A series of small failures

Sundance ’09
January 16, 2009, 11:59 am
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I realize this can hardly be considered a failure, unless you think of it as a failure to actually earn money, which I need to be doing so that I can get out of my parents’ basement. My new friend Naked Jen has been full of good ideas for work, things that I may not have considered not so long ago, but that are perfectly fine options, especially at this point. This idea was a great one: Jen is working for the Sundance film festival. Turns out I was a little late for that (at least a for a paid position), but then she forwarded an email from someone on the volunteer team, because they were still looking for volunteers.

I looked at the name of the person who sent the email. It seemed familiar. That’s because I know her. I met Lindsay in Puerto Rico, of all places. She’s one of the volunteer coordinators, which turned out to be very handy. She knows me, can vouch for me, and pulled strings to get me a coveted full time position with lodging. 

So I’m writing this from my condo in Park City. It’s not exactly super deluxe, but it is large and has a hot tub and sauna, and is filled with nice women who have all volunteered before, some for years and years, and who know the secrets about volunteering, where to go for what, and how to get in to as many screenings as we can. 

I may live off bad snacks from the volunteer villa for the next ten days, but I can see two films a day before my shift (7:30 p.m. until 2 a.m.)!

Tuesday night we had a two hour training session, followed by a screening for volunteers.  Two more films will be shown to us volunteers tonight.  I don’t know who chooses the films that we get to pre-screen, but I’m not too happy about the first one. Johnny Mad Dog was beautifully made, some of the images were haunting; however, the story was unredeeming. I’m not sure what the point of the film was, except to capture something that actually happened. And experience it again, in horrific detail. To what end?

I should know by now that I can’t deal with violence.  I’m too wimpy for films like this. It may have taken a lot of courage to make it, but I don’t want my mind and body to suffer even 1.5 hours of that kind of stress, or to be exposed to those kinds of images (children being forced to kill their parents, kids raping girls and women, children hating pathologically). I’m looking forward to the documentary on the music of Tibet. Go ahead and laugh.

Film #2, Prom Night in Mississippi, documents an unbelievable story. Until 2008, the high school in Charleston, Miss., had two proms — one for white students, and the other for black students. Morgan Freeman, who is from there, offered to pay for the prom if they’d integrate it. Ten years ago they turned him down. Last year, they took him up on it. Some highlights: interviews with a black boy and white girl who have been together for years; interviews with the girl’s father, who doesn’t approve of their relationship; footage of school officials and their reactions to Freeman’s offer. Apparently, the version we saw was not the final edited version. It could have been trimmed. But the story is what carries the film. 

Film #3, Lymelife — loved it. So real. The brothers who made the film were there to answer questions — and we kept them there until after midnight. I chose to go home and sleep instead of nosh on chicken soup and sit in the hot tub of one of the Toronto crowd (I feel like an honorary Canadian — is this festival run by Torontonians?). My roommate didn’t get back until after 4 a.m.. She and the other Canadians had been hanging out with the composer brother, Steven Martini, and his band. So I missed my first Sundance filmmaker schmoozing, but I feel clear-headed and rested today, so that’s worth something. 

When I lived in Utah through college and for the first couple of years afterward, Sundance was the one thing that gave me hope. Going to Sundance, the resort, felt like a vacation, however brief, from the small-minded state I was living in. Going to Sundance, the film festival, was a retreat for my soul. I went to the festival every year until I moved to San Francisco in early 1990. I got to see Sex, Lies and Videotape when it premiered here. I got to Tapeheads, and gawk at John Cusack and Tim Robbins (and Susan Sarandon).  I got shaken up, forced to think, inspired to create. It feels good to give something back as a volunteer.


one from the archives — those pesky burial plots

When I got home this morning, after two blissful days in Sugar House with Tyler, my mom had lots to say. This was the most memorable part: Standing on the stairs, about halfway down, she asked if I still wanted that burial plot.

