Wednesday, April 30, 2008

'The Tiny One' ...

So here we are, April 30th, the end of the month, and I have yet to finish a novel.

A quick scan of my bookshelves didn't yield a novel tiny enough to cram in tonight.

In that way, I have failed. Mercurie challenged me to read one book of fiction per month in 2008 because he thinks we just don't read for pleasure enough anymore. But I'm still working my way through Lamb: The Gospel According to Biff, Christ's Childhood Pal. I really do like it. I just haven't been into reading lately. Maybe because I spend my entire day reading for work, reading and editing. So that by the time World News with Charles Gibson rolls around and I shut down my laptop for the evening, the last thing I want to do is look at more words.

But in the spirit of at least posting about a book I've read, even if I haven't read it recently, I offer up this past post, written nearly three years ago, so it's ripe for the resurrecting:

I don't like everything I read.

I have a lot of respect for writers, authors of books. A book. It's such a big thing to accomplish. The writing, the rewriting, enduring editing. But in the end, when it's published, to be part of the world of published authors ... It's one of my goals in life. A book with my name on the spine.

I love picking a new book. I've never lost that grade-school sensation. Library day was always a big deal for me. I loved the library at my elementary school. There were hot spots: Girls knew right where to head each week to see if they could score a Judy Blume book (across from the librarian's desk) and the National Geographics were by the door leading out to the playground. You could tell which issues had pictures of bare-breasted African women or naked men. They were always well-thumbed.

So each time I pick up a new book, I'm eager to love it. Sometimes, I'm drawn in from the first sentence: The characters beckon and don't let go ("She's Come Undone" by Wally Lamb springs to mind). Sometimes, I can't bear to see a book end (if "Memoirs of a Geisha" had a bibliography, I would have read it; anything to not have to come to the endpaper). Sometimes, I'm disappointed, but think that if I read long enough, a book will redeem itself, and by the time I realize that that just won't be the case, I'm often so far along that I can't bear to not finish, but sometimes the notion that by reading the drivel at hand I am wasting time in which I could be reading something else, something I'd really care about, wins out and I close a book, unfinished ("The Fourth K" by Mario Puzo is one such let-down).

A couple months ago, before a business trip, I perused my bookshelves for a book for the plane. Plane books must be paperback, not too thick, trade-size, please. I pulled one off the shelf and read the first page. Then another. Then another. I eventually found the right book.

When I got on the plane, I settled in with my new book and started to read. I was rapt. Amazing writing, some of the best use of simile and metaphor I'd ever envied. Many pages in – sixty or so, I believe – I turned the page and thought, "Well, that doesn't make sense." Flipped back. Read. Turned the page. Continued reading. Nope. Made no sense. But maybe the author had something in mind. I read on. Then it happened again. And again. And I realized the pages were in the wrong order.

Can you imagine? The book I was reading was a debut novel. It was a review copy from a publishing house, but it wasn't a galley. It was a finished copy. Can you imagine the horror of your first book hitting the shelves with the pages in the wrong order?

I was sad. It was too hard to flip through the book to find the proper pages, so I put the book away. The rest of the flight was boring.

A few weeks ago, I picked up a new copy of the book, flipping through it in the bookstore to check the turns (end of one page, beginning of the next) to make sure everything flowed. It did. I bought it.

I'm reading it now. Enchanted as I was the day on the plane. "The Tiny One" by Eliza Minot.


I don't tend to read books more than once. But I find myself turning to this tome over and over. Not to read entirely, but to skim. I've read the first chapter at least five times. The first couple chapters, actually.

If you're like me, when contemplating a new book, you read the first page. Allow me to present it here, to tempt you. Actually, let me present the first chapter. It's very short:

Via Revere. She's just a kid in the morning except that she's sitting still on her bed in the thick of the far-gone winter with her mouth parted open like a grown woman's in thought. Life's got her for the first time pinned up against a wall, open-mouthed. But other than her mouth, and her stillness, the rest of her's pure kid, but stunned. She's slouched and static, puffy-eyed, staring at the rug where it meets the wood floor. She's sitting waiting, lopsided, dumbstruck, not even thinking yet what to think.

Her mother would have put her in the gray flannel or Black Watch plaid dress. Instead Via's wearing an Easter dress that curdles, but nicely, with the raw winter surrounding her. Its white cotton is springlike, clean and pleated, cool over her dark wool tights. Lavender smocking is embroidered across her chest, and her young fresh head grows up out of the starched scalloped collar that petals at her neck. Her hair's got so much static that she can feel it clinging silky to her cheek, buzzing, tickling at the side of her chapped mouth.

One of the cats jumps up beside her and arches to rub along her arm. She pats it without looking at it and with her electricity gives it a little shock so the kitty twitches its whiskers but keeps purring. Via twitches too, her eye, but keeps staring.

She's just a kid and it's morning but nothing's the same. Everything's different now. She's at the beginning of a new chapter. she's perched at the edge of a new era. Grief has been born boring into her soft ripe life full of cartwheels and digging with sticks, leaves and laughter, sky and light, her mother's face and jumps in the air. Grief's been injected like a strange sedative that has the opposite effect—it wakes you up. It's jarred her like shaking her shoulders. It has her. The grizzle of life has rattle her numb. It's like she's been whacked in the head out of laughter and now she sits alone on her bed, looking out, in awe at anything, in awe at everything, stunned.

Hearing the news is like this: The day was like other days and then it happened. Then the news came like those film clips where huge buildings sway gracefully to the ground like someone's sucking them down with a vacuum. It's a whirl of air. It's a night of movement with billowing as the darkness is go everything go, everything moves, disheveled and alive, rushing with sound. Then suddenly it's silent. It's like the sound has been turned off but you're watching a storm. The trees bend like slingshots and the leaves tornado up into the air. Where is the sound? And then it is over.

Then it is over and it's morning. You've heard the news. You'd almost rather hear it again—fresh—than begin a life with what you know now. It is morning. It is a morning when everything is hit white-yellow and windows of buildings shine in dull flashes. The windshields of slowly moving cars turn weak sun in your eyes. You wince. You feel like a fever that's petrified.

It's her older sister Marly's voice at the door behind her. "You ready?"

The it's her father. "All set?"

They're in the door together but Via doesn't want to turn around to see.

Marly comes and sits beside her. "All set?" she says, like her father just did.

Via nods. She pats the cat Puddle and listens to the purring. "She's purring," Via says.

"Come on," says Marly, nudging her. Marly heads toward the bureau. "I'll get you a sweater."

"No," says Via.

"No what?"

"No sweater."

"You'll freeze, V."

"I don't think I will."

"Well you think wrong," says Marly. "Look at it out there."

Via looks up from the floor to look out the window. She doesn't remember yesterday. Today looks like it's trying to snow.

"I want to stay here with Puddle," Via says.

Marly goes over to her. Marly squats down and looks at her little sister in the eye. "You want to stay with Puddle?" Marly asks her.

Via nods.

"It's not time to go yet," says Marly. "Want me to come get you when it's time to go?"

Via nods again. "Yeah," she says. She's patting Puddle.

Marly kisses Via's forehead as she's standing up. "We'll all be right downstairs if you want to come down," Marly tells her. "Okay?"

" ’Kay," says Via.

