Friday, December 31, 2010

New Year's

I just picked up Patti Smith's "Just Kids", which I was given for Christmas.

I'm about to go to a party, or in an hour or so. I don't feel like being online, really. Flipping through channels I found All That Jazz, which is great. I didn't watch all of it, though, turning it off to read. I did do a little online research to figure out what happened to Leland Palmer. I wonder if David Lynch wondered that, too, when he wrote Twin Peaks.  She moved to Israel, and now perhaps San Francisco, seemingly on a Jewish journey. Fascinating.

Something in Smith's writing made me realize how I always turn back to books. I can always enter a book. I always feel it welcome, like stepping into a circus tent and feeling the sudden warmth and smells that are enclosed behind such a flimsy barrier. It's enveloping.  I keep returning to books. And to art.

I love the theater, and would love to make my living doing it. I enjoy TV, and wouldn't mind making that, too.  But reading books and looking at art seem to be the two activities I love in that place where there is silence and tranquility. Perhaps it's relaxing. Not that I don't love theater and movies deeply, passionately, but the pleasure of reading and art never fails to fill me up.  Inspire me.

It's New Year's Eve. I wish for you this year that you find what inspires you, what nourishes you, and what pleases you.  I wish you are sated and blessed on all accounts.

Me, I'm going to do some more reading.

Thursday, December 02, 2010

Stuff I've Seen

I'm having a little crisis of faith about why I'm writing this blog.  I'm feeling a little stretched between this, War &Peace, and personal writing.  The thing about blogs is that they're off the cuff. It's great, but at the same time I feel it might diffuse my energy a bit.  Oh well, probably just the introspection of the holidays.  I have been wanting to write, so here's just a little bit

The Resnick Pavilion at LACMA
Loved the building, and really loved the Fashioning Fashion exhibit.  It's always a trip to see color and form from days past, sometimes shocking. The exhbit encompassed the 18th - early 20th century, and was well arranged.  I like the wooden cartons that everything was displayed in - nice touch. Unlike the Met, the clothes were out in the air, and arranged so that each piece was easy to view singly.  In a perfect world, I'd want everything to have 360 degree access, but I don't think I've seen that with old clothes, save once at the Musuem of the City of New York (which has an amazing collection of willed clothes, I think back to Washington).  This exhibit had a good mix of the freaky, odd and sublime, which is my favorite combo for fashion exhibits. I also loved the inclusion of homespun things like this vest from the time of the French revolution, complete with revolutionary symbols on the lapel




My only question was about putting a beautiful Poiret (I think) coat over a Fortuny. The Fortuny was gold/platinum from underneath the dress, and I'm sure it was spectacular, but sadly we didn't get to see the whole thing. I kinda have a thing for them. I think they're simple and exquisite. I called a woman at LACMA, and it looks like it was the "Delphos" dress from their permanent collection, and you can see it here.  She said that it's probably that they showed it a couple years ago. Still amazing, and amazing color....



Across the way was the Resnick's own "Eye for the Sensual" from their collection. R-O-C-C-O-C-O. Wow, lots of frippery. Lovely, and some great pieces, but I breathed a little sigh of relief when the last room was unexpected Deco. Very nice.

In the middle are these great stone heads from Mexico. Quite impressive, but I was a little saturated to take it all in. And I'm more of a fan of painting and sculpture. If you're an anthropologist, it would be a find. Get it? A find?

I took some pics of these exhibits, and notes, so perhaps more later.

Harps & Angels, the music of Randy Newman at the Taper

Interesting mix of styles, not necessarily what I would put together for a review. There are stunningly sad songs, pop songs, character pieces, and political monologues with musical backing. The cast was good, though for most of them the rock feel that Newman has in his own voice, as well as the dialect he writes into his songs, felt a little foreign on some of the performers. Of course, the range of styles is broad. Katey Segal and Michael McKean did a good job; as did a local rock singer Storm Large, who I was not familiar with. She had a strong voice, and has a big presence. Adriane Lenox was the big surprise to me. Her song about Louisiana and Katrina was the most effecting of the night to me, and having seen her in Doubt I didn't know she could sing. She has a great voice, and seemed most comfortable with Newman's New Orleans dialect songs. Michael McKean had a fun jaded country singer number, as well as a businessman trying to convince a stripper to come home with him.

Speaking of those, many of the songs were small dramatic moments, and those came across the best - Katey Segal had a great number about a woman mistreated by her husband. The lyrics are filled with beautiful images, and each feels like it could be the basis of a musical. They're poignant, and then they evanesce. I suppose that's what they're meant to do, but I was left wanting more.
Also, since there were six performers and it was a revue, I think I would have liked this more in a smaller space, like the Kirk Douglas, where I would have been pulled more into the action. I often feel that way at the Taper, though, so it's not the fault of this group or show. Nice job on a complicated group of work.

Tangled

Loved it. Would see it again. Donna Murphy is brilliant in one of the best villainess roles in a while, and Mandy Moore and Zachary Levi do a great job as well. I was enchanted, and that's the point.

Burlesque

Oh boy. It was fun. Christina Aguilera has a great voice, but Cher is more galvanizing in her one number. The problem to me is that Christina just doesn't feel emotionally connected to her voice. It's an incredible instrument that she uses to its best ability, but it just doesn't feel connected to me. So, when she leaves the screen, she kind of leaves your mind. Fun movie, though, and fun numbers, so it is what it is.

The Illusionist

I'd say it was melancholy and wistful, but that would be an understatement. Beautifully drawn, with some wonderful observations, in the end I was a little bored. Sorry to say it, and I know art film afficionados will throw their non-pariels at me for saying so, but it's true. It's slightly comedic, but in the end about the loss of a way of life in the theater and the people who are swept aside. Not a bad subject, but it just became bathetic.

Blue Valentine

Can we just admit that Ryan Gosling is amazing? This film felt like an acting exercise to me, confirmed when the director said that much of it was improv, even after he'd done 66 drafts of the script. Michelle Williams is bowled over by Gosling, who is magnetic. The balance is off. I'd see it for his performance, but it's another completely sad, sad movie.

More to come I'm sure. Good to get a little of that out, huh?

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Black Swan


I saw “Black Swan” the other night. I won’t say too much about it, except that I loved it. But then again, it’s about a performing artist dealing with demons and ballet, so it was kind of a done deal. Natalie Portman is brilliant, and I’m sure she’ll be nominated for an Oscar. That she was dancing (beautifully) while playing a character expressing herself in dance trying to find her way into playing a ballet character is incredible; I would have had difficulty enough just being on point. To think that she’d doing all that while balancing her weight on a block of wood….

The movie is intense, thrilling. Aronofsky’s direction is passionate, and the way he films dance is full of emotion – the camera is on stage with the dancer, moving with her. When it’s not it’s intense close-up or full body to get a sense of the movement. The storytelling has a trippy feel to it – you’re never sure what’s happening. It’s apt for the madness that the character is slipping into, and illustrative of the black swan/white swan dialectic that’s set up. It’s frenetic and intimate. Mila Kunis is great as well – actually all the cast is uniformly good; Barbara Hershey especially works playing a mother who could possibly be out of a horror movie. In fact, some friends I saw it with felt it had too much of that element, but I disagree. It’s all working to put the audience as deeply off-balance as the character.

I like intense performance, though – Patti Smith, Karen Finley, etc – anyone who feels like they are going to some other place while performing. I guess that’s what most performers aspire to, but some just seem to push a little more deeply and/or hysterically. Refer back to the Ginsburg thing - ecstasy, trance, intensity - a little much at times, but can also transcend like nothing else. Dance, it seems, is one of the easiest places for that to happen - breaking free/breaking down.

Loved the movie. There’s one moment that was so breathtaking that I’m going back just to see it. I hope she wins the Oscar.

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Xander....something?

I once heard a great story about Joanne Woodward. I'm sure it's apocryphal, and I'm sure the names change depending on who you hear the story from. It goes like this: Joanne Woodward thought she had solved all the problems of the world, since she kept having a dream that she solved all the problems of the world. Sadly, when she woke up, she couldn't remember the dream. She even tried orange juice, which supposedly can help you remember your dreams, but to no avail. Someone suggested that she put a pad of paper near her bed to write down what she was thinking, so that night she had the dream, wrote down the idea, and then went back to an assured sleep. When she woke up in the morning, she saw she had written "cottage cheese".

Insert game show "nice try" sound here.

I bring this up because I have pretty active dreams. And by pretty active I mean constant. And sometimes, as happened last night, I'll wake up composing something in my head. Usually, as it's 2, or 4 or some random time, I don't want to to turn on the light and write it down. On certain nights, I actually go pretty deeply into it, waking myself up, and convincing myself I'll remember it in the morning. I never do.

