Monday, 19 October 2009

i've seen that face before

I saw him again.  Just over a week here and there he was, like me, on a laptop, Saturday night, amongst the cinema-goers and dates.  We still haven't spoken.  I wrote this back in April.

with poet’s face

and dancer’s feet


he’s everywhere I go

like my conscience

with a fresher laptop



I greeted him with smile

like he knew

that what I saw when I looked

was part phillharmonic

part bamuthi

with a little monk-type goatee


sockless in black jazz oxfords

his feet spoke to me of

the build-up of rosin on callouses

his face

like he was about to step to the mic

has become my local familiar


we’ve never spoken

his tongue could reveal

brixton or chicago

montego bay or mali


but everywhere I go

there he be

smallish frame



reminding me

of people who bring their messages

dressed in humanity’s best

he tests my artist

demands gangsta get a coat check


he’s wire




like new versions

of old software

into my synapses

til I wonder

is he real or imagined


he haunts all my spots

looks up when I walk by

always wonderin why


maybe there’s some two people

I remind him

somebody loved

or somebody left behind

somebody taught him some steps

or somebody sang lyrics to his beat


now I don’t know next

pretend we’re old friends

or walk on by again

keep the mystery deep

or find out he’s an out-of-work

software designer?


maybe just the reminder is this:

see the best of what we know

in every face we meet

see movement in even planted feet

imagine the lives behind the eyes

and pick your spots carefully.



Saturday, 17 October 2009

say goodbye to hollywood

Poetry was gone within the week.


Maybe it was the bleak terrain.


The concrete sunshine.


The stench of nothingness.


This was no Sartrian exercise in stomach disorders.  This was where inspiration came to die.


After trudging itself up winding ribbons of asphalt, it came here, to this place, expecting to sit pretty atop the hill.  Instead, the hills tended to crumble underfoot, or slide down themselves like kindergartners at a water park and pretty was for sale at the corner store.


Not for the feint-hearted.  Though inspiration never thought of itself that way.  It had tended to thrive even in the darkest corners.  It had a way of finding the crack in the crevice where moss might grow.  It had made its living off resilience.  Its bread and butter was how it sought shine even when buried beneath layers and layers of bland, or banal, contrived or cowardly.  Its prowess lay in its navigational dynamics – it seemed always to be on a collision course with hallelujah whether at storefront Baptist Church or the Mount of Olives or Leonard Cohen’s exhale.  It knew where it stood.


Until today.  Until here.  Until what had happened.


It didn’t seem like much.


A simple whimper.  A laying down of trowel.  A momentary giving up on the task to wipe brow, sip cool lemonade in 120-degree sun that turned into siesta that transmogrified into hiatus that ended it all.


No one will tell what it is.  No one can say.  It can’t be put into words, not in any way that has meaning.  In fact, it is the end of meaning.  There is no context for this; there is no context left.


What buried here today itself so ephemeral so ephemeral

yet so eternal

that we cannot say

we simply cannot say.


It sure happened quick, though.

Best be vigilant, ever get a chance again.


There was once an expression for that,

but no longer.





Friday, 16 October 2009

10,000 hours

It keeps coming up.  It went from concept to meme.  10,000 hours haunted me all of a sudden – showing up in a friend’s poem, in conversation, in print – everywhere.

I haven’t read Malcolm Gladwell’s book Outliers, but it was on my list.  Someone mentioned the 10,000 hours concept – that you achieve mastery over something after having dedicated 10,000 hours to it, and after that, it was everywhere.

I immediately began to think of my 10,000 hours list:






film production

event production


The list would go on.  It scared me, the list, to be honest.  I felt I should have achieved more status after all this hard work, training, practise and rise to mastery.

 Maybe there’s a loophole.  Maybe I should read the book.



Wednesday, 14 October 2009

stealing broke

Who do you have to be to try to steal from me?

It’s a funny concept, really, if you know me.  The amount of money I’ve usually got in my bank account is hopefully enough for me to foresee food and transportation for the next, oh, week or so.

I’ve been a vegetarian, for a long time.  A vegequarian for a shorter time.  Imagine my surprise when logging on to check my bank balance and finding I had spent money at McDonald’s.

I’m a pedestrian, having left Los Angeles specifically not to have to have a car.

