Monday, February 10, 2020


Anyone who has only come to know me in the past few years wouldn’t know that I used to write a blog that was uplifting and hopeful. When these old writings pop up on my Facebook memories, I’m shocked. I think to myself, “I used to think that way? What’s happened to me?” And what’s happened to me is that in the last three years I have changed. I have lost faith in God, in religion, in my country and in humanity. I have lost optimism. And I have almost…almost…lost hope. But for chrissakes, finding hope in the dark moments is what I used to write about. It’s what my books are about. 
I used to write a lot about what I call my “lily pad moments.” Lotus flowers only bloom from the deepest muck in the pond, the water beneath is dark and murky. Throughout my life, I’ve been able to navigate my way across those dark waters by hopping from one lily pad moment to the next. I consider a lily pad moment a tiny glimmer of hope, kindness or beauty; a friend reaches out, a stranger holds a door open for you and smiles, a baby is born, spontaneous fits of laughter (my favorite), new life flourishing after the rain, a crocus poking it’s head above the snowy ground…these small scenes of perfection that are there to heal us if we pay attention. 
I’ve been paying way too much attention to everything that terrifies and enrages me, and because we are the story we tell ourselves, it has changed who I am. I want to tell myself a different story. Maybe it sounds ridiculous and pollyanna-ish, but I’m willing to try. So I’m stating this publicly. I’m going to write daily about my lily pad moments, and I hope you’ll share yours too. I may have days that I fail. I probably will. And then I’m going to forgive myself and get back on track. It may be pointless. Or it may begin to heal me and help me get back to wholeness. 
Bad news is coming at us daily like a firehose to the face, and it is suffocating our spirits. I’m going to grasp these tiny moments like an oxygen mask and let it breathe life back into me. I’m going to use those lily pads as stepping stones to got across the dark waters that threaten to pull us under. 
Thanks for reading. May your day be filled with lily pad moments.

Friday, May 3, 2019

My Encounter with the RedHats

This Sunday, I was shopping for curtains in Home Goods, when a woman and her teenaged son breezed past me in crisp, bright red MAGA hats. My stomach contracted and I literally became nauseated. Word to my friends living in red states- I salute you. I’m a California softy living in liberal LaLa land. I’m not exposed to open carry or MAGA hats. 

She walked past me again, and I couldn’t keep my mouth shut. 
I stopped her.
I kept my voice calm.
I said, “Excuse me. Can I ask you a question?”
She looked surprised but she stopped and said yes.
I asked (calmly, I swear), “Why are you wearing those hats?”
She straightened, jutted her chin forward. “Because I want our country to go back to what our founding fathers intended, and I believe in the constitution.”
I nodded. “I’m curious. How did did you feel about Trump banning an entire religion from our country, since that violates what our founding fathers intended and the constitution?”
She changed the subject to a Fox News talking point. “Well, Sri Lanka just banned women wearing hijabs, but when the President tried to do that, everyone attacked him!”
I said, “Look around you in this store. Do you realize that the majority of people here have been negatively affected by Trump’s policies? Do you realize they may feel hurt by seeing you wear those hats?”
Defiantly, she said, “We’ve been wearing these hats all day and no one has said a thing!”
“They may not have said anything, but I assure you they were thinking and feeling things. I know I am. I actually felt sick when I saw your hat. Many of the people here may even feel threatened by seeing you in that hat.”
She shot back, “Well, they threaten US.”
I said, “Wow. You’ve been threatened? That’s terrible! Who threatened you?”
Her son broke in and said, “This isn’t about politics- this is about God.” He pointed to the sky.
I looked back at the mom, “Do you actually believe trump is a Christian?”
“The guy who cheats on his wives with porn stars is someone you look up to?”
She said, defensively, “I wasn’t there. I don’t know that any of that actually happened. And I don’t judge anyone.”
“How about immigrants? Do you judge them?”
She cut me off, “I stand 110% with the President and appreciate all the good he has done for this country!” And with that she stormed off. 

I just stood there in shock. Angry. Shaken. Had they gotten this ideology in church? This was how she was raising her young son?

