Category Archives: Politics

Voices Without Borders: It’s Possible

This fall has had so many amazing happenings. It feels as though I have been at the helm of many projects: my daughter’s first birthday, my husband’s 40th birthday party, getting back in shape, running a race and my part-time marketing business. I also have two full-length plays in development, many articles due and then there is this crazy rouge project that you must go to!

Back in March when I thought I wasn’t going to work for awhile, but be a stay at home mommy, I was in search of the perfect volunteer project.  I was looking for something that was outside of me, but still me.  So I signed up to be the producer of what was then called Voices of Africa, part of The Estrogenius Festival at Manhattan Theatre Source.  By June I had gotten really busy, taking on private clients that I never expected and the Voices project seemed dead in the water. We had no script coming from Africa this year. I was about to call it a day and forget about it. Then things shifted and Jen Thatcher, this year’s Estrogenius producer put me in touch with Jessica Morris, who is the executive producer of a kick-ass group of young women performers called Project Girl Collective that is all about empowering young women through performance. Jessica also happens to be one of the most courageous, driven and inspiring people who I have ever met.

Welcome to Voices Without Borders: Project Girl Congo. I am one of what feels like 50 producers who helped shape this piece.  Led by hip hop artist Toni Blackman, the Project Girl girls’ have developed monologues, poetry, song and dance numbers inspired by stories told by the Man Up delegates working in the Congo, who in this case, are men who are working tirelessly to stop violence against women in the Congo every single day. These men have lost wives, mothers and sisters to violence, lack of education and health care. Many women die giving birth since there is little to no access to maternal health care. These men are standing up for women, as are the young women/performers of Project Girl who are taking time away from school and their social lives to stand up for women in the Congo. What are they giving? Their time, their hearts, their energies. What are we asking of you? To give the same. Be aware of what’s going on in other parts of the world. Watch our show, which is a fundraiser.  Every penny of the proceeds goes back to the Congo to stop violence against women and girls. If you cannot come to the show, please log onto, http://www.s317461102.initial-website.com/donate/, to support this worthy cause.

“Just about every kid in America is told that they can make a difference in this world,” says Project Girl performer Alexa Winston, age 17. “Now I have a real opportunity with Project Girl: Congo. For the first time, I have heard first-hand accounts about what life is like for girls in the Democratic Republic of Congo.  These stories are the bedrock of our show.  I know exactly where our donations are going and am proud to support the courageous young leaders who are “manning up” in the DRC.”

This ground-breaking show will be a staged reading performed at Manhattan Theatre Source as part of the Estrogenius Festival on Oct 29th and 30th in New York City. The show tells the stories of young girls in The Congo and helps us all realize that we can do something right here, right now by just being aware.

I never knew, for example, that the fear of being raped is a fact of life for women in the Congo and that being permanently damaged (or “ruined”) from a rape is a common occurrence there.  However, what trumps all of this violence is the fear of being killed as a result of living in a war-zone where child soldiers are shown with precision how to abuse women as part of their military training.

Through education and enlightenment, it is our hope as producers that we are encouraging awareness about what is going on for women in the Congo and for women right here in our community who are affected by gender-based violence.  The statistic is 1:3 women and girls around the world are victims of violence.  Clearly, this is a universal travesty that our youth-led theater company, Project Girl Performance Collective and Man Up, a youth led movement to stop violence against women and girls are working to change.

Voices Without Borders with be performed in connection with Congo Week, which is October 17-23, 2010, and Voices Without Borders will be co-produced by Congolese human rights organizers, Ally Malumba and Jean de Dieu Tshileu and Lewis Kasindi.

Proceeds from this year’s Voices Without Borders ticket sales and donations will benefit Man Up Campaign’s global anti-violence work in the Congo.

For more information and ticket sales, please visit Estrogenius Festival (www.estrogenius.org), ManUp Campaign (www.manupcampaign.org), Project Girl Performance Collective (www.projectgirlperformancecollective.org).


