Thursday, October 17, 2013

Things Change

By the time cheerleading practice was over, I rode the sports bus and walked the rest of the way home after my drop-off  it was dark.  The house was empty.  Usually my father was home, sulking, simmering  I never knew if he would stay silent or if he would explode.  I used my key, crept into the darkened house and turned on every light  even though I risked his wrath at "wasting electricity" because I always felt scared to be in the house alone.

In the kitchen, I opened the frig to see what we could have for dinner, and there on the kitchen table was a small tape recorder and a yellow legal pad the long lines filled with my father's almost-illegible scribble.  Though it was addressed to my mother, I read through the first few sentences before I heard the door open, looked up and saw my mother, worn and tiredcome into the room.

"Where's Daddy?" she asked.

"He's gone," I said in a small, unemotional voice.  I looked at her carefully to see if she would react, understand what it all meant.  "I think he left a tape for you," I added, pointing to the small machine plugged in to the wall socket.

Without a word, my mother  still in her coat  sat down in one of the heavy, clunky, dark wooden Captain's chairs that crowded around the small round kitchen table. 

"How does this thing work?"

I hit the button to play and out came my father's voice  issuing instructions and commands about where to find this, what to expect or how and when to do that.  It went on and on but the only thing that registered in my ears was his last line:

"You're all better off without me."

My mother shrugged off her coat, read through what he'd written out in his awful scrawl, put down the pad, let out a sigh, went over to the telephone and called my sister  crying.  

I felt bad for my mother and as I tried to quiet the roar of thoughts exploding in my brain  in the pit of my stomach I knew she blamed me.  I heard the muffled sounds of my mother crying and talking in the background  but in my head, all I clearly heard was his voice saying  "You're all better off without me."

It may have been the first time I agreed with anything my father said. 

Sunday, October 13, 2013

Standing Up
Sometimes you just have to stand up for yourself.  

     It can be difficult.
                                           It can be painful.  
                                                                It can hurt others.

Still, there comes a time when you've just got to make the choice and not back down in favor of others.

If you're familiar with the Hyde School, you know one of the principles they advocate is: 

How many of us prize truth over keeping the peace?  How many of us are willing to sacrifice our comfort when we are in the company of someone  at work, at play, at home  who tells a racist joke?  That kind of comment is damaging in a profound way, but it's not directed at us and so we duck standing up.  We stay silent.  We let it go by while thinking in our head how awful and inappropriate but we don't speak up.  

And while I wouldn't equate a racial slur in the same way, what about when the comment is closer to home?  What about when someone near to us disappoints us, doesn't come through?  Who among us can stomach confronting a family member or a friend who has hurt or offended us in some way?  I got this random email with the image at right and it resonated with me. Standing up is hard to do especially when there's no guarantee that it will make things better. There is a cost to standing up.

Over the years I've learned to overlook many things.  In my family, when trouble came, it was hidden.  When I was in high school, my father was gone for almost a year.  We told everyone he was living in Arizona because of his rheumatoid arthritis  but the truth was  for almost that entire time   we didn't know where he was.    And we weren't allowed to tell anyone.   

Keeping that secret was living a lie  day-in and day-out.

There is a cost to staying silent.

I'm tired of paying the price.

Thursday, October 10, 2013

The Impending Death of My Inner Little Girl

Let's be clear this is not the death of my child.  It is the death of my inner child — that sad little girl that was always trying to please, prove her value, get someone's attention — and keep it.  That girl, that child was aware from second grade on that despite the familiar adult adage, "Don't worry, everything will be alright." I knew, I knew even then that everything would be far from all right.  And that's the way it was.  Me always wishing, hoping, yearning for things to be taken care of, to be normal, to be as it was on TV, to be all right.  But it wasn't.

It never was.  Not third grade, not fifth, not sixth or seventh, or any time after.  My sister  (7+ years older) escaped with boys and got married as soon as possible.  My brother (2-1/2 years older) was in and out of trouble  first small things at school or in the neighborhood, then juvenile detention, escalating to jail, eventually prison.  My parents ran around trying to bail him out, over and over again.  All their resources physical, financial, emotional went in to this endless pit of problems that just got bigger and more horrible as the years went on.  

