Month: May 2010

Frrrrriday Rrrrroundup! #08

tiny toy cowboy figure with lasso

An end-of-weekly roundup collecting fffffive of the fffffantabulous things I find stumbling around the web during the week here, but which I post on one of the many other Internet outlets I stop by (or tweet at) during my travels. More about the genesis here.

My friend, Adam, wrote a wonderful essay that rolls into one our changing world, our love of stories and the delicate web that connects us all through time and space. As I said in my re-post (because that’s whatcha do on Tumblr!), this kind of stuff is what the web is for, both in and of itself, and in a meta sense. [Tumbled]

Top photo find of the week month year: this edited stream from MSNBC. [delicious-ed, via daringfireball]

While in Ojai last weekend, I met one of the founders of this innovative project bringing power to remote, off-the-grid parts of Africa. John and his partner, Carl, are there right now, updating via MMS on their smartphones. I love the internet! [Stumbled]

At Success Team last week, my guitarist friend noted my eclectic taste in music. Note that “eclectic” does not necessarily mean “good.” [last.fm reveals my deepest, darkest musical secrets]

The catastrophic oil spill in the Gulf is depressing as hell, but this pool of suggested new logos for BP is pretty outstanding. [Flickr-faved, via kernspiracy]

xxx
c

Image by williac via Flickr, used under a Creative Commons license.

Poetry Thursday: No skipping steps

I see someone famous
for being wonderful
or being themselves
or maybe just
for being famous and
I am angry and
under that
I am hurt and
under that
I am terrified
that I am worthless
that I will never be seen
that I will die alone
and with the music in me
and under that
I am ashamed
and under that
I am grateful
for the staggering riches
of love and comfort
I am surrounded by
all
the
time
but that I somehow
overlook
in my hurry
to move from
Point A
to any other point
but the next one.

xxx
c

Image by poca-traça via Flickr, used under a Creative Commons license.

Moving toward vs. getting rid of

a LOT of ice cream flavors posted on the wallDuring last night’s first meeting of the Big Artist Workshop, gentle genius Chris Wells (hey! he won an Obie!) shared the most useful hack I’ve ever heard of for dealing with one’s art as a focus-challenged person:

Don’t worry about letting go of things; think instead of what you would most like to move toward.

Like most shifts in thinking, it will probably end up being profound because it is so simple. I have trouble letting go of stuff, because the decisions are too painful. So I don’t: I now turn my attention toward the one thing I am moving toward right now. Those other things? Those other ideas for projects and stories and songs and books and demands on my limited attention? We’ll talk about what they’re for later, when we understand it. For now, it’s enough to know that I can safely move toward this one thing.

The class was full of so much goodness, it fairly blew my mind.

xxx
c

Image by olliethebastard via Flickr, used under a Creative Commons license.

Book review: Mildred Pierce

photos of author James M Cain and 1st ed. of Mildred Pierce

Aside from a very youthful devotion to Agatha Christie and a semi-youthful one to Fleming’s 007 series, I’ve never been drawn to genre fiction.1 Even in these two cases, you could say my real affinity was for Christie and Fleming (or Poirot/Miss Marple and Bond, James Bond), not mysteries or spy stories, something the occasional dip into a genre would just reinforce.

Honestly, I’ll happily consume the best of any genre, where “best” equals “what moves me.” I get that some people reject slapstick or horror or melodrama out of hand; I especially get it as a non-fan of The 3 Stooges, the Saw franchise (one of which I saw accidentally, no pun intended) and, with the exception of a freakish Luke-‘n’-Laura fixation in high school, daytime soaps.

On the other hand, if you go in for wholesale rejection of a genre, you stand to miss out on all sorts of good stuff, in film as well as in books: Charlie Chaplin and Buster Keaton and It’s a Mad Mad Mad Mad World, not to mention the entire Bugs Bunny oeuvre; Rosemary’s Baby and The Exorcist (as well as Candyman and The Ring and Night of the Living Dead); and everything Douglas Sirk ever made.

