Friday, December 25, 2009

Bahai Temple, Wilmette, IL  early Christmas morning 2009

I took this picture early this morning on my dog walk.

Mulan, Michael and I opened presents, had breakfast, and then flew to L.A.  Now I am here, and I realize how much I miss it!  Yippity yah, five days in L.A.

Not much to report, but I wrote this (below) last week and I guess I'll paste it here now...

Amongst the non-believers of this world, there appears to be a split in thinking between:

1.) Those that think religion is good - regardless of truth - for some people.  Religion is useful for those who are trying to get sober, for those who have no where to turn, for those that might not follow society's rules, for those who might not otherwise respect others, for those in complete despair, and for those that need the idea, the concept - as a new drug - to get off another one.

2.) Those who think religion and the idea of God is never good for anyone.

I have always put myself in the #1 category.   It suits me because I don't want to proclaim that seeing stark reality, which is very dark and full of potential catastrophe, is good, or possible for everyone.

But this thinking is very condescending.  It's Plato saying religion is good for the masses.  It's Will Durant saying how religion helps to bind people together, and so for society it's good.  It's AA using the idea of a higher power to get people to let go of another, actual drug.

But #2 is so arrogant too.

I mean this is all just for the rumination - religion and the idea of God is not going away and most likely never will - so this is all just blathering about the number of angels who can dance on the head of a pin.

 I have always stayed away from the #2 thinking because it puts me in a position of dismissing so much in others. I am not comfortable with it.  It's very judgey.  Of course, that is no way to decide what you think.  Being judgey is the point of this whole debate!

But in my private thoughts, what do I really think?  It's like a little debate between Plato and Voltaire.  Plato did think religion was good for the masses.  Voltaire believed religion enslaved people.

Truthfully, now I'm beginning to lean towards Voltaire.

I asked my husband yesterday if he thought religion did any person any good at all.   "Think about Anne Lamott, a nice, liberal, happy Christian, " I said,  "Or people who get off drugs and alcohol because they find Jesus.  I mean, aren't we all better off because of that transfer of the more dangerous drug to the more benign one?"

And he said, "Maybe. But now those people are primed to follow.  Jesus might be the idea for now, but it really could be anyone. They have made themselves programmable and basically they are sheep and now anyone could lead them - it could be to the top of a mountain or it could be off a cliff."

Again, I am paraphrasing and adding imagery for emphasis.  And may I remind you that I do not hang on this guy's every word, far from it!

But I thought about that all day.  I mean, I have always thought #1 was the benevolent point of view, the humble point of view, the less-judgemental and superior point of view, but actually that is wrong!!

The #1 thinking is really so cynical and superior and #2 has all this faith  in everyone to use rationality and critical thinking to get through.   #2 is actually the humble - or no, the optimistic point of view!  (Not that being humble or optimistic is some sort of proof for an argument!)  But you know, neither of these words is right, it's more like empowering - it's the empowering point of view.

I have not really come to any conclusions about this.  But I'm just realizing how there is this split in thinking and I'm not sure - I vacillate between those views.

Thursday, December 17, 2009

Arden, in the backseat of the just-bought mini-van, as we drove from Los Angeles to Chicago, embarking a year ago today, Dec. 17, 2008.

A year ago Mulan and I, after watching a moving company depart with all of our possessions, joined Michael as we drove together from California to Illinois.  There was a huge storm which prevented us from taking the route we wished to take - through Santa Fe and instead we drove south, through Arizona and then Texas.  It took four days.  We had a dog in the car who wanted to kill, really truly kill and eat, the cat in the car.  We stopped at Motel 6s, we saw billboards in Texas that proclaimed that Obama was not born in the U.S., we watched Arden pee in ice for the first time.  It was an adventure.

We arrived here just before Christmas, slept in our new house all together on sleeping bags in the master bedroom, and wandered our neighborhood thinking, "What the hell did we just do?"

And what have I done this year?   Adjust, be a mom who's around a lot, do a few shows, write a pilot, and empty a bunch of boxes.  The house is still not totally organized - the basement is on it's way...  But I am much happier here and thrilled to be in this new family.  It really does feel like a family.  Mulan can barely remember life before Michael.  Last night we talked about the drive.  For Mulan, this was our biggest adventure of all.  She often refers to the drive and wants to do it again - with the cat and the dog. (That part was not so much fun for me.)

Anyway, as I have not taken a picture the last couple of days, I thought I'd throw up that one of Arden, a year ago, on his way to his own new adventure here.

What am I thinking about?  Well, I am very sad about the healthcare "overhaul."  I am very sad about Obama and I am wondering if he is really who I thought he was.  I read Robert Reich's and Glenn Greenwald's articles on Salon and I am just really so sad, and so disappointed, and I wish they would not vote for this deal and I like Howard Dean even more than I ever have and I hate Joe Leiberman, even though this demise is not all his doing.

(Last night I overheard Mulan telling Michael, "Mom was in the car driving and yelling, 'That Joe Leiberman!' and her fists were clenched.")

Anyway, let's change the subject.  What other things am I thinking about?

I am thinking about all the letters I have gotten from people and how much they mean to me. I want to write back everyone, and I hope to send at least a thank you.  I am trying to just be present and take it all in.

