Wednesday, August 31, 2005
Your Mother Should KnowMy books arrived today from the printer.
They are perfect.
When I had my children I didn't feel the same way as I do about these books. It took a LOT more work to create this book. The babies just sort of evolved inside me, like alien beings. When they popped out I felt awe and curiousity more than pride in my creation. I was the incubator for that project.
For this project... sorry, God, but I was GOD. I really was. No incubator about it. I put every cell in place, re-arranged the pieces so many times I couldn't remember how to think after awhile, worked so hard on every molecule that I can tell you stories about everything from the drop caps at the beginnings of chapters to the dirt on my feet on the back photograph. (Believe it or not, we airbrushed them clean(er) in PhotoShop.)
On the other hand, when it comes to the actual content, I was kind of a vessel. I don't really remember the content anymore. I am so detached from it that I flip through the book and kind of marvel at the fact that this writer sounds soooo much like me. And her experiences, wow... they sound strangely familiar.
I made the questionable decision about three weeks ago to show my mother the book. The reponse was . . . intense.
This thing punched more buttons for her than I ever would have thought possible. And she punched dozens more back. She was appalled at the sex stuff -- of which there is one (1) kiss and one (1) extraordinarily embarrassing disclosure. She was appalled at all the men (there are four chapters, of 36, that deal with a dating relationship I had with someone else.) There are four or so more that deal with men and women and how we drive each other insane in our quest to connect. The statistics indicate that it's relatively benign in the expose category; but to my mother I was preparing to unveil myself on a 15-story marquee in Times Square.
It was a rough couple of weeks.
To our credit we are still talking (we've stopped talking for years over much MUCH less). And we've agreed to disagree about the book. In the pile of letters she wrote, I even found one that said the writing was wonderful and that I was a "neat person." I kept that one.
As this was going on, I tried extremely hard to put myself in her shoes. I was about to go public on a topic that threatened her deepest vulnerabilities. I proclaim in the book that it's OK to be in the middle of one's life and be sexual and have fun. This is problematic to no one... except one's mother. Because mothers are programmed to worry. And mothers of girls have to watch out for things like sex.
I have boys. But I can make the translation in my head. And I tried to think about what I would do if Spencer or Taylor decided to come out with a performance or book or some other public proclamation about something I violently rejected or feared.
What would that be?
I pushed myself to think about that. What if Spencer wrote about his experiments with gerbils and lightbulbs while converting to religious fundamentalism and... and... I couldn't get far enough out there to really get to a similar situation, but I could catch the flavor.
I think the religious fundamentalism came closest to evoking a knee-jerk horror of going public. I would hope that I would be evolved enough to be 100% proud of his achievement, no matter what the content matter. But what if he was writing about something that I really hated?
How much should your mother know, anyway?
As a mother, do I want to know everything that goes on in my children's minds? I can't answer for sure that I don't. I find their thought process fascinating. But if they're doing something dangerous... do I want to know, or not? Well, of course I do -- but should I? Or is growing up a process of attempting ever more risky feats and succeeding at them?
Is it my job to stop them, to give them advice, to hold my tongue and watch while my stomach turns inside out... or should I -- sometimes -- just not know?
I don't know if it was a great idea to expose my mother to my innermost (soon to be public, highly edited, laced with creative license) thoughts. She had a hard time differentiating between what I wrote and who I am. I apparently am very convincing that way.
I certainly provided her with more stress and pain than she needed. I also opened up some rooms in our relationship that had been boarded up for decades and were in serious need of airing out. For the first time in many many many years, I feel that she knows who I am and I am consequently more able to cut loose with my humor and weirdness. We laugh a bit more often, talk daily, and have made incredible progress.
How much should your mother know? How much should our children tell us? As I say in the book -- 13.95!!! On sale on Saturday!!! -- the best approach may be to trust that we will be informed (or find out) on a need-to-know-basis. We don't have to spend our lives sniffing out the truth, from our kids, our mates, or even our own parents. Nor should we spend our lives occluding our actions from the same people.
