Friday, February 26, 2010

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


Holy god. This is why I love Adbusters.

A whole new issue on post-postmodernity. Foucault and altermodernity and the hegemony of "progress" and Sartre and failed economies and privileged binaries and "moments of rupture" and subversion and multiplicity and fluidity and postmillennial tension.

Someone is actually saying this shit! And in the public arena, no less! Be still my beating heart!

The best part is, it's sitting stealthily, dangerously, on your neighborhood newsstand next to US Weekly and Martha Stewart Living while you stand in the grocery check-out line behind suburban housewife #27 in JCrew khakis buying individually packaged Kool-Aid juiceboxes for her sugared-up video-watching spawn.

That this exists, and continues to exist, gives me such great hope.

The Birth of Altermodern (Adbusters)
Postmillennial Tension (Adbusters)

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


Well, this is just silly.

Seems the California Dept of ABC (Alcoholic Beverage Control) guys are cracking down on moonshine in them thar parts. Some ancient obscure law bans "changing the character of the booze by allowing it to mature on the shelf," a process called "'rectification' that is illegal without a special license," which somehow translates to nixing the mixologist's craft of soaking ingredients like basil or rosemary in liquor to liven it up a bit.

So these vigilantes are hitting up all the local cocktail hotspots - the same ones that have consistently made a splash in the national news media for their creative, artistic, intuitive new infusions - and putting the smack down. Accordingly, Bourbon & Branch has "prohibited" some of its best recipes; Farmer Brown has scratched its oatmeal and honey vodka (a concoction so delectable-sounding that I'd honestly bathe in that shit).

So silly. Tail wagging the dog. Bureaucracy at its worst. Read the article in the Chron; belly up to your favorite watering hole tonight and make sure to order the most outrageously illegal jalapeno-infused booze you can. It's your civic duty to subvert the dumbasses, my friends. Do it.

State Warns Bay Area Bars Not to Infuse Drinks (SFGate)

Thursday, February 25, 2010

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


Owing to new babies and baptisms and having missed the traditional New Year's Rehoboth Beach shenanigans this year, I'm happily ensconced in planning my bi-annual escape to the old East Coast stomping grounds in a few weeks. These brief rendezvous up and down the Eastern seaboard always end up crammed with sand and shows and sentimentality (and always, always a nostalgic Yuengling or two), and this time around is no exception; there's so much good theater out there right now that I've been wanting to see, it's a perfect time to rope up the old musical buffs and take in a few shows.

You caught this recent New Yorker profile of David Ives' new play, "Venus in Fur," right? It's a fascinating take on sexuality and power, performance and objectification, masochism and desire, all wrapped up in the context of a push-pull audition between a playwright and his potential femme fatale. Hilton Als provides some intriguing back-story on the literary roots of masochism, tracing them back to Leopold von Sacher-Masoch's brief 1870 erotic novel, "Venus in Furs." Not only do we learn that the short book was the inspiration for the psychological term "masochism," but we explore "this sexual roundelay about power and powerlessness, about the imagination butting up against so-called 'reality,'" as "played out by two contemporary characters" in the form of Wes Bentley and Nina Arianda.

Arianda's garnering "sensational" reviews for her performance, and the piece has happily been extended through the end of March, meaning I can actually maybe catch this one while I'm in the city. Totally intrigued by the power dynamics fleshed out by Ives' contemporary script. Als writes that
"Ives may be drawing parallels to the novel 'Venus in Furs,' but he pushes beyond Sacher-Masoch’s stifling discussions of male and female, colonizer and colonized, and focusses, instead, on the relationship of actor to writer, actor to director," echoing a legacy of actresses who "each threw herself into an emotionally sordid role in order to tell us something about our profound, collective self-interest, and about how the will to survive is essentially genderless, until society forces us to define ourselves by our sexuality."
So. Interesting. Check out the buzz on this hot new play. I'll see you there next month.

Wednesday, February 24, 2010

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


Did you see that our Plastiki boys made the Sunday NYT?

So proud of our scrappy, industrious friends. Read the article; get psyched about the upcoming voyage; make sure you recycle that 2-liter Diet Coke bottle next time instead of chucking it in the trash. It might've ended up as a boat.

My favorite blurb from the article, for obvious self-invested reasons:
Indeed, Mr. de Rothschild said that just getting the Plastiki into the water has been a victory, one that came after years of planning, months of delays and more than a few nights of discouraged drinking.
Glad to know I could've been a little part of those "more than a few nights of discouraged drinking." Love these guys (and charming skipper Jo), and love their passion for their project.

(And that's another Hopper above, of course: "Ground Swell," 1939)

Sending a Message in 12,000 Bottles (NYT)

Sunday, February 21, 2010

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


You know how sometimes your nose runs at the most inopportune of times?

Like maybe when you're in Downward Dog and you're already sweaty and suddenly somehow weeping in spite of your all-business, black-coffee'd, flight-booking morning and then your nose just runs and runs (the weeping, you know) and you're thinking to yourself, fuck, thank goodness I'm so goddamned sweaty because otherwise how embarrassing to have snot dripping back up my face as I invert and try to get myself together in Downward Dog before we hit up another vinyasa, right?

Because your heart's been beating wildly since the instant you sat there on the mat and Rusty started to sing and you suddenly realized there in that moment listening to his warm chestnut voice ringing out across that vast room that that same heart of yours has been singing chants in one form or another every single Sunday morning all these years, even when you were in the womb and they were in Latin or maybe some hippie-folk-song-praise-band-rockin'-the-snare-drum kind of thing, and how beautiful is that?, and it's still beating in spite of the so very many good reasons it might as well not be [that almost-getting-hit-by-a-car thing on the Embarcadero a few years back, or that skipping revving heart murmur when you were 16 and shin-splinted and underfed, or that one time that creepy dude chased you down the twisting Venetian sidewalks until you could duck into a doorway and evade him and you were all alone and really could've ended up a cadaver in a canal never heard from again for all anyone knew].

