Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Winter Wonderland

If it's December, it must be time for holiday parties. Today I did a presentation on Hanukkah (I really prefer the spelling "Chanukah," but it's slightly less used) in Jarrah's classroom. Tomorrow, I'll be the dealer in a cutthroat game of dreidel, but was all about the food.

The second I arrived, they were like "I smell fried chicken." I was like "That's 'cause you smell oil. Everything in oil smells like chicken." They were actually smelling potato latkes. I'd like to tell you that I toiled over a hot griddle, growing pink-cheeked with exertion as I grated, chopped, and fried. But I was actually pink-cheeked from dashing to Trader Joe's in the rain to buy them.

Not that I was off the hook, oh no. I had to go to two stores, bake the latkes, unpackage and then re-stuff the gelt into little bags, clean and prepare the menorahs and candles, pack up juice, plates, napkins, forks, applesauce, sour cream and a speech cobbled together from two hours of internet research (and a pep talk from my friend, Robyn, who's like a Chanukah Fellow she's done this gig so much) and then schlep it all up several hills. So I still think I deserve some pats on the back. (Instead I got a pile-on hug from 20 first graders when I sat with them on the rug--yikes!)

Some of my work was due to the fact that a super-super-nice mom in J's class went out and bought dreidels and gelt for every child and sent them with her son, and then you know what I did to show my gratitude? Left them somewhere on the way home. I dread tomorrow when I have to explain how lame I am. (I did my best to replace everything, of course.)

But once I was there, the hours of labor just melted away and I was stoked. Those kids are the best. And I swear I could have heard a pin drop when I got to the dramatic part of the story: "When they came back from the war, the temple was destroyed. Everything smashed. Broken. Dirty. And they had to start over." I also liked their theories for why we eat latkes: "Because potatoes are good nutrition." "Because war makes you hungry." "So we don't die of starvation." (The real reason, Dear Readers, is that we eat foods cooked in oil, since oil is the reason for the season.)

So am I a tiny bit looking forward to going back tomorrow? Caught me.

The opposite of today was the holiday party David and I went to in San Francisco last weekend. It was the Go-Pro holiday party at the Academy of Sciences aquarium. Just beautiful. I finally got to meet the dozens of people David hob-nobs with on his many trips to Half Moon Bay, and do it while surrounded by fish and sequins. The setting was so beautiful that it sort of overshadowed the food--three stations all characterized by the theme "piles of meat." Oh, and we arrived and departed in grand style: while waiting in the interminable taxi line, Tim spotted a limo across the street and flagged it down. It was very spontaneous and fun and only the second time I've ever been in a limo.

We also had the pleasure of staying at the historic Westin St. Francis in the center of Union Square, which was decked out for the holidays with a 12-foot sugar castle in the lobby, and an outdoor skating rink across the street. It was all lovely and festive. Union Square was mobbed day and night, but we did some exploring in other areas, too--my friend Lisa gave us a tour of the Haight (including our best meal of the trip at the memorably named Squat n' Gobble.) We met my brother and his family for dinner at the Ferry Building, and managed to fit eight of us around a tiny table in the packed Gott's Roadside (which David and I had fallen in love with in Napa years ago.) We went to see Young Adult (have to squeeze in a movie somewhere, though we had mixed feelings about it) and got lost with the charming Justin and Suzanne, who spotted us at the airport and offered a ride that ended up including the best view of the Golden Gate I'd ever had. On Sunday, we had a leisurely walk through Chinatown before catching a cab to the airport--arrived with perfect timing, too, had our plane not been an hour delayed.

It's a busy week we've returned to, as we still have the Daisies trip to Meals on Wheels headquarters and Jarrah's Winter Concert coming up. Stay tuned for further updates.

Tuesday, December 06, 2011

And How Ironic Is It That I Sang "Nothing?"

I don't like bad feelings. Nope, never have. And will go to any lengths to avoid them. Just not a fan.

I'm having a bad feeling right now that I'd like to get over. It's disturbing my sleep, in fact. Bolted awake just now, at 3 a.m., with the bad feeling taking center stage. What is it? Embarrassment? Sort of. Regret? Disbelief? Sadness? It seems to keep morphing into something slightly different about every thirty minutes, but so far I don't like any of them.

Tonight I had my first musical audition. I was really prepared, which is rare for me. I'd done my homework. Practiced like crazy. Hired the pianist, which was a blast. Concentrated on the acting, the held notes, the breath, the pacing. I had it down. My one concern were the factors that manifest with terror: would I lose the timing? Blank entirely? Get off key? Crack on the high notes?

I talked to myself on the way over. I told myself to stay out of my own way. I said--I felt honestly--I said "Self, this is how it is. You have this. You can do it. But only if you let them see the BEST of what you can do. So let them. See it. Go in there and do everything you would do if you WEREN'T terrified." Seemed like good advice, if I say so myself.

I had spoken to my friend John, who had decided to go over nearly 90 minutes early, was now done and in possession of a call back. Easy peasy. Early, why hadn't I thought of that? Who wanted to wait until 9:30 anyway? He did warn me that the waiting area was outside--kind of unusual, that. For people about to sing, a frosty night is not their friend.

I went early. Checked in. And then I waited. And waited. People went in. I heard them warbling, beautifully, through the door. When they came out, the check-in girl would hand them a slip of paper, which each time would seem to trigger a Snoopy happy-dance of glee. I deduced that these were the callbacks.

I wasn't nearly as nervous as I could be, doing all that waiting. And freezing. And blowing my nose, desperate to keep my sinuses clear. I sung under my breath. Tried to stay focused. As the minutes ticked away, the whole thing started to seem a bit hilarious. Eventually, I was out there nearly an hour. An HOUR, Readers. With bare feet.

And into the room I went. Same room where I took my acting class in spring. Smiling blonde director. Smiling mustached pianist. I approached him, since no one was talking. Nervously, I explained my music. All seemed well until I repeated what my coach had suggested, "Just chords are okay." His smile turned frosty: "I know the song." Oops. My bad.

"Will you be doing your song or your monologue first?" he asked. "No, she's doing them all together, isn't that right?" the director spoke up. "You're Liz's friend, aren't you?" She smiled. So she was expecting me. I had an in. Nice.

I took my place in the middle of the room. Smiled at him. He began. And right away I knew that my fears about losing the piano were ridiculous. He was soooo good. He wouldn't have lost me in a blizzard. And I was off and running. No problem. Oh. This is just like I practiced it. Talk here. Breathe here. Belt here. No problem.

As the song went on, I actually relaxed. I've got this. I've really got it. Just like I practiced. When it came time for the final fermata preceding the big, slow finish, I actually enjoyed myself. I opened my mouth and the sounds flowed out sweet and clear. I brought it home with what I hoped was quiet power and then turned my attention to them.

They were smiling. Sort of. Maybe not. And what was that on the director's face? Could it be...disappointment? She smiled in a practiced sort of way. Uh-oh. "Thank you." I thanked them both, grabbed my gear and scurried out.

Outside, I wasn't sure what to do. I took my time putting my coat on. Should I just leave? Just then, the check-in girl approached and triumphantly presented my slip of paper. There was my name. And two columns. One said "Thank You!" There was an "X" next to that one.

The other said "Congratulations!"

Oh. Thank you. Thank you. Just like that. No triumphant victory dance to the car. Thank you. You're all done. Thanks for playing. We don't have some lovely parting gifts for you.

Many years ago, I auditioned for Chess at UCSD. I knew the director. I belted out the first verse of Patsy Cline's "Too Many Secrets" while she beamed from ear to ear. Then I nearly fell over gasping for breath. She actually looked crushed for me. I ended up in the chorus. About five years ago, I auditioned for a new musical at Diversionary and had no clue I needed sheet music. Despite having prepared two acapella songs, I was consigned to "Happy Birthday" and was out on the sidewalk before I could blink.

This was the first time I knew what I was doing. I thought. I did my homework. Lovingly prepared my sheet music. Practiced like I was going to Carnegie Hall. And each time I performed my song for a friend, I checked their faces for pity or amusement and didn't find it. Maybe I can do this, I started to believe. Maybe now is the time. I just needed to do it right, and now the world of musical theater will swing open like a velvet curtain, and I will walk through, blowing kisses to the crowd. Now is my moment.

