Friday, July 30, 2004

alceste’s photography advice

How to photograph people when you’re not good at it:

1. Start with dead people.
2. Next, people in comas.
3. Move up to sleeping people.
4. How about someone drunk?
5. Congratulations! Now you’re ready for someone awake and alive.

I’ve always felt weird about the fact that I take so few photographs of people. It’s this great gaping hole in any collection of my shots. Madagascar? Lemurs and landscapes. France? Wall murals. Any city anywhere? Machines, extreme floral closeups, and dead leaves. China is probably the only exception, and there are so many people there you simply can’t avoid getting them in your shots. My father, from whom I got the bug, at least took pictures of sporting events for the school paper. You know, people. In motion. Before he got down to the serious capture of dead leaves. And some very nice photos of my mother.

I’m the ultimate post-apocalyptic photographer. I’m training for the day I wake up and everyone else has mysteriously disappeared. To look at my photos, you’d think that had already happened.

It wasn’t such a big deal in Madagascar, actually, because I was there with Slice, and all he ever takes pictures of are people and sunsets. Seriously. I still have the double prints, years after the breakup. Sunsets sunsets sunsets. Sunsets with clouds. Sunsets over mountains. Sunsets through car windows. Sunsets with power lines. Sunsets with a big blurry finger poking in from the side. My last gift to him was a reasonably good film camera that was really more than I could afford, because the little plastic thing he was using sucked, and wasn’t giving him the best sunsets he could get.

But he was also good at people. Some of the very few photos of myself I can stand are his (if we don’t count the camping ones where he snuck up and took pictures of my butt as I rolled up my sleeping bag), and there are some wonderful ones from the beach in Morondava, where we met three great little kids who laughed as they tried to braid our short hair and taught us an elaborate game of keep-away with the waves. Part of what I love about those photos is that the light was perfect, late-in-the-day light with its own sweet color, but I have to give Slice credit for making his subjects comfortable enough that they relax into the process. Other than the guy who wanted money because Slice had photographed his pig, of course. But there was no helping that.

Point being, if he and pooled our photos from that trip, you would get a fairly comprehensive idea of what it had been like. Look at mine alone... Well, you’re fine if you like lemurs. And tortoises. And crocodiles sleeping at the crocodile farm. And bugs. And poignant photos of bags of charcoal for sale, as the island’s once-great forests are systematically turned into fuel. But no people.

So I worked on it while I was away. Diligently. My new digital lets me take advantage of a pretty broad light spectrum, and not having to think about film is the most freeing experience imaginable. I can take a lot of shots, without setting up too carefully, and throw them all away if I want to. Which means I’m taking more risks, and getting more casual. I also had a captive group of subjects who generally tolerated the camera. Which was huge for me; a big part of my challenge is feeling like I’m intruding, or just being (and I know this will surprise some who know me) incredibly shy. So I usually don’t try at all. The other critics ribbed me a little at first, but then promptly forgot the camera, and suddenly I was starting to get shots that I liked. Even better, I was starting to get shots that they liked. My last night there, I printed a few out to show to Curls, and before I’d made it back to my room people were coming up to me. I hear you have pictures!

So now I can go back to my leaves for a while.

Thursday, July 29, 2004

people who are funnier than i am

Before I post the ponderous thing I'm working on about my own health, you have to read No Milk's story of his trip to the emergency room. I'm half-tempted to pack up my marbles and go home; it's been a little while since I've looked at his blog and in the interim he apparently did a redesign and got even more hysterical than he was when I first linked to him.

He and I also apparently have lived with the same cat.

Wednesday, July 28, 2004

what i want for my birthday

Finally, finally got my contract from Avalon Publishing/Seal Press for the essay in Under Her Skin; essentially agreeing that they can reprint it anywhere they like as long as they check with me first, and that I'm getting a massive hundred clams and two contributor's copies as renumeration. I'm still so giddy about the book having a cover and pages and everything that the money seems, well, secondary. Signed it and sent it back, ta-da, and then went to look on Amazon again. Mom had noted that the sales rank was in the 36,000 range.

It's actually somewhere around 35 thou now, which is impressive considering that it hasn't even come out yet. I find it hard to believe that the sales rank is entirely the result of my mother pre-ordering every available copy. Which means someone else is pre-ordering, too! I also noticed that the release date has moved to December 10, the day before my birthday, which seems like a good omen. Especially since it means that I am seeing publication in a national market before thirty-five, if only by twenty-four hours.

Then I went and looked at Mike's great book, Too Much of Nothing, and my review is still up. Which means that more people need to read it, and write their own reviews, and push me down! Or at least read it. Because it is good, and because I told you so.

Tuesday, July 27, 2004

what this picture is supposed to tell you

A, that I’m home. B, that I am not hopeless as a plant mommy; my plants all still cling to life, and the phaleonopsis is even blooming. C, they finished the deck while I was gone, and now I have a place to sit outside (and a mandate from the landlord to start planting things, if I so desire.)

