Thursday, November 29, 2007

How much I love the song Dark Eyes

It's funny what we remember, or don't remember. Well actually, it's not funny at all. It's disturbing and frustrating and so often out of our hands. My mother talked about that incessently during her four-day Thanksgiving visit. She said she can remember almost nothing of her 26-year marriage except for the terrible things she can't forget.

With I'm Not There still rattling around my brain, images emblazoned, now we've been listening to the I'm Not There soundtrack. I'm loving it. Some excellent new versions of excellent songs. Tribute/cover albums don't always work for me. The Alejandro Escovedo Por La Vida is one of my favorites. Yet I had to return the recent Joni Mitchell because I hated it so much. Not her work, or the artists -- many of whom I love, but too many of the covers destroyed her timing and all that was good.

On this newest, the I'm Not There Soundtrack, really digging so much of it. Tonight fastening on Sufjian Stevens' Ring Them Bells and Iron & Wine w/ Calexico's Dark Eyes. The latter, as much as I enjoyed it, made me crave the original Dylan version. And with that the intense memory of when I fell in love with that song. An image of Judy Davis sitting on a bathroom floor in the Gillian Armstrong film, High Tide. (Is she singing? I can't remember. I think so.) I hop over to Youtube hoping to find a clip. No, but found this instead - a live performance of Dylan and Patti Smith singing it together. It doesn't always work, but I love the song so much, it'll have to do.

What would have been a great xmas photo

Damn I missed it. A perfect Texas xmas photo. Walking around Hyde Park at dusk, finally a daily routine, pretty much too, my favorite way to be here. Walking feels like the right pace and scale for the arts and crafts cottages of Hyde Park. It fits the personal, idiosyncratic environment. I turn onto one of the side streets, amused by the cars, their bumper stickers, the house colors, and landscaping. I see some xmas lights on. It's an elaborate display. Then I notice, right in the middle of the front yard, standing in the front gate, the soldier in fatigues and a beret hanging the lights. Standing in his front yard (his, or his mother's, or his ex-wife's) silently completing the Christmas light display on a Wednesday in November @ 5pm. I found it intensely moving. I had my phone camera with me but was too intimidated to ask or obviously sneak it. But it's been haunting me and I'm really sorry I missed it.

Wednesday, November 28, 2007

No Soundbites Today

"What's new?" People ask.  "What're you working on?"

"No Soundbites" I reply.  

Trying to defer what I perceive as the need to spew out something fabulous and tangibly productive.  "No soundbites for the moment."  

I could craft something - either real or embellished, but I don't.  I opt out of the swim.

Wednesday, November 21, 2007

Thanksgiving fog and thanks, really give thanks

Tuesday everyone was looking for smallish turkeys. 16 lbs. Me included. I'm reminded of the surrealism of everyone in the country cooking the same damned meal at the same time. Yet I'm doing it too. Compulsively pushing my way through the supermarket, not going through the motions, more like observing the marionette strings. Wait, I know, I know, it's like some global version of synchronized swimming! I'm wandering through with my own free will, matching the movements of everyone else. It's ludicrous. It's tradition. It roots us. It's my favorite meal.

Happy Thanksgiving. Remembering to give thanks and be grateful can make all the difference.

One of the many great books I finally read that year in Fiji (it was as much my "Year of Reading" as anything else - (moving there got to me to finally clean my house, and clear out my "to read" list,), was Bodies in Motion and At Rest. It's author, Thomas Lynch is a funeral director who, as he writes in his foreword, writes because he doesn't play golf or drink. One of my favorites essays was, "The Way We Are." Great in it's entirety but it's ending message has strongly stayed with me:

...The silence out of heaven to these questions was real. Why wasn't God listening? I wanted to know. And before I'd agreed to step one foot in heaven, I had a list of things I wanted explanations for.

There's a reason we are given two ears and one mouth.

Someone told me that I should just say "Thanks," and that all my prayers should begin that way and never stray far from the notion that life was a gift to be grateful for. I began by giving thanks for my family, for the blessings to my household, the gifts of my children. Then the daylight and the nightfall and the weather. Then the kindness you could see in humankind, their foibles and their tender mercies. I could even be grateful for the ex-wife, the tax man, the gobshites who run the world and ruin everything. The more I mouth my thanks for them, the less they bothered me. There's another thing to be thankful for. I could be thankful even for this awful illness - cunning, baffling and powerful - that has taught me to weep and laugh out loud and better and for real. And thankful that, of all the fatal diseases my son might have gotten, he got one for which there is this little sliver of a hope that if he surrenders, he'll survive. Whatever happens, God will take care of him.

