Wednesday, November 17, 2004

Recommended Reading

1. The Artist’s Way, by Julia Cameron. Honest to God, the best fifteen dollars I ever spent. Seriously. The book changed my life. If you follow the exercises WITHOUT CHEATING (this is important!) The Artist’s Way will unstick you from any stuckness. Non Fiction, Self Help.

2. 'Alice'- both "Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland" and "Through The Looking Glass", by Lewis Carroll. I suggest the annotated version. Fiction, Children’s.

3. The Elements of Style, William Strunk and E. B. White, often referred to simply as Strunk and White. I wish everyone knew the contents of this tiny tome. It would save me a lot of pain reading garbage written by people who are under the mistaken conception that they can write. Non-Fiction, Writing.

4. Dragonriders of Pern series by Anne McCaffrey, or nearly anything she’s written. Fiction, Fantasy/Sci-Fi.

5. The Tipping Point, by Malcom Gladwell. This is non-fiction and difficult to classify, but it’s about trends, trendsetters, breakpoints, and six degrees of separation, among other things. If you like that sort of thing, this is the sort of thing you’ll like. Non-Fiction, Sociology.

6. The Chronicles of Thomas Covenant, the Unbeliever, by Stephen R. Donaldson. It’s a series. If a man dreams he is a butterfly when he sleeps, how can he tell if he’s a butterfly dreaming he’s a man? By refusing to eat. This is amazing, it really is. Old. Still good. Fiction, Fantasy/Sci-Fi.

7. 1984, by George Orwell. I read this at an extremely impressionable age, and have been mistrustful of government, especially a government that fucks with language, ever since. Fiction, Sci-Fi.

8. Codes of Love, by Mark Bryan. Absolutely one of my favorite books of all time. Also non-fiction, a touchy-feely sort of book that will, if you pay attention, help you decode how people are all the time saying "I love you" to one another, and why these messages often fall unheard on hungry ears. Non-Fiction, Self Help/Relationships.

9. Graveyard For Lunatics, by Ray Bradbury. This is a novel, and if you liked Something Wicked This Way Comes, you’ll love this. It’s similar, only for grownups. Fiction, Sci-Fi/Action.

10. Travels, by Michael Crichton. I’m very fond of Jurassic Park, et. Al., but this, a collection of essays that form a loose sort of narrative, is my favorite thing of his. So far. Non-Fiction, Travel.

11. A Man In Full, by Tom Wolfe. Wolfe isn’t afraid to create characters that you will hate, and does so with gusto in this book. I enjoyed it more than Bonfire of the Vanities, which evidently has been somewhat tarnished as a book by the making of the movie. Serious miscasting is all I’ve got to say about that. In my opinion. Fiction, Mainstream.

12. Joy of Cooking, Rombauer & Becker. A must have for any kitchen. Explains the basics, the fancy stuff, tells you how to set the table, and is mighty good reading to boot. And, bonus! It has ink drawings instead of pictures, so you don’t get hungry and end up ordering Chinese instead of cooking that ziti casserole. Non-Fiction, Cooking.

13. Isaac Asimov’s Guide to the Bible. This is a fabulous peek into the oldest history book in the world. He digs, delves, gets down to the nitty gritty, and explains what’s going on in these inexplicable passages. His style is dryer than usual, unfortunately. He sounds scholarly, without his usual playful overtones. Well, can’t have everything. At least not all at once. Where would you put it? Non-Fiction, Bible Studies

14. I Know This Much Is True, by Wally Lamb. Want to know how to write a literary novel? Read this one. It deserves credit for density alone. Also for intricacy of construction. The story’s not bad, either. Fiction, Literary.

15. The Gate To Women’s Country, Sheri Tepper. This is much better than you’d imagine by the title. I liked it better than I liked The Handmaiden’s Tale, by Margaret Atwood, which is also good. But then, Atwood’s a good writer, so I expect that. Fiction, Fantasy/Science Fiction.

16. Creative Visualization, by Shakti Gawain. Well, it certainly won’t hurt you to try, will it? Many of these are exercises you can do without feeling silly. Okay, I didn’t say “all.” Non-Fiction; Self-Help, Occult.

17. Lamb, The Gospel According to Biff, Christ’s Childhood Pal, by Christopher Moore. Poigniant, irreverent, violent, silly. I haven’t read a book I liked this much since I discovered The Hitchiker’s Guide To The Galaxy. Speaking of which. Fiction, Mainstream/Humor.

18. The Hitchiker’s Guide To The Galaxy, by Douglas Adams. How have you lived this long without reading this book? It’s so much fun! And if you like it, there’s more where that came from. When I meet someone I like, I often find they’ve read this book. I should make it a requirement that anyone I consider as friend material have already read it some many years ago. This would save a lot of time.Fiction, Sci-Fi.

19. Nemesis, by Agatha Christie. Anything she’s written is wonderful, but I always liked the Miss Marple mysteries best. Fiction, Mystery.

20. Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone, J.K. Rowling. Get it in the original English english, as in, from England. It’s the difference between cajun food for tourists and cajun food for Cajuns. If you like this, you’ll love it. But you may not. Not everyone does. Fiction, Fantasy/Sci-Fi/Children’s.

21. Night Probe!, by Clive Cussler. Okay, it’s purple, and it’s predictable. It’s also a lot of damn fun. All his books are. However, because in his divorce, his wife got half the rights to Dirk Pitt, Cussler’s not writing any more Dirk Pitt novels. Still, if you’re unfamiliar with Cussler, there’s several to choose from. Fiction,Action/Adventure

22. The Worst Band In The Universe, by Graeme Base. What a rollicking good spacefaring adventure, done in some of the most well executed rhythmic rhyming I’ve seen since Seuss. The pictures are phenomenal, as are all of the pictures that Graeme Base does. And what a nice, nice guy. We met him at The Children’s Bookstore in mid-October. He showed us the spotted glerch on the one page that we failed to spot him. Base is tops in picture books, and recently produced his first novel, Truck Dogs. Fluffy thought it was terrific. Fiction, Children’s/Picture Books.

