Saturday, December 19, 2009

Self-Discography #13: Moments of 2009

Various Artists
"Dark Was the Night"

In 1990, when I was only 16, "Red Hot + Blue" floored me, properly introduced me to Cole Porter, and gave me some hope that people really did care about stopping HIV/AIDS. Nearly 20 years later, "Dark Was the Night" floored me and made me realize that people still care. The covers and originals that are contained here make up an indie-rock Who's Who, but for good reason.

50 Foot Wave
"Power + Light"

The fiercest 26 minutes of music to come out in 2009...and to be completely overlooked. Stitched together in seven movements, it plays out like a rock opera of the highest order. And it might be the best late-night freeway driving soundtrack I've heard in a decade.

Meshell Ndegeocello
"Devil's Halo"

She stops being funked and blissed out and pares down to 35 minutes of expertly crafted jazz-influenced R&B and rock. The best album she's done since "Bitter," and the best old-school R&B cover of the year ("Love You Down").

The Big Pink
"A Brief History of Love"

Britpop "died" a long time ago, right? Well someone forgot to tell these guys. A first album full of bombastic guitar hooks and keyboards that make the whole thing sound grimy and beautiful at the same time.

"Don't Stop"

Move over, Kylie. You've got some serious competition from Norway. Annie is never going to be as shiny and pretty as you, but she makes fantastic dance-pop that, if given half a chance, would pack dance floors just as well.

The Drums
"Summertime!" EP

Perhaps the cutest band to appear this year that was actually talented, the Drums make totally infectious lo-fi pop about surfing, sad summers, and love, love, love. Who wouldn't want to go drink on the beach with them?

Neko Case
"This Tornado Loves You"
and "Red Tide"
Only Case would write a song that is *literally* about a tornado that loves a human and sing it from the tornado's perspective. The lead track from her great album is then expertly bookended with a song that's all about escaping from a place you might have loved once upon a time. Gorgeous.

St. Vincent

Disney melodies and harsh guitar riffs that burst into beauty at the last minute, coupled with vignettes of various women whose lives may or may not be falling apart. No one else this year pulled off that kind of emotional balancing act.


Looped percussion, bass, and ukulele coupled with a voice of exquisite power. Seemingly rudimentary but complex and beguiling. It's a love song that starts out timid and builds to a volcanic kiss off.

Cass McCombs
"You Saved My Life"

McCombs finally gets a little personal and in the process made the best song of his career. Heartbreaking and beautiful. To be played at sunsets all summer long as you think about someone who isn't next to you anymore.

Lady Gaga
"The Fame Monster"

If "The Fame" didn't make you a believer, this eight-song EP is proof that Lady Gaga is evolving into an expert pop songwriter who can capture the zeitgeist like a certain Madonna did in the '80s and '90s. Listen to "Teeth" and then declare otherwise.

Camera Obscura
"My Maudlin Career"

"Maudlin" is hardly the word for this gorgeous, sumptuous album that utilizes '60s European and American pop as a base influence, but Tracyanne Campbell takes her bittersweet love songs to a new level.

Tegan and Sara

A bit overlooked in a glut of year-end releases, the sister act from Canada is growing up and become even more self-assured, if that's possible. The skewered pop of songs like "Arrow," "Red Belt," and "Alligator" was immediately gratifying and the rest was equally arresting (and sometimes danceable, to boot).

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

A Long, Strange, Wonderful Trip

Yes, that's me in the photo above with one leg wrapped around a trapeze rope while the opposite foot grips the other rope between my toes.

Yes, I am performing eight feet off the ground.

No, I never saw myself doing any of this.

When Rick first said to me, "You might really enjoy this," I thought it was kind of funny: A Pilates-based workout where you use props from a real circus. Cute. Sure, why not? I hated conventional gym workouts anyway. And although I'd been a gymnast...oh...25 years ago, I didn't think any of that would really apply here--or even be in my muscle memory.

When I first started taking classes with Rick at Cirque School, not only was I a bit intimidated by these other men (I was taking a men's class) whose bodies were already ripped, but also totally discouraged by my lack of finesse, strength, and stamina. I had considered myself "in shape," as I did cardio, yoga, and swam. But this kicked my ass. I was asked to do a pull up as I was piked under the low trapeze and hanging from my hands. I could only do one. I came home that first night and my hands hurt so bad I couldn't even wash them without pain. Ryan asked me, "Are you sure you want to do this?" and smiled at me. He knew how I'd answer.

I was slightly discouraged. But I was also challenged and intrigued. How the hell did people do this? How on earth would I ever be able to learn these trick names? Why do I need to build up callouses on my hands. I wanted to find out.

The pictures I see now of that first summer of learning all the basic vocabulary, while also just building up some muscle in my core and my arms and shoulders, I begin to see how far I've come:

Looking at the picture of me trying to climb the tissu I can tell how much I still needed to learn. But what so many of my classmates taught me was that this wasn't about self-recrimination. It wasn't about beating myself up. It was about learning a whole new way of using my body and mind.

I was not always sure that I really wanted to learn, of course. When I developed muscle soreness or stiffness--or when I was having a bad self-esteem day--I was all too eager to look at the people around me and feel like there was no way to keep up. But then I would learn the mechanics of another new trick. I'd be asked what I wanted to learn. I'd find myself hanging upside down from my legs and feeling the blood rushing happily to my head.

By the time Cirque School had acquired a new space in the spring of 2009, I'd been taking a class every week or two for a year. My body was changing, though I couldn't see it. But, more importantly, I'd discovered an outlet for so many other things. A bad day at work or a day spent feeling listless had to disappear when I set foot on the mats at the school to warm up, stretch, and begin to do work on the apparatus. I had to be physically and mentally present. I also needed to use my creativity as we began prepping for a long-delayed student showcase.

When you begin to put together any kind of "routine" you necessarily become fixated on it, second guessing some things, wondering what you should do or not do, and wondering how the hell you will ever get through it. We had to choose music from a film, so I chose a song I'd always loved (and wrote about in my last blog post). I wanted to create a zombie horseman of sorts...a character who comes back to life for a few last moments before being able to move on.

In piecing together the moves and making them flow, I had developed a sequence of tricks that nailed my thigh every single time I performed it, leaving me with horrible bruises week after week. Is this really worth it? I wondered over and over. As I found out between November 15 and 22, the answer is a resounding yes.

I had been neurotic and nervous through the rehearsal process. I am no seasoned showman, after all. But by the time we could hear a large crowd buzzing around out on the floor and the lights dimmed, I was suddenly lit up with an electric urge to be out there, to get on with the show. By the time my cue was set to make my entrance to perform, the nerves were no longer there. Instead, I was secretly excited--the adrenaline was pumping, and I wanted it to look effortless and beautiful. I wanted to do justice to everything I'd told everyone for 18 months in the abstract.

I think I did.

And now I can't wait to get back on the bar.

Sunday, October 25, 2009

Self-Discography #12: Soundtrack Singles

"Cry to Me" by Solomon Burke ("Dirty Dancing")

This might be the first time I've really noticed--listened--to old-school R&B. Oh sure, I know some of it already. You don't grow up in a racially mixed neighborhood in the '70s and '80s without at least some understanding. But as kids we gravitate toward hip-hop and pop; we don't often look backward.

I am already ashamed that I am being introduced to this by watching "Dirty Dancing," but I cannot deny the song's emotional impact. It manages to embody both alienation and seduction; it offers physical escape and emotional release with Burke's explosive voice asking over and over "Don't you feel like crying?" before imploring the listener to "cry to me."

