Monday, March 23, 2009

Paper Cut

Oh, the "Fempire". A tiny, exclusive, moneyed emirate, perched in the hills, where its denizens can look down on the hoi polloi toiling below in the flat lands. Kind of like Andorra, but with yoga mats.

Apparently--thank goodness--I'm not the only one who found the article in yesterday's New York Times a bracing antidote to any germs of self-worth that might have been metastasizing inside me. Well done, New York Times and (journalist) Deborah Schoeneman! Good job Dana Fox, Diablo Cody, Liz Meriwether and Lorene Scafaria! Now I hate myself even more than I did before! I know that wasn't your intention (well, I'm pretty sure), but what a great side effect. Just sit down with these groovy galpals in Hollywood, talk about their dogs and their matching bespoke necklaces, and their Hollywood Hills homes, and their limousine rides to their movie premieres...and bingo: less successful writers everywhere start Googling, "suicide, techniques".

Of course, these women are allowed to be successful. My evolved, logical side knows that as far as female genes behind the cameras in Hollywood goes, the more the better. But my reptilian brain is toggling between wanting to go all Collyer brothers and never leave my house again and considering sneaky ways to give all four of them scabies. I think it's the "entourage" part of it all. As irritating as Diablo Cody is on her own (when oh when will everyone realize this "femperor" has no clothes?) I could just cast her aside as another annoying anomaly. But grouped together like this, these chicks--I'm sorry--are just hateful. And they did the grouping themselves, so it's not old Deborah Schoeneman's fault. Naming their little clique? Last girls I knew who christened their posse were the "Flagpole Girls". In elementary school. And all the inside crap and smutty gifts and liturgy...let's face it: as hip as these chicks are, this is just a sorority with better lodgings. And I freaking hate sororities. For all the high minded reasons. But also because they'd never ask me to join.

Maybe if "Fempire" were men. Maybe if they were novelists. Maybe if they lived in Portland. Anything to separate these babes in Hollywoodland from my experiences. Anything except their ability to "command seven figures" for their star-laden scripts, that is.

I know you're not supposed to compare yourself to other people. We're all valuable in our own right, blah blah blah. But I just can't help it. Horrible confession: I'm a jealous, vicious bitch. There, I said it. Any time I hear about anyone that's in any way bumping into the bubble that is My Life, I do an elaborate compare/contrast to try to make myself feel better. For instance: High School Nemesis is married with children. Ah, but she lives in Ohio and is a dentist. I am the glamour girl in L.A. I have hugged Hugh Jackman! I have had dinner with Jon Hamm! Whew. Potential self-flagellation averted. Some part of me is better. I can carry on.

But lately, sadly, this has been getting harder and harder to do. People I know--actually know--are successful (in my field), are in happy relationships, have nice homes, aren't recovering alcoholics, etc. etc. I can't find a slow leak in their bubble that makes my bubble look bigger and shinier and...bubblier. This has been my horrifying realization: at a certain point, you're no longer a Late Bloomer. You're just a Loser. And that's when paeans to younger, prettier, more successful people hanging around together doing your exact job in the New York Times can really, really, well...hurt. So that's the real thought for today: Ouch.

Monday, March 16, 2009

Invisible Stuff

Warning to people of faith: The following will offend you. Sorry. (Sort of.)

I finally tucked in the other night and watched Religulous, Bill Maher's scathing look at organized religion; it was well worth the 3.99 on pay-per-view. And then I read Frank Rich's column in the Sunday Times, in which he commented--hopefully--on the waning of the Religious Way of American Life; there are more people claiming 'no religious affiliation' than ever before. Nevertheless, we're still a nation of remarkably faithful church/temple/mosque/yoga yurt-goers. Much more so than other industrialized nations.

What the hell is with us? Maher incisively and hilariously skewers all the silliness of believing in some giant, invisible, all powerful "sky-man" (as John Oliver cheekily put it on The Daily Show) who has the time to manipulate the outcome of football games but leaves Darfur littered with corpses. Not to mention the general absurdity of the bible ("a talking snake? really?"). And the insanity (okay: stupidity) of taking said book literally. With a few clever montages and some bracing on-screen factoids, the movie limns all the hypocrisy, all the flimsy justification, all the general wackjob-itude of believing whole-heartedly in these thousand year old fairy tales. I mean, really: no one believes Rumpelstiltskin spun gold from straw, so why do people believe a Jewish carpenter turned water into wine?

But here's the thing: seems to me religion--sadly--isn't the only farcical, invisible thing we've decided to believe in. The "faith" we put in things we can't see or touch or smell or quantify in any way at all is rampant. I think we've been caught--for a while now (eight years? maaybee...)--in a kind of collective, willful ignorance. We've been having a hoe-down and doing a dumb, happy dance to a tune we can't even hear.

