Hot Days and Cool Comforts

For those of you who live in Southern California, or anywhere on the west coast, actually, these past few days have been stultifyingly hot and uncomfortably reminiscent of my youth in Pennsylvania- so humid that when you walk outside you feel like someone just wrapped a hot towel over your entire body. I stepped outside of one of the SDA buildings the other day to go explore the new University Village campus at USC, and felt instantly beleaguered.

So, here’s my recipe for relief. I think it may be from my stepmother Joan’s kitchen, but honestly I don’t remember; I just know it’s delicious and very satisfying in these August
“Trump’s-on-holiday-and-we-hope-the-White-House-AC-techs-aren’t-Russian-agents” days. So here’s the recipe I promised my friend Allyzon from YAS DTLA.

GAZPACHO

1 peeled European cucumber

1/2 yellow bell pepper (peeled)

1/2 red bell pepper (peeled)

1/2 bunch of radishes (tops off)

3 large tomatoes (peeled and squeezed)

8 oz. can of tomato juice (V-8 preferred)

1 to 2 cloves garlic (I used 3)

Coarsley chop all ingredients, then puree in blender. Add 2-3 tablespoons olive oil, salt and pepper, tabasco sauce and cilantro chopped coarsely.

Add lemon juice of necessary (it’s always necessary)

Chill and serve in chilled bowls.

I’d been fantasizing about the gazpacho for about two weeks, not pulling down the wooden recipe box from the top shelf of the kitchen cabinet until yesterday when my darling husband had a tooth extracted. This is a horrible episode for anyone, but a trigger event for an actor. We are now on a self-imposed social exile for the next however-many-weeks until cosmetic dentistry is possible. And I completely get it. I thanked him last night as we sat down to sip our soup, for sacrificing a tooth so that I could have my gazpacho. That’s the kind of guy he is – completely selfless and eternally dedicated to pleasing me. You should all be so lucky to be married to such a person. 
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The other major event yesterday was the opening of the Trader Joe’s in the University Village at USC. The Trader Joe’s opened at 8AM, and I was there by 10:05AM, Jimmie still chomping on the gauze post-extraction in the parking structure below the store. Judging from the enthusiastic responses to our new acquisition at USC, Trader Joe’s will be the next best thing to… well…Trader Joe’s. I am overly zealous in my embrace of the company. I’ve been talking about it for weeks – heck, for years, since we learned of its promise in the planning of the University Village project.  I’d received a postcard earlier in the week announcing the opening and promising me a free shopping bag and entry in a sweepstakes for $50. worth of groceries. I thrust it into the hand of the cashier as I checked out my basket yesterday.

Do you want a free shopping bag?

Do I?!!!! Yes, please!

Two days earlier, I’d visited the Mini-Target next door, first peering into the TJ’s window like a divorcée at Henri Bendel’s. The shelves were fully stocked, and the staff was moving through putting the finishing touches on the displays, their Hawaiian shirts crisp, Trojan-themed colors bright. On Monday morning, when I got there, there were surprisingly few patrons in the store, and the shelves were amply stocked. I know that this condition is unlikely last.

Jimmie has a good sense of humor about his episode this week. He reminded me about the early 1970s when he had auditioned for John Boorman’s film, Deliverance and was asked if any of his teeth were removable. Wistfully, he said

I might’ve gotten that part now….

 

 

 

What I did on my summer vacation

Over the last two weeks, I spent an intensive 25 hours of training with forty-three other USC employees to become certified members of the USC Community Emergency Response Team.

I’ve wanted to become a CERT member for several years but haven’t been able to schedule it. I’ve wanted to brush up on my fire hose and fire extinguisher skills, dust the cobwebs off my search and rescue and triage skills, revisit how to bandage someone with a pen in their forearm and a gash on their head. You never know when you might need these skills.

I’m dead serious. We live in Los Angeles, where we are way overdue for a major earth mantle mastication, AKA earthquake. When you think hard about what you would do in the event of a 6.8 earthquake, and it’s aftermath, it doesn’t take long to realize you aren’t ready.

I was not alone in this realization; forty-seven of us gathered Monday a week ago in Ground Zero, on the USC University Park Campus. We’d all signed up for the training, offered free to USC employees by the Department of Fire and Safety at USC.

