You Think It’s About Magic But It’s Really About Money

Like many people in the film industry, my mind this week has been on Sarah Jones.  Sarah was a second assistant camera (the person who transports cameras and lenses, helps the focus puller take measurements to get the focus right and slates the take, among other things) who was killed by a train one week ago today during a shoot in Georgia for a film called Midnight Rider.  Sarah and her fellow crew members, along with the film’s producer-director Randall Miller and the actor William Hurt, were setting up to shoot a scene on train tracks running across a bridge.  It now seems more and more clear that they didn’t have permission to shoot on those tracks, and when an unexpected train came through, Sarah couldn’t get to safety in time.  You can read the details of what we currently know about the incident here.

I didn’t know Sarah Jones, but this week I’ve been reading about her and looking at her picture.  She reminds me of a lot of second ACs and other folks I know, young people who are working their way up in the business because they love film and they want to be part of the process of making it.  She also reminds me a lot of me — the me I once was: someone who got into the business because I thought it was about magic.  I see these photos of Sarah and how happy she looks, how much fun she’s having, even though she’s basically just doing menial labor (just like I do).  She’s meeting people and having new experiences on every job, which is a big part of what makes the business fun when you’re first starting out.  More importantly, she’s working alongside talented actors and directors and cinematographers, and she wants and plans to be one of them some day (according to her obituary, she, like most people I know in the camera department, was indeed planning to be a cinematographer).

We, as crew people, want to be part of the magic.  One big reason why we come to the film industry is because it’s a place of fantasy, where you can have experiences you wouldn’t find anywhere else.  Depending on your job, you might get to crash a car, or make it rain, or watch people “fly,” or get “shot” and then magically rise up from the dead.  Sometimes you get to work with or even get to know people you’ve admired, or whose handsome faces you’ve seen staring down at you, their arresting brown eyes five feet wide in 3-D on an IMAX screen.  And you will unquestionably get to do something that challenges you, maybe even scares you a little and makes you feel daring, like light a city street from a small box at the top of a crane, or swing a 16-foot pole with a microphone on it from a twelve-foot-high ladder…or clap a slate in front of a camera sitting on an active railroad track.  And from your first day on a film set, you also come to accept that you, as an individual crew member, matter relatively little in this vast whirl of production that you’re a part of.  This is reinforced every time the 1st AD barks at someone who’s taking too long to do his or her job, or your superior makes it clear, however nicely, that you don’t really have time to leave set to go to the bathroom, or a star or director gets their ass kissed when they’re acting like a total asshole — because they actually have value.  And this is why you will work 14 hours without a break and without a complaint, in a blizzard when you don’t know how you’re going to get home at the end of the night, or somewhere, or somehow, that you feel deep down is unsafe: because you’ve been told, over and over again, that you are not important compared to the movie-making machine which must roll forward and the money that’s being hemorrhaged every minute you hold up the works asking, “But why?”

We have rules and we have safety meetings and we have unions to look out for us, yes.  We have reps, and we have shop stewards, and we have grips who are supposed to be keeping an eye on safety on set — along with rigging and setting stands and laying track and pushing the dolly and the 30 other things that make up a grip’s job.  But these folks can’t be everywhere at once, and, just like the rest of us, they can’t always stand up to the machine, especially when everyone is always in a hurry and making calls on the fly.  When crews band together, we can say “no” and pull the plug at 18 hours.  But nobody wants to be the first one to suggest that, because we all need to work for a living and get hired on the next job.  So enough people acquiesce to something, and then it becomes just one more crazy thing film crews do that nobody else in their right mind would.  Just this past week, I was on a crew that worked 15 hours, seven before lunch and eight after (I only worked 12 because I had a late call).  Most of the crew was outside in weather below freezing all day, because there wasn’t room for them inside the location.  Those who were inside, however, were breathing in artificial smoke from a smoke machine and fake cigarettes (which sure smells like real cigarette smoke to me on my clothes, still) for practically the entire day, some with barely a chance to get some fresh air.  Oh, and the set was roach-infested, as no small number of New York locations are.  And that was a good set — with a nice, first-class director and first AD and DP who were all professionals, who knew what they were doing, who worked as fast as they could and weren’t in any way unreasonable.  These types of working conditions are just the norm on a big set.  On equally big sets, I’ve fallen, burned myself on lights, received decent-sized shocks from improperly grounded power, and had stands topple over on me more times than I can remember.  On less professional ones, I’ve run backwards in traffic with nobody spotting me, I’ve lain on the floor of a moving car holding a microphone, or been asked to ride in a trunk.  These are things that I wouldn’t do now, because after 20+ years in the business, I’m old enough to know better and established enough to say “fuck that.”  Or would I?  I still regularly come home from work with bruises that I don’t know how I acquired.  Just a couple of weeks ago, I boomed a scene sitting close to the edge of a roof with no railing and no safety line, and didn’t even think twice about it until the actor in the scene said afterwards that he’d been worried about me.  I brushed it off as him being chivalrous because it had seemed perfectly safe to me and I’m no newbie.  But my perspective is based on what I’ve done and seen people do in this business.  Maybe it’s a little off.  Ultimately these decisions are supposed to be “above my pay grade.”  But if all the people who make them care about is money, then, sadly, their perspective is even farther off than mine.

You see, what happens to people like Sarah the longer they’re in the industry, at least what happened to me, is that the business becomes less and less magical the more you realize just how much it’s really about money.  No Hollywood project gets made just because it’s “good.”  Yes, good movies and TV shows do get made, but it’s a struggle — because you’re fighting the business, which dictates that your project has to be as risk-free an investment as possible.  How do you do that with what’s supposed to be a creative venture?  You make it derivative of something else that already made money (best of all, a derivative sequel); or you bring in ten hack writers to try to top each other’s previous tricks, adding more and more jokes and action and special effects, and in the process “smooth out” whatever made the script unique to begin with; or you test-market the shit out of your footage until you’ve got an ending that may make no sense but appeals to the greatest number of people — the lowest common denominator audience.  All of this costs more money, of course, but it’s okay to spend the most astronomical budget ever if it’s in the interest of making still more money.  And in that interest, it’s okay to hire large crews of disposable people to be cogs in the machine — because, while most moviegoers don’t realize it, those human beings are what it takes to do all of the jobs that make that machine move.  And it’s why those crews work incredibly long hours, and why safety often goes by the wayside: because, when astronomical amounts of money are being spent literally every minute, cutting all the corners you can to save a thousand dollars here and there becomes much more important than any of those individual human beings being paid $400-600/day – or maybe $300 if you’re working outside of New York or LA, or $100 with no overtime if you’re a PA, or $0 if you’re an intern.*

The Academy Awards are this Sunday, and a petition has been created to request that Sarah Jones be added to the “In Memoriam” segment. Someone named Tim Gray wrote a response in Variety, and his point was basically that “Every person shown in the segment will deserve to be there. But not every deserving person will be there, because time is limited.”  In other words, again, it’s about money.  The Academy Awards only have a limited amount of very expensive time between very expensive commercials, and they need to spend that time selling movies — because that’s what the Academy exists to do: sell Hollywood movies.  Anyone who has ever deluded themselves into thinking otherwise is ignoring the evidence presented by the lists of winners and losers over the years, which have far less to do with “merit” than with Hollywood congratulating itself about what Hollywood does best: make money.  Does anyone think Forest Gump or Titanic or Gladiator were really the best movies made in their respective years?  Sure, they were fine, but mainly, they just made lots and lots and lots of money.  Even when the movie that didn’t make the most money that year wins — as often happens, because that would just be too easy, then they could just take a look at the box office numbers and everyone could go home — it’s because it involves stars, directors and producers who have made lots of money, and must therefore be celebrated for their past (and future) success.

Putting Sarah Jones in the “In Memoriam” segment wouldn’t sell movies very well at all.  It might even make it clear that something is wrong with the way that they are made: that the value of money often trumps the value of humanity, sometimes even the value of a human life, in the business that has been built around them.  Everybody in this industry already knows that, but they don’t want the rest of the world to know it, to really think about it, because it might damage the magic just a little bit for everyone else the way that it’s been damaged for me.

Well, sorry about that, folks.  People need to take a hard look at Sarah’s death and ask, “How did this happen?”  Because until the audience pays attention to the dollar-driven reality that goes into manufacturing their fantasies, nothing’s going to change.

Snow Days


This has been a rough winter in terms of snow.  As in, there’s been a lot of it.  I mean, more than one would have thought was possible.  Four major storms this season already, but it also seriously feels like it’s been snowing every other day since the beginning of January.

Mind you, I don’t think this compares to the huge snowstorms we had when I was a kid growing up in the New Jersey suburbs.  Back then, it seemed like we regularly had one or two feet of snow several times a season.  And I loved it.  To me, it always felt magical.  Because my birthday is in January, I often had a snow day close school as a birthday present — or at least I remember it being “often,” even if it was actually maybe twice.  On one birthday, not only did I have a snow day, but we went sledding (the park near us wasn’t huge but it was dominated by Floods Hill, which was just as awesome for sledding as it sounds) and some guy who was there with his kids heard that it was my birthday, and he gave us this super-cool, two-person toboggan — because he had an extra one.  I remember another time, when I was in junior high, I was writing a 50-page research paper on Ancient Greece — yeah, our social studies teacher gave us this outline on all aspects of history and culture and we had to fill it in, it was the kind of ridiculous thing one only had to do in the “gifted” program.  Well, I had done all of the research, or at least the part I wasn’t making up, and I was bullshitting my way through the writing part, actually hand writing out the 50 pages, because this was 1982 and there were no word processors and I didn’t know how to type.  I was pulling what I thought was going to be my first all-nighter, which probably meant that I worked until I fell asleep at the table around midnight and went up and went to bed.  Well, I woke up the next morning to a snow day.  I still smile remembering the relief, how I felt like I’d gotten away with the kind of thing I never got away with (probably because I didn’t know how to do anything bad yet) and knew I would have time to finish it all and still go enjoy the snow.  I laughed at how my handwriting from the night before had gotten more and more slanted, like you could tell it wanted to lie down too, but I didn’t go back and recopy those pages because, heck, you could still read it, and who has time when the outdoors was a perfect, sparkling expanse of fun?  I just loved snow — walking in it, sledding in it, skiing in it, rolling in it, making snowmen and igloos.  I didn’t seem to really feel the cold or the wet for ages, and when I did, I could always go inside, leaving a trail of melt water, rubber, wool and polyester, to hot chocolate and a warm television.

It’s just not like that any more.  At this point, the snow in Brooklyn is piled in giant, frozen clumps of a stunning array of colors from yellow to grey to black.  The sidewalks are single-file walkways interspersed with luge runs – otherwise known as lawsuits waiting to happen – where homeowners never quite got around to shoveling one of the numerous times they were supposed to or just gave up.  I had to take a car service to work one morning last week when I came out to my car to find that the post-storm shoveling job I’d done around it had been entirely obliterated by a snow plow that had come through after, encasing the left side of the vehicle in slush that had since settled comfortably into a solid block of ice.  A couple of days ago, no thaw in sight, I finally spent 45 minutes with a weapon-like implement that I got from my super, (my plastic — hahaha plastic — shovel wasn’t cutting it) chipping the Camry out of its shell, peeling off my own layers of clothes, as I dissolved into a sweatball, finally freeing the poor thing enough that I could get in and gun the engine, ramming those fenders back and forth, back and forth, until the car careened into the street, knocking over what unmovable chunks remained. TAKE THAT, WINTER!  I am still sore in places that have never been sore before, and nobody has since parked in that spot, which still isn’t so much a “spot” as a skating rink surrounded by a doll castle of chopped ice bits. 

It’s painful to become disillusioned about things to which you once had a strong attachment. Sixteen Candles was one of my favorite movies as a teenager, and it was hard realizing that Long Duck Dong was a racist stereotype and that the prom queen essentially gets date-raped by the geek.  I used to love the feeling of the sun on my face and the color it gave my cheeks, but it doesn’t have quite the same, carefree appeal since I had four carcinomas removed from my nose and its environs. Cancer, racism, sexism, genocide, poverty, the real world creeps up on you as an adult.  You realize everyone you love is going to die.  You realize you are never going to be the female Steven Spielberg, and that maybe you don’t want to be because Steven Spielberg has lost his luster too.  Of course, you gain as well.  Letting go of the things you once thought were so great enables you to find new ones.  Amusement parks, Legos, Spaghettios and Gilligan’s Island are replaced by dance clubs, sex, red wine, and Top Chef, to then be replaced by museums, corduroy, hot tea and Downton Abbey — wow, that is a depressing progression, what am I, 90?  To be clear, I still enjoy sex, and red wine, although it gives me acid reflux.  But you get the idea.

