Friday, April 29, 2005

Jury Duty postponed

I am writing a blog today because I feel if I leave that last blog entry up as my last blog entry, people who read it – which may be exactly two people or even no people at all, but still…people will think I’m constantly hysterical.

I did my usual hike with Arden today, three times around Runyon Canyon, about 7.5 miles and I feel great. And while I was walking I was thinking about how awful yesterday was and if I was just a wuss (is that how you spell that?) or if I really needed to make some changes in my life. And one thing I came up with was that I feel much better writing when I’m all exasperated and at the end of my rope. That’s when writing about my life is really great – in terms of doing something for me. I feel I get perspective, closure, I read what I’m writing and it has a weight that just thinking about it doesn’t give. I “get it all out” when I write about my frustrations. But when I’m feeling happy and content and on top of my life, I don’t have the urge to write, nor the payback that writing gives me. So it means that I naturally tend to write when I’m feeling…well, like I’m feeling frustrated or at wit’s end or on the edge of collapse or something. And I have to say, this gives a very incorrect view of my life.

Which of course, not to say, that everything in my life goes so perfectly all the time. I mean, duh.

So, I called this morning and got my jury duty postponed until the May 9th. And I said, “But I’m a single mom and my daughter is in afternoon kindergarten and I don’t have a babysitter who I can have come at 6:45 a.m. (when I would have to leave the house) and the woman said, “We do not accept your excuses.” That was all, “We don’t accept your excuses.” And I said, “But I’m a sole proprietor of a business and in fact, at the moment I’m working at night and I have to get ready during the day and no one else can do this job.” And she said, “We have reviewed your request and it has been denied.” And I said, “But what if I don’t find a babysitter to come to my house at 6:30 in the morning (notice how the time is getting earlier – okay I’ll be accurate: 6:45 in the morning) and I have to bring my daughter with me to the Court? And the woman said, “The State of California expects that you can make arrangements to have your obligations fulfilled including childcare. Children are not an excusable reason.” And then she said, “If you do not show up at the courthouse at 8:00 a.m. on May 9th and if you cannot stay all day and be prepared to join a jury, you will be fined $1,500.00”


Anyway, I will figure it out.

But I spent a lot of my hike today thinking of moving back to Spokane. I had a fantasy last week of moving back to Seattle, but it’s really too expensive. Seattle is as expensive as L.A. and I don’t have nearly as many employment opportunities. Spokane would be less expensive, I love the town, I have family there and lots of dear old friends whom I would love to spend more time with. It would be moving back into a much more religious community, but maybe that’d be all right. In fact, I actually meet more people who have definite opinions about religion, both positive and negative in a place like Spokane, since religion is not something you can completely avoid, like you can here in Los Angeles. A lot of my friends don’t ever even think about religion one way or the other, here. On the other hand, I feel I’m at the end of my NO-GOD campaign. I’m looking forward to this show getting filmed and then the book and then, I hope it’s just something I move on from. Not my opinions, mind you. Just the whole whipped up topic.

Even though, I have to say, I have been loving Los Angeles lately. I love my neighborhood. And I have dear friends in my neighborhood. And I love the public school that Mulan is going to. And on Monday night, this last Monday, I went to the Henry Fonda Theater for the L.A. Weekly Awards, where I was a presenter and for which I was nominated for Best Solo Performance. (I didn’t win…) The Groundlings got a lifetime achievement award and my friend Patrick Bristow was directing the awards show and many of us alumni from the Groundlings were presenters. And I had the greatest night talking to people. I spent a lot of time talking to Cassandra Peterson and Paul Reubens and Andy Dick and they are such amazing wonderful, lovely, people. And I spent time with all these old friends that I really consider family and who I feel so comfortable around: Tim Bagley, Mike McDonald, Loraine Newman, Tracy Newman, Tim Stack, George McGrath, Mike Hitchcock and Jennifer Coolidge who I presented with and who is one of the funniest women alive. (If my friend Wendy Goldman had been there I would have probably died from happiness.) I had such a good time. When I walk into the Groundlings, I feel so happy. I can’t be unhappy in that theater. And I like having that place down the street, the theater that totally gave me my life, started me out as an actress, taught me how to be a working actress, where I met so many wonderful funny people who I expect to know my whole life. Who I want to keep up with, who I want IN my life. And on Monday it was just so much fun, so relaxed. You know, we’ve all had a little success and we’ve all been knocked around a bit and we’re all, well let’s face it: older. But it makes things so much better! And lots more fun. So…Los Angeles, or Spokane, that’s the question I’ve got going at the moment.

What a quandary.

Mulan is studying Q words. I suggested quandary and then I had to explain it. I said, “Like you want to play dolls and you want to draw and you only have time to do one, then it’s a quandary.” And she said, “But I have time to do both.” And I thought, Oh, to be five again. Yes, she does have time to do both. Time doesn’t present quandaries to her, it’s infinite. And then I said, “But the word also means uncertainty – like should you apologize for sitting down in your violin class while your dear teacher was trying to show you something or should you just pretend it didn’t happen.” And she said, “I don’t remember sitting down.” And I said, “Well, you did.” And she said, “I want a popsicle.” And that was the end of Quandary.

Okay, if I get a chance there are two things I want to write for the website this weekend. One is: Why I am not a Christian. The other is: If you are a Christian who wants to write to me, please read this first.