Last night, I woke up with a rhymed couplet in my head, something about a boy named Xander. Since it kept repeating, I woke up, grabbed a pen and paper and started to write on an open page in the dark. At the exact moment I was thinking perhaps this was not the brightest idea since I didn't really know if the page was blank or even I would be able to read my writing, I dropped the pen on the floor. Well, drat. I turned on the light, and managed to stay in bed while wrangling around the floor for my pen. Restful. I found out that the line I was writing was not on a blank page after all, but luckily in the top margin and actually legible - impressive. I turned to a blank page, wrote down the couplet, and then went back to sleep, stopping myself from going further into the idea. I'm getting over a cold. I need the sleep.

Lo and behold, I could not remember it this morning, except for Xander...something. Hopefully when I look at it, it will jog my memory. It won't save the world, but at least there's a record.

Monday, November 15, 2010

Big screens

This weekend, I had HD cable installed, just in time for Harry Potter marathon. Love the movies, love the books. And I usually would not sit around and watch back to back 3 hour movies, but I came down with a cold on Friday night, and so it was the perfect thing to do.

Friday night, speaking of magic, I went to see "Into the Woods" staged by Lucid by Proxy in downtown LA. It was done in a warehouse setting, which I thought worked well for the show. It was very well staged by Calvin Remsberg, and though the space definitely had some acoustic challenges, the people were up to it.

It struck me, though, again, with Sondheim, that it's almost a different skill than other musical theater - at least presentational musical theater. The voices were uniformly good - a few being excellent - the Cinderella and Rapunzel really worked for me. The performances, though, were slightly uneven, and underscored how hard it is to perform Sondheim, or at least as richly as the text indicates - these are not simple characters; paradoxically I think the solution a lot of the time with him is to just be a real person simply singing - the songs do a lot of the work. I'm sure I'm spoiled from seeing the original and loving the cast, so I have my preconceptions, but I tried to leave those at the door. A few of the performances didn't work as well for me, just in trying too hard, I suppose. It's a strange balance, the characters are archetypes, and some remain that way while others learn something and become something deeper.

On the good side, Cinderella had a gorgeous voice, and got the mix of humor and gravity. Rapunzel, actually, was one of my favorite things in the show, and the people I was with, too. She did exactly what was needed - grounded emotionally, but great timing and commitment. Red Riding Hood came alive in the second act, probably freed of the constraint of having the narrator tell her the story for the first part. Actually, all the cast vocally for the most part was spot-on and it was nice to feel safe - usually my enjoyment of a musical is contingent on feeling safe that the cast is able to sing it with no painful surprises.

I don't have the program with me, but Cinderella's prince/the Wolf was vocally a loose cannon - he certainly has a large voice, but flatted or sharped by pushing too hard - a couple of times in Agony it was just plain wrong, and just didn't go far enough in the characterization for me. He was probably the most disappointing - not awful by any means - he has a beautiful richness to his sound, but just not there. The Baker's Wife was fine - has a good voice and sounded good, but seemed just too earnest, missing a lot of the cleverness and humor - consequently the emotion of that story line was a little lost for me (though you can't help but be shocked in the second act). I didn't get that she was one of the smartest and slyest people on the stage, and that's one of the things I like about that character - and it's needed humor. The witch had a great voice, but just a little too much arm swinging, screaming, and over-pointing for me. It all stops making sense, and it feels like the actor is trying too hard. She did have a great voice for it, though. I noticed, too, that many of the cast hamstrung the jokes by being aware that they were about to say something funny. Kills it every time - good to be reminded of that. I also wanted to just find out what the costumer was thinking with the witch transformation costume - not a good look.

Overall, I enjoyed it, thought it looked great for what was probably a shoe-string, and was engaging. So I'm glad I saw it - it's not often I get a chance to see a large musical. So, yay musicals. I hope they stage more.

Wednesday, November 03, 2010

Showing up

I have several friends who are doing National Novel Writing Month for November, and a few people have suggested it to me. I'm dragging my feet. I feel like I have a lot of other ideas and things that I'd like to be doing, so adding another just makes me feel guilty for all the things I'm not doing. But then again, most of the job is to sit down and just do it, right?

I got up this morning to meditate at 6:10. I've been wanting to do it for a while, and then I re-read a quote about meditation that I had cut out a while ago and posted on my bulletin board. It said something like you have to give up immediate comfort sometimes for something that will give greater comfort in the long run; you must get up 5 or 10 minutes earlier, foregoing your warm bed, to meditate. Those 5 minutes in bed are comfort for the moment, but the 5 minutes of meditation will have ripples in every aspect of your life. So just show up and do it.

I haven't decided, but I also reread this Martha Graham quote to Agnes DeMille about just doing it that spurred me on as well. She was one tough lady, sounds like.

There is a vitality, a life force, an energy, a quickening that is translated through you into action, and because there is only one of you in all of time, this expression is unique. And if you block it, it will never exist through any other medium and it will be lost. The world will not have it. It is not your business to determine how good it is nor how valuable nor how it compares with other expressions. It is your business to keep it yours clearly and directly, to keep the channel open. You do not even have to believe in yourself or your work. You have to keep yourself open and aware to the urges that motivate you. Keep the channel open. ... No artist is pleased. [There is] no satisfaction whatever at any time. There is only a queer divine dissatisfaction, a blessed unrest that keeps us marching and makes us more alive than the others.

So, I guess you just show up. And the below, also from Graham, sounds like a book in itself - what a harrowing moment and way to put it...

It wasn't until years after I had relinquished a ballet that I could bear to watch someone else dance it. I believe in never looking back, never indulging in nostalgia, or reminiscing. Yet how can you avoid it when you look on stage and see a dancer made up to look as you did thirty years ago, dancing a ballet you created with someone you were then deeply in love with, your husband? I think that is a circle of hell Dante omitted.

[When I stopped dancing] I had lost my will to live. I stayed home alone, ate very little, and drank too much and brooded. My face was ruined, and people say I looked odd, which I agreed with. Finally my system just gave in. I was in the hospital for a long time, much of it in a coma.


Well, I've gotten off the train again. Always happens. Ah well. Art - endlessly interesting.....

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Laundry

In keeping with my fancy tour of Los Angeles with the 99 cent store yesterday, today I did my laundry during my lunch hour. There’s a place that’s clean and close to where I work, and frees up other time I’d be taking doing it.


To tell the truth, I don’t really mind doing my laundry at a Laundromat. It makes me sit in one place for a block of time, usually where I can read. Today I read all about the sacking of Smolensk in “War and Peace” – beautiful – and then talked to a friend in Boston I’ve not been able to talk with because of the time difference, and various and sundry.

While I was reading about Smolensk being seiged, a woman came up to me and asked if she could trade a dime and three nickels for a quarter. She looked not so great – dirty dyed blond hair, when she smiled she was missing about one and a half teeth and the rest were browning on the side.

I never know what to do. I lived in New York for a long time, and there you begin to get an idea of who is homeless, who is crazy, who is angry, who it’s best to avoid. I always have a basic feeling of guilt. I don’t know what that’s about; I don’t know who this person is or what choices she’s made – it’s probably the wish that I could save someone and quickly realizing it’s not a problem I can solve. Feeling bad, for sure, does nothing. I got into an argument with a date once, who engaged a young man who had been laughing to himself, drinking all the milk from the thermos at Starbucks, and talking about how he just needed a break to be a star. The guy said “people like you are the problem” and that he just needed someone to talk to. I don’t know – living in close quarters you get an idea when someone has larger issues. Just spend some time in a subway car and you’ll see it in how people react when there’s something unsafe on the train. I think it’s a primal, felt response. I know I become guarded, but I'm working on it. Sometimes it's just painful to see someone else in pain. Though I'm sure that's probably projection as well.

I’m not great at ignoring people, though I had to do it in New York. One too many times of having someone follow me down the block calling me “big guy” or “chief” pleading because I met their eye, or told them I couldn’t help them. One friend even pointed out how do you give to one person and not another. You get a little hard-edged. In LA I mostly buy food if I see someone in need, but even then that’s not all the time by any stretch.

I gave the woman a quarter, and told her she could keep her change, it was fine. She wasn’t unstable, or dangerous, just having a very hard time. There wasn’t anything else I could do in that moment. She smiled and thanked me and said it was her last quarter, but her sentence trailed off as I went back to my book. To be sure, I would’ve done the same thing for anyone who asked for a quarter in the Laundromat. The quarter was nothing to me. But for some reason, this felt more complicated than just change.

Monday, October 25, 2010

99 cents



I had to pick up a couple of things at the 99 cent store. Cheap baskets. I go about once a year. While I was there, I walked around, picked up some soap and gum, batteries, and a box of Mike and Ike’s I don’t need.

While I was there, tooling down the pharmacy aisle (which, to be frank, scares me a little – I was even wary that the name brand sunscreen might be expired or close to it- probably only costs 10 cents to make so it’s probably fine, but nevermind) I saw a much older woman looking at the medications. I suppose this could bum me out, looking for discount medications, etc, at her age, but this is not a diatribe on health care.

Instead, it kind of struck me how we shop as a nation. I’ve known for a while we’re consumers – we’re bred as Americans to consume. Part of that is thinking that something’s wrong with us that can be fixed by buying something – cheap medication, hair care, fake body parts. We sell things and buy things – it’s what we do. But it was the strange feeling I got that no one was there with much of a purpose. People were endlessly browsing, picking up an item or two. It’s clear no one leaves that store empty-handed.