And yet, today as I woke up to yet more snow, I felt that familiar heart lift.  It’s a reaction so deep-seated that I don’t think I’ll ever not feel that joyful little leap when I see the puffy flakes wafting downward or the streets covered in white.  Luckily, I don’t have to go to work today, but I still have errands to do and places to be, a dwindling supply of food in the fridge and a car that will have to be rescued, again, at some point.  Still, for a few moments before I have to start thinking about all that, I can sit by the window, drinking my tea, and recall what it used to feel like, to look out there and just see freedom.

Self-Actualize This


Okay, so I’ve accepted the fact that I am at a point where I am in need of some change. I’m not going to call it a midlife crisis because, really, it’s silly to call something that’s been going on this long a “crisis.” I just don’t need that kind of drama. Plus, we have Prozac.  

Instead, I’ve been trying to find a methodical way to think about what I would really like to do with my life. Well, it turns out that there’s a lot on offer out there in the way of career counseling guidance.  

For one thing, there are personality tests, designed to tell you what your particular personality type and talents are geared toward.  The most famous of these tests is the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator.  Based on Carl Jung’s theory of psychological types (even if you haven’t read his work, fellow children of the 70s and 80s will remember him from the theory of Synchronicity that Sting references often on the Police album of the same name), the MBTI divides personality traits into four basic parameters and then uses all the combinations that can result from your preferences in each category to fit you into one of 16 basic personality types.  Like you can be a “Promoter,” who is an ESTP — an Extroverted, Sensing, Thinking, Perceiver — or, in the opposite corner, a “Counselor” or INFJ – an Introverted, Intuitive, Feeling, Judger.  (And if you’re, again, a child of the 70s and 80s, you can also associate these types with “Star Wars” characters, thank you, making me feel truly sorry for any Provider [ESFJ] personalities, because aside from supposedly being extroverted, sensitive, feeling and judgy, now you also have to be associated with Jar Jar Binks). At first, I thought I couldn’t take the MBTI because the official site says it can only be administered by a certified administrator who can interpret your results for $150 and I’m a cheap bastard. But I found a link to a site where you can take the test for free and do your own self-analysis, which is something I spend hours on end doing anyway, so I answered the 72 yes-or-no questions and found myself to be an ENTJ, but sort of in a borderline way. I showed a slight (11%) preference for Extroversion over Introversion; a moderate preference for Intuition over Sensing (38%); a moderate preference for Thinking over Feeling (38%); and a moderate preference of Judging over Perceiving (44%). According to, this means my career choices are: Business Management, Management of Education, Military Education, Politics, Law, Counseling, Engineering, Industrial Management, Manufacturing Management, Higher/Post-Secondary Education, Computer Programming, and Cardiology Technologist. Well, that narrows things down, doesn’t it?  Famous people who are also ENTJs: Napoleon, FDR, Mark Anthony, Sean Connery, Madonna, Nixon, Candace Bergen, Jim Carrey, Rahm Emanuel, Harrison Ford, Newt Gingrich, Whoopi Goldberg, Al Gore, Steve Jobs, Steve Martin, Sigourney Weaver, and Margaret Thatcher.  ENTJs supposedly are “natural corporate leaders” and “take charge people.”  Hmmm.  I’m not sure about the “corporate” part, or, for that matter, the “take charge” part, even if I will occasionally take charge when nobody else is doing it.  Plus, Jim Carrey?  And Napoleon???  I may be short and occasionally hyperactive, but I’m not that short.

I decided to take the test a second time. This go round, perhaps because taking the test the first time had put me in a cranky mood, I got a more definitive diagnosis (if that’s what you call it) of INTJ: 11% preference for Introvert over Extrovert; distinctive preference for Intuition over Sensing (62%); moderate preference for Thinking over Feeling (50%); and a distinctive preference for Judging over Perceiving (67%). According to the site where I got my results, INTJs “know what they know, and perhaps still more importantly, they know what they don’t know.” Well, that does sound like me. This also means that my career choices were now, instead, Natural Science, Natural Science Education, Information Systems, Computer Programming, and Librarian. Wait, that’s it? ENTJs have like a million choices (okay, 12), and INTJs have four and a half? Famous people who are my kin INTJers: Isaac Newton, Niels Bohr, Carl Jung(!), Susan B Anthony, Lance Armstrong, Arthur Ashe, Jane Austen, Richard Gere, Rudy Giuliani, Emily Bronte, C.S. Lewis, Martina Navritilova, Michelle Obama, Colin Powell, Hillary Clinton, Arnold Schwartzenegger, and Woodrow Wilson.

So overall, this is a pretty big difference, to be told one minute that I’m an executive maverick and the next that I’m a scientist mastermind. To sum it up, again, in pop culture terms, I went from being Princess Leia to Emperor Palpatine, or James Potter to Draco Malfoy.

In search of a test that wouldn’t brand me as evil, I decided to try the Holland Occupational Themes test (RIASEC is the anagram, sadly, not HOT), another “theory of careers and vocational choice based on personality types” developed by the psychologist John L. Holland.  Between dividing you into a type — Realistic (Doers), Investigative (Thinkers), Artistic (Creators), Social (Helpers), Enterprising (Persuaders) and Conventional (Organizers) — and making secondary characteristics “Sub-dominant” and “Minor,” it gets you to one of 720 possible personality patterns (take that MBTI!), which are then used to tell you what job you should have.  

Well, I took this test four times. The first, third and fourth times, I came up with that I was some combination of S(ocial), A(rtistic) and I(nvestigative), which doesn’t seem far-fetched. The second time, however, I somehow came up with R(ealistic) replacing Artistic in my top three, and the last time, C(onventional) also tied with Investigative and Artistic in Sub-dominance.  Like ENTJ to INTJ, seems like sort of a big switch to happen in a matter of minutes, especially considering that, let’s face it, it doesn’t make much sense to be an artist if you are either conventional or realistic. And on top of that, the order matters. At the site for Rogue Community College in Oregon (I believe that’s the name of the school, not a description), I’m told that as an IAS, where my Investigativeness (investigativity?) dominates, followed by my Artsiness, I should definitively be a Marketing Research Analyst (there are no other options listed), whereas as an ISA, which bumps Arty to third behind Social, I have the multiple options of Economist, Media Technologist, Nurse Practitioner, Physician Assistant and Psychologist. I found that as an ASI, I should be an Editor or a Writer and Author, whereas as an AIS, apparently I do not exist. When Social dominates, my career prospects become Chaplain, Dental Hygienist, Librarian or Speech Pathologist if my Sub-dominance is Artistic, and Counseling Psychologist, Registered Nurse or Sociologist if it’s Investigative. And you can get into even more gritty detail using the Holland Codes at the U.S. Department of Labor-sponsored O*Net site. If I get extensive job preparation, my “best fit” seems to be in post-secondary education of anything from art, drama and music to literature to environmental science, or, if that doesn’t work out, a naturopathic physician or neuropsychologist (I’m sure there’s a connection there, it’s just not at all obvious). Below that, among the “great fits,” are park naturalist, middle school teacher, interpreter, and makeup artist. I suppose it’s somewhat comforting that there are no careers that match my “interest profile” that involve little or no preparation, thereby validating my decision to go to college.

Something else I noticed at the O*Net site (which really is a terrible name, since it makes me think of either orgasms or Oprah, neither of which I think relate directly to job hunting, or at least they don’t for me), is that it somehow honed in on the fact that I should be teaching something artistic rather than actually doing it. This made me look back at the Rogue Community College site, where, sure enough, I saw that everyone who is supposed to be an artist other than a writer — actor, dancer and choreographer, graphic designer, multi-media artist, producer and director — is an AES.  In other words, what I lack is the E(nterprising) part. Sure enough, every time I took the Holland test, Enterprising ranked dead last (except for once when Realistic beat it on its race to the bottom by one point). This does ring true, unfortunately, since, as I said in another recent post, I do not enjoy the selling bullshit aspect of the film business. I’ve worked hard to not suck at it, but I don’t think I’ll ever excel at it, or like it, and as it turns out, this is the thing that’s going to prevent me from being a successful artist. Yay.

Of course, here’s the thing about these tests. When I read the overall descriptions of any of these personality categories, I think, “Oh, yes, sure, that does sound like me…sometimes.” It’s like a horoscope, where when you read it, you think, “Oh yeah, that is so me!”, and then you realize you were reading the wrong one by mistake, and you read the right one, and you think, “Oh yes, I can really see how this one applies to me!” — mostly because it’s telling you good stuff about your future that you want to believe.

Speaking of astrology, and Oprah, there is another type of information you can turn to if you’re trying to figure out who you are and what to do with your life, so I decided to go there and read up about self-actualization. Self-actualization is a concept attributed to psychologist Abraham Maslow, who described it as, “the full realization of one’s potential, of one’s ‘true self.’” This translates, in many circles, to finding one’s “higher self,” which gets into spiritual or divine enlightenment, as in, “the self creates its own reality when in union with the higher self,” or, “In exercising your relationship with your higher self, you will gain the ability to manifest your desired future before you.”  Well, who doesn’t want to do that?  I suppose this is why one Amazon review of Deepak Chopra’s book, The Higher Self, says, “Bought this for my wife.  She loves it. Listens to it all the time.  When my wife is happy, I’m happy.  Something about energy and we are all related because we all share energy and air…”  In other words, it sounds good even if it doesn’t make sense.

The Huffington Post has an entire page devoted to “Self-Actualization News."  Here are some of the headlines:

Do You Have Unconditional Love?
How to Let Go of Anger and Do Deep Emotional Work
What Is the True Meaning of Inspiration?
What Makes Some People "Lucky”?
Want To Become the Best Version Of Yourself? 4 Steps
On Rebirth
Rosh Hashanah And The Lord Of The Rings
Soul-Talk: Are You Self Actualizing Or Just Self-Conceptualizing?
The Life Out Loud: Making New Dreams A Reality
8 Ways To Become A Positive Thinker

These pieces are written by people with names like Roya R. Rad and R. Kay Green, who writes, “At the final point, see who you are. Really see it. When you have seen it, adopt an attitude that you’re not afraid to go against the grain.  Stop adapting the society and start being you.”  If she’s really accepted herself, why is her first name an initial?

Yeah, okay, in the end, I couldn’t go there, especially when getting a reading from someone at the Chopra Center costs $275 an hour.

Look, the idea behind self-actualization is good. One of the things about getting older is that you’re supposed to finally know and get comfortable with who you really are. But on the days when I think I’m introverted and judgy, am I just feeling tired and lame?  If I have more of those days now than I did when I was younger, is that because I’m becoming more me, or because I’m becoming older, otherwise known as more crotchety and hormonal and physically less able to abuse myself, and less interested in hiding any of that?  At those times when I feel like perceiving and feeling and interacting with the world at large, is it only because I’ve had just the right number of martinis?  In short, is saying “I guess I’m just like this” self-acceptance of the truest part of my nature, for better or for worse, or is it giving up? Or is it a little bit of both?

And here’s something else I’ve started to wonder about: do I even know what I like to do? Because the O*Net test asks what you would like to do “regardless of whether or not you have the skill set to do it,” causing me to rethink activities like “Playing an instrument.” Based on my two years of piano and one week of violin, playing an instrument is not something that I am good at, and it’s not something that I enjoyed — but that’s really because I wasn’t good at it. I like the idea of making music, the only problem is that my experience of playing it was never actually making music, it was basically making noise. Is there a musician inside me desperately trying to get out, only to be held back by my lack of fine motor skills and general tunelessness? O*Net also asks if I like “Doing Experiments” and “Solving Math Problems.” That’s complicated too.  In grade school, I loved catching lizards and other creepy crawly things and studying them — I practically wrote a novel in my 4th grade workbook about the lifecycle of crickets and salamanders and frogs. By the time I got to college, though, I was a committed “fuzzy”: I liked the arts, and literature, and history, and never really considered doing anything on the “techy” side. I always thought the reason was that I wasn’t into the math and scientific memorization involved in being a scientist. But I was never bad at math and science. In fact, when I took algebra in junior high, I was teased as “Miss 102” because I got extra credit on all of my tests. At some point around then, however, even though I still was getting good grades in geometry and trig and calculus, I decided that math wasn’t for me — and that helped me make decisions about who I was and who I would grow up to be.  But what were those decisions, made in junior high of all places, really about? Was it that I didn’t find solving equations fulfilling, because on some level, I certainly did. Or was it more that I didn’t want to be the kind of geek who liked math, like my peers in the "Gifted and Talented” program at my school, who were practically all boys — and the few girls who were in the program weren’t in there because they were good at math, they were readers, writers and artists. In that context, why would I want to be Miss 102? There was really no place for her.

