In the Blink of an Einstein

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TEN… By the time I was ten, I was madly in love with Albert Einstein. I have no idea how I even learned about him in the first place, but the source of my love was obvious. He was mischievous yet deeply profound, musical, passionate, curious, kind, odd looking, and more than a little alien; that is a vibe I could dig. My taste in men hasn’t changed much since.

NINE… In 9th grade, I decided to finally understand the Theory of Relativity. (Enough to do a report for school, at least.) My favorite illustration of how time is relative involves a flashlight and a train:

Imagine a light shining up from the floor of a moving boxcar, to a mirror on the ceiling. Turn the light on and it hits the mirror, bounces, and returns to the source. To an observer on the train with the light, the beam travels a distance equal to twice the height of the boxcar (up, then down).

But to an observer on a hill watching the train go by, the light travels further. Its journey isn’t just up and down, but also the horizontal distance the train travels in that time. To the observer on the hill, the light’s path is two diagonals of a triangle whose base is the distance traveled by the train and height is the height of the boxcar.

Since Rate (speed) is equal to distance divided by time, and since the speed of light is always the same, the fact that the light travels different distances means it also does so over different times. To the observer on the hill, the light’s journey took longer. More time passed than did for the observer on the train, even though they were both watching the same light.

EIGHT… This principle of relative time was demonstrated for a much wider audience in the 80’s, when a different Einstein – Doc Brown’s dog – spent a few seconds in a speeding DeLorean that simultaneously lasted a full minute for Marty McFly.

SEVEN… Any tween who was ever forced to play Seven Minutes in Heaven already understands the relativity of time with excruciating clarity. How slowly those seven minutes pass when we are awkward and self-conscious. Yet when I met Hodor earlier this year and we set a kitchen timer to 20 minutes on our second date (an attempt to wield some grown-up control over our teenage attraction) we were suddenly on a speeding train. Those minutes passed in seconds, and we had to reset the timer at least three more times to test its functionality (for the sake of science, of course).

SIX… I once even experienced the entire life-cycle of a relationship over the course of a six-hour conversation. Via text. It started as a chat about a basketball game, during which we acknowledged our usually moderate flirting had escalated to blatant, and then both admitted we were very interested in the person but not currently ready for the relationship. The raw honesty on display made me far more interested than at the start of the conversation, and our subsequent discussion about how to conduct ourselves in the future felt like passing through a break up and coming out the other side. In the course of one night, I gained an amicable divorce.

FIVE… Time is relative everywhere, not just in love (though especially in love). When I teach a five-hour logic class, I am most definitely on the train. Passage from start to end seems to take no time at all – though I know we traveled because I finish exhausted. My poor students experience the full expanse of the time, however, watching from the figurative hillside.

FOUR… Soon, we wave goodbye to the year 2014, a year full of time quirks. Looking at the bulk of events, we seem to have both traveled far and stood still. A lot of ugliness we thought was behind us turned out to be very present. But at the same time, the fact that we are now talking openly about things like religion, drugs, law enforcement, homophobia, sexism, racism, principles and so on is a huge step forward for our community.

THREE… For the first three months of 2014, I was an observer on the hill, living more life than my counterparts on the train. On January 1st I was a single girl between projects; by the end of March I had hundreds of regular readers and had both met and fallen completely for Hodor. For the last three months, I’ve been back on the train; Hodor left in September, but it feels like only days ago to me.

TWO… Career-wise, I ticked off a second full year of waiting for the biggest deal of my professional life to finalize. It is my own personal Groundhog Day – stuck reliving February 2nd when February 3rd is the day life starts. I fully understand why Bill Murray’s character experiments with violence in that movie.

ONE… December 31st is only one night, but somehow we imbue it with the weight of an entire year. With so much time passing in an instant, it is easy to feel bruised by the impact. But it is important to remember that the real significance of New Year’s Eve is…

ZERO. In almost every sense. It is nothing, a place-holder, just another day; it is also something, a baseline foundation from which to build another year. Zero can add nothing, nor can it take anything away. Yet it has the power to multiply things exponentially, or to negate them entirely.

