Wednesday, November 29, 2006

As my mother and I age

Dare I write of mothers and daughters? It's a minefield. As my perky cute 77-year-old mom starts to finally show her age and slow down. As my spunky daughter moves on. July babies both. I think of the lessons in the elder's life. It's been a long slow transition. She refers often to the ignorance and passivity of her younger 19-year-old self. The ah gee, sure whatever you say that allowed her to stay married for 26 years to a guy she never liked. The constant pull between true timidity and real independence. A self-avowed loner, she's eternally curious. Always making new friends and excited about them. Excited about their lives and choices. Engaging enthusiastically in their scenarios, real and imagined as she spins out the possibilities. Yet she really is an introvert who spends much of her time alone.

Last night my friend R. said, I envy you your mother. Mine never talks anymore, she barely exists.

I get that. I get that as I steel myself hearing the repetition, hearing the judgements, hearing the narrow skew. I get that as I hear my kids complain about my own repetition.

Aging is hard. Oh, not the middle-age aging - I'm fine with that. It's the twenty years after. Seventy and beyond. Hard to watch my mother still game while her knees betray her. Hard to applaud her fierce independence as I worry about how alone she is.

I don't fear death. I do fear aging.

Austin in the holiday season

Normally xmas lights right after Thanksgiving drive me crazy, but not so tonight, driving back from a lovely Austin Film Society (AFS) anime screening at the Alamo Draughthouse Downtown. Simple lights strung low across each intersection, the Lone Star star the perfect decoration. That glorious capital building ... however humbling what goes on inside.

People keep asking, "So, you're settling there? You're really staying? You like it there?"

The answer is, "Yes."

Tuesday, November 28, 2006

Time management

I really suck at time management. Partly it's an embarrassment of riches. Too many interests, too many friends, too much I want to do. But within that, my discipline and time organization is really lacking. I get a lot of done but much is squandered. It's one of the reasons I'm always interested in what gets done when you're not even thinking about it. You know, like what you do no matter what. The choices one makes by action alone, not even conscious decision.

Should I work on my book right now or watch the Freaks & Geeks deluxe DVD set that a friend lent me two years ago and wants back this week?

Friday, November 24, 2006

My mom and the wonders of the internet

What's become a commonplace dividend for so many of us in the internet age has now come to my 77 year old mom. Her excitement of the moment concerns the following. Recently, through a chain of events - a young nephew giving her a comic book sometime in the 1970s created by a long lost early boyfriend from the 1940s (i.e. her first beau at age 12-15), a grandson seeing the comic book in her apt. and asking about the connection, that same grandson asking about the connection again just recently, a daughter (not me) re-connecting with an old best friend in the U.K. from 1963 based on a random internet search, my mother realizing that she too could google. And bam, a website found, and an email sent to a boyfriend from over 60 years ago, "I wonder if you remember me..." Within 24 hours the response, "DO I REMEMBER YOU??!!!" A flurry of emails, then a special edition hardcover book mailed, published 18 months earlier, with a rather large photo of my mother when young, with the caption, "My first love....I often wonder what's become of her."

My mother keeps saying, "What're the odds?" And can talk of little else, so ecstatic is she with the reunion. Loving the connection, as well as loving as the addition of a new best friend, ironically, the beau's second wife.

I smile and am amused. Happy for her. Familiar with the aha! These reunions becoming more commonplace. I think pre-internet, few of us knew how long we lived in other's hearts. Sure it's not absolute. I've searched for long lost friends and loved ones I can't locate. And there are some I've found. Nothing as dramatic as my mother's tale, but I get the thrill. It is a delight. And a delight too to see my kids listening with glee as she recounts so excitedly this guy she knew as a young teen, all these years later.

Thursday, November 23, 2006

A sailor at the airport

At noon today I picked up my mom at the Austin airport. I love making the airport run these days. Instead of the hour-and-a-half plus, heavy traffic trip where we used to live, here it's a quick and easy 17 minute drive. I arrived a few minutes early, and delighted in watching the many happy reunions. Not an original thought surely. It's memorialized at the very least in Joan Didion's Play It As It Lays, and Kevin Smith's Dogma, but airports are places of human emotion. Sad goodbyes, cheerful greetings. It's where the human drama is played out.