It's not only this one line that hits its target. Even though I am only 13, I understand clearly that this line touches on some deep truth: "Nothing can be sadder than a glass of wine alone / Loneliness, loneliness, is such a waste of time."

By the time the song builds to its climax, with the seductive drum beat punctuated by piano--and even xylophone--and Burke's evangelistic wailing, I am a believer. I could care less about Patrick Swayze and Jennifer Grey. What I want is my own darkened, smoky room--a place in which to move, to let go physically and emotionally. A place where there actually is no such thing as loneliness.

It's a tall order for a two-minute song from the 1960s. I know this. Yet from here on out, every time I listen, I get taken away. My mind drifts. And my hips sway.

"Regarding Mary" by Patty Griffin ("Niagara, Niagara")

It's 1999 and I've only recently been introduced to Patty Griffin by Wayne. We've been trading musical suggestions via CDs and mixtapes. I give him Kristin Hersh. He gives me Patty Griffin. It's a good trade. Patty is more traditional in her songwriting. Her acoustic music is sharp and soft at the same time. But she has a voice the power of which I can't deny. I like someone who can belt it, after all.

Her first album is just her and an acoustic guitar, however. I keep wanting to here these songs more fleshed out--with more meat on their bones. And when Wayne hands me the "Niagara, Niagara" soundtrack, he says "You'll probably like the first song the most." He's right.

"Regarding Mary" starts off as a jaunty little tune, bouncy in its mood until the first line: "She comes swingin' in with her tire iron."

Excuse me?

"She hates the morning, she hates the light/Hates the darkness of the night/She hates herself most of all...We try to lose her, but she remains/So maybe we will all go insane just like Mary."

I am pretty sure I know this woman already. To me, she's the relative you can't shake. She's the problem child next door. She is all the horrible people we somehow put up with because they happen to be "family." Maybe it's just that person you just haven't learned how to excise from your life. Maybe he or she really is sick. But is that your problem?

I know that I am ascribing way too much to a four-minute song, but it strikes like lightning, precise and fateful. Wayne knows already the somewhat tangled relationship (or lack thereof) I have with members of my own family. I know the same of him and his. Somehow, all of those stories are here in this one song. I take it as a good sign.

"Goodbye Horses" by Q Lazzarus ("Married to the Mob")

It's lonely in the projectionist's booth. I already know this at 16. You are made to stand in a hot, box-like space, lining up film splices on separate projectors and make sure that the jump from one scene of a film to the next is executed perfectly. Most of the time it works. Sometimes you see celluloid melt across the giant screen out there and you wonder if the audience can hear your cursing, screaming, or moaning.

The perks of working at a movie theater, of course, are the freebies: free movies, free snacks, free movie paraphernalia. The downside: Watching and re-watching the same two minutes of all of the films for which you are a projectionist, day after day.

"Married to the Mob" is one of the movies on which I learn to battle that mind-numbing watching and rewatching. While I like it well enough, what I am really struck by is the music used in it. Curious about it, I hunt down the soundtrack on cassette one day after work. Buried deep on side two of the tape is a song called "Goodbye Horses" by the mysteriously named "Q Lazzarus." It's immediately arresting to me for reasons I don't understand. It makes no real lyrical sense; it's impressionistic, stripped down electronic pop that hovers in a dreamlike state:

"He told me,'I've seen it all before. I've been there. I've seen my hopes and dreams lying on the ground. I've seen the sky just begin to fall.' He said, 'All things pass into the night.'/And I said, 'Oh no, sir, I must say you're wrong. ... Won't you listen to me?'"

I don't know what to do with this song. It doesn't fit anywhere, and yet it's perfectly realized. It's about mood. It's about a kind of catharsis I have not yet experienced. It's emotion I am not even able to express. I wear the whole tape out by listening to this one song over and over.

The memories of the projectionist booth and the impact of this song endure. A few years ago, I rediscovered the "Married to the Mob" soundtrack on CD in the bottom of a box. When I mentioned "Goodbye Horses" to Ryan he looked at me with a funny expression, telling me how it's one of his favorite songs. I later relayed to a few friends about how oddly serendipitous that was, and each one told me the same thing: "I love that song."

Is this a cult? I wondered. Some kind of late-to-the-party Q Lazzarus fan club?

Then again, how many artists create a song that's supposed to be a one-off on an obscure soundtrack and see it blossom into something that endures--time, music company mergers that put their music out of print, the rise and fall of a film director's popularity, and oh so many more variables?

Almost none of them, that's how many.

But here's one. Over 20 years old and still beautiful in its mystery.

Sunday, October 04, 2009

I'm Sure I Left Something in New York

I am fairly certain I did not leave my heart in New York. It had pretty much been deflated and left to gasp a few months before my departure. There was simply not enough to leave behind.

After I moved away in 1998, I swore off returning, despite the number of fabulous people I knew/know there. And then ... well, 2001 happened. And then ... well, I waited. I stalled. I stuttered. It was like I was trying to figure out how to see an old boyfriend who'd been emotionally abusive.

In 2005, I finally returned to New York, shocked to find the city transformed, not only in so many physical ways, but in less tangible emotional ways that left me confused. This wasn't the city that had always seemed ready for a fight. Now that we were both older, and at least one of us a bit better off financially, it felt more like an anti-climactic reunion where there simply wasn't too much to say. Not uncomfortable. Not bad. Just...not what I expected.

What shocked me most at the time was my longing for Brooklyn--specifically the area in and around Park Slope, where I lived for two of the years of my time in the city. When Megan and I had first moved there, we had friends tell us it was too far away and they would never come visit us there. Then, of course, several of them moved in only a stone's throw away from us. By 2005, the whole neighborhood was overrun with people I assume had once upon a time said they would never, ever live in Brooklyn. Normally, I think I would have blanched to see them all wandering around the leafy green, brownstone-dotted streets. But seeing them all as part of a long-delayed visit, it seemed appropriate. This was not my neighborhood anymore, after all.

When I made it to New York again in 2006 and 2007--both for work, both visits padded with extra personal days--I was once again in the zone. I still knew how to navigate the subways with barely a glance at the underground signs; I could easily weave in and out of the people on the sidewalks; I could bundle up in layers appropriate to the cold; and I was content in knowing this was not my day-to-day reality.

By the end of my last visit, nearly two years ago, it was clear to me that my enjoyment of New York depended solely on the amount of time I spent in Brooklyn. When work kept me cooped up in Midtown, Chelsea, and the Upper East Side of Manhattan, I stared to itch, antsy with the knowledge that I was stuck in this part of the city I never liked--that offered so little to me personally.

When I finally escaped back to Brooklyn and walked above ground I could actually exhale again. It was no longer that I simply missed Brooklyn. It was that, to me, it was New York. It didn't need to be the Slope. It could be Carroll Gardens, Fort Greene, Prospect Park, Windsor Terrace, or even a still-sketchy second-hand store on a weird part of Atlantic Avenue. Any of them felt...right.

As I get ready to return to New York once again, people keep asking me what I am going to do there. They ask about certain places in Manhattan--neighborhoods, stores, restaurants, and the like. I usually say that, of course, there's plenty of art I will see in Manhattan, but I am really looking forward to seeing my friends...and to being in Brooklyn. Some instantly understand. Some assume I mean only Williamsburg. Some look utterly baffled as to how I could gladly leave Manhattan alone my entire time there if not for the art housed on the island.

