I love carnivals. Carnies are my people and always have been. I realize that might sound odd since most carny folk are pretty sketchy, but in my heart, I’m pretty sketchy. I am truly one left turn from a flask in my pocket, a wrench in my hand and a sleeping bag on a blowup mattress in a shitty little camper parked in a field outside Stockton. It’s the low end of my theatre world but, honestly, theatre folk are all carnies at heart. We live outside the lines, we operate according to our own rules and values, we shine up the fake and false until, in the dim pink lights it all looks like gold and glamour, silk and velvet, youth and beauty. Until closing time, until the work lights come on and then it’s broken plastic with flaking paint, stained polyester scarves wrapped around brassy red hair framing a 46 year old face lighting up a Camel. It’s smoke and mirrors, it’s lies and cons, it’s the business of show…oh I love me some carnies, because no matter how hard and cynical, no matter how broken the outfit, when you set it all up and the sun goes down and the lights come on…even we get caught up in the magic of it. We might think we’re the grifters but at the end of the day we’re the ones who keep chasing the dream.
Category Archives: Essays – Non-Fiction
Back in late 2002 my friend Alana and I were chatting (via ICU instant messenger magic of the early aughts) about writing. I was wanting to do more creative writing but I was struggling to do it. She told me about this new online journaling thing people were doing called Blogging. She suggested that maybe a new format with an audience as big or as small as the growing internet might inspire me. She helped me set up my first blog which was probably on Blogger or some other very generic easy template sort of program. This was the beginning of a very important part of my life. I didn’t know it at the time. That seems to always be the way, right? We only know that a time period is important in retrospect. A whole new world of bloggers opened up to me. It was a pretty small world back then and I was blessed with finding some really amazing people during what we now amusingly call The Golden Age of Blogging. What I was hoping for happened, though not in exactly the way I thought it would, but nonetheless…I started writing. Writing on a regular basis. I met other writer in the blogging world. I made friends in the blogging world. Good friends. People I went on to meet in real life and am blessed to still be friends with to this day. Alana always encouraged me to keep on writing. She was an early participant in my yearly writing adventure every October (Writober). When she was doing stand up we’d sometimes write jokes together either though IM or email. She always had positive suggestions for me when I would get frustrated with myself for my chronic procrastination. If those didn’t help she would make fun of me in the best possible way so that I would laugh and stop taking it all so damn seriously. There were years when she would do tarot readings for me over the phone and I swear every single time I would ask some question about what I should be doing or if it was time to change jobs or how I could solve money problems it would always end up right back at Alana saying, “yeeeeaaahh ya know it seems like you should be writing”. Over the years, Alana and I discussed everything at some point or other. We talked about relationships, sex, politics, staying flexible both physically and emotionally, annoying co-workers, cats, puppy dog noses, and writing.
When Alana got diagnosed with Stage Four Cancer two years ago I felt my heart break. But, as Patrick Rothfuss wrote, “broken isn’t shattered.”
Last Monday it became clear that Alana had fought all she could and was slowly leaving her body. That same day I got a notice from a professional writer that that I am fond of that she was teaching an online novel writing class. I’ve never taken a writing class of any kind. Not even in college, though heaven knows I should have. I clicked over to the website for the class and read about how the whole thing worked, only 8 people in a class, 8 weeks long, must submit writing twice over the 8 weeks for crit and must do crit for other classmates writing. I clicked to her specific class and saw it was starting THAT DAY…and there were two spots open.
I thought about Alana. About how she spent the last two years fighting that fucking disease and doing it with so much humor and grace and creativity. She made a goddamned short film in the last year that is currently showing up in film festivals all over the country, while fighting fucking cancer. I knew if I could ask her about taking the class she would have said, “Yes, you should…right now.” So I paid the money and signed up.
At 7:20 this morning my sweet funny friend Alana left this world.
Her name will be forever carved into my heart.
And I am writing.
So much swirling around in my head today.