But it's not, and I don't know why. When I feverishly review that three minutes in my head, I can't find the moment when it all went to hell. And that worries me. Why can't I find it? I told David that seems to point to a simple-minded delusion on my part. I simply can't hear that I'm lousy. That is the yuckiest ingredient of the bad feeling. That I might just be a clueless simpleton. A clueless, can't-sing simpleton who can't hear herself.

I want to acknowledge myself, I do. For taking the time to prepare. For doing it carefully and thoroughly. For getting feedback, even though it embarrassed me. For braving the elements. For getting out of my own way and giving the best performance I could in that moment. And I guess I do feel proud of myself for those things.

But I'm still wondering about the other stuff. And it feels powerful bad.

Thursday, December 01, 2011

What I Couldn't Do Was...I Could Never Really...

David is without an office for the foreseeable future (don't worry, he's not fired) so we've had the weird yet pleasant experience of having him around during the day. I'm trying to be respectful of his work time, but I will confess I'm already taking advantage of occasions when I want to dash somewhere for a v. important appointment without Jarrah in tow.

Right now my v. important appointments relate to my latest quest: I'm auditioning for musicals. I didn't mean to make that plural, but two auditions presented themselves and I decided at the very least one can be practice for the other. I'm going to have to do something I've NEVER done before, and while I'm OVER deciding not to do it for that reason, I'm still pretty scared.

What I'm going to do is sing. Which is not really the scary part. I'm going to be accompanied by a pianist for whom I'll provide sheet music. And I won't know this pianist. So if I screw up, I might never get back on track, right?

For my first audition, on Monday, I've chosen "Nothing" from A Chorus Line. There are a few reasons for this. For one thing, it's a great alto belt number, and I'm an alto. For another, it has a lot of character. I also love it, and already kind of know it. But the most important reason is that the audition notice calls for a "combination" song and monologue, and I had no idea what that might mean. "Nothing" has a spoken monologue interwoven in the song.

Which, I'm only now realizing, might make me crazy. Though I had a friend check with the director to see if this song was appropriate, and she was enthusiastic, I'm not sure I should be choosing a song with multiple stops and starts as my first foray into the world of musical theater. It seems, perhaps, a fool's errand. With me representing as the fool.

Readers, if you are a musical theater person, or a singer, or a pianist, or all those things--do you have any advice for me? I'm doing everything I can think of: practicing with the "karaoke" version (I don't have a piano) and hiring a pianist for an hour tomorrow (with whom I guess I can make a recording of just piano) but do you have any other pertinent advice?

Please don't mock when I admit that I went to the library today and checked out five (count 'em, FIVE) books on how to behave at a musical theater audition. My default mode when anything makes me anxious or uncomfortable is to start checking out books about it.

Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Worth Two In The Bush

Yesterday we had a brush with some "enthusiasts." I'd always been curious about the Tijuana Estuary Nature Preserve in Imperial Beach, and since we'd been gifted with an 80 degree day in November, I pushed a visit onto the weekend agenda. Since I control the weekend agenda (David and Jarrah's would read "tinker with electronic things" and "watch Phinneus and Ferb" respectively) it was sort of a done deal.

After a yummy lunch along the IB boardwalk (my, how that area has changed!) we made it into the Estuary parking lot about 2:40. "Why do all these vehicles seem to be Parks Department trucks?" David wanted to know. "Maybe we're the only ones who had this great idea today," I firmly replied. The Visitor Center was swank but deserted. "Why are we whispering?" asked Jarrah. "Um," I said, "So we don't disturb the...exhibits?" Which were a lot of stuffed former animals. Our favorite spot was a little nook that was designed like a nest. Jarrah did a "photo shoot" of us in there, and was quite bossy about it.

We were approached by a friendly ranger who asked if we were going on the 3:00 bird walk. When I said yes, she was giddy with delight, and offered us three pairs of binoculars. Before we knew it, the clock was chiming 3:00 (would you believe me if I said it was actually tweeting quite realistic bird sounds?) and we were joined by a guide whose name I didn't catch. He was very swoopy and enthusiastic, with a Russian accent and a slight whiff of alcohol, and he fixated on Jarrah to be his "scout" and the keeper of the laminated bird guide. Something happened between that introduction and his heavily enunciated attempt to fascinate her with the stuffed birds we were likely to see, and I could see he had lost her. She handed back the guide. "Oh, but you get to carry this!" he trilled. "No, I'm good," she said. That kid knows her own mind.

Two ladies joined us, and then suddenly appeared Mary Ann, another ranger uniform-clad type whom the Russian said "would probably accompany us." Uh-oh. Five tour takers and two tour guides. Smelled like a smackdown in the making.

First, they established their credentials. He, a former molecular biologist. She, a retired middle school principal. He claimed to know every inch of these wetlands. She claimed to have seniority. Let the games begin.

Quickly, it seemed we would have to choose who to follow on the trail. The Russian forged ahead, darting his eyes around. Mary Ann hung back, pointing out Lemonade Berries. Mary Ann chit-chatted; the Russian urged us on with stage whispers. The sun dappled across the waving grasses all the way to the Tijuana bullfighting stadium and beyond.

Soon enough, I spotted a Snowy Egret. What, are you daft? intoned the Russian. That's a Great Egret. Lo, the majestic size! And see the color of the beak! And what? Could it be? Are we receiving a winter visit from a Northern Grebe? Yes, yes, yes!

A word about my predilection for birdwatching. When Mary Anne asked why we were taking the tour, I answered, I thought, honestly: "I love birds." But I must sheepishly (birdishly?) admit that perhaps I don't really understand that statement. I think maybe I love birds like the ones I saw in Australia, where they all have coats of many colors and multiple heads. I like my birds flashy. They gotta work hard for the money. I need plumage, baby.

The birds of the estuary were lovely, I'm sure. I'll bet if we went out for coffee, we'd be the best of friends in the time it took to share a molasses cookie. But I must confess that they were all rather...brown. Various shades, to be sure. Some touches of white. But will bird people turn away in disgust if I admit that they all kind of looked the same? Please, Bird People! Don't forsake me! I am ignorant but I can be taught! Education works on me!

At one point I spotted some sandpiper-like thingos foraging in the mud. "Mary Ann!" I whispered. "What are those?" "Ah, yes..." she said seriously, adjusting her glasses. "Those are birds...they are definitely birds...indeed, I believe they are known as Yellowlegs. That's right--Yellowlegs."

I had a brief flashback to riding the rain forest cable car in Cairns and telling Jarrah that the white butterflies she kept seeing were "The Common...Cloud. The Common Cloud butterfly. Often seen in these regions. Yes, indeed."

At the end of the bird trail, there were various lookouts for spotting birds, of various sizes and shades of brown, who were dipping and feeding around the brackish pools. The Russian had worked himself to a fever pitch now. "IS THAT ANOTHER EGRET! QUICKLY, QUICKLY! AH, THE BROWN WILLET! SO CHARMING, QUICKLY, MORE PHOTOS! AHHH, THE LIGHT, THE LIGHT!" When Mary Ann would get a bit enthusiastic about her finds, however, he'd shush her dramatically. "You will scare the birds!!!!"

Right about now Jarrah had had enough. "I want to go," she sulked. "This is the end. My binoculars show only blackness." (Not true--I checked.) Somehow I couldn't bear to hurt our intrepid guides with an early departure. Or maybe I was just worried a slap fight would erupt in our absence.

Eventually we did make our slow way back towards to the visitor center. Along the way, I had an opportunity to disappointment the Russian, after we discovered we'd both done graduate work at UCSD. "You are in Literature," he pronounced. "do you know the origin of the expression 'thin as a rail?'" "Well," I said, "since that was kind of a leading question, I'm guessing it has something to do with the bird?" "It does not!" he exulted. "It is from Mark Twain, in 1874, and refers to fence posts. However! I have been trying to prove that he was not the first to say this, and that it will, in fact, relate to the bird! I thought you might have been the one to help me." "Sorry," I said, "not my area." It came out sounding gruff and ungracious, but weirdly, I was quite sincere.

