Saturday, October 31, 2009


What to wear? It was my birthday, a week before Halloween. Halloween was my favorite holiday. I'd never given a party before. We were going to celebrate Halloween and my 9th birthday.

I had dropped hints about what I wanted for my birthday -- a makeup kit with everything in it -- a ring with my birthstone -- a wristwatch, guitar, or a real art easel and a set of oil paints.

Daddy's car was parked temporarily on the street . The party was going to be in the garage. We'd decorated the garage with orange crepe paper scallops. Orange paper plates and cups were stacked on two card tables. A skeleton hung on the garage door. The large pumpkin which I carved all by myself, was on a stool. A candle was in it, ready to be lit.

The pin-the-tail-on-the-donkey game was tacked up on a white sheet. A 5 gallon wash-tub that was used for soaking clothes was clean and full of water. We were going to have a bobbing for apples game.

My class from school was invited. Kids I liked and also the one's I didn't like -- I'd handed out the invitations that I'd crayoned to everyone.

My sister made me a tall witches hat from some stiff black cardboard she'd bought at the art store. We found a piece of black cloth for a cape. I wanted a wand. We used an old black umbrella, tied shoe laces and string around it to keep it flat and pointy.

The morning of the big day I woke early -- excited -- nine-years-old seemed wonderfully old, mature, important.

At breakfast my first gift was plunked down in front of me -- not wrapped -- it was a handsome jewelry box, brown, with brass corners. It had three drawers. The inside of the box was lined with a soft green felt. It looked like Mother's jewelry box but smaller.

"Look, it has three keys!" one of my sisters said, as if three keys were very important.

I didn't need three drawers or three keys. I didn't have any real jewelry -- just wooden beads, a tin ring from a crackjack box, a fake watch from Woolworth's 5 & 10. I figured a birthstone ring, and maybe the wristwatch were in the other boxes. Three gift-wrapped boxes were sitting on the buffet near the coffee pot.

One box was a grey pearl pen and pencil set. The other box was fancy stationery --pink and blue paper, pink and blue envelopes. The third box had a red leather diary in it -- small, with a little key and lock.

I felt awful. I felt like crying. The disappointment, the shock -- a box, pen and pencil, stationery, a diary -- was that all?

The day went downhill from that point on.

There were things to do -- the usual tidy-upping that a person has to do every day. I felt old and sad -- being nine felt like a not good thing.

My sisters helped me put on my makeup -- zig-zag eyebrows, tons of lipstick, and round rouge spots on my cheeks. My two braids hung on either side of my tall witches hat. My cape was fastened with a large-sized safety pin. I smiled a big real smile when my sister took a picture. I figured I'd win the prize for the best costume. The prize was a kaleidoscope. I loved kaleidoscopes.

The kids who came to the party came with relatives. The relatives sat on chairs and the bench. I got three handkerchiefs, two coloring books, a book of paper dolls, a comic book, a crossword puzzle book, and a rag doll. The gifts seemed to be gifts the kids had been given when they were younger.

I didn't win the prize for best costume. My sister was the host, and she got the relatives to indicate the winner by applauding. There were two other witches, two gypsies, one fairy, boys in dumb costumes except the winner -- he wore a top hat, and tap shoes. He came as Fred Astaire.

Shall I go on with this sad story. I didn't win pin-the-tail-on-the donkey. Blobbing for apples my hat fell in the water, but I did manage to get an apple.

The unhappy, not good ... no ... it was more than not good -- it was a bad birthday -- and this bad birthday has stayed somewhere in my mind where one's negativity resides.

Is it why I don't celebrate my birthday? Has it made me anti-social?

I don't celebrate birthdays because advertising my age at this point in time, turns conversations into "how do you feel?" ... "how's your health?" ... "you mean you're still working?" And I'm not anti-social -- my expectations are minimal, and at the same time HUGE.

Maybe this is why I carry around, mentally, a black umbrella -- to put up in case in rains -- to have just in case I need a magic wand.

Friday, October 30, 2009


CLICK ... I bypass realIty shows, as fast as I can. "Big Brother." It gets the Em award for being the #1 INTOLERABLE SHOW.

