IRENE accepted, beautiful and bittersweet

Bittersweet victory is not unusual. Accomplishments are often hard-won, satisfaction often comes at a cost. On August 26th of this year, at 3:15pm PST at the Blue Mouse Theatre in Tacoma, WA, that cost will be the absence of one of the greatest champions of independent art I have ever known, and the impetus behind the production of IRENE: Mollie Mook-Fiddler.

Mollie, my lifelong friend and partner in all things good and mischievous, was meant to be with us on set in Silverton, CO, in June of 2016. She was meant to have picked me up at the Durango airport, drive me over the horrifying pass to Silverton, lead production meetings with me, help me dress the set, she wanted to learn camera work under IRENE director Sinjin Jones’ mentorship, we were meant to have drinks at Montanya and catch up and laugh until it was too late to walk through the streets of Silverton without seeing a nighttime bear rummaging through the dumpsters, as we did the last time she and I created art together in Silverton.

A phone call a week before the production put an end to all those plans. Her cancer had returned and she was compelled to fight it, in her way, with all her knowledge of the disease and with all her might.

Still, the production went on. There were a few texts back and forth to let her know all was well. Producer and A Theatre Group secretary Louis King, also a dear friend of Mollie’s, was my go-to for long talks over wine in her absence. We set the shoot. And then we shot. And the brilliant performances from actors Rebecca Krebbs and Ben Mattson, the extraordinary control of lighting and framing in direction from Sinjin Jones and the dedication of sound and camera team James Richard Padilla and Tressa Lynne Smith all took my breath away. The result was an absolutely beautiful 10-minute short film, IRENE.

We submitted it to one festival, The Destiny City Film Festival. This was the festival that, several years earlier, awarded IRENE’s inspiration, BLUE BUNNY, the best short script award in its screenwriting competition. There was a meaning and a weight behind our submitting it there. And it was accepted.

So now IRENE has its first laurels, and we have something to show Mollie that we succeeded in her physical absence, though her spirit was constant, even as she fought for her life. We will have to trust that, somehow, she knows.

In November of last year, we lost Mollie.

In one text she sent me while I was in Silverton, she asked that I visit a ‘secret waterfall.’ “Sinjin knows where it is” she texted. Shooting and cutting and editing a film in less than three days, however, does not leave much time for a trip to a waterfall. The week came and went and I did not see the waterfall. “It’s okay,” she texted. “I’ll take you there next time.”

There would not be a next time, but now I know how to find my closure in the wake of her passing and how to, really, find her. A goal of mine for the summer of 2018 is to return to Silverton to, among other things, visit the secret waterfall.

When I do, I will wear the ring she left me, a 1970s Navajo piece that she must have remembered I admired. And I will wear her lipstick. Far and away, the most certain I have come to her actually no longer being with us physically on this planet is when I held her lipstick in my hand. One tube half-used, one yet unopened. I will forever be grateful to her husband for having the strength to send that to me.

A huge congratulations to the IRENE team, a giant thank you to A Theatre Group, to The Animas Bed and Breakfast for hosting us, and endless love to Mollie for being who she was, who she still is, and for bringing us all together.

The Yellow Hat has Been Unpacked

I have a yellow crocheted hat. It usually makes its first yearly appearance in mid-to-late September. It is THE only thing that makes the end of summer somewhat bearable.

With the arrival of fall, I revisit some favorite beach scenes. I might have to find another one to paint so I can lose myself in summer as winter threatens arrival.

 

Mike one-ups Wes Craven – Trust Me, He’d Say the Same Thing

Horror director Wes Craven died today, Sunday, 8/30/2015. This is news I would have shared with my friend Mike. The text convo (because, I think, in text, it’s a ‘convo,’ not a ‘conversation’) would have gone something like this:

ME:  WTF!? The Freddy Krueger guy died!? I can’t deal.

MIKE: Condolences. But I never really liked horror films. LOL.

ME: It’s FREDDY KRUEGER!

MIKE: My job is scary enough.

ME: Good point. Let’s watch Caddyshack tonight. OH WAIT. We live 1200 miles apart.

MIKE: Next time we get together. Send me some stuff to watch tonight at work. And no spoilers about MasterChef.

And then I would have sent some recommendations of stuff for him to laugh at during his night shift as a jailor.

The only trouble is, Mike passed away yesterday, one day earlier than Wes Craven. So I can’t text him about it. I mean I could, but I don’t know if my plan covers the next world. What I do know is that there are going to be many moments ahead during which I am moved to tell him about something I watched that he would like, or tell him about something I ate that he would like, or tell him about something that was going on in my life that I just need to talk about. He was there for all of that. And he shared his life with me in that way too. Mike and I were friends.

