The strange part about being interviewed on TV is how, after a few minutes, it isnít strange at all. When I realized I was going absolute right-this-minute-weíre-ready-for-you first, I mostly felt ďoh shitĒ and not much else. Not that adrenaline surge, not that heart pounding in your throat, not that wild flush of blood to the face. Just ďCrap, now I have to do it.Ē Iím not sure why exactly. Maybe because this wasnít about me. Maybe because it was in someoneís house, not a sound studio. Maybe just because Iíve been around enough cameras and equipment in my life, even if I havenít been the one looking into the lens. But for whatever reason, it seemed surprisingly like no big deal.
I spoke. The reporter listened. Asked questions that frankly were not germane to the story I was telling. I answered them. I know my answers disappointed. No, I have not had other trouble with the school district. No, really, theyíve been remarkably fair with us and with our sonís services. No, truly.
I walked away frustrated. The story I think worth telling, the one that outrages me, with its widespread and clear-cut discrimination against children with neurological diagnoses, the story where we find doors shut in our faces that are open to every other child in the system, that story isnít the one sheís interested in telling. She wants to tell another story. Related perhaps in theme but not in specifics. A story of budget cuts and service cuts and fights with the school districts to get the therapies our children need. I understand her need to tell that story. Itís just not been mine. And so I was perhaps irrelevant, a footnote.
I suspect, in fact, that the only thing I said that will end up on camera is an aside I mentioned at the end, about how the players have changed at our IEP meetings, the administrator with a clue was shoved out the door and two women were brought in, women who not only donít have a clue but who actively avoid any emotional connection with the children they supposedly are there to help. I believe these women were brought in with the understanding that they were to make no decisions on their own, do nothing that would cost their superiors any additional moneys. They were brought in to be button pushers and paper shufflers and theyíre not even all that good at it, but at least the district is getting what they want. Did you know that the LAUSD contains approximately thirteen percent of the stateís special needs children? And seven years ago the LAUSD also had approximately thirteen percent of the stateís mediation and due process cases. What youíd expect, right? Well, these days the LAUSD generates FORTY PERCENT of the mediation/due process cases. The system is broken. Whatís more, it may be broken on purpose. If they deny services to ten thousand families, how many of those families will fight them? Some will, yes. But most will roll over and accept the cuts and then theyíve saved themselves a bundle of money.
So yes. Thereís a story here. But as I said, itís not my story and not my sonís story. Weíve gotten the services heís needed. Heís progressed wonderfully as a result. For us, the system and the people in it have been kind and understanding in all the right ways. So I spoke, she listened, she tried to elicit the answers she wanted but ultimately she failed, at least with me. I got up from the chair after the camerawoman had filmed me this way and that way and filmed the reporter asking another question just for coverage, just in case.
I guess Iím disappointed, but not really. I hope she gets her story. I hope itís strong and powerful and shocks people. I want to write mine too, though. I want to do some research, get some quotes, and write up something that may also shock on a different front. Because there are many stories here and hers is only one.
Packing list for a two month old:
Clothes so tiny a whole pile of them takes up approximately the same room in the suitcase as a single paperback book
Gymini, which takes up approximately the rest of the huge suitcase
Packing list for a one year old:
More board books
More board books
Small utensils with rubber handles
Lullaby CD Ė just one, he wonít listen to any other
Clothes that take up approximately the same size as two hardcover books
More diapers, just in case
Packing list for a four year old:
An array of stuffed animals to scatter across the bed and remind him of home
More picture books
Lullaby CD Ė same one, he still refuses all others
Computer to play it on
Fold-up portapotty for inevitable emergencies
Diapers just in case
Sippy cups with straws
Playsets (school house, construction site, anything else you can jam into the no longer so huge suitcase)
More picture books
Packing list for a six year old:
Agent X (stuffed red eyed tree frog, the nighttime companion of choice)
iPod and portable speaker set containing the MP3s of three favored lullaby CDs
Alice in Wonderland, the pop-up chapter book version (now on its third reread)
Bob Books early readers, set B part 2
Juice boxes and sippy cups with straws for the car
Favorite DVDs for the long car ride
A select few rubber frogs and perhaps White Mouse too
Kid Knex because, well, why not
No other toys ďBecause theyíll have toys thereĒ
Clothes that are now approximately half the volume of my own, folded neatly alongside mine. Socks practically indistinguishable from Mommyís. Buzz Lightyear underpants. ďDonít forget my pajamas!Ē
Development as measured by the contents of a suitcase.
Yesterday I did something I thought Iíd never do. Something I probably wouldnít have done if I still lived on the east coast. Something that doesnít fit my personal philosophy, even.
It was almost an accident. Itís not like I woke up yesterday morning thinking, ďToday Iím going to do it, I am.Ē Itís more like I woke up thinking, ďOh crap, Iím going to be on TV on Tuesday and my hair is long overdue for a cutĒ and went and made a last minute appointment.
What? Oh, the television thing? Complicated, but in essence: I know someone who knows someone who works for a local news station. Theyíve gathered together a number of parents of special needs kids who have faced discrimination by the school district or rather by petty bureaucrats therein. Weíre meeting Tuesday with cameras present to tell our woes. I donít know when itís going to air, but Iíll try to let you know.
