Wednesday, September 6, 2006
She replies to my interview request: "Having written novel with Matzo heirs and sex and directed a doc with a gay Jewish cannibal -- nothing startles. Wait, the online chat I did last week online for the Colin Firth fanclub startled me. It quickly disintegrated into women talking about what position they would do it with Colin. It was supposed to be focused on The Anglophile."
What position would you do it with Colin Firth?
"With all due respect to my husband - any position. But then I would have to give him a Gabriella Sabatini f*** pass."
Mad Mel: My One Man Show
Dave Deutsch emails:
I call her Wednesday night, September 6, 2006.
Luke: "What have you loved and hated about all the media attention you've received over the past few weeks?"
Allison: "I love that my friends and acquaintances who I told about my practice and they didn't take it seriously, it was rewarding. 'I told you I was going to be in the L.A. Times.' I like to spread my messages even though the [LA Times] article didn't talk about my philosophy, a lot of people read my blog.
"What I hated: Since I started being a lawyer, I've found this frustrating -- that I'm a whore who wears low-cut outfits to court. One blog said I dressed like Pamela Anderson.
"I dress my age. I'm 28. I'm not hanging out with my chest exposed.
"The reason that the article was like that was the writer -- Maura Dolan. She's really cool. She's a court reporter. She writes about court hearings and rulings. This was an erotic thrill for her. She was really into it.
"The other thing that I didn't like about the article was that I'm money hungry. In a sense I'm happy, because many times a week people come into my office trying to get me to take their cases for free. People try to take advantage of me."
Luke: "How did you deal with all the attention to your sexiness?"
Allison: "Before I became a lawyer, I went to Harvard (1999) and Columbia (2002) and I was a nerd. But since I became a lawyer, because of how I look and how I dress, they assume I'm stupid. I use that to my advantage.
"During my second year of law school, I worked for a civil litigation firm in Century City. I was doing great. I had my mid-summer review. The only negative thing was that some of the female attorneys said my skirts were too short and they were offended.
"My mom's [Elyse Margolin] a lawyer. She inspired me to be myself in the courtroom and out.
"Devastated [by the criticism], I bought this long skirt. I put it on to go to work. My mom said, 'Allison, that's not you.' I took it off.
"It's not that I try to be provocative. It's who I am. To be anything different would be fake.
"The courtroom is where I feel comfortable. I feel more comfortable in a courtroom than in a bar. That's my scene."
Luke: "Do you notice people checking you out in court?"
Allison: "I don't notice. I'm not focused on that. I'm in my zone."
Luke: "How would you know if you were dressing inappropriately?"
Allison: "I don't even know what that means. How would I know? I guess my mom or my stepdad. I know a lot of lawyers who would say something to me.
"If I go to jury trial and I win... I'd know if people were offended by me. When I go to jury trial, I tone it down and try to be extra conscious.
"The most inappropriate thing I do is that I change into sweats after court."
"I never watched Ally McBeal. My mom is the original Ally McBeal."
Luke: "When you were a kid, what did you want to be when you grew up?"
Allison: "I was always struggling between writer and lawyer."
Luke: "What crowd did you hang out with in highschool?"
Allison: "I went to Beverly Hills High School. I was an outcast. I was with the AP kids. I was taking 7:30 a.m. P.E. because I had six honors classes. I always felt uncomfortable there. People would always make fun of me. Now for me it's like Revenge of the Nerds. I see these same women going out... My husband was one of the cooler people in highschool. I didn't know him at the time. Now I'm successful, it's fun for me."
Luke: "What do you love and hate about your work?"
Allison: "I love going to court and fighting for what I believe in. I hate the pressure. I hate going to bed and thinking about my work. I'm trying to start these other careers. I'm trying to be a commentator. I'm pitching a scripted show about my law practice. I don't want to deal with this pressure every day. I'd like to have two tracks to my career, not five cases on calendar and being stressed about it.
"I loathe having to promote myself to clients."
Luke: "Some people will laugh. You are great at self-promotion."
Allison: "The ad was the only thing I did. The Daily Journal called me. The LA Times called me. I don't mind sharing my thing but I don't want it to do it myself, say I'm so great..."
Luke: "When you look back on your life, how much free choice have you had or were just fated to become what you've become?"
Allison: "Can there even be free choice if something is fated? I'm a fatalistic person. I think this is my calling. I had these ideas in highschool, but I was very straight. I didn't smoke pot. I didn't drink alcohol.
"My views have never been popular, except for when I went to Columbia, where everyone was pretty much like me."
Luke: Your upbringing sounds crazy and libidinous.
Allison: "My mom kept me away from some of my dad's crazier friends. My mom and my grandmother kept me on a straight path. I was embarrassed by my dad when I was little."
Luke: "What role has Judaism played in your life?"
Allison: "My mom's side of the family was killed in the Holocaust. My maternal grandmother, grandfather and great grandmother were survivors. That's left an emotional mark.
"I feel uncomfortable in a temple or with any religious custom. During my wedding, I ended up running away during the Hava Nagilla.
"All religions feel strange to me.
"I can't say I don't feel like a Jew. Obviously the Holocaust presence in my life, I feel like a Jew.
"I feel bad. I wish I did relate to it more or felt one with any organized religion but I don't. I appreciate the ritual aspects, the Sabbath and the idea of not working on Saturday, which I don't do. I appreciate the balance that it speaks of. But when I go to temple and everyone's singing those songs, I don't know those songs. I don't even want to be there. Unfortunately."