Mike and I graduated from high school together. I (first) remember him from Senor Johnson’s Spanish class in seventh grade. In fact, oddly, Mike holds a strange distinction in my life as one of four people I remember seeing for the first time, in fact, I remember what he was wearing! A grey sweatsuit! Senor Johnson had called him to the blackboard to answer some sort of question and I remember him begrudgingly doing so. When Mike and I connected many years later (he sparked by his interest in my movie recommendations and I sparked by my interest in the green chile recipe he posted on Facebook one Christmas three or so years ago), I told him that I remembered that. Guess what I got for my birthday? A grey sweatsuit.

Mike was thoughtful like that, and loved connection with others above all material goods. He also loved chicken wings. And beer. And baseball. And his dog Max. I painted a portrait of Max for him that he framed and hung in his apartment.

He remembered a print I liked when we went to Powell’s Bookstore in Portland, OR,—it read “Write drunk, edit sober – Ernest Hemingway.” He had it sent to me. He treasured a late evening we spent gossiping in his Cousin Paula’s basement one night, drinking cheap wine I’d packed in my bag (for the train journey) and a bag of Skittles my son had tucked in there as well, and sent me the same wine along with a 2lb bag of Skittles to enjoy during the Superbowl (Marshawn Lynch! Beast mode!).

In January, Mike, tragically, had a good friend who was killed in a traffic accident helping a woman with her stalled car. I made this rough video for him because he loved when I sang (even put up with me karaoke-ing!) and I sang this song at my stepfather’s memorial years earlier. He told me he loved the video and that he knew the moment at which, during the song, I had trouble not crying. He said he thought I was looking right at him at the end of the video.

It’s odd to me that, now, this song applies to Mike.

This all happened far too fast. I received a message from his sister a week ago today that he only had a few days to live. The most recent text message I’d received from him indicated that I shouldn’t worry but that he’d had his lungs drained after “puking blood.” That message came two days earlier.

And then silence.

My last text to him (before I received the message from his sister) was “Miiiiiiiiiiike?!  Bueller? Bueller?”

On Friday morning, thanks to the surprise kindness of a mutual friend from school, I flew to Denver to see him in hospice. I don’t know if it was denial or dumb hope but I didn’t really think that I was flying in to say goodbye. I sat with him as he slept or at least as he lay there on the bed not talking, eyes closed. But as I talked to him and held his hand, though he felt very far away, there were slight attempts at squeezing my hand back. Attempts at moans. Still, it was difficult for me to find him, difficult to connect the Mike I knew to the vulnerable, naked, body, still breathing, moaning, trying to communicate, unable to, responding to the many visitors, basketball and football players I hadn’t seen since high school (MY GOD, their eyes all looked the same as they did 23 years ago), Mike moaned each time someone spoke to him. I wondered where he really was in the room. I felt like he was somewhere above me.

The only time he opened his eyes was when I told him that his hair was ‘getting too long.’ Mike would regularly send me selfies of when he would shave his head, accompanied by “I shaved my head tonight, as I do.”

And yesterday, Saturday, I arrived at the hospice 30 minutes too late. It was instantly clear he had left us. His family stood outside his room. I walked toward them, asked his sister “is he gone?” and was met with a hug and tears. Hugging his father was like hugging him, Mike, their bodies were like carbon copies, and their emotions were equally strong and clear. His mother was also strong, tears in her eyes. I was amazed by her fortitude and her generosity in comforting ME.

I asked if I could go in the room and say goodbye.

I walked into the room and it was buzzing. With his energy. He was all around me. More at peace than I’d ever seen him alive, as we, when we would get a chance to meet, would sit across from each other and talk about happiness and life. Those conversations were, truly, never about peace. Unless they were about how each of us would endeavor to find peace in our lives.

But yesterday, as he lay there, already passed, I found it was easier to talk to him, even easier to hold his hand, really, than it had been the day before and in fact, maybe, it had ever been. I thanked him, told him how much I would miss him, and let him know if he felt, you know, like haunting me at any point that would be cool too.

But, as I know, he never liked horror films, so I’m pretty sure he just, somewhere, smirked, and went along his way in search of humor.

And, I hope, peace.