Shopping is certainly a pastime for many. I guess that the 99 cent store feels like it’s when shopping is a drug or compulsion of some sort. I’m sure that’s because most of the stuff really is crap. It’s amazing the amount of non-utilitarian cheap goods that are sold. Knick-knacks, cheaply made plastic objects. It’s like walking through a future garage sale.

Not that I don’t love it.

It just struck me today as some kind of odd place where lost people mill around looking for something to make them feel better. Of course, I suppose you could look at the whole planet that way. If you were cynical. Or more cynical than me.

This morning on the radio I heard a story about the decline of individual fishing as a livelihood lost to industrial fishing, and how the pollution from fertilizers and other industries are polluting the waters to the point that fish are going away in general. Jobs are lost, people can't make a living, and are turning boats into for here ventures for tours and parties - perfect.

And yesterday I heard a story about the marijuana growing economy in Northern California, where an entire town is dependent on the crop. If the laws are changed to legalize it, then the crop will move under the realm of bigger business and the entire town will more than likely go under, since there is really no other industry. There will be no room for individual farmers, because they can't match the price.

All this is just to say that there is free trade, which is great, but our seeming insatiableness and need for the cheapest possible items in as large a quantity as possible mixed with the profit motive looks like it’s causing us some serious problems. Are people willing to make other choices? Is it even possible to go back to some other model that doesn’t include enormous corporate conglomerates controlling our food and goods? I just read that Amazon was charging 9.99 for e-books for the Kindle, taking nearly a 5.00 loss on each book for the sake of the largest market share and future control. Then they were upset when a publisher told them it would not provide them content. They capitulated to raise the price, but put on their website that the publisher had a “monopoly” on their own content, so was forcing Amazon to raise prices. So Amazon can try to force them out of business, but when they actually try to do something about it they’re the bad guys. This is how business is run. I fear we’re actually coming to a place where there will be nothing but large corporate conglomerates that diversify just enough to skirt charges of a monopoly, all in the name of giving us the cheapest goods possible. Soon, we’ll have corporate monarchy – the few in power with the most money, and the rest of us in a servant class - at least those who aren't life coaches. That’s the bleak outcome.

I fear I’ve gotten off my point here a little.

It’s just interesting to watch people at the 99 cent store, and wonder what they actually need. I got what I went in for, and 7 more items. Still under 10 bucks. And I’m sure I’ll go back at some point.

Been a while

I have no shortage of things to write about, but I haven't been. That's about as simple as it gets. I even am behind on War & Peace.

So I'm pulling myself up by my bootstraps.

I saw the new Woody Allen movie "You will meet a tall dark stanger" this weekend. It was awful. Possibly one of the worst movies I've seen in the past several years. It ranks in my top five least favorite films ever. It's misanthropic, misogynist, nonsensical, and badly written. Some of the characters don't even make sense. Lucy Punch comes off well as a gold digger, and so does Anna Friel. Antonio Banderas is good, as is Gemma Jones. The problem, aside from the script, is Josh Brolin and Naomi Watts. I didn't like their characters, and I thought he, particularly, was just bad - lost, possibly, but bad.

Everyone in the movie had affairs, no one was honest, and the voiceover summation in the end actually said the only way to be happy at all in life is to be delusional. What a sad, sad, film. I know he's been uneven lately, but I like "Vicky, Christina, Barcelona". I keep hoping for a "Fanny and Alexander" from him, but it doesn't look forthcoming. Someone, take away the camera.

Meanwhile, I really liked "Social Network". Smart, well-acted, fast-paced. I don't know how true it is, but it's the perfect moment for it. The cast was uniformly great, and I was very impressed with Jesse Eisenberg. And Fincher. And Sorkin's script. Engrave the Oscar with that one.

I like "Howl" with James Franco, and want to write more about it - see previous post.

I also saw "Leap of Faith" at the Ahmanson. Raul Esparza was great - such a great voice. The supporting cast was wonderful, too. The show is servicable, with some good music. The weak link is Brooke Shields. She's likeable as an actress, but the role is not incredibly well-written. She would also not be my first choice for a put-upon, cynical single mother. I kept wishing for an actress with some real musical theater chops. She was drowned out by the other singers when she had to sing with them, and was bringing them down as well. Susan Egan would be great, I think. It's not an easy role - a lot of traps, and you just want someone who has a strong voice.

And a side note - the traveling choir was all in contemporary clothes, but the people of the town looked like they all bought one bolt of cloth in 1955 and dyed it different colors to make the same dress. Awful, ugly. It's shorthand, I know, but still...come on.

I saw "Glass Menagerie" with Judith Ivey at the Taper. Not sure I love the play, but she was really great. She made Amanda a real character - symapthetic and maddening. Heartbreaking. Patch Darragh was good, too, though I think directed a little over the top on the gay. Probably so the audience could not miss it, but still. He was good, though - wry. The concept was to keep it in the hotel where Tom is writing the memory play, so you never leave the hotel room. Unlike a regular production, where you're in the apartment, this took place in memory. That feels more true to life for me, but it also means the frame never leaves. You never forget that you're in a hotel with a drunk man rehashing memories. ON that level, it makes the play just that much sadder. Some beautiful writing, of course, and good performances. Laura's a hard one - that's all I'll say.

On the reading front, just started Joshua Ferris' "The Unnamed" which I'm excited about it. Great prose so far.

Excited to see "Venice" at the Kirk Douglas. And there's also a rare revival of Christopher Hampton's play Tales from Hollywood" that looks interesting, about Brecht and the foreign writers who wrote in Hollywood in the 30s and 40s.

Sunday, October 10, 2010

Ecstasy

I saw Howl this weekend, which I really enjoyed - James Franco portraying Alan Ginsberg. The movie is put together from court transcripts, interviews, and the poem itself. I have more thoughts about it specifically, but the ecstatic nature of the poetry moved me. They mention Whitman in the trial, as the precedent for Ginsberg, who is another ecstatic poet. And today I did a marathon watching of "Angels in America", which has arias and ecstasy as well, definitely. It's a beautiful piece.
But it got me thinking about gay men and ecstatic writing - perhaps poetry is ecstatic by its nature. I am thinking of Williams here, too, having seen "The Glass Menagerie" recently to. The thought hasn't quite germinated but we'll see.
This week I'm taking off Wednesday through Friday to just have a "staycation". What I'm hoping it's shaping up to be is some time to write about these things. Fingers crossed.

Wednesday, October 06, 2010

Tony



This is a Patty Griffin song I posted over on facebook as well. With the rash of teen gay suicides (6 in the past month that have made the news), I thought about this song. Normally, I would have issues with the F-word, but she uses it perfectly in this song - it's shocking and upsetting.

But further than that, as much as there is a lot horrible going on with this, DADT, Prop 8, it's important for me to remember how good it is for a lot of us in this country. Is it perfect? No. Is it as easy at it seems to be in Norway, or even Spain? No. But it is better than it has been probably ever. That's very important for me to remember, for a lot of reasons I won't enumerate here. But for my own personal journey, I know it's time to embrace it. In that, there's strength to get through all this negativity. I'm hoping so.

Monday, September 27, 2010

Can't Hurry the Harvest

Last night I went to a benefit at M Bar in Hollywood being held for a family with a 3 year old with Down's syndrome. Over a year ago, the parents found their daughter unconcious on the floor. The paramedics came, and they took her to the hospital. After tests the parents were told she had leukemia. She had already had reparative heart surgery at 5 months old. She just completed her leukemia treatment, but the family, of course, has been saddled with bills.

There was an amazing lineup of performers, headlined by Katey Segal, who sang a song of hers from the mid-90's called "Can't Hurry the Harvest", which I was struck by. She was great, and her 16 year old daughter came up and sang a couple of songs she wrote and played on the piano - she reminded me of Laura Nyro. I guess it's ever so, but there were a couple of teenagers who seemed so much more self-posessed and together than I ever thought about at 16.

Anyway, it was a night of great talent and heart. It's upsetting that there have to be these kind of things at all, but it's great when people can come together and do it. So that's good news.

I did also see "The Glass Menagerie" and "Never Let Me Go" this weekend, but those are all about sadness, so that will be another post.

Sunday, September 19, 2010

Spontaneous Poetry

So every once in a while some phrase pops into my head and then I follow it. Usually I think they're not so great, but this whole blog is about just writing and putting it out there, so here it is...

Can you come another time?
when I'm sitting on a pile of money,
on a wall surveying the ripe horizon,
sated from the luxe day
and looking for the choicest end?

Another time when I'm
receptive to dark whispers,
intimate sounds that slither
up my bones and wet my eyes?

Once more when I'm full
enough to listen, when it's perfect?

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

Batting Cage

This evening I went to the batting cage. The Burbank batting cage.

I had walked into a co-workers office, obviously twisted about something/nothing, the second day in a row of generalized frustration and anger that sadly can find very specific targets when not controlled.