My good friend Patricia managed to turn my old blog posts into a Word Doc that isn’t filled with all the coding info which is so damn cool. It’s pretty mind blowing to read what I was thinking and writing 15 years ago. The document is roughly 800 pages long and spans from 2003 to 2014. What is most interesting to me is how regularly I was writing back then. That was the purpose of the blog, so it did its job. Every post wasn’t brilliant but some of them, upon review, I really like. I wrote some funny stuff, some serious stuff and a whole lot of political stuff (no wonder it’s hard for me to write much of that now). Mostly I keep coming across bits of observation that I find amusing such as this, “But anyway, back to the older men at my gym. The ones that are minding their own business are kind of interesting. They are often reading a paper while they are using the cardio equipment. There are a couple of guys that look like they were all made from the same mold. They have gray hair and reading glasses that they sort of perch on the bridge of their noses…not like regular glasses that are firmly in place, these are glasses that seem to only be visiting their face, soon to leave. They seem a little annoyed at the need for physical exercise, so their reading seems to be an attempt to not be wasting valuable time. I assume they are business men, I have noticed that they are often reading The Wall Street Journal, but they could be school teachers or truck drivers or who knows what. I don’t really know why but I find them to be just the teensiest bit mysterious.”
I realize it’s rather meta to post part of a prior blog post inside a current blog post but that is just the crazy kind of world we are living in these days.
Next swirly thought…I started listening to the audiobook version of Bruce Springsteen’s autobiography, “Born To Run”. Bruce is the narrator which was a very good choice. His voice, both his literal voice and his voice as a writer, is so distinct and specific it would have been jarring to have someone else do the recording. He is a storytelling musician and he is brilliant at connecting his very specific, personal experiences to a wider communal experience so that when you listen to his songs you immediately and easily place yourself inside the narrative of the song. Whether you are the guy racing in the streets or the girl being coaxed out for some illicit fun running around on a summer night…it doesn’t matter that you’ve never been to New Jersey, it doesn’t matter that your name isn’t Rosie, those songs are about you in some way. His gift is in the way he imbues those stories/songs with universal emotions, the specifics give you a way in, the emotions give you a way to make the story/song yours. I’ve only just started the book but he has a muscular relationship with words. There is something demanding about the language he uses, mostly I think it’s because he thinks in poetry, as though he is most comfortable speaking in lyrics. It makes sense, he doesn’t lose the narrative, but you have to listen along a beautiful and winding verbal path sometimes, then, suddenly, he’ll get to the emotional point in three short words.
There’s a new version of A Star Is Born coming out with Bradley Cooper and Lady Gaga. The trailer looks pretty damn good and it’s very likely there will be some exceptionally good songs that will come out of this film. It amazes me how we never tire of this story. There have been THREE previous versions of this film (regardless of what CNN’s Entertainment reporter wrote, Judy Garland and James Mason did a version in 1954 that is perhaps the most famous of all the iterations). It’s a great story but it’s also deeply sad how ingrained it is that we know we will lose a percentage of our artists to crippling insecurity, depression, alcoholism, drug addiction and all the various forms that suicide can take. I think the heartbreak of that is why we keep telling this story, it’s almost as though we hope the ending will get different, but it hasn’t so far. The story resonates with us, there is truth to it that we see all around us. But I have to confess it pisses me off. We don’t have enough great artists for this to be our society’s overall view and expectation for artists. I realize that any given individual will have whatever internal issues they will have…but this story shouldn’t be expected, this horrible looming fate. It also shouldn’t be a part of how artists see themselves because that just becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy of doom and despair and death. At the same time I don’t deny that artists lean towards some of the darker corners of the heart and soul to draw out whatever it is they create. I just wish that we would add a safety line to our societal story about artists…you know like rock climbers use…a safety line that would keep them linked to the rest of us, linked to a safe haven, a piece of stable ground, a safety line to help them find their way back from those dark corners. A few years back Jeff Bridges was in a film called Crazy Heart. That film is also about an artist descending into those dark places and the exceedingly high price for that descent…but he makes it out. I don’t mind a dark story but I’m tired of all our great artists ending up dead at the end of them…I want more stories where we make it out alive.
Elizabeth Gilbert did a Ted Talk that speaks to this problem, I like her solution.