Luke: "Would you really pose for Playboy and what's in it for you?"
Allison: "Maybe not at this stage in my career. I would like to but all these people in prison seeing my pictures..."
'I Need Your Help Badly'
A former interview subject writes:
'The Truth about Rabbi Ben Zion Sobel'
Adam Harison emails:
A source responds:
During the online boom, Swisher was known as the number one reporter on that beat.
She calls me Wednesday morning, Sept. 6, 2006.
Luke: "When you were a kid, what did you want to be when you grew up?"
Kara: "A lawyer. I didn't think about marriage. I knew I was gay since I was four. I was superior, as though I didn't have to worry about all that crap. I always knew I'd have kids."
Luke: "You felt superior to what?"
Kara: "To everybody. I didn't have to worry about if boys liked me..."
Swisher grew up in New York and Princeton. "My dad was an anesthesiologist. He died at 34 of a cerebral hemorrhage when I was five. My mom was a homemaker and did a lot of stuff in fashion. I'm second in the birth order. I have two brothers. My oldest brother is an anesthesiologist. My youngest brother is a lawyer."
Luke: "What's your opinion on the nature vs. nurture debate regarding your sexual identity?"
Kara: "Nature. Totally. It just seems obvious to me that people are the way they are when they are born."
Luke: "When you look back on your life, how much freedom of choice have you had?"
Kara: "I've had complete freedom of choice. By nature, I'm bold. You have to be if you're gay."
Luke: "What did your mother want from you?"
Kara: "A huge wedding with flowers and a big beautiful dress and the whole nine yards. It's been her biggest tragedy that she can't put me in kitten heels."
Luke: "What do you have against kitten heels?"
Kara: "I'm not a kitten heels per se but lately I've been dressing up more. She's beside herself as she enters her seventies. It's been her greatest dream to get me dolled up constantly."
Luke: "How did you dress as a kid?"
Kara: "Preppy. I still have Izod shirts and Fair Isle sweaters and clogs. Not a lot of make-up. I don't look gross. I'm not a typical dyke.
"I still have a lot of the clothes I wore in eighth grade. I'm the same size."
Luke: "Were you a happy kid?"
Kara: "I had a great childhood except for my dad dying, which set the tone for my entire life. I have a do-it-now personality."
Raised Catholic, Kara was confirmed at age 13 and hasn't been inside a church since. Kara has a vague belief in God.
Luke: "Do you hate the Catholic church?"
Kara: "No. They hate me. It's hard. They're attacking my family. I understand why all those religions do that... I am not angry at them for their beliefs but some of their beliefs are ridiculous."
Swisher graduated from Princeton Day School in 1980.
Luke: "When did you start telling people you were a lesbian?"
Kara: "After college. I told my mother in a spectacular way over the phone on my birthday. She said she wouldn't speak to me again and then wouldn't stop speaking to me for the rest of my life.
"I went to Georgetown, one of the more homophobic universities. It's a Catholic university. They were doing a lawsuit against the gay people while I was there."
Luke: "What's a 'lawsuit against the gay people'?"
Kara: "That they didn't have to give them a meeting hall and $25, meanwhile priests..."
Kara got her BA in Comparative Regional Studies in June 1984. "I had been mildly interested in being in the foreign service except for the diplomacy part. I'm not very diplomatic and I love telling secrets. And there was the gay issue. They were like, 'You could be blackmailed.' If I'm out, how could I be blackmailed? They said, 'You could be blackmailed.'"
Luke: "Can you pinpoint the time when you changed from a girl to a woman?"
Kara jokes: "The first time I slept with a man.
"I went back to my 25th highschool reunion and some of the guys told me that I was the best girlfriend because I wasn't clingy and I would sleep with them. Apparently lesbians make great girlfriends for straight men.
"I was an adult from an early age. My mom was lovely but teenage in her outlook. Having your dad die makes you grow up quickly. I never felt young. I was highly competent and highly functional, which is a hallmark of people whose parents die at a young age.
"My grandparents left some money to us. We were always in charge of our own money. I paid for college."
Luke: "What was it like to sleep with a man?"
Kara: "I love it. I just don't like it as much. I've always liked men. I've always found them attractive. I think that's a big canard about lesbians. I love the old Roseanne Barr joke -- why would lesbians hate men? They don't have to sleep with them."
Luke: "Is there a husband and wife in your marriage?"
Kara: "No. There's not a husband and wife in anyone's marriage anymore. I live in San Francisco where often the husbands are wives and wives husbands. Megan is more maternal than I am. I had Louis first. Then she had Alex. We used the same donor. I hated breast feeding. I do most of the housework and logistics. She does the laundry."
Luke: "How much anti-lesbian discrimination have you faced?"
Kara: "Less than you might think. It's subtle.
"One of my southern relatives says, 'Kara, 60% of people don't believe in gay marriage.' I say, 'How did you lose that 40% so quickly? It used to be 100%. Soon it will be 50% then 40% and 30% and you'll be some crazy old crank like the people who insult Jews and blacks.'
"Everywhere I go, somebody will stand up and say, 'I don't know what I think about gay sex.' Then don't have any.
"My profession doesn't care. I write about an industry that doesn't care. Here in San Francisco, we got into preschool because we're gay."
Kara worked for her highschool and college newspapers. She began freelancing at the Washington Post during college. "I called up the editor to tell him that a story was done badly. He invited me to come down and tell him that to his face. I did and he hired me as a stringer.