Imagine my surprise when logging on to check my bank balance and finding I had spent money at Exxon.

Yup.  Someone somewhere, well, in Chicago, IL, had gotten hold of my debit/credit card number and was using it at the most unimaginative of places:





If you’re going to steal – be creative.  Buy yourself a Hello Kitty mountain bike and take it Utah for a spin.  Book a flight to Seattle just for a really great coffee and a walk around Green Lake.  Get box seats to the Metropolitan Opera.

Mind you – you might need to steal from someone with a bigger balance for all that.



the brave experience

I so hate writing anything negative, especially not secretly hidden in one of my notebooks, but instead in public -- especially about artists or people trying to present them or their work.  yesterday’s blog didn’t sit well with me, but I did feel it warranted saying.


Tonight I was privileged to go to a screening of Samantha Morton’s stunning film The Unloved at London Film School.  Additionally, the directress was present for a Q&A after the film.  (Why  not directress??)


The Unloved is the diametric opposite of The Girlfriend Experience.  It’s a piece of cinema created to fill a need – a need in an artist and I daresay a need in her community.  A need in my community.


I volunteered with foster youth for about 6 years in Los Angeles.  Long enough to know that this safety net presents so little safety it’s daily frightening.  Long enough to know we need to do much better.


When coaching youth poetry, I became close to a small group of teens – mostly girls.  That birthed a spoken word piece, but despite the number of times I related my experiences with and feelings about the foster care system to people to hear that that was a movie I should make – I could never do it.  It never felt right.  It never felt real.  It felt like there’d be no way to write a movie about these lives without inviting exploitation into the process.


It just wasn’t my story to tell.


It is, however, Samantha Morton’s story to tell.  Not only because she’s an actress of depth and quality, not only because she’s a director of fortitude, but because it is a partially autobiographical story.  She lived to tell it.


This film needs to be seen.  You don’t need a review; just a recommendation.  Made originally for Film 4 and screened first on television, it plays like the best kind of art film – one that puts people in the centre without sacrificing any of the craft elements of film.  Sense of place, or rather sense of displacement, is used brilliantly here, and the sound design is some of the best I’ve heard in an indie since, oh….Laws of Gravity.  In the Q&A, when Morton cites Wim Wenders’ American Friend, there is a loud clicking sound in my brain – the use of colour and landscape harp back to that masterpiece.


Morton was insistent on shooting film, insistent on not appearing in the film, insistent on her moral and aesthetic commitment to the material.  She spoke on the need to use real, working, trained actors – especially in the roles of these at risk youth – because they would be prepared for the real emotions the story brings up, would know how to deal with them, process them, and hopefully leave them at work at the end of the day.  A film set is a place for professionals; otherwise it’s all just psychodrama.


Magic can happen when you don’t condescend to your subject.  A master like Soderbergh should never have missed that point.  Morton, a novice directress, approaches humbly, with caution, yet certainty, and in my mind achieves magic:  she simply translates the untranslateable.


The two LFS students in the lift at Covent Garden station didn’t agree.  They seemed to feel about it much the same way as I felt about TGE:  why didn’t she show and tell more, reveal more, why wasn’t it deeper.


Is this just the beginning of the gender split in this century-old medium?


When men can’t place themselves even for 90 minutes in the shoes of a female protagonist and women finally begin to address storytelling from our own perspectives?


Will it be necessary to just give ourselves a different title – say “directress” – to differentiate our ways of seeing and processing?


The other night, I had a dream.  A dream that I was accepting the Best Directing Oscar – the first one presented to a woman.  It was presented to me by Barbra Streisand.


In lieu of an acceptance speech, I just held the heavy (yes – it is really heavy) statuette aloft and said the names of those who had come before:


“Barbara Streisand, Sofia Coppola, Ida Lupino, Lina Wertmüller, Allison Anders, Jane Campion, Martha Coolidge, Amy Heckerling, Adrienne Shelley, Diane Keaton, Kathryn Bigelow, Elaine May, Darnell Martin,  Gillian Armstrong, Nancy Savoca, Penny Marshall, Nancy Meyers, Deepa Mehta,  Andrea Arnold, Maya Deren, Julie Dash, Angelica Huston, Maya Angelou, Julie Taymor, Joan Chen, Joan Micklin-Silver, Claire Denis, Agnieszka Holland, Catherine Breillat, Agnès Varda, Antonia Bird, Susan Seidelman, Euzhan Palcy, Chantal Akerman, Niki Caro, Jodie Foster, Maggie Greenwald, Lynn Ramsay, Nicole Holofcener, Miranda July, Sarah Polley, Mira Nair, Beeban Kidran, Allison Maclean, Maria Maggenti, Kasi Lemmons, Mimi Leder  Randa Haines, Dorris Dorrie, Shirley Clarke, Joyce Chopra…the list could go on.


