Staring Down the Dark

Staring Down the Dark

I really did plan to write a cheerful holiday post today. I put the order in and sat poised at the keyboard, ready for inspiration. Instead, here is what came out: that time I thought I might die. Proceed with caution if this isn’t your bag 🙂

When I was a kid, I loved being afraid.

Grocery shopping with my mother, I would be drawn by a force I didn’t understand, to the far end of the meat section, where they stocked the chicken and pigs feet, frog legs, fish heads and tongue, all stamped with bright orange stickers, “Low low price!” I’d creep toward the display and stare at it, shivering.

It was brutal, scary, and weirdly soothing.

I learned then that if I could look long enough at the white belly, the bone, the hoof, my fear would eventually turn to curiosity. By the time I heard Mama calling me, the parts had lost their grisly pull, and although I never wished to see them on my plate, I wasn’t afraid of them anymore, at least until the next time we went shopping, when once again I would wander from the kid-friendly entertainment of the cereal aisle, into the place where nice girls didn’t go.

I remember creating haunted houses in the sweltering attic of our small house, hanging my dolls, bloodied with magic marker, from the ceiling, and arranging bowls of spaghetti brains, broken mirrors, and rubber knives in creepy tableaus.

As I got older, I added to the scene, with death threats scrawled on paper that I carefully burned around the edges, and descriptions like this, next to each installation: “This very baby carriage and it’s human contents was crushed by the axe of a madman!”

It was a little intense for the other grade schoolers in my neighborhood, so usually it was pretty much just me up there, hanging out on summer afternoons, hot as hell and perfectly at home in the dark.

My friend Risa told me that the fact that I wasn’t afraid of the dark was proof that I was The Devil. We were living in the Bible belt, so this was a pretty big deal. After I got over that first rush, similar to getting cast as the lead in the school play, I admit it gave me pause.

I had good reason to think she might be on the right track in her assessment of my character, but in the end I was way too insecure to think I could be the Anti-Christ himself. For one thing, I was having a heck of a time memorizing my multiplication tables, proof, in my own mind, that I would never be tapped for such an important gig.

By fifth grade, I was an avid reader of horror comic books. After comics came ghost stories like The Bell Witch. Later, while my friends were reading Are You There God, It’s Me, Margaret, I read Amityville Horror and Helter Skelter.

I was the kid who was always looking up leprosy in The World Book Encyclopedia, or holding a seance.

My idea of fun was slipping into fear like a pair of comfy slippers and walking around for a while. There were a lot of demons inhabiting my world. For some of us, feeling scared helps us, well, not be so scared.

Once I grew up, my world felt a lot safer, and I mostly seemed normal-ish, at least when it came to my idea of a good time.

Then a few months ago, I decided to address a slowly percolating health issue.

Let me preface this by saying that all the tests have come back clear and I am basically fine. No biggie, as they say. But during the whole biopsy/second opinion process, my entire being was screaming “Are you fucking kidding me? This is a biggie– this is The Biggie!”

Even though I wasn’t conscious of it at the time, looking back now it’s clear that I employed the skills honed way back when, at the grocery store.

I looked.

Not at Google! I repeat: NOT AT GOOGLE. (Please don’t look at Google while waiting for test results. You’re welcome.)

I looked at what was scary.

After meeting with a surgeon who painted kind of a bleak picture, I found myself strolling the aisles of Trader Joe’s, planning my funeral, making a mental list of the friends who I could call on to help my sons and husband once I was gone.

Like a lot of women I know, one of the ways I cope with stress is to share with friends, which I did.

Some friends responded to my news with a big smile and, “Oh stop it– you’re FINE!” They meant only the best, of that I am sure and I love them for wanting to save me from my own dark side, but flipping on the lights isn’t always the compassionate move.

And plus, how could they possibly know I was fine, at that point? I couldn’t know that about them and I would never pretend to.

One friend and I talked about what we could binge watch during my chemo. We discussed the merits of something called “exposure burial” vs. cremation. I instructed her to save my journals but delete my texts, which she totally understood. We laughed about how crazy it was, but we never shut each other down.

She sat with me in the dark.

Although I had been talking funerals, and chemo, and loss, my real fear was of having to go through it alone.

By the simple act of not looking away, she told me that nothing about me was too scary. She would be there, even if/when things got that fucking bad. She would watch t.v with me, and find me banana popsicles, and help me change my bandages.

I’d do the same for her.

There’s an image in my mind that, if it had happened back in 1972, would have made all the difference: it’s of a little girl, at the far end of the meat section. She is shivering from cold coming off the refrigerated cases, and from what she sees when staring into them. She doesn’t want to look away, but feels her friend standing next to her, and knows she is not alone.

They both look.

And they are both afraid, and less afraid, together.

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Killing Mama (First draft of part of a thing)

Killing Mama (First draft of part of a thing)

Mama is down at Kirsten’s house having whiskey and Cokes with Kirsten’s daddy. While she is gone, this is my plan:

  1. I will sneak into the bathroom in the dark.
  2. I will take mama’s yellow toothbrush out of the cup by the sink.
  3. I will take the bottle of Windex, which is poison, and I will dip her toothbrush all the way down into the bottle.
  4. I will put the now poisoned toothbrush back into the cup and tonight, when she brushes her teeth, she will fall over onto the pink tile floor and be completely dead.

