Friday, December 17, 2004


In my last blog I wondered why so many people are so quick to form opinions about people and cultures without any direct experience of those people and cultures. In particular, I noted that most people I meet who have a negative impression of the French generally just don't know any French people and have spent little if any time in France. Days later, as if to underscore my point, Kender wrote,

I like The Statue of Liberty. But if the french had kept it as a reminder of liberty instead of making it for us perhaps that song would have never been written.

(Here is the song.)

Now, of course anyone who has actually been to Paris or bothered to learn much about the gift France made to us and the reciprocal gift made by Americans living in Paris to the French knows that the French do have a Statue of Liberty. I've seen it. It's there, right on an island in the Seine and has been since 1885. Look: here's a photo.

It doesn't matter who has any or more or bigger statues advertising their commitment to liberty. Not knowing that there is a Statue of Liberty in France plays no role in any argument concerning the French and how liberty-loving or not they may be. But not knowing things in general does, and not knowing things is pandemic.

Lillet and I recently watched the Ali G DVD, which featured an extra, Borat at a U.S. patriotism rally. For those of you unfamiliar with the character, Borat is supposed to be a TV correspondent from Kazakhstan. His is a stock role in satire: someone who behaves foolishly and in doing so allows the unaware to demonstrate their own stupidity. At the rally, Borat asked people what it is that makes America a great country. One of the most coherent answers came from a woman who said, "We Americans enjoy liberties that no one else in the world has."

My mind was tempest-tost. No doubt we enjoy a great many liberties, more than in most nations. But ones that no one else enjoys? Which liberties, I wondered, do I enjoy that are cruelly withheld from the downtrodden Norwegians, or our oppressed neighbors to the north, the yearning-to-be-free Canadians?

All I could come up with was the liberty to own assault weapons.

We are convinced that ours is the freest, most liberty-loving country in the world. Why? I think mostly because few of us have been to many other places.

We're told by our President that the terrorists hate us because they hate freedom. As David Cross pointed out, if the terrorists hated freedom the Netherlands would be fucking dust.

Oh, the liberties that lie crushed under the Dutch jackboot!

Here's an interesting parlor game. Suppose you could have chosen the country you were born into. Which would you pick? Here's the catch: you get to choose the country but not your station in that society. So before you start shouting "USA!" realize that you could in that case be born to Bill and Melinda Gates, or you could be born to a teenage crack-whore in an Detroit alleyway.

If you take it at all seriously, the game illuminates those values that are most basic and important. No one has much of a life if they don't make it out of childhood healthy, nurtured, and well-educated. If you want to assure that those baseline conditions for life are satisfied you certainly would choose the U.S. ahead of Rwanda or Russia, but ahead of any of the Western European democracies? No way.

But maybe you're a high-roller. Maybe you're willing to risk being malnourished or illiterate or unable to afford treatment for serious illness for the possibility of hitting the jackpot. If you want that shot at being a super-millionaire, and also the chance to avoid serious taxation, then go with the U.S., by all means. You may have to be concerned about things like personal safety since you will be in a country with a high rate of violent crime, but you'll have the means to build a fortress.

So maybe that woman at the patriotism rally was talking about the freedom to hoard resources. Certainly we enjoy that liberty to an extent possible nowhere else.

Oh, and assault weapons.

Wednesday, December 08, 2004

A Happy, Grown-Up Lady

Trey and I got engaged last May, hope to marry this coming May. In August, a close friend of his, who has been a very successful event planner in New York, offered to handle all the logistics of our wedding, for a generously low percentage of the total cost, because she was starting her own event business and because she considered Trey a close friend. I was guarded about this, given that I didn’t know her at all, she was a close friend of Trey’s and I agreed to meet with her, trusting in the commutative property of friendship. We met at the bar while he was working, and hit it off right away. She’s very personable and charming, and although at first my attitude was shy, I warmed to her immediately. I felt that I had made a new friend, that we were on the same page, and that everything would turn out perfectly. She swore that she would take care of everything, assured me she would watch a particular film we referenced, she laughed at my asides about Gerbera daisies. And the first month or so was awesome – phone calls every other day about this potential space in Red Hook, about logistics, etc. I loved how silly it was that I “had a wedding planner,” someone I had heretofore had assumed was something only the very rich or very creatively deficient would engage. I thought it was deliciously ironic – like I had secured the anti-wedding planner wedding planner.

