The Pros and Cons of 2010

Years are like visiting relatives. The kind that come whether invited or not, stay longer than they should and often wear really bad hats. You gussy up and make a spectacle of their arrival but by visits’s end your foot is tapping madly at the opened front door. They titillate with promises of adventures to come, fruitions they’ll facilitate, wonderful gifts to bestow, but all too often they disappoint for no rhyme or reason. Since they’re here for the duration you buck up to make the best of it, but after 12 months they’ve hit the limits of their welcome. Yet, as they bustle out the door on December 31st with hearty farewells and not one look back, you can’t help feel a twinge of melancholy, a moment of regret for what might have been. A belated appreciation for what was. In retrospect, they were often quite lovely and now they’re gone, never, ever, to return (apparently they’re visiting relatives from another planet). You sigh deeply, throw back an hors d’oeuvres, then gussy up, pull out the champagne, and get ready to welcome the next arriving party.

2010 was a brutal year for me, resulting in some loss of whimsy, faith and optimism. In street vernacular, it sucked. Typically I’d not be so expansively damning of an entire year but this one…well, let me set the stage by bullet-pointing the major “Cons” that crammed into these past 12 months:

  • Year begins with husband in full-blown emotional/physical crisis related to MTBI (Mild Traumatic Brain Injury), compelling him to move out for the hope of healing and the sake of sanity. You can fill in any and all of the blanks related to the resultant miseries; his, mine and ours. He’s home now and doing much better, thank you, but the recovery continues. (Cowboy Strong, Poetry Sweet, Love in the Age of MTBI)
  • My now 81-year old mother’s dementia progresses significantly. A search for the best possible facility ensues and an excellent one is found in my town. Very good for her. For me it’s complex: she moves closer than she’s been since I was 18 and fled home to avoid our complicated relationship. My brother and I take her on. Maybe not a “Con” as such (how cold could I be?!), but certainly a conundrum. (The Mother of My Reinvention)
  • My amazing son graduates from high school (very good), gets into a fabulous college (great), and I am left to conduct my day-to-day life without him in it (very not good), which I discover is an unexpectedly emotional transition. (My Very Cool Roommate is Moving Out…)
  • The accident which caused my husband’s brain injury was expected to settle by the statute date. Didn’t. A lawsuit becomes necessary (unfathomable) with a trial now set…July of 2011. (WTF?). The plethora of treatment reimbursements were, hence, not forthcoming and you can now mull what that has done to the health and welfare of our former nest egg.
  • We were unexpectedly obligated to move during the month of our son’s college departure. Costly, inconvenient, really heavy sans teenage boy’s muscle. (But a Pro here also: we love the new house located in the secret that is Playa del Rey.)
  • And last, but profoundly and painfully not least, one of my dearest, sweetest, long-time friends dies unexpectedly on October 25th, breaking my heart and those of many others in my circle. (Lisa Blount…As Is and Still Loved)

You understand. A bad year, that 2010.

So on New Year’s Eve night I stood with the front door opened wide, foot tapping, as 2010 gathered its things, fussed about with last minute tidying and much too long a good-bye, and as it left at 11:59 on a cold, crisp Friday night, I welcomed 2011 with a giddy, slightly hysterical, hope for a much, MUCH better visit.

THE PROS AND CONS OF 2010:
Since I enumerated the major Cons above, let me qualify that what follows is an eclectic list of trivia, cultural comment, and some gravitas for good measure. No particular order or category, Pros will be mixed with Cons; just a list of the good and bad, best, worst, and sorta that crossed my path during this tumultuous year.

Facebook: Before anyone starts screaming about how this phenom came about long before 2010, let me say, “I know, for God’s sake!” But Facebook nudged its way significantly into my life this year. Initially reluctant, having no need to list the endless minutia of my day for public consumption, I joined at the urging of my sister, Louise, and proceeded to discover a new way to connect. I now communicate more and know more about my many nieces, nephews and cousins than I ever have. I have lovely FB dialogue with old high school and college friends on a regular basis, something I did not have prior, and the ease of sharing images, songs, articles, blog pieces, and opinion is simply stellar. I’m a fan and believe that, like anything, it can be used for Good or for Evil; it is my experience that the people in my “friend” group use it delightfully for Good. (And the movie, Social Network, was smashing.)

Shenanigans: I love this word. I know Juno lent it cultural buzz long before this year but I’d like to use it in most sentences if I could and that urge only started in 2010. If my last name was Madigan I’d want to get a sitcom going called “Madigan’s Shenanigans.” It would be Irishy and really funny.

Boardwalk Empire: People are carping about how this show hasn’t lived up to its pedigree, what with the Martin Scorsese/HBO imprint, but any show that successfully posits a sartorially splendid Steven Buscemi as the lovable (if malevolent) lady-killer is all right by me. He’s brilliant, as is the show. Don’t listen to anyone else on this one.