That is my plan and I do it.

Later, I’m on my bed in the dark, thinking about finding Mama on the bathroom floor after I poison her. I imagine telling Molly and Lynne to come in and see her, lying completely still, in her black robe, with her infected ear, right beside her yellow toothbrush.

The neighbors come over to comfort us because it is a sad day when your mother dies, usually.

I stop thinking about that.

Mama is still not back from Kirsten’s. I’m surprised because when Kirsten’s mother comes home Mama usually skidaddles right out of there because Kirsten’s mother is a health nut and hippy-dippy, Mama says. But she must be having a whole lot of fun over there tonight.

Staring at the glowing stars I have stuck to the ceiling, I start thinking again.

I think about how maybe the police would be called to the scene to solve the mystery of the dead woman with the toothbrush. It’s not what you would call an everyday thing. There would probably be a detective like Columbo, and he might get a feeling about the case. He might take me down to the station to answer a few questions. He would give me a coke and a donut while he smokes a cigarette to help him think.

He will ask me for my alibi and I will tell him this: I went to Rose’s department store to find a certain color of lipstick that I need. They did not have it, I will tell him, because it is sold special only at Castner-Knott’s, which is in Nashville where I couldn’t get to, so I spent the whole afternoon looking at Rose’s department store and didn’t end up buying anything, but I was there, is what I’ll say.

I thought of that alibi a long time ago when I was making the plan, which is how I had it ready.

In the end, Columbo would probably get one of his funny feelings, where he touches his nose and sort of looks up, closing his eyes. He would have a feeling about me, but he wouldn’t say anything because he would be able to see that I was a good girl underneath it all, even if Risa Niedermeyer and all those priss-pots say different, and that Mama was just a bad egg who got what she deserved. He would talk to Miss Nunley at Hobgood Elementary, who would tell him that I am almost never late, and that I won the poster making contest about the four food groups, and I would tell him that I am going to be a Campfire Girl when I am old enough, which is proof that I am a normal person inside, no matter what things look like on the outside.

And then I do the thing professional murderers never do. I get a picture in my head and I look at it: Mama on the floor, next to her toothbrush, dead and gone. I see how she’s funny sometimes, and how Grammie says she can’t help the way she is. And I think how I could never tell anyone the bad thing that I had done, not even Molly and Lynne because even though they hate Mama as much as I do sometimes, they would never commit the crime of poisoning.

I’m the one who would do that.

In my imagination I see Mama walking home from Kirsten’s house. She is happy and talking to the alligators, like she always says, taking her clothes off on the way. She puts on her pink nighty, not the black bathrobe. I see her reaching for her toothbrush and I know what will happen next and I don’t want it to happen after all.

I jump from my bed and look out the window down the street. I don’t see Mama coming, but I know she’ll be here soon. I only have a minute.

I run to get the yellow toothbrush in the pink bathroom. I turn on the hot water and hold it under until it’s steaming. I smell the toothbrush and it smells ok but what if it’s not? What if Windex is so poison that even a little could kill you? Like the people next door who had a baby that drank just a little lighter fluid and died before someone could get to it? Or what if the poison just makes Mama sick and she wonders maybe did someone poison her toothbrush and she calls the police herself, and maybe it won’t be Columbo, but a real scary policeman like the one in that movie I saw about the Badham County Women’s Prison?

There’s not much time.

I take the dripping toothbrush, wrapped in toilet paper, and sneak down the hall. I go out the back door to where the trash cans are. It’s pitch dark and hot as Hades. I lift the lid of one of those cans and push the toothbrush way down under some old hotdogs and a wet Cap’n Crunch box, where even Columbo wouldn’t have the nerve to look.

Next thing, I am washed, in my pajamas and under the covers, staring again at the glowing stars.

I can’t stop thinking. Risa and those girls and even Miss Nunley, they would all say the same thing– no matter what your reasons are, almost killing your mother is nearly as bad as really doing it. It’s not something you do if you are good.

I squeeze my eyes shut and wish so hard for god to change my insides.

I’m Done With People Leaving

I’m Done With People Leaving

A mom friend and I were hanging at the park with our kids a while ago, when she casually mentioned that she and her husband were looking to relocate. LA had changed too much for her over the years and she was done. She wanted more space, and fresh air.

Just like that? I thought, but didn’t say.

I tried to sound regular. “You’re moving?”

“We’d love to get out of here,” she answered. “We’ve already started looking up north.”

I was shocked. Not shocked at her announcement, I’d already said goodbye to three dear friends and my sister in the past five years alone, losing them to lower housing prices and walkable neighborhoods elsewhere. It’s going around.

What shocked me was my reaction.

I was pissed.

I was pissed that I’d grown even just a little attached to her, this kind-hearted animal -loving urban farm girl. I didn’t want another long-distance friendship kept on life-support through social media.

One of the worst things about my face is it’s transparency. She saw me shut down. Later I got a text: Sorry if I upset you earlier. We are looking to move eventually, but it probably won’t happen for a while. I hope we can still be friends!

Sigh.

My fingers typed what I thought was the right answer: Of course we can. I’m an asshole! 🙂

In Los Angeles, you get used to people leaving and if, like many of us, you moved here from somewhere else with a full set of fancy abandonment baggage, it can be a pretty rough. Over the years I’ve learned that if it seems like someone is just passing through, it’s probably best to let them.