If only, if only I did enough good, enough right, my parents would pay attention to me, see me, hear me.  The lead in the school play, all A-s on my report cards, being chosen to give the class speech, winning the awards none of it none of it could compete with lawyers, and courtrooms and judges, bail hearings and sentencing.  My mother's shame, my father's rage, the feeling of everyone at school and in town casting their eyes downward, not wanting to look you in the eyes, knowing the awfulness of the trouble he was in. And nothing, nothing I could do could compete with that.  

School became my refuge.  I was the classic teacher's pet  in love with every teacher, craving praise, desperately seeking love and attention.  But all the straight A-s, all the excellent reports, even being Alice-in-Wonderland wasn't enough to get their focus on me.  I grew up hungry for someone, anyone to see me, to take care of me, it was all I wanted.  Starting at fifteen, I began working beyond my parents' store, I found paying jobs, opened a bank account and began saving for the day I could move away.  The over-arching message was that I had to take care of myself or no one else was going to do it.  My sister certainly looked out for me, did some wonderful things for me but with our age difference she was already gone from our house and struggling with a life of her own. My brother?  Well, let's just say that there was more harm than good.

I did take care of myself, put myself through college, found a job in educational publishing, an apartment in Manhattan, a group of best friends who were caring and supportive  I took care of myself  but all the while, all the while inside I was dreaming, hoping, praying  to be rescued, to be taken care of  unconditionally and forever. Preferably by my parents.

While I knew in my head this was an unrealistic dream, my heart yearned for the fairytale.  I kept thinking, "I shouldn't need anyone else.  I can do this myself.  I've been doing it for years and years."  But it didn't stop the longing.  I'm still wishing  all these years later.  As one wonderfully enlightening therapist told me, "It doesn't matter how smart you are  emotions aren't rational."

Turns out if I'm going to get past the past and move forward, I'm going to have to give up that longing  I'm going to have to let go of that little girl.  And whether it makes sense or not, the thought of losing her, killing her off in a way, makes me incredibly sad.

So when am I gonna smarten up?

Sunday, October 6, 2013

My All-Time Favorite Series - Family Life

One of my readers, (thank you Marge) asked if I'd recommend my top ten series and once I got started, well, try as I might to winnow down the list, my top ten grew, I ended up with sixteen — and even that was a sacrifice!  So to spare you all, I'm breaking up my favorites into segments and I hope you'll agree with, watch and enjoy my choices and/or post your favorites in the Comments section and set me straight!
If you want to see and understand how a good family functions,  Family is the series to watch.    [Unfortunately only two seasons are available on DVD.  Write and complain to Sony Entertainment.] I'm going to tell you more about the series that gave me but let's work our way back to the best...

Felicity (1998–2002)  To be honest — I did not see this series when it first aired — years later I watched it online, really enjoyed it, and have watched it again (and yes, again).  Though I wasn't crazy about her at the time, I do like Keri Russell (love her in The Americans) and I identified with that crazy-in-love feeling that propels one to do things one normally would not do (like follow a guy who hardly knows you across the country to go where he is going to college).  It's this wide-eyed optimism that fuels this series about twenty-somethings just trying to get through college and find their place in life.  Felicity learns a lot about herself, her family, and her newly acquired friends who are goth, gay, enterprising, and at times, disappointing, and damaged.  At the time the show aired, there was a big to-do when actress Keri Russell cut her long flowing mane and showed up to work with really short, cropped, curly hair that sent the show's producers into a spin and probably was responsible for a clause now in every contract that forbids altering your appearance without prior approval of the network.  But in a funny way, just as her character did throughout the series, maybe Keri Russell the actress was struggling to find her identity.

