Monday, January 30, 2006

Okay. I've talked to several people today and read all the comments and I'm not going to change the title. I like it the way it is too. My favorite alternative came from my friend Julia J., which was: "Hello God? It's me, Julia." Which I thought was hilarious. But not worth all the hassle of changing it.
Wendy Wasserstien is dead.

I just am in shock. I didn't know her, but was a fan. I liked that she decided to have a baby by herself at age 48. That was an inspiration for me. That means her daughter is only seven or eight. I identified with her, for perhaps obvious reasons. Not that I think I'm as talented or funny, it's just...oh. Oh. Oh. She had a sibling die of cancer too. And...oh jeez. Sad. Sad. Worrying. Life is so short. Oh gawd. This can't derail my writing today. It just can't.

Another thing. The reason I'm posting right now.

There are those who think I should change the name of my show to something other than "Letting Go Of God." To something else. To something that does not give away where the show is headed. These people who think this...they are smart people with a lot of experience in show biz. I don't know. I just don't know. These people say, "This title turns away the very people who need to see this show." Hmmm... Hmmm...

Okay, it could be this: Letting Go Of God? Breaking Up Is Hard To Do.

This is a long title, and includes a question mark. But it makes me laugh.

Or there is this: The God Monologue.

This was my working title before I came up with Letting Go Of God. I usually would shy away from the word monologue in a title since it seems like a lecture: or boring. But since The Vagina Monolgues popularity, maybe it's okay.

The only reason this has to be addressed right now is that I am just about ready to put out the cd and I want everything to have the same title. So, if you are inclined to weigh in, I would love your thoughts.

Sunday, January 29, 2006

My Personal TAM4 Report

The picture is of me, Daniel Dennet & Mulan with Eddie, her companion elephant.

I guess I'm breaking my own self-imposed rule about pictures of Mulan on my blog, but since so many people took pictures of her already this weekend, I was thinking it's sort of moot.

I had, just, the most wonderful weekend in Las Vegas at the TAM4 convention. I can’t decide what the biggest highlight was, there were so many great moments. Best of all, is that I’ve been to three TAMs in a row now and I have a group that I have become friends with and it’s really nice to be reunited. Hal, Phil, Ray – I see them during the year here and there, but it’s nice to hang at TAM together.

Hitchens had a good speech to start. The thing he said that’s stayed with me is the allowing the Creationists to call their theory Intelligent Design was a major win for them. Just the name is brilliant in itself. And I think he’s right. ID is hard not to cozy up to if you don’t understand science well.

Daniel Dennet was brilliant too. I can’t wait to dig into his book, “Breaking the Spell.” He’s thinking about religion in ways that I am wondering about – only he’s just a billion times smarter and farther ahead than I am. How awesome to hang out with him.

Murray Gell-Mann was fantastic too. Oh dear, I am going to end up using too many superlatives.

And I’m falling asleep. Drove back from Vegas today. Mulan watched, “Cheaper By The Dozen” on my computer as we drove back. Her tenth time watching it, I think.

I will try a stab at this tomorrow.

But I’ve decided (as far as I can decide anything) one thing that has caused my mind to really settle down. And that is, that I’m going to move to Spokane in three years. That means, when Mulan starts fourth grade. That may seem so abstract as to be not worth deciding, but you have no idea how that changes the hour to hour drama that occurs in my head daily.

I figure three years more allows me more time to make my career Spokane-friendly, it gives me time to make more money and save it, and it still means Mulan would essentially grow up in Spokane.

Also, while driving back, I decided that I just couldn’t send Mulan to the Catholic school in Spokane. I just…couldn’t.

All those things means that I am of a more happy and calm mind. And just how I contructed that last sentence shows me that I should be going to sleep right now.

Thursday, January 26, 2006

Chris Penn is dead and I am sad about that. I didn’t know him, maybe I met him once or twice, I can’t remember. I just know that I was a fan; I thought he was amazing in Reservoir Dogs and Short Cuts. And I know Michael, his brother, and I just love him and I’m really sad about him losing his brother. That sucks. Oh, sad, sad, sad.

Had friends over for dinner last night, friends we see all the time, and Mulan acted bratty and awful, even though we spoke about her weird, defiant, horrible behavior around these same people, who we both care about a lot, before they arrived.

Sometimes it’s hard not to strangle your kid.

