For Everything a Season…Even in L.A.

Until now, I’ve been one of those grouchy East Coasters guilty of bemoaning the lack of seasons in Los Angeles. But it’s not true. One only needs to hunt for the perfect back-to-school lunchbox to feel the curtain closing on summer. Yet again, my child awakens me to the subtleties of the world around me. To the sweetness of the last figs off the tree, the delicious exhaustion of late beach afternoons, the sadness of the shortening days.

Yesterday, T started planning for our Christmas tree. He wants a big one this year. No, a big one. No, I mean a BIG one. I explained that we had to make it through fall first.

And in the grand tradition of fall….say a little prayer because we’re trying a new school. I don’t want to say too much about it until we have a toehold, but I’m hopeful that this one is going to work out. I’ve been hopeful before and I’ve been dead wrong, but I’ll persist in being hopeful because T is changing so much every day. He’s able to understand now why his friends are in school and he’s not. He’s working hard on his emotional regulation and his impulse control because he badly wants to be around other kids his age. We start next week. I’ll have the updates from the trenches.

Also- holy shit….baseball season. I’m a mom in the bleachers at baseball practice. Do you ever have moments when it washes over you? This isn’t a dollhouse you’re living in; this isn’t a script you’re writing; this isn’t a game- you are someone’s MOTHER. Baseball practice does that to me. Suck it up and make some snacks, cause you’re deep in it now, mom.

And how did I, who only ever attended pep-rallies for the sake of irony, wind up with the kid with the most team spirit ever? He smiles when he runs laps. He cheers when his teammates hit the ball. He cheers when they strike out. He cheers when they’re warming up. He cheers when they catch the ball. He cheers when they drop it. He makes me proud with that enormous heart of his. Every minute of every day.

What I Will Miss

Writing this from my desk here at home in L.A.. I’m ecstatic to be here in some ways and feel a bit lost in others. On my final morning in Edinburgh I woke at 4am for an early flight and the sky was a swampy blue-green, as if the city was underwater. The Edinburgh Fringe Festival was an exhausting adventure and the learning curve was a steep one, but I will miss the wild, shifting Scottish skies.

I’ll also miss walking endless miles every day, until my knees ached from negotiating the cobblestone. I’ll miss the feeling of permission I get from being in a foreign city- permission to sit at a corner cafe and drink tea and breathe for a moment. Permission to not constantly be moving on to the next item on my to-do list. I’ll miss the sense of slowing down and also, paradoxically, of increased urgency. The kind of urgency with which you look at a gorgeous place when you know you won’t see it again for a very long time. The urgency that inspires you to meet people in the park and become fast friends and skip the small talk.

I loved the charged atmosphere of the festival. And mostly I loved how hard everyone was trying. I walked through the streets each afternoon and thought that the guy on stilts juggling swords in his underwear and the high school glee-club in their matching bedazzled t-shirts and the nocturnal comedians just waking to thoughts of the previous night’s triumph or humiliation- not one of them was sleepwalking through their day. They were all resolutely, sometimes painfully, alive. It was an electric thing to be a part of.

And now, the true spiritual challenge- how to stay resolutely alive when stationed in the outfield at baseball practice…

Crying into my Coffee

Here is the text of my third Huffpo Fringe Diary (DJ took the groovy pic):

I lived in Paris one glorious and angst-ridden summer in my early twenties and it was there that I discovered the joys of crying in cafes. At the time, I was heartbroken, having just single-handedly destroyed my relationship with my first love due to unfounded jealousy and emotional instability. What better place to mourn a lost love than on the Left Bank? I cried into café au laits and I cried into kir royales. I cried until the ink smeared across my earnest journal pages. I signed my letters “gros bisous,” the last “s” smudged by a final, fat teardrop.

My heartbreak now is of a quieter variety. There is no longer a lost love, or rather, there are a handful of them. They all haunt me from time to time, though the specters are just flickers of a romanticism I rarely have time for anymore. A romanticism perhaps best surrendered and with it a measure of the narcissism and naiveté that never served me well to begin with.

I hope to never again cry from a heartbreak like the one I suffered that Parisian summer. But even a happy marriage can’t guarantee any such thing. I think often of holding my aunt’s hand as we watched her husband breathe his last breath. I remember how she lay all night on the floor next to the bed. I learned a lesson about the fleeting nature of love’s promises that night, as I listened to her rhythmic sobbing until the pale New England dawn came and I finally convinced her to make the call so they could come for his body.

