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.