Friday, December 6, 2019

Play It As It Lays

Me at Spring Lake, NJ

In Joan Didion's 1970 novel, "Play It as It Lays," lead character Maria is slowly losing her mind and unraveling through flashbacks told in very short chapters. According to Google, the term "Play it as it lays" means: "Take what you get, and figure it out, and make the best of it so that you can move forward." I'd never heard the expression before, so after reading it, I came to my own conclusions about what the phrase might mean, and that is: "Take it as it comes, just let each day unfold the way it wants to, and make no plans." Unlike Maria, who recalls several tragic events throughout the novel, my interpretation of the phrase is more suitable to mundane, everyday life.  Letting each day unfold and making no plans is a chill way of living.  I never followed it in my youth. I always planned, and waited, and definitely tried to control things. But these days, I realize how little control I have, so I find myself "taking things as they come" more often than ever before.

Me, Poolside in Canada   

"In Maria's own garden the air smelled of jasmine and the water in the pool was 85°. The water in the pool was always 85° and it was always clean."

Now that I'm older,  I never go to bed early enough. I guess it's because I'm more aware of the passage of time and how quickly it goes. It's like I don't want to miss anything. I stay up until midnight watching "The Twilight Zone" and "Alfred Hitchcock Hour," then have to wake up at 5:30 a.m. for work. I can fall asleep easily but often wake up in the middle of the night and have trouble getting back to sleep. My solution to daytime sleepiness is napping. First, I nap on the ferry on the way to work, then once at home, I nap anywhere I can think of. I used to sleep on the couch a lot, but now that I have my two-year-old Shih-Tzu, I can't because she won't let me. She seems to think it breaks routine,  so she paws at me and at the pillow as if to say: "You are not supposed to be sleeping on the couch!" So I try and sneak a nap on the recliner when she isn't paying attention. In "Play It as It Lays," Maria has trouble sleeping and finds that she can only fall asleep, and stay asleep, outside beside her swimming pool, lying on the lounge chairs along it. I think that in a larger sense, Maria has a feeling of unrest that goes beyond not sleeping. She doesn't feel comfortable anywhere and is unable to relax or let her guard down in order to enter a proper sleep. The act of sleeping outside on a pool chair resonated with me. I hate not being able to sleep, and if I found that sleeping on a chair in my backyard beside a swimming pool was the only way I could get some sleep, I would do it too, just like Maria.

                                                                                      Me and my Shih-Tzu

"Maria was listening to someone talk and every now and then she would hear herself making what she thought was an appropriate response but mostly she was just swaying slightly with the music and wondering where her drink was..."

We all, at times, find our minds wandering off when people talk to us. Often, I'll find myself drifting into different thoughts while someone is telling me a story. But suddenly, I'll see their animated expression or I'll notice a slight pause in conversation, and I'll usually respond with a "Wow" or an "Oh that's crazy." Otherwise, I'll just nod my head in agreement and hope my response was not way off. Maria has lost control in this scene and can't plan her responses as people often do in social situations.  Throughout the book, she is increasingly unable to adopt a persona, and by this point in her life, she is tiring of "the game," and through no other choice, she is only able to be her authentic self. She is real, but it is killing her. Throughout the story, she can only "play it as it lays," just like in this party scene, until she can escape with her drink.  It's exhausting trying to live as your truest self in a world where so many people work hard to perfect their outward personalities and control their responses, and you're over there taking every statement at face value and missing the inside jokes and the hidden innuendos. People don't want to take themselves as they are. Instead, they want to create the kind of person they think they should be. I think it's exhausting on both sides.

"Always when I play back my father's voice, it is with a professional rasp, it goes as it lays, don't do it the hard way.  My father advised me that life itself was a crap game: it was one of two lessons I learned as a child.  The other was that overturning a rock was apt to reveal a rattlesnake."

Me and my Dad. He used to love gambling on the horses.

Maria's dad is the one who advises her to "play it as it lays" at the end of the book. He says life is a crap game. He keeps on investing his money in shaky business deals, and keeps on losing, but he never loses his positivity and optimism. He advises Maria to relinquish control.

My assessment is that life can sometimes make you messed up like Maria:  There are times you only want a drink, and other times, you have insomnia because you are aware of the passage of time and how quickly it all goes.  But you have to realize you can't control these things. You have to learn to "play it as it lays" and do the best you can with what you've got because, really, you have no other choice, and most of the time, that's perfectly OK.