23. Fortress In The Eye Of Time, by CJ Cherryh, and the rest of the Fortress series. This is a slow-paced book (it took some time for me to learn to appreciate slow-paced books) but as it progresses, it gains momentum, and the characters are well detailed. Also good is her Foreigner series. Fiction, Fantasy/Sci-Fi

24. The Complete Guide to ADHD, by Thom Hartman. Called a 'Hunter In A Farmer’s World' book, this is the first book I’ve seen to suggest that we look at what we call ADHD from a different, Neolithic, perspective. Farmer can hoe and sow and plant and weed, and get interrupted and go back to what he’s doing, and focus on a long term goal. Me, I’m a Hunter, and what I like best is to dance. When I get hungry, I’ll grab a stick and beat a bush for some berries, or hope that a rabbit runs out. At which point, I will chase down that rabbit with single-minded intensity….until a deer runs across my path. And now I will desist chasing the rabbit and chase the deer, because it will feed me and all my friends longer. I drag it home, and if I’m not too hungry, I’ll cook it, we'll eat, and then I and my friends will get back to dancing.

25. Enchantment, Orson Scott Card. I always like anything by Orson Scott Card, of Ender’s Game fame. He’s got beautiful details and elegant themes, and never beats you over the head with anything. But if more writers wrote like Card, the world would be a brighter place. Fiction, Fantasy/Sci-Fi.

26. All I Really Need to Know I Learned In Kindergarten, by Robert Fulghum. This book is a reminder of the really important stuff, and is just plain fun to read. Not preachy, either. Non-Fiction, Essays.

27. Rendezvous With Rama, by Arthur C. Clarke. It’s old, but that doesn’t mean it’s lost its flavor. Also good, but with completely different angles are Songs of Distant Earth and Childhood’s End. Fiction, Sci-Fi.

28. On Writing, by Stephen King. This is part memoir, part instruction manual. He’s really quite lucid and friendly. Gives due respect to that revered pair, Strunk and White. Maybe not the best book on writing there is, but it’s really quite good. Like the movie Howard Stern’s Private Parts, you don’t even really have to like the guy to like this product. Non-Fiction, Writing.

29. The Naked Sun, by Isaac Asimov. Sequel to Caves of Steel. Of course, if Asimov’s written it, I like it, so there you have it. Fiction, Sci-Fi.

30. Eats Shoots and Leaves, by Lynn Truss. This is just fucking hysterically funny. Yes, a book on punctuation is very funny. Take my word for it. Read this. I snarfed. A lot. Non-Fiction, Language.

Current Reading:

Christopher Moore, Practical Demon-Keeping- Very funny, for those who like twisted humor, which is everyone I know. No, scratch that. NOT everyone I know. Only everyone I LIKE.

Augusten Burroughs, Running With Scissors- billed as hysterically funny, it’s often amusing, always entertaining, but mostly sad. It’s a memoir, and the first in a ?pair ?trio ?series? which I find a disturbing concept. A serial memoir. Pfah.

Starbuck O’Dwyer, Red Meat Cures Cancer- dreadful. Don’t waste money on this. Or even time, should someone offer it to you. Maybe if you’re at the beach and really desperately bored, which is inconceivable to me, but hey, weird exists. It goes in the same category as The Nanny Diaries, to be given away immediately and not missed at all.

Ray Bradbury, Vintage Bradbury- Short stories. Old short stories. Old short stories by Ray Bradbury. Lovely.

Stephen King, Insomnia- This amazed me. Mr. Scary has undergone some serious changes, all to the good, it seems. If I tell you much about it, it will spoil everything, so let me just say, it’s a great read because in addition to being a rather weird man, Stephen King is a brilliant, brilliant storyteller.

On Deck:

A Beautiful Mind, by Sylvia Nasar. I think I love the soundtrack to the movie, which Frisco used in his workshop, if I’m not mistaken. Maybe I should buy it to play while I read?

Tuesday, August 17, 2004

Review of Writing Books I

I recently purchased Tom Chiarella’s Writing Dialogue. Despite the ungainly subtitle of ‘How to create memorable voices and fictional conversations that crackle with wit, tension and nuance’, this is a plenty handy little tome. Eight chapters and 168 pages give examples, explanations and exercises- the three Es. Though it started a bit slowly for my tastes, (I prefer to res in medias, thanks), I was hooked after page fifteen and counted twenty-one flags at the finish. I say finish, but I was finished before the book was. From page 152 to page 166 is an illustrative story, which I skipped entirely. I think the publisher told the author that the book was too short to be taken seriously, and so he fluffed it out with this nonsense. Well, all right. Some of you may like it. However, the most serious book on writing that I have ever read comes in at a mere 85 pages.

The Elements Of Style, by William Strunk and E. B. White (yes, of Charlotte’s Web fame) is often referred to simply as ‘Strunk and White,’ which anyone who knows will know. This is simply a beautiful little book. If you are serious about writing and do not have this in your library, I urge you to rush to your nearest bookseller, currency in hand, and devour it immediately. It is a deceptively simple rule-book which will save you from looking like an idiot any more than you absolutely must. Careful study of The Elements’ precepts will also reveal how to eliminate “clunkiness”, that dreaded indefinable, from your writing. I recommend this book highly. Have you noticed?

Do not waste ten dollars on David Mamet’s insubstantial book, Three Uses of the Knife, subtitled ‘On the nature and purpose of drama’. The fact that the author’s name is in a typset three times as big as that of the title tells you all you need to know about this 87-page abomination. Mamet writes well, and is very lucid about communicating his ideas, but this book is less about craft than philosophy. If you’d like to know what Mamet thinks, as told in a high handed and pompous voice, by all means, this is a wonderful way to kill a couple of hours. But do, I beg you, get it from the library. No sense in puffing this man's pocketbook to match his ego.

