Wednesday, December 07, 2005

December 7, 2005

I am on the Grand Princess. I am doing my best to keep my sprits up. This is the type of place that makes me seriously worried that I suffer from depression. No matter how I explain what is awful about it and no matter how good my counter arguments are that rage in my head all day long about why it is pleasant and comfortable with even a smattering of great and lively moments, no matter how much I tell myself it’s not so bad, I can feel myself slipping down – almost into the ocean beneath me, into a paralyzing sadness. Even writing that sounds so extreme, I am already angry at my actrressy penchant for hyperbole, my lack of ability to calm myself and see the bigger picture, my snobby attitude towards everything about this trip. Then I rage again at myself – who am I and why can’t I just enjoy it – why must everything be such a big deal?

Okay, I’ll back up. My first thought, after spending a few hours on this ship, was that I had wandered happily into a Denny’s restaurant, when the doors suddenly slammed shut behind me. And my smile vanished and my eyes widened at the wave of realization: I couldn’t leave for seven days. The horror! The horror!

Maybe not Denny’s. Okay, this: a TGIF with a Doubletree hotel above it and a Circus Circus type gambling deck lodged into it’s side with a Bally’s gym in it too. And a band that is screeching day and night; songs like, “Margaritaville” and “We Built This City On Rock and Roll” too loud to allow for any conversation, not that you’d want to have any. Have I mentioned yet that the motto for the Princess line is, “Escape Completely”? Escape. Completely.

Oh, I am so snobby. Why can’t I relax? I want to jump into the ocean and swim away, away, away instead. Mulan is having the time of her life and so is my mother. And I enjoy my aunt so much – what a saving thing it is that she came on this boat too. And my brother and his wife and their kids. And my brother’s wife’s family – I really, really like all of them.

And yet, at night, I wonder how much money it would cost to be airlifted off the boat. What kind of malady I would have to conjure up? How long I would have to keep the lie going?

Eventually, some muscle relaxed and I just accepted my lot and got really lethargic and sad and I drunk up my books and couldn’t’ stop reading. And eating chocolate chip cookies. That don’t taste all that good. Neither does the lemon meringue pie. That didn’t stop me from finishing them, though. Oh no. Not me. I finish the bad food to be nice. To be nice to…the food. Because what if the food realized I didn’t like it? It would be sooooo hurt.

Not everyone on this boat is overweight. Not everyone. I, myself, am among those that could lose twenty – thirty pounds. I have found that I need a certain quality of food – fresh, well made, carefully prepared. That’s what makes me feel full. If I don’t have that kind of food, my body mistakes quantity for quality. I eat and eat and eat, trying to get some satisfaction, but none comes. I look at all the larger people on this boat and they actually seem to be starving to me. I want to kidnap them and take them home and make real food – let them feel truly sated for once! Then maybe we could all stop this grazing, compulsive, desperate, constant desire to eat and eat. Trying to fill something inside that is un-fillable.


By the way, I hate Ayn Rand too. Yes, it was completely unexpected. I imagined us to be wonderful friends – I so looked forward to the philosophy book I brought with me. But it too was a major disappointment. I hate when people write and ask me if I’m mad at God, or “what happened to me” to make me turn away from Jeeezhus. It always seems so beside the point and a reflexive jab on the part of a threatened reader. But honestly, I, myself, kept thinking, “what the fuck happened to Ayn Rand?” The exaltation of capitalism is disturbing. The deification of individualism seems naïve. It reads like she’s saying, “All you mediocre people out there are just standing in us geniuses way!” At then end of the chapter on capitalism, Piekoff writes: “Capitalism is practical, Capitalism is moral. Capitalism is true.” I dropped the book when I read that. Literally dropped the book on the floor. I waited a few seconds to pick it up again. I agree that it’s practical. I’m not sure if it’s moral. I am wary of anyone who uses the word “true” in this way. I’m not sure what “Capitalism is true” really means. That it exists?

I don’t get philosophy, I guess. It seems quaint and old fashioned to me – all those ‘isms’ this and ‘isms’ that. It doesn’t seem to reflect what we know about ourselves scientifically – that we are social animals who collectively create societies using strategies that range from altruism to selfishness. And the result is a successful survival of the species. It seems to me like Ayn Rand didn’t know a lot about biology and consciousness and how species survive. Rand doesn’t acknowledge the enormous efforts, the gigantic collective efforts that got her reared and educated and even in the U.S. with an ability to drive on roads and drink clean water and breath clean air. Unrestrained capitalism does not protect the common interests of individuals; it subjects them to the sociopathic greed of the marketplace, which values profit over long term sustainability. That seems so obvious to me.

Okay, don’t lecture me about Ayn Rand yet. I haven’t even really read her. I haven’t read the novels. I just read a PART of this survey of her philosophy. I know, I know, I shouldn’t say I “hate” her. That’s too extreme for someone I don’t really know. Or even have given a chance to.

There are some things that are great here on the boat. Guinness beer, for example. They have it in all the bars. It costs $5.50 a can, but it’s worth it. And then one night the pizza buffet had a garlic pizza with real big chunks of garlic and mozzarella cheese and tomato sauce and it was so good I nearly cried and ate three pieces and actually, for the first time, felt wholesomely full. I remembered the taste and lingered over it for hours afterwards. Garlic pizza. Mmmm…

Also, there’s a gym here. I walked an hour on the treadmill for two days in a row – it won’t let you go longer than sixty minutes. I suppose I could have started up the machine again, but I didn’t. And you watch the water go by as you walk because the machines look out the window on the upper deck and it’s pleasant. I fall asleep early -- I am sleeping so much, it’s indecent. I go to bed at eight thirty or nine or ten and sleep twelve hours. I think it takes a lot of energy for me to hate everything all day and then yell at myself for hating everything all day. Exhausting. But if I could stay awake at night I would go look at the stars. Everyone says how wonderful they are – more stars than they’ve ever seen before. I am so angry at myself for having missed it so many nights, but I can’t leave the cabin with Mulan asleep. We don’t have a view – well we have an obstructed view – there’s a life boat just outside our window – next time we’ll splurge for a balcony – wait what am I saying, next time? I suppose I could convince Mulan to go with me to the deck – sleep outside perhaps? Maybe I will try it tonight.

Today, right now, we are at Cozumel. It’s our last stop. Then two more days and we are back in Galvaston.

I won’t leave the ship again. I did for two outings, one in a place called Playa Maya and then in Belize. It was miserable. It took over a 90 minutes just to disembark the ship – there are two thousand six hundred passengers. We had signed up for tours and after getting off the boat we went into groups and stood in line for another hour before getting on busses and driving for another hour. In Playa Maya – a completely made up city by the way, in the last three years, by developers who cater to the cruising industry, I went to the ruins of Checkaban. I went alone, Mulan didn’t want to see it. Good thing too, the bus ride was long and there were no other children on the tour. Along the way there were lots of signs for the housing developments that they are building along the coast. The signs have pictures of kidney shaped swimming pools and women floating – blonde, white, American women of European descent. Clearly they are trying to woo more than the cruise ships here.

The ruins were moving to look at. I couldn’t help but think that their lost culture was so much more sophisticated than ours as we stood there looking at the pyramids overgrown and beautiful, us in our culottes and big t-shirts and pink sweaty faces and floppy hats, mouths agape, coca cola in hand, taking pictures of each other before we heard the guide even explain what we were looking at.

In Belize we signed up for a bird sanctuary tour. The guide kept making the most awful jokes, it was excruciating. “We have the biggest stork here, do you Belize me?” Ha ha ha ha ha. The “sanctuary” took two hours to get to and was swampy and hot and with lots of little sad houses here and there, garbage strewn along the streets, old closed up stores, and rusting ancient cars…and hardly any birds. My aunt Bonnie and I and Mulan stayed on the bus with a few others while the larger group trampled around and all looked at this and that bird who was always flying away and out of site and unremarkable and depressing.

I realized something too, I buy things to just make people stop selling them to me. This is a new insight into myself. I realized it here on this ship. In one of the “nice” dining rooms the waiter kept trying to get me to buy this box of three bottles of wine that they were selling for passengers to take home. He kept telling me what an amazing value it was. It cost something like $140.00 I have no idea if it’s a good value or not. It could be lime vodka in the bottles for all I know. But I find it so deeply uncomfortable, people trying to sell me things. I am embarrassed for them – like I’m seeing them naked, like I’m looking at their dirty underwear or something and I just want them to stop it. And so I buy the damn thing they are selling to me, just to make them go away. I am sure I have spent thousands of dollars on things this way. So, I bought the wine.

Last night, without planning it, several of the members of our party met together in one of the bars. People were drinking and happy and suddenly, without expecting it, I was happy too. I had some Chianti Reserve and potato chips – the only “appetizer” they were serving in the bar. I could feel my cheeks get red and hot and that lovely lilt and my sister in law, Tammy, was being very sincere and sweet and we were talking about how our children all adored each other (the kids were off together in this Kids Club day/night care thing they have). We began to talk about when Tammy got pregnant and before she knew she was having twins. And we had all gone on to a cabin on the beach for my dad’s seventieth birthday. And how Tammy had this enormous appetite. And how my dad teased her about it and bought her this long extending fork because she was eating everything in site. And we were laughing and remembering my dad. And I suddenly was reminded how much my dad loved Tammy. I think he was really proud of his son for marrying Tammy. And then I glanced in the mirror at my gray hair and glasses and had this acute feeling of being so old – that even my father would be struck with how I’ve aged. How un-young I’ve become. And how alone I feel. And then it was almost time to go get the girls and I volunteered to go get them and take them back to my room and wait while the other adults stayed at the bar and continued partying. And part of me thought I was so sad I might die. The ocean beneath us was how sad I was and the only thing that kept me from being engulfed into it was this thin little piece of ship wandering around the Caribbean.

