Just found this photo from two years ago when I did the Brain Tumor Walk in Orange County, CA, in honor of Kaz and others. We walked 5K and raised thousands of dollars for brain tumor research. It was an inspiring day with lots of shared stories, embraces and tears. There were also lots of signs. This one was my favorite.
If you’ve been following the blog for a while, you know that I love getting away from the city to Joshua Tree National Park and the surrounding areas. I’ve written about it here, here and here. This past weekend, a national holiday here in the States, I went to The 29 Palms Inn, a motel where Kaz and I once stayed for his birthday. Quite a different experience travelling with a canine companion. For one, the motel didn’t feel quite as romantic as I remembered. I also noticed things I hadn’t noticed before, like the dozens of rabbits, lizards, birds, and hundreds, if not thousands, of ant hills, all of which Ruby gleefully pointed out to me.
We arrived just after sunset, a little later than expected but a beautiful time to view the hundreds of wind turbines near Palm Springs, part of California’s effort to use natural energy.
The next day we woke up a little after dawn to catch the sunrise.
Ruby stared at the vista for a while. We were clearly very far from the city.
I was a bit nervous bringing her to the desert in July, when temperatures can soar as high as 105 Farenheit. Before leaving I read some articles about how to manage with a dog in extreme heat. They all said to keep the dog out of the sun, hydrate the dog often, walk the dog only in the morning and evening, pay attention to signs of heat stroke and, if the dog is pale, apply sunscreen (dogs can get skin cancer too). I ended up taking her on a couple of early morning hikes and with lots of cold water and ice rubdowns, she managed pretty well.
We saw some amazing scenery.
My city friends often ask me why I love going to the desert so much. I suppose it’s one of my favorite places to think and write. While I’m not a religious person, I have often felt a certain something while in the park, similar to how I felt at Mount Sinai in Egypt’s Sinai Peninsula years back. Joshua Tree might not be as historically and religiously significant as Mount Sinai, but it contains a silent power nonetheless, and inspires a feeling I can best describe as oneness.
Perhaps not surprisingly, the name Joshua tree was given by a group of Mormon settlers who crossed the Mojave Desert in the mid-19th century. Apparently, the tree’s unique shape reminded them of a Biblical story in which Joshua reaches his hands up to the sky in prayer. All I know is it’s a special place… and not without a sense of humor.
Joshua Tree is a favorite destination for rock climbers because of the incredible rock formations, formed 100 million years ago from the cooling of magma beneath the surface. Groundwater is responsible for the weathering that created the spheres from rectangular blocks. The most famous formations include Skull Rock, which looks quite a bit like a human skull.
There’s also Jumbo Rocks, Split Rock, and the Hall of Horrors rock formation where someone actually fell to their death last year.
Kaz and I used to play this game of naming the rock formations we would come across. I think if we had seen this one, we would have called it Listening Rock.
This one might have been Hamburger Bun Rock.
Overall, it was a great weekend. Hot but restful. I missed Kaz, missed having a person with me, but was grateful to not be entirely alone. Ruby made a good companion and charmed everyone she encountered. She seemed content to slow down, sleep in the shade and be near me in this hot, dusty, windy, wild-looking place. Times like these I feel very grateful to live in California.
Do you have a place of natural beauty near you?
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!
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
It’s been both cloudy and sunny lately in Los Angeles. I’ve become obsessed with taking pictures of the sky and trees. It seems I’m always looking up, which is interesting because I’m starting to feel more up.
Grief is such a strange beast. We hear about the various “stages” – Shock, Denial, Anger, Bargaining, Reconstruction, Acceptance, Hope. We hear they don’t happen for everyone, they don’t happen sequentially, there’s no set time limit, it’s all individual, there’s no roadmap, and so on. Despite these warnings, I can’t help but monitor myself to see if I can pinpoint which stage I’m in or just left. In May it will be two years since Kaz passed away.
I know for certain I am beyond the shock and denial stage. I can also say with certainty that these stages do exist. In the first few minutes after K took his last breath, I kept feeling for his pulse and not finding it, but was still unsure what had just happened. I needed the hospice nurse to confirm it.
I’ve heard others say in the beginning, they kept waiting for their loved one to return. For me, it was the opposite. For a long time, I felt like he had never left. I would tell people, “He’s here, he’s just invisible.” I cannot tell you if it was my imagination or something else, but I totally felt this to be true.
