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For Thanksgiving of 2000, I traveled to Washington, D.C., to spend time with family who had congregated there. It was a blessed respite from all the running around I seemed to be doing, and I longed to curl up in the corner and just be.

When I arrived, my sister-in-law, Amy, was just finishing reading a new book written by Shirley MacLaine called, The Camino: A Journey of the Spirit. There was a striking photograph on the cover: a small Shirley from a distance, with backpack and walking stick. We all passed the book around and devoured it with glee. As I read, I would spend long hours on the road with Shirley, and then copy passages into my journal, ways in which I connected with the thoughts she was writing about and the transformation she was undergoing. It occurred to me then that walking an ancient path along a holy energy site was something I would do, too. But the thought of traveling 500 miles on foot was daunting, to say the least. I said to myself maybe I’d do it for my 40th birthday, still five years away. It was a romantic idea and blessedly far into the future.

Funny thing about time: it keeps unfolding, and so five years passed. I kept wondering if I’d really do it. I was drawn to it as an idea, as a part of my personal story, something to tell people I’d done. The actual doing of it seemed frightening to me. But since I’m attracted to pursuing things that frighten me, I held it out as a possibility, if not a reality. I tried it on a bit, floated it as an idea among friends and decided that if I committed to the idea by telling people, there’d be no turning back. I didn’t tell a lot of people though, just in case. And I had an out. I’d broken my ankle, undergone surgery, and if I decided not to walk the 500 miles, I could blame it on chronic ankle pain.

There was another idea I was trying on, too.

Years ago, my friend Sandy was going through a divorce, and as a way of releasing the old in order to re-emerge anew, she decided to shave her head. I listened with awe to her process of shedding her identity and her feelings of empowerment by this act of defiance and strength. I felt myself drawn to doing the same thing. It was an idea, and as I traveled a timeline toward 40, these two ideas came together – shaving my head and walking across Spain.

Somewhere around August of 2004 it occurred to me that I could begin growing my hair as long as possible only to cut it all off and donate it to someone with cancer who had no hair. Another romantic idea, and the hatching of a plan.


I’ve never been bald before. I was born with a lot of hair and for the majority of my life, it’s been long and full and blond and lush. People have always commented on and coveted my hair. And so it seemed to be just the thing to give up, along with comfort and familiarity and language and responsibility and materialism. To expose my head as I exposed the deepest parts of myself in this month-long “journey of the spirit” seemed to root me into the reality and excitement of marking a transition, not just in terms of time and age but more powerfully symbolic of a new beginning within. And having told so many people was not just helping hold me to my commitment but also a way of understanding how vital it is that we share ourselves and our intentions so that others open a space and help us transform ideas into realities.

On Valentine’s Day of 2005, I pulled 18 inches of blond mane into two ponytails, braided them tightly, took a deep breath and cut them off.


I thought it was going to be a disaster and that the next year of my life would be a painful process of regrowth. I wasn’t quite prepared to be not just enamored by the way I looked, but completely in love with my bald head. It might be the first time I truly ever saw my face.

And I think it is my best look ever.


Before leaving for Spain, I traveled to New York to visit friends. The Christo exhibit of orange flags in Central Park greeted me. And one night, I did an amazing thing. I took a bath. At night. I had rarely taken baths at night because I didn’t want to deal with my wet hair before going to bed. But one night, late, all I wanted to do was soak in the tub and crawl into bed.

I lay in that water for a hour. It was so incredible. All the lights were off, only the flickering light of a candle lit the room.

There was a razor on the edge of the tub. I had used clippers the shave off my long locks, but it left stubbles and now there was new growth from a few days. So I sat in there in the warm water, and lathered up with shaving cream. I closed my eyes and just kept feeling the pattern of growth and all the different directions my hair grows out of my head. And I shaved my head to go against the grain, all the while keeping my eyes closed. It felt sacred. Beautiful. Some kind of rite of passage. It took me at least a half hour. And with each stroke, my head felt like glass.

The touch of my hand on my bare head. The transfer of heat. All the new sensations.