My So-Called Life (1994–1995)  Aaahhh Angela Chase.  Sweet, dyed-her-hair-red-without-telling-her-parents, Angela Chase — played with vulnerability and true teen-angst by a teenage Claire Danes. Stuck in a family of four, Angela doesn’t feel she fits with her parents, grandparents, friends or anywhere and going to high school just makes her plain irritated but Angela is a girl who sticks to her principles and her guns — much to the chagrin of the adults she's annoyed by every day.  Angela's surrounded by a crew of misfits Brian (the nerdy next-door neighbor who's in love with her), Sharon ( her childhood best friend forever that just isn't on the same page any more), Rayanne ( the resident bad girl who appeals to Angela's need to rebel), Rickie (Rayanne's sidekick who wears eye makeup, struggles against the bullies who taunt him for his sexual identity, and at one point ends up homeless) and last but never least, Jordan Catalano — the heartthrob that Angela pines over and manages to snag despite the gulfs (socially, intellectually and economically) that exist between them.  Claire Danes is masterful in Homeland but you owe it to yourself to see her in this early work where  in just 19 episodes  she'll win you over hook, line and sinker.

I, Claudius (1976) This is the blockbuster story of family life — dysfunctional family life among the Romans from 24 BC to 54 AD. Whatever you think of your own family — they will not compare with the absolute insanity of this one (think Caligula).  From Augustus Caesar to Tiberius, to the afore-mentioned Caligula, then to title character Claudius, on through to Nero we see the splendor and the horror of life among the Imperials.  While Rome is being built — legion by legion, territory by territory — the Emperor's family (most especially Augustus' wife Livia) is plotting and scheming and positioning to curry the Emperor's favor and secure more of the wealth that the Roman army is pillaging and sending back to the imperial family.  Club-footed, stuttering Claudius, who is openly scorned by his grandmother Livia, gets a piece of advice to hide his intelligence and to "play the fool" in order to stay alive and that is what he does while recording the history of the devious and dubious goings on in his power-hungry family.  Through I, Claudius, you will learn an incredible amount about life inside the palace and why you should watch what you eat or drink whenever Livia's around...wicked, wicked, wicked.

And the same year we enjoyed Livia's scheming, we were treated to the wholesome life at the Lawrence household in Family (1976–1980).  Directed by Mike Nichols, starring Sada Thompson James Broderick (Matthew’s dad), Meredith Baxter Birney, Gary Frank and Kristy McNichol, this series had it all — the beautiful older sister divorced and messed up who moves back home with her child; the son a middle child who rebelled against college, and the pressures to get a job and be the mirror of his parents; and the youngest (Leticia, known as Buddy) an upstart who sees and understands everything going on even though she’s the youngest and no one pays attention to anything she says (hey, that’s MY role in my own family life).  

This may be my number one pick because — because — it showed a “normal” upper middle class family with a normal-looking mother and a normal-looking father and three kids (actually four but one son died and that plays out in the series), each with their own problems and unique place in the family right down to each parent secretly having their favorite I just loved, loved, loved the way they interacted and got mad (without smashing glasses or punching a fist through a hollow-core door) and made up and laughed — yes, a family that actually laughed and had fun.  They seemed what I imagined "normal" to be — heck, they even lived in Pasadena.  

At the time of this series I was out of college, in Manhattan, trying to make a living, trying to figure out who I was going to be in the world.  After a day of working and drinking, I came home alone at night, turned on the television for company and — one lucky night a week — I got to be comforted just being part of Family.  

Thursday, October 3, 2013

My All-Time Favorite Series – Workplace Drama

One of my readers, (thank you Marge) asked if I'd recommend my top ten series and once I got started, well, try as I might to winnow down the list, my top ten grew, I ended up with sixteen — and even that was a sacrifice!  So to spare you all, I'm breaking up my favorites into segments and I hope you'll agree with, watch, and enjoy my choices or if you disagree, post your favorites in the Comments section and set me straight!

Where's George Clooney??
There are many hospital dramas but this one has it all.  At County General Hospital, our main guy, Dr. Mark Greene is a balding thirty-something who struggles with being a great doctor as well as a good husband, father, human being and, not surprisingly, those roles are continually in conflict. Created by Michael Crichton, long-running ER (1994 - 2009)  gave us George Clooney, Julianna Margulies, Noah Wylie, Maura Tierney, Mehki Phifer, Goran Visnjic, Thandie Newton, Julie Delpy, among a host of fine actors who are still popular— long after ER's fifteen terrific seasons came to an end.  What I liked most about this medical ensemble was the interplay between the crushing demands of their work, the painful crises of their relationships, and the intimacy created by those tensions.