Yes, the more I keep digging for answers, the deeper this question hole seems to be getting.  And I have to start wrapping this thing up now because I have to work tomorrow, which is Friday, and currently 23 minutes away. So… I said in my first post on this blog that at 30, I thought I really knew myself, but then I was wrong about that, and wrong again, and wrong again. Well, I’m beginning to think that at some point, around 40ish, you plateau in the “knowing thyself” department, and after that, the process of getting older becomes the process of getting over the idea that you ever truly will. It seems like when you realize how much you continue to change the older you get, you also start to challenge your assumptions more and more about who you were in the first place. So you can continue to look — to the MBTI, to the RIASEC, to star signs, Deepak Chopra and Roya R. Rad — for certainty, for prediction, for ways to make the world make more sense, or you can accept the fact that your brain and your eyes and your hands and all the rest of your personal equipment’s going to keep changing, as is the world around you, and so you’re always going to have more to learn. Life is a process, and the only end is death, so what’s the point of being in a rush to reach the finish line?  I mean, if it did finally all make sense, wouldn’t that be so, so boring?    

There’s this line on the page about the Holland Codes under “Validity.”  It says, “The Holland Codes are used extensively in life counseling. Like all personality tests, though, the codes are only a guide.  The test cannot reveal any hidden information about you and if you think the results are wrong, they most likely are.”

So there you have it.  Plus, yesterday I took that Facebook “What Career Should I Actually Have?” test and it told me I should be a writer.

A Wonderful Town


A week or two ago, a friend of mine posted to Facebook this article from The Daily Beast railing against New York City nostalgia.  I have really mixed feelings about the piece and the attitude of the person who wrote it. One thing’s for sure, the city has changed a lot since the “bad old days.”

Just to clarify, my experience of the real “bad old days,” the 70s and 80s, were as a kid who visited on the weekends. My parents are both native New Yorkers, and we came in to see my grandparents in Queens and Brooklyn, neither of which did I like, at all.  My memories were of dirty, trash-ridden streets and dark, musty apartments with untouchable tchotchkes.  My only really positive memories of the city were the things we sometimes did after those visits, like taking home pizza from Famous Ray’s (the REAL Famous Ray’s, or at least the one we thought it was), or special occasions, when we went to the Museum of Natural History, or to Broadway to see Annie, Cats (yes, twice) or Sweeney Todd (my parents had a history of taking us to stuff that wasn’t really for kids.  I remember seeing Monty Python and the Holy Grail in the theater, and that came out when I was six).

I finally developed something of an appreciation for the city when I was a teenager in the 80s, when my friends and I started coming in on the PATH train to go shopping for vintage clothes and acquire colorful eponymous buttons for our backpacks at stores like Unique, Flip, Zoot, and Canal Jean Company.  We stuck to a defined route down 8th Street and Broadway that hit these specific stores, and it was all we knew because we were too scared to go anywhere else or, God forbid, take the subway.  That was the exaggerated fear of a suburban kid, no doubt, but still, the 80s were the era of Bernhard Goetz, Curtis Sliwa, and the Central Park jogger (before we knew that the teenaged defendants in that case were railroaded by the NYPD and the DA’s office).  

By the time I moved here in 1990, the city was definitely considered a safer place.  I lived first in the Village, which was a good starter neighborhood for NYC living, because even though it wasn’t the dreamy West Village of the quaint, winding streets lined with cute cafes, brownstones, and actual trees, it was pretty clean, convenient to everything and felt safe.  It was basically the same with Alphabet City, where I moved in 1993, although it took a little longer to feel like it.  “Alphabet City,” again, was not what it had been in the 70s and 80s – the Lower East Side had by then claimed that mantle of “cool by virtue of being a little dangerous."  When a friend from film school dragged a group of us to Max Fish, a lonely, neon-lit outpost with pinball machines and a pool table in the no man’s land of squats and tenements south of Houston, I was nervous about being there during the day, much less at 2 am.  But where I lived, at 6th and A, above Benny’s Burritos, the biggest problem was not being able to sleep with the windows open at that hour because the bars and restaurants were hopping, or because of the guy with a fish-shaped nyckelharpa busking on the corner (I once bought him a pizza to make him go away).  

Still, rats, robbery, drug deals and having to step over junkies nodding off on the sidewalk or on one’s stoop were all normal aspects of life in neighborhoods like the East Village that one had to learn to deal with, and so there were rules for living in New York in the 90s.  You paid attention when you walked around, particularly at night.  You didn’t walk down streets that were deserted or too dark, and if you had to walk down one with dark sidewalks, you walked in the street — and you always carried your keys in your hand for protection. You knew your neighborhood — which meant you knew which blocks to avoid.  For instance, 13th St between A and B was a dealing block.  (The people who lived around there said that actually made it safer, because the dealers wouldn’t let people get mugged there, but I saw no reason to test that theory). You always kept an eye on your personal belongings wherever you were, never put a wallet in an outer pocket of a bag, and never hung anything on the back of your chair in a restaurant — which was the mistake I made that led to me being the victim of my first theft (a backpack, which luckily only contained my calendar and journal, but still made me feel vulnerable and disoriented).  Crime was a fact of everyday life, but it was one that it was your responsibility to avoid by not being stupid.  I remember the first time I went to jury duty, the judge asked who in the room had been the victim of a crime, and every single hand went up.  I had a friend who talked about how eventually in this city, “your number just came up” — which was why, after a mutual acquaintance of ours had the shit kicked out of him one night outside a bar, she decided it was time to leave.  You always had to keep an eye, if not a hand, on every piece of film equipment on a shoot so it didn’t “walk away.”  I was on a student film in a bad part of Brooklyn where we turned away for a moment and someone took the feeder cable.  If you don’t know what feeder cable looks like, it’s really, really heavy, and it’s cable.  

And yet, at that time, it seemed like if you observed the rules, you could own this city.  Sure, Manhattan was expensive, but you could also get by for very little if you knew your way around.  I knew the best places for late night pierogies and martinis (Odessa), for cheap but excellent pasta (Frank or Max), for kabobs (Bereket), for caipirinhas (Boca Chica).  In addition to the sample sales, I also kept up-to-date on all the free events, like Summerstage and Bryant Park film night and free Fridays at the MOMA before they all got so swamped you couldn’t go any more, as well as what good dance parties had a cheap cover charge (Shine on Monday nights), which bars pretty much guaranteed a hook-up (7B), and which was the rotating hangout for the film community, where, on any given night, I’d go in and know half the people there (Blue & Gold, then Lucy’s, then Ace Bar).  

But it was also in the 90s when we really started to see things change, and it wasn’t because of the policing techniques that started when Dinkins made Ray Kelly Police Commissioner in 1992, or the “quality of life” changes Giuliani instituted after he became mayor in 1993, though I’m sure those things did make a difference.  It was because of money.  The first signs of gentrification are always awesome.  When Dean & DeLuca opened up on Prince Street in Soho, I thought it was terrific — a nice cafe with great pastry in an area of warehouses, lofts and galleries, so close to NYU?  What was not to like?  When they removed the homeless from Tompkins Square Park, closed it down for two years of renovations and then reopened it in 1993, for the first time, it actually looked like a park.  But soon it was clear that it wasn’t all good.  In 1995, I decided to leave Avenue A for Brooklyn because I wanted cheaper rent.  The people who realtors brought to look at my East Village apartment were no longer students and artists.  One even wore a suit: he worked for Citibank.  I asked him why he wanted to move to a neighborhood with junkies and homeless people and no services, which was a fifteen-minute walk from the nearest subway.  “It’s just more interesting than the Upper East Side,” he said.  The rent was going up from $1350 to $1600, which seemed like a big jump, but it was nothing compared to what would happen over the next ten years.

I was moving to what I then considered uncharted territory: Brooklyn.  I discovered that I could pay significantly less than I had in the Village to share a four-story house (counting the basement, which had a laundry room and a second kitchen that I would eventually convert into a darkroom) on a pretty street with even more brownstones and trees than the West Village, half a block from Prospect Park.  It had a back deck, a huge kitchen with a dishwasher, a living room and a dining room — more than enough space to house all my stuff, including the couch I’d acquired as set dressing for my thesis film — in addition to my own room, which was sun-filled and, compared to everywhere else I’d lived, palatial.  And this neighborhood I was moving to, called Park Slope, with its great coffee shops and no tall buildings, felt more like Seattle than New York City.  Still, it was a scary change.  Instead of being able to walk a few blocks to my door late at night after going out, I would have to take the train home because a cab would be too expensive.  And the streets were quiet at 1 am.  For a Manhattanite, that was just spooky.  Little did I know that Manhattan was going to follow me there.  I managed to stay in Park Slope for about 12 years before it, too, got too popular and expensive, and I had to move deeper into Brooklyn.  

For a long time, I still went back to my haunts in the East Village, but eventually, I didn’t.  Practically everyone I knew was moving out of there too, so the people were changing, and those places stopped feeling like places I knew.  By now, most of them have disappeared altogether.  Last July, I was finishing up a job one night and we found ourselves pushing the equipment through a huge crowd on the sidewalk that we realized it was in front of Max Fish.  The bar was having its closing night before moving to a new location in Williamsburg, because the landlord had raised the rent to $20,000 a month. 

I know it might sound like what I miss about the old New York is what everyone else talks about: that it used to be “cool.”  But it never felt cool getting harassed in Times Square by dudes stumbling out of peep shows, or having to avoid the scurrying rat parade on the sidewalk around the pile of garbage in the empty lot at B and 10th St.  What I miss is feeling like this city belonged to me.  Back then, maybe because those things kept the visitors away, it felt like New York was a place that really existed for its residents.  Even though there were people who were living much, much better than I was, we were dealing with a lot of the same shit, and we were all in it together.  

It’s definitely not that way any more.  I often have that feeling that the stories I read on the Style pages or in the Dining Out section are about people living in an entirely different New York from me.  That’s okay on some level, I don’t need to have the privileges that they do.  But what bothers me is that theirs is a New York where they can isolate themselves from the rest of us, and from the problems they don’t want to see: the poverty, joblessness and homelessness which is growing literally around them, as the people who can’t afford to be in Manhattan or anywhere close to it get pushed ever outward.  It’s a city where some people are doing very, very well while others slide rapidly downward, and the rest of us just try to hang on to the middle, knowing that the abyss might only be one layoff or one big medical bill away.  Sometimes, it even feels like a lot of what’s done “for the city” is really done for the tourists, or the people who come in on a Saturday night to go to dinner and a game at the Barclay’s Center (especially if you know the story of Atlantic Yards and how that all went down).

I don’t want to go back in time.  My nostalgia for the days when I first lived in New York is so tied to who and what I was then: younger and more carefree and oh so much more clueless.  I wouldn’t want to be that person again, even if she had better knees and never got hungover, and I wouldn’t want that old New York back either.  But what I do miss is the sense that we were all living in the same city.  I think, or at least hope, that that’s what Mayor de Blasio misses too.  Maybe he can do something about it.

A Milestone is a Milestone is a Milestone




This week I turned 45 — on Monday, January 20th, to be exact.  I’ve known for a long time that I share the birthday with George Burns and Federico Fellini, which is an interesting combination.  It’s also nice that over the course of my life, I have often been able to share the date with Martin Luther King Day (benefitting from the Uniform Monday Holiday Act in this regard since MLK was actually born on January 15th) and Inauguration Day (often a dubious honor, starting with the actual day of my birth in 1969, the day on which we inaugurated Richard Nixon).

This year, perhaps because it ends in a “five” and because I am writing this blog, I’ve been thinking about what it means to turn this particular birthday.  Luckily, we have the Internet.

