Thursday, December 31, 2009


I just read over at Elizabeth's blog that not only is it a full moon, but it's a lunar eclipse and the end of the decade. I haven't sat down to write any lists this year, and wishes for the decade even, so maybe this will be a gentle version of that.

I had a huge epiphany that most of my "to do" next year lists only end up making me feel like a bit of a loser come January when I haven't exercised, written a book, cooked organically, saved the world, what have you. And it occurred to me that it's only the need to do everything perfectly that's keeping me from doing any of it. So, at the risk of sounding like a Nike commercial, if I have any wish for myself, it's to just do it and forget about the outcome. And see what happens then.

Make mistakes.

And learn from them.

That's my wish for 2010 and beyond.

Wouldn't that be fun.

So I have a list of books to read, as usual, and things to do. But overall, I'm just going to take a stab.

I hear the best time to cut your hair (according to folk wisdom) is a new moon. It grows faster that way. I'm hoping the best time for hopes is a full moon, as they're fuller that way.

I get to start mine off by making food for friends in dear friends' house with an amazing kitchen. That's a great and warm way to start the new year.

Okay, one to-do. Cook more for people I love. That's never a bad thing.

Thursday, December 17, 2009

Silhouette's 2009

I used to hate script analysis. I had this teacher in undergrad who had an entire class that you had to take for the degree based on Harold Clurman’s teaching. The end of the seminar was crowned, like a Christmas tree star, or a giving birth, actually, by a 50-page paper filling in the outline of the script analysis. It was the only all-nighter I did in college. I had to find the spine, polar attitudes, yadayadayada. I think I got one of the worst grades I ever got on anything, and knew less about “Three Sisters” than when I started. I do think it’s useful—I heard a great interview with Carol Channing saying she couldn’t figure out Dolly Levi until she found the spine, so it does work, I just wasn't getting it at the time.

Flash forward another couple of years, and I’m studying with a professor, Carol Rosen, on the other side of the country. She has us look at plays from what Peter Brook calls “silhouette, or that image that stays in your mind once the play is done. That thing you experience, reading or seeing a play, that will be burned into your mind. For many, that’s something like Ophelia’s death in Hamlet—you never see it, but everyone remembers it. I think I was looking at "The Seagull", and caught on to Masha’s dancing to the sound of Constantin’s violin as she’s talking about loving him and how she’s going to “tear this love out of my heart, tear it out by the roots” while dancing to his music. I’ve never forgotten that image. It gave me a way into the play. Now, after doing that with other plays, I know “Three Sisters” pretty darn well, too. I’ll always thank her for that. It opened up how I experienced something – start with the image you won’t forget, and that’s the candle flame that will light the rest of the way for you.

I was thinking about silhouettes the other day, and thinking about what images were burned into my mind this year from movies. And, I think, I’ll expand it to theater. Here are a few, in no particular order**:

**If you haven’t seen some of these things, more than likely there are SPOILERS**

La Danse - Medea

Angelin Preljocaj coaches Delphin Moussin in a scene from Medea in Frederick Wiseman’s doc. We see her working her way into it, rehearsing with him and by herself. He coaches her in a gesture Medea makes to end the ballet, after she has killed her children. She just opens her hand as if she’s blowing away a dandelion. He says it’s not explicable, it’s ineffable, and she’ll have to know what it means and trust the audience. The moment she performs it is spine chilling. I don’t have an order to this list, but to have a moment that feels like performance and those feelings on film is rare. So thrilling.

Helen Mirren – Phedre

Great performance broadcast on screens by the National Theater. Although I kind of giggle now at all the British calling her what sounds like “fedge”, hee, the performance was astounding. The grimace on her face as she stopped what she was doing, lifted her arms, looked at herself and said “I stink of incest” was mind-boggling. Tour-de-force.

Fantastic Mr. Fox

I loved this movie. There are a few things I remember, but it felt like a gust of air entered the theatre the moment the three bandits stop on the road to talk to a wolf. The wolf’s austere silence was riveting, in marked contrast to the hi-jinks before. Even more, the movie became expansive and resonant unexpectedly, as shocking for me as if he would have walked into the theater. All at once there was doom, fear, possibility, sadness, gratitude all at one moment. I have no idea why that moment hit me that way, but it did. The scene in front of the waterfall was pretty fab, too.

Julie and Julia – Meryl Streep

Another wonderful performance by Meryl Streep, of the she who can do no wrong category (and I still kind of think that even after seeing “It’s Complicated” last night-eesh). There was so much about this perf that I loved, and I really hope she gets a deserved 3rd Oscar for it—only 2nd lead for those who are keeping score. The moment for me was at the train station, when she finally meets her friend Avis (Deborah Rush) with whom she has only corresponded. Julia walks up to Avis and simply takes her head in her hands and says “It’s you”. Streep makes this moment so beautiful, with the layers in the line from “how wonderful” to “how could it not have been” to “why has it been so long” and mostly, “of course”. It’s surprising, delightful, and rich, which is what she specializes in. That moment just got me, right…here….

Precious – Mo’Nique

Mo’Nique is surprising in this movie. Not only does she show herself extremely gifted as a serious actress in a role that could have been easily overdone, she does it in a way you’re simultaneously empathetic and disgusted. What I’ll remember is her sitting in the social worker’s office (another surprise – Mariah Carey—who knew?), giving the aria of a lifetime. To start it’s probably one of the most disturbing monologues I’ve ever seen. On top of that, she just keeps that engine running, discovering with us as the character is voicing, more than likely for the first time, what heinous ideas have forced her to ruin her life and those around her. She is a beast, but it’s the richness of the performance that she is discovering this along with us. I was gobsmacked. Truly.

Lydia – Octavio Solis

I wish more people saw this. I was floored by this play. I was emotionally brought low. Beautifully performed, including a skilled, superb performance by Stephanie Beatriz as Lydia. I won’t go into too much of the plot, but there’s a girl who’s been in an accident right before her quincinera, and her mother brings home a young illegal girl to take care of her. It’s set in El Paso in the 70’s. There’s a lot of drama, including an older brother who turns out to be gay and is gay-bashing for thrills. The tragedy in the center of the play is revealed through flashback and, um, possession, really, but I won’t ruin it for you. That aspect is like a reverse “Suddenly, Last Summer”, where the gays aren’t destroyed physically, but the act of hatred at the center causes damage to those who don’t accept the love of the two men. I don’t want to ruin it so I’m being vague-ish, but what I won’t forget is the girl downstage center, Ceci, played by Onahoua Rodriguez, writhing on her mattress through most of the action of the play. She does get up and talk, but watching her succumb again to her physical state after narrating to us is heart-breaking. It wasn’t my favorite performance in the play, but her physical work was excellent. I’m running out of superlatives here, but suffice it to say it was a pang each time she went back. Her physicality throughout the play to be basically a large spastic infant was precise, fierce and committed. I wish wish wish more people had seen it.

There may be more, but those come to mind right now. Feel free to share your year-end silhouettes and link away.

Thursday, December 10, 2009

Word of the Day

I was just reading my friend Patrick's blog Man.Hat in. about the subway, vertigo, and running into people. I love his blog because it does remind me of what I loved about New York (as opposed to all the other stuff that got to me), and what I still do.

Anyhow, as I finished reading it the word flâneur popped into my head. I was thinking I liked the word vertigo and was thinking of others. I don't know that I even could tell you what it means. In fact, it conjured up pictures of copper bottom cookware, blue flames, and caramel desert. Flâneur, n., a French person who makes flan.

Actually, from the link above, you'll see that it means someone who strolls the city leisurely, aesthetically observing and enjoying. I have been a flâneur in NY and in Seattle, and now in LA. I love exploring the places I live (although in LA you drive, which is not nearly as rewarding). People seem to think I've lived places longer than I have, and it's only because I'm curious about cities I live in and their history.

There are two French verbs "to know" - connaître and savoir. One is for things you know absolutely (savoir), like a math problem; the other for things you can never know completely but be familiar with (connaître), like a person or a city. How excellent is that? You can never know completely a city. Like Steve Martin said, "Those French - they have a different word for everything!"

And Patrick, as you'll note from his blog is King Flâneur, in the best way. It says there's no English word equivalent, so we'll use the French. And I love the weird synchronicity of that word popping into my head. I am enamored of a word that desribes someone savoring the place they live, with no other aim than to enjoy it and pass that on. C'est magnifique!

Wednesday, December 09, 2009


I have so many opinions.

I went to see NINE last night, and I just have so many opinions. I love 8 1/2 and I love the B'way musical, so I know I'm biased, but I still have opinions. Which I will share once it's open and guard against spoilers.

