26 February 2008

Just a few things I've done in the last couple of weeks

- Flew to Florida for three days
- Attended a film festival and watched nine feature films, most of them documentaries, and a dozen short films
- Went on a three-day ski trip (which involved being mother hen to three girls, instead of my usual one)
- Had some dental work
- Watched the Oscars
- Went out to Sia's show
- Met amazing people
- Blogged
- Read a couple more books about the pharmaceutical industry, and a few novels
- Wrote a little bit more of my book
- Went skiing again, today (10+ inches of new snow overnight -- it was superb!)
...and gee, whiz, are my legs tired.

25 February 2008

More on being a personal rhythm consultant to the stars

It's time again to hunker down and finish this thing. To put these people to their work, to their tests, and see where they take me. So I will be posting less and working more.

I read something reassuring to me this week: that most adults don't naturally seek out play time with their children. Somehow this released me from some fear about my own reluctance to play. OT has brought this conversation home: our daughter noticed that the Supernanny approach (on the TV show of that name and the related book we have) was all about parenting techniques, but they never suggested occupational therapy or showed any of these people doing it (inferring that some of the families on the show would benefit from some OT). Now we're working with our child on her balance, vision, and a lot of different motor skills, all good stuff to do and to learn. And being as active as she is for a while is a workout! But she's noticing the real differences between her experience and the one promised by what she sees and reads at school and sees in movies or on kids' TV shows. She's noticing that she isn't always in the picture.

Saw Sia last night (I accidentally dressed all in white, just like her band) and again felt like an important member of the audience. There were a lot of boors in this group. People were drunk; they talked and cheered at times that weren't always appropriate, and some chatty guy on ecstasy or something came up to the front and started nattering to some Sia-enchanted young woman about her hat, which had a giant pompom on the top and reminded him of some childhood hat. But I grooved to the music, her amazing voice, and the band, despite the loose cannons in the crowd. And had that epiphanic, yes-you-can-do-what-you-dream moment when she sang one of my favorite songs, "Sunday." (And it was Sunday. Woo!) When they finished their set I was so glad it was time to go home at last and sleep, though. Nor was Sia bubbling over with boundless energy tonight -- everyone in her band looked like they were ready for some time off.

Great visit with the godchildren -- the godsisters of our daughter. People walkie thingies and a tiger under a hat and so very much more.

It's the same story the crow told me

I was looking at the ad for the film The Other Boleyn Girl, starring Scarlett Johansson, Natalie Portman, and Eric Bana, when I thought of Lear and how my father has seemed to attempt to cast himself in the King Lear role but no one else is circling around to play along. We have our own lives going and he wants this drama that none of the rest of us have any interest in. Seems to me he's as likely to cut everyone out of his final plans out of some fit of pique or spite anyway, regardless of what we do or don't do, so it is easier to detach from all those ideas now. But I did wonder whether these patriarchal stories about primogeniture are the only ones he knows.

Edit: Was reminded of another King Lear tidbit today in a nonfiction book about the hunt for an MS cure: "Nothing comes of nothing." The fellow quoting this line took it as an exhortation to work hard and be productive with one's time; yet like all good Shakespeare lines, this one has other meanings.

18 February 2008

Another year, another BIFF

I finally got to say it to Robin Beeck about this year's Boulder International Film Fest program: that the stories were so well ordered in the program in the way they made me think about what is possible and meaningful. And I let her know that everyone I have talked with was saying it, too: that she put the films together in an artful way. Last night, in that inimitably brash yet defensive way she has, she answered, "Yeah, it's just possible I might know what I'm doing," while asking for another glass of wine to replenish the one that was about to run out so she could finally drink, as she always says she'll do, on the last day of the festival.

Robin and Kathy were pleased with this year's festival, I could tell, despite how bad everyone felt for everyone at the Charlie Bartlett screening, a cascade of projection and sound snafus. But the audience appreciated the film and its director, Jon Poll, a card-carrying member of Hollywood's "comedy ghetto" who despite the troubles nevertheless did a gracious question-answering session following his film); and everyone felt bad for the venue management staff, whom everyone knew were doing their best to fix the problems. Everyone was empathetic -- everyone knows that gremlins can pop up out of nowhere.