Perhaps it was memories of that night that inspired my tears the other day, when I found myself crying in the café of a small bookstore that I ducked into out of the Edinburgh rain. Perhaps it was the report from my husband that my child is having a hard time, is missing me, is behaving poorly without me. Perhaps it was the ever-present thought that my closest friend, who died of a drug overdose a year ago, would have loved this city and it would have loved her back, her relentlessly creative spirit.

Crying in public is something I usually reserve for museums and cafes in cities not my own. Who has time, in between work and meetings and soccer practice and grocery shopping, to stop and cry into a your coffee because of some essential human loneliness? And anyway, who would cry into a ventithreeshotsugarfreevanillaskimmilk latte? There are so many control issues stuffed into that cup that there’s no room left for tears.

No- you cry into a whole milk latte, when your ankle is throbbing just slightly because you turned it by stepping awkwardly on cobblestone. You cry when the only people to witness speak another language, or at least with a barely-decipherable brogue. There’s a nakedness to crying in public, an implicit invitation to others to share your pain. The anonymity of traveling lends a safety to this nakedness. It’s simply not prudent to have an existential crisis at parent-teacher night. But a little breakdown on a street corner in Rome won’t inspire gossip about your fragility (perhaps you’re back on those pills after all), won’t cause you to miss your pitch meeting, won’t leave you too distraught to make dinner.

And what do we travel for if not this- to be lifted out of our ingrained identities and to experience our humanity?

In the Edinburgh café, I was brought back to my summer in Paris. That girl’s tears seem so sweet, so precious to me now. She knew everything about heartbreak and nothing at all. And though it sometimes feels like it, she is never entirely gone.

Ghosts and Royal Dicks

Here’s the text of the second in my series of Fringe blogs for the Huffpo:

I’m performing my solo show, Mother Tongue, at a venue called Summerhall, Edinburgh’s newest and biggest arts venue. Summerhall is located in the former Royal School of Veterinary Studies (nickname: The Royal Dick, after it’s founder William Dick, and still the name of the café/bar). My gay BFF is convinced that this is a good omen. “There’s no way you’re going to suck at the Royal Dick,” he told me. Which is an enormously ironic statement, seeing as my memoir is about doing exactly that, albeit in a different context.

But all Royal Dick sucking aside, Summerhall is a terrifically cool space, with a fascinating community of international artists lounging in the courtyard, trolling the hallways, wandering in and out of its nearly 500 rooms (some filled with art, some abandoned, some undecided), playing music, watching films, hanging from the ceiling fans, getting naked, and making art in all mediums. I’m tickled to be performing alongside an installation by one of my personal heroes, Carolee Schneemann.

I’m performing in the Red Lecture Theater, which is located on the first floor of Summerhall, around four or five twisty turns and down a flight of stairs to the basement. In front of the rows of seats are long ledges on which aspiring veterinarians used to take notes and my audiences have been happy to rest their drinks for the hour. My director DJ Mendel and I both love the room. It’s technically not perfect by any means, but it’s intimate, the rake of the seats is just right and there’s a nice energy there.

The dressing room is another story altogether. It is perhaps the creepiest dressing room ever. Or certainly the creepiest I’ve ever experienced. It’s small and cold and smells of cat pee and paint, as if someone just slapped a fresh coat over God knows what stains, what smells. A door opens into a labyrinth of dark corridors (dark corridors in which Victorian veterinary experiments took place) and there are doors along the wall, with small windows in them and locks on the outside. Which is to say, cages. My dressing room has cages in it.

On our first day in the theater, as I was sprawled out stretching on the stage, an ancient man hobbled in the door, leaning on a cane. He talked to DJ for a while and in a thick Scottish accent told him he used to work there. He said he had been a porter and had loved the job because everyone there used to help each other. Then he said, “I can’t help you with that dead girl, though.” And indicated me, lying on the ground.

Then the man walked out. Our lighting designer Ian Garrett came in not five seconds later and insists he didn’t see anyone leaving. Weird old guy or Scottish ghost? Other spooky facts: The manager of the space told me that they have no vermin at all, which is almost unheard of in these old buildings. And that the seagulls won’t fly over the building. Won’t go anywhere near it, in fact.

I’m undecided about the ghosts, but I do know that I can’t stay in that dressing room for more than five minutes at a time. I’m usually someone who cocoons for hours before a show, but somehow the cages and cat pee and ghosts have inspired me to be more social during that crucial pre-performance time. Or maybe it’s the festival atmosphere itself that has emboldened me. There is so much fascinating stuff to see that I don’t really want to hide out in the dressing room anyway. I’d rather sit in the café with the Italian performance artists and Balkan musicians and Chinese acrobats and then walk right out onto the stage.