The burial plot conversation started in around 2000 when I was living in New York City. So here’s an old essay from the past on the topic:

“Your dad and I are thinking of selling some burial plots.”

It had started as an ordinary phone conversation: I was at my desk in my tiny West Village apartment, sipping from my glass of vodka and tonic, hoping my mother in Utah wouldn’t hear the clink of ice cubes each time I raised the glass. On the other side of the line, mom was talking about death and illness and misfortune happening to people I used to know. Once we had the misery update, talk usually turned to what my parents were having for dinner. But today, the conversation had veered into an unforeseen direction. She continued:

“Well, you know when your grandmother died, we also bought plots for your dad and me. We didn’t want her to be alone there.” ‘There’ was Green Hills, a mortuary on the outskirts of San Pedro, the blue-collar port town outside of Los Angeles, where I grew up, and where my parents had lived practically all their lives until they, like many faithful Mormons, moved to Utah. “We bought plots for your uncles, too, but your uncle Ted says he wants to be buried in Utah, with his own family, in the mountains.” It went without saying that she wasn’t selling the plot for my Uncle Milton. My mother’s twin, Milton sits in a halfway house somewhere in Utah and smokes and watches television all day. He used to be quite the athlete. Now he’s the archetypal example of what can happen to you if you don’t say no to drugs. That was a plot they’d be keeping.

Then she drops the bombshell. “So we have a plot for you,” she continues. “We’re just not sure if you’d want it.”

I don’t like being in the misfit camp with Milton. And I don’t really want to think about these morbid details.

“Last I checked, mom, I still had a pulse. Jesus.”

“I know, I always hated when your grandmother would talk to me about her will, or who would get what,” mom says. “But it’s going to happen to all of us. We’re all going to die.”

She can’t help it — Mormons are prepared for everything. In case of war, famine, or armageddon, she has a year’s supply of food in a special cold storage room in the basement. Row upon row of white plastic buckets full of wheat, dehydrated milk, fruits and vegetables, dried beans, pasta, and other wholesome staples. Enormous blue plastic barrels of water so large that unleashed on the dried food locker, the re-hydration process might blow up the house. She even has a wheat grinder to make her own flour. Plus those burial plots. I’m still trying to figure out what happens between now and when my body stiffens, but she’s already on to how to dispose of it.

“I always thought I’d just be cremated,” I tell my mother, hoping to get back to manageable talk. “So what are you having for dessert?” I tentatively ask.

But she won’t be deflected. “Honey, it’s easier to put you back together in the resurrection if you don’t get cremated,” she says.

When we talk about religion, I feel wise and almost parental; she sounds like a three-year old. When I was growing up, I idolized my mother. Besides being beautiful, she seemed the repository of all knowledge, which she imparted to me: she taught me everything, from how to drink from a cup, eat with a fork, put on my clothes, speak, and read. So when she converted to Mormonism when I was seven and she introduced me to Joseph Smith and the golden plates and the stories of angels and devils and salvation and damnation, what reason did I have to doubt any of it?

My mother seems like a reasonable person, but she adopts the same tone when she’s talking about resurrection that she uses to discuss salad dressing, and she matter-of-factly believes that Jesus is returning to the earth any day now.

“Do you want us to keep the plot?” she asks again. “That way you’d be right next to us. And on the morning of the first resurrection, we’ll stand up and I’ll wave hello,” she says, all sunshine. “And I’ll say, ‘see, it all really is true.'”

Mormons believe that when Jesus comes, the faithful — they, of course — will spring up first. Then, families that have been sealed together for time and all eternity — again, only Mormons — will be reunited. And then Jesus will begin his reign over 1000 years of peace on the Earth. But to be part of this holy crowd, I would need to come back to church.

