Archive for June 2010

Accentuate the Positive

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A few weeks ago, an acquaintance gave me an advance copy of her upcoming novel, which has adoption-oriented themes. I’m not going to mention the book by name because the author is actually a lovely woman with good intentions, but as I read the book I felt my throat tightening and a cold pit growing in my stomach.

The book reinforced negative stereotype after negative stereotype of people in the adoption community. There is a mercenary, dishonest agency owner with ten “souvenir” children adopted from all over the world, for whom “home schooling” is synonymous with neglect. There is a rich, racist, neurotic prospective adoptive mother and her racist, whoremonger, absent husband. The prospective fathers at an adoption information picnic exchange derisive asides as their wives anxiously wring their hands and angle for the best caseworker. The birth mothers involved in the domestic adoptions are either tragically wronged angels or criminal, money-grubbing skanks.

I read the book through to the end because I kept wanting to find something redeeming but there wasn’t a shred of positivity to be had.

I was so upset that I had a hard time sleeping that night. I was disturbed at least partially because the book wasn’t meant to be anti-adoption. In fact, the woman had given it to me knowing that Tariku was adopted. When I discussed it with her later, she insisted that she was just trying to explore the complexities around domestic adoption and look at the fact that someone always gets their heart broken. Negative stereotypes around adoption are so acceptable that a major publishing house apparently agrees with her.

I don’t believe in either art police or thought police and I don’t believe that it is our responsibility as artists to portray positive imagery of anything. It is our responsibility as artists to tell truth. I don’t say “the truth” because I believe there are many different truths. I know that the author did her best to tell truth as she saw it.

However, my truth about adoption is so radically different from hers that it cost me sleep. The glorious thing about being a writer is that I have a forum for telling my version of the story (next book idea? Perhaps…).

Adoption is indeed complex and imperfect and at its core there is loss and heartbreak. My son has lost his birth family, his birth country, his culture, his language. There has already been so much sorrow in his 27 months on this earth that I sometimes lie in bed next to him while he sleeps and cry just thinking about it.

But that is not the end of the story; it’s the beginning. I can’t erase the loss from his life, but today and every day after, I can offer him a safe and loving home where his feelings are respected and his history is treasured. Nor can I erase the loss of a birth family too besieged by famine and poverty to care for a little boy, but I can honor their sacrifice.

The channels through which children are adopted are imperfect and need vigilant examination. And adoption isn’t the answer for world problems like poverty and lack of health care, but that doesn’t change the fact that children need homes and they need them now. Adoption isn’t a solution for Ethiopia’s challenges, but it was a solution for Tariku and it was a solution for us.

So do we really need another book with reprehensible characters in the adoption world? Do we really need another horror movie where there is a bad seed orphan running around with sharp kitchen utensils? There is so much suspicion of difference and unfortunately still so much stigma around adoption.

We don’t need any more bad press.

So I’d like to share some good press. Adoption is imperfect, but I’m wildly passionate about it and one of the reasons is the incredible people it’s introduced into my life. Here are links to honest, intelligent blogs from some amazing adoptive families. Some are my faves and some were pitched in by my mama girlfriends.

Rage Against The Minivan

Our Little Tongginator

Welcome To My Brain

Dreaming Big Dreams

Ethiopian Tripletland

The Big Five

The Lost Planet

Easties and Company

Under the Acacia Tree

I Can Do Anything Good

I know that almost everyone in the world has already seen this, but I can’t watch it enough.

I want what she has. I want Tariku to have it, too. I want it for all of us:

Aromatherapy

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I spoke to a therapist last week who told me that he’d like to see me be more joyful. I told him that “joy” wasn’t exactly my thing. I don’t mean to sound like Eeyore; I have moments of great happiness, of course. But I’m not exactly a Tigger by nature. I think of joy as something sustained, possibly even something constitutional. I think of joy as a different vibration than the one on which I generally function. But yesterday morning, I felt that I was edging closer to something resembling joy.

Friends of ours have a beach house in Malibu for a couple of weeks and we went out to visit them. The picture above is of T with their daughter Amara. Scott took T into the ocean until they were practically underwater and I don’t think I’ve ever seen either of them have quite so much fun. I napped with the baby afterward and his hair smelled like the sea. I thought of telling the therapist that I was a quick study and our work was done.

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Then our babysitter came by and Scott and I went to have some yogurt and pick up the NYTimes to see my Modern Love column, “Finding Marriage Without Losing a Self.” Reading my first NYTimes byline wasn’t quite as joy-inducing as an ocean-scented baby, but it sure didn’t suck.

