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November 29, 2005

white stuff

Did you know it snowed? Oh, not here. But in the northeast corner of Massachusetts, where we went for Thanksgiving. We woke up Thursday morning to fluffy white flakes floating down like fat dust motes. I immediately remembered the sensation of snowflakes dissolving on my face, chilly little bites. It's visceral, imbedded in the DNA even after 17 years.

But Damian had never experienced snow in his 7 ½ years of life. From LA, you have to go find winter. We haven't bothered in years. We never found anywhere satisfying nearby, not enough to suit our tastes. Vermont isn't exactly close at hand when you're in Southern California, you know? And Lake Arrowhead doesn’t cut it. At least not for us.

Snow. Falling. From the sky. Pretty, soft snow. Damian ran to get me, to bring me to the window so we could watch together but really so he could say the one remaining thing from the list he compiled before moving.

"What's that white stuff?"

And then waited with a smile for me to say, "That's snow, Damian."

He'd gone through the same routine with Dan a few minutes earlier.

Funny kid.

We opened the sliding glass door in the kitchen and scooped snow off the deck. Damian's first handful of snow. He was enamored.

He and I put winter jackets on over our pajamas and went out into the whiteness. The snow had stopped falling by then, but it crunched underfoot and compacted nicely in your mittens and acted in all the ways snow acts and Damian loved it all.

in the snow

Later, Dan went out front and rolled a huge snowball, sculpting it into this:

snow salesman

The strange part, for me, was how not-strange it felt. I think childhood sensations stay with you your whole life, no matter how long it's been. That knowledge, that tactile immediacy, it comes back in an instant, brought forth from whatever part of the brain that has been set aside for deep imprinting. This is how it is. It snows in winter. It feels cold and wet and covers everything in white newness and that's the way things are and were and will be.

snow on branch

November 22, 2005

autumn leaves

Sometimes leaves, when they fall, come fast, a wind whips through the tree and separates the tenuous link between stem and branch and all the leaves like sheets of paper come whispering down. They coat the grass in a swath of brilliant gold, a plush carpet of tender yellow foliage, sunlight fallen to earth.

Sometimes leaves fall in flurries: the wind riffles through the branches like fingers through long hair, sending the loosest ones flying. Sometimes, over hours or days or even weeks, the leaves carpet everything, growing more brown and brittle by day, until someone sweeps them up into mounds in the center of a lawn or at the edge of a property. Soft, cushioned mounds, makeshift beds of slowly decaying leaf matter. Pillows by the side of the road.

Sometimes a single leaf falls from the top of a nearly bare tree, catches on the light wind, and swings and sways and swirls its slow, lazy way to the ground.

Sometimes when it rains, stray leaves stick up from the asphalt like cowlicks after a shower.

Sometimes the profusion of leaves, leaves everywhere, seems an extravagance of riches, bright and dull, crisp and supple, a scattered rain of leaves drenching everything in sight.

Sometimes, when summer shades to autumn leeches into winter, the fallen leaves smell like earth.

Sometimes the leaves, they surprise me.

November 21, 2005

back to the book

It's been a very long time, far too long, many months away, between freelancing and moving across the whole damned country, but finally, yes finally I'm able to sit down and work on my novel. Which isn't easy because, well, see above.

Many months away. Who are these people and why are they doing these things to each other? How do I write in this voice? What am I trying to say with this story? Worse, I'm not picking up the thread of a narrative, but adding to it, layering and developing some of the characters who were previously sketched in lightly with pencils; now I take oil paints and create a rich luster. Or at least that's the idea. But after months away? I've lost the sense of how to work with these tools, how to create the effects I desire. Everything feels awkward, my metaphors feel clumsy and my word choices too blunt.

But I'm getting better at it. It's been a week or so, not working every day, but a little bit here and there and finally today a bigger chunk of time. Here's how I know I've got the hang of it: I read through a pivotal sequence on Friday, a plot turning point, one I know people have had trouble with – relatively small problems, fixable problems – and realized it was all wrong for the book. The novel has a kind of bittersweet melancholy to it, very interior, very moody. This scene was more like the romantic comedies I used to write, with a bit of bite and a bite of silliness. It stood out. I think it threw readers out of the story, even if they didn't know exactly why.

Today I began writing a new scene from scratch. Different locale, different tone. It fits far better into the rest of the story.

Writing is hard. Rewriting is harder. But when you understand where you've gone off course, when you get that click and knowledge of how to do what needs doing there, it feels damned good.