I also have opinions about Inglorious Basterds, A Serious Man, and some others. They've all been knocking on my door lately.

So has busy, busy time at work, rehearsal and opening a play. Tonight, though, I have a little free time, so perhaps I will work on getting some of them down here. I'd actually like that.

In the meantime, enjoy this

If anyone can find "La Dolce Gilda" from Saturday Night Live, I'd love to know where that lives on the web. It should. Too brilliant.

Monday, December 07, 2009


It's raining here in LA. It's so lovely when it does, and unlike anywhere else I've lived it also comes with the anticipation of lovely days following. The rain here clears all the air, smoke, smog, fog, clouds away, and usually the next day is pristine. It's then I love driving by the hills and seeing all the houses tucked in their greenery; seeing the ring of mountains looking out over Glendale from the Hyperion bridge. Everything feels at once close and expansive and so clear. I love those days.

But for today, it's this beautiful rain. The hills get very green and misty the longer it rains, and it feels like you're in Costa Rica. Last winter, they were so green it was like Ireland (but only for a moment). The grass is so vibrant, though, and it reminds me of why I love rain so much.

In honor of that (and to negate my earlier poetry rejection post when I was slightly crabby about free verse), I'm posting my favorite poem with rain in it. I heard it first in "Hannah and her Sisters", and at one point started cutting out letters to make a collage of it on my home wall in college (like the previous word wall post). That never happened. I do love the poem, though.

Here it is in the Woody Allen movie.

You can skip to 6:16, but this clip has some great stuff, including the best line (I hate April. She's pushy.) and the old Pagaent book shop which is sadly now a restaurant. It's a beautiful, gray New York. Durn, I love this movie.

Anyhow, I digress. For now, the truly luscious e.e. cummings poem:

somewhere i have never travelled, gladly beyond
any experience, your eyes have their silence:
in your most frail gesture are things which enclose me,
or which i cannot touch because they are too near

your slightest look easily will unclose me
though i have closed myself as fingers,
you open always petal by petal myself as Spring opens
(touching skilfully, misteriously) her first rose

or if your wish be to close me, i and
my life will shut very beautifully, suddenly,
as when the heart of this flower imagines
the snow carefully everywhere descending;

nothing we are to perceive in this world equals
the power of your intense fragility: whose texture
compels me with the colour of its countries,
rendering death and forever with each breathing

(i do not know what it is about you that closes
and opens; only something in me understands
the voice of your eyes is deeper than all roses)
nobody, not even the rain, has such small hands

Friday, December 04, 2009

Uncommon Cabin

Pursuant to my post before last about wall decals, I was leafing through a Summer 2008 issue of Metropolitan Home at my doctor's office, and saw this picture of a Yeats poem painted on to a cosy library wallin a family cabin in Texas.

How wonderful is that?

So I thought I'd share.

Some day. ;)

Anna Deavere Smith

I was podcasting Science Friday on NPR, and they were interviewing Anna Deavere-Smith about her one-woman show at 2nd Stage called "Let Me Down Easy", which is about health care. I kind of love when you're being geeky and then something like an amazing theater artist who you truly admire surprises you. You can listen to the interview on the link.

The show, which hopefully will travel, is culled from over 300 interviews, whittled to 20 to make an evening of theater. It's great to hear her talk about her process, and also to hear a few of the characters. One of my favorites is a bull rider who talks about having emergency surgery. You can see her do him here as well by selecting Bull Rider of the four characters she does. This is an earlier story, but the same guy. If you have time, you can watch them all.

I had the pleasure of seeing her do some characters at a benefit. Some people have criticized her as mimicry, but it feels deeper than that. She has an interest in being both transformational shaping an evening of theater. She never comments on her characters while she's playing them, and though any editing will shape a piece to lead the audience to a desired experience, she's about as documentary as it gets for theater. I find her work thrilling. When I saw her, she was followed by Jessye Norman singing "Balm in Gilead" and I had to hold the railing of the church balcony in front of me to not completely break down. It's transformational work for the audience as well. Here website links to a site under construction called "arts and civil dialogue". I think that's it.

And she's in Nurse Jackie and teaches at NYU. I love how she can do all of that.

I hope we get a chance to see her out here.

Thursday, December 03, 2009

Dali Decals

I'm loving this site. I do not have these immaculate spaces augmented and clarified by graphics. But if I did, I would get some. I like the trees and shapes. I'm getting the decal above to put above my stove. Seems like a good place for it.


So this show I'm in opens tomorrow night. Tonight is invited dress. It's been fun to rehearse, fun to see how this all works again. I haven't done a run of a play in about 4 years. Certainly nothing where I played a character that has to be sustained. I've forgotten how much of a fun, constant challenge it is.

On the challenging side, we've had three people with cold or flus, one who had the swine flu, one who was feeling nauseated and sick last night, one recovering from a bout in the hospital from bad diabetes medication and bacterial infection. And one cast member was fired yesterday for not being able to make the character work. So it's been quite a lot of mishegoss. Last night was the first time all the characters have been together for a run, and some of the costumes still aren't finished.

But, if memory serves from the last time, when I was working on light cues 5 hour before the show and then we had a brownout, it's par for the course. Did I mention the artistic director lives in DC, so he flies out here once a month but runs the company from 3000 miles away? It's built in for drama.

It's good to be with funny people and have a good time. It's a play.

I suggested it would be fun to have caricatures instead of headshots in the lobby, since the play was based on a Christmas card that my friend Ray sent out (Sean Abley wrote a very fun, funny play that he's directed as well). He's done them, and they're all fun. I'd love the set. Below is me. I told him I look like I have bags under my eyes, and he said no, I just have prominent underlids. HA! That made me laugh out loud. So prominent underlids and all, here's the caricature. Great job.

Sunday, November 29, 2009


Tonight I went to see the Beatles show at the Laserium on Hollywood with some friends. It was quite a show. The nine of us made up 3/4 of the audience in this huge old movie theater. I left thinking I had visited 1985, and reminded of how great the Beatles are. They really are. You take that for granted, and then you're forced to sit in an auditorium and listen to their music for 45 minutes and you muse about how they straddled pop and experiment brilliantly. Wow.

On the way there we realized it was the Hollywood Christmas parade, so the streets were closed off and packed with people. When we left the theater, we were in time to see a giant Sam balloon from Dr. Suess, and Dog the Bounty Hunter, who was a crowd favorite. It's truly an odd parade. There were a couple of backpackers who looked like homeless teens walking past, with a black cat tied on top of the bundle. From the front it looked like the cat was balancing of her own volition, but from the back you realized she was tied down. And cats love that--being tied to things, and crowds.

I also saw the Globe's production of Love's Labor's Lost this weekend as well, but I'm hoping to write something more substantial about it. I will say it's quite a wacky show.

I woke up this morning sad that it was Sunday and that I have to go to work tomorrow, but I'm grateful for employment. And I did a lot of clearing this weekend--a friend suggested that I could put a lot of my books in the garage and clean up book clutter. That was revolutionary. My living room feels much larger. I still have a lot of books out, but there's a little more breathing space. More room to read, and more room for more books - ha.

Friday, November 27, 2009

And we're back...

SO, after a brief stomach flu and Thanksgiving, we're back.

I went to see La Danse last weekend, as promised. It's wonderful, though I wouldn't go so far as to say it's the best dance movie ever made, as some have said. If you like watching dancers rehearse, then it probably is. If not, your patience might be tried.

Me, I love watching any artistic process, from weaving to acrobatics, so I was totally into it. Frederick Wiseman followed the dancers around, concentrating mostly on rehearsal and performance of several pieces, including “Genus,” by Wayne McGregor; “Paquita,” by Pierre Lacotte; “The Nutcracker,” by Rudolph Nureyev; “Medea,” by Angelin Preljocaj; “The House of Bernarda Alba,” by Mats Ek; “Romeo and Juliet,” by Sasha Waltz; and “Orpheus and Eurydyce,” by Pina Bausch.

Wiseman follows the dancers around in every aspect of rehearsal, capturing solo time as well, especially of Delphine Moussin as she prepares to dance Medea. We watch her mark her performance, working out details painstakingly as she figures out the character. The choreographer works with her on a final moment, and we seem the discussing a particular gesture, the final gesture in the piece. Later in the film, we watch her dance the role in performance, ending in a the gesture spoken of. It doesn't strike a chord in the rehearsal, but seen in context with a fully committed performer, the moment is spine-tingling.

