Saturday, January 30, 2010

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

"Then there came a faraway, booming voice like a low, clear bell. It came from the center of the bowl and down the great sides to the ground and then bounced toward her eagerly. 'You see I am fate,' it shouted, 'and stronger than your puny plans; and I am how-things-turn-out and I am different from your little dreams, and I am the flight of time and the end of beauty and unfulfilled desire; all the accidents and imperceptions and the little minutes that shape the crucial hours are mine. I am the exception that proves no rules, the limits of your control, the condiment in the dish of life."

~ F. Scott Fitzgerald, The Cut Glass Bowl and Other Stories

(And that's more O'Keeffe, of course)

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

(As in: raw muscles, baby.)

February's two days out. Have you blown your New Year's resolutions yet?

I secretly love resolutions, especially finding out yours; they're endlessly revealing, strangely intimate. But most people I've spoken with in the last month never bothered to make any to begin with. Why set yourself up for failure, self-disappointment, they say? Fair argument. Most of us do crash and burn a few weeks into the best-set of intentions. Come February, the gym empties out again, the take-out cartons pile up, the kale rots in the fridge while the leftover pizza takes its place.

Paige Williams was at a point in her life where she needed to make a change and stick to it - or cease to go on. Read about her story here; the Mississippi woman was hitting serious bottom, and not in that sexy-cathartic-Taoist-Tyler-Durden kind of way; more like watching her life fall to pieces all around her. Williams writes that at the nadir of her struggle,
While lying fully clothed in my childhood bed in the middle of a beautiful and utterly wasted Mississippi summer day, I realized it was either get up—I mean really get up—or die. I don't know why, but I thought of Bikram yoga. I had tried Bikram a few times. I remembered appreciating most of all the permission to be quiet. I recalled the yoga room as a place where I could breathe.
(Oh god, you're thinking, here she goes again: Rach on the yoga crazy-train. Well, buckle up, folks. Train's leaving.)

I was initially intrigued by Williams' story because of her Memphis roots. Mikah and I practiced at the Memphis studio when I was there visiting him last spring, and I got to speak with Lori and Gregg, the two teachers described in the article. They were kind, and lovely, and hardcore. Believers, for sure, who'd seen the innumerable benefits in their own lives.

Under their tutelage, Williams tackled a 60-day Bikram challenge to try to turn her life around. Visit (ugh, I know, suburban housewife central, but we're overlooking that right now) to read the two-installment story of Williams' attempt at self-transformation (reincarnation? resuscitation?) via a committed 60-day practice. Her story is real, it's ugly, it's frank; she needed this, needed it desperately, and though her ending isn't happy in the way most sanguine Biggest Loser-style makeover stories are, it's human, and it's honest, and it's hopeful.

There's something about the sweat of a Bikram yoga practice that has always represented, for me, a certain cleansing, a release, a letting-go. Reading Williams' story at the end of a veritable month-long yoga binge, and a stretch of really fantastic not-failed-resolutions (!), I'm convinced of the power of a commitment like hers. Whether it's yoga or running or roller-skating or what-have-you (sex!), if it gets you back in your body, gets you breathing, gets you sweating every day for 60 days, well, then: great. That's all you need. Do it. Commit to it. Make it your practice. No bullshit. The progress comes in the struggle. And therein lies the transformation.

Thursday, January 28, 2010

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

And the world is absent one badass this morning.


"The challenge remains. On the other side are formidable forces: money, political power, the major media. On our side are the people of the world and a power greater than money or weapons: the truth. Truth has a power of its own. Art has a power of its own. That age-old lesson – that everything we do matters – is the meaning of the people’s struggle here in the United States and everywhere. A poem can inspire a movement. A pamphlet can spark a revolution. Civil disobedience can arouse people and provoke us to think, when we organize with one another, when we get involved, when we stand up and speak out together, we can create a power no government can suppress. We live in a beautiful country. But people who have no respect for human life, freedom, or justice have taken it over. It is now up to all of us to take it back."
~ from A Power Governments Cannot Suppress


"How can you have a war on terrorism when war itself is terrorism?"