Thursday, April 28, 2005

Jury Duty


OKAY, my friends were right. My conservative, stay-at-home mother friends, many of who live in Spokane and whom I’ve known my whole life. Who were very supportive, but skeptical and tried not to be worried about me when I announced that I was going to become a single mother by choice and adopt a baby. One of them even said to me, “It’s best that the mother stays at home.” And oh how I resented that comment. I figured they lived in the olden days and that they didn’t understand how a big city gal like me would handle it.

Oh I was so naïve. Oh they were so right. So, this is what I think: I don’t think it matters what the sex is of the parents, but I think there should be two parents. Or I should say two adults. And I don’t think it matters what the sex is of the parent who is primarily responsible for a child, I just think someone, some adult should be. CAUSE IT’S A FULL, FULL, TIME; OVER-TIME job, without being distracted with things like…oh…a JOB. Like an actual job. Like a job that brings in money, not just the kind that wipes you out like never before and doesn’t earn you a cent.

I do not have regrets. Becoming a mom was absolutely the best thing I ever did. By far. By an enormous margin. I am a completely different person for having become a mother. For example, I am much less judgmental of others and I appreciate my own parents a lot more and I don’t think I’m good at everything anymore and I don’t think anything is easy.

May I please rant a little bit? Okay. I HATE it when women tell me that they are just like single mothers because their husbands work so many hours. This just drives me bananas. That is not like being a single mother. That’s like being a mother who gets to be a mother full time. That means that you get to do what I wish I could do, which is just be the mom. Also, these women don’t realize that their husbands, even if they don’t do anything at all in terms of child rearing or anything around the house, they don’t realize that they can actually get up early and go to the grocery store while their child sleeps. Because most of these women, I would imagine, trust their husbands at least to sleep in the house with their child and have their child remain unharmed. But I cannot do that. Or, if the dog hasn’t been walked all day and he’s going crazy, I bet, after their kids were in bed they would trust their husband to keep the fort down for an hour while he watched TV so she could walk the dog. Or even, I dare say…walk the dog himself? And I imagine these husbands who are described as doing nothing DO do things like talk to the insurance man about how much life insurance to get – something that seems like nothing, a little conversation, a momentary decision, but if you try to have this conversation while you are making someone’s lunch and helping them with math homework IS HARD AND DIFFICULT. It even renders the person unable to come up with better adjectives than “hard” and “difficult,” even if you are a writer who is supposed to have good adjectives, because JEZHUS CHRIST you are trying to make a lunch with vegetables in it that a kid will actually eat and isn’t over processed and isn’t full of sugar.

Okay, I feel better.

No, not yet.

Plus, I have to say, parenting gets harder, not easier. When Mulan was a baby, she cried a lot and she stumbled a lot and I did drink more from the sheer boredom of babyhood, but it was not psychologically exhausting, it was physically exhausting. Plus, if she were with the babysitter for one hour or twelve I don’t think she really knew it. Plus, if I did take her with me to work, I could have an adult-work-conversation with someone because all Mulan needed to be occupied was to be bounced up on down on anyone’s lap. But now she has opinions and conversations and she wants to know what I’m talking about and she has her own classes and teachers who want to talk to me because her tap shoes are now too small and did I leave the $15 for the skirt for African dance class yet??? I am nearly cross-eyed at the end of every day. I barely get in one treat a day, and that treat is to watch Jon Stewart from eight to eight thirty and then Mulan goes to bed and I follow about five minutes later.

I used to think I was going to stay up and watch movies after my child went to bed, or have long flirtatious phone conversations with some potential future dad of Mulan or write my novel. But no, I crap out about ten minutes after Mulan. And in those ten minutes I scramble to get the dishwasher filled and I try to figure out what’s going to go in her lunch box the next day because one thing I never realized was that after one lunch, there’s another one just around the corner, the next day!!! And every day there’s going to be a lunch. One lunch after another until I drop.

And now I have to run because I’m selling treats at Mulan’s school from 2:15 to 3:45, and I only do this every other week, so it’s not like I’m complaining, it’s like the least, the very very, very, very least I can do. And then I bring her home and then we have another hour of homework and then we will, possibly, practice violin for ten minutes and then it’s off to dance class.

And while she’s dancing I will finish the book I’m writing. Except I could be falling asleep.

Also, for the record. I am so OVER GOD. Over it, over it. So, there’s no God. So fucking what? I mean – don’t get me wrong, I am still thrilled to do my show, I am so excited to do my show, I think it’s the best work I’ve ever done and I’m thrilled every single time I walk out on stage that there are people there to hear it. But…on the God front. I just…I can’t get into another discussion about it. I don’t even feel a-theist anymore, more like post-theist. Like realizing there is no God is step one, not even step one. And you have no idea how many conversations I have to have about GOD!!! God is a quark and if I only read the Bible the Jehovah’s Witness way or did I ever think that maybe God started the Big Bang? Oh wow, yeah, so God could have started the Big Bang, I never thought about that, I take it all back – you are right – Jesus is the son of God and he came to earth during the pre-literate (practically) pre-scientific (practically) late-Bronze age to tell us to be good to each other. And of course, his dad started the Big Bang! If only I would have realized that, I would be Catholic. Or Evangelist. Or whatever. And of course God came up with the idea of evolution, the most wasteful, painful, horrifying, cold, merciless way to come up with a human being, which He “guided” only over the course of a mere five hundred million years through lots of other species. What a brilliant God-like way to get a human being! AGH. If I never talk about God again, it will be okay. I have no interest in convincing anyone about God anymore, just no interest in it. I say, look, if you are an adult and you think you’ve weighed the evidence and think there’s a good chance that there’s a God, good luck to you. In fact, I will march to D.C. by foot to make sure you have every right to believe the things you want to, as long as you don’t require me or my child to believe those things as well. G’head. Believe whatever crazy-ass no-evidence-for-it thing you like. The sky is bright red and Martians live in the ground. Fine! My evidence doesn’t add up that way. But if yours does, then, just please don’t live near me or keep telling me about it.