"I went to Columbia Journalism school which was a gigantic waste of time. They didn't even have computers. You don't need school to go into journalism. That's ridiculous."
"I worked for John McClaughlin and testified against him in a sexual harassment suit. He wasn't a very creative sexual harasser. That old run-around-the-desk crap.
"He settled and continues on. The father of modern screamfest on cable tv.
"He was funny. A guy wrote an article about the whole thing and nobody would put their name to it and so I did. He came up to me at a party and said, 'Everyone else stabbed me in the back and you stabbed me in the front. Thanks.'
"I thought, 'Anytime, you pig.'"
Around 1990, Swisher began covering technology and AOL, which was headquartered in Virginia."
Luke: "Which of your personality traits have helped you succeed in journalism?"
Kara: "I've always spoken my mind. My family is not always honest but we're always forthright. My mother loves the media. She was always taking us to the theater and exposing us to TV and newspapers."
"[Circa 1990:] I was covering a famous retail family in Washington, the Hafts. They owned Crown Books. They got in a big fight. It was like King Lear. I got well known in Washington for writing about this family. I got really sick of them. Dysfunctional families are fun to cover for a while and then they start calling you at home and want to be in the news. It's horrifying.
"I went off to Russia to visit a friend. I was contacted by my editor, David Ignatius. He's like, there's this internet thing happening and there's little company AOL and nobody's been covering it well. Would you come back and do this?
"AOL became the most important company of the decade.
"I'd initially been contacted by publishers to write a book about the Hafts. My editor guided me to focus on AOL. As they grew, my reputation grew. I got to meet everybody in the Internet space early on because they were all interfacing with AOL.
"The parties were great [during the Internet boom] and the public got this amazing communications medium for free, paid for by speculation."
Kara says the Treo is the best relationship in her life.
Luke: "How important was the pornography industry in the development of the Internet business?"
Kara: "Critical. I love the pornography industry. There was Danni Ashe, the most downloaded woman on the Internet, I love her. She was so smart. She came to the South-by-Southwest conference and was on a panel. People snickered at her. She was one of the smartest people I ever met early on in the Internet. She understood the power of interactive media better than anyone else. She did interesting innovative things that consumers wanted. You may not like what they're selling, but they've been really good at figuring out what people want and delivering the goods. People should stop snickering about them.
"They have their show at the same time as CES. Technology people have their uniform -- khakis, Oxford shirts, and sneakers. Porn people have their uniform too -- silky shirts, little beards, same haircuts, same boots. I brought my baby to the conference and I was bored and I sat there looking at them. They're always mixing in the halls.
"I should have written about them more but the Journal wasn't interested in pornography.
"[Porners] were the first to sell subscriptions well. They had early payment systems. We should sic the spam people on Al Qaeda. They're really smart.
"There was this M2M4sex.com -- a gay men's hookup. You could write that you were in the Castro and looking for sex dressed up in fur at four o'clock. You put it in and it would find someone. Some say, 'Oh, that's gross.' No, that's why the internet's great.
"MySpace, EBay are about finding what you want when you want it."
Luke: "How did the moguls talk about the porn industry?"
Kara: "I was always like, 'Look at this [porn] site.' They'd go yuck. I'd say, look at how efficient this is. Think about how you could use it for your own business. They never talk about it. Obviously porn was a big deal for AOL. At one point, they thought about starting a separate porn business. Planetout.com paid the rent by porn advertising."
Luke: "I remember how Yahoo had handpicked listings for the best bestiality sites."
"Do your kids suffer because you are not married to a man?"
Kara: "Not in San Francisco. My brothers are an important part of my life. There are a lot of men in my life. I grew up without a father. It was not good.
"My kids have two loving parents. They're the luckiest kids on earth. They have this beautiful house in San Francisco. They get whatever they want."
Luke: "Were there any blacks at the forefront of the Internet revolution?"
Kara: "Not enough. There aren't enough women. It's a white geeky guy world. But the industry's trying to diversify."
A Hezbollah apologist wins an award for tolerance
Is Novelist Ian McEwan Perfect?
If there's a flaw in his books, I haven't noticed it.
David Williams signed with Bodog.com whose owner, Calvin Ayers, appeared on the cover of Forbes, and was arrested in Costa Rica. (Bodog just signed Jamie Gold, winner of the World Series of Poker Main Event 2006.)
I've never heard about David Williams (until I was emailed this information) and I had no idea that poker players could be celebrities. I know nothing about their world and nothing about the World Series of Poker.
Berel emails me: "Has there been a study done on the consumption of porn by yeshiva bachurs? How many have had their spiritual life destroyed by excessive guilt about masturbation? I'm very curious and somewhere lurking in the back of my mind, I must admit, I think somehow by emailing you I will come closer to the mysterious gnosis that is hidden within porn."
I'm afraid I don't have any answers. I know people who are addicted to porn and to alcohol and it devastates their lives.
Texas Guy emails me 9/5/06:
I call Bryan Tuesday morning, Sep 5, 2006.
Luke: "You got a few minutes."
Bryan: "Yeah, no problem. It's my favorite subject to talk about."
Luke: "What does David Williams do on that video College Cock 8?"
Bryan: "It is a fetish video produced in 7/28/03 by Janet Mason. Part one is a foot job. Part two is him licking her ass for 15 straight minutes.