For me it was simply an honor and a pleasure to help sort through the submissions, and then to see what came of the few gems I was able to find and how all those adventure films and the stories about the power of music to heal and the power of people to overcome were orchestrated.

I saw little in the way of fiction this year. This festival's international focus is helped by the Michael Moore-era boom in documentary productions, many of which concern charitable works; this has clearly opened a surprisingly rich vein of cinematic ore to Robin, BIFF's programmatic auteur. One of these turned out to be one of the biggest surprises of the festival for me, the film 3 Peaks 3 Weeks, directed by Michael Brown. I loved the story, the drive of this team of women who decided to climb three peaks in three weeks, culminating in a group ascent of Mt. Kilimanjaro, to raise funds for a purpose-built school in Africa. They personally raised $30,000 and then challenged people to match their contributions if they succeeded. Their ascent required the support of 70 sherpas, who helped keep spirits high by serenading this group of American and Australian women along the way. Peril and suspense and luscious cinematography and a wonderful score and soundtrack kept me riveted (although I couldn't help thinking "that's going to look better on my TV than it does on that screen."). And it all culminated with a visit back in time to 1972 with the closing night film, Stranded: I've Come from a Plane that Crashed in the Mountains, about the plane full of South American rugby players, most but not all of them about 19 years old, who survived at the base of an 18,000-foot peak for 72 days before they were rescued (the subject of Piers Paul Read's book Alive, which I devoured as a preteen, and 1992's movie of the same name). How they survived made them internationally notorious for their willingness to do the unthinkable. And one of the survivors, Antonio "Tintin" Viztin, flew all the way here from Uruguay for BIFF and spoke about what he carries from his experience. It was moving and quite reassuring, even cathartic, after having seen so many atrocities and small redemptions in Uganda (War Dance), Liberia (Iron Ladies of Liberia), and Gitmo (Taxi to the Dark Side -- oops, not much redemption there I'll warn you). Tintin spoke eloquently to the necessity of remembering that every one of us has inside us the capacity not only to survive but also to treasure life, and serve in some way by doing so.

Robin and Kathy Beeck's dad Arlen (who writes the synopses for the films) likes to tell stories about them still: as kids, Kathy was always the one who made the posters and took the money and gave you tickets; Robin was putting on the show; and Shelly was elsewhere. Which is about how they seem to me every time I intersect briefly with the Beeck family's scene, a totally different vein of what I think of as Old Boulderites like me (they were at Fairview; I graduated from Boulder High the same year Robin did). They have learned to put on a great show as adults, including the intersection of people and ideas that took place this past weekend. Not only were my horizons expanded but I also met wonderful people and felt like I am finding my tribe at last, as I'm sure others felt and my best friend said recently about her work, the very friend who did such a fabulous job keeping a cool head throughout the festival as the venue manager of the Boulder Theater.

Thanks, everyone, for another fabulous festival; again I can hardly believe my luck that this comes to me once a year, and that my family totally supports my depth of commitment and immersion in this thing every time. It's like the holiday season for me: now I get to look forward to this year's Conference on World Affairs!

17 February 2008

The Year of Living Dangerously

So many warm, fuzzy feelings today: Talking with the woman who sold me a birthday card for my sister and who unprompted told me she had loved one of the very films I had picked out as the best out of the vast slush heap of films that ended up in the Boulder International Film Fest this year. Hearing a woman say sincerely that she'd attended a lot of film festivals around the world and this was one of the best she'd ever seen. Feeling like the people here (and beyond) had finally found this festival at sold-out show after show. And I didn't even make it to any of the parties! Instead I saw an incredible number of amazing films over the past couple of days, and it's not even over yet. One today was 3 Peaks 3 Weeks, which the kind of thing that can start movements. In short, a group of women decided to climb Mt. Kilimanjaro and two other nearby peaks in three weeks to raise money for a school in Africa. I didn't think I was going to stay but sat down a few minutes into it and had to see what happened -- and as usual was infinitely glad to have had the opportunity to share in an otherwise inaccessible experience by the time the film ended.

