Archive for January 2010

Support Independent Filmmaking!

Come to a preview screening/potluck dinner/discussion/fundraiser for independent mom filmmaker Deirdre Fishel, who is raising funds to complete her documentary, Sperm Donor X. Donations gratefully accepted, but not required; come for the movie, stay for the discussion!

Here is Deirdre’s story:

I began filming Sperm Donor X at 40, when I found myself at a precipice. I wanted to at least try to have a biological child yet doing it alone with donor sperm felt bizarre and terrifying.

I had no idea how my story would end and I was interested in finding other diverse women facing the same turning point. I filmed myself and three other women for two years, then stopped because I wasn’t sure I wanted to put out such a personal film. But I started again because not a day goes by that I don’t look at my kids and feel grateful that I made this choice. It’s almost painful to think what I would have missed if I hadn’t.

Every month I meet smart, talented, beautiful women in their thirties and early forties who want children and yet are so afraid of doing it alone. Some see it as a personal failure. But the truth is we’re well into a huge cultural shift, with the numbers of singles skyrocketing and more and more people getting into their primary relationships later in life.

My fervent wish with this documentary is to normalize a process that felt bizarre and foreign to me and to show that there are so many ways to be a family. Women having kids alone with donor sperm is just one of them and it’s okay.

Sperm Donor X is a fully edited 54 minute film. But without the finishing funds to do a sound mix, color correct, and license the archival footage it won’t get out into the world. Please help us by giving what you can. Many thanks.

You can see a trailer of the film here.

Saturday February 6, 6:30 – 9:30 PM, Oakland, CA

Contact me or Literary Mama’s CNF editor, Susan Ito, for address; write to LMnonfiction (at) literarymama (dot) com and please put “Sperm Donor X” in the subject line.

Double Feature

One of the most memorable post-kid dates for Tony and me came sometime around Ben’s first birthday. We went out to a movie (American Splendor) and then, realizing the night was still young and Ben wouldn’t need to nurse again for a while, we went to another (The Secret Lives of Dentists, which I wrote about much later). They are both good movies, but it didn’t even matter; what mattered was that we were free enough to do something extra, something spontaneous. It felt great.

Since then, of course, we’ve been getting out a little bit more regularly. I don’t feel so movie-deprived (the list over there in the sidebar is growing nicely), but the double feature is still a very rare treat. I wasn’t expecting one this weekend, after the 6 PM show of Avatar, but leaving the movie theater at 9 and knowing, since the kids were on a sleepover, that we wouldn’t have to get up early in the morning, we circled back to the ticket counter and checked the listings. 10 PM, Sherlock Holmes. Perfect.

Usually I have a lot to say (or write) about movies, but this pair took it all out of me! They are equally gorgeous; the watery blues and greens of Avatar‘s Pandora are getting all the press, but that actually felt more familiar to me (maybe because I am a frequent aquarium visitor?) than the foggy steampunk world of Sherlock Holmes’ London, and I thought both were innovative and beautiful (the closing credits of Sherlock Holmes are the best credit sequence I’ve seen in years). They are equally, unnecessarily long; I took a little nap during Avatar because I was bored, and another little nap during Sherlock because I was up past my bedtime, and I found myself editing each in my head.

As for the writing, well, there’s really nothing much to say about Avatar‘s script, is there? Though I do find myself wanting to make the distinction here between the story — fine, as far as it goes, though we’ve seen it before (“Dances with Smurfs,” scoffs a friend); I have no problem with new contexts for old stories — and the actual script, which is so full of tired lines it’s a wonder the actors could say them without laughing (“Bring the pain,” indeed). Meanwhile, Sherlock Holmes doesn‘t rely on any one story for its script, in favor of the more sequel-friendly overview, which felt like a bit of a loss, even for someone like me who hasn’t absorbed all the stories. But watching Robert Downey, Jr. and Jude Law banter and flirt is so pleasurable, I’m ok with the filmmakers setting this one up for a franchise.

Finally, Sigourney Weaver, welcome back from your roles in Baby Mama (meh) and Infamous (loved); to me, you belong in space, and seeing you channel Ellen Ripley and Dian Fossey was one of my favorite aspects of Avatar.

image source

Me on TV!

