Saturday, February 28, 2009

Counting Crows, "A Long December"

1996, and it is indeed December. I live in a brick house whose leaky basement now resembles a skating rink. I put the paper to bed and skid a matter of blocks to Doris'. Later, drunk, I drive home and nearly miss the turn. At home I find the wind has ripped my garage door from the house. It hangs by a bolt. I park on the street and walk, cursing and slipping, through the snow, up the stairs, to the door.

This morning

ADAM (determined): Okay. I'm looking at the dust under the chair, and I'm going to fucking do it.

Looks like we will soon own a Rumba.

Friday, February 27, 2009

From Facebook: "How well do you know your spouse?"

I was right on everything but the shoe size.

1. He/She is sitting in front of the TV, what is on the screen?
Sports. If there's an LA/New England connection (depending on the sport), so much the better.

2. You're out to eat/what kind of dressing on his/her salad?

3. What's one food he/she doesn't like?
Whipped cream and pork (see? I got two)

4. You go out to eat and have a drink. What does he/she order?
Wine or beer. If we're at a bar, a dirty martini will do nicely, thank you.

5. Where did he/she go to high school?
Chatsworth Senior High

6. What size shoe does he/she wear?
7, I think? I fit into his shoes.

7. What is his/her favorite type of sandwich?
A brunette and a redhead.

8. What would this person eat every day if he/she could?
See above.

9. What is his/her favorite cereal?
That oatmeal stuff he makes.

10. What would he/she never wear?
Buttless chaps. Also, a tux. Though if pressed, he would probably wear the chaps.

11. What is his/her favorite sports team?
The A's. Sucka.

12. Who did he/she vote for?
The guy I slept with last night.

13. What is his/her favorite pastime?
Backseat driving. Surfing the web. Tormenting the cat. All three simultaneously when he can manage it.

14. What is something you do that he/she wishes you wouldn't do?
Get pissed off.

15. Something he/she does that you wish he/she wouldn't do?
Get spacey.

16. You bake him/her a cake for his/her birthday; what kind of cake?
Chocolate. He's unoriginal like that.

17. Did he/she play sports in high school?
He was an expert at getting to third base.

18. What could he/she spend hours doing?
See above.

19. What is one talent he/she has?
See above!

20 What's his/her favorite color?
Just got this in email from Adam:

The first words out of your 98% asleep mouth this morning were "I'm good with things that wobble." I quite enjoyed that.

I plead the fifth. I don't remember that at all!

Last night

Writing group was at my place. Sean and Rob have now read two chunks of The Project and the critiques are all pretty congruent.

What blows my mind is how much they like it. Not because I don't like it, but because these are tough editors. They've been known to send back pieces not once or twice, but three times for the magazine. They don't bullshit around. They seem to assume this thing will be published.

I gotta agree with them. This is the best thing I've ever written. It needs some work, but it about 90 percent kicks ass. And I'm working toward 100.

Wednesday, February 25, 2009

Sharing a smoke

Adam's birthday

It's supposed to be artsy. Go with it.
We're both sober? Yep.
We had Luke's Wild Mushroom Orzo and Seared Sesame Tuna. Asparagus as a side and chilled grapes for dessert. My brother propositioned Adam through text message. And with that, the day was made.

10CC, "The Things We Do For Love"

1977, and we're rolling in my mother's Ford Falcon. I am three, my brother 15 months younger. We are probably wearing snowsuits because the weather in Connecticut grows winter-cold, and we get looks and smiles from the tollbooth workers.

A year later we will leave this place, emigrate first to our grandparents on Reiss Place and then much further than East Lyme or the Bronx. Before that moment, I will wear a blue Mets cap and grin, with ponytail and tiny teeth, for the camera.

Tuesday, February 24, 2009

Oliver and I in our natural habitat


31 years ago tomorrow, a mother gave birth in Lawrence, MA.

Nearly 31 years ago, a rabbi trudged through the snow. The boy gained a name and lost something else.

Six and a half years ago, the boy didn't seem to get that a girl wasn't a morning person. Thank God.

Happiest of happy birthdays, baby.

Dentist: Groping "part of treatment"

Holy shit. It's Doc Parkinson a decade later!

The attorney for a Woodland dentist told jurors that his client massaged women's chests as part of a medical treatment.

