Friday, December 09, 2016

Le Petit Reverse Commute

I spend a lot of time convincing people that I'm a brave person, but, in truth, I'm just good in a crisis. I collapse like anyone else after the crisis is over. And so, you can understand, that I'm more than a little bit terrified at the prospect of moving to the UK in January. (Although, technically, it's a reverse commute, a rather good phrase I've now copyrighted - don't you think there's a ring to it?)

First of all, my children are deeply unhappy about it, as you can imagine, and I'm not particularly thrilled at the prospect of not being in the same place as them. But, I get to see my mother for a bit, which is something I haven't done regularly since I was 22.

Secondly, I was terrified to tell my clients, because I thought they wouldn't take it well, but, as it turns out, that has proven to be wrong. They've all said in unison that they know they'll be taken care of and don't care where I do it from. And they know there will be an office in LA and someone to take care of them on the ground  and that all the strategy and planning can be done from anywhere in the world, and that I'll be back for the really important stuff. Most of what I do is on email or the phone, after all.

Thirdly, I've lived in LA for the last thirty years. Thirty years. Essentially, the whole of my adult life has been spent in this beautiful crazy sexy place. Thirty years of California light, of LA sunsets, of earthquakes and bad public transport, of skunks and cowboys and sweltering heat and bizarre flash floods, of wannabes and fakers and attitude and the seriously rich, of the Westside and the LA National Forest, coyotes and our lonesome Canyon owl. I live only a few yards from where Joni Mitchell lived, for goodness' sake.

Fourth, this house in Laurel Canyon has been my home for nearly twenty years. My children grew up here. I've had four dogs live and die here, and two more who are still living with me. After John left, I scoured the house for his stuff, took down all his pictures, try to erase all trace of him, but how, exactly do you do that when you've been with the same person since you were twenty? I look at the stuff we have: the plates and glasses and painting and tchotchkes, the yards of books, the boxes stuffed with photos, the baby stuff, the Christmas ornaments we've collected over the years, and which I'm going through now as I decorate the tree in an effort to embrace the season, and I'm sad.

Yesterday I started to collect my things, the painting that are mine, some silver from my Norwegian grandmother, gifts from the children: Mexican crosses and horseshoes wrapped in colorful wool, and pictures of them with the dogs. I went through bookshelves to take only the most special ones (A wise friend said, take only those things that will make you feel at home) and found old notes and postcards stuffed between the books, photographs that had been turned upside down, perhaps because once I didn't like them, drawers with more books, tiny ones, and little hand-scribbled notes. I pull pictures off walls so that now my bedroom wall, once an army of little black-framed pictures, looked like an overpicked strawberry patch on a hot summer day. All the things I'd tucked away to work on later -- prints I'd bought, still in their stiff card envelopes, a piece of tapestry, a bag of fabric from which I'd vowed to make a patchwork quilt -- now reveal themselves to me in their unfinished glory. What are they exactly, but evidence that I start things and don't finish? But more than that, the house feels cold without my little buddhas and kuan yins which I kept to keep us safe. The cushions that have LOVE written on them because I wanted to continue to promulgate that notion that it existed here. The books on birds and flowers and trees of California that I'd take out and use for a week, madly excited and then put away again. The old drawer with the mixtapes and the children's Christening presents. Oh, it's all too much.

The shippers come on Monday. I have it in black and white. They will arrive between 3pm and 5pm and then all things that make this feel like home will go, including my grandmother's candlesticks, and I will be left with two naughty dogs, two grown-up children who are unhappy with me, and the dull sense that I could have, somehow, made more of this time.

My mother says "don't buy too many things until you get here" when I suggest getting a bed and a sofa. She's right of course. The adorable cottage I'm renting I haven't even seen in real life. I trust her taste, of course, and Charlie's. The pictures are awfully sweet. It has tall chimneys and paint-chipped windows, and low ceilings because it was built in the 17th century, and it is mine for the next year. Three bedrooms and a vegetable garden, a tiny sitting room, some wood burners, and bookshelves. And right in the middle of the beautiful Chilterns, near an Iron Age fort, and ancient woodlands. I was thinking of the nature cure, of being able to immerse myself in woods and watch the dogs in their leaping happiness. "Just look at the place before you get anything" she said and I know this comes from a good place. "Can you imagine what it will feel like not to have a home?" I say. When I leave Laurel Canyon, that's it, that's no longer my house. I'm not sure why I feel this so acutely. It's just stuff they say. I know it is.

