Wednesday, February 27, 2013

Asian Mom Syndrome

This is very embarrassing.  Despite all my good white-person intentions, I have become apparently somewhat biased in my racial opinion as of late.  I feel like a dirty liberal- no longer pristine.  My PC Status rating has just dropped numerous points...I am tarnished.

It seems as though I have recently acquired Asian Mom Syndrome- or as it is known in professional circles, AMS.

And if you are not already aware of the particulars of this syndrome, I suppose I shall have to educate you.  Though it pains me to use myself as the test case.  AMS happens when you (I) awake one day to suddenly realize that the Asian mothers in your (my) societal purview basically have it all over you (me.)  They have it all over me.  The Asian mothers in my world make me look like a mixture of  "Mommy Dearest" stirred in with a little Janis in her final days- deep into the Southern Comfort and ludes.

Not only are the Asian mothers' children intelligent, polite, kind and (this is a big tip off-clue here-- ) ALMOST ALWAYS WELL-BEHAVED IN PUBLIC, but they themselves are a shining example of pulled-together elan. They constantly look effortlessly lovely and coifed, as though it was something that happened to them on the way from the bed to the sink to brush their teeth this morning. They seem to accidentally embody the paradigm of what American Mothers strive to maintain.  "Oh, I'm sorry.  I didn't mean to just rock your world, Holly, having shown up to class with four baking sheets of canapes I made for the children this morning, on the way to my 48 hour shift in the ER, dressed elegantly down in my spotless Donna Karan blouse and Barney's Co-Op leather-like skinny jeans. With the silk Burberry scarf thrown casually around my neck like a French juene fille."  (No one looks more French to me than the beauteous Asian Mom.)  "Please forgive me, Holly...  Um-- you appear to have a Cheerio in your hair."

This did not come upon me all at once.  No- I suppose when I look back,  I can see the dismaying seeds of this disease's early onset.  

It really began way back- before I was even an adult. Back in my elementary school days, I recall the various city-wide piano recitals and contests I would participate in.  Yes, back then I did already show some skill and talent in the world of music, particularly in tickling the ivories. Though of course my deep caucasian breeding kept me from the discipline I really needed to be able to ever fully impress or place at any of these contests.

While I was busy whizzing impatiently through what my actual assigned lessons were, only to then delve headlong into the Greatest Pop Hits of the 70's (Oh, Bread, how I loved you then...Marvin Hamlisch, you were so enticing..),  other kids were actually practicing their piano.  They were running through their scales and chords over and over again- diligiently plunking through their Bach interludes.  Working up through them into the more challenging and crazy composers like Stravinsky and Rachmaninov.  Building their chops, as it were.

Their ASIAN chops- I must now add, because of course almost every other child in my memory who placed at these various piano contests were ALL Asian.  They were primarily studying the Suzuki method- a highly disciplined way of approaching a classical instrument.  They were invariably wearing gloves to keep their hands warm and protected, sometimes with the fingers cut off like little Dickensian orphans.  (It was the gloves that intimidated me the most.  Those lovely thin calm Asian children staring off into space pre-performance, gathering all their Zen energy into their dilated pupils, sporting wool-blend knit gloves as though those particular items were the key!  Those gloves were the secret Jedi weapon!)  These children would always place.  First, second, third.  I might beat everyone out in the "interpretive" section of the judging-- I mean, I was playing "The Way We Were" ad nauseum at home.  But I always lost out because of my "technique."  Meaning, they had it- and I did not.

So it started early.  I was bred through experience to be intimidated by Asian families because they simply seemed calmer.  Prepared.  Honed.  Focused. Quiet.  In a word---- better.

So now fast forward to me in early motherhood.  I have only one child at this point- the other is on the way.  My 18-month-old and I are sitting on a small wooden gym floor, participating in some Mommy and Me fiasco at the community rec center.  And I say 'fiasco' because try though the spunky dimpled late-teen teacher might, she cannot get this group of haggard, sleep-deprived moms and their squirming fleshly piles of snot and drool to focus.  Apparently none of us is able to stay sitting on the CIRCLE.  So that we can ALL watch the puppet show.  And we can ALL clap our hands at the same time and say "Yay!"

Now, when I say none of us- I really mean all of us with the exception of the one Asian family present.  The young dainty Asian mom with twin two-year-olds, who also has a six-month-old strapped to her front in some sort of high tech perfect Asian sling.  And if memory serves, was also a little bit visibly pregnant. (But that can't be, can it?  I mean, it's not like she was IRISH or something.)

Anyway.  So THIS mom and THESE children are in stark contrast to the rest of the circus.  First of all, the six-month-old is sleeping soundly.  Drool-less and perfect.  Her head not cocked at some crazy angle that as a new mom you don't dare adjust once your screaming offspring finally shuts it and drops into a dead weight blob strapped helplessly to the front of your body....because if you touch it... it just might awake again and start with another round of ear splitting, mind melting noise making. Secondly, not one but BOTH twins are sitting upright, cross legged and alert- faced toward the teacher, expectantly wide-eyed and QUIET.  Hanging on every word.  Perfectly mimicking the accompanying hand motions to whatever story or song our fearless dimply leader is diligently shouting over the din. These children are like little robotrons.  Not a hair out of place.  Not a spot on their matching girl/boy coveralls.  They are perfect and she is perfect and I could not get out of that class fast enough...sure that I was an enormous failure because of my non-Asian-ness.

"I'm turning Japanese, I think I'm turning Japanese, I really think so!"  (Oh if only...)

Now we snap back to the present-- my children are in elementary school.  My daughter about to graduate to middle school this spring.  My son going into 3rd grade next year.  And yes, we enrolled them in developmental private school years ago.  And it's, yes, sadly, mostly filled with white people.  People literally exactly like us- white, Jewish, privileged, West-side entertainment industry families.  But thank goodness for the "others."  The wealthy (and some thankfully not so), Middle -eastern, Eastern-European, African-American, and yes Asian-American kids who give me and my husband hope that our children, upon eventually emerging from their private school education to spring into this lovely, rainbow-colored world, won't wholly be social douchebags.

