riding bitch

The life of a writer and survivor of loss.


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The Love of Cinema

Do you remember your first movie? Mine was STAR WARS. At least, that’s the first movie I remember seeing. I was 6 and 1/2 when it came out in May 1977 and went to see it with my father and brother. Everything about it was awesome and new and I believed all of it, from C-3PO and R2-D2, to the creatures in the bar, to Darth Vader (who scared the shit out of me).

The next year I went to see a very different kind of movie with my mother called THE LAST WALTZ, Martin Scorsese’s documentary on The Band’s final show. It might seem strange to take a 7-year-old to see a film about coked-out musicians but I’m sure my mom was thinking about the music… Bob Dylan, Neil Young, Joan Baez, Joni Mitchel, Muddy Waters, Van Morrison and countless others. When the lights came up she turned to me and said, “Want to see it again?” I did. We sat through the second showing. Then she bought the soundtrack and played it every weekend for the next 10 years.

In 1979, my older brother and sister snuck me into a screening of ALIEN, which makes me laugh every time I think about it. I’m not sure either knew what it was about when we snuck in. For most of the movie my sister was covering my eyes while squealing beside me, but I could still hear it and I still saw that infamous scene with John Hurt because neither my sister, nor anyone else in the world seeing it for the first time, saw THAT coming. To this day, it’s one of my favorite films.

Around the same time, I became obsessed with musicals. From the Busby Berkeley spectacles, to the fantastical WIZARD OF OZ, to the romantic WEST SIDE STORY and THE SOUND OF MUSIC, to the grittier HAIR and JESUS CHRIST SUPERSTAR, to the super corny OKLAHOMA, MARY POPPINS, SINGIN’ IN THE RAIN and so on. It didn’t matter what year it was made or the genre. And if Barbara Streisand was in it, forget about it.

As I got older, my mother started taking me to an art-house theater in Philadelphia where we saw foreign films by Truffaut, Fellini, Antonioni, Kurosawa and Bergman. I remember walking out of a screening of AUTUMN SONATA (about a dysfunctional mother-daughter relationship, played by Ingrid Bergman and Liv Ullmann) saying with a sigh of relief, “I’m so glad we’re not like them.”

I grew to love certain directors, especially Martin Scorsese, Sidney Lumet, Milos Forman, Stanley Kubrick, Francis Ford Coppola, Roman Polanski, Ridley Scott, Billy Wilder, Terrence Malick and others. Each had his own style. Each brought out the most amazing performances from their actors, music from their composers, editing, production design, costume design…

It wasn’t until college that I considered making a film. That was a task for other, far more glamorous people, who lived very far away in a place called Hollywood. I never thought I’d be living there. Once I learned the basics of the craft I wanted to study film in NYC where my idols Martin Scorsese and Spike Lee worked and lived. But those schools didn’t accept me, so I went to the school that did. I thought film school was heaven. Imagine seeing the epic Sergio Leone film ONCE UPON A TIME IN THE WEST or the beautiful Caroll Ballard film THE BLACK STALLION (both in all their 70mm widescreen glory) for the first time in a pristine theater with only 10 other people… and then talking about them

Cinema has changed over the years. I’m rarely blown away by a film like I used to be when I was young. I admit, I also don’t go to the theater as much. But I’m trying to get in touch with it again, trying to reconnect with that initial thing I loved about movies… to be transported to another world, to be enlightened, to feel compassion for characters I would normally never meet in real life or never love, to feel a togetherness with the other people in the audience, to witness the unique vision of the filmmaker.

I’m trying to remember the difference between cinema and movies, as so eloquently explained by the director Steven Soderbergh‘s in his recent keynote speech at the 56th San Francisco International Film Festival:

“The simplest way that I can describe it is that a movie is something you see, and cinema is something that’s made. It has nothing to do with the captured medium, it doesn’t have anything to do with where the screen is, if it’s in your bedroom, your iPad, it doesn’t even really have to be a movie. It could be a commercial, it could be something on YouTube. Cinema is a specificity of vision. It’s an approach in which everything matters. It’s the polar opposite of generic or arbitrary and the result is as unique as a signature or a fingerprint. It isn’t made by a committee, and it isn’t made by a company, and it isn’t made by the audience. It means that if this filmmaker didn’t do it, it either wouldn’t exist at all, or it wouldn’t exist in anything like this form.”
http://m.deadline.com/2013/04/steven-soderbergh-state-of-cinema-address/

Do you like movies? Was there a film that made a big impact on you?


