Panorama of San Bernardino

Wednesday, September 20, 2017

The little Wookie that could

I hear him cough. He spits up. Just spittle. One more cough. It is 4 am.

Then he stops. I look at him and say, "Chewbaca, is there something stuck in your throat?" As if he could answer. Chewie gives a little wave of his caramel colored tail, tongue sticking out the side of his muzzle as if to say, "I'm fine mom." Adrian rolls over in bed and mumbles, "turn off the light."

In the dimness of the room, I squint for the black and white bundle in the middle of the bed. Frodo's eyes are already open from hearing us up and he reluctantly rolls over and lets me pick him up and place him on the cold tile floor. I open and close the bedroom door and turn on the upstairs light as Frodo and Chewie, our two shih tzus, pad down the stairs a bit earlier than usual.

"If he coughs let me know immediately. It could be heart failure." Is that what Doctor Chris, our vet, had said? Or was it, "if he coughs, I need to know so we can check him for heart failure"? The difference matters. Because if that one cough could be the end, I do not want to know. I can't know. It would be too much to take.

I sound dramatic. But you need to know the history. Not the history of the Wookie, that's easy. Chewie came on a plane and we picked him up and the poor puppy was covered in piss. He had flown in with cargo and was terrified. A mere 16 weeks old. He was the runt of the litter they said. Adrian's dental school graduation present was snuggled by me all the way home. I was already a shih tzu fanatic having been quickly converted by Frodo, who was a year old, from a crazy cat lady to dog obsessed. I didn't care that Chewie smelled. He licked my face and I was hooked by his light brown eyes and his tongue that didn't fit in his mouth. We got him home and I washed him and soothed him and he has stayed by my side ever since. More of a baby duck than a dog. I love him to distraction and pamper and spoil him. Chewie is co-dependant and a small ten pound version of a famous Wookie, hence his name. Chewie is the opposite of Frodo in many ways who is beefy and all dog. Frodo is both independent and stubborn, but for some reason he lets Chewie boss him around. Maybe it is because Chewie is not fixed due to his heart murmur.

Chewie is needy and anxious. Like me. You look in his eyes and it is all soul. And a constant quest for food (also like me). Chewie once knocked a loaf of bread off the table and we came home to him gnawing on it and the loaf of bread was more than half gone.

My history will have to be brief although it is complicated. The important stuff for this essay is that I am in my mid forties and barren. Yes we tried to get pregnant for many years and on many fronts. It all ended in heartache. Too much heartache to tell you here. Other than to say that I have still not gotten over the constant rock in my chest from it all.  But when I look at Chewie, it eases a bit. He needs me so desperately. And eagerly.  Chewie follows me around and while it is annoying to have a little dog staring at you for the last 8 or 9 years while you use the restroom, it is also beautiful to have that same little dog by your side while you watch the latest episode of Project Runway, or talk to your mom on the phone, or cry when you get bad news, or write a story.

I still owe Adrian a graduation present.


Sunday, August 20, 2017

LA Woman


One of my best memories of Los Angeles is a trip to the now defunct Tower Records in Hollywood. It was the 1980s and I was in high school. My best friend Melinda and I had ditched class to go to the record store. We drove there in her white 1964 Chevy Covair blasting the Violent Femmes from a boombox. 

This kind of trip was a common occurrence. We ditched often and our favorite spots were Hollywood and Newport Beach. This day was even more of an adventure because we were on a quest for autographs from one of our favorite bands, Oingo Boingo. It was rumored that the lead singer Danny Elfmanalong with drummer Johnny Vatos, would be at Tower Records. And they were. We got our albums signed and talked to Johnny and Danny for a while in disbelief. 

Afterward, we got in the car and jumped up and down in our seats. Our gamble had paid off. We decided to stop off at Nanas on Melrose, the once famous punk rock shoe store, and I bought some red patent leather boots. When I got home that evening, the school had called and I got a slap in the face from my mom for my ditch day. It was well worth it.

That trip went down in our memories as one of our most memorable ditch days. We had neglected to invite my twin sister Jackie and it is almost thirty years later and she still hasnt forgiven me. That was messed up. Oingo was my favorite band, remember?” she always says when the story is told with irritation edging her voice.

