Apr 4 2018



Church Hats Sold Here

Church Hats Sold Here

I love the idea of Dressing for God. We should dress for God. It wouldn’t hurt to also dress for family, friends, strangers in the grocery store. I saw a woman at Lowe’s,  LOWE’S HARDWARE, whose outfit was meticulously put together: black and white sunhat, black and white ruffled sundress, black and white polkadot high-heeled yet casual sandals, large black and white sunglasses. I couldn’t take my eyes off her. Me, I was in paint-covered trash bin-bound rags, buying more paint. I thought I was dressed perfectly for the occasion. But this woman – I still have the memory of the fabulous sight of her, and I’m grateful for that. I doubt she has any memory of me.

I dressed for my daddy the last month of his life, when he was in hospice. Every day I went to see him, I wore a dress or a skirt, not the usual for me. He was old and old-fashioned, and I wanted to look nice for him. A few days in, I realized that I was also was doing it for the other patients there. I could give them a reminder of the world of their youth, when women did wear dresses regularly. In fact, one of the patients propositioned me (it’s a funny little story). I suspect he had dementia, and I was the first woman he’d seen in a while who wasn’t a nurse. I declined the offer, but accepted the compliment.

My marriage was falling apart, and I found dressing this way cheered me up a little throughout the day. Men and women of all ages were kinder, more polite and respectful when I stopped in the store, or to get gas. I also felt a little more together, at a time when I was far from together inside, with a dying father and a dying marriage. But tapping into my often-neglected femininity was like conjuring my mother, whose presence was sorely needed at this time in my life.  My father’s life. My brothers’ lives.

I just talked myself into wearing a dress today.

Nov 7 2017

Me and Me Blunnies

These Blundstone boots were a gift

from my now ex-husbands, given back when we’d just started dating, when you still had to order fr23331069_10156020420464994_191415728502923073_oom Australia (WAY before Amazon). 22 years later, he is still a good friend, and the Blunnies and I are still going strong. Together, these boots and I have tended bar at Harvey Nichols 5th Floor in London, strolled the Champs Elysees, climbed Uluru, biked Angel Island, stomped the streets of San Francisco and NYC, hiked the desert outside Las Vegas; just to name a few. These boots have been to more places, seen more of life, than most Americans. There have been ups and downs in the past 22 years, for sure. But we certainly got around, my Blunnies and me. And there is definitely more to come.

Apr 12 2017

Greek Easter

My father wasn’t one to praise me. A child of the Great Depression, his  measure of success was money; whereas my adult life has been defined by things that often don’t pay the bills: volunteering in my community, writing, filmmaking, acting.

“We sold out four shows and won Best of the Fringe Festival!”

“How much money did you make?”

But I understood. He didn’t want me to be poor, as his family was. He didn’t hesitate to tell my cousins how proud he was of my accomplishments. Just never me.

IMG_2611There was one big exception to his no-praise ways: my execution of his mother’s — my yia yia’s — recipes whenever I baked baklava or koulourakia (Greek Easter cookies — his favorite) for the holidays.

Year after year, with each batch he would say, “I think this is the best one ever, Dianie.” It didn’t matter if I burnt it a little, it was the best one ever.

As predictable as those words eventually became, hearing them was worth more than all the money in the world. I still hear them when I bake for the holidays. It’s why I still bake for the holidays, ten years after his passing.

Χριστός ἀνέστη!, Daddy.

Nov 11 2015

Praise — the well-earned kind — to our Veterans

So young -- and already, seen too much.

So young — and already, seen too much.

My father, George Karagienakos,  is the only veteran I’ve ever known personally. He, like many of his generation, willingly enlisted in World War II, going so far as to write “18” on the soles of his shoes; so that when asked if he was asked if he was “over 18” (he was 17), he could honestly answer, “Yes.”

George Karagienakos was in the 82nd Airbourne, one of the paratroopers dropped behind enemy lines in Operation Market Garden. One of the few to come out of that alive. The bullet he took in the arm remained there until the day he died.

George Karagienakos neither expected nor wanted praise for any of his actions. Not for going above and beyond, and certainly not for just showing up.

Thanking him for his service to his country was as unwelcome to him as thanking him for putting food on the table. To him, that’s just what a man, a good man, does. There was no distinction.

