Missing My Mentors

I miss my mentors. I miss my old friends. As we get older, we will start losing people. Two of my mentors passed away last year — Le Wilhelm, who I loved with all my heart. He was so supportive of my work, and he was just such a heartfelt, real person. He produced my first play in NYC. But even when we weren’t working together, I enjoyed his Face Book political rants. He was very opinionated and Southern to his core. He was gay, but very Right and in the theater in New York….so he was pretty funny. I miss seeing those hilarious comments pop up on my feed. They made me smile. Carolyn French, who was an agent at the Fifi Oscard Agency also past away last year. I sat next to Carolyn when I worked at the agency and we became great friends. She begrudgingly became a fan of my playwriting too, even though she really wanted to me to become an agent. In fact, Carolyn invited someone very important to one of my plays years ago, and this person loved my play and invited me to “submit more material.” This was a TV executive. This was a very big deal. I wasn’t ready for TV at the time, so of course nothing more happened (mostly because of me)– but all these years later, this TV executive is back in contact with me again. Carlolyn was not my agent — and as I said, really didn’t give a hoot about my plays. But she saw my play, liked it and made a call for me. Perhaps it was “the” call of my life. Anyway, she’s been gone now for eight months. I think of her often. I still think that we will go meet up in Bryant Park for lunch, and I just miss her. A compliment from Carolyn or Le meant the world to me for different reasons, but the same reasons. One of the last things Carolyn ever said to me was to tell me that she thought I was a wonderful mother. I brought baby Maya to see her one day, now four summers ago and she couldn’t get over the change in me: “Oh Laura, you’ve found yourself. Just look at you.” Of course, this was both pleasing and frustrating to me as you can imagine. “No, no, no…I’m more than a mom. Ugh. This mom-thing isn’t finding myself, ” I thought to myself. But maybe, what Carolyn and others were seeing in me was a Zen that rises up within us as mothers. We are bigger than anything else, even our own ambitions in that moment. We are mothers.

How A Child Can Brighten Your Day

Tonight as I was putting my youngest, Lilly Poo to bed – “Mommy, you happy?”
She asks me this a lot, and it’s always right when I’m feeling not happy.
Me: (through somewhat gritted teeth, it had been a challenging evening) “Yes, of course! I’ve got you and Maya.”
Lilly: “And Daddy.”
Me:”Yes.”
Lilly: “And Gommy.”
Now I’m smiling wider.
Lilly: “And Gompo, and Katie and uncle Curt…”
Me: “Yes…”
Lilly: “And dragons!”
Feeling grateful, happy and strong because I’ve got dragon power, l kiss her and say, “Goodnight, Lilly!”
Lilly: “Night, Mommy!”

A Journal entry from my life six months ago

It’s hard to believe that this little munchkin is about to be four! As a mom, it’s challenging to stop and smell the roses and “pause.” I’ve been pushing a stroller and changing diapers and breaking my back and wearing my hair in a bun and barely showering and eating the wrong foods at the wrong time and forgetting to take my vitamins and not sleeping properly for nearly four years. One of these days I will fit into my pre-baby clothes and wear some other type of shoes besides thongs in summer and Sorrel boots in the winter. I will feel sort of important again and take myself seriously. Stop referring to myself as “Mommy.” Maybe I’ll even make $$ again. And return a phone call. I know us moms vanish for a few years when we have kids and double that for moms who have two in as many years. I feel like wars have happened, gun violence has taken over, my friends are getting really, really successful and loved ones have gotten married, had babies, turned up sick and are dying and/or have died already and I have barely looked up. I’ve been so busy. Life takes us all on our journeys and parenting is up there as the most important one. As one of my sweet parent-friends put it, it’s the most “present” you will ever be in your life…to your children. Maybe you are present for your children, but you are pretty out of it as far as everything else is concerned. Just try sleeping while your baby has the stomach flu. And imagine being okay that you asked her to barf in a bowl and she barfed in your mouth instead? Ah huh. That’s my life. And I get up and start all over the next day, and lots of the time I am having fun. I am, totally. I’m not lying about that. I’m just tired. I don’t look so good anymore I’m the first to admit. If it isn’t my broken out, dried out skin, or my yucky hair or my fat ass, or my suddenly size D boobs (I had B cups until I had kids) it’s something else. I realize that when my kids are mid-sized kids and my stroller and diaper days are over, my looks and my sanity might be gone too. If I was younger, I would say…maybe I’ll be back, but I’m not sure.Image