It’s all in how we choose to use it. So, I say we use December 31st for a little bit of reflection, a whole lot of appreciation, and a healthy amount of celebration. Travel on the train or off, but remember it is still only one night, much as zero is only one number among many.

As long as zero isn’t also the amount of champagne left for drinking, everyone will be just fine.

Over Easy

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“In winter, when the fields are white, I sing this song for your delight-

“In spring, when woods are getting green, I’ll try and tell you what I mean:

“In summer, when the days are long, Perhaps you’ll understand the song;

“In autumn, when the leaves are brown, Take pen and ink, and write it down.”

-Lewis Carroll’s Humpty Dumpty

On the other side of the Looking Glass, Humpty Dumpty is a hyper-literal prissy pants; having a conversation with him could justifiably be classified as torture, and if I were Alice I probably would have pushed him off that wall myself. Still, his understanding of linguistic nuance is admirable.

Different words have different definitions because they mean different things, and those differences matter. “When I use a word,” he tells Alice, “it means what I choose it to mean – neither more nor less.” Dumpty may also be completely nuts and kind of a snot about it, but that doesn’t make him wrong.

“Nice is different than good.”

                                                                        -Stephen Sondheim’s Little Red Riding Hood

Also a pretty big brat, Red is the poster child for blissful ignorance before she heads Into the Woods and has wisdom (pelvic) thrust upon her. She starts out so inexperienced and self-absorbed that she can’t tell the difference between her granny and a wolf in a bonnet, survives a major trauma, then comes out the other side knowing things, many valuable things, that she hadn’t known before.

Her biggest lesson? Just because someone is friendly, cool, (super well endowed), and a source of exciting new adventures, he isn’t necessarily good for her. If a girl’s not careful, she can end up swallowed whole.

“You know me – I like things to be easy.”

                                                                        -My Ex-Boyfriend

I should know better than to open up old wounds, but Cancer 2 has always been impossible to resist. It would not surprise me at all to learn that my genetic code is programmed to bond with his chemical signature. And there he was: seven years older than when he broke my heart, not an inch less charming or attractive. The bastard.

Time does not heal all, but it soothes things enough to allow conversation. We joked like old times, discussed life choices – mine to keep after the improbable dream, his to return to science and help the world – and apologized for past behavior. Inevitably, we compared relationship statuses – mine a freshly broken heart, his a recent engagement. The frakking bastard.

It is no fun to learn that someone so great, who was simply too young when we met, is older and wiser and bestowing his gifts on someone else. I cursed fate, and circumstance, and myself, and of course him. Then I did something totally crazy – I actually listened.

There was a theme running through our conversation: a big easy.

We hadn’t spoken in seven years because he didn’t like to deal with having hurt me. He left the industry for science because he didn’t see himself pushing through the decade of humiliation and struggle it takes to break in. His current relationship was so good in part because it was so easy.

“As much as I liked you,” he said at one point,” I don’t think our relationship was right for me.” Finally, I understood the song. He prefers the path of least resistance; he likes pleasantville; he wants things to be easy.

I want things to be great.

Neither choice is better than the other, but they are definitely two different things. Greatness is rarely easy, and ease is rarely exceptional. No matter how awesome we consider each other, or how strong our chemical attraction may be, he has no need for ‘extraordinary’ in his life, and I have never been interested in ‘easy’.

No quantity of king’s horses or men could make us fit together, now or back then.

As Red would say, isn’t it nice to know a lot? (And a little bit not.)

Contra-Band (Once More Unto My Niche)

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As I lay hog-tied on the mystery-stained carpet of the Harvard University Band headquarters in the winter of my freshman year, suffering tickle torture at the hands of my too-good-to-be-true senior boyfriend (who, it would soon turn out, was also too-gay-to-be-true), one thought dominated the forefront of my mind: “I really hope I don’t pee my pants.” A close second, though, was the thought of how unexpectedly happy I was in that moment.

