Thursday, June 30, 2011

Constant Comparisons

Ever have one of those days where you compare your career success to everyone else your age or younger? Yup, I just lost yet another day in my life doing that. I do this both with peers as well as historical figures. I never did this when I was younger, but when I hit 25 I began to remind myself that by this age Leonard Bernstein had already conducted the NY Phil and Sondheim had written lyrics for West Side Story. And while it doesn’t help to beat oneself up, despite the rare Grandma Moses who blossomed only as a septuagenarian, the sad pattern is that early success breeds the conditions for long-term career success. And while it’s easy to squander those possibilities after said success (I’m talking to you Ms. Lohan), if you track the lives of scientists like Einstein or writers like Fitzgerald, you’ll see their early years are generally their most productive and original. That creates the foundation for a long career of significant work. On the other hand, by age 38, Fitzgerald was so dispirited at with the tepid response to his third novel Tender is The Night he moved out to Hollywood in an attempt to capitalize on his earlier fame. There he met with constant rejection. And if you read his last collected shorts known as The Pat Hobby stories, you’ll see a sad portrait of a failed and desperate writer willing to do anything to literally get back on the studio lot. That’s how Fitzgerald saw himself at age 40 just a few years before he killed himself via sclerosis of the liver. Funny thing is the writing still so fresh and modern it feels like it could be a new adapted into a new HBO series with protagonist played by an unsuccessful Larry David - always creating situations for himself that are so cringe worthy you have to laugh. The really sad thing is however, that 1) Fitzgerald thought these were just hack stories, and 2) he wrote them incredibly quickly - desperate for money. Some collected anthologies of the stories even include his letters to The New Yorker and Esquire pleading the editor for an advance and promising as many stories as they wanted. He just needed the cash. So in the end, as it’s nearly irresistible to compare yourself to others, perhaps we’d all be better served to focus on the greats who came out of the gate strong only to falter later. Then I can meditate on how grateful I am that I don’t have that kind of pressure to live up to and I haven’t destroyed my life the way early success destroyed theirs.
Who do you compare yourself to and how can you make that an uplifting activity?

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Wednesday, June 29, 2011

The Evolution of A Peculiar Salutation

My girlfriend and I have developed a peculiar new form of greeting. She says,  “I love you. I’m sorry.” I say,  “I’m sorry,  I love you.”  The greeting is good upon leaving the house,  exiting the room,  or just looking up to see the other at work. It evolved because she would often say “I love you.” with multiple inflections,  meaning everything from “How’d I get so lucky?” to “Everything’s gonna be alright.”  But most often,  she was saying,  “I’m sorry” for things she wasn’t even responsible for. I let her know I preferred it if she saved “I love you” For when she really meant just that. Suddenly,  the preponderance of “I’m sorries” exploded and that got to me too. So I told her she didn’t need to always be apologizing. To which she explained that she said it when she felt helpless to help me with whatever I was going through (Parking ticket, lack of career, whatever). I finally realized my asking her to amend her language was making her feel constricted, so in order to create space around both phrases, I started saying, “I love you I’m sorry, ” almost as one sentence, without even pausing sometimes. She switched it around and now we take turns to see who gets in the last "i’m sorry i love you." For some reason this totally cracks us up. But I have a hunch others might not understand.
What kind of peculiar games have you made up with your loved one that others might find confounding?

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Tuesday, June 28, 2011

Spotlight: Betsy Lerner

If you’ve noticed a change in my blog (aside from the fact that I’m back at it again), you’re most perceptive. Previously, I’ve used this space mostly for short stories or multi-part series of longer stories. But over the last year I’ve been reading a number of blogs and while I knew my previous entries were mostly stories that were generally too long and infrequent to make for a good blog, I wasn’t sure what else to do of interest, having felt blocked against writing about my career pursuits as that might sink them. Then I started reading Betsy Lerner’s blog. She’s a feisty writer/book agent in NY who’s got a mouth to shame most sailors. Her Agency is Dunow, Carlson & Lerner. And her books are Food & Loathing and Forest For The Trees (also the name of her blog). She’s got a loyal little following who’ve developed into a real community because she gives short posts 5 times a week ending with a question that lets everyone chime in. And I really like that, so that’s what I’m going to model this blog on for the forseable future. But to make it work, I need people to comment on these posts.
In that spirit, I ask this query: What stops you from commenting on blogs?