But as time went on, various things started to sour. I lost my job and became panicky about money, and felt guilty about planning when I was worried about money. She kind of lost interest in calling as much. Come September, we still hadn’t found a place, and I was getting worried – about money, about logistics, should I just find the space on our own, would that interfere with what she was doing, etc. I would express reservations about her efficacy, or tell Trey I didn’t think she was into this after all, and he would feel criticized. Frankly, I think her commitment started to wane when she realized that if paying 6K just for a space was out of our price range, there was a lot less in it for her. Finally, he and I had found a space on our own, she emailed me and asked if it would be okay if she just helped with the rest of the planning and she would call me when she was back in town.

The call never came, and I gave into anger and relief – relief that this person I by now so wholly distrusted and found incredibly upsetting when her name was even mentioned to me was out of the picture, and angry that I had trusted her anyway and felt just stupid. She called me yesterday, hey, she can’t help us out after all, and I had probably figured that out already, ha ha! and then proceded when I voiced my disappointment (quite civilly, I might add) to become very patronizing, saying that we didn’t need her help after all, that we would be fine, and asked me how planning was going. I lost it at this point, at her brazen disregard for my feelings, and quietly hung up the phone. That should have been it.

But I lost it some more. I composed scathing emails and then dutifully hit “Save As Draft” after each one. I went into the ladies room and cried. I made light of it to my coworkers at lunch. I berated myself for not being able to think about anything else. I went home and talked about it with Trey, and by this time I was livid. It wasn’t that she had become overextended – it was that I felt we had been jerked around, that her whole MO was enjoying the schmooze and the pitch and that there had been no true desire to help us. That she had been patronizing and manipulative. My reaction was pretty extreme. I realized that I basically, irrational as it may be, that I wanted Trey to go beat her up, to beat her up in front of me. I realized also that this reaction was about something a lot deeper, which didn’t assuage my upset or prevent me from sending off a nasty email, and then falling on the bed weeping with such force that my nose bled. Then I passed out.

I am trying very hard to explain this correctly.

For me, to be married is not something I planned all my life. It is actually, a shocking surprise. At 22 I had decided conclusively that I should get my tubes tied, because there were enough children in the world, and that marriage was bullshit. For many people, this would be a legitimate and consistent expression of their political beliefs. For me, it was an unconscious expression of despair about the possibility of connection with anyone. It was a way of codifying my loneliness into a philosophical stance. Trust no one, say nothing, own nothing, like my own little pre-anchored Delos. Light being both wave and particle, I intended to stay diffuse, lest the great “They” obtain my position and finger me for a fool : putting the “light” in Golightly, yet not waving, but drowning, one tiny photon interfering endlessly, privately, with herself.

So, for me, marrying Trey isn’t about about falling into fear, or routine. Nobody has ever pressured me to marry or have a family. He is the person with whom I am compelled to say “yes” to the possibility that life can be beautiful, that you can have faith in another person, that you freely choose to ground yourself in order to be more than you are. It is saying “yes to living in the world, to committing the reality and interconnection of the world, saying yes to having a family, saying yes to giving my body to the child I hope to bear, who will grow out of my flesh and whose only mother I will always be. It is choosing to be the tiny, brave and vulnerable particle flying a silly flag outside of your little subatomic house. It is not just saying “I will,” but “I will be. I will be with you, will be part of everything, part of the world, of the fragile world with you.”

I remember this one line from some Louise Gluck poem -- an image of “brides leaping from a great height.” I remember at the time knowing in my literally sophomoric way that image was a doubly resonant evocation of some kind of overwhelming, joyful, faith.

I now know that in every cell of my being. I am funny, and kind, and well regarded by my friends, and smart, and in love, and happy and in a band that is about to be a big deal. Yet for some reason being a bride to be is alternately making me elated and terrified. I’m not terrified of being with only Trey for the rest of my life. I’m not scared of only having sex with Trey for the rest of my life – I’m totally overjoyed about that. I’m not terrified of children. I’m not terrified of peak oil the way I should be or that the country is going to hell – well I am.

I am terrified that by having the temerity to wear a pretty white dress the “great They” will laugh at me, that it will have its final revenge after all the work I have done to stand up to it. That I will be like Carrie in her white dress at the prom she’d never thought she’d get to see, shining and finally relaxing into embracing the world as okay right as the bucket of blood above starts to tilt. In trusting this girl to help me, this stranger, I somehow brought this humiliation upon myself. For whatever reason, that is how this phone call made me feel. It made me feel set up – cosmically, cruelly set up. It was this hall of mirrors of every other big betrayal: my first big love that broke my heart, my mom stealing money from me and wanting me to fail, the asshole who cheated, the school friends who betray, even the fucking election, the little things that underscore that ol’ feeling that you should just stick that knife in your heart and do yourself in first because IT’S JUST LESS EMBARRASSING THAT WAY.

