May 6, 2013 at 22:51 (Uncategorized)

My daughter just came out of the closet. Literally… and figuratively.

 My beautiful, brilliant, exasperating, talented, angst-ridden, artistic, joyful thirteen-year-old daughter announced, “I have a secret: I’m half-human on my mother’s side!” You may (or may not) recognise that as a quote from the 1996 Doctor Who movie, in which everyone’s favourite Time Lord regenerates into his eighth incarnation in San Francisco in time for New Year’s Eve 1999: my daughter is a huge Whovian. Anyway, I laughed at her; she was dancing around being silly. “I AM the Doctor!” followed by “No, I am She-Ra, Princess of Power!” Then she paused dramatically. “I have one more secret. Come with me.” We went into the hallway. She got into the closet– and then stepped out triumphantly. “I’M COMING OUT!”

I didn’t know what to say. Her dad, listening from the living room, called, “Are you serious?”

“Yes! I’m gay! Rainbows and… shit!”

She looked at me expectantly. I grinned at her. “I’m happy for you,” I said, “but it’s not a secret.”



And it wasn’t, actually. She’s hinted at it before, in a thousand little ways. I suppose she might be “going through a phase,” but I’ve raised her to be true to herself, and I think– I hope– it’s stuck. I love who she is, I wouldn’t change a thing about her: she’s an amazing, quirky person, and I’m so proud of her. Her coming out as a lesbian does not lessen that one bit. Her courage to be exactly who she is inspires me. 

“Tell you what,” I told her. “You can bake me a cake.” 

She giggled, and I hugged her. I knew precisely what to say then:

“I love you, baby.”

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Exit Stage Left

September 2, 2012 at 15:00 (Uncategorized) (, , , , )

Well, we did it. Done. Over. Finito.

Amadeus ran for most of a week– five performances, all with at least half-full houses, and one standing room only. Great reviews. Lots of enthusiastic comments and even a few “Why aren’t you in New York” compliments directed personally to me. Awesome.

That’s the short version: all in all, it was amazing.

Now for the long version: Oh. My. Gods!

I ranted in my last post about the unbelievable lack of commitment I was seeing among the local theatrical community. Well, it got worse, instead of better. Another drop out. One actor was actually asked to leave because he simply could not be bothered to show up for rehearsal. We were playing musical roles, trying to fill all the gaps left by departing performers. We managed it– I ended up playing opposite my own sister, who stepped up to take on the role of Constanze (Mozart’s wife) after the first actress quit. (That made Salieri’s clumsy attempt to seduce Constanze even more awkward!) My daughter, who was a nameless ensemble waif, was recruited to play the ominous masked figure that haunts Mozart’s dreams till the end– she’s only 12, but at 5’7″ she’s actually taller than the guy who played Mozart, so it worked.

It did work– the whole production. It was hard and felt largely thankless, and there as more drama offstage than on. Most of this was supplied by my own family, sad to say… I’m not sure I’m ready to discuss those issues, though I suspect I should do, soon. Suffice it to say that a certain twelve-step program figures hugely in the life of one of my family members, and that the stress of producing the play triggered quite a lot of disturbing and self-destructive behaviour. As late as Monday before we opened on the following Thursday, we still weren’t certain there would be a show. Thankfully, we were able to get it together and pull it off.

So… what now? That’s the question I keep asking myself. At times I got so frustrated and disgusted with this play, I swore I would never do another. Now that it’s over, it feels like the day after Christmas. I hardly know what to do with myself, now that there’s no rehearsal to run to, no crisis to deal with, no fire to put out. On one hand, it’s nice to have actual free time. On the other… well…

The next play is slated to run in January. A Streetcar Named Desire. Do I want to get mixed up in that? There’s a small role earmarked for me– truthfully, I’ve never read the play or watched the movie, so I don’t know enough about it to have an informed opinion. Full disclosure: 90% of what I know about Streetcar comes from the (excellent and hysterical) Simpsons episode in which Marge lands the role of Blanche in the musical version, Oh! Streetcar, and realises she is married to Stanley in real life. It’s a great show, but I somehow suspect it fails to do justice to Tennessee Williams’ well-loved masterpiece.

