Monday, April 01, 2013

Hey, I have a new website. It's at

Thursday, February 14, 2013

      Jill Sobule, in my office, with her iPad, and her thinking cap on.  We were figuring out our show order for the Jill & Julia Show which we did at Space, in Evanston, IL on January 26th.  We filmed the show and we're making a Jill & Julia website (should by up by the end of March.)  We have several shows booked for July, and even one coming up, March 16th in Hartford, CT at the Mark Twain House.  The Mark Twain house! That's awesome.  I'm really looking forward to it.  (Jill is an amazing rock/folk singer and musician, see her website

      Well, I'm gearing up for my book release, April 2nd. I have several appearances and book related events. I will be getting the information up soon. Oh! Oh! Oh! I'm also going to have my own website, which will help promote the book, up in a matter of... well, probably several weeks.  But still! Things are in motion.

     Okay, books read in January 2013:

     1.)  "In the Shadow of the Banyon," written by Vaddey Ratner.
     2.)  "Where'd You Go, Bernadette," written by Maria Semple
     3.)  "This Book Will Make You Smarter," a compilation of essays edited by John Brockman

    I enjoyed all these books.  Reading "Where'd You Go, Bernadette" was especially sweet because it was written by a friend of mine, one who I greatly admire and am deeply inspired by.  Sweet because I had taken so long to read it - it came out last June and I had followed it's success with joy, and yet - I think I was afraid to read it! In fact, Maria read my book even before I read hers - and that was a very good thing because I was so blown away by "Where'd You Go" that I wonder if I'd have even sent her my book if I'd realized what a great and funny and skillful writer she's become.  I mean, I knew it before, I loved her previous book, "This One is Mine" but "Where'd You Go...."  Wow.  I laughed so hard while reading this book, once I laughed so friggin hard that Mulan asked me to leave the room because she was trying to practice piano and my cackling was interfering with her concentration.  Let me tell you something, Mulan practices piano LOUDLY.  So this just shows how loud I must have been laughing.  I was completely surprised by what was happening in the book, how it turned out, how nutty it got - and yet how understandable and justified and quirky and odd and meaningful.  Poignant, even.  When I finished the book, it stayed with me for a long time. I kept thinking about Bernadette - I still think of her like an actual person, and not a character in a book.

    "This Book Will Make You Smarter" is one of those John Brockman edited books - he runs this organization called The Edge.  He runs the website for it,  And he puts out a book every year with essays by influential big thinkers, mostly scientists.  "This Book Will Make You Smarter" is the perfect bedside book - the essays are short, but thought provoking.  A couple of the essays are still banging around in my head - one by Brian Eno, the musician, and recording producer entitled "Ecology."  In this essay he beautifully distinguishes between old world thinking: religious, pyramidic, hierarchical, with new world thinking: complex, web like, "an infinity of nested and co-dependant hierarchies."  It's not something I hadn't thought about before, in fact, for the last ten years it's all I have been thinking about!  But I love how succinctly Brian Eno describes it, how starkly, and elegantly.

     The other essay in this book I keep turning around in my head was written by Gloria Origgi, a French philosopher who works at the Insitut Jean Nicod.  She wrote an essay called "Kakonomics."  She posits that most economic theory is based on the idea that people want to provide lower quality goods and receive higher quality goods.  This is logical, right?  People want to give less and receive more.  But in practice, people are wily.  People practice mutual un-spoken agreement to each provide lower quality goods.  One example she gives is one about Italian builders, "Italian builders never deliver when they've promised to, but the good thing is, they don't expect you to pay them when you've promised to, either."  The idea is that if you talk the talk about exchanging high quality work, but in fact understand that you will both actually deliver mediocre work, then the pressure is relieved on both sides and therefore both sides gain.  But of course, this behavior has an - as she puts it - an "overall worsening" effect on our society and culture.  When I read this essay I couldn't stop seeing examples of it everywhere. I'd never thought about that before!

     "In the Shadow of the Banyon" was a brilliant book too!  Wow, so many good books out there.  It's about a Cambodian family during the rise of the Khmer Rouge. Which - I didn't even realize that the Khmer Rouge means Cambodians, Red!  Communists.  I mean, I knew they were communists. But I never thought about the name before. Jeez. Anyway, it was a beautiful written book, really tragic and compelling.  I recommend it highly.

     Can I just say that reading about insane historical episodes, like the rise of the Khmer Rouge in Cambodia - people can be so crazy, whole groups of people can get so frighteningly nutty.  There are so many examples of it, not just the Nazis (the ubiquitous and overused example) but everywhere.  I used to have such a benevolent view of humanity, but as I get older, I just get more and more jaded, and frankly scared.  Scared of big crowds. It even extends to football games, all those people cheering, it just gives me the willies.

     Okay, before I drag this blog post into the mud, let's move on to movies.  During January, I had my friends Richard T. Jameson and Kathleen Murphy and Jim Emerson come for five days of movie watching.  Many of the films listed here were watched with them, a delightful group of fellow film enthusiasts.  We had a lovely little winter film festival among friends.

    Films watched in January 2013:

    1.)  On the Waterfront, 1954, directed by Elia Kazan
    2.)  The Devil's Envoys, (french title: Les Visiteurs Du Soir,) 1942, directed by Marcel Carne
    3.)   My Summer of Love, 2004, directed by Pawel Pawilikowski
    4.)   Searching for Sugar Man, 2012, directed by Malik Bendjelloul
    5.)   Open Range, 2003, directed by Kevin Costner
    6.)   Canyon Passage, 1946, directed by Jaques Tourneur
    7.)   The Gatekeepers, 2012, directed by Dror Moreh
    8.)   Celeste & Jesse Forever, 2012, directed by Lee TOland Krieger
    9.)    Assault on Precinct 13, 1976, directed by John Carpenter
   10.)   Silver Linings Playbook, 2012, directed by David O. Russell
   11.)  Martha Marcy May Marlene, 2011, directed by Sean Durkin
   12.)   Me and My Gal, 1932, directed by Raoul Walsh
   13.)   Coriolanus, 2011, directed by Ralph Feinnes
   14.)   The Beaches of Agnes, 2008, directed by Agnes Varda
   15.)   Housekeeping, 1987, directed by Bill Forsyth
   16.)   Panic in the Streets, 1950, directed by Elia Kazan
   17.)   Vicky Cristina Barcelona, 2008, directed by Woody Allen

    Whew.  Lotta good shit.  Where to start?

     I'd never seen On The Waterfront before, but I'd watched so many acting-class renditions of the seminal scenes, the ones with Brando and Eva Marie Saint, the ones with Brando and Rod Steiger - I felt I had seen it.  I have to say, it's probably unfair to the film itself, to be a person who'd never seen it, when it's such an iconic film.  A film that gave birth to so many cultural references.  It's inevitable that it both lived up to my expectations -- even exceeding them -- and also disappointed me at the same time.  I didn't realize that the film was a big mea culpa about flirting with communism - for Kazan and for Schulberg (the writer.)  That seemed to scream out all over the place, making it more of a "message" movie than I feel comfortable with.  Brando is unbelievably fantastic, you can see how he changed acting forever with his natural, animalistic, intelligent, realistic performance.