I am the child of two extraordinarily angry adults. It would be surprising if some of it were not in my bones somewhere. Frankly, I'm scared of it. I've never been good at expressing it. When I confronted my mother about her anger once, she said "It's not directed at you," to which I responded, "well, when I'm the only person in the room and you're yelling at me, it sure feels like it." All this is immaterial to this evening (it's in the past and dealt with), excepting the fact that when faced with my own anger, I have no idea what to do with it - it seems a little terrifying and that might upset someone.

In times past, I've turned it inward, preferring to slide into a depressive hole that includes sad female singer/songwriters, country music, and ice cream. But since I've been cognizant of that lately, and have been trying to avoid depressive slides, I seem to be confronted with quite a surprising amount of non-specific anger that just boils up when I'm stymied or frustrated by any situation. Or, like this week, when I take a couple days off to go out of town and land somewhat gracelessly back into my life. Ker-plump, as Eleanor Roosevelt might say (as she does when reciting "High Hopes" on the Frank Sinatra show, which sadly I can't find on youtube).

So, back to this afternoon, when any little thing made me want to jump out of my skin. I had already consumed enough caffeine to power a small lawnmower (could this be the culprit?). My gay, softball-playing co-worker suggested the batting cages. And I said yes, like someone had just offered me a cool drink of water. Hitting something sounded like the best solution. The only solution. And since my mantra lately has been "First, do no harm", I thought the balls can't really feel it, so this was the best option.

So I took my intellectual self to the batting cages. How do I know I'm intellectual? I was deconstructing the process and thinking what I would write about it the whole time. And instead of angry, that made me laugh, laugh in the way you do when you just know something about yourself, and you can't help but have a little compassion for it. And besides, I was taking it all out on the balls. So there we were, two gay men at the batting cages - something that would have been unthinkable a few years ago to me. We put our money down and get a bat. Diet Cokes on me.

I go and hit a few balls, not too successfully. My friend tells me to bend my knees, lean into the pitch, grip the bat tightly at the base, keep my right arm up. It's not air golf, though it feels like I'm swatting rather than batting. And since I keep bending my wrists, I feel like a fey batboy pretending he's a player. My friend's up. I watch him hit a few times, and see what he means. Then I look over at the cage next to us, and see a man hitting every single ball gracefully. I see how he leans back from it, prepares with his front leg, swinging like he's a replica of the top of a trophy. I see now where that stance comes from. Then a woman follows him who does the same thing - graceful, easy, assured, strong.

I go back into the cage, mimic what I've seen and start hitting the balls. Now I'm hitting about 90%. I don't miss that many at all. And there's a great satisfaction in hitting the sweet spot, hearing the "thunk" and seeing the ball sail up. The aggression is gone. I am now all about finding the perfect hit and making sure my form is good. The anger has dissipated. By the time we go up for the second session, I am forming blisters on my thumbs. So I just change how I held my thumbs. And make sure to wash my hands when I'm done - you can never be too careful.

And since this is the kind of guy I am, I learned a few things:

The ball is never coming as fast as I think it is. There's actually time to anticipate it and wait for it to come to the right place. Don't panic.

Breathe.

The bat does the work.

You'll get a lot more done if you use your whole self, and not just parts, like the wrist, or the arms.

Sit into your weight; it's there for a reason, embrace it.

It never takes as much energy as I think it does.

There is no perfection.

You never know completely what's coming at you - it might be low and outside, or high and tight.

The nicks count - they stop the ball.

Wear gloves.

Sunday, August 29, 2010

Re-Readings


I am in love with this book. I just started it yesterday, but it’s making me dance inside.

Anne Fadiman culls the column she edited at American Scholar for this collection of seventeen writers revisiting books they loved earlier in life. I'm a fan of hers - I've read her other two books of essays: At Large and At Small: Familiar Essays, and Ex Libris: Confessions of a Common Reader, as well as The Spirit Catches You and You Fall Down, a non-fiction account of a Hmong girl with profound seizure disorder and the differing ways in which the Hmong and Western doctors deal with illness. That one will break your heart. More than once. So she's a great writer. She's so great a writer.

Her own introductory essay is wonderful. At times, when I’m very into an essay (doesn’t happen as much with fiction, but it does occasionally), I’ll actually take off into other places – not from boredom, but because something in the essay has sparked something in my own imagination. This was such an essay – her introduction is framed by her re-reading C.S. Lewis’ “A Horse and His Boy” from the Narnia chronicles to her eight-year old son. She’s shocked by it’s casual racism and sexism, something she hadn’t seen before, but by the end is rapt in a good story that still can touch her even though she knows that parts of it are now to her offensive. And she sees it again through the eyes of her son, who just wants a good yarn.

In the meantime she meditates a bit on readers, as does at least the first essayist (I'm only half-way through the second essay). Reading is a solitary activity, and one in which the reader has to on some level prefer the company of imaginary people to real ones. The joy she describes in a good book, though, is one I’ve palpably felt; I’m also a re-reader. She argues that as kids we become what we’re reading, that we are easier able to mold ourselves than when we’re more solid adults – as we age a lot of us move to non-fiction, as it doesn’t ask of us to pour ourselves into another’s mold as fiction might.

It’s an interesting idea. I was thinking of it in relation to War and Peace, which I’m still reading (until January). I was trying to pinpoint that emotion I felt while reading it, which is different than a non-fiction book. I feel in a novel that I walk through, and into, a world . I look through the eyes of the character and see what they are seeing – perhaps that’s why I am more emotionally drawn to books than movies somewhat. In a memoir I can feel something deeply, but it’s usually empathy. In a novel, many times I’m feeling through a character – it’s a curious other empathy. In War & Peace, I can see Andrei Bolkonsky from outside as perhaps a cold, judgmental, distanced man; at the same time I am feeling from the inside his hurt, injury, and worldview. His actions make sense and I can see through his eyes. And it’s not empathy, it feels like an actual feeling. I’m stepping into the driver’s seat, even though I know it’s all a simulation. I do love that about books.

This book made me remember mye own obsessive reading as a kid. David Samuels, in his essay on Salinger’s “Franny and Zooey” (coincidentally the only Salinger book I’ve read - I always feel dorky for never having read Catcher in the Rye. I've tried a few times. Oh well. I don't even remember this book too well - time for a re-read.) talks about kid readers as being the unhappy ones, or from a difficult family situation. I don’t think that’s true for everyone, but I can relate. There’s something about being a reader. I’ve talked to people who don’t read for pleasure, and it’s clear for most it begins early. I’m sure for Samuels it was an escape from an unhappy situation, but it can just as easily be an escape from what feels like endless boredom as a child as well, from the routine of daily life, into a world of adventure.

I remember reading “Mrs. Frisby and the Rats of NIMH” over and over in the 4th grade, rotating with “From the Mixed-Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler”, which I read on the bus to school, reading about Claudia and Jamie’s bus ride to school during which they hatched a plan to run away to the Metropolitan Museum of Art from the also far away Greenwich, Jamie counting his change. GreenWitch, I thought it was. I remember reading “A Horse and His Boy” along with all the Narnia books the year my parents were getting divorced. Prince Caspian I took out on the back patio in Omaha, laying on a plastic covered metal lounge chair – the kind that made the ratchet sound when you adjusted them - in the shade while my mother sunbathed in a brown bikini covered in Bain de Soleil. I remember her being so sad, and that book being the most boring in the series. Maybe it was just hard to concentrate. In my twenties and early 30’s I read “Howards End” every summer for 7 years. Howards End I remember, but all I can remember of Mrs. Frisby was that the lab looked like my 4th grade classroom, and the grass like the grasses in the fields at the end of our block. I wonder how it would read now? A lot of times when I'm finished with a book I don't remember much plot, but I don't forget the feelings. I’m excited about what these authors remember and remember to love about something that was once important enough to in some cases form a world view around.

This also makes me think about reading itself –the romance of it. I don’t know why it sticks in my mind, but a friend of mine told me once how her high school speech teacher described the best thing about her relationship with her husband being that they would sit and read together. And one day when I was living in New York, I was walking down Lafayette right below Houston and saw two men reading the morning paper at a café, one of them absent-mindedly stroking the other’s forearm. The intimacy and affection struck me deeply and is still burned in my mind, but also that they were reading. Reading is intimate and old to me – to be tethered to someone while off exploring other worlds, surfacing to share what treasure you may have found, is a beautiful thing.

While I was reading the introduction yesterday at breakfast, I looked up and saw a woman sitting opposite her husband start to laugh and laugh while thumping the spine of the open Terry Pratchett book she had been reading in preparation of sharing with him what she had found so entertaining. His t-shirt said “Life is Short” on the back. It’s true, and that’s why we have books.

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

Colorful Pasts




A friend on facebook posted this video today, and I was mesmerized. They’re 1922 color tests for film by Kodak. This is 13 years before the first Technicolor process. I’ve written before about Andreyev’s photos from turn of the century Russia before (see the main blog photo – that was in color about 1913).