A few months earlier I had come to college specifically determined NOT to join the school band. I had been a band geek since the fifth grade, had held the rank of First Lieutenant in my high school marching band, and had no desire to carry the geek stigma into adulthood. I’d join the Wind Ensemble so I could keep playing my French horn, but college was my chance to become something more. College was my chance to be an alluring actress, or a badass jock, or a popular politico; college was my chance to be COOL; it was my chance to be anything but the person I actually was. My marching days were behind me.

Within a week I had joined the Harvard Band. As I went around those first few days, signing up for drama club and the crew team and Model Congress, the Band was everywhere. And they were not like any marching band I had ever seen. There were no Naugahyde hats or crazy chicken-feather plumes, just tasteful crimson blazers and ties. Sure, they marched, but in a style more akin to an amoeba than an army; their shape morphed and stretched and contracted freely, yet some invisible force bound them together as a single organism.

They were loud, boisterous, actually quite musical (!), and completely shameless. What I noticed most was that no matter anyone’s feelings about the relative corniness of bands, geeks, fight songs, or school spirit, when the band was around, people simply could not help but smile. I had to go to the Band Room to audition for the Wind Ensemble, and from the moment I set foot in that Wonka-style clubhouse, I was done. As with the Borg, my resistance was futile.

Yet while the Harvard Band does assimilate anyone who is lucky enough to wander into its orbit, unlike the Borg, it takes those people and makes them stronger. I learned so much in my four years sporting my Crimson blazer. For one, I learned what hog-tying really is, and several other things about bondage that my parents would probably rather not know about. I learned to chicken fight, to Time Warp, and to always “whisper” in a library.

I learned the joy of finding sexual innuendo in almost everything, and the confidence to resist sexual out-uendo until I was ready. I learned that shorter is funnier, that anything can (and should) become a drinking game, and that it really is all fun and games until someone loses an “I”.

I learned that tradition is important, both to make new members feel instantly welcome (that’s what she said!) and to give Crusties the joy of complaining when things inevitably evolve. I learned that fights don’t mean the end of friendships, and sometimes mean the beginning. I learned the joy of welcoming everyone to the party, no matter who they chose to be – gay, straight, man, woman, or even asshole.

Most importantly, my time with the Band taught me to accept and like myself for who I am. I still did Model Congress, and lots of theatre (crew went out the window with 5am practices), and many other things that conflicted with band activities. There was often friction, and some resentment from my peers that I wasn’t as dedicated a Bandie as they were, but the Band itself always made it work. No one ever asked me to deny my other interests the way I had tried to deny my own geekery at first. Instead, I was valued for what I could contribute, and encouraged to stay as involved as possible.

By the end of my four years, I was leading the band as Manager, another position I had openly resisted (wanting a flashier role where I could be funny and cool), but then turned out to be the exact right job for me. That was the last gift the Band gave me – the faith that I don’t have to get what I want to have everything work out for the best.

This weekend, the Harvard Band reunited one more time, as we do every five years. In my worn woolen blazer, marching through Harvard Square, surrounded by new and old faces (both old-familiar and old-decrepit), gazing into the iPhones of countless tourists, I played the notes I could remember and raised my voice to the skies. Once more, a single thought dominated my mind: “This is the way to live.”

Guide right, but walk in your own style. Play your part, but don’t worry about perfection. You may not always know where you are going, but trust those around you to get you where you need to be. And do good work, but never, ever miss an opportunity to have fun along the way. Oh yeah, and whatever you do, do NOT let the bastards grind you down.

Illegitimum non carborundum my few, my happy few, my band of “others”. Happy 95th Anniversary.

Harold and Mauve

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Page 1One evening, Harold lay on his bedroom floor contemplating the futility of his existence.

 

After some thought, he decided to end it all. But he needed something to do it with.

He pulled out his trusty black marker and started to draw a bath. Before he could finish, the marker ran out of ink.

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Harold saw this as another example of life’s random cruelty.

