Listen To Your Mother: There’s No Place Like Home

As an expat kid who grew up in the Middle East, and then hopped around different states for a few years, I believed – with the confidence of youth – that home was where I was. Now that I’m a mother of two kids going on ten years in the Bay Area, it feels more and more that home is who I am.

Despite the good fortune of traveling to different places, the most important journey of my life has been that of self-discovery and to be totally cliche, it coincided with motherhood. Nothing forces you to ask who you are or what you want out of life than being a mother, but by that same token, nothing places you in a more alien, unfamiliar position. For me, motherhood did not feel like home and that was because I didn’t know who I was. If home equals self, identity, and voice, then Listen To Your Mother has been both the foreman and the fengshui master of my abode.

Listen To Your Mother (LTYM) is a critically acclaimed, national live-reading series celebrating motherhood, but before all of that, there was just a friendship. I first met Ann Imig, the Founder and National Director of Listen To Your Mother, back in 2009, when we were both just bloggers trying to write funny stuff – much of it about mothering stuff. Ann, frustrated with the commercialism and individual focus of Mother’s Day, started LTYM in 2010 as a way of bringing mothers together and highlighting both community and self-expression. From her hometown of Madison, WI, the Listen To Your Mother movement has grown to 41 cities across the United States and Canada this year. That is how much people connect with this beautiful, amazing storytelling vehicle and want to share a piece of themselves.

LTYM came to San Francisco in 2012 and the next year, I decided to toss my story into the ring for consideration. It was accepted and I became a part of the LTYM movement and history. There is a unique thrill to performing your own words and having it connect with people. No one listened to me at home, but by God, this was an experience of listening – and understanding – at the highest level. After the tornado of marriage and kids, I felt like Dorothy in “The Wizard of Oz” asking “Where am I? Who am I?” Both questions one and the same. But from my directors to my cast-mates, and then of course, to the audience, I felt heard and acknowledged. Home.

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Once the performance was over, I had to actually go home: a return to reality and the work of finding and speaking my voice. My connection to LTYM would never be severed, but I felt that the magic was suspended to that one night.

Until last year.

In the fall of 2015, Janine Kovac, part of the directorial and production team for the 2015 show, and current 2016 director and producer with Mary Hill, approached me about joining them. I was already committed to producing a huge event at my son’s school, but I said yes. Because magic and self and storytelling!

Becoming a director and producer for the LTYM San Francisco 2016 show feels like a huge home-coming. I am back in the fold. This time the magic is about productivity, creativity, and esteem. Which got me thinking about other members of the LTYM community and their connection to the show. How did the concept of home play into how they felt about sharing their stories?

First, I turned to my 2013 cast members and Sarah Pearce, author of the novel “The Promise of Fate,” wrote back immediately. Her piece was wickedly funny and performed completely deadpan – I’ll never forget it. Sarah remembers, “My experience with LTYM was feeling part of a “Home” of artists, collaborating together for what turned out to be a highly polished, professional and entertaining piece. This was my first time performing one of my pieces in front of an audience. I felt so supported and encouraged by cast and directors. Unforgettable time of warmth, camaraderie and fun. It really motivated me to finish by first book.”

Then I asked Grace Kraaijvanger, 2015 alum and Founder of The Hivery, an amazing “inspiration lab” and co-working space for women in Mill Valley, about her thoughts. She responded, “In a world of busy to-do’s and running to and from our schedules, sometimes life’s best remedy is simply to stand up and tell your story. Using our voice gets us closer to who we really are.”

For novelist Thais Derich, who performed in 2014, it was about possibility and freedom and voice: “Unless you’re a best selling author, when else do you have the opportunity to read your work in front of an audience of 350 people?” I could relate. LTYM gives motherhood a microphone, and boy, once you have that microphone in your hand, speaking truth gives you power.

photo courtesy of Ian Tuttle

photo courtesy of Ian Tuttle

For 5 years now, the Listen To Your Mother San Francisco team has worked hard to create not just a home for motherhood stories, but a home within ourselves. On Friday, May 6th at the Brava Theater in San Francisco, I invite you all to join me in bearing witness to the beauty, the beast and the barely rested of motherhood. And I hope it feels like home.