It was my strange love of 1940s melodrama which, in a very roundabout way, led me to Mildred Pierce, the James M. Cain novel that served as source material for the 1945 noir-ish vehicle of the same name, the one that resuscitated Joan “Box-Office Poison”‘s career. As with Play Misty for Me (a seminal example of the woman-wronged thriller genre set in 1970s Central California) and Jackie Brown (a brilliant caper picture set in the Los Angeles South Bay of the 1990s, but equally an homage to the 1970s blaxploitation genre), I became obsessed with Milded Pierce, the film, for several years, watching it over and over again to soak up period detail and Faulkner-tinged darkness. I’m drawn to art with a strong sense of time and place, with a particular fondness for the California of a different time; I’m also partial to (surprise, surprise) fiction that features a strong female character at its center, even if she’s a little off-whack.

This, Mildred Pierce-the-book has in spades, even more so than the film version. Cain’s Mildred, like  Hollywood’s, is cunning at business, not to mention tenacious. Fed up with the philandering antics of her unemployed husband, she tosses him out on his ear, this, at the height of the Depression, with no means of supporting herself and her two girls, much less paying the mortgages on the outsized house Bert built for them in grander days. Yet bit by bit, through sheer force of will, she not only pulls them up and out, but way out, building a restaurant empire out of homemade pies and latent street smarts her mousy-housewifely life didn’t begin to hint at.

It’s here that the book and film truly diverge. I was shocked to read Cain’s description of Mildred: blond, small and weak-chinned, a perfectly nice-looking, ordinary woman who, over the course of the book, sees her looks start to slip and her slim figure run to fat. Compare that to Mildred as depicted by the icy Crawford, who, though she was tiny herself, was formidable and mannish; in every picture Crawford did, she looked pulled together; she also frequently looked like she was a hair’s breadth from picking up whomever she didn’t like and heaving them from her path, if not just eating them outright. Maybe it was the shoulder pads.

Cain’s Mildred is also an extraordinary woman, but partly because in some ways she is so ordinary: a tiny, emotionally needy (and, uh, sexually rapacious!) wisp of a nothing, who has freakish secret reserves of strength and savvy (and, uh, sexually rapaciousness!).

Equally powerful in the book, if not more so, is Mildred’s wildly narcissistic elder daughter, Veda, a vain, conniving, beautiful girl who has no use for anyone or anything she cannot manipulate. My favorite passage in a book of many, many favorite passages is one where her singing teacher reveals the truth of this serpent-child to Mildred, who is so blinded by love of her daughter, and some textbook-crazy love, at that, she stands to be destroyed by her. It is ingenious and shocking and hilarious, all at once: a brilliant, out-of-nowhere character analysis that is so on the money, your breath is taken away.

The book is fat and juicy, full of good stuff like this, as opposed to the movie, which is a lean, slick creature of another sort almost entirely. Which is not to say either is better than the other, but that each is brilliant in its way. The movie plucks here and there from the book, a character, a storyline, a setting, but casts aside much of the delicious psychological character study for its noir through-line. Reading Mildred Pierce is like that recurring dream of New Yorkers: the one where they open a hitherto secret door somewhere in their tiny apartments and find a huge, sprawling, extra-apartment’s-worth of rooms, complete with all the high ceilings and skylights and million other details your perfectly-nice but oh-so-cramped place was missing without your even knowing it.

It is, in short, 300 pages of sheer pleasure. And that is worth dipping into any genre for…

xxx
c

1 I also went through a Stephen King phase in high school, starting with the short stories that showed up in women’s magazines, continuing to The Stand, which was maddeningly bloated compared to the house-afire reads of Carrie, ‘Salem’s Lot and The Shining. My theory was that he got too big to edit, there’s some irony for you, although I did enjoy bits and pieces of subsequent books, and always admired his way with a story. My god, to be able to come up with plots like that!

Photos: (l) photo of author James M. Cain (lifted from NNDB, which has a crackin’-good quote about Cain from fellow genre author, Raymond Chandler); (r) cover of first edition of Mildred Pierce ©1941 Alfred A. Knopf, via wikipedia.