Tea Party/Sarah Palin/Glenn Beck/Rush/All that Mess: I’m all for fiscal responsibility, I believe in self-sustenance, I don’t want the Government messing in my private life, and I’m sure there’s political corruption all over the place on both sides of the aisle. But I don’t need any of these folks “takin’ back America” for me because my America never left. Government has its own pros and cons but it’s not some monolithic thing we need to be protected from; it’s made up of people, people we elected into office, and it behooves us to find ways to maximize its potential without destroying its effectiveness. Frankly, if the American public was as capable of running the show without the aid of government (however flawed) as these people would have you believe, our kids would be skinnier, our banks would be more solvent, the city of Bell wouldn’t have happened, more people would be employed, idiotic house loans wouldn’t have been made, illegal immigrants wouldn’t be getting hired by wealthy CEOs, and health insurance would be efficient and affordable for all. And tell me, if the mantra is “don’t tread on me?,” why is it acceptable for the government to get all up in it when it comes our personal lives, say, same-sex marriage or abortion rights? Why, when separation of church and state is a founding principal, is the movement so aggressively hard-right Christian with the obvious spin that this is required to be elected? If we don’t need government shoving their foot in our doors, which is a major plank of the platform, why does it matter what religion you espouse or what spouse you love? You can’t have it both ways, y’all.

Government is what it is because our Founding Fathers wisely surmised that any viable country needs effective leaders, sensible regulation, ethical oversight, separation of church and state and, certainly, limited reign over our personal lives. So how about we try to make our (that’d be all of us) government better and stop with all the incendiary rhetoric? As for Miz Palin, their sparkly gun-totin’  lightening rod, I’m not going to take this moment to cover my thoughts on her. But let me say this: she can belittle Michelle Obama’s health initiative all she wants, claiming that parents don’t need government to suggest what their children should eat, but 30% of American children are obese and they got there on their parents’ watch; helpful suggestions from an admired First Lady should be applauded rather than mocked. But partisanship trumps wisdom, snark replaces thoughtful debate, and a party moves forward with the premiere Mean Girl as their star. As for Glenn and Rush…naw, I’m not gonna give ’em any word count. I’d rather end on: let’s pull together and create some positive change. We’ll always be different people; emphasizing our differences has done nothing to improve the situation. Let’s see if reasonable solidarity might be more effective, yes? Kumbaya.

Pinkberry: Around for years now, I know. But this year I realized, after weeks without, that this swirly goodness is the essential dessert for slightly health conscious dessert eaters. That’d be me. Coconut with almonds and berries. Thank you.

People who don’t respond to email/email in general: In my line of work, more business is done by email than phone. People can complain all they want about how “we’ve lost our ability to connect face to face” but email provides a paper trail (often necessary), allows everything to be said exactly as needed (really necessary), and allows the recipient time to formulate a cogent response (with some people not possible otherwise). It’s a good thing. And when I email asking if you can submit a design proposal, arrange to fix a website, get that bank wire in today, choose a time for the photo session or join us for dinner next week, answer my email. The “I was busy” excuse doesn’t hold when anyone can take two minutes at any time of the day or night to pop out a reply without fear of being caught for hours on a phone. If you can text while you’re driving, eating In & Out, and talking to your girlfriend in the passenger’s seat, you can return my email.

And on that same note, please write me in full, English language sentences. We’re grown people here. There’s no call for emoticons winking and bobbling all over the place. And enough with the “text speak” (i.e. “Wer U B in 2-daze?”); I should not require translation from a 12 year old to get to your point. Profound and flagrant abuse or neglect of any form of punctuation, or the utter lack of paragraphs, are both deal-breakers. I will not read an email that is either in all-caps (STOP YELLING AT ME!!), or, conversely, employs not a one. Remember that earlier comment about Good or Evil? Our many new methods of communication offer great convenience (Good), but without the gift of grammar, punctuation and adult thinking, Evil wins.  All the above applies to texting, as well. <3…(really, I do.)

Multi-Tasking: I’m all for it when it’s efficient, possible and NOT RUDE. Frankly, I’m pretty good at it myself (ironing while chatting with a phone headset on and cookies baking is one of my best!).  But when I’m sitting having a meal with you, talking to you on the phone, or attempting a Skype exchange, I don’t want to see that damn IPhone light up as you text during our dinner conversation, hear computer keys tapping as you rotely mumble a reply to my phone question while you’re chatting via Facebook with your work buddy, or wait far too long for a Skype response because you’ve got 4 chats going at the same time. Focus, people! Really, it’ll all get done but can it not all get done on my time?

My 2010 Farewell Un-Tour: After a lifetime of singing, songwriting and recording, I got to 2010 and decided to officially pull the plug on my music career. Since it had essentially died years earlier, this was purely ceremonial. I stashed the microphone up in the attic, pulled my MySpace music page down, and stopped referring to myself as a singer. The cold-shower hit of this was shocking, but reality reigned and writer/photographer became my default “so what do you do?” response. I took the whole year to let it all sink in. But because enough people have asked, particularly those who only knew me as a singer and were not aware of this change of focus, let me offer an ever-so-brief explanation:

It’s hard enough to keep a band going when you’re young, cute and commercially viable; it’s a whole other thing when you’ve crept past that point, lost the backers years ago and your best shot at a guitar player is that old guy from Redondo who plays Beatles tunes and insists on doing your chart before he commits to the band. ‘Nuff said? My last band gig was a bona fide disaster (not enough rehearsal for not good enough players), my search for new musicians too often resembled those hilarious audition montages in most rock & roll movies, and without the carrot of a record deal or a paid tour (neither of which I could provide), it appears I wore out my own welcome. Since I never learned to play an instrument (a true regret) and was spoiled by my amazing good fortune of having played with some of the absolute best musicians in the world throughout my career, no matter how hard I tried to plunk out a tune on guitar to at least sing a bit, I came to the conclusion that I would never perform with someone who played as badly as me. When the last of the far-too-many auditioning guitarists showed up saying he loved my music, thought I was a great singer but didn’t want to play actual songs (“I just wanna jam, y’know?”), I wearily threw in the towel.