This head, mine. I lay back in the water and held my head, cradling it. I felt as though I was a baby coming out of the womb.

It’s ALL about the bike.

My first road bike, after the banana seat and streamers phase, was the most expensive bike in the shop. Italian-made, red steel, and with Campy parts. I spent an entire year of babysitting money to buy it. And I felt really cool on that thing.

Paul Nolan got me interested in riding even before Breaking Away came out. We’d head out early Saturday mornings and go on long rides on the country roads of Berkey, Ohio, where nary a car passed by, there was not a hill in sight, and the biggest danger were the barnyard dogs from the farms. And they were dangerous – baring their teeth, biting at the tires. Paul liked to smack ’em with his portable tire pump. I doused ’em with water. Sometimes we carried a spray bottle with ammonia. That produced a lot of great dog noises and could probably be classified as cruel and unusual. But then so was the bared teeth and biting.

When I moved to Southern California, nothing prepared me for the hills. Whereas before I could whip off a century in four hours, now I was facing brutal climbs where I couldn’t crack 10 miles per hour. Or really even 5. I hung up my bike for film school. The only riding I did was for the first film I made at CalArts, a one-minute short featuring that red Italian Torpado.

Twenty-five years later I was still riding that thing… Until I hooked up with a couple of guys for early morning training and one of them, Steve, told me I could shave 10% off my time and limit the road vibration with a new bike. Done.
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When I met Maureen I wondered how long it would take for the seed of our friendship to germinate. Each seed has its own period of readiness; if it doesn’t sprout and grow roots within a certain length of time, the embryo inside will die. A maple, for instance, needs to take root within two weeks while a lotus plant can remain dormant for two thousand years and still spring to life in an instant under the right conditions. It seems to depend on the thickness of the seed coat, that protective barrier that keeps nourishment from reaching the inside. A thin seed coat needs only water and light to initiate growth while a thick coat needs something called “scarification,” any process of breaking or scratching the skin to make it permeable.

Farmers have learned that they don’t have to wait on nature to soften seed coats; they can scarify seeds by soaking them in concentrated sulfuric acid. This is a dangerous practice, of course, particularly for the inexperienced. Vinegar is safer though far less effective. I, however, knowing so little about farming, am reluctant to force anyone’s growth, so I wait.

I had told Maureen early on that I wanted to know her. I felt an immediate connection with her, and I imagined our late night phone calls, the endless discussions of movies and theater and politics and books and relationships. I had hopes that she would become the sister I never had and always longed for, that we might develop an unspoken bond where whole worlds are contained inside of momentary glances and stifled laughter. She said that she was a little afraid of me, that it wasn’t so easy for her to expose herself, that maybe she needed, “I don’t know, wine, pot, time” to soften the barrier that kept her so hidden. I halfheartedly joked that I would not wedge myself into the cracks too quickly but that I’d bring wine, pot and time with me when I visited.

I sat across from her and she melted in an instant as if she had always been waiting to do so. I asked her intimate questions that she readily answered despite her discomfort. She said she trusted me and seemed to feel unburdened as she allowed a glimpse of some of her deepest feelings to reach out for air and sunlight. It was an encouraging start. But each seed has only a limited amount of energy. If it is buried too deeply and expends all its energy before reaching the surface, it will not grow.

Though I would prefer not having to wait two thousand years for our friendship to take root, I think of Maureen as a lotus plant. I sense that there is an astonishing flower within her that wants only to burst forth and fully open.

The lotus is the only plant to fruit and flower simultaneously after it emerges from the muddy depths of a swamp or pond and reaches the waterline. It is this ability to rise above the darkness that makes humans, throughout millennia, equate the lotus with the Buddha Nature or Christ Consciousness. Lotus blooms, which open at night, are considered sacred and have the highest vibration of any flower. To use their essence as a natural therapeutic treatment encourages a gentle unfolding of one’s potential. But what encourages the gentle unfolding of the lotus? Under what conditions does the thick skin of the lotus seed give way to its own growth? These are questions I wish I could ask my new friend but she’s retreated into silence, perhaps even dormancy. And because I am unfamiliar with the care and feeding of this particular plant, it’s hard for me to tell if it’s germinated and growing, but simply hasn’t flowered because it’s still in its first year of life.