This is my dream. I just want to spend a lot of time in nature. But comfortable. Like, with temperature control. But not extreme temperature control. But you know, comfortable. And I want to look at the sky at night. I want to look at stars. And I want conversation with smart people who are also old friends. And I would like to eat something nice that someone took time to prepare. And that someone could be me. Cause I really miss cooking. I mean cooking like I used to cook, before I was just trying to get something on the table in fifteen minutes and what-do-we-even-have-in-the-refrigerator type of cooking.

Sometimes I really feel I could drop out. Like, majorly drop out. Like really move somewhere far away and just stop listening to the radio, stop getting upset about the Supreme Court or the religious right taking over America and stop fearing the coming climactic catastrophes and stop knowing how many people believe the most outlandish things that will contribute to our own human extinction. Just turn off the radio and the TV and just wander around in some remote place and concentrate on things like…what to have for lunch. Today and then tomorrow and the next day.

And oddly, that’s sort of what my daughter does for me. So, see, she’s so good for me after all.


Okay, now I’m back from snack shop and you know what? I don’t even really want to be a full time mom. I mean, I don’t mind the mom part of it, but I don’t want to go and hang out at the school – or I should say, I don’t feel I fit in with the other full-time moms either. I know, boo hoo, poor me. And these women are wonderful, amazing, I appreciate what they do more than ever before.

But the enormous volunteering, the organizing of benefit events, the getting of gifts to sell at the fair, it’s just not at all up my alley. And I usually try to just give a donation and say to myself, well, that’s the end of it, that’s what I can do. But then somehow, by osmosis or by guilt or just by people asking me what I’ve gotten together to sell at the fair, I end up doing that part too. That makes me again, the dad and the mom. I remember when I first started earning some money, how when, like it came to family things, I saw how the breakdown usually worked. Usually, the man is the money-maker and he gives the money – money for a nurse or to bail someone out of a bad situation, or pay the bill for the big fancy dinner with the family. And then that person, that person who paid for it got to sit back and let his wife do all the interactive, nurturing, listening, graciousness part of the job. Because after all, he paid, right? And if he wants to space out in front of the TV after Thanksgiving and let the women clean up, well that’s fine because after all, he paid for the dinner, or the whatever, right? But I have to do both jobs. I have to contribute the money and then on top of it I’m expected to do the things that the people do who have only their time to contribute, not their money.

I’ve got to get some grip on this.


Okay, I feel much better. First of all, I just took a long bath with Mulan. And we skipped her dance class and just lounged and read books. Mulan can almost read, it’s quite astonishing and wonderful. And I feel a lot calmer and happier with my life. I love my house and how we can sort of see the sun go down over the apartment houses across from us, and I’m feeling very lucky that I don’t have to talk to anyone else besides Mulan.

Plus, I’m on Jury Duty this week and every night I’ve called in and the automatic response tells me (my group number) not to show up. But tonight I called in for my last night of possible duty for tomorrow and it told me to show up! And it’s just so…almost…the straw that is breaking the camels back – it’s so ludicrous. I tried to get out of it by saying that I was a sole proprietor of a business and totally forgot that I was a mom with a child in kindergarten who has no one else to pick her kid up after her three hours of school each day and I just started laughing. Because I absolutely cannot go to this courthouse near the airport tomorrow, it’s just impossible. I would have to take Mulan with me. And we’d have to leave the house at like, 7:00 a.m. And somehow, this ridiculous extra-addition to tomorrow (besides the fact that I have, y’know…a show tomorrow night and a set to put up and all that goes into getting the show up for the weekend) made me just lighten up about EVERYTHING. Like, you can only laugh now. There’s no pain or frustration or feeling hassled. It’s just so…life. I guess here I am in life. And it’s really pretty much too much a lot of the time.

Wow, I hope I don’t get fined $1,500.00 for not showing up. Maybe I will show up.


Or maybe the fuck-it part of my personality will rear it’s ugly head and I just won’t and I’ll wait and see what happens. Or maybe there’s a phone number I can call and just LAUGH into the recording about the possibility of me reporting for Jury Duty tomorrow.

Or maybe I’ll just…go. And do my DUTY.

Doo Tee.

Thursday, April 21, 2005

Well, it IS Pope Ratzinger

My friend Hal Bidlack wrote me today and asked me to blog something about the new Pope. And so Hal, here you are! These words are a little jumbled as I have my five year old climbing on me while I write them.

My views on the new Pope, for anyone who might care about that:

My friend Jamy Ian Swiss always says that the best dramatic events are both surprising and inevitable. And I guess Razinger’s win as Pope fits that nicely. How naïve I was to think it could have been anyone else. And yet, it seemed impossible that he would be Pope. If this were a movie, he would be cast as the hard-lined antagonist and he never would win. I guess, living in Hollywood, my bets are off because I’ve been lulled into a sense of the dramatic positive ending actually happening outside of the movies. Or maybe it’s just that old pesky optimism rearing it’s raw, under-experienced head again.