My remaining time here on this earth is too precious to waste working with a geezer who’ll be astro-charting every player I find or a weekend warrior who wants to jam to cover tunes. I don’t share the notion that rock & roll is only for the young but being older at the game certainly does limit the playing field…literally. The remnants remain, however: my record (written, arranged and produced with the truly gifted Rick M. Hirsch and something I remain deeply proud of) is still on ITunes (ITunes:somewhere on the way) and CDBaby (Somewhere On the Way)…please check if you’re interested, and my history as a singer/songwriter can still be found on my website (LDW Music Page). But it’s all history, nothing current. And though I held the final funeral this past year, mourned, and moved on, of late I find myself thinking about it again. Singing along to music more often. I plug in my headphones on long walks, listen loud and rowdy, and get energized visualizing myself up on stage again. I play Devil’s Advocate and wonder if I could be happy doing an acoustic gig or an easy band gig just for the fun of it, no ambition, not necessarily my tunes. If I could find the right players. If it could be the right balance of pain and pleasure. If it made sense. And lately I’ve decided it merits some exploration. So we’ll see what I can stir up in ’11. Have no ideas yet, it might be folly, but I’m open to suggestions…

Best Comedy/Modern Family: No matter how commonplace it is now to love this show (the type of hype that usually engenders a reverse psychology kind of hate response from me), I love this show. There are other hugely popular shows like “Two and a Half Men” that elude me entirely (Charlie Sheen…really???) but this hugely popular show deserves the hype because it not only promotes a positive message, it does so in a consistently hilarious way. I want Cameron and Gloria over for lunch. I’ll have Pinkberry.

Best Drama/Men of a Certain Age: This show rings so heartfelt and so true that sometimes I cannot believe it’s TV. Ray Romano has hit a indisputable hole-in-one (golf vernacular particular to the man and the show!) and I applaud him for moving from sit-comedy to something so authentically real. TNT, Monday at 10, with Scott Bakula, Andre Braugher, Lisa Gay Hamilton, all of whom are spectacular.

TMZ: This thing I hate. Harvey Levin has surely secured a place in whatever passes itself off as Hell these days for creating this hateful, petty, really LOW form of human discourse. Chasing after celebrities and snapping candids of young actresses butts so you can circle them in red and write “CELLULITE” in big letters deserves whatever form of punishment is reserved for the Devil’s spawn.

The Pros and Cons of Neighbors – Verbiage borrowed for today’s blog, this is the name of the novel I completed this year (title courtesy of my son, Dillon, who came up with it). The first draft was done in ‘09 but tweaked into final form this year so it makes the list. I’d always wanted to write a novel but after a lifetime of songwriting and more of screenplays, I ultimately never felt I had a story rich enough to merit the medium. Until this one. It’s about a young woman who, on the night of his funeral, finds her father’s journals with their depiction of her as a failure, a discovery that devastates her and incites a journey of tumultuous reinvention. It was an idea piqued by a family story but developed into a fictional rendering that allowed me to create a cast of characters and a story arc that was fully imagined. Writing it was one of the most profound and satisfying creative experiences I’ve ever had, the responses from private readers and freelance editors has been amazing, and I’m hopeful someday it will be available for reading! If you’d like to hear an interview I did about the book with Family Therapist Nancy Locke Capers, you can click her name here and scroll down to the bottom of the page. Of course, now that the book’s done the fun’s over and I’m left to figure out what the hell to do with it. I know, self-publishing, e-books, Kindle, yes. But as a long-held personal goal, I’m starting with the traditional route, attempting to snag a literary agent who’ll hopefully snag a publisher. Horrible time in the industry to attempt this daring feat but it’s a new year and I’m determined to recapture some of my former boldness. If you hear me blathering at a later date about my newly published e-book, you’ll know where that journey led…stay tuned.

Creepy reality shows: I used to watch “American Idol” so I can’t trash the entire genre. But that premise at least required talent, offered creative entertainment, and resulted in pop stars who generally make great records (Carrie Underwood, Daughtry, Kelly Clark). What the hell does Snooki or any one of the various, vapid Housewives have to offer?? It was bad enough that Jerry Springer unleashed American Trash into our living rooms on a nightly basis but he was one of few at the time and we had much else to choose from. Now the relentless TV schedule is just chock full of degraded, embarrassing, truly pathetic shows that depict people of every race, creed and color making stomach-churning idiots of themselves. Where is the pride, I ask? Apparently there is none. Getting on TV and being on a reality show trumps dignity, discretion, privacy, and integrity. And the public is lapping it up. Stop it, seriously! If we don’t it’s like the terrorists win.

Open SesameI’m no Irene Virbila (which apparently is a good thing when it comes to getting seated in new restaurants!) and I don’t know if Open Sesame is part of a chain or not, but this little restaurant in the Manhattan Village in Manhattan Beach, CA consistently serves some of the best Lebanese food I’ve ever had. Seriously. It’s economical, undemanding and isn’t baba ganosh just one of the most amazing tastes in the world? SO good.