Saturday, July 31, 2004

2000 Words

Posthumous Café Short Fiction

The bed roiled and heaved. A white hand emerged, flailing, groping. Eventually the noise stopped. A tinny “hello?” emitted from the mountainous formation of pillows. Tangled red curls emerged from satin coverlet, and the hand reappeared, re-groping. Pulling a telephone receiver to her sleep-puffed face, Gillian sank again into her mounded nest. “’Lo?”

“Ah, er, is this…Is this Gillian?”

“Gillian DeMise, better off dead.”

A long pause.

“Excuse me?”

“Just a little joke.” Gillian sighed, sat up. “Because of my name.”

“Oh. I see. Under the circumstances, that’s….never mind. I’m calling to…this is awkward… .I’m not sure… that is, are you a friend of Arthur Weisland?”

“Yes, Arthur and I are, uh, close.”

“Mmm. This is Arthur’s sister, Hannah.”

“Hannah, I’ve heard so much about-“

“No, I haven’t called to chit chat. Don’t make this more difficult than-“

Gillian pulled the phone away from her ear and frowned at it. This was not how she’d imagined a conversation with Arthur’s family. She’d thought she’d hear, ‘lovely to meet you,’ and ‘heard so many nice things’ and maybe even ‘welcome to the family.’ Something was not right.

“I’m sorry. I don’t mean to make things difficult. Why did you call?”

“There was a note in his calendar, Call Gillian, and this number, so I did.”

“Thank you. Why didn’t Arthur call? Is he all right?”

“Well, no. He died.” Sound of tears.

He died. He died. He died. The phone receiver fell into Gillian’s lap. She stared through the glass balcony doors at the grey line where sky met sea, mouthing those words over and over. Finally, she picked the receiver up, listened.

“Are you still there, Gillian?”

“He died.”


“Tell me.”

He hadn’t come to the bar mitzvah. His sister eventually called. No answer. No answer. No answer. Finally, Maurice, Hannah’s husband, had driven over to Arthur’s Paramus apartment, where his car was parked in its usual spot. When Arthur failed to answer his knock, Maurice called police, paramedics, the building superintendent. Arthur had gone into insulin shock and died alone, in a lawn chair that he’d inexplicably set up next to the refrigerator, facing the stove.

“He was probably delirious before he died. It used to happen when he’d forget to eat, but we thought he’d gotten better about that.”

“He had.” Gillian slid numb feet from beneath the puffy satin, swung numb legs floorwards, turned numb head to look for something appropriate for a funeral. Something appropriate and clean for a funeral. Perhaps just something clean. Pen. Paper. Write this down somewhere, on some scrap of envelope, or the back of a returned check. “Where is the, the, the…”

“It’s called sitting shiva, and we’re keeping it private, only for family.”

“So I can’t…”

“It wouldn’t be appropriate. But I thought you should know. Since he’d written your number down.”

“Thank you.”

Gillian let the receiver fall into the cradle.

“I know what it’s called,” she said into her emptiness.

“You’re not going?” Herb asked. “Why?”

“I was specifically not invited. But listen: I want you to get on the horn with Benny…”

“He’s not working-“

“Okay, so whoever replaced Benny, and order up a bunch. An assortment, okay? You know, the usual.”

“Done. I’ll call now? Or do you need more brotherly comfort?”

Gillian’s chest heaved, and Herb reached for her, pulled her awkwardly against his bony shoulder. Balling bunches of his shirt in her fists, she shook and snuffled.

“I just wish I could tell him goodbye, that I love him.”

“I think he knew.” Herb patted Gillian’s back.

“I KNOW he knew, moron,” Gillian retorted. “I want to tell him anyway.” She pushed away from Herb’s chest. “When will those books be in?”

“Couple days after I order them, like always.”

“Well, get to it.” Her huffy retreat was marred by tears dripping from her pointed nose.

“That’s what she said, which, I didn’t say, but I thought was the nuttiest thing.”

“Of course you wouldn’t, even if you are an insensitive dork of a brother. No offense.” Shaynah pushed a lock of hair, which was purple today, over one ear.

“Mmm,” agreed Herb, focused on Shaynah’s ear. All those cute little earrings. That cute little ear. What was she saying?

“You think she’s nutty? For wanting to have said goodbye to Arthur?”

“No, what bothered me was the WAY Gillian said it, the verb tense.”


“Try to keep up. Short naps help. Usually, people say, like you did, ‘I wish I could have told him.’ Gillian used present tense: ‘I want to tell him.’ I just thought that was weird.”

“Ah. Gotcha.” Shaynah looked thoughtful. “I may… No. You’ll think it’s stupid.”

Herb smiled. “So? That never stopped you before.”

“Wiseass. Look. I know this guy…”

“You know lots of THOSE.”

“Do NOT interrupt me when I am forming an idea, or this could take all day.”

Herb settled into the chair behind the desk, propped his chin on his fist to watch her machinate. “Sorry. So, this guy?”

“Right, his sister died and he kept getting this weird feeling, as though, I don’t know exactly, he didn’t get too specific, but sort of like he was being watched. He heard something on late night TV or radio, I don’t remember the details…”

“That’s you, Ms. Detail Oriented.”

Shaynah glared. “I have asked you-“

Herb held up his hands against her mock wrath. Mock? Mostly. He hoped.

“So he calls this woman who’s a psychic, but she specializes in dead people, there’s a word, what’s the word, Herb?”

Herb lifted his shoulders mutely.

Shaynah narrowed her eyes. “It’s not interrupting if I ask you a question. Wiseass.”


“Right, that’s it, she’s a medium, except she’s really tiny, a little bitty thing…”

“A small medium? Does body size matter?”

“I knew you’d make fun of me.”