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The Ghost of LA Woman

Yesterday's sunset, corner of Olympic and Arlington Ave

Yesterday’s sunset, corner of Olympic and Wilton Ave

What’s lurking in the drafts section of your dashboard?

I couldn’t resist today’s Daily Post because I only had one draft post, which was just a title: LA Woman. The idea came to me a couple of months ago while driving around, or rather stuck in traffic going nowhere fast, in Los Angeles. I heard the song LA Woman by The Doors in my head and knew I had to write a post about this place.

I first arrived in LA in August 1995, a somewhat innocent 24-year-old, eager to start her first year at graduate film school. I drove here from Philadelphia in a two-door Acura hatchback, my first car, which I had purchased one week before I left, ten days after getting my license.

First impressions of LA: it was beautiful, hot, HUGE, a labyrinth of highways and streets I was sure I would never be able to figure out. On days off I would hop in my car, which had a sunroof, and drive around listening to music, not minding if I got lost (this was before Navigation and GPS so I got lost A LOT), from Hollywood to the Valley to Beverly Hills to Route 1 by the beach. Everything seemed to sparkle and shine. I felt both as if I knew this city, which I had seen umpteen times in movies, and as if I didn’t know it at all and would never truly penetrate its mystery.

Since I didn’t know anyone, I would often go out by myself to explore the bars and clubs. It didn’t take long to figure out the best places to spot celebrities were at the fancy hotels like The Beverly Hills Hotel, The Four Seasons, The Peninsula. At the former, in the same night, I once saw Dustin Hoffman eating dinner and Barbara Streisand walked by me at the bar. I couldn’t believe it!

Over the years, I would meet many actors, musicians, directors, producers and other film folks at school lectures, various jobs and industry events. The novelty factor gradually wore off, as did the fascination with the nightlife, Beverly Hills, fancy hotels, and so on. The intense loneliness I used to feel in the first few years was replaced by a fluid sense of community, film school friends, colleagues and the few regular non-industry people I know.

When I met Kaz, who was from a D.C., the city came alive in a different way. We used to joke about our mutual love/hate relationship with LA, and love sharing those “I can’t believe I live here” moments. One time he passed Snoop Dogg in the hallway at work, and went to a party where Kobe Bryant showed up in a helicopter. Another time we went to a Passover seder at a famous director’s house with the granddaughter of an American film legend seated beside us. And many more such moments.

Since his passing, I’ve tried to redefine my relationship to the city. How long do I want to live here? Should I go back East and be closer to family? Should I hold out a little longer and see if I can get the career going? LA feels like a combination of high school and metropolis, playground and work center, a series of urban facades and breathtaking natural landscapes. It rarely feels as comfortable to me as the East Coast, but it’s home nonetheless.

These days, my favorite place to hang out is the dog park, usually with natty hair, dressed in my most tattered clothing. For some reason, Ruby loves rubbing her muddy tennis ball on my leg instead of just dropping it at my feet. I’ve even started meeting people there, and the other day I invited a friend to join me even though she’s dog-less. We sat on chairs in the shade and caught up, every now and then pausing to throw the muddy ball to Ruby.

Ah, how things change.

Thanks for encouraging me to finish this post, WordPress!


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Wind Chimes in the Breeze

It’s windy out tonight. The wind chimes are singing and the trees are rustling, but the chimes are in the foreground. They remind me of Kaz. Of nights lying in bed next to him, hearing the wind chimes late at night.

On nights like this, I would sometimes close my eyes and pretend we were on a tropical island or somewhere warm (he bought these wood chimes in Costa Rica). The chimes were outside our beach bungalow, and the rustling trees were really ocean waves lapping at the shore just outside our window. If these moments happened after sex, I would picture the moon glittering on the white sand outside as we were actually sleeping under a silk canopy on the beach, not a one-bedroom apartment in Hollywood. With my head on his shoulder, my nostrils filled with his scent, a combination of Irish Spring and his own natural muskiness (he never wore cologne or after shave), I would smile to myself.