When Marly leaves, Via looks back up out the window while she listens to Puddle purr. It's as white as can be out there. Only the rattly knuckled trees are dark and still against the icy snow that's beneath them and behind them. Above the world is a long white sky, open and bare.


The rest of the book is told from Via's perspective, which is what makes me marvel at this novel. That Minot captures, so brilliantly, the goings on of a young girl's mind, a young girl trying to comprehend that her mother has just died.

I'm not giving anything away there. The second chapter begins, "Mum's dead forever."

I'll let you pick it up from there.

3-Day Update, April Edition ...

May? How is it almost May?

Wow. August will be here before I know it.

The 3-Day has been on my mind lately. Driven by a recent spate of very generous contributions, I'm sure. Last night, I dreamt that I was on the event but had forgotten my credential. Your credential is literally your meal ticket on the 3-Day but you need it for everything else you do, too. No credential, no walking. Period.

I'm still trying to understand the part of my dream that required us to write our names on cocktail napkins ...

Now is about the time, a few months out like this, when the 3-Day machine really kicks into gear. Training walks and workshops and media coverage. The firm that handles PR for the 3-Day got in touch with me to ask if I'd be a 3-Day ambassador, which is essentially a resource for reporters to interview for 3-Day stories.

I happily agreed. This will be my fifth 3-Day. I'm a veteran at this point. Whatever I can do to help the 3-Day, I do.

I'm looking forward to August. I never ceases to amaze me that every year's experience somehow manages to top the experience of the years before.

Despite all the dour news every day, there really is a tremendous amount of love and kindness in the world.

Come out to the route during the 3-Day and feel it for yourself.

And bring Popsicles. People who bring Popsicles are rock stars on the route.

If you'd like to contribute, you can click here or click the giant pink box over there, to the right, underneath my bio. Thanks for your consideration.

Tuesday, April 29, 2008

New (To Me) Music!, Part 2 ...

New John has been at it again.

Yesterday on IM, he popped up with, "Are you into Pete Yorn?"

"Don't know him," I said.

"You're kidding?"

Actually, it turned out that I had a Pete Yorn track in my iTunes, from a soundtrack, but I had never noticed his name before. So John transferred a couple songs to me.

He started with "Come Back Home."

"HOLY CRAP!", I wrote. "He sounds exactly like Eddie Vedder!"

The first few lines of the song, anyway. Once the tune kicks in, it's definitely not the second coming of Pearl Jam.

John encouraged me to run ... not walk ... to go buy the full album, "Day I Forgot."

I meant to do just that, last night, but I forgot. And then I thought about running to the mall to buy it tonight, but since I already have a couple of the tracks digitally, I bought the balance on iTunes. And saved myself approximately $75 worth of gas in the process. Isn't that what a gallon is going for these days?

The vocal stylings of Mr. Would-Be Eddie Vedder return on "Carlos (Don't Let It Go To Your Head)." For that matter, Yorn's guitar is very Vedder-esque in that tune. Very cool riffs.

So, Pete Yorn, kids. If you're behind the curve like me and this man hasn't crossed your radar yet, give him a listen. He's widely available on iTunes.

Sample everything, but if you buy only one tune, I'd suggest "Carlos ...". It hooks you immediately and doesn't let go.

New Coldplay, Different Coldplay ...

Coldplay's new single is available for free on its web site.

It took several attempts before I was able to get through, but it was worth the effort.

This ain't the Coldplay of "Clocks." If it weren't for Chris Martin's vocal and a bit of piano, I don't think I'd recognize this as a Coldplay tune.

Check it out. When you can get through.

Monday, April 28, 2008

Say, Cheese! ...

Yesterday, I bought a bag of Baked Cheetos.

Today, I noticed this good news on the front of the bag:

Yes, that's right: Baked Cheetos now have added calcium! No longer do those orange-stained fingers just mean snack happiness, oh no. Now they're a sign that you're doing right by your bones, ladies!

In case you're wondering, a single 1-oz. serving of Baked Cheetos provides 10 percent of your recommended daily allowance of calcium. And since nobody eats just one ounce at a time, you'll be getting even more of the mineral.

See for yourself!

The bag I bought contains 11 ounces. (Well, it did when I bought it.)

But do the math! Each bag of Baked Cheetos contains 110 percent of our daily calcium requirement! Why suffer through milk (do you know what's in that stuff?) or yogurt (might as well call it fruit slime!) or calcium supplements (who wants to swallow boring white pellets the size of a baby's foot?) when we can be snarfing whole bags of crunchy orange corn-based nuggets? And the phosphorus and magnesium and Vitamin E and Vitamin B6 and riboflavin and thiamin and niacin and iron? Nutritional bonuses, all!

Zero cholesterol, zero trans fat!

And hey, protein!

Saturday, April 26, 2008

My Dream Team ...

Update, May 2010: J-D and Ronnie now work their magic from Joseph Michael's.

Y'all know how much I love J-D, my hair architect.

But now I have yet another reason to love Dennis Bartolomei (the salon): Ronnie. Or is it Ronny? Roni? Ronie? Ronee? Damn, I should have asked. I'll get that detail later. But for now, what you need to know, not necessarily in this order is a) he's stunning, I mean, like, so attractive it's almost distracting. (I wonder if Dennis hires his staff from some salon genius academy/modeling agency. J-D is total model material, too.) And b) He's a brilliant make-up artist.

Sadly, I forgot to snap a picture of him and J-D before I left the salon (I just texted J-D and told him I need a picture of the two of them, which I will post as soon as it arrives), but R is absolutely, 100%, without question the male version of Linda Evangelista. Really. But the best part is that, just like J-D, he's the sweetest thing, so adorable, so fun. If I used phrases like, "We are so BFFs!", I'd say, "We are so BFFs!" But I don't speak that way so I won't. But R is so being invited to my birthday lunch this year.

So J-D and R, together, are my dream team. I adore them.

I was in dire need of a visit to J-D because my roots were showing in a big way, and by roots I mean "more grey hair than my psyche can handle." So this morning, I washed my hair but didn't bother to style it. Just gathered it in a twist at the base of my neck and headed for the salon.

In a chair, he took it out of its elastic, then immediately took out his scissors and started cutting.

"Wow, no foreplay," I said.

But he wanted to get a jump on the cut. He pulled out an awkward layer and said, "I mean, what is this doing here?"

"I don't know," I said. "You put it there."

Snip, snip, snip. Assess. Snip, snip, snip. He was like Edward Scissorhands. My head was like a hedge.

Within seconds, my hair was already falling better.

Hair architect, people. Hair. Architect. Or, as I dubbed him today, The Hair Whisperer. "I listen to the hair," he says. "It tells me what to do."

He disappeared to mix my color and returned with two bowls and his color book, a binder in which he keeps his clients' color "recipes."

"I didn't write anything down for you the last time," he said. "I wrote 'Forgot.' " We both cracked up. A very useful entry, that. So later, he could remember that he forgot.

He glopped up my hair, folding in foils. When he was done, he sent me off to R for makeup.

"Can I do your eyebrows?" he asked.

"Do whatever you like," I said.

I'd never had my eyebrows shaped before. Not that I looked like Bert, but they certainly were in need of some shaping by the deft hand of someone wielding tweezers.