For people with anti-biotics and computers and statistics we believe in a lot of invisible stuff. We put our faith in invisible stuff. We get unbridled joy and a feeling of safety and entertainment value and sense of import and urgency out of Invisible Stuff. Like, for instance, just for starters:

--God, natch
--Money in your 401(k)
--Love and/or "a real connection" on any dating reality show
--All sorts of Byzantine financial transactions that don't make sense to anyone
--The value of your house
--Anything that 'reduces the look of fine lines and wrinkles'
--That Patrick Dempsey's hair just looks that way

What do we get out of all this? Ever-lasting childhood, that's what. We're not just chumps, we're children, living out not even an extended adolescence (fuck, adolescents do nothing but question the status quo; I wish we were adolescents) but an extended toddler-hood. We are actually slobbering, sticky three-year-olds who believe anything someone taller, older, cooler, richer, prettier or On TV tells us to believe. Regardless of fact, regardless of evidence. We might as well assume we'll get rich by putting errant teeth under our pillows.

Maher ends his movie by saying, among other things: Grow up. And despite the fact that most of the time I feel like a 12 year old weepily singling along to Janis Ian songs, I've got to agree. Maybe it's time we stopped believing in voodoo and magic in place of science, and smoke and mirrors light shows in the place of actual balances in actual brick and mortar banks. It's time we stopped think 'reality shows' are really...real. It's time we looked at something like the cold hard truth and lived our lives and fashioned our economy and developed products based on fact and empirical evidence, instead of wisps of pretty twinkling lights. It might not be fun, it might not be comforting, it might not be easy. But at least it'll be grown-up. At least it'll be real. Cause here's the thing about invisible stuff; when you need it most, it might turn out not to just be invisible. It might turn out to be non-existent.

Thursday, March 12, 2009


There was money. And then there wasn't. Simple as that. There was this nice number; not a huge number, not a rich person's number, but a number that I could use, that could help me out, that could make things easier. Right there, in my bank account. A surprise, yes, but not impossible in the fickle business in which I work. Money comes in dribs and drabs, sometimes when you expect it, sometimes not. So it wasn't beyond the realm of possibility. And after making a couple of phone calls to check it out, it seemed more than possible. It seemed probable.

But then: poof. Adios. Gonzo. A computer blip. Human error. Bank mistake. The having it, not the not having it. It was never mine to begin with. A fantasy. A chimera. A cruel joke.

And boom: I got an up close and personal experience with this, our second Great Depression. There was money. And then there wasn't.

That's pretty much it, right? The Dow is at 14,000+, then it's below 7,000. Where did it go? Citibank is worth 60something a share, then it's worth less than a biggie pack of Orbit White Bubblemint. Say what now? Investors have millions with Bernie Madoff and then they're paupers. Howzzat? And just like my 'phantom money' (that's what I call it; the phantom money) this is my belief: it was never there to begin with. We all acted like it was there, we felt cozy and comfortable like it was there, we spent like it was there, but it never was. The "money" we thought we "had" was just a bunch of black slashes on a white computer screen.

Look: Donkey. <-- That is not a real donkey. That is just some black slashes on a computer screen that looks like 'donkey' and makes you think 'donkey' but it is not actually a donkey.

Now, I'm a fantasist; I admit it. For the few days I (thought I) had that money, my life was swell. I exhaled. I actually felt a sense of calm descend, an unexpected smile curl the corners of my mouth. I even toasted with friends. I thought I was about to live a life (relatively) free of stress and worry and bizarre nightmares of becoming a crazy homeless woman living under the 405. I actually imagined...buying things. Books from the bookstore and not the 'used' section of Amazon. Getting a facial. A cloud of equanimity even settled over me, in place of my worst fears: if my computer continues chipping off little pieces of itself and finally there's nothing left but the F9 key, my life won't be over. The new 17inch environmentally friendly Mac will be mine.

But that's me. I make shit up for a (sporadic) living and I'm afraid of math. But can everyone in the country be fantasists? Can our entire economic system be an illusion? Can all those smart young best and brightest master of the universe Turk-types on Wall Street be delusional or liars--or both? Apparently, yes. We all believed. We believed in "Zero interest for one year!" on over-stuffed sectionals from LivingSpaces. We believed in "You've been pre-approved!". We believed in "No money down mortgages". No money down mortgages. Didn't anybody think, "Um...that...can't be right. I mean, for an entire house? Seriously?" Apparently not.

This fall I did some canvassing for Obama in Las Vegas. And in the worst neighborhood you could possibly imagine--an arid, flat, chained up mongrels, surrounded by used car dealerships Appalachia kind of place--people would open the doors of their small, sadly shabby homes and inside would be...a 52" flat screen TV. Flat screen TVs in every house. Two, three thousand dollar TVs. Everywhere. People bought those TVs--poor people, people who were un-employed or under employed or barely employed, people with too many bills who lived paycheck to paycheck--with money they didn't have. Phantom money. Black slashes on a white computer screen.

If we get through this in any kind of intact--please, let's get through this--I just hope we can all remember: This is not a donkey.