So yesterday I thought, ďIím going to look terrible on TVĒ and went off to make an appointment for a cut. Iíve been seeing this hair stylist since November. I like what she does. She just gave Dan a new cut a few weeks ago that looks better than any Iíve ever seen on him. I trust her eye. So I let her cut it a bit shorter and a bit more uneven and Iím happy with the result.
She said, as she always says, ďWhy not color it? Hide the gray? It dulls your hair.Ē I said, as I always say ďI donít know if thatís really me.Ē But I felt, as I always feel, this pull toward doing it.
It doesnít fit my self-image, someone who dyes her hair. Iím more of the be true to your body type. Embrace getting older because mimicking youth just looks tacky and false.
But. I live in Los Angeles. Everyone I know, literally every single woman I know, even the ones who donít wear bras, who walk around barefoot, who practice all kinds of interesting alternative religions, even all of those women donít let their hair go gray. Itís just Not Done. In general, Iím fine with being different, dressing differently and living differently and having different life goals. Itís hard sometimes, and sometimes I feel like an outsider here. But if you live in a world where no woman in her forties or even fifties has even a single gray strand in her honey colored tresses or her dark locks, you start to see things through their eyes. Gray becomes strange. And even if you yourself look in the mirror and think, ďWhat the hell, it looks fine to me,Ē you know other people donít see it the same way. You hear the moms of your childís friends complaining about how they canít wait till theyíre no longer pregnant so they can go get this awful gray out. You hear fellow moms commiserate with them, yeah, pregnancy is awful, god, that gray, they shudder to contemplate. And you stand there with your gray threads lacing through your dark hair and think, ďHow do they see me?Ē And you canít help it, you let it color (pun intended) the way you think of yourself, through their eyes reflected. D for dowdy.
If I lived in a different culture, in Boston, say, where my two-years-younger cousin got married with the strands of gray plentiful in her long dark hair, if I lived in a place where it was accepted and understood and even appreciated, Iíd act differently. Iím not proud of this, not exactly. Iíd rather be strong and independent and an iconoclast. But when people judge on appearances Ė and trust me, they do Ė itís an instant judgment and not a favorable one. If I want to appear strong and self-confident, as I increasingly have become; if I want to seem Ė ironic though it may be Ė like the person I am Ė I need to at least try this on for size. To erase the gray. To see how that feels, see how people respond, see how Iím newly reflected in their eyes.
So I said, ďWhat the hell. Letís try it.Ē And today I have dark hair with no gray. It looks strange. I keep expecting the gray. At first, in fact, I was sure sheíd made the color too dark. Too strong a dye. It canít be my real color, can it? But she showed me a spot where she hadnít worked in the dye, where it was still my real hair color at the root, an area that hadnít had gray to begin with. And sure enough, it matched perfectly with the rest. Itís just that Iíd gotten enough gray that it lightened the overall sense of the hair color and now thatís gone. My eyes werenít used to it yet. This morning, though, I looked in the mirror and thought, ďYes, thatís right. Thatís how it used to be. Thatís me five years ago.Ē And it was a comforting feeling. As you grow older, particularly past forty when you can start to see the changes in your skin, your face, your hair, it starts to feel odd, like youíre stepping into a new body. To return in this one way to the person you recognize of old, thatís a unexpected good feeling. Not a pretense of youth, not that. Iím not trying to erase the still-faint lines forming between my eyebrows. Not about to dress like a twenty five year old. Not about to pretend the years donít matter. They do. I feel a whole hell of a lot savvier and more experienced and, yes, more mature, these days. Donít you dare try and take that away from me. But I changing my hair color isnít that. Rather, itís a new definition of who I am right now. And yes, it makes me feel more self-confident in this city, in the life I live here, and thatís good, not bad. It turns out, of course, the new/old color isnít about other people as much as it is about me. I want to be myself more fully, more assuredly, and this, in an odd and backward way, is part of that. At least here and now it is.
"Want to know where thunder comes from?"
"Yes, Damian, I want to know where thunder comes from."
"There are angels in the sky and sometimes they to a bowling alley. Bowling balls crash and at the same time a volcano explodes and that makes a booming sound and thatís what makes thunder. Because the volcano in the sky likes to get active and thatís how it erupts."
(For the record? We don't generally (like, ever) talk about angels in this agnostic house. So that was kind of fascinating. Also cool.)
A friend of mine says the real estate market is at its peak right now. That we should sell and wait to buy. That we should ride this wave right into a fabulous new house when the wave crashes and leaves us high on the piles of money weíve saved.
And maybe sheís right. I know of people who are doing just that, renting and waiting. And maybe theyíll clap their hands in glee when the time comes, chortle at the rest of us fools who stayed put as they waltz into their tacky mini-mansions with marble floors and fancy multi-tiered shower heads in shower stalls the size of our current bedroom.
But maybe sheís wrong and those people are going to grow old in their rental apartments while the housing market continues to grow ever more unaffordable and then weíre the ones laughing or at least not crying as we can afford to, well, jump from one decent-but-not-ideal house to another.
I can tell you reasons I think sheís wrong. I can justify my position. But of course I donít really know. And I think it comes down to something very different. It comes down to this: How much of a gambler are you? This isnít just playing the stock market where if you lose money, itís not money you were actively using. But your house? Your house is ideally your home base, your sense of place and belonging. So to give up a house thatís not just a piece of financial property but is a real three dimensional yard-and-living-room-and-kitchen, is where you nap and play street hockey and have knock-down drag-out-fights and cuddle under a throw blanket on winter nights watching TV together, to give that up in search of some theoretical but not solid monetary gain, thatís a big deal. You have to be able and willing to gamble, not just with your money but with your day-to-day life.