“I am what I am. To look for reasons is beside the point.” 

Joan Didion (

Friday, July 12, 2019

Bingeing Bourdain

Photo by John Reardon from article on

Last month, we celebrated "Bourdain Day" to honor Anthony Bourdain - the former chef, writer, and star of the TV shows "No Reservations" and "Parts Unknown." In these two series, he traveled to different parts of the world to have meals with the locals, or sometimes he brought a friend or fellow chef with him to eat in different restaurants. June 25th was chosen as Bourdain Day by his friends and fans because that was his birthday.  Tragically, June is also the month he took his own life last year, however, the motto for Bourdain Day is "Get out and live," and I think that's a better way to remember him.

Last summer, I binge-watched "Parts Unknown," so this summer I decided to binge-watch "No Reservations."  I watch his shows to escape. I'm not traveling this summer so I like to see all the faraway places he goes to. Many are around oceans and have vacation vibes to them. But he also visits poverty-stricken places and never hesitates to sit down for a meal at a family's home and eat the same things they do. I enjoy listening to his monologues during the shows. He explains each place's history and his own feelings about how the meals taste and how the people treat him and each other.

Bourdain was definitely a storyteller. He philosophized about life. I particularly enjoyed the Vietnam episode of "No Reservations" where he spoke about the desire to move there for a year to write his own novel. I think a big part of the allure of his shows for me is that I like people who write. I like and relate to people who can tell stories.

My only criticism about his shows is his obsession with eating meat. He constantly talked about wanting to eat meat, and we'd have to watch him eat meat, and sometimes we even had to sit through watching the locals trap pigs and other animals so they could slaughter them, all while Bourdain observed and told us about it. As a person who doesn't eat land animals at all, I hate these segments.  But actually, for meat-eaters, I think it's essential that they show the entire procedure that goes into eating meat so people can learn. Otherwise, they are just cooking and eating the packages of plastic-wrapped red squiggles that they pick up at the supermarket. Even though Bourdain ate so much meat, at least he saw first hand how the animals were killed rather than how the usual meat-eater just turns a blind eye and doesn't want to think about the fact that it is an animal they are eating as opposed to a cooked red squiggle.  I'm not a vegan (although I wish I were), and I still eat fish. My reasoning is that I can handle watching people catch fish and then cooking them so I'm being realistic about where my food comes from.

In addition to eating tons of meat on these shows, Bourdain also eats fruits, vegetables, noodles, and desserts. Oh, and if you happen to binge-watch his shows, notice how many times he mentions eating "sea urchins." He seems to eat sea urchins in about every other episode!

So this summer, I'm again living vicariously through Bourdain's travels and meals. It's devastating that even though he traveled the world and seemed to have a job he really loved, he still couldn't get over his depression. It got me thinking: Even though I love how much of a realist Bourdain was, maybe too much reality isn't good?  Considering how he left us, it seems it wasn't good for him.  Sometimes we need to turn that blind eye - like the meat-eaters do during dinner - in order to survive.  Escaping is good for us. Or more accurately, it's necessary.


With President Barack Obama (Vox.Com)

Sunday, March 31, 2019

Why I Believe It Is Essential To Watch SMILF

Photo from

This Sunday marks the last episode of Showtime Channel's "SMILF" until (hopefully) the show gets picked up by another network. It would be a shame to see this masterpiece which depicts the lives and thoughts of real women in an honest and unique way cease to exist when it was only just getting started.

SMILF is the brainchild of writer, director and actress Frankie Shaw. She stars as Bridgette Bird who is a single mom with a young son named Larry, and they live together in South Boston. Bridgette loves to play basketball, has a raw sexuality and a vulgar mouth, but her love and devotion to her son is fierce. I discovered SMILF late in the game, after Season 1 ended, but I binge-watched all eight episodes on a day off from work and instantly got hooked. Subsequently, as Season 2 began, my favorite thing to do each week was grab my bottle of birthday Shiraz wine that my best friend got me, pour a glass, cut a sliver of cheddar cheese, and sit down at 10:30 pm, Sunday nights, to watch SMILF.

