Saturday, November 27, 2010

things i suspect are in cher’s contract, based on the movie burlesque

  1. Cher will receive top billing.
  2. Cher will sing no less than two solos.
  3. But also, Cher does not want to work too hard, so she will sing no more than two solos. She will get to sit in a chair for one of them.
  4. Cher does not do duets.
  5. At no point will Cher stand in direct light. Even if the actor playing the role of lighting tech says, “Do you want a spot?” and Cher, as burlesque diva Tess, says, “Yeah,” the lighting which ensues will be of a silvery twilight nature.
  6. Cher’s eye make-up will get its own trailer and a producer credit.
  7. Stanley Tucci, as gay wardrobe director Sean, will periodically comment on the hotness of Cher’s body.
  8. All art and acting direction will serve the film’s, and Cher’s, overarching brand, which is “fabulosity.” If minimum fabulosity requirements are not met, the following measures must be taken: a) Scenes will revolve around Christian Louboutin shoes. b) References to drag queens will be made as “inside” jokes to Cher’s gay cult following. c) The burlesque club which is threatened with foreclosure may only be saved by an extra fabulous song and dance number, as opposed to some sort of troublingly believable real estate loophole.*
  9. Audiences will leave the theater thinking, with no animosity toward Christina Aguilera, Christina Aguilera is no Cher.

*This clause was unfortunately ignored. You will be hearing from Cher’s lawyers.

Thursday, November 25, 2010


I haven’t been in a very thankful mood lately. I’ve been wrestling with the concept of blessings and the implication that they’re the result of things people do to win favor with God/fate/whatev, which is rampant in our culture. Usually when I ponder this topic, it’s from the over-blessed end of the spectrum. What did I do to deserve all this? The answer is, categorically, not much.

But lately I’ve been feeling under-blessed—I’m not getting what I want—and it’s periodically turned me into a sad, desperate mess or a petty, competitive bitch, depending on the day. And worst of all, the same little voice that hopes maybe I did do something to deserve all the good stuff now wonders what I did to fuck up my chances of more good stuff. Knowing this is bullshit only helps a little.

I’ve been really mean to myself, feeling too exhausted to indulge in the stuff that makes me happy on a deep level (writing, exercise) and denying myself the shallower indulgences that can be cheap fixes (a haircut, frozen yogurt with circus animal cookies as topping—two desserts, but you can call it one!). I’ve been hard at work punishing myself for things I have no control over because of some deeply ingrained belief that life operates on the merit system.

Maybe I should pause a moment to add that, most embarrassingly of all, I have not been dealt some terrible hand by fate. My not getting what I want is the blandest, most common bump in a well-maintained road. But I see people around me getting what they want, getting what I want, and I feel hugely, helplessly, unabashedly covetous. Or rather, I’m quite abashed, but the helplessness overrides my shame.

I actually logged on thinking I’d write one moody little paragraph and follow it up with a lighthearted list of things I’m thankful for, such as frozen yogurt with circus animal cookies as topping. But mood trumps gratitude, apparently.

Is it possible to be thankful for blessings you know you don’t deserve (even if you know you don’t not deserve them either)? Can you be thankful even if you believe that life is a big fat lotto and whatever you get or don’t is pretty much random? If you believe that there is a God, but she/he doesn’t see us as separate enough to carefully make sure we all get the same number of presents under the tree?

I guess what thankfulness does is empower you. When I’m feeling grateful and confident, I write, I exercise, I visit my mentee, I ask my friends how their days were, I remember to bring my reusable coffee cup, I (occasionally) write my congressperson. The false notion that I’m blessed—that there is such a thing—makes me a person who creates more blessings in the world. (Which is not to say that I think doing 20 minutes on the elliptical machine is a blessing to anyone. I mean, I guess it keeps the collective rates for my health insurance company low?)

I’m not sure where this leaves me. I want to say I’m going to try to be thankful for all that I have—and there is so, so much—and that this attitude will help me get what I want eventually. Except I don’t believe in that kind of cosmic math, and every time I think I’m on my way to a good attitude, I plummet back into the self-pity pit. Chances are, I’ll continue to agonize melodramatically for a while, then get what I want eventually, then feel sheepish about all my bad behavior (if also a little older and wiser), then go back to questioning why I have all this great stuff in my life. At least, I’m hoping that’s what will happen.