As with many things, it boils down to trust. Trust that the information will come to us in it's own good time. And until then our job is to love, to cherish and to honor our children, our parents, and ourselves.
# posted by Katherine Doughtie Nolan @ 10:18 PM 0 comments
Friday, August 19, 2005
The sex act of the soulWhen it comes to conversation, I am a total slut.
I'm not talking about talking. I'm talking about conversing. I'm talking about that exchange of ideas that is fluid, dynamic, commingled, rich, complex and deeply satisfying. I'm talking about that moment when two people get together and time stops. When you look at your watch and see that it's so deep into the night that it's nearly the next morning. When you realize that you are in trouble, again, at work for taking that two and a half hour lunch. When you vowed that THIS time it wouldn't be that way. THIS time you could keep it under control.
Sex in its best form is a give and take between two people. Each person has a sense that what is being brought to the table is very much appreciated by the other. There is mutual play, challenges being thrown out and met. Each person takes the previous move and riffs on it, confirming that it was felt, appreciated, and then bested. Each party artfully takes the experience to the next level, the goal being mutual pleasure, deeper understanding, absolute joy. The delight in the other person is unbounded. And afterwards, there is a sense of great satisfaction and peace, down to the very core.
And that's so different from a great conversation ... how? The only difference that I can tell is in what part of the body is getting the friction. What's even better is that after a good conversation you can walk away without guilt or remorse of any sort. You never have to get tested for conversationally transmitted diseases.
I had a conversation the other night that lasted until 3:30 a.m. It was one of those conversations where everything hooked together seamlessly, the words flowed without stopping, the connection was intricate and profound. I drove home and then woke up at 6:30, went to martial arts and went through the entire day floating on a haze of good feeling and satiety. It was just as if I'd been extremely well taken care of in other ways. The lack of sleep, the few glasses of wine, none of that impeded the energy and buoyancy I was feeling. It was just like a perfect moment with a bona fide lover, without the worries about what was going to happen next.
This is not a new thought. Thomas Moore inspired the title of this blog. ("Conversation is the sex act of the soul" is from his book, "Soul Mates.") Everyone always says that the brain is the biggest sexual organ in the body. We all know this. But I've been realizing recently that my conversation libido is calibrated extremely high. I want to talk -- to converse -- five, six, seven times a day! With strangers, sometimes. But mostly with close dear friends.
Conversing with women is different from men. Equally satisfying, but different. I imagine it is different in much the same way that making love would be dfferent. With men there is a give and take of opposites, a push and pull. In conversation with my women friends -- in which I've been indulging myself lavishly these days -- the flow is more like riding the rapids downstream, all currents pointing the same way but each contributing a new element of thrill. With men I grapple and strain and find immense pleasure in matching the strength of thought and the power of language. With women I revel in the heady sameness of our experience, the way our lives run in parallel lines.
I try not to be a pig, but sometimes I get jealous when I think of anyone I've conversed with actually talking to other people. How clever they must be with the McDonald's clerk! How their voice must sound to the operator as they request directory assistance! I try not to go there. I try to remember that the magic between two people is special to their unique pairing. I remind myself that we can always talk again. And again. And again.
I guess I'm turning into a conversational deviate. I want it better, faster, more often and with everyone I see. I want to go deep, last long, take it leisurely at times, and other times cut right to the chase. Sometimes I want it with multiple partners, sometimes just with one person over long stretches of time.
But I also recognize that abstinence is sweet. Silence, with the promise of more to come, is a rare and soulful commodity. I want those moments of silence so I can reflect and remember. Sometimes it's good just to relax in the afterglow.
# posted by Katherine Doughtie Nolan @ 11:30 PM 0 comments
Saturday, August 06, 2005
Wedding PartyThe kids and I went to a wedding today. Gloria, whose son was getting married, took care of my sons when they were little, and she has turned into a good friend over the years. Her husband does my yard. Her three oldest sons (she has five kids) help me load my opera trucks. Her sister cleans my house.