Yo! Disclosure! Links to the books in the post above are Amazon affiliate links. This means if you click on them and buy something, I receive an affiliate commission. Which I hope you do: it helps keep me in books to review. More on this disclosure stuff at publisher Michael Hyatt’s excellent blog, from whence I lifted (and smooshed around a little) this boilerplate text.

On “off”

fishes in pond forming a yin-yang symbol

Thanks to a few systems I’ve got in place right now, the ongoing Google Wave with Dave project and Hiro’s class in keeping your sorry ass from getting sucked into the internet, I’ve been paying a lot more attention to where I place my attention.

This gets painful in spots, mainly because of my inability to stop just short of judging. On the other hand, it’s helped me to notice that noticing alone is useful, whereas judging is not, so there you go: 49 years in and one very long trek around the barn, Colleen finally arrives at the usefulness of meditation she’s heard tell of.

For those of us who have difficulty with modulation, “off” is both a tantalizing and terrifying setting. “Off” is restful in that deep, dark way, conking out cold after a long day/week/month of whatever. It is also the antithesis of getting stuff done: the only thing you get done on “off” is nothing.

Only…that’s not quite true. Take sleep, for instance. (You might as well; I certainly don’t.) In addition to all of the battery-recharging and physiological fortifying that happens while we’re sleeping, there are crazy brain things happening, too, quite a lot of them. There is a whole lot of something going on during that nothingness, just of a much quieter, less obvious nature. Because, well, you’re asleep.

In the same way, I’ve started to notice amazing changes both to my body and my outlook since I began practicing Nei Kung just five or so months ago. On the physical side, my posture has improved, my quads are turning into bands of steel and baby most definitely has back she hasn’t had since her 20s. I am in better shape than I’ve been since I was hitting the gym five days a week and paying a trainer to do it with me for three of them, yet all I do now is basically stand in my apartment holding various poses for a half-hour daily.1

The mental shifts are happening just as slowly, or maybe quickly, although they are even more subtle. That I’m even willing to contemplate mere contemplation, much less do it, is extraordinary. Things still bother me, sure, but neither as much, nor for as long. I am hardly what I’d call a non-selfish bundle of compassionate energy, but I move much more quickly from “me” thinking (taking offense, being hurt, etc) to “other” thinking (giving the benefit of the doubt, or just noticing the “me” that is always in the way). I feel the beginnings of what I can only guess is something like grounding. I’ve even slowed down to the point where I can handle a short, Chinese-style meditation that my teacher shared with me. And, surprise, surprise, that shit works. So well, I may even try it more often.2

“Off” is not really “off,” I’m discovering, but the flip side of “on.” There is never nothing; like the white tadpole in the yin-yang taijitu I keep on on my wall, it is an opposing force, quiet and yielding, but no less a force than the other. Not only is “on” not “better” (caution: Western patriarchial cultural bias at work!), in one way, it’s just there to make “off” be off. “On” does not exist without “off,” and vice versa.

These are all pretty obvious “discoveries.” (And I’ve already used far, far too many quotation marks to cordon things off in one essay.) But this is what is demanded of me if I will make the next discoveries to move myself to the next place, wherever the hell that may be. Because for those of you keeping score, yes, I’m finishing up Month #5 of Self-Imposed Hiatus on top of Year #2 (or #3, depending on how you count it) of figuring out what I want to do with my life. You think you’re frustrated? HA.

This year, I am learning about “off.” This past weekend, I took two full days of “off.” I haven’t done that since April of 2009, if you count a cross-country road trip while you’re nursing an incipient Crohn’s flare “off” (which I did, because I am batshit-crazy), and who-knows-how-long before then. But this weekend, at around 7pm, I just switched my setting to “off”: drove up to Ojai, hung out with my friend, Jodi, and her dog, and all of their friends, and did exactly nothing.3

Like all things, this takes practice. One can make it a practice, which I intend to: one day per week, in the “off” position. Will I succeed every week? Doubtful. Possible. Who knows?

