Words to Drive By “How to Write Your Own Biography”

EPISODE 05: “How to Write Your Own Biography”
When her best friend is diagnosed with cancer an empty-nester takes a road trip, leaving her husband at home.

This past Thursday, I came home to the treat of this copy of Chariton Review in my mailbox. Lest you be misled by the 2018 date on the cover, it is actually the most recent volume that just came out. Apparently they got a little bit behind. I’m interested by the choice they’ve apparently made not to skip any issues. I wonder, will they henceforth be a year behind?

chariton review journal

But I’m not one to talk, I guess, since it took me years to get around to doing a second round of submissions with it.

The characters and events of this story are entirely fictional, but the layout of the home where Jean and her husband Bradley live is based on the home I grew up in. I can see them moving around each other in that house of my memory.

As always, thanks to Greg Gordon Smith, who composes and sound designs this and every episode, and Ted Giffin, who designed the cover art!

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A Belated Brett Kavanaugh Post

This past weekend a couple of things happened. The first is that The New York Times published an article based on a new book called The Education of Brett Kavanaugh: An InvestigationThe second is that, in a too-rare attempt to clean  documents from my computer’s desktop, I came across a post that I began about a year ago having to do with Brett Kavanaugh.

I didn’t publish it at the time. It was in need of a time-consuming edit, and also I think I felt that there were so many opinion and think pieces happening at the time that mine didn’t add much to the conversation. So much happens everyday that until I came across the post, I had almost forgotten the furor. Across the country, women and  men who had experienced abusive actions, were speaking out, (#metoo). This prompted a backlash of mothers and others worried about false accusations and how it could affect men’s lives (#himtoo). In the midst of this, what business did I, a mere onlooker, have adding to the noise? A year later though, I’m looking at what I wrote with gentler eyes and figure it can live here on my little piece of the internet:

October 11, 2018.

The other day our roommate told me a story: In between her various work gigs, she’d gone to the movies where she bought candy from the concession stand. As she walked away, she realized she didn’t have her credit card so she returned to the concession stand and told the worker that she hadn’t gotten it back. He told her he didn’t have it.

Their discussion culminated in my friend looking the counter-guy in the eye and saying, “Look, I don’t know your life, you don’t know mine. I can say that I’m going to skip this movie and walk to the bank to de-activate this card, and it’s going to be a big inconvenience for me, and not helpful for anyone else. Or I’m going to walk across the lobby, and then I’m going to come back and find my credit card sitting right here on the counter.

She then walked across the lobby, and when she returned, her credit card was there.

She told me, “He’d taken it. I knew he’d taken it.”

I thought my friend was pretty badass — I am the sort who too often questions my own perception of reality. In her place, I almost certainly would have questioned myself, wondering: Did I drop it? Did someone already pick it up? Did I aim for a pocket and miss? Would I find the card in a hole in the lining of my purse a month from now?”

I asked her, “How did you know?”

“Because if you tell someone—just any normal person–that you’ve lost something, their first reaction is some kind of compassion. Like, ‘Oh, that sucks. I’ve had that happen.’ And then a normal person would say, ‘Let me look around here,’ even if they know they gave it back, because, why not? But there was none of that. This guy immediately jumped to the defensive, he got mad at me for “accusing” him, which, at that point, I hadn’t done. All I said was I didn’t get my card back.”

I  thought about this as I listened to coverage of the recent confirmation hearing for Brett Kavanaugh to become a supreme court judge.

The hearings were contentious because a professor named Christine Blasey Ford claimed that Kavanaugh he assaulted her at a house party when they were both teenagers. He denied these claims and his responses to questions regarding this entire part of his life at the hearing were very impassioned.

People have been talking about how Kavanaugh “lost control” of his emotions as he responded. I actually wonder if Kavanaugh was advised to be emotional, i.e. ANGRY. Righteous anger I’ve found, is a good way to hi-jack whatever topic another person wants to discuss. And also, wrath of a man, especially a white man, commands something from us. I get it. I grew up with it. And we tend to look with suspicion at people who are too calm and rational. I know this too, from having been this person — the same calmly questioning person who would be unable to confidently accuse the candy-seller of taking my credit card.

As this person, I can’t jump on board with the impassioned posts on my Facebook wall with the brightly-colored backgrounds that call Kavanaugh “a rapist.” He is, at most, an “alleged attempted rapist,” which, even believing all of Blasey’s testimony, could be downgraded to a “drunk-to-the-point-of-stupid-violence, assault-est.” She said she was “afraid he would accidentally kill” her, which sounds truly terrifying, but also uses the word “accidentally.”  In a generous mood, recollecting drunken teenaged pile-ons I witnessed in my own youth, I would have to admit to the possibility that he had no intentions at all to harm or rape. I would have to concede to the possibility that he was just stupid drunk at a stupid age where people do stupid things that they walk away from and forget —  if they are lucky enough and usually privileged enough in terms of race and gender and economics to be able to do so.

I am a person who believes in the possibility that some asshole jocks from high school and asshole frat-boys from college grow and evolve as they grow older, that those underdeveloped parts of their brains develop and they become better people. After all, (yes, I’m going to evoke Star Trek: Next Generation) even Captain Picard had a brash and unthinking past, and he became a thoughtful leader of his crew. But Captain Picard also reflected on his past decisions – how they hurt him (and others). He felt regret, even as he came to acknowledge that his mistakes helped him grow into who he became.

Kavanaugh’s testimony, by contrast, was chillingly devoid of self-reflection or compassion for someone other than himself. Like the guy at the movie counter, he  bypassed that moment where one might say, “Oh, did you lose your innocence, your confidence, your ability to feel safe in the world. That must suck,” and jumped to the defensive immediately. He looks back on his youth with glasses tinted rose and shouts “betrayal” at anyone who might look through a different lens.