On the other hand, what do I care? I don’t even think there’s a God, so what difference could it make to me? Well, because there are a lot of Catholics that I care about. Because there’s one billion people out there who are affected by this choice. And because people like Ratzinger can influence life and death in my lifetime. And, because I have a special love for Catholicism (a special not-love too) and I can’t help myself from being interested in the machinations, the politics, the influence that it has on our world. It’s like a family that you’ll never quite be away from. It’s always there to offer comfort, reminiscences, and a renewal of my conviction that it’s all a bunch of bunk. And with the Pope being reelected, the drama is inviting. So…there’s my excuse.

Okay, on the one hand, it makes no difference if he’s Pope. Probably, anyway. He was so much a part of JP II’s worldview; it’s like Cheney becoming president. What difference would that really make? In a way, it’s quaint. I think of people like Cheney and Ratzinger as people who would never want to be the front piece, the focal point. Because they know the real power is BEHIND the throne. So, in any case, Ratzinger is just a continuation. What is sad for me is that this Pope will continue to destroy the gains made during Vatican II, and countless children will be born under his watch that have AIDs because of the Church’s policy about condom use for those with AIDs, and countless children will be born in poor countries to people who cannot afford them and those children will not have the chance for basic needs and education and enough social structure to give them a good chance in life – let alone what the population, the extra population on the earth due to the Catholic policy – is going to contribute to the destruction of a habitat that will allow all of us humans to survive over the coming centuries.

I hate that this Pope will do nothing about the abuse that is rampant in the church due to it’s dark-ages view of sexuality and misunderstanding of basic biology. I hate that lots more boys and girls will be molested than otherwise would be if a Pope who made some basic changes had been elected instead. And of course, I hate that this Pope will help to create much new human life and then make sure they live with a medieval view of their place in the world, never allowing them to experience what I think is what is most truly human and unique about us: our ability to see our place on this planet and in this known universe as aware animals, lucky animals with a lot of real knowledge and the truth about death. I guess there’s no Pope that I can imagine being elected that would make that kind of change! So, that’s just wishful thinking. But I do feel sad about all the new children who will be born because of the Catholic Church’s view on birth control, and then told a lie, a lie about death and about life. And I am sad for all the little girls who will be born with as much potential as anyone else who will watch man after man after man stand on the altar and tell her how God doesn’t want her voice at Church, except in song or in agreement or at the bake sale counter. And Ratzinger is someone who will prevent any progression in this regard for maybe another generation. Yeah, that’s possible. Another whole generation.

But here’s what might be good or at least interesting about Ratzinger. According to my friend Kevin Gunn, who I got to talk with on the day of the election, and who did the Pope Watch bios that I put on my site, Ratzinger and all those other conservative Cardinals hated communism. Well, I mean, we all know that. But why? Mostly because of the association often made between communism and totalitarianism. It’s always been so curious to me, the Church’s stand on communism. If you read the Bible, outside of a couple of passages, and one parable that I can think of, Jesus is constantly admonishing people to give up everything they have for the poor right and left. Jesus would TOTALLY have been a communist.

I am personally not a communist because I think it doesn’t work. I think we aren’t that altruistic in our nature, and the incentive to work for our own personal gain is too good an incentive to let go of. Witness: every communist country and government. In any case, JP II and Ratzinger (I just can’t say Benedict…yet…but I will, by the end of this blog…I swear!) have been credited with helping to collapse communism. But the truth is that they hate capitalism just as much as communism. And they particularly hate capitalism as practiced by one particular nation: US. And maybe Ratzinger can get somewhere on that, put pressure on economic policy that impacts the third world. They hate poverty and even though the church fuels poverty with their birth control stance, maybe they can do something on the policy end that might make a difference. So, there’s one good thing.

Also, they hate the war in the Middle East. And maybe Ratzinger can make a difference there. In fact, this is what I have the most hope for. That Ratzinger can help with the bridge between Muslims and Christians. I mean, I don’t know how much headway we can expect on this front from a person who has repeatedly said that the road to redemption is held only by Catholic Christians, and through no other way. But still, maybe there’s some hope there.

And maybe he’s craftier than any of us think. Maybe his conservative stance was a ruse that would set him up in the power seat to make some real change in the church for the better. Nah…

I am sympathetic to Ratzinger’s hard-line ethical approach, just not the things he’s hard lined about. My loss of faith caused me to become much more conservative rather than liberal. In the Catholic Church, the liberation theology movement, that Ratzinger has spent so much of his time dismantling, destroying, and fighting against, has an ideology that God is within everyone. We are all God’s children is their creed. No matter what race, or what religion. And this comes from the idea that people are basically good and pure and wonderful simply because they are human and a child of God. This was the sort of Catholicism that I was immersed in in my last two years of high school, by the particularly liberal Jesuits who taught there. God was a concept and heaven was an instant out of space and time and maybe just an idea and everyone was intrinsically good and graced by God. And this view has often been accompanied by a more relaxed and relativistic view of the traditional moral code. And that’s where I think it can, CAN, go wrong.

I mean, I love that worldview, that everyone is equally good and God-like, but I also think it’s hopelessly naïve. I’m not saying that I don’t think that every human being has worth and merit and isn’t intrinsically valuable simply by the fact that they are human. I do think that. But I can see how this idea isn’t going to work in a world where you want people to conform to a social code that is rigid and branded, like Catholicism is.