For those scoring at home, I was now sitting in a salon smock with two different colors on my hair, half of which was trapped in foil, having a man – albeit it a very pretty man – pull hair out of my face. And later, I got to pay a large sum of money for this privilege. Honestly, the things we women go through for you people.

Makeup-wise, it's an odd sensation – to me – to have someone applying stuff to my face, but he did a lovely job. Makeup never ceases to amaze me in its ability to transform. If you see someone famous without makeup and with, the difference is always so dramatic. They almost look like two different people.

My transformation was far more subtle. I looked in the mirror and said, "I'm going to look at condos this afternoon. This is totally wasted on looking at condos." But he didn't think so. And really, he has a point: Looking pretty doesn't have to be predicated on something "important." Pretty for pretty's sake is just fine.

Besides, he had nothing else to do at the moment.

J-D had told me during his initial cut that he knew exactly how he wanted to style my hair that day. "Like Fergie!", he said. It never fails to take me a moment when people mention Fergie to realize they're talking about the singer and not the Duchess of York. "She's on the cover of Glamour," he said. Later, he showed me the issue. Long. Wavy. OK. "But I don't know about the center part," I said.

"Oh, we won't do that," he said. Good. Center parts are still too Marcia Brady for my tastes.

So back in his chair, he continued cutting and then started styling. As he curled sections (to create waves, not curls), I said, "You know, my hair always looks great when I leave the salon, but an hour later, it's pretty much fallen out."

"It DOES?"

"Yeah."

At which point he picked up a can of stuff and started spraying my hair. Setting spray, it was. "Tell me if your hair still falls," he said. "I didn't know it was doing that. You should have said something."

"I figured the weight of my hair just pulled out the style," I said. My hair is getting really long. We joke that it looks like I have extensions.

Well, lemme tell you: This setting spray stuff is frickin' magic! Today was a very windy day in Chicago, and many hours later, my hair still retains a lot of the curl he put in 8 hours ago.

But back in the salon, after he was done with his curling iron, he started pinning up sections of my hair. "I don't know about the pinning," I said.

"It's Fergie," he said. "You're trashy and rock 'n' roll!" He kept pinning.

"Honey, I just don't like it," I said, which is the first time in 16 years I've uttered those words to him. So he took the pins out and fluffed it to let it fall around my face. Much better.

So this is my hair an hour or so after I left the salon, after walking a couple of miles in insane Chicago wind, which would normally destroy any style and/or volume in my hair. Also, note how the florescent light of the public bathroom at the Merchandise Mart makes my hair look quite blonde and somewhat green. Sexy! But then again, it's shot with a camera phone. What am I expecting? The cover of Vogue?

And this is my hair tonight, many, many hours after I left the salon. The picture is cropped thusly to avoid the "giant hand in the foreground" aspect of photographing oneself in a mirror. This photo provides a much truer picture of my current color.

When Brian and I were leaving Artopolis at the Mart this afternoon, we happened to be walking out the same set of doors at the same time as my friend Qusai, whom I haven't seen in several years. He looked over at me briefly but kept walking. Once we were outside, I said, "Qusai?" My voice clued him in. "Ohmygod!" he said. "I didn't recognize you! When did you go blonde?"

To which I thought, "I'm not blonde." But Brian says I am, too. To which I say, "Au contraire." This color isn't blonde. This is blonde.

And this post has gone on quite long enough.

I'll post a picture of R and J-D as soon as possible. I want to introduce you to my favorite boys. And I'll even let you book appointments with them. I won't hoard their talent.

Pretty for everyone!

Friday, April 25, 2008

Bruce's Eulogy For Danny ...

I post this (copied from Bruce's site) partly because I am a Bruce fan but mostly because it is one of the best pieces of writing I've read in a long, long time:


FAREWELL TO DANNY

Let me start with the stories.

Back in the days of miracles, the frontier days when “Mad Dog” Lopez and his temper struck fear into the band, small club owners, innocent civilians anad all women, children and small animals.

Back in the days when you could still sign your life away on the hood of a parked car in New York City.

Back shortly after a young red-headed accordionist struck gold on the “Ted Mack Amateur Hour” and he and his mama were sent to Switzerland to show them how it’s really done.

Back before beach bums were featured on the cover of Time magazine.

I’m talking about back when the E Street Band was a communist organization! My pal, quiet, shy Dan Federici, was a one-man creator of some of the hairiest circumstances of our 40 year career… And that wasn’t easy to do. He had “Mad Dog” Lopez to compete with…. Danny just outlasted him.

Maybe it was the “police riot” in Middletown, New Jersey. A show we were doing to raise bail money for “Mad Log” Lopez who was in jail in Richmond, Virginia, for having an altercation with police officers who we’d aggravated by playing too long. Danny allegedly knocked over our huge Marshall stacks on some of Middletown’s finest who had rushed the stage because we broke the law by…playing too long.

As I stood there watching, several police oficers crawled out from underneath the speaker cabinets and rushed away to seek medical attention. Another nice young officer stood in front of me onstage waving his nightstick, poking and calling me nasty names. I looked over to see Danny with a beefy police officer pulling on one arm while Flo Federici, his first wife, pulled on the other, assisting her man in resisting arrest.

A kid leapt from the audience onto the stage, momentarily distracting the beefy officer with the insults of the day. Forever thereafter, “Phantom” Dan Federici slipped into the crowd and disappeared.

A warrant out for his arrest and one month on the lam later, he still hadn’t been brought to justice. We hid him in various places but now we had a problem. We had a show coming at Monmouth College. We needed the money and we had to do the gig. We tried a replacement but it didn’t work out. So Danny, to all of our admiration, stepped up and said he’d risk his freedom, take the chance and play.

Show night. 2,000 screaming fans in the Monmouth College gym. We had it worked out so Danny would not appear onstage until the moment we started playing. We figured the police who were there to arrest him wouldn’t do so onstage during the show and risk starting another riot.

Let me set the scene for you. Danny is hiding, hunkered down in the backseat of a car in the parking lot. At five minutes to eight, our scheduled start time, I go out to whisk him in. I tap on the window.

“Danny, come on, it’s time.”

I hear back, “I’m not going.”

Me: “What do you mean you’re not going?”

Danny: “The cops are on the roof of the gym. I’ve seen them and they’re going to nail me the minute I step out of this car.”

As I open the door, I realize that Danny has been smoking a little something and had grown rather paranoid. I said, “Dan, there are no cops on the roof.”

He says, “Yes, I saw them, I tell you. I’m not coming in.”

So I used a procedure I’d call on often over the next forty years in dealing with my old pal’s concerns. I threatened him…and cajoled. Finally, out he came. Across the parking lot and into the gym we swept for a rapturous concert during which we laughted like thieves at our excellent dodge of the local cops.

At the end of the evening, during the last song, I pulled the entire crowd up onto the stage and Danny slipped into the audience and out the front door. Once again, “Phantom” Dan had made his exit. (I still get the occasional card from the old Chief of Police of Middletown wishing us well. Our histories are forever intertwined.) And that, my friends, was only the beginning.

There was the time Danny quit the band during a rough period at Max’s Kansas City, explaining to me that he was leaving to fix televisions. I asked him to think about that and come back later.

Or Danny, in the band rental car, bouncing off several parked cars after a night of entertainment, smashing out the windshield with his head but saved from severe injury by the huge hard cowboy hat he bought in Texas on our last Western swing.