I used to think: how COULD someone ever hit a child? And now I think, how do people NOT hit their child? Not hitting your child takes enormous self-control. I feel I am a self-controlled person. I am amazed – mind-boggled - at the amount of control I have to exert over myself, not to use the fact that I am four times larger than this teeny kid to my physical advantage. Luckily, for me, Mulan is pretty great 90% of the time. But oh dear, that other 10% makes me NUTS. I turn into that awful controlled-rage mother, and I feel like veins are popping out of my forehead and my eyes are bugging out across the table while I try to carry on a conversation. And then, when I take her out of the room to have a talk about her behavior and the consequences it will bring if it continues, she gets this sly smile across her face: glee! Like, she's thinking, "I won already! You had to leave the room to talk to me personally! Yippity Yah! I mean, oh yes mother I won’t act like that anymore, you’ll see."

And she does act better, but somehow it doesn’t feel like I’ve won entirely – it feels like she has. And even just phrasing it this way sounds so bad – like it’s warfare rather than guidance. Oh parenting is so unlike what I thought it was before I was a parent.

Everyone should read Jimmy Carter’s “Our Endangered Values.” That man is amazing. He’s the guy all those Christians should be reading. He is the type of Christian that made me proud to be a Christian (way back when…) it blows my mind that he even was our President. The book is really well written, well reasoned, and it will scare the shit out of you. It should be filed under “Horror.”

I wrote my screenplay version of the play all day and ended up thinking I should just shoot it the same way I did God Said Ha! Which means I may have just spent thirty hours or so, this week, on something that is moot.

I am watching Jared Diamond’s PBS National Geographic special on “Guns, Germs & Steel.” I bought it when I heard his lecture on Sunday. It’s really pretty good. I have one more segment to watch. I also bought the Skeptic Society’s Diamond lecture on his book, “Why Sex Is Fun.” Sex? Fun? WHAAAAT?

Off to Vegas today with entourage -- five hours in the car. I will be listening to Rick Moranis' "Agoraphobic Cowboy," my current favorite cd.

Tuesday, January 24, 2006

Getting a lot done and taking a break.

This is unusual for me. I am actually getting a lot done on my screenplay version of “Letting Go Of God.” And also, I nearly finished with the work left to be done on the CD. I am working seven to nine hours a day in my office. I feel on a roll, as they say.

But yet, I am feeling low. Usually when I feel this low, I am unproductive. But this time, I am productive. I don’t know why exactly. I think it’s partly because I have made myself this really intense schedule where I finish the book by April 9th and where I finish the work on the cd and the screenplay by the end of the month. It’s intense actually. I will probably have to work until eight or eight thirty tonight to get to the place I need to be in the script for tomorrow’s push. And then on Thursday I go up to Las Vegas. Then I come back and have only two days to wrap everything up before the next set of self-imposed deadlines.

Why am I so low? I’m not sure. I’m just…low. I debate constantly whether I should move to Spokane. I just cannot seem to shut that debating voice in my head, even though, if I did decide anything there is nothing I can do about it. Until next year at the earliest.

I went to hear Jared Diamond on Sunday at Cal-Tech, at the Skeptic Society. He spoke about societies in crisis. Jared’s wife is a psychiatrist that worked at a crisis clinic for some time and wrote things about people in crisis, which is similar to societies in crisis. And while he was speaking I realized that I am in crisis. Well, let’s not overstate it. No one died (recently) and I’m not starving (in fact, the opposite) and I love what I’m doing for work (in general). So, what is it, exactly?

I dunno.

Will I turn out like the Japanese or the Greenland Norse?

I think one thing is that I’m not sure whether it’s going to all come together to do the show in New York. I only want to do six shows a week and this makes it very unattractive for investors. And doing eight shows a week – which I have done before when I was on Broadway with “God Said Ha!” almost made me lose my mind. And now I have a kid! Everyone understands, of course. But it changes EVERYTHING. And I wonder if I’m being wimpy.

And my editors at Holt want the advance back on my book, which is understandable since it’s been three years since we made the deal and at least two years since I got the money. In some ways, it might be better to be out of that contract because then I can shop the book around after it’s finished and find a possibly more appropriate publisher that is more interested in the history and science of it. On the other hand, I feel I just blew it. Totally blew it. I loved my editor – he’s probably the best editor I could possibly have ever gotten for a writer like me, and… Anyway, that's over.