    I watched My Summer of Love two more times! I showed it to Richard, Kathleen and Jim, and then when Jill came for her show, we watched it too.  I love that movie. One of the actresses, Natalie Press, gives such a believable and delicate performance.  Emily Blunt (her film debut) is delightful too, but I'm not going to go on because I wrote about how much I loved this movie before.

     Searching for Sugar Man!  I've seen it three times now.  I begin to cry the moment we first see Rodriquez.  This film must win the Academy Award!  (Even though I have not seen the other nominated documentaries, so that is unfair, but still, I say it!)

     Canyon Passage is a wonderful western. Someday I'm going to hunker down and force myself to list my ten favorite westerns.  Canyon Passage is going to be on that list.

     Oh, The Gatekeepers.  That's probably nominated for an Oscar too - in the documentary category.  So, I have seen another nominated doc.  Okay, I have to say - it's very very very good.  It's a doc with interviews from all the surviving former heads of Shin Bet - the Israeli security agency (like our CIA.)  They basically say that the whole war with the Palestinians is deeply flawed and will only lead to things getting worse and worse.  This aligns with my own thinking already, but it's was riveting and nice to see people who were in the position of waging this war saying the same thing.

    OMG, Assault on Precinct 13.  So brilliant!  Pulp film making at it's very best.  The director, John Carpenter is so good - the movie is really compelling, full of action and campy seventies acting styles.  GREAT.  Just great.  And the star, Austin Stoker, never had his career take off after starring in this wonderful film. He went back to his job being a union driver for other films.  Somehow this makes this film even more important.  God, I have to see Escape from New York again.

    I liked Silver Linings Playbook, but didn't love love love it.  It was okay.  I really thought about Martha Marcy May Marlene quite a bit afterwards.  Elizabeth Olsen (little sister of the Olsen twins) is quite amazing.  She's going to be a major actress, I think.

    Me and My Gal, I watched with Jill Sobule.  We liked it.  A lot.  The film is the first-time pairing of Spencer Tracy and Joan Bennett - who have palpable chemistry (they went on to star together in Father of the Bride.)

    The Beaches of Agnes might have changed me forever. I really didn't know who Agnes Varda was. Now I am all over her. I loved this documentary she made about herself.  It hits exactly the right tone.  Now I have all her other other films, I got a box set and I'm making my way through them.  How was I not turned onto Agnes Varda before?  She is so up my alley!  Right now I'm idolizing her, I'm in an Agnes Varda thrall.  But more on her next month after I've seen everything she's done.  I have seen so many of those French New Wave films, and never really knew anything about Agnes Varda - only recognizing her name.  Now, to me, she is the greatest of all those filmmakers!  Her worldview, her way to seeing, is very close to my own heart - how I try to see the world.

     I am smitten with Agnes Varda.  St. Agnes, that's what the next pope should do, canonize Agnes Varda.

     Speaking of which, what about the Pope resigning????  My mind is reeling.   I think there's a scandal embedded in it somewhere - something smells fishy about this resignation.  And, if the Church can break with a 700 year old tradition of Pope's serving until their death, why not reverse some other antiquated things?  Their views on birth control, for example.  Do you think that the Pope saw "Letting Go of God"?  Did he see the part where I play out my fantasy for the Pope to make a big apology for all the unnecessary suffering the Church has caused?

    But seriously, I am hungry for more information.  Did the Pope read "The Vatican Exposed: Money,  Murder & the Mafia"?  Or "In God's Name: An Investigation into the Murder of Pope John Paul 1"?  Did he quit because if he didn't quit he'd be whacked?  I know, I sound like a conspiracy theorist.  But when it comes to the Catholic Church, I think many of those theories have some truth in them....

    Lent just started, and although I am no longer a believing Catholic (by a very long stretch) I do love Lent.  I gave up alcohol and chocolate, which I do every year, and have since I was 21.  46 days without alcohol, people.  Can you stand it?  And chocolate!  It's hard, I tell you, it's challenging.  And speaking of fish, (above, re: the Pope's resignation)  I try to eat fish on Fridays during Lent too.  Just a part of the Catholic gal inside me that must be satisfied with some good old-fashioned denial.

    I'm going to end with a cute picture of Michael (the husband) and Mulan (the daughter) which I took recently.   Mulan wanted to paint one wall of her bedroom with blackboard paint so she could draw all over it.  I love this pic because we had such a fun day doing this.  Also, I like that Michael is wearing a "Jetpack" T-shirt - which is a Jill Sobule song.

Ta Ta until next month!

Thursday, January 10, 2013

A New Year

The above picture was taken by Michael at the Lincoln Park Zoo in mid-December.

We saw many more primates later in the month, in Costa Rica, where we went on vacation.  But this picture is my favorite.  Looking at her expression causes me to relax.

What is new?  Well, we just returned from a two week vacation in the Yucatan and Costa Rica.  We went to many ruins in Mexico.  We didn't realize that we'd be there with the crazies - the people who thought the world would end on Dec. 21st.  But we didn't have any run-ins and we mostly avoided those people.  My favorite time in Mexico was in Valladolid, a small colonial town with a great folk art museum, which is actually just a guy's house who opens it up every day for an hour or so for people to look at his amazing collection of Mexican art.  Casa de los Venados │ Oficial Site  It's really worth the trip to see this house, with it's perfectly chosen collection of art.  Some of the art was commissioned just for them, be sure to check out the dining room table with each chair back depicting the image of a famous Mexican historical figure.  I had a fantasy of going to this city for a month and just writing and reading every day while mosing around in the afternoons.

Then we went to Costa Rica, and joined a group.  It was a family-active-travel-vacation kind of thing.  Every day we did some different active thing: surfed, zip-lined, hiked, biked, white water rafted, kayaked.  It wasn't too exhausting, but kept us on the move.  We all had a fabulous time.  Mulan didn't want to come home.

Jill Sobule and I are getting ready to do a little tour in the summer with our Jill & Julia show.  We have a show here in Evanston at Space on January 26th.  I will get the rest of the schedule up soon.

I'm having a website designed, and it will be launched in a couple of months, maybe sooner - we'll see how it goes.

I'm also getting ready to start promoting my book, "If It's Not One Thing, It's Your Mother" which will be published on April 3rd by Simon and Schuster.  I will have a schedule soon for that too. I want to do as many book store readings as possible, I'm so excited to do that.  I know I'll be at the 92nd Street Y in NYC on April 2, and then I'll be doing a week of publicity there.  More on that soon.

