Saturday, January 09, 2016

All You Hear Is Time Stand Still In Travel

(Signed up for Xirkl yet? Do so! It's free and you'll get early-adopter credit! If you haven't read it yet, here is the story of how my daughter created it.)  

“So, Quinn, you’ve known you were going on a three-week long trip Italy for…how long now?”

“Four months.”

“And since you didn’t speak a word of Italian, I’m assuming you’ve spent that time with a tutor, rushing to get up to speed with the language.”

“Well…no.”

“A quick immersion class through a local community college?”

“You’d think.”

Rosetta Stone?”

“Excellent program. However, one I did not use.”

“Quick immersion? Flash cards? Did you even so much as glance at Sophia Loren?”

“I CAN SAY CIAO CORRECTLY ABOUT HALF THE TIME PLEASE GET OFF MY BACK.”

I’m disconcerted how often in my life someone watching my behavior begins a sentence with “What normal person…”

Yes, a normal person with discretionary income and a certain amount of free time upon being told they were going to Italy would probably make an attempt at the Italian language.  And sure, many people would never take the plastic wrapper off their ITALIAN FOR AMERICANS  (“The Secret To Yelling Slowly and In English”) workbook/DVD but, darn it, they’d spend the money. I’ve certainly bought things that had less immediate relevance (looking at you, tennis racket). So why did I completely fail at even pretending I was going to learn Italian?

Because I was completely appalled I was going to Italy and this was my tiny self-immolating rebellion.

Say it along with me now:

“What normal person doesn’t want to go to Italy?”

First of all, I never said I was normal; my ex-boyfriend once threw out the excellent theory I was a beta-test of human they didn’t end up going forward with.  Second, here’s what it looks like from my beta-test perspective.  I am a nearly prototypical introvert about to spend twenty-five days with many strangers. “But,” you extroverts protest, “You’ll become friends with those people!”

Possibly. Or, they are nearly all between 19 and 22 years old, except the ones who are taking this trip as part of their retirement adventure, and I’m virtually incapable of small talk, let alone small talk for twenty five days at stretch with people at very different stages of life. Add to this that I don’t want to mortify the kid by being any weirder than I absolutely have to be and I suspect I’ll be known as “God, what was her name? The mute one.”

Speaking of 19 year olds, the housing in Rome -- where we will be based – is two people per bedroom, couples housed together. You are currently thinking I’m with my daughter, which would make sense, except that my daughter is staying in the room next door with three very sweet girls who are friends of hers and I am sharing a bedroom with a 19 year-old who is not related to me. The good news is that if she strews her clothing all over the place, I will feel nothing more than “Huh. So they all do this,” as opposed to the stroke-inducing rage I feel when my own teen does it. But the fact remains; I’m spending the better part of a month sharing a dorm room. She seems like a terrific kid but let me remind you, I’m an introvert. My sharing a bedroom with this girl seems only slightly less intimate than sharing a toothbrush.

And then just when I start to make my peace with “Quinn who shares a bedroom with a stranger,” we move to Florence, then Venice, then back to Rome, then Bologna, then back to Rome. “Oh, the art! The food! The CULTURE!” you are justifiably crowing and you may call me ungracious at any time. But if you have a cat, imagine your cat on this trip. Like a housecat, I like predictable patterns, I like a certain illusion of control and I have been known the vomit when moved against my will.  I am most certainly not wired to gallivant.

The final reason I don’t want to go, the biggest reason I don’t want to go, is that when I was nine years old, my father suddenly died here in Los Angeles when my mother and I were in New York. TRAVEL = LOSS is part of my DNA. And yes, it just happened the once but it happened when my brain was still setting up like a Jell-O mold and no amount of reasoning or cajoling is going to coax it out.  When I travel not only do I experience the regular kind of homesickness, where you realize how far you are from your familiar routines, I experience what I think of as timesickness, where out of nowhere I’m flooded with how long it’s been since I saw my father, how many days it has been since my world blew apart. Because even though I grew up to be functional in a “Beta-test they didn’t go with” way, the day my father died every single thing I knew, understood and believed also died. I built a fairly good replacement model of a life, of me, but timesickness feel like the first day after he died all over again, if only for a few minutes or hours. Skype can ease homesickness; I have yet to find a cure for timesickness. I’d cheerfully spend the rest of my life avoiding places that made me feel that way.

