Undertow

20170714_124154.jpgI scoop my wimpy arms forward and kick my scrawny feet. My torso twists unnecessarily with each stroke as I try and get back to shore.  My swimming technique is not, nor ever was, that great.  I am tiring out. Breathe, stroke. Breathe, stroke.   A wave crashes over me and I am sucked under without warning. My mouth fills with nasty salt water.  I kick like a frog, my hands pawing for the sky through the water.  I barely emerge when another wave crashes over me, sending me further down.  It feels like a lifetime before I finally surface. My eyes sting from the saltwater. I have turned completely around and lost sight of the shore. I see the next wave coming at me in time to take a deep breath and duck under before getting completely annihilated.  Each wave wants to carry me out to sea, out into the great Pacific.  I resist the succession of insistent waves with every cell in my ten-year-old 70 pound body. It’s going to take all the will and strength I’ve needed since birth to get back to shore.

I’m stuck in the undertow.  Where’s my family on the beach?  We don’t have an umbrella.  I have drifted far away from the pile of towels my sisters Leslie, Gwen, Melissa and I parked near the middle lifeguard tower.  I feel my body pulling further out to sea.  I remember to focus and swim with purpose, like they taught us in swimming lessons in our neighbor’s pool.  I try not to panic. I remember to not resist the current too much so as not to wear out.  It’s better to come in further away than to tire out.  I have to get back. I breathe, stroke and kick some more.

It’s the summer of my 10th year between fourth and fifth grade. My parents are divorcing. My Mom has rented a beach house in Corona Del Mar for us to live in while our childhood home goes on the market.  Even though our mom told us this was happening I assume it won’t sell and we will be moving back.  We had a yard sale. I went through my toys. I made very adult decisions about what I could stand to get rid of, like the metal play stove and the stuffed toy skunk, whereas my Jennifer doll with the mohawk I was keeping. I got that we were moving, but my ten year old brain didn’t really get the forever part.

I loved our house.  Even as a young kid I knew how cool our Eichler house was.  Designed by famed mid-century modern architect A.Quincy Jones, the Eichler house we lived in was at the forefront of a trend towards affordable modern tract housing.  The ethics of mid-century modern were to bring the outside in and the inside out.  Our house had a carport with a big round doorknob leading into the atrium, so when you came inside you were still outside.  Inside there were high beam ceilings, large pane glass windows and a pebble walkway that looked like a riverbed.  My dad’s abstract paintings lined the gorgeous wood paneled walls.  My mom sewed all our school clothes in her sewing room with the skylight. This was the perfect home for an art professor and his family.

Though my mother graduated top of her class at Parsons and designed for Lanz of California my dad put his foot down that he would be the only artist in the family.  Being an art professor’s wife wasn’t as ideal as one would think.  He had one affair too many and my mom decided she was done.  She took up with another dad down the street from us and to avoid neighborhood gossip moved us out of the Eichler tract.  It was not as common then to divorce, let alone live with someone unmarried.  To soften the blow she moved us to the beach for the summer.

Being near the beach was a pretty fun distraction.  On a daily basis my sisters Leslie, Gwen, Melissa and I traipse down the hill with our towels and snacks to set up camp at Corona Del Mar, the crown of the sea.  We run barefoot on the jetty.  We count letters in the skywriting.  We swim and get sunburned.

The parents are never there.  This was the 70’s.  Kids weren’t supervised the way they are now.  Jaws hadn’t come out yet. Child abduction wasn’t really a thing.  We were pretty fearless.

We pay attention to the flags on the lifeguard stand.  Green means all is safe, red means don’t go in the water, yellow with a black dot means dangerous undertow.  Today the green flag is up.  I go in the ocean with my sister Leslie.  I find myself getting pulled away from the shore.  Leslie’s no where in sight.  The tide keeps pulling me.  I’m really far out, near the bouys. The resistance of the tide is seductive.  The desire to let go and float out is strong.  Will I run into a ferry boat and be rescued?  Will I end up on the news?   I have to keep pushing.  I have to get back.

Five summers of swimming lessons haven’t prepared me for this.  The hardest part of those lessons was battling my own low self-esteem.  I knew I would never be a great swimmer.  The kids called me toothpick. Sports were always a challenge.