Also incredible are things like watching Marie Agnes Gillot in a crazy challenging pas de deux as part of this piece, Genus, By Wayne McGregor (not her, but this is the ballet--her portion was full of really close partnering, unbelievably quick isolations, and what looked to me like ballet hip-hop ending with her being lowered to the ground):

And then watching her do this insane number of pirouettes, seemingly endlessly, in Paquita (I think). Even the people watching in rehearsal stop to say how incredible she is. It's astounding to watch what they can do. Here below is the style and the dncer, but not the clip:

What's brilliant about it as well is that Wiseman explores every corner. Silent hallways, building exteriors. And, of course, the artistic director Brigitte LeFevre, who is a force of nature. We watch her talking to dancers, counseling on the phone, in marketing meetings, talking to choreographers. In one session she speaks to a choreographer about the heirarchical nature of the company, and the importance of using an "etoile" (star) in a ballet if you have them, rather than just as part of an ensemble. That, she says, would be like buying a sports car and driving it 6 miles per hour. She's riveting to watch as well.

Wiseman also films the costumers, the cafeteria workers, the janitors, the laborers, and the man who cleans the auditorium. And, without saying anything explicit, you might realize for yourself that the only people of any color are the painters, cleaners, the concierge, and the cashier in the cafeteria. The dancers are all European. As are the choreographers. It's not explicit, but it became noticeable to me, especially considering the young man vacuuming the auditorium had the same build as many of the male dancers. Wiseman shows everything--the water in the basement, and the beekeeper on the roof (what a surprise that was). It's a true documentary--documenting. No narration, no interviews, fly on the wall.

The most enjoyable thing for me to watch was the capture of that difficult work to make something good great. All the dancers in the film are great, though some are obviously better (you begin to discern that as well). The stars are stars for a reason. But it's thrilling to watch an incredibly gifted performer work to make it even better. I can't remember that ever being captured on film, or at least this well. It's wonderful when two older cantankerous dancer/coaches are arguing about what they like and what they don't, all the while coaching an exquisite dancer about what needs improvement while she's rehearsing.

These dancers are incredible athletes and artists. It's funny--I've been watching So You Think You Can Dance, which I enjoy a lot. After watching the dancers in this film, though, I can see the difference in that rigorous training and work. Not to say the SYTYCD dancers don't work hard, but what an incredible difference having a company that challenges a corps of artists to stretch every muscle and work at their best. I wish we had something like that in this country. It's truly a gem.

Friday, November 20, 2009


So excited - off to see La Danse tonight, so I'll report back. More plumbing mishaps and my own rehearsals and business have stopped some of my writing momentum, but there's going to be much on the horizon, including A Single Man and Nine. Also, really intersted in Jews on film this year--that's accounted for a great deal of my most emotional reactions to a couple of pieces, so I hope to blog about that. As long as the plumbing holds as it's supposed to.

A note about the above--Leonid Andreyev, Russian Writer and photographer. He wrote "He Who Gets Slapped", which I was actually in in grad school (yikes on that one, really), and also developed a color process for film in the 1910s, which is why that color photo is from the early part of the century. I have always wanted that book, but I don't think it's available. Should've bought it in 1989 when we got it in the bookstore where I was working. Ah well, missed chances. Below is a portrait by Repin, who was responsible for another striking painting I blogged about earlier. I guess I have a thing about bearded Russians.

Sunday, November 15, 2009

Fantastic Mr. Fox

This was quite a weekend. Friday, my toilet backed up, not from anything I did, but sewage back up from the pipes below. Saturday, the plumbers came over, and stayed for five hours.I found out that my apartment is the end of the line for the sewage system, and that all the tributaries had been blocked. The plumbers were great and conscientious, but still my kitchen and bathroom floors were covered in black sludge, and it was tracked through on the floors.

On the bright side, I was at home cleaning for five hours on Saturday, did some sorting and pitching I've been meaning to do, went to Target and got shelf paper and lysol, and went to town on everything. Today I washed my rugs, I put shelf paper on some cabinets I've been meaning to, and I've mopped my floors and treated them with antibacterial spray about 4 times. So everything is sparkling. IN the midst of the plumbers being here, I was looking for something to do and I peeled a pomegranate, putting the seeds in the refrigerator for use on yogurt, and I also pulled brussel sprouts of the stalk I had bought and sauteed them in a wok with ghee and a little salt.

From this, I found out once again I like to be busy. Again.

And I also learned that sometimes something that seems like a mishap can actually turn out to be a good thing--I have cleaner pipes, cleaner shelves, food for the week, and clean floors.

Work even did that for me--what was a week of anxiety, no sleep, soul-searching turned out to give me a new focus and vision as well as clarity on why I am where I am and if
I am interested in that moving forward. And that I needed.

I suppose I'm trying to relate this to "Fantastic Mr. Fox", the wonder-ful new movie from Wes Anderson--mostly about one supposedly bad experience leading to new clarity. I loved this movie. I didn't know the book, which is surprising since "James and the Giant Peach" was in my top three growing up of repeat reads. And I imagine, if I had read it, FMF might have been the same. I heard an interview with Wes Anderson this weekend, who said that this book was the first piece of property he owned, and that is the copy he kept going back to while making this film. And that's not surprising to hear. The film itself feels well-loved, and I don't think that would have been possible without a deep affection for the source.

It's beautifully shot, imaginatively directed, with a great sense of whimsy, but also of relationships. It feels simultaneously grounded and ridiculous, which for me is the best kind of "kids" movie. The voice talent is spectacular, rooted in the central relationship of Mr. and Mrs. Fox voiced by George Clooney and Meryl Streep. I don't know of two other actors who could have pulled this off. He has to be charming enough to lead an entire brigade, and she has to be charmed enough, but also aware of all his failings. I'm making it sound much more mundane than it plays. He's a reporter; she's a landscape painter. Anderson also has fun with the son, Ash, voiced by Jason Schwartzmann, and his perfect cousin Kristofferson, voiced by Eric Anderson. Also along are Bill Murray, Owen Wilson, Willem Dafoe and Michael Gambon as a the most terrifying of the trio of villians. It's a can't-lose with the voices, really.

The story concerns Mr. Fox who can't help, well, being a fox. And his existential crisis sets off the action of the film:

"Why a fox? Why not a horse, or a beetle, or a bald eagle? I'm saying this more as, like, existentialism, you know? Who am I? And how can a fox ever be happy without, you'll forgive the expression, a chicken in its teeth?"

He creates all the situations that he has to get out of himself, because that's who he is. If he's not wily, he has nothing to do. So an act of theft, which for him is a thrill ride and in his nature, sets of a chain of revenge that effects everyone around him. In the end, everyone probably would have been better off if he hadn't done what he did, but who's to say? Through the actions of Mr. Fox and the events they set off, everyone finds out that the best thing that these animals can do is be the animals they are--that no matter how civilized they are, they'll always revert back to their basic natures. It could be looked at as bleak, but I saw it more that it was necessary for each of them to what they do best when put to the test; by being who they were, they were able to adapt and find a way out of the situation. Those natures are never far. In a brilliant bit, the animals never eat food, even at a table with a suit on, they devour it. By coming back to their animal natures and strengths, they are able to come back to some kind of status quo. And, of course learn something in the process. Of course, you could probably get something else out of it, too.

The animation is careful, hysterical, and meticulous. I can't wait to see it again to just see the details that I missed. The beginning just made me giddy, with a weasel real estate agent, fast-talking squirrel movers, and an adolescent, tooth-brushing fox. But it's the richness of the relationships that will keep me coming back - The chemistry classroom scene alone with a poor Ash realizing he's losing the interest of his lab partner to his perfect cousin is worth the price of admission. It reminds me of what Rankin/Bass did mixed with the sensibility of a Wes Anderson film and Wallace and Gromit. Near the end, in the climax, there's a moment where the film stops and you realize there's more in the world, and that threats lurk - I won't ruin it by telling what it is, since then you'll wait for it, but it's just another great layer in a suprisingly layered, satisfying film. I hope a lot of kids see it.

In the words of Mrs. Fox, "You know, you really are...fantastic."

Monday, November 09, 2009


I had the pleasure of seeing "To Be Straight With You", a piece by the UK based dance theater group DV8. The piece is about homosexual oppression, across the world, but mainly centered in Islamic and fundamentalist Christian countries. It’s true documentary theater; all text came from interviews. It was beautifully done, though I had a couple of moments where I wanted a little more.