Just then the Russian commanded that we stop at the bridge and look down, claiming that we might discover all sorts of bird shenanigans this way. We watched idly as some small feathered friends tripped the light fantastic down there. Then David spotted the fluffy brown chicken emerge from the embankment grass. "What's that?" David asked mildly. He and I later agreed we were fully expecting the answer "A wild chicken!" "SILENCE!" bellowed the Russian to the chattering woman next to him, "YOU HAVE FOUND WHAT YOU SEEK! THAT, MY FRIENDS, IS THE LIGHT-FOOTED CLAPPER RAIL, RARE AND ENDANGERED!!!" David's camera shutter clicked and clicked.


The little chicken bobbed and weaved in and out of the grass as we all stared reverently. If anyone started to say something, the Russian screamed "SILENCE!" again. It went on for so long I wondered how many photos we were required to take to avoid offending him with a rebuke to this magical moment.

So, Dear Readers, the day was made. Would I go again? Sure, I'm all about cultural enlightenment. And maybe, just maybe, some day I'll make my peace with the fact that our birds only come in one color and have just the one head.

Saturday, November 26, 2011

Big Thanks

My niece Lilah, at nearly nine months, is the chillest baby I've ever met. She's the kind of baby where you'd think, "Well, we might as well have 17 more of these, because it's a piece o' cake." I mean no disrespect to my own child. She was a mighty cute baby, too, but man, she wasn't easy. Lilah is the kind of baby who not only never cries, she never even looks perturbed. If you meet her gaze, her big, blue eyes break open like a Christmas cracker with sparkly looks, and the added bonus of a great, gummy smile. If you throw a stuffed ball to her, she'll happily fling it back for as long as you can stand it, and reward your repetitive efforts with unabashed screeches of delight. If you put a plastic stacking cup on your head and "atchoo!" it off, she'll laugh until she gives herself the hiccups. Oh, Auntie Sam! You're not only hilarious, you're an insouciant wit!

So hanging with her over Thanksgiving did not suck. I enjoyed spooning orange slop into her tiny mouth and strapping her into her fish-covered high chair. My dad said "Must bring back memories." Um, no. The day I met Jarrah, she was eating filet mignon and Caesar salad, and she was too big for a high chair. So this is a first.

Another first was staying up in the OC for a couple days over the break, rather than spending three hours in traffic on Thursday morning and schlepping home the same night, nearly comatose with pie head. We bunked at a nearby Residence Inn (how I love them, with their roominess and friendly smiles) and joked that having Jarrah around helps us take advantage of all amenities. She marched me to the Exercise Room Thursday morning for a little pre-prandial sweat, and all our warnings did not dissuade her from leaping in the outdoor (!) pool in late November, and then staying in there over an hour (twice!) because "Mama!" she shrieked as I joined David on the chilly lounges, "I MADE A FRIEND!" Of course you did, darling. Of course you did.

Her friend, Grace, was a year older but similar in height, and also Asian, so their hair matched. They had an absolute blast, and Jarrah was sad to leave her at the end of our stay. We had a poolside chat with her dad, who explained that they'd be living at this Residence Inn for the next two months. They're from Honolulu, but Grace's mommy will be undergoing cancer treatment at UCLA for a long spell, and his work gave him a temporary transfer. Wow. Spending the holidays at the Residence Inn, far from family and loved ones, fighting for health. That was a good reminder to count my blessings this Thanksgiving, on tiny fingers and toes, and to keep right on going after that.

Monday, November 21, 2011


A sort of melancholy day, as the first day following the strike of a show always is. I had coffee with my friend Lisa, visiting from San Francisco, and asked her "You know that feeling after a show, where you might be sad, you might be relieved, you might be nostalgic, you might be in limbo, and you're not sure, but you know you're feeling SOMETHING kind of a lot?" Yeah, she knew.

To cheer myself up, I scheduled a massage in advance. A hot stone massage, yet. This is a place I go often, but I've never experienced their rocks before today. I wish I'd left them as a pleasant fantasy. I've had rocks before, but these did not suit me. There was a lot of slippery, oily, not-very-deep rubbing that ultimately left me with aching shoulders and a vague headache. And it's more expensive than the non-rock variety. Harumph.

Sitting outside at the Living Room on a surprisingly sunny and lovely November day (sorry, East Coasters) did help my mood, but then it was scrunched again by my own carelessness: I'd asked a friend to watch Jarrah between camp and ice skating but had forgotten to pack her scan-able skate card. When I arrived, Jarrah was forlornly watching her friend skate because the weirdly rigid skate staff refused to look for her in their computer without the card. I ask you, what is the point of being registered by a computer if you can't, then, look it up? By the time I sorted it out and got her skates on, it was time for her lesson and she burst into tears because she couldn't free skate. And I felt like a major heel. WWM (World's Worst Mom) Award of the day.

It's Thanksgiving week now, and I guess I'll get some sleep and start to recover from FOUR shows in less than 48 hours! To those of you who came out to support me and the cast--thank you from the bottom of my heart. As one of my cast mates put it, "without you, it's not a show."

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

The Things She Carried

"I'm sorry, Mommy."

"Well, I'm still a little mad! I told you I really had to do one thing this afternoon and I needed some quiet time to do it! [I'm Alumnae Secretary for my class at Smith College and the column was due today.] I made you a nice lunch. Even dessert. I let you watch "Fishhooks." But I still had you pounding on the door and screaming?!?"

Her eyes filled with tears. I thought maybe more remorse was on its way. Color me wrong.


Um, this was new. I turned around so she didn't see me smile. The front door slammed. I figured I'd give us both a few minutes to cool off.

Ten minutes later, I was sitting on the couch when the door opened very slowly. An arm appeared, then a leg. Then a very contrite little face.

"I decided to stay. I wanna be a family again."

"How come?"

"I got carried away."

Awwww. "Give me a hug."

"I figured I would go to Joy's, but that's too far. Then I thought of Nathan's, but it would mean crossing a lot of streets that I'm not allowed to cross by myself."

"But otherwise you woulda been outta here? If Joy's and Nathan's weren't so far and you could cross streets?"


"Well, thanks. That makes me feel special."

"There was one other thing I needed."


"Love." Her eyes welled up again. "I needed love. And someone to tuck me in at night. And make me dinner. And care about me."

"That's good, 'cause Daddy and I want to do those things."

"I did bring my Halloween candy."

"You remembered your Halloween candy but no shoes?"

"What do you mean?"

Sunday, November 13, 2011

"Oh? Who Did That?"

Just got home from the theater after our first weekend of shows. Have a somewhat pea soup head. Not surprising after seven straight days and nights at the theater, plus two full-length rehearsals before that. Today the kids backstage had out their textbooks and their belabored notebook sheets covered with algebra equations, preparing to re-enter their real world on the morrow.

Opening weekend was fun! Friday kicked off with a champagne reception (and some seriously yummy meatballs) and Sunday David made a video of us. In between, it was the best of times, it was the worst of times. Well, it was never the worst of times, but we did have our visits from the Theater Gremlins, as I've been calling them. Just today I went out in the dark to move a table and fell headlong over a low wall concealing some lights. It sounded like a construction site, but I was strangely unwounded, except for my pride. I was also snatched in Act Two and entrusted with a desperate and essential mission: storm the stage in the next blackout, gallop up the rickety stairs to the "bedroom," grope for a pillow on the "bed," continue groping until I located a teddy bear under said pillow, gallop back down the stairs (no banister, poorly marked, did I mention the blackout?) and meet another crew member across the stage for the teddy hand-off. All within 20 seconds.

Yesterday I lost one of my costumes between my scenes--scenes that necessitate a quick change under the best of circumstances. One of the girls found my dress balled up under the makeup table. I have no one to blame but myself. Soon after the lights came up in a blaze of glory to reveal me and all my students--save one. And where was she, Readers? Sorry she was late, quoth she, several minutes into my sweating. She never mentioned it. Too embarrassed to apologize? Who knows? All I know is that my improv skills are sadly lacking. I was saved from needing them, but it burned me to realize I would have been flailing about a minute later. I could see the rest of my students smiling serenely in the dark, knowing their comrade was AWOL but having faith in either a) their own acting under duress or b) my ability to shovel us all out from under the cliff that was avalanching our way. If "b," that was nice of them, but seriously deluded.

Speaking of my students, I've been having a lot of fun bonding with the teens. We've talked Hunger Games, Princess Diaries, siblings, school but mostly we've talked PERFORMING. Whatever our age, we all get that. Wanting to do it, that is. I'm kind of falling in love with all of them.