 

This was originally published in the Southern Marin Mother’s Magazine April 2016 issue.

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Our big show is this Friday and I would love to see your beautiful face in the audience.

You can purchase tickets HERE.

Seemed Like A Good Idea At the Time

Welcome to a swell little blog hop where a bunch of my writer friends and I explore the theme “Seemed Like A Good Idea At the Time!” Fun, right? I mean, whose life isn’t chock full of shit ideas that seemed brilliant in the moment!

I immediately agreed to participate and then spent the next three weeks trying to actually think of incidents that would be enjoyable to write about and not make me want to curl up in a dark room with a large chocolate cake and listen to Nina Simone on repeat.

So I reached out to my family. Surely they would remember my hilariously bad ideas.

“What about that time you were forced to dress up like the witch from Roald Dahl’s ‘The Witches?’ Oh never mind, that was your brother,” my mother offered helpfully, followed by “or what about when you went to the Blue Man Group Show and forced the entire theater to be quiet so the show could start because that’s what the little voice in the wall told you to do?”

I, of course, replied that that was a fucking GREAT idea at the time and continues to remain a fucking great idea because when else can you boss around hundreds of people because a little blue man told you to?

It became obvious to me that my extreme type-A personality that plans every idea well in advance and down to the last detail does not leave much room for what people in my county call organic experiences. Don’t get me wrong, I enjoy being wacky and letting loose (whatever that means), but there is a reason I was a member of a sketch comedy group and not an improv one, why I took ballet and not modern. Damn it, it was time to take control and make a list:

  • Age 2: it seemed like a good idea at the time to ride my tricycle off of a 2-foot curb. The freedom! The speed! The massive scar on my forehead! Wheeeeee!
  • Age 20: it seemed like a good idea at the time to get off the airplane and start drinking tap water. I just arrived in Paris to study abroad for the semester. That first night was a big party for all the students and also when I had to leave the party early because my stomach hurt and then when I got the shits on the Paris subway. Merde. Literally.
  • Age my whole life: it seemed like a good idea at the time to order polenta. Because I thought it was risotto. This might seem insignificant, but I assure you it is not. POLENTA. Disgusting. RISOTTO. Delicious.
  • Age 21: it seemed like a good idea at the time to parody Cher and sing “Do You Believe In Love After Life” because my comedy group thought I had a good voice and that it was hilarious to think of Cher finding love in a morgue. And then I forgot all the words during the big performance and it became improv which is a nightmare for a sketch comedienne.

The list wasn’t working. It was time to ask my dad. No, it was time to co-opt some of my dad’s ideas, because my dad is king of the organic experience, the fun-but-potentially-horrific experience, his favorite motto being LET’S PLAY IT BY EAR. (No, dad, let’s not. Ever.)

One of dad’s greatest Seemed Like A Good Idea At the Time was the decades long pranking between him and his good Saudi friend, Hamed. Dad and Hamed met as grad students at USC, just two knuckleheads who enjoyed nothing better than scaring the hell out of each other for fun. I’m not privy to many of these shenanigans, but I know for a fact that dad put a fluorescent yellow bumper sticker on Hamed’s Mercedes. It read “Equal Rights For Women Now.” And he drove all over Al-Khobar, Saudi Arabia for a day or two before a policeman pulled him over and asked him to explain himself. (Of course as retaliation, dad received a call one day at work saying that he was on the list of the Saudi Secret Police and would be going to jail.)

It all seemed like a good idea at the time. In one of the most religiously conservative countries in the world.

The prank between my father and Hamed that I remember best, however, is the one that I orchestrated and participated in. I was in high school. Hamed and his entire family were in the States on vacation. My father knew the details of his flight back home to Saudi and decided that I should prank call Hamed, pretending to be an airline employee. My duty was to inform Hamed that a great mistake was made and he no longer had his usual 1st class tickets to Saudi, but rather was sitting in Economy with all his kids and had a one night layover in Karachi, Pakistan along the way.

It is with both great embarrassed and great pride that I tell you I performed the entire phone call using a fake accent.