I am thinking about some of the questions that people have asked.  Some people worry about having meaning in a world without god in it.  I don't have the best answer for that yet (I am mulling on that one) but I remember once being at a convention with Daniel Dennett (such a hero of mine) and he said (Dennet is a philosopher and scientist at Tufts and has written several books, some of which really impacted me) and anyway, he was talking to someone else and he said, "People say to me, 'You're a philosopher, what is the meaning of life?' and I say, 'I don't know but I do know the secret to happiness.  Find some subject that you love and spend the rest of your life studying it from every angle you can.  That is the secret to happiness."

I've thought about that a lot.  I would add to it. I would say, find a subject or a skill and spend your life getting better at it, or understanding it better.  I think skills are really important and something that has been totally left out of the education system the way it's organized now.  I actually think that before kids read books like Catcher In The Rye, or Animal Farm, they should know how to do something tangible, a skill society needs, a skill that requires skill, a skill that can be used to earn money - and then after that they should tackle the bigger stuff.

I'm just musing.  I'm just thinking about it.

Also, I am afraid of religious people.  I mentioned this to my husband yesterday and he looked at me like, "Duh."   But really - before I did my show, the religious people I was exposed to were so benign - the twinkly eyed priest, the social activist nun, the devoted church group that does things for people in Chiapas at my aunt's church.  When I thought of religious people, I thought of people like Jimmy Carter or the Dali Lhama.  I thought of the kind persons likely to be out sweeping in front of the churches I would pass by with my dog while on a walk.

But now I get these letters from people, and...  I dunno.  I just want to GET AWAY.  I really am not predisposed to enjoy conflict. I wish I were.  I look at people like Rachel Maddow, for example.  She is so great - she loves the debate, she relishes the argument, she enjoys the banter and she is doing really good things in my opinion.  For example, the last months shows have focused a lot on this Evangelical Christian organization called "The Family" in D.C. and how they have enormous political power and how, through their influence and encouragement, the government of Uganda had a bill for a law before their government that would allow the killing of gay people.  Anyway, Rachel has lately been using her show to shed light on this atrocity and she has actually seemed to have done something to get this kind of law either stopped or disavowed.  Anyway, I wish I could be like that.  I wish I was glad to get these letters and I wish I wanted to spend a lot of time writing to people and arguing with them about their beliefs.



I just... oh god, those people... I just want to get away from them.  I want to pretend they do not exist.  That is my first impulse.  My next thought is, This person scares me.

When I talked this over with Michael, of course he said that even the examples of the kind-priest - he has never had any warm feelings about those people and  he has no interest in being around religious people of any type.  He thinks a religious person is someone who - well, it's as if they have a sign around their necks that says, "I have unreliable and faulty reasoning.  I lie to myself and I'm likely to lie to you too."  (This is my analogy, not his.)

Anyway, I used to be more benevolent, I guess. But now, all these letters I'm getting...  I dunno.  I think I am off the whole thing too.   And I'm actually not getting so many hate letters.  No - it's at least ten to one, affirmative to negative.

Of course, that doesn't mean I don't want to attend a nice candle-lit Christmas service this year.  HA. I am serious, I really do want to.

Also, I like getting suggestions from people in the letters and even criticism.  For example, I had one letter criticizing me for my quick dismissal of Buddhism in my show. I think they are right.  I think it's so much more complicated than I made it.  It's just that - even though I think Buddhism has some great insight into human psychology and human nature, and a good prescription for living with the inherent difficulties in life - it's not really a religion to me, I guess. I thought it was, once it wasn't, I moved on.

I would be Buddhist but I have found other strategies for living that are working really well for me.  I don't need it, I guess.  Or I'm incorporating the parts of it that are useful to me - mindfulness meditation, yoga - that sort of thing.

In any case, because of this letter, I purposefully took the image of Buddha off the DVD cover.  I also took every image off, but still - it was prompted by that letter.

Now I have also read a comment on the Amazon DVD page about how the show is not enough about how to live as a non-believer. It's 3/4 arguing back and forth about whether there is a god or not and then barely anything about how to live with this worldview.  I agree with that too! In fact, that letter is really firing me up to write a book about just that.

The point of all this is, I don't mind the critical letters. I just mind the religious crazies.  And that definition to me is getting broader and broader.  I wish I had more oomph for fighting them, but I just... don't.

Monday, December 14, 2009

Amazon warehouse

I got underway on my little adventure at about 10:30 a.m.  The Amazon warehouse didn't come up on the Google map specifically, but I figured that Whitestown was so small that it would be obvious where it was.  I had 15 boxes of DVDs and CDs in the back of my mini-van.  I was headed to the town of Whitestown, which is right next to Zionsville, Indiana.


The day was gray and rainy.  The snow is mostly melted.  The view was sad, a smoggy, foggy, dull slate-colored air and water and sky.

Even still,  it's a-day-at-the-spa for me to be able to drive and listen to the radio uninterrupted.  That part was great.

What was depressing was how ugly everything was.  All the industrial areas south of the city, the old buildings with the windows blown out, the steam or smoke coming from the buildings. I thought about the dark underbelly of our consumer lives, and what a beautiful town I live in and how many other places are so sad and depressing looking.  Gary, Indiana was sad, sad, sad.  I've driven past this city a few times and never driven in - that is wrong, I will do that someday.  But still, the drive was sad.  Really, up until I reached Purdue University area, about an hour from my destination, everything was so ugly and blighted with huge billboards for, seemingly, only three things: Christian Churches, Lawyers for industrial accidents, and Casinos.  I fell into a funk.