I've been marveling at the ridiculous amount of times "David" has to change his tie. Often at a full gallop, as various hands grope for his collar while he speeds past. I've been loving the serenity of "Lisa," who spends most of her scenes hopscotching around the stage but always looks cool as a duchess waiting in the wings. I am agog how FEW times people miss or are late for cues, because with 18 people and 57 changes, there should be more moments when the lights come up on an empty chair. But everyone is doing their job, and doing it with a smile.

One gal taped us little notes to the mirror on opening night. Another brought us all cards with candy bars attached. Each show a mystery giver has been leaving a box of chocolates or cookies in the center of the dressing room. Jessica cheerfully constructs '60s-era coifs for several ladies every show with nary a complaint. Everyone picks up hastily discarded costumes and hangs them, and is ready for a zipper or jewelry adjustment, or to reposition a bobby pin.

It's almost bizarre how different this group of people seems than the one I sat silently with for six weeks, barely exchanging hellos. Now we're all giggling and whispering, and when we're not, we're sharing some serious stuff and it's lovely. Aside from some errant light cues (and yours truly falling over the furniture) the show is looking gorgeous, and everyone is bringing it. I yearn to be on stage longer, yet I'm puffed up with pride for the people who are.

With all that wonderfulness, I'm still looking forward to a couple days off, to catch up on sleep, watch TV and snuggle with David in the evenings, and most of all to take a break from the 90-minutes daily regimen of hair and makeup to prepare my hair for the Bump-It beehive and my face for the mint green and white period eye makeup with bubble gum lipstick. Not the most flattering colors on me, but fun for a change.

Give me 24 hours and I'm sure I'll be yearning to get back in there and scratch my initials in purple pen on the daily sign-in before spilling out my jewelry and pins beneath the old-fashioned bulb-ringed mirrors: I'M HERE! READY TO PUT ON A SHOW!

Tuesday, November 08, 2011


I have a friend who for some time has referred to her iPhone as her boyfriend. I had no idea what this meant. Isn't it just a phone? I mean, a cute phone, that has the internet, but even so?

Readers, I just got my first iPhone. And not only my first iPhone, my first ever smartphone. And, wow. Just wow. I get it.

I want to carry its small but substantial and smooth weight wherever I go--can it survive the shower? I reach for it in my pocket or purse, to comfort me, the shape of it, its compact wonderfulness.

In this little rectangle, I have my whole world. I can call people and text people and they can do the same to me, sure. But with a little jangle I have my e-mail, and my FB updates, and I can (and do) snap photos of everything I see and show them to people. When my longing gets too strong, I whip it out and write notes or set alerts or check the weather--not just any boring old weather but an app that tells me whether I need a hoodie or sunglasses, with pictures. I can make restaurant reservations or check if the restaurant in question is crapcake. I can book a flight for a sudden getaway. I can look up words for the instant satisfaction of proving that I know stuff.

I can say "Buca di Beppo" into the iPhone and delight when it brings up five places to buy "hookah tobacco." I can whisper the name of my hair salon and--just like that--my iPhone calls them. I can say "Take me home" and suddenly, reassuringly, it will.

And when the need is really strong, I can just whisper seductively "Do you love me, Siri?" for the absurd pleasure of hearing her say "I'm not capable of love" or boldly proclaim "I love you, Siri!" so she can shut me down: "I'll bet you say that to all your Apple products."

People keep asking me if I like my iPhone and I answer truthfully, "I love it. Now that I have one, I'm not sure I even need friends anymore. The phone is enough."

And they laugh at my hyperbole. Or do they?

Roar and Glare

We are in the theater. After rehearsing in a junior high common room for six weeks, we're finally on the real stage, with the real sets, and I'm doing some painfully real stumbling over chairs and beds that I didn't know were going to be there.

But would I trade it for all the Gucci shoes in the world? Not a chance. Hell Week is the best. The excitement of being in the theater for the first time. The feel of the lights on your face (changing every second as the lighting designer tweaks them so you don't look too green.) Finding your little corner of the dressing room. Giggling back stage when someone says something crazy to lighten the tension.

We're all a little crazy, giddy, heightened, expectant. We've got something coming. Friday night. People. To see us. And we're getting ready for them. We're gonna DO IT UP.

And all the stiff formality, polite small talk, awkward silences of the rehearsal time is gone, baby, gone. We're all friends now. Or at least co-workers with the best, most unified job in the world. Adults and kids mingle freely, laughing at the same jokes, sharing our theater horror stories. That one guy who always sat in the corner blowing his nose is a buoyant lark. I've got everyone's names down, character and actual. We're sharing lipstick and fixing each other's collars, comparing notes on our drugstore pantyhose, and in whispers, doing something very much resembling sharing our deepest hopes and dreams, because that is what people do backstage, and one of the things that makes the theater life so very addicting.

Dear Readers, we are about to put on a SHOW.

Wednesday, November 02, 2011

Culture and Stuff

Sam: I noticed that one of your friends had a scythe at the Halloween parade this morning. I thought weapons weren't allowed. (mumbles) Maybe that's not really a weapon. But it's pointy.

Jarrah: What's a scythe?

Sam: I guess he was the Grim Reaper.

Jarrah: Grim Reaper? What does that mean?

Sam: Well, it's...another name for Death.

Jarrah: WHAT?

Sam: (giggles)


Sam: I'm just thinking about that Monty Python sketch.

Jarrah: WHAT?

Sam: You know, when the people are eating the Salmon Mousse and the Grim Reaper knocks on the door.


Sam: "Hello?" "I am Death." "Who is it, darling?" "It's a Mr. Death or something? He's come about some reaping?" "I don't think we need any at the moment. Ask him if he wants some sherry." (more giggles)


Sam: Well, it's's British. I love British humor.

Jarrah: WHAT IS IT?

Sam: It's know...well, you watch Dr. Who with Daddy. You know British humor.

Jarrah: Only the Doctor is British. The others are regular.

Sam: Oh. I didn't know that.

Jarrah: Why is he called the Grim Reaper?

Sam: I...don't actually know. And now that I think about, I'm not sure what he does with the scythe.

Jarrah: What's a scythe?

Sam: It's a...curved blade thing. On a stick.

Jarrah: What's it for?

Sam: Well, anyway...the parade! So cute! Loved that candy corn witch!

Saturday, October 29, 2011

Wet and Dirty Fun

Had a great birthday yesterday at Glen Ivy. Really, I'm not sure why everyone doesn't celebrate their birthday there, especially since the birthday child gets in free.

It's difficult to get people to road trip on a weekday, but since I'm in rehearsals most weekends I wanted to keep to the day. Celebrants were dropping out at an alarming rate, but then Karina came through, and her friend Jackie (who's now MY friend Jackie) so we had a merry trio on the road about 9:30, Starbucks in hand.

One of the great pleasures of late October at the hot springs is that there are no crowds or lines. Both the girls remarked on this with glee several times during our day. As for me, I've only ever been there at this time of year, so I'm a bit spoiled. We checked in and I got to whip out the very generous gift card I received from my VM cast, so that was the icing on the free birthday cake.

In honor of the proximity to Halloween (and because I get cold in a wet bathing suit all day) I'd brought a fuzzy black robe covered in hot pink skulls, and you better believe I got a lot of compliments on it. As we were shedding the trappings of the outside world and gathering just what we'd need to spa (my ever-present Carmex and my phone for [silent] birthday greetings) I discovered that two other women on our side of the locker room were also October 28 babies. This is a fun moment that only happens at Glen Ivy, and we all wished each other many happy returns. After a short silence, one of them added: "Let me guys are 29, too?" "Always, darling," I said. "Always."

We headed for the Roman saline baths just because they're so pretty, and the first gush of bubbly water over my body told me that I'd been right to brave disrobing in front of two nubile, long-limbed lasses with gallons of long, shiny hair. At Glen Ivy, no one cares. You see all body types, all ages, and all manner of, um, fashion. It's a cornucopia of physical diversity, and it's all about feeling good, not looking good.

Next, a beautifully leaf-shaded terrace with a feature I'd never noticed before: the hot/cold plunge. One pool 95, the other 55. My companions thought this was a smashing idea, and not wanting to be the uncool one I followed along. I did scream like an opera singer when I immersed myself in the cold, and then it was a bit disconcerting to feel the massive tingling all over after a few moments back in the hot. And we actually did this a few times! I had to admit after a while that it was strangely relaxing.

