Friday, February 22, 2013

Slow and Steady

Last Saturday I went on a 55 mile bike ride. I am training for ALC (AIDS Lifecycle) 2013, a 7-day, 555 mile bike ride from San Francisco to Los Angeles the first week of June.  In order to do this ride, I have to train.

I have done this ride before. I did not train. Consequently, I was always in the last few riders each day. I had a hybrid, which is about 20 pounds heavier than my current bike. I only did six training rides, which is nowhere near enough. I'm proud of myself for having done it, but it was not an optimal experience by any stretch of the imagination.

So this year, swept up in the excitement of the closing ceremonies I attended to support friends, I decided to sign up again. I got a lighter bike. I'm completely prepared.

Saturday, though, I found myself somewhat near the back again. I was distressed somewhat; I figured with my new bike I could be out in front with the other riders. I didn't figure myself into this equation, though. Turns out, I'm not really a racer.

I'm a fast person. I think fast, I move quickly, I drive quickly. There are few activities I do slowly. Biking, apparently, is one of them.  I stopped and got off my bike 3 times to take pictures.  I waved to the cows and horses.  I really took my time. I thought about what fantasies engender these crazy place in LA. I finished, albeit at a much slower pace.  I wasn't the last rider, so that's a step.

During the last leg I was thinking about what I would write about if I wrote about the experience. It's odd, I suppose, but composing prose in your head is a good way to pass the time. I don't know what I wrote, and I'm sure it was brilliant.  But what I think I was wanting to express is that I may not finish first. I may be behind again - one of the last riders of the day, rolling in after everyone has been in camp quite a while.  On this ride, I figured out that was fine; I may miss what's going on immediately, but I can see what's truly important - that we get to experience it. That we're doing this to raise money for support for AIDS services. It's easy to forget that while griping about things, or even when it's beautiful and the scenery is stunning, which it is most of the time.  There is a purpose, and none of that purpose is about racing through.

I will probably always talk and think fast, but I hope I have the presence of mind to stay slow when I need to on this ride. I'd like to experience what I can - there's no finish line, the whole experience is there to be there for everyone, and make it happen.  To raise money for a good cause.  I need to go at my own pace. I need to remember what a joy it is to see what I'm seeing at the pace I'm traveling. That stopping and taking pictures is okay and should be encouraged.  That I don't need to be at the front of the pack - in the middle and enjoying the ride is just fine, too.

Wednesday, February 13, 2013

Art and Agitation

If you have this calling, I have no advice for you. Work hard.
-Patti Smith

I saw Patti Smith at USC last week, and those were the words of advice she gave to the last questioner, a young woman who asked what advice she’d give to young female artists. After responding that the questioner should get past labeling herself (“No one calls Picasso a male artist”) she said there was really nothing to say.  I’m sure people don’t love to hear that, but it’s just as honest as everything else she said that night.  Make work, work hard. There is no other way. Her career is a testament to that.  She told everyone that if they could only buy one album this year, to buy the new My Bloody Valentine album and not hers.  She is all about creation and art.  Well, read her book, and that’s pretty clear.

I don’t work hard at it, if I'm honest with myself. It's scary. It's exhilarating as well to see someone as open as she is. What resonated for me in what she spoke about that evening, and what I heard at the LA Library talk the following evening, was influences and the desire/urge/need to do something when you’re experiencing others’ art.

The interviewer asked Patti Smith about all her influences, it was his first question. I’d just been writing about feeling overstuffed with things on this blog that day – too much material to see, things to read, feeling overstuffed.  The first question hit me between the eyes.  She spoke of feeling agitated when seeing a work that she responded to. She first called it excited, then changed to agitated, which felt apt – that feeling of discomfort in which you’re excited, propelled, uncomfortable, to make something yourself in response to what you’re seeing.  I’d never heard it described that way, but that’s the feeling – a restless, get out of your chair kind of feeling.

The following night, I was lucky enough to see Bernard Cooper and George Saunders talk about writing at the LA Library and reading from their work. The theme was not knowing while writing, how to write when you’re not sure where you’re going.  The discussion was fascinating, but what struck me was that both writers, and the moderator, spoke often of work they liked and quotes from writers they admired.  These ideas guide them, hearten them, and inspire them.

