Tuesday, December 11, 2007

"Breasts" - New York

I just want to talk about breasts for a minute.

Last week, I just saw this amazing film called “ABSOLUTELY SAFE”, by Carol Ciancuti Levy, about breast implant safety. It is a film I Executive Produced, so I’ve been viewing it over the years. But it just had it’s premiere screening in New York and watching it finished in the darken theater, I was horror struck again. It made me think about what has happened to us in our culture. How is it that we as women have somehow gotten brainwashed about how we think about our bodies to the point that we willingly mutilate them in the name of beauty…?

When I was a kid I remember loving my body. Not my face – I thought I was ugly for a long time – but I thought my body was perfect because it was well proportioned and thin. That is until I was about 11-years-old and I realized that my breasts weren’t growing. My older brother started to tease me mercilessly about this and it just became fodder for another one of our many fights. Indeed, it seemed like all my girlfriends were growing something beneath their shirts, and I was growing nothing…

My mother was always small breasted, and during my childhood my dad often made remarks or innuendos about how tiny she was. Sometimes he’d even tease her about how when he married her he got cheated in the breast department. Unbeknownst to him, she had worn falsies and, when he finally got his hand inside the bra, there was nothing there.

So, of course, when my time came around, I was very sensitive to the issue. And my bother, having picked up on my father, really took the opportunity to get back at me big time.

I remember when I first started to be sexual, thinking things like – “Well since I don’t have breasts, I have to ‘go further’ with the guy to make-up for my lack thereof…”

By the time I was 16 or 17, I was dying to have my breasts “fixed.” It was only 1977, but I already wanted breast implants. I don’t even know where I read about them or how I found out about them because that was so early in the popularization of implants. But somehow they were already well imbedded in the culture of women’s magazines that I read voraciously. I talked about it so much that my mom agreed to take me to see a plastic surgeon when I was about 19.

I remember she took me on the train to New York from Philly where we lived, and we went to the doctor’s office. As we sat in the waiting room, I looked at a brochure he had on the table with photos of various headless women ‘after surgery’ – and how I wanted the ‘after’ so badly.

When we finally enter the examining room he made me take off my shirt and looked at my chest. He kind of smiled and said, “Why you have beautiful breasts, you don’t need implants at all, let me show a picture of women who is flat chested who I would suggest implants for….” And he took out a book of pictures of other women and indeed they were completely flat, whereas I had these little round mounds. He told me that I should think about it for a few years, and if I still wanted them to come back and see him, and he would discuss it with me again.

I never did go back, and the desire disappeared. Thinking back, I don’t know if my mom had called ahead and told him what to say or exactly why the doctor had been so altruistic to turn me away, but the pictures he showed me helped my self-image a lot.

Over the years, I can’t say I’ve always loved my breasts. They are small, and I now wear a padded bra, which is another discussion in itself. But now that I am older, I am so grateful I didn’t cut them open to put plastic in them to make them bigger. I would have lost so much that I love about my breasts – like the sensation of softness, the sensitivity in my nipples, the very nature of what they are….

I remember, when I was very young, how my mom replied to one of my dad’s wisecracks about how small she was by saying, “Breasts have a function, they are made for nursing children, they are not for show…” Now, I think back and realize how wise my mother was, but I didn’t know it then. I wish I had.

I’d love to know what other women think about their breasts and how they related to their changing bodies growing up? I am really curious how each woman finds self-acceptance and even love of our “oh so imperfect but oh so very perfect forms” in a world that makes us believe that perfection can be created by man. Please write me back.

"Talking in Scandinavia" Part II - Sweden

Now that I was in Scandinavia, surely male-female relationships were different here? This was the region of gender equality. The Swedes and the Fins could finally teach me how to do this, they could help me with my failing relationship, if only I could take notes.

But then the strangest thing happened. Interview after interview each journalist asked me the same question I was asking myself – why was it that men and woman communicate so differently? And they didn’t ask me abstractly or objectively! They asked me with exasperation in their eyes and disappointment in their face. I could see they – like I – were desperate. They hoped that I might provide them with some clue to resolving this painful dilemma. One shy looking journalist in his thirties with glasses, began to give me some clues:

“I have to admit watching FLYING made me jealous!” He sighed heavily. “Why are women able to have such intimate conversations?” I could see he was a little embarrassed admitting this to a stranger. “I don’t know how you do it. I try to be intimate, but then I just run out of steam — after a while I just don’t have anything left to say! Whereas women can go on forever…”

It was such a relief to hear a man admitting what he couldn’t do, but also strange because despite my hopes that this was just a problem with my boyfriend, (yes I was still trying to deny gender!) I had to face the realization that this issue divided the world in two. Men and woman had different languages; the fight I was having with my boyfriend was so very typical. And even now, in the millennium, the cause of this gender division still wasn’t clear to any of us:

“But tell me,” he asked with a kind of desperation. “Why do you think it is so?”

I knew I was supposed to be an expert on gender issues because of FLYING — and certainly I had thought about it a lot — but I still felt lost in the proverbial woods.

“I think,” I began tentatively, “that there is or must be a biological component…. as well as a learned component…. You know that feelings just weren’t useful when you went into the woods to hunt animals to eat. Of course, the men must have been afraid –terrified — but to talk about it would only make it worse. So there grew up a culture of male pride. Probably the men who didn’t talk survived better, so then there was a genetic change….”

“Oh,” he said; his eyes excited. “You know here in Sweden bringing biology up around gender differences is just not politically correct. You can’t do it, people get angry at you….”

“I guess it make sense that if you want to talk about change, it is easy to use biology as an excuse.” I agreed and I saw him nod, “But honestly biology is just following our repetitive actions, so I am sure even biology could be changed if talking became a preferred trait for men over generations, don’t you think…?”

Just then, the SVT press agent, Brita, knocked on our door that it was time to stop. I was on a strict schedule and we had to say goodbye. It was sad because we both could have talked a long time. Before leaving the journalist said:

“If it wasn’t for my wife, I would be completely hopeless, but she has taught me a lot…”

As he left, I thought how lovely it was for a man to admit openly that a woman — his wife – could influence him like that. I think a lot of time men don’t allow themselves to change because they are afraid of seeming weak and giving their power away to women.

The day continued. There were five more interviews all by women – but amazingly all asked me the same golden question about male-female language. And I’m afraid for the most part none of us had much insight on the matter.

One woman who ran a feminist Internet site also asked. I decided to try my theory tentatively again with her, even though I had been told by the male journalist that it was politically incorrect. So I told her that I thought it was both biological and learned behavior:

“…Yet all culture turns into biology at some point, no?” I said. “If the genetic code is being created by us then even not talking can be both hard wired and supported by cultural practice…” But I really wasn’t sure. “What do you think?” I asked frustrated.

“I think it has something to do with being oppressed.” She said, “When there is no ability to act, you learn to talk. Not just women but all oppressed people….” She looked me straight in the eye: ‘I mean, if you have no agency in the world, you have nothing but talking…”

A light bulb went off in my head. When I was growing up the most communicative and open person I ever met was an Afro-American man named Cola who was the housekeeper for my family. We lived in the suburbs and because we had so many kids, my mother and him would split the driving. He used to drive us everywhere and when he drove we would talk, but he talked about everything openly – his feelings, his desires, his problems — and he talked to me as an equal. Cola was the son of southern sharecroppers and he had moved east to find work. He didn’t even have a high school education. There is no one more oppressed in America than the Afro-American male….

When you are oppressed, the only way you can let off steam is by talking. The women in my family did nothing but talk and express their feelings (to the degree that I often wanted them to hold some back but they definitely knew how to express). My father couldn’t express his emotions at all – except anger, which is the one male emotion. He went out in the world and ‘acted’. All his energy was consumed by action. No wonder he didn’t need to learn the language of feelings. That language of feelings had no place in the marketplace, where showing you’re feelings, tipping your hand so to speak, could actually make you loose your job…

… The interview went on, and of course there wasn’t enough time to say everything we wanted, since there were others waiting. Through the course of the day, there were so many things said and shared with my new Swedish friends. Because even thought this was a professional setting, FLYING had opened up the subject and provided a frame for us to talk in an honest way about who we really are as women and as men. So, after hours and hours of talking with the Swedish press I felt better, and though I hadn’t made huge inroads into the dilemma I was having with my boyfriend, I felt like I had some new thoughts to chew on. And that is all I need to feel better in the world. Sharing ideas and feelings. It is what feeds me – and that is oh so female.

"Talking in Scandinavia" Part I - Finland

I was having another fight with my boyfriend – only now I was in a hotel room in Finland. The locations changed, but the subject always remained the same.

I was here to do press for the TV launch of FLYING on Finnish television, YLE, beginning Thursday, November 1, and Swedish Television, SVT, beginning Sunday, October 28. Both countries were going to air the film in a weekly one hour evening slot, like a real series. I was thrilled. They had asked me to come to help with the press and also to do master classes in both countries about the film. In Finland I would do a seminar for the DOCPOINT with my editor Niels Pagh Anderson who was in Finland to edit a new film by John Walker (and also because his girlfriend is Finnish), and in Sweden I would screen the film at a festival called MDOX and run a master class there.

The film was having a fantastic reception. It seemed like there was a kind of love fest with the journalist here. I have never seen reporters ‘get’ FLYING like those in Scandinavia. I had already been to Denmark to launch the film on DR-2 there, and the reception and ratings had also been phenomenal. Somehow this film was just made for the region. But now, underlying all the excitement was the conflict with my boyfriend.

I was fine till I got back to my hotel room at night and then found myself unable to sleep – with the excuse of jet lag – except I had never seen jet lag like this before! I was averaging two hours a night and going down hill quickly. We had both reached a breaking point. We were having the same fight we had since early in our relationship – and I think we were reaching that point where — we just couldn’t do it anymore.

Our fight was about a seemingly simple topic: talking. I wanted to talk more; he wanted to talk less. I needed to talk about feelings, worries, and dramas in my family life or with friends. He found these things uncomfortable or even tiresome, tried to solve them quickly, and move on. I never wanted things solved; I wanted them explored; and if left to my own devises, I could explore them for hours. He felt I never got to “the point” and was impatient for me to hurry up in my story-telling; I wanted to tell him all the odd details that occurred so he would be able to get a true picture. Synopsizing was against my religion.

I have tried to adapt over the years: I have learned to sensor most of my inner life from my partner. I have stopped sharing many of my thoughts, feelings, and even creative ideas with him. I have learned to talk about the weather, what I did that day, what I ate, and what is in the newspaper. We call each other up each day and ‘report’. I have learned to avoid the frustration of asking him for some deeper conversation – and getting the response that he doesn’t have anything deep to share and – why am I always criticizing him. I feel I have changed and to be fair, he feels he has changed too. But since this is my rant, I get to tell my side of the story.