But for now, I thought I'd list the books I read in December 2012:

1.) The Bin Ladens: An Arabian Family in the American Century, written by Steve Coll.
2.) Private Empire: ExxonMobil and American Power, written by Steve Coll.
3.) In Praise of Messy Lives, written by Katie Roiphe
4.) The Neighborhood Project: Using Evolution to Improve My City, One Block at a Time, written by David Sloan Wilson
5.) Miss Minimalist: Inspiration to Downsize, Declutter, and Simplify, written by Francine Jay

Of all these books, the Bin Laden book was the most fun, the most informative, the most engrossing, and maybe even the best written (Although they were all very good.)  I saw Steve Coll on "Up With Chris Hays" - my don't miss political show, and they were talking about his ExxonMobil book.  So before we left on vacation, I got that and the Bin Laden book which he'd written in 2008 and loaded it onto my Kindle, along with the Miss Minimalist book. I was so absorbed with the Bin Laden book, and after each chapter I had to tell Michael and Norma (Michael's mother who was travelling with us) what I'd just read.  God, that book, that story - the story of the Bin Laden family - it really should be a mini-series on HBO or Showtime or something.  Just astonishing.  I had no idea!  So many interesting characters.  I only had the most rudimentary understanding of that family, how they came to power, how friggin' many of them there are!  I didn't know that the family had basically disowned Osama for years before 9/11.  It's a complicated story, and Coll is a magnificent writer - so clear and stark and dispassionate, and letting the facts speak for themselves.  Salem!  Salem is the oldest son, who died years before 9/11 in a plane accident (the father died in a plane accident too - lots of exploding planes in this family's history) and Salem is such a bigger-than-life character, he seems fictional.  He is obstinate, silly, smart, insightful, indulgent, superficial, but a great person-manager. I mean a wonderful connector.  Anyway, I would recommend this book above almost all others for the month.

The ExxonMobile book was enlightening, I mean, I know nothing about the oil business.  It's not a take-down, just once again, Coll dispassionately relating the facts.  I found myself much more sympathetic to ExxonMobile, and more angry at ExxonMobile after reading it.  I really was an idiot when it came to this area of our world.  It was a long, often boring slog however.  I think Coll made it as interesting as possible - and he did a good job. There is actually a lot of intrigue and action - and I'm thankful I have this understanding now, I think reading this book has made me a much more aware and informed person... But I didn't go gaga over this book like I did the Bin Laden one.

Katie Roiphe is a very good writer, and I enjoyed her essays so much.  I love the title.  I also enjoyed "The Neighborhood Project." I read David Sloan Wilson's book "Darwin's Cathedral" and even heard him speak at Cal-Tech in Pasadena several years ago. That's a good book too...

"Miss Minimalist" became this wonderful way for Mulan and I to have several great talks on our trip. Mulan finished her book, "To Kill a Mockingbird" about halfway through our vacation and didn't have another book. So she began nabbing my Kindle and reading Miss Minimalist.  The book is just a 99 cent Kindle single - but it's so much more than a how-to guide. It's really about morality, about a whole world-view, and getting away from the consumerism that can encroach on our lives and shape our expectations, and ultimate enslave us. I love Francine Jay - I am really a fan.  I already read "The Joy of Less" by her - her hardback book.  I have a ways to go to get where I want to be with my "stuff" but she is helping to show me the way towards where I want to go.  What struck me about this Kindle Single was that it went beyond stuff.  It was about keeping our lives simple in general. Not having such complicated "to-do" lists, and accepting the fact that the most valuable thing we have is time, and spending that time mindfully means not being able to "do" as many things as we might want to.  The book was perfect for Mulan to read at age 13.  And it was perfect for me to read as well.  We had a great time discussing this book all through Mexico and Costa Rica.

Okay, movies I watched in December, 2012.

1.) Big, 1988, directed by Penny Marshall
2.) Bad Lieutenant: Port of Call - New Orleans, 2009, directed by Werner Herzog
3.) The Bakery Girl of Monceau, 1963, directed by Eric Rhomer
4.) Suzanne's Career, 1963, directed by Eric Rhomer
5.) Sunrise, 1927, directed by F.W. Murnau
6.) Letter to Elia (documentary about Elia Kazan) 2010, Martin Scorsese
7.) Gilles Wife, 2004, directed by Frederic Fonteyne
8.) My Night at Maude's, 1969, directed by Eric Rhomer
9.) A Tree Grows in Brooklyn, 1945, directed by Elia Kazan
10.) Boomerang, 1947, directed by Elia Kazan
11.) Once Upon a Time in Anatolia, 2011, directed by Nuri Bilge Ceylon
12.) Gentleman's Agreement, 1947, directed by Elia Kazan
13.) Pinky, 1949, directed by Elia Kazan
14.) A Streetcar Named Desire, 1951, directed by Elia Kazan
15.) Viva Zapata, 1952, directed by Elia Kazan

Oh, what a great movie month. As you can see, I got the box set of Elia Kazan movies, and I'm making my way through them. In fact, the other day I watched On The Waterfront (but that's a January movie...) for the first time.  The box set is quite nice and has a lot of tantalizing extras.  Frankly, I think Kazan's "A Tree Grows in Brooklyn" is his best film so far!  I watched the movie twice, and the then with the commentary.  Even with the commentary going I cried my eyes out when the dad dies.  Of course that movie resonates deeply with me, the alcoholism, the Irish stuff, the daughter who loves a dad who is tragic.  The whole thing just gets me. I hadn't seen it as an adult. It's even better than I thought it was.

The one thing that I have to get over (and over and over again) is that Kazan casts women who don't fit in the part they're playing, sometimes to a hilarious degree!!  Dorothy McGuire did a great job in the part of Katie Nolan in "A Tree" but she does not seem Irish working class in any way whatsoever.  In Pinky, Jeanne Crain is supposed to be playing a mulatto woman and she's hilariously Nordic looking. It's just ridiculous.  Even in "On the Waterfront", Eva Marie Saint's character seems like a WASP Connecticut waif with perfectly straight teeth and a patrician bearing and it's very hard to accept that the nun's boarding school really took every wisp of lower working class mannerisms and vocal tone out of her.  But once I get past that, I enjoy the movies a lot.

Speaking of commentaries, on "Sunrise," there is a lovely commentary by John Bailey, the renowned cinematographer.  Now that I've watched so many movies with commentaries, I realize there is a big range - some of them are just people rambling on and on about almost nothing. Some are really informative and enlightening - John Bailey's commentary on "Sunrise" is FANTASTIC.   Really a don't miss.

I watched "Once Upon a Time in Anatolia" AGAIN.  Oh god I love that movie. I could watch it several more times. Andrew O'Heir at Salon described it as a CSI episode written by Anton Chekov. That is the most perfect description. This movie might have changed my life, I don't know. I love it SO MUCH.  I've seen it four times now...

I saw "My Night At Maude's" in college, but was glad to see it again. It was both better and worse than I remembered it.  "Viva Zapata" is great! Marlon Brando - I'm kind of obsessing about Marlon Brando right now.  God he was so good.  The way he behaves in film - it's like he knew how to mainline heroin - what I mean is, he does not get in his own way. He really seems like he is the person - he just takes your breath away - even when he's playing a Mexican revolutionary!

I have to write a shout out to "Gilles Wife" - a lovely nuanced film. I hate the ending, however. It doesn't belong with the film.  A subtler ending would have made the film absolutely perfect.  But the film is still wonderful - great performances.

Okay, I am getting ready for my friends Jim Emerson, Richard T. Jameson and Kathleen Murphy - who all live in Seattle - to arrive this afternoon so we can commence our annual winter film festival here in my house. For five days we will be watching at least AT LEAST two movies a day.  I can't wait!

