Saturday, 31 July 2010

noble friends

Chelsea Clinton should have whatever kind of wedding she wants.  Adolescence is hard enough without growing up in the White House in front of a whole world.  College is hard enough without Secret Service people following you everywhere you go.  Whether she wanted to or not, she was drafted into the service of her country at a very young age, giving up her right to privacy and to her own parents.

If she wants a $3 million wedding for 500 people, she should have it.

Then this little part of me starts saying $3 million?  That's a lot of money.  That money could be sent out to do good works in the world, to help with the oil spill or Haiti or...

But maybe that's just "lack talking" as they say in L.A, or "poverty mind."  Certainly the Clintons have done more than their share of world-changing and good works.  Surely if they drop that kind of money on a wedding, their charitable giving is considerable.  Yes - the sky is falling and the world is going to pieces, but can we still celebrate sometimes when things go right?  Maybe abundance knows that $3 million spent on a wedding regenerates itself in love.

If age ain't nothing but a number, then could the same be true of money?

I know first-hand how the counter for the amount of time you have been on this earth often does not relate to who you are, how you look, or your wisdom.

So maybe $3 million is not a lot of money.  Maybe it is as relative as time and space -- after all $3 million could buy you one Chelsea Clinton wedding, or one house, or 3 houses, or ten houses, depending on where you wanted your house, or it could finance one low-budget movie.

$3 million dollars has no meaning at all if you don't have it, and multiple meanings if you do.

Money - the last solid universal truth - is perhaps neither solid, nor universal.  Perhaps it has the same Rashomon-like qualities as the truth between humans.

I didn't mind Mel Gibson being called out for misogyny and abusiveness in addition to his other well-known bad habits.  Casey Affleck, though, is an actor I think of as tremendously skilled, talented, and with an unbelievable range of work to come.

Harassment is a daily truth if you are working in the film industry.  There are a lot of anger-holics out there.  A lot of power abusers.  For a woman, it is even harder, because sexual harassment is on the table each morning with the bagels, and it is as accepted as a director screaming at the crew or an actor screaming at a DP.  We are meant to brush it off.  We are meant to feel it is all just the seepage of passion boiling over in these ultimately talented creatures.  Nod and smile.  Keep working.

Do I believe the women accusing him?  Yes.  Because this kind of thing happens all the time. We gypsies of moviemaking have funny boundaries, and each mini-tribe's boundaries are different -- actors have a different sets of strengths and rules than crew than producers.  Do I want to make excuses for Affleck allegedly getting into bed with a crew member while she was asleep and possibly compromising her?  No.  But do I think that many many people don't understand that they are in positions of power when they are because of the informality of the industry?  Yes.  Do I think these people don't always know when they are exhibiting coercive or threatening behaviour?  Yes.

Each job is a line on your resume and a rent check or two or three or more.  Each job has its ups and downs.  My friend says you take a gig for one of these three reasons:  money, love, resume.  If you get a gig that gives you two of those, you're golden.  Three -- you're thrilled.  But there's always a down side.

Everyone starts with happy expectations and gets so close and friendly and stuff happens.  The lines get blurred and then crossed.  Unfriendly behaviour finds its way onto the set.  It's a horrible feeling.

I quit a job because a cocaine- and alcohol-addicted producer singled me out for daily verbal abuse sessions.  They were actually several times a day.  I loved the director, the crew and the project.  I went to the line producer when it first happened and was told it would be dealt with, but it got worse.  Turns out, the line producer was that producer's "guy" and I should have probably gone to someone else.  The "nice" producers had basically vanished from set after about the 3rd day of shooting.  My boundaries were clear and I knew I had to leave, as difficult and financially damaging as it was.

Affleck could be a nut case, a total jerk or just another insecure actor who wanted some quick intimacy.  He could have forgotten that he was the producer and that that kind of thing might fly when you're an actor on a set but not when you're trying to diddle the hired help.  He could have an open marriage, or a troubled one.  Or he could have had true ill-intent.  In a sense it's not what he allegedly did that's as awful as what he did after.  She could be a terrible DP - I don't know - but then the option would be to fire her.  Not to make life so awful for her that she is forced to quit.  Had he apologized and moved on, she probably would not have had an issue at all.

I've been stealing books from Alfie's bookshelf (shhh -- don't tell her) and pulled out Caroline Myss' Sacred Contracts.  So far, I find it a bit over-written and over-long.  It's also amazing how "New Age" books wear so poorly - once a certain concept has seeped into the culture, these books don't have as much to offer.

However, critiques aside, every 5 or 6 pages of skimmed reading produces an interesting reference or A-ha moment.  I loved coming across the Buddhist concept of "kalyana-mitra" or "noble friend."  She says she found this in John O'Donohue's book Anam Cara.  I've been meaning to read O'Donohue's work for a long time and this was another cue.  Okay - I'm quoting her and she's quoting O'Donohue here:

Your noble friend, he says, "will not accept pretension but will gently and very firmly confront you with your own blindness.  No one can see life totally.  As there is a blind spot in the retina of the human eye, there is also in the soul a blind side where you are not able to see.  Therefore you must depend on the one you love to see for you what you cannot see yourself."
Yet I think this noble friendship is the concept I've been searching for to explain the certain closeness I have with some people, even though I am not strongly linked to them, or may not see them often.  To me it represents a true communion of souls.  It is part addictive, part exposing.  It is very real, often born from discomfort, but requires comfort to aid and abet it.

I have been blessed with a lot of noble friends.  Artists often are.  Our friendships look different, and in fact, often feel different from other people's.  We reserve places in ourselves that truly commune with others in very intimate ways.  Poet to poet conversations can take on other-worldly aspects and find you sitting in a still-running car at 3am.  Intimacy does not have to mean anything sexual.  Sometimes it does.  Sometimes it does for one person and not for another.  Sometimes romantic relationships are born from this intimacy.  Sometimes they last.