I’ve asked around. Everyone who knows about its tender habits and sense of timing says that to be patient with the flowering lotus is well worth the wait. So I do my best to remain optimistic.

I don’t have a lot of plants in my garden, I don’t collect them and discard them at will, what I have has been carefully chosen and all of it well tended. I like that friendships, the good ones, must be cultivated and nourished, weeded and fertilized, and even sometimes clipped back to encourage new growth. My friendships, the good ones, are vital to me because it is through my friends that I feel myself connected to a larger whole. Naturalist John Muir is credited with saying, “When one tugs at a single thing in nature, he finds it attached to the rest of the world.” I wonder if the opposite is true: if I tug at the world, will I find it attached to Maureen? I am reluctant to try in case John Muir is wrong, and in case the roots of this friendship are too fragile to sustain tugging.

I once had a profoundly sad experience with a gardenia plant. My grandmother liked gardenias best, their delicate white flowers, their gentle, pleasing fragrance. I never met my grandmother, she died before I was born, but through my mother’s stories of her I have always felt her strong presence nourishing my ecosystem, the way that dead trees in an old growth forest enrich the soil and provide sustenance for the next generation.

At the nursery, I chose a hardy gardenia with tight flowers poised to bloom. I read the instruction card carefully and kept moving the budding shrub around the yard until I had settled on the perfect location. As soon as I removed it from its pot and put it in the ground, it died. I didn’t know that gardenias flourish in acidic soil, which apparently mine wasn’t. I didn’t know that it’s best to keep them in their own container where you can closely monitor the condition of the soil.

The gardenia is notorious for needing considerable maintenance. Nonetheless, I was heartbroken. There’s a responsibility I feel to the planet when I make the conscious decision to acquire and care for one of its offspring, and after the death of this particular gardenia, I felt as though I’d failed at something basic and had let my grandmother down. It was hard realizing that her representation wasn’t going to be a part of my life either.

In these months of silence, I’ve asked myself, how had I failed Maureen? What part of her soil did I neglect to understand and nourish? Sometimes it feels silly caring so much. Like when I pulled the gardenia out of the ground by its dead roots. It’s just a gardenia. There are a hundred more all lined up on the shelf at Home Depot.

The truth is, I was afraid that it would happen again. Even if I tended the soil, even if I fertilized with blood meal, even if I supplemented with plenty of organic matter, it was entirely possible that I could do everything right and still not be able to raise a gardenia to maturity. Plants are unpredictable. Despite the volumes of information written about each genus and temperature zone, a plant has its own life cycle, its own requirements, its own habits. Not only am I limited in my skill, I’m also limited by outside forces beyond my control. The neighbor’s dog, for instance, kept jumping over the fence and peeing on the salvia, the morning glory, the foxglove, the calendula. Dead spots appeared in the grass. After months of reckless trampling and random urination, only the cactuses remained green and healthy. I hadn’t know about the athletic ability and bladder capacity of the dog next door but when I finally witnessed it myself, I resented that all my hard-earned work could be shat upon in an instant when I wasn’t looking. Oh, the silence of the plant kingdom. All of this could have been avoided with a little better communication.

Which brings me back to the flowering lotus. Apparently, as they develop, these miraculous plants filter and purify the surrounding water, sometimes even making it transparent. Some people believe that the more muddy the water, the more beautiful the flower will be when it arrives.

Now that’s something I’d like to see.


I used to come to the Rose Café every morning. For a scone and a cup of coffee and a table all my own. I’d prop open my laptop and the creative juices would begin to flow. I did some of my best writing at the Rose. There are certain comforting fixtures: the man who cleans the tables who provides a ready smile; another who works the parking lot wearing a brimmed sun hat and an easy laugh. Every day I would greet these men like friends. And then I stopped going. I’m not sure why. Maybe it was just a routine whose time had ended. I also got a job for a couple years, and the life of lazy mornings and creative cultivation went on pause.

