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Lisa-Catherine FANNY THE BOOK

 

Lisa-Catherine Cohen

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In 1967, still a kid, I left my hometown of Toronto, Canada, for college — my mother’s alma mater — Northwestern University in Evanston, Illinois. She graduated from its famous theater department as the contemporary of Cloris Leachman, Charlotte Rae, Paul Lynde, Charlton Heston, and Pat Neal. Marcia Diamond (Mom) was named Best Actress of 1947, and is still a working actor in Toronto. I was raised by, and as, an artist.


A generation later, that same School of Drama became my jumping-off point into the study of filmmaking. University film departments were just budding at that time; Northwestern’s had only one 16mm camera and some guy named Howard had it most of the time. Besides being the national headquarters of the W.C.T.U., the Women’s Christian Temperance Union — teetotalers all — Evanston, Illinois, right on Lake Michigan, was even colder than Toronto! Brrrr! (I figure I must have gotten into the wrong line in Heaven and got born where they have winter.) It was a turbulent time in the world during the year and one semester I was there. Both Bobby Kennedy and Martin Luther King were assassinated, and the Democratic Convention riots in Chicago happened while I was there. I got very caught up in the political issues of the time. Well, what you won’t do for yourself, your Self will do for you. I was one of the first people, at Northwestern anyway, to contract Hong Kong flu. Remember that epidemic in the late ’60s?


By ’69, through an amazing string of miracles, I was finally living in sunny Southern Cal and was enrolled in USC’s film school. Here, they had lots of equipment — and I had thawed out at last! The next three years were the most grueling, challenging, and enriching years of my life to that point. I left USC with three majors’ worth of film credits and a finished 16 mm movie. After that, I dabbled in just about every pre-, in- and post-production job there is in the behind-the-scenes part of the Hollywood movie industry. I landed in costume design and did that for a few years. Between films, I worked as an art director in the TV commercial and magazine fields, utilizing the part of me that draws and paints, the visual artist. (See the Art Gallery link.) I worked as a stylist for Playboy, and even did a few shoots for Playgirl! (That was amusing!) I’ve had two one-woman art gallery exhibits, done several larger commissioned works, and still freelance as a graphic designer and portraitist.


I haven’t only worked in wonderfully creative, arts-related jobs along the way to here. Nooooooo. For a moment, albeit a brief one, I attempted to become a woman firefighter. (Not enough upper body muscles.) I did do one trip as a bus-tour host. (Serving drinks on a bus going 50 miles per hour is challenging.) Oh, and I actually answered an ad and became a dime-a-dance girl, only now the cost had gone up to a quarter a minute. Inflation. That was a long time ago, and boy, was I naive! I lasted two nights, until some guy actually said, “Whatsa nice goil like you doin’ in a place like dis?” (I was dressed like a librarian, and all the other goils were certainly not, so he wasn’t exactly Mr. Perceptive.) My friend Annie had to come downtown to the Starlight Ballroom, I think it was called, and yank me out of there…. (I can’t believe I just told you that.)


Then there was an interesting stint as a Dating Game chaperone. (Lemme tell ya, this was not the way to travel!) Less exotic, and much longer lasting, was my grocery-money-earning “career” as a receptionist and office manager — far from the entertainment biz — in the furniture design world of “The Blue Whale,” L.A.’s Pacific Design Center.


Of course, along with the rest of the female population in Los Angeles, I pursued the requisite wanna-be acting career. It was at that point that I began to feel Forces at work in my life. Forces that, for example, “made me” drop my car keys “unwittingly” into the garbage can under the sink. (Like, whodathunk to look there?) I didn’t make that audition.


Gently and relentlessly, those Forces — that seemed much larger than me — were guiding me in a direction I had tried everything not to go in: writing. Performing is sooooo much more fun, plus there are usually other people around when you do it. Writing, however, is generally a solitary pursuit.


