Sunday, November 23, 2008

On Loving not Hating New York.

Living in New York can be like a badge of honor for some: an occupation almost. As if in response to the question "what do you do?" (always a favorite of mine because it comes with a lot of qualifiers: "I'm an actress,er, with a day-job but, no an artist, and no I don't always get paid for it, and, and, and...blech") they can answer "I live in New York". Being a resident of this City is a job, never mind the actual job. I often describe living here as Darwinian which I don't think is original or a stretch to say by any means though recently in describing it as such I did elicit a quizzical look from someone (who lives in L.A. - go figure). After you've been here a while you realize that, for better or worse, much of the rest of the world disappears into a hazy fog of "out there". I don't particularly care for the all-consuming tunnel vision that comes from living here but unless you are wealthy and have a country house or thousands of frequent flier miles the rest of the world becomes something you visit after a 4 hour Greyhound bus ride.

I would say that I have more of a love affair with this City than a love/hate relationship with it (though I do have days when I am felled by the daily challenges: waiting for the subway which is rapidly, almost shockingly, decaying with every passing year, tromping to and fro for even the most basic of middle class amenities, groceries, laundry, and don't even THINK about a car). Though I didn't grow up in the American suburbs my parents eventually did retire there. I am always shocked at how, well, contained life is in their development. How little contact there is with, well, the outside world funnily enough. My parents can go for days, if they so choose, just seeing each other and the good people who work at the Food Lion. They are older and spent 40 years traveling around the world (my Father was in the foreign service and his first post was Senegal and his last was Switzerland and in-between there were stints in Paris, and Rio and Hong Kong so these people have, you know, lived and seen a lot of shit and met a lot of people both paupers and princes)... which is to say that this is by no means a judgment call, at all.

Still it is, I suppose a comparison.

What I think I love about New York in contrast, to say, the cul-de-sac in which my parents are living out their golden years is the fact that there is no escaping the humanity and, by extension, the humility of being one of many. Butting up against these life stories, this constant throbbing mosaic of urban life, its ugliness, its beauty, its millions of triumphs and bitter disappointments. The fact that you can feel beautiful one minute and with just the opening door of a subway as ten women better dressed, more beautiful, taller - definitely taller- breeze in and sweep past, instantly humbled. For a drama lover there is nothing better than the endless mini-series of human storytelling that is perpetually being played out by 14 million of us against the indifferent steel and chrome, the City.

Thursday, October 30, 2008

The Joyless Jazz Age (2000-2008, R.I.P).

It was characteristic of the Jazz Age that it had no interest in politics at all.

--F. Scott Fitzgerald, from Echoes Of The Jazz Age (Nov. 1931)

Well, here we are less than five days away from a major political realignment. The nightmare of the Bush years and the dreams of a 50-year Republican majority might meet their final resting place next Tuesday. Barring the capture of Bin Laden by John McCain, nay, Todd Palin in the rocky border between Afghanistan and Pakistan and a 2000-point rise in the Dow, I am going to go out on a limb and say we are about to witness a massive regime change.

Even if Obama turns out to be some magical combination of Lincoln, FDR and Clinton, I still think we are in for a rough ride here in this United, divided, States. The past 8 years have been horrifying and the ugly lights are coming on after a long night of very tawdry, destructive, partying. In the morning we will awake to a legacy of illegal war, torture and a seemingly insurmountable avalanche of debt. I am just regurgitating the cliché that this really is a “perfect storm”. Just when the government needs to follow the Keynesian model of “pumping the well” there is no, uh, you know, liquid left to do so.

Also, I am curious to see how a nation whose culture is so bound to consumerism does when identity cannot be bought with a credit card. People are tribal and I have long argued that part of our democratic pluralism has been bound to our ability to distract and buy (I think this comes with the death of religion, maybe?). This is not earth shattering analysis here but I fear we could witness some massive civilian violence.

Or not.