I think I’ll go get on a treadmill now. My brother has taken Mulan into Cozumel with Tammy and the twins. After they left I laid on my bed for hours dozing and thinking and reading a bit here and there. I think people are beginning to drift back onto the ship because I’m seeing those enormous terry-cloth cover ups with appliqués on them and “Cozumel” written out across the front. I always wondered who bought those things and now I know. There are four or five other ships as big as ours in the water right now. Very big destination for the cruise industry. There’s all these fake Christmas trees all over the ship – not that I’m putting down fake Christmas trees, to me it’s the only way to have one. But it’s so incongruous—the spruce’s with the pine cones and just past them the harbor at Cozumel. In Belize, at the bird sanctuary, there were plastic santa clauses nailed onto the roofs of a few of the houses. It was so hot that the Santa’s were melting onto themselves. I wondered if the Santas were made in China, I bet they were. I wanted to find out. I’m not sure why. As if that would mean something.

I can’t stop hearing couples yelling at each other. I walk behind them and they bicker and snort at each other. Not a big advertisement for marriage, this place. Or maybe I’m hyper aware of it, something that makes me feel better about being single. I’m not sure. But it feels like everyone had this euphoria as the trip began: Here we are! Adventurous! Trip-taking! And then… now… four, five days into it, they are reminded that they are in fact married to each other and they hated each other just the same here as they did back home. It’s so hard to be with another person all the time. And yet, it’s all you want to do. I myself get sick of being with Mulan, all I want is some relief, and then when she is gone, I feel blue and empty and I miss her laughing, ringing, ebullient voice. I wish she were with me now, it feels a year since I’ve seen her and it’s only been a few hours. Where is she? Is she going in the ocean?

This morning at breakfast Mulan said that in “real” families people look like each other. Like how the twins look exactly like Tammy. I mean, the twins look precisely, almost freakishly like Tammy. They are identical triplets, only one of them is thirty years older than the other two. It makes you wonder if any spec of Sweeney is even in those girls, these identical replicas of their mother: blonde, full lipped, hazel eyed, long faced little Tammys. And luckily Tammy is gorgeous.

But anyway, Mulan said, “my real family is in China, but I guess they couldn’t take care of me.” I said, “We are your real family. Your real family is the family that raises you. But yes, you have parents in China, biological parents, who couldn’t take care of you.” She said, “But our hair is so different. And our skin is different. And the twins look just like their mom because they came out of their mom’s stomach.” “Yes.” I said. What more can I say to her? She has to deal with her situation. I tell her how loved she is everyday. She knows it too, but still. I think about her biological mother all the time. How beautiful she must be. Was, or is, she sensual the way Mulan is? Hyperactive too? Flexible, laughing, crafty, defiant, loving? What did she do today? Is she even alive? We’ll never know.

Friday, December 02, 2005

Well, I suppose I’m cruisin into a new world. There’s lots to tell. It’s seven a.m. and I still have to pack for a family reunion trip and we gotta be out of here by ten. I’m not sure why I’m shoving into my limited time writing my blog – but I feel like it, and so here goes…

So. I left my job. Yes, I quit. No more Desperate Housewives. I completed thirteen episodes and will not consult on the last ten. But it’s not because I didn’t love the job, LOVE the people, and the show. It’s because…well – I went to New York and did ten shows of Letting Go Of God. And it was really stupendous. I had the best time. I missed doing the show and the audiences were so fantastic. I felt, with every fiber of my being, that I just had to go to New York with the show in a bigger way – to a real off-Broadway theater and do a proper run of the show. It feels so right. The time seems right. Things have changed so much, even since I opened the show a year and a half ago. For example, when I opened my show here in Los Angeles, and I got to the part where I talk about Intelligent Design, I felt that about 30% of the audience knew what I was talking about. But now, EVERYONE knows what I’m talking about. Absolutely everyone. It seems like the topic of religion is exploding right now, all over the place. And I really, really, really want to be doing my show.

Also, I had an epiphany while I was in New York about my book. I was having all kinds of trouble finishing the book. I couldn’t get the tone right, I couldn’t figure out how to write about my Bible Study class for example and not infuse that part with everything that I now know about the Bible, how it was put together, who decided what books were where, how the translations were done. But I didn’t know that when I was taking the Bible study class. I was just reading it for face value. Anyway, this has been a stumbling block for me. And it’s caused all kinds of havoc. My publisher is giving up on the book and basically so was I.

But then – I was at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York looking at this Prague exhibit (I love Prague, oh how I miss Prague – even though I spent just about a week there five years ago or so) and I picked up a book by a writer that I didn’t know. His name is John Banville and he wrote a short little book about Prague called, “Prague Pictures: Portrait of a City,” I’d never heard of him. He’s an Irish writer. I am now completely shocked that I hadn’t read him! Anyway, I was absolutely and completely seduced by his writing. I could never write as well as he does, but I suddenly felt, while reading this little book, that I could write my book. He had the key. His book goes in and out of history of the Czech Republic and his personal story about Prague and art and people and oh! Oh! Oh!

Then, I was at the airport heading back to Los Angeles (I went back and forth for three weekends in a row – working in L.A. at Desperate Housewives and then doing shows over the weekend in New York – it wasn’t so bad actually, I thought I’d be more exhausted) and I was in the airport bookstore and I looked over a table of books for sale of wonderful writers, many of whom are even friends of mine: David Sedaris, David Rakoff, Al Franken – and I was caught up in a sudden unexpected surge of ambition! I want my book to be there! I can write this book! I can! I can!

And I knew right then and there that I had to go back to L.A. and quit and spend the next four months (or more) finishing this book.

So that’s what I did. And that’s what I’m going to do. Then I want to shoot this movie and then take the show to New York for a Fall opening. Of course, I have no idea if I’m going to be able to swing all this, but I feel I am on a mission. And I’m so excited about it. I can’t wait to get started.

But I’ll have to wait a little bit. Because Mulan and I are headed out this morning to go on a Celebrity Cruise around the Western Caribbean (as far as I can tell we are touring the Hurricane Rita path starting in Galveston) with our family – my brother, his wife and kids, my aunt, my mother and my brother’s wife’s family. We return in a week and then I’m repainting my office, getting everything in order, and then starting full time on the book in January. My last day at Desperate was on Wednesday and they were all so cool about my decision. Most of them have seen my show and are really supportive about it. And even though it’s scary – like I’ve woken up three nights in a row at two a.m. in paralyzing fear about money – I also feel absolutely confident that somehow it’s all going to work out well. I am dedicating all of 2006 to Letting Go Of God – I must make this movie this year and open the show in New York. And the CD will be ready soon, I met with Robert (my producer of the CD) last night and everything is going according to plan. The big time-taker on the CD front could be getting the rights to the music I use in the show, but it’s all in the process of being handled.

So, now I gotta pack. And I know this blog is all blurting and blathering and repeating. But I have no time to edit! But I will tell you what I’m bringing on the trip to read:
1.) John Banville “The Shroud” (I immediately went on Amazon and ordered every single thing John Banville has ever written. And his last book won the Booker prize – something with “Sea” in it. I will probably receive that book in the mail while I’m gone. And now I keep mentioning him to people and they know about him. How did I not know about him!?! He’s my literary muse now. He’s absolutely the most hypnotic writer, his sentences take my breath away, it’s like music. I often have to put the book down and swoon after a passage.
2.) “Objectivism: The Philosophy of Ayn Rand” by Leonard Peikoff. It’s terrible and astonishing that I have not read any Ayn Rand. I think I was put off by her maniacal (it seems to me – in my ignorance) free market solutions to all problems. But I am ready to give her a try and so many people have come to my show and mentioned her – it’s really a sin that I haven’t read her yet.
3.) “Swann’s Way – In Search Of Lost Time” by Marcel Proust. Well – of course I want to read that! I mean, duh. I just got a new translation by C.K. Scott Moncrieff and Terrence Kilmartin revised by D.J. Enright – the whole six volumes. I am going to try to read one hour a day of Swann’s Way, and then head into other things.
4.) “The Ape In The Corner Office” by Richard Conniff. I am actually almost done with this book and I want to reread part so of it and then give it to my brother. It’s hilarious and interesting and it’s fun to read. I recommend it highly.

Mulan is in heaven because her two cousins (my brother’s children who are identical twins, turning five while we are out at sea) are going to be at her side every single minute.

I can take my computer on the cruise, so maybe I’ll find time to blog from there. Oh my god, I have to pack. And there’s so much to do!

Monday, October 24, 2005

Lego Of God

This is my first blog that I’m writing directly onto Blogger. So, mostly this is a test to see if it will work.

The weekend consisted of: Going to Lego Land with Mulan. My friend Robert joined us. Robert is a musician friend who is producing the Letting Go Of God CD, which we talked about -- a lot -- during the day. More on that later.

Robert sang Hank Williams songs and played guitar all the way to Lego Land. We got there just after it opened on Saturday. It was overcast and almost drizzling with rain. It wasn’t even all that crowed. PERFECT. And Mulan had a blast. I learned something about her, something I probably should have known before. She loves roller coasters. This girl loves to go FAST. We went on two different ones over and over again. She could have gone on them for the whole day. The kids I’ve been around in the past were afraid of roller coasters at this age. But Mulan was sooo into it. She kept saying, "One more time!" Even before we got done with the ride. Robert and I kept laughing because that is the first three words Mulan ever said. I can see her already in the back of a convertible, sitting on the back like a beauty queen in a parade, her arms in the air and some boys in the front seat, and Mulan yelling, "One more time, boys!"

Jeez. Do I need to move to a remote island? Rejoin the Catholic Church and send her to the convent? Or just hold my breath and see what happens?

My favorite part of Lego Land was mini-town. We left around three and went to eat at a restaurant that Robert knew about. He used to live right by there in Carlsbad. Then we drove home and Mulan slept the whole way. I promised to take her to Magic Mountain next. I cannot wait.

So, I’m doing my darndest to get the CD out by December 1st. I already have over four thousand people who’ve e-mailed me and said they wanted it. I’m going to do a four cd package: the live version and the spoken word version together. I want it to cost less than $20, or maybe just $20. I couldn’t decide between the live version and the spoken word and so this is how I’m going to do it. I’m recording the spoken word version on Thursday and Robert is editing the live performances. I am getting my picture taken on Monday for the cover. I am so late getting this together.

Things are going to start going crazy in the next week or so and stay that way until Christmas. The shows at the Groundlings, then to New York for three weeks, then on the family reunion cruise, then back and Christmas will be here. All the while, squeezing in three days a week at Desperate Housewives.

On the way home from Lego Land, Robert and I taught Mulan “I’m So Lonesome I Could Cry.” Sometimes I think there are songs that just have to be filed in your head for inevitable moments that will crop up. I already taught Mulan, “I Want To Be Around.”