I understand now why women go crazy about their weddings. Hear me out. I used to look down on women who made a big deal about their wedding and laugh at the bridezillas on I also thought it was sad that so many people had so little sense of glamour and pageantry in their lives that their wedding had to be like the Oscars, or hearing about young couples starting their lives in upwards of $25,000 in debt. “Of course,” I used to think. “It’s the one day in someone’s life when they think they can be a star.” I’m a performer, so I have gotten lots of attention, and so I felt like I wouldn’t need that when I got married. And I don’t – not like that…

But I realized I was being unfair to those women, because it’s not about being a star, per se. It’s – it’s that your wedding day is promised to be the day that you are somehow immune from shame. It’s not that it’s “all about you:” but that your vulnerability and commitment – your leap from a great height – is somehow sanctioned, just this once. That everyone will forgive you and love you even as you may be making a lifelong mistake, but *you* are not the mistake you might make. People are star obsessed not because stars are rich – it is because they seem to be unconditionally loved, or money helps you have enough to ward off shame. No wonder in our culture of fear women go crazy. It takes more and more ammunition to ward off the possibility of being publicly shamed. Is my dress good enough? Am I pretty enough? Are my triceps firm enough? Why aren’t the bridesmaids helping me? Are the Jordan almonds in the right bag? All these details, that if made perfect, will ward off some kind of existential shame. God, I’m even finding myself feeling sympathy for the uber-Gorgon herself, Star Jones.

I have done scenes in the theater where I had to do full frontal nudity and was fine. I used to be terrified of singing and now front a band. I’m the star of a film on the international festival circuit. And I remember when my stepsister got married and we were helping her get ready and she had her gown on and she looked at us, terrified. Her voice was breaking as the first words out of her mouth were:

“Do I look fat?”

It was "the happiest day of her life," and I could tell she was panicking she was going to get laughed at, somehow, somewhere.

And you know what?

I am, too. That you will laugh at me, in my white dress. That its very whiteness, in fact, may be the magnet compelling the inevitable overhead bucket to list. That you, whoever you are, will laugh.

It is taking a lot more courage than I anticipated to be a happy, grown-up lady.

But I can be, and I will. "I will."

And I hope that you will, too.

Tuesday, December 07, 2004

Mea Gulpa

I had promised Lillet that I would blog the story of the woman at BQE liquors who rebuffed my rose recommendations because they were for French wines. I let this go for some time for two reasons. One is that I am spectacularly lazy. The other is that I could not think of a way to tell this story that would be fair to the rebuffer, that would communicate the genuine disappointment I felt without making this woman seem like some sort of ignorant monster.

So, here I am ready to tell the story from my point of view and realizing that Lillet got it exactly right. I would like to say that the woman didn't really "sneer," but she did. I would like to put her in a more sympathetic light, but I don't see a way to do that.

One thing that bothers me about this incident is how rude this woman was to me, and rude in a way that most people would find to be typical - or stereotypical - of New Yorkers. I was born and raised in New York and was genuinely surprised and somewhat distressed to learn, upon moving to California, that New Yorkers are supposed to be very, very rude and unfriendly. This, in my experience, is simply not true. Far from it, I find New Yorkers to be forward, to be direct, not to mince words, but also to be genuine and very friendly, very helpful. So it was doubly disappointing to encounter this woman who was clearly a New Yorker, a Brooklynite, and just about as rude as anyone could be, rude in the face of genuine helpfulness.

It is to me utterly uninteresting that this woman presumably refuses to drink French wine because the French have the temerity to say that perhaps we ought not to be bombing and then occupying Iraq. What interests me is the ways in which people perceive other people and countries and cultures that have nothing to do with the direct experience of those people and countries and cultures.

Let me let you in on a secret. I know lots of French people. I've been to France a whole bunch of times. They are really, really nice, really, really, smart, care about being good people, care about the state of the world, about making the world a safe place. They do. I will vouch for them. I've met them. I know them. Yes, they are proud of their language and literature, their food and wine, their music, their contributions to world culture and the fact that they helped us win our independence. They ought to be, just as we are proud as Americans of what we have done.

They will occasionally disagree with us, just as you often disagree with your friends. What sustains you as friends are shared values. And what sustains us - or ought to sustain us - as friends with the French are the values that we have shared for more than 200 years, the values of the Enlightenment, the values that all men and women are created equal, that rationality must always trump faith or superstition. If anyone has strayed in this regard it's America, not France.

