Friday, December 31, 2004

New Year's Eve 2004

It's seven o'clock. I have no plans to go out tonight. I am watching Mulan, who is wearing her tap shoes, pitter and patter across the kitchen floor to the music playing inside her head. Oh my god, I love her so much.

This has been a very unusual Christmas/Winter holidays/New Year's for us. I am mostly, most often, in Spokane. Being with my father who I'm sure will die during the next year. But this year, he's already dead, so I am released from this bondage. Even though, I would give everything to have an evening with him.

In any case. Here we are. Family-less (well, dear beloved family member on the edge of death-less in any case) and we are not travelling for Christmas or New Years and I am not planning anything tonight except to write this. And have a fire with Mulan, and perhaps watch some Pee Wee's Playhouses tonight.

I have been on an organizing binge. I remember a time, a long time ago, when I lived on Sierra Bonita -- in a little garage apartment, four spaces big, when I was completely organized. I knew where everything was and everything was filed or in it's place and well...I have to say, it was a major psychological boost. Yes, a boost! Just being that organized. It's like it was a reflection of my mind. And I have to say, I think the organized nature of my apartment reflected the boom in creativity at that point. I was, of course, totally broke. And working as a bartender at a big hotel. But in many ways, I look back on this time as such a creatively fertile time. I thought up many of the characters I would eventually play, I constructed screenplays, made up scenarios, my mind was so free from the clutter of daily existence that it ran, unfettered for a long, long time. But since then, I have basically been just one step in front of disaster in terms of organization. I always have big boxes of I-don't-know-what and manila envelopes full of oh-my-I'm-about-to-have-a-dinner-party-and-let's-get-this-out-of-the-way kinds of stuff. And things have gotten lost and I've rebought things I already have and it's just been. well. bad. Yes, I would give me a C- or a D+. Not a good grade.

So this year, I sorta decided that I would take the two weeks of Christmas, where Mulan was out of school and I had no babysitter and there was no point in even trying to WRITE anything and I would really, truly, deeply get organized. And I have to say, I can barely stop myself from continuing on after the weekend. The last two days have been all about Mulan's bedroom and everything in it has a place of it's own. These two days have included two trips to IKEA to get organizing equipment. Clear plastic boxes for: 1.) barbies, 2.) brio train tacks 3.) Madeline and her outfits 4.) odd small toys. Oh, I am on a high of organization. The cds, finally organized. All Christmas music, downloaded! I bought new silverware, and new dishes -- in white and stark, plain stainless steele. I am clean and I know where things go! And things have a place! The newspaper, yes! It has a place! The mail, yes, it has a place! I have cards ready to address for thank-you's, I have stamps ready for bills, I have a spot for museum announcements. OHMYGOD, this is so the way to spend Christmas, just getting reorganized.

Okay. So, here I am on New Year's Eve and contemplating the year. It has been a very good year. Mulan is older and, actually, in many ways, easier and more enjoyable to be around. Parenting a kid at this age is less physically demanding, it's more of a psychological game now and I'm better at that. Or at least on most days.

Also, I finished my play this year. I remember after going to The Amazing Meeting last year in January -- James Randi's annual conference where I did a skeletal version of Letting Go Of God -- making a peronal promise to myself that I would get this show finished within the year --- really, really done, up in a theater and all that. And I did it. This gives me a lot of confidence about completing other things.

My New Year's resolutions for 2005 are:

1.) Lose 25 pounds (this is always on my list...but I feel this is the year!)

2,) Finish the book.

3.) Do more social type things. I feel I am always on task, always squeezing in a moment and then dramatically collapsing at the end of the day. And I want to do more fun, leisurely things this year -- go to more nice restaurants, see more people, actually....LINGER. Yes. I want to linger this year.

4. Read more books. I need to reinstate my earlier policy of having two books going at all times, one fiction, one non-fiction. I've reverted to my earlier habit of having five or six books going at once and then I don't end up finishing any of them. I need to really be more diciplined in the book arena.

5. Spend less money, and spend the money that I do spend more wisely. Man, this is a big one. I want to write down everything I spend in a book so I can look at it at the end of the day and just...think about it. Otherwise, money gets to be like food, you have no idea how it's surging out (or in, in the case of nourishment) and then, before you know it, bam! Not good.

6. Cook more. And cook less. You see, what I've been doing is buying a lot groceries for several vague recipies I have floating in my head. Then I never take the time to cook that food and it rots in the fridge while I exasperatingly run to a restaurant with Mulan for various meals. So, I'm going to take a more New York approach, which is to just figure that restaurants are going to be feeding your bulk of meals, and then have a lot of left-over take out and then really cooking something special a couple of times a week that is planned in advance, well planned and is special. Like get Mulan in on it. So you see, cook more and cook less. This leads me to...

7. More smaller dinner parties. My dear beloved friend Bob Blumer makes these wonderful meals for me (and sometimes Mulan) a couple of times a month when he's in town. And it's so great! And I"m used to having these big huge dinner parties with twenty people and I want to have a few smaller ones with just six to eight people and food I can fuss over a bit.