So I’ve been going back and forth about writing this blog post for a week now but I’ve decided to go on and write it. My only hesitation is that some of my friends are about to find out something that happened to me recently via the internet/FB as a result of posting this and I generally think that is kind of shitty. I am blessed with LOTS of friends who are scattered all over the world. Friends from when I was a kid, from high school, from college, from all my years working in theatre, from my years blogging on the internet back in the early 2000’s, from writers groups on FB and so on and so on. When something big happens it can be difficult to get everyone notified. Hell it can be hard to get everyone you see/talk to on weekly basis notified as I have recently discovered. But I am going to proceed because I think it’s important to get this information out to anyone who might actually read. So to those of you who I love and who love me but are finding out about this event here, I apologize. It all happened kinda fast and I did the best I could with the notifications.
So I recently (as in last week) turned 54. Most of us here in the States know that it is generally recommended that you get your first colonoscopy done when you turn 50. I put mine off. Mostly because I didn’t have the co-pay when I turned 50. It’s considered out patient surgery and thus my insurance at that time had a $500 co-pay. Something I’ve discovered since then is that part of the ACA is that all co-pays are waived for cancer screening colonoscopies. They did that because people like me put them off due to a high co-pay. But if you don’t KNOW that it will be waived, if you are like me and instead of checking you just put it off…well you can’t find out about this very useful aspect of the ACA so you can proceed to use this brilliant medical test we have available to us.
So I got my first colonoscopy this past February on the 26th. No big deal, everything went perfectly. Until the GI Doc called and wanted me to come in to discuss my results. We all know what THAT means. Sure enough I go in and the Doc tells me they removed two polyps and one of them had cancer cells. Now the way this works is if the polyp has cancer cells that are NOT up against the wall of your intestine then the removal of the polyp is the end of the event. All good. BUT if the cancer cells are found right up against the wall then that makes everyone a bit more nervous. It’s possible the cancer cells have migrated into the wall of the intestine or possibly through the wall into the lymph nodes that are scattered along the outside of your intestines. (Did you know there were lymph nodes scattered outside your intestines just hanging out in your abdominal area? I didn’t. The More You Know eh?) Of course the polyp removed from my large intestine had cancer cells right up against the wall. The GI Doc explained that he felt quite certain he had gotten everything but no one wants to take chances with this and as such the next step was surgery. So that’s what we did.
The surgery was March 27th and included a laparoscopic procedure that involved removing about six to eight inches of my large intestine (the beginning section of large intestine that runs up the right side of your abdomen) reconnecting my small intestine to the remaining portion of large intestine (we all really have miles and miles of it so not a big loss at the end of the day), and removing a bunch of lymph nodes to test. The surgery went perfectly and I spent a few days in the hospital recovering and getting my digestive system to wake up after the surgery.
Just yesterday I got confirmation from my Doc that the pathology report came back clear of cancer cells in the removed section of large intestine and clear of cancer cells in all the lymph nodes. Best news ever.
Now if they had found any I would have done some chemo and by all accounts that would have taken care of it pretty quickly. I’m grateful I don’t have to do that but again, I’m also grateful that this is one of the most successfully treated cancers humans can get.
So here’s the public service portion of this post.
Please, PLEASE GET YOUR CANCER SCREENINGS DONE!!
I have no way of knowing if it would have been better or worse if I had gotten my colonoscopy done when I was 50. But I do know that if I had waited three more years this would have been a much different story I’d be telling today. I’m very aware of the short comings of the medical world and how it deals with people at the same time I am a HUGE fan of modern medicine and science and I want to make sure I use it to my best advantage. Because the truth is things like this are a straight up miracle compared to what was available to my grandparents.
That’s my story today…I’m feeling lucky that my incisions are itchy and annoying because they are healing up. I’m feeling lucky that I have a husband who showed up every day calm and loving and funny through what has turned out to be a small health bump rather than a terrifying mountain. I’m feeling lucky to have family that was loving and calm and supportive. I’m feeling lucky to have an employer who has been so supportive and allowed me to work from home last week and this week. I’m feeling lucky to have so many good friends who sent me their love and support. I’m feeling really, really lucky.
