Tuesday, November 27, 2007

WC: Another Reason to Love Dorothy Parker

If you want to see what God thinks of money,
just look at all the people He gave it to.

Dorothy Parker

RS: The Eyes Have It

I can't remember his eyes. Were they green or were they blue?

I remember when something went dead in them. Right before he left.

After he was gone, they were searing. Seared into my memory. Couldn't close my eyes without picturing his. Couldn't sleep at night, things peering back.

I threw out every photograph of him, of us. Partly anger. Partly didn't want to see those eyes, windows into that soul, now foreign. Partly just didn't want to be reminded. Of the failure. Of the betrayal. Of the wasted years. I hoped against hope that I would just forget.

For a long time it seemed I never would.

Oh, I remember things. But not the eyes. Not now. I remember that I loved looking into them. Loved the reflection—seeing myself through those eyes, so precious to catch a glimpse from a perspective that wasn't quite so loathefully incriminating as my own.

When you learn that you've believed in a false reflection, revised self-definition—well, better to learn eventually than be fooled eternally. Or is it?

It was a slow death in those reflecting eyes. Cateracted. Counteracted. And, in truth, he never saw me for me, as me. He autocorrected. Edited out the parts that didn't fit his vision of who I should be. But, eventually, erosion left only the abhorrent parts. The blindness usurped by bitterness.

Angry in the invisible, I had exposed more and more, the most intimate exposure, things private, personal, prerequisite, pregnable—things that, left unnoticed, unacknowledged, unappreciated, transform from vulnerable to violated, mortally wounded.

Desperate to be seen, screaming to be heard, literally, I acted out in public to guarantee witness to my very presence.

I used to privately recite a poem I had written when I was an angst-ridden teen. It ended:
A king am I behind these walls
And loneliness my crown.
How I wish a kind someone
Would break my fortress down.

I should have bolded the kind part.

Too weak and unresourced to rebuild, you simply mark that private place "condemned" and keep out. Untended and unnourished, things therein, once pregnant with promise, abort—miscarried potential, possibilities dead on arrival.

Left barren. Unsustainable. Uninhabitable.

Fortunately, adjoining real estate prospers and thrives, others welcome to survey. Not all of you dies. Naturally. Nothing nuclear happened. Just landmines triggered and levees breeched.

And you eventually consider renovation, renewal, reforestation. Scorched earth replanted. Land of deserted dreams and abdicated self irrigated.

Recently, looking in on that wasteland, its desolation has diminished. Darling buds of maybe "ope"ing against hope. Restoration promising less Sysiphusian.

Perhaps all that really died were the co-opted wishes, the altered course, the rented plans, the borrowed time, the squatted priorities. Diverging paths, indeed. Now, grateful I could not take them both. Just one for me alone. Parts not wide enough to walk side by side. Parts too treacherous for two.

And, oh, the visions on that journey. How fortunate he could not behold them, for he would not have seen the beauty that I saw. . . nay, see!

I can't remember his eyes—what with mine now open.

Monday, November 26, 2007

DW: The 3 Second Manager

I like managing projects, but I do not like managing people. 

I just don't have the Condoleeza gene that permits one to disregard the feelings and contexts of others in an effort to get the job done. Good for Condi...I'm just not there, and I don't think I ever want to be.

Whenever I have to bring something unpleasant to someone's attention, I am plagued by my memories of what I used to refer to as "third sex" bosses; meaning, those who have managed to combine the worst traits of both men and women into a shrill, crisp, Greenwich, CT sort of presentation. You know, the kind of people who would continue pouring their martini if the maid fell down the stairs.

I like to empower people, and that's sometimes at odds with having to say something like, "you're being careless and not paying attention," or why do I have to send you five emails to do something."   I guess it's like being a parent, except to 12 unrelated adults.  We constantly create families in our workplace, and mine is certainly not an exception. I guess I'm just feeling exhausted by the relentless processing I am obliged to do.

I'm not sure I have anything more to say about this, other than managing people is definitely not the fun part.

If anyone has any wisdom to share, I'm open to suggestions.

SS: Hey, Danny, it’s Me

Last week, I found out that a friend of mine committed suicide. We had not been in contact for a few years, and it was a mutual friend who called me with the news. His name was Danny, and it is still hard for me to comprehend that he is gone. I wanted to write something about him, as a sort of a tribute. He was a special person – the type whose loss truly makes a dent in the world.

I met Danny in 1999, about four months after I moved to New York City from my hometown near Washington, DC. It was a difficult time for me. I was feeling lonely in this gigantic new city, I was struggling with my first post-college job, and had comically horrific roommates. I was doing all I could to keep myself together emotionally.

Almost from the moment he said hello, Danny put me at ease. He was a joker, and especially fond of impersonations. I remember the day we met because he launched into a hilarious imaginary dialogue between these two ladies – a mother and her long-in-the-tooth daughter who lived in Long Island. He had them throwing these casual yet incredibly caustic barbs at one another – all in a stereotypical Long Island accent. I was laughing so hard that day I managed to forget my worries.

We exchanged numbers, and would periodically get together or just talk on the phone for the next several years. He was quite open about personal issues, and I suppose this helped me open up to him about some of my own struggles at the time. He never tried to give me some quick-fix-it type advice. He would just listen and make me laugh. I appreciated this – sometimes you just need someone to listen.

Danny was a talented actor and comedian. He wrote several plays based on or influenced by his growing up gay in a Jewish neighborhood in Long Island. One of my favorites was “Shred it ‘Till It Blooms,” in which he portrayed the Old Testament God in a slinky cocktail gown and a feather boa. In another, “Gimme That Old Time Religion,” he wrote in a scene between Sarah and Hagar in which the two bond over using hand moisturizer. He said this was an homage to me: I have dry hands, so I’m always carting around a bottle of hand lotion, which I apply when the need arises. He loved this. He thought it was an extraordinarily glamorous and feminine ritual; that it captured some "true" essence of femininity. He would say I was the woman he wished he could be. Coming from him, I can think of no greater compliment.

It is amazing how prolific Danny was, considering some of the spectacular demons he dealt with daily. He was bipolar, and even with medications, he still struggled with the horrific highs and lows of the disease. He could be incredibly productive and confident during his manic periods -- writing his plays and comedy monologues -- as well as incredibly self-destructive.

When he was down, it was like he was pinned by a rock to the deepest corner of the Grand Canyon. He would completely isolate himself from human contact. You couldn’t get him on the phone, and he certainly wouldn’t call you. Nothing could bring him out of this -- not medicine, not therapy, not religion -- except for the passing of time.

And there were times he was on an even keel. He was calm. Those of us with less neurological ticks in our brain cannot begin to understand how lucky we are just to feel “even” each day. We cannot comprehend what it feels like to be permanently on the edge of the cliff, first afraid to fall – perhaps even fighting it –then accepting the inevitable descent, and finally praying for it to happen.

I wish Danny didn’t make the choice he did, but part of me can understand why he might have felt there was no longer any other viable option. He couldn’t find a medication that was working and I presume therapy wasn’t helping. He must have felt like a mute trapped in an abandoned mine – even if he wanted help, it was impossible for him to call out for it. A deep depression will do that; and if the pain doesn’t kill you, the numbness will. The numbness gives you the courage to do it.

I am sad that I lost contact with him before his death, especially because it was for no other reason than I was being a typical over-scheduled, crazily busy New Yorker. I would never be as arrogant to presume I could have prevented his death. I wasn’t a close friend of his and I think he was already on a path from which he would not be diverted. But I am sorry I couldn’t have had one more conversation with him:

Hey Danny, it’s me, Sarah. I’m sorry I haven’t called you in a while. A lot of things have happened in the past few years. I bought an apartment, quit that magazine job, and got married. I have a cat now. It’s November 26, 2007, and I’ll be 31 tomorrow. Wish you could be here. I love you.

© Sarah Stanfield, November 26, 2007

AV: What ... They Didn't See "T2"?!?!

Oh boy! Skynet!

Makes me think we're downright prescient here in CA ...