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Our fearless leaders at USC Fire Safety and Emergency Planning

As the Head of Production at the School of Dramatic Arts, I’ve worked with these wonderful people, clearing through them the use of e-cigarettes and random issues of egress that have arisen in the course of over 240 theatrical productions over the last twelve years. Aside from knowing their subjects (fire and safety) well, they are quick to respond to emails. After attending this training, I can see why. They’re focussed on teaching us all how to stay safe in our work environments. It’s their mission and they’re good at it. If this training was any indication, they all seem to have a good time doing it.

On day one, we introduced ourselves to the group. We came from a broad array of different programs across the university. There were representatives from the School of Social Work, Hazmat and Lab Inspectors, the Engemann Health Center, the Language Institute, The Glorya Kaufman School of Dance, the Department of Grants and Contracts and the School of Dramatic Arts. And that was just our group, one of five.  From SDA, Chris Paci, an Assistant Theatre Manager and I did the training. When I’m on campus weekends to tech our shows I’m very aware how important it is to know how to safely evacuate a theatre. This training will help us be more efficient and helpful if there is a catastrophic event.

Angela was the master of ceremonies throughout the week, providing us with lesson plans and instructions about what to bring for each session and taught us the segment on First Aid. Five hours each, the sessions lasted five days, culminating today with a live simulation of the skills we had learned during the training. We were geared up with bright green vests and helmets with headlamps, a red backpack emblazoned with USC CERT loaded with all sorts of goodies – heavy goggles, kneepads, first aid supplies, a flashlight, gloves, glow sticks, triage cards, packets of water, and a whistle. Daily, we printed out handouts to learn the following topics:

  • First Aid
  • Search and Rescue,
  • Triage/RPM (Respiration, Perfusion and Mental State)
  • Cribbing and Backboarding
  • Fire suppression and Fire Hose management

Each day, we had a lecture and then hands on training of the day’s material. It was well-organized and we learned a huge amount of information about all the areas listed above. After the drills today, Angela provided us with CERT certificates and cards and bright red CERT T-shirts, as well as lunch.

Best summer camp ever.

At today’s final exercises, an officer from the LA Fire Department who observed the drills told us that 70,000-75,000 people have been CERT-ified in Los Angeles County. This seemed like a huge number until I remembered that there are over 10.12 million souls in Los Angeles County. USC trains up about 30-45 people each year. It is an impressive program.  I’m very happy to have been trained at USC.

Throughout the training, our teams learned how to work together, communicate closely about what we were seeing and hearing in each of the exercises. We planned ahead and debriefed after each drill. Each CERT trainee learned how to put a cervical collar on a patient with a back or spine injury, how to load them safely onto the backboard. Those without spinal or back injuries would be carried in the green sling stretcher, or in the Evac Chair down the stairs.

We each learned how to hook up the hose to the fire hydrant, couple it with the Y-valve to connect the 2 1/2″ hose to the 1 1/2″ hose, connect the nozzle, call for water then let it rip. All in under a minute-and-a-half. Then we learned how to empty the hoses and roll them back up.

We learned about cribbing, the practice of raising up a heavy object using a fulcrom and boxes made of 4″ x 4″s and 2″x 2″s. I felt a brief surge of pride when Jeff Pendley told the group that the School of Dramatic Arts is the first destination for wood after an earthquake.

We learned how to prioritize what type of events we CERT members were capable of assisting at, and which ones we weren’t. Safety of the CERT team members is primary, Angela taught us to think throughout the exercises what was safe to do, and how we could make it safer.  We spent a day learning about Psychological trauma and what we might expect to feel ourselves after dealing with traumatized victims.

In addition to getting prepared at work, they encouraged us to prepare at home. In the course of the week, I ordered some additional supplies to add to my home kit, including getting an Evac Chair to get Jimmie out should we need to evacuate at home.

It was an exhaustive and exhausting training and a great investment in my personal development. I highly recommend you staying tuned for future trainings and jump at the chance when it’s next offered.

 

Summer Daze in DTLA

We’ve officially reached the shank of the summer. After the Fourth of July, just before the All-Star Game. Heat advisories in the Valley thankfully don’t seem to pertain in the downtown park where Jimmie takes his respite from the cable news talking heads before the afternoon baseball game begins, before I come home from work.

At work, the ordering of the next seasons’ plays is almost done, final strands coming together in a complex artistic and literary calculus. Design and stage management assignments formulating, the students now aware that we have bypassed our self-proclaimed deadline. Faculty are now aware that the students anxiously await the news.  A last minute delay in one title keeps us all waiting for the shared excitement that is the next season’s announcement. I anticipate the rush of questions.