You see, no matter how hard he thinks he is trying, I end up feeling like I am living in silence. So once in a while I try to share something that is bugging me — because I have to let it out. I am a bit like a pressure cooker with feelings – eventually I’ve got to blow.

For example, I’d just had a big revelation that day when talking to one of my girlfriends, Paula, about my fears about having children that stretches back to when I was a child. As we chatted, I had suddenly realized that I was afraid to be happy. To me having children looked like the most hopeful thing in the world. What if you loved them and something bad happened? What if they got hurt or died? And then it hit me: I had been shocked when my middle brother, who I adored, was hospitalized twice before he was a year and a half old. I remember my mother rushing out of the house with him naked in her arms, screaming in fear. The second time, they threw him in the bath to bring his temperature down and then the police came to whisk her and him away. I stood at the window as the police car pulled away with its siren blaring, thinking I might never see him again. And indeed he had to have a huge operation and almost died.

Now as strange as this might sound, it suddenly came to me that I probably was traumatized by this event and my own fear and the fear of my mother. So honestly when I look at families today – I think, wow you guys are really courageous to take those risks. People think I am courageous to make films, but that is nothing compared with having children!

I was all excited to tell my boyfriend all this; it seemed like a big revelation that if I could get my head around, might actually help me to move forward with the adoption we’d been thinking about for so long. So I ran to the phone to call him, believing also that it would help him understand me better, which would lead to a better relationship. He answered the phone and I laid out my brilliant insight and traced the whole problem back to my childhood. I cried on the phone and felt really exposed. This was what relationship was about, I thought exultantly.

But on the line, his voice was irritated with that tone – oh no, here we go again with the deep stuff. He asked many tense questions and then changed the subject. “Well,” he said, “I don’t think you are willing to change your life enough to have children anyway.” And inside of me, I sunk. I was not talking about the practical side of child rearing but the inner ghosts preventing me from even beginning the process. I began to think maybe I hadn’t explained it right? Maybe he didn’t understand what I had told him? But he claimed he did. I tried to stay calm and not jump on him, tried to understand where he was coming from, tried to get a reaction to the story I had told him – you know connection, commiseration, compassion — but he didn’t have anything to say. Nothing.

I got off the phone feeling lost. It took me till the next day to react – after a long flight to Finland – I realized I was really angry. So once I arrived in the hotel and did my first two interviews, I called him on the phone and told him I was really upset. Of course, we got into the same spiral. He cannot talk more; I don’t accept him the way he is, I am always criticizing him. To me, asking to have a conversation about feelings isn’t criticism but expressing a need, a need that I can’t live without. And therein lies the difference between him and me. He can live with out talking and I can’t.

And of course, you are thinking: for a woman who just made a film about gender differences, this person is pretty stupid! Doesn’t she know by now that men and women are different? Of course I do know, but it is still hard for me to accept…

"Den Pobedi" Guest Blog - Moscow, Russia

Life on the road leaves me little time to do some of the things I love to do, like writing this blog. Fortunately, my good friend, Lisa, has her own idea of what life as a free woman entails. When I heard she was on her way to Russia, I saw an opportunity. I thought it might be refreshing to get a different perspective so I invited her to act as a guest blogger for this latest entry. I know you’ll enjoy her story as much as I do.


Before I tell this tale, there are three essential things you must know about me: 1) My entire family is involved in the boxing business and my mother runs a successful boxing promotion company; 2) I studied Russian in college and I lived and studied in St. Petersburg for a year; 3) I am prone to tangents and asides, so bear with me. I promise it will all come together.

I have this thing called “Den Pobedi.” It’s a term that I took from Russian. It means “Day of Victory.” In Russian, it refers to May 9th, the day Russians celebrate the victory over the Nazi’s during the Great Fatherland War, aka WWII. There is a corresponding war anthem, called none other than “Den Pobedi.” I became acquainted with the phrase through the song. I applied my own meaning, which has nothing to do with Nazis.

To me, “Den Pobedi” is when you win the worst kind of relationship game. Some relationships I leave feeling satisfied. I walk away knowing that it was for the best that it ended. More often than not, however, I leave with a distinct “What the FUCK?!” feeling. The partner decides - before I do - that we are headed for a dead end. I’m suddenly not as interesting as I previously seemed. I’m not as exciting. I’m clingy. I whine constantly. I’ve run out of cute underwear. I don’t know what happens. Because when it does, there is very little explanation. In fact, there is usually no explanation at all and I end up believing that I am still in the relationship well after it ends. It’s similar to when a phone call gets dropped and you keep on talking to dead air like an idiot. This sort of end to a relationship is nasty and ugly. Whereas I try to end most relationships on a good foot, the WTF relationships end on a noticeably crazier foot. That is to say, after I realize that I’ve been talking to dead air, I get angry and I want answers. I can’t help myself. I push the other person to tell me what has happened. What crime have I committed? Aren’t I still cute? Aren’t I still charming? Aren’t I still witty? Was I ever? What the FUCK?? I do not remain calm. I come off as a crazy woman. I’m not proud of it. But I’m aware of it. And I can’t help it. It is a sickness. My albatross.

But do not pity me, reader! A magical thing can happen. And in my experience, it ALWAYS happens. I am given a second chance. After some time, I will see the unlucky victim of my angry unrequited love, and shock-of-all-shocks!, I’m not the crazy faced woman they remember. I’ve matured, perhaps? I’m older. I’m wiser. My hair is longer. My boobs are bigger. I wasn’t crazy! I was passionate. They remember the good times and they want to experience them again. This is my Day of Victory. Maybe I lost a couple battles but, God damn it, I’ve won the war. They want me! They have been thinking about me. It was their fault, not mine. I was wonderful. What a fool they’ve been. They were young then. They are different now. Now they recognize me for the Goddess that I am. I’m an effing CATCH! Would I like to go to dinner? Of course, I would. I turn on the charm and I can leave them a satisfied woman because I can walk away from the relationship on top, on my own terms. They no longer seem so terrible. I’ve tamed the beast. Look at them scrambling to win back my affections! What did I ever see in them in the first place? I don’t have any use for them anymore. They were right all along. So long, lover… we’re done. “Eto Den Pobedi!”

I ended up in Moscow for a boxing match my mother’s company was co-promoting. Since I speak Russian, Mom thought it would be useful to bring me along and help the company navigate the cold post-soviet streets. Unfortunately, I could only be there for a couple days. My mother and her crew were there longer than I and they needed someone to help them around town. Enter: my ex-boyfriend. I’ll call him Michael. He was a fellow Slavophile. He had been in Moscow for a couple months and he was the only person I knew who was living there at the time. I put him and my mother in contact with each other then stayed out of it.

Michael and I had definitely left off on the crazy foot. One of the craziest feet I’ve ever put forward. I won’t go into details, but needless to say, I was nervous to see him. Michael was one of the few guys that really got under my skin. We were not together for that long. And it was never official. But, in my own emotionally stunted way, I think I really cared about him and felt that we had real potential as a couple. He’s what you call “the whole package;” smart, funny, charming, sexy, ambitious, talented… womanizing. I can’t shake the feeling that somehow he duped me. Hoodwinked! He was the one how followed me around like a puppy, trying to woo me. He worshipped me. So how the hell did I end up sore? I felt, at the beginning of the relationship, we entered into an unspoken contract that I would be the one doing the heart breaking. Michael had other plans.

When I did see him in Moscow, it was not what I expected. He was so sweet and so warm and actually wanted to see me! I was thrilled. I kept it inside. And what a surprise, I started hearing those familiar lines. Michael, not you, too! Did he really find me as charming as I found him? Did he really miss me? Did he really still think about me? Please, please, no lines… no bullshit. I admit, we were both a little drunk. But those were still the words I wanted to hear and thought I’d never hear. It was happening and I allowed myself to enjoy it. Victory!

We spent the rest of our time together enjoying each other’s company, flirting, reminiscing. These are the times when stupid pop songs take on an unusual dimension of profundity. I get very foolish in the face of love. I’m not one to be trusted in romantic situations. The old familiar feeling often gets me into trouble and this time was no different.

On my last night in Moskva, the entire group was assembled together: a mix of school buddies, boxing professionals and ex-boyfriends. Yes, there was actually more than one there (that’s what you get for studying something as absurd as Russian: a nearly useless skill and a bunch of pale ex-boyfriends). We were in mourning. Our guy lost the fight. And as they say, “When in Rome…” drink your ass off. We did just that. So I was high on two drugs: the thrill of victoriously rekindled romance and vodka. Lots and lots of vodka. I had a plane to catch early the next morning. I needed to go to bed early. But somehow, at the end of the night, I ended up with a key to an extra room and Michael. What ELSE were we going to do? We spent the night together and accidentally fell asleep without setting any alarms, without packing any bags, without telling anyone where we were.

In the morning, my mother was hysterical. She couldn’t find me and WE HAD A PLANE TO CATCH! Damn it, Lisa, why do you always do this? I had gone missing. Now, my mother is no dummy, she knew who I was with. She called Michael’s cell phone frantically. She called Michael’s friend’s cell phone frantically. She checked in my friends’ rooms frantically. She checked down in the lobby, back in our suite. Where the fuck was I?

The extra room!

She assembled a rescue committee and had a maid open the door with a passkey. And there she found us: in bed… passed out … and naked, very, very naked. “LISA!” Her shrill howl, the shock and disgust in that single cry, still resounds in my mind. It bounces around like an echo. At times, it grows faint, faint enough not to hear it, to forget it. And then, back it comes, to the forefront. It grows so loud that I am sure my ears are now serving their reverse function. I no longer use them to process sound, but to project it. The entire room can hear my mother’s disappointment and they know my shame.

Now, I’m not the kind of girl that pretends to be innocent. I’ve never claimed virginity. In fact, I had no problem announcing it to my mother when I had sex for the first time. Although, it was much to her horror; the woman is Catholic. But I’ve just always been like that: unashamed. I never understood what the fuss is about. Valuing female virginity has always seemed repressive and outdated to me. But there’s being open about one’s sexuality and then there’s putting it on display… to one’s own mother no less! This is an entirely different beast. One I am not proud to have encountered.

I got ready and packed in a hurry only to come down to the lobby and realize that not only did I embarrass myself in front of my mother, but also the ENTIRE fight crew. Everyone: people who watched me grow up, people who are like aunts and uncles to me, my mother’s business associates, corner men, EVERYONE knew what I had been doing the night before. I was the laughing stock of the trip! The trip slut! And I endured all the ensuing torture - the laughs, the snide comments, the sarcastic questions, the smirks - all the way home. I doubt I’ll ever live this down. At least not for another 20 years or so. Maybe this error in judgment will finally stop following me around once they are all dead. God, if you are a merciful God, bring on sweet death. It’s either them or me.