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Life on the Fringe

I’m doing a series of blogs over at the Huffington Post about my experience here at the Fringe Fest. Bet you didn’t know I have Scottish blood running through these veins. Don’t be confused by the Jersey accent, I do! Read all about it here.

Here’s the full text of the post:

Sometimes we change so radically that we become unrecognizable to ourselves. Even if that change is a necessary and welcome change, nostalgia for the former and more familiar self can sometimes creep in. Becoming a mother transformed my life in infinite ways, and while I love my son with a fierce passion, I still end many of my days staring at the ceiling and wondering what’s become of me.

A couple of days ago, I found myself boarding a plane to the Edinburgh Fringe Festival. Alone. Before I got married, I traveled alone all the time and it was a relief to feel like my old, independent self again. But the feeling left as quickly as it came and in its place I felt hollow in my very bones, as if some crucial marrow was missing. I was frustrated to find that I’m no longer the person who experiences nothing but freedom when the plane leaves the ground.

In the pocket of my jeans, I carried a swatch of the MacTaggart clan tartan, like some kind of entry card or talisman. I’m a MacTaggart through my maternal grandmother — my birth mother’s mother. A few years ago, my birth mother sent me a booklet that contains photos and an oral history of her family’s immigration to the U.S., where they settled down in a dusty Midwestern town. In the pictures, the MacTaggarts look hearty and solid. I looked through the pictures in the book, yearning to see some sort of resemblance.

Everyone looks to the world and hopes to find a mirror, but for adopted children, that search takes on a different sort of urgency. I saw no part of me in these care-worn farmers, until I reached a picture of a group of women and one popped off the page, the only woman in the whole book wearing lipstick. Even in the black and white pictures, you can tell that her lipstick is a wild shade of red. What a defiantly frivolous thing — to wear lipstick when all the faces around you wear only the lines etched into their skin by years of hard-won survival. I look at the name and, indeed, this is my maternal grandmother. Of course it is.

I was raised by bookish, middle-class Jews, immigrants from Eastern Europe, and I feel more connected to that lineage than I do to the farmers in those photographs. And yet, this swatch of blue and red and black in my pocket is a piece of me, if only because flying low over the patchwork Scottish farmlands, I want believe that something this breathtakingly green is inscribed in my cells.

And here I sit, in a flat in Edinburgh, watching the fireworks above the castle out the window of my bedroom. Today I open a solo show about how adopting my son from Ethiopia enabled me to face my conflicted feelings about my own adoption. How the mishmash identity we piece together as adoptees can make locating a sense of belonging in the world a struggle. Not impossible, certainly, but challenging.

The Edinburgh Fringe Festival is the largest arts festival in the world, with over 2,500 shows playing throughout the next month, and it’s bedlam. Every charming cobblestone street is crawling with actors, comedians, dancers, circus performers, musicians and performance artists of all shapes and sizes. They try to lure you in to see their shows by dressing in costumes, taking their shirts off, offering free cake, hula hooping, singing, dancing around in scary fairy makeup. Every church and storefront and café and tent is a performance venue. There’s even a giant inflatable purple cow called the Udderbelly.

I stumble down the cobblestone of the Royal Mile, duck into a stone archway and find my lighting designer sitting and chatting with some elegant, slouchy dancers lounging on the lawn. I run into my friend Kristina Wong, a solo performer I know from LA, who is stressed about getting the scones she’s serving at her morning show. I meet a woman named Mrs. Clark, who wears face paint and a black feather headdress and tells me that I make her spoon happy, upon which she draws a spoon with googly eyes from her cleavage. Later, I find my friend, comic Eddie Pepitone, the Bitter Buddha, who is adamant that this many performance artists should never be in one place at the same time — no good can come of it.

I still have my tartan in my pocket, but really the culture I’m a part of this anarchic explosion of art. This is my clan — tired and puffy-eyed and tearing their hair out at tech rehearsals and making stuff — good stuff, bad stuff, funny stuff, awful stuff — and coming together here in this fantastically gorgeous place to do it. I miss my child, I’m anxious about opening night, and still there’s a vein of joy running through my day, through these streets. There’s no need to feel motion sick from swaying between these disparate identities. There’s room for all of it here. I’m right at home.