This has nothing to do with the French but is virtually emblematic of America. Why is it that we cannot be proud of who we are and what we've done without denigrating who others are and what they've done?

There is a very moving passage in J.M. Coetzee's _Boyhood_ that reminds me of this and recalled for me with a visceral quality fears from my own boyhood. Coetzee is growing up in post WWII South Africa and is, as any boy would be, fascinated with the war. He carries around with him this deep, dark secret: when he plays his games of fighting the Nazis he is not British, as he is expected to be, or American, as he could be, or even French. He identifies with the Soviets, with the Red Army. And this is for him the cause of great shame. It is something that he cannot deny. It is also something he cannot tell any adult, nor even his playmates.

There can be, morally, no question about Coetzee's choice. We were ALL in this case fighting the Nazis, opposed to evil. Whatever else you may think of what was the Soviet Union, there can be no denying their crucial role in defeating Hitler. What remains is aesthetics.

To read about Coetzee's secret was to recall my own, for when I was a boy - oh, 11 to 15 or 16 years-old - I was a very dedicated and even obsessed chess player. Bobby Fischer had won the world chess championship in 1972 (when I was 11) and had defeated the Evil Empire.

And then Fischer was gone, drifting into psychosis. And if you wanted to learn about chess, if you really wanted to learn, you went where the information was, and that was to the then Soviet Union. I learned to read enough Russian to read chess magazines. I haunted the old Russian bookstore on 4th Avenue, kind of scared of all the communists I thought must be there, but completely fascinated by this new language, new alphabet, new world.

And why not? What new knowledge is bad? Yet I felt that way all the time. I felt that because I was interested in chess, in this culture that had produced so many great chess players, in this alien alphabet and language, that I was a bad boy, that it was something I couldn't celebrate, but had to hide.

It's only as an adult that I realized how pernicious and obvious and stupid was the myth-making on the part of both the U.S. and the Soviet Union with respect to their chessplayers. I grew up believing that Fischer was the lone cowboy, the rugged individualist up against the big communist machine. Only recently can I see how exactly analogous is this to the Soviet insistence that their system led to order, logic, and world chess championships. I mean, a paranoid schizophrenic from Brooklyn is not exactly John Wayne in The Searchers.

Let me let you in on one more secret, one which may make reading this blog easier if you should decide to do that. Lillet and I are the world's biggest GEEKS. By this I mean nothing about our education but that she and I both want to follow every little interest we have to the greatest depths. All of this would surprise you if you were to see pictures of us or to meet us, but really all we want to do is to find stuff out, to celebrate beautiful and useless things. We have absolutely no political agenda and are genuinely perplexed as to why anyone would not be interested in French roses or what Botvinnik had to say about the Caro-Kann or who exactly was hiding behind the dumpster in Mulholland Drive.

Really. That's all.

Friday, December 03, 2004

You Forgot Poland!

My husband, Trey Desolay, is the smartest person I have ever met. He has the most integrity of anyone I have ever met. He is literate and funny and has great taste and is also very handsome.

But what I love most about him is that he is incredibly, deeply, honestly, the kindest man in the world. His particular kindness is so deep and present and nuanced that it would seem to have been so highly developed purely as a devious means of manipulation. (To get girls, maybe!) But what makes his kindness extraordinary is that it is completely sincere.

Which makes the following even more ridiculous.

He had gone to the local wine store to buy wine for the week. Another thing I love about him is that he is a guy who really reads things like The Wine Spectator and has a pretty comprehensive knowledge of wine yet is completely NOT that asshole snob kind of person who has to Let You Know that they know about wine -- the kind of person who populates the world of those horrific Sunday New York Times commercials.

Anyway, in the huge liquor store he saw this little old lady wandering around the aisles. Trey overheard her asking one of the employees where the blush wine was. This particular store is run by Polish people, and the counter help speak excellent English but some of the stock guys don't, and this particular guy didn't. So Trey went up to her and asked her if she needed help -- she assented, and he told her that he could show her where there were some very nice rose wines for under 10 dollars a bottle. She seemed happy about this, and he was showing her a bunch of options, when suddenly her demeanor changed and she looked at him strangely.

"Wait a minute -- where are these wines from???"

"Oh! " he said, "they're from France."

"You buy FRENCH wine??!??!?!??" she sneered at him, and turned her back and walked out of the store.


Does she patronize BQE liquors solely to show solidarity with Poland's patricipation in the "coalition of the willing?" I guess so.