Saturday, October 31, 2009

California Women's Conference

For the last four years I've attended the California Women's Conference hosted by Maria Shriver. Fortunately, my company pays for the tickets and for my time there. It's a great deal. This year 14,000 people (mostly women) attended.

Hightlights for me this year:

A conversation between Annie Leibowitz and Katie Couric with Annie commenting on her photos shown overhead

Maria Shriver's welcome speech and her openness about her grief over the loss of her mother and uncle just in the last two months

The panel moderated by Maria with two women who lost sons (Elizabeth Edwards and Susan St. James)and one who just lost her husband (Lisa Swayze) -- a very emotional experience for me

Jane Goodall and her eloquence in accepting a well deserved Minerva award for her work to save Africa from polution

And of course Madeleine Albright's famous quote (she said it last year too):
"There should be a special place in hell for women who don't help other women."

Whether I'm still working for this company next year or not, I'll attend again. It's interesting to find out that today's women have some of the same issues we had years ago -- they too have to make choices about careers vs. raising a family or both.

Monday, October 26, 2009

A book whose time has come

I’m beginning to think the time has come for the subject of my book. Whether it will help motivate an agent and a publisher is another story, but just in the last week two pieces have come out discussing mental illness and dealing with it. One was an article by Glenn Close in The Huffington Post about eliminating the stigma of silence about mental health. Another article was on NPR this morning about helping college students with mental illness and the need for more counselors so their needs can be responded to quickly. Akin to a broken leg that gets immediate attention, a mental break or deep depression also needs immediate attention. This has become more prevalent in the last 10 years because more students with mental illness are attending college – enabled by the availability of the anti mania, anti depression, and anti psychotic new medications.

So, looking back at the response Paul had when he had his first psychotic break when he was in college. Someone from the school’s medical office walked him to a hospital nearby and left him there, and within minutes he left. The only concern the school seemed to have was that he have a signed note from a doctor stating he was healthy enough to return to school. No one was there to monitor his progress and check in on him during and after his break. If more attention had been paid at the outset would the outcome have been different? He always felt stigmatized by his disease. Perhaps had it been dealt with openly he would have been more willing to get help and not feel like he had to hide it.

Oh, I know there is no way to know. Yet, I do know that that was a different time. People’s attitudes and awareness are changing about mental illness. And the more articles about it in the media, the more it will continue to change. Like a parent whose son killed himself said on NPR this morning, perhaps more attention will save lives. Yes, that’s the ultimate goal.

Here’s Glenn Close’s article:

Mental Illness: The Stigma of Silence
by Glenn Close

"Mental illness and I are no strangers.

From Alex Forrest in Fatal Attraction to Blanche Dubois in A Streetcar Named Desire to Norma Desmond in Andrew Lloyd Weber's Sunset Boulevard, I've had the challenge -- and the privilege -- of playing characters who have deep psychological wounds. Some people think that Alex is a borderline personality. I think Blanche suffers from post-traumatic stress disorder and everyone knows that Norma is delusional.

I also have the challenge of confronting the far less entertaining reality of mental illness in my own family. As I've written and spoken about before, my sister suffers from a bipolar disorder and my nephew from schizoaffective disorder. There has, in fact, been a lot of depression and alcoholism in my family and, traditionally, no one ever spoke about it. It just wasn't done. The stigma is toxic. And, like millions of others who live with mental illness in their families, I've seen what they endure: the struggle of just getting through the day, and the hurt caused every time someone casually describes someone as "crazy," "nuts," or "psycho".

Even as the medicine and therapy for mental health disorders have made remarkable progress, the ancient social stigma of psychological illness remains largely intact. Families are loath to talk about it and, in movies and the media, stereotypes about the mentally ill still reign.

Whether it is Norman Bates in Psycho, Jack Torrance in The Shining, or Kathy Bates' portrayal of Annie Wilkes in Misery, scriptwriters invariably tell us that the mentally ill are dangerous threats who must be contained, if not destroyed. It makes for thrilling entertainment.