Defense attorney Michael Rothschild told the six-man, six-woman Yolo County jury that Mark Anderson was treating his female clients for temporomandibular disorder, or TMD. The attorney says the condition affects the muscles of the upper body.

Wow. And I thought that excuse was all used up.

In 1998, Dr. John Parkinson gave lengthy pelvic exams to women. The treatment lasted for years. So did the trial. I even wrote a story or two about it for the Daily Republic. I remember the copy desk gloried in getting the word "probe" into just about every Doc Parkinson headline. Sick, funny fucks.

Ladies, here's a clue: If your doctor's been rubbing your Never-Never Land for more than a half hour and says he's got to repeat the process next week, fire him or marry him. I've never had my bits manipulated while at the doctor, and I don't plan to.
I just interviewed for an anxiety group at the John F. Kennedy Center for Holistic Counseling in Oakland. I'm so jazzed about how I feel coming out of that interview -- self-aware, funny, capable.

I've long pondered getting an MFT. I'm back on that train. I think I've got what it takes to be a damn good therapist.

This doesn't at all mean switching careers. I love writing and I'll do it until the day my fingers fall off. Combining freelance writing with a counseling career is something I've envisioned for a while. I think I can really make it happen.

Monday, February 23, 2009

My first publication

Two powerful things happened in fifth grade: I wrote a book and my youngest brother was born. Evidence of that combination is below.

Ladies and gentlemen, I present "The Life and Hard Times of Sarah Elizabeth Kaufman" -- written and illustrated by Allison Dawn Landa. From the synopsis: "September 12, 1984. It was a normal day ... or so Sarah Kaufman thought. It was the day her world shattered."

Back page. "Her best friend, Elizabeth, dumped her for a couple of jerks and her mother was pregnant. Both events were a total shock to Sarah."

Title page. Zenith Publishing Company was our teacher's creation. We bound our own books and twenty-five years later, the damn thing still holds up.

I'm trying to find the right words for this author's bio. For once, I'm speechless.
Mike is out of town, which means we not only have custody of Puppy and Kitty, but of his comfy leather couches and his cable. And Tivo!

The other night, Adam and I were crashed out watching something called The Witches of Breastwick 2. Though he claims it did nothing for him, I like to think somewhere within him a 13-year-old boy was smiling.

Today's writing

“But it’s true,” he says now. “I’m not saying you don’t make choices. I’m saying you don’t make the right ones.”

“Is that right?” I say it as my father says it: less question than statement. Is that right means my eyes are narrowing and my mind is a sliver, unwilling to accept anything this person has to say. The words come through an angry mouth, its corners quivering with denial and distrust.

Disagreements with David scare the crap out of me. He doesn’t back down. He isn’t swayed by emotional argument or passionate appeal. Worst of all, he’s often right.

“Look,” he says, “a decision isn’t the same as a choice. You can decide up, down and sideways, right and left. You can decide six different items on a menu. You really want to eat them all?”

“Your point?”

“You make decisions, not choices. Decisions mean you’re looking at the map and pointing. Choices mean you pick a place and get there.”

Sunday, February 22, 2009

Europe shots from last year

The craziest fucking dog I have ever seen, on the streets of Budapest. That guy must feel like he's putting a mop on a leash every time he goes out.
Cafe Heine, Vienna.
Adam in Prague.
Bus, Prague to Karlovy Vary. This picture was taken on Feb. 25, 2008, Adam's 30th birthday.

Saturday, February 21, 2009

Was I cynical when I was 10? Did I hold grudges? Sometimes I wish I could go back to being a kid, even if it meant giving up my driver's license and dubious freedom. No pressure to be a grown-up. No remembrances of the damn past. Stevie says it best:

Looking back on when I
Was a little nappy-headed boy
Then my only worry
Was for Christmas what would be my toy
Even though we sometimes
Would not get a thing
We were happy with the
Joy the day would bring

Sneaking out the back door
To hang out with those hoodlum friends of mine
Greeted at the back door
With boy thought I told you not to go outside,

Tryin your best to bring the
Water to your eyes
Thinkin it might stop her
From woopin your behind

I wish those days could come back once more
Why did those days ev-er have to go
I wish those days could come back once more
Why did those days ev-er have to go
Cause I love them so

Brother says hes tellin
bout you playin doctor with that girl
Just dont tell Ill give you
Anything you want in this whole wide world
Mama gives you money for sunday school
You trade yours for candy after church is through

Smokin cigarettes and writing something nasty on the wall (you nasty boy)
Teacher sends you to the principals office down the wall
You grow up and learn that kinda thing aint right
But while you were doinit-it sure felt outta sight

I wish those days could come back once more
Why did those days ev-er have to go
I wish those days could come back once more
Why did those days ev-er have to go

Sometimes I cheat with poetry

I'm playing with this one. It's 800 percent raw at the moment.