It's been a long time but I'm writing again.

November 18, 2005

Jessie moves in

Jessie has been here very nearly a week. We locked her in our bedroom for the first couple of days. She cuddled with us on the bed and got very comfortable in there. Only problem? She started claiming it as her turf, and when we let her out into the rest of the house, she got angry at Cocoa when he ventured into the room she'd just left. Same with the armchair in the living room, it's her turf and she huffs at him when he comes too close. Territorial little thing.

Cocoa's perturbed by her noisy outbursts, nervous and wary, but not undaunted. He periodically ventures close, they make eye contact for a long beat, two statues, one black and one white, and then someone breaks the tableau and saunters off.

I think it'll be okay. May take a while before they're friends, but I think they'll get there.

In the meantime, here are more pictures of our new little lady. And, TC, you're right, she's not yet a longhair. By the time she's two, maybe three, she will be.




November 17, 2005

one year later

Two months ago today we rolled into the Tristate area after our two week drive from Los Angeles. It feels longer than that, in the way that time stretches when everything's new, every week is not yet choreographed, and nobody's stuck in a rut.

Another anniversary: one year ago last week the people of United States, in a fit of gullibility and appalling social paranoia, re-elected the worst president this country has ever known. Which sent the two of us into a downward spiral of depression and despair. Which, a few weeks later, led to the idea that we could leave this country. Move to Canada. Toronto, to be specific.

As we began to look into it, we realized that we were as eager to be getting out of Los Angeles, finding a way to escape the Hotel California, as we were to be leaving what felt like an ever-more-oppressive regime. Eager to be moving back to the Northeast, with architecture and scenery that feels right in my bones, a drive away from family.

Then a friend – and I will forever be in her debt for this – said, "No, don't do that, come here, come back to New York instead! Dan can probably get work here, they're hungry for editors these days." The thought made me so happy. We'd stayed in LA for so long because Hollywood is the center of film and television post-production, not because we wanted to be there. The move to Toronto was predicated on the idea that he'd begin again, that we'd make it work because we had to, because we could no longer stand being in Los Angeles. In our lives there, to be exact, lives that had begun to feel like an appropriate-to-the-city endless ride on an exercycle: you pedal and pedal for miles against the unchanging, enclosed scenery of a sterile gym.

And now we're here. In New Jersey, sidled up next to New York City. Where we belong.

One year ago I had absolutely no idea we could do this. It turned out to be so simple. All it took was the re-election of a sociopathic jackass and his evil puppet masters.

Do I regret that we're still in the US? Yes and no. As we drove through the country two months ago, I realized that I love a lot about it. Could I feel the same about Canada? I'm not sure. There's a lot to like, to be sure, but this is a personal thing and I'm not sure I feel the love.

Am I somehow less committed to my political ideals because we're here instead of filling out immigration forms and making plans to move north? Maybe and maybe not. It's a tough one. What kind of country will Damian grow up in? Hell if I know.

I choose to believe things will get better now that Harry Reid is showing some backbone in the Senate and democratic governors are being elected by huge margins and Bush's ratings are in the toilet and Fitzgerald is truly investigating what we on the left have known for years, that the invasion of Iraq was prefabricated, planned before 9/11 and then shoved down the throats of the populace (not to mention Congress) with lies, more lies and a dollop of Soviet-style propaganda.

I choose to believe things can turn around. How much? That I don’t know. I do know that this country, my country, is and probably will continue to be more conservative than I think is right, is and will probably continue to deny rights and services to people I think deserve to be treated as equals under the law and in our hearts, is and will continue to be a place I live in with equivocation and doubts. But is Canada the answer?

As I looked into the move, I realized that Damian's services and education would be compromised. That Dan's work possibilities would be severely compromised. And that we'd be starting fresh, creating a social network in a completely new city. The combination was daunting. And it's a country like any other country, with positives and negatives. You have to feel a strong commitment to this particular kind of change to sail past the negatives, it seems to me. To embrace the move completely.

In way, it comes down to this: what's important in life? Friends, family, physical environment, your town, the political climate, quality of work, quality of education? What matters most to you? It's not set, it's an ever-shifting multi-variable equation, and intensely personal.

It upsets me when someone judges me for not leaving the country, stacking me with the hordes of liberals who meant it for one moment, who planned to leave but then got cold feet from inertia and the security of life as they know it. That clearly doesn't apply to us. We did move. Three thousand miles. We just made a different decision about what parts of that equation matter more. For us.