Herb unfolded arms and legs, absently rubbed the point of an elbow. “Actually, I think it’s a good idea.”

Shaynah’s jaw dropped.

“I mean, I don’t think it’s a good idea, but I think Gillian will think it’s a great idea, so then it’s a good idea.”

“If it makes Gillian happy.”

“If it makes Gillian happy,” he agreed.

Shaynah tilted her head to one side, chewed her bottom lip. Herb wished she wouldn’t do that.

“You are such a sap, you know? If it makes Gillian happy.” She shook her head, setting her earrings bouncing. Herb wished she wouldn’t do that, too. He shifted in his chair, rearranging his lower body. “You’re gonna make some lucky woman really happy one of these days.”

Oh, if only.

She arrived, scoped out the bookstore, turning around and around, purple shoulder bag nearly overbalancing her, banging into shelves, displays, and the Freshly Dead table’s tall vase of silk gladiolus. Shaynah rushed to the rescue. Peering through flamboyantly decorated horn-rimmed glasses, the bony little woman drawled, “Ah like the energy heayah, you know? The energy? It’s very, weyull, sedate, you know?”

Shaynah adjusted the floral arrangement. “Sedate?”

“Weyull, Ah suppose Ah mean quiet, as though ev’ryone heayuh is daid?”

“Right. Well, the Posthumous Café carries only deceased authors. It’s a gimmick.”

“Weyull, that explains ev’ruhthing, don’t it? Ah suppose Ah should intr’aduce mahseyulf? Ah’m Dixie?”

Shaynah pressed her lips together and held her eyes steady, to avoid rolling them. “Your accent is charming. You’re not from around here.”

“Ah SAID Ah was from the Sayouth when y’all phoned me for this shindig.”

“Yes, you did. I guess I assumed you meant South Jersey. My mistake.”

“Ah need a few minutes to prepayuh? If yuh don’t mahnd?”

“Sure, I’ll make mahself scayuce?” Shaynah minced toward the stockroom. Herb unfolded himself from the armchair and followed. “ ‘Make yourself scarce?’ ” he repeated.

“She needs, I don’t know, to meditate or something.”

“Or something. Hi, Gillian.”

Gillian tugged at her wild hair, scowling at the mirror on the back of the door. “I don’t want him to see me like this.”
Herb asked, “Want who?” which was ungrammatical AND insensitive, as a swift kick from Shaynah’s pointy pink pump reminded him.

The session- no one referred to it as a séance- began at eight. Gillian had invited students from the acting studio, all her friends who had met Arthur, and some of the bookstore regulars. Arthur’s agent, Murray. She’d found his card on her bedside table. Well, beside her bedside table. It was good she’d knocked over that nearly empty coffee cup, or she’d never have found it.

Dixie was herding people “Us’ally, Ah have my assistant do this foh me? But he’s at a wedding?” Chairs were brought over from the café, since the sofa and chairs that were adequate for book signings failed to provide enough seating for this extended group. Dixie sat behind the desk, gazing benevolently at the expectant half circle of faces gazing back.

“As you may know, Ah don’t cayuh to know ann’thin about mah subject. So Ah don’t know who will be visitin’ with us this evenin’ just that—“ she broke off and looked startled. “Theyuhs somebody heayuh who’s mad about- what’s he mad about? I heayuh words—Yankee. Arthur.”

The assembled intake of breath pulled at the flickering candles.

Dixie went on. “Connecticut. King. Book signing. This don’t make no sense to me, a’tall. Anybody know?”

Frank tentatively put his hand up. “Yeayus! It’s you! Oh, he ain’t happy with you a’tall, because you—you get it wrong? You ain’t doin’ it right? Th’ signature? I’d be much obliged if you’d explain to me what Ah’m talking about, because Ah’m so confused raht now.” Frank stood.

Dixie raised her eyebrows.

“I do book signings here, as Mark Twain. Sometimes I’m other people, but Mark Twain’s my favorite. If he’s mad because I’m not getting his signature right, tell him I’m sorry and I’ll practice.”

Gillian sighed and puffed away a sticky lock of hair. She hadn’t imagined that any dead authors would be coming through to have a word with the actors who impersonated them at the bookstore.

“He says it’s all right, and—no, he’s gone. And now Ah’m getting’-- oh, this is an old story. Someone who didn’t have a chance to say goodbye? And he’s sorry? Now, come on,” she scolded a presence no one else could discern. “You could be an’abody. That ain’t much of a description. Oh, that’s not much bettah. Books. Huh. Lawn chair? In the kitchen? In front of the stove.”

Gillian sobbed. “I know- that’s—Tell, tell Arthur I love him.”

Dixie nodded. “He knows, honey. He’s sorry he didn’t tell his family about you. He didn’t want to fight.”

“Why did he--?”

“He forgot to eat. He got busy? Finished the book? Check his computer? He says Alice? Don’t know what he means.”

“Is ‘Alice’ his password?” Gillian turned; it was Murry, Arthur’s agent, who’d asked.

But Dixie was done. It was enough.

Gillian was surprised to see tears on Murray’s face as she wiped away her own. He shook her hand and thanked her as the other guests filtered out.

“Those books came in this afternoon,” Herb told her, handing her another tissue.

“Thanks.” Gillian blew her nose. She tried to do it quietly, really she did.

“Did you want to, uh…”

“You know, for a jerky baby brother, you’re okay. Yes, please.” Gillian moved a pile of books to a nearby shelf to make room.

Herb brought several books to Gillian, and backed away. Shaynah smiled approval, and gestured with her fluffy pink head towards the stockroom. Her many earrings bounced. Herb tripped over his feet, narrowly avoided braining himself on the ‘Employees Only’ sign.

“I’ll miss you, Arthur,” Gillian said into air that still hummed with otherworldly energies. She traced his name with her finger on a book cover, arranged it tenderly on the table, readjusting the gladiolus and the angle of the sign that read ‘Freshly Dead.’