We are here.  And we are going to tell our own stories now.”


Add Samantha Morton to that list.


And Sasha Gray.  Maybe when she’s done with all the glamour, she’ll stop letting men write the story they think is her and open her pretty lips to speak for herself.


I’m so grateful The Unloved was made.  Other than White Oleander, I’ve never read or seen anything that so accurately portrayed this system.  I’ve recently learned that someone close to me was placed into foster care while very young.  It’s hard for me to process his experience, except in light of my own experiences growing up and working with youth, yet seeing this film somehow made it clear.  The only safe place is a tiny light inside you that you try beyond trying to give harbour to.  Not everyone makes it without that light blowing out. 


But it’s the artist’s job to keep relighting that flame.



Tuesday, 13 October 2009

the girlfriend lack of experience

What can be said about the Raindance closing night film and party?  Not much, really.  I shouldn’t be too much of a hater as a film I worked on won a big award, but….

Someone once told me you shouldn’t be late lest people start to question what they are waiting for.  So with a 25 pound ticket (luckily, I didn’t have to pay for mine), the festival chooses to start the closing night film, Steven Soderbergh’s The Girlfriend Experience, an hour late.  An hour.  Not one announcement, no festival staff anywhere.  We all just sit in the theatre and wait. 

When the festival staff arrive, there is no apology.  Minor explanation – the screens are interlocked – and then a ridiculously long intro which amounts to thanking every volunteer who worked at the festival individually, as well as all of the sponsors (whose names have been on the screen for the entire hour we’ve been seated there).  They also announced the awards and then left.  No intro to the film whatsoever.

The film.  The digital, rather.  Soderbergh’s work with 2929 can be brilliant and it can be exasperating. I actually liked Bubble, despite falling asleep while viewing.  I found it compassionate, bleak, touching, grounded and original in context.  I found my patience with Soderbergh’s process rewarded.  The Girlfriend Experience, on the other hand, plays like the soggy tissue on the floor near the bed.  Yes, that’s what I said.

Soderbergh’s own cinematography continues to disappoint, as well as, here, his shot choices.  I really don’t prefer this new trend of filming everyone from behind.  I don’t find actors’ backs that interesting.  On the other hand, I’m not sure any of these actors would’ve been very interesting while filmed from the front.  Porn star Sasha Grey looks like a low budget porn star from the Valley pretending to be a high-priced Manhattan escort.  Her eyes say nothing, her lips say nothing, her voice says nothing.  The other actors and non-actors are equally uninteresting.  One of my mentors, Peter B. Cucich used to say, “when you’re bored; you’re boring -- when you’re interested; you’re interesting.” The actors are bored, the characters are bored therefore the audience is bored.


I don’t think this is an exercise in boredom, though.  Soderbergh directed Spalding Gray's Gray's Anatomy – being familiar with good NY downtown performance, I’m sure he’s equally familiar with the bad, the boring, the self-serving, reflexive conceptual junk.  Soderbergh has made two of my favorite films, The Limey and sex, lies and videotape.  He's made a handful of great films, really - check out The Underneath one of his most underrated.  This one just seems woefully off the mark.  I think this is an exercise with one man’s obsession.  Unfortunately, the rest of us are forced to sit through it.

The two women I went with felt similarly.  Several women walked out.  Many people groaned when it ended.  And yet at the after-party there were men who actually liked this movie.  Called it “brave” and “feminist”.  Excuse me? 

Wasn’t it so poignant about women’s experience with men?



Men seem to be under the impression that women actually have experiences this good with men.  That they get taken out, treated decently and well-paid to spend time with the jerky and not so jerky, attractive and blatantly unattractive, the caustic and the needy.  That they get picked up in car services and whisked away to weekend retreats.  That they are valued for their mystique.