Grace – My lovely stepdaughter, Jennie, gave birth to her first child in December of ’09, late enough in that year to make Grace’s first year a significant part of ’10. Raising my son was the singlemost profound and amazing experience of my life and to be able to be part of this child’s world in my role as “Grandma Rain” (yes, the g-word being attached to me is a startling concept!) is awe-inspiring. She is a glorious human being who loves my necklaces and dances when I sing the Bee Gee’s “You Should Be Dancin’” so I think we’ve made a phenomenal start.

Temple Grandin – Due to the aforementioned Cons of earlier, I haven’t gotten out to as many movies as I’d’ve liked so the list is a bit feeble. However, this HBO drama took the prize as far as an emotionally rich, beautifully told story brilliantly acted by everyone involved, most notably Claire Danes. Her performance in the title role is stunning and her interpretation of this complex and accomplished woman made me want to rush out and explore feedlots. Find it on HBO’s On Demand.

Speaking of Movies…my favorites this year: Inception (most clever, inventive script…maybe ever) and the aforementioned Social Network. Honorable Mentions are The King’s Speech and Secretariat (oddly good). Looking forward to: The Fighter, Black Swan, Love and Other Drugs and True Grit (God, I don’t get out enough!).

Snark – I cannot tell you how truly weary I am of this social phenomenon. I don’t mean the kind of snark that pokes fun with a sly wink and a bit of a dig but is ultimately hilarious (think Joel McHale or Jon Stewart), I’m talking about the endless bitchiness that purports to be humor but is really just passive aggressive Mean Girl/Bully Guy babble (think Chelsea Handler or Perez Hilton). It’s crept into too much of the cultural discourse, which has given franchise to the anonymous idiots who post sub-Neanderthal comments below every article on the Internet. Let’s raise the bar, people, PLEASE.  Stewart, McHale (and even Spade) have the corner on this market, so shut up and find another way to be funny. Or perhaps sincere and authentic. Maybe even intelligent. That would be refreshing.

Photography – I’ve been taking pictures all my life but this year I was able to take my shooting, processing, and design skills to a new level, much of it courtesy of my job with legendary brandmaker/photographer, Mike Salisbury. The photo above, shot by Tomasz Rossa for Franco Dragone (Cirque de Soleil creator) for the marketing campaign of his new water show extravaganza in Macau (The House of Dancing Waters), was one I worked on with Mike for a teaser billboard…amazing campaign and great fun to be part of it. But it’s the taking of pictures and seeing them come to life onscreen and in print where I find the magic. There is just something so exhilarating about visually framing a moment in time. If you’re interested (and until I get that damn photo website up), you can go to the LA Times “SoCal Moments feature page (or its gallery at “SoCal Moments“) and scroll through; 20+ of my favorite LA shots are posted.

Friends – When you have a year like my 2010, you are never more aware of the value and life-saving necessity of good friends…and that includes friends who are family members. This past year, like no other, has made piercingly clear to me how precious and perfect so many of the people in my life are; in their ability to show compassion and empathy, to be there in ways both physical and emotional, to offer their time, their solace, their support and their shoulders. I am very lucky – blessed – to have such dear, resilient, extraordinarily dependable friends upon whom I rely. They got me through 2010 and I will never, ever forget.

This Blog – I really have no idea how many people are reading this thing. It could be the few that take the time to comment meaningfully, the many who comment generically (most likely for the purpose of leaving their link), or it could be significantly more…I don’t know – if I were more savvy about Google Analytics I’m sure I could find out (and maybe I’ll get crackin’ on that in 2011)! I’m often surprised when someone who’s never said a word to me about it suddenly comes into view and remarks, “I read your blog all the time and I love it!” I’m thrilled to hear this, as one always hopes what they’re putting out into the world is finding an audience and just maybe having some impact. I’ve spent a career trying to achieve that goal to greater and lesser degrees of success, a goal that sustains with this endeavor. And I’m now learning that there are all sorts of rules and expectations about how a blog should be conducted (someone told me yesterday that you’re supposed to post something new every day…gasp!). There are methods of marketing, search engine optimization, pings and trackbacks to consider and so on (I got tired just writing that), and I am less than clear about how many of these mandates I’m following. What I do know is this: I have found this forum to be a profound and deeply important outlet for me, a place where I can express myself, tell my stories, talk about the people and things I chose, and have a really good time. Writing is salvation for me and if it offers some entertainment, piques a response, gets you to a gig, brings an empathetic tear, or makes you laugh, I am so pleased. Thank you for reading. Thank you for your comments. I hope you’ll continue. I will.

As for 2011: I thought about my departed friend, Lisa Blount, who, despite intractable pain and her daily struggle to deal with it, managed, in the last year of her life, to triumph. She said to several people in the months before she died that it was time for her to once again “Say yes to life” and so she did. She was inducted into the Arkansas Hall of Fame, landed a leading role in a new series and was invited to Nashville to record that CD she always wanted to get done. That her re-emergence was cut short is personally devastating but that’s not the story; her push against her physical pain and her enthusiasm to re-embrace life despite it…that’s the inspiration. And so in honor of Lisa, I, too, will once again say “yes” to life. I’ll hold on to my hat, shake off the remnants of the departed year and invite 2011 in with authentic optimism. I’m sure it won’t be a perfect guest, but may it delight us all by being thoughtful and easy, filled with generosity and cooperation, maybe even leaving the winning lottery ticket on the bed stand on its way out next December…a girl can dream!