At this point, it’s about staying power.

Back in Nashville, my Grandmother had the same steadfast group of women friends for years. We called them “the Marys” because they mostly shared that name. If you were to run into one of them around town and drew a blank, you could throw out the name Mary and know that you had at least an 80% chance of nailing it.

For years the Marys gathered weekly for their “sewing group.” It was an afternoon of chicken salad, cocktails, and conversation, where occasionally something got hemmed.

They took turns visiting when each other was sick. The few Marys who could still drive at night would fairy the others to dinner parties, and the wedding receptions of  grandchildren. It was a bond forged over decades, a lifeline, as they chartered the waters of their own old ladyhood.

I don’t know about you, but that’s looking pretty good to me these days.

Recently I read the book Life Reimagined, in which the author, Barbara Bradley Hagerty, counts supportive friendships as one of the most vital ingredients in a long and healthy life. The evidence suggests that more than genetics, diet or even excersise, friendships keep us going strong.

It’s medicinal, people.

While the data supporting the link between friendships and our health was new to me, the idea of friendship as a lifeline was not. I’ve written before about how, as a kid, I fed my attachment hunger through close and durable ties with my friends. I may have had a wire monkey at home, but in the homes of friends, I was patched up and found a sense of belonging.

I was hooked.

Which is why when my friend Wendy tells me over drinks at a bar we know so intimately that we just call it “the corner”, that living in LA is just too expensive and that her family may, like so many others, need to pull up stakes, I freeze.

“I mean, look what you can get in Iowa for 300K” She says, handing me her phone. I scroll through her Zillow feed, unsure of the correct response. Happy? Excited? Envious? I am none of those.

I am hurt.

Look, I know it isn’t about me. I know it’s about this friend of mine, who may have to leave her hometown, her world, and move into the unknown, not because she wants to, but because she has to.

But at that moment I am unable see my way to being a grownup.

I pass my finger over the screen, scrolling past circular driveways and sprawling farmhouses with mature trees in every yard. The numbers are so low compared to LA home prices that I think there must be a mistake. But there is no mistake.

Or is there?

Taking a good size gulp of Pinot, I wonder if maybe the mistake is trying to have lasting friendships in a town of transients.

We finish our drinks and split the check. I tell her I’ll try to be supportive, but I’m not sure I have it in me. I don’t want her to leave. She understands and says what everyone says when these conversations have run their course. “It probably won’t happen for a while.”

It has occurred to me that LA would be a pretty hard place to be a Mary. Some days it’s a hard place to be a Maggie, so I can only imagine.

Oh well.

At least when we can no longer drive at night, we can get an Uber in like five minutes, so suck it, small manageable towns with low property taxes.

(Now, normally, this would be where I’d put in a big plug for LA:its beaches, its mountains, its tacos, and weirdos, and seventy degree default temp, and I’ll-never-leave-no-way-this-is-MY-TOWN!)Los Angeles California Skyline

But that would be a lie, at least the never leaving part.

It may be that one day my husband will have to cash out and move to cheaper less crowded pastures. That’s the reality for a lot of us in tinsel town, and other towns too, all across the country.

So where does that leave friendship? If we are all apt to up and move any old time, is there anyone we can count on, and can anyone count on us? Am I wrong to even want that?

This reminds me of the sand mandalas created by Buddhist monks. You know, where hours and hours go into the creation of intricate sand paintings, which are then purposely destroyed as a reminder of the impermanence of everything.

Non-attachment. It’s their favorite.

Maybe in about ten thousand more lifetimes when I am way more actualized it will be my favorite too, but I’m just not there yet.

Of course none of us knows who will stick around and who won’t. It could be housing prices, a bad diagnosis, or divorce, but the truth is that shit happens, especially as you get older. Maybe the dream of my own band of proud Marys is an effort to soothe the anxiety that comes with that midlife realization.

I don’t know how it will feel to say goodbye to the next friend who leaves. I only know that I can’t let myself go on a preemptive strike. As hard as it is, I will fight to stay open to these relationships, even without the guarantee. I will build my friendships not like a sand mandala, but like a Vegas hotel– built to last, at least for now.

We can’t know otherwise, none of us.

In closing, let me quote the often unappreciated genius of this song, made famous by the one and only Ronnie Milsap. I’m actually not kidding.

“I wouldn’t have missed it for the world

Wouldn’t have missed lovin’ you girl

You’ve made my whole life worth while, with your smile.

I wouldn’t trade one memory

Cause you mean too much to me

Even though I lost you girl

I wouldn’t have missed it for the world.”

Feel free to sing with abandon at your next Karaoke night, after a shot of Jager. Now go forth with an open (or open-ish) heart, my friends!

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You Can Write, But You Cannot Hide

You Can Write, But You Cannot Hide

I’ve missed you.

I could give you all kinds of reasons why I’ve been weird about writing for the past several months, but I’ve written a version of that post before, and all the reasons are kind of boring at this point, aren’t they?

So let’s do this: lets just move on.

But there are going to be some changes around here, and I feel like I at least have to warn you ahead of time. The truth is, I got super bogged down with all the cute blogging tricks, and that takes soooo much time, you guys! Like, finding a gyph can take way longer than writing a decent sentence in which you say what you really mean.