I'm a homebody. All of my confidence comes from this arcane idea that there is a heart at the centre of my home that beats for me and my children and our loved ones. And venturing away from that beating heart, and its warmth, and love, is frightening.

When your children go away to college, you gradually get used to the idea, I suppose. Not really. Looking at the old photos yesterday on my packing mission, I felt pangs of sadness every time I saw them as little ones, smiling at me, guileless, before they knew how to hate me. I still pick up the phone whenever they ring. I still buy them presents that I think will make them happy. I still pray for them every night, and light candles for them when I visit cathedrals. I feel there is a connection between us, a tiny silk filament that links us. Sometimes I tug. Sometimes they do. Knowing that they are both happy is the best thing ever. And knowing that they both have amazing, awesome, kind partners who love them, is all I could ask for.

But still. Not being able to have them round for our traditional Sunday night supper whenever I want to, is a hard thing to think about.

There is a good man, a tall, kind, handsome, sweet man in London who loves me and only wants the best for me. I know that. He is my English Oak. He is my good fortune. He is solid and brave and unmoving and he tells me that everything will be fine and every time I'm sad he reminds me that he is there, loving me. And that is really all I need.

But, gosh, this is very, very hard.

I'm going to publish a picture of this little cottage so you can see why I like it.

And thank you, each and every one of you, who have supported me through all the horribleness of the last five and a half years. I'm sorry I've been such a lousy blogger, but I'm so grateful to you all for being so kind.

Monday, October 31, 2016

The hillside

I am a little bit heartbroken. I can feel the lump in my throat. Today I walked down the back stairs from my deck to the hillside swail, where I go every morning with my dogs to greet the sunrise, where every day I put up pictures entitled "Good morning from Laurel Canyon," where I take my cup of tea and breathe in the morning air while the dogs root around, and today there was a fence there.  I don't know a lot about the lack of freedom. I've always been more or less free, but today I felt it, right in the center of my chest. And the dogs looked at the fence, expectantly, waiting for me to open the gate that wasn't there, confused. It's a really sad day. The swail is not an ideal path, it's a little wonky, but it follows the hillside around, underneath the houses, and I was the only one who walked there. But we walked every morning and most evenings and sometimes during the day as well if it was a hard day, just the dogs and me, and we listened to birds, and the beeping horns of traffic on Laurel Canyon, and we'd watch the sun come up, or the birds in the asparagus tree. Sometimes I'd record birdsong (my poor, long-suffering Instagram followers). And mostly I'd find a nice flat spot to sit down, sip my tea, and check my email getting ready for the day.

It's not my hillside. I have to walk past our property. And it's my neighbors' prerogative to build their fence; it's their land afterall. But there is no gate, and now, with the fence in place, there is no way through, not for me, my dogs, the coyotes, the skunks who live down the hill, the deer, or the raccoons. So a habit of many years is now ended. And I am, I'm afraid, a little bit sad.

Wednesday, October 26, 2016

We must say Yes to life

"One must say Yes to life, and embrace it wherever it is found - and it is found in terrible places... For nothing is fixed, forever and forever, it is not fixed; the earth is always shifting, the light is always changing, the sea does not cease to grind down rock. Generations do not cease to be born, and we are responsible to them because we are the only witnesses they have. The sea rises, the light fails, lovers cling to each other, and children cling to us. The moment we cease to hold each other, the moment we break faith with one another, the sea engulfs us and the light goes out." 