I just don’t know. A lot depends on whether my family member with the addiction problem is willing to get help and stick to whatever program is recommended by the medical professional doing the helping. I refuse to be subjected to all that horror again– I apologise for being vague; I may come back and write about it later, just to work it out in my own mind, because it’s all such a mess. Maybe I’ll just decide to sit this one out and try again another time. Alternately, maybe I’ll get bored and give it another whirl. It’s theatre, after all, and the show must go on.

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Begin Again

May 30, 2012 at 23:07 (Uncategorized) (, , , , , , )

More fallout. I’m beginning to think this production is as cursed as the Scottish play. It’s frustrating and disheartening, but… there it is.

First off, we’ve been stalled mid-production. For various reasons, we were unable to to pull it off in time for our Memorial Day weekend run dates. Fortunately, we can get into the theatre again in late August; we had originally intended to put up another (less ambitious) show. Now we’ve got almost three more months to get this one together.

I’m… less than enthused.

Don’t get me wrong; I’m still keen to do the part. I still believe I can. But I’m sick and tired of the appalling lack of commitment I’ve seen demonstrated by some of the local “actors.” I’ve seen better behaviour– much better!– by high school students. People who ostensibly wanted to participate in Amadeus have used every tired excuse in the book to avoid rehearsals and production work. Some of them have simply ceased bothering to show up. One has (thankfully, since it kept us from having to fire him) dropped out; another is still vacillating, though the time to fish or cut bait, as it were, is quite near. I’ve had it!

I never knew how ridiculous people can be! Call me batty, but if I sign up for a play, then it follows that it’s something I want to participate in– something I want to contribute to. If life intervenes– and I fully understand that life sometimes does– to the point that I can no longer honour my commitment, then I sincerely apologise, offer to do whatever I can to find a replacement, help find props and costumes when I can, etc. What I do not do is simply bugger off without a backward look!

Sorry; I just really needed to rant. I’ll get over my current state of pissed-off-ness. The show will go on, and it will be wonderful. We’ve already bought $500 worth of wigs and frilly jabot thingies that can’t be returned, so it has to be! Meanwhile, I continue to be grateful for the people who’ve stuck with us, who share our determination to put up a truly excellent show. Cross fingers I’ll have some pictures to share, and some great reviews!

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Salieri & Women’s Lib

April 5, 2012 at 05:53 (Uncategorized) (, , , , , , , , , , , )

There has been some fallout from my decision to take on the role of Salieri in Amadeus, and from an unexpected source. A little background: the play is being put on by a fledgling company, one whose leadership have impeccable credentials, real talent, and genuine passion for the theatre. The intent in creating their new group was to bring a collaborative process to the local community of actors, to give more artists a voice and encourage them to take ownership of their art. This is the reason I was tapped to begin with– one of the founders knew my strong and intimate identification with Shaffer’s Salieri, and graciously offered me the opportunity to direct the production. I had no notion– no one had– what a strange and exciting new opportunity would arise when our lead actor suddenly dropped out. It took me a few days to wrap my head around it– woman playing Salieri, are you kidding? But once you get past the gender, what remains is an actor who has a strong emotional connection to the character– not to mention 25 years’ study of the play itself. This is theatre on the edge, anyway– we knew this from the beginning, lacking the budget and resources to put on a full-blown period piece with all the trappings of the Hapsburg court— so why not embrace the surrealism? When the alternative is to throw away 6 weeks’ hard work and tell a dozen actors, “Sorry, never mind, we can’t do this after all,” … why the hell not?

When the notion was presented to the cast, few objections were raised, and the ones that came up were dismissed by the very people who raised them. The general consensus was, “Great! Let’s do this!” Two members were not in attendance; they were informed at the next rehearsal. One took it in stride. The other chose to quit… but not at that time. No, he finished the rehearsal, went home,. and drafted an email to the founders– a very passive-aggressive missive that indicted them for ignorance and poor judgment. A self-described “old queer,” the writer stated that he felt “uncomfortable” with a woman in a man’s role, that while “the new Salieri” (ie, me, though he apparently could not be bothered to learn my name) was articulate and capable, he doubted whether any woman had more than a small chance of pulling off such a “masculine part.”