But no, by god, wow, it's still beating, all these 31 years tomorrow, and isn't that enough, really, well, of course, but you're crying and you're not supposed to be thinking at all, you're supposed to be clear blue sky meditating, thoughts like tumbleweeds blowing by while you stretch and bend and lift, but you're suddenly overtaken by the realization of how goddamned full your heart is, how it's really hit the overflowing point, it's gushing too much goodness like that godawful strawberry cake you made last year, what with beloved E & N across the bar last night radiating hope in spite of the hopelessness and planning travels for December even though there might as well be a thousand carcinogenic hurdles in the way, and what with little sweet J all those 3000 miles across the country and the prospect of being there next month holding her as some unknown Episcopalian priest anoints her a wet-headed child of God and knowing how your heart beats for her fragile wee one and you just wanna wrap it in bubble wrap and hold her close to you and let her know that she's loved, this newest future goddaughter of yours, how lucky to have two!, and your ever-breaking, ever-humbled heart continues to discover so much room for expansion, so much more to hold,

and meanwhile you're thinking all this and the sternum cracks open in Backbend No. 6 and you're trying to focus on Vasisthasana but it's not really happening because you're just so fucking grateful for being right here right now and it's enough and you realize, you've been thinking about, the fact that at 31 your father's life was already well past half-over, though he didn't realize it at the time, and you wonder (as you bobble hopelessly in Vasisthasana) if 31 marks half-over for you, too, or only a third over, or if 31 means 90% done and it might all fold in on itself and quit beating next year for all you know, before you put the finishing touches on that book manuscript and before you master your newest version of "Smoke Gets in Your Eyes" or before you get around to cleaning out that desk drawer with all the hand-written journals you'd planned to transfer to the old Mac,

and you really kind of hope not, because it'd be nice to rock that old Jerome Kern show tune before it's all said and done, and maybe tackle a little more Ellington too while you're at it, and there are so many books to be read yet and so many cakes to be baked and so many cards to be sent and so many dahlias to be grown and so many floors to be swept and so many men to be loved and so many so much so very very much beating in this heart while it tries to slow enough to get through these 2 minutes of meditation,

and it's all you can do to haul yourself into half-lotus and just inhale and exhale and lay that heavy hand over that thumping thumping heart and calm it and breathe into it and realize your life is this beautiful delicious sandwich in which N is the 60-something sexy radiant badass lusty busty dame fighting survivor and J is the future brilliant musical laughing loving beloved goddaughter of yours who you can someday bring to SF and take to the opera and sit on a blanket at a concert at Golden Gate Park with and trudge heart-racingly up Nob Hill with and tiptoe in silence through the aching beauty of Grace Cathedral with, but for now N's looking realistically at the cancer-colored downslope of things and J's looking up, all up, and here you are really on the crest of things somewhere in between, top of the wave, summit of the hill, the ham in this lady sandwich, and the view just keeps getting better, and you turn your head ever so slightly in Trikonasana and look up past your fingertips reaching out for the ceiling and you see that black cursive scrawled on your left wrist, that same inked Laudate you've been sporting there for the last two days, a drishti of sorts, a physical reminder to "praise" tao-god-allah-krishna-gaia-buddha-yer mom-whoever-this wild rushing beating heart of yours, it's all praise, it's all song, that bodily symphony sung out silently, heavingly, breathlessly in the midst of 10 backbends and 100 tears and so much realizing what it's all about.

And the Laudate Latin makes you think of that Simple Song you sang once, the "Lauda da de's" of that brilliant Bernstein, that lovely Leonard, that poignant piece that's threaded its melody through your family's lives beginning at the ordination thirty-some years ago and again haltingly, impossibly at the funeral and again at a wee little radical service on a hill in Berkeley when you sang and the crowd fell silent and it felt risky and rich and right. And it was all "Laude da, Laude de" and it was loose and easy and lolling off your tongue in that best of tippling Bernstein ways, and you realized that though some hearts stop beating and others go on (yours, today; N's, miraculously, for now; J's, stubbornly, into the future), the music transcends the bodies and it will remain long after yours is gone and so you breathe and listen and wipe your tears and wipe your nose and try to chant and give thanks for the puffy eyes because they're a product of your so-full heart and then later listening to the rain you click "play" on Bernstein's Simple Song and drift away to the lilting grace of that beautiful baritone and you remember other beautiful baritones on other Sunday mornings in Latin or Sanskrit or German or Lakota, and they sounded maybe something like this, too:



From the record label, on Bernstein's Mass:
Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis commissioned Mass: A Theatre Piece for Singers, Players and Dancers from Leonard Bernstein for the 1971 opening of The John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts in Washington, DC. It was written to be a celebration and remembrance of her husband's life, achievements and ideals. As a result, the gala premiere was as much a political occasion as a musical or theatrical one. It was pointedly boycotted by then-President Richard Nixon who assumed that it would prove to be a rallying cry for his critics.

The nearly two-hour long work features a Broadway-sized ensemble including a large orchestra, marching band, mixed chorus, children's choir, dancers and a rock band. Bernstein had always found the Roman Catholic faith intriguing and found its liturgy especially theatrical. The libretto for Mass intersperses texts (tropes) written by Bernstein and Stephen Schwartz into the Roman Mass proper. The work explores the mass from the point of view of a Celebrant, who is experiencing a crisis of faith. It follows the liturgy exactly, but the liturgical passages are juxtaposed against frequent interruptions and commentaries by the Celebrant and the congregation, much like a running debate. The Celebrant's faith is simple and pure at first, as shown in his wish to sing "a simple song" in praise of God. Yet that faith gradually becomes unsustainable under the weight of human misery, corruption, and the trappings of human power. In the end, the Celebrant, on the verge of renouncing his faith, finds that the loneliness of his doubt is no match for the joy of gathering together with other believers in praise. Mass is a tour-de-force - a seamless blend of classical, modern, rock, popular and Broadway idioms and a pointed commentary on spirituality in modern society.
And from LeonardBernstein.com, on his controversial Mass, the source of "Simple Song"

Friday, February 19, 2010

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




What was any art but a mold in which to imprison
for a moment the shining elusive element which is
life itself - life hurrying past us and running away,
too strong to stop, too sweet to lose.


~ Willa Cather



(Oh, Willa...)

Thursday, February 18, 2010

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


It's a lush wet Thursday morning and I skipped yoga to knock out these several crucial chapters and instead am sitting here awash in coffee and ice cream and Chet Baker and Time After Time and a whole lotta existential whatever.

Not to hit you over the head with my man Chet again but it seems that it's that Almost Blue time yet again for my annual wistful Baker post (Isn't It Romantic?) and seeing as Time After Time has been added to the looping evening playlist behind the bar and it pops into my hearing as a balm every night when I least expect it I can't quite ever seem to shake it from my consciousness these days. Add to that the fact that I received news in the hush of Ash Wednesday that my childhood home, long sans family, echoing now only with death and memories, was put on the market in this most unfortunate of housing markets, and hit by the strangely poignant knowledge that there's a lone silver trumpet sitting tucked in a basement closet waiting patiently all these years for me to love it again, that same old horn that first called Chet into my life, and when the hell am I gonna get to Nebraska to rescue it?, because oh wait, Time's a passing, Time After Time, and here comes aforementioned birfday just around the bend, rich with nostalgia of its own making, and my god, thank goodness for a melancholy black and white 7:18 minutes straight from Belgium 1964 in which Chet croons and the mind slows and the breath deepens and it. will. all. be. fine.

Wednesday, February 17, 2010

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


So I've got this little thing called a birthday coming up around the corner. And y'all know how I feel about gifts and shopping and buying obligatory shit as some supposed measure of love. (Shoot me in the face.) That's part of why I like baking for people so much: it's a great way to give people you care about something creative and artistic and handmade without having to toss more money into the churning consumption machine. Sweet subversive sugar, yeah.