Such is a woman’s mind. Or at least, this woman’s overly imaginative mind. We don’t always think like this. But certain things trigger us, like the sound of wind chimes on a breezy night.

And music.

As I mentioned, I went to see CLUTCH last week. I could write several posts just on what this band meant to Kaz and our time together. They were the most-listened to, most-heard music of our three years, which is saying a lot given that he was a musical aficionado and listened to music for a living.

Last week’s concert brought back so many memories. Seeing them in DC at the 9:30 Club, hanging with the band backstage and in their tour bus afterwards, seeing them at the House of Blues in LA, listening to them on road trips, listening to them in the ICU (I would play them on my phone for him), listening to them at his memorial (his ashes were released to their song “Electric Worry”). We had some of our happiest moments at their shows, and one of our saddest too. Because Clutch was also his last concert and we both knew it when we were there.

Seeing them last week was both joyful and heartbreaking. Afterwards, I went backstage to say hi to the band. They all remembered him. They all said he was special, a good spirit, a good man. They didn’t know what else to say about what happened to him. I told them they didn’t have to say anything more, and thanked them for the kind words.

It was wonderful to see live music again. Before he was sick we would go to a show almost weekly. He would go more often than that. Part of his job was to keep up on music. We saw shows at probably every major venue in the Los Angeles area, and several smaller ones too. We rarely paid for tickets and always had VIP passes. And he always had new music before it came out, which was a treat indeed.

Now I have no idea what’s going on in the music world and hardly ever see a show unless it’s one of his favorite bands.

But I still have the wind chimes. And when the wind gets going like it is tonight, it takes me back. A couple of times the wind has blown hard and the chimes have clanged about loudly. But mostly they’ve been singing in a gentle, rolling rhythm. I don’t talk about him as much with people as I used to. But I can still remember what it feels like to lay in his arms in the dark, under the imaginary silk canopy. He would laugh at my tropical island fantasy but not be surprised. He knew I was a cornball.


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11 days in 90 seconds

It’s been a crazy week and a half, so crazy I had to stop blogging for a minute. Rather than write a long drawn out “this is what I’ve been up to” post, I thought I would just present the speed-reel version:

Thursday 3/21 – CLUTCH concert at House of Blues with Big B and his new lady friend. Clutch was Kaz’s favorite band. Two of their songs were played at his memorial. They play one of them at the show. I am crying, laughing and dancing at the same time.

Clutch

Friday 3/22 – Very hungover at work. Grateful that I scheduled the Sarah Gerkensmeyer interview ahead of time. Not grateful that I got the time wrong so it published at 8:00am in whatever part of the world WordPress is based, not 8:00am West Coast time.

Saturday 3/23 – Audition for Harley Davidson Breast Cancer Awareness campaign, which is seeking “female motorcyclists (size 6-8) who survived or know someone who survived breast cancer.” I am NOT a size 6-8 but fit the rest of criteria so WTF. At the audition, there are men and women, it doesn’t matter if you ride or not, and no one asks about breast cancer.

Ruby in car

Sunday 3/24 – Drop Ruby off at a behavior evaluation appointment at West side doggie daycare run by canine guru to the stars. Lobby looks like a hotel. Employees are overly formal and weird. Ruby passes test but I am not impressed.

Monday 3/25 – Work half day due to Passover. Yay Moses! Instead of Seder, I go home to write. My literary manager has stepped up pressure on the television pilot I was supposed to hand in 2 months ago. For the rest of the week I’m back to waking up at 4:00am, writing before, during and after work.

Tuesday 3/26 – Work half day due to Passover. Actually go to Seder this time, at a restaurant called Street with my good friend T (who has fender bender on the way). We sit at the bar. First time leaving Ruby alone and uncrated in the apartment for several hours. I figure it’s Passover, let her taste freedom too. Come home hours later to discover… apartment and puppy are fine! Elated and proud.