The cast are not people with whom I can identify. The young men and woman the producers pick, ( after many auditions, interviews, sessions with psychiatrists, practice group sessions) -- all them seem unpleasantly ignorant, egotistic, unusually self aware.

And the show's host, Julie, a good-looking, smoothly articulate, P.R. person, has a condescending air. She seems amused by the cast members. Her confident, know-it-all manner emphasizes the naivete, the banality of the contestants. Take a listen/look:

The fact is, aside from night vision camera's shots of various couples under-the-sheets and their sometimes private, often public romancing which Julie calls, "sho-mance," I am bored. I'm not rooting for any of them, and I don't care who stays, or goes, or wins. And Julie ... I find her seriously irritating.

CLICK CLICK "Survivor" is Em's # 2 INTOLERABLE show .
Simple, average Americans, 16 to 20 people, get abandoned in some of the most unforgiving places in the world. They're separated into two teams. Each team competes for cash and prizes. At their tribal council meetings, the contestants vote off other tribe members until only one final contestant remains and wins the title of "Sole Survivor."

I can't watch it.

The primitive living conditions -- the tricky, ridiculous, sometimes dangerous contests the participants must win -- the way tribe members meet and vote to eliminate each other -- I can't buy into the suspense that's created. Though the non-actors convey their terror, anger, confusion, exhaustion, I know it isn't really the life and death situation the script and filmed action implies. (There's obviously cameramen, and a TV tech crew lurking in the bushes.)

The cast is a bunch of typical but slightly odd-ball guys and gals, who might get together sexually. But as their eating, sleeping, sanitation, and toilet things are revealed, mostly I'm thinking "Boy, I'm glad I'm not there."

CLICK CLICK CLICK . "Amazing Race" is # 3. I just avoid it. It's four to six couples or families vying for first place in a race that takes them to exotic places and forces them to work together. The press releases call it the ultimate scavenger hunt but gee ... well, maybe people who love to travel love it. I watched a section of a segment and tuned away.

# 1 TOLERABLE "America's Got Talent. "Idol" is okay -- the judges are more interesting than the talent. I can't watch "Dancing with the Stars," and "So You think You Can Dance." Great dancers are used as partners, the choreography is "super wow-wow" (Em phrase for flashy stuff), packed with acrobatic contortions that don't impress me at all so I don't watch. But Randy Jackson's "Dance Crew" is fun -- each crew with its marvelously complicated, unison brings back memories of rehearsal days that are -- thank God -- gone -- never again to be endured.

# 2 TOLERABLE --"The Biggest Loser." It's interesting, but depressing. The trainers and hosts are likeable, down to earth, and real. The grossly overweight bodies, the passionate commitment of the participants -- it's definitely worth seeing once -- but I've never bothered to see it a second time.

Yes, new "RealIty" shows are being cooked up by the guys who concocted the current hits. Untrained actors, unrecognizable faces, folks just being themselves, who are paid (and happy) with what they'd earn if they were on jury duty -- you can't beat it!

I worry about actors. It's sending them to the unemployment lines.

I worry about us.

We're already watching forensics, death, ER disasters, autopsies -- what's next? I can't think of anything dreadful that we haven't seen , but those creative guys -- they'll think of something new, worse, more shocking, double-triple unbearably awful!

Well ... I guess I'll head for my Baker's rack where all the mysteries by Parker, Elmore Leonard, Turrow and DeMille sit, and start re-reading again. Glasses on, holding a paper-back -- that's a reality, chock-full of tricky, complicated suspenseful stuff I'll enjoy.

Thursday, October 29, 2009


Here's the Associated Press latest report.

For 91 minutes, pilot Cole, 54, with 11,000 hours of experience, was using his personal laptop computer to teach pilot Cheney, 53, with 20,000 hours of experience, how to use the new software on his laptop, so that they could figure out the new crew scheduling system at Northwest Airlines.

Was it an extremely complicated schedule? Were the hours on Pacific time and they're on Eastern? Did the laptop hard drive crash, and they had to restore it? Is that why they were out of contact with air traffic control for more than an hour and flew 150 miles beyond their destination?