Sunday, November 25, 2007

WC: Art, Entertainment, and Reality

How much do we really want reality in our art/entertainment? That question kept going through my head yesterday as I watched Away From Her, Sarah Polley's film in which Julie Christie gets Alzheimer's disease. (WARNING: many plot points included in this discussion.)

Some sample reviews:
  • "Away from Her . . . stares uncomfortably into the face of Alzheimer's disease."
  • "Represents one of the few clear-headed, uncompromising looks at [Alzheimer's] and its impacts."
  • "Portrays the ravages of [Alzheimer's] with clear-eyed honesty."

The film does not remotely begin to show the ravages of Alzheimer's. Julie Christie never looks less than stunning. She's never viciously angry or horribly scared. She does at one point start wearing a tacky sweater she would never wear, but that's it. No dirt, no vomit, no curse words.

And it is Julie who decides to go to a nursing home, fairly early on in her Alzheimer's, so as to spare her husband. And not once does she change her mind--or forget her decision--or get angry about being left behind. Even when she forgets who her husband is, she is unfailingly kind to him.

And even when her disease progresses (a word her husband notes the irony of) and she has to move to the dreaded second floor, she just gets quiet and turns in emotionally. Again, no tantrums, no fury, no diapers.

The film uses Alzheimer's as a device, and to a certain extent that's legit. But in our very weird world, where people get more information from fictional movies than from magazines and nonfiction books, it's almost irresponsible to present this lovely, clean, quiet version of Alzheimer's. And it's frightening that so many reviewers thought it was reality.

I had a similar response to Lovely Bones, the book by Alice Sebold. (WARNING: more spoilers ahead.) It was hailed as an uncompromising look at the devastation of a family after the young daughter is murdered. Uncompromising? Ha.

I don't mean to harp on bodily fluids, but again, everyone's grief is very very clean. And the girl's sister has this perfect boyfriend who stays with her from junior high school on, being supportive and unselfish and patient every step of the way. That human doesn't exist, male or female. No one is perfect for years at a time.

The book also skirts the idea of the young girl even being dead, because she narrates it from the beyond and somehow manages a visit to earth to have sex, which she had never done before she died.

Both the book and the movie end with a sense of closure and even redemption, two commodities very very hard to come by for the loved ones of people who are murdered and people who have Alzheimer's. They provide versions of happy endings, trivializing the day-in, day-out, grinding, ugly realities of these awful occurrences.

HC: Two Book Recommendations


Eat Pray Love

The Post-Birthday World


Elizabeth Gilbert

Lionel Shriver

How I found out about it

Recommended by Debra Weiner (years ago, actually!)

Read a review in Entertainment Weekly





Paperback, purchased at an airport on my way to Europe

Hardback. I took it out of the library, read two chapters, returned it to the library, went out and bought it

Teeny synopsis

A woman’s major depression due to life matters (mostly a divorce) leads her to seek happiness through trips to Italy (Eat), India (Pray), and Indonesia (Love)

A parallel-universe book: The first Chapter 2 is about what would’ve happened if the heroine DID do something at the end of Chapter 1, and the other Chapter 2 is about what would’ve happened if the heroine DIDN’T do something at the end of Chapter 1. So the book goes from Chapter 1, to Chapter 2, Chapter 2, Chapter 3, Chapter 3, etc, you get it!

Why I loved this book

Life affirming, funny, great descriptions of food, locations, life’s up and downs. Made me want to travel, eat, learn Italian, meditate, explore.

Oh the beautiful writing! Elegant, delicate, a sumptuous meal of words. That’s why I ended up buying the book. It was a 14-day library book, and that wouldn't have given me enough time to just leisurely read it.

Life since reading the book

I bought the book for my friend’s 70th birthday present and she loved it. I recommended it to my friend Kathy and she loved it. I tell everyone to read it, because it’s delightful. Go read it!

I recommended the book to my sister who read it and loved it. I gave the book to my mother to read, too…but she couldn’t read it because it weighed too much!

Writing sample

“I wish Giovanni would kiss me. Oh, but there are so many reasons why this would be a terrible idea. To begin with, Giovanni is ten years younger than I am, and—like most Italian guys in their twenties—he still lives with his mother. These facts alone make him an unlikely romantic partner for me, given that I am a professional American woman in my mid-thirties, who has just come through a failed marriage and a devastating, interminable divorce, followed immediately by a passionate love affair that ended in a sickening heartbreak.”

“A reserved woman of moderate inclinations to all appearances, Irina expressed an insidious attraction to extremes through decorative matters like seasoning, and few diners at her table suspected that her flair in the kitchen owed largely to a better-than-average mastery of the multiplication table.”

Final thoughts

I’ll read this book again in the future. It’s a great airplane book in that it makes you examine your own reasons for traveling, and gives you the desire to explore your insides while your outsides are on vacation.

I’ll read Shriver’s other book, We Have to Talk About Kevin, when I have the strength. Oh, Post-Birthday made me cry and think and love words. I didn’t find this book easy, but I did find it totally worthwhile and just excellent.




Friday, November 23, 2007

HC: Do you believe?

There's a psychic in my cute little town. She has long blond hair with bangs and gorgeous blue eyes. She's one of those people who, even when she's 95, will be cute and girly, and all you'll have to do to see her what she looked like as a little girl is blur your eyes a little bit when you look at her.

She calls herself a witch. When I hear that word I immediately think of Margaret Hamilton in The Wizard of Oz, or the three witches in Macbeth stirring their caldron, or any other standard Halloween issue black-hatted, big nosed--preferably with a wart at the end, cackling version of "witch."

Maya, therefore, is something of a mystery to me.

When you meet her she's immediately warm and motherly. You may wrack your brain trying to remember if she's related to you somehow, or if you've always known her and somehow just forgot for a minute. You sit down in her little shop and she shuffles her tarot cards. She lays them out on the table and you pick some and she begins reading.

Am I a believer? I'm not sure. I think some people are very intuitive. Some people 'see' things others don't. Whether I believe or not, Maya says things that certainly seem psychic...things I don't think she could know. I won't go into proof right now, because that's not what I want to talk about here. I want to talk about the need to be heard and the need to feel that someone cares. Maya is great at listening and helping. She's very nurturing. Going to see her is almost like going to a therapy session, but gentler, and without the stigma of "there's something wrong with me so I need to see a therapist" attached to it.

Maya makes me feel better. She reassures me. She helps me hear me, because sometimes I'm not a very good listener to myself. She asks me questions, gives me suggestions, and makes me think about ways to make my life even better.

The funny thing about talking about Maya now is that I was only a bystander in my latest visit to her. I accompanied a friend today, so the session wasn't about me. Before we got there, I asked my friend what she wanted to talk to Maya about. My friend said she wanted to know how to really sever ties with her ex-husband, but she wasn't going to say anything to Maya about it because she wanted to hear first what Maya came up with. Sure enough, Maya turned over the first few cards and said, "What's with you and this man, your ex-husband?" It went on from there. And it was very interesting and expansive and helpful and meaningful. Is it psychic? What's the real definition of psychic? Could Maya pass ESP tests? I really don't care. Maya is a lovely, caring, funny woman. Both my friend and I left feeling positive, and feeling the possibilities of the future.

Maya hugged us both as we left and I realized that that was just the physical manifestation of what she had already been doing psychically for half an hour: giving us hugs.

She's a lovely woman.

Wednesday, November 21, 2007

HC: Happy Thanksgiving tomorrow, everyone!

[Many thanks to Erin for emailing me this joke.]

A young man named John received a parrot as a gift. The parrot had a bad attitude and an even worse vocabulary. Every word out of the bird's mouth was rude, obnoxious, and laced with profanity. John tried and tried to change the bird's attitude by consistently saying only polite words, playing soft music and anything else he could think of to 'clean up' the bird's vocabulary.

Finally, John was fed up, and he yelled at the parrot. The parrot yelled back. John shook the parrot and the parrot got angrier and even ruder.

John, in desperation, threw up his hands, grabbed the bird, and put him in the freezer.

For a few minutes, the parrot squawked and kicked and screamed. Then suddenly there was total quiet. Not a peep was heard for over a minute.