Despite my resistance to it, I had indeed been writing all along, filling journal after journal and, interestingly enough, most of it rhymes. Most of it has this bluesy kind of rhythm. Pre-rap. Eschewing the word “poetry” — a high school backlash — I call them “rhymey things.” I began writing these when I was pretty young. I still have dog-eared elementary school bulletins with poems I wrote published in them. One of these poems talks about the elves and fairies I conversed with regularly, walking to and from school. Whence I learned more than I ever did in it.


To accompany my book, WELL, HERE’S WHAT I’VE FIGURED OUT SO FAR... (a light-hearted romp through the entire New Age — my experiences during a lifetime spent in California), I recorded a CD and put a few of these rhymey things (I mean the ones I’ve written as a grown-up) to music. (You can download pieces of them by clicking the CD link in the Lyrics section on this site.)


By May of 1975, and by following the clues I mention in the book, I had moved to paradise: Stinson Beach in Northern California! I lived in this gorgeous, humongous, mostly empty dance studio of a house. It had a stone fireplace, floor-to-ceiling windows all around the house looking out at decks with flowering Japanese plum trees and beyond the front decks, a sweeping view of Mount Tamalpais, the blue Pacific, and Bolinas Lagoon. How I managed get this place for such a next-to-nothing rent involved another mind-boggling series of serendipities — some real magic! One evening, on my way down the hill to pick up a bottle of tamari sauce and some firewood, I rolled through the only stop sign in town — in front of two California Highway Patrol cars. They promptly issued me a traffic ticket. The punishment was community service. Cool.


To discover exactly how I might serve my community, I had to get to Point Reyes, a couple of hours north on twisty Highway 1, by eight o’clock in the morning on the indicated date. “What do you do?” the judge bellowed, gazing sternly up at me from his wheelchair.


“I write,” I answered, gazing almost as sternly right back down at him. That was the first time I’d ever said that. It just...came out.


“Do you get paid to write?”


“Not yet,” I countered. By the end of that year, I’d become a professional lyricist. Back then, I had figured out that the least successful songwriter would probably make more money than the most successful poet, so I decided to turn what I had been writing into structured lyrics. Now all I had to do was learn what that structure was. That took about five minutes (for which I owe an eternal debt of gratitude to David Jenkins of Pablo Cruise fame).


Over my career, I have earned two platinum albums, three Number One hit songs and lots of Top Fives and Tens all over the world. (By the way, my punishment for that “California roll” — sliding through a stop sign — was teaching at the Bolinas elementary school the last week of school when the teachers had all gone off on their vacations. The ultra-privileged, pony-owning, savvy ex-New Yorker kids I taught in Bolinas stood in stark contrast to the underprivileged, inner-city black kids with crack-addicted moms and long-gone, deadbeat dads I’d been volunteer teaching before I left L.A.


Around that time, in my unsuspecting 20s, a romance-related devastation and subsequent psychic dismantling threw me into a period of brutal self-investigation. I spent the next year or so on Step One: untangling the knot my early education had left my mind in, rendering it non-functional from the endless memorization. Before I could sew my heart back together, I needed to resuscitate my stunted brain. After I did, I set about teaching myself how to think — how to think an original thought. I remember stating vehemently to God, “I do not believe I am here to have a bad time. I do believe in being able to reason my way out of this maze and find the hunk of cheese, find the pleasure button, and leave it turned on. And I also believe there’s a damn light switch in this pitch-dark room. I know that somewhere in here is that switch. Show me where it is, or I don’t want to play! And I’m not afraid of not playing.”