The End.

-Cybele Pomeroy 2004

Wednesday, June 23, 2004

Better, Even

You can do it alone, in private, with media, or with imagination.

Doing it in public places is also fine. People will envy you and want to join in.

You can do it with a dog, if you have a dog. Or with a borrowed dog, or one just passing.

It's perfectly acceptable to do it at the dining room table.

You can do it with your spouse, someone of the same gender, or several people at once.

It's all right to do with someone else's spouse, too.

There are some who are paid to do it with large groups of people.

It can be done several times in the space of a minute, for hours on end.

You can do it with your grandmother, your father, your sister, even your cousins. All of them. All at once.

Done with strangers whom you expect to never see again, there is a dimension of extra surprise.

When it's done with children, there is much joy and no censure.

If you can manage to do it with an enemy, everything changes. Everything.

It brings joy to you and everyone in earshot. It feeds upon itself and grows bigger and brighter as long as it continues.

Do it many times a day, share it often. Do it until tears run down your face, catch your breath, wipe your eyes, and begin again. Do it until your whole body aches with it and your face feels as though it will split. Do it to the point of delicious exhaustion, and lean weakly against the friend or stranger close to you. Do it everywhere, with everyone, let your voice ring with it in every moment.

Laughter. It is better than sex.

It IS.

Thursday, June 10, 2004

To Do List

To Do List (in progress)

Ride in a Helicopter
Dance naked in the rain
Learn a martial art
Accept a Book deal
Grow my hair until it stops
Ride in the cockpit
Eat more mangos
Accept a Pulitzer
Ride in a Limosine
Make a speech at the Tony awards
Sleep until noon
Drive it like I stole it
Live at the Beach
Rough it in New Zeland
Be part of an Alqonquin Round Table in Baltimore
Run a bookstore
Attend the opening of my play on Broadway
Dive from a cliff
Run with the fast crowd
Learn to play pool
Drink Champagne while wearing an evening gown
Set a trend
Swim with dolphins
Go Vegas
Refer someone to my agent
Have a drink named for me
Get an allover tan
Visit bridges
Go on a Book tour
Drink Champagne while wearing nothing
Call my lawyer
Write all the things inside my head
Appear at an event in borrowed jewelry
Wear Vera Wang
Leave nothing behind

Wednesday, June 02, 2004

Film Review

Movies I love a lot, listed in the order in which I think of them.

1. Bagdhad Cafe
A very weird film, but full of fabulous images and ideas.

2. The Princess Bride
An incredibly quotable movie, at least among mine. Cary Elwes manages to avoid the sterotypic heroic insipidness usually required of the romantic lead. Mandy Patenkin is gorgeous. Miss you, Andre. Wallace Shawn is, I hear, a big tipper, so treat him well, wait staff.

3. Mary Poppins
Just _so_ much fun.

4. Memento
Saw it four? five? times in the theatre. Can't stop watching the DVD. And the casting? Perfect.

5. To Wong Fu... Love Julie Newmarr
You can be anyone you choose to be, but if you've got an adams apple, you're a man.

6. The King of Hearts
See it in French. It's wonderful.

7. The Red Balloon
See it in French. It's better.

8. The Matrix- I
Wonderful premise, great visuals, and the idea of the fact that they were much cooler in the Matrix than in "reality." Like, they were totally all weird and geeky.

9. Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home
Incredibly funny, great cast chemistry. Why doesn't Leonard Nimoy direct more often?

10. The Prince of Egypt
Gave me prickles the first time, and every time. Tears, too.

11. The Black Stallion
Scorcese, a desert island, a gorgeous horse. Divinity? Yes.

12. The Philedelphia Story (Kate Hepburn and Jimmy Stewart)
I love watching dead superstars. The live ones don't even begin to measure up.

13. Yankee Doodle Dandy
What fun. James Cagney as we never saw him before or since.

14. ET
Box of tissues. Every time. I'm not kidding. "I'll be right here."

15. Willow
Only saw it once, need to see it again. If I remember correctly, there were some clumsy special effects, but the Disappearing Pig Trick more than made up for them.

16. Labyrinth
David Bowie is a Sex God. Love the soundtrack as much as the film. Jennifer Connelly is luminous. I can't find a single flaw in this movie.

17. Being John Malkeovich
The all-Malkeovich scene is mind-numbingly surreal. The end is appropriately disturbing.

18. Bringing Out The Dead
Nicholas Cage. Martin Scorcese. Ambulance. Sleep dep hallucinations. Or maybe visions. My kinda film.

19. The Sixth Sense
A mind expander, despite Bruce Willis. The secret was kept from me for over a year. I saw it on network TV. "It's a good movie. It's got Bruce Willis in it." Does no one understand that these are contradictory statements?

20. Monty Python's Life of Brian
Maybe Jesus' life was really like this.

21. Gladiator (2000)
The gratuitous scenery shots made this film.

22. Disney's Tarzan
Well researched, great soundtrack even though Phil Collins is not usually my favorite. The idea of family being the ones who love you just knocks me out.

23. Spaceballs
Never cared for this when it was fresh. Every time I see it, it's better. Consensus is, it's not one of Brooks' best. Still, bad Mel Brooks is often better than good anybody else. I met him at a book signing. Well, "met" may be too strong a word....

27. Men In Tights
Carey Elwes is still Orlando Bloom to me. Best line: "this is like Seder with Vincent Price." We saw this film in a theater full of black patrons, who did not get the Jewish humor. We rolled, they tittered nervously. That was almost as entertaining as the movie, and makes a better story.

28. Young Frankenstein
Spooky mansion, all star cast, and a happy ending.

29. Superman (Christopher Reeves)
Okay, so it's predictable. It's also classic, and the story about Reeves building his own muscles rather than having Costumes sew them into the suit is fantastic. The double take on the too-small phonebooth. Yeah. And since his accident, he's more Superman to me than ever. What a heartbreaker, geezus.