SconeAndCoffeeToday I came back. I have needed to write again. I have needed lazy mornings. And I have especially needed creative cultivation. Everything about the Rose is both new and old. New outdoor patio. New succulents. New paint. New bathrooms! Same old staff though, now much more gray to my surprise. But today, even after all these years away, the men smiled at me and greeted me as if I hadn’t missed a day. Well, now THAT is like coming home.

The Buddhists have this saying, “beginner’s mind,” which is an attitude of openness, a lack of preconceptions. I am embracing the concept fully today. And, as a close associate of beginner’s mind, I have beginner’s legs. Because after several months of waiting for the early morning temperatures to stay above 55 degrees, I have once again pulled my bike out of the garage and started all over. Several months of not riding takes its toll. I have an extra EIGHT pounds I put on over the winter, which is eight more pounds I have to drag up San Vicente Boulevard with legs that have gone a bit flaccid and lungs that launch their protest. San Vicente is the perfect training road, not just a discovery of mine but of every other cyclist on the Westside. We turn out in droves, decked out in our finest polyester kits, and attack the road, which rises steadily at a 3 to 4 percent grade—what we like to call a “false flat.” There are only two lights, at 7th and 26th, then a loop around the golf course with a short 12% grade at the end, and back down San Vicente to do it all again two more times for a nice 30-mile workout.
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sunset

My favorite high school teacher is dying. I recently learned that she has end stage pancreatic cancer. Interesting combination of words: end stage. It makes her death seem imminent though I don’t know how much time they suspect she has. I hope it is long enough for me to have a dialogue with her. I have written her a letter. I don’t have an email address for her, only a home address. When time is so precious, I resent having to rely on the United States Postal Service. I worry that some scrappy man is riding a pony across country with my letter stuffed into the bag slung over his shoulder, and he may not make it all the way to Michigan in time.

What do you say to someone who is dying? The last time I did it, I was horribly inept. I talked a lot about myself, which is what I thought my friend Irene most wanted, but it didn’t feel satisfying for me. I talked without saying much. I certainly didn’t express what she’d meant to me. Sure, I’d told her often over the years, and she was clear about the depth and breadth of my love, but in my final visit with her, I had no courage. And I still feel ashamed.

It’s easier in a letter.
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(This story is the beginning of a continuing series, An Assault in Venice.)

I thought that my only encounter with police detectives would be on television. I was a huge fan of Cagney and Lacey in high school. Before that was The Rockford Files, Barnaby Jones and Mannix, which I saw in late night reruns. And so meeting Detective Melissa Mora was highly unexpected, both in its delightfulness and its awfulness.

She showed up one night at my house and identified herself as a detective with the LAPD. She looked very much like television’s version of a police detective—blond, beautiful, vibrant and even tender. I had spoken with a crotchety, matter-of-fact detective that morning who’d informed me that because we had no evidence, our case was basically closed. The case was certainly not closed for me but I was still too traumatized to have yet developed any kind of formidable strategy.

As I led Detective Mora to the guesthouse in my backyard, otherwise known as the crime scene, she explained that she was just following through with things the day detectives hadn’t finished. I unlocked the door and let her go in first. The place creeped me out. There was blood everywhere: pools that had dried on the carpeting where I’d knelt over Jeanette trying to comfort her until the paramedics arrived, and what must have been a gallon more splashed across the tile kitchen floor. Bloody hand and footprints, both hers and mine, had stained the walls, the phone, the door, the steps.
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(This story is part of a continuing series, An Assault in Venice. Part 1 starts here.)


Even though all those late night cop shows I’d watched had given me the basics, I was about to be schooled in the art of becoming a police detective. I suddenly wished I’d been far more interested in piecing the clues together and solving the crime instead of being so caught up in the character development and unfolding relationships. Plot has never been my strong suit.