The mourning doves are perplexed by the new addition. I can see one sitting on the new fence to my right, all puffed out so her head looks especially tiny. I’d been worried that the building of the deck would mean no more birds, but they peck around the edges, and I can hear them in the next-door yard, which is deeply overgrown and hospitable to their kind. I keep meaning to buy some seed for them, but my rental contract very firmly states that I am not to put out any food for creatures big or small, no sir no how. So I’m going to look into what sorts of flora I can get away with that will encourage the fauna to stay close.

I can’t begin to express how wonderful it is to be home. It’s been strange. I’d thought that these two weeks would be different from the two other sojourns I’ve made out of California since the new year, different because I wasn’t going home to watch my father die, different because I was going to be so preoccupied with writing and learning, different because I was going to a new place I’d never seen before that was supposed to just drip with Ye Olde New England Charme. And to some extent, that was true. Much of the Connecticut part of the trip was interesting, and the Boston bits were delightful. I got to see people I like, I met new people to like, and my last night at the O’Neill Center passed in a pleasurable haze of Corona and singing along with dozens of actors to a guy who could play every conceivable eighties tune on the piano.

But in one important sense it wasn’t different. Most of the time I was gone I really wanted to be home in San Francisco. I was so relieved when my plane hit tarmac last night. Some of that was seeing my peeps, of course. Snufkina picked me up at the airport in her little red car (the slash in the soft-top being large enough to allow windshield wiper fluid to fly through, as my freshly-polished forehead can attest) and drove me straight to a massive dollop of apricot and chocolate mousse in a hard chocolate egg-shaped shell. And then I let myself into AX’s, where I did my best impression of a cheesy Hollywood sex scene by strewing my clothing all through the hallway and the bedroom. This morning I sent e-mail to various people demanding that they see me as soon as possible, and tomorrow night I get to go to bellydance class and see all those tummylicious women I’ve been sweating next to for the past year.

I’ve been letting myself get closer to people in the past couple of years, a point I don’t tend to realize until I’m away. Can’t completely articulate what’s changed to make this possible, but I’m grateful. Grateful to have people in my life that I miss horribly when I’m away from them, instead of just shrugging and going back to my book.

But this isn’t all of it. The people are not all. Something else is changing, something too subtle for me to tease out, something beyond being amazed that I had to explain what a sex club was to someone in Boston and beyond wondering if I would be able to find a tribal/urban fusion-style bellydance teacher in Paris and beyond feeling like New York would swallow me whole. Something about feeling so keenly that San Francisco is my home that the thought of living anywhere else is anathema. I never felt this way about Detroit. When I was back there in the spring I couldn’t even summon up any feeling of native-ness. Once my mother moves out here, I’m not sure I’ll ever go back to Detroit. Minnesota ditto, unless I get maudlin and decide to hit a college reunion.

I think, while my monkey mind was following other things, some part of me went and rooted. I am drawing sustenance from my city now, as my whining posts from Connecticut indicate; pull me too far away and I start gasping and choking. My leaves wither.

I thought I was more of a gypsy than this would indicate. I didn’t think I needed to be settled. But then, I didn’t think I needed other people too much either, and I was completely wrong about that.

There are still places I desperately want to go. And the list lengthens; in the doctor’s office this morning I was reading about how Tuvalu might be lost under the waves forever within the next few decades, and my first thought was, I’d better go see it before that happens! Last night on the airplane, the in-flight magazine had a very well-written piece about going to see lava fields in Hawaii, and I thought, I have to go see lava! I’m incredibly suggestible that way. Say a place name, and I salivate. This is in addition to the places I need to visit because mom has dug up evidence of our having come from them: Beregszasz in what is now Ukraine being the obvious, Hungary and Russia the next on the list. I need to go back to Spain for the same reason, see if I can sniff out where my father’s people might have passed on their way to Russia, see if anyplace hits me with the same gentle punch of familiarity that Granada did in 1999. Ireland and Alsace-Lorraine for my grandmother. The camps for myself, when I’m ready; maybe not until I’m in my forties and feeling better prepared for it. And then the places I’ve been and loved without any genetic connection--France, Hong Kong, Japan--and all those places too beautiful or strange to miss.

Long list.

But no inclination to go and live anywhere else, although if somehow Kerry loses in November I may have to become an expatriate out of simple fear and disgust. And very little desire to go anywhere for longer than a month, although that could change. There might be another five-month odyssey in me somewhere that I’m not feeling stir yet. And the idea of being bi-coastal is sort of attractive.

Right now though, I’m not seeing it. It is so good to be home.

Monday, July 26, 2004

wait until you see my nyquilized kung-fu

a note from the editrix (thanks Mike!): I wrote this in June, but got distracted and never put it up.

Just because I had to bail on Snufkina for an all-girl sex party night Friday because I wasn’t feeling well doesn’t mean I don’t know how to have a good time, as my exploits of yesterday will attest. Lemme see: I worked a seven-hour catering shift doped to the gills on Nyquil, and then I went to a going-away party for Aurora where I ended up sparring in the bedroom with this Brazilian chick who’s been irritating me for months. Then I split a cab home with an apprentice zoo keeper; how cool is that for a girl who breathlessly awaited each new installment of the Funk and Wagnall’s animal encyclopedia, which you could buy at the grocery store?