Still, that idea, the urgency of it, the "must go, must go now!" overwhelming need, that did well by us. It got us here. And this is immeasurably better for us than Los Angeles was.

Dare I say it? Dare I think it? Can I possibly, in some selfish part of my brain, be glad that Dubya got re-elected? We needed a catalyst. When the heavy weight of a multi-ton vehicle is embedded deep in a ditch, when your wheels are turning but have no traction, you need a really big force to haul you up out of the muck. Was there another catalyst that could have done it? Damned if I know. Interesting to contemplate.

Glad we're here, though.

November 15, 2005

So much for that IDEA

Unsurprisingly, the Supreme Court just handed down a decision yesterday that will effectively gut the rights of parents who have children in special education programs. On the surface it's logical enough, even innocuous: the person who brings a lawsuit has the burden of proof to show that a wrong has been committed. This is good sense, avoiding frivolous lawsuits brought by people who are just being pissy but really have little justification. But. Parents vs. school districts is a different dynamic. Think about it.

Let's say your child has processing difficulties and needs a quiet room and a lot of time to work on tests. A simple request, right? But the teacher says no, says he's just lazy. And so he starts to believe he is, and starts to avoid doing his homework as well. Let's say he starts to fail his classes and the teacher still refuses to do anything to help him catch up.

Or let's say your child needs a lot of support or he'll get up and run around the room instead of paying attention. Let's say the teacher responds by giving him detention, keeping him in from recess, which just compounds the problem because then he can't get the sensory input he needs from moving his body outside. What he really needs is a special education class, with a better student-teacher ratio and more understanding of his particular issues, but the school refuses when you request this for him.

Or let's say your child does well academically but terribly socially. Let's say he needs support at recess or the kids may beat up on him. Let's say he needs support in the classroom, a subtle kind of support, just making him feel comfortable and confident in that environment. Let's say that without it he fades away, becomes sullen and withdrawn, avoidant, even. Let's say that, without that support, he becomes so non-responsive that the school stuffs him into a special education class when all that was needed was the right kind of one-on-one aide in the classroom.

I could come up with a million of these. (The last one is a kind of worst-case-alternate-universe scenario for Damian, BTW.) The problem in every case is that it's terribly hard to prove an "isn't." The child isn't doing well. Would he do well in that other circumstance? How can you prove that? It's not a double blind study, it's a single young human being. You can't run experiments, and precedents are tricky because everyone is different. So how the hell do you prove you're right when the district has a phalanx of lawyers and a huge financial incentive to fight (because they don't want to set a precedent of delivering on a particular kind of request)?

When you put the burden of proof for something like this on the parents, you're effectively gutting a little thing called IDEA (Individuals with Disabilities Education Act), which serves as the underpinning for the entire IEP (Individual Education Plan) process, which relies on the idea that children with special needs deserve access to the same education as everyone else, even if that means giving them extra tools and support to attain that. It's a powerful little acronym. Or was.

We happen to be in a wonderful school district now. So far, no problems here. I expect that if we continue to choose the schools Damian attends with great care (they give us that option here), we will continue to get excellent support. This is a huge part of why we chose this town and even this state.

But I also know a lot about the Los Angeles Unified School District. And what I know isn't pretty. Most of the people we dealt with on a face-to-face basis were good people, people who genuinely wanted to help. But they had a mandate from on high to only give a certain amount. They had rules and restrictions, some of them quite severe and most of them detrimental to the children they're supposedly there to serve.

Would they confess this? Not publicly, of course not. It's in violation of the law that you have to look at the individual child and his or her specific needs. But the truth was, behind closed doors, they said things like "We don't do what you're asking, we don't give that level of service or that kind of support," and that was pretty much that. The LAUSD has one of the highest percentage of cases brought to due process (ie: the courtroom) of any district in California, maybe the country. Rumor has it that they've made a calculation that it's cheaper to deny services and deal with a certain number of due process claims as a result than to give the services in the first place. What do you think this new ruling will do to their unofficial policy? I think it's about to get a whole lot worse.

So much for equal rights under the law. Sure, you can have the rights. If you can prove you need them. But you probably can't.

November 12, 2005

new cat

After Dante died in July, we knew we were going to get another cat sooner rather than later, if only for Cocoa's sake. He's such a social creature; having him as a solo cat is sort of like experiencing half his personality. Sad for all of us.

