Friday, October 31, 2014

Hollywood to Hudson

This week, I learned more about Dylan Thomas than I did throughout my whole school and university careers.
Celebrating the centenary of the poet’s birth, the Welsh gathered at various venues throughout New York City, where Dylan died on November 9th 1953, at just 39.
In Wales, we grew up in the knowledge that Dylan was a drunk, and often not a pleasant one. While I admired his prose style, I was less of a fan of his poetry, which I thought to be verbose and rather immature in its excessive use of alliteration.
This week, a poetry reading by the brilliant Michael Sheen at Bauman Rare Books on Madison Avenue, reminded me of the richness and depth of some of Dylan’s better work; likewise, Sheen’s participation in Under Milk Wood, from the stage where Dylan first performed it. I felt privileged to be there.
Also in the audience were writer and director Richard Curtis and Mad Men’s Jon Hamm. The latter caused a particular flurry of excitement among the ladies, and I could barely contain myself having my picture taken with him.
Visiting the White Horse Tavern, where Dylan used to drink, was also an uplifting experience, and I did the utmost sentimental act by putting Tom Jones’s Green Green Grass of Home on the jukebox while filming the surroundings on my iPhone. Call me an old softie. Call me Welsh. I also bumped into two holidaymakers who know me from the pub quiz in the Butcher’s Arms in my village in Cardiff. Weird.
It’s taken me a while to find my feet in New York; it’s the same with every big city. It helps that it is the most friendly city I have ever visited; it also helps that it is very easy to get around, either on the subway or on foot. I have my local haunts, there is a great food truck on the corner of my street, and an excellent wine store.
Unlike LA, where drinks are snatched out of your hand come 2am, loads of hostelries stay open until 4am (although still too early, in my book). So far, I’m not missing the LA weather, because it was a perfect, mild summer here, and autumn is dry and warm with just that little bit of crispness in the air that to me is always a hint of Christmas.
I miss the quiet of LA – yes, really. They really like their sirens and car horns in New York. When I watch Law and Order: SVU, which is filmed in the city, I marvel at how any of the actors manage to make themselves heard above the constant racket. It’s not even worth attempting to sleep beyond 7am, when work on construction sites begins, and sleep comes with difficulty owing to the warning beeps of the UPS vans reversing into their lot throughout the night (warning to everyone: never rent an apartment overlooking a UPS car-park).
I miss being able to walk the streets without bumping into somebody dressed as the Empire State Building, but then as I chose to live near Times Square to be close to the theatres, I have only myself to blame.
I miss the showbiz vibe of LA: the huge billboards of Hollywood and the surrounding areas shouting about a new TV series or film; the showbiz bollocks you hear in every restaurant and bar (as I’ve always said: it may be bollocks, but it’s still the best bollocks in the world); the out of work actors, all filled with such hope (having said that, there are enough of them in New York, too, although there seem to be a lot more in work here).
I miss my LA friends, although I seem to acquire several new ones on a daily basis. In fact, I have made so many, I am already having to start sacking some of them.
It’s very easy to be a 50-something woman in New York, something I couldn’t say about LA (where men want to talk only to hookers or stick insect young women) or London (where women of my age are deemed eligible for the scrapheap of life). Here, everyone talks to everyone, irrespective of age. The waiters are not patronising and it is not unusual to see a whole row of single women sitting at a bar. If you tip well, you also get complimentary drinks. That happened to me just twice in five years in LA.
If I manage to sell my house in Wales, I would still like to reside on both the East and West coasts. I can’t see me making it through a New York winter, and although I could head south to Florida for some sun, it’s the rigor mortis state for me. Miami is more lively, but definitely not a place for women of my age; last time I went, I felt like everyone’s granny.
People who have lived here for years tell me that New York is a hard place, but I really haven’t found it so. Having lived in London for over 25 years, I am used to big city life. And far from finding the enormity of the buildings intimidating, I am struck at every turn by their beauty. There is such variety: shapes, glass, angles. It is proud architecture that, as with so much else, feels ever strong and hopeful, having endured so much.
And I love the openness of New Yorkers. While I enjoy showbiz bollocks, I also love non-bullshit, and you get it by the bucket-load here. What New Yorkers say is what they mean, and I am always stunned by the number of men talking openly in bars about the state of their current relationships. Where Angelinos dream of fame, New Yorkers dream of love.
At the end of the Dylan Thomas celebrations, I am excited to have met so many new people and been introduced to many more aspects of the rich cultural life here. It’s a very different place from the New York I visited 30 years ago – and which I hated. I was in my twenties, had never travelled, and was terrified.
It’s my birthday on Wednesday, and I’m 56. I can’t believe it. But as I watch the exquisite sunsets over the Hudson River at dusk, I’m grateful that even though it’s late in the day, I made it here: at least, literally. 