Noble friendships can be misconstrued by outsiders as inappropriate.  They can go awry.  But when properly honoured, they are one of the things that makes life excellent.

I have some small hope that women are stepping up to the place of being true noble friends to men.  That we are learning our boundaries in better ways and enforcing them when necessary.  Misogyny, sexual harassment, and worse seem to be coming to light daily.  Speaking truth to power takes courageous women.  Women who truly want men to change and who believe men are better creatures who do not need to lead lives of coercion and abuse.

That little girl in the White House is all grown up.  Her dapper dandy of a daddy has handed over power and her much-maligned multi-faceted mommy has taken reins firmly in hand.

Listen, we are talking to you.  We are saying we know our minds and we know our power and we are very ready to take it.  We are whispering play fair, but we are prepared to scream it if necessary.

What is quiet Chelsea Clinton saying with her secret, yet high-profile wedding?  I deserve this.  I deserve this day, this focus, this send-off into happiness, this celebration, and I believe in the future I am creating.

I can't argue with that.  Can you?

the stone story - an exercise

(This is from a writing prompt from yesterday's workshop.  We had to use three of four pictures we pulled randomly and a theme.  My theme was "greed."  We had ten minutes to write.  Below is the picture that most inspired the story.)



Everywhere I go, I see them.  The greedy ones.  They chase sun and they chase fun and they linger with longing looks.  They laugh too much and they don’t cry enough as far as I’m concerned.

For me, it is an affront, an insult.  How much do they need?  How much can they take?  I have asked for nothing, except my freedom, which I have fought for my entire life.

It took me 620 years to see the ocean. 

It took me another 217 to ride my first bike.

I was stone.  I was left for dead.  Life sprang up around me, but no one would unleash me.  I was hungry.  Not for food.  I didn’t require food,   I required zest.  Experience.  I craved action.  What the living had was foreign to me.  I was trapped.  Did I say that already?

It was not as if it had always been that way.  It had been different.  Once.  I remember being a small girl, small, and playing, I had plaits in my hair and I ran around in circles chasing dragonflies.  But then that was over.  I left my father’s house and went to a man.  This man had eccentricities.  He was old and not beautiful.  I belonged to him.  He made me into a woman he desired.  He did what he pleased.  I lived as I lived.  There were fine things and there was a big house, but all was cold and empty.  I wanted to be out of the house, but I was not allowed.  I started into the garden, yet was never able to go outside.  I’d beg him to let me stand in the grass.  “One day,” he said, “one day, I will die and you will have more of the garden than you ever wanted.”

It was true.  One day he died.  He died.  He was very, very sick.  Right before, just before he died, a man came to me and said that my husband had one final wish to be carried out in that moment.  One wish I must oblige.  This man took me out to the garden.  I was thrilled – my husband’s dying wish was to set me free.  The man helped me onto a pedestal.  I could see for ages all around, the sky and trees and flowers; it was gorgeous.  Then he handed me a chalice, a lovely cup and bade me drink it.  I did.  And in that moment, I felt it going through my body and a hardening occurred it was as if liquid rock were pouring through my body I dropped the cup and I tried to crane my neck to see it roll away but I could not.  In that moment, I was simply turned to stone.

And there I stayed.  My life force was sent into my husband’s already dead body to revive him.  I watched him bring in another wife, and another.  This lasted for centuries, until the magic itself was lost and he also passed away.  He never suffered as we did.  We could all see each other in our misery.  I could move nothing.  I was left only my sight and my thoughts, my desires.

The freeing was so simple, it was as if it didn’t happen.  A passing butterfly sat on my shoulder like a kiss.  Then another, then another, as if the butterflies called to each other, suddenly there were hundreds.  I felt as though I could fly.

That’s what movement feels like when you’ve been still so long.

When it was done, I was lost.  I had never been anywhere but this house, it seemed.  The other wives were still trapped.  No magic had come for them.  I left my place, and followed the scent of the sea. 

Nations had been built and fallen while I watched over the garden.  People had changed, but what I saw, as I looked at them, and their gaze, was that their natures hadn’t.

A piece of every human I saw, wanted to own everything it could grasp.  Wanted to hold time and mortality between its teeth and spit it out only if and when it was good and ready.

It cut me inside like a hot blade.  I had been the victim of this same misconstrued desire.  I had been held prisoner by it for centuries.

I knew better.  I was taught how to live by butterflies, who never rest anywhere long, who know how fleeting life is, who share beauty and reflect light wherever they go.

c. e. amato

Wednesday, 28 July 2010


...reading the news and it sure looks bad….

That’s Joni Mitchell, possibly echoing the Beatles.  If you read the news today, oh boy, plane crashes, oil spills, Wikileaks and losing battles on every front.  It is like everything is seeped in filthy black oil – the plane wreckage, the birds, and Afghanistan are all drenched in the stuff.

Oscar Grant, Sean Bell, and Arizona.  Sarah Palin.

I’m overloaded.  I know it.  It’s starting to show up physically in exhaustion and a frozen shoulder.  All of my symptoms say the same thing.  Slow the frak down.

Luckily, there’s a cure for that.  Time to go un-digital.  Analog, baby.

It occurred to me at the Lomography store how incredibly satisfying it is to load a roll of film into one of those cameras.  They’re just little plastic boxes – they don’t have much going for them, really, but they also don’t stand in the way of your experience.  It’s very tactile, loading a roll of film.  You need to feel it slide in, you need to feel the sprocket click, you need to just know that it’s in place, because once you close that door, you don’t want to open it again, or you’ll fog part or possibly all of the film. 