Now, with the lovely irony that frequently patinas my world, my daughter Josephine- in all her gorgeous, free-spirited,  enthusiastic ways is growing up to be a far less disciplined caucasian than even I was as a kid.  The kind who leaves half-eaten jelly toast lying about on the stairs, who still comes home from school soiled like a Kindergartener-- greasy, holey knees, shirt cuffs stained from paint and dirt.  Though Josephine may like her clothing, she still has no inherent ability to understand when she is putting those clothes upon her body in peril.  Her room is sometimes too smelly to enter.  Her backpack filled with small dead forest creatures like roly-polies ("How did THAT get in there Jo?  Dunno mom.  Poor little guy-- he's SO cool looking, isn't he?")

And this delightful slob, this creative whirling dervish, this goofbag akin to the likes of Carol Burnett and Gilda herself,  has acquired over the years a large number of smart, sweet, CLEAN, WELL-MANNERED Asian-American girlfriends.  And to a person- they tend to be on or near the top of the list of my favorites of her friends.   Replete with classic American/English names like Emma, Chloe, Erin, these girls are the classic model of what a girl should be.  How a friend should act.  How a young lady should behave around her peers and around adults.

My son too!  He's guilty of this similar collection!  Though he's naturally a bit more attentive to the details, my eight year old boy (momma's for sure) chooses a number of wonderful Asian-American friends to run around the playground with.  To spend their hours crafting Minecraft cyberspace  cities...comparing lego structures...shooting hoops...skateboarding... These are the boys who never have smelly socks when they take them off in my house.  These are the kids for whom it seems impossible to drop mustard on their little cashmere Ralph Lauren sweaters.  And they're so patient with him! And so nice to me!

But of course, I know why I look at things this way.   Me, being an unfortunate sufferer of AMS, cannot see these children nor these families for what they really in all likelihood are-- which is essentially just like us with perhaps a bit more Woolite round the house.  I see these mothers and these families as walking perfection themselves.

And come on- it's really really hard not to when every one of these Asian moms in our private school- to a fault- is naturally beautiful- number one.  Number two- seriously ALWAYS well dressed.  Ok, so one of them is a jewelry designer, so she's gonna naturally gravitate toward the fashion, but the others are doctors, and oh- then there's the doctor.  And I think the last one is a film producer.  Always dressed well- even if only in a relaxed way.  Even if it's only basic Tshirt and jeans.  And little pristine white Converse sneakers.  (How does she not have ONE stain on those?  Did she just buy them this AFTERNOON?  NO- because I've seen her wear them before.  Maybe she has a whole closet of them lined up at home next to all the laundered and pressed Calvin Klein navy and black sweaters.) Always wrinkle free- clean- every piece of carefully accessorized clothing sitting well upon each one of their quite shapely healthy frames.

And they're not only lovely on the outside.  They're the ones who volunteer more often in the classroom.  Who have important, powerful jobs outside of being a mother (see- PRODUCER, DOCTOR and ER above) Whose houses are always spotless whenever I go to drop off or pick up from a playdate or a sleepover.  My goodness- one of them, who shall remain nameless- hosted two sleepover parties to which Josephine was invited two years in a row. Two sleepover bdays where she and her two lovely Asian daughters engaged the girls in cooking and baking and candymaking all night long such that when they came home bleary-eyed in the morning from all the fun, carried with them what looked like sugary mounds of edible tafetta crafted at some high-end Beverly Hills cupcakery.

And none of this seems to phase them in any way- these Asian moms.  None of this grinding activity carves wrinkles anywhere upon their smooth parchment faces.  None of the hours of schlepping themselves and their children around the city in the soccer mom mobile plants little blobeldy mounds of saggy cottage cheese upon their thighs.  They are somehow timeless and inhuman to me.  Like the world affects them differently.  A higher breed- farther down the evolutionary chain than those larger, smellier, wrinklier louder American white people of whom I am very much a perfect example.

So I've outed myself. I suffer from Asian Mom Syndrome. Please don't hate me or stop reading me.  And if you do and you must- I get it.

But if you stay, I just might upload an mp3 of my rendition of Bread's "Baby I'm-A-Want You" for your listening pleasure in the next post...don't wanna miss out on that...

Monday, February 25, 2013

The Audacity of Wanting

It occurred to me this morning getting out of bed.  The Audacity of Wanting.

18 hours after the onset of another stifling depressive attack. 12 hours after I found myself swimming to the surface out of that murky jiz-bucket of despair.  8 hours after having sporadically watched the Oscars- marveling at my simultaneous inability to stay focused on the event along with my growing surety that the world of Hollywood and the Oscars, while definitely not for me, is still in the neighborhood of where I'd like to find myself someday.

Meaning,  having found my voice.  And having felt like a success.  Having been HEARD.  Witnessed.  Acknowledged.

There's the word.  Acknowledged.  What we all would like to be, for our hard work.  For the pursuit, however catastrophic or mundane, however razor sharp or meandering, of our dreams.  We'd like to be seen and somehow applauded for how we write ourselves upon the world- how we struggle and burn and hopefully ultimately birth ourselves for real into this world by coming into our own. (Papa may have, mama may have- God Bless the Child...)

And god knows I will likely never find myself up on some podium in glittery sequins under spangly lights thanking the scores who helped put me up there one day.  I don't think that's my path.  But I do intuit in the dark brown and khaki snakeskin regions of my netherbrain that I'm supposed to make a sound.  And that sound is supposed to be heard.  By 2 or 20,000.  Whatever. And Thus Spaketh Zarathustra.

So I keep going in this queer artistic endeavor of my life.  I keep making these records- jumping from one rock of sound in the stream to another- trying to carve that voice out of steam-warped thin air.  I keep writing these strange figments of conjoined words in efforts at lyricism-- to pry open the valve of  some inner faucet.  I make the music and write the words.

But so far, I do not write the songs that make the whole world sing.  And I have not penned the Great American Novel.  I'm not an Artist of Our Time.  And I am not a Blogger to be reckoned with or a Tastemaker to check against all the grimy, newborn notions of the unwashed masses...