My husband and I work and that’s what makes us work

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It’s kinda funny, Dmitry Paperny and I met at work years ago, and though we never really talk about it or make it a big deal — for years we’ve been able to sit right next to each other in very small spaces and work together on projects — from work related to children to work that pays for children. He doesn’t need his space, he works in the living room, and when I am doing marketing work, I have no problem working right next to him – because we talk it out, and I often need him for advice. In fact, I’d rather sit right next to him =). But for other things, like when I’m writing a play and for my spec script and now my pilot — I need to go out to a special place to write, I can’t do it from home – that’s just me..but later, over dinner or when I finally need edits, he will look at my work and he does give pretty good feedback, he always has. Now I’m just more evolved, I guess. Maybe we both are. I’ve learned to show it to him — later, not in the beginning because just like in anything he does, Dmitry is a perfectionist and he will judge whatever I’m giving him as if it’s my final product. Anyway, having a partner that you have that much in common with is actually what’s kept us together all these years — 14 — and married for 10 in August. The two kids, are wonderful….and make us much messier than we already are. We are mommy and daddy, but we are also homeowners, apartment renters, company owners, writers (me)– and daddy likes to run triathlons! We are more than just mommy and daddy we run a company together pretty much, that company is not so much the company as it is our lives. We love each other, and we love our kids. They see that in us every day. We fight, we yell, at each other, sometimes at them. We are always late…we are far from perfect. We probably let them watch too much TV, but isn’t it a gift for our kids to see us and be with us so often, and yet — we also work.

Philip Seymour Hoffman

Philip Seymour Hoffman, John C. Reilly in True West

The world lost a great actor today, but New Yorkers lost one of our own. I don’t know how else to put it. When I saw this terrible news of his death trending on Face Book today and someone said that it was a hoax, I was so hoping and praying it was true. I just can’t imagine that I am never going to see Philip Seymour Hoffman work his undeniable magic on the live Broadway stage. I’m pinching myself and feel so fortunate to have seen his work on the stage and not just know him from film. I think his movie roles are amazing, sure, but to me, they are nothing like the stage performances I’ve seen him in, that have frankly shaped and changed my opinions about theater. On the stage, he was, quite simply brilliant.  From my first few weeks in New York City in the spring of 2000, I started, rather accidentally following his career. Back in 2000, when I put my two feet on the soils of gritty New York, for whatever reason, the first theater show I decided to attend was “True West”. I had no idea who Philip Seymour Hoffman was and I certainly didn’t know the groundwork for the city yet, how to get around or who was who in the theater world. Shortly after seeing the intense production, however, one of my girlfriends back then had a thing for “this actor, Philip Seymour Hoffman,”  and as I remember it, she hung out with him a few times at some theater parties. So his name came up in my social circle, but I can’t say that met him, not back then.

In 2001, I waited with my friends all night to get free tickets to see “The Seagull” with Meryl Streep, Kevin Klien and Natalie Portman.  He was too old for the role he was playing. I remember that Meryl did a cart-wheel on stage. The show was spellbinding and inspiring.  Philip’s older age (he didn’t look 19 at the time) or looks didn’t matter, he nailed the complexity of role of Konstantin.  At this point, PSH could play anything. I was watching a master at work. He had this raw grit, full of pain, suffering and compassion. He made you root for the character. Had Chekhov been alive, I’m sure he would have approved of the casting. PSH’s palpable love and biting anger at his mother played by the amazing Meryl Streep was raw, seething, pathetic and powerful all at the same moment. After the performance, I was sitting with my friends in Central Park and chatting about the play and life over wine and cigarettes. The sky above us lit up by stars. Though surrounded by trees in the park, the city lights and buildings burst through all around us like a shadowy castle. Just above us, tiny flickering bulbs of the fireflies. The evening, down to our crazy fatigue and Hoffman’s ruthless performance was absolutely magical, one of my favorite New York moments.

