Sunday, May 27, 2007

I am immersed in editing my movie of “Letting Go of God.” I am working at home, with a guy named Tony, and we are spending many hours a day going through footage and assembling a rough cut of the film. And so, most of my thoughts have to do with this.

And frankly, this process is not all that interesting unless you are the person editing it. For me, it is very interesting because I feel like five years of work is finally assembling itself in an interesting way. And this is my very favorite part of the process. I like this part more than pre-production and much more than shooting. This is like you are a knitter and you finally have the yarn and the pattern and the knitting needles and now you are just joyfully knitting away.

Since I am the actress in the film, I don’t know what a lot of the footage looks like and I’m seeing it for the very first time. And there are, ahem… surprises.

For example, I have learned that at some point in the last four years I turned into my aunt Barbara. And I had absolutely no idea until I started editing my film.

Oh my god.

I am my aunt Barbara.

Fortunately I loved my aunt Barbara. She did die when she was 56, she pointedly drank herself to death, and that was very sad for all of us that were trying to stop her. And she did it in a very Leaving Las Vegas-y kind of way – canceling her health insurance, going to the store and buying a shopping cart full of booze, coming home and turning on the TV, and waiting. And soon it was all over.

So, okay, it didn’t end well for her. But aunt Barbara was just… great. She was funny and laughed a lot and she was smart and so caring about us kids.

I normally think I look more like my aunt Bonnie – who I think is very pretty and also, she is still very much in my life.

But no, I don’t look so much like aunt Bonnie. It’s aunt Barbara – I’m definitely aunt Barbara. And then there are all the Chicago aunts – aunt Barbara’s aunts. And all of them, their faces did this thing – when they hit their mid-to-late-forties, their faces did this thing – where they went from mostly oval to mostly square. All of them. How did I think I was going to escape this inevitability?

I guess if I was going to nail it down, I had this vague idea that I were going to age like Audrey Hepburn did. I think this must be related to the idea I had at age eleven that I would get older and look like Cher.

And then there’s my mouth. I don’t have my mother’s mouth. I have my mother’s mother’s mouth. My grandmother, Marie – it’s right there for me to remember and identify it. Every time I make an “r” sound – Grandma Ivers is living on.

You know, you don’t look at yourself all that much. I mean, unless you are a crazed narcissist who spends the day gazing into the mirror, you don’t really spend all that much time looking at yourself. A few minutes in the morning, a few more minutes mid-day maybe. You spend a lot more time looking at other people, especially those that you live with and those you hang out with. It struck me just recently and with some profundity that the average person doesn’t really know what they look like day in and day out like their loved ones do.

So here I am, spending some weeks in a dark room looking at a screen of MYSELF. Oh gawd. When I edited “God Said Ha!” which was at a post-production house and not at home (like you can do now with Final Studio 2 which seems to be working seamlessly,)I drove home every night for the first two weeks in tears. I remember it well, because the tears would start about a mile from where I was working, just as I turned onto the 101 Freeway and headed the next few miles home. I usually had recovered myself by the time I arrived to my house. You see, I liked the performance in “God Said Ha!” but I just hated the way I looked.

Now, when I see God Said Ha! (which I had to do as I prepared for this current shoot) I think I look fine – good even. Possibly great. I am WISTFUL over how I looked then. I guess some part of me knows that eventually I will feel that way about this movie too – but oh! People! Imagine if you had to spend hours at a time just looking at yourself! It’s a Zen exercise in self-acceptance. And also, sort of a nightmare. But I have to admit… interesting. Like I suddenly realize, “Oh, when I move my arm like this, it looks like that. And then I turn my head just this way, why it looks like that. And oh -- so this is what other people look at when they look at me, oh, oh, oh!” And then all the insecurity, resignation, rallying self esteem kicks in and finally I become just an object, a dissociated-from-me-object that is the focus of a film and I editing it together, stitch stitch, stitch.

My friend Kathy Griffin says you can get yourself stretched. Yes, on screen. The digital age – you know. Maybe I’ll try it. Just a wee little teensy 5% stretch. No, maybe 7.5%. I may look like a giraffe by the time I’m done.

