Monday, December 23, 2013

Mobiles and Stabiles and Books, Oh My

The other night, I had the pleasure of seeing the Calder exhibit at LACMA with a friend. It is a beautifully curated show. We enjoyed reading about his process and seeing the final products - the mobiles dancing in the air and the stabiles proudly standing their ground. At first glance, the mobiles look like simplistic childlike designs, but upon closer inspection the artistry really stands out. Geometric, colorful shapes are attached with delicate wire structures, allowing for balance and movement. The pieces are thoughtful, vibrant and even funny


The exhibit made me think of my own writing, or rather, writing in general. There is an illusion of simplicity and ease when reading a page-turner, when really the author most likely struggled with the same sense of balance, only with words instead of shapes.

I teach a class called "In Their Own Words: Artists Speak About Living a Creative Life" and in that class we talk a lot about process - the part of art that isn't really shown in museums, isn't necessarily talked about. To me, the process is the art - the art of discipline, of showing up every day to navigate some mysterious inner-compass, the art of failing, or missing your target, your vision not in line with what's coming out on the page or the canvas.
As I aim to complete the upteenth draft of my novel, years in the making, scenes written and then scrapped, characters born and then killed off, plot points determined and then eradicated, I'm counting on that ineffable feeling to let me know when it's 'done'. The final product - the mobile, the stabile, the book - well, that's just icing on the cake.

Thursday, December 12, 2013

Chips: A Cautionary Tale

When you go to celebrate your friend's birthday at Red O, make sure you don't nibble on chips before the main meal comes, because if you do, you might inadvertently and unknowingly puncture the soft tissue between your two front teeth known as the papilla and 48 hours after the incident you might wonder, hmmm, did I burn my mouth on something? And then you will uncomfortably live with the pain for the next few days and wonder when it will heal. Then one night you will feel a heartbeat in your mouth and you will search for the dental mirror you bought yourself on a whim years ago at the 99 cent store and you will adjust your mouth in front of the mirror and gasp in horror at the deep red rash that has formed behind the two front teeth and spread to the roof of your mouth, dark and sinister. You will leave a controlled message on the voicemail of your dentist even though you are feeling frantic, because between the appearance of the rash and the phone call, you have checked the internet and everything on the internet leads to death. The dentist will squeeze you in the next day and you will sit in his waiting room as other emergency patients take up his time and you will think I'm going to die from a tortilla chip? And finally it will be your turn and he will stick his professional mirror into your mouth and stay silent as his headlamp burns your eyes and he will eventually sit back and speak about the periodontist that he wants you to see downstairs, and while phone calls are made you picture yourself in surgery, your mouth formed into a weak smile as friends and family ponder the incident. You meet the periodontist who agrees to see you even though she has surgery on another patient in a few minutes and she pokes around in your mouth and insists you take an Xray even though you haven't let your dentist take an X-ray in years because of that book you read by the neurosurgeon who said he absolutely believes in the connection between dental X-rays and brain tumors, but you allow her to take it because she starts spewing information that you already read on the internet the night before about infections and bones and now you're really scared, not just mildly irritated about how your day has gone awry. You hold your breath when she takes the picture as if that's going to stave off your brain tumor, and soon she shows you an image of your teeth, your gums, and the small infection that has already begun, distinguishable by the darker color in the gum area, and she gives you some pain ointment to swab on the area and suggests Vicodin because she says she knows what kind of pain you're in, but you stupidly refuse for no good reason, and then she hands you an antibiotic mouth rinse, and together you try to deduce how this all happened in the first place and she asks if you eat Capt'n Crunch cereal because she's seen this before in kids and you say no but you do eat a lot of Kind bars, nuts and seeds all smashed together to make a long rectangle, and you talk about other things you've been eating lately to which she oohs and ahhhs at your healthy diet and she asks if you've eaten popcorn lately and you think back to the other day when you saw FROZEN 3-D with your nephews but you didn't order popcorn, nor did you pillage theirs and then she asks about tortilla chips and you start to shake your head no but suddenly remember the other night at Red O, celebrating your friend's birthday and you ate them by the handful, dipping them into tantalizing salsas and shoveling them into your mouth, one after the other after the other and you say yes, yes, yes, and you both do the math and it fits - the chips, 48 hours later the pain and she puts you on a soft diet and tells you to take it easy, relax your jaw, try not to talk and the swelling should subside in the next few days and the pain will mellow and you will be back to normal over the weekend. On the insurance paper she writes "Chip injury" and you're sure the insurance adjuster is going to laugh and deny charges, but for now you are just so happy you are not dying from a bone infection or a brain tumor and you drive to the market, bypass the chip aisle and head straight to yogurt and ice cream, hungry for the cold to numb the crazy chip pain.

