Sunday, October 25, 2009

Regrets of Time Wasted

I'm 39.

If I'd masturbated less, imagine how many more works of art I would have created by now.

If I'd never hit the snooze button and instead spent the time exercising, imagine what great shape I'd be in now.

If I'd didn't waste time late at night ,browsing Facebook updates and watching South Park reruns, imagine how many friends could I have connected with deeply.

If I'd hadn't procrastinated with my work in ways that i can't even recall, imagine how much more successful I'd be.

If I'd hadn't gone on so many dates with so many different people, imagine how much time I'd have to dote on my love.

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Friday, October 23, 2009

Fuck Rilke

When I was last rifling through my storage container, wherein lie all my worldly possessions (aside from the 20 boxes still cluttering my father's basement - much to his chagrin), I ripped open a box labeled "Important Books" and tried to see which set of words might inspire me and spur me to prolificness.

I picked a dozen selections including "Rilke's Letters to a Young Poet", mostly because it was so light it would be good for travel, but also because I haven't read it in a decade. I can't remember if I ever found it inspiring then, but I do recall my friend Renee gave it to me and I was moved that she did so. Mostly because I imagined she thought I must read it out of some belief that I was a promising young artist who needed to be included in the continuum of vital advice to artists from artists over the generations. A sort of arts bible. Or maybe it would just be fatherly advice from a never met artistic father. And as my father's advice mostly consisted of "Why don't you become an investment banker. It's not too late." I thought I could use some words from a more right-brained pater.

I'd only come across Rilke in songs composed by Webern. Prickly things that I can't imagine many people have every truly enjoyed, so I didn't come in with high expectations (aside from the hope of him being a mentor from the dead)


And in fact I mostly found it screamingly objectionable. Rereading it now, I recall thinking Rilke is such a fucking idealist. I need a man of practicality. I didn't want someone who'd tell me to dig deep into my solitude and speak the truth with a heavy seriousness. I wanted to know how to get my work to people while I was still alive and the response I got was "Patience...Be patient without bitterness."

I suppose it's a sign of my continued youthful attitude that the advice of "patience" still to this day is enough to make me throw the book across the room. It's not that I want things instantly, I'm just saying that I'm 39 - an age by which many great artists were long dead - from Mozart to Seurat. So when exactly do I cease being a "Young Poet"?

What amused me the most was seeing what I got pissed off about 10 yeas ago when I first read it. Now, I'm not the kinda guy who takes notes in the margins, but I couldn't stop myself with this following section. (That and this was when I had a really cool architect's steel pen given to me as a birthday present by my brother in which I'd put deep purple ink. (Awesome!) though actually this was a replacement version of that pen which I bought myself because I'd lost the first one. Something which has happened more than once sadly.)

The offending passage reads,"...most everything serious is difficult; and everything is serious," to which I exclaimed in the margins, " No! I want it to be light. New love is light!"

See, I came up with one undeniable counter to his argument in just one sentence.

And I must say anecdotal evidence supports my case. Whenever I spend time with friends newly in love I ride their buoyancy. Often I'm so propelled by their thoughtless brightness, that I don't even resent not having it for myself. There is nothing heavy about new love.

It's awesome. It's light. And it's infectious.

And if something as amazing and vital and awe-inspiring which we all hope to experience like new love is light, what could be good that isn't light and love?

Well, OK, I love me a good sad song, but still, you know what I'm sayin'.

So take that Rilke!

And good night.

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Monday, October 19, 2009

Talking about The Divine is like teaching someone how to sing

I love Early Christianity.

In Early Christianity (and Christian Science), GOD IS LOVE.

In fact, you could throw out everything else and just meditate on that.

And who knows what it means.

That’s why we need the other words. And that’s where it all becomes a mess. Because while “God IS Love” makes a good bumper sticker, it’s a lousy users manual. And for most of my life I’ve thought The Torah, The Bible and most scared texts should be user manuals for human being. Or at least, I thought that religion is there to explain the world. It’d be great if it had an index where you can find out what to do in every situation (and some contend that the Torah has a lot of that in a specific way – e.i. if you want to now what to do when a neighbors Ox gores yours) and the New Testament has a lot of that in glittering generalities. (“Do unto others...”) But I personally have never found these texts very clear, even if I’ve found it most interesting.

So, I was listening to an interview on NPR this week with Harvey Cox, a Harvard Divinity scholar, about his book "The Future of Faith". He talks about Christianity in three parts. Pre-‘Church’, The Church (starting with Constantinople) and followed by not just Protestantism, but a more recent complete separation from dogma and back to a direct, personal relationship with God (and Jesus) which can be viewed as a return to a kind of early, dogma-free Christianity.