That’s certainly not to say we should not thank our veterans for their service. We should, and we must.

But I can guarantee that were he here today, there would be smoke coming out of his ears hearing about the parents who reward and praise children for just showing up – parents who want reward and praise for doing the same. He would have a thing or two to say about a society that demands so little from its people, yet whose people expects so much be done for them.

My own concern is that a generation that grows up being rewarded and praised for just showing up is far less likely to go above and beyond — and to do so because that’s just what you do. What a good person does.

I’m writing this to thank my father, George Karagienakos – so deal with it, Pops! Your service was appreciated. To all Veterans, your service appreciated. Words are not enough for the sacrifices you’ve made and continue to make. You deserve more than praise.

America, take better care of your veterans. Raise my taxes — if that’s what it takes to take care of them. Do it.


Jun 21 2015

Father’s Day Tribute to my Father

My father, brother, family dog Bella, 1972.

My father, brother, family dog Bella, 1972.

My father didn’t raise me to be a happy person. He raised me to be a good one.

I’m so grateful he was my father. There were many times I HATED him growing up. He was tough. There were many times we feared him. Not that he ever raised a hand to us — no, not once. But if you did something he disapproved of (and you always knew beforehand if it was something he disapproved of), he’d give you this look, this gaze, that just shamed you to the core. There was no need to shame us publicly. When you have a strong parent like that, their scorn alone us all the humiliation you need.

So thank you pops. You didn’t make it easy, but life now is easier, because you taught me well. About respect, and self respect. And Family. You were a great father. I miss you. The world misses you.


May 25 2015

Memorial Day, and the Price of Killing

DSCN3363I hate pigeons. Most people who live in cities hate pigeons. The only thing we hate more than pigeons? People who feed pigeons.

I just ran over a pigeon. It was in the street, I assumed it would fly away as I got closer. And it tried, but it was already maimed. It lurched one direction, then the other. I wasn’t sure which way to swerve to avoid it, the damn thing couldn’t make up it’s mind, which way to go. I swerved a little to the left. With an oncoming car, I couldn’t go too crazy on the swerve — and that’s when the pigeon made it’s fatal, and final, lurch.In the same direction I swerved.

I felt sick. I felt horrible. Much as I hate pigeons, I felt guilty. I thought of the people who hunt, who deliberately kill magnificent creatures — cougars, gazelles, lions — that no one hates. Animals in their own habitat yet, not polluting ours with their droppings and their mere unsightly presence, spreading disease. These hunted animals are minding their own business, raising their young, on their own turf. And people come in and take pleasure in hunting them with state of the art equipment. Hardly a fair fight. They call it “sport,” though I always thought “sport” meant facing an evenly-matched competitor. But what the hell do I know? And then to mount that animals head in your home, because… it belongs there, not on it’s own body, in it’s natural habitat, protecting and feeding its offspring? I’ll never understand.

cheetah4It’s Memorial Day. My mind wanders to those young men and women we send to foreign lands, and whose job it now is to kill in the name of America. Of Freedom. Our Freedom. Sometimes they kill people who are about as much a threat to our freedom as that pigeon I ran over. Maybe that killing is as joyful and empowering to them as shooting the cougar is to the hunter. I hope not. But if killing another human being, a civilian, is even half as upsetting to them as running over that stupid pigeon was for me, then I truly fear for the mental state of our soldiers. More and more of them are coming home with serious psychological issues. I assume killing innocent people is only a part of what haunts them, what leads them down a black psychological abyss from which there’s rarely a full escape. Many don’t come home. That’s where life ended for them, somewhere in that abyss.

So soldiers — those who died fighting, who have fought,  or are still fighting —  thank you for what you do. I mean that, I truly do. And I’m sorry for what you’re asked to do. For America. For Freedom. Our Freedom. I wish you could all be free –we could all be free. But then, freedom is never what it appears. Ask those animals in the wild.


May 10 2015

Mother’s Day: Always changing and every change fabulous.

Just moments after our first encounter.

Just moments after our first encounter.

Ah, to be a mother.

I don’t have children, never had that strong drive, that ticking timebomb in my uterus. That said, I always assumed I’d have a daughter, and a second child (one of them would be a girl, because… well, just because). Two because being an only child seemed so lonely. And because so much life-learning comes about simply by virtue of being a sibling: sharing, choosing your battles, compromise, conspiracy, etc.