The first thing I found was that, according to distinguished sources like Wikipedia and, there are other notable figures with whom I share the birthdate of January 20th, just not many that most people would care much about.  Some of the names on the list that you might recognize are Lead Belly (1888), Eva Jessye (1895), DeForest Kelley aka Star Trek’s Bones McCoy (1920), Slim Whitman (1923), Patricia Neal (1926), Arte Johnson (1929), Buzz Aldrin (1930), David Lynch (1946), Paul Stanley of KISS (1952), Bill Maher (1956), Lorenzo Lamas (1958), Rainn Wilson (1966), and Melissa Rivers (1968).  Other than them, it seems to have been a good day for not particularly exciting royals (including Roman Emperor Gordian III [b. 225], Elisabeth I of Bohemia [1292], Eleanor of Aragon [1358], Shogun Ashikaga Yoshimasa [1435], King Sebastian of Portugal [1554], King Carlos/Charles III of Naples/Spain [1716], Johan BJFS, Archduke of Austria [1782], Elizabeth Diana Percy, Duchess of Northumberland [1922], and Queen Mathilde of Belgium [1973]), obscure hyphenated-name composers (Joseph-Hector Fiocco [1703], Jerome-Joseph de Momigny [1762], Amedee-Ernest Chausson [1855]) and writers I’ve also never heard of (Susanna van Baerle [1622], Giovanni Vincenzo Gravina [1664], Jean-Jacques Barthélemy [1716], Eugène Sue [1804] and Abraham P. Merritt [1884], a sci-fi author whose works include Creep, Shadow!, which is at least a cool name for a book that is fun to say out loud), and a lot of professional sports figures who I won’t go into because I don’t really care.

It’s also a popular death day for those same groups of people, probably because there are so many of each that any day in history is somehow attached to at least one or two or five.  Among the semi-celebrities who died on this day are Pope Fabian (250), Johnny Weissmuller aka Tarzan (1984), Barbara Stanwyck (1990), Audrey Hepburn (1993), Al Hirschfeld (2003) and Etta James (2102).

Then we find that January 20th is also Armed Forced Day in Mali; Martyr’s Day in Azerbaijan, commemorating the day in 1990 when Soviet troops entered the city of Baku and killed more than 130 civilians; and “National Good Day Day,” for the day in 1992 about which Ice Cube wrote the song “It Was a Good Day” (ranked as the 81st greatest rap song by  It’s also Christian Feast Day for all of the saints lucky enough to be martyred on that day — otherwise known as the day they were “born into heaven,” haha — and this list includes Abadios, Euthymius the Great, Sebastian, Manchan of Lemanghan, and, as previously mentioned, Fabian (the Pope, not the singer, who has not achieved sainthood as far as I know).  Other things that happened include the founding of the Mexican city of Leon in 1576; the signing of the treaty between Great Britain, France and Spain that ended the American Revolutionary War in 1783; the ceding of Hong Kong to Great Britain in 1841; the founding of the ACLU in 1920; the launch of Pakistan’s nuclear program in 1972; Iran’s release of the American hostages after 444 days in 1981 (coinciding, infamously, with the inauguration of President Reagan); and, oh yeah, according to the New York Times, the arrival at the “final solution” by the Nazis during a conference at Lake Wannsee in Berlin in 1942.  WTF??  They actually pinpointed a day when that happened — and it’s my birthday?  Great.

Moving on, quickly, I decided to look up “45.”  The very first thing I found was an article about how a major study in Britain has shown that our brains start deteriorating not at 60, as previously thought, but at age 45.  That’s apparently when we start to lose sharpness of memory and powers of reasoning (which at least explains, maybe, why I thought looking up this kind of information was a good idea in the first place).

Among the celebrities who are 45 are Jay-Z, Kenny Chesney, Kylie Minogue, Will Smith, Lucy Liu, Marilyn Manson, Stephanie Seymour, Celine Dion, Daniel Craig, Lisa Marie Presley, Gillian Anderson, Lucy Lawless, Hugh Jackman, Naomi Watts, Owen Wilson, Christy Turlington, Thom Yorke, Dave Grohl, Molly Ringwald and Anthony Michael Hall, Guy Ritchie, Jason Bateman, Damon Albarn, Tony Hawk, Robert Rodriguez, Lisa Loeb, Verne Troyer (aka Mini Me), Chynna Phillips, and like a ton of porn stars, apparently (maybe this is a side effect of having looked up this list on a site called  Also listed were Nat King Cole, Freddy Mercury, Montgomery Clift, and Natasha Richardson, all of whom, I guess you could say, are “permanently 45.” While not a person, the computer mouse is also 45, as of December.  

I also found a link for “Guy Who Eats 45-Year-Old Candy And It Doesn’t End Well” at (where else?) Huffington Post.  I do feel a certain kinship with this man because he’ll eat anything and all of his videos take place facing the seat of an old, comfy chair.  Plus, as if he really needed to prove he was British, he actually says, “Oh Blimy!”  But it’s not particularly uplifting when he says, “Despite what people say, tinned stuff doesn’t keep forever.”  In other words, 45 is forever.  

Another article was about NASA’s Curiosity Rover finding the footprints of Neil Armstrong and my birthday buddy, Buzz Aldrin, on the moon — a nice reminder that the moon landing happened during the year of my birth.  The article points out to us that the prints “owe their longevity to the fact that they were made on a world with no wind, rain or other atmospheric forces to muss them even a little.”  Perhaps we should all move to the moon.  

Then there is the article, from October, “95-Year-Old Target Cashier Retires After 45 Years On the Job.”  While, according to the article, “financial news website said Brouillet’s story induced ‘warm fuzzies,’” the only thing it induced in me was the horrifying thought that this woman has worked as long as I’ve been alive at Target.  

Next of interest was the page on 45 Year Old Life Expectancy and Mortality Rates at a site called, which purportedly teaches you to “Think like an expert.”  I can see here that on average, my chance of dying this year is only .216%, that out of 100,000 female babies born alive, 96,880 are still alive at this age, and I most likely have 37.56 years left.  So I apparently passed the most likely midpoint of my life when I was 41, but still, 37.56 years is nothing to sneeze at.  

Additionally, I found: an episode of the Mary Tyler Moore Show called “The 45-Year-Old Man,” about how Ed Asner’s character, Lou Grant, gets laid off and cannot find a job at 45 (a pretty darn 2014 subject for a show that generally feels pretty dated); a website that apprised me that the company Mathmos, maker of the original Astro Lava Lamp, is 45 years old, having made these lamps by hand in England since 1963 — meaning that, oops, this site hasn’t been updated since 2008; that the Bible chapter and verse Numbers 1:45 says, “So all the numbered men of the sons of Israel by their fathers’ households, from twenty years old and upward, whoever was able to go out to war in Israel…” (I didn’t know that a Bible verse could be just a clause rather than a complete sentence, but there you have it); a pinterest page with the heading “Clothes for women 45-50 years old,” which you’d think would come in quite handy for me given my blog of two weeks ago, but to me looks like it’s trying too hard to look cougarish/faux hippy/like it’s not trying too hard (for instance, according to what’s pictured you can and in fact should wear jeans with holes at this age, a lot); a couple of health research studies for people aged 18 to 45 years old, reminding me that if I have any interest in doing one, I should do it now before I age out; a page for the Planning Division of the City of San Diego that lets you know that a building 45 years old or older needs requires a historical screening process before you can fix up, change, or demolish it; one page on 45-year-old birthday quotes which only seems to have 50-year-old birthday quotes and another which was clearly not written by a native English speaker (“All the best wishes for your 45th birthday. Science have found out that birthday are healthy because the more birthdays you can celebrate – the longer you are living.”); Department of Homeland Security Physical Efficiency Battery (PEB) test scores required for a woman 45 to 49 to achieve a Fitness Certificate (I would need to be able to run 1.5 miles in under 15:12 and have than 23.18% body fat, among other things); a Health and Human Services page which tells me the top 5 cancers for women ages 45-64 between 2001 and 2005 (breast, bronchus and lung, uterus, colon/rectum, and melanoma of the skin); and a whole lot of articles about people getting 45 years in jail, mostly for murder or manslaughter.

So what’s all of this add up to other than many hours of fascinating procrastination?  Here’s a list of my observations:
1) Everyone’s birthday has had a lot of bad shit happen on it.  The same is true of good shit and mediocre shit.  One is better off focusing on that latter two categories.
2) History doesn’t age well.  It’s great that we have Wikipedia to remember those who were very important in their own lifetimes, but I doubt that King Sebastian ever thought he’d be included on the same list with someone name Slim who yodeled for a living.
3) There are people out there who want to drink 45-year-old beer.
4) Don’t let anyone else, not even Google, tell you what your age means.  There are people my age who seem much younger than I do, and people my age who seem like they’re just biding their time until it’s all over.  And people who are trying to use plastic surgery to hold back the hands of time, which just makes them look less and less like themselves and more like they’re members of the Cabbage Patch family (Melissa Rivers, I’m talking to you, the evidence is literally staring you in the face).  Age is just a number, but it’s one you have to own for yourself.
5) 45 is really just a bump in the road on the way to 50.

That Story I Alluded To In My Last Post: Why I Own a Suit

I’ve mentioned a few times that I worked part-time at a financial management firm when I was in film school and after, which is ironic since finance is an area in which I’ve never really had any interest.  I mean, I like money just fine, but actually acquiring it is clearly not a major preoccupation for me, which you can tell by, among other things, my relationship choices: teachers, filmmakers and musicians don’t make great sugar daddies.  But the job itself was fine, and the people were nice, so even for several years when I was starting out as a freelancer, I went back occasionally to put in hours and boost my $400/week income in between independent film gigs.  Given that there was no overtime in the non-union world and I was working 70+hour weeks, I was basically earning $5.71 per hour to do things like boom a scene in the now-defunct Great Jones Diner in the type of 90-degree summer weather that turned that place into a microwave oven — not to mention that I was standing on the counter, which, since it placed me close to the ceiling, probably added at least 10 additional degrees of heat.  I was sweating so profusely that actor Ian Hart, who was sitting at the counter for that scene (along with Barbara Hershey, who looked like her face was melting at that point in her career even when it wasn’t hot), amused himself by sticking napkins to my legs.  Thanks in part to making the move to Brooklyn in 1995, however, I was finally able to support myself just on film production work, and so I was able to retire from financial management for good.  Or so I thought, until one day, my phone rang and it was the guy who had been my boss at the financial management firm, who I’ll call Avery.

“We have this crazy client,” he said.  This wasn’t surprising.  All of their clients were crazy, which caused me to ask the question, Why is everyone with lots of money crazy?  Is it inbreeding?  Or simply that money gives them the freedom to go truly and unstoppably batshit?  “She wants to remake Dr. Zhivago.  We need somebody to write her a business plan to take to the publishing company so she can get the rights, and we thought of you.”
“Uh, wow, I don’t know, I’ve never done that.  What would it entail?”
“It’s mostly bullshit,” said Avery.  “We’ll help you with it.  And we’ll pay you $10,000 to do it.  Oh, but you’re going to have to buy a suit.”

While I have a lot to complain about in the freelance world (as you may have noticed), I am very grateful that I don’t have to spend my days in any world that requires me to wear a suit.  To me, the suit represents the worst of corporate America: the required uniformity; the crushing of individuality that tracks every cog into its proper groove according to rules that have more to do with just being rules than with logic or comfort or basic humanity; and I’ll just say one more thing: PANTYHOSE.  It was therefore kind of a cruel joke that someone was now offering to pay me $10,000 to buy one.  But while I said money isn’t a preoccupation of mine, that doesn’t mean I don’t like being offered a lot of it.  Did I mention I was making like $5.71 an hour?

So I read Dr. Zhivago and I went to Ann Taylor to buy a piece of clothing that I’d sworn I would never own.  To rationalize, it wasn’t really a suit. It was a nice black jacket and a conservative, greenish beige shell dress — I ended up seeing the same dress on an actress in a Stay Free Maxi Pad commercial I was booming a few days later, if that gives you a mental picture.  I also got an attractive but really painful pair of black heels (I would have found any heels painful, really), hoping that there wouldn’t be too much walking involved, and, yes, pantyhose.  When I put it all on, I did feel like something of an imposter, but since that was what I was, essentially, in this situation, that was okay.  Even if I didn’t know what I was doing, at least I looked like someone who did, which made me feel slightly more confident as I headed to the client’s apartment for the meeting.  

Crazy Lady Who I’ll Call Gloria lived in a penthouse on the top floor of Trump Tower, and had had more plastic surgery than anybody I’d ever met — until I was introduced, briefly, to her mother, who occupied the adjoining apartment, and who had a face like Silly Putty.  This was during the tour of the place, which was all windows, with this amazing, wrap-around view and blindingly reflective floors like nothing I’d ever seen before.  