 

 

 

Cardboard Hearts and Happy Mistakes

Sometimes I hope the aliens really are watching us. I hope someone or something out there sees the bizarre and poignant things humans can do. This desire of mine makes itself known during moments in which I feel just so proud to be one of this weird species, populated by those with the hopeful potential to create and observe and feel. Sometimes really extremely sensitive and talented human beings manage to capture emotion and observation in some form of art for the rest of us to witness. And in those moments, I tremble. Blinded by giddy awe, my power to analyze these works of art may leave something to be desired, but my capacity for feeling, on maximum overdrive most of the time anyway, becomes moved to the point of sudden clarity. All it takes to really set it off is the right trigger.

One such trigger was this little number:

BOOP BEEP.

A humble and forthright, simply, beautifully and tightly shot short that played at the (20th Annual!!!) Austin Film Festival last month. I was, almost literally but not quite, dragged (okay, ‘encouraged’ is a more accurate description) to the shorts program in which it played by friend and talented director/actor/awesome person Peter Michael Dowd who had his own film in the festival (short doc THE KING OF SIZE). Peter had met the filmmakers behind another short playing in this particular program. A program called, unbecomingly (at least to me) something like ‘FAMILY MATTERS.’  Family programming is not normally my cup of tea.

Still, I went. And I spent the next 24 hours thanking Peter. And I spent the next few weeks stalking BOOP BEEP filmmaker Murphy Gilson. Because the first thing I knew, as soon as it ended, all 5 minutes and 18 seconds of it, was that, if I didn’t see BOOP BEEP again, soon, I would probably die.

BOOP BEEP is described on its wonderfully comprehensive Facebook page (you can watch tons of ‘making of’ vids there!) as: ‘…a handcrafted  love story about a lonely little robot who tries to win the heart of the girlbot next door. It’s a homemade film which attempts to eschew perfection in favor of the beauty of happy mistakes. At its very full cardboard heart, this film is about childhood wonder and how simple things can be magical.’

HAPPY MISTAKES. That’s it. That’s the special ingredient. The secret weapon. The unpretentious yet wildly imaginative design of the ‘bots. The sensitivity and wry humor behind the set decoration (the camera pans by a copy of STEEL MAGNOLIAS during the opening credits, just one small example). The viewer gets the sense that the magic of the production wasn’t wholly by design. That it was guided by sudden inspiration, last minute ideas, by a sense of fun, by a ‘hey, that makes sense!’ sensibility. With all due respect, because I can imagine that crediting serendipity may come across, unintentionally, as a back-handed compliment to hard-working and seasoned filmmakers.

But if I could front-handedly slap any filmmaker across the face with a compliment it would be Murphy Gilson. The craft behind this film captures that sense of serendipity and magic in a way that is simultaneously palpable yet invisible. An admirable feat. When I contacted Gilson on Facebook to freak out all over his film, to congratulate him in all my heartfelt yet sycophantic glory, I didn’t realize that he was already an award-winning filmmaker for his short PARTIALLY TRUE TALES OF A HIGH ADVENTURE.  And, in fact, as I write this, I notice that just hours ago, it was just announced on Facebook that BOOP BEEP won Golden Reel Award Winner at the 2013 Nevada Film Festival.

Awards and laurels aside (and there are a lot of laurels: Austin Film Festival, San Diego Film Festival, Nashville Film Festival, the list goes on…), one gets the sense, when watching BOOP BEEP, that it was not created out of anything more than a love for creation. A need for expression. An uncomplicated desire to repair something in the viewer (and perhaps in the filmmaker, if I dare?) in the same way that the male robot finds a glimpse of something compelling enough to make him duct tape the grate, upright and ready, across his chest after seeing the glimmering female robot across the street. Readying himself for the next, new, possible step.

In a film with this level of honesty and beauty there is often found a moment. A moment tantamount to a plane taking off or a roller coaster beginning its slow click-click-click up some impossibly vertical hill. In BOOP BEEP there is such a moment, during which you know you’re about to go on an emotional journey. For better or for worse. And there’s no hiding. The simple and ‘handcrafted’ (as described) robots ironically echo this ‘oh the humanity’ sense, with the same hodge-podge and taped together emotional gravity that, if you’re lucky, you remember life felt like as a pre-teen (and if you’re really lucky, life still feels that way). When everything had so much hope yet felt so tragic and monumental. And one smiling, shiny (robot) at the bus stop across the street could change the day and just maybe your outlook on the rest of your life.

Playing at The Beverly Hills Short Film Festival at  Busby’s in Los Angeles, on November 23rd at 3pm. Like the BOOP BEEP Facebook page for more screenings.