I don't tell them I simply want to walk around what once seemed like my own personal Sesame Street. I don't spin the story as to how I ended up living in an apartment over an international deli. I don't tell them that my deflated heart had actually still managed to beat there, nor do I explain why. It's simply not necessary. It's just Brooklyn. And it's just a little part of me, still.

Wednesday, September 09, 2009


Early September rolls around and I go in and out of an awkward stage of agitation. I can almost will myself out of it, but inevitably something happens to make me recall my father's passing.

This time around it was nothing more than the realization that I was getting angry at people who were only asking me for something simple, or that I was harboring resentment toward anyone who wanted me to respond to their questions.

It's been 23 years, god damn it.

And mostly it's easier and easier to skip the emotional welling up that comes with remembering anyone who's died. Simply thinking of them--after a while--doesn't so much set off any chain reaction of memories. More often, it becomes something like picking through a stack of half-finished sketches and trying to recall what you'd wanted to accomplish through them.

In the last several weeks, I have been trying to get up early at least one day and do nothing but write. Ostensibly, this means writing something I have not wanted to write. Which means I write about my father's death and what happened afterward. What's been driving me crazy at 7 am as the sun starts to peek into this room is that I can so crisply remember the moment my mother had to tell me that he was dead. I can recall the robotic motions of the immediate aftermath and the slow walk I had to take up the street to my friend Amy's house while my mother had to go to the hospital. I even remember not being able to sleep until 4 am and my insistence that I go to school the next day--anything to get out of the house of mourning. But then... it goes blank. And 23 years later, the blankness pervades my expression as my fingers hover over this keyboard.

What the hell happened next?

I know some of it. And I string those emotions and scenes together like a delicate paper-chain garland, wondering where the rip will appear in the sequence. I create a list of questions to ask my mom, my sister, my brother, even though he probably won't remember. And then I ... do nothing. Because it's early September again and I begin to question why I am even trying to record it all. As if there is some definitive way to prove to yourself that you are "cured." Or at least no longer prone to socially unacceptable displays of emotion.

The joy of these early mornings--at least those in August--is that I stumbled across other memories that had long been buried. Nothing horrible. Just necessary. My father's death, not surprisingly, led to my complete inability to retain the faith with which I was casually raised. I literally lost my religion.

And that is the story, isn't it?

It is no longer simply that he disappeared. It's about everything else that swirled into the nothingness with him--and the things that appeared, as well.

I know, deep down, that I cannot treat 23 years like a puzzle that needs to be completed. I can't construct the story and cover all the bases and have it all circle back to the beginning. I can't even try to make it past September 4 without a small catch in my throat, a moment of wondering "What would it have been like now?"

It's late now, and I know there's no way I'll make it back to this keyboard at 7 am. But I will soon. It won't solve the mysteries, but it will quiet the agitation. Imagine that. Even my father would not be surprised by this, I am sure.

Saturday, August 15, 2009

Calling AT&T on Saturday (in Real Time)

August 15th, 2009
1:28 p.m.

I sigh and pick up the phone, prepared to do battle.

Automated guy robot voice answers my call and immediately short circuits:

"Thank you for calling AT &--"

"I'm sorry, I didn't..."

"I'm sorry I am having so much trou--"

"Please enter your phone number--"

"Please hold while I connect you with someone who can help--"

1:30 p.m.
Real person answers phone She is perfectly nice and tells me how we can go about disconnecting my land line, but with one caveat:

"We need to get you connected with the Disconnect Department. Please hold."

1:33-1:39 p.m.
Static-y hold music that sounds like it's being played underwater. The love theme from "St. Elmo's Fire" plays in its entirety and I find myself getting choked up.

1:40-1:53 p.m.
I become somewhat well acquainted with a very nice woman named Denise (name changed to protect her) in the Retention Dept.--maybe nicest person I've met at AT&T. I picture us grabbing a drink together after work and howling about stupid men. Then she drops the bomb on me: "It says here you are not eligible to upgrade your DSL to a high speed. In fact, if you do this the way we are planning, your DSL speed will *drop*." She sounds incredulous too.

But, wait, don't I have that middle speed? "Well, yes." Then how can I not have it suddenly if I ditch the land line? "Um, I am not sure."

Me: "So I am getting punished, essentially, for having been a good customer?"

Her: "Well... Sadly, yes... It kind of seems that way, but--"

"I see."

"I am just trying to be honest with you, sir."

"Really, I appreciate that. Seriously."

"Let's clarify: YOU are eligible for the higher speed, but your address is not."

i.e., I do not live in a rich enough neighborhood? Which makes no sense since I live 2 blocks from Hancock Park.

"Well, it's complicated," Denise says. "Our friend Verizon is also available in that area and we only have access to certain pockets, so some people are eligible for higher speeds and some are not. One of your neighbors might be using a really high speed from them or something..."

Note to self: Call Verizon.

2:04 p.m.
I am told how I can look online at the Measure Rate service re: my phone line. The wheeling and dealing begins, because Denise knows 2 things very well now:

1. I am mad.
2. I am not stupid.

The result? My land line bill cut 60%. My DSL bill cut 50% for at least 6 months.

2:09 p.m.
I still really, really want higher speed DSL, god damn it. But at least in the meantime I am paying much much less for what I am stuck with (and which was never explained to me in any way that doesn't sound vaguely illegal).

I suddenly miss the days when all I had was access to one rotary phone. Communication is hard.

Friday, August 07, 2009

Sound Assemblages: A Mix as Seen Through Thought Process

It's a work in progress as I stitch together styles, tones, and running times: A glimpse into my annoyingly nerdy process of making mixes for people and why it sometimes takes too long. First I find the intention (is it fun? a mix of up and down? flat out weird? Or should it all be pop?); the rest is almost like storyboarding. Eventually it takes shape or gets trashed and I start again:

1. Bar-B-Q - Wendy Rene (or "100 Days" from below)

2. Cherry Bomb - The Runaways

3. Velvet - The Big Pink (maybe replace with "Too Young to Love")

4. William's Blood - Grace Jones (old song instead?)

5. Jumping Jack - Tune-Yards (listen to flow of "Sunlight" and "News" instead/move?)
Incidental something

6. French Navy - Camera Obscura

7. You Saved My Life - Cass McCombs (too slow for here? makes block of slow songs later, maybe)

8. The Neighbors - St. Vincent vs. Actor Out of Work

9. Crooked - Kristin Hersh (outro/instrumental splits list here)
Incidental something (OMD's "ABC Auto Industry"?)

10.Sincerely, Jane - Janelle Monae(too awk. after KH?)

11. I Need You - Eurythmics (put before Janelle Monae?)

12. Oh Darlin' - Magentophone (maybe starting song instead)

13. 100 Days, 100 Nights - Sharon Jones and the Dap Kings

14. Let Me Be the One - Expose

15. Perfect Beats selection (listen to Vol. 3 for the right song)

16. Young Hearts Run Free - Candi Stanton (more disco or pop? like "Bette Davis Eyes")

17. Random? "End of Freedom" by Wilderness or "4 Men" by Kitchens of Distinction vs. something like Dinah Washington or Joan Armatrading(circle back around with soul/R&B)

18. Fast Car - Tracy Chapman

End with something more slow or fast? New vs. old. Reverse order and listen to flow.
Brainstorm title ideas. Cut out images for cover.

Monday, July 27, 2009

That Moment You Don't Forget

We have these throughout our lives, don't we? They are periods of time where you feel suspended in another world and you think, "I will never forget this."