Making it here in the other sense will hopefully be the next chapter.


Wednesday, October 15, 2014

Nobody Died, Nobody Got Pregnant

How honest should one be on social networking sites?
It’s something I’ve been thinking a lot about during the past 24 hours after I posted a comment about my feelings of failure in life. A friend said that it is never a good idea to expose oneself in this way and, I know, he is not alone in thinking this. I have friends who don’t even have a Facebook or Twitter account, which, to be honest, I find WEIRD! 
But, the truth is, the responses I have had from people is the only thing that is getting me through a very tough period in my life. And it’s not the first time that people on social networking sites (many of whom I have never met in person) have done that for me. My wonderful mum is there among the comments, too (nobody understands you like a mother. Truly. NOBODY), and my brother Nigel and dearest friend Leisha were first on the phone when I texted them about the latest disaster. The outpouring of love has been truly overwhelming, and my tears of frustration and anger have turned to ones of gratitude for the people I have in my life who love me for who I am. Thank you, thank you, thank you, to every single one of you.
Here’s the thing. And I really have given this a lot of thought before sharing it. I am losing my house. There. At the end of the day, it’s only 16 letters of the alphabet. But I’ve said it now. And I’ve decided to share that piece of information because people have been worried and, without saying why I am so distressed, they are thinking the worst. But, at the end of the day, nobody died, nobody got pregnant. Sorry if I alarmed any of you on either front.
Financially, it’s been a struggle for some time. Losing a job, pay cuts, the recession – I know I’m not alone in having a hard time; most people I know are, in varying degrees, suffering. The house is already on the market, but the stupid bank (I SO hate you, Barclays) can’t wait for a sale or hang on for five months when, with the new pension laws, everything can be sorted. I chatted to a very lovely person for half an hour, but, at the end of the day, it really was a case of, in the words of Little Britain, CSN, “Computer Says No”.
So, I am returning to the UK to clear my house and handing over the keys to CSN. I have spent the past day venting my fury, screaming What’s it all about? What have I worked so hard for all my life? and several other things that I cannot put into print.
Then, I turned to Facebook, where family, friends and complete strangers were there to offer support. Privately, others have reached out in phone calls, text messages and e-mails, and it has made me re-evaluate the nature of what a life actually is.
Because, at the end of the day, what has actually changed? I still have my family, who, I know, would be there for me were I to turn serial killer. I still have my friends who, I know, never judged me by my bank balance. And I still have me who, for all the tears I have shed during the past 24 hours, is still pretty happy with what I see when I look in the mirror, both literally and metaphorically.
Very few people in, say, Paris (where I lived for six years) or New York (where I currently spend a lot of time) owns a property. In the UK, however, ownership of bricks has always been equable with status. I recall a taxi driver in Cardiff dropping me off at my house (soon to be the property of CSN – did I mention that?) and commenting “You must have married well”. I was very proud to tell him that everything I had was as a result of me alone.
The downside of that aloneness is that you have to live the bad times by yourself, too. But that’s where social networking comes in. Within the space of a day, I have gone from being a wreck to feeling that I am about to embark on a whole new chapter; I am shedding skins. I will not be defined by the weight of a mortgage that, if I am honest, was running me, not the other way around.
Close friends have been worried for some time about the effect that financial stress has been having on my life. They have seen me constantly disappointed when people who appeared to be offering a lifeline in terms of work let me down. They have seen me try everything to get back on track – even moving continents. They have seen me exhausted and, some weeks, have no money for food (last week’s toilet roll famine was especially bad).

