Saturday, December 29, 2007

Raw, idiom: 14 a. in the natural, uncultivated, or unrefined state: nature in the raw.

At the beach.

See you next year.


"New Year's eve is like every other night; there is no pause in the march of the universe, no breathless moment of silence among created things that the passage of another twelve months may be noted; and yet no man has quite the same thoughts this evening that come with the coming of darkness on other nights." 

~ Hamilton Wright Mabie

Thursday, December 27, 2007

Raw, adjective: 8. brutally harsh or unfair: a raw deal

Hate to interrupt your holiday cheer by being all dark and nocturnal, but jesus: death is everywhere lately. Death, death, death. Maybe it's just me and it's a product of the year coming to a close so I'm feeling all sorts of pensive and existentialist and reflective as we watch Father Time churn by faster and faster, but jeez, do I feel like the whole theme of this last year, of the last few years, has been the Grim Reaper himself.

Woke up the morning after Christmas to the bizarro news of the tiger mauling at the SF Zoo, which I imagine you've all heard about as well, since it seems to be making headlines in the national media. Weird. Same tiger responsible for another attack last year, and yet, what a mystery as to how the hell it jumped a moat AND a wall to get to these young unsuspecting kids who were just out to the zoo for a little Christmas Day visit (or were they dangling their legs after all?), and yet, maybe this is also a lesson about how vastly selfish and inappropriate it is to keep wild beasts locked up in misery for our own viewing pleasure. It's weirdly barbaric. I mean, have you been reading the recaps here? Cops and guns and tigers roaming the dark corners of the zoo and a lockdown and a swipe at this kid's artery and bam, jugular hit, he's dead. At 17. At the zoo. In a major urban center of the Western world. WTF.

So there's that. And then you've got news of the death over the weekend of Tony-winning choreographer Michael Kidd, perhaps most famous for his dazzling work on the movie version of that old classic of progressive musical theater gender roles, Seven Brides For Seven Brothers. My sisters and I grew up loving this shit (Gideon, hello! Benjamin, dreamy. Howard Keel voice, to die for. And who didn't wanna be Milly? And - "Dorcas?" Really??). Anyway, we watched it all the time and I have no doubt that our interest in musical theater was shaped at an early age by the unforgettable dance scenes (barn-raising, anyone?) Kidd developed for that film. The sheer athleticism and grace of his choreography was formidable. And somehow we managed to wind up with progressive feminist sensibilities in spite of the, um, repeated viewings of "Bless Yore Beautiful Hide."

And another good friend just lost his father on, gulp, Christmas Eve. I was sitting in this beautiful incense-filled Grace Cathedral at Midnight Mass, packed standing-room-only with people and ringing with angelic hymns and a full orchestra wailing away on the Christmas classics when I got his text message with that news. And it felt, well, weirdly appropriate to be sitting there in the midst of all that life and yet reminded how death is always around the corner. Maybe it's appropriate to have all these deaths smacking us in the face so we don't take for granted that a new year is turning and we're still around for it. And especially in the midst of all the twinkling lights and the cheesy music and the champagne and the celebration, I can't help but find it all tinged with a certain blue-grey heaviness.

Tiger Wall Was Too Low (SF Chronicle)
Michael Kidd Obit (NY Times)

Saturday, December 22, 2007

Raw, adjective: 7. brutally or grossly frank: a raw portrayal of human passions

I had occasion this week to revisit an old "friend" of sorts.

It's still been so cold, you see, and the heater's kicking constantly, and the house is still cozy with remnants of the party decor (white lights vomited up everywhere you turn), and I've been feeling quiet; my annual big social blowout being taken care of, now all I want to do is be still. Yesterday was the winter solstice, you know, the shortest day of the year, and I was just reading an article the other day about what a "yin" time of year this is, the perfect time for drawing in and reassessing, being quiet and dark and mellow, and how ironic it is that instead we imbue this time of year with so much pressure to be "yang" and on and wild and vibrant and festive and partying and what-have-you.

So anyway, indulging that yin side, for sure. And as part of that pull, I wandered down to the mom-and-pop video place around the corner (Netflix be damned) to find a few classics to lose myself in. I've been craving a revisiting of Breakfast At Tiffany's for some time now, so that was an easy choice.

I first saw the film as a teenager, I think, probably on the heels of My Fair Lady-induced Audrey Hepburn adoration (always been a huge fan, must say, and don't even get me started on all the Unicef shit she did toward the end of her life). But I think I was mostly struck by the chic urban 1960s fashions and captivated by my Midwestern adolescent dreams of being a swinging girl in the City (and look where we are today!). Then, when I was passing through Zurich a few years ago I picked up a worn paperback copy of Truman Capote's original 1956 novella and fell into it with zeal; all of my memories of my subsequent days in Venice are colored with Holly Golightly and pastries at dawn in front of Tiffany's.

The book has a sharper edge, however, and sadder valleys; Hepburn's fluttering naif is more of an out-and-out whore, she gets pregnant by her Brazilian lover, the Paul Varjak character nurses a largely platonic and unrequited love for Holly, and the ending is much more open and uncertain and frankly, quite melancholy; instead of returning to one another in a rainstorm, Holly jets off to Brazil and is never heard from again, while Paul is left with his lonely heart and his memories in Manhattan. Sigh. Rich stuff.

So I watched the film again this time around a wizened old woman of 28, and saw so many nuances that I had missed as a teenager. There is so much sadness in the portrayals; there are rich beats full of implied emotions, there are looks caught by director Blake Edwards' camera that take your breath away, there are little moments (like Peppard throwing away his cigarette in the utter frustration of unrequited love) that are positively brilliant little encapsulations of the character struggles going on here. George Peppard in particular received quite lukewarm reviews for his work here, but I found myself constantly pulled to certain reaction shots of him brimming with sorrow and frustration and heavily-laden emotions where a casual viewing might simply miss those things.

Point of all this rambling is: wow, what a film. Problematic in many ways, of course (hello, seriously racist Mickey Rooney "yellowface" performance that really isn't even worth the breath to discuss, it's so off-the-charts wrong), but so quietly rich in the others. The aesthetic minimalism and beauty of the scenery, the locations, Hepburn and Peppard themselves, and the fashions; the iconic Mancini score and the unforgettable "Moon River" motif running throughout; and the surprising ruminations on belonging, loneliness, alienation, and despair. I have always loved Holly Golightly for refusing to belong to anyone, even her cat; for refusing to name her cat, because she doesn't believe that people or things belong to one another; for being a nomad and a wanderer and someone looking for more than her little Lulamae Barnes existence in Tulip, TX; and for her pragmatic realization of what it takes to get by. And for looking so goddamned smashing in the process.

Wednesday, December 19, 2007

Raw, adjective: 10. not diluted, as alcoholic spirits: raw whiskey.

Raw detox: check.
Mistletoe hung: check.
Velvet tube top pulled out of storage: check.
Houseful of tipsy friends: check.
Irritated neighbors: check.
Filthy wine-glass-strewn disaster to wake up to: check.
Pot of coffee to make it all better: check.

And once again our annual holiday cocktail party has come and gone. Best one yet, I think I have to say. For the morning after, my head isn't so achy, which is altogether remarkable considering that I carted some 50 bottles of wine down to the recycling this morning. The place was crushed with bodies and the action went late into the night. And I never want to hear a goddamned Christmas song again, even if it IS Dean Martin and he sounds velvety delicious.

So now that's out of the way, time to catch up on all the other holiday shit I'm behind on. Cards and gifts and whatnot are so behind schedule this year. Where did December go? Went through this period for a few years when I was steeped in sociology when I was like: dude, this is all a construct, holidays, rituals, traditions, all of it, constructs; there's no meaning, everything's an empty social ritual, what's the point of any of it, especially all this tinsel crap?? And I can say I still hold a bit of that upstairs, but have moved on in the last five years or so to realize that - hey, the holidays matter, and yeah, it's all a bunch of constructs, ridiculous, really, but this shit is the shit that structures our lives, gives shape to our days, gives us an excuse to get together with people we haven't seen in awhile and wear sparkly shit and drink wine and eat too much and remind ourselves that oh yeah, we're alive, and you matter to me, so there.

So cheers to the tinsel and the holly berries and the six bags of pistachio shells and leftover crab dip and crumpled cocktail napkins sitting in my hallway waiting to be taken out. And cheers to these last few days before Christmas and realizing you can make it all about the people and the energy and not the gifts or the stress. And cheers to the fact that my head so does not hurt this morning. (Must've been the fernet shot - fer sure.)*

And now, back onto the raw wagon. Seven days' raw felt clear and true and right. I got a lot done, read a lot, slept well, had tons of energy, did really loose yoga. Feel stronger than ever, skin looks great. We'll forget about the sugar and vodka from last night and keep this momentum going, for now, at least, until the egg nog hits again Christmas Day.

*Don't know what fernet is? Pshaw - it's only the hometown SF drink! Thanks, Wikipedia!

**And cheers also to the fact that my Mac just downloaded a major update and it looks like now I can do italics and bold and insert real links instead of my ghetto ignorant ones. Now if I can just figure this shit out.