“I wanna be around, to pick up the pieces, when somebody breaks your heart. Some somebody twice as smart as me. A somebody who will swear to be true, just like you used to do with me. Who’ll leave you to learn that misery loves company! Wait and see!”

Oh that’s a great one. Maybe not a song that every five year old needs to know, but certainly every adult!

I spent the rest of the weekend making my big vegetable soup and reading Peter Singer’s “In Defense Of Animals.” It’s a collection of essays that Singer edits. It’s really good.

I keep getting lots of letters about hearing my show excerpt on This American Life. That is so cool. I can’t wait until the CD is done…

Tuesday, October 18, 2005

Charlie Rocket is dead

Oh I am so sad. I am at work at Universal Studios, and it's a rainy day. And I'm very depressed. Because Charlie Rocket is dead. I just heard today that he killed himself on Oct. 7th. He was a fellow actor in It's Pat and he became a friend.

I would see him a few times a year, he'd come to parties at my house. I always loved to be around him. I am so shocked and sad. I was thinking about the last time I saw him. I think it was coming out of some Hollywood party and we were both waiting for our cars fromthe valet. Was it at Kathy Griffin's house? A year ago? It must have been two years ago. Oh dear, how time flies.

We gave each other big hugs and stood (if I remember correctly) in the rain, (just like today) waiting. I liked how tall he was, he could engulf you in a hug. He was wearing a tweed overcoat and he looked British -- a chimney sweep -- a Dick Van Dyke with a sinister side.

He always seemed so happy. His wife, Beth, was always warm and conversational, a real glow by his side. I can hardly concentrate on work, I'm just so depressed about this. And it makes me think that maybe I didn't know him all that well, that he could have killed himself. And it makes me wish I'd spent more time around him.

We had this one big scene in the Pat movie, where his character, Kyle, tries to seduce Pat with wine and music. We laughed so hard that day, we could hardly shoot the scene. He was so hilarious in that scene, and every take he had something new and it would take me by surprise. I remember thinking it was the most enjoyable day I had ever spent on a set -- and that movie had plenty of great, memorable, funny days -- Dave Foley playing Chris and Kathy Griffin playing Pat's neighbor. Julie Hayden, a friend of mine, played Charlie Rocket's wife in the movie and they were just great together. Later, Julie got cancer at the exact same time as me. When I went for radiation, she was getting chemo and we would sit together. Once we called Charlie up from the hospital to just chat.

And now both of them are dead. Come to think of it, my brother Mike and my Dad were also in the Pat movie. For some reason this all makes me want to move back to Spokane. Like that's going to slow down time for some reason. Or that Spokane will allow me to just digest everything. Or something.

Anyway, I can't imagine what pain Charlie Rocket's family must be in at this time. I just remember laughing around him, always laughing. He was so clever and dark and his voice was soothing and disturbing at the same time. He always looked so dashing. He always seemed so genuinely happy to see me. And I always lit up around him.

There's another moment in the "It's Pat" movie where Charlie's character, Kyle, hacks the code to Pat's secret computer diary. He's so happy, he grabs a Pat doll he has in his room and kisses it on the lips saying, "We're in! We're In! We're in" as his voice gets deeper and more sexual. And then he tosses the Pat doll behind him and starts to read the diary. And it was so funny to me, his take on that. And whenever I hear those words, "I'm in, I'm in" - I think of him. And I laugh again.

Anyway... It's still pouring rain. I wish I were home. I wish I were making cookies. I want to be quilting and a fire in the fireplace. I heard around the office that the electricity was out in my neighborhood, but I just called home and they have power. But still, I feel like fleeing home, rushing in the door and just grabbing Mulan, like it's a natural disaster. Like -- yeah, she's alive. It's so weird how this is effecting me. Or maybe typical or appropriate.

Another thing about Charlie. I loved how he talked about his wife. Beth is an artist and he always spoke about her with such admiration. And they had been married for a long, long time. And I just loved that about Charlie. How much he loved his family. How he would tell funny stories about his son, Zane, and things that happened in his house with such enthusiasm. The mundane twists of everyday life were so amusing to him. Oh. I am just so sad. I've got to just go home.

My dear friend Jim Emerson, who co-wrote "It's Pat - The Movie" with me, wrote something about him for that I will reprint here.

Charles Rocket, R.I.P.

Jim Emerson / October 17, 2005
Actor, comedian and musician Charles Rocket had roles in such films as Robert Altman's "Short Cuts," Kevin Costner's Oscar-winning "Dances With Wolves" and the Farrelly Brothers' hit "Dumb and Dumber."

But the Associated Press article about his death (he apparently cut his own throat and was found October 7 in a field near his home in Connecticut) began: "Actor and comedian Charles Rocket, who had roles in a variety of movies and TV series and briefly gained notoriety for uttering an obscenity on 'Saturday Night Live,' committed suicide, the state medical examiner ruled."

AP devoted nine paragraphs to Rocket, and four of them referred to "the incident." The first line of his IMDb entry is: "Once uttered the "F" word live on "Saturday Night Live" (1975)." In some way, I think he must have known that would be the stupid piece of trivia that followed him to his grave.

It's so strange and unpredictable the way a person's "public life" can be encapsulated for mass consumption. I worked with Rocket briefly on a little "SNL" spin-off movie ("It's Pat," 1994), and he was a genuinely funny guy. (He played Kyle, the obnoxious neighbor so obsessed with the bizarre sexual "mystery" of Pat that he fell in love, not knowing or caring if Pat was a him or a her; the not-knowing both fed Kyle's fantasies and drove him crazy.)

There's a surfeit of "down time" for the actors on a set, even a low-budget, tight-scheduled studio picture like this one, and I remember one afternoon in particular that could have been dull if it hadn't been for Charlie Rocket. He kept a group of us (Julia Sweeney, Dave Foley, Kathy Griffin, among others) laughing with his stories -- including, eventually, his definitive account of the notorious "f-word" incident. He didn't do it on purpose, and didn't even remember saying it; they had to show him the playback before he was absolutely sure he'd said it. And, the record will show, he was neither the first nor the last "SNL" cast member to have made this particular mistake -- but because he was on the show in 1980-81 (with Eddie Murphy, Joe Piscopo, Gilbert Gottfried), just after the now-legendary original cast had left, the profanity struck many as a deliberate, desperate act on an unfunny, dying show. Charlie Rocket, who died at age 56, deserves better than that.

An obit in _Variety did feature a few interesting tidbits:

Rocket appeared in feature films including "Earth Girls are Easy," "Dances with Wolves," "It's Pat" and "Dumb and Dumber." His last film role was in the 2003 Sylvester StalloneSylvester Stallone film "Shade." On TV, he appeared on shows including "Law & Order: Criminal Intent," "Cybill," "Touched by an Angel" and "thirtysomething."

Rocket played accordion in many bands, performing (with Debbie Harry and Chris Stein of Blondie) on a tribute album to Fellini composer Nino Rota. And I was happy to find a personal appreciation in the Providence Phoenix. It mentions the "f-word incident" only in passing -- but it does note that the group he co-founded, the Fabulous Motels, was virtually the house band at the influential Road Island School of Design for a time in the 1970s: A news anchor job lured him to Colorado Springs, and when he later moved to Nashville, the network affiliate insisted Claverie [his real surname] was too weird a name. Picking from a number of suggested monikers, he chose "Charles Kennedy."

Then came what we all hoped would be the big break. Charlie was selected to star on Saturday Night Live for the 1980-81 season. He would anchor "Weekend Update." He would finally get the type of audience that his talent demanded and deserved. But this was the year that Lorne Michaels left in a disagreement with NBC. Jean Doumanian took over and hired some very bad writers. Charlie was stuck in the middle, trying to do his best in an increasingly untenable situation. Those who knew Charlie were not surprised to find that his best SNL moments were the "Rocket Reports," filmed skits of his own design. Before the season ended, he blurted out the f-word and was tossed off the show.

Moving to Los Angeles, Charlie appeared in dozens of films in supporting and starring roles, and
more than 50 episodes of different TV shows.

But that’s just the "Hollywood career" stuff. To his thousands of friends and fans here in Rhode Island, Charlie was the kindest and most generous type of person. We loved him without reservation, and he gave us that love back. He was a towering figure in the underground arts scene in the Providence of the 1970s. He heavily influenced Talking Heads, the Young Adults, and dozens of other bands. Those who were active then will tell you that Charles Rocket, in many ways, helped create the template for the underground/hipster/bohemian art scene here and elsewhere. We love you, Charlie. Our hearts are with Beth and Zane, and the rest of Charlie’s family and family of friends. He was our hero.

To Charlie.

Tuesday, October 04, 2005

Moving my blog to blogger

Well, I'm moving my blog to This was all started by a person who wrote me about all that was wrong with my blog and site -- too small of print, no way to respond in the way you can on other blogs, etc. And I realized he was right! So I have been consulting with my website people and I'm changing my site -- new home page, etc. Also, I'm going to have it link to because they clearly have the best set up as far as I can see. It will all be much better. So, in the meantime, I'm not really blogging. Waiting for the remodel, you know.

I did my first of my Sunday morning shows on Sunday and it seemed to go well. I leave for Spokane on Wednesday to do the benefit and then I have two more performances of In The Family Way before I start Letting Go Of God again. If I can get an audience, I'll continue the Sunday thing between February and May -- then the goal is to shoot the film then.

I saw a sneak of the movie In Her Shoes this weekend. I sobbed the entire movie. Like... the whole movie. I couldn't stop crying. It's a formula chick flick that completely works and is engrossing and stylish and funny and ah... a tearjerker.

