renewal

One of the things I love about America in general, and even more so the promise of the West is that one can remake themselves.  That it matters less out here in California than in older societies where you born, you are less bound to tradition. Still, we have done some AWFUL non progressive things out West.  Japanese internment camps jump to mind as I’m reading a great book on the subject.  Whether it be with education, career, or avocation we can change ourselves.  Now, with Caitlyn Jenner,caitlyn jenner gender change might seem more possible to people.  It’s a radical leap.  I will not pretend to always feel comfortable when I see a trans guy or girl.  Sometimes it’s nothing, sometimes amusing, sometimes upsetting.  Especially when it’s a hooker in Hollywood and I am glimpsing a bit of a downtrodden life.

I do admire Bruce Jenner’s change because I think it’s hard to really change yourself.. let alone your gender.  I look and dress an awful lot like I did 30 years ago.  My eyebrows are plucked, but I still wear leggings.  A friend at my wedding said my dress reminded her of my prom dress.  Others change more drastically.  Some people change their name. My mom changed her first name.  Why not?  No one asks us what name we want.

Biology does not define family.  I feel that keenly since losing my brother, of non bio origin.  Some have said, ‘Oh, but he wasn’t your REAL brother.”  (teeth grind)

So, let’s do this.. let’s let everyone define themselves for themselves.  Names, occupation loved ones, and I guess identity.  It’s a stretch. It’s not always easy to go along with, but what the hell?  Let’s humor each other.  That’s what friends do.

The last call I got from Jeff was when he was concerned about a friend of ours whose adult child was transitioning.  It was a surprise as we had known the person since childhood, but he wanted to know the well being of our long time friend, the mom.  Even for liberally minded, it’s a transition for the family and friends as well.

“Is she okay?”  He wanted to know.  Not knowing what deep torment he was in at the time that would cause him to take his own life 6 weeks later. I so wish he had felt he could have come back home and start anew.  He didn’t have to be a success, that he could be poor and we would figure it out.  He had an idea of what he wanted to be and wasn’t getting there.  How great to be able to say, “I’m going to not only change the way you see me, but how I see myself.”  After someone you love takes their life someone else you know being trans gender starts to feel like “Please pass the potato salad.” Not that important.

I know a lot of people are going to make fun of Caitlyn Jenner.  Lots of Bruce Jenner jokes.  I know trans kid will still be made fun of.  But, it would be better to be kind.  If they want to dress up and blow a bugle and call themselves Teddy

Arsenic and old lace

Arsenic and Old Lace

Why not salute?

Beside, Bruce was a handsome man and Caitlyn is a nice looking woman.  Bully for her.

bittersweet recipe

It’s very exciting these few Sundays now.. where I watch my show.. where I get tweets from people I don’t know saying they like the show.  I get emails from distance cousins who I have heard not from in years that they are loving seeing my show.  I also loved in the most recent episode bringing in some of our friends to be on the show.  I also thought that overall of all the Daphne Dishes, this one was the best.  It held together. I loved making the food, loved my cocktail.   It’s a light, fun show… I hope… with some information. However, the making of it was more fraught than is seen.

One clue to that can be seen at the end of this show..”In Memory of Jeff Wannberg.”handsom

I have made reference to there being a big loss that shadowed the filming of the show.  The night before we started shooting my brother killed himself.  Jeff was not my blood brother, but a brother he was.  We came into each others life at about 2 or 3, start of pre school.  I got kicked out because my mom was the teacher and the school thought it better if she didn’t teach her own kid.  But, Jeff stayed.  It’s hard to describe to people who didn’t know us in childhood, teen years, 20’s, but each year he became more and more part of us, and visa versa.  Our homes were a few doors away and he was the only kid in his house.

4th of July in Culver City in the '70's. Dad, Cec, Jeff, me

4th of July in Culver City in the ’70’s. Dad, Cec, Jeff, me

We needed a brother, he needed us.  We went to the same progressive school for a while, so we had short hand for our unconventional childhood.  “We joined a cult” Jeff said just a couple of years ago in his characteristically dry humor.  In our teen years organically we began to call him brother, he called us sisters.  It annoyed us to no end if someone said, “but you aren’t REALLY siblings.”  We responded with annoyance or cut them out.  As he once said, “I’m not going to say, they are my really, really, really, really good friends.  That’s not right.”  It wasn’t.  We were far more ingrained than that.

I cannot sum up our relationship or Jeff in a blog post and it wouldn’t do him justice our lives together. But, since September 9th everything has been…different. He was in my sister’s weddings.