Or Danny, leaving a large marijuana plant on the front seat of his car in a tow away zone. The car was promptly towed. He said, “Bruce, I’m going to go down and report that it was stolen.” I said, “I’m not sure that’s a good idea.”

Down he went and straight into the slammer without passing go.

Or Danny, the only member of the E Street Band to be physically thrown out of the Stone Pony. Considering all the money we made them, that wasn’t easy to do.

Or Danny receiving and surviving a “cautionary assault” from an enraged but restrained “Big Man” Clarence Clemons while they were living together and Danny finally drove the “Big Man” over the big top.

Or Danny assisting me in removing my foot from his stereo speaker after being the only band member ever to drive me into a violent rage.

And through it all, Danny played his beautiful, soulful B3 organ for me and our love grew. And continued to grow. Life is funny like that. He was my homeboy, and great, and for that you make considerations… And he was much more tolerant of my failures than I was of his.

When Danny wasn’t causing chaos, he was a sweet, talented, unassuming, unpretentious good-hearted guy who simply had an unchecked ability to make good fortune and things in general go fabulously wrong.

But beyond all of that, he also had a mountain of the right stuff. He had the heart and soul of an engineer. He learned to fly. He was always up on the latest technology and would explain it to you patiently and in enormous detail. He was always “souping” something up, his car, his stereo, his B3. When Patti joined the band, he was the most welcoming, thoughtful, kindest friend to the first woman entering our “boys club.”

He loved his kids, always bragging about Jason, Harley, and Madison, and he loved his wife Maya for the new things she brought into his life.

And then there was his artistry. He was the most intuitive player I’ve ever seen. His style was slippery and fluid, drawn to the spaces the other musicians in the E Street Band left. He wasn’t an assertive player, he was a complementary player. A true accompanist. He naturally supplied the glue that bound the band’s sound together. In doing so, he created for himself a very specific style. When you hear Dan Federici, you don’t hear a blanket of sound, you hear a riff, packed with energy, flying above everything else for a few moments and then gone back in the track. “Phantom” Dan Federici. Now you hear him, now you don’t.

Offstage, Danny couldn’t recite a lyric or a chord progression for one of my songs. Onstage, his ears opened up. He listened, he felt, he played, finding the perfect hole and placement for a chord or a flurry of notes. This style created a tremendous feeling of spontaneity in our ensemble playing.

In the studio, if I wanted to loosen up the track we were recording, I’d put Danny on it and not tell him what to play. I’d just set him loose. He brought with him the sound of the carnival, the amusements, the boardwalk, the beach, the geography of our youth and the heart and soul of the birthplace of the E Street Band.

Then we grew up. Very slowly. We stood together through a lot of trials and tribulations. Danny’s response to a mistake onstage, hard times, catastrophic events was usually a shrug and a smile. Sort of an “I am but one man in a raging sea, but I’m still afloat. And we’re all still here.”

I watched Danny fight and conquer some tough addictions. I watched him struggle to put his life together and in the last decade when the band reunited, thrive on sitting in his seat behind that big B3, filled with life and, yes, a new maturity, passion for his job, his family and his home in the brother and sisterhood of our band.

Finally, I watched him fight his cancer without complaint and with great courage and spirit. When I asked him how things looked, he just said, “what are you going to do? I’m looking forward to tomorrow.” Danny, the sunny side up fatalist. He never gave up right to the end.

A few weeks back we ended up onstage in Indianapolis for what would be the last time. Before we went on I asked him what he wanted to play and he said, “Sandy.” He wanted to strap on the accordion and revisit the boardwalk of our youth during the summer nights when we’d walk along the boards with all the time in the world.

So what if we just smashed into three parked cars, it’s a beautiful night! So what if we’re on the lam from the entire Middletown police department, let’s go take a swim! He wanted to play once more the song that is of course about the end of something wonderful and the beginning of something unknown and new.

Let’s go back to the days of miracles. Pete Townshend said, “a rock and roll band is a crazy thing. You meet some people when you’re a kid and unlike any other occupation in the whole world, you’re stuck with them your whole life no matter who they are or what crazy things they do.”

If we didn’t play together, the E Street Band at this point would probably not know one another. We wouldn’t be in this room together. But we do… We do play together. And every night at 8 p.m., we walk out on stage together and that, my friends, is a place where miracles occur…old and new miracles. And those you are with, in the presence of miracles, you never forget. Life does not separate you. Death does not separate you. Those you are with who create miracles for you, like Danny did for me every night, you are honored to be amongst.

Of course we all grow up and we know “it’s only rock and roll”…but it’s not. After a lifetime of watching a man perform his miracle for you, night after night, it feels an awful lot like love.

So today, making another one of his mysterious exits, we say farewell to Danny, “Phantom” Dan, Federici. Father, husband, my brother, my friend, my mystery, my thorn, my rose, my keyboard player, my miracle man and lifelong member in good standing of the house rockin’, pants droppin’, earth shockin’, hard rockin’, booty shakin’, love makin’, heart breakin’, soul cryin’… and, yes, death defyin’ legendary E Street Band.

New (To Me) Music! ...

New John worships at the altar of Led Zeppelin. To me, the interesting aspect of his devotion is that he's slightly younger than me.

Not that Zeppelin isn't timeless. If this planet is still around in 100 years and if radio hasn't devolved into one giant amorphous audio blob of overproduced dreck, I fully expect that some of the kids will still be cruising, windows down, blaring "Kashmir."

But John didn't grow up with Zeppelin in real time, as some of my older friends did. He came to the music on his own and has grown to appreciate it – though "appreciate" doesn't effectively convey his ardor – as the art form that it is.

I know all of Zep's hits, but when it comes to the complete discography, I have a lot to learn. Luckily, John has a Ph.Z.

Beyond Zeppelin, though, he has very cool taste in music. We've been trading tunes – I've decided that music sharing is OK if it's just a track or two, if it introduces you to a new artist and prompts you to buy their album, kind of like samples at the grocery store: It's cool to try a bite. It's not cool to snarf down enough to call it lunch – and he's turned me on to some very cool sounds.

First up: Van Hunt. How have I not known about this guy? He's kind of Lenny Kravitz-y, but with a more serious musical bent. "Dust" is a great song, and it's available on iTunes. Really, stop what you're doing right now and go plunk down the .99 cents. You can thank me later. And I'll pass your gratitude on to John. (I can also recommend "Out of the Sky": "I've reached the end of my story, and I still don't understand the plot." Those are some good lyrics. And I totally dig the keyboards in these tunes!)

Next up: Built to Spill. While you're at iTunes, check out "Liar" from "You in Reverse." Whenever I hear it, I can't shake the image of a high-school gym decked out for a dance with primly attired guys standing somewhat stiffly on the stage playing an early gig. Which doesn't sound like praise, but it is. They sound like an actual band. With instruments that sound distinct from each other and everything. Remember when music sounded that way? Like when The Beatles played it?