The set for the film is filled with furniture from my living room and also books and objects from around my house. And I felt so… well – I’ll say it, at “home” on stage. But now that I look at it, it all looks so fussy. And old-ladyish. My shock at having become aunt Barbara is exacerbated by the fact that I inherited many of Aunt Barbara’s (and my Grandmother Henrietta’s) things and those are the very things are on the set. Like I have an old religious triptych of the Madonna and child that has been in our family for over 100 years, a large Mexican rosary that hung above my grandmother’s bed, a painting of a young woman in a bonnet that was in their living room. When I inherited those objects, I put them up and around my house in “honor” of my beloved, now dead relatives. What I thought was in respect of them, turned out to be something much darker. Because, you see, I DIDN’T REALIZE I WAS TURNING INTO THEM! Oh jeez.

It makes me want to sell my house and all my belongings and buy a very contemporary house that is stark and clean and… modern! And not at all like aunt Barbara.

Even though, I loved aunt Barbara. I just didn’t know, I just had no idea; I just am so astonished that I turned into her!



Which I suppose is my fate. And fortunately, and I’ll say it again, I loved aunt Barbara. Yes, it’s true; she was deeply depressed and lonely. (The comedy writer in me wants to write here: … and who isn’t? But the truth is, I am not depressed and I am not lonely. Even though I feel like I am much like my aunt Barbara in so many ways.)

Please don’t write to me: no! You look good. DO NOT. I know, I look all right. Really, I feel good. But let me ask you, how would you feel if you had to spend hours and hours and hours looking at yourself? It is… a rather deep moment of truth to experience, let me tell you.

All righty…

p.s. I loved all the comments on the last post. It’s nice to know that so many others jab at the radio station channel to turn off Bush the way I do. And I loved, LOVED, “Will someone please give Bush a blow job so we can impeach him?” bumper sticker. I would put that one on my car if I had it. Although I would have to come up with some explanation for Mulan. Hmmm… It means that Clinton got such a bad hair cut and blow dry that he was impeached? It means that…

Okay, the comedy writer in me has completely failed me in this moment.

Anyway, back to editing…


Heidi said...

as i was reading, i found it comforting that you saw your aunt barbara in yourself, and then you said that was dark.

in a zen way, even when you do look at yourself, you can't really see yourself, not the way others do.

i just celebrated my 40th birthday.

i am beginning to see a kind of immortality in being like an ancestor.

this is how they live on. this is how we live on. i have no children. but somewhere, some child has my mannerisms. my tics. some other child has my wayward thoughts. some child must contend with the same exact body type, and deal with the same exact problems.

your aunt barbara in you, she is redeemed. a tragic end, but without her, you could not have given us the gifts you do?

Holly H. said...

All righty...

Nice reference to a great sketch.

I see my mom's hands typing, I sometimes hear her laugh escape my lips. I've romanticized my notion of my relatives, but I'm learning the reality is more than enough to keep my attention.

Sheldon said...

Like Heidi, I just celebrated my 40th. I understand completely what you mean about seeing yourself "for the first time," as they say. I teach for a living, and in my attempts to keep up with the our increasingly technologically savvy students, I've begun taping and digitizing my lectures for podcast. It's quite a humbling experience, and I too went through the psychological phases of seeing myself through other's eyes, then seeing my father in my profile, and finally seeing myself as an object.

I will say, though, that I haven't gotten used to my voice. The fact is, when we speak, we hear ourselves through vibrations in our skull and jawbones, in addition to our ears. But, when we listen to a recording, it's all ears -- just like when others hear us. It's quite a sobering experience. I think I sound effeminate in some areas, goofy in others, and rarely come across as the authority figure I'm trying to portray when I lecture. Plus, I use far more curse words that I was aware of. I've had to reshoot and edit several times because of that. Not that I'm against cursing now and then, even in a lecture; but in my profession it's probably not a good idea to have that sort of thing available through the Internet.

At least it'll only be podcast to a few hundred people every year, and not the millions who will see yours, Julia.