I rearrange your thoughts
one change per moment,
one circuit at a time.

Soon you will not know your mind.

Then I will pull back
and leave you:
and blunt.

Blunt, and with wires hanging from your head.

Also, check out Poems for the First 100 Days. I'm into it.

Friday, February 20, 2009

Adam and I met for lunch. I played drama queen over a chile relleno. He wonders if I suffer from PTSD. Yeah, from back in the womb!

The dream

We're in some hippie compound. LSD visions of beauty and horror intermix: Flowers bloom and homeless men bleed, dying, faded coats still on, wounded homeless dogs whimpering gamely by their side.

He disappears with two women. They have something to show him. I call. His voice is muddy on the phone, muddy and something more.

I wake up screaming.

Thursday, February 19, 2009

From The Project

Adam's been going through it and tonight got to this part. He says it's funny. I like it too, but you be the judge.

“I’m not feeling this place,” the girl inside me says. She gestures to the sea of blue cubicles, tall enough to block my vision even when I’m standing. “Ever get the feeling you’re trapped in Cookie Monster’s asshole?”

“No,” I say. “Now shut up.”

Why I like reading Rob's work

Because he writes shit like this: "I was enjoying nothing, nor would I be until I held a weapon or a woman, but I really didn’t feel like talking to this asshole."
I'm working through the stuff for writing group right now. I've really evolved in my approach to critique. I almost wrote "changed" rather than "evolved", but that's not true. As Adam and I were drunkenly eating Yogurt Park last night, I found myself musing about how we change far less than we evolve, and realize to a greater degree what we are and who we've always been. But I digress.

I used to be a lot nicer, more diplomatic, lead with something positive. Now I'm take-no-prisoners. I'm not at all cruel or cutting in my approach to critique; if anything, I'm far more bloodless than in days past. If you give me your manuscript, expect to see red. That's just the way it is.

Dream job

I first started thinking about freelancing while I was working at Inman News Features. There I met Warren, who in addition to being a kick-ass editor and just a generally sweet guy (and a friend to this day), was a full-time freelancer. He came into the Inman office to help out now and again, and I always got a kick out of hearing him answer his cell phone with "This is Warren." I pictured a slew of clients waiting for his counsel. I was impressed.

Warren told me he could play hoops in the middle of the day. I hate basketball, but I wanted to play hoops! I wanted that freedom and flexibility. More than anything, I wanted to be able to call the shots with my career. I wanted to love what I did.

Flash forward a decade. I'm sitting in a coffee shop rewriting web content. I'm playing with words, and I love it. Thanks for the inspiration, Lutz.

Wednesday, February 18, 2009

Second glass of champagne

"Books. I love books. I love reading books and I love talking about books and I love writing a book. And I love being drunk."
After three years of living at the Farm, I've hit that point of finding bones to pick with the neighborhood.

I continue to love our place -- not just despite its quirks (terrible windows that let in the cold and the heat, slow-to-heat water, several old-fashioned electrical outlets that don't work) but because of them. I love our backyard and our washer and dryer and our crazy front door, and Mike remains the coolest landlord ever.

But the neighborhood is starting to piss me off.

It's a typical Berkeley neighborhood -- lots of foliage, Subarus, peace signs. It's pretty charming. But there's a nasty thuggish element that's always bugged me.

On Valentine's Day, Adam and I came home to find my bike stolen. It was there when we left at 1 pm and gone by 5. That means some stranger walked down our little pathway and took what wasn't theirs. I know these are the sorts of things you're supposed to get used to in an urban environment, but screw that. I'll never get used to the idea that my possessions can be ripped off in the middle of the day.

Adam's cars (yes, he has two; don't ask) are routinely rifled through. They're convertibles and so he leaves the doors unlocked because experience has shown it's better to get some loose change ripped off than to have a $700 top slashed. When I owned a convertible, I locked the doors and nothing ever happened, but it was probably more dumb luck than anything.