Cox spoke of Paul’s letters. Letters to early followers of The Way. Jews who didn’t think of themselves as Christians. People who had no codified creed which to follow. The ephemeral nature of The Divine which he was attempting to articulate – free from the pageantry of later Christianity has a radical purity and distinct from the God of the Torah. It’s also hard to convey. And so the bible filled with metaphor and parable.

While the Torah takes the radical step of dispensing with the idea of God as an actual physical being, it still can’t get around constant anthropomorphization of God. HE is spoken of with gender, limbs, and emotion. I mean, He can frown. What’s worse than being frowned upon by God? Just imagine that face of disapproval filing the inescapable sky.

And while She may only manifest her presence on Earth in rare moments in the form of (wonder twin powers activate…) a flame, we still know what a flame is and we can still point to it and say, “There is God. There. Communicating with us. With language.” No matter how magical Her manifestation may be. It’s understandable.

Problem is, that sets up some seriously false expectations, because the Divine doesn’t work that way. These descriptions have been destructive to our imaginations. While we’re instructed to make no graven image, our minds can construct an image of God as manlike nonetheless.

While Judaism was a quantum leap forward in religious thought with its embrace of monotheism. And while it BEGAN to promote the idea of an unimaginable, omnipotent, omnipresent God, the description in the Torah seems like a crutch to get to something more radical – Early Christianity.

And here we find God as idea. God as metaphor.

But to grasp this has been unattainable for me.

Why can’t someone have just come up with some plain language to explain it all. If God is so great and powerful, this should be a no-brainer. Instead, we leap from simple metaphor into grand, ambiguous parable.

And I grow frustrated wanting, to know why we can’t just say the thing itself. And KNOW.

And sitting there in the car, having my NPR moment, considering Early Christianity, my own love of the Love Jesus supposedly spoke of, my failure to embrace that without questioning it - thereby destroying love in a relationship, and it struck me…


Talking about The Divine is like teaching someone how to sing.

If you’ve ever had a voice lesson, you may have experienced a teacher trying to speak to you both in technical terms (breathe with your diaphragm) and in metaphor (think of it like you’re coming over the note). But neither are direct means of describing the thing itself. That thing everyone agrees exists. The voice. Voice exists. Song and singing are undeniable. Even deaf folk believe in the voice’s existence though they can’t hear it themselves. But what is it? And how do you make it? And how do you teach someone to sing? You have no nerve endings in your diaphragm, so you can’t actually feel it the way you can feel your fingers over a keyboard. There is no such thing as a note with a physical presence that one can go over or under. And though it can’t be felt directly and is without form…yet singing IS.

Even the most experienced voice teachers have trouble conveying what to do and they go to extremes to make themselves understood. I had one who only talked about singing as it relates to sex: “When you sing the high A it should feel like you’re about to cum. I want to see it in your eyes, and even in your face, but don’t tense your body.”

They go into long philosophies about the origin of song in animals “It is in essence a means of attracting a mate. That must be your goal any moment you sing.”

Or you get physical crutches to engage in ‘til you’re singing the way they want “Lie on your back and lift your head and legs (like boat pose in yoga). Now sing.”

None of them can just tell you how to sing. It’s enough to drive a man crazy.

Worse. Some teacher’s metaphors make sense to you, but not to others - and visa versa.

One kept telling me, “Sing out of your back. Not your mouth. You mouth makes no sound. Sound is vibration and that which is most solid vibrates most. Sing with your bones – in every direction - always omni-directional.”

OK. Soundly reasoned with biophysics, even if it goes against our agreed upon knowledge of what is (we put a mic in front of our lips cause that’s where the sound comes from, right?) but even if he is correct, tell me HOW? How do I sing with my bones multi-directionally?


And then one day I figured it out. Correction. One day I did it. And tt wasn’t in a voice lesson.

I was engaged in a Suzuki duel.

Suzuki (not the musical training method) is a form of theatre training (thanks Tadashi!) that is like an unending boot camp. The forms feel like a martial art. And there is enough stomping as hard as you physically can that you think you’re going to shatter your own tibia. Sometimes it requires moving profoundly slowly. Other times, you can’t move fast enough and even harder stop moving fast enough. It makes powerful performers with extraordinary endurance and focus.