It’s an interesting time period, but more so I’m fascinated by how close it makes the past. We see ourselves so much through film, more than any other art I think – at least it’s become our main historical record for how people actually looked and behaved, even if it’s fictional. So seeing these women mug for the camera, or just talk in between, is hypnotizing. They seem just like us, not women from nearly 100 years ago. The color palette makes perfect sense – it reminds me of the color glazes you see on pottery of the period, or in a Mucha painting.

At the core, though, is just the immediacy of them seeming like you’d see on the street. We’re humans – we haven’t changed that much. Like that Joni Mitchell line – “Everything comes and goes/marked by lovers and styles of clothes”. Who knows if these women would be movie stars today, but they’re fascinating, with their translucent skin made up, and their hair coiffed perfectly. They seem innocent, too – it’s tempting to think that this is 20 years before the Holocaust so they would not have experienced that particular horror, though it was waiting for them—but they would have just come out of World War I and the horrors and loss of that one, though unaware of the grinding Depression a few years away. They’re so sweet, though. The woman and boy hug in a way that looks very familiar, and somehow the color makes it feel like it is happening today.

I don’t know why I’m so touched by these things – I just am. It’s beautiful to see that we don’t really change, and history is happening now. Through these images, I can pull it a little closer.

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

Staying Entertained

It’s been way too long. My list below is not inspiring me. And heck, I haven’t even watched “Beaches of Agnes” yet, or the rest of Season 1 of True Blood. Or anything on my DVR but Project Runway. Can we just admit I’m not a TV person?

Saw “Lieutenant of Inishmore” at the Taper. Really bloody. Good performances, but the play struck me as just a further strike at “Playboy of the Western World” for some reason. And a little obvious, I guess. Aside from the grossout, the most I got was that violence is senseless and eats itself, consuming all. Yes, they killed people ON STAGE, which is a trick, but aside from the horror, I didn’t get much from it, except sad. Maybe that’s the point, but from the laughs I don’t think so. I couldn’t get in the frame to take it lightly.

That’s been it for theater, except for the light “LA Tool and Die Live” at the Celebration. Full disclosure: Sean Abley, who wrote and directed it, is a friend of mine. So I really couldn’t help but love it. It’s smart, silly, fast and fun. And I hope it does very well for him.

I did see “Eat Pray Love” and “Scott Pilgrim vs. The World” this weekend. I liked EPL for what it was – it reads less like the complete Cinderella story it comes off as. I wonder if some of the flack Gilbert gets and the movie is getting is that it seems selfish for a woman to just take off and say she wants to do things for herself. A roaming man is Jack Kerouac, but a roaming woman is selfish. Dunno. Part of it probably is that self-discovery can be masterful and identifiable in a book, yet look self-obsessed when boiled down to actions.  For instance, a favorite moment in the book is when she reaches the "blue pearl" meditation state of all feeling one only when she is given a job to be her true, chatty self. It's the summation of the India section in some ways, and it's her sitting in the back of a room in the movie.  And bummed they didn't keep the thing about the Richard Jenkins character having open heart surgery because he kept praying for his heart to open. But it was a good travelogue. I like the cast, and enjoyed it.

Scott Pilgrim made me laugh, and it’s a great gimmick making it a cross between a graphic novel and a video game, with the attendant graphics, sounds, and time changes. The film got a little long for me, and dragged a bit when the gimmick wore off, but I did like it. Kieran Culkin is great as the gay best friend who is the most self-assured guy in any room. Any film that ends with Michael Cera and Jason Schwartzman dueling to the death is quite the nerdgasm.



I went to visit friends in Idyllwild up in the San Jacinto mountains as well. Very beautiful, small town. I enjoyed it, and sneezed a lot. I’ve been reading Noah Levine’s “Dharma Punx” a memoir about his recovery from drugs and path to Buddhism (it’s a fascinating coupling with “An Unquiet Mind” that I’m reading at the same time). It’s an interesting story, but as I was sitting out reading it on the patio on Sunday morning, I just thought to put the book down and actually meditate outdoors. Of course, a fly buzzed in my ear the moment I started. But it was so beautiful, and there were those loud sounds of nature – if you ever just want to sit and do a mindfulness meditation, outdoors is the best place to be aware of all that’s happening around you – distant chainsaw, then stopping; a barking dog; birdsong; an insect that sounds as if an electric wire is being snapped. And right as my timer was going off for 20 minutes, Lion, the dog who had been sitting around with me, came up and nudged me in the elbow. It was perfect.

This morning I had two MRI’s and that was an exercise in mindfulness – not to feel claustrophobic, and to not move. I asked between them if the radiation was a problem, and the technician told me it was all magnets, and that there is zero harm. “Well, I can’t say zero harm, “ he said, “but no harm. In training we had to practice on each other so I had one a week. It’s magnets. It’s good for you. Well, I don’t know if that’s true, but they’ve been doing it forty years and no problems yet.”

I don’t know if you’ve had one, but it’s a very loud swinging magnet. There were about six sequences each 3-5 minutes long. There would be the initial buzz beep, then some taps, then the long sequence. It sounds like some Phillip Glass punk band – loud loud sound like some hitting an electric base string amped up, then some taps like testing a microphone, and then setting into a long rhythmic assault. The bass line changes, and that was entertaining. There was the machine gun with the occasional high pitch whoosh. There was a fast four count of two tones, one that sounded to me like “emer emer, emer, emer” and a slightly higher pitched “I, I, I, I” so when sounding together it was like “emer, emer, I, I” – MRI. Then there was the one that started sounding like an enormous male voicing “bah bah bah bah bah” over and over into a very loud microphone. Over that one there was a little bell rhythm that would sound above on about the 3 count and then the 2 (I couldn’t quite count since it was pretty fast, but blessedly regular) like bedebedebeep pause, pause, bedebeep”. Jazzy. Once it became clear that it was too loud to even think about meditation, I just went into the sound. And each time it stopped there was a tick, tock, like a clock but twice as fast. I can see why those electric base lines can be so satisfying. And the overtones were nifty to pick out.

It’s best to be entertained when you can be.

Thursday, July 29, 2010

The Kids are all right?

I was thinking this morning (dangerous!) about Outfest and some of the films I saw there. I really did like some, and glad they’re being made, but I am one of those voices who feel like a lot of gay films (especially) seem to break down into coming out stories and wish fulfillment.

I’m not saying this is all gay film – two friends of mine made interesting films the last couple of years – Socket, about a man who becomes addicted to electrical charge; and Pornography: A Thriller – a Lynchian suspense movie that shuffles back and forth in time. Both films did well, but were stymied by the difficulty in pinpointing genre and audience. So, perhaps this is actually a larger issue (which is in mainstream film as well) of what and how something is marketed in our product-driven time. Just writing off the top of my head here – hopefully it will end up making sense.

I walked into Outfest, though, and said to the box office after looking at the program “so the lesbians are still making films about adults and the gay men are making films about sixteen year-olds.” It may be unfair, but it got a spit-take, which I don’t think would’ve happened if it weren’t, on some level, true. I’m actually not here to denigrate gay and lesbian film – any attempt at film-making is great – it ain’t easy. And I think there are some amazing gay and lesbian film makers telling great stories – not all are gay-specific and I’m not someone who thinks they need to be.

I do think, though, at some point, it would be great to make films about gay adults. With their shirts on. Just a thought.

After while my mind shuts off when I read for the umpteenth time "young Justin just graduated from high school and is trying to deny the strong feelings for his friend Dirk, who is having girlfriend troubles of his own..."  Tortured adolescent drama and/or hilarity ensues.

It’s a thought that germinated from seeing Lisa Cholodenko’s wonderful “The Kids Are All Right”. I read a review in the mainstream press, NY Times I think, that said this was actually one of the best films about marriage, straight or gay, in a while. It’s true that it seems there are fewer and fewer movies about adults for adults. This one was a breath of fresh air. The critical reception has been great, probably not hurt by having three great roles for adult actors. I’ve often, thought, though, that underneath the resistance to gay marriage is a resistance to having us grow up. Marriage is a rite of adulthood. By denying it, we’re denied being full, adult citizens. I think it’s easier to lampoon gay marriage, or make fun of what it might be, than to explore two adults in a relationship over a long haul, which is what “The Kids Are All Right” does. And it still manages to get some sex in there.

Don’t get me wrong, I have nothing against boys with their shirts off, but it’s like a diet of all sugar. I know, somehow, that we’re capable of more.

Maybe it’s what I thought after I walked out of a narrative at Outfest this year – “It’s hard to write a good screenplay, isn’t it?”

Thursday, July 22, 2010

Lists again

So the ideas are piling up, though I do not seem to be sitting down and writing about them. Sometimes it just helps to make a list

-Sorrows of Dolores and Florent: Queen of the Meat Market at Outfest. Ideas about the downtown theater scene in NY, my own experience of it, and the time that both the Ludlam and Florent are representative of.  Especially when it comes to now NY influences the rest of the country, and my own love for this kind of performance

-Shorts at Outfest - some great shorts, and I just wanted to do a capsule of it.  And the haunting Polish doc that won best short, too. And why we pick the subjext we pick

-Bearnation and Bear City at Outfest - liked the former more than the latter, which proved to me again how challenging it is to make an interesting, good film, especially with not a lot of money. And glad people are trying it.