We do want to move. Probably soon. Within the year, I hope. But we want to know this will be somewhere we can stay for a while, for as long as need be, that it can change with us as we change, that the walls around us can absorb our memories and our lives. That itíll be ours.
I realize home ownership is a luxury. I do know that. I lived in rentals most of my life. Until three years ago, in fact. And that was largely fine, and I think back especially on the apartment where I grew up and feel great nostalgia and an intimate kind of affection. You do own a rental in a sense too, because it too is home. But I find myself loathe to give up the knowledge that this structure is mine and nobody is going to kick me out, even if I paint the walls fuschia and have loud parties. I like the emotional security in that. And so Iím no gambler, not in this. When we sell this house, itíll be because weíve found another, not because weíre waiting for the gold rush.
My friend Otto has a good entry today on getting his driverís license renewed (happy birthday, Otto!) and mulling over the life changes since the last time, four years ago. I found myself thinking as I read, ďBut my life hasnít changed in four years, Iím just treading water.Ē And then I got sad.
So letís take stock. Four years ago:
We were still renting. We moved into this house three years ago last week. Homeownership has wiped out debt and built badly needed security. Now when weíre afraid the bottomís about to fall out of our life, we look at each other and say ďWell, we can always sell the house and live on that for a few years.Ē I think, too, itís turned us from have-nots to haves in our own minds, and thatís colored our attitude toward life. You carry yourself with more confidence if you think of yourself as a have. Thatís why success breeds success. Well, homeownership breeds Ė um Ė more homeownership? No, rather more than that. Is good.
I was still attempting to write the Great American Screenplay and baffled about why it wasnít working out for me. Well, duh. Because thatís not my strength nor my passion. Somewhere in the past few years I stopped trying to stuff myself into that ill-fitting hole and found myself a more suitable niche. It has yet to bear fruit, but hey, itís a gradual process, building a new writing career. Iím patient. Well, sort of. Well, okay, not at all. But still. I know it takes time. (Took time? Will have taken time? Is almost done taking time?)
A then two-year-old Damian had yet to be diagnosed. That happened very nearly three and a half years ago. Do I need to say? It changed everything. Turned it all upside down and then, in time, right side up again. Plunged us into the most intense, high-stakes work weíve ever done, raising his developmental level up and up again. Four years ago we didnít know but it was hardly a blissful ignorance. It was hard as hell to be a parent, only I never understood why. I far prefer this. Easier and so much more rewarding. And better for him, too.
Hmm. Iím thinking maybe a few small adjustments happened along the way from there to here. Ya think?
Iím curious: have the past few years been as change-intensive for other people as they have for Otto and for me? Is that the nature of life, only you donít usually look back with such simple clarity, or have these years been singularly noteworthy? Iíd love to hear your thoughts and experiences.
About a week ago, I saw a sudden surge of interest in one of my back entries, the one about fake/not fake bloggers. I had no idea where these people were coming from or why. No inbound links to explain it. Then someone wrote me, explaining and asking if I had anything to add to the ongoing investigation. I didnít, not really. I was never a central player in this drama. But it intrigued me then and it still does, maybe more so.
Jason Kottke has already written about this and itís even appeared on MeFi, so itís hardly breaking news, but it still fascinates me and I feel part of it, albeit in an extremely peripheral way. Hereís the deal: a blogger named Plain Layne, one of the tell-all personal diarist style bloggers, had been writing since late 2001. She wrote sexually explicit material and had some writing chops, too, so naturally she developed quite a following. Then one of her readers wrote an explanation in his own blog of why he had never linked to her even though he read her religiously. The reason? He believed she was fictional.
Within a day (I believe), her site was gone, replaced by a ďdown for renovationsĒ page. In Polish, no less. Bells went off, people gathered, Nancy Drew and the Hardy Boys got on the case. Before long theyíd ferreted out a possible link to another sudden disappearing act, one Acanit, who yanked her blog three years ago after someone questioned her reality. Thus the hits to my old entry, where I wrote about Acanit, among others. She was a strong writer, often extremely evocative. She wrote larger-than-life accounts of her past and present. She lived in the Twin Cities, spent time in Mexico, and was bisexual. Which could all describe Layne as well. There are many other similarities and links, but others have summed them up and so I wonít. You can read the original post and thread or go to David Grenierís two substantive entries on the subject (particularly the second) and see it all laid out, the entire ďis she real?Ē pro and con debate.
When I first looked at Layneís writing, searching for similarities with Acanitís remembered prose, I thought, ďNo, couldnít be.Ē The styles are similar but not the same. Acanitís writing is more mature, more world-weary, more politically aware. Layneís seems younger and more self-involved. But I kept thinking about it over the next day or so and realized: if both women are fictional constructs, of course theyíd be different in just these kinds of ways. Thatís the nature of good fiction. As a writer, you get inside someone elseís head, make them come alive with as much three dimensional character as you have the skill to shape. And those voices are not your own. They may be similar to each other and to you, just as Layneís voice is reminiscent of Acanitís, but theyíre not your normal tone and even though you create them, they are not you.