Here’s a little taste of it. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Ek7S1japgw4

I only did a few duels in the years I trained with the Siti Co. It’s a fairly advanced training. In a duel, you speak a text while going through a form. (Basic 1: Stomp. Slide, slo-mo full squat (the length of a full sentence), and back up again - all moving at the same rate of motion – except for the stomp.) And you do it facing someone else while holding a Japanese wooden sword between you - held up by pressing a point into each of your navels. As you move through the form, your core must move in perfect synch with your partner or it will fall. Still, it’s a “duel”, not a collaboration. You must challenge the person (and win?) as you work with them.

Or so I was guessing. And as in much Japanese training, they don’t tell you really what to do, much less how to do it or why you do it - until you do it wrong. Then they correct you.

To work at full force and to stay together is a feat. Ideally, I figured, one person can inspire the other to new heights of speed, force, and concentration.

The pair that went before us was weak. The sword kept dropping. Their voices were faint – distracted by the task of speaking in unison while co-coordinating their own body with someone else’s.

The teacher wanted to make a point. So, up next, I got the teacher for my partner. A teacher I didn’t actually like all that much. He was going to show how to destroy someone in a duel while working with them…and I was the subject. And I was having none of it. These people didn’t know me as a singer. They had no idea of my voice.

And so I went into the duel, Objective: Destroy before being destroyed.

We squared off and with no starter’s pistol, began. And the text exploded from my being. It was a standard choice for the training: The opening lines of Dante’s Inferno:

MIDWAY ON OUR LIFE’S JOURNEY
I FOUND MYSELF IN DARK WOODS
THE RIGHT ROAD LOST.
(breath)
TO TELL ABOUT THOSE WOODS IS HARD
SO TANGLED AND ROUGH AND SAVAGE
THAT THINKING OF IT NOW I FEEL THE OLD FEAR STIRRING.
(breath)
DEATH IS HARDLY MORE BITTER!

I filled the room. My body was shaking. I lost track of where I was. I nearly collapsed.

I was singing with my bones. Thundering through my back. Deep into the ground and straight out the top of my head.

When in mortal combat with my enemy, without thinking, it all became clear when I needed to use the knowledge of the indescribable.

It would take another year before I could channel that discovery into consistent, sustained, controlled voice, but like the balance necessary to ride a bike, once discovered, it was not to be unfound.


Perhaps it’s the same with God. The illusive nature of The Divine requires a teacher you can hear, at a time in your life when you’re able to listen in a situation that requires you discover the Truth or Die. And maybe I’ve never faced that and so my divine body has still to learn to sing from my bones.

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Sunday, October 18, 2009

David’s Challah Recipe (by popular demand)

David’s Challah Recipe
(With thanks to Mom and Mr. Beard)

Ingredients
3 packages dry yeast
1-1/3 cups warm water (110 degrees)
1 Tbl. Kosher salt
3 Tbl. Canola Oil
1 Tbl. Canola Oil
3 Eggs
6 Cups non-bleached all purpose flour
1 egg yolk mixed w 1 teaspoon cold water.
Poppy seeds
Corn meal


Directions
1. Proof yeast in lukewarm water in large bowl.
2. Add sugar immediately. Let proof 10 minutes. It should get a brown foam head.
3. Add salt, oil, eggs and mix briefly.
4. Then add flour 1 cup at a time
5. Beat with a wooden spoon til it begins to get too hard to stir.
6. Coat hands with flour.
7. Scatter flour on hard smooth surface
8. Take out dough and kneed with hands as violently as you like (adding a lot of extra flour along the way to keep from getting too sticky. It’ll just absorb it) until the outer surface of the dough becomes smooth and no longer sticky.
9. Use Large Clean bowl and put a dollop 1 Tbs of canola in bottom.
10. Put ball of dough in bowl, turn and coat it with oil.
11. Cover with dishcloth and leave in warm place.
12. Let rise for 90 minutes.
13. Punch down dough. Need into another tight ball.
14. Cut into 3 pieces. OR 6 pieces for 2 smaller challahs
15. Knead each piece into a long cynlinder (about 1 inch diameter) tapered at the end
16. Braid bread strands.
17. Scatter cornmeal on baking tray.
18. Place braided dough on tray.
19. Cover and Let rise for 90 minutes. (til doubled in bulk)
20. Beat egg yolk with water and brush on dough (don’t let it pool up in crevices)
21. Bake at a pre-heated over at 400F for 35-45 minutes.
22. After 15 minutes in pull out bread and brush on another layer of eggwash.
23. Sprinkle with poppyseeds and put back in oven.
24. Check on bread for golden brown color and a hollow sound when you knock on it.
25. Bless and give thanks.
26. Devour with friends and loved ones.
27. Repeat weekly

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Friday, October 16, 2009

Baking and Fucking

I can't write in this town. Sunshine is anathema to my process. Heat diffuses my ability to concentrate. And we’ve got another burner today.

