Jane and Gloria and Frances


I don’t want to write about Renee Zellweger. Or rather, that’s not all I want to write about.

I got off a daylong flight and checked what the world was chatting about. Twitter and Facebook: our modern village gossip sites. Amid Ebola and Isis, there was quite a lot of talk yesterday about a recent appearance of Renee Zellweger, where she appeared to have altered her face in ways that are becoming pretty familiar. There were arguments and counter-arguments – the pressure of Hollywood! low self-esteem! body dismorphia! – but nothing from Ms. Zellweger herself until this morning. Apparently her rebuttal was: I like the way I look. I am happy in my life now. It’s not anyone’s business but mine.

Touché, Renee.

So I don’t want to write about Renee Zellweger but about the interesting discussion her recent appearance inspired. This is indeed a confusing time for all of us – men, woman, old and young – in the arena of self-image.

But not for Gloria and Jane and Frances.

As you readers of my blogs may know, I recently attended a talk about Jane Goodall’s work with the chimpanzees of the Gombe preserve. Jane Goodall turned 80 this year. Here is what she looks like:



Another hero of mine turned 80 this year, Gloria Steinem, who I’ve been lucky enough to meet and who’s trailblazing has bettered my life (and probably yours too) every day. Here is what she looks like:



These faces are glorious to me. Granted, both women must have phenomenal genes (“Oy! The bone structah!” as my first agent from Queens would swoon) and we can assume that both have tried to stay reasonably healthy in their lives. But there is something more. To me they are lit from within, nourishing themselves on vision, passion and service. You don’t get to look like that at 80 any other way.

I don’t mean to dismiss the real pressures we all feel when it comes to aging and beauty; the fervent discussions about Renee Zellweger’s red carpet appearance underscore this. But it’s not just aging actresses and those in the public eye who suffer. I recently heard a doctor discussing eating disorders and body dismorphia in young men who live far from Hollywood. These guys starve themselves and take steroids in a vain attempt to achieve the look in magazines that are created from air brushing and nothing else. It’s like killing yourself to look like the Mona Lisa; that image was created on canvas, it is not something that a three-dimensional human – a human who eats and farts and gets zits and grey hairs and whose face is crooked when she laughs really, really hard – can ever replicate. Why would we want to? We are the real deal; the photos are facsimiles of us.

Frances MacDormand, recently interviewed in the New York Times, had a much more forceful way of putting it:

“We are on red alert when it comes to how we are perceiving ourselves as a species. There’s no desire to be an adult. Adulthood is not a goal. It’s not seen as a gift. Something happened culturally: No one is supposed to age past 45 — sartorially, cosmetically, attitudinally. Everybody dresses like a teenager. Everybody dyes their hair. Everybody is concerned about a smooth face.”

She goes on: “I have not mutated myself in any way,” she said. “Joel and I have this conversation a lot. He literally has to stop me physically from saying something to people — to friends who’ve had work. I’m so full of fear and rage about what they’ve done.”

“Joel” is her husband, Joel Cohen with whom she worked on her Oscar-winning role in “Fargo” as well as other projects. She says: “I’ve been with a man for 35 years who looks at me and loves what he sees,” she said.

Ah. That’s the secret: being loved for who you are.

I have a husband like that too. Brad would dump my ass in a New York minute if I fell permanently into Narcissus’s’ seductive pool. We once saw a beautiful actress who had obviously gotten a ton of work done. Brad couldn’t fathom that she would’ve chosen to this, so he theorized she’d been in some kind of accident – a fire perhaps? – and had no choice but to change her face. “No honey,” I said, “She had a face lift. By choice.” He looked genuinely perplexed — a child being told there was no Easter Bunny.

We don’t all have partners like that. Some of the most phenomenal and beautiful men and women in my life are single. So maybe we as a community can be one another’s mates, seeing each in loving, supportive eyes. Maybe we can mirror back our collective beauty when we are crying or laughing or aging or farting or happy or not. Maybe healthy cultural self-esteem flows from the inclusion of our humanity and our acceptance of flaws. And maybe that way we can prevent more adolescent girls from cutting themselves and grown women from paying surgeons to cut them as well – permanently and yes, sometimes beyond recognition.

We are beautiful when we are loved.

We are beautiful when we are filled with purpose

We are beautiful when we are part of community.

A friend told me a story of a woman she’d met in an exercise setting. This woman was adamant about self-love and jumped on my friend when she made an offhand derogatory remark about herself. “Don’t DO that!” the woman cried out, with the passion of a zealot. “You got to stand UP for yourself! And LOVE yourself!’

My friend then realized this woman had two prosthetic legs, which she used with seamless agility. She told my friend the story about how she used to be driven by a desire for physical perfection – fillers, Botox, hair extensions – these pursuits ran her day. It led her to a “butt injection party” where, much like Botox parties, women would go to get injected at rock bottom prices. This woman got a serious reaction to whatever she was injected with – apparently there was caulking material in the syringe – which led to an infection. She lost both legs, but not her life.