I feel intensely loyal to her and her family. They have taken care of me and my children for twelve years. When they are in a bind I go in debt to help them out. Sometimes I feel weird about that. That I am the Anglo woman and they are the Hispanic family. They take care of my basic needs while I go out and make white collar wages because... well, because I was born in the United States and my native language is English.
I think we have an understanding. I envy them in many ways. They have a huge family and they share many burdens amongst themselves. No, it's not perfect. I've heard enough stories over the years to know it's not peaceful and serene all the time. But it is a foreign culture to me -- with the many kids, the ability to depend on the extended family, the fact that family is all that's truly important in life.
So today her oldest son, Ruben, got married. He's maybe 21. His bride has a child from a previous marriage and is about seven months pregnant.
The entire ceremony was conducted in Spanish. The reception was huge, held in the Glendale Civic Auditorium, and it's undoubtedly still going on as I write. There was seating for 400 people at the reception. A band with accordian players, several drum kits and loads of speakers played on stage. There were dozens of bridesmaids and groomsmen. They hired a huge stretch Explorer to cart everyone around in. Everyone was done up to the teeth. The little flower girls ran around in their frilly white dresses and tiny white shoes and looked more beautiful than God.
It was a big huge deal.
And because I couldn't understand a single word (ironically, the only word I picked out with any consistency was palabra... which Gloria translated for me as meaning "word") at the ceremony, I just sat there taking in the vibes. When the ceremony was over, the bride and groom did not look particularly happy nor did they look particular unhappy. They looked a bit shell shocked but otherwise they were fine. There was this HUGE deal going on for and about and around them... and they were fine.
And as I looked at them throughout the day I grew sadder and sadder. NOT because I want a wedding day of my own particularly, but because we seem to make it so fucking complicated for ourselves. We meaning the white intellectual neurotic overly analytical people, such as myself, who read and write books like I've just written. People, basically, who go out and make the big bucks and spend the rest of their time being totally miserable because all the meaningful relationships in their lives have been analyzed into paralysis or non-existance.
I am not going all Woody Allen on you here. I know it's not all THAT bad. I do see people who mesh and bond and are successful. I don't seem to be one of them at the moment, but I do know there are some anglo intellectuals out there who do pull it off. With a minimum of angst (at least as it appears from the outside). I know it can happen, but from my side of the fence these days it seems absolutely impossible.
We (meaning I) think too much. We (meaning I) agonize too much. We (meaning I) hope for too much. We (meaning I) obviously expect too much.
Look at these two people. It's fairly obvious why they're getting married. They do love each other, of that I'm convinced. They were living together when she got pregnant. But, face it, she got pregnant. They wanted the baby. So they got married.
Did either one of them go into a long metaphor about gear ratios, wondering to what extent the other would meet all their needs? Probably not. Does either of them wonder what happens in 20 years or so when the mid-life crisis hits and they want to sleep with someone else? Maybe, but that's not stopping them.
And the kicker is this: will they probably stay married until death does them part? I'd say almost certainly. Whereas more than half of the overly-analyzed, pre-nuptialed marriages among "my" people will almost certainly end.
Maybe this is the most racist, culturally biased blog I've ever written. But talk to me next time you go to an Hispanic wedding. It's DIFFERENT and I defy you to tell me otherwise. And it is cultural.
Sure, maybe Italian or Greek weddings are like that. But again, there's a culture behind that.
I just kept getting the feeling that we white stiffs had somehow lost the POINT, with our thinking and our office gigs and our brainy little analysis of everything in the world. The people I knew in the room (admittedly a small percentage) work in three dimensions. The groom works at Kinko's. The other people I know take care of people's kids and gardens and houses. I'm sure their bodies hurt at night. I know for a fact that money is tight. I know without a doubt that it's not easy.
But maybe it's because it's not easy in the outside world that the inside world is more supportive and less fractured. Maybe the conflicts are ones they face collectively with a united front. Maybe it's easier to find comfort in another person when your body is trashed from working so hard that a cold beer and a warm heart is more than enough to make you content.