The movement was fantastic. One actor did a monologue as a 15 year old muslim boy who was kicked out of his home for being gay. He did the entire thing while jumping rope. The same actor did a monologue of a man explaining his dual life, with a wife and a male lover, while doing intense Bollywood style dance to Shakira –and at one point joined by a man doing the same dance behind him, mirroring him. Not without humor. What blows me away is the acting skill of all the performers while dancing. It is movement, but some of it is just straight out dance. The more static moments of straight theater actually felt a little less effective to me.

It feels odd being critical of this at all, since the subject matter is so serious and pressing. It’s apparent there is a growing Muslim community in the UK, as well as a Jamaican and native Christian community that can be very violent. They address the Buju Banton “murder music”, projecting translations of the lyrics calling for gay men to be burned and killed. Those are heart-stopping. The stories of violence, oppression, and death seem endless, coupled with never-ending hate speech. One segment that sticks with me is a performer speaking the words of an imam talking about reconciling his religion and sexuality and the community difficulties while reacting suddenly from invisible forces bearing down on him and surprising him from all sides. Fear.

The projections used are incredible. There is a spinning globe which a performer uses to highlight different countries and modes of punishment. One man explains his many lives as father, husband, imam, and gay man while walking through borders of a comic book. Two women tell there stories, completely drawn and illustrated but for hands and faces.

The performers are beyond skilled, the movement is wonderful. There were a lot of moments, with the movement itself, where I was astounded they were doing what they were doing.

I would say, as a US viewer, some of the dialects were challenging to understand. And from where we were some of the sound was muddy, but that's probably the hall we were in.

One of the criticisms I have is that the women were underutilized (one astounding sequence had a woman with her arms bent at the elbows, spinning and doing Chaîné turns in an oval shape for about two minutes while speaking the words of a 70-year old rabbi saying “I’m very tired”). The women I was with mentioned it often felt like this in pieces generated by gay men, and I imagine it’s that and just the invisibility in general—in some ways it speaks even more to the oppression.

The other thing I felt was that it was a documentary without a form - I didn’t know what the point or the focus was. It had segments, but no overall form, and was an exploration of issues only by accident, not by shape. There were a lot of issues raised from the breadth of the interviews, but since this touched on so many (violence, rape, misogyny, religion) it almost felt diffuse. You could do an entire show about the murder music in Jamaica and men being stoned to death; on women in Africa and sexual oppression; on the double lives of Muslim men; on the growing Muslim community in the UK and intolerance; on closeted gay men beating other gay men out of self hatred (in one heartbreaking scene a man has gone to prison for 4 ½ years for assault on gay men and only once out of prison can he admit he’s gay). So I know it’s probably an impossibility to focus it, but it felt a little like one awful injustice after another. Yes, people were safer in the UK and had asylum, but there is still the brokenness and disappointment. It’s quite intense. The focus, if there was one, was on religious persecution being the base.

I also wanted more physical connection. The women held hands, the men barely touched. Perhaps they’re known for that and wanted to depart? I don’t know, but I do know it would have added a level to have actual physical intimacy on stage. Not only to affirm gay/lesbian desire/affection/eroticism, but perhaps to point out the audience’s own discomfort (if they had it) to gay/lesbian affection and desire. And for a production that had no problem illustrating violence, it seemed squeamish about desire. Maybe like our culture--violence is fine, sex is to a point, but affection is odd and threatening.

Which leads me to the big question— what is this for and will people see this who need to? At least in LA, in a theater that was nowhere near close to sold out, it felt like preaching to the converted. I hope that when it toured in the UK it was seen in schools. The other thing that might have helped would have been more information on how to help. What to do. One prominent activist is interviewed speaking about how he has been harassed and threatened with death. It’s obvious this is life-threatening. I would have thought there would have been a website or instructions on what action could be taken. Maybe that’s just me, but if we’re just watching it, and doing nothing about it, while clucking our tongues, who does that help?

For me, I realized that the company I work for does business with countries where I would be jailed, imprisoned, or put to death. That was disturbing for me to think about. I need my job. I’m sure much of this is coming about now that we are a global culture. Like it or not, we are all connected. And some of this is finding out maybe you don’t necessarily want to be connected. I haven’t figured it out.

I guess I got gratitude for the freedoms we have here, and knowledge of just how precious they are, and how different it is in the UK right now. We’re protected from a lot, I think. And I was reminded of the power of theatre, and why I fell in love with doing it in the first place.

I hope to hell we can keep our freedoms. If nothing else this reminds me of all we have, and why we fight so hard.

Here’s a trailer for the show:

I couldn’t find sequences online, but I did find Dead Dreams of Monochrome Men a film DV8 did from the late eighties. I guess the whole film is loaded on youbtube. Handy

Thursday, November 05, 2009

La Danse

One of my favorite movies of recent years is Tout près des étoiles: Les danseurs de l'Opéra de Paris, a wonderful 2001 documentary about the Paris Opera Ballet. I love it. I saw it twice in the theatre (the dinky Cinema Village in NY), and have seen it on DVD several times. I have a wierd obsession with dance movies, most specifically ballet. I don't know why, and really, why analyze it? The movement is spectacular, and I probably like the military regimen in the service of art. And, frankly, it's astounding what these people can do. And, I do love the Red Shoes - here you can read my hero-worship.

So, I'm basically completely stoked about the new three hour documentary on the Opera Ballet, Frederick Wiseman'sLa Danse, The Paris Opera Ballet. 3 solid hours of watching technically accomplished performers do what they love and talk about it. Heaven.

Here's the trailer

Monday, November 02, 2009


Feel like posting something, so I'll share that I submitted 4 poems to Poetry Magazine. Not expecting much--I don't read a lot of contemporary poetry and much of what I read I don't find interesting--but just the action was nice. Once they're (or I should say if) they're rejected, I'll post them.

It's so easy to submit things on line now. Crazy.

Sunday, November 01, 2009

Smackdown '56

Check me out over at the 1956 Supporting Actress Smackdown. Really interesting year, and some movies I'd never seen, like The Bad Seed.

Just saw Michael Jackson's This is It. Not sure I needed to, now that I've seen it. I was told by a lot of people how great it was, and it is, to watch the rehearsals--but I've never been a huge fan. It's clear how talented he is, and how many people are devoted to him, but it's more interesting for me as a look at a talented artist, hero worship, and just how sad the whole thing is. I'm sad for him and his family, but also for all the dancers and musicians who were living out this dream and never got to perform it. It was a rehearsal of the concert, and you realize how thrilling it would have been for all involved. It also struck me how much he lived in fantasy seemingly, even his final song was about a love that saves him and how wonderful it is. By all accounts, though, it was something he never found. Sad story.

I've seem some other stuff, but between play rehearsals and work, I've not been finding the time to write. So, I'll make a point to do that. The one thing I have in my head is sadly getting larger and larger. I'll see if I can get it down and trim it a bit.

Happy reading!

Tuesday, October 27, 2009


Today it’s 11:11. Since I first heard the Rufus Wainwright song "11:11”, I’ve been asking myself when I see that particular time if I’m where I want to be. Kind of a loaded question to ask, but I’ve found myself asking it in my car and at work a great deal. This is not my soul-searching blog (for the most part), but I’ll share that it’s surprising how many times I've seen the clock at 11:11 since then--some periods twice a day. So I have many opportunities to ask myself if I’m satisfied, breathing, grateful. And, if not, what I can do to get there. I have no idea why that started, but I heard the song, and it did.

I’ve heard that he wrote this about 9:11, and that’s pretty clear, and that 11:11 looks like twin towers. Am I wrong in seeing it as hopeful? It feels like it's about gratitude and grief at the same time--no easy feat. No matter, I love the song, and wild how these little superstitions, reminders, can become part of your day. Mine, at least. I am a creature of art, can’t help it. And OCD.

And side note, which makes me laugh--"holding a notion of you" on a couple of sites was "loading a dump truck of human", which definitely makes the song more bleak. If incorrect. Ah, Rufus--diction's not his thing.


Woke up this morning at 11:11
Wasn't in Portand and I wasn't in heaven
Could have been either by the way I was feeling
But I was alive, I was alive
Woke up this morning at 11:11
John was half-naked and Lulu was crying
Over a baby that will never go crazy
And I was alive and kicking

Through this cruel world
Holding a notion of you at 11:11
Tell me what else can I do
What else can I do?

Woke up this morning and something was burning
Realized that everything really does happen in Manhattan
Thoughts were of characters and afternoons lying
And you, you were alive

Oh the hours we are separate
11:11 is just precious time we've wasted
So patch up your bleeding hearts
And put away your posies
I'm gonna have a drink
Before we ring around the rosies with you
Oh the hours we are separate
Oh the hours we are separate

Monday, October 26, 2009

A must read, and stuff

Passing along this inspiring blog entry about a kid who did something amazing with an upsetting illness. Thank you, Patrick for writing it.