"My viewpoint, in telling the history of the United States, is different: that we must not accept the memory of states as our own. Nations are not communities and never have been. The history of any country, presented as the history of a family, conceals fierce conflicts of interest (sometimes exploding, most often repressed) between conquerors and conquered, masters and slaves, capitalists and workers, dominators and dominated in race and sex. and in such a world of conflict, a world of victims and executioners, it is the job of thinking people, as Albert Camus suggested, not to be on the side of the executioners."
~ from A People's History of the United States: 1492 to Present

Wednesday, January 27, 2010

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

Greg gave me the heads-up on this article in today's NYT, and I think you'll enjoy it.

"When Chocolate and Chakras Collide" takes front and center in this morning's Dining section. For a mainstream attempt to explore the ethics of yoga and food, it's not so bad. Julia Moskin tackles the central yogic ethic of ahimsa (non-harming) that informs most yogis' eating and lifestyle choices. She manages to name-drop many of the biggies, people like [vegans] David Life, Sharon Gannon and Steve Ross, with a fair lack of bias, although that typical mainstream media judgmental "hippie-dippie-yoga" sneer still sneaks in now and then.

That said, it's still a decent three-page article - much longer than most - and Moskin actually dives into topics like the Upanishads, Ayurvedic theory, and the problem of the commodification of yoga as the ancient practice blooms into more and more of an industry. Ubuntu (the combo restaurant-yoga studio in Napa) gets a mention, along with a simple presentation of ayurvedic science and the notion of the doshas.

Exposure is a good thing, even if sometimes it means simplified philosophy. Read it, share it, think about it. (And a bonus: the photo illustration shows a yogi with a piece of cake. That's definitely a veiled wink to my bundts, no? Yeah, that's what I thought. Cause the NYT really cares about the ethics of bundt.)

Monday, January 25, 2010

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

We talk so little of death. It's awkward, messy, uncomfortable, unsettling. So much easier to channel all of our living into celebrity fashion and NFL playoffs and bad reality TV. Distraction, baby!

But death remains; it's there, it's so there, everyday, everywhere, in spite of our best efforts to ignore it. So check out Meghan O'Rourke's thoughtful (and clearly personal) nod to death in the latest New Yorker. It's a thorough round-up of everyone big: from the original face of death studies - Elisabeth Kubler-Ross, she the famed author of On Death and Dying - to Freud, Hemingway, Dickinson, et al.

O'Rourke explores the complicated cultural legacies of mourning and grief, arguing that as ground-breaking as Kubler-Ross's famous 5-stage theory might have been, it provided a perhaps too-structured vision of the chaotic and unpredictable process of dealing with loss:
Perhaps the stage theory of grief caught on so quickly because it made loss sound controllable. The trouble is that it turns out largely to be a fiction, based more on anecdotal observation than empirical evidence. Though K├╝bler-Ross captured the range of emotions that mourners experience, new research suggests that grief and mourning don’t follow a checklist; they’re complicated and untidy processes, less like a progression of stages and more like an ongoing process—sometimes one that never fully ends.
Anyone who's ever lost anyone will be nodding his head as he reads that paragraph. Grief can be ugly and messy and frustrating and crippling and wretched. But it can also lend a certain grotesque beauty to the goings-on of day-to-day life, its usually-overlooked trivialities suddenly cast in a bittersweet sepia-toned light.

I've always said, and I'll say it again, that one of the things I appreciate most about Buddhism is its assertion that "all beginnings end in separation." How very normal and expected that truth makes death seem - and not just bodily death, but also the natural turnover of relationships, of careers, of homes, of friendships. Yogic theory echoes Buddhism's awareness of death with its emphasis on flux, transience and change. How much easier, then, knowing this, it becomes to rest in a place of grief, given the assurance of its sheer normalcy.