One goofy young girl bends down to kiss her slightly smaller beau, gushing with blush and excitement. She doubles over giggling, sends me a look, then throws her arm around him as they walk away. Off to the right is a lone sailer. The real thing, not a five year old. A tall, sweet young guy. He carefully places his things just so as he begins to sit. Hair buzzed, in blue bells and uniform sailor top, he's so young. Standard issue duffel. My heart goes out to him. We see soldiers quite often here at the Austin airport, but this is my first sailor. Is he home for the holiday? Just out of training? He seems so careful with his things, so clean and formal in his uniform like it's brand new. Is he just about to ship out? I can't stop looking. For the first time I really get that he's just a year or two older than my son. I get that these are beautiful young kids who join the service for some kind of advancement and chance at a better life. These are the young kids that are fighting our wars. He was waiting. I didn't see who he was waiting for. I wanted to ask. I wanted to take a proper photo but was too embarrassed to walk closer. And then my mother arrived with her news and excitement. Thinking of him still.

Love this photo

Just love this photo on the cover of an invite to an opening at the Robert Mann Gallery in NYC on November 30th. (Hmm, it might be too small to read properly in this format though...that flash card spells "want")

Photographer: Gail Albert Halaban
This Stage of Motherhood

Hadn't been familiar with her before. Will definitely be paying attention now.

Thanksgiving in East Texas

Talking to a friend yesterday about Thanksgiving in East Texas.

"We go out to my uncles and the kids shoot."

"Do you have wild turkeys out there? What'ya shoot?"

"Truck. We shoot at the old red truck"

Wednesday, November 22, 2006

P.S. on aging

Although, this quote in today's New York Times by Clara Singer, 99 years old, in a review of a new Frontline production, Living Old, made me rethink my previous quip. It pretty much says it all:

"I like life," she says thoughtfully. "The sun, the air, the work, the books. Everything."

Tuesday, November 21, 2006

Bob Altman, a great artist

The life cycle is finite. Thank God. Because otherwise how could we appreciate anything? "In limitation there is freedom'" my H.S. English teacher used to say. I know this attitude could change as I age, but at almost 50, I don't want to live forever. I don't even want to live til 90 I don't think. I'm still young enough to fear aging and I'm clear eyed enough to see how hard and lonely it is for so many. The goal is to live well now, everyday, make it count now.

It's with that in mind that I think so fondly of the dearly departed Robert Altman. I love his work. Oh, not every single film, but most. Even just a couple soar above the work of so many others and he did it again, and again, and again.

There will be terrific tributes and critical analyses elsewhere. I just found myself thinking how much I would love to be at the funeral/memorial. Can you imagine the density of talent? And not just quantity but the quality!! Ooh I wish I could be there. Someone should actually film it. Like an AFI tribute.....

Friday, November 17, 2006

Fast Food Nation & Dreamgirls

Another two special movie nights here in Austin this past week.

The Austin Film Society
premiered Fast Food Nation at the glorious Paramount with Richard Linklater and Eric Schlosser in person for a Q&A afterwards. It was packed, with a farmer's market outside just before. It was a great way to see this courageous and provocative film. It's filled with some great actors, some great stories, and an amazing behind the scenes look at where fast food comes from. There are repercussions up and down the line. The immigrant and meat packing plant stories are particularly compelling. Yes, this isn't the most audience friendly easy entertainment but I urge everyone to go anyway because you just have to support what Schlosser and Rick set out to do. They took on one of the most powerful industries in the world today. They're on the side of humanity.

On the contrary, last night's film went down super easy with hoots and hollers and lots of spontaneous clapping. It's the epitome of audience pleasing! No surprise here, of course I'm talking about Dreamgirls. Eye catching, toe tapping, some astounding performances in this quality film top to bottom. I loved it all. I went crazy for Eddie Murphy. He's always been a super talent. He's breath stopping in this.

