Friday, December 4, 2009

Our Class - a play at the National, or, why it sucks for Poland to be stuck between Russia and Germany

Greetings play fans, this week I saw the Polish play Our Class by Tadeusz Slobodzianek (a version by Ryan Craig) Tadeusz wrote a great play and if you are in London you should definitely see it. I think there are even a few of the £10 tickets available, which is hands down the best bargain in the Big Smoke.

This is Poland, 1925. We follow a class of eleven year old children, some Jews, some Catholics, all richly human, ten of them, from 1925 until their deaths. It is pretty moving. The set is very simple, ten chairs in the round, except for two simple and powerful images, some sand and a frame.

The sand: At the end of the first half, 1600 Jews are burned alive inside a barn in the Polish village where the play takes place, not by Soviets or Nazis but by the Poles. One of the classmates is directing the genocide and one is in the barn. It is excruciating but not too much, not a snuff film. We come back from intermission and where the barn stood on the stage, there is a covering of sand. The ashes, perhaps, or the mass grave underneath the barn where Jews were buried, a scar on the land. The effect is really marvelous, i.e., I marveled at the theatricality. Because as the survivors and the perpetrators act out the rest of their lives, they move differently when they walk on the sand. The sand bears their weight differently than the rest of the floor. It showed the characters forever changed by that event in their muscles and in gravity. It was also the ever-existent knowledge of mortality, of sin and regret. It was rich because it was so many things. Bravo on the sand. I must again begrudgingly admit the English excellence with set design.

The frame: Suspended above the stage was, well, I'll call it a frame, a square of wood the same size of the stage. In the first half, it was suspended high over the action. While the barn was burning, the frame slowly lowered while sounds of burning wood filled the theatre. Killer. But then, the frame stayed down through the whole second half of the play. Like the hopes of the classmates, like their expectations, lowered, heavier. Like the press of mortality. The weight of the compromises we make when we get older in order to live our lives. Wonderful.

I liked the fact that the play was big and broad in scope, it really told the life story of ten people. Necessarily, there was a lot of telling rather than showing but there were enough judicious injections of theatricality to make it work and by the end I realized that this play had made me truly care about the lives of these people and eager to hear their stories, even the sucky part of the story of getting old and dying.

I need, however, to have a word with you about the translator. Ryan, Ryan, Ryan. Why must you be so English? Why must the English try to imperialize every use of the language with their cozy little tea-soaked idioms? Here is my problem: the play was written in Polish about people in a Polish village but the translation was littered with English idioms ("Christmas Fete", "scarpered", "on holiday" ) things that only English people would say. Wrong. Wrong. Wrong. It really jolted me out of the moment, it was jarring to hear that someone was offering "drinks and nibbles". The idioms evoked Englishness - emotional constipation, hot drinks, Buckingham Palace.

And even worse the entire British class system was injected into the play. The more refined characters spoke in the Home Counties accent, the brutes and rapist all sounded Northern England working class. This undermined the whole damned play which was trying to communicate the uniqueness of Poland, not make Poland into England.

And another thing. This play is not Copenhagen. These people were not discussing metaphysical aspects of reality and particle physics. They were getting married, running away, getting raped, hiding from the Nazis, hiding from the Soviets. My point is the lines were very easy to understand without Ryan having to translate everything into this very English idiom. He should have been more faithful to the sentence structure as it would have been in Polish. Maybe he even should have used the Polish idioms.

Whenever the English papers quote American celebrities, and I am talking about actual quotation marks representing that this is what was said, they do the same damned thing. It pisses me off. Tobey Maguire did not tell the newspaper that he had to get something "out of the boot" of his car. Julia Roberts did not tell the reporter she was going to go "on holiday". Quit it. He said "trunk" and she said "vacation" and people would have understood if you had quoted accurately. English is bigger than England, there are vast stores of idioms waiting to enrich language and understanding, and Ryan let the play down by choosing to ignore that fact. Despite this disservice, it was still a powerful play.

Tuesday, November 3, 2009

You should listen to everyone like they are crazy. It's the functional definition of love.

So I have been really depressed, right down in the shitter and I am engulfed in an existential struggle where I am trying to determine how much of it is pathological and how much of it is, well, living in Cambridge. eecummings wrote a poem about how bad the whole situation is here. The Cambridge Ladies.

the Cambridge ladies who live in furnished souls
are unbeautiful and have comfortable minds
(also, with the church's protestant blessings
daughters,unscented shapeless spirited)
they believe in Christ and Longfellow, both dead,
are invariably interested in so many things--
at the present writing one still finds
delighted fingers knitting for the is it Poles?
perhaps. While permanent faces coyly bandy
scandal of Mrs. N and Professor D
.... the Cambridge ladies do not care, above
Cambridge if sometimes in its box of
sky lavender and cornerless,the
moon rattles like a fragment of angry candy

So you can see the issue. These people are in a provincial academic cocoon that sort of blocks out reality.

This makes communication difficult. Where I am, when the American accent appears, the locals immediately cease to listen to what I actually am saying. I can see it in their eyes, their minds are racing to create the conversation they think they are having or should be having rather than listening to what is being said. It's tough. (My friend Nick arguably has it worse in a wheelchair). I am not from this tight little comfortable community of shared experiences, so everyone really has trouble in understanding I say. So they respond to what they think I ought to have said. Communication is nearly impossible. I'm not kidding. Even with people who are trying. I wore my absolute favorite Texas Prison Rodeo t-shirt to yoga last week and a very nice, seemingly very bright woman spoke to me for 5 minutes. We chatted about this and that. I thought I had imparted all relevant geo-biographical information that the locals require in detail, being from Washington, but grew up in New York, but not New York City. I mean for god's sake, these are place names, not nuanced, witty cultural observations. And no shit, she ended the conversation sort of obliquely asking me why I had been in prison in Texas.

This thing about being divided by a common language is so very true. I do not feel this in my French, Dutch and Swedish friends here. To the contrary. But the British culture, by its very nature, when you are in the thick of it, is a war of words. You are not allowed to communicate with emotions. That leaves words.

And think about all the vastly different cultures share this tiny overrated island. Welsh, Irish, Scottish, from Yorkshire, from Liverpool, from Cornwall, from Manchester, every one of them have their own accents, their own song, their own food, their own idioms. The rivalries are unbearably tedious to me, but they are very real, especially in football. The truth is they are still a bunch of warring tribes. And they also divide into classes, and those classes have their own pronounciation, idioms and ways of living.

Apparently the point of language here in the provinces is to create ever smaller circles of protection against the rattling lavender. They must need it to feel safe in the Fens.

I am coming to the conclusion that the only place bearable on this island is London where the warring tribes are diluted with immigrants.

And what makes London bearable - even often great - is that people have to work harder to understand what strangers say to them, people interact with a variety of different cultures, public transportation is more diversely populated. Consequently they must frequently negotiate situations where language is the only bridge between two people with completely different cultural assumptions. (Dress, stance, class)

The place where I saw these slender bridges grow into beautiful Golden Gate affairs was Teddy's West Hampstead. Owain went there from six months to three years and he had such a great experience there. And what made it so great is that people from wildly different cultures - Polish, Jamaican, French, Hungarian off the top of my head -- had to work together to raise children - an event that is very laden in any culture. And the only thing they had in common was a minimal proficiency in English. So they really had to work to work together and listen to each other.

Surely this is the functional definition of love.

And even though they weren't always feeling it, they worked together. They did it by listening hard and trying to make sense of what other people were saying. They did it by asking a lot of questions. They treated each other gently, maybe not in peace but in detente. The point is it worked. Because they worked at listening. Strained. Like their lives depended on it. Like the other person was batshit crazy but they still had to find a way to talk to them. What a wonderful atmosphere. Not perfect, but sublime.

This skill is missing big time from the hinterlands and this is seriously getting me down. I don't think this problem is limited to me or to the UK, my criticisms would be true in any country. I think my advice after two and a half years in Camrbdgie is that immigrants generally probably shouldn't venture to the outlying villages.

I find any sort of communication very difficult in this culture. Painfully, horribly, humiliatingly difficult. Except for ordering delivery pizza and sushi.and buying Champagne. That I have mastered even in Cambridge.

I am trying to figure out whether how I feel is subject to pharamceutical improvement. These cultural observations make me wonder whether it is. In the United States I excelled at communication. Here I live an epic fail.

Friday, October 30, 2009

The White Tiger Movies

Before I tell you about the White Tiger Movies, let me say this. One of the greatest joys currently in my life is discussing stories with my son. I don't know if he senses that I love stories or whether I just gave him my love of stories, but there is nothing greater than listening to someone you love tell a good story, especially when it's your son.

When I made up stories as a child this was very much frowned upon and punshed as lying. Understandably, my parents thought it was their job as parents to get their children to distinguish between fantasy and reality. To them it was this clear, this bipolar: truth and lies, fantasy and reality.

I very self-consciously tolerate - and maybe even encourage - my son to just tell me what he is thinking. I let his fantasy life mix easily with reality and don't really bother pointing out which is which. I think it much more important for him to develop the ability to describe what is going on in his mind. Why not? He is a well-behaved and reasonable child.

And he really tells pretty marvelous stories. He re-tells the Harry Potter but in his version, Harry's parents never died. They enroll as students in Hogwarts with Harry and they don't really do much. They are always in the background, though, to lend support. (Noted.)

But his big plan is to create The White Tiger Movies: ten CGI features about one white tiger hero. (He is going to be a movie man, he tells me.)