On to a Glen Ivy first, at least for me: tropical cocktails poolside. Heck, poolINSIDE. We floated on puffy blue lounges, enjoying the warm, clear, perfect day as I got a case of the happies from my Hurricane, which was like a giant pink slushie that somehow made me very slow. All too soon, we'd been there two hours and were in need of actual lunch to sop up the alcohol before our respective treatments.

I don't really get lunch at Glen Ivy. The system is confusing and unwieldy, you can't really see the food even though it's supposed to be cafeteria style, and it's laughably expensive for what you get. I ordered a turkey sandwich on wheat, an oatmeal raisin cookie and a Pepsi. And these items together, Dear Readers, were over TWENTY dollars. And the sandwich wasn't even made to order--it had a distinct whiff of cold refrigerator--hello! No matter. I ate it (and must admit the cookie was sublime) and was off to the Massage Center after agreeing to meet the girls at Club Mud afterward.

The Massage Center was also new to me, and took me on a peaceful, winding path up above the main entrance and down into a set of shaded cabins. I love how there are so many possible locations for one's massages. I bonded with the ladies in the waiting room over how we need to remember to bring a second bathing suit for after massages--shimmying into a cold, sticky thing after being rubbed with hot stones is less than delicious. But the massage itself was a treat, and my therapist, Heidi, was a sweetie. We had a lot in common--single girl children of the same age, married to someone from the British Empire, and her birthday was the next day. "I won't be here," she laughed.

By the time I stumbled over to Club Mud, I was pretty noodly. Jackie was already clay-covered and lounging, so Karina and I waded into the warm, red pool and starting slapping our arms and legs with goo. I have no idea why this is so fun and satisfying, but it is. We proceeded to the land-locked mud mound and continued until we were red and crusty from head to toe. A little breeze had whipped up, so we waddled into the Wafa, like a big oven for clay-covered people, and settled on the stone benches with a friendly gang of women who were cracking me up. One of the best things about Glen Ivy are the crazy conversations you strike up with strangers, that often seem like you've just wandered onstage in the middle of their scene and just picked up wherever it seemed appropriate, or vice-versa. There's an ease about what to say, when and how. No one really worries about it. We've all been soaking in salt and mud all day and, like, whatever. Earlier, a tattooed gentleman begged us to eat the ahi nachos (see? weird food) he'd just purchased, saying it could be an appetizer for our lunch. "Trust me," I told him, "if I didn't hate raw fish, I'd be all over it." "You like a big bloody steak, don't you?" he said, staring into my eyes like he was telling my fortune. "Oh yeah," I said, though I really don't like anything redder than medium.

After scrubbing off the mud, we just had time to guzzle some water (an important spa activity) before descending in the magic elevator to The Grotto, which was closed for renovations on my last visit. Again, I don't know why I love this concept, because it's very weird, but I do. You emerge in a Pirates of the Carribean-like cavern and hand over your earthly goods (towels, shoes) at which point you are steered into a crevasse so a dimly-lit figure can slap you all over with a big paintbrush full of avocado-colored goo. In the next room, you lounge in steam while the goo moisturizes your bits. We joked that we'd never spent quite so much time massaging our own appendages in a rather lewd and lascivious way. The next door leads to a rainfall shower and big fluffy towels, which leads to a waterfall room full of dry-ish rocks for perching while enjoying some hot tea and green apples. I don't care for green apples, but I ate one anyway, since everyone says they can fix whatever ails you.

Now it was free time until closing time, and we happily traversed from pool to pool, doing a bit of soaking in the stinky sulphur (noticing that some people had been in there ALL day) and a bit more lounging in the lounge pool, now totally deserted except for us. After that, there was still time to singe our nostrils in the steam room (intense!) and do a bit of backstroke in the large Roman bath near the showers.

It's a little bittersweet to shower off the last of the rocks that have gotten trapped in your bathing suit bottoms at the end of the day, but at least we knew we were stopping in Temecula for dinner. I wish I had planned a snack, though, because by the time we'd showered, dressed, driven 30 miles, tried to park and discovered there was a 45 minute wait for a table, I was getting a bit light-headed. We sat at the bar but a table quickly opened up, and then we really enjoyed the goat cheese artichoke dip that tided us over until our meals arrived. Then I got seriously busted from the waiter for extricating the bacon from my otherwise perfect burger. I would have ordered it without bacon, but the menu said they'd charge me five dollars extra if I made any changes! This was at Public House in Old Town, a place that I love for the food and the sassy service, though this time we were overlooking the (surprisingly rockin') street life and I was deeply disturbed that the town pipes in hideous saxophone light jazz so that everyone within two miles has to hear it.

There was a lot of yawning on the drive home, and David told me Jarrah was upset that she had to go to bed without giving me my presents, but otherwise the day was a grand success. A trip to Glen Ivy on my actual birthday suits me so well because I have trouble admitting that my birthday is a regular day on which regular people go about their regular business. Heading to a tree-lined hideaway oasis in Corona is a nice way to pretend that I'm the one who's right.

Thursday, October 20, 2011

PSA Gone Wrong

Leaving the supermarket yesterday afternoon, we passed two @16-year-olds walking in, a boy and a girl.

Jarrah: Mommy! Were they teenagers?

Sam: I think so.

Jarrah: What? What are they doing shopping without their mommy and daddy?

Sam: Well, teenagers do a lot of things without their mommies and daddies. They're almost grown, so even though they live with their mommies and daddies, they do most things on their own. (pause) But they don't know everything. They just think they do. You know how I know that?

Jarrah: How?

Sam: Because I used to be a teenager. Teenagers do all kinds of things because they don't know better. Drive too fast. Um, stay up all night. They die because they don't listen to their mommies and daddies.

Jarrah: (wonderingly) How do they die from staying up all night?

Sam: Well, that was a bad example. But if you stayed up all night and then drove, you could die.

Jarrah: Well, I don't think teenagers know everything.

Sam: That's good.

Jarrah: I think they know half, because they're grownups-in-training.

Sam: That sounds about right. And how about first graders?

Jarrah: We know some.

Sam: A little?

Jarrah: More than a little.

Sam: And how about kindergartners?

Jarrah: No, they know nothing.

Sam: And how about mommies? Do we know everything?

Jarrah: Yes. You're Google.

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Everything The Traffic Will Allow

I heart North Park Vaudeville. Why, Dear Readers? Let me count the ways.

1. Summer and Jeff (the owners) gave us roses on opening night and thank you cards (thank you cards! with a personal message!) after the last show.

2. The backstage is small, but there is a party in the alley behind the theater that goes on for three hours. I had heard about the popcorn, chips and soda--what I didn't expect were the homemade chocolate chip cookies and chocolate-frosted cupcakes. And champagne after!

3. My new best pal Alec told me I'm special and hugged me about 10 times an hour. Talk about feeling the love.

4. Every single one of my castmates seemed to be entirely freakin' awesome. We were hootin' and hollerin' like we'd known each other for years.

5. The stage has a real red velvet curtain that closes between scenes. While we're setting up back there, they play music that we get to choose. I picked out Barbra Streisand's version of "Luck Be A Lady." It was divine.

6. The front of the theater is a candy shoppe. Yes, the kind with the "e" and extra "p." Where they sell root beer barrels and Necco wafers during the intermission.

7. The 25 plays run in groups of 6 or 7 over four weekends. Jeff asked me if I was in the other weekends. When I said no, he said "Well, I sure wish you were."

8. Summer said to me, "You're a professional actress, right?" Um, no. But thanks for making my night.

9. The insane clown posse of John and James addressed me at each sighting as "Yo, Goldstein!"

10. One of the directors, Jayson, said to me, "You're very talented. Why haven't I heard of you? I'm very talented, too. Have you heard of me? Your number? Got it. Oh! That's me, calling you, in case you were wondering."

11. My director, Pat, came to see us three out of four performances. Her notes? "You guys were awesome. Keep having fun." I am so going to miss her.

12. Two people complimented me on my singing. After three lines of "Zippedy Doodah." The second guy grudgingly mumbled, "Yeah, and your acting's okay, too."

13. My house job (fitting, since I was dressed as a maid) was sweeping the lobby. Every night I asked if it was time to sweep. Every night Summer or Jeff said "Aww, it's okay, Sam. But thanks." But I like sweeping! Really!