I find that hard to believe -- no -- impossible to believe.

How could they ignore the voices on their cockpit radio and not notice the autopilot's electronic display specifying that it had run out of instructions?

Zoom -- my mind like an arrow hits the bull's-eye -- were they having sex?

I work on a computer all day long. Concentration comes and goes -- 10, 20 minute spurts -- I hear honking horns, heat hissing in the radiator -- I am never utterly totally concentrated for 90 minutes at a stretch.

I guess the pilots can't tell us what they were doing, because they might get sued by the 144 passengers, and 3 other crew members on the plane.

This latest, newest, perturbing story, brings to mind stories of texting drivers, and that connects in my mind to the drunk drivers.

How can any person decide to text while they're driving? Is it stupidity? Is it teenage foolishness? Is it too much T V-- too much WAR, terrorists, fear of the end of the world? There's a jelly-like shapelessness in a texter, in a drunk driver, a disconnect from what life is, what it means, and how to live it.

Okay! I understand -- terror is everywhere -- money, safety, security, health, current and potential new wars -- people attacking and murdering people, no morality -- no walls, no limits, no rules. Even if the rules are vaguely there, too many people are pushing, shoving them away, wriggling around the boundaries.

Is that what's happening to us? Is it a flu? What is this flu -- the IRF -- the Irresponsibility, Flake Out virus?

I'm thinking of the wave of drunk, drugged-out mothers crashing their cars, mindlessly transporting kids without seat belts, driving the wrong way, losing control on the Taconic, on the Westside Highway, and in Queens. I thinking of Serena in September so blindly enraged, and Glenn Beck on the cover of Time Magazine, tongue sticking out like a nasty, bad boy, giving us the raspberries -- saying pfft to the world.

ME -- MYSELF -- I --that seems to be the number one priority -- do whatever you want to do, at the moment you want to do it, or need to do it, and the hell with the consequences!

Pay attention, Em -- that's all I can think to do. Pay attention to the shapeless jelly people, old or young. Talk to them --look them strongly in the eyes -- let them know you see who they are.

The pilots were centered, focused, intelligently ambitious when they were kids --that's still in them. Maybe their sense of themselves got lost on the way to educating themselves and achieving what they achieved.

They forgot to who they are. Maybe this hullaballo will help them remember.

Wednesday, October 28, 2009


When our son, JD, was five months old, he said the word "light." When he was nine months, if we cued him, he's say "To be or not to be, that is the question."

We went on from "Mommy" and "Daddy" and "doggy," to the next line of Hamlet's soliloquy -- "Whether 'tis nobler in the mind to suffer the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune ..." And a week later added, "...or take arms against a sea of troubles, and by opposing end them."

It isn't really that amazing -- JD's daddy is an actor. Daddy was often busy memorizing lines. People loved his daddy and gave Daddy "jobs" in shows. And Mom danced, and got "bookings." Now JD's a full-time actor, who jokes about his jobs as "bookings."

I figure the six-year-old boy floating around in a balloon, who was headlines in the news (he wasn't floating ... we just assumed he was), has the same background. His daddy and mommy were actors. They didn't have to teach him the Stanislavski technique -- who are you? where are you? what are you doing? what do you want?

It's instinctive, when you're pretending, to feel out who are you, to picture where you are, and see yourself doing -- doing something like bang-bang shooting, or shooting a basketball, or slam-banging a ball with a bat. And what do you want? -- that's easy -- you want Daddy and Mommy to say "Oh yes, that's good!" And chuckle, applaud, and hug you.

Yes, a lot of people were inconvenienced, worried, concerned, about the life or death situation of a little boy. It cost local, and state agencies money -- this "play" the boy's daddy created -- but it made them famous. The boy knew what that meant for him and the rest of his family

He's seen some really great things money can buy -- he knows the names of cartoon people and pop stars -- wow -- now his name, and his family's name, wow -- there are pictures of them everywhere.

Will Daddy go to jail? No, probably not. Will people come and take him and his brothers away from Daddy and Mommy? No, both of his mom and dad say -- definitely, probably not.