Right now Iím writing a novel with three main characters. I write in the third person intimate, which means I write close up and get inside their heads, eavesdrop on their internal monologues. I find my own thoughts switching as I write one character or another. I take on their attitudes. One has a slight swagger, another is deeply sad, a third insecure and less sophisticated. One is male, the others are female. And yes, my thoughts change accordingly. Itís something you canít explain, you just do. Itís like acting. You take on the role, you inhabit that person.
I can imagine the writer behind Layne/Acanit. If this was indeed fictional (and I believe it was), I think she imbued each persona with a large dollop of personal truth and invested in that persona completely as she (or, hell, he) wrote each journal. I think it was probably fun in the same way that writing fiction can be, only this time she (or he) got immediate positive feedback, lots of kudos, lots of reader involvement in these creations that took on lives of their own. She/he probably craved that the way I crave my fictional worlds. I miss the people I write when Iím not there. In one way I look forward to finishing the novel, but Iíll also be sad to say goodbye to those characters. I think an ongoing blog, writing an entire life as it unfolds, becoming that person each time you sit down to write and walking down the street conjuring up the next twist in the tale, that would be addictive. Like youíre living two lives, yours and that of your creation.
Itís ideal, really. You write, you get feedback, you watch your hit counters. Something we all do. But if youíre writing a made-up life, you can add and subtract events at will. People fall away when you tell too many cute baby stories? Nix the baby. Bloggers start linking to you like crazy when you go lesbian? Bring on the female sexcapades. Much like the ratings and reviews for a TV series can change the nature of what we see on the show, the linkage and commentary can change the events that unfold on a blog if the writer is no longer bound by what really happened. Which is why I donít necessarily buy the ďit has to be a guy writing this because it reads like a guyís fantasyĒ concept. That proves nothing except that this is what readers enjoy. Hell, I wish I could treat my life with such elasticity. My readership would soar. What fun!
Iíve never been able to understand why someone would do this, but I think Iím starting to. Iím sure there are any number of underlying psychological causes, but then we all have those hidden-to-us agendas, donít we? On the surface, I suspect it feels like a game. Not a ďHa ha, Iím fooling you!Ē type of game, but more of a creative exercise. Can I pull this off? Can I create an entire life? And then as you write and as people read, you become invested. And addicted. And you continue on as long as you can until one day someone questions the veracity of your fictional world and you pull the plug instantly because the very worst thing to face is the anger. People feel betrayed. People thought of the fictional construct as real, and in a way she was. But of course she really wasnít. And if you feel tender toward that person and maybe also a little (a lot?) guilty about the secret pleasure of it all, the last thing you want is to get caught out. To have to confess. To have to break these peopleís hearts. And so you yank the blog and run away fast.
Some people on these comment threads think ďLayneĒ is laughing right now. On the contrary, I think sheís in pain. Incidentally, David Grenier thinks she should have at least copped her double identity to him since he knew her as both. I think she could never have done that. To tell even one person is to reveal the secret, the little man behind the curtain, and then the Great and Powerful Oz is powerful no longer. The facade has to remain impenetrable or itís over.
I find myself hoping Layne/Acanit will find this entry some day by ego-googling and will write me. I would love to interview her, not to track down her/his identity but to ask what it was like to do this. This is an obviously intelligent, talented writer. Iíd love to know how it felt to create this kind of not-real reality.
Iíve never been a big fan of time-outs. For my childless readers: this is when a kid is doing something you donít want and you say ďdonítĒ and still she does it and you say ďdonít, I mean itĒ and she does it again and you say ďIf you do it again, you get a time-outĒ and she of course does it once more because thatís what boundary testing is all about, and then you put her in whatever time-out youíve devised. Send her to her room, go sit in the corner, sit silently on the park bench. For as many minutes as the child has years, or so itís supposed to go.
But Iíve seen time-outs in action and I frankly think theyíre kind of dumb. Thereís no causal relationship to the deed, itís not like ďDonít hit the cat with that book or Iíll have to take the book away.Ē It must feel like a random punishment to the child. Besides, Iíve seen kids in time-out, especially young ones, age two or so. They sit there, bored and fidgeting. Not really learning much of anything except that itís dull to sit around with nothing to do. It rarely seems to stop them from getting up and doing their dastardly deed again. If not immediately, then next time they get a chance. Mostly, it just feels like jail. And why would you want to teach a kid about that?
Are time-outs better than spanking? Unquestionably. Nevertheless it's not my favorite discipline method. It's just not terribly logical.
However. My son? Has started giving himself his own time-outs. Today he got mad at me and ended up by saying, ďI need you to go away so I can calm down.Ē A few days ago, he ran into his room shouting, ďI need some alone time!Ē
Ironic? Nah. Thereís an enormous difference between alone time as an external stricture to contemplate the bad thing you did and alone time that you realize you need in order to pull yourself together. The former is, well, see above. The latter is an important kind of self-knowledge. Iím proud of Damian for sensing what he needs, verbalizing it, and then giving himself that time to re-organize his body and his mind. Maybe this is what time-outs were supposed to be about: teaching the child how to cool down when he gets out of control. Maybe Iíve just seen it done wrong all along.
No matter. Iím pleased as hell that Damian is doing it this way. Itíll stand him in good stead, I suspect.
Met with the lawyer today. For details, see my passworded blog. If you want the password and don't have it, email me.