As time went on, this feeling started to gradually dissipate. If he was around, he wasn’t around as often. Then it felt as if he wasn’t around at all. I would beg for him to come back and be met with silence. It felt like losing him all over again, which made me angry. There was a period when I was angry all the time. Why did a man so young and in his prime have to die? Why did he have to suffer? Why couldn’t we have had more time together? The more I asked Why, the angrier I became with myself, G-d, the world.
At some point – I don’t remember when – I stopped asking Why and starting asking “Now what?” At first, this made me angry too. How dare I picture a future without him? Who was I to have a future? What kind of future was worth living anyway? The thing that kept me going was my writing. But even this was not enough to escape the perpetual cloud hanging over my heart.
Then I adopted the puppy. A few weeks later I got accepted to the Vermont residency. In Vermont I worked on my book and experienced life outside of LA and the apartment where K and I lived (and he died). After 5 weeks away, returning to LA produced the strongest culture shock I’ve felt in years. I hardly wrote anything except the blog for 4 weeks.
A few days ago I finally started writing again. And exercising. And feeling more like myself. I am thinking more clearly. I am more motivated, more disciplined. Dare I say it, I am feeling more hopeful.
The strange thing is that I’m also crying more now than before I went to Vermont. I seem to cry at the drop of a hat, at commercials, at songs. Sometimes I look at the dog and start crying. The other night I watched Fiddler on the Roof and bawled like a baby. I’m not sad, per se, but I have moments of extreme sadness. My mother used to cry a lot too. But I don’t think of her as a sad person either. Sometimes I wonder if the hope and forward-thinking is conflicting with other emotions. Sometimes I feel like I’m crying for both of us, for the past and the future. All I know is I keep looking up.
The owner of the doggie daycare in Johnson, Vermont just sent me this picture of Ruby and her friends. It’s like a doggie “class picture”! Hilarious.
Ruby is front and center. Izzy is near the back, in front of the Great Dane.
I miss many aspects of my residency time in Vermont: the beautiful vistas, the quiet, the crisp fresh air, the simplicity of the one-stop-light-two-bar town. I miss being surrounded by other artists, talking about and seeing art every day, the unlimited writing time, privacy and coziness of my office, the lack of responsibilities other than my work-study dishwashing job. I also miss seeing my puppy run around freely at her Vermont doggie daycare.
She lived on a ranch where the men in the family (grandfather, father, son) work in construction and logging. Their land included 50 acres of woods and a pond, which was frozen when we were there, but in the summer the dogs can swim in it. You can see the small dock below.
When I would come to visit her, every day for 1.5 hours, we did one of two things: play ball or go walking in the woods. On both activities we were always accompanied by the owner’s dog, Izzy.
Izzy was the pack leader of the daycare dogs. She literally policed the other dogs and sort of took Ruby under her wings. She was also faster than all the other dogs and could find a ball buried in 3 feet of snow. I miss Izzy most of all, especially seeing her and Ruby together.
Now perhaps you can understand why I felt some pangs of guilt for taking her back to the urban jungle of Los Angeles where our “yard” is a small cement patio.
The good news is we recently learned of an abandoned field in our neighborhood. A neighbor told me about it when our dogs were saying hello to each other.
The other day Ruby and I went to investigate.
It’s a large grassy field, completely enclosed. Apparently, a house used to sit there but was torn down for some unknown reason and nothing’s been built there since. Best of all, it’s literally around the corner from where we live. The only reason I hadn’t seen it before is because it’s not on our normal route. I was surprised that it’s as empty as it is. No broken glass, trash or homeless people. Ruby can run around freely, chasing balls and smelling all there is to be smelled.
I don’t know how long this will last. Technically, we are trespassing. But we make sure to be quiet in the mornings, and we’re not the only ones who go there. The other day we met another woman and her dog. The woman told me that the adjacent neighbors are aware of these trespassing city dogs and their owners, and as long as we’re not being loud, trashing the place or doing drugs, no one seems to care.
Vermont it ain’t, but it’s our little patch of green for now.
Since it’s Valentine’s Day in a few hours, I thought I’d share a favorite memory with my late husband. This is also an expert from the current draft of my book. Happy Valentine’s day to you and yours.
February 13-15, 2009
For our first official Valentine’s Day, at my suggestion, we go camping in Joshua Tree National Park even though I’ve never been camping before. Since it’s my idea and I’ve organized the whole trip, I’m the only one who receives the instructions for the tent. Once we arrive and unpack, Kaz watches me circle the tarp a few times.