If  you are ever brought before a judge, what traits do you hope that judge will possess? For my part, I would want intellectual acuity and legal expertise. But even more, I would for empathy, for the imagination to step out of ones own shoes and into the shoes of others – others who might be different in their race, gender, political beliefs, educational background and a thousand other ways. Does Brett Kavanaugh, as he steps into a lifetime position of power, have this ability?  I have not seen it so far.

And that, to me, is chilling.

 

 

The First Cloned Cat

A couple years back, I conceived of a series which involved a fair amount of research about clones. I still perk up my ears when I see articles about clone advancements. People have been cloning their pet dogs for several years, but now the the first cat has been cloned.

Of particular interest:

For their pet cloning services, Mi says Sinogene hopes to someday transfer the memories of the original animals to their clones using artificial intelligence or man-machine interface technology, according to the Global Times

When It Gets Challenging

It’s a tough time of year. The weather is hot, both in the way that August is always hot and the way that portends the ever-nearing climate apocalypse. The autumn is nigh. In the way that August always precedes the too-fast downhill slope into the holidays and the end of the year.

We’re housesitting for a few days in a beautiful house with air-conditioning and a calm, well-behaved dog. An ideal writer’s retreat… but I am not being the ideal writer. It makes me feel ashamed of passing hours lacking in accomplishments, and it’s all too easy to make the mental jump from passing of hours to the passing of ones life.

I have my reasons for minimal output, as maybe writers always do. So far, 2019 has been yet another year of almosts, of promises, of feigned excitement and “contracts on their way from business affairs,” that in the end turn into nothing. Some “untruths” are no doubt innocent, others intentional — they are plentiful enough to have some of each.

So what should I be writing? I have two stories, a feature in need of a rewrite, and three feature outlines all begun, and I find myself in a state of paralysis, unable to make a good dive into any of them.

There is the pervasive Hollywood myth, that I am realizing is much the same as myths perpetuated by abusers everywhere, that there is some right choice, some story, that (if you can execute it in a way that’s transcendent) will make the relationship healthy, will make the abuser act not act like a sociopath. If you can just be GREAT ENOUGH then THIS TIME all the promises will be made good on. THIS TIME you will be pulled from your indentured servitude into the rosy future — if you can pass all the tests and reach it.

I’ve come to recognize this as the psychological fuckery it is, and I don’t believe in it anymore… except when I do. Like a seven-year-old coming to certain conclusions about Santa, I’m still like, “but WHAT IF?” What if he does exist and there are awesome presents that you get because you’re good?

So, there’s still this temptation to place an irrational weight on choosing which project to invest in, because what if one of them has the potential to be a project that CHANGES EVERYTHING and what if I choose wrong? Or, what if NONE of them will change everything, but there’s a project that will at least give me personal satisfaction, but instead I’m choosing to chase promises and pots of gold at ends of rainbows again?

At this point, either my compass is so messed up or — because it’s actually impossible for anyone to predict — I’m having difficulty even choosing what will give personal satisfaction. Which project, a year from now, will be worth the frustration of finishing a draft and realizing I need to tear it down to the bones and build it again and then again?

So here I am at a fork in the road, unable to choose a way forward, waiting for clarity.

At least there’s a pool.

 

 

 

Beth Ann

Beth Ann (not her real name, for privacy) is the homeless lady who lives in our neighborhood. She used to perch on a brick planter near the entrance to the parking lot until the CVS asked her not to sit there as customers didn’t like. Then she moved across the street. And then, when the doctor gave her some “water pills” that make her pee a lot, she crossed another street to a bus stop bench in front of the McDonalds. The bench is probably more comfortable than the planter, but there’s no shade of any kind, so she is in full sun for the entire day.

When I come to see her she says, “Oh hey, darlin,'” and we sit and chat for a few minutes. She tells me a little about her health and doctors’ visits now that she’s approved for Medi-Cal, what the mysterious construction site on the corner is going to be (she knows from making friend with one of the workers) and how she was born in the same hospital as Mayor Garcetti and about the time that Mayor Garcetti got our of his limo to talk to her, telling her she might want to go to a shelter for the night because there was going to be a hard rain. She told him she appreciated the advice but I don’t know where she slept that night.

When I go to visit I take a few bottles of frozen water, and whatever I have on hand for food. Today I had cut melon, a slice of pizza and some thai noodles and a Snicker’s bar. Usually I try to do something more nutritious like eggs or cheese sticks or a salad, so I added three dollars rolled up in a rubber band, and resisted the urge to apologize or make excuses when I handed her the bag.

Before I knew Beth Ann by name, I would sometimes see her reading a book next to her pile of belongings, and I’d think, if I were a homeless person, that would be me. A white woman, off by herself, reading a book. I spoke to her once or twice, maybe offered a dollar, but didn’t engage too much. The reasons seem both obvious, but also are not that easy to articulate. Maybe the responsibility seemed too much — maybe I was worried I would find out things she really needed (like a room in my house!) and I wouldn’t be ready. to go that far and I’d feel guilty. Maybe she was a reminder of the overwhelming problem we have of homeless everywhere you go or look in Los Angeles now, and I didn’t want to think about it.

But then, in the era of the NextDoor app, a woman I’ve never met in our neighborhood posted that she was starting a “Lotsa Helping Hands” calendar for Beth Ann, and that if we got 14 people, everyone could stop by only once every two weeks and we would still cover every day. And that drew me in, even though we only got as high as nine and not every day is covered. I’m really grateful to that neighbor for the rather brave thing she did, courting the ire of the NIMBY’s to make the request. When I see a Beth Ann on the bench, I see “Beth Ann” and not just a problem. Even though I still feel sad for the situation, I feel hope too, that things can get better for her.