More when I am on

Saturday, September 10, 2005

Like everyone I know, I cannot stop reading, watching and listening to news about the flood. It’s just so depressing. That’s an understatement. Even the understatement is understating it. Having just read Jared Diamond’s “Collapse” and having just finished (at midnight last night) “Tomorrow Now” by Bruce Sterling and having just read (Bill McKibbon's article) in Grist Magazine, I just…I’m so terrified and disillusioned and resigned and sad about the future of everything. I didn’t realize until I was over forty what a precious and fragile thing CIVILIZATION is. Civilization: I’ve taken it for granted for my whole life. I’m fairly pessimistic about the future of us humans, but I think I was hoping that I would live through the last vestiges of the beginning of the end – I wouldn’t personally see it start to totally unravel. I know it may seem like I’m overreacting. I know that people had the same feelings in the 50s with the bomb and at the beginning of the industrial revolution and probably at the dawn of every new age time and again. I know that I may reread this in the future and sneer at my hysterical negative self. But still, it’s three forty-five in the morning and I cannot sleep. And it’s because I feel so sad about the future of our planet, the future that my daughter will navigate. There’s so many bad signs: a terrible government who wages senseless, needless wars, a government who uses religion to scare people and simultaneously make them more complacent, a government who actively tries to mislead or keep quality education from the masses, environmental disasters, poor planning for the future. We are Easter Island, carving oversized statues – making war with the tribes nearby and cutting down our last tree. What’s next? The Avian flu – some pandemic of some sort? The San Andreas fault ruptures? Oceans rising, millions displaced?

Yesterday, I went to and watched the little movie taken by the (space probe) headed to Mercury. Watching it was comforting and troubling. We are so small, such a little small blip. We are so teeny and vulnerable. And we aren’t that smart and we’re really violent. I mean, we are creative and lovable and joyous and mad. But oh jeez, calm planning is not our strong suit. Oh god, this all sounds so portentous – I must stop writing this. All these grand “we’s” and “our’s.” What am I, WHO am I to be -- generalizing and philosophizing on such a grand scale? With enough arrogance and authority to actually type it?

But still, this is what I’m thinking about all the time. This is why I cannot sleep tonight.
I am funneling all my anxiety into quilting these days. My friend Julia got me into it. She bought all these old quilts on E-bay and restored some of them. She gave us one that is now on Mulan’s bed. Its all hand stitched, made from feed sacks, and made in the thirties or forties. It’s gorgeous. Then Julia organized this quilting class that I’m taking at the Sewing Arts Center.

Now, our teacher, Russell is a major part of my life. There are three of us women in the class, Val, Maria, Julia and I. We are all nearly the same age, three of us are single, two of us have children. All of us are finding new meaning in life through quilting. (Maria’s not all the way there in her commitment, but I have faith in her.)

I made a small quilt for Mulan’s favorite stuffed animal: a blue-green elephant named Eddie. I am almost done with it. I machine stitched the two-inch blocks and then am hand stitching the quilting. The batting is rather thick and stiff and I have to jab-sew the stitches which makes them awkward and uneven and it’s a chore. But still. I want to do almost nothing else.
In the meantime, I lost my mind and bought almost fifteen quilts on E-bay! I spent over a thousand dollars on quilts and quilt tops. Most were about a hundred dollars apiece. I couldn’t stop myself, I was obsessed. I should have been giving that money to victims. I mean, I DID give money to the International Medical Corps Hurricane Katrina fund, even…almost the same amount that I spent on quilts, but I should have given more. I admit my petty personal obsessions, my lack of total generosity. It seems like the more bad news I hear, the more fearful books I read, the more I need to… to…own handmade quilts made in the thirties! Depression quilts. I like to run my fingers over the hand stitches and imagine the woman who made them. I’ve learned all the names of the patterns: Old Maid’s Puzzle, Grandma’s Flower Garden, Pinwheels, Nine Patch, Irish Chain, Drunkard’s Path, Flying Geese, Bowties, Courtyard Crosses. I dream of buying a nice sewing machine.

Then Julia got a quilt top, an unfinished quilt top that she is finishing for her son: Will. That means that the fabrics were pieced together and sewed, but it has no batting or backing. I kept imagining the woman who made the quilt top – long dead – and now, fifty or sixty years later her quilt top is getting lovingly finished by my friend, Julia. I was so moved by this act. Julia said, “It’s sort of like Mulan, in a way – you’ll never know who her mother was, it’s this unknown person who created this wonderful thing, but you are finishing it.” Maybe this is true, but I find this completing-quilts-started-by-others oddly and yet deeply spiritual. Wow, getting quilt tops and then finishing them! I never knew. I never knew that was even a thing to DO! What was the quilt maker thinking while she stitched? Did her daughters or sons help? How did she decide on this fabric here and that fabric there? Was it even a woman who did it? Was the fabric from dresses that meant something? Or feed sacks long saved? You start to see how some people have an eye for color and fabric combinations and others just don’t.

So, anyway, I now have bought about eight or nine quilt tops! I have two years of quilting to do before I’m done and I have only three beds in my house! What am I doing? I’ve gone batty! Worse, in the end, now that I have eight quilts in my living room and seven or maybe eight more to come, I think I should have just spent that amount of money on two really fantastic quilts. Still, I feel I’ve rescued the quilts I did buy somehow. Some seem like they weren’t appreciated – one has a rip that makes me think it was on a pullout bed and it got caught in the hinges. I will repair it and make it nice. I will make that long dead grandma proud. It’s impossible not to imagine her smiling down on me.
I listen to NPR while I quilt. I broke into tears the other day when I heard about the nursing home – why do I say “the” – I think there were several…where a woman was dead, clutching a piece of paper where she’d written the phone numbers of her next of kin. I couldn’t stop thinking about her – what were her joys in life, what did she create, what did she cook, when did she laugh so hard she couldn’t stop, when did she climb into bed with her parents after a bad dream? Was she a quilter????

Oh jeez, I sound so melodramatic. But I can’t help it. I can’t stop getting teary and even crying when I hear the stories. What a horrible way to die – waters rising, hope receding, a lifetime of thought drowning in mucky, oily, bacteria-filled water. Dogs and cats dying, scratching and whimpering, gulping and gasping, letting it go, stopping the fight for life. The kids trapped in attics. It’s just too much. One guy who drove a helicopter said over half of the three hundred people he participated in rescuing were children. He said that even though he feels he did help save these kids, he knows there were many more times that number out there who didn’t get saved. Who just waited and waited. He described flying by one house and seeing a little hand, a teeny little hand waving from an attic vent. Oh my god, now I am crying again. Jeez. What a disaster! And a gutted Fema run by a republican crony who used to raise Arabian horses and all our manpower trying to secure our rights to oil in the Middle East. And then…it’s oil here too that’s the problem. Those vast streaks of oil. It’s like the oil is our dark side, and now it’s seeping out all over the place. It’s like the old bottle of bourbon hid in the toilet and it broke and now everyone’s just staring at it and it’s all out there in the open and mixed up with our regular old poop. And Bush thinks this is a good time for another tax cut! He wants to make the estate tax permanently gone – a tax that benefits only the rich. We’re making all the classic mistakes. We are not unique – other great powers have descended into dark ages. The way to descend has earmarks: heightened religiosity, greater divisions between rich and poor, it’s a formula and we’re right there on that path. Oh, it’s time to just listen to some music and look at the stars and try to calm down.

Now it’s five a.m. I am going to go watch the Jon Stewart’s I have on TIVO and quilt until Mulan wakes up. Only now I feel almost...tired after writing this. I think maybe I could go back to sleep. I think I am relaxing. Good night. I mean, good morning.

I just listened to This American Life – the flood episode. It’s so sad. We lost total control. And it was totally our fault. There was no big plan. There was no real plan at all. I have absolutely no confidence that our government would protect anybody from and through a big disaster.

Saturday, August 20, 2005

Anthropomorphizing Demons and Ideas

It’s early Saturday morning. Last night I went to a party where I met this guy who wrote The Science Behind The Science of Star Trek. Andre…something. I can’t remember his last name. We only talked ten minutes, maybe even less, but it was awesome. I was energized by the whole conversation. We talked about how astronomers really do their work off computers now – it’s not like they are outside at night with a telescope. Like at the Keck Observatory in Hawaii, mostly the astronomers sit in rooms a few thousand feet below the actual telescope and they can operate the telescopes from their room. They see the images on the computer. I wanted to go visit Keck. I still do, but after learning that, my interest was diminished a bit. If its just images on a computer screen, why not look at the DVDs from the Hubble missions? Which of course, I have. But then those images are enhanced in certain ways – colors, contrasts and so forth. Which makes you think, well – what are we looking out at anyway? Our eyes only can see a certain spectrum of light and color. Why not manipulate that light and color – it’s just adjusting our personal filter of that image. The adjustment might even cause us to understand the image better. But there’s something lost. There’s something that starts to feel all made up about the whole endeavor.

I still have a dream of traveling the world and visiting the great Observatories.

I have still been thinking about that passage in Mark that I “mangled” in my San Francisco Chronicle interview. Why did I get that wrong? Maybe because, in that story, the character(s) that seem the most alive are the demons. A man comes up to Jesus and says he is possessed by demons. The conversation Jesus has is with the demons that describe themselves as of great number. I think that’s where I got the “people” part – not “person.” And then they ask to get put into a herd of two thousand pigs, which Jesus does. In my mind, that’s images of demons and pigs together. Then they run off a cliff. I think one of my problems is that I can’t think of “demons” as anything other than “people.” I anthropomorphize demons. In my mind, they have goatees and black turtlenecks and maybe even capes, and wings, and long crooked noses: witches, warlocks, but in the end…people. People dressed up to look like demons. I guess you could say: actors. Because all my images of demons come from movies where they are played by people. And when their spirits go into the pigs and the pigs kill themselves, it’s people and pigs killing themselves. When the demon(s) go out of the man, he seems to have lost his personality. I lose interest in his character after he doesn’t have demons. He seems to become a zombie, devoid of personality. It’s like Jesus strips him of his personality and then sends him off to spread the “message” of Jesus’ power.

Not that I am excusing myself for my lapse. It’s just…I’ve been musing about why I made that error. Why did I remember that passage that way?

My friend Kevin Gun, who is in seminary school to become an Episcopal priest, wrote and said that his class is studying this very passage at school, Mark 5: 10-20, and that his teacher starts the year with that passage because it’s so bizarre and unsettling. Here is a nice analysis of this Bible passage that I found: (Mark 5 analysis by Austin Cline)

I woke up thinking about these things. I haven’t come to any conclusions exactly yet. But this is what I woke up thinking about:

So many Christians who write to me feel persecuted and in a minority. They feel they are the underdogs. They also often describe the mainstream culture as hedonistic or without morality: society gone out of control. And they think that a return to the laws of God (their particular god) will make society much better and more loving and more pure.

