Wednesday, March 14, 2018

“It seems to me that television is exactly like a gun. Your enjoyment of it is determined by which end of it you're on.” –Alfred Hitchcock

Nine days ago, flyers were distributed in our building that a production would be shooting on the penthouse floors, just three stories above our loft. We were told there'd be "special effects, including statues shattering and gunplay." These notices are never surprising to me; I set it aside and went on with my day.
There Will Be (No) Blood

I moved into this beautiful historic building 13 years ago, knowing that it had long been, and would continue to be, available for location shoots. Because I'm in the business, and have an intimate understanding of what film and television production entails, I've never been cranky (as many of my neighbors have been over the years) about the temporary inconvenience production can cause for residents. I've even arranged for productions to shoot here, and used several locations in the building for my documentary. None of them included "gunplay." 

I have never found anything "playful" about guns.

Back in 2002, a wealthy friend took me to the Los Angeles Gun Club after dinner at the Water Grill. When she was a younger woman, her father had been threatened with her kidnapping, and he'd hired a retired FBI agent to teach her how to defend herself: evasive driving techniques, a little hand-to-hand defense, and how to handle a firearm. She knew I hated and feared guns, and thought it would be good for me to have a direct experience of firearms, if only to get a handle on my feelings about them. It only took one session for me to get good with a 9mm Glock; I was shocked. I was especially surprised that I instinctively applied my years of meditation practice, yoga study, and Hindu-Buddhist philosophy to the process of loading, aiming, and shooting a gun. How could something so deadly be so...Zen?
We returned every week, in a ritual that we whimsically called "Thursday Night Eat 'n' Shoot." I tried many types of handguns (the Kimber .45 became my favorite), and came to understand the satisfaction of knowing how to handle a weapon, to feel the strange peace of hitting a target exactly where I'd aimed the gun, and to realize there was no way in Hell I'd ever own one. But I was now more knowledgeable; I felt an odd sense of preparation, which had an unexpectedly comforting effect.
 My last time at the range, September 2005

Yesterday, I was sitting by my window, laptop in lap, and suddenly heard several rounds of automatic gunfire in my lightwell. I immediately ducked, shouted to Mom to stay down, grabbed my phone, and crouched my way to Mom's bedroom...all in the five seconds before I remembered they were shooting blanks above my head. Two seconds after that, I got a terrified text from a neighbor who lives across the lightwell from me; she's a veteran unit still photographer, but she'd also forgotten production was in the building.

Today, there have been many more rounds of automatic and single-shot gunfire discharged above me (ironically, while I'm watching MSNBC's coverage of the students' walk-out in protest of our government's inaction regarding gun control). I've barely flinched each time. And this has reminded me that I am now calibrated to respond to, and even accept, the sound of violence...not only on a shooting range, or in my besieged DTLA neighborhood, but in my own home.

It does not comfort me to be so prepared.

Saturday, May 20, 2017

My Angel Lulu

Everything was wrong. Everything I’d done to make it right had gone wrong. The details don’t matter. But I was broken by the weight of the total tonnage of wrongness I carried. Sucked into the mire of wrongness. Slammed upside the head by wrongness.

You get it: you’ve been there. Every single one of you. Once, or many times.

And there’s always one time that’s a little different. When life isn’t just hard, when it’s impossible to conceive a positive outcome. When you believe down to the bone you’re done.

Have you been behind the wheel, weeping as you speed down the freeway at more miles per hour than the law will allow? What have you done when the feeling, all the feelings, take over? You know better, but they’re in charge, now. You’re focused on the road, but it’s a lack of focus, too, a kind of systemic myopia that allows you to feel only the physical mental emotional spiritual pain. You can see only the road right in front of you, the concrete wall next to you, too close as you round the curve, and your split-second thought is turn into it now, and just before the hands guide the wheel into the wall, you glance in the rear view mirror for the first time in miles.

And your angel smiles at you, a big, unconditional, pink-tongued smile, an angel that looks just like a black Norwegian Elkhound-Corgi who (because she’s traveled this road with you many times before) knows she’ll be home very soon, playing in the yard while you fix dinner.