“I had it made out of that material they use to pour floors in operating rooms in hospitals,” Gloria explained, in a tone that managed to sound both boasting and bored at the same time, which I soon came to see was her MO. “It makes you feel like we’re in the clouds.  Because we are.  I came up with the idea but I’m going to give my architect all of the credit, because he’s quite well-known and you know, I don’t do this to earn my living.  But it’s going to be everywhere.”  

We passed an immense fish tank, full of colorful and exotic-looking tropical fish.  “She loves me,” said Gloria, pointing to an orange one.  “She was sick and I nursed her back to health.  She really sort of idolizes me.  Fish are very intelligent.”  

This was my first inkling that Gloria was beyond the ordinary amount of cray-cray that I had come to expect in wealthy people, and things kind of went downhill from there — in particular, when we started talking about what, exactly, I was going to put in the business plan.  

“I was thinking Harrison Ford, because we belong to the same club – and of course, I’m sure he’d want to do it.  And that beautiful woman in the new Zorro movie, she’s going to be a star…”

She was talking about Catherine Zeta Jones, so technically, she was right about that.  But just when I’d think we were getting into some concrete information I could use in the business plan, like about the film itself and the plan for making it and where the financing was going to come from she’d go off on a tangent, like about merchandising.  

“And of course a perfume — or perhaps a perfume and a cologne, named ‘Lara’ and ‘Zhivago.’”   There would also be dolls, music boxes, and a cocktail.  “I’m planning on doing it with Seagrams…”  
“Okay, but do you want to talk more about casting first, because, for the publishing company to —“
“Well, I don’t really want to get into anything concrete before I get the rights.  In fact, you shouldn’t really be taking notes.”  She gave the yellow pad on which I was writing (this was the 90s) a glare.  I stopped taking notes.  “You see, I’m actually quite experienced in this area because I raised the money for a short film that I executive produced, directed by ___.”  She blinked at me when I didn’t have the properly impressed reaction to the name, which I didn’t know.  “The photographer?  He’s also a Royal?  And I did it by becoming the first female backgammon champion of the world.  It was quite fun, actually…”

And then we were off onto that.  No matter how I tried to keep the conversation on the business plan, Gloria basically wouldn’t listen to anything I said unless she could take it to mean that I was agreeing with her, in which case she would fasten on it immediately for a few seconds before going off on another digression of her own.  By the end, especially since I had no notes, it was hard for me to know which ones exactly we had discussed.  

“She loved your miniseries idea,” said Avery, when we followed up on the phone later.
“What miniseries idea?”  Had I even said the word “miniseries”?  Oh God, maybe I had.  “Look, Avery, do you really think she has any chance of making any of this work?”
“Probably not.”
“So…we’re writing her something which is just totally bullshit?  Should we be doing that?”  This was clearly back when I had scruples.  
“She’s had this dream,” said Avery carefully, “and if we help her get something she can present to the publishing company to at least try to get the rights, we’ll be helping her fulfill that dream.”
“Well, I guess we’ll be helping her get some closure…”  Plus, I was going to get paid $10,000.  Frankly, it was hard to feel bad for somebody with that much money to spend on pursuing their own ludicrous fantasies, but more importantly, I didn’t even know how I would be able to tell Gloria the truth about how ludicrous they were.  No wonder nobody ever says “no” to people like that, and just takes their money.  Gloria had hardly let me get a word in, and even when I did, she didn’t actually hear it if it even remotely resembled “no.”    
“And God forbid she does get the rights,” said Avery.

In the end, we never were able to write a draft that satisfied her, so the deal went south, and I never got any money. Perhaps I just wasn’t enough of finagler (which was, amusingly, a nickname I had in film school) to close the deal.  I’ve since discovered that selling bullshit to crazy rich people is a huge part of the film business, but it’s still not one that I can seem to enjoy, or become particularly good at, even though I’ve seen a lot of people go pretty far with that skill alone.

In the end, I was left with just the suit.  Oh, and this story.  Too bad, in my business, you can’t just tell the story without having to sell the bullshit.

Party Clothes and Holes in Weird Places




It’s January 2014.  The Polar Vortex has come and gone (what the heck is that anyway?? Oh wait, here. Thank you internet!), Chris Christie’s campaign for president has taken a hard kick to the nuts (I can say that in just that way because we’re both from Jersey), and the post-holiday sales season is ON.  Thank goodness, because, in terms of clothes, I’m having a minor crisis.*

This is because, on the one hand, everything I own seems to be falling apart.  This simultaneous sartorial self-destruction normally happens only with my underpants since I hate shopping for them and generally just buy them all in one massive purchase every couple of years.  This time, however, it seems to be happening to everything, from my jacket pockets to my jeans and my socks, and even, strangely enough, my t-shirts. 

The other issue is that, now that I’m trying to think about a career other than freelancing, I’m starting to think I need to learn how to dress like an adult.  I am about to turn 45, after all, so while being childless does encourage one to live in endless adolescence, I am now married, I do have an IRA, and I own both real estate and a crock pot.  Come to think of it, the crock pot is just mine on long-term loan, so I’m off the hook on that front, but still, there’s not much chance of avoiding the fact that there is no way that I can dress like a teen or 20-something and still be mistaken for one.  And it only took me until about the 87th time I went to a bar and didn’t get carded to finally accept the fact that that ship has sailed.  But, like drinking all night long and various yoga poses, learning how to re-dress yourself once you’re in your 40s is not as easy as it sounds.  

My fashion problems go way back, and may even be genetic.  I grew up spending holidays with relatives whose dresses and furniture were upholstered in similar gaudily flowered and/or paislied patterns, the main difference being that the couches were also covered in plastic.  Those of us in my family who try to have taste are clingy late adopters.  One cousin, for instance, was somewhat fashionable in the late 70s, but now he’s still wearing the same polyester bell-bottoms, which brought him briefly back into style in the early oughts, and then out again.  While other people were learning how to stop dressing like kids and start dressing like girls, I just kept on wearing my Garanimals until I grew out of them (I was often teased for having “floods”), because, while I was always good at solving equations and diagramming sentences, trying to figure out what shirts matched with what pants was way too complicated for me.  One of my old friends holds that her indelible image of me is in overalls and a white shirt with a big rainbow on it which, apparently, was a favorite outfit of mine well into junior high.  

Then, in 9th grade, I fell in with a clique of dictatorial preppies who set me straight.  I quickly inculcated their “NATURAL FIBERS ONLY!” mantra, discarding any items that contained even 5% nylon or polyester.  My parents were nice enough to recognize the sudden importance that clothes had taken on in my teenage world and allow me to order in bulk from J. Crew, L.L. Bean and Lands’ End.  Luckily, my new friends’ other mantra was, “NEVER WEAR ANYTHING THAT FITS!”, so I was able to continue to hide any confusing potentially blossoming femininity beneath baggy shirts and jeans and gigantic sweaters.  And I so internalized these rules of “fashion” that, aside from acquiring a couple of skirts that didn’t really fit either, I basically continued to dress this way more or less through college.  

So it wasn’t until I moved to New York that I started to think for myself about what I wanted to wear.  I should say, it didn’t really happen until ¾ of the way through film school, when I broke up with my college boyfriend and became single, and was finally forced to consider the fact that perhaps my style of dress was not drawing men like moths to the flame.  I looked around and saw that most of the women who did well with guys seemed not to go for general shapelessness as a look.  I started trying to order clothes from J. Crew that fit, but soon found that for someone who, at 5’2”, was much shorter than your average catalogue model and certainly not as svelte, this wasn’t very easy.  It seemed I would have to actually go shopping and try things on.

It turned out, however, that now that clothes shopping didn’t come freighted with the fear of being taunted by mean girls at the mall, it wasn’t so terrible, and I slowly began to acquire normal clothes that a female in her mid-20s might wear.  Because I had a part-time office job working for a financial management firm as a file clerk cum bookkeeper cum phone answerer cum pretty much whatever they needed me to do that day, I even had to buy “nice clothes” — aka something other than t-shirts and jeans (although I was proud that I never had to own an actual suit for work.  The story of why I did eventually acquire one is a good one that I’ll save for a later post).  But when I quit that job to work in the film business, the rules changed again.  As I mentioned in a previous blog, my “business wardrobe” consists of anything that is comfortable, looks presentable, isn’t too tight or feminine and has pockets, but can’t include articles of clothing I like enough that when they get dirty or torn or singed, I will be sad.

Once my work uniform became the kind of outfit most people don to grout their bathroom, however, it freed me up a bit to concentrate on my recreational clothes, and that was when I really started to enjoy them.  I can pinpoint the start of this new phase at right around the time when I worked on my first set of Victoria’s Secret commercials — but not because I learned something about fashion from the supermodels of the day (who included, in that round of Christmas commercials, Tyra Banks, Stephanie Seymour and Heidi Klum).  It was because that eight day commercial shoot was a first taste of the financial security that would allow me to become a truly conspicuous consumer, and run up my first $4000 credit card bill (or rather the first one that wasn’t used to pay for film stock, processing or negative cutting, which were the major costs of my thesis film).  I suddenly had the money to buy stuff and, with cheap rent, no car and no dependents, that pretty much left food, alcohol, door fees and clothes. It was only a matter of time, then, before the combination of my cheap bastard instincts, which barred me from paying full price for anything, and the Time Out New York subscription I clung to even while it drove me insane with the amount of stuff I was missing even if I was going out every night, led me to the mecca of the sample sale. I would follow the addresses listed to dank back rooms of former (or perhaps current) sweatshops in the garment district to try on fantastic designer wear that had been discarded because it was too bizarre or just basically unnecessary for anyone to own, or had only been constructed in a size zero (luckily, there was the occasional six or eight).  Among the pieces I acquired were two fabulous Nanette Lepore dresses, one in purple velvet and gauzy flower patterns, one in light blue with white brocade (luckily, around this time I was also going to a lot of weddings, so I had somewhere to wear them); fantastically patterned and silky skirts in polka dotted or red or crazily-striped aqua; sky blue hot pants striped down the side with red and blue sequins, which were perfect for 4th of July but not really any other day in my life; some crazy tight bell bottoms of a sassy, stretchy, golden brown and white zig-zag material that scream for your attention; and many gauzy see-through shirts with frilly cuffs or crazy asymmetrical collars.  And for period of time, I enjoyed being the kind of person who made, or at least dressed as if she could make, an entrance.




(Some of my fabulous party clothes)

This December, however, as I was packing for the long Christmas trip that just ended, I realized that, as the tired saying goes, I had nothing to wear.  My closet is full of these party clothes that I still think are pretty sweet and don’t want to get rid of because they have fond memories attached to them (including the outfit in which I was told by the late James Gandolfini, a great guy sorely missed by all who knew him, “Hey, you clean up nice!”).  But I don’t wear them any more because let’s face it, I don’t really go to parties any more — or at least not the type of parties that require party clothes (and some of which I have literally never worn, I suppose because I never was invited to just the right party, or because, while they were super cool and probably looked terrific on somebody, they looked terrible on me).  My drawers are full of work clothes, which, as I explained, cannot, by the very nature of their being work clothes, be anything special.  And now, it seems that an inordinate amount of the rest of my clothes, the ones that I actually choose to wear, have holes.  The saddest thing is that these don’t seem to be just the familiar ones from normal wear and tear.  These holes, in all of my “decent” shirts (which can range from “nice t-shirt” to what my mother would call a “blouse”) are appearing in the same place: right around my belly button.   For a while I thought maybe it was only certain shirts that were particularly tight, or particularly cheaply made, but now that it seems to be happening to all of them, I think the reason is just that, now, I actually have a belly.  Not that I’m getting fat, exactly (I still fit into my clothes) but I think the weight I used to carry in other parts of my body, like my hips or my ass, now just goes somewhere else — somewhere, to be precise, that makes the fly of my jeans protrude just the amount to make it rub against my shirts and create…holes.  

Is this sort of thing happening to anyone else?  I mean, all of our bodies are changing as we get older, but usually there’s not such a clear, tangible indication that something is different.  Crotch holes and knees holes?  Absolutely, been getting them for as long as I can remember.  But tummy holes?  It’s a new phenomenon, and now that it’s attacking all of my shirts, one that’s impossible to ignore — because having holes in your clothes is another thing you can’t get away with when you’re trying to dress like an adult.