Sunday, December 02, 2012

Arden, RIP

                                                                 My dog Arden died.
                                                       He died about three weeks ago.

     I'm still getting used to him not being around.  I will blame my tardy blog entry on this event.  It's only partially true.  But still, I'll allow Arden this one last gift to me.
     My world is very different.  No more walks every day.  This is both terrible and fantastic.  No Arden to greet me when I come in the house.  For at least a week, after he died, when I came in the door, I could hear the jingling of his tags.  Auditory hallucinations embedded by repeating situations.  I hear his familiar click along the hardwood floors.  I still wake up at night and think of his last moments alive, which I witnessed, and for which I'm deeply thankful.  We knew he didn't have long, he had a tumor on his heart after all, but he'd lived so much longer than anyone expected he would (in that sense, he was like my brother Bill.)
   One night Arden was breathing particularly quickly.  Maybe even hyperventilating.  He wouldn't sit down.  Michael and I stayed up with him. It was hard to tell if he didn't want to sit down or he couldn't sit down. I figured if we went to bed, he would lie down.  We went to bed, and then I got up at 11 p.m. and he was still panting and standing.  I went back to bed, but got up at midnight, he was still doing the same thing.  I called the emergency 24 hour vet and they said to bring him in. Michael and I got dressed, Arden happily got his leash on, jumped into the car, looked out the window with expectation. I was in the backseat with him.  Then he wanted to get down off the seat.  I helped him get down. He died right there in the car. He did not look like he was in any pain, he just laid down and put his head to one side, but all the muscles in his face relaxed in this very final un-alive way.  I said to Michael who was driving "I think Arden just died."  Michael put his hand back behind the driver's seat, stroking Arden's fur.  "Yes." he said.  "I think he's dead, too."
    It was so dark outside, I could only see Arden when we went under a street lamp.  It created an eerie otherworldly effect.  But yes, he was dead.  They took his body at the emergency vet's office.  They were very kind.  There were many tears.
    Now, as I type this, his ashes are sitting on my desk.
    I am very sad.  In shavasana, at the end of yoga class, I am often crying - thinking about Arden.
    On the other hand, I am deeply relieved.  I was tired of worrying about him, tired of all the responsibility.  I don't want another dog.  That was my dog.  I had a dog.  I had the best dog I could imagine for me.  I have ten years of memories about him to enjoy for the rest of my life.  I wouldn't be surprised, when I reach the end of my own life, to see images of Arden running towards me.  His existence is so deep inside me.

    But let's move on, people.

    My book is done, done, done! It is coming out April 3rd. I am very happy that it's over and I'm already onto two more projects. I am writing a screenplay named "Fork."  This is something I am going to try to direct myself, here in Wilmette.  It's a small delicate story about a couple and their two kids graduating from high school.  I can shoot in my own house.

    The other project is my next book, "My Beautiful Loss-of-Faith Story."  This is the book that goes along with "Letting Go of God."  I am finally writing this book, something I've threatened to do for so long. I feel productive and able to accomplish things at the moment.  I didn't realize that just completing my mother book would give me such confidence in finishing other projects. I heard someone say once about their father, "He was a great finisher of projects."  Wow, what a great phrase. I struggle so mightily with that. I have no problem starting things!  But isolating the specific act of finishing projects is helpful when thinking about it.   It's an act unto itself, the finish.  Just the idea of being "A great finisher." I love it.  I want to be a great finisher.  I must say, at the moment I'm optimistic.

    I haven't listed my movie watching for three months now.

    Here are the movies I watched in September, October, and November of 2012

    1.)   Melancholia, 2011, directed by Lars von Trier
    2.)   An Unmarried Woman, 1978, directed by Paul Mazursky
    3.)   My Summer of Love, 2004, directed by Pawel Pawlikowski
    4.)   Alice: Darkness, Light, Darkness, 1988, directed by Jan Svankmajer
    5.)   Grapes of Wrath, 1940, directed by John Ford
    6.)   Another Country, 1984. directed by Marik Kanievska
    7.)   La Havre, 2011, directed by Aki Kaurismaki
    8.)   Lady From Shanghai, 1947, directed by Orson Welles
    9.)   How Green Was My Valley, 1941, directed by John Ford
   10.)   I Want Someone To Eat Cheese With, 2006, directed by Jeff Garlin
   11.)   Drums Along the Mohawk, 1939, directed by John Ford
   12.)   Great Expectations, 1946, directed by David Lean
   13.)   The Earrings of Madame Du, 1953, directed by Max Ophuls
   14.)   And Then There Were None, 1945, directed by Rene Clair
   15.)   Wee Willie Winkie, 1937, directed by John Ford
   16.)   Judge Priest, 1934, directed by John Ford
   17.)   Jolene, 2008, directed by Dan Ireland
   18.)   Man on Wire, 2008, directed by James Marsh
   19.)   Lincoln, 2012, directed by Steven Speilberg
   20.)   Street Angel, 1928, directed by Frank Borzage
   21.)   History is Made at Night, 1937, directed by Frank Borzage
   22.)   The White Ribbon, 2009, directed by Michael Haneke