So he turned his head away to gaze into the darkness under his bed. There was something under the bed besides darkness.

Harold reached and pulled out the object. It was his old purple crayon, nearly worn down to a stump.

 

Harold shrugged. He finished drawing his bath. Then he drew a hairdryer, a plug, and an ‘on’ switch.Page 3

He reached up to push the hairdryer into the bathtub, but stopped.

The years under Harold’s bed had dried out his old crayon. Now its purple was faded and gray.

Mauve,” said a deep part of Harold’s brain. “Hello, Mauve,” said the rest of it. Harold decided he liked Mauve. He would take his crayon on one last adventure.

 

Page 4Harold mounted the hairdryer on the bathtub edge, and set sail. He drew one mauve star for guidance.

It was lonely out in the middle of the ocean. For the first time in his adolescence, Harold didn’t like the feeling.

He wanted more Mauve.

Page 5

 

 

Harold made land, and drew himself a short pier to dock his tub.

 

With a strange new feeling – curiosity? – he took a long walk off the pier and into the void.

Page 6

 

The void was boring. So Harold drew some gravestones for company.

He lay down on his back in solidarity with the dead. It felt relaxing and familiar. But his crayon wouldn’t let him rest.

Harold drew some birds in the sky, so Mauve could fly. They were vultures, and they started circling.

Harold thought it would be nice to give them a place to land, so he drew them a tree.

The tree looked unfinished, so he added a noose.

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To his surprise, Harold did not want to use the noose. Knowing it was there was enough.

He noticed a break in the trunk of the tree, where his old crayon had crumbled a little.

Harold drew a fancy car to fill in the dent in the tree. It was a very nasty accident.

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Feeling restless, Harold climbed inside the banged-up car. He drew a long road in front of him and drove off.

Harold didn’t like that the road had no end, so he drew a horizon line and drove off of it.Page 10

As the car fell, Harold looked at his faded purple crayon. It was almost used up. But Harold didn’t want to let go yet.

So he drew the long side of a building. He added a window edge and grabbed on.

Hanging by one hand, Harold drew the rest of the window and a building ledge to stand on.

Harold looked at the nub of his faded crayon. He looked down past his toes. It was a long way down from up here.

Harold drew the tiny wreckage of the car far below.Page 11

Behind him, Harold looked in the window. He made his bed, and the familiar trappings of his gloom.

Harold raised the sash and climbed inside. He lay down on the bed and drew the covers up around him.

With the last speck of his crayon, he drew the moon outside his window. And colored it in, Mauve.

Page 12

 

Harold smiled as he fell asleep, gazing at the moon of Mauve.

 

He could always end things tomorrow if he had to.

Tucker: A Girl and Her Dream

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Despite a recent increase in well-meaning suggestions that I try online dating, I am still not interested. But I am also never above rethinking my approach. My friends DO have a point: the internet is a powerful tool. So here you go, world. This is my version of dating online:

Dear Alan Tudyk,

I am done waiting; let’s do this.

After more than a decade writing comedy in Los Angeles, I have a practical PhD in enduring bullshit with patience and grace. But finding a man in this circus is its own special circle of hell, and this dainty Dante has had enough.

Sometimes, it is better to light a flamethrower than to curse the darkness. Here is my torch song.

You came blazing into my life just as I took my first adult steps. True, I have a long-standing passion for red heads, but it was your comedic brilliance that shined so bright as to win my heart. It was a time of many firsts for me – first job, first apartment, first car – but a girl never forgets her first drug-addicted gay German stripper.

A love that catches so intensely is destined to burn quickly out unless it is fed a steady diet of fuel. You kept my flame more than sated as a stoner waxing floors in Pittsburgh and a medieval squire waxing poetic about food. Some would have been turned off by your apparent identity issues, but this Scorpio loves a good puzzle. Were you German? British? American? I had no idea. It is so rare to find a man mysterious enough to keep a clever girl figuratively on her toes. (At 5’3” it is not at all uncommon for a man to keep me literally on my toes.)