Oh, yeah, then the Indiana license plates.  Each one says, "In God We Trust."  Wow.  I kept thinking, "Yeah, trust in God.  Certainly your government isn't doing much for you."

I really seethe when I see how much religion is relied on in poorer, more industrial areas.  It's so obvious that religion flourishes in the petrie dish of exploitive business practices, hands-off government policies, and the under-educated and under-opportunized.

And then, on the nigglingly annoying side, there's a lot of toll roads.  I had to pay three times.  I guess I don't really understand the toll roads well enough to condemn them.  But I'm irritated by them.   Out west there are not so many toll roads.  You can definitely drive from Los Angeles to Spokane and not run into a single toll road.

I was pissy and sad about the whole endeavor.  When I got to Whitestown I found that it was a metropolis of mostly warehouses.  Warehouses and warehouses and the vast majority of them unmarked.  Why unmarked?  Military equipment?  Poison?  Hmmm...   As I drove, I noticed many huge, oversized trucks - more trucks than cars.   Is Indiana where all the large trucks come from?  It's like I ran into a race of large trucks.  And no obvious Amazon warehouse.

I couldn't find it.  I finally stopped at a Starbucks...

(I was embarrassed to be SO happy to find a Starbucks - god, I'm a... well - in the old says I would say yuppie - what am I now? An urbanite?  And yes, I admit it, I was glad to find a well-known chain-store for coffee!  In fact, I was hoping to find a little local gem to eat lunch in, but the restaurants I saw were so decrepit, so without customers, so without a new coat of paint in the last fifty years - and not in a good way - that I felt glad to eat a burger from Burger King as I drove.  I forgot how great a Whopper tastes. Oh god, I hate myself for writing this paragraph.)

Anyway, I stopped at a Starbucks.  I asked if anyone knew where the Amazon warehouse was.  I was pointed to another Starbucks employee on a break who was so kind and gentle and sweet.  He took ten minutes and found the address and even sent me the instructions on my iphone.

That's when I reached the nadir of my trip.  I could not find the place, even with the instructions.  It's a veritable NYC of warehouses there.  Only many of the roads don't have names.  There's a new housing development nearby too: "Anson, Indiana" it's called.  There are just a few townhouses, lots of empty planned lots for houses, a school in the middle and three large mega-church sized houses of worship along the outside.  One is called Eagle Church, and it too looks like a warehouse.  A church that looks like a warehouse!  For the people who work in warehouses!  So they can spend their days off at another warehouse!

For about ten or fifteen minutes seriously considering that I would not find it and I would have to drive all the way home with all of my stuff.

I saw one warehouse that I figured just had to be it.  But there were no signs for Amazon anywhere.  However, there was a line of very, very large trucks - mostly Fed-Ex and UPS among many others in line at a booth outside a gated parking and loading area, also filled with trucks.   I got my car in line.  Me in my mini-van, about to be trampled between two big, gigantic trucks.  At the booth, the gate-man was confused by me.  I suddenly felt weird and "kooky" and silly.  I said I had some boxes to deliver.  After much calling back and forth between the booth and someone in the warehouse I was directed to enter and go to loading dock 11.  It was hilarious.  The loading dock was made for a very large truck.  I felt like I had landed on another planet.  Everything was oversized, I mean - even  in my mini-van, I felt like an ant.

That's when everything changed.  I was greeted by this really nice-but-officious woman who was in charge of receivables.  First she told me I was completely wrong to just drive in with my stuff.  They don't do that. You have to register with them to deliver, and then get assigned a number and then you have to make an appointment.  There were dozens of trucks unloading and everything was on a time schedule.  You have to print something out before you arrive.  That's what the guy at the booth needs.  On top of all of that, this is their busiest and mostly scheduled time of year and this day was practically their busiest of the busiest.  I felt a like a boob.

Then the woman took my stuff, pointed to another door and asked that I repark my car and meet her there. I was a little afraid I was going to be reprimanded more severely.  But that's when I saw the inside!  I had to stay behind this fenced-in area but I could see everything, (that's the picture I took with my phone above) and I'm telling you, it was just like I imagined it - no, wait. it was much better.  It almost did look like Santa's workshop.  There were people emptying boxes and inputing the contents into a computer system and then putting the cardboard on a conveyer belt that takes it off to be recycled.  There were people on two higher exposed floors, walking around with little carts - you know, like at the library, filling it up with books and CDs and other smaller stuff to fill orders.  There were people zipping around on segway-like contraptions and beeping before entering aisles.

I told this woman how seeing the inside of this place was really a thrill for me and she lit up and smiled. She explained how this part of the warehouse was for smaller items.  She pointed to another end where there were people wrapping packages.   She told me they work for free and then Amazon donates the money paid by customers to have their packages wrapped to the charity of the person-who's-wrapping's choice.  Does that convoluted sentence makes sense?  (I wondered how many donations were for churches, but still, what a great policy!)  She told me how Amazon's always had this policy.  She told me the whole warehouse was "green" -  had special lighting that turned off if there were no people in the area, how all the desks and all the aisles with goods were constructed from recycled materials.  Then she blushed and said, "I love this place.  I love this company.  And I've worked for some bad ones, but Amazon is great."