Go see

Thursday, November 16, 2006

Driving to yoga and on the way home tacos

I don't make a big deal out of holidays or birthdays. But I love rituals. Maybe they're rituals or perhaps just well worn habits. Like Sunday mornings in Austin. I leave the house at 10am to drive 30 min. to my favorite yoga class. A 30 min. drive is rare these days. Not like in our previous hometown where everything was too far away. Here's it's pretty great, so much is nearby. On the way down I tune in to NPR's Selected Shorts. I've only recently become a fan as I've realized the work is often funnier and more interesting than I'd imagined. Just the other day, they were reading from, "Pieces for The Left Hand" by J. Robert Lennon. When I ordered it from Amazon, it actually came from overseas. Can't understand why it's not published in the U.S. yet. The book is a collection of 100 short anecdotes, set in a small American town. Great tone of voice. Direct, moving, fresh, and sometimes hilariously funny in an off kilter way.

10:30 Hatha Yoga with Angela D at yoga yoga westgate. A producer living in Austin last year turned me on to her. She's voluptuous, rather than the standard ballet thin, and really knows her stuff. She talks throughout the entire class, which not all teachers do, nor do you want them to. She's astounding in how useful and pertinent her information is. And on top of that, she's truly, spontaneously funny. I love how hard she gets me to work in a way that's not about working too hard. It's about being comfortable whenever you are, yet conscious. I'm just one of her many fans.

Next stop is Maria's Taco Express to pick up some breakfast tacos for myself and the boys back home. Maria's is one of my very favorite Austin haunts. Shabby chic for sure, Austin style. Spoons hang from ceiling, the Virgin Mother's propped in the corner, and there's this delightful early pic of Willie Nelson that I adore. Sunday mornings it's bustling with every kind of person there is, for the great food and the gospel music outside. Hippies abound, but so do frat boys, and well just every body type and fashion you can imagine. Waiting for my To Go order, I try to stand out of the way, just glorying in the Austin populace. Great tacos. Great aesthetics. Great crowd.

Dan Savage and why secrets work

I can't stop thinking about this op ed piece from last week. I've read Dan Savage's Savage Love column inconsistently over the years but am trying to make it more a steady habit. He's a terrific writer with a great point of view. Although, sometimes I have to confess I wonder who are the people writing to him? I mean, who do I know, who's harboring these secrets or fetishes? A girl can't help but wonder.

I thought this op ed piece "The Code of the Callboy" was tremendous. Here's the NYT link, if that's blocked, try the International Herald Tribune link. Basically he's writing about how in previous decades, men in the closet were all in the closet together. People kept secrets because they all had something to lose. That's no longer the case. Please read him directly - he's way more eloquent.

Tuesday, November 14, 2006

Glorious Bond, James Bond

I love this - 45 years of Bond Trailers. Thanks to cinematical and YouTube.

Monday, November 13, 2006

Checkbook Parenting

I know the phrase limousine liberal. Does checkbook parenting exist? It comes to mind as I read this in the New York Times today. It's an article about NYC parents who move to 'good' public school districts in the suburbs only to find them lacking. So they transfer their kids to expensive elite private schools which fit more in line with their expectations. But then they're pissed about the high cost of tuition, the high real estate taxes they pay for their local districts, and the complicated commutes.

I know these conversations all too well. We heard them over and over in our tiny hamlet just north of Westchester. Parents spent years anguished by the quality (or lack thereof) of the tiny local public school. We even fell prey to a private school choice for our daughter in 9th grade though not for the reasons outlined. It was a choice my daughter made to expand her world, after 9 years in that tiny, tiny school. She wanted to test herself in a bigger, more competitive environment. It was an interesting experiment, though not a successful one. There's just not one answer.

We never had the most aggressive ambitions for our children's education though both of us deeply loved learning. There isn't one right path. Public schools were attractive to us for many of the same reasons others dismiss them - because they're diverse, and not perfect, and more like the real world. Yes, public schools have better and worse teachers. Yes, the challenges of reaching every kid present with a wide range of developmental and learning skills is hard! Yes parent involvement can be required. Public schools accept anyone who can afford to live in their district. Private schools don't. But private schools are no panacea either. And as much as there are problems with public school education these days (check out pediatrician Mel Levine for some great discussions. I particularly recommend "Ready or Not, Real Life Comes") there are real problems with parents' inflated expectations of what schools 'owe' them or what they perceive as necessary for the child's development.