There are some notable exceptions, of course -- Dustin Hoffman in Rainman, or Russell Crowe's portrayal of John Nash in A Beautiful Mind. But more often than not, the movie or TV version of someone suffering from a mental disorder is a sociopath who must be stopped.

Alex Forrest is considered by most people to be evil incarnate. People still come up to me saying how much she terrified them. Yet in my research into her behavior, I only ended up empathizing with her. She was a human being in great psychological pain who definitely needed meds. I consulted with several psychiatrists to better understand the "whys" of what she did and learned that she was far more dangerous to herself than to others.

The original ending of Fatal Attraction actually had Alex commit suicide. But that didn't "test" well. Alex had terrified the audiences and they wanted her punished for it. A tortured and self-destructive Alex was too upsetting. She had to be blown away.

So, we went back and shot the now famous bathroom scene. A knife was put into Alex's hand, making her a dangerous psychopath. When the wife shot her in self-defense, the audience was given catharsis through bloodshed -- Alex's blood. And everyone felt safe again.

The ending worked. It was thrilling and the movie was a big hit. But it sent a misleading message about the reality of mental illness.

It is an odd paradox that a society, which can now speak openly and unabashedly about topics that were once unspeakable, still remains largely silent when it comes to mental illness. This month, for example, NFL players are rumbling onto the field in pink cleats and sweatbands to raise awareness about breast cancer. On December 1st, World AIDS Day will engage political and health care leaders from every part of the globe. Illnesses that were once discussed only in hushed tones are now part of healthy conversation and activism.

Yet when it comes to bipolar disorder, post-traumatic stress, schizophrenia or depression, an uncharacteristic coyness takes over. We often say nothing. The mentally ill frighten and embarrass us. And so we marginalize the people who most need our acceptance.

What mental health needs is more sunlight, more candor, more unashamed conversation about illnesses that affect not only individuals, but their families as well. Our society ought to understand that many people with mental illness, given the right treatment, can be full participants in our society. Anyone who doubts it ought to listen to Kay Redfield Jamison, a psychiatry professor at Johns Hopkins, vividly describe her own battles with bipolar disorder.

Over the last year, I have worked with some visionary groups to start, an organization that strives to inspire people to start talking openly about mental illness, to break through the silence and fear. We have the support of every major, American mental health organization and numerous others.

I have no illusions that is a cure for mental illness. Yet I am sure it will help us along the road to understanding and constructive dialogue. It will help deconstruct and eliminate stigma.

The World Health Organization (WHO) estimates that by the year 2020 mental illness will be the second leading cause of death and disability. Every society will have to confront the issue. The question is, will we face it with open honesty or silence?"

Read more at:

Sunday, October 25, 2009

The same old choices keep re-emerging

This was the 14th day in a row that I went into work. Of course I don’t work the long full days on the weekends like I do during the week, but I still went in. And this pace will continue until the night before Thanksgiving – exactly one month from today.

The way I’m feeling now, I can’t guarantee that I’ll ever do this again. In fact, I’m thinking of my options yet again:
• Ask my boss if I can work part time – 20 hours or more with benefitsw
• Officially retire and come back once in a while as a contractor
• Give up my day job all together and concentrate on my writing
• Get back to planning to live in Italy which means getting back to my Italian lessons. I definitely could write as well there as here and I could take a few cooking classes besides.

Needless to say the options are there. Whether or not I even have the energy to pursue them is the big unknown. Whether or not I trust that I can stand not working is another unknown. And the most important unknown is what the state of the economy will do in the next few years. Can I really afford not to work entirely? Can both Bob and I afford not to work for months at a time?

Thursday, October 22, 2009

Jew by choice

I went to a Bat Mitzvah last Saturday. One of the most beautiful and brilliant performances on the pulpit I’ve ever witnessed. The Bat Mitzvah girl is the daughter of a good friend who is, in her own words, a failed Catholic. The girl’s father is Jewish. And, as the Bat Mitzvah girl said in her speech, “I am a Jew by choice.”