I started this blog because I want to write.

I want to connect.

And while funny gyphs, clever photos and SEO friendly titles may encourage a few people to tune in, for me it’s kind of the blogging equivalent of stuffing my bra. That’s not actually who I am. At least, it’s not who I am every single week on Wednesday, in eight to twelve hundred words, rain or shine.

Instead, I am going to focus on writing true.

Ima do it when I can, however I can.

I am going to work very hard to be consistent because apparently that’s important when you want to get better at something, whether it’s writing or taxidermy.

Consistency separates the real writers from the people who use their “Writing Time” to eat scones and read books on writing while taking occasional breaks to cruise Pinterest for sheet pan dinner recipes.

Or so I’ve heard.

The other reason I started this blog, and return to it again and again, is that blogging is fun.

I imagine it’s like photography, in that it kind of gets you looking at life differently. “Oh, look how the light falls on that crust of bread- I want to capture that.”  When I’m into my blog, I see patterns I might otherwise miss. I might still be flinging spaghetti against the wall, but by writing about it, I find meaning in what sticks.

Blogging is uncomfortable. This discomfort is part of what makes it worth doing.

I’ve shared before that I worry a personal blog is, in the words of my twelve year old, kinda cringy.  giphy

Over and over I ask myself, why anyone would care about the minutia of my little life in the San Fernando Valley, yada yada yada. But even if I’m able to get past that, there is a worry that came up after a year or so of posting regularly, and I just haven’t been able to shake it.

If I’m going to write true, then I might not come off looking so great. I talk all big but, in truth, I am afraid of being cast out.

Can you relate?

I have a recurring dream in which I frantically attempt to hide the body of someone I’ve murdered. The killing doesn’t take place in the dream, it’s only the desperate wrapping in plastic, or burying under leaves, garbage, stuffing into a closet. The body leaks and smells and I know I will be found out. I wake in a sweat, relieved that it was only a dream, and that no one will ever know how broken I really am.

So there’s that.

Do you ever feel that kind of free-floating shame?

It can appear as procrastination, perfectionism, defensiveness, and plain old bitchiness. I admit to having these on a steady rotation, and I’m pretty sure they all spring forth from the deep well of shame I have within.

Why would a person who has spent her whole life ducking and covering take up a practice that, if done with integrity, will certainly result in her feeling exposed?

I must just want to stop hiding the dead bodies.

So, on that note, Happy Holidays, friends!

It’s good to be back 🙂

In Which Mom Gets To Choose the Movie

In Which Mom Gets To Choose the Movie

I love in a house full of guys, which is awesome, except for every once in a while when it’s not.

A while back I was complaining about something (shocking, I know) that had to do with being the only female under our roof, when my friend, who is also married to a guy and the mother of two boys, said in all seriousness and without judgement, “Don’t you know, Maggie? You’re their queen.”

Oh really?

I’m just going to leave you to muse on that little nugget for a while. Tell me, oh mothers of America, are you their queen? Why or why not? Discuss.

Mkay, I’ll go first:

Here’s just one small way I am not the queen of my house: We hardly ever watch the movies I want to watch.

This is due not only to the fact that my kids have the unfair advantage of knowing how the remotes work, but also because they like to watch stuff explode and I don’t. They are nice guys, but even when I do choose, my film choices can clear the room quicker than our gassy terrier. (I’m sorry to mention farts twice in one post. Occupational hazard of my job.)

The boys still reminisce about how I made them watch Little Lord Fauntleroy, bribing them with cookie dough and, I think, a dollar each.

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You might call this a fail on my part, but I disagree. While they may not have absorbed the film’s timeless message of perseverance and kindness in the face of adversity, they have one more thing to tease me about, and I say that sharing a laugh at your queen’s mom’s expense is one of the great joys of having a sibling.

So, see? It was on purpose, you guys.

But I love movies and believe they are some of the best conversation starters and kindling for empathy, so I’m not about to give up. Films can teach us so much, but not if we only ever watch the loudest, fastest and biggest.

And so,

I put the question out there to my  enlightened Facebook friends:

What are some suggestions for films with a social justice theme, appropriate for roughly 11-13 year olds?

I got a lot of great responses, and some kind of creepy ones. Like, I just can’t see snuggling up with my 11 year old for a family viewing of Beasts of No Nation, but maybe that’s just me.

Despite the occasional head-scratcher, I now have a long list of movies that I will draw from when it’s my turn to choose.

And this summer, since I’m queen, I will be choosing often.

So if you’re looking for some touchy-feely films with a good message, to balance out this:

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Look no further!