The problem is not that she cleaned my clock; honestly, she didn’t. Other than a few scratches, a broken nail, and what promises to be a major bruise on my left instep, I came away from the encounter more or less as I entered it. So what’s bothering me? The fact that I didn’t have a decisive victory over my opponent (and even thinking such a thing indicates that I don’t really have the spirit of the thing, hm?) The fact that I couldn’t subdue her? The possibility that I just spent ten years and who knows how many thousands of dollars to learn a form that can’t hold up against some bastard form of Wing Chun performed by a Brazilian space cadet who talks too damn much as she fights?

I find myself wondering if part of the reason we don’t compete, and part of the reason I’m not supposed to pick fights at parties to see what happens, is that everyone at a certain level understands that this really isn’t a form that works against other forms. I saw this when I sparred with Terrier (a capoeirista) and he had me on my ass with a wound on my tongue so meaningful that we quit right away so I could go apply nice cold healing beer to it. I saw it tonight sparring with talkybabe: I had to keep shifting my style just to keep up (although I suppose it’s good that I could, right?) What I was doing was not aikido as I understand it. Aikido as I understand it would have meant great sweeping motions where my playmates wondered why they were on the floor, or at the very least a nice pin or two.

Aikido as I understand it would have entailed my not agreeing to spar with these people in the first place, silly girl.

To my credit, she couldn’t get in close enough to do any real damage. Had she been going full force on some of those strikes, she might have hurt me--but then had I been going full force, I could have dropped her, or choked her out. We were both holding back, and aikido doesn’t really work if you don’t follow through. Which is an interesting thing to have revealed in this way; it’s like what I tell my kid students. If as uke (attacker) you pull your punch, you’re not giving nage (defender) what she needs to complete the technique.

Talkybabe’s form and mine are also shaped by entirely different intentions. Wing Chun is direct and to the point. You block, you strike, you try to destroy your partner’s kneecaps; the point is damage. Aikido is all throws, locks, pins; you spend a lot of time trying to get behind your partner, or off the line of attack. Really you’re trying to exert as little energy as possible; ideally you never actually end up making any contact with the other person if you can help it. You’re trying to hold the conflict down without anyone getting hurt.

I guess part of the deal is that I study a form that doesn’t handle surprises well! We don’t, for example, train against kicks because we ourselves don’t kick. There is a way to handle kicks, which I fortunately learned from a somewhat renegade sensei many years ago. You get an arm under the kicking leg and lift into a throw, but it’s brutal on someone who doesn’t know how to take the fall safely. You’re essentially dropping them right on their back, from a meaningful height. So you don’t--let’s all say it together--do it at parties. There were other things I wasn’t prepared for, like the hair-pulling (and don’t think the guys pressed against the wall watching us didn’t catch that and respond exactly the way you would expect) and the face-slapping (ditto), but neither of those were awful. Just annoying.

God, the more I think about it, the worse an idea this was. I am supposed to politely demur from such things. But for reasons I can’t entirely fathom, I really don’t like this woman, and I guess I was relishing the opportunity to rough her up--at her suggestion.

At least one of the other guests had a funny thing to say about it. It’s like we have our own Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon! Which I thought was kind of sweet.

Thursday, July 22, 2004

she may know how to ruin a pair of cowboy boots

But 3Jake, concerned that I am sounding burned out, has sent me a very sweet pep talk via email. It sort of boils down to calling anyone who doesn't believe in me an old fucker, but then, there is something very sweet about that. I suspect that I will still be laughing in my sleep.

One of her questions, though, has helped me sort out part of what's going on here. I can't believe I didn't realize this sooner, but then my synapses appear to be on holiday. Or I would have seen this before.

My blood chocolate level is dangerously low.

You laugh (well, hopefully), but I'm completely serious. Due to geographic isolation and a more or less complete lack of accessible shops that are open when I'm not in a session, I am not consuming nearly as much sugar as I'm accustomed to. Living in the Land Of Ten Thousand Corner Stores as I do, I tend to eat a lot of candy bars. And chocolate croissants from the Van Ness Food Company. And Double Chocolate Milano cookies. Time for me to face it: I'd save a lot of money and time if I just installed taps for hot and cold running chocolate. The first night I was here we went to Wal-Mart and I bought a bag of Dove dark chocolate miniatures that I hoped would last two weeks of late-night writing; they ran out by Saturday, and all the sugar I've had since then was Monday's childish orgy in Mystic (ice cream, eclair, tastes of fudge). Well, and a few cookies at lunch two days ago.

Is it possible that I am undergoing withdrawal
michael feingold has sharpened his claws on me

We've been working our way through mentors in what appears to be order of severity, culminating with the aforementioned, who writes for the Village Voice. The review we turned in this morning was our last (all that remains to be written is the long feature and an assessment), and I was in the first group to work with Feingold. For a week and a half he's been presented as the bad cop to our string of good cops (Papatola, Winer, Rousuck, Novick, Sullivan, Phillips), and we've been shaking in our sandals accordingly. He made someone cry, the rumor goes around. He'll rip you a new one, says someone else. Although we've been told repeatedly that this is the place for us to take risks and try different things with our writing, although we've been told that we shouldn't worry about failing, the imminent arrival of El Feingold has been nervewracking, to say the least.