She reminds you to stay. Stay in the moment, stay on the earth, stay with her until this awful feeling passes. It will, she promises, sitting straight up and cocking her head ever so slightly, I love you, let’s go home and have a treat and curl up and watch TV, okay? Okay? Okay?

Okay. You reset your course, and drive yourself and your angel home. Safe.

And now, even when she’s not there, you remember.

She’ll always be there.

Friday, May 20, 2016

17 years and four months ago, after living her first year on the sketchy streets of Downtown Los Angeles, Lulu Leh, the Best Dog Ever Made (with all due respect to other dogs) came into my life.

Today was her last day on earth. She parted peacefully, surrounded by love.

17 years and four months ago, she was rescued by a neighbor and adopted by me and Bob...though it’s more accurate to say, she rescued and adopted us, drawing us in with her deep brown, soulful eyes.

She was an unexpected combination of Norwegian Elkhound and Welsh Corgi. Her legs were impossibly short for her body, and carried a double coat better suited for Norway than Southern California. If you were standing, and she was looking at you from the ground, her paws splayed like flippers and her nose pointed up; you'd swear you were looking at a sea lion with puppy ears and a tail.

When she’d get a desperately-needed summer cut, her head and tail and paws stayed black, but the rest of her body was the silver-white of her undercoat. 

Her disposition was sweet and playful like a Corgi, but she definitely had the Elkhound huntress in her DNA; ask any small creature in her sight line.

She was welcome everywhere, and her unique appearance inspired inquiries from strangers wherever she went. Her distinctly optimistic gait turned heads and prompted smiles. She made sour faces turn sweet.

She was much beloved by her people and their friends. Among her most famous admirers were Leslie Moonves, Bill Maher, and Mel Brooks.

She traveled up the coast to San Francisco and Berkeley, and through the desert to Las Vegas; she was very comfortable in cars. She regularly romped on the front lawns of Los Angeles City Hall and CBS Television City. She celebrated her 8th birthday on Broad Beach, sprinting leash-free in the sand, in front of the homes of Pierce Brosnan and Steven Spielberg.

She attended business meetings and film screenings and art openings and film shoots and edit sessions, and always kept it professional. She was a polite overnight guest in the homes of friends.

She only barked when she heard a knock, and would stop the moment she was asked. If she heard small noises, she’d make a commensurate noise that sounded like “burf.”

She chased squirrels up trees on the CalTech campus and deeply desired the ducks in California Plaza and Echo Park. Lizards, bugs, stuffed animals, and wind-up toys were no match for her.

She frequently raced Metro trains as they sped past the Not-A-Cornfield park in North Chinatown. As soon as she heard the whine in the track, she’d take off, getting a head start that allowed her to run alongside the train until the dirt path ended. Gold Line engineers slowed their trains for the passengers who’d come to expect the black torpedo on the other side of the chain-link fence. The engineers stopped on their way back to the train yard to ask about her, so they could answer the commuters’ questions.

She walked every inch of the Venice canals, she hiked in Eaton Canyon, she walked miles around the Los Angeles ‘hoods of Mount Washington and DTLA.

Whenever she was with my amputee mother, she’d position herself next to Mom and rarely leave her side. She was instinctively protective of anyone who was physically vulnerable or emotionally bereft. She couldn’t stand to see me cry; she’d nuzzle my hand ‘til I stopped. Her smile could always stop my tears.

My ex-husband and I shared custody of Lulu; he has a whole bunch of stories to tell about her, too. We both gave her a good life. In turn, Lulu gave us the gift of friendship.

And one day, when I felt all was lost, she quite literally saved my life.

Lulu reminded me to stay in the moment.
Lulu reminded me to have fun.
Lulu reminded me to love without conditions.

Good reminders, all.

Farewell, my sweet baby girl. I will miss you every day for the rest of my life. But you’ll always be alive in my heart.

                                                                                            First and last photos by Chip Latshaw

Tuesday, December 11, 2012

My Life Is Almost Over.

If you don’t believe me, make a note of this date; put it in your iCal, or scribble it on a Post-It and stick it inside a book you like to re-read every few years. On the day I die -- if you haven’t beaten me to it -- you’ll remember this blog post, and you’ll find the note, and you’ll marvel at my accuracy.