I recently had a spirited discussion with a filmmaker/friend who was considering moving from Florida to Westchester. He kept saying, the schools are good, right?" When I tried to pin him down, saying it's not one thing, he got irritated with me. "My daughter is smart" he said. Well what does that even mean? Is she the kind of smart that docilely does what's asked and spits back exactly what the teacher wants? The kind of smart who questions and challenges? The kind of smart who daydreams? The kind of smart with a brilliant imagination? The kind of smart who can build? The kind of smart who's a natural leader? The kind of smart who's intuitively gifted at relating to other children? The kind of smart that's slow and steady? Or super quick? There is no one kind of "smart"...and not one way to teach the different kind of smarts there are.

I know it's not for me to sit in judgement, but an article like this just makes me sick. It feels full of knee jerk entitlement fantasies. Why should a public school serving the diverse needs of its population, even in an expensive neighborhood, be comparable to a selective, elitist private school?

And why didn't these smart parents do more homework before making the move?

Sunday, November 12, 2006

Taking Flight

Recently my 19 year old daughter started seeing a guy regularly, for what I think is the first time ever. She's a beautful girl, spunky, funny, smart, wordly, though not necessarily in human relations. She's always had tons of guy 'friends." Just friends. Perhaps a heart breaker or ball buster, depending on your point of view. But now there's this new guy in her life, a bi-lingual schoolteacher. Recently he came by to meet me, and he was charming, really spending time, really wanting to talk. "hmm, 29" I ask? "Yeah, but my maturity level is really only about 24 or 25..." On first impression, a nice guy, a great looking guy, a guy who seems to really like my daughter, a guy who's knocked around quite a bit himself. The relationship continues around the grueling hours my daughter puts in as union crew in production on a national tv show.

Friday morning she stops in for her usual breakfast between her night out and work day and tells us, "I think I'm moving out on Sunday. Well, moving in with D. It's a temporary thing." She's done this once before, not with a guy involved, but into a separate house, 5 blocks away right after high school graduation. Turns out we saw her then more than ever, as she realized she preferred to eat with us, once no longer under our thumb. This time it's different. It's not running away, it's co-joining. I tell her, "Great... We'll have to start a Sunday dinner ritual together to see you." I genuninely am pleased for her. I wonder if she feared my reaction would be different.

Hours later I mull how this is the kind of news that tears so many families apart. What? A 19 year old moving in with a 29 year old you hardly know!!?? But I trust her, and I trust what little I know of him. I trust that this is part of her growing up. As I shared with her, in fact, I've always been more worried that she wouldn't make a human connection than I ever was of promiscuity. This strikes me as a move beyond selfishness and impulsive behavior. She looks too happy and is doing too well in her life to feel any alarm. On her Myspace page, I see a look in her eyes I've never seen before.

So much has to do with trust. I know my family dynamic is featured in a documentary where many people (particularly Netflix users) have weighed in that we're the worst parents ever, with the most bratty spoiled kids. I know that's not true. My daughter is thriving in the real world where responsibility and hard work matter. She loves her mother, and father, and brother. She loves her job. Now she's loving a guy. I applaud who she is and the road she's on. Sure there've been some bumpy moments. There've been moments when I've had to tear my hair out in frustration, anger, and fear. She's had to be reeled in. I've had to hover and let go. But the trust has been earned, on both sides, and now it's strong. It's exciting to watch her take flight.

It's just one of those things, the endless parenting conversations and clashes in style. Many parents strive to keep their kids innocent as long as possible. Not me. I've applauded every single step towards independence. From sitting up to walking to riding the school bus, driving, and now moving out. It's seeing who they are - as full human beings. My kids. It's tremendously exciting.

Friday, November 10, 2006

blogging about blogging

Mark - really, not trying to ride on your traffic - just thought this was a great post:

And for those of you not paying attention - Mark Cuban's blog is a must read. Singular in this day and age for a guy that successful to share his unfiltered thoughts regularly. Respect.

