18 June 2007

Adventures in hacking my DVD player

You wouldn't believe how happy I was when I learned that I was not going to need to shell out anything like the $80-140 I thought I'd have to spend if I wanted to watch a DVD from outside the US. As usual, big organizations don't like to play nice, and our DVD players here in the US don't play non-Region 2 formatted films. I had found a director's cut of Wim Wenders' Until the End of the World from Germany and had been searching for options around town, finding a couple of sources of multi-region DVD players.

But then I discovered a hacking site that offered codes and instructions passed along by folks who had altered the behavior of their video players. I searched for my model in their database of hacks and found people who had successfully reprogrammed their machines using their remote keypads.

I was elated.

I tested it out by pressing a sequence of keys including the first few digits in the number pi, tweaked some memory codes, exited the menu, turned my machine off and on again, and proceeded to watch my five-hour version of Until the End of the World, a completely different film from the one I fell for twenty years ago in a San Francisco theater when it was first released in the States.

Some perverse instinct grabbed me recently and I changed some of the codes using the remote, but I did it stupidly and removed the ability of the remote to fast forward and rewind at varying speeds and instead only worked to advance or return to the beginnings of chapters.

I hacked again, for the last time, and the remote worked properly again. I breathed a sigh of relief and shut the machine off.

Curiosity: you know, it can get you far, but it can also send you over the edge.

Taking the new mall for a spin

Our town has a new mall, after the slow and languid death of the old one many years ago and the black hole of construction that occupied it for a long time. A friend mentioned recently that her dad had, back when that first mall was built, turned down a chance to own some of that land.

Now it is owned and operated by Macerich, and it is that corporation's territory in more ways than I had realized.

I hadn't understood that malls have a different status from other public spaces because of the ownership of the land. It's like your parents saying, "Our roof, our rules!" when you come home with your "special" friend. They get to say, "No demonstrations on our property because they block trade on private property, our private property." They get to enforce traffic and other regulations fairly selectively, as I understand it.

And what are we left with?

I spent an hour there today because I'm curious. Who goes to this mall? I know bored parents of small children do because it's safe, full of pairs of eyes, full of similar people with similar issues. I saw lots of mall workers arrive, as I arrived around 10 so I could redeem a coupon for a freebie at Panera Bread. I never know what I want there when I go in. I always feel kind of perplexed at the panoply of pain: all those white breads and pastries, all that starchy, sugary stuff with nary a whole grain in sight despite dustings of whole oats suggesting otherwise.

Looking at their menu I felt like I was choosing a breakfast item from the dairy case at the supermarket: Let's see, Grands buttermilk biscuits or the can of cinnamon rolls? Both of those choices are pale imitations of the biscuits, scones, and rolls we typically make at home, but I know people get seduced into thinking that prying those spiral-sealed cans open with a spoon is the experience of baking or is an improvement on the time and labor baking requires. Looking at my options at Panera I felt like I was choosing from a selection of Betty Crocker cake mixes, which are fine for what they are but again are not the same as beating butter and sugar, adding eggs and flour and milk and salt and rising agents and baking it all together until it becomes something more than the simple sum of its parts.

I am deeply skeptical of how designed the whole mall experience feels today. At Panera I like their muffin tops, called "Muffies" -- all the best part of a muffin, a great idea -- and the free "souffle" was okay yet enough salt to burn the back of my throat seemed to be standing in for some of the cheese in the four-cheese "souffle," an eggy center baked inside a pastry shell that stayed pleasingly warm for a while. I know people who write at Panera because of the free wifi (I think we should start pronouncing it wiffie or weefee; I like the play on the word wifey, too). I love it that people like me can work anywhere now, that people like me are being courted with the free wifi and the endless refills, that we are encouraged to make these spaces our mobile workplaces. But I don't like the way the staff are relegated to fast-food workers, assembling cookie-cutter items and always having to answer to some remote entity called "Corporate."