Still germinating thoughts about A Serious Man, so hopefully something on that soon.

Talked with my amazing 90 year old Grandma about life, the above movie, Judaism, depression, and keeping up spirits. I'm so lucky she's in my life.

And saw the LA Derby Dolls on Saturday night. The Fight Crew, the team I was rooting for, won. Shannon is an excellent team captain, and big shout out to Bill, her husband, who wore a lobster costume with an leather aviator helmet and sunglasses to be their mascot. There wasn't a time he wasn't moving and getting the crowd riled up. He even wrestled with Bacon, the other team's mascot. Bacon and Lobster roll. Entertaining. Who knew roller derby was such a blast? Then again, what's not to love about a group of adults playing sports with drag names? Amber Alert was super tough (as were Haught Wheels, Broadzilla, Paris Killton and Tara Armov), and I loved the scrappy Judy Gloom, complete with horn rims. Referees included Ofelia Melons and Oliver Clothesoff. Good times.

Monday, October 19, 2009

Book Swap

I supposed I must've just needed an isolatory weekend on some level, so that's what I did. And on Saturday afternoon, I went to Vroman's (met a friend who wanted to get rid of some books, too), and went to a book swap hosted by Good Read's and Vroman's in Pasadena.

What a dangerous thing for uncluttering streamliners like myself. Ha. This is to get rid of the books you don't want, and get new ones. But, like one guy I talked to, I got as many at least as I turned in (myabe 1or 2 less, so that's a start). He told me when he went to the last one at Book Soup, he brought six books and left with 40. I have to say, it was kind of fun to see people in this much of a frenzy about books. I was one of the first people, and there weren't many people there, so I thought it would be kind of lame. Within 20 minutes, there were more books than you would know what to do with. There was a lot of crap, but also some things that I've wanted to read. And what's one person's trash is another's treasure, which is what was wonderful about this event. It was also fun to see such a large group of people just looking at books and looking to see what other people were holdling. It was slightly social, with people commenting on books they'd read and telling you if it was good; also fun with people pointing out "That's mine" or "I brought that one." It was fun, and I hear they're going to try to have one a few times a year.

So I got:

American Sucker, David Denby's memoir about losing money in the market crash, the dissolution of his marriage and his internet addiction. Denby can irritate me, but I thought I'd give it a try. And the guy I thought was attractive was the one who donated it. He said he liked it. This, though, not being a Jane Austen novel, did not lead anywhere. Except to more books.

The No. 1 Ladies Detective Agency by Alexander McCall Smith, upon which the HBO series is based. Looks like it's a good one, and I'm interested in reading it.

How to Lose Friends and Alienate People by Toby Young. This book looked to me like it could be annoying, so I never bought it or saw the film base on it. But hey, the price was right to try it out.

Working Stiff, by Grant Stoddard, subtitled "The Misadventures of an accidental sexpert." This was the friend's book, and he liked it. And so did somebody else who walked by, so I picked it up. Like you would a sexpert, I guess.

Cleopatra's Nose, Essays on the Unexpected by Daniel J. Boorstin, essays about American culture and institutions. Interesting. Also, written in '95, so we'll see if it has aged well, if at all. Love cultural essays--yay!

The Creative Habit, by Twyla Tharp. I had just seen her speak at USC on Tuesday (something else I wanted to write about), so this was fresh on my mind. I didn't get the book then, I guess so I could get the hardcover for free. Right place at right time.

Dishwasher, by Pete Jordan, a memoir about washing dishes in all 50 states. I've heard him on This American Life, so I've been intrigued, and now I get to read his book. I guess I love,too, that now he's a bicycle mechanic and writer in Amsterdam. How would someone like that not write an interesting book?

Lost, by Gregory Maguire. By the author of Wicked, it's his take on A Christmas Carol. I did like Wicked, a surprisingly dense read, so I'm looking forward to this. I haven't read any of his other stuff. And mint hardcover first edition, so we love that.

Varieties of Disturbance by Lydia Davis. This is a book of stories, and it was a finalist for the National Book Award, so I figure it must be pretty good. The book is certainly covered with praise. I got it because of the Grace Paley quote, "Davis is the kind of writer about whom you say, 'Oh, at last!'" No small praise.

And then this wierd little book called "Bill Nye's Comic History of the U.S." illustrated by F. Opper. It's blue with red and white embossing, and looks like it was printed in the 40's or 50's, but the publishing information just says "Copyright 1894, by J. Lippincott and Company". I imagine it's a reprint, but it's bizarre. And the original was blue clothbound, like this. Maybe I just picked up a $35 original! And, once again, it's free.

So it looks like I'm in books for a while. Fun!

Sunday, October 11, 2009

Random-pediam and chicken soup

I was looking up a few things on the intranets, among them where parsnips derived from, and found out all kinds of interesting things. Chief among them (aside from learning in the wild they're easy to confuse with hemlock - oops) that parsnips and root vegetables were used like potatoes until those arrived from the new world, and that parsnips have more vitamins and minerals than carrots. The potato part doesn't suprise me; I love mashed parsnips--and I guess they are sometimes taken away after cooking and used for flavor. My guest had never had them and thought they were potato-like.. Today, I put them in a chicken soup I made with carrots, onions, celery, and quinoa pasta (gluten free), which works perfectly in the soup. And, since you didn't ask, my recipe is basically:

Whole roast chicken from the grocery store (or you can roast it yourself, but if you're in a pinch this is easier)

Pull off meat, boil carcass and skin for broth, and flavor as desired. I put a little fennel, rosemary, and dill in today, sometimes it's tarragon, and even a dash of cinammon if I'm feeling crazy. If you do it delicately enough you can't quite pinpoint the flavor, but it's welcome (not like "ew--what's this?![drop spoon]).

Add onion, celery after removing bones, etc., boil, then root vegetables, then corn, and pasta.

Soup's a blast that way, and chicken's the best for just putting whatever in. And with warm iron skillet cornbread, it's a wonderful Sunday eve meal with leftovers for the week.

While I was cooking, I listened to Dolly Parton's Backwood's Barbie album, which I don't think I'd listened to at one sitting. A friend bought me the "Cracker Barrell" special edition, the inside notes of which begin with "Dolly wants a cracker!" I kid you not. That can only be the reason for the last song, called "Berry Pie", which is about as complex and also ear-worm-y as "Short'nin' Bread". She basically sings "I'm gonna make him some berry pie, berry pie, berry pie" over and over. Now, I love Dolly, but oy, this song. I guess when you're one of the 5 most prolific composers in Western music, you're going to have a questionable entry now and again.

Anyhow, there's a song on the album called Shinola, the main lyric being "you don't know love from Shinola". So I thought, since I grew up with a Dad that used the phrase "he doesn't know sh*t from Shinola" a lot, I would like to find out what exactly Shinola was. I thought it might be a product (unless it was a town in Kansas), and I was right. Turns out it's a shoe polish brand from the 20s. It's in Wikipedia, but what's brilliant is the overly self-conscious voice of the person who wrote the entry. It's in hysterically direct opposition to the colloquialism of the phrase. And I love Wikipedia for that. And when I read it, I'm not sure if the person is serious or not--and that makes it even better:

Shit and Shinola, while superficially similar in appearance, are entirely distinct in their function; only one is good for polishing shoes, and anyone who fails to distinguish one from the other must be ignorant or of low acuity.


Friday, October 09, 2009

And now a litle something

Just for entertainment while I'm working on some other posts, here's the song Red Dirt Girl from Emmylou Harris' wonderful Red Dirt Girl album.

I love Emmylou Harris, though she can be a bit of a downer (not her personally, I'm sure she's delightful, but the songs and that keening voice can just get you).

I was thinking that this is really an album, in the sense of a collection of songs that go together. They may not tell the same story, but it's like a novel, an aural novel transporting to another place. Sometimes those places are where you first listened to them--this one was on heavy play for me on my CD player when I worked downtown near the stock exchange--and sometimes they're about pulling you out of where you are. The songs here took me to a country place in the midst of the city; U2's "A Kind of Homecoming" never fails to plunge me deep in snow (I'm sure that's from a video or something, but the whole album feels like that to me, just like Joshua Tree is summer); Jane Siberry's excellent meditation on relationships and loss "When I Was a Boy" (who, according to her website has now changed her name to Issa[there's a great note saying that all information about Jane Siberry should be gleaned from the website, and not asked of Issa -
"Her leap to virtual inventory mirrors her strong steps towards devoting herself even more completely to beinga pure artist. She will also move away from having a ‘home’, ‘car’ and anything she considers anti-’travelling light’ to simply living where she works. Her response to ‘where do you live?’ will not be ‘nowhere’ but ‘everywhere’.]). Wow.