Read the article. Even if you've not lost someone recently, you'll glean something from O'Rourke's paragraph about the embarrassingly awkward character of social interactions after the death of someone near to you. Resolve to be more present and less afraid the next time someone you love is grieving. There's so very little to fear.

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

From the recent New Yorker profile of South African artist William Kentridge:
"I am interested in a political art, that is to say an art of ambiguity, contradiction, uncompleted gestures, and uncertain endings. An art (and a politics) in which optimism is kept in check and nihilism at bay. ....

My work is about the provisionality of the moment. I've become very suspicious of certainty. First comes understanding of the value of doubt. For me, that's how we go through the world."
Can I get an amen?

Lines of Resistance (New Yorker)

Thursday, January 21, 2010

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

"Smooth and smiling faces everywhere, but ruin in their eyes."

~ Jean-Paul Sartre

Raw, adjective: 9. disagreeably damp and chilly, as the weather or air: a raw, foggy day at the beach.

In case you hadn't heard, El Nino's been smacking California hard-core. We're all monsoons, all the time: trees down, streets flooded, power out. Weird for us, given that we get thunder and lightning maybe once a year.

(I realize there's no point in complaining, all ye frozen brethren in EST and CST. But still. It kind of sucks.)

So all of us NorCal pansies are hunkering down in our homes and trying to ride out the unfortunate winter weather. Fortunately for me, I've got some built-in anti-cabin-fever antidotes that require little more than a mat, a wall and some tunes.

Meet Headstand. You flirted with his saucy queen, Shoulderstand, a few years ago, and were flummoxed by her chill Yin benefits. Well, Headstand - or Salamba Sirsasana, the King of Asanas - is equally impressive, in a more energizing, Yang kind of way.

I won't even try to cover all the details. Go here for an excellent outline of Headstand's benefits. Let's just say that a number of experts argue that you could theoretically do only two poses every day - that would be Head and Shoulderstand, obvs - and still therein get the full benefits of a complete yoga practice. That's how damn all-over beneficial these asanas are.

(What's that? You're afraid? I was, too. Don't be. It's deceptively easy. Seriously - try it.)

The last few months, I've been making it a habit to roll home from class and haul my sweaty ass into Headstand after every practice. I tool up a new song - preferably 3-4 minutes long - kick my legs up, and zone out to the music while feeling the gravity-reversal rush fresh blood to my head. It's pretty much crack.

After awhile you'll crave it, and kick up into this not-as-difficult-as-it-looks asana whenever and wherever you can. I hung out in Sirsasana in a deserted corner of the Denver airport to get through a long layover over the holidays, and it turned the whole miserable flight-delay experience upside down. Bad pun intended.

Supported Headstand (Yoga Journal)

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

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

The NYT on the sociology of occupation and identity:
"Conjure up the classic image of a humanities or social sciences professor, the fields where the imbalance is greatest: tweed jacket, pipe, nerdy, longwinded, secular — and liberal. Even though that may be an outdated stereotype, it influences younger people’s ideas about what they want to be when they grow up. ....
Choosing an occupation is part of fashioning an identity, Mr. Stevens said, noting that people think of themselves as a “corporate type” or a free spirit, which is why you might find highly educated graduates working as bartenders instead of in an office."

(Thanks to Joseph for the heads-up on this one.)

Professor is a Label That Leans to the Left (NYT)

Tuesday, January 19, 2010

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

Be kind, for everyone you meet is fighting a great battle.

~ Philo of Alexandria,
1st century BCE

Monday, January 18, 2010

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

B turned me on to this fascinating toy last week. It's pretty clever.

With it, the NYT makes it possible for you to "examine Netflix rental patterns, neighborhood by neighborhood, in a dozen cities." Sounds nerdy, right, until you realize it's actually a completely intriguing glimpse into pop sociology. Compare the demographics of various cities - and, more specifically, distinct neighborhoods in said cities - and find therein a reflection of class, education levels, diversity, politics, and more.