-- James Baldwin 

Tuesday, October 11, 2016

As virtuous men pass mildly away

As virtuous men pass mildly away,
And whisper to their souls, to go,
Whilst some of their sad friends do say,
'The breath goes now,' and some say, 'No:'

So let us melt, and make no noise,
No tear-floods, nor sigh-tempests move;
'Twere profanation of our joys
To tell the laity our love.

Moving of th' earth brings harms and fears;
Men reckon what it did, and meant;
But trepidation of the spheres,
Though greater far, is innocent.

Dull sublunary lovers' love
(Whose soul is sense) cannot admit
Absence, because it doth remove
Those things which elemented it.

But we by a love so much refin'd,
That ourselves know not what it is,
Inter-assured of the mind,
Care less, eyes, lips, and hands to miss.

Our two souls therefore, which are one,
Though I must go, endure not yet
A breach, but an expansion,
Like gold to airy thinness beat.

If they be two, they are two so
As stiff twin compasses are two;
Thy soul, the fix'd foot, makes no show
To move, but doth, if the' other do.

And though it in the centre sit,
Yet when the other far doth roam,
It leans, and hearkens after it,
And grows erect, as that comes home.

Such wilt thou be to me, who must
Like th' other foot, obliquely run;
Thy firmness makes my circle just,
And makes me end, where I begun. 

-- John Donne


Tuesday, September 20, 2016


Mercury makes one jittery. Mercury and this hot, damp, grey day that seems more like Florida than Los Angeles, with the crows squawking louder than usual, ominously, like a Hitchcock movie. Three more days to go until the retrograde is over. It creeps up on you, the unsettling-ness.

And I'm sorry that I come here to vent whenever the black dog hits me as it did today.

It stops you in your tracks, makes you unable to function. I didn't sleep all night, except for an hour just before dawn, because I realized I had a breakfast with a client. I wanted to cancel. I lay awake and worried and held on to the dogs and then I realized that Charlie wouldn't cancel, and that I couldn't either; it would be rude and unprofessional. But on little to no sleep, and under a dark cloud, it took a lot to get me there. This is not my personality. This is not who I am. This is not what I am proud of. I want to embrace it. I want to say, this is just part of who you are, and people will understand, there is no need to be ashamed, but I am ashamed, and I don't like this part. I don't like the stasis that sets in, the inability to laugh at oneself, the feeling that the sunshine that is usually beaming out has evaporated.

I want to note three or four things that I think might have contributed to this.

1) The Maharishi (my ex/not quite ex-husband as we're still married but we live completely separate lives) was apparently having a bad day and laid into me over something to do with our taxes (we still file jointly) and after three years of miserableness and the last two years of getting on generally rather well, this came as a shock. I don't blame him. I know he has a lot he is worrying about, but it was abrupt, and sharp, and made me realize that I was living in a cloud of denial. To actually think that one can go on as if one's marriage is over and not be divorced is quite frankly naive. We have enjoyed one of those relationships that people point to and say "oh, wow, you're so civilized! you do holidays together! you do dinners together!" and I feel kinda smug and proud, and it's just an illusion. Yes, my dear friend and ex-husband is a good man, a kind man, and a man I am very happy not to be married to anymore. He has a lovely girlfriend and I have a lovely boyfriend, and it's now time to move on, to get on with this very short life we have.

2) My daughter is understandably still angry at me. It is healthy, I suppose, that she tells me so. But it kills me. It absolutely kills me to know that she is so mad at me. And for the life of me, I don't know what to do about it. She is a spectacular human being: smart and beautiful and bright and loved and loving. But we are at odds, and it feels absolutely horrible.

3) I found out today that a friend had nearly died of a heart attack. She's a strong woman, brave, busy, creative, sparkling, full of life, young, charismatic, and she nearly died. If it weren't for the miraculous quick-minded action of two young doctors who administered blood thinners immediately, she would be dead. She told me that now she looks at life completely differently. She avoids conflict. She doesn't dwell on bad news. She is seeking out those she loves to be around her. She is taking her time to choose projects. She reaching out and telling people she loves them, as she did to me today. It's so so so trite, isn't it? But life is SHORT. And KINDNESS is what matters. The only thing. We had a jolly conversation, a lovely conversation. Her eyes were sparkling. She has lost weight ("It's the heart attack diet" she said, gleefully, twinkling at me.) She is different.