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Then I had a fun time reading at the Tongue and Groove series at the Hotel Cafe, with J. Ryal Stradhal, Chiwan Choi, Rich Ferguson and Holland on her uke. Scott and I stopped at Mia Sushi, our fave local spot, on the way home and followed that by staying up too late watching True Blood. Scott only complained about there not being enough bare boobies to make up for it being a horrible chick show sixteen times as opposed to his usual thirty. Joy!

Baby, friends, ocean, nap, fro-yo, words, sushi, True Blood. Seriously, joy.

Jersey Roots

Novel revisions are beating me down. I get possessed by different artists when I’m in different phases of my work and right now it’s The Boss. I’m working with a bandana around my head today and hoping that it will act as an antennae for some good mojo.

Thought I’d share this video with you, as he says it all better than I can:

New Leaf, Same Old Tree

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Today I’ve lit a new candle, washed my hair, reorganized my files, prayed, stood on my head, made coffee, made tea, made a gross diet shake, washed my hands twenty-six times and wiped everything in my office down with alcohol. I keep waiting for them to come out with an industrial sized Purell with a hose attachment (Ghostbusters style), but apparently they don’t think that the Obsessive Compulsive market is worth targeting. Probably becasue we don’t leave the house too much.

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The thing is, I’m way, way, way overdue on my deadline for the revisions on my novel, Pretty, which is scheduled to come out next spring. I wasn’t able to complete it before starting the insane press for Some Girls, so I had to take a break and focus on promoting for a couple of months.

Now my back is against the wall and I’m having a hell of a time time transitioning from marketing mode to creative mode. The thing about transitions is that they never feel clean. I want to have some epic psychic Master Cleanse and I’ve tried everything I can think of to facilitate this, but every morning I still wake up wracked with anxiety and distracted by a million zinging thoughts and unable to find the kind of focus that it takes for me to write anything longer than a blog post.

So right now I’ll wash my hands one last time and then I’ll try to reconcile myself with the fact that there were ten places that my hands picked up germs in between the sink and the keyboard. Because I’m not a surgeon; I’m a writer. Nobody dies if things get messy.

And as I ask my doubt and anxiety to kindly step aside for a few hours so I can get some work done, I will try to keep in mind this beautiful passage from Steve Almond’s “One Over Forty” essay at The Rumpus:

Your job as a fiction writer is to focus on your characters, and to ignore – to the extent you can – the rest of the bullshit…

But the real life of a writer resides in showing up at the keyboard every day, with the necessary patience and mercy, and making the best decisions you can on behalf of your people. It’s a slow process. It often feels hopeless, more like an affliction than an art form.

Most of us will have to find our readers one by one, in other words, and against considerable resistance. If anything qualifies us as heroic, it’s that private perpetual struggle.

Put down the magazine, soldier. Forget about the other guy. Remember who you are.

The Show Is Everywhere

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I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again- the LA Opera is the sexiest date in LA. Scott and I joined Rivers and Kyoko and went to see Die Walkure this weekend. It rocked our world.

Gift idea: if you or anyone you know has connections at the opera costume shop (yes, Sharon, that means you) I want one of those Valkyrie costumes oh-so-badly. I’m certain that no one in the world could pull it off as daywear as well as I could:

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The LA Opera isn’t just the sexiest date in LA, it’s also the best people watching in LA. During the first intermission, these enthusiastic folks were doing performance art around the fountain. Who needs a stage?

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Our votes for best dressed at the opera went to:

1. The woman in the wide-brimmed hat and shiny silver catsuit and her escort in the white tux.

2. The two blondes in front row wearing Viking helmets.

3. The tall guy in the white linen suit and his charmingly trampy tattooed date in a sundress (no, it wasn’t us).

Father’s Day

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We drive to Zuma nearly every weekend and each time I’ve watched T get closer and closer to the waves while Scott stood patiently by his side. This weekend T took the plunge and Daddy was there to bail him out when the waves got too scary. It was a glorious day. I was proud of them both.

Happy Father’s Day, Honey.

LA INK

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The banner around the heart is the tattoo I just got from Corey Miller on LA INK. I can’t say anything more about the show because we signed a confidentiality agreement, but I can say that Scott and I had great fun shooting it. It’ll probably air sometime in August.

Mine says, “Tell Me A Story.” Scott got Tariku’s name in Amharic tattooed on his right hand.