Are you there 2012? It’s me, Jenni

Can someone please remind me how we’re all supposed to die this year? All I know is that, for the past, say, 6 years or so, I’ve experienced an impending sense of doom when hearing of the year “2012.”  I have a vague understanding that something catastrophic happens in December, it has something to do with Mayans and their calendar, and that we’re “all gonna die.” And then there was that John Cusack movie I refuse to see. Not because of John Cusack, but because I get images in my head, obsess over them, and then, as Mike Dooley says, “thoughts become things.” If we’re all dead by December, I squarely want that blame placed on someone other than myself.

I remember when we first brought my son home from the hospital in 2007. I was in that weepy postpartum stage. I had run out of things to cry about, the first being the fact that, one day, my son was going to have to experience middle school (I hope my niece, who is heading to middle school this fall isn’t reading this) because it’s absolutely the worst thing that ever happened to me and, you know, I’ve lost loved ones. With nothing more to cry about, I had to cry about the fact that my little boy would only be 5-years-old when…whatever terrible thing is supposed to happen in 2012…happens. But, hey, no middle school! Silver lining…I guess.

I know a Google search would take care of this, but really…is it an asteroid? A virus?

My stepmother, who is a talented hypnotherapist and knows all about things cosmic, told me a few years ago that the real issue of 2012 doesn’t actually describe the end of the world, but the end of time as we see it. As in, as I understood, the measurement of time. Expression of time. How time is spent. How time is valued.

Based on what I’ve experienced over the past 5 months or so, I’m going to go with this idea. Time and space being relative (thank you, Albert Einstein), it sounds like things are going to get dreamy. Recently, I’ve had several ‘real-life’ experiences that have been so dream-like, I’ve had to ask myself whether or not I was awake (and once I figured out that I was, I could barely stand the urgency of making sure I drank in and memorized every aspect of the moment). Additionally, my dreams have been so realistic that I’ve had to remind myself, once I’ve woken up, that they were just that, dreams. It seems like the line between dreams, whether sleeping or daydreaming, and reality is narrowing, or at least becoming more elastic.  It reminds me of the way I felt when I was a kid, like anything was possible. As if magic was all around me in the form of spirits and faeries, not just in Las Vegas in the form of Criss Angel and David Copperfield (with all due respect).

An abbreviated list of these moments includes:

The morning of my husband’s marathon, just as all the runners were getting ready to form at the start line, a breeze picked up and caused a huge Cottonwood to shed a blizzard of blossoms. My son asked how it could be snowing and sunny at the same time.

My son’s last day of preschool, my husband and I walked him from the park to see his new Elementary School. Church bells were ringing (on a Friday afternoon?).  It made no sense. But it was magic.

An ice cream truck just drove down our street…I heard the music first, then waited for the truck to go by.  As it passed, the driver somehow managed to make eye contact with me through the front window and smile. I bet he didn’t even know he was doing it, he was probably just smiling in this direction. It’s a sunny beautiful Sunday afternoon, people are out mowing their lawns, I can hear the radio playing from the porch next door. All was perfect, but I couldn’t run to get my son, or run out to meet the ice cream truck (due to my broken foot), and it felt like an opportunity lost, until I got that smile.

I admit, I may be giving weight to these moments that they do not necessarily, outwardly, deserve. But that’s pretty much what magic is, perception. And I’d rather live believing 2012 will bring more of these dream-like moments, as opposed to waiting for John Cusack to save me from a Typhoon or something.

Plus, how great would it be to feel like this all the time? Maybe once 2013 rolls around, everyone will notice it’s snowing blossoms, not just the 5-year-olds.

 

Don’t Tread on Me

I have a friend who just climbed Mt. Kilimanjaro. My husband just ran his second marathon, shaving 6 minutes from his previous already speedy time, hitting the Finish Line at 3 hours, 31 minutes.  Not bad for a guy who’s turning 40 on Thursday. My eleven-year-old niece is 3 belts away from being a Black Belt.  I’m surrounded by physical accomplishment, grace and endurance.

As for me?  Apparently I can’t even manage the single step from the kitchen to the patio without fracturing my foot in two places.

But, it’s not all my fault.

Here’s the culprit.  The Mini-Tweet. Oh, sure. Cute, isn’t it? A seemingly innocent toy, abandoned, lying on the patio. In my mind, it wasn’t just lying there. It was lying in wait. Look at it, the knowing look in its eye that says, if you step on me, even in your sensible moccasins, you won’t crush me. Your foot will simply roll over me, twisting your ankle, until you hear a loud crack that, I assure you, will not be me.