But I am resilient. I still have my writing ability. I still have my family and friends. I just won’t have the bricks and mortar in which to entertain them anymore. 

I await your Christmas invitations.

And if you could all buy my book, Broke: A Life of Small Change, when I put it on Amazon, that would help enormously.

Tuesday, October 14, 2014

Only the Lonely

I have been lonely all my life. 

I was writing that to a friend of 30 years standing the other night and found myself weeping uncontrollably.
Loneliness is not depression. I have had my fair share of the latter and written about it extensively. Depression is an illness that is out of one’s control. Yes, you can have therapy, you can take drugs to try to control it, but, at the end of the day, the despair that is the heart of the sickness is a beast that chooses you. Any time. Any place. You don’t get to decide when it is going to be unleashed.
But loneliness. That’s different.
Let me say at the outset that I have a wonderful family and a ton load of amazing friends, many of whom I know are there for me 24/7. Some of those friends have known me for 30 plus years, and, in the case of my closest school friends, 40 plus. I am truly blessed in my relationships.
This isn’t a great place to be right now, though. Mid-fifties, single, female, pretty much broke, and always feeling on the periphery of everyone else’s circle. Everyone has a partner, children, grandchildren, dogs, and there are days when life feels like a conspiracy of togetherness holding up a NO ENTRY sign to you alone.
Aloneness is something I have chosen. I have a solitary job, am totally at ease in my own company, and love the freedom that not being married or being a parent brings. I am extremely close to my friends’ children, who, I am sure, would soon go off me if I were their real parent. They would soon see that what they currently regard as the epitome of cool and the “I wish Jaci was my mother” syndrome would transform in an instant into “I didn’t ask to be born!” reaction in response to my “What time d’you call this?!” if they had sprung from my loins.
Loneliness is different, though, and, it might be a cliché, but you can be lonely in a relationship, too; given the choice, I would rather be single and lonely than married and lonely.
Something happened this week that suddenly made the pain of loneliness so tangible, I just wanted to try to define what it is. It feels self-indulgent to do so, because, after all, it’s not a life-threatening illness, and people go through far worse. But, as a society, we are not good at recognising emotional pain, which is why, when people commit suicide, so many remain baffled as to what could have been the reasons behind it.
I have written elsewhere in my blogs about that kind of despair, but loneliness is harder to categorise. When I was in NLP (Neuro Linguistic Programming), my therapist (Martin Weaver – check him out, he’s great) noted my physical movements when I was describing emotional pain. So, this week, I watched it. Loneliness, for me, is two clenched hands pressed against a tide of sadness in my chest. But maybe that’s every kind of sadness. It’s the heart. And the heart is the spring of everything. Good and bad.
This has been a bad week. I don’t want to go into detail, but this is the lowest. It really is. And it’s only Tuesday. Blake Snyder, whose screenwriting book Save the Cat, first brought me to the US, would call it the “All Is Lost” moment on page 75 of a screenplay, followed by “Dark Night of the Soul”. But, ten pages later, there’s the “Break Into Three” – the solution. Oh, Blake. I miss you so much. But you’re still there. Talking me through the loneliness.
I don’t have a solution to anything I’m going through at the moment, but I am blessed in my friends who get me through the darkness and who, despite their busy lives, are there for me. 

Someday soon, I hope I’ll break into Act Three. 

Synthesis. I’ll get there, Blake. 

I just might have to re-visit Act Two to sort it all out.