Did he do a bad thing by pretending he was hiding? No. He was in the play, doing what actors do, and he did a good job -- everybody knows his name is Falcon Heene and they're "celebrities" on Entertainment Tonight.

Mr. Something-or-other was in the living room talking about building a show around him and his dad, a series maybe -- money to pay off the old bills and new bills -- a big time deal, the guy said -- with music, flashing lights, and fans, guys with cameras following him on his way to school and on his way home -- like a pop star.

He heard Dad happy-bragging, saying "We did it! I'm proud of you," telling Mom whatever trouble they're in will be taken care of by one of the producer guys or agent guys from here on.

Okay, blog readers -- so now we know that Robert Heene, an actor, inventor, with the help of his actress wife and their kids created the hoax that has made him, for the moment, a "name."

When JC and I were coming up in the world our goals were relatively small -- a booking in Lincoln Center for me, a new musical for JC that would enhance his reputation a Broadway Star.

Times have changed -- the jackpot, the "win" is bigger, harder to get. You have to do outrageous things, but why not? Everybody in every field is doing it.

Rich, smart politicos have been getting people to march, protest, shout out ugly things at meetings, the more shocking the better. Easy as pie, you can hire a bunch of old folks to come to the town hall, even a church meeting, and make a ruckus.

The boy, Falcon Heene, hasn't been abused -- he's just been used. The media's more powerful than ever, and his father, Robert Heene, managed to grab them. He's "somebody" as long as he keeps the media interested, and he's getting offers -- he's a savvy guy -- one of them may pan out for him and his family.

I'm not cheering for him, but I'm curious, waiting to see what will happen next.
Yes, even though I'm one of those daily T V watchers and I tune out the sound of the ads -- the names stay with me. Like all T V watchers, I buy stuff -- things we might need, things we can do without. I certainly didn't need a phony balloon boy story, but I bought into the Heenes family adventure, and I'd tune in if there's more -- a second episode, even a third.

Tuesday, October 27, 2009


Behold on the left, the proud-headed, skinny Em -- when that picture was taken, I was on tour with Mark Ryder, doing those 88 one-night-stands that are described on the right side of this blog.

I was eating cottage cheese. Cottage cheese with fresh fruit, if I could find fruit in a local supermarket, or cottage cheese with vegetables -- brussel sprouts, cabbage or carrots. Occasionally I'd buy a small size can of fruit, borrow our stage manager's s can opener, and enjoy cottage with canned fruit.

I had a calorie book and a carbohydrate book. I had a ledger and marked down everything I ate as well as my tax deductible expenses for food, hotel, tips, and miscellaneous (paperback novels I read when I wasn't typing notes on the previous night's war with Mark during "Romeo and Juliet.")

I weighed somewhere between 110 and 112. I was 5.4. In high school, when I weighed 116, it didn't occur to me that I would need to lose weight. But as I achieved my goal as a dancer, observing other dancers (competing with them), I knew I needed to slim down.

Modern dancers weren't usually skinny -- they were fairly normal looking. In technique classes, like most of the students, I wore a leotard top, and a half circle, knee-length skirt with slit so that glimpses of my naked legs could be seen, but NOT the entire leg.

Of course I went to the ballet. Balanchine's ballet girls were generally will-o-wisps -- gorgeous nymphs, sylphs with "key-hole crotches" (my term for what it looked like when their thighs were so thin that the sides of the thighs never touched).

Nevertheless, my eyes told me (like they tell fashion designers) that curves, cleavage were for attracting the opposite sex -- that a thin body, childlike slenderness, was perfection.

Why was I, a ballet-trained, modern dancer so concerned? Because John Martin, the New York Times critic told us in a face-to-face discussion, (Mark and I were talking to him about our future and he was giving us father-like advice ) -- "You are young and good-looking -- take off your clothes, show your bodies."

And that's what I did. I began wearing chiffons, not silk jersey like Martha Graham. And shorter, then shorter skirts -- then no skirt, just body suits with gauze, transparent little frills here and there.