Where is the lifeguard?  Do they even know I’m gone? I can barely feel my own body in the cold water.  I have to stay alive.

The shore is within reach.  I am crushed by a wave and can barely make it back up, but thankfully after one more swell my feet touch the bottom.  I limp onto the shore. I barely manage to stagger all the way down the beach to my sisters. I plop down face first on my orange towel.

Melissa and Gwen are really excited to tell me that Leslie was saved by the life guard.   “Where were you?” Leslie asks. I want to scream “Why didn’t you tell the life guard to come out and get me?!  Why didn’t you look out for me?! Aren’t you supposed to be my older sister?!  I was battling the waves! I could have died!!”

All I can muster is “I got caught in the undertow.  They had the wrong flag up.”  I would have cried quietly into my towel, but I didn’t have the energy.

We find out soon after that we are moving into a rental on Balboa Island for the school year.  Making new friends doesn’t sound fun, but we don’t have a choice.

My mom was following the path of least resistance by starting over fresh. She was up against an insidious undertow of sexism.  Rather than having her kids subjected to ridicule and shame because she decided to live with her boyfriend, she moved on.  As an adult I get that she did what she had to do, but as a child I was confused.  That next year on Balboa Island I went sleep walking every night, trying to get out the front door.  I guess I just wanted to get back home to the Eichler house.

All my life I have been trying to get back home to that Eichler house.  For example, I have an obsession with mid-century modern design.  I compulsively collect glazed lamps, hairpin-leg tables and naugahyde couches.  These things aren’t home, of course, but they remind me of a happy time when my life was innocent and unformed, when my parents were still together, when my sisters and I had room to laugh and play.  We only lived in that house for seven years.  I’d buy an Eichler now but they’re out of my reach.  It’s time to move on.

The tempatation is always there to float out to sea on a current of dreams and avoid reality.  I need to find ways to stay grounded.  Life can be difficult.  We all need to find our way home. I know home doesn’t have to be a mid-century modern house; it can simply be time spent with loved ones, hanging out with my cats, or hiking in the hills.  Home can mean being active in the community, making small changes against social injustice, or just helping someone in need.

Like that day in the ocean resisting the forceful undertow, whatever life throws at me I hope always to have the strength to get back home to my warm towel on the beach.

 

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dear curator of broken hearts

retro respect

Pioneer Lady

My Grandma Agnes was born in Washington state in 1899 and lived to be 99 years old. She moved with her family to Imperial Valley California in 1905 and grew up on a farm there.  Her father was 56 at the time but moved his family to the desert because he heard the farming was good there and they grew cotton. Life was hard in the desert. They had to scrape the topsoil of the land before they could even think of planting with a device known as the Fresno scraper, drawn by four horses.  They had canals for irrigation. The area was drawing many immigrants for the farming and was developmental in many areas. My grandma had one of the very first x-rays. She fell off a horse and broke her arm. A horse and buggy took her to a hospital where one of the very first x-ray machines existed. I think she was ten or eleven at the time.  They lived in a tent house; there was wood up to waist level but the rest of the walls and roof were a canvas tent.  They would run across the street to dip themselves in the rain barrel before bed and throw the rain water on the walls and sheets to keep cool at night.  I asked my grandmother if it was hard and she said oh no – she loved it. She could have all the animals she wanted and there was always something to do.  They played in the canals and helped on the farm. She said she didn’t know about air conditioning and didn’t know any different so she was happy..

Grandma Agnes was the youngest of four children and there was a great difference in age between she and her two older brothers.  Her sister Grace was I believe ten years older. Grandma Agnes loved to read. She loved school and wrote the Brawley High School’s fight song.  She was the first one in her family to go to college and went to University of California Berkeley where she made a lot of friends and lived in a sorority.  She fondly told me of going to the baths at Ocean Beach with her friends.