Sunday, December 16, 2007

Raw, adjective: 7. brutally or grossly frank: a raw portrayal of human passions

"I think we ought to read only the kind of books that wound and stab us. If the book we are reading doesn't wake us up with a blow on the head, what are we reading it for? .... We need the books that affect us like a disaster, that grieve us deeply, like the death of someone we loved more than ourselves, like being banished into forests far from everyone, like a suicide. A book must be the axe for the frozen sea inside us."

-- Kafka

(Robert Motherwell, "Picayune," 1967)

Thursday, December 13, 2007

Raw, adjective: 9. disagreeably damp and chilly, as the weather or air

Cold morning here in the City, and the ancient central heating has finally kicked in after an even colder night spent burrowed under the covers trying to keep from shivering. (Echoes of prairie winters in the basement dreaming of frostbite). I realize that my 37 degree lows are [some of] your 37 degree highs, so let's leave it there and know I am trying to keep perspective, all yous in the hinterlands right now (*ahem,* sisters o' mine).

Two days into the winter detox, and shit - feeling so good. Already noticing effects: feeling so placid and light and clear; skin glowing; more energy and difficulty falling asleep; better, easier yoga; and the lingering cough and cold I've been carrying around for the last 2 weeks have altogether disappeared. Magic. And all because of some water and veggies and carrot juice. Every day gets easier once I have a few under my belt, so I'm hoping this initial momentum can carry me through what will be a busy weekend.

The Times has a quick article related to "Atonement" that's worth a read. If you see the film (which, incidentally, just garnered a number of Golden Globe noms for acting, direction, and the score, which is particularly moving), you'll no doubt be struck by the grandeur of the Tallis estate: its sloping green lawns, its turn-of-the-century beauty, and the epic sweep of its architecture. Turns out some unsuspecting Brit inherited the "real" estate some years ago and it kind of turned her life in a new direction. Interesting story here, if you're into that kind of thing:

"The Other 'Atonement' Love Story"

(I'm available to all dying great aunts who want to bequeath any crumbling English estates, by the way.)

Tuesday, December 11, 2007

Raw, adjective: 1. uncooked, as articles of food: a raw carrot.

Haven't said much about the whole raw food thing lately because, well, I feel like it tends to freak people out. You know, wanky California land of fruit-and-nuts sort of thing, gone off the hippie deep end, etc. etc.

But this morning I've set off on a renewed detox and I'm feeling the rawness in every corner. A lot of naturopaths I've read tend to recommend at least a bi-annual detox (often coinciding with winter and spring) to give the body a chance to breathe and recuperate. I haven't done a hardcore 100% raw week since about February; have been running about solidly 75% raw, lots of fruits and veggies and nuts during the daytime, with a massive amount of sauteed spinach at night and a little reggiano cheese here and there. All things in moderation, you know.

But my mac and cheese consumption level is creeping a little higher than I'd like, the winter solstice is approaching, it's cold as my heart outside (37 degree lows, people!) and I'm feeling the need for a little rejuvenation before the serious cocktail party season hits. We're hosting a soiree next week and so it seems fitting to draw in and do a little cleansing before hitting the sauce hard during the last two weeks of the year. So the fridge is stocked with everything green you can imagine, I've got a ton of Kombucha waiting, and I just dropped a paycheck at Whole Foods on things like detox and fasting tea (full of fennel and dandelion and burdock root and all kinds of good shit).

Not gonna keep a play-by-play record here (because who wants to read that shit?), but will do so on my own, and depending how the next week goes, will update here and there. Each day will look like this: 2 hrs/yoga, detox tea, kombucha, tons of greens, perpetual water bottle in hand, multivitamin, 24 oz carrot juice, and cold turkey on alcohol, sugar and dairy.

Wish me luck. Might end up pretty crabby before coming through the first rough few days. But I'm secretly pretty excited. An excuse to "clean house."

And, come next Tuesday night, bring on the vodka, baby!

Monday, December 10, 2007

Raw, adjective: 7. brutally or grossly frank: a raw portrayal of human passions

Oh wow. "Atonement." Saw it yesterday. Totally gutted. Exquisite, flawless. Line stretched around the corner at the old little theater on Fillmore. Nary a dry eye in the house.

Long florid sentences feel silly, inadequate in describing this one. Hadn't read the novel myself first, and went into the film essentially blind, which is without a doubt the way you need to see it. Don't read any reviews; you don't want to know more than what unfolds in front of you minute by sweltering minute as James McEvoy swaggers up an English manor road clad in a tux, unknowingly walking toward his doom in the few moments of a summer evening in 1935.

Love the period, love the aesthetics; Keira Knightley's gorgeous 30s costumes, the quiet pale green-blue color so reminiscent of the era covering many of the walls of the servants' quarters, the sweeping vistas and the field of red poppies and that expert 5-minute tracking shot along the beach at Dunkirk and McEvoy's silhouette against a black and white movie screen and the cottage on the sea with the swells and the cliffs and a blond little sister whose role becomes ever more clear as the movie progresses.

Oh, sigh. Your heart. Will throb.

Sunday, December 9, 2007

Raw, adjective: 11. unprocessed or unevaluated: raw data.

Did you catch the quickie little article in the Times over the weekend about running and dissociation? As in, what do you do to still your mind and power through that last two mile stretch when you want to throw in the towel and stroll into that coffee shop for a croissant instead?

And - surprise! - the whole thing sounds suspiciously like meditation to me. Chanting mantras, stepping back and focusing on the breath, refusing to look past this step, then that step, drawing ourselves right back to this stride and this inhale and that exhale - well, my friends, that is Buddhist meditation 101. And exactly the sort of thing yoga is useful for, too. The whole forcing yourself to stay in a painful and awkward and infuriating position and keep breathing and keep your mind still when you really want to fall out and splay yourself all over the floor and scream and massage that leg cramp and hit the dumbass in the Speedo flinging sweat all over you next door. Yeah, that's yoga. Meditation. Mindfulness.

Be it in running or yoga or swimming or some other pursuit, dissociation it is. What do you do to get through, to center, to swindle yourself into finishing the race or the class or the lap? In yoga, ideally you want to have this blank slate of a mind that thoughts can kind of blow through like tumbleweeds, but when I'm struggling through a run or in a really tough pretzel and can't bear the pain, I spell: my own name, my siblings' names (middle names too, guys), the names of dudes I want to, um, "get to know," the names of pop culture icons I want to be, the names of people I went to junior high with.

Yup, pretty pathetic. But it sure as hell works. And suddenly, three names in, trikonasana is over and I can breathe again and I can finally turn and smack Speedo dude like he deserves.

"I'm Not Really Running, I'm Not Really Running..."

Saturday, December 8, 2007

Raw, adjective: 7. brutally or grossly frank: a raw portrayal of human passions

"You do not need to leave your room. Remain sitting at your table and listen. Do not even listen, simply wait. Do not even wait, be quite still and solitary. The world will freely offer itself to you unmasked, it has no choice, it will writhe in ecstasy at your feet."

-- Kafka, "Aphorisms," 1918

(Picasso, "Portrait of Olga in the Armchair," 1917. Musee Picasso, Paris)

Thursday, December 6, 2007

Raw, adjective: 4. painfully open, as a sore or wound.

Oh, ugh.

So I realize that my academic interests tend to make me see the world through certain eyes. As in, commodification everywhere you turn. Emotions, sex, relationships, all of it turned into commodities. And there is some fascinating research on this out there in case you want to spend a hot Friday night with the sociology of emotions. (Just sayin'.)

But here's a perfect pop-culture example. This morning's NY Times Style section features yet another of its alarmingly shallow reflections of what it means to be upper-income and privileged in America, chasing after The Things That Really Matter. Like "push presents." What's a push-present, you say? It's the expensive gift, usually in jewelry form, that apparently new mothers are angling for long before the kid is actually born. The notion that "getting sick [and] ruining their bodies" should be rewarded with something big and sparkly and expensive to show off the baby daddy's earning potential.

Materialistic, anyone? How about childbirth commodified? There are a ton of fascinating books out there about how pregnancy and childbirth have been commodified in the last fifty years or so (reference surrogacy, sperm/egg donorship, in-vitro fertilization, etc.), and this notion of the "push-present" is yet another addition to that canon. Once again the market mentality - "you give me this (spawn), I'll give you that in exchange for your (literal) labor" - weaves its way into that most non-capitalist of experiences: giving birth.

Wowza. I dunno what to say. Except that if and when I pop some babies out, you don't have to worry about the diamond rings, all you future baby daddies out there. A bottle of Scotch will do just fine.

"A Bundle of Joy Isn't Enough?" (Times)

Monday, December 3, 2007

Raw, adjective: 5. crude in quality or character; not tempered or refined by art or taste

"Tracy, I don't believe in soulmates. I've worked too hard to get where I am to sacrifice it for some woman. I don't care if she IS beautiful, brilliant and she does it like her dad's a minister."