Once you’ve shot it, it’s even worse – you have to unroll the film while it’s behind the door.  You have to feel that you’ve unlocked it, then feel that it’s rolling back and then feel your way to knowing that it’s finished.  Now if you open that door and it’s not all the way back in its case, you’ll lose your photos.

That's DJ Jedi spinning.  I think he won't mind I stole this pic off the web.
I first learned how to load, shoot, and develop film in my 5th and 6th grade class with teacher Marion Grief.  She just handed us all little cameras and out we went.  It’s something that stayed with me, made me more comfortable with those little boxes than with other machines.  It’s magic, but it's practical magic – magic you can see if you look carefully.

Analog is the slow food movement and vinyl and skateboards, it is taking a bath instead of tweeting, it is meeting a friend for a drink instead of texting.  It is going shopping instead of clicking and pointing for your next purchase.

Analog is taking a walk and noting the scents of each block, from lavender to rose, to too many dogs in one spot.  Analog is pen to paper. 

The language of love is analog, and I hope won’t ever be digital.

I’ve got nothing against digital – I love iTunes and I want a new computer and an iPod, I love the ability I have to be at home virtually anywhere because my laptop is my home and office and repository for all things me.

We just can’t forget we’re still people and our little chemical boxes seem to require us to periodically check in with our senses in profound and detailed ways.

Analog derives from a word meaning proportionate.  This may be a key signal of its effect on us as humans.  We didn’t mean to, perhaps, but when we went digital from analog, we may have lost our sense of proportion.  We simply spun out.

Like that roll of film, maybe it’s time to spin back in.  Very carefully.  You don’t want to ruin any memories.

Tuesday, 27 July 2010

in case you didn't know

"You've got to play, that's all.  They don't think of you as a woman if you can really play."

Monday, 26 July 2010

Monday's Quote - Einstein

"It's not that I'm so smart, it's just that I stay with problems longer."

- Albert Einstein

That comes directly from my journal for today.  When I got the new diary, I put quotes on each Monday so I'd have some kind of inspiration for the week.  The quotes came from everywhere -- ones I'd saved and ones I found online and people sent me quotes as well.  I was hoping to be as random as possible, so I just shuffled through the book for an available Monday each time, without looking at dates, until all the Mondays were filled.  My hope was that some kind of synergy might exist - that the quotes might magically have particular relevance on the dates they popped into.

This one surely does.

This quote is the icing on the cake of Outliers -- it is exactly what Gladwell spends so much time talking about from his discussion of IQ tests, to rice paddies.  It is not how "smart" you are, but how long you stay with a problem.  It's about focus and a willingness to keep fighting.

So focus.  And keep fighting.

Saturday, 24 July 2010

Yum - 5th Edition

Apparently, no food this week!  Y'all know I went to BNV and that would be in here, but it got it's own blog.  Here we go:

Lomography Shop

Alfie took me to the Lomography Shop!  it was fantastically fun!

Before I left, I got rid of all my Polaroid cameras and my action camera.  I was sad.  But the film was getting super-hard to find for my iZone, Joycam and Spectra, and they were bulky and well, the Action Cam – I probably should’ve kept that.  Actually, I should have kept all of them.  : (
(This was my result from clicking "random photo" on the website.)

The Lomography Shop is an analague enthusiast’s dream.  Holgas, LCA cameras, Dianas and all the accoutrements, plus great pictures to look at, books to browse and ideas to “borrow”.  They sell film and they do processing!

Alfie signed up to do Street Team work and they loaned her a camera to take pictures! 

All I can say is, we want the Hello Kitty cam.  Both of us.  And there’s only one left.

p.s.  Can't find a website for the store, but it's on Santa Monica Blvd, in WeHo!

Outliers/ Outliers: por que unas personas tienen exito y otras no (Spanish Edition)

By far my favorite of Malcolm Gladwell’s books, I read this book in 3 days.  I didn’t want to put it down.  The stories and the critical thinking and analysis that went into them are brain-absorbing.  The premise is fairly revolutionary – and yet completely observable in every aspect of daily life.  We say we are all connected, we talk about ripples in ponds and we understand quantum physics, but we still tell ourselves that lives don’t have context, that everyone has a fair and equal shot, that circumstances don’t make the man.  Gladwell applies all his journalistic skills here, as well as his deft storytelling, to force us to shift our perception.  It all rings shockingly true like cold water in the face; it’s as if he snaps us out of some collective delusion we know could never have been true.  Great book, great reading, great ideas, great basis for social change. 

His Girl Friday

His Girl Friday (1940) [Remastered Edition]I watched this on Hulu yesterday.  I was feeling glum and it seemed like just the thing.  His Girl Friday, directed by Howard Hawkes, starring Cary Grant and Rosalind Russell, based on Ben Hecht’s play The Front Page, is seventy years old.  Seventy.  Released in 1940.

It should be flat, it should be dull, it should be crotchety.  It’s not.  It is all relentless movement, whipping dialogue, minute character shifts, and truly funny bits.  The verbal sparring of Hildy and Walter, at a ridiculously fast clip, creates the energy that moves the story.  Sure there’s a plot – a convicted killer is about to be hanged and Hildy is about to marry somebody new – but it is a backdrop for the pure delight the characters take in tormenting each other.

Walter Burns would be unlikely as a hero today, while Hildy Johnson is oddly contemporary.  Walter’s not politically correct, makes no attempt to be nice to anybody, in fact, insults everyone, and doesn’t seem to have a moral bone in his body.  What saves him, apart from Cary Grant’s impeccable performance, is his dedication to winning in the form of getting the scoop, having the best paper, and just generally beating everyone at their own game.

