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August 2019 Blog

Julia Sweeney and Mom
Julia Sweeney and Mom

I’m back to my monthly blog. What’s up, buttercup?

Feeling pretty good, people. I’m still settling into our house in Los Angeles. August and September are the worst two months to be here; it’s painfully hot and the mosquitos are driving me batty. But even still, I’m giddy to be in L.A., and bugs and smog and heat cannot destroy my love. I’m rediscovering the city. It’s a complete and utter joy.

Walking to The Groundlings and doing an improv show. Seeing lots of shows at Largo at The Coronet, and even doing some shows there myself.  Trying out new restaurants in Koreatown (right next to where I live), driving to Monterey Park for Chinese food, figuring out where the best BBQ is (in Venice, on Lincoln, at Baby Blues BBQ, or nearer, Slab, on 3rd), and generally soaking up the city’s dazzling food scene.

I got season tickets to the Hollywood Bowl: Mozart’s Requiem with a full choir – holy Jesus! Going to see Elvis Costello at The Greek Theater. Reconnecting with old friends. I’ve been driving to Griffith Park early in the morning, several times a week, parking at The Observatory, and hiking for an hour or so. I love the view of the city from up there – The Hollywood Sign above, the ocean below, and this billowing, beautiful, bloviating city. I’ve been going to the beach and walking the Venice boardwalk. I walk and walk and listen to my favorite podcasts – Making Sense, Gaslit Nation, Opening Arguments, Femsplainers, WrongSpeak, Food Psych, Where Should We Begin? And more. I could listen to five hours of podcasts a day.

L.A. is a great podcast kind of city; there’s so much walking to be done, and if not that, there’s so much driving required. Perfect.

Michael, my husband, has semi-retired … at last. He’s getting used to L.A. – he and Mulan (our daughter) spent the day today at the DMV getting their California driver’s licenses. Michael likes the pool and the comedy clubs, and taking naps in the daytime and tending to his fruit trees, which we have in big pots on the driveway. We’re getting used to being around each other a lot — having dinner at 4 p.m., going for evening constitutionals, walking the neighborhood, keeping track of the house upgrades or other houses up for sale. We discuss what we’ll eat and when, ad nauseum. We spent an inordinate amount of time last week discussing the best way to store socks; we’d seen just one episode of Marie Kondo’s The Life Changing Art of Tidying Up, and it’s provided us a lifetime of discussion about how to fold things properly. Like socks. And dish towels. I could go on. But I’ll spare you.

I’m so glad I’ve been able to live this long. I’m living the dream, people!

Oh. I’m also reading the Bible.

The Bible is fascinating, believe it or not. Sometimes I’m in the living room bent over the Bible and Mulan will ask, “How is it?” And I’ll say, “Mulan, it’s a good book. It’s a good, good book.” And then we have a good laugh.  We’ll discuss Genesis – how the serpent is the only honorable character in the Garden of Eden story. How surprisingly insecure God is. But how this story still influences our culture, it’s deep in our veins.

I’ve been meaning to get back to the Bible ever since I read it the first time – and even then, it was a skim; I didn’t really read all of it. My Bible Study was a guided tour by a lovely priest at St. Monica’s Church. I thought it was interesting but not sacred — history twisted for the needs of an ancient people, but obviously not the Word of God. Over the years I would read various books about the Bible. I even collected a few Bibles along the way. Of course, after I did Letting Go of God I got a lot of Bibles as gifts from believers hoping to win me back to the faith.

The person I read most often on this topic is a wonderful scholar and author, Robert M. Price.

The Incredible Shrinking Son of Man is so good, as well as Deconstructing Jesus. One set of his books goes through the Bible chapter by chapter – explains where it came from, what possible historical meanings it could have.  I purchased those books and piled them against the living room wall waiting for the moment it was right.

I began my summer reading one chapter in the Bible at a time and then reading Price’s commentary along with some other scholar’s. It was addictive. It’s thrilling, my Bible Summer of 2019.

I’ve just gotten through the Old Testament and am starting the New. If I were 20 years old I’d become a Bible scholar. The Bible tells us so much about ourselves, our human character, our power structures, and our mythic storytelling, our primal anxieties and desires.

Speaking of books, I haven’t been reading much fiction lately, aside from the Bible. (Yes … I can never NOT make that joke.) I must get back into the fiction. In May we went to Japan for three weeks, mostly to visit my sister Meg in Tokushima. It was a deeply lovely, meaningful, wonderful trip (Tokushima, Osaka, Tokyo, Kamakura.) While there, I read a fabulous novel twice: The Waiting Years by Fumiko Enchi. It’s a breathtakingly sad, beautiful and feminist tale of hardship and redemption set in Japan in the 1800s.

Another book I’ve recently read – non-fiction – and loved so much is Blueprint: The Evolutionary Origins of a Good Society by Nicholas A. Christakis. Absolutely brilliant. The book had a profound impact on me. It caused me to see us differently, all human beings – with much greater understanding. We’re under certain pressures biologically and socially (pair bonding, sexual opportunism, need for a tribe, etc.). Some of these pressures are competing, even inside the individual. I think this book should be required reading for everyone.

I no longer have a home theater in my basement, as I did in Illinois — only a small TV the size of a computer monitor. So I have not watched very many films. That was such a mainstay of my existence before. However, I have seen a few films in theaters. I loved Late Night and Book Smart, and lately I’ve seen Once Upon a Time … in Hollywood (OUATIH) twice in theaters and already have tickets to see it for the 3rd time at The New Beverly cinema on August 24. I think OUATIH is my favorite Tarantino film since Jackie Brown. Of course it’s also a love letter to Hollywood, hitting me at the exact moment when I’m reveling in being back in L.A. Good timing. But also … good movie. Otherwise, just writing here about movies has made me long for the days when I could ramble to the basement in the afternoon and watch something in a perfectly dark, perfectly silent, perfectly cool room.