This wouldn’t mean just going to church on Sunday. To be a faithful Mormon, I’d need to give the church 10 percent of everything I earn (before taxes). I’d have to spend every waking moment reading the scriptures and attending endless meetings and spreading the gospel to the unfortunate people of the earth who don’t yet have the truth. I’d be expected to trace my family tree so that my dead ancestors could be baptized Mormon and accept or reject the church in the hereafter. I’d have to treat my body like a temple, which would mean I’d have to stop polluting my body with coffee and tea and alcohol and drugs. I’d have to swear off sex, heavy petting and even french kissing, because God knows where that leads. I’d have to believe my past relationships with women were sinful, not allow myself to be attracted to other women, and support the church’s political campaigns against gay marriage. Somehow I’d have to find an honorable priesthood holder (meaning a man) who would take me to the temple and marry me. And I’d have to not be bothered by what goes on in the temple, where I’d be washed and anointed and given the odd long underwear I’d have to wear for the rest of my life. I’d have to not be offended by the fact that the secret name I was given in the temple could only be uttered to my husband, so that when I die, he could usher me into the hereafter. (My name was Charlotte.) It probably also shouldn’t bother me that without him, I couldn’t be saved. I’d have to believe that in heaven, God would again ask his faithful to practice polygamy. (The prophet conveniently suspended the law on earth for now, because people just didn’t get it, and besides, the territory of Utah wanted to become a state.) I’d have to believe that the fragile old man leading the church is a prophet of God, and I’d have to take his word as scripture. When he says women shouldn’t work outside the home, I’d have to agree. I’d have to say things like “I know the church is true,” “I know Gordon B. Hinckley is a true prophet,” and “I know the book of Mormon is true,” and mean it. I’d have to stop thinking independently.

In other words, I would have to be a different person.

“What’s wrong honey? Is this hard for you to hear?” Mom asks, slightly less brightly.
My mother can’t understand what happened. I used to be a believing Mormon. I went to church faithfully. I even went on a mission to Uruguay and converted 34 people. But the dogma that once seemed magical and that gave me what I thought was special insight into the mysteries of the universe now sounds like so many fairy tales. Just thinking about the years I lost being brainwashed to the point that I too sounded like a small child when I talked fills me with rage. My mom and my brothers and I have agreed not to talk about the church anymore, but she has sneakily slipped us into a conversation. This is not about burial plots. It’s about inclusion in the family — am I in for eternity or not? Or am I going to be rotting away in the ground while they, clothed in white, skip off to some eternal bliss, a happy, loving family forever?

Even 15 years after I left, I still wonder sometimes: What if they’re right? And I miss the simplicity, the confidence, the harmony of knowing my place in the great eternal plan. “Sure, Mom, I’ll take the plot,” I say. I don’t have any better options. What does it matter. I’ll be dead. I think.

Update: today, I told her I wanted to be cremated. Progress!!! and she is trying to sell the burial plots. She may want to be cremated too. I told her what I’d really like is to be thrown into a ditch and covered with dirt, sans embalming chemicals. (They’re so bad for the environment.) The idea of worms eating me and turning me back into the dirt from whence I came is so romantic. But it’s illegal, we agreed. So, cremation it is.

Seeing Gogo
January 10, 2009, 11:52 pm
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Bethany has been inviting me to come see him at her Pack to Basics class ever since I dropped him off and surrendered him to her in early December. Today, I did.

Walking toward her backyard from the street, I could see him, leashed up with the little leader muzzle. He took my breath away. I led Pooka in. And there he was. 

He wagged his tail, looking at Pooka. Everyone was standing in a circle, with their dogs leashed. There were about a dozen dogs, from tiny Westies to a huge Newfoundland (still a pup with lots of growth to go). We took our place in the circle. He was looking toward us, wagging his tail. The aim of this class is to let dogs socialize. The instructions were simple: don’t talk to the dogs, don’t touch the dogs, and keep walking around the yard. She then gave me some instructions: don’t talk to him or touch him until after the class. 

We let the dogs off the leash and started walking around. 