# posted by Katherine Doughtie Nolan @ 11:54 PM 1 comments
Truth vs. AccuracyMy book is at the printer.
This, to me, feels much the same as Frodo saying "The ring is in Mount Doom." Much like Frodo I've been walking around the past few days in a stupor. I have thought of him often. As he was walking down the slopes, did he turn to Sam and say "Uh, remind me again ... who's bright idea was that?"
The day before it was supposed to go to the printer I had a call scheduled to go over some last minute proofing with one of my editors. She is ruthless and had already been over the book once; her comments were excellent and all served to tighten and refine the text.
Dorthea is great. And so I was looking forward to getting her proofing comments. I had also asked her to find yet another pair of eyes to look it over for typos and other things I may have missed. I am really concerned about being as perfect as possible with this thing, so I want to stay humble and accept comments and not be a big old prima dona about how every word I write is perfect and untouchable.
So I called Dorthea the afternoon before the text was going to press. I had about twenty five notes from my own review of the manuscript. Confidently, I expected the call to last no more than a half hour or so. I was pretty sure I'd found every typo or formatting problem or spacing between the ellipses that I could.
The call lasted three and a half HOURS.
The other proofer had found about twenty problems per page. And had methodically gone through and cleaned up the entire text for me.
It was hellacious.
I wanted to put my head in the oven.
I learned some very bad things about myself. For example, I am very bad with serial commas. I am very bad about fragmented sentences. Like this one. And I start sentences with the word "and." But I don't seem to care. Oh, it goes on and on and on and on.
The paragraph above should really read like this:
I learned some very negative things about myself. I am bad with serial commas. I am not conscientious about fragmented sentences, like this one. I begin sentences with the word "and." I do not care. It goes on, on, on, and on.
Yessir. It's shorter. It is grammatically correct. It is clean and neat and... lifeless.
But it's right.
I have a great respect for accuracy. I have an enormous respect for the English language. I love words and the last thing I want to do is rape them, run over them, disrespect them. I am not the world's best grammarian. I learned a lot of things during those three and a half hours. (For example, did you know when you use an adverb with another word as a combination adjective, you don't need to hypenate? As in "this is a duly noted rule." Interesting, huh? Seriously.)
So I was forced to confront an ugly truth: my writing is not accurate. My writing is not right. My writing is quirky. My writing is... my writing is wrong.
This is a bad thing to find out the day before you send something to print.
This is a bad thing to hear after a year of the most intensive work you've ever done in your life.
This is like telling Frodo on the edge of Mount Doom "oh sorry bub. You've been going in the wrong direction the whole time. You really need to go back to Hobbiton and start again."
After the call I curled up in a fetal position on the couch and moaned audibly for about ten minutes. I was not happy.
I called my people. Scott, my designer, told me to burn every page of notes I'd just taken. Cynthia had me read her some of the comments and told me that I should ignore most of them, but that some actually helped.
I liked Scott's idea better.
But Cynthia had a point.
Some of them were good comments. I had to accept that they did improve the work.
I took the next day off from work and worked for about three days non-stop. I went through every edit and decided: does this help, go sideways, or hinder the meaning I was trying to convey? Does this kill my voice or make it clearer to the reader? Does this make it better?
The most telling moment came up with a sentence the other proofreader didn't understand. It's in the story called "The Berm." The sentence says "The accuracy of the situation did not in any way destroy its truth."
She didn't get it.
And suddenly, I did.
The proofer was going for accuracy; I was going for truth.
They are two different things.
This has become one of the most profound lessons of my long writing life. Accuracy is there for a purpose: it makes language clear, it adheres to a standard, it makes reading smooth and enables the meaning to come through without cluttering up the landscape with lots of personal artifact. Accuracy serves a purpose. And in many situations, as most of my friends know, I am an accuracy nazi. I will walk out of a movie if I see a misplaced apostrophe in the title sequence. I will not patronize a restaurant with too many typos in the menu (this is true.) I had four editors and three proofers on this book. So I'm not a slipshod hippie freak who just wants to dance free-form any which way and let people stumble onto the meaning if they can get around the junk.
