Thursday, July 11, 2019

Move Moving Moved

One day to Moving Day and I am writing for the last time on my back porch. The house is mostly boxed up, except for the kitchen. That's my job for the day. I know the drill. How to pack. How to say goodbye to a house. 

But for now I am delaying it. Listening to the cicadas. Watching the tree branches bob in the breeze, the hammock we set out for the summer. We're leaving it behind.

The last house we lived in I walked the empty rooms one final time, snapped a picture of the kids' heights we'd marked on the kitchen wall. Another house, I said goodbye to a nursery never used. We moved before the baby came and we had to scramble to fix up a room in the new house. That house we left behind the curtains my mother made. A rose bush in the backyard.

This house we're leaving an herb garden. An asparagus patch. Silver knobs on the cabinets. A bookcase. The metal bar our son used to do chin ups. Iris bulbs. Blackberry bushes.

Yesterday I cleaned the bathrooms for the last time. The new owners were coming for a final walk through and I ran around the house cleaning and straightening. Why? my husband asked me. They've already bought the place.

For the same reason he was mowing the lawn. For the same reason I was out there with him, weeding the front flower beds. Because for one more day it's still our home. Because we love this place,

even when it's time to let it go.



Sunday, June 30, 2019

Top Secret Notes from a Movie Set

Two years ago I traveled to Prague with my friend Lisa Klein. Her book Ophelia was being made into a movie and they were filming at a studio in Prague and on location in the area. It was a last minute trip, to put it mildly, that came about mostly because I don't snore.  

Lisa's copy of her book, which the director, producers, and actors signed.

Day one, arriving on the set, and I was feeling like a reporter, all geared up to record my impressions of the studio and the filming, maybe snap a few photos of the actors (Daisy Ridley! Clive Owens! Naomi Watts!) but a publicist swooped over to say, No Pictures unless you absolutely promise not to share them on social media. 

And no writing about any of this until after the movie comes out.

I tried to explain that the things I wanted to write about (the props piled up on the set, the conversation I had with a Czech seamstress, a funny interaction with the cinematographer) were probably not going to mess up the publicity of the film. Also, I'm not writing gossip columns for Variety, just a humble little blog for my friends. 

Didn't matter. The answer was still no. 

I took notes anyway, with the thought that I would reveal all after the movie came out. Well, the movie came out. And now dear readers I am about to REVEAL ALL.

Or sorta all. 

Fun fact: the notes I wrote are packed away in a box who knows where because my husband and I are moving next week. So, bear with me as I piece together my two year old memories (with lots of help from the pictures I took). 

Castle in Krivoklat where they filmed many of the exterior shots of the movie

Barrandov studio where they filmed the interior scenes.
(This is the same studio where they filmed Mission Impossible and Bourne Identity.
Also, the Nazis made propaganda movies here.) 

Open a mild-mannered looking door in the studio, and Boom! You're inside the great hall of a castle. So castle-like, except there is no ceiling. I ask if I can take a picture of Lisa sitting in an Ophelia chair and I'm given permission. While I set up the shot--at a jaunty angle because I'm trying to be artsy-- a man leans over my shoulder and says, That's nice. 


Turns out, he's the cinematographer. He takes a picture of Lisa too and, no big shocker, it's nicer than mine.

Lisa and I wander onto the queen's bedroom set and get into a somewhat tense conversation with the set designer after I ask her where all the stuff goes after the movie's over. I get the feeling that she thinks I'm trying to steal her set-designer secrets, so I reassure her that I'm just nosy.

They made this bed for the movie. Super secret info I wheedled out of the set designer:
After the movie's over, it may end up in a prop warehouse
to possibly be used on a future movie set. 

The set designer's assistants hand-painted this lovely tapestry while we watched.
Fun factoid: the paint has gold glitter in it to attract the light. 

Oh look, this food on the banquet table looks so real! Because it is real, the prop guy tells me. And speaking of props, I can't get over how many candles they've been burning on this set. 