Hamed flipped out. The man had never in his entire life flown coach class, much less with children. He was flustered, sputtering, demanding to speak with the manager. He couldn’t believe he had just spent an untold fortune at the Mall of America and was now being forced to head 20 hours home with his knees up to his chin with no free beverages to speak of. I spun that man around for a good 20 minutes, raving about the new restaurant scene in Karachi, apologizing for my fellow idiots at the airline.

I eventually turned him over to my manager and he and dad had a good laugh after the cursing finally stopped.

That seemed like a good idea at the time and I don’t feel any differently today.

All things considered, though, I’d prefer a night out that’s been planned for at least week in advance where we order the organic margaritas and call it a naturally-ocurring experience.

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And now it’s time to hop on over to my wonderful and funny friends and read about all of the other wild “Seemed Like A Good Idea At the Time” experiences!

Suburban Scrawl

Elizabeth McGuire

Two Cannoli

Genie in a Blog

Smacksy

Good Day Regular People

My Blog Can Beat Up Your Blog

The Mama Bird Diaries

Midlife Mixtape

When Did I Get Like This?

Arnebya

Up Popped A Fox

 

Where the Hell Is My Tupperware? A Brief Remembrance.

In some homes, Tupperware is used as food storage. In my home, Tupperware is used mostly as a variety of human and animal death traps.

Currently, there are 58 pieces of Star Wars Micro-Machines nestled snuggly in a square container. Except when there are only 27 pieces nestled snuggly and 31 combatants are scattered far and wide across the shag carpet tundra, a thumbnail-sized Hans Solo smirking at me next to the coffee maker, a petite Captain Phasma stuck between the remote control buttons, a Naboo N-1 Starfighter positioned perfectly for the landing of my foot when exiting the bed.

At least seven containers of various sizes roam the wasteland of my yard. The ultimate goal, of course, to let water stand for as long as possible. Days, weeks, until perhaps the day I make my twice-yearly beef curry and roar “WHERE IS MY TUPPERWARE?” But until then, the water just stands, maybe enjoying the addition of some leaves and dirt. If all goes as planned, the boys will squirt it in each other’s faces (with syringes and hockey sticks?) as if remembering their father’s long-ago warning, “People die from bacteria found in standing water.” 

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In some fine kitchens, this is called warm broth with kale and leafy greens. Or not.

petri dish

Sometimes, the goal is to work with clay and as every professional sculptor knows, you need a lot of standing water to dump in the clay from the surrounding ruins of a flower bed.

Of course, the true purpose of Tupperware – as mandated by the Tupp family in the mid-18th century – is  to provide sanctuary for animals, especially snails, slugs, worms and salamanders. Glass containers work really well, none of that toxic shit seeping into their porous skins. One must create a habitat, an ecosystem, a terrarium, if you will. Or in this instance, a terror-arium.

(It should be noted that in year six of the Tupperware terrarium endeavor, the salamanders tails stopped coming off. They felt comfortable with their captor!)

It should also be noted that we always practiced catch-and-release. And catch. And release. And catch.

In conclusion, I have yet to catch the released Tupperware.

Every now and then, I spy the dusty plastic edge sticking out of the dirt in a forgotten part of the yard. That once held the sweet-and-sour chicken that no one in my family would eat, I think. How do I live without Tupperware, you ask? How can I adequately provide for a family of four without the means to store left-overs that my father should be eating when he visits on Fridays?

I don’t know. I mean, sometimes it feels like we’re barely getting by. And other times, it feels like we just need to eat every goddamn bite of the enchiladas I ordered for take-out.

Is the American Family Being Destroyed?

Don’t you love it when I title a post with something dramatic like that?

But that’s the exact question I’m asking in an article that I wrote for Salon.com. This is something that has vaguely plagued me for years, and specifically plagued me for the last six months as I’ve worked on the article, going through rounds of edits with my great editor, Kim.

For me, emotionally, it’s the most important piece I’ve ever written. I’m at a place in my life where I miss my family very much. I started thinking about the American family and the priorities we place on success and individualism – and not on proximity. I would love it you clicked over HERE and read it. And I would love to hear what you think. Is your family affected by this?