Friday, November 29, 2013


There is so much to be thankful for and I love the idea of practicing gratitude every day. Of course this can be challenging on off days, or grumpy days, but all the more reason to flex your gratitude muscle. 

The other day I was in a very difficult yoga class - let's start with the fact that I am at least 20 years older than most of the other people, but on top of that, we were attempting a pose I'd never even heard of called "Fallen Angel" - an insane arm balance with legs shooting up in the air and face tilted toward the ground. I was struggling, frustrated, annoyed, but then all of a sudden "A Tribe Called Quest"- my fav hip-hop band - came over the speakers and I was so grateful for the burst of good music that it boosted my confidence, catapulted my energy level and made me believe that this pose was possible. It wasn't, of course, but that doesn't mean it's not in my future.

not me, but maybe me one day?
Here of some pics from last night's Thanksgiving. So grateful for family, friends and right now my sister's pumpkin bread - dessert last night, breakfast this morning.

What's on your gratitude list?

Tuesday, October 29, 2013

Foggy Notion

I would not be exaggerating by saying Lou Reed, in all his incarnations, was the soundtrack to my college years. Mostly, we listened to this album (or tape) over and over and over again. I can't remember who owned it - maybe Diane, my roommate, or RW, down the hall, but the thing just played day and night.

KCRW DJ Henry Rollins said it best over the weekend while paying tribute to Reed - he said we tend to personalize legends like Lou Reed because the act of listening to music is so intimate and comes with so many memories, therefore we entwine our memories with the musician, who also becomes "ours". When we lose that person, the loss becomes personal. I couldn't agree more.

Tuesday, October 1, 2013

Rest Les

I was saddened to hear of the death of my wonderful writing teacher, Les Plesko. I met Les in 2003 and took a series of classes with him at UCLA extension, workshopping my first novel, "Swimming Upstream, Slowly." 

We were asked to bring only one page weekly to read aloud and get workshopped, and I was extremely put off by this technique... at first. I soon realized that perfecting that one page was an exercise of epic proportions. It forced the writer to tell the story, create the scene, in as succinct a way as possible.

Les threw little chocolate candies at us over the break, introduced us to literature we may not have heard of otherwise, and helped us all craft our novels with his generous and prescient feedback. It was also through his classes that I made some lifelong friends in David, Mary and Irene.

A beautiful memorial was held at Beyond Baroque last week, where countless writers eulogized our teacher, mentor and friend. In fact, I "borrowed" this blog title from his ex-student Jamie Schaffner, who ended her remembrance with a poignant, "Rest, rest, rest Les".

Here is what I contributed to his memorial book: 

Les Plesko was integral to my growth as a writer. After taking 3 classes with him, I completed my first novel and found a publisher soon after. Les focussed on the page, the paragraph, the sentence, the word. I have yet to meet a better editor. After one of his readings, I went to get my book signed. He asked me, "How do you spell your name again?" I said, "Hey, that's code for you don't remember my name!" and we both had a good laugh. "I'm so sorry," he said. "There are so many people here I'm just drawing blanks on everyone!"  Les was authentic, generous and supportive, and I will miss him.

Les will live on through his novels which can be found here

Janet Fitch, his friend, has also started a website to memorialize him, which can be found here.