Sorry, that's all I got today. Come back tomorrow for more substance in this here current mostly-daily blog.
How is it possible that one small room (so small it doesnít even fit a closet, so small I wonder if it would even fit a bed) can take three DAYS to prime? Two coats of primer, covering walls and ceiling. Three five hour days. Fifteen hours of sweat and strain.
I donít get it.
Iíve got primer under my fingernails, on my elbow, splashed on my ankle, probably in my hair and on my teeth. Iím bone-tired. And the room is primed but not painted yet.
I see why people hire painters.
I think I always feel this way in the midst of a big project and conveniently forget by the time the next one rolls around. And I probably will have amnesia next time too. But for now, Iím really fucking tired and covered in white, to boot.
He was nervous but he went into the pool. He was nervous but he swam without clutching the instructor. He was nervous but he trusted in the floaties and felt the water bouy him up. He was nervous but he did it!
And after the official 20 minute lesson, I donned my bathing suit and Damian and I went into the practice pool. He clung to me but, like the teacher had, I was able to gradually get him to relax in the water, to float alongside me, to hold onto a kickboard and kick his legs. He'd never been in an actual pool before. He was always terrified. Not yesterday. In fact, he told me repeatedly last night that his favorite part of the day was when we were in the practice pool together.
I think this is exactly what he needs. And he even likes it.
Yesterdayís LA Times Magazine section had a profile of Craig Newmark, founder of the infinitely useful Craigslist(an online swap meet and more; I used it to buy my current computer). The reporter picked up on various personal idiosyncracies: Newmark doesnít get interpersonal cues; he misses flirtatious gestures, doesnít know what to say in social situations, has trouble dating. His hairdresser says heís more comfortable with machines than people. He pays little attention to appearance. His desk faces the wall rather than a window. People donít always get his jokes.
He seems like a nice guy and certainly heís done extremely well for himself. Iím leaving out the descriptions of his philanthropy, his interests, and whatís clearly a big heart. My point is a bit more specific. The reporter clearly loved the irony that this man who has brought together so many people has trouble dealing with those same people, at least in the flesh. She also uses the opportunity to comment on the fact that the internet has been a boon for shy people like Newmark.
But hereís the thing: what she describes in this article sounds absolutely classic to me. Newmark sounds like heís got Aspergerís Syndrome (a form of high-functioning autism). God knows Iíve read enough descriptions. He fits the bill. Does he really have it? I can't say for sure. All I have to go on is a single article. She could be distorting some things, leaving out others that contradict the picture she paints. Iíd know better if I met the man in person and maybe not even then. There are so many shades of autism, and itís not clear when you step off the spectrum and into a shadow of it, a nerdy or quirky edge of normal. But it sure looked like AS to me. So the question then is: do I see it because I know the signs better than your average journalist? Or do I simply see everything through that filter now? And even if itís the latter, does that make me wrong?
I'm so steeped in this stuff and it seemed so obvious to me that I was shocked that the reporter never mentioned it. Then again, maybe she did see what I saw and intended us to catch her subtext. I wonder if he knows. He must. he lives in the Bay Area, where that Wired article on AS was the talk of the town. But why then is it unspoken in this article? Am I reading in or reading what's really there?
This monthís Emmy Magazine has a short article about how young men (late teens to late twenties) are staying away from television in droves. The writer cites a number of factors such as the fact that the Neilson company has been gathering their sample user base more carefully so it will better represent a true swath of viewers (or in this case, non-viewers). But the main reason boiled down to the fact that young guys have other options. They watch video. Play video games. Get on the computer, particularly the internet.
This feels true to me. In a way, itís kind of encouraging. I mean, chat rooms and even video games have more opportunity for interaction or at least active involvement, unlike the rot-on-the-couch-with-a-beer nature of most evening TV programming. Using your mind is generally a good thing. And, frankly, for a split second I liked the idea of the young male demographic going bye bye. I think the studios cater to (what they see as) that testosterone laden, shoot-em-up glee far too much in their lowest common denominator blockbuster mentality. How much better would movies be without that? Maybe we could have dramas again, and comedies that required at least a dollop of verbal repartee instead of wall to wall poop jokes. Sounds like a positive step forward for television too.
Except. I started thinking about TV programming. Murder She Wrote. Diagnosis Murder. For the white-haired demographic. Soap operas. Family sitcoms where the man of the house is the lumbering doofus and the woman his brilliant and much put-upon better half. For the female demo, of course. Hmm.
Guys? You can come back now.
The other day Dan and Damian were watching a Reading Rainbow episode about family. LeVar Burton asked kids what they didnít like about their families. The children had all the usual complaints Ė brothers and sisters, mothers and fathers who didnít do what they wanted, who did things they didnít want. You can fill in the blanks, Iím sure. Dan paused the show to ask Damian if he could think of anything he didnít like about us. Damianís response: ďI donít like it when you scold me.Ē
Dan: ďWe donít like to scold you either, sweetie.Ē
Damian (without missing a beat): ďThen donít do it!Ē Very self-righteous, too. Like, you shouldnít be telling me off anyway, so stop it already!
These days when we scold him, he doesnít just exclaim, ďDonít say thatĒ and ďI wonít love you if you say that againĒ (though always with an escape clause, ie: ďI wonít love you again until tomorrow.Ē) He now says ďI didnít hear what you said. Say it again.Ē And then he covers his ears. So he really wonít hear, you see.