When will we know our assignments, Els?

Patience is required in these summer days. Patience and presence of mind and heart.

Today on my way back from the YAS DTLA gym, Hector’s rigorous and entertaining “Fiesta Friday” workout, I passed a woman walking a black plastic milk crate on a string. From behind, she looked like any dog walker in the early morning pre-work hours. She carried herself with a regal, straight-backed air of confidence, her gait unhurried. The crate glided easily along the pavement just behind her right flank. It wasn’t too full and followed her at the companionable pace of a small dachshund. She wore black leggings and a tunic fringed with what looked like a fashionable purple sweater tied around her waist. Her hair, shoulder-length was tidy looking. Abruptly she turned, and began walking back toward me shattering the illusion. As I drew closer, I could see her dirt-smudged, tanned face, her hair in ratty unintentional dreadlocks, her eyes filled with the nervous preoccupation of one who likely hears many voices. Her black plastic crate suddenly looked less like company and more like the onus of homelessness that it was.

I suddenly felt so lucky.

I continued my walk home, passing the young sycamore tree, rescued earlier in the week by a maintenance worker at the restaurant next door. The Conservation Corps folks planted the sapling about six months ago at my request. A ranting homeless man had recently kicked away the wooden splints that held it erect. The tree, bowed from the weight of its leafy branches, bobbed over the curb into the oncoming bus traffic. When I walked by, the restaurant worker was retying the rubber stays around the trunk. I held the tree in place, two strangers collaborating on the rescue of a young life. The tree secured, I asked him what his name was, and introduced myself. This morning, he sprayed the sidewalk with soapy water and I greeted him like an old comrade in arms.

At home, in gratitude, I watered all the plants on the patio, all the orchids on hiatus from blooming, the neon-green shoots sprung from the wildflower seeds I planted in the planter late last week. The seeds, in brown packets with our names emblazoned on them had marked the seating at our son’s recent wedding. Elsbeth’s seeds are doing quite well. If they fail, you can be sure James’ seeds will be planted next.

I sat down to contemplate my good fortune. IMG_8419The early morning sunlight streamed into the living room, highlighting the carved mahogany legs of a table. A precocious orchid I had ignored,  its stem lurching out to capture the sun, is now inside, granted access for its one louche bloom. I promise myself I will pay closer attention to the other orchids to guide them straighter in their fruition. These are the things we promise ourselves in the lazy lucky days of July.IMG_8421

Today we get our car back from the body shop, newly painted hopefully with no evidence of its recent trauma on the 101. I will return the white Jeep Cherokee I’ve been driving for the past week or so, a bigger and thirstier car than I would ever choose.

We had been able to make a hellish drive to Redlands last Friday to see dear friends there in the Jeep Cherokee, a comfortable, slightly higher ride than usual. Foolishly, we drove there on the Friday before the Fourth of July weekend, leaving LA at 3:00, and arriving just after our 5:30 reservation. Our reunion was sweet, and after catching up on the last 10 years at dinner at Caprice Cafe, we walked them to the nearby Redlands Bowl where they were attending a trombone concert. Together, we posed for a snapshot near the patinated statue of William McKinley before heading home.

Audrey, our friend depicted above, is now a successful writer of children’s non-fiction. We discussed Jimmie’s recent book, A View from the Wings, a signed copy of which he delivered to her when we sat down in the restaurant, and Audrey recommended a book about writing: Dani Shapiro’s Still Writing, The Perils and Pleasures of A Creative Life.  I immediately went home and devoured it over the next two days. She has a lot to say that is extremely encouraging for the novice writer. It’s again ironic that reading books about writing is really just another procrastination from writing, but in spite of that, I felt re-energized about the process of telling my story and am grateful to Audrey for the infusion of creative energy.

Tuesday night, the Fourth of July, Jimmie and I drove to the campus to watch the Coliseum’s fireworks from the roof of Parking Structure A. My colleague, Duncan had told me about his excellent viewing spot for years, but until this year, I had eschewed it. This year, we were in the mood to see some explosions. It was a scene. When we first arrived, Duncan and his wife sat on a utility cart facing the south wall of the Parking Structure, a stool perched on the back of the cart for higher viewing. Sheepishly, I pulled up next to them in my Jeep Cherokee and we positioned ourselves parallel to them. For the next hour and a half, through the windshield, we watched as the skyline filled with ebullient fireworks, both those sanctioned and entrepreneurial in nature. By the time we left at about 9:30PM, there were at least twenty cars, and the parking roof was chock full of families enjoying the now smoky aftermath of the display. When we got home, the new Intercontinental Hotel displayed her patriotic colors.