I am just some bloke-- well, I suppose a bird if you must be technical about it-- just sitting here.  Trying to figure out what to do, how to enact me regularly and consistently such that the rust does not start to overtake the cogs of the machine, and I do not spend a significant portion of the hours life has blessed me with face down, dogpaddling around in my small insignificant pool of poo.

But as Nobody as I am, I also know I am still Indispensable.

So what am I missing- I ask myself hundreds of times a year.  What am I Doing Wrong?  What have I Missed?  What Path Led Astray did I take? Why have I spent roughly a gazillion hours thus far during my almost 43 times around the sun engaging in a whole lot of godawful maudlin hopeless, snot-producing fury at what appears to be my total ineffectuality?

Perhaps the answer finally plopped itself this AM atop my earthtoned snakeskin brain section like some wayward pizza sauce upon a blouse.  (Upon my previously pristine vintage 70's taupe and black silk YSL blouse, to be exact.  One of the Finds of the Century at Goodwill five years ago now decked out like every other piece in a new mothers' wardrobe.)

The answer is- the Audacity of Wanting. This is what I am missing- this is what apparently dropped out of my knapsack on the subway years ago when I was visiting some large urbane city that actually contains a subway....well, I suppose that's any city other than the one I reside in...but no matter!  I digress!   NO DIGRESSION, HOLLY LONG.  Stick to this subject.  STICK TO THIS IDEA dammit, because you are definitely onto something here.

When you want something- I mean really want want it with a fervor and a tenacity and an AUDACITY of character.  And this is ESSENTIAL to you getting this thing that you want, because even if it's something you actually have the wherewithal to possess, like a career path, say-- I'm not talking about the undying love of, oh, George Clooney--- Even if you have the power to eventually possess this thing that you want- you will have to slog through shit to get it.

I don't care who you are, and how many 'friends' or 'parents' you have in the industry you wish to inhabit, or the athletic/artistic/scientific/philosophical/irrational goal you wish to attain, the pathway there is just gonna be rocky.  It always is.  It may not be rocky all the time, you may have pebbles in your way whereas some of us seem to be constantly running into Kilimanjaro, but even so- it will feel crappy to you.  You will have to on some level work through those troubled times.  You will have to face demons.  This is what happens when you truly go for something- and I think perhaps the more noble the dream, certainly the more ambitious, generally the more slogging you will have to do.

So, I'm assuming you're all with me here- right?  Wouldn't we all agree, going for something you desire is tough?

And I think what ultimately gets us through these times- the stuff GRIT is made of- is audacity.  A little ignorance, a lot of stick-to-it-ive-ness, a bunch of luck and a whole lotta skill and talent will allow us to reach the goal.  But in order to keep going through the thinnest of the think-and-thin, you have to have the audacity to believe that what you're doing is meant for you, and thus it is possible.

That takes character.

And I'm not sure that part of my courage has ever been screwed to the sticking place.

Now, I think it's fairly easy to see what happened to that chunk of the Holly puzzle.  As I (too frequently) rifle through the many moments of my artistic past, I can pinpoint the forks in the road where I, like Hansel and Gretel, kept dropping the crumbs of my desire along the way.(...would that I could now trace them back to the the nest egg of my hope and desire and return to the blissfully ignorant belief in myself and that the world would somehow, someday receive me.)

These crumbs of youthful hope and wild abandoned desire were shed every crappy audition I had, or humiliating casting director session, or tough gig where three people showed and I'd promised the booker 25 and then someone spilled a beer on my keyboard.  These crumbs fell out of my pockets after putting hours and hours into something I felt really proud of, like a scene for a showcase, or a sketch for a comedy show, or later in my life, an album, and upon presenting it to the world (which always seemed to consist of more hours than creating the thing itself) hearing little more than the vast void of nothing in return.  Not the rejection, but the nothingness, the apathy, as if I had done nothing at all.  So yes- these bits and many others like them were the particular contours of my thinnest moments.  And I've got buckets to spare in my memory.

But hey- blah blah blah.  We've ALL got those memories.  Everyone has failed, and been overlooked and underpaid, and rejected and scorned and ignored.  I ain't no martyr and I certainly ain't no anomaly! I suppose I just didn't have a large chunk of bread in my pocket to begin with- so perhaps I tanked out early.  Lost the audacity- lost the fuel early and couldn't for the life of me regain it surrounded by what appeared to me to be a dumpster-full of jaded experiences.

My husband just informed me today that Obama's latest book is entitled "The Audacity of Hope."  Perhaps you already knew that, dear reader, all the way through this here entry.  Well, I did not.  I had not remembered that.  But heck, that is a helluva title- got a real ring to it.  That guy may really go places one of these days!

Hope and Wanting are neighbors, I think.  And yes, I think they both are fueled by audacity.  You have to have some balls to be able to sustain hope in this world that continually provides so many dreary window views.  You have to have some sort of screw loose to be able to keep wanting something and going after it after the universe has slammed your fingers in the door many times over. You have to have and maintain Audacity.  To dream and hope and WANT.

And yet- that's just what I need right now.  Fingers be damned, I can play my guitar with my toes!  Eff you big room full of nothing!  I will fill you up with my desire to DO THIS THING!

(Too much?  You tell me.  Haven't played this game in awhile...)

Friday, February 22, 2013

Record Store Day

Random how the universe works. Weaving silvery ethereal threads together in its wondrous ways.

This morning I'm staring at the blank page- choosing to settle on that as my full frontal view as opposed to the silent, ready guitar, expectantly upright upon its stand behind me, calling..."c'mon, gonna play me today? Any songs rumbling up in there?  I'm ready baby, let's go let's go let's go.."

Much prefer to stare at the big still whiteness of it all.

But of course I need a soundtrack to accompany the blankness.  So I roll on over to my Spotify.  I type in "Jack White" because I think his bluesy rockabilly hard-edged punk rap fusion rock is sort of exactly what I need to feed my ears as my fingers hopefully will go skittering madly across my keyboard.

...but of course what happens instead is my fingers don't skitter-  I find myself lost in Jack White's newish solo stuff.  Pondering at the pristine production value of what yearns to sound like raucous spontaneity.  Takes a master to pull that dichotomy off.  Which he is.

