Sunday, June 29, 2008

Where's the Beer?

Can you spot the beers in this picture? (Hint: probably not)

About three bazillion years ago, a fresh-faced, enthusiastic young writer called me and invited me to lunch. We went to a Red Robin/TGIF/Place They Make Waiters Wear "Flair" somewhere on the other side of the 520 bridge, in Microsoft land.

She wanted to find out everything she could about freelance writing. She wanted to meet people and editors and learn the ropes. I can't remember exactly what I told her, but it sparked this how-to article.

I guess she's learned them ropes pretty good, and tied 'em all up in pretty bows. This curious girl, who since became a friend and an accomplished travel and technology writer (and also moved to San Diego) has a huge story in today's L.A. Times travel section about an alcohol ban on the beach. She's also an amazing athlete (ok, if you want to be picky, triathlete) and has the prettiest teeth I've ever seen.

Yay, Ericka Chickowski! I'm glad to say I knew you then, and that I know you now.

Saturday, June 28, 2008

Salaam Garage

I'd like to take a few of these precious cyber lines to talk about my friend and collaborator, Amanda Koster.

Amanda is a photographer. But not just ANY photographer. She's one of the most socially compassionate people I've known. Ever. Her heart bleeds, much like yours and mine, most likely. But here's the difference: Amanda sees some kind of injustice -- AIDS orphans in Africa, body-image issues in the United States, women's status in Morocco, just for starters -- and makes it her mission to KICK THE ASS OF THAT PROBLEM. Personally. She takes world global issues on as if someone spit in her face, slandered her mother, stomped on her daisies. She'll go to whatever hardscrabble place and take a bunch of pictures of people at their most beautiful and vulnerable, then bring them back, introduce them to the world, ask for money and help for them, and change their lives forever.

She's begun a new project called Salaam Garage, a kind of new activistourism. Here's how she describes it:

Salaam Garage Adventures connects media savvy travelers and enthusiasts with international Non-governmental Organizations (NGOs). Travelers commit to creating and sharing unique, independent social media that raises awareness and causes positive change. The rest of the adventure is spent touring around the region, experiencing and exploring the culture and environment with an entirely new context. You will find that Salaam Garage is not just visual art, but also a body of work that has the capability to spark global transformation.

We are the media now. Join us.

Read about her in the Seattle P-I and Some Other Publication.

If anyone can change the world, it's this woman. But if you told her that to her face, she'd brush you off as she's packing for another trip to somewhere else and getting Kodak to sponsor her, like some modern arty Wonder Woman, where they need her more than we do here.

You might have some vacation time coming up. Or maybe you're a freelancer (or a mortgage broker) with all kinds of time. Do not take that stupid and shallow cruise to the Bahamas. Do not go see relatives you don't particularly like anyway in Dubuque. And for the love of all that's holy, don't step foot Disneyland. Or Disneyworld. Or, for fuck's sake, the French Monde du Disney or whatever it is.

Just go with Amanda.

I'm so proud to have been able to work with Amanda in the past, and I look forward to doing so again in the future, even though I am, artistically, not even in qualified to be in the same universe with her.

But most of all, I'm proud to be her friend.

Thursday, June 26, 2008

This Time Will Be Different

Rodrigo y Gabriela

This time will be different.

This time I will not quit when it gets hard.

This time I will pay attention.

This time I will work and work and work until I get it right.

This time, I will get good enough so that I don't have to try. So that I can translate what is happening in my head and my heart to the world. So that I can tell you I love you in lyric and melody without actually saying "I love you."

This time, I will learn guitar. From a real teacher.

There are 100 songs I want to be able to sing and play. I want to put provocative and too-clever poems to music, ala Ani di Franco. I want to mourn for sweetness gone like Nanci Griffith. I want to rock like Rod and Gab, John and Paul, Sinead, k.d., Prince.

At least 90 percent of my past beaus have been all guitar, all the time. True talents. But you know what? You can't learn guitar by osmosis, no matter how many bodily fluids you swap. And it's taken me until 40licious to understand this.

When I get my throwdown song, hopefully by the end of the year, I am nominating myself for the 40licious Hall o' Fame.

Sunday, June 22, 2008

My New Boyfriend - Part 2

I went down to Orange County the other day, and met my new boyfriend. While I was working! Or maybe it was San Bernardino County. Or Riverside. I seriously can't tell them apart. I just know you have to drive at least two CD's worth on the 5 or the 10 to get there (no, I am the only person who drives a Prius without an iPod jack. Whut up with that?) Whatever, one of those places where property values have plummeted and everyone who bought real estate with an "easy" loan in 2005 is basically up shit creek.