    Considering this is three months of movies, it's not very many.  I usually watch more.  But wow, now that I've typed them out and looked at them all, what a wonderful group of films! I couldn't honestly say which one had the deepest impact.
     I only saw one movie in a movie theater, and that was "Lincoln."  I loved it, I ate it up, I think this is one of Spielberg's best films.  (My personal favorite is "Munich")
    The biggest surprise:  "My Summer of Love."  This film got so little attention.  It is Emily Blunt's film debut.  I think this is a perfect film. Really, there is not one moment, not one frame that I would change or that doesn't work. It's plot is inevitable and yet surprising.  When my friends come in January (I have three friends who come here every January for a little four or five day film festival - we watch movies in our basement home theater) I am going to show this film to them.  It's gorgeous and horrifying - a story of two girls and their friendship. One of them is wealthy and one is very poor.  Emily Blunt is great, but the other girl - oh my god, Natalie Press, she is incredible - astonishing.  This film is creepy and puts you on edge.  It also breaks your heart.  And makes you angry.  And - god, just get this film and watch it.
     One day Mulan was sick and home from school with a fever. We watched Alice, Darkness Light Darkness, a bizarre surrealist film by a Czech filmmaker.  It was the perfect kind of hallucinatory experience to have when you are a little bit sick.  Mulan loved it.  We talk about it together all the time.  It's a version of Alice in Wonderland that Salvador Dali would make.
     "Great Expectations" exceeded my expectations.  I think it's David Lean's best movie.  I watched it twice, once alone, and another time with the whole family, including my mother-in-law, Norma.  We all enjoyed it thoroughly.  I think it's time for me to finally read Dicken's book.  I have read so little Dickens.  Like none.  And he was one of my father's favorite authors.  In fact he called me Pip when I was little (he also had a dog named Pip, but to be honest, I never thought of this as an insult.)
       I watched "Wee Willie Winkie" with my own mother and Mulan one afternoon just before Thankgsiving.  I wanted Mulan to know who Shirley Temple was.  This is her least cutsie-singing-tap dancing role and directed by John Ford.  It's pretty good. I was glad that Mulan liked it.  That's another one we've spoken of several times since viewing it.
      "Street Angel" - oh God! I am discovering Frank Borzage, he directed at Fox along with Ford and Murnau.  Janet Gaynor is so entrancing in "Street Angel" - a classic, maybe THE classic Whore-Madonna story.  A lush, gorgeous silent film.  I'd seen Borzage's "History is Made at Night" many, many years ago.  It has the most ridiculous plot, it just proves that if the actors have chemistry (and Jean Arther and Charles Boyer really combust) it doesn't matter how ludicrous the story is.  You just want to watch them together.
    When I finished the book, I gave myself a present: the "Ford at Fox" box set, 50 movies he directed while at Fox.  I got it on sale for $250 (regularly $300) and now I see that it's $187.  You have to get it people!  The documentary that goes along with it is quite good, and there's wonderful commentary by Joseph McBride, and others, on some of the films.  "How Green Was My Valley" and "The Grapes of Wrath" both have incredibly insightful and informative audio commentaries that I watched right after seeing the films.
   "The Earrings of Madame Du" is possibly the best film ever made.  The DVD I got has extras too, great commentaries and even the original short story.
    I am still digesting "White Ribbon."  I had wanted to see this film for a while, since it won the Palm d'Or in 2009.  But I put it off.   I thought it was going to be a long, long film about child torture and molestation.  Children who all become Nazis later.   And, well, that's true.  But it's so magnificent.  And the film leaves so much unanswered, expertly unanswered, it's not dogmatic or manipulative.   It's not just about kids turning into sadists from being used sadistically either.  It's about the legacy of pain and how it plays out, it's about the half-life energy from oblivious land-owners and the desperation of migrant workers and the deep psychosis in the underbelly of religion and about the gossip and claustrophobia of small towns.  God, it's so magnificent, this film.  I watched it twice.

  Now, onto books.  I actually have no idea what books I read in the last three months. I know that at this moment I'm reading Barbara Kingsolver's "Flight Behavior: A Novel."  It's breathtakingly well written.  In fact, I want to stop writing this blog so I can go read more.
   I do have my Kindle in front of me, so I can tell you what I've recently read from looking at that: "Writing in Pictures" by Joseph McBride.  This is the best screenwriting book I have ever read. It is head and shoulders above any other one.  I have it both on my Kindle and I got the hardcover version.  "Drift" by Rachel Maddow and "What's The Matter With White People" by Joan Walsh.  They are both political pundits with whom I feel have a great deal of important things to say. I recommend both books heartily.  "Render Unto Rome: The Secret Life of Money in the Catholic Church" by Jason Berry.  Of course I am obsessed with the Vatican and money.  I shouldn't say "of course" because I tried for many years to keep my disgruntled feeling towards the Church concerned mainly with their dogma.  I tried to look the other way when it came to the sex abuse and the money scandals.  But now I'm ready to know, and jesus  (ha!) there is so much to know!  "The Vatican Exposed: Money, Murder & the Mafia" by Paul Williams is good too.
    What else?  I will say I am not so into the Kindle anymore.  I like an actual book. My need to flip through pages, glance at the back, see how far it is until the chapter is over - all these things are annoying or impossible on the Kindle.  Actual books I read?   I did read Ayelet Waldman's "Love and Other Impossible Pursuits" which I thought was fantastic. I still have images in my mind, scenes from this book, that I feel were directed - they were so film-like.  I love her details.  I read "Sense and Sensibility" again - I think I have to read all of Jane Austen's books again.  As you get older, they just get better.
   Oh, I forgot.  I read, "Carry the One" by Carol Anshaw.  Brilliant.  Just a wonderful narrative and it all takes, well it mostly takes place here in Chicago.  She is one hell of a writer.  Great details, like Ayelet Waldman.

   All right people, that's all I can think about for right now.

Friday, September 14, 2012

I'm baaaaaack.

I just turned in my second draft of my book on Tuesday afternoon.  I have put everything off until I could finish it. It's not even that long, and I can't believe it took me six months longer to write it than I thought it would.  I hope the publisher is happy.  It's still supposed to come out in April.  I'm going to New York to meet with my editor next week, and I'm also going to stop by Joe's Pub and do a story during each of Jill Sobule's shows, Tuesday and Wednesday.

I really hated that I have missed two monthly blog entries. One thing that I love about writing my blog is that it forces me to remember what I watched - movie-wise - and what I read - book-wise.

The picture above was taken by Michael on Decatur Island, which is an island in the San Juan Island chain, just off the coast of Seattle.  We went there for a family vacation at the end of July.  I could live there. I loved it so much.

I have a busy month ahead. After going to NYC, I'm going to attend, on Oct 12 - 14, in Portland, the annual Freedom From Religion conference.  In fact, I am going to speak on Saturday night. I love that organization and I'm really excited to be part of it.

So, let's get onto the books.

July was the first month in my life where everything I read was on a Kindle.   And I have to admit, even though I was soooooo reluctant, I liked it.  I like that you can change the font size.  I like the cover with the little light.  I have the cheapest black and white one, and I will never want one with color. I like it just as it is.   But I learned something, there are some books that are good for a Kindle, and some that aren't.

Books not good on Kindle for me:

1.) Difficult books.  This is a large swath of the books I read, and actually, the book I finished as July began, The Glorious Art of Peace, is a good example.  When a book is dense with ideas, ideas that are challenging to me, I need to flip back a page, skim over a page, look at the index, put it down, pick it up, highlight and make notes. These are not easy things for me to do on a Kindle. I need to have a sense of how much more book there is, physically.  Sometimes in frustration or in overwhelm, I need to flip through the chapters in a way that is impossible on a Kindle.

2.) Classics.  There's something about holding "The Brothers Karamazov" or even an Orhan Pamuk book that makes the Kindle seem, well, unseemly.

3.) Kindle popularity makes it impossible to know what people are reading.   For example, if you board a plane, it's nice to see what people are reading. Yes it can be depressing, but it's also interesting.  I do remember being on a cruise once and 80% of the people on the boat were reading "The Purpose Driven Life."  That was really an eye-opener.  But I've started random conversations with people after seeing what book they're reading, standing in line for something, for example.  It's nice. I wouldn't ask someone what they were reading on their Kindle. (i don't go around starting conversations with lots of people just because they're reading a book I am familiar with or curious about, but it does happen from time to time and the Kindle is not making that better!)

Okay, the books I read in July and August, 2012

1.  The Glorious Art of Peace, From the Illiad to Iraq, written by John Gittings (finished it)
2.  Ali in Wonderland, written by Alexandra Wentworth
3.  Girl Walks into a Bar, written by Rachel Dratch
4.) You're Not Doing it Right, written by Michael Ian Black
5.) Love Child, written by Allegra Huston
6.) Lizz Free or Die, written by Lizz Winstead
7.) Radical Acceptance, written by Tara Brach
8.) The White Castle, written by Orhan Pamuk
9.) Wired for Culture, written by Mark Pagel

I guess I read a spate of comedian's memoirs (why would I do that?) and I have come to realize that my book is not a comedy in the way these are.  And I wish it were!  I loved every one of them. I wanted to befriend Rachel Dratch, Ali Wentworth, Liss Winstead and Michael Ian Black as soon as I put their books down.  I probably laughed the most at Michael Ian Black's book.  But they were all good.  Each one had at least one chapter where I laughed out loud, very hard, and in public.