I was blindsided.  I did not expect this at all.  The people there DID seem really happy.  People were smiling, music was playing - oh yes!  They had music playing loud, really loud - and it was good.  In fact, they were playing that new Sting song...  God I can't remember the name but it's from the new album - "If On A Winter's Night."  Anyway, the point is, there was music, it wasn't schmatzy Christmas music, it appeared to be a happy work environment.

When I left the man at the booth laughed and we talked for a moment.  He is Kenyan, and came to the U.S. only four years ago.  He said he loved working for Amazon too.  America! What a country!

I had to pinch myself as I was driving off.  It seemed almost orchestrated for my benefit.  WEIRD.

I drove home feeling so happy.  It really was an adventure.  I felt a lot better about Amazon.  The warehouses didn't depress me as I drove home, I felt optimistic.  Even as I got towards Gary again, it was dark and the lights and steam coming from the factories were romantic looking instead of dark and sooty.  I know I was enchanted by my Amazon experience, and that it colored everything, but wow. What a day.

And best of all, now it's listed on Amazon as: available now!  Yeah!  Yippity yah!  It took 8 hours and $40 in gas and $10 in tolls and an extra 2000 calories I probably wouldn't have eaten, but still... I would say it was a day well spent.

Here is the new cover of the DVD

Letting Go of God has been a completely home made operation.  It's not just a one-woman show, it was a one woman everything.  That's not completely true, actually.  I had a producer for the movie and the stage show, who did a huge amount of work.  And of course all the people who worked on the stage and film productions. But in the deepest sense, this is really a one-man-band.

I was so glad that I started working on this show just when new technology made it possible to do everything myself.  I hated that "It's Pat" had so much studio input (that didn't necessarily make it better or worse, it's just that I didn't get to make my own mistakes because of so much interference.)

"God Said, Ha!" which I was able to direct and have total creative control over is now owned totally by Miramax (Disney now, I guess.)   When "God Said Ha!" plays on cable, I have no knowledge of that.  It's theirs and they can do with it what they want.

So, when it came to "Letting Go of God" it was really important to me to handle everything myself and own it myself.  I had a chance to take the show to a large, well-known off-Broadway theater in New York, but I had to give up most of my ownership in the show and also give away rights to the film and so I said "No." (There were other factors too, like relocating to New York with Mulan and mostly figuring out how to be a mother while doing 8 shows a week - I just didn't think I could hack it.  Also, I was single at the time so I had no one other than hired help to pitch in with parenting - the whole thing was overwhelming.  I was sad it didn't play in a bigger theater in New York, but I felt I would probably lose my mind if I did do that.  I set my sights on figuring out how to film the show instead of take it to a prestigious theater.)

I began to sell CDs of my second monologue "In The Family Way" (which I also own) and to "Letting Go of God" on Amazon and I was surprised that I really liked being a small-time entrepreneur of my own work.  I liked packing the CDs and then the DVDs off in boxes as I got orders for them, and standing in line at the Post Office, and sending them to Amazon to sell.  It's all kind of silly because I could earn (well... theoretically) so much more money working on a show as a writer (I quit my last TV writers job a few years ago) and instead I had (in my mind) opened this teeny store front, like a chewing gum stand, it's so small, and I was making really nothing - pretty much breaking even - but it was mine.  Of course I still work on other things - things that actually make money -- voice overs, writing TV pilots, doing speaking engagements, so this DVD business could be my wee hobby.

I was talking to a good friend of mine, Cindy Chupak, who used to be a writer on Sex & the City (where I spent some time as a consultant) and I told her that I liked sending the CDs off in the mail so much that I almost wanted to be my own fulfillment house for individual orders. I wanted to write a personal thank you with each CD that I sold.  Cindy looked at me with a worried expression and said, "I think it would be really sad for me to think of you doing that.  If I got a CD I ordered of your show, and then got it mailed directly from you to me in the mail, well... that would make me sad for you... y'know?"

That made me love Cindy so much and laugh really hard at myself too.  Why did I want to do that?  Wasn't it enough that I was dragging boxes of CDs to the post office and sending them to Amazon?  Is it my small-world-need-to-connect or is it my obsession with minutia to the point where I don't see the forest for the trees?

I can't explain it.  I thought I would be a bigger time mover and shaker in show biz or something maybe. But, I just like the small things. I like the connection. I like that I make my product and then send it out in the world to people.  Artists couldn't do this before now - not with CDs and DVDs anyway.  I love it that I can do that. Also, I love that I still totally own things - even if it adds up to chump change, it still makes me feel I really earned that money.

Then there was this last year, getting the movie ready to show on cable...  There are all these things that have to be done, like getting closed captioning, and insurance against people like Deepak suing me for defamation (it's so ridiculous, public figures are explicitly open to being parodied or made the butt of jokes - I mean I worked on SNL so I know this, it was discussed constantly - but still I had to get insurance just for a nuisance law suit!)