In any case, the liberation theology movement doesn’t put Catholicism in a place better than other ideologies. And Cardinals like Ratzinger have pushed against this open-minded approach by saying that a strict reading of the rules of the church is necessary for redemption.

And why this is similar to my world view is that, while I do not think Jesus was the son of God or that Catholicism has any particularly good road to the afterlife, I do think that a stricter rather than a more relaxed adherence to a social code is necessary for a society like ours with so many people in it, to work best. I am fairly conservative in my judgments of morality. I believe in rigorous honesty, which is very difficult. I believe that we are responsible for the world’s poor and I believe that we must all contribute to the collective society. I believe that each child should have an equal chance at success. I think that laws should apply to everyone and that certain groups or corporations should not be treated differently than other groups or corporations. I believe that commitments should be held to. I could go on and on, but what I’m saying is that I do not have a relaxed moral code. And I personally don’t think anyone should and that our society should shape and encourage people to adhere to a strict moral code. I don’t think we are all born intrinsically good. I think we have a mixture of social and anti-social behavior that is inbred in us and that our communities and families shape these innate tendencies inside of us so that we can function well in society. We must be taught compassion. Anyone who doesn’t think that this is the truth should go visit on Kindergarten recess break and see what it’s like. You have to teach kids not to bonk each other on the head and take things, and not to be aggressive or ostracize some kids.

So, in this convoluted, desperate way, I am similar to Cardinal Ratzinger in my a-theology. I am more conservative than liberal in this particular way. And I can see how Ratzinger, like almost all of the other Cardinals, might be afraid of a looser structure without strict adherence to a moral code. It’s just that….I disagree with much of the particular moral code they promote. That’s the only difference.

Wow, am I desperate to find something to relate to in the new Pope.

On a final note: I have to say, when Pope Benedict 16th came out on the balcony and waved, I was carried away by his genuine smile. I mean, I have never ever ever seen Ratzinger smile. But Pope Benedict 16th was smiling. He seemed over the moon. And I couldn’t help but feel happy for him. I mean, this is a dream come true for him, probably more than sixty years in the making. And his smile made me smile. I couldn’t hate him anymore. Honestly, I just was won over. Even though I know that some of the worst people are the most likeable, and that smiling and getting your dream does not make you a person I need to like, still, I was happy for him. I am interested to see what he does. In an odd way, it felt, in that instant when he waved, like the Catholics were actually taking a step forward.

And I get all caught up in the pomp and circumstance. Even though I hate it, the majesty of it, the middle ages-ness of it, the beauty and old-world of it, gets me every time. I really wished I were a priest and could be standing under some gothic archway discussing the new pope in Rome or even at some Catholic University. I wanted to be in the club again.

Thursday, April 07, 2005

Back home.

We are back home. It’s one thirty in the morning and we are awake like it’s noon. Mulan, with a fever, is watching cartoons on TV and I am here in the kitchen eating yogurt and cereal. Oh jeez, I hope she doesn't get sick.

The trip to Japan was so much better than I expected it to be. I mean, of course I didn’t expect anything awful, but it just really exceeded my expectations. Meg and I had, probably, the best time we’ve ever had together. It was fantastic being able to travel with her and Mulan. Meg and I really got to have some long, long talks and even get some difficult topics between us worked out. She’s in a great place right now in her life. She’s happily married and her career is going well. She’s sort of seeing what her life is. And that’s true for me too. Our lives are not in the future anymore, it’s now. Maybe this is what happens to everyone in their mid-forties. Or maybe this feeling has extra oomph from me suddenly realizing that this is it, there’s no hereafter, no predestination in any sense, no living for tomorrow. Kenny Lonnergan had a play in New York called, “This Is Our Youth” – which was great, it was all about a few college kids after they graduated and had to go out in the world. And I keep thinking about that title about my own life: This is your life. This is your life. This is what happened. These are your friends. This is your child. This is your family. This is who you turned out to be. This is your story. It’s not in the future. It’s now. And now. And now.

It’s really powerful and makes me relax deeply. I am so much more present than I used to be. Wow, I’m really sounding Oprah-ish right now, so I’ll knock it off. Jeez. Maybe writing a blog in the middle of the night is not a good idea. Oh fuck it.

Okay. There’s a couple of wonderful moments in Japan I have to get down. One was at the spa in the Iya Mountains. We all went up to this little traditional Japanese hotel in the mountains. And they had hot springs and there was a little wood cable-car that lifted people up to the springs to take a bath. Of course, there was a women’s side and a man’s side. We could have signed up for a family bath, lots of families did. But we stuck to our gender, I mean, I don’t think it would be all that relaxing for me to hang out naked in a hot tub with my sister’s naked husband. Call me old fashioned.

Anyway, Meg and Mulan and I entered the women’s side and there were these five young girls in the hot springs. The springs have rock all around them and are very natural looking. Cherry blossoms were around the edges and it was all very rustic-Japanese. So as we entered these five girls, who were the only people in the bath, all giggled a little and commented to each other, in Japanese of course. Meg said they were saying that Mulan was so cute. The girls looked to me to be in their early twenties, and they were all so wholesomely beautiful, all had long black hair back in a chignons. The image I first had of them was startling, like we’d stumbled upon a gaggle of giggling wood nymphs or lounging goddesses or something. It was like we’d wandered back in time and we were the first foreigners they had ever seen and we were in the harem’s private bath. Their beauty was overpowering. I couldn’t believe they were real. Meg and Mulan and I got in the water and they departed after about ten minutes. But I continued to think of them, that startling image of five young beautiful naked Japanese girls lounging under bursting cherry blossoms. It was a moment out of time.