Then I thought this: Christians don’t want evolution taught in the schools. Not only that, they can’t let themselves even consider that evolution is the means through which we people came to be. Probably because it’s too cold and haphazard and accidental. To think we feeling people came from such an unfeeling universe, a universe that doesn’t even have the consciousness to care about us humans is intolerable. Well, that’s understandable. It is very difficult to accept that, because we humans feel so much love for each other. We are deeply, emotionally connected to each to other. It’s almost impossible to think that the universe doesn’t have those same feelings.

These Christians think of evolution as a survival of the fittest method of arriving at dominance. But it is precisely this formula that they advocate economically. (That is, if they are Republican right-wing Christians.) They don’t want government regulation when it comes to business. They want the strongest to have full reign to dominate over the weak. They don’t want government programs that help the poor, they want those poor people to “work” hard and compete for their wages. Their social outlook isn’t one of taking care of others, it’s very much a marketplace, survival-of-the-fittest attitude.

It’s so ironic, to me that Christian Republican conservatives advocate survival of the fittest when it comes to the harsh realities of the marketplace, but they don’t want children to be taught this harsh method of how humans came to exist.

And yet, they get evolution so wrong! Survival of the fittest isn’t even accurate. It’s survival of the most adaptable, survival of the lucky, survival of the most cooperative. That’s what evolution really is. One of the big reasons our species has done so well is because we love each other. And why do we love each other? Because we survive much better in numbers than we do individually. When we cooperate our children are raised with a greater likelihood of succeeding. If these Christians would just learn a little bit about evolution they might be inspired to look out for their fellow human beings a little more. But they want to keep evolution unknown – they want to just think of it as a hash unacceptable theory. And in the meantime, they want to allow huge businesses to roll over common people, unfairly taking enormous profits and paying the top executives absurd bonuses and salaries.

Jesus talks a lot about the love of the Father, God, the Universe. And while Jesus does tell people over and over again to give all their money to the poor, he also encourages people to dissociate themselves from their families—not to care about father and mother, to live without the cares of the world.

But we know that the Universe doesn’t love us. But our families, at least in theory, do. And the religious, at least many of the ones who write to me, seem to feel that this world is not of our concern, that this world is bad and hedonistic, and that there is another world where God is where there is perfect harmony and caring. And this secular world is bad, and this world of God is good.

I guess to me, I think it’s exactly the opposite. I think the Universe is a cold abyss. A fascinating, profoundly awe-inspiring, majestic, beautiful, terrible, heartless, unfathomable, large abyss. And I think that this world, where I live amongst people I care about deeply, to be lovely and small and sweet and painful and poignant.

And I think we’ve got to always be vigilant against our deep impulses to behave in ways that are like that cold, stark, exploitive, life-giving universe – we have to steel ourselves against greed, for example. We have to watch ourselves not to exploit or unduly harm others – to make life fair as much as we can. That, to me, is our most difficult task. We are products of evolution, be we don’t have to behave in the uncaring ways that evolution often does. (See, it’s almost impossible not to anthropomorphize evolution itself! It’s like my demons, how they are really people – it’s just so hard not to think of IDEAS like they are people!)

All right. So, this is what I’m thinking about.

Yesterday I spent much of the day getting my picture taken for People Magazine. My house was overrun with make up and hair people, a stylist, photographers and assistants. Actually – to be honest, the make up and hair person was only one person. I guess People is doing a Desperate Housewives issue and I am going to be in it as one of the writers. Which is so WRONG. Because I hardly do anything for that show. The other writers do so much, I’m just a fly on the wall. Even though I hope to not just be that – over time. But jeez, I felt guilty about it. On the other hand, it was really fun. Often photographers and stylists make me feel so bad and awkward – but these people were great. It seemed effortless. Of course I wished I was 30 pounds thinner, but other than that, I actually felt…well, pretty. For a moment.

Today I’m making vegetable soup and organizing the house. It’s sort of overcast here today, which is perfect weather for this sort of thing.

Thursday, August 18, 2005

Dawn's Demons

Today I was pointed to a blog, by Dawn Eden ( In her August 16, 2005 entry she comments on my San Francisco Chronicle interview.

In the interview (which you can read on this site) I make a mistake when I recount the story from Mark where Jesus send the evil spirits into the pigs and they run off the mountain. I said he sent the people too. That was incorrect.

She writes:

“Further proof that Christians need to continually remind the mainstream media of the most basic facts concerning their faith: San Francisco Chronicle religion writer David Ian Miller's failure to correct Julia Sweeney as she utterly mangles a story from the Gospels.”

And then,

“Apparently, it is too much to expect a San Francisco Chronicle religion writer to have the Bible knowledge of a 7-year-old Sunday-school student.”

This is what I wrote back to her today:

Dear Dawn,

Yes. I misrepresented the Jesus-commands-evil spirits-to-go-into-pigs-and-run-them-off-a-cliff story in the bible. I suggested that that Jesus caused the people & pigs to run off the cliff. He didn’t. He just caused a COUPLE OF THOUSAND PIGS to run off the cliff.

The point I was trying to make is that Jesus does several things that aren't particularly charitable or compassionate or even logical. I mean, if Jesus is capable of anything, why doesn't he just kill the evil spirits right there? Why does he have to kill two thousand innocent pigs to do that? Regardless of the fact that Jews of the period thought that pigs were unclean, we know that this is not true. So if we know this, why didn't Jesus? Why would that action be acceptable to him?

Plus, evil spirits? COME ON. Are we to believe that there are "evil spirits" that can infect a person and then be driven out of a person? And then driven into an…animal?

You say my mistake is the reason that Christians have to remind the mainstream media of the most basic facts concerning their religion. I completely agree. I think you should remind everyone in the mainstream culture (which is predominantly Christian) that their God is someone who sends evil spirits into pigs and drives them off mountains. (Pigs owned by people, by the way. Even if the mainstream culture you are trying to remind the “most basic facts” to isn’t moved by the specter of two thousand pigs hurling themselves off a cliff by Jesus’ direction, they might be upset – in this most commercial & profits driven culture -- that those pigs were owned by someone. Even by today’s standards, two thousand lost pigs have to be counted as an economic loss.)

So yes. Jesus didn’t send some people and pigs off a cliff. He sent the “evil spirits” into two thousand pigs and they ran off a cliff. Is that so much better? Is this the story that you say any seven-year-old Church student knows?

Personally, I would find that defending Jesus’ killing off of a couple of thousand pigs after he infected them with evil spirits a “basic fact” of your faith not worth defending. But that’s just me.

Good luck to you. I hope your mother gets well.

Julia Sweeney

This is the Gospel story: Mark 5:1-20 (New American Standard Bible)

Mark 5

The Gerasene Demoniac
1They came to the other side of the sea, into the country of the Gerasenes.
2 When He got out of the boat, immediately a man from the tombs with an unclean spirit met Him,
3 and he had his dwelling among the tombs. And no one was able to bind him anymore, even with a chain;
4 because he had often been bound with shackles and chains, and the chains had been torn apart by him and the shackles broken in pieces, and no one was strong enough to subdue him.
5 Constantly, night and day, he was screaming among the tombs and in the mountains, and gashing himself with stones.
6 Seeing Jesus from a distance, he ran up and bowed down before Him;
7 and shouting with a loud voice, he said, "What business do we have with each other, Jesus, Son of the Most High God? I implore You by God, do not torment me!"
8 For He had been saying to him, "Come out of the man, you unclean spirit!"
9 And He was asking him, "What is your name?" And he said to Him, "My name is Legion; for we are many."
10 And he began to implore Him earnestly not to send them out of the country.
11 Now there was a large herd of swine feeding nearby on the mountain.
12 The demons implored Him, saying, "Send us into the swine so that we may enter them."
13 Jesus gave them permission. And coming out, the unclean spirits entered the swine; and the herd rushed down the steep bank into the sea, about two thousand of them; and they were drowned in the sea.
14 Their herdsmen ran away and reported it in the city and in the country. And the people came to see what it was that had happened.
15 They came to Jesus and observed the man who had been demon-possessed sitting down, clothed and in his right mind, the very man who had had the "legion"; and they became frightened.
16 Those who had seen it described to them how it had happened to the demon-possessed man, and all about the swine.
17 And they began to implore Him to leave their region.
18 As He was getting into the boat, the man who had been demon-possessed was imploring Him that he might accompany Him.
19 And He did not let him, but He said to him, "Go home to your people and report to them what great things the Lord has done for you, and how He had mercy on you."
20 And he went away and began to proclaim in Decapolis what great things Jesus had done for him; and everyone was amazed.

More thoughts on this story:

Rereading this story, I find it even more upsetting. We know that people who behave in the way this man is behaving are psychologically traumatized and need help, maybe even medical help. If Jesus is the Son of an all-knowing God and they are also One, why wouldn’t Jesus know this? Why wouldn’t he prescribe a medication for the man, or offer to hear the man’s story and try to help him with some Talk-therapy? Clearly Jesus doesn’t know about these things. Clearly this was written in a time when no one knew about these things. Jesus was responding to this poor crazy man in a way that was consistent with the scientific information they had. They believed that mentally disabled people were possessed. And they believed that pigs were bad.

I mean, isn’t this obviously a story that would have wowed people two thousand years ago and isn’t relevant to us today? Why does anyone cling to these stories for spiritual sustenance? Why do they look at this story and find it meaningful? I don’t get it.

Wednesday, August 17, 2005

I must perform these two monologues.

Well, I just couldn’t stand it. I had to figure out a way to keep doing these shows! The good news is that I am going to be making both monologues into films in the next year. I have a great producer (I can’t announce his name just yet) and we are in the planning stages for filming. In the meantime, I wanted to keep both monologues alive in my head. And since I’m doing a benefit in Spokane, performing In The Family Way, on Oct. 7th, I figured I should call the Groundling Theater and figure out some dates where I could do my shows.