Monday, September 30, 2013


Me and my neurotic, jumpy, stubborn 12-year-old cat had to move out of my home for almost 8 days while hardwood floors were installed. Where'd we go? My parents' house! When we arrived my mom requested that the cat not spend any time in their living room, and especially not on their living room couches. I wasn't sure how to explain that I couldn't control my cat when I wasn't there - and I wasn't there a lot. One afternoon when I was at work, I got the following photo from my mom:
There she is...Ms. Percy...looking so comfy on the forbidden couch. Allegedly she hissed at my dad when he tried to move her. Ooops. I didn't say she had manners. Eight days later, she howled all the way home and looked and acted very confused when she stepped into my place. I am starting to get used the click click of her nails on the hard wood. And I am definitely getting used to the hard wood.

Tuesday, September 17, 2013

Under Wood

My house is in shambles due to the fact that I am installing hardwood floors. When I say "I am installing" that means I hired someone to install. It is so upsetting when one's space is in total upheaval, but I am very excited for the results. The carpet, the cat, the allergies... the wood has been a long time coming.

home in disarray

Thursday, August 22, 2013


I had a great time with my sister, nephew and his friend last week at Underwood Farms. They frequent this family-owned farm where regular citizens can come pick from their harvest, and I sometimes go with them. I love that my nephew knows where to go for various veggies. He runs into the fields and gleefully picks tomatoes, zuchinni, fennel, you name it. 

Jennifer and I took turns lugging the kids in the cart.

Selfie of the nephew and I.

Friendly horses.

Such delicious bounty!

Wednesday, August 14, 2013

Wednesday, August 7, 2013

Melissa in Wonderland

I have been enjoying spending writing time at the Writers Guild library. I am trying to finish a novel, but also doing some research for a potential new project. In preparation, I've been reading some scripts, including the 1933 version of Alice in Wonderland, penned by Joseph L. Mankiewicz. It is such a thrill paging through this original script, old and yellowed, full of humor and heart, with illustrations to boot. You definitely don't see scripts like these anymore. 

And check out the cast list...W.C. Fields as Humpty-Dumpty, Gary Cooper as the White Rabbit, Cary Grant as the Mock Turtle...

Pretty special!

Saturday, July 27, 2013

Two Countries, One Summer

So far this summer I've hit two countries, and it's not even August. I just returned from Montreal where I was on a family trip celebrating my dad's 80th birthday. Both parents are from Montreal, so I've spent my life going to and fro, visiting aunts, uncles, grandparents, cousins, friends and other Canadian brethren. Nostalgia kicks in every time I land at the airport, remembering my Bubby and Zaidey excitedly picking us up, remembering the time we lived there for 8 months, remembering all the family events, weddings, parties, funerals and the like. 

This trip found us renting a house in Westmount, visiting a beloved lake house in the gorgeous Lorentien mountains, visiting with Bubby's 103-year-old sister, my great aunt Minchu, celebrating my dad with a host of other friends and relatives, eating, eating, eating. The trip was nothing if not intense - from the weather to the planning and executing of of various activities en masse. Ah, Montreal, je me souviens...

The country house, Cook Lake

getting ready to go swimming with the nephews

city house (red one)

Minchu is 103!

Mom and Minchu

Phenomenal meal in Montreal - toasted corn in the middle

Chihuly exhibit at the museum
Dad's cake at Moishe's!
Nephews lovin' the cake, too.

Monday, July 15, 2013

Home Sweet Home

As much as I enjoyed my June residency in Portugal, it was also nice coming home. Isn't that the best sort of trip? I did experience some hijinx as I toted my newly purchased painting from Lisbon to Los Angeles. Let's just say the strap broke in Lisbon, so instead of being able to sling it over my shoulder, I had to carry the box, along with my luggage and carry-on bag. But that was the least of it. In New Jersey, where I had a layover, security decided it was in their best interest to swab the contents of the box and so they took their sweet time slicing open the container (I had about 7 minutes to catch my flight) and making sure I wasn't toting any contraband. Luckily, my flight was delayed about an hour. I didn't know this at the time, of course, causing all sorts of panic on my end.