In 2002, the summer after my first year of playwriting graduate school at the Actors Studio/New School for Drama, where classes were held in the West Village, I was writing a lot and hanging out at local cafes. No matter where I was, I often looked up from my work to see Philip getting a coffee right in front of me. About a month later,  I saw him in “Long Day’s Journey Into Night” on Broadway.  His award-winning performance ran the gamut: overpowering, raw and gave me chills. The whole play was moving and poignant but he helped tell the sad story of the brother, Jamie who was so charming and had so much potential but was so helpless and doomed to a life of debauchery and drugs to dull his pain, just like his mother. Philip was the new fabric, allowing old plays to take on darker life for New York audiences.  Then I met Philip, and he became part of my New York experience as my neighbor. My boyfriend Dmitry (now my husband) and I moved to West Village in 2002 and we frequented the same coffee shop as Philip Seymour Hoffman and his posse, Joe on Waverly Place. So I’d often see him, just hanging out, chatting with friends, sometimes alone, just chilling.  I can’t say that his grit and just thinking of him acting on the stage and then seeing him, sometimes chatting with him, didn’t affect me as a writer, I think it did. I met his girlfriend Mimi and cooed over his eldest son when he was first born. I saw him in a new light: as a loving father. The last time I saw him at the cafe, now nearly five years ago, I was very pregnant and our entire conversation revolved around child rearing in New York. He laughed and said “I’ll probably never see you again you’ll be so busy.” I can still hear his cracking laugh. We moved downtown, and it’s true, I hardly ever go to Joe, but I do get there once in awhile, but I never saw Philip again. The last show I saw him in was “Death Of A Salesman” on Broadway in 2012. The critics and I somewhat agreed that perhaps Mr. Hoffman, at 45 was too young to play the beleaguered, tortured father who should have been at least 55 or 60 since his boys were in their thirties.  I can remember thinking, why does Philip want to play this part now, he has years to play the older dad? I couldn’t help but feel that he stole the part away from older actors who could’ve done a fine job in the role. Perhaps he really wanted to play the role of Willy Loman, one of the greatest roles in the theater…and yes, he still nailed the role despite being too young for it. Maybe he knew he’d never live long enough to play the part at the appropriate age, maybe he just wanted to seize the day and do it NOW. As the New York  Times reported today so eloquently, we will miss seeing him all those wonderful parts for aging men.

My friend called me this afternoon, the one who used to study acting and hung out with him at theater after parties. I couldn’t talk because I was with my daughter who is now a chatty four-year-old. But I’ve been thinking about him all day, and into the evening, my heart actually ached. The World lost a giant movie star today, but New Yorkers lost someone who was part of our fold; part of the fabric of our city.  He was the most amazing stage actor I’ve ever seen, and he was my neighbor.  He was such a talented human being and he was so lucky to do what he loved and to be able to show the world his talent, to let us see old plays in a new light. To his family, to his partner Mimi who just lost her love and the father to her children (as a mother, I just have to say how awful and terrifying this would be — and I’m just hoping that she is surrounded by love and light right now) and to his children, the youngest who is just five, who just lost their father, who died with a fucking needle in his arm, I’m just so sorry. My heart breaks for his extended family, close friends and for his theater company.  I mean, what a tragedy and what a sad, and somewhat theatrical and tortured end to such a legend.

Stopping to smell the (frozen) Roses

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Two and Four.

My kids are two and four and my life is very busy, and I’m enjoying every minute…I’m enjoying it more than I did when they were 1 and 3 and more than when Lilly was first born and Maya was just two. Maya turned two 12 days before Lilly arrived. My life during that early time was in sweat pants, hair in a bun, tired beyond belief and tired. I can remember nursing Lilly and Maya would be screaming for me in the other room. I remember breaking my foot when she was six months old and limping around pushing the double stroller. I remember with pain and annoyance that my husband ran a Triathlon that year and that he was never around. He left me one weekend when I was deathly ill with the two kids. I thought that I might die in the night and my two-year-old might have to save the baby. I was out of my head. I tried to tell a producer and director who were trying to meet with me about a project how miserable I was and that trying to “make a deal with me” was probably a bad idea. I was in a fog.

Things are better now. They still scream for me at night, my two year-old, Lilly especially, but it’s overall less. I hear screams and I put Homeland or Parenthood on pause. Maya at the same age gave me/us I should say me a much harder time. So Lilly gets a set of parents that take less shit…hopefully. And mommy is in a better place.

Lilly takes a “tots” ballet class at 9:30 on Monday mornings these days.  We never get there on time, but even the remaining 30 minutes that we are there, Lilly enjoys the mommy –and-me time she gets very much.