So, I'm finding nothing at all to say- no fuel to put in the tank underneath those jittery flailing fingers.  So instead I direct my google browser to Jack White.  To pull in some more information on this man I know sadly little about, though love to artistically ogle from afar.  An artist who seems to perhaps be someone I would meet in the soul-based playpen often, were we in Music Preschool together.  Someone who also seems to share a big love simultaneous with big disdain for everything- much as I do.

But who knows.  So I keep sifting through the 1's and 0's of electronic Jack White information offered up by my search engines.  And today-- I run across an article which happened to be written TODAY- announcing Jack White as the ambassador for Record Store Day, which will apparently take place a couple months from now on April 20th.  And I'm reading the article... and it bounces satisfactorily off my my growing love for thumbing through new and used vinyl, for trolling the occasional, now exceedingly rare record store.  The article resonates for me.

And then I come across this quote- and I realize I have a blog to write.  The blog entry you've been reading thus far.  About this blog entry that I'm  When really it's only a quote I have that I want to share.  It's Jack White waxing on the importance of keeping record stores alive- of nurturing the communal act of experiencing and purchasing music in public-- outside the sterile womb of one's own office. And because I'm a musician and a curmudgeon and one who's slowly growing older and simultaneously more in love and more baffled by this human experience, I agree with every word below. Wish I had said it m'damn self.

"The world hasn't stopped moving. Out there, people are still talking to each other face-to-face, exchanging ideas and turning each other on. Art houses are showing films, people are drinking coffee and telling tall tales, women and men are confusing each other and record stores are selling discs full of soul that you haven’t felt yet. So why do we choose to hide in our caves and settle for replication? We know better. We should at least. We need to re-educate ourselves about human interaction and the difference between downloading a track on a computer and talking to other people in person and getting turned onto music that you can hold in your hands and share with others. The size, shape, smell, texture and sound of a vinyl record; how do you explain to that teenager who doesn't know that it's a more beautiful musical experience than a mouse click? You get up off your ass, you grab them by the arm and you take them there."

Exactly.  I'm always alarmed by how many people my age who come to see me play live, maybe for the first time, are constantly telling me how much they enjoy music- especially live music.  And how little they find themselves going out in the world to experience it.  Much less find themselves in a RECORD STORE browsing, listening, feeling, shopping....  

We're all just so fucking busy- really.  Too busy to engage for real in art forms that unless engaged in fully, can ring with a tinsel emptiness.  Like a download sometimes sounds to me on my ipod... it's like...untouchable.  There's no substance there.  No crisp vanilla feel of the record sleeve that I had to crack open to access  it.  No whiff of dusty history emanating from the jacket as it opens slightly to reveal its tar black round beauty, etched through with gorgeous, warm sound waves.  

Like something for real.  

Something the musicians had to work and sweat and whoop and smile for the making.  They had to beat playfully on the drum of their heart.  They had to whistle the air through their woodwind tracheas, they had to pick the strings of their fingers- beat on their animal skins, pluck their cat guts, scream softly into the microphone, as it reverberated its tiny metallic components into the tape and onto the vinyl.

That's music- that's connection.  That's something happening NOW.   Let's get out in the world and not be afraid to step into the mosh pit with the unwashed masses, which, turns out, is all of us.  When we're doing it right....

Read more about Record Store Day at 

Thursday, February 21, 2013

Chicks and Dough

I opened up Facebook this morning to find that my old neighbor and friend, Helaine Olen, has just finished her new book.  Her first solo book, really.  And boy- what a doozy it is.

See, Helaine has for years been an independent blogger/columnist specializing in the area of economics- most specifically, personal finance. (Which according to her, as you might imagine, puts her in a suite that perhaps three other female individuals in the world also have the keys to.  Not a large beer bash up on that floor...)

Her current blog on the Forbes platform is called "Where Life Meets Money." She's written for the Wall Street Journal, the Washington Post, and had a popular feature in the LA Times called "Money Makeover," to name a few of her credits.

When she resided here in Venice, a mere six doors down from us on the walkstreet, I knew very little about her vast array of knowledge- about just how damn smart she was and is.  I did know Helaine as the wife of another charismatic, witty Jewish TV/film writer, and as a new mother to a sweet and precocious boy with a beauteous mop of soft honey hair.  I knew her as an acerbic wit, and as someone anyone could tell from 20 paces was a dyed-in-the-wool New Yorker through and through.  

But until very recently, I did not fully comprehend the personal gravitas which this woman is owed. 

Helaine's fresh off the presses book is called "Pound Foolish." It's a sobering, detailed account of how Americans have mostly ineffectually managed their personal finances starting from the end of the last century into the present, and what really has happened to all our money. Here is a link about the book and a bit about the extraordinary mind and person that she is: Helaine and here is a link to her appearance on the Daily Show last night (Good golly you go girl!) Helaine n Jon gettin it on

I for one was a bit bowled over when we met for lunch on the AK- a mere four months ago or so-  back when she was in town on PR business or some such for the book.  She described to me what it is she's been up to for the past few years.  (Now, mind you, Helaine and her family left Venice about a decade ago, right around the time I had just given birth to our first kid, so it's not shocking that I didn't really have much of an idea what was going on in her life. Unscrewing a jar of Gerber apricot baby smish was an intellectual endeavor for me back then. I was operating on so much consistent sleep deprivation...)  

Turns out Helaine has been studying and reporting on stock market trends, ever shifting expanse of our country's GDP, 401K returns.  Everything to do with personal finance as it pertains to the economic climate of our country, and how we "get ahead" or don't- this woman has been in knee-deep. And I find that tremendously impressive.  Firstly because I get swimmy-eyed half way through page 1 of our financial advisor's yearly report of our family's assets.  I try valiantly but really can stomach no more than the handful of headlines the Sunday Times Business section offers each week. Turns out, no matter how much of a dormant intellectual I'd like to fancy myself, when it comes to money and finances.. and..stock picks and...Alan Greenspan... interest rates...current... fixed loan.... mortgages..and....zz..zzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzz

I don't really know if I can truly call myself an adult at this point. 