Fearing that he'd hurt the parrot, John quickly opened the door to the freezer.

The parrot calmly stepped out onto John's outstretched arms and said to John, 'I believe I may have offended you with my rude language and actions. I'm sincerely remorseful for my inappropriate transgressions and I fully intend to do everything I can to correct my offensive and unforgivable behavior.'

John was stunned at the change in the bird's attitude. Just as he was about to ask the parrot what had made such a dramatic change in his behavior, the bird continued, 'May I ask what the turkey did?'

Tuesday, November 20, 2007

AV: They'll SO Know If You Didn't ...

A potential option for those upcoming primaries.
And no, I can't take credit for finding this. That goes to my brother Richard (RV). There will be more, of that you can be sure.

Vote Robot Overlords!!

SS: Vagina Dentata: Here We Go AGAIN

So there’s a new movie coming out, called “Teeth.” It’s about a chaste teenage girl who discovers she has teeth in her downstairs area. Yes, it’s an exploration of the good old “vagina dentata” myth.

The film is getting all sorts of advanced high praise, with critics (mostly male) from The Hollywood Reporter to Salon hailing it as a “feminist classic” and genius black comedy. Apparently, it supposed to be some sort of wry commentary on blossoming female sexuality. The lead actress, Jess Weixler, took home a special jury prize in acting for her role in the film at this year’s Sundance festival. Perhaps this was because, according to Steven Rosen, of Screen International magazine, she “…infuses Dawn with a heartrendingly wondrous fragility, reflected in soft yet steely eyes, her dreamy smile and her easy, giggly way of being open about her feelings.”

I haven’t seen the film yet, but I did view the trailer (type in “teeth” on YouTube to access it). In it, we meet the fragile little Dawn, as she prepares for her very first gynecological exam, with a lecherous-looking male OB/GYN. The screen darkens, and the words, “Something is wrong with Dawn O’Keefe” appear (get the symbolism of the first and last name yet?). A short time later we hear some distinctly male screams, presumably because Dawn’s maniac vagina has started chomping on the doctor’s paw. Flash to a shot of a guy from the chest up who looks to be naked and is staring at the area below his hips in horror, some weird sequence showing Dawn lying in a wedding gown (I’m guessing this is the filmmaker’s attempt to harp on her virginal beauty and innocence), her throwing a ring off a cliff, and finally, a rose blooming, with the words “Every rose has its thorns” appearing slowly over it. I am not kidding about this last bit, I promise.

Oh good lord. What to make of this? I’ll have to reserve my final judgment for when I actually see the movie, but something about the entire conceit is really rubbing me the wrong way. Okay, so there’s the sweet and innocent girl, but really she’s not so sweet and innocent because, guess what, SHE HAS TEETH IN HER VAGINA!!! So I guess she’s supposed to be a new kind of superhero, vanquishing potential rapists with a thrust of her hips.

Beyond the obvious shock value of the vagina dentata device, why did the filmmaker (who is male, just saying) choose such a passive type of “weapon” as the agent against male aggression? Don’t laugh, but I could understand if the vagina had a hand that reached out and snatched a bad guy (or at least slapped him upside the head). That gives Dawn some semblance of control over her actions. But here she’s just the vessel, pun intended, for the action. Is this some way for the filmmaker to preserve Dawn’s innocence? By divorcing her from her evil vagina? It doesn’t strike me as empowering at all.

Also, what does choosing to depict a literal vagina dentata on screen say about the filmmakers views toward actual female sex organs? I guess the vagina is still the symbolic opening of hell -- the mysterious, treacherous, smelly place where only brave men may tread. It’s something to be feared. I thought “The Vagina Monologues” was supposed to put this all to bed.

So far, I’m not sold on “Teeth.” Maybe I’ll be proved laughably wrong when I go see it. Maybe it will be the first great feminist movie of the new century. But it’s the film's implicit idea of female passivity that gives me pause. When it comes to women fucking men over in film, I’d much rather see a Linda-Fiorentino-in-The Last Seduction type of character. The woman uses a weapon way more powerful than the region between her legs to cause mayhem and murder in that film. You know what weapon that is – her MIND.

© Sarah Stanfield, November 20, 2007

RS: Oh Happy Day

November 15th is my favorite day of the year. It is a day of celebration. It is the day my sister died.

Odd, I know, to think of a day of such sadness as a day of celebration. I don't get sad that day anymore. This year marks the 20th anniversary of her death. Last year, strangely, very strangely, marked the year she had been dead longer than she had been alive. I was not ready to celebrate then.

I spoke to my sister the day she died. Didn't say, "I love you." I just didn't grow up in a family that expressed itself effusively, in words or actions, except when I was dancing an improvised ballet to Music Box Dancer in my room alone or pretending my bed was the audience as I belted out You Light Up My Life (and the B side—The Boys Will Have to Find Something Better to Do). And then there was my adolescence where I effusively loved myself multiple times each day.

We all loved each other desperately. We just weren't trained to show it. My parents showed it in other ways, of course. I never doubted that they loved me. I never doubted that my brothers and sisters loved me. But I didn't say it. And I didn't say it that day. I lived for years in sadness wondering if she knew. I found a card among the things collected from her dorm room, a card from me that said, "I love you." So, after years of sadness, I let it go.

I learned that day that it is important to tell people you love them. I have also scared the shit out of a fair number of people by telling them I loved them. Love has so many nuanced meanings. Nuance is not my gift.

When I tried to kill myself a few seasons back and lay in a hospital in the geriatric wing of the loony bin (not because of my age but the non-Depends wing was overflowing and I was late to the rodeo once again: fuck it, I always hated the rodeo anyway)—possibly the most bizarre experience of my life that not only made me want to live but also made me never want to be old or locked up—she visited me, comforted me, sang to me. Not in a voice you can hear or a voice that would have extended lock down. She planted words in my head. The words from a song sung at her funeral. A song that, until that day, I hated.

Now, I sing it everyday. And I feel close to her. It can be a lonely world being all alone. I never have to feel lonely again and that is the greatest gift I have ever been given. I had planned to sing that same song at my grandmother's funeral, but I changed my mind at the last minute. That song is special, just for my sister and me.

When I was home to visit my family two weeks ago, I asked my parents to go with me to the grave site. They go every week. That's where they feel close to her. For me, it is just a place of sadness, a place of death, there is nothing there but a reminder of a hole in the ground and a hole in my heart that I thought would never be filled. When I sing our song, she is alive and with me and my heart is full.

I believe in angels. I hope I have several (God knows I need the help), but I know I have one. And this November 15th, on the 20th anniversary of my sister, Tracy's, death, I sang our song. And she was with me. And I was not sad. And I was not alone. And I celebrated. Not her death, but that she is alive—as close and alive as possible.

Do I wish she were still here? Yes. Would I give up this special relationship to see the life she would have lived, the woman she would have become, the friends we might have been, and to play with the children she would have had? Absolutely.

But I will not be sad. I will sing. . . and celebrate.

Monday, November 19, 2007

DW: Cutting the Self-Help Cord

Last week I made good on my promise to my husband about purging boxes of books, pottery, and other incidentals that have been taking up valuable space in our basement storage area.

It was very funny when I got to the boxes that housed my self-help library that begun in the late 1980’s. Let’s see, there was The Dance of Anger, Seat of the Soul, Drama of the Gifted Child, Linda Leonard’s On the Way to the Wedding. I looked at these books with their scores of highlighted passages with affection and humor. They were so vital, so absolutely important to me at a very specific time in my life. Their pages were a map to the Jungian-spiked trail I followed on my journey self-discovery.

I was surprised that I was able to let go of most of them. It was almost like coming upon my beginner French books, and realizing that I know how to conjugate verbs in the present tense now, so why bother keeping something I no longer needed. It’s a very strange feeling when you realize that there are certain things that you have not only “gotten” but have also “gotten past.” That isn’t to imply that there aren’t other roads to be travelled, but some particular roads just don’t need to be revisited.