Since living here, he's had a leather jacket and a bunch of CDs stolen. Should he have left that stuff unprotected? Of course not, just like we shouldn't have had the bikes unlocked in the front yard. Doesn't stop me from being pissed about it.

Today I almost ran over a bunch of skateboarding little brats. They think they own the damn street. I have to leave for a dentist appointment in a few hours and I wouldn't be surprised to find my car screwed with in some way or another.

I know bad things happened on Piedmont Avenue too, where I lived for eight years, and I also can't even compare my ratty apartment there to the place we have now. My life took a giant step up when we moved to Grant Street. But you know, I've always known the neighborhood here isn't what the neighborhood is off Piedmont. And I guess that's coming home to roost a bit.

I'm not looking to move. I'm just sad that the bloom is off the rose.
Yesterday Adam told me he's trying to do a better job of reaching out to friends. "I think of you when I do it," he said. "I remember how hurt you were when you posted about the Lexapro stuff and there were people who read it, but said nothing."

I'm glad to hear it.

Non-responsiveness is a huge pet peeve with me. I went through one of the most trying times of my life a few months ago and knowing that there were friends and family who read about it, but did nothing, was pretty painful.

Is it here that I talk about my relationship with Adam's family? From the time I met them, I've tried to reach out, to be part of the family. I've sent emails and greeting cards, bought presents. It was my choice to have Rabbi Adam, Adam's brother-in-law (and mine now) marry us. When Adam had his improv shows a few months ago, I made a special effort to invite his mother to attend.

They've made it clear that they like me. They've also made their distance just as clear. Emails go unanswered. Presents are politely nodded at. I will never be as close with them as I'd hoped. I will never call his mother Mom. I will never confide in them.

I encourage him every day to be in touch with his family, to not take for granted the fact that they are all still, thank goodness, alive. I don't ever confuse his relationship with his family for mine. They may not respond to me, but that's far less important than their response to their son and brother.

Tuesday, February 17, 2009

From 2005


He's showing his
younger, slighter shadow
how to fix my heater,
how the connectors
come together to fire our skin
how we stay warm in winter.

When he asks
I tell him I teach
words snowflaking
upon my tongue
strange warm season.


Andrea and I had dinner and coffee in Alameda. As we were driving back to Berkeley, we mused on the incredible privilege of being born in this country. "There's people eating dirt," she said. "My problems are no big deal."

"I don't know," I said. "Somewhere there's a person in Haiti saying, 'At least I'm not Andrea.'"

Fortunately, we share enough of the same sense of humor that she laughed rather than punching me out.

From an email to Adam today

I shoved some guy today at Sandwich Zone. It was deliberate ...

Why did I shove him?

I shoved him because I was tired of the rain, no matter how much we need it. I shoved him because I want politicians to stop clapping for each other and just fix this fucking country. I shoved him because I'm tired of pretending that multitudes of horrid lousy things don't exist, including war, beehive hairdos, and Berkeley High brats who take over small eating establishment with their horrid manners and worse breath. I shoved him because my cat is 20 and is more likely to age than get younger. I shoved him because he was at the counter, minding his own business, and I thought I could get away with it.

Then I went to the gym and worked out like a fucking demon. Now I'm home and happy to be rid of at least some of my toxic demons. Or demonic toxins, if you will.

Deep breath

I'm performing at the Marsh on April 27 and May 11.

As I sat in the nosebleed seats of the Paramount on Saturday, watching Bill Cosby in all his mastery, I decided the subject of my performance: One of the ugliest fights in Adam's and my history. And there have been a decent amount.

Stay tuned. Better yet, show up and check it out for yourself.

Sweet deal! It's thundering!

When I was a kid, thunderstorms scared the hell out of me. A single flash, a heavy clap, and my parents could count on footsteps down the hall. I spent many a night between them, believing parents could protect kids from the burn of electricity.

And on a totally other note (ie., what I was thinking to write about before hearing the thunderclap), I was just ruminating over copywriting. I love it. Though I began in journalism and still keep my hand in, copywriting and marketing writing are my favorite sandboxes. When I work on a copywriting project, I'm actually getting paid to do what I love: work with words.