But this morning I woke up to a birthday email from Bikram Memphis - still on their mailing list after practicing there last year - and it included the kind of "presents" I could really get behind:
Happy Birthday from Bikram Yoga Memphis!
Here are just a few of the "gifts" you receive when you practice Bikram Yoga:

• Improved strength, flexibility and balance,
• Heightened mental clarity and ability to focus,
• Muscle where it used to feel mushy,
• Improved posture,
• More energy and endurance,
• Reduced stress and better sleep patterns,
• Improved breathing and better circulation,
• Heightened self-confidence and self awareness,
• A love for what you see when you look in the mirror,
• A sense of pride in what you are able to accomplish with a little determination, sweat and a smile.

What a wonderful present - enjoy and see you in class!
Now that's what I'm talking about. What a wonderful present - in every sense of the word - indeed. Not just for ourselves, but for the people around us, too, who benefit from our increased presence and our increased peace. Bring it.

Tuesday, February 16, 2010

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


Oh, man. Just when I was feeling newly hopeful and inspired and alive, the Texas State Board of Education has to go and kill my buzz.

Matt's passing mention yesterday of Gustavo Gutierrez had me fondly digging out my old Liberation Theology texts and waltzing around in mental daydreams of Marx and class solidarity and Gutierrez & Co.'s heart-meltingly mindful preferential option for the poor. I was thinking how great it is that liberation theology's hit the mainstream, that it's not relegated to our hippie Berkeley theological schools, but that it's being taught in the heart of Minnesota, in the heart of mainstream Protestantism, in the heart of what is often red-state country. And feeling hopeful that maybe radical theologies are making inroads in this oh-so-conservative cultural climate right now.

And then this morning I read Sunday's NYT magazine feature, "How Christian Were the Founders?", and it all went to shit. And now I'm sitting here a) trying to remember to breathe through the fury, and b) peeling my jaw off the floor. You owe yourselves (and your public-school-attending children) a chunk of time with this article. Provided you can handle the resulting outrage that follows, that is.

It's a long piece outlining the reality that national social science curricula are being shaped in large part by the textbook recommendations set by the Texas State Board of Ed. It's ugly, it's partisan, it's religiously-fueled, it's totally not ok:
The one thing that underlies the entire program of the nation’s Christian conservative activists is, naturally, religion. But it isn’t merely the case that their Christian orientation shapes their opinions on gay marriage, abortion and government spending. More elementally, they hold that the United States was founded by devout Christians and according to biblical precepts. This belief provides what they consider not only a theological but also, ultimately, a judicial grounding to their positions on social questions. When they proclaim that the United States is a “Christian nation,” they are not referring to the percentage of the population that ticks a certain box in a survey or census but to the country’s roots and the intent of the founders.
Don't even get me started on the fact that Jefferson & Co. were deists at best and bore little resemblance to the Fox News-loving conservative Christians of today. These people are determined to rewrite history in their own words, and if that means cutting out references to the Constitution as a "living" document because that's too radical and banning children's book authors because of their "un-American" views - that is, Brown Bear, Brown Bear's “very strong critiques of capitalism and the American system" - they'll do it.

Gutierrez and his impassioned buddies would be shitting themselves over the idea that capitalism has anything whatsoever holy to do with Christianity. And yet, these Texan conservatives (most of whom have no theological training whatsoever) set the educational agendas, wield socio-political power, and continue to further this idea that Christianity is fundamentally tied to business, profit and capitalism.

Sigh. Vomit. Herein lies the source of the disenchantment. Heroes like Gutierrez and Ruether and Isasi-Diaz come out with all these amazing, grounded, thoroughly-researched and socially-aware theologies, and THIS is what makes the NYT magazine, and THIS is what shapes national social science curricula, and their brilliant books rot, untouched, in obscure library bowels collecting dust.

Is it any wonder that left-leaning Christians turn to the bottle, or the gym, or Eastern religions instead?

How Christian Were the Founders? (NYT)

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



Bundt Cake Saturday! (Super Bowl version.)

Morning: fresh
Mood: fiery
Music: Alexi Murdoch

It's been awhile, bundt-lovers, I know, and here on this quiet fresh Tuesday morning, I have that most delectable of surprises for you: an alcoholic concoction that single-handedly secured Super Bowl victory for one Louisiana-based football team. Or so I will continue to believe.

Hot Llama's a serious NoLa refugee, having fled westward in the aftermath of Katrina, and in the years since then, I've developed a vicarious loyalty to the bourbon-soaked city on her behalf. She was loopy-excited about the Super Bowl berth this year, and as I scanned the possibilities for bundt action the day of the big game, I knew I had to stick with something relatively Saints-loyal. (Besides, what the hell kind of cake do you make in honor of the Colts?)

People tossed around a few half-hearted ideas: Tom wanted something chocolate, Mark suggested Peppermint Bark in honor of Arbor Day (too early, love), Joe suggested something football-shaped. Um, ok. Getting nowhere. Until, that is, hard liquor came through, as it always does; someone mentioned Bourbon St., and after that, it was obvious. I'd made a killer Lemon Bourbon cake last year in honor of one Mr. Farrell, and it'd be easy to adapt; the King Cake that we'd eaten for Mardi Gras could be an inspiration, too (sans the plastic babies).

So, finally, thanks to Google and the NYT, I came up with this hybrid recipe. It's a melding of all those best things in life, and appropriately drunken in honor of that annual football feast itself. Meet my own little version of a

CHOCOLATE BOURBON PECAN BUNDT CAKE

I had all intentions of losing hours to this gorgeous creation from Melissa Clark's charming NYT article from a while back. Her Whiskey-Soaked Dark Chocolate Bundt recipe is stellar and boasts serious street cred. That's really the recipe you should make if you have time, patience and plenty of bourbon for sipping while you prep.

I, however, had approximately 2 minutes to whip this shit up between gigs, and there was not going to be time for frou-frou touches. So I cut to the chase and adapted Clark's recipe for that most un-Alice-Waters of versions. I'll come out of the closet and say it: there is a mix involved here, people. (What can you do? You spend the whole day on your sofa eating wings and nachos and you're not gonna eat a bourbon-soaked cake because it's not locavoric perfect? Deal.) So you can take your pick here; high- or low-maintenance version, but today, here's the quickie version I came up with.

INGREDIENTS

1 triple chocolate cake mix
2 small packages of chocolate pudding
4 eggs
6 oz chocolate yogurt
1 c. bourbon
1/2 c. vegetable oil
1 teas. vanilla
1 c. chopped pecans

So easy, no?

Before you even turn on your oven, throw that cup of pecans (not chopped yet) into a nice bucket of bourbon and leave them alone for awhile. Pour yourself a snifter, give it a swirl, turn up the music, look out the window, decide there are worse ways you could be spending a Sunday afternoon.