In sum, this Italy adventure is the trip of a lifetime; it’s just not the trip of my lifetime. But the trip of my lifetime would involve never doing anything I haven’t done a thousand times before. Candidly, at this moment, that sounds unbelievably good but I can’t lock my kid in the human Habitrail I built for myself. When she was tiny I looked at her and thought, “You will be miles better and braver than your mother.” And she will be.

Tomorrow morning, we leave for Italy.

Wish me bon voyage.

And please tell me how to say that in Italian.

Wednesday, December 30, 2015

I Want To Fly Like An Eagle

Before I delve into my totally reasonable response to air travel, something completely different. About three months ago, my daughter did a Kickstarter for a new social media idea, Xirkl. If you haven’t checked it out, please do. I might be a little prejudiced but I think she did a good job. Quite a few other people did as well; she hit the magic fundraising number and has spent the past couple of months working with many smart people to get it ready. The Kickstarter supporters got first dibs on their names and now…it’s your turn! Go here and get yourself the name of your choosing, five letters or more, for ABSOLUTELY NO MONEY! FREE! GRATIS! I CAN’T THINK OF ANY OTHER WORDS FOR IT! Think about it; for once, you could have a name on social media like “Thomas” not “Thomas1042”

GO DO THIS RIGHT NOW! And then come back and I’ll tell you about my relationship with flight.

"You know that being afraid of flying is completely irrational, right?"

If you're in my life, you've told me this. Friends, family, loved ones, the guy at the broccoli stand at the farmer's market, you've taken the time to tell me I'm nuts.

I'm well aware you feel that way. But let me explain the truth and then you will understand that is not me who is irrational, but YOU! You, flyers, you are the foolish ones! You will join we enlightened few who get nauseated at the smell of jet fuel and the thought of an Adam Sandler movie on a small screen!

Flying in an airplane is much safer than driving in a car.

Everyone begins with this one. Everyone. And yes, statistically, the thing on the ground is far more likely to kill you than the thing in the sky. But most people spend far more time in a car than an airplane so it has greater chances of being the thing that kills you. Also, you know what cars have? Fender-benders. Scrapes. Things I believe what the insurance industry refers to as “Whoopsies.”  Because when the driver makes a small mistake or the car has an off day, it doesn’t then PLUMMET MILES TO EARTH. I speak from some experience having been in no fewer than five car accidents where the car was totaled.

(All but one of these, I was a passenger, You might want to let me drive.)

The worst of my accidents was on the freeway, involving a lawn chair flying off an RV, caroming under our wheels, causing us to spin out, hitting the center divider six times and ending up facing oncoming traffic. I was cut from the car. I did not feel well but felt considerably better than if all of this had happened MILES IN THE AIR and no, I have no idea how in the plane version of this accident a lawn chair gets miles into the air.

For a while my mantra on planes was “Naomi Campbell” because, well, she flew all the time for decades – even on those mechanized mosquitos which take you to tiny expensive Caribbean islands – and not only is she not dead, she has a Russian oligarch billionaire boyfriend. I don’t know why that last bit mattered but it gave me some comfort. Statistically, if flying is going to kill someone, it should have gotten Naomi Campbell long before me.

But this only works until I realize we’re MILES IN THE AIR IN A TUBE FLOUTING PHYSICAL LAWS I DO NOT UNDERSTAND.  Which is when I have a drink and settle into my favorite in-flight isometric exercise: not screaming.

But while flying to Italy, I cannot drink to the point of indifference because I will be with the kid and her lovely fellow students, and starting this adventure reeking of vodka and nap-drooling will, I fear, set the wrong tone. Neither can I scream quietly and clutch strangers while mumbling “I take refuge in Naomi!” because I believe that would do my daughter permanent social harm. Which leads me to the most recent person to tell me I’m a lunatic: my hypnotherapist.