I kept pushing my cart, thinking about the fact that yes, one way or another, trump will eventually be gone, but these people will still be all around us, and we will have to go on as a country with the knowledge that we are broken and divided. 

I didn’t change anything by talking to MAGA lady. She is firmly entrenched in her position, and raising her young son to be the same. I am firmly entrenched in mine, and am raising my young son to be the same (and already raised two strong young progressives). 

So what’s the moral of the story here? I have no idea. Maybe if anything, our country has begun a long-needed conversation, and my run-in with MAGA-lady was just a tiny part of it.  Or maybe it was a complete waste of breath. I only know if I didn’t say something, I would have felt worse. 

I also thought about making blue hats that say MAKA: Make America Kind Again. 


Thursday, January 31, 2019

The Smartest Kid in Class


It’s always a perfectly ordinary day when fate delivers its most crushing blows, and that’s the way it was that sunny, January morning. I was walking into the supermarket with my husband Troy, drinking a cup of coffee, when I picked up the L.A. Times. The picture on the front page made my stomach lurch.
“Oh my god…” I put my hand over my mouth.
“What?” Troy asked.
“I know him!” I pointed to the photo. “How can this be real?” My eyes filled with tears.
Troy skimmed the headline. Wall Street Journal reporter...kidnapped...terrorists...“Oh my God…” 
As I numbly walked through the supermarket, absently dropping items into my cart, I was overcome. Memories and emotions I had pushed away for so long now enveloped me. 
Birmingham High School, 1979, was where I first met Danny. He was a brainiac, as we kids used to say.  I was an average student, but French came easy to me. Any kind of language, actually. It was the math and reasoning part of my brain that struggled. In my first year of French, I got straight A’s without trying too hard. But then I was placed in honors French with the infamous Madame Leisner who, as everyone knew, suffered no fools. It was French immersion class, meaning she spoke no English at all to us, ever. Once I got past the initial intimidation, I fell into it wholeheartedly, speaking French with my friends outside of class, and even began dreaming in French. I hoped one day I’d go to France, but I didn’t know how that would happen. 
Danny and I were in Madame Leisner’s class together for two years. I was sure Danny had been to France. He was the kind of kid who, I imagined, spent his summers in Europe with his family. I had a single mom who worked nights and supplemented our income with food stamps, while I, at fifteen, worked in a restaurant to get by. The reality was, I would probably be a waitress and work nights like my mom.  But a girl could dream, and I did. In French.
Danny excelled in Madame Leisner’s class. In fact, he excelled at everything. He was an accomplished musician, an honors student, popular, came from a successful family. Danny had a way about him. He stood tall, with no need to impress anyone. He was super smart, not geeky smart, but the kind of smart you wanted to be. He seemed comfortable in his own skin, which made the slacker kids uncomfortable around him. He came from a supportive family who encouraged his education. And I was the kid whose dad was in prison. I was the kid who longed to speak a different language. 

French was one area where I could almost stand shoulder to shoulder with a kid like Danny. I barely had to crack a book. When I received a “B” that quarter with no effort, I was quite pleased with myself until Madame Leisner kept me after class the next day. She held up my report card with a stern face.
“Qu’est-ce qui se passe?” She demanded. (What’s going on?)
“Porquoi?” I asked. (Why?)
And in French she continued to lecture me (I’ll spare you the translations), the bottom line being – you can do better than this. Way better. And she was right, I could, but I just couldn’t think of reasons why I should. I mean, who cared? 
She did. 
Until that moment, until that day, I had no self-respect. I ditched school. I got drunk at parties. I had no vision of a future. Until she said, “You can do better than this.”
The next thing I knew, she had taken me from struggling through a reading of “Le Petit Prince” to reading French novels like  “Les Miserables.” She had me writing essays in French.  She pushed me to excel. She was not the mushy-gushy I care about your feelings kind of teacher. She was brash and insistent, commanding respect. There was no room in her world for mediocrity.
One day after class Madame pulled me aside and said she wanted me to enter a French speech competition. I could never say no to Madame, but I was shocked that she chose me over Danny. He could have surely won that competition with ease. He was the perfect choice. I was bewildered. Why me? Why didn’t she choose him?