Most women I know have much worse experiences with men in their personal life than “Chelsea” has in her professional one.  And instead of getting paid, most end up holding the tab in one way or another.

Brave is engaging the emotional moment, using the tools of cinema to reveal human nature, going beyond the stereotype to explore your themes.  This is filmmaking cowardice.  Using “non-actors” and faux-documentary techniques to make the films cardboard characters feel real.  Using the multitude of facile characters to hide behind the fact that you have nothing real invested in any of them.  Using improv to make up for the fact that as a filmmaker you’re really just interested in looking at this chick for a three or four week shoot.

Steven Soderbergh – go make a classy porn with her, and forgo the fake art film stance.  Please.

The Raindance after-party was notable for the fact that all the extra ticket money got us was in the door.  We bought our own drinks and there was no food.  So just a room basically.  With people milling about.  The place was cool, but I can’t imagine that It would have cost 10 or 15 pounds to get in on a Sunday night.

Overall, a disappointing experience.  Or lack thereof.  But thanks for the award.  ; )

Friday, 2 October 2009

Adventures in Health Insurance

I don’t have health insurance.  I haven’t for this entire century.

I was never one for doctors, possibly because I spent a good deal of my childhood riding in the backseat of my grandfather’s Cadillac while he and my grandmother went from doctor to doctor to doctor.  Mostly I just sat in the waiting room of the chiropodist, the optometrist, the gp, reading the same Highlights magazine over and over and over.  Occasionally it got ugly, like the time my grandmother chose to explain to me her entire cataract operation – how they removed her eye and put it on her cheek – when I was about 4 years old. 

There were lots of hospital visits and funeral homes, too.  The smell of the cherry-scented bathroom air freshener that covered the smell of the formaldehyde at the funeral home in Canarsie is etched in my brain.  As I’d descend the scary stairs into the bowels of the funeral parlor, the smell would get stronger and stronger until inside the empty tiled bathroom it was overwhelming and unbearable.  I always ran back up the stairs and into whichever room we were in that night for yet another Irish or Italian wake.

I put up raucous fights when told I was going to a doctor or dentist.  I remember from my earliest visits how much I hated the doctor.  How I had favorites and if I didn’t get them, I’d use all my force of will to make it impossible for the ones I didn’t like to examine me.  I remember the misery when my mother decided that my amazing and wonderful dentist, who looked like Mister Rogers and painlessly filled two cavities when I was in kindergarten, should be exchanged for a slimy adult dentist who was polite until parents left the room and then pointedly rude and patronizing from there on out.

As a teen, when I said I didn’t want to visit the doctor, and made it abundantly clear that I would put up a fight, I pretty much got my way.  I figure my parents probably didn’t have health insurance and would be just as happy using the money for something else.

The only time I remember going to the doctor was when I was too sick to care.  I was running a crazy fever and completely ill at 18.  I was diagnosed with mono just as I got better and then quarantined to the house for 3 more weeks in the summer right after graduating high school with nothing but a Woody Allen marathon on Bravo. 

My experience with doctors as a child was pretty basic:  people who went to doctors a lot got sick a lot and people who went into the hospital died; every time I went to a doctor, whatever I had would either go away with time or wouldn’t, and there was nothing they could do about.

I’ve pretty much been about nutrition and activity ever since.

As a college student, I had university health services.  When I got out, I was able to be on my mother’s insurance for a while.  When that was ending, I had a full time job in New York that came with health insurance.  It came with health insurance – we paid into it, we filled out forms – and we never once got reimbursed.  I was working for Menahem Golan’s post-Cannon company, 21st Century Films, and the rumour was that Menahem was diverting our health insurance money and funneling it into the budgets of his films.  If you knew Menahem, this wasn’t a big surprise.  But if you thought you were getting 80% back on that gynecologist visit, you needed to think again.

When that job ended, so did my pretend health insurance.  I went on unemployment, then went to grad school, then got back into production in New York.  The golden year – a job that included Oxford Health Plans.  An early HMO model – Oxford was a dream health insurance company.  My chiropractic was covered; all my preferred doctors were on the plan, and pretty much every other thing you could want was covered.  It was fantastic.  When I left that job, I had Cobra, and was still living the dream – albeit expensively.