I read Allegra Huston's book "Love Child" in the three or four days before I went to her house (she's a friend and I went for a night's visit after a few days in another city close by) and I was gobsmacked at how well written and insightful it was. What an amazing thing, to know all this stuff about a friend I have known for some time, but didn't know everything, not at all, and not by a long shot.  Really compelling and her writing style is an inspiration.

Orhan Pamuk is like drinking a special drug.  I fall into his books and have a hard time in the real world afterwards.s

"Wired for Culture" is so fantastic!  Ohmygod, you have to read it immediately.  We humans are all just idea creators and digesters and propagators.  I became a little preoccupied with the author, Mark Pagel and watched every video I could find on the Internet. He has a pretty good TED talk, and other things on You Tube.

Okay, movies watched in July and August 2012:

1.) Ted, 2012, directed by Seth McFarlane
2.)  The Great McGinty, 1940, directed by Preston Sturges
3.) Christmas in July, 1940, directed by Preston Sturges
4.) The Man I Love, 1947, directed by Raoul Walsh
5.) Margaret, 2011, directed by Kenneth Lonnergan (the long version, and twice)
6.) The T.A.M.I. Show, 1964, directed by Steve Binder
7.) Daisy Kenyon, 1947, directed by Otto Preminger
8.) The Princess Comes Across, 1936, directed by William Howard
9.) Barbary Coast, 1935, directed by Howard Hawks
10.) Experiment Perilous, 1944, directed by Jacques Tourner
11.) Midnight Mary. 1933, directed by William Wellman
12.) These Three, 1936, directed by William Wyler
13.) Outward Bound, 1930, directed by Robert Milton
14.) The Ice Harvest, 2005, directed by Harold Ramis
15.) Mirror, Mirror, 2012, directed by Tarsem Singh
16.) 50/50, 2011, directed by Jonathan Levine
17.) Tuesday, After Christmas, 2010, directed by Radu Muntean
18.) Hope Springs, 2012, directed by David Frankel

Okay, we're about to leave on a camping trip in Door County, so this will be brief.  As far as the movies "Ted" and "Hope Springs" are concerned....  these are the only two movies I saw in a movie theater.  When I left the theater after seeing "Ted" - and Seth McFarlane is a really wonderful guy, and I am an admirer of his, I'm so happy whenever I see him on TV, I just.... I can't even begin to form words for this film. It wasn't that I thought it was bad, it was like going to a fast food restaurant and then being asked to weigh in on it's value as an ocean liner.   "Hope Springs" - well my friend Nancy said it best according to me, "Meryl Streep's character was so disturbing in that film that I was afraid for her."

Of the newish movies I saw, I will say that I really liked "50/50" so much more than I thought I would and so much more than I thought I would even fifteen minutes into the film!  Mulan had actually seen it before and liked it, and encouraged me to watch it. I'm glad I did.

Of the old movies I saw for the first time, the standouts are "The Princess Comes Across" with a great performance by Fred McMurray.  And "Midnight Mary," a story of a woman with a difficult past, who becomes part of a gang, who tries to get out. Loretta Young stars in a magnificent performance, probably my favorite from her.  "Barbary Coast" - we watched it twice, actually.  Howard Hawks - early Hawks.  Miriam Hopkins stars along with Edward G. Robinson as a swashbuckling gambling establishment owner with an earring!  Fantastic.

The foreign film I saw, "Tuesday, After Christmas" is a Romanian film - a really nuanced study of a bad marriage.  Very inspiring (as I'm working on a script about a marriage falling apart...)

And "Margaret." I was so overwhelmed and amazed at "Margaret" - I can't even begin. I loved it, I was profoundly disturbed by it. After I saw it the first time I was up all night thinking about it, unable to sleep. I can't even get into all I have to say about "Margaret right now." It's not a movie for everyone. Two of the people I watched it with, when I watched it the second time, didn't care for it much.  I think the movie goes out of control like the main character is going out of control, but it's a controlled out-of-control feeling, but it's so successful at doing that, that I think most critics - a lot of critics anyway - felt it was Lonnergan's fault.  But I think it's exactly the frenetic feeling he was going for. He succeeded by being so good he caused many people to think it was the storyteller and not the story.  Anyway I really think it's a masterpiece.

I have to run.
Please if you can, come to the Jill Sobule shows in New York City at Joe's Pub. She's so great, and it's going to be a wonderful time, I'm sure.  I'll do a little bit, she'll do a lot of singing....   Until Oct...

Tuesday, July 03, 2012

That Summer Feeling

Jonathan Richman with his drummer Tommy Larkins at the Pritzker Pavilion at Millennium Park in downtown Chicago on June 4, 2012

I met Jonathan when I was on SNL and the cast was asked to participate in writing an entire issue of Spin Magazine.  I was told I could interview any musician I wanted, anyone at all.  I said, "Johnathan Richman!"  The editors told me he didn't do interviews, hadn't for years.

Oh. I was so sad.  I love his music so much.  It made me laugh.  His music made me get emotional.  It was awkward and weird. And it was melodic and complicated.  I loved his music soooo much.  How could he say no?  They had to beg him, just absolutely beg him!

 In the end, I was able to interview him and we immediately became very good friends.  We hung out constantly and even appeared on Late Night With Conan O'Brien a couple of times singing songs together that Jonathan wrote about my life.  I traveled with him and sometimes did shows with him.

 (If you don't know Jonathan, I suggest the following songs:  "Roadrunner" and "Pablo Picasso" are probably his most famous songs from when his band was called The Modern Lovers.  My personal favorites are "That Summer Feeling" and "To Hide a Little Thought" and "When I Dance" and "Abdul and Cleopatra" and "I Was Dancing in the Lesbian Bar" and "Vampire Girl" and I have to stop because I could go on and on.  (Also there's a pretty good cover album called, "If I Were A Richman," my favorite covers on that are "Government Center" by the Underhills, and "The Lonely Financial Zone" by Kowtow Popof)

Oh, yes, another great song that I always think of whenever anyone refers to me as a wife is "When I Say Wife" Wife sounds like your mortgage and wife sounds like laundry.... 

We have fallen out of touch in the last few years.  Even though Jonathan tours around a lot.  Partly this is because he doesn't have a cell phone or a computer.   This makes things difficult.

In any case, this time we were able to connect and he and Tommy played a great show downtown and afterwards they crashed here at our house before driving on to Detroit.

It was a highlight of the month.