Boxes of candles in various stages of burning

Lisa and I stand in line to eat lunch. There's a huge crowd in the dining area. Actors in costume-- palace guards, ladies in waiting. Stagehands. A seamstress from the area who was called up for a few days to sew beads on dresses. The boy who plays young Hamlet and his mom. 

Clive Owens strides by with a make-up artist in tow trying to fix a chunk of bad wig-hair that keeps falling into his eyes. He's tall and he's CLIVE OWEN, but all I can think is: this guy doesn't look like a movie star... he looks like a middle-aged man playing dress-up.  

We meet Daisy Ridley! And she is radiant and lovely. We meet Tom Felton, who's sporting a very non-Malfoy-ish beard. We meet George MacKay, who plays Hamlet, and he's just eated M&Ms, and I know this because after he gives me the British two-cheek kiss, my two cheeks smell like M&Ms. 

We sit in the producers' chairs and watch the same scene-- Clive Owen and a bunch of guards running down a hall and yelling at Daisy Ridley-- over and over again for the entire afternoon. (In the movie the sequence takes approximately 45 seconds.)

I drift over to a table covered with helmets.

table covered with helmets

Lisa and I eat ice cream with a palace guard. We watch the stand-ins for Hamlet and Ophelia stand in various places around the great hall so the camera people can get the lighting right. You can't see it in the picture but they're both wearing sneakers.


People are running around all over the place, make-up people and lighting people. Actors and their mothers. Lisa's sitting in the producer's chair watching, and it hits me suddenly that she wrote this book! And the actors are saying her words! And all of these hundreds of people are HERE, in service to something SHE created. (Well, William Shakespeare created it, Lisa keeps reminding me.) But whatever, Lisa. I mean, how awesome is this?

The next day we hop on a bus and head away from the touristy places. We find a park and walk along a windy trail, ending up in a garden where kids are playing and people are walking their dogs. We sit on a bench and take out the books we're reading. The book I'm reading is Ophelia, because I am embarrassed to say, I didn't start reading it until the plane ride over here and I still have a few chapters left.

I am finding this whole experience surreal. Sitting on a park bench next to the author at the same time I am reading her book. Being in the Czech Republic. On a movie set. Where actors greet me with M&M-flavored, two-cheek kisses.

But then, in no time at all, I disappear into the story.
















Tuesday, June 25, 2019

Sleepless in Columbus


I've been watching a lot of Rom-Coms lately, spurred on by my daughter who's home for what will likely be her final summer with us. This fact is something I'd rather not explore too deeply, and nightly-watchings of Rom-Coms are the perfect solution. So far we're exploring the classics-- mostly Norah Ephron-style and/or Meg Ryan-ish, with a dash of Hugh Grant sprinkled in here and there.

On Mondays we put that on hold to watch the Bachelorette, which is not rom or com-- unless you count hard-to-tell-apart bearded guys bickering with each other and one narcissistic psychopath trying to manipulate the clueless bachelorette-- to be rom-mish and com-mish.

And then it's back to true Rom-Coms, Sleepless in Seattle, You've Got Mail, Notting Hill... 

A few weeks ago I went to the book launch of a Rom-Com, my friend Kerry Winfrey's new book Waiting for Tom Hanks. The story is the very best of the genre, fun and sweet and smart. Added bonus: it's set in Columbus and there's a scene in a bookstore, the very bookstore where Kerry held her launch party. When I was getting my book signed, I asked Kerry why she thought Rom-Coms are back IN lately, and she said, They're an escape from what's going on in the news.

She is right about that. When I read her book, I immediately found myself immersed in a different world. It's a funny darling place where the heroine's writing a Rom-Com in a coffee shop and playfully bickering with a handsome movie star, in town to film, what else? A Rom-Com.

I don't usually read Rom-Coms. And by not usually, I mean I stopped reading them when I was 15. Okay, this is a total lie. I did go through a more recent young adult romance binge. (ahem. Twilight.) But Twilight (and all of its many two-boys-fighting-over-one-girl angsty variations) was all rom and no com.

What I loved about Kerry's book was how she played around with the genre, calling attention to all of the romantic tropes, from the spilling-coffee-on-each-other meeting to the dash-to-the-airport-with-the-zany-friends conclusion, in a funny, but never mocking way,

because if you mock a Rom-Com, you lose what makes it both rom and com

the Hope part.