I've always loved songs, and particularly respond to lyrics, as they feel like short stories to me, and gravitate to songwriters who are storytellers (probably why I like country/folk a lot). To be truthful, I've never gotten people who don't hear song lyrics; I know they're out there and I've met many of them, but it's unfathomable to me. I guess it would make sense a full album is like a novel. Though that's never struck me before today.

So go out there and listen to your favorite novel.

Wednesday, October 07, 2009

Anne Fadiman

I'm reading The Spirit Catches You and You Fall Down which should probably be subtitled "pages of heartache, misunderstanding, heorics, and compassion beautifully captured", and I just saw that Anne Fadiman has a new one called Rereadings that I didn't know about but was published in 2006. I'm excited to read it. Looks wonderful--exploring relationships through literature. She's such a good writer.

Sunday, October 04, 2009

Bright Star

Bright star, would I were stedfast as thou art--
Not in lone splendour hung aloft the night
And watching, with eternal lids apart,
Like nature's patient, sleepless Eremite,
The moving waters at their priestlike task
Of pure ablution round earth's human shores,
Or gazing on the new soft-fallen mask
Of snow upon the mountains and the moors--
No--yet still stedfast, still unchangeable,
Pillow'd upon my fair love's ripening breast,
To feel for ever its soft fall and swell,
Awake for ever in a sweet unrest,
Still, still to hear her tender-taken breath,
And so live ever--or else swoon to death.

-Bright Star - John Keats

I bought a copy of Mansfield Park today (see last post). I did order one off of Paperback Swap, but this is the Norton Critical Edition. How can you resist that? I'm a total nerd, I know, but I swoon for historical record, annotation, and critical opinion all just laid out for me while I'm reading. I already found out the meaning of one sentence I would not have understood, having to do with selling of a parsonage to pay off debts and how the parish was passed or owned. I'm not British; I don't know these things.

So with one foot planted firmly in 1811, I decided to go to see Bright Star, the Jane Campion film about John Keats and his love/muse, Fanny Brawne. Loved it, thanks to an incredibly strong central performance by Abbie Cornish. All the supporting work was great, as well, especially Paul Schneider playing a complex cad, Charles Brown, ruinous to the lives around him, and Kerry Fox as Mrs. Brawne. The film concentrates on the period after Keats published Endymion (a thing of beauty is a joy forever 1818 or so) until his death in 1821. Oh, if you don't know the story - Mr. Keats - he dead. At 25.

I won't go into too much of the particulars, but they do fall in love, and have difficulty in Keats' having no income (money is a big thing in Austen, too, and for all those marriage people who talk about love and the sacred institution--here's a good one to see what the reality was 200 years ago). Life without money in London or anywhere in the environs was squalid and difficult to say the least, and the movie well contrasts the sumptuous country life with urban blight and filth.

This is a sensuous film. Campion's characters spend a lot of time outdoors, in fields, in the sun and rain. The cinematography is gorgeous--there is one shot in a field in lavender that I found breathtaking. Campion also spends time with cloth in this film. Fanny is a designer and seamstress, and there is no lack of luxurious fabric, white linen, and wind. I'm sure a thesis could be written on Fanny's emotional state through her clothes, but I don't have one off the top of my head.

Campion uses cloth to create tactile empathy. When Fanny lies down on her bed with Keats' first letter to her, there is a quick cut to her feet, peeking out for under her dress, lying on the side on her bed with her knees drawn up. Who wouldn't relate to that? Her clothes at the beginning are slightly garish and over colorful, becoming more muted and solemn as she is drawn nearer to Keats (as muted as one can be with a feathered hat). Cloth and her work with it is her gift, and it's clear from an early moment when she needs to give something to him to express her emotion, she immediately runs up to her room and embroiders. There are some gorgeous moments that I won't ruin here, but suffice it to say it's visually sumptuous without going over the top.

The cloth works for her in the way that nature does for Keats, and she is gradually drawn into his world and his vision. I'm sure 19th century Hampstead-ers were much closer to nature than we have experience of, and Campion beautifully pulls us into the sensuality of the terrain and of the environment. It's an almost tactile film. I would say the film is poetic, in that it works to draw us in through our senses and descriptions of the sensual world, attempting something that feels tactile to me--that's really the only way I can describe it. I'm not overly familiar with the Romantic poets, but it seems from the poetry included from Keats that's a bit of what they were attempting. She manages beautifully.

I was thinking of this because I've been thinking about Paris, which I saw last weekend. There was a moment when the main character, played by Romain Duris, is standing on his balcony in the snow as it falls lightly over Paris, and the camera pans to a hot cup of coffee in his hand. At that moment, I was pulled into the sensuality of the film, of Cedric Klapisch trying to give us the feel of Paris - a sensual experience of the city. (I'd give a quick review, but I have some issues with believability and I don't want to get off on a diatribe about how riveting Melanie Laurent la fille du moment is, and how ridiculous device-y, sexist, and just this side of offensive her character is--liked the movie fine, aside from it's feeling of contrivance and obviousness to have an excuse to create a paean to the city. Juliette Binoche, please work more, you're fascinating to watch. As are most of these people--the French cast interesting actors in their movies. Not great, but 3/4 of a good movie and not a bad place to be).

ANYhow, back to England circa 1820. Can I please give more props to Campion and her design team for having people wear clothes that look like people lived in them? We tend to see a lot of period movies where everything is lush and perfect. In keeping with the point of the piece, the clothes looked inhabited and felt. Aside from that, they were worn more than once. Although Fanny had more interesting dresses, she still wore several pieces over and over. I remember loving the Amanda Root/Ciaran Hinds Persuasion because the bottoms of the dresses were muddy. Same here. The world then was not paved.

Ben Whishaw was good as Keats. I wasn't blown over by him, and didn't fall in love with him myself, but I could believe the power of her feelings, which is the point. I was taken with Paul Schneider (though I loved him too in Lars and the Real Girl so I guess I shouldn't be surprised. He's allowed his moments of depth playing a feckless character, who is motivated on one hand by his own indulgence, and the other for his deep affection for Keats. It's actually one of my favorite performances of the year, and I hope he gets a nod or two from it. He deserves it.

One more salute to Campion. We are not in an age of sentiment. Navigating one of the most sentimental times in history for an audience not on a steady diet of it could easily turn treacly. Instead, she gives us a character whose gravity of feeling pulls us through some pitfalls that could be deadly for a contemporary audience, not the least of which is recitation of romantic poetry in dialogue. I've read some critics have had issue with the poetry used in the dialogue (I even heard the dialogue was "stylized", which I didn't notice--perhaps I need a better knowledge of Keats), but to me it was merely an extension of the main characters' deep regard for each other. It was a different time. People were deeply sentimental, swept up in the romance of nature, love and death, finding revelation and revolution in elevating emotion and lived, almost ecstatic, feeling into the highest purpose. Nature, Love, Death - I guess those really are the big three, but seeing them through the non-cynical eye of two centuries back, or at least the first great backlash against cynicism that could be encouraged by the age of enlightenment, is a treat. (And I'm no historian of the period--I'm sure it's much more complex than that). She pulls it off beautifully. I think it would be a temptation to have tried to make this sumptuous, to equate the rich voluptuousness of the language to the an abundance of sensation, rich color and and expensive fashion parade. By playing against this, Campion is able to tell her story and communicate the depth of emotion the story has to offer.

Abbie Cornish - I can't say enough. She carries the film, but she never loses track of the material. Her feeling is deep and grounded, and I was completely with her as she began to recite Keats' words back to him. She's not a simp, she's not a child, and we see her grow up through the action of the film. Her grief, when it comes, is painful to watch. I cried. And I am not one to cry at films. I think I've cried maybe 5 times in total at movies, and usually for some personal reason rather than the film itself, but I was wiping away tears. This one got me. Beautiful, sensual, clear of irony and cynicism without being cloying. I loved it.

And I loved Whip It, too, but that's another story.

Thursday, October 01, 2009

Reading List

So I really want to write about Parade at the Taper, but I haven't quite gathered my thoughts. I will say though, it has some powerful moments--the ending really got me. And I quickly have to ask: Davis Gaines and Charlotte D'Amboise--what is with the plastic surgery? I'm more used to it on women, so hers wasn't as wierd (except that I thought she looked like Melissa Gilbert and it didn't occur to me until today that she was in it and I had actually seen her - and I've seen her on film and on stage before), but his was just bizarre to me--especially since he played the older characters. He has such a great big voice. I don't know why you'd do it--I suppose there's pressure to do it. Or maybe when you're an actor and so much is out of your control, that feels within it.