This all lead to a very interesting conversation over dinner where my husband said he never understood why people read self-help books. In his view, he always knew when he was making a bad choice, and didn’t feel that he needed to explore the origins of those decisions any farther. I explained to him that my impetus for reading these books was a bit different. Of course I knew I made questionable choices, but I didn’t want to keep making them, and in order to reverse the process, I had to understand what compelled me to make them in the first place. Bottom line: I felt that if I could understand something, then I would be OK.

While I may have moved past the self-help stacks, I am still warmed when I see those same books sitting on someone else’s shelves. It triggers an immediate assumption/projection that they too are struggling to find answers and are committed to understanding their own history.

When we were in France last month we had our final group dinner at Le Grand Colbert, a beautiful classic French bistro that was featured in the movie “As Good As it Gets.” My friend Andrew made a very sweet toast saying something to the effect, “to Debra, one of the most evolved and present women I have ever met.” That was a lovely thing to say—especially since I’m clearly still evolving! I can thank many of the aforementioned books for encouraging me to be intrepid and cross the jagged continents of my personal atlas.

So, at the end of the week-end purge, I decided to keep a few old issues of Parabola and my Alice Miller collection just in case.

WC: Don't Try This At Home

From Reuter's:

Chinese doctors warned moviegoers not to try some of the more acrobatic positions featured in the uncut [version of 'Lust, Caution'], according to a report posted on Xinhuanet (www.xinhuanet.com), a news portal for the official Xinhua news agency.

"Most of the sexual maneuvers in 'Lust, Caution' are in abnormal body positions," the report quoted Yu Zao, a deputy director at a women's hospital in southern Guangdong province, as saying.

"Only women with comparatively flexible bodies that have gymnastics or yoga experience are able to perform them. For average people to blindly copy them could lead to unnecessary physical harm," Yu said.
Don't say we didn't warn you . . .

HC: What's REALLY Important...

Portman Named Style Queen
Natalie Portman has been named number one on the InStyle magazine Style 20. Portman topped the list because "she exhibits unwavering faith in the cut and quality of a great dress." The top 10 is: 1. Natalie Portman; 2. Drew Barrymore; 3. Cameron Diaz; 4. Penelope Cruz; 5. Jennifer Lopez; 6. Anne Hathaway; 7. Cate Blanchett; 8. Sienna Miller; 9. Helen Mirren; 10. Joy Bryant.

Sunday, November 18, 2007

HC: Thank You Victoria Clark and Friends

On Sunday night, November 11, Victoria Clark taught a master class at the 92nd street Y in Manhattan. Victoria Clark won Tony, Drama Desk, and Outer Critics Circle awards for her performance as Margaret Johnson in Adam Guettel’s musical The Light in the Piazza, and has also appeared in Titanic, Cabaret, Urinetown, and How to Succeed in Business Without Really Trying. Her first solo CD, How Can I Keep From Singing, has just been released. She’s also had small roles in movies (Cradle Will Rock and M. Night Shyamalan’s next film The Happening) and television shows (Law & Order, All My Children). Ms Clark is also a voice teacher.

At the start of the master class, Ms Clark thanked the audience—there were about 60 of us—for coming and told us we were privileged to be a part of something very special: a look into an actor’s process. She cautioned the audience about being judgmental about any of the four actors—explaining that what they were all about to do in the front of the rehearsal space was very difficult—and that we should “send waves of love” to the performers. She also told us that even though we might see an improvement in the performers, we weren’t allowed to applaud. Applause might make the singers feel like they were performing, rather than learning and experimenting. We had to hold our applause until she, “Queen Vicki” as she referred to herself, felt a major shift. Victoria Clark is very funny.

The first actor/singer was Robert [not real name]. He sang, very beautifully, Kiss Her Now from Jerry Herman’s Dear World. Ms Clark stopped him after a few lines, saying, you have a very beautiful instrument, now let’s get to work. She had him stand differently, and stop a certain distracting eye movement he had…sort of keeping his head to the left while his eyes slid to the right. She asked him who was singing and to whom. Robert explained that he was telling his brother to ‘kiss her now.’ Ms Clark suggested that Robert should sing the song to himself. As an incentive, she asked one of the other singers, Christine, to stand down the isle from Robert, so he’d have someone to focus on. Robert’s job was to sing the song so that it HAD to end in a kiss, whether he walked to Christine or drew her to him. Already the song and performance was getting better. Calling two men up from the audience, Ms Clark had Robert get physical with the men, playing catch and enacting working out at a gym. She’d yell, “Treadmill!” and the three men would start jogging; “rowing machine!” and they sat on the floor and rowed invisible oars; “weights!” and one man spotted Robert as he lifted an invisible barbell, all the time Robert was singing the song. It was very entertaining, and enlightening to see how the physical actions not only loosened Robert’s body, but also his singing, and to see the different take on the words once Robert was no longer just standing there.

The next performer was a young dancer, Tommy, who wants to audition for the lead in Billy Elliott on Broadway. He stood in his dance attire and sang Where is Love from Oliver! He had a very little voice and seemed so young and inexperienced. Ms Clark took him under her wing, helping him see and hear the difference between “a playground voice” and a sweet singing voice. She had Tommy sing “mommy”: instead of “Where-e-e-e-ere is love?” he sang “mom-om-om-om-om-mommy!” as if he was trying to coerce his mother into bringing him something he was too lazy to get for himself. She had the boy feel her diaphragm to understand how powerful one can be. They had a contest to see who could sing Happy Birthday louder and longer. This kid was so beautiful, with smooth skin, curly dark hair, and such a love of performing. When Vicki wanted Tommy to have a certain feeling in his voice, she told him to act as if he were complaining to his mother that she made him come to Vicki for lessons. Tommy shot back, “I wanted to come.” He had a tight dancer’s body, and at one point did a smooth, slow, elegant cartwheel that was poetic. Ms Clark had Tommy come over to the piano (which she played very well, of course) and do some scales with the “mom-om-om-om-mee” notes. She had him dig his fingers into her face as she sang so he could feel the vibrations there, and then try to replicate them in his own face as he sang. After working with him for a long time, Ms Clark asked him to choreograph his own dance to the song, and had the accompanist play it. The kid was amazing.

The most valuable thing I think Clark gave to Tommy, who was obviously a very physically strong, hard-working kid, was the knowledge that much in the same way you can train your body to be athletic so it can dance, you can train your body to be athletic so it can sing.

The third singer, Christine, started with Glitter and Be Gay, which Clark asked her to stop. Too many layers upon layers in the song, she said, and in the limited amount of time allotted, she wanted a more workable song, a song that was exposing and raw. Christine then sang If I Loved You, from Carousel. Although she had a very strong soprano voice, Christine wasn’t getting the song across due to old style hand and arm movements. Ms Clark said Christine’s voice was beautiful, but that she didn’t believe a word she sang. Christine then went through a long process with Ms Clark, first discussing the thoughts behind the song (the intro being the girl babbling to her boyfriend before she can get settled down to tell him what is really important), then talking the song through slowly with the music, to really understand it, then sitting on her hands to avoid the distracting gestures. Ms Clark told Christine that while her voice was beautiful, Christine was stuck in a rut and needed to take acting classes and comedy improv classes to loosen up. I so admired both women: Christine standing up there in front of 60 strangers, trying to get better, and Clark, not coddling but teaching and advising. I can’t imagine Christine not feeling a little depressed after the master class. This is a woman I suspect has been praised and applauded in other settings, but New York is a tough town. Clark told it like it is, praised her voice, made suggestions and recommendations. I hope Christine meets her potential.

The fourth and last performer, Mary, sang What More Could I Need from Saturday Night by Stephen Sondheim. This woman had a fabulous voice! What Ms Clark worked on was Mary’s action, her verb. Mary tried “adapt” and “seduce” and the song changed. Mary’s “seduce” action version of the song was spent lying on her side on the floor with Robert as the person being sung to. This woman took direction beautifully, and every “what a…pretty…town” was different. I wanted to see her in a real show. The few criticisms Vicki talked about with Mary were, I thought, minor. Mary had little tics that she did with certain words in the song, that she did no matter what her “action verb” was. Vicki said it’s important NOT to feel stuck to one thing like that, that you should be open to however you’re feeling that day, whatever you’re bringing to the song/role that minute. (This certainly explains why every time I saw The Light in the Piazza Vicki played it differently. Sometimes the difference was slight, sometimes bigger, always poignant, thanks too to Adam Guettel’s words. I’ve seen her sing Dividing Day with dread, or much sadness, or sudden realization, or, most powerfully for me, numbness.)

