Friday, February 29, 2008


Can you believe it is March Eve? How did it get to be almost spring? How did I get to be plenty-nine? In my head there is a disconnect between the age I feel I am and my actual almost 39 years. Sometimes I will be thinking about someone or other who seems very "mature" to me, and then I will realize "Oh, crap! That's my age!"

Still, life is pretty good - much better than when I was 29. When I was 29 I was miserable, living on the prairie, conflicted about my future, plagued with insomnia and (in retrospect) in need of some serious anti-depressants. Did I mention that I was miserable? Not at all a happy time in my life!

Thankfully, things change - a lot! Despite being closer to pre-geezerdom and still having a lot of goals I've yet to acheive, I find myself feeling relatively content. I have a good (if small!) family, good friends, a good job, an inquisitive mind, a place to live, food to eat. All in all, not too shabby! And March appears to be bringing good things...

To celebrate the coming of March (and fill my monthly theater/concert/performance quota), I bought tickets to go see Cirque du Soleil tomorrow night. I am SO excited! A couple years ago a friend gave me a ticket to see Varekai as birthday gift. Before that I'd never had much interest in seeing Cirque (mostly because I had no clue how cool the performances are!). I've never been a big circus person. I don't like entertainment that uses animals and, as everyone who has seen It knows, clowns are creepy. But, oh my gosh! Those first few moments of Varekai, watching that young man fall, Icharus-like from the sky, are so breathtakingly lovely that the show would be worthwhile even if the rest of the performance sucked like an industrial grade hoover (and it totally doesn't).

You (or at least I) Don't Need Meat!
It has now been 29 days since I started my vegetarian experiment. The tiredness of the early days has gone away. I'm not sure if this is thanks to the magic of multi-vitamins or just normal cycling, but I feel great. I'm still not sure if this is a permanent lifestyle change or not, but (for the moment, anyway) the reasons to continue seem to me stronger and more plentiful than the reasons to stop. It's been a while since I shared any of my culinary experiments, but I'll try to post some recipes soon.

Psychic Friends
For a few weeks now my morning alarm has been replaced by puppy wake up service. Lily has grown out of her need to awaken everyone in the house around 3 a.m. and parlayed her awake making skills into replacing my alam clock. Every morning around 7:27 a.m., she starts sweetly nuzzling my neck until I wake up. It starts out gently, and then the more I stir, the more she wiggles. Since she cannot (yet) tell time, the most entertaining explanation my dog has the shining. Any day now I expect go out to the mailbox and find that a W-2 form for one Liline C. Papillon has arrived from the Miss Cleo's Psychic Friends Network. Or to make a long story short: Yes, I am still happy I got a puppy! And yes, she is still adorable (not to mention really spoiled - she makes my other dog, Baxter "Baby Dog Duvalier" Wigglesworth look like an ascetic!)

Monday, February 25, 2008

Sometimes an Award is the Best Reward

It is true that film geekery does not run as deeply through my veins as book or even music geekery. Still, I have always looked forward to the Oscars. During my California years this was largely because they often coincided with my birthday, which more than once meant an Oscar/Birthday party. These parties were a pleasing combo of gifts, food, hootch (hee!), and watching an event where sequins and feather boas are not considered too over the top to be viable wardrobe components. A win win!

Then came the year when those bastards at the Academy sunk my birthday party boat with a scheduling missile by electing to back up the date of their event by a few weeks. Shockingly, I wasn’t even consulted. There were no apologetic calls from Johnny Depp, George Clooney or even Daniel Day-Lewis, whom I would assume must have gotten days off here and there while he was off in Italy learning to be a cobbler. Had he really cared, he would have made the time. That's all I'm sayin'. Not even a bag of consolatory Oscar swag was offered to ease my pain. So here I am, forced to find other reasons to enjoy the show – reasons that I might add do NOT involve gifts for me.

In recent broadcasts, those reasons have come down to Jon Stewart, dresses (lots of red and drapey off the shoulder goddess styles this year!), movie recommendations (because I’m horrible at seeing things when they are actually out in theaters), how genuinely happy the first-timers are when they win (it’s refreshing!), and the occasionally high mockability quotient involved any time you put a camera in a room full of people who take themselves WAY too seriously. Like remember after 9/11 when everyone showed up wearing somber colors to reflect the mood of the country? There was talk about wake up calls, violence and the new day that was dawning in Hollywood. Solemn promises were made, then disappeared faster than a box of ringdings at an overeaters anonymous meeting. Of course, I know movies are a business and that some of the crap that passes for cinema wouldn’t be made if there weren’t a market for it, but it just goes to show how easily money puts the smackdown on personal conviction.