Then I think: keep your nose to the grindstone, Sweeney. If I keep on my schedule that I’ve been on for the last week, I can probably make my personal deadlines.

And then, I miss Mulan. I mean – she’s here. We’re together. She’s at gymnastics right now. But with the babysitter. And, well…I want to be the babysitter. I want that job.

Why do I want to live in Spokane so much? Is it because I’m not in a relationship at the moment? Is it because I’m just so tired? Is it because I’m romanticizing my friendships there? And devaluing my friendships here? Is it because I’m really connected to the land there, or because I’m not connected to the land here in L.A. all that much? Is it because I miss my dad so much and want to just be around the buildings and parks that he spent his life in?

I have to admit, it’s a great comfort to me to be in places that my father, and my grandmother Henrietta, and my brother Mike, spent so much time in. It gives me this deep comfort. And when I look up in the sky in Spokane, it’s like nowhere else. It feels like home. When I pop into the Davenport Hotel, I feel so glad that my grandmother used to work there. That she went through those same doors. When I drive down N. Division, I have these memories, like I remember Mike in my car and us laughing and laughing about all the crappy looking Chinese restaurants along the way. Or running up Division late at night in high school. Or...y'know, like everyone has in their hometown I guess.

When Mulan and I were in Spokane over Christmas we went out to Holy Cross Cemetery and looked at all the graves. Mulan sat down on my dad’s gravestone (which is close to Mike’s gravestone) and said, “So, are you going to be next door to him when you die?” And I said, “Well, that's where Grandma's going to be. But, yeah, I'll be around here somewere, I suppose.” And Mulan looked into the middle distance and sighed, this deep, too-old-for-her-age kind of sigh.

I spent so much of my life wanting to just be in the biggest city, and now it feels like millions of strangers all packed together. Who are these people, I wonder? I used to feel so inspired by New York and L.A. and now it feels like there’s not enough calm and space to do the thinking and creating that I really want to be doing. People seem tense and competitive here and that's what I used to want be around and driven by so badly. And of course I am drastically over-generalizing. Now all I want to do is hike and read.

I have been listening to Mozart's Requiem all day while I work. Maybe this has contributed to my mood.

Last night Mulan made me watch “Cheaper By The Dozen” with her. She had seen it twice before. It was so funny, she would tell me about each moment coming up before it happened. “They don’t like their sister’s boyfriend, so they’re going to trip him. But don’t worry, he’ll be okay.” And then at the end, when the little boy is lost – and then found – she started to cry. Her eyes just filled up with tears. It broke my heart to see her cry at a movie, and I looked at her and she looked away, embarrassed. And then she said, while looking at the wall, her ear to me - “You know, sometimes you cry when you’re happy.” And I said, “Yeah, I know all about that.” And then I had to force my tears not to fall down my face.

This weekend I reread much of the New Testament. Mulan had a friend stay over night and at one point they came in while I was sprawled out on my bed with the Bible, and Mulan's friend said, "Reading the Bible?" And I have been laughing about that. Yes, me -- reading the Bible. AGAIN. I wanted to reread the Gospels since a reporter I did an interview with this week said she felt I had...well -- she didn't say it like this, but what she meant was -- that I had unfairly characterized Jesus in my show. So, I just wanted to read the Gospel narratives: Matthew, Mark & Luke and just remind myself how they read. And you know, I stand by my characterization. Yes, I leave out the Beatitudes and a lot of good stuff, but still, Jesus was a deeply erratic, impulsive, reactionary. So, I felt better about that comment after I reread it.

OHMYGOD this is the saddest blog entry. And now I have to get back to work, or I won’t meet my deadline. And I just have to get this done. It's pretty fun, actually, imagianing my show as a surrealistic tale on locations. This is the way it could possibly be done. It would be wild.

Oh -- I've been thinking about this. While I was listening to the Alito Senate hearings, he said, "No one is above or below the law." And I was musing on that phrase, no one being above or below the law. I hadn't heard that before. Then it dawned on me: fetuses! That's what he probably means. Unborn fetuses are below the law in his opinion. Oh -- that's a good one. The Anti-Choice Senators and politicians probably all wink-winked over that -- no more questions, sir! We know where you stand.

This is going to be it. This is going to the Supreme Court that will dominate law for the rest of my life. It's so depressing.

Friday, January 20, 2006

Brad Mehldau takes my breath away.