Inevitably, every fiery romance must face the harsh cool winds of reality. I will admit, our flame flickered in those next few years. You married another woman – though I could hardly expect anyone to resist the allure of Gina Torres – and devoted your time to the one sport that was the bane of my public-school-dictated physical education. You went psycho, murdering children, humans, robots, and innocent Dolls, and even worse – you went blonde.

It was a difficult time for me, this search for your identity, and when I watched you get killed off not once (projectile through the chest), not twice (shot while on horseback), but three AND four times (as an alien lizard) I began to seriously question the viability of our spark. But I came to love and accept you for your many realities – even naked (and still blonde) shouting drug-fueled exultations from a rooftop. My naked heart climbed out that window and declared its love right back!

By then, this inferno had burned for a decade, and I was committed for life. A well-meaning lover surprised me with tickets to see An Evening Without Monty Python, and I delayed ending our dying relationship for two weeks so I wouldn’t miss my chance to see you live. (It is the worst thing I have ever done to a man, and I did it to the nicest guy I have ever dated. That is how hot this fire burns.) I applauded your accidental slaughter of a gaggle of annoying college kids who disturbed your woods. I watched a Michael Bay movie for you. My loyalty cannot be in doubt.

This conflagration I carry has grown from a spark to a blaze, through sputters, and into a bona fide bonfire; it is no mere torch – it is an eternal flame. Really, the only thing left is for us to meet. Of course, I expected that this would have happened by now. I planned to meet you when I asked you to play yourself in my indie film (cool and successful, she enters his life) or cast you in one of the other roles I have written specifically for you over the years. But the film industry moves at its own pace, and I am tired of waiting.

Sometimes, the universe needs a boot to the head, so the time has come to give Fate a swift kick in the rear. (This is not a mixed metaphor, as the world clearly has its head up its ass these days.) Thus, I send up this flare; it is yours to smother or let illuminate.

Let’s do this, Alan Tudyk. I will leave the light on for you.

Seriously, people send me stuff like this. Something's gotta give...

Seriously, people send me stuff like this. Something’s gotta give.

Manic Pixie Dream Hurl

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When Cancer 3 broke up with me, we were in the final stages of planning his belated birthday celebration – a weekend away at a lake-side cabin with a half-dozen of his closest friends. In the same breath, he told me that he didn’t feel like being in a relationship anymore but he hoped I would still come on the birthday trip; it was going to be so much fun! Was he serious? Of course he was; who else was going to make his birthday cake?

Four years earlier, my relationship with Cancer 2 came to an abrupt end when, as I helped him pack for Coachella, he noted how great it was we had started out as friends – because when our relationship ended we’d be able to go right back. Almost a year in, he honestly thought that a breakup would change nothing about our dynamic except the sex. (And who are we kidding? At 23 he probably thought occasional sex would still be an option too.)

I could chalk those two experiences up to random chance or an astrological streak of stupidity, but my rebound after Cancer 3 – not born in July – also ended things by swearing my value to him and proclaiming his desire to keep me around. Which – benefit of the doubt – he might have followed through on had I not called him a lying asshole. (In my defense, he totally was one.)

Two instances might be coincidence, but three is a trend. FOUR is a frakking Code Red.

This month, as I face yet another Eggplant who wants to have his Kate and eat others too, I have to admit that this has become a serious problem. In my head, I hear the voices of every grandmother in history chiding that “no man will buy the cow if he can get the milk for free,” and I am starting to think they have a point. Not the point they meant, of course – you should absolutely test drive a car before committing to it – but in the sense that it seems every man I find desirable wants to guzzle the precious leche of my love and attention at no cost.

Over palliative mimosas this weekend, my wise friend sunk the nail with a single swing of the hammer: “You are their Manic Pixie Dream Girl. That’s the problem.”

My inner feminist immediately reared up, wanting to shriek, “Inconceivable!” After all, the MPDG is a construct of male writers that serves as a prop in the self-actualization of their deeply soulful (read: mopey and infantile) autobiographical protagonists. Surely I, a real-life writer of the female variety, would never allow myself to become the creation of some guy!