Anyway, in the wake of the awards, Oscar fever has gripped my house, so here are some things that I would give an award to, if I could:

And the award for wordiest darklord ever goes to…

I'm not sure how it is that Legend came to be on my Netflix list. All I know is that its little red envelope arrived sometime last week. I had immediate misgivings upon opening it, for I quickly saw that the movie has a fatal flaw: it stars Tom Cruise. I don't know exactly what it is about that guy, but he has always rubbed me the wrong way. Even before he started acting like an ass and picking fights about psychology and postpartum depression, he always struck me as cocky and obnoxious. But in the interest of fairness, I tried to watch the movie. Really, I tried.

I sat through what seemed like an interminable opening scene featuring what was possibly the wordiest exchange ever filmed between an evil overlord and his nastiest goblin minion. I sat through the introduction of Princess Lily and even noted that the set in her first scene was modeled after a Waterhouse painting. I even tried to care when the unicorn was killed, but every time the camera panned back to Cruise, my mind was assaulted with images of him jumping up and down on Oprah's couch while raving about his child bride. The power of the Winfrey-Cruise cocktail (I think I need not remind you that I consider her my celebrity nemesis) was just too much to bear. A person can only stand so much. So, I gave up ever learning whether the enchanted forest would succumb to evil and become a cesspool of gambling, drugs, and orc on orc sex or be saved by Suri's dad in favor of watching my pick for...

Best movie use of a corpse as a prop

About a year ago, I decided that I was dangerously deficient in vitamin Hitchcock. Since then, I've been working my way through his films. As it turns out, the perfect antidote to Legend is The Trouble With Harry, which was not only kooky (but kooky in the good way) Shirley Maclaine's first film, but also stars a handsome, young John Forsythe. You'd never think a movie about repeatedly burying and digging up a dead guy could be so charming, but it is! It is a shame that Hitchcock didn't do more comedies. The more I see of his work, the more I love it! And speaking of love, I find myself completely infactuated with...

SE Portland's Best Vietnamese Food Served by a Buddhist Nun…

The atmosphere may be humble, but what it lacks in ambience it makes up for in delicious food. Just as importantly, everything on the menu at Van Hanh is vegetarian, which means it fits my new diet perfectly. On my first (but definitely not my last!) visit there, my companion and I enjoyed Jicama Spring Rolls, Lemon Grass Tofu Sticks and (my favorite, even though the lemongrass tofu is apparently their most popular dish) Crispy "Chicken" Salad for well under $20. Not only was the food pretty amazing (their gluten mock poultry could almost have passed for the real thing!), but the restaurant is actually a non-profit that benefits a local Buddhist temple, which means that not only can you eat to your heart's content (and then some!) for very little money, but you even benefit something greater than yourself in doing so!

And, the final award of the night:

The award for best collection of essays by Steve Almond published under the title (Not That You Asked) Rants, Exploits, and Obsessions goes to...

Steve Almond. I know! Not what you expected, is it? That was almost like Tilda Swinton nabbing the much coveted Oscar for best supporting actress from Cate Blanchett in a surprise upset last night! But that's how these awards things are - a total rollercoaster ride. Anyway, I've been a fan of Almond's work for a while now. I'm telling you, if you've never read him, you should. The Prologue to this collection (followed by the rest of the essays in it) is a great place to start. If you insist upon being distrustful and feel you must read some excerpts before buying the book or putting it on hold at your local library, you can do so here.

And with that, I am going to bed, so have a good night!

Monday, February 18, 2008

Fruits & Veggies

We've been having some wonderfully sunny, springlike weather here in the Northwest. Despite having stayed home yesterday due to an unpleasantly pinched nerve that has been sending shooting pains through my neck, the sun makes me happy. Sun is hopeful. Sun makes a person feel like she could accomplish things, if only she were able to turn her head. Sun is so sunny! It makes me look forward to the fresh fruits and berries of summer and my master plan for expanding the garden to include more herbs and a better crop of vegetables than we had last year. Being in the middle of my flirtation with vegetarianism makes the prospect even more exciting.