So, I’m going to do ten Sunday morning performances. Three of In The Family Way, and seven of Letting Go Of God. I know, it’s weird doing a Sunday morning matinee, but I really wanted to do it at the Groundling Theater (that place is like the house I grew up in, I feel so closely connected to it) and that’s the only time the theater really had for me. Plus, I will admit, I love that time of the day and that time of the weekend. (Maybe that's why Church's do so well...) In my case, I get up so early, and I often have other things I want to do on Sunday afternoons (like go to the Skeptic lectures in Pasadena at Cal Tech -- see and Sunday nights are hard because there's work and school the next day to get ready for, and well, to me a Sunday morning show is perfect. Also, I used to go to the eleven a.m. Sunset Five matinees years ago, and it sure seemed like there were a lot of us out there who enjoyed seeing something at that time of the weekend.

Also…I am less interested in bodies in the seats than I am in keeping my performance up and current in my brain. Also…(so many also’s…!) it gives me a chance to serve coffee and scones and drive my publicist crazy because of what a weird-ass idea it is to do shows on Sunday mornings. So, there you go.


And ALSO the parking is great on Sunday morning, no valet, plenty of street parking –and great places to go to brunch before or after. I will gather information on restaurants nearby over the next few weeks. I will be starting Sept. 25th and do sporadic Sundays through October, then pretty much every Sunday through the middle of December. And finally, two Sundays in January.

I am going to do Letting Go Of God in Palm Springs on March 11, 2006. I will have more details soon. Then, in May, Ira Glass and I are going to do a joint show in Seattle and in Austin. I will have more details about that soon too. In that case, I will be doing a one hour version of my show, and then questions and answers with Ira afterwards.

What else? Oh yes, I am going to be on a panel at TAM4 in Las Vegas in later January. For information go to or to And then I’m going to be speaking at TED this year. This conference is in Monterey, CA Feb. 22 – 25. For information on that, go to

That’s all I can announce right now. Whew. In the meantime, I am working at Desperate Housewives three days a week and on my book for two days a week. I know I said I was going to blog more, but…I have so much to say that I can’t actually SAY. ARGH. So, it’s hard. But I will try.

Mulan and I just went up to Spokane for five days last week. I have eight girlfriends who I've known my whole life, and we all got together last Wednesday to boat around Coeur'D Alene lake and drink margaritas and get caught up. We talked all day long. We could have been at it for a week, I think we all felt we were just scratching the surface. We all vowed to do this more often. We jumped off the roof of the houseboat we were in, and we drove past Camp Sweloken where many of us went to Camp Fire Girls Camp when we were young, and we even yelled out our old camp "call" and the current campers answered us back from the beach. It was heaven. The next day Mulan and I went boating with Darcy and her sister Dena, who are among my old pals. Darcy lives on the Spokane River. She water skis four times a week all summer. She works two days a week. Her life is AWESOME. I was inspired and jealous and felt lucky all at the same time.

Every minute I wanted to move back to Spokane. The whole time I was there, I was thinking, "You had the guts to move OUT of Spokane, but do you have the guts to move BACK?" Like it was the tag of a movie or something. Mulan and my mother and my niece and nephew and I went to the movie March Of The Penguins. We all also saw the Imax movie about the Nile. I try to see all the IMAX movies.

We went on the carousel downtown, we wandered through Riverfront park, we went to Auntie's bookstore and got books. The weather was perfect. We had a little wind storm that kept us in one night. WHAT AM I DOING HERE IN LOS ANGELES?

I kept reminding myself that I actually really like Los Angeles. And I really like my neighborhood and the schools and I love show business, too. But still...

One night I drove past my grandmother's house and sat outside for ten or fifteen minutes and fantasized about buying it, remodeling it, and then just...quilting and listening to the radio in it for the rest of my life.

I was recently talking to a writer friend about characters and their "drives." When you write on a show, you are always talking about what the character "wants" and what their "drive" is what they are willing to do to "get" what they want. All these words are so active. And my whole writing career I have had a hard time with it. When I write things on my own, my characters are very passive. Things happen TO them. They don't want very much. I mean, I have learned how to think in the "drive" mode, but this is not natural to me. It's hard for me to think of: plot. I am much better with character and characters reacting to things that happen.

Anyway, my friend said something that just blew my mind. It changed they way I approach much of my writing. He said, "Look. All I really want to do is read the newspaper. And everything that happens is my personal obstacle to getting to just sit down and read the paper. So that's all you need, that's all the drive you have to have."

I know this may seem so inconsequential, but I couldn't stop thinking about it. Yes. YES. That's exactly right. And that's true for me -- at least for the moment. All I really want to do is quilt and listen to the radio. That's all I want to do. I want that like some people want heroin. (I am taking a quilting class on Saturdays now...just so you know. I am making a quilt for my daughter's stuffed animal, Eddie, an object that she has not parted with since we got off the plane from China.)

So, I sat outside my grandmother's house, a house I have only happy and content and loving memories associated with, and I just wanted to buy that house and quilt and listen to the radio. For like...years and years. Till I was tired of it. Even though I couldn't imagine being tired of it.

Okay. Here I am wistfully going on about this when I'm also announcing all this performing. I guess I am full of contradictions, like, I suppose, we all are.

But still! Quilting and listening to the radio!

Thursday, July 21, 2005

As The Cook Deals With Meat And Vegetables

I want to write/blog something often. Maybe every day. Maybe not. We will see how things go.

Today’s highlights:

A good quote I read by Eric Hoffer, a writer who lived mostly in San Francisco and died in 1983 after he spent his life being a longshoreman. He kept notebooks with his thoughts as well as writing nine books, including The True Believer which is subtitled, Thoughts on the Nature Of Mass Movements. He writes that true believers are disappointed people, “Faith in a holy cause is to a considerable extent a substitute for the lost faith in ourselves.”

But I am writing all this to get to one other quote of Hoffer’s that I really, really love.

“How terribly hard and almost impossible it is to tell the truth. More than anything else, the artist in us prevents us from telling aught as it really happened. We deal with the truth as the cook deals with meat and vegetables.”

I had a great late-night conversation with Michael Patrick King, my friend who was the show runner on Sex & the City and who is now working on The Comeback. A show I was initially wary of and now find impossible not to watch and watch again. Even though I am not in any way whatsoever an actress like Valerie Cherish, the actress that Lisa Kudrow plays on The Comeback, I think the show is driving me back into therapy. It has gotten under my skin. I watch it more than once.

The scariest thing on television in the last ten years are those two writers on The Comeback. They make me shiver.

Wednesday, July 20, 2005

I'm sorry. And I'm not moving.

Oh dear. This whole blog thing is NUTTY! Well, first of all I have to apologize. I did get several horrible e-mails from people about not believing in God. But honestly, nothing compared with the positive ones. And now I’m embarrassed that I gave the bad ones so much weight. If you look at it scientifically, and you consider that I got -- let’s see – including all the e-mail I got after the L.A. Times article, about 3500 e-mails over the last two months, and about 100 to 200, I would guess, are negative and only about 70 to 100 were hateful. Such an incredibly small percentage. Teensy weensy. Not worth bothering about.

It’s kind of weird having your blog be quoted in the paper. I think this is the third paper I’ve been quoted in. I keep thinking that blogs are so…PRIVATE. Ha. To me, blogging is like you are blathering to a friend late at night when everything in the world is bothering you and it seems like it should have a shelf life or something. And then, out of nowhere, you get quoted in the paper. I should be more…on my toes! Ready to be quoted!

And yet, the whole beauty of the blog is that it’s half personal diary and half public pronouncement. Blogs are like personal conversations at a restaurant that can suddenly include the people at the next table – sort of private, sort of not private.

In any case, I will attempt to think through what I’m writing a little more. I got sooo many letters from Christians apologizing for the bad spelling and the hateful language. I don’t even care about the bad spelling. I was being catty. And that is so bad. Bad, bad, bad.

I mean, it’s true about a few, a very few of the letters. But who cares about spelling? Some of my favorite people -- people who I consider to be geniuses -- are horrible spellers. And I had my own spelling and grammar mistakes pointed out to me. Oh why, oh why did I say that to begin with?

And the hate part – I don’t even care about that anymore. I feel hate myself. I guess more like anger, not exactly hate. Threats bug me. But I really don’t care anymore.

I sound like I'm convincing myself. I am bugged when people write and say things like, "I see you've gotten yourself more publicity." I don't know how to respond to that. Of course, what I'm doing is not responding to it.

Also, I’m not moving. I was so tired when I wrote that. And I had started a new job and I had been with my mother for over ten days. IMAGINE my state of mind.

I just flew back from Toronto where I shot something for a day. I shot an episode of my friend Bob Blumer’s Food Channel show, The Surreal Gourmet. I think I didn’t do such a good job. I think they wanted me to be witty and have quips and I did not. Why don’t I know in advance that I’m not good at that? It was a hot, long day. But excellent food.

And on the plane ride back this morning, I read a book I picked up at the airport: A Short History Of Progress by Ronald Wright. It’s soooo good. And soooo depressing. It’s almost like a very condensed version of Jared Diamond’s Collapse and Guns, Germs & Steel mixed with Martin Rees Our Final Century. If you don’t have time for Jared’s two big books, this one by Ronald Wright is sufficient. Then I also read the July/August Foreign Affairs issue, which is all about the next pandemic. Which could be the avian flu. Which could happen anytime. And how we are destined for a major population reduction. We are majorly overdue. Wright writes, “Medical experts worry that nature may swat us with disease: billions of overcrowded primates, many sick, malnourished, and connected by air travel are a free lunch waiting for a nimble microbe.” Eee gads.

Basically I am not eating meat (which I have no proof would stave off any type of avian flu) and I’m enjoying the sunsets a lot more. Even though I just ate meat for this shoot yesterday, so see how I’m a hypocrite already? But no more meat. That was the end of it.

I’m going to look up eating poultry and avian flu.

Okay, now I’ve spent an hour reading about the Avian flu on the Centers for Disease Control web site and the CNN website. The CNN website is actually better for information. You can get the Avian flu from handling birds that are infected, or being around them. When I was in China a few years ago, walking through the Qing Ping market in Guangzhou, seeing all the caged birds next to the caged dogs next to the caged cats ready to be slaughtered all together for the purchaser on the very same cutting board – I thought, this cannot be a good thing. And apparently it is not. Anyway, once the flu is entrenched in humans, it can then spread from human to human. Very scary.

I know this has nothing to do with God. But it is one of the side effects of not believing. The world truly does get scarier. Human history, civilized human history anyway, becomes a mere ten thousand or so years. A blip. A crazy patch of stable weather, good for chimps.