14. How about they produce unpublished plays from all over the world, give interesting work to dozens of actors, provide theater opportunities of all kinds to developmentally challenged adults and genuinely care about every step of the process? I tell ya, the weekend was like opening a big pile of presents that just keep coming. I can't help gushing a little.

15. How about the raid on the massage parlor next door (they share stairs with the theater) on Friday night? Scantily clad women fleeing in SUVs, followed by two guys with badges and plaid shirts yelling "Did you see some diminutive Asian women run through here?" Meanwhile, they're squinting at us, some clad in pajamas and French maid costumes, loitering in the alley. "We're putting on a show, Officers." An hour later, one of the diminutive women tiptoed back up the steps in undies, a towel and an unlit cigarette in her mouth. When it was time for my entrance, I pushed past a large man receiving a hearty send-off on the landing. I remembered to say "Pardon me!"

Friday, October 14, 2011

Drama Mama

My little show at the North Park Playwrights Festival opens tonight. Last night we had a really fun tech dress. Turns out my play is on the program last, which is kind of cool.

Last night we got all the details and ran the seven plays for each other and our directors. It was a lively group. It was fun to see the theater with stage light and the red velvet curtain in operation--it's very cozy in there, as it seats just about 35 people. Unfortunately, we're having a freak October heatwave, but the wall air conditioner rattled away and gave us a reason to project.

It was really fun to see the variety in the other plays, including two rather raunchy clowns, an adorable old couple meeting in the park and comparing their meds, a confrontation over a peculiar fortune cookie, and my favorite--a deceased actress who's donated her organs visits the recipients in their dreams, urging them to carry on her legacy. I love insider theater jokes, and the plucky gal playing the actress from-the-beyond reminded me of a young me (or maybe I just wished she did.)

Our piece went well, though maybe with a little less energy than usual, since we'd been curled up in a warm, dark theater for over two hours, but we got some compliments on our blocking and our polish--if not as many laughs as I'd like--so I have high hopes for this weekend. I love the music in between scenes, and the sweet way that co-producer Jeff introduces us after each piece.

And my favorite part is the backstage camaraderie I've so missed these past months, the flurry of actors with their arms full of costumes, the complicated arrangement of "personal props," the clouds of hairspray, the lipstick touch-ups, the boosterism of the performers. Apparently, during the show we all hang together in the alley behind the theater (did I mention it's small?) and the producers provide snacks and drinks, like a little party. How delightful!

Oh, and last night I learned that not only do I have the opportunity to direct one next year, I can write one: playwrights from all over the world submitted 240 scripts for consideration, winnowed down to the 28 being performed throughout the month of October. What a great way to bring theater people of all kinds together.

Sunday, October 09, 2011

Ahoy, Me Halloween Hearties

Last night marked the debut of this year's Halloween ensemble: Introducing PIRATE GIRL!

And in the Uncanny Coincidence of 2011, Joy ended up getting the same costume! So cute, though that ramped up the number of "Are they twins?" comments for the evening considerably (probably understandable.)

Their October coming-out party was Legoland's "Brick or Treat," a nighttime spectacular of candy, magic, music and spookiness. In a slightly weird move, we met Mary, Paul and Joy at the annual event (our first time!) at the tail end of our Yom Kippur fast. So David and I were a little woozy until the sun went down and we had scarfed an entire order of Granny's Apple Fries and Cream apiece. (Oh, that might have been a mistake, good as they are. It wasn't even my stomach that felt sick. It was, like, my neurons. Felt like they might burst with the sugar insurgence.)

The "Brick or Treat" trail was very cute and the line wasn't too long. It had individual stations manned (or wo-manned) by a costumed Lego sprite who was all smiles to encounter our matching pirate lasses. Most of the treats were healthy-ish--peanut butter, pretzels, organic juice, energy bars--but I had to laugh when one dude asked J & J to choose between "collector cards and candy." Had she actually stopped to consider this folly before shouting "CAAAAANNNNDDDDY!", she might have said "Are you entirely serious, with that question? Do I look like King Solomon to you? Hand over the candy before I make you walk the plank! AAARRRR!"

Mostly, we just had a lovely evening wandering around, appreciating the super-cool stiltwalkers and bones-players, a fortune teller behind glass named "Brickzini" with some mad improv skillz, and seeing the girls have an absolute blast. And now that Jarrah's pushing seven, I appreciate the opportunity more than ever to just bask in an occasion when she still finds every single thing to be totally magical. Because when she does? I find everything totally magical, too.

P.S. Jarrah volunteered to go on stage with the magician! And David and I missed the entire thing--she was with Paul while we searched for food! AAAARRR! She received a "real" magician's wand and a disgusting-looking marshmallow eyeball for her gumption. Later, she said that the magician kept suggesting she and the other kid up there were getting married. "I kept telling him it wasn't true!" she said, shaking her head like he might have been a little dim. "I said I didn't even know him! But he wouldn't listen."

Wednesday, October 05, 2011

Trust In The Process

Rainy afternoon. It's been coming all day, wind whipping around the courtyard at school, steely skies where it's normally like being on the face of the sun. I've been looking forward to it, and how wonderful to be snug at home when it started, listening to Jarrah speak softly to her pile of naked Barbies (did they ever have clothes?)

Just had an indoor playdate with my friend Amy, whom I haven't seen in years, and her twin daughters Maya and Zoey. That triangle worked surprisingly well, with only one incident when Jarrah barricaded herself in her room claiming "You don't understand that I'm getting older, and becoming a more sensitive person!" Okay, Dr. Phil--easy now. Being sensitive apparently means that when one designs "rotations" for one's companions, and commands said companions to rotate, one doesn't want to hear that they're "boring."

We also had our first-of-the-year Daisies meet-up today, where I got incredibly cranky when I realized that we never did introductions, even though four out of 10 girls are new, with matching new parents. Sure, we're supposed to hang out every other week for the next six years, but no biggie to have us awkwardly smiling at people whose names we don't know. It wasn't until the drive home that I realized what was really bothering me is that the core group of leaders and leader-friends doesn't include me. Of course they all know each other, even the newbies. I don't like feeling excluded. In fact, I'd say it's my biggest emotional challenge in life. Jarrah, of course, didn't notice anything amiss.

Today was my second day as "Art Helper" in Jarrah's classroom, and it was a lot more anxiety-making. In fact, it is not an exaggeration to say I was sweating it. I was pretty relieved when a second mom showed up because the task seemed Herculean: paint apple trees using only the kids' body parts. (Well, and paint.) It's not so much that this would have been HARD in and of itself as that I didn't want to send them back to their seats covered head to toe in glop. Considering I was the reason they were covered (they raised their little arm while I slapped tempera from elbow to fingertips [trunk, branches] I felt honor-bound to scrub their limbs after that stage so they could be smear-free for the NEXT, in which they dipped their thumbs (green, leaves) and pinkies (magenta, apples, yes, I know apples aren't really magenta) and then the washing started all over again. And we had just over an hour to get through 25 of these. Eeeeek! We sort of just barely finished when the bell rang, and that's only by rudely rushing the more thoughtful artists through their paces: "Yes, yes, Sara, lovely, lovely, I think that's plenty of apples, go-wash-your-hands-okay?" Still, I am happy to have this job, and would love to hear ideas from my artistic, crafty, kid-understanding readers about projects for future.

Still raining. Long frond waving in a dancerly way in my peripheral vision. Dinner ready, but no David to eat it because of the sad state of the roads. Jarrah standing over me, trying to engage me in this game where she's not Jarrah, she's my friend "Jenny" who stopped by for coffee. Periodically, she switches back to Jarrah, mostly so she can ask me if anyone stopped by, what we talked about and if I like them. I have to be on my toes, I tell ya.

Oh, and I learned today that all children are apparently tractable and patient as snow when an adult--any adult--grabs their digits and starts scrubbing stuff off of them. This is a skill they must learn very early. There's something very sweet about it. I feel there is a lesson about childhood scarcely concealed here, but I can't quite see it.

Friday, September 30, 2011

"I Can No Other Answer Make"

Today I taught my last Friday Nia class at the YMCA. I've been teaching this particular class for eight years. Eight years! But I didn't have the numbers anymore, and it didn't make good business sense for them to keep it going. I get that. When I was younger, I got a bit more freaked out about things ending. Now, I just try to be impressed that whatever it is lasted as long as it did. Because eight years is a pretty long time to do anything.