Because honestly, we're not just learning from these people. We're showing ourselves to them in the hope that they'll recognize how brilliant we are, and that this will somehow advance our careers. The rivalry between us remains unspoken but hangs in every exchange. And this tension has become particularly clear as we've talked about what Feingold might be like.

Through a trick of poor alphabetization, I was the first in the group to read my piece.

I have survived the experience; I am largely intact. I did not cry, I did not jump up on the picnic table to defend the four paragraphs I used to deconstruct the 1948 musical version of Charley's Aunt as a poor use of drag, I did not waste my breath pointing out that I haven't gotten enough sleep in the past two weeks and that of necessity is going to affect my writing, and to hell with whether I mentioned the director's name or not. I did feel my nostrils flare once or twice, and I was vibrating perhaps just a tiny bit, but I survived.

I'm proud of that, considering that he went over my first three paragraphs word by word. Seriously. And he liked very few of them.

I take some comfort from the knowledge that once he'd spit me out, things would be a little easier for everyone else because he could just say, you did the same wrong thing here that Indri did. I mean heck, just think what would have happened if he'd started with openmouthguy.


Tuesday, July 20, 2004

i can't begin to tell you

That last post resisted, resisted, resisted. There is a whole saga about getting it from my computer to yours. Unfortunately, it's a saga that's probably only fascinating to me, and it doesn't involve any exotic methods of transportation or anything.

Suffice it to say, it was pretty much hand-carried from Honduras.

My cell doesn't work everywhere, and I can barely blog; I'm feeling like one o' them city sharpies who can't cope in the wilds.

There is a rumor that tomorrow we might get driven to CVS and/or WalMart for supplies. I don't want to admit to how excited I am by the prospect. I am out of chocolate, fruit, and bottled water. I admit it: I'm soft! And squishy! I'm going to forget how to move soon (we sit around an awful lot, getting talked at) and will need to be pulled around in a little wagon!

Forgive me if I'm repeating myself. But there's been quite a bit of that, the past week; I like and admire many of my colleagues here and dearly wish they would go away, or at least stop clumping in the hall outside my room and telling the same stories over and over.

jumpin’ julia

Yesterday was the day the Powers let us take off, probably because it was Monday and union actors don’t work Mondays, so there was no show for us to see. We scattered from the dorm like the seeds of a blown dandelion; I don’t think anyone stuck around, except possibly openmouthguy, who is becoming increasingly angry at various things going on around him. But I digress. Most of the actors decamped for New York last night, in a great rushing flood of ringing cell phones and kisses. We critics took it a little easier, leaving at a leisurely hour this morning for the ferries and train.

One group went over to Block Island, where they rented bicycles and rode around getting sunburnt and having, by all accounts, a lovely time. Quiche and I went into town to eat lunch, and then took Amtrak to Mystic.

I have to talk about lunch for a minute. Quiche recently left the Bay Area to work for a St. Louis paper, where she writes about interior design. She says that while she’s not married to a particular design style, she’s definitely not in the wooden-ducks-with-ribbons camp, if you know what I mean. Clean and contemporary is what I’m getting from her. So imagine her discomfort, sitting in Anastacia’s, completely inundated with doilies, little blue and white ceramic cats, vases, and candy dishes, soft-focus photos of little girls clutching buckets of shells, and fake flowering vines twining through the whole mess. Did I mention the shells? Did I mention the things made out of shells?

I thought she was going to plotz. Her breathing did get a little funny, but I made her talk about work and she seemed to calm down. And lunch was delish, even if calling a single half-slice of orange "fruit" on the menu is a little rich.

As for Mystic, which I have now seen as many times as I shall ever need to: there is some great ice cream there. Mystic Drawbridge Ice Cream came through for us, and featured an enthusiastically-painted mural of the town of Mystic, as populated by cows. Mostly black-and-white cows, although there were a few brown ones (which looked suspiciously like horses; they were kind of tall for cows) and one black one hanging out in a barn. Cows eating ice cream, which seemed wrong to both of us. It’s like eating a treat made from your own frozen sweat, I said to Quiche, but I don’t think she heard me. Correction: I hope she didn’t. I barely know her, and that was exactly the sort of smartass comment I tend to make before I’ve gauged whether the other participant can handle my occasional crudeness, and then I’m sure they think I’m sort of creepy or a dweeb or whatever, and you just can’t spend all your time worrying about that sort of thing. The night before I’d managed to keep myself from asking if anyone at the dinner table ever wondered what human flesh tastes like, so I thought I was doing pretty well. But then I busted out the frozen sweat thing. Sigh. At least I have a fairly soft little voice; I probably say all sorts of dreadful things nobody hears.

Anyway. She recommends the Mango Tango and Black Raspberry sorbets; I had the Mystic Mud, which is chocolate ice cream with chocolate chunks and brownie pieces and fudge and M&M’s, also very tasty. If you should find yourself in Mystic.

Yes, that Mystic, the one in the Julia Roberts pizza movie. We’d been warned not to eat at the real Mystic Pizza, but we did look in the windows to ascertain whether there were pictures of Julia inside (yes). Then we clambered back down the hill, past the shops and galleries and places to buy fudge (what is it with tourist traps and fudge? Is fudge the bait?) and set out north, hoping to see Mystic Seaport and Olde Mistick Village.