Would I want to marry him?  Hell no.  But I want to see her marry him.  And that’s what matters.

There is a reference to “coloureds” at the beginning of the movie I never noticed before.  The reason giving for hanging the convicted man, Earle Williiams, is because he policeman he shot was “coloured” and the 200,000 votes are important to an impending election.  It makes the movie seem dated, but is also telling.  This play was clearly written in the 30’s with its references to Communism and its general demeanor.  Off the back of the strikes in New York City that integrated Harlem hospitals and created African American businesses in Harlem, and the work of Senator Adam Clayton Powell, we find out not only that it’s de rigueur for an African-American to be on the police force 70 years ago, but that the constituency believed in its own voice enough and had enough power to demand special justice.  He is not getting hanged because he shot a police man, but because the policeman was African-American.  I’m not sure I would condone the way it was handled, but the story and dialogue are not delicate nor are they politic.  However, the storyline itself is telling.

Friday, 23 July 2010

For Andrew, on His Birthday

By my best calculations, today would have been Andrew’s 48th birthday.  Born Douglas Andrew Hannapel, he went by Andrew everywhere that wasn’t Nebraska, where he was Doug or Douglas to everyone.  He hated that.

I first met Andrew by phone.  We were both receptionists at the offices of 21st Century Film – me in New York and Andrew in L.A.  Basically, we’d spend most of the day on the phone, as we connected one or the other person in either office to each other. My boss would ask me to get Nini on the phone and I’d have to dial LA and Andrew would pick up and say “21st Century Film” and I’d say “Hey, it’s me, is Nini there?”  If she were on the line, we’d hold so I could get her for my boss as soon as she hung up.  So we’d chat.  I think we probably spent a good few hours a day on the phone shuffling Melanie to Blaine, Menahem to David, Priscilla to Alain, while I was balancing the checkbook, signing for packages, or putting him on hold to take other calls.

The first time we met in person was my first real trip to LA.  By then the NY office had closed and I don’t think he was working at the LA office anymore.  We met at a former version of Café Stella, in what was a pretty empty little courtyard.  It bears almost no resemblance to the bustling mini-metropolis that’s now the Intelligentsia, Silver Lake Cheese shop mecca for hipsters and foodies.

We sat awkwardly – we were used to the phone.  We had no email accounts.  No cell phones.  Um, no computers, even, in our office!  We did write letters, though.  Tons of them.  He’d tell me everything.  I’d tell him about all the bad dates with bad men.  He’d say, “Girl, you don’t need that one…unless he’s got a big d*ck!”  He made me laugh.  In person, we were awkward.

Andrew was funny.  He was generous and he was drag-queen bitchy when necessary.  That meant he was a great friend.  He always had your back and nobody would mess with you cause if they did, even if he never met them, he’d verbally cut them up so bad…even if only to you on the phone.  Sex & The City wishes it were as funny as Andrew on a tear.

He told me pretty early on he was sick.  At the time, being HIV+ was still a death sentence and I’d already lost a lot of people.  By the next year, he was back in Nebraska living near his parents.  This was not something he wanted to do, but he knew he couldn’t make it on his own in L.A. anymore.

When I drove cross-country with my friend so I could move out to LA for grad school, we planned our trip to go through Lincoln, NE.  There Andrew took me to my first ever Target – he pronounced it Tarjhay – and we ate a huge lunch and then had ice cream.  When we got back in the car we couldn’t move.  And then we didn’t move, we got stuck in a tornado on the way to see Cathy in Kansas!

Our letters were colourful.  Not just in language and stories, but in actual colour.  Andrew was big on confetti.  Sequins, stickers.  Well, so was I.  So these amazingly decorated envelopes would show up and out would stream confetti everywhere.  I had a little glass jar in my apartment for the stray Andrew confetti.  It got so I couldn’t open his letters anywhere but my room – if a roommate or a co-worker saw it – they’d be like – is that from Andrew -- don’t open that here – it gets everywhere!

I did the same for him, always looking for new and better stationery to entertain him.  He’d send pictures of his apartment (he painted it magenta and pink for real), his cat, and lists of the videos in his VHS collection (lots of Bette Davis, Audrey Hepburn and Joan Crawford).

He’d send long descriptions of medical procedures I hoped I’d never have to go through.  They sounded horrifying, but I read them, to be there, to witness, and to be his friend.  Sometimes the handwriting was shaky.  He’d complain about his weight when the meds made him balloon up, and again when different meds made it so he couldn’t keep any food down.

He held on a good long time.  Just not long enough.

In one phone call, after I was out of work, I was lamenting that I couldn’t even go out and get a cappuccino.  A few days later, a box showed up.  There was a cappuccino machine inside.  I was shocked and so excited – nobody I knew even had one!  He was like that.  I kept it in perfect shape, completely spotless for about 12 years (until I stupidly took it on location and left it to the make-up trailer and they ruined it).  Every time I made a coffee, I thought of him.

For his birthday in 1994, he invited a group of his friends to meet him in his beloved San Francisco.  I guess he knew already it would be his last birthday.  I don’t think I did.  He rented a hotel suite.  He took us all out to dinner on Friday night in the Castro, which he loved.  He bought presents for everyone.  He got tickets to Beach Blanket Babylon.  Saturday night we had a huge dinner served to us in his huge penthouse suite in the hotel.  There were about ten of us.  We didn’t all know each other.  We had heard about each other, some of us, and everyone knew at least one other person.  It was a fun, but sad night.  Andrew didn’t want to go back to Nebraska.  He didn’t want to live the life of the dying.  He simply had no choice.