One last good one: Bullets, Bums and Barack

Hope. Now I have it.  I’m so excited to see what Barack Obama is going to do with his presidency!  I feel proud for the first time that I am an American; that I had the chance to vote, to make a difference.
My interview project is nearly complete.   From September 17th – November 4th, I attempted to interview one person a day as an exercise to keep me writing.  The result is pretty amazing.  It’s a journal of New York City as we prepared to elect the first Black president.   On September 17th, the day after I arrived  in New York after spending two weeks in California, I was suddenly overwhelmed by the beauty of the city in the fall.  It was as if someone had put V-juice in my coffee.  Or, I was in love again with New York.  The trees, the air, the people…everything was cracking with change.

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History in the Making: Barack Obama is our Next President!

Everyone is screaming at my house.

Obama party

Obama party

All of New York City is going nuts!  Obama just hit 270 electoral votes.
The latest political news from John McCain: They have turned off the news. It’s like the sinking of the Titanic; the Republican party has turned their focus to Hank Williams Jr.
So my house is hopping!  Fake Obama Girl showed up, champagne is flowing and I’m getting drunk.  The party just went outside and left me because “I’m being anti social with my blog.”
WILL.I.AM VIA HOLLOGRAM just appeared on CNN. I am not down with CNN’s hollogram technology.  It’s cheesy!
We just did a “cheers” to Barack; and then my husband Dmitry said a few poignant words about Obama’s grandma passing a day before this historic moment.
“Barack Obama’s grandma knew it wasn’t close race; she knew her grandson was the next President of the United States. Her work was done, she could go in peace.”

The “It” Girl of 2005 is Back!

Tonight is the night.  Sure I want to know about the election results, but I’m also trying to close out my project, one interview a day until the election.   Olives are on the table and the champagne is being opened chez moi; my husband is already annoyed with me that I am in my room blogging instead of watching  and being social. In fact, I am still wearing my workout gear and a Hello Kitty T-shirt that says: “Being This Cute is Exhausting.”  Today when I was wearing this shirt at Grounded and asked the guy behind the counter to refill my Hello Kitty water bottle,hellokitty he looked at me with a funny grin.  I realized he was looking at my shirt, which I threw on when running out the door.
“What – you think I’m obsessed with Hello Kitty?” I said, realizing, of course that I looked utterly ridiculous.
“Oh this is a coincidence,” I said, pointing at my shirt.
“You are going to tell me that that’s the only Hello Kitty stuff you own?” he said.
“Uh, not exactly.” Maybe he should read this piece I wrote about Hello Kitty back in 2001.
Moving on.
So with nothing to watch a la moment but a CNN hollogram, I am off to catch up on my interviews.  What on earth are we all going to do for entertainment when this is all over? See more plays?  Be more creative?  Well this brings me to my next interview.



Who: Lisa Ebersole
Where:  Bar 6, West Village
Occupation: Playwright, Video Media Specialist
Lisa was the “IT” Girl of the summer of 2005.  Her play Brother caused quite a stir in New York City.  Her publicist sent an invite to me at my agent job at the Fifi Oscard Agency.  The title of this play had me intrigued, so I went out to the play and there was the playwright with a starring role in her own work that she also directed.  She was as good as any of the other actors in the fine play. For a few weeks at least Brother was the talk of Off-Off Broadway New York; it was edgy, dramatic and different. The New York Times gave it a rave review and Back Stage called her “The new voice in theater.”  I decided that we had to meet.  Even though I didn’t know how long I’d be an agent, I decided to represent her. How could I not?  Lisa is one of the coolest, smartest and talented people who I know.  Within a few months, I helped to get Brother published by the Samuel French Publishing Company, which was thrilling for both of us.  This meant, of course, that I indeed had a good eye for talent and of course the obvious: Lisa Ebersole was bound to be a star.
Fast forward three years to 2008 in the week preceding the presidential election.  I left my post at the Fifi Oscard Agency in 2006 to go back into online marketing.  Meanwhile, Lisa has staunchly refused to be represented by anyone other than me, and writing and creativity for both of us had taken a back seat to the stresses of real life.

Honestly, we’ve both had just about enough reality, and we could use a little sugar. In addition to getting a new President elected, we are both poised for a comeback.
“Oh yes!” Lisa says with a grin.
Lisa and I were in full secret planning mode and I’m not sure we did a proper interview.  From the looks of Lisa, she’s is certainly back from her “It” girl hiatus.
“I’ve got a movie premiere,” she says with grin.  Yup, she’s back.