One word. Don’t. The former sports a seventeen-clam entry fee, just to look at some boats and a little museum, and the latter is a retail hell on earth for snotty San Franciscans. Even the import shop, for which I had such high hopes, couldn’t do better than little toy cats made from rabbit fur and a few stuffed bullfrogs hand-carried, the sign said, from Honduras.

Hold this image in your head for a minute. You’re on a plane from, oh, Miami to Seattle. You’ve made your connection with seconds to spare, sprinting through the endless expanses of that insane airport. You have a green salad in a sealed plastic bowl and an eight-dollar bottle of water to last you the whole trip. You’re cranky. Plane’s still on the tarmac; a skinny girl in the aisle is vainly trying to mash a too-large rollaboard into the overhead compartment and there’s a flight attendant on the PA demanding that everyone get their asses into seats right now so the plane can take off. You’re excited because the seat next to you is empty; maybe you’ll be able to lie down once the flight takes off. And then a man in leather sandals is stumbling and bumbling down the aisle. He’s got bags. He’s got boxes. He’s got things on straps that bump people’s heads as he walks past.

And he’s heading for that empty seat. He drops one bag onto it, a sack, a burlap sack maybe. It’s lumpy. It smells odd. He’s opening the overhead compartment: no space! He’s looking in the others: no space! Finally he manages to stow all of his bags and boxes and things on straps but one.

The bag in the seat next to you. The lumpy sack. Are those itty bitty claws sticking through the loose weave? He’s apologetic as he lifts the bag, slides into the seat, buckles up. Guess I’ll just need to hold these through the flight, he says, they’re fragile. The bag shifts in his hands and you hear things clacking against each other. D’ya like frogs?

Quiche couldn’t even stay in the store with me; she had to go outside and sit in the shade and call someone, probably her KA (Kitsch Anonymous) mentor, on her cell phone. I lasted long enough to learn that my Egyptian astrological sign is Osiris (great, I’m a guy who gets killed repeatedly by Seth and then revived by my sister/wife so I can get killed again. Oh, and my testicles get involved in some bad way) and my African sign is ‘a harvest in the granary’, whatever the hell that means (apparently my skin and bones are very sensitive, and I have a dual nature.) Then I waved goodbye to the frogs and got out.

Sunday, July 18, 2004

oh my good morning

My across the hall neighbor has AirPort on her Mac, so when she's in I can piggyback clumsily onto the 'net from the comfort of my own little monk's cell. This morning, however, I'm sitting in the Liebling-Wood Library at the O'Neill Center, which is far smaller and less grand than the name might suggest. Boxes of books, an untidy desk, newspapers strewn across the single long table, and the framed letters announcing Tennessee's Williams' Pulitzer prize hanging carelessly off one sloped wall. Last night one of my colleagues here referred to people at a reception "walking around telling stories about when they saw dirt being invented"; this library feels at least a year older than that.

So I open my email, which only takes about a month, and there's a note from a woman I model for, indicating that she now has a web site and we should all go take a look. Ho-de-hum, I think, and click the link. Nothing of me will be there, I tell myself, because she doesn't use me as much as she does other models. Or perhaps she sells all the drawings she makes of me before they make it into shows, who knows? Imagine my surprise, then, to see that the button for the 'drawings' section, right there between 'paintings' and 'photography', prominently features my crotch.

How do you know it's yours?, I can hear you asking. I mean, the drawing starts at the navel and goes to the feet; it's not like there are any of the usual flags that make drawings of myself immediately obvious: hair, nose, tattoo.

Well, do you remember some months ago, when I was noodling around about having tried out a new, ah, pubic coiffure?

This drawing is from that time.

Dear me. I never wanted to be famous for my Brazilian.

Thursday, July 15, 2004

i have to tell someone

There's a fella in my group here who's a little... odd. One of the actors tells me that he saw this guy talking to the brownies in the cafeteria (no, not the mini Girl Scouts, the bakery treat), and we all get a strange vibe off him. He's indicated that he's a feature writer pressed into service as a critic by his smalltown paper, and the few working sessions I've been in with him back that up. He doesn't really seem to have any idea about how to start; his reviews of the two plays we've seen so far haven't really inspired confidence, if you follow. So he's odd and writes poorly in this format, and seems to be staring at me a lot, with his mouth kind of open.


Anyway. He rented a laptop for the two weeks of our camp, and the first night he discovered that several of the keys didn't work, and he can't get a replacement while he's here. So he wrote out the review longhand, and turned it in like that (an option we'd been told we had, if it came to it.) We get back from the show around 11pm, and have to "file" our reviews by 7:30am. The administrative assistant person has a room on our floor, and we put our reviews in a manila envelope atatched to his door. When he wakes up, he runs them over to the Center to xerox and collate them into packages so we have something to work with for the morning session.