But I digress. I went to this place called "The Discovery Center/Discovery Cube" which has a signature big cube on the highway and it's a super cool science museum. Our energy efficiency guru had a TV interview that I managed. Which basically involves keeping him happy with cold Diet Cokes while we waited three or four hours for his TV spot. I guess you could say I'm his handler.

But I digress. So I was at the Discovery Cube and watching the reporter do this Flashdance thing in a chair with her crew pouring water all over her. Scary and Sad and Funny were all fighting in my head.

But I digress. So while I'm there, I met the man who is perfect for me. He's very handy with tools, and I'm beginning my kitchen renovation. He doesn't talk much, so that's a huge plus. He's got GIANT feet, like, size 19 or something (can't wait 'til the third date!).

So, yeah, Bob and I. Me and Bob. Bobnessa. We're trying to make it work, even though we're from different worlds. I'm urban LA, and he's suburban Orange/Riverside/San Bernardino County. Wish us luck!

Wednesday, June 18, 2008

Nothing Personal

I started going to a new shrink. She's very expensive and wore white, so far, on all three visits. Very linen-y and soft and reserved. But insightful enough that I'm compelled to return for at least one more session.

So she had a little vacation last week. I came into my appointment and asked how her trip was. "Fine," she said.

I asked where she went. She said she wouldn't tell me because she doesn't share personal information with her clients, and that I'd learn who she was through her reactions and our conversations. That she'd rather use the time to talk about me and what I was going through. That she'd rather I imagine where she'd been.

So I said OK, trying to not feel too scolded.

Our 45-minute "hour" was up, and as she was writing my receipt, I glanced down at her desk and saw an envelope with a familiar name and mailing address on it. And I blurted out, before the brain filter could engage, "Hey, Dr. [Kenny Rogers]* is my gynecologist too!"

She was clearly taken aback, and kind of ignored my comment with a "huh" sound. She did a stealth shuffle of papers and covered the envelope.

Then I apologized by way of saying, "his name just jumped out at me," or something equally lame.

I guess that's what happens when you spend 45 minutes trying to be unguarded. It's hard to shift back.

* My GYN, of course, is not Kenny Rogers. But he's that type. Just a little less gritty and with very, very soft hands.

Tuesday, June 17, 2008

Can't Buy Me Love

Yesterday at 5 p.m. it became legal for same-sex couples to get married in California. Now, I don't know about the rest of the world, but the recent media coverage here is nonstop: all kinds of interviews and footage about gay people smooching all over each other. At one point today I thought, "God, do we really need another man-on-the-street interview about how some random dude feels about two other dudes tying the knot?"

But then I relented. All these stories, all day long, are about how much people love each other. And I hope they run news like this every day. Because always, always, throughout time, there's someone with not enough stuff to think about, or art to make, or cookies to bake, who wants to wreck other people's happiness.

Monday, June 16, 2008

Good Energy

My story on using energy wisely is out in Parent & Child magazine. On a much cooler note, my brother's story is in the same issue, interviewing the guy who started Mad Libs. Yay Ian!

Sunday, June 15, 2008

In My Life

That's me, in the pointed triple-strap patent stiletto in the middle.

By the time you hit 40licious, you've collected a lot of stuff. Furniture; pictures; passport stamps; jewelry; a little STD here and there; an aresenal of weapons (metaphoric and otherwise); warts, moles and scars (also metaphoric and otherwise); perhaps a DWI; some international intrigue; a stalker or two; a shitload of business cards; official stories; a head full of art; a bunch of ideas; a hundred ex-landlords. ** But tonight, what makes me proud and teary, is thinking about the women I've collected in my life. Some of them, like Karen and Rachel, I've known since our skulls were still mushy. Others became instant best friends, like the Natalie I met in yoga, or the Natalie I met at my garage sale.

Yes, tonight I saw SATC. For me, the movie wasn't about the shoes, or the clothes, or the weddings, or the snappy gay and black sidekicks. Or the actresses. It wasn't even really that funny, oe that surprising. The star of the show was the friendship between these women. Because when the credits rolled, I knew that all the other stuff was fairy tale -- the Manolos, the labels, the fabulous apartments. The thing that rang so true for me is how good and how strong and how amazing the women in my life are, and how we get each other through everything. We always have. We always will. Most of the time we put unrealistic expectations on men. When they don't follow the script, it's a problem. Then when they follow the script and do all that emotional girl porn stuff ("you are so beautiful in the morning," "I like a woman with a little weight on her," "I'll replace your electrical panel"), that's problematic in other ways. Our women friends don't need a script. They show up with leftovers when you've had a miscarriage, and slip away with a sudden phone call when the hottie you've been eying all night comes over to talk. We expect so much from our girlfriends, and we get so much more back. And even when they flake, it just kind of goes in an account and it's no big deal.