For instance - my zip code here in the heart of urban SF lists Sean Penn's "Milk" as the top-rented film of 2009. Not surprising, right? Dallas, on the other hand, features "Paul Blart: Mall Cop" as a regular in its top ten (!), and Atlanta, "Tyler Perry" and "Twilight." So interesting.

Give it a spin. Check out your own zip code's viewing habits. I guarantee you'll be hooked.

Thursday, January 14, 2010

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

When you realize how perfect everything is you will tilt your head back and laugh at the sky.

~ Gautama Siddhartha

(Hopper, "Morning Sun," 1952)

Wednesday, January 13, 2010

Raw, Idiom: b. Informal. in the nude; naked: sunbathing in the raw

Last night I had a hot date at the Herbst with the dreamily inimitable Nathan Gunn. (Never mind the fact that his wife was playing piano, or that there were 200ish other people there all roughly around the age of eighty and/or breathing heavily with the aid of respirators.) Nope, just Mr. Barihunk himself, me, and a Schubert cycle of 19th century love/death songs ending in self-imposed drowning in a bubbling brook.

What can I say? It was mad intimate.

I've had a soft spot for baritones ever since Gordon MacRae's chestnut voice hit my kid ears, and Gunn follows in a long line of descendants, by way of Hugh Jackman and his ilk. Over the years, I've drooled over his stand-out starring turns in Billy Budd and The Barber of Seville with the SF Opera, so you'd better believe I'm always looking forward to the next performance. Last night, in a setting much less formal than the opera house, Gunn certainly didn't disappoint. In spite of not knowing a word of Schubert's German, I was rapt. (Though there was distressingly little nudity involved, compared to Gunn's roles in Budd and Seville. I've never felt more let-down by the sight of a man in a full tuxedo.)

Check out Gunn's homepage for more on this rockstar baritone; he mentions a desire to play Carousel's Billy Bigelow someday, and I'd certainly hop a train anywhere to see that in action. Then read up on the LA Times' feature from last fall, which explores the increasing opera-world trend toward featuring hunky eye-candy triple-threats like Gunn.

Not gonna lie, folks. Sex sells.

Monday, January 11, 2010

Raw, adjective: 9. disagreeably damp and chilly, as the weather or air: a raw, foggy day at the beach.

Reading my way through this cool grey Monday.

* * *

Speaking of Guidos, the New Yorker takes on Jersey Shore as pop cultural anthropology, tans and bump-its and all:
Our ability to take any pleasure, or even interest, in shows like this—in which participants are depicted as energetic but essentially aimless, oblivious of their own deficits, and delusional about their attractiveness and their importance in the world—hinges not on our ability to identify with them but on our ability to distinguish ourselves from them. Unless the show manages to make us feel as though we were anthropologists secretly observing a new tribe through a break in the trees, it hasn’t done its job.
The NYT tries to draw some connection between masculinity and the souring of homeownership. (The article teases at the relationship between producing vs. consuming and masculinity, as well as the cultural expectation that men should intuitively know how to fix shit, which I find far more interesting than whether this dude's pool filter is broken; wish they'd have explored that in particular more deeply.) I can't decide if the piece succeeds, but it's another interesting look at the decline of the picket-fence happiness myth. And another affirmation of the restless nomad's difficulty in settling for the version of the "American dream" defined by owning shit and growing old and fat by driving a car to the nearest neighborhood Applebee's and back for the rest of your life:
Alan Berks the renter had spent his evenings with friends at African dance nights and jazz clubs. Alan Berks the homeowner lost an entire day rearranging the living room furniture. “I did find a spot for the couch that made me happy,” he said. “I was proud of myself. But where the couch is — that’s how I’m going to measure my happiness from now on? I remember thinking: ‘This is how people live? Why am I doing this?’ ”
And everybody's reviewing Elizabeth Gilbert's new book on marriage. Gilbert's long-awaited follow-up to "Eat, Pray, Love" seems predestined to be ripped apart as cloying and self-indulgent, but it sounds like Gilbert really made an attempt to write something a little more academic and a little less narcissistic with this one. Both Ariel Levy and Amy Benfer write smart, discriminating reviews; I'd read Stephanie Coontz's "Marriage, A History," first, however, if you really want some dense reportage on the institution. Levy's New Yorker review in particular hits on the underlying restlessness that fuels Gilbert's writing; I love this paragraph in particular (esp. the line about sex - ha!):
“Committed” is an unfurling of Gilbert’s profound anxiety about reentering a legally binding arrangement that she does not really believe in. All this ambivalence, expressed in her high-drama prose, can be a lot to handle. (One generally doesn’t indulge another person’s emotional processing at this length unless the jabbering is likely to conclude with sex.) Ultimately, Gilbert is clear about what she, like most people, wants: everything. We want intimacy and autonomy, security and stimulation, reassurance and novelty, coziness and thrills. But we can’t have it. Gilbert understands this, yet she tries to convince herself and her readers that she has found a loophole. She tells herself a familiar story, that her marriage will be different. And she is, of course, right—everyone’s marriage is different. But everyone’s marriage is a compromise.
Restlessness is a muse for many of us, it seems, and I highlight its mention in the above NYT homeownership article again in questioning whether these institutionalized pillars of the American Dream - homeownership and marriage - aren't actually so fundamentally counter-intuitive as to render themselves obsolete. Why do we struggle so for the facades of security promised by these socially-constructed houses of cards? What's really so scary about restlessness, particularly the non-acquisitive kind? Are we so tied to the illusion of security that to let go of its apparitions threatens too dangerously our sense of being in the world?