Preheat oven to 350°F. Grease and flour your bundt pan. Stir cake mix and pudding mix in large bowl to blend. Beat in eggs, yogurt, bourbon, oil and lemon vanilla. Take your drunken pecans, chop them, and fold them in. Transfer to prepared pan. Bake cake 45 to 50 minutes or until knife inserted in center comes out clean. Cool with cake in pan for 10 minutes, then turn out onto a wire cooling rack.

(Don't forget to throw a handful of pecans on a baking sheet and toast them once you pull the cake out of the oven. You'll chop them once the cake cools and add them as a finishing touch after you've frosted it.)

Now, if you're feeling really ambitious here (and craving that extra buzz), you can poke a few holes in the still-warm cake and drizzle a simple bourbon glaze over the top. That shit will be off the hook. Once the whole thing has cooled, you can do one of two things: just sprinkle confectioner's sugar over the finished cake, or whip up a quick chocolate frosting, add a liberal pour of bourbon, and drizzle that on top. In true you-can-never-have-enough fashion, I went for the latter option, and the likkered-up frosting that resulted was pretty damn perfect.

I zipped by Whole Foods for a little bouquet to throw on top, and finished it off with these. They're called "Cottage something" (I can't for the life of me remember), and they remind me a lot of statice; cute, simple, not poisonous. That's all I'm asking right now, after the delphinium scare. Treading carefully, you know.

Needless to say, the cake was a smash hit. It was mad moist, mad buzzed, mad delicious. People were adorably complimentary. And when the Saints won, I knew it was meant to be. (Cheers, kids. You needed that. Glad we could, um, do our part.)

Monday, February 15, 2010

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



My brilliant goddaughter Rachel Lynn has been doing her research on Jamie Oliver, too. She'll take the broccoli, please. A girl after my own heart. And a thinker, she.

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


Everyone's buzzing about last week's TED conference. The afterglow hums.

Ian shared TED's powerful Jamie Oliver talk with me, and it's worth your full attention for its rich 21:53 minutes, especially if you happen to know any small children you might want to see live into adulthood before the onset of Type 2 diabetes or liver cancer or heart disease. Oliver makes all the points we've seen made over and over by the big guys in the politics of food, emphasizing the astounding preventability of these diseases (we have so much more agency than we realize!), the need for a radical revolution in American eating habits (all that sugar and refined flour's really all so much plastic, you know), and the pressing concern that we turn this cultural ship 180 degrees around from its course toward increasingly processed packaged foods and return to a more local, fresh, seasonal, whole foods diet (gardening, baby!).

Oliver's alarmist but real; he's passionate but grounded; he's clearly a believer, and it's hugely inspirational. I like his no-bullshit style. He communicates the severity of the situation while encouraging a spirit of possibility. Watch his speech; appreciate the stark examples (that wheelbarrow of sugar, for instance); commit to teaching the little guys in your life that no, that soft round red thing is not a potato; it's a tomato, and it grows on vines, and you can do it yourself, believe it or not, with a little sunshine and water and hope.


Jamie Oliver's TED Prize Wish: Teach Every Child About Food (ted.com)

Sunday, February 14, 2010

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




"Nah, we don't celebrate it. Don't know who St. Valentine was, don't give a shit, and doubt he wants people screwing in his memory."

~ from the endlessly gut-busting
Shitmydadsays

Friday, February 12, 2010

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



Bartendasana: the huffing-puffing, bending-twisting, sweating-flirting, laughing-cursing embodied moving meditation that is shaking cocktails in a dimly-lit, jazz-infused, oak-scented bar. See also: bhakti ninja.

* * *

Buddha in a microbrew? Meditation in a martini? Santosha in a Stella? It's more plausible than you might think.

Most of you know me as a yogi, or a writer, or a teacher, or maybe a baker; but for a few hours a few nights a week, I'm a bartender. Find me black-clad and spinning circles inside a horseshoe-shaped bar while straining cocktails at warp-speed on any given Friday night, and I think you'll agree: a bartender is a bhakti ninja.

Suspend disbelief for a few minutes here, and consider the possibility that bartending might be a rich source of yoga, embodied meditation, and a kind of active "practice mat" for yogic values like compassion, patience, and peace. Sure, it can often look like just a lot of broken glasses and spilled wine, tipsy blondes and belligerent drunks, but tending bar can also provide a rare opportunity for prana-rich, fulfilling work (what Marx deliciously called "sensuous labor"), nourishing sangha, energizing physicality, and open-hearted karma yoga. My gig shaking martinis gifts me with a living, breathing space in which to practice listening, observation, mental quietude, living well in the body, and balancing the yin of my yogi/writer's life with the yang of a bartender's fast-paced flow. And in that practice comes the softening, the unraveling and the dharma of work that fulfills in unexpected ways.

*

If you'd have asked me ten years ago what I'd be doing on the cusp of 31, I'd have answered easily, breezily, without a beat: a professor, obviously!! I had it all planned out, every little detail: I'd be that stylish sharp mysterious one the undergrads always had a crush on, teaching some badass transgressive social theory shit and inspiring all the idealistic 19-year-olds to revolution. There was no question; I'd always pictured myself behind a lecture podium, not a bar. God no, definitely not a bar. Bartending was for college drop-outs, bums, slackers. Certainly not me.

But after several years lost to graduate school, the straitjacket of academia left me cynical, burned-out, disenchanted. The ivory tower offers so little room for spirit, really; it's devoid of personality, so wrapped up in bureaucracy and rigamarole and pleasing the bourgeois committee-bound powers-that-be. The academic lives such a perpetually footnoted existence; her writing must be stilted, rigid, so highly regulated. And she can't swear. Or wear a low-cut blouse.

As I struggled with those realizations, I fell into bartending on a lark, really. I was knee-deep in a Masters program full of esoteric theory and postmodern theologies, so lost in my head, living and breathing French cultural theory and thick Biblical exegesis and spending my days in the artificial fluorescent light of musty old libraries, and I desperately needed a way to get back into my body. I'd bartended a little when I was living in Scotland in my early twenties, pouring Riojas at a Spanish wine bar in Edinburgh (I know, don't ask), but it didn't really count. I didn't know what the hell I was doing. I didn't know a damn thing about scotch. And I certainly never thought I'd like it.

The idea of being trapped behind a granite slab for eight hours at a time required to engage in obligatory conversation struck me as a miniature version of an introvert's hell. And there were so many class implications involved - a bartender, really, Rach? - and I'd always considered myself an intellectual at heart, or worst-case scenario, a poorly-paid but noble non-profit activist. But then again, the anti-corporate me that burbled within kind of loved the notion of being a highly-educated free-spirit subverting the system by not working for The Man while wearing business casual in khakis and boringly blown-out hair. What was the best way to be financially comfortable by working the fewest number of hours, having time to pursue the arts, and actually living in my body in the process? There was only one answer: bartending. I figured, it could be worse; I could be trapped in politically-correct committee meetings all day determining which bullshit study deserved funding from some other bullshit endowment. And I didn't want that. So bartending it would be. At least there, I could swear.