The speech competition took place at Harvard Westlake Academy, where the wealthiest, most privileged kids in L.A. attended school.  I pulled into the parking lot in my trusty old Mustang, which bellowed like a motorboat and leaked oil everywhere it went. I parked alongside the Cadillacs and Mercedes, signed in and took a seat alone amongst the other kids who sat with their parents. I felt awkward and clumsy, an imposter in their emerald city. When it was my turn, I got up before the judges and delivered my speech about Les Baleines (the whales) and their impending endangerment. I could feel panic rising in my throat, my vocal chords constricting. The way the judges looked at me, confused, tilting their heads, made me nervous. I felt their eyes were saying you don’t belong here. I could feel myself flailing. I knew the flow and rhythm of my speech was horrendous. I was shaky, stumbling on my French pronunciations – which had always been my strength. French people said I spoke naturally. Not that day. Needless to say, I did not win. Danny surely would have, but Madame Leisner bet on the dark horse this time. I was crushed, humiliated that I had let her down. It wasn’t for lack of preparation - I put the time and research in. My problem was I didn’t have the self-assurance of a kid like Danny. 
It was painful to face Madame Leisner on Monday. But she just picked up where we left off, Ouvres vos livres, s’il vous plait…(Open your books, please) and we went forward as though nothing had ever happened. I looked across the room at Danny. So smart, so serene. Why didn’t she choose him?

After High School, I continued to flounder, while Danny continued to excel. I dropped out of college. I waitressed. I got married and divorced. I waitressed again. He went to Stanford, became a journalist, then a bureau chief for the Wall Street Journal. He married a French writer, and was about to become a father. How, then, could this headline be real? Our Danny, abducted by terrorists? I studied the L.A. Times article, poring over every word. I couldn’t accept the reality of what I was reading.
The fluorescent lights in the supermarket were beginning to give me a headache. I felt woozy. I stopped in the cereal aisle, leaned against the cart and said a prayer that he be delivered home to his family, and then I fell into my husband’s arms and sobbed in the middle of Ralph’s market. 
My prayers, and the prayers of so many others, were not answered. Weeks later, Daniel Pearl was brutally murdered by the militant terrorists who had held him captive. Our Danny, the smartest kid in class. An incredible bright light was gone in an instant. And I am still here on Earth wondering why? What sense could be made of all this?

Years later I attended a writer’s workshop, where once again, I was surrounded by the best and the brightest ivy league-educated writers, and could feel those old feelings of insecurity beginning to creep in. When the instructor returned her notes on my piece, there was one place where I had used a really awful clichĂ©, something about feeling like a girl in a Cinderella fairytale, and she wrote in the margin “You can do WAY better than this.” Tears welled up in my eyes, and I smiled. I remembered Madame’s insistence, and again, I thought of Danny. A musician, a courageous writer, a soon-to-be father, and loving husband, he lived up to his own expectations for his life. He stood out in this world. We all expected it from him. The problem was, I had never expected it from myself. Now, Danny was gone, without the chance to wake another day. But I did have this life I was given, and it struck me, how dare I even think of wasting another moment hiding behind my insecurities. Facing the mortality of my peers at such a young age, especially one who was so iconic to me, rocked my world. I had to look within and ask myself some tough questions. Danny gave the world his best. Had I? You can do better, that’s what Madame said. If nothing else, in honor of Danny, I was obligated to prove her right. 

In the years since Danny’s murder, I have pushed myself to do better. I became an author, and founded a nonprofit, running workshops for teens in crisis. I set a standard of excellence, the kind I saw in Danny, for my own children. Two have already graduated college (the youngest still in school). Like Danny, all three play instruments. 

I ponder this intricate web of humanity; how often we touch each other’s lives without ever knowing it. A hug, a handshake, a smile at a stranger could change the course of a day - that day could change the course of a life. Although I didn’t know Danny well, simply by being his authentic best self, I absorbed the message that I too could rise to the best that was in me. Maybe that is the point of it all, and the sense that can be made. Each of us is here to connect, to lead by example, to touch the life of others. And if we’ve done it well, we leave this world a little better than we found it. I would say Danny did that well. He left an imprint on the world beyond what he could have ever imagined. His was a life well lived, which continues to inspire people all over the world.