As I sit, reliving, writing, revolted, I find it difficult to conclude. On top of everything, something is still nagging at me. My “Den Pobedi” does not feel right. Maybe the residual shame of my mother discovering us passed out naked and exposing my little secret ruined it. Maybe the group’s amusement cheapened my tryst. I know I heard the lines. I know I got the right looks. But, I don’t feel victorious. Maybe it’s something else. Maybe I’m questioning Michael’s sincerity. Did he trick me again? In the mad rush to recover my clothes and my dignity, I forgot to say goodbye. It wasn’t until we touched down on American soil that I recognized I still wasn’t satisfied. I got him to admit defeat, but I don’t want him defeated. Whatever the reason, I’ve got Moscow on my mind. And I don’t feel like a winner at all.

"The FLYING Conversation" - Winnipeg, Canada

I just flew in from the Vancouver Film Festival where the film was presented (more on that to come) to Winnipeg where it is opening at the Cinemateque here. On the telephone tonight, a girlfriend of mine back in New York told me about a discussion she had recently with her boyfriend:

“….We had the flying conversation…. You know…. And we both decided we couldn’t do it….”

She was in the middle of an idea, but I was lost, so I interrupted her: “Flying?” I asked.

“Yeah,” she said, “We talked about flying and we decided it wasn’t for us.”

“Where were you flying to?” I asked confused.

“Nowhere….” Her voice was irritated.


“You know we decided we didn’t wanted to do what Patrick did for you in flying…. Both of us felt we couldn’t stand it…”

“Stand what?” I was having a slow day.

“You know, to be with someone who was seeing someone else…”

“Oh” I said finally, all the pieces coming together.

“He was amazing….”

“Yes,’ I said. “He was…”

The conversation moved on to other things, but I kept thinking about what my friend said long after I got off the phone. I realize how unusual it is for men – or women for that matter – to stand the jealously of someone they care for loving another person. Even though Patrick did that for me, I wasn’t sure I could do that for him if the situation was reversed.

I feel I could love two people at once – I’ve done it, although it was hard. But I think I would be furious if my partner did the same. I know it sounds strange, because I have been with a married man, which means of course that I have accepted that the person I love is with another woman and me simultaneously. But being with a married man (or woman) is often different than one might think. In my case, my married lover always told me that he didn’t love his partner. He was just trapped because he didn’t want to leave his children. And I believed him. (Ok, now the Diaspora of female sisters can stop sighing and rolling their eyes – yes I admit I am a little slow….) In my mind I believed he only loved me; the other woman wasn’t a factor at all so it wasn’t about sharing his love. My acceptance of being with a married man is not the same as having your boyfriend or girlfriend, your husband or wife, actively loving you and another person at the same time and admitting that he or she can love two people at once.

But it floors me when I think that that this is so intolerable for me and for most people: Why are we so narrow as human beings? Why is possession so important? Why do we always have to be the only one to be loved?

I guess I am not capable of flying either.

"The FLYING Conversation" - Winnipeg, Canada

I just flew in from the Vancouver Film Festival where the film was presented (more on that to come) to Winnipeg where it is opening at the Cinemateque here. On the telephone tonight, a girlfriend of mine back in New York told me about a discussion she had recently with her boyfriend:

“….We had the flying conversation…. You know…. And we both decided we couldn’t do it….”

She was in the middle of an idea, but I was lost, so I interrupted her: “Flying?” I asked.

“Yeah,” she said, “We talked about flying and we decided it wasn’t for us.”

“Where were you flying to?” I asked confused.

“Nowhere….” Her voice was irritated.


“You know we decided we didn’t wanted to do what Patrick did for you in flying…. Both of us felt we couldn’t stand it…”

“Stand what?” I was having a slow day.

“You know, to be with someone who was seeing someone else…”

“Oh” I said finally, all the pieces coming together.

“He was amazing….”

“Yes,’ I said. “He was…”

The conversation moved on to other things, but I kept thinking about what my friend said long after I got off the phone. I realize how unusual it is for men – or women for that matter – to stand the jealously of someone they care for loving another person. Even though Patrick did that for me, I wasn’t sure I could do that for him if the situation was reversed.

I feel I could love two people at once – I’ve done it, although it was hard. But I think I would be furious if my partner did the same. I know it sounds strange, because I have been with a married man, which means of course that I have accepted that the person I love is with another woman and me simultaneously. But being with a married man (or woman) is often different than one might think. In my case, my married lover always told me that he didn’t love his partner. He was just trapped because he didn’t want to leave his children. And I believed him. (Ok, now the Diaspora of female sisters can stop sighing and rolling their eyes – yes I admit I am a little slow….) In my mind I believed he only loved me; the other woman wasn’t a factor at all so it wasn’t about sharing his love. My acceptance of being with a married man is not the same as having your boyfriend or girlfriend, your husband or wife, actively loving you and another person at the same time and admitting that he or she can love two people at once.

But it floors me when I think that that this is so intolerable for me and for most people: Why are we so narrow as human beings? Why is possession so important? Why do we always have to be the only one to be loved?

I guess I am not capable of flying either.

"The Details" Part II - Vancouver, Canada

The question is can you still stay open to life’s moments? The more you do in the world, the more plans you have, the less you are free to feel, to respond, to be spontaneous. It is something that I struggle with all the time.’ God is in the details’, they say, but suppose you are too busy to notice the details?

As I walk down the rain-splashed street in Vancouver - away from the theater where people sit watching my film - I feel a sublime rush of liberation. My mind is buoyed in that wonderful empty space that comes so rarely: I have done my job, fulfilled all obligations; there is nothing more I can do in life for the next two or so hours.

I imagine the infinite future before me: I will saunter back to my hotel and answer emails, which will be relaxing. The only thing tempering the feeling of perfection is the weight on my body: one shoulder is loaded down with my camera bag, packed with the camera that shot the film, which I used in the Lecture I gave earlier that day. On the other shoulder is my large all-purpose pocketbook, stuffed with my new still camera, writing pad, and a bright yellow umbrella. My shoulders are hurting and begging me not to carry so much. I remind myself of my mission to show audiences how easy it is to “pass-the-camera” – and how with every step I am building biceps.

I walk by a music store and think of that CD that I want to buy by VIA CON DIOS, I look in the window and am about to enter the store, when I change my mind: Better to get some work done. Keep walking, I tell myself lightly almost as if I was teasing a child. It’s great you’re relaxed but don’t go too far, keep up the tension. Still I am thinking of their music as I continue sauntering down the grey street, how nice it would be to answer emails as I listen to their songs. Or perhaps I should go shopping? I am looking in windows, trying to remember if there is anything I need to buy – oh yes a sweater, red, like the one I saw that woman wearing with the nice zipper front…

“Kind of loaded down there, aren’t you?” A lilting male voice says behind me.

I don’t quite grab the words but more the teasing quality and turn around, trying to see where the voice is coming from. “What…?” I say smiling, because my happiness is not yet controllable.

“Got a lot of stuff…” It is an older gentleman with glasses and white hair, tall and sturdy. He has an accent that I hear immediately.

“Yes, I guess so….”

I think: I was walking slowly, not rushing like a normal person. That’s probably why he noticed me. I have been caught a little off guard; he came at me from behind. I have to assess what is going on quickly, to figure out why this man is talking to me. I am not afraid, but I am wary – antennas straight up; all senses open. I look around. He is alone. Doesn’t look like a street person. He is keeping pace with me. He’ll turn off soon, I am sure.

“I’m looking for the Starbucks…” I say — which is kind of true and not true, because I‘d been vaguely considering getting a Starbucks with the free $20 card I’d discovered in my festival goody bag that morning. I had purposely put the free card in my pocketbook with uncharacteristic planning. Except up until that moment, I hadn’t decided on a coffee right now.

“Kind of ugly day…” he says, “Been raining all week since I arrived… Saturday, Sunday and yes today – it’s Monday isn’t it…?”

“Yes…” I say uncertainly, trying to remember where I am and what day of the week it is. Traveling so much makes me dizzy, makes me lose track of all markers.

Tom at Starbucks in Vancouver

He is looking ahead – I suspect he is looking for the Starbucks for me. Now I will have to buy coffee, I think, and I am not sure I want to have coffee right now after all. Then suddenly it hits me – his accent — I know where he’s from:

“You’re Scottish?” I say

“Yes I am!”

I feel a thrill – like a basketball player, nailing a hoop. This is my specialty. “Here on holiday?” I ask.

“Yes,” he says and laughs. “Well sort of…”

I am curious what he means. Perhaps he came here as a boy? Perhaps he lives here? But I am still wary.

“I have been here a week…. Just went to the aquarium. The thing I liked most was the white whale…. now that was interesting.” He pulls out a leaflet from the aquarium. I am thinking: he really is a tourist.

“The beluga white whale,” he says and shows me the picture of the whale, below which he has neatly hand-printed the words — Beluga Whale.

Perhaps I should believe that he is a tourist, I think. But it is not often you see men traveling alone, especially older men. I figure there is a wife back in the hotel or a daughter or son living here and working during the day.

“Are you here alone?” I ask. As usual, I am not shy.


“No wife…?”

He laughs – “No.”

I am trying to figure out this man. All the while I am thinking: should I invite him to have a coffee with me? I have this free card…it is nice to be able to be spontaneous…. But I am also thinking – you don’t know this man, maybe he is crazy; maybe you should go to do some work…. Then Starbucks appears:

“There it is…” he says

“Yes…” I say and decide to leap: “Do you want to have a coffee with me? I have a free card…”

“All right!” he says as natural as can be. “I got a free trip from the railroad too…”

I am not quite grabbing what he is saying now, but we are already crossing the street and entering the Starbucks on the corner. Inside, it is crowded.

“I’ll get us a seat!” He is already moving away from me.

“Ok,” I say, “how do you like your coffee?”

“Milky…” He calls out.

“Share something sweet?” I am imagining a muffin, because I know old people like sweets in the afternoon. My grandmother used to love having her coffee and Danish.

“No,” he shakes his head and makes a face, “But you get a bit for yourself.”

I leave him to get in line. There is something reassuring that he didn’t want a Danish. At least it is clear that he is not hungry and therefore homeless, I think to myself, still not sure I am doing the right thing.

I am wondering what ‘milky’ means in Scotland. Does he like it light? With half and half or milk? I want to go back and ask him, but I don’t want to lose my place in line. I am behind a Chinese Tourist who insists on buying a special Starbucks coffee cup that hasn’t got a price tag on it. The manager is called, the tourist holds firm; she wants the cup. All I want is two regular cups of coffee – Grande size – but I have to wait. I cannot see my new friend. He has disappeared in an area behind some shelves. I don’t know why, but I start to get nervous. Maybe he will leave before I return? Maybe he will think I have disappeared…?