*

You can find yoga wherever you're willing to look for it. I go to a yoga studio to practice my physical asanas, the bending and stretching most people think of as yoga; I retreat to this little blog to practice my writing, as a virtual literary-intellectual yoga mat of sorts; and over the years, the bar has become my other bhakti yoga mat. Though I love my physical asana practice, I'm much more interested in the ways we practice yoga "off the mat" (often unknowingly) in the unexpected corners of our lives, the ways in which we bring yogic theory down from the clouds into the "real stuff of life," finding opportunities to practice yoga in ostensibly non-yogic situations. I don't believe that yoga has to be the province of an elite wealthy white demographic, ensconced firmly in pristine soulless studios; I like to imagine yoga instead as an embodied populist practice, a mind-body-spirit union available to all of us in each moment of our lives. Yoga philosopher Sally Kempton once wrote memorably that "a yogi turns everything to his advantage by turning every moment into yoga," and once you're able to do that, well, my loves, the whole world changes color.

*

I grew up in the church; my Pops was a Lutheran pastor, so the sibs and I spent our weekends in the back pew, singing familiar liturgies and eating leftover communion bread washed down with stolen sips of cheap communion wine after the service. Now that I'm a bartender and spend my weekends at a bar rail instead of at a communion rail, I see the many ways in which my father's job and mine are functionally much more similar than they might first appear. Pastors and bartenders do the same things, really: ideally, we build a community, make people feel like they matter, remember their names, quite literally create a "sanctuary" where they have a place; we listen to drunken confessionals; we watch the "sinners" repent and fall off the wagon again, come crawling back for redemption, welcome them home, pat them on the back, pour them an iced tea instead. It's all pretty much the same gig, once you trim out the vestments and the dogma and whatnot.

A farm kid at heart, my father always taught us that no matter how educated you might be, and no matter how many exotic ancient languages you may have learned, or how many big words you can throw around, you should always stay grounded in the day-to-day projects, the dirt, the reality of being alive. The cleaning and the washing dishes and the filth and the sticky forearms and the smells of bartending, well, they certainly do that; that inherent grime remains perpetually humbling, gratifying, grounding, forcing the bartender to keep it real in the mess and the mire of bodily life in a way which other professions manage to excise. Most of us are so removed from those base physical realities in much of our lives, and yet they're the ground of who and what we are, the fuel behind our goings-on. The very base functions of eating and drinking in community are fundamentally equalizing and incredibly humanizing. We break bread together for reasons beyond physical nourishment, to be sure.

Bartending is a supremely literally sensual experience: listening, seeing, smelling, tasting, touching. You learn to practice paying attention, to read people's body language, watching their eyes dart or drift or darken. You spot the empty glasses, you spot the empty eyes, you spot the empty pockets. Your senses grow hyper-attuned; you hear every conversation across the bar at the same time your co-worker is whispering instructions in your other ear. Your sharp scanning eyes take in the whole horseshoe of the bar without anyone even knowing you're so intently watching his every move. These same eyes collect every little detail: when the bar turns, who looks angry, who's impatient, who's shy, who's afraid to meet your gaze. You draw them in, bring them out, fill every empty glass, pull every dirty plate. You are always paying attention, even when - and especially when - it doesn't look like it. And yoga is nothing if not paying attention, being present, being here, now, actively listening.

*

The sociology of a bar is kind of like that of an airport; it's fluid, dynamic, ever-changing, never the same twice. You get little consistencies: the same faces every Monday night for red bean soup, or annual office parties, or Jim and Jim after their weekly Sunday golfing routine, or what-have-you; but mostly it's more evidence that sangha - the Buddhist word for community - is never wholly permanent, that all relationships are a composition of bodies that cannot be clung to, always in flux, "all beginnings ending in separation."

Yoga's so much about undoing, softening, unraveling - tight muscles, sore shoulders, stored-up sorrow. It's fascinating to see those same processes unfold from the backside of a bar. You watch people soften as they loosen up - courtesy of the liquor, of course - moving from uptight buttoned-up cold stiffs to buttoned-down hug-it-out brethren (artificially induced as that intimacy may be - the vodka has a lot to do with that, yes). Painfully shy people open up to you slowly, some taking years, warming, cautiously, yes, but eventually, always, yes. Suits and locals and sports stars and suburbanites; they all start hard, and soften, loosen, let go, breathe more deeply, un-self-consciously, than they did before that first or third or fifth Macallan 12.

But let's not romanticize: just like the most strenuous of yoga asanas, people can be a real pain-in-the-ass. Usually it means they're miserable. They're fighting a great inner battle, they're lonely, they're bearing serious pain. You learn quickly that the most awful, the most abrasive, are the most broken, and you do what you can to breathe deeply and put on your tough skin and welcome them more warmly, realizing you might be their only friend, realizing they look forward to spending the evening with you in this dark warm smoky place they've claimed as some semblance of home. Urbanity does have its own strange anomie, particularly for those who are far from any beloved, and their desperate grasping for a stronghold comes through in the faces you sometimes see, searching, across the bar, smiling, sanguine, betrayed by the "ruin in their eyes."

Therein lies the bartender's vast opportunity for practicing being anahata (unstruck, tender, open-hearted, devoted). Therein comes the time for really embodying compassion, or karuna (Corona, what?), when push comes to shove, and you crack open the heart, and tie back the hair, and dig in to that very real, very interpersonal bhakti work. Watching these people across the bar, reminding yourself to see God or Krishna or Buddha or Christ in each of them, you realize a few things right off the bat, really, a few basics about human nature: that we are all just looking to be loved. We are all just looking for a soft place to fall. And how easy it becomes to want to be kind, to strive to be gentle, if you can somehow manage to remember that in the fast-paced chaos when some demanding bitch orders 16 mango mojitos and the last thing you have time to do is muddle 16 lime-and-mint-leaf concoctions because you're already buried in vodka tonics and maraschino cherries and sauvignon blanc.

Your yogi eyes come to see quickly, easily, that people are so very lonely, so much more than they ever let on. And that's where bartending becomes so much more about tending hearts than filling glasses. There are the men like Ed, 70-something, who comes in alone for his 2 glasses of Cab before dinner, wandering forlornly into your empty bar at 4 o'clock on a Wednesday afternoon, seeking company. You pour him a glass, try to build a warm cocoon for him in the process, try to make him feel seen when he feels so very invisible; there are so many like him, the tired and the bereft and the disconsolate, and you learn to feel with a heart wide open and find therein a vast capacity for giving back more.

In the midst of all that, you remind yourself to just stay (because isn't yoga really at the end of the day just all about staying?), and watch the barstools turn. Sometimes that means staying in the midst of agitation. You stay, being present, while Jim Bob goes on about how great Palin is or how awful health care reform is or (my latest favorite) about how he talks with the angels. You stay when "Kristin" (real name: Josh) asks if you want to get a pedicure with him tomorrow. (Hello, Foot Fetish Guy; welcome back!) And you do your best to bring on the compassion, bring on the anahata love, bring on the patience for this fragile creature who so desperately needs your understanding and your care.