"That woman could not have sold that many of these. I got the last one before Dave Williams bought the master. I have four extremely secure copies. I bet there are 100 mobile homes in America with this DVD sitting on top of the DVD player and they have no clue who it is."
Luke: "What is David Williams best known for? The World Series of Poker?"
Bryan: "He came second in 2004 to Greg Raymer and won $3.5 million. The video was shot almost to the day one year before that.
"The big question among my friends was whether he did it because he's a member of the site or whether he was paid."
Luke: "He wasn't paid."
"Is poker regarded in the general community as a vice like pornography?"
Bryan: "Not anymore. I guess you really have not seen much poker. With all the ESPN coverage starting in 2003, it's turned into something special. They're regarded more as athletes, maybe degenerate athletes, than pornographers. Greg Raymer does nothing but sign autographs when he walks out in the hall. David Williams is one of the kings of Las Vegas. In any city, he can walk into a room, into a random sports bar, and a lot of people will know who he is. The chicks dig it because they know he has infinite money."
Luke: "Is this going to hurt his poker career?"
Bryan: "I don't believe so. I tried to get this story in every poker magazine ever. The major poker media refused to run the story. 'We don't want to piss off any pro poker players so they won't talk to us.' No publicity is bad publicity.
"It will hurt his credibility because he has told so many real media that it wasn't him. Because it's embarrassing."
Luke: "How would other poker players feel about this?"
Bryan: "This breed really don't care. What are they going to do? Not deal him in."
Luke: "Would they bust his balls?"
Bryan: "For sure. One hundred percent. But that's it."
Luke: "Would he lose friends over this?"
Bryan: "I doubt it. I know a lot of his friends. He was involved in the game Magic the Gathering. It's a super nerd game, a strategy game. His magic friends are his old school friends. Most of them knew about this porno way before he entered the World Series."
Luke: "Is he self-destructive?"
Bryan: "He said that he didn't want his mom to know about it. That was his main reason for all the denials."
Luke: "Don't hookers and poker go together like meat and milk?"
Bryan: "They do. You can find degenerates in any sport but you are obviously pre-qualified playing in a $10,000 tournament. You have no respect for your money."
Luke: "Have you known great poker players who've ruined their talents by pursuing hookers?"
Bryan: "Hookers are usually the least of their problems. Usually their lives are destroyed between the craps table, the blackjack table and the drugs."
"There are a lot of professional poker players who do have gambling problems. Sometimes it is more of a gambling solution so long as they stick to poker. Poker has certainly destroyed way more lives than it has helped. Most of the pros restrain themselves to playing the poker."
Luke: "Would you say that a higher proportion of pro poker players have drug problems when compared to the general public?"
Luke: "Could you give me a psychological portrait of pro poker players?"
Bryan: "ADD. Everyone's report card said, 'Smart but talked during class.' Class clown. Always had a problem with authority. It all leads to poker. Never wanted to work for the man. Always thought you were smarter than everyone else. Usually had a small gambling problem at some point which led to the pokr table, a gambling solution."
"I run the number one poker website -- neverwinpoker.com. I guess poker is my profession. I won a few hundred thousand dollars at the World Series this year. I list my profession as 'professional degenerate.'"
"I've been devoted to poker for about eight years. I was trading stocks in college. I made a ton of money. I thought I knew everything [and then came the crash of 2000 and 2001]. I tried to start a business teaching other people how to make money in the stock market but that was not the place to be in 2001."
I ask Bryan about his photo on his website.
Bryan: "The white visor and the velour sweatsuit are our thing at neverwinpoker. The velour sweatsuit is the smoothest thing you can ever wear. Most casinos are cold. It keeps you warm."
Luke: "Why do you hide your face?"
Bryan: "You really are a poker novice. You always hide your face because it is a reduction of tells to other players. But let's not kid ourselves. You look cool. People take your picture. You look cool for the camera. There is a whole big thing with image that I won't get into, but the image that you project is how other people play you.
"Look at me. I look like the punk kid. You don't want to get rolled by me because then you're just embarrassed. I talk a lot at the table. I use that. But tricks only work on the weaker players."
Luke: "Why do you call yourself a degenerate?"
Bryan: "Some words just crept into my speech. If you read my website, there are a handful of words that get pounded over and over. It's half a joke. Poker, yeah, it is a degenerate's sport in some people's eyes."
Luke: "Do you party a lot?"
Bryan: "No. I have a wife and a dog and a house."
Luke: "How does your wife like you calling yourself a degenerate?"
Bryan: "Remember, I work from the house and make a lot of money. I can spend a lot of time with her. She does not complain. She thinks it's cool what I do. Her whole family thinks it's cool.
"You're Jewish, too? Her family are business owners and lawyers and doctors. It's not a source of conflict partially because I've been very successful for a while."
Luke: "How do your parents feel about you constantly calling yourself a degenerate?"
Bryan: "I don't talk to my parents that much but when I won a place at the final table of the World Series, I got a call, 'Why is everybody calling me? Where are you?' 'I'm in Vegas, mom. I've been here for a month.'"
Luke: "Do they say, 'We're so proud that you're a degenerate.'"
Bryan: "No. They're very much not proud. If they ever tell you they are, they're lying."
Luke: "I can't imagine any parents being proud that their son calls himself a degenerate. It doesn't give them nachas."
Bryan: "I got a phone call. Our rabbi is a good friend. He asked me to speak to his [Reform or Reconstructionist] synagogue. Poker is huge now."