I've felt a tinge of the same dismay every time I've visited a new Peet's coffee outlet in the past few years. They're all pretty, with nice finishes and art that professes the company's interest in the places they buy coffee. But there's little there there, as Gertrude Stein infamously said of Oakland. Mall coffee shops are the unisex replacement for the disappearing lounge adjacent to the department store restroom. The room that allowed you to call it a restroom and not just a bathroom or toilet. Mall cafes and other spaces offer public parlors, environments that are clean and inoffensive enough to disappear so you can use them for your own purposes for a while.

All these wipeable surfaces feel alien after living a block from the original Peet's store in Berkeley for two years in the early 1980s. We were lucky enough to land not on the Telegraph side of campus but on the Chez Panisse side.

I've only dined at Chez Panisse three times, each of them memorable, but at least once a week my housemates and I would amble the block, threading our way along the heaving concrete sidewalks of North Berkeley, to Peet's for a small cup of their rich, deep elixir. We'd claim a little patch of sidewalk or stairway or lean on a newspaper box and watch other people come to life with us under the effects of the brew. Thus was one of the final nails driven into my life before coffee snobbery. (I was a goner from way back: there were too many things urging me in that direction, like when my sweetie returned from Boston with tales of coffee a friend at MIT made after cooling the coffee with liquid nitrogen; the theory was that the highest temperature differential between coffee and water made for the best flavored brew; this accounted for our freezing of all our coffee beans for the next twenty years.)

Peet's defined Berkeley for me: nestled among the Craftsman bungalows of the Berkeley hills, all that dark wood paneling and shelving under low ceilings made for a cozy cubbyhole that got steamy when it rained. It's hard to say whether the wood was all stained dark deliberately or whether some of it was simply coated with the patina of a million visitors, a million transactions before ours. I think it was a lot of both. I loved the way intellectuals engaged with each other, caffeine as the facilitator.

But here, at the Peet's at the new mall, there's no patina, nor do I find impassioned intellects at odds. I go in and buy coffee there anyway, because it's a decent place to sit and write. A woman is reading next to me, a guy is on a laptop, and a couple of women are chatting in the section I choose, the one with a great view of the Flatirons, our beautiful mountains. Real estate agents and contractors meet their clients here and pore through checklists with them. I find I can't concentrate on my novel about a Venetian police detective, again, and I'm distracted from the gorgeous view of our dramatic mountainscape by the names etched on the tops of the boxes across the parking lot: Men's Wearhouse; Staples: The Office Supply Superstore (also subtitled by me "The Only Office Supply Store Pretentious Enough to Have a Name with a Subtitle"); and a storefront with a name that always perplexes me, Massage Envy.

I walk back toward my car along the main row of shops, and even at up to 60 percent off, I know there's nothing I need in any of these stores. I bought socks for our daughter at Gymboree the other day. My friends and I liked the drinks at The Purple Martini one evening when we arrived at the tail end of their four-hour "happy hour." (But the volume of the music videos they had playing on screens all over the bar seemed to increase exponentially while we were there and our ears were ringing by the time we left, around 9:30, when the night was still young for most people.

A man who is maybe thirty walks past me, talking animatedly with himself. "Why? I don't know why!" he exclaims, a daypack and a cotton sack with handles bouncing behind him as he strides south. Off-Center Guy doesn't seem to be slowed by the store displays any more than I am. Maybe it's just us who are out of sync with everyone else, but I'm not so sure.

There's nothing here for him, there's nothing here for me. A couple of shops looked like they reflected someone's individual style: Christina's Collection and a denim boutique. Perversely, the kind of jewel box that is Christina's Collection, preciously named and looking like a little museum, a thoroughly curated expression of one person's unique sensibilities, is simultaneously more attractive and extremely suspect: I worry that if I cross its threshold I may be subjecting myself to the sticky snares of some person for whom this little shop is the absolute culmination of their hopes and dreams, my every glance will be pounced upon, and my every murmur met with an essay revealing the storekeeper's extensive interest in just that detail. Sometimes you just want to browse in a very anonymous way, and that, I'm convinced, is also the appeal of the chain stores. I know people who are very attached to the freedom of being able to buy dinner without getting out of their cars now; at the mall, I have that same feeling. I could buy a garment here without anyone I know judging me for where I shop or what I buy; the store clerks and owners are simply glad to have me as a customer because that means, for now, that they have jobs.