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Sunday, June 26, 2011

Anonymous?

I’m wondering if anyone read my post last week “The Bane of Cartman” and said “I know exactly who he’s talking about! He’s in trouble now!” I tried to be vague about the artist I was railing on, because I wanted to be passionate in my outrage that such work could get such continual support and appreciation, but I didn’t want to hurt anyone’s feelings – mostly because I feel like a shit when it gets back to me that I did. But it’s so easy to triangulate people these days. If you looked on Facebook, you’d have a clue who I was talking about even though I didn’t mention it in a post. Then you’d have to go through the performance listings of the day you think I saw the offending production and go from there. I know one person who could probably put it all together if he thought about it, but I was relieved when someone else I thought could have figured it out, asked me to reveal the mystery. I learned it was dangerous to assume it’s not that small a world when a few years ago I was applying for a job and in trying to make this blog helpful to others interested in figuring out how the TV biz worked, I posted about the interview process I’d been through and while I didn’t name the show I’d interviewed for, I mentioned that I heard my potential boss ‘could be difficult and liked to nap’. I didn’t think this would blow his cover (or my chances for the job), but someone I know emailed me hours later telling me to take down the blog for my own good. People would know who I was talking about and I’d never work in this town again. I was incredulous that she could identify him from those seven words I’d written. I mean, I’d never even met him yet myself. But when she guessed correctly (in a private email) I took the blog post down so as not to offend. In the end, I got the job and found the boss delightful not difficult and his legend of napping most exaggerated. But I didn’t write again for a while and began to wonder if attempting to blog about trying to land a gig in this town was just career suicide. In fact, besides the masterclass, I’ve really shied away from writing about the business since then. Perhaps it’s wise, but I’d like to be able to write about it so others in similar pursuits could get something from it.
Have you ever gotten into trouble for posting about someone when you thought you’d kept their identity hidden?

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Friday, June 24, 2011

A Creative Life

A friend recently went to China and when I asked him what it was like, he said it made the US look like Detroit. Like our whole country was stuck in old-fashioned ways of doing things and that China was the new frontier. He had a hard time describing what it was that made him feel this, but it came down to the enthusiasm, energy and confidence that the Chinese as a people embody. They really see themselves as the path to the future already. Practically speaking, he saw this manifest in the development of green industries, centralized planning to adapt to future needs in a way we can never match, and a palpable national exuberance (not to mention wide-spread visible wealth). Compare that with the US and it seems like our future subservience is already written. But though his kid watches Nickolodeon’s show “Ni Hao Kai-lan” and because of that now wants to learn Mandarin, he and his wife don’t think the rigid Chinese style of teaching at a nearby Chinese dual-language school will be in line with the values they want to instill in their kids. They value creativity and empathy far more than the traditional Chinese educational models. I think about this as my unemployment now stretches past the 1 year mark and I keep reading about how the country needs programmers and engineers more than anything. It makes me wonder yet again if I should haven’t stuck with computers. After all I began programming in 1978 and would have had a huge jump on most folks. But instead, I went the arts route. Maybe not the best choice in some ways.

What about you?
Do you value creativity over a more practical approach to life? And how’s that worked out for you?

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Wednesday, June 22, 2011

Nasal Time Machine

I recently had an ear infection for almost a month. It hurt for a while and I made an appointment with my doctor, but my HMO’s so backed up I had to wait a month. I almost rushed in to urgent care one day during that month because it started hurting so much, but I checked online first and because I read everywhere that a doctor won’t prescribe you anti-biotics for ear or throat pain these days and that you should try to take care of things first with homeopathic methods, I stayed home and experimented on myself for a few weeks. I asked friends and family for suggestions and made myself a guinea pig. I tried a few drops of vodka in my ear (my mom’s suggestion), over the counter chamomile ear drops (useless), an earwax candle (scary and useless), gargling hydrogen peroxide (old singer’s technique), and finally lemon juice in the ear (Zesty! But I think it dried out my ear and cause enough pain to have me resort to the chamomile drops again). The weirdest thing I tried was when a friend suggested snorting a saline/iodine mixture from a large bowl of water. You were supposed to snort in through both nostrils at the same time and breathe the water through your soft palate into your mouth. I couldn’t do it. Every time I sucked the water in, I felt like I was drowning and my body reacted like I was going under.