But Helaine is.  And more importantly, she's a LADY adult.   Small and petite of stature, pretty and whip-smart, this mid-aged sexy-librarian (with or without her designer specs on) is exactly who should be pulling the curtain back on the Great Oz and exposing our financial climate for the veritable circus it has been in the past fifty years or so.  Especially because she talks at length about how WE as a nation need to start thinking in terms of OUR money.  How WE are like one organism here in America, financially speaking (among other ways I believe), and we need to dispel the myth that middle class families are individually to blame for their economic troubles.  She is another female voice of stature who is trumpeting the need for communal responsibility and true investment.

I for one will run, not walk, to my nearest Amazon link and click the BUY button for this book- which I encourage all of you to do as well. ( Good Christ, I'm going to try to make it through the first chapter.  If ANYONE can hold my attention on financial matters, it's got to be Helaine...)

Here's to smart, ballsy women!  Here's to you Helaine Olen!  May the New York Times Bestseller List be yours for the taking!

Ok.  I'm just gonna go strum my guitar and try to come up with some more lyrics to another song now.  Then probably watch some TV....then maybe make the bed....I dunno, go to the grocery store...  I hear Ralph's is having a sale on pork chops...

Friday, February 15, 2013

The Only Thing We Have To Fear...

We all know the end of this quote.  In fact, I've always wondered where FDR nicked it for his auspicious first inaugural speech- assuming it was not just penned by one of his anonymous and very gifted speech writers.  Clearly have not done my google homework here.

The thing is, as I've been thinking quite a bit about fear for well over the past year- the year 2012 of the Anxiety Attack you might recall if you're a regular Indispensable Nobody reader- I've internally heard this particular set of words quite a bit.  As I've been struggling WITH my fear and working THROUGH my fear and when occasionally not feeling fearful, thinking ABOUT my fear, this particular quote keeps nipping at my heels.  You know, like that Carpenters song you heard in the grocery store two days ago that you can't get out of your head no matter how many Fugazi records you spin...

And I hear it in the pitch perfect upper-class East-coast, slightly warbling tone in which Roosevelt presented it to America.  You can hear him raising his voice to emphasize the immediacy of the point as the phrase moves to its inevitable conclusion.  You can hear the pregnancy within the slight pause in between " fear..." and " fear itself!"  (sounds more like "feah" in my mental soundtrack.)  It's a little brain squib that won't unglue itself from either my frontal cerebral cortex where all the analysis occurs, nor apparently my almond-shaped amygdala, where all the effects of said fear generate and multiply.

It is a deeply ingrained memory.

So why is it that only until really this year, perhaps after so much time hanging around with my fear, one might even say getting it ON with my fear, do I think I finally understand this quote?

See, until recently,  I believe the way I interpreted, or rather misinterpreted, this fundamental pillar of my psyche is that because the only thing we have to fear is fear itself-- there's really nothing to be afraid of!  It's all smoke and mirrors, like a gamey burlesque show or an expensive trip through one of Universal Studios rides. Once you realize that, people, ask not what your country can do for you, right JFK? (Yeah yeah, so I'm marrying two inaugural speeches.  Get over it.)   Because when you've CONQUERED your fear- you have NOTHING to be afraid of and you are therefore and thusly a bad ass motherfucker who should really start being in charge of a lot of senatorial committees or maybe run the CIA or become a decorated Navy Seal - come ON America!  What can you do for your country now that you realize there's nothing to fear at all??

So- ok.  I was wrong.  I was very very wrong. Because there IS something to be afraid of.

And it's not death, though it seems like it would be. As I've been discovering, yes...the truth is you can choose to be afraid of many things, or not- but most of these things, if they have any teeth at all,  really surround death.  Death is potentially really scary.  Because it's unknown, and so final, and separates you from all the good things you do know about, and all the people you love.  BUT--once you're dead, you're dead.  It's done.  ALL the lights are out, including the fear light and loss light, and grief light, and all other horrid negative emotions and feeling states that we'd all rather run from.

So, no, it's not actually death itself I find I'm afraid of.  But yet- there IS still something to fear.  There's not NOTHING to fear.  The thing to fear is encapsulated in all those icky feelings surrounding the notion of death.  The fear that perhaps I'm going to die right now.  It's all the shaky terror and nauseating dizziness and overwhelming grief of impending separation from those I love so deeply and regret at not being nearly done experiencing all this plane of existence has to offer-- those feelings I am still afraid of.  I don't like to engage in those feelings.  And those feelings are what again?  What Bag can I wrap up those feelings into and call it a day?  The "FEAR" bag.  Yes- that's fear.  That's what it feels like, and that's what I'm afraid of.

OH WAIT-- So all I'm really afraid of is feeling afraid.  A HA!  NOW I get it.  The only thing we have to fear, turns out, IS fear itself!  Yes!  Yep.  OH yeah.....wait.   That one thing?  That "fear" thing?  Sigh.  Yeah, well-- I'm still very much afraid of that.  No Navy Seal enlistment for me.


I had the extreme good fortune to attend a dinner the other night at a dear friend's home who happens to be my husband's co-exec-producer on a TV pilot he is developing.  The show will be called "Everest" and will be about-- well- I'm sure you can guess.  The dinner was set up by the neighbor of our hostess who happens to be a mountaineer, and who knows quite a few members of that elite group of humans who choose to continually do crazy things like scale the world's tallest mountains with or without supplemental oxygen at hand, and/or dangle themselves off rock faces at 5000 feet...things like that.  He wanted to present some of these friends to my husband, the writer and creator of "Everest," to give Jeff and his other exec producers some glimpses into that life for real.  From the horses' mouths, so to speak.

They were all very impressive.  All five climbers he introduced us to.  One of whom is named John Long (my father's name-- oddly enough) and who is one of the early frontrunners in extreme sports.  John was hanging off cliff edges and scaling vertical Yosemite mountain sides when most of us were in diapers.  At the dinner John was - incidentally - hobbling around on crutches, though ironically so.  In over 45 years of climbing, this was the first time he had ever broken a bone, and it had been at Rockreation- a very layman westside indoor climbing gym if you don't know-  A location that Jeff and our 8 year old son used to regularly visit.  The climbing wall is no higher than 28 feet. But isn't that just how the world turns?  John, who has regularly taken tea in the clouds with angels from his dizzyingly high gymnastic vantage points, visits this place where even I've been on occasion for the odd kid birthday party.  He visits on a plea from a friend at the last minute. It's late evening after a long day of editing, he's tired and not thinking, forgets his focus, mis-ties a knot or oversteps a fake rock jutting from the polymide vertical face and lands standing straight up, a mere 25 feet below where he slipped only to find his lower leg snapped in two- enough to show bone jutting out directly above and to the right of his ankle. Whomever is in charge up there in the heavenly skies must be having quite a laugh.