I went and saw Brad Mehldau at the El Ray tonight. Robert, who is producing the CD, came over and we worked on the mix until seven, and then we ran over to Wilshire to see the show. The line of people waiting for the concert was around the block. It was cold – seriously cold for L.A. The wind was really blowing hard. It was a shivery kind of nighttime weather, especially for a Hawaiian like Robert. They weren’t even letting people in until eight. We went to get coffee and watched the line from across the street. It barely moved. Finally, at eight thirty, I said, “Screw it, let’s leave. I’m already tired anyway.” Even though I love Brad Mehldau and I wanted to see him live, I was just too tired, too old to stand in that cold long line of people. I longed for a bed, for warmth, for a glass of wine.

We walked along Wilshire. The art deco buildings are gorgeous in mid-Wilshire. I forget how beautiful L.A. is. Then Robert said, “There’s a line of people that couldn’t get tickets that are waiting to see if they can get in, we should at least give them our tickets before we bale.” And it was true. On the other side of the long line of people who already had tickets, there was another long line of people hoping to just buy tickets and stand in the back. I guess the show was sold out and the theater was waiting to see how much room they really had. But the line of people with tickets was still hundreds of people long. In any case, we headed back to the theater.

We went right up to a security guard and I said, “Look, we aren’t going to stay for the show. We have tickets, but we don’t want to go in and..” And suddenly this security guard recognized me and she said, “I know who you are! Come on it, come on in.” So suddenly we were in the theatre. It was unfair, but welcome. Sometimes being recognizable is GREAT. I admit it.

By another stroke of luck, having nothing to do with someone recognizing me, we got amazing seats (it was open seating.) The show started at nine on the dot. The first song was astonishing, transporting, amazing, titillating. An improvisation on Paul Simon’s “Fifty Ways To Leave Your Lover.” There’s just Brad on piano and a bass player and a drummer. That’s it. I had a great bulls-eye view of Brad’s hands as they slid across the piano keys. I’ve never seen anyone play piano like that. I’ve never seen jazz musicians play off each other like that – seamless in unity, yet individual –sometimes it felt like they weren’t in the same room with each other, then in an instant they were tighter than any band I’ve seen before. Mehldau’s back sways and his hands are carried over the keys in this precise, off-handed, carefree way – totally both extremes at once. Disciplined and drunk, exacting and erratic. In some ways it didn’t even seem to occur to the musicians that we, the audience, were even there – that’s how little they were playing for the crowd. It felt like they were playing only for each other for minutes, tens of minutes on end – and then suddenly they’d realize we were all there watching and they’d shift their attention to us. We were privileged to watch such an intimate back and forth between them and it was something -- a tone, a reverie I’d never experienced before. I've never, ever, ever seen musicians in that kind of place -- that improvisation hallucination, but still tinkering on the edge of reality.

Robert and I walked down Wilshire afterwards, spent from the wonder: basking in the spectacle that is that trio. To think I almost missed it! And then the cold wasn’t so bad. The wind down Wilshire took the edge off, even – sobered us up. And it wasn't even all that late.

I love Los Angeles. I love Los Angeles.

Wednesday, January 18, 2006

This was dictated to me by Mulan. She insisted that I write down exactly what she said, nothing more, nothing less.

"My family has thirteen people. Of the Sweeney's. My Sweeney family is the best family ever. They are very helpful, and they have so much fun with me. It's really fun when I have some time alone with my real Sweeney family. It's very nice when I be really nice for my family. I love my family more than any other family. I love my cousins Megan and Kaitlyn and my other cousins Nick and Katie. And my grandma and Aunt Bonnie. And I love Jim and Tammy. And Bill. And Sandy, and Wanda. And Meg and Tsuyoshi. And that's my whole thirteen family. I want to have a family night at my house with thirteen people. My family gives me lots and lots and lots of care. I think I give so much, a million, and a kazillion pieces of love back to them. I love my whole family, so much. I just want to have so much time with my family. Do you think I love? I love my whole thirteen family. Nobody knew that we had thirteen people in our family.



A Writing Life that (at least for today) includes no writing.

The blog is working. The blog is working insofar as this: once I wrote in my blog about how painful it was to get rid of so many books, and how I buy so many books, well – somehow, just because I wrote about it maybe? -- Anyway, I was ready to really get rid of A LOT of books.