-Motherless Brooklyn - detective with Tourette's.  Enjoyed it - not sure I have more to say, but a surreal experience reading a book that's set in my old neighborhood

- War & Peace - some of the passages are making me think about why reading is a pleasure like no other for me.  I've been thinking a lot about why a book envelops in a way that no other medium does for me.

- Watching "The Beaches of Agnes" (finally!) this weekend, and I'll probably have finished Kay Redfield Jamison's "An Unquiet Mind" by that point, so I guess I could add those, too.

And I bet something else will pop up as well. Still need to see "Lieutenant of Inishmore" at the Taper, as well as The Kids are All Right."; I'm also seeing a friend in [title of show] at the Celebration on Saturday night, which I'm excited about, and "Love Boat Chicas" at Casita Del Campo on Tuesday.  Much of a muchness!

The Walking Man



Last night a Silverlake fixture passed away - The Walking Man - a 58 year-old retired doctor, Marc Abrams, who walked 15 miles a day around the neighborhood, usually just wearing a pair of shorts. He was exceedingly tan, and read the paper while he walked. In the winter, he'd wear a thin winter jacket, and it was clear he wasn't wearing a shirt underneath. Still the shorts - I don't think I ever saw him in pants.

It's funny - I never met the man, but I feel a little sad. Wistful, maybe. Facebook is full of people who are shocked at the news - it's surprising how many people can be affected by the loss of someone they don't know.

He stands for something in the neighborhood, though. Something that's local, special, a little out there but in no way dangerous. He was even painted in a mural on Sunset. Comforting, like an odd uncle, and someone that everyone had an opinion about -
"I hear he's a doctor" - check
"He must have some kind of obsessive condition" - not really, turns out he had rheumatoid arthritis, and walked to alleviate pain.
"He must be homeless" - not, just an individual who liked to walk. Shirtless while reading. Quite a sight. Even in the darkness, with a flashlight.

I saw him at least once a week, if not more, usually Saturday mornings on Griffith Park Blvd, though sometimes I'd see him of an evening on Hyperion. It was like sighting a hummingbird. There's something of a comfort in it - here I am, in Silverlake. The guy is walking and reading, I love my neighborhood. And he always tipped off some kind of story, a little question about what made him tick, and what would make him walk that much. And not a slow walker, to boot, he really made time.

There's not to much to ponder, I suppose. He was a fixture that made me happy about where I live. That will continue, I'd imagine, but without this particular talisman. He will surely be a missed sight.

Rest in peace, resting feet.

Tuesday, July 13, 2010

The Adults in The Room

This weekend at Outfest, I saw a screening of "The Adults in the Room", filmmaker Andy Blubaugh’s exploration of his relationship with a thirty year-old man when he was 16, a relationship that in many ways seems to continue to haunt and form him. Not surprising, then, that he made a film about it. Surprising though, that he chose to tackle this taboo subject and try as much as possible to reserve judgment about his past, his former love, or the issue of these kinds of relationships.

The film is told in simultaneous documentary/narrative style, with adult Andy reminiscing about his experiences, interviewing friends, teaching classes to young adults and trying to reach “Peter”, the man with whom he had the affair, while actors re-enact scenes from Andy’s past. It’s a challenging formal choice – I’ve always been intrigued by it, which is why I saw the film. I’m a fan of Agnès Varda, who uses herself as subject in her films, and of "I Am My Own Woman" by Rosa Von Praunheim, in which the subject of the doc comes into frame every now and again to correct the actors and coach them on how to play him.

Andy gets involved with a classmate’s uncle, who seemingly is a serial dater of younger men/boys: when Andy contacts him in the present, 13 years after their affair, he’s dating a twenty year-old. Andy himself must struggle through his need to protect Peter as well as please him, which it looks like from the film he’s been trying to do for most of his life – measuring himself against Peter’s view of Andy’s potential and coming up short. In the course of the film, Peter cuts off contact, and I said to myself “thank god”, since even though I don’t know the filmmaker, it seemed like a straining relationship and one he needed to escape from.

The nature of these older/younger relationships (and by that I mean when one partner is under the age of consent) is the sticky wicket of the film. Blubaugh interviews a few talking heads – one an administrator who is quite gentle, and shares with him how she would feel if he were her son (she was the soul of compassion); one a counselor who believes there is a definite line for when these behaviors are unacceptable; another (Dan Savage), who recounts his own experience of losing his virginity to a much older woman (a bit of a surprise as Savage is out and gay). Savage argues that it’s a gray area after a certain age and before the age of consent. Interwoven are Blubaugh’s conversations with his friends about their views, played against a backdrop of Portland’s mayor who was caught in a scandal of having an inappropriate relationship with an underage intern. Adding on to that is Blubaugh’s own job as a teacher, working with kids on creating film. Looking around at the kids in the room is probably the most effecting aspect of the film. I thought to myself how clear it was that these 15, 16 & 17 year-olds were kids, and it’s hard to have much sympathy for someone who would take advantage of that.

I have my own views, complex as anyone’s I suppose – Savage brings up an interesting point about some of these kids knowing what they’re doing and having a very pleasurable rite of passage experience. But I kind of feel like saying these kids know what they’re doing is like saying if am holding a machine gun I know how to work it. I don’t, and I could do serious damage. If a person in power, as this older man was clearly in Andy’s life, doesn’t respect the power and intensity of what’s going on the stage can be set for future troubles. And that’s not to say all adults don’t, but it’s clear in Andy’s case the adult didn’t – he’s serially involved with younger men, and there is clearly a hero worship/loss of youth/ Peter Pan thing going on with this guy (at least as written by Blubaugh). The relationship clearly has affected all Andy’s subsequent relationships.
I’m digressing here – it’s not my place to therapize, though tempting when the filmmaker puts himself forth as subject.

The movie felt a little long to me, even at 80 minutes, slowing most for me in the time Blubaugh spent in conversation with his friends – much about responsibility and growing up. The narrative sections were well done, and Calvin McCarthy, the young actor who played Andy, was fearless in his role. Some of the conversations were enlightening, but it can feel like navel-gazing a bit to explore that much of oneself on film. Even with Agnès Varda, who I mentioned above, in something like “The Gleaners and I” (which is brilliant – if you haven’t seen it, rent it, buy it, own it, love it) – it’s paradoxically her person and her curiosity which give the film its power, but when she begins exploring herself as sole subject the film loses some of it’s power. I feel the same with this film – when we are watching Andy in class, or seeing his curiosity in interviewing experts or trying to reach Peter, he’s more compelling to me than when he’s just sitting and chatting with his friends about himself. It’s the curiosity of the filmmaker that compels –the force and breadth of their investigation – collaterally we get to know them, but are still tantalized by what we don’t.

That said, that he even tackled this subject at all, knowing that even speaking of it could adversely affect his employment or his future is very brave. (It’s the paranoia I ascribe to even talking about certain things – if you say “America is a capitalism”, someone will yell “Love it or leave it” when the statement doesn’t imply any judgment whatsoever.) It’s a double standard, but that it was two men makes it even more complicated, with the history of “homosexuals preying on victims” rhetoric that stubbornly persists today. Savage’s experience being with a woman is interesting as that’s “Summer of 42” territory – I’m also thinking of the Garth Brooks song “Burning both ends of the Night” – both in which a straight man’s fantasy is to be initiated into sexuality by an older woman. Though this kind of older/younger relationship can certainly be part of the gay experience for many of us, it’s unique in the world at large in that both parties are subject to vilification – one for a relationship with a younger man, and one for being gay. There are no high-fives as there might have been in Dan’s case. Although Dan, being gay, may not have felt high-fivey. Who knows? I can not fathom having been sexual at that age, though a lot of my peers were (in relationships with someone older) and were not adversely affected in any way. Probably the best film I’ve seen on this male-male relationship (WWII as well, so Summer of ’42 again), narrative-wise, which I don’t think could have been made in this country, is the Dutch film For A Lost Soldier", in which a much older writer looks back on his relationship with an older soldier when he was a boy.

See? It’s complicated—I’ve already wishy-washed myself in trying to write about it – and even got sucked into writing about it when I didn’t really want to address it. It certainly starts a conversation, and I admire his fortitude in not taking a pro or con position, even with his own experience. That can’t be easy to do. I suppose, like everyone, he has a complicated relationship to his past. And I’m still thinking about it.

It’s an honor to have that shared with you since I don't think most would be that uncompromising without feeling exhibitionistic, and I thank him for it. I’m glad Outfest exists so we can see movies like this. And I’m interested to see what films he’s going to make next.

Monday, July 12, 2010

The Pruned Tree

I've been thinking a lot about the loss of a friend I had a couple years ago, and many others, too. I suppose this is the reality of humanity.