A Story of Early Voting in LA

This is from an email that my father-in-law, Vladimir Paperny wrote about taking his elderly mother to the early voting center in L.A.

I took my mother, who is 90 and walks with a walker, to the only early voting place in LA county, Norwalk. I heard there were lines but did not expect the line to be about a mile long. To get to the tent, where you are assigned a number, you have to stand in a line that goes around a block. That takes about 2 hours. From the entrance to the tent to the voting booth it takes about 3 more hours (see photo). The crowd is about 60% black, 25% other minorities, 15% white. Because of my mother’s walker, they took us directly to the registration place, so the whole procedure took us less than an hour. Lera was very impressed a) with people’s willingness to spend 5 hours to cast their votes (it’s reasonable to assume that many voted for the first time); b) with the crowd’s relaxed and friendly behavior (no drunk fights she had expected); and c) with the efficiency of the registration process — the Registrar’s office workers (with about the same ethnic distribution as in the line), despite their slow and lazy movements, were, nevertheless, efficient and eager to help. The place was supposed to close at 4 but the only thing they did at 4 was to put security guards at the end of the line to stop latecomers. I don’t think they would go home any time before 9.

Two days earlier, my mother was involved in another political action. There was a discussion at her table at the Adult Health Center she goes to. Some of the people she used to be very friendly with started saying things like “he is an Arab”, “he is a Muslim”, “we don’t want an African president”, etc. At this point, my shy, quiet and mild-mannered mother (a straight A student at the Institute for History, Philosophy and Literature, class of 1941, former head of Literary Criticism department at Novyi Mir magazine) slammed her fist at the table a shouted: “I am ashamed of you! This is racism!” Everybody shut up, and the discussion ended. Viva Lera!

“Jumping on Board” to Obama’s Campaign

Thursday I noticed I was repeating things I’d done two, three weeks ago.  But now the air is cooler and the trees rustle more as the leaves fall off.  I had lunch at Doma and when I looked out the window, there was the painter I’d interviewed a few weeks ago. 

Now his painting had morphed, just like he said it would.  I think I liked it better in the earlier version.  I read some of my book, which is research for my new play.  It’s depressing.
The older couple who had sat down next to me were speaking a language I didn’t recognize.  I speak French, Russian and a little German, so I am good at recognizing most languages, but this didn’t sound familiar.


Who: Henriette and Vagn Kondsen
Where: Doma, NYC
Occupation: Tourists  and parents (today)
Henriette and Vagn tell me that they are visiting New York for two weeks and today they have already been uptown and all over Soho.
“It’s exhausting isn’t it?” I say.
“Oh yes, we are glad to sit down.”
“Do you live here?” Vagn asks me.
“Yes, just over there,” I point.
“You are so lucky.  We love the village,” he tells me.
“We are visiting our daughter, but she’s working so much that we barely see her.”
“What does she do?” I say.
“She’s here working on the Obama campaign,” says her mother proudly.
Emma Kondsen came over from Demark to work as a volunteer to get my (crossing fingers) president elected. She’s been here for four months.
“You must be very proud,” I say.
Her parents looked so proud that I think I see tears in their eyes.
“It must be a wonderful thing being a parent,” I say.
“It’s so wonderful,” says her mom.

After pointing them to my favorite neighborhood book store “Three Lives” I went home.  My phone rang and it was unknown number.
“Hello,” I say.

“Hi, my name is Michelle and I’m calling from Barack Omama’s campaign.”

No, it wasn’t Michelle Obama, it was just someone named Michelle.
They were looking to see if my husband, who had donated money wanted to volunteer.
“He’s probably too busy,” I say.  “But, I’ll do it.”

The last time I helped out with a campaign, the guy won.