Slight tangent: Salieri, masculine? Clearly the fellow hasn’t read the play in its entirety. Salieri is, if anything, emmasculted, in a sense, by Mozart’s success with music and with women. He is largely disinterested in women, except as placeholders: the wife for propriety, the established mistress for companionship. And even if he was meant to be portrayed as a Neanderthal mouth-breather whose sole intention toward every female he encountered was to club her over the head and drag her to his cave… well, that’s why they call it acting. But I digress.

The gentleman’s distress seemed mainly to stem from the notion of a woman playing a male character. Gender-bending is well-established in the history of the theatre; I have no intention of recounting it, but go Google the number of highly-respected actresses who have played Hamlet; there are plenty, going back to the 19th century at least. Or there’s Peter Pan, in the Broadway musical– written for and almost always played by a woman. Conversely, the role of Edna Turnblad in Hairspray was conceived as a drag role. So– it’s all right for Harvey Fierstein, with his distinctly gravelly voice and decidedly unfeminine demeanor to play a woman– but it’s somehow wrong or off-putting for a woman to take on Antonio Salieri?

Perhaps I’m being hypersensitive, but there was more than a hint of misogyny in this former cast member’s email as well. I have no interest whatsoever in the gentleman’s sexual orientation, but I do take great exception to his assertion that a woman “has very little chance” of successfully playing this– or, I suppose any– traditionally male role. What else, then does he believe women incapable of doing? Writing? Directing? Hmm…

I was extremely hurt when I read the letter. Then I was angry. Now I feel sorry for the man… it must be hard to live in such a small mind. He could have chosen to take the surrealist ball and run with it. Instead, he went with his knee-jerk first instinct, and showed himself to be a self-limiting (and probably self-hating) bigot. The damage he’s done to our production is minimal; I’m confident we can replace him without much difficulty. He did manage in inflict a fair blow to my self-confidence, causing me to question myself, my own motivations and abilities. Can  I do this? Should I? I’ve been over and over it, with my co-producers and by myself, and the answer keeps coming back a resounding yesWhy shouldn’t we push the envelope, do something completely new and different? We’ve already made significant (and, I think, really amazing) changes to the traditional production. If we hadn’t wanted to reinterpret the piece to some extent, why do it at all? Why not just rent a giant television or movie house and screen the Academy Award-winning film?

I’m sorry that this person has chosen to part ways with us. I think the experience of working on this piece could have been rewarding for him, as I hope it will continue to be for the rest of us. I hope, too, that he will swallow his pride and come to see the play in full production. Even if he hates it– and me– maybe it will make him think. If it does, then we will have done what we set out to do.

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Salieri is Me!

April 2, 2012 at 21:48 (Uncategorized) (, , , , , )

Work continues on our play-in-production, Amadeus. We are approximately 8 7 (eek!) weeks from opening, and there is still soooo much to do! Act I is blocked; we start run-throughs Tuesday. Then it’s on to blocking Act II. We’ve made significant progress on costuming, and even found an affordable source for wigs. We need to get moving on set pieces and props. But it’s coming together… slowly.

The biggest change is something I can hardly get my head around. I personally have so much more to do, even than I had before as director. Now I’ll be acting in the show as well, because my lead dropped out last week. (Why? I daren’t even speculate. It’s quite pointless, and you don’t want to hear that obscenity-laden rant. Truly.) There’s no one to replace him, except…

… me.

Yes. That is correct; I will be taking on the role of my long-time inspiration, my patron saint of mediocrity. Only this time, I have to rise above mediocre and go for extraordinary, because how else will anyone buy a short, fat– and most glaringly– female Salieri?

Okay, so I’m not playing him as a woman. I’ll be in drag (which is perfectly fitting; we have a drag queen playing the Emperor, so there); the rights we acquired from Samuel French specify that we cannot change the gender of any character in the piece. Salieri must and will continue as Antonio, not Antonia. And that’s fine… if I can pull it off.

I can. Surely I can. I have to. There is no option to not pull it off. The cast buys it; it they will, the audience will. I’m 100% positive about this.

