Monthly Archives: June 2010

A Piece of Work

Saw the new Joan Rivers* documentary A Piece of Work.

It’s pretty great. I get the sense that the directors really struggled with inserting some kind of narrative arc or a sense of chronology. Because Joan Rivers seems to be the type of person who’s oblivious to the architecture behind art–it’s like, I have this great character, isn’t that enough?

So I thought structurally the film failed a bit (i.e., nothing happens), but Joan Rivers allows herself to be so vulnerable that it’s worth the watch. My favorite part is a scene in which the 75-year-old woman crouches on her bathroom floor, scrawling large-print jokes on poster board: Vigina Fart (sic), she writes, and laughs hysterically.

I won’t lie, I laughed too, hard enough to choke a little bit on my chocolate almonds.

The darker corners of her life (her husband’s suicide, the devastatingly low self-esteem that led to so many plastic surgeries, her failure to book solid gigs after 50 years in the business) are mostly glossed over and made over into punchlines. So if you’re seeking some deeper insight into the woman that is Joan Rivers, this movie is not it.

If you like Vigina Farts–my goodness, you are in for a treat.

*I’m using “Joan Rivers” as an adjective there, see. Because the alternative is “Joan Rivers’s new documentary,” and that would insinuate she was directed it, which she didn’t. Try using “Joan Rivers” as an adjective today. Feels empowering, doesn’t it?

Shirley MacLaine

Made my third little pilgrimage to see her speak, this time in Seattle. This was my favorite lecture, though, because she read a long essay about recognizing a higher consciousness and answered questions and signed books, and the whole event, at three hours, still didn’t feel long enough.

The thing about thinking that you had some kind of spiritual recognition of Shirley MacLaine when you were two years old, and that you are somehow special because she wrote to you when you were eight, is that about ten thousand other people feel exactly the same way. And these are the people who are willing to pay 80 bucks to see her talk about spirituality. So you go to these events thinking, “I flew all the way here from Minnesota just to see this, I am definitely the craziest person in the room.” But then she opens the microphone up for questions.

the author spazzes out, 1990


One man had written poetry about Shirley and God and tried shouting the stanzas from the back of the auditorium. Another woman asked if Shirley would please sell her the necklace she was wearing. A lady with a fanny pack told Shirley that her books were the only things that saved her during a long stay at a psychiatric hospital, where she baffled the doctors with her new, as yet unnamed mental disorder. A man screamed her name from the front row, waving a poster-sized picture of the two of them taken 25 years ago.

I stayed in my seat. I have Big Questions for her, but this wasn’t the time.

Later, I was standing in front of the elevator doors, at the tail end of the line to get my book signed, when the doors suddenly parted and there she was. With her handlers, with her dog Terry, with her dog Terry’s handlers. Shirley sort of threw her hands in the air and raised her eyebrows, and I moved to the side in reverence. This shit is like magical for me, right? But the woman in front of me was less obedient:

“Shirley, can I have a hug?”

Shirley kept that hand in the air as she walked past. “Maybe later,” she said.

The woman squealed. “She said later!”

I didn’t get to talk to Shirley because the woman who wanted the hug so badly was in cahoots with a gaggle of squawking ladies who also wanted hugs; they crowded up the front of the table and were taking cell phone pictures. “Move it, please,” Shirley told them with gritted teeth, without looking up at them.

I just slipped past. Rule Number Four of my life is to never, ever piss off Shirley MacLaine.

The Good Life

All right, I’m back.

Life is going suspiciously well, so something must be wrong. Do you know what I mean? When everything seems to come together so perfectly every day that you can’t help but think that you are

a) dreaming
b) dead
c) in a reality television prank show, a coma, or one of those Vanilla Sky type chambers of consciousness

Because what do any of us do to deserve real happiness? Have I done enough to earn these sunny Sunday mornings on the front deck, tomato plants blossoming, puppster barking at the lawn mower below?

I saw my beloved Shirley MacLaine in Seattle last week, and she talked for a long time about how we need to recognize that we are the creators of our own lives. We choose everything that will happen to us, and we design the circumstances around which it will happen.

I guess that makes a little sense. But I generally don’t like to take responsibility for anything unless it’s something terrible, and then I guess self-blame would be a better way of describing it.

But here I am. Sun, tomatoes, lawn mower.

All right, on to business: I read Olive Kitteridge by Elizabeth Strout, which was recommended to me because I’m struggling with writing a novel about several characters in a small town. And I liked it all right, but what I realized is that when I’m reading a book, I really like to get punched in the stomach about two-thirds of the way through. But in Olive Kitteridge, there’s no punch. It’s more like someone’s got a bit of your upper arm flesh between two fingers and they just pinch the whole way through, not enough for you to scream, but enough so that by the end you’re glad to get their hands off you.

Now I’m reading Wise Blood by Flannery O’Connor. It’s got a nice ribbon bookmark attached and the pages are thin like rice paper. So, she really can’t go wrong.

Thank You

A big fat smacking kiss of a thank-you to the very kind woman waiting in line at Delta’s security post at the Minneapolis/St. Paul airport at 9:30 this morning. I never would have made my flight if she hadn’t grabbed my arm and hauled me to the front of the line and told everyone I was her adopted daughter and needed to get on the plane first.

Because of her efforts, I made it through security, and after an embarrassing sprint across the concourse (out of breath, shoes untied) was gracefully diving into the skies at 9:45, on my way to see Shirley MacLaine in Seattle.

Possibly still a little out of breath.

More later, I really promise.