That is, after all, what is at the core of these stories. Hope, that we can find our one true love somewhere out there (or maybe they've always been there and we just never noticed). But even more important, Hope, that we live in a world where we can still believe in something hopeful.

I don't know if I believe in that world anymore.

Or more truthfully, I don't know if it's fair to Go There when other people are suffering so much in reality.

But here's the real question: Is it possible to live in our present dark reality without a place to escape to every once in a while?




Wednesday, June 19, 2019

First Pride

What I like most is the clapping. Also, the dancing and cheering. All of the rainbows and balloons. Especially the rainbows made out of balloons. Oh, and the boas. And the music. The group after group of people marching. The motorcycles. The people blowing bubbles. The moms giving out free hugs.

My daughter buys a rainbow flag and we take turns waving it. The parade started at 10:30. It keeps going for three more hours. Turns our there are thirteen thousand people marching this year in Columbus. A news article online says that only 200 people marched in the first parade.

Some of them wore bags over their heads. Flash forward 38 years to today and no one is wearing a bag over their head. It's all families. People pushing baby strollers or carrying toddlers on their shoulders. Corporate sponsorship. The Chipotle group and Target. Workers at the gas company and hospitals. All of the different churches. Methodist. Mennonite. They walk with signs. All Are Welcome Here. God Loves Everyone. It makes me tear up.

I just finished reading The Great Believers by Rebecca Makkai. It's set during the AIDs epidemic in the 1980s. I lived through that time period and didn't really know what was going on. I didn't know any gay people. Actually, it turns out, I knew a lot of gay people. They are family members and friends but they just hadn't told me. I cried reading the first chapter.

The main character is at a funeral gathering. One of his good friends has just died from AIDs. The man, overwhelmed by the loss of his friend, slips upstairs to be alone for a few minutes and falls asleep. When he wakes up, he's disoriented. The house is weirdly quiet. He's been asleep longer than he realized and when he slips back downstairs, everyone from the party is gone.

As the book goes on we meet all of the people from the party. The main character, who is in a monogamous relationship and has tested negative for HIV and therefore feels safe from ever contracting the disease. Various friends, their relationships and careers, their growing alarm and activism as the AIDS crisis gets worse and the government doesn't respond or is often outright hostile toward the people suffering and dying from the disease. The survivors and their guilt at having made it through to the other side when so many of their friends have died.

There's also a lot in this book about art and lost potential, close friendships and betrayals, a snap shot in time of a community that basically lost nearly an entire generation of young people.

You can see why the people who lived through it or grew up in the generations after and all of their family members and friends would want to gather together and march through the streets.

There are only a handful of protesters. They look like the same people who protested at the Planned Parenthood rally I went to. The ones holding the signs about how all the rest of us are going to hell. It occurs to me that if the pride parade people are going to hell, I want to go with them.

It's more colorful down here, Also, all of the people are dancing, smiling, singing, and offering each other free hugs.



Friday, June 7, 2019

House Hunt

The first house I lived in had orange countertops in the kitchen, a green refrigerator and green stove, multi colored paneling in the bedrooms, a lime green shag rug in the den. So who am I to judge the odd decorating choices of the houses we've been tromping through lately?

Weird paint colors and icky carpets, we can easily change. Harder to imagine is the fix for a teeny bathroom, so teeny you have to straddle the toilet before you sit on it. Or the house with the train track running the edge of the back yard. Or the house with the 30 degree slanted kitchen floor.

A shame, because we want to like that house. It's in the neighborhood we love, but are quickly realizing might be out of our reach. Old homes with character, as our realtor calls them, with big front porches, on winding, tree-lined streets. I stand in the kitchen for a long time analyzing the slanted floor, trying to imagine how we can make it work.

But no. Turns out slanted floors are a deal-breaker for me. That's a phrase we'd been hearing a lot from potential buyers of our home. What are their dealbreakers? Our small bedrooms (which I always thought were perfectly adequate). The split-level layout. The 1995-style master bathroom.