I never ate desserts. I didn't eat sandwiches. The first time, and only time I had a McDonald's hamburger was in Phoenix, Arizona. (Everything was closed, and I was starving. I didn't think it was wonderful, and couldn't understand why people loved them.)

When I was bloated, I took a diuretic. I tried fasting, but it made me too weak. I tried diet pills -- if the pill contained caffeine, it helped me eat less. I weighed myself every day at least once, sucking in my stomach whenever I glimpsed myself in a mirror. I had a much better day when my weight was below 110.

A car crash on the Indianapolis highway broke my back, and gave me a new body. I am now 5.3 (lost an inch of spine). My drastically shortened small intestine (you have 36 feet, I have 3 feet), means that I can eat all I want -- 3000 to 4000 calories a day, and still be hungry, still not gain weight. I weigh between 103 and 105.

Early on, my lack of energy was incapacitating. (I was in and out of the bathroom many times a day.) After a year of therapy, when I got back to taking classes, I brought a thermos of Ginseng tea, and needed to take a sip a few times during a 90 minute class. People with a short bowel are often on pep pills, mostly lead sedentary lives.

My energy problem was a problem. I consulted Dr. Robert Atkins (yes, the famous diet doctor). He helped me with vitamins (and got too fascinated with my case and my legs), but the Atkins diet made me weaker. And he himself admitted, that in order for his diet to work, you had to eat no more than 1500 calories a day.

I think I've learned to get energy from my mental processes (plus coffee and a peanut butter cup). I think in many respects my accident was lucky, not a disaster -- imagine being able to eat everything you want. (I've tried apple pies and cakes with ice cream; banana splits, cheeseburgers, French fries -- (I love French fries). I can't absorb fats, so I don't gain weight.

So what's this story about ? How dare I write about dieting?

It's about being brain-washed. It's a confession telling anyone who reads this, that I'm caught, like many of us are caught, with an image of feminine beauty, which defeats strength.

I look at that picture of skinny me, and am aware that my focusing on my weight was an enormously ridiculous, time-wasting, emotionally-defeating focus.

Since I'm happy being skinny, even though it makes me less attractive, I'm letting you weigh me (like the scale) and see what a silly, sad, thing this is. And realize that wise Dr. Em, for all her life experience is ...

Not smart, just plain dumb about this.

P.S. I still eat an awful lot of cottage cheese

Monday, October 26, 2009


That teacherish, lean, mean look on Snowe's face ... I find myself wondering if she is the good witch or the bad one.

While I'm thinking about OZ, witches who did magical things, other guys are saying she's the Brett Favre of the political world.

Favre's a quarterback who's won -- you name it -- all the most this, the most that football awards, and suddenly retired -- suddenly came back, won more, retired again, and now he's playing again. This man is a winner who knows how to play ball and he's got everyone -- all the coaches, teams and fans -- wondering what he'll do next.

Sen. Olympia Snowe, Republican of Maine, definitely has everyone wondering what she'll say or do next.

Her vote unlocked a deadlock. She did something good, important for Health Care. Her vote, as the one and only Republican who's supported Obama's bill, could open the door for other Republicans who want to support the bill.

She's said that Obama's bill is a good place to start.

(Wait a minute ... "to start?" A lot of work, negotiations, revisions have been done already on the bill.)

And she's let it be known -- that she has reservations. -- that her vote, making her the only Republican to vote with the Democrats, does not forecast what her vote may be tomorrow.

Is Snowe another Palin? The fast-talking, down-to-earth, peppy Sarah tossing off remarks that suggest that what she stands for is the opposite of progress -- she scares me.

Olympia scares me.

Yes, she helped Obama, but she keeps stressing her "if"s, her "maybe nots," especially when it comes to the "private option" that many people seem to want.

There's something righteous, unbending, stiffly closed-minded about the woman.

And Snowe has mentioned "filibuster" more than once.

My first impression, when I meet someone, isn't always right -- their tone of voice, posture, facial expression, focus of their eyes -- I get stuck sometimes, in a wrong sense of friend or foe. But this lady from Maine, orphaned at an early age, widowed, then wife of the governor, the state of Maine's First Lady -- no matter what I read about her many good deeds -- I think Senator Olympia Snowe is NOT the good witch.