 

LDW w glasses


Visit www.lorrainedevonwilke.com for details and links to LDW’s books, music, photography, and articles.

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Lisa Blount…As Is and Still Loved.

LisaSue_sm

The veil between life and death feels very thin to me right now. A breath could disturb it. The slightest ruffle could reveal a familiar face right behind. A voice known so well. A look, a whisper, a remembered expression. She feels so close to me and yet the veil is stretched between us and I can’t see beyond. I want to; I look up and expect to see her, to hear her voice, but there is nothing. Only silence. Only memory. And I shake my head, unable to believe the truth that feels so raw and surreal. That someone so close, so dear, so much a part of my life and times is…gone.

There are big questions to be discussed here. Life and Death questions. The Whys and Wheres and Hows of what happened, what happens next. The urge to flail and scream and demand answers is never more sharp than in a moment like this. She was here…now she’s gone. Where did she go? Seriously. Where? Believers will have their answers; non-believers as well. I just wonder. I don’t know. I only know that she’s gone and I’m stunned. I want to remember her, to write about her, so those of you unfamiliar can know this person who touched me with her sweetness, her talent, her love and support, even her ornery edges. For those who did know her, I want you to know my Lisa, the girl I knew; a person with the full spectrum of life and personality and emotion and pain and joy and sorrow…a person so big as to deserve testimony. I’m here to testify. For my girlfriend. My sister. My Lisa Sue.

Lisa & girls xmas_smFriends made in our twenties resonate in ways that are particular to the decade; an intensity that comes with youth, so full of drive and hope and a vision of the future that is indisputable. People met in that era of such deep feelings and dreams seem to LEAP into our psyches with a ferocity that is seldom matched as we grow older. That’s where Lisa and I met, at that ferocious age.

I came to Los Angeles in 1975 and was one of the first students in a new acting class run by Bobby Lyons, a brilliant teacher who, at the time, was a familiar face to many movie and TV viewers. I was deeply embedded for the next five years and met a boatload of people who ultimately became the center of my world; some of whom, to this day, remain my closest friends. They have moved around the country, diverted to new careers, disappeared into families and jobs and different worldviews, but somehow the ties-that-bind bound us forever. Lisa was a part of that world.

Lisa_O&G

She came into the acting class a year or so after I did. She walked into the doors of the Chamber Theater in Studio City, CA, stood outside the tightly knit core at the center and peered in fearlessly. Petite, gorgeous, all Southern drawl and warm smiles, she had us at “Hey, y’all” and, in awe, we never looked back.

While our earnest successes ran the gamut from “I had a good cold reading,” to “an agent liked me!” “my new head-shots are great” or “they said I’d get the part if they go blonde,” Lisa Blount arrived fully formed as a bona fide movie star. No small thing. Not only was she Hollywood-gorgeous with her platinum Prince Valiant and huge blue eyes, but damn if that girl didn’t have talent all over the place! She’d been discovered in her home state of Arkansas, cast at 17 as a teenager obsessed with James Dean in the film 9/30/55, and by the time she got to us in the late ’70’s she was knee-deep in the trajectory that led to her breakout role as Lynette Pomeroy, Debra Winger’s best friend and David Keith’s tragic love interest in the unforgettable An Officer and A Gentleman. Nominated for a Golden Globe as “the Best New Star” of 1983, her position as our personal star was cemented from there.

Were there jealousies? No doubt. But Lisa had such an approachable, welcoming energy that it was impossible to keep her at bay for long, even on envy’s behalf. Frankly, she wouldn’t let you…embracing Lisa was just too easy a thing to do. I didn’t know her well those early years but I liked her; I was awed as the rest, and I certainly found her exotic. Besides her very appealing “Southern-ness” (fascinating to this Chicago-born Midwestern girl!) she was the only person I knew whose hair color changed as frequently as the month. Notice, in any photographic retrospective (including this one!), the swirling spectrum of reds, blondes, brunettes, browns, blacks that is her ever-revolving hair palette. There was even a brief and unfortunate green period (due to a miscalculated bottle job) that luckily slipped by the photographers! And while most of us were still in jeans and jackets, she was always wrapped in some sartorially-inspired tumble of vintage, western, and Betsy Johnson all put together on a calculated whim. Shopping with her was legendary and when I finally did make the squad, I was introduced to her impeccable eye for the “find”…she could pull 12 things off a clearance rack and conjure couture. I wouldn’t have even seen the 12 things.

We briefly shared an agent, which had me smug for, oh, so short a period of time, as he unceremoniously dumped me after becoming a manager, deciding Lisa’s career trumped anything I might have to offer. Even then I liked her…think about that! As we ambled closer to friendship, she attached to a select few of my closest cohorts, (particularly Nancy Locke Capers, Susie Singer Carter, Pat Royce, the late, beloved Taylor Johnson and Tina Romanus, right) and over time we bumped into each other so often that intimacy became inevitable. I remember bonding over a lengthy phone conversation in which she hilariously diatribed about a recent (and temporary) weight gain that resulted in “a stomach that is lying right here on the bed next to me, looking up, tellin’ me ‘I’m hungry, girl!” With her accent, her timing, and her willingness to poke fun at herself, she was irresistible.