Finally, I get my coffee – add milk to both of our cups and grab some sugars for my new friend, not knowing how he takes it. I make it around the shelves to find him sitting there. I feel a rush of relief. He has pulled out his train tickets on the tabletop and wants to show them to me. But first I ask him about sugars, did I get enough, and he pulls out a bunch of packets from his pockets:

“Always carry ‘em with me,” he smiles waving five sugar packets before me , “Never want to be caught without….I like it real sweet…”

There is something endearing about the thought of him taking sugars from all the restaurants he dined in. Something again that reminds me of my grandmother.

“See”, he says, changing the topic and pointing to one of the tickets he has laid out on the table, “I got a $50 rebate for that one from Toronto to Winnipeg – Train ran an hour late…”

There is handwriting on the ticket that says, $50. He pushes another ticket in front of me. “Now that one I got a $150 back, it was three hours late!” – he smiles pleased, then pushes yet another ticket before me, “And that one I got $350, back! It ran seven hours late into Vancouver! Ha!”

He slaps my hand, thrilled, and breaks out in a huge peal of laughter. I smile politely, still trying to understand what brought this man here alone? Why this huge cross-country trip at his age? I learn that he is retired from the railroad and when I ask how long, he bursts into a huge grin and lifts up his hands to make a guessing game of it. He shows me his five fingers two or three times. So I go for the higher number:

“Fifteen years?”

“No”, he says smiling. And does the finger thing again; this time it seems like two times five plus two fingers.

“Twelve?” I ask, skeptical of my ability to add.

“No!” he says and laughs, and starts again with the hands.

I am not getting it. “I give up” I say, disappointed.

“Ten years! Ten years ago I retired from working on the railroad!” He has enjoyed the game.

“Widowed?” I ask, returning to the nagging question in my mind.


“You never married?” It seems so incredible to me, to find a man like him from his world, at his age, not married. It is one thing for me not to marry.

“Never.” He says, smiling.

“Why not?” It doesn’t make sense.

“Ay”, he drawls with the Scottish poking through. “Some things never happen…Even when you want them to…”

I am trying to figure out how to ask more. Perhaps there was a woman he loved, who married his best friend? Perhaps she didn’t love him back? Perhaps he is gay in a world in which it is impossible…? There are many possibilities, but while I am considering a tactful way in – or at least tactful enough for me — he jumps in himself.

“Ay, I reckon it’s better to be married.” He says looking me straight in the eye.

Does he know that I am single? Does it show? I think to myself.

He continues. “You always have someone behind you, backing you. You don’t stand in the world alone. There’s someone there to discuss things with, to fight with, to run away from, go to the pub, have a pint with your mates and go back home and let her have her own way…” He laughs.

“You don’t always get what you want….” I say, “But sometimes you get what you need….

“Ay no,” he says shaking his head not getting my meaning, “Its not that that you always get what you need…”

There is a silence. It is too heavy to pursue this last thought of his. After a few moments of silence, I change tactics:

“Why this trip now?” I ask.

“Well, I’d moved back home ten years ago when I retired to take care of my mom. I lived with her till she died three months ago…

“Oh,” I say, thinking I now understand the reason for the big cross-country trip. “That’s sad….”

“No, not sad at all! She was 98….” He says. “It was a celebration… She nearly made it to a hundred!’ He is smiling, “My sister and I — we did everything for her till she died. I washed her, changed her, fed her…”

I am again remembering my grandmother, who died at ninety-nine and a half, and how my aunt and mother took care of her till the end. With this man, I imagine the whole scene in my mind: watching him carrying his mother from her bed to the bathroom and back again, day in and out. They are very close; he loved his mother more than anyone. I am moved but also relieved that the story is finally making sense. I have found my in and go for it:

“Oh that’s why you are traveling now…after her death you decided to get away…” I am feeling hopeful. If only I can find the key, then I can relax.

“Ay, no,” Shaking his head, unaware of my need to give order to his life. “I always took one big trip a year….”

“Oh…” I say disappointed that my construction has failed. I am beginning to worry about the clock, that I should be going soon.

“Yes, last year I went to South Africa…

“I’ve been there many times,” I offer, but he doesn’t seem to care.

“Yes I had friends living there in Bloemfontein, then I took the trip up the coast and then we stayed in a free cabin below Durban on the sea in Umtata…


“The year before I went to China and Mongolia. We toured all the way from Shanghai to Xian….

“Did you go in a train?” I ask. Maybe the key is trains.

“No we went by bus everywhere. Did you know that the name China came from the emperor Chi in the 17th Century…?

“No, I never knew that….” I say: How strange to learn this fact from an old Scottish man I just met in Vancouver. “Do you always travel alone?” I ask, still a bit worried.

“Yes,” He pauses and I can see in his eyes that he knows that I am thinking of loneliness. “…But you meet people… the trip to china had 10 people on it…old people like me.” He smiles. “Now I know most people would not want to spend time with old people – but it’s alright for me…” He laughs. “It was a tour…. I also did a trip around the world in 2000….”

“Wow!” I am impressed: “How long did that take?”

“Twenty-two days. First we started in Australia…. Did you know that in Melbourne they have really great Italian food – and cheap too? Then when we got to Sydney, I found the greatest Chinese restaurant – in fact a whole street of Chinese restaurants, just like there was a street in Melbourne that had Italian food. …. Then we flew to New Zealand.”

“I’ve been there too,” I interject, trying again to interest him in my life, but to no avail.

“Now in New Zealand,” he spreads his hands apart on the table and chops them down on the counter: “ I had lamb chops this big!” he laughs excitedly. “ Ay! Never seen anything like it. Now that was good!”

About now, I begin to fidget. Listening to his restaurant tour of the world is dampening my enthusiasm. I am not getting any closer to knowing the elderly Scottish man before me. I think of all the emails I should be answering back at the hotel and my mind divides: I make a list of work to be accomplished when I am sitting at my computer and simultaneously talk to old man in front of me. I ask about his family and learn that his father worked in the coalmines all his life. Now that is interesting. Of course I immediately think that he must have gotten black lung and died young. But my burst of excitement is cooled again when I find out that his father lived to the ripe old age of 86 despite having pneumoconiosis, a form of black lung.

I am wondering at my need for a good story. I am wondering if I am some sort of pariah – a real life story junkie. And just as I am thinking this, my Scottish friend tells me:

“Ay,” he says, “my father never wanted me to work in the mines like him.”

I perk up: “Why?” I ask.

“Well, you know…” He says looking me hard in the eye because everyone knows why a parent wouldn’t want a son in the mines. “I remember we used to learn our lessons on a chalk board. It was because of the war you see. But I never went to high school, just junior high. I graduated in 51’ — no 52’. Then my dad sent me to the next town to work on the railroad.”

“Did you work on the train?”

“No, not at first. I was only 15 years old so I was too young! They wouldn’t let me on the trains. I started out working in the supply shop. Then when I turned 16, they let me stoke the coal engine.” He sees the surprise in my eyes and laughs: “Oh yes, the trains were coal back then.”

“Did you ever drive a train?”

“Ay, no, it took me till I was 29 years to work me way up the ladder and drive the train. That was grand! After that, I considered going into management, but I didn’t want to sit inside all day, so I stayed driving my train route till the end, till I retired… First the trains were diesel, then electric…” He smiles: “You know the electric train works like the human body. In the body the brain sends signals to your hands to move… to pick up that camera for example…”

I have taken out my camera to take a photo of him. “May I?” I ask. He is a bit surprised, and then begins to pose.

“…. Or to take this picture…” he says smiling. Your brain has told your hand to take this picture through a series of electrical impulses….”

I am intrigued by this new thought about how my hands work. A thrill runs through me and I put down my camera and take out my notebook to write down what he has just said. Lately I have been thinking how interesting it is that our bodies work at all. I am thinking, maybe I should I invite him to my film for the evening show – but immediately worry that he will find a film about women boring….

“Like the whale,” He continues, “they have electrons sending pulses through their body…”

I have never heard this either…

Then he point to me: “Is it easier to remember things when you write them down?”

I stop for a moment to consider. It is the first question he has asked me since I met him on the street. Yes — I think, remembering how much I like taking notes. But what I say covers up my real thought: “You have a very good memory….”

“No” he says, “When I retired I took French lessons….”

“Wow,” I say and think, French lessons! This Scottish man! How amazing!

“I couldn’t never learn to speak but I could read and write.”

“But you have an incredible memory!” I say – thinking of how he rattled off all the names of the places he visited.

“No,” he says. ” For French, I had to write the words down… You see I was too old to remember a new language. If I had been younger I could have picked it up, but it was too late…” And then he says in French: “Je ne sais pas pourquoi je ne puex pas recorder rien…”

Now I get it. Finally I feel him. I have been reached.

All the while I was sitting there trying to put him in a box, to find an angle and make a neat story, when there is none. All my effort was frustrated by what I was missing: not the poor elderly man I wanted to construct, but the real person sitting in front of me — this incredibly curious mind. A man who travels every year around the world out of a desire to know; who learns French just because; who speaks to a stranger on the street in Vancouver and goes to have a coffee with her…

Alone or not alone, what does it matter? Here is a man, trying to learn and to grow, trying to understand the world for its own sake; for the sake of being alive.

And I think: This is the way I want to be: Now and till I am 70 and beyond. This is my role model.

I decide to invite him to see my film, knowing that he will say yes, knowing that he will come and even find it interesting because he is so interested in the world.

I have to hurry back to the hotel before the screening. We make arrangements to meet outside the theater 15 minutes before the show so I can walk him in for free.

And just before leaving we introduce ourselves: His name is Tom. Mine is Jennifer. As we are walking out of the Starbucks, I find a magazine catalogue from the festival stacked by the door and show him the photo and write up of my film with my name on it.

“So your famous?!” He says and laughs, shaking his head at the wonder of life. I laugh too, and we part, knowing that I will see him that night. And I do….

And as I walk away from him, I think: God is in the details’, but suppose you are too busy to notice the details – won’t you miss out on what is important in life?

"The Details" Part I - Vancouver, Canada

I am standing in the theater screening FLYING at the Vancouver Film Festival. The audience is full and we have done our introductions. I have walked up the aisle to the back and the lights are down; now it is only a matter of listening to check sound before I can escape to the anonymity outside. I hate this moment when I have to make sure everything is right. I can feel the pressure in my body rising and I recognize the flutter of something else: it is cool, tight, high pitched. Fear - I name the devil in my own mind. And there is a kind of embarrassment inside of me; after all these years I can still feel fear before showing my film to a new audience.