So here's a little detail about life in Africa I have gleaned over this weekend of films: a lot of schools are not free for the students; after a certain age, students must pay to go to school the way we pay for our colleges here in the U.S. Well, the women featured in Michael Brown's film decided to do something about this specific problem in one place. They went out and raised money and awareness for education and AIDS relief work in Africa. Now a large group of kids has a school full of inspired kids -- as well as the buses and fuel to get them there. People made sure there were teachers and materials and walls, any one of those things no small feat to orchestrate and mobilize in a country halfway around the world. (The kids in this school, incidentally, are now occupying half of the top-ten spots in their country's educational system, for those of you who like metrics.)

Over this weekend I have been so impressed at the countless people I have come across who are doing their utmost to see that these great acts of bravery and service are not only witnessed and acknowledged, but are also offered as an example of what is possible today.

I have felt like I have spent this festival steeped in the best of what we are about here in this weird little cosmopolitan and worldly-yet-provincial town I live in. I have this feeling today that someone is thinking about the same stuff I am: how to serve in a way that makes a difference, how to use what we know for good. People mock us in our "Boulder Bubble" (or "seven square miles surrounded by reality," an epithet that might have more punch for me personally if I hadn't also heard it of San Francisco when I was living there). They mock us not just for our health-obsessed ("crunchy," "granola") lifestyles, but also for passing resolutions about nuclear power and trade with other nations. But these are all cliches rooted in truth: I now know I am not alone in persisting in my belief that democracy and access and truthtelling are fundamental to the way our world works when it works best. We've championed the poor when we've been well off. When we've seen what's bad, we have stood for seeking out the source of the badness and fixing it -- or at least trying to make amends so we can continue to grow and evolve as a people. These films are being made by people like me who think about these things every day and try to act on them much more than I do every day. Back when I was helping cull the best of the 700 or so films that were submitted for inclusion in the Boulder International Film Fest (I only had to watch about 100), and I sifted through hours of good and awful film to find the gems that I just had to share with my neighbors, Robin and Kathy Beeck were talking about the election and how they thought maybe they'd aim for a "political" theme for the festival.

It didn't quite look like that by the time I saw the printed programs (with all the typos I had offered to help catch before they got out -- you know, the petty stuff that drives me crazy, like Ghengis and not Genghis, Kurtz and not Kurz, "Tribecca" instead of the correct "Tribeca," and the one that rankles every year: "sponsers" -- the sort of thing only I and a few other people seem to notice but really leaps out at me every time, just like all those "regrettable errors in the titles" I wearily remarked on in my notes on the submissions and how today I noticed "sight" used when they meant "site").

Despite all those niggling nits that bug me to no end, and the absence of a "politics" theme, which would have, in retrospect, seemed so small next to the worldwide experiences I have had the opportunity to witness, I have found the these chronicles utterly amazing and inspiring. I have perceived (whether intended or not) an overarching narrative arc in the sequence of the adventure films and the humanitarian aid films, the progressions of ideas from simple obsession with risktaking to the limits of people's desire to do something, anything, to make a difference in the world. All evening I have been doing the "I am not worthy" motion (from Wayne's World) in Robin Beeck's direction. Maybe she thought I was just schmoozing her up, but every ounce of genuflection in her direction has been in complete sincerity.

Here's an instance of what I'm raving about.

Joe Simpson is the guy who fought his way back to the living after being left for dead and then describing his experiences in his book and film, Touching the Void, a moving and scary film about obsessions and their consequences, about human strength and frailty. He's back this year with a film called The Beckoning Silence, about the call of steep mountains (it is a good follow-on to Steep, which ventures into similar territory). Simpson here recounts (and has actors reenact) a story of derring-do on the north face of the Eiger, an adventure by four friends that turned fatal yet inspired Joe to climb difficult mountains himself and make this film. That he survived being cut from his climbing partner's rope and falling into a crevasse for four days in his first film and then lived to tell these less fortunate climbers' tale are two amazing feats; the third is that he is able to distance himself from this pursuit after such prolonged obsession.