And every time I say it, the prayer gets answered. Someone, out of the blue, every day - maybe my wife or someone at the office or the guy in the line at the airport or something in a letter that came in the mail, or something in the lives of my sons or daughter - someone gives out with a sign or wonder in the voice of God, in some other voice than mine, to answer my prayer. Every day, every time, never fails, if I just say "Thanks," I'll get the answer, before the darkness comes - "You're welcome," it say. "You're welcome."

-- Thomas Lynch. from "The Way we Are" in Bodies in Motion and At Rest.

Tuesday, November 20, 2007

You Gotta Love This Guy

Do I write about Tim League too much? I just love what he does. Read this about how excited he is for his Alamo South opening of Enchanted. Now I'm only sorry that Enchanted won't be showing at the Alamo Ritz on Thanskgiving. We would so have been there.

I'm Not There - Highly Recommended ***

Damn what a fine movie! I'm Not There is superb. Genius. A brilliant take on icons and iconography. Yes Dylan is the way in, but it's not a bio pic. John and I debate whether anyone can watch this who's not familiar with Dylan. I don't care. I'm too in love with it.

Cate Blanchett in the black and white. Charlotte Gainsbourg as the ultimate rock star mom at home, totally romantic, totally alone. The little guy riding the rails - pulling off an impossible conceit. Pretty much everyone is great. The filmmaking is brilliant. Just a glory to film, and film storytelling, and the culture that's existed in my lifetime.

(So much of it is so superb, but particularly love that Beatles & Bob frolicking on the lawn.)

Todd Haynes is a singular talent. One of our national treasures. I am so grateful to live in his world. (And to Christine Vachon and everyone else who made this possible, "Thank You!")

Don't miss it. Highly Recommended.

Update: Check out J. Hoberman's excellent, smart essay/review in the Village Voice.

Monday, November 19, 2007

A really funny inspired take on Tom Perrotta at the Texas Book Fest

Check this out! A fabulous sketchbook on Tom Perrotta's appearance at the Texas Book Festival by Austin Kleon. I'll definitely be following his work from now on.

Saturday, November 17, 2007

East Austin Studios Tour - Highly Recommended

What another great Austin event. The East Austin Studio Tour.

I'd heard of it but never experienced. Adriana met me at El Chilito with map and post-it marked catalog in hand. East Austin one weekend. Artists' studios. Artists' homes.

What would the world be like without artists? Even with huge economic precariousness, they have the desire to create. The compulsion and confidence. I saw plenty of work I dug. But it's more than that. It's how artists live. It's how they work. The artists I've been close to in my life have made everything better. It's how their food looks. How it tastes. The tools and raw materials lined up just so, adding to the overall. How they live feeds my soul. Oh that sounds corny and melodramatic but it's true. People who create are a special species. I crave their humor, economy, and imagination. It's a skew I prefer in this world.

This East Austin Artists Tour is beautiful designed. Great materials to guide you. Easy Austin in terms of getting around and parking and people just being nice to one another. It's an expanded version of this place for me. Different neighborhoods, different people. Makes me love it here even more. Highly recommended.

Friday, November 16, 2007

Adios Windstar. Welcome Civic EX

So the minivan died. And we were all quite upset about it. Wyatt loved that car now, as a big 17-year-old with lots of friends and lacrosse gear. He liked the crappy quality and ease, even laughing when his father completely dented the driver's side 2 days after he passed his driver's test and got the use of the car fulltime. He didn't mind that it looked like he'd had the accident, nor that the A.C. was broken. We were all hoping it would limp along til he left for college less than a year from now.

People laugh at owner's mourning their pets. And I'm mourning the damned 98 Windstar. I bought it over John's complaints, taking the kids along for moral support. Georgia, roughly 10 years old, helped me make the decision and negotiate. I could always depend on the kids for great advice in those kind of areas. The kids grew up in that car. Tons of good times, tons of friends, ghosts of moments past. We drove it down to Texas, tag-teaming with the WRX. We used it last week moving G. out of the apartment she was sharing with her boyfriend. Now it's donated to KUT. Lived in and workable on the outside, dead on the in.