*I know what some of you (especially if you’re a guy, perhaps) may be thinking, “She started this blog writing about clothes, and now she’s writing about clothes again?  Who gives a fuck??”  But if you actually think that that first post was about clothes, then you probably shouldn’t be reading this blog anyway, so piss off.

How I Became a Jew With a Tree

I have a Christmas tree this year, for only the second time ever.  I spotted a place selling them for $15 when we at my parents’ house for Thanksgiving — oy, such a deal! One of my husband’s favorite nicknames for me is “Cheap Bastard,” which I have to admit is well-deserved.

But this tree acquisition wasn’t without some conflicted feelings.  My family, as I mentioned previously and you will now not have trouble believing if you are one to stereotype, is Jewish, and so I am that as well somewhat by default. This meant, if nothing else, not having a Christmas tree — or a “Hanukkah bush,” which everyone knows is just a lame imitation of a Christmas tree, so much so that I don’t think anybody has had one since the 70s. My parents aren’t terribly Jewish at any other time of the year, at least not in a religious way. Our main holidays are Passover, because it involves getting together and eating, and Thanksgiving, because it involves getting together and eating (and since we race through the first half of the Haggadah and never get to the second half at all, they really aren’t that much different aside from the menu).  We briefly joined a temple when I was a kid after we moved from Newark to the suburbs, but we never went.  As I mentioned in my last blog, I only went to Hebrew School for one year, in third grade, then quit because it was on Saturday mornings and Scooby Doo and Superfriends were way more important to me than Moses or the Macabees (except for maybe once a year, when The Ten Commandments was on, because who could help being fascinated by that Biblical chemistry between Charleton Heston, Yul Brenner and Anne Baxter, none of whom really look Middle Eastern aside from the eyeliner?). As a result, my perspective on what it meant to be Jewish was a bit of an odd pastiche. The one thing I remember taking some pride in at Hebrew School was the Escape from Auschwitz board game I made, which, needless to say, was not really appreciated by anyone. And this was after I’d spent the previous year of second grade at Catholic School, so I probably understood as much about the Torah as I did about the Trinity (which, to be fair, my Catholic School friends Eileen Fitzpatrick and Carla di Buono couldn’t make sense of either, judging by the confused conversations we had that year about who exactly Jesus was).  

But the point is, my family mainly did Hanukkah when I was a kid because it’s a bulwark against Christmas, an excuse for us to have presents and chocolate, because they have presents and chocolate (and we actually had their chocolate, because my father buys chocolate Santas on sale after Christmas, partly so he can tell this joke: “What happens to Santa after Christmas?  He gets eaten!” Yeah, it’s funny if you’re under nine, or my dad).  We used to light the candles and sing the prayers when I was little, but then that part of it slowly eroded until, by my teens, we just did the presents. Now, my brother, who I like to refer to as the Jew in the family, does a real Hanukkah with prayers and candles with my sister-in-law and their kids, so the rest of us do it one night every year, when we get together to exchange — you guessed it — presents.  (Thanksgivukkah truly is the perfect holiday for my family because it combines getting the family together for food and presents, so it’s too bad it won’t happen again for another…well, basically ever).

So do I really care about Hanukkah?  No.  But do I care about NOT caring about Christmas?  You better believe it.  It’s because all of us in this country who don’t celebrate Christmas — Atheists, Baha’is, Buddhists, Chinese Folk Religionists, Hindus, Jews, Black Muslims, Muslims, New-Religionists, Sikhs, and Tribal Religionists, if you’re talking about the top twelve categories in which Americans classify themselves with regard to religion aside from Christian — have always felt uniquely both excluded and smothered by it.  Hey, I was a child of the 70s and 80s, and as such, I grew up glued to the television set like any other kid, watching it all every year, from Rudolph the Red Nosed Reindeer, to Santa Claus is Comin’ to Town, to The Year Without a Santa Claus, to Merry Christmas Charlie Brown, to The Grinch Who Stole Christmas, to Miracle on 34th Street, to It’s a Wonderful Life, to every version of A Christmas Carol — am I making my point here? And we have, uh, A Rugrats Chanukah? – and I enjoyed them all (at least, everything pre-1975 or so.  Even as a youngster I had standards, and I knew that Rudolph and Frosty’s Christmas in July was crap).  I like eating chocolate Santas, and, truth be told, would eat them any time of year (although they can start to get disgusting after about March).  I even like Christmas carols for the first, oh, five days of the season.  And I know that most of what we associate with Christmas, including trees and Santa and reindeer, and red and green, and Christmas lights, and tinsel, and Frosty, it’s all so disconnected from the actual Christian part of the thing — and much of it was stolen from paganism to begin with — that I really shouldn’t have a problem with getting into all that. You see the occasional creche or angels as a little reminder that, oh yeah, this is about the birth of Jesus, but generally, you could easily make it through several Christmases in America without ever having a clue that there’s a connection there.  But…it’s still CHRISTmas, and I don’t want to feel like I have to celebrate something that starts and, really, ends, with Christ. That might be the dominant culture in this country, but that was not my parents’ culture, and it is not mine, so why should I be forced into assimilation?  And then, in the aughts, of course, when the whole “War on Christmas” idea was conceived of by angry white males in the conservative media, the type of people who actually think there could possibly be such a thing as a “War on Christmas” in a country that essentially starts celebrating it en masse on Thanksgiving, my identity as a non-celebrator of Christmas was crystalized — or Christalized.  Yes, I want to tell those assholes that there’s that little clause right toward the beginning of their beloved Bill of Rights about no establishment of religion that says that we are not supposed to celebrate your holiday on public property even if yours is the dominant religion in this country, so shut the fuck up.  But I also like just shouting and waving to everyone from behind the red and green, well, everything that engulfs us all around this time of year, that being American doesn’t mean being Christian and celebrating Christmas, that just like the Who’s in Whoville (the ones that Horton heard, not the ones that the Grinch stole Christmas from), WE ARE HERE.

So basically, for most of my adult life, I was a person of principle who did nothing except for presents and chocolate, on principle, because it was better than being a person who did something I didn’t believe in or supported a festivity that had oppressed me all my life.  It was okay to appreciate Christmas at other people’s houses and parties — and they were holiday parties, because I live in New York City, where there are a lot of people who aren’t Christian, and those who are know that the rest of us exist. Things eroded a bit when one of my good friends, who is a half-Jewish, half-Christian, lesbian, invited me to a party to make latkes and ornaments to decorate her tree.  It was a party that involved crafts and alcohol and fried potatoes and lesbians, so it was hard for me to have a problem with that, even if there tree trimming involved.  Perhaps I’ll admit that I even enjoyed it.  Eventually, making latkes and trimming the tree with her and her partner and children became something of a holiday tradition for me.  But I could still always argue that it wasn’t my tree.

Then I fell in love with a Christmas-loving atheist.  Even though my husband does not believe in God, he firmly believes in Christmas. I asked him why recently.

“Because Christmas is awesome!  It’s a great holiday.  You get a tree and presents, and spend time with family.”  
“But what about the fact that it’s really about Jesus?”
“It’s not about Jesus.  It hasn’t been about Jesus for generations.  It’s about Santa.”

And this is where his attachment to Christmas lies: deep within his inner child. As with many people, Damon’s views about Christmas haven’t really evolved much since he was four. When we spend Christmas at his parents’ house, it works just the way it always did, just the way it does in the movies, with the whole family (his parents, us, and his brother) waking up and heading into the living room in our pajamas and each taking a turn at opening a gift, including one for each person from Santa, then we get to sit around and play with them pretty much all day, until, at some point in the late afternoon, we have a ham. Back in Brooklyn, Damon has his own huge box o’ Christmas in our storage unit. It contains a tree skirt and ornaments made by his grandmother, old holiday cards from past years, a snowman candle that we aren’t allowed to light, teeny tiny stockings appropriately-sized for a Brooklyn apartment, and other things that he associates with Christmas, including old toys — Matchbox cars, a whirlibird, a slinky — that go under the tree to make it look extra festive. There is nothing rational about this.

Still, we probably could have gone on not having Christmas forever if I hadn’t been the one who bought a tree. Damon was always talking about getting one but waffled between not having the time to deal with it and thinking there was no point because we wouldn’t actually be in town for Christmas itself, since we are always away either visiting his family or traveling with mine. But I could tell he really wanted one. So when I finally saw one at the deli next to the Tibetan restaurant near our house that was cute, petite, and yes, cheap, how could I resist when I knew I would have a chance to see his face light up with the joy these things have inspired in him for the past 40 plus years? I caved. 

I feel like it was worth it.  It’s easy to be against things on principle — just ask the angry white guys — but maybe it’s better to be for something if that something is making somebody you care about happy. This doesn’t mean that I have to love and support Christmas, just love and support someone who cares about it by no longer actively opposing it. And I think I’m starting to get why people start celebrating their family traditions, or at least some kind of traditions, when they have kids: the best way to show that WE ARE HERE is to do something, not nothing. I’m not saying I’d send my children to Hebrew school – even the idea of singing the Hanukkah prayers makes me a little queasy as an atheist, and how could I deprive them of the lazy Saturday mornings I got to enjoy growing up?  But candles and potato pancakes and presents and chocolate?  I support that.

‘Til Death Do Us — Wait, Wait, What Do You Mean DEATH?

As I briefly mentioned in an earlier blog, I just got married a few weeks ago. To be honest, it wasn’t anything that we were in any hurry to do. Then Boyfriend Now Spouse (yup, still having trouble with “husband”) was divorced already, I’d bought his ex-wife out of the apartment we share two years ago making us legally bound by real estate, and I have to admit that we were somewhat invested in the concept of living in sin to the extent that we had already gotten kind of attached the nickname “Little Bastard” that we had given to our un-conceived child.

Then we realized that, come September 1st, after he earned his doctorate, TBNS would be without health insurance. Nothing takes the sexiness out of a situation faster than the prospect of being unnecessarily bankrupted by it. As a member of a union (the International Association of Theatrical and Stage Employees Local 52, thank you very much), I have pretty good health insurance, so I looked into domestic partnership. Unfortunately, in an interesting twist on your average form of societal prejudice, my health insurance only insures domestic partners of the same sex (and now that same-sex marriage is legal in New York, they probably don’t do that any more either). So basically, the Motion Picture Industry Pension and Health Plans forced us to get married. Jerks.

Now, I’ve been to a ton of weddings. I’ve been to a whole lot of the ones with some combination of every traditional wedding cliche – matchy-matchy bridesmaids and groomsmen, too many pictures with annoying photographer, baby cousin ring bearer/flower girl, quartet during and DJ/soul band after, embarrassing speeches, cut the cake, throwing the bouquet wedding, etc etc. Then I’ve been to the “Love Slightly-Less-Anal-American Style” wedding, for the bridezilla who wants to be a little more chill, where they might, for instance, have a cupcake cake, or the bridesmaids might actually get to pick their own dresses as long as they adhere to a certain color scheme. Then, of course, since I am nominally Jewish, I’ve been to several variations on Jewish weddings, from Orthodox, where the women and men sit separately, only the men get to dance, and, as if it couldn’t get any less fun, all of the food is kosher; to your Jewish American Princess variety, which takes all the typical wedding nonsense and just adds a rabbi, a huppah, a broken glass, and the Horah; to the only nominally Jewish (because of the rabbi and the homemade art huppah) groovy wedding, with a cas sea-foam dress, original vows, and a picnic meal where everyone gets a blanket as a party favor.  I’ve been to a traditional Hindu wedding, which took literally about four days, where we all got our hands and feet mehndied, the groom, in a turban, actually rode up the street on a white horse to meet his bride surrounded by his dancing family (who were carrying the perhaps-less-than-traditional boom box), and everyone wore saris and dhotis etc, and I couldn’t really understand anything but I took lots of pictures. image

Add to those the Greek Orthodox wedding, which had the nice detail of the bride and groom wearing attached lace crowns, and the Quaker wedding, where the bride and groom said no vows, but sat quietly while their friends and family got up and gave speeches about them and then, eventually, just got up and walked away when they felt like they were married enough.  And then there were all of the venues – churches, temples, city parks, botanic gardens, fancy hotels, by lakes, on mountains, by lakes and on mountains, etc etc etc.

Ugh.  To quote my mother, it just seemed like a lot of work.