But I do think you look beautiful...just had to say that once. : )

-- Sheldon

Petra said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Petra said...

For me, the most difficult thing was hearing my MOTHER's voice coming out of my (then) four year-old son's mouth, to his (then) two-year old brother,

"HOW many times do I have to tell you, leave the cat alone?!"

I guess I sound EXACTLY like my mother because my son sounded EXACTLY like her and he hadn't spent any time with her at that point.

I cringe every time I think about it. And every time I hear myself say words, that as a child I PROMISED myself I would NEVER say to children.

We live.

We learn.

We deal. (Though sometimes we cringe.)

: ) Petra

Bjorn Watland said...

Thanks for including so much reality in the movie. Furniture and nic naks are a part os us, as our clothes, books, and bizarre manarisms are. In a world where relality tv, coverage of world events, and the war in Iraq feel like packaged entertainment, thanks for including a bit of you in your entertainment.

Sheldon said...

Can I just take a moment to express my sincere grief over the recent loss of Charles Nelson Reilly? He was a helluva comedian, and I can't believe he left before I got a chance to see his one-man stage show "Save It for the Stage: The Life of Reilly."

-- Sheldon

Anonymous said...

I saw "God said Ha!" live, in Los Angeles, in 1996. In that, Julia makes several loving references to a nun for whom she reserves no small amount of admiration, and says lots of nasty things about Pope John Paul II as well as the Catholic Church.

The essential problem with this schtick is the fact that God looms large in the life of every atheist. God means more to Julia than to the average believer, and is constantly on her mind.

Another problem is the fact that it is just not funny. God Said Ha! wasn't funny. Pat wasn't funny. It was excrutiating.

All of the 'jokes' are crafted to appeal to a microscopic segment of America, that being the Hyperion Avenue, 90026, 90027 zip codes. And no one else.

Without politicking this demographic, Julia would likely still be stealing money from the bar she was working at, rather than from network television.

Like "It's Pat!" this latest effort wil fall as flat as a tarantula on a baby's face.

Sheldon said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Anonymous said...

Mule Skinner said:
"the fact that God looms large in the life of every atheist."

I'm pleased to inform you you're mistaken here. It's understandable you could get that impression due to the fact that atheists who speak out, tend to speak out against the effect of what many of us would consider to be 'mythical beings' on the world.

My guess is that the vast majority of atheists just get on with their lives so you wouldn't hear of them or be able to know what really 'looms large' in their lives.

Just from my personal experience I can tell you that when I became atheist 16 yrs ago, admittedly to start with, I was a bit angry at the whole 'God thing' because it felt like I'd been a fool all my life and had been cheated! It wasn't long though before I got over it and got on with my life.

In the intermediate years, I would always try and make an effort in looking at world problems, not to demonise religion and be bitter about it just because of my own history. Eventually though, I just had to face it. What is the underlying cause of all the major strife and threats to our future? And so, unfortunately, I end up having to spend a fair bit of my time thinking about religion and trying to work out how best to diminish its influence in the world.

To any atheist who does not just put the whole faith thing to one side and forget about it, I take off my hat because the world needs verbal 'faithless' to be showing the way.

Sheldon said...

Hey Mule Skinner,

I'm sitting here, trying to figure out what would possess a person to visit this blog, click on Comments, and then type 171 of the most hate-filled words I've seen.

I think it must boil down to one of two things. The first possibility is that you are a Christian who feels both threatened by Julia's message and emboldened by the anonymity of the Internet (I notice you didn't have the nerve to identify yourself or to register with Blogger so we can reply in kind). In that case, I think your ad hominem attack is a type of death rattle; I had a similar reaction when I first began my journey toward Atheism...fighting the idea with all my might, attacking anyone who unwittingly served as devil's advocate to my religious beliefs. If this is the case, my prediction is that you will be an Atheist within the year.