So, thank you for all the lovely comments to the blog entry I wrote about my brother Bill dying.  I am still processing everything.  Even though we expected this, somehow his death is a big surprise and it has effected me much more than I thought it would.  I am really sad and discombobulated by it.  The world is off kilter, the earth is not firm beneath my feet.   It's like a physical wound where I think I'm pretty much over it and then I'm suddenly overcome with pain and grief.  I almost feel as if I'm limping.  Like when I told Jill Sobule about it.  I suddenly remembered that when Jill and I did a show in Spokane together last year, we'd had lunch with Bill.   Bill had later told me he loved Jill - just loved her, had a crush on her even, and he wanted all her music.  He was really so enthusiastic about our show.  He loved discovering her music.

Telling Jill about Bill made me remember that.  Then I was a mess for an hour or so.

I've felt really skittish and I'm finding it hard to concentrate.  I tried to go to a lot of yoga, and its helped.  But the classes seem fifteen hours long, just excruciatingly long.  My mind is hopping from thing to thing.  I'm doing a short mindfulness meditation session regularly, and that is helping.  In fact, I read a wonderful Mindfulness book this month.

On that note, let's go on to books:

I read the following books in June, 2012

1.) "The Outsourced Self: Intimate Life in Market Times"by Arlie Russell Hochschild
2.) "The American Way of Eating: Undercover at Walmart, Applebees, Farm Fields and the Dinner Table" by Tracie McMillan
3.)  "Fully Present: The Science, Art & Practice of Mindfulness" by Susan Smalley and Diane Winston
4.) "The Glorious Art of Peace: From the Illiad to Iraq" by John Gittings

I really like Arlie Russell Hochschild.  I recently read "The Second Shift" and was astonished at it's clarity and even-handedness and the raw truth it revealed about the politics of home management in homes with two working parents.  I was eager to read this new book of hers.  I really enjoyed it.  She makes no big negative judgements about how we are outsourcing some of our most intimate jobs - care for our elderly parents, care for our children, and even gestating our children.  I laughed hardest at the Catholic priests in India who say masses for Americans who've paid for a mass to be said in some person's honor (in the Catholic culture, this is a common practice when someone dies.)  There aren't enough American priests to do it, and the Indian priests need the money and it goes farther there.  So they say masses all day long for people in the U.S.  I thought of this again as my mother has told me about all the masses that have been paid for by people sending her condolence cards about my brother.  Now I know that someone in India is likely to be saying a mass for my brother Bill.

Tracie McMillan wrote a very good book about food production in the U.S.  I liked the parts best when she goes and works as a peach picker and a garlic cutter in California.

"Fully Present" the mindfulness book is probably the best book I've read about mindfulness so far - and let me tell you this is a big compliment cause I've read an enormous number of them. Very scientific and fact based.  Really useful information and ideas for a lot of different ways to meditate.

I've read only half of "The Glorious Art of Peace." ADORE IT.  I was a European History major in college and I'm astonished at how history is taught, even at the university level, very war-centricly.   When you view history through the lens of peace, it looks different.  Of course defining peace is another thing.  But still.  I'm looking forward to the rest of this book.

I realize I read all non-fiction this month.  I hate that.  I just find certain types of non-fiction books completely irresistible.

Here are the movies I watched in June.

1.) Moonrise Kingdom, 2012, directed by Wes Anderson
2.) Ladykillers, 1955, directed by Alexander Mackendrick
3.) Your Sister's Sister, 2011, directed by Lynn Shelton
4.) The Angel and the Badman, 1947, directed by James Edward Grant
5.) The Bitter Tea of General Yen, 1933, directed by Frank Capra
6.) Paul Williams: Still Alive, 2012, directed by Stephen Kessler

For me, it was a very light movie month.

I did like "Moonrise Kingdom" and I think Wes Anderson is a talented filmmaker who I am very glad is able to make movies, and I hope he continues to be able to make movies.  But...  Well, I just don't get emotionally involved in his characters in the way that I wished I did.  I liked the kids, especially the boy, but... I wish - I want to like his films more than I end up liking them.  I guess that's it.  Even though I am decidedly on the side of liking them.  But it feels cerebral, and not emotional.  Hmmm....

I found out my brother died and within five hours I was at the Evanston Cinemas watching "Your Sister's Sister" which starts with a brother's memorial.  I almost left the theater - I didn't know that that was part of the film.  But I was glad I stayed. I'm a growing fan of Lynn Shelton.  It was the exact right movie to see at the exact right moment. I cried and cried. It was about sisterness and brotherness.  And it was filmed in my neck of the woods, the Pacific Northwest.

I forgot how great "The Bitter Tea" was - I hadn't seen it since college.

On SAturday night I went to the Gene Siskel theater and saw "Paul Williams: Still Alive."  It's a very good film, and really powerful for me to see considering my last month.  Paul Williams is sober, but was an alcholic for many years.  Steve Kessler, who is a friend of mine, directed a documentary about him.  Both of them were there on Saturday night.  In fact, I'll post a picture of us with my friend Gino Salomone, even though I'm so shiney I can't believe I'm going to post this picture (it's been very hot in Chicago, I don't know why everyone wasn't all sweaty!)

Paul Williams is such an interesting mix of personality and truly a survivor.  The film is not what you expect.   It's mostly about a relationship, the relationship between Steve Kessler and Paul Williams.  But it's also a harrowing story of success in Hollywood, and about a man who was able to overcome his destructive behavior to lead a happy productive life.  Paul Williams is such a unique person too - a wonderful songwriter - his songs are on the order of Burt Bacharach in brilliance and certainly competes in the pop culture marketplace, maybe even ahead of Burt - but he's got this showman inside of him that needs an audience and wants to be in front of the stage.   He succeeded against all odds and crashed, and then survived in a hard won and beautiful way.  I highly recommend this film to you.

Steve Kessler, Paul Williams, me & Gino Salomone

Okay, bye bye.  
I'm very glad about the health care bill being upheld by the Supreme Court
I'm still really scared of the Supreme Court
I love Chris Hayes' Show, "Up with Chris Hayes"
I don't miss it.

Friday, June 22, 2012

Bill Sweeney 1961 - 2012

This is my family (my mother must have been taking the picture) circa 1972, having cheese fondu after skiing.  

I'm in the orange, and my brother Bill is in the striped pajamas.  He died on Wednesday.


Two weeks ago today, on June 8, my brother Bill and I were downtown in Spokane.  We’d just run an errand and both felt hungry for lunch.  He was feeling weak, and I said I’d grab something quick for us to eat.  He could wait for me in the car.

I noticed a Pita Hut across the street.  Inside, I found that the line was long.  I phoned Bill and asked what he wanted, reading a list of menu items.  “Well, the chicken souvlaki, of course.”  he replied.  We both laughed simultaneously at the memory.

You see, in the summer of 1981 Bill and I spent about three and a half months travelling around Europe backpacking.  We ended up in Greece, where we spent nearly a month on the island Santorini, almost totally broke.  We found a family that would house us for a week if we helped them with their grape harvest.  We worked picking grapes and we even helped them stomp on the grapes – barefoot – on top of a big ancient-seeming pit, with long intertwined twigs underneath us (somehow) and the grape juice flowed into a big vat below.  One night, one of the patriarchs of this family, who had only one arm,  deftly made us scrambled eggs with feta cheese for dinner.   Then he poured ouzo from a big white jug.  Bill was smiling from ear to ear.  We were really far from home. 