Yesterday I was in the same group with openmouthguy, and it was kind of hard reading the xerox of his review, and I started to feel bad for him. I'd feel like my work was hard to take seriously if people had to work from xeroxes of my, ah, highly artistic handwriting. And his handwriting is, well, bad. So last night (well, early this morning), after I'd finished my own review, I fished his out of the envelope and took it back to my room. I changed the font and formatting so nobody would track it back to me, and I typed up his review and then snuck back down the hall and dropped the clean copy in the envelope. It was painful. This guy is really struggling, and I had a Herculean urge to make a few little changes here and there, but I stuck to what he'd written.


Now there's a story going around about a good fairy, and I've been in a few groups today where people have been speculating on that person's identity. And I really don't want anyone here to know it was me, because it isn't important. I may not like the guy, but I felt bad for him and I had the capacity to fix something; that's enough. If I thought someone would get in trouble because of my secret, I'd say something, but it's not that kind of a secret.

Now I'm hoping that someone else will pick up the hint and do it tonight. I think it would be really cool if we all surreptitiously took turns.

Otherwise, this is turning out to be a pretty cool thing. I am getting my ass kicked in the working sessions, and learning a lot; I'm really excited about taking what I'm learning back to my paid work. I also got to see an actor I'd admired in a show about Leo daVinci last year sing the role of a tranny prostitute in a rehearsal, and he was just phenomenal. It's exciting to be around the process here.

Wednesday, July 14, 2004

drawn and quartered

The first couple of days of theater critic boot camp have not been terrible, although I would really love to get some honest sleep soon. And eat trustworthy food; I'd forgotten what we ask our young college-living people to survive on. I have this whole post about my goofy colleagues that I can't load onto the single Web-enabled computer available to non-employees of the O'Neill Center. Maybe it's best, as I wrote it at about 5 am after cranking out 600 words on a very strange new musical about junkies.

I may have to to bump up my departure date; I'm getting panicky about making it back to Boston in time to get my flight out of Logan. I hadn't thought about the Convention starting the same day I'm in transit, but apparently everyone's all worried about terrorists and checkpoints and what-have-you. I'll probably look like a terrorist myself by that time, and I am hauling around quite a bit of electronic equipment.

Or maybe I'm just justifying my intense need to get back to a real city, with real food, and with sidewalks and so forth; I'm already getting a little tired of shuttling back and forth through the rain between the Center and the college where we've been housed.

We got into it a little bit yesterday about blogs, interestingly enough; I got the distinct impression that I was the only blogger in the group. People were going on about the temerity of "regular people" (read: non-critics) blogging about shows and possibly lowering the public perception of theater reporting. Oh, please.

The horde returns. Must... find... coffee... This afternoon, we get lectured on Shaw.

Monday, July 12, 2004

marriage mania

Been an interesting weekend in Cambridge, where I've been decompressing on my way to writing camp. This is my first visit since '96, back when I had a college friend studying at Northeastern to visit and a shihan (in aikido, a master teacher) to train with. Eire moved on to St. Louis and stopped returning my calls, and Kanai-sensei died suddenly of a heart attack earlier this year. It's a little weird being back in the area and visiting entirely different people; the physical/retail landscape hasn't changed much but the crew has become much more motley.

And marriage-minded, or at least inclined to talking about it. Friday night Alceste and I started talking about what we thought marriage was over yakisoba and a row of little white plates of Korean condiments. A little intense for a first in-person conversation, especially when one has just stumbled off an airplane, but then Alceste and I appear to be the talk-about-everything kind. Alceste talked about marriage as shared adventure, I of how I didn't see the value in marriage until I was 28 and realized that it wasn't just about a transfer of ownership, but possibly something richer and finer. Neither of us have been married yet, so it was all a little abstract.

And then Snufkina happened to be here; she'd come into town Thursday for a friend's wedding. So we got to hang out at a party Saturday night, and then had lunch together Sunday; more time than we get to spend together when we're both home in San Francisco! I also have photographic proof that she owns a dress, which she was wearing Saturday night with cute little sandals with big flowers on them to show off her fresh pedicure. This is the same woman who's been expounding on the virtues of a fresh pair of chaps and the pleasures of ordering around one's boyfriend while wearing the cowhide; I may be able to blackmail her with these photos.

But the point is that at lunch in Harvard Square yesterday we talked about her friend's wedding, and how Snufkina had felt about it; she's not too down with the whole marriage thing, but I sense that part of her--like me--wants to be. We go to weddings, as participant (in her case) or employee (in mine) and we see how stunningly happy the couple and their families are, and we want that. The last wedding I attended as a guest was Pavlova's to Croon, and although I had to leave early, the part I got to be around for went a long way towards wearing down my cynicism. Seeing AX and 3Jake toasting their dear friend and her new husband, watching Croon put his arm around the incandescent Pavlova, listening to his little niece announce how happy she was that her friend Pavlova was now her auntie--man. Cut me a big ol' slice of that and hand me a fork. Snufkina (also as yet unmarried) was having a related experience with her friend, who she believes has made a good match with a strong man who really loves her.

And I think we both found ourselves wondering if our opposition to marriage stemmed as much from the fear that we would never meet anyone who would make us glow like that as anything else. Is it pragmatism, or a defense mechanism? It's easy to forget that a wedding is one afternoon or evening in a long string of days and events, that you're not seeing the fights, the sulks, the misunderstandings that had to be overcome so that the couple could get to the altar (or the meadow, or the middle of the dance floor, or wherever they did the deed.)