Last up for this installment: "Black Postcards" by Luna. This is the first tune that John chose to share and it set the tone, so to speak. I really dig it (and I really dig the album art). It's quite the crap shoot, sharing music with someone new. If you don't really know someone, it's hard to gauge what they might like. But John hit a triple on his first swing. (Then again, my Yahoo! IM window does display what I'm listening to at any given moment, so he does have insight into my tastes. Yes, I also like Richard Marx. Leave me alone.) This tune arrived just in time for summer. Now I just have to wait for summer. Unfortunately, this song is not available on iTunes, but you can buy the album on Amazon so you can sample it there.

Thursday, April 24, 2008

A Return To Sloth ...

"Ugly Betty."

"Grey's Anatomy."

"Lost."

All in one night.

Television is worth watching again.

'The Savages' ...

Who doesn't love Laura Linney and Philip Seymour Hoffman?

This movie is heartbreakingly realistic. It's the opposite of a feel-good movie. Well, that would make it a feel-bad movie. It's not a feel-bad movie. It's more of a feel-guilty movie.

But the performances are so terrific, it's worth watching despite the sad tone. Weird movie poster, though.

Tuesday, April 22, 2008

'We Own The Night' ...

This wasn't the movie poster for this film. But I like it better than the actual movie poster, so you'll get what art I rip off from other sites and like it!

I like this poster for the excellent image of Joaquin Phoenix. I adore Joaquin Phoenix. There's such a vulnerability about him, vulnerability crossed with edge. Did you see Quills? He's amazing in Quills. So is Geoffrey Rush. But I digress.

This movie was, well, it's not really anything we haven't seen before. But there are good performances all around. It's worth seeing. It's just not worth dropping everything to get your hands on a copy. Though the opening scene is really hot. Phew. Make sure the kids are in bed.

This, by the way, is the official movie poster, near as I can gather from my Internet wanderings. See what I mean? It's kinda cheesy. Or maybe it's not cheesy, but it's definitely unoriginal. Then again, really, how many ways can you design a movie poster? Especially when Hollywood churns out so many movies every year. I can't think of the last time I saw a really great movie poster. The film is set in the late '80s, hence the World Trade Center in the skyline.

Monday, April 21, 2008

Hugs For Emily ...

At the top of this month, I added my blog to the circle of bloggers putting out the word about Emily, the little girl with a brain tumor.

Three weeks later, Emily is about to begin her chemo treatments in Boston.

Today on the other Emily's blog, I learned that bracelets are now available for those who want to make a contribution and show their support. (If they're good enough for Lance Armstrong, they're good enough for Emily!)

I also read this:

We want to let Emily know how many people out there are thinking of her and wanting to wrap their arms around her in a big hug! If you’d like to participate, trace your hand on a piece of paper (preferably something a little bit thicker than your printer paper), and cut it out. Then decorate it however you would like and write your best wishes, thoughts and prayers to little Emily and her family. Then, send them to:

Kelin Dotts
5010 Hill Street
La Canada, California 91011

She will punch holes in them and string them all together so that Katie and Brian can hang them around her room. This will be a visual reminder of how many of us are praying for & embracing little Emily. We would like to be able to work on this and get them mailed to the Mandell family within the next couple of weeks so please spread the word and get your hand mailed out as soon as possible!


No time like the present. I rummaged through my bin of crafty bits (hey, my nephews and niece used to like to color and cut out snowflakes and stuff) and decided to make my hand with doubled-up green construction paper, in honor of Emily's favorite color. (It's mine, too.)

And once I was done decorating my green hand with a little poem and stickers and tiny hearts, I realized that my offering looked less like a happy hug and more like the severed hand of The Incredible Hulk.

Not so warm and fuzzy, that. So I sandwiched yellow and pink construction paper together and cut out a new hand, and started again. I was happily gluing tiny pink hearts to the yellow side when I realized my that my heart-dotted hand was starting to look like it was infected with chicken pox. (I don't normally suck at crafty things, really.) So I eased up on the tiny pink hearts. Less is more, after all.

I encourage everyone to release their inner five-year-old and make a hand for Emily. It will brighten her room, and anyway, you know you want an excuse to break out the glue and scissors.

Sunday, April 20, 2008

It's Pat (But Not)! ...

Friday, I got sick of my Yahoo! IM chat icon, a picture of me that my friend Tracy mistook for Katie Holmes. Which is weird, as I don't look a thing like Katie Holmes.

Anyway, I changed the picture a few times this weekend, finally settling on my headshot from way back, because I like its black-and-whiteness and because, hey, I might as well get some use out it. It's not like I'm using it to book voiceover gigs. Not that I ever used it to book gigs. I mean, I tried to use it to book voiceover gigs, but I audition like crap. Nerves. Nerves, nerves, nerves.

My friend John (not that friend John, my new friend John, so we'll call him New John), sent an IM earlier to say that in my chat icon picture, I remind him of:

Julia Sweeney. Yep, I guess we kind of look alike. Although no one's ever said, "Hey, Beth. You know who you look like? Julia Sweeney." (John says, "Kind of? My God, you're almost like twins!") I think our smiles make us seem similar.

I'm grateful that he didn't send me a picture of Pat.

Saturday, April 19, 2008

'It's a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World' ...

The other day, I received an e-mail, the sender listed only as Alexandra.

It was from Alex Barile, one of the daughters of my friend Charles, who passed away nearly five years ago.

She had run across my blog post about her dad and wrote to tell me how touched she was by what I wrote.

We've started trading e-mails – I know Charles is pleased that we're in touch – and in one of them, she mentioned that her dad's favorite movie was "It's a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World," a detail about him I didn't know, a movie I hadn't seen, easily, in 30 years.

So I added it to my Netflix queue, it arrived, and last night, I popped it in.

Twenty minutes later, as the opening credits were winding down – OK, they weren't 20 minutes long, but they were close – I said to Charles, because I still talk to him, "I'd forgotten that this entire movie was made up of opening credits."

And I heard, very clearly in my head, Charles' voice saying, "Oh, shut up," in his Archie Bunker way.

I'll confess that I didn't watch the whole movie. I watched a good chunk of it, but it's more than two and a half hours long, and who can listen to Ethel Merman screech for that long? Besides Charles, that is? But there were some truly funny moments, like when Jimmy Durante dies and literally kicks a bucket. Corny-funny, but funny nonetheless. It was 1963, after all.

So, when it comes to remembering Charles through a movie, I'm going to stick with "Casablana."

He looked as good in a white dinner jacket as Bogart. That's Alex in the picture with him, looking very cute, though now she's all grown up and incredibly gorgeous.

I'm so happy that we're in touch.

Thoughts Become Things ...

Many years ago – more than I care to exactly remember – I opened up a new document and typed at the top, "Signs I AM a writer."

And then I immediately hedged my bets and wrote, on the next line, "Signs I'm supposed to be a writer."

And then, on the next line, I wrote, "No. Signs I AM a writer."

And then I proceed to jot down a list, numbering as I went.

I got to No. 81.

Maybe it sounds like a silly exercise, but it was valuable to me. It helped cement in my mind the realization that I am, indeed, a writer. Not just a person who can string together a clunky sentence like so many big wooden childhood beads – after all, most people can write, literally – but someone who, without much effort, can turn out a delicate phrase or a vivid description or dialogue that is organic, as Mr. Sweeney, my Theater Arts teacher, once said.

To gather so many thoughts together in one place, to have one thought remind me of the next, and on and on and on, lent a legitimacy to my talent and reminded me that I have, indeed, been given a great gift.