My favorite line in Wright’s book is: “Homo sapiens has the information to know to know itself for what it is: an Ice Age hunter only half-evolved towards intelligence; clever but seldom wise.”

Why didn’t I spend more time reading the In Style magazine that I also bought? Victorian blouses are going to be in this year. A return to conservatism!

Friday, June 24, 2005

New camera

Okay, things are moving along. The show opens Sept. 1 in previews and then opening night is Sept. 17th. I am in the process of gathering together my team of people, the sound director, the lighting designer, etc. It's all very very exciting. Also, Mulan graduates from pre-school tomorrow. Also, I just realized that I have either misplaced or had stolen my video camera and my Leica. OHMYGOD. First, I hate myself for not knowing if I've misplaced them or had them stolen. Okay, let's just assume they weren't stolen. Where the hell are they? Oh I am filled with self loathing.

I had to go buy a new video camera just now. Yep. I had to go spend $700 on a new video camera. I have turned the house upside down. I have no Leica Camera and no video camera. The video camera has a tape on it which is basically everything Mulan has done for a year. How can this be? Oh, the cost of being disorganized is high, indeed.

Okay, breathe. Breathe.

I now have a new video camera. The old one was several years old, so I guess it's really good that I have a new one. I will now be able to properly record my daughter's life. Where is the Leica, though?

Okay, let's change the subject.

I got to meet Wim Wenders today. He interveiwed me for a part in an upcoming movie he is directing. I worshipped Wim Wenders for years. I mean, I still think he's great. It's just...looking at him, talking to him. I felt like I was in a dream. He didn't seem real. The whole thing threw me into an entire day of thinking about his movies. I wanted to say so many things to him that I didn't. That "The American Friend" is one of my all time favorite movies and I've seen it eight or nine times. Alice in the Cities, also an iconic film for me. But I was speechless, I just sat there and giggled nervously. He asked me how I could have done a monologue about cervical cancer. And I said something like, "It wasn't just about cervical cancer, it was also about my brother's cancer!" I sounded like a freak. But he was nice. He acted like he was going to see me again, but you know those europeans, they can always sound like that, they are so polite. Oh jeez.

Monday, June 13, 2005

Taking a blogging break

Thanks so much for all your e-mails. I got hundreds more in the last few days. It’s really overwhelming. Over three thousand now. I appreciate them all. I just wish I could respond. So many made me want to jump right in and write a thorough letter back. I am still going to try to reply to people when I can get a moment.

But for the time being, I’m going to take a blogging break. Not that that’s so important to anyone, but… I’m just going to take a break. First of all, since I started my new job, my whole life is wound up in things I can’t talk about at all.

Second of all, I’m getting some pretty harsh weird e-mail. It’s making me take a moment to think about how many people are out there who scare the shit out of me. Granted, most of the e-mail I got - to an overwhelming degree -- is from people who are positive and encouraging. Who feel just as I do. Who went through what I did. Or people who are worried about what's happening in our country and culture with regards to religious fundamentalism and Christian domination.

Of course, I don’t want to restrict my reading to only those e-mails which are from people to feel the same way I do. But…well, I wish I could just show you some of the many frightening letters I have received. They make your spine tingle. They are SCARY. A lot of angry, scary people.

People with poor spelling and punctuation. Mostly.

Not that I’m the bastion of proper spelling & punctuation, but… I have one suggestion for the Christians out there who want to send me a long intimidating, terrorizing e-mail – at least spell your threats properly. It’s distracting to my sense of fear when your spelling is SO bad.

I know, that’s mean. But it’s hard to look past it.

Anyone who has e-mailed me and asked to be notified when the CD comes out will be contacted. I am still on my schedule. It will happen and you will be notified.

I have to keep reminding myself that these people are just people composing e-mail and telling me their point of view. But they are sooo nasty and so outraged and so filled with hate. I think I tried really hard not to be hateful in my monologue. I tried to make the case for faith, and show the struggle with compassion to all sides. But yes, in some ways I am hurtful. I am saying things about a myth and a book that many people believe are sacred. And I am challenging the validity and the sacred nature of those materials. I even feel an imperative about what I have to say. I think the future of our species depends on us wising up and accepting ourselves as animals that evolved on a planet.

Just like the Christians think that my future of depends on accepting their beliefs. In this way, I think I have a lot in common with Christians, or these types of Christians, because I think it’s majorly important if someone is religious or not. Only, I think it should be on the "not" side.

I feel that people who have superstitions have been victimized and do not see the world clearly. And I feel very sad for them.

Also, a teeny bit afraid of them.

But to be honest, I don’t know how much I want this in my life. All these angry people. If I still had an assistant, I would have him or her going through these e-mails for me, but I don’t have one and I end up reading them all. And it’s just gotten to me. I mean, of course, they haven’t convinced me. And I’m not going to be quiet about it. I just think that a daily journal about my views isn’t the way for me to go at the moment. The blogging just seems to goad them on even further.

And today, for the first time, I seriously thought I should move or something. I got a little scared.


I will blog again someday, but not in the near future.

Thursday, June 09, 2005

Life Is Not Fair

Mulan and my mother are still asleep and today is a big workday, so I’m going to write a few thoughts down before they wake up. And I guess some might think I’m just spouting off now because of the big response to the This American Life piece and now I’m pontificating or something. And well…yes. I guess so. I am a little bit. But it’s been such an overwhelming response, I got almost fifty more letters just this morning! And I guess I’m indulging the fact that I have a few more people’s eyes to read what I have to say. I have to remind myself that this will all calm down soon and I’ll be back to complaining about five year olds or something.

So, that said… This is what I've been turning over in my head recently.

Life is SO not fair. That’s something my dad said all the time while I grew up and I think probably everyone’s parents said that. Well, without the SO part. So here: Life’s not fair. But I never really believed that. I thought God sorted it all out in the end. I had a vague idea that there was ultimate justice. And this had effects down to the smallest interactions.

For example, I am a person who has a very hard time haggling for something. And I have spent time in South America and Asia where you have to haggle for everything. And I would think, “If they overcharge me for this or that item, then that’s taking advantage of me and that act is on their head and they will deal with that when they meet their maker.” And then I would just pay them the price they asked at first as a matter of pride. Like, it’s not up to me to make sure this person behaves with dignity.

This makes me seem ridiculous, and when I write that it does seem ridiculous. But I’m trying to say that these ideas (like life is not fair) aren’t just in place when one considers the big questions in life, it affects even the smallest interactions.

When I stopped all magical belief, including God, it struck me like thunder that everyone was getting away with everything they could get away with and there was not going to be any God to sort it out. And that’s such a difficult bitter pill to swallow, that life is not fair. Life is not fair in the extreme.

The way nature works is not fair either. Survival of the fittest: not fair. I mean, unless you are fit in the ways that nature dictates is fit.

Anyway, I suddenly realized I had to defend myself against others who were trying to take advantage of me. It was all up to me. It felt really cold and sad. I had to defend myself not just against the big forces of chance, but even against this person trying to charge me four dollars for something she's charging one dollar for right behind me

And there’s no remedy for that cold and sad realization. Not at least, one I have found. It’s stark and it makes me feel like an adult in all the worst ways. But then, I had this whole new appreciation for what does enforce some fairness in life. Like governments and laws. Who said that great phrase? ”Taxes are the price we pay for civilization.” Yes. That’s what society does. That’s why we aren’t animals all out for our individual selves. We come together collectively to help insure the survival of the whole group and in that process we make things a little more fair for those who can’t insure that fairness themselves.

That’s one of the worst things that religion does, teach people to be compliant with gross unfairness. Religion does this by inculcating and idea of ultimate justice after death. This makes the paupers happy and content – they will get their reward. I know that most religious people would say that Jesus inspires them to behave in ways that are altruistic and heroic and that all Jesus was about was helping the poor. And yes, I can see how Jesus is an inspiration in that.

But all I have to say to that is two things: Jesus did use the idea of reward when it came to helping the poor. He didn’t say to help the poor because it’s fundamentally unfair and that a more balanced financial distribution is better for everyone. He said to be good to the poor because if you do you get rewarded in heaven. Also, all I have to say is that Bush says Jesus is his favorite philosopher and look at what he’s done for the poor. Just make them a whole lot poorer.

So, life is unfair. This is one of the hardest parts, for me, of letting go of God. And it’s unfair in ways that no government laws could ever change. People die on the brink of great promise in their life. It doesn’t always work out for the best. We are fantastically vulnerable to having everything we hold dear be killed, betray us, reject us. And that is a harsh and hard way to see the world.

But I think it’s accurate. And I realized that I was willing to trade accuracy for a fantasy. AND, weirdly, this harsh acceptance has led to such a deep appreciation for so much in my life. I would call myself a very happy person. I enjoy every day – or nearly every day that I am alive. It caused me to care about others, to increase the money I give to charity and to make sure that that charity is doing what it says it’s doing. It has caused me to be even more politically active and try to make the world a slightly more fair place for other people. It has made me discover science and the scientific method and it has given me a consistent way for evaluating the world. That is no small thing, by the way.

I have come to realize that maybe one of the best things that has come out of my whole experience has nothing to do with God. It’s that I realize that I respect the truth and that there are systematic methods for arriving at truth -- or what we can bet is closest to truth -- and that thousands of years of scholarship has gone into refining these methods. I truly sit on the shoulders of giants in this way. I am receiving the fruits of many people’s efforts over thousands of years who have figured out how to think systematically and come up with information that is reliable and re-testable and all that. And that gives me a great calm. I have a system for looking at the world.

It’s had all kinds of tangible effects too. Like I don’t spend time, or excessive time, around people I don’t like simply to be nice. Time is so limited and valuable. I know I am speaking in platitudes and stating the obvious, but I have to say, this came to me in a whole new way after I grew up, FINALLY.