30. Hard Day's Night
The film that invented the music video.

31. Yellow Submarine
Brilliant. Brilliant. Brilliant. And that's just the artwork.

32. A Day At The Races
If I have to choose just one....

33. Pirates of the Carribean
Depp is poetry in motion, Orlando Bloom appropriately earnest. Great action, special effects, sets, lighting. Not since Princess Bride.

34. Nightmare Before Christmas
Because when you're from Halloweentown, a shrunken head IS a good gift. Juxtaposition. 'Nuff said.

35. Bugsy Malone
Whole cast under 14 years of age. Gangsters with cream pies. Can anyone tell me why this fabulous film isn't out on DVD? I've got an ancient VHS tape that I picked up used from a vidstore, and as much as we all love it, it won't last.

36. Willie Wonka and the Chocolate Factory
Gene Wilder at his most beautiful. Being remade, with Johnny Depp in the lead. If anyone can assume the mantle, it's Depp.

39. The Adventures of Baron Munchausen
Lush. Lush. More lush. Lines difficult to hear because of an overly lush soundtrack.

40. Close Encounters of the Third Kind
Did you ever share dreams with complete strangers, and follow an urge you couldn't explain?

41. What Dreams May Come
Oh. My. Gods. This is one gorgeous, heartwrenching movie. I'd like to see it again, but I can't, I just can't.

42. The Tall Guy
Jeff Goldblum. Emma Thompson. And a supporting appearance by Elephant! a musical about the life of the Elephant Man. Best number: He's Packing His Trunk. Guess why I like this.

43. Encino Man
Not my usual thing, but it makes me laugh.

44. Serial Mom
Mmmm, John Waters plus Kathleen Turner, yummy.

45. Death Race 2000
Ironic. Incredible. Hilarious in its blackness.

46. Rainman
Counting cards with Charlie...Hoffman's good, but it's Cruise's work that made me believe he could, in fact, act.

47. Mission: Impossible -2
And this confirmed that thought. Extended shot of the chick with the eyes and the scarf blowing behind her, niiiiiiice. And the shot in the doorway with the doves, oh!

48. Star Wars (Un-enhanced)
George Lucas was so much better without an unlimited budget. Really, I think everyone is.

49. Men In Black -I
Danny Elfman plus Tommy Lee Jones plus Will Smith plus Vincent D'Onofrio equals killer movie.

50. Tommy
Still crazy. Okay, Rodger Daltry isn't much of an actor, but the stars around him compensate.

51. Bowfinger
Love Steve Martin, usually lukewarm on Eddie Murphy. Not this time. Frank Oz does such a plush job detailing his sets.

52. Popeye (Robin Williams, Shelly Duvall)
Brilliant casting. Great script. Fun musical numbers. Is this out on DVD?

53. Jurassic Park -I
The closing shot was about thirty seconds too long, but the sick stegosaurus BREATHING knocked me out. Bill Paxton didn't measure up to Laura Dern. Spielberg's kids were better than Crichton's. Lots of book detail left out, but M.C. writes very densly.

54. Mystery Men
premise! casting! execution! silly!

55. Ghostbusters -I
Still a classic, and a great part for Rick Moranis.

56. Little Shop of Horrors (Frank Oz)
Delightful. Moranis is wonderful again.

57. James and the Giant Peach
Stylistically dense and detailed. Same actor with magical moment as in Willie Wonka

58. Rollerball (James Caan)
Disturbing, ugly.

59. Terminator -II
Made me cry. Schwartzenneger should not have that effect on me, but I've had a soft spot for him since 1971's Pumping Iron.

60. The Shining
Even the trailer scared the shit out of me.

61. North by Northwest
The Master of Suspense does wonderful work.

62. Dune
Every time I see it, I catch more of it. Where the hell is Mclaughlin nowadays?

63. Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon
Don't know why I love Chinese philosophy and culture. This was gorgeous.

64. Who Framed Roger Rabbit?
Bob Hoskins is a terrifically convincing American. "A toon killed his brother. Dropped a piano on him." Jessica Rabbit is the sexiest woman I've ever seen.

65. Shrek
The prince is the villain, the ogre's the hero and the princess kicks arse. Argue with me.

66. Fantasia 2000
Pines of Rome makes me cry, Rhapsody in Blue makes me think, Carnivale des Animaux makes me laugh, and Firebird Suite makes me cry again. Ignore the segment with those stupid self absorbed hacks Penn and Teller.

67. Indiana Jones -3
Harrison Ford plus Sean Connery? Whew, overload.

68. The Producers
Springtime For Hitler. Gene Wilder rocks.

69. South Park, The Movie
My reactions: This is stupid. This is stupid. That's kinda funny. That's so stupid it's funny. No, goddamn, that's just funny. Saddam Hussein and the Devil? Killing me. Blame Canada, indeed.

(And here I stop. A hundred is too many, fifty too few, but sixty-nine seems just fine.)

If there's a pattern, I can't tell what it is. Unless it's that I have NO Kevin Bacon movies listed. Correct me if I'm wrong.

And there's another movie, one that haunts me. It's about a little boy who meets a little girl on a beach somewhere in New England, I think, and they become friends. They find a turtle and mark their initials on its carapace. Flash forward twenty years. Something is terrifying the ocean village, some monster. A sea hunt is on. The man (our boy) engages in the hunt in some capacity. People die. There's a big storm scene. A mermaid woman (our girl) comes out of the sea and calls off the creature. Long (manufactured) shot of the monster (a giant turtle) swimming away, towing the body of one of the hunters attached to a flipper by a spear. We see initials etched on the carapace.

Does this sound familiar to anybody? ANYBODY? What IS the title of this film?

