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?