Yoga teaches us that we can choose how we react, that we can learn how to breathe through difficult moments, that we can acknowledge that we have a choice whether we freak out or let agitation blow right by. And in any given night behind the bar - a night that's often full of spilling cocktails, cracking bottles like eggs on the floor, and breaking endless glasses - you realize quickly that those kinds of errors are so small and negligible and impermanent as to engender little reaction. You break a glass. You pick it up. You throw it out. You keep going. That's it. Easy. No drama. Unless you choose it.

Sometimes when it's slow, I stand behind the bar and practice my metta meditation, directing that old familiar mantra toward guests when they're not looking: "May you be free from suffering. May you find peace." It's definitely a practice, this compassion thing, and a tough one at that, especially when people are barking at you and rolling their eyes, impatient for the dirty vodka martinis they wanted five minutes ago, and I am lucky to have three nights a week wherein this practice can unfold, because I certainly fail at it more often than not. I read Steve Ross's book Happy Yoga some years ago and was struck by his emphasis on the yogic notion that all we must do to fill our hearts is BE the love we want to receive. It's not always easy, to be sure; but nothing worth doing ever really is, right?

*

The pace of an evening builds the same way the vinyasa builds heat in the beginning of a yoga class, starting quietly, coolly, knowing the intensity will come soon enough. You prepare yourself mentally and physically for the onslaught of the crush and the eventual organic natural decline that ends in exhaustion and fulfillment and hopefully a little bit of wealth, too, and maybe a phone number or two, as well. You learn to watch the breath, remembering to inhale-exhale-inhale-exhale when the pace gets so unbearably fast and you lose 5 hours without realizing it because you are so busy springing around like a ninja. Countless times I've caught myself using Ujjayi breath (Darth Vader's in the house!) in stolen moments at the beer tap or the cash register. It calms. It works. It does the trick. It gets you through.

Bartending really is its own vinyasa, a flow, a dance; each night has its own rhythm, its own cadence, the getting in the flow, in the zone, a slammin' Saturday night churning into its own athletic workout. Pour shake clack fill strain garnish present; wash rinse repeat. It's a distinct choreography that your body eventually takes on unthinkingly. Your mind turns off; the chatter stops; the thinking lulls. Just like at some point in your yoga practice you no longer think about every little particular detail of Downward Facing Dog or Child's Pose, your body just goes there because it craves it, because it knows that Up Dog follows Chaturanga follows Plank follows Down Dog follows Child's Pose; so do you pour a Lemon Drop or stir a Manhattan without thinking what's in it, or how, or why.

The whole thing becomes a kind of unspoken pas de deux with your fellow bartender, like an oft-produced tango, carefully choreographed, meticulously rehearsed. Dancing together the same nights of the week for months, getting it down, testing out new moves, getting rid of the inefficient or the graceless, in the flow with Tom, Ben, Claud, Jill, Heidi, more. The partners come and go over the years, but the general dance stays the same. You naturally get used to different bodies, speeds, sizes, energies, spirits. One bumping Friday night, Tom laughingly compared our easy broken-in rhythm with that old familiar ease of making out with a former lover. There are no longer any awkward fumbles. Your bodies know the natural curves, the twists, the turns, the spins, the shifts; you know one another's pace, tempo, speed, style, swing by heart, without thinking, wondering, watching, you just go, you're just there, it just flows.

*

The bar community creates its own rituals; there's often a certain whimsy, an irreverence, that looks like Bundt Cake Saturdays or Fourth of July fireworks or New Year's Eve champagne toasts long after midnight when the work is through. The sangha that develops shares holidays, serves as a substitute family; you watch the seasons change together, moving through football, basketball, baseball and again to college football at the same time that you share Mother's Day and Valentine's Day and all the solstices and sunsets in between.

The yogi bartender learns to watch. She pays attention. She attunes her senses, seeing the flow of time and the inevitable flux of life carry people away in its currents. She witnesses the shift, the change, the natural progression of things. From time to time, she has the rare experience of watching the whole human drama unfold; she sees couples meet at the bar (some one-night stands, some lasting longer), date, get engaged, marry, have children, buy homes, move to the suburbs. The same young couples that once came in buzzed for late 10 o'clock noshing sessions now come in at 4 for an early dinner, baby carriers in hand, diaper bags in tow.

At the same time, she watches relationships bloom and flower and wilt and die. She sees the same men come in with a revolving cadre of women over the years, none of them right, pretending tactfully, of course, to know nothing about the previous dames. She cringes with vicarious awkwardness at the one-night stands that burn with sexual tension when regulars who ended up going home together late one tequila-soaked night appear again unexpectedly at opposite ends of the bar trying to be cool and pretend they're not heart-rushed and anxious and shy.

All she has to do is watch. It is all just a matter of paying attention.

*

Bartending has blessed my life in so many ways.

I can't do it forever, of course, but for now, it is enough. Santosha (contentment) is my practice: it is enough to make more money than I need, and save it easily, and work so little; it is enough to have great health insurance and so much spaciousness built into my life, having time for the arts - to write, go to the MoMA, play piano, hit up the opera, do 3 hours of yoga a day; it is enough to be blessed by wonderful regulars and an out-of-this-world SF minimum wage; it is enough to have great flexibility in my schedule; it is enough to feel so embodied, to not be tied to a desk, to savor the beauty of making a living in my body and going home at night spent, lived-in, exhausted.

Bartending has given me a kula, a sangha, a community, not unlike that of a den mother. We - especially those of us in transient urban centers like SF - create our own tribes, our own families, and I now live in a city of countless adopted aunts and uncles and cool cousins who'd throw down for me if I'd even say the word. They bless me with bundt pans and birthday trips to Vegas and weddings in Palm Springs. They bless me with laughter and concern and genuine care. There are interludes with very famous athletes and musicians and politicians. There is challenging physicality and thriving athleticism, and way more money than I should be paid to flirt and pour a few drinks, and that builds prana like you wouldn't believe. And there is the satya of truthfulness, the gift of assertiveness gained, the strength to cut people off, to put the smackdown, the freedom to be authentic, the gift of longterm friendships with regulars who after awhile have learned to see right through you, and the loveliness of that emotional translucence that comes after knowing someone long enough, and not even in the context of a remotely intimate relationship.

And then there are the intangibles. The buzz of connection, the wild rush of flirtation. You have the potential, the unknown; you never know who's going to walk in that door on any given night. It is the pranava, the Om: every day is always new, again and again; you never know what a new evening will bring, nor whom, and the watching the door on slow nights, and the wondering, bring curiosity and intrigue and great unspoken potential.

And, sweet santosha - it is enough.