A move to California left me high and dry.  Oxford didn’t operate there.  Cobra found me on a plan that was somehow affiliated or comparable, but I could never get a doctor.  When Cobra ended, I had joined a media organization in order to take advantage of their group health plan through the HIPC – health insurance plan of California.  It took me a while and a couple of seminars to wade through the options, but I finally picked a plan and got it going.  Continuous coverage.  It was a great plan.  It was 100% more than I was earning at the time, but I was covered.

The only problem was, I couldn’t find one doctor accepting new patients.  Not one.  The best I could do was a nurse practitioner in an ob/gyn practise 3 towns over.  A really condescending and annoying nurse practitioner.  For the two times I went there, I think I was paying over $200 month.

But health insurance isn’t about the monthly cost – it’s about the catastrophe, right?

Like the car accident I was in after my first year of grad school – a grad school that didn’t offer any health coverage, and the job I’d started a week before the accident (and would lose two days after when my bosses’ deal went belly up) wouldn’t offer me health insurance until I’d been there 3 months.

When I left Northern Cali for Southern Cali the health plan went with me.  Sort of.  Only here, the plan I was on had no reach and there were quite literally no doctors or practices available to me.  Pretty soon the monthly cost, plus the yearly membership fee seemed ridiculous.  I was working freelance and that kind of expense became impossible.  I let it go.

Freelancing would surely lead to Union membership and the amazing carrot of benefits.  Right.  Each time Union membership got close, something went wrong, until I suspected it just wasn’t going to happen for me.  Add to that the 400 (soon 600) hours you needed to qualify for health benefits, and the banking system for these hours and the way the hours are not at all translatable to hours worked and the fact that you’re still kicking in and Union initiation and dues….lose lose lose.

So, I am without health insurance.  It’s true.  And the truth is, I don’t make enough, and haven’t in some time to buy my own.  And it’s never seemed worth it to me because I’ve never really utilized this health care system and hope that remains the case.

And while somewhere in the back of my mind, I hope for some kind of coverage, it’s never been something I could shell out several thousand dollars a year for.

I sincerely hoped Obama got it.  I really thought he did.  I thought he got it sufficiently not to dilute it.  I thought he got it enough that I didn’t have to regret that Hillary wasn’t the candidate.  I thought he got it enough that I didn’t have to regret Edwards’ early exit.  Hillary knows health care and John Edwards knows poverty.  I believed either one of them would fight tooth and nail for health care reform.  I believed they had gotten through to Obama.  I believed that he knew this was where we wanted to draw a line, stand up and be counted, and join the ranks of the rest of the civilized nations of the world.

I’m afraid I was mistaken.  He never took the gloves off.  Single-payer health insurance already exists.  It is out of reach for most people.  Brokers exist who will find you insurance, plans exist that will offer you individual or family insurance.  Organizations exist that you can join and get health insurance for nominal annual fees.  But again, those fees, or broker’s fees, plus the costs of the insurance are out of reach for most people.  If Congress has its way, though, I may now be required to pay for what I could never afford before.

Someone somewhere needs to say out loud that there is a difference between health care and health insurance.  That health insurance does not guarantee health care – in fact often impedes it – and that what we need for our citizenry is available and highly subsidized access to health care.

The UK has this and it works just fine.  It works better than our current system, in fact.  People are starting to buy private health insurance there for additional coverage and perks, but it is still not at the point that you need to do that in order to get basic care.  That may change. In the meantime, any resident of the UK can just go to a doctor whenever they feel they need to.  The long waits and delays of the 70’s and 80’s seem largely eradicated.  It’s true – the buildings are not state of the art and they may under-prescribe where American doctors tend to over-prescribe, but overall, if people get hurt they get help and if they are sick they get treatment. 

It’s a shame we can’t manage this.  It’s a shame people are terrified of losing or changing jobs because the health insurance industry has such a lock on things.  It’s a shame that people make huge life choices about how they live and what they do with the majority of their time based on something so ancillary to that.  Of course health itself is extremely important, but getting access to care should not be the reason you choose your occupation or the company you work for or how you live your life.

Just writing all this probably means I may never get access to health insurance again.  Is that how we should be living, as a citizenry, in the 21st century in the wealthiest nation the earth has ever known?

But hey – transparency is the new privacy, right?