When Cagney returned to the crime scene the second night to tell me that she’d taken the case herself, she also revealed that the officer who’d been over to dust for prints had found none. So far, any attempt to recover evidence had been unsuccessful. But she brought with her a pair of space-age-looking night vision goggles, which she positioned over her eyes explaining that they were for the purpose of detecting sperm residue. Even though it was determined that Jeanette had not been raped, apparently some men get off on beating women, she told me as she scanned the room. Although I didn’t want this beast to have enjoyed the violence of his actions, I sure as hell wanted some DNA. I was already beginning to think like a cop. And miraculously, Cagney was already accepting me as her partner. When she removed the goggles and shook her head, she asked if I could think of anything at all that might help, no matter how bizarre or remote. That’s when I reached for the piece of paper that had been burning a hole in my back pocket.
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(This story is part of a continuing series, An Assault in Venice. Part 1 starts here.)


Jeanette had moved from Washington, DC, by way of Ohio University where she earned a master’s degree in film studies. She arrived in Los Angeles ready to launch her career as a film director after more than a decade stage managing regional theater. My neighbors, Rob and Amy, held a barbecue in her honor knowing full well that what Jeanette cherished above all else was a sense of community.

Rob and Amy lived in the duplex next to mine. We shared a wall, a yard and a palpable affection layered with dimensions—length, depth, breadth. We grew herbs and vegetables, we composted our waste, we ate like epicureans, and we enjoyed fine wine by candlelight, firelight or starlight. We believed in the idea that only the right things happen. We asked deep questions and attempted to answer them, and when we couldn’t, we’d divine meaning from both sensible and absurd sources, measuring each with equal weight. In a place where people came carrying big, artistic dreams, ours was an enclave of the idyllic, framed by a mosaic tile garden that was literally a work of art. Raised flowerbeds ringed the perimeter, a maze of concrete benches rose up from a tapestry of colored cement, and a towering fig tree in a vase of stone proclaimed its status as centerpiece.

From the moment Jeanette entered our beachside haven, she immediately knew that she’d arrived. I had been the one to tell her that our landlord was moving his graphic design business out of the converted garage and preparing it as a rental unit. I urged her to wait while he completed the renovation, not knowing that it would fall far behind schedule. Still, Jeanette was convinced that this was her new home. She spent months sleeping on various couches, including mine, while her tiny oasis was being prepared for her. When she finally moved in, she lived there for fifteen days.
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(This story is part of a continuing series, An Assault in Venice. Part 1 starts here.)

I tried to muscle my way into the ambulance because I didn’t want to leave Jeanette alone but the paramedics held me off, suggesting I follow behind in my car so I would have a means of getting home. It sounded perfectly logical at the time but as soon as they’d shut the doors and jetted off toward the emergency room I realized that my ability to operate a motorized vehicle was nothing short of impossible. I was on the verge of vomiting, jumpy and shaking and sweating like a crack addict in detox. And someone was calling my name.

My neighbor Amy had arrived home from work but the cops wouldn’t let her into the backyard. One of them propped me up and moved me toward her so I could explain to her why a cavalry of black-and-whites were blocking off our street, lights flashing and bouncing across the front of the houses, flashlights darting into the garbage bins and alleys. I have no idea what I told her. It was all so nonsensical anyway.

Jeanette has been assaulted. No, I don’t know why. I don’t know who did it. I don’t know if she’s going to be okay. I don’t know anything anymore. People don’t just get attacked like this for no reason. At least that’s what all these cops keep saying. They’re saying it was a boyfriend. A coworker. An enemy. They’re saying she knew this person. I’m telling them she didn’t. She lived here for fifteen days. She doesn’t know anyone.

Amy called her husband Rob who was supposed to be working late but promptly came home to escort us to UCLA Medical Center. We stopped by In-n-Out Burger on the way, and the smell of takeout only added to my sense of nausea. Rob phoned their friend Mary who lived in the valley and had gone to college with Jeanette. Mary would know how to contact Jeanette’s family.

When we arrived at the hospital, we were told that the police thought it was possible Jeanette had been a victim of gang violence. As a precautionary measure, she’d been admitted under an alias: Kandy (with a K) Diaz.
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