He walked around, wagging his tail and sniffing other dogs. Someone said, “is that the dog that usually just hides?” Bethany said yes, he was, and that his former owner was there. Apparently he was behaving very differently. Much more social. 

He went and hid under the deck for a while. And then he came out.


Gogo coming out

Gogo coming out

And ran straight toward me. He started jumping on me. I kept walking. This was the hardest part. I wanted to pet him, to talk to him, but kept going. He played with Pooka! He played with other dogs. He seemed totally great.

I met his new mom and talked with her a bit. She is so sweet, and they are perfect for each other. I felt then that he really needs to be in a situation like this — with one person. He was so threatened by Tyler and his kids. He tried to fight his way to dominance of our whole situation, but it wasn’t working, so he did what he thought he had to. He tried to take them down. 

I really hope that he doesn’t feel the need to do that with Trudy. 

He followed me around most of the rest of the class. I kept walking. It wasn’t until afterward that I got to pet him and give him a little love. 

And then we walked out, and didn’t look back.

I felt a huge sense of relief. He’s happy, he’s safe, he’s well cared for. And he’s adjusting fine. And it’s time for me to move on.

Here’s a video of him following me and playing with Pooka:

recycling the television update
January 9, 2009, 1:35 pm
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That old television that stopped working had been sitting on the table for more than a month. When my parents got their new flat screen hdtv a couple of days ago, they talked the big burly men into carrying their old one down to my basement (yay!), and the big dead weight up to the car. I was committed to recycling it properly, but wasn’t strong enough to move it.

Once it was in my mom’s trunk (it wouldn’t fit into mine… it’s BIG), I knew she wouldn’t let it go until I finally did it. So even though I wasn’t feeling so hot, I googled directions to the Trans-Jordan landfill, one of two places around Salt Lake City where you can bring old televisions and computers, where they won’t eventually leach into the groundwater and poison us all.

I have always wanted to get lost in Herriman. Actually, I didn’t know Herriman existed. I saw a couple of silos, ancient wood shacks and barns. 

Heading back in the right direction, I saw a store called Nail Jail & More (nails and bail bonds?), and a sign advertising worms: $1.50 a dozen. Strange to see it juxtaposed with the hugest new shopping center in the middle of nowhere (or was it Riverton?) Is there no end to the growth in this valley? 

Finally, after about an hour of meandering, I found the Trans-Jordan landfill. They directed me toward the area where I should leave the television (plus an old stereo receiver and two directv receivers my mom was so happy to get rid of). I somehow dragged the television out of the trunk — in the end, it didn’t matter that it dropped. 

It was a nice little field trip, but I wondered: how many people live in Salt Lake/Utah Valley? And there are two places where you can go to do the right thing? And how many televisions/computers/cell phones etc. get replaced each year?

Here’s the flyer that tells you where to go, SL,UTs.

Does he have a microchip?
January 7, 2009, 12:28 am
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Gogo’s new mom called me today to ask me this question, so that if he did, she could change the info. You know, so if he ever gets lost, runs away, etc., he will be returned to her, not me. No, he didn’t have one of those microchips. Does that mean I didn’t love him enough?


Here’s one last video of him that shows more of that “look of love.” And then he moves on. Goodbye Gogo. I love you, little munchkin. Little Mister. Pumpkinhead. You belong to someone else now.

Do I really have the courage to see him Saturday at Pack to Basics? I’ll let you know.

Gogo has a new home, and his new name is Eddie! no, now it’s Dover!
January 2, 2009, 10:11 pm
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Gogo and Didi -- where it all started

Gogo and Didi -- where it all started


I’m torn. I want to be happy for Gogo, but is there just a bit of me wanting to be right, to say, “i told you so?”  Yes, it’s there, and I don’t like it. I am happy he’s alive. I’m glad I don’t have his death on my conscience.