Never one to go for an MRS degree,  Agnes then went on to grad school in Boston and got a job in publishing at Harper’s. She loved walking to work in her little grey suit.  Again no complaints about the cold; she was just so excited to be a working girl. She met my Grandpa – we called him Pop but everyone called him Leo even though his first name was John.  He was an engineer from MIT who went on to design the aqueducts in the San Fernando Valley.  He was very interested in Agnes but she was off to visit Europe for the first time.  When she returned and was in California with her family he happily took the train across the country to see her. “I would have followed her to the ends of the earth,” he confessed once to my aunt Molly.  Besides falling in love with Agnes, Leo fell in love with the desert.  When they married they moved to Los Angeles to raise a family.  He worked for the D.W.P. and she worked as an educator in the Los Angeles Unified School District, driving across town to teach children who were confined to home.  She later taught at UCLA and declared she would disown me or any of my sisters if we even applied to U.S.C. I never dared tell her of my screenwriting classes I took there.

In their retirement they traveled all over the world and would come home with gifts from places like Kenya and Ireland and extensive slideshows of photos taken by Pop.  Sadly on their trip to China with my Dad Pop suffered his first stroke.  It was frightening to say the least getting him back to the states.  After that he was not quite the same – he was always happy and excited to see us but had difficulty speaking. It was hard on my grandma, but she helped care for him until he passed in 1987 at the age of 88.

The last decade of Agnes’ life she lived in Quaker Village, a lovely retirement home for seniors in Stanford California. She ran the library and found the other three democrats who lived there.  I would go visit her and we would walk back from lunch to her little apartment.  One day she pulled her walker over to park on a bench.  She wanted to tell me things.  I asked her what her favorite time of her life was and she said she loved taking the family out to the desert, packing up my dad and aunt Grace and getting out into the desert air. The tradition continued with their grandchildren.  She and Pop had an A-frame cabin in the high desert. It’s  where I saw my first snow.  He was an avid photographer and we would go on hikes leaving him behind to set up his tripod. We hiked up a hill and would always bring a rock to put on the rock pile.

Agnes always had a great attitude and did not take her privileges for granted. When it came time to vote she insisted on going in person.  I said she could send an absentee ballot but she pointed her crooked little finger and said, “I was alive when women got the vote. I want to go in person.” She never missed an election and was always very interested in what was going on in the world, years of yellow National Geographic magazines lining her bookshelves as a reminder. I suppose when you grow up like she did in the desert seeing the world is always a wonderful adventure.

In this year’s election there is the greatest possibility ever of a woman becoming our president, and yet there is still no equal rights amendment to the constitution.  Like Agnes I don’t want to take my privileges for granted nor do I want to be stymied by my position as a woman in society.  I want to be like Agnes, using my knowledge to help others and forging ahead despite what societal norms about women dictate.  Happy National Woman’s Day. Let’s make it a point to get that Equal Rights Amendment passed.

http://www.pioneersmuseum.net/

 

 

 

WOW NOW

It is international woman’s day and that just pisses me off. For one thing there is no international man’s day. I guess they get 364 days and we get one. You can’t tell me there isn’t inequality in this country because it is evident in actual facts.  I am in the entertainment business.  Not only do women often get paid less but there are far fewer jobs. Look at the cast list of any action film; there might be two female roles to one hundred male roles. Action films are the ones that do well internationally so this means far more residuals and higher pay for our action stars. Women have always done better in television comedy and yet there are few female show runners. Every year it looks as though the climate is changing but change comes far too slowly. The whole thing just makes me mad.

Jennifer Lawrence and Amy Adams recently spoke up about the pay discrepancy between their contracts and the men’s in American Hustle. They didn’t speak up at the time even though they are both Oscar winners. If it’s hard for them to speak up think about the rest of us women. If there were an equal rights amendment to the constitution this would make it easier to argue equal pay.

Both of my grandmothers were born before the turn of the last century.  They were alive before women had the vote.  Though they come from very different economical backgrounds they both went to college and grad school. Neither married until their late twenties and each had a career first. This is uncommon for women of that time and I salute them.

My mother and my aunts also all went to college and grad school during a time when women were often going to college merely for an MRS degree.