The loud crack was, as it turned out, my 5th metatarsal.

It didn’t help that I was holding a tray of four squash starts that I was heading outside to plant. When I twisted my ankle, I also instinctively twisted my body in some bizarre pirouette that managed to save the squash plants but left me unable to walk or drive for the next 6 weeks.

My mom came over later that day to, among many other things she took care of for me and will probably be taking care of for me for said 6 weeks, plant my squash.  They are doing great.  Flourishing, in fact, as my foot swells to the size of a smallish pumpkin and, color-wise, looks like the feet that peek out from under the white blankets in all those mortuary scenes on CSI. She asked my husband in hushed tones if the accident had ‘anything to do with alcohol.’ I wish! That would be a better story, and give some explanation to my inexplicable clumsiness. Not to mention the fact that ‘comfortably numb’ would have been a far preferable state at the time to ‘painfully aware.’

One silver-lining (and I tell you, I am searching desperately for them…they have to be there somewhere) was meeting EMT Charles who, while wrapping my foot at the ER, told me incredible, delightful and disgusting tales from the ER to distract me from the pain. He recently began posting some of these in blog form, so others can be similarly delighted and disgusted (and at times, moved). Check them out.

So, this will be the summer of figuring out what I’m good for when I can’t do all the things I normally do. My mom will drive my son to his piano lessons.  My husband will mow the lawn. I’ve already had to use the Little Rascal at Trader Joe’s, which was simultaneously fun and embarrassing (I was disappointed in the ‘horn,’ which turned out to be a tiny double-beep that sounded less threatening than a text message alert). I can’t really ask anyone to paint the commissions I have. I think I’ll have to channel my favorite artist to manage that one:

At the urging of my ‘turn the other cheek’ husband, I deleted the litigious letter I initially wrote in a pain-filled Vicodin haze, threatening to sue the makers of Mini-Tweet for haphazardly selling these adorable accidents-waiting-to-happen without including the following warning on the packaging:

Do not leave Mini-Tweet abandoned on the patio.  Mini-Tweet will take you down. Especially if you are a clumsy, spacey writer and/or artist.

 

 

My Preferred Definition of Profound

 

People have stopped asking me if I’ve ‘seen anything good lately.’ It has come to the attention of close friends and family that we do not share the same taste in movies.  This is a hardship for my husband, because I’m in charge of the Netflix queue (I’d give him the password if he’d just ask for it). It’s also a problem for my mother who doesn’t have cable and is relegated to watching films I either check out from the library or have in my collection at home.

Take Michael Haneke’s THE SEVENTH CONTINENT.  This is one of my top three favorite films.  My mother detested it and my husband refuses to watch it.  Maybe I shouldn’t have told him what it’s about (a middle-class family agrees to destroy all their belongings and commit suicide together). I get it. My husband doesn’t want to see a 10-year-old girl commit suicide.  My mom was just annoyed that Haneke showed the family brushing their teeth on several occasions. Truth be told, I can barely watch the film. I feel sick halfway through and am exhausted and tear-stained once the final credits roll.

So why do I love this film so much?  Why do I love my other favorites: DELIVERANCE and ETERNAL SUNSHINE OF THE SPOTLESS MIND?

I took a course through Seattle’s TheFilmSchool in 2008 in which instructor (and film/story/character maven) Warren Etheredge asked his students to take a closer look at not only their favorite films, but favorite pieces of art, favorite books, favorite songs, even favorite examples of architecture.  Come up with ten, he challenged, and you will start to see a theme.  A “nugget,” as he called it, of what makes you tick.  This (seemingly) simple exercise remains as one of the most important moments of self-examination not only in relation to why, how, and how best I can express myself through writing and painting, but how I function as a person and relate to others.  I wonder if Warren knew he was doing all that?

In fact, it’s that ticking that feeds art. That ticking that is so simple, so purely the essence of you that it can be elusive in the same way that it’s difficult to describe a color to a blind person or define a truth like absolute zero.

I read somewhere the other day that art ‘bears the responsibility of being profound.’ That statement hurt my head for a few days. In my mind, art should flow, should move without responsibility.  Fire doesn’t burn because it knows it will cook food or keep people warm, a river doesn’t run because it knows it can move a canoe southward.  It just runs. If someone hops in a canoe and goes southward, so be it.