It has now been a little over two weeks since I last ate any meat. After seeing the stories about the recall of 143 million pounds of beef originating in a California slaughterhouse that is the subject of an animal abuse investigation, I cannot say that I am sorry. This is exactly the sort of thing that has fueled my wondering about giving up meat for a long time now. The experience of exploring vegetarianism has made me a lot more aware of where my food originates. And, if I'm going to be honest, it makes me feel a little hypocritical that the animals in my home are spoiled beyond belief, yet I'm willing to let other animals be killed and (as reading about the evils of Westlake-Hallmark reminds me) even tortured when there are plenty of other less cruel alternative foods.

That is the thing about our food supply. It is pretty easy to stick our heads in the sand and forget where the neat packages in the butcher's section have come from. For those of us who live in cities, we don't give a lot of thought to what our hamburger looked like when it was walking or how it met its demise.

While I admit to enjoying the taste of meat (if I don't think about where it comes from), I can't say that I have really missed it. Of course, it has only been a couple weeks and a person can do almost anything for two weeks, but I have to say that the experience has been extremely satisfying thusfar. One of the most satisfying things has been that no animal has had to give its life to feed me during this time.

When I was younger, my only experience with vegetarians was our hippie neighbors who always seemed to be eating something beige, bland and involving millet and shredded carrots. Their kitchen did not make meatless eating look all the appealing, but the truth is that there are tons of wonderful, flavor filled dishes that do not rely on meat for seasoning. Half the fun of my exploration has been finding new cooking methods and spice combinations. I have discovered that it is not black beans that I do not like, but ill seasoned black beans. Toss in some onion, garlic, ginger, allspice and orange juice and it turns out they not only are pretty tasty on a tostada with avocado and Mexican cheese but they also make excellent filling for mole enchiladas (the combined notes of orange and chocolate kick ass!). Who knew?

Thursday, February 14, 2008

When I was 19 or 20, a mentor took me to see Rudolf Nureyev perform in a production of The King and I. While time has faded my memory of the details (though I don't recall being overwhelmed by the acting or singing), the one thing I will never forget is the scene in which Anna teaches the king of Siam to dance. Those few moments made the whole performance worthwhile. As soon as "Shall We Dance" began to play, Nureyev's body became this vehicle of exquisite grace. Watching him, it was obvious that dancing was what this man was born to do. In my memory, I left the theater not so much feeling that I had seen a dancer act in a musical, but a great master dance while a music just happened to be going on around him. I knew I had seen something special that night. A few years later, when Nureyev died, I counted myself lucky to have gotten the chance to see him dance, even if it was for just a few minutes.

It is this ability of that arts to touch this transcendant chord within us that makes them so special. Anyone with any sensitivity (and that covers pretty much everyone, doesn't it?) has had the experience of hearing some piece of music or watching some performance or reading a poem or viewing a piece of art that touched them in some way, transporting them beyond the realm of just watching and listening to a place where the line between performer and viewer becomes blurred. It is in that moment that the kind of energy is created that sends this intangible "buzz" through a venue.

I had a similar experience in seeing Sweet Honey in the Rock perform at the Schnitzer a week or so ago. Even a week later I am still bowled over at how incredible these women are. While their recordings are brilliant, the live experience is the only thing that really does them justice. Although I've been aware of the group for a long time and will always stop and listen for a bit if they are on the t.v. or radio, I have to admit that I didn't really start to really listen to them until pretty recently. Founded by Bernice Johnson Reagon in the early 70's, the group has had a sometimes changing line up throughout its evolution. One thing all of the women in the group share, however, is that they are incredible musicians who are able to tackle multi-layered harmonies and rhythms with an ease that belies their complexity.

Their music spans a wealth of influences including but not limited to blues, jazz, traditional gospel, rap and African American spirituals. As artists they create a beautiful synthesis of social awareness, inclusivity and spirit, all wrapped in the kind of sound in which you find yourself wanting to get lost. If there harmonies were the sea, I would want to swim naked in them just to be that much closer to them. It is the kind of music that not only puts a smile on your face and touches your soul, but makes you want to go out and DO something when you're doing listening to it.

Originally, I bought the tickets to the show as a Christmas gift for my mom, but now that I've seen them perform, I can't wait until the next time they are in town. Seeing them this past week really does go down as one of my favorite concert experiences ever. And to think that they have this HUGE songbook that is just waiting to be explored. It's like the musical version of reading a really incredible book and finding that it is just the first in a series by a prolific, but briliant author! Sometimes, life is just good!