Back in Athens for a few days, we decided to take a bus to London that cost $50 a person.  The bus would take over 32 hours of driving.  It was also so packed, there were so many people crowding to get on, some people made bargains with others to stand in the aisle and trade places with a seated person now and again.  

As we were waiting in line for the bus, I looked in my backpack and saw a wrapped food item.  It was some chicken souvlaki I’d bought on the street the day before, or maybe it was even two days before.  I was going to toss it out, but Bill said, “Hey, I’ll eat it.” (Yes, at age 20 & 21 we were both idiots.)

We got on the bus, and began the journey.  First Bill broke out into a sweat.  Then his head started to sway.  Then he leapt up and weaved and bumped his way down the aisle, making it to the one toilet in the back just in time.  He felt sick and extremely queazy for the rest of the trip. 

Of course, I gave Bill my seat and I stood in the aisle.  It was very hot, and with no air-conditioning, inside the bus it was hotter.  A handsome guy was in the seat next to Bill, a guy who eventually insisted that I sit for part of the ride.  It was a very long travel to London, seemingly interminable.  Bill recovered and then flew home to Spokane, our long summer as brother and sister in Europe over.  I stayed in London a few more days with the guy on the bus.

But that’s another story.

Now that Bill is dead, (from excessive alcohol and drugs) I’m flooded with memories of his better times.  Bill at his best.  Many of my happiest memories growing up were with Bill.  When we were young, we skied together almost every weekend in winter – him pushing me to take harder and harder runs.  When we were adults, we went to Aspen together and he forced me down a black diamond run, far above my ability.  I cursed him all the way down, side stepping with my skis for much of the way.  But when he suggested we try it again, I did, and then it all became much less daunting. 

I think of Bill with his six-pack abs, which were sadly eroded from drinking actual six-packs.  But I don’t want to remember that.  I’m remembering him lean and taught as can be, throwing himself onto his bike.  His great long muscular legs, his unique hunch over the handle bars, his smile of enticement, “Come on, Jewels.  Let’s go, let’s go, let’s go.”  God, his under-bite – those teeth, gleaming.   His ability to persevere physically seemed supernatural.

He rode his bike from Spokane to Seattle several times. He hiked through the Olympic Rainforest.  

I woke up last night remembering Bill waking me up, - so many times - in the wee hours of the morning, having already made a couple of sandwiches and a thermos of hot chocolate and coaxing me out of bed so we could get to the mountain and ski, or go on a hike as early as possible. Or get on a bike.  Bill liked to stay active. He loved the early morning.  He liked to be outside before anyone else.

Sadly, Bill’s downhill run – the one his life was on – didn’t go as well as the ones we conquered on the slopes.  He was really already an alcoholic at age 20.  In his early thirties, he was lifted out of his chaotic vodka-fueled stupor by an amazing woman, Sandy, who he made his wife. 

He had about five good years, and fathered two amazing children, Nick and Katie.  When the kids were young, he began to drink even more heavily than he had before.  He became angry and cold.  Sandy turned him out, and we all knew she was doing the exact right thing.  Bill couldn’t save himself, and if you threw him a life raft, he’d pull you down with him.

Sandy heroically saved a world of hurt from her children, who Bill was not able to emotionally damage as much as if he’d been there.  They’ve grown up into resilient, thriving young adults. 

Like most addicts, Bill felt deeply.  He numbed himself, yes.  But he also imprisoned himself in his emotions, never fully able to get beyond the sting and the heartache.  He couldn't get to a perspective that was measured or thought through.  He never fully moved past Michael’s death – our other brother who died at age 33 – and I could see that the alcohol and other drugs both delivered him from, and kept him inside a nightmare of constant emotional pain.  

He caused an enormous amount of turmoil and sadness for our family.  For his own children, too.

On the other hand he had a deep caring and joyfullness about him that drew people in.  He was eager and interested.  

Weirdly, one of Bill’s best times was when he was in jail.  He was imprisoned several times for driving while drunk.  Fortunately he never hurt anyone, he was just pulled over by the police for swerving all over the road.  After three times, they sentenced him to nearly a year.  

However, in jail, Bill thrived.  He was put in the kitchen and cooked.  Bill needed supervision and regimentation.  I had some of the best conversations with Bill from prison.  While a big part of Bill’s personality was a deep defiance of authority, it seemed like in the prison system – when it was clear there was no way out – he let his resistance relax, he followed the rules, he helped his fellow prisoners.  He was lucid and articulate, and he read constantly: Richard Dawkins, David Quammen, I think Quammen was his favorite. The last book we discussed was one I sent him, “The Great Hunger” by Cecil Woodham-Smith, a book about the Irish famine, actually a book I haven’t yet read.  

In April I was in Spokane and Bill was in the hospital.  He had acquired MRSA, a staph infection that's resistant to most antibiotics.  He had hepatitis C, late stage kidney disease, and cirrhosis.  He’d also broken his wrist (which he did several times over) from falling.  He was lying in a hospital bed, really out of it, only a few teeth, emaciated, orange from the cirrhosis – even his eyes – his stomach enlarged, and strapped down to a hospital bed.  Dying of alcoholism is a grizzly way to go.  He looked at me and said, “Hey Jewels, let’s go on a hike while you’re here.”  I held his gaze.  I blinked away the tears. “Sure,” I replied. 

So unaware, so childlike, so wanting to just be outside.  That was Bill.  I never thought he’d leave the hospital, but he did.  My mother was at the end of her rope.  Bill was out for 12 days before he went back in.  Mulan and I took him back into the hospital for the last time.  

Now, when I think of him in the emergency room, cordoned off with partially pulled beige curtains for a little privacy, the flickering image I have of of Bill -  sliding off his pants and shirt to get into the gown, I think about how that was the last time.  His last time to pull off his pants.  When I think of him sliding himself onto the hospital bed, I think about how that was his last time to slide himself onto a bed.  He had an impish way about him, light on his feet, youthful even.  When he got on the bed, Mulan and I were standing right there.  He looked at up at me, his eyebrows raised, “Well?” he said with a half-shrug. Then he smiled at me with his lips closed.  

He died ten days later.  He was 51 years old.  

Yesterday I was able to say “My brother died yesterday.”  But now time is going to pull me away from him, each day will be a day with our hands farther apart.

I don’t blame Bill.  He couldn’t conquer this demon.  Who knows what kind of fate was written for him in his genes and in his experiences?   Frankly I don’t think he had a choice.  I don’t know why some people are able to change their destructive behaviors and why some people aren’t.  And I don’t think anyone does.  I think we are played rather than players, and Bill played his part as well as anyone who had to play a part as painful and as difficult as his.

He’s going to be buried in the same plot with my brother Mike at Holy Cross Cemetery in Spokane.  When my mother told me that was how it was going to go, I was surprised.  I hadn’t thought of that. 

But of course, Mike and Bill, together in the ground.

In closing, I'll post this pic of Bill holding Mulan sideways at the Spokane airport, some years ago.  Mulan looks about five.  

Here's another one with Mu.