Now I just have to learn my lines…

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Salieri Lives

March 25, 2012 at 17:46 (Uncategorized) (, , , , , , )

Well. It’s not often that a bona fide Eleventh Percenter gets to work with the Patron Saint of Mediocritites (ie, Eleventh Percenters!) himself– and, to be fair, that’s not quite what I’m doing, but near enough… Let me start over. Ahem.

The notion of the Eleventh Percent– those of us who are not-quite-extraordinary, who are intelligent and talented and motivated, but not enough to actually be the movers and shakers of the world– and who know it— was inspired by the character of Antonio Salieri in Peter Shaffer’s Amadeus. Salieri, an eighteenth century Italian composer, was a successful and talented musician, but who (in the play, at least), when compared to the incomparable genius that was Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart , fell markedly short– as of course anyone would (and did).  The tragedy was that Salieri knew he was the inferior composer, despite the fact that he had dedicated his life to his music, had eaten, slept, and breathed it, and had begged God to grant him just one crumb of Mozart’s effortless talent… It never happened, and while Mozart was and is immortal, no one remembered Salieri at all (at least until he was brought brilliantly to life by Peter Shaffer, through incredible actors like Ian McKellen and F. Murray Abraham). I identified with Salieri from the first time I saw the film Amadeus, and even more when I read the play– both at the impressionable age of twelve. Though it as many years before I coined the phrase “Eleventh Percent,” I already knew I had Salieri Syndrome.

This is how I have previously defined Salieri Syndrome, aka the state of being an Eleventh Percenter: “… that pervasive and heart-hurting sense that you want to do something, something big, but you always fall short… the gods(?)-given need to create and the profound lack of talent to do it.” In other words, my life and welcome to it!

Like Salieri, I am dedicated to my art– in my case, writing– and have been for most of my life. I’ve considered myself a writer since third grade, as reams of scribblings will readily attest. Am I a good writer? I’ve been told I am, by many (mostly objective) commentators, professional and amateur alike. Do I like to write? No question: I love writing, and I’m rarely happier than when I’m scratching or tapping away. I adore words, I relish words, I would happily roll in words. So why am I not the next J.K. Rowling or Suzanne Collins? Is it merely a function of opportunity and luck– or lack thereof? Or is there something more?

Eleventh Percenters seem to be at a distinct disadvantage– moreover, it seems to be orchestrated as such. Do the gods favour some artists over others? Is the pain of someone like Shaffer’s Salieri simply grist for the mill of divine amusement? I’ve often thought myself a cosmic joke, that my ongoing struggles to express myself in the world, to be my most authentic self– which is part and parcel of my artistic identity– must serve as entertainment to some watching deity, and that the deity in question must be the same one who inspires small boys to tear the wings off butterflies.

But I digress. The reason I bring this all up is that I was recently presented with the unexpected and quite unlooked-for opportunity to study the character of Salieri more closely, and (hopefully) help breathe new life into him: I was offered the chance to direct Amadeus myself. I have to say that I’m excited and overwhelmed and trepidatious about the whole thing. Can I do it justice? Can I bring out the essential Eleventh Percenter-ness of Salieri– or at least help my actors to see it?

I hope so. I hope– with all the passion of my hungry EPer’s heart– that our company will be able to show local audiences the beauty and pain of this amazing play. Cross fingers… and look more more to come over the next few weeks.

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NaNoWriMo, Concluded

December 8, 2011 at 05:47 (Uncategorized) (, , , , , , , )

Long story short (har)… I didn’t make it. I did hand-write 52 pages of original (ie, non-fanfic) prose,  which I estimate to contain 15,000 words. I’ve continued to write this week, though the story isn’t moving very fast; I’ve debated taking it to a word processor, which would at least keep an accurate count. If I had a laptop, that would be considerably easier. I don’t, and won’t have one any time in the foreseeable future, so it’s a moot point.