For the girls, the ones that have faded away (where did you go after you met that creepy old guy right before graduation, Donna Leone?); the fresh, new, shiny ones (Annie Wharton you are my creative idol). The ones who have been there since Kool and the Gang were on Top 40 (Karen, Rachel, Lisa, Joanna, Stephanie, Hewan):

Thank you for everything you've ever done or said to make me better. To make me laugh. To teach me something. To warn me and then to help pick up the pieces when I didn't listen. Thank you, Karen, Rachel, Lisa, Siobhan, Elizabeth, Maggie, Stephanie, Joanna, June, Hewan, Julia, Jill, Sine, Lara, Colleen, Kathlyn, Andrea, Kimberly, Kim, Donna, Annie, Linda, Lyla, Amy, Natalie, Natalie, Martha, Denise/Jessica, Mashi, Melissa, Melissa, Liz, Tara, Mia, Carolyn, Teresa, Dottie, Alison, Amanda, Holly, Annie, Annie, Christine, Christine, Charlie, Leslie, Lorna, Angela, Barbara, Kate, Lauren, Lois, Patricia, Connie, Jeanne, Inge, Deborah, Jeanne, Gali, Angie, Julianne, Juliette, Kristal, Krystle, Moniqua, Corinne, Linda, Millie, Robin, Ruth, Sheryl, Tiger Lily, Susy, Sue Ann, Tonya, Tamara, Tawnia, Trina, Valerie, Leslie, Kristin, Lorna, Yvette/Efra.

I love you so much, and I am probably not as outwardly grateful for you as I should be. I am who I am because of you. Being friends with you is the one thing I can say I did absolutely right.

** This particular 40licious has not accumulated all of these. They are just examples.

Thursday, June 12, 2008

Called to the Carpet

I've owed Wildman a favor for a while. He kept his word to be in my play -- even though we'd broken up the day before. So when he put the call out for help with an event he produces every year, the Vision Awards, of course I was up for it.

I got all tarted up in my Christmas dress and made the loooooong slow trek to the Beverly Hilton. I was embarrassingly late because of the traffic. (And because I'd gone to the Beverly Wilshire instead, where they were having another event and it took me a few minutes to realize that I was in the wrong hotel.) I finally arrived at the designated spot and my assignment was to help celebrities navigate the "red carpet," which is actually beige linoleum, and help move them along to paparazzi and "news" crews. Wildman paired me with an actress, who has done some formidable character work but is best known for her role as E.T.'s mom. I actually spent most of my time tracking down dinner tickets for her and her much-younger, very handsome date. Who was offended when I asked him for his last name, because they didn't have a ticket for him.

I am so pathetic at this kind of thing that I only recognized one famous person, Malcolm McDowell. He looked great.

It was the kind of event where there are too many "you've got to be kidding me" facelifts, too much anti-gravity bulletproof hair (does NASA know about these people?) and futuristic microfiber undergarments that squish everything in. And that's just the men.

I did have one of my favorite L.A. conversations ever with an artist who was lurking around the silent auction area in front of his paintings. I was glad that he wore all black and a black beret tipped at a jaunty angle so that I could be SURE he was really an artist.

Him: That's a lovely dress you're wearing. It's very artistic.
Me: Thank you very much.
Him: You look so familiar to me. What is your name?
Me: Vanessa.
Him: Are you an actress?
Me: Oh, not really any more.
Him: What is your last name?
Me: McGrady.
Him: Yes! I know your early work. Wonderful.
Me: Oh? Really? That's very flattering. Thank you.
I'm wondering if he's referring to the YWCA commercial I did in Seattle many years ago, in which I pretended to be a battered wife. Or perhaps he saw the low-budget mountain-climbing service one in which I played a businesswoman who just got back from an amazing trip and had to tell all her friends. Could it have been the infomercial for an amazing dusting/scraping/squeegee tool with an extension for ceiling fans? Or maybe he's just a fan of 40licious, the movie trailer.


We do a lot of things wrong in this country. We imprison people without a fair trial. We promote senseless consumerism and encourage hard-working folks to sink deeper into debt. We have a million different kinds of ways to veil all our -isms. But one of the things that makes me proudest as an American is our First Amendment. It is my favorite. I have defended it on TV, radio and in print. I held a job at a controversial publishing house not because I thought that more people should learn how to make methamphetamines, but because I will defend to my death anyone's right to read about whatever they want. My father was president of the ASJA in the '70s, and as little kids we'd wear red pins that said "I read banned books" on them. Like "Tom Sawyer."

I am hard-wired on the Freedom of Speech, and Freedoms of the Press. I will not budge on that. I won't curtail my own writing just because someone does not agree with me, or is offended by my subject matter.