I do know that I just gave myself a papercut underneath my fingernail which hurts and is making typing wierdly painful. Who knew you could do that? Learn something new every day.

So, list making. I was listening to a T. Coraghessan Boyle story about Jane Austen, and he mentioned Mansfield Park. I've never read that. I love Jane Austen, but that's the one I don't know. Maybe it's time to read it. Looks like you can read the whole text of it on Google.

Currently I'm reading or have on my list

Fraud - David Rakoff - Loving it. Funny and Sedaris-y, who I suppose is his closest cousin in style and view. He's more arch in some ways, but similar voice. I like his writing.

When You Are Engulfed in Flames - David Sedaris - on my nightstand. I've read a few pieces. See above.

Getting Mother's Body - Suzan-Lori Parks - never read her stuff, and have never read As I Lay Dying, which this is a riff on. Gap in my reading knowledge--there are many. Looks interesting, and a nice toe in to fiction again. And always interesting to see a playwright craft a novel.

How to Be Alone - Jonathan Franzen - I wrote about this before, about leaving it on the plane. So a few essays in. He can be quite cranky, but that's his thing. He manages to steer away from self-involved snob, which he veers close to, through accurate self-appraisal and passionate enagagement with the world around him. Love a good essay. His essay "My Father's Brain" about his Father's struggle with Alzheimer's and his dealing with it is brilliant.

Speaking of essays, and I'm sure I wrote about these before, but do yourself a favor and pick up "At Large and At Small: Familiary Essays" and "Ex Libris: COnfessions of a common reader" by Anne Fadiman. Simultaneously grounded and enchanting. Fascinating subjects and a wonderful writer. I haven't read The Spirit Catches You and You Fall Down, a winner of the National Book Critics Circle award about a girl with severe Epilepsy in California who is the child of Hmong refugees. Perhaps because I know it will be heartbreaking.

And I'm two issues of the New Yorker behind. What's new? I'm just grooving on the essays lately.

I'm thinking about observing Shabbat just so I can read. Can't "engaged in study" mean whatever you want it to?

Monday, September 28, 2009


So this is one of those nights, when I start writing something in my head, and instead of writing it down I just hone it further and further in my mind, forgetting that it will be forgotten in the morning, or sometimes the meat of it, so I'll be left with tossing and turning and not getting any sleep anyway, but not writing it down. So here's the counter-intuitive action of just getting up and getting it down so I'll actually go to sleep.

I've been wanting to write for a while about Elizabeth's blog,, which can be found here, but I've been a little dumbstruck. She's a beautiful writer, and she shines through in what she writes, but the subject of some of her posts makes me a little emotional. So knowing that you're going to be emotional feels a little like driving into a heavy rainstorm, and the air's not working in your car. You know it will be intense, you're not quite sure you're going to make it to the other end, but somehow the defogger kicks in and the rain lets up and you're on the other side. So I'm having faith that the sun will come out, and I'll do this without making a mess of it.

Elizabeth and I did a reading together a few months ago, and found out we had a mutual friend. So, we had a great conversation, and I started reading Elizabeth's blog. Elizabeth posts about many things, and very eloquently about her daughter's epileptic seizure disorder. In fact, there is a walk on October 18th to raise money for it, and I'm hoping to join her team or give money, probably both. Now I've not had a seizure disorder, or anyone in my family who has, but my father was diagnosed with MS when I was 5, and eventually died of it in 2002.

And here is the rainstorm.

So, reading Elizabeth's blog I am humbled at how she deals with the disorder, and with her two sons and husband and managing it. I am blown away that she talks with them about it, that she honors their own childhoods; that they are children, allowing them to be that and also have a family member with a very serious challenging disorder--enlisting their help and support while providing it to them as well; and her unbounded love for her beautiful daughter, which shines through in every word.

I was a child watching my father have seizures that were a side effect of the MS, go through different medications, walk with crutches, then a wheelchair, and all in a strange atmosphere of anger, frustration, and silence. I remember being told of the diagnosis, but after that it was really the thing that ruled the house and most of my childhood. I'm not blaming my parents at all--I can't imagine having children let alone dealing with that and how helpless you feel in the face of it, but I can't help but think of how different it might have been had there been that kind of understanding or place to talk about what we were all going through. It was definitely a different time, and I just don't think the tools were there for people. The past is the past, but I've really been wanting to just salute? commend? praise? her for the amazing way she shares what she's going through. And I'm amazed at the online community and support there is--I don't think that was available in the 70's the way that it is now, and I love seeing it. It's been very healing, actually, even though the experience is over 25 years ago.

I had misgivings about writing this because it's a) a little personal, b) about my reaction, c) afraid my mother would read this and take this personally, which it's not meant to be at all , but I wanted to let Elizabeth know how helpful and healing (besides informational, angering, and many other things) it is to read what she is going through.

And yes, I could've just sent an email, but I couldn't ask you to donate then, could I? ;)

Friday, September 25, 2009

What's Art?

A friend of mine and I got into a discussion about art the other day. He’s a graphic design teacher, so he teaches art. He told me (from what I understand) that in his view that art didn’t start until the impressionists, as that was when there was really art for art’s sake—especially when it’s not representative, as there is no intent on the artist’s part for meaning, it’s only expression. Although I (pretty vehemently) disagree with this, it was an interesting place to try and figure out what my own definition for art is, which was his point—that you have to start somewhere. So, it’s easier for me to set myself up in opposition to something—I’ve always been an arguer—and I think I may do that a bit now. And it’s not personal—it’s fun to find someone to have these conversations with as you can hone your own ideas. Dust of the rust of the creaky brain gears. And since my friend was enjoying the conversation as well, I’m going to have a little stream of consciousness working it out here. It’s what I love about blogging: I can end up wherever.

Art for art’s sake is such a complicated term to me in and of itself. If art is in the marketplace it’s for something other than art, it’s for commerce. You could argue that Warhol, the champion of art for art’s sake, was actually just making product. And if it’s purpose is to make money, it’s no longer “art for art’s sake”. That phrase, I guess, raises my hackles because it separates out a supposed artist intention. What is the artist’s intention in making art? Similarly, if the test is that the viewer is to come with their own ideas, what makes one think that a picture is representational that the viewers will come to it with the same sense of history or expectation. Even the most pictorial of artists has a personal vision and eye, and just because they have an intention for us to have a certain reception to their art doesn’t mean we will. There are a lot of signs and symbols, in classical painting particularly, that we don’t have a background for.

When we were speaking I brought up the Unicorn tapestries. Behind the Unicorn there are some ridiculous numbers of flowers and plants, each of which had a symbolic meaning probably known to some of it not all of the viewers when they were woven in the 15th century. A viewer now does not have those same references. Does that mean that this piece, with a possible intended meaning, is now ‘art for art’s sake’ since modern viewers do not have the same frame of reference?

Also, how are we to tell either artists intention or viewers frame of reference. One of the most interesting books on art I’ve read is Kandinsky’s Concerning the Spiritual in Art. Not because I agree with it, but because of his certitude. His theories are based on what he believes is the effect of color on the soul.

It is evident that many colours are hampered and even nullified in effect by many forms. On the whole, keen colours are well suited by sharp forms (e.g., a yellow triangle), and soft, deep colours by round forms (e.g., a blue circle). But it must be remembered that an unsuitable combination of form and colour is not necessarily discordant, but may, with manipulation, show the way to fresh possibilities of harmony.

Since colours and forms are well-nigh innumerable, their combination and their influences are likewise unending. The material is inexhaustible.

Form, in the narrow sense, is nothing but the separating line between surfaces of colour. That is its outer meaning. But it has also an inner meaning, of varying intensity, [Footnote: It is never literally true that any form is meaningless and "says nothing." Every form in the world says something. But its message often fails to reach us, and even if it does, full understanding is often withheld from us.] and, properly speaking, FORM IS THE OUTWARD EXPRESSION OF THIS INNER MEANING. To use once more the metaphor of the piano--the artist is the hand which, by playing on this or that key (i.e., form), affects the human soul in this or that way.