The trailer for the sponsors play and then the trailer for the festival. Normally I love trailers because it allows time for the stragglers to enter the theater, time for the audience to settle. But I realize the sound is too low. The temperature in my body is dropping. My film will come on too low.

I hate this: tweaking sound with an audience. Pon Chu, the lovely festival programmer, is standing next to me, unfazed. I lean over and whisper in her ear. I am pretending to be calm - she was so generous to program my six-hour film.

“We better get them to raise the sound….”

“Lets wait, maybe the film will be fine….” She whispers back serenely.

I nod. Several minutes pass with more promotion so low that I can barely hear. My head begins to roar: they will not enter properly; they will not get the impact, all is lost. I cannot stand it any more; I am trying to avoid a train wreck.

“Maybe we shouldn’t wait…?” I whisper to her again as evenly as I can.

This time she slips out to tell the projectionist. She comes back. But it is still too low. Then the house manger pops her head in. My film starts: it is the opening sound of a plane and it is almost inaudible.

“How is it now?” she mouths.

“Can you raise it?” I say.

She disappears. After an interminable time, it comes up a hair. Better, but still not loud enough. The manager pops her head in again.

“More…” I mouth, “a little higher.” Out again she leaves, minutes pass then she returns looking at me in the shadows:

“Ok.” I say,

But this is the part that really bothers me - I am not sure anymore. Have I made it too high? Perhaps I am hurting their ears now? What about the people in the front? I can’t stand the torture any longer and I leave the room. I hope I have made the right decision, but I really don’t know anymore. I just want to escape this horrible feeling.

In the lobby, Pon Chu and I agree to meet back 15 minutes before the question and answer session in three hours, then we will have dinner together and get to know each other better. She has to go back to her office.

“Do you want a ride back to the hotel?” she asks.

“Oh no, it is good for me to walk, get some air…” I say relieved to have a few moments alone.

And I am suddenly liberated, walking down the street. It is misty but not raining. I am thinking about the fear and the relief and how lovely it is not to have anything pressing on me for two hours. There is so much about my job as a filmmaker that requires me to be sure of what I think, even if others don’t agree. To fight for some unseen vision that I want against the masses of those who don’t ‘get it’. It also requires me to be a perfectionist; because to me a film can be ruined if I’m not being vigilant enough. Especially in the last few days of completion, when all I want to do is stop fighting and rest.

What amazes me is after all these years of making films is that I can still loose my center so quickly that I don’t even know what is good and what is bad, what is right and what is wrong anymore. And sometimes, I think as I happily saunter down the streets of Vancouver and gaze in the shop windows, maybe it isn’t so important….

"Asleep in a Strange Bed" - Los Angeles, CA

I am in a hotel room in a bed in the morning — half awake, half asleep. It is another strange city like all cities, but a city that I like, a city that I know. The light filtering through the curtains that are not quite dense enough is nagging me awake. I have aged to be like my mother – I can only sleep in complete darkness. I remember when I was small thinking, I will never need complete darkness like you. But I have become like her. I pull the covers over my head and go back to sleep. I dream:

I am in a mini bus with my mother and father and other family members. The bus is like something at the Sundance Film Festival. We are taking a long circuitous route to get where we are going. Somehow, because of me, we are all late to a screening. I have not given directions. I do not want to get off the bus.

There is the noise of strangers walking outside my hotel door and I drift towards consciousness. I should get up, but I don’t want to. I turn over again and pull the covers over my eyes. The word “cling” – comes up to my mind – I am clinging to my bed and I like it. It must be late but there is no clock near. I should get up. I don’t. I fall back asleep.

I am in an airport. I am sitting on a plastic chair. I will miss or have missed, or want to miss the next step. I don’t want to get up. I could be anyplace. I don’t care. Someone wants me to move, my boyfriend, but I don’t know why. I just know I am disappointing him.

I stir awake with the rushing noise of a car passing somewhere outside my room. I remember we had a fight last night on the phone, my boyfriend and I. A fight that confused me. I struggle to remember what the fight was about and can’t. The sheets are calling me – so cool on my legs, so soft, I fall back asleep. I should get up but:

I am rooted to the ground, sitting on a mountain in the woods on a stump. Everything is green and leafy. I am going to miss something but I don’t know what. I have become a tree. I cannot move. My boyfriend is angry with me. He wants me to get up, but I don’t want to.

Somehow in the dream I remember why and awake - sort of. There was a phone call last night – I am in this time zone, he is in that time zone. We are never it seems in the same time zone. We are wearing thin. It is not as it used to be. We used to be able to take the separations. I complain, I am teasing him.

Why didn’t you call me last night before you went to bed?

I hadn’t heard a word from him and I had called too late – he was asleep.

He responds: Why didn’t you call me?

I say – thinking I am teasing him, thinking I am light, thinking I just want to be close, thinking he will hear it in my voice – You should have called me because you are in the earlier zone.

He suddenly erupts: You cannot blame me for that! You should have called me!

This is not the man I met years ago. I was the one who never let him whine when we were apart, could not stand any suggestion of guilt. This is my part — to yell at him — which I have done before when I imagined he was trying to ‘guilt me” for something. We should be free, I had told him over and over.

He always used to say that he was just expressing his missing me, but I never believed him. Now I want to tell him that I get it, I understand, because I want to tell him that is how I feel right now. But as I am looking for the words – I can’t find the words miss you.

He screams louder. You are doing exactly what you used to accuse me of doing!

I know that. But I can’t find the words to explain. Instead I start laughing.

He is screaming: Look in the mirror. I can’t take this!

I continue to laugh and the more I laugh the worse it gets. I have never laughed before in this type of situation. It is a new response for me and I too am thrown off balance, but I cannot stop; I continue to laugh.

He screams again: You better look at yourself in the mirror! And then he hangs up.

This was not a dream. But it feels the same as my tossing and turning beneath the sheets this morning. I do not know why either of us behaved that way – but like my morning dream fragments we seemed locked in a script that could not be undone. Me – laughing; him - screaming. It is not like him; it is not like me. Somehow I am sure he wants me to get out of bed this morning. Somehow I am sure I should wake up. But I sink deeper under the covers and fall back asleep.

Eventually I will sit up, go to the bathroom, and make a pot of coffee in the hotel room coffee maker, using both of the two complimentary, pre-filled packs of coffee — because I like it strong. I will sit down and think about what to do.

And this is what I will think: I will call him and ask for a phone appointment. I know if we try to talk about this during his workday it will never work. I remember that when I called him last night – midnight for me – it was nine in the morning for him and he had just arrived at work. Work is always full-on for him – he is a different person when he works, intense, obsessive, arrogant, authoritative. He needs to attend to lots of problems and it makes him nervous. Was that what was behind his outburst last night? I know he will deny it.

We will set a time and we will talk. I hope he will not yell and I hope I will not yell. I hope we can work out this lifestyle that is killing us slowly, this lifestyle that is what we both wanted, this lifestyle that leaves no room for each other, this lifestyle, this lifestyle, this lifestyle… I still believe in us – we love each other enough to get angry. We love each other enough to want to make compromises. I pick up the phone and press his number: it is 10 am here, which means it is 7 pm there. It will be a better time this time.

"Meetings with Remarkable Women" Part I - Chicago, IL

First making FLYING took me around the world to meet and film other women. Now the distribution of FLYING is keeping me on the road, meeting remarkable women all the time. Only now, the conversations begin at a different starting point because they are sparked by seeing: CONFESSIONS OF A FREE WOMAN. So, if my relationships with women began quickly before, now we really get to the muck quickly. As the journey continues, I am on a plane to Los Angeles, my mind still reeling from all the new ways I have been shaken up by the last seven days spent in Chicago talking to new women – and men — as the film premiered at the Gene Siskel Film Center on State Street downtown.

First I have to say again: I have never seen audiences like in Chicago. When the lights went up, people stayed planted in their seats asking question after question until I had to almost forcibly end the session. In retrospect, I wish I could have asked more back of the audiences: Who were they? What stories from their lives did the film touch? Why did so many men show up? Don’t get me wrong – I want woman watching the film, but I also want men to see it so that what happened in Chicago can happen everywhere – a dialogue between the sexes.

I spoke with so many women and men – there are two many conversations to recount. But there are two conversations that I want to mention: At the end of one screening a tall woman with blond hair, about my age, came up to me and presented me with a book – “THE BOOK OF PLEASURE” by Carol Gillian.

“This is what you are talking about in your film and I want you to have this,” she said.

The woman’s name, I later learned, was Anita Orlikoff. I felt really moved by her gesture. She said she would be back the next days with her mother to watch the rest of the film and she’d love to know what I thought. I shyly told her I would try to look at the book but not to expect too much because my time here was so pressed. But inside of me, I felt committed to look at least some of the book before the next time I would see her.

Later that night, I began to read and I was struck by one thing the author spoke about: During adolescence, Gillian wrote, girls go through a process where they disassociate from their authentic self – often never to be reclaimed. I didn’t get very far, but the idea kept nagging at the back of my mind all day. It was one of the main motivations to make FLYING in the first place and often audiences everywhere wanted to ask me about my disassociation during the film’s question and answer sessions:

Why was it that it was only in forties that I was able to face the issue of being a girl and a woman?

Why had it taken me so long to ‘wake up’?

How is it possible, after making political films all your life, that you still didn’t consider yourself a feminist…?

As hard as it has been to answer these questions, I always try to take my time and explain the strange path I have had to navigate from the time I was a girl to womanhood. Only in my forties did I begin to understand what had happened to me – but admittedly I was still struggling to understand it all. Reading Gillian’s book made me wonder about the societal forces that had pushed me – and I learned most women — out of our authentic selves as girls.

The next day I had an interview with a journalist named Jan Lisa Huttner who started a organization, called WITISWAN (Women in the Audience Supporting Women Artists Now).

We had never met before but set a time to meet outside the theater before the show. Jan arrived in a bright pink jacket, her warm buoyant personality immediately engulfed me and put me at ease. She took me to a tea restaurant and we settled in to talk. She wanted to know about a comment I had made to her friend Bill Stamets, the lovely journalist who had interviewed me for a feature article in the Chicago Times. In the piece I had spoke about how recently when I showed the film in Romania where I was running a five day documentary course, the men and women had responded differently. Afterwards one of my female students had said to me: “Why are you surprised? As women, we have had to learn men’s language, but men have never had to learn women’s language….”