(By the by- all the climbers at the dinner had also not just endured many horrid injuries, but had harrowing death stories to relate.  Witnessing their climbing partners - a sister-in-law, or girlfriend, or childhood best friend - plummet to their deaths right past their noses- WHOOSH---dropping 500 feet, 1000 feet, 5000 feet to the craggy rocks below.  And at all times, these people were expert climbers who were just so oxygen deprived, they were making simple errors- beginner mistakes like not tying the right knot, or misjudging a foot fall, simply because there was not enough O2 in the air to get that synapse fired fast enough through the brain before gravity took over.  Even the mightiest fall...and fall and fall....)

So speaking of the mightiest- another of these climbers at the mixer was an alpinist named Don Bowie, and he's the one I want to focus on here, because he and his stories so beautifully encapsulate for me this growing awareness I am unwittingly cultivating with my fear, one sweaty, white-knuckled 3am moment at a time.

Don Bowie is my age- only a year older at 43, sporting a taut, tall though not towering physique that seems to be made entirely of bone and sinew. Even his sculpted face is interesting to watch as he speaks directly to you in his soft-spoken, methodical manner. It moves like a face should- lean and mechanical. You look at Don and you see a fairly pure example of the human machine that those who believe in God must believe God meant to create.  Like those long distance runners in Kenya-- they to me are another God- intended prototype.  If  Don Bowie were the every day sort of Subaru wagon, the Ford hybrid mini-SUV in God's Garage of Humans, Duncan Kibet or Catherine Ndereba would probably be the Ferraris...

But anyway- back to Bowie.  He as a mountain climber - as an alpinist and a purist who does not use any supplemental oxygen whatsoever - is one of the best in the world.  There are only a few creatures on this earth like Don who are capable of doing what he can do-  trips up and down  Everest (which he's done numerous times from different vantage points,) trips up and down K2, which though less commericalized, Bowie says is MUCH more treacherous, trips up and down all the world's tallest mountains WITH NO SUPPLEMENTAL OXYGEN.  Trips not mapped and taken over the course of weeks, but carefully plotted summits done in the course of 24-48 hours round trip.  He's like the sprinter up and down the mountain.  With NO O2.

And he has sadly outlasted a number of his counterparts and has been with a small number of them on the mountain the day they took that unfortunate misstep, or made that brief fatal error in judgement that Don and all others say only takes a split-second.  (It's chilling to hear.  You're there one second, talking and breathing and laughing in a humdrum moment, though sluggishly, for sure, and then the next you're just gone.  It's all over for you.)  He has many sickening stories about watching his dear friends fall, knowing there's nothing he can do for them. Knowing he won't even have the strength to go find them or pull them out of the ice they will be embedded in later because every second you are on the mountain over 6000 feet, you are in the process of dying yourself, in-taking not even half of the oxygen you need to survive with each harrowing awful minute.

And I cannot underline the word AWFUL enough.  Because Bowie did.  Don made it very clear, that doing what he does has nothing to do with elation, or FUN, or even testosterone-driven maniacal will.  He says it's really just a constant relationship- a dance- with his own fear.  This seems to be what drives, fuels, and houses his reason for existence up there in the air.  Because it does not sound cool at all- this climbing tall mountains.  It sounds beyond cold, and windy, and slippery, and sickening, and disorienting, and desolate, and back-breaking, and disappointing, and depression-producing..this mountain climbing thing sounds seriously for the birds  Well, the goats I suppose.  It does not sound like we humans are supposed to be doing this at all.

And yet Don Bowie and certain other extreme outliers do this.  And keep doing it.  And the ones that do it and survive, mostly do so not because they make lots of money from it (though some do, from guiding expeditions, and from taking on sponsorships....two things Don Bowie has NEVER done.)   The ones who do it over and over again seem to need to do it, because they need to be in relationship to their fear in that way.  It is so palpable and powerful and pervasive, that the mountain is the only way they can bring it to life, and play chess with it.

Bowie says that once he gets to a certain point summiting, his body feels so awful every second of the way, it's like he's dying of the worst flu out there (something I can relate to in an achingly acute way with my endocarditis memories.  But of course I was lying prone in a hospital bed, warm and cared for,  in those moments of weakness, pain, fear and despair-- ) Don is out in the harshest element Earth has to offer save perhaps the deep heart of a volcano.  He is actually trying to keep moving, despite every synapse in his brain which fires "TURN AROUND!  GO BACK DOWN!"  He must force his body at every second to keep going forward.  And to stay alert and awake, and strong, and agile- no matter how slowly he's doing it.  He must allow for and quiet the crazy thoughts that come into his head at such high altitudes- mangled ideas that creep in like drug demons telling him things that aren't true, giving him bad advice to, say, take off all his clothing, or dump out the remaining water he so painstakingly took all day yesterday melting ice to make.  Or maybe just to jump off the ridge he has been desperately clinging to for 6 hours through the current storm.

I cannot tell you how deeply I never ever want to go extreme mountain climbing after talking with this man.  Not that it was ever a dream of mine, really, but I now know for CERTAIN that the idea holds NO romance at all for me.  It sounds like pure hell.  The kind of pure hell I'm trying to escape at 3am shuddering through a panic attack on my bathroom floor.  There are two glaring differences between my experience and Don's.  The first of which is that I did not choose to bring it on and Bowie did.  But secondly, and more saliently to me,  for Don Bowie up there on K2 or wherever he might plant himself, the elements provide an actual harsh reality of imminent death.  Death is hanging out for real on his shoulder.  It's right there going- "Now, Don?  What do you think?  Wanna try it on for size?"  Whereas, my death fears are manufactured and surreal, which is part of what makes my anxiety attacks so discombobulating.  To withstand that deep of a fearful experience on the inside when what's occurring outside of you seems to hold no shred of's a freaky schism.