In case you missed it, here’s the clip of my recent segment on View from the Bay:

The Day I Didn’t Meet Florence Henderson

So I was on television today, and I have to say it was a lot of fun, though it all got off to kind of an inauspicious start. I arrived at the studio promptly at 2:20, as requested, accompanied by my supportive friend, only to find I wasn’t on the security guard’s List. I wasn’t listed under my name, or my website, or my segment name. The security guard at the desk called the producer while my friend and I watched the 4 televisions in the lobby, hoping we wouldn’t be there long enough to watch the show on which I was scheduled to appear. Time passed. I began cracking jokes about my life on the D-list. Guests arrived and were ushered in through the locked door by a production assistant with a walkie-talkie and an ear piece, and I began to wonder if I should sneak in with another group of guests.

2:30 came and went. I checked in again with the security guard, who had forgotten my name. I called and left a message for the segment producer, knowing he was likely in the studio, far from his office. I overheard the security guard say to someone, “Oh, that person must have slipped in while I was distracted.” Um, security guard? I think it’s your job not to be distracted! But that’s okay, there’s no reason anybody would ever want to slip unnoticed in to a television studio. I mean, I did, but I wasn’t planning to hijack the news like the other guy probably was.

Eventually I got in. The producer was “looking all over” for me – except, you know, in the locked lobby. I was given a quick tour of the stage, shown where I would sit (grateful that I wouldn’t be sitting between the two hosts, like a friend was during her TV gig, who then felt like she was watching a tennis match, unsure where to look). They took my pile of books, concerned that they might put them in the wrong order. “It’s ok if they get mixed up, ” I said, “I can talk about them in any order.” The producer and stage manager looked at me, amazed. I can walk and chew gum, too, but I didn’t offer to do that on the show.

The green room wasn’t green, but mostly my friend and I hung out in the make-up room (thank you, kind make-up person, who did such a nice job of making me look like a better version of me!), chatting with Amy Tiemann and Jamie Woolf (who were on the show talking about their new project) and watching Florence Henderson talk about her new stage show and the tell-all books the Brady kids have written (and no, she never had an affair with Greg). At this point, understand, I wasn’t yet sure I would actually appear on the show, because although I was listed on the show’s website yesterday, I wasn’t on the security guard’s list, nor the producer’s list, and while it was all kind of pleasant to hang out, I was going to be a little sad if I’d prepped and rescheduled the day and bought a new dress only to be asked to go home (well, I wouldn’t really mind too much about the dress).

At 3:20, the production assistant came and said, “OK, you’re on the schedule for 3:30!” So I had a moment to consider getting nervous but seemed to be done with that, and then spent some time cooling my heels (literally! it was freezing) in the back stage area while the stage manager tried to figure out how to clip the microphone onto me (my TV-veteran friends, having given me so much great advice about how to dress and sit, didn’t mention microphone-friendly clothes, but there’s only so much you can do, right?). It involved quantities of tape and me holding the device and trying not to turn it off until I got settled on my stool. I remembered not to cross my legs (thank you, Vicki), to look at the hosts, not the camera (thank you, Ericka, Sophia and Sybil), and I remembered what I wanted to say. That seemed the least of my worries, really, especially once I met the hosts, who could probably get rocks to say interesting things. They are very, very good at their jobs.

And then, four and a half minutes after it started, the segment was all over, and while I could have said lots (and lots!) more about each of these terrific picture books, at least I got to say one good thing about each of them. And then, at the production assistant’s urging, I rummaged through the basket of green room snacks (Goldfish! Lorna Doones! Chocolates!) to bring treats home to my boys. I didn’t meet Florence Henderson, but still: a pretty good afternoon.

Oh, and don’t forget to check out the picture books, because they are lovely, and visit Literary Mama for new reading lists every month!

Fantastic Mr. Fox: The Sequel

At lunch today, Eli started talking about the differences between Roald Dahl’s Fantastic Mr. Fox and Wes Anderson’s film version. We’ve only seen the movie once, but Ben has been reading the book to Eli in the car, and the conversation about the two different versions of the story shows no sign of abating. So Eli announced he wanted to write a sequel to the book, one that would come to a more exciting conclusion than Roald Dahl’s. I offered to type it up for him, not knowing that I have been harboring a budding Gertrude Stein, someone who will write the same sentence over and over and just when you think you know how the paragraph is going to end — bam! — surprises you with a new detail.