Here’s my list of family movies about how to do life:

  • Harvey–  Swoon– it’s Jimmy Stewart! It’s about compassion and the fact that one man’s crazy is another man’s not crazy.
  • Roots–  I think I was in 5th or 6th grade when this came on t.v. and we were all required to watch it for school. Man, have times changed. I didn’t see the new version, but the 1977 mini-series has stayed with me.
  • Being There– I love this movie and it’s message about politics, human nature and the media. Not sure if the kids will really get it, but I didn’t get Star Wars Episode II: Attack of the Clones, so I guess we’re even.
  • Shorts– This sounds like something for the younger ones. Reviews say it’s pretty funny, even if the special affects are a little cheesy. Film explores bullying and how being tech-obsessed can impact relationships.
  • Nim’s Island– Another movie that might skew younger. Message about perseverance, courage,  and independence. Bonus: the main character is homeschooled, which may be just because she lives on a deserted island, but still– rad!
  • The Visitor– Given the proposed Muslim ban, this is pretty darn timely. Themes include cultural diversity, immigration, politics in post 9/11 US, friendship. Great acting, too.
  • Unstrung Heroes– This 1995 film, directed by Diane Keaton, deals with loss, family, and how even if your family’s weird they can still be cool. Sounds like it might be kind of sad, so I will serve with ice-cream.
  • Inherit the Wind– 1960 courtroom drama about creationism vs. evolution. (My money’s on evolution, y’all.)
  • A Room With A View– Glorious film adaptation of E.M. Forster’s novel has messages about love, intimacy (you know, the stuff all middle school boys dig), and being true to yourself. My boys will not watch this willingly, I’m sure. Best chosen for Mother’s Day viewing.
  • Forrest Gump– Here’s what you get: war, civil rights, history, drugs, sex, personal choice, loyalty, friendship and questionable southern accents.
  • March of the Penguins– A good choice for any age unless you don’t like penguins, in which case I don’t want to know you. It’s all about nature, the cycle of life, and birds that are actually fish, or maybe it’s the other way around.
  • The Boy In the Striped Pajamas-  A holocaust story told through the eyes of a young boy. I haven’t seen it yet, mainly because someone told me the ending and I just haven’t geared myself up for that. It’s on my short list for this summer.
  • Dances With Wolves– This may be better for the older middle schoolers and teens, depending on your kid and your tolerance for violence and scenes of people getting busy under animal skins. But there are also battles for survival and battles for power, Native American history, friendship, betrayal, on and on.
  • Rudy– A great movie, especially for football or sports types, but really anyone who loves an underdog story, which I totally do. Aim high and work hard, citizens!
  • Hidden Figures– You’ve probably seen this already, right? So good. Racial and gender equality, a bit of history of our space program.
  • Chocolat–  Let me translate for you: Chocolate! Oo-la-la— a sweet flick about love, acceptance, joie de vivre, with a side helping of domestic violence, but still.
  • The Secret of Roan Inish– A lovely slow film that will either bore your kids to pieces or get them talking about faith and miracles in a charming Irish accent.
  • Heidi–  My pals say it has to be the Shirley Temple version. I say, if you can get buy in for a Shirley Temple movie from your 12 and 14 year old boys, I fucking bow to you. Try it, and report back.
  • Searching For Bobby Fisher–  Who needs another viewing of Mission Impossible 3 when you can watch a whole movie about a kid playing chess? JK, it’s all good: hard work, mastery, good sportsmanship.
  • Whale Rider– I can’t wait to see this! Themes of equality, cultural diversity and staying true to yourself, sexual and age discrimination, perseverance.
  • Babies–  No plot, no story, just babies from all over everywhere doing baby things. A great window to the world. “Yes, Punkin’, I may have left you in your high chair to watch reruns of Blues Clues while I ate an entire bowl of chocolate pudding in my closet, but at least I didn’t tie you to the leg of the bed with a leash while I went out to milk the llamas.” Oh I kid. I’ve seen this and it’s lovely. My boys actually dig babies, and once they get over the fact that none of them are going to transform into venom spewing super villains, they might actually get into this movie.
  • The Power of One– Rated PG-13 (I haven’t seen it, so can’t say why), this is Morgan Freeman’s first movie and is based on a critically acclaimed book. Gives a lesson on the system of Apartheid and humanitarian values. I had never heard of this one, but it looks interesting.
  • Never Cry Wolf–  So, this guy goes off by himself to study wolves and he goes kind of crazy but in a good way and, you guys, he has to eat a ton of mice to survive! (That’s my way of saying your kids will like this movie.)
  • Rabbit-Proof Fence– This story centers around three Aboriginal children who’ve been living in an internment camp and leave in an attempt to reunite with their parents. it’s a safe bet that one of the major themes is race and cultural oppression, along with resilience and courage. I’m in.
  • Kes– Apparently, this film is long and grim, but some people are into that. I should add that reviews say this is a stunning coming of age story, a classic even, so proceed as you wish.
  • October Sky– Who doesn’t love a true story about following your dreams? Also, one of the many awesome messages in this film is that how people are evaluated in school says very little about their value and potential. Word.
  • Explorers–  I hear this movie is pretty dated, but I like how the aliens base their ideas aboot humans on what they’ve seen on television. Anything that reminds us that perspective matters is a-ok by me.