The second possibility is that you were born with a 1-inch penis. Micropenis is seen in about 1 in 10,000 births, and can cause severe feeling of isolation, emasculation, and rage. This would explain your tendency to lash out at Julia, ridiculing her in the most personal way possible, thereby justifying your own lack of personal achievements in life. Please know that there ARE penis-lengthening procedures these days, all of which are excruciatingly painful, but some of which can have positive results on both your anatomy and your personality. I suggest you try them all. Results vary, but denying pain medication increases the chance of success.

Good luck to you Teeny (I'm going to assume that was your nickname in high school), and God Bless.

-- Sheldon
P.S. Don't even try to pretend that you're not checking back to see if someone has noticed your posting. After all, attention is what you're all about, right?

Anonymous said...

Well, actually, I was just providing a point of view. Some call it dissent, others call it hate.

It is troubling that those who clothe themselves in the shrouds of rolerance and inclusion are the least tolerant and most exclusive.

Kidsis said...

Julia, inheriting my mother's wedding ring was a painful moment. I'd always hated the darn thing and all the pain it represented in Mom's life. But then this beautiful thing happened...I put it on, and saw my mom's hands. Now it's like a piece of her is with me every day. No, she wasn't the model celebrity I wanted to look like, but when I look in the mirror or in photographs and see the laugh lines and the double chin just like she had, it makes me feel less burdened with her's okay if by the time I have children of my own I can't describe her voice quite right, or remember her stories, because just by knowing me, they know her...

Looking like what the media wants women to look like is all about earning love. Your essence is already known and loved. Bask in it!

Anonymous said...


You are a darling!


Anonymous said...

Julia Sweendy wanted to meet Molly Ivins, but never got to.

I want to meet Julia Sweeney.

Julia, you are a gem.

-- Jack

Anonymous said...

This post was beautiful. I'm glad you're "back" on this forum, sharing your search for self, continuity, meaning, truth...sans God. Can't wait to see the movie!

Oh, I cringed just thinking about having to watch hours of myself on film. I would have guessed that as a performer you are used to that.

Anonymous said...

Wow! I met Molly Ivins once, at an event for Ann Richards.

She seemed funny, at first but, then she turned rather angry. She ate everything in sight, and Governor Richards was so drunk she couldn't focus her eyes. Quite a mess, the two of them.

Anonymous said...


Just read your entire blog. Love it. I'm a single mom of two girls from China too and a recovering Catholic. I AM sending my girls to Catholic school because I wanted them to be in the "club" that my family belongs to. However, if you do move back to Spokane, you may want to rethink that.

It seems to me that Catholic school is WAY more right wing than it used to be. My kindergartener comes home almost every day with Jesus this, Jesus that. Back in my day, it seems like we talked about God, but the Jesus stuff was reserved for the holy rollers. Not anymore, sister. I keep expecting her to ask me when I accepted Jesus as my personal savior. And try to explain the thousand crosses and giant billboard in front of school that tells us how to vote on stem cell research. Thank you Catholic Church. I didn't really want to explain abortion to my five year old yet. But let me not stand in the way of your political agenda...Whooee.

Reading your blog, I am having the same feeling about sending her to Catholic school as I do when she asks me, "Mom, do you swear Santa Claus is real?" and I say yes I swear. Is lying to keep a fun little myth alive a little longer just as bad as lying about a giant boogie man in the sky and his male minions on earth who know better than me how to run my life?? I'm just not sure anymore. And it makes me more uncomfortable each time she calls me on it.

Our family is untraditional in a number of ways - I have lost count of how many times I have been called Mrs. C by not only the kids (which I can understand) but the teacher and parents who KNOW I'm not married. WTF? And because my kids don't look like me. Until someone explains how we ARE a family, we have to suffer the slightly turned heads and frowns of the kids (and some parents) of "That just caint be, Homer!" So I shudder to have one more reason for the other kids to misunderstand my poor, fatherless, Chinese kids by heading into the atheist realm.

But I really hate lying to my kids. Well anyway, the Santa myth is going to have to go soon. My 7 year old just said, "Well, I'll ask Santa for a Wii because then you won't have to pay for it." Yikes! Pretty soon they'll be ordering Lamborghinis too.

Anonymous said...