The thing about writing is that I never struggled with it, and so, in some vestige of Puritan work ethic – though I am very assuredly not descended from the Puritans – I presumed that my writing must not hold any value.

For years, I renounced the notion that anything that came to me so easily was a gift that not all are given, that perhaps my path was being presented to me.

Instead, I struggled, trying to find the answers to "What do I want to do? What do I want to be?" I bought books, I talked to career counselors, I bent the ears of patient friends and my mother who finally said, in utter exasperation, "Beth. Just do something."

Thursday, I began a new list. Oh, I'm not saying I'm not a writer. I am. And I always will be. I am a writer the same way I am Polish, Serbian, and a smidgen of German. It's part of who I am, it's not something I do. I don't choose to edit everything I see. My brain just reacts. Involuntary editing. That makes me chuckle.

But, as I was saying, Thursday, I began a new list: Signs I am a singer.

I started with one sheet of notebook paper (yes, I still have notebook paper) and wrote a name on the left side of the page and what they've said about my singing in a blurb on the right. I stopped for the night when I got toward the bottom of the page, only seven entries in. Last night, I gathered a few more pieces of paper and kept writing. I stopped when I got to the end of the fifth page.

I write in pencil because I like the way my writing flows when I write with pencil. I like the softer line, the gentle grey of the graphite on the white page.

But the neat-freak side of my personality thought a typed list would be more tidy, so I typed my handwritten list into a document on my computer.

And then I searched my e-mail for the the word "singing" so I could compile a more comprehensive list. My search returned 350 hits. Not every e-mail contains something about me and singing, but many that I'd forgotten about do.

Marianne Williamson has famously written, "Our deepest fear is not that we are inadequate. Our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure. It is our light, not our darkness that most frightens us. We ask ourselves, Who am I to be brilliant, gorgeous, talented, fabulous? Actually, who are you not to be? You are a child of God. Your playing small does not serve the world. There is nothing enlightened about shrinking so that other people won't feel insecure around you. We are all meant to shine, as children do. We were born to make manifest the glory of God that is within us. It's not just in some of us; it's in everyone. And as we let our own light shine, we unconsciously give other people permission to do the same. As we are liberated from our own fear, our presence automatically liberates others.”

In my world, for the purposes of that paragraph, God = Universe, but the greater point is that I've long worried about how others would react to me if I was successful.

Isn't that funny? Instead of becoming successful and then determining if that success had any effect on those around me, I preemptively worried and held myself back.

How did I manage to forget the fundamental lesson, "You never know unless you try"? When did I become such a prisoner to the possibility of failure? Why have I hesitated for so long to ask others for help?

Happily, I'm slowly breaking free of those bonds. The other day, I drafted an e-mail to everyone in my life who has any connection music and the music business, asking them for advice about how to proceed with music, to find out what I need to know about recording a demo, and what to do once the demo is done.

And even as I hit Send, I knew I wouldn't hear back from everyone. Life is a numbers game. But a few friends did reply right away and fed me some excellent food for thought. And other replies will trickle in, I'm sure, as people sift through their in-boxes in the days and weeks to come. Still, others will never reply. And I will not take it personally.

On my office wall, I have many quotes. The most recent addition is from Confucius: "It does not matter how slowly you go as long as you do not stop." Flanking my monitor is a quote from Judy Garland: "Be a first-rate version of yourself, not a second-rate version of someone else."

And above Judy, this reminder from Brenda Ueland: "Since you are like no other being ever created since the beginning of time, you are incomparable."

That means you, too.

Thoughts become things. Think good thoughts.

Friday, April 18, 2008

'The Jane Austen Book Club' ...

This just in: Love is complicated.

Well, that sounds glib, doesn't it?

I don't mean to sound glib. I really liked this movie. A chick flick, to be sure, but a well-written chick flick. Interesting characters, interesting relationships.

And Maria Bello looks exactly like my friend Gretchen. Or Gretchen looks exactly like her, really. Maria is older.

Thursday, April 17, 2008

Busy Is As Busy Does ...

I find this all rather reprehensible.

I have been crazy-busy this week. Somehow, most of the projects on which I work for, you know, my job, all seem to be active at once. As I am the only editor, and everything that goes out the door needs to be seen by me (in theory; sometimes my boss runs out of time and gives a presentation without my having seen it, a situation which nearly gives me hives), I have been keeping approximately eleventy million balls in the air lately.

I've also taken on some side projects in the past few months, one of which just keeps resurfacing, just when I think there's no more to do. And of course, this was the week when there was more to be done.

But here's the reprehensible part: At night, when I finally shut down my PC (I'm a dyed-in-the-wool Mac gal, but I have a PC for work), after the sun has set, far beyond any respectable dinner hour, when I should collapse on the couch or do something that requires no brain power, I find myself instead looking for other things to do.

I just ran to put some gas in the car so I won't have to deal with that tomorrow. (It is criminal that $10 didn't buy me three gallons of gas. But it was amusing that everyone else at the gas station seemed to be putting in about the same amount as me.)

Earlier, in taking a break between finishing up a "real job" project and embarking on a "side job" task, I ran an errand. Earlier still, between "real job" phone calls (of which I've had 4,000 this week), I suddenly felt compelled to wash the bit of wall next to my desk. (It looks much better now.)

And now I'm thinking I should do dishes. Or throw on some laundry. Maybe change my sheets.

All of which leaves me asking myself: Who the hell am I?! Where did my loafy alter ego go? What's the deal with this sofa aversion?

I have three movies from Netflix, dammit. They're not going to watch themselves.

Then again, I guess it's best to make hay while the, uh, moon shines. These bouts of domestic enthusiasm – or compulsion – don't happen every day.

I just don't get why my brain has chosen this week of all weeks to be restless. You'd think after a crazy-long, stressful day, my mind would welcome the opportunity to power down.

But no.

I blame the writers. There's nothing good on TV.

'Six Degrees of Isolation' ...

I have several friends named Chris.

One of them, and some of his friends, made this short film. (That's him, on the phone. He reminds me of David Lynch.) It's just shy of 8 minutes long and it deserves your full attention.

Great stuff.

Wednesday, April 16, 2008

Whatever. ...


You know we're doing a bang-up job of screwing the planet when even martians stop caring.

My friend John developed this cute little guy. He makes me laugh.

And thanks to the magic of CafePress, you too can own and wear a piece of John's pop art.

Tuesday, April 15, 2008

'King Corn' ...

Some days, I think "Holy mother of God, I want a potato chip."

And then I think, "Ooh! Ice cream!"

And then I think, "Ooh! Chocolate!" and "Maybe a donut!"

The thing is, I never crave broccoli. I don't think to myself, "Ooh, if only I had a big bowl of alfalfa sprouts!" or "You know what'd be good? Puffed rice and a Tab!"

But on balance, I make better choices than I used to. I cut out diet pop several years ago and then I went ahead and cut out regular pop, too. It was part of my high-fructose-corn-syrup purge, and boy, that crap in everything.

Turns out, its not just HFCS that's in everything, the corn from which HCFS is derived is in everything. And I mean everything.

I'm watching "King Corn" on PBS. It's really fascinating.

Check your local listings, or find it on DVD.

Sunday, April 13, 2008

The Unfairer Sex? ...