Now that me, and my painting, are home, we are settling in nicely.

Here is a link to the artist's - Sally Stafford - website.

Sally Stafford

The painting, when I first laid eyes on it in Portugal

Sally and her beau Ben. And my belly.

So happy this is in my home!

Saturday, June 29, 2013

This Girl is on Fire

I sure had a blast at the Alicia Keys concert in Lisbon, thanks to Knox and Laurel. I left the farm on the 1:45 bus and arrived back in Lisbon, the big city, and checked into my hotel. Next, I found my way to the waterfront arena where the concert was being held later that night. Police were guarding it like the friggin' crown jewel, and yet somehow I saw Laurel and her son out of the corner of my eye, returning from a visit to the zoo. It was as easy as that. After a quick reunion we were whisked inside where we watched the sound check. Much later that night we watched the concert.

sound check

hey ho

I love this pic. My camera went berzerk when Alicia came on stage. She is the blue squiggle.

upon seeing this pic my sister asked if I was onstage with her. Sadly, no. But close.

This Girl is on Fire

Today, I found my way to Sintra - about 1/2 hour outside the city and the most enchanting town I've ever encountered. I hiked up the Moorish Castle, nestled in a forest, to capture these photos. Oh, it's hot here, but the heat didn't stop me from getting my tourism on.

Moorish Castle

Palace in the distance

Royal Palace
Interesting sculpture
Beautiful Sintra

I had two issues with the Portuguese today. One: when they say something is a 5 minute walk, they really mean 35 minutes. Why can't they just say that? Two: a little hotel snafu when the maid entered my room that had the DO NOT DISTURB sign hanging from it due to art and computers strewn about. Sure, my bed was nicely made,'t I hang the sign so that wouldn't happen? When I phoned to complain they had the nerve to blame the transit strike for the confusion, and apologized with an odd fruit plate. Okay, okay...overall, I've had the best time here, I just needed to vent (she says while munching on a plum)

Friday, June 28, 2013

Adios Obras

The heat has lifted, if only just a little. The past four days we experienced that suffocating kind of heat that zaps your energy and keeps you inside. It's no coincidence that three of us had migraines the other day.

I am heading back to Lisbon in a few hours. Despite the heat - or maybe because of it - I've been very productive these last few days. Being saturated in nature has inspired a lot of what I've been working on. I've been observing the swallows as they dip into the pool for water, and a snake that slithered its way into one of the artist's studios, resting on a painting, I've watched the round, little bunnies hopping through the fields of barley and have even been inspired by the ants, the size of my toes, and the way theycarry things on their backs, marching through the blazing sun. My new novel has become richer, fuller, more alive all because of my time here.

Now I am headed back to the city - to a rock concert tonight and then a few more cultural activities over the weekend before I make my way home to Los Angeles. It will be hard to ever forget this trip of art, nature, music, food and a host of quirky, kind characters. Portugal is a country well-worth your time, if you haven't already been here. 

Wednesday, June 26, 2013

É quente!

Well, the heat landed and with it came swarms of mosquitos and a migraine. Oy! My legs are absolutely nasty, peppered with bites. Thankfully the migraine was sort of migraine-lite, so I was still functional and able to have a fun night out in Estramoz at the castle. (see pix)

walk up to the castle

view from castle

cobblestones with red seeds or flowers in the middle

in front of statue of Rhaina Santa Isabel


Turns out I am heading back to Lisbon on Friday because I'm going to see Alicia Keys after all. I booked a Priceline hotel and got a great deal, though not smack in the center of the city like last time, but close to a metro station. The concert is Friday night and I will spend the weekend doing some things I didn't get to the first time, like the Gulbenkian Museum which is supposed to be superb. I head back home on Monday and prep for my next trip, Montreal!