But it didn’t happen. I had my chance, was married to a wonderful man in the prime of my child-bearing years. But we were traveling, and being struggling artists, so the time was never right. We didn’t try for one, but we weren’t hell bent against it either. It didn’t happen and eventually we divorced and so it all worked out for the best, right? Right?

Then I got Picard. How he came into my life is a whole ‘nother story you can read about Here.

And, I got it. Motherhood… I got it.

This love, this – for lack of a better term, maternal (parental works too, but I’m sticking with maternal, as it is Mother’s Day) love that runs deeper and stronger than any love I’ve ever known. I’ve had crushes and gaga love that feels this intense – but the excitement wears off, the hormones wane, you look back and go, “What was that?” But this Maternal Love, this is hardcore. This is the Real Deal.

Queue the naysayers, with “Loving your dog is not the same as if it were a child.” You’re right, it’s not the same. Because my dog is pure, as a child is in its early, pre-verbal years. But children, being human, grow up, and learn to manipulate and say cruel things and test us and break our hearts. They learn to hate and they learn to hurt. Hopefully they outgrow that sort of behavior in their teenage years, but I know far too many adult assholes to know that not to be the case.

There are no asshole dogs.  They manipulate and test us and break our hearts – but never for that purpose alone. It’s always, only to get something they want or need from us, that they know we alone can give them. And they’re not a dick about it if we say, “No.”4th

Their love is pure, so our love for them is pure. They remind us of our own innocence. They have the power to reinstate our innocence. Their love is perfect.

My heart swells with this love for Picard every second I look at him: when he’s there staring sleepily as I wake up, when he’s waiting not-so-patiently for me to feed him, when he plays with his bunny (which makes this inane musical noise when he plays with it) because he KNOWS when he successfully makes that sound happen, I will drop everything, whatever I am doing, to DO THE BUNNY DANCE!!!


So yes, I am a mother, and this Mothers Day is for me. Mother’s Day used to be very sad for me, as I lost my own at 19 – you can read about that Here and Here. I could not be more proud of, more in love with my “child” if he came out of my uterus. I cherish every second with him more so than if he had come out of my uterus, because unlike a human child, I will outlive him.

Aye, there’s the rub. There’s the one thing that makes my love for him all the more intense and all the more painful: it has a short shelf life. His puppy years are over. He’s five. How the hell did he get to be five already? But he’s small and curious and extremely healthy and active (his well being is the most important thing in my life), so he still seems like a young dog. And I swear, all the love I have for him, he feels the exact same way about me. He lets me know. He’s the one thing in this world, the one decision I made, that I got 100% right.

But for now, we celebrate Mother’s Day. Our 5th together. And I wish a Happy Mother’s Day to all the others out there who didn’t get the conventional Mother-Child relationship they thought was a guarantee: To the pet guardians, the single dads, the foster parents, and all the teachers/leaders/mentors/neighbors/friends/siblings who step up and give the world “That Mother Thing.” Happy Mother’s Day to all of you!

Aug 19 2014

Melancholy and the Infinite Void Left

The Spark.

The Spark.

The reality has set in. Even if we’ve not fully recovered from the shock of Robin William’s suicide, we’ve accepted it. And in its immediate wake, there is much talk of depression (though I believe bipolar disorder would be more accurate, in his case), and the need for the depressed to “reach out” and “get help.” What exactly that means, I’ll address later.

I’ve not been diagnosed with depression, or bipolar disorder for that matter. And I don’t believe I suffer from either in that way you hear of people being crippled mentally, emotionally, and spiritually, for months or years on end. What I suffer from is extreme sensitivity. Not in a thin-skinned way; far from it. More like a heightened sense of empathy and compassion. I’ve understood loss since I was very young, before I even knew what true loss was. The songs on the radio that had to do with loss — with pining for something you could not or could no longer have – I got those songs, connected with those artists. Songs like “Puff The Magic Dragon,” (hold the snarky “Dude, it’s about weed” comments – this song is ONLY about Puff being abandoned as far as I’m concerned, do not speak to me of alternative interpretations); and “Layla”, which frankly doesn’t even need lyrics — the guitar-driven, impassioned plea of the first half, and the piano-lead, liberated surrender of the second half, make you feel Clapton’s pain even more than you hear it in the lyrics, if that’s possible. And we know from the man himself that Clapton suffered the addiction that often accompanies depression and bipolar disorder.