Strangely Lit Literati

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On Friday, Scott and I went to a party to celebrate the publication of Jennifer Egan’s A Visit From The Goon Squad. About fifteen years ago, I did a favor for Jenny and I’ve been cashing in on it ever since. Seriously, I’m a psychotic fan of her writing and if she wasn’t also the loveliest person on earth I’d have to hate her. As it is, I think she’s swell and I was thrilled to see her. I can’t wait to crack the book.

I like these pictures Scott took. I think they kind of look like a Fellini film.

Bark For Help

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Having decided he was through with the baby getting all the attention, Calvin sadly laid his little body down on the tracks. Then he ate a moo-ing dairy car, a passenger car and a red caboose, which cheered him up enough to go chase bees in the yard again.

Hugs Not Drugs

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Scott, Tariku, our friend Julien and I went today to see Amma, the hugging saint from India. Amma spends most of her hours on this earth hugging people. She has also inspired and started many humanitarian organizations. I’ve always been moved by her mission and in awe of her profound selflessness.

I’ve been to see her every time she visited LA over the last five years and each one was a unique experience. I have blissfully waited for eight hours for a hug and watched the colorful Devi Bhava ceremony and I have also stood annoyed by the shoe racks wondering who the heck would show up to get a hug from a saint and steal my brand new clogs on their way out.

Last year Scott finally came with me and we took the baby to get a blessing. It moved us both to tears. Well, this year T isn’t a baby anymore and he had some other ideas about what he’d rather be doing than waiting around the airport Hilton to get a hug. Specifically, he could not understand how we could be spitting distance from AIRPLANES and prefer to sit with a bunch of hippies in a lobby with ugly chandeliers. He made his objections known for three hours.

It was hard to sing and draw and dance around and do everything I could think of to try to keep T from freaking out in the darshan line. He kept pointing to the stage behind Amma and saying, “Band? Bass? Band? Bass?” Like- what the hell? Where is the band anyway? This party is lame!

And of course Scott managed to say like twelve things that totally annoyed me, including one that made me want to respond with the bitchiest comment ever spoken within 100 feet of Amma. It was that kind of day. It was a rough one. Everyone was out to kill my spiritual buzz.

Amma gets me thinking about miracles. And I want to say something about miracles- sometimes they don’t feel very miraculous. I live with at least a couple of miracles every day: the fact that I’m not drinking and using drugs today and the fact that we have our son. Both of those things don’t always make me feel like I’m standing in a glorious beam of sunshine. There are some late nights that I want a glass of wine more than I want the next breath of air and there are some early mornings that I really wish I had a kid who didn’t think sleep is for losers.

I remember reading a quote from Amma once where (forgive me for paraphrasing) she said something like: Where there is love there is no effort.

I’m not always there yet. And I judge myself for it. Then I judge everyone else while I’m at it, just to keep things fair.

But I have moments when I get it. Riding home I remembered last Sunday, when we went for a walk out at Zuma Beach. Scott was holding T and T reached over to put his arm around my neck and pull us all into a group hug. And for just a moment, life felt absolutely effortless.

I keep going back to Amma to be reminded of the possibilities.

Blue Means Water

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I visited Creativity Explored on my way out of San Francisco. It’s a nonprofit visual arts center where artists with developmental disabilities create, exhibit, and sell art. It might be one of my favorite places in the world. Just look at the studio space. A visit to Creativity Explored never fails to inspire me.

The exhibit I saw was curated by the artists themselves. It’s called “Where are We?” and it’s organized around the concept of maps. I love the experience of landing in an unfamiliar city and unfolding a map on the floor in front of me. I’ve wondered lately if Tariku will ever have to read a map or if he’ll grow up in a world where coordinates are simply dictated by a robot voice coming out of the GPS system.

The other day we were looking at the globe and I was explaining to him that blue means water. He says it over and over now. Blue. Water. Blue. Water.

At Creativity Explored, I fell in love with and purchased a painting called “Watery Places #2″ by Mary Belknap. It brought to mind a book I’m currently obsessed with: Bluets by Maggie Nelson. I’m thinking a lot about blue lately.

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Ich Liebe Es!

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I got the copy of the German translation of Some Girls today. It’s called Harem Girls and you can order it on Amazon. It’s gorgeous. I love how it smells.

A Good Night To Die

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This weekend I went to San Francisco for Opium Magazine’s Literary Death Match at the Yerba Buena Center for the Arts . You can read a great write-up of the night here.