The other point Vicki made to Mary was to thin out her voice in the final few notes of the song, which were coming across as too strong. I don’t know any of the technical terms for this, not being a singer, but Mary sang the last few notes again and there was a noticeable improvement.

This was a powerful night of learning. I tried to send waves of love, as directed, and not be judgmental, which is a hard thing. I did admire the older performers for what they tried and accomplished. They were all better for the master class, no doubt. Vicki’s teaching was no nonsense, technical, yet warm and smart. I hope the four people at the master class learned even half as much as I did.

WC: Cautious Optimism

I've been listening to the debates among the Democrats who are seeking to run for president, and the candidates are not as awful as they might be.

  • Kucinich is flat-out wonderful. He says what he thinks, and he thinks genuinely leftist/progressive thoughts. Unfortunately, he seems to have no chance of getting the nomination, but I'm glad he exists.
  • Edwards, I like. He seems to me to be the most sensible of the three front-runners and the most able to get things done. He has actual plans behind his words, with a health care plan that seems to me both practical and pass-able-through-congress.
  • Obama doesn't do that much for me. His speech at the Democratic convention--which put him on the map--seemed to me a nice list of cliches and platitudes. And to this day, he's still putting out the cliches and platitudes, with no meat and potatoes.
  • Clinton I flat-out dislike. I think she would sell her mother for a vote, and I don't want another four or eight years of the media circus that follows the Clintons wherever they go. Granted, it's not her fault, but it is her reality. (How depressing not to like the first serious female presidential possibility, but c'est la politics.)

But any of them would be a reasonable choice for me to support for president. I understand I'll never get the sort of president I'd really like--i.e., Kucinich--but the other three would all govern at least somewhat progressively. Any of them would be better than Bush (as would some 5 billion other people), and all would be likely to make supreme court nominations I could live with.

Who will I vote for for president? Whichever Dem gets the nomination.

Who will I vote for in the primary?

If the winner is already obvious, I will vote for Kucinish for that rare moment of actually voting for someone I respect.

If my vote will actually matter (another rarity), I've got it down to Obama or Edwards. I like Edwards better, but I have been very struck by an argument that Andrew Sullivan makes about Obama in the current Atlantic: In a time where we will need to do much mending of fences with the rest of the world, having a person of color as president would be a potent place to start.

I don't know who I'll finally vote for, but having three candidates I could live with (and, yes, I could live with Clinton, though I prefer not to) is definitely a reason for cautious optimism.

Friday, November 16, 2007

AV: Slow Pan Back to Reveal ...

A short post today. This is because, oddly enough, words fail me when I’m here. Or anytime I really think about any of this. It’s yet another reason I surprised myself when I agreed to participate in the blog.


It’s just past noon in San Diego. I’m sitting in one of the private rooms here at the UCSD Moore’s Cancer Center Infusion Clinic. That’s a fancy way of saying “chemotherapy.”

I’m here with my wife, Aida, who’s sleeping in a hospital bed next to my chair. She’s hooked to the IVAC machine which she refers to as “Fred” (as in “Astaire”) and it’s busily pumping the contents of a sienna brown plastic bag into the port-o-cath inserted in her chest. That’s another story, but you should know that if you ever need chemo for extended time, just get the port, okay?

This room is the story for me, of course. My universe is astoundingly small these days, even as it contains the satellites of work, beloved friends, and community activism. Right now – and every fourth Tuesday – and every day, every moment when I think about it – my world revolves around the gravitational pull of this woman and her amazing bright and swirly life. Life.

And the bigger story is this place. Think in cinematic terms for a moment, won’t you?

The shot opens on a woman wearing a green knit Prana cap that reminds her of an acorn. She’s bundled in the hoody sweatshirt of her partner, worn over the sweater she chose for herself, and beneath the four warmed blankets from the Clean Utility Room because it’s so freaking cold in here. She’s wearing noise-canceling headphones for her iPod, mostly so she can hear something beautiful without being distracted by the maddening and oddly percussive soft whirr-whoosh of “Fred” – and his occasional outbursts of beeping when he runs dry or gets tangled. On her chest is a plush doll we call “Blue” (because he is); he’s one of those fabulous Uglydolls and we both highly recommend them.

Next to Fred we’ve pulled out the small TV screen which is connected to the wall by an extension arm. It’s oddly childlike, the tv, reminiscent of Playskool objects. To the screen we’ve taped a collage of photos I created for her last night of the Sea of Cortez. This is to distract her from the sterility of the environment and to remind her that she will go kayaking again someday. It also gives her something to look at besides the eggshell walls and the dusty eggplant purple of the curtain. We have reminded ourselves to bring the lavender spray for next week to mask the bandaid smell of the soap they use here.

That’s the tight shot. The camera then pulls back to reveal me (the supporting player here in this Lifetime dramedy), then quickly sweeps past the curtain to reveal the rest …
The room we occupy is the last in a row of 5 similar rooms. Outside our front glass-and-curtain doors are rows of recliners: 5 rows of 2 chairs each set up with some of them facing each other (see the accompanying crude rendering).

This is only half of the center. On the other side of a middle section where people get their blood drawn (8 more recliners), there’s a mirror image of this side of the clinic. More chairs. More rooms with beds in them.

15 stations on each side, 8 in the middle. 38 stations total.

Most days it’s busy - some people are here for 5-6 hours (like Aida) and others for 2-3 hours. Morning shift and afternoon shift. Some days this place is really hoppin’ … standing room only. Monday through Friday. Sometimes weekends. Holidays.

That’s the big pan shot, the one that continues to move further and further back, through the ceiling to encompass the hospital grounds, then the street and the hospital next door and its clinic, and the specialty clinic about 2 miles away, then back to reveal the neighborhood, and every fucking hospital and cancer treatment facility in the city where there are people sitting in all the chairs every hour of every day.

That’s the story, kids. That’s the real story.

Wednesday, November 14, 2007

WC: You Make Me Feel So Jung

To be normal is the ideal aim of the unsuccessful--Carl Jung

Tuesday, November 13, 2007

Guest Blogger Sheila Shea: Lucky 13

Thirteen has always been a bit of a lucky number for me—most especially November 13.

It was on a Friday, November 13th that I began a 4-year relationship that, to date, was probably the most fun I've had in a (romantic) relationship. On the same date, many years later, I started a new job that essentially launched my current career. November 13 was also the date my life would change irreversibly in the most dramatic of ways.

The following is the tale of my official "welcome" to big city living. This is a story which, in full, has not previously been told in writing, or even really in completion, from my perspective. Unlike my former roommates and neighbors, I shied away from reporters, CNN, and even an episode of “Geraldo” dedicated to the incident. I was interviewed (read: ambushed) for a book, but I have no idea if/when it was published, nor did I care to read it. I didn't say much anyway.

And, by the way, this occurred exactly 13 years ago today.

Part 1: Did You Hear Something?

At approximately 6pm, Pacific Standard Time, one of my new roommates and I were painting. The sun was just setting. We'd moved in to our Lower Pacific Heights flat (one of the safest neighborhoods in San Francisco) exactly two weeks prior. Part of the agreement was that we would fix up the place (inhabited by speed-freak squatters for the previous 6 months-- our work was cut out for us). So, regardless of the fact that I was house-sitting across the bridge in Marin County, I was home that evening, painting bedrooms with one of my new roomies.

From the street, we heard what sounded like a gunshot. Running to the window, we could see we were correct. As my roommate picked up the phone to call 911 (we were in his room at the time), I tried to get a better look. It appeared to be some sort of small skirmish in the middle of the street. There were two guys and, from our vantage point, at least one gun. What I'd learn later is that one of those men was a good samaritan homeless man trying to help a woman in a carjacking gone badly. Very, very badly.