In any event.  I'm so grateful to have been able to walk with giants the other day.  To rub elbows with TRUE rocks stars- true outliers and frontrunners.  I told a pal of mine yesterday it was like meeting yoda for real.  These Zen masters not conquering their fear so much as developing a neighborhood friendship with it.  Inviting it over to play again and again....

And this is perhaps the best takeaway of all.  The only thing we have to fear is fear itself.  So why not cozy up and invite it in?  It's right outside your door anyway...

Yoda: I am wondering, why are you here? 
Luke: I'm looking for someone. 
Yoda: Looking? Found someone, you have, I would say, hmmm? 
Luke: Right... 
Yoda: Help you I can. Yes, mmmm. 
Luke: I don't think so. I'm looking for a great warrior. 
Yoda: Ohhh. Great warrior. 
[laughs and shakes his head] 
Yoda: Wars not make one great. 

(But maybe Fear does.)

Thursday, February 14, 2013

My Dirty Little Secret

Well, I'll just get that out in the open right away.  Actually, I hate to disappoint, but my dirty little secret is really neither dirty, nor is it much of a secret to anyone who knows me....but here goes anyway:  My little hidden dark yucky little down-in-there secret is....that I am a chick singer/songwriter.

There it is.  That's my secret.

And the reason I deem it as such is that for some time now- I would say at least a few years going- I've been treating that piece of information about me as if it truly is a dirty little secret.  Because I don't LIKE it.  I don't LIKE calling myself a singer/songwriter.  Perhaps if you are reading this and you are also a singer/songwriter- you know exactly what I mean.

First of all, who wants a fucking / slash in their career name.  It's stupid- it makes you look wishy/washy, like you can't decide what you are and so you're gonna call yourself this/and also this. But when you are a singer/songwriter, you don't have much choice because you can't just call yourself a singer.  That's part of what you do- surely.  You sing stuff.  But you primarily sing stuff that you write, so you're also a writer- a songwriter.  Which to any of us who do the singing of the songwriting, I think we'd all mostly agree is really the bulk of the whole singer/songwriter deal.  Singing your songs is just not the hard part at all.

But you don't want to just call yourself a songwriter.  Because then folks assume you are a hole-y- cardigan-clad sweaty bearded fellow sitting around in your little room all day dipping your pen in the inkwell, smoking Pall Malls, and occasionally strumming on your instrument of choice in service of bringing to life your little musical ditties.  This may be true- this may be exactly who you are when you are writing your songs- but when you're an actual singer/songwriter, you do occasionally don the sweater without any holes, trim your beard and take your instrument and Pall Malls out into the world and perform what you've penned in front of other people.  So you are a performer.

I've tried that one on for size too.  Performer.  Musician.  (Pronounced Mewzishian.  As in Gentleman or Lady Mewzishian.)

Neither of those really cut it either.

So- here I am- stuck with the closest thing I can find to name what it is I do when not taking care of my children, watching inordinate amounts of television, or attempting to have a relationship with my husband. I am a singer/songwriter. Yugh.

Perhaps one reason for the 'yugh,' dear friends, is that I wouldn't mind being a singer/songwriter if I didn't know how very deeply much the music industry disdains such a person.  Such a term.  I cannot tell you how many times I've been in the presence of an industry person,  discussing my music, even perhaps after they'd heard some of it and enjoyed it, casually referring to myself as a singer/songwriter-- only to see their face visibly fall.  It's like the word "cancer" in some circles.  You just don't want to attach it to yourself. If Beyonce had called herself a singer/songwriter at any point in time, she would have gotten nowhere.  Or at least someone at some point told her to cut that shit out and just focus on that fabulous face, ass, hips and hair.

And I can't say that I blame the industry for this reaction.  The truth is, there are so many dreadfully awful singer/songwriters out there because it seems to be the gateway drug into the kingdom.  You can't be in a band unless you've found a number of other folks who play different instruments other than yourself to get together, decide to create music together, and put in the amount of time TOGETHER to make it happen.  (Not to say there aren't many dreadful bands out there, for sure.)  But becoming a singer/songwriter is so much easier.  In order to claim yourself to be a singer/songwriter, all you really have to do is sit in your room by yourself with your banjo or your piano or guitar or harp or spoons or whatever, write what you deem to be a song- which in some instances seems to take up less time than say, finishing a hamburger- and play along with yourself while you're singing said piece of material.  Anyone can do that!  (Unfortunately,  as is evidenced by the many horrid singer/songwriters out there, NOT anyone can do it, and in fact most people should NOT.)

But I digress. Because I don't really think the main reason I disdain singer/songwriter is because of the music industry.  I actually disdain the music industry more than the dreaded s/s moniker.

I think the main reason I disdain singer/songwriter is that I, like all other artists out there, am growing and shifting, and am really tired of making music on my own.  Plus, I don't really want to listen to singer/songwriters anymore...really it's been a long time since I've done that.  I mostly listen to bands- always have since I was a kid mostly.  And somehow in order to fall in love with myself again, in order to regenerate the moxie needed to put myself out in the world musically on a regular basis, I'm going to have to distance myself from either the word singer/songwriter itself, or the judgement I have placed upon the word that has described me for so long.  And I believe the former may take place faster.

So.  Let's not call Holly Long a singer/songwriter anymore, shall we?  Let's call her a rocker.  And a writer.  And sure- a musician, a songwriter.  Sure- a crankypants artist.  An all-over-the-map sorta comedic, schizophrenic song and word lovin bird.  Because that feels so much more right to me.

If only I could boil all that down into another name I deemed more suitable.  Even if it had a slash in it, I don't think I'd mind.  If the alchemy was right, and the word encompassed all that I am- I think I'd choose to take it on.  Even to celebrate it.  For now- all I got is "Holly."  That's the only one that seems in any way fitting.

Holly/Long.  There we go.