I love hypnosis, as I’m ridiculously susceptible. It’s like a controlled nap. I’m listening to the tape and I hear her tell me to start counting backwards from ten and the next thing I hear is “Three, two, one. You feel awake and refreshed.” And I do! Of course, a half hour has passed and I have no idea what my post-hypnotic suggestion is. I choose to believe it’s what we discussed in the meeting, that I will be calm and happy on the flight. She could, however, be encouraging me to find my inner Naomi by deciding a stranger on the flight is my assistant and throwing a phone at her head. With mere days left until we travel, my only prayer is that my version of Naomi combines her airborne sangfroid with my lousy pitching arm.

Monday, December 28, 2015

Let My Spirit Carry Me

Let me explain why I haven't been writing:

Because nothing actually changed.

I mean yes, the Kid has gotten taller and older. In fact, she is now three inches taller than I am and even tried patting me on the head once; let me assure you that will happen exactly once. On the whole, however, my life has had a certain marvelous sameness. I still have two cats and a dog. I'm still reading. I'm still figuring out I've had too much green tea but usually three cups after what should have been my last cup. I'm still living with the fabulous and patient Consort. My feelings about buttered toast remain undimmed. After seven years of blogging about my life it was impossible not to notice I seemed to be running repeats when, in fact, I was writing about a whole new day – which just happened to sound exactly like quite a few days I'd already led. You know that quote about "What will you do with your one wild and precious life?" My answer would be: "I'll go to Trader Joe's and then I'll get the dog his thyroid medication but not until I've spilled tea in my lap." As a person, I was fine with this; the writer in my head, less so. So I swore I wouldn't come back here until I had something to write about.

Ladies, gentlemen, and people in between: I have something to write about.

I don't know if this has come up before, but the Kid wants to be multilingual. Because of homeschooling (yes, we're sort of still doing that), we were able to shift her schedule to allow her to study languages now, while her brain can absorb a new language and doesn't just spit it back out in confusion and terror. She's learning Spanish, Chinese and French, but her real love is Italian. I can't blame her. First of all, it's just so appealing. To my untrained ears, it sounds like water spilling over beautiful rocks, if water was capable of waving its hands. And who wouldn't want to learn a language where, if you say it correctly, they give you Italian food? So when, back in January of 2015, she heard about an opportunity to spend a month in Italy this January, learning the language in an immersive and culturally appropriate way, and then begged to be allowed to go, what did I say?

I said "Of course you must go!" in a cheery and supportive tone. Why did I say that?

Because I assumed that while this certainly sounded like the opportunity of a lifetime, I knew she wouldn't really go because she'd continue to live the life she's always led up to that point; that she'd be frightened of new things, of new adventures, and that while she'd flirt with the idea for a few months, she'd find some reason not to go and, secretly, be relieved it didn't work out.

I overlooked one critical aspect of her personality: she isn't me.

She's going to Italy.

And because this program isn't designed for minors and she is a minor,  both the program and her family agreed it was necessary she have a parent join her. We had a family meeting in September and considered our options:

Consort:

1. Speaks some Italian
2. Has been to Italy
3. Loves traveling
4. Loves food and wine
5. Enjoys meeting new people
6. Is basically cheerful in a hand-waving sort of way
7. Can do his work online

Mom:

1. Terrified of flying
2. Hates traveling
3. Fears variables
4. Doesn't care that much about food
5. Falls asleep if she drinks red wine
6. Was the emotional model for Eeyore
7. Prefers the company of cats
8. Doesn't speak a word of Italian
9. Can do her work online

The Kid thought for a minute or so and said, "I vote for Mom."

Consort smiled broadly and said, "I hoped you'd say that. You two are going to have the best time."

Dear readers, I think we're back in business.



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?”

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!

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?
Yes.

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?
No.

 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."