-- Jack Donaghy, Republican corporate king, to Tracy Jordan, stand-up comedian with a screw loose, about Edie Falco's Vermont Democratic senator character, CeCe, on "30 Rock"

Best laugh of the week.

If you don't watch 30 Rock, you should. Secret vice. It's fuckin hilarious. Smart and way-lefty and fast-paced and helmed by Tina Fey. Almost too clever for its own good. Thursday nights on NBC, or watch it online, which is much easier. Go. Now.

30 Rock

Sunday, December 2, 2007

Raw, adjective: 9. disagreeably damp and chilly, as the weather or air

I'm thinking in threes lately.

Threesomes (complicated). Triathlons (wanna do one). Triads (musical). "Two's company, three's a crowd" (feeling like a third wheel?). Tricycle (killer Buddhist magazine). The Trinity (and queering it - have you read any of the amazing shit out there about queering the Trinity and all the potentially wild and delicious sensual and destabilizing aspects of this? Check it, it'll blow yer mind). Three adjectives in a row (uncovering rhythms in my own writing style and trying to transcend them). We Three Kings (ok, not really, it just fit, and Christmas is coming). And tomorrow's the 3rd.

Anyway, in honor of threes, I give you three lists of three things currently rocking my world (that might rock yours):

Three Killer Soundtracks I've Recently Acquired:

1) "Dan In Real Life." Piece of shit movie, mediocre, trite, complete with a middling performance by Steve Carell, bad writing, and strange casting (Dane Cook, anyone?), but saved by a luminous performance by the lovely Juliette Binoche. And a stellar soundtrack from Sondre Lerche featuring Regina Spektor and a surprise onscreen appearance to salvage what would otherwise be an annoying final wedding scene. A little happier in tone than the next two, but not gratingly so. A thinking person's pop album.

2) "Once." I wrote about this film back in August; Glen something or other from Ireland and Martina Irglova from the Czech Republic will rip your heart out, massage it, put it back in your chest and sew it up again with their harmonies. Plaintive, rustic, echoingly achingly real.

3) "Into the Wild." Likewise on this one, you know I loved the film. But the music deserves its own audience. Eddie Vedder. My god. Lyrics that provoke with a predictable heavy-handedness, but which never fail to speak to you nonetheless. Good for a listen alone.

Three Films You Should (or Shouldn't) See:

1) "What Would Jesus Buy?" Saw it last weekend and it delivered. Documentary a la Morgan Spurlock; exactly what you'd expect: highly critical of Wal-Mart and Best Buy and midwesterners who profess Christ as their dude but line up at 4 am to buy shit to fill up their empty souls. Loved it, you should see it, if only for the badass Rev Billy in his amazing peroxide pompadour filling up his vegetable oil bus with gasoline and praying for absolution.

2) "No Country For Old Men." Reeks of the desolate earthiness of the desert, of the Southwest, of the desperate malaise of the late 70s/early 80s and a Josh Brolin running from creepy Javier Bardem in a bizarro pageboy 'do blowing people's brains out with a cow anesthetizer. Wild shit, Tommy Lee Jones in another solid turn as a sheriff of few words, and the most satisfyingly unsatisfying ending of a film I've seen in awhile. Tommy Lee goes off on a dream he had about his father riding past him to start up a fire ahead and my whole being dissolves. And then the screen goes black in silence. God bless you, Coen brothers.

3) "Love In The Time Of Cholera." Oh, how my heart hurts for the betrayal of Marquez's exquisite book. The earthy sensual below-the-belt deliciousness of the book is altogether missing in this soulness hollow Mike Newell adaptation. The colors are beautiful, the costumes as well, and aesthetically, it's exactly what you'd expect; but the whole project feels empty, flat, and while the acting is fine, some of the aging make-up is a stretch for the imagination. But once again Javier Bardem pulls through with an honest, albeit not completely boundless, performance. He is definitely this fall's MVP in terms of cinema.

Three Random Things That Make It More Pleasant To Be Alive Right Now (in no particular order):

1) Pistachios (dry-roasted and salted, please)
2) Vaseline Intensive Care lotion (my poor bartender's hands are so ripped up)
3) Fountain pens

Wednesday, November 28, 2007

Raw, adjective: 8. brutally harsh or unfair: a raw deal

And somehow, it's almost December.

Spent the last several days buried in research, poking my head up now and then for a bowl of ravioli (decidedly NOT raw) or an unexpected phone call. I've got a shadowy little office tucked into the back end of our place, just off the balcony that leads to the fire escape, and if I swing the door open to let some fresh air in and curl up at my desk and block out the giggling of the sorority girls upstairs I can lose a good several hours. It's darker back there, heavier, somehow; I've got another desk that sits in the front bay window overlooking the street, sunlit but shaded by the one big tree on my block (all mine, thankyouverymuch), but when I actually get settled in there to write, it's useless; the people passing underneath and the conversations wafting up and the lights of the traffic whizzing by eliminate any hope of productivity.

And it's productivity I've been after. Stumbled into Simone Weil (thanks, Annie Dillard) and have found in her this eccentric brilliant fascinating creature of a woman. Early 20th c. French philosopher, mystic, anarchist, pacifist, Marxist, radical, respected philospher idolized by Camus, among others - and all before dying at the age of 34, of self-induced starvation, in England. WTF. The more I read of her stuff, the more confused I get about this complicated and introverted ascetic child of well-to-do Jewish agnostics who fell into St Francis of Assisi and fought in the Spanish Civil War and what have you.

Her key themes? Suffering, absence, affliction, the spirituality of work (see why Marx fits in?). Detachment, class activism, beauty as soteriological (!!!). Stillness and soulfulness and the notion of uprootedness. You get my drift. Totally intriguing. And yet - all before 34 y.o.

The age thing is what's getting me most. It's been a rather "yin" last few weeks, you see; a lot of sorrow and death and silence and drawing in, reflection, as tends to suit this time of year anyway, with its cold evenings and crisp mornings sans fog. Lost an old friend, a dear friend, aged 29, to a ravaging and wholly unexpected brain tumor, and it has shaken me; Dave and I went to college together, he was my fellow sociology dork, the only person I knew who'd stay up till 2 am talking about dead German philosophers, and he and I had kept in touch across the years and across the miles as we both went our various ways. He's gone now, two months after a diagnosis; won't see his thirtieth birthday, won't see his first wedding anniversary with his young wife, now a widow. I found a few old emails from him from 2003, full of hope and passion and anger and wrestling with the questions of what to do with his life; and in that moment, he had three years left, didn't know it, but only three birthdays, three Januaries, three springs turning into summers.

So Dave's gone, and Simone Weil lost it at 34, and it's late autumn and the leaves are turning and my father's would-be birthday came and went last week, and here we are carving turkeys and hanging holiday decorations and watching the seasons turn once again without any kind of awareness of how wild and ridiculous and obscenely gorgeous it is to have the chance to see one more Christmas, to have the ability to plan for one more New Year's at the beach, and Buddhism reminds us to step back, take a deep breath, inhale, smell the pine in the air, feel the twilight fog on our cheeks, and stop craving, stop wanting, stop wishing to be somewhere else with someone else doing anything else but exactly what and where and who we are right now. To let it be enough, just for today, just for this moment.

Because it has to be.


"Pain is the root of knowledge." - Weil

Saturday, November 24, 2007

Raw, adjective: 2. not having undergone processes of preparing, dressing, finishing, refining, or manufacture

Yesterday was Buy Nothing Day. Did you spend it standing in line at a cash register with your arms full of shit you don't need alongside other people trying to fill up their empty souls with electronic gadgets and expensive jeans?? Um, I mean, happy Black Friday.

The Chron had a little alternative piece on it, alongside the annual round-up of shoppers rolling up to Wal-Marts at 4 am. Check it for a decent overview of the whole anti-consumerism movement, along with a mention of the Reverend Billy movie that came out yesterday, as well.

"Not All Buy Into Black Friday" (SF Chron)

Wednesday, November 14, 2007

Raw, adjective: 1. uncooked, as articles of food: a raw carrot.

In this long-overdue edition of the ongoing feature, "Cool Hippie Shit That You Really Should Know About," I give you:


Or, as my friend Llama calls it, "the booch." Whatever way you put it, you should check this shit out. It's right up there with Lara Bars at the top of the convenient-raw-food pyramid.

No need for a huge nutritional synopsis here, as you'll find that in much more detailed form at this site: www. GT produces Synergy, which is probably the most popular form of bottled kombucha out there right now. Basically, it's a Chinese tea (fermented for 30 days) that people have been drinking since way back in the day; it's vaguely bubbly due to the fermentation, and full of live enzymes, probiotics, amino acids, etc., as well as unpasteurized and lightly processed (read: RAW). Everything you need to balance out the body and alkalinize and take care of your immune system and metabolism and digestion and all that good stuff. Also, this guy GT (along with various others) claims that drinking kombucha helped his mother fight breast cancer. Which is what initially caught my eye when I started drinking this stuff about 3 years ago on recommendation from a fellow granola friend (thanks, Erin). I found an immediate difference in my energy levels and my skin, and attribute part of the fact that I rarely get sick to the mad live yeast and shit swimming around in my daily 'booch.