“You okay?” he asks.
“Yup.” I turn my back to him and silently bite my lip. I have no idea what I’m doing. Why did I even suggest a camping trip? What will happen if I can’t remember the instructions?
“Why don’t you try telling me how it’s supposed to go?” I hear him say gently behind me. “It might help you remember.”
I start talking out loud, and he’s right. The instructions slowly come back to me. I begin to place certain pegs in certain holes, then bend the tent’s spine and stretch the fabric. We finish pitching it together, after which I’m practically giddy with relief and gratitude.
We celebrate by going for a walk in a nearby field of rocks. “Have you ever been here before?” I ask. “Yes, with my ex,” he answers. I nod and look down at the ground. He puts an arm around my shoulder. “But I’m very happy to be here again with you.”
We take a series of pictures. In one, he stands on a boulder, his hands spread wide, his feet straddling a large crevice running up the middle.
“Because he’s a crack man!” I yell as I take it.
As we walk back, he picks up a long, straight branch, which we immediately dub his Moses stick.
After dinner, which I manage to make without utensils (because I forgot those too), we sit in our borrowed camping chairs by the fire and pass a flask of Jack Daniels back and forth. Other than the fire, our entertainment is the star-filled sky and a small transistor radio which doubles as a flashlight (a Christmas gift from his mother). Tonight the only channel we can get clearly is a classical one with a DJ who speaks in Japanese.
We talk about our families again. I tell him how my mother was an artist and did art throughout her life, even when she was sick. That she loved music, especially jazz and reggae, and she spoke in a whisper due to multiple tracheotomies and open heart surgeries. I describe to him the moment my brother informed me of her death, 17 years prior. “It was and still is the biggest thing that has ever happened to me.”
In the flickering light of our campfire, Kaz tells me the closest he can relate is losing his paternal grandmother, who had helped raise him as a child. He describes the vegetable garden in the back of her house, the strawberry patch where he used to help her pick strawberries. He had been very fond of her.
“By the way, you can never go wrong making me something with strawberries in it, or berries in general,” he adds.
“Noted,” I laugh.
Later, he points out a couple of constellations and explains that because of the time it takes for the light to travel from the stars to us, some of the stars might actually be dead planets.
I look up at the sky. “That’s disappointing.”
“Sorry to burst your bubble,” he chuckles.
“You haven’t. I choose to believe the stars I’m looking at are alive,” I smirk. He laughs.
The next day, we visit Skull Rock where, to our surprise, it’s snowing. When he discovers both the heat and defrost don’t work in my car, we have a mini-spat, later to be referred to as Incident at Skull Rock.
We quickly take pictures before hurrying back to my car, where he jumps behind the wheel. A few miles and minutes away, we’re in the low desert and it’s sunny and warm.
“Oh my G-d,” I squeal. “Look at that!” I point over his left shoulder at a full rainbow arched over the plain, end to end, like something out of a movie. “Can we stop to take pictures, pleeease?” I plead. He pulls over and I jump out to photograph the rainbow, which, coupled with the fact that it’s Valentine’s Day weekend, feels like a divine symbol of love and hope.
Riding Bitch is back from Vermont! But like the title says, not exactly in ship-shape. Remember the loose tooth? That manifested into 4-hour oral surgery this past Saturday. I’m now on pain medication, antibiotics and sleeping with an ice pack on my face every night because the right side of my face is swollen. I also have a sinus cold and the puppy is on meds for a skin condition that she developed on our travels (otherwise, she’s good).
I won’t lie. It’s been a tough re-entry back to Los Angeles. At the residency I got to write all day and was responsible for nothing except my laundry. Now, it’s “back to life, back to reality” and I’m struggling to adjust to our old lives and get re-focused. Being under the weather isn’t helping, but as my mother used to say one thing at at a time.
The good news is the residency was fantastic and very productive. I finished a draft of my book, started my pilot, met some incredible artists and writers, all of whom reacted very favorably to the excerpts I read out loud. I also got to know Vermont, which, despite the cold, I totally fell in love with and would move back to in a heartbeat.
Now, there is much to do. I have to tidy up the most recent draft, finish the book proposal, solicite an agent, editor, publisher, and get published. I am also producing a script and directing a play this spring. Just a few little things.
Many thanks to the readers who checked in and left words of encouragement while I was away. I have missed you, missed blogging, and am looking forward to making my way through your posts to catch up.
Here are some images from Vermont. More to follow.