Sure, Brain. You keep telling yourself that.

There are many characteristics of the Manic Pixie Dream Girl – she is usually attractive, and quirky, and highly spirited – but the key trait (the thing that makes her awful) is that she has absolutely no needs, issues, or even goals that are independent of her main man. This is in no way actually true of me, of course, but it consistently seems true to the men in my life.

It starts with an at-least-partially immature man. Peter Pans are pretty common these days, especially in creative professions, and I have a penchant for them to boot. Combine this with my improviser’s philosophy of trying to live in the moment, and the result is an infinity mirror of reflected nonchalance. He exhibits early concerns about things getting “too serious”; I validate with no expectations beyond the enjoyable Now (and the assumption that eventually love will render us naturally committed); time fills my heart with memories of happy moments and teaches his to stop worrying about my hopes or desires.

In the middle, it is entirely my fault. While I should not try to be less intelligent, or vibrant, or attractive (do I smell humble pie in here?), I do need to quash my over-achiever’s drive to aim for perfection. I often hide or apologize for moments of emotional weakness, because I am afraid that he will be annoyed and leave – instead of trusting that if a few bad moments make him go I don’t want him around to begin with. I invest so much energy into getting to know his life better that I forget to notice if (or demand that) he also shows interest in return. To be a legitimately low-maintenance person is fine, but being no-maintenance drives a girl straight into Manic Pixie Fantasy Hell.

By the end, it’s no wonder it doesn’t occur to them I won’t want to be their friend. I have asked for minimal emotional investment on their part, so they cannot understand how great mine has become. They haven’t had to think about my feelings in ages, so they cannot comprehend that it might feel bad to be around them. All they see is me being stubborn – removing myself from their lives as a punishment. Why can’t I just keep thinking that they are awesome, like I always have, and watch them be awesome around other, newer, more exciting women?

The myth of the Manic Pixie Dream Girl is that after she does her job of helping the main character self-actualize, her purpose is served and she leaves his life (or his romantic life) with no consequences. At least, no consequences for him. In fantasy land, there are no hurt feelings because she doesn’t have any feelings to begin with. In real life, hanging out with someone who used to love you back feels worse than food poisoning.

(Okay, very little feels worse than food poisoning. But it is close.)

Toto Eclipse of the Heart

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RainbowSeventy-five years ago this past weekend, The Wizard of Oz premiered at the Chinese Theatre in Hollywood. One hundred and fourteen years ago this fall, L. Frank Baum published its source material, The Wonderful Wizard of Oz. Very little has been done in either industry to improve upon things ever since.

The Wizard of Oz was my first movie love, and you never forget your first love, but it has also been a major influence throughout my life. According to my mother, I was so terrified of the Wicked Witch of the West as a child that I would hide behind the couch whenever she appeared on screen – but that didn’t stop me from demanding my family watch the film any and every time it aired on TV. My love for the rest was just too strong. Thus, the first thing The Wizard of Oz gave me was my courage.

That new-found bravery came in handy when I learned that the community children’s theatre in my town had chosen Baum’s story for their next production. At age nine, the idea of being on stage was mortifying, but the opportunity to play Toto was one I could not resist. Yes, Toto; he was my dream role. Sure, others are more glamorous, but Toto is the real star – he’s in the most scenes – and the true hero of the story. Plus, I wouldn’t have to say any lines and in the movie he was basically the 4th-highest-paid actor. No contest.

For weeks, I wore out my storybook cassette tape, playing the narration on our living room stereo and acting out the entire story on the rug, from Toto’s perspective. I got the part. It was my first taste of success, my first bite of the acting bug, and my first experience with improv and collaborative storytelling. That play is also how I met the woman who to this day is still my best friend (she played a citizen of the Emerald City). Thus, The Wizard of Oz led me, in multiple ways, to my heart.