4) The T**** Stuff: Lies, Bigotry, Racism, More Lies. Blinding us. Every single news outlet. Every other tweet. On Facebook. On Instagram. On the news. This awful, awful man with the orange face and the hair Jimmy Fallon loves to muss.  It's so far away from what my brother calls "the high road." It's low and small and medieval and underhand and lacking in any kind of empathy or spritiuality. We are bathed in it, we're breathing it, and worse, people are embracing it. It feels like a shift to the dark side. We should be nurturing our better angels. Not this. Not ever this. (For more of this, please find Amy Ferris, who writes so eloquently and passionately about this horribleness.)

And so today, I'm stopped in my tracks, snuggled with my dogs, wrapped up warm, drinking tea, and hoping for a better tomorrow. The mere act of putting my thoughts into my fingers through the keyboard and on to this screen helps me purge. Thank you. 

Sunday, September 18, 2016


A marvelous steak frites place has opened in West Hollywood (Le Relais De L'Entrecote), and it's woefully under-inhabited, for two reasons: 1) You can't make a reservation (unheard of in Los Angeles), and 2) There is no valet parking (a real pearls snatcher in SoCal). But the food is delicious. Very simple: steak, cooked to your specification, and sliced thinly, and covered with a delicious mustardy sauce, hot, salty french fries (chips) and a very good green salad with walnuts. That's it. We sat outside last night, on the pavement, on Melrose, and it was balmy. Couples meandered by, chic men, heavily made-up girls in heels, and sipped old-fashioned bulb glasses of Medoc.

And we talked about our parents' generation. For people my age, from Europe, these are people who grew up in the war. It didn't matter who you were, if you grew up in the war, you knew hardship and you embraced frugality. Most of them have not lost this trait, and it's actually rather endearing (and that's not meant to sound condescending). My mother suffers endless abuse from us for her habit of keeping forever - there's nothing wrong with old mince pies (you just heat them up in the Aga), or moldy cheese (cut off those bits) or jam with a green film growing on its surface (penicilin, makes you stronger!). She keeps wrapping paper, silver foil, even butter wrappers to use to oil cake pans. We who became adults in the 80s eschewed frugality,  didn't eat meals of leftovers, thought that you could enjoy a treat any day of the week, not just on Saturday nights. Things have changed now, though. Suddenly the idea of paring down, of living simply, of saving up, of delaying satisfaction, all those things are rather appealing.

"But that generation is quite judgmental," said my friend. "I felt as if my parents treated me as if I were an idiot most of the time." We nodded in agreement. Perhaps it is the frugality that leads to higher expectations of our children. "But with my children" he continued "whatever they do, even if they mess up royally, I support them, praise them." This same lack of judgment is the reason my father, for example, enjoyed the company of his dogs over that of his human friends. And probably why my children are happy. "Do what makes you happy" I've said, over and over again to both of them. "Follow your heart." My friend Bill, who went to Oxford with us, a proper New England WASP, complete with pink LL Bean button-downs, patchwork shorts, a lobster grosgrain belt, was encouraged by his parents to go into the family business: law. Generations of men in his family had gone into the legal profession in Boston, summered on the Cape, or in Maine, and married a woman who wore a Lanz nightgown. But what Bill like to do was play jazz piano. And he played jazz piano beautifully, like a man possessed. Any piano, anywhere, he'd sit down and play. In the college chapel with the Byrne Jones windows. In the JCR. Inside dress shops. At Maxwell's, the hamburger restaurant we used to frequent. Years later, when the Maharishi and I were married and Bill was working as lawyer in New York City, he took us to see Mose Allison, the Jazz great, in a small, dark, smokey club in Soho, and as we sipped our mandatory vodka tonics, Bill's eyes closed in bliss as he became one with the music. He was in his happy place.