7. Visit Meg in Japan. I want to figure out how to get to Japan to see my sister and her husband. Maybe the end of March, on Mulan's school vacation. I want to travel farther south in Japan than I have before.

Okay, I am looking over my resolutions and they are so mundane and personal, but not personal in an intriguing way -- more of a BORING way, and honestly I feel I could just be anybody.

But maybe that's good. Why must I feel I need to be so...individual? I am typical in my new year's resolutions. And probably in my tendency to fail at my resolutions.

Ah well, into 2005. Here we come.

Sunday, December 26, 2004

Christmas survived and enjoyed

Mulan is sleeping. It's early morning on Dec. 26th. She got to come to the show last night. We sold out the show, actually oversold it, accidentally. It was really a special night. Mulan got to sing "Santa Claus Is Coming To Town" for the audience and they gave her a big applause. I watched her face as she got the applause. I know that's powerful stuff, and I almost feel guilty that I allowed her to get that kind of hit, that kind of drug, at such an early age. I remember when I was a kid, all I wanted to do was be a lawyer like my dad. It all seemed so glamorous. So, when I think about it like that, I think it's okay. It's natural for kids to have their first exposure to the world be through their parent's profession. On the other hand, I would hate to be setting her up for some kind of expectation about Hollywood. Ach -- she'll grow older.

Okay. Here's my situation. I am incapable of writing a short holiday letter and I always end up either not sending anything at the holidays or I write a long, three page letter and this, THIS is what always happens: I send it out to about half my list of friends. Then, I take a break and I start to look at the letter critically and think that I should not be sending this out to people. It should be funnier, more interesting, shorter, and I end up not sending the letter to a random half the people on my list.

And in the case of this year, what caused the delay, was me thinking of people who might be upset by my letter. Because, in my last paragraph I talk about my show, "Letting Go Of God." And I make some comments about how it's been surprising that I've had such a broad level of support for the show and how even some Rabbi's and Episcopal priests have come to the show. Which is all true. It's just that -- we'll here's what I don't like about it. I feel like I'm apologizing to the people who might be shocked that I have written a show about this topic and have the views I have -- I feel like I'm trying to make it a less-bitter pill -- like I'm saying: see!! Even religious people like it!

Okay, then what's now happening is what always happens. I start getting calls from people saying that they heard that so-n-so got a holiday letter from me, but they didn't and they want their letter! And now I'm feeling guilty and strange and sending out the second half of the letters reluctantly. I want to rewrite the whole thing, but I can't at this point. Oh! AND, then this morning I opened several letters from my most Catholic of friends and their holiday letters are full of their Catholic activism "This year we started a web-site for pro-life!" "This year we got into the jails to teach them about the St. Ignatious teachings!" And I don't know if I should send them my letter. Even though I feel angry that their holiday letter is filled with political activism diametrically opposed to what I feel should be happening. And my letter just mentions that I have a play in Los Angeles that deals with faith where I let go of...God.

So, I feel two opposite ways. I feel I shouldn't be pussy-footing around about my show to these Catholic friends. I feel I am justifying my show to them so it's not so shocking by adding the stuff about religious people liking the show. And I also feel a little confronted by my friend's relgio-political comments in their Christmas letters.

And the truth is, the people who are religious who like my show are of a very, very rare variety. They are those who are very open-minded or/and who come from a religion that is also an ethnic-culture, like Jews. The great thing that Jews have going for them, as far as I can tell from talking to people after the show, is that there is so much room for skepticism in their religion. And, even if they come to the conclusions that they don't believe in God, then they have their wonderful culture to still be part of. Where as with Catholics, it's not exactly that way. If you don't believe, you are basically out. You could never publicly acknowledge that and still be considered a Catholic. So, anyway, what I'm saying is -- there are some extenuating circumstances as to why the people who are religious still like my show, and I feel as if I'm using them and their attitudes to show people who are not so open minded that people like them would enjoy the show -- when that is not really the case at all. These people I am worried about sending my holiday letter to would not like this show at all.

Okay, I can hear what you're thinking: I'm overthinking this.Yes, you are right. I apologize. But I gotta say: wow. There's a lot of very relgiious people out there and they are organized and activated. I probably got 30 holiday cards from people, friends who I grew up with, who mentioned their political activism in their letter. Their conservative, right wing political activism. It all just makes me want to move to Washington D.C. and work for Americans United For The Separation Of Church And State.

All right. I'm going to send the letter to everyone today.

I am so impressed that the right, the conservative right, has been so good at exploiting the internet and media. You would think it would be the other way. The problem with those who believe as I do, who are skeptics or secular people, we don't have a God to motivate us. And God is a powerful motivator. If you really believe that there is a God out there who wants you to start a website for pro-life, for example -- that is potent. My political motivations come from reason and awareness, and that includes an awareness of the futility of fighting such an uphill battle against people who believe that they have a supernatural power behind them! But I can't let myself feel complacent or like it's not worth the frustration or work. I think I must galvanize myself to continuing to be active politically and find ways to reach people.