So that’s what we’re doing in the summer days in DTLA. You could say that we are all pulling our crate, literally and metaphorically, and I am well aware of the precious cargo in mine.

 

 

Neighborhood Strolls

I can think of a few better ways to start one’s day than getting rear-ended on the 101N on the way to the Man Plumber. Dozens, actually. But that’s the way yesterday started. Crawling along the right lane of the 101N, about to exit at Van Nuys Blvd., when the traffic just stopped, and we stopped hard, narrowly missing the car in front of us. Not so lucky for the car behind us, which slid into our rear bumper, pushing us into the car in front of us. Continue reading

A Day at the Races

About a year ago, we changed financial advisors, choosing Thrivent Financial, to manage our funds. The Christians part aside, we liked their directness, availability, and the opportunity to look at how we might get the money out of the retirement fund when it comes that time. If you haven’t noticed, everyone is really good about telling you how to put it in the account. Not so good about how to extract it and how to diversify your options so that some of them are tax free. Ben and Isaac were really clear and we made some significant changes in the way we were putting it in. Since then they’ve done well for us and Isaac recently invited us to join them at the Thrivent Financial Day at Santa Anita. Last year we hadn’t been able to go, but this year Jimmie and I were free to go and so we added it to our calendar.

We had no idea what to expect, but when we arrived at the track, we found relatively close parking, and easy access to the ground floor entrance to the private party area. thumb_img_5678_1024There, we found our financial advisor, Isaac, near the buffet table, which was only feet from a bank of windows where we’d be able to conveniently place our bets throughout the day.

I had only ever been to the track once before, in Reno, with my Dad and Stepmother when I was about 14. There, he’d placed a bet for me and I’d won, $14, as I recall. Somehow I avoided the allure of winning at the track, and it’s only taken me forty-three years to return. But after today, I may not stay away as long next time. We had a blast.

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Our Irish Three-Year-Old Filly, Siberian Iris, who won in Race 4, netting us $25.10.

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That’s Tattooed Kitty in the front, my choice in race 5, bet $6 and won $15.80.

In the car on the way out to Santa Anita, Jimmie told me the things we should do in our betting today. Back when he was a late teen, he’d go to the track  with his mom and dad in Rockingham Park in Salem, New Hampshire. He remembered there is a $2.00 ticket that allows you to bet on one horse to Win, Place and Show (it’s actually $6.00 for all three of those options), but then you are really covered. Later, some of his dear friends, Jackie and Steve in New York, were part owners of a horse, and they used to go to the track. He warned me about the touts, who would come and tell you a tip about a race, then come back expecting a cut of your winnings.

They’re not going to let a tout into a private party area, I scoffed.

Today, as I stood in line for dessert behind a tall, attractive brunette woman, we ogled the plates of desserts passing by but it was the woman with the single oatmeal cookie that caused us to both giggle and begin talking.

How’re you doing today? I quipped.

Great, she said. (beat)  I don’t bet.

That’s when we laughed about the irony of being invited to gamble away our hard earned investments at the race track. She said her husband liked to tease their investment manager that he was going to bet it all on one horse.

And the tout? img_7585There was a board inside the party area which listed his choices. I more or less followed them, and did pretty well today. And he ended up addressing the crowd through a mic right in front of our table. Periodically he’d check in with us to see how we were doing.

I really wanted to know how to get a ride in the surrey without the fringe on top.thumb_img_5704_1024

At one point, I said to Jimmie

It’s so nice to be out with you at something other than a theatrical event.

Or a doctor’s office, he quipped.

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And then I swallowed the canary.

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Animal Migration

We have a large collection of wooden animals in our apartment, each of them about the size of a four-year-old’s clenched fist. They are arrayed all about, three on top of the piano, one in the bathroom next to the sink, two more on the dining room table. There they sit, patiently, watching as we rush around with our days. They get dusted about every two weeks, and returned not exactly to their original spots because that is a feature of having a person who cleans. She keeps us on our toes.

I have a small fascination with…er…water buffalos which manifested in 1993 during a fact-finding trip to Vietnam with my father. I think I returned with two small soapstone water buffalos, and a larimg_7218ger papier mâché one; then my dad and his wife gave me with about three more. Never express fondness for things to your loved ones. Before long, you will have received a herd of water buffalos, or an endless array of hummingbird videos, for example, and when you look in the bathroom mirror one morning, you’ve got a hummingbird tattooed on your shoulder. Be careful what you wish for, friends.