Everyone assumes Robin William’s suicide was driven by depression (combined with a history of addiction, the two often come as a package deal; see Eric Clapton, above). And according to all accounts, he was guaranteed, certified, diagnosed depressed.

Mellon-Collie-and-the-Infinite-SadnessNo other mental disorder is romanticized like depression is. The blues, sorrow, melancholia, sadness, woe. Picture the tortured artist, alone but for their pain and suffering often serving as muse. Honestly, if Van Gogh were happy, he’d be making love in fields of sunflowers, not painting them in the saturated sunlight of his imagination. Ian Curtis would have been partying at clubs, not holed up alone in his room writing the songs that would make others dance to them. And, perhaps, Robin Williams would still be here.

I suspect it’s a wee more complicated that that. I suspect what makes great artists great is not their depression, blues, sorrow, melancholia, sadness, or woe; but rather, their extreme sensitivity – which I can relate to. Compassion and empathy cranked up to 11. But when joy and sadness go up to 11, that’s getting into bipolar disorder territory. Contrast the euphoria felt when someone tells you they’ve truly been touched by your play, song, book (or tens of thousands have applauded your performance),  to the devastation of knowing (rightly or wrongly) that you’ll never be able to achieve that again, a fear many performers who’ve known tremendous success face regularly. Robin Williams’ latest TV show, “The Crazy Ones,” was recently cancelled. Just sayin’.

Few famously sadder figures than Miss Judy Garland.

Few famously sadder figures than Miss Judy Garland.

It’s that sensitivity that makes them great artists. Their emotions are never far from the surface, always accessible. Great for an artist at work, but difficult and painful on a daily basis, when navigating day-to-day life. There are pills that kill the pain… and kill the spark. Not an option when your work is better, is in greater demand, because of the spark. Williams himself spoke of the spark. He knew all too well the importance of the spark.

It was especially heart and gut wrenching to watch this video (of Yazidis in Iraq being rescued from ISIS) juxtaposed with the breaking coverage of William’s suicide (which is when CNN aired it). These people have lost it all — homes, loved ones, identities, country, belongings; everything they’ve ever worked for — yet they desperately want nothing but to live. Then there’s Robin Williams, who truly had it all — admiration from his peers, awards for his achievements, money, the privilege of working with amazing people in a career where he’s touched so many lives, family — yet he desperately wanted nothing but to die. Or at the very least, to stop hurting. Most people can’t imagine that kind of hurt, from one so blessed; or so it appeared.

But that’s just it: I know that when I feel myself slipping into darkness, seeing images of people like these Yazidis — fighting desperately for life, despite so much loss and suffering — actually makes me feel worse about myself; how pathetic am I that I can’t appreciate all the good things I have and have had (which doesn’t even come near the career success or fortune that Williams enjoyed)?

Watching Picard touching others brings joy beyond words.

Watching Picard touching others brings joy beyond words.

Sometimes it’s just having that one little reason that you must stay here, that one little thing to get you through the moment. Like taking care of my rescue pup Picard, so I can continue to share him with the folks at the hospice center he lights up during our weekly Animal Assisted Therapy visit, and the children who read to him through the SPCA Puppy Dog Tales program. Eventually you come around, and realize the storm is subsiding, the pain is passing. Sadly, Robin wasn’t able to find that one little reason, that one little thing in that crucial, fateful moment. I’ll never know, I wasn’t there. But that’s what I imagine might have happened.

I wasn’t a fan of William’s standup routine, or when he was a guest on a talk show. Sure, he was a genius. No one even came close to his brilliance at improv. But it gave me a headache, like the one and only time I ever took speed my freshman year at college, studying for finals. More like a steady, fast headthump than a headache.

But, those parts Williams played so convincingly in “Dead Poet’s Society” and “Good Will Hunting” — I loved him in those roles.  The protector; a calm, stable figure that gives reassurance and hope, who makes us smile a little when we need it most – it’s as if he played those parts so well because that’s what he himself needed most in his life, for those people to exist. We all need for those people to exist. Whenever I need one, I know where I can forever find one. O captain, my captain.