In the first White Tiger Move, the hero's parents, the King and Queen of White Tiger Land, are killed at the hero's wedding.

Very gripping first scene. Royalty popular subject for plays. (think Shakespeare)

The hero and his brother hunt the killers (rivals to the throne) throughout the movie. The hero's son is born. An epic battle between the White Tigers and the rivals leaves the brother dead. End of first film.

He is five years old and this stuff Kill Bill meets Lysystrata. A London theatre director once told me that great directors are just born. Maybe, but I have to credit Pixar (Toy Story, Monsters Inc) for my son's understanding of the importance of a hero, a hero spurred to greatness by extreme events (Woody, Sully, The Old Guy from Up, Wall-E, The Incredibles).

He should shoot for getting the Kennedy Center Honors before I am too old to enjoy it. I heard they serve vintage Champagne at the ceremony and it's a week of great parties.

Yes, for me it is all about the parties.

Saturday, October 10, 2009

Empire Blue - sitcom pilot

Is the name of the sitcom pilot I just finished.

By reading this you agree that the characters are completely fictional and bear no intentional resemblance to any living person.

Set in London in 2000, Empire Blue chronicles three women's struggle to bring a chaotic internet start-up company from the verge of bankruptcy to riches and success.

Colby was head of marketing and I was general counsel at an internet start-up in London seven years ago. We bonded through the sometimes hilarious and sometimes terrifying experience and vowed to write a sitcom about a much different experience than we actually had.

And we have. We have worked really, really hard on this in bursts since 2006 and had some great feedback for rewrites. It has taught us to love re-writing, I'll tell you that, not an easy lesson. And I laughed so hard writing it, I am grateful that we wrote.

But if you happen to want to see the pilot, to, I don't know, send it to any tv producers or actors you know, please drop me a line.

Tuesday, October 6, 2009

All Time Great Party Dance Tunes

I am in love with this Cambridge institution called the Early Night Club - once every couple of months, they turn a tapas bar into a dance club for people who want to get in, get dancing and get out before midnight.

My exuberant love for the place must have been noticeable because the organizer asked me to do a guest DJ spot. It really isn't that big a deal. He is using free guest DJs all night so I am one of many.

But I have to decide what to play. So of course I am looking for all time great party dance tunes. Well, second-tier great party dance tunes. All time great party dance tunes are usually set pieces when a group of people who know and like each other are just relaxing and fooling around. Like acting out Meatball's Baseball Song at a high school reunion (the EHS '86 reunion in '96) or Summer Nights from Grease (too numerous to list and I am kind of bossy about being Sandy). That is definitely the most fun thing ever. It has to be spontaneous and essentially impossible to duplicate. Like a bright moon suddenly appearing over the Carribean sea at exactly the same time CCR's Bad Moon Rising came on the stereo on the boat. (December 2001) Or Sting (when he was cool) going nuts on So Lonely to a live audience at exactly the same time a group of really great friends who really love each other get up from a long, wine-filled dinner. (Washington, 2000). Or you can have it with two people in a car. Like driving from El Paso to Big Bend with J. T. in 1995 and driving from Chicago to Dallas with J.G. in 1989.

It happens a lot at weddings. This and Champagne are why weddings are fun. The last song at my wedding was Tiny Dancer and everyone had their arms around each other in a huge circle singing softly (Brecon, 2002). I was dancing with Rhys in the center and looking at all these people I loved, who had flown into the middle of Wales, so relaxed and happy. (My guests were on the whole phenomenally better behaved at my wedding than I was at theirs now that I think about it)

All Time Great Party Dance Tune moments do not usually happen in nightclubs, which is what the Early Night Club essentially is. Before the Early Night Club I was last in a nightclub circa 2000. I remember very clearly someone telling me (in the middle of a nightclub) that when I was old I wouldn't go to nightclubs all the time. I was furious. I will NEVER stop going to nightclubs, I said. Ah, youth.

So for my set Thursday night I need the great more anonymous party dance tunes. Respect by Erasure springs to mind. That song really commands you to dance. I Don't Feel Like Dancing by Scissor Sisters does too. It's hard to calibrate for age in this crowd and also hard to calibrate for England, because as I have found out from being married to my husband they were listening to all this total crap over here in England in the 80's when we were celebrating the phenomenal genius of bands like Asia, Laura Brannigan and Air Supply.

I was thinking that my set should be themed. Since I am such a sunny optimistic person, I am thinking The Summer of Death for my theme. You could do that forever with all the great Michael Jackson. The problem with a lot of popular Michael Jackson hits is that they turn into endurance constests on the dance floor. They are so long. Mama Say, Mama saw Mama pu saw goes on so long you start to think about his trial. Give me I Want You Back from the Jackson 5 days clocking in at an efficient 3:00. It would be great to play something from Dirty Dancing in honor of Patrick Swayze. She's Like The Wind is too slow, so probably Do You Love Me (Now That I Can Dance). I am so tempted to play something by the Dead Kennedys for Eunice and Ted - not in a mocking way but in a post-Modern respectful way. I'm not sure I can pull it off, beside, I can't see these women dancing to them.

Then there's John Hughes films. I always loved that scene in Breakfast Club when they were dancing around. But the song sucked. If You Leave is a great song from that, but is it too slow? The theme from Charlie's Angels would be poignant but not too danceable.

Being a DJ may be harder than I previously gave the likes of Samantha Ronson credit for.

Friday, September 25, 2009

A Short Report from the Dark Side

I have been a little depressed lately. It takes me a long time to figure it out when I am depressed. It used to have to get really bad, or flip to rage before I would notice (nearly getting arrested in Las Vegas one New Year's Eve for screaming at a cop springs to mind).

I don't even know if it is useful to call it depression. I think it's my own special brand of crazy that is very complicated.

But anyway, experience has given me a little crazy inventory which allows me to determine where I am before things get too bad now:

1. Am I managing to exercise?
2. Am I eating total crap. (Uh-oh. That just reminded me I had nachos for breakfast on Wednesday. Things could be worse than I thought)
3. Will I talk to my friends on the phone? (No)

If I just can't quite bring myself to take calls, this is a big hint that my mind is focusing all its energy on the bad neural circuits in my brain. I like to think of these as the bad neighbourhoods. There are three:

a. not taking any joy in anything; a sort of interior deadness spiced up by gripping bouts of anxiety;

b. catastrophising: Here is an example: since I have been rejected by this theatre, I will never be accepted by any theatre and my life is now worthless. I like to thing of this one as the opposite of JKRowling. That is an optimistic state of mind wherein you perpetually remind yourself that JKRowling was rejected by 12 publishers and took five years to write the first Harry Potter.

c. damning myself: I have a perpetual inner voice: the sharpest, meanest critic you can imagine. This bitch sets the most impossible standards for me and really rips into me when I make the smallest mistake, or take time for myself away from the children. Please understand I am speaking metaphorically and I do not actually have a separate voice inside me. But it is easy to imagine what happens in schizophrenia, when a voice like that or worse breaks completely away from your conscious understanding of yourself. The fight against this one is exhausting because I find myself having to defend my life to myself and the damnation neural networks are so strong that I can find myself indefensible. At an early age, I attended a series of fire and brimstone sermons at the Christian & Missionary Alliance Church in Corning, New York which I think burned this superhighway into my brain.

Having these three neural networks switched on high is really the worst thing I have ever experienced by a distance. It makes life very hard. Because unlike grief or physical pain, two things most people think of as bad, the crazies are not grounded in reality; they are a distortion of reality that separates you from the people you love. To me that makes the crazies much worse. It is not an inevitable part of life to be accepted with grace, it is a fucking battle ground in your own head precisely when you are so very, very not up for a fight.

The good news is that as soon as I acknowledge the problem, it usually means things are getting better. And even at my best I fall prey to a - c above anyway.

I have been sad over Sir David's death, but I am so constantly cheered by remembering him, he was really wonderful that the sadness is not that sad.

What is interesting is watching Owain's brain work its way through the idea. He told me last night that he wished that Taid would come back as a ghost so that Daddy could see him and feel better. I admit I have been very reliant on the idea of heaven in speaking to Owain about this. Luckily, Owain likes a story for a story and isn't so very worried about whether it's true or not.

Saturday, September 5, 2009

This will cheer you up: Liberty Laughing


My parents shot this of Liberty shortly before they returned to Florida. My dad, her Grandpa Marty was jumping up and down heroically to make her laugh.

Friday, September 4, 2009

My Take On Edinburgh

What an afternoon. I just failed my driving test for the third time. Sometimes I just hate England so much. But my free-form ramblings on that topic can take days. They draw upon such a number of probably-astonishingly-inaccurate observations I have made in my seven years here and employ a number of dubious theories of political philosophy, personhood, psychology, hermeneutics and geographical determinism, which is something I made up.

My time is limited and so let's focus on the non-England UK, the good part, and particularly the Edinburgh Fringe Festival. If you don't know, this is the annual August clusterfuck of the arts on an epic scale that I totally love.

I have seen some of the best plays I have ever seen at the Fringe: The Walworth Farce and Black Watch. I saw the Jerry Springer Opera, Demetri Martin at his sweetest and most magical in his one-man show. I've seen Dave Gorman, Simon Munnery, Phil Nichol . . . I saw the Soweto Gospel Choir and the Vienna Philharmonic . . . one of the best things I saw this year was a singer, Patti Plinko. Last year I didn't go to the Fringe, I took my child to a flower festival in Hungary. That was a mistake.