When this woman preaches about the perils of self-hate, she is not fucking around.

I’ll be musing about these things for many years to come, I’m sure, as I traverse my own middle age and my daughter’s adolescence. There are no easy answers, but in moments of doubt and darkness I will think to think to myself: what would Jane and Gloria and Frances do? When Jane Goodall has a bad day, does she get a butt injection? Or a hug from a chimp?

Come to think of it, some of those chimps have quite the booty. Nicki Minaj, watch out.

NBC Developing Heart Surgeon Drama with Amy Brenneman, Jill Gordon




NBC has snapped up a drama project about a female heart transplant surgeon that hails from Amy Brenneman and writer Jill Gordon.

Project is inspired by the 2010 book “Heart Matters: A Memoir of a Female Heart Surgeon” by Kathy Magliato, one of the few female heart surgeons in the country. The TV adaptation is envisioned as a dramedy blending medical procedural stories with a character study of a brilliant but flawed, highly competitive surgeon.

Drama vet Gordon is writing the script adaptation and will exec produce with Brenneman (pictured), Brad Silberling, Kelly Meyer, Susan Carlson and Eric Carlson. Magliato will be a co-exec producer should the project be ordered to pilot.

Brenneman’s involvement with “Heart Matters” is strictly as a producer. The alum of CBS’ “Judging Amy” and ABC’s “Private Practice” is now a regular on HBO’s “The Leftovers,” which was renewed for a sophomore year. She logged a guest shot last season in “Reign,” the drama series that Silberling, who is married to Brenneman, produces for the CW.

Brenneman and Gordon are repped by CAA.

Read this at: Variety.com

Amy named to cast of “The Women: Love, Lust & Everything In-Between”


WORD Theatre LA - "The Women"



Mama Chimp


So yesterday I sat in church happy, heartbroken and annoyed.

Happy to be in that beloved spot, always terra firma in the uneven terrain that is my mind.

Heartbroken for the endless woes afflicting the earth and my human family. Such a hard time we’re all having – like collective, perpetual PMS.

And annoyed at the squirrelly, silly, distracting mound of flesh next to me, whom I call my son. Charlotte was angelic and removed, serving as an acolyte in another part of the sanctuary. Robed, crossed and mature, she stood in stark contrast to Master Bodhi, who divided his time between testing out pinches on me (“does that hurt yet? How ‘bout now? NOW?”) and scribbling in my journal, mama’s sancta sanctorum if ever there was one. The dude could not settle down. Perhaps it was because of his athletic cup, which he put on at 8 am for a 2 pm game. I know I’m not built that way, but I can’t think wearing that thing would make you open to the word of God.

After church, while waiting for our pizza joint to open (pizza dough the true communion wafer), we had a choice of two offerings: listen to a renowned Islamist speak about ISIS and the American Muslim community’s response to it, or listen to a woman named Nancy Merrick talk about the plight of chimpanzees, “our closest living relatives.”

Oh, ISIS. The tip of the Bad News iceberg. Always Bad News. “They won’t give peace a chance/That was just a dream some of us had.” Thank you, Joni Mitchell, prescient as ever.
It was not the moment to contemplate beheadings. We went with the chimps.

Nancy had worked with Jane Goodall in the Gombe preserve during that groundbreaking and heady time. She has written a book called Among Chimpanzees and has an organization called ChimpSaver.org. She is a physician and activist, is brilliant, clear and surprisingly hopeful despite the Bad News (really, is there any other kind these days?) concerning the habitat of these magnificent creatures.

Miraculously, Nancy cut through the doom and gloom – and so did the chimps. I watched a clip of a mother chimp and her baby. He climbed, poked, pulled on her nipples, looked in her ear. She swatted wearily and tried in vain to maintain authority. Exactly as I had just done in church. (The baby chimp did look a lot like Bodhi; I looked for his chimp athletic cup.)

This mama truly is my relative. She could use my mother’s support group, no doubt.

Bad News had turned to Good. Not that the chimps are in good shape – their situation is dire. (Go to Nancy’s website to learn more.) The Good News was that my petty, overwhelmed heart had been pierced – in the best possible way – by the look in that mother chimp’s eyes. We understand each other. We are weary mothers with rowdy little boys. And at this moment, she needs my help. Done.

My kids and I ate our pizza calmly and talked of Africa. A woman from church reported that the ISIS talk had been surprisingly inspiring; the American Muslim community is taking pains to reach out to disaffected folks who may be susceptible to terrorist recruitment. Good News. Not in the sense that a problem is solved, but in that there is thoughtful leadership in the midst of growing hysteria.

It is an overwhelming time – and a deeply inspiring one. In the midst of it all, I met a friend yesterday. Mama Chimp. I won’t forget you any time soon. Let’s make a play date. We’ll scratch each other’s backs and snack on termites and the boys can knock each other out.

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