Then, the first Seth book, Seth Speaks by Jane Roberts, literally fell off The Bodhi Tree’s bookshelf into my hands (The Bodhi Tree is L.A.’s first and still foremost New Age bookstore.) That book became my light switch. I devoured it! The book explained — in physics — what I’d always intuited: that we do, and how we do create our personal reality via our thoughts and beliefs. Metaphorically speaking, I had always felt as though I was holding something in each hand, from which hung something heavy that clicked a lot. But now, with the light on, I could see what the “somethings” in my hands were: two sets of crossed, wooden sticks, dangling beneath which were marionettes. In the dark, they had been jerking about hither-thither. Now I could see what I was doing! Now I could make the puppets dance! Or at least take a decent shot at it! That’s what I’m still doing — that’s what I think we’re all doing: We’re all just trying to make the puppets dance!


Back then I was spending the major hunk of my time earning rent. I was attempting to do that without losing sight of The Dream that makes earning money to pay said rent mean anything. And so, even though I had practically all the arts to pick from, being the renaissance artist I am and, having earned actual income from some of them by then, I picked writing. I could write in several media, so I chose to focus on writing lyrics because lyrics are relatively short, or so I thought at the time. I figured I could write them burning midnight oil if I had to. And I had to.


My quest for self-discovery and truth-discovery in every realm, in one form or another, is the subject of everything I write. I turn out to be one of those grown-ups who never stopped asking those aggravating streams of questions four-year-olds drive moms berserk with: Who is God? What happened to Grampa (only we called him “Zaide”) after he died? “He went to Heaven” was not going to cut it for this kid. Why are we here? Where did I come from? Mommy’s tummy? Okay, where does Mommy come from? And where was I before I was in her tummy? And eewww! What is that thing on my baby brother? She told me to go out and play, but I was having much more fun asking questions. And to this day, I’m still trying to figure out the answers to this stuff. (I have since learned what that thing on baby Jeffrey was.) I’ve been searching and re-searching what all the self-proclaimed-but false and the genuine experts have to say about who we are, our race’s history, what “God” is, and how to make life on Planet Earth work. Discovering the real truth about what’s really going on here, and what we might do to fix our problems, is at the top of my priority list in life. (I think figuring that out had better become important to us all.)


I planned that via successful songs, I’d eventually earn enough money and time — the freedom — to write longer things. My plan worked. I’ve penned a couple of musicals, several screen treatments, one original sitcom, a few non-fiction books, and a biography, Fanny, an important exposé of the conditions inside Switzerland during WWII for foreign Jewish refugees. (It’s available now and can be purchased via the Fannythebook link on this site.) I have just completed the 755-page first draft of a book about the fifty-year history of a unique synagogue in Toronto that was founded by immigrant Central European Holocaust survivors. And I edit for a host of clients.


My songwriting collaborator, Chris Bennett, and I have created the Holocaust song, Remember. Through the Lyrics link on this site you can hear it, as well as view its premiere performance during Toronto’s 23rd annual Holocaust Education Week, in 2003.


I have come to understand that I have a unique take on how Reality works, an askew worldview. Even among New Agers. I’ve culled some of what I think from what I’ve read or heard along the way. A lot of it is my own. I’ve never been a joiner or a long-term follower of any one path or spiritual practice (which might or might not have been a good thing). I would call myself either undisciplined or an eclectic. I love the term Buckminster Fuller gave himself (not that I compare myself to him); he said he was a “comprehensivist.” Mostly, my mental wanderings are born from watching life as I live it. Writers spend an inordinate time alone in their heads. I am beginning to see a coherent whole, a synthesis, a philosophy if you will.


I know I came to Earth to communicate. In several media. There are particular ideas at this particular time that urgently need communicating. Many artists and writers, each in their own way and with their own unique puzzle piece, are saying essentially the same thing I am: Something really, really, really BIG is happening. And there isn’t a one of us on this Earth who isn’t feeling it. Change is definitely upon us. How easy or how wrenching it is, is up to us. We can hold on to the old ways like our life depended on it, or we can let go and see what the Unknown has in store. For my part, I can only promise myself, and every person whose life touches mine, that I will do my best to ride the wave, go with the proverbial flow, and have as much fun as there is to have along the way.

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