"I've been getting ready for this ESPN coverage tonight. I want to make sure the servers don't crash."
Luke: "When you were a kid, what did you want to be when you grew up?"
Bryan: "I only knew that I didn't want to get dressed up every day. My mother told me on a few occasions that I'd have to be a trash man."
Bryan estimates that the median age for pro poker players is about 22. "The more you investigate poker, every Stein, Rosenthal, Bloom, they're all in poker. All the Jews are saying this is the easiest money to get now. I don't even go to synagogue any more but something in my brain told me to do it too."
Luke: "How do you think your choice of profession has affected you?"
Bryan: "I have a nice BMW and a $10,000 watch."
"There are action junkies all over the poker world. You're always trying to get your poker high back."
Luke: "I can't imagine that you'd make good decisions if you're high on cocaine."
Bryan: "Cocaine, unfortunately, works very well on poker. If you need to stay up for two days... Cocaine has claimed the lives of a lot of poker champions including Steve Unger. He led the most degenerative life ever."
"It sounds like you need to play a poker tournament."
Luke: "No. I was a gambling addict in highschool and had to go cold turkey on any form of gambling."
Nancy Rubin Stuart Interview II
Nancy wrote such books as The Reluctant Spiritualist: The Life of Maggie Fox, American Empress: The Life and Times of Marjorie Merriweather Post, Isabella of Castile: The First Renaissance Queen, The Mother Mirror: How A Generation of Women Is Changing Motherhood in America, and The New Suburban Woman: Beyond Myth and Motherhood.
* What your choice of subjects says about you? For instance, what do all your protagonists have in common? For instance, they all sought power and attention and the limelight?
Your question implies that since I write about powerful and prominent women I must long to be one. I understand that's a common assumption among those who interview writers.
Before embracing that assumption, though, consider the question that all publishers ask before agreeing to give a writer a contract. Who is your audience? How interested would your readers be in the life of an ordinary person, someone who simply lives, loves and dies, who, in other words, leads a perfectly normal life? Does anyone really care? On the contrary, readers like to be excited and intrigued, to hear about those people who have lived such special lives that they deserve to have an entire book devoted to them.
I think you understand my point. Biographies are written about extraordinary people, those who are unusually good, bad, talented or powerful enough to make a difference.
Does that mean since I write about those subjects, I must be like them too? Or does it simply mean that I'm a creative person who is fascinated by those who have made a difference?
* "Free woman power"? That's a bit bold? Do you believe that life/marriage is tougher on women than men? Surely there's no free lunch in love or elsewhere?
No, I do not believe that marriage is necessarily tougher on men than women. Men, after all, are still supposed to be major breadwinners as well as be more involved as fathers than were earlier generations. The second set of expectations add stress for men who already work long hours and hope to rise in their careers.
The context of The New Suburban Woman, however, is the late 1970s and early 1980s when most women were not gainfully employed outside the home and when they made 69 cents for every dollar collected by a male worker.
At the time that I wrote that book, the marriage contract that expected women to be full-time homemakers and child-rearers was still operative. As subsequent divorce statistics indicated, many of those homemakers were later displaced and having dropped out of the work force for ten or twenty years, found themselves financially straightened in after divorce. Local, state and charitable organizations even sprang up to help the "displaced homemakers" of the 1970s and 1980s.
Today, it is far more acceptable for women with young children to work outside the home. Many women do so, not only to help pay the mortgage, but as a "hedge" against a sudden loss of income through divorce. New day care centers for the middle class have appeared around the country and so have after-school programs - both practically unheard of in the 1970s and early 1980s. Meanwhile, volunteer organizations, once staffed almost exclusively by at-home mothers, have more difficulty filling their ranks as do many daytime PTA associations. Even today, suburban mothers who remain at home with their children often claim they do more than their share for the children of working mothers either by hosting more play dates or doing "favors" for working mothers.
Increasingly "free womanpower" as I defined it in The New Suburban Woman, has become a vanishing commodity.
* American Empress: "That book depicts the life of a beautiful woman whose vast wealth, pluck, and brains enabled her to live far more independently than other women would or could for another fifty years." A bit bold? If that statement is true, who's Marjorie's first successor 50 years later? Is living independently good? An island never cries.
At the risk of labeling anyone, I would just like to point out that thousands of less well known women have become "Marjorie's successors" for decades, certainly since the late 1970s or early 1980s. A comparison of the Who's Who directories today with those a generation ago indicates just how many more women are independent today than they were a generation or two ago - including many who were not born to wealth or privilege.
You ask if independent living is good. I believe that is a highly personal question. Historically, the American Revolution "proved" that people want to decide their own fates and think for themselves. So did the suffrage and feminist movements of the nineteenth and twentieth centuries.
Just how independently a woman decides to live is her choice. Some women are perfectly happy to be traditionally dependent on men. Others chose to remain independent career women. I have friends in both camps. You probably do as well.
* Why is it irresponsible to out someone as gay (as long as it is true)? Why is that more or less irresponsible than outing something else (of equivalent punch) about a person?
Is it not irresponsible to "out" anyone on the basis of their race, religion, culture, or sexual orientation or culture? Writers are supposed to examine all types of people, after all, and try to understand them and their lives.
* Would it be fair to characterize your approach to your protagonists as a sympathetic friend? You seem to want good things for them?