  • Off the Map– This film, set in northern New Mexico in 1974, is about a family living off the grid, old school hippie style. It has some great actors in it (Joan Allen, Sam Elliot) I haven’t seen it, but judging from reviews, it’s a good one all about unconditional love, acceptance of people, despite their imperfections. Some describe the film as “gentle and easygoing” which is not exactly a selling point with my boys, but hope springs eternal in my world.
  • Pay It Forward– Probably better for older teens because this film has it all: drugs, violence, racial slurs, sex, alcoholism and suicide. Good times! I may watch this one on my own while my kids are out crushing innocent strangers at laser tag.
  • Wild Parrots of Telegraph Hill– Somehow, some way, I will get my boys to watch this with me. It just sounds so good. It’s a doc about a guy who takes care of and studies a flock of– you guessed it– wild parrots. Good for all ages, may need tissues. Be prepared with reasons why you can not adopt a parrot.
  • Freedom Writers–  Fair warning, reviews say this one’s a little hokey. But if you can’t get enough of the clueless-white-teacher-comes-to-save-the-at-risk-youth-and-they-don’t-like-her-but-then-they-do kind of story, then this movie may be for you. There are a few of those on this list though, and this might not be the best of the bunch. Fair warning.
  • Quiz Show– Love this movie based on a true story about a big ol’ cheater. Message: Don’t be a big ol’ cheater!
  • The Soloist– Another film based on a true story (love those) that takes place in my adopted home of LA. It looks at mental illness and homelessness which, sadly, we have plenty of in the City of Angels.
  • McFarland USA– This is one my boys and I have seen and we all loved it. Yes, the white guy (Kevin Costner) comes and saves the day, but not until he gets schooled but good. Great for your kids to see if they ever complain about their measly chores because the teens in this story work harder than anyone I’ve ever seen. Issues explored include privilege, prejudice, immigration and more.
  • Selma– Looks at Martin Luther King’s role in the events leading up to the civil rights march from Selma to Montgomery, a pivotal point in the ongoing battle for racial equality in our country. There is a lot of violence because, well, that’s what happened, kiddos.
  • Bridge Over the River Kwai– If my kids are jonsing for cinematic violence and high-tension, I might suggest this classic. Message: War is hell.
  • Bingo Long and the Traveling All-Stars–  A 70’s baseball film about the Negro national League. I hear tell women are objectified in this movie so if that’s a deal breaker, you’ve been warned. But hey, that was the 70’s and we all know that never happens anymore, right?? (Cue crickets.)
  • Glory–  Another one for the older teens. This is beautiful film is not for the squeamish: civil war, racism, bigotry, valor, courage, US history, plus buckets of blood.
  • Norma Rae– You want an ass-kicking superhero movie? Here you go, boys. Power to the worker!
  • Hoop Dreams– Critically acclaimed high school basketball doc. How hard to these kids have to work just to get to school in the morning? Hard. How hard do they have to work to get what many other (rich white) kids have handed to them? Super f-ing hard. This film sends a strong message about strength, hard work, perseverance, systematic racism, class, and basketball.
  • Wadja– The first Saudi movie to be directed by a woman. (Yeah, I know.) It’s about a girl who seriously wants to bust out– ride her bike, wear sneakers– the nerve! Seems like an interesting window into what it’s like to be female in Saudi Arabia. Critics love it. Heads up: It’s subtitled.
  • Stand and Deliver– 1988 film based on the true story of a math teacher who comes to work in an inner-city school. Reviews say it’s pretty free of saccharin Hollywood schmaltz, but I can’t vouch for that. Themes include hard work, courage, perseverance, and hope.
  • 12 Angry Men–  This 1957 classic explores the jury’s role in our US justice system and prejudice.
  • Mr. Smith Goes To Washington-  Jimmy Stewart brings it in this classic Capra movie in which we learn how our government works. (“Hear that kids? It used to actually work!”) It has the famous filibuster scene, and if that doesn’t move you then, well, I just don’t know what to say. If your kids are like mine, they are not always fans of the black and white films. Ask me if I care.
  • Lord of the Flies– There are at least two film versions of this classic novel. From what I’ve read, neither of them does the book justice, but you can try the 1963 or the 1990 version and let me know what you think. Creepy story explores the best and worst of human nature. Sensitive kids and lovers of pigs, proceed with caution.
  • To Kill a Mockingbird–  You’ve seen this classic film version of the glorious coming of age novel by Harper Lee, right? It is a masterpiece. If you haven’t seen it, go watch it right now. Please, thank you, you’re welcome.
  • Billy Elliot– Fuck gender stereotypes! Fuck homophobia! Fuck people who don’t think boys should be into dance! If you have a major problem with the word fuck, or cursing in general, you will probably want to pass on this beautiful movie. Also, you probably don’t like my blog 🙂
  • Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner– A classic, by any definition. Themes include Racism, age, loyalty, family, love, etc. Anyone who watches this movie in my house gets a cookie because that is probably the only way it’s going to happen. One day they will thank us.
  • The Gods Must Be Crazy–  It doesn’t all have to be so serious. This 1980’s classic comedy has a message about modern society and what it means to be civilized. I remember this being a funny movie which, we all know, doesn’t always translate into our kids feeling the same way. Still, I’ll give it a whirl.