Perhaps, the culture is going to experience the kind of contraction that many of us felt was and is needed. By contraction, I think I mean the end of, what I called, “The Joyless Jazz age”. The years when “Sex and The City” became a major cultural touchstone and Paris Hilton, for better or worse, was so dominant a cultural force that love her or hate her you couldn’t ignore her. The years when, despite a war that was draining our resources the only people truly appalled enough to do anything radical about it were over the age of forty: a mother named Cindy Sheehan and some upper West Side Grandmothers, Code Pink. The years when three hundred channels of cable spewed “To Catch a Predator” and “Cribs”, “The Hills” and “The Swan”, “Extreme Makeover: Home Edition”, and “The Biggest Loser”, “American Idol” and “The Littlest Groom”.

The Joyless Jazz Age is over and not a moment too soon. Let’s pray (as only a secularists can) that its replacement is not nearly as gruesome.

I’m hopeful but I might be giving away my television and buying a shotgun just in case…

Sunday, August 10, 2008

American Pyscho (or what would Susan Sontag think?)

Not one to miss out on the cultural zeitgeist (if there is such a thing anymore) I went a few weeks ago one hot summer afternoon to see Batman, oh I'm sorry "The Dark Knight". It's always a relief to escape into a Dionysian-like stadium of air-conditioning and Laz-ee boy seats in the summer to watch a major motion picture and "Knight" certainly qualifies. It's been hard to escape the media blitz surrounding this film in large part because of the infotainment media (and, the public's?) ghoulish fascination with the death of Heath Ledger. The semi-glee with which entertainment reporters asked the cast members of this movie about "Heath" (a true testament of super fame is when you just become one word, "Madonna", "Jesus", "Nike", "Brangelina", "Heath") was discomfiting at best. One couldn't help but wonder if James Dean had it right all along? I thought of him and his motto of live fast, die young, leave behind a beautiful corpse every time I saw yet another poster of the Jihadi Joker staring out from the side of a building.

The film is all it promises to be: a dark, rollicking, action packed, thrill-a-minute ride but I couldn't help but find it a nasty piece of work. I agree with cultural theorists who say that no art is ever made in a vacuum (and if it is, it's usually pretty awful) and this picture, in particular, seems to feed on the queasy paranoia and fears of this surreal era. In some ways, it's a perfect parable of the Bush years but I found it hard to tell if the filmmaker wanted me to root or hiss for Batman. Still for better or worse, the anti-hero is still a hero. So our hero is Bruce Wayne, a billionaire vigilante willing to go to questionable lengths to keep the citizens of Gotham safe. The storyline infers that he has to because the government, the justice department and the local police force are too corrupt and incompetent to do the job. Even the new hotshot D.A, Harvey Dent, with his Spitzer and RFK-like intensity is no match-up for the sheer dementia of the Jihadi Joker. There are refrains of Dick Cheney's "you gotta go to the dark side" because the rule of law is a thing of the past, monsters have to be dealt with accordingly and to deal with one, you must become one in this cinematic fairy tale. Plus the scenes of catastrophe that thuddingly unfold one after another is this film and the mangled response of the police in particular hits a little too close to home. The view of government as essentially useless should be disturbingly familiar as it's been the prevailing philosophy of our ruling party. There were moments, in the film that I couldn't help but think of Naomi Klein's book "The Shock Doctrine: The Rise of Disaster Capitalism". Granted, this particular billionaire, Bruce Wayne's private security apparatus is altruistic in nature (he's out to protect the innocent and his hot ex-girlfriend) unlike the super rich that Klein describes in her book who pay for services that they think will keep them safe, everyone else be damned.