So… was it a success? No, I don’t suppose it was. But it wasn’t a failure, either. I wrote more over the past month than I’ve written in the past three years– maybe more. I have to admit that I’m proud of that. It wasn’t especially good, but it was something. Does that make sense? Good is so subjective, anyway…

I did start to get to know a character who has been lurking in my brain for years, but as little more than a name. I had to sit and really think about my setting– something one doesn’t have to worry about much when one is scrawling fanfic for fun. Questions came up– what do these people eat, or wear, or do on a daily basis? What kind of monetary system do they have? What sort of government is in place? Geography, climatology, anthropology, religion, civics… so many things have come up, and they’re all quite fascinating. I find that I’m having a good time playing in my world. I don’t know that I’ll ever invite anyone else to visit, but thanks to National Novel Writing Month, at least it’s something to consider.

I did sit down and write out a rough outline, only to find (rather disappointingly) that I haven’t made very much progress in terms of advancing the story. I’m not a terrible writer, but the sad fact remains that I can’t plot effectively. Still, if I keep plodding on, eventually my character will get to where she’s going. And eventually I’ll be ready to face revision and editing. Maybe by next November… or the next.

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NaNoWriMo, Continued

November 15, 2011 at 00:41 (Uncategorized) (, , , , , , )

It’s been almost a week since my last post, and I’ve got a whopping 8000 words. That’s my best estimate, anyway. I’m beginning to think this was not a particularly reasonable goal to set. Turns out 50,000 words is closer to 175 written pages, when dialogue is concerned, and the fact remains that I still can’t plot. Sigh.

But I’m plodding on. I scratched out three more pages last night, and I’ll get back to it as soon as I get off here. It’s frustrating– it almost feels as though I’m carving each word out of the paper. I’m reminded of Michelangelo, who said that his sculptures came already complete inside their blocks of marble, and all he had to do was remove the extraneous bits. Writing has begun to feel that way to me.

I’m trying not to second-guess myself by going back and re-reading what I’ve written; when I do that, I almost inevitably end up editing something, which– for the purposes of NaNoWriMo– is completely taboo. Unfortunately, I write fantasy, and basic details like names and titles slip my mind, so I have to flip back to see what I called this village or that ruling personage. When I do, I see things that make me cringe. It’s all I can do to just strike though whole paragraphs and start from the beginning!

“November is for writing, December is for editing.” That’s the rule. So I’m trying to hold to that principle and just keep my pen moving. I honestly have no idea where my heroine will wind up. That’s part of the fun, I guess. The journey matters more than the destination, anyway. Hopefully she’ll make it to her destiny by December 1- if not, I suppose I’ll have to keep going, even after November expires.

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November 8, 2011 at 03:32 (Uncategorized) (, , , , , )

National Novel Writing Month is kicking my tail. I’ve toyed with participating before, but this year  I finally took the plunge. The idea of completing a novel– even a bad one– in one month is intoxicating, especially since I’ve struggled with writer’s block for years. The Mean Judge Who Lives in My Head has gotten louder and louder, drowning the voice of my muse until it’s all I can do to scribble a few pitiful words in my journal occasionally. NaNoWriMo effectively shuts up that Judge– tells him to shut the f*** up and leave me alone!! The resulting silence in my head has been… refreshing.

Granted, I’m not following the guidelines as closely as I might. For one, I’m still using a notebook and pen– practically Neolithic. I hope someday to own a laptop, since it’s all but impossible to type here on my desktop dinosaur, what with kids and cats and whatnot running rampant over me. I’m estimating that my word count is around 5000 right now– one-tenth of the way there, and three weeks to go!

Fifty thousand words. Wow. That’s roughly 125 handwritten pages. I can do that, can’t I?

I used to be able, anyway. When I was a teenager, I wrote incessantly– I always had folded notebook pages on hand, even at lunch in the cafeteria. I recall one heady weekend when I got a hot spark of inspiration and dashed off 90 pages in two and a half days! Good? Not really. I never even finished that particular story. But the point is, I did it. I wrote all the time, and the Mean Judge– still feeble and toddling then– kept his opinions to himself. When did I start listening to him?

Actually, I can almost pinpoint it: August 1995. That was when I finished my last novel, a Star Trek fanfic piece I titled Survival. I was fairly pleased with it. I’ve completed nothing since. Why? It’s still a mystery.