Which brings me to why we’re living here in a state of suspended animation right now: we’re about to do a major remodel on our house. This will start in January. And barring some unforeseen event, like finding an already perfect house on the market that costs less than remodeling this one (unlikely), it looks as if we’ll be moving out of this home for much of 2020. So we’re not doing much to keep the house up. The dishwasher died, and we just took it out. The garbage disposal died; removed it, too. The carpet is terribly stained and I’m not figuring out how to clean it. We’re doing the minimum to just get through. A weird way to live.

In any case, in the new configuration, there will be a place for me to watch movies in the manner to which I have become accustomed. So I look forward to that day when I can get back to my movie watching. I’ve noticed that I read a lot more than I did before. I seem to want to spend a few hours a day having some type of artistic input – reading, watching, looking (museums) – and if one avenue is cut off, the others get more time.

I’m thinking seriously about doing a podcast. Not sure where or with whom or if I’ll do it on my own. I’ve had people interested in producing it for me.  But I’m vacillating. I have a meeting this week about it.

I really want to do two. And that’s probably biting off more than I can chew. Typical for me…. I need to start slow… Calm down, Julia….

So. I want to do one looking at Catholicism. There’s so much to explore. The world has a lot of Catholics and they’re disproportionately influential on the world stage (for example, here in the U.S. there are 6 Catholics on the Supreme Court – well, 6 if you count Gorsuch, who was raised Catholic but is now Episcopalian). The potential conversations about Catholicism seem endlessly interesting to me – from the recent sex scandals, to the rise of right-wing Catholicism, Pope Francis, Steve Bannon, the economics of the churches here in the U.S., South American Catholicism, Catholic history… for god’s sake, I’ve just been watching a Great Courses class (Do you know about The Great Courses Plus? You can get access to many of their classes for a year for like $120; it’s so magnificent) on The Black Death taught by Dorsey Armstrong of Purdue University. And that right there is an interesting topic, how the Catholic Church handled the Black Death – in surprisingly horrid and also heroically compassionate ways.

So much to discuss. I think I might call this podcast, Catholijizm. My husband Michael had a funny tag line – “Spreading the Seed of Doubt.” That made me laugh so hard, I said, “How about ‘Come All Ye Faithful?’” The lurid tag lines are endless….

But I wouldn’t be trying to spread the seed of doubt. So that wouldn’t be accurate. My view would be just observation and understanding.

The other podcast I’d like to do would be a general-interest show. I’d call it Tell it to Sweeney. I’d interview authors like Nicholas Christakis, who wrote Blueprint, or Carol Tavris (who I’ve become acquainted with here in L.A.)   She has written so many wonderful books, including Mistakes Were Made But Not By Me: Why We Justify Foolish Beliefs, Bad Decisions and Hurtful Acts. This is a terrific book.

Oh, and another thing. I read a wonderful book last month by Ananka Harris, called Conscious: A Brief Guide to the Fundamental Mystery of the Mind. I loved it so much I made her my first guest on a show I did last month at Largo called: Julia & Alleged Friends. I had comedians, a musician and Annaka on to talk about her book. It was a really fun night. I recommend Annaka’s book if you’d like a clear and precise introduction to the essential scientific understandings regarding consciousness and what the hard problems are that we still cannot solve.

I’m going to do Julia & Alleged Friends again on October 24 at Largo. My guests will be Richard Dawkins and Moon Zappa. That’s going to be terrific, I think. I’m planning to do a 30-minute opening on how to become a Richard Dawkins fan – ranking all his books, telling you the best starter book, discussing his controversies. And then getting to talk to him! Moon Zappa and I did a show recently and she is simply the most hilarious woman, I love her so much – and she’s really funny about atheism. Her dad Frank Zappa was an outspoken atheist. Moon is not. But it turns out Moon’s daughter is a hardcore atheist. She’s really funny about it. And she sings! She’s awesome. What a show that is going to be.

I’m spending a lot of time in Portland, Oregon, this month and next, shooting season 2 of Shrill. I’m so happy the show is a big success and am giddy to be on it again. And I’m shooting another show that will air on Showtime in Chicago in later September. It’s called Work-in-Progress and it will premiere in December. Abby McEnany stars and it’s such a delightful show. I’m so friggin’ lucky to be in it. I play myself. I met Abby and Tim Mason, who is directing the series, in Chicago at Second City. There are eight episodes and I’m in about half of them.  It’s such a sweet, hilarious and important show.

What else? I am determined to figure out my newest one-person show, Julia Sweeney: I, as Well. I’ll be doing many workshop performances later this year. I’m figuring out where that will be now; probably mostly in L.A. I will post as soon as I get that set.

Also, I’m doing Older & Wider in NYC in November, and shooting it February 1 in Seattle at The Neptune Theater. If can get I, as Well up to speed, I might throw in and try to film that, too. Maybe at the Tractor Tavern? We’ll see. Stay tuned for tickets to that (or those) show(s).

All right, I’ve got to say it.  I’m also spending an inordinate amount of each day up in arms over politics and recurring tragedy. I’m worried. I’m trying to figure out what I can do besides send candidates money and fulminate about it to anyone who’ll let me. I’m afraid for this country’s future. I’m afraid for the planet’s future. I’m trying to take the long view and remain optimistic. I’m trying to take the broad view, but I know too much history to not feel frightened by the precariousness of our current situation.

Oh dear, I’m ending on a sad note. But it cannot be helped. Okay, until September….

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