This year we kicked off after the train ride from London with A Rap Guide to Evolution by Baba Brinkman. This guy is an English professor who wrote a rap version of the Canterbury Tales so that his students would pay attention. A biologist asked him to do for Darwin what he had done for Chaucer so he studied evolutionary theory for a few months and then wrote this show. It was funny and absorbing and I really liked it. He not only rapped, but he explained competition among males of a species according to principals of evolutionary biology and then showed a gangster rap video that illustrated them. It was thoughtful and sweet and completely sincere niceness from a Canadian. He was so open about his feelings and his life, it sort of made me worried for him, I almost wanted to warn him about how English people brutalize you for showing your feelings. But I needn't have worried because one of the themes that emerged over the next nine shows was precisely this authenticity. This great ungroomed by Simon Callow, who-gives-a-shit-whether-this-makes-money-this-is-what-I-want-to-say rawness. Brinkman, like Plinko had this raw edge and its mesmerizing. Brinkman stuck it to creationists but good. Plinko sang songs about rape and suicide.

Next stop was a circus called Circa, recently in residence at a theatre in London, but the show was stopped ten minutes in when a fire alarm went off. Then the haul out to Pleasance for a show called Four Poofs and a Piano. Which was exactly like Just Jack from Will & Grace except with four camp gay men instead of one

That night was Plinko.

The next morning I hit a yoga class which was taught by this nasty mysoginist. This was a mistake as my other workout choice was a masterclass in Krunking at an Edinburgh dance studio. Krunking. Who in Scotland is teaching Krunking? I should have found out.

Then Sociable Plover. This was the surprise hit. It was the only thing available at that time slot. It's a phenomonal one act play. A twitcher is in a bird watching shed out in the marshes and a filthy guy in a suit with a gun wanders in. Expectations are elegantly reversed and the humanity of the characters shines through. The ending may need some work, but still, I adored it.

From Sociable Plover straight to Orphans, the hit at the Traverse. This play did not live up to the hype but it was still really good - a solid drama. And the acting was great. Is it me, or does the Traverse always have the best actors? The play opens with a couple having dinner and the wife's little brother walks in covered in blood. Great opening. The interaction between the three characters is mesmerizing. My fellow travelers where unenamoured with the very Mamet/Pinter repetition. It didn't bother me. Unlike Sociable Plover it had a great ending.

We then went to see a guy do a show called F*ckonomics which was billed as this ingenius explanation of relationships using economic principles but was not ingenius. I hate it when people do one-man shows and in telling stories of their lives they expose so graphically their failings as a human beings but they have no idea they are doing it. One sees so clearly the limitations of the person - their degree of self-knowledge -- in these one hour comedy shows. And it is awful. I think the guy's name was John Gordillo but it's not worth a Google. His observations were not at all insightful nor were they funny. I felt sorry for him but you know something? He has my eleven pounds to comfort him.

Next was a great show, another really sweet one, Tom Wrigglesworth's Open Letter to Richard Branson in which he recounts a true(ish) story of watching an old lady ripped off by a nasty conductor on a UK train journey. Wrigglesworth takes up a collection for her and is promptly arrested for begging. The show full of warm observations about the characters on the train and I felt oddly encouraged by it. There are good people out there. Wrigglesworth is funny, too. And I learned an interesting lesson about the reviewers at Edinburgh. I sat next to a very sweet one. He was crippled by a hangover to the point where he couldn't really carry on a conversation. He also seemed to be about 21 years old and had virtually no experience. Interesting.

Next was PowerPlant, a strange but wonderful installation of lights and sculptures and laser oddness at the Botanical Gardens. Our tickets were for nearly 11 at night and the installations were spread out over this huge, dark park. Inside greenhouses Bamboos exploded with neon as air induced vibrations buzzed your whole body. There was an organ that worked with bursts of fire. There was a smoke and laser creation - hovering UFO/flowers. Walking through them was disorienting and enchanting. Spectacle. Disorientation of the senses. It was great. I was really down on a spectical-based show a couple years ago called Fuerzabruta - again, not worth a Google, do not go. Fuerzabruta was a spectacle masquerading as theatre. This was pure spectacle.

The next morning before the train we were at another Traverse creation: Palace of the End. This was a Canadian playwright's take on the Iraqi war, three monologues: the woman pictured torturing the Iraqis in Abu Ghraib (Lyn England??), David Kelly and the wife of the leader of the Iraqi communist party at a time before Hussein was ousted.

I had strong feelings about this one. One one hand, it was sloppy theatre. The audience's relationship with the characters was never clear enough to understand why they were talking to us. And then there's the anti-war thing. I am hugely sympathetic to any theatre that condemns the was in Iraq. As long as it's good theatre. Don't just run with a topic and keep beating up the United States with sensationalist torture porn disguised as theatre. That's what I felt like I got instead of a story line in the first and third monologues. Despite this serious shortcomings, the ideas provoked by the monologues were so interesting. England and Kelly - it is very interesting what led each of them to do what they did. Kelly's was the best monologue but even that was marred by a gratuitous scene where U.S. soldiers rape a girl and kill a family.

Look, I am not saying there shouldn't be plays soldiers raping and torturing. I absolutely think there should be. But the torture has to have theatrical value and contribute to telling the story, not just be grafted on for the horrible dark thrill and creation of distress in the audience.

And what absolutely infuriated me was watching these idiot 20-somethings in the audience cry and cry - allowing themselves to be cheaply emotionally manipulated. Lord. Whipping up anti-American sentiment like that is easy. Let's see this Canadian woman write a real play instead. That is hard.

Then it was the train home.

Thursday, July 16, 2009

An Open Letter to All Republicans


This blog post started as an analysis of the Sarah Palin phenomenon. While criticising Sarah Palin is a rich and rewarding blood sport (and Jon Stewart and Tina Fey were pushed to new and ingenius heights of comedy doing so) I don't have time for it today. I have two kids and a job and I so very rarely time to write and so I need to cut to the chase. Thinking about Sarah Palin keeps bringing me back to this:

We need a stronger Republican party.

We need at least a two party system to maximize the health of America's government and that is vital right now. And of course I am delusional enough to think (i) I have a plan for that and (ii) a Republican will ever read this blog so.

So to the Republicans who I know and love:

What can we do to help you not be so very, very lame?

I'm kidding! Don't stop reading! SORRY.

Seriously, you guys need a unifying message and you need a leader. Right now, the real Republican voice is distorted by extremist voices speaking ridiculousness . You can and should be mounting a powerful, intelligent presence in the government.

So either unify the party or cut out the Right Wing Christians.

It won't be easy to unify the party: the RNC has long been a collection of disparate groups: small business owners, Wall Street, moderate Christians, right-wing fundamentalist Christians, the defense industry. My friend Tina, who is very smart, says that the RNC got Sarah Palin basically because the other guys were letting the right-wing fundamentalist Christians drive the bus. No more letting them drive the bus . It's not doing any favors to the intelligent, caring Christian moderate Republicans, Republican business owners or any of the other groups.

Stop the nosedive, RNC.

The Republicans need their own unifying message. Not "Obama Was Born In Kenya" or "Obama The Socialist Antichrist Ushering in an Era of Darkness". I suggest something more constructive for our fragile world, like "Fiscal Accountability"*.

(I agree that this deficit is a frightening thing but don't be fearmongers: tell us how you can fix it. One way you can fix it is by demanding that the executive branch manage it closely. If you are statesmanlike enough to run on that unpopular platform, I'll vote for you.)

Has anyone at RNC headquarters thought about shifting focus to woo the Blue Dog Democrats by loosening up on some of the big ticket controversies: abortion, for instance, homophobia. Take all the Right Wing Fundamentalist Christians out of the equation and bring back the good qualities of the Republican Party.


(others please scroll ahead)

I was a Christian for some time (and kind of rightwingish on some issues for a while). When I believed a lot of what you believed, I concluded Christians should not be in politics as Christians. I respectfully suggest you should not be in politics.

The essence of Christianity is a choice - free will. In an oversimplified but accurate nutshell: you guys think the decision to follow or reject Christianity determines the fate of your soul in the afterlife. (I personally don't buy it, but there you go.)

If you agree the essence of Christianity is choice, oppressing potential converts with rules that prevent that choice (I'm not talking about the criminal code here, but the Right Wing anti-abortion, anti-sex education, anti-gay marriage agenda) you are effectively preventing people choosing Christianity. Don't prevent choice, make Christianity the most compelling choice. Jesus did not make himself a compelling choice by passing laws, did he?

And aren't you worried that your agenda is kind of punitive, because certainly Christians are not supposed to judge others, right, let alone punish them.

Ah, but you say you're not in it for the converts or the punishment, you are in politics to prevent people from sinning. In fact, in the case of abortion, you are in politics to prevent young girls from murdering babies. If that is the case, then your best option under the rules of Christianity is to LOVE those girls, give them what they need, help them.

I'm not sure this is the case, but perhaps you are in politics to gain power FOR Christianity. But that can't be right. If you think the church should have power to tax and spend or imprison - then you are not following the teachings of Jesus, he was all about powerlessness.



What was attractive about Sarah Palin was her endless faith in herself. It is a quality she shares with Bill Clinton. Bill Clinton believed (and at the time who knows maybe he was right) that no matter what the best thing for America was that he continue in the presidency. He really thought that. The capacity for tortuous self doubt just doesn't exist in some people. The lack of that gene may in fact be a requirement of politics,

Could you please find someone like Palin and Clinton to lead the Republicans? Who has endless faith in themselves? And if they have faith in God, make sure they have enough so that they don't need to legislate God's power, but rather that their lives become a testament to it by their service to all people.