The flipside of this is that "Batman", err, Mike Bloomberg, no sorry, um, Bruce Wayne aka the Dark Knight is not bound to follow any rules or any laws, for that matter. He can go to a foreign country and abduct escaped criminals (remember when the CIA went to Italy and threw "the bad guys" into blacked out vans and they were transported to secret prisons?). In this case, our man, Batman, flies into Hong Kong under cover of night to get a ruthless accountant who is, of course, Chinese! I love that bit of casting which feeds into our western paranoia that the Chinese are taking all our money and have no morals or ethics. Movie villains are nothing if not a reflection of a culture's xenophobia. As the movie climaxes and the Jihadi Joker constructs greater and greater theater of destruction our hero is forced to take action and use his superior technology to spy on all 31 million of Gotham's citizens. Even this action disturbs his moral conscience, a trusted adviser played by one Morgan Freeman. Poor Morgan Freeman, ever since the Shawshank Redemption he has been doomed to play a thin facsimile of Nelson Mandela in almost every movie he has been cast in i.e. a black Saint with no real purpose other than to be a foil for the white guy's tolerance and goodness. (He must be a hero since he's got Morgan Freeman on his side!). Ultimately, Batman's invasion of people's privacy does have its consequences and Nelson Mandela resigns but it also has its rewards: it leads Batman to the Joker. The lesson here: spying might be questionable, kids, but in times like these, clock ticking, it's also a necessity. Holy Peepers Batman!

After two and a half, admittedly, expertly paced hours of sociopathic, sadistic scenes of destruction, I had, had enough. I can appreciate the skill of the filmmaking and some of performances and, yes, I am talking mainly about Heather Ledger who actually infuses his character with deeply grounded pathos - think Commedia delle Arte meets method - but utterly believable! You know: acting. Unlike Christian Bale, who plays it so by the book, gravelly voice (check), stiff upper chest (check), faraway stares (check), he comes off as utterly one dimensional which is fine, it's a comic book character. But, he's also a humorless snooze which becomes tiresome after two hours as does watching endless scenes of destruction. I was ready to get out of the Laz-ee boy seats and return to the hot, muggy streets after the Joker blows up a hospital. I know the filmmaker posits that the Joker simply wants to see "the world burn" but it's hard to watch this blockbuster if you actually read and consume news regularly: the world is burning. Lastly, for years, I have been regularly forced to hear Western neo-cons whinge on endlessly about the jihadi "worship of death" but as I watched "the Dark Knight" I had to wonder if, we really have any right to lecture anyone about civilization and democracy when this is the entertainment we eagerly make, celebrate and consume.

Friday, June 27, 2008

Things On My Mind.

A random, somewhat disparate, collection of t'ings I been t'inkin' about.

In no particular order...

Zimbabwe: Wow. I've been listening to a lot of news stories about this (the scary side effect of streaming NPR all day at an office job). But, seriously, it's like "The Last King of Scotland" all over again only this time, lets substitute Mugabe for Idi Amin. You forget how precious it is to be able to vote without getting petrol fuel poured on you because you dare to support the opposition. Our democracy is fragile (and it's been beaten to shit over the past 8 years) but we face none of the terror (yes, terror) that these people are facing right now. Beware the strong man of Africa... the nasty, lingering effects of colonialsim? Maybe.

The Gun Ban-Ban or the 2nd Amendment ruling or Why our Supreme Court can kiss my M@#tha-f!#@$g ass: Any hardened Hillary Clinton supporter need only take one look at this decision and consider John McCain's statement that he wants a court full of Roberts and Scalias and Thomases. This decision is a nightmare. The idea that the framers wanted every American to have a Glock in their home is lunacy. We have a standing army and no one's trying to overthrow the King. The constitution's genius is that it's malleable and the notion that our laws should ahere more to the realities of 1776 than 2008 is, in a word, assinine.

Wanted: The new Angelina Jolie movie. God, it looks awful but I love James McAvoy so much (yet another "Last King of Scotland" reference). Word is that it's despicably violent which I find curious given Ms. Jolie's reputation as a global humanitarian....I guess I find it odd that someone so concerned about the plight of refugees (usually fleeing their country because someone is out to the kill them and their entire family) would then turn and make a film that gratituitiously gorges itself on violence. Not to get too Tipper Gore circa 1987 on your ass, I do believe there is a correleation between what we are seeing and what we are doing... Count me among the moral majority. Hmmm, is this just an uneasy combo of art and activism?