If you ignore your leaky roof for, oh, seven or so years, letting the rain come in through the progressively uglier cracks in the ceiling, if you paint the walls a murky institutional green but with a latex paint and no primer over decades-old oil paint, if you do all this and then add the insult of spray-on acoustic foam with disco glitter, such a classy touch, if you do all this, you will be remembered. Oh yes, you will be remembered. When the people who buy the mistreated beauty of a house from you, when they put on goggles and cover their noses and mouths and spray water on that acoustic popcorn and scrape it off, the mud falling on the floor as if an unusually prolific pigeon on steroids is taking an extended dump, falling onto the drop cloth and also falling in sprays of splattered glitter into their mouths and eyes even through the goggles and the mask, when they scrape all that off and discover cracks so discordant, so huge, a bat could fly into the attic and up onto the roof through them, when they fix the cracks and prime the ceiling only to discover the glossy white primer, the fixer of all evils, will not stick, no, will not adhere to that thin latex coating or rather, it will in fact stick to the latex and will thereby pull that ugly minty coating off the oil-based paint job underneath it, pull it off in long bubbling strips, huge scabs of ceiling paint now on the floor along with glitter and mud and plaster in one big pool of wrongs made right. Oh, they will remember, the new owners, as they curse your names, your heritage, your bland remembered smiles and the travesty you perpetrated on an innocent house.
Know this. Your house has a very long memory. And it will tell tales. Oh yes, it will tell of inglorious deeds in all their gory details. Do not fuck with your house.
ďYouíre in a good mood.Ē
ďIs it because you wrote today?Ē
Itís been three months (more?) since I wrote on my novel. Oh, I havenít abandoned writing altogether: I wrote a short story, worked on a large nonfiction project and a small one and reread and tweaked my novel, to boot. But none of it is the same as writing forward on an extended dream of a scenario. I need that. Iím not complete without it.
I know a lot of people in the arts who feel the same way. They need that part of their brain engaged, working on something, creating. Is it like that for other people too? For lawyers and doctors and scientists and accountants and bookstore owners and other people who work at something they may care about deeply but that arenít considered creative in the same way. If that's you, do you lust for your work when youíre not doing it? Do you dream about it at night, think about it in the shower, does part of your brain wake up when youíre finally doing it again? Does it feel then like youíve been half asleep for the past few months? Or, if not, do you have something else that makes you feel this way? I find myself wondering if this state is a peculiarity of the artistic temperament or if itís more universal.
The one thing I do know: Iím happy to be back writing again. Even if half of what I wrote today was crap. Thatís what the delete key is for. The act of writing, that made me happy. And a few good sentences, fresh turns of phrase, poignant moments, unexpected emotions. Thatís why I write. To experience the story unfolding within and without me. To move forward even when itís two steps forward, one step back. The way the thoughts transmute into what comes out of my fingertips. The intangible made tangible. Iím not complete without it.
Letís say you live in a hot realty market (Los Angeles, for instance). Letís say you own a house. And you thank your guardian angels that you bought when you did, else youíd be priced out and still renting when youíre eighty nine. But still. You want to sell someday, even someday soon, you want to sell and buy a nicer place or, well, not nicer maybe, but in a more peaceful location, somewhere you'd want to stay for a while. But you donít have wads of cash stuffed under the mattress or between the couch cushions. So you need the profit from your house sale to buy another house.
These days, the marketís so hot you need to prove to any prospective sellers that youíve got immediately accessible cash for the down payment Ė weíre talking over a hundred thousand dollars here Ė plus a piece of paper from the bank that says youíre pre-approved for a loan for the rest. No way will you get a house if you say ďWell, Iíll buy your place if and only if I sell mine.Ē That kind of contingency only works if they need your offer. And they don't. They have two or three or thirty others to choose from. This is very much a sellerís market. If you want that new house, you have to make a hard cash offer.
But if you sell before you buy Ė which is how youíd get that cash down payment Ė then you have to buy a place pretty damned quick. Otherwise you end up renting while you continue looking. And while the market continues rising. And while your equity-built nest egg that looked so sizeable six months ago might buy you a rundown shack alongside a freeway. But who can buy a house that quickly when thereís so little housing inventory? I mean, this isnít a sweatshirt, this is your future home. You can't just pick up the first for-sale item on the shelf, yíknow? It could take months to find the right house. Maybe a year. Prices can rise 25% in a year. Thatís what theyíve been doing around here. Sell before you buy? Not so smart.
So what do you do? How do you cover yourself in the gap between here and there? Well, this past Sunday a realtor gave me the answer and yesterday another confirmed it. Itís simple, really. You take out a line of credit on your current house, one thatís big enough to cover the down payment on a new house. You donít actually use the equity line; it lies dormant until you need that money for an actual payment. If you draw on it just after your offer is accepted but just before you enter escrow, you've found the sweet spot. The trick is that you have to take out less than you think your house will sell for. You have to leave yourself a cushion in case youíve screwed that calculation up. Thatís the scary part, making sure you find that middle ground.
Then you get pre-approved (even if it means showing the loan company a somewhat, um, non-traditional rental agreement wherein a friend signs on as your renter for the minute or two youíll need such a person) and youíre ready to rock and roll. Or at least go window (and door and living room and back yard) shopping.