Growing up in the 70’s in California we lived in conservative Orange County.  Our mother Martha divorced in the early 1970’s and entered the workplace as a single mom. We would go up north to visit my aunts in the bay area.  Molly and Su were considered hippies in San Francisco. They took me and my three sisters to events celebrating women like all women’s concerts and art shows. They opened my eyes to the struggle women have in the male dominated world of art. The photo above is of my aunt Su, aunt Molly, and mother Martha taken in the late 1970’s.  They were working women in the arts. They all are moms. They are the women who taught me how to be a feminist.

I feel it is my responsibility to speak up for women today, international women’s day, but maybe I should make this a goal in my writing and art every day.  It burns me that we are still kept separate and the separation is insidious and often hidden or not even recognized. 96 years after women got the right to vote and 43 years since Roe v. Wade, the peak of the women’s lib movement, women still don’t receive equal pay nor do we have the same constitutional rights as men because there is still no ratified equal rights amendment to the constitution.

My grandmothers and aunts went ahead and did what they wanted.  They refused to let their lives be dictated by men.  They forged ahead to work in a male dominated society and taught me a lot.  I hope to live up to their example.

Here are some articles on things to ponder regarding gender inequality:

http://www.featureshoot.com/2016/03/artist-photoshops-men-out-of-political-images-to-prove-we-still-need-feminism/

http://www.knoxnews.com/opinion/columnists/ina-hughs/ina-hughs-lands-end-should-be-ashamed-of-caving-2cea73ff-1673-2e9b-e053-0100007fdbb0-370707251.html

 

Creativity, Stillness and Magic

Originally posted April, 2011 as a guest blog for Kris Cahill

The Titan Arum, otherwise known as the corpse flower, blooms every
hundred years and grows to be the worldʼs largest blossom, attracting
tourists from around the world. It is tall, phallic and smells like hell.
I think the lesson here is donʼt let your creative projects wait one
hundred years to blossom or else they might stink.
But there is another lesson, and that is the magic is there, waiting to
happen. It takes patience, but if you keep the plant fed and watered
every now and then a magnificent bloom will appear.
Donʼt mistake patience for procrastination. It is amazing how when
pressed with a deadline I suddenly find it very important to redecorate
my apartment and watch the Real Housewives marathon on cable
TV.
Rather than procrastinate, next time practice stillness. A good way to
find stillness is through meditation, but there is also truth to the
phrase “sleep on it.” The seeds are there. The beautiful blossoms of
your creativity will appear. You donʼt need to push the shoots through
the stems; they know how to bloom already.
I am not saying that creativity just happens, obviously. You do need
to sit down and type the screenplay, rehearse the part, pick up the
guitar to compose that song, pick up the brush to paint your canvas,
write the punch line to that joke. But stillness helps if, like me, you
have many ideas and donʼt know where to start. Stillness helps
create space in the middle of working on a project as well. Next time
you are struggling to find a solution in your work try taking a little quiet
time. When you return to the computer, the canvas or the piano you
might be surprised how easy things flow having taken some space.
The Quakers in their meetings have a practice of sitting in silence.
No one speaks unless absolutely compelled to do so, and then no
one is required to respond. This makes what is said all the more
powerful. And there is also great power in just sitting in silence.
Perhaps a better example than the corpse flower would be the lovely
night blooming jasmine that appears outside my window from late
February to late March. It surprises me every year, this beautiful
smell that transports me to when I first moved to Los Angeles. I
have lived here nearly twenty years and yet I forget about the night
blooming jasmine until one night in late winter I walk home and there
it is, that amazing aroma filling the air.
But the jasmine plant was there all along, growing and taking over the
fence knowing full well the blossoms would appear. The blossoms
were a foregone conclusion. The plant didnʼt forget, just me. And let
me tell you it is nice to be transported by the magic of that smell
every year.
We have stories and art in us, and some of these creations have
been there for a month or a year, some are from our childhood, and
some from generations before us that come from deep in our bones.
But great art comes from within. You can boost your creativity by
adding a little quiet to your creative process, whatever that may be. If
you are patient I bet you will discover magic appearing more often in
your work, and every now and then you might grow a crazy giant
bloom that people pay good money to see (hopefully one that doesnʼt
stink) or something more delicate but equally remarkable like the
night blooming jasmine.
Let your ideas and projects grow. Feed your creativity by listening to
good music, having fun conversations with friends, or going for walks;
whatever gets the juices flowing. Add a little stillness or meditation
practice to the mix. But mostly just trust that the magic will appear. If
it is there it will find itʼs way out and surprise you (and consequently
your audience or viewers) when you least expect it.