Anyway, check it out as part of the continuing project to live well in that ol' bod of yers. Kombucha is quickly spreading from a fixture in the hippie-yoga community to a regular sight in convenience stores and on the street, at least here in SF. It's pricey (usually anywhere from $2.50-$4 a bottle), and an alternative is growing your own cultures from a kombucha patty, which I have not yet tried, but which is definitely on the agenda. Guava Goddess and Strawberry Serenity are my favorite flavors (I know, wankity-wank names, sorry). Suspend disbelief and drink this shit. You'll have more energy, better skin, and get a few amino acids in the process.


GT's Kombucha Product Info

Tuesday, November 13, 2007

Raw, adjective: 9. disagreeably damp and chilly, as the weather or air

I've been reading the obits for Norman Mailer this morning, and first of all: what a badass. A fiery tumultuous unpredictable complex difficult mix of a man. And feeling the need for more people like him - rather, more writers like him - who are controversial and messy and not easy to toss into categories. So much of the pop media coverage right now, book-wise, seems to be all Dan Brown and Oprah's Book Club and blah blah blah soft safe cozy writers, and man, does Mailer's death remind me of the need for outrageous shit to shake up the publishing world.

I sometimes feel like it's all been said and done; for instance, I wish upon wishing that it were 1973 and Erica Jong hadn't yet published Fear of Flying, because dee-amn, would I like to have written that one first. But it's there and it's been there for thirty some years and yet, there are books like that that, on reading, one would think the whole world breathed differently after their emergence, and yet, few people, really, are changed at all...

Thinking a lot about books lately, writing, what's the point of it all, really, and wow, this tranquil haven that is reading in a world that is so consistently screaming NOISE NOISE NOISE white noise mental pollution constant chaos. And what a refuge they are proving to be; what a refuge they were to me as a kid (hello, Laura Ingalls Wilder), what a companion they have been in my life, especially at moments when I've been thousands of miles from any human companions, and what a friend, a dear dear friend, they continue to be. And I'm sorry, iPods and DVDs and blah blah blah are all great, but they're not the same, they're not the same withered copy carried in a bag ten years ago that opens itself up to you with scribbling in the margins and a crumpled receipt from some store in Venice for a bookmark and dog-eared pages that you meant to return to and didn't.

And that is the love song to books that was lilting though my head this morning as I sat here watching the sun come up through the fog listening to the parking meter collector empty the quarters into his little wheelie machine at 6 am.

NYT Mailer Obit

Friday, November 9, 2007

Raw, noun: 13. unrefined sugar, oil, etc.

Can you smell the oil?

58,000 gallons of oil spilled into the bay when a boat hit a part of the Bay Bridge in a thick fog Wednesday morning, and we are just now finally realizing the extent of the damage. The local media's abuzz because of the bizarre 12-hour delay on reporting any of the damage and what appears to have been a seriously lackluster attempt to clean things up.

My friend Nielsen is supposed to swim in this shit tomorrow in the Treasure Island Triathlon. Doubt that's gonna happen, given the widespread oil slicks from the Marin Headlands to Ocean Beach and surrounding Alcatraz. Flashbacks to being a kid and seeing all those oil-covered birds following the Exxon Valdez spill, which was apparently 200 times larger than this one, according to an article I read last night.

Weirdness in the Bay Area. How long will it take till the beaches look normal again??

"Spill closes bay beaches as oil spreads, kills wildlife" (SFGate)

Thursday, November 8, 2007

Random shit I wanted to post that has no feasible connection whatsoever to any definition of "rawness"

O, sweet obsession of my youth!

Jonathan Yardley of the WaPo has a great little article today about LHOTP as part of "an occasional series in which The Post's book critic reconsiders notable and/or neglected books from the past." Man oh man, the memories. From like age 6 to 10, I lived and breathed this shit. Almanzo and prairie fires and bonnets and haystacks, oh my.

What did Laura teach me? To wear brown dresses with red hair ribbons (blonde sis Mary should wear blue). To wander around in the South Dakota sunshine with just a little dog and the big sky. To be a badass serious hardscrabble little chick who wasn't afraid to dig in the dirt and get her hands dirty. To stick up for the little guys (remember what a little fireball she was?). To be mindful and serious and directed and not to fawn pathetically over dudes but instead to pick the ones with the good horses who let you drive the wild ones with the buggy top down. And to teach, and write, and live equally in the body and the mind and the natural environment around you, all at once.

A pretty cool chick, that Laura, for this six-year-old prairie child.

"Laura Ingalls Wilder's Well-Insulated 'Little House'"

Wednesday, November 7, 2007

Raw, adjective: 2. not having undergone processes of preparing, dressing, finishing, refining, or manufacture

Is it just me, or did the consumer onslaught start even earlier this year? I walked into Walgreens on Halloween morning to find all the orange and black candy cleared out and replaced by red and green bells and stars and trees. On October 31st. Unbelievable.

As many of you know, my favorite time of year is upon us: Buy Nothing Day, along with the rest of the wild subversive energy spinning around out there in response to the ever-accelerating rush toward Christmas. Anyway, I'll be blasting you with various BND propaganda over the course of the next few weeks, but here's a little taste to begin with: The Reverend Billy and Church of Stop Shopping. ( This shit is great. It totally appropriates the zeal of fundamentalism and queers it into a commentary on the consumer-worship that has overtaken the West. AND, it's funny. AND, it involves music, badass music, and lots of it.

The guy behind Rev Billy & Co. is apparently an actor and activist based in NYC. I know they've been here in SF quite a bit - recall seeing their big bus tooting around town - and I'm excited to say that one of their newest projects, a film called "What Would Jesus Buy?," opens here in SF at an independent theater around the corner on November 23rd (incidentally, Buy Nothing Day itself). CAN'T WAIT! The film "follows Reverend Billy and the Church of Stop Shopping Gospel Choir as they go on a cross-country mission to save Christmas from the Shopocalypse."

I love it when people use the evangelicals' lingo to spin it and throw it right back at them, questioning the ways that many people's chosen tunnel vision contradicts their supposed faith tenets. The film's produced by Morgan Spurlock (of Super Size Me fame), and promises to be a winner. And it looks like it should have a decent run at theaters across the country, too.

Here's the website for more on the movie. GO! I'm drooling.

"What Would Jesus Buy?" movie

Monday, November 5, 2007

Raw, adjective: 7. brutally or grossly frank: a raw portrayal of human passions

I've always had a weakness for Robert Redford (even in that disastrous 1970s Gatsby film adaptation with a simpering Mia Farrow), but now I am officially enraptured.

Redford's "Lions for Lambs" had a big press junket in the City last week, followed by a viewing in Berkeley at the Shattuck Theaters that night. The Sunday Chron had a sharp piece on the film itself, which sounds like a smart political turn in the vein of some of Redford's past social commentary work. The article expounds on all the other reasons he is the dreamiest 71-year-old around, including (but not limited to) his political activism, his "boyishly gorgeous" good looks (have you SEEN his early work? *swoon*), his groundbreaking support of independent media and the arts via the Sundance foundation, his status as a consummate Westerner, and his rumpled professorial demeanor.

I challenge you not to find yourself sighing with amor.

"Robert Redford's 'Lions For Lambs' Takes on Iraq War" (SF Chron)

Monday, October 29, 2007

Raw, adjective: 9. disagreeably damp and chilly, as the weather or air

Feels like winter here today. Usually the fog burns off by noon or so, but not today; today was all mist and wind and chill. Kind of fine with me.

Wandered into one of my favorite independent bookstores over on Fillmore on my way to do some writing, and found, somewhat serendipitously, a copy of Simone de Beauvoir's letters to Sartre plopped haphazardly on a shelf. Dishy stuff, I tell ya. If you don't know philosophy, well, these two were like the Bill and Hillary of mid-century existentialism. Brilliant, charismatic, driven, inspired, sexually deviant, although much more anti-bourgeois than the politically savvy Clintons. Pretty much the poster couple for models of alternative love that subvert the traditional bourgeois nuclear family set-up. Granted, they had their drama, but their famous "open marriage" agreement left mad room for intellectual vibrance and subversive sexuality and all kinds of badass deviant shit, usually featuring triads and youth and all kinds of illicit mystery.

The New Yorker had an interesting treatment of the whole Sartre-Beauvoir love triangle a few years back. Once you get past what is essentially a list of lovers, it does offer some thought-provoking ideas on what the years have come to reveal about their relationship. You can find it in their archives here: "Stand By Your Man: The Strange Liaison of Sartre and Beauvoir"

So after picking up a few new reads, I popped into Shabby Chic next door to check out some pillows I've been dreaming of [speaking of annoying bourgeois domesticity...guilty as charged]. On wandering in, I heard a strangely familiar voice, and looked up to the balcony upstairs to see a pretty dark-haired woman carrying a bright-eyed infant in a blue sling across her chest. A double-take later, I realized it was Keri Russell, of recent "Felicity" and "Waitress" fame (and, more importantly to those of us who had a daily after-school date with the Disney Channel circa 1990, a former MOUSEKETEER!!!). Anyway, Felicity was hanging with her seriously hippie-sexy baby-daddy and spawn, picking out something or other and chatting about sending it back to New York. She's tiny and beautiful, he's a granola dreamboat, and the kid is destined to be gorgeous. Plus, he's named River. Geez.