I am working on my own memoir and I am in the part where I’m at the Bible Study class. I haven’t decided exactly how to approach this part of the story yet. In any case, I was suddenly referring to several of my books on religion and the Bible and so forth and my books were so disorganized -- I haven't really organized them for over two years. I had been putting the new books I bought on top of the old books, all willy nilly. So, I couldn’t find a particular book I wanted to refer to. This caused me to stop all writing and begin the arduous process of organizing all my non-fiction. This is an enormous job. Then, I began to think about how – realistically – I wasn’t going to ever read several of the books I was organizing. The realistic part of me began to taunt the horder part of me, saying, “Seriously Sweeney, when are you going to get the time to read “Word On The Street – Debunking The Myth Of Pure Standard English” ??? Plus, I know the basics of the book since I heard McWhorter (the writer) lecture. Or I thought, “Do you really need to keep “Shrub” by Molly Ivans? I mean Bush already won the election, TWICE.” Or, do I need to keep “The Taliban” – which was written and read long before 9/11?? NO. The answer is NO. Also, why should I keep “Wired” by Bob Woodard? I mean, I read it a thousand years ago. And I saw Al Franken on TV talking about how much he hated that book and how inaccurate he felt it was. He said it was like Bob Woodard had recorded every time someone puked in high school and then written a history of high school including only those details. Not mentioning the Dostoyevsky that changed people’s lives, etc. So, why do I need to keep this book? The answer is, “I Do Not!”

So, first I organized the religion section and that led to philosophy and that led to science and then back to “current affairs” (or what I like to call the "We Are Fucked" secion) and that led me to ponder whether I was really, HONESTLY, ever going to read “The Coming Plague.” And how I ALREADY am totally expecting a plague. And this book was written ten years ago. Why do I keep it? I don’t need it! That’s what I thought. Then I had another heretical thought. And that was: “What if keeping all these books means that I am preventing someone ELSE from reading them?” And then it seemed churlish for me to keep them.

Now I have about three hundred books in the corner of the hallway, ready to be taken to the local library. I have all the religion I’m keeping separated by topic. I have the science separated by author and topic. The places of honor are: Daniel Dennet, Michael Shermer, Richard Dawkins, Stephen Jay Gould, Diane Ackerman, Susan Blackmore, Steven Pinker. Oh Joy! Organization! It’s been so long!!1 The dust behind the books makes me sneeze and cough. Magazines from two – three years ago are wedged behind the books, a cradle of dust bunnies resting inside them.

It’s amazing how, in even a few years, the internet has changed my attitude about books in general. Encyclopedia type books are really no longer necessary – dictionaries, a lot of history seems easily accessible if I tried to find it.

I am worried this project is going to eat up my day tomorrow and it just, simply, cannot. But I am burnt out.

Today I went to NBC, to a pilot reading for the executives. Charles Durning was also in the pilot reading. We sat next to each other. I actually met him yesterday at the rehearsal. It was really a thrill to meet him. He told me today, as we waited to read, about growing up in New York, in Hell’s Kitchen. He said you had to join a gang or you were done for. He said he chose a bad gang – the Westerners – I think he called it. He said they started to hurt people, seriously hurt people – robbing them. He said they even started to kill people. He said he got scared. You couldn’t leave the gang or you would be dead. So he joined the army. That was the only way he could figure to get out of the gang.

What a thrill, to get to talk to Charles Durning.

Today Mulan said two adorable things. Stop reading if you can’t stomach this kind of stuff, I totally get it, if it’s nauseating. She said, “You are my favorite adult.” And I said “Adult?” And she said, “Well, you are my favorite Mom.” And I said, “But I’m the only Mom you have.” And she said, “But I know a lot of moms, and I think you’re the best.” Ha. I love how she’s done a survey and I get top marks. The other thing she said while we were watching “Good Eats” on TV tonight (we watched a rerun about “oats” while we ate dinner – I know, it’s bad to eat and watch TV, but we did and so…there…) and Mulan wanted me to rub her back. And I said “Where do you want me to rub?” And she said, “Along my vine.” And I said, “Your vine?” And she gestured towards her spine. And I said, “Your spine?” And she said, “No, isn’t it called a vine?” And then we talked about how similar spines and vines were. And I just – oh jeez. I love having a kid. Stuff like that. A vine. Yes – it’s a vine! I love that to Mulan, she’s built just like a plant.