Tuesday, February 12, 2013

They Shouldn't Be Allowed

I realize I have overly high standards.  This has been a snarly rabid rodent of a problem that took hold of my tail early on and has yet to fully let go.  I'm my own worst enemy, as a result.  I'm my own worst critic.  But I also can spread that toxicity out to those whom I love, to those who consist of my innermost circle-- a trait I'm doggedly trying to reverse.  (Yes, Yoda.  I know.  No try- only do.  I'm WORKING ON IT.)


Some folks is just dumb.  Ignorant as dirt.  Thusly,  dumbass stupid shit happens in my vicinity (and I'd imagine yours as well) that Just Shouldn't Be Allowed.   And no matter how many breaths I take, Sensai, no matter how much decaf I drink, I just can't get over it.  (My husband has offered to procure me a pad of tickets akin to our most beloved meter maid's book of jollies.  Then I could be free to cite digressions of all types and bestow said citations upon those who perpetrate.  How I wish I could engage in this sort of activity consequence-free...)

In other words:  1. Learn how to parallel park or have your license revoked.  Really.  And while you're at it, figure out how to take up only ONE space instead of two.  2. Help the clerk bag your damn groceries at Trader Joes, bitches.  Don't just stand there while it's being done for you and stare vaguely off into the distance while wasting MY time in line.  3. Don't get to the front of any line anywhere, especially the post office, without having all your shit perfectly ready to GO.

You get my drift.

OK- so yes, I may have placed my expectations of myself and the world at large upon a plateau a bit too close to the heavens.  But c'mon.  Some things just shouldn't go unnoticed.  Some folks just simply SHOULDN'T BE ALLOWED.

Let me give you my most recent example that occurred a mere two days ago:

My lovely little girl scout (now 10 years old and not so little) performed over the weekend at World Thinking Day- a yearly event held by girl scout troops all over America.  Allow me a little time to explain what this day consists of:  Each troop chooses a country to represent.  They set up booths in the regional convention-like room (cafeteria at a local middle school) in which the first portion of the day takes place.  They share a tasty bit o food from their country and create little "swaps" which are safety-pinnable knick knacks made out of some element of the country they've chosen. The second part of the day consists of the Show whereby each troop performs a 3-4 minute dance or a song or a skit, or some combo of the three which again represents their chosen country.  They have a cute procession of the flags...they get to dress up in traditional garb, etc etc.  It's sweet and actually can be educational and vaguely inspirational.  At least I believe that was the initial intention behind creating this event years ago.

But at our regional westside World Thinking Day, every year there's some dumbass troop leader who Shouldn't Be Allowed.  Someone who takes the opportunity to use the day differently.   This invariably rears its ugly head during the performance part of the day.  I've given over to the fact that every troop every year is gonna provide some sugary globule as representative food from their country.  Whaddryagonna do.  But to me, there's still potential for inspiration, or at least education from the performance section of the day.  So when the dumbass strikes- it's always during the show that you know.  And this year we were blessed with not one dumbass performance, but two.

The first came from some older tweenage troop out of Santa Monica who chose to represent France.  Ah- France- amazing food.  Rich history, a beautiful country- so much potential for the performance.  So what do they do?  What song and dance do they inspire us with?  They choose "Vogue" by Madonna.  They choose to Vogue at Girl Scout World Thinking Day. This is their song and dance.  Replete with vaguely sexual hip grinding (didn't we get enough of that at the Super Bowl?) and completely UN-French, tacky 13-year-old versions of what "Fashion Models" would wear on the runway.  Vogue-ing.  What overly made-up girl scouts strutting around awkwardly in all their Lolita-like glory has to do with France is beyond me.

Now I must say- the second troop who Just Shouldn't Have Been Allowed actually buttoned up their act quite tightly.  They had all their moves together.  Because, you see, this troop decided (I would imagine with gusto) to represent South Korea.  My my, we've never had anyone represent South Korea before at World Thinking Day.  What interesting facts can we learn about South Korea?  What cultural song or dance will we be privy to on this day?

Well, you may recall dear reader that Psy is from South Korea.  And if you don't know who he is, perhaps you are aware of his hit "Gangnam Style" which has played incessantly on internet and radio airwaves for a good six months now.  Which has tirelessly appeared in every form known to man commercially and social-media wise and has been parodied on YouTube and every which way in between.  Psy has appeared on Letterman and The View for god sakes.  Like, months ago. Aren't we over this yet?  Aren't we done with Psy and his Style hailing from Gangnam?

Nope.  Clearly we are not.  Troop number yadda yadda yadda decides it would be such a swell idea to  invite, clearly, a CHOREOGRAPHER in to help them turn this oh-so-10-minutes-ago fad of a song and dance into their World Thinking Day presentation.  Which they precisely and meticulously did.  And it was vaguely sad and uncomfortable watching the faces of these girls as they each, channelling their inner Psys, bounced around the stage mimicking moves even we parents have perfected ourselves in the company of our kids numerous times in the comfort of our own kitchens.  In other words- if they were expecting excited energy back in their direction, they were sorely disappointed.  At least by a majority of the weary audience.

My question is- who is in charge here?  Who thought Vogue and Gangnam Style would be GOOD ideas?  Is World Thinking Day just another example of our ever-expanding trend as parents to be pals with our kids instead of their mentors and leaders?  In letting them pick what they want to do because they think somehow it would be cool instead of giving them some kind of guidance as to what might actually be cool, because it would be in keeping with the day's event?

You know me.  I'm a chick rocker.  I love the stage.  I sing and snarl and whisper and coo and all of it in between- I love to do that.  I get it, and I would never want to take that moment away from some girls who are trying to have fun with their troop.  But it's just not the day for that.  You want to perform Gangnam Style with your pals?  Great- mount it at the next Bat Mitzvah.  Hey Sexy Lady it up!  Wear your slinkiest and Vogue around the room with your own friends at your next sleepover party-- but do it on your own time.  Don't perform this ludicrousness at an event that is supposed to be about raising awareness of worldly issues...that is supposed to be bringing girls together in the spirit of global awakening.  Right?  Is it just me here on this high horse of a podium?   Where are the other adults?

Because if I'm one of the only one up here representing THAT seat- we are in real trouble here, people.  Real trouble....