Wednesday, July 22, 2009


My friend Renee called me today out of the blue.  I haven’t talked to Renee in a while though I didn’t realize how long.  “How are you?  Its great to hear your voice,” I said truly meaning it because if there’s one thing that can put a smile on my face it is Renee's unmistakable and very heavy Long Island drawl. “I’m good,” she said, her accent heavy as ever - a sort of plaintive east cost peninsula whine that is specific and oddly both repulsive and charming at the same time.  “I’m in my wedding dress.”  Oh dear, I thought to myself – she got married YEARS ago – was she having a breakdown?  Had she gotten married and divorced and remarried again?  “I’m playing Princess with Ava,” she said. Oh – I thought – thank god - she hasn’t lost her mind afterall.  “How cute!” I exclaimed, “That’s adorable.  How old is she now?  Two?”  “Five,” she replied (shit – am I really that out of touch?) “And it isn’t adorable.  I’ve been in my wedding dress every afternoon for a month now – my daughter is VERY willful.”

I had to laugh really.  The idea of my very bright, very work-oriented friend spending every afternoon of the past month reluctantly playing dress-up with her little girl was too charming.  But the truth that lay just beneath the surface of her call was something else.  The truth held within the thirtieth day of “let’s play pretend” for this particular woman was that she reached out in desperate need of adult conversation.  The truth was that she was experiencing her first period of not working – she’s between jobs and spending more time at home than she ever has and is learning to juggle the guilt and burden of motherhood in a completely new non-working-mom kind of way.  She is caught between the working moms who still have jobs and the non-working moms who never did and have their own secret society to which she is not invited.  So her call was not so much about wanting to touch base or share a story about her adorable daughter or ask advice about how to avoid a thirty-first day of girly fantasy.  The call was really about a deep-seated fear of a syndrome I like to call ABS – or Adult Brain Stagnation.  ABS syndrome can also become APS or Adult Personality Stagnation, a nasty and often pervasive result of ABS. 

What is most insidious about ABS is that it does not discriminate.  This is not a syndrome unique to mothers or even to women (though non-working mothers may think they are most susceptible).  It happens to anyone, male or female, who lives in a drone of day after day sameness.  Certainly it has happened to me.  There are times, long periods actually, when my job is stimulating and exciting and fills me with a sense of robustness.  And there are other times when the seeming sameness of day after day, of the grind, is depressing.  Because it isn’t like those days are slow.  It isn’t as though those days are filled with empty space I could fill up if only I were more motivated.  Those days are full.  They just aren’t particularly intellectually stimulating.  

For me, the solutions, while temporary, are often satisfying.  I blog.  I cook.  I attempt to redesign my garden in my mind.  I start a book I too often do not finish as time is always lacking and distractions are too many.  For Renee, on this day, her solution was to sit in her wedding dress playing princess with her daughter while dialing her cell phone and reaching out to an old friend.  Everyone has their way of dealing with ABS.  And everyone gets it.  The key, the hardest part of the syndrome, is to recognize it, battle it and get through to the other side before severe APS takes over.

Monday, July 20, 2009

To Be or Not To Be...

“What do you want to be when you grow up?”  What do I want to be?  Rich.  Happy.  Successful.  Thin.  Wrinkle-free.  At some point in our lives, we make a decision about what we are going to be – what career or life path we will take – and how we want to be seen in the world.  Inevitably, our personalities follow us along this path.  How we move in the world is shaped by what we choose.  Living a life of great adventure vs expected convention, of spirituality vs logic, of intellect vs enterprise – all of those decisions we make consciously or unconsciously around the time we take our first job. 

About twenty years ago, or maybe its more now, I decided I was going to be an executive rather than a screenwriter or director.  I decided this because at some point I told myself that I was incapable of writing or directing.  I told myself that I was untalented, that I was a person dictated by logic not creativity.  From that moment on, the story I told myself, the narrative I wrote for my own life, was that I am a great facilitator of other people’s visions – that I can support talent, nurture and guide it because I have none of my own.  That I am an editor, not a creator.  And that I am a multitasker and thus better suited in an executive or producorial capacity than in a creative one that requires a more singular focus or vision. 