It sounds a tad melodramatic and cliche now because Hollywood movies and TV shows use it constantly as a crutch for characters to be "changed." But standing at the Hollywood Bowl last night watching Grace Jones on stage, I had nothing else to think but "I will never forget this."

Maybe it was because I never thought I'd see her perform live. Maybe it was seeing her sing "La Vie en Rose" like this:

Seriously, how many other performers do you know who could do this and succeed at it? I admit I had in the past thought that maybe Grace was more persona and cheekbones than anything else, but last night changed that perspective in a major way. Some people simply "have it." And she is one of them. Done.

From appearing under a drapery of silver lame to the red dress to dancing on stage with half a mannequin, there was no getting around her presence, and her voice was in just as phenomenal shape as her 60-year-old body:

By the time she donned a bustier and a cape with a headdress for closing the show with "Pull Up to the Bumper," everyone had already kind of lost their minds and was trying to pull it together again. How nice to see a woman perform who knows how to entertain, to be sweaty, ugly, funny, gorgeous, and genuine all at the same time. It was such an insane contrast to the pap that gets shoved down our throats by most music companies these days.

Not that she was any different 28 years ago:

It makes no difference. I and thousands of others got to see her last night and see proof that the word "icon" does, indeed, do her justice.

Tuesday, July 14, 2009

Greeting Card Hell

I made an innocent enough stop at the local Rite Aid this afternoon just for a chance to try Diet Dr Pepper for the first time (oh, and to keep Jessica company, as well). While there, we decided to peruse the large selection of greeting cards. This is a favorite pastime of mine, as I like buying cuddly cat cards for people's birthdays. Irony isn't even present anymore. People nearly expect it. But that's not the point.

No, the point is really how overcome with annoyance I was and how much vitriol was percolating inside me from a simple perusal of a sad-sack, linoleum-floored card aisle in a drug store in Hollywood.

To be honest, the magazine section started it. There, I was confronted by an array of mostly magazines aimed at women (since they, you know, do all the shopping) that included a baffling number of headlines that revolved around either why "he cheats"; recipes to make "your busy day easier"; and shocking confessions about women who "can't stop eating junk food." All the wedding and bridal publications are another matter. There, you have it pounded into your eyes and brain with a sledgehammer that, unless you desperately WANT to get married, are ABOUT to get married, or getting married AGAIN, then you cannot possibly be a "real woman."

So you see, the card aisle was a way for me to laugh and unwind... but I guess my brain just can't see it that way today. No, instead, I was stuck in a "Beautiful Mind" moment in which words and images popped out at me from all across the rows of cards, nauseating me, and, frankly, making me feel like there is no hope to get away from the flood of stereotypical gender roles that apparently sell like hotcakes:

Mom's birthday coming up? Buy her this card that features a rose or a sunset or some other soothing pastoral scene coupled with heartfelt sentiment so she both knows she's appreciated but is subtly told that it REALLY is her job to clean, cook, and raise a family.

Grandpa's getting older? This card shows a boat/workbench/park/tools/fishing poles that accurately convey that he's earned some R&R for doing nothing the last year or so. That's hilarious!

Niece who's having a baby? This baby shower card shows a cute girl in makeup surrounded by TONS of STUFF that is ALL about babies and domesticity and refers to how she is in HEAVEN now that she's breeding and surrounded by STUFF.

Dad's retiring? Well, here's a kicky card that sports an active older man who is running.... straight to his Corvette! It's so funny and true how we should spend useless money on cars like this when we have to use Viagra. (Don't worry, plenty of other cards will vouch for Viagra without me needing to.)

I guess because I am looking at my 36th birthday right now I am bit sensitive to cards at the moment. Or I am just a cranky homo who shouldn't be so attuned to a system that just relentlessly reinforces the worst, most inane, stupid, vile, and deplorable stereotypes in the name of being "funny." Thankfully, I have friends who'd rather find the smart, sardonic, ironic, and skewering cards that I have thus far received.

Now if you'll excuse me I need to go to buy a fishing pole, a Corvette, and some miscellaneous sports equipment before I re-fill my Cialis prescription and then tell people about how it's funny I'm just like everyone else.

Tuesday, June 30, 2009

What Will You Remember?

Going back to Portland always makes me forget where I live. It shouldn't, since I haven't lived there in nearly 20 years, but it does. And in this beautiful place that is not where I live, but simply where I come from, I have to let the memories of the past mingle effortlessly with the present that is unfurling in front of me.

My nostalgia has very little to do with wanting to go back to a specific time because things were "easier." It is not about being coddled, taken care of, or feeling safe. It's not even about fond family memories. What my recent trip up to the Northwest made me realize is that my nostalgia is about color and light, taste and smell--very much the senses themselves.

This is not revelatory to many people, I am sure. But it struck me so hard at 10 pm gazing at the streaks of color in the sky over the coastal range of mountains. It's summer in the Northwest and I was surrounded by family and friends, laughing, drinking, and enjoying the time we had together. No pictures can really capture what makes a few days spent this way. But these things, among many others, remain in mind:

The papery "twinkle" of the wind rustling through plum tree leaves
The moan of fir branches in the wind, as well
The anise aftertaste of 12 Bridges Gin
The hysterical laugh coming from Belle's mouth and the way she says "Yeah" with an incredulous tone
The light at 4:30 a.m. as it turns from blue velvet to pink, orange, and red fingers through the clear sky
The smell of hot, dried out grass next to a wetland along the Willamette River
The hum of my sister's, Tom's, and Ryan's voices coming from inside the house at 1 a.m. as I approach the door, sprinkled liberally with laughter
The feel of the heat at 7 p.m. when the sun seems, still, to be so high in the sky
Freshly brewed coffee and the scent wafting halfway down the block from Stumptown
Jill's hands pounding at the flippers of Sopranos pinball in a darkening bar in North Portland
Amy's loud, generous laugh that sounds the same now as it did 25 years ago, with the same effect of making me laugh, too
The green expanse of my mother's backyard with the gurgle of a fountain punctuating the cool of the evening
The clinking of change into a small bowl as we play cards after a barbecue, still smelling of food and beer, my mom's cigarette smoke blowing in from the background
Susan's heels clicking on the pavement as we leave the club to head for a bar--a determined clicking that I know so very well
The green-blue-gray of the river through the bridge grate as I bike across it
Snowy mountains that look like mirages in the distance
The bookish smell of Powell's
Vegan pumpkin donuts and the gentle disintegration of sugar on my tongue
The view of the city coming back from Vancouver, seen across the Columbia River
The ease of conversation at dinner with only Mom and Jerry
The glare of the sun dipping behind the tallest skyscraper downtown, turning the roof brilliantly silver for just a moment
The forgotten pleasure of lying in the grass, reading, with three other people who don't need to talk.

Monday, June 08, 2009

Self-Discography #11: "Actor" by St. Vincent

"You're a supplement, you're a salve, you're a bandage--pull it off. ... You're a cast on a broken arm, you're an actor out of work, you're a liar and that's the truth. You're an extra lost in the scene."

I've been known to say, "I never said I wasn't a hypocrite." By extension, I like hypocrites intensely. I find them fascinating and somehow slimy and endearing. Annie Clark's world doesn't necessarily seem to be inhabited by hypocrites, but she certainly likes peeling back the layers of carefully applied paint. These songs on her second album arrive in the present, at a moment of flux--one of my trying to figure out how to strip away the superfluous to get to what really matters. They seem to have pointed a big finger at me, pinning my thoughts down and making them squirm. Maybe, I tell myself, I am not enjoying the ugly and the pretty together like I should be. Or am I just waiting for all this good stuff to be fucked up? By me?