Gallery Hopping in Chelsea: I am. Tomorrow. Going gallery-hopping. Taking my New Yorker and doing the art walk. I will report on the state of contemporary art on Monday. I am mildly hopeful.

Adventure: I am dying for it. I am in-between shows and this is never a good thing because then I have time to think (hence Rodin's penseur) and the wanderlust really creeps in. Not creeps so much as slaps me against the face and, like a devil, takes over my body, exorcism-style. I long for bigger and better things, dramatic, novel-like adventures like being a war correspondant or working for "Doctors without Borders" or, closer to home, engaging in, for me, debauchorous, unhealthy, behavior... In short, I become petulant and teenage.

Pity the individual with a romantic sensibility (I do).

Monday, June 09, 2008

Staples makes me sad.

I couldn't tell you why but I have had this odd prediliction since I was a child. A strange sensitivity almost or maybe I am just trying to dress up my affection for being maudlin or my fondness for being blue.

Shopping in Staples makes me sad.

Sometimes shopping in a Duane Reade brings on a similiar melancholy (I sound like the Edgar Allan Poe of Strip Malls) but for some reason not as bad...maybe the make-up section still makes it

Staples though brings home alienation to me and 21st century class structures and makes them manifest. I am almost always shopping there because I've been sent on a duck-duck-goose run for labels for some temp job I'm at. Everyone in there is usually some kind of business person or, rather, the underling of a business person looking mildly annoyed as they search for the "sign here" labels or "toner cartridges" while "Steely Dan" plays overhead. The workers are all in uniform and are usually very nice to whatever asshole they are dealing with. In those moments searching aisle five for "poster-board spray adhesive" all the Nietchszean-style nihilistic thoughts, all the suspicion of modernity comes flooding in and it's like "this, this is progress"? Maybe, I should move to Oregon, get a bow and arrow, and eat with my hands.

But, instead I pick up whatever I've been sent for, get in line, and fully wallow in the utter sadness that is part of the contract you sign when you are brought into this world.

Now that wasn't easy.

Thursday, June 05, 2008



I am thrilled that he won the nomination. Obama, of course.

Side note: I don’t want my 30 days of continuous blogging to turn into a watery regurgitation of what I’ve heard on NPR. But, in truth, politics is always on my mind to some degree or another. Or maybe it’s not politics but culture, the big picture, what’s happening locally, globally and how are my fellow, human-being-animals reacting to it? Chalk it up to A LOT of history classes in college. I don’t entirely understand people who proudly announce that they’ve got no interest in politics (again, for me, politcs = big picture). To me, this is like proudly announcing that you’ve got no interest in art?! Curiosity is currency and it should extend to all avenues of life, no? Wow. I am in danger of sounding like an Generation X Dear Abby.. But, really, really, isn’t it all so fascinating? All of it, life, culture, people, art, and that includes politics (again politics = BIG PICTURE).

We are, of course, in a verrrrry interesting political period here in these United States and the hope (yes, it’s a corny word but for lack of a better word, hope but I use it with a caveat: it’s DESPERATE hope), the desperate hope this primary season has produced is palatable. The desire for, yes, here’s that other word again: change. And, for better or worse, vast numbers of the American populace (and the world apparently judging from the headlines fom the rest of the globe) have rested their hopes firmly upon the sinewy shoulders of one Barack Obama. Who, I note, have noted, and will say again: I love. And yet, ahhh the inevitable “but”, I am mildly weary of the degree to which there seems to be some mass kind of transference happening between him and the people, as it were. The pinning of all of ones’ (here’s that word again) hopes on one person to me seems a little frightening, frankly. . To me, there seems to be a desire of so many of us to see this one person, a man (a human man, it should be noted) Obama to absolve us, the American people, of the sins of the past 8 years. As if his presidency would prove to us, once again, that we are indeed the country of tolerance and openness and reinvention and truth and justice and not the land of Guantanemo, and Katrina and foreclosures and Iraq and Abu-Gahrib and utter indifference to all of the aforementioned.