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

a story from the heart of los angeles

Driving into work this morning, I was dismayed to see that Pitfire Pizza had been replaced by Al-Abba’s Chicken. Restaurants come and go in Westwood all the time, but Pitfire was one of the good ones—hello, artisanal butternut squash pizza. The weird thing was that Pitfire’s neighbor, a preschool, had also closed overnight, a Goldblatt’s Delicatessen sprouting in its place.

Well, I thought, it would be nice to have a deli nearby, and maybe it won’t have that disturbing smell that Junior’s always does.

The weirder thing was that, by lunchtime, two crowds of protestors had gathered in the parking lot between Al-Abba’s and Goldblatt’s. One side waved an Israeli flag, the other held up a poster of the Palestinian flag. But all their signs were chicken puns: No piece, no justice! Give ‘em an inch, they’ll take a thigh!

This was, I concluded, a very strange and not that funny promotional stunt by the two new restaurants. But then one of the many onlookers who’d clustered across the street pointed to Larry David. Turned out they were shooting an episode of Curb Your Enthusiasm, a very strange and not that funny show, in my opinion. Nothing against Palestine, but I’m glad I’ll still be able to get my bougie pizza fix.

As for TV, I recommend tuning into Independent Lens, a KCET program (I think it’s PBS-wide? KCET and PBS just had some kind of schism that I’m a little vague on) that showcases indie documentaries. Tuesday at 10 p.m. (check your local listings) they’ll be showing Deep Down: a story from the heart of coal country, which just happens to be co-directed by my friend and Meehan’s gf Sally Rubin.

We caught a screening of it last night: The hour-long documentary follows a Kentucky activist named Beverly May who’s leading a campaign against mountaintop removal in her community. Rather than burrowing into mountains to get their goods (the stuff of which makes for good country songs and big fat lesbian ghost town novels), coal mining companies have taken to simply decapitating the part of the mountain that stands in the way. The result is not only a heartbreakingly stark landscape but lots of land erosion problems once the rains come.

But the movie isn’t an environmental soapbox. In the Q&A after the screening, Sally and co-director Jennifer Gilomen expressed that their first desire was to paint a picture of Appalachia that runs counter to stereotypes about missing teeth and dueling families (though one of their subjects did claim to be descended from the Hatfields of Hatfields and McCoys fame). Indeed, Beverly May is an unpretentious native who is also a highly educated environmentalist and healthcare worker. Her neighbor Terry, on whom the outcome of the film hinges, is a soft-spoken woodworker who’s having trouble making ends meet—and wouldn’t mind the $75,000 check that Miller Bros. Coal has promised him in exchange for the right to hack away at the mountain on his land (and to dump the rubble on it as well).

As various environmental problems reach crisis levels, it’s increasingly important to remember that environmentalism isn’t just for people with REI memberships. On the contrary, bad environmental policy—like almost everything—hurts poor people most. No justice, no peace, man.

Monday, November 15, 2010

for white boys who have considered amputation/when the raven is enuf

Last weekend AK and I went to see For Colored Girls. It was a gamble. I’d seen a production of Ntozake Shange’s for colored girls who have considered suicide/when the rainbow is enuf in college and remembered liking it. But I’d also seen Diary of a Mad Black Woman, whose lessons included “You should forgive the guy who beats you” and “Men in dresses are funny.”

It was clear by the opening credits—a pastel cornucopia of fonts you might find on a PTA meeting flyer—that this movie was going to be too much Tyler Perry, not enough Ntozake Shange. It was even more clear by the rape scene intercut with shots of an upbeat opera. I can’t look away from the tonal and moral car wreck that is seemingly* Tyler Perry’s aesthetic, but AK can. And that night I could too because I was falling asleep. I wanted to have a strong opinion about the fact that the movie’s resident slut was clearly going to get a comeuppance or that Janet Jackson’s husband was heading in some kind of trite down-low direction, but I was too tired. We finished our sodas and left.

The great thing about the ArcLight is that they’ll refund your money if you walk out of a movie, no questions asked. I guess that’s what we pay the extra, like, $5 a ticket for. It’s refund insurance.

In the name of using our vouchers (except not really, because we ended up getting tickets online), we met Pedro and Stephen back at the ArcLight on Sunday to see 127 Hours. My interests are actually more up Tyler Perry’s alley: I like meaty moral questions and human drama. True story or not, there was nothing particularly appealing to me about watching a guy spend five days alone in the desert, trapped beneath a rock, and (barely a spoiler alert-->) chop off his own arm. As I told Jamie this morning, I thought the arc of the movie would go: boring, boring, boring, gory.