Despite my high school adventures in Los Angeles, I never thought I would live there. It was a magical place to me growing up. We lived in Ontario, about sixty miles east. Los Angeles was where the cool people lived. It was also the land of the punk band X, a band I worshipped. It was where the Ramones’ movie Rock and Roll High School was filmed. It was where concert venues like The Roxy and the Hollywood Palladium were located and where we traveled to see bands like The Smiths, X, the Pixies and Siouxsie and the Banshees.

My senior year of high school was a disaster, I spent more time in LA ditching than in school and when this former straight A student, preppy goody two shoes turned punk rock girl dropped out senior year five units short of a diploma, no one was surprised. I had planned on attending Claremont McKenna but somehow, I lost my way. I spent graduation day under the bleachers in my Sex Pistols t-shirt watching my twin sister walk to get her diploma, tears falling on my cigarette and my thick eyeliner blurring my eyes.

Looking back, my apathy was a combination of all the money problems, Dad losing his business (a tavern called The Big O), my older half-sisters death, my undiagnosed depression and all the chaos at home. All of this combined with my predilection for partying my cares away in a bottle of Strawberry Hill created a lethal combination to my college dreams. Looking back, it was all too much. I folded my dreams like a losing poker hand. Life seemed to be over.

Always a survivor and fighter, I pulled it together. I really can't tell you how. It took years and a lot of hard work, but I managed to pay my bills by waitressing full time and attending school part time. Starting out in junior college, then UCR, then USC Law.

At USC Law, I ended up back in my favorite city, the city of dreams, but this time, I was in LA on a different kind of mission.

Most of my time in LA was spent drinking a plain cup of coffee studying at Starbucks with my roommate Bridget. We were also obsessed with watching The X Files. Most weekends, I took the train to visit my boyfriend Adrian (now my husband) in West Covina. Thursday nights was called Bar Review night, which was really just a drunken pub night. I never went and I remember someone calling me a goody two shoes and I guffawed. If they only knew. I was no goody two shoes, but I was focused and determined to not screw it up. The tens of thousands of dollars in student loans I took out weighed heavily on my mind.  

And my hard work paid off. I graduated in the top twenty percent of my class. It felt vindicating. And when I walked across that stage in my cardinal and gold cap and gown, I saw my parents and sisters in the audience cheering for me. I wasn't crying under the bleachers any longer. I had made it.

It is fifteen years since graduation. Big law firm practice didnt work out. I tried law firms in Houston, San Francisco and Los Angeles. Nothing felt real. It all felt like I was playing a role, my own version of Eliza Doolittle. The only thing that kept me sane was my creative writing. When my dad died, I knew I had to make a change. When I came to the public defenders office in Riverside eight years ago, it immediately felt like home. I represent the mentally ill in incompetency proceedings now, protecting them from a system that has no empathy for them. People see my clients as criminals, but I see them as someones mother, father and children. It has become even more important in this current climate to protect these people from non caring institutions.

My job is hard and I go out to Los Angeles to decompress from it all. In January of this year, I saw the forty year reunion of X at the Roxy. I jumped up and down in my combat boots screaming out the lyrics to the song Los Angeles. And while I may not technically be a Los Angeles girl, this Inland Empire girl has a history there and so l call Los Angeles a close second for home.  

Ultimately, the city of angels made me who I am. Lawyer, writer, punk rock girl, thats me.

Saturday, August 19, 2017

Top 7 school movies

School is starting, and so I had to write an article about the top 7, or should I say my top 7, education related movies of all time. This list is made with the caveat that I am a lawyer who is obsessed with the music and movies of the 1980s. I have tried to be broader than my obsession in my picks.