As promised, back to “reaching out” and “getting help”:

My friend Rick went to a funeral on the day Robin Williams committed suicide, the funeral of a  friend of his who had also committed suicide. Rick learned, too late, that his friend suffered from depression. Initially Rick was sad and felt guilty, that he didn’t know about his friend’s condition. Then he was angry, that his friend didn’t reach out.

“Do you think you could have saved him?”

We’ll never know.

My friend Matt posted this on Facebook, later that same week:

Lately I’ve had a powerful sense of impending doom.
Frankly, a lot of the recent news hasn’t helped.
A friend & teacher lies in a coma. 
Dad’s 88 and forgetting more & more, eating less & less.
And all those famous folks who meant quite a bit to me dying pulls at my reserves too.

I’m gonna have some coffee now

And I though that was cool of him, to “reach out, ” in his own way. But then one of his friends commented this:

Hugs. Try to spend some time in the sun today.

Hugs. Time in the sun.

If someone gave me that advice when I’m down, I would know they meant well, and for that reason alone my only response would be, “Thank you.” But in terms of effectiveness, they might as well tell me to dance with fucking unicorns on fucking rainbows. Because anyone who knows me knows I’m not a unicorns and rainbows kinda gal.

But that’s just me.

How one finds their way to effectively (very important qualifier there) reach out and get help is as personal as our fingerprints. Knowing yourself and what works for you – and, most importantly, sharing that information with others – is key. Because what works for some might have the completely opposite effect on others. Hugs. Try to spend some time in the sun today. Fuck you.

Here’s what I suggest:

Find what works for you, something you KNOW makes you smile a little. A panda video. A goat video. Your favorite Robin William’s movie. Maybe a unicorn dancing on a rainbow video. Be specific. Then, tell all your friends. I mean, really put it out there. Especially tell your friends who make you smile a little just by being themselves. I’m not suggesting this as a cure. Rather… just something to get you through that really, really dark moment. You know the one.

As for me: If I ever reach out, please do NOT wish me social media hugs, or tell me to spend some time in the sun today. Here’s why: Because seeing shiny happy people get off just by being in the sun makes me feel completely impotent that I can’t get it up and be grateful for the blessing of that miracle that is the sunny day. Which makes me feel shittier. Maybe you agree. Maybe getting some sun works for you, and that’s great. But for me, just hearing those words, in that state, makes me cringe.

Instead, quote me some Blazing Saddles or early SNL sketches, or really bad ’70’s song lyrics. That usually helps a little.

A final word on Robin Williams.

By all accounts, he was that rare celebrity who, when people encountered him, went out of his way to make sure they were okay, easing their pain or fear, or just making sure they had a reason to smile that day. Because he understood, perhaps too well, pain and fear – and the importance of having a reason to smile.

May you be smiling now, Mr. Williams. And thank you for the smiles, so many smiles, that you gave.

May 9 2014

Why I Hate Mother’s Day

Me and mine: Our first Mother’s Day together.

I hate Mothers Day. That’s not true, I don’t hate Mother’s day.

But I did. And it’s not because I don’t have a mother. Okay, I admit, that’s a big part of it. Mother’s day is a big brunch holiday. And nine times out of ten, the family looks miserable. And it pisses me off.

There are the reunited siblings who can’t stand each other; silently tolerating one another for the duration of this brunch for mom’s sake. There’s dad, cranky because there’s no goddamn steak on the brunch menu. Then, there’s Mom. She’s young and relishing her new title of Mother. Or she’s middle-aged, and relieved that they chose a decent restaurant with good Bloody Marys. Or she’s old, and grateful that she and her husband are still alive to enjoy Mother’s Day. I want to sit next the old mothers and put my head on their shoulder.

I have an overwhelming urge to go up to every one of these tables, every one of them, and say: Do you know you lucky you are, you idiotic ingrate, that you get to spend time with your mother?