All of that may very well be the case. But it would be impossible to know for sure because the truth is I never tried.  I never tried to write a screenplay.  I never tried to direct a movie.  Or a tv show.  Or even a commercial.  Because, and here we can go back to the theme of this blog, I am a chickenshit.  What if I tried to write a screenplay and it sucked?  What if I tried my hand at directing and it turned out that I am singularly untalented?  What then?  A person who never tries can never fail.  The oldest cliché in the book and I’m living it.  Fabulous.

There is no shame in being a talented executive, a skilled multi-tasker or a great supporter of other people’s talent.  There is no shame in anything we choose to do as long we dedicate ourselves to it and do it well.  Write a script, raise a child, be an executive, wash dishes.  But do it well.  At the moment, I am not doing my job well.  Because I am spending my time worrying about what I have not done.  And thinking about my fear.  My chickenshitness. 

This blog was born as a result of fear.  And dedicated to a year of self-fear-exploration.  A year may not be enough time.  And as I blog away, however infrequently, I spend time NOT doing those things which might free me of the shackles of my decades of fear.  Time blogging is spent NOT writing a screenplay, or a book.  It is time NOT spent reading history books or studying a different language.  But it is spent writing.  And that alone is a step in the right direction…

Monday, July 13, 2009

Shalom Jerusalem

The guy at the security checkpoint for El Al Airlines really got to me.  It isn’t that he made me nervous.  It isn’t that he made me scared.  It was that he made me feel guilty.  “Do you speak Hebrew?  You don’t speak Hebrew?  You never learned as a child?  Your parents didn’t send you to Sunday school?  Why didn’t you learn as a child? Why don’t you learn now?”  Wow.  No one can make you feel less Jewy than a Jew.  Particularly an Israeli Jew.  So as I was being peppered me with rapid-fire questions about my background and religious affiliation, I found myself explaining more than necessary to this young man (a boy really – probably no more than 19 or 20).  I then carried the guilt (or was it shame?) inspired by my fumbly answers to his questions all the way through check-in, past security and onto the plane.  Along my journey down the hallways of Ben Gurion airport, I passed sign after sign written in Hebrew and my shame grew.  Weren’t those signs in both Hebrew AND English last time I passed through here?  I found myself feeling guilty for never having served in the army (which is truly ridiculous because I never even visited Israel until a few years ago and I am clearly far too old now).  I found myself moved and upset and flustered for reasons I do not know.  

What I do know is this - in Hebrew, you say hello and goodbye with the same word: shalom.  And so as I say, "Shalom, Jerusalem", I will think about what it is that so attracts me to this place – this messed up, inefficient, aggressive, loud, beautiful, thought-provoking and sometimes dangerous place.   I am incredibly sad to be leaving and wondering when I’ll be back.  And at the same time, I am incredibly happy to know that there is such a place - a place I feel so connected to in spite of having only just visited for the first time in my adult life.  So Shalom Jerusalem and I'll see you soon! 

The road to Jerusalem.

There is a Calatrava bridge that greets you as you enter Jerusalem.  The bridge stands in gleaming contrast to everything around it.  It has boldly delicate flying trusses and arcing lines which stand in stark opposition to the square, sturdy construction of a city made wholly of the beautiful white rock known as Jerusalem stone.  It was, or so guides and cab drivers will tell you, a highly controversial architectural project.  The nature of its showiness inspired great debate about whether something so outside the visual vernacular of the city would be a thing of great beauty or merely an eyesore.  What you realize, though, after spending a few days in Israel, is that most things are potentially a source for great controversy.  And that of those controversial things, all are open to interpretation.   So my interpretation of the eye-startling structure, is that it is quite beautiful.  And like all things in Jerusalem, it is a structure built on a foundation of paradox and conversation and creativity.   

Sunday, July 12, 2009

Someday in Tel Aviv...

