Last night I enjoyed another installation of the Liars League NYC reading series. It’s a gloriously simple concept: writers submit their work according to a theme, the Liars curate the selections, and they’re read aloud by actors once a month at KGB Bar in the East Village. The room is small, so everyone there is listening closely; there’s little worry that loud talkers will interrupt. The bar staff knows how to serve drinks discreetly (they’re listening too!) and since all the actors and writers bring a posse, it’s good news for their nightly receipts. A few months ago I participated in one of the readings as an actor, which was a lovely experience. But honestly it was almost lovelier to attend as an audience member: how often do you get to sit on a bar stool with a G&T in your hand, with no responsibility other than listening? Sometimes it’s really nice to be read to.
Nora Ephron’s death made me unexpectedly sad. Not because I expected to feel some other way when she died – it wasn’t something I thought about. Though I had some inkling she was ill, I didn’t know how ill and honestly I felt ambivalent about her work. For the most part I associate her with rom-coms – the girly, ingratiating kind that I’m not particularly fond of. But upon reading several obits, I reconsidered. Nora Ephron was much more than a “women’s author”; she was capable of complex, deeply personal work that presented a female point of view on film and on the page without apology. She was among a select group of women who could write, direct, or produce a film with A-list actors that was backed by a major studio. In that respect Nora Ephron was a household name; she not only paved the way for an entire generation of female humorists, she also ushered in the trend of chatty, observational comedy that popularized Seinfeld and Will & Grace, which in turn yielded huge influence over American popular culture.
But in the scope of my own life, her most important contribution was When Harry Met Sally…, a movie I fell in love with so hard as a teenager that I wanted to be in it. I watched it over and over with my best friend, we quoted it endlessly in every context, and on any given day I could identify with Harry or Sally or Jess or even Mr. Zero. The characters’ experience served as a backdrop to understanding relationships, and the plot was my blueprint for what I thought being an adult would be like. I wanted to have a funny, cute, close male friend like Harry who appreciated my quirks and shared my vocabulary, and who maaaaaybe would develop into something more as the years rolled by. I wanted to have a long-term marriage – or at least a successful living-in-sin arrangement – with a guy like the ones in the couples interviews peppered throughout WHMS, who finished my sentences and thought I was just as beautiful 50 years in as the day we met. And despite the “Can men and women really be friends?” debate that provides a key plot thread, it was one of the first films I ever saw that presented male-female relationships as an even playing field, one in which men could be needy and emotional and women could be witty and independent.
So in spite of my eye-rolling dismissal of most of the “women’s entertainment” that emerged from Nora’s influence, for me her legacy will always include some of the most treasured moments I ever spent in a cinema – moments in which I inevitably wished that life would imitate art.
I apologize for this smug automatic reply to your email.
To control spam, I’ve taken the misguided step of only allowing incoming messages from senders I have approved beforehand.
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I apologize for this one-time inconvenience. (Well ok I’m not really sorry but I promise this process is much more convenient than simply deleting spam from my inbox. For me anyway.) And no, I haven’t given a thought to all the important messages I might miss because I’m too lazy to figure out how to use spam filters. Alienating my friends and holding them responsible for my failings just seems easier, you know? Thanks for understanding.
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Clothes may may the man but PROPS make the woman…who removes her clothes, as evidenced by this awesome series of photos on the Retronaut blog, from Lili St. Cyr‘s obscenity trial in 1951. Visit the above link and scroll down for shots of her act, which clearly includes a narrative and — you guessed it — props! They make everything better.
For a long time I’ve wanted to write my mother a letter to tell her all the things she taught me, how her unyielding love gave me confidence and strength, how I adore when anyone says that we laugh alike or that I look like her, and that I miss her. A lot; as much as I did in the first days after she died.
It was going to be a thank you letter: this epic essay that would eloquently weave together all the things I’ve wanted to say to her during the last fifteen years. I don’t know who the letter was supposed to be for: her or me or other people so they could understand how wonderful and unique my mother was. I wanted to write it but I kept putting it off because I was afraid it wouldn’t be perfect.