Funny reminder that, oh yeah, I live in a sweet city where random celebs can blend in and people do actually leave them the hell alone. That said, if they'd asked me to babysit, I definitely wouldn't have thought twice before saying yes.

Monday, October 22, 2007

Raw, adjective: 7. brutally or grossly frank: a raw portrayal of human passions

I've lost the last several days to Susan Minot. 
 Can you see why?

* * *

"Later her life would be full of things, full of houses and children and trips to the sea and husbands and hats with brims and dogs catching sticks and tables to set and lists to cross off and she would have left singing behind and the stars would never look this way again, they would be further away but at odd unexpected moments something of the stars might strike her and it would be as if someone had branded her forehead with a hot iron. She could not name it, the thing hitting her for an instant, and would not recall what had once been in her head at another time with other stars, but she would have the sense that she'd lost something and not know what it was and not want to find out. She sensed it might be too great to bear."
— Minot, "Evening"

(And that's Klimt, "La Musique," 1895.)

Raw, idiom: 14 a. in the natural, uncultivated, or unrefined state: nature in the raw.

Listen to what 15 year old Tommy Nguyen has to say about Yosemite:

"I'd rather be at the mall because you can enjoy yourself walking around looking at stuff as opposed to the woods," Nguyen said from the comfort of the Westfield San Francisco Centre mall. In Yosemite and other parks, he said, furrowing his brow to emphasize the absurdly lopsided comparison, "the only thing you look at is the trees, grass and sky."

Oh god. Read it and weep:

"Children Detach From Natural World As They Explore the Virtual One" (SF Chron)

So this is a pretty anecdotal little piece, but one that hits on this whole idea of "Nature Deficit Disorder" which increasingly affects children, who are spending upwards of 6 1/2 hours (HOURS!) a day with electronic media. It also hits on the socio-economic and urban/rural aspects of this deficit. Coming on the heels of seeing Into The Wild, it resonates with me more than ever.

I like what the dude at the end has to say about nature being where we discover a sense of wonder, which is "essential to our humanity." True fucking true. And this is what scares me the most about kids who don't get to grow up in the midst of it; they never develop that sense of breathless transcendent wildness that comes from witnessing nature, and, I tell ya, it's not something you can teach very easily down the road...

Saturday, October 20, 2007

Raw, adjective: 7. brutally or grossly frank: a raw portrayal of human passions

So the end of October's looming (WTF?), which means that the local playhouses have smartly flavored their seasons with a strong dose of the macabre. Last week I finally got to catch the end of ACT's "Sweeney Todd" run (before it heads out on its national tour), and Thursday night caught a last-minute seat at the opera for the Philip Glass world premiere new work set at the end of the Civil War, "Appomattox." The combined blood-and-guts quotient was plenty to satisfy any Halloweenie tendencies I'm feeling right now.

"Sweeney Todd" is, of course, one of Stevie Sondheim's greatest, his first big smash (1973, I think?) that really solidified his status as top dog of dark-and-mindful Broadway content. I hadn't been particularly familiar with this one, other than the breathtaking and heartbreaking ballad "Joanna," which generally gets some regular play in collections of his best songs. This production is famously stripped down, bare, stark, having transferred from first the West End and then B'way after winning mega Tonys and garnering acclaim for the way director John Doyle (a Brit) retooled the score and the staging to allow the principals to sing, act, AND play all of the orchestration. So you have Joanna on cello, and Anthony on the piano, and the Beggar Woman rocking out on clarinet, when not singing. The result is a fluid, dynamic, vaguely post-modern disjunction of a set, not really something you can place in a time or setting, but which flows so consistently that you are always watching the songs and the action twisting and turning and perpetually spinning along. Which feels fundamentally Sondheimian.

So as a production, most everything was excellent; but I have to say, it's such a bizarro grotesque niche little subject matter, this barber who slits his customers' throats and bakes them in pies to sell for profit - that I found myself searching for some greater wisdom, some looming existential meaning, some life truth to take away from it, as most pieces of art tend to offer, and in that regard, it left me hanging a bit, a little hungry, not quite satiated (though the twist at the end does give a touch of that, in terms of regret and choice and hurling ourselves into not-quite-well-considered actions before we know whether those are the best decisions). But I would definitely recommend seeing it if this particular company heads your way on tour, if only to marvel at the diverse skills of the singers/actors/orchestra members rockin' it onstage. Talk about triple threats.

On the equally macabre end, Glass's "Appomattox" dives right into that moment when Grant and Lee met in a small house at Appomattox and signed the surrender papers that ended the Civil War. Another moment in time, another niche topic, although the writers make more of an effort to expand the ruminations on war and race and struggle and oppression into modernity in the course of the second act, sometimes to great success and at other points, a little sophomorically. The music is classic Glass, tumbling and turning and rushing and flowing in constant crescendo and descrescendo, and there were moments when I wondered if I wasn't listening to the soundtrack from "The Hours" instead. But the orchestration is poignant (if at moments overbearing the voices), and the baritone work from Grant and Lee in particular heart-stopping. The wives of the politicians of the era - Mary Todd Lincoln, Julia Grant, etc. - provide sorrowful counterpoint to the business at hand, which bookends the production in a mindful reflection on war and grief and the endless perpetuation of death and destruction and really, what for?

Aesthetically the production is at once eerily, hollowly post-modern and strikingly bloody. Four life-size horse carcasses, dripping blood and hanging from ropes from the ceiling, set the tone for the set, filling the gilt opera house with the stench of death and rotting flesh. The colors of the production, all greys and oranges and reds, suit the anger and the passion of the war theme, while being at once too bright and too deathly to ever match the pulsing melancholy of the music.

It's certainly not an unadulterated success; the libretto is clunky at times, the transitions awkward, and some of the staging obvious and uninspired. But as a piece of work that seeks to ruminate on the sorrows and pointlessness of war, it succeeds. And Glass's pensive style seems particularly suited to that project.

Wednesday, October 17, 2007

Raw, idiom: 14 a. in the natural, uncultivated, or unrefined state: nature in the raw.

Saw Sean Penn's latest labor of love, "Into The Wild" tonight, and well, let's just say I'm pretty fucking shattered. Wrecked. Toast.

The film is an adaptation of Jon Krakauer's 1996 best-seller, a non-fiction journalistic version of Christopher McCandless's life and death on a romantic adventure in the Alaskan wilderness. I first read the book as an undergrad in a killer seminar on Religion & the American Wilderness, and loved it, of course, for a thousand reasons, but honestly struggled to imagine how a film adaptation could be even close to as successful or compelling. Somehow, Penn's done the job.

First of all, Emile Hirsch as McCandless rocks the whole scruffy-big-haired-wanderlust-filled-ideologue role. The kid is too fuckin dreamy for words. Between the wild curls and the kayaking athleticism and the anti-consumerism shit and the Tolstoy-toting nature boy loner thing, I nearly had to leave the theater. Hirsch is charismatic and pensive and somehow perfectly encapsulates the naivete and cynicism of the young McCandless.

The vistas are breathtaking, as well; Penn shot everything on location, so you've got hours of South Dakotan and Californian and Arizonan (Arizonian?) and Alaskan natural beauty to swim around in. The film's playing in IMAX format downtown and given all the sweeping views and stunning sunsets, I might just have to catch it again in widescreen format. As a piece of nature appreciation it's a pleasure in and of itself, let alone the additional crinkly-eyed, wide-smiling looseness that is Hirsch in action.

Something of the romance and anti-establishment wanderlust of writers like Thoreau and Emerson seeps into all of what you see here, and it would be easy to romanticize the (well, yes) stupidity of McCandless's cross-country trek into poetry soundbites and wilderness songs. But Penn does succeed in showing some of the folly and naivete of McCandless's journey, as well. The familiar temptation (well, to me, at least) of being that guy alone in the forest with just books and sky and birdsong for company is tempered by the human connections the film highlights as unintended but gracious and life-giving benefits of the journey. And the existentialist questions raised - about the inanity of false suburban complacency, the emptiness of urban American consumeristic lives, and the destruction that results from the kinds of technology that push us further and further from real experiences in nature - will resonate with you long after the closing credits roll.

Eddie Vedder's tumbling soundtrack warrants a mention, too, as do the performances of Catherine Keener and Vince Vaughn in supporting roles. A part of me will doubtless always harbor a bit of the fantasy of a Walden-esque life of my own, but "Into The Wild" at least reminds me that if I ever do decide to throw down and head for the hills, a) take a class in edible plants first, and b) prepare to ditch the vegetarian thing and eat some moose.

As long as Hirsch is there to share a drumstick, I'm game.