The next thing I saw were the lights of a police car, the first on the scene. They were bright as they flickered against the wall in contrast to the dusky atmosphere of the bedroom. Officer James Guelff was shot and killed in an instant. I can still close my eyes, seeing the lights then the sound of shots, followed by the momentary silence we knew in an instant was the cold sound of death.

Part 2: Noises All Around

The entrance that lead to the flats above ran along the street, Franklin, facing our front doors. The railroad-style flats, however, ran along the street to the right, along Pine. So, one could enter on Franklin with perfect vantage point to Pine. We were on the third floor of a four-story walk-up above a restaurant. The restaurant patrons had taken the back stairs to obtain shelter in my friends' flat one floor above us (to whom we kept in phone contact once no longer on the phone to 911). The police needed our apartment (later joined by the full SWAT team sharp-shooters on the roof) to get to what was really going on down on the street. What they found was unimaginable. It still is, to many.

It was a lone gunman, although my roommate and I didn't know it at the time. Having seen more than one person initially on the scene and not having anywhere close to the full story (some of which will never be known), it could have been a whole gang. What we also didn't know was that he was wearing full body armor. Or, that he had a trunk full of assault weapons and ammunition, enough to take down an entire army.

I was, to say the least, terrified. When the police came inside, I was hiding in a little cubby space in our bathroom, behind the door. Unless you closed the door behind you, you'd never know it was there. All I could envision was the shooting at 101 California (also in San Francisco, a year or two beforehand) where someone was actually in the building shooting. Not knowing how many of “them” were out there, I was taking no chances.

There was some good coaxing done by a portion of the SFPD (the entire force on duty were on the scene, in addition to several off-duty) to get me out of that room and down in the stairwell, lower and near the door. Through my roommate, I was convinced to leave my "safe" spot. That wall behind which I was initially hiding, by the way, had to be replaced later from the damage. I wouldn't have survived had I not been coerced to move. This was on the opposite side of the street side of the flat. So, you can only imagine how swiss-cheesed the closer portions of the flat were.

Bap-bap-bap-bap-bap-bap-bap… it was a heavy sound for something so quick-paced as several hundred rounds of artillery were pumped into our walls. Bap-bap-bap-bap-bap-bap-bap-bap-bap-bap-bap… pausing only slightly on occasion, presumably to change weapons and/or reload (it was apparently a mixture of the two).

Part 3: Blood, Guts and Goodbyes

At a certain point, it all became a bit of a blur of terror, dark and noise. The streetlights had long since been shot out. Police and EMTs were running in and out of the doorway—some bloody, some not. One of the officers, John Payne, was shot in my bedroom. I remember very clearly hearing the calls of distress of “officer down” and seeing him rushed down the stairs with a red side and abdomen (he lives, thankfully, but still has a bullet in his liver—a lovely memento, I can imagine).

My roommate and I each made a call, in between check-in calls with our upstairs neighbors. I called and left a voice mail for my then-boyfriend (who was on his way back from Tahoe to meet me for our anniversary--- this was before everyone had cell phones). I needed to say “Goodbye”. There was practically no way in our minds that we were getting out of this alive. My roommate called his closest friend and did the same. It wasn't the time to get chatty, but we had to say it to someone—preferably to something inanimate, such as an answering machine or voice mail, that wouldn't engage in conversation. Soon thereafter, the power was killed completely, making the cordless phone inoperable. Then, it was time to sit tight and wait.

It felt like waiting to die. I didn't have much fight in me at that point, I just wanted it to be over however that was to be.

Part 4: The Sound of Silence

Twenty minutes later, as quickly as it all began, there was silence. No fire from friends or foe. It was as if everyone held their collective breath for a moment, then followed by a bustle of activity in and out. But the gunfire was over. No pistols (the “friendly” fire), no assault rifles, no guns. I remember holding my breath as I waited for more. It, most thankfully, didn't come.

It seems immediate, but there could have been a slight lapse in time before the officer started his interview of me. I wanted out of there. “Can I leave now?”, I asked.

“Not quite yet”, as he sensitively inquired about the evening. I answered as much as I could and asked, again, if I could go. I needed to go. I had things to do, after all, places to be-- calmly as possible, I had to go. After all I had to go get Digger (my friend's then-boyfriend's dog whom I was taking care of in addition to house sitting). Gotta' go get Digger. This soon became my mantra, "Gotta' Get Digger Dog".

When he finally said that, yes, I could “go” (which, apparently, meant across the street to the debriefing truck, but, umm… I didn't know that, or I subconsciously skipped that step), I also asked if I could “go upstairs and get my stuff”.

“Yes, but be quick—you're not supposed to be up there”.

“Is it safe? Did they get them? Will I be okay?”

“He's dead. We got him. It was only one. It'll all be okay.”

I've never been happier to hear those words. Quite frankly, if I'd had to testify in a trial to follow, I don't know that I could have handled it.

As I tentatively made the walk upstairs to my room, lit only by the moon, I saw why I wasn't supposed to be up there. I tried to look at as little as possible, but saw my new feather bed, covered in blood. The sight is indelible in my brain as if it was yesterday. I saw my bedroom wall that didn't really exist any more, along with the windows that only now existed to cover my floor in chards. Thankfully, I'd packed a few things later that afternoon, so could grab my bag and go. But I do remember pausing in awe, somewhat paralysed at the sight of everything.

Part 5: Who IS this girl?

As I'd gotten rid of my car upon moving to San Francisco, I was using my friend's for whom I was house-sitting. It was “ever so inconveniently” blocked in on the street (and, thankfully, parked on a the street where it was not filled with bullet holes). Well, I'd just ask my kind neighbor to borrow hers, provided she was staying nearby.

I could not have been more stone-faced and calm. I realize now that I was simply in shock, but apparently I was Stepford-level scary. “So, C's car is blocked in, are you staying close? Yes, great! Can I borrow your car and switch them first thing in the morning? Gotta', you know, go get Digger and get back to Marin. Gotta' get Digger Dog.”

As my friend later described the incident, she wasn't sure which would be worse—handing over the keys or not handing over the keys. As I stood there, covered in paint, blood, and grime, I was asking robotically, like it was just a quick favor after getting a flat tire. She did let me borrow her car, reluctantly, but sweetly.

Part 6: And Her Little Dog, Too

As I drove across the Golden Gate Bridge, I blasted the radio, singing all the way and calmly thought, “Gotta' get Digger… things to do, mental checklist, responsible, responsible”. I swung by the friend's boyfriend's place, picked up the dog and drove over to my friend's (where there also awaited Snowdonia, the cat). Everything in order and perfectly collected.

I remember walking in the door, closing in behind me, letting go of the dog, and immediately falling apart. I sank, sliding down the door, immediately sobbing uncontrollably. Somehow, I made it to the phone. I made three phone calls--- the first to my mother, telling her to let everyone know that, yes, that's my place on the news, but I'm fine, I'm alive, and I DON'T want to talk to anybody. So, please just spread the word.

The next call was to my boyfriend's place (he was stopping there first on his way to meet me). “Hi, ummm…. If he's listening to the radio, he might be a little freaked out so… well, ,why, yes, that is my house you're seeing on television, yes, no, I'm fine, tell him I'm waiting for him here and I'm okay, just, umm, tell him to get here, don't call, just get here”.

The final call was to my sister, Peg. I knew I needed someone who would just stay on the phone with me—company until my boyfriend arrived and someone on whom I could completely fall apart. I did just that. I have no idea how many details I accounted. I know she was watching the news, although muted enough so I couldn't hear it. Honestly, I didn't want to know. As it turns out, I wouldn't turn on a television or open a newspaper for several days that followed. It was weeks before I'd watch any news program.

My sister and I talked for what I'm sure was hours. I was somewhat numb at that point. She sat (or, most likely paced) patiently while I proceeded to fall apart and probably make very little sense. Her main job in the moment was to keep me occupied and as grounded as possible until there was someone there with me in person.