So simple. Borrowing from your present to pay for your future. Almost elegant. Of course, the real trick is finding that elusive next home to bid on. Equity line trickery wonít help with that.
Damian surprises me sometimes. Case in point: after waving goodbye to Dan through the window tonight, Damian and I started discussing Danís acting class. Damian said heíd like to go watch sometime. I said I would too, but weíre not allowed. Damian started talking about how he can go visit Daddy at work but not at class. Like the time he went to Daddyís work because he had to, because the planes crashed into those two buildings in New York and so his school was closed and he had to go with Daddy to work until I could come get him.
Think about it. Damian was THREE YEARS OLD on that horrible September morning. Also not overwhelmingly verbal at the time. And that was nearly three years ago. HE REMEMBERS. Iím sure he wasnít remembering being told about it. It was clear from the way he spoke. He truly remembers. We even got into a bit of an argument because he thought the school that was closed was his current morning school, ie: the regular preschool he started this past September. I said, no, you were still in the morning class at your other school (heís now in an afternoon class at the therapeutic preschool). He vehemently disagreed. Which means he remembers it vividly enough that it seems like recent history.
Nearly half his lifetime ago. And he remembers clearly.
Hereís something I donít understand: Why is it that when we get together with other heterosexual couples, we end up splitting up, with the women in one place and the men in another?
Sometimes it feels perfectly natural: last Saturday we went up to visit Tiny Coconut and her family. TC and I are friends, the men had never met. And she and I had Things To Discuss. Well, stuff to talk about. And so the men were thrown together by default. Fortunately, they have many overlapping interests and did just fine. I know Dan had a good time.
But other times it hasnít worked so well. Like a guy Dan worked with some years ago. Dan and I both enjoyed his company very much. But I kept ending up with his wife when the gender split would occur. Just the two of us. With nothing to talk about. And every time we tried, she said something in all innocence that made me want to start a fight. I would keep quiet because we were supposed to be having a pleasant social interaction, but after about five minutes, I wanted to run back to the men, but that wasnít so easy. So we stopped spending time with them. I just couldnít take it. I canít help thinking if it was the husband I objected to, weíd still be friends. Because I would probably never end up alone with him.
Another example: I went with Damian to visit a friend of his. The mom and I hung out the entire time with the kids. The dad came out of his home office once for about two minutes, max. I like her, this was not a hardship. Simply an observation, relevant because a month or so later, Dan went with Damian on the same errand. This time the dad came out and spent time with them. Did he like Danís face better? I think it was far simpler. He didnít want to hang out with a strange woman. A strange man, though, that was okay. It probably helped when he found out what Dan does for a living; itís similar to his own job. But he never even asked me that much. We never got that far before he disappeared back to his world.
Yes, sometimes all the grownups converge and chat together. But when the drift happens, which it always does, itís never the man of one couple hanging out in the kitchen chatting with the woman of the other couple while their spouses wander off to check on the kids. It always splits right down the gender line. I donít know if this is an LA phenomenon or a middle class one or something else. I donít remember it happening when I was younger. Is that because I was in New York? Are things different there? Why? What is this thing that makes the sexes congregate like something out of the Victorian era when women and men had their spheres of influence and their nearly completely separate lives? Itís not that way now, is it? Yet it is when couples come together. And I canít figure out why. Or what to do about it.
Imagine a rag doll. No bones, not a whole lot of willpower. Lies around flopped over the arms of chairs and across pillows in indolence and complete lack of musculature. Thatís a good description of me today. No willpower to do much of anything. I think I did dishes at one point but that was pretty much it. A few discussions with Damian, half a game of kid Monopoly, lots of lolling. Reading Miss Wonderful, by Loretta Chase, a fun but hardly taxing read. Would have eaten bon-bons if I knew what they were. Ordered in Chinese food for dinner. Curled up on the couch with Dan and Damian for the evening while they watched Alice in Wonderland and I mostly read more of my book.
I think thereís a point when your brain needs to shut off. Youíve been so focused, so intent, so concerned and then at a certain point, you just canít. If you were a machine, youíd ask someone to hit the off switch. If you were an electric car, youíd need to be plugged in. No juice left.
Iím sure itís caused by a release of stress. The journey isnít over, but things are looking much better. It does feel in some ways like the struggle of this school stuff is over and even if thatís illusory, I feel myself relaxing. Dan thinks itís a chemical response. If you drink coffee every morning and then stop suddenly, you have caffeine withdrawal, right? Well, my bodyís had a cocktail of stress chemicals racing around in there every day for the past few weeks. I feel better now. And Iím in withdrawal. Whereíd the adrenaline go? The cortisol? The epinephrine? What the hell are these endorphins doing here? Why do I feel so different? Time to take a napÖ
Damian came to me this around five this afternoon and opened his fisted hand to reveal a dozen hard candies. "I found these in my drawer. Can I have them?"
"You can have them for dessert."
"Ohhhhh... but..." Deep, dramatic sigh. "I want them now! Ohhh!" He dropped his head down, sighing again. The picture of dejection.
I just looked at him.
He pulled himself together. "Can I have one candy? Just one? It won't fill me up because it's small and my tummy's big." He pulled his shirt up to show me. He placed a single wrapped candy on his belly. Belly bigger than candy, see? "I'll still have room for dinner because there's lots more room in there." Then he put the candy on his belly button. "It's as big as my belly button."