In other news, today is the second day of auditions for my Listen To Your Mother San Francisco 2016 team. Yesterday was in the city of San Francisco and today, I head to Oakland. Hearing the essays spoken aloud by the authors was amazing. Tomorrow wraps up auditions in Mill Valley, and then the difficult work of choosing our cast remains. I can’t wait to update you with our final lineup.

I’ve also wrapped up Passport Day. What’s Passport Day, you ask? Well, it’s an annual event at my son’s school that I co-chaired (although I think ‘produced and directed’ are better words for it). Every year it is to a different region or country. This year it was to the Middle East and boy, did it bring back the memories of growing up in Arabia. I have so much more to tell about this – and I will soon.

In the meantime, hold your family close. Or give them a FaceTime call. Which, unfortunately, is the modern equivalent of a hug.

xoxo

 

 

Listen To Your Mother San Francisco 2016!

Happy New Year, dear readers!

I hope you survived the holidays with only moderately raised cholesterol, a renewed appreciation for teachers, and that priceless gift…time to yourself.

In all the chaos, I forgot to tell you that I’m going to part of Listen To Your Mother again! WHEE! I have joined the amazing team of Janine Kovac and Mary Hill as a co-director/producer! Some of you might remember that I performed in this powerful live reading series celebrating motherhood in 2013 and it feels so good coming back to it on the other side.

Yes - rehearsals are this fun!

Back in 2013 with the cast – and yes, rehearsals are this fun!

If you’re newish to my blog and have no idea what I’m talking about, let me explain. Listen To Your Mother (LTYM) was founded in Madison, WI, by my friend, Ann Imig.  As Ann says:

The mission of each LISTEN TO YOUR MOTHER production is to take the audience on a well-crafted journey that celebrates and validates mothering through giving voice to motherhood–in all of its complexity, diversity, and humor–in the form of original readings performed live on-stage by their authors.

This year, LTYM will be in 41 cities in the US and Canada, and it marks the 5th annual San Francisco show. It’s been lauded in places like The New York Times, HuffPost Parents, The Washington Post, The Boston Herald and MSN.com, to name a few.

Janine, Mary and I just announced our show date (mark your calendar: MAY 6th at the Brava Theater!) and call for submissions and that’s where you come in. If you live in the Bay Area and have a motherhood story, we want to hear it! Send it in! Be brave! I love what the LTYM Chicago co-producer and member of the LTYM National Team, Melisa Wells, says:

This is not a show for professional speakers/writers (though we welcome all levels of experience). LTYM is about Motherhood and Motherhood is for EVERYONE. Your voice and story may be the one that reshapes someone’s perspective of life when our 2016 show hits the stage… Your story is unique. Your story is needed. Your voice IS worthy and your words ARE good enough.

For all of the SF LTYM show submission details, click HERE for our official announcement. We will accept submissions starting next week, from 1/25-2/8.

And if you don’t live in the Bay Area, I bet there’s a LTYM show nearby! And if not, do you know that you can bring one to your town? Check at the national site for more info.

Thanks, as always, for listening to me.

Why Did The Writer Cross the Road?

Because there was a word on the other side.

(Or was there? Put your reading glasses on.

Stop! Go back! Something dangerous is coming! False alarm, it was only the Parents Association volunteer sign-up spreadsheet. But there is definitely a word out there GO GET IT GO GET IT!

Ooooh, is Facebook open? A status update about baby capuchin monkeys! Go back. You’re in dangerous territory. No, get that goddamn word, you need it.

Should you cross now? What about now? What about now? Or now? How about now? Maybe now?

Go to the Writer X-ing sign. The fluorescent yellow diamond with too many adjectives. Dammit, the sign has been removed for further editing!

Okay, lie down and wait for roadside assistance, you obviously have a flat ego. Once confidence is restored, continue lying down. Let’s call this a residency.

You’re up!

Now scamper out! Come back!

Scamper out! Come back!

Scamper out! Come back!

Let’s call this submission-rejection-submission-rejeciton-submission-rejection!

Now scamper out! Go big! THE WRITER IS ON THE OTHER SIDE OF THE ROAD!

Shit. It’s a four-lane highway.