In any case, over this last year it got to be sad to me. I was doing too much, more than I wanted to do myself.  I decided this was the last project I was ever going to do this way.  If I wrote a play or a book or anything again, I was going to find people who specialized in these things and get them to deal with all the details.  I wanted a publisher. I wanted a distributor.  I wanted to just be the artist again.  Enough with all this!

I moved last year and got to know the folks at my post office. I did absolutely no advertising and no publicity for Letting Go of God over this last year.  None.  And I would sell somewhere between 100 and 200 DVDs a month through Amazon.  I still like taking the boxes to the post office, I still like packing the boxes. I still like touching each DVD with my own hands before it goes off into the world.

I always wondered about the Amazon warehouses.  What were they like?  Did the people there notice and care about what people had ordered? I imagined myself working there.  I would be saying, "Oh! What a great book!  And then they got this other great book!  Wow."  Of course thinking this is a little creepy too - who wants to think people are musing over what different combinations of books and CDs and DVDs people are buying?  But I just can't imagine that it isn't happening!  I liked the image I came up with of the people packing boxes at Amazon.  I wanted to even write something about it.

I was coming to the end of the DVDs I had made for this last year, and so I had my CD graphic designer design a new DVD cover (see the picture above) that fits in more with the design of the CD.  I like this one better.  I am glad my mug is not on the cover.  I ordered the new DVD cases to be "eco" (ha! everything eco!) and it's made from recycled paper (15% more in cost!) and it's not an "avery case" anymore - that means it doesn't have the plastic inside, it's all paper.  I ordered 3000 and figured that would last for all of 2010.  And maybe even 2011 and 2012.

The movie began to show on Showtime. I have done no publicity. Showtime does not even have the artwork on their website, and no one called me about any interviews.  They have showed the movie about ten times so far.  They have the right to show it until the end of October next year. I have no idea how many times they will show it or if they'd buy the right to show it after that time.

Last week I got a big order from them for 350 DVDs!  It was so much fun taking the DVDs to the post office. Everyone I know there was so happy for me, sending off so many DVDs to Amazon.  I was once again glad I was doing it all myself. It felt like Christmas.  Hell, it was Christmas!

But then, last night, I looked and Amazon had ordered 1100 DVDs! And over 300 CDs!  The biggest order ever!!!  The status on getting the DVDs is now 2 to 4 weeks, which sucks because that means people would miss Christmas if that is what they are thinking about!  Plus it takes a while for boxes to get to the Amazon warehouse and get recorded in their system and all that.  I really want the DVDs to be there and the status to be back to "available now!"

So the point of all this boring, boring story is that I started putting together the boxes.  I will run out of the old style DVD (I have only 300 left) and begin to use the new ones.  I have about 15 boxes to send.

I realized that the Amazon warehouse that I'm sending these all to is in Indiana - it's about 3 hours away from where I am now.

So.... I'm going to drive them there myself!

I'm going to get Mulan off to school and start driving to the Amazon warehouse.  I cannot wait to go there!  I cannot wait to do this.  This is going to be awesome.  I'm going to listen to NPR or my audio books all the way.  I tried to convince Michael to take a day off work to go with me, but he can't.  He actually snorted when I asked him if he wanted to go. To me this is an adventure!

I'm still not sure if this all just makes me sadder and more pathetic, or in control of my own creative life.   I think it's probably a combination of both.  But anyway, I'm doing it.  I wonder if I'll get a sneak peak inside the fulfillment center?  Can I sweet talk my way in?  Can I see people filling those Amazon boxes?  Or will it be sad and anonymous?  Will I be gladder to do this all myself or even more embarrassed that my life has gone this route?

We will see.

Thursday, December 10, 2009

It's friggin' cold.

I can't believe I did the whole hour-long walk with Arden today.  It was really cold, I think it was 8 degrees.  When I woke up, the radio - tuned to NPR - announced the temperature was 0.  ZERO! And with the wind chill factor, minus 20!  Arden was so cold, I think his paws started to freeze.  He would stop occasionally and shake a paw and stare at it.  He looked like he was surprised and that his paw was numb.  I was only going to go as far as I needed to for Arden to rid himself of waste - but we just kept going.  I had no intention of crossing Green Bay Road to the lake, but then did.  And I was so glad.  The waves were rolling and the steam from the lake created this mist wafting above, it was really otherworldly - primordial.  My mouth fell open at the scene but then my teeth began to chatter again.

I keep getting letters from people.  It really is thrilling to read people's response to the show.  One letter I got was from an oncologist who said that he found that people who were religious seemed comforted by their faith at first, but then many had a hard time towards the end, if it looked like they were going to lose their life in their battle with cancer.  And that people who were not religious and had a naturalistic world view, and didn't think their life was going to go on in the hereafter - they had a harder time at first but then an easier time accepting death.  This is just one man's observations, and of course I am inclined to believe it's probably true about people.  I often wonder how much religion and God and the idea of an afterlife helps.  It seems that it would be very helpful in extremely uncertain situations.  I know first hand how the idea of God being "with me" in a crisis was helpful.  But I wonder, was it really?

For example, long long ago I was involved in a...  a... well, I was abducted.  Wow - I was going to say kidnapped but that sounds too dramatic.  In any case, that's what the court called it.  It's a long story for another time, but the bottom line is that I offered a person help and they ended up pulling a gun on me and I was with this man for several hours.  This man told me he was going to kill me.