Kandinsky wrote a series of un-performable plays (though would probably be interesting as animation) with stage directions like “large yellow forms or several feet move forward, shrink to green and disappear”. And, when you read a lot of his work, the color resonance seems hopelessly about how a German in 1915 might view color or have an emotional reaction to it. Other cultures are not taken into account, and it’s quite an assumption of viewer reception and feeling. I’m not knocking Kandinsky at all – he did some classic painting and also is doing the same thing in his book—defining what art is. And, even further, positing that there is a certain, definable reaction IN THE SOUL that one has to certain colors and shapes. That's quite a supposition.

BUT, does Kandinsky’s work become less “art for art’s sake” because there is an intended meaning? Does Matthew Barney’s, who famously has stories and expectations about his pieces no matter how abstract they seem? Does art that tries to have a meaning have less value, or is it not art?

It’s a question I’ve been thinking about since we had this discussion.

I loved museums as a kid. I remember in second grade I was so excited we were going to the Joslyn museum in Omaha. I had been to the museum before—it was one of my favorite places. And I had a favorite painting—Bouguereau’s Return of Spring.

I still remember rounding the corner, excited I would be able to show everyone the painting (I didn’t have many friends, and was excited I knew something and could share it), and saw the painting was gone. Apparently, someone thought it was pornography, and had slashed it with a razor blade down the center. I just read this in Wikipedia: In 1890 and again in 1976, the painting was physically attacked by several people offended by its overtly sensual nudity.

Now, I didn’t think the painting was anything but pretty in the second grade, and was very sad that it was gone. So sad, in fact, that I remember it 33 years later. But is it not art because there is a meaning intended? Bouguereau was around the time of the impressionists, but no one would call him anything but a figurative painter. And did it stop my love of the painting when I was told by a couple of friends in NY who were art history PhD students that Bouguereau was considered a pornographer by historians (poor guy—he got it from all sides). And, even now, even though the painting could be just this side of kitsch and overdone as Rafael’s angels, I still love it. And from my 8 year old heart, I always will.

Interestingly what made me think of this again was reading about Vermeer’s “The Milkmaid” that’s at the met right now in the New Yorker, and Peter Schjeldahl touches on it.

It’s interesting to think of art vs. illustration in the context of his painting. In mid-17th century Holland domestic scenes were popular as decoration, so Vermeer painted domestic scenes. But I would never call his paintings merely illustrative. I do think there are artists who have a skill for illustration and decoration (Thomas Kincaid anyone), but Vermeer is an interesting case in the discussion about art for art’s sake, illustration and audience. Who is he painting for? These are illustrative of a moment, but who knows what’s happening and how we’re to react. (He was 25 when he painted the above — astounding, really)

What is the look on that girl’s face? Why is the man in the back slouched? Is something disturbing happening?

Why is there so much foreground? Did we interrupt something?

What’s going on with the delivery of the letter? And we're definitely interrupting.

I love this hat. You can almost touch it.

Beyond those questions is what I came to for myself as what I would define as art. Certainly not all of the definition, since for me it’s only a tent that gets bigger to shelter anything that needs it. Open arms. But in the case of Vermeer, beyond illustration or mirroring ourselves, he manages to take moments of the mundane and make them extraordinary. He catches a girl pouring milk into a vase and we’re captivated. Not because of the scene, but how beautiful the moment is. Art, to me, can take those moments that would seem boring or even sometimes disgusting and disturbing and make them transfixing. You can’t look away. It’s haunting. The colors are heartbreaking. The girl will never be that young, that glowing, that impossibly easy. If there was anyone else in the room she wouldn’t look that way. Art, for me, can capture moments that are happening while we are looking away. It’s the tree falling in the forest. This may be voyeuristic on my part, and I think a lot of art is, but it’s also celebratory. And though it may be representational, I do not think there is any specific intention in the artist except that you witness it. And even though the scene is specific I think each viewer brings their own experience and witnesses it in a different way.

There’s a great movie called La Belle Noiseuse by Jacques Rivette. It’s four hours long. Emanuelle Beart is naked for about 2/3 of the movie. At a certain point you forget she’s nude, as the point of the movie is how to paint her, the inner her, and how the artist and by extension we the audience get to know her deeper than her skin. So, although the nudity is literal, it becomes figurative and deeper as the film progresses.

Schjeldahl has a great quote here: “an artist has contrived to lure me out of myself into an illusion of reality more fulfilling than any lived reality can be”. That about sums it up. Funnily enough, when I went to get the link I saw that he has a new piece about Kandinsky. HA! I’ll have to read that.

In the end, then, I guess what I respond to, even in figurative painting (and I haven’t mentioned sculpture here) is the attempt at any artist to get at our humanity. And perhaps not even “at”, but “in”. Vermeer is a great example because his painting is masterful enough to allow surface and ambiguity. Books have been written, so I’ll not continue, but safe to say there’s a reason there are so many shows dedicated to him. I would even go so far as to say that in non-figurative contemporary painting there’s less room for me as a viewer as it feels like a lot of contemporary artists are so about the “idea” of their art that the execution feels inelegant, unemotional, and there’s no room for my response save having a critic/artseller tell me what I’m supposed to be getting from it. But THAT’s another set of words.

If you’ve gotten this far, thanks for reading. Looks like it’s time for me to hone some ideas.

And thanks to my friend, for making me think about it. We're going tomorrow to a fun annual party called "Why we create" which has a backyard full of craft stations--what a blast. More art.

Robert Frank

I was reading this story about Robert Frank's photo exhibit in NY and saw the above picture in the slideshow. It's the only one without people, and I thought "That looks like New Mexico" and lo and behold it is. That always makes me laugh--I don't live there anymore, haven't for twenty years, go back maybe once a year if I'm lucky, but still you can just spot it.

The exhibit looks amazing--travels in the mid-fifties documenting a changing country. They're difficult, lonely photos in some ways. The people look distressed--not in pain, but what you call a costume when you take a new fabric and make it look worn. It's called distressing the fabric. It's showing its wear. That's what some of these photos look like to me. Captivating.

If you're in NY, go see it for me.

Thursday, September 24, 2009


You know that feeling? That one where you're 5 and you have the chicken pox and you're underneath the kitchen table where your mother and the ancient woman of 70 named Dorothy who your mother calls Dot, who wears square glasses and calls you an old soul, are smoking and having coffee; you can't go outside since you have chicken pox, but you have to much energy to just sit, and you itch all over and can't scratch? And you're kind of whiny but squirming underneath the table and in and out of the yellowish vinyl bucket seat kitchen chairs?


Friday, September 18, 2009

Looking for yourself

I want to write something, and I'm not up to La Roldana or No Impact Man at the moment.

I have a little notebook that I bought when I was in NY last year. It has the little M tabs all over it.

The notes are random, as usual.

I see more dogs in NY than LA.

Dressing a girl shaped like an oil barrel in a short pleated sky blue schoolgirl dress is just cruel
(this outside of the Met--there's a famous all girl's academy across the street)

But I came across some notes on black figure vases that were about seeing things not at all notated or described in the cards:

Late 6th c. BC Two soldiers in a chariot - their horses cross noses while they embrace - one helmet under the shoulder of the other - two side horses look to the side of a woman who holds out grain for them - What's happening?


same exact image on drinking cup - only information about artist and "betweeen eyes, chariot" though in this one only one is wering a lemet and the the horse and man both look like they're nuzzling into the other


56.171.43 - Fascinating that he talks about the lion and the dog (Maltese) on the other side without mentioning that the Satyr with Dionysus has an erection and the two youths with the dog look like they're about to get together. I love "not entirely overcome their animal actives (? I can't read my writing)

I just think it's interesting that I'm still looking for myself in history. I know that there are not a lot of instances of gays, and most of them are coded, but it's fascinating with the Greeks. Some of it is sexual, some of it is affectionate, but it's interesting how it is not curated. And I'm sure many of the men who wrote these cards were gay themselves, though who knows how closeted or not they were. I just realized it's an activity that feels unique to being gay. Sure, others look for themselves in representation; I've been part of the "did you know so and so is Jewish" conversation, and I'm sure it's common with everyone who is not portrayed in some way in movies, art, etc. And I know there's an invisibility in Western art for a lot of groups and I'm not denying that at all, and yet...

there's something different about sometimes even seeing something that feels starkly pointed and not having it named. To have it ignored, elided, refused. To have it possibly represented, and thne have someone say "You're wrong, it's not that." I'm not sure, now, with all the representations of gays in the media that young men and women still do this, but I imagine they do. It's still not commonplace enough to not warrant note. And, for my money, I see most of it as about sex and not affection. Same sex affection and love still upset people. Witness: marriage debate.

Perhaps that's why I found myself looking deeply into a krater with two men embracing made over 25 centuries ago and wishing it would tell me something about myself, or give me an ancestor.