(Hint: Not Michael Steele)

* or even - and I would of course oppose this but it seems to be a common ground - "Preserving Our Heritage".

Thursday, June 25, 2009

Witnessing Neda Die

I watched the youtube 39 second video recording. I am 42 years old, and I had never watched anyone die. I don't think, as some Salon writers are saying, that it is damaging or wrong to watch it. To explain why requires me to talk about what happens in those 39 seconds, so be warned.

Neda is laid on the street by some men, one of whom is reportedly her father (some sources say art teacher). Her face is not contorted in pain. Her huge dark eyes dart to the camera, up, left and back again. And again. What I saw was life. She wanted to keep it. What a sacred force was there, around her face, in her arms. What a sacred force life is and what a privilege it is to even be alive and have this force in ourselves.

After a few seconds blood comes in rivers through her nose and mouth. It happens with such rapidity and force that it was difficult for me to comprehend at first.

The camera stays on her face. Her eyes are open. She seems to be looking even then for a way to stay alive. Other people say she looks calm. Not to me. She looks like she wants to live.

Unseen men around her cry out in pain. The audio is uncivilised animal pain at the departure of this life force and I couldn't help but think how every single person (even English people) have this raw connection to the people around them. Truly we are social animals and we need each other.

Then the video ends abruptly and I couldn't tell for a split second whether it had ended or whether the world stood still for her.

I cried a lot after.

So this writer for Salon said yesterday it was justified to watch videos of torture, like waterboarding, to understand it, but not justified to watch Neda die because it was just some sort of snuff porn.

I don't feel like a porn consumer, I feel like a witness. I am a witness - we are all witnesses. To this thing in Iran and to the desecration of life. I wish I could be useful as a witness, but I don't know how I can be. I don't think that making my twitter icon green is going to help that much.

It helped me though, because I am now constantly reminded of this huge thing inside me - this life force, and that it should be honoured. I have been depressed and found life a burden, and this showed me it is also a magnificent, holy gift.

Friday, June 5, 2009

Four Hours Sharpening The Axe

The stigma in this country about mental illness is still pretty bad. And there are such serious downsides to diagnosis and treatment. This is one area where it is better to be in the United States. In England, my mental illness has made me uninsurable for life or disability, unable to hold a driver's license and, as far as I read the UK Disabilities Act, my employer's decision to terminate my employment because of my mental health history would arguably be legal. Of course I think if it came to it I could win that case.

I have suffered from depression since the late eighties, I was diagnosed bipolar in 2001 and I had a full-blown psychotic episode after the birth of my son. I have had intense intermittent depression since then, but on the whole. my management of the illness has been pretty good. I am willing to congratulate myself publically on this. My management of my illness is far from perfect, and I still have symptoms, but the experience of the symptoms, I have come to figure out, is nothing less or more than the experience of life. And you owe it to everyone you love to fight as hard as you can to have the best experience of life as you can. Parenthood in my experience really intensifies that obligation. So that means accepting the symptoms you can't change and changing the ones you can. It turns out you can do a lot to change your symptoms. It requires a lot of work, however. A lot of education and analysis.
Abraham Lincoln said that if he had six hours to chop down trees, he would spend the first four hours sharpening the axe. Managing a task requires a lot of preparation. I'm not going to kid you. He's right on that and the four hours sharpening the axe are not necessarily fun. They include:

1. Managing your medication: any psychotropic med, whether a sleeping pill, caffeine, a diet pill. an MAOI, an SSRI, a cigarette, alcohol, pot, an anti-convulsant or anti-psychotic, any one at all has an upside and a downside, and these you must know and consider. My friend Nick always says the large print giveth, but the small print taketh away. Know it. Live it. Track it on a chart so you know what these meds are doing to you. Your job is to salvage your consciousness and in my view all of these drugs are fair game, but must be managed intelligently. Most have too many downsides for anyone to use, or must be used in the strictest moderation. Too much prozac, for instance, or zoloft, and you may not be sad, but you also really don't know what's going on. And that's not really ok for the long term. You owe it to the people you love to love them, and that kinda means finding out what's going on with them. So I will repeat the advice of a Shreveport shrink I loved briefly and platonically on you have to be an angry consumer of everything if you really want to get better. You have to figure out if it is helping or hurting and press the psychopharmacologist or whomever for as much reality as you can handle. And meds are really only one part of a pretty large arsenal you should be using. Because you also need:

2. Some kind of talk therapy: you need to learn to control your illness by making yourself as mentally healthy as you can be. And this requires a fearless and nonjudgmental -- well, theoretically fearless, but I find it terrifying -- assessment of your patterns in relationships and your ability to understand and interact with other people in order to improve it. You have to keep finding your weakest points and addressing them, and you have to keep unlearning ancient habits of your family and, man, it just sucks ass every single time. But each time I do it I become wiser, I become more tolerant. I say less, I appreciate what I have more, in short I am healthier.

3. Exercise (check out for a study on the effects of exercise on depression) The more I can fit into my schedule, the better I am.

4. Fish Oil (they say 3,000 mg a day, I take 2,000 but am considering increasing it, a DHA EPA blend) (this one is especially important if you are screwing with your neurotransmitters with a prescription drug)

5. Optional but man, worked for me: some kind of bodywork - massage, reiki, acupuncture . . . I had really good results with the Alexander Technique, my therapist wrote an article about it at

6. Optional but it works for me: the arts. Plays, novels, finding out how other people think about their world.

Keeping yourself alive and well is a vote of confidence in this world, in the lives of your children and friends and parents and the people who love you. Life is a force, and if you let it, it will help you.

Sunday, May 31, 2009

A Story Owain Made Up

Owain is five and he spends many of his waking hours making up exciting stories in his head. He is going to hit his Malcolm Gladwell 10,000 hours by about age 11. I ask him about his stories all the time and they almost seem to be organized by book and chapter. We had "The Story That Never Ends with the Baddies That Never Stop Coming." That was painfully derivative material (scooby doo and power rangers) , but, when he acted the storied going on in his head out, I found a real difference in the character's voices and a burgeoning ability to create a conflict, move the plot forward to a climax and resolve the story.

The Baddies That Never Stop Coming were like the Crazy 88 from Kill Bill - fast, plentiful and likely to jump out at you from anywhere. He saw this story so clearly that he really had trouble paying attention at school. You would too if you were about to be attacked by Dark Rai or perhaps a giant brown bear.

His latest one is much calmer - it's called Baby Animals and the backstory is as follows. One day while Owain and Daddy were playing on the beach in Florida, a vast tribe of invisible baby animals spotted them and decided to live with them and let them be their new owners. The baby animals had been mistreated by their earlier owners (mistreating = they were not allowed to watch Ben 10 and they had never been to the cinema) and had been on a trek through Paris, Africa, the jungle and Central Park in New York City. (I unashamedly brainwash him on Paris, New York and other cities being great - I have to counteract my husband) Anyway, there are ten of each kind of animal in the world - theoretically -- the tens that have featured so far have been baby jaguars, eagles, mice, tigers, cheetahs and turtles. One of the tigers is named Stripe. When we drive anywhere, I get an update on which baby animals are sleeping on my head or in my pocket.

Owain also comes up with these gorgeous cinematic pictures: on the way to school one morning, he told me that they were all fanned out behind us in a huge V that stretched halfway down the road, some flying, some running, the turtles crawling as fast as they could. That day, the baby mice kept tickling my ankles.

On Friday we were playing hide and seek (with the baby animals, we do many things with them) and when I thought it was Owain's turn, he decided it would be Stripe's instead. So we counted to twenty-five and let him hide, which to me seemed an unfair advantage, since he is invisible already.

And now the story:

When we opened our eyes to look around, Owain pointed at the chimney and said that maybe Stripe went up there. We sent the baby mice up - well, in the end only one was brave enough to go up - but by the time the mice got down to report, Stripe had got away. Owain pointed out that since Stripe was so fast, we had to send a baby cheetah to track him. We sent one, but the cheetah didn't get very far. Suddenly, we saw a blur as Stripe climbed up the sleeve of Owain's dressing gown - which involved quite a perilous jump --and then gave a wild flying leap into a cluttered corner of toys. We decided that he was such a good hider - and, again, invisible -- we would have to figure out where he was hiding like it was a riddle.

"He likes to go to new places, Mummy."

We discussed it and then Owain then found Stripe hidden inside Owain's rolled up map of the world. He had been looking at the map to find new adventures and had fallen asleep.

After we found Stripe we took a break from Hide and Seek so I could order the pizza.

I know I'm his mother and would love to be a playwright more than anything in this world but I still think this is a pretty good story.

Tuesday, May 26, 2009

Prop 8 and the Dallas Principles (and my monologue)

So a monologue I wrote was performed at the ADC in Cambridge on 17 May and it was purely, purely autobiographical. A mother in a kitchen in Cambridge tries to write a play but is interrupted by her children's and family's needs. Pretty simple. The end is good though: in the end, the mother runs out to stop a crying baby and just doesn't come back to the waiting laptop.

The very professional producer, director and actor treated the character in the monologue as completely fictional and discussed her at length at rehearsals. I was there. This is what the director said:

"There are three women at war in one woman: a mother, a writer and a former professional who misses her old life. And the three voices are identifiable in each line of the monologue."