Monday, October 15, 2007

Raw, adjective: 11. unprocessed or unevaluated: raw data.

Just stumbled across a little jewel of an article in today's Times.

Somehow it manages to link together, most adeptly: small Lutheran colleges in Minnesota; the kind of Midwestern politeness that lends itself to silence; gender, writing, and voice. The politics of voice. The influence of region on voice. And the nuances of self-possession in young writers. I found myself nodding along. I have known these young people, without a doubt.

"Politeness and Authority at a Hilltop College in Minnesota"

Monday, October 8, 2007

Raw, idiom: 14 a. in the natural, uncultivated, or unrefined state: nature in the raw.

Good morning!

Been awhile. Crazy-ass week. Nebraska, back home to SF, and a second weekend of performances before finally closing the show last night and catching a friend's after that. I haven't written in weeks, book-wise. Ask me to sing a song, though, and I'll have something for ya.

So, yesterday's show was a matinee, which meant, of course, call at 1 o'clock, and singing in the middle of the day instead of in the evening. Much harder to warm up for, especially when you haven't been speaking all day. I woke up early and hit a yoga class, and then decided I'd head up the hill and pop in to Grace Cathedral for a quick service to squeeze in a little singing before heading to the show.

I huffed and puffed my way up Nob Hill and stepped, flushed, into the Cathedral a few minutes to 11. The first thing I saw on walking in was this mammoth dog smack in front of me. We're talking an elephantine golden retriever-type (I don't know dogs, sorry) that looked - seriously - like a blond bison. Huge. Figured it was a seeing eye dog, but was surprised by its size.

Suddenly I realize that the whole Cathedral is full of animals. There are dudes walking around with parakeets chirping on both shoulders, cats slinking around, and dogs everywhere you turn. The Cathedral, which is usually half-full at best on Sundays, is jam-packed like on Easter Sunday - I only manage to squeeze in a little edge of a pew behind a big cement pillar, thinking "What the hell is going on?!?" in the midst of the cheeps and the barks and the growls.

Turns out Oct. 7th is the Feast of St. Francis, a.k.a. the Blessing of the Beasts. So all the pet owners in the vicinity have brought their pets to be blessed by the Dean and his cronies in vestments. As they process in, I look to my right where a small birdlike woman with long grey hair and a vibrant orange pashmina wrapped around her shoulders stops the liturgical procession to lean down and pet said Bison Dog from earlier. I think to myself, "Come on, lady; you're holding up the procession. Let's go."

The service starts and I open my bulletin to check out the action. And, voila: the little birdlike woman? She's Dr. Jane Goodall, conservationist and primatologist extraordinaire, and she's giving the sermon. Now I understand why the Cathedral is so packed. This tiny British chimp lady is a veritable icon.

Her sermon itself was exactly what you'd expect: ecumenical, mindful, socially aware, politically progressive, and leavened with charm. She threatened to do chimp noises. (I wish she would've!) She drew on wisdom traditions from all over the world - Judaism, Native American spirituality, Hinduism, Buddhism - to shape a call for greater environmental and animal rights ethics, accompanied by the chorus of cheeps and barks from the little guys in the pews. It was a pretty sweet way to start the day. I left renewed, unexpectedly so.

This is why I live in San Francisco. Because I can stumble up the hill hoping to squeeze in a few hymns before a performance, and end up in a veritable Doctor Doolittle world of pets and blessings and an icon right there next to me leaning down to give a big ol' dog a belly rub. And then slip back out into the sunshine and the day and be on my way, as the rest of the City keeps whirling around me.

Now that's life.

Monday, October 1, 2007

Raw, adjective: 8. brutally harsh or unfair: a raw deal.

Ok. First of all, I'm in Nebraska. Whoa. Weird.

Settling in here after a fabuloso day of airline travel (tongue planted firmly in cheek). It's so weird to leave the Bay Area. Only once I've landed in Denver do I ever realize what an insanely delicious bubble I live in there. You touch down at the foothills of the Rocky Mountains, and suddenly it's all flannel and slooow drawls and no fresh carrot juice to be found. Within those first two minutes, I realize what a complete urban bitch I have become.

And I love it.

So I spent the two long flights to Omaha buried in my Sunday Chron, catching up on the world. Richard Rapaport had a stellar article in the Insight section yesterday, a rumination on the bizarro political-legal-social phenomenon that is "Zero Tolerance." It's a fascinating combination of criminal and cultural theories. Check out this blurb:

"Like water hyacinth, the pestiferous houseplant invading Southern lakes and streams, Zero Tolerance is taking over the national fishpond, choking out once-treasured values like compassion, discretion and inventiveness. Over the past four decades, Zero Tolerance has metastasized from drug enforcement, to policing, into the court system, the public schools and now, perhaps worst of all, into the American social mainstream.

The institutionalization of Zero Tolerance policies signals the triumph of a bureaucratic mind-set more obstinately retrograde than the once-derided French or German models. I mean, have you been at the counter inside a Barnes & Noble, in line at the Century 20 ticket kiosk, or checking into a doctor's office, and asked for a slight bending of the house rules? Not this time, chump."

Brilliant. It's essentially a call for subversion, a reclaiming of compassion and mindfulness, a revaluing of chaos and a certain trust in redemptive hope and the transformative power of, well, fucking up and learning from it. It's the same spirit that infects the Adbusters shit and the Buy Nothing Day stuff and all of that other culture jamming that makes people question the straight-laced bureaucratic boundaries that we adhere to so fearfully.

Whew, I'm ranting. Can you tell my lefty anger increases in proportion with my distance from Blue States? Point being, the article is worth a read, especially for the greater sense it triggers of a need for reintroducing subversion in a culture that is too tightly-rule-bound.

(Speaking of rules: Transportation Security Agency and 1 quart plastic bags and Terrorism Color Alerts and shit. Ugh. Just going through security is enough to make anyone a bleeding heart liberal.)

"Zero Tolerance - It's the American Way"

Friday, September 28, 2007

Raw, adjective: 4. painfully open, as a sore or wound.

A weird few days.

The show opened last night, to a full house. It's pretty much "Waiting For Guffman." If you don't get that reference, go rent the Christopher Guest DVD, and laugh until you cry. That's what I've been doing all week (well, along with a lot of cringing). Musically, the show's solid, and I'm digging my songs; but the direction is absolute shit. Mediocre, uninspired, vaguely embarrassing. And awful choreography. Like a bad dinner theater cabaret. Thank god(dess) for the singing, because at the end of the day, I figure, it was all about just wanting to get the ol' voice back in shape, so that's all that matters, right? Now, if I can just figure out how to disinvite the hordes of groupies I'd encouraged to come...

On a much more serious note, my grandmother died last night. She's the last one for me, having lost the others while I was a child, and she was my father's mother, my last connection to him. A difficult loss for many complex reasons. But she was sick, and 94, and had been withering slowly for the last several years, and in some ways, it's time. So life suddenly means last-minute adjustments and scrambling for plane tickets and an unplanned (but not altogether unexpected) trip to the heartland for a dose of big sky and silence, and a lot of memories as I see the extended family gathered for one last occasion.

The City's buzzing with preparations for the Folsom Street Festival this weekend - do you have your assless leather chaps ready? I'm wearing mine now. Gotta break 'em in, you know. It's grey and cool and the air is fresh; the fog should burn off by noon, but in the meantime, I'll take the moody weather.

It's funny; "Songs for a New World" is all about those moments, the in-between times when you could step this way or that and the decisions are never easy or clear and nothing seems to come handily. And yet, at the end, the show closes with a riff on the words "Hear my song," and calls out on three clear monotonic unison notes: "We'll be fine."

Seems apropos today, of all days.

Monday, September 24, 2007

Raw, adjective: 5. crude in quality or character; not tempered or refined by art or taste

The NYT has an article this morning about how a number of Miss America "scholarship competition" winners have struggled to collect payment on the big bucks they're promised for being, uh, "beautiful" and "talented."

"Winners Cite Broken Promises in Pageants"

The whole thing feels vaguely silly because, well, no offense, Miss Five Boroughs New York 2004, your favored means of procuring fame and fortune is, how do I say this, OBSOLETE. It's mindblowing to me that this shit still goes on; reading the article, I mean, it's no shock that the largely volunteer-run pageants (driven by crazy big-haired stay-at-home moms from Texas) are struggling to fund themselves and closing their doors left and right. We've watched the TV broadcast being shuttled from shitty network to shitty network over the last few years, and still, no one's watching, and maybe, just maybe, that's because a horse show that judges candidates on their swimsuit appeal and the straightness of their teeth isn't really relevant in the 21st century? Just a possibility.

You saw the mindless debacle that was Miss Teen South Carolina flubbing her mindbender of a question about kids and maps and "the Iraq, such as," and isn't that proof enough that blond 14-year-olds need to spend less time gazing into the mirror and more time reading or doing fractions or studying Swahili or something? Sigh. Inasmuch as feminism's "over" and it's all about equality and blah blah blah, I'm still seeing a culture that values that bland empty-headedness over the supposed brains it takes to get into Wharton or whatever it is this beauty queen profiled in the above article is doing.