This is why I crave the cliffs of the central coast. It’s also why I was tempted last week, when I heard a friend of a friend is looking for a housesitter for their digs in Martha’s Vineyard this winter. I’ve been harboring fantasies of hibernating in that stormswept lanscape for years - brushing against hardened islanders and cooking up endless vats of soup as I go clickety-clack late into the creaky, ghost-laden night - a single bulb pushing me on to the next page of solitary prolificness.

Instead, this morning I open my eyes to a blank white wall and smell the sunshine creep into the room. It’s completely incongruous with my birthday month, which should infuse my nostrils with the New England joy of death and decay – necessary for the rebirth months in the future.

I suppose it doesn't help that I'm regularly waking up in a new bed, unsure of where I am. And I can't blame it on a wicked bender of drugs, booze and loose women - all of which I generally find to be an intoxicating brew of inspiration, though not necessarily a habit which promotes productivity - just inspiration. The trick is throwing yourself at a piece of paper as soon as possible - post inspiration.

I had a composing professor, Amnon, in grad school who asked about my process. At the time I was 24 (15 fucking years ago!) and generally waited for inspiration to hit. I told him if I was ever stuck, I'd bake or cook. At the time I'd been getting into baking challah. My mom's a killer baker and cook and I've been lucky enough to have her skills rub off on me as I helped her in the kitchen as a kid.

I explained to Amnon that baking was profoundly satisfying because whether working on a string quartet or an opera, it took months to finish a piece and even once finished, it could be an even longer time before I'd hear the piece performed. With baking on the other hand, you start it, you make it, and you eat it right then. AND you break bread with friends and you watch their face at the moment they consume it. No darkened theatres, no awkward backstage "I thought it was really...interesting." No hearing from the publicist that no one came to review it because the run is too short for theatre critics and the serious music critics were scared off because it sounded like the score might be too accessible.

No. With food, within hours of beginning a project, you see people's faces descend inward as they close their eyes to fully savor the experience you are responsible for creating and sharing with them.

I love challah in particular because people have always seemed amazed that I could make it at all, much less well.

I mean, it's just bread, right? We take it for granted most of the time. But it's so elemental. And traditional. It's a cornerstone of civilization (even if gluten has a bad rap these days). And by making it, I feel I'm tapping into some greater context of the generations of man. Perhaps that alone is a spiritual or religious experience and therefore fulfilling and reinvigorating. And knowing that I can carry on a tradition both in bread, as a human, and specifically with challah, as a Jew, fills me with a deep satisfaction.

I also love pounding the hell out of the dough while kneading. I tried making pastry dough years ago and I was terrible at it. I called my mom to find out what I did wrong. Apparently for pastries, you have to be gentle with the dough. Not for me. I enjoy the tussle. The throw down. They literally call it 'punching down' the dough in between the first and second risings. I found it a great way to work out unconscious and unresolved frustrations. It was a meditation that sometimes created the free mindspace for new things to emerge and let the composing return to me. (Ah, composing. I almost remember what that is. Been so damn long.)

The thing I loved the most though is to watch people's faces when they bit into the bread.

"Oh, my God. That is sooo good."

Talk about positive re-enforcement. I don't get much of that these days.

Other benefits of break-making:

1) No one gives me notes on bread.
("Have you considered using an extra egg? Why don't you make that again and get another one to me next week?" they suggest, as I see the mostly unfinished loaf lingering on their desk, about to be slid into the trash when I know the fucker can't make so much as a cookie from a Ralph’s bought premade Tollhouse Chocholate Chip Log.)

2) I have no envy around bread:
("I can't believe it. She's never made bread before and BOOM! I open Variety to read Warner Brothers bought a bakers dozen of rolls from her. I mean she has no idea how to proof for godssakes!")

3) I don't need an agent to get my work to the people who can enjoy it:
("I keep making this challah, but I'm not repped, so I can't get anyone to eat it. I mean, I've not only sliced it, but here's a piece with butter, another with honey and this one... Nutella. From Europe! Not the American shit! And no one has any idea how much they'd want it cause they don't even know I made it.)


Perhaps I should just be a baker. Trust me, I’ve thought about it. It may not be art, but people seem to love my bread much more than my artistic endeavors.