But everything here feels like it's for someone else. The store with all black, white, or black-and-white stuff? Cool idea, but I don't need any of that right now, thank you. I'm just not a person who updates my decor continuously, who swaps out candle holders, dish towels, and coordinating oven mitts every season.

And I know my reluctance to buy my little trendy tops at mall chain stores is slowing a certain economy down in some ways. By buying used things, however, I'm also nurturing other economies I believe in more than I believe in The Macerich Corporation. My friends and I lament that for what you get back it's hardly worth consigning at Childish Things, a shop just a half a block north of the new mall that resells used clothes, toys, and incidentals for families with little kids and babies, yet I still bring some of our used stuff there anyway, if simply to support someone who I think has built a nice business for Boulderites and a kind of refuge for parents of small children, no small thing during that peculiarly isolating time.

I get the most help from a stocking clerk at Macy's, who directs me where I want to go (I feel so geeky for asking the young Hispanic woman for "swimwear"). A make-up clerk who had just started to work with another patron still has a "hi" with a smile for me as I go by. She'll go far, I'm sure, if she doesn't piss off the people she's already working with to get to the other ones she wants to work with.

So who does shop here? Who is this for? Who falls for this?

I suspect this is all for the people moving into all those new houses that look just like the ones on Extreme Makeover: Home Edition. I think that show has held up quite a standard in contemporary home design; now I'm seeing so many siding-and-stone clad houses they're starting to look like what we called the "mushroom houses" of the 1980s and 1990s to me. Those houses the developers build on that TV show have become a powerful icon, one that people are grasping hold of right now despite having been lured to overextend themselves with exploding mortgages that they couldn't really finance unless everything continued going just as well as it had been, and we all know how that turned out for most people, don't we? Unfortunately, we don't know how it's going to turn out for a whole lot more people very soon, but foreclosures are on a scary-big upswing.

I think TV is still selling that whole package as hard as it can, though. If you can have everything paved, landscaped, a nice car, and a flat-screen TV, all will be well, right? People think they will be accepted if they look like the ones they watch on prime time nightly, or if they have that house, keep up with the fads. We don't watch much TV compared with the average Joseph P. America, so now and then I'm incensed when a movie or TV show tries to tell you that its people are quirky and charming and special yet all the stuff around them cries, "These people are total fashion victims, enslaved by what people think they should do and want!"

I see around me the minimum-wage workers who have jobs here at the mall and shop here because it's what they know. I recognize the parents with young children who are both bored silly by life in front of the TV and come here for the all-important activity of simply Getting Out of the House so the moms can say they "did some errands" by the end of the day and feel better about themselves.

My mother and I talked this morning about my deeply skeptical attitude toward this new "public space" and she reminded me of Frank Zappa's question, "Is that a real poncho, or is that a Sears poncho?" No Sears stores here at the new mall, but Zappa's question still slices right to the heart of the matter after lo, these many years. Is this a real mall, or someone's idea of what you might want from a mall? Is this a real experience, or a made-up experience? I keep wanting to meet the people the mall designers had in mind when they developed this project. It is not lost on me that all those cool ideas about mixed-use this and that that people brought up during the open comment period before the new mall was developed simply evaporated. Now we've got a soulless outdoor mall (which is ok when the weather's fine but seems bleak and unenticing in the cold of winter, encouraging me to forget about the place for months at a time), filled with national chains selling stuff no one really needs any more, if they ever did. This outdoor mall has no connection with our older downtown pedestrian mall, a missed opportunity to link this with the real center of town if I ever saw one. Why there aren't free shuttles between the two places I do not understand.

So I'll skirt the mall and cash in my freebies now and then (California Pizza Kitchen sent me a free dinner for four just before their real opening but on my last visit they served me food with rancid nuts and I just haven't worked up any enthusiasm about going back there). And instead of buying Major Dickason's Blend for $13/lb. coffee at Peet's, I'll sip my $6/lb. organic, free-trade Italian roast from Lucky's Market and enjoy our own free wifi from my back deck instead. Malls like this one always remind me to look inward, closer to home, for the there I sometimes misguidedly seek out there.