So what to do? Aaaargh, have to get something new. Something new or something old? The pressure's on. All the usual methods - intense internet research. Blue book values. Checking craig's list. Driving to all the local dealers. Even checking out ebay after a good friend mentioned she bought a civic the day before, was in fact trucking it in from Virginia. Model types, years, price ranges, all sorts of new information flooding my brain. I decided to keep it simple. Follow PH and everyone else's conservative advice - buy a Honda Civic or Accord. But which, a Civic or an Accord? I fucking hate making decisions. But I needed to. John and Wyatt barely engaged or helped, acting like they do every single night for dinner, "I don't care, whatever you want. Anything's fine." Aaargh.

Narrowed it down to a couple of possibilities. A couple of Accords actually. Hmm, a 1998 or 2002, both with same miles, one several thousands cheaper? Hmm, but one has cd player and ABS brakes? Hmm, but it spent a lot of time in New Orleans, maybe not the best idea these days. Maybe it experienced too much heartache, let alone flood damage.

Finally I spy a 2000 Civic EX with pretty low mileage. And hey, only one owner which Carfax gets pretty damned excited about. John's exhausted, says he'll check out with me in the morning. I can't wait. I drive up in the car. The color's perfect. It's beautiful inside. I drive it around in the dark. Don't open the hood, don't kick the tires. I put money down. I'm excited. I'm freaking out. Because what if it's too small for Wyatt? Where will he put his lacrosse stick? What if it's a lemon? I'm exhilarated and anxious. I move the money around. Yesterday we go to pick it up. Wyatt's delighted. I'm thrilled yet I'm even more anxious signing the "As Is" form. The mechanic I call says, "Did you do a buyer's check before purchasing?" Ah, no.

The keypad doesn't work on the driver's side but it's ok manually. Oops the CD player doesn't work. John says relax. It's fine. You got a great deal. Monday I take it in for it's baseline check up. I'm pleased with the little accomplishment. I'm paranoid I really screwed up. The story of my life.

Los Angeles Plays Itself - Highly Recommended

Last night I saw Los Angeles Plays Itself for the second time courtesy of the Austin Film Society's Doc Tour. What a glorious film! It's a movie lover's delight -- a superb meditation on movies and Los Angeles, beautifully constructed and written by film historian Thom Andersen.

It's hard to see, hamstrung by the hundreds of clips and current state of Fair Use confusion. But I urge you to try, and put it on your "Need to See" lists for the day it finally does become more widely available on DVD. It's superb.

In the meantime, you can read more about it by Chale Nafus, Director of Programming, Austin Film Society.

Thursday, November 15, 2007

Welcome to Wyatt's world, in school that is

For those who've asked, Wyatt's allowed me to link to his blog, which is a requirement for his high school computer class.

And actually has a project calling for public comments and participation. So go ahead! (Including you Josh Ramsey...he remembers you and your watch :)

Logo Approval
Computer Recycling Project

Thursday, November 08, 2007

Waiting for the tow truck

Lovely cool Texas evening, waiting for AAA to come. Wyatt called on his way to IHOP, his weekly ritual to help his football friend load up on pancake carbs before the game. "The car won't start, and if you don't move it from the Reilly parking lot, it'll get towed." Right, need it towed but to our destination of choice, not the city pound. I head over at 7:10pm, the tow due by 7:30. At 7:30 they call, running late, it'll be another half hour. Then another 10, the driver's late. Then he arrives, with an old manual tow truck and he spends an hour trying to figure out how to line it up properly. Eventually, he gives up, and we wait another 20 for the flat bed. It's after 9:30 now and I won't get home before 10:15 pm. Luckily, I've brought a flashlight and George Saunders, "The Braindead Megaphone." I thought "Abstinence Teacher" was next in line, but that's a hardcover (signed!), and this is a paperback so it's easier to throw in my bag. So I'm not freaking out. I'm actually enjoying the immersion in the book. Reading by flashlight in the dark cool air. John and I earlier blew off our plans to catch the Seeger doc at the Dobie, when the distress call came in, so the evening's clear. I wait. I hang. Enjoying the night.