We’re not alone when we think we are. All four of these people spoke of their influences, how they are buoyed, inspired, cowed by them, as well as how much they love and admire the works of their heroes.  I have a tendency to think that there’s so much in the world and too much information to process at times. I know I won’t process it all. But that slight shift, into realizing that we all are influenced by others, and we can use those influences to inspire and challenge us, was welcome.

I love to read. I love to watch performance. I take notes when I go to museums. I get restless and agitated – watching the Rite of Spring I was composing prose in my head to describe what it was doing.  Listening to Patti Smith sing Because the Night makes me want to sing as nakedly and giving as she does (I could go on about her fearlessness, openness, honesty, humor, but that’s for another thought; for that matter I could go on about how great George Saunders and Bernard Cooper were, too).  When describing how she still feels so much love for her late husband when she sings it was palpable, light-giving. It’s heartening that we all have these influences, that they make us want to do better, to create, to delve deeper. I admit it’s probably shallow to feel like I need permission from others to feel this, but it’s not really permission – it’s acknowledgement of a shared impulse.  That sharing is exciting. There was a theme at the library reading of favorite quotes, and even some of the audience members shared theirs before asking their questions.

We are living in a crowded time.  We can’t get to it all, but when I get away from consumption to inspiration, it all turns around.

Tuesday, February 05, 2013


"There must be some closing of the gates after thirty if the mind is to become a creative force"

 - Howards End, E.M. Forster


Today, I went to find my copy of “Just Kids”, the book Patti Smith wrote about her early days in New York with Robert Mapplethorpe. I was unable to locate it in the gloomy dark of my apartment, so I turned on the light, even though I dislike unnatural light in the morning. Weird quirk, but I tend to stumble around in the dark, without my glasses, in the morning, possibly in an attempt to ignore that I’ve had to wake up. It’s the physical embodiment of one of those gradual light alarm clocks. Some people like to meditate, I stumble around in the dark.

Anyhow, I was unable to locate the book. I did notice, however, the five stacks of books that have piled up in front of the books that are actually filed on my bookshelves.  A year ago I cleaned the shelves, gave away 5 brown paper grocery bags of books, and started on yet another campaign for a Spartan simplicity in my apartment. My apartment is crowded with remnants of my attempts at simplicity.

I was overwhelmed by the books I have yet to read. Last year, I scoured my shelves to leave only the books I hadn’t read, or ones that are very special to me, and once again, the shelves are filled. I have more in my garage.  There’s the works of Montaigne, kinda slow to read when you’re also looking at the French on the opposite page, though interesting. The Twyla Tharp creativity book. Biographies about Patti LuPone and Ethel Merman. The Age of Wonder ; stories by Etgar Keret, Karen Russell, and Adam Haslett; a novel by Steve Martin; Proust was a Neuroscientist,; and the two books I just got this week, Far from the Tree, by Andrew Solomon, about children; and Why Does the World Exist? An Existential Detective Story.  I also finally got Hero with a Thousand Faces, since I’d only ever read about Joseph Campbell. The list goes on.

I bring this up because I think I’m feeling a little overstuffed. Tonight I’m going to hear Patti Smith speak, which is why I wanted to find the book for her to sign.  Tomorrow is a talk with Bernard Cooper and George Saunders, both of whom I’m excited to hear read and talk.  Sunday I saw the spectacular reconstruction of the Nijinsky/Stravinsky Rite of Spring by the Joffrey Ballet. Friday night, I saw a great central performance of a solid, fun, ecstatic, interesting play at Sacred Fools called Absolutely Filthy. The main character is Pig Pen at 30, a homeless, meth addict. The writer and main actor, Brendan Hunt, hula hoops for the entire show while playing the character. Beyond being a virtuoso feat, coupled with the Nijinsky it started me thinking about madness, movement and Sacrifice. That’s been percolating.

During the Rite of Spring, I was thinking of how I would write about it, which is my usual reaction to anything, especially something I love so much and have a long relationship with. One look at my blog will tell you how often that happens.  So perhaps I would feel a little less overstuffed if I got some of this out.  That might be a solution.

And I don’t even want to talk about what’s on my DVR. I seem to only be able to watch Project Runway, RuPaul's Drag Race, and an occasional episode of Louie or Bunheads. 

The quote above is one of my favorites from one of my favorite books, and I've mentioned it before. Perhaps heeding it is a good idea, but it's very challenging, especially in a city with so much to offer. I guess this is the nature of living in what is understatedly termed “A crowded media landscape?”