I may have written this before, but a teacher of mine expressed this difference between pathos and tragedy being the realization that something is going to happen without being able to stop it. So if you get hit by a bus it's pathetic, but if you look up and say "I'm going to get hit by a bus" and can do nothing to stop it, it's tragic. It's a gross simplification, but it works. Ergo, all human life is a tragedy, since we know what's waiting at the end. We go on as we have to. It's been said more eloquently from Shakespeare to Beckett, and usually I, as I think we all do, march along without thinking of it. How could we? Knowledge or fear of that on a daily basis could be debilitating, maddening in a true sense of losing sanity. But sometimes it peeks itself up through the cracks.

Or maybe I'm wrong - maybe all we do is in knowledge of it - have religions and belief systems, ethics, even care for each other. In my optomistic view, knowledge of our mortality is what keeps us caring for each other. Rather than make us nihilistic, I think naturally it makes us care more for what ourselves, as we realize we are precious.

What was I talking about again? No editing today, folks.

Oh, right. So, this poem. It's one of my faves, so possible I've posted it before. When a friend's father died, I sent this to his mother. I think now that may have been wildly inappropriate, like thinking that showing "Hannah and Her Sisters" to a class of mine to teach them Chekhov would make any sense. The connection made sense to me. It had not been an easy time, or an easy death. It was a long, slow tragedy. So, I thought of this poem, and its optimism. I think she appreciated it, actually, or that's what she said. I find it comforting, with its connection to the earth, and sense of movement. And, even at a literal level, it's good to remember this poem when I drive home and see how violently cut back the tree in the front yard is once every couple of years. It grows back. Each time, it gets as full as it once was, and we have shade again.

The Pruned Tree
by Howard Moss

As a torn paper might seal up its side,
Or a streak of water stitch itself to silk
And disappear, my wound has been my healing,
And I am made more beautiful by losses.
See the flat water in the distance nodding
Approval, the light that fell in love with statues,
Seeing me alive, turns its motion toward me.
Shorn, I rejoice in what was taken from me.

What can the moonlight do with my new shape
But trace and retrace its miracle of order?
I stand, waiting for the strange reaction
Of insects who knew me in my larger self,
Unkempt, in a naturalness I did not love.
Even the dog's voice rings with a new echo,
And all the little leaves I shed are singing,
Singing to the moon of shapely newness.

Somewhere what I lost I hope is springing
To life again. The roofs, astonished by me,
Are taking new bearings in the night, the owl
Is crying for a further wisdom, the lilac
Putting forth its strongest scent to find me.
Butterflies, like sails in grooves, are winging
out of the water to wash me, wash me.

Now, I am stirring like a seed in China.

Sunday, July 11, 2010

Farmer's Market


This is my local Farmer's Market. I like it - it's small and manageable. There's a big one in Hollywood on Sunday, which people love - it has drumming groups, lots of food vendors, and celebrity sightings. I almost feel like I need to dress. It's a bit of a scene, so I don't go to that one very often. If only how impossible it is to make a choice - there are so many stalls you don't know who to buy from. I's spend my whole day figuring out the best deal. Mine is wee in comparison.

It's right down the road. There's an Asian woman on the left right when you walk in who looks like she might be Mongolian, who has a baby I've seen grow from an infant she carried on her back, now gradudated to a playpen behind her stall. She eats some kind of seed while shuffling vegetables. I buy some greens from her - some that have white flowers, some with yellow flowers, and Chinese broccoli. I don't prepare them so much as just steam them and eat them. They taste bitter and green, satisfying. I don't like the bok choy.

Today I bought corn, strawberries, brussell sprouts, , asparagus, spinach, peaches and plums. A tomato. The boy who sold me the plums told me if I wanted the sweet ones to pick those that are dark and soft but not mushy. I knew that already, but I thanked him. 5 plums for 1.80, and when I added another trying to get close to 2.00 I went over by a quarter. He rounded down, and wouldn't take the quarter. I like that about the farmer's market - they round down. A few weeks ago I got insane deals on cherries.

Last night at dinner we were talking about farmer's markets, eating a wonderful salad of tomatoes and grilled vegetables that two of the guys had grown in their garden. I keep hoping someone here will have Concord grapes like they have at the Union Square farmer's market in NY. They're like candy. And frozen, they're peelable popsicles. Union Square is still my first and my favorite farmer's market. It would be worth a 5 hour plane ride for me to go when the grapes are in season and apples are in full flush into October, when the weather begins to change but it's not completely the time of hot cider, root vegetables and squash. I used to make a salad of corn, beets, tomatoes, and red onions. One day I substituted store-bought lettuce and I was surprised the salad lost much of its pep. You can even taste the difference in the lettuce.

There's a Chinese woman at the farmer's market I go to who is tall and slender, with a wonderful smile, and always has great fruit. It's usually a bit more, but she was in line with everyone else today. She usually pops in an extra piece of small fruit at the end, as if she's slightly guilty about making you pay, or possibly to make sure you have enough. Once I bought a large bag of jujubes from her and learned how to make medicinal jujube tea. She has a display. Today I bought white peaches from her assistant, maybe her daughter. They're so ripe I'm almost afraid to touch them anymore but at the same time it's tempting to feel the perfect ripeness - the slightest firmness, but giving to the touch. They're a pale, pale yellow with shocks of peach orange. I know when I eat them, they're going to be perfect: juicy, sweet beyond belief. I'd like to anticipate that a bit longer, but one is calling my name. Right now. Summer is wonderful for this.

Wednesday, July 07, 2010

Lit

I just finished reading Lit by Mary Karr, a memoir about her adult life, past The Liar's Club, her first memoir and one that helped kick off the current memoir genre popularity. That memoir was about her terrifying childhood and difficult mother. This one is about her college, marriage, alcoholism, recovery and discovery of faith - as well as a relationship to her mother, which is the undercurrent of the book.

It's a tall order, now that I think about it. Finishing it I realize it spans about twenty years, if not more. The uniqueness in this, I suppose, reading her other book, is that this book - while still having certainly enough drama in it - is about the legacy of the pain. It's clear she had to deal with it while writing about it, but is honest enough to not pretend as if that makes everything okay. She still has to live with who she is. The way she does that, or figures out how to do that, is the meat of the book. She's eloquent and simple when walking through her recovery, even her conversion. The writing on sobriety is great, and you see why she's walking the road she's on, even though at times it's not at all a comfort.

It's a big book. I definitely felt her poetry in her writing, sometimes to its detriment, but not for most of it. Only a couple of times did I feel like her Writing was getting in the way of her writing - by that I mean her crafting of words was so enjoyable to her that I lost what was being said. It can be a danger - I didn't finish Rick Bragg's "All over but the shouting" because of it - but that's my own pet peeve. I'm sure some people love it. Mostly, though, her poetic language serves her well - to clarify who she is and to specify her feeling - her poetic language makes her feelings more specific, which is the whole point.

If I could give you plot points I would probably have a more eloquent review here, but I'm loath to do that. The beauty of this book is in the journey, and it's a hard-earned beautiful journey. Her gift is in telling her story so well - with enough self-knowledge to keep her searching for more, but not an over-abundance that keeps her at a remove. She's super-smart, that's clear, and funny. But she isn't living as an analyst by any means.

I was also struck how much she respects the people in her book. It's clear she's very respectful of her ex-husband and her part in their relationship; she resists the temptation to demonize him. Or anyone. That may be the key feature in her recovery that is so apparent - her compassion. She resists demonizing almost anyone, and everyone comes across as wonderfully human. That's an accomplishment, and certainly for a memoirist who controls how we see everyone. I most admire the end of the book. There's a moment when it could be easily warmly wrapped up - almost a Hollywood ending. Life's not that simple, though. I'm sure she could have ended it that way without bending any truth, but by not doing that the ending felt earned, which I think is much harder to achieve.

I won't give away anything, I would just say read it. It's a broad book about a specific life, and that's a beautiful thing.

Monday, June 28, 2010

Movie Capsules from the weekend

I saw a few movies this weekend. It’s been a while, actually, since I’ve seen this many in a short amount of time. I had sinus surgery, and needed to get out of the house. Movies are great in that they really only require you to move from sitting one place to sitting another. A friend had tickets for a musical, and I knew I wasn’t up for that, but a few movies, that I could do.



Toy Story 3. It made me cry, and then I couldn’t blow my nose becuase of the sinus surgery - darn you, Pixar! That’s some kind of torture. They just hit this one out of the park. It’s definitely action/adventure caper that you’d expect from a sequel, but underneath is an exploration of childhood, friendship, purpose, and saying goodbye. I really was blindsided, even though I was warned, at how affecting it was. The voice talent and animation are top notch, and it manages to be clever and inventive without ever feeling like it’s reaching for a joke. I can’t remember the last narrative live action film I was this moved by. That’s saying something.