And, I was totally calm.  I thought it was my destiny - whatever happened. I befriended - or pretended to befriend him so he would have compassion.  I tried to make myself a person to him.  I talked about jazz and the kinds of music I liked - that sort of thing.  The whole time I thought I had God on my side.  I thought this situation was being witnessed by someone who was going to judge me on how brave and smart I was being.  My faith seemed to help me be calm, to help me get through it.

But now that I look back on this, I think it was my blind faith that was partly to blame for me even being in a situation like I was in!  There were many clues that this person was not trustworthy and I ignored them, partly because I felt that God put people in my life for a reason.  I was not cautious and I was not critical.  When I think of Mulan at age 23 (the age I was then) I hope she is more savvy and much less trusting than I was.  Part of this is more about age than philosophy of course.  I don't automatically trust people but that is what happens to everyone I know as they get older.  Maybe religion didn't have all that much to do with it.  I'm not sure, but it's something I like to mull.

I just finished the book about Samuel Champlain today.  His Catholic faith seemed to make him more loving and more open to the humanity of the native americans.  Of course there are so many examples of religion working the opposite way - to make people not acknowledge other's humanity - to be judgmental in the worst ways and superior in all the wrong ways.  Champlain wanted to integrate with the native Americans and wanted them to intermarry with the french.  He respected them - maybe not in all ways, but so much more than his counterparts did.  Was it his nature or his faith that made him this way?

It's something I will probably muse upon for decades - whether religion helps people.  I am inclined to think that religion, when used sparingly - like an aspirin, seems to be okay.  It's just when it's used too much....  No, WAIT,  I cannot say that. I think in the end - on balance, it's not helpful.  In any case, it's too likely to be a lie and can a lie ever be helpful?  (Well, yes.  It can.  When you're hiding innocents in your attic - that sort of thing.  What would you tell a child facing certain death?  The blunt truth?  Oh!  I don't know - I guess I would.  I think I would.  Would I really???)

I also got a letter from a young woman with throat cancer and she faces a stiff battle for her life. She is no longer a believer in God but her family, who is religious,  wants her to believe.  She doesn't know how to respond.  I don't either but I cannot stop thinking about it.  Family members want you to feel better and they believe that believing makes you feel better.  It's like Daniel Dennet writes about so eloquently.  People don't really believe - but they believe in believing.

Wednesday, December 09, 2009

My parents, just engaged, Christmas 1958, Spokane Washington

I didn't take a picture yesterday or this morning, so I am posting this one.  I love my mom's lipstick and my dad's sweater.  I meant to post this picture with a poem I found a long time ago about parents and wanting to go back in time and prevent them from meeting each other to avoid all the heartache and pain they will cause (no - not all of it was pain, but there was a fairly large amount of pain) and then realizing that if they don't meet and get married, then, well you wouldn't be here - so you have to cheer them on.  Anyway, it was a great poem and where the hell is it?  I cannot find it.  I swear I will find it.

It's really snowy here and we are bracing for a storm and very cold temperatures tomorrow.

I am getting a lot of really great response to my show on Showtime.  It's so sweet too because I honestly became so mired in the logistics of getting the film to Showtime, and it's been over a year since I even performed the show, that I forgot that I'm proud of the actual show itself!  It had become this bottomless pit of duties and details and now I'm getting these wonderful letters and I'm surprised - oh yeah, the show itself - yeah... that.  Hey, I'm proud of that!

Jim Emerson and I are working on a screenplay and making progress.  I'm working on two book ideas - I am the absolute slowest writer... But still, I'm plugging away at it.  And just now I have to go help Michael weatherize the outside of the house and get ready for this cold front.

Monday, December 07, 2009

Arden on our walk this morning.

Oh how I love snow.  My husband does not.  He wishes we lived in Los Angeles.   People think I moved here for his sake.  That I was torn out of sunny Los Angeles by obligation.  Little to they know that I won our little war over where to live together.  He has work here - but then I have work in L.A. too.

But I wanted this weather!  I wanted that feeling of warmth that you can only get walking in the snow, when your cheeks are rosy red and you can see your breath.  Being indoors has a special magical feeling when it's really cold outside.  The fifty degree difference is big between outside and inside.  I remember that we are an animal that has figured out how to be warm in the cold.  It gives me the excuse not to go anywhere.  Really my big dream is to just never go anywhere.  I am typing right this minute looking at snow fall.  I do not think it gets any better than this.  I have reached peak happiness.

Not much to report today.  I am listening to an audio book while I walk the dog.  It's "Champlain's Dream" by David Hackett Fischer.  I got it because I had listened to his book, "Washington's Crossing" and was so engrossed, impressed, and informed.   So I got this.  I didn't really even know who Champlain was (founder of Quebec - early French explorer and New World Builder.)  I have never been to Quebec or Montreal.  Now I am hankering to go.  Let me just say this about the Native Americans Indian Tribes - wow, they were into torture.  Yes, the Europeans were too, especially the Spanish.  But lord, what the Mohawks did to the Iroquois, and really they all did to each other.  I hate listening to the descriptions of torture, but I cannot stop listening, it's like turning your back on the tortured, like somehow I can be a witness to their pain or something. Yes, it all smacks of magical thinking, but I cannot stop listening. It's not all about torture of course, and Champlain was a big negotiator with the Indians to reduce it (even though he was joining them in war against each other) but the part I'm listening to now is very torture-heavy.  Wow, human psychology - the whole vengeance imperative.  I have to say it all makes me amazed that Jesus, with his turn-the-other-cheek attitude (I know, amongst others, and not just him... he's just the historical, and yes probably mythical, religious figure I happen to know the most about) gets more radical the more I understand history.

