Monday, November 30, 2015

I Can See Myself In the Movies

There’s a reason I stay away from the entertainment industry. The reason I stay away from the entertainment industry is because I have a working memory. I love the bit between “Action” and “Cut,” but other 99.87% of that life doesn’t suit me at all. For me, the life of an actor has always been the bad boyfriend, the lout with the great hair who gave you the most delightful weekend of your life and then, having sensed you were falling for him, slept with your sister and ruined your credit.

If history has taught me anything, it’s that the dreamier the opportunity the more hellish the fall afterward, so the only way you can win with acting – as with a bad boyfriend – is to genuinely not care. Of course, genuine indifference is catnip to both sociopaths and casting directors, which means that having not cared you will inevitably get the guy, or the job, which works extra hard to woo you again, until you’re thinking things like “I can do this! I can maintain this relationship without compromising my baseline sanity!” Which is the exact moment the bad boyfriend/entertainment industry sets your car on fire.  And if acting is Bad Boyfriend, being around it risks turning me into Nightmare Ex, all miserable inadequacy and self-doubt, hiding in the bushes jealously watching whatever actor has currently won his favor. Whatever being a writer has done for my natural introversion (made it worse) and my wardrobe (even more worse), I can still leave being repeatedly wooed and dumped by Hollywood to people more resilient and optimistic than myself. I won’t be pulled in again.

Which leads me to Marc Maron.

As I’m sure you know, Maron has a terrific podcast, WTF, where he interviews people in his garage. He began with comedians he knew from his stand-up days and, with well-earned success, branched out into talking to whomever interests him. He’s a wonderful interviewer. If you’ve never heard his podcast with Robin Williams, get it. It’s honest and funny and, oh just get it.  WTF is a twice-weekly trip to the edges of the Cool Table in high school, which made it all the more shocking when he reached out to me to ask if I wanted to be on his show. 

When you’re a former child actor who writes about your suburban-adjacent life and homeschooling, you might be an intermittently productive member of society but you are most assuredly not cool. Perhaps he was doing a theme week: People Who Remind You Of That Friend Of Your Sister Who Lives In Madison. It was not for me to say. I accepted, grateful that my email reply couldn’t convey nervous giggling. This was last October. I was given an interview date in April. I used the run-up time to vaguely wish I’d been a heroin addict in my twenties because while friends who’ve kicked tell me it’s a fire-breathing nightmare, it would be something nice to talk about. Perhaps he’d want to hear about my passionate feelings about buttered toast. Against my will, I grew a little excited.

And then I made a terrible mistake.  I told two people I was doing the show. If you’re a civilian, you just thought “So?” If you’re in any way associated with entertainment, you just gasped in horror. 

First rule of acting, directing, screenwriting, all the way down to production assisting: YOU NEVER TALK ABOUT THE GIG UNTIL YOU SIGN THE CONTRACT. Talk about it before the contract it signed, you will lose the gig.  The only thing worse than the crushing despair of losing a job are the well-meaning friends wanting to know you why you aren’t in Prague right now working on that Willem Dafoe movie?

(Ideally, you don’t tell anyone you got a job until you’ve shot it and attended to the premiere because you might have been cut out. This has happened to people I know.)

This law must be obeyed. I don’t understand gravity, I don’t understand how meringues work and I don’t understand why you can’t tell people you got a job but these are immutable laws of the universe. When it comes to a job, you keep your mouth shut until it’s locked. I even hesitated before telling my two friends but hey, they’d booked me! That’s like a contract!  It’s not acting. We’re talking about writing here so the law doesn’t apply, right? There is no harm in telling two whole people! I am feeling excited and optimistic and desirable and sure, this feeling is kind of like the bad boyfriend/acting feeling but, see, it’s different this time!

Three days before the interview I got an email from Marc’s producer: could we push back the date a bit? No reschedule time was indicated. What was I going to say? “No, I insist you interview me at the prearranged date! No brown M&Ms and make sure to have the buttered toast piping hot!”

I said no problem.

Marc followed up a day later with an email asking which of my books he should he read, to get the best sense of me. After, an embarrassing amount of ruminating, I suggested my first book, which was more about the industry than the others, which weren’t.  Yes, I was slightly deflated but it wasn’t a complete blow-off. Believe me, I have experienced people creeping away from me in polite horror.  “Hey,” I told myself, “He asked which book of mine he should read. That’s not something a person trying to forget you exist would say, right?”


That was April. It is now December. I’ve gone through “He hated my writing” to “After he interviewed Obama, what did he need from a woman who only appears to be interested in cats and buttered toast?” to “God, he really hated my writing” to “He finally realized he meant to invite Melissa Gilbert” to “Yeah, that book thing was a polite blow-off.” 