LA - passover at street

Wednesday 3/27 – Very hungover, tired, stressed. Consider breaking evening plans but haven’t seen this friend in 6 months. Show up to outdoor party with Ruby, who ends up vomiting 3 times in the middle of everything after eating wildflowers. Apologies all around. We leave early and both collapse at home.

Thursday 3/28 – Leave work early due to Good Friday holiday weekend. Yay Jesus! Go to El Coyote (infamous Mexican restaurant where Sharon Tate ate her last meal) to write. Manage to be productive on 3 margharitas. Write all night until dawn.

Friday 3/29 – HAND IN (very rough first draft) PILOT. Woo-hoo!
Sleep a few hours. Take Ruby to dog park, then to brunch with old college friend. Ruby chews threw her leash during meal but thankfully doesn’t run off. Go to pet store afterwards to buy new leash, then drop her off at babysitter. Spend the next 12 hours driving back and forth to San Diego with 4 other people in the car. We see a play called The Mountaintop about what Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.’s last night could have been like. Very good play. Worth 6 hours in cramped car with strangers. Pick up Ruby at 1:30am.

Saturday 3/30 – Take Ruby to a dog friendly beach in Santa Barbara, followed by stroll through the dog friendly Douglass Family Preserve (70 acre park with vistas of the Pacific). A beautiful and much needed relaxing day.

SB - Douglass beach trees

SB - Douglass beach - sandy dog

Taking it all in

SB - Douglass beach - sleeping dog

Sunday 3/31 – Clean entire apartment and do 4 loads of laundry while Ruby sleeps all day. Leave Ruby alone and uncrated again while I go to a Game of Thrones viewing party. Drink too much tequila. Come home to piles of poop (on the floor, not the rug). Clean it up before collapsing in bed.

Monday 4/1 – Hungover. But happy to be blogging again.


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Musical Memory

Yesterday I met up with a friend who works at Scholastic, the company that publishes Young Adult and Children’s books and educational material. She was kind enough to give me a tour of their very cool building, right in the middle of SoHo. In the lobby, they have about half a dozen letters from famous authors, journalists and (for some reason) Alec Baldwin, meant to inspire children writers. The best note was from Arthur Miller, which I will have to add later (I forgot to write it down).

At lunch my friend and I got to talking about my late husband K and how music played such a big role in his life. He used to work in the music department of DreamWorks Animation, contributing to the soundtracks of some of the biggest animated films like Shrek, Madagascar, The Prince of Egypt, and many others. Later he worked at Capitol Records (in the famous Capitol Records building), licensing their catalogue to films, television shows, commercials, sports, etc.

It still amazes me how much of our relationship revolved around music. When we first started dating he would give me CDs as gifts, both music that he received at work and thought I would like, and music compilations that he put together specifically. He was an expert at hip hop, heavy metal, rock and blues, he rarely went to see a band unless he was on the list (the exception being bands he really loved like The Black Keys), and he always got the VIP treatment.

We once had an argument at a Brother Ali concert at the El Rey (Brother Ali is a white albino rapper). He surprised me with tickets to Atmosphere (another hip hop group) for my birthday in 2008. We listened to hours upon hours of music during road trips. We saw shows at venues all over Los Angeles and Gogol Bordello, Clutch, The Roots and Wu Tang Clan at the 9:30 in D.C.

When he got sick we started going to less shows, and near the end, I was choosing the music for him. After his seizures, when he was unconscious, I played his favorite band Clutch on Pandora in the ICU, hoping somehow the music would bring him back. When he woke up, he couldn’t remember what year it was, but when the doctor asked him “What’s your favorite band?” he answered without hesitation, “Clutch!”

Later, when he was on hospice, I played blues and reggae softly in the background. I was surprised to find dozens of Chopin pieces on his iPod. “I didn’t know you liked Chopin,” I told him. “Lotta things you don’t know,” he replied with a smile.

At his memorial, I asked a friend of K’s to play two Chopin pieces live, including this one (which was also played at Chopin’s funeral):

To this day, my most treasured possession is K’s iPod. I take it with me everywhere I go and listen to it almost exclusively. It used to be ahead of its time because he was always listening to music before it came out. Now, it’s frozen in time because I will never change his playlists.