There you go, for your summer viewing pleasure. This list is obviously a work in progress, so please feel free to add your own social-justice-ish family movie suggestions in the comments below. Maybe we need a whole separate list for family documentaries. Plenty of amazing films have been left off this list, mostly because my refrigerator broke today and is leaking all over my kitchen floor.

Duty calls, my friends 🙂

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It’s a Dirty Job and Somebody’s Got To Do It

It’s a Dirty Job and Somebody’s Got To Do It

 

Summer’s coming and I am glad.

HowEVER…

While I love the change in routine that summer brings, there are some very key ways that I would like this coming summer to NOT resemble last summer. I’m a big fan of free time for kids. You know, time to decompress, daydream, and grow. That sounds pretty good in theory but in reality, last summer, this was me:

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And this was them:

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And like a frog in a pot of hot water, I didn’t even realize it was happening.

Somehow it has come to pass that I am, in many ways, exactly the kind of mom I always swore I would never be.

It turns out that, despite all my big talk, I do way too many things that my kids could do for themselves. Recently I handed my 14 year old a can opener to use, and he looked at it like this:

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That was my ah-hah moment.

I’ll admit, I can get a little smug about homeschooling. I’ll tell anyone who will listen how kids can use the extra time to practice life skills and learn the kind of things that they will actually use in the real world, meanwhile my own fully capable and smart enough teenager is mystified by how to get to the refried beans.

(Note to my son, on the off off chance that he may one day read this: Dude, this is on me. Why, if you have someone removing from under your bed the cereal bowls that have grown fur, would you ever need to do it yourself? And, in fairness, it’s a lame can opener. But still.)

So I did a little research with the goal being to find someone better at all this than me, and just, you know, do what they do.

Here’s a chart I got from a blog called Modest Mom. Her world view and politics are pretty polar opposite to my own, but you know what? She’s got six– count ’em six kids and they all do shit!

According to her chart, my boys have been skating by like eight year olds when it comes to their domestic duties. So while I may not want to party with this gal, I say don’t be modest, sister, because– except for the part where you give a pass to those freeloading one year olds— you are killing it in the child labor department!

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My kids don’t have to do daily Bible study and they don’t do half this stuff.

For. Shame.

But today is the first day of the rest of my life, and as Modest Mom is my witness, here’s what my two little stinkers will have to be able to do before September, or else. (Do not ask me or else what. I don’t know what. Something tells me MM would have a few ideas.)

Make their own lunches. I can’t believe I’m outing myself here, but I’ll admit this has been a control thing for me. I want them to eat something healthy for lunch. When left to their own devices they will always (always) eat cereal which, I can hear you saying it, isn’t so bad, and I agree– it’s not. Still, I’m a little weird about the balanced meal thing. (Humble brag– learned it on Facebook.)

But here’s the thing– they don’t eat what I pack anyway. That’s why I am finally doing what I should have done years ago: giving up. I have a feeling Giving Up is the secret sauce to sane parenting, at least as it applies to cleanliness and feeding. So, I will clear my house of all crap “food”  that only sets them up to be judged by me, and they can have whatever is left, with no comment from me.

Late to the party, I know.

Wash their own dishes, like, ALL THE TIME. The days are gone where I will make chores a party. I know what Family Circle or whatever the fuck parenting-advising-confidence-crushing-Pinterest-posting-mommy-blogger says, but my kids are twelve and fourteen and I am done with trying to put lipstick on the pig of housework.

My dear husband is a great one for putting on loud classic rock during dinner clean up, and that’s fine. He likes it and that’s good enough for me, but I actually do not see this translating into my sons wiping down the stove with any more gusto than if AC/DC wasn’t blasting from the radio.

My plan includes a rotating schedule for dinner dishes where each of us does the whole shebang a few times a week, and then a clean-as-you-go kind of thing for the rest of the day. Loud music, timers, games and cheeriness optional.

Cook something that isn’t a quesadilla. I have friends who’s kids love to cook. Those people are not going to understand this. My boys have inherited their dad’s complete and total aversion to all things culinary. When they were little, we baked bread. We did– I have the pictures to prove it. Judging from the endless images of them in their little aprons, we had it all figured out, didn’t we?

HA!

To all the young moms out there who’s kids love gardening and grocery shopping and your favorite bands, I say enjoy it now because one day all those things you thought you knew about your little darlings will come crashing down around you and you will be face to face with someone who is probably totally awesome but who is maybe not awesome in the exact way you *planned* for them to be awesome, and this can be quite a blow.

Just saying.

My kids can’t cook and I, with the help of Blue Apron 2x a week, plan to change that. I’m hoping that all that practice assembling Lego sets will come in handy when I hand them the box. What could possibly go wrong??

Do hard work that is not pretend hard work. Guilty. I have given my kids faux chores for years to make myself feel better. I could sleep at night knowing that my kids were not some special snowflakes– no! My kids fed the dog, for god’s sake. They unloaded the dishwasher and made sure the toilet was flushed before company came over (keeping’ it classy). I was raising young men who would know the value of hard work; why just look at them sweep the front porch, would you???

You guys, those are the same jobs they’ve had since they were in booster seats, and while I give them props for never giving me grief about doing them, I think that might be because they just don’t want to call attention to the sweet gig that they’ve had for the past several years. The last time I sent my son out to weed the front yard, he lasted twenty minutes and then needed to convaless for the better part of the afternoon.

No more, my darling.

Time to get real. Our fridge needs cleaning, the garbage bins need scrubbing and the patio furniture needs scouring.

From here on out, I will perform the duties of my new job as my sons’ Uber, with a smile. This will, however, require that I resign, effective immediately, from any job that includes me sweating under my boobs while scraping melted fruit rollups off the backseat of our Honda.

Seems like a fair trade.

In closing, this summer will not be last summer. This summer we will disperse the load. This summer I will give up a little control and my boys will give up a little free time, and all of us will struggle with that, I’m sure. But I’m optimistic.