08 June 2007

Writing about music, part 277: My favorite arrow

So why keep going on about my favorite band, about their music and how it affects my world, if, as I say, I'm really "over them" now?

Because there's something there, I'm convinced.

I just read a couple of early Ian Rankin thrillers that recently arrived at our public library. They get straight to the heart of this sort of disillusioned, late-40s career cop. His world is a kind of emotional desert: he's pared his life down to his work as a cop, not leaving much room for more. The action and perspective stays tightly focused on him and his thoughts. But in Rankin's more recent books, his detective, John Rebus, finds great solace in music. In fact, I've felt Rankin's become something of a publicity engine for the contemporary Scottish alternative music industry; he calls out other groups too occasionally -- I'm just waiting for his first Gomez mention).

And I think Rankin has created a richer character with his interest in music. So I keep writing about it, trying to capture something about performance, identity, feeling, expression, energy -- all those things music makes me feel and think about. I share some of the experience Rankin invents for Rebus: how that music can pull us through, like time itself or a plot device, getting us from one point to another.

And I love the ride when I listen to Gomez. I love the way they grasp hold of a song again and again -- how they made up the songs to include the reminders to keep paying attention, every time you sing a new verse or change tempo or add a new texture.

06 June 2007

Conversations with Gomez

Ooh, it's coming together! There's a documentary about the Gomez message board a brewin', to which I am very much looking forward to contributin'. (And not just because of the production credits for one and all! Woohoo!) The question I started turning over before I started writing was, just what was it about Gomez that got me, anyway?

I was keen on the song I first heard, their first FM radio "hit" that I was aware of, "Revolutionary Kind." My Dad and I both noticed it while we were having one of our idyllic summer drives, this time around the nooks and crannies of Chatham, on Cape Cod, listening to WMVY, the Martha's Vineyard station (where you'll hear more Carly Simon and James Taylor than you hear on most other FM adult alternative stations).

Then when I heard a guest DJ set by my previous Favorite Musician, Neil Finn (of Split Enz, Crowded House, and an illustrious solo career), during which he spun a tune by Gomez on Nick Harcourt's show, Morning Becomes Eclectic in Santa Monica, it was all over.

I saw they were coming to town, bought us some tickets, and brought home the Liquid Skin CD.

"Who are these guys?" my sweetie asked, incredulous.

"Just some English guys," I said. "I don't know much about them."

But we went to the show, and bought the next album, In Our Gun, quickly followed by the first one, Bring it On, and Abandoned Shopping Trolley Hotline and the Machismo EP, and then I was really gone, heels over head. For about the next six or so years.

Coincidentally, during this phase, I happened to become a mother. Turns out being a parent is quite the identity-challenging experience in many ways. Looking back over all the objects of my deepest musical affections, I believe the imaginary creative alliances (dalliances?) I have enjoyed with my Important Bands (The Rolling Stones long ago, The Who in my teen years, Crowded House and Michael Penn in the '90s and Gomez in the oughts) have all been incredibly fruitful, if one-sided, affairs that have gotten me through many an emotional swamp and sandpit.

I don't use the language of love lightly; I do fall in love when I fall in love wiht music. I go gaga. I drove my Ma around the foothills near my house on a recent visit and made her listen to the voice and tone of Elbow's singer, Guy Garvey, whose voice just grabs me there. On the days when Gomez would come to town, I couldn't think or talk about much else on the days they were around. My daughter came to recognize their tour bus.

But after my one big venture (literally a peak experience for me: going to Brighton to interview them at the end of 2003 during a trip to London with my Ma), I never really let the band know who I was, except by posting on the message board occasionally (formerly Step Inside and now an official board tied to the band's official website instead of one maintained solely by fans). All my feeble attempts to join post-show meetups fell through every time.

Yet I persisted in thinking they knew me when I hopped around in sync with Tom at their frenzied noisefests at the Fox. I thought they might recognize me dancing to them and to Ozomatli when they taped an etown show at the Boulder Theater.

But this past Halloween, I had a deflating little experience with one of the members of the band and saw what the true order of the universe really was.

I was sad then, and I feel the same sadness writing this now. It still feels like a love lost, a fantasy that reality could not support a moment longer.