Today, my French is rusty, and I still have not made my way to France. But I have set an expectation for myself and I know that one day soon I will get there. When I do, I will sit in a Parisian cafĂ© and raise a glass to Madame Leisner, and to Danny, the smartest kid in class. 

** The High School that Danny and I attended, Birmingham High in California, now features the highly acclaimed Daniel Pearl Journalism Magnet school.  

Friday, September 21, 2018

#MeToo: A Letter to my Children

This is how old I was, the first time I was assaulted. 

To my children,

I am sharing something with you that is painful and personal for me, and the reason why is that I want to break the cycle of abuse, so that you, and your children, never ever have experiences like this. Holding these experiences in silence has only empowered sexual predators, and they are everywhere, in every industry and in the White House. And women aren’t the only ones who fall victim to sexual abuse. Young boys do, too. And it’s more common than people would think. The problem is that those of us who have been victims of this feel shame and keep it inside. Not only is that toxic to us, but it protects the perpetrators, and allows them to keep abusing. The reason I’m telling you everything is because I want you to see how rampant it was in my generation, and I want it to end with me. Maybe by me finally releasing it, the monster loses its power.

These are my experiences:

Three years old: I was abducted by two older boys and locked in their apartment. I can’t tell you what they did to me because all my mind can see is darkness. My young mind tricked me into thinking I had passed out. Maybe I did. When my mom and stepfather found me, my stepfather lifted me in the air by one arm and wailed on my behind, shouting at me that I was bad for disappearing like that. I did not have the language to explain what had happened to me or to defend myself. I learned then that it was my fault if something horrible happened to me. 

Eight years old: A boy in my class trapped me behind the handball court and held me there for 20 minutes, holding a metal nail file to my throat and threatening to stab me if I tried to get away. 

Eight years old: Standing on a corner with my friends, a man pulled his car up to the curb in front of us. He was naked and masturbating. I told my mother but there was nothing we could do. The man drove away to terrorize other little girls.

Ten years old: I was out rollerskating and stopped in the local deli to get a drink. The man behind the counter tried to get me to come in the back room with him. I said no. He grabbed my wrist and started dragging me on my roller-skates. I kicked him in the shin with my skates and got away. 

Eleven years old: We were at a friend’s house in Redondo beach. I was walking down the street with three of my friends to see the beach, which was only two blocks away. A man started following us, making kissing noises and saying things like “Hey pretty babies. Where you going?” We started walking faster but he did too. He ran up behind me and grabbed me but I got away and started running. We ran all the way home, and never got to see the beach.  I learned then that girls can’t walk anywhere, even in groups, even in broad daylight, without being subject to predators. And they will get away, and do it to other girls. 

Twelve years old: Walking home from school, my friends and I were on the railroad bridge when a man stepped in front of us, dropped his pants and started masturbating. We were trapped and terrified. We ran back across the bridge, away from our homes, and couldn’t get home for hours because we were afraid to cross the bridge. When we finally got home, I found my mother at our neighbor Susan’s house. We told them what had happened and they called the police, who were not able to find the man. Susan shrugged it off like this happens every day, and told me “Next time a guy drops his pants in front of you, just laugh at him. That’s what my sister does.” Then she gave me half a valium and told me it would be fine. I learned then that men would drop their pants in front of you and it was up to you to learn how to handle it. We were never able to walk to school again. 

Thirteen years old: I was at a sleepover at my friend Laura’s house. I woke in the middle of the night to her 6’ 2” sixteen-year-old brother taking my pants off. He picked me up and carried me into his room and laid me down on his desk. I jumped up and ran. He chased after me and threatened me but I got out. I ran all the way home in the middle of the night. My mother woke to me pounding on the front door. She called Laura’s mother and told her, and that was the end of it. The brother never suffered any consequence for attempting to rape a child. I learned then that you can tell but nothing will happen to the perpetrator, so you better learn how to protect yourself. 
That was also the end of my friendship with Laura. She was too ashamed to face me after that. I learned then that if you speak up you will lose friends. 