The ironic thing is that these chicas are so done up in this caricature of what it means to look "beautiful" that they end up looking exactly like the drag queens I run across on early mornings heading to yoga through the Tendernob: parodies of femininity. Plucked eyebrows (natch) and dyed hair and fake boobs and zero brains. WTF.

Not hot. For the record.

Friday, September 21, 2007

Raw, adjective: 1. uncooked, as articles of food: a raw carrot.

You should really take a few minutes to read this profile of Alice Waters from Wednesday's Times:

"Lunch With Alice Waters, Food Revolutionary"

In case you're not lucky enough to have heard of her yet, Waters is pretty much the goddess of Bay Area foodie culture. She's a radical in the most impressive of ways, sort of quietly going about her business while riling things up for nearly forty years. She opened Chez Panisse, a landmark Berkeley restaurant tucked over in the Gourmet Ghetto on Shattuck by Cesar's and the Cheese Board, in 1971, and has made waves with sustainability, using organic and local producers to shape her menus according to the seasons. Waters has also been huge with introducing gardening to the Berkeley school systems, incorporating the growing and harvesting processes into school lunches. Amazing.

She really is an icon in terms of living what she preaches. It's funny to think that this little old grandma-looking lady could be called a revolutionary, but when it comes to getting back to the roots of the matter re: food (bad pun intended), she's the real deal. Lately I've been mad to get my hands in the dirt, wishing for a big ol' plot of land where, right about now, I would be harvesting some big pumpkins and whipping up some delicious autumn beets with maybe a little goat cheese melted in there, too. Maybe next year. For the time being I'll settle for my plants indoors, and plot the garden plans for when the best seller breaks out and I buy a spread in Idaho to live out my own little Walden.

Tuesday, September 18, 2007

Raw, adjective: 7. brutally or grossly frank: a raw portrayal of human passions

For several months now a few of my [smart and fabulous] friends have been passing around worn copies of Ayn Rand's "The Fountainhead" and "Atlas Shrugged." This has not resulted in my own carrying around of a 1200-page capitalist screed, because I am not a fan. Waaay too pinko commie to appreciate the rationalist, self-oriented philosophies of Ms. Rand.

This NY Times article says more about why Rand makes me twitch. "Ayn Rand's Literature of Capitalism"

It's an interesting article and points to the fundamental lack of attraction I feel for her stuff. Also, it appears in the Business section. Bleh. First clue that it's not my style. But secondly, it cites all kinds of CEOs and Vice Presidents and other oh-so-important people in the business sector who've found inspiration in Rand's work. Ugh. At the same time, I'm awed and motivated by the fact that what was an initially very poorly-received body of work has resonated so widely some fifty years later. Literature is indeed powerful, in spite of what the rationalists have to say about that.


Sunday, September 16, 2007

Raw, adjective: 9. disagreeably damp and chilly, as the weather or air

RAW (lately) is

the sky this morning, grey and foggy and cool
my voice after 4-hour rehearsals every day
my head after too little sleep this weekend
all those upsets in the college football world yesterday
the pleasure I feel in seeing Notre Dame winless
the obscenity that was the USC-NE game last night
veggie juice - new combo: spinach, celery, carrot, beets - to counter the sugar
the rental market in SF, which is shooting up price-wise; a raw deal, for sure
my reawakened love for greens; darling broccolini!
the new Sweeney Todd at ACT, which I STILL need to see
the status of my thesis, which is not good, given that I have a huge meeting with my thesis chair tomorrow
the stark beauty of Sylvia Plath's unabridged journals, which I stumbled across the other day at Borders
the brutal truth of the Giants' hopeless season
the lyrics to "What Are You Doing The Rest Of Your Life?"
this post

Sunday, September 9, 2007

Raw, adjective: 10. not diluted, as alcoholic spirits: raw whiskey.

The Times has a good little roundup on San Francisco wine bars worth checking out. You might have heard that the London Wine Bar (est. 1974), which is just down Nob Hill from my place, is often credited as the first wine bar in the States. There are, of course, a ton of new little spots popping up here and there, as well.

I'd also have to add Amelie, a French wine bar on Polk that opened a year or so ago, to my top 3 or 4. Rosy dark ambiance, eclectic art, and an unpretentious neighborhood crowd.

"Snobless Sipping Where a Glassful is Just A Glassful"

(And while we're on the travel bent, for old times' sake: Friday's Times had another charming little article on the Delaware beaches, specifically Lewes, in which the writer waxes on about "its easy charm and friendly mid-Atlantic vibe, complete with long vowels, rustling corn fields and a dreamy slow pace." Find it here. Nice to see the old stomping grounds getting a notice from the guys in NY.)

Friday, September 7, 2007

Raw, idiom: 14a. in the natural, uncultivated, or unrefined state: nature in the raw.

It's that time of year again: the late-summer bliss that is Opera in the Park!

Best thing ever - a medley of nature, live music, and (lots of) wine, cheese, and grapes. The opera (along with the full orchestra) will be previewing several highlights of the season to come, including Samson and Delilah and Philip Glass's new "Appomattox."

Sharon Meadow, Sunday at 1:30. Get there early for a spot. Cheers.

SF Opera link and info here.

Friday, August 31, 2007

Raw, adjective: 7. brutally or grossly frank: a raw portrayal of human passions

Salon has a sharp article today that gathers the various recent stories of Republican hypocrisy and lays them out in what appears to be a rather straight-forward (no pun intended) position. The author, Joe Conason, has collected a sort of laundry list of all the blathering hate-mongering Republican figures who've been outed in the last several years (including figures like fundamentalist preacher Ted Haggard) and muses on why we keep seeing this strange phenomenon of the Republican closet. He writes of "a conga line of right-leaning queens" that just keeps on coming, Foley and Craig being two of the most recent of these.

The GOP's Crowded Closet (

It's a good start to a question that seems ripe for further analysis. Reading the article, I found it ended much too quickly. This whole pattern seems to me to scream out a few of the key issues in the conservative movement that are long overdue for being highlighted as problematic. The first of these is, of course, the general anti-sex stance of the Republican party. It's not that the Democrats are necessarily any better, but the Right - founded and fueled so intensely by a supposedly faith-based abject fear of sex - roots so much more of its agenda in anti-sex stances: anti-choice legislation, anti-birth control, anti-sex ed, homophobic opposition to gay marriage, etc.

At this point the connection between the mass sexual repression/denial in the Republican party and their bizarro opposition to anything sexually progressive seems too obvious to be ignored. It's getting ridiculous. No wonder these guys are trying to shove through so many ass-backwards laws (such as repealing abortion rights, limiting birth control, etc.) - they are so fuckin afraid of anything to do with sexuality (especially their own) that they just try to stuff it into a corner and time travel back to Victorian-era America.

Get it together, guys. It's one thing to be out of touch with yourself sexually, but it's another when you use that repression to impose fucked up reactionary legislation on an entire country.

Wednesday, August 29, 2007

Raw, adjective: 11. unprocessed or unevaluated: raw data.

Strange vibe to the world lately. [More] Republican Congressmen getting busted for lewd sex dramas (the hypocrisy never fails to astound!), Owen Wilson, he of the crinkly eyes and dry humor, in the hospital after a halted suicide attempt, and an 89-degree high in the City tomorrow - unheard of here, of course, but especially at the time of year when it's usually foggy and cool. What's going on??

The City's quiet, a good chunk of people having fled to the playa for Burning Man through Labor Day. They're closing the Bay Bridge for construction all weekend and reminders are everywhere you look. My voice is scratchy after an evening of rehearsing and trying to dig deep for the old singing techniques that I haven't used often enough in the last few years. It's a good thing, albeit frustrating, this getting back in the saddle thing. I made a killing out of 12 scores from the music library today and now my piano collection is, ahem, stocked with piles of new repertoire, lots of jazz and blues, some Mancini and Ellington and, of course, Gershwin.

There's been a lot going down in Real Life lately, just enough to remind me that when we think we've got it all sorted out, well, that's when we're reminded that nothing is permanent and life is change and transience is all we can know or count on and everything's related and whaddya know - it's all Buddhism and yogic theory proven true again and again and again.

Blah, rambling; bodies and breathing and crumbling and time passing and what happens in the moments, here and there, in-between.

And I can't sleep, in this one.

Sunday, August 26, 2007

Raw, adjective: 5. crude in quality or character; not tempered or refined by art or taste

Jack (Adam Goldberg): "I'm an American. Our religion is private property."


Anyone with a heartbeat had to've been mad about Ethan Hawke and Julie Delpy after seeing them in the Richard Linklater films, "Before Sunrise" and (especially) "Before Sunset." If you haven't seen them, shame. Two of the best films of our generation. Hawke and Delpy were credited as co-screenwriters in "Sunset," so it's no wonder that Delpy's directorial debut (which she also wrote, edited, produced, scored, starred in, and cast her cat) is equally excellent.