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After recording an interview with Rumpus Radio, Stephen Elliott and I joined my fabulous SF friends in the Yerba Buena Gardens for a picnic. I tried to bribe judge Daniel Hander (also known as Lemony Snicket) with spring rolls and vegan cookies. He was having none of it. Danica Suskin and Chris Marco took the pictures.

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Then we all proceeded to the Death Match festivities. The judges for the night were Susie Bright, Daniel-I-Take-No-Bribes-Handler and gold-medal-winning figure skater Brian Boitano (I know, cool, right?). I wanted to ask Brian to take of his shoes and skate around with me in our socks, but I was too shy.

The event was hosted by Todd Zuniga and Elissa Bassist (who frenched all of the judges before the evening was through). I was competing against slam-poet Taylor Mali, hilarious storyteller/author Beth Lisick and out and out genius Daniel Alarcon. Friends, all I can say is I went down fighting and it was an honor.

Here is a pic of Beth and me, with Susie Bright in the background.

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I love doing the Death Match and other events that merge literature and performance in fresh ways. Their website states that, “Our ultimate goal is to perform the Literary Death Match all over the world, and to continue to showcase literature as a brilliant, unstoppable medium.”

Hell, yeah.

In The Flesh

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Fantastic night at Stan Kent’s “In the Flesh” reading series at Hustler Hollywood. I bought Zoe Zolbrod’s novel, Currency, and Gina Frangello’s book of short stories, Slut Lullabies. I also almost bought a booby cupcake tin, but the fact that the only thing I wanted in the whole Hustler store was a cupcake tin made me feel kind of pathetic, so I didn’t.

Gina and Zoe blew me away with their readings. Brad Listi and Duke Haney from The Nervous Breakdown showed up. Here’s a pic of Brad, Duke, Gina, Zoe and me:

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And here’s Zoe and me celebrating fine literature:

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Elvis is Alive

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At the behest of everyone who sees me on a daily basis, I actually took a day off today. Promoting the book has been an amazing ride, but there’s an eternal to-do list that I never seem to make a dent in no matter how many hours I put in. Then there’s another suitcase to pack and another plane to catch. I’m starting to wake up feeling shaky and exhausted every morning.

So I flew with my pilot friend Colin to Temecula to look at vintage trailers. It seems as though the house has been shrinking lately, so Scott and I think that it would be a neat idea to move my office outside.

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I love flying with Colin. It’s like driving a sports car through the sky. Unlike in a commercial jet, in the small plane, I feel the full impact of the fact that we’re flying. Flying. It’s miraculous.

We went to visit Dayton Taylor and had a blast perusing his awesome property. The sweetest little trailer called my name. So I bought it. It’s a 1955 Holiday Rambler dubbed by Dayton: “Elvis is Alive!”

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Now we’re going to strip it, polish it, give it love and trick it out and in a couple of months I’ll have a new office. I’ll update you on the progress.

As far as days off go, it was grand. I don’t do it often, but I do it in style.

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First Fig

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Today, Scott and I ate the first fig of the season off one of our beloved fig trees.

Last year I succeeded in planting a garden that was alternately glorious and totally gross (lettuce worms- eck), but ultimately gratifying. This year I have to confess that the whole yard looks like it belongs to the Adams family. Last summer I had a garden; this summer I have a book. I never even made it out to the back yard to smell my favorite roses when they bloomed. I think some people can probably manage to juggle it all with grace, but I am not one of those people. I wind up with an herb garden that looks like this. Yes, that’s a sock.

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But even the yard is sometimes forgiving. There are always the figs.

Heartfelt Haiku

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My friend Julie Klausner offered a personalized dirty limerick to anyone who wrote a positive Amazon review for her book, I Don’t Care About Your Band. I’m not as funny as Julie, but I can console myself with the fact that I know enough to steal a good idea when I see one.

Give me a positive review on Amazon and tell me about it. I’ll write you your very own heartfelt haiku! Write one for Julie, too, and I’ll throw in a bonus syllable.

You Lookin’ at Me?

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Sotheby’s is mounting a sale of Orientalist art, including this painting by Rudolf Ernst. I enjoyed browsing the catalog. In Some Girls, I write about the post-modern experience of seeing 19th century Western paintings of harems hanging one hundred and fifteen years later on the walls of a harem in Southeast Asia. I was there to be looked at by a Prince who was looking at the art by the painters who had essentially been looking at him, or some imagined version of him. Huh?

All I know is that I wish I had that tile work in my house.

My Son The Abstract Expressionist

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Dad leaves town on tour and all hell breaks loose.

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