There are no cartoon birds helping me get dressed in my sun-dappled boudoir as Clark's sugar-sweet melodies swirl around my head. If they were here, maybe they'd look like her, all wide-eyed and unassuming, before whisper-singing this lyric into my ears:

"Desperate don't look good on you, neither does your virtue. Paint the black hole blacker."

It's delivered like treacle, just before a buzz saw guitar line cuts through it all, fracturing the seemingly perfect picture. Or maybe it's more like the harsh sunlight of a hot Los Angeles morning melting through the celluloid displaying candy-coated colors of a verdant forest, rendering the beautiful ugly (and yet somehow still beautiful).

This is what I feel right now: a sense of displacement; a combination of desire mixed with desperation; panic that there is something burning just under the serene surface. I've always been drawn to these kinds of juxtaposition. I like imagining what kinds of unpleasant things are said by the people who live in a house that is picture-perfect. When I experience this in person--say, a bourgeois couple who can barely control their hatred for each other at a dinner party--I am often offended. But when it's painted, composed, or sung to me, or otherwise framed in some outlet of creative expression, I find myself rapt.

"Let's pour wine in coffee cups, ride around the neighborhood and shine the headlights on houses until all the news is good."

There's the desire of shaking the world out of its somnambulant state to reveal the dolorous. I know it's there, I tell myself. I want to see it. I imagine myself here, in this mostly quaint area dotted with overly expensive houses in which I now live, forcing these people to: not have their money, their religion, their sometimes-holier-than-thou expressions as they walk their children and dogs down my street and don't acknowledge me. Usually, it doesn't bother me, but lately there's this hovering sense of suffocation, like I was put here on accident and someone was waiting to see how long it would take to make me ill-at-ease.

It's one of the problems with Los Angeles, I realize. I can intensely love the train-wreck nature of it, but its beautiful neighborhoods and gorgeous apartments--which can be huge, sport French windows, hardwood floors, and Art Deco flourishes--can drug you and make you forget that where you are choosing to live has no center, no community, no store to walk to, no sense of closeness to anything but the building or car next door. You can stare at this beautiful street lined with grand magnolia trees, watching birds build nests, listening to the rustle of the breeze in palm fronds, and feel like you are missing out. And then you start to hate yourself for feeling that way.

"I'd pay anything to keep my conscience clean. I'm keeping my eye on the exit sign, steady now."

Is it a sign of living somewhere too long? I start to play this game with myself: What would I miss about this city? What can I do without? I do the dance in my head and convince myself, and sometimes others, that I could easily walk away. But it's been 11 years. Who do I know anywhere else I actually want to live? The things that have not been done here will still be undone somewhere else, after all. I listen to older people like my mother spin tales about tax brackets in states I would never want to live in, but I am also old enough now that I actually stop for a moment to debate if the tax codes would really affect me positively.

I still think I am destined to live somewhere more wide open. I miss seeing the land stretch in at least one direction without a house or mini-mall affixed atop it. Whenever that actually happens, I will be able to live with it; it will be to do something that helps affect the land itself. It won't be my dislike of not having a coffee shop to walk to down the street...

Only a few listens in and this album pricks me. It's a nosy friend, an acquaintance who suddenly decides he or she needs to know more, more, more about you. It's a velvet dagger. A friendly gutting. Yet I don't mind. It's been what feels like too long since I've surrendered to new music so quickly. Smart and beautiful. Pretty and ugly. Prodded and probed. I needed a new soundtrack. I also needed to hear someone say this:

"I think I love you. I think I'm mad."

They're both true. And you know who you are.

Tuesday, May 26, 2009

It's Like Rain on Your Wedding Day....

Oh, wait, that's not ironic.

Especially if you can't get married.

Once again, I am so enraged by the state of California and the entire political process here. I had just spent 4 days in Milwaukee celebrating a friend's great wedding only to come home to learn the CA Supreme Court upheld Prop. 8, which banned gay couples from marrying--even though 18,000 same-sex couples got married before it passed. So now, we have some gay couples legally married and the rest of us are not...? And since when do civil rights get put to a vote?

I am tired of fighting this process. I am tired of being angry. I am tired of bigotry. I am tired of supposed "Christian" groups demanding that other groups follow their philosophy of morality (which is often a lie). I am also, more specifically, tired of the state of California. I am tired of how it passes laws. I am tired of its short-sightedness. It has barely been progressive in the last 10 years. It is now an also-ran: a joke in the making.

I need to rethink why I live here beyond the climate and access to great food.

Wednesday, May 20, 2009

L.A,/CA Playlist(s)

Since I am about to board a plane to spend five days in Wisconsin, I am taking a little of CA with me. I'd actually thought of compiling songs about Los Angeles and California for some time. I actually had many more than this, but I will save them for another installment.

Tell me about others I should have and include! x-m

Songs About LA and CA Playlist:

Freeway -- Aimee Mann
Trouble In Shangri-La -- Stevie Nicks
Clay Feet -- Kristin Hersh
California -- Low
San Bernardino -- The Mountain Goats
The Californian -- Heidi Berry
Take California -- Propellerheads
California Love -- 2Pac featuring Dr. Dre
Hollywood -- Madonna
California -- Joni Mitchell
It Never Rains In Southern California -- Albert Hammond
I Remember California -- R.E.M.
Golden Ocean -- 50 Foot Wave
Still In Hollywood -- Concrete Blonde
California Dreamin' -- The Mamas and the Papas
California --Amy Correia
Hollywood People -- Judy Henske
In California -- Neko Case

Wednesday, May 13, 2009

You Mean I Have to Write Something?

Months ago, Barbie very graciously asked me to write a speech for her wedding.

Me being me, I humbly agreed and then twirled ideas around in my head almost like how someone would wind hair around their finger. I was gonna write this... no, that! Perfect! No, wait, what if I did this!? Even better! And so on, and so on, and so on.

Of course, now it's mid-May, Mercury is in retrograde, and I am still piecing together fragments of sentences--which are now like broken or split ends that have snapped off due to overaggressive twirling.

Note to self: Do not twirl ideas anymore.

It's not that I am afraid I'll have nothing to say. Everyone who knows me, knows that the only time I have nothing to say is when I am incredibly angry. It's just that there's this jumble of words in my head and it kinda feels like I have to push a wasps' nest through my fingers to get them out.

OK, fine, I kind of lied: The real issue is responsibility. People have to listen to me talk about Barbie and Chad for five minutes. They have to not yawn. Or hear cliches. Or listen to me do a walk down memory lane. Or wonder how I know some mythical Barbie and Chad they don't know. And--what matters most to me--it has to do both Barbie and Chad justice. This is their wedding, after all. The last thing I want them remembering when they are on the dance floor is that I gave some awkward speech about... say.... "trust," complete with an over-the-top performance art moment of me grasping my hands together, as if in desperation to connect with the audience. (For the record: I would never give a speech about trust. Or forgiveness. Or constancy.)

The ironic part of all of this is that I love the puzzle of it. How do these ideas connect or bond? How do they break apart? What doesn't belong here? Is this funny? Does this even make sense? There's a structure and a flow to the creative process that keeps me in awe. Even when I know the basic premise I am writing about (which I do in this case, thank you!), there are still so many directions it can travel.