 When I was young, my parents kept the liquor on the left hand side of the pantry on the third shelf from the bottom.  My father, when he was alive, would sometimes enjoy a glass of wine with dinner and I vaguely recall him sometimes having a gin and tonic.  There was always a bottle of Pinch or Cutty for my grandfather who had a single scotch on the rocks every night of his life until he died.   But, in truth, my parents drank very little in spite of the very well-stocked bar, which included some exotics that were either gifts from traveling relatives or bottles brought back from whatever country my father had visited on his various business trips.  One bottle in particular that I remember, a bottle that was never opened and probably still sits on a dusty shelf in my mother’s house, was something called Sabra. 

Sabra is an Israeli liqueur, advertised as being “chocolate with a hint of orange” and bottled in a flask that looks like something a genie could pop out of.  I never tasted Sabra, but I was always drawn to the bottle, more because of the name than because of what it might contain.   The word “Sabra” actually refers to a native of Israel and as a child the word evoked images of dark-haired exotic girls with coal-rimmed eyes and flowing garb.  My mother was born in Tel Aviv, though she has almost no memory of her birthplace and certainly doesn’t look anything like what imagined a Sabra to be. And although I didn’t visit until I was in my 40s, I always harbored sort of a fantasy about Israel (which worked out nicely since my third husband, aka Sig Other, is actually Israeli).

So it is no accident, really, that I find myself sitting in the hot summer sun by the pool at the King David Hotel in Jerusalem remembering that dusty bottle that sat on the liquor shelf of my childhood.  There are no Sabras here - no dark-haired exotic girls in either bikinis or army fatigues.  The truth is, the pool at The King David Hotel is packed with overweight American tourists and their squawking children.  And, at the King David Hotel, I’m sort of a hotty.  A middle-aged hotty but a hotty nonetheless.  This was decidedly NOT the case as I sat with the throngs on the beach yesterday in Tel Aviv.

Yesterday in Tel Aviv was hot.  The hottest day of the year so far, according to Sig Other’s relatives.  And it was a Friday.  Which meant that by just after lunch, businesses started to close and locals hit the beach.  Gorgeous, long-haired girls with dark tans, tiny bikinis and amazing bodies sit smoking and gossiping in plastic chairs on the sand or playing matkot with their handsome boyfriends.  At the outdoor café on the beach, barely-dressed tattoed girls flirt with rasta-braided boys in groovy sandles and long shorts as the speakers blare a sort of Middle-Eastern fusion rap.  Pumped-up pierced men flirt with each other and make plans to meet later after the sun goes down and Sig Other and I watch it all unnoticed, with the kids - a family made invisible by the pulse of young life around us.  There are old folks here as well – wrinkly, tan couples holding hands, playing cards and moving slowly in the sticky heat.  Tel Aviv is sort of like Miami really – a place where old and young dominate and everything in between is somehow missing.  I suppose, like any big city, the middle-aged folks – those of child-rearing age – have fled the city and are making their homes on the outskirts, leaving the vibrancy of city-life to the retired and the young. 

I’m jealous of the youth in Tel Aviv – jealous of the Sabras taking advantage of the pulsating, sexy, sweaty summer nights.  But I will never be a Sabra.  I am not young, was not born in Israel and do not have the dark curly hair of my fantasy.  That opportunity – the opportunity to be young and vibrant in Tel Aviv - has long since passed.  I could, however, still be old in Tel Aviv.  I could be old and retired and playing shesh-besh on the beach with Sig Other – both of us over-tanned, no longer concerned about too much sun or too many wrinkles or too much flab around the edges of our bathing suits.  We could hold hands as we walk along the beach and talk about when the children will come visit us and what we’ll do about dinner.  The opportunities missed are only as sad as I allow them to be.  And the opportunities that lay ahead are far more enthralling than whatever time I spend thinking about what I passed by along the way.  Maybe someday, I'll be an old woman with my old man taking a walk on the beach in Tel Aviv.  Maybe...

Thursday, July 9, 2009

Flying Carpets

I will never have beautiful rugs.  I realize this as I read Elle Décor on the plane and stop to peruse THE RUG COMPANY supplement that has been slipped into the middle of the magazine.  There are two kinds of acceptable adult porn in my opinion.  Design magazines of any sort and a publication called Homes & Land of the West – a sort of InStyle magazine for the landowning obsessed. 