Those of you who know me, and even those who don’t but have just started reading a few of these blogs, will not be surprised to hear that I was never a girly girl. My mother is a feminist of 1970s vintage – the type of feminist who originated the term “feminist,” before the 80s revisionists started making us feel like it was a bad word (you know, like “liberal.”) She co-founded her chapter of the National Organization for Women and had a running commentary throughout my childhood on the sexist television shows we watched — which, given that it was the 70s and 80s, was pretty much everything on TV — making it clear in no uncertain terms that growing up to be Carol Brady, or even a Charlie’s Angel (because who did they all belong to? Charlie.) was not the end all and be all of a woman’s existence. Because of all this, I grew up a feminist tomboy through and through. I liked kickball, hated dolls, and had to be forced into wearing anything resembling a dress from the time when I started dressing myself pretty much until I graduated from college (with the exception of graduations and prom, which of course were semi-traumatic experiences for that very reason). So, no, I never staged Barbie’s Perfect Wedding, or even Mousy’s Perfect Wedding with my collection of 150 stuffed animals.

Plus, or perhaps related to this, I’m shy. I know that sounds weird coming from someone who is essentially spilling her guts on the internet, but being the center of attention makes me hyperventilate if I think about it too much. This was one reason I missed out on the Official Wedding Practice Event for Jewish girls: getting bat mitzvahed. Even the prospect of all those checks arriving in the mail couldn’t convince me to go through the hell that getting up in front of everyone I knew and saying prayers in a language I didn’t understand would have been to me to be when I was 12. Maybe I would have understood the language if I hadn’t also been a Hebrew School dropout because I didn’t really get the point of missing Saturday morning cartoons for this whole “religion” thing. So then there’s that too: what with Jewish nonbeliever parents, spending one confusing year at Catholic School because it was the only decent option for second grade in Newark in 1976, and now being set to marry a devout atheist, there was certainly not going to be any need for Jesus or Yahweh or Ganesh or anyone else to sanctify our union. So what, then, really, was the point?

There was a time, between the ages of maybe 26 and 30, when it seemed like everyone I knew was getting married, when I did want the wedding with the works, or at least I started thinking about what it would be like. This phase corresponded most strongly, I think, with a period when I was really into clothes and men and any occasion that combined the two, preferably with cocktails – and because I lived in New York, that was pretty much every Friday and/or Saturday night, with a number of other days thrown in. It was the time of my life best described as being like Sex & the City without the sex, which is kind of sad, but explains why I suddenly found myself such a sucker for the wedding fantasy. I was always developing vicious crushes on unattainable men who I would nonetheless pursue for months if not years, convinced that each one was The One.  I would finally give up, eventually, and move on to somebody else, and then somebody else, and somebody else, until the day dawned when I realized that I was not Julia Roberts – or rather I was delusional Julia Roberts, Julia Roberts in My Best Friend’s Wedding, not Julia Roberts in Runaway Bride, or Mystic Pizza, or, God forbid, Pretty Woman. But then once the divorces started to happen, I realized that probably nobody else was either.

Does it sound like I’m bitter about love? I’m actually not. I’ve been in love a few times now, and every time it was pretty great, until it wasn’t – but the ratio of great to not great definitely made each time worth it. It was never perfect, but it was real. However, I’d say that it took me way longer than it should have for me to figure out that the most important aspect of love is the reality part, the part where you are actually involved with an actual person, and not this thing where you’re waiting for your fantasy of that person to realize that you are their fantasy person in some really romantic, fantasy way that you have been waiting for your entire life. Why? Because that’s a fantasy. The sad fact is I let some white male studio executives dictate what I thought love should be for a ridiculously long period of time. Despite the efforts of my mom and every other feminist influence in my life (my first RA at college who taught me to replace the word “girl” in my vocabulary with “woman,” my first boss with a child with a hyphenated last name who made me realize I didn’t have to change mine) telling me that what I saw was bunk, the Hollywood Wedding Industrial Complex had insinuated itself into my subconscious and determined a huge amount of what I thought my life was going to be. 

Finally, I had rejected all that. I was going to get married without any preconceptions about what that meant, and TBNS and I decided it was going to be very low key. Since his parents couldn’t make it out from Tucson, my parents and my brother were the guest list, but only if they could make it down to the Brooklyn City Clerk’s Office on the weekday afternoon when we had figured out we would have time to do the deed before the health care loss deadline. We didn’t know that we really wanted anyone to come, to be honest, we were planning to have a party to celebrate in a year or so when we had a little more time and money, but I thought my parents deserved the option of attending, and then my brother sort of wheedled his way into it too (there was an email conversation with my mother where she asked, “So, are you going to allow your brother to come to the wedding?” If you have parents, you know this wasn’t really a question).

Our first experience of the City Clerk’s Office took place the week before the “wedding,” when we went in to get the marriage license. For those of you who haven’t had the pleasure, it’s about as romantic as going to any other city or state government office — in other words, getting married is a lot like getting your driver’s  license renewed or doing Jury Duty.  You get to experience a great cross-section of humanity — White, Black, Asian and Latino, Orthodox Jewish and Muslim and Christian of various sorts, people with heavy Brooklyn accents, people speaking French with a variety of different accents, hipsters, gay men who don’t look gay (and look like hipsters), lesbians with kids, lesbians without kids, pregnant women and their boyfriends who look like they have a gun to their heads, lots of people, in fact, who look like they have a gun to their heads — and wait on line with them (except for most of the people who look they have a gun to their head, they at some point disappear from the line), while bureaucrats behind glass take more time than makes any sense to complete forms that you thought you had already filled out online.  The graffiti you find at the window is actually fabulous, as you might expect, full of hearts and arrows and cute nicknames and other silliness left behind by bored people in love.image

The people who are dressed up are the ones who are in the wrong line, because they’re there to actually have the ceremony, not pick up the license. They’re in groups of three or more, rather than pairs, because you need a witness. They vary from the large parties with the bouquets and the fancy dresses to the people who are dressed like they stopped by on their lunch break. Sometimes they are unevenly dressed – the guy is in a suit and the woman is in a casual dress, the woman is in a shiny and poofy white monstrosity and the guy is in a shirt and slacks – and you know that spells trouble. Sometimes, they looks strangely matched in terms of age and dress, and one person speaks perfect English, and the other seems to have trouble understanding the bureaucrat behind the glass, and the English speaker has to spell the name of the place where the other spouse was born – “L-A-G-O-S” – and you know that’s probably a green card.

We became those people a week later, when we came back to have the marriage ceremony – we remembered about finding the right line and we didn’t need the green card, but we were somewhat well-dressed (I wore a sundress and TBNS wore long pants and a button-down shirt) and we had flowers and a pint of fried rice, courtesy of my dad (which tells you something about his sense of humor, and the solemnity with which my family treats such occasions).  But all in all, it felt like a festive occasion.  Everyone was happily pulled away from their cell phones and iPads when then City Clerk called out our names and led us into the “chapel,” and everything was going fine until she started saying the vows.  Then I kind of started to freak out a little.  I didn’t think it was all that noticeable until TBNS said, as we were leaving, “So what was up with the look of terror on your face?”
“Uh, I don’t know,“ I said.  "It was just kind of scary, wasn’t it?”
“Uh, it was?”
“I don’t know, we talked about doing it for so long, but I guess I never thought through what it all meant.”
“Thanks a lot.”
“No, no, that’s not what I mean…”

Needless to say it took me some time to smooth this over.  But the thing that was scary was, what DID it all mean?  When I was young and stupid, I had all these illusions about what marriage was supposed to be about.  Now, I knew they were illusions, and I had jettisoned them, leaving me with, basically, no idea.  But, at 44, I had a much better idea of what death meant.  I’d known a few people who had died, young and old, and, most likely, I was more than halfway there.  So when the City Clerk said, “until death do you part,” that part I got.  But the rest?  What was it that I getting myself into, until death?  I really didn’t know, and moreover, I knew now that I didn’t – because, well, nobody does.  I guess if there’s one thing I’ve learned from all of my friends who have gone through marriage and the few who have gone through divorce, it’s that people change, for better and for worse.  You get into this thing one person and then five, ten years later, you’re another, and so is he or she, and so, therefore, is this agreement you made to be together.  So even if I did know what I was signing up for, it would inevitably be something different down the line.  The key, I guess, is to sign up not only with someone you like and love but who gets that, who is interested in and can occasionally enjoy the process of change that life is – and who might even be able to remind you to enjoy it when you forget that you’re supposed to.  Because when you’re middle aged, what you’re really committing to when you get married is accepting a future that is unknown except for this one person being in it (you think/hope), and the part about death.  Everything else?  Who the hell knows.

So at 44, maybe more than ever, marriage is a leap of faith.  And without spiritual faith, or faith in happy endings or The One, all you have to go on is the person in front of you and yourself and your own judgment – the judgment that led you to make all of those mistakes in the past that got you to this point where you don’t really know what anything means, yeah, that judgment.  Getting married is scary, the way every big decision is at this age, when you know what it means and yet you don’t and you know you don’t, and then you get past that and enjoy it while you can, and move on to whatever is going to scare you tomorrow.

Right now, I’m actually enjoying being married, in the sort of perverse way that I used to enjoy living in sin.  We finally got rings — made of titanium, because it was unusual and they looked nice and we could order them from Amazon.  And the whole thing is still a novelty; somehow, the very conventionality of the concept of domestic bliss seems, in all of its bizarre meaninglessness, fun.  Now if I can just come up with a better, non-patriarchal (ruling out old man, better half, papi, big daddy), non-icky for public use (ruling out the previous plus beau, baby, boo, loverboy) and not inappropriate or just plain weird (from the interwebs: buddy, hutch, devotee, mate, bitch, courtier, stantion, intimate, wag) thing to call TBNS, because it’s probably time to let that go.

Employed By My Ovaries

The one good thing about having pregnancy become a high priority is that, on a day when all you’ve checked off your to-do is list “do laundry” and “have sex,” at least you can feel like you’ve accomplished something.  At least, that is, until the end of the month, when you find out you haven’t.  But the rest is pretty much all bad.

It’s weird when fertility becomes an issue in your life — perhaps the salient issue.  I mean, it’s not like I didn’t know that women had increasing trouble getting pregnant as they got older, it’s just that for most of my existence, that whole thing never seemed to apply to me in any practical way.  Until I was 21, I didn’t have sex (I was a late bloomer who didn’t know how to flirt, with commitment issues.  Given all that, it’s surprising it only took that long).  Once I started having sex, my goal, like that of most young single women, was to not get pregnant.  Then it didn’t really dawn on me that I was becoming not so young for while because I was single for almost a decade, from my early 20s through my early 30s, and living the cheap freelance lifestyle — so the idea of having a baby seemed to make about as much sense as owning a boat: while I knew it was something that would be nice to have at some point, I wouldn’t know how to use it, I wouldn’t know where to keep it, and I certainly couldn’t afford it.

I only started thinking about babies more seriously after I found myself with a serious boyfriend at age 33.  By that age, maybe it seems kind of silly to call your guy a “boyfriend,” and “manfriend” would seem more appropriate, except for the fact that it sounds like a dude you’d meet on a 1970s pornography site and that most men in their their 30s, in my experience, really are still basically boys.  And the reason for that is basically the same as the reason that my relationship got pushed to extinction: a woman realizes, perhaps suddenly, that her biological clock is ticking (yes, I just used that term that is such a frickin’ cliché that that’s another reason it’s hard to believe that it really exists) at about the same time that a man who can’t make up his mind about whether he wants to have children realizes that he definitely doesn’t want to have children yet.  I, for my part in this scenario, didn’t really want to have children yet either, my career wasn’t at all where I’d expected/hoped/deluded myself it would be by that time — aka I was not getting paid to write or direct stuff, or at least not a real amount on a regular basis — but suddenly I realized that waiting for the life I’d been hoping for to really get underway before contemplating kids was a luxury I no longer could afford.  I was only a couple of years older than him, but suddenly I found myself much farther along on the road to adulthood — and I don’t really mean that as in the nice sense of finally being more ready to start acting like an adult, I mean in as in OLD, in the dark and ugly sense, as in closer to having my bodily functions break down and closer to death.  Men don’t really have to start feeling old until they actually feel old.  With women, it just suddenly hits you like a big bitch slap in the face when your gynecologist suggests that maybe it’s time you thought about freezing your eggs.