He lasted about 6 months after that, I think.  He was ragingly sick for a good 4 years.  He took every pill they gave him.  He tried everything they prescribed.  Had he held on for another 6, maybe 12 months, if he was healthy enough, he could’ve been one of the first people on the cocktail.

He wasn’t perfect.  He’d fall into drinking too much, or recreational drugs, even near the end, when he knew it was depleting his system. I could never blame him; he simply had no outlet at all for his physical pain.

Andrew was older than me, but he liked to lie about his age.  I remember the first birthday I had when I got to be older than he was and I thought, Andrew didn’t make it this far.  It was sobering.

You are your life.  You are your actions.  You are your circumstances and you are your times.  Born or infected a few years later, he might’ve lived fairly routinely with his status.  There are people who made the same mistakes he made, just a little bit closer to medical innovation, who are living healthy functioning lives.

Sometimes I think of Andrew as a soldier on the front lines of HIV.  He was brave, he was gallant, he never lost his sense of humour.  His life cleared a path for those who came after him with the disease.  He was a guinea pig, sure, but he never once said I give up.  Never once refused treatment.  He’d write in depth about the lesions, and the pain and the way they couldn’t find veins anymore, but he never didn’t go through it.  Wracked with pain, he’d describe long phone calls with civil servants about his disability and medical coverage – no one should have to go through that.

He died too soon.  Quite literally.  He was almost there, he just didn’t know.  I think about that, whenever I’m tending toward giving up.  I think that I may be closer than I know and that it wouldn’t be becoming to his legacy or his friendship to give up.

Drewski – this is the piece of the quilt I swore I’d sew for you, but never did.  But c’mon, we both know I wasn’t the crafty one!  And a girl like me don’t sew!  There’s a star with your name and you are remembered as a flame in hearts.  You give me courage and remind me not to give up my sense of humour, no matter what.

It’s your birthday! Let’s celebrate it!  Margaritas, funny hats and streamers for everyone!

This is the only mention of him I could find on the web.  It’s funny for me to see him so young, but it definitely is him, not only by the picture, but by the testimony.  Douglas Andrew Hannapel.

Good friends age like fine wine.  He might never wanted to have been this old (oh, he was vain), but I think given the alternative, we would have all preferred him to be here.

Keep your friends close.  Buy some property on an island and send your enemies away.  There are enough problems and distractions in life without them.


Thursday, 22 July 2010

Don’t be nice.

“Don’t be nice!”  “Poet – don’t be nice!”

This is what they were yelling from the audience as a youth poet stepped up to the mic today at Youthspeaks Brave New Voices International Youth Poetry Slam.  The 13th Annual BNV is in L.A. this year, as it was in 2004.  I haven’t been to a BNV since 2006, when I was a judge.  In 2004, I both coached a team and helped to coordinate the event.

“Don’t be nice.”  That’s new.  We have a lot of things we say to each other in the silence before we start a poem.  “Bring it.”  “Rock the mic.”  “Speak truth” but “Don’t be nice” that’s fresh.

It’s the advice my friend G was giving me when I slammed earlier in the summer.  He’d say “Let Bitchy slam,”  referring to my favourite alter-ego Bitchy Winans.

You can lose points on nice.  For gross generalizations here we come – women and youth don’t often feel entitled to speak.  “Nice” is a way of mitigating the fact that we are about to tell you how we really feel.  But it doesn’t always ring true, because in truth, you’re not feeling nice when you’re doing a passionate piece about injustice, or foster care, or Marilyn Monroe (we’ll come back to that) – you’re enraged, or impassioned, or full-tilt desperate or you’re baring your soul like teeth in a way that you can never fully close up again.

Nice doesn’t cut it.  You’ve already written the words and the words are not nice.  The words are rapier thin, razor’s edge sharp, and they will cut you.  The words make demands; fill them.

I am learning about not being nice – not just on stage, but off.  Nice is a good hiding place but it is so very rarely real.  Kind is real.  Kind is always real.  And as Buddy Wakefield, who was hosting the semi-final I was judging added when the crowd once again was calling out “Don’t be nice”  -- “but be love.”

Because, truth now, the opposite of nice is not mean.  Nice holds its tongue, but mean carves holes in its prey.  Nice is a neutral zombie.  Nice is learned behaviour.The opposite of nice can be expressed, connected, soulful, deep, seated, real.  

And what was most striking – in fact, is always most striking – about the youth poets I had the blessing to judge today, was how real they were.  How grounded in their words, their art, how well-guided, and how humble.  There was real humility on the stage today.  Not learned or practiced humility, not I wish I was truly humble humility, but true humility.  In that, their truth is not obfuscated by their bodies, their voices, or their words.

A girl got up and began a poem about Marilyn Monroe.  One of my signature pieces is about Marilyn Monroe.  My piece comments on glamour and what it stands for and what it steals.  From the moment she spoke, though, I let this girl from Team Albuquerque school me on her Marilyn, because it was clear she had something to say.  Her Marilyn was broken, too, but her Marilyn was the icon women came to idolize who never deserved the status.  She wanted to see more women like Bella Abzug celebrated (oh, how I’ve been wanting to do a piece on Bella Abzug for so long!), despite their lack of photogenic beauty.  The piece was shockingly strong, both in writing, critical thinking and delivery.  A fellow judge said he was not fully convinced by her argument – that Marilyn was not only a pin-up – we didn’t get to fully have that conversation, but I see where he was going – the facts of Marilyn’s life don’t add up to her just being a shill for Hollywood.  I had to concede, though, that it might be generational.  That just as my Marilyn piece is about my perception of her, this piece is about her conception of Marilyn.  From her perspective, in high school in 2010, this may be the image she is privy to.  She knew her facts, but they may look differently to her now than they did to me ten years ago.