To write engagingly about a character requires some empathy for them, I suppose, but disapproval is also inevitable. One of the most fascinating aspects of writing a biography is knowing that the protagonist will make certain poor decisions and/or mistakes in his life. Yet the writer can do nothing about it! The upshot is that all a writer can hope to do is reflect the lives of their characters as accurately as possible and that includes the " bad things" they do as well as the good.
* Do you believe there are important lessons to be learned from your protagonists? Yet you do not spell these lessons out?
Readers are smart. They don't need the writer to hammer home the " lessons" learned from reading about a life. If a book is well written, the reader will inevitably come to his own conclusions. That, at least, is my goal when writing non- biographies.
Jewish Whistleblower writes:
Zipi writes to Jewish Whistleblower: "This is inappropriate. True the parents and the grandfather did what shouldn't be done, but the bride and groom are innocent and should not be embarrassed."
JWB responds: "Firstly, I did not use the names of the bride or groom and specifically asked Mr.Ford not to do so. Secondly, I held my tounge for several months til after the sheva brachot. Thirdly, it is an outrage that child molesters are given any public kavod from their rabbinical colleagues and particularly when they are allowed to publicly use the title rav. Such an outrage must be publicized regardless of everything else."
Allegra Goodman is Back
I loved some of the short stories she wrote in her teens and early twenties. Then she wrote serious novels and my enjoyment of her work diminished. Now's she at the top of her game with Intuition, a crackling story about scientists.
For the first time, Judaism has largely fallen off her writing radar.
Yet, like another novel I couldn't put down -- Robert Siegel's All the Money in the World, the ending of Intuition did not satisfy me. There were no good guys and bad guys. There was not enough punishment for sin.
It was like Reform Judaism.
I not only enjoy sin as much as the next guy, I enjoy it more than most. I find it difficult to become aroused unless I feel like I am sinning.
I know this is wrong. That is precisely what makes it so much fun.
There's not enough indignation about sin in Reform, Conservative and Modern Orthodox Judaism and consequently I don't find them arousing (not that I last long in anything more rigorous than Modern Orthodoxy).
One thing I love about Orthodox Judaism is that it clearly delineates right and wrong. That makes it easy for me to sin riotously (without hurting anyone) and to consequently feel shame.
Yes, I know that most people are not definitively good or bad but some people are good and some people are bad. Some sins don't get punished in this world but many do.
It used to be that stories (on screen or in fiction) had clear endings. As embodied by 1970's Five Easy Pieces, we've lately had more non-definitive endings. Neither is inherently right or wrong, but punishment should fit the crime (or what's a heaven for?).
Jason Rhoades, 41; Artist Combined Humor, Poignancy
Who Was Placer High School's Greatest Newspaper Editor?
Eric Schulzke (now a BYU poli sci prof) served over me in 1983. (His younger brother Matt was on the paper for a semester with me in 1984. Matt was kicked out BYU and committed suicide by jumping off the Foresthill Bridge circa 1986). Rob Stutzman (who was Governor Schwarzeneger's Communications Director) ran the paper for the two years after me.
Alice, the first girl who French kissed me (my junior year) became Auburn's mayor and now works for California's governor.
Eric writes on Yahoo: "Is this man the most esteemed PHS highschool newspaper editor: Luke Ford? His life would make a great movie."
L., a cutie two grades below me, replies: "[I] couldn't tolerate him then, and I am sure, if he is still writing about porn and his messed up life, I couldn't tolerate him now."
Karen writes: "I would buy a ticket to see this in any theatre, reminds me of DOMINO and her story. I think you could get Heath [Ledger] to play Luke. No worries about the accent as he actually grew up in Austrailia. You gotta read his bio."
British TV Movie Imagines Assassination of Bush
It seems shocking but then most movies are about imagined evil deeds performed out for our amusement.
Watching The Jewish Journal Blog Is Like Watching Your Parents Have Sex
When Hezbollah rained rockets on Northern Israel this summer, the Journal's Amy Klein and CAA agent Matt Altman flew from Los Angeles to the war and began to blog.
As Amy wrote in her final blog entry of Aug. 14: "Who knows what to think anymore?"
Now Amy's profiled Matt, and told the full excruciating story of his bravery: "Beverly Hills TV Agent Casts Himself in Reality Show: Lebanon War"
Get me rewrite.
Matt Altman with Tel Aviv Mayor Yona Yahav.
Fighting Fire With Satire
Pain and Pleasure and Guilt, Oh My!
* Do you ever struggle with the constraints of monogamy? Do your happily married friends? Is monogamy a precondition for a happy marriage? Can one or both parties screw around and the marriage still be good? Even if one is honest, can one, married or single, screw around without wreaking damage? Is there a cosmic significance to intercourse?
No, I don't. I'm in love with my husband, he's in love with me, and neither of us has any interest in a relationship with anyone else. That's what works for us, I imagine any number of different rules might apply to other people's marriages.
* What were your keenest dreams for your life when you were a kid? How many of them have you fulfilled?
I wanted to be an actress. A Broadway star. I would say that that has not worked out at all.
* What crowd did you hang out with in highschool?
Mostly, I had no crowd. I was one of those girls huddled alone in the lunchroom picking spinach out of their braces. Then, once I reached a certain age, I got involved with the theater company, and found a home in that particular group of delightful misfits.
* Do you find your work therapeutic? If so, which part of your work?
When work is going well, it is the most exciting, fun thing in my life. It makes me happy. When it's not going well, but I still manage to get 1000 or 1500 words in a day, I feel a sense of accomplishment that eases my day. When I don't work, I'm a nightmare to be around.