If women are "the fairer sex," what does that make men? The unfairer sex? The darker sex? The swarthy sex?

A couple weeks ago, I ran into a friend and we got a cup of coffee. He was talking about the dating scene and mentioned that he was looking to date women who were younger than him because women his age – my age – don't need men.

I raised my hand. He stopped talking. "Why do we need to need you?" I asked. "Why isn't it enough that we want you?"

Men are from Mars for sure. And yes, women are from Venus.

But tell, me, guys: For what exactly do you want us to need you? It seemed, during that conversation that day, that my friend's objection was that women of a certain age are self-sufficient. We own our own homes, we pay our own bills, we make our own decisions.

Women who expect men to take care of them are often considered opportunists at best, gold diggers at worst. And men seem to resent women who expect to be rescued or, at the very least, who don't ever offer to pick up a check.

So how about deciphering these mixed signals for we women: What do you want out of a relationship? Are you intimidated or put off by women who can make their own way? Is a woman supposed to suspend her life until Mr. Right comes along so he'll feel needed? What if he never shows up?

I'm asking in all sincerity. I'd like to better understand what's going on in your collective head.

Update, based on J Paul's comments: To clarify, I think everyone needs someone for something, and of course we all want to feel needed. But it didn't seem as though my friend wanted a woman to need him to take out the garbage or change the oil in her car. It was "need" on a much grander scale.

Saturday, April 12, 2008

'Highlander: The Source' ...

A long time ago, in a galaxy far, far away, College Boyfriend David turned me on to the television version of Highlander, starring Adrian Paul.

I am a sucker for guys with long hair and that was the look AP was sportin', back in the day. Today, I do believe it's shorter, but either way, would you kick that guy out of bed for eating crackers? Me neither.

So I Netflixed Highlander: The Source. "Why?" L.A. Dave wanted to know.

Why, to see more AP, that's why.

Twelve minutes and change into this flick, however, I've already turned it off.

The set design is cool, sort of post-apocalyptic. The cinematography is cool. The effects are cool. So you'd think a brotha coulda spent a dolla on the script.

I turned it off when the freaky dude with the bad skin wearing what appeared to be a variation on a dog cone collar lopped off the head of his adversary.

So much for my AP love.

'Dan In Real Life' ...

My pal Nat (Hi, Nat!) recommended this movie back in February.

It wasn't out on DVD at the time, but it arrived the other day, and as today is cold and rainy and windy and generally crappy, I had a date with my couch this afternoon.

It's a charming movie, laugh-out-loud funny at times. Steve Carell is the quintessential Everyman, a bit down, a bit out, trying to relate to his three daughters as all four of them soldier on four years after the death of their mother and his wife.

At the heart of it all, it's a movie about love. Specifically about the complexity of falling for someone who belongs to someone else. Do you walk away and miss your chance at happiness? Or do you proceed, knowing your chance at happiness will cause another pain?

Love is rarely easy. Love is often messy. Real life, indeed.

Friday, April 11, 2008

'There Will Be Blood' ...

I started this movie last night. I finished it tonight. It left me a bit dazed.

It's transcendent.

I think the Academy might just have to retire the Best Actor category. Who will ever be able to top Daniel Day-Lewis's performance?

George Clooney was great in Michael Clayton, but at the end of the day, he played a handsome, suave guy. Hmm. Not much of a stretch.

Contrast that with the accented, two-earringed Daniel Day-Lewis who attended the Oscars versus the mustachioed Daniel Plainview from the film. Completely staggering, the transformation.

And I loved Ciarán's performance, of course. He's an amazing actor, even when he's not saying a word.

Tuesday, April 08, 2008

On The Road ...

Ah, the glamour of business travel!

Not.

I'll be back to posting regularly later this week, kids.

Monday, April 07, 2008

Saturday In The Studio With Brian ...

Ah, there's nothing like a Saturday morning in a recording studio.

Well, actually, there are probably plenty of things like a Saturday morning in a recording studio. But none of them are coming to me right now.

The point is, it was good to get back behind a mic. Still a tad nerve-wracking – I guess it will always be – but after a wobbly start out of the gate, I quickly found my groove.

Today's effort? Diana Krall's cover of Billy Joel's "Just the Way You Are."

I did one take and stepped out of the booth to listen to it. My voice sounded shaky. No, my voice was shaky. It's a very intimate rendition, almost whispery with a hint of moan. I stood behind Brian's chair, wincing, saying, "I don't know if I like this tune."

Beth, Beth, Beth ... I have no patience with myself. Honestly. The first take after nearly a year away from recording and I'm ready to throw in the towel because it's not perfect? Yes, I annoy even myself sometimes.

I kept listening. As the track continued, my voice got stronger, the nerves faded. "Maybe it's like the first pancake," I said.

Back into the booth I went, and asked Brian to amp up Diana in my headphones. At home, I sing along with my stereo at a decent volume, so that's how I'm comfortable. Her vocal is like an aural security blanket.

He obliged and I was able to sing stronger yet softer. Yep, I know it doesn't make a lot of sense. But that's this sultry jazz business for you. We're not supposed to sound like Roseanne Barr singing the national anthem.

All together, I laid down three takes. We listened through the third take and took phrases from the other two where we liked them better. I called my patchwork song Franken-music. But that's the digital age for you. Where we didn't like any of our choices, I went back into the booth to punch in those phrases.

Back at the console, we listened through the track again. At one phrase we had just rerecorded, Brian turned his head to the side as if to listen to what I was going to say. When I didn't say anything, he said, "I thought you were going to say, 'I don't like it!' " But no, I liked it after all. Though, as he knows, and I mentioned for good measure, I'm hypercritical enough for 10 people.

He did all sorts of nifty digital things – raising the level in places where I hum a little or my voice is very soft, just so it comes through, for example – and ripped a CD for me.

I listened to it the whole way home and found plenty of things that I want to tweak – I don't call them works in progress for nothing – but all in all, it's a decent outcome for two hours of effort.


And if you need it, the direct URL is here.

Sunday, April 06, 2008

'Across The Universe' ...

It's a mighty bold thing to attempt, any project that so intimately involves Beatles songs. You risk angering several generations of fans if you turn in something schlocky.

But Julie Taymor, not surprisingly, produced something really top-notch.

I don't read reviews before I see movies so I had no idea that Bono was part of this film. So one of the best parts of the movie for me was seeing this character on screen – the man can act on top of everything else – and saying, "Is that Bono?!" Sure enough, it is. He's far too cool.

I thought I might get tired of the song-as-dialogue schtick, but I didn't. The use of the songs is really compelling and it makes you think about them on a deeper level. I confess that I never paid really close attention to the meaning of some of the lyrics of the boys' tunes, but they're very insightful and capture a lot of human experience really beautifully.

And I now see strawberries in an entirely different way.

'August Rush' ...

The trailer caught my eye ages ago, one of those situations where a movie is previewed many, many months before its release. So I waited. And then it arrived. And then I didn't get around to seeing it.

And then it was released on DVD. And my neighbor Rhonda (Hi, Rhonda!) e-mailed me with a recommendation to see it and I moved it to the top of my Netflix queue despite its "Very Long Wait" notation.

It arrived the other day. I watched it last night. It is Schmaltzy with a capital S, but I really liked it. I was, predictably, crying at the end.