I was back in the metaphorical bushes, staring covetously at the people he interviewed, feeling that familiar sorrow that I simply wasn’t good enough. Finally, I decided this probably doesn’t have anything to do with me any more than the myriad ways the entertainment industry screwed with my head, while corrosive, wasn’t ultimately personal.  Sober drunks shouldn’t work in bars.  An acrophobic shouldn’t be an air marshal. I can’t be near this shit without losing my equilibrium. But, once again, the metaphorical bad boyfriend is on my couch, putting out a cigarette on my soul, explaining in his most soothing voice, “Don’t blame me, sweetie. You invited me back in.”

Thursday, October 30, 2014


Hello and welcome! If you’re here, it’s because you just asked me a question that probably has something to do with my having been a former child actor.  No offense but after thirty years of answering these questions one at a time, I’m kind of over it.

I’m really pleased my weird childhood hobby pleased you, but I’d love to talk about anything else at this point and that includes why one of my cats keeps vomiting, because at least that’s a topic which, sadly, keeps renewing itself. Talking about what amounts to three years in my childhood is, ultimately, like speaking a dead language. But I also totally respect that you have questions and am happy to answer them; let’s see if this helps:

I loved you in “The Goodbye Girl” and “Family.” You were adorable!
Thank you!

 I also loved you in “All In the Family” and “My World and Welcome To It”!
Actually, those were other actors.

Are you sure?

What was (person with whom I worked) like?
All right, here’s the thing; I have a terrible memory. I mean, I was never another child so maybe all children have terrible memories, but my childhood is a few blurry snapshots in my head and most of my memories would sound like this:

 “Remember that time I saw that cat?”

 “You mean when we were at Versailles, Quinn?”

“I think so. Anyway, it was a mackerel tabby.”

So when you ask me about anyone from my childhood – be it Richard Dreyfuss or my third-grade teacher – I have virtually nothing to say, which means they were nice. If someone is horrible, I remember. If I behaved like an idiot in front of them, I remember. If they’re nice, I remember their dog. So when I say “They were great,” I don’t remember much about them but they probably were, and are, wonderful people. And yes, some people with whom I worked were going through some stuff and weren’t that pleasant to be around but I’m certainly not going to tell you because I’d hate to think someone was using my behavior at a bad time in my life to paint my entire character.

Are you still in touch with (person with whom I worked)?
No, but this says nothing about them and everything about me. For the most part, I was a child and they were adults which meant we weren't exactly going to be hanging off-hours. Also, I'm not in touch with anyone in my life. Ask my friends; I don't think to just call someone and say "Hey!" I'm an only child and a classic introvert; it never occurs to me see anyone. I'll be dead weeks before anyone notices.

And on that happy thought...

What have you been doing since then?
You mean since I was twelve? Well, I got bangs. And then I grew them out. Now I have them again. If you want more than that, there’s always my books or Wikipedia. The only thing missing from both is that my business partner in Hiphugger and I got a patent for our design, which still astounds me, being as I can’t be trusted to cut my own bangs, which was part of the reason I grew them out.

 Where can I see pictures of your daughter?
You can’t. I’m barely a public figure; she isn’t one at all.

Why aren’t you nuts?
Let me assure you, I’m not well (see: my blog), but I get it; why aren’t I robbing banks and huffing glue? For one, my parents didn’t confuse me for an ATM. Here’s a hint; if the parent is also the manager, the kid has a longer and harder path to sanity because you can either have a childhood or be responsible for paying the mortgage.  Mostly, my mother always knew she was raising a person and not an actor, and I’ve always assumed that’s what saved me.

 Do you still act?

 Do you miss it?
I miss the bit between “Action!” and “Cut,” but that’s a very small percentage of what acting is. Had I stayed with acting, my joy would have been measured in hours each year, if I was lucky. It’s way too hard a job to stay in unless you can’t imagine doing anything else. Lucky me; I prefer writing.

 Would you read a script I wrote/be in an independent movie I’m directing/come to my workshop?
Thank you, but no. I like my life as it is, with very little relationship to all that. I sincerely wish you luck, though.

How did you get started?
We had a neighbor, James Wong Howe, who was a world-famous cinematographer. He thought the funny little kid with the freckles walking her dog could be an actor. He sent me to an agent, who sent me out for an interview that very day. I got the commercial and was on the set the next morning. I walked on my first set, realized I only had to do three hours of school, saw the craft-service table filled with snacks and thought “I’m home.” Two years and some commercials and television shows later, I got ‘The Goodbye Girl.”

What are you up to now?
I write, I am an enthusiastic supporter of animal rescue, I homeschool my daughter which, by this age, mostly involves getting her to people who can actually teach her, because if the point to education is to learn something correctly, I should be kept far away from the kid’s brain.