With that twirling of ideas done, I can concentrate on making sure what I say matters to them--that it resonates beyond a simple declaration of sharing their happiness. I may not successfully avoid all of the cliches, but I am feeling more confident that what I have brewing on the page will not cause any awkward reflections on the dance floor. And if it does? Well, that's why there's alcohol.

Friday, April 24, 2009

Self-Discography #10: "I Do Not Want What I Haven't Got" by Sinéad O'Connor

I am driving the freeways in, out, and around Portland at 1 a.m. on a blissfully warm night in the spring of 1990. My hand is balanced on the window, cigarette burning like a beacon, me mentally willing it to attract someone, anyone who feels as utterly fucked up as I do at the moment.

I head north on the I-5 almost until I hit the Columbia River, exit and re-enter the freeway to head south, cross over the Fremont bridge, zoom past downtown and loop over the Willamette River, north again to I-84 to head east, out of the city. I will smoke more, and glance at the burning paper and tobacco, and I will let the tape of Sinéad O'Connor's "I Do Not Want What I Haven't Got" flip over in the Ford Maverick's car stereo--the music slightly distorted by hiss and static caused by a faulty speaker.

I am not even sure how I am staying in the lanes at 65 miles an hour. I feel like I want to take my hands off the wheel and let the car explode off the asphalt, sail past the railings of a high bridge, explode into flames. But I can't will myself to do it. I can only sing along to what I am hearing and mentally plan my escape to California for the summer to live with my sister and her friends--a move, I tell myself, that will at least temporarily end feeling as I do now.

Nothing Compares 2 U

It was a moment made possible by an event some three months prior. I'd gotten home late from work at the movie theater and was in the basement watching "120 minutes" on MTV when the station premiered the video for "Nothing Compares 2 U." So ubiquitous now, nearly 20 years later, it's hard to recall the gut punch of watching Sinéad O'Connor's face in extreme close up as she transformed a mediocre Prince song into a flat-out lovelorn dirge. What's not difficult to remember, however, is the mental connection I made at that moment to the song and the album, which I bought two weeks later.

It was March of 1990 and I was 16 years old. I was in a relationship with a girl who was undoubtedly one of my best friends and should have only been a friend. I knew what I wanted more than anything was to have a boyfriend instead, and hated myself for the lie I was perpetuating. I was stuck living at home, fighting with my mother. And I felt trapped in an endless cycle of being afraid to hurt anyone, while willingly hating myself for all that I seemed unable to say, let alone do. My father had only been dead for four years. I was barely past the stage of being suicidal. I had, in many ways, changed my life more completely than I thought was possible for my age.

And in sweeps a nearly bald young woman who may very well have a nervous breakdown on camera in front of me, simultaneously vulnerable and steely--angry, maybe a tad angsty, and, yeah, sad: the one thing I was terribly afraid to admit that I was.

Feel So Different

Putting the tape on for the first time after I bought it, however, I was a bit taken aback by the overall tone of the album. "Nothing Compares 2 U" had been nothing in comparison to some of these other songs. And for maybe the first time, I had the thrill of recognition ... the distinct feeling that there was a reason I was hearing these songs now.

"I started off with many friends. We spent a long time talking. I thought they meant every word they said. Like everyone else, they were stalling. And now they seem so different."

Delivered in the middle of "Feel So Different," these words formed the jumping off point for me. Shedding my upbringing by going to school across town, having to consciously shed everything I'd learned in order to become different--to escape.

"I should have hatred for you, but I do not have any. And I have always loved you. Oh, you have taught me plenty. The whole time, I'd never seen all you had spread before me. The whole time, I'd never seen all I need was inside me. Now I feel so different."

Only five minutes into this album and I heard only words about leaving my childhood behind and acknowledging that the death of a parent had irrevocably changed me--made me something that I felt was somehow more purposeful, more acutely aware of the world around me than so many others my age.

I Am Stretched on Your Grave

If that wasn't enough, then the simple words "I am stretched on your grave" would drive it home. But drive it home in an audacious manner--a James Brown beat married to an Irish poem, topped by a Gaelic fiddle swirling into the night. I would join Susan later in the year at The City nightclub, upstairs in the so-called "goth section" to perform a mock Irish jig to the outro of this song. If anything, though, it told me of what would be possible if I stopped listening to what people told me I should do. It also made it OK again to cry about this death that I still felt. I could turn it into some kind of modern noir. Really, it was grieving. But grieving could have its own audacity that I had not known was possible.

The Emperor's New Clothes

I could never know what it must have been like to be 22 years old with a baby to deal with while the world started to know who I was. But I knew the feeling of being unable to grasp exactly what I wanted while, at the same time, being convinced that there had to be a way to get through this on my own terms.

"How could I possibly know what I want when I was only 21? There's millions of people to offer advice and say how I should be. But they are twisted and they will never be any influence on me."

"I will live by my own policies. I will sleep with a clear conscience, I will sleep in peace. Maybe it sounds mean, but I really don't think so."

When can I finally say, "I am gay"? When will I know how to sleep through the night? When will I no longer feel like I am not doing enough? I want the clarity to say, "This is how it is. This is who I am." But it's funny how having almost no money of your own, an alcoholic mother, a dead father, and a year of high school left will make you keep your mouth closed, even when you dream of opening it every day.

You Cause as Much Sorrow

"I'm full of good intentions, like I never was before. It's too late for prevention, but I don't think it's too late for the cure."

This is the song I listened to so much during my late-night drives. The escapades that killed half my gas tank and made me run out of cigarettes, driving me home to have to face the mausoleum quality of my bedroom. Which left me too alone again with my thoughts. I hated what the song tried to impart to me--namely the entwined feeling of hating my father for dying and leaving me alone in this empty house with my mother, while also realizing that if it hadn't happened, maybe I would not be be turning into the person I was becoming:

"I never said I was tough. That was everyone else. So you're a fool to attack me, for the image that you built yourself. It just sounds more vicious than I actually mean. I really am soft--yes, tender and sweet. ... Why must you always be around? Why can't you just leave me be? You've done nothing so far but destroy my life. You cause as much sorrow dead as you did when you were alive."

This chorus would inevitably make me cry in my car. But I was never really sure if I was simply feeling sorry for myself or trying to make sense of too many things at once. And I am still not sure now. If I listen to it on the right night while driving the looping Los Angeles freeway system, it still brings tears to my eyes and I have to blast the song, roll down all the windows and scream it into the wind, letting it rob the words of any strength beyond this metal cocoon.

The Last Day of Our Acquaintance

Is this the end of a love relationship, a friendship, or is it simply the exodus of my sister and brother from the house we grew up in?

And how do I tell a girl who has been so amazing to me, who's been intimately aware of all the fucked up shit in my life and helped me wade through it, that there's something not right? How dare I do that to someone like her? It was all I could think. I was sometimes the protagonist in this song, and sometimes the object about whom it was written. The duality cut deeply. "I know you don't love me anymore. You used to hold my hand when the plane took off. Two years ago there just seemed so much more. And I don't know what happened to our love."

And yet, I did know.

Just like I had to admit that I was angry at a dead man for leaving me behind, I had to admit that I knew that the warmth of friendship and love I felt for this person had absolutely nothing to do with carnal desire and it was neither of our faults for the fact that I had no way of expressing it until now.