I’ll let you know how it goes.

 

 

What I Did For Love

What I Did For Love

This past weekend I had to deliver a testimonial at my fab UU church, to celebrate the conclusion of our pledge drive.  It went just fine, despite the fact that I clearly have shed my old actorly ways and am now TERRIFIED of speaking in public.

Good lord, the shaking.

The blushing.

Ours is not a large congregation and, for the most part, I think they harbor only good will toward me, so I kind of don’t get why the major case of nerves. Also, the thing I wrote was less than five minutes. (I know, get a grip, right?)

But how’s this for a confession:

I’m glad I was nervous because, in some private recess of my damaged heart, I believed that looking happy to be up there reading something I had worked hard to compose, would be like wearing slacks and suntan pantyhose with a reinforced toe.

Out of fashion.

Awkward.

Best to keep a low profile. Pretend I just threw something together at the last minute. “What, this old thing?”

It’s official. I may be all grown up, but a thin film of middle school still covers me like a second skin.

Maybe you can relate.

None of this is conscious, of course, and it’s really just now, as I sit typing, that it’s becoming clear. I can’t be the only one who struggles with the desire for approval and the deep flesh eating shame of wanting attention.

So wtf. Ima go there.

Yesterday I gave myself a present in the form of the audio version of Bruce Springsteen’s memoir, Born To Run, read by The Boss himself, and available on Audible. (By the way, my subscription to Audible is, by far, the best $15.00 I spend each month. Just sayin’.)

If you happen to see me walking the streets of the San Fernando Valley wearing a dopey smile and a gaze of distant longing, it’s because Bruce is in my ear, telling me all about his life, his hopes, his dreams. I may be holding my dog’s leash in one hand and a bag of steaming poo in the other, but in my mind he and I are reclined on a chase, before an open window, somewhere in Tuscany. “Tell me all about it,” I say, while sampling a variety of cheeses.

Wait, where was I?

Oh yeah. One of the first things Bruce offers up is an explanation of what has driven his career in rock and roll. His success, he says, was and is fueled by a list of things (and I’m working from my admittedly iffy memory here), that includes a desire for attention, approval, money, and love. 

Hold up, Bruce.

You mean you are looking for my approval? The stories you tell, the poetry you write, exists, at least in part, because you want to be… liked??

And get this, he wasn’t apologizing for it. Knowing that he cares what I think of him doesn’t diminish any of his work for me to know this. Obvs. Unknown

There’s a part of me that always assumed that artists, especially talented artists, didn’t give a shit what the rest of us thought. They worked in service of their vision and that’s what made the good ones good.

Or so I thought.

I’m no authority on showbiz in LA, since I had basically waved to that in my rearview mirror when I left Chicago, but I do remember when I first got here, sensing that, to get the job, one needed to not to need the job. Use words like “amazing”, “awesome” and “outstanding”, when asked how things are going, and as an agent once told me as she cocked her head and squinted across her desk at me, whatever you do, “Try not to care so much.”

That’s the catch.

When it comes to approval, you can want it, but you can’t ask for it.

I’ve bought into that forever. As for my own hunger, I blamed it on my mother, my school days, my gender. Anything to avoid pulling back the curtain.

But if I stop making it into a weakness, the desire to pin it on someone else disappears, and running around pinning shit on people is a total time suck. I think we can all agree on that.

The truth is, I care a whole bunch what you think.

Yep, me and Bruce Springsteen.

When I make a painting, I hang it on my wall. When I write something, I want someone to read it. To me, without sharing, the work isn’t complete.

I have a friend who told me she writes all the time and feels no need to share any of it. I haven’t decided if I believe her, but if it’s true, I envy her. If you’re an artist who doesn’t have any fucks left to give, then I guess you are lucky. It’s an advantage to feel free to take risks, to create for the sake of creating. But honestly, if I wasn’t in a lifelong search for love and approval, I probably wouldn’t do anything but down snacks and watch reruns of Sex and the City, so hey, there’s that.

At it’s worst, my desire for external validation can make me too careful, causing me to miss my mark and sometimes not even try. But at it’s best, it’s my editor, agent and cheerleader. My personal Mickey Goldmill.

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Back in Chicago, I remember I used to stare down the bar at the “real” actors who huddled at the other end. Usually a group of three or four guys in their 20’s and 30’s, and maybe one woman (hmm, interesting) would hang together, drinking cheap beer, dissing Los Angeles, while trading snark about their last Steppenwolf audition or the pilot they were shooting .

They were just So. Fucking. Cool.

They were talented, and their talent seemed all the more mysterious because they didn’t seem to care about it. Eventually I would make a good living on commercials, long running crowd-pleasing shows (decidedly un-cool) and voice-overs, but in my mind, those thoroughbreds at the end of the bar would always leave me in their dust.

I could never compete with them because I always, always, read my reviews.

And yet, here I am.

The same need that drove me to put myself out there in search of approval, was the same need that pounded on the floor for me to “Get up!” when I was knocked on my ass.

Now that I’ve named it, will I try to move beyond this, to a place where I float far above my blog stats, my inbox of rejections, my submissions, all my naked trying?

Will I pretend that I don’t desperately hope that you will like what I’ve made for you?

I don’t think so.

And I’m cool with that.

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