Thursday, January 20, 2011

wild mushrooms

The lovely Suzanne Morrison invited me to perform last night in a benefit for SPF, which is Seattle's Solo Performance Festival, now in it's fifth year. It was such a pleasure. It was a small crowd, but the performers were great and the audience was with us all the way. One of those tiny, excellent nights at the theater, with such a sweet vibe. I felt so lucky. So the theme we were asked to explore was "Children of the Rain" - these were to be Seattle stories. Here was mine, called....well, I bet you can guess what it was called.


To bastardize Tolstoy, sunny families are all alike; every rainy family is rainy in its own way. In 1978, my family made a sudden, unexpected move from Westchester County, New York, here to Seattle. My dad may or may not have had a nervous breakdown; results are inconclusive, and now that he’s been dead for six years, there’s really no dragging it out of him any more. But we piled into a couple of cars that June and convoyed across America with a wayward alcoholic moving man, ending up in the remote, wet hideaway that was Seattle. My father was born in Seattle - on a fluke, while his parents were traveling, and my mom lived in Seattle for ten years after she moved here from Finland in 1952. I really don’t know why we moved here so fast, though I have some ideas. There was some yelling and there were some hushed conversations, and I think a good way to describe my dad in general, but particularly then, would be emotionally sunburned. So Seattle was going to be a balm for whatever it was. That there’s so much mystery around the nature and circumstance of his maybe-breakdown seems fitting for our conversation tonight about the rain. Rain is nothing if not discreet. It pulls a veil down from the sky, affords some kind of essential privacy, takes the show inside. Seattle was a balm for my dad, he embraced its muddy weirdness, and the place suited us in some fundamental way.

I want to go back to my opening statement about sunny families and rainy families. There are more than two kinds of families, of course, but let’s embrace some easy duality for a minute and say there aren’t. There are two kinds of families. Sunny families and rainy families. Sunny families write annual Christmas letters. Scratch a jock and find a sunny family. All Christian families are certainly not sunny, but all sunny families are, in my world, Christian. I’m not saying that sunny families are happy families, either. And I’m not saying that rainy families are sad. I’m saying that sunny families are yang families and rainy families are yin. Yang is active, positive, masculine, it’s hot, dry, Western, sun. It’s a Mountain Dew commercial. Yin is passive or receptive, negative, feminine, cold, wet, Eastern, moon. A Midol commercial, if you will. Sunny families are high-achieving. Rainy families embrace process, or failure. Sunny families conduct business. Rainy families go into art or academia. Sunny families are tan. Rainy families are wan. Sunny families are normal. Rainy families are weird.

A year after we moved here from New York, I enrolled in a weird little private school, and one thickly overcast day we took a field trip to Ivar’s Salmon House. We sat at a long table underneath a canoe, and ate cornbread in the low, warm, light, and listened to stories about the Native American tribes that lived here before us: the Nooksack, the Makah, the Elwah, the Chinook. It was great. Contrast that with the field trip our school in Port Chester made to a hamburger bun factory, where we watched white dough being poured into machines and turned into hamburger buns and that was that and only right this moment am I like what the hell? A hamburger bun factory? Whose idea was that? There’s a metaphor sitting right there but I don’t feel like I need to go and get it. We were all given a bag of hamburger buns. My family was vegetarian, and my parents never bought white bread, so we had some thrillingly decadent PB and J’s for a few days, and that was the upshot of that field trip. Anyway, sitting at that table at Ivar’s eating cornbread while the rain came down outside and we could see Queen Anne hill tucked in so closely near us, I pictured the hillsides stripped of houses and imagined the Native Americans moving around in their black and red and white wool cloaks, and the whole thing was so cozy and weird and indulgent for a school day. The kind of thing that the rain allows.

My dad was in no way an outdoorsy guy. He was a Harvard guy, a science-fiction books and suspenders guy. He was also a cross-dressing guy but I didn’t know that when I was growing up. There’s the rain again, with its discretion, and what it allows. So yes, he wasn’t outdoorsy, but when we moved here, he became an avid mushroom hunter. Not those kinds of mushrooms, no. He wasn’t a hippie. My family was weird, but we were also straightlaced. No, he joined the Puget Sound Mycological Society and became this crazily enthusiastic mushroom hunter, taking day trips to the Cascades to tromp in the wet woods looking for chanterelles and morels and matsutakes. He came home happy and exhausted, and filled hot frying pans with butter, and the horrible-to-me-then smell of sizzling, buttery mushroom would infiltrate the house and I would go and hide gasping in the back of my closet holding a shirt over my face. My closet was lined with bare wood and had a little light bulb, and I could fit all the way into the corner, which had a low ledge meant for shoes which was great for sitting, privately. The indoors of the indoors. Nooks and crannies, best explored while it rains.