Picky people. I just want a floor that's level. A house that doesn't smell like death.

I wanted to like that house too! The huge tree in the front yard! With a swing! When we pulled up, I squealed like the little girl in the Miracle on 34th Street, my mind already spinning out future potential grandchildren taking turns swinging while I waved to them from the awesome screened in porch.

That death smell though was truly a dealbreaker. One step inside and I could hear the Amityville Horror warning blaring GET OUT reverberating in my head.

My husband's annoyed with me. We can get the smell out, he says. It's just old cigarette smoke.

I think it might be something more than that, I tell him through my shirt. Which I have pulled up to protect my nose.

Our daughter is on my side for that one, but in the next house, she accuses me of having unrealistically high standards when I point out that the living room is too small to fit a couch. This is a house that ticks off all of the items on our list. Pleasant and/or neutral odor. Level kitchen floors. A toilet you can sit on without straddling.

Added bonus: it looks like an HGTV-style flip with fresh paint and all new appliances.

Yeah. But where do we, um, put the couch?

We leave the place dejected. At this point we've put a bid on four different houses and gotten out-bid on all of them. The fourth we went over the asking price, but another buyer jumped in ahead of us by waiving the house inspection. I'm sorry. I get that it is a seller's market, but that's... crazy.

A friend told me that in her neighborhood potential buyers are writing letters to sellers explaining why they love the house and why the seller should sell it to them.

This seems crazy to me too, and yet...

Dear House Number Five's Seller in the Neighborhood We Love,

As soon as I stepped onto your screened in porch, took a swing for a while on your swing, I was in love with your house. The hardwood floors! The fireplace! The darling breakfast nook in the kitchen! It's clear you've spent time working on this place. You hung that porch swing and buffed those floors. You hand-painted those stencils of eyeballs? on the walls. You replaced all of the doorknobs with... faucets?

Okay, so we may not make the same decorative choices, but it's pretty obvious that you are creative and have a good sense of humor. Fun coincidence: some of my friends say the exact same thing about me!

In all seriousness though, I know you've loved living here. You made your house warm and inviting and comfortable. In a word, home.

Take a chance with us, and I promise, we'll do the same.










Friday, May 31, 2019

Home Less

Six years old and I had already lived in six places, one of them a tent in a campground. But that was only for the summer.

What happened was the duplex where my family was living was sold and the new owners booted us out in June. And then the apartment my mother found for us wouldn't be ready to move into until September. I'm unclear on the details of how we ended up at a campground.

My father took the car and moved in with his mother. My mom's sister gave us her tent and drove my mom and me and my two younger brothers out to the campground. It was the 1970's. Camping was In. I had a Barbie camper. I used to set it up on the grass or drive it down to the pond where my brother and I swam every day.

It wasn't really swimming. We lay on our stomachs and kicked in the shallow water and pretended we were floating. Our baby brother sat in his gated play area, drooling. He learned to stand up that summer by grabbing onto the bars. Mostly we ignored him. Ate our hotdogs at the picnic table under a tarp. Drank our Joy juice, the orangey drink my mother mixed up for us, which we called Bug juice because if you left a dixie cup of it out for more than a minute, you'd find insects dying on the surface. 

We only went into the tent at night. Rolled out sleeping bags on plastic swimming rafts. By morning the sleeping bags had always drifted off the rafts and we woke up on hard ground. It was musty in the tent. Don't touch the canvas when it rains, my mother warned us. It'll make the water drip on your face. 

Rainy nights I fought the urge, but in the end, always touched the canvas. My mother was right. Rainy days were the worst. Nothing to do but sit at the picnic table under the sagging tarp, rain spattering our backs while we colored in coloring books. The best days were spent rolling down the hill above the pond, tromping through the woods, playing on the playground. 

My goal that summer was to see-saw on the seesaw, but I didn't have anyone to balance out the other side. Both of my brothers were too young and the others kids were weekend kids at the campground, coming and going too fast for me to work up the nerve to introduce myself. 