It doesn’t matter if I leave this body in 7 months or 47 years: my life is almost over. I know this because, even if the genes of my now-89-year-old mother and my late grandmothers (paternal, 86 -- maternal, 100) allow me to be a centenarian, I will look back and wonder where it went.

The last time I saw Gale, she said this to me. 7 years older than I, she’d been whipping ovarian cancer’s ass for several years. We hadn’t seen each other since she and her husband came out to LA in the early 90’s, when they met me and my husband for dinner and drinks and lots of laughs at the Beverly Hills Hotel. After all the tsuris (Gale taught me much of the Yiddish I know) she and I had been through ‘til that point, we were happy for each other. Then, Facebook put us back in touch, and it was as if we’d spoken last week.

In the sweltering summer of 2010, I was in New York on business, and she invited me to lunch -- she chose Fred’s at Barneys on Madison Avenue. She looked her usual beautiful, stylish self, almost as she’d looked when she was 26 and I was 19. Her makeup and manicure were always perfect, clothing always tasteful and expensive, hair always -- well, this wasn’t her hair, but it was a damn good facsimile.

She wanted to know about my life as an independent writer/producer and divorcee, how I was maneuvering the blind curves, the detours, the potholes. She was proud of my years of sobriety. She said I’d never looked better. We talked about her parents, both of whom had passed not many years before. She asked about my mother, the survivor of two types of cancer and open heart surgery and an amputation. She was so glad my brilliant one-legged mom was still kicking.

She didn’t want to talk about her cancer. She talked with love and gratitude and pride about her husband and her daughters. We compared notes on our dogs -- her Cosmo and my Lulu. We reminisced as much as time would allow about our work (and play) at Elektra/Asylum and RCA. Old boyfriends, and drunken parties, and swinging Manhattan by the tail, and future dreams.

We walked east on 57th Street at an unusually slow stroll (it was 100 degrees, and she’d had chemo the day before), laughing at every little thing we could remember about the girls we used to be, the women we’d become, and the tricky balance between the two. We both noticed she’d parked her car in a garage directly across the street from the building in which she’d lived when we first met. We squeezed out a few more memories, followed by good hugs and promises to see each other again before too long. “Write!” she shouted over her shoulder.

At the end of January 2012, I sent her a short story I’d written on commission, and she responded via email:

“Just finished reading your short story, which I really enjoyed.  I'm recovering (trying) from pneumonia, which I've never experienced before and I'm sure is the result of a weakened immune system.   It sucks.

As I have no experience whatsoever in writing or television, I can't give an opinion on what you should do with this piece - I can only tell you (which I've been saying for years now) that you are certainly a talented writer, which is why I used to so look forward to your letters (hint, hint).

Keep me posted on your activities/adventures.  Give that old girl Lulu a kiss on the nose for me.


I responded with the promise of “more soon.

In the spring of this year, I’d been thinking about her every day for a week. She preferred the email to the phone call -- talking took too much out of her -- and I was poised to write her a good one, focused on the project I’m producing about my father. On April 24, my phone rang, and her name popped up on the screen. Happens all the time -- you think of someone, and they call, right?

“I can’t believe it, I have been thinking about you ALL WEEK! How ARE you?”

The long silence was followed by the somber voice of one of her daughters. I was on the list of people to call.

Her birthday was 5 days ago. I won’t say, “it would have been her birthday” because, even though she wasn’t here to celebrate it, December 6 is still, and will always be, the day she was born. Lately, she’s been back in my thoughts again. I’ve said things aloud to her in the ether, even imagined her response, even heard her voice in my head. I miss her clear, intelligent perspective, her pithy New York City wit, the indelible life shorthand created by our shared years of experience in the music industry. Her friendship was rock-solid; the kind that’d take a nuclear blast to destroy. And she suffered no fools, even as she suffered the pain of the fucking cancer that chewed away at her from the inside out, and took her -- as if often does -- too soon.

She was a Sagittarius, like my mother, and shared a few of Mom’s traits and influences: an impeccable sense of style, an arm’s-length way of showing affection, a tendency to lose her bearings -- even in her mothership, Bloomingdale’s.

She was a photographer with a quick, perceptive eye (no surprise, as her father was a well-known Broadway art director). With Nikon almost always in hand, she caught many great stage and studio performances by iconic musicians; she felt the buzz of the moment through her camera, and she let you feel it, too. Even her casual shots of her home and yard, and photos of her beloved pooch, were beautifully composed and lit. For years, I begged her and bugged her to publish. She got as far as posting several on Facebook.