Thirteen years old: I was at a sleepover at my friend Sherri’s house. In the middle of the night her drunk father burst into the room buck naked and stood over us. I sat up and looked him in the eye. I think he was surprised to see me there. He turned and left. I never told Sherri, or anyone. I didn’t want to lose another friend. 

Thirteen years old: My mom’s boyfriend’s brother Bobby Abbondante, who babysat me only the year before, said he’d take me to a movie I really wanted to see.  At the drive-in movie, he attacked me, ripping my shirt open, biting me, aggressively grabbing my breasts, hurting me, leaving bruises and hickeys all over me as I fought and screamed. After, he cried and begged me not to tell. This was the year The Wilderness Family had come out. He had made a bet with his friends that he could “nail” a movie star. I learned then that as a female, I had no value - I was just a bet, something to be “nailed.”

Thirteen years old: Standing outside the library at night, waiting for my mom to pick me up. Some teenage boys rode up on bikes and started saying sexual things to me. One of them grabbed my breast and squeezed it hard, hurting me. I screamed and they laughed and rode away. 

Fourteen years old: The man at the deli who had tried to drag me away on my skates became a peeping tom at my house. I was home alone nights because my mom worked. His face would appear in the bathroom window when I or one of my friends was using the bathroom. My friend Greg went to his house with a butcher knife, tried to kick down the front door, threatened to kill him if he ever saw him around my house again. 

Fifteen years old: Late one night I caught my good friend and neighbor Keith watching me undress through a crack in the curtains of my bedroom window. That was the end of our friendship.

Eighteen years old: On vacation in Bimini, an island where there is no law enforcement or government, my cousin Tammey and I walked past my uncle Dan’s entourage one evening on our way to dinner.  A creepy guy in the “entourage” who had been leering at us during the week loudly suggested to the rest of the guys that they ought to grab Tammey and I and have a gang bang. Tammey told the guy to fuck off but I was terrified. We told uncle Dan and he assigned two bodyguards to trail Tammey and I everywhere we went, and somehow had the guy kicked off the island that night. Imagine having to spend your vacation with two bodyguards because there are so many men on the island who might rape you. 

Nineteen years old: My boss, John Makhani, asked me to come out with him after work to discuss my possible promotion. He trapped me at his house, refused to let me go home, and tried to coerce me into taking my clothes off in front of him. For about an hour he bullied me and tried to get me to undress but I wouldn’t. He wouldn’t let me go home until the morning. After that, he punished me by criticizing and humiliating me in front of staff, making my job a living hell until I had no choice but to quit. I learned then that if you stand your ground, you will lose your job. 

Nineteen years old: My friend Diane and I were invited by a friend to a celebrity party at Larry Wilcox’s house. He was a star on the show CHIPS that was popular back then. We arrived at his house to find it was only the two of us, and three guys. Larry started making out with my friend Diane, and he tried to get me to make out with him too. He wanted us to have a three-way with him. I was disgusted. I refused and went outside in the backyard. His 50-year-old creepy friend followed me. He started hitting on me and when I turned him down, he became aggressive. I ran away from him. He literally chased me around the backyard swimming pool for an hour until I threatened to call the police. Finally a friend showed up and chased the guy off. I learned then that if you accept an invitation to a party, you are vulnerable to assault. 

And then there are the many times as an adult I’ve been “grabbed” Donald Trump style- once when I was a waitress in a crowded bar, holding a very heavy tray over my head. The guy grabbed my crotch and I couldn’t defend myself. Another time at a concert. Another time at a restaurant. Another time at a gig. Another time at a Christmas party. 

Donald Trump is the face of every vile man that has attacked me, of every man that has disregarded my humanity. I want this to be the generation that STAMPS OUT men like Donald Trump and Harvey Weinstein and Woody Allen. I want to see good men and good women seated equally at the table of life, and in positions of power. I want to see good men and good women as the stewards of humanity. 