Hearing something like that is better than therapy. Of course it helped that the Director brought her one-year-old to rehearsals and he frequently interrupted proceedings.

On the night it was pretty well received, none of the English people laughed at the jokes but in the audience discussion after the plays, I felt that great swell of empathy: many mothers in the audience appreciated the expression of frustration in the monologue. It was good.

But tonight I am all trial lawyer, baby, and that brings me to today's ruling from the California Supreme Court. They could possibly be advocates of chaos theory. Making a random handful of same-sex couples in California legally married and others denied that right by accident of a window of time is seven flavors of crazy. But maybe that was the idea.

Indulge me: (see perhaps earlier post re Lincoln) I am no expert in American history, but prior to the Civil War, didn't the U.S. have this completely random patchwork of laws as to the status of slavery, freed slaves, rights of states to collect runaways: I mean the whole thing was so confused and stupid - the last sputtering of a system rightly conquered by the strength of democracy. Ready to collapse under the weight of its own irrationality. (Iowa? Really?) Those judges are hanging out in Sacramento laughing over their Sankas: "It's so fucked up!"

This is a rights issue that our government needs to remedy. GROW A PAIR AND GET IN THE FIGHT! How can the Feds sit back and spend our money and micro-manage the car industry and not step in on this increasingly important issue in America? I don't mean the courts should step in (although that day is coming) - I mean Obama. I want the executive branch to take a stand on this rights issue. They should adopt the Dallas Principles (the recent statement by gay rights leaders). The House and Senate should adopt them too.

And if our government remains silent on this, we need to make a louder noise.

Owain and Rosa at Rutland Water

Wednesday, May 20, 2009

Kings of Heaven / Chief Justice John Roberts/ Abraham Lincoln / W

The school my son attends is laying it on thick with the Jesus being the King of Heaven schtick. Like, the only King of Heaven. So we have been working at home to populate heaven with a few other important people. For instance Allah, Yahweh, Shiva, Confucius, Buddha, Ghandi. You get the idea. I went to hear a talk on Abraham Lincoln by the Chief Justice of the U.S. Supreme Court recently and Abraham Lincoln is definitely a King of Heaven.

Because for me the criteria for becoming a King of Heaven is whether or not their virtue makes my heart sing. Or maybe it is also they just make my heart sing. So I think Nina Simone and Dusty Springfield are definitely Kings of Heaven. And I think Jo Malone and the perfumes she makes. And I think Mahler.

So anyway, I want to tell you about the Chief Justice who may well be a King of Heaven. My father-in-law is Sir David Williams (definitely one) and he is so precipitously cool that there is an endowed lecture series in his honor at Cambridge. And the lecturers they find! Ruth Bader Ginsburg (who was very cool and thought Owain was cute, which made me love her more) and Sandra Day O'Connor (before I met Rhys). A couple years ago - 2002 -- they had the Chief Justice of the New Zealand Supreme Court. On the way to that one (this was before kids and we were living in London) Rhys and I had a few glasses of wine on the train. And in my defense the world was being swept with Lord of the Rings mania. And also in my defense my London hairdresser was from New Zealand and had worked on the movie. (This turned out to be a lot less cool than I thought when I found out she had only styled orc extras). So anyway, I threatened to ask the Chief Justice about differences in Elvish and Hobbit law, and whether he lived in the same town as Frodo and Samwise. I was really working up the scarily ignorant American persona. For some reason I never will understand, we somehow never made it to the lecture and just joined the reception after. I suspect Rhys might have somehow engineered this because he thought I would really ask the question. And to be fair to him I am not above trying a joke in a crowd if I think I can get a big laugh.

This year was the Chief Justice and the man is ludicrously charismatic - a Jimmy Stewart glow and Gene Kelly's smile. And the brain on that man. Listen to this one. During the question period after the lecture on Lincoln, an Irish grad student (God bless those fighting Irish) asked the Justice whether he thought the Bill of Rights was essentially a statement of civil liberties of Americans or whether it was actually a statement of human rights, of universal rights. And the Chief Justice said without hesitation "'We hold these truths to be self evident' . . . well, I don't see how a truth can only be self-evident in North America." God bless him. Isn't that fabulous? And this guy was appointed by W himself.

Rhys and I also bothered the security detail at the dinner: it was one guy, a very Marine-ish looking agent who is in a special division of Judiciary Police who guard the Justices. He said he thought The Chief was in fine form. My husband, because he is a boy, asked the agent what weapons he was carrying in case trouble broke out. We were at an academic reception so the chances for trouble were pretty low in my estimation. And I guess the Agent's. Who made two fists and said he would be relying on 'cemetary' and 'hospital'. Is this some thing that everyone does in the States now? Name their fists? Things have gotten so tense over there.

The Chief Justice spoke about Lincoln and the extraordinary virtue of this man so committed to insuring that a government by the people, of the people and for the people shall not perish from the earth. And he also spoke about the founding fathers. He mentioned, also, I think, in the question period that the founding fathers of our country were so committed to the same idea that they risked their lives --hanging. That in fact it was a pretty unlikely outcome that the U.S. as a project worked. But they believed in it. Virtuous. Maybe that's a decent definition of virtue: betting your life on a good idea. I wish people spoke more about virtue in the public discourse. Hearing one of the most important people in the U.S. government speak openly about his admiration of the founding fathers' and Abraham Lincoln's virtue was good. Again, a W appointee. Dear reader, if you voted for Bush you have a bullet-proof partial vindication here.

What the Chief Justice totally didn't mention but I will is that if the founding fathers had risen up against the W administration, they would have been killed, waterboarded, imprisoned.

And what distinguishes these extremist groups that were killed, waterboarded or imprisoned by our government within their own borders from our founding fathers?

But would it be such a terrible idea in the name of world peace for the U.S. State Department to give these guys audience? To read what they were writing? Our guys wrote that they held certain truths to be self evident, that all men are created equal and endowed with certain inalienable rights . . . We could read something short like that, couldn't we? Invite some kind of open letter? When it's out there, we can read it. They may have some grievances about the behaviour of the United States within their borders that should be made known. If not, how good would it look on the world stage if someone in the government was listening to them. Not as the enemy, but as a fellow citizen of the world. Would that be so bad? I think it may be reasonable to conclude that our understanding of the messages from these extremist groups (I include Iran and Argentina, who the United States has not listened to for a decade) during the Bush Administration may just have been a little distorted. Can we get some more accurate information from the current administration?

I am not being naive on this point. There are a lot of extremely sexist, racist mullahs in London and what I have seen translated in protests made my blood boil. The shit they pulled in Denmark was seven flavours of evil. The shit about women you would not believe. A lot of what people say could well be garbage. But wouldn't it still be a good idea to see if maybe there are things that would be fixable - transgressions made by our own military in occupying foreign sovereigns, perhaps? Maybe they knocked over someone's house or something and they want reparations. Can we sift through it for good ideas? Maybe make it an arbitration case. Don't worry - big international arbitrations go on for years and move so slowly that by the time there is an outcome, everyone has kind of emotionally moved on.

The talk Roberts gave was on Abraham Lincoln and the Supreme Court and how the guy basically got the best government possible by putting together people he didn't necessarily like -- who had in fact been outspoken critics of Lincoln or run against him in office -- that he thought would be good. He rose above any personal prejudices and made friends with people like Salmon Chase and Seward. For the good of this good idea - that true democracy shall not perish from the earth -- he did this.

Well, world peace is also a really good idea and it should be a priority of our governments. I realize their current priority is giving every last scrap of money to the banks, but maybe it shouldn't be. (Geithner has got to grow a pair and give it to the banks. I will lend him my angry pants).

The left are making fun of the teabag protests that happened in the U.S. recently, but I have to say, I have some sympathy for them. They are not unrepresented in exchange for their taxes, they are represented by people who are giving the banks a lot of money. The speed in which we are racking up unprecedented public debt worries me too. Maybe the government should take a afternoon off from handing out the money and running the auto industry and think about Abraham Lincoln and virtue and the words of the Chief Justice of the Supreme Court.

What if the Chief Justice is right and the Bill of Rights could be interpreted as a statement of human rights? Think about the implications. Think about the good ideas. It is not too late for us too to take our shots at being Kings of Heaven.

Monday, April 27, 2009

Dancing to sleep: The Playlist

Liberty is four and a half months old and this is what we danced to this evening:

1. Non-stop Wombling Summer Party, Best of the Wombles. If you are American, just let this one slide.

2. Lullaby Baby Blue, Keb Mo

3. Frosty the Snowman , The Spectorettes (Don't judge: Phil Spector was a musical genius without whom we would be much poorer culturally. If Spector and the Beach Boys hadn't been competing on the "wall of sound" style, imagine how much poorer we would be. No Help Me Rhonda? I don't want to live in that world. He nearly deserved to get away with murder.)

4. Icecream Man, David Lee Roth

5. Got My Mojo Working, Muddy Waters (I got my mojo working, but it just don't work on you.)

6. Frog Went A Courtin', Bruce Springsteen and the Seeger Sessions Band.

Now she's asleep. I recommend these and the incomparable classic album entitled No! by They Might Be Giants, Latin Lullabies and the second movement of Beethoven's fifth piano concerto (for sleeping - it is a soft piece throughout which makes it great for babies and it is one of the greatest compositions ever written for piano).