Sunday, January 10, 2010

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

Wow. Nine is really not good.

Rob Marshall's latest hit theaters circa Christmas, and I lost 2 hours to it the other day. The film's seriously lacking. Even this musical apologist almost walked out. That bad.

Mediocre music, cringe-worthy lyrics. Uninspired choreography. Costuming rip-offs. A wooden Nicole Kidman. (Where's the joie de vivre?) A miscast Kate Hudson. (Her number was uncomfortable to watch. Embarrassing.) A gorgeously-tousled Penelope Cruz in a lackluster role; a wasted Sophia Loren (how can you waste Sophia Loren?!?); a bizarro Fergie stomping around on a chair; an out-of-place, bobbed Judi Dench.

Daniel Day-Lewis wasn't so awful, really, playing his own slouching, smoking, tortured-genius-Mastrioanni caricature, and Marion Cotillard was melancholically beautiful in her one-note, long-suffering wife role. But Maury Yeston's songs really left something to be desired; the ear's quota for hearing "Guid-o" sung over and over is unsurprisingly low.

Such potential for a smart and sexy piece of art, a reflection on creativity and restlessness and sex and monogamy. (Especially given its Fellini source material - not to mention fantastic Roman settings.) Squandered. I really wanted to like this film. I wonder if anyone actually did?

Friday, January 8, 2010

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

New favorite thing!

One of the foods I miss most when I'm eating really raw vegan is granola. But some time ago, I realized that grain- and wheat-based (read: gluten-filled) foods make my body sick: swollen, achy joints, zero energy, painful muscles and a foggy head. So in trying to avoid that overarching craptastic feeling, I've said a sad sayonara to my old favorite granola trail mixes.

Go Hunza to the rescue again! I discovered their line of Raw Mulberry Walnut Granola last week, and it's cinnamony-delicious, walnut- and almond-based, sweetened with agave nectar, and best of all, totally gluten-free. Gorgeous. (Full ingredient list: mulberries, walnuts, agave, apricot kernels, dates, almonds, cinnamon, Himalayan salt.) Easy to make on your own, too, I imagine, if you're feeling industrious and/or poor.

Pick some up. The Pumpkin Seed flavor is pretty killer, too.

Wednesday, January 6, 2010

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

Pet Peeve: when my otherwise thoughtful and sophisticated, usually culturally-discriminating peers hemorrhage away their brain cells on teenage pap like Stephenie Meyers' Twilight books

Seriously. Where are the grown-ups with brains and ideas? Who out there's actually reading the sexy subversive polemical fiery adult lit of yesteryear?