* Do you ever feel keen jealousy of other writers, including your husband? If so, who? Why?
Of other writers, sure. Writers are a squirrely lot who generally endorse the Oscar Wilde prescription for happiness. It is not enough that I succeed, my friends must also fail. So sure, I get jealous when some hot new writer sells a million copies of a book or debuts on the front cover of the book review. I feel absolutely no jealousy toward my husband. It would be ludicrious to. He is one of the finest writers in the English language of the last hundred years. People will be reading Michael long after the rest of his contemporaries have moldered into dust on the shelves of the library of Congress. If I'm jealous of anything, it's only of his genious.
* What's the story of you and God? What role does Judaism play in your life? Do you believe yourself chosen by God for something? If so, what? What do you find inspiring/depressing about Jewish life?
I don't spend much time thinking about God.Judaism permeates my life, but not necessarily religiously, more because of family, tradition, etc. What depresses me? Opening the newspaper. Israel depresses me.
* Which is more important to you? Writing a great novel or having a great marriage? (Many of the single female writers I interviewed got angry at that question.)
* 'Literary' often seems to be a code word for the genre of despair. Are there forces that push our best writers to despair as their theme? Is it cool (among literary writers) to be alienated and despairing? If a despairing book contributes to somebody's suicide, is the author partially on the hook? Do you ever view books as moral or immoral (DeSade or Nabokov's Lolita)?
Sure a book can be immoral -- certainly not Lolita, and probably not DeSade ( haven't read him) -- but if a book, say, contains specific instructions on how to lure small children to their death, then it would be immoral. Despair is just another aspect of the human condition, and more importantly for writers, it's a hell of a lot more interesting than happiness. A book in which someone is perfectly content, there's no conflict, is a dull book indead. The story is always about conflict. Otherwise, what's there to write about?
* How have your social/political views changed since becoming a wife and mother?
Very little. I've always been a liberal with a strong libertarian bent. I feel the same way. I still, despite having children, believe, for example, that the use, possession and sale of drugs -- all drugs from marijuana to methamphetamine -- should be decriminalized.
* Have your boundaries changed about what you will reveal in an interview or a non-fiction piece since you gave up blogging?
I'm more circumspect since my piece in the New York Times. I'll always be candid about most things -- my bipolar disorder, my maternal ambivalence -- but there are intimate things I'm not interested in talking about.
The Anglophile By Laurie Gwen Shapiro
At a funeral for Aunt Dot's pet skunk, they begin with a kiddush.
Laurie's writing is so sharp, she transcends "chick lit" to pure literature (without losing an ounce of fun).
My favorite part of Shapiro's work is the size of her books -- they fit perfectly inside a prayer book so that while swaying and exclaiming a pious Jew can enjoy her fine writing while his fellows suffer with the siddur.
A Pornographer Seeks Grace
Luke: don't betray your race
Mike Albo writes:
I Like The Taste Of Lithium
When I'm despairing, it's good to know that I'm only a few tablets away from feeling strong enough to wrestle with my demons.
I just finished Samuel Heilman's excellent book When a Jew Dies. He concludes:
I Interviewed Novelist Aimee Bender
I got to tell her: "You're freakin' gorgeous."
It was a great moment in literary history and a turning point in relations between the sexes.
If I had been blogging in 1992, there would never have been the L.A. Riots.
Let's go to the audiotape.
Noon. Aug 29. Aimee Bender phones me as scheduled.
Luke: "What are the qualities of the best and worst interview experiences you've had?"
Aimee: "In the best ones, I go with the flow as it happens and it deepens as it goes. It can be easy to have a quick answer and then jump to something else."
Luke: "Your writing is so surreal, you're a bit more of a challenge."
Aimee: "It's a challenge for me to know how to talk about it in a way that can connect to someone. Often I'll end up talking about my writing routine and how I sit down to write in the morning. The process of how stuff happens on the page is hard to pin down."
Luke: "How much do you have to do with your website www.flammableskirt.com?"
Aimee: "I set it up with my boyfriend of the time."
Luke: "I remember the moderator of your panel [on the Jewish Guilt book at the People of the Book Festival 2006] said that to Aimee being Jewish may be number ten on your list of priorities."
Aimee: "And I said, maybe it's number five.
"If I'm the only Jew in the room, I'm aware. That's a form of identity."
Luke: "When you were a kid, what did you want to be when you grew up?"
Aimee: "A writer at times, but I also wanted to be a singer and an actress."
Luke: "Are you a good singer and actress?"
Aimee: "I'm a bad actress and I'm not a good singer but I really like it."
Luke: "I've seen you on a few different panels and there's a vulnerability to you that wouldn't be there if you had become a lawyer."
Aimee: "I don't think I could've been a lawyer. A lawyer is a protector. What interests me in writing is vulnerability and pushing for something underneath the surface, exposing something."
Bender went to Pacific Palisades High School. "I was with the nerdy honors crowd. Then the drama group was the counterpoint. I was enamored with their enthusiasm for performance."
"I viewed writing as a hobby until graduate school when I began writing every day."
Aimee got her BA in Literature (with an emphasis on Creative Writing) in 1991 and her MFA from U.C. Irvine in 1997.
"In general, I'm an optimistic person. I'm friendly. I like people. The people who didn't know me well were surprised by the dark stuff in my writing. I have people who've known me since highschool who don't know where that stuff comes from."
Luke: "What do you do with your nervous energy?"