Yet true to the same optimistic, pioneer spirit that sent my parents to San Francisco in 1966 (we often heard "Go West, young man!" exclaimed with a twinkle and a tongue in cheek back then), I decided to Make Something of It. For this all unfolded on the very eve of the month-long Nanowrimo competition, during which I planned to start writing a 50,000-word novel. "If I don't make some of my own noise, no one will ever know who I am," I told myself, and slunk home after Gomez' set to nurse my bruised ego for the night.

The next morning, I wrote out the scene that had put me in my place the night before at the auditorium in Denver, and I felt much better. I proceeded to write 50,000 words during that month, and have since started the second draft. Gomez may not figure as strongly in this version of the story, but they helped me start it off and that's another thing for which I am grateful.

But I'll always be most in their debt, I feel, for inspiring me by just going out and doing the thing they wanted to hear being done, regardless of not having all their ducks in a row. They have said they were fairly ignorant about guitar and music in general when they got started, but they went after something they liked nonetheless and showed that the results can be pretty cool, if a bit uneven in hindsight (sorry, fellow fans, but the ending of "Tijuana Lady" still makes me laugh).

On KFOG, a San Francisco radio station, the news guy, "Scoop" Nisker, always says, "Remember, if you don't like the news, go out and make some of your own," and I feel I have received the same creative carte blanche from Gomez. There's an artistic conversation I'm eager to become a part of, and now I know it's my turn to put myself out there. They showed me that you can just go ahead and do that, and doing so can start a thousand conversations (many of these on the message boards, a topic for another post; specifically, I think it's interesting how people on the board have a sort of collective agreement to stand in for the band for one another. That's my theory and I made it up myself).

Gomez started a conversation with me and it's not over yet. They have helped me remember that no matter how my roles may evolve throughout my life, being and expressing myself is worthwhile. Every day, they inspire me to put my ideas out there, to make something I want to see in the world, and to start my own conversations as best I can. For that (and for spending nearly three hours with me in 2003 so I could write a teensy little story for a local paper -- Rolling Stone didn't bite on my query), I will forever thank them.

05 June 2007

Ambassador Joe Wilson's mountainside chat

It's not every day a former ambassador drops in to speak at a time and place near me, but he did just that at the Conference on World Affairs this spring.

I loved going to his talk in part because now I get to call him Joe Wilson, which is what his namecard read. He mentioned that he'd been asked earlier whether he wanted the "Ambassador" title written on the card bearing his name and he joked, "No, I save my title for when I'm trying to get a good table at a restaurant in Iowa," to which someone in the audience snapped, "You mean there are good restaurants in Iowa?" No flies on this audience.

Wilson stood on the stage, relaxed and looking like someone you'd see at the seafood counter at Whole Foods, in a jacket over a casual shirt with jeans and cowboy boots, and longish hair. No shred of worsted or shine of brass buttons. It was great to see him looking so comfortable, literally as if he'd let his hair down. You'd think I know the guy personally, the way I'm going on. I haven't met many people whom I'd describe as affable, but he is one. My first surprise was hearing him say "nuke-you-lar" -- all I can guess is he picked it up from hanging around the Bushes for so long.

I was literally bubbling over with happiness when I learned Wilson's talk was on a day when I had no other obligations. From my mood that morning you'd think I had tickets to Wimbledon. I felt I was getting a perch with a great view on a bit of history unfolding in front of me. When New York Times reporter Judith Miller went to jail for not revealing her story's source, whom we now know to be Scooter Libby, I felt independent journalism had taken a huge body blow, even if I was not initially certain what would suffer most in the end (small papers with small legal budgets? the willingness of reporters to take risks in reporting that could potentially result in similar circumstances?). I felt so naive when I read later about how entrenched Miller personally had been in her professional relationships and her reporting. I suppose I just hadn't conceived of reporters beyond the Woodward and Bernstein model in All the President's Men or the ones I know; I'd never imagined them as part of the same milieu as career politicos like Scooter Libby. Miller seemed to have become a reporter who traveled in the same circles as other powerful, entitled people and had become one herself.