7. ​“Dead Poets Society” (1989)
Boarding school can be a lonely, but also uplifting place and you just might find yourself and how to live life to the fullest with the help of Walt Whitman and a wise professor played by Robin Williams (along with a stunning cast of young actors including a young Ethan Hawke). Heartfelt sentimentality combined with an artful handle of tragedy makes this a top pick. Carpe Diem my friends.
(Another great movie in the same vein is “School Ties” from 1992 which deserves an honorable mention)

6. ​“Ferris Bueller’s Day Off” (1986)
Ferris Bueller is the ultimate rebellious teenager ditching school after asking himself, “How could I possibly be expected to handle school on a day like this?” Ferris goes to any lengths to avoid the principal and his pissed off sister played by Jennifer Grey.  What is essentially a buddy movie, morphs into something for the ages with a star making role by Matthew Broderick under the amazing direction of John Hughes. And who could ever forget the line, “Bueller Bueller”?
(War Games (1983) is another treat from the 1980s starring Matthew Broderick about a high school student that who hacks into the wrong database and almost causes WW III).

5.​“The Paper Chase” (1973)
How could a lawyer ignore what is perhaps the greatest law school movie of all time? Starring Timothy Bottoms as the 1L law student, the epic Academy Award winning John Houseman as a stern law professor and Lindsey Wagner (later the Bionic Woman) as his daughter, the movie is part romance, part law school quest and ultimately, a treatise on how to abuse the law school Socratic method.
(The movie is based on the 1971 novel by the same name written by John Jay Osborn, Jr. and for a double treat see the book IL by Scott Turrow.)

4. ​“Grease” (1978)
The ultimate 1950s movie starring the unforgettable John Travolta as Danny Zuco and Oliva Newton John as Sandy (and who can forget Stockard Channing as Rizzo). This is the ultimate stage to screen version of a high school romance complete with a fabulous soundtrack. As a kid, I had the 8 track soundtrack of this movie which I would play in my dad’s pickup truck over and over. The Pink Ladies and The Thunderbirds were forever captured on the silver screen in this gem and no one will ever forget the tunes or the story of Sandy’s metamorphosis from goody two shoes to pink lady in leather. A wap bam boom!
​(For fun, watch Grease I and then Grease II. Sometimes, depending on my mood, I prefer the cheesiness of the sequel which stars a young Michelle Pfeiffer.)

3. ​Rudy (1993)
One of the most uplifting movies ever made. Rudy tells the story of a steel worker’s son who wants to attend college and play football at Notre Dame. The movie is all about achieving one’s aspirations, despite the odds, and stars Sean Astin as a young man who will achieve his dreams no matter how poor or how small he is. The movie is a textbook quest movie, but its heart lies in the portrait of Rudy’s family, friends and teammates. Based on a true story, my favorite part of the movie is not the triumphant ending, but where, after years of junior college, Rudy finds out he did indeed get into Notre Dame.
(The movie also stars a young Jon Favreau as Rudy’s tutor and best friend in college)

2. ​Fast Times at Ridgemont High (1982)
A young and burgeoning writer named Cameron Crowe wrote the screenplay for this movie after going undercover at a high school in San Diego. This 1980s classic stars Sean Penn as the ultimate surfer stereotype Jeff Spicoli, Judge Reinhold as Brad, a hardworking high school student, and his sister Stacey, played by Jennifer Jason Leigh who is looking for love in all the wrong places along with her best friend Linda played by Phoebe Cates. The classic sex, drugs and rock and roll storyline along with the strong ensemble cast showed just what it was like to be a high school student in Southern California in the 1980s. And don’t forget Ray Walston as Mr. Hand.
(Another honorable mention must go to another Southern California classic high school movie, Valley Girl, from 1983 starring a young and punk Nicolas Cage.)

AND THE NUMBER ONE EDUCATION BASED MOVIE IN THIS WRITER’S NON SCIENTIFIC OPINION IS:

1. Breakfast Club (1985)
Who can forget the ultimate high school movie starring Brat Packers Ally Sheedy as the misfit, Molly Ringwald as the beautiful popular girl, Emilio Estevez as the jock, Michael Anthony Hall as the nerd and Judd Nelson as the delinquent. The group comes together for a Saturday school detention and what results in a coming of age story times five. It puts the common high school stereotypes up to the light and shows that everyone has their own trials and tribulations no matter where they fit within the social hierarchy of high school.