But, wait. How am I politically active? Well, I...I...give some money to the Democratic party and I to Move On and to various skeptic organizations. And...I guess...I'm doing this show, which I suppose is sort of political. But, jeez, I could do so much more.

I'm going to send out my holiday letters with pride! That's what I'm going to do! Yes!!!

Okay, I have another comment before I close up this blog post. I have had some comments after the show -- one in particular actually that really stuck in my mind -- and it was "Well, this is what's true for you." For me. True, for me. Like, truth is relative and if I don't believe in God, that's true FOR ME. But not true for others. Well, on the one hand, yes. Yes, that's true. If you believe in God, that belief is a true belief. And it probably affects the person who believes quite profoundly, I know it did for me. On the other hand, there either is a God or their isn't a God. Many people in the religious right complain that morality for non-religious people is relative. And just the idea that morality can be relative is upsetting to them (even though morality is clearly relative for them. At least those who support this war, for example, and also say they think the Ten Commandments should be posted in school rooms and in court houses which clearly forbids killing people.)

But what I'm getting at is that, for me, what is really offensive, is the idea that truth is relative. Truth, in large part, is not relative. Either something is true or it isn't. Instead of people saying, "This is true, for you," I wish they would say, "I think you are wrong." I freely and happily admit that I may be wrong. I may be very wrong. But it isn't true that we can all believe such diametrically opposing things and both be right. Yes, we can figure out how to live together in society, and we can not force our views on others, but we cannot both be right. I feel that when people say, "And that's what's true for you." They are trying to make it okay that we disagree. I already feel okay that we disagree. I think in order to live in community with others, we must tolerate direct disagreement. And that's why we live in such a great country where we tolerate all religous views. Or at least we theoretically do.

Okay, the other thing I want to say is that...I went to Church on Christmas. YES! I admit it! I wanted to hear some carols and I wanted Mulan to hear some carols and you know, I love churches -- well -- particular kinds of churches. So I took Mulan to a 10:30 p.m. service at St. James, this little Episcopal Church near my house. It was just lovely. The songs were mostly in latin, so we weren't needlessly upset by the meaning of the words in the songs. It was all very high Anglican. And as I sat there, I thought, wow, the churches, they really do it up right. I mean, this church was so lovely. The music was sublime - the choir's voices in perfect pitch. There were candles and people huddled together. Man, I really get it. It's really powerful, that place. That idea of hallowed ground and holy nights. And I think that's what we all yearn for. And those things are not intrisically tied up in belief, I don't think. I think it's about people, coming together in a tradition, wtih rituals and song and a common purpose. And I wish there were places where I could go where I didn't have to get the God stuff too. In the meantime, this little Episcopal church did the trick.

What I see, from my little perch, looking out at the culture, is a deep spiritual hunger that I find completly misdirected by religion. I am outraged too, just like the religious right. I am appalled by the deep consumerism in our society. I am as appalled by this as much as people are appalled that it's legal to have an abortion. I am outraged that people don't acknowledge what science and the scientific method has contributed to their lives -- that they pray for people who are sick instead of appreciate the long arduous history of experimentation and research in science that has allowed us to have the medicines to live. This appalls me at the deepest level. And I have a sense of armageddan too -- I feel that people who believe in the End Times will cause the End Times for all of us. And I feel that people who yearn for connection and history and community, mistakenly turn to religion to feed their spiritual needs. When seeing the world without the cloudy glasses of faith is a path to a deep awe and spiritual wonder at life. People want to feel connected and they want to feel that they are contributing to their society and they want to feel they are deeply good and moral. I think these are all human qualities that we all share. I feel this way. And I see others who feel this way -- most people feel this way. And the church has provided this for people for a long time. But I think they are also horribly wrong. And that keeping the truth from others, about our real state as animals on this planet who are supremely vulnerable and spectacularly lucky, keeping this truth from people is wrong in the deepest way possible.

Now, here I have gone on and on about religion again. I have had some people write to me and say, "Is this all you think about?" And of course I do not. But since I am doing this show now, I do think about it a lot.

On a more personal note: this is my first Christmas without my father. And I think about him so much. I really miss him terribly. On the other hand, I had a really nice Christmas. Not travelling anywhere just rocks! It was lesiurely around here. We got to have days of just organizing together (me and Mulan) and we went to some lovely Christmas parties with some dear old friends. I love my neighborhood so much. And Mulan is at the peak Christmas age -- being five. She got a violin and was so thrilled, she was just overwhelmed with joy. She's so into Santa Claus, it's just nuts. And I finally organized all my cds into these books and loaded many onto my computer. It's really thrilling, getting that project under control. I have about 2000 cds, culled down from about twice that many last year, and I am slowly putting them on my computer on a separate hard drive. It's really fun and I'm revisiting all these long lost cds that I love. Dave Edmonds! I forgot about Dave Edmonds! Today I have a matinee, but I'm still going to keep organizing in the dining room.

There are some fun possibilities in the future for the show, and decisions will have to be made during January. Maybe we will relocate to New York in the Fall and then we could go to Seattle for the summer, or maybe San Francisco. It's all very exciting.