Moomintroll memories

While looking in the library for the original Doctor Doolittle series (which, believe me, is a whole nother story) I remembered another series of books I loved as a child: Moomintrolls.

It is fun to go back to the books you read as a child and see what you think of them when you are grown up. Alice in Wonderland and Winnie the Pooh are nice escapes from the grown-up world. And they have enough good stuff to please the more sophisticated adult reader, too.

But those two books are well-known. When I would talk to my friends about the Moominfamily, I got blank looks.

This was hard to understand! My brother and I read the series voraciously, reading some of them even twice.

I asked my brother if he remembered the Moomins. He did. He even said that the author, Tove Jansson, had won awards for the psychological complexity and apporpriateness of the books.


Well, I finally remembered to remember the Moomins when I was at the library. I grabbed the first Moomin book on the shelf that my hand fell on.

MoominPappa at Sea

Here is the first paragraph:

“One afternoon at the end of August, Moominpappa was walking about in his garden feeling at a loss. He had no idea what to do with himself, because it seemed everything there was to be done had already been done or was being done by sombody else.”

Oh yes. Yes. This was going to be everything I had enjoyed as a child and more. What a perfect description!

Moominpappa and Moominmamma are so real, they have such human feelings and interactions and reactions.

Moomintroll is the perfect introspective child, and Little My is the best bratty little sister.

They meet the most fascinating people and make friends with them as best they can. The stories of their adventures are a kind of magical realism fairy tale.

As you see, I am re-smitten.

BUT! There is very little awareness in America about these wonderful stories!

It’s hard to imagine.

If you have a child, run, don’t walk, to buy these books and read them to your little one.

And if you are looking for a little escape from the grown-up world to a gentler place, read a moominbook. There is no way you will regret it.

blog benefits

Let us take a pause from my PORTRAIT story.

It is monday again. I sit in my journalism class again. The Bubble Yum Imac sits temptingly in front of me.

I can type. It is amazing how very little effort this class is taking. Most of the time I forget that I am in school.

It’s pretty great. A class that requires very little attention.

I now have a reason to be glad I’m taking the class, though. I have gotten a gig!
I met a woman on craig’s list who is starting a community paper. And she looks at my writing from my blog


and agreed to let me be a writer. For free.

We are both getting something out of this.

I did my first interview on Saturday. Stay tuned for the article. I’ll post it here after I have completed it.


Driving around my new city last friday night, I stumbled upon a Peace demonstration. Lots of people in Hollywood were standing in the warm night, holding signs and chanting things: PEACE!

There were quiet a lot of people. I thought it was a very nice night for a protest. It really was quite warm and pleasant. There were a lot of kids out.

As I was waiting at a red light, I saw a man dressed as the grim reaper, propping up a protest sign and a scythe.

He had a frightening yellow skull mask over his face: the reaper wants peace!

While I watched him, he brought a lighted cigarette to the mouth hole of his mask and took some long drags.

The irony is unbelievable.

Portrait of the Artist as a Video Conference Administrator – PROLOGUE

Last week, I had a request for a conference. Everyone told me: “Oh, this one has to go well. The new CEO is in it.”


I will make sure it goes well. I called the assistant to ask her what this CEO needed for his call.

Will he have a PowerPoint presentation?
Oh no…

Will he have a telephone conference as part of the video conference?
Oh no…

Are you sure? Even if someone can’t make it, and has to call from their hotel room or something?
Well, let me check…No no…No phone call.

Okay. So I have someone on each site, all there a half hour early. Everything is fine, all is perfect, all is well.

But then the participant walks into NY, and his call drops.

Try to reconnect, it drops again. Bad news.

I get on the phone to call into NY’s room and tell them to dial into the speakerphone in the room.

Just told them the number, barely hung up, and the speakerphone rings. It is someone else, telling us the CONFERENCE CALL NUMBER THAT HAS SUDDENLY BEEN CREATED BY THE LITTLE MISS WHO SWORE WE WOULDN’T NEED ONE!!!

Carp again. Now NY has to have the number. But wait, it’s okay because suddenly they are dialed in.

Someone else brought them the number.

Okay, good, they are finally set up. I double-check to make sure things are fine, he says yes, and I slink away.