We also had a huge basement in our house, which was decorated hilariously like a brothel when we moved in. It had red flocked satiny wallpaper and red carpeting and a red leather bar with old-timey newspaper underneath the glass. The ceiling was rimmed with bare-bulbed theater-lights, like you see in dressing rooms, but on a dimmer switch. The basement was lined with books, hundreds and hundreds, possibly thousands of books. My favorites were the sexy ones scattered here and there. They varied in tone. You had your sort of Victorian, Lady's Chatterley's Lover kinds of things, and then you had - and I went back and back to this one - your little paperbacks of goofy, naughty cartoons. The one I’m thinking of was called The Infernal Revenue Service, and it was cartoon after cartoon of housewives ripping off their blouses to reveal their bouncy, comic-strippy boobs in the hopes of having their taxes forgiven by nerdy, corrupt IRS agents. That was in the basement, and my dad’s office was in the basement, and his desk was in his office, and in his desk drawer one afternoon I found a half-slip and two little rubbery cup things that looked like peachy fake caps of mushrooms that in retrospect I realize could fit into a bra to create breasts of ones own. But I had no context for these items when I saw them there, at age 9 or 10, and so I just blankly accepted them. Dads and their desk drawers. Grownups and their widgets and wodgets.

There were so many places to hide in our basement, and so many things to hide. I had no little boy friends to play doctor with me so the neighbor girls were recruited to take the part of Hawkeye Pierce or Rhett Butler or Basil Fawlty - yeah, there was an episode of Fawlty Towers that I found so unbearably sexy, where Basil Fawlty is getting a room ready for this beautiful buxom blonde woman in a turquoise shirt, and the power was out, somehow, maybe, and Basil Fawlty went around a corner to, I don’t know, check a fuse or something, and the blonde woman was leaning up against the light switch, and Basil Fawlty reached around to check the switch and ended up accidentally feeling her breast. I feel like he’d also somehow dipped his hand in black paint, so he left his shameful, indelible handprint on the lady’s bosom. Anyway, I thought it was hot. I could have watched that moment a million zillion times. So I recruited the neighbor girls to make out with me and threaten me with IRS penalties and make me stand buxomly and vulnerably in front of the lightswitch. We took turns being the boy, which was a necessary penance for the titillating reward of being the girl. These were rainy games, yin games, private games, games you didn’t play out on the lawn. Nothing we did in our household was fodder for any kind of Christmas letter.

A couple of days ago I took my son, Finn, who’s almost five, to a birthday party with a Pirates and Mermaids theme. Finn was worried about going to the party but didn’t really want to say why at first, until it finally came out that the problem was that he didn’t want to be forced to be a pirate. If he was going to be anything, he wanted to be a mermaid. Finn is an exquisitely beautiful little fella who likes to dress up in saris and pretend to be Shiva, the Hindu God of Destruction, who he insists is a girl. When he told me that he felt good about going to the party if he got to be a mermaid, I felt a storm of pride and fear and fierce protectiveness gather in my gut. Hell yes, you can be a mermaid, angel, and woe betide anyone who looks at you askance through sunny glasses. Shiva’s a baby kitten who rains down fucking Hershey kisses compared to what they’d see coming out of your mama. At the same time, I knew it would be all right, because this is Seattle.

And that’s what I love about my town, though I got here nine - or a hundred - years too late to be a native. The rain says, do what you want. Stay inside today. No one is watching. Or screw it. Come outside. By now it’s been raining here so long that no one cares. There are no competitions. There are no awards. There are no penalties. We’re not living to pad a Christmas letter. Do your thing. Indulge it. Fly your rainbow Shiva freak flag. Grow into the little wild mushroom that you are.

Sunday, January 09, 2011

a unicorn is here to see you

The title of this post comes from an ultra-delightful website that was just pointed out to me called The Monkeys You Ordered, where they assign literal captions to New Yorker cartoons. There aren't a ton, but they're so good. And they've gotten better at it as they went along. A few of the early ones don't have that ultra-plain literal voice which is so perfect, but then they kick IN.

I remember many years ago when lots of my friends were beginning to get serious jobs, and I was not getting a serious job, and we would go out to lunch to catch up and they'd ask me what I'm up to, and I always felt like saying something like, "I'm thinking about going back to school to study to become a unicorn." Because that's what a baby I felt like next to all of these impressive people with their impressive jobs. And then I was telling this to a friend once, and one of us mispronounced "unicorn" as "unihorn", and then we came up with the idea that the real, technical name for a unicorn is "unihorn", and only those really deep in the know about unicorns and unicorn lore know this. So whenever somebody says "unicorn" in conversation, a great thing to do is mutter "unihorn" under your breath, and when they say, "What?" you say, "Nothing. Go on." As if you just know it's not going to be worth it to explain about unihorns if they don't already know enough to care that they're using the wrong word. Like you're not going to cast pearls before swine, but you just can't bear to let that incorrect usage slide by without marking it a little.

P.S. Since so many of you are suddenly here, I redecorated a little, quickly. Added an area for recent posts. Put up a picture of Yoda. Added a Twitter thing. It's like putting fresh guest soaps in the bathroom, really.

Saturday, January 08, 2011

pagliacci? i need a hundred pizzas very quickly.