I read someplace that women are at their most creative in their 30s. That was the only reason I ever looked forward to passing 29. Surely my muse should have returned my now? I’m on the slope to 40 now– oh my dear good goddess, I can hardly believe I have to type that! Where is my mid-thirties burst of inspiration?

I’m forced to conclude that particular pronouncement was a load of crap, so I’ll have to work with what I’ve got. Enter NaNoWriMo. In the next couple of days, while I’m off work, I’ll spill a few more miles of ink. Shoot for 8-10 more pages– that’s doable, and about 3500 more words, give or take. I can’t claim that any of it will be worth reading, but at least it’ll keep that evil Judge quiet a little longer.

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Topanga Witches

October 19, 2011 at 04:11 (Uncategorized) (, , , , , , , , , , , , , )

I wrote this several years ago– a little essay about my first experience with a public Pagan gathering. I’ve been to many since, every one of them better than this one! I don’t know why this piece makes me happy, but it does–  th0ugh I’ve been told that it has a melancholy air, that I seem lonely and isolated. I suppose I was, at the time– but I still like some of the wry commentary.

Topanga Witches

Topanga Canyon, California– an idyllic little community tucked in a narrow, verdant canyon between the San Fernando Valley and the Pacific Ocean– is a beautiful place, deservedly adored by its fortunate inhabitants. It winds for about nine miles from Woodland Hills right down to the ocean. The road curves no less than 87 times in those nine miles, according to locals. Some of those curves are very nearly hairpin, which makes the canyon difficult to navigate at the high speeds Los Angeles drives insist on. But taken at reasonable speeds, the drive is exhilarating and offers spectacular views of the canyon, the valley, and the surrounding mountains. Topanga Canyon is an oasis, a sanctuary for Nature (and for those who honour her) in the middle of one of the most urban areas of the country.

I have never heard of Topanga until I moved to Los Angeles in 2000, and to this day I don’t know where my impressions about it originated. Maybe it was on a website I saw, or an address for occult supplies in a book. In any case, I quickly formed a definite opinion of Topanga and its residents: They were Witches.
I was absolutely certain of that. I had heard that Topanga had been a “center of the 60’s counter-culture,” and that it was populated by ageing hippies and Pagans. Therefore, Topanga must be LA’s Witch Central– and I had to go there.

I went at the first opportunity. I found– nothing. Well, there was a post office and a small grocery store and an elegant restaurant in a lovely woodland setting. There was an adorable cottage in a sun-spangled glen that brought to mind a tidy hobbit hole. I drove back and forth, looked high and low, but there was no sign of those storied nature-loving inhabitants.

One sunny April morning in 2001, I was driving through Topanga and saw a handwritten sign on the side of the road advertising a “Celtic Festival” on the following Saturday, featuring food, fun, and a maypole. Beltane! I had found the Topanga Witches! I immediately made plans to be there with my 18-month-old daughter. I hesitated over the cost– $10 a person, which seemed exorbitant– but decided it was too good on opportunity to waste. So on Saturday, May Day, we went to the Festival.

We arrived around 10 a.m., paid $20 to enter, and wandered around the (disappointingly small) gathering. Almost immediately I began to feel… mislead. As it turned out, it was a fundraiser for earthquake victims in India. It appeared that the organisers were devotees of some Indian guru or swami or whatever (I’m not trying to be disrespectful; I don’t know the proper term). There was indeed a maypole– a very lovely one, in fact; yellow with green and purple ribbons. Mardi Gras colours, in fact– odd, that, since this was Beltane. I associate red and white with this particular sabbat, but maybe this particular combination had special meaning to the guru and his disciples.

Anyway, they had the maypole, but at its base was a large picture of the guru/swami/important personage, and I saw several people bow or otherwise pay their respects to it as they walked by. There were a couple of psychic healers, massage therapists, henna artists, et cetera, and a couple of craft booths (sadly, no Craft booths, which would have been more helpful), and few people selling food. It was all vegetarian and organic– one booth went all the way and offered only raw food. I heard one poor man innocently ask the girl running that counter what kind of menu items she had, and her response was predictably zealous:

“This is raw food! The best food! Best for you, best for the planet, best for– ” Here she waved her hands vaguely at the motley gathering– “for India… ”

Although I’ve learned more about it since then, and now understand that there are arguably sound reasons for going raw, I have to say that the items served by the chirpy and devoted seller that day looked, well, pitiably raw and unappetising. It consisted mainly of large, unidentifiable leaves wrapped around some sort of pale paste– hummus?– and handfuls of chopped onions, tomatoes, and other bits of greenery. This was called a “burrito.” A similar dish, consisting of the same ingredients in a bowl, minus the giant leaf, was called a “stir non-fry.”

