Archive for September, 2011

Lately in Reading

Monday, September 26th, 2011

1

I hadn’t expected much from Here’s the Kicker (Mike Sacks), I suppose because it’s a book of interviews. There’s something about that format that I’ve always resisted (too pat? too repetitive?), but now I question why.

Because this is a fantastic book. A hilarious, fascinating, surprisingly informative book, not least because Sacks has done his research and asks all the right questions. In short, I loved everything in it and about it.

Also: Mike Sacks, apparently you went to my high school? With my brother? Which I did not know until after I had finished—and recommended the book to my brother. Who had already read it.

2

Remember how I loved Darin Strauss’s memoir? I read his most recent novel, the chillingly titled More Than It Hurts You. And . . . not as good. Because not quite as honest? (In his memoir, he reports realizing that he had written three novels dancing around his real subject, which is that when he was a teenager, he accidentally hit and killed a schoolmate while driving.)

The novel raises an interesting craft question for me: Can a story work if the author is much more aware than his characters? In other words, in MTIHY, Strauss is working with a husband and a wife, the first of whom is oblivious and the second (we soon learn) deranged.

And we never really root for them. Almost from the outset, we see where they have gone wrong, and we’re just waiting for these mistakes to play out—as opposed to feeling their world come apart with them, inside of that world, and feeling as lost as they do about how to make it right.

True, there’s a third character, a doctor, with whom we do align. But in that case, shouldn’t she be the protagonist?

3

I’m about 100 pages into Joyce Carol Oates’s memoir, A Widow’s Story. I had my reservations, especially given Joan Didion’s genre-defining Year of Magical Thinking, also about the initial stages of widowhood. But the Oates is wonderful, too. And different, naturally, as she is a very different writer.

What I am struck by in the Oates is the intimacy and the incrementality, the minute-to-minute spikes of panic and plummeting sorrow, the flashes of thoughts in a ticker-tape, the thousands of tiny hammers of grief. The writing is so detailed as to be almost pointilist—relentless in the way that feeling, and experience, can be.

Thanks to both of these women for diving into that well.

Project Complete: Cabinet for Felties

Friday, September 23rd, 2011

Thanks to a certain J. Diller and his excellent and improvisational* carpentry skills, I am now the proud owner of a feltie cabinet.

*Why improvisational? Because the man builds without a workshop and with very few tools.** I didn’t understand the full implications of these limitations until I saw him balancing boards over sawhorses and attempting (indeed, succeeding) to cut straight lines with a power saw.

**John credits my brother, Mr. H. Levine, with both inspiration and insider woodworking techniques.

Voilà, le result:

A Home for the Animals/Aliens/Other

A Home for the Animals/Aliens/Other

The photo is a little washed out, I know. But, hey—added bonus of my reflection, plus the reflection of my wall decals.

It opens!

It opens!

Knob Close-Up

Knob Close-Up

I felted the knob! Yes, that sounds dirty. That’s why, when I was doing it, I kept telling everyone, “I’m going to felt my knob now.”

Knob Stem

Knob Stem

The knob is even better from the side, I think. Because you can see that it has a stem.

Magic Corner

Magic Corner

This is the corner where the case lives—heretofore “Magic Corner,” since obviously unicorns live there. The painting on the right was done by one of John’s former students, Claire Bailey, when she was a senior. I bought it at the school’s art fair and have passionately loved it ever since.

Happy Family

Happy Family

Here’s a nice view of everyone. I’m so delighted that after months of living in plastic bags, they’ve found a home.

Thanks, Johnny!

My Latest Prandial Innovation: Fun Food Day

Monday, September 19th, 2011

BACKSTORY

For the last five months, I’ve been experimenting with a food regimen that’s a little on the intense side. In short:

1) No wheat

2) No dairy

3) No sugar

4) No meat, except fish once a week

5) Almost entirely whole foods/nothing processed

Put another way, my current diet looks like this: vegetables, fruit, whole grains, beans, and nuts. I’d venture to say that 90% of the preceding is organic, with maybe 50% local.

It’s been surprisingly enjoyable. Sure, at times I nose up to a bakery window and whimper, but most days I live in peace with my options. And that’s because I’m no longer in the throes of sugar addiction.

People laugh about sugar addiction, sort of the way they do about sex addiction (“Ha ha! I wish I had that problem”), but I’m not talking about a candy bar every now and then. I’m talking about Trader Joe’s Soy Creamy for dessert of breakfast. With chocolate sauce.

In the past, I’d dropped sugar alone, but wheat tends to trigger my desire for sugar. So then I dropped sugar and wheat, and that worked well for a while. But eventually I returned to my addictive ways, because what was I supposed to put melted cheese on? Vegetables?

This is the first time I’ve eliminated not merely sugar and wheat but dairy and most meat as well. And guess what? Easier—I think because now all the triggers are gone.

Not that I’m making any promises. Five months in, I feel willing to stick with it for the foreseeable future, but everything is a process, nothing is forever, and Buddhism is a beautiful religion.

STORY

As much as I like my current food plan, I was having a hard time imagining a life entirely without omelets, Eppoise, bacon, or chocolate cake. So I came up with an idea: Fun Food Day.*

It’s very simple. On a single, predetermined day each month, I eat whatever I want. WHATEVER I want. If I want a chocolate-covered-bacon-omelet-ice cream-baked-brie sandwich in a waffle cone, I am going to find that and eat that by 9 AM. With sprinkles.

Here’s the beauty of this plan. One day a month is the perfect interval. It’s infrequent enough to keep me from falling back into the three-cupcake-a-day abyss, but frequent enough for me to rest easily in the knowledge that my precious little (big) sugar-fat bombs are never too far off.

