Tuesday, February 25, 2014

Easy Writer

There's a book out about the habits of successful writers. Turns out, near the top of the list, almost all famous writers write their best stuff before the sun rises.

So I set the alarm for 5 this morning. And when it rang, though I didn't get out of bed or even move much at all, I'm pretty sure that while reaching for the SNOOZE, I had many thoughts -- more than two, maybe four. All of which included several nouns, verbs, and adjectives.

We'll try this experiment again, at some later date. After I've rested.

Friday, February 21, 2014

Altadena, Street

We live in a nice place.

And we love our friends.

Let me introduce you to some neighbors. Just across the street.

If you need a used tire, a car seat, a visor, a washer, dryer -- you've come to the right place. Don't let the transmission hit you on your way out.

All right. So everyone on this street has called the County numerous times. About this abandoned property. But, you know, the County is purty darned important, and has bigger fish to fry. Like, where the cars should park on Lake Street, and exactly how tall a front yard fence should be. That kind of fish. Lottsa carp.

Yesterday, early am, a whirly bird chased someone on the 400-block of Athens. A couple of blocks away. It started at 5, and was a gang-thing, allegedly.

My first thought was to worry, about the property across the street. Where lights flicker late at night, in an abandoned house that should have no electric feed whatsoever. My second thought was: go back to sleep. I've got an 80-pound dog that can kick ass and take names.

Well, Albert can't really take names, seeing as he can't print yet. Still, if I were you, I'd bet on him. He's a black lab, but golden.

Monday, February 17, 2014

Midweek Matinee: Dean Spanley

"When the dream dreams you, rather than the other way around."

Let's see...how can I motivate you, get you to watch one of the most remarkable movies I've ever seen. A movie that opened in 2007, and slipped away, virtually unnoticed and unmentioned.

It's based on a tale by Lord Dunsany, who lived from 1878-1957, and published more than 80 books, plays, and stories. He's described as a Fantastist, and as I pretty much loathe fantasy, that description wouldn't have worked for me, and it may not work for you, either.

And to summarize the plot would do the wonder of it all a disservice.

The movie stars Peter O'Toole, Sam Neill, Bryan Brown, and Jeremy Northam, and explores the actual and emotional power and submission of masters, parents, servants, children and animals. Loss, humor, friendship, death, and future possibilities. The forces of freedom versus belonging, the equal beauty we find and wrenching price we pay whether we choose instinct over civilization, or civilization over instinct. And how, when an emotion is left, unaccepted, it will dominate a life.

The dialog is Britishfully witty -- you know, the way the best Brit artists blow both cool and warm. Be warned, the last third of the movie will break your heart.

The trailer doesn't reveal much, but here it is. (The movie streams on Netflix, maybe you can get it on Amazon.)

"It's only the closed mind that is certain."

Tuesday, February 11, 2014

L'Etranger's Fork

Father's fork went missing today. Or maybe yesterday, I can't be sure. It all depends on when I last washed the dishes, which leaves the matter doubtful. It could have been -- well, why indulge in idle speculation.

In any case, the fork went missing on a blazing hot afternoon. Of that we can be sure. On the day in question, I lunched, as usual.

It was the sterling silver one. The fork, I mean, in case your attention wants tethering. My father's name was engraved on one side and there was something engraved on the other side, a scene, picture of ... what? Algiers, Alps, Alf? I don't know. Even though that fork and I broke bread a thousand times or more.

Had we once paused, this fork and I, in the thousand trips we journeyed together between meal and mouth, I would have known. But no, hoisting the implement to its final destination always seemed so critically important, so time-sensitive. And the sun was blazing, need I remind you.

My relationship to this fork has, or had, an odd history. Until a year ago, I thought it was my birthday fork. That's what Norwegians do -- in lieu of teddy bears, Norwegian parents and their Norwegian friends present Norwegian babies with sharp and pointy instruments. It's a Darwin thing.

But last year while waiting for the pasta to cool, reach a safe temperature (near abouts, close enough, or ouch), my eyes happened to land on the inscription. The inscription on the fork. As the sun was blazing. The name on the fork wasn't mine at all. It was my father's.

Which left me to wonder, does this fork now mean less to me, or more? I pondered, and my pasta grew cold.

But now the fork has gone missing and the point gone moot.

I live in a dry climate, and wash my dishes with bio-degradable soap. I know the soap is vegan, not because the price is unconscionable, but because the label makes me cry. Regarding our unwitting destruction every time we brush a tooth or cool our heels at an In-And-Out. "DO YOU KNOW..." the label starts to say, but that's as far as I can go before I weep, uncontrollably.

I wash my dishes with this soap, in a pot, and toss the water from the pot on thirsty plants. The plants are always thirsty, because as I may have mentioned, the sun blazes, always. And tossing this water on thirsty plants, the soap bottle says, will not save the earth as we know it, but can't hurt.

Back to the fork. My fork is gone, and J'accuse the soap. The bottle most particularly. Because the label never once mentioned that before tossing the bathwater, look for a baby.

You can't give me anything -- and I mean this as a warning, in case you were thinking about it.

(The picture? Ceci n'est pas une fork. It's a cake knife. Or as we say in Norway, Kaka Knife. Yeah, Kaka -- go ahead and laugh, you Olympic losers.)

Monday, February 3, 2014

The Italians have a word for it

I cut my reading teeth on Truman Capote. Not In Cold Blood, but earlier and more lyrical work -- A Christmas Memory, Other Voices Other Rooms, Breakfast at Tiffany's. And even though some of the more subtle points of plot and sexuality escaped me, I appreciated the clean prose of a natural storyteller. One perfect word after another. Reading early Capote was and is like listening to fine music; all rhythm and flow. Shielded from the heavy lifting of a thousand revisions.

Thanks partly to Capote, I learned to love reading, and believe in a particular narrative voice. One that doesn't pin you in a corner, shine a klieg light on the construction, illuminating nails and boards. Reading the greats, or my greats, you'll never hear hammers and drills, just the narrator as he or she holds your hand and whispers secrets in your ear.

It's a tightrope the artist walks, a balancing act between wonder and restraint.

But that takes a toll on the artist; people like me demand much of their artist. That we never witness all the hard falls they take on the way to perfection.

I think that's why so many artists, and not all, not by a long shot, but many have been drunks and drug addicts. Some artists enjoy the practice, the process. Eudora Welty belongs in this camp. She wrote and revised for the joy of it. But for others it's a fight and struggle, and they get terribly damaged along the way.

Maybe my appreciation of art is rather narrow, I require grace without effort. Natural, but a better natural than we find in natural life. Something unnaturally natural, I guess. Like, when I'm in a discussion or argument or moment of passion with someone quite real, often I'll think, maybe you could have stated that better, or, you really muffed that line.

Before this week, I had two favorite living actors, and now I have just one. I think it was the New Yorker's tribute that said Philip Seymour Hoffman was the actor you never purposefully went to see, but were always glad you did. They were wrong. I purposefully went to see all his movies. And he never disappointed; every word he said rang true.