You’re not fat!

It's not actually a question, but it comes up enough that I'm obligated to answer it. 

No, I'm not.

Thursday, May 01, 2014

Turn It Off, Like a Light Switch

It would appear that the case of sexual predation of teenage boys leveled against certain powerful figures in Hollywood is getting wider. The lawyer at the heart of this case, controversial Florida-based attorney Jeff Herman, is quoted as saying of the new plaintiffs, “They are ready to come forward” and that the case “cuts across all of Hollywood: studios, agents, directors, producers, and actors.”

"And," I thought to myself, "managers."

It was the early eighties. I was thirteen years old. While shepherding me to one weird child-actor event or another, my mother developed a casual friendship with a manager escorting his young clients to the same activities.  "Mitchell" was funny, witty, well-educated; exactly the sort of person you rarely get in a room full of people who happily describe themselves as "Momagers." My mother stayed in touch with Mitchell, to the point where they became friends. We'd go to his house for barbecues. It wasn't onerous for me; there were always kids for me to hang out with. Actually, there were always boys for me to hang out with. Mitchell only represented boys between the ages of twelve and about sixteen, young-looking, similar in features, hairless. I knew they were hairless not only because I’d see them swimming on those hot afternoons but because Mitchell had big blow-up pictures of them mounted throughout the house, brooding into camera, hair swept just so, shirtless and in cut-offs. The pictures were all taken by "Patrick," who had been Mitchell's client when he was in his early teens but was now a professional photographer. Patrick lived in the house with Mitchell, as did a rotating collection of younger boys, shuttled into Los Angeles for months at a time by their parents, to attend school and audition for Hollywood. In all the time I knew Mitchell, I don't remember a single boy getting a part above a walk-on. After a couple of years, they'd stop living there and be replaced by yet more boys, fresher boys.

There was one boy, though, who stayed past the usual sell-by date. I liked "Bryan". He was a couple of years older than me, gentle and funny, easy company to be around.  When I was about sixteen, my mother told me that Mitchell had discovered Bryan had been using drugs in the house. She said that while Mitchell had tried to help Bryan, Bryan had run away and was living on the streets. Two years later, I heard that Bryan had come back to live with Mitchell. We came over and saw him; he was as gentle and funny as always. He was also dying. Bryan was the first person my age I knew who died of AIDS. 

I never saw Mitchell doing anything to those boys. I'll never be called to testify against him or any of the other managers I heard whispered about -- the ones who always seemed to have parentless boys nearby. But here's the thing: I was thirteen, fourteen, fifteen years old and I knew something was...weird. Why didn't any adult see fit to question why a grown man needed a constant flow of underage boys? I don't blame my mother for missing what might have been some pretty damning clues. Mitchell was her friend and at that time society understood sexual predators to be strangers in vans. My mom was a recent widow with a teenage daughter so it’s safe to assume all her vigilance was pretty much used up on me. But there were other people who knew Mitchell, and other managers like Mitchell, and as far as I know, no one ever stood up to any one of these grown men and said "This must stop." Like everyone else in town, I knew the names of certain people, the people you'd never let alone with your young sons. And like everyone else, I did nothing. I rationalized. I didn't have evidence. This city loves to gossip. If something was going on, someone would have been arrested by now, right?

And the predators used our desire to avoid social discomfort to continue hurting children. 

Do I think all names we're about to hear will be guilty? Maybe not. Do I think opportunists will make financial hay out of whatever is going to come of this lawyer's case? You betcha. Do I think that some young men who are legally underage are capable of making decisions sexually and may consider a relationship with an adult to have been consensual? Oh, absolutely. But I'll tell you this: when each name of a famous or important person come out, someone in the business is going to read it and think "Yeah. I knew that.” I wonder how many will add “...And I should have tried to stop it."

Wednesday, February 19, 2014

I Want the World To Know

I really, really don't want to be the Person Who Keeps Talking About Vaccinations, if for no other reason that I have sat next to these people, on both sides of the coin, at dinner parties and I'd sooner eat an oyster than be that person and oysters make me vomit.

And yet a couple of items slipped under the door today and I felt as if I should give them attention, which is another way of saying I'm currently avoiding writing something and aggravating people is possibly the second-best way of procrastinating and I've already cleaned the copper-bottomed pots. 

First, a Berkeley student with measles rode BART over three days, potentially exposing tens of thousand of people to measles. Unfortunately, San Francisco has a lower-than-average rate of vaccination, which means that people who might normally be protected, aren't. Also, there were people on those trains who were under the age of six months, or going through chemotherapy, or living in some immune-compromised way or another and they are now at risk. People like my daughter's friend who, because of poultry allergies, cannot have the usual course of vaccinations and must rely on herd immunity to remain healthy. Enough of the population gets sick and she's at risk, and since she has underlying respiratory conditions, this is a higher risk than her family would ever have taken.