A lot of these adventure films are about obsession with risk: Beauty Mark represents local woman Diane Israel's confession about her disease and journey back from her exercise-induced anorexia in all its pernicious forms and effects on her life; The Beckoning Silence is about the deadly call of the most elusive peaks in the world; Row Hard, No Excuses is about how people will put their entire lives on the line to pursue something that may actually get a remote parent to pay attention to them for once in their lives.

But to a documentary, I kept seeing this extra dimension come into play for all of the participants in these different dramas: This need to do more, to serve people less fortunate, to prove that the world is not so vast or impenetrable, to be needed for something. The showing of 3 Peaks, 3 Weeks made me feel proud not only to be a part this year of bringing stories about the healing power of truth, beauty, and music to my neighbors, but also proud of being human.

Speaking of humanity and its limits, the hardest film to watch was the one that hit closest to home, and it turned out not to be the one about a woman's midlife wish for a child after all (although that one is still dear to me). I felt I needed to take a good hard look at Taxi to the Dark Side's message about the way violence has been propagated in the military culture and I was glad I did. Rewind a few months to when I saw another film that I've since been raving about and that has since inspired me to write a novel about big pharma and the FDA. This documentary feature, called Taken As Directed, showed how destructive the antimalarial drug Lariam is in a certain percentage of the vast numbers of people who are prescribed the medication before going into military or peacekeeping service in various tropical locales around the world. In that film I saw people who were loving and generous turn dark and murderous, some after only a single dose of a medication they thought was designed to help them. Tonight I talked to someone who knows two people who were profoundly affected by taking this drug. I was shocked when I saw the film at the arrogance and persistence of the U.S. military and the drug manufacturer in denying any wrongdoing, and I was intrigued by the possibility that there was a reason they were continuing to allow these things to happen. My husband is a little leery of my willingness to join the conspiracy bandwagon, but tonight, watching Taxi to the Dark Side, I was shocked anew at how Bush and Rumsfeld and Cheney have made every attempt and in many ways succeeded in making end runs around the constitution. Bush has given himself the right to define what it means to comply with the Geneva Convention (and where are the Republicans who were shouting about Clinton's discussion of defining "it" now???).

To my patriotic grandmother Jane in Florida, let me just say that this is the smoking gun, the crux of the reason I can't bring myself to get behind and "support" this president, our commander-in-chief (like "god," I just can't bring myself to use capital letters). The "rule of law" that has been the foundation upon which this country was established (did you ever learn about habeas corpus? -- look it up, if you must) has been perverted and reinterpreted, under Bush's administration, as the sanctioning and propagation of the following "interrogation tactics" being employed to coerce "confessions" from "terrorists" who are actually detainees denied the right to fair trials, much less speedy ones. These are tactics sanctioned against people completely innocent of any charges of conspiracy or terrorism, people like you and me just trying to go about their lives and provide for their families and serve in the ways they know how to do best: sleep deprivation, sensory deprivation, sensory disorientation, extended periods of standing, sexual humiliation, dogs, and waterboarding. To see the images depicting these truths, the people all the way up the chain of command justifying these outrageous acts of brutality and humiliation, made me feel ill, not just sick to my stomach but sick at being a part of a culture that could condone such violence against innocent and precious humans.

So as I watched Taxi I did all I know how to do: I wrote like a fiend. I took page after page of notes. I was appalled at the things I heard and felt I had to bear witness, not only for the Iraqis abused in the ways I saw and heard described but also for the service men and women who were turned into instruments of torture by their own government. In my notebook I railed about this being worse than not learning from the Holocausts in Nazi Germany and the purges and pogroms in the Soviet Union and Pol Pot's eradication of a huge percentage of his population, the people that made up his nation. It was taking all the worst things from those experiments in thought control and terrorization and using them against people, people with no recourse. I wrote down the things that officials and interrogators said because I couldn't believe people could say them and it was all I could do.

And so I came home at the end of the night fired up about the people who have gone to Africa and by those who have put themselves in grave danger to get the stories of the soldiers and the so-called "enemy combatants" out here for all of us to see. And to a somewhat lesser extent the adventurers (my personal reaction to Joe Simpson is "what planet of beings do you come from that you must subject yourself to this kind of extreme danger? (I do recognize in this our culture's desire to explore if not outright test the frontiers of human experience, whether on earth and in space.)