As a rule, Mothers Day does not worry me. When I was little, my Dad, Mum, and I would celebrate it in a fairly ordinary way: with a card, maybe a small gift, and brunch. Dad might put in a call to his mum, who lived on the Welsh border with England, but that was about it. The first Mothers Day I spent without her was probably a bit sad, but honestly I don’t remember it being particularly significant. I figure the day is only as big a deal as I make it.
But this year, for whatever reason, feels different. The first sign was when I began deleting any email that arrived in my inbox announcing a Mothers Day sale– which apparently was every retailer I’m signed up with. And feelings crept in: a surreal mixture of ambivalence, sadness, pride, and anger. I didn’t want to feel all that stuff but I did, and still do: ambivalence because who cares it’s a made-up holiday anyway, right?, sadness because she’s not here for me to take out to brunch, pride because Mum was the best and I’ll take any opportunity to talk about her, and anger that we were cheated out of more time together. I know it’s irrational and probably not healthy but whenever I see other women enjoying a day out with their mothers, or when I come across a gift, a film, or a piece of music I think she’d like, I feel angry that I can’t share it with her.
So I guess it’s time to write the letter.
I miss you, but I think you know that. You also know all about my life because you’re still very present – not in a sitting-on-a-white-cloud-looking-down-on-me kind of way, but in a thousand intangible ways that only you and I would recognize.
Losing you as suddenly as I did is something I’m still coming to terms with. At first it meant having to figure out who I am in your absence – I don’t imagine anyone realizes how wrapped up their own identity is with their parents’ until a parent dies. More recently it has meant figuring out who you were – not only to me but to all the others in your life, even yourself. I’ve tried to piece that together by asking questions of the relatives left behind, a process that increasingly means filling in the gaps myself as more of the people you were closest to pass away.
When I think of you, the first thing that comes to mind is how resilient and positive you were. So much of your early life involved struggle: supporting yourself and your family from the age of 16, being repeatedly dismissed by a rigid class system, exhibiting ambition before there was a feminist movement to validate you, and so many other challenges that you overcame without breaking your stride. I’m sure you’d rather I didn’t enumerate your life like some kind of cinematic triumph over adversity, but the fact is you cleared so many hurdles that I never had to worry about, and it made you the strong, no-nonsense person who I wish I could consult for advice so often it’s painful. But don’t worry; I still remember the lessons you taught me, either by example or by a pointed remark as you looked at me over the tops of your glasses:
You taught me that every job is worth doing well.
You taught me to enjoy the moment.
You taught me patience (still working on it.)
You taught me how to be practical, and to consider fixing something when it breaks rather than throwing it away. At the same time you knew when to say “it’s only money” – that treating yourself once in a while is important.
You taught me to sing along to records, especially Ella Fitzgerald.
You taught me that loyalty to the people you love is the most beautiful thing in the world.
I wish more people had gotten the chance to know you, but those who did know how lucky they are. And since you died I’ve been lucky to have a handful of other “mothers” step forward and play some version of that role in my life. They’ll never replace you, but they look out for me in ways you might have if you were here, and for that I’m extremely grateful.
I’m sorry that I gave you such a hard time as a teenager; that I took you for granted and came home from college thinking I knew more about life than you did. I’m sorry I didn’t listen more, that the epic conversations that arose spontaneously when I was home and stretched across topics from relationships to raising children to politics, didn’t happen more frequently. I’m sorry I don’t remember those conversations more clearly. As I moved through adult milestones like getting married and dealing with the deaths of friends I’m sure you had something wise and kind to say that would have helped. I’m sorry you didn’t get to meet Dave, but I feel sure you approve.
I’m glad that you had me later in life than my friends’ mothers and that you never let me forget that in your eyes I was precious and beautiful and invincible. Even though I did my share of whining for a sibling, I’m glad I’m the only one in the universe who called you Mum. Everything that urges me to be loving, courageous, and moral comes from you. I hope you know that.
Holy cats, this is like all my wildest dreams rolled into one: a tiny, nookish home built inside a boat – but on land - or, rather ON TOP OF A BUILDING in London, ON THE SOUTH BANK!