Then my brother-who-is-not-technically-my-brother picked me up and whisked me off to the lovely Chestnut Hill home he shares with his third wife, and we ended up really getting into it out in the backyard over hummus and pita chips (side note: they are CRAZY about hummus around here. The hummus shelf in the cold case at Star Market reminded me of the ramen shelf at the Ueno Park 7-11 in Tokyo--ground garbanzos for days, dressed up with everything from kalamata olives to jalapeno peppers.) Labyrinth is in his early fifties, his wife (married three times before) a few years younger; they've been married for almost two years. Both have kids and horror stories; both clearly believe that the other is the best thing that ever happened to them. I was laughing with delight watching them spar; they were saying awful things, but obviously having a wonderful time. We talked about how separating marriage from the childbirth-and-raising track changed things; they nodded sagely when I mentioned that I'd heard that marriages initiated after age 30 seem to hold up better than ones begun before that. None of us actually used the term "starter marriage" but you could tell they were both thinking it. The one thing I added to the conversation that seemed intelligent to me is that young people marrying seem to be wondering what the marriage is going to do for them; and that older or previously-married people conversely wonder what they can do for the marriage. How they can use the marriage to grow as people and to contribute something to the world. I have no idea where that came from, but they liked it; one of those things I say and wonder if I'm channeling someone else altogether.

It is odd to be talking about marriage so much and so deeply. It's not a subject that comes up much at home, and I'm not sure if that's something to do with either my friends or living in San Francisco. Could be both. I know that it's kind of hard to talk about marriage there in a way that might be construed as admiring; it's like religion or politics. You'd better have your sophisticated face on. It's also weird because now that my father is gone, I can start thinking about the pattern of my life again, goals and plans; I'm no longer on hold. But what I wanted before his diagnosis and what I want now seem to be different animals, and I haven't sat down with the newer one and really gotten to know it yet.

Sunday, July 11, 2004

ice cream sandwiches

Coffee ice cream and round chocolate wafers. Mine have chocolate chips mashed into the ice cream and are messily shaped completely by hand. Which makes them look, truthfully, as though someone has yakked them up into the Pyrex container that rests on the freezer's lowest shelf, below bags of frozen corn, bread, and blueberries. Alceste neatly scoops out a hemisphere of ice cream, centers it exactly on the bottom cookie, pushes on the top cookie, and then uses a knife to trim off all the ice cream that squooshes out the sides. Alceste's go into a Ziploc bag on the top shelf.

A day later, the Pyrex is in the sink, filled with a slurry of ice cream and water. The Ziploc is still in the freezer, filled with orderly-looking frozen treats. Did you like the ice cream cookies? we ask Alceste's brother. He looks puzzled. The container is in the sink; did you eat all the cookies?

Were those on the bottom shelf? he responds, looking only slightly guilty. I was cleaning out the freezer. Were they on the bottom shelf?

Mind you, the evidence is right there in the sink.

I thought those were weeks old, he answers when pressed. I thought they'd gone bad.

I sit at the counter, trying to remember how to pout without looking like a ninny.

What are the chances, he says to Alceste, that I should clean out the freezer at the same time you've actually made something?

Wednesday, July 07, 2004

shades of the battle in seattle

In a roundabout way via my.bicycle, I found this charming Lego diorama of what looks like a Greenpeace protest. Look carefully through the thumbnails and you'll find activists chained to a gantry, tires on fire, and even a member of the Black Bloc fomenting mischief.

I never got past building little houses, myself.

Tuesday, July 06, 2004


Well, I leave for Boston on Friday afternoon, and I'm so behind in everything that needs to get done before I go that when I think about it, my mind just sort of whimpers and skitters away. Fortunately, I am a primate with a pen, so I have made A List, which the tenacious reader will remember is, in my thumby primate hands, A Tool For The Handy Forgetting Of Things That Need Doing.

I'm also, as I tried to explain to Spirit over lunch after a rather abortive stab at grokking the Geisha: Behind the Painted Smile exhibit at the Asian Art Museum, feeling pretty overstimulated these days. I suspect that some part of that is related to delayed or submerged grieving processes; either that, or I'm just getting old. But stuff happens, and it doesn't seem to make that much of an impression on me. I mean, I enjoy myself as it's happening, but I'm having a hard time retaining what I've seen or done. A good example would be two Sundays in a row where I went to an opera and then had another cultural experience right after (a movie, a play), and the next Monday I couldn't remember what I'd done the day before. I've got more than the usual component of books half-read. My editor tells me I'm getting a (teensy-tinsy) raise and I think, oh, that's nice, I guess and then I promptly forget to tell the people who like hearing that sort of thing, ie my mother. Earth to Indri?

