Wednesday, March 27, 2013

the glamorous life

Over the next few months, thirteen year-old Iris will be flying to New York for a conference, backpacking in the Yosemite back country, and attending the prestigious Shakespeare festival in Ashland, Oregon.   Next year she'll be traveling to Japan for two weeks.

Meanwhile her mother's plans are to sit around the house surfing the internet, accompanied by a rotating selection of feral cats.

Saturday, March 23, 2013



The play I recently went to, The Great Big Also, was very good.  Before it started, though, I had low expectations. The last play I went to at that place had been quite boring. The actors read their lines sitting in chairs and straight off the script. 

I read the program, and it seemed pretty good, so I still thought it would be read in chairs off scripts but with a good subject. But yes, I still thought it wouldn't be very good.

I went in, and they asked me if I would leave everything behind for a new life. I said no. I couldn't leave Zorro (my cat) behind. And I like my life.

They split us off into different rooms. I went into one at a corner. The thing is, the rooms were separated with paper. The walls were just paper, with some doors cut out. 

It was very good. I can't really explain it, that's the thing, but I really liked it. 

Then I left and it was over.

Before I left, at one point they came in groups of one or two, explaining different things they did. The first one that came to my group talked about NASA space blankets and how they can be used ("Prevent hypothermia! Help to start fires! They can even make a lean-to!"). The next people that came talked about some sort of "Remember When" charades. It's just charades, but to remember good stuff about the past. And the last group I got was two people talking about "If something is missing from the room, you can say it and everyone will get that feeling." One family member said that they wanted to say intelligence was missing from the room but they didn't. The first example was loyalty. Then, eventually, one of the two tried to say cooperation but in the middle started to cough. That repeated while the first one was flushed and trying to keep the thing going. 

That caused almost everyone to start to cough and do weird stuff.

My favorite part was at the beginning, when everyone was getting to their rooms, and people were just talking with whatever crazy people was in their rooms. It was nice.

The end.

Tuesday, March 19, 2013

Lola experiences perfection

At Iris's school, the end of the seventh grade is largely about the theatre.  The students study and stage Shakespeare, and they spend much of their time learning about drama.  Actors have been brought in to work with them (Iris reported, in tones of great disgust, that before the actors arrived, the students were cautioned to be kind and polite to them, as actors are very sensitive).

The students are encouraged to attend as many plays as possible, with academic credit given, and we've been attempting to rise to this occasion.  So far we've taken Iris to five plays, with another one coming up in a few days.

Over the weekend we went to an experimental theatre piece, "The Great Big Also", by a company called Mugwumpin.  I knew it would be interactive, but none of us were quite prepared for how it unfolded.  (If you are in San Francisco and enjoy experimental theatre and trust Lola's judgment, stop reading to avoid spoilers and just go buy your tickets).   The lobby had been subtly staged.  Most of the audience members didn't really interact with the things in the lobby, but we did.  It appeared to be the living quarters of the group called "the New Settlers", and I suspected some of the performance would take place out there.

The performers came through the lobby occasionally, doing different things, and they would take small groups of people back into the theatre occasionally.  Finally a cast member came to us and asked us if we were ready.  She took the four of us and an unknown man back, checking if we were ready to spend 80 minutes with her, and asked us if we would be willing to leave our civilization for a new one.  I said maybe, the stranger said yes, and the Sober Husband and children said firmly no.  She appeared to be taking us on a tour of the facilities, but the first thing she did was to get rid of me:  she turned to me and asked me to stay in a small cubicle, where I could take a stool from a pile.  "Don't worry, it won't always be like this," she said, leaving with my family and the stranger.  The Sober Husband asked me if I was okay being left, and I, who like to go with the flow in these circumstances, said yes.

I looked around.  The others in my little cubicle (we were in a corner of a structure made of Tyvek) had also been separated from their friends.  We talked.  Things began to happen.  I thought the actor would come back to get me, but she never did.  I regretted parting from my family.  We waited on our little stools, occasionally chatting, and sometimes cast members would pass through or walk past us or speak to the people in neighboring cubicles.  Eventually we realized that this was the show and that it had already begun.