My friend Phil Plaite is writing a book about the moon. I also talked to him today about this. I am all over the moon. I just watched a “Naked Science” all about the moon. I had no idea how important the moon was to our existence. Just no idea. DAMN. I lost half my life to ignorance! I didn’t even care about stuff like the moon before I was forty. I didn’t understand how the moon was formed, nothing. It’s embarrassing. Anyway, I reread in “Rare Earth” about how important the moon was. I even went outside tonight and looked at the nearly full moon. I practically howled in delight and appreciation.

Oh, I found, to my embarrassment, that I have bought some books twice. Like, "A Darwinian Left" by Peter Singer. Or "Moral Animal" by Robert Wright. What is wrong with me? How could I forget that I bought those books?

Next weekend I will be heading to the TAM conference in Las Vegas. I am SO excited to go. Mulan and the nanny, Frances, are coming too. A whole entourage.

Tomorrow I am making oatmeal the way I learned how on "Good Eats." Brown the steel cut oats in a little butter before cooking them. Add the salt after it's cooked. I'm excited to see if there is a difference.

Friday, January 13, 2006

This is a test. I am testing putting up a picture on blogger. This is me and Mulan at the Davenport Hotel on Christmas morning about five thirty a.m. We stayed at the hotel two nights. I picked this one because Mulan is hiding her face. It's probably not cool to put her picture on my blog. So, that makes this picture just perfect.
Truth and Memoir

Oh, I am so all over this James Frey story. I hate to gloat, but…

I guess I will. Okay, here’s my history with “A Million Little Pieces” and my recent history with Oprah and Dr. Phil and Dr. Phil’s Wife and My Mother.

Two and a half years ago – I think around that time – I was in Amagansett with a group of Sex & the City writers over Labor Day. We had been working in New York and we all went out of the city for the long weekend. While at a bookstore I saw that book, “Million Little Pieces” and I liked the cover and it looked interesting and I bought it. I also bought about five or six other books.

You see, I have a problem with books. And I’m not trying to brag that I’m such a big reader – although I do spend much of my free time reading. My problem is that when I’m in a bookstore I can’t control myself. I buy everything I’m remotely interested in. I was buying so many books on that my UPS driver actually called me on it one day. He said, “You can’t possibly read this many books.” And he was right. If I were suddenly stuck in my house for the rest of my life, I would probably not be able to read all the books that I currently have that I have not yet read. I’ve tried to do big reductions from time to time. Before Mulan arrived, I actually got rid of half of my books. I only kept what I hadn’t read and what I loved so much, I sincerely thought I might read again. But then I started to mourn the loss of the books I let go of. I wished I’d kept the Herman Hesse and the first copies I had of all the Jane Austen novels – all those books I read in high school and college. This sadness made me even more out-of-control in my buying of books. Like I was making up for what I lost.

I am telling you all this because I want to emphasize how many books I buy – many of which I don’t get the time to read – and how I don’t care so much about the money. It’s my addiction and as far as addictions go, I’m letting myself just have this one. I am also telling you this to make it clear that when I, the next day after purchasing “A Million Little Pieces” took it back for a refund – yes – I read ten pages and hated it so much and thought it was so full of shit that I couldn’t stand to own it and I didn’t want to own it and I wanted to make a point at the Amagansett book store about how much I hated it – what an anomaly that is. I can only remember returning two books in the last ten years. (The other was a Huston Smith book of essays that made me so depressed because although he knows so much about religion he knows nothing about what science is or how it works…) ANYWHO – I took “A Million Little Pieces” back. I TOOK IT BACK. And I remember that it was a hassle to go back there too, I think I made Cindy Chupak take me. Or maybe Amy -- anyway, you could say that book stuck out in my mind. I remember that weekend and returning that book.

Cut to: last Fall. My mother calls me. Oprah and Dr. Phil are her heroes. Every day she watches them and she LOVES them. When it is almost three o’clock in Spokane, wherever she is, she races her car home to watch her Dr. Phil and her Dr. Oprah. And so my mother tells me that there’s this fantastic new book that Oprah is endorsing and how she got it at CostCo very inexpensively and how she bought two copies. She planned to give one to my brother Bill who is a very troubled in many of the same ways that James Frey shows himself to be. (Not exactly in the lying part of it, but the alcoholic, drug, defiant, screwed up part of it) And she planned to read the other copy of the book. I told her my story and I actually said, “You know Mom, I guess I was wrong. I should have read that book further than only ten pages. I like Oprah and what she picks to read. It’s probably a great book.”