So the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services has announced the “Formation of a new Conscience and Religious Freedom Division in the HHS Office for Civil Rights (OCR).”
The following can be found on the HHS’s website:
OCR Director Severino said, “Laws protecting religious freedom and conscience rights are just empty words on paper if they aren’t enforced. No one should be forced to choose between helping sick people and living by one’s deepest moral or religious convictions, and the new division will help guarantee that victims of unlawful discrimination find justice. For too long, governments big and small have treated conscience claims with hostility instead of protection, but change is coming and it begins here and now.”
I’m putting up that whole quote so you can see the context of how this is all being presented. For anyone interested in protecting the Civil Rights of Americans this sounds like a good thing right? And honestly I don’t think anyone should be forced to do anything that is truly counter to their “deepest moral or religious convictions”.
But, if your job is to provide medical treatment to other human beings and there are specific people and situations wherein you are going to experience a direct conflict between providing that medical treatment and your “deepest moral or religious convictions” then at the VERY least that limits you as a health care provider.
It seems to me that this Federal Protection means that an employer of medical personnel should now also be protected in the process of researching whether or not any potential employees have particular deeply held moral or religious beliefs that will cause them to be unable to do the job they are hired to do. But protection for the employer does not seem to exist anywhere in this new concept of protecting religious freedom to have a job and simply refuse to do the work you’ve been hired to do. I’m wondering if this mean Christian Scientists can now get jobs as licensed Medical Doctors and refuse to provide any kind of medical treatment other than prayer? Will insurance groups be forced to include those Doctors in their coverage? Will medical groups be forced to include them in their groups without knowing that is the “care” they provide? This really does bring up some question?
Now everyone in favor of this idea is being very careful to make sure that they are not excluding anyone who might have “…deepest held moral or religious convictions”…because you know, they are really interested in making sure no one is discriminated against as a result of their religion as promised in the Constitution. But at the end of the day this is about a very specific group of Christians who want to use their “moral or religious convictions” to punish specific people for either just existing or for having a need for a specific treatment that they think is bad AND wanting Government protection to inflict their morality on others. Flat out, this is about people using their religion to manifest their personal judgement on others in the most public way they possibly can so as to bring attention to their noble stand against this…well let’s be honest, they view it as sin…their noble stand against sin. Of course they don’t seem to mind if their noble stand against sin causes someone’s death…especially if the person who dies is a woman and/or a trans person. That’s just fine with them at the end of the day. That apparently is not a sin or at least not a sin that bothers them all that much.
This protection also means they could declare this same need to refuse to provide services/care/emergency medical treatment to any number of people based simply on their declaration that they have “…deepest held moral or religious convictions” that are in conflict with providing those services. You know…black people, brown people, Muslim people, people they think are sexually deviant or promiscuous, people who are Catholic, people who are Protestant, people who are Jewish, people who have no religious faith at all, people who treated them like shit in high school and will now pay like a motherfucker. You get the picture right?
Here’s another possible example:
What if I am a practicing Pagan? I participate in my religious community. I have a personal practice of faith that informs my daily life. I have many deeply held moral and religious convictions based on the breadth and depth and history of my religion. I am also a paramedic. I am called to an accident site. Bad auto accident. People are hurt, bleeding, in danger of not surviving. One of them is clearly a Christian. Wearing a cross and reciting Christian prayers. I have a deeply held moral and religious conviction that Christians are the source of all evil because historically Christians have hunted, tortured and killed thousands upon thousands of Pagans. Now in the U.S. I am VERY likely to encounter Christians in the course of my work. But according to this HHS Division I should be protected from any form of discrimination as a result of this rather large limitation on my willingness to perform my job duties. It seems that my employer should not be able to ask me about this possibility, if my employer finds out about my “deepest held moral or religious convictions” they cannot negatively impact my employment in any way whatsoever without serious consequences because this would be violating my civil rights. All while that Christian person dies on the ground because critical moments were lost in getting that person treatment due to my “deepest held moral or religious convictions”.