"Oh, my God. That was sooo good." goes the refrain.

I've never heard anyone say that after a show, as they wipe the drool from their lips. (except, perhaps, the airsex gig a few months ago)

I suppose I have heard stonehearted souls mutter a speechless 'wow' after a performance. (Speechlessness was a common thread of reactions to my work which I guess I appreciate as much of it was positive speechlessness.)

But those things take years to make and bread gets almost the same reaction even when…
.
It's just bread.

The simplest thing bread. But I think I understand. We're so disconnected. We're so unaccustomed to the simple things done well, made from scratch, by a person right in front of us and shared with no expectation of reciprocity, that to re-experience bread can be a profound experience.

And I suppose I’m not trying to reinvent bread. I aspire to make bread like my mother and her mother and her mother before her. The same is not true of my music or theatre. That might account for people’s reactions. We are designed for self-preservation and new things are inherently dangerous and take getting used to. If you want something to be liked, it seems you need to make it just like things people already know, just a little different. I’m happy to do that on the bread continuum. I have little interest in pushing the envelope with half cooked, jalepeno, egg-free challah made with Tuvan millet baked with a solar-powered, post-ironic, converted Holly Hobby oven. And for that I’m rewarded with a chorus of:

"Oh, my God. That was sooo good."

And for me, to see that I'd given someone pleasure in the course of a few hours is amazingly satisfying - and so different from the timeline of the art that I make.

And that's something I like about sex as well. While certain aspects in the bedroom are undeniably selfish, being able to take my lover to the point of ecstasy is vital to my enjoyment in the bedroom.

To climax, but be unable to cause my partner equal pleasure just breaks me. I suddenly feel as incompetent in my personal life as much as I do in my professional life. And I partially retreat to find success in the bedroom as a salve to the wounds of my professional battles.

“I may not be able to get a job on a TV show, or sell that screenplay, but at least I can make you cum!”

And if I can't, then what the hell can I do well?

That's when I retreat to the kitchen.

And start pounding the dough.

Amnon listened to me talk about how the baking was even the inspiration for my first string quartet (called "Challah" - each movement based on one part of making bread. Proofing, Kneeding, Baking, etc.) He though about it for a minute and then cautioned me:

"It's good you've found some inspiration there, but be careful. You never know when inspiration might hit and if you're baking instead of composing, you may make one of the best loaves you've ever made, but that creative energy went to the bread, not the string quartet. Try sitting with the composition even when you can't compose. And something might emerge.

So I wish I were making bread right now to break with you as Shabbat approaches.

But in this damned heat, I simply cannot write.

And I'm writing about it.

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Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Mr. Rogers for 2 at 8pm

My father always makes reservations under the name "ROGERS".

His name actually IS Roger, so that's close. And our last name IS Rodwin. And that's close. But in the end, ROGERS is not our name or his name.

Now, my father almost never makes reservations. I really only remembering him doing so when we would visit my grandparents and there would be 6 of us going to dinner. But when he did make them, it was always ROGERS.

I've never asked him why he doesn't use his real name. I'm probably afraid of his response. I'm not sure why. I know he's cheap, but using a slightly fake name doesn't make you cheap. I know he tries to wriggle his way out of things by strange means (he still does his taxes by hand because he thinks if he used a computer print out it would look more professional so if he's called on any inconsistencies by the IRS he can just say it was a miscalculation by hand, whereas a computer printout wouldn't give him an out). So it's not penny-pinching, But there's something strangely embarrassing about using 'Rogers'. It's as though he doesn't want to be accountable. We've never not shown up for a reservation though, but it's as if he doesn't want them calling him on it if we were a no-show.

Or maybe he just doesn't want to have to spell "R-o-d-w-i-n" because if he doesn't they always think it's "Robin" or "Robins" unless you spell it out. That's because my last name is a simple fabrication. His father was born Sidney Rotkawitz. It's even what's written on his Harvard Law diploma, but the story goes that he changed the family name to Rodwin immediately after graduating so he could get work as a lawyer in New York City. I don't begrudge him that. I'm sure anti-semitism was rife in the legal annals back in the 20s.

Oddly, I've never thought of this before, but his brothers who were also lawyers who also went by Rodwin. I wonder if the three of them got together and had a group meeting about re-naming themselves. I'd have loved to have heard that conversation. I wish I'd thought to ask him while he was still alive.

Perhaps I'll ask my father to see if he knows anything about it.

And maybe I'll have the nerve to ask why he uses the name Rogers when making a reservation.

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