As I flip through the Rug Company catalogue, I swoon over the designer rugs – the Marni flowers, the Paul Smith stripes, the exotic Moroccan carpets made of all silk that feel like heaven under your feet and give the perfect finish to any room.  I fantasize about a pale blue and brown one in the living room and imagine guests lounging on the floor in front of the fireplace.  I love beautiful rugs.  And I would love to have one.  But I never will.  Because as much as I love the idea of a fabulous designer rug, I love my dogs more.

I know some people will think this is silly.  And some will consider it indulgent.  Certainly my dogs could be trained to stay out of certain rooms and off the furniture.  Of course there are people who have dogs who are outdoor dogs or who are obedient enough to know that they must sit at the junction of hardwood and carpet and stare longingly at a soft surface while relegated to a hard one.  Sig Other’s sister even has a dog who is relegated to one room of the house.  He has no fence or gate to keep him in line, but Nelson knows that the invisible border between the kitchen and living room MUST NOT BE CROSSED. 

I am not one of those people.  My dogs have the run of the house. They are allowed – in fact invited – into any room at any time and onto any surface (but for tabletops and counters which they will visit nonetheless if not properly watched).  This is not to say my house is not clean.  It is spotless actually.  And in fact I’m rather paranoid about dog smell and have a mini-team of housekeepers who visit daily (one of whom thankfully suffers from a mild form of obsessive –compulsive disorder and will scrub things I never even knew were scrubbable). 

My dogs are well-enough trained and sweet to the core.  But sometimes they vomit.  Or come in from the mud.  Sometimes, they drag strange things around the house and drop them in the worst possible place. And one of them even leaks a little pee every now and then in a sure sign of her growing age and inevitable incontinence.   One time, the dogs stole three bags of loose tea Sig Other had brought from China, brought them into the living room and onto the white fluffy flokati and proceeded to tear apart the bags, drag them in circles around the coffee table and grind into the carpet what they could not ingest.  Needless to say, the rug was sent to the cleaners and the dogs stayed awake for 36 hours straight.  On another occasion, one of them brought me a prize dead rat and flayed it open on the carpet while I was out of the room.  Again, rug to cleaners. 

These rugs are not expensive, they are not precious and they are certainly not designer.  My fantasy life of fancy rugs would dictate a kind of restriction on my dogs that seems sad to me.  Not for them so much (I am a firm believe that dogs are perfectly happy within a set of appropriate boundaries), as for me.   Why would I deny myself the joy of a Sunday snuggle on the living room floor with Hank or a cozy spoon in the den with Coco?  How sad would I be if one or the other of them didn’t INSIST on plopping their 70+ pounds of dog on top of me as I settle into the womb chair to read and adjust myself around their comfort?  I love my dogs.   And I suppose that means I love them more than I love the idea of a fancy rug from The Rug Company.

Ah well.  Back to my Elle Décor fantasy life…


Sunday, July 5, 2009

Child One turns sixteen...

This is but one of the many fabulous treats celebrating Child One's milestone 16th Birthday.  Sig Other made it through the day without weeping.  Child One enjoyed a very UK day starting with a viewing of the changing of the guard (which she later described as "the crossing guards"), rowing through Hyde Park, a stroll through the Burlington Arcade, high tea at Fortnum & Mason, and a trendy dinner in Camden.  And Child Two soldiered forth bravely in spite of jetlag and two much walking.  Happy happy!!!

Friday, July 3, 2009

Its a Man, Man, Man, Man World

My ex-husband worked on Wall Street.  He traded institutional equities.  That was before the world fell apart, before there was accountability in the financial business.  Part of his job, a big part of his job, was entertaining clients.  Sometimes this meant couples dinners and an evening at the theater.  But more often than not, “entertaining clients” was more of a euphamism for ‘hanging with the boys.’   Whether it was tickets to the Knicks, a weekend boondoggle on the golf course or a multi-bottle wine dinner followed by a visit to Scores, these forays into “client relations” were almost entirely male-oriented.  His clients were men.  His colleagues were men.  His world was made up of men.  The key to success on Wall Street in the 90s was to be male, well-dressed and marginally intelligent.  There was one girl in the group.  Her name was Kathy.  And Kathy was hot.  Kathy was not a dumb ass.  In fact, she was smarter than most of the guys.  And she wasn’t Blonde Bimbo hot.  She was Wall Street hot.  She was tall and smart, with a knockout body, a killer sense of humor and the ability to drink any man under the table.  She also, apparently, could suck the chrome off a tailpipe and had, on many occasions, “serviced” her male clients with great aplomb.  She was a top producer for her firm and was more often than not the only woman at any given business function.   But Kathy was an anomaly.  Regular girls, girls who were smart but not spectacular looking, girls who didn’t know how to hang with the boys, didn’t make it.   Wall Street was home to the kind of sexism that dictated that only a super-brilliant, wildly hot woman who was willing to blow her clients and colleagues could succeed.