In desperate times, call your friends and ask them to create a Word Train for you, which is like a Meal Train, except that people throw you a life-line of sustainable words, and Soul Train, except that you get behind a really good word and strut and jazz hands your way to safety.)

Here’s to all of us squirrelly writers and getting to the other side of that road.

Again and again and again.

May 2016 be full of more words like YES and GO, and less of NO and SPLAT.

My Brief History of Spirit

1992: School Spirit

For the first 15 years of my life, I was under the mistaken belief that I possessed spirit. You know, my inner quality! My nature! The force within! And then I moved to the United States, started high school in Texas, and joined the Dance Team. As I quickly discovered, Dance Teams in Texas did much more than pirouettes. In fact, they didn’t really do that at all. They wore short skirts and bloomers and had pom-poms and did high-kicks and sang the school song and performed at pep rallies and sporting events.

My lack of hair spray is lacking spirit.

My lack of hair spray is lacking spirit.

Suddenly, unwittingly, I had…school spirit. Despite my plaid flannel shirt and Doc Martens (on non-game days), I was true to my school – rah rah sis boom bah! As Cavalettes (yes, you read that right), we wore coordinated shades of red lipstick, blue eyeshadow, smiled big, raised our arms, extended our fingers and spread spirit sparkles over the student body. Spirit sparkles are a real thing, people.

Sure, I went on to college and a career. I grew up and so did my emotions and attitude, but as the old saying goes, “Once infected by spirit sparkles, always that overly enthusiastic person on the sidelines of life.”

2008: A Spirited Kid

3 days after he was born, my first son used his freakishly strong neck muscles to raise his head completely off of my husband’s chest and look him dead in the eye. Approximately three years later, I began looking in bookstores for guides on “How To Remove the Spirited From Your Child.” Parents today are fond of saying, “I just don’t want to crush my kid’s unique spirit” and I didn’t necessarily want to crush my son’s spirit, sometimes I just wanted to fold it up into a beautiful origami crane and make it fly in a perfect V-formation with the others.

2013: The Spirit Store

In October, orange is definitely the new black. In fact, Halloween is actually approaching Christmas as the biggest holiday in our house. And just as some families go to church on Christmas Eve, so, too, do we visit that bastion of class and elegance each October…the Spirit Store. If you have ever had the pleasure of entering one of these pop-up palaces of plastic pumpkins and strobe lights, the first thing that hits you is the smell. A combination of off-gassing from the copious amount of rubber ghouls, foam tombstones, masses of people perusing ill-fitting costumes, mixed with just a hint of fog machine, I like to call it Sweat Cemetery. The Spirit Store is the store that keeps on giving poorly made, flammable stuff that we adore because we are possessed by spirit. This year, we proudly procured the very last Lunging Lily, made with only the finest of hazardous material. When our town’s fire department asked every family to keep 15 feet of defensible space around their house, we took that to mean using every square inch necessary to defend the very spirit of Halloween.

Me when I wake up or the perfect purchase from The Spirit Store?

Me when I wake up or the perfect purchase from The Spirit Store?

2015: Holiday Spirit

Although I often find the holidays to be a stressful, exhausting ordeal, that doesn’t stop me from decorating the house with gusto. First, I focus on the centerpiece of the dining room table. With generous measurements, I can fit the red glittered gem from Costco, the artfully arranged tray of candles, and the must-have vase of ornaments recommended by the Crate and Barrel catalog. Not only do I never have to make eye-contact with anyone at dinner, but I can enjoy the peace and quiet afforded by the sound barrier of a 2-ft by 4-ft holiday hedge. Then I place decomposing 1980-circa tinsel on the tree, the mantle, the banister, and the entry-way table. An Evil Axis of Tinsel, one might say.

Perhaps most important of all, I dust off the wine decanter and the beer steins.  The chi of everything hangs on proximity to bodies of water like pinot noir and Anchor Steam Holiday Ale.  Positivity increases with harder bodies of water, such as Red Label and Black Label.  In fact, “feng shui” literally translates as “wind-water.”

And no, that doesn’t mean “the spiritual aesthetics of passing gas while drinking hot-toddies.”

It means that spirit is always enhanced with spirits.