But “off,” I am on…

xxx
c

Image by snflwrgddss23 via Flickr, used under a Creative Commons license.

1I even get to watch streaming Netflix while I do it. People are blown away when I tell them this, as most Westerners’ chief exposure to the non-fighting martial arts is via the moronic b.s. montage ads for prescription medications featuring groups of people in floaty clothes doing graceful tai chi moves as a unit. Which is fine, if that floats yer boat, but entirely unnecessary. Nei Kung is the original “and you can do it all in just 30 minutes a day, while watching television!” exercise. The Chinese are an eminently practical people.

2Lest I inaccurately paint the picture of myself as an even somewhat enlightened being, know that there was a ridiculously obsessive and angry-making episode involving a kitchen faucet last week. That lasted two days. And is still not resolved.

3Of course, I was doing something all the time. Just a different something, and not particularly startling or noble: we ate quite a bit, and drank, caffeine and alcohol, and even nerded out with buddy computer tutorials. But I read almost a whole book, which I can’t wait to tell you about, and dawdled and talked and generally had a grand old time.

Frrrrriday Rrrrroundup! #07

tiny toy cowboy figure with lasso

An end-of-weekly roundup collecting fffffive of the fffffantabulous things I find stumbling around the web during the week here, but which I post on one of the many other Internet outlets I stop by (or tweet at) during my travels. More about the genesis here.

Aaron Sorkin’s response to the Can-Gays-Play-Straight kerfluffle kicked off by a Newsweek piece (penned by a gay!) is full of quote-worthy bits, but the whole of it is simply breathtaking. [Tumbled, via Keith Johnson on Facebook]

Music lovers are (rightly) sad that Lala is going away, but there is a new reason to rejoice: stereomood is almost as much fun, with a much prettier interface and a pick-your-mood playlist assortment that so far is right on the money. [delicious-ed]

It was indie publication week, all right. I opened my mailbox to find two gloriously offbeat self-produced books, a brand-new real-life magazine created out of whole cloth in 48 hours, and a really sweet looking photography how-to book…AND my friend Emma and her pals put out this delicious online mag called, well, Delish. [Stumbled]

If this video of a bus driver getting the surprise of his life doesn’t make you at least smile, you may not be human. And if you’re anything like me, have Kleenex handy. [Facebook-ed, via lonelysandwich]

Sometimes you go on Flickr for one thing and end up falling in love with your adoptive city all over again. [Flickr-faved]

xxx
c

Image by williac via Flickr, used under a Creative Commons license.

Poetry Thursday: The damn bathroom

vintage bathroom with aqua tilework

It’s disgusting
in there.

So disgusting
I get in and get out,
and have my deflector shields up
the whole time.

So disgusting
I occupy
the smallest amount of space possible
in this smallest place imaginable
and fuzz out the fuzz
and the dirt
and the crud
and the rest of the unmentionable detritus
from even the corners
of my peripheral vision.

So disgusting
I cannot see
how disgusting it is
until company is coming
and I see it through their eyes
and am moved to give
the most convenient surfaces
a quick flick of the sponge
and light a few votives
in the vain hope that their eyesight
is good enough
to do their business
by candlelight.

On this one day, though,
it is not the bathroom
that is disgusting,
it is me.

And I am so disgusting
I can take neither of us
one minute longer,
and attack us both
in a frenzy of Comet
and old kitchen sponges
and elbow grease.

It is disgusting.
And hateful.
And bo-ring.

And it goes on and on
until it kind of
gets interesting.

And it goes on a little further
until it
and I
are not only not disgusting
but actually inspiring.

A crumbling old
mid-century wreck,
patched over in the broken spots,
most definitely the worse for wear,
as far from modern
and sleek
and elegant
as you can imagine,
inspiring.

And the bathroom
ain’t bad
either.

xxx
c

This poem was inspired by my friend Gretchen Rubin’s 6 tips on dealing with boredom, specifically, #2, which outlined Diane Arbus’s method.

Image by via Flickr, used under a Creative Commons license.