The week before I saw my doctor, I bought a nettie pot – my last attempt. But I started to feel better, and before I saw my doc, I returned it to the store – unused.

When I finally saw my doc, my ear was pretty much OK, but she still saw some fluid in my ears and recommended using a nasal saline flush to get red of the fluid. It’s like a nettie pot, but with a squishy bottle. It was made by the same company as the nettie pot I got – with the same saline/sodium bicarbonate packets to dissolve in the water. Compositionally very similar to the double barrel snort, but with this you blow the water up one nostril and it comes right back out the other. I don’t know if it’s working, but every time I do it (in the shower) I am generating one very specific sense memory. It feels not like I’m drowning, but like I’m 7 years old and I just accidentally snorted a bunch of water from the pool. It transports me back so quickly it’s amazing.


What transports you back to a childhood memory? A taste? A smell? What?

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Monday, June 20, 2011

The Bane of Cartman

I went to a performance recently that was bad. Not just a little bad, but like it was a parody of itself, bad. And oh, was it painfully sincere. And worse, this was the 3rd time I'd seen this group perform. Why go back again and again? I was originally told by a number of people I'd love this troupe. They combined music and drama and dance. Just like me. But not like they do on Broadway. Just like me. They were playful and serious. Just like me. And I'd just LOVE them. The first time I saw them 13 years ago I thought, "Maybe this is just a bad piece. They'd been around for over a decade, and everyone has a bad piece now and then." I went back 5 years ago and thought: No, it's not just the lack of craft. Sure none of the performers can sing worth a damn, or act their way out of a paper bag, but there was something more. They could dance alright, which was further confusing because it wasn't like they were without grace, but all the choreography felt stolen - without inspiration. Which gave it the trappings of excellence without the heart of mastery. How could they have another show just as bad? Especially when they work together year round, performing hundreds of times across the globe because they're in such demand?

And yes, with so many accolades over such a long period, I thought, once again "*I* must be missing something." So I went back with my girlfriend who was floored at the horribleness of it. So finally I can say, it's not just that dancers are being asked to do things have have no training in. It's truly the pieces themselves that are the core of what doesn't work. The creator's ideal seems to be clumsy efforts of self-expression packaged in earnest 80s influences - using all the repetition of movement, gesture and text that can be used as tools to develop adventurous music/dance/theatre, but thrown together by someone bereft of true compositional skills in all of the multiple mediums they practice.

OK, now eve I think I sound harsh, when I've certainly I've seen worse performances. So why was I so upset by it? I think it was because so many people thought I'd love it. Like in South Park when Cartman is told by everyone that he'd LOVE Family Guy and he is driven insane by the suggestion, so too was I infuriated that people see someone else use the materials I play with and decide I'd simply LOVE this too. Without acknowledging there's good and bad in any medium, genre or milieu. In the end I felt like they misunderstood me at a very deep level. Worse that they saw my art just like I saw this guy. Equally ludicrous and lacking artistic integrity or power. Basically, it seems like they were saying I made crap as bad as this dude. Because as far as they were concerned, there was no real difference.

So I'm wondering, have you ever had someone tell you you'd just LOVE something and find out that you despised it? Was it a reflection of what they thought of you? And did you ever tell them you hated it?