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NYC Train Interviews: Thursday and Friday

NYC Train Interviews
Thursday is the day I go to White Plains to take care of my aunt, so it’s not usually very exciting.
I asked the mustached train conductor what the craziest experience he’d ever had on the train.
“Oh lots of things,” he says.
“Like what?”
“People having fun.”
“Fun drinking, fun what?”
“You know, having fun.”
Oh, I get it.  Okay.  Having “fun.”  I say this while I am imagining the scene from “Risky Business.”
“Can I take your picture?”
“No  way.”
The lady across from me who was wearing sexy smart glasses and an interesting animal print dress and high brown boots asks what I’m doing.
With a smile ear-to-ear she came and sat next to me and we chatted the rest of the way back to New York City.
“You know I have to interview you now, right?” I said.
“Oh no. I’m so boring,” she said with a smile.
You know, I’d rather interview someone who says that they are boring than someone who is supposed to be exciting who ends up being boring.

She could be Molly Shannon

She could be Molly Shannon

Who: Jackie
Where:  Metro North, heading back to New York City from White Plains
Occupation: Research Pharmacist
Jackie is a self-described optimist; the book she was reading about “Change” was just proof of her desires in life.
“I tried to be a real-estate agent once, but that didn’t work out.”
Jackie wants to be open to change, but obviously it hasn’t been in her past.  She stayed at one job for 13 years and when I asked her how long she’s been living in NYC, she said: “19 years,” before telling me that she was born and raised in Brooklyn.
So, really she’s been in NYC her whole life.
“Most people aren’t open to change, but not me,” she says with a renewed freedom.
Jackie loves to travel though and through her work, she’s been all over the world.
“Thailand was my favorite.  I just loved the people there.”
Of all the people I’ve met, Jackie had the least to say, but was the most happy and optimistic about life.  She reminds me of Molly Shannon in “The Year of The Dog.”
“Change is good,” she says with an even bigger grin than before.
There was something about her. She could be an actress. I can see her in one of my plays.
“Really?” she says.
“Yes, absolutely.”
Hopefully this is a Democratic change.
I took some photos of some people on my way home to watch the debates.
My husband wanted me to wait for him, but I couldn’t.
Here’s a weird thing and I’ll just say it.  I can’t keep my eyes off of Sarah Palin.
Okay, I said it.
Onward.
It’s really horrible that she uses her charisma and hotness to get ahead, or is it?
The things that Tina Fey makes fun of about Sarah Palin — the winking, the kiss blowing, the effusive goofiness, the hairdos, the hot outfits, I don’t know.   Is that really wrong?  Just look at what America appreciates.
As a woman and a feminist, it disgusts me that she’s chided for this. Obviously using her good looks is something that’s gotten her ahead in this world, why should she stop now?
Hillary was booed for her poor outfit choices and harshness.
We are either not pretty enough or too pretty, but that’s what people talk about with women instead of what’s really important.
Sarah Palin is not qualified to be president.  That’s the only thing that’s important to know about her.
Anyway, I had all kinds of plans, but ended up lying around my apartment all day hoping to feel better.  It never happened.
Finally at 3PM Beatriz came by and this would force me to leave my den.  Beatriz is the daughter of Maria our once-a-week cleaning lady.
Maria, Beatriz mom, put both of her daughters through school by cleaning houses for a living in NYC.  We inherited Maria as our cleaning lady when we got our apartment six years ago.  If you are wondering, “oh she has a cleaning lady” – I married into the cleaning lady deal.  I never grew up with one and never had one before.  It was my husband’s thing, but sure, a great idea.
Maria’s set of keys proves to me that she probably has 40 clients.  So over the years her daughters have come in and cleaned in her place; secret-cleaning genies who did things a little more detailed than their mother.  I often hoped that these girls would grow up and take good care of their mom; she deserves it.
Laura the elder is now a Police Officer.  Beatriz, the younger is an up-and-coming filmmaker, and I hadn’t spent any time with her until recently because she was studying in Spain.


Who: Beatriz
Where: My apartment
Occupation: Filmmaker
Beatriz is a like a little wind-up doll filled with extra batteries.  She talks a mile a minute and is doing a million things at once, including cleaning our apartment.
“Did I tell you that I got a job working with a production company that does gay sit coms?”
“Great,” I say as I get out my tape recorder.
I’d like to interview Beatriz.  I think she’s full of hope and excitement, but she talks too fast, even for my tape recorder.  Or maybe I am just too slow today.

Here’s some random photos I took of people around my hood.