Everything Delpy does reeks of bohemian style and juicy political fervor. I kind of just want to be her. "2 Days in Paris" (not to be confused with the similarly-titled Paris Hilton sex tape) hit theaters here on Friday. I'd been reading a number of previews on the piece after its debut at a few film festivals and looking forward to another rambling walk along the streets of Paris. This one, accompanied by Adam Goldberg instead of Ethan Hawke, feels a little more coarse, a little more chaotic, a little more earthy, and I like that. Goldberg's new to me, and he is surprisingly sexy in a strangely Ben Stiller kind of way - the tattoos and sunglasses and blues and blacks are really working for him. No surprise that I appreciated the consistently polemical anti-Western and anti-American bits in the movie, I suppose; reviewers are comparing it to "Annie Hall" and "Meet the Parents," and I can see both comparisons, but it's a rather more edgy and farcical version of the two, minus the annoying quirks of Diane Keaton and Woody Allen.

Some people might leave the theater wondering what's the point of a film about 2 people spending 2 days in Paris, eating dinner, chasing a cat, going to an art gallery, attending a hip Parisian house party full of ex-lovers and cigarettes. I have to say, I love these small movies; the ones that don't purport to hit on enormous existential truths epic-style, but that sort of slyly hint at those little moments of life, the fights and the accidental run-ins with old acquaintances and arguments with cab drivers, that color our lives.

It's a small film, but it's Paris and it's art and it's Delpy and Goldberg wearing fabulous sunglasses as they argue along the Seine, and Delpy's counterculture father keying cars and her boho mother sleeping with old rock stars, and I'll take it over some overblown three-quel anyday.

Worth a look.

Friday, August 24, 2007

Raw, adjective: 7. brutally or grossly frank: a raw portrayal of human passions

Another reason August is my least favorite month is that they dump all the shitty cinema bombs here to die. This year is no exception.

There's been a dearth of anything interesting out there; the theaters are full of holdover sequels from earlier this year and disasters that will hopefully fade away quickly. (Speaking of, have you read the new reviews for Scarlett Johannsen's "The Nanny Diaries?" It sounds positively god-awful. Which is not a surprise to me, since I've never been a fan of ScarJo anyway - so awkward and strangely disembodied, completely monotonic and lacking in joie de vivre.) But anyway...

The upside of that is there's a little film that's been happily hanging out at the indie theater downtown for months now, an Irish musical of sorts called "Once." And since I had a few quiet hours last night and didn't want to fill them with trite pap, I popped in to check out the buzz. And I can't say much more than: it's lovely. Charming. Sweet. Sad. Soulful. Authentic. Not contrived. Full of solid, foot-tapping, head-nodding music. And definitely made by someone who comes from a background as a musician.

Doubt it's playing many places anymore, but if you need to grab a rental in the months to come, I'd definitely recommend it.

Thursday, August 23, 2007

Raw, adjective: 1. uncooked, as articles of food: a raw carrot.

Some interesting stuff in this morning's Times:

* A somewhat mish-mash but well-intentioned article on the increasing influence of religion on food and agriculture: "Of Church and Steak: Farming For the Soul." Religious leaders are slowly starting to emphasize the connections between environmental and social justice issues and the stuff they read in church or synagogue, and it's changing the face of small organic farming. Here's a snippet:

'Joel Salatin, who is considered a guru of organic agriculture, said he has seen a change in the people who visit his Polyface farm in Virginia. “Ten years ago most of my farm visitors were earth muffin tree-hugger nirvana cosmic worshipers,” Mr. Salatin said. “And now 80 percent of them are Christian home schoolers.”'

Hmm. Some of us would say this has been going on for a long time, in the guise of ecofeminist theology...but what do I know. Google "Rosemary Radford Ruether" and you'll get the real lowdown, minus the fundy home-schooling shit.

* Thursday Styles is always reliable for some silly fluff pieces disguised as journalism. Today's no exception. Check it: "Between Poses, A Barrage of Pickup Lines."

It's a riff on the hilarious YouTube clip about Inappropriate Yoga Guy. This dude totally exists. Down to the pick-up lines about goji berries and Nepal and all of it. And his name - perf! Anyway, the article doesn't exactly offer any huge revelations, but it's true in pointing out an especially annoying phenomenon of shady New Agey guys using yoga classes as a pick-up scene. Ugh. Hello, I'm sweaty and exhausted; you're seriously not going to hit on me here!?! Just because we're all kind of naked doesn't mean it's a free-for-all.

Rehearsal last night was mad sight-reading (my fave) and soo much great singing. It's an even richer vocal show than I realized. Pretty psyched.

Tuesday, August 21, 2007

Raw, adjective: 2. not having undergone processes of preparing, dressing, finishing, refining, or manufacture

Floods in Minnesota (B's wading through her basement, six inches deep) and hurricanes in the Yucatan, and it's a still, starry night here in SF. Strange to think there's so much tumult out there when everything's blue skies and quiet here, even in the City. The clear days mean wispy fog fingers twisting over Nob Hill once the sun sets.

So the good - no, great - news is that I ended up getting that show. Found out just a few hours after the audition. The soprano role, several good songs that fall right in my sweet spot, just the right range and feel for what I'd like to be singing, and a lot of badass tight harmonies to wail on, as well. It'll be a quick 5-week rehearsal period, banging out the show so that by the first weekend of October it'll be all over. I am less concerned about whether anyone actually sees it, and more just thrilled to get my voice back in shape and solidify some connections in the Bay Area theater community.

(Oh yeah - the show is Jason Robert Brown's "Songs for a New World." Off-B'way run in '96. A solid predecessor to his bigger hits, "Parade" and "The Last Five Years.") All I can say is, it's about goddamned time.

It was a busy weekend here, nonstop going, and today was a breath of fresh air, lots of coffee and reading and quiet catching-up. I don't like August, never have; something about it will always mean humidity and severe weather and sticky vinyl car seats and the looming dread of an approaching school year and the last wheezing days of summer. It's all that ugly 1970s goldenrod color in my mind. Will be glad to move on to September and the opera and ballet seasons opening and the leaves turning (yes, even here) and the excuse to live in cloche hats and scarves again.**

September will bring with it a new revival of "Sweeney Todd" at ACT, and "Avenue Q" at the Orpheum, and "Samson and Delilah" at the SF Opera, and "The Drowsy Chaperone" to follow, and sheesh, endless music. I'm glad to be doing some of the singing myself again now, because it was getting to the point where I couldn't even sit through a show without getting itchy to be doing it. Now I can enjoy these guys without wanting to smack the leads.

By the by, did you see the middling review in the Times for the new B'way cast of "Grease?" Seems the TV stunt-casting didn't do much for the spirit of the performers.

Also, for the random record, what was a burgeoning developing crush on SNL's Andy Samberg has officially reached full-blown status. And no, it's not just because of the big wild curls. Well, mostly, yes. But it's also got something to do with the fact that a) he's from Berkeley, b) he's absurdly hilarious, c) the big wild curls, d) "Dick in A Box," e) the NOW shirt he wore to the Spike Awards, and f) the big wild curls.

Just sayin'. In case you'd happen to run into him. Don't let him cut the hair.

**Oh yeah - and FOOTBALL SEASON!!

Sunday, August 19, 2007

Raw, adjective: 5. crude in quality or character; not tempered or refined by art or taste

Heading home today after an audition across town - trying to get back in the saddle after a too-long grad school-imposed performing hiatus - I crossed Market St. toward the Powell cable car turnaround and ran smack into a bearded, middle-aged dad type sporting a quiet blue-colored t-shirt.

It read: "Go to hell, I'm reading."

I nearly hugged the guy.

(Picasso, "Woman Reading," 1932)

Friday, August 17, 2007

Raw, adjective: 10. not diluted, as alcoholic spirits: raw whiskey.

Met up with my two old grad school friends, Kevin and Sarah, who were in town for the day from their new digs a couple of hours down the coast (happy anniversary, guys!), last night at Vesuvio. In case you slept through the part of high school English when you hit up the Beats and dive into some "On The Road," Vesuvio is the bar where it all went down. Right across "Jack Kerouac Alley" from [famously progressive] City Lights Bookstore and within stumbling distance of all the naked-lady clubs on Broadway and Columbus, Vesuvio's a classic, a total relic from days gone by.

I'd forgotten how charming and utterly unpretentious it is. The place still kind of quietly rests in its own little dusty, bohemian groove. Given how much attention the bar gets from tourist mags and international media alike, it's all the more remarkable that it's resisted the urge to Disney-ify and retained that same old comfortable feeling, along with prices that seem strangely low for being smack in the heart of the North Beach bar scene.

Vesuvio's website ( has everything you'd expect - art, history, cocktail lists, etc. - but also offers two links to recent "Best Bar" lists from Esquire and the Guardian where, naturally, it finds itself mentioned. In a time when it seems most bars are stumbling over themselves trying to be hip with their lychee martinis and fresh sage and zillion flavored vodkas, it's refreshing to be reminded there's some place so wonderfully real, close to home, where khaki pants and expensive heels are nowhere to be found.