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