Thursday, October 9, 2014

Going, Going, Gone Girl - Here's Hoping

Before this week, the last film I saw in a large public cinema (or movie theater as I am now wont to call it – and yes, spelt that way, too; I am SO American these days) was The Hangover (the first one) in Century City in LA.
I bought the biggest burger and drink from the enormous Food Court and relaxed in a seat that was the size of my apartment’s living room.
I then laughed non-stop for the whole movie, as did everyone else. I could not remember a time I had laughed quite so much (well, not unless I counted reading my own columns, anyway). For days afterwards, I was still laughing.
Although, as a member of BAFTA (British Academy of Film and Television Arts), I receive all movies free for voting purposes, I decided this week to go to the real thing once more. The hype surrounding Girl Gone had been huge, as were the opening weekend sales, and, having loved director David Fincher’s The Social Network, was prepared to be massively impressed.
Just as I did in The Hangover, I cried throughout: not tears of joy, however, but tears of boredom. And then tears of fear – had I been kidnapped and was I being held against my will and, as in Evelyn Waugh’s A Handful of Dust, being subjected to something I would never be able to escape? In Waugh, the victim is the character Tony being held by a Mr Todd, who forces him to read Dickens to him – FOR EVER! In Gone Girl, it is . . . well, what is it? I’ll come to that shortly, but let’s say that my third batch of tears were ones of joy as I finally escaped the darkness, both literally and metaphorically and emerged into the light outside the Lowes movie theatre. 

Never has real life looked or felt so good. I went to Whole Foods and spent half an hour working out what I could have bought there for the $15 I had just wasted at the movies (only three things, as it happened, but still preferable).
For those who have yet to see Gone Girl (and who, heaven forbid, will still want to after reading this?), and who haven’t read the book, I won’t reveal the essentials, but will talk in generalities.
Leaving aside my feeling that Ben Affleck in one of the leads, Nick, is about as underwhelming (to me) as a frozen kipper, it’s a mess of a movie. Rosamund Pike, the other lead, Amy (no fish comparisons intended, by the way), is very good, but it’s impossible to empathise with either character, and if you don’t know who you’re rooting for in a movie, for me it’s over before it’s begun.
The catalyst of the movie, the moment that changes everything and leads it in a different direction, is even more underwhelming than Mr Affleck. It should be a real “WOW! I didn’t see that coming” movie moment, but I’ve had more excitement brushing my teeth, to be honest.
Then there is the issue of Ms Pike’s weight gain within minutes; the cat that never gets fed (yet never loses weight); the reactions of all the key characters to the central plot i.e. the girl that is gone (although, hardly a girl, quite frankly).
The police at the heart of the operation are hopeless; the Sesame Street Cops would have delved more deeply into the evidence. There is way too much repetition, during which we receive the same information, either visually or verbally several times over. The ending is incomprehensible on one essential fact that is supposed to be the other WOW! moment that winds the whole thing up after a staggering 149 minutes. There is not a jot of it that is remotely believable – neither was E.T. literally, but I believed it emotionally – either in terms of plot, characters, or human behaviour. It’s tosh for the masses.
It is as if they changed directors (and, at times, writers) every 15 minutes, never quite getting to grips with what kind of movie they wanted it to be (apart from one that made a lot of money by pulling the wool over the general public’s eyes). The hype surrounding it really is a case of Emperor’s new clothes, and its popularity can only be down to the problem of there being so little out there at the moment – and, in Hollywood, there hasn’t been for some time (though I absolutely LOVED The Hundred-Foot Journey, which I saw in a small private cinema). 

Critics who try to analyse Gone Girl in terms of its post modernism and insight into coupledom are, quite frankly, too fearful of shouting out “The King is in the all together!”

   Ms Pike will doubtless receive an Oscar nomination, and the film will make it onto the Best Adapted Screenplay list; but Best Movie? Dear lord, I hope not.
It is, alas, 149 minutes I will never get back. Gone Girl? 

Going, going, gone girl - forever, I hope.


Tuesday, October 7, 2014

50 Things NOT to Do After 50

DON’T . . .