No, don’t worry, I won’t be adorning the other shoulder with a water buffalo…

Other members of the wooden animal menagerie came from the shelf in my grandfather’s study, where they sat and gazed out at the Pennsylvania countryside. They consisted of a small elephant, a seal, a small stone Buddha, a giraffe, and a boar. img_7217In addition to my grandfather’s collection of animals, there were some human figures, too, a teak carved eskimo, and several flute-playing boys on the backs of the water buffalos. In addition, there was a small beanbag lizard which was Chris’ favorite talisman when he was about 7. I think we got it at SeaWorld or the Los Angeles Zoo. After that, he carried it everywhere.

This weekend, our great niece Jen, and her daughter S visited us. They came to help us keep our heads above water against the tide of maladies Jimmie has faced recently. They arrived on Wednesday, and as soon as they walked in the door, S began talking to Jimmie about her friends. She is such a sweet girl, and several years ago when we were at a family member’s memorial, she took a fancy to Jimmie. When she walked in, it was as though they picked up right where they had left off. Shortly after they arrived, I showed S where there was a small wooden truck to play with and she immediately started scavenging for toys to put in the truck.

Uh oh, I thought. We don’t really have any toys here. But never underestimate the creative genius of a four year old like S. That’s when she discovered the animals. After the three of us walked to Whole Foods to do some shopping, S and Jimmie sat in the living room and chatted while Jen made dinner, and I went and collapsed into a deep power nap in the bedroom.

When I emerged, at about 6:00, (so much for the fifteen-minute power nap),  Jimmie was sitting in his usual spot on the couch, and three of the wooden animals were lying on the left arm of the sofa, all on their sides. On S’s right chair arm another three animals rested on their sides. As I came over to talk to them, both Jimmie and S looked up at me with great seriousness, raising their index fingers to their lips and shushed me. I sat down and watched the most charming interchange between them, while they patted the wooden carved animals ceremoniously, whispering softly in trancelike tandem tones,

Go to sleep. Go to sleep. Go to sleep.

I instantly recognized the parental re-emergence of the who-can-keep-quietest-game. I sat down to watch the two of them play. Any talking that “slipped out by accident” caused a cascade of giggles from S, and broad smiles from Jimmie and me. My loud snuffling snoring made her fall out, which in turn set us all laughing. Jen, peeling asparagus in the kitchen, looked curiously out into the living room. It was such a joyful moment. I felt my tensions melting away.

Over the weekend, the animals migrated through the apartment, piling up on the floor in the guest bedroom, taking turns riding in the colorful Guatemalan toy truck. Finally, at the end of their visit, they all assembled on the coffee table for a family photo. img_7225

 

The Business of Gratitude

Did I mention that  I started my own business this week? Well, truth be told, it was several weeks ago, but the paperwork has been arriving in the mail from various state and federal entities. There’s a gravitas to the arrival of these tax notifications, etc. that is quite overwhelming and sobering. I am most definitely having buyer’s remorse.

Most people probably have an idea for a business and start baking cupcakes, let’s say, in their kitchen, and then share them at work, where a lot of people tell them how yummy they are. Then they ramp up their cupcake production, children and friends helping to ice them. Then they start selling them for their friends’ children’s birthday parties, then to the PTA meetings, then, and only then, when they’ve established that there is a market for their cupcakes, do they start a company.

Not me.

My business was borne of a gift. A gift sent to my school on my behalf, in honor of me by my high school theatre mentor.  It was a beautiful gesture, one which caused me to write an email of thanks to him and his spouse. I chose to write a silly affectionate email in a style evoked by their foundation’s name.

Dear Grand-père and Grand-mère,

Yesterday, I received the most wonderful email alerting me  of an unexpected and delightful grant in honor of me! It was so generous of you, and here, after all this time of not even paying you a visit to your Berkshire home. Our ill-timed trip to your neck of the woods resulted in no time sitting on the porch basking in the beautiful buggy breezes, no chatting and sipping from a high frosty glass of lemonade, though, as you know, Grandparents, I prefer my Arnie Palmers after a bracing game of lawn croquet. It doesn’t seem I deserve such a gift.

Seriously, though, it was the nicest thing that’s happened to me since last week when I received the painting from Tante Irene. I am apparently emitting the “Els needs gifts” juju and the wealth of the world and you, dear Grandpere et Grandmere, has been extraordinary.