Friday, September 16, 2016

The Scourge of Mercury

I don't know about you -- and perhaps this is one of the downsides of living in Southern California for so long -- I feel everything acutely. And when Mercury is in retrograde -- as it is now until the 22nd of September -- that feeling is heightened. Everything that could have happened has happened. I've been knocked over by my dog, a swift tank-like punch to the back of the knees, and left flailing like a wood louse (pill bug), been bitten on the nose by the same dog, while playing too hard with her and knocking my face into her teeth, I've had a misunderstanding with my lovely boyfriend on the phone when I thought he was serious about taking Kristen Scott Thomas to an event instead of me, I've had a fight with two different studio publicity people (very pleasant as I hate confrontation) and this weekend was the doosy. I took my (not mine, the horse I'm riding) very sweet little just five year old horse out on the trail for only the second time in his life and as we were trotting up a rather steep hill noticed that an oak tree had fallen across the path creating something VERY SCAREY and snort-inducing for such a young horse. He steadfastly refused to walk across the trunk, which was all of about 12 inches high, and so after a short battle employing my most charming arts of persuasion, I decided to jump off and walk him over the damn thing. He was convinced he's seen a monster, pulled back on the reins, which were over his head an in my hands, and galloped off away from me, hotfooting it towards the barn. Now the path from the fallen oak to the barn is about one and a half miles of rocks and hills and bamboo and low branches and there is a very fast road on the right, where motorbikes zoom elatedly on Sunday mornings (Little Tujunga Canyon). As he is not my horse, and worth rather a large amount of money, I was a little bit terrified of the outcome of this flight. (And flight animal is very clearly what he is. No fight in him whatsoever.) Bean and I looked at each other wide-eyed and alarmed as he thundered away into the middle distance, and then we both ran as fast as our little legs would carry us towards the barn, me in brand new boots (think Very Large Blisters) and without a cell phone signal. At the end of the trail by the barn there is a very large gate, five feet and solid iron. I had a vivid picture in my mind of the little horse jumping it and ripping himself open like the horse I'd once caught in La Tuna Canyon (see link here) or of breaking his bones on the rocks, or, even worse, galloping to the right and ending up on smashed by a truck on the road. (Only the day before a squirrel got smushed by the car in front of me; perfectly horrible watching it die). I could imagine him clattering down the tarmac. I've seen this happen before; it's not pretty at all. As we sped home, two cowgirls stopped and said "you seem to be missing something.' I managed a wan smile somehow. "Don't worry" one of them said, "he didn't jump the gate, he clambered up the hill and down the other side." I imagine if I'd seen a clear path around the gate I would have taken it. The hill, which is covered in brambles and burrs, rises up at a 75 degree angle from the path. Even deer stagger on it.

As luck would have it, and luck may be stretching it a bit, the horse had been caught by the time we got home. He had galloped in and down the tarmac and the lovely groom Ismael had caught him and put him in his stall with some hay. 

It stayed with me all day, and into the next. I'm not sure why. It felt like trauma. Horrible thing to say, really, when there is so much more horribleness experience by so many people. Maybe it's loss, abandonment, fear of death, what?  Perhaps all of that yucky stuff gathers in one's chest like a large knot of goo, like so many tiny gold necklaces that can't be undone because your fingers are too large and your eyesight isn't sharp enough.  It all comes back. All of it. The deaths of animals, a parent, a father-in-law, betrayal, double betrayal, other people's betrayal, blood, sinew, concussions, grazed knees, auto immune panic (am I dying?), it all comes back but stays below the surface. Even now as I write my heart is ricocheting against my chest. "Charlie, I feel a bit odd," I said. And I felt rather silly saying it. I want to be the person that takes everything in her stride. 

"Swings and roundabouts" he says, "that's what our business is like." One day you're being praised for your brilliant campaign strategies, the next you failed to get one press person to show up for a party for an unknown film. One moment you're a genius strategist and the next you're just another poor sod in the trenches scrapping away to make a difference. I loved my job last week. Today, I'm disappointed. "I just keep going" I tell him. "I admire that quality in you" he says, but today I'm stopped in my tracks, brimming with regret.