For me the performance was largely overcast by my feeling of anxiety about Lola.  She was the only child at the show (teenaged Iris being the only other minor), and I worried that something would scare her.  I couldn't see her.  I peered into the other three cubicles bordering mine, but none of my family members could be seen.  I imagined they were all together, and this made me feel sorry for myself.  I'd been in a funk that day beforehand, and being isolated from my family made it worse.  I did talk to some fun young women in my zone, but we were joined by an unfriendly man who wouldn't make eye contact.  There was also a dating couple in our tiny zone who were not interacting with anyone else but constantly touching each other, and that made me feel more isolated.

The odd events, dances, speeches, and bits of performance that made up this odd and engaging piece about settlers (cultists?) awaiting an apocalypse went on, and I kept fretting for Lola (I was sure the preternaturally poised Iris was fine).  After nearly an hour, the Tyvek partitions were raised in the air, removing some of the barriers and creating larger pens with more people in them, but I still couldn't see any of the family.  Finally I sneaked out of my zone (I was the only person I saw doing this) and surreptitiously made my way around the barriers until I reached Lola.

Lola was fine.  She was sitting enrapt on a stool, watching everything she could see.  The Sober Husband was not far from her (I found out later that their rooms were merged when the partitions were raised partway).  I didn't find Iris until the show was nearly over, and she was skeptically gazing from the sidelines.

At the end, I confessed the experience had largely been ruined for me by worrying about Lola and by feeling bereft, that I was the one singled out to be cut off from the group.  I'd have felt less left out if I'd known everyone had been separated and parked in different zones and how happy Lola was. "It was like a party in my room!" said Lola merrily.  Evidently all the hipsters in her cubicle were charmed by the idea of a ten year-old attending this experimental theatre.  "They all wanted to know why I was there, and I said, 'My sister is doing a report on the theatre,'" said Lola.  "I told them all my name.  We talked and talked."  When anything happened, Lola intently absorbed it.

For the next couple of days, we spent a lot of time discussing the performance.  Parts of it were visible to each of us, and we didn't all see the same things.  Lola found everything enchanting about it.  I suggested she might find it inspirational for her own writing, and she strongly demurred.  "It was like perfection, and now I have it in my body," she said dreamily.  If she tried to base something upon it, it wouldn't measure up to the sublime experience she'd had.

I could relate.  When I was much younger, I ate at Fleur de Lys for the first time, experiencing perhaps the world's finest and most expensive vegetarian cooking.  I left feeling I had experienced food at a level I had never imagined, and I stopped cooking for some time.  "I can't make food like that," I said, "so I don't want to try."  My ex-husband complained bitterly that if he'd known what would happen, he'd have never taken me there, but I didn't care.  I had experienced perfection.  And now so has Lola.

Tuesday, March 12, 2013

too personal

Iris is in the process of applying for a scholarship, which would enable her to go to the private high school of her choice, most expenses paid.  It's a lot of work, this scholarship, and it's been stressful for her.  She's in the last stretch, writing the essays, and I wanted to be helpful.  I remembered that I had been invited to apply for a sort of genius camp as a teen, for the 99.9th percentile of young geniuses, and I didn't have anyone to help me with my essays.  In retrospect I am sure what I turned in was embarrassingly pathetic compared to what the other applicants must have written, applicants from academic families or from private schools where someone would have assisted them with the essays, and I got turned down flat.

Later in life I went on to get a degree in journalism summa cum laude and learn to write essays good enough to get me into graduate programs at Stanford and elsewhere, as well as how to write fabulous legal briefs and motions.  So I offered to Iris that I would be happy to work with her, to read her drafts, and to be a supportive and uncritical reader.

Her response?  "I think I'll get [Teacher] to read them. "  A pause.  "They're kind of personal."

Thursday, March 07, 2013

life cycles continue

Today I'm mourning a fellow crazy cat lady and former Modern Primitive who died yesterday at far too young an age, and also some unexpected news arrived about a birth.

The Sober Husband's brother sent him an email announcing that he is now a father of a baby girl. The email gave the name, weight, and length of the baby.... with no mention whatsoever of the nameless mother.  There was an attachment.... of a photo of a bakery. (The brother currently lives in Siberia, where he sells banana bread and teaches English).

 The Sober Husband was actually excited and happy about this.  His brother is the last person who should become a father, I pointed out. He's unstable, and selfish. And what is up with no mention of the mother? Not to mention that this baby was never mentioned before she was born.