But then I remind myself: Not everyone has the mother I had. She died of a brain aneurysm when she was fifty. I was nineteen. I never got the chance to ask her all the life questions, questions I could never have anticipated at nineteen. Questions that come up when you’re first engaged; when you’re going through a heartbreaking divorce; when you’re told you’ll never be a mother yourself. And no matter how old I get, the hurt never lessens, when one of those Mother questions comes up (do they ever stop coming up?) Or when I see a Mother at the head of the brunch table on her special day.

Not every moment of those nineteen years was perfect. We fought. She embarrassed me (as most 12-15 year olds are embarrassed by everything about their parents). But I swear, she was one of those people who truly made life magical. My father was overly protective of his only daughter, the youngest. To the point where his auto-response to everything I asked permission to do was “No.” He meant well. He didn’t want to see me fail, or get hurt, or whatever. That sort of constant “No” could have resulted in a pretty broken spirit, an “I-can’t-do-anything” mindset in a very insecure woman. But my mother was there at the opposite pole to balance things out. If I said to her “I want to fly to the moon.” She’s say, “Okay, how are you going to get there? What’s your plan?” Nothing I wanted to do was immediately impossible, or no. She’d ask “How?” first. And if it was impossible, she knew I’d see it for myself if I thought it through a little longer.

She always wanted a daughter, and she and my father agreed on three children. Firstborn: boy. Secondborn: boy. Thirdborn: boy. But he died. I don’t recall if he was stillborn, or died shortly after birth. So they tried again: girl. Me. Needless to say, I was destined to be spoiled by my mother. She was the oldest child of Norwegian immigrants who barely spoke English (with twin siblings eight years younger than herself). Her own father was a drinker and would disappear for periods of time. She was forced to be an adult at a young age. With me, she rediscovered the joys of childhood, of having a future ahead of you where anything is possible. Something that was taken from her that she made damn sure I had.

But she died almost thirty years ago. And I think about her less and less… and I hate it. I don’t want to forget. Sometimes I force myself to think about memories that don’t have any photographic evidence to support them, just so that they don’t fade away. But at this point, my life memories that don’t include her far outnumber those that do.

Back to Mother’s Day. What to do with Mother’s Day when you don’t have a mother? There’s the obvious: Call all the mothers in your life that you cherish: friends, cousins, neighbors; and tell them all that you love them. But that always reminds me of her absence — that I’m trying to make the most of the situation. Mother’s Day needed new meaning for me.

Last year was the first happy Mother’s Day since 1983. It was the first with my newly-adopted rescue pup, Picard, who has aroused some long-dormant maternal instincts in me. Providing love and a happy home to another is indescribably satisfying, life with Picard has taught me.

This year I have a whole new celebration planned: A girlfriend, also motherless, has re-entered my life after a few years of estrangement, which began shortly after my ex-husband and I separated. I’ve come to learn that she was going through a separation (and eventually, divorce) of her own during that time. So we’re going to spend Mother’s Day together. Cooking, eating, drinking, catching up, and celebrating our Mothers with the joy and gratitude that I wish those miserable-looking people at brunch could appreciate.

That’s where I feel lucky, because I had the greatest mother that ever lived. I’d rather have the nineteen years I had with my mother than ninety years of anything less. I just wish you could have met her.

Dec 15 2013

R.I.P., Tin Soldier

How Tom Laughlin & Billy Jack raised the bar for men.

Death had a goddamn field day this week. Today I learned that Tom Laughlin, creator of the Billy Jack character/films, passed on Thursday. This is one of those deaths that affects me more deeply than most. I first saw Billy Jack when I was around nine. It was the first adult film with a strong political/societal message that got me in the gut. I’m certain the director Peter Weir felt the same, because the famous

“O Captain My Captain” scene at the end of Dead Poet’s Society

is pure homage to the final scene of this film. I became a little obsessed with the movie, and the song, One Tin Soldier, which did — and I just learned, still does — make me cry upon every listen. Plus I had a huge crush on Tom Laughlin. Or Billy Jack. That might have been the imprint of my “ideal man”: fair minded, stoic, tender, dark eyed, and one will stop at no means to stop — rather, will beat the shit out of — anyone who threatens who or what is dear to him.

It’s so random. Why do some things, some people, affect us so very uniquely and profoundly; and the random chance of simply those things entering our life. How the hell did “Billy Jack” even get on my 9-year old radar? Trust me, it wasn’t my parents or my brothers. I’m just grateful it did.