I do have some concerns that our mutual admiration philanthropy may result in that kind of ridiculous exchange of gifts where I send my brother an Amazon gift card of $50 on his birthday and he sends the same to me on mine. Or, god forbid, an escalation of competitive philanthropy resulting in one or the both of us ending up in the poor house. But for the time being, I am basking in the complete satisfaction that he that inducted me with the vow of theatrical poverty hath also given me riches to squander in its pursuit. And those are riches indeed.

I thank you so much, Grand-père et Grand-mére, and reiterate that though we don’t have the bucolic porch on which to sip our frosty lemonade, we have a skyline facing view with hummingbirds in the foreground awaiting your visit. In the meantime, Thank you, Thank you, Thank you for your thoughtful gift to my students.

If I could see you I know you would be rolling your eyes. Maybe even guffawing. I talked with my husband tonight about how ridiculous it was. But at the time, the previous weeks had been about the three GRs – Grit, Gratitude and Grace. I owed most of the inspiration for my recent scribblings to Angela Duckworth’s book Grit, but I credit the events of weeks past for the Gratitude part; the Grace factor, well that’s the elusive thing we all strive to achieve.

As I was cleaning our apartment that morning several weeks ago, dusting, changing the sheets, dumping the trash, so enthused was I with my gratitude and my own wit, I thought,

AHA! What if I started a business where I would write thank you notes for people?

No one likes to write thank you notes. My dear departed Mom was so insistent about writing thank you notes that even now my hand starts to twitch toward the nook on my writing desk anytime anyone even threatens kindness. I can’t ever leave a stationery store without scoping out the thank you note section. Vroman’s is ruinous. But maybe I’ve come up with a way to underwrite my addiction.

My new company is called Gratitude, and will utilize writers to pen thank you notes for the Average Jane or Joe who wants a really special thank you note sent to someone for a gift he/she has received. Need a thank you note? Here’s all I need to know:

  1. Gift Recipient’s name and address
  2. The Gift Giver’s name and address
  3. What the gift was
  4. Date you received the gift
  5. A few lines about what your relationship to the gifter is
  6. Maybe one fact about where you grew up for flavor

STYLE: Choose your thank you note style

  1. Sincere
  2. Funny
  3. Irreverent
  4. Duck Dynasty
  5. Victorian Lady’s Letter of Thanks
  6. Raymond Chandler

OUR TEAM OF WRITERS (because this business will take off really fast, requiring the additional writers to the team – and I have already selected you, you can be sure) are either randomly assigned the notes, or, you, the gift recipient, can hand pick your writer.

HANDWRITTEN? TYPED? Do you want to let the giver know how much you cared? You didn’t sit down at your kitchen table, push the dirty dishes out of the way and pull out the notecards, brow furrowed, sweating over the notecard to write your thanks! No! You commissioned a thank you note of merit to reflect your profound appreciation for their gift. Think of it as a work of art.

TIMELY GUARANTEE! The note will go out within 24 hours of the order being placed and you will receive a copy of the note.

WHAT DOES THIS SERVICE COST? You tell me. What would you pay for someone to write your notes for you? $5.00 a piece?

So I did it a little out of order.  I didn’t don my apron and head out to the kitchen to start practicing writing delicious thank you notes. I went directly to my computer and typed in legalzoom.com, where I started my company. Took about 15 minutes. For which I will be eternally grateful.

Gratitude is now easy.

Thanks 2

Keeping Us In Stitches

A few years ago, shortly after our son Chris returned from a year long sojourn through Europe, living the dream, as it were, I joked that he and I should write a book. It would be an adult Mommy and Me book, the format of which might be text, as in traditional text, alternating with texts, as in the sporadic digital conversation he and I have had over the last five years via our phones as he has attained maturity. And I do mean attained. It has been a bit of an uphill slog at times, but he has arrived at what I’d call the tree-line of adulthood. If he stands there, he can turn back and see the forest, mysterious and dark and dank; looking forward, a path more clearcut, less encumbered with obvious trip hazards, but now a matter of planning his next steps, footholds and handholds, avoiding gravel slides and icy patches.

Over the years our texts have been personal, confessional, irreverent, insulting, loving, funny, heartbreaking. We have hiked through the woods together in a continual conversation about loss and redemption, self-sacrifice and self-sabotage.