On the other hand, my voice is... my voice. After writing millions of words, this is how that voice has started coming out. People are reading it and are loving it. My voice is mine. Sometimes it's not accurate. But sometimes it's more than that: sometimes it is true.
For me. For me and my way of looking at the world. This is my truth and the way I write it has a lot of fragments and run on sentences and weirdness and funkiness. And finally, after those three days of staring into the abyss, I've emerged and decided I am unapologetic. Of course I have cleaned up things that got in the way. And I'm sure there are things I have missed that are going to cause me great embarrassment because they are still really wrong. But I also consciously know that there is some stuff in the book that's just there because I like it. Because it sounds good. Because it's right, for me. I acknowledge it and am going to let it stay. That is the way it is.
The book will be in print the first week of September. With its funny sentences and smattering of language that at least one proper society has found offensive. Fuck that. If you've read this far and have survived the flagrant disregard for some of the rules of the language, you will love it.
The ring is in the fire. And I'm walking away proud.
# posted by Katherine Doughtie Nolan @ 11:29 AM 3 comments
Friday, August 05, 2005
Fire and BrimstoneI just came back from watching Christian Ristow and his Robochrist team use their flame-throwing robots to destroy a parking lot's worth of tables, chairs, toys, oil drums, and other sculputures. Watching one of these shows is to witness a magnificent act of anarchy.
My partner in the opera gigs, John Besse, is one of Christian's merry band. John sports a blue mohawk, Elvis Costello glasses, wears a lot of hardware in his ears and is one of the most intelligent, artistic and articulate people I've ever had the privilege to know.
Words absolutely fail to describe it. It makes me crazy. I watch and try to find a noun or a verb to capture what the robots look like, what the whole experience feels like. I can't do it.
For example. There was one robot, about 2 1/2 feet tall and about three feet long. It was about the size of an ottoman and cute as can be. It was covered in armor, pointed. If I had to, I'd say it felt like a hobbit. Or a hobbit's house. The armor was kind of peaked up in the middle. It had a little spout at one end from which shot sparks of green and white and orange fire. It moved rapidly, with short little determined bursts, and turned quickly. It was like a beagle on crack.
It would dart here and there, rolling over the wreckage, its little flame shooting up like a jaunty feather on a hat. While the huge robots would take their monstrous claws and hold up an oil drum like a wrestler carrying his opponent, this guy would buzz over, spout some green sparks, and dart away again as the drum came crashing down.
The machine with the huge claw is named The Subjugator. The claw is about four feet in diameter and stands on an articulated arm that reaches maybe 16 feet in the sky. It rides on tractor treads. Aereated combustible liquid occasionally shoots out from a hole in the front and center. When the pilot light is working (which ceased to happen at one point last night), that instantly becomes a huge explosion of flame, reaching out about ten feet in front of the machine.
John had built a propane accumulator the night before and shot it off during the show. This is really what it's called, but what it is is a standup flame thrower. You take some propane tanks and hook them up so that they feed into a five gallon drum. You take a sprinkler valve with a little electronic trigger and put it on top of the drum. Then you put a pipe on top of that. Finally, you rig a pilot light on top of the pipe so there is a constant flame waiting to ignite it.
Using a feed from the trigger, you can juice it up and briefly open the valve. The propane has been gathered up in the drum and when you open the valve it shoots up the pipe, runs into the pilot, and WHOOSH explodes up into the nighttime sky.
It is impossible to watch without gasping or screaming with pleasure.
It's beautiful and BIG and scary and magnificent. John and I and some crew members and my kids built one of these during a long gig up in Napa last year. The whole thing cost about 100 bucks at Home Depot and took a day or two to rig. We shot it off in a construction zone one midnight after a show and thought we'd never seen anything as beautiful in our lives.
Another machine I dubbed "Skullator" because it had a cattle skull mounted on a frame with eight legs. It's a new guy. It lurches around unsteadily on the legs, the skull making it more animate than the others. It didn't have a fire component, poor guy, but it was graced with humor and an illusion of intelligence (because of the head) that the others didn't have.