I wrote this bit of copy a few years ago, but it remains my favorite:

Porsche Design

At the intersection of sublime performance and supreme technology lies stylistic legend: Porsche Design. Engineered to wed form strictly to function, it’s a marriage of streamlined edges and powerful luxury. Their union bears the imprint of the finest materials available, creating a classic air that is as timeless as it is trend-setting. This style is backed by substance: a stunningly pure quality of craftsmanship built to withstand the rigors of test and time. That is the meaning of passion when it finds its partner in perfectionism. That is the essence of Porsche Design.

Monday, February 16, 2009

A twosome, not a threesome

ME: That baby looks really sweet. You can tell by her face how she'll look when she's older.
ADAM: Nervous smile.
ME: Don't worry.
ADAM: Looks like a baby to me.

Not like we have to get up any time in the morning

ME: If you don't use a condom with (name removed to protect the guilty) you might as well expect your dick to explode then and there.
ADAM: That's uh ... uh ... uh ... poetry.

Sunday, February 15, 2009

Today's writing

Make a decision. It doesn’t matter what you decide.

David and I once had a conversation about decisions. He was moving out of Marty and Peggy's and I was helping him, schlepping boxes of porn and Java textbooks.

“That’s your problem,” he said as we shoved his sagging cardboard vessels into my trunk. It would be a miracle if everything got to his new place only slightly damaged.

I slammed the hatch and settled myself behind the wheel. “Buckle up,” I said. “Goddammit. You get your black ass killed on your own time.”

The unexpected visitor(s)

Saturday, 2:49 pm, text message: "We're driving to San Fran today"
Sunday, 5 pm: J, Zaur, and their buddy Gary walk through the door. They grab the Hustler magazines for which I wrote a few $25 stories. Chaos reigns.

Friday, February 13, 2009

Thai tiger temple: Sanctuary or exploitative con job?

Adam and I were cruising through some acquaintances' honeymoon photos when we ran across snapshots that jerked my head up.

People posing with tigers, smiling. Tigers lying submissive, bellies exposed. Paws limp. The absurdity of the photos almost -- but not quite -- belied the chains around the animals' necks.

What the hell?

Google brought me to this: the Tiger Temple in Kanchanaburi Province outside Bangkok. Check out the webpage: Meditate with tigers! Stroke tigers! Have an up-close-and-personal encounter with tigers!

I have only slight knowledge of the Buddhist tradition, but I'm fairly certain it doesn't involve chaining animals and charging tourists $9 a throw for a photograph of them mugging with said chained animals.

Some argue that this saves the tigers from being poached in the wilderness. I couldn't be more opposed to poaching, but to me this is a thin argument. Two wrongs don't make a right, and in fact many conservationist efforts fail not because of malice, but out of good intentions gone wrong.

Care for the Wild International agrees. The animal welfare and conservation charity has produced a report alleging abuse and exploitation at the temple. In turn, the report says, tourists themselves are at risk of attack from the stressed animals.

This is why I hate zoos. And safaris. And any other endeavor that claims to protect animals while at the same time holding out a hand for the almighty dollar.

We're not the only creatures on this planet. That's one of the major precepts of Buddhism, from what I can see. Sometimes the best thing we can do for nature is to leave it alone.

Continental Flight 3407

At this time yesterday, none of those 50 people knew they were going to die. That cute little house in Clarence Center was standing. Beverly Eckert was still alive. The fragility of life is sometimes too much to take.

Wednesday, February 11, 2009

Random thoughts on marriage

I'm really realizing this is a long-term thing. Just because I get pissed at him for stealing part of my frozen yogurt, that doesn't mean I'm off and running for the lawyer. Even when he takes the Reese's Peanut Butter Cups.

When we're fighting and I say: "Do you have anything else to say?", it means I kind of want to wrap it up, and kind of want to keep it going.

The silent treatment is wasted on him. I mean totally wasted. Frustrating but also pretty cool.

He is not me. This is a shock and a tragedy and I have a lifetime to learn how to deal.

The cat is the ultimate arbiter. Let's face it.
Last night I critiqued Sean's story and thought: "Shit, am I being too hard on him?"

He responded without knowing I'd questioned myself. What a gift it is to work with writers who can take it straight up and dirty, the way it should be given.

Tuesday, February 10, 2009

Bukowski: "The Shoelace"

Rob sent this to me the other day, saying it fits in well with part of my project. Here's the old man himself reading it, and the poem below.