I would move to California in a matter of weeks and kiss my first boyfriend and understand the exquisite burn of stubble against my face. I would know that I had to figure out how to come to terms with this and how to talk about myself to others.
Right now, however, all I had was the feeling of loss, and the feeling that I was the bad guy, even though I didn't want to be.

I Do Not Want What I Haven't Got

I didn't know it was possible to even utter these words.

And on the album, this song sounds like one big exhale... a breath and prayer released simultaneously. I rarely listened to it all the way through. But when I did, I saw myself on the road, still. It would be dark. I would be on the highway, driving fast enough to catch the coolness of the breeze in the summer darkness. I would be leaving all of this uncertainty, heartbreak, and anger behind. I would be sure of what I was doing.

Of course, it wouldn't exactly be true. But, a year later, I would, indeed, drive the highways across the country, leaving Portland--and one spent cassette of this album--behind me. I would still drive with a cigarette between my fingers like a glowing beacon of sorts. I would not be sure of what I was doing next. There would be deliberateness about it, though. I would feel like I had no choice; it would be purpose unto itself.

That was all that mattered.

Thursday, April 09, 2009

Questions You Find You Are Asking Yourself on April 9th

Now that the Los Angeles Times has written about Glass Beach, how can I go there?

Wait, how can I not go there?

And what is it I like so much about sea glass, anyway?

Now that everyone else is growing a beard, should I just shave mine off?

Why can't I find that Lisa Germano album on vinyl anywhere?

I'm not going to have waves of wrinkled skin on my back when I'm old, am I?

Am I!?

What's with this inability to get back to work on the book, let alone this blog?

Do I need another snack?

Should I go get more water?

Does the full moon really have any effect on me?

Should I be thankful so many musicians I like aren't popular, even if it means they can barely feed themselves?

When will the lambs stop screaming?

Have you ever watched animals make love, Frank?

When can I have a yard to grow vegetables in?

Do I rent the house in July or save for the trip in September?

When can I have a drink?

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

The "Which Punctuation Mark Are You?" Quiz

Did you like the use of punctuation marks in the title of this post?

If so, you are the perfect candidate for this test.

Ignore those lame Facebook "Which Painting Are You?" and "Where Should You Live?" quizzes. This quiz is the one that will tell you more about yourself than you ever imagined.

All you need to do is answer these seven simple questions, send me your responses (or post them in the comments section, and,as time permits, I will tell you what punctuation mark you are and why it matters. (All responses done on a time-available basis; I ain't gettin' paid, you know.)

But enough chit-chat, let's begin:

1. When people say "like" all the time, it:

a) Doesn't bother you that often
b) Drives you crazy
c) Makes you realize that this is now just part of how we speak
d) Is not something you have ever noticed

2. You are assigned the task of writing a paragraph that includes small bits of information about many different things. You:

a) Create a list of all of the things that need to be included as a "cheat."
b) Make it into two or three paragraphs, because you know there is no way you can get the point across in one.
c) Write it in two different ways and give it to the person who assigned it to see which one she/he prefers.
d) Question the person who assigned it as to whether this is the smartest way to convey all of this information.

3. You believe that social gatherings at your house should consist of:

a) Close friends only
b) Friends and family
c) The more the merrier
d) You are not that big on entertaining

4. You are a big believer in:

a) Keeping things short and sweet
b) Passionately expressing yourself
c) Never ending a sentence with a preposition
d) Quietly doing what needs to be done

5. Your opinion on learning a foreign language is:

a) Everyone should learn one
b) You don't really see the need
c) Learn as many as you can and as early as you can
d) That you'll learn one eventually, when you have more time

6. You prefer to read:

a) Newspapers
b) Magazines
c) Gossip Web sites
d) Books

7. The sentence "Joe likes to chew gum, ride his bike, collect stamps, and, especially, peanut butter, banana, and honey sandwiches" is:

a) A tad awkward but could easily be made more clear
b) A jumbled mess
c) Perfect
d) Better off as four different sentences

Thursday, March 12, 2009

And Now for a Special Announcement About This Morning

I thought about really explaining this more in detail, but, you know, when this much happens before you even manage to make it to work, then you know the day's tone is set.

Below are excerpts from a quick chat with Chrissy after the adventures:

I have had the craziest f'ing morning

what happened?
do tell

dentist appt. The novocaine shot in my upper lip made my left eye cry uncontrollably... then I left my coffee mug on my car and drove off, so coffee went everywhere on my car, prompting me to get a car wash, at which point I was surrounded by INSANE people, including a 70-year-old woman in a pencil skirt and bondage heels with stringy, dyed black hair that was kind of in a bun who was hobbling around the gas station snack shop.

are you kidding?


you couldn't be

There's MORE
but I'll spare you

my favorite part is that it made your left eye cry
I live for this shit

Um...OK, the other people at the car wash were a publicist woman for some film studio who was yelling at a co-worker on speaker phone and who had way to many collagen injections. She kept coming over near me to look at the free mags on the rack I was near-you know, like "Apartment Living"-all while yelling...until I finally said loudly "AM I IN YOUR WAY?" and she ignored me and walked away.


A guy with custom-made shoes kept trying to sit near me. Why were they custom made you ask...? Well, that's because his left foot was HUGE and DEFORMED like the Elephant Man's, so the shoes matched, but one was 3 times larger. AND he was busy arranging all the birthday cards he'd just bought inside the snack shop.

It's not even 11 am yet. What, pray tell, is next?

Thursday, February 19, 2009

Self-Discography #9: "Sky Motel" by Kristin Hersh

I moved west with no real plan. Oh, sure, it may have seemed like it to untrained observers, but August 1998 was perhaps the one month of my life where I freely gave myself up to the unknown.

I'd left New York with Nicole in a rented Penske truck, leaving behind me a dirty city crammed with my low-paying jobs that barely afforded me a living, beautiful Brooklyn street scenes, and a dissolved relationship I mourned because it seemed so unfair that it had come into my life at the wrong time.

Before I'd left New York, I'd had a consultation with an astrologer, with whom I'd worked on a book that would be published by my old employer. She was delightful, honest, and funny--and not at all crazy-sounding, which seemed a nice bonus at the time. She read my chart for me, setting the stage, she said, for the transformative things that would come in the next year of my life. At the time I thought it was amusing and I took the predictions and stuffed them in a box, threw that box in the Penske truck, and sped far far away from the East Coast....

...and nine months later opened the box when suddenly everything seemed to be going far too well.

At the time I chalked it up to simple things like living in the California sunshine, to quitting smoking, and having my own apartment--not to mention meeting a man whom I suspiciously liked for all the right reasons. But suddenly I had to reconsider whether planetary alignment had anything to do with it.

At this moment came this album by an artist whose work I'd loved for years already. It was, as Kristin Hersh said at the time, her "desert album." She'd moved to the high desert of Southern California after the dissolution of her band Throwing Muses. And from some of her time there, this idiosyncratic collection was born. And with the luck of timing, it had been recorded the month I moved west. And released in June 1999, the month I had to reconsider whether astrology played any role in my feeling wonderful for the first time in far too long.

It may have been Hersh's desert album, but "Sky Motel" was also my "I Heart California" moment--bright and shiny, poppy yet off-kilter, simultaneously challenging and defiant. Here were a collection of songs that not only created an atmosphere around me, but also seemed to burrow directly into my brain, highlighting the contradictions inherent in the choices I'd made and my fascination with this beautiful train wreck of a place in which I now found myself living:

"I never bitched at anyone. I never asked for my heart back. I'm loving everybody. And hating everyone I see."
The album's opening song, "Echo," includes these lyrics. I wanted the first half to be true. I used to wish that I was stoic. And here I was, about to give my heart away to a man after swearing I wouldn't. The contradiction of the second part mirrored how I felt about the people here at first--a motley crew of some of the most intelligent individuals I'd ever met, mixed with some of the most intensely vain and neurotic. I couldn't help but love and hate equally. But the love for strangers was a new sensation.