Later, we all went to dinner and we were all wearing the bathing kimonos that they give you when you arrive and which you are expected to wear the entire time you are at the hotel. And I looked down the row of guests, it was actually quite comforting to see us all dressed exactly the same, and there were the five girls, all sitting perfectly on their knees, sipping sake with such delicate precision and they looked at us again and slightly bowed their head in acknowledgement. I’ll never forget them.

Okay, here’s another great moment. Meg and Mulan and I went to Nikko, which is a town 80 miles north of Tokyo. We went to visit these ancient temples and shrines which sit in a huge wooded area. There are a few structures dating from the eighth century, but the biggest temples and shrines are from the seventeenth century. It’s all set in an enormous park with enormous tall, very, very tall trees. It’s actually thickly forested. The entire area is protected, and it’s 540 acres. We only wandered through a small part of it, of course. There were old, very old stone lanterns. And quaint, Chinese-styled bridges, and magnificent entryways.

The other temples I visited in Japan were actually sort of depressing to me. I mean, they sell all kinds of garish stuff: fortunes and incense and little trinkets that are awful. This time to Japan, I really saw the temples as more of a money making place than anything else.

But at Nikko, it was different. It actually had a feeling of sacred, and ancient, and there were no charms for sale, and it was cold and vibrant. Anyway, Meg and Mulan and I got there late, around 5:00 in the afternoon, when this part of the park is closing. And it was really cold, much colder than it had been anywhere else we had traveled. There was even some residual snow around in between the temples. And the guard told us to go ahead and wander around but that we couldn’t go inside anything because they were closing. And so we spent an hour just wandering around this wonderful place. Monks were closing the temples and they wore these beautiful kimonos, bright blue with a white jacket and the hair on the women was long and in one straight braid and the men head’s were shaved. And there was no one, and I mean this, no other person besides the monks and us. And we wandered and lingered and daydreamed and chatted as we strolled through this forest of trees and among these magnificent temples and gates and lanterns.

I have been to Kyoto several times and every time the temple was so thronged with people taking pictures that it wasn’t possible to get any sense of the temple itself. You just ended up gawking at all the other people gawking. But this was so private and beautiful. The knowledge that these structures had been there for so long, that they were so lovingly made, and delightful to lay eyes on, and Meg and I drifted in and out of conversation and Mulan skipped along ahead of us.

The other wonderful moment I had in Japan was in Tokyo. We really didn’t plan our trip as well as we could have. Well, I should say “I” because I was the one who wanted to go to both Nikko and Tokyo in three days, which I now see really cheats both places. We should have stayed at Nikko longer or skipped it and spent some time in Tokyo. In the end, even though Nikko is only 80 miles away from Tokyo, it took the better part of a day to get there, buses, trains, subway, taxi. But we got to our hotel just as the workday was finishing on Tuesday, and all these throngs of people, much bigger crowds than in New York, left work. And we went down and stood near a big crossing corner where everyone could cross diagonally or any which way, and it was thrilling. And the people were so fashionable, and good looking, and hip and sophisticated. I really felt like a doughy girl from Spokane, mouth agape, staring at all the cool kids. We ended up just standing there for a while, watching people. And that was the best moment of Tokyo. The next morning, before our flight home, we went down to hunt for blooming cherry blossoms, and we watched all the salarymen – that’s what they call all the male office workers, on their way to work. They are all practically in uniform, dark suits, white shirts, dark ties, moused, shaggy hair and an earring. And then an hour later, here came all the shopgirls, trendy and young, wearing the latest fashions, weary from a night partying. It’s really pretty sexually delineated like that too. It was odd, like seeing the future and the past all at the same time.

I realized I wish I could have spent at least five days in Tokyo. The way we worked it, we had about five hours to do what we wanted to. We went to a children’s museum and that was about it. And Nikko, I could have easily spent a week in Nikko. They have all kinds of hiking through those woods with trails and little places to camp, even. Oh, I could have spent so much more time there.

And of course, the food. The meals at the hotels were great. And when we were out on the go, we got these fish on sticks that they cook near charcoals on the street. Mulan especially loved those. And then, I have to say, one of the best meals I had of all was actually on the plane ride home. And Mulan ate almost everything, she was amazing. Few five year olds would be so open minded, I am sure.

And Meg really made the trip extra, extra memorable. She organized everything and was so generous when we were in Tokushima, she and Tsuyoshi paid for every single thing, drove everywhere. I was so worried, thinking how zonked out I would be in a similar situation here in L.A. And traveling with family with a child is TOTALLY the way to go. Not that being with Meg without a child, which I have done many wonderful times, is not also delightful. But I am feeling, understanding rather, the huge advantage being with family is when you have a child.

Whenever I’m with any adult here in Los Angeles, the childcare it totally my responsibility. Completely. Well, with one exception of one very close friend. And, anyway, this is as it should be. When I used to hang out with my friends who had kids I never took it upon myself to participate in their kid’s parenting or looking out after their kids in any way. I figured that was their responsibility. But with family, it’s different. They have a vested interest in this child and they expect to have a relationship with this child for years and it’s of benefit to them. And it makes everything so much easier. When we were all with Mulan, especially when we were with Tsuyoshi, three adults and one child, we could always dip into a conversation with Mulan or getting her something to eat or whatever she needed and it never felt obligatory or wearying, we all just traded off. And it made all our little trips so easy! Mulan did so well too. She had about three mini-tantrums on the whole eleven-day trip and those were mostly at the end and after a long day of traveling. And they didn’t last very long.