As always at BNV – there was an extraordinary act of kindness.  In 2004, it was the team who gave up the chance to win in at Finals in order to be able to bring up more poets on the stage, so everyone got a chance.  Today it was a member of Team Austin stepping up to the mic and giving up her spot for another team member after praising her growth and development.  It ain’t about the scores.

This was not my first time judging a slam, or BNV.  I started to really look at how I was creating a score in my mind.

The elements for me are:

-Personal – The story or poem needs to have personal relevance or connection for the poet – don’t tell me about THE hood – tell me about YOUR hood or tell me your perspective that is different from everyone else’s on the hood.

- Context – Even if your story is completely personal – put it in a context, give it a wider theme, show me how it applies to me or to everyone or connects to the larger picture of our lives.

- Originality – Please let something about your poem be truly original – have your signature as a poet or a team on it.  It can be language, concept, subject, analysis or even presentation, but a list of facts about injustice and a few clichés spewed with finesse at the top of your lungs do not a 10 make.  (10 being the highest score in slam.)

Performance and writing count, but in youth slam scoring, I think the above three are more important.  Once you get to the level of semi’s, you’re already assured that the poetry is going to be at a certain level of writing and performance.

I held myself to a pretty rigorous standard of judging today.  I know this because we kept an overall scorecard, and my favorite team, was not in fact, the team that I judged the highest.  I was surprised to find that Stockton – a team I adored – came in second in my scores to Albuquerque – who I felt were a very strong team.  The difference was an infinitesimal .1, but I believe it meant that I was judging the work and not the poets.

But I’ll tell you, this girl from Stockton about knocked me over with her piece about Stockton as the next Katrina waiting to happen.  That girl is gunning for the inventive and daring Rachel McKibbens as a take-no-prisoneres open a vein to say it poet.

Finals are tomorrow night.  You might want to be there.

Wednesday, 21 July 2010

i ain't got much but what i got

I don't have much.  When I left LA I gave up car, apartment, furniture, CD's, tons of clothes and household items.  I have about 1 teeny box of kitchen things (the good wine glasses and um, oh the bowls Kate gave me when I was still living up north).  I have some boxes of files.  I have about a suitcase of clothes and another of miscellaneous-ness.  I have some boxes of books, which only contain books given to meby,  our purchased from, the authors, and books I cannot live without.  (e.e. cummings is often essential at 3a.m.)

I kept my vinyl.  And my turntable.

And my art.

Having an art collection is one of the best things I've done.  Some things were given to me by friends or by the artists.  Most of the art on my walls came from people I know.  So when I was sitting in a room, I'd look up on the walls, and there would be Jaha's painting, just like her spirit was in the room with me.

Painting by Jaha Zainabu

A package came from NY today with a few things the new baggage regulations wouldn't let me squeeze in this time.  In it was a graf painting I'd forgotten about.  I put it on the wall.  It was a gift, but somehow it fits in completely with the art I've already got here.

As you may notice, it was actually painted for me.

Some of my art is still in storage, and some with friends, but having some pieces around me is awesome.  I took pictures of a lot of my pieces before I left, so I could look at them sometimes.  They each represent experience, meeting, community.  Artists whose work you own often takes a casual acquaintance and turns it into a friendship.

Painting by Lost Goat

People get anxious when you tell them you don't have stuff.  Not having stuff doesn't make me anxious. Sometime's it's having stuff that does.  While a writer likes nothing so well as a great view out a window or a plain white wall in that moment of thinking and glancing out to the future to grasp precise expression, there is also the moment of a side-wards glance for inspiration.  Let that gaze fall upon art.

Tuesday, 20 July 2010

Monday, 19 July 2010

if it's monday...there must be a quote

The best time to plant a tree was twenty years ago.  
The second best time is now. 

-John Wood

In reading this fantastic (and FREE!) downloadable e-book:  What Matters Now, edited by my new guru (well, cyber-guru, I haven't actually met him) Seth Godin, I found this quote.  Its truth is irrefutable.  A twenty year-old tree will give you a lovely shade over your house, but if you didn't plant it, it won't.  Iif you continue to not plant it, you could wake up twenty years from now, still wishing you had a bit of shade.

And let's be clear:  we ain't just talking trees, here.

What I love most about this crazy time of the world, the insanity of changing and shifting economies, of the new frugality, of the funny fear that we won't have the continued panacea of purchasing to inoculate us from living, is the response I'm seeing daily in people.

Over and over, I realize that I know amazing people.  Smart people, people with vision, people who won't lose their senses of humour just because times are bad, and people who are reaching out further than ever both to help and to receive help in helping.

Two examples:

Maura and Chad.  Wanted to have a baby the regular way.  Tried having a baby the medically enhanced way.  Ended up choosing adoption.  When suddenly they were given thirty days notice for their dream of having a baby girl to adopt, they were elated, panicked and financially short.  Medical procedures are expensive.  Adoption costs.  Here's their dream calling - to have their own baby, and, simultaneously to give a child a better life than she might be able to get with her birth parents - and they have 30 days to come up with the equivalent of her first year's college tuition.

What did they do?

They decided to send out their needs into the community.  They are doing their own version of micro-finance, asking for a $10 donation from anyone who feels they can.

Maura and Chad  are regular folks with regular jobs, and artists on their own time.   The standard 9-month birthing process has been truncated here into one month of frantic baby prep.

Yet, through inviting their community to participate in the process by donating, they are also building the community they will need as parents and as a family.  They are including us in on their process - however rushed - and though we don't have pictures of the sonogram peeking at us from a Facebook page, we are creating a net for this baby, due to their  openness and their commitment to become parents.