At the same time, for the yogi who values balance, it is an industry in which equilibrium is elusive. Not just the sore muscles and the physical imbalances that come of shaking martinis with the same right arm for 5 years. Witness, too, the high percentage of alcoholics and drug addicts in the industry. These are hard hours, and long draining exhausting shifts. It's no wonder there's so much substance abuse. Even my hippie granola nutrition freak self has relied on far too many Sugar-Free Red Bulls over the years in order to be perky enough to get through a long fast-paced evening of chatter.

But at the end of the day, you leave it all behind; you clean the bar, wipe down the counter, polish the bottles and tuck them away for the night. You learn to let go, walk away from any of the drama or the trauma or the mistakes of the evening. You slow your breath, take down your hair, haul your tired body into a chair, and exhale. You come home spent, sprawling out in a well-earned savasana, smelling of tequila and Anchor Steam and citrus instead of sweat and incense and lycra, but a savasana nonetheless, a little death, a release, an undoing, a being undone.

And there, then, in that moment, you've done your yoga.

*

Take a look at your labor, at your work, at the ostensibly shadowy corners of your life, and see if you can't uncover some unexpected yogic meaning and motivation in the seeming drudgery of your daily work. Wonder if there isn't some kind of peace, some kind of parallel, in the pain-in-the-ass aspects of your own daily grind, whatever that might be. Remind yourselves that though we are not our jobs (or our cars, or our clothes, or our relationships), we can serve as empty vessels for the divine by living out our yogic principles in our very non-yogic work settings - even if those empty vessels look like martini glasses waiting to be filled with a strong pour of gin and the slightest swirl of dry vermouth. Your yoga could very well be waiting for you at the bottom of the glass.

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

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



"The heart that breaks open can contain the whole universe. Your heart is that large: trust it. Keep breathing. Through our deepest and innermost responses to our world - to hunger and torture and the threat of annihilation - we touch that boundless heart."

~ Buddhist scholar Joanna Macy

*

(Prana-buzzed and sleep-eluded after an intoxicating night at the ballet, in the wee hours of the morning I pulled an old battered book off the shelf in search of savasana. Cracking it open, out fluttered an old to-do list dated Monday 26 June 2000, reminding me (urgently!) these 10 years later to "buy false eyelashes, practice soft-shoe Gershwin number with Jeff, repair tap shoes before opening night, check traffic on I-95," and "call Brian to see that movie?" Hee. Hey Brian, you wanna see that movie?

This quote was scrawled on the other side. I smiled. Why do we ever doubt?)

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


From the New Yorker's fascinating profile of playwright Sam Shepard:
Shepard was a man of few words, many of them mumbled. Compelling to look at but hard to read—at once intellectually savvy and emotionally guarded—he exuded the solitude and the vagueness of the American West.

Though Shepard lacked East Coast sophistication—he was poorly read in those days—he brought news of what he called “the whacked out corridors of broken-off America”: its blue highways, its wilderness, its wasteland, its animal kingdom, its haunted lost souls, its violence. “People want a street angel. They want a saint with a cowboy mouth,” a prescient character in one of Shepard’s early one-acts said. Shepard, it turned out, was the answer to those prayers.
Read the whole piece for an interesting take on this stellar playwright's Western roots (and the notion of the frontier as muse). And that's neither Shepard nor a "saint with a cowboy mouth" at left; rather, it's another classic from iconic photographer Dorothea Lange (perhaps a street angel of another kind?) and one of the treasures of the chronicles of the American West. Did you know she lived in San Francisco, just over the hill from here?

The Pathfinder: Sam Shepard and the Struggles of American Manhood (New Yorker)

Tuesday, February 9, 2010

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


I've had Pops on the brain lately. That melancholy 5-year anniversary of his bodily absence is coming up this spring, and well, it sucks.

The suckage has changed over time, of course; the massive SUCK that defined the first six months morphed into a lower-grade but still barren underlying grey suck, which subsequently melted into a more muted ashy dull achy suck, which turned into a now-and-then-when-you-least-expect-a-reminder kind of suck. And the vicarious suckage comes up anew whenever someone else you love tackles the whole ugly "C-word," and all you want to do is wrap them up and squeeze them tight and say, don't listen, keep breathing, just move, just be here, stop regretting, don't wonder, it is, you are, it's enough.

If you read Salon on a regular basis, you might be aware that Cary Tennis, a long-time contributor with a penchant for literary psychoanalysis and existential rambling, has been fighting a doozy of a cancer battle himself. Tennis just went through the usual chemo-surgery-radiation rigamarole that many of us know too well. And now here on the other side of that, ostensibly tumor-less [why do they ever tell people they're cancer-free when it's such a cruel tease?], his vision has changed. Tennis writes a touching ode to the suddenly remarkable small miracles of post-surgery life, like taking trips to ACE Hardware, walking unaided up Guerrero St., and watching bad TV:
Oh, I could take it or leave it, life, I thought before this happened. What's so great about this beating heart, these heaving lungs, these eyes through which the world enters and signs its name? But threaten to take it away and see how I change: What pleasure in every heartbeat and every breath! What complexity in the color of a rain cloud! ....
So the body, temple and vehicle, again gains my gratitude. Me, lord and master, taken down a notch by the wisdom of disease. And driven to new reverence for photosynthesis and light! For the complex yellow of a squash and the red of an apple, the green of chard and the orange of an orange, the yellow of a lemon and the purple of a grape: These colors and their molecules will save me, I am sure. For what brought on that tumor? How have I allowed this deadly encroachment? I am not separate from my "body." I am not some absentee landlord: I was here, eating a bagel and cream cheese every morning for years. I was here ignoring the muted, dour warnings of high cholesterol; I was here, drinking coffee after coffee for the charge and the power, pretending the insane ups and downs didn't affect me. I kept getting warnings: a panic attack in 2004 that I thought was a full-blown heart attack; squamous cell skin cancer in 2008; and then this, the impossibly rare chordoma, a final warning for sure: Get well, my boy, live within biology's rules, with gratitude for the planet's cures; stop fucking around with your body.
Regrets acknowledged, he riffs. (And, oh god, how he riffs!):
Also the long, strange nights on sleepless painkillers gave me a new and welcome craziness, allowed me to enter the neglected dark realms, the realms of Rimbaud, the realms of Baudelaire forgotten in the cheesy daylight of good advice. I'm just riffing here: riffing for my life, riffing for the spirits that live within me, riffing to wake them up and wake myself up, riffing to turn me on again, riffing to find a language for my reverence and joy, riffing to revere the engine of language, hoping for maybe an answering cry. Yep, that's it: an answering cry: We holler into the abyss and hope for an answering cry.
Read the whole thing. Wonder why we all wait till the sickness hits to appreciate the absolute fucking miracles that are our bodies. Resolve to breathe more deeply into yours, see more clearly, move more consciously, rest more gratefully. It's really such a short little ride.