For the extra-curious, here are a few movies I have NOT seen:

Ben Hur
Buckaroo Banzai in the 25th Century
This Is Spinal Tap
Raising Arizona
Eating Raoul
Like Water For Chocolate
The Blue Lagoon
The Graduate
History of the World

Thursday, May 20, 2004

Parenting, the Ultimate Education

I rarely felt secure or safe with my anything but square parents. But I learned a lot.

I learned that everybody loves you when you've got dope, and when you've got none, you know who your friends are.

I learned the smell of patchouli and hair gone too long unwashed.

I learned that spiritual groups will deceive you while smiling and spouting love and peace.

I learned that even when you find a cause worth fighting for, your efforts may be futile and you end up wondering if your energy had been better spent elsewhere.

I learned that people have to work to stay connected, else their separate psyches drive them apart.

I learned that men and women practice betrayal in many forms, and even those who claim to love you best may participate.

I learned that when you hit rock bottom, there's nowhere to fall.

I learned that no matter how dire your straits, recovery is always possible.

I learned to amuse myself with books, sticks, and imagination, and that television is a mass mindnumbing leach.

I learned to skate on a frozen pond and to swim in a warm rainfilled clay pit.

I learned the ways of breadmaking when my mother gave me a lump of dough to knead, then baked my little creation in the big oven alongside the commercial loaves.

I learned the strata of the earth's top layers when my father dug a four-foot pit for no other reason than to show me.

I learned the feel of corn pollen on the back of my neck, the song of frogs and birds and crickets, the smell of soybeans growing in their ribbed fields, and the flavor of peas fresh off the vine.

I learned that grownups, too, love to play, to laugh, to swim naked, stripping to dive into bottomless strip pits.

I learned that having nothing doesn't seem like nothing when you've nothing to compare it to.

I learned that infidelity and divorce are not the end of anyone's world, but that moving far away sometimes can be.

I learned that you can learn new things after the age of fourty, and these may be the most important ones of all.

I learned that my parents are creative, innovative people with strong wills and big dreams, and the courage to gamble everything to achieve them.

I learned that even if they didn't match my idea of ideal parents, the world could use more humans like them, and I've been really very lucky indeed.

Sunday, May 16, 2004

The Good Guys?

Someone recently, with the revelation of abuse of prisoners by American soldiers, said, "We don't get to be the good guys anymore."

Am I alone in considering that a naive sentiment?

Okay, here it is: War is atrocious. Atrocities happen. These young men are babies, BABIES, recruited at eighteen, before their feet have finished growing, when their brains are still washable, while they are capable of committing fearsome acts against other humans because their superiors say they must. This is atrocious.

These babies are living in a hostile environment, watching corpses of their countrymen being burned and dragged through the street and hung from a bridge. This is atrocious. The soldiers hold in their hands not tokens from their sweethearts, or children of their siblings or books filled with poetry and philosophy but weapons. Huge heavy powerful noisy weapons designed for killing other humans, with who-knows-what in their own hands.

Perhaps books of poetry.

When were we ever the good guys? Haven't we always been imperialist pigs imposing our weapons and wills upon a country we deem (or pretend to deem) backwards, raping that land to gain the resource that we wish to control? Do I risk branding myself as a Marxist for saying this? These soldiers are going to take the blame for these most recent atrocities, as individuals, via the process of court martial, and be tarred and feathered and drummed out of town. This is atrocious.

I'm not sure who is to blame. The victims, who are humans, with families, of the wrong nationality this week? The soldiers? (who are not to be excused for doing a bad job of things just because they've been under a lot of stress but still, they hardly fall into the same category as Nazis. Do they?). The US military for not assigning sufficient supervision to these young soldiers who were handed more responsibility than they had maturity to handle? The US government, for sending soldiers to war? The President, for making up reasons to go to war? The the small and powerhungry sheeplike avid masses, who approve of a war we can win, making war an attractive option to a President who hears the death knell of waning popularity?

John the Apostle told his followers, "Love each other. Until you can do this one thing, I can teach you no more."

War is not the answer. Blame is not the answer. Hate is not the answer. Power is not the answer. Retribution is not the answer.

Guess what is.

Few are willing to take that risk, though. War is much easier.

Friday, May 07, 2004

His Name Is Matt

Was it the set of his shoulders, the cut of his hair? Or perhaps his eyes leaped at me in an ancient painful bid for understanding and compassion. No matter. His resemblance to someone I knew a long time ago was a teasing finger tickling at my psyche.

We began with a group movement exercise. Was he awkward and ungraceful? Perhaps. Moreso than the others? Not particularly. Did he feel more acutely self-conscious than the rest? Probably. For when it was his turn to lead, he stopped, paralyzed by indecision, or embarrassment.

"Move, " I nudged. "Just do something."

"I can't think of something. This is my movement."

Ah, a Rebel. Teacher Mode roared in. Remove the disrupter, lest the whole class descend into misrule. I have only half an hour. This must be dealt with quickly.

"Maybe you'd prefer to sit down, then."

"All right." He was so polite.

He sat. The group continued to move, with a new leader.

"You really don't want to participate?"

"No, I'll just watch."

"That doesn't seem fair to the others, do you think?"

"Then I won't watch." And he averted his eyes.

I heard a cracking sound that I believe was my heart. The shard slipped, and I bled inside.

I sat near him- not near enough to imply endorsement of his actions but not so far as to denote distaste or censure. When we'd finished the exercise, I turned to him, met his eyes, sending messages of Safety, and asked, "Are you ready to rejoin the others?"

"I guess."

He was tentative, unabashed, and not the least bit belligerent. I was ashamed of myself for not handling him with more tact and delicacy.

At the end of our time, as the class shuffled off to dance class with J., I bid them each farewell, instructing them to be kind to J., who is a fabulous dancer but an inexperienced teacher.

This boy hung towards the end of the group.

"I'm glad you decided to play," I told him, by way of an apology.

"That first exercise was hard," he said, offering his own apology and justifying his original position at once.