We threw ourselves into the relationship as young girls do. We shared music and bands we both loved, she’d gussy up and sit front and center at my gigs at Club Lingerie or Madame Wong’s; we’d dissect books and movies, get to the gym, and work lines for each other’s auditions. She was a passionate friend, ardent about her support and so expressive of her feelings. She could burst into tears listening to a song I’d recorded or remembering a particular passage I wrote that moved her. She did, in fact, read and edit every single thing I did write: screenplays, one-acts, even my recent 350 page novel manuscript, offering impeccable notes, mind you! When you talked to her she listened like there was no one else in the room and she paid as vivid attention to the good news as the heartache, something not everyone can do. And she really, truly wanted to hear your opinion on any one thing or another. That she wouldn’t always agree with you was a given and when she didn’t, you’d surely be the first to know. I can remember a few “mornings after” when a somber call revealed disagreement with something I’d said the night before or she’d found herself hurt by a comment made. It could be chagrining, those morning conversations, but I grew to appreciate the clarity; you never had to guess where you stood with Lisa Blount. She’d damn well let you know.

She wasn’t always easy. She was a wild child at times and often left me in the dust. She could be recalcitrant and demanding and there were episodes I found maddening. She had demons and shadows like so many of us but there was also something restless and relentless about her hunger for life and the accomplishment of the goals she set out for herself, and that sometimes exhausted both her and the people closest to her. She did everything full-bore, whether tearing up the town, delivering a kick-ass performance, or giving you the shirt off her back. That passion was both her blessing and her curse. It left her raw and vulnerable at times when she needed to be strong. It misguided her at times when wisdom should’ve trumped emotion. It hurt her at times when old pains and new ones stole her energy and attention. But when she felt good, when she was clear and on her game, that big heart and soul of hers was truly something to behold.

In the early ’90’s she decided to make a big change. Her career was going in fits and starts, her marriage had ended, and she wanted to get stronger. She wanted to clean up the cobwebs, clarify the focus; start a new chapter. And so she did. Part of that “let’s get healthy” assignment translated into a workout regimen that was sometimes brutal; it was so like Lisa to leap off a cliff before testing the waters below! She liked working with a punching bag, loved the physicality of it, the visceral, high-impact smack that drained stress and gave her a place to funnel her energy and anger. It was so invigorating that she didn’t pay much attention to the details, like how high should the bag be? What was the best angle for her body? What was the suggested time limit of a good workout? Nah, not Lisa. She punched away like there was no tomorrow and, with little notice of the initial pain, tore the muscle off her right scapula in what she thought was a forgettable injury. She had no possible way of knowing that this minor moment of over-activity was going to change the rest of her life.

I got married (“Oh, Lorraine, he is just precious!”), she did TV shows (Profit, Judging Amy…), movies (Great Balls of Fire, Box of Moonlight…); we did a play together, she dated here and there, and simultaneous with all this evolving and experimenting and living, she became more and more impacted by the growing and excruciating pain in her back. The seriousness of the injury was finally determined, doctors got involved, treatments were implemented but they told her the time between injury and treatment had exacerbated the problem: scar tissue had formed between the bone and the torn muscle and the subsequent nerve damage created constant and fearsome pain.

And life was changing, quickly. We were getting older; our lives were taking a different shape. I now had my son, many friends were working full-time, married, involved in disparate creative projects, and we mourned the loss of a common cause, a class, a club where we could all gather and connect. So we started a “women’s group,” a loose, informal gathering of friends and acquaintances that got together in revolving homes once a week and, by turn, shared the bullet points of our lives for discussion and analysis. Our first meetings were so popular that over 30 women showed up and the opportunity to share with any depth was limited. But over time people fell away and before long we dwindled down to five or six, until it was just four of us: me, Lisa, Tina Romanus and Joyce Jackson. It was then that Lisa and I became sisters.

We met every week for the next ten years. Every week, bar nothing. Four to five hours of naked, soul-stripping conversation. The men in our lives shook their heads, wondering what on earth we could possibly find to talk about for that length of time. Well…them, for one thing!  But it was more than girl-talk; it was about the world around us, our careers, frustrations, favorite movies, our lives, all of it, and if there’s anything women bond over, it’s the sharing of their lives. There was so much laughter, lots of tears and honest thought, and always – always – good food. The hostess would provide and, believe me, though every one of us had our culinary high-points, we always looked forward to Lisa’s turn, especially after her mother, Louise, came to town and introduced us to the Blount Family Home Cookin’ Extravaganza: baked ham, collard greens, grits (two kinds), mac n’ cheese, cornbread baked in an iron skillet, black-eyed peas with bacon, sweet (sweet) tea, and always something sinful for dessert. Lisa learned well from her Mama and before long we came to expect those dinners when it was her turn to host. And since we always made a damn big deal about each of our birthdays, when it was mine, the assignments were clear: Joyce made the chocolate cake (best ever), Tina brought the most creatively wrapped gifts, and Lisa cooked her amazing “soulful food” for me. Have had nothing like it since.

Somewhere in there the name “Ray McKinnon” started cropping up. Lisa had done a film called Needful Things in 1993 and thus began all manner of chatter about this tall, gangly, very intriguing fellow who played Deputy Norris Ridgewick and had won her heart. In fact, we heard so much about him that we finally stood up and said, “Lisa Sue, it’s time we met this Ray McKinnon” and so it happened.  An event was organized at Lisa’s house; a gathering of poetry lovers called to listen to the current poet laureate. Ray was conveniently (and conspicuously) part of that crowd. We girls looked that man over like the sister-crones we were and came away charmed, charmed, I tell ya! Warm, funny, clearly enamored of our girl, he passed muster in a nanosecond and quickly became an invaluable, essential member of our family of friends. When Ray and Lisa were married in 1998, we were all there to sing the wedding song and celebrate their moment of deep, abiding happiness. That was a very, very good day.