Watching these films, a zillion connections to other films, whether popular, obscure, or unknown, emerged; this idea map will have to remain, for now, a project for another blog. I have to get some rest and decide where to begin. Well, once I'm finished with my story about the drug industry, that is.

I was impressed at the way the films at first seemed to be about the limits of human endurance and the power of obsession to motivate people, but as the films rolled past, I also kept being gently (or even forcefully) yet effectively led to a deeper, more important question, the one Linda Hunt's amazing character Billy repeats in The Year of Living Dangerously, one of those films like All the President's Men that still may translate into my life as a stint as an international journalist or aid worker one day: "What then must we do?"

And I see, too, as I stay up until three a.m, having started watching films at 11 this morning (with only a couple of hours' break in the middle), that there's another story embedded in all this that I've had my eye on, the one that is also about obsession and mania and that still is part of the picture for me and for all the other music fans and athletes and journalists and filmmakers and other everyday heroes (as our local TV news channel celebrates weekly but I feel like climbing up to install a big bat-signalesque broadcast that will reveal to all from my rooftop 24/7).

I'll wrap up this ramble by saying that I am simply grateful to so many people including Robin and Kathy Beeck not only for honoring some of what I thought was important and groundbreaking by showing it at the festival but also for leading me beyond my own perceptions. I have been inspired to reassess what it's possible to get done. In a really good way, it feels like it's time to get busy (I'd been saying "I need a vacation" just before I went to Florida for a funeral -- and then tonight I told my sweetie, "It's a funny kind of vacation that makes you want to get to work," but truly that's the best kind, isn't it?). More: my best friend Robyn has a hard time hearing the praise from anyone but she again showed great grace under pressure, which is what it takes to get these things done in the world and at home. And to the people who helped pick these films I say I can hardly believe the company I find myself in. I'm grateful to be a part of this community.

What then must we do?

15 February 2008

Let it BIFF

The Boulder International Film Fest is here again! Robin Beeck, who puts her heart and soul into creating this program, likes a crowd-pleaser opener, and last night's opening night premiere, Helen Hunt's directorial debut, Then She Found Me, was pretty good (terrible title, good film). (Most successful in this regard: Millions; least successful: The Sisters. Ugh.) Much of the fare at this festival is heavy: there's a lot of pain in the world and a lot of people out documenting it, as evidenced by many of the films I watched as a member of BIFF's selection committee this year. But this was a moving, grown-up fiction feature about a woman searching for family on her terms.

Helen Hunt stars as a going-on-40 schoolteacher reckoning with her break from her husband (Matthew Broderick), her attraction to the father of one of her young pupils (Colin Firth, as appealing as ever), and the reemergence of her birthmother (Bette Midler). (And yes, that was indeed Salman Rushdie playing her OB doc! ha ha!) It was funny and sad, and said some things about having kids you don't often hear in the movies. Hunt's character, April, really wants to get pregnant and have a baby, as she was adopted herself, but everyone keeps urging her to adopt. There was a great line (I wasn't reviewing so I didn't write it down) where her younger brother, born to their mother after April was adopted, says in essence that being born to someone isn't necessarily better than being adopted. I loved that because you almost never hear anyone say that anywhere, much less in the movies.

I've written about this before, but I will never forget our friend's mom telling us that in some ways adoption might make for a healthier parent-child relationship because you as a parent are not looking for your reflection in your child but instead are more likely to see them as they are. Now I think there's a lot of truth in that.

So this very well written movie made me cry a few times (even if I hadn't been especially weepy the ending would have gotten to me) and made me laugh a lot, too. It was a sweet, sharp, and hopeful film, only a little murky for me in a couple of spots (I hated that opening and closing device, the voiceover anecdote about the kid learning to trust by jumping off the stairs into his father's arms). As always, before the film I'd been thinking maybe I'd go have a drink and hobnob after the film, but as soon as it was over I wanted to be quiet. Besides, it was Valentine's Day and I wanted to get home to my sweetie for the remainder of the evening, as he had no interest in seeing the film (it looks like a chick flick, and the presence of Colin Firth only reinforced that notion -- can you say Hope Springs?). So I'll rent it when it comes out on DVD -- I dared my sweetie to watch it without getting teary at the end, which he may well be able to do, but I know I'll cry again. And he'll enjoy it more than he thought he would, I'm sure.