I realize that I am very much beginning to favor visiting people who also are interested in knowing Mulan. With many of my friends, and some of my closest old friends, our relationships are more difficult because of their disinterest in Mulan. Not that they aren’t interested at all, it’s just…well, I can’t judge them harshly because I was exactly the same way before I was a mother. I totally totally didn’t get it. The only kids I really kept a relationship up with were my niece and nephew. And I don’t even expect my friends to be sincerely interested in Mulan, I don’t think they even should be. All I’m saying is that when you are around people you like, who also have a vested interest in your child, it is GOLDEN. What a great trip all around.

Now, I just have to finish my book.

Oh dear.
I did read a wonderful book on the trip. In fact, I cannot believe I haven't read this book before.

It's Mary McCarthy's "Memories of a Catholic Girlhood." Christopher Hitchens recommeded it to me after he saw my show, Letting Go Of God. I haven't read any Mary McCarthy, which is ridiculous, how could I have missed her? Anyway, this book is so good. Her prose is so powerful, her sentences so well, so well -- well I guess you can see that I do not even have the vocabulary, not to mention the art, of contructing a sentence that even describes her writing. wonderful? beautfiul? startling? hilarious? all sound trite. What a great book. I actually read it twice. The last chapter is about her grandmother and her grandmother's sister and it made me cry, reading it while I was with Meg. Wow, now I want to read everything she ever wrote.

Friday, April 01, 2005

The dog stays in the picture.

I'm in Japan, in Tokushima, visiting my sister, Meg. It's about six a.m. and I am up and everyone else is sleeping. I've been in Japan five days now and I'm still not totally adjusted to the time change. Although, actually I am, since my preferred time to go to bed is nine thirty or ten and I love to get up early. So, maybe I have adjusted, I'm just in my unusual off-schedule with everyone else in spite of time changes.

In any case, here I am. Meg lives with her husband, Tsuyoshi, in a small, traditional Japanese house on the outskirts of Tokushima on Shikoku Island, south of Osaka. Most of the houses in her little area have small gardens and the streets are really narrow. There is a school down the street from her and that means in the mornings school children usually run by in their blue sailor uniforms and red backpacks. But we are here during their spring break, so I am missing the usual morning throng. But this is the first time I’m here for the cherry blossoms to bloom. Every morning we take a walk with my sister’s dog, Blue, a small black pug. And we look at the cherry blossom trees and see if they are about to bloom. Yesterday we saw several trees where a few flowers were open. We are thinking that today it’s going to be a burst of color.

I believe Mulan will be a good traveling companion. Here’s what’s great about her. She’s pretty good at spending a long time traveling. She can occupy herself with her drawing and all her dolls. She’s a fantastic eater. Oh boy, am I lucky. I have a lot of friends whose kids are really particular about their food. And Mulan is so game! We are eating spinach and toasted sesame seeds for breakfast along with a fish, tofu and pickle salad and she’s eating all of it and likes it. (It does taste fantastic!) She dives into food she hasn’t tried and genuinely gives it a chance. She doesn’t like everything (yesterday at the Udon noodle house she didn’t want the squid appetizers, but all in all, she’s really good. A zillion times better than I would have been at her age.

And she’s learned how to pack! I traveled for up to six months at a time with a small backpack – okay that’s an exaggeration, a medium sized backpack and a small extra bag. And since I adopted Mulan, we’ve had to lug so much stuff around to travel anywhere. At first it was bottles and diapers and then we just got a bit lazy. But this time we packed in advance, we packed our bags several days before and we kept trying to make it smaller. We decided we could have four outfits max and they had to be things that could generally be washed easily. We did pretty well. We could have gone down even farther. But we did it, we got ourselves into carry on luggage only. At the last minute, I threw in my computer and Meg’s house has Airport, so I’m really glad I took it.

And Mulan is pretty good at meeting other kids and falling in with them. We went to a bar last night and there were a lot of kids there (bars here are like they are in Ireland, a family affair) and she was shy at first – I mean, it is hard since she only knows about five words in Japanese. But after about an hour of hesitation, she was gone and playing for another two hours and then she didn’t want to leave.

Today we are driving up into the Iya mountains and staying at a Ryo-kan, a traditional Japanese hotel. Then we’re back here tomorrow night and then we fly up to Tokyo. I’ve been to Japan four times, but never to Tokyo. Then we head back to L.A. and I have shows next weekend again.

Here’s what I love about Japan: I love how precise each and every movement is. I love how they pour you a drink with both hands on the vessel. I love the bowing to each other. I love the emphasis on fresh vegetables and the near obsession with gardening. I love the public baths. We all went to their neighborhood bathhouse the other night and there we all were in the natural hot spring baths, naked and toasty, cheeks red and kids rushing around. Tsuyoshi was in the other side with the men and when we left we all met up with each other in the entryway, many people from the neighborhood saying hello, people we would see again the next morning on our walk. Talk about getting to know your neighbors! But the social security here, and I mean this in the sense that everyone looks out for each other and looks in on each other, is really comforting and impressive. Also, the food and the talk about food. Neighbors come by with extra vegetables from their gardens and share recipes all the time. I love how small their cars are and how precious energy is, it’s not at all squandered.