How any man can grow up to treat a woman like she is nothing is a mystery to me. Those very same men grew inside our bodies. Their blood was created from our blood. We cared for them and raised them. I want my husband and sons to be aware of what it’s like for women- or what it has been like.  I want you to be aware, stand up and speak out when you see this kind of behavior in men. Speak up when you hear men talking about women like they are pieces of meat who have no value. Speak up when you hear misogyny, woman-bashing and feminist-bashing. 

Right now, with a vile predator like Trump in the White House, I have no hope for this country. But I put my hope in you, in your generation, to make this country and to make humanity decent again. I’m counting on my daughter to be strong and loud, and my sons to love and respect the women who gave you your life. 

May our future generations only know about the #MeToo movement from the stories they read in history books. 

Friday, July 27, 2018

You Listened

How many times had you crept into their rooms at night and pressed your face against them to hear the soft hiss of baby breathing, to feel that warm, sweet milky breath in your ear, always needing that reassurance that yes, mama, those babies in your care are strong and sure and thriving. It only had to happen once, that pivotal moment when you had to choose: either tell yourself you're being ridiculous or trust your intuition.
You sensed the monster, the fire that slipped into his room, and before that, the carbon monoxide, with its vile tentacles spreading out from his lungs to veins to blood, and yours too. You listened. That voice. Check the baby. Check the baby. You pressed your cheek against his, heard that baby breathing, the steady rhythm. You listened. You laid down beside him. And because you chose to trust yourself, he still breathes today.


The Sound

The sound of motorcycles revving in the driveway meant that Uncle Dan was home, and with him came the entourage. One by one they pulled in, taking their place in Dan's court. He'd sit in his King Louie throne in the living room, and maybe his pet owl would be perched above him, sleeping in the day, unperturbed by Uncle Dan's loud and boisterous storytelling, his laugh that sounded like a pack of wild hyenas yipping all at once. Or was that just the pack of wolves he kept in the backyard? 

He'd tell stories from the movie set, and the motorcycle boys would hang on his every word, endure his sharp criticisms and sarcasm, and the nicknames he'd pegged them with: Bullet, Tall Boy, Rags. To stay in his orbit was to defer to him, and no matter how tough and intimidating they may have appeared, they did defer. Not because he threatened. He never had to prove his brute strength. He only had to cast a "look" your way.
It wasn't that they, or I, were afraid of him. We only feared not being in his orbit. To try to understand this is to try to understand the universe. He was the sun around which the rest of us orbited. And he was the black hole, sucking us all in, until we'd disappeared to ourselves.
He was the sun.
He was the king.
He was our savior and he was our destruction.


Thursday, April 12, 2018

Why I Still Have Hope for America

These days, I wake in the morning weary with sadness. The world, politics, fear for my country has worn me down. But then, this morning as my kid is eating breakfast, I see Ellen Degeneres on the back of his cereal box, and I feel hope. Ten years ago, we couldn't even pass marriage equality in California - the most liberal state. Today it's the law of the land, and Ellen Degeneres, an openly gay woman, is the ambassador for goodness on the back of my kid's Honey Nut Cheerios.
I think about the fact that Barack Obama, already noted by historians as one of the best Presidents in American history, is of mixed race, and that inter-racial marriage was still illegal in many states when he was born. 

I think about the fact that Oprah Winfrey, a black woman, is one of the richest, most influential people in the world, when all her grandmother had advised for her was to "find some nice white people to work for" -- and that it's an American colloquialism to describe an extremely wealthy person as having "Oprah money." I think of her ancestors, women who were enslaved, raped, beaten, forced to work in the fields and do the work of ten men, and hope to god there is an afterlife because if there is they are surely smiling down with pride.

This American dream, to bring people from all over the world, from every culture, race, religion to live together as one democratic nation, is an experiment. It theorizes that every man and woman can achieve greatness, and that we are each only limited by the scope of our own dreams. It's a messy experiment, and we have failed terribly on so many levels. But we've also made great progress, because today I'm looking at Ellen on a cereal box and smiling, and maybe even feeling a twinge of hope in spite of the news cycle. 

I'm going to do my best today to feed the hope, and not the fear. I'm going to believe in us, in progress, in the best of America. I hope you will, too.