(Personally, I would also put Pretty in Pink and 16 Candles in my top 7, but they were not included here due to the fact that they are all from director John Hughes and two John Hughes movies are enough in a set of 7. That said, for me, 16 Candles, Breakfast Club, and Pretty in Pink comprise the holy trinity of high school movies from the 1980s.)


Wednesday, August 9, 2017

The old grey mare

This morning I woke up, like clockwork, at five in the morning. The older I get, the more I go to bed early and wake up early. Last night I went to bed at 8 pm, not because I wanted to but because I didn't have a choice. My eyes started closing of their own accord.

My chronic pain issues don't help. There are nights I just want to sleep to escape the pain. Surgery in December will hopefully help.

After my morning ritual of making my shih tzu Frodo take his medicine and feeding the dogs, I picked up a magazine on the counter. It was my mother in law's Elle. I flipped through the fashion magazine marveling at the beautiful faces and fit (sometimes too thin) bodies and their unlined faces and foreheads. I went to the bathroom and looked in the mirror at my lined forehead and face.

Fashion magazines may be the fountain of youth for the old. The magazine made me remember what it felt like to be young in a short dress and high shoes. It made me forget my health issues and pain, at least for a moment. It reminded me of how little I appreciated my own youth and beauty when I was living it. I was always fat, even when I was thin, or my face was too round, or my hair too frizzy for my own taste. No one told me I was inadequate. I told myself. Yet, when I look back at pictures from my teens and twenties, I marvel at how fantastic I look.

I wonder if some day I will look back at myself now and marvel at how good I look. Pictures are an illusion and so from now on, I will perpetuate the illusion by taking flattering pictures of myself that will appease my older self. Wrinkles and forehead lines be dammed.

This old grey mare is what she used to be.


Thursday, August 3, 2017

Writing life

I've been working on my memoir for more than ten years. I started writing again in my thirties, while working as a big law lawyer in Houston, Texas. Law school had sucked creativity out of me. They taught me to write in legal form. But, in the process, USC Law failed to remind that you can always be creative.

Depression and late nights as a big firm litigator brought my creativity back. Always a better writer when sad rather than happy, I would stare out my high rise window and poems would come pouring out of me. I would collect them on poets.com and read them, wondering what the hell I was doing with my life.

Life had went a place I never expected. For the first time in my life, I had plenty of money. Yet, I was desperately unhappy. I was all by myself in Texas. Yes, I had friends. Making friends had never been a problem for me. But, my boyfriend of ten years (who later became my husband) had stayed behind in Southern California to finish his last semester at Cal Poly and apply to dental school. And, my crazy dysfunctional family was now thousands of miles away. I missed them.

In my apartment, I had little furniture except Leopold Bloom, a black cat I had named after the protagonist in James Joyce's Ulysses, and my books.

The poems I wrote out there in Texas started out a bit melodramatic with echos of Dickinson and Plath, my poetic heroines. Eventually, I turned to prose and memoir.

Those first poems paved a path for me, however, to rediscover myself. And years later, while in San Francisco with my boyfriend turned fiancé who was attending dental school at UCSF, my dad died suddenly three weeks after Christmas and his pancreatic cancer diagnosis.

His death forever changed me. Within a couple of years, I would change jobs to become a deputy public defender and be attending writing workshops at VONA at USF and UC Berkeley. The stories, many of which comprise the opening chapters of my memoir, would come pouring out like water that had long been bottled up. All those memories turned into stories. Stories I am proud of.

The problem with memoir is that you must pick an end point. And now, that is where I stand, looking at it all with a furrowed brow. In some ways, I am no longer the burgeoning writer who wrote those first stories, but in other ways I am. Maybe, after the last ten years and my struggles with fertility and anxiety, I don't know who I am anymore.

Ultimately, I may just have to find myself to finish this damn book.

Saturday, July 29, 2017

Me an ENFP

I've been thinking a lot about things. My life, my accomplishments, my struggles, my goals and my future. Outwardly, I seem the same. I feed my dogs, go to work, come home, eat, read or watch tv, sleep and wake up again in the morning. My routine remains unchanged. But internally, I feel as if a storm is raging. It's almost like I'm having a mid life crisis in my brain.

There's something about your mid forties. It's a time of re assessment. Questions. With little answers.