Then, almost every time my mother and I talked on the phone she mentioned the book and how Bill was reading it too and maybe it would help him and blah blah blah. Then, Mulan and I go home to Spokane for two whole weeks over Christmas. Many days we all race home and get ready to watch Dr. Phil and Oprah.

During one Dr. Phil show I said, “I hate to say this, Mom, but I just don’t trust Dr. Phil. And I don’t know anything about him. If I were watching his show with the sound on mute, I just would say I didn’t trust him. His facial expressions don’t seem sincere to me. I don’t like how he gets a light in his eye when he delivers a “zinger.” And when I do listen to what he says, he seems like he’s exaggerating everything. I hate how he tries to make complex problems simple, and how he emphasizes one small part of a problem, often inflating it over what it really is, and then acts like he’s solved it. And I feel uncomfortable with Dr. Phil’s wife watching him with such blank adoration. I don’t trust her either.”

Okay. I am embarrassed to have written that I said that. I am probably a difficult daughter to have for my mother. I probably shouldn’t have said that. Well, my mother -- it was as if I had said Jesus sodomized little boys the whole time he was preaching and I have proof – she said, “You. Don’t. Know. Anything. About. Dr. Phil!!!! His. Wife. Is. The, MOST. WONDERFUL. Woman. In. The. World.!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!” And on and on.

So, I capitulated. I said, “Okay. I don’t know anything about him. I just…don’t like his way, his way of…being. His mannerisms. I just don’t like it. But you know, I don’t know him.”

Then we watched Oprah and my mother was delighted because James Frey was on. They were rerunning the show with him and his parents. And I said, “You know…I have to say, I don’t trust that James Frey either. I don’t like the way he’s even sitting there. I get a bad vibe from him.” Once again my mother said, “No! He’s wonderful! You have to read the book! He’s gone through so much!!!!!”

And as if on cue, Oprah said on the show, “As I was reading I just couldn’t believe that this guy was actually still alive! I kept flipping to the back cover of the book to look at his picture, he’s alive! He really lived through this whole thing!”

My mother glared at me. I sunk down in the chair and put my hands in my pockets. I said, “Wow. I really should have read that whole book. I made a mistake taking it back to the bookstore.” My mother eagerly told me she would send me her copy as soon as she’d finished it.

So, you can imagine my joy when my friend Jim Emerson e-mailed me the link to the Smoking Gun story. I had told him this whole story with my mother and we had laughed about Dr. Phil and my mother’s energetic defense. I read every single word of the smoking gun article. And now I am gleefully watching this whole thing explode.

Because it is important if what he wrote was true or not. It does make a difference. Oprah is just trying to protect her choice by saying that it doesn’t matter if it’s true or not. Because if it were a book labeled “fiction” she wouldn’t have bought it. And she herself said that what was so amazing to her was that this person who wrote this book was still alive. So it was important whether it was true.

So, I take away two things from this: One is that Mary Karr rocks. I love her so much. She wrote “The Liar’s Club” and “Cherry.” I LOVE both of those books. She is being very outspoken about this James Frey fabrication fiasco. She says it makes all memoirists look bad. That three months in jail is substantially different than a few hours in jail! This is not an exaggeration, this is a lie. I love that Mary Karr is saying this. I liked her before and now I like her even more.

The other thing I take away is – it’s important for me to be as truthful as I can in this memoir that I am writing at this very moment. And it’s very hard. For my show, “Letting Go Of God” I had to rearrange some details to make it more dramatic. Like, I adopt Mulan at a certain point in the show that is not exactly when I adopted her in real life – although adopting Mulan is really a very, very side note in my show and I spend very little time on that. And I debated for a long time whether I should have me explore Buddhism before I thought God was “nature” or after. Because the truth is not clear and linear in this case. But these are about ideas, not events. The other thing I do is make a composite character of Father Tom and I give him the comments that several priests made. But all in all, I feel good about my show and that it is true not just in spirit but in fact as well. Plus, I would have a disclaimer. So, I’m glad this happened to James Frey. It’s helpful for me to remember how important truth and honesty is.

I think he should say, “Yes. I fucked up. I made most of it up. And I hope that with my next work of clearly labeled fiction, I will prove to you that I am a good writer. I am embarrassed and humiliated. I may never live this down. I am so sorry.”

What about that?