Then he smiled at me.
Yeah, I let him have the candy.
Los Angeles is like New York City in that itís got the largest Korean population outside of Seoul, the largest Jamaican population outside of Kingston and so on. (I made those up, by the way, so donít fact-check me, okay?) It doesnít surprise me to come across ethnic enclaves all over this smoggy sprawl of a metropolis, anything from Ethiopian to Cambodian, but one enclave still does surprise me. The Brits love Santa Monica. I donít know why, exactly. Maybe the slight fog in the morning reminds them of home. Maybe they just like it. Maybe they came over early enough to afford the now-astronomical housing. But theyíre there. And so are the pubs and tea shoppes and ah yes, Ye Olde Kingís Head restaurant. The finest fish and chips in the city, maybe the country. Equal to some of the best I tasted when I was in England. Light, flaky crust, nicely cooked fish. Dense, meaty fries with a nice crisp to the edges. And the shepherdís pie is fluffy and yummy and the bangers and mash, well, I havenít had that, but I just love the way it sounds. And the desserts are all drenched with Birdís Custard and have names like sherry trifle and sticky toffee pudding (dark and caramelly and delicious). And the waitresses accents are so strong you might think theyíre making it up only theyíre not and the people in the booth next to yours have lighter but equally authentic accents and the dark wood all around you with antlers on the wall and ads for Guinness and Black and Tan and so many photos of celebrities hanging out in the restaurant looking drunk and shooting darts at the bar, it all feels so transporting you canít believe it when you walk outside and smell the salt air and feel the last late evening kiss of California sun on your cheeks and look up to the clear cloudless sky and see palm trees dancing in the wind. Palm trees and Cornish pasties. Why not?
Shrek II: not as clever as the first. As pointed a social skewering? I think so, perhaps too much so. In fact, I think my entire problem with the movie, aside from the over-obvious nature of many of the jokes, was that its message was writ too large. Dare I say it? Cartoony, even.
But it was fun nevertheless. My favorite character: Puss in Boots. I loved when he got caught licking his butt. So cat-like. Or maybe when he got those big sad baby animal eyes a la those velvet paintings from the Ď70ís.
I also relished Land Far, Far Away in all its over-commercialized Rodeo Drive splendor. Beverly Hills meets Disneyland, that faux European gloss with palm trees and ďFarbucksĒ on every corner. An easy target, maybe, but something I come up against on a weekly basis, that kind of supercilious attitude, in that selfsame Beverly Hills locale, though without quite so many horse-drawn carriages.
Okay, and I liked the glimpse inside the young Fionaís diary. Clichť-ridden but it had the flavor of what Iíd liked about the first movie: a willingness to re-examine the fairy tale elements and give them a new twist. The diary showed the princess as just another pubescent girl with a rich fantasy life.
So. Things to like. Not quite so much the larger story, with its inevitable messages of family and being true to yourself, which could have resonated but somehow didnít. But many bits along the way did delight. And maybe thatís enough.
Once upon a time many thousands of years, or so the stories go, when you felt stress was a good thing. It signaled your adrenal glands, which obligingly produced adrenaline and you ran the hell away from the stressor, presumably a very large mammal with very sharp teeth. Once upon a time, it made sense to feel tension throughout your body. It kept you alert, it gave you a lifesaving boost.
Now? Well, I think there are still times itís useful, and not just when running from a mugger. When you walk into an important meeting, when you get a phone call that might make the difference between two futures depending on how you respond then and there, those times itís good to have that extra zing! in your bloodstream. But these days the stressor doesnít usually wander off back into the forest, it stays about, lurking on the edges of your life. Sometimes for months. What do you do then?
Last year at this time, Dan was between jobs. The market was extremely, absurdly competitive. Every gig had dozens of applicants, some with mind-bendingly great resumes, some who were close personal friends with the producers, still others who had no children at home, therefore could avow their willingness to work excessive overtime and love every minute of it. And the window of opportunity was narrow, just a couple of months and then every show would be staffed up for the season. And here I was, with no income and no quick scheme on the horizon, either. Dan the sole breadwinner might be out of work for a year. Stress? You might say that. It devoured much of our summer, though we worked hard to play anyway.
This year we have other, school-related reasons for ongoing, underlying stress. Where will Damian go in the fall? Will it be good? Will he be happy? Will he continue to grow into himself, become more completely who heís meant to be? Can we pull this off? What will it entail? Enough reasons for a prolonged thrumming under the skin, a constant beat of tension in my pulse.
But. This may be crucially important, but there is no bad ending. We will win, I believe that, but even if we donít, there are workarounds, there are alternatives, there are solutions both temporary and long term. The biggest risk we take is financial and weíre not about to lose our house on this gamble. And itís not like we have a choice. We have to do this, we have to pursue this for our childís sake. And so really, whatís the point in worrying? Whatís the point in letting the stress take over our lives, consume our summer? Why not live and enjoy each other and the things we can do together during Danís summer vacation, yes, even amidst the planning and strategizing and information gathering and the inevitable meetings? Why not let the stressful events be immediately stressful, let the adrenaline rush focus us when the need arises but let the rest of life be just that? Life. Normal, enjoyable life. Why not give ourselves memories and live now fully and completely? It will all be what it is and worrying wonít change that.
I feel calm tonight. Happy, even. After all, why not?