Now, I know what the word ‘profound’ means, but I actually had to look it up in the dictionary just to make sure I wasn’t missing something:

PROFOUND 

1.penetrating or entering deeply into subjects of thought or knowledge; having deep insight or understanding: a profound thinker.
2.originating in or penetrating to the depths of one’s being; profound grief.
3.being or going far beneath what is superficial, external, or obvious: profound insight.
4.of deep meaning; of great and broadly inclusive significance: a profound book.
5.pervasive or intense; thorough; complete: a profound silence.

As it turns out, I was missing something.  If the quote referred to the second definition, then I agree. Art should penetrate the depths of one’s being.  That’s not to say that art should be aware of its ability to do this.  Nor should it ‘bear the responsibility’ of universally accomplishing this.  As evidenced by the thumbs-down I keep getting from my mother, etc. – art is an individual experience.  My mother’s favorite films are (the original Japanese) SHALL WE DANCE and WEST SIDE STORY.  Hmmm…forbidden love…transcendence through dance… See a theme?  Are you looking at my mom’s nugget?!

As for my “nugget” – on closer (and sometimes uncomfortable) examination of my favorite pieces of art, I see themes that echo in my heart, or ‘penetrate to the depths’ of my being. I see that they have something to do with losing something you’ve believed to be true all your life and questioning whether life is not only more valuable but beautiful despite – and maybe because of – that loss. This theme bears true not only in the script I’m currently working on, but in recent paintings…buildings in transition: being built, being torn down, or just disintegrating, a shaft of light shining through a damaged wall decorating the devastation in just the right angle.

I find it interesting that a building being built looks so much like a building falling apart. Trusting in that cycle and the (simple yet/and profound) beauty of its constancy is what draws me to my most beloved pieces of art, favorite songs, favorite buildings, and most loved movies.

An image I love:

song that I love.

book I love.

buildling I love.

painting I love.

I’m just not that cool anymore…

When I was in high school, I was too cool for spirit assemblies.  I attended one, and when our 5′ 2″ principal Dr. Doggett started running around the gym with our 6′ tall assistant principal Mr. Jeffries riding him piggyback, I decided I would skip the mandatory assemblies and head to Winchell’s instead to spend my 45 minutes smoking cigarettes and drinking coffee with my similarly too-cool boyfriend.  Well, I don’t smoke anymore and, with age, I’ve realized Dr. Doggett’s feat was fairly impressive, so these days I embrace spirit more readily. Also, these days, spirit is not mandatory. In fact, my emerging unabashed (read: geeky) spirit for the city I moved to 6 years ago has come as a bit of a surprise.

I have become a Tacomaphile.

The fascination began with the first phone book that showed up on our doorstep; emblazoned across the front cover in raised golden letters was the phrase “The City of Destiny.”  How epic!  Had I landed in a town that matched me in my predisposition to exaggeration?  So it seemed!

After a few months, I was blending in quite nicely, walking Pacific Avenue with my son in his stroller with all the other moms in sweats (and other interesting characters who spend their days walking along Pacific Avenue for various reasons). Budget had been a consideration not only in our move from Seattle to Tacoma, but in the neighborhood in which we settled. We found a sweet post-modern style house for what was a bargain back then and would be considered highway robbery now.  We loved the house and did little to no research on the neighborhood, relying mainly on its ‘vibe.’ Our instincts were good – we quickly got to know every business within a half mile, because everything we needed was within a half mile! The Safeway, the library, the veterinarian, the bank, the preschool Ellis would eventually attend, and even the Walgreens with whom we are now in a Hatfield and McCoy style feud. I love our ‘hood. The woman behind the counter at the Cost Less pharmacy/U.S. Postal Service annex where Ellis buys a Tootsie Pop everyday after school even special orders his favorite flavor and sets them aside for him (the flavor, by the way, is pomegranate).

My love has blossomed further since I’ve been writing for The Weekly Volcano.  As an Arts and Features writer for the weekly, I’ve had the blessed opportunity to meet a handful of the people that make Tacoma a true gem, all of whom are working hard to dash Tacoma’s bad rep to the rocks and actually let it be known that Tacoma is hip.  A mantra I hear repeated time and again by these talented people, all busy setting up concerts, building arts and merchant networks, designing Tacoma pride logos, etc., is “We want people to know that Tacoma is its own destination.”   Is that a more pragmatic echo of Tacoma as the City of Destiny? Tacoma seems to be the pot of gold at the end of the rainbow – a hidden treasure that no one knows how to find. Indeed, before I moved here, I only knew Tacoma as a concrete dome and a bad smell on my way between Seattle and Portland.

