goodnight, ruth

“While I thought that I was learning how to live, I’ve been learning how to die.” ~Leonardo da Vinci

5.24.10                                                                                               austin, tx

IT’S BEEN 2 WEEKS AND A DAY SINCE THEY BURIED MY FRIEND RUTH. I felt bad that I wasn’t able to make it to her funeral back in LA. But I know she understands.

Nearly 10 years ago I was introduced to Ruth by the director of Friends to the Elderly, a Jewish charity I began volunteering with in ’94. Despite what Glen Beck may think (and clearly he’s not doing much of it on this issue), I didn’t get into volunteering out of some latent Communist or Socialist leanings. Yeah, right, dude.

I got involved in the Friends to the Elderly program because I’ve always enjoyed the company of old people. Especially my grandparents, and they had all passed away by the early ’90s. And I’d already had a life-changing experience volunteering at the Hollygrove orphanage a few years before that.

So it wasn’t surprising that I’d grow to love Ruth. It didn’t take long, either.

I dare anyone to look at this slideshow I just posted on Flickr and tell me that Ruth and I didn’t have a good time over the last decade.

And if bringing a little happiness to a little old lady’s final years makes me a Socialist…


Beck’s cheap political rhetoric sounds vulgar when you’ve lived and breathed the volunteer experience. At least that’s how it sounds to me. Not only did spending time with a stranger grow into a beautiful friendship for a lonely woman at the end of her life.

It also reminded me time and time again how good it feels to put a smile on another human being’s face. And how deeply satisfying it is to cultivate selflessness when my impulse is often selfishness.

At the end of the day, my selflessness became a sort of selfishness. Because by listening to Ruth—by just showing up,  swapping life stories and comforting her when she was scared, confused or lonely—I was easily getting as much, if not more, out of our visits than Ruth was.

That’s what the Glen Beck’s of the world don’t get. We’re not brainwashed little monkeys here. We volunteer because we think we might somehow scrub clean our shortcomings and maybe even fight back the tide of greed and narcissism choking our culture. We volunteer because we like making people happy and we know that if our intentions are pure, there’s simply no way the experience will be anything less than transforming.

And chances are, you’ll have some laughs.

Right, Ruth?

Thanks for the good times, my sweet friend.

You will be missed.

how have i been, you ask?

“I’m one of those regular weird people.” ~Janis Joplin

5.13.10                                                                                        austin, tx

I’VE BEEN LIVING IN AUSTIN FOR JUST UNDER TWO MONTHS NOW, and thanks to Facebook I’ve had a steady stream of people asking me how I’m liking Texas.

So in the interest of brevity and my desire to write one version of that answer rather than dozens of responses to the same question, I’ll give you the short version right now. If you’d like to hear the extended play, keep checking back here for the gory details.

Okay, so maybe gory’s a slight exaggeration. But only slightly. In the short time that I’ve been here, my soul’s been eviscerated, chewed up by the meat grinder of failed expectations and financial chaos. But today’s a new day and things are looking up.

For those of you who don’t know, Tamale, my girlfriend of 3+ years moved to Austin 14 months ago. My plan was to follow her out, but not until I had a steady, decent-paying job lined up. Finally, a full year later, a production company I’ve done a handful of projects for tells me the Janis Joplin documentary they’re making has been approved by the Joplin estate and the project will be announced at South-by-Southwest in March. Oh, and I’m in the budget as the writer.

So what do I do? I quit my job at the Silverlake dispensary and buy a one-way ticket to Austin. It was perfect. Just the kind of gig I was looking to land to start my new life in Austin.

We hit what felt like a speed bump days before I left LA when I found out the project was now NOT going to be announced at SXSW in March. Instead, they’d wait until April to deliver the news to the media horde at the Tribeca Film Festival, where the producers were premiering their latest music doc. Not the best news. But still, the thing was a go. So far.

But within days of getting to Austin, everything changed. And it wasn’t pretty. In the midst of doing a million and one tasks for the film’s director–whose last doc earned her an Oscar nomination–I found out there was a snag. The music rights were going to be more expensive than the producers had anticipated. The project was now officially on hold.

And yet, the director was still coming out to Texas for a week of shooting, which she promised to pull off on a shoestring budget and many hours of my efforts…for which I’ve still yet to make a dime.

But I did get to meet the nice people you see in today’s photo. Those are the Mosers, a sweet old couple who used to live next door to the Joplins in Port Arthur. The place behind them is the old Joplin house. They had some interesting recollections about Janis and her family. We also spent time with childhood friends of Janis, her kindergarten teacher and a woman who used to employ Janis as a babysitter for her kids. In Austin I walked around the UT campus with one of Janis’ first boyfriends and I paid a couple visits to the home of one of Janis’ high school party pals.

The whole experience was…fascinating. Educational. And frustrating for more reasons than the simple fact that I’ve yet to get paid and the movie’s in limbo. But that’s another story for another time.

Since all that went down I’ve plunged into pit of darkness I’m only now starting to pull out of. Is that too much information for my first day back on the blogger bus?

It is what it is.

Or is it?