The baby's room with mural by Chad DiPrince

Julie is a single mother.  Julie has raised her daughter by herself, somehow also keeping a creative career going.  Not only that, but she's taken to going to Guatemala to help other mothers and children.  Through a group called Safe Passage, Julie and her daughter will go help women living in very poor conditions. Along with other great women, they will build bridges in these communities and inculcate a spirit of service in the young girls coming from the U.S. as volunteers.

In order to fund the trips and the good works they do, Julie has asked for micro-donations from her community.  Like Maura and Chad, an example of not only generosity, but of letting us receive the gift of practising generosity in assistance of her goals.  Everybody wins.

Don't wait another twenty years --  plant a tree right here right now.

Donate if you can.

Julie's trip with Safe Passage - The link takes you to PayPal.  Email donation to julie.titus(at)

Seeing people reach out to their deepest passions and embracing community on a larger scale at a time when there is a feeling of so much uncertainty is inspiring.  I appreciate being mentored by the actions, openness, invention, and heart expressed in these journeys.  Activism can be so much simpler and more direct than we allow ourselves to believe.  It can be a daily practise of a basic commitment to humanity - yours and others - and the persistent belief in that humanity.  

If you plant a seed where you can't see it, does the tree still grow?

With a little luck, light and water, yes it does.  Someone, twenty years from now, may silently and anonymously thank you for the shade.

(Credits -- thanks to Kevin Molloy for the cyber-introduction to Seth Godin!)

Saturday, 17 July 2010

Yum 4

Okay – I admit it – the heatwave has sapped my energy and enthusiasm, but I’m fighting through it. Here are this week’s Things That Make You Go Yum!

I’ve been meaning to post how much I <3 Yogurtland.  However, the sad fact is, that I have had to go cold turkey on this mutha.  The thing is, in talks with Alfie and web searches, it was revealed that my beloved Yogurtland uses high fructose corn syrup in their product!  This was devastating for me.  I swore off the stuff several years ago.  I mostly eat natural, unprocessed foods, and was surprised to learn how many places it was hiding in my diet anyway.  I don’t know if I can stay away from Yogurtland.  It’s cheap, it’s cold and it’s open late.  I do know that I’ve had tummy aches after eating there.  I realize now that I’m not good with all those unnatural ingredients.  If you’re okay with all that, then you know, head to Yogurtland, but perhaps a better option is…

OMG – how long it took me to discover this place!  I used to live down the street from it, but I didn’t quite get what it was.  Now I have mad cravings for it from across oceans.  This is the most scintillating ice cream you will ever encounter.  The flavours sound like story books and the taste is an aphrodisiac.  My usual is rosewater saffron – where else do you find those flavours?  But this last time I went with new flavours:  Turkish Coffee and Pumpkin.  Maybe not the typical summer night choices, but both rich and redolent.  I think the Turkish Coffee rivals Sweet Rose Creamery’s Caffe Luxxe coffee.  If you’re in LA – visit.  If you’re not, I’m afraid I can’t do anything for you.

Envirosax Origami Pattern Reusable Bags - Set of 5 in PouchWhen mini-fashionista Naomi (she’s 10) said she liked my bag, I knew the times were a-changing.  I remember when I was a snooty b*tch who refused to tote around a carrier bag.  A year in London changed that for sure.  You get some serious looks if you are not presenting your personal re-usable bags at the register.  New York, too.  Tesco will throw some bags at you, and Trader Joe’s is cool with their paper bags, but anyplace else, you better ante up.  My friend R is a big reuse, recycle type person.  A couple of gifts ago, she got me a bag like hers.  She  has millions of Envirosax – they appear from every nook and cranny – in all kinds of patterns.  They are light to carry and you can colour-coordinate them, cause they come in all different patterns.  They have saved my life and the lives of others many times.  They are a great option for carrying the computer when I don’t want to have the heavy computer bag.  And sometimes, I just use it as a purse.  Lots of places offer small discounts for bringing your own bag, too – just ask!

So – can’t believe it took me tl now to get there, but what a great and fun thing!  First Wednesday of the month at the Greenway Court Theatre.  It’s basically an open mic for actors.  Hosted by In-Q, with DJ Brutha Gimel, live painters and actors putting up scenes and monologues, short films and film clips.  Check it out!

Monday, 12 July 2010

Monday's Quote - Don Miguel Ruiz

I am responsible for what I say, but I am not responsible for what you understand.  We live in a completely different dream.

-Don Miguel Ruiz
This is taken from his book The Mastery of Love, which I am reading.  I'm not that impressed with this book overall, but as I near the end, the chapters are more cogent and pointed.

The Four Agreements: A Practical Guide to Personal Freedom, A Toltec Wisdom BookI read his Four Agreements, which I thought was simple brilliance.  Clear, concise, practical, and spiritual.  

This quote leapt from the page at me.  I feel lately very much as though this is the disconnect I am experiencing.  Although I feel I am much more mindful of my speech, I still feel as though misunderstandings are peaking.  This quote felt like a step back - a moment for me to assess this from a different angle.  Possibly this is more of a shift than a disconnect; possibly I need to be more mindful about who I am speaking with, and not just how I am speaking.

Sunday, 11 July 2010

stirring backwards

I’ve been thinking a lot about ritual. 

Do I have enough of it.  Do I have the right kind.  Are the rituals I do have still resonant with me.

When I recently sliced my finger open, I couldn’t use my hand very well for a few weeks.  Writing with a pen or pencil was almost impossible and typing was pretty difficult.  I’ve been writing morning pages every day for about 12 years, no maybe 13 now, and this was my first serious break in it ever.  The only time I usually miss writing them is when I’m in the middle of production and the call times are very early.   Even then, I usually make them up at some point in the day.

I asked myself was it time to leave this ritual behind?  Was it still serving me?  Was this imposed break actually a message?