Sure I'll be in your film, if I don't have to be naked

This just in from a mutual friend of prolific Chicago filmmaker Joe Swanberg:

I told him we'd do it as long as neither of us had to be naked.

Which is hilarious if you've seen his work - Kissing on the Mouth, LOL, Young American Bodies and the upcoming Hannah Takes the Stairs. All of which I recommend. The nakedness in his films was the first thing I heard about - he was going for that naked but not necessarily titilating look. Naked as in natural. I wasn't sure I'd enjoy it but it turns out I did, and now I'm one of his bigger fans.

But the quote made me laugh for another reason. It took me straight back to my first class at the San Francisco Art Institute where I transferred to in 1975. I was scheduled for Beginning Filmmaking with George Kuchar. The class made melodramas in his own inimitable style.

I was terrified I'd have to take my clothes off -- so I transferred the hell out before the first day. Years later when we became friends, we'd laugh about that.

[Video - Hold Me While I'm Naked Pt 1 or 2 by George Kuchar]

Thursday, November 09, 2006

A mother writes about what mothers fear

I've been reading some interesting and moving pieces over at in the Becoming Fearless section. I guess it's a women's ghetto. I don't care. Like sometimes I just need to hear a woman singing. I'm happy to read the voices I've been finding there.

Particularly moved by this post by Janet Grillo. She worked in film acquisitions and production for years. I remember having a long and involved conversation with her the night I went into labor with my first child, out at a screening for Eat A Peach (an obscure Irish film I would never remember if I hadn't been in labor and it was the last night before I became a mother.) A serious career girl, I was pleased when she married and had her own child. I met him when she came to speak at our summer film workshop, still a tiny baby, nursing. She was a lovely mother then. And again probably five years later when we met one evening at the Getty Museum in L.A. The night was gorgeous. It was clear her mothering had taken a distinct turn from my own. My kids flittered about, engaged in the world around them. She and her husband were 100% attentive to their son. They engaged in high stakes drama and games to get his attention. I found it impressive and utterly exhausting. The diagnosis somewhere along that Autisim scale. A diagnosis becoming way too common.

Read her directly - it's a beautiful piece: What is it every new mother fears?

Monday, November 06, 2006

It's just fun

Oh forget about all the fussing and mental agonizing in regards to my salsa classes. Now that I'm in level 2, it's just so much damned fun! Not intellectual in the slightest. I couldn't care less about the social dynamics. It's not about what anyone thinks of me, or how much they like me. It's about how much I'm loving the dance. It's exhilarating and a total kick. Guys who can really dance. Guys who are there to dance. Real movement as we woosh around the room. It's a major endorphin high for me.

There's nothing like a great mind with brilliant articulation and original thought. I love that. I love conversation passionately. But there's nothing like leaving it behind too. Letting go into pure motion, the music leading. Adjusting to a stranger, matching the rhythm. The high of non-verbal communication. Giving into their lead, having it take you to just right the place. I'm just sorry it took me this long to get going. I'm having a great time.

Saturday, November 04, 2006

pretentious but joyful

When I saw and enjoyed Werner Herzog's documentary Grizzly Man last year, I agreed with his pronouncement,
" I believe the common denominator of the Universe is not harmony, but chaos, hostility and murder."
I actually believe territorialism and fear lie at the heart of human existence. But how does that explain the sweet kindnesses that dot our landscape? On this gorgeous fall Saturday, in Austin, TX, I experienced nothing but kindness, over and over, in a myriad of ways. Nothing life changing, nothing dramatic, just small and real. The cumulation creating the greatest joy.

Simple moments - a brunch with two relatively new friends. Women I barely know yet the conversation runs excitedly and bubbling over a slew of topics. I think I'm there to support the one who's expecting her first child. Instead the conversation keeps tilting back to me. It feels more generous than narcissistic. It's fun, it's lively. It's a tangible exchange that's invigorating.