Jan brought up this comment and asked me to speak more about it. As is often the case when you are talking to someone like Jan – deep and inquisitive – I discovered new things about myself as I grappled to answer her. You see, I told her, in my struggle to survive as a girl in my family and in the world, I adopted men’s language. I knew I had to learn my father’s language – to convince him that I was capable enough to be able to leave the house. If I had acted like a girl – emotional – he would have felt that I was too weak to function away from the home. I remember distinctly being 14 years old and being conscious of having to mimic him – his tone, his body language, his breathing. It amazes to me to this day to remember just how conscious — and pragmatic – I was at such a young age of having to bury my true female self to get what I wanted from my father to survive. I knew I had to please him in male terms. And I remember even feeling a huge sadness afterwards – knowing that I was selling my soul in some way – but not feeling I had any choice. But after that moment in time, I buried it all and I adapted: I went on and continued to behave like a man. And I forgot that I had ever been any other way.

Then Jan asked me a question that I was embarrassed to try to answer – who were my female role models growing up? Sitting there in Chicago my mind went blank as it usually does when this subject comes up – because every journalist and Talk Show host asks you this question at some point. My normal response is: “I never had any female models”. My only models were men…not famous men, but men like my father, whom I idolized. It is strange — and even a bit scary — to have no memory of role models – did I raise myself out of the muck? How could that be possible?

Jan suggested I look at the film YENTEL by Barbara Streisand again – because that is the story of the film. It is the story of a girl who values male achievement so much so that she disguises herself as a boy to have the same advantage. Until one day Yentel sees a woman behaving with such lovely female qualities that begins to realize the value of her own female sex.

Jan suggested this was my story. I was a little overwhelmed. I remembered watching YENTEL but not associating it with myself – not even seeing the shift from celebrating male values to celebrating female values. I promised Jan I would watch the film again soon, and then I remembered something I had forgotten until recently. I told Jan that another Barbara Streisand film, FUNNY GIRL was my inspiration to become a filmmaker – and of course that film was about a woman. This was a memory that was buried for years until recently a journalist asked the question when did I decide to make films? — And the memory came back to me.

It was October 10th, 1968, my Aunt Shirley’s birthday, and for the occasion we were going out to the movies and dinner. I remember that my mother, gram and aunt were excited because Barbara Streisand was Jewish like us, with a big nose like many Jews, and had made it to the big screen. But these details meant nothing to me yet because I was only nine years old. I remember my mom making me wear a blue smocked dress, white gloves and black patent leather shoes with a strap with a pearl button. I hated these clothes, and normally we would have had a fight, but that night I kept quiet because of the thrill of going to the cinema. Later, I remember the feeling of sitting in the dark theater with the horse-hair seat covers tickling my bare legs. But I didn’t care; I remember the enormous emotion in me as I watched the story of Fanny Brice. I felt so much – but I don’t remember what caused the feeling. I only remember that it was so powerful that it made me say to myself that very evening: I want to make films. I want to move people that way. It’s strange, I would imagine that most young girls would have said that they wanted to become an actress like Barbara Streisand, but not me. I wanted to be the creator of emotion.

Now, thirty-eight years later, sitting with Jan – suddenly a new knowledge that I had dissociated from the whole story came back to me: FUNNY GIRL is the story of a woman who decides to have a career and to be independent. It is the story of a woman who has sexual desires, who chooses the man she will love — by herself and against everyone’s opinion. It is the story of a free woman. In fact FUNNY GIRL was the path I hoped to follow – as I said, not to be a performer, but to be a workingwoman. And all these years, I remembered seeing the film; I even remembered the decision that I wanted to make films in that dark theater at age nine. But I disassociated that Fanny Brice (Barbara Streisand) was a role model to be a workingwoman and that the story was a model for me of what I wanted to become. And like many early decisions a child makes. I do remember making a decision that day… it is only that until coming to Chicago I had forgotten why.

This is why I need to meet other women, this is why I need girlfriends – they are my mirrors to wake up to the world and to myself… I have been sleeping so long.

"Surprises" - Chicago, IL

I don’t know Chicago at all. It’s one of those ‘dark cities’ in my mind, you know somewhere up there in the Midwest, lots of snow drifts, wind and grey skies. I was heading there for the opening of FLYING at the Gene Siskel Film Center, but it was as good as going to Kansas as far as I was concerned (no offense to Kansas – but you know what I mean?). Meanwhile my colleague, Shelly was tearing her hair out because she couldn’t find me a hotel room. Apparently there was a vacuum cleaner convention that weekend – maybe not vacuum cleaners but you get my drift. She couldn’t find me one place to stay for four days in a row; I was going to have to move around at best. But worst – she couldn’t find anything for less than $400 a night! I couldn’t believe it – who would pay that much to stay in Chicago? Apparently — I learned – Chicago is a huge convention city and often is sold out like this.

Fox, Gillian Iltis, & John IltisPoor Shelly looked everywhere and even at the airport (Yuk!) but nothing. Then she began to search the burbs. I was preparing for a really painful stay, with a whole lot of driving and waiting around, when we decided to send out an email to our team in Chicago: our distributor, the head of the theater, and our publicist there, the wonderful John Iltis. One email after another came back suggesting hotels that Shelly had already tried. Doggedly Shelly kept making phone call after phone call, when suddenly there was an email from John: I think I can get you a free room at the Art Institute. And he did. Of course (having just a bit of a negative side), I started imagining a cell-like space with a tiny single bed braced to the floor and a bathroom down the hall. Something just like when I went to college. I was not in a position to refuse so I braced myself: I can handle this, it’s only a few nights and it’s free. But secretly, I was dreading the trip.

I arrived at the airport in Chicago already depressed. I had just left my boyfriend in New York. Our time in the City had only overlapped one day – him flying back from the Toronto Film Festival the night before and me flying out to Chicago that morning. He would be in New York a whole week while I was on the road in first Chicago and after LA and then – of course before I returned home — he was heading to Europe. This modern relationship was taking its toll on both of us. We had tried to squeeze the most out of our furlough and had ended up not sleeping much and me packing in the half hour before the cab showed up that morning.

Suffice it to say that as I stood at the revolving baggage pick up in Chicago – I was physically hurting. I had a headache, my back ached, and there was that hung over feeling, that was not from drinking. I found my suitcase, trudged outside, and was about to get in a taxi when I was asked if I wanted to share a cab at half price. I looked at the cab warily, this is not something I usually do, but the taxi had the right paint job and there were already people sitting in the car – and it was a good deal – so I agreed. I was about to get in the back seat, where there was already another passenger sitting, when the cabby – a squat man from Greece I would later learn — opened the front door and asked the man in the front seat — a White, balding, middle-aged corporate type with glasses – to sit in the back. He got out, smiled at me – with a look that said what the hell is going on here? He than held the door open as we changed seats and he moved into the back seat, where I got a look at the other inhabitant, a thirty something attractive Afro American woman, wearing a suit. I knew there was the convention, which had stolen my hotel room, so I figured that both people were going separately to the convention.

I hoped that I had made the right decision sharing a cab. I was in a bad mood already and it was definitely not a day for surprises as far as I was concerned. I was already irritated being squished into the front seat, trying to get out my sunglasses that were lost somewhere in the handbag cramped between my legs. As we took off onto the road, it was suddenly very hot and I was sweating profusely. I peeled off my long jacket and sweater. I was prepared for cold, maybe not snow drifts in September, but it was Chicago after all and I figured winter had already set in. However the day was glorious. It must have been somewhere in the 70’s.

From the back, the White business man sat forward and amicably asked the cabdriver:

“Been kind of cold here, I heard?”

The cabby shrugged his round shoulders and his face didn’t move. Polish, I thought from his accent. There was a dead silence in the cab. We all waited for the cabby to say something. The man in the backseat, obviously a kind of chipper personality, smiled, and pressed on again. I detected a southern twang.

“Yes – I heard it went down to 33 last night…”

The cabby looked thru the rearview mirror at him. Again nothing. Then suddenly, he said dryly: “I don’t check the temperature till it gets to 40 below.” No smile.

“Oh well…” The man grinned, stumped.

‘Where you coming from? The cabby barked.

“Tallahassee, Florida!” The man laughed.

“And you?” The cabby motioned with his head, at the woman in the back seat.

She was wearing designer glasses over a cute nose. She smiled and sat forward.
“From Utah. Salt Lake, Utah….” She said.

“When the day is as nice as this,” said the cabby. “I don’t ask questions.”

His face closed and there was another pause. Nothing else was coming. The businessman sat back. We drove on. I rolled down my window letting the glorious breeze pass over me as we drove towards the cityscape of Chicago, which looked a lot more interesting than I had expected.

After a few minutes, I heard soft whispering sounds coming from the back. My antenna felt a tickle of something. I discretely turned my head to the side to get a glimpse of the backseat where the two ‘strangers’ were cuddling and kissing seductively.

But wait a second! My mind was racing over the previous events: Why had he been sitting in the front seat and she in the back? I was not your average life observer – I was a professional — and somehow I had not seen that these two people were together. I immediately began to try to construct what was going on. I kept trying to see wedding bands – but their hands were hidden from sight. I immediately thought – affair – married people don’t behave like that and neither do boyfriend and girlfriend.

My trip suddenly had purpose. My body suddenly didn’t hurt any more. This was what I lived for — a good story. How could I find out their narrative without seeming too curious? I turned to face the back:

“So are you two here on business?” I said lightly, trying not to stare.

They both laughed. No answer.

“You must be here for the convention?” I pressed on

“What convention?” The man asked.

Ok – they didn’t know about it, but maybe they were here for another type of work? Perhaps they worked in separate branches of the same company in different States, met a few years ago at some national meeting, and that’s how it began….

“I don’t remember….I think it’s a shoe convention…?” I laughed. “All the hotels were booked. I couldn’t get a hotel…I am staying at the university….” This admission was embarrassing somehow and I wish I could take it back, but it was too late. I felt vaguely aware that they might think I am not important enough to speak to, that I was just a student.

“No we’re not here for shoes,” The woman smiled

“So what business did you come for?” I was pushing; I wanted to confirm the story I was making up for them in my head.

“We’re not here for business…” She said and they both laughed now.

“Oh,” I said.

“So, why are you here?” The woman asked me.

“I have a film opening in the city…” I was hopeful. I wanted to impress. Perhaps the film would raise their opinion of me in their minds and lead to their talking more.

“What’s it about…?” She asked.

This was it; I would get her now, I hoped. I raced to search my mind to describe a very complicated film simply, but make it sound exciting, which is always daunting for me. “It’s a documentary… about women…around the world….”

“Oh,” she said flatly and sat back in her seat, silent.

Ugh! How boring my film sounded! It was one of those moments I wished I could evaporate into thin air.

Anyhow they clearly weren’t interested in me. They began to cuddle and whisper again. I turned my head around and my eyes back to the road, not wanting to seem to pry. We drove on in silence for many minutes. Then I changed tactics.

“So how did you two meet?” I asked turning back to face their huddled bodies.

She laughed, “Now that is too long of a story…”

He looked at her, “Go on and tell the women.”