Maybe I should just relish in this moment and in the fact that for now, for this instance in my still relatively young lifetime, I feel that history is not static and that progress is tangible and not just read about in the Chapter on the Sixties in that high school textbook. Maybe I should let my eyes well up with tears every time Obama talks about the “fierce urgency of now” and forget about the pandering speech he just made to AIPAC (just one day after he got the nomination it should be noted) declaring Jerusalem off-limits to the Palestinians.

See? Human being in a very corrupt system. I still love him but, deep down, I know that anyone, and I mean anyone, who is about to touch that much power is bound to disappoint.

It’s part of a noble tradition.

30 (continuous) Days of Blogging

In an attempt to inject my life with discipline, rigor, and Victorian self-improvement I am committing myself to 30 days of blogging.

Who's keeping score? No one!

Like Van Gogh painting for an audience that never came (save Theo) the joy will be in the doing. Or not. (Insert tired anecdote here about Vinnie's ear getting cut off though, apparently, it is now in heated dispute whether or not Van Gogh cut off his own hearing device or if Gaugin did it while they were both in the throes of an alchoholic infused night out on the town).

I feverishly hope, of course, that someone will stay tuned from now until the middle of July as I record my wry, ever-so-slightly vulnerable observations on living in the surreal life of the 21st Century.

Oh dear, what the hell do I have to say that is not on Gawker or the Huffington Post?

Stay tuned...

Tuesday, March 04, 2008

OBSESSION (It's not just a perfume from the 80's)

I, am, clearly ambivalent about blogging or just lazy (I cop to both) since I have been seriously deliquent about keeping this updated. Chalk it up to watching too much of "The Wire" which I am, yes, frighteningly obsessed with. I don't care if this makes me the hundredth hipster (and ONLY by virtue of my zip-code) to spout off on how "ammmmaaazzinnnng" the show is. It is. Amazing, that is. Plus, I feel a certain loyalty to any show that centers around the underbelly of America especially if that underbelly is located squarely in the heart of Baltimore, Maryland. (A place I know well: I went to college there, came of age there, fell in love hard for the first time there, and, lastly, was mugged three times, twice by gunpoint, there). Watching it is just a welcome back to Balmore hon'. Baltimore has a lot of charm but the City has been, more or less, ravaged by the loss of its manufacturing centers and what rose up to replace it: a drug trade with customer loyalty and profits that any Captain of Industry would envy. The show is in essence a treatise on moral relativism in an era of decay. David Simon (who I have now read a lot about in truly obsessive/pyschofantic fashion) says he was inspired by the Greek dramatists notion of fate i.e. instead of the Gods failing man it's now institutions (government, school, press) who randomly abandon and thus, destroy it's constituients no matter how good, how promising, how worthy they may be).

It's odd to have "The Wire" looming large in the background of my thinking these days. Seriously, I'm obsessed and this has to do as much with the compelling themes, the fantastic writing and the terrific acting. Seeing genuine journeymen actors (none of whom looked botoxed or underfed) chew the dialogue and tear up the storylines with relish is thrilling. At any rate, it's a curious thing to be bouncing back and forth between watching "The Wire" while indulging in my other obsession: the Democratic Primary. There's been a lot of ink spilled about how historic, blah-de-blah, it's all been and it has and it is. And, I will readily admit that my love of Obama seemingly knows no bounds. As Hendrik Hertzberg wrote "he's got Bobby Kennedy's heat and Jack's cool" so what's not to love? All things being relative and knowing that no matter what platitudes these pols spout to get elected most of it will remain just that: a platitude. "Change" is as amorphous as "faith" but I don't care, I'll take false hope over no hope while I can.