The most amazing thing about her choice is that she made it when she was seven years old. Her mom waited for about six months to see if the notion would stick, and when she was sure it wasn’t going away, she took her daughter to the Rabbi to discuss her options. And, this seven year old was determined and articulate when the Rabbi asked her why she wanted to be a Jew. She said she believed that the Star of David was her guide. And she believed in one God – no other beings or symbols made any sense to her.

This seven-year old girl has emerged into a beautiful, smart, and talented young woman just like her mom who raised her mostly on her own. I can’t wait to see what the next few years have in store for her.

Sunday, October 18, 2009

I can definitely relate

We saw "August Osage Country" today with Estelle Parsons. The writing and acting are brilliant. And, so is Estelle's ability to run up and down one or two flights of stairs several times during the play.

There was a Q&A with Estelle in the program. Here's the question and answer I could definitely relate to:

"Q: Everyone marvels at how you go up and down those stairs. How do you stay in shape?

"A: I've been very physically active all my life. Dance lessons, yoga, running, hiking. I would have loved to have been a skier or a tennis player if I weren't an actor. I run or swim or go to the gym everyday, and also do yoga. i started doing weights when I got into my 60s, and have had a lot of trainers. When you get older, your strength dissipates very quickly. It probably starts in your 60s, but when you get into your 70s, if you don't walk a mile for a couple of weeks, pretty soon it's hard work to walk a mile. So, I've always kept up with it...I just can't help myself...."

I've never heard the reason for keeping fit on into our old age so succinctly put. And, now that I'm pushing 70 it's nice to have validation that I shouldn't slack off. I used to think I owed myself a break once I reach a certain age. But, that isn't so at all. I think I need to more diligent as I age. Plus, like Estelle -- I can't help myself.

Sunday, October 11, 2009

Whadya think?

Except for a few loose ends and the garden work, the house resurfacing and painting is finished. So, what do you think?

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Wednesday, October 7, 2009

Another sign from the light

I got word today that two of my poems were accepted for publication in Perigee: Publication for the Art's October 15 issue. I'll post the link as soon as they appear.

Here’s what Perigee said:

"Your work was among the very best, and we are pleased to inform you that we would like to publish both "Demolition" and "Reaching for a Star" in our upcoming issue. You are to be commended on your craft and should be proud of your work….We are so pleased that you submitted to us, and we hope to see more of your work in the future. We also hope you will take pride in your achievement: these are the successes which make the creative act all the more rewarding. Thanks for making Perigee a part of it. Congratulations.“

WOW that was a real shot in the arm to get my creative juices flowing again. I’ve been very dormant lately, and with that and the signs I’ve been getting re resources for submitting my work, I feel like I have to get going with my writing and submissions. Another agent's name came up today, and I’ve put his blog on my list of resources to read. If only I had the time to give my writing the attention it needs.

The light is shining very brightly over my writing life this week.

Tuesday, October 6, 2009

My writing light

One of my friends always says "bring on the light." With that she means bring on good vibes. And right now I seem to be receiving a lot of light about publishing resources. One person told me about the Independent Writer’s Organization of Southern California and its tremendous list of resources and links. Another person sent me the UCLA Alumni magazine that highlighted the Wordhustler web site – a perfect place to go to for help in researching, organizing, and sending out submissions. It’s seems that all of this light is telling me to get back to my writing and submissions and querying. It’s telling me to end this little hiatus I’ve taken for the last few weeks for “reasons” – lack of motivation, too much work, the dreaded month of September, completing the 45 hours continuing education needed to renew my real estate license, the house redo, whatever. It’s always easy to find a reason. Well, right now I have a reason – the light – to get back into the writing game again.

And, I’ve just taken the first step: I registered for a four-day workshop in February to learn about writing the first novel. One never knows. Maybe I have a novel in me after all.

Bring on the light!

Sunday, October 4, 2009

Sunday morning

I took my usual long Sunday walk this morning and it was blustery and cool -- but oh, so beautiful. The clouds hinted at rain, but before my walk was finished it was hot and sunny again.

And, here's some show of more house progress. This past week all the trim got painted. Next week, the fence, deck, and atrium will be stained, and the garage door and railings will be painted. Could I even hope that this project will be completed by Friday? Probably too much to ask?