I feel two ways about getting cats with pedigrees. There are so very many adorable cats at shelters and rescue organizations and in kitten boxes in someone's back yard, all waiting for someone to adopt them. On the other hand, I love that there are such distinct cat breeds. Turkish Angoras in particular: they're an ancient, natural breed, their long silky hair an adaptation to the high mountain chill. They are in fact the ancestors of most, if not all long haired cats, including Persians and Maine Coons. But they came close to dying out in the early 1900's, saved from extinction by a breeding program in the Ankara Zoo. It's still a rare breed. In my way, by spending the money, I'm contributing to the survival of the Turk. So we do both: rescue and buy. Dante was a Turkish Angora. Cocoa is a rescue cat.

So this summer I contacted Dante's breeder, a lovely woman in Boston. I told her what had happened and asked if she knew of any kittens of his lineage. Dante was neutered young and never had kittens, but his sister Wildfire was a grand champion and was mother to other grands. Iris referred me to a breeder in Connecticut, who had a mom scheduled to give birth in early September. The kittens would be Dante's sister's great-great grandkids. Tenuous but better than nothing. That link would be there.

In early September, I emailed with the Connecticut breeder. She had two pet-quality kittens, a white boy and a cream-and-white boy. We started tossing around dates to visit and take a look at them. Then I had a dream. In it, we were planning to take one of the kittens, but then all of a sudden, someone showed up with another cat. A white female rescue cat. "But we were planning to get a Turk," I said. "This is a Turk," she said. "Oh, okay, then." And I woke up, confused. What was that about?

I dismissed the dream, moved ahead with plans to look at the kittens.

But then the kittens didn't sound quite right. One was too nervous, the other had a physical fault Dan didn't feel comfortable with. Maybe we should wait for another litter? I contacted Iris, Dante's breeder. She asked if I was willing to take an adult. You see, there was this one year old white female, extremely sweet, she was scheduled to be bred but developed an infection and had to get an emergency spaying. She needed a home.

We picked her up today. Her name is Jessie James and she's Dante's sister's granddaughter. As I type this, she lies curled up against my side. The sweetest kitty imaginable. Her owner – the one who had been planning to breed her – told me beforehand that she would be reserved at first but once she warmed up, she bonded deeply. Well, when we held her at the cat show this morning, she purred. I think she knew we were her new people.


November 10, 2005

night fright

The past few nights, after we put Damian to bed and say our ritualized goodnights, he lies there for ten or so minutes and then we hear the floor creak and the sound of breathing. "Damian, are you up?" Silence. The floor creaks again. "Damian, go back to bed!" And he does.

Tonight I was sitting in bed, my legs warm under the comforter, typing away on my computer. Dan was downstairs doing preparatory work for his new gig. The floor creaked.

"Damian, are you up?"


"Is everything okay?"


But still he remained in the center room between our two bedrooms. "Do you have to go to the bathroom?"


"What's going on?"

"Nothing." He began to head back to his bedroom, I could tell by the direction of the creaking floorboards.

But I asked him to come into my room. Motioned him to sit on the bed beside me. He slipped his legs under the covers. I asked him what was going on, why he got out of bed every night.

"It's too hard to explain."

I encouraged him to try anyway. It took an awful lot of coaxing while he sat beside me, looking intently at the cougar on his pajama top and picking at the lint on his pant leg, but he finally did tell me what he was thinking about tonight at the moment when he felt compelled to rise from his bed and make his creaking way toward the glow of my room.

Turns out he'd been thinking about the movie Gremlins, which we watched Sunday night. Dan had TiVO'd it, remembering the silly slapstick bits where the gremlins are watching Snow White or singing faux Christmas carols or being exploded in a microwave oven. And Damian weathered the emotional rollercoaster of Finding Nemo unfazed, plus at least one or two Disney movies with scary bits, surely this wouldn't be a problem.

Apparently it was. Damian told me he was remembering the part of the movie where the Mogwai mutate into gremlins inside scary-ass huge cocoons. He wanted to know how to stop being scared. I told him all about how the movie was made, that the gremlins were stop-motion puppets (okay, I don't know for sure that they were, but it sounded good and I knew I could explain it).

His clenched hands relaxed, but he still looked tense. I told him about how I saw the Beatles animated movie, Yellow Submarine, when I was little, and how I was so scared of the Blue Meanies, I thought about them every night for weeks. I lied and said that my parents explained about how movies weren't real and how the Meanies were just drawings and that I felt safe after that. (Is it immoral to lie to your child about your past to help him over an emotional hump?)