But I also knew that Danny Boyle knew what he was up against, and probably wouldn’t have made the movie if he didn’t have some good ideas. Just as Tyler Perry substitutes eight million storylines for actual storytelling ability, Boyle knows his story only has like two plot points, so he better have some kickass internal drama and crazy shots of the interior of an arm. It turns out he does, and the movie is, yes, gory, but good (and a teensy bit schmaltzy at the end, but it’s well earned schmaltz). Never boring. A lovely testament to people who need people.

Early on, James Franco’s daredevil character scampers up some mildly steep rocks. Next to me, I heard AK audibly gasp. She doesn’t even like the stairs at Dodger Stadium, and would never see the point of doing anything other than grocery shopping alone. “I’m the anti-Aron Ralston,” she said. And we all agreed that if any of us had been in his situation, we just would have died, movie over.


Speaking of storytelling, Wednesday night I’ll be moderating a panel for the New Short Fiction Series, the long-running series that casts local actors to read shorts by L.A. writers. I’ve been reading the work of the four writers featured, and it’s good stuff. If you’re in the neighborhood, stop by!

What: The New Short Fiction Series and KPCC's Crawford Family Forum present An Evening of Emerging Voices
When: Nov. 17, 7:30-9 p.m.
Where: The Crawford Family Forum, 474 S. Raymond Ave., Pasadena, CA 91105
Featuring fiction by: Jenna Blough, Luis Garcia Romero, Dana Johnson and Tommy Kim
Starring: Matt Ferrucci, Judy T. Marcelline, Donny Yoon and Sally Shore
Admission: FREE, but please RSVP here.

*Okay, so I’ve only seen one and a half Tyler Perry movies. If there’s a really good one in there somewhere (I Can Do Bad All by Myself?), let me know.

Friday, November 12, 2010

maybe katie already had a bottle

Katie Couric’s interview with Sarah Palin made Sarah Palin look dumb. Katie Couric’s interview with Fergie for Glamour Magazine makes Katie Couric look…hip hop? Fifteen?

KATIE COURIC: All right, in the completely shallow department, you have a sick body, woman.

Thank you, mama!

[Laughs.] No, seriously, damn. How do you do that?

I work out all the time.

Fergie goes on to discuss her cardio routine, where she keeps her Grammys, how Hoarders inspired her to clean out her shit and how she kicked meth but still likes to booze it up. “Send me a bottle,” says Katie.

Tuesday, November 09, 2010

stereotype come true

“Crazy artist” is one of my least favorite cinematic stereotypes. “Crazy genius homeless person” is right up there too. I think most artists aren’t crazy, just creative and hardworking, and the ones that are make art in spite of the crazy, not because of it. I know a manic episode can inspire a creative binge, but I don’t think it’s as simple as go off meds, paint Mona Lisa. Similarly, I don’t think most homeless people are fallen violin virtuosos just one shower away from Disney Hall. I imagine mental illness is a long, lonely slog that most often takes you away from yourself, not to some higher plain.

So imagine my surprise when I noticed one of Westwood’s resident homeless guys sketching and painting in Starbucks today: small fashion portraits of women in old-fashioned bloomers and a slightly Toulouse Lautrec-ish three-quarters profile. I don’t know if they were the visual-art equivalent of that soloist guy. But they were good. And he was filling them in with watercolors from a kids’ paintbox—you know, the ones with the eight little just-add-water circles. Imagine what he could have done with some serious tools.

He was talking to himself the whole time. At one point I caught, “Everyone trying to get by on $75,000.” Although he didn’t seem to notice anyone outside his head, the guys at the next table were lamenting the thousands they’d lost trying to flip houses, so maybe it was some sort of crazy-genius commentary.

I’ve seen this guy around. Pushing a shopping cart, washing windows at the other Starbucks down the street. He has a crown of dreadlocks and eyebrows arched in perpetual happy surprise. Unlike most schizophrenics you see on the street, he does not seem to be pissed off at the voices in his head. A lot of times they seem to be saying something hilarious. I’ve often thought that if I were going to lose it, I’d want to lose it like this guy. And of course any life that involves sitting all day in a coffee shop working on your art seems pretty appealing to me. Maybe I should worry that I’m halfway there. But maybe I shouldn’t.

Thursday, November 04, 2010

what i read in october

In October I read a lot of student work, my reviews of which are a matter of teacher-student confidentiality (and involve a lot of boring advice like, “Ask yourself what your protagonist wants, then give her some choices to make…”). So most of the books below were “read” via CD in my car. I miss you, recreational reading of actual paper books!