Aimee: "I don't smoke but I get the appeal. Walking is good. I can over-think things. I'll structure things. Make lists. On a good day, I can talk myself through it and see what's under it. Usually there's something complicated."
Luke: "Are you at peace with yourself?"
Aimee laughs. "No. There's tons of conflict."
Luke: "Where is being Jewish in your list of priorities?"
Aimee: "It's become more important. There are ways that I deal with my nervous energy that feel Jewish. The ways that I'm attracted to Hebrew."
Luke: "When did Aimee Bender become cool? You're on a good trajectory."
Aimee laughs. "In graduate school, I typed up that I want to be in a bookstore and I want loyal fans."
Luke: "When do you get the most animated? You seem not animated."
Aimee: "I feel animated. I'm pretty calm. I get that a lot. Interviews are a particular form where you try to articulate things that are often hard to articulate. My style in general is low-key."
Luke: "When you want to take charge of a room, what do you do? Do you speak louder?"
Aimee: "Does it feel like I'm speaking quietly?"
Luke: "I'm just curious."
Aimee: "I can't tell if you mean..."
Luke: "Your voice seems flat. I don't know if you are tired or if this is just your interview voice..."
Aimee: "It's hard for me to know.
"To command attention, it's not usually a problem."
"I don't usually dominate a discussion or a room."
Luke: "Do you enjoy performing at a reading?"
Aimee: "Yes, but it's not like I am going to take on a character's voice. What you may experience as flat, I think something else is going on. I want the words to convey it and to read it in a way that goes under the words."
Luke: "Can you do voices?"
Aimee: "Not really."
"This American Life reads things that can seem like a deadpan but I really like it.
"I'm feeling a little defensive of the word 'flat' but that is my manner."
Luke: "You've never done phone sex as a profession."
Aimee: "No, but even if I had, I wouldn't tell you."
"I'm often called 'calm,' which I prefer over 'flat.'"
Luke: "You're freakin' gorgeous. How has your body affected your writing?"
Aimee laughs. "I get a little insult. Now I get a little compliment.
Luke: "It'd be hard to write your librarian story without the confidence that beauty brings."
Aimee: "It's about inhabiting that feeling of being attractive."
Luke: "Have you experienced not being taken seriously as a writer because you are cute?"
Aimee: "Some people don't take my stuff seriously because they think it's weird."
Aimee's published three essays.
Luke: "How do you like writing under the constraints of being factually true?"
Aimee: "I find it really hard."
Luke: "Do you fear that your muse will leave you?"
Aimee: "No, because I don't believe in the muse."
Luke: "Is Halloween still your favorite holiday?"
Aimee: "Yes, because it's about imagination and fantasy and going to an unconscious expression of something."
Luke: "That essay you read at the Heeb reading [in June 2005]..."
Aimee: "Have we met?"
Luke: "Yes. There. It was brief."
Aimee: "It hasn't shown up yet in Heeb. They haven't done something with those talks. I'm not sure I want to push it."
Luke: "You wrote about..."
Aimee: "A failed marriage."
Luke: "Anti-Semitism. Your husband defended the swastika."
Aimee laughs. "I like how that's boiled down."
Luke: "He said it was an ancient pagan symbol."
Aimee: "The reverse swastika was the Native American symbol at his family's house. I just wanted them to turn it around. It was about Jewishness and the end of the marriage and that's why being Jewish has felt more important to me over the past few years. I felt like it was going to drift away and then I got divorced and there was a resurgence of interest in me about valuing it."
Luke: "What does that mean behaviorally?"
Aimee: "Going to synagogue more..and being more aware of what is going on in Jewish LA in my age group. I went to this thing called Reboot, a bunch of Jews getting together and talking about their Judaism. I did the San Francisco Jewish Book Festival twice."
Luke: "What do you find inspiring and depressing about Jewish life?"
Aimee: "I find the questioning and depth of thought inspiring. I've always liked the symbols.
"Any religion can get depressing when things are taken in a closed way."
"Figuring out the relationship of American Jews to Israel is complicated. People shut down around that topic. That's a big problem because it should be a lively and engaging debate."
"I've never been to Israel."
Luke: "How do you feel about being a part of God's Chosen People?"
Aimee laughs. "I have some trouble with that."
Luke: "How would you like to be tattooed?"
Aimee: "I would not like it, but I like it when other people are tattooed. I like seeing what people pick."
Luke: "Why would you not want to be tattooed?"
Aimee: "I do feel a little thing about the Jewish cemetery thing [the myth that a Jew who has a tattoo can not be buried in a Jewish cemetery as Jewish law forbids getting a tattoo]. It would bother me if I couldn't be buried in a Jewish cemetery. But it's more about you make a choice and you having to stick with that choice and it feels too concrete a choice."
Luke: "How often is 'literary' writing just a code word for despair?"
Aimee: "What interests me about your question is that 'literary' is such a charged word. It can feel snooty. I hope that 'literary' means going into something with depth, and when you go into depth, you're going to find despair."
Luke: "Is there some force that pushes 'literary' people to write despair?"
Aimee: "Sometimes it is the honest place people go when they push themselves. When it is fake despair to join the club, that is even more despairing."
"One of the reasons people like Charles Bukowski is that he puts voice to these [despairing] feelings and it gives release and freedom."
CelebDrive writes: "It wasn't until I was halfway through the Aimee Bender piece that I realized it wasn't a posthumous interview with Laura Nyro."