So... Champlain.  I am running to the computer from time to time to look up the geography of Canada.  I'm really hooked.

Last night some friends came over and we watched "Coraline."  I slept through a lot of it, but I thought it was really inventive and beautiful (the parts I was able to see.)  Mulan got really scared, though, and I had to go to her room and sleep with her from 1:30 to 3:00 a.m. last night. She had nightmares about the "Bad mother with the button eyes."  It was hard not to tease her - my comedy improv training must take a back seat when my kid is truly scared.  Ha.

Oh, and here is Lake Michigan this morning. I just figured out how to have two pictures... Lordy.

Thursday, December 03, 2009

My two nieces, Kaitlyn and Megan, who are 9 year old twins, came to stay (with their parents) over Thanksgiving.  We all went to the Shedd Aquarium and Mulan and her cousins all got a penguin in the museum store.  They came home with the penguins and dressed them in bathing suits and from then on, the stuffed playtoys were a major part of our lives.  Here they be in all their splendor.

It's snowing!  It's not sticking, but still.  I'm so happy about it.  I say, bring it on.

Spent the day redoing the blog look and playing with the new features and getting ready for "Wait, Wait Don't Tell Me" for which I'm soon going to be on the Metra and moving towards downtown Chicago.

I continue to get letters about the movie playing on Showtime.  I read each one, it's really a wonderful thing that this technology allows me to do that.

Wednesday, December 02, 2009

Here is another picture from the train trip to the SouthWest.  This picture was taken right at the train window and it's as we are getting nearer to the Petrified Forest.

Not much to report today although it was a busy one.  Today was the first day for Showtime to play, "Letting Go."  I got many letters from people about it, and that made me very, very, VERY happy.  Gosh, it's been a long time and a lot of work, getting this movie shot and ready to be on the air.  Tonight I tivo-ed it, and after Michael and Mulan and I came home from a celebratory dinner, we watched the first twenty minutes or so. Of course all I can marvel at is the size of my jowls, but on another - less narcissistically obsessed note, I felt it looked pretty good.  Ah....   Done...  The monologue has gone to college.  Yes, that's how it feels, like I've reared this difficult child and now it's at college!  Yeah! Yippity yah!  Go, have your own life, already!!!!

I spent a big part of the day getting the new forum ready.  Well, there are going to be two different forums - one at (Freedom From Religion Foundation) and one at The Skeptics Society.  And honestly, all I really did directly for the Skeptic's Forum was to write an introduction.  But I learned more about how this blogger site works and you may note that there are several more links to the right.  More to do tomorrow, but for now, it's all okay.

However, tomorrow is swamped because I'm doing "Wait, Wait, Don't Tell Me" - the NPR show tomorrow night.  G'nite!

Tuesday, December 01, 2009

Yes,  I've been absent.  Well, I have reasons.  First of all,  I was gone for a week on a pleasure trip! (That phrase always sounds so hedonistic, doesn't it?)

Anyway, I went on a train trip, organized by Roots on the Rails,  from Los Angeles to Arizona and New Mexico.  Their trips are all about music and trains and they use restored train cars from the 1940s and 1950s and attach them to the end of an Amtrak train.  Then they invite a few musicians to play each night.  Jill Sobule, my dear friend and sometimes performing partner, was one of the musicians.  The others were The Handsome Family and Stan Ridgway (former lead singer of the Wall of VooDoo.)

Every night they'd sing and about thirty of us would sit around and enjoy it.  And there was so much joy in it too.   We did some off-train touring in Arizona and we visited the Painted Desert and the Petrified Forest and the Grand Canyon.

It was my very first time to visit the Grand Canyon.  It's weird that I haven't been there - I've travelled so much, all over the world, for months at a time, and yet never gone to the Grand Canyon!  Unforgivable, really.   Anyway, over the years I have this fantasy image of the Grand Canyon in my mind.   And even though the real Grand Canyon was as impressive as everyone says it is, and even though I was transfixed and mesmerized and have already begun to dream of and plan for my next visit - I have become aware that there is this other Grand Canyon that lived in my mind for sooo long, and it's now nestled alongside the real Grand Canyon in the file in my brain labeled: Grand Canyon.

It will take many more visits to the Grand Canyon to diminish the fantasy.  My fantasy Grand Canyon is more like a crater than a canyon - it's rounder and smoother and might even be deeper - it's more open and doesn't have the crevices that the real Grand Canyon has.

I have thought about this and realize now that there are many places that exist in my mind alongside their realer, truer counterparts.  For example, my husband, Michael took classes at the Old Town School of Folk Music for a long time and while we were dating, we would talk on the phone late at night after his classes.  He would drive through this area of Chicago on his way home that had a lot of Indian food and sometimes stop at his favorite places to eat or pick up some food.