Speaking of which, may I just note that it's one thing knowing that your mother's reading your blog (hi Mom)... and quite another knowing that your companion's mother (hi K) is as well? Not that I mind, it's just funny. So modern. I think all the mothers should have blogs too. Post competing grandkid photos! Again speaking of which, AX's three-year-old nephew has graciously obliged me and contributed to the floorcloth project. I don't think he really understood that I was using him mercilessly, but we had a nice time on BART designing a monster together (happily, I'd been working on my level changes in dance class, which means my thighs can handle a deep squat from El Cerrito to MacArthur station) and I am looking forward to transcribing the (striped, fanged, curly-tailed, silver-eared--the silver ears are apparently very important) result. So, ah, how is everyone else doing on their creature drawings? I'm just saying. You want that a three-year-old shows you up?

God's knees, I'm also getting tired of moving my stuff one hand-truck load at a time. AX gives me a hard time about this; who moves their stuff two boxes at a time? he asks. Well, for one thing, on a good trip I can move three boxes at a time, thankyouverymuch. Last night I discovered that I could even move my desk single-handedly, which I did; much to the amusement of the various genetic and otherwise ladies of the night hanging around all the corners I bumped over, gritting my teeth in concentration. Also, I understand that my parents made one of their moves this way, when they were young newlyweds in Chicago, except that they used my father's little red wagon to do it. So ha! I say. Ha! And now I have something like a table in the Spaceship, which sure beats eating sitting on the floor with the pot in my lap and whatever book I'm reading flapping around on the polished concrete.

Back to it.

Thursday, July 01, 2004

back of the bus

I was happy to learn that The Chronicles of Riddick is a better movie than I'd been led to believe by my critical colleagues. It's not going to be an enduring classic of the genre, a la Bladerunner or the first Matrix, but it's a more-than-solid entry to the field of big sci-fi films. And while Riddick draws heavily from other stories, it doesn't exactly rip them off: as AX notes, it's a better Dune than Dune was. The Macbeth subplot is also welcome in that it offers something films like this rarely have: something else going on. There's Exodus in here, and a little Star Wars. A savvier cineaste will catch more than I did.

Most of what I know about film is technical; something I may not have mentioned here yet is that for several years, I was a second-generation member of IATSE. My father was so proud of my union card, especially since as a child I'd sworn I'd stay out of the film business. Then at 21 I confounded everyone (notably my profs, who wanted me to go to grad school in something boring) by becoming a junior rotoscoper for a special-effects company. For the next seven years, most of the movies I saw were either special-effects blockbusters (I needed to keep an eye on what our competition was doing) or Hong Kong actioners (the only time I could relax and ignore the wires). So while I know how stuff is done and could bore you endlessly with it, I don't have that firm a grasp of cinema history. I won't embarrass myself by listing all the films I haven't seen that everyone else has, but it's a long list.

Which is why I'm surprised the critics aren't getting Riddick: aren't they supposed to be savvy cineastes? Or is the problem simply that too few professional film critics know diddly-squat about science fiction? One local reviewer complained that he didn't understand what a "merc" was, revealing a stunning lack of depth. Every sci-fi reader worth their twenty-sided dice knows that "merc" is short for "mercenary". Heck, anyone who's read Tom Clancy knows that. Small thing, but I couldn't trust the rest of this guy's review. And I don't trust most film reviewers who can't show me that they know enough about science fiction (or comics, for that matter) to speak knowledgably about what they're seeing. It's like the disclaimer I wish I could attach to my own reviews of musical theater productions: I'm a stranger here myself; take all this with a grain of salt.

Or have I been completely hornswoggled by the astonishing design into thinking it's a better movie than it is?

I do think there's more going on in this film than a casual viewing would indicate. Something I haven't seen noted in any of the reviews I've read is the subtle way Vin Diesel (who co-produced) is using this film to make a statement about race relations. Okay, maybe it's not that subtle, but compared to the massive spaceships and choppy fight sequences, it is. Think about this for a minute. A group of largely very pale conquerors come to a warm, hospitable, vaguely Egyptianate planet populated by people of every hue and make slaves of the lot of them. Resist and your soul is dragged squirming from your body; accede and you get a reeducation and a funky scar on your throat that looks a lot like a brand.

The really telling moments though are scraps of dialogue. In one scene, a sneering bounty hunter asks the captive Riddick how it feels to be "all back of the bus," a question he'll live to regret. Later Riddick calms a bloodthirsty armored cat-thing through sustained eye contact. "It's an animal thing", he explains to a perplexed observer, and while we're meant to see that he's referring to himself as an animal (in the vicious and untamed sense of the word), it also resonates with the old line "It's a black thing, you wouldn't understand."

Either one of these lines taken alone could be seen as throwaway, but taken together they're telling. It seems that Diesel (who wants to star in a remake of Guys and Dolls, if you can believe it) is still out to tweak audiences--or is it Hollywood itself?--on the subject of race. Remember that he first came to attention for a short autobiographical film he made for $3,000 about an actor who can't get cast because directors can't place his race (Multi-Facial, which garnered rave reviews at Cannes), and that he steadfastly refuses to answer questions about his own composition, not wanting to be pigeonholed. Go back and look at the loft-party scene in XXX and you'll notice more diversity in the crowd of Xander's friends than we usually get in spy flicks. Look at the projects Diesel's choosing--whether or not you think they're all mindless actioners, there's a common thread: race is neither an indicator of capability or character. On a side note, neither is gender; women in the films Diesel chooses are tough and competent.

More strength to him, I say.