I only had two students. I've known both of them for many years, since I started doing Nia, so it was fitting that they should be there. They're very good followers, and dance with a lot of joy, so they made it fun for me, too. I really put my all into each cue and movement, since it might be a while before I do it again.

And I danced with awareness today, since only hours earlier I got the news I've been waiting on for nearly a month. Well, it wasn't quite the news I'd been looking for then--back then I just wanted a cure for my intermittently throbbing belly. I asked about this throbbing at my annual exam, and my doctor said he'd send me for some tests because he "wanted to make me happy." Well, of course. Doesn't everybody?

The next day I had some blood drawn. Over a week went by and I didn't hear anything about the exam or the blood. But he also sent me for an abdominal ultrasound, to check out that belly pain, and I had to wait a few days for that appointment.

I was pretty nervous about that one. I mean, it was at the hospital, but even more alarming, they said "Ninety minutes before, we need you to drink 32 oz. of water." Wait. What? I said I could never do that in a million years. Eight ounces, maybe. And, like, 10 minutes before. They said I had to do it anyway.

I did my best. I guzzled in the car, in the waiting room. The tech was a sweetheart. I was on the table a long time (she did let me run and pee after the first five minutes) but there was no discomfort. The gel on my skin was hot. I hadn't expected that, after seeing it in movies. It seemed like she was taking pictures for an hour. That's because she was. When I got home, I cried a little. At the time, I thought it was from relief that it was over, but now I realize it was dread of what was to come. Because I knew something was to come.

Two days later I was pulling into the parking lot at the mall when I saw my doctor's number light up my phone. I called from the dark parking garage. The woman on the phone was cold and clinical; she said three sentences: "You have a complex ovarian cyst. It's protocol to have an OVA-1 in these cases. Which lab would you like?"

I couldn't even hear her after that. I got off the phone but I don't remember how. All I heard ringing in my ears was "complex" and "OVA-1." I didn't know what either meant but neither sounded any good. I called David. He Googled OVA-1. That was not good, either. It's a cancer test. I freaked. I mean, I FREAKED. Hyperventilating, sobbing, panic attack, in the parking lot. This was it. This was how I was going to go.

I asked David to come home. He did, immediately. He met me in the park and hugged me while I talked to my Dad on the phone. (If you don't know, my dad is an OB/Gyn.) My Dad was awesome, as always, in these situations. He's not warm and fuzzy, but his combination of pragmatism, experience and vast knowledge go a long way towards calming a girl down. He assured me that the bloodwork would put all my fears to rest. I talked to my doctor. It was actually TWO cysts, one on each side. Smallish, both of them, but not tiny. David picked up Jarrah while I drove myself to yet another hospital building for the blood draw. I didn't have to wait; there was no one else there. The tech said "How are you?" and I opened my mouth to say "Fine," I really did. Instead, I sobbed my head off while she held me. That's right, I was hugged by a phlebotomist. I doubt many people can say the same.

I went home. I was numb. I stayed that way--at least during business hours--for the next two days. Friday after 5:00 I relaxed a little, since nothing horrible could happen to me if the doctor's office was closed. Meanwhile, I was relying on my own version of Mother's Little Helper to sleep at night. Thank goodness for that. Because you know what? Life goes marching on. There's still laundry, and dishes, making lunches, reading stories, calling plumbers.

Ah, yes. The plumber. Not only did I lose my job in the middle of all this, but our brand-new, beautiful bathroom sprouted a blooming field of water stains on the wall near the shower. After one month. Yikes. I was so numb I could barely muster any indignation. And that is a strange day in Mudville for me, as many of you well know.

Then it was Monday, and it came and went without a call. My dad was checking on me (along with certain amazing, dear friends--thank you, thank you) a lot and by now had decided my results were lying on someone's desk somewhere. He urged me to contact them. His clarion call was taken up by nearly everyone else in my life. Call them. Call them. I received a number of texts saying that and only that: CALL THEM.

Readers, I couldn't. I. Could. Not. Why, you ask? Don't bother. I don't really know, but it was about as visceral as my loathing of cottage cheese. As long as I didn't call them, none of this was really happening, since no one was there to say it out loud.

Tuesday I could tell it was getting ridiculous. Lab tests take two days, three tops, right? We were now going on six days. I called. And the nurse told me "Oh, we don't have that back--we have to send it out of state. It takes 7-10 days to get results." Um...did no one imagine that was relevant information to share with ME? I must have sounded pretty something-or-other because a half-hour later my doctor called.

"These results are borderline," I heard him say. Borderline? Borderline? Keep on pushing my love over the borderline? I couldn't even hear him now. Where was the all-clear, the no-worries, that everyone and everyone kept promising? This was not it. My doctor was now ordering an MRI. Someone would call me.

I called my dad. I was sobbing and hiccuping so much it's amazing he could hear me. My dad--did I mention?--is awesome in these situations. He said he would research the issue. And he did. Turns out there is not much real-world data for this test, as it's very new. Know this if anyone ever wants you to take it. Various other factors I'll exclude for the sake of ethical discretion suggested that my "score" might not mean that much. But within the parameters of the people who made the test, it meant something: I hadn't passed. Now we needed more information.

If I'd been worried before, I was now...what was I? I went almost robotic. I would get through each day, doing what I needed to do, hyper-conscious of loving who I wanted to love and being who I wanted to be. This might be my only chance to do those two things. I put my head down and focused. I still erupted in tears occasionally, but only at moments when I felt really safe.

That same afternoon, Jarrah and I were in Target, shopping for her Halloween costume and getting supplies for an art project I was going to assist with in her class the next day. (See? Loving. Being. Head down.) The MRI center called, and weirdly--I thought--had appointments available the next day, and that very night--like in two hours. I grabbed the latter without hesitating. Why? Because I was totally, absolutely, freakin' tired of anticipating stuff. Whatever it was, no matter no horrible, I wanted it done and over.

My friend Grace--bless her--picked up Jarrah so David could take me. It was all very interesting. The two techs may actually be some sort of angels sent to earth to make sad, worried people feel uplifted. Because I was with them for over an hour and they were the kindest, gentlest guides to a bizarre new experience I've ever had.

Have you ever had a MRI? I hadn't known about the shot part. They need to squirt contrast in you, to get a better look. Or about how insanely loud it is. I had headphones with some sort of ghastly soft jazz, but I could barely hear it over the jackhammer-like din. But the weirdest part of all? The heat. I actually thought the machine was burning me up. Turns out I was burning myself up, or at least my protons were. Weird. The most surprising thing is that I didn't get claustrophobic (this from the girl who has sworn off all caves for life.) I'm sure the Xanax and the washcloth over my face helped with that. And speaking of angels? My husband stood touching my shoulder for nearly an hour while I was in there. He later told me that was the only part of me he could reach in the tunnel. I'm glad I only knew that after.

Afterward, I felt strangely brave. I had been crying and getting bad news most of the day, and I'd still volunteered to go to the hospital that same night and lie in a hot tunnel for nearly an hour. I was proud of myself. For the first time in weeks, I had a lull in the terror. I ate an obscene amount of dinner and slept like a baby.

Starting the next day, I jumped like a gazelle every time my phone made a sound. I waited through two days--nothing. It was Rosh Hashanah. Maybe my doctor was busy praying? But I knew one thing for sure: I was not, not, NOT going to go all weekend again with no news.

I didn't have to. This morning (Friday) my doctor called. I missed that call. I sat there with my heart leaping out of my chest and called him back. He was busy--could he call me later? I whispered "okay" and then sat there staring. If my phone hadn't chosen yesterday to die and I didn't have a new "refurbished" phone, I might have noticed there was a voice mail. But instead, it took me nearly a half-hour. I listened to it. My doctor said he wanted to go over my MRI. Right, right. "But no bad news. Everything's perfect." I had no idea what that meant. What was perfect about my ovaries having growths on them? But I put down the phone. And Readers, I sobbed. Suddenly, totally, luxuriously. No bad news.

I called David. I was crying so hard he probably thought the worst. Eventually, I called my doctor again. I was sick of waiting. I'm SO OVER waiting. Now I wanted the news, all of it, NOW. So, the cysts are the ordinary kind. Nothing to see; move it along. We will repeat the MRI in three months to make sure they've gone away.