Well, good gracious. It's the first post of 2011 and something has happened to this blog since the year switched it up. My kind and lovely internet friend, the much-adored and wiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiidely read Alice Bradley of Finslippy fame has aimed her magical blog wand at this little out-of-the-way joint. She linked me here and here and spoke of me with great warmth (sweet Alice!) (Do you know that "sweet Alice" was slang for milk back in the 30's or 40's or something? It was. Check it.) and you can imagine what happened. I stepped out on to my metaphorical blog driveway to pick up the newspaper, and instead of finding the usual three or four of you, there were hundreds of you.



Hello. Hello! I was just getting the newspaper. So, hair is a little bit funny. And, uh....these aren't the pants I plan on wearing all day. These are just my starting clothes*.

*a term coined by my friend John Moe. These are the clothes you wear immediately in the morning so as not to be naked or in pajamas. Awake and In Day Clothes: A First Draft

And thank you, Alice. The magic of the internet, people. If you're not on the internet, I'm telling you you're missing out. You can just talk to people on this thing. You can talk to anybody you like! It's wondrous.

And here you all are. Well. Hundreds of you. No, my god, do come in. Really. I'm surprised but I'm delighted and you just come on in.

So a lot of you will have read my entry about plastic surgery (and if you haven't, it's here) and The Empress asked how I'm doing now, so let's start there. Two months later, how am I doing?

Well, let's not pretend like that's a small thing, what I did. I don't know how my recovery time compares to other people's recovery times, but I'm going to say it's been on the long and difficult end of the spectrum. Only just within the last week or so have I been able to drive a car and do errands and spend the day on my feet doing things without being knocked out of commission by pain for the next couple of days. And I've only been sleeping lying down for two full nights now. Two nights! My surgery was November 8th, and I had to sleep fucking* practically sitting up since then. Really. I was mildly reclining as though I were on a goddamn* airplane for the better part of two months. Towards the end the recline may have gotten a little deeper. I may have upgraded to business class. But still, just try and imagine that.

*Note to newcomers: I swear here. A lot of people don't like it, but you know, I'm afraid that I do like it. I do. Sometimes it has to be done. I don't make it a point to swear, but I don't make it a point not to. I don't want to start the New Year off by faking it here for you. There be dragons, okay? You've been warned.

So, yes. As of two nights ago, I'm sleeping lying down on my precious, thrilled, grateful, sore side. I have a little pillow system going that makes this possible. And other than that, I'm on the up and up. I have some pain still, sometimes. My muscles are back at ground zero, so a lot of my discomfort is from plain old weakness. All my core muscles took a long, long vacation. I have a little stretchy white velcro'd binder thingy, like a big belt that I stick under my shirt, and that holds everything in and makes me feel safe while I'm going about my business and building up my strength again. Vulnerable, that's the main feeling. The whole midsection feels a little wobbly and weird and vulnerable. My rack, on the other hand, feels just about fit as a fiddle. Little tender around the scars, but that's it.

edited to add: Oh. And sneezing. Sneezing is still immeasurably fucked-up. Sneezing feels like my innards are being briefly torn to shreds and barbecued. Coughing is slightly better than that. Laughter is a little bit ouch still.

Would I do it again? I mean, what I already did? If I had it to do all over again, would I? Yes....yes. Yes. Now that I've arrived at this point, I say yes. Would I ever do anything else? NO. No, no, hell no. No, dear God, no. No. Nothing, no, no. No. And obviously you're talking to someone who has no judgment about whatever people feel like doing to feel better about themselves. But I'm not down for any other procedures. No, my shit got addressed. My face is taking the trip to the grave that nature intended for it to take. And that's largely because I just love the look of natural age on other women's faces. I'm also an actor, so I want to guard that whole expressiveness thing. I just think, who has the cooler face? Frances McDormand or Nicole Kidman? Frances McDormand. Way cooler and way sexier, in my opinion. And I'm not doing anything else with my body. No, all improvements to my body from here on out are going to be sponsored by my own work. And whatever else changes that I can't control, and whatever else is imperfect, well, okay. Life, time, nature: you have the floor.

I was looking in the mirror the other day, and I was looking at my naso-labial folds. Hush, now. That's not dirty. You know, they're the lines/folds between the corners of your mouth and your nose. If you're in your 20's or early 30's you might be like, my what? Because you don't even think about them. They're not pronounced. You prance through your days completely unaware of their existence. I was like you once. And then one day you're like...what the hell? What's going on? What's that...why is that getting all...why do I SEE that? I've been gradually becoming more aware of these bastards for a couple of years. And I haven't liked it. I didn't like them becoming noticeable like that. But just yesterday as I was getting out of the shower and standing in front of the mirror drying my hair, tipping my head sideways, I saw them there. My cheeks, doing their little sagging thing. My naso-labial folds, getting a touch fold-y. And I swear to god it looked good. I have a bit of a baby face, in general. I've got a little bit of a weird Sally Field/Ralph Macchio/Michael J. Fox thing where I've always looked way younger than I am. And I still don't look 41, really. But there are just a few gray strands, and this thing happening to my face, these smile lines and this cheek thing, and it kind of makes me look like I've been around. Like I know something. Which I do. You know? And I like it.

Well, thank you for coming by. Really. I hope that you come back. I promise to say some things on a regular basis.