Okay – on a completely different note – while on the general subject of Oprah and Dr. Phil and his wife – my mother said to me after I made those disparaging comments, “You don’t know how wonderful Dr. Phil really is. This is how he proposed to his wife: ‘I’ll make the living and you make my life worth living.’ Isn’t that the most romantic thing anyone could ever say?”

I’ll make the living and you make my life worth living.

I’ll make the living and you make my life worth living.

I can’t stop thinking about that. I just hate it so much. Or maybe I just wish someone had said that to me. But if they did, I think I would just have laughed at them. I mean, what does that mean???

“I am the focus and you are the support team and if you make things smooth for me, I will compensate you with my shared income.” Is that what that means? He said, straight out, that her part of the deal was to “make his life worth living.” That’s her job. That’s her side of the marriage, to make Dr. Phil’s life worth living.

I mean, I am all for a division of labor for efficiency. I would totally get it if someone said, “It’s more efficient for me to go have this big career and you to run support if we are going to have a family.” That – I totally get. But it’s the…make my life worth living. That part of it. Hmmm…

Also, I’ve been thinking that my bullshit reader/meter on James Frey seems to be pretty good! And I have no idea about Dr. Phil, I could be completely wrong on him. But then I was thinking how my bullshit meter is so wrong on people in real life. Not always, but often enough. And THEN I realized yesterday that when I am in a friendship with someone, or in some type of interaction where the person wants something from me – I can’t detect bullshit so much. I don’t get the distance and calm to do it, because I am all flummoxed and lit up over our interaction and what they want from me and what I want from them. It’s made me dead wrong on some people, and some boyfriends too. So, I guess I should see people on TV first and then try to be friends with them because the TV gives me the distance to judge them better. HAHAHAHA. Oh, this is going to make me laugh all day to myself.

Wednesday, January 11, 2006

Two things, no three things. Maybe four things.

1. My mother admonished me over Christmas because I had said some disparaging things about “Polar Express” to my brother while we were on the cruise. My brother, who has never seen Polar Express, said he was putting the DVD on for the girls to watch. The girls are my daughter and his two daughters.

I said, “I think that movie is one big advertisement for having blind faith and I really hate it.” Or something like that. In any case, the girls still watched the movie (or whatever it is that kids do when they are jumping up and down on a bed, talking to each other, and a movie is on in the background.)

Anyway, this conversation morphed itself into my mother saying over Christmas that I said, “I hate that movie because it has too much fantasy.” I would, of course, never say that. She told me that my brother felt “shut down” by me after that comment and that I am too judgmental. Or worse: I have too many “opinions.” Yes – what a horrible fate for me, to have turned into a woman who has opinions!

In any case, my mother and I got along splendidly over the holidays. And this little blip was not even a bump in the road. I actually had such a great time that I am openly considering moving back to Spokane before Mulan starts second grade. My real dilemma, if I move, is whether to put Mulan into a Catholic school. But that’s another blog for another time.

So, was thinking about Polar Express, and the whole “just believe” thing. Why couldn’t the boy in the movie been told to “just imagine”? Why did it have to be believe? I was reminded of this again when my adorable niece Katie showed me a Christmas present she received: some words to put on your wall – those cursive, wood-cut words. One of them was: believe. Believe!

I guess if you mean, “believe” in the sense of “have confidence in” – then I’m all for it. But I don’t think that is what most people think of when they see that word. I think it’s meant to be taken in the same way the boy learns it in Polar Express. Just…have faith.

2. The second thing I wanted to say is: being an at-home writer rocks. I love it. I am in my newly painted office in the backyard. And actually writing. Oh, my goodness, I hope I can actually finish this book and the screenplay and the cd.

3. The third thing is that I probably won’t have the cd done until after February. I feel really bad – that I probably won’t have this cd out until no one wants it anymore. But I am waiting to get the music rights and it’s taking longer than I thought. The rights for the background music is what I’m referring to. Oh dear, oh dear.

4. The fourth thing is that I booked more dates at the Groundlings to do my show, "Letting Go Of God." I have been selling out the Sunday morning shows, which is really great. This Sunday’s show is totally sold out. So, I just booked myself into the theater for nine more shows on sporadic Sunday mornings, Monday nights and Tuesday nights. If you are interested, please check the website ( to see the exact dates.

Back to work. Happy New Year!

p.s. Munich is so good. So is Brokeback Mountain. So is Wallace & Gromit. I want to go to the movies!