Bukowski beat - The Shoelace -

The Shoelace

a woman, a
tire that’s flat, a
disease, a
desire: fears in front of you,
fears that hold so still
you can study them
like pieces on a
it’s not the large things that
send a man to the
madhouse. death he’s ready for, or
murder, incest, robbery, fire, flood…
no, it’s the continuing series of small tragedies
that send a man to the
not the death of his love
but a shoelace that snaps
with no time left …
The dread of life
is that swarm of trivialities
that can kill quicker than cancer
and which are always there -
licence plates or taxes
or expired driver’s license,
or hiring or firing,
doing it or having it done to you, or
roaches or flies or a
broken hook on a
screen, or out of gas
or too much gas,
the sink’s stopped-up, the landlord’s drunk,
the president doesn’t care and the governor’s
lightswitch broken, mattress like a
$105 for a tune-up, carburetor and fuel pump at
sears roebuck;
and the phone bill’s up and the, market’s
and the toilet chain is
and the light has burned out -
the hall light, the front light, the back light,
the inner light; it’s
darker than hell
and twice as
then there’s always crabs and ingrown toenails
and people who insist they’re
your friends;
there’s always that and worse;
leaky faucet, christ and christmas;
blue salami, 9 day rains,
50 cent avocados
and purple

or making it
as a waitress at norm’s on the split shift,
or as an emptier of
or as a carwash or a busboy
or a stealer of old lady’s purses
leaving them screaming on the sidewalks
with broken arms at the age of 80.

2 red lights in your rear view mirror
and blood in your
toothache, and $979 for a bridge
$300 for a gold
and china and russia and america, and
long hair and short hair and no
hair, and beards and no
faces, and plenty of zigzag but no
pot, except maybe one to piss in
and the other one around your

with each broken shoelace
out of one hundred broken shoelaces,
one man, one woman, one
enters a

so be careful
when you
bend over.

In the Kitchen: Mediterranean Salmon with Couscous

I ran into Sean at Berkeley Bowl yesterday, and as we cringed amongst the madness, he commented that he liked the recipes on my blog. This inspired me to post last night's dinner, which was so yummy that it gave me the strength to run across the country and propose to Barack Obama. He turned me down, but maybe it was just the fish sauce on my breath.

Mediterranean Salmon with Couscous


  • 12 oz salmon fillets
  • 1 cup couscous
  • 2 medium zucchini, sliced
  • 1 large red onion, peeled and sliced
  • 4oz mushrooms, sliced
  • 1 large red pepper, sliced
  • 2tbsp olive oil
  • salt and pepper, fish sauce, chili powder, and whatever else makes it taste good to you
  • handful of fresh chopped chives and basil
  • few sprigs fresh basil for garnishing


1. Prepare couscous by following instructions on packet.

2. Pre-heat the griddle pan until slightly smoking.

3. Toss the vegetables in half the oil. Season and griddle for 8 - 10 minutes, turning once. Put the vegetables to one side.

4. Brush the salmon with the remaining oil, season and griddle for 6-8 minutes, turning once. The salmon is cooked when the flesh is opaque and flakes easily when tested with a fork.

5. Add the chives, basil and vegetables to the couscous and toss well.

6. Serve the vegetable couscous topped with the salmon. Garnish with a few basil leaves.

We made a few modifications. Original recipe here.

Grant Street, 9:45 am.

Love these whitish-pink blossoms.
A canopy of blossoms.
Adam's car, partially hidden by daisies.
Plum blossoms, with Joan's roof as a backdrop.
I do love the plum blossoms.
They start in late January and are gone by the end of February. Too short and so beautiful.
Our picket fence. At right is a stump that until yesterday was a tree.
See our yellow and blue fence at the end of the walkway?
Daisies and Berkeley City Hall.
Berkeley City Hall.

Monday, February 9, 2009

ITS-BOAT (487-2628)

I had two best friends in high school: a girl and a guy. I'm still in touch with them, albeit intermittently, and today I learned that my guy friend's mother passed away.

Freshman year, some pocket of water off the coast of San Diego. We're surfing choppy seas and I'm alternately excited and seasick. Tom's mom knows what she's doing. I calm down -- somewhat -- and have a hell of a memorable day.

I spent four years saying into the phone: "Hi, Mrs. Prescott, it's Allison. Is Tom there?" I can still hear her voice as she replied. I can picture the curls of her hair. Her son is one of the kindest, most decent people I've ever met. Somewhere, she is being rewarded for that.