Monday, February 04, 2008

Super Duper Tuesday

Super Tuesday is always full of mixed feelings for me. My inner policy nerd enjoys the excitement, but it also feels frustrated that Oregon won't have its primary for another three months. The truth is that unless it's a really close race, by the time we get around to mailing our little ballots in (I do LOVE vote by mail! It is something I've really missed any time I've lived out of state!), it's very likely that the eventual nominee will be all but rubber stamped to make it official. It does make it a little challenging to feel an important part of the process.

As of this moment, the votes are still pretty split in both the Democratic and Republican primaries. There will not likely be a final count of actual delegates won tonight. It is almost as exciting as the Oregon Humane Society's Presidential Primary Rat Race fundraiser (all "campaign contributions" going to benefit the pets at the shelter), which featured candidates such as Hillary Rodent Squinten, Packrat OhMama, John McCheese, and Muskrat "Mike" Huckleberry.

Hillary is ahead in the rat poll, but we shall see what tomorrow brings in the real race. Our delegate system sometimes seems maddeningly complicated to me and does nothing for my desire to know NOW. But, as in the rest of life, my impatience will not make it go any faster! I still have high hopes for Obama and found myself feeling increasingly convinced about my support of him I listened to all the early return punditry and talk radio calls today.

Meanwhile, in a totally unrelated celebration of 5 days of meat free living, here is a link to a delicious recipe from Moosewood (actually, it's a link to a number of recipes, but you will find this one between them, if you scroll down):

West African Ground Nut Stew

Sunday, February 03, 2008


I went to the crossroad
Fell down on my knees
I went to the crossroad
Fell down on my knees
Asked the Lord above
"Have mercy now,
Save poor Bob, if you please"
"Crossroad Blues" - ROBERT JOHNSON

Throughout history, folklore has been collected and stories written about people who were willing to go to extremes to gain qualities like beauty, power and wealth. There have been various tellings of the Faust legend. Even American blues lore tells the story of Robert Johnson selling his soul to the Devil at the crossroads in exchange for musical talent. It's a malleable bit of source material that can be adapted to any time period.

Human yearning always has been and always will be. While we might not all be willing to sell our souls to get what we want, anyone who has ever been gone through puberty can relate to wanting something so badly we think life won't ever be worthwhile until we get it. That combined with tingly fascination with horror and the Darkness probably plays a big part in making the Faustian story such an oft revisted one. We've seen it in Marlowe, Goethe, Lessing, and even the Broadway musical (Damn Yankees).

The American literary canon has its own version in Stephen Vincent Benét's short story The Devil & Daniel Webster. Set in mid-19th century new Hampshire, the story centers on an unlucky farmer, Jabez Stone, who sells his soul to the Devil in exchange for seven years of love and prosperity. When the day of reckoning comes, instead of relinquishing his soul peacefully, Jabez employs the famous orator and lawyer, Daniel Webster, to argue his case before a hellish judge and jury chosen by the Devil himself.

As luck would have it, Robert Schenkkan's adaptation is playing at the Northwest Childrens Theater Februry 1-24. When some friends invited me to go see the production I was excited (one of my bigger writing projects features the Devil, so I've done a bit of research on folklore surrounding him), but also unsure of what to expect of an NWCT production. Would it be acted, directed and stage managed by children? Would it be adapted for a child audience? Would it look like it was staged by children?

As it turns out the play, which featured young (high school aged) actors as well as adults, was fabulous! While I particularly enjoyed Richard Garfield in his role as Scratch (The Devil), the rest of the production was so good that I never once thought of the younger cast members "They're doing a great job for young people!" Instead, I just got lost in the story, which is as it should be.

So, now that I know about NWCT, I will happily go back. In a world where we don't appreciate the arts nearly enough, I am more than happy to support any organization that teaches appreciation of them to young people!

P.s. In case you were wondering, my good theater/arts parking karma lives. I managed to park right across the street! I hear you universe, and have responded by buying tickets to Sweet Honey in the Rock and Corteo!

Saturday, February 02, 2008

Deck Chairs and other Updates

So, my January post a day plans didn't quite pan out. This was in part due to work and also in part to the nature of the things I've been writing. Happily, I have been writing. My January write something every day plans were (thanks to the prompt fairy!) much more successful than my posting ones, but that is okay. In the end, I hit the important part of the goal and plan to continue writing daily for as long as I can sustain it.

It's funny. While last January was more about quantity, this one has been more about authenticity. The two don't necessarily go hand in hand. I wrote a lot this past month, but most of it will never be seen by eyes other than my own. Still, I'm all for trying post here more regularly as well! And that's good, because month two of 2008 brings all sorts of exciting things.