Good thing I didn’t know about this on my recent trip. I would have maxed out my credit card buying single-night stays (plus the requisite disguises so whomever rents out the room thought it was a different guest every night.) One of the disguises would have to be Lou Reed (which, weirdly, I already own – don’t ask) since Laurie Anderson apparently played in the Room in March.
Inspired by a recent post on Joy the Baker’s blog (ok I stopped by for the cookies but stayed for the inspirado), I’ve been thinking about my special life skills – the REAL kind, not the bullshit ones that go on a resume. The ones that actually serve me on a daily basis. Like Joy, I also have an almost ninja-like ability to catch objects in mid-air (it’s cuz I drop stuff a lot. When you’re plagued by dropping, you learn to catch.) Here are a few others I WISH would help get me a job:
CompulsionCommitment to make everything into a joke/ moment of wordplay, despite appropriateness or context
- Ability to draw out shy people (used to be one! Sort of still am; don’t tell) by peppering them with questions
- Related to #2: Olympic-level nervous talker/ interrupting cow
- Bendy thumbs (perfect for that “hitch hiker murder” film you’re writing)
- Blowing out candles on restaurant tables with my nose-exhales. Any candle, anywhere. It’s a gift.
- Amazingly supportive audience member. Available for open mics and one-woman shows. I’ll make your mother look like a heckler.
Meant to post about this earlier. A few weeks ago I watched Sinead O’Connor perform at the Highline Ballroom…and wow. It had been years since I saw her live – probably since the Faith and Courage tour. Because of all the recent drama I really didn’t know what to expect, but I should have known better. Sinead O’Connor was as strong as ever. As funny. As defiant. As fearless.
The audience was chockablock with longtime fans, and judging by the number of teary faces (including mine) her music is the soundtrack to many lives. I spent the show rapt, with a stupid smile adhered to my face that took days to fade. Afterward I kept asking myself why she’s so magnetic. Part of it is nostalgia, to be sure – her songs are fused to particularly significant points in my life. But it’s also her conviction: when Sinead sings, she means it. Every word. She sings from the very center of herself, and FOR herself. But also for us. When she sings the words become universal and intensely personal at the same time.
Sinead sang several songs I never thought I’d hear live, and she encouraged us to sing along; one of my favorite things to do at a concert – as long as everyone else sings too. And we did. We knew all the words to Jackie and Three Babies. We filled in the parts she didn’t sing like a giant backup choir, helping her with the high notes she was afraid to hit because of laryngitis. (A message read by the venue promoter said as much before she came on stage.) But it didn’t seem to matter. WE mattered to her. She sang bravely, naturally, and with a full heart.
This week I got to interview musical comedy duo extraordinaire Mel and El (otherwise known as Melanie Adelman and Ellie Dworkin) for G.L.O.C (Gorgeous Ladies of Comedy), a wondermous website that promotes the work of…well, you get the idea.
I am not making it up when I say that I had a kick-ass time chatting (or as someone’s unfortunate high school boyfriend used to say) “clamming” with them. They are (as my world-traveled Canadian-Great-Aunt-by-marriage Phyllis used to say) a laugh and a half.
The interview is posted here, so please enjoy, and go see their shows when they’re back in action. I’ll be there!
It’s always thrilling the first time you find common ground with someone – especially if very few people graze on that common ground in the first place. Listening to Mel and El talk about their creative process, the symbiosis between their work and their friendship, and their frustration with the way friendship between women is typically portrayed, I felt a huge sense of kinship and…relief. There were SO many parallels to my experience working with Kath and Sabrina that at a certain point I had to stop myself from nodding and saying “…yes…YES” because a) I started to sound like a deranged life coach, and b) I was recording our talk and needed their answers to be audible for transcription. But it was great. And it made me remember why comedy-ham-types like us need to get out of the rehearsal room once in a while and compare notes with others of our tribe. We have to go to each other’s shows, laugh, yell stupid shit, and have drinks afterward. Be a community. Especially ladies but boys too. As the divine Jen Kirkman recently said, we have to talk to the dudes too.
Ok, now I REALLY sound like a life coach. Enjoy this video of Sam Kinison to charge your rage batteries and restore your nihilistic disgust for humanity.