It has come to my attention that people are upset about the things I've written in this blog. Honestly, I am sorry that whatever I've said causes discomfort to anyone. But people who don't like it simply shouldn't read it. There. That's easy.

And here's a hint: The best thing you can do for a blogger is read her stuff and send it around to friends and family. That ups the hit count. So to everybody who's got their panties in a twist, thank you. Keep on checking in!

Sunday, June 8, 2008

I Am My Father's Daughter

My dad was a WWII baby, which basically meant that all that saving of string and rationing of butter they did when he was little had a profound effect on him.

Cut to: Patrick McGrady's pantry 30 years later, where you'd find no less than 10 pounds of rice, a can of yams larger than a human head, huge box of powdered milk, a hundred cans of soup (and worse, 10 one-gallon cans of soup. What do you do after you've opened it?). I stealthily dropped some of his ashes in Costco, because I know he would have wanted it that way.

Cut to: Patrick McGrady's work shop, where you'd be able to access all kinds of wire, 100 tyes of screws and nails and switches and epoxies and screwdrivers and thingamajigs -- but nothing you could acutally use to work with.

Cut to: Patrick McGrady's driveway, early '90s, in which he always had two pea-green old Mercedes. Whenever I asked him why he needed two, he'd say that in case one went on the fritz, he'd have a backup.

He also installed a gas tank and pump.

This was one amazingly independent person. He always needed to have stuff around, "just in case."

Last night, my friends and I headed to see the high-on-style, low-on-plot vampire flick HUNGER with David Bowie, Catherine Deneuve and Susan Sarandon -- at the Hollywood Forever Cemetery. We piled out of the graveyard, tired, happy, full from all the brie and popcorn and wine we'd consumed. And then we realized I had a flat tire.

This is 11 p.m. In a not-so-great neighborhood.

I've never changed a tire.

Happily, I had a handy can of Fix-a-Flat in my car, and we pumped that deflated sucker up no problem. Air in a can is a better invention than sliced bread or Ziploc baggies. It is more life-changing than the Tesla and the dirty martini and PinkBerry.

I felt especially smug and happy that I'd planned for "just in case."

Call me old fashioned and backward and anti-feminist, but I think I'll leave all that icky tire changing to my chivalrous male friends and passersby.

Friday, June 6, 2008

It's Knot What You Think

As long as I can remember, I bought into the idea -- the fairytale, really -- that I would get married and have children. I held out hope that I would meet the one. That I skipped the "starter" marriage. That the bad choices, bad luck, bad timing were all ladder rungs up to something greater. Until very, very recently.

Right now I'm watching one of my dearest friends go through a divorce, and it's so ugly. It's like watching sausage being made. Another friend has a prolonged heartbreak because his ex won't let him near his kids. She called him a stalker after he left flowers for his 6-year-old daughter -- because he wasn't invited to the party. A third friend has the perfect spouse in every way -- except they haven't had sex in months.

At this point, it seems like marriage is only a good deal for the person who makes the least amount of money. And even sicker, is if I were to marry someone who paid alimony, MY MONEY would go toward that payment, as well.

A very pretty girl flirted with me the other night at a party. She asked for my number, but hasn't called. I'm slightly disappointed. I'd like to hang out with her -- but I don't think we'll get married. Even though we could, legally.

Wednesday, June 4, 2008

Law of Attraction

Last night, just as I sheepishly popped a couple two-year old frozen Trader Joe's burritos into the oven, my neighbor Mia called and invited me over for a beautiful salmon dinner.

My cousin Dan (I actually have TWO cousin Dans, but this is the crankier one) hates it when I talk about the Universe (and toxin cleansing), but I think the Universe (and Mia) really pulled through for me. And by eating the GOOD dinner, I completely avoided having to cleanse any toxins.

I love when things work out that way. Thanks, Universe! And Mia!

Sunday, June 1, 2008

Food Porn

I realize how lucky I am being 40licious. By this point, I can have pretty much anything I want. Real estate. Creme de la Mer face cream. Manolos. (Of course, probably not all at the same time.) And although I consider myself a personally charitable person, I've been thinking that I really need to step up my community work.

A few weeks ago I met a lovely person at a game show audition who invited me to help out at Taste of the Nation's LA event, with proceeds going to ensure no kid goes hungry. I'm usually not a joiner, and I certainly eschew crowded events, but those didn't seem like good enough reasons to turn down the opportunity. Plus, I'm superstitious enough to think that if I don't give back my life will crumble like three-day-old cornbread.

I was assigned to work the VIP area. Which basically involved tasting champagne and caviar, and passing around food from the Beverly Wilshire's BLVD restaurant. We schmoozed with the chefs, had a happy reunion with my friend Sophie Gayot and son Alexandre, and gave people more and more food.

And just for an instant, I became wistful for my waitressing days.

But only for an instant.