Before I left the theater, however, I stopped and had my picture taken by the Fashionista photographer. I'll post the link when this year's pictures are up.

08 February 2008

Family matters

Just after a call from a friend flying to Austin for South-by-Southwest and urging me to join her, I got another call: my stepdad's stepdad died. This may sound remote, but my stepdad is so dear to me and his family has embraced mine despite the fact that my stepfather and my mother divorced many years ago.

So it's eastward for me, but for a funeral, not a festival. It's not only to honor the person who died, or I probably wouldn't go even though he showed nothing but kindness to me. I will attend to stand up with his surviving spouse, who is still alive and relatively well, and who was married to the skeezy guy for fifty years. While I may not have trusted him (which turned out to be justified, from reports from other family members this past summer), I do love my newest grandmother, someone I am slowly getting to know better over the years (probably more slowly than she would like). So I'm going, but I'm not going to drag any smelly cats out of any sacks myself. Maybe someone else will do it for me -- I can't really imagine the event passing without at least a few people telling blunt truths about the crueler sides of his nature. (Just one teensy instance: At nearly 90, I saw him ogle the young, pretty women on the beach near his home, all the while vocalizing every iota of his strident disgust with the ones who didn't fit his standards -- pretty, tan, thin, and smooth -- as if not conforming to his ideals meant they should just stay inside or sun themselves out of public view.)

I want to be there for my grandmother, in part because of how she came out for my wedding. This gave me joy, since none of my other grandparents attended. (Nor did any of my husband's. How weird, in retrospect.) She was so fun, so energetic, so boisterous. I remember how game she was on our trip to the Santa Cruz flea market, in her East Coast married-lady outfit of pastel culottes and coordinating flowered sweater, her gold jewelry and comfy, spotless flats, and all my friends were impressed with her energy, too. In her willingness to get along and go along and help out and organize (which I most certainly needed - especially during times of stress), she also alluded to her relief at getting away on her own for a few days, and some of her regrets over her choice of life partner. But just after that she always slammed that door herself, saying that her wedding vows were sacred, taking the "for better or worse" part to its utmost extreme.

My father (the bio one) used to say things like, "We can work this out within the family." I know now this was code for "We don't need to bring in anyone from outside because they'll see how fucked up I really am." I didn't believe then any more than I do now that it was just intellectual arrogance that drove that statement, although there was enough of that flying around. It is, rather, a classic abuser's tactic. Later, when I got some perspective, and again when I heard my grandmother speak of her second marriage, it was hard not to feel that marriage contract was made to enslave people (and the radical lesbian editor I worked closely with on the college paper was on my case about that from her own angles -- she could hardly stand that I was about to enter into a state-governed contract or be a "June bride"). Hearing of my grandmother's regrets about having been lured by jewelry and seeing her stubborn perseverance despite all the drawbacks made me think about marriage.

And it saddened me in the same way my own reaction to my sister's death for so many years saddens me now. For years, I felt like I should have known how to help her, even though I was so little, nor was I there when she fell. My grandmother, too, acts like she should have known better. It was caveat emptor in her eyes, though, and even if she got the lemon she was determined not to renege on her end of the bargain. (I recognize too that eternally fruitless pursuit of blamelessness on the part of the abused from my own experience.)

By the time I was marrying, however, I had already had the experience of seeing my mother and stepdad love each other for who they were. I had seen them treasure what the other brought to the marriage, including each other's friends, interests, and independence. When my sweetie and I wrote our wedding vows, the idea that we would embrace each other and each other's worlds was at the core of it all. What a contrast this was to how I grew up, with one person at the "head" of the family dictating how much and what contact we had with the rest of the world. (Now I see why I used to get tense and pick fights with my sweetie before parties -- at parties, the family was expected to play a certain role that didn't necessarily match up with the fading bruises on my mother's body or the way my sister would hide with me when my dad turned his vitriolic rage loose on his intimates.)