But the story, like life, couldn’t seem to stay steady. While she and Ray flourished as a couple, Lisa’s pain became more disruptive. Jobs were lost because she wasn’t physically capable. Social events were passed on. The pain was chronic and so unrelenting that it became a syndrome unto itself. There were difficult and futile surgeries. Drug regimens. Alternative treatments. Prayers and affirmations and encouragements. She and I talked long and hard about what was going on and both did endless research on the topic. I learned more about pain than I ever wanted to and she experienced more than anyone ever should. But even in that, she refused to disengage from life. She’d get herself out of bed and keep going. When the girls came to my family’s vacation home up on Orcas Island off the coast of Washington state, she was the one, the only one, who wanted to conquer Mt. Constitution with me. It is the highest point in the island chain; a 9+ mile round trip with a 1240-foot elevation gain and it is a good challenge for even the hearty hiker. For this wounded woman struggling with chronic pain…really? Oh, yeah. And she did it. With vigor. Even after I got us lost on the way down and ended up costing us a few more miles of walking, she completed the trek exhausted but elated. It remained, always, a sweet, private triumph for us both.

Oscar partyBut then life took a very interesting turn. As she would say later, “Just as one door was seemingly closing in my life, another door opened. And I only have one person to thank for that, my husband Ray McKinnon.” She and Ray had created Ginny Mule Pictures with their friend and partner, Walton Goggins, and that ambitious adventure proved a boon. With a mission statement to tell and depict Southern stories with authenticity and significance, Ginny Mule’s inaugural production was The Accountant(a farm comedy), a film short written and directed by Ray. With a script that was nurtured by Lisa’s unerring sense of nuance and logic, it starred Ray and Walton, as well as their friend and fellow actor, Eddie King, and was a brilliant piece of biting, prescient satire on the state of farming in the South. It rang with truth and wit, and audiences were bowled over. Back at the Girls’ Group, Lisa started talking about what to wear to the Oscar’s and we girls looked at each other with knitted brow. Positive thinking was always encouraged, mind you, but this seemed…well, this seemed too high a place to aim and we worried that she was setting herself up for some raging disappointment. But when the nominations were announced, as we all now know, there they were, on that precious, very exclusive list. We were thrilled and relieved; now she could be happy with that, right? Nope. Now we were talking about who would be up on the stage when the winner was announced – all three? Her and Ray? Ray and Walton? And once again, we looked at each other and gulped. Ever protective, we wondered, couldn’t the nomination be enough? Apparently not. And damn if on the big night it was those three – Ray, Walton, and Lisa – who walked up to accept the Oscar for Best Film Short. I was in a San Francisco hotel room at the time watching the show with my family and the ensuing cacophony brought phone calls and fears of intervention from the front desk. It was a communal triumph and nobody was happier than Lisa and Ray’s friends. We threw an Oscar party a few weeks later and had cake.

She is well known for many roles – obviously An Officer and a Gentleman is so iconic that one only has to say “Way to go, Paula!” to know who Lisa Blount is. But the role that will always be her defining performance, to my thinking, is her star-turn in Chrystal.

Produced by Ginny Mule, brilliantly written and directed once again by Ray, who also stars as the venomous Snake (along with Ginny Mule partner, Walton Goggins, and Billy Bob Thornton as Lisa’s co-star), Chrystal gave Lisa a many-layered character to embody, one that not only tapped into her considerable acting (and singing) skills, but also told the story of her pain in a fictional framework.  Ray says he wrote it as a “love letter”; a way to honor the daily struggle Lisa now endured, and it is exactly that.

Chrystal tells the tragic but ultimately redemptive tale of a woman who suffers not only the loss of a child due to a car accident caused by her drug-dealing husband, but the physical torment of a broken neck that leaves her in never-ending, excruciating pain. When her husband is released from prison after 16 years, she is left to find what remains of their lives, struggling with her ability to forgive and move on. It’s a dark, painful story that depicts the sorrow of lives spiraling into despair, but offers a profound narrative turn that presents realistic hope. Lisa gives a powerful performance that is heartbreaking and sometimes almost too raw and painful to watch. It is one of the most stunning pieces of work I have ever seen – and I mean that, girlfriend or no girlfriend. I was in the theater when it premiered at the Sundance Film Festival in 2004 and the audience was literally sobbing in stunned silence by the film’s end. If you see nothing else that Lisa did in her too-short but illustrious career, please see this film. Brilliant on all accounts.

Her last major film was Ginny Mule’s Randy and the Mob, in a hilarious, deadpan performance as Charlotte Pearson, Randy’s (Ray McKinnon) wife who is chronically depressed, suffers from carpal tunnel syndrome, and is a baton-twirling instructor. I think that’s all that needs to be said. Ray is not only the titular Randy but additionally plays Randy’s gay identical brother – a turn of inspired lunacy – and Walton is the mysterious Tito. Even Burt Reynolds shows up. A Southern mob caper. It is, as they say, a hoot.