Time and again I have fallen back on Toto and the gang as I have chased down my heart’s desire far from my own backyard. After I completed my first screenplay – on a whim, really, just to see if I could – and the thing wound up being read at several major studios and almost getting made, I was faced with a frightening challenge. Suddenly, people in power knew my writing, and wanted to see what else I could do; I needed another screenplay to prove I wasn’t a fluke, but I had not thought that far ahead.

So I turned to what I loved. I wrote an adaptation of Dorothy’s story as a coming-of-age romantic comedy, with the Scarecrow, Tin Man, and Lion representing archetypes of imperfect boyfriends. (All brains / no chemistry, gay, and commitment-phobic, if you’re curious.) I also started to develop a sitcom about a girl living in an apartment above a bar called The Rainbow. Both were way too weird for anyone to want to make them, but they kept my career going. Thus, The Wizard of Oz has helped me engage and exercise my brain.

At the 75th-Anniversary screening in the refurbished Chinese Theatre. (Ruby slippers on foot, of course.)

At the 75th-Anniversary screening in the refurbished Chinese Theatre. (Ruby slippers on foot, of course.)

To celebrate this weekend’s milestone, I decided to re-read Baum’s original book, which I so enjoyed as a child. Now, as an adult writing movies of my own, the adaptation choices of the screenwriters are of great interest to me. Most people know that the witch’s slippers were changed from silver to ruby for the glory of Technicolor, but did you also know that Glinda is an amalgam of two characters in the book – the North and South witches merged into one? Baum’s good witch of the North, Gaylette, is described as one “everyone loved…but her greatest sorrow was that she could find no one to love in return, since all the men were much too stupid and ugly to mate with one so beautiful and wise.” These days – these still single days – that is my favorite line in the story.

Other changes are more significant. In the books, Oz is multi-colored (blue in the East, yellow in the West, red in the South and green in the middle), but Dorothy does not fly “over the rainbow” to get there – it just sits trapped in a vast desert. There is a lot more danger in Baum’s Oz, and in turn a lot more killing by the Tin Man and Lion to ward off said danger (a fairly disturbing number of chopped off animal heads), and in the book Dorothy is stuck in Oz so long that Uncle Henry has the time to single-handedly rebuild their one-room farm house.

That last one is my favorite difference; in the book, Dorothy’s adventure is real, while in the film they chose to make it a dream. The reason I love this change is because, by doing so, The Wizard of Oz (the film) managed to both introduce the single most memorable line in movie history and completely subvert its message at the same time. Dorothy’s mantra is “There’s no place like home,” but by populating Kansas with the same actors portraying the denizens of Oz, the film shows that everywhere – even over the rainbow – is just like home. It is a physical manifestation of the old proverb: “no matter where you go, there you are.” Real change happens within.

Think you need intelligence, or compassion, or nerve? All you really need is to recognize those things in yourself. What is Dorothy’s lesson before she can click her heels? That she need not search for her heart’s desire anywhere but where she is; if the answer isn’t within her already, it isn’t anywhere. Dorothy, the Scarecrow, the Tin Man, and the Lion all learn that your problems are your problems wherever you go. Where you are is irrelevant, because who you are is what matters.

Los Angeles is a very difficult place to live – doubly so if you have a soul – and the film industry is downright hostile. Between dating and working here since college, I have had the urge to run away roughly once every week for a dozen years. The Wizard of Oz has stopped me every time, because I know getting out of here won’t really change anything that matters. Los Angeles isn’t my home, but neither is any physical place.

What Baum meant when he wrote “there is no place like home” is that nothing compares to the feeling that you belong. In that sense, home is an energy, not a place. It is family, yes, but not just traditional family (Dorothy is an adopted orphan, after all). Home is the people who love us, and the people we love in return – with any luck, including ourselves. I never feel more myself than when I am experiencing this story, revisiting all of the memories and people I associate with our history. Thus, The Wizard of Oz brings me home.

Happy Birthday, Toto. And thanks.

A Star is Born

A Star is Born