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Thursday, June 16, 2011

Rude Mechs

Last night I went to see the TCG National Conference sponsored Sold-Out opening-night of “The Method Gun” performed by The Red Mechs from Austin, TX at Center Theatre Group’s Kirk Douglas Theatre in Culver City as part of RedCat’s Under the Radar L.A. Festival. And while that’s a mind-boggling number of associations making one little show happen. It boils down to this. It was awesome. You should go see one of the 7 performances in LA ASAP (Click here for 1/2 price tickets.) But here’s the thing, when I tried to describe it to my girlfriend when I got home, she got this glazed look on her face, interrupted me and said she needed to change into more comfortable clothes before she could listen to me continue rattling on so enthusiastically about the show. Earlier in the day, I’d bitched for a full hour over lunch about personal and professional issues and though I fear I’d bored and alienated my lunch friend, he later wrote me JUST to say how much he’d enjoyed all my stories. And that I was an amazing story-teller. Yet, when I attempted to engage my lover in my high of having just eaten a sumptuous feast of performance, I failed completely. Why?
I wasn’t sure I’d like the show. I’d entered the theatre hopeful, but trepidatious which is more than I can usually say. I’m friends with someone who’s had a few of her plays performed by the Rude Mechs and while I love her work, it can sometimes be obtuse. And perhaps some might have found The Method Gun hard to get into, but what I found is that they exchanged the hard-edged experimentalism 1970s theatre for the playful almost Scooby-doo scrappiness of my generation’s leanings. It wasn’t a silly Brady Bunch Live kinda of thing though. It was no less intelligent and layered and deconstructed as Richard Foreman or Robert Wilson, but with a totally different attitude.
I tweeted: “The Wooster Group is to the Rude Mechs as Robert Altman is to Wes Anderson” It’s not quite right, but I was trying to find some new way to convey what I’d just seen with a cinematic analogy since people seem generally better versed in that medium. What I was trying to get at was first that though they’re all out of the mainstream, there’s a generational divide. Altman and the Wooster Group love playing with multiple threads, throwing so much at the audience it’s impossible to absorb it all the first time. But in truth, while I appreciate aspects of both, I’ve been deeply confused watching Nashville and unmoved watching North Atlantic. But both are filled with a certain detached pretension that leaves me at a distance. And while Wes Anderson can be too precious for my taste, like Altman, he also loves large casts with colorful characters. But Anderson just seems to have a much lighter touch that suits my temperament. Same thing with Rude Mechs. “The Method Gun” had so many moving parts (literally at the end in an ensemble tour de force dance section) that were disjointed in so many ways (akin to a Wooster Group production), but it was done with such ease and playfulness instead of the almost practiced intellectual feel of The Wooster Group.
So what was the damn show? The Rude Mechs performed as themselves a fake docu-drama about a terrible (fictional) 1970s acting troupe whose director decided to create a production of Streetcar Named Desire without any of the leading characters. No Stanley, Blanch, Stella or Mitch. Just the supporting characters. Then the director disappeared - left the country. And the ensemble continued rehearsing for another 6 years, opens the show finally and breaks up after that first performance.
Oh, and there’s a tiger. A brilliant, hysterical (Latino?) tiger who makes three entrances. But he was voiced by one of the other actors – visible to the audience which was so much fun and very Woostery.
See, I’m failing again to convey not only what the piece was, but the joy and inspiration it brought me.
How much so? It made me want to make theatre again. And that’s saying a lot.
And there you are just wanting to change into more comfortable clothes.
So why is great theatre like that so damn hard to convey? What art have you seen that when you try to share your enthusiasm for it, your description falls utterly flat, leaving your audience baffled and unmoved?

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Wednesday, June 15, 2011

Caught...

If you're wondering why I haven't posted here in a while it's because I've begun to find writing and sharing online a bit dangerous lately. In the past, I've hurt the feelings of friends I haven't talked to in years (But they read my blog? Who reads my blog?!) by including them in humorous short stories (that I thought were mostly embarrassing to me). But more recently I posted something on Yelp that I thought would be anonymous since you can't see my last name. I Yelped that I loved a certain high profile feature film director when he gave public talks, but hated the venue he chose. They tracked me down. And not only did it manage to deeply offend him, it led to trouble for a friend who knows the guy who was there when I saw this director talk. I felt horrible to have gotten her into hit water. It was amazing though. I can't get anyone in this town to read a script of mine, but one playfully melodramatic, backhanded compliment Yelp and it goes straight to a top director while I get sent to the Hollywood Doghouse. Yup. Apparently my post so hurt his feelings I even had to write an apology.

Another reason I've decided not to blog much lately is because I'm seeking employment and sometimes the unfiltered mind of an applicant isn't the best thing to attract a future employer.

And last night I found another reason not to post things about my life online. I was at a concert where the guy performing mentioned he no longer uses Foursquare because three times now, he's posted he's somewhere enjoying something only to discover he'd been robbed when he got home. Someone was just waiting to make sure he was out of the house.

But despite that danger, I've decided to go back into more frequent blogging. Why? I'm spending most of my time on large, long term projects with no end date. And I want create something that I can finish quickly and get out there, so people don't forger I'm around and to generate some more interaction with my audience.

So Bloggers, Yelpers and 4Square Beware!

And have you ever been caught posting something online that's gotten you into trouble? Do tell.

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