Shortly after the completion of Randy and the Mob, Lisa and Ray moved to Little Rock. It was a move precipitated by the need for change, the need for family, and the hope that Lisa could heal in the quieter, gentler environs of her childhood. For me, it was the end of my chapter. Certainly the end of an era. I knew she had to go but I felt like I was losing a pivotal member of my family, my innermost circle. I didn’t know when I would see her again and it was, in fact, almost five years before I did. That occurred when Ray was nominated for an Independent Spirit Award for Ginny Mule’s latest co-production, That Evening Sun, starring Hal Holbrook, Ray and Walton (a brilliant, touching film…a must-see), and he and Lisa came to town for the award ceremony in the spring of this year. Though we had talked long and often in her absence, it did my heart some serious good to actually see her, because she looked beautiful, she was feeling good enough to travel, and she had hope. HOPE. That was a lot. We planned a “girls’ trip” for the fall…we’d been waiting for each of our lives to settle down and for her to feel better before we got out to Little Rock and it seemed it was finally time.

And so I did get to her house in Little Rock. Finally. This past weekend. Five days after she left this world. I walked into the house that Lisa built, with the many items and details I knew so well from her Los Angeles home, and wandered through, from room to room, imagining her pulling my arm to drag me to the next surprise; chattering away, telling me, “Now, Lorraine, I got this at a little thrift shop downtown for a dollar and don’t you think it works perfectly with this sconce?” Which it did. Of course it did, Lisa. It all worked perfectly. And in that beautiful old Southern home, surrounded and cared for by Raymond’s incredible family of women – sisters Judy and Dotty, cousin Kim, his wonderful Mama – with an eclectic but now forever-bonded group of LA friends – Walton, Eddie King, Perry Herman, Kathryn Howell, my husband Pete – and scores of other family and friends who found their way to the house – Tim Jackson, Jon & Sandra Marbaise, Chris Jones, Lorri Davis, Philip, Danny, too many to mention; all heartbroken and longing to find a way to comfort Ray and grasp some last, ephemeral sense of Lisa, we gathered and mourned.

Lisa & Dillon_smEach of us has our specific memories, our eras; our particular roles in her life. Some knew her from the films and TV shows they did together. Others remember her from her childhood. High school. College. Even within the Los Angeles era there were different chapters. I was lucky enough to be part of many of those. So let me come back to bookend my story:

By the end of our time together the only thing that had changed was the physical distance between us. The rest remained. She knew my secrets, I knew hers. She loved me unconditionally, as I did her. We considered our families family. She adored my boy and took every chance to cuddle with him when he was little and applaud his accomplishments as he grew older. I love her husband and she loved mine, particularly empathetic when a series of car accidents left him, too, in chronic pain (she was even sweet enough to be the costume maven for a show of his!). She celebrated my birthdays with me, all the major holidays, even some minor ones, and she and Ray were welcomed regulars at our Thanksgiving table. We grew up together, we grew older together, and we looked forward to finding our ways as crotchety old gals still kicking ass together. Yep, we had plans.

But know this: even in all her pain and struggle, Lisa never lost faith that life would get better. And in those last months, that faith was returning the favor. She just shot a pilot for “Outlaw Country,” a new FX series with Mary Steenburgen, she spent time in Nashville recording several songs, and she was honored with the Arkansas Hall of Fame Award. She was ready to start remodeling the kitchen, she had just finished Ray’s office; she talked of planting a garden and, lo and behold, she’d once again changed her hair color. If ever there was a sign of orneriness coming to back life, that was it! As she told several people in these last months, she was ready to start saying, “Yes!”

It’s hard to distill a life down to a tribute speech, a magazine article, or a blog entry; particularly a life as colorful and accomplished as Lisa’s. I’ve only touched on some of the poignant markers we made together along the way. The ones that defined the friendship I had with this woman for over 30 years. Hopefully they’ve done her justice. Her last words to me were in an email she sent Oct. 1st. It was my 20th anniversary and I’d posted a blog article about my husband (Cowboy Strong & Poetry Sweet…Love In the Age of MTBI). She rarely emailed, so I was particularly touched to get this note from her: “Lorraine, happy anniversary to you and Pete. As you must know, you two have been and remain the truly most inspirational couple that I know. Because of my health issues, and knowing how sad, how strange it has affected my life, I have been able to look at you and know that I am not alone. That my husband is not alone. When I think back to your beginnings together, it seems like we have all grown up. A lot. Not just changed, but accepted our lives…as is and still loved. I thank you both for reminding me how precious all phases of love is. Your ole pal, Lisa.”

*    *   *

The veil shifts for a moment…I see Lisa walking into my house with a pan of something hot and fragrant, dressed to the nines, a gift in hand of some lovely thing she found in a consignment shop. She’s got a big wide smile on her face and when she sees me, her eyes light up and she hugs me with a warm, happy “Hey, Lorraine!” That’s my Lisa. That’s my girl. As is…and still loved.

Lisa&Lorraine_someone's b-day_sm

Photo Credits:

An Officer & a Gentlemen on-set photo courtesy of www.inarkansas.com

Lisa Blount & Billy Bob Thornton, Crystal poster @ www.imdb.com

Ray McKinnon & Lisa Blount, Independent Spirit Awards @ www.zimbio.com

All other photos courtesy of Lorraine Devon Wilke

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Visit www.lorrainedevonwilke.com for details and links to LDW’s books, music, photography, and articles.