Not relishing the next steps. Is the 98 windstar dead? (The kids were so awesome helping me buy it that many years ago, over John's "not a mini-van!") We were hoping to nurse it through Wyatt's graduation. Ugh.

But reading. Yes, reading. One of the after mulls from the Texas Book Festival, the lingering effect of hanging out with so many writers. How articulate they all were, how well they told their stories, how attentive to detail and narrative. But too, how much they read. Like us with movies. We keep up, we see a ton. They read. John's been reading forever. I used to but then fell prey to computer addiction and let it go. This weekend feeling a bit of the pull to get it back.

Monday, November 05, 2007

Links in a Chain pt 4 (and final) - Texas Book Festival

The Texas Book Festival held on a fall weekend in Austin is fun! Founded by Laura Bush, (yeah, ok, the only one thing I can be happy about) it takes place in the Texas State Capitol - literally inside the capitol rooms. Hundreds of authors fly in to speak and sign books. The quality is very high. And it's free to the public. It's a great event.

Tom Perrotta, standing in the House Chamber, read from his new novel, The Abstinence Teacher, after a hilarious smart intro from John. I can't wait to read it, both because I love Tom's work but also because of the subject. It centers around a liberal human sexuality teacher who's forced to teach abstinence, and her daughter's soccer coach, a formerly hard living guy now turned evangelical.

During the Q&A, when asked how much Tom had researched the evangelical church, he answered something to the effect:
"As a person, I'm full of judgement. But as a writer, I see it as my job to put judgement aside. The goal is to learn through the process. I see no point in writing and just ending up in the same place I started."

Tom went off to sign books. Robert Wilder and I headed down to the Green Room to ready for his reading at 3:30. There I got to meet George Saunders, a writer whose name is all of a sudden everywhere. Although it's a bit did he get to be so many people's favorite writer without me having heard of him? Pop culture's funny that way, particularly for those of us who make it our priority.

Rob and I head over to room E2.026. We were bracing ourselves for little, having experienced a light crowd earlier in the morning for Rob's "Father Knows Worst" grouping at 10am. We get to the door, people are spilling out. We peek in, the dais chairs are full. We're totally confused, what else was booked in here? Was the room changed? I ask someone in the back, "What is this?" "Nothing," she said, "those people are up on the dais just because there aren't any other chairs." Rob and I looked at each other and totally cracked up silently. I gave a perfunctory intro then he took over and had the SRO crowd laughing their heads off. Reading three parts from his wonderfully hilarious, sharp new book of essays, "Tales from the Teacher's Lounge." Rob killed. He was really really entertaining and wonderful.

It was an amazing weekend overall. Fun in the present tense. Fun because of the history and organic growth. Fun because of the human connection. Fun because of the talent. Fun.

Sunday, November 04, 2007

Links in a Chain pt 3 - Tom Perrotta

During that week in 2000 getting to know Rob Wilder at the Natalie Goldberg writing workshop, Rob championed a number of other writers. One was Tom Perrotta. I picked up Bad Haircut, which was great. Then Joe College, which I also loved. A couple of months later, John was asked to moderate a panel at the Nantucket Film Festival. Tom was on the panel since his novel Election was the basis for the Alexander Payne (director) /Reese Witherspoon film. "Election was adapted from a novel?" I asked. Hardly the words any novelist wants to hear. But somehow, he and his wife Mary and John and I all hit it off. We started spending time together off and on, in real time and email, here and there, in tiny bits and pieces.

Surprisingly, they'd never been to Austin. Last November, in the thick of the Little Children (novel and screenplay adaptation by Tom) release, I asked if he'd have a new novel out in the fall. I was sure the (really excellent) Texas Book Festival would be interested, and that he'd be a shoo-in for their annual collaboration with the Austin Film Festival, held just prior. The Austin Film Festival specializes in screenwriting and screenwriters. As luck would have it, he was almost done with The Abstinence Teacher, and the release date was fall 2007. I called Clay Smith, the literary programmer at the Texas Book Festival. He took it from there.

Clay asked John, author and indie film guy, to introduce Tom. Then Clay recalled I'd mentioned Rob was a friend and asked me to introduce him. It was delightful to think about seeing these two in Austin for the Festival. I knew that they were friends, but it was only after seeing Rob in person again, for the first time since 2001, that I remembered he'd been my introduction to Tom in the first place.