That worked. He seemed relieved. If I'd gotten through it, he could too, I guess. I told him he shouldn't hesitate next time, that if he was feeling scared about something, he should come talk to me. I told him it's part of my job as a mother. He said he didn't know that. We said goodnight one more time.

But he stopped as he got to my doorway, and turned back to me. "Instead of thinking about the scary parts of the movie, I'll think about the funny parts." And then he said a final goodnight and padded off to his own room.

November 09, 2005


Meeting was interesting. I talked a lot, I think. I don't remember talking this much in LA. Is it the water? The air?

Meeting was promising. Going to the next step, writing up ideas. It's still all good.

If/when this happens, I'll tell you details. But not yet. It's something I feel passionate about and would love to be involved with, I'll say that.

November 08, 2005


I'm going for a job interview tomorrow. Well, kind of. That is to say, I'm almost assured of walking out of the meeting with some kind of a commitment for me to write something for them. Almost is of course not definite. Jitters are of course natural. But really, it's all good.

Dan had a job interview last week. A real one. And he got the job. He starts next week. A low budget dramatic feature with a strong script and reportedly good performances but no distribution (yet). Eight weeks or so of work. So yes. It's all good.

Now we get to see what real life here will be like. Should be interesting.

November 07, 2005

autumn woods

I find myself temporarily without words. So instead I'll give you some pictures from our walk through South Mountain Reservation on Saturday:





November 04, 2005

Joisey goil

It's funny, you know? All my life I've heard about Jersey, that armpit state across the Hudson River. And now I live here. I have a driver's license that says so. And it is emphatically not New York City here. And what am I doing here? Can this be home?

But it is now. And I find I like it. And it's New Jersey.

What I've seen so far:

With the exception of certain well known industrial towns and seedy small cities, the state itself is remarkably pretty. Bucolic country towns that remind me of the Berkshires. Wooded paths along small lakes emerging onto rocky plateaus with views of New York City, the Empire State Building and the Chrysler Building smaller on the horizon than your thumbnail.


New Jersey likes its diners. Along every state route, in every shopping center, off every interstate exit. Shiny stand-alone buildings redolent with the smell of hamburger meat and pancake batter.


People who grow up here often don't leave. Or, rather, they leave for college and come right back. A man from Jersey and a woman from Westchester? Gotta live in Jersey if you love me, babe.

Not as many women have big hair as I'd anticipated. Maybe I'm in the wrong part of the state.

They do, however, have accents. Thick, strong accents, sometimes, a cartoon version of the famous New York twang. The not-pretty sound makes me feel all warm inside, a reminder that I'm really here.

Drivers creep waaaaay out past their stop signs, practically into the intersection, to see if they can safely make a turn. Forcing the issue? I'm not quite sure. But it's disconcerting.

Road signs are apparently not legal unless they're hidden behind foliage or otherwise obscured from view. I know this because the streets that don't have obstructed signage? Don't have signs at all. Some government official must have removed truckloads of them on account of illegal visibility.

Our town is famous for its cosmopolitan feel. On the local "Watercooler" email list, someone referred to a nearby town as "Whitebread, I mean West Caldwell." I chuckled, because yes, I suspect there are a great many white bread suburbs around us, but Montclair is not one. It's always had a substantial black population but now it also has an immigrant majority. Immigrant? From where? Oh, Manhattan. Also brownstone Brooklyn. An outpost of Park Slope, this town.

The local deli has chopped liver and also egg custard and even knishes. Not to mention black-and-white cookies. A generic-looking bakery in a nearby town has cannoli in both cream and chocolate varieties. Most bakeries around here have them, I think. Jewish and Italian influences everywhere. There are Thai, Vietnamese, Ethiopian, etc. restaurants in this town. Much like the city, all this. And yet, of course, not the city.

This state has more Native American-derived place names than anywhere else I can remember. This makes for towns with names that sound strange to our ears. Mahwah, Parsippany (which I keep calling Parsnippity by mistake), Pequannock, Weehawken, Packanack, Hoptacong, and my favorite, Ho-Ho-Kus.

And yet is there a Native American presence? Not so much.

And yet parks are often called reservations: South Mountain Reservation, Eagle Rock Reservation, Mills Reservation. I think they're reservations in the sense of reserves, preserves, parkland. No native peoples, just trailheads.

Pizza here isn't bad. Apparently sometimes bordering on excellent but I've only tried two places to date.

That’s all I know so far. I'll report back after I collect more data.