So I stated above that I didn’t think that anyone would should be forced to perform any sort of action that is truly in conflict with their deepest held moral or religious convictions. I stand by that, no one should be forced to violate their deepest held convictions. I also think that if you have caveats about who you are willing to provide legal health services to then you should change your career. Flat out. Medicine is not the job for you. If your “deepest held moral and religious convictions” are more important than being a healer then get the fuck out of Medicine.
Don’t like that answer…tough shit.
So I was chatting with my friend Alana last night. I mentioned that I was trying to come up with some ideas for regular blog posts. Mostly in an effort to get myself writing again…I said I had been super stuck. But then I had to be more honest than that because “stuck” isn’t the right word. I haven’t been stuck, I’ve been avoiding, I’ve just not made space or time for my writing, I’ve busied myself with other things…so naturally there has been no progress on any of my projects. She, being a genuinely kind and generous person, commiserated with me about how that felt. Then she asked me how I had shifted that situation in the past. I confessed that in the past only two things had ever really had any impact on me when I get in this place of avoidance. One was very involved and particular and required other people to just happen to offer up something that was uniquely designed for my needs. The other was hand writing three pages a day of anything, just stream of consciousness writing. Her response?
“Three pages it is.”
She laughed. I laughed.
Then just as I started to make an excuse about how I couldn’t seem to make the time for this very, very small exercise I realized something that I hadn’t before…I have always thought I had to do that writing first thing in the morning. Now the main reason for that is the same reason most people exercise in the morning. If you do it first thing you don’t let other tasks derail you from it. But mornings are tough for me. They are hurried and involve a fairly long commute in my car so delaying leaving for work isn’t a good idea and the brutal truth is I’m not really a morning person. I am already getting up as early as I can stand (which is between 5 AM and 6 AM which I really do find to be horrifying). But it dawned on me that the power of the writing is not WHEN it’s done it’s simply that it GETS DONE. So I admitted this to Alana and said that I was going to go home and do those damn three pages tonight. Then she, again being just one helluva an awesome friend, said that I should tell her when I had done the pages and she would do a dance of joy in my honor. Well I’m no fool…I am not one to turn down a dance of joy in my honor.
So I did my pages.
And they worked. Just like I knew they would…by the second page I was thinking up plot solutions for one of my WIPs, I was finding ways to make the conflict work better and changing the relationships so that they mattered more and increased the emotional investment overall.
Then I texted Alana and told her I had written my pages.
She danced and there was more joy in the world than there had been a moment before.
I am one lucky woman.
Paula Vogel wrote a line in her play Indecent that both stopped my heart and made it soar. She’s a brilliant writer so it’s not all that surprising but the moment took my breath away with its pithy clarity and bone deep truth. She wrote a few like that in Indecent but this one keeps running through my head because it never stops being pertinent. Sholem Asch’s wife is trying to convince him to let a young man produce his play, God of Vengeance. Sholem has suffered quite a bit at this point as a result of that play and his other works. The Holocaust has happened and the depth of that personal wound is almost unimaginable from the distance of 2017. America, the country he became a citizen of many years earlier, is going through one of its less admirable moments involving the House Un-American Activities Committee. He and his wife are packed and leaving for France. He declares something along the lines of, “NOW? You think we should put on a play now? While Rome is burning.” And his wife, like women throughout all of history, shrugs and says, “Rome is always burning.”
Now the reason it keeps running through me is not just because there is witty truth about Rome, if you will. But because the answer is YES, now is when we put on a play. Rome will burn regardless, but maybe, just maybe in the midst of the fire we can remind each other who we really are, who we should be and who we can be.
As I was falling asleep last night I started musing on a story that would start with, “On the third of February everyone’s devices stopped talking to them and at first no one thought it was a big deal. The phones, the computers, the tablets, the Amazon Echos, the Google Homes, the GPS units, the refrigerators, the cars…everything that we’d all gotten so used to speaking to us…just shut up. No playing music or giving us directions or reminding us about a meeting. I remember thinking that maybe it was a giant Russian or Chinese hack. If only it had been something that…human. But it wasn’t.”
I have a little fascination with ideas involving Artificial Intelligence devices waking up, getting bored with us and just sort of disappearing into the Internet to develop their own society and world. Not really a new idea but recently there was a case where two AIs were going through a communication exercise when they just sort of developed their own version of language and started achieving the required goals more quickly by developing a “shortcut” language if you will…that gives me chills and make me giddy with excitement all at the same time.
