, but after enough time, that too becomes simply a part of the fabric of our lives together, his and mine. I fell in love with him gradually but permanently.
Damian loves telling jokes. He's even started making up his own. Mostly they've been the kind that when he says "Get it?" you say, "Um, not really." But lately he seems to have developed a knack for real joke-making, a skill I don't possess.
Last week, he and Dan went to the zoo. They learned (among many other things) about the short lifespan of mayflies. That inspired this joke:
How do you get rid of a mayfly?
You wait until tomorrow.
Tonight over a (very) late dinner, he came up with this one:
What goes up and doesn't come down?
Tomorrow, by the way, he will be six years old. Which I imagine is why age was on his mind. My smart no-longer-so-little boy.
I recently read on someoneís blog somewhere (forgive me but this heat saps my memory) that she hesitates to post about her kids, that itís not fair to them. Someone said the same thing at the LA Book Fair last week, that our parents are fair game for our writing. Our friends too. But not our children. Iíve heard it before. In fact, Karen Meisner, one of my very favorite journallers ever, folded up shop in part because her son got old enough to have stories about him feel more specific and intimate. She drew that veil shut.
I understand this. How can I not? And I have twinges of doubt myself. Is Damianís life story mine to write? But itís my life too. As it happens, thereís been a lot of it to tell in the past few years, and I know (because theyíve told me) that our story has helped numerous other parents in the same situation. But does their benefit outweigh his potential discomfort? How can I make that call? Iíve always wondered what he'd make of Hidden Laughter as well as the snippets of his cleverness I post here. Would/will he hate me for it? Would/will he enjoy it?
Tonight I got a chance to find out, though in a sideways sort of fashion. It was at dinner, a makeshift affair at Damianís play table (heís currently got the only air conditioning in the house, a pathetic little window unit), and I was telling Dan about the book Iím currently reading. Damian piped up:
ďYou like reading books, so you should write one. And if itís good you should send it to an agent and if itís bad then you can throw it away.Ē
ďOkay, Damian, Iíll do that. Hey, what if I wrote a book about you?Ē
His smile was an immediate answer, but I thought I should clarify for the sake of this experiment. ďWhat if I was writing about being your mommy? Would you like that?Ē
His verdict: ďThat would be a good book and you wouldnít have to reread it after you write it because youíd know it was good.Ē
Heís got a point. Also a healthy ego. It stands to reason; if there's anything I can say with certainty about my child, it's that he loves the limelight.
Iím feeling more comfortable in my decision to tell these stories from his life.
I've been semi-following the current discussion on blogs vs. journalism because that's mostly not the kind of blog I read or the reason I read them (mostly, that is -- there are exceptions). I thought Toni hit it exactly in a post today when she wrote:
What the blogging world is doing currently is forming communities, global villages. And the future of that movement will profoundly change everything from politics to how laws are made to what's for dinner, because of access. I don't just want to know what someone thinks of Bush or Kerry; I want to know how what Bush has done has affected their lives. I also don't just want to know how politics has affected them, but parenting issues and love and loss and humor... because it's a form of communication that we crave far beyond journalism... and we get it in fiction. Books and movies. Welcome to the new world entertainment, the quasi short film, the blog.
The rest of the post is excellent, too. Though I disagree with your final conclusion, Toni. I think video might become incorporated just as photos have, but that the blog as written form will stand because it's about thoughts, not about documentary. But that's a quibble. I'd like to see someone in the mainstream media synthesize the different types of blogs, not just talk about one form or another. They're all of a piece, people reaching out in this new way.
Hovering near 100 again today. Give us a break, neophyte weather god with your too-heavy hand on the "hot" button! If this is what you trot out at the beginning of May, what will you have left for August?
This afternoon as we were strolling through The Grove, LA's Vegas impersonation in the form of an outdoor mall, Dan said "Did you see?" and I thought he was referring to some celebrity or other passing by. This being LA, I didn't really care to look. I spot minor and major celebrities everywhere: in movie theaters, bookstores, grocery stores, at preschool with their toddlers. Hardly worth turning my head in the heat to watch another larger than life face become normal sized. But I was wrong. Turns out Dan had just watched a G5 walk by. Now that I would like to have seen. An ambulatory computer.
(Apple Store at The Grove. Possible person holding said computer. Simple explanation. But I prefer the other image better. Sexy computers walking among us.)
I just reorganized my blogroll, splitting up the categories somewhat differently. It's always tricky, so many shades of gray: writer moms who write about politics, moms who write articles here or there but maybe don't identify themselves as writers, authors who are in fact parents but don't talk about it... and so on and so forth and like that.
If you're on my blogroll and feel I've done you a grave injustice by placing you in the wrong list, let me know. I'm happy to swap things around.
I finished reading Bet Me last week. Yes, I finally got my Jennifer Crusie fix. It was just as delicious as Iíd hoped and left me wondering why this one worked while the Jasper Fforde novel, arguably the same level of intelligent fluff, fell flat for me, or at least flatter. (I did like some elements of the Fforde quite a bit.) I think the answer may be simple: Character. I like these people. I believe in their problems. I enjoy watching them interact. I realize the characterizations are fairly shallow; these people are real enough but not deeply nuanced, but Crusie finds just the right amount of personality quirks, shadows and light, and they become three dimensional to me as I read. Thatís really all it takes.
Well, that and a satisfying story. This one had its deficits: a one note antagonist, a contrived misunderstanding (the oldest clichť in the romance novel arsenal). But Iím willing to overlook that when you give me clever and fun and slowly simmering, comedic relationship building. And though it was writ large and obvious, I enjoyed the thematic conceit, the exploration of why two people come together. One character posits that couples go through four stages on their way to what she terms mature love: assumption (you look for cues this is the right person), attraction, infatuation, and finally mature, unconditional love. Another says itís about the fairy tale. Some things are meant to be. Sometimes you find your prince, and heís meant for you though he might drive someone else nuts. And a third says itís all chaos theory, electrons madly circling around until they find a strange attractor, which pulls them together and makes everything work. Itís fun to watch the different theories play out as the relationship evolves. Itís also fun for a frothy book like this one to have a relatively abstract concept at its core.
I also liked another message in the book: love doesnít demand a perfect body. The man is drop dead gorgeous but the woman is overweight. Well, curvy. Her mother insists she diet, her ex-boyfriend orders salad for her in restaurants. But Cal, the male lead, loves her curves and teaches her to love her body as it is. I love that Crusie folded this wonderfully affirming and much-needed message into her romance.
Fun stuff. Satisfied my sweet tooth. Now Iím ready for something of a more literary bent.