She said, “No you tell it.”

”No,” he shook his head, “You’re right, it is too long.”

Shit! I think.

“But you guys are from different cities… He’s from Florida and you’re from Utah….” I pry.

She said: “Who said I am from Utah?

“But he has a southern accent” I say. “And you don’t.”

“That’s what people say. “ She says and they laugh again. “I was born in Boston….”

This was not working. For one of the rare times in my life, my people skills were failing. I was not going to know their story. And I thought, maybe I am wrong; maybe they have a different story. As we drove up to their hotel (a very beautiful high-rise in a fancy part of town) I was filled with envy.

“How did you manage to find such a nice hotel?” I was trying not to drool.

“I don’t know…?’ The man said, “I didn’t book it.”

“Yes…” she said, her voice trailing off. Again she was not going to tell me how she had found this nice room when I was not able to do so.

For a moment — I saw myself through their eyes. A disheveled dark, dirty haired woman wearing a winter coat, pale with no make-up, asking a lot of questions. In comparison with her – this beautiful, intelligent looking black woman, now getting out of the taxi, wearing a nice suite, gold jewelry — and I noticed suddenly - very big breasts. The man was now also standing outside the cab, a non-descript middle-aged white man, in a plain, man-tailored shirt rolled to the cuffs, and dark slacks. He was paying the cab driver.

She was so much more beautiful than him — I now saw. I imagined them having sex – I was sure they had fun but what did she see in this balding man? I had so many questions I wanted to ask them both – but more her. What had driven her to take this risk?

My mind flitted over the various possibilities again – perhaps it was an affair and they both had marriage partners back home that they hadn’t told, or perhaps they were girlfriend and boyfriend for real, or perhaps she was a high priced hooker – like the ones I’d read about but never met. But no matter what it was, for one of the rare times in my life, I was not going to know.

I was left sitting in the cab, feeling my impoverished artist state. We were the same age after all – but clearly they had life figured out better than me. They were corporate types and these were the perks. At that moment, it was clear to both them — and I — just which one of us had won the game of life. The man turned to smile and wave at me as he took hold of the woman’s hand. I waved back from the cab window. The cabby got back in, and I watched as they walked into their gleaming, high-rise hotel with a bellboy pulling their bags behind them. Yes, I had to admit my envy, not just of their weekend residence, but of the pleasure they were about to have. As we drove off, the vision of my prison-like student resident in some horrible part of town loomed in my mind.

We turned on Michigan Avenue and drove through what they call their ‘Miracle Mile’ – blocks of high end chain stores in all their glorious excess. The streets were teaming with shoppers and tourists and the architecture shone in the beautiful Indian summer light. We crossed the river, which snakes through the city and the cab pulled over.

“This is it,” he said.

“This?” I asked.

“Yes,” he said unsmiling.

I got out, thinking, Ok, great location. I went inside and immediately discovered that my name was not at the security desk. I took a deep breath, not really surprised, already thinking how I could turn around and fly back to New York to spend the weekend with my boyfriend in bed, like the couple I had just left. It wasn’t too late! I was sent up to the back office, where the woman at the desk also hadn’t heard of me. I sighed. She picked up the phone and called her boss – Oh, she said, oh, and my name was suddenly found. I was given a key — 2602. High, I thought – I hate high, my ears pop. I am a low to the ground kind of person. If it’s awful I can still go home, I promised myself. The couple had inspired me.

View from PenthouseI went back to security, showed them my key and was allowed to go to the elevator, a dismal affair lined with padded quilts used when people are moving in furniture. It was the time of year when students were coming back. Of course, four other students squeezed in the tiny elevator with me on the way up – so it took some twenty minutes before I emerged on the 26th floor. The hallway was dark and covered with scuffmarks; it looked like it hadn’t been painted in several years. I was dreading opening the door to my room, but I slid the key in and entered. Before me was a huge penthouse apartment with a terrace overlooking the river: Two bedrooms, a full kitchen with dining room and a living room and two baths. For a moment I thought they’d made a mistake, but then I realized they probably saved this place for visiting professors and special people. Thanks to John Iltus, I was suddenly in the special people category! And as small as it may sound – I though of my driving companions and laughed. I bet they wished they had a penthouse apartment like this! Hah – Sometimes artist win out! I imagine the couple in a simple hotel room – and, yes, this was so much better!

I took a nap to calm my nerves. Despite the beautiful place I was still anxious and longing for home and my boyfriend. When I woke up I got ready to go over to the Siskel Film Center for FLYING’s opening night where there would be a reception and a question and answer session after the film. The theater was only a few blocks away, so I road down the elevator, said goodbye to the security guard, and stepped onto the now night street lit up by streetlights. There were loads of people passing by and the night was still warm. A block away I walked by the river, banked on both sides by tall skyscrapers reflecting their lights in the water. Chugging up and down the river lane were ferryboats filled with diners and tourists. Everything gleamed bright like jewels in the September Chicago night. I was taken off guard by the beauty of this city that I had never known before.

Fox during Q&A at the Gene SiskelThe theater itself was gorgeous, laid out in very modern style with a bar that served drinks as well as popcorn. There was a chatter of excitement as the house filled up and the lights went down. The projection was state of the art. But nothing caught me off balance more than the quality of attention from the audience when I walked back into the room at the end of the first screening that evening. When the lights came up, nobody got up from their seats, nobody seemed to breath. We just stood there staring at each other for several seconds. Then I smiled and everyone burst out laughing. I started answering questions and something really strange happened: the questions kept coming one after another – and nobody moved – after 15 minutes, after 20 minutes, after 30 minutes. The entire audience just sat there discussing the film and the issues of gender.

And you know what they wanted to know most about: my love stories. They asked questions about my affair with a married man; they asked questions about it being a interracial relationship; they asked questions about Patrick. They wanted to know – as I had wanted to know about the man and woman in the car – how and why I had come to break the traditional conventions of female sexuality. And I was left with that age old feeling – that always hits you beside the head no matter how much you know it – how similar we all are as human beings. Every person wants to know about love and sex; everyone wants to know a secret; everyone likes a good story. I was also reminded of how I had made a decision to come out of the closet with my life as a woman. I had decided to talk about my affair with a married man, my sex life, and my decision not to be monogamous during that period of my life. But not everyone was ready for that level of honesty. Not everyone wanted to live without secrets. Not everyone could.

Finally, about 50 minutes later I had to end the talk, because the theater was waiting to serve a wine and cheese reception. So finally, we all filed out to the lobby and again, everyone stayed to talk to each other and to me for another hour. I was moved and touched by the quality of dialogue and engagement. FLYING always generates a lot of discussion, but this audience was extraordinary. The next days continued again in the same manner, one screening after another, the longest and deepest questions and answer sessions I have heard so far. I met new people and had new conversations. I wandered the city and discovered its beauty – a beauty I had never before considered. Chicago made me re-evaluate my pre-conceptions. And I kept thinking back to the man and woman in their hotel room, hoping for the best and fearing for the worst. You just never know what is going to happen or what surprises life has in store for you or what secrets are hidden everywhere, right under your nose.

"Letter from the Front" - Los Angeles, CA

Okay, it is eight o’clock at night. I am sitting outside the DAY GLOW Sushi Restaurant on Montana Avenue in Los Angeles…. I am eating tuna sashimi, drinking miso soup and typing on my Mac laptop. Across the street is the Aero Theater. On the Marquee, in big letters it says “FLYING: CONFESSIONS OF A FREE WOMAN”, Wednesday Night at 7:30pm. It is Wednesday Night, it is past 7:30 pm, and inside that building sit a crowd of people staring at a large screen watching my film, meanwhile I watch the building from outside, like a lioness, jealous, pacing, protective, wondering how they are receiving my story.

In two hours I will return inside, stride to the front of the stage and find out what has happened. In the meantime, I am in self-imposed exile. It is one of the ironies of being a filmmaker, that I cannot watch my film once it is completed. To look at it is to writhe in agony: I hate every word, I hate every image: “STUPID! STUPID! STUPID!” I think and imagine myself sinking through the floor of the cinema into the dark earth, propelled to the center of the planet, to some molten hell that reads “assholes only.” But these feelings are not new to me. When I made my first film in the eighties, “BEIRUT: THE LAST HOME MOVIE” and had no experience, I forced myself into a seat in the theater, festival after festival, thinking that I should, I must. And after each screening, I would make it through the inevitable question and answer session and then escape to my hotel room where I would burst into tears. Not a few light, ‘spring rain’, tears. No! Big torrential ‘monsoon tears’, that lasted more than an hour and left me pale and shaking, barely able to speak. Tears that scared the hell out of my then Italian boyfriend, accompanying me on what he thought would be a “fun, cool, movie tour!” (No surprise that relationship didn’t last!)

…And “BEIRUT” was a film that won every award in the book, including Sundance Film Festival and was put on many critics ten best lists, so it was not that the audience booed or the press was bad. It is not about what the outside world thinks. Even then, in my twenties, I knew that. It has something to do with what I call “the blood on the wall” effect. All of that emotion that can never be expressed along the way of making the film: the years of fourteen hour, seven days a week labor; the vacations you don’t take, the birthday parties you miss, the friends you don’t have time for; the meetings with smiling money people who inevitably apologize, politely, ‘it will never work’, and walk away; the looks of friends, family, and lovers who eyes say, ‘Why? Why do you have to do this?’; the fear that eats at you, calling your name, saying, ‘maybe they are all right, give up you fool!’ All of those moments when there is not time to scream or cry because it would be too dangerous, it would not get you where you want to go, or worse, it might stop you in the path. When the film is finished, all of that emotion gets unplugged in a torrential downpour. And then there is the secret part we never admit to anyone, not even ourselves sometimes: the film never – and I mean never – stands up to your own original vision of what it could be. I always know what I failed at achieving; I always know the story I imagined that the audience will never see or even miss. And yes, finally I have to grieve that child that will never be born; that child that by necessity had to be abandoned along the roadside so at least its twin could survive….

So, after a while I learned. Don’t watch your own film. And slowly I found out that other filmmakers couldn’t watch their films either – and at least I felt normal. A year or two after the film is finished; you can look at it, but not right away. That was 20 years ago. Now I don’t even try. Now I am seasoned; I am an old timer. I do a quick introduction and slip out of the room into the dark night once the movie starts. I know how to grieve. I accept it. And for two hours or as long as the screening lasts, I am free.

Tonight, I watch the theater from a safe distance behind my chopsticks and seaweed salad. Already across the street, a man climbs a ladder, leaning up against the marquis and begins to remove the letters, one by one, “F” comes down and then the “L” and the “Y” and on…. They will put the marquis up again next week because FLYING will play again the next two consecutive Wednesdays and afterwards, two weekends, one at the Aero Theater and one at the famous Egyptian Theater on Hollywood Boulevard. This month I will commute back and forth to LA to support the screenings. But right now I am waiting for its first test in this city.