Happy Day

Happy Day

I officiated at his US wedding.  I was his best man at his Australian nuptials ( where is wife is from). We are use to him being here for family events.  It was hard having him in Australia the last several years, but he wanted to come home.  We wanted him to come.  It was just a matter of time before he did.

He was always with us at Thanksgiving. We started playing football at Thanksgiving because of Jeff.

Thanksgiving. Jeff behind, brother in law Kevin next to my mom.  I'm the one with the mullet next to my dad

Thanksgiving. Jeff behind, brother in law Kevin next to my mom. I’m the one with the mullet next to my dad

He often made a turkey.  Jeff loved to cook.  He loved French food and classic American food.  He opened his own American steak house in Australia.     I, like all those who love him, are left bewildered and bereft.  In my case I’m puffy and bewildered as I’ve put on some big grief pounds.

He was so smart, quick witted, a brain like no other.  Even while he was living far away I kept up with him with skype, phone calls, email, social media. But, it’s no subtitute for being there.  When I moved back to LA in 2000 I took an apartment that was less than a mile from him.  When I decided to do my solo shows he was the only one I wanted to direct me.  The only one I trusted.  He was a photographer, a post production producer, an app producer, dog lover, bon vivivant.  He was and is someone very special.

love

love

I didn’t know if I could get through the filming, as I mentioned before Food Network kindly offered to postpone the shoot, but I know these opportunities might not come again and I know how hard Jeff hustled to get projects that he wanted off the ground.  His wife said, go for it.  That shot at the end of the show  (“Eat up Sports fans”) When I catch the ball from Vivien was the only time my face was onscreen that first day. I can see the puff and the pain in my face. Bewilderment.  People who are also survivors of suicide know the bewilderment.  The shock.  The first few days I would wake up early before the crew arrived.  Make coffee, talk to Jeff, “Why, why?  How could you leave us?”  I would lie down on the floor and cry.  Then I would get into hair and make up and when the producer said, “Sparkle in the eye”  I turned it on.  Everyone I worked with was very patient and kind with me.

“What do you need?”  a Food Network executive said that first day.

“Ask no one to bring it up.  I will come un done.”  She did and they didn’t.

Vivien was with me the first few days.  She would stand by the cameras before we started, give me a smile and a thumbs up.  “You can do it mommy.”  It would fuel me.  I was torn up by grief, survival guilt, and guilty that I had a big project going on when he was having a hard time making his opportunities come to fruition.  When Vivien wasn’t there I would look at her pictures on the fridge and then turn around and cook for camera.  Like so many moments in my life my kids are joy gas.  I’d be a broken down jalopy without them.

my kids there for me on a shoot day... before my grief weight set in

my kids there for me on a shoot day… before my grief weight set in

When we had a day off I really collapsed.  That’s when I realized how much the show was good for me.  I loved the absorption of work.  The first few days I was trying to contact everyone who needed to know about Jeff. I had a great need to speak to people who knew us when we were younger, before something went wrong, something went sideways.  But, then I switched and I couldn’t speak about it.  If I did I wouldn’t be able to work.  I clicked over and while the camera was on, or even with the crew I started to have fun.  Jokes were coming more easily.  So, for the Game Day show it was later in the process ( except for the football scene) and I was feeling better.  When Trish showed up, who is truly one of my best friends and who knew Jeff, I could let my guard down a little.  When I give her the drink and we toast it’s pregnant with meaning.  She knew how special he was and how deep our connection was and how I was hurting.

After the shoot we had his memorial, his celebration of life.. what is the right thing to call it?  We decided on JeffCon’14.

While we were shooting I asked if he could have a memorial credit.  It has to go through some channels.  Then a few weeks ago I got an email.  Yes, his name would be there.  I was glad, but I got back down on the floor and cried.in memory of jeff wannberg

Like anyone who has lost someone you don’t want your loved one to become “the dead guy” and with suicide you don’t want their method of departure to define them.

Some of Jeff’s friends and I have connected or reconnected like never before.  It’s been a great source of support. Also, I went through an 8 week Survivors of Suicide group.  A lovely group of people.  That helped a lot to sort through the layers of feelings with people who were on the same journey. The sense of failure, rejection, lost.  One friend of Jeff’s was over a couple of months ago and said that I should start posting and talking about the show coming on.  Really?  I was not feeling like celebrating.  Then I remembered what one woman in my group said, “Fake it till you make it.”  So I did start posing about it and talking about it and people were very sweet and excited and that felt good.  I just want Jeff to be here with me.  So by having his picture in the first episode about my mom’s healthy eating and his name in the game one I feel there was a touch.

Of course the way my brain and humor works is so influenced by him he is part of it.

So, it might seem just like a light little food show, but there was a lot going on.