So I hope that my grandmother enjoys her new freedom, and although she has an iron will when it comes to disregarding bad stuff from the past, putting a good face on everything, and moving forward, always forward, I hope she also allows herself some grief on her own account, for the losses of the lives she could have led otherwise.

While I was making my arrangements to fly to the funeral and thinking about all of this, a note from my long-lost half brother arrives (I haven't seen him in fifteen years), and a new baby is born, another great-grandchild for my grandmother to love. Life just keeps on flowing onward, doesn't it?

04 February 2008

Today's temperature: warm on the inside, inscrutable on the outside

I'm feeling constitutionally incapable of writing a screenplay; everything turns into introspective characters revealing their backstories before I can stop myself. More action! More motion! More blocking! Perhaps I do have to take an acting class. Try out for a play, see how staging and action add to the story; I admit to being somewhat blind to all that. My characters are always thinking and feeling and reacting and remembering and realizing. Yadda, yadda, yadda. They need to go out and assay the formulas and find the secret ingredient and reengineer the stuff and kick some agency ass.

03 February 2008

If I sat down to write a Gomez song, what would it sound like?

When I first heard Gomez play their song "Sweet Virginia" live, I was absolutely convinced that they had set out to write a Neil Finn (of Split Enz and Crowded House fame; also an accomplished solo artist) song.

I'm listening to The Redwalls (I'm stuck on them and Spoon, who tore me from my Cat Power jag), and they have lots of songs that sound like other people: John Lennon and the rest of the Beatles, David Bowie, Mott the Hoople. And they rock. (You'd dig 'em, Diablo.) It's great -- rather than being derivative, it seems like in aping the original, the young whippersnappers pay homage, extend, and reveal the influence of the original artist.

01 February 2008

Chaos theory

I barely know the Mars Volta's songs (although from this it seems like I would if I heard them), but I was struck by a lot of the things Omar Rodriguez Lopez says in this interview in The Onion's a.v. club section. Particularly the parts about being in a certain state of mind when you create something: "It's what it's like when you're a drug addict. You have these crazy realities happening in your head, where once you sober up and become a different person, you look back and go, 'What the fuck was I thinking?'" Which made me think about something Heath Ledger said: “I feel like nearly everyone knows how to play a junkie by now."

I dare me

I know, I know: the world needs another reporter on her inner life like it needs another hole in the head.

But still: I keep daring myself to do wacky things, like develop an online presence, fly to England and interview Gomez, write books, and someday I'll write a movie and get up on a stage with some musicians, too. And what, exactly, are these ultimatums (ultimati? ultimata?) to myself? Do this or you'll be forever wimpy? If I think of that as the worst that could happen, it's always more compelling to take the dare and do the new thing. Always.

And now I can see that even though I haven't converted my Gomez experience into a Rolling Stone piece (yet), that experience served a panoply of purposes for me. I suppose one could say all this is a rationalization of an impulsive thing I up and did. Yet I found it sufficiently life-changing to learn that a) I could set up an interview with people just because I wanted to and b) the people I picked to sit down with had thoughtful things to say about working really hard at their collective career, information I found useful. Later, that experience nudged me beyond my pure fandom and toward action, if not exactly the action I was expecting when I wrote their then-manager an email saying I'd be in the area anyway (that second trip to London with my mother was one of the best trips ever).

If you dare me, I will try again to publish that piece on being a Gomez fan (because it really wasn't just about them; it was about me, too), but right now I have to get back to work on the book. And think up a new dare for myself.

Incidentally, all of this daring feels like good practice for something, even if I'm not sure what it is: I think of the Beatles and Gomez and Diablo (can't help it -- I'm a little preoccupied) and all the kids who have been willing to get up in front of the other ones and just scream it out, the ones who have dared to do what the others aren't willing to do themselves. Isn't that what writing stories and music and performing are all about?

Soundtrack: Spoon: My Little Japanese Cigarette Case