My sixth birthday my mother hung balloons over the picnic table. My aunt gave me another barbie for my camper, the Sunshine Barbie who came with her own beach towel. A Mod Ken who had a collection of sideburns and beards that I promptly lost.

By the end of the summer my brother learned to swim for real. Our baby brother took his first steps. I made a friend and we see-sawed until dark. 




Sunday, May 26, 2019

Noon Protest

I should've brought my NO! sign, but at the last minute, I chicken out and leave it in the car.

What? my daughter says, when she notices I'm not carrying it. This is her first protest with me. I think she expects me to be more militant.

Mostly, I'm annoyed and tired. I can't find a parking space. And then we can't figure out how to use the Pay-for-the-Parking app. We walk fast toward what looks like, at first, to be a small crowd across the street from the Ohio Statehouse. The governor just signed a bill that will outlaw abortion after 6 weeks.

I am not pro-abortion, by the way.

I am pro-believer-that-humans-should-be-able-to-decide-what's-best-for-themselves-when-it-comes-to-their-bodies-families-lives. I don't know how to explain this any better than that.

On the way to the protest I tell my daughter the story of the girl I knew when I was in tenth grade who almost died from pre-eclampsia giving birth to her baby boy. I tell her about how I went to Planned Parenthood for birth control pills, in high school, in college, in grad school. I tell her about how a couple of years ago I told my story to a legislator in the statehouse, a Republican, who in all likelihood, voted for this new bill, but who, when I spoke to him, listened and seemed to agree with me that it was a good idea for girls to be able to make their own reproductive decisions.

The crowd grows bigger. It's the usual group-- mostly women, mostly older, but some young women, a few men. Someone starts a chant We Won't Go Back. 

I hold up my phone to record it and my daughter elbows me and whispers that my phone's not on. We both laugh. Cars driving by honk and the crowd claps. Off the top of my head I could tell you the names of dozens of girls I know who were raped. Several so battered they ended up hospitalized. Only two of these girls brought charges against the rapist. In one of the cases, the guy got off. The other is still making its way slowly through the system.

A man with a megaphone tries to drown out the speaker, a woman from Planned Parenthood who is explaining what actions they are taking to fight these new restrictive laws. I can't hear what the man is yelling. Something to do with killing babies.

Another chant starts. My body! My choice! My daughter holds my hand and shouts too. When I was pregnant with her, I started bleeding at 20 weeks. Freaked out, I called my doctor. She said, if you keep bleeding, head to hospital. We'll try to stop the labor but if we can't, we'll have to deliver. And I'm so sorry but babies can't survive at 20 weeks. Do I need to explain to you that the doctor was talking about performing an abortion? There are new bills making their way through state legislatures now that will penalize women (and/or doctors) faced with this heartbreaking situation.

A woman in the crowd wears a red robe straight out of The Handmaid's Tale, a book I once thought was science fiction. The speaker thanks us for being here, but next time, she says, Bring a man with you. The few men in the crowd say Hey! And everyone laughs. But the speaker is right. We need more men standing with us. We start another chant. Women's rights are human rights. 

A friend of mine nearly died from an ectopic pregnancy. If she wasn't at the hospital when the fallopian tube burst, she could've bled to death. There'a state rep in our legislature who believes that what happened to my friend should be criminalized. Apparently, he doesn't understand that ectopic pregnancies don't lead to babies. Ever.

The man with the megaphone will not shut up. He stands with a handful of counter-protesters. They carry huge signs with photos of what look like chopped up limbs. I suspect these are the same people who stand outside Planned Parenthood clinics and scream at girls and women who have appointments to get breast screenings and birth control, and, some, yes, abortions.

I know a mom who's 19 year old daughter got pregnant and did not want to have the child. The mom dropped everything and took her daughter to get an abortion without hesitation. She did not tell her husband. I know a woman who got pregnant when she was 16 by a much older man. She did not tell her dad she got an abortion.

Our group, numbering in the hundreds now, marches across the street toward the statehouse, the man on the megaphone still bellowing.

My daughter is teary-eyed and I squeeze her hand. Next time, I tell her, I'm bringing my damn sign.

Next time, she says, Let's bring a megaphone.