Weddings: A Natural Comedic Venue (or maybe it's me)

So I just got back from a wedding in Delft. The tagline for the wedding (and I kid you not, there was a tagline, it was extremely well organized) was "Dutch guy meets American woman and the rest is history."

The American woman in question was my old next door neighbour from London. She was living next to me on one of the streets in West Hampstead with a very broad socio-economic spectrum. She was recently widowed and had a charismatic son name Zach (on whom my son Owain epically projectile vomited blueberry porridge in one splendid babysitting episode).

I took it upon myself to organize a horah for them. I have a very bad habit of organizing interesting things at weddings (well, two things but impressive: a low-speed car chase in Maine which ended in a choral mash-up of Lullaby of Broadway into We Will Rock You and a bride kidnapping under the nose of the secret service in Lafayette Square in Washington which involved a small army of Berliners, four locations and the entire bridal party sprinting up Connecticut Avenue)

At my wedding, which was a Welsh American to a Welsh guy in Wales, there was an impromptu modified Horah danced - they put us in chairs for Summer Nights from the Grease soundtrack. It was a perfect mash-up of cultural traditions and it was a happy moment. Happiness for me is hard to come by, so I remember.

I love weddings because they feature Champagne and because no matter where you are in your life, you are there in that moment to celebrate two people trying to be happy and to lift them up and wish them well. You can be happy at weddings. (I think it is stupid and evil that law and religion prohibit everyone who wants one from getting one.) Weddings are good. And funny things happen in weddings. Like a 41-year-old WASP American blonde trying rally enough people to carry the chairs and consequently attempting to explain the intracies of the Horah to an increasingly drunk and decreasingly multi-lingual bunch of Dutch guys. Then there was the issue of the band (who were fabulous) not knowing Hava Nagila. They actually called a break to have a sit down meeting with me and my husband in a conference room adjacent to the museum. The room was littered with their various groupies. It felt very authentic. Since they didn't know Hava Nagila, I just asked them what song they really liked playing and we picked Mustang Sally. Look, Hava Nagila means Let Us Rejoice and ain't nobody rejoicing if the band isn't playing a song they know. Let the band rejoice, I guess, too. They said they would play it in about an hour.

With an hour to hydrate and worry, I starting thinking about the relatives. Having made every substantive decision concerning the plan and having executed it to my reasonable satisfaction, I asked for input from all older Jewish relatives in attendance that I could find. Then, since things seemed to be going so well I decided to push my luck by trying to get Dutch women to lift up Linda with me. I mean, I thought that the shifty, burly and maybe a little tiny bit drunk Dutch guys could lift Adrie and Linda but I don't think it's the right message if it's all men lifting up the bride and the groom. The women lift them up too, of course. So I play the feminist angle to these impossibly glamorous Dutch women near the bar and they say they are in.

The music started, Rhys and I got the chairs out, we sat them down. The dance went off reasonably well. The success is down to Rhys. He basically did the waist to shoulder dead lift of 280 pounds. And I did it for Linda, but I only had to jerk about 87 pounds including the chair. If I have one small quibble with the execution, it is that a lot of the women were putting a symbolic finger on the chair rather than shouldering the weight. But actually, the whole dance went great. Better than reasonably well, because it was a physical manifestation of the ritual of a wedding: a raising up of the bride and groom in the hands of the people who wish you well. So it was wonderful and people caught on and got in the dance. I always pull reluctant people onto the dance floor and it is an obnoxious party fascist habit (My roomate of many years Tracy gave me the name Party Fascist and she was right - damn right - Fascists are efficient) I pull people who look like they want to dance onto the floor (I once did it to an entire bar we walked by in Key West) and I don't regret it, never ever. We circled them around each other and then paraded them around the dance floor. Then the circles formed. It was good.

The next morning, I eavesdropped on all the older relatives. They were all talking about the horah. Look, I am usually a big hater and don't want to come across like some kind of hippy freak, but that wedding has got me on a happy buzz that has lasted until Tuesday.

Thursday, March 26, 2009

Other components of butterflies

So on Owain's birthday, an envelope arrived with seven nearly microscopic worms. He named them all "Crunchy Dog" (I try to be supportive). Six weeks later we have two butterflies and two chrysalli from which the Cabbage White Larges could emerge at any second. I have found the whole thing pretty exciting and must confess a thrill when the Crunchy Dogs created their cocoons. An admirable stillness overtook them for days beforehand, and then in less than an hour, they became cocoons.

Everyone loves a butterfly, they are really marketed as a symbol of the triumph of transformative experiences. As people from Corning sang growing up:

Something took that caterpillar as he slept that day
Woke him up and gave him wings and helped him fly away
People too can live in shells afraid of being free
But whatever changed that little worm can change both you and me.

Certainly people dig butterflies for this anthropomorphic point. But now that I have some first-hand lepridopterology experience, I would like to point out some of the dark underside of whatever changed that little worm:

1. Loads of shit. All they eat as caterpillars is cabbage and brussels sprouts and they have deposited about a cup of smelly little poop pellets in the habitat.

2. An eighth of their body: When the caterpillar creates the chrysalis, it digests most of its own body. I can't help but think that hurts. Particularly brutal is when the back centimeter of their body drops off. The floor of the habitat is littered with seven amputated caterpillar asses. Gruesome.

3. Mysterious brown liquid. Which plops out of the chrysalis just before the butterfly emerges. Foul.

4. No inate flying skills: Every time the two butterflies try to fly, they fall like stones to the floor. It's very gentle comedy.

So change - real change - is messy, smelly, painful and humbling. And scary.

Saturday, March 21, 2009

Why I do not identify myself as a Christian any longer

I don't know who even cares about this except me, but I do care and also, if I were one of the people who knew me on Facebook either from college or law school, I would be curious as to why a person who was a very devout Christian, really, in some ways, up until 2000 was now a pagan/epicure according to Facebook.

I went to a Christian college, Wheaton, where I got a seriously good education. I went after an evangelical upbringing, in which sin and hell were serious concepts presented to pre-schoolers as something that may well be in their future. Very bad. I was threatened with hell for not working on The Great Commission. But more on that later.

Before I got to Wheaton, I began to embrace a much more liberal Christianity I had to to reconcile all the drinking and smoking I was doing out on Santorini the summer before. But still, when I arrived, and when I was there, I believed completely in God and felt like I experienced God through worship. I also was indoctrinated -- unconsciously by any one person but as a cumulative effect of living in the culture -- as a raging homophobe, a rabid unthinking opponent of protection of abortion rights, anti-Darwin. You have no idea. The student body of that college voted 95% Republican in the 1988 election.

It was not really me, and I retaliated by being the nightmare student in theology classes raising her hand insistently to ask whether the professor really thought every buddhist, taoist, jew and muslim on the planet was going to end up in hell. I was critical of the religion even while I was there. But I still found enough in the core doctrines and the words of Christ to hang on. So much so that when I went to law school after college, I taught Sunday school in an Episcopal church in Porter's Square in Cambridge, Mass.

William Weld, the governor of Massachusetts, attended the church - it was called, like, St. Peter's or St. Paul's. But either way, during the prayers of the people, the congregation members would stand up and pray. The prayers seemed very strange to me until I understood they were praying to Weld:

"And lord, when bill number 1-7-0-8 appears on the governor's desk for signature between the 13th and 18th of March, please, God, give our governor the wisdom to sign it . . .

I didn't care. Not only was I a church member (my ability to show up to church after staying up all night drinking was the tiniest bit legendary at 6 Exeter Park) I was the poster girl for Christianity on the Civil Rights - Civil Liberties Law Review. I wrote an article about the theology of civil rights, how Christ taught the essence of Christianity is not coercion but allowing people to choose that path they want to follow, and how protection of this principle should stand true in our governments as well as our religions. I spoke at gay rights rallies about how Christianity had no basis in the words of Christ for turning away gays (how little most Christians care about that point). I prayed. I was into it.

And then after losing a big trial in 2000, I went to my parents' for Easter. My brother came too. I attended Easter Vigil and then struggled all night with the horrible thing I had realized at the vigil: that I didn't buy it. That the birth and resurrection of Christ had no more claim to the truth as the Muslim scriptures regarding the holiness of combat, or the Buddhist scriptures of the enlightenment of Buddha. When I appraised my own beliefs that long, icky night, I was forced to conclude that what I truly believed in and the tenets of Christian doctrine - like the Apostles Creed - were really, really not the same thing. They weren't even overlapping circles.

The very people I loved the most in the world had been badly victimized by Christianity - homosexuals. Despite its sublime history as a religion willing to engage with great thinkers, Christianity seemed to be getting more and more stupid. And its take on art (terrified of modern dance, heavy theatre censorship) was maybe even worse than Communist Russia. At least the Russkis had some style.

I also felt The Great Commission too strongly. The Great Commission is a Christian doctrine that holds that it is the responsibility of all Christians to go out among non-Christians and hustle up some converts, pronto. They laid The Great Commission Porn on strong at Wheaton, all those chapels devoted to the worship of idiots who called themselves missionaries and got themselves killed by the local heathens for being annoying. This was a path to heroism.

So by the time I got up Easter morning, I could not go to Church and pretend that this resurrection had any special meaning that put it above any other religion. Doctrinally and scripturally (if not actually), Christians believe their beliefs superior to others. This is too short a path - just add a few words- "Christians believe themselves to be superior in beliefs (and therefore superior) to others." I know this is not always the case - yes, I know that. But it frequently is. Too much for me to waste any more of my life energy trying to reconcile what I wanted to believe with what I was supposed to believe.