For the first time since I got my puppy, she has allowed me to sleep in past 6:00 a.m., I have been non-meat eater for a day now (so far so good - but don't worry, right now it's still in the experimental stages. I won't start looking askance at flesh eaters for at least another week!), and Super Tuesday is almost here. For political nerds, this is almost like waitin for Christmas! (Much more exciting than the let down of Fitzmas!)

Watching the Democratic field whittle itself down to Clinton and Obama has been fascinating (and sometimes maddening). From the beginning, I knew that my favorite candidate would not make it to the end, so I was not surprised when he dropped out of the race along with all the other eventual political casualties. And now we're left with a situation where either a woman or a black man will become the Democratic nominee for President. From the perspective of historical significance, this is pretty exciting. It's about time, isn't it?

At the same time, I find it saddening that it is a big deal that we might really have a shot at having a non-old-white-guy president. We Americans like to think that we are so forward thinking, but in this case as a society, we are actually behind the curve. Plenty of other countries have had female leaders. We're not exactly blazing new ground.It makes me impatient. I have to keep reminding myself that it is something that we are at least taking some steps in the right direction.

At the same time, I have to admit that I am not a huge Hillary fan. When her husband was president, I liked her a lot more than I do now. If I were a senator, you could almost say I voted for her, before I voted against her. It may be just an age thing. I was still relatively young and politically apathetic then, so it may just be that I wasn't paying attention. Today, however, she leaves me cold.

It's not that I don't think that Hillary Clinton is competent. She clearly is an intelligent, strong, articulate woman. I even feel for her in some of the challenges she faces as a female candidate: If she is too tough, then she's an unfeeling bitch. If she dares to cry or show genuine emotion, then she is either weak, a borderline hysteric, or stabbing herself in the leg with a fork to create the appearance of sincerity. With those limited options, whatever she does, she can't win.

It's just don't find her to be particularly trustworthy. She seems too slick, too in the game. I'm tired of the game. Her positions on the war trouble me as does her affable relationship with the healthcare industry and its checkbooks. And (though this is no fault of Mrs. Clinton's) I really don't like the notion that just because I am a woman, I am somehow expected to support her.

While my own femaleness may make me less likely to dismiss someone simply for being female, to suggest that women have no deeper criteria than gender in opting to support someone is insulting. Every time the media feeds us this bullshit (whether it is applied to women or minorities), what they are really saying is that we are too stupid to pick a candidate based on the merits of his or her positions. It would be great to have a female president or a black president, but ultimately what I want is an ethical one who can handle the responsibilities of the job. I'm tired of cronies. I'm tired of my government being run like a tanking, corrupt corporation that could give Enron a run for its money.

I know that when it comes down to it that the differences between Clinton and Obama are not huge. Their voting records are pretty similar. While I admit that Obama wasn't my first choice, I do think he is a big step in the right direction. In the end what makes me favor Obama over Clinton is this: His early denunciation of the war in Iraq. At a time when almost ALL of Democrats were voting to authorize Bush to attack, Obama spoke out against it. I know people argue that he wasn't in the Senate then, as though that somehow makes it not count, but that strikes me as flawed thinking. One could just as easily say that as someone planning to run for a seat, he showed courage and integrity in taking an unpopular position. Wouldn't it have been easier to just go along with the more "experienced" crowd on this?

There are those who say that Mr. Obama is inexperienced. I suppose that if one looks at this in narrow terms of how long he has served in the Senate, this is true. But we're also talking about a man who was the first African-American president of the Harvard Law Review, a civil rights lawyer, taught constitutional law, served eight years in the Illinois Senate before embarking on his current tenure as a U.S. Senator. What he has done in 47 years, many peole don't accomplish in a life time. It's not like he's been manning the drive-thru at Taco Bell for the past ten years. That is not to disparage Hillary Clinton's accomplishments, she's done a lot too. I just think the argument about Obama's "inexperience" is not as strong as some people would like us to believe. Besides, there is a reason why Presidents have cabinets and advisors. When I listen to Obama speak, I find myself inspired in a way that politics as usual does not. Usually, it just makes me angry. Freshness allows for new perspectives and a real hope of change and hope it worth something to me these days.

To paraphase Rogers Morton, rearranging the deck chairs on the Titanic isn't going to keep it from sinking. It is time for something new. What we need is a new boat with new deck chairs and a new Captain to go along with it. The one we're on has taken us too close the watery depths as it is.