Okay, now I have to go make Mulan put on clothes. It’s crazy beautiful here in Hawaii. I really hope I get to retire in Kauai someday. I like Oahu, but my heart belongs to Kauai. Yesterday I think I spent more time in the water that I ever have before. Mulan did this dolphin quest experience – they have a dolphin lagoon here and about five dolphins in it. They give you all this literature about how Dolphin Quest is good to the dolphins and they don’t force the dolphins to do excessive tricks. I don’t know if that’s true, but I do know that Mulan had the best two hours learning about dolphins yesterday. They gave a class where they showed a human skull (a fake one) and a real dolphin skull and they spent about twenty minutes learning the differences in the skulls and what mammals were and how we can tell they are mammals. Wow. I wish I’d had that when I was a kid. Or maybe I did hear all that stuff (well, I certainly didn’t do a dolphin experience) and it washed over me. In any case, I was so rapt. It was really interesting. Then Mulan got to pet and feed and splash about with the dolphins. It was pretty great.

I remember when I was in the Galapagos and suddenly someone yelled that there was a school of dolphins on the side of our boat. (Is it a school?) Anyway, we all jumped off the boat – there was no island in site, and we swam along with the dolphins. I could hear them clicking and communicating underwater and I was really right next to them. It was one of the most profound experiences of my life. Now, I’ve been reading recently how dolphins are pretty cruel to each other. I guess it turns out that the bigger the brain, the crueler the species. Hmmm…

Wednesday, June 08, 2005

Biology and Psychology

Okay, I'm on a break here in Hawaii. And I was thinking, after reading more the letters to me, many of them about the real deeper meanings of the Bible stories, that in the end, it wasn't the Bible that did me in about God and all the rest. The Bible did in religion for me. Yes, that's true. Reading the Bible and learning about how the Bible was put together. Reading the Gnostic Gospels and the other "sacred" writings, learning about the traditions of the church and how they became traditions, all that led to me rejecting religion.

But not God.

What did God in, really, was biology and psychology. Learning how our minds work, how we respond to social hierarchy, how we naturally tend toward superstitions and how we see patterns in things, even when no patterns exist. How evolution works, the slow agonizing process of animals evolving, how we living creatures evolve different specialties to compete in this harsh world for survival, how our brain evolved and how it gives us a certain type of advantage, how viruses work and evolve – that’s what did God in.

Many people have written to me about Michael Behe’s book. He wrote Darwin’s Black Box and he’s an Intelligent Design guy who says that there is an irreducible complexity in cells that is unaccountable by evolution. So basically God made cells and evolution did the rest. I have read this book and listened to many scientists responses to it. Basically the problem is that Behe does not account for the fact that certain structures in the cell could have evolved by natural selection and then further evolution caused those same structures to find employment in other novel ways as evolution continued.

Plus, even if a cell floated to earth fully formed, it still doesn’t mean that human beings would evolve or that there is a designer out there somewhere who wants us to be here in particular. I always say that if God got humans here by means of evolution he is a harsh, horrible, wasteful, uncaring God. Millions upon millions of species evolving and dying off in horrifying circumstances. What did the dinosaurs do to God to make him cause them to die in a cloud of darkness after the meteor hit? But for the believer, that’s just what God did. Have 4 and a half billion years of agonizing evolution to get us. Us humans. It makes the creationists who believe that God plopped humans onto the earth in one fell swoop seem reasonable when you think of a God who got us here by means of evolution.

And now the evidence is enormous. Evolution is confirmed over and over again by all kinds of different fields: anthropology, biology, genetics, and so forth. And we understand our own minds much better than we did before. We know the parts of the brain that have religious experience and we understand how people can have those experiences. Experiences I had myself! So, for me, it all points to a world without a God. The world makes sense without a God from a scientific world view. The world does not make sense scientifically with one. (I am referring to a traditional definition of God here.)

I won’t even get into the New Age redefinitions of God. I always say that if God is hydrogen and helium, then yes, I believe in God too.

Some people have written and accused me of a dogmatic fanaticism in my non-belief. I disagree. My disbelief in God is just like my disbelief in Santa Claus. If there is solid scientific evidence that shows a creator God who cares about us humans and offers an eternal life, I am completely open to that and I would change my mind based on it. I have not yet seen evidence that comes close. And yes, it’s true, I am not going to spend all my time searching for evidence that I am wrong. I did do that for years and I came to a certain conclusion and I’m going to stick with it until I find compelling evidence to the contrary. Michael Shermer says you should be open minded but not so open minded that your brains fall out. I think that’s a good stance.

Many people have also said that I selected portions of the Bible that look the worst and judge the whole book in that context. And that’s true. I did do that. I actually left lots out -- I mean lots and lots of passages that are so absurd, like the children getting mauled to death by bears because they make fun of a bald guy in the Old Testament. There are some stories in the Bible that are so ridiculous that I thought that I wouldn't seem credible repeating them! I tried to find passages that people were generally familiar with.

But what I found is that religious folk who argue that the Bible should be viewed in the whole context of the Christian tradition are using that as an excuse to not deal with the disturbing and clearly legendary and folktale aspects of the Bible.

Of course, if you judge the Bible by it’s impact on culture, it’s a tremendously important document. But this becomes a spiral where you can’t judge the Bible by itself and you can’t judge the cultural impact without the Bible. I do not argue that religion has many, many great byproducts. It offers so much. It can do tremendous good. It creates community and ritual and connectedness and Christians in particular are very good at organizing social injustice movements. All that is fantastic. I think those wonderful things are practically worth it to be part of the organization in spite of what it’s based on. I mean, almost.

But some have argued that the byproducts of Christianity – the positive byproducts, the work on behalf of the poor, the community it creates, is the proof that Jesus is the son of God and that God is the only God and a force that created us and loves us and offers us eternal life. However, many other cultures have similar types of byproducts from their religion (maybe I shouldn’t even be saying byproduct, maybe it’s just impacts) and they aren’t Christian. The Muslims have social injustice movements and religious sacred literature with many insightful and great passages, just like the Bible. The Buddhists do too. The Hindus do too. Also, there are secular organizations that offer all this without the religion.

I am here in Hawaii, and I’ve met a couple who went and did the Peace Corps after their six children were grown. They spent two years doing work in Africa and there was no religious organization, it was totally secular. So, the fruit of religion isn’t a good argument for the veracity of Christian truth.

On balance, I think religion has been detrimental. I think it caused the Dark Ages and has set us back over and over again in our human history. ON BALANCE.

So, please, don’t send me more individual examples of religion being so great. I find what I experience as the transcendent in nature, with a full acceptance of who I am and where I stand in nature. Nature may not care a wit about me, but I sure care a lot about Nature.

Last night I laid on the beach and looked at the sky full of stars and the water crashing at my feet and just the thought that the earth is round, just that little fact that I used to take for granted, it just bowled me over. The earth is fucking ROUND!!! And we’re hurtling through space! And who knows how much longer animals like us will be here to look out at that sky and know that the planet they sit on is ROUND? How many animals in the universe know that the reason it’s dark is because their sun is on the other side of their round planet? Or that the sand I scrunch my feet into is made up of millions of years, billions even, of rocks ground up into bits, rocks that were crawled on by other creatures and plants that didn’t have this wonderful gift of knowledge that the earth is round – hurtling through space.


Okay, that probably sounds all preachy and shit. I’ve just read through (or skimmed through) two thousand e-mails (really, over two thousand letters in four days) and I’m a little wound up.

Tuesday, June 07, 2005

Thank you so much for your e-mails

Note: this is written hastily as my daughter tugs at my shirt sleeve and I don't know how to use spell check, so keep this in mind.

I really wasn't prepared for the This American Life show to have such a big impact. I have so much to say back to each and every one of you who has written. I almost hesitate to write this because I don't want anyone NOT to write to me. I read each and every one and today has been such a grand day. I wish I could respond to everyone tonight but I can't!

Many people said they knew I was going to get a lot of e-mails from people who were appalled and angry. This is true. But I would say those e-mails represent a very small minority. I also thought that is what would happen. But, for the recond, what I have found out today is that there are lots and lots and lots of people out there who feel just like I do, have gone through the same things I have. What an amazing thing! I got e-mails from people from all over the United States, I mean all over the place. And I am soooo appreciative. Thank you so much.

But really, this isn't so much about me. What thrills me is that I am finding that there are so many of us who have gone through the same experience or are going through the same experience. I mean, in some ways, because of Bush, he has pushed this whole issue to the forefront, for good or bad, you just can't dismiss your views on religion anymore as being a small matter.

And of course, not everyone has jettisoned God the way I have. And I have so much to say in return.

But I will say this here: many people wrote to say that they didn't think I should have gone from rejecting the Bible to giving up on God. The truth is that I didn't do that. It was a long long journey with many other variations on God and if you could see the whole show, you would see that it wasn't just straight from not-Catholic to non-believer. (my show is two hours and fifteen minutes long and the This American Life excerpt was less than thirty minutes) It took years to explore everything and I hung on until I realized that the only God I could believe in was made up of hydrogen and helium. And then...anyway. I am so re-inspired to write the book and get the CD out and the film done. Really, everyone who has written, thank you soooo much.

Also, YES, my newsletter sign up asks for birthdates and the person's gender and that is really wrong. I don't know how I allowed that. It was a suggestion by the person who designed my website and I'm going to change that immediately. Don't feel you have to put that information in. I have never even looked at that stuff and I won't.

And also, for the Christians who wrote about what those passages mean in the Bible. Yes, I know that the passages I site have all kinds of theories and complicated layers of meaning. I know the theories. I know the ways that people explain those passages. I looked into it. But now, it doesn't really matter because when I, after a long learning curve, really understood how the Bible was put together, which stories were kept and which weren't, what political situations were in place and what was useful to emphasise and so forth, then the Bible became a really interesting historical religious document to me -- inspiring but not sacred. Very much the work of ancient man and not the inspired word of God. So, you see, telling me all about the meanings behind those stories is sort of beside the point at this point.

I am in Hawaii right now, and I am so lucky to be here. My mother is with me and she just had a knee replacement surgery six weeks ago and my daughter is here too and it's a little like having two kids to look after while I'm on a work retreat. Not that I'm complaining, believe me I am not. But my time to resond to e-mail is limited. I will try to, I really will. Because people have the most amazing stories. Everyone's story of how they woke up and saw through the workings of their religion and their faith is interesting, even if they don't give it up in the end.

Also, I got many letters from priests and pastors who told me that they too, don't believe anymore, but what can they do? They are in a profession and they have been at it a long time. This is so heartbreaking to me.
Soooo... no spell check and I'm not even going to read this over, but I felt I had to put something up on the site.