“Ballet?” She says as we head the direction of class. “Yes,” I say. “Just you and me,”…”No Maya!” She says. And we dance…and she wants to be held. She’s the littlest one in the class. The other mothers and babysitters who are with the slightly older girls all look upon us with a certain “Oh my god, she’s so cute.” It’s true, and of course, I’m seeing this with the rose-colored glasses that she is my kid, but she is pretty cute. She runs to me after each solo exercise with such glorious excitement and yells “Mommy!” I open my arms and swallow her up. And I remember that two years ago, I was doing this with Maya, and it’s funny, because she also ran to me in the same way – with complete and utter excitement and got the same giggles and smiles from the other parents. And I know, unequivocally, that these moments with my two-year-old are absolutely precious. A gift, a joy, and I’m so happy that I’m in a better place and I’m allowing myself to stop and to use a cliché “smell the roses.”

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Le Wilhelm

I went to the memorial of my mentor, Le Wilhelm last night. He died on September 25th, over a month ago. I just haven’t had time to stop and process all that’s happened these past six weeks. It’s been a whirlwind with my kids’ birthdays, school starting again and my own play reading.

I did make it to the hospital in time to sit by his side. I was surprised by how much love and emotion I had for Le, how hard it was to say goodbye, how much I wanted to curl up in his arms and get a hug. For much of my time in New York City, for the past 13 years, Le was my protector…he held me under his wing and gave me encouragement when I needed it the most.

He was an odd find for me in New York City, but again knowing me and the more I hear about Le, I’m not at all surprised. Le was a gift to this world, a gift to me. He was a large man in stature. Geez, how tall was Le? Maybe 6ft-5 and he was, for most of the time I knew him considered to be very large. He later grew thinner from illness, but that’s not how I remember him. He was this great presence, like a king, really. Whether standing on a street corner smoking or sitting in his special chair, drinking and holding court at Zuni’s, he was truly beloved and admired by those who mattered to him.

The summer of 2001 was such a strange time; it was like the pink before the red, before September 11th, before the dread, before things really changed. And for me, it was like the last summer of my youth. I played most of the spring and summer of 2001. I had gotten laid off from my job and had drifted into an uncharted, unknown state. I was definitely wandering; I was searching and finding my artistic self in the big Apple.

Le was from a different era all together. He was probably 54 when I met him, but looked older. He already had that seasoned feel. Somehow, maybe it was the left over food stuck in his beard, or the stains on his untidy shirt.  He lived in New York and had been running a theater for nearly 20 years. He was from Missouri, The Ozarks. He was a larger than life southern man who didn’t give a shit what you thought about him.  He just loved theater and loved to see “the magic” happen. He lived and breathed the stage as if it was his air. He was a prolific, talented writer who created characters who he loved, which of course actors reveled in.  As a director, he chose difficult, interesting plays and as a producer, he enjoyed helping new writers gain confidence (like me). He was an encourager, a friend. He openly hated the elitism that is so much a part of New York theater,  so he created an Off-Off Broadway theater company for the odd balls, like him, like me, I guess.  How one finds their way to Love Creek Productions — is, well, part of the fun — we are all odd balls, aren’t we?

I had been doing this and that all summer long in 2001. I lost my job and instead of getting another one, I spent the summer really fooling around, having no money. I was so so poor that summer. I had been an extra in a movie and on the set, I mentioned to one of the other extras that I wanted to be a playwright. She told me that she was part of a theater company that often produced members’ scripts. So sent an email to Le Wilhelm, the founder and the artistic director of Love Creek Productions. I auditioned for him a week later.

I’ll admit, the day of the audition, I thought the whole thing was strange. There was this old man watching me do my monologue — and then he just cast me in something — right then and there. It was so simple, except that I had to pay $100 to join the company. Uh, okay. I was lured in by getting to act on the stage in New York! Then he read my play and two days later, he told me that  he really liked it and “let’s produce it.” What???

From that day forward I was able to call myself a produced playwright. September 11th happened, I wanted to drop out of the play — two of my actors dropped out — it was a terrible, scary time. Nothing but tears and confusion. But Le pressed me to continue, and unlike some of the folks he worked with, I did it, I carried on. And through that “moment” of courage and perseverance or whatever it was, Le and I formed a very strong bond that would last us until his death just over a month ago.

Le was quite simply one-of-a-kind. He meant so much to so many of us. He was a mentor, a person who it would seem was here to bring people together. It’s like a piece of New York is gone without him here. I am grateful, so so grateful to have known him. Ledirectingmontevideo_front IMG_0848As my friend Jason Nunes said last at the memorial. “We miss you Le Wilhelm. Very much. “