Now I live here, near Chicago, with Michael and with my daughter Mulan.  She takes guitar classes at Old Town now and M & I sometimes both go with her.  We sometimes stop and get food at the same places Michael used to mention on the phone to me.

But the fantasy of what the Old Town was like - and the drive home for him - it lives still in this other universe of fantasy.  It's a different place than the real place that I know.  The school is darker and has more wood molding and it has more music rooms and the drive is longer and the roads to get there are narrower.  It's like a movie set - yes, it has the set decorations I would put there, that I have put there as I directed the images in my head.

This other place - Old Town School and Drive Home The Alternate Universe is a place that can sometimes catch me up as I inadvertently remember it exists from time to time.   I almost wonder about the people who inhabit the fantasy are doing - how they're faring - how that other place has kept up with the economy changes or even just the changes of the seasons.

In any case, this is true of the Grand Canyon too.  This was also true of Istanbul.  My friend Jim Emerson went to Istanbul about ten years ago and described it in vivid detail. It's not the Istanbul I visited, but an alternate Istanbul, Jim Emerson's Istanbul as imagined by me.  And this place has a spot in my memory almost as real as the real Istanbul I experienced.

Wow,  I am off topic.

In any case, I went on this train trip. Oh!  We stayed at the most astonishing and lovely hotel for the one night we were off the train.  It's called La Posada and it's in Winslow, Arizona.  It's one of those western train hotels that had the Harvey Girls for waitresses in the old days.  A wealthy couple bought the ruins of the place and completely restored it.  I was instantly in love with this hotel.  It's really fantastic, and probably looks greater now than it originally did.  The food was excellent.  Michael and I bought the hotel's restaurant cookbook and made a couple of the recipes from it for Thanksgiving dinner.  Both turned out well.

After the train trip Michael headed home and I had to stay in L.A. for a couple of days while I pitched this pilot I'm working on.   I flew back to Chicago and had 24 hours to get ready to welcome my mother and my two nieces and then my brother and sister-in-law for Thanksgiving week.   A good time was had by all.   We were busy - we toured around Chicago, went to the Adler Planetarium and the Shedd Aquarium and the Chicago Botanical garden (three times to the garden!) and my mother just left yesterday.

And now I am....

I am....

I am utterly and completely and totally and fundamentally and to-my-bones exhausted.  I am sooooo damn tired.

Every surface in my house is piled with stuff from two weeks of randomly throwing anything anywhere to get it out of the way.  Mail is unopened, receipts are tucked in sofa cushions, dust is wafting around doorways and laundry is about as high as my waist.  This morning I opened a hallway coat closet and a roll of paper towels bounced off my head.   I open drawers and half-eaten boxes of candy from going to the movies is spilled all over polly-pocket rubbery clothes.  The twins stayed with Mulan in her room and we blew up an extra mattress and now it seriously looks like a punk band stayed in there and trashed the place.  Even though the kids were good - they didn't trash the place, it's just - well... let's just say I really took a sabbatical from keeping the house picked up and how I am wading through the aftermath.

Anyway, enough of that.  This is what I really wanted to write about today...

I'm making some changes, I'm streamlining, cost-cutting, focusing.  I'm trying to reduce my web-presence.  Yes, just as everyone is getting in, I'm getting out.  Well, not completely!  For example I do love writing this blog.  I will continue with that.  But I'm going to redirect my web address to this blog, and try to get any necessary information on to it.  I can put my representation, my email address, and even put up my infrequent-performing-schedule in the header (as I just did as an experiment.)

I feel I'm headed to more writing and less performing and this change reflects the change that is happening in my life.  I'm not sure I want to be a public person anymore.  I don't want to promote myself.  That seems like the old me.  I like the new me.  Just writing my blog, and working on scripts and my book and that's it.  My website is managed by a company and I have been paying for it monthly and, y'know... it's been great and all, but it feels like a good time to break up. I know I could probably make a website or web-page myself - even though I'm really remedial with computers - but y'know, I just don't want to.

It's kind of odd to do this now because "Letting Go of God" - the movie - is premiering on Showtime tomorrow!  But it's not odd in other ways.  Showtime has a year to play the movie and will perhaps, if it's received well,  play the year after, too.  I'm thinking there could be an influx of people trying to look me up on the internet and I want to direct them - if there are those people - to a forum housed in a place that I do not administer.  There are a couple of forums that I think are really good and that can start a section for Letting Go of God.  One is at the Freedom From Religion Foundation and one is at The Skeptic Society.   These are going to take a few days to set up. In the meantime, I will have an announcement on my own forum that I'm not accepting new registrants and directing them to the new place for foruming...  All this should happen in the next couple of days.

I just spoke to Annie Laurie at the Freedom From Religion Foundation, and they are going to set up a special place for me and Letting Go on their forum.  The only hitch there is that you have to be a member to be on the forum.  Of course I recommend joining, but if people don't want to, I believe the Skeptic Society does not require that.  Oh dear, much to find out today.

More tomorrow.

p.s. I am going to attend and speak at the Freedom From Religion Foundation meeting next October in Madison.  I had a blast the last time I did it.  Annie Laurie says Ron Reagan (who spoke at this year's convention in early November) was hysterical.  I wish I'd seen him!