Dead Couch Season

It’s that time of the month when all dead couches end up on the curb.  How did they get there?  What will happen to them?  Better yet, where do they go?  I know in more than one instance a couple drags the couch to the curb to take to the other person’s apartment, probably because they split up, probably because of the stupid ugly couch, and then once the stupid ugly couch is on the curb and all it’s ugly sctratches, lumps, stains and sags are seen in broad daylight the sad couch is abandoned and left there on the curb to die, like the relationship.

I have four couches in my apartment and just ordered a daybed.  That’s right, I will have five couches.  Two mid century day beds (one white, one blue) one two-piece bright pink sectional, all naugahyde.  Why?  Because I have a problem, a mid century addition.  It started small with nesting tables, lamps and 1960’s barware.  Now I have a bar, shitloads of lamps, and yes, four couches.  I have a one bedroom 750 square foot apartment and I live upstairs. Don’t worry, most mid-century furniture has removable peg legs and two of the daybeds are stored upright in the closet at the moment. Still, that is too many couches. Even I admit it.

The new daybed will have a pull up trundle to convert it to a double bed (in case I am ever in a relationship again, ha!) and will not be naugahyde. I bought this daybed (totally different than the mid-century modern daybeds, an actual BED daybed) and sold my queen-size regular bed to move out of the bedroom and turn it into my art studio.  Do I sound crazy?  Can you follow this?  I am a little cray.  The obsession manifests itself in a healthy(?) way with my furniture, um, collections.

One OTHER couch was five pieces and three of those were sold when I bought the white mid-century modern naugahyde daybed to go with my two-piece pink sectional.  The five piece (sans two end pieces) sold for 200 but will be reupolstereed and sold for 2000, maybe 2500 even.  (Damn I wish I could reupolster.  I wish I could spell reupolster.)

One time I did reupolster the two-piece pink sectional with a bolt of awesome spanish style mid-century fabric in bold orange, pink and black (see photo.)  I basically staple gunned it to the couch.  It looked great but wasn’t great once sat upon.  That’s when Babaloo decided this was HIS couch.  It is now back to being pink.  A friend came over to buy it but Babaloo made sure that sale would not go through, and it didn’t.

That fabric is off now and it’s covered with pink blankets because those seat cushions are just so bad.  I painted over them then started peeling the paint.  It’s just a sad sight.  Which leads me to this: what to do with the pink naugahyde couch?

I looked into reupolstering it orange.  One place nearby quoted me 800 then a year later that price went up to 1300.  Such is the price of procrastination. I looked into verikote paint, which is 200 a gallon used on car upholstery.  (Damn there’s that word again.) The problem with this is I would have to clean all the peeling shiny stuff off for it to work.

I could cover it in colorful gaffers tape.  I considered actually weaving gaffers tape into a plaid pattern on it.  Now that IS crazy. All that sticky tape sounds like a real nightmare! Or I could graffiti it.  I think graffiti is the way to go, because clearly no one is buying this sad once amazing specimen off etsy or craigslist.

I think Babaloo has a spell on this couch (or maybe Gremlin the other cat) and won’t let it go. Since it is naugahyde he can’t scratch it and if he pees on it that will do no good – the pee would just slide off. But he put a spell on it somehow and I need to satisfy both our needs.  It’s time to graffiti it. Yes.

I could graffiti some clear vinyl and staple that over the couch, or I could get some friends to help me take it downstairs to paint it, and warn the neighbors a spray painting party is happening.  I could have a rad couch like one of these! What do you think?1604686_628454857203156_501868656_n tumblr_miu44c9exh1rjhyjwo1_500 graffiti-sofa graffiti-art-on-your-couchcouch with cats orange couch4 couch5

seeing can be disbelieving

I have been spending more time with my mom lately. The truth is she can’t see very well. I was the one brave daughter who told her I don’t want her driving anymore . I now have the lovely task of driving her to a myriad of doctor’s appointments. It’s a sad and cruel truth that as we get older we have to go to the doctor a lot. Who has time for such drudgery? You could say “retired old people.”  It hasn’t been so bad.  I have been enjoying the time we have together.  But today she said something I just cannot wrap my head around.