I am met immediately by another, completely different fire that needs me to put it out. I forget and leave my cell phone at my desk for a moment. When I realize it’s gone, I freak out, rush to the phone, and sure enough, there’s a voice mail.

I run up to the conference room, to ask what’s wrong. The whole thing has fallen apart and they are now only on the speakerphone.

Ugh. The new CEO, the Chief of staff (my boss’s boss) and the CIO are all in the meeting looking at me with contempt.

They tell me that it’s too late, that nothing can be done.
I slink away again.

THe Doctor’s Dilemma

Some people, and I have the impression that it is mostly men, are terrified to go to the doctor. Maybe it is the doctor’s hurried and supremely self-confident and superior way of tossing off diagnoses and prescriptions that make people dislike seeing them. It explains the gender difference, too. Most women are used to being condescended to, at least a little.

Of course, things have changed so much. The last hundred years or so have taken medicine so far.

But so much has changed so little.

“The Doctor’s Dillemma” by Bernard Shaw satirizes the medical profession brilliantly. Shaw groups the brilliant doctors of his late victorian era and has them talk about their methods and their practices in such a way as to make any sick person set off in search of a witch doctor.

That’s not the only point to the story, though. There is a dilemma for the doctor, after all. A lovely young woman comes to him for help; she wants him to cure her husband of tuberculosis. He is quite dismissive at first, but is charmed by her and agrees to see the man.

With time, he becomes more and more impressed with the young woman–at the same time he discovers her artist husband is a liar and a cheat.

Is he worth saving? For his wife’s sake? For his art’s sake?

The play is very interesting, dealing with serious subjects, but with a lot of humor.

pygmalion and My Fair Lady

Writing takes time. It takes a certain time of brain space, too. I have been really busy with work. I wish that work would back off a little…I would rather be reading and thinking and writing than doing all this JOB stuff.

But the job stuff pays the bills.

I had a chance to listen to PYGMALION by Shaw. That was a great play! All kinds of good stuff, about class tension and social climbing and the place of women and the importance of manners in society.

On the back of the package, it says “PYGMALION inspired the award-winning film and stage productions of Lerner and Loewe’s musical, MY FAIR LADY.”

I went and got MY FAIR LADY so that I could compare the two. I like musicals.

But you know, this was pretty different than the play. The musical added songs which are very nice. But the story itself is such a practical story…I mean, it is about getting this work done–Higgins has to teach Eliza how to speak.

In PYGMALION, Eliza learned very fast and had a quick ear.
In MY FAIR LADY, Eliza couldn’t hear the sounds at all until Professor Higgins essentially tortured her for not saying it right. I thought that change to be rather implausible, he didn’t even TRY to explain how sounds are formed. Then, after he’s starved her and been cranky to her all day, she gets it and they dance around singing “The Rain in Spain.” Then, he demands that she stay up and study some more.

And she goes all googly and sings “I could have danced all night.”
WHAT?! the implication is that she is in love with Professor Higgins.
I fail to see the attraction. He hasn’t done anything nice for her, and he’s done a lot of mean things.

It doesn’t make sense to me.

In PYGMALION, Shaw treats marriage as a much more practical exercise. In fact, one of the lines that are in common show his point of view, “In tottenham court, I was above this. I sold flowers, not myself.”

That line seems incongruous in the musical. The musical has all kinds of massively sappy moments of LOOOOOVVVEEE!!! Freddie is head over heels, and Eliza is exstatic over Higgins, and Higgins has grown accustomed to her face.

It doesn’t hang together quite as well.

I think the play was much more complimentary to Eliza, giving her talents that are to her credit. But the musical makes her a patsy, whose only major selling point is how pretty she is.

It’s too bad.

THe Prisoner of Second Avenue

I managed to find some quiet moments to listen to LA Theater Works’ ” The Prisoner of Second Avenue.” Neil Simon is a funny guy. But you all know that.

This one wasn’t full of symbolism and deeper meaning. It reminded me of a black-and-white slapstick sitcom. It was funny.

He published it in the 70s, and the many references to Valium make it seem pretty dated. Valium is not the trendy drug that it used to be.