Next new classes at the dance studio. The room is full of regulars but the sound is different. We move to the samba beat, helping each other over the tricky parts. We're still anonymous but the kindness is growing. No histories, no judgements, just pure movement and wishing each other well. As we reconvene several days a week, week after week, the familiarity breeds more smiles and concern. The doctor I like rubs my arm to signal he's my partner. We don't need words. We're in this together. Vulnerable and caring. I don't have a clue where he's from. Not to be too melodramatic but it's an essential way of relating, without the bullshit of too many details. In the third hour, during a momentary lull, a guy across the room catches my eye and demonstrates a step I'd been stumbling over earlier. He's reminding me, amusing me, he's making the connection. We say thank you everytime we change partners, rotating around the room.

It continues as I hit the Central Market. I stop in first at Origins for some new hand cream, then make my way to pick up ingredients for Chicken Tortilla Soup, my new Saturday cooking ritual. It's dusk, and the market is crowded. I see a couple from Tuesday night's dance class. They smile as they move by. A butcher, not my regular, says "no problem, ask away" when I warn I have a stupid question. His answer is surprising and useful. I'm delighted rather than humiliated. A cashier off duty, smiles in recognition as our carts pass, or perhaps she's an intern where I volunteer. I don't know. Still we wish each other well without words, in a moment, in passing, and it lifts me somehow. The working cashier teases and chats, for no apparent reason. He could just go silently about his business. But he chooses not to. We're people on a Saturday evening, humans who relate.

I walk out now almost deliriously happy. The weather is gorgeous. The sky is dark. A true nightbird, I'm thrilled. I'm on my way home, buoyed by a day full of strangers and kindness. I don't know what its like for so many of my dance partners. Are there rooms small and empty? Is the dance rotation their only companionship or are they just like me? People with full lives who love to dance? For a second earlier in the food aisles I'd started to despair. I remembered how hard it used to be to return home alone. Though that hasn't been my reality for decades, the pain is just below the surface. Then, as it is now, the slightest human connection makes all the difference.

Friday, November 03, 2006

The test of time

John said, "I'm glad you had fun the other night hanging out with this younger generation of filmmakers. But are they changing the world? When was the last time a young filmmaker changed the culture? Not in awhile." So the debate begins, "Myspace, videogames, cable." Where will the new narratives come from? How will they exist? Lately John is obsessed by how even the lesser films we were involved with, way outgrossed many of the current indie darlings. Not including the mega grossing indie darlings like Little Miss Sunshine, or the Weinstein Company crew. The upside is way larger, the downside miniscule.

More than the actual details of the conversation is the skew. I get interested in the people around me. John looks through the prism of history. What will stand the test of time? They're very different perspectives.

First time someone helped me understand this difference was via a handwriting reading by Ann Mahony. We met one midnight outside a radio station in SF on John's booktour. We were coming out. She was going in. We talked for five minutes, and quickly exchanged books - John and I scribbling a few words in our copy for her. A year later she mailed a cassette with surprising insight and assessment.

"John likes to give information to people," she said. "Janet actually likes people."

Thursday, November 02, 2006

How did this happen?

In 1983 I married a guy who was obsessed with movies and music. He looked like a clerk at Tower Records (R.I.P.). And not just in my opinion. Whenever he was in Tower, people would ask him questions. I knew he was into baseball. I understood that as kind of a Baltimore born, NYC intellectual idiosyncracy. I learned to knit. And who isn't into basketball? Particularly those of us old enough to have enjoyed Dr. J, Kareem, Magic & Bird in their prime.

But I don't understand how under my very nose, this guy and his offspring, my little son, turned into football fanatics. Hardcore. Oh, they don't wear colors and funny hats but they opt in together making it a priority. I got my first inkling maybe ten years ago, all of a sudden this little boy started spouting football statistics. Right in front of me! Like where'd it come from??!! Sports Center! Cable news. And it never stopped. The little guy growing, watching and talking sports with his Dad, huddled on the floor, lounging on the couch. Now he's 6 feet and reads the local Sports section and Sports Illustrated with his breakfast. Their conversation continues. It's immediate. Sometimes urgent. Tons of info. I couldn't care less although sometimes they teach me and test me. It's my entree into the world of men. It's foreign. It's hilarious. It's great for them. I just still can't understand how it happened right under my very nose.