Part 7: There's No Place Like Home

Eventually, my then-boyfriend arrived on the scene. It was at that moment the events as they'd unfolded over the past several hours really started to sink in. I remember sitting in the middle of the floor, shaking as I spoke, realizing for the first time that I was filthy head-to-toe, covered in a calico of paint, blood and general grime from crouching in the stairwell, among other places. And poor Digger, still running around the condo with his leash on. The moment I'd locked the door behind me, my responsibility to other beings ceased for a bit. I knew all were safe and I could just let go.

Who knows how long I sat there, being held, simply crying, unable to speak. Eventually, the boyfriend helped me into a hot bath (at my side for every possible second) and made me a pot of relaxing tea. Oddly, that day and the days that followed made clear to me just how differently my relationship to alcohol was from many others in my life. Nearly everyone I spoke to said, very well-meaning, "Have a drink, you'll feel better". I remember thinking, so clearly, "Are you crazy?? I need booze on top of this??". Tea was perfect. For the most part, it still is.

Despite the fact I'd moved into my new home 2 weeks prior, and was still very much packed for easy and fully-understandable escape, I didn't leave. Once I got some time away to fully absorb all of the events and the physical was cleaned up, walls and windows replaced, I was home. And given the odds, it was now the safest residence in all of San Francisco. It remained home to me for several years and I never once regretted that.

Part 8: The Root of Evil

We'll never know the motive of the gunman, whose name I honestly can't remember and don't want to. In his car were detailed maps outlining areas of Eureka, California, assumed to be the intended final destination. It's tough to dissect time. He'd started out, oddly enough, near my home town of San Jose. A school teacher friend of mine had a coworker at the time who'd been one of his elementary school teachers. We can only assume he'd stopped where he did because of his unsuccessful, foiled attempt at his next carjack and transfer of artillery and weapons. It's really of little consequence, I suppose. How can someone guess the motive of someone so seemingly unreasonable and probably lacking sanity?

I can only hope that, despite those who put themselves on the line, facing injury and death, many lives were spared the potential had this not come as a surprise timing to the gunman himself.

What we do know is that there was also an armored helmet in the trunk he couldn't get to. Had he been wearing it, it's likely this would have been even far worse, as he was ultimately shot by sharp-shooters in the head. With the rest of him fully-armored, one can only guess how the events might have otherwise unfolded.

Part 9: As We Travel On

For several years following, my life proceeded as one might expect. I jump less when a car backfires, although I'm still scared out of my wits when surprised or startled at the wrong moment. As I mentioned before, I stayed away from the press, although not for their lack of trying, as they called everyone in the phone book in the greater Bay Area with my last name. Being one of seven siblings, many of those were my relatives. Of course, word would get back to me. I'll give them this credit-- their stories of being "long lost friends", etc. were at least somewhat creative.

I spent the next year doing things that had previously frightened me. I started skiing. I took more physical and emotional risks-- after all, what were they going to do? Shoot me? It was a plausible scenario in my head to consider by comparison. Knowing real, from-the-core fear, a lot of things now paled in comparison.

Among the many lessons learned from all of this was that I don't trust the press. Not only did many members use less-than-ethical tactics to try and gather information from me, personally, but what was eventually published was less than factual. I know that not all journalists are without ethics-- the ones hunting me down, I'd hope, would the exception, not the rule. But I also learned how much misinformation they're fed. I realize much of this was for protection of others, and I've omitted certain details to keep that, but can't they just omit rather than misrepresent facts or utilize complete fabrication? I suppose I'd have to be a part of the business to fully understand.

There was, perhaps still is, an annual tribute by the SFPD at the site of the shooting. Every year at the same time, the street would be blocked off, a fleet of police cars would stop and flash their lights during a moment of silence. I'd see the officers responsible for saving my life. I'd see familiar faces, former neighbors, and friends and relatives of the officers and those affected. I attended the first 5 years, at which time a plaque was erected on the corner. The few times I've been in the neighborhood since, I've visited the memorial plaque and paused for brief reflection.

On January 24, 2001, California State Senator Diane Feinstein introduced the James Guelff Body Armor Act, named for the first officer on the scene who wasn't as fortunate to have survived. It was eventually renamed the James Guelff and Chris McCurley Body Armor Act of 2001, signed into Federal law November 2, 2002, making it illegal for violent felons to possess body armor.

Is what I experienced some sort of blessing in disguise? No, not really. Although they've lessened over the years, I still have occasional nightmares. If the foley work is a little too good on a film or the sound effects for a show a little too close to the real thing, or even from loud noises in general, my heart races and I'm in instant terror, transported back in time where I sat fearing for my life.

I will say it was my most lucky day of all. I survived. I'm stronger. I'm alive. Those with me on this journey will just have to expect the unexpected weepy moment from me on occasion. And understand why I jump higher than most when startled. But, really, I'm okay, underneath it all.

WC: Ode to Carrying a Canvas Bag (or Two or More) to the Supermarket

Slate.com, one of my favorite online mags, has an interesting article about paper vs plastic, the answer of course being neither.

Here's a stat from the piece, which was written by :
And since discarded plastic bags don't break down for eons, they're free to wreak havoc on wildlife and ecosystems; there are, for example, 46,000 pieces of plastic floating in every square mile of ocean.
And don't forget that plastic bags are petroleum products. Yes, millions of people have been horribly injured or killed in the Middle East so that we can continue to pump out--and quickly discard--plastic bags.

I try not to ever take a bag, and after reading this piece, I'm going to try even harder.

Monday, November 12, 2007

DW: The Whole Foods Burqa Woman

Ok, I’ll make this fast.

Last year I saw this woman in a FULL black burqa at the Whole Foods store in my Montclair, New Jersey neighborhood. I had an extreme reaction that vacillated between outrage, fear, and empathy. My overwhelming sentiment was, “please get out of my neighborhood!” It is one thing to see women in burqas on CNN, but quite another to see them in the produce aisle. I was shocked at my response, because at the core of it was fear. I recently read “1,000 Splendid Suns” by the author of “The Kite Runner.” It was a devastating read, because it spoke very clearly about the mistreatment (abuse) of Muslim women in Afghanistan. I’ve also read several non-fiction books on this subject as well, and they don’t contradict each others’ perspective.

I know when I get plugged in like this that it has more to do with me and my stuff than Muslim women in burqas, so I’ve been ruminating on this a lot. Am I jealous of them because they have no shame in covering up their body? Am I enraged because the burqa is a symbol of the abuse and mistreatment of Muslim women? Not sure. As someone who has body issues, I was suspicious that I might envy the Whole Foods burqa woman because she had her culture’s permission to cover up completely without feeling weird. I have heard many Muslim women say that they feel “protected” by the burqa and I’m not so sure about that. That sounds like the Mormon “sister wives” who say on Oprah that being married to a man who has five other wives is a great thing. From what I’ve read, that is far from the truth.

What’s even more disturbing is how successful our government has been in vilifying the burqa and associating it with the specter of terrorism. I feel weird about my response to the burqa because it also feels so prejudiced and that’s not something I want to feel, let alone project out into the world. Today, it seems like more of a political statement than a lifestyle choice. I guess this is why France is adamant that children and teens cannot wear anything that speaks to religious affiliations (like yarmulkes and the hijab). I feel like I’m going in circles here, and just regurgitating a lot of unprocessed primal feelings. What I can tell you is that I’ve shared these feelings with other Montclair friends and people in my writer’s group and they said they felt the same way when they’ve seen burqa-clad women in Montclair.

Ok, I’m going to consider this: maybe the burqa symbolizes something very dark and scary for me, but not for everyone else. Maybe I should think of the Whole Foods burqa woman the same way I think of women who wear 6-inch stilettos.

They don’t scare me—I just don’t understand how they could be comfortable wearing something that would cause me a great deal of pain and discomfort.

Sunday, November 11, 2007

WC: Thank You Andrea for Not Compromising

Andrea--Thanks for fighting the good fight. I have never understood why abandoning a section of our community counts as compromise. For me, it's selling out other people.

