Thursday, March 26, 2015

There Are Places I Remember

I’ve known a handful of magic places in my life; pockets carved out by time and people.  They’re chapters in my life, they’re what’s made me.

The first was the Lane, a short dead-end street on the side of Mount Tam.  My childhood home was on the Lane (Friars Lane to the uninitiated) but my house was not what made the Lane magic.  My best friend, Casey, who also lived on the lane was responsible for that.  Together we created intricate stories, stories we’d draw on the pavement and step into.  We roamed from her backyard to mine, to the Lane and back, speaking the voices of the characters that inhabited our secret worlds.  This went on for a good ten years.

The second magic place was Ruby Scott Theatre at Tam High.  It was a black box, morphing with every production.  There I met Megan, I met Evany, I met many of the people that are still with me.  Under the guidance of the indomitable Dan Caldwell, our drama teacher, we wrote, we directed, we produced, we acted.  It was our shelter in the storm of adolescence.  We found a moment in a single pool of light where we could actually be ourselves.

The next was Room 1340 in McGowan Hall at UCLA.   It was a room, yes, but a big room, a theater, another black box.  There I met more drama freaks, made more drama, pulled off the layers of girlhood one by one until I found the woman underneath.  The Freud Playhouse, the mainstage next door, was much fancier, much more prestigious.  But what we created in 1340 was grittier, it was three-dimensional, it was true.

Number four, another theater.  This one was the Cast Theater in Hollywood.  When one thinks “Hollywood” one is not imagining the Cast, at least in the nineties.  It was two tiny theaters housed in one run-down building on a residential street in a mostly Latino neighborhood.  We performed original plays by Justin Tanner, our wunderkind.  For five years running I performed a play called “Pot Mom” every Saturday night.  It was everything the title implies – irreverent, pee-your-pants funny but with a huge heart.  We were a ragged band of actors, shouting our lines over the thumping Mariachi from next door, movie stars in the audience.

Number five was the first house I ever owned.  It was 750 square feet, on a hill in Fairfax.  Ben and I bought it as newlyweds, a fixer-upper we quickly shone into submission.  There we conceived both girls, the most magic you can make.  I gave birth to Lana in that house.   We had first steps, first words.

Number six, the very last magic place on my list, is The Garage.  This is the design collective I’m a part of in my little town.  We’re a retail shop housed in an old fix-it garage, largely unimproved.  We are all makers.  Everything you find here is unique and beautiful.

If all the places on my lists are scenes of creativity, The Garage fits right in.  Here I discovered that people might actually want to buy the stuff I make, the stuff I’ve been making for years just to feed my soul; the ponchos out of old cashmere sweaters, the dog-bowl stands out of vintage fruit crates, the brown sugar fudge that was my father’s favorite.  I’ve discovered a group of artists unlike my former actor tribes; they are visual, often internal, but no less magic, no less true.

This coming Sunday we close our doors.  Our building has sold, we have to move out.  A few of us are opening a new store in nearby Olema, a place that will undoubtedly be my next magic spot, an exciting prospect.  But on Sunday we will say goodbye to this place, this entity that for me, at least, has been a life-changer.  I’ve spent two years here, blossoming from a stay-at-home mom to a business owner.  I have been inspired and supported by these gorgeous people around me.  I’ve said before that the Garage has become the beating heart of Fairfax.  On Sunday will be a little death.  And all I can say is thank you.

Thursday, March 12, 2015


When I was pregnant with Mae, my first kid, I was pretty sure that being a mother was going to be like babysitting – kinda fun, kinda boring.  Then, (thirteen years ago yesterday, to be exact) she was born.  In that first moment I saw her squalling Mae-Mae face, I discovered that, actually, being a parent, particularly of a baby, is like being in the presence of a movie star.  Every move, every sound, every glance, magic.  Being a mother, it turns out, is falling in love.

Mihiretu and I have been working on our attachment.  I consult with Aaron, our therapist, and he tells me how to alter my behavior around Mihiretu.  Walk out of the room when he’s misbehaving, check in with him every half hour or so he knows I’m there.  Starve the negative attachment, build the positive attachment.

We talk every week, Aaron and I.  He’s on the East Coast, I’ve never met him.  Mihiretu doesn’t even know he’s in therapy.  This last Monday, I took a break from painting our new store out in West Marin and dialed the New Jersey number at the appointed time.  I sat outside on an old metal chair in the alley behind the store, plugging my non-phone ear to drown the sound of the occasional car, early spring sun warming my shoulders.

Aaron said something that quietly blew my mind, continues to reverberate in me.  He said that I need to open my heart to Mihiretu.  When he enters a room, I need to whole-heartedly greet him, turn my body toward him, smile.  This is a kid, he said, who’s lived his life on a starvation diet of love.  Since his adoption, he’s been pushing away everyone he cares about – testing them to make sure they’ll stay.  And so we, his family, have hardened under this constant barrage of little boy abuse.  Historically, he’s thrown rocks, he’s hit, he’s kicked, he’s sworn, he’s shrieked, he’s stolen, he’s destroyed.  When he walks into a room, we’ve been trained to cower.

For whatever reason, this depiction of Mihiretu, of a boy who’s starving, got me.  Because I’m the one that can feed him.  I’ve been following all the recommended behavioral modifications for the month that I’ve been working with Aaron, but this week, the therapy entered my heart.  It was the key that unlocked me.

And so, when Mihiretu enters a room, I stop what I’m doing, I look him in the eye, I smile and I say, “Hi, Buddy”.  Every ten minutes or so I rub his knee or shoulder, tell him I love him.  He seems a little bewildered by it, but certainly not unreceptive.

Two nights ago we were lying in his bed.  He was telling me about his day, about his friends at school, about his friends in general.  He said, “You know who my favorite girl?”

And I said, “Um, no.  Let me think.  Alana?  From school?”

“Nah,” he said shyly, gazing at me from under his eyelashes.  “I lookin’ at her.”

If being a mother is falling in love, maybe six years into being Mihiretu’s mother, the love affair is finally beginning.  I’m finally feeding my starving child.  And this whole time I didn’t even know he was hungry.