When I was able to write again, I began morning pages.  Within a week, I felt that I knew the answer was in continuation.  If anything, slicing open my finger made me more avid in morning pages and other writing rituals I might have neglected (like blogging).

Ritual is not habit.  The morning pages might have become habit for me, and I needed to redirect them to ritual.  However, they were still potent.  I decided to put other daily rituals in place and to look for other small ceremonies that might have meaning.

Artists do not often appear to subscribe to ritual.  We can seem disorderly to outside minds.  Societal rituals, from regular communal worship to Little League often escape us, yet we create and preserve our rituals nonetheless.  Ceremonial rites stoke creative engines --  the cost of not tending the fires is great, and most productive artists I know embrace chaos only in careful doses.

The new moon solar eclipse today seems to be centered in releasing the old and embracing the new.  At least, according to what I've read about it.  My sense, though, is that some things from the past are popping up in new and unexpected ways.

Yesterday, my friend P. David posted something on a documentary we programmed in the 2001 Silverlake Film Festival, Modern Tribalism.  I loved this documentary and we built a big event around it – though getting a permit for firedancers proved tricky.  The film explores rituals that were burgeoning at the time from tattooing to Burning Man.
Tribalism has come to mean very different things in the past decade.  The tribalism of the film is a return to ritual and ceremony and a bonding together of people who actively choose certain rights of passage.  In a post 9/11 world, tribalism has come to signify the bond associated with shared DNA, religion, place of origin.  Our search for diversity has landed us in a pot that is rigourously trying to unmelt – something impossible under the laws of physics.  Just ask young Thomasina, the main character of Tom Stoppard’s superlative play Arcadia, who discovers the law of entropy all on her own to the amazement of her tutor, Septimus:
"When you stir your rice pudding, Septimus, the spoonful of jam spreads itself round making red trails like the picture of a meteor in my astronomical atlas. But if you stir backwards, the jam will not come together again. Indeed, the pudding does not notice and continues to turn pink just as before. Do you think this is odd?"
- Tom Stoppard, Arcadia
This week I was faced with sending out an old project that I had never felt fully done.  I insisted that the ending be edited - literally just chopped off - before the last (horrible) scene.  I'd never liked the way it had ended; with the constraints at the time, we were not allowed to re-cut.  Now, years later, I was not letting it out into the world that way twice.

Checking the video, I noticed the soundtrack seemed dated.  The friend who made the edit said, "Well, I can change that for you."  My gut instinct was no.  Certainly it's possible, but it was cut to those tracks, too, and it would be a lot of work for possibly little improvement.  Yes, there is music that didn't even exist then that might be great.  However, if the soundtrack is dated, might the shots be dated, too?  How much change is good and how much renovation is necessary?  Maybe its context is what gives it relevance and removing that removes deteriorates meaning.

I decided not to become the George Lucas of short filmmaking, and leave it alone.

Last week, the venue for our new night burned down.  It was a moment when we had to ask if the Universe was saying back off, or try harder.  I sent a message to all the invitees explaining that we weren't sure what was going to happen to the event.  Someone I never met responded that fire is purifying and that we should see what rises up after it.  That was a good reminder;  we got a new venue, and Starburst Jams is happening on Tuesday.

Some things cannot be unstirred, but perhaps some things can.  I suppose our trick is in knowing what to reclaim, remix, and remaster and what to let go.

Saturday, 10 July 2010

Yum Chronicles #3

Ooooooh yummmmmEEEEEEE!  On Melrose, which now seems to have a lot of great eateries!  

This is not the typical LA faux-healthy but essentially (vegan) junk food place.  This is real food, fresh ingredients, nice atmosphere, lovely people.  And costs the same as the other ones.  

Thanks, Alfie for this one!

The Knack and How to Get It

Watched this 60’s Brit flick on Hulu.  It’s a staple of American Cinematheque’s Mods & Rockers series, but I’d never seen it.  How fun!  

Richard Lester is genius at making cinema feel pliable and fresh.  Young Michael Crawford, distinctly un-Phantom-like and Donal Donnelly.  

It had overtones of Jules et Jim, which surprised me – especialement the bed sequence which was absolutely delightful.  Film has lost its innocence and its sense of play.  We could do well to get some back.

Thought this shot was gorgeous:

Earl Grey Ice Cream

Finally test drove Sweet Rose Creamery!  Double-scoop salted caramel and Earl Grey.  I had already tried the salted Caramel, but the Earl Grey was a revelation.  I love this place.  It feels very New England.  And it was packed.  Anticipate lines as it gets hotter.

Hollywood Bowl

My friend Tara texted and emailed me late on Tuesday afternoon – did I want to go to the Hollywood Bowl?  It’s my policy to never turn down an invitation to the Bowl if possible. 

It took me years of living in Los Angeles to go my first time.  Once I went, I went back as often as possible.  Pack a picnic or just visit Trader Joe’s – you can bring in bottles of wine! 

The Hollywood Bowl is one of the few places in the world – perhaps the only place, really – that everyone is in a good mood every time you go.  For this alone, it’s an unparalleled experience.

We went to see the LA Philharmonic do a classical program.  Haydn, Vivaldi (yawn), Poulenc, and Handel.  They closed out with the Hallelujah Chorus to FIREWORKS! 

Hallelujah – BOOM – FLASH – SPARKLE

Hallelujah – BOOM – FLASH – SPARKLE

Hallelujah – BOOM – FLASH – SPARKLE

Yup.  Just like that from behind the bandshell.  I didn’t realize how involved Frank Gehry had been in the redesign.  There was a tribute to recently passed Ernest Fleischmann.  While not a follower of the LA Phil, I am always inspired by people of vision and courage.  He clearly was one.