I listen to the people at the table next to me, a couple who are in the film business. Words like “ camera”, “Grip”; “It’s gotten worst since Time Warner…”; “He’s smart and so creative…”; “I watched that footage….”: “She got trashed and was being the biggest brat…” float by me but I can’t grab on to anything substantial. I am a big ease dropper. I love listening to people talk and making up stories about them, their families, what’s going on in their relationship, their future happiness or divorce. But tonight I don’t hear anything interesting that I can fantasize about. I am a fisherman, with nothing biting except for the kind of stuff you have to throw back like eels: “We don’t have a release from him, he has to see it…” “Well obviously he doesn’t want the sex stuff in….” I am bored with their conversation and feel they are failing me. I came to have sushi to get away from my business and it has followed me here. I wondered if this is life in Los Angeles? Finally the couple gets up and leaves, her jumping on a bike, him walking besides her talking about “digitizing footage”. I am happy for the silence, to go back to my own musing.

Since I last wrote I have been back on the road for two weeks, only sleeping home in my bed in NYC some 4 days before taking off to Chicago to do press for the opening of FLYING there next week, then flying to Denver to drive to Telluride for the film festival there for four days, driving back to Denver, and hopping on a plane for LA yesterday. I arrived early last night, tired and cranky. And admittedly a little scared: new city, alone, yes - female. To top it off, I booked a new cheap car rental that promised to have a pick up bus circulating the airport and after one hour waiting at the curb, nothing passed. Finally I call the rental car office and the manager says he’ll come. Fat Chance! I think. I am ready to board a bus to Avis and pay, when surprising he shows up five minutes later in a black gleaming oversized SUV. He is wearing dark sunglasses, a black suit and tie, and has a face that looks like it’s been through a war or a fire or belongs to an extra in a Sylvester Stallone movie, playing the part of the Bodyguard for the mob. I climb in the cab with him and we take off. This must be LA, I think. During the ride he is smile-less and silent, except to say that his rental company wants to expand over the USA. I think this is a good sign; they must be concerned about customer service. I begin to relax; everything will be fine.

When we arrive at the car rental place, there are no other customers in line for three agents who sit gossiping behind their counters. My check-in agent – about 20 years old — has food in his teeth. I don’t think he has ever done this before. I ask him to change the rental from a midsize to a compact to save money and he fidgets in his chair and frowns; he calls over his manager – an overweight man, with a flat round face, in his forties — who shrugs carelessly and whispers something in the boy’s ear, which makes the boy laugh and his eyes flit to my face. Perhaps they have not gotten the Bodyguard’s message that the company wants to expand? I begin to fantasize what the Bodyguard should do to these two — except he is nowhere in sight. Thirty minutes pass with the two men giggling back and forth trying to make this new fangled machine in front of them – a computer – change my reservation. Finally, I have the key in my hands. I have made it. I gather my luggage and drag it out to my car, which is gleaming white, and new looking, I sigh with relief, already imagining arriving at my hotel room and laying down on a perfectly made bed, while I look out at the ocean. Instead, I open the front door and am confronted by a large brown stain running down the seat upholstery. I gaze around the interior – the passenger seat also has dark brown stain on it. I open the back door and the two seats are the same. It looks like someone has urinated on every corner. “Shit!” I think.

I gather up my entire luggage again, sweating, and cart it back inside and go back up to the agent.

“Come look at the car,” I say.
“What do you want me to do?” He asks.
“Come outside and look!”

His eyes skirt around the empty room, hoping for some escape from leaving the building with me, but there is absolutely nothing to keep him. He shrugs and finally gets up from his chair to follow. I show him the stains and then together we go from car to car to find a clean one. To my shock, every single one has dark brown stains on the seats.

“What do you want me to do?” the boy-agent asks again.
“I want to see your manager!” I say.

So now the manager comes out and says blank faced:

“All our cars are like that…. What do you want me to do?”
I say: “I have been renting cars for 25 years and I have never seen rental cars like these.”
“Well” he says, shrugging again, “What do you want me to do?”

What do you want me to do?! I am about to start screaming. I can’t believe my ears.
I expect this attitude in other countries, not because I am a flag-waving American, but because other countries don’t have the competition we have here. Isn’t: “Take care of the customer or die!” an American motto? The manager should be apologizing and walking backwards to remedy the situation. He should immediately bump me up to a bigger car, but clearly this manager has not read the rulebook on customer service. He is staring at me with an empty look on his face. I control my voice as best I can:

“Do something!” I say, “I am not taking a car like this.”
He shrugs again, grabs the young agent by the arm – and says, “Okay we’ll look in the back… but I am telling you: all our cars are like that….”

I stand on the pavement fuming, trying not to fume, which only makes me fume more. I fantasize my revenge: this company is going to go out of business and the man in front of me will soon be without a job, sitting in his living room in his undershirt all day watching TV. Perhaps there is one thing I have not explained, there is an effect on the human brain of traveling as much as I do. Maybe it is obvious, but it often even catches me off guard. It has something to do with the number of lines you stand in, the number of times you have to take off your shoes and put them back on, the number of places you have to let some stranger rub their hands up and down your body for a search, the number of flights your plane is delayed or canceled. The number of hours spent being jostled and prodded and being told to buckle your seat belt, turn off your cell phone, take your bag off the floor, put you bag on the floor, and pay $3 for a bag of pretzels on a $300 dollar flight. And at the end of it all – just when you think you have picked up your luggage and are ‘free at last’ — you have to find another two dollars somewhere in the bottom of your bag to get a luggage cart!

I call it the rage effect: You start out calm and collected, then slowly this evil sludge starts boiling in your veins and inevitably gets mixed up with jet lag because time zones have a way of changing everywhere you go. And all you want is for everything to go smoothly – it never does or rarely does so you end up trying to control the steam fuming out of your nostrils half the time. Or swallowing the crazy things you want to yell at the Security Guard when he sees you are traveling alone and puts you in the line for the extra special double security check, which takes another half hour and causes the acid to rise in your stomach because he doesn’t care if you miss your plane, that is not his problem.

Finally, as I fantasize about taking out a machine gun, the manager drives up with a slightly better car – only one big stain on the rear seat. “Okay” I say, “I’ll take it but we have to write it down on the check-out form.” I go back inside anyway to do all new paperwork for the new car and of course the kid-agent doesn’t mark the stain and I have to make him redo the paperwork twice….

Enough said. I am finally on the road. I open the window let the mild Los Angeles breeze smelling faintly of the sea hit my face. I head for Santa Monica to a small motel I always stay at called the Bayside Inn – or used to stay at because I haven’t been in LA in five years. I turn on the radio and begin to hum a bit with some sixties song from childhood. When suddenly I realize that all my landmarks have changed. They must have built some buildings since I was last here! The empty grasslands along Pacific Highway that used to be there when I drove this route before are gone. But wait, I am not on Pacific Highway! I am lost. I am really pissed off now because the midsize car that I turned down to save money had a GPS, and this little midget car does not. Have you ever tried to stop and ask directions in LA? No one drives with their windows rolled down. No one looks right or left. Dare I say it? People in vehicles do not seem friendly here. While it was daylight when I arrived, with plenty of time to spare to drive to my hotel, after my two-hour car rental ordeal it is now nighttime and frankly, that ‘women alone in a rental car in a strange city’ feeling has kicked in. I hate it, but there it is. Have I said this before? I HATE FEELING THIS WAY! I HATE FEELING LIKE A PANSY GIRL!

Okay, I calm down. I don’t stop to ask. I keep driving. And after a lot of wrong turns I make it to the motel, which I love because it is relatively cheap and right on the beach. All the rooms are motel style opening to the outside. They remind me of the sixties motels I stayed in with my parents on road trips as a child. I check in and finally have my key. I am standing on the balcony above the street and this short older man walks by and starts calling up comments – “Hey want to fuck?” I can be up in a jiffy!” I don’t even have the energy to give him the finger; I am not feeling that strong. I glare at him and continue giggling the door to my new motel room exposed to the street, hoping he doesn’t remember my room number later to return and pound on my door (don’t laugh – this has really happened to me….).

Meanwhile, the key won’t turn in the lock. I mean it really won’t turn. I see the man on the street stop and stare at me with a huge grin. “Want me to come up and help you now baby?” He calls to me, his voice running with butter. My heart is pounding. Finally I look at him and yell: “No, I can do it myself!” I hear him laugh. I rush downstairs back to the front desk; get the manger who has a bad leg to climb up the balcony to try to open my room door. He gives me that eyes rolling look, which says – lady you know when I get up there the key will work. And I pray that I have not been the hysterical woman I fear I seem like. I begin to sweat. Thankfully, I am vindicated: he too is unable to make the key work. Yippee, I think, you see! He calls the senior manager, who finally comes and announces that the door is jammed. But it is the only room they have left. I have to wait while they get a locksmith to fix the door. Yes, I have the, “Travel Blues” …

Needless to say everything is repaired, I get into my new “home for three nights” and collapse. Now it is the next day and I have nothing to complain about. Right now I am just trying to pass the time, drinking my sake, while across the street people I’ve never met before watch FLYING, the film that used up 5 years of my life….

It is time to go back in the theater and see what magic has occurred – or not. I pay my bill and cross the street. In Los Angeles there is this wonderful law that if you walk in the crosswalk the cars have to stop when you step off the curb, so I step off the curb and a red Mercedes comes to a halt immediately just for me. What power! I feel important as I walk across the pavement. I slip into the theater, and pick up my little camera that I shot the film with to show the audience. I enter through the back door into the darkness as the credits roll. There is a big round of applause. To my relief I can see that the theater is still full. There is always the filmmaker’s nightmare: everyone has left, while you were eating sushi.

I walk down in the blackness and stand by the stage. As the lights come up, everyone claps again. I have turned on my camera to film them – and the audience laughs when notice that the film has continued. A lively discussion ensues and to my astonishment, people stay to talk for more than an hour. At this moment it is all worth it: the bad travels, the car rental man, the changing city, the key that didn’t work – even the guy who whistled at me last night and made me afraid. Here in this room, he becomes a story to illustrate the female life we are all living – even in 2007 in Los Angeles, California. He illustrates my fear at age 47, a fear I couldn’t admit when I was younger, because it would have crippled me and I never would have left the house. A fear, I explain, which could only be acknowledged now by making a film about what its like to be a woman today. I notice heads nodding around the room. One woman shouts out, “Amen!” Another woman calls, “YEA!” The audience understands; their lives too have been vindicated. I feel myself finally relax. This is the reason I have made the film.