1.       Regret anything. You’re too damned late and you’ll be dead before you get the chance to put it all right.
2.       Queue, unless you can blag your way to the front. Anything you want to see is on the telly or in a book.
3.       Try to understand men. Stop. You never will. They aren’t just from Mars; they are from another solar system yet to be discovered by real humans.
4.       Get your tits out for the lads. You should have stopped doing that 20, or even 30, years ago. No one wants to see them.
5.       Believe in God. He ain’t there.
6.       Drink and text. You can’t hold your alcohol as well as you used to, and you have never got to grips with your iPhone touchpad screen.
7.       Run up an escalator that is going downwards. You won’t make it. Trust me on this one #paramedicsalert.
8.       Get in touch with exes on social networking. They really have moved on. You should, too.
9.       Take up ice-skating. Are you nuts?
10.    Tell the doctor how many units of alcohol you drink. They really do know that 13 means 30 (plus).
11.    Tell anyone that William Hartnell was the best ever Dr Who.
12.    Sleep on the sofa because you can’t be arsed to walk 10 feet to the bedroom.
13.    Mistake the hallway white table for the toilet in the middle of the night . . . Just me, then?
14.    Think that topping yourself is the answer to everything. You’ll never find out whether it really was.
15.    Lose touch with your oldest friends. They’ve stuck with you this long, so you can’t be all bad.
16.    Talk to yourself on the street. Nobody likes a loony.
17.    Think you will ever be rich. You won’t. You have left it way too late.
18.    Have Botox. You will look like a pastry case with no filling and people will wonder why you are smiling when they tell you their entire family have been killed in a plane crash.
19.    Buy a dog. It could well outlive you and probably have to be put down once it has paid its respects by urinating on your grave.
20.    Get married – unless there is loads of money, loads of sex, or a Green Card in it for you.
21.    Take advice from people. They are only ever talking about themselves.
22.    Think that life was so much better when you were poorer. At least you get to cry over a glass of champagne now, rather than tap water.
23.    Wear a bikini. You will just look like an underdressed tree trunk.
24.    Think you can make someone fall in love with you. They will or they won’t. It’s that simple. And that complicated.
25.    Start looking up every ache and pain on Google, or you will think you have 5 minutes to live.
26.    Check the gray in your pubic hair. It will really depress you.
27.    Check the gray in any lover’s pubic hair; that will depress you even more.
28.    Believe a 20-something year old when they say they are attracted to your maturity. For “maturity”, read “no strings-attached leg-over”.
29.    Go platinum blonde in an effort to look younger. You will only end up looking like Myra Hindley’s less attractive sister.
30.    Contemplate any relationship with a man unless he is one who will put out the garbage.
31.    Accept lifts from strangers. You never learned that one, did you?
32.    Try to win a goldfish or coconut at the fairground. You never did during the first five decades of your life, so what makes you think your luck is going to change now?
33.    Buy a gun. You will only end up using it and end up in a box six feet under, or on Death Row.
34.    Say that you aren’t going to cry the next time you watch ET. You will. Keep a very large bucket by you at all times.
35.    Watch Titanic. Life really is too short for that. And you know the ending anyway. It sinks. See? I’ve saved you the trouble already.
36.    Believe anything anyone ever tells you about penises. Especially men. And lesbians.
37.    Believe a pilot when he says you are experiencing “a bit of turbulence”. You are closer to death than you know.
38.    Cry yourself to sleep. Come sunrise, your face will look as if it is nursing two baked potatoes under your eyes.
39.    Ever try to help the police with their enquiries. You’re a suspect.
40.    Start watching the Law and Order SVU marathon – because it never stops, and life as you know it will be over forever.
41.    Say the C word in the USA, or, if you speak Russian, the P word. “Prick”, however, is apparently perfectly acceptable.
42.    Breast-feed in public. Especially if you don’t have a baby.
43.    Start wondering if you are gay because you’ve never been married. You opted quite early on which side of the Penis vs the Furry Cup argument you were on, and there has been little evidence to prove you were wrong.
44.    Give up your seat to anyone on public transport, no matter how old, pregnant or infirm they are. You’ve been through shit, too; you’ve earned your spot.
45.    Try to rescue anyone appearing to be in trouble in the sea. They are waving, not drowning. You, however, will drown.
46.    Keep checking your phone. He hasn’t called. Never will.
47.    Think too much. It’s never got you anywhere.
48.    Lend anyone money. Borrow to your heart’s content, but don’t lend.
49.    Get into debt. Oh, too late.
50.    Start making lists of how your life has changed since hitting 50.