Nonetheless, there is something jarring about watching "The Wire" with its vivid and stark view of the rotted and decaying American-Every- City and then hear the candidates wax on about America's greatness, our military prowess, our vast potential... For many of us who have lived or are living in these parts of urban America know that there are entire pockets of this country where the violence and poverty rival most third world nations. John Edwards hinted at this but Obama's promise of one America was ultimately more seductive than being reminded that there were two America's. I fell for it too. Maybe I fell for Obama's One America because it makes me feel better about abandoning that other America. I watch the other America on "The Wire" from my apartment in Brooklyn (David Simon calls New York City "a pile of money") - I watch it struggle and gasp from the safe distance of my couch. Then in the morning I turn on NPR in hopes that I might catch a snippet of Obama's speech at some rally to make me feel better about America ( One and Two).

Saturday, January 05, 2008

Female Liberation?

2007 was a great year for me in many regards even if I made enough to put me solidly on the poverty line. I did eight shows (count 'em 8 shows) last year and got paid for... one of them! In the process, I met some amazing new people, people that I came to New York to met: actors, and playwrights, and directors, and just general artist/dilletante-types. I ended the year with a kind of faith that, hell yes, I am struggling and I might, like the grasshopper, have nothing for the eventual winter of my life so to speak but nevermind; I am here now and making work and doing it with wickedly talented, sincere, sharp, funny people who are all sacrificing to be creative.

2008 has started out with a slight bump and I am about to do something that, honestly, I rarely do on this blog - confess. Believe it or not, I seldom use this as a public journal. But here goes -- I recently had an experience with a guy, who shall heretoforth go unnamed, and it reminded me of why, sometimes, I really despise the prevailing dynamic between (straight) men and women that exists in this particular time and place, especially in this City. Simply put, there seems to be a kind of reversal of any gains that were made during the sexual revolution or during the women's movement. (The latter especially is in tatters. The Onion recently had an article with the headline "Man Put in Charge of Ailing Feminist Movement" and it was the funniest thing in the paper). My example of this is dating in New York which is, in my experience, more like something out of a Jane Austen novel than, say, an episode of "Sex in the City" (a show which to me has about as much to do with my life as a woman in New York as "Gossip Girl"). Maybe this has to do with a 5 to 1 female to male ratio? Plus, as far as I can tell, being single is seen as some sort of major personal failure. I almost dread being asked the question "are you dating anyone?" as much as "what do you do?" Both being pre-cursors of judgement i.e. " are you successful? are you desired? and depending on the answers to those: are you worth getting to know?"

My latest experience hooking up and then attempting to have (a) date has not been great and I have sought out and received so much conflicting advice from friends it's made my head spin. The advice, usually, comes in two forms, the most prevelant is: don't make the first move - ever. You have to be pursued, there is a biological, evolutionary, model at work - woe to you if you mess with the hunter-gatherer paradigm of male/female relationships. You must be the Diana of this urban-myth so run and he will chase; if he doesn't chase then, yes, he's "just not that into you" (this turns out to, generally, be my experience). The other advice is, of course, the direct opposite and goes something like: "be aggressive, take control, it's sexy."

Armed with this information, the dance begins and is usually a tiresome series of emails that reveal, once again, that all relationships boil down to a power-play. I hate this. I find it annoying and incredibly, yes, tiresome. I loathe the inherent inequality - the game of figuring who holds the cards. I don't know why I would expect anything else though since we are just taking the model of what we've grown up with and feeding it into our own lives. Equality especially in personal relationships takes a lot of communication and a lot of honesty and, sadly, I find most guys especially most American guys just do not have enough genuine curiousity about another person for this to happen. I am shocked at how conversations usually develop between men and women - the woman asks questions all night, listens and then comments appreciatevely at the answers she hears from the man. As far as I can tell the "healthiest" most functional relationships I see are very often same-sex. I wonder if this is because by already subverting the expected cultural-norm/model it frees two people up to engage on a more level playing field as equals from the get-go? Am I generalizing? Probably. Is some of what I've just written bullshit? Absolutely. Is some of it true? Without a doubt.

I don't know where I am going with this and I am fearful that this is quickly turning into one quasi-academic, half-bakked theory on relationships or, in my case, the lack therof.