Joan Rivers: A Piece of Work. Go. See. This. Film. She’s certainly complicated, and the glimpse I took of the reviews indicate that one’s reception of the film will be colored by one’s opinion of her. I doubt, though, that you will be able to come away from this movie without a healthy dose of respect for her. She does define the term “workaholic”, but you leave the film uncertain if that’s a bad thing. Depending on your view, she might be a tragic figure, unable to enjoy the fruits of her outsize labor; a survivor who has not let a lifetime of pain stop her from her dreams; a unquenchable personification of ambition that ultimately has no satisfaction – a kind of Tantalus. I left with a great respect for her work, her no-holds barred self-assessment, and her big heart. I don’t know if she’s hiding an inner depth, or some deep pain that she’s not in touch with – there is exploration of her husband’s suicide and their relationship as well as with her daughter, but nothing of her formative years that sound like they may have been painful (when a heckler tells her he has a deaf child and she’s not funny, she responds that her mother was deaf and we have to laugh at life to deal with the pain). At several points, you see how she has struggled, and her belief that live is above all hard – after delivering a Thanksgiving meal to a woman in a wheelchair with MS who had been an art photographer she bluntly says, “Life is so…mean!” No matter, though – she doesn’t dwell on it for very long, and doesn’t present herself as a nut to crack. She’s fascinating, though, and funny, funny, funny. I think the filmmakers have taken a little heat for this being too sympathetic, but it doesn't feel puffy to me at all. If there's anything you can say about her, it's that she's certainly ruthless in her own self - assessment. After playing a tribute at the Kennedy Center she is asked how she thought she did and she says "Funnier than some, not as funny as others" and then it's on to the next gig.



Io Sono L'Amore (I Am Love). I will right away say this is not a film for everyone. On some level it feels like a showcase for Tilda Swinton, but what a showcase it is. It’s reminiscent of Sirk, Visconti, heavily visual, even sensual. In fact, it’s probably the closest you’d get to a completely sensual film without reaching out and touching anything. Tilda Swinton plays a Russian woman who has married into a wealthy Italian family, has three children about college age or after, and is having an awakening. I’ll leave it at that. I will say, though, that the scenery (both natural and man-made) is luxurious, luscious and swoon-inducing, as is Edoardo Gabbriellini (managing to be not ridiculously perfect but perfectly what he needs to be), who is part of her awakening. The interiors of the house, the clothes, and then the countryside around Sanremo are just voluptuous. Heavily visual, it nevertheless packs a wallop story wise, and was unexpectedly moving. Swinton is just so fascinating. Her face is mask-like, in that it never seems to betray great emotion, yet is full of it. She’s completely in control of her faculties. It’s a joy to see someone at the top of their game, and even more in a role that’s so delicate. She’s a walled-off character, somewhat reticent, and her bloom reflects that as well. She can be unbelievably ravishing or plain, blend into walls or make you forget there's anyone else in the room. She never is seeming to work hard - it's all effortless. There’s also an amazing, amazing scene with Maria Paiato, who plays her maid, which is almost shocking in how affecting it is. These are my favorite moments in films - when some emotion has been quietly building that you don’t even know is there, and it reveals itself in full force. An incredible supporting cast in this, too. Marisa Berenson turns it out as the family matriarch. Note perfect. A scene when the women close ranks against a beau who has been rejected tells you everything you would need to know about the super-rich, or the super-rich in this world. I love the formalism - how it's just so film-y, for want of a better word, using the medium as an illustrative, impressionistic, emotional tool. I gasped at one point.

Well, I guess between that and Toy Story, it was quite an emotional weekend.



Let the Right One In – Okay, so this is a couple years old. Norwegian film about an unhappy 12 year old boy and the girl vampire that moves in next door. I had heard great things about it and wasn’t disappointed. It’s definitely not an American movie – it takes its time to set up both the suspense and the relationship between the two kids. The violence is disturbing and gruesome, which is kind of a nice change from the current trend of sexy vampires everywhere (that sounds like a movie itself). There is some humor, hapless adults, the true unhappiness and loneliness that can beset a kid of that age – especially an unpopular, bullied kid. Their relationship is wonderful, and allowed to develop at a pace that makes sense while the world is circling closer and closer to her secret. Lina Leandersson plays Eli, the 12 year old vampire with a centuries old soul, and is - I don’t even have the superlatives. Suffice it to say she’s brilliant, and I was floored at her pulling it off. It’s a great story, and both she and the boy were great, but she just blew me away. I was surprised how much I liked it. Kind of a haunting film. I hope they don’t do a crappy American remake. Fingers crossed. I love American movies, but a lot of times they remake a great European movie and miss the point. People should just rent this one. I mean, it won 60 International film awards, so it’s gotta be good, right?

I would highly recommend all four films. That's a great average - been a while since I could say that.

Monday, June 21, 2010

Perfect Endings

I had my heart broken a few times this weekend. I was listening to short stories again.

At the suggestion of a friend, I listened to couple from the New Yorker podcast, Richard Ford reading John Cheever’s “Reunion”, and A.M. Homes reading Shirley Jackson’s “The Lottery.” I hadn’t heard either, surprising I guess from the sound of the podcast, as it sounds like it’s taught in schools.

The Cheever is gorgeous, short, sharp, like a razor - you’re unaware of the damage until it’s already cut. It moves so quickly, and ends abruptly. That ending is what makes it for me. Not only is it a brilliant moment in a relationship between father and son, but it gives nothing away but starts the moment they start relating, and ends the moment they stop. It’s enough, though, to leave you with a heartache for the father and son. Ford said he wrote a story inspired by it, and reads his classes his story along side Cheevers –brave. It sounds like a great exercise – not just the inspiration, but to have an assignment to write a relationship like that – a scene that stands by itself as a full story. I tend to like those – compact, succinct, with enough room for my imagination. Ford said he goes back to it again and again, and I can see why. You almost want more, more juice, more to explain, but there’s no need. It’s a great balancing act. Heartbreaking.

Shirley Jackson’s “The Lottery” I didn’t know, though I had been warned from the pre-ample that something was going to happen. I started to guess about half way through, but thought it couldn’t possibly be what I thought it was. Interestingly, when it was published in 1946? 8? hundreds cancelled their subscription, horrified by the story. It’s intense, with almost no indication of what’s going to happen, but it circles closer and closer inevitably as the story moves along. It’s tight as a rock. The language is so simple, and once again, it ends almost shockingly abruptly. This and the Cheever are so brilliant in their resistance to tie things up, but leave you speeding up – almost as if they have pushed you up a ramp they’ve created, and the ramp ends with you in mid-air and nothing to catch. Both are quite exhilarating. It’s interesting that Homes and Deborah Triesman, the fiction editor of the New Yorker, talk about how she’s fallen by the wayside. Holmes suggests it’s because there are no women writers from mid-century that are read now. I was in my car thinking “Flannery O’Connor, Eudora Welty, Katherine Anne Porter”. They didn’t hear me.

A few other highlights as well – I’m probably sounding like a broken record using “beautiful” and “gorgeous” to describe these, but I did love and think was beautiful Lorrie Moore’s story “Dance in America” that Louis Erdrich read on the New Yorker podcast. I can’t even go into how subtly heartbreaking this is, but to do this kind of thing in a short story is like amazing song writing. You listen over and over and can’t figure out how something so short can be so packed. It was so full in fact, I found myself making up alternate stories in my head out of the small details just thrown about. A woman meets up with a man she hasn’t seen since college while teaching a group of elementary students dance in the town. He lives with his French wife and his son with cystic fibrosis in an abandoned frat house. This one manages to break your heart and salve it at the same time. How is that possible?

I guess I listened to a lot – there’s a beautiful story read on Selected Shorts called “Wild Plums” by Grace Stone Coates that John Updike selected for the best short stories of the century. Looks like he also selected a Jean Stafford story, and I’d love to read more of her. Wild Plums, though - once again magical, simple, surprising – was written in 1929. I was overwhelmed with the desire for this Kansas farm girl to eat a wild plum and break out of the stern control of her parents. Once again, the perfect ending.

How do they do it?

Thursday, June 17, 2010

42

I’m 42 today.

I would usually start off the year with an intention; or perhaps an intention to have an intention but end up with a bad feeling about not having an intention.

But not this year.

This year, I’m just enjoying it. And although my other shoe-dropping mentality made “you’re going to die in your sleep” pop into my head right as I was setting my alarm last night, once again it was wrong. I did wake up. And at 7:17 EST, I turned 42, so I’m in the third year of my 5th decade.

So I had coffee with friends, lunch with work friends, and now dinner made by an old friend to spend with friends. How lucky is that?

I feel very grateful and gifted. Perhaps it’s the glow from my first acting award nomination. It’s certainly not that I’m behind 19 chapters on War & Peace to keep on my 365 day schedule (skipping a few days can really get you). I have a feeling about Andrei and Natasha – it’s all very exciting at the moment, but you know Napoleon and Waterloo are just around the corner. But I have sinus surgery next week, so that will keep me low enough to catch up on some chapters.

And maybe catch Tilda Swinton in “I Am Love”. This weekend’s a trip to Arizona to see family, so much podcasting – catching up on Short Stories, History, and Science. I love that.

There will be more to write about. My intention is manifesting itself just by being and see what’s next at the moment. And that’s a lovely place to be.