The Curious Case of Benjamin Button and Other Jazz Age Stories by F. Scott Fitzgerald: The stories in this collection are more fantastical than the novels of Fitzgerald's I've read, and I missed his subtle, glimmering descriptions of the upper classes. The title story is ripe with all kinds of opportunity for comparing nature to experience in determining a person's true age, but it doesn't do much with the idea. The last story, "O Russet Witch!" is probably the most Fitzgeraldian and my favorite. In between, there's some crazy stuff about mountain-sized diamonds, kidnapped pilots and a murky chase through some place in England.

Tattoos on the Heart by Greg Boyle: This collection of parables from Father Greg Boyle's work with gang members is an effective manifesto for unconditional love. Sometimes I wanted more about how he's gotten so many kids off the streets and into jobs--love will only go so far without good management. But as he points out in his chapter on "success," if you demand results, you'll only spend time with those who deliver them, thereby abandoning the most needy. So is love the only answer? No, but if you don't start there, you won't get anywhere. The book is fully of funny and fascinating stories, if high on the schmaltz factor. I was in the right frame of mind to receive its message; Father G would probably see me crying into my cereal bowl as the Lord at work. And why not?

Cod by Mark Kurlansky: A good history of the hundreds of years of fishing that added up to overfishing, plus some tasty-sounding cod recipes. Maybe because the book was written in 1997 and overfishing has been so widely reported on since, it didn't feel that revelatory. I also think there's a good chance I just wasn't in the right head space for this book. It was short on personalities, long on fish. So the result just felt long, period.

Speak by Laurie Halse Anderson: I sort of want to describe this as a solid young adult book, meaning that it's an engaging and sometimes moving portrayal of a teenager overcoming trauma and empowering herself to (literally) speak up; also that there's not a lot in it to surprise veteran readers. The bullet point-style narration does keep the prose fresh, but a really good young adult book should offer a more unique take on high school. Melinda, the narrator, makes ironic observations about her teachers' foibles and cafeteria politics, but the lack of originality--coupled with the strange timelessness of the setting--make the author seem removed from actual teenage life. Writers like Andrea Seigel and Cynthia Kadohata get into their young narrators' heads more convincingly.

Tuesday, November 02, 2010

confessions of a halloweenie

I wasn’t feeling very Halloweeny this year. I told AK that if she wanted to go out, the costume burden was on her. She did good: She went as Snoopy as WWI flying ace and I went as Charlie Brown as a ghost with eyeholes gone wrong. Easiest costume ever—just cut a bunch of holes in a sheet.

But at JP’s party I quickly discovered that I really dislike having stuff over my face. I felt a little too much like a ghost. I related to the I Don’t Care Bear we met, who had a big yellow head and angry tattoos. But I felt bad because AK was so creative, when costuming is usually not her thing. As in previous years, JP’s people brought it: Meg Whitman, Lady Gaga in her meat dress, some sort of bondage trio in really expensive-looking gear.

I sat next to the TV, which was playing, conveniently if I’d still had my sheet on, It’s The Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown. I had my legs folded next to me and all of a sudden the flickering light hit my mermaid tattoo, which had gotten a couple of bug bites recently. Or so I thought. But in that peculiar light, I could see for the first time that the bumps were exactly where the lines of the mermaid’s hair and face were.

Creepy, right? Spooky, even.

“Is it possible to be allergic to your own tattoo?” I asked AK and Christine and Jody.

I worry about turning into one of those people who’s always updating people about their weird ailments, but Jody and Christine were the right people to ask. They had all this information about hives and skin sensitivity and how you should always have some Benadryl on hand in case a friend with a peanut allergy comes over and you accidentally feed her PB&J.

I’ve been too lazy to call my tattoo artist or a dermatologist, so I’ll poll you, dear blog readers, about my weird ailment: Is it possible to be allergic to your own tattoo? One you’ve had for a year without major incident?

So there’s that, and then there is also a marathon reading to benefit Beyond Baroque (great literary center in a deliciously musty old firehouse in Venice) on Saturday. If you’re not weirded out by the sight of a slightly puffy tattoo, come on by. I’ll be reading for five minutes around 3:30. A hundred awesome writers will come before and after.

What: marathon reading to benefit Beyond Baroque
When: Saturday, Nov. 6, 10 a.m.-midnight (I’ll go on around 3:30)
Where: Beyond Baroque, 681 Venice Blvd., L.A., CA 90291
How much: donation requested, no one turned away for lack of funds (how many benefits can you say that about?)