I don’t smell the Tacoma aroma anymore.  I know it’s there.  I see it on the faces of out-of-town guests who come to visit.  I’ve become accustomed to the waft of the paper mill, it seems.  Just as I’ve become accustomed to Tacoma’s car shows,  the Dia De Los Muertos festival at the Tacoma Art Museum, the multiple Farmer’s Markets, the cashiers in my neighborhood who have known my son since he was an infant, the looming volcano in my backyard, the biggest Trader Joe’s I’ve ever been to (with the friendliest, least snooty, employees of any Trader Joe’s in history), the Harmon and its offspring, Wright Park with its elaborate and, unbelievably, free-to-all spray playground, Rainiers games at Cheney Stadium, complete with fireworks on Friday nights, the ONLY pay-as-you-will children’s museum in the country (and it’s a good one), the most beautiful Zoo I’ve ever been to, and the only Zoo I’ve ever been to that boasts sharks…the why-I-love-it-so-much list goes on and on.

Neither love nor beauty can exist without imperfection, of course.  As I was recently gushing about Tacoma to a young lady I was interviewing for a story, she pointed out that while Tacoma has a lot of community support for creative expression, there can be an issue with what she called the ‘Prima Donna syndrome.’  Some artists who get big in Tacoma end up leaving it behind believing, often erroneously, that they’ll have similar success in bigger markets.  On the flip side of that coin, a Tacoma musician I interviewed for a different story pointed out that Tacoma’s secondary market has its own value being…just that.  There is a benefit to being a big fish in a little pond; he noted that as a succesful musician in Tacoma, he can have it all.  He gets to play rock star, has a built-in fan base, and also gets to have a family and a 9-5 job in the arts, bringing it all full circle.

So maybe those Prima Donnas should just stick around?

When I moved to Tacoma, the ultimate dream was to eventually sell a script that would allow me to move back to LA. But this future screenwriting Prima Donna might re-think that scenario. Flights to LA from SeaTac aren’t prohibitively expensive, especially for a successful screenwriter.  And can you get any more Prima Donna-ey than flying in to Los Angeles for an early afternoon meeting?  I’ll let you know.

For now, I’m enjoying the following:

Chad and Ellis at Cheney Stadium watching the Rainiers.

 

 

 

 

Dahlias, my favorite, from the 56th Street Farmers Market.  $5.

 

 

 

 

A car show on South Tacoma Way, with local music and grilled corn on the cob.

 

 

 

 

A feed factory with which I’m inexplicably fascinated.

 

 

 

And all the interesting architecture and summertime colors…

Say What You Will…

Do people still make disparaging comments about the internet? About how it’s ruining the ability of mankind to interact on a human level and so on? If so, then I counter, say what you will! Tonight, thanks to the internet, I experienced something akin to what a time machine must feel like–I heard the theme song from TAXI. I had this amazing flashback of hiding upstairs in the loft above the living room in my childhood home. My parents would have the TV just loud enough that I could hear the theme; for some reason, I loved that song. It was lonesome, yet urban, and gave me the idea, even at the age of five, that life was going to be simultaneously sad, funny and beautiful.

Eventually, my parents let me stay up to actually watch TAXI with them. I felt so privileged. I experienced my first crush, on Andy Kaufman as Latka Gravas. Later, Andy had some competition when my parents started letting me watch M*A*S*H.  I fell in love with Alan Alda’s Hawkeye. Are you sensing a pattern? Another crush was on Tom Hanks in BOSOM BUDDIES.

Sure, I could look at Indiana Jones and appreciate that he was a handsome man with a cool story. I knew I was supposed to be dreaming about John Travolta (truth be told, I was more of an Arnold Horshack fan myself!).

 

As a pre-teen, my unabashed love for the funny guy was cemented when I found myself attracted to Herbert Viola on MOONLIGHTING. Forget Bruce Willis! I mean, Curtis Armstrong, people!  He played Booger in REVENGE OF THE NERDS!

 

 

 

And we haven’t even gotten to the crushes I had on cartoon characters…hello, Shaggy? Even as a little girl I remember thinking, if only he’d keep his mouth shut.

I think the only age appropriate crush I had on anyone on television was my undying love for Meeno Peluce’s Jeffrey Jones from the heartbreakingly short-lived series VOYAGERS!. I can’t believe the show only ran from 1982-1983, in my memory it was such a big part of my childhood.  Maybe it’s because I filled notebooks with episodes that I wrote for the show, episodes, of course that incorporated a young girl, who looked just like me. 