Sunday, February 8, 2009

Look out: It's the DR Reunion!

Let the drinking begin. Left to right: Ro, Andrea, Warren, some dork, Ian. Everyone in the restaurant broke into applause when Ian walked in.
Someone was sitting on a funnel.
I'm probably not as drunk as I look, but I'm nowhere near sober. Judith stuck to Diet Cokes.
Adam heard all the stories he's heard before, plus a new one or two. Maybe.

More on MFA programs

Mike Daisey has responded to my post.

He writes:

I'm going to repeat a core assertion I made the other day from this post:

"I am speaking very clearly about the institutional choice to charge tuitions that have no relationship with the craft they are teaching. Individual teacher's complicity with this corrupt system will vary, depending on the specific institution's practices...If a teacher is teaching in an MFA program that charges a tuition its students can never pay through the craft, the onus is on the teacher to justify for his or herself how this can be ethical."

Institutions are built upon the collective efforts of individuals. The contention that "individual teachers' complicity with this corrupt system will vary" fingers these teachers as willing adherents to toxic entities, whether or not they hew to Daisey's concept of ethical behavior.

He continues:

The vast majority of theater MFA programs have very little financial support compared with other type of graduate programs, and the mean tuition is much higher--NYU's Tisch School of the Arts, for example, runs about $40K a year for three years, and that is without incidentals or interest on the loans it will require. If anyone who reads this knows where there are some studies of theater MFA program costs nationwide, post or email me.

Theater students seeking less costly alternatives to Tisch can choose from programs including:

- The University of Iowa, whose MFA in Theater Arts runs $22,346 yearly for Iowa residents, $35,228 yearly for nonresidents. That's including books and living expenses.

- Dell' Arte School of Physical Theater's , which costs $51,300 for the entire three-year program.

- The University of San Diego's MFA in Dramatic Arts, offered jointly with the Old Globe Theater. This highly selective program admits only a handful of students per year, but all receive a full-tuition scholarship and a monthly stipend. This financial support exceeds $50,000.

Daisey argues:

In the case of theater I believe a strong case can be made that the huge footprint of these MFA theater programs is saddling young artists with crushing debt that weakens the future of the form.

Who asked those young artists to sign on for expensive MFA programs, particularly when there are plenty of quality options that won't break the bank? As artists, we're fortunate enough to have many paths toward improving our craft. These exist both inside and outside the ivory tower. If I don't have the money to eat at a four-star restaurant, I make do with a salad at a cafe. Either way, I won't starve.

Daisey writes:

I would argue that perhaps one of the largest pitfall network effects of a capitalist society is the tragedy of the commons—in this case it is possible that a universally needed resource (future artists) is being exploited to ensure economic stability for the system today. By telling theater artists today that they must have training, and then making that training out of context to the industry they will be practicing their craft in we hurt the art form as a whole.

Exactly who is being exploited, and how? This is not indentured servitude, this is a willing decision to enter an academic program in the name of advancing one's craft. Other universally needed resources -- doctors, lawyers, educators -- pay their tuition and accumulate debt so they can enter their chosen professions. They have very little choice -- they are all locked into some sort of academic path. Artists aren't. In that sense, we are the lucky ones.

Mike Daisey on MFA programs

Mike Daisey is one of my favorite working artists. He's a powerhouse on the stage, a wit with the pen, and a passionate teacher with original, down-to-earth insights. In 2007, I spent a weekend at one of his solo-show intensives in New York City. I came away not only with pages of notes, but fresh ideas that I've since put to work in my performance and prose material.

That said: Daisey's raised my ire.

He writes in a recent blog post on MFA programs:

When I talk to young people in schools, I am constantly asked which MFA programs I would recommend. They are routinely lied to and told baldly that without MFA training they couldn't possibly be ready to perform for the public. In undergraduate programs professors of the theater (who very often have never come near the professional theater) push students on to further studies, encouraging them to believe they need further training before working.

In this way our best and brightest, who want so badly to do the right thing and are willing to sacrifice to make their careers work, get saddled with the largest debts, ensuring that they'll have the hardest time staying in the profession.

He goes on to assert that graduate-level theater programs are creating what he calls in a later blog post "a kind of Ponzi scheme, if you will."

So who are the Bernard Madoffs of theater, according to Daisey? Professors.

The equivalent of