Some of the regulars on Third Watch
I passed over all the police dramas that came before and after to select Third Watch (1999 - 2005) because this series followed police, firefighters, and EMS personnel through their daily drama of saving others while their own lives were spinning out of control.  The cast of characters — Sullivan, Yokas, Boscorelli, Davis, Nieto, Dougherty, Zambrano, and Taylor — seemed to be just real people embroiled in real life at work and at home. There were the good-looking stand-outs (actors Coby Bell, Eddie Cibrian, Bobby Carnevale, Kim Raver) but most of the players were your everyday, ordinary sort of folks you'd see in uniform on any city street corner.  While watching them do heroic work, we also witnessed their alcoholism, regret, sexism, infidelity and all the other flaws that made them (and us) human. [NOTE: I confess I have never seen The Wire...]

The West Wing (1999 - 2006) If ever there was a crazy, fast-paced workplace, this deeply driven and demanding chaotic office inside the White House was it.  I love the West Wing and Aaron Sorkin.  If you haven't already, read both links to find out why.

Mad Men (2007 - )  Though this wasn’t my exact era I can  completely relate to the times, the cerebral chic, and the bustle of working on Madison Avenue.  The office environment n this series was much as it was when I was working at Random House.  People drank like fish and while the execs didn’t have visible bars in their offices (this was the 70s) they did have bottles in their desks or credenzas.  Alcohol was a basic part of your day.  We drank at lunch, we drank after work.  Every day.  And it was all hard liquor — I can’t remember anyone drinking beer or wine.  Scotch was my drink of choice.  There were forays into Bourbon Manhattans, Kamikazes and White Russians (for dessert) but in those days, I always came back to Scotch — Dewar’s on the rocks with a twist at lunch and Johnnie Walker Red anytime after five.  I wonder I lived through it.

In an earlier post I wrote about Mad Men, but I still haven't tired of Don Draper, Peggy Moss, Roger Sterling and all the other deliciously entertaining members of Sterling, Cooper, Draper, Price and luckily there's more to come.  From “Last week, AMC announced that the final season of Mad Men, like that of Breaking Bad before it, will be split in two, with the first seven episodes airing in the spring of 2014 and the final seven one year later.”  Geez.  They sure know how to make you wait.

This is by far the most unusual and interesting workplace we see on series television because it's not an ensemble but almost a one-man show.  Following the Israeli show it's based on, In Treatment (2008 - 2011) takes you on a journey of psychological exploration of why we do what we do — to ourselves and to those we love.  Dr. Paul Weston is a psychiatrist and Monday to Thursday each episode focuses on his session with one of his patients — on Friday Dr. Weston sees his therapist.  As Gabriel Byrne listens and responds day after day, week after week, we see the gaps and traps of each patient's story — the dueling couple, anorexic gymnast, suicidal Navy pilot, troubled teen, aging actress — you name it, Dr. Weston sits and absorbs the fears, lies, and frustrations of his clients — as he fields, feels, and occasionally fumbles his enormous responsibility (as shrink and actor) in this grueling marathon of a show.  Each of the three seasons introduces us to a new cast of four tortured souls as they are aided or abetted by this handsome doc.  For those of you who believe in the importance (and the power) of therapy, this is a voyeuristic view inside our insides.
TV has accustomed us to the anti-hero but in Nurse Jackie (2009 - ) this strong female — nurse, mom, and take-charge coworker — is seriously flawed — addicted to pain meds and working in a place that's conducive to supporting her habit.  Edie Falco is a delight to watch as Jackie bullies her way through the day while caringly and competently serving the patients and staff of All Saints Hospital.  We like Jackie.  She's a no-nonsense gal who's great at her job and focused on her family — except for her preoccupation with her habit and her affair with the hospital pharmacist who keeps her supplied.  Though her life was disintegrating (rehab, divorce, custody fight over the kids) Jackie's now back on track with her sobriety, a quirky team of doctors and nurses (Anna Deavere Smith is divine), and a new cop-boyfriend who really, really, really likes her — flaws and all.  Happy to report, not-your-average-Nurse Jackie's coming back for season six and we'll get to see how her now-drug-free life plays out.  Are you ready to watch?

Next up: My All-Time Favorite Series – Family Life