Okay, here’s what I don’t like about Japan. I hate how the cities are not zoned in any way and that means that there are vending machines with garish fluorescent lights at every corner and industry spewing filth next to rice paddies and restaurants. I hate the look of the advertising. I mean, I hate this in America too, but here it seems worse to me. It’s all bright colors, loud cartoon characters vying for your eye’s attention and it ends up being a mishmash of intense screaming at your attention. I hate how there’s electrical poles everywhere and they dominate the scenery, all the wires and lines and it seems like they must be antiquated because it’s about ten times more equipment than in Los Angeles, and it already bothers me in Los Angeles! And I hate the social conformity, the dark side of everyone knowing each other so well. There is huge pressure to conform to and subvert your individual desires to maintain social harmony. Spirited debate is absolutely frowned upon. Their conversations seem to be mostly about everyone agreeing on something benign like the weather or the new sewer system. And I have to say, I even hate the chronic unstoppable gift giving. Everywhere you go, someone is giving you something, something valuable! And you can’t refuse it and then you sort of owe that person. These women came over and gave me these vintage kimonos, I mean, really nice kimono jackets, called Haori from the forties and it was so embarrassing. I had brought them books on vernacular architecture in Los Angeles and I think it was odd and confusing to them. AGH. Also, I have to say I hate the flimsy nature of the Japanese homes. They are absolutely freezing! My sister has a kotatsu, which is a small square low coffee table in the middle of the living room and there’s a heater in it and a blanket over the top of it and we all just sit there all the time trying to keep warm. In fact, that’s what I’m typing this on right now, and Mulan said she wanted to sleep underneath it last night.

So there you go, Japan.

Also, it’s sort of hard for me here with Meg’s friends. They are all so nice, really really sweet. And they all want to practice their English on me and I cannot understand them and I wish they would just speak in Japanese and have Meg translate. But Meg tells me that it’s very impressive for them to be able to speak English with a native English speaker and so I have to be in endless conversations where I smiling say over and over again, “What?” And here I am, I don't speak any other language and I'm so impressed that they even try to talk to me, but still.... AGH!!!

And then there’s the matter of celebrity on top of it. Many of them want to meet a Hollywood actress (I won’t even try to explain how they butcher the name “Hollywood” – that took me days to understand what they were saying) and they just want to…basically…stare at me. It’s weird. I’m like a funny animal from a zoo and they are all gaping at me. And none of them have even seen anything that I’ve done. And I’m sure they are wondering why I’m not more beautiful and ingénue-like, Meg’s actress sister is here from Hollywood! But Meg has been so good at limiting this and last night was the last night we will be the case, but oh! If I never have to be in a bar again with a bunch of people who want to meet me, that would be just fine with me.

Okay, that makes me seem so surly. I guess it depends on who the people were. I mean, if people see my show, for example, or know anything about what I do, then of course I am thrilled to meet them and talk to them. But this…is just…difficult.

But all in all, I am really enjoying this trip. I feel relaxed and Meg is relaxed too. I really like her husband, Tsuyoshi. He’s the sweetest man, really caring and notices the smallest things. She is so happy with him and that makes me so happy for her. Meg has afforded me the experience of getting to see what it’s really like to live in a couple of countries – she used to live for a short time in Italy and speaks Italian as well as Japanese. And this has been such a great boon, such a gift. She is overwhelmingly giving and she has orchestrated all of these visits and sight seeing and it would just be impossible to do this as a single tourist without assistance. Plus, we have our shared history and we get to laugh about family members and remember things. This is really lovely. All because of Meg.

We have CNN on right now and Terri Shciavo has just died. I mean, don’t all those Christians who are praying for her, don’t they think she’s going to heaven? You would think it would be the non-believers who would be so hell-bent on keeping someone alive at all costs. But no, it’s the people who fully believe that she will spend an eternity in bliss who are so adamant that she be kept in a vegetative state with no cerebral cortex function. It’s such a gross exposure of the lack of biological understanding.

And now the Pope. It’s all Pope all the time on TV. I am so curious to see what happens, who the next Pope is. That’s something I would think was worth watching 24/7, the picking of the next Pope. I suppose Ratzinger can’t be chosen simply because of his name. Pope Ratzinger. Then he could strip away even the smallest gains women have made in the church at all, and all in the name of “honoring” them.

So. I’m not going to give my dog, Arden, away. I spoke on the phone to a cattle farmer and a sheep farmer about him and both of them convinced me that I should keep him and get him used to an exercise schedule that conforms better to my ability to exercise him. Plus, I have to admit, I love the dog. I mean, I do, I do. I wish he could live with our cat better, but… I think I’m going to make some new rules when I get home. It’ll be a good time to rethink our attitudes towards the dog after we haven’t been around him for a while. I am getting much better with him and I think I can enforce even more rules than I have in the past. He’s even all right the way he is except for his determined effort to protect me from the danger of our mail carrier. And the UPS guy. And the squirrels, which are of great danger to us as well.

Now everyone is up and we are watching Japanese TV. It’s 24/7 about the cherry blossoms blossoming. Except it rained last night and that means the blossoms might all be swept away in the rain and wind. And then there will be nothing left to do but think about next year’s cherry blossoms and their potential.