Here is the web site where you can buy the "Will someone please give Bush a blow job so we can impeach him?" bumper sticker! I just bought one for each of our cars!
Thanks for keeping it real!

Anonymous said...

Anonmalous Lisa provided a link for a very funny bumper sticker....just love those.

But please know that the people in our party are neutered...they will NEVER impeach W. Just isn't going to happen. We are getting back into that whole mythology hoping that Albert Gore won Florida in 2000.

They are really letting it all hang out by failing to flush that bumbling loser, William Jefferson, from Congress. They are going to hang onto that guy, and make themselves look as corrupt as the G.O.P.

God Bless...

jenny said...

I remember spending the whole week after having taken an on-camera class, wondering why my friends hadn't told me that I was a terribly deformed human being who looked like a round expanse of pizza dough with two little raisins (my eyes) in the center. how dare i spend my life even flirting with the idea that i was attractive! I told an actress friend of mine this and she said that when she sees herself on camera she looks like one of Picasso's later portraits, several noses, one big eye, one small eye.


Anonymous said...

So happy to have found your blog.

When I was in 7th grade, the teacher vidoetaped a class exercise where I spoke. I was seriously suicidal for a few days after that. It was awful. I often have told myself that people don't run away when I start speaking, so it must be OK. And I go from there. But I can totally understand the weirdness and all of the feelings you go through when editing. I can't wait to see the show.

Anonymous said...

Hmm. I'm not sure why so many people are so ready to attribute all the bad in the world to religion. I mean religion is just beliefs, and everyone has beliefs. So in essence, everyone has a God, whether it's themselves or some celebrity or what they read in a magazine or book. Everyone believes in, and lives according to something. And it doesn't take religion to make people want to have everyone agree with them. I mean there are agnostics and atheists in the world who want ppl to agree with them and who get mad when someone doesn't. Whatcha gonna do? Personally I think alcohol and sex have caused a heck of a lot of anguish and pain for people -- but it's not like the liberal camp is going to tell you how "dangerous" those things can be (despite AIDS and other STD's, crimes of passion, drunk driving accidents and so on). Wars have begun because people are just plain selfish. Nothing to do with religion. Religion is a smokescreen and if it is gone, people will still be selfish and still want to control each other. *shrug* I don't know your beef with the Catholic Church, exactly. I don't pay attention to the Pope(s), anyway. John Paul advocated macro evolution as viable, so I can't believe much of what he's said on other topics. And you can't agree with him just because he said that, so where are we?

I thought your appearance on Sex and the City as a nun with cancer was very cute and a great way to illustrate how cancer doesn't discriminate.

Pat was a great character as well.

Admittedly, I have not read your books yet. I mean we don't share a lot of the same views, but that's life. I hope you find some peace in the world. I'm interested in your book Letting Go of God and whether the cancer made you not believe anymore. I had a bad experience with my church and it has caused a great problem with my own faith, so I am interested in knowing how one loses their faith.

Ok well I gotta go. God bless (you know what I mean.) I hope you're well now and that we all find the answers we are hoping for.

Anonymous said...

P.S. in response to a couple of comments:

It is vital to remember a couple of things: just because you disagree with something a person says does not automatically mean that their opinion is "hateful" or "hate filled" or has anything to do with hating anything. It is tiring to see people's opinions discounted in such a flippant way, "Oh they are a hater and haters are baaaad so let's ignore everything they say." Not cool, not tolerant, not open minded. Appreciate what people say as it is their POV and not yours. Find the truth in it. Don't just close yourself off and make yourself feel your opinion is superior by saying that person is a hater so therefore they can't have a valid opinion.

Tolerance. You can't tolerate something you agree with. It is not possible. When you tolerate something, it means it is distasteful to you, something you disagree with but you keep your mouth shut and allow it anyway. So many people say they are tolerant but are quick to refute anyone's opinion and call them names. That's NOT tolerance. The person who *didn't* attack the religious person (Mule) is the one who is really tolerant. Mule has a right to an opinion without being called names. If everyone's on their own journey you must allow people whom you disagree with to have a journey as well. And you can't say whose journey is right and whose is wrong because that would be judgmental of you.