Or maybe it’s just that while I was typing, he was running circles around the living room. Anyway, here it is:

Once upon a time, there were three farmers. Their names were Bunce, Boggis and Bean. They were trying to catch a fox, but he was too clever. So they were waiting at the fox’s hole so when the fox came out, they could shoot him. But the fox was too clever. Bunce was a geese and duck man. Boggis was a chicken man. Bean was a turkey and apple man. Let’s go back to the story. So, each night Fantastic Mr. Fox would say, “What should it be now, dear? chickens from Boggis, ducks and geese from Bunce, turkey or apple from Bean?” And then she would say, “A turkey from Bean, or, a chicken from Boggis, or, a geese from Bunce.” So after she said what she wanted, Mr. Fox would go out of his hole, sniff the air, and go to fetch what she wanted. The farmers did not like things getting stealed from them, so each night, they’d go down to the hole with their shotgun and wait. But the fox was too clever for that! So each night he would look around or sniff around and then he would go to whatever Mrs. Fox wanted and help himself. Then he would come back and get dinner ready and then they would eat dinner. Then they would go to sleep, wake up, Fantastic Mr. Fox would say, “What should it be now, dear? A chicken from Boggis, a geese or duck from Bunce, or some cider or turkey from Bean?” Then Mrs. Fox would say whatever she wanted and then Fantastic Mr. Fox would go out of his hole and help himself. The farmers had a bad idea. They would go in front of their farms, waiting for the fox. But then the fox went into the back door and they saw the fox go into the back door and they hid their gun in the back door and then Fantastic Mr. Fox would go into the front door and help himself. The farmers did not like that so they tried going back to his hole with their shotguns. And then it turned dark and Fantastic Mr. Fox said, “What would you like, dear?” And Mrs Fox would tell whatever she would like. And Mr Fox would dig a tunnel to solve the problem, a pretty big tunnel and then come out, do you know why? because if he came out the regular way he might get shot, so he dug a little tunnel where the farmers aren’t. So he would come up, and help himself. And the farmers saw his tunnel so they moved to that tunnel. He would come back out the regular tunnel and then fix up dinner and after dinner they would go to sleep. Then after they went to sleep, morning would come, so they would wake up. Fantastic Mr. Fox would say, “What should it be now, darling?” So Mrs. Fox would say whatever she wanted and then Mr. Fox would help himself. Then he would come back, fix up breakfast, eat it, have a little rest, then go get lunch. After lunch, the one fox would have a little play, then dinner arrived. Mr. Fox would say, “What should I get? A chicken from Boggis, a duck or geese from Bunce, or a turkey or jar of cider from Bean?” Mrs Fox would say what she wanted and then they would fix up dinner, go to sleep, do another day, next day they would wake up, get breakfast, eat breakfast. The little fox would have a play, get lunch, the little fox would have some play, then dinner arrived. They would eat dinner, another day passed, they would wake up, have breakfast. The little fox would have some play, eat lunch, the little fox would have some play, eat dinner, another day. [“It’s a long chapter,” noted Eli, “to get you into the story. You might not keep reading if it was just, “Once upon a time there were 3 farmers. Next chapter.” Fair enough.]

Next Chapter
They would get breakfast. The little fox would have some play, then lunch arrived. After lunch, the little fox would have some more play, dinner arrived. Eat dinner, go to sleep, another day passes.

Another Chapter, Chapter 3
They would wake up, get breakfast, the little fox would have some play, then lunch arrived. They would eat lunch, the little fox would have some playtime, then dinner arrived. They would eat dinner, another day passes. Wake up, eat breakfast, the little fox would have some play, then lunch arrived. They would eat lunch, the little fox would have some more play while Fantastic Mr. Fox would read the newspaper while Mrs. Fox would clean dishes.

Chapter 4
Dinner arrived! They would eat dinner, go to sleep, another day would pass. They would wake up, they would get breakfast, eat breakfast, the little fox would have some play, then lunch arrived. They would eat lunch, the little fox would have some play, then dinner arrived.

Chapter 5
They would wake up, get breakfast, eat breakfast, the little fox would have some playtime, then lunch arrived. They would eat lunch, the little fox would play while Fantastic Mr. Fox would read the newspaper and Mrs. Fox cleaned dishes. Then Fantastic Mr. Fox would fetch dinner, then they ate dinner, the little fox would have ten minutes of playtime and go to sleep. Another day passes.

Chapter 6
So they would wake up, get breakfast, the little fox would have some playtime, Fantastic Mr. Fox would get lunch, the little fox would have some playtime.

Chapter 7

To be continued…

Mama at the Movies: Fantastic Mr. Fox

One of the sweet highlights of our Christmas vacation was our first-ever family movie outing, which provided fodder for my newest column at Literary Mama. Here’s an excerpt:

We’ve been looking for Ben’s first movie theater-movie for years. It had to be fairly quiet: no big explosions, no loud soundtrack (though we would bring ear plugs to protect against overzealous projectionists.) It had to be a gentle story: no heightened drama, no second act inflated by chase scenes. I could do without a lot of violence, car crashes or gun play (which make a surprising number of appearances even in G-rated kids’ movies) and a well-written movie that didn’t traffic in stereotypes would be welcome, though mostly I just wanted something that would make Ben laugh.