Chris has, since the time he was about five, had an impulsive side, which resulted in a parade of random events and many many trips to the ER. We’ve been to the ER more times than one family deserves to go. I joked with Chris that our book should be entitled “Scar” featuring on the cover a full body photo of Chris, with little arrows pointing to all the scars on his body, annotated with post-its

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Image cropped to minimize the “yuck” factor

 

Last night he added another one to his collection. During the adult hockey game after the adult hockey game he went to play (a decision he derided as the reason he’d been injured -“I could have been on the couch at home, Mom”) , he made contact with his inner left thigh and his skate, resulting in about a 2 inch gash on his inner thigh. In typical gritty form, he called me on the way to the ER, then texted me the before and after pictures of the wound and stitches. I’ve become sensitive to any nocturnal conversation with Chris that begins with the words

Mom, you aren’t going to believe what happened…

I had just plugged in my phone to charge for the night, and when I picked it up, Jimmie’s eyes followed me back over to the couch, tracking my worried looks and listening intently to my subtle repeat of the gory details to fill him in.

It may seem creepy, but this is a ritual of bonding that the three of us have practiced for 24 years. Looking back over the years, in more or less descending chronological order:

  • 1 gash on the left inner thigh- hockey accident, age 27 (8/24/16)
  • 1 left shin gouge from pole on the dock – fishing accident, approximate age 24
  • 1 cut on the inside of his left arm – the broken glass had “nicked” a small artery which required a small surgery. He had a cut under his right eye requiring 3 stitches and another one needing 2 stitches on the top of his head. June 26, 2012 Barcelona Beach Bash
  •  1 tear of left hand between thumb and fore finger, car accident, age 17
  • 2 broken collarbones – hockey accident, age 15
  • 1 left wrist laceration requiring extensive hand surgery – hockey accident, age 12
  • 1 right pinky laceration causing damage to nerve – razor blade incident, Age 8
  • 1 injury to legs from jumping off the roof, age 5

See what I mean? That’s a hell of a lot of bonding. We are probably lucky to have not been called before the Department of Childrens’ Services for child abuse.

Some of our texts veered toward discussions of automotive injuries. The car I gifted to Chris did not take so well to the Fisherman’s Wharf environment resulting in many many trips to the Automotive ER. I considered at one point buying stock in Honda just to increase my ROI.

But the most important texts have been about the discoveries and growth in Chris’ life, including his pursuit of and discovery of his birth Mom in March of 2015, the gestation and birth of his own baby, and the flourishing of his daughter Skylar and fiancée, Whitney.

March 2015 text to Chris (edited somewhat)

Me: I was just filling up the feeder when a spider crawled over my hand in the sink.

Me: dropped half of the stuff in the sink

Me: Even worse I don’t know where the f—ing spider went

Me: I had an epiphany today in spin class – I know, how SoCal of me; but it was this; why would a mother disclose in the first conversation with her newly discovered son such dark details about his parents’ misfortunes? (Both Jimmie and I had asked ourselves this question when Chris told us about his first conversation with his birth mom.)

Me: But the more salient question, I realized, as I sweated and strained up the “hill” today, was “Why would Chris share that information as the very first information we received about his long lost family?”  “Wasn’t that really the question he had asked us a dozen times over the years with decisions that were reckless and dangerous and self-sabotaging of his own life path?

Me: The question was  – will you (adoptive Mom and Dad) still love me if I show you what I’m made of? What darkness and depths I am capable of reaching? Will you have my back? Legally, medically, financially? How much do you really love me?

Isn’t that the question we all ask ourselves in our life journeys? How true to us will our parents, friends, spouses, children remain? How much will we allow ourselves to cherish our bodies and psyches?

And the answer is, we are in it for the long haul. Thick and thin, we’ve got your back, son.

Boycott the White Oscars

Recently I was appointed to a committee at the School of Dramatic Arts to address issues of Diversity and Inclusion. When I received the letter, the phrase “blood from a turnip” crossed my mind, but then I remembered after the Summit on Diversity and Inclusion that we’d had late last fall, how uplifted and purposeful I had felt, and I tamped down my low expectations of what else I could manage, attending the first meeting last week. It was a vibrant assembly of faculty, students and alumni, led by Anita Dashiell-Sparks, our Diversity Liaison,  who all have the common desire to see these issues addressed and improved within our school and the University at large.

The conversations we began last fall about privilege and alliance, utilizing power to illuminate the shortcomings of our school and society were animated and energetic. After attending about 6 of the 11 events over the weekend, sandwiched in between tech rehearsals for two shows, I felt hopeful that we might make some changes to elevate the sense of inclusivity within the school.