I mourned for a long time my separation from the Church. I posted this very sad entry on ("Poster Girl For Christianity"). I am sure that even now I am not over it, I do love what Jesus had to say, and I love Rudolph and The Grinch . . . I am very, very fortunate to have a husband who is essentially an atheist, and it is great to be able to take religion out of the equation. For a long time, I thought that even as an ex-Christian I could still respect my religion, and some Anglican parishes I truly can. But I can't respect any sect that does not accept every single person. And not many do.

If Christianity really was the best Christianity I ever knew: the brilliant writings of Frederick Buechner, the strange and powerful Joe McClatchey, the strength that comes from faith in the resurrection . . . the huge appetite for uncertainty and intellectual challenge, well, I would still be a Christian. But those things have become the least of what Christianity is about. So much so that I had to say good bye.

If someone could come up with a version of Christianity that featured no hell below us, above us only sky and the intellect of St. Augustine, then maybe I could sign up. Oh, wait, isn't that Star Wars?

Friday, March 20, 2009

For My Pregnant Friend

A friend of mine, who in some ways I know very well and in some ways I do not know at all, told me recently she was pregnant and, since she is north of forty, scared.

You have an incredibly useful skill set for parenthood already, believe me, a career that involves assessing people, judging mood, figuring out how to frame a question. Are you kidding me? Your daughter is this little bundle of human mystery for you to figure out and you are pretty much better at doing that than most people on the planet.

After birth: Don't let fear get the better of you. I really did in my first pregnancy, and the fear really spiralled in the face of sleep deprivation. Your first priority, more than anything else, is for you to sleep and you can only do this if you sleep when the baby sleeps. Screw everything else.

Birth: I had a 39 hour premature labor with baby one and a 40+ hour induced labor hell with baby two. They wouldn't have been as bad if I wasn't beating up on myself so badly for succumbing to an epidural. You and I have climbed mountains together, friend, and maybe you will give birth in a pool after ten minutes with birds singing but if you don't and you go for pain relief, then forgive yourself instantly.

I found baby prep here to be ridiculously, religiously dogmatic. There were two religions: the Gina Ford super nanny uber-discipline church and the hairy legged breast-feed, natural childbirth, prenatal yoga -or-the-baby-will-be-crap church.

Luckily you are an intelligent person and you will not swallow either dogma as an article of faith but rather use your own judgment to add weapons to your arsenal in the parenthood wars from both religions. Rely on your own judgment, it has not yet steered you wrong, has it?

Enjoy and remember that if the mama isn't happy, then no one is happy.

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

You Are NOT Irish and you will NOT BE WEARING GREEN

My mother is Welsh and emigrated to the U.S. in the early sixties. To her, the Irish were the people who bombed innocent people in London, killed police and endangered a generation of children in Ireland. They were, essentially, terrorists. Lawless killers. Worse than that, they were the Celtic people who got all the good PR in the States.

The Irish have St. Patrick's Day, leprechauns, New York cop accents, Lucky Charms cereal, pots of gold at the end of the rainbow. What did the Welsh get? Nothing. We have a super cool flag with a dragon and promote leeks, which are very healthy, but no one really cares. In fact, "welsh" is kind of a depressing word. It means to be dishonourable and renege on a deal. (Welsh on a debt, for instance) I wrote a complaint letter to the Economist once: "Not to compare the plight of the Jews with the plight of the Welsh", I said, "but why are you saying the U.S. is "welshing" on foreign debt when you would never say the U.S. was "jewing down" interest rates on the debt?" It got nowhere. But I know I'm right.

I think the superior Irish PR has to be down to geographic distribution, right? The Welsh came to the U.S. and settled where there were mines, in rural Pennsylania. The Irish settled where there were gay parades, bar fights and police corruption, in Manhattan. O.k., I'm kidding, the Irish brought those things to Manhattan.

So I thought when I moved out of the States in 2001, I would be free of the whitewash job done by the red-headed midget in the green suit. I moved to London and a lot of Londoners have no time for St. Patrick's Day either. . .two sides to every story, you know, including the one between the IRA and the English, and no matter how you slice it a lot of bombs went off during the 70's and 80's in London thanks to the Greens (and a lot of those bombs were funded by passing the hat in bars in Manhattan).

But no such luck. My son's nursery was in Kilburn - they billed it as West Hampstead, but it was about 50 ft from Kilburn High Road, one of the most Irish parts of London. And I'll be goddamned if they didn't spend all of freaking March colouring little leprechauns and four-leaf clovers and rainbows and pots of gold - incredibly annoying. I had to do an intervention and give them Welsh flag dragon colouring sheets for St. David's Day. ( Much cooler than leprechauns) I also tried to do a mini-Eisteddfodd at my son's school - the Welsh singing festival (again, I know no one cares). I tried to scale it down for 3-year-olds. We ended up doing the chicken dance. The kids loved the chicken dance but now all the employees of Teddy's Nursery "West Hampstead" think that the Chicken Dance is Welsh. No - if you take one thing away from this blog, it's that the Welsh lay no claim to the chicken dance.

So back to my Mom. She was pretty incredulous when even in the small town in Western New York where I grew up, we were told by our teachers to wear green on St. Patrick's Day. To her this was obscene. We were absolutely forbidden to wear green ("You are NOT IRISH") and in fact, lately my mother has admitted that she scoured our wardrobes and dressed us in orange, the colour of the Nationalists. I am sure no one in Corning knew the significance of her dressing her children in organge, but I imagine it gave her some grim satisfaction. In fact, bitter, silent denigration of other Celts may be the single most Welsh thing my mother did. Well, that and perpetual Welsh cakes.

I actually am pretty unclear what it means to be Welsh. When I was at Oxford in the 80's, my boyfriend at the time walked past Jesus College (the Welsh college on Turl Street) with me and remarked (before he knew my mother was Welsh) that all Welsh are short, hypochondriacs and liars. I think this was my working framework for quite a while.

So maybe I'm jealous of the Irish with their superior PR. I certainly am jealous of their playwrights. Martin McDonagh, Conor McPherson, Frank Guiness, Enda Walsh, Brian Friel. Holy shit, they really do write the best plays. I think it has something to do with them being warlike.

Which is why it is absolutely killing me to watch the American show Star Wars: The Clone Wars. This animated tv show chronicles the adventures of Anakin Skywalker, Princess Padme, R2D2, Yoda and Obi wan Kenobi during the clone wars. There are a load of new characters too and the accents are hilarious. The blustering stormtroopers lacking self-awareness? Australian accent. The female sith lord? French accent. Of course. And best of all, the pacifist racoon people who colonized a remote planet rather than take sides in the Clone Wars? IRISH! That kills me! To hear these racoon healers spout Buddhist/Swiss peace talk in a thick Irish brogue - I am on the floor. IRISH? Irish people take sides in a pinball game! Someone make George Lucas go see the Leiutenant of Inishmore. Having Irish pacifists is kind of like having Welsh life coaches. OK, I know no one understands that. Which I guess is the point of this blog.

Friday, March 13, 2009

That Idiot Woman and Am I Just Torturing Mysel?

First of all, to Julie Ryerson who wrote the book about her son being on skunk: I do not want to read this book or even see you waste valuable "review" section newsprint. You write a book about your son and paint him as a bad person? You are without virtue or wisdom. Certainly every parent must take a good, hard look at themselves whenever they see things in their children they dislike. I think if you don't conclude you are in some way responsible, and include that in your book, then you essentially are blind to yourself. You are a complex character in the story of your own life, - not some two-dimensional hand-wringing sainted parent. Give yourself some credit and some blame. Honey, subconciously you wrote the book so that someone would step up to the plate and tell you this, so fine, I'll tell you. You are ignorant about yourself. I know a great shrink who could really help you. Mine. Self-awareness will vastly improve your writing and your relationship with your son.

Today my five-year-old son's teacher kept me at the gate and mentioned that something has to be done to help O's concentration. She was very kind and discreet and I totally agree. He has a killer imagination (kudos to me), but it is so interesting that he spends all his time there and very frequently is not engaged with what is going on. (blame to me) He is hopeless at completing a task without constant prodding. When left to his own devices, he will just pace in a room, saying different people's lines under his breathe. He calls it the story that will never end. When he shares them with me, I actually think they are pretty good. He's a natural for giving each character a distinctive voice. It is an inborn talent.

But he has a problem engaging with the world around him. When he was born, I had a tough time adjusting. In fact, I think I spent a lot of time pacing around rooms talking under my breathe about what I needed to do next, and overruling myself, and weighing efficiencies and all the fuckery of first parenthood. He was premature and frequently ill, and my encounters with the NHS escalated to exteme hostility very quickly because they were not providing the care I thought he needed. Also, I was also an American engaging with British culture at a very intimate level (birth).

But basically, I have to ask myself how much, during the crucial 0-3 patterning period, was I living inside my own head and unable to engage with what was in front of me. Unable to complete a task? Is he mimicking that?

And, you know, I have to ask myself a lot of questions and consider it dispassionately for a great while. I am sure I will think that I only have the answer in retrospect, anyway, this is always true in my life.

And I have to ask myself how I can change my own behaviour to help O learn to engage. I don't have a chance of changing his unless I change mine. Pretty basic psychotherapy. Luckily, there are many things in the parent arsenal: the bribe of Eurodisney earned through stars on a star chart, cosy talks in bed. By the way, Julie, your son will get worse and worse the more you follow the course you are on (which started when you were writing about him in a column, right?) - change yourself in order to change the dynamic.