"10,000 miles of moonscape don't keep anybody away, after all."
You can move as far away as you like, but the problems are still going to crawl up out of the ground to get you. Right? Or is it that all the people you think you left behind still know how to find you in this alien landscape? Oh. Both.

"I would love a better drug. You lucky jerk."
I found myself staring at an attractive man at a party in June. Too smart for his own good, sharp witted, well-dressed, seemingly 100% together. Why the hell was he interested in me. I couldn't make myself feel better....yet. I kind of hated how great I found him. I didn't know he'd actually stick around because he saw I was a lucky jerk, too.

"This strange old sunshine beats me senseless, but it's supposed to be keeping me's a lie. You're a strange old thing that keeps me senseless, but you're supposed to be keeping me company."
Living in New York felt, often, like living in the dark and fighting with Mother Nature. Suddenly freed from that contact, I found myself thinking, "Does it ever rain here? If it doesn't, how can anyone feel anything authentically?" But then... maybe... "If it doesn't rain, you never have to hide yourself away inside. You never have to miss out on anything."

"You have to look close to see what this disease has done to me."
There was something about my move that made me felt like a fugitive. No one here had to know anything about the last year of my life. No one had to know that I'd mangled my foot, that I'd consumed hideous Chinese herbs in an attempt to clear up some "skin condition" clearly brought on by stress. I had no heart-shredding breakup behind me. I didn't have to explain a phone call from my mother on a rainy spring day telling me my 20-year-old stepsister was dead. I could be anything I wanted to be. My history could be what I wanted. It was a necessary play acting for just a little while, just until I could finally stand on my own two feet again.

"Faithful to the finish, I'm grateful to be in this with you. A fucker of lifeline. A mother of a lifetime with you."
I'd wanted to shake off any number of relationships in my lifetime. But now here I was, fiercely protective of what I had in front of me. A developing relationship with a man that felt, maybe for the first time ever, like one that mattered. Re-establishing my strong friendship with my sister, which survived me sleeping on her floor for four months. Enjoying the time spent with my old friends in a place that seemed to encourage it. This song builds to a cathartic release at this moment with these lyrics--screamed/sung assured clarity. I could never have said it better myself.

"Tonight your secret's safe with me. Tomorrow we wake up in L.A. Such a lovely dream. What a lovely place."
Driving back into L.A. from a day spent in the Valley with my friend Owen, gliding and zigzagging through Laurel Canyon, a hot breeze blowing from no specific direction, the golden lights of the city unfurling below us as we speed down Crescent Heights. It's a place where you simply dream, isn't it? You can make yourself into anything, but it's still some version of you. I think I'm gonna like it here.

Tuesday, February 10, 2009

Mexico Hangover

Back in January, newly arrived back to the so-called real world after vacation, I thought about completing an epic blog post with over 50 different photos from Mexico, but you know what? No.

I posted a slew of photos instead on my Flickr page. And now I find myself looking at that page every other day. I've had a pretty rough re-entry to day-to-day life, work, and the like.

As I have gotten older, I have fewer problems completely disconnecting when I go on vacation. It's a function of having a sane job. It's also a function of the fact that I finally feel OK in saying, "I deserve this." I saved my money to make this trip happen and I wanted nothing to interfere with my time away. Maybe it's a tad dogmatic, but it also makes me enjoy myself that much more. Ryan and I made reservations months ago, so to finally land in Mexico felt like the reward for 6 months of hard work.

Needless to say, I loved nearly every day we were in Mexico. Tulum, in particular, was wonderful because it's a real town where locals actually mix with tourists--where hotels are cabanas on the beach and where the food was pretty amazing. Playa del Carmen was more touristy, Isla Mujeres more urban feeling than I anticipated. Plus, Ryan was deathly ill the last 36 hours we were there. By the time we managed to get across the water to Cancun, made it to the airport, and flew home, we were both wasted in vastly different ways.

There's something about pretending your day-to-day life doesn't exist. Especially when you escape it near some of the most beautiful beaches and historic ruins in the world. You romanticize your existence in this foreign place. You want anything that was unfinished or unclear when you left to be finished and clear. Which makes returning to "reality" a harsh slap. For the better part of two weeks, I resented being home in L.A.
Getting sick after coming back didn't help.

And for the first week or so, I gave myself the room to mourn something as seemingly innocuous as the end of a vacation. Now, however, I see from looking at a picture of my feet framed with palm trees and an insanely azure ocean, the point is not necessarily to forget your day-to-day life, but become aware of how to transform it.

It doesn't necessarily mean that I don't sigh heavily looking at a shot like this:

But I do understand myself a little better now. And I hadn't really thought that was possible.

Wednesday, January 28, 2009

First Impression

First full day in Tulum, Mexico: January 18, 2009.
Pretty much says it all. But more to come soon.

Thursday, January 15, 2009

When the Chaos Stops, Then What?

There's no real "chaos" in a negative sense happening, mind you... It's just been an incredibly full and busy few weeks and now, two days before Ryan and I board a flight to the Yucatan Peninsula. I am still in total denial about that.

As with most people, I've been feeling the financial crunch here in the first month of 2009 in acute ways: cutbacks at work, a new workload that is challenging me in several ways (many of them interesting, if a bit daunting), and the overlying hope that business will pick up to make sure that, moving forward, the job will still be here. It's a weird time, to be sure, but I also try to remain optimistic. My job of editing, assigning, thinking, reading, researching, and synthesizing information of all stripes is something that can sometimes feel futile and like it exists in a vacuum, but I've been learning that it is actually having an impact. Which is lovely.

Now to make sure I do that outside of work, as well. I was reading Rick's New Year blog a while back and wanted to just paste his words here because they resonated deeply with me... It's a year in which I, too, want to keep putting my creative work out there and seeing what happens. I've been avoiding jumping into anything that might possibly attach commerce and bureaucracy to my writing. But I am also ready to share that writing with more people. And I'm 35. (Wow, I accidentally just typed "25"; what does that say?)If I don't do this now, will I just continue to wait for "the world" to change. It's not like I ever thought I'd get rich off my writing. If I know that, why don't I look for ways to share it? I can't still be harboring a giant fear of rejection, can I?

Don't answer that. I know the answer already.

These are just some of the thoughts that swirl around me as I enjoy my week with Lissa and Tom, who are visiting from Portland; look for a house to rent for Ryan's birthday next month; get back into trapeze after three weeks off; scramble to finish work assignments; and pack my bags to leave for Mexico on Saturday at 8 a.m.--a trip that's been planned for 7 months now. (It's been a while since I traveled anywhere where you actually have to be careful of the water and/or people speak another language. Then again, I know how to say "Donde estan los banos?" so I think I am OK. And I am missing the inauguration, for which I already love Mexico.)

I am actually taking a notebook with me for a change. So instead of visualizing stories and structures in my head, I will try to "re-learn" how to brainstorm some ideas. It shouldn't be arduous. And I shouldn't be scared of succeeding. After all, imagine what would be possible if I did?

Pics from Mexico to come at the end of the month. Happy 2009.