And regretting that I quit music lessons as a kid.

Body Image, Further Thoughts ...

I subscribed to Fitness magazine a few months ago. I was sucked in by the "subscribe, and if you don't like the magazine, simply write 'Cancel' on the invoice and owe nothing" solicitations.

I'll always opt in for those. I'll give any magazine at least one chance to impress me. Most don't.

And Fitness didn't blow my mind, but it seemed like good karma, aligned with my new-ish gym-going self. I figure, even if I get one or two kernels of useful information per month, it's worth the paltry subscription fee.

So I was flipping through the latest issue yesterday and I ran across a feature on Niki Taylor, supermodel from back in the day. The first part of the story is laid out centerfold-style (without the fold-out page) to accommodate the photography.

This is Niki Taylor today. (I took a photo of the layout because Fitness hasn't posted this story online yet, so I couldn't grab a digital image.) Here's a line from the lede of the story: "Now that she's in her 30s, her body is more curvy than stick-thin, a fact she is fine with and, in an industry that rewards super-skinny over super-healthy, another example of how Taylor is doing things her way."

This is Niki Taylor on the cover of Sports Illustrated in 1997.

OK, kids: Call me crazy, but she doesn't look a whole lot different today. Maybe her thighs are a little heavier, but to call her "more curvy than stick-thin"?

And here's the other thing: Niki's peak of supermodel fame came at a time when a size 2 wasn't the industry standard. I seem to remember that those women – Cindy Crawford, Linda Evangelista, Elle MacPherson – were size 6s. Wikipedia, that source of all things accurate, reports that Cindy is an 8.

In today's fashion industry, size 8 teeters on the brink of plus size.

So perhaps, by today's standards, Niki Taylor is indeed "curvy," because today's standard is nearly anorexic.

Seriously, this insanity needs to come to an end.

Thursday, April 03, 2008

Narcissus, Party Of One? ...

My first blog post was written on March 13, 2005.

By Blogger's count, this is post 1,075. But a few of those are unpublished drafts. So let's call it 1,070 over the past 3+ years.

That's a whole lotta posting.

And some of it is about me, but much of it is not. Most of it is not.

Blogging can be a very narcissistic pursuit, a digital billboard in cyberspace that continually flashes, "Look at me!"

Three years ago, I hung my virtual shingle. And three years hence, I'm still reluctant to really talk about myself.

Not because I don't want to reveal details. I'm sure that blogs are so successful because we're all looking for those connections to other people, to find what's common among us, to take comfort in the fact that we're not nearly so alone in our neuroses and fears. Everyone suffers something.

But a big part of my life has been lived in fear. Fear of what others think. Some of it is founded – having someone you love say, with disdain, "It's always all about you, Beth," will go a long way toward shutting down any and all future impulses to share – but some of it is not. A lot of it is self-imagined. I tend to contemplate every situation from every angle and run all the outcomes before I act.

Which doesn't leave a lot of time for the actual acting.

Years and years ago, as I sat stymied, trying to figure out my life instead of simply living it, my mother said, in exasperation, "Just do something." And she was absolutely right. (Funny thing, how often parents are proved to know what they're talking about.) The answers come in the action. Decisions are decided by doing.

Sitting stock still, waiting for epiphanies, is not an efficient use of time.

And anyway, what if epiphanies aren't the burning bushes that we expect them to be? What if epiphanies are jigsaw puzzles that must be pieced? What if every piece is a step in the right direction? The puzzle becomes more and more complete, but it's not finished until the last piece is placed.

Well, there's a metaphor for my life. One piece at a time is the only way to put together my life's picture. But I have to start somewhere. Otherwise my life is just tiny pieces scattered across a giant cosmic table.

So maybe my life so far has been me starting with the easy pieces, all the edges, the ones that are easy to spot, building the framework. And from here, I begin working toward the center, picking up a piece, turning it this way and that, sometimes seeing where it fits but more often seeing where it doesn't, and picking up another piece and trying again. Setting down the first piece isn't a failure. It's just not the right fit at the time.

Somehow, I got this idea stuck in my head that I've failed if every single thing I attempt doesn't pan out from start to finish every time. But how many half-knit socks exist? How many starts of songs? Every beginning doesn't have to have an ending. At least not right away.

And maybe not at all.

But every effort counts.

'Gone Baby Gone' ...

What a strong movie.

Ben Affleck is some kind of director. And Casey Affleck is some kind of actor.

And Morgan Freeman proves that he is capable of being in a movie that contains someone else's narration.

Child abduction is a grim topic about which to make a film, but this movie goes beyond abduction and wrestles with plenty of moral issues. It's not at all preachy. But it does leave you asking yourself what you would do in the same situation.

Tuesday, April 01, 2008

'Sweeney Todd' ...

I'm late to the party here, I know, but ohmygosh, I loved it!

Sure, it's bloody. It's really bloody. It's exceptionally bloody.

But it's so fantastic.

Tim Burton is a genius.

And it's official: There's nothing Johnny Depp can't do.

On top of everything else, the man can sing.

Really sing.

Emily ...



I just read about Emily through two blogs that I visit every day.

If ever there was a time to harness the viral quality of the Internet, this is it. Please help if you can.

'The House On Mango Street' ...

Let the record show that I finished The House on Mango Street last night (in March) and then I promptly fell asleep (reading has that effect on me) so I didn't write this post last night, as I am thankfully not prone to sleep-blogging, though that might yield some pretty interesting results.

Anyhoo, regular readers know that for 2008, Mercurie has challenged me to read one book of fiction per month in 2008 because he thinks we just don't read for pleasure enough anymore.

(In the spirit of yesterday's Cubs home-opener): Hey, hey! I'm 3 for 3!

You will note, however, that The House on Mango Street is not Lamb, the book I've mentioned in past posts. I'm still plugging away at that one. I really like it. For some reason, I just don't pick it up regularly, and it's a long-ish book, about 400 pages. which will require that I make more of a commitment to it.

So, as the month of March drew to a close, I perused my bookshelves for a thin tome, something I could whip through quickly, as I did with last month's Pobby and Dingan, and my eyes fell on ... Mango Street.

My friend Qusai recommended it to me many years ago. So, as I do with books, I bought a copy of it, having heard of it many times over, promptly read the first few pages, and then just as promptly put it on a shelf.

It wasn't that I didn't like what I read, I just wasn't in the mood at the time, I guess.

But I read it over the past two nights (though you can absolutely read it in one) and I found it not only charming but quite the literary feat.

It's a wee book, only 108 pages of white space and prose (it ends on 110, but it starts on 3). It's written as a series of small character studies, vignettes, some of which are very short.

But the characters are very artfully drawn in these pared-down strokes, like a Picasso sketch. (That's one of his. It's an owl, if you were wondering.) I marvel at Sandra Cisneros's skill. Anyone can blather on for pages and pages and never really get to a point (Faulkner, anyone?), but to convey so much story in so few words – and words that appear to be effortlessly chosen though I'm sure the effort was great – make me want to doff my hat to Ms. Cisneros. If only I wore a hat. And I were a man. Women don't doff.

I won't spoil the plot for you, though there's not a plot to spoil, per se. But I will absolutely recommend it to anyone who has a true appreciation of the well-written word, to anyone who grew up wanting their life to be more than the sum of its lowly parts.