And so we found it, a movie about a fellow who makes a living as a thief until one day, while he is imprisoned for his crimes, he learns his wife is pregnant and he decides to go legit, writing a little-read column for the local newspaper. He settles into a modest life with his wife, a landscape painter, and his quirky son, a boy who embarrasses his father because he wears a bath towel as a cape and tucks his socks into his pants. When the boy’s cousin comes for an extended visit, the father isn’t ashamed to say that he prefers his socially-adept, athletic nephew to his son. But the quiet life bores him and he is tempted back into his life of crime, stealing from his neighbors, deceiving his wife, and ultimately putting his entire community at risk.


Fantastic Mr. Fox was perfect for us; ever since we saw it, the boys have been quoting lines, working on their whistling (to mimic Mr. Fox’s trademark), we even made the cookies. Click on over to Literary Mama to read more.

9 for ’09

I didn’t manage 9 categories, but here are my top 9’s in 6 (9 upside-down) categories for 2009:

Memorable Meals

Eli’s first meat, a meatball at the Pasta Pomodoro in San Rafael, of all places: “Mama, I know it’s meat, and I want it.”
Jewish Quarter falafel with Lilya
Tony’s 40th birthday party at Beretta – burrata on pizza, mmmm…
Dinner with Libby and her family at Jamie’s Italian in Oxford
One lukewarm bottle of water at Legoland in England (where it does get hot but they still don’t have ice): the difference between surviving the day and passing out from heat stroke
Picnics by the pool
Cocktails & dessert at Aziza, any Monday night we had babysitting
Birthday parties for stuffies, with bowls of unsalted peanuts and eucalyptus leaves, hosted by Eli
Dinner and Christmas carol mash-up/singalong, with my parents, led by the boys

Best books

A Gate at the Stairs by Lorrie Moore
An Exact Replica of a Figment of My Imagination by Elizabeth McCracken
My Life in France by Julia Child
The King (poems) by Rebecca Wolff
Boy Alone: A Brother’s Memoir by Karl Taro Greenfield
This Lovely Life by Vicki Forman
The Good Thief by Hannah Tinti
American Wife by Curtis Sittenfeld
Lit by Mary Karr


Where the Wild Things Are – a terrific adaptation
Ponyo – Eli’s first movie theater movie since he graduated from the sling
Fantastic Mr. Fox – our first movie outing as a family
The Class (Entre Les Murs) – best new teaching movie
Who Does She Think She Is? – my favorite documentary of the year
Inglourious Basterds – actors, director, everyone at the top of their game
The Hurt Locker – the best war movie
(500) Days of Summer – best dance sequence of the year (and probably decade)
Sweet Land – my favorite love story of the year

2009 Memories and milestones

Eli and Mariah asleep, leaning their heads on each other, in the back of the car on the drive home from Pt. Reyes
Ben learning to ride his bike without training wheels
AWP in Chicago, meeting so many literary mamas, spending 4 days without the boys
Tony’s and my night away at Indian Springs Resort
Wine and snacks with Rob, Lilya, Liz and Ross while our boys played soccer in the courtyard of our Paris rental with one of the boys who lived in the building
An amazingly relaxing two night Big Basin camp-out (8 adults and 7 boys)
Eli learning to read
Ben playing soccer at school recess
Mama, PhD readings at Duke and the University of Richmond


Tate Modern + London Transit Museum
Andy Goldsworthy’s Spire in the Presidio
Musee de l’orangerie
Amish Abstrations quilt show at the De Young
Eli counting down to his weekly preschool art days
Seeing Maya Lin and Andy Goldsworthy installations at Storm King Art Center
Bidding on one of Tony’s dad‘s paintings in an online auction – and winning!
Ben learning how to weave


Eli: “I just want one more hug of you.”
Ben: “How is it that I am I?”
Eli: “I want some food.” Tony: “I’m making dinner.” Eli: “I want something more fastly.”
Ben imitating Yogi Bear: “Hey, Boo Boo!”
Eli rejecting a band-aid for his sore throat, “And anyway, the inside of my throat isn’t stickable!”
Ben: “I’m going to try something new!”
Eli: “Mama? Since you are two years older than Tony, why don’t you know more about LEGO?”
Ben to Eli, referring to us, “Ask one of the grown-ups.”
Eli to me: ” I love you cozier than my bed, curlier than your hair, and gooder than my oatmeal.”

May your 2010 be gooder than oatmeal, too.