I especially liked the gasps by Richard Dreyfuss…I think it must take practice to gasp that well.

We miss you Tom

This has been quite a week. My Co-worker had a cold, and it turned into a nasty cough. That either created or exacerbated a hernia he had. He went in for surgery. He was recovering, but then he died.

Tom was a very good man. We miss him. His wife and son miss him even more.

Last monday we heard that Tom had died. Then last thursday I came down with Tom’s cold.

Germs live forever.

“The Price” by Arthur Miller

Arthur Miller’s “The Price” by LA Theater Works

I picked this out of my local library because I remembered Arthur Miller as one of the writers affected by the McCarthy era, blacklisted by the House of Unamerican Activities Committee. The recording was a radio drama, and I had been listening to KPCC’s “The Play’s The Thing” with delight since I moved to the area.

After I listened to “The Price” the first time, I immediately put in the first CD to listen to it again. Miller is an amazing writer. I am filled with admiration and envy– I’ll admit it. Wow! He tosses off such amazing insights like candy to a throng. He’s astoundingly prolific too. Reading his chronology of works shows that he just doesn’t stop…Play after magnificent play just roll off his pen.

“The Price” first premiered in 1968. By that time, both his parents had died, he had been married three times, Marilyn Monroe was his second wife, and had been persecuted by the House UnAmerican Activities Committee. His life spanned 2 world wars, the great depression and the rise of communism. As an American Jew, he encountered the holocaust and met concentration camp victims.

“The Price” is addressing how we pay for the life we choose. With all the dramatic examples of tumult and war and deprivation, Miller chose something much simpler. He took simple familiar family relationships and used it for the backdrop of his ideas. Victor and Walter are not utterly indistinguishable from the crowd, their family had drama. But given the times everyone had lived through, their drama was not extraordinary. One was a doctor, one was a policeman, and they confront one another about the choices they made that have brought them to where they are. Men in middle age taking stock and facing life-long illusions, they speak intensely and finally, with honesty, about their motivations.

The character of Mr. Solomon, the appraiser, really is priceless. He has such marvelous lines:

“The mania today is SHOPPING. Years ago, a person was unhappy, didn’t know what to do with himself, he go to church start a revolution, something…Today, you’re unhappy, Can’t figure it out, what is the salvation? Go shopping!”

And all in the most wonderful Jewish accent. He’s real glue, bringing out points that the others cannot.

Miller wrote so many plays, this one is great, and not even in his top ten. I’m glad that LA Theater Works has captured the drama and made it available to those of us who might not make it to a theater as often as we wish.

The Passion of Artemisia

I just finished listening to The Passion of Artemisia by Susan Vreeland. Yes, you read right. I said, “listened.” I have discovered the joy of books on tape. I love to read, and when I am doing almost anything else, I wish I could be reading.

With a recorded book, I get the joy of reading while still accomplishing the other things I need to do. While doing housework, even on the job, I can hear a marvelous story and be taken away from the mundane.

This book was read by Gigi Bermingham, who really did a marvelous job. She changed her voice for the different characters and used just the right amount of Italian accent to make it work.

Artemisia, of course, is the first female painter to be admitted to the academy of Florence. Vreeland emphasizes her womanhood with sympathy. She is not a strange martyr, like Joan of Arc. Artemisia is shown to have all the universally female issues to deal with: how to be a mother, daughter, lover and wife.

Her tutor even sexually abuses her, and her father is unsympathetic. This is, unfortunately, a familiar situation for many women even to the modern day.

Artemisia is an artist, above all. Vreeland shows how she struggles to be a great painter and to grapple with large ideas. Galileo shows up, apparently they were friends. His Earth-moving theory and her tradition-shattering career choice are well matched.

Artemisia, as Vreeland portrays her, is very human and very familiar. She triumphs and she fails. But she does not give up on her art; she does not give up her pursuit of truth and beauty.

Vreeland evokes a full range of emotion for her Artemisia. She is passionate, she is angry, she is enraptured, but she is also tired and frustrated. She is very real.

Bermingham speaks for her just perfectly, too. She enunciates carefully and in a feminine way for Artemisia. Her phrasing added to the pleasure of the book.