Let me try some snapshots:
The overwhelming destruction is unspeakably liberating and joyful. Watching a half an hour of this is incredible for scaring away those nasty cloying voices in your head. It is purging beyond rational explanation. It's like the voices are suddenly scared into submission. "You see what this bitch is capable of enjoying?" the voices inside my head say to each other incredulously. "You see how nuts she is? We are OUTA here." And then the Shoulds and the Coulds and the What Ifs take a little vacation.
# posted by Katherine Doughtie Nolan @ 11:11 PM 1 comments
Thursday, August 04, 2005
Gear RatiosI had dinner the other night with Jill, my ex-husband's girlfriend, and we came up with a great metaphor: gear ratios.
I was trying to figure out a way to express what I saw between them, and how it differed so much from what I experienced in my own relationship with him. They work well together. They seem to be in sync with each other's rhythms better. They don't annoy each other on a molecular level by just being so different from one another.
It isn't so much that she's a better person than I am. It's that she's a better person for him.
They seem to move through the world at a similar pace. Me, I kind of, well, blast through the world. I have a lot of energy (or so I've been told; I tend to notice the times when I'm in reverse a lot more often than I notice the times I'm in fifth, but maybe that's because I simply feel more comfortable at the higher speeds.) I cut big swaths. I see something neat I want to do and then I just kind of fix my mind and do it. I have a difficult time with not getting things done.
Gavin and Jill also get things done. They survive in the world with just as much success as I do. They just move at a different speed. Not bad, but different.
It's like we're built with different gearing. I finally saw the metaphor while I was talking with her. I am kind of a big gear with lots of teeth. I'm complex and when I move through life I have big strides and cover lots of territory. Their gears are smaller. They move through life but at a different pace. They tend to stop and savor and rest a bit more than I do.
What's important is not the size or configuration of your gear; it's how you match up to the person with whom you've chosen to be linked.
So me with my big wheel and lots of teeth just never could match up very well with Gavin's particular configuration. Still doesn't. Sometimes the teeth mesh and we get some traction and forward movement, but much of the time it's just a lot of grinding and sparks.
None of this is a value judgment. What attracted me to Gavin in the first place was the fact that he was configured differently from me; and I suspect the same was true for him. He liked my way of doing things just as much as I liked his. The problems occurred when we couldn't figure out a way to hook the two different methodologies together and create a machine that was mutually beneficial.
Because that's the point of a relationship, right? To find someone with whom you are well-linked and join forces. A good relationship is a machine that, in theory, makes life easier for both people (or more if there are other family members involved). The goal is not to just each individually spin our wheels for our years on the planet, but to find a mate that can successfully entrain with us and make our lives smoother and happier. Requiring less motive force.
There are many sets of wheels involved. There is the moving-through-life gear that I described above. But there is also the spiritual questing gear: sometimes a person is wired to be a spiritual seeker, sometimes that question is of scant interest. There is the creativity gear: obviously someone like Gauguin (who took off to Tahiti to paint) and his wife (who stayed behind to mind the house) were not enjoying a mutually-beneficial gear ratio together.
There are gears for all aspects of it. Food, child rearing, housekeeping. All of it. Will we ever find anyone who meshes up perfectly? Of course not. That would be impossible and, probably, pretty boring in the long run.
When things go badly, I think the teeth of one's gears start wearing down. Things stop mattering. The ability to hook in starts slipping away. If it goes on too long, the teeth eventually wear down and disappear. That aspect of your life becomes smooth and incapable of connecting at all with anything else. That gear just spins freely, alone.
I think the goal is to find someone who meshes in enough of the basics that together you create a machine that functions. The more the gears fit, the more smoothly the operation of the machine. And when it's running well, then everyone has time and energy to spend working on the places where some maintenance is in order, or a bit of oil, or some machining so the gears work just a bit better than they did before.
# posted by Katherine Doughtie Nolan @ 3:53 AM 1 comments