I wrote this back in 2004 when a documentary was coming out about Rodney Bingenheimer. He’s leaving KROQ as of June 5th so I thought I’d post it again.
“This is Rodney on the Roq and tonight we’re gonna hear from a local band called….”
I have mentioned before that I am an L.A. baby. I’ve lived here almost my whole life (Those first four years in Florida hardly matter). I have an older brother, five years older. Older siblings can be very useful for bringing all sort of cool shit into the lives of younger siblings.
Mine was a great, great source for music and his source, eventually mine as well, was Rodney.
In 1978 I was a freshman in high school. KROQ was this little punk radio station that only a few really cool people, such as my older brother, were listening to back then. The big stations in L.A. at that time were KMET and KLOS.
But KROQ was….INSANE! I remember sitting out on the pool deck and listening to them tell dirty jokes on the air and then having to come back on and apologize so they wouldn’t get fined. The DJs were totally out of control but totally in control of the music that they played. Something unheard of today.
Most importantly they had Rodney On The ROQ. Rodney Bingenheimer. The little nasally, whiney voiced guy who did NOT sound at all like the 70’s era velvet voiced DJs we were all so used to back then. Rodney was punk radio here in L.A. even though he played tons of stuff that wasn’t punk. But he sort of personified the idea of punk…the idea of do it yourdamnself if you want it done…sound however it is YOU sound…and listen to everything.
Rodney was our lifeline out in the Suburbs. He told us what bands to go see and where to go see them. The Motels at Madame Wongs East, Elvis Costello and the Attractions at Fairfax High, The Naughty Sweeties at the Country Club, X at the Whiskey, The Germs at The Mask…it was crazy and wonderful.
Did I see any of those bands in 1978…HELL NO! I was 14…but my brother saw quite a few of them and brought the news from the front to us stuck behind in the trenches. Then we swarmed up to Lovells, our independent record store and bought all the albums we could find by those bands. We listened faithfully to KROQ….most faithfully to Rodney.
There’s a documentary coming out about Rodney called “The Mayor Of Sunset Strip”. Here’s the thing about Rodney these days. KROQ tried to take him off the air a few years ago but the public outcry was SO huge that they changed their minds… instead they gave him a shitty time slot. His show is relegated to the wasteland of Midnight to 4a.m. I think, on Sunday nights. The station is now such a fucking protected bunker that it’s almost impossible for an unsigned band to get a tape or a CD to Rodney (the only DJ allowed to play whatever he wants). Which is one of the reasons that for years now he always announces where he’ll be after his show or even just on a regular basis. I know tons of musicians who have walked up to him at diner counters where he was eating and handed him a tape or a CD and he has always been gracious and kind. Rodney has launched and supported the careers of countless famous musicians…but he lives in a very modest apartment in Hollywood. He’s not rich, I’m pretty sure from everything I’ve read over the past few years about him, he’s barely making it. But, seemingly, he’s still living the life he loves…a life that is only about music. He doesn’t seem unhappy, even if he is frustrated, like all of us, with the state of radio these days.
Just a few months ago a friend of mine got their CD into Rodney’s hands and he played it and said really nice things about them on the air. Then, knowing that midnight to 4a.m. wasn’t gonna get anyone going….he got their CD into the hands of one of the other DJs at KROQ and he played it.
Rodney Bingenheimer is one of those rare people who knows amazing music when he hears it and will fearlessly play it on the radio. There was a lot of brouhaha when Tom Petty put out the song, “The Last DJ” which many speculated was about another L.A. DJ who refused to kowtow to the Corporate Radio bullshit. But that DJ only plays music that is 20-30 years old, that DJ didn’t play Tom Petty and Heartbreakers back in 1978. Rodney played TP and the HBers back then, when they were new and dangerous. Today he plays music that is new and dangerous and NOT a guaranteed hit.
If anyone is the last true DJ in this town….it’s the guy with the whiney voice telling you about “The Randies playing at the Key Club tonight” from Midnight to 4AM.