When families choose not to vaccinate, they are making that decision for other families as well. "So?" people might ask, "It's just measles. People get measles all the time; it's not a big deal." In fact, I got a totally respectful comment to the last blog I wrote about this: I think that vaccinations have gone too far. When I was a kid i had chicken pox and therefore got the lifelong immunity. Also German Measles. Never got anything else, like mumps, but got vaccinated for those. I don't think every little childhood disease needs a shot, but having said that you must consider the overall health of the child, family history, etc. Love the blog. Thanks for your kind words about the blog and thanks for not escalating this.

I've already lost people in my life over my belief and had people unfriend and unfollow me over this; polite disagreement is a glorious thing. Now, let's consider what you said: You had chicken pox and are now immune. Good! But thanks to and the CDC, here are some potential side effects of having chicken pox:
  •  pneumonia 
  •  bleeding problems 
  •  infection or inflammation of the brain (encephalitis, cerebellar ataxia) 
  •  bacterial infections of the skin and soft tissues in children including Group A streptococcal infections 
  •  blood stream infections (sepsis) 
  •  toxic shock syndrome • bone infections 
  •  joint infections 
 [On an anecdotal level, my mother was permanently deaf in one ear because the fever from a "Harmless childhood illness" was so high it cooked the nerve to the ear.]

And from WebMD:
  • Pregnant women who have chickenpox during the first half of pregnancy may go into labor early (premature labor) or have a miscarriage. 
  • Pregnant women who have chickenpox in the last part of pregnancy are more likely to develop varicella pneumonia. Even a healthy pregnant woman is at risk of dying if she develops varicella pneumonia. 
  • Up to 2 out of 100 fetuses whose mothers have chickenpox during the first 20 weeks of pregnancy will also get chickenpox. This is called congenital varicella and can cause birth defects that can include one limb (usually a leg) smaller than the other, scars on the limbs or eye problems such as cloudy lenses. Low birth weight (weigh less than expected at birth).
  • Seizures. The baby can have seizures after birth.
  • Intellectual disability.
  • Shingles. Fetuses who have chickenpox will not have chickenpox again. But they can still have shingles, even as babies or young children. 
  • Death. Up to 7 out of 100 of the fetuses who get congenital varicella die. 
So, those can happen, but let's assume most of these complications don't happen that often. Luckily, there isn't any complication with a high rate of probability, right? Except, there is. Once you have had chicken pox, you carry the virus for the rest of your life in your nerve cells. As you grow older, or have secondary health issues taxing your immune system, or are just under the stress that being alive can offer, the virus can flare up and cause shingles. If you've never experienced shingles, count yourself lucky; I've been told the pain is terrible.

The CDC says that 1 in 250 people will be diagnosed with shingles annually, but when you consider that shingles is not usually a disease of young adulthood, the odds of getting shingles get higher as you get older. My mother-in-law developed shingles and then developed a secondary nerve condition where she was in agonizing pain nearly all her waking hours. For years, every day she'd have to decide whether to stay alert and in agony or take her pain pills and feel better but be completely zonked out. My mother-in-law was a wonderful person. I loved her and I smile when I think of who she was, but part of me wishes she had died the day before all of this started, because I don't think she had a good day for the last five years of her life. People suffer terribly from shingles, and anyone who doesn't vaccinate their child now is as much as saying that they are prepared to let that happen. Chickenpox isn't nothing.

Yes, most people get through German Measles without incident, but there is a percentage of the population for whom it can be catastrophic. If a pregnant woman gets German Measles, she can miscarry or have a stillbirth. If the developing fetus makes it to term, there is up to a 50% likelihood of  Congenital Rubella Syndrome, which is devastating.

Imagine that Berkeley student on the BART was infected with German Measles. How many pregnant women, how many fetuses, could he have risked? This used to happen all the time, and then we decided as a society that vaccinations were for the common good and pregnant women, and mothers of infants, and people like the family of my daughter's friend could go out and not worry about dying of certain diseases. That luxury is being taken away from us as a culture, and a small percentage of our population is doing it.

[Assuming I just lost another chunk of people who read me. Sorry.]

If you have less than two minutes to spare, I think Penn and Teller did a lovely if profane job of summing up the cost/benefit analysis of vaccinations.

That's it. I'm done. I promise I'll try to go back to being the other person you don't want next to you at a dinner party, the one who fishes out her phone while hooting "Wait! Let me show you my cats!"