The same booth also featured whole coconuts, topped and tailed, so to speak, with straws stuck in them. It was a nice concept– the idea was to walk around or sit in the shade sipping fresh coconut milk, but in practice it was less than palate-pleasing, at least in my opinion. To me it tasted strongly of corn chips– I’m guessing because Fritos and their ilk are fried in coconut oil– but honestly, if I wanted to drink Doritos, I’d puree them in a blender (for substantially less money) and go from there. After the liquid was gone, we went back to the Helpful Raw Food Folk and had them split the coconut open. I tried the coconut meat, which, aside from being wetter and less sweet than I imagined, tasted like… corn chips. Even the baby spat it out.

There was other food, which I did try, and which was actually quite good, albeit expensive. There was Indian– vegetarian, of course, but at least it was cooked. And the best value– if not the tastiest thing I ate all day, it was better than the coconut– was a plate of cold mac’n’cheese (presumably organic and non-dairy) with a SmartDog, a soy protein “frankfurter.” It was edible, it was reasonably filling, and it was cheap: $1. I think the moral of the entire experience, though, was clear: next time, pack a picnic.

The attendees were the main attraction, though. The women consisted primarily of young, thin, yoga-and-bean sprout types in various states of undress. Most wore bikini-type tops, long, filmy skirts, and anklets with tiny bells. They danced sinuously to the live music, all flowing limbs and closed eyes and ecstatic expressions. Very pretty, except that several of them had armpit hair longer and bushier than most men I’ve seen. I’m all for personal expression, but I just don’t find underarm hair that could conceivably be braided and dressed out in ribbons to be especially compelling.

The men were, by and large, less interesting, though there were a few exceptions. Some wore Renaissance Faire-style costumes, and almost all had copious amounts of facial hair. One wore knee-length lambskin breeches and nothing else. Another– the swami’s representative here in Topanga, presumably– was dressed like the man in the picture, in sheer white trousers and tunic. To be perfectly frank, none of the males there were as compelling as the girls’ axillary hair.

I eventually reached the conclusion that there were actually two separate events going on that day. One was a Beltane celebration, hosted by a very small and understated coven whose membership, I estimated, stood at six or seven, no more. The other, larger event was the earthquake relief drive, hosted by the guru’s energetic and driven devotees. My guess is that they joined forces to accomplish their various ends: the swami people got money to send to India, and the Witches got enough people to dance the maypole properly.

The ritual itself was nice, although I was excluded– either because I was holding a baby, or because I‘m actually invisible. I was a bit miffed at that– I came to join the circle, but when the woman acting as High Priestess came around to reorder it “boy-girl-boy-girl,” she skipped me, walking past me as though I weren’t there. Too shy to challenge her, I stepped back and watched as they called the quarters (in Gaelic, which was a nice touch), acted out some inaudible dialogue between an older divine couple and a younger, pregnant one, then they danced the maypole, winding the ribbons down the pole in an untidy but attractive pattern. Finally they made a good attempt at a Spiral Dance, finishing in a laughing, exhilarated pile beneath the maypole.

All in all, the experience was less than inspiring. The first public Pagan event I attended was, in a word, a bust. I was irritated at how thin the Celtic veneer was– I wish the guru’s followers had advertised it more honestly. I would not have been so keen to go if the sign had said “Earthquake Relief Agenda Masquerading as Spring Celebration Which, For the Sake of Argument, We Will Call Celtic.” I was unimpressed with the Pagans as well, who completely failed to welcome– or even acknowledge– a sincere seeker. I found the Topanga Witches, but instead of finding spiritual inspiration with them, I discovered that the words of the Charge still resonate: “…if that which you seek, you find not within yourself, you will never find it without.”

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