Apparently, no one, writes the Washington Post. This article dates from last spring, but it strikes me as relevant and timely in the wake of this most recent vampire movie's success. As Ron Charles writes of Twilight-obsessed college students,
Here we have a generation of young adults away from home for the first time, free to enjoy the most experimental period of their lives, yet they're choosing books like 13-year-old girls -- or their parents. The only specter haunting the groves of American academe seems to be suburban contentment.
Ugh. I feel sick to my stomach. Read the piece, then please, please in the interests of all that is good and rich and holy, go buy some Ginsberg or Daly or Nin.

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

Slavering at all the rich musical theater action on Broadway right now:

~ As predicted, Green Day's American Idiot is moving from its sold-out Berkeley Rep run to an April opening on B'way. See it.

~ Stevie S. has another NYT write-up in the wake of his many recent pared-down musical revivals. The man - the genius - is now 79. Check out the audio slide show alongside Patrick Healy's article: Sondheim Makes His Entrance Again, Intimately

~ Last week Charles Isherwood wrote a decent round-up of the state of the musical during the aughts. The juggernauts like Wicked are balanced out by the little up-and-comers like Avenue Q. Read it here: Cue the Chorus: The Musical Endures

~ And you know that Catherine Zeta-Jones is starring in the latest revival of Sondheim's A Little Night Music, yeah? She's fantastic. Zeta-Jones Moves to "A Little Night Music" on Broadway

Tuesday, January 5, 2010

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

2010 to this point has been one fluid motion of going going gone, and now here finally on this dusky Tuesday evening I sat down and stayed, and found

quite unexpectedly, really, and his guitar reminded me of Nick Drake's and accompanied the Sam Mendes film of last summer, Away We Go, recommended highly by friends and less so by critics, but fuck them, because yes, the film was a bit self-involved, and yes, it featured the inner dialogues of a certain subset of early-thirtysomething hipster indie types, but god if I didn't see myself and so many I know in it (and isn't that kind of the whole point of art, to reflect that messy weird dark experience of being alive, such that the observer feels perhaps the tiniest bit less alone in the mire?), and god if it wasn't nice to see John Krasinski and Maya Rudolf rocking it in [fake movie sets portraying] Phoenix and Madison and Miami and Montreal, and god if Catherine O'Hara isn't just the most killer actress (well, she and Allison Janney - Meryl Streep, be afraid, overrated lady), and god if I hadn't realized that Dave Eggers and Vendela Vida had written this road-trippin' existential piece of work that happens to dig into so many of the landscapes and lyrics of our intermingled lives.

So see the film, yes, and appreciate it for the self-involved hipster inner dialogue that it is, but be glad you never ended up the bitter Janney in Phoenix or the one-track Maggie Gyllenhaal in Madison, be so very glad (Mary Daly died this week, did you know? If I were Maggie Gyllenhaal's character's radical leftist professor type, which I thought for so long I would most certainly be by now, I'd be teaching on Daly's legacy tomorrow in every section of World Religions 101, but I'm not, and I won't, so R.I.P., you radical thinking woman, you), anyway, be glad you are you and not them and that the world and the possibility of choosing a landscape that is home to you remains open, and stop mourning the so-called fact that it's not, that you're stuck, because, silly, you're never stuck, there's always the road and the sky and the big unknown, and it's so easy to start a life anywhere you want to, really, you know this, yeah?, intuitively, instinctively, in spite of being taught otherwise by the fearful and the forlorn. And then after seeing the film pick up the soundtrack featuring none other than the lovely and soul-eyed

whose original songs litter the shifting landscapes and inform the vagabond spirit of the film itself. Whose plaintive, spare style underlies the story without overwhelming. And whose self-produced indie album deserves your dollars and cents.

You'll find plenty of listening over at Murdoch's website. Read the bit on the Focus Features film site detailing Murdoch's story. Props to Sam Mendes for going with this unknown troubadour for his thoughtful, tousled film.