"It seems to me that Catholic school is WAY more right wing than it used to be. My kindergartener comes home almost every day with Jesus this, Jesus that. Back in my day, it seems like we talked about God, but the Jesus stuff was reserved for the holy rollers."

I am totally unsure of what's being said here. Catholics don't do that "personal Saviour" stuff or the born again evangelicalism. And you know, if your kid is coming home talking about Jesus and you think they shouldn't, take your kid out of that school and put them in a school that teaches them what you want them to learn.

Don't like Catholics? Don't be one.
There's no need to try and interfere with other people's faith.

So far the Catholic Church has never stopped me from doing anything I want to do. I don't know why everyone keeps saying they are so dangerous. I can get all the sex, drugs, porn, violence, foul language, people disrespecting each other and so on and the church never once stops me or censors or prevents me from having anything that's mine under the law.

As for truth and meaning in life without God -- that doesn't work for everyone. If it works for you it works for you, but I don't find any meaning in human beings without the Divine. We are subject to death, not in control of ourselves or our destinies. And I want to believe that all the people who have suffered unjustly in this world might have some kind of restitution in the next world. To know that so many people were murdered, that children died painful deaths they didn't deserve to suffer will not have any kind of payback is just too unsettling for me. To take that and make it meaningless just does not go with my beliefs. All we go through has to mean something more than just this.

Anonymous said...

Like "It's Pat!" this latest effort wil fall as flat as a tarantula on a baby's face.

Okay, this part of the tirade really got me. How can a tarantula be flat? Further, why would its falling on a baby's face make it very flat, so flat that it would be as bad as the mule guy thought your movie was? Hard for me to imagine. Aren't tarantulas harmless? I would think the tarantula being flat would be because it was sucking blood from the baby's face. I don't think they suck blood. Is it trying to blend in with the baby's face--is it hiding from the mule guy? The baby would have to be an African American, or some other brown-skinned baby, in that case. Because tarantulas are brown and do not change color as lizards and other animals, not spiders, do.

Also, why does he want to go to your site to comment on your movies? Why would you care what Mule Scarer of Tarantulas on African American or Latino Baby's Face thinks of your movies? He should go to and write his reviews.

Mule Pants thinks he's smart, but he can't spell "wil."

My name is Kathy and I don't belong to Google blogging, but I am not a coward.

Anonymous said...

Oh! My bad...I misspelled 'will,' Kathy. Please don't shoot me?

Julia put her blog up to invite commentary, otherwise she would have a fan site like Barbra Streisand, who brooks no commentary, as I am sure no one would have anything to criticise there.

But seriously, Kathy, Julia Sweeney did a terrific job of addressing my thoughts, and I don't think any less of her for that.

Also, if she wanted to, I am sure Julia could delete each and every post I have left on this blog.

That you do not get the analogy is a problem for you and you alone. Lack of intellect can be life threatening (bathing, cooking, cleaning, crossing streets, basic hygiene). So, Kathy, you may wish to do something about that.

God Bless.

Anonymous said...

Well, I've just discovered your blog. I get email announcements from the Sam Harris site and I saw Julia Sweeney's name on a list of guests at an atheist's forum in D.C. in September. The Julia Sweeney? The one who was on SNL?

Anyway, I was intrigued and have read a couple of posts in your blog. I sure can identify with a lot in this post. I wish I could somehow take back all the angst I felt at age 35, after two children and having put on a bit of weight. I would kill to look like that now :)

I was raised Catholic. Left the church in 1968 (in my mind) when the Pope came out with his encyclical banning artificial birth control. Went through a long period of being mostly agnostic, but drawn to Judaism in my early 20s. Married a Jew and converted to Judaism. That was 26 years ago. In the past 10 years, I've become increasingly atheistic and have only recently become comfortable calling myself an atheist. I stumbled upon Harris's book The End of Faith while browsing a bookstore table. I couldn't put it down.
It was so good to read something that confirmed my own thoughts and feelings about religion.

Anonymous said...

Julia: "Oh my god."

Me: "What god?"

Let's show some consistency.

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