Having Cheated Death, I Feel Alive (Salon.com)

Sunday, February 7, 2010

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


Elbow-deep in pastry flour and swimming in bourbon this sunny Sunday afternoon, waiting for the drunken pecans to soak up that whiskey-deliciousness and sifting-stirring-folding together one singular chocolate creation in honor of one singular football game due to kick off in just a few hours. And thanks to a well-timed reminder from my sweet friend D, all the apron-clad choreography is accompanied by the ever-impressive Jason Mraz.

The Mraz love has been long-documented here, of course, but it continues to shape-shift, and lately, that's meant regular headstands to a new favorite fully-orchestrated version of Mraz's "Beautiful Mess." In this usually spare little song, the brass and the strings sneak up on you first, and Mraz finishes it out with a touch of his sweet-ass scatting, but in between there's a spine-tingling little moment when "I like being submerged in your contradictions, dear..." because "...here we are."

Ahhh. Yes. Here we are. Isn't that all we really need to know? Sit down, close your eyes, take a deep breath, and be here now with Mraz's full version from the 2008 Nobel Peace Prize concert. Six minutes. That's it. Easy.

Friday, February 5, 2010

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





Look. This is your world! You can't not look.
There is no other world. This is your world; it is your feast.
You inherited this; you inherited these eyeballs;
you inherited this world of color.
Look at the greatness of the whole thing.
Look! Don't hesitate - look! Open your eyes.
Don't blink, and look, look - look further.

~ Chogyam Trungpa

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


Meet my most recent art project. I made this little guy for Aaron & Courtney's birthday shindig last week. You'll recognize the Blueberry Cream as a repeat offender (and one of my favorites); this versatile recipe made its debut for Obama's election and has provided ample inspiration ever since.

In the annals of oh-shit-I-almost-killed-someone (reference eucalyptus), it was another instance of aesthetics before pragmatism: I hauled my ass up to Whole Foods deliberately for a bouquet of delphinium, which are these dazzling deep blue little bell flowers perfect for a blueberry-themed cake. They've figured prominently in a lot of past creations, and I had a vision of a little delphinium garden for Aaron & Court's birthday creation. Picked up a few stems and lovingly added them to the finished cream cheese frosting. It was perfect, fresh, delightful. Or so I thought.

Because then, as I waited for a cab to carry my little pink "Rachel's Bakery" cake box and me South of Market, I thought, ah, what the hell, let's google a little "delphinium poisonous" just to make sure we don't repeat the eucalyptus debacle from before. The cab promptly arrived, I ran out; rolled home later that night high on limoncello martinis and lush red wine only to find that YES, delphinium are actually HIGHLY POISONOUS, and oh shit I almost killed my friends.

Lesson learned: Google it up before adding decorative buds to your edible creations. Sadly, my favorite blue muse will have to be relegated to the bud vase from now on. Aaron & Court, glad you're still breathing.

Wednesday, February 3, 2010

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


I don't even know how to wrap my head around this. (Hence the naked Tyler Durden pic. Those abs are v. grounding.)

What do you get when you mix Fight Club with evangelical proselytizing, a heady dose of marketing and a good measure of old-school socio-cultural fear? That would be: conservative Christian martial arts programs, “Where Feet, Fist and Faith Collide.” (Yes, that is actually one's motto.) The NYT documents a growing movement combining evangelical Christianity, aspirational hyper-masculinity, and the image of Christ as badass red-meat-eating ninja fighter dude:
Mr. Renken’s ministry is one of a small but growing number of evangelical churches that have embraced mixed martial arts — a sport with a reputation for violence and blood that combines kickboxing, wrestling and other fighting styles — to reach and convert young men, whose church attendance has been persistently low. Mixed martial arts events have drawn millions of television viewers, and one was the top pay-per-view event in 2009.

Recruitment efforts at the churches, which are predominantly white, involve fight night television viewing parties and lecture series that use ultimate fighting to explain how Christ fought for what he believed in. Other ministers go further, hosting or participating in live events.

The goal, these pastors say, is to inject some machismo into their ministries — and into the image of Jesus — in the hope of making Christianity more appealing. “Compassion and love — we agree with all that stuff, too,” said Brandon Beals, 37, the lead pastor at Canyon Creek Church outside of Seattle. “But what led me to find Christ was that Jesus was a fighter.”
Now, there ain't nothin' wrong with a little machismo. I love Fight Club, you know this; it's one of my favorite books (and films); love it for its sexy anger, its subversive politics, its anti-consumptive screed, its iconoclastic spirit. Chuck Palahniuk's brilliant debut novel flirts with all kinds of dishy Messianic themes (Tyler as Messiah, hence Id as Messiah, hence desire as Messiah - hello!), and its pervasively Taoist emphasis on hitting bottom combines with some seriously legit arguments about the over-feminization of American society. And some of the quotes attributed to the leaders interviewed in this article sound suspiciously like snippets from the book itself.

But what these Christian martial arts dudes don't realize, though, scrambling as they are to stop "falling asleep in the pastel-colored pews" is that Fight Club was also fabulously, complicatedly homoerotic. I wonder how Dobson & Co. would feel about the many analyses linking that sexy manly wrestling action with full-on sublimated homoerotic desire? Would they be so keen to embrace it as a means to anti-girly Christianity then?

At the same time, isn't it kind of great that these guys are bringing bodies back into the picture, linking the breath and movement and a certain bodily presentness with the experience of worshiping whatever old-bearded-Charlton Heston-God-figure you might have in mind? That's no different from yoga, really, and is arguably preferable to the long Christian legacy of body-negating liturgies that urged participants to leave their [sweaty, unruly, complicated, lusty, living] bodies at the door, right? And isn't there some truth to the fact that Christ really was a badass angry subversive radical hippie granola gangster dude? Isn't it possible for that hyper-masculine sexualized Christ figure to co-exist with the compassionate cheek-turning lamb-hugger that we've seen depicted in bad paintings all these years? Even if that means the evangelical co-optation of Tyler Durden, that beloved radical culture jammer (and anti-establishment hero) himself?

Whew. Head rush. So many rich cultural contradictions here. Bring on the queer theologians. This stuff is crying out for a good breakdown.

Tuesday, February 2, 2010

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


Fascinating article over at the NYT this morning. As Eastern philosophy has posited for years (and science is increasingly corroborating), our thoughts really do create our realities, even in these ostensibly flesh-and-blood bodies that we call home. In recent studies,
Researchers at the University of Aberdeen found that when people were asked to engage in a bit of mental time travel, and to recall past events or imagine future ones, participants’ bodies subliminally acted out the metaphors embedded in how we commonly conceptualized the flow of time.

As they thought about years gone by, participants leaned slightly backward, while in fantasizing about the future, they listed to the fore. The deviations were not exactly Tower of Pisa leanings, amounting to some two or three millimeters’ shift one way or the other. Nevertheless, the directionality was clear and consistent.
Read the piece for more on the subtle nuances of the ways in which our bodies' movements complement our minds' intentions. Not rocket science to anyone with an interest in somatics, but some intriguing evidence, nonetheless.