Perhaps, I thought to myself, I just need to look inward more. And so I did.

I took a personality test. There's 16 different ones in the Meyers Briggs universe. I fell into the ENFP category. I read the description and it fit me to a T. Suddenly, everything made sense. I experience through performing and am very intuitive, I can read and connect with people. Some call us inspirers or champions. The drawback to this personality is that we have a hard time figuring out what we want to do, and because we are eternal optimists, we see the possibilities in everything. And we live through embodiment which is why so many of us ENFPs are writers, actors and filmmakers. And why we have so may stomach problems. We literally feel our emotions.

We go, go and go, and are pros at trying everything. The problem is that sometimes we rush into things without asking ourselves whether it will fulfill us. And fulfillment and authenticity is everything to an ENFP. Now my 7 years in big law made sense. I was trying it out. I had jumped into it without thinking, is this really for me? The other problem ENFPs run into is that if commitment is a core ethic of theirs, they will not let others down or give up. Now all my inner conflicts make sense. I find it very difficult to cancel a commitment even when I want to desperately. This description also explained my searching and searching for something new to do. Essay and non fiction writing, performing, songwriting, film making. All these things call me. But, add in my demanding job, my writing, all the boards and committees I serve on, and my husband, dogs and friends, and well, it all can be overwhelming.

The key they say, is to slow it down. ENFPs are whirlwinds (especially in court, I can beat anyone on calendar), but slowing down will help let us be taken more seriously. No one sees the hours of prep I do in my office to make it look quick and easy. I want credit. I have always known I was smart, but others don't always see it. They think I am flighty or scattered when really my brain moves too fast for me to keep up at times.

With this new knowledge in hand, my goal is to experience the world and figure out what will truly make me happy. If I want creative fulfillment, what will get me there?

And I cannot rush it. I know that now.

(P.S. I must give a shout out to the "personality hacker" website where I did a lot of my research)

Sunday, July 23, 2017

What's the matter here?

Last weekend, we watched Natalie Merchant dance and sing under the stars at the Greek theater. We almost didn't go, exhausted from the casino the night before, but were glad we did. It was sublime. Natalie's voice was so pure and lovely. It echoed in the theater around the tall trees. It felt almost spiritual. Magical is perhaps the better word.

And today, it's 6 am and I lay in a bath pondering why we are all here. It's something I think about often, especially the older I get. I never worried about why I was here as a young adult. Survival mode does that to you. It makes surviving and getting by the only goal and my years as a waitress working her way through school were tough for sure, but they also made me resilient. There was not a lot of time, however, for self reflection. Leisure time gave me that. I'd almost prefer to be blissfully ignorant of the existence of life's questions, except for the fact that without them, my creativity would be limited.

So here goes. Why are we here? Some might say we are here to procreate. But, for me, that didn't happen. After years of trying, I've given up. I'm a very tired 45. So that theory doesn't hold water in my case. What about the idea that we are here to make a difference? At first perusal, this sounds doable. But then I think to myself, I'm participating in a broken system. I'm a deputy public defender who sees just how messed up the criminal justice system is on a daily basis. At its core. And while yes, on the micro level, I might make a difference, on the macro level, I'm a failure. Also, if we were just here to make a positive difference in the world, that would render anyone not advocating for the greater good useless. And perhaps, "good" is too relative of a term. I am sure many Republican operatives in this administration tell themselves they are there to do "good". My point is that "good" is not always right and true. Or constitutional.

Maybe we are here to have fun? In the purest hedonistic sense, maybe we are meant to take what we can out of life and run. Live life to the fullest, play hard and all that. But, fortunately or unfortunately depending on your viewpoint, I can tell you from experience that acting out that theory leaves one exhausted and melancholy.

I suppose, that maybe why we are here is to answer that very question. Why are you here? Why am I here? Why are we here? Answering that question could be one's life work and is one of the very fountains from where art and creativity springs.

So back to that concert. I can tell you this, for a split second, only a fleeting moment, no bigger than a nano second, I knew why I was there. And that was to be right where I was, listening to the voice of Natalie Merchant under the stars, while the wind whistled in the trees and the stars twinkled in time.