And, Julie, I would only write a book if I had an intelligent answer worth reading to the above dilemma on both the cause and the cure.

And if I concluded that in the book and in my life I was going to exclude my son from my love and protection, well, then, I would realize that the book - and the story of my life - was not over and that it was my responsibility to write the story of my own life with a happy ending. No one else is going to do it for me, or for you. The conclusion is simply unsatisfactory. Try harder, bend and break yourself. No less is required of you. Especially you who would publish.

Perhaps you have concluded that the second home in the home counties this book will finance is your happy ending, and not a reconciliation with your son?

Friday, March 6, 2009

The Early Night Club

So this woman who does my facials gave me a card advertising The Early Night Club which sounds so good: I already have two mothers from Owain's class maybe interested in going. It's basically a dance party in the basement of a tapas restaurant. How good does that sound? Sangria, moving around, lulled into a hypnotic state . . . I miss dancing so much.

I was at a nightclub in DC one hot summer night when I was 24 and my date at the time pointed out that I was not going to go to nightclubs for the rest of my life. Well, being a hardcore nightclub attendee (Cabaret Metro in the late 80's in Chicago - the CBGBs of the John Hughes set) back in the day, I was furious at him. OF COURSE I would be going to nightclubs for the rest of my life. That was 1991. Well, seventeen years later, that guy was right. I only get to dance at weddings and dance parties with my son in my kitchen and damn, it's not good. I want to move around, get my heartrate up, lose myself dancing around. So this club is £5 (cheaper than therapy) and promises to play dance music from, like, 7:30 until midnight on a Thursday night. Like my old jazz teacher Doug Yeuell used to say, you have to dance to feed your soul. So I am calling the babysitter.

This Is The Creepy Side Of The English: The Jade Goody Death Watch and toilet paper

I wanted to write about my life now, how my mind buzzes with ideas about the sitcom with Colby, Blake's play, my own work, I've been dying to write all day. But my baby has been crying and creating liquid events so no dice.

But then my husband, who is a 43-year-old partner at Bird & Bird, comes home this evening (in time for pizza night) (they only have dominos in the uk; DON'T JUDGE) and says that people are wondering whether Jade Goody would make it through the weekend. For my husband to mention a pop culture event like this, it has to be big. Big. And the papers are calling Jade the new Diana and I feel like I am watching the UK get its grief on - a collective emotional release of a emotionally constipated people.

I watched the Big Brother UK that she was on sporadically and she was comically ignorant but she had a big heart and an interesting spirit. So she was a bitch sometimes. All of the interesting women I know are bitches sometimes. It comes with the territory.

So anyway, in the UK public opinion/focus is so homogenous (too big for a theme park, too small for a country) that there is this weird thing going on where a lot of people are letting themselves mourne at once, a strange rock concert, collective consciousness moment. The flowers that will be at her gate. . . the collectible plates. The death of Diana was a truly global event

We speak so little of dying in Western Culture and this is proof positive of the mistake. This overwhelming collective need to share in a death. This almost glorification of it. Face it head on.

We as a culture need to face a lot of things head-on. Alison Benjamin wrote an article in Thursday's G2 entitled "We don't need it - that's the bottom line on toilet paper". You can kinda get the point from the headline, and she was saying that other less neurotic cultures can clean themselves after defecating and the environmental price of toilet paper is steep - so why can't we just get over it and learn the methods?

Well, it's hard to change people's relationship with their bodies, but that may be what it takes to make the world a better place. (This article made it look like toilet paper was using up all the trees in the world)

I personally sorta blame Christianity for the distant and unfulfilling relationship many of us have with our genitals. Especially gay people. Blake's play makes the point that in American military culture it is far more forgiveable to have a random drunken sexual encounter than to foster a healthy same sex relationship. I attribute this to Christian culture's message of sin and forgiveness. I have friends and family who are believers I respect, but my path must be what it is, which involves pointing out the many negative psychological effects of a born-again Christian upbringing. And

Tuesday, March 3, 2009

My Son Considers You A Superhero And That's All The Religious Instruction He'll Be Getting

My son assumes every progagonist of every narrative he hears is a superhero using his or her powers for good. I recommend you try it.

I have been. I get to cast myself as someone brave, confident, watchful, hardworking, strong, insightfu, protective of people who need protection and worthy of respect. I get to cast myself as someone who has the necessary powers. If there is any saving to do, I have to do it myself - no one else is going to save me. I dig it.

Of course, to be true to my son's vision, I have to cast other people as superheroes as well. Which requires me seeing the mass of humanity I usually despise in a softer light. And requires me to mightily respect their choices and their powers. It's really a pretty useful way to see the world.

Much, much more useful and kinder to the pysche than the christian mythology I grew up with.

Batman, Superman, Spiderman, and The Incredibles - many for me and Owain to spend time with together. He was Superman for his first two Hallowe'ens and we go to see the kryptonite in the gems and minerals section of the Natural History Museum every time we go.

By becoming well-versed in the stories of superheroes, we have learned that sometimes superheroes do things that are bad and sometimes they do things that are good and same with the "bad guys" and the trick is to not decide that someone is bad or good in advance. The trick is to see what they do and judge what they do - why is Superman stopping that man? it's not cause he's the "bad guy", it is because he is hurting someone, or stealing something -- and not to think of people as bad or good at all. In fact, calling people bad or good is kind of a waste of time. Superheroes tend to be reasonable, which is a virtue of which I approve.

Listening to my son talk tonight, I realized heroes, superheroes and protagonists were all synonymous for him and I kinda liked it. Of course, this may be my own heroic justification for too much television.

When he was really little we did a lot with Superman. We both loved the Christopher Reeves movies (well, the first two, I find the third a little unwatchable) and really, really loved Brandon Routh in Superman Returns. (Especially because in Superman Returns, Lois Lane and Superman save each other) (and there is that killer, killer plane crash in Wrigley Field)

I would have immersed him in the important American story Star Wars before now but he insists on pronouncing it Star Whores, which would be funny if he were an ancient Hollywood agent embittered by Lucas's supremacy, but is just creepy coming out of the mouth of a five-year-old.

Friday, February 27, 2009

There Has To Be A Job In This

Hi, hi, hi. I'm an American expat in Cambridge, UK raising two children, Liberty and Owain. In some ways more interestingly, in 1996 I did a trial in DC District Court - I had Judge Roberts - called Williams v. First Government and that was the first time a federal court had ruled that local consumer protection legislation applied to mortgage loans. And the loan we litigated was the original sub-prime mortgage, a predatory loan. That loan had a surface compliance with every HUD-1, TILA, and RESPA obligation, but had margins and origins that made it "unconscionable".

In the pre-trial hearing, the lawyer for First Government argued that I should not be able to use the word "predatory" during the trial. I put my expert on the stand to say that he felt more appropriate words were "loan shark" and "usury". First Government backed off and the term predatory lending entered the lexicon of the trial, and, I dare say, some housing-related activist speech afterwards.

So now the U.S. Government has a stake in the banks, and the banks own these mortgages, in fact they are foreclosing on these mortgages and my question is, has anyone done any sort of analysis to determine whether or not these foreclosures are based on facts similar to Williams. Because whether or not the mortgagee is willing to press a claim or a lawsuit, we owe it to ourselves (since we are spending a lot of tax money on this) to only foreclose on the ones that are not unconscionable or usurious. (And ones that don't have TILA and RESPA obligations)

I think that since the financial products created from amalgamations of subprime mortgages are now owned, effectively, by the U.S. government, the U.S. government should know what happened and at least investigate, maybe on a mortgage by mortgage basis. I have bounced this idea off people and they have told me that the mortgage products, the collateralized financial products, are bunched up, chopped and diced and divided amongst banks and portfolios in a way that makes such review impossible. My responses are twofold: (1) you can reverse engineer anything - there is enough of a papertrial in modern banking - we reverse engineered all the transactions in U.S. v. ACM (tax court) (2) even if you can't ascribe blame or extract a financial penalty (although I think you can by reverse engineering) - going through these mortgages will have the effect of determining what percentage of the market is abusive and fraudulent. People are not going to stop buying houses, and this may be a good time for mortgage reform.

So in short, can someone please tell me if any measure of US government spending is going to answer these questions, because i would like to offer my services, especially if it pays enough to get me and my husband and children back to the United States, specifically, Washington. Washington was the place I felt like I belonged. I am now in a provincial outlying village in a small European country and I am dying to get out. Too big for a theme park, too small for a country, says my friend Tina who lived in Berlin for five years.

It's time to come home.

Mr. Williams, by the way, had eleven children and was illiterate, the son of a sharecropper in Georgia. His wife was the only one who could read. They got their house with federal assistance and paid it off, but after his wife died in the cross-fire of a crack dealer fight in 1991, in their neighborhood, he fell behind in paying the property tax. He tried to borrow the $1400 tax bill from banks but he was only given offers to re-mortgage the property. By the time the predatory lenders were done with him, he was about to be foreclosed on a $63,000 mortgage on his property. He only ever saw $4,000 of that money. (Amounts are approximate: the trial was thirteen years ago, but they are about right) The thing is, I spoke to so many other First Government mortgagees and I got a real sense that this kind of economic pirateering through disadvantaged neighborhoods was not uncommon. I don't think every mortgage violates the consumer protection law as set forth in First GOvernment, I just think some of them might, and it is worth knowing.