Is she going to turn into the Wicked Witch? I hope not.

Sunday, October 25, 2009


I was very nervous.

It was a raked stage.

It was major festival -- Twyla Tharpe and 50 kids from the street-- not dancers -- were the opening -- an improv. The sheer mass bodies onstage, with Twyla tap-dancing in the center, was fascinating. Then, as the second number of the evening, I was dancing "Knoxville Summer of 1915," Then, Mikhail Baryshnikov and Carla Fracci were performing a "Medea" duet, choreographed for them by John Butler.

Composer Samuel Barber, and Gian Carlo Menotti, composer and founder of the Festival of Two Worlds, were in the audience, along with notables from around the world, critics from the N.Y Times, the London Times, and many renowned choreographers.

If the names don't ring a bell, the dancers were all "stars," as were the composers. I did a blog about my "Knoxville" choreography (See 'Off Balance in London, 9/19), and explained how difficult it is to balance on a raked stage. The performance in Spoleto was a year before London, the premiere of the piece as a solo. The climax, on the last notes of music was a dangerous balance on a rocking chair. Picture a stage on a slant, a rocking chair that rocks -- with my feet on the arms of the chair, balancing on it, I'd found a way to magically rise, stand up slowly, raise my arms up high, as if reaching, embracing God in the sky.

Aside from the dangerous ending, I'd choreographed a back "attitude turn" for myself," (a double turn), a classical ballet step, adding a waving-circling arm pattern that made it unusual, not what you'd see a ballet dancer do. And there were other tricky steps.

The nitty-gritty of all this -- I'm not a ballet dancer, but I was doing steps that could be judged balletically. I don't have "ballet" feet, but my arms, my use of torso were impressive, and my projection, the concentration that I have as an dancer-actress, was uniquely powerful.

On the day of the performance, at noon, there was a half-hour set-aside for me to rehearse with the orchestra and singer.

I marked, just indicated the dance steps, and marked the climax on the rocking chair.

Why? Because the day before, at the orchestra read-through rehearsal, Samuel Barber and Gian Carlo Menotti stopped me after I spoke the opening words. They marched down the aisle and stood at the foot of the stage, looking up at me.

Barber said, "We don't think you should speak. Menotti joined in. "Miss Martha Graham tried it, my dear. It doesn't work." They both said a few more words about Miss Martha, about the music not needing a verbal introduction.

I was stunned. I was afraid I was going to burst into tears. I needed the words to create my "parents." No parents were present. As the lights came up on me sitting in the chair, I spoke Agee's poetic words: "We are talking now of summer evenings in Knoxville, Tennessee, the time when I lived there (I stood up ) so successfully disguised to myself as a child. (I gestured, and a spotlight came up on each name as I said, "My mother ....My father ... My uncle ... My aunt ..."

I don't know how I dared to say what I said -- "Mr. Barber, Mr. Menotti -- I have worked on this. This is my concept. When you were starting out and had a concept, you went ahead with the concept even when people said it wouldn't work. I want to perform my dance the way I conceived it. I know it will work."

I'm not sure I've quoted what I said accurately. But I convinced them. They backed off.

And so that afternoon, during the final rehearsal, I didn't dance -- I didn't want to test the work and get their opinions again.

Back in my hotel room I napped. Two-and-a-half hours before curtain time, as the outside was light was fading, I stood at the hotel room window and looked out, watching the birds.

I wanted to be with the birds , free, flying off into the sunset.

At the theater, I thought about the birds while the audience was cheering and bravoing Twyla Tharpe's improv. Then I went on the stage and danced. Rarely have I danced as well, deeply concentrated.

Here's the painting I made when I got back home to New York.

I'd have to drag in our ten-foot ladder to get to the high shelf where I have a carton of clippings, old brochures, and reviews. But I don't have to climb the ladder and dig for the clipping.
I remember and cherish what the New York Times critic said -- "...Emily Frankel dancing 'Knoxville, Sumer of 1915' reminds us what dancing is all about ... "