And because Fun Food Day is only one day, I inevitably end up eating a pile of heart-attack food for breakfast, sending myself into a food coma, and emerging only at dinner for a salad. In other words, it usually takes only a single meal to remind me why I’m on the plan in the first place. Winning!

*Fun Food Day was initially called Gorge Day, but John did not like the sound of that. KILL-JOY.

SEPTEMBER’S FUN FOOD DAY

We were in Ashland, and I knew exactly what I wanted. Breakfast: a bacon/onion/tomato omelet at Brother’s restaurant, with hash browns and a scone. This all went down swimmingly. In fact, I took half of it home, because I wanted to save room for dessert.

On the way back to our cottage, we stopped at the sweet shop and bought $17 worth of chocolate. I don’t know how that happened. I had this idea that I was going to get only one or two little bites, so as to save room for chocolate cake later in the day. But I ended up with chocolate-covered caramel, chocolate-covered marzipan, and peanut-butter fudge. THAT IS HOW THIS SHIT GOES DOWN.

Then we went back to the cottage, and I ate almost everything. Well, I ate the caramel and the marzipan. And I finished the omelet, hash browns, and scone. And I had two bites of fudge. And then I said to John, “Hide the fudge!” And I lay down in bed. And did not eat anything else, except for a salad, for the rest of the day.

GENIUS.

The OSF: So Many Things to Love

Monday, September 12th, 2011

We’re back from Ashland. It was our fourth visit in 7 years, and well worth it as per usual. In particular, during this trip I felt very keenly the joy of establishing a relationship with an event—or, really, with the entire festival—and of returning to see it grow and change (and, in lovely ways, remain the same) over the years.

Here are some things I love about the Oregon Shakespeare Festival:

1) It is a very tight ship. With three theaters + outdoor performance space, 12 plays, and 4-7 performances a day, including rotating sets within one theater, it’d be fair to expect a certain amount of chaos.

Nope. In fact, every single play starts on time, with the officious choreography of synchronized shutting doors. The very ritual of that makes me shiver with pleasure.

2) Overlapping actors. When you see more than one play at the OSF (and we saw five*), you inevitably encounter actors you’ve seen in other performances. Which underscores the fact that they’re, you know, acting.

In other words, when the brash, money-grubbing wife of Argan in The Imaginary Invalid shows up as the cringing, broken Ivy in August: Osage County, you begin to see the range of what actress Terri McMahon can do. And that is immensely satisfying.

*Yes, we squoze in an extra, as John would say.

3) They are not afraid to take liberties. Not only will they set Shakespeare in, say, drab and generic 1970′s municipal government buildings (see this year’s mind-blowing production of Measure for Measure), but they’ll transform a Molière script into a 1960′s Parisian fantasia, maintaining only the essential nugget of the original. Which, if you’ve already seen/read your share of Molière and feel a bit sheepishly that every play he wrote was exactly the same, is just the right medicine.

4) The performances are excellent. Once in a while, an actor isn’t hitting his/her mark, and that happened a couple of times this year—more than it ever has, actually. But for the most part, the direction is fiercely smart, the acting is impeccable, and the experience as an audience member is richly rewarding. The actors are just throwing it down, throwing it down, throwing it down. Even with a script that doesn’t quite work, which is how we felt about this, the actors are giving so generously that you find yourself on the receiving end.

5) They rent costumes! 27,000 of them! Which I didn’t know until just now. Halloween in Ashland must kick some serious ass.

And now, I have to return to Measure for Measure, which was unforgettable. I’ve always loved that play, I suppose mainly because it’s about morality, which is a favorite topic of mine. I’ve also always chafed at the ending, which seems bizarre and tacked-on, a kind of throw-up-my-hands-to-the-conventions-of-comedy on the part of Shakespeare. (But why, Shakespeare, why? Didn’t you, like, invent modern theater in the West?)

Director Bill Rauch cleared all of that up for me, by, a) giving Mariana a personality, so that we understand why she wants to marry Angelo, even after all of his treachery comes to light; b) deepening Isabel’s character, so that we see why a public life might appeal to her, even after she has seemed so committed to a cloistered one; and c) eliminating the final couplet and ending the play with a choice on Isabel’s part, not an understanding that she’ll marry the duke. BREATHTAKING. Literally: The audience gasped as the lights went down.

Kudos to Stephanie Beatriz, too. Her Isabel was gorgeously sympathetic, when I’ve only ever seen that part played as prim.

All in all, a good week in Oregon, friends. We’ll be back.

Theater Week

Saturday, September 3rd, 2011

Last night we saw this. It was the first preview, and the show’s still getting its legs, but: a solid good time. Thank you, Rita Moreno, for your fabulosity.

Also, were you aware that Rita, Bill Cosby, Morgan Freeman, and Irene Kara are all alumni of The Electric Company? I see YouTube clips in my future. (Or, now, my very recent past.)

On Monday we’re headed to Ashland for the Oregon Shakespeare Festival, which we love mightily. Here’s what we’re seeing:

Measure for Measure. One of my favorites. And while I’ve caught a couple of movie versions, I’ve never seen it performed on the stage. THRILLING!

Pirates of Penzance. I’ve never seen this, either, believe it or not. FUN.

August: Osage County. Twisted family drama. My three favorite words afterpink nubbin tailio.”

The African Company Presents Richard III. This is one of those about Shakespeare plays that likely comes with very juicy reverberations about all manner of topics, although here, I suspect, primarily race. (See also Equivocation, one of the best plays we’ve ever attended at OSF, and maybe anywhere.)

With a day of driving on either side, that’s 6 days away and a play a day while there. Catch you on the other side!