So I was very curious about what Joseph Wilson would say about the whole affair.

He built a case for being a patriot. He spoke of his years of service across administrations and partisan lines. Wilson spoke of his clash with his government over his wife's unlawful exposure by those who were supposed to be on her own side. He described the character assassination that is the stock-in-trade of the current administration. His speech was well crafted; he is adept at bringing audiences with him. Lawyerlike always, he laid out his defenses, such as: Who'd want a junket to one of the poorest countries in the world? More, why would his wife have been interested in sending him to Africa for a couple of weeks just after having two new twin babies? There is always the fact that he was one of Bush Sr.'s go-to boys in the first Gulf War, a detail often omitted from Fox News reports, I'm sure. Not the least of his points were the mere two hours of Google searches it required to debunk the bogus documents of a deal for yellowcake uranium between Iraq and Niger, documents taken at face value by American intelligence.

I felt the urgency of Wilson's plea not to forget about the sixteen words in mini-Bush's Case-for-Iraq State of the Union address, the ones with no basis in fact. Wilson asked, "How come no one knows the name of the guy responsible for those sixteen words but everyone knows my wife's name?" That one drew a roar of laughter and applause. (Even just this past weekend on the NPR radio quiz show "Wait, Wait, Don't Tell Me," someone was groping unsuccessfully for Valerie Plame's name, when the host said, "You must be the only one in the country who doesn't know it.")

By the end of the half hour during which Wilson laid out his case, his closing argument had me: that Wilson and Plame's treatment by the people in their government, for whom they both served long and admirably, was nothing short of treasonous. Wilson has filed suit against Cheney and his cohorts. Many await the results.

Later, I felt a little of the way I feel after a Steven Spielberg movie, a little manipulated but in mostly a good way. The Plame/Miller events were a landmark and we will be seeing their fallout for a long time. I was inspired to be a good patriot in the sense of standing up for the rights of people to do the kind of work he and his wife did. I mean, who'd have thunk a pair of hardworking career public servants could wind up at such odds with the very institution they were serving? It doesn't seem right that standing up for an "unpopular position" on whether to go to war in Iraq based on solid evidence -- or the utter lack of any evidence to justify said decision -- should warrant the kind of career-killing character assassination those people have endured.

I mentioned to a couple of people the week journalist David Halbersham died at what now seems like the young age of 71 that I was hit hard by his death somehow. I felt called to action. He worked unstintingly independently in his reporting on the Vietnam War. I think of lives like his as a path not taken. And, like many a teenager in the late 1970s, I wanted to be a journalist after first seeing and then reading All the President's Men when I was in ninth grade (I still owe the library a copy of that book, my secret shame all these years). There's still a part of me that wants to go after some big investigative story, like child trafficking, to clench hold like a terrier and shake the threads loose.

For now I'll keep working at what is at the core of it for me, the truth-telling, in my other writing work. But I feel incredibly fortunate to be able to ride my bike a couple of miles to hear and participate in conversations like this one. They keep me on my toes.

03 June 2007

Shameless cross-promotion (of myself and an indie film experiment)

Here's a review I just wrote of a film called A Coat of Snow that has some Colorado references and turned out to be more than meets the eye, a real achievement in naturalistic filmmaking.

Here's the concept: young woman brings a video camera to tape her cousin's bachelorette party, upon the request of the bride-to-be. Only the party keeps getting derailed before it really gets going.

The kicker: the whole thing is the product of one person's imagination, even though it looks like it is really unfolding in front of a friend of a friend's video camera.

Whether this is any fun to watch is the question you may have to ask yourself.

My geek fire is all stoked because I had a nice chat with the director, Gordy Hoffman, about his writing. I deliberately refrained from speaking with him until I had finished writing my review. We talked the next day. Here's how it went:

Me: "You wrote that movie?! That's freakishly impressive!"
Gordy Hoffman: "Yeah, I did."
Me: "That's so impressive!"