Thursday, October 2, 2014

Keeping the Wolf from the Door

Law and Order: SVU. 

I swear that for every one I watch, they have made another six by the time the credits roll. How else would it be possible, every time I turn on my TV, to see yet another SVU marathon and so many episodes that I haven’t seen before?
Last night, I watched the second episode of series 16, which began last week. My DVR hadn’t recorded episode one because Verizon screwed up. I couldn’t watch it On Demand because Verizon screwed up again.
Verizon are ruining my life. I talk to them more often than I talk to my mother. Well, I say “talk”. The only people who appear to be contactable there are the social networking team on Twitter, and they really are very good indeed. The problem is that the people they pass the messages on to are the very people who don’t pick up the phone when you try to reach them by conventional methods. And so you go back to Twitter to name and shame the company into taking action.
I was perfectly happy with Time Warner Cable in Los Angeles, but when I moved to New York, I was assured Verizon were the best. Super-duper high speed internet, the ability to record 12 programmes at a time, 200 hours of storage space of HD on the DVR, and 1000 in SD.
To cut a long story short, it’s the slowest internet (and I am on 150/150 for all you techies out there) I have ever had, and my DVR has been swallowing SVU at a faster rate than I can watch it.
It turned out that I had been given the super-duper internet speed (that isn’t), but the bog standard, two programmes at a time, DVR recorders. This, I discovered only when the first episode of SVU clashed with another two recordings, and so never appeared. I turned to On Demand, where, in SD and HD, it was scrambled. Finally, a human has addressed this, but it means losing my collection of stored Judge Alex programmes forever, as the show is no longer on the air. See what I mean, Verizon? RUINING my life!
But back to SVU. I get very confused, because Danny Pino, who has one of the most beautiful mouths in television, is also on old episodes of Cold Case, which is my other addiction. I know he is called Nick in one or the other, but have no idea which, because every time he comes on screen, I just stare at those gorgeous lips (and he doesn’t look like a Nick, anyway. He looks like a . . . well, a Danny, which is just as well). And eyes. He really is incredibly gorgeous. I quite fancy the overweight one, too (I think he’s Cold Case, but don’t take my word on that), who is sexy in a Tony Soprano kind of way.
My real love, though, is Mariska Hargitay, who plays Detective Olivia Benson in SVU. Now, when I say “love”, I don’t mean it in a “Let’s go on holiday to the island of Lesbos, Mariska” kind of way; I just find her performance utterly compelling and one to which I have become addicted. Hargitay is not only a charismatic, sensitive actor, who knows that less is always more, she possesses a quality that you can’t really pin down, but which I will categorise as the Comfort Blanket Factor.
Every day, when I skip through the “Guide” when I have exhausted the DVR, I will always tune in if SVU is on. It doesn’t matter what time of day it is, and much as I say “Right, it’s my last one”, they put that Law and Order logo and voiceover “In the criminal justice system” up so darn quick, I am hooked again before I get even a finger to the remote to change channels. It’s my comfort blanket and I really, really don’t like it when it’s not on.
Dick Wolf, whose name appears at the end of all the Law and Order episodes, is the master of addictive television. I had the privilege of meeting him at a forum in London when the UK version was being made, and he appeared on stage with his leg in plaster. Apparently, he had been for a pedicure and his foot had become infected. It wouldn’t have made a whole episode, but there was something mildly amusing in the knowledge that he has all that genius and money and can’t find a pedicurist who doesn’t have delusions of amputeeism.
Anyway, I watched episode two of this season’s SVU, which was, by accident, incredibly topical, as it involved a sports personality being accused of something he may or may not have done (although that is always a hot topic in the US, as far as I can see). Sex, race, loyalty, truth, justice – all the big themes were there, as they invariably are in the Dick Wolf box of magical tricks. 

I just have to find a way to wean myself off SVU, if only for a day, as I am now an SV of the show itself.
In the meantime, Mariska and Danny, I really do love you both. But I still need some broadcasting methadone to get me off the SVU hard stuff. 

My real life is over unless I find a means to keep Dick Wolf out of my living room.