Taking the moral high ground, the Sober Husband stated that a baby is always a miracle and always a thing of wonder, and that he for one looked forward to providing as much assistance as he possibly could at a distance.  I bit my tongue.  We took a huge pay cut this year, so that the Sober Husband could take a job at a fledgling start-up which would be more personally rewarding but hugely, hugely less lucrative.  I am always worried about money and fretting over our budget these days.  Any money sent to Siberia comes straight out of my hide.

Birth, death, what does tomorrow hold?  All I know is I'm not coping well with how the cycle of life is unfolding these days.

Wednesday, March 06, 2013

RIP Betsy

Back in the late eighties, I was an early member of what we called back then the Modern Primitive scene.  Nowadays piercing and tattooing are banal, but back then, it was difficult to pursue these things.  I got pierced in a leather shop's basement by a visiting pioneer of the scene, for example, whereas now the young people just go to the mall, and Haight St. is littered with piercing salons.

In those days one of the most strange and amazing things I ran across was an article in one of the earliest issues of PFIQ, which showed the most famous Modern Primitive, Fakir Musafar, before Re/SEARCH made him famous, doing something very bizarre.  The Fakir and a friend of his were chatting at the friend's tattoo parlor when another tattoo artist's wife had a brainwave:  these two men had stretched out their piercings so far that a neon tube would fit through.  She was a neon artist, and she decided to create neon which these men would wear.  The results were photographed at the Fakir's request, and he wrote an article about the experience.  The pictures were striking and weird, and I never forgot them.  (Incidentally about thirty years later, the Fakir's friend, the other man who sported the custom neon tubes, Ed Hardy, became extremely famous).

Later through a series of oddnesses the neon artist's husband became my tattoo artist.  By then he had divorced her and had a new wife, so I never met the woman behind that strange art during the years I acquired tattoos from him.

Fifteen years or so later I was at my cat rescue's annual kickoff, and a woman with striking brown eyes and a lot of tattoo art was there.  She was new to our rescue but not new to working with animals, and she was introduced as Betsy Berberian.  Feeling a bit like a stalker, I cornered her while she was enjoying a glass of wine and asked if she were the Betsy Berberian who had done the weird neon art I'd never forgotten, and she was.  We reminisced about the Modern Primitive days of the late eighties and early nineties; we talked about her ex-husband (I'd represented him as an attorney as well as being a client of his).

Betsy became a vital figure in our rescue, running the website and photographing our kittens.  I ran into her from time to time and always enjoyed talking to her.  She was making jewelry, and I bought the earrings right off her ears once at a rescue meeting.  Every time I talked to her, I thought I should try to spend more time with her, go out drinking with her, but our relationship remained at the Facebook friends and chatting when we ran into each other level.   I heard a month or so ago that Betsy was ill, but I didn't grasp the seriousness of it.  After all, Betsy was not old, she was energetic, she was full of life.

Today Betsy died.  It's a loss to the animals here in San Francisco and to the people who work to save them, and more than that, it's a loss to the world.  Someone so unusual and sprightly, so creative and passionate and odd, is no longer with us.  I'm so sorry I didn't buy more of your jewelry, Betsy; I'm so sorry I didn't pester you to come out with me.  I'm very glad I wasn't afraid to be thought a stalker and brought up your Modern Primitive escapades.  RIP, Betsy Berberian.

Sunday, March 03, 2013

crazy cat lady tricks

I am a crazy cat lady who can attract the envy and wonder of strangers and neighbors alike.

How can that be?  Sadly I don't have a cat who'll walk on a leash or who will perform tricks.  But I do have a cat, a tabby with a large, fluffy tail, who recognizes the sound of my car or my footsteps and who meets me on the sidewalk to welcome me home.  As I open my car door, I exclaim, "Henry!  Henry!" and Henry cries, and I scratch her back.  We walk up the sidewalk and up the front steps, stopping for petting along the way, and anyone who witnesses this is always taken by surprise and often awe.  "Look at that cat; it's like a dog!" they say.

Henry's apparent devotion also extends to our leaving the home; Henry becomes distressed if we set out on foot, and follows, howling miserably, until we give up, capture her, lock her in the house, and then set out again.

Once inside the home, Henry doesn't appear to give a damn about me, but she puts up a hell of a show on every homecoming.  In the life of a middle-aged crazy cat lady, this is priceless.

Saturday, March 02, 2013

unlike you

"Unlike you, I do not take pleasure in losing," said a child in a cutting voice to her father.