My business is different.  Or so I thought.  For many years I believed that the entertainment industry was the one place a woman could succeed on a level equal to a man.  The movie business boasted of iconic pillars of female power – Sherry Lansing and Dawn Steele paved the way for the Stacey Sniders and Amy Pascals of the world.  Julia Roberts broke the $20M mark before many of her male colleagues.  And after two decades in the business, I have become so used to being the only girl at the table in a multitude of meals and meetings, that I very rarely even notice that I go to a different door when I excuse myself to use the restroom. 

I have believed, and continue to believe, that mine is a better industry than most for women.  But the other day, I was complaining to a male friend and colleague about the promotion of a man we both considered unskilled and unintelligent.  And I said to my friend, “Truly, honestly, tell me what that guy does that I don’t do.”  My friend took a beat and said, “He signs people.  He isn’t that smart, he doesn’t understand the business that well, but he does favors for people, he takes them out, he knows how to own them.”  I thought about this for a while.  And realized as I started to open my mouth, why I couldn’t explain to my male friend that that skill, that tactic, is not available to me in the same way that it is to Dumb Guy.  Let me digress a moment and explain my own experience in client relations.

A few weeks ago my boss called me down to his office to tell me he was giving me Laker tickets, and I was to take a particular director to the game.  My company has season’s tickets to the Laker games and it just so happened that he was giving me two tickets on the floor to a playoff game.  Big deal.  Really coveted seats.  And as I’m not a particular follower of basketball, I called all my dude friends before leaving and got the basics – who are the best players, who are the assholes, what to watch for on the sidelines, etc. We took a car service from the studio and sat in fancy seats, went to the bar at halftime (is that the right term or is that a football term?) and schmoozed before the third quarter.  We commented on the Laker Girl bodies and on the skills of the players.  It was fun.  But there was something vaguely awkward about the evening.  Something that felt like a date.  I am a married woman, madly in love with my husband.  So what am I doing on the floor of the Staples Center, at a playoff game in highly coveted seats with a man who is not my husband? Nor is he my boss.  Or even my colleague.  Because the boss or colleague relationship is more familial and, as a woman, you can get away with hanging out with those men as long as you’ve spent enough time convincing their wives of a truth that is obvious to you but inconceivable to them – you have NO INTEREST WHATSOEVER in their husbands beyond a VERY platonic business relationship.  This is hard for any wife to understand (and believe me I’m one of them) because we each believe (hopefully) that our husbands are as irresistible to other women as they are to us.   

Because no matter what I know or the director who is truly just my friend knows, the fact is that a married woman with a single man at a ball game (or a screening or play) looks she’s on a date.  Dinner, somehow, does not count.  Lunch or dinner or breakfast or cocktails have all been koshered as appropriate meeting scenarios and do not lend themselves to the awkwardness of an event.  And generally speaking, men do not have this problem.  Because a man would never take a woman to fill the other of two seats on the floor of the Staples Center during the Laker playoffs.  Particularly not a married man.  And there are so few women in a position that would dictate they be taken that it never hurts the man’s career. 

Likewise there are those directors, agents or writers who are more than happy to have lunch with me, but share dinner or multi-cocktail evenings only with my male colleagues.  It isn’t so much that I WANT to go out and get drunk with the boys.  It isn’t that I like the idea of hearing about how their wives are hassling them or their mistresses driving them crazy.  But these are experiences that, to these men, are bonding moments.  These moments become commodities – opportunities that are equivalent to “signing the client”.   And that signing privilege is simply not available to me in the same way as it is the guy in the office next door or down the hall.