She loved my writing. When were working at record companies, writing skills weren’t key to our respective positions. But I was also a singer/songwriter and a poet, and she was my fan and booster. She became a fan of my jazz guitarist father, and came with me to his concerts at the Lincoln Center halls of Avery Fisher and Alice Tully. She made fun of the fact that I referred to my mother and father as “Mom” and “Dad,” without the possessive adjective “my,” as if Mom and Dad were their given names. She’d ask dryly, “Are we going with ‘Mom’ to see ‘Dad’ tonight?” Only one of our many little inside jokes.

We wrote funny memos and revealing letters to each other in those pre-email days, especially after I left New York for San Francisco and Los Angeles. She called my new state “Cacafornia” whenever we spoke on the phone. For the first couple of years, she was certain I’d return to my hometown. I did return for her, to sing at her first wedding in the St. Regis Hotel. If I hadn’t fallen in love with the man I would marry, it’s likely I’d have moved back to Manhattan, and my life would be completely different.

When I watch Sex in the City, I see us. The glamor of our work lives landed us backstage or in the front row at Carnegie Hall and Madison Square Garden, at A-list parties and award shows and clubs and bars. I was Carrie, she was Miranda, and we went to the movies and the library and shoe-shopping together, had the talks, shed the tears, and ate the cuisine, from sushi to Sabrett’s, in the only city I’ll ever call home, no matter where I live.

She’d have good, practical advice about the challenges I’m facing now. I know that’s why she’s been so present for me; I crave her wisdom. But I know she’d just tell me I have plenty of my own.

She would be mad at me for the title of this post. She’d say (I swear, I can hear her!), “Don’t push it, Zan. It’ll come soon enough. Trust me.”

Okay, Gale. I’ll take your advice. And I’ll think of you as I caught you here, one perfect autumn day, in your Gramercy Park apartment -- on the phone, locking a publishing deal before we headed out to lunch. I won’t count the years past or the years ahead. I’ll just be grateful for them all, one at a time. I’ll do that with you in mind and heart. I’ll write more soon, dear friend; I promise.

Sunday, September 16, 2012

To my fellow professional storytellers...

In the past week, we’ve seen an ill-conceived, poorly-made video ignite a destructive revolt in a volatile region that resulted in the tragic loss of committed, productive lives.
Those of us who are skilled, experienced, passionate creatives have never doubted the power of well-crafted words illustrated by expertly conceived visuals. We dream about, and work towards, having an effect on an audience -- whether we make them laugh, or weep, or gasp, or expand their thinking. We fully understand and embrace our responsibility in moving other human beings to feeling, to action.

But not these feelings. Not these actions. Not now.

Never has it been more important to take seriously the impact arts and media have on our culture. As professional writers, directors, producers, musicians, designers, entertainment and advertising executives -- everyone who has input into all media formats and methods -- we can certainly entertain. But now, we must also consider the crucial need to edify and inspire.

Our reward, beyond the financial bottom line, is potent. We know well how to use language and imagery to send a message. After all, we are experts in communication. 

We can unite instead of divide; we can help promote understanding, in the interest of designing a future that supports every living being. We can bring clarity to chaos, through our experience and expertise. And we’ve just been reminded -- again -- that we must mindfully tap our considerable knowledge, and create intelligent antidotes to the tenebrous fear that pervades our world.

I am a proud founding member of c3: Center for Conscious Creativity, launched in 2004 for this very purpose. c3 is a 501(c)(3) non-profit organization focused on creating a better future through the arts and media, with a collective of dedicated individuals who are highly motivated to solve the global challenges we face today, and in the years to come.

c3 connects arts, media and entertainment professionals with researchers, educators, futurists, social entrepreneurs and philanthropists. We have access to 3000 global futurists through our partnership with the Global Arts and Media Node of The Millennium Project, which focuses on 15 global challenges.
Come join the conversation. Come co-create the future. Come, if you can, to our annual symposium in the Vortex Dome at LA Center Studios, on Saturday afternoon, September 22.

The quality of our future depends on us.