Today I took my mom to the eye doctor. We showed up for her appointment to find out her doctor had up and retired two weeks ago with no notice. Why didn’t anyone call her to tell her this before I bore two hours of traffic on the 405 and a mad dash to PCH to get to Irvine via Jamboree on time to prevent my mom from worrying too much? Would a phone call have been that much trouble?  We could have postponed this appointment. The optometrist gave her an exam anyway, and told her the left eye had improved. They took a photo of the inside of her eyes to show a real eye doctor later. The optometrist said she is okay to drive because the left eye is perfectly fine for driving if she feels okay to drive and can see well that day.

To pass the time waiting for her appointment we talked about the news. Hot topics besides my friend’s Indian Jewish wedding were Diana Nyad swimming the channel, and Ariel Castro comitting suicide in jail. My mom had heard about the heroic swimmer but not about the horrific predator.  I said It was quite a feat of timing on Castro’s part since they were checking on him every thirty minutes at staggered intervals. I told her he hung himself in his cell with his bed sheet.  She was impressed he could figure out the logistics in his cell.  But her next comment is almost too offensive to post here.  Yet I need to process this and I know she will never read my blog since she can’t figure out her computer. She said, in reference to the teenagers turned women he held in captivity and raped and abused for a decade, “Well, you know, none of those girls was very attractive.”

Silent pause then a quiet thud as my chin hit the floor.

I declared, “They were held captive for ten years! You can’t exactly expect them to look their best. They were cute when they were teens. They were pretty. Besides he didn’t choose them for their looks, he chose them because he knew them and could trap them. I can’t believe you said that!”

Pause.

My mom sheepishly said, “Well, maybe I just couldn’t see them very well.”

Failing sight issues aside I can’t believe her focus was on if the girls were attractive or not. How about the fact they were horrifically victimized, suffered all kinds of heartache over their losses, and yet somehow survived. Perhaps she was just trying to make gossipy conversation like she does with her buddies at the gym. But it was unconscionable. Does she really think this way? I hope my mom can gain some real insight as she loses her physical sight.

Whether they were attractive by society’s standards is not the issue. Women should not be abused, period.  Looks have absolutely nothing to do with this.

To me the most beautiful woman in the world is the 64 year old swimmer who after her fifth attempt to swim the channel between Cuba and Florida walked solo onto the beach in Key West with swollen lips and puffy eyes and abrasions on her cheeks and with slurred speech told us to never ever give up, you are never too old to reach your dreams, and it is not a solo sport, it’s a team.  Alongside Diana Nyad I include the three women in Cleveland, Michelle Knight, Georgina DeJesus and Amanda Berry.

Broadway Baby

One of my friends and fellow performers from my high school theatre days is making his Broadway debut this week.  It’s very exciting!  I once dreamt of being on Broadway, and I still do, though not so much as a performer but as a writer.  I went to Northwestern University.  A few writers I knew from there have been produced on Broadway.  Bruce Norris, John Logan. John Cameron Mitchell created Hedwig and The Angry Inch which i believe was Off Broadway.  John and I were classmates together.  He and I used to workout together.  We were the same size.  Our wrists and forearms measured exactly the same. I have lost touch with John but fondly remember our days together in writing workshop and acting class when we were kindred spirits for a short while. He gave me a writing book for my 21st birthday, Eudora Welty’s One Writer’s Beginnings.  It meant a lot to me and still does.  He is one of the first people to acknowledge me as a writer.

And this brings me to present day.  I need to write more and feed that monster, the writer in me. Writing is one of my greater gifts, so why deny it.?  I must keep writing.

There is more to say on this matter, of course, like the memory of my first trip to New York in High School and subsequent trips in college and after when I dated a writer from Saturday Night Live.  But I kind of just want to get off this blog and write Barbie’s Cousin the musical right now.  Right now!