We gather together, all three groups, in the theater to do mini-presentations of our crafts. Matt sits beside an animated girl from a different group. She chats with him, laughs at something he says. His body relaxes, and his face. His contribution to the community drawing and painting project of a series of houses is a set of half-moon shaped windows. "I drew them," he tells J., who correctly identifies the half-moons as his. "She painted them," and he indicates his companion.

He leans forward to tell me, "I liked your class best. I'm sorry I was..." (Oh, gods, don't say 'surly'.) "....shy at first."

What's stuck in my throat? "That's very nice of you to say," I manage. We share a smile that feels somehow familiar, and I hand this boy the pieces of my shattered heart.

Wednesday, April 28, 2004

From last summer's View Thru Quarter Pane, which, in my estimation, was a complete love-fest, and though I was disappointed by the light turnout of audience members, I could not have been more pleased with the production.

This play began as a concept piece. Four vignettes, four characters apiece, four men, four get the idea. I called it "Quartet." I was asked, "but what's it about?" I didn't know. I said I would know when I was finished writing it.

And so I did. Without the slightest inkling of writing to fit a certain theme, I wrote four pieces that were whole in and of themselves, and that, when strung together, became emblematic of a whole host of things I'd never predicted.

The first piece, Bringing Spring To Hinckley, was a classroom challenge from a fellow student. "This is Annual Buzzard Day in Hinckley, Ohio," he said. "Somebody should write a play about it." And here it is. Thanks, Jim, for the nudge.

Part Two, No Business Like It, was based on the autobiography of my favorite Marx brother, Harpo Speaks. I was fascinated by his accounts of the early years, before they had nicknames, before they played to packed theaters, before they made movies.

On first contact with Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock, I found it evocative, obscure, and strangely sad. Eventually, after a college course in Carpe Diem and a bit more analysis, I realized why. Love You, J. Alfred is a turning around of viewpoint. J. Alfred Prufrock was narrow-minded, blinded to possibilities by his own raft of insecurities. It disturbs me to find characters who miss out on their own potential.

As a finale, Hey, Feed Us, Feetus! began with a name. A silly name. At my birth, I was given a name with a story attached, and very nearly given an extremely silly name. I wanted to tell the story of another silly name, and where it led. Of course, it turned into a great deal more. Doesn't it always?

When I pulled back and squinted a little at the picture, I realized that the pieces were linked by a theme of love. Not the goopy kind that advertisers exploit, but actual love as its used in real life. Love in real life? Now there's a concept.

I've always maintained that casting is 90% of a director's work. Thanks to a brilliantly talented, enormously committed and tremendously hardworking cast, I think we have a show of which we can all be proud. I have truly been blessed to have a cast that was built with the care and assistance of my friends, who brought to me devoted actors, people who wanted to work on the show, with me, with one rare, how fine. Hey, look: it's love in real life.

Thursday, February 12, 2004

Jacob Bronowski writes in the wonderful book The Ascent of Man:

" War, organized war, is not a human instinct. It is a highly planned and co-operative form of theft. And that form of theft began ten thousand years ago when the harvesters of wheat accumulated a surplus, and the nomads rose out of the desert to rob them of what they themselves could not provide."

It matters not if the surplus is wheat, as in Bronowski's example of ancient Jericho, or oil, as is the case currently in Iraq. And when we are attacked by vindictive forces in a move of intimidation, what is the attempt but to rob us of our excessive content and security?

When response to that action becomes a curtailing of our civil liberties, it gives one pause to think that the terrorists of September 11th might have been successful in stealing from us some of our freedom.

Monday, January 26, 2004

I don't know who wrote this, and I certainly don't intend to claim it as mine, but a big Thank You to its creator. And thanks to my California gal L. for sharing it with me.

The Hospital Window

Two men, both seriously ill, occupied the same hospital room. One man was allowed to sit up in his bed for an hour each afternoon to help drain the fluid from his lungs. His bed was next to the room's only window. The other man had to spend all his time flat on his back. The men talked for hours on end. They spoke of their wives and families, their homes, their jobs, their involvement in the military service, where they had been on vacation.

Every afternoon when the man in the bed by the window could sit up, he would pass the time by describing to his roommate all the things he could see outside the window.

The man in the other bed began to live for those one hour periods where his world would be broadened and enlivened by all the activity and color of the world outside.

The window overlooked a park with a lovely lake. Ducks and swans played on the water while children sailed their model boats. Young lovers walked arm in arm amidst flowers of every color and a fine view of the city skyline could be seen in the distance.

As the man by the window described all this in exquisite detail, the man on the other side of the room would close his eyes and imagine the picturesque scene.

One warm afternoon the man by the window described a parade passing by.

Although the other man couldn't hear the band - he could see it. In his mind's eye as the gentleman by the window portrayed it with descriptive words.

Days and weeks passed.

One morning, the day nurse arrived to bring water for their baths only to find the lifeless body of the man by the window, who had died peacefully in his sleep. She was saddened and called the hospital attendants to take the body away.

As soon as it seemed appropriate, the other man asked if he could be moved next to the window. The nurse was happy to make the switch, and after making sure he was comfortable, she left him alone.

Slowly, painfully, he propped himself up on one elbow to take his first look at the real world outside.

He strained to slowly turn to look out the window beside the bed.

It faced a blank wall. The man asked the nurse what could have compelled his deceased roommate who had described such wonderful things outside this window.

The nurse responded that the man was blind and could not even see the wall.

She said, "Perhaps he just wanted to encourage you."

Sunday, January 25, 2004

I believe there are things that justify themselves in one's head and in
one's gut at the same time; that your heart can break with a noise that
leaves you bleeding at the ears -- that August moons are more
miraculous than any other kind. The things you feel are infinitely more
important than the things you know -- I would be inclined to choose where to
lay my trust accordingly.

-McGraw xxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxx

(And I believe that the Universe loves me very much to gift me with wonderful friends who are also beautiful writers.)