As the economy shrinks, as the movie business realigns itself to conform to corporate structure and as I grow older and more aware, I realize that sexism is not relegated to Wall Street or any other industry.  Sexism, like racism, will rear its ugly head more obviously in times of economic hardship, when the boys will take care of their own and jobs are harder to come by.  But really, it has been there all along.  Really the working world is not the same for women as it is for men.  It never has been.  Naïve fantasy instilled by our parents and perpetuated by the media led us to believe that times had changed, that though different, we were equal.  But its bullshit really.  And it always will be.  I don’t want to be same.  I don’t want to be a man.  And I don’t want to live in a world that continues to create a fantasy world in which men and women are treated the same in the workplace.  We’re not.  I understand why we’re not.  But I no longer want to pretend.  

Gypsy horse on the road to Pinewood


The other night I spent hours chasing a young Holstein around my yard, fighting fires that sprung spontaneously from the floor, and waking Sig Other to ask if he smelled the perfume of a woman whose spirit was haunting our house. Maybe it was jetlag, maybe too much sake before bed, but whatever the reason, my night was fitful and restless and haunting. Rarely are my dreams this memorable, rarely are they so vivid. Sig Other, of course, responded to my early morning recount by questioning, once again, why I do not have a therapist with whom to share my nocturnal turmoil.

The truth is I’m afraid. Not afraid of a therapist. The lack of a therapist is just sheer laziness on my part. The truth is I’ve been struck by a crippling, overwhelming and deeply unattractive fear of failure. And this particular fear of failure that has haunted me for the last few weeks isn’t the typical fear of failure. It isn’t the sort that leads to a workaholic drive that dare not speak its name but manifests in a 24/7 kind of manic frenzy. It isn’t the sort of fear that masquerades as self-confidence or the fear that is worn as bravado. This particular fear is far more insidious, far more unappealing. It is the fear that manifests in dreams of chasing cattle. It is the fear that can be smelled. It is fear worn as fatigue and dragged around like a heavy weight. It is red wine fear. Not tequila fear. And it is the kind of fear that is decidedly, uniquely and very seriously un-American.

In America, we pretend. We pull ourselves up by our bootstraps and make like everything is ok. And then, somehow, miraculously, it often is. My fear is uniquely European. Eastern European to be exact. A gift of my ancestry. An unwanted gift.

What does this have to do with the Holstein, you might ask? Ah – there is a method to the madness of my fear. In my dream, the baby Holstein is left in my care. And I, in my American bravado, say, “fear not, for the yard is well-fenced and the calf will be safe in these boundaries.” But it is not safe. And the yard not as well-fenced as I imagine. In fact, the Holstein of my dreams is not content to be in my care but rather, spends its time (the time of my dream) running away from me, trying to escape through this hole in the gate or that tunnel under the fence. My dream is spent pulling the calf back and trying to understand why my dogs are of no use as I scramble around desperately attempting to contain my charge.

I woke up exhausted and afraid. What if I am unable to wrangle the task that is my life? What if I fail at work? And if in failing at work, I fail at my marriage? For who am I if I am not the girl (now middle-aged woman) who is successful at her job? Who am I if I don’t have a place to go every day that has very specifically defined who I am for the past twenty years? And why would my husband, why would anyone, love me if I am not that person who is “successful”?

I’m a chickenshit. My husband said it to me when I talked about starting a blog. And I say it to myself every day. The difference, I think, between the winners and the losers in this world is simply how we each wear our fear. The winners are just as afraid as the losers. They just know how to keep it to themselves. And so, I am determined to become a study in stoicism. My Germanic roots have long given way to a kind of modern honesty that I think has done me a great disservice. I vow from here on (or at least for the next week), to hide my fear behind a veil of attractive bravery. I will march forth, I will wrangle the baby cow, I will soldier on and be very, very brave as a way of wrestling my fear to the ground and not let it get the best of me.

Oh look – I just wrote another entry on my blog. If that isn’t, in some way, a form of soldiering on, I’m not sure what is…