Breaking up with that boyfriend did give me a new lease on immaturity, though.  Because without him I no longer had a possibility of becoming part of the nuclear family that I wanted, I was able to forget it all and take the next few years to do a lot of things I had previously written off in my quest to make my life more stable and “adult,” aka baby-friendly.  I took advantage of the freelance lifestyle I had sought to jettison by taking long trips to Guatemala, Argentina, Chile, Peru and Bolivia.  I had flings.  I started another documentary that provided what might have been a similar, all-consuming parenthood experience, filled with much fulfillment and joy, as well as worry, frustration, and sleepless nights punctuated by crying fits (except they were mine).

When my relationship with my then-boyfriend-now-spouse developed into a serious one, however, the bioclock concerns came roaring back with a vengeance. I was 40 when we started dating, so we started having conversations about The Future waaay earlier than you would ever typically want to in a relationship.  Then I actually got pregnant the moment I went off birth control, which forced us to realize that those conversations had meant fuck all in terms of actually preparing us to have a baby.  The pregnancy ended up not being viable (at six weeks, there was no heartbeat), which sucked, but in the long run, gave us the time to have conversations that needed to happen and work toward the idea of having a baby as a couple in a way that actually meant something. 

Then, we were ready to embark on the fertility treatment process.  Although realistically, it’s the kind of wonderfully dehumanizing experience that nothing can truly make you “ready” for.  It started when we met with a specialist, who, as it turned out, I would hardly ever see again.  When you go through fertility treatment, at least at the facility where I did it, you realize fairly early on that your fate, not to mention your everyday routine, will now be ruled by 1) the faceless health care bureaucracy that tells you whether and when you can come for treatment and how much you must pay for it, and 2) nurses.  Nurses are the ones who take your blood, call you with test results just about every day for those important two weeks out of the month, give you instructions on which drugs to take and how much, give you the trigger shot that makes you ovulate and, eventually, inseminate you.  (I know, that sounds creepy, and it is kind of creepy if you think about it too much, but that’s why you try not to).  And the nurses are good at all of these things.  Plus, the head nurses at NYU are thin, surprisingly attractive older women who dress nicely, like they have somewhere to go after they spend their mornings taking care of the dozens of women who pass beneath their needles daily, and this inspires confidence.  You only lose faith in them when you encounter a problem that they haven’t been trained to handle.

“…And then we’ll see you for bloods and scans on Thursday.”

“Okay, thank you.  While I have you on the phone, I have a question.  My doctor has prescribed progesterone for after insemination.  My first cycle, I had a prescription for Crinone, but it is pretty expensive, so my second cycle, her assistant got me samples of it.  But this time, she didn’t have any, so she told me to ask the nurses, but all they had was Endometrin.   Which is fine, except I was reading the insert and it looks like the dose of Endometrin is more than twice the amount of Crinone, since I’m supposed to use it twice a day instead of once.  So I just wanted to make sure that this was correct.”

“If it tells you to use it twice a day, you should use it twice a day.”

“Okay.  But I was having some negative symptoms, like mood swings and bloating, from the dose I was taking before, so I’d really rather not increase the dose.”

“Well…progesterone is not necessary for everyone, a lot of people don’t use it, so if you take it once a day, that’s probably fine.”

“But then why am I taking it at all?”

“Well, some doctors prescribe it.  You’ll have to ask your doctor.”

The problem with this was that I couldn’t ask my doctor anything because she never seemed to have time to return my calls.  I got quite familiar with her assistant, Carla, who I’m sure she got quite familiar with the repetitive process of me calling and asking for the doctor to call me, her telling me Dr. F___ would call me on the next day she was in the office, and then my calling back to say that the doctor had never called me.  And since I probably wasn’t the only mood-swingy, bloaty, frustrated woman calling her on a regular basis, it’s easy to see why Carla’s voice had at some point reverted to an unemotional monotone.

“She didn’t call you?  Well, she’s not in today.  I’ll give her the message and she should call you on Thursday.”

“How many days a week is she in?”

“Two.  The other days she’s at her practice in Connecticut.”

So I learned to figure out the answers to my treatment questions on my own with a little help from WedMD and the zillions of online fertility forums frequented by anxious women who are being pumped with mood-altering hormones.  These folks have the same problems with spelling, grammar and punctuation that the vast majority of people who post to online forums seem to have, but they also prefer to revert to using acronyms for everything that they are uncomfortable talking about.  
“hi ladies, O day is coming up and I’m wondering if we should bd everyday or every other day. what are you ladies doing?  Also… if DH has been drinking (New Year’s Day, bowl game) does that affect his little swimmers?”

“My RE says that you should BD every other day leading up to your peak fertility and then everyday for the next 3 days during and after O. If you try too much too early, you likely have less cm and not be as interested in doing.”

“Every other starting on CD8… when you get a positive OPK you do it that day, the next and the next (so 3 days in a row) I assume if you get multiple positive OPKs you do it everyday of positive +2. Then one day off then do it one last time… then wait for BFP or AF.  So… if I had done this this cycle Id have DTD on CDs 8,10,12,13(+OPK),14,15,17 which would have totally gotten the job done AND saved me some soreness.”

O = ovulation
bd = baby dancing (aka sex)
DH = dear husband
RE = reproductive endocrinologist
cm = cervical mucus
CD = cycle day
OPK = ovulation predictor kit
BFP = big fat positive
AF = Aunt Flo (aka menstruation)
DTD = do the deed (aka sex)

I learned these terms from an online discussion devoted solely the meanings of the acronyms, because there are so damn many.  I also have to point out that sex and menstruation clearly make these women so uncomfortable that they choose to use acronyms of euphemisms in order to speak about them on an online forum where they are anonymous.

But nevertheless, the internet is helpful, and the community there helps you feel more normal about all of the decidedly abnormal stuff you have to do to try and get pregnant. You find out quickly what the different drugs are — name brand and generic — and what to expect in terms of effects and side effects: this one will make you crazy, this one will make you crampy, this one causes you to leak clear liquid out of your vagina, so wear a panty shield, but at least it doesn’t give you that clumpy discharge that you have to scrape out of there with your finger that the other one does. (And if you’re glad I told you about all that, trust me, it’s nothing compared to the joy of experiencing it first hand). Yes, as you can probably tell, you get pretty up close and personal with your reproductive anatomy. You also get comfortable sticking yourself with needles, something you probably never thought you’d do unless you’re a drug user or a diabetic, but which could come in handy later in life if you become either one of those things.

One good thing was that I didn’t have to rely on the internet for emotional support, because my then-boyfriend-now-spouse was taking part in the process and hated it perhaps even more than I did.  Every month he would have to go in to what he affectionately called “the spank room” and make his contribution.  I suppose for people who frequent peep shows and the like, masturbating in a small room where you have to be aware that many, many other men have masturbated before just seems normal, but for him, it was definitely not.

“I didn’t want to sit down anywhere, I was just looking at all of the surfaces and thinking about who, or what, had sat on them.  Then I thought maybe I would try the porn.  I really didn’t want to touch the remote, but eventually I got myself to do it.  It was pretty standard heterosexual male porn.  There was one channel of oral sex, one of vaginal, and one of lesbian.  I wonder why they don’t have homosexual male porn, they must have homosexual sperm donors…I used a lot of Purell. I’m going to take a shower.”

He did like the necessity of our having additional sex, however.  He also got involved in the internet research when I mentioned that I’d read online that sex every other day during the days before ovulation were what was recommended.

“Nope, as far as I can see, there’s no data suggesting that every other day is more likely to result in pregnancy.  Every day for that entire week is really the safest way to go.”

As far as sharing the information that you’re trying to get pregnant with others, it’s sort of a crapshoot.  I told my mother, who I knew, while she would be curious and perhaps opinionated, would handle the news with the appropriate amount of respect for my privacy, only asking about it when I brought it up.  

“So, how is that all going?”

“Oh, it’s not fun.  And it’s expensive and frustrating, and my doctor sucks.”

“Hmm.  Are you sure you want to do this?  I mean, are you sure you want to have a baby at your age?  It just sounds like a lot of work.”   

My mother, being 72 and having recently babysat for my two rambunctious nephews, was of course projecting some of her own feelings on to me, but this is pretty much what happens with everyone.

“Oh, that’s so wonderful!  You’re going to love being a parent!“

“You know, that’s great.  I mean, having kids is great.  But I often think not having kids would also have been great.  So either way, it’s not a big deal.”

“I guess all women do have that nurturing instinct, that’s why we feel like we need to do it, but once ___ and I decided not to have children, we never looked back.  We get to travel all the time, we go out, we have so much freedom…”

“But why are you doing all of this?  You should just adopt.”

“You know, we had friends when you were growing up who adopted children, and every single one of them had problems.  Developmental problems, emotional problems.  Look at ___.”

And then things get really interesting when other friends your age start considering the same options and you start sharing information.  Suddenly, the way that you used to talk about internet dating, you’re now talking about adoption and egg freezing.  Only somehow, talking about this stuff makes laughing about the 60-year-olds who propositioned you regularly or the guys who sent out form-letter flirtations (“Hi.  I really liked what you wrote in your profile.  You look like someone I’d like to get to know.  This whole internet dating thing is so strange, don’t you think, ha ha?”) seem a lot more fun, and normal, than it did at the time. 

“The first time she did the extraction I was feeling under the weather, and I knew it wasn’t going to go well, so we had terrible results.  But my FSH was really good, so I convinced her that we should try it again, and the second time we got like five or six, and then the next month we did again.”

“How often did you have to go in?  Was it tough?  How did the drugs make you feel?”

“Foreign adoptions have slowed to a trickle. Now I’m worried that with RU86 becoming legal here, it’ll be like it is in Australia, it’ll be impossible to adopt domestically too.”

“All of my procedures were covered by my insurance, but none of the drugs were.”

“We did ICI — intracervical insemination — with a midwife, it was less expensive.”

“Domestic adoption is only really difficult if you want a white baby.”  (And more than one person has said this to me).

Yeah, it’s a lot of tough information to digest about stuff that you really wish you weren’t talking about at all. 

Don’t get me wrong, I think it’s great that women can have these conversations.  We are lucky that so many of us have these options and that we can talk to each other about them, and I think we should.  The challenges of getting pregnant or adopting a child aren’t things that should be taboo or even uncomfortable, they are just realities that a lot of us are facing at this age, at this time in history, in certain parts of the world.  But it can be exhausting.  Everything involves the kind of risk and expense that nobody wants to have to consider (not that just having a baby the normal way doesn’t involve some of that too — I read an article recently about how many health care plans don’t cover the ridiculously expensive costs of pregnancy and giving birth in this country.   I mean, seriously, do we just not want Americans to have babies?).  And if you’re really a reflective/obsessive thinker like I am, it all makes you delve more deeply into your previous choices and possible missed opportunities.  Should I have gone to law school like over 50% of my friends with kids did?  (Who knew law school and procreation went so hand in hand?)  Should I have married my college boyfriend and gotten it all out of the way by age 26 — or married-by-26 any other of the guys who I dated, or think maybe I could have dated, who are now people I see on Facebook happily smiling with their lawyer wives (is she really that much prettier than me or does she just photograph well?) and their 2-4 children?

These are the kinds of thoughts we just shouldn’t be allowed to have.  Hopefully, once you have them, you get a chance to look back on everything and realize that you really couldn’t have done anything all that differently, or wouldn’t have wanted to, because it was all kind of great, or at least it was all yours. And if you don’t entirely feel that way, at least you get a chance to get your regret-a-thon over with now, rather than when you’re 80.

I did four cycles of fertility treatments (one on Clomid and three on the hard, injectable stuff) and I didn’t get pregnant.  The anxiety and depression of the last two cycles was the worst part. That and the fact that during the third cycle, I thought I was pregnant because the progesterone gave me some symptoms. And that my doctor, true to form, never called me at the end, or ever, to follow up, or see how I was doing, or discuss what my options might be going forward.  Bitch.  But at least all of that made me truly relieved when it was over.

Now we’re still trying, but sex is free (and fun, although having to do it at the end of a sixteen hour workday isn’t so much, but then you get to go to sleep right afterwards).  It’s too much of a long shot at this point to think we’ll succeed, but giving up drinking, sushi and Advil for ten days a month is probably a good thing anyway.  And in the meantime, since we can’t really afford to adopt right now anyway, my then-boyfriend-now-spouse and I can take some more time to contemplate what we really want to do with our lives.  Maybe that’s not something I should be doing at 44 because I should have figured it all out by now, but since this is one luxury that I have as a childless middle-aged woman, I might as well enjoy it.