Oh. Only one problem. Remember my pain? The reason I came in? It's still there. It's even a bit worse. Oh...well. There was some talk of surgery, but why do I want surgery for something that can resolve on its own? Some mention of hormones, which may or may not help. Ugh. That was that. Both my doctor and my dad were eager to get back to their busy days. As my dad put it, I'd "ceased to be an interesting patient."

My tummy hurts. I'd like to get that sorted out. But I took a shower (in our brand new bathroom now sporting a massive hole in the wall) that felt like a million bucks, got dressed, and went to meet my friend Phoebe for lunch. She treated, to celebrate my good news. It was a beautiful day. My lunch was delicious. She made me laugh. Everything seemed a little sunnier, a little breezier, a little bluer and greener and golder. I gave my gorgeous girl a big kiss when I picked her up at school. Danced my heart out in my last Friday Nia class. Smiled at everyone. Said thank you and meant it.

Loving. Being. Head up.

Sunday, September 18, 2011

Days of Wine and Poses

We had an impromptu get-away to Temecula this weekend for the Temecula Valley Film Festival. Our film Sublime Intervention was screening there as part of the 48 Hour Film Project showcase, and we had All-Access Filmmaker passes.

Mary and Paul generously agreed to host Jarrah for a sleepover, so David and I decided to maximize the experience by staying in a hotel near the festival (it's about an hour drive away.)

Readers, this turned out to be the most delightful mini-break. So delightful, in fact, that I've since suggested we make it an annual event, even if we don't get a free ride. Because Temecula is still an emerging film festival, there are no crowds, no lines, no heartbreaking shut-outs like we experienced at Sundance. If you find something on the schedule you want to see, you're in, and often with the extra-perk of a cast and crew Q&A afterward.

We were really impressed with the quality of the films, and I just love being able to flash my badge anytime I feel like going into the magical Hospitality Suite, a storefront near the theater transformed into a cushy artist lounge for the duration, filled with swag, alcohol, movie candy and entire meals (including homemade cookies and cake) absolutely, positively FREE if you're wearing that all-powerful lanyard around your neck. The Hospitality Suite is also the site of the parties, held every evening, to honor the filmmakers and even some celebrities in town for the premieres. More on that anon.

We arrived Friday afternoon in time for a lively and delicious Italian dinner courtesy of Deo Volente Media--husband and wife team David and Dawn, and charismatic frequent star Maurice--as well as Robyn and Duane, who's the head programmer for the festival. I had so much fun hanging out with them, and especially getting to goof around with Maurice, who dazzles me a bit since I've been seeing him on the big screen for a few years now.

We skedaddled into our screening in the nick of time, and were pleased to see a packed house. After, I was once again the only woman at the front of the theater (third time this season!) for the Q&A, which is a little weird but still fun.

David and I got a kick out of going straight into another theater--love those All-Access passes!--to see Karaoke Man, a sweet, smart romantic comedy about a young man who dresses as a super-hero to sing in the karaoke bar where his love works. The film features mostly new talent, but we did recognize James Denton from Desperate Housewives in the role of the bar owner.

When we came out, most of our crew was gathered outside, and the warm night was filled with the sound of live music--the festival also features up-and-coming bands and musicians. It all felt very festive, and we hung around until a bunch of people carrying buckets of ice let us know that the Hospitality Suite was open for party business.

And here is where everything got all very Hollywood-ish. While we were milling around, Robyn pointed out James Denton, "Mike the plumber" from Desperate Housewives. For a second I was amazed to see him, drinking a beer in a baseball cap in Temecula, then I remembered I'd just seen him in the movie. Robyn said I should ask to take a photo with him. I responded that I have never been able to act normal around celebrities so no freakin' way. But then Duane was super-smooth and said he'd handle it. He introduced himself (he is the Lead Programmer for the festival, after all) and then--suave as all get-out--introduced a couple of his friends. Since I was standing there beaming like an idiot, I got to be one of those friends. Mr. Denton stuck out his hand and said "Hi, I'm Jamie!" seeming for all the world like a sweet guy who hasn't been on prime-time TV for eight years. We all chatted for a while--about his movie, and ours (!) and he told Duane he'd really like to see the 48 Hour showcase, if he could get a DVD (!!) since he'd missed the last screening. And Readers, I got brave enough to act semi-normal. He was talking about the speeded-up schedule on an independent film, and remarked ruefully, "It's a young man's game." "Tell me about it." I chimed in, and he laughed. Readers: He laughed!!! We took a photo, after which I noticed that my eyes are completely closed, and Duane followed him to report this. He came back immediately, with a big smile, and threw his arm around me with a booming, "Well, we can't have that, can we?" I tell you, the man is a prince among actors. 'Course, I don't know a lot of actors.

The night made, it seemed only right to depart on a high note, so David and I left for the Marriott suites. Either our room was particularly inviting or we were just bone-tired, because we slept like we rarely do in hotels. After a (slightly less than satisfying) FREE breakfast, we were ready for Film Fest: Part Deux.

We returned at 11:00 a.m. just in time for a documentary we'd heard about, Hollywood to Dollywood. Two adorable twin brothers, Gary and Larry, rent a RV they name "Jolene" and drive it cross-country to Pigeon Forge, TN to hand-deliver a script they've written for their idol, Dolly Parton. Hijinks ensue, and we encounter lots of colorful characters on the way. The real message of the film is acceptance and tolerance, and there wasn't a dry eye in the house. And it was a real treat to have a Q&A with the brothers themselves afterward--they were beyond excited to be sharing their film--soooo charming.

Next we had lunch at The Public House in Old Town with Robyn and Dwayne, where the brisket sliders were divine and you gotta love the housemade (I kept calling it "house-churned") cream soda on tap with real vanilla bean-bits floating in it. Now the day was getting a bit steamy, and you know what's awesome to do on a hot, lazy Saturday? See air-conditioned movies. FOR FREE. Oh, yeah.

Soon we were back to the theater for a feature called The Pill, a film with a frankly sexual premise that was really a rom-com with a difference, because it was smart and thought-provoking, and you could actually see the characters changing. The dialogue and the acting were tres sophisticated, and David and I liked it a lot. At this point, I was like "What's the deal with Temecula? Do they only choose good, interesting films, or what?" I'm not sure why this was so surprising to me.

Now we were wanting to go straight into a star-studded feature called Mayor Cupcake, but alas, it was time to return to real life and go claim our child. Luckily, this was fun, too, since we got to have dinner with Mary and Paul and fill them in on the highlights of the weekend thus far.

I say "thus far" because by now we'd somewhat recklessly decided to return the following night for the closing night Gala at Pechanga Casino, despite my repellent experience at the SDAFF gala a few months back. Readers, it was the right decision. For one thing, this time I wore a dress that wasn't mercilessly squeezing my organs. So already, the night was a winner. For another, Robyn and Duane scored us some VIP seats at some congressman's table, right in the front row. By the time I'd slurped two complimentary glasses of the Wilson Creek almond-flavored champagne (oooh, will be getting more of that) and spotted the illustrious Booboo Stewart at the next table (much mirth about this Twilight-starring young man throughout the night) I was in fine spirits indeed.

After a surprisingly good meal, we were escorted to the Pechanga Ballroom for the "show." I hadn't realized there was going to be an actual show, though I knew there would be honorees and acceptance speeches. But after a lengthy wait, we also got dance numbers and and a slightly scary sister-act duo singing a repetitive song, during which they commanded us to clap. But I have to admit, the production values were high. We even got two hosts, who bantered in a way that may or may not have been determined by the TeLePrompter. The show was longish, because there was no orchestra to play anyone off, so not only did the recipients speak luxuriously, so did their presenters. And each honoree got their own "reel," ranging from mysterious (the first thing one honoree did upon reaching the mike was disavow any knowledge of the contents of his) to loving-hands-at-home (the series of slow stills set to a song for Connie Stevens.) Booboo Stewart thanked divine intervention and Temecula for his award, but mentioned four or five times that he was too nervous to make a real speech. Dude, there was no uncertainty this evening--you were getting a statuette. Write something. The best speech was courtesy of the lovely and regal Virginia Madsen, who was resplendent in a yellow dress and spoke movingly of the importance of independent film, and was introduced by her kvelling mother, who was nearly as eloquent.