I guess there are political reasons to do so. Throughout U.S. history, progress has happened in fits and starts, and politics does require some very strange behavior. I love the saying that a camel is a horse designed by committee. It reminds me that the very nature of politics results in some bizarre results, and that's life.

But since you are the president of a club that represents our entire community, I think you are right to take the stand you are taking.

I know many gay/lesbian folk who consider transgendered and even bi people to be weights around our necks. I remember someone I know in San Diego--someone on the wall of fame at the gay center--saying, "Why can't they get their own movement?" I was very sad to hear that comment.

My late and wonderful friend Dennis Meiners once said that we will have achieved equality not when the most impressive gay person succeeds but when a mediocre gay person can be as successful as a mediocre straight person. Similarly, I believe that we will have only achieved equality when those of us who don't look and act like straight people can get our full rights.

You rock, Andrea!

Saturday, November 10, 2007

WC: Not Jaded Yet--or Ever

I am 52 years old. I have been out of the closet for over 30 years. I have slept with not-quite-dozens of women. Being a lesbian is old hat to me. Yet it still thrills me to see a movie or TV show where women love each other, and even better, kiss and touch each other.

I guess that's one of the advantages of being in an oppressed minority--you don't ever get the opportunity to take things for granted. Maybe someday there will be so many depictions of lesbians in movies and on TV that they will be unremarkable. But, for me personally ever to become jaded about them, there would have to be thousands. No, hundreds of thousands. Millions?

Nah, I never could be jaded--I have too many years (decades!) of deprivation to make up for.

And you know what? There is nothing on earth more beautiful than two women kisssing.

(By the way, this was brought on by watching the reasonably good TV movie of Sarah Waters' Fingersmith.)

AV: Passing in the House

A bit o' background: In January I was honored to be elected President of a local Democratic Club. The San Diego Democratic Club is a LGBT club, whose primary mission is to elect LGBT and LGBT-friendly folks to office everywhere. In addition, we're frighteningly progressive, as you might imagine.

I'm not being just sappy when I say I was honored to be elected. The SDDC has been a strongly influential voice in local, regional, and state politics for over 30 years. At present, we number almost 500 members, among them several long-standing elected officials and many more who are seeking office.

The only problem? The monthly column I have to write for our newsletter. I swear, it's the most difficult part of the job for me, although it's getting easier. And doesn't it seem strange that I agreed to do this blog thing if that's how I feel about writing on a regular basis? Yeah, I thought so too.

But here's the column for November on a subject I think is important: the passage of (SPL)ENDA in the House.

As no doubt you’ve heard by now, the House passed HR 3685, otherwise known as the Employment Non-Discrimination Act, also known as ENDA. And, because this bill had been stripped of protections for transgender individuals (and any meaningful protections to LGB folks as well), this version of the bill has in recent days also become known as SPLENDA. You get it.

I suppose on the face of it, federal protections for LGB folks in the workplace is a good thing. We’ve been fighting for this protection for over a decade, right? In fact, as recently as the last couple of years, our side took one on the chin even for the arguably smaller pond of queer federal employees. Our good representatives couldn’t manage to provide protections for their own staff, fer goodness sakes.

So here we are at a grand day for the home team. Oh yeah, there’s that whole Senate vote thing and then the limbo under the veto pen of our Executive Officer. For now, though, let’s just pretend it’s all smooth sailing ahead, shall we?

And still I would be bitterly disappointed.

This bill doesn’t protect all of us and, in my opinion, does nothing to advance the general cause of equal rights for any of us. Especially for those of us who need it most: our transgender brothers and sisters, the gender non-conformists among us, and anyone who doesn’t fit someone else’s idea of what’s “okay.” You know … those of us who don’t, can’t, or won’t pass.

When it became known over six weeks ago that this bill was being rewritten to remove protection for transgender Americans in order to make it – get this – easier to vote for, there was an immediate outcry across the country and subsequent organizing on a grand scale. But, as we heard from Rep Frank and a certain national organization, the full bill didn’t have the votes and we’d have to go slowly. Or some such expedient nonsense. I’m sure that it’s much more complicated than – and at the same time exactly as simple as – that.

I am especially distressed, and angry, at HRC for their disingenuous actions over the last weeks, especially as Joe Solomonese, ED, pledged over a year ago to unequivocally support transgender rights at the federal level. Instead, the HRC waffled on the side of expediency in the face of overwhelming opposition from almost every other national LGBT organization on this issue.
Then, as some of you may have seen, they released a “field poll” the day before the vote which purported to have asked 500 “LGBT community members” about ENDA, returning a reported 70% support of the non-inclusive bill. They have not, as yet, released any details about the polling company, the selected participants, nor the margin of error. For me, I’m curious specifically about the “T” folk they talked to. I’ll bet you are too.

Adding further insult, they are also docking the official legislative scorecard of any politician who voted against the gutted ENDA on the grounds it was not inclusive enough. They’re treating our real friends as if they were right wing bigots. This is unsupportable.

Digression: At this point in my own administration, I feel obligated to reveal what has most certainly become painfully evident in these columns: I am an eternal idealist. Sometimes I think it’s a poor quality in politics. There.

Perhaps that will help to explain my disappointment and the fact that I would prefer no bill at all to this one. It is deeply flawed and smacks of unsupportable pandering. None of us get what we really want, least of all our family and friends who were summarily tossed off the ol’ freedom bus.

I can’t help but take this personally and not only because my family circle includes transgender individuals about whom I care deeply. Nope, it’s not so much that, although that’s certainly good enough reason.

No, it’s because the result of this legislative betrayal has cast me in the role of the enemy through none of my own doing.

As a simple not-so-exotic gender queer lesbian, I’m suspect in some circles of the transgender community; I’m a potential ignorant and well-meaning oppressor. I’m someone who, at first encounter, must be defended against – even just a little. I’m in a position where I feel I must say at the outset that I joined – along with all of you – a huge swell of support for an all-or-nothing push at the hill for an uncompromising inclusive bill. I feel as if I have to state my explicit and unconditional support of every person in our community to be all – and everything – they are right up front, before we get to the other small talk of introduction.

And I understand it. That’s part of what’s hard for me. We’ve all been there. Maybe it’s the hallway or the breakroom where a coworker asks what those multicolored rings are around our neck. Or maybe a question about the wedding band. Or the weekend. Maybe it’s the PTA. Or a City Council meeting. There’s a moment where we still wonder, “is it safe?”

Sometimes it’s not. And how desperately wrong is it when that question arises in our own midst; when the not-quite-so-safe place is in our meeting rooms, our clubs, the gathering places of our community? It shouldn’t even be a question, that safety.

This recent political maneuver supposedly will make “real” change possible. In the meanwhile, we are implicit in the overwhelming statement made that, again, equality isn’t really for everyone.

In this case, it’s only for us. Not for you. And really, it’s only for us if we can pass. Bravo.

I’d like to end this screed on a more uplifting note, though.
I want to give my thanks to everyone in our community that worked tirelessly to move support of a full and inclusive ENDA to the House. I am proud that the SDDC was one of the organizations that moved to sign the petition and to (most visibly in the person of our Legislative Advocate, Alex Sachs) stand up for true equality.

The swell of support across the country from hundreds of national, regional, and local organizations for an uncompromised and fully inclusive ENDA has been the spark of encouragement my inner idealist needs to keep moving forward. Organizations such as the NGLTF, NCLR, Al-Fatiha, Dignity USA, GLSEN, Pride @ Work, and the National Association of LGBT Centers (to name only a few) have demonstrated a phenomenal ability to organize and create real results. Impressive and inspiring to say the least.

Locally, FTMI, SDDC, The Center, Transgender Advocacy and Services Center, UCSD LGBT Resource Center, and many others immediately joined the nationwide chorus. My thanks to everyone who participated on behalf of those organizations, and to each of you who took the time to write a letter, pick up the phone, or to craft an email.

Our gracious thanks as well to Congresswoman Susan Davis, who again proved her dedication to equal rights and spoke eloquently on behalf of the fully inclusive bill prior to the vote. You can see her speech online at
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=KP0cKtmR1XU .