Here he is, the little guy with the giant afro, alongside his co-star, Jon-Erik Hexum who tragically died in an accident on the set of a program that followed VOYAGERS not long after VOYAGERS was cancelled. As a joke, he played Russian Roulette with a prop gun loaded with blanks, not realizing blanks were actually deadly at close range. When I was a kid I blamed him for the lack of subsequent episodes of VOYAGERS!…thanks to the internet, I now know that I have CBS’s 60 MINUTES to blame.

Although Meeno was in not only THE BAD NEWS BEARS, but in plenty of great television, including THE LOVE BOAT, STARSKY & HUTCH and PUNKY BREWSTER, alongside his half-sister Soleil-Moon Frye, you don’t see much of him anymore.

Turns out he’s behind the camera, busy taking gorgeous pictures all over the world. You can see some of his remarkable images here.

So, without the internet, I wouldn’t have had the opportunity to confess to the world that one of my first celebrity crushes was on the guy that played Booger OR find out what happened to one of my first muses, Meeno Peluce, who inspired spiral-bound notebooks full of adventures through history.  As Meeno’s voice over said at the end of each episode of VOYAGERS!, “If you want to learn more about (whatever the historical element in the episode was), take a voyage down to your public library! It’s all in books!”

And, now, on the internet.

 

Candy in Socks. Of course.

There are certain things that I find funny that my son doesn’t question. Stockings, for one, hung by the chimney with care. Stockings. They’re basically socks. Socks that hang in our living room from the day after Thanksgiving through December. Why? Then again, why should he question them? They’ve been there as long as he can remember, and on Christmas morning they’re filled with presents and candy. Is there really a need to ask questions?

When I was a kid, we didn’t have hooks for our stockings, so the stockings would, come Christmas morning, be displayed by the chimney with care. Lined up diagonally across the flagstone of our 1970′s hearth, fat with goodies like Tinkerbell perfume, Chapstick, little paper envelopes of Cinnamon-flavored toothpicks, Choose Your Own adventure paperbacks, candy and, always, a pad of paper and a pen to diligently record what everyone had given us so we could write our thank-you notes. Our house had a staircase that wrapped around the chimney, and there was sort of an overlook above the fireplace over which one could peek down into the living room. I still remember descending my bunk bed bright and early every December 25th, crawling silently along the shag carpeting and rising just far enough above the edge to see whether or not the stockings were full.

What a feeling to find that they were.  I KNEW I’d been good!

These days, my husband and I don’t do regular gifts for each other. We pick one gift for the family (seeing it written out like that makes me feel so practical and parental)–but we still fill each other’s stockings. Truth be told, we get a little out of control with the stocking filling. We’re not just talking travel toothpastes, bath bombs and fun-sized Snickers, people. I’ve tucked many an airplane-sized spirit in his stocking (about four can fit in the toe alone) along with DVDs, CDs…he’s wrapped thoughtful books, gorgeous earrings, and…okay…airplane-sized spirits in mine. It’s fun to have the challenge of boundaries. Whatever fits in the sock goes.

Ellis still gets showered, stocking and otherwise. He’s very questioning these days; I will be surprised if he doesn’t ask me, this Christmas morning of 2011, now that he’s almost five, why the hell his presents come in a sock.

With that in mind, I’ve done a little research:

I’ve found the most popular story to be that of a ‘kindly nobleman’ who, while raising his three daughters by himself, lost all his money through bad investments and useless inventions. When it came time for the daughters to marry, the family was distraught because they had no money for the dowries they needed.

The devastated daughters, not wanting to make their father feel bad, went about their business. One night, as any other, they washed their clothes and hung their socks by the fireplace. In passing, St. Nicholas noticed the dark cloud that hung over the household and was inspired to help. He flung a few bags of gold from his pack down their chimney. The gold landed in the stockings, and the next morning the daughters woke to find enough money for all three to marry. In their socks!

And that’s how Jesus was born!

Wait a minute…

Ellis knows both sides of the Christmas story, loves Jingle Bells and Silent Night alike. Loves his nativity scene and his stocking. Interestingly, the explanation above mentions nothing about Christmas, other than the fact that it was St. Nicholas who tossed the gold down the chimney.

As long as Ellis understands the joy of giving as well as the joy of receiving, I’ll be satisfied that he’s getting the message of the holidays, both secular and religious. And I think he does grasp that concept, because he gave me his last red Skittle the other day. “For all the nice things you do,” he said.

Me: Sniff!

Below, Uncle Erik, my brother and Ellis’ godfather, delighting in the tradition of the Christmas morning stocking. I’m quite certain he wished St. Nick had dropped a bag of gold in there as well.