Links in a chain pt 2 - Robert Wilder

That week was also the moment I became friends with Robert Wilder. He was a writer and high school teacher in Santa Fe, who often co-taught with Natalie. When she spoke to the group, she was extremely open and giving, but during the breaks, it was clear she had to put up some walls to ward off the hordes of needy would-be writers. I could see the wariness descend when I tried to approached her for a one-on-one follow up. She'd seen my kind before. I understood and kept my distance.

I was there on my own, in a different context without my more known partner and film touchstones. I wanted to see what that was like. But then I heard Rob speak. He was hilarious and a great storyteller. Highly energetic and entertaining. And clearly a movie nut. Everything he said was peppered with movie references. I couldn't resist making the connection. "So you like movies, huh?" as I set down my lunch tray next to him. And the name dropping began. The communion clear. We talked through the week and we've been emailing ever since. Writing, movies, NM, our kids, it's been easy and fun and rich.

Some months ago Rob wrote out of the blue asking if I knew of the film Chalk. Well of course I did. It's an Austin film about a year in the life of some novice high school teachers. Not a doc, but very real. And very funny, (and now available on dvd). Turns out Rob had written a book of essays called, "Tales from the Teachers' Lounge" and thought they might have common ground.

Months later, Rob was invited to the Texas Book Festival.

Links in a chain pt 1 Natalie Goldberg's workshop Taos 2001

In 2001 I went to a Natalie Goldberg writing retreat in Taos. It was one of those things. Her Writing Down the Bones had been on my bedstand for almost ten years. Finally in Nov 2000, I'd actually read it. And loved it. Looking into her a bit further online, I noticed her writing workshops. In fact one was coming up in January, at the Mabel Luhan Dodge House, the very place my best friend Susan had gotten married some years earlier. I checked my calendar, hmm, that week was surprisingly uneventful at home. John was in town and the kids' needs were manageable. I checked if I could use AAmiles for the planefare. I could. I signed up. It was a bold and uncharacteristic move for me. In my @ 14 years as a mother, I hadn't left my family to go off alone except when my father was dying and dead.

It was an amazing trip. I stopped in Santa Fe on the way to spend a night with a treasured friend, the artist Dana Chodzko. The next night was in Taos with Susan, now a single mother with two small children. Monday the workshop began. I remember feeling intense trepidation. I was embarrassed to be acknowledging a "wanna be" in my make-up. I knew enough from my film life that people that did, did, and that too many others just thought about it and attended workshops. But it was a gorgeous time to be away. The Taos winter air was crisp and clean, scented with delicious pinon. I was by myself for the first time in years. I would see what it was.

Natalie was amazing. Funny, sharp, vulnerable, immediately compelling. There were hundreds of people there and she had her system. The time would be about timed writing. Ten minutes. Sometimes on a theme or started with a phrase. No stopping, no crossing out. Then the work would be read out loud. Sometimes cacophonous as the entire room read their work aloud to one other person. Sometimes in smaller groups. Eventually to the whole room at once. The goal was writing as practice and learning how to silence the inner critic that said, "I can't do this. I suck at this." The goal was to write.

That first night, some people cried immediately. I was detached and skeptical until the next morning when we broke into our smaller groups. As Natalie sent us on our way she said, "You've been thinking about this a long time. It was incredibly hard to get here. Now you're a writer in a room full of writers. Be kind."

My own tears surprised me. "Be kind." And all these years later, I can still recall so clearly the lessons of that week. To be more open. To be less critical. To allow the process to happen rather than think it away from the outset. That week was a turning point that has had profound implications for everything that has transpired since.

Friday, November 02, 2007

The new Alamo Ritz is awesome

What can I say? The new Alamo Ritz is awesome! Consummate showmen Tim & Karrie League along with their trusty band of unbelievably hard working creatives pulled off a major feat getting this new Alamo up and running. John and I were thrilled to be at the inaugural show, (as we were 10 years ago for the sxsw premiere of In The Company of Men.) The Alamo Ritz already looks great, feels great, is a fantastic place to watch movies.

I couldn't be more excited and pleased. What a wonderful new gift for movie lovers and Austin! Here's to a new decade - here's to more movie good times! Thank you Tim & Karrie!!!!