Then along came the Oscar nominations and the news from the Academy that there were some changes coming along – culling the white herd of older, inactive Academy members, the 1%ers of the industry, along with a goal of doubling the number of female and racially diverse members by 2020 – the Academy’s own environmental quality act, if you will. You probably raised your eyebrow at “culling” – we’re not talking about taking them out back and killing the older inactive members of the academy – we’re talking about term limits on voters of 10 years, renewable then if they remain active. We are simply talking about removing people from the voting process who are no longer active in the industry. I would hope that all healthy organizations would consider that part of a routine process. This has nothing to do with an age purge, by the way – Clint Eastwood has been an active Academy member, all his life, even more so, arguably, since he hit the age of 80.

My husband noted that I am getting really steamed about this topic. No more so than this morning when I picked up the Los Angeles Times and read William Goldstein’s inflammatory op ed entitled “The PC Crisis at the Academy.” In his article, there were several times while reading that I muttered to myself:

Can you not see your own privilege?

It is true that the academy doesn’t make the movies – that the studios and independent producers need to step up their game and make more diverse movies showing the broader world. And yes, it has happened that people of color and projects of color have been nominated and have even won awards – in 2014, several films were recognized: “12 Years a Slave” (3 Oscars) and “Selma” (nominated for Best picture) in 2015. So how does it happen at a major awards show in a subsequent year that we see no actors of color nominated? Where are Abraham Attah and  Idris Elba for their powerful performances in “Beasts of No Nation”? Nominations for Screen Actors Guild awards, as well as Golden Globes, BAFTA and AAFCA happened. What happened at the Academy? I expect that the membership, as has been posited elsewhere, shuffled the DVD to the bottom and watched instead one of the more mainstream films. Until the shuffling to the bottom ends, it is inevitable that the nominations will skew to white, heteronormative nominees. And that’s the problem.

Why must the academy perfectly mirror that diversity? It’s a meritocracy.

William Goldstein, The PC Crisis At The Academy, Los Angeles Times, January 26, 2016

First of all, there is nothing close to perfect “mirroring” diversity going on in the current film industry. Secondly, the idea of a meritocracy reinforces the idea that within a mostly white male industry people who “have it” will be given opportunities equal to those enjoyed by the mostly white male industry practitioners; this is naive. If that were true, surely there would be no need for organizations such as Women Make Movies, a group that has existed for thirty years to address the underrepresentation of women in media. No, Mr. Goldstein, it is up to the white membership of the industry to embrace the wider audiences by supporting projects that better represent those who actually are going to the movies. To hold the mirror up, as it were. Ignoring important films like “Straight Outta Compton” is emblematic of the problem. Sure, I had problems with a lot of things in that movie, including it’s treatment/portrayal of women. However, there were also some incredible performances that deserved Oscar recognition, like O’Shea Jackson and Jason Mitchell, to name two.

…I find it troubling that the leadership pushed through these changes without consulting the academy at large.

William Goldstein, The PC Crisis At The Academy, Los Angeles Times, January 26, 2016

Given the demonstrated and measured lack of diversity within the Academy,  asking the members to cull their own herd and double the minorities and women voluntarily would be to expect this change to happen within a predominantly white, privileged vacuum. And if history is any guide, this isn’t happening. At least not as fast as I would like to see. Too fast, you say? 

I know there are Academy members who do want to change, to keep up with the times, to reinvigorate the Academy with new members and to have the Academy mirror society at large more accurately. There are those in leadership positions, on the Board of Governors of the Academy as well (19 of 39 of whom are women) – witness the recent climate change proposal.

In our first Diversity and Inclusion Committee meeting last Friday, I was energized by the younger members. I felt their passion, and pride in being assigned to such an important body for change. More than once it was articulated that the white members of the school need to step up in alliance with the principals of advancing diversity and inclusion. To use their (pardon the acknowledgement of privilege) power.

So here’s a simple thing we can all do in a few weeks. We can simply refuse to watch the Academy Awards – Sunday, February 28th; just tune out. Refuse to participate by silently supporting the lack of diversity, the stunning exclusivity that is rampant in the film industry. Use that time to go see a movie or a performance that does embrace the principals we want to embrace. Go and attend the matinee of the MFAY3 Rep performance of  The Threepenny Opera at USC School of Dramatic Arts to witness what our world can look like in entertainment.