But I feel like I failed him.  I wasn’t willing to work with him. Sure, I could have gone into deeper debt to send him to camp, but bottom line, I didn’t believe in him. I knew, deep down, that he wouldn’t stop biting Tyler’s kids, and I was worried he would bite others, possibly even me. Night before last, Elliott’s new pug bit me on the upper lip. He was just playing, and didn’t mean it. Just a tiny needle of a fang, but man, it hurt. Gogo’s bites, I don’t even want to think about them, especially on a beautiful little girl’s mouth.

So, now, he’s been through a month of Wasatch Canine Camp and has done some training with kids (muzzled), and Bethany’s mom is adopting him. Gogo has been renamed Eddie (which means benevolent protector). 

Just heard from Bethany. Her nephew wants to name him Dover. So, Dover it is. 

Hello, Dover! Please don’t bite anyone else!

Bethany has invited me (several times) to visit him at Pack to Basics, her Saturday afternoon dog socialization class.  I think I’m going to go, and bring Pooka. She could use a little socialization. Bethany says that as long as I don’t get too affectionate with Gogo, he should be okay.  Maybe I should be more worried about myself and how hard it’s going to be to see him and then leave him again.

It’s been really weird to surrender him and yet be able to watch his progress. Sort of like an open adoption. (I just watched Juno.) Bethany has a blog, where I’ve been reading updates on Gogo. There are even videos! Gogo on the treadmill is pretty funny. It was really hard to see him panting and stressed out at first, and to see him hiding in the corner, avoiding the other dogs. I just saw this ad for him today. So, now he has a home. I asked her to guarantee that he wouldn’t be around children, and he is. I have to just let this go. She saved his life.

You’ve come a long way, Gogo/Eddie/Dover. From the streets and beaches of Puerto Rico, to the snowy mountains of Utah. Here’s Gogo just before we left Puerto Rico, fat and happy on the beach.

new year’s resolutions
January 1, 2009, 11:51 pm
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Part of living my life and not letting it live me is to actually set goals. 

One is to go vegetarian again. I got a little unexpected inspiration on that front today tuning in to Iron Chef for a few minutes. I love Top Chef, but Iron Chef? Weird production. As they unveiled a secret ingredient the contestants had to incorporate into their dishes, the lights, the music and the unveiling of the ingredient — suckling pigs — I was horrified. They might as well have played the music from the shower scene in Psycho. The little pigs piled on a cart looked demonic. Was it the fear pulsing through them during their last moments? Seriously, the eyes were frightening. One of the contestants was a trained butcher, and the narrator said it was a joy to watch him work, masterfully placing the knife exactly where he should for each cut. I realized I had frozen in a gasp, forgetting to breathe, completely tensed up. Bacon, I don’t care how good you taste.

Last month, in the Dharma Mittra workshop at Flow, he inspired me to go veg again. It lasted a month. I wanted to be a vegetarian to honor all life. Killing animals hurts our souls. You can’t find peace when you’re eating meat. “As long as you are involved with violence, your meditation will go nowhere,” he said.

Another resolution is to live my yoga. So I’ve started another blog, yogadose.wordpress.com, for a daily dose of rasa, that nectar or  juice that restores our essence. I want to share what inspires me, and bring yoga and meditation back into my daily life. 

I want to be careful what I put into my body, since the body is the gateway to the soul.

I also want to get outside myself and volunteer. It looks like I’m getting a volunteer spot at the Sundance Film Festival! Sweet! I’m psyched.

I want to support myself doing something I love. One goal is to get a page up on Etsy with my jewelry. Friends keep asking me to make them things, and I love to do it. So why not open it up to others? Creating makes me feel alive.

I want to feel free to love without fear. 

I want to get back to the creative, fearless child I was before the abuse and the indoctrination.

I want to develop my intuition and vision.

Oh, and I want to get out of debt.  I want to get out of my parents’ basement and live in Salt lake City.

and so much more.