OK, that's not quite all of it. We had a much better talk than that. He told me I said things other people called out in their reviews, too, and when at first he sounded defensive he turned out not to be. He called mine a thoughtful piece and answered most of the issues I raised in my critique. He also said I had pointed to a "huge hole," which "no one else had mentioned," that, he said, "every time I see it I say, 'that is sooo bad!'" The women's failure to respond to a situation as an emergency at one critical moment broke the story's credibility for me, and apparently for the director as well in hindsight.

We had a thorough talk: when I clarified my unfavorable comments about the acting, I zeroed in on one actress whom he then agreed gave a weaker-than-usual performance in his film. He told me how he regrets having insisted on unknown actresses ("I could have had Claire Danes for the bride! Mena Suvari called about it."); I said that would have given you a completely different experience as a viewer because the moment you recognized Claire Danes or anyone else, you would know immediately it was fiction. It might not have been as surprising or successful as his film turned out, whatever its flaws may be.

In the end I knew he didn't hold my review against me because he asked if I'd like to moderate the Q & A at the screening of his film in Denver on the weekend (I declined, not being much for public speaking; and I prefer to conserve my energy for writing anyway). By the end of our conversation, despite the occasional industry jargon that sailed past uncomprehended, I felt I had spoken with a peer.

Hoffman's got a steep incline to climb to get people to watch his indie film and he knows it, though; in the director's own words, it's a "challenging" movie, not fare for the many "chamber-of-commerce film festivals" that dot the map these days.

I'm glad I saw his film, though. Learning about yet another way to write for film was an interesting experience (and his BlueCat Screenwriting Competition script loglines page inspired me to write a better blurb about my own novel). "Keep in touch," Hoffman said, generously. "OK, in about three years, I might have a screenplay for your competition," I replied, before he clicked off and returned to the life of a struggling indie filmmaker and I to my life as indie writer.

02 June 2007

Worlds apart

One of my fixations in working on my novel has come down to this: people are often interested in entirely different things. And certain people are entirely interested in entirely different things. Usually, though, we are so busy constructing the stories that motivate us to act throughout our days ("I have to get to the store before it closes" or "God, drivers are nuts around here") that we don’t often stop and take real notice that people aren’t always thinking what we’re thinking.

Someone just wrote to Dear Abby (to me columns like that are godsends, ears to the ground in the vital effort to collect important data about people and what they are capable of doing) and asked, in light of the recent shootings at Virginia Tech, should I worry or say something to someone else about the customer who comes in and says, “I would not have shot myself afterward,” when talking about the guy who shot everyone? It was a good question: Should we worry about people who think differently from ourselves?

And once you go down that road, you have to ask how we deal with those differences and their consequences. Where do police end and thought police begin?

I believe you have to rewind the tape and go back to the beginning, so you can start to see what a world of a different color that doomed, underprivileged, and angry Virginia Tech student lived in before he died for his personal cause. Think of him coming from Korea to the America available to Koreans who operate a drycleaning shop. This life is not the same color as the America he grew up seeing in the movies and on TV, manufactured in the culture of gleaming golden bodies and cars and exalted as high gospel on "Beverly Hills 90210" and "The O.C." That frustrated kid saw that contrast and shouted to the very rooftops that it was utterly intolerable.

His world is a different color from mine, too, here in my pleasant suburban town with my husband and daughter. I've made choices that have kept me firmly anchored in my bastion of white privilege, and choices that have placed me a little outside it as well. But I'm kind of shocked by the contrast between my sweet life and that of many people around me now. I have too much to lose; I've been coming to think I would live differently -- and perhaps better -- with less but haven't known how to change this course, or even that I wanted to until recently (since Katrina, probably, knowing that if the same scope of disaster rolled through my community, it would probably expose similarly egregious sins of neglect here).

I live in a pretty world, but it's not so pretty to me when its underpinnings are so harsh for so many people, and when I could be doing so much more to extend my privileges to others.

Now, how to translate this back into the story.... I'm hoping I can write for/about/to this disparity somehow, give glimpses of the creative process so that others can change the color or texture of their world as needed to become themselves, to live for their own ideals and dreams.

But in terms of storytelling, it's the muckiness that's always the most interesting part, isn't it? It's the places where the world isn't bright and clear and we're all fully realized. It's where we stumble and fall in the dark, swampy murk, morally and ethically and spiritually and physically.