SMILF is different and daring. Similar to HBO's "Girls" but focusing mainly on Bridgette, her mom, brilliantly played by Rosie O'Donnell, and her son, Larry, rather than an ensemble female cast. The intelligence in the writing is still there and the lead character again is a true-to-life, flawed, human being who is aware that she has a lot to learn but wants to do it in her own way and on her own timetable based on the feelings she has from within rather than imitating what she thinks is expected of her from society. She is just another creative woman who feels differently than everybody else and is simply trying to muddle through life as best as she can.

Gloria Steinem said in her book "Outrageous Acts and Everyday Rebellions" that the way to test if  you think someone is being sexist is to switch the male and female roles in their story and see if you think the same things would happen and the same feelings elicited if the roles were reversed. For example, if  someone tells you a story about how their female boss at work was  "on the rag" today because she was getting on everybody's case for not getting their work done fast enough and was being bitchy with everyone, would the storyteller have used the same language if their story had been about a male boss or would this just have been considered a typical day at the office and not even worthy of mentioning? Last Sunday's SMILF (Season 2, Episode 9: "Single Mom Is Losing Faith") demonstrated this type of test commendably.  The entire episode has a cowboy setting, and initially, the viewer naturally assumes that the male cowboys are in charge of the town, but odd things are seen in the background. There are good-looking men walking around in the background of the town saloon, and they are wearing pants with holes cut out in the backs of their blue jeans revealing naked backsides. Shortly after this scene, as more dialogue occurs between the male and female characters, it becomes obvious that the reason these male inhabitants of this Western town are dressed this way is because the town is run by women. So instead of seeing females' butt cheeks predominantly featured in yoga pants or hanging out the backs of short-shorts, this is what this town features. Men wear make up and speak in gentle, self-effacing, remorseful tones. In this episode, Bridgette is having a bad day as she is riding her horse around town and lamenting over having to pay Cowboy Taxes so she says she needs to blow off some steam. The way she makes herself feel better is to go upstairs and gain the services of her male prostitute who proceeds to ride her from the top in exactly the same style as a woman rides a man.

SMILF is not preachy in its feminist viewpoint. It shows instead of tells. The cowboy episode is a great example of this. Its script never spells out what it's trying to say. Rather, it's all symbolism, and you have to figure it out for yourself. These days, we need a show like SMILF to show a real portrayal of women who dictate their own sexuality rather than giving into the needs of older, powerful men as has been traditionally done in entertainment for decades. SMILF is honest and original. Just like so many of us women are. Maybe SMILF is still ahead of its time. Similar to how female bosses were several decades ago.

Photo from

Tuesday, January 1, 2019

Zip Zip Zinging In The New Year

It's New Year's, and to me that means watching "The Twilight Zone" marathon or re-watching Henry Jaglom's movie, "New Year's Day." It also means watching the Ball drop on TV from Times Square in New York City at midnight, wishing it were still an apple like it was during the 1980's. I can remember New Year's Eve in the '80's more than I can in any other decade. I'd watch Dick Clark's New Year's Rockin' Eve, and when 1984 passed into 1985, I realized that from this point on, every year would now be a year my dad would never see. But that's a downer! Truth is, I see each New Year as a year full of promise. 2019 will be the year I'll finish the first draft of my latest novel. I've been having a hard time getting it off the ground because it's too close to me. It's my mind focused on serious things, such as living as a woman in the Trump era. My characters have a lot to say, but all I want to do is escape with a glass of Chardonnay and a plate of fried shrimp.

Hopefully, I'll push my fears away and get into a groove with what will be my fifth novel. The problem with buckling down with a novel is that it leaves little time to work on shorter stories and to give them the attention they deserve. I'd love to keep submitting and seeing my stories posted on the Web because that's such a thrill, but sometimes, writing a good short story can take as many months of rewriting and editing as a short novel can. I see 2019 mostly as the year I'll write another novel, but I'm also excited that later this year, one of my short stories will appear in an Anthology, so I'll have to let that sustain me until I can devote the kind of time that quality short stories deserve.

So here's to 2019! Here's to remembering friends who didn't make it out of 2018 but who remain in our memories along with all the music we'd listened to with them, the glasses of wine we drank together and all those lengthy discussions of life.  Let's read, talk, and give a toast to 2019! My books aren't going to write themselves, and as much as I want to escape, I also need to express the things that weigh heavily on my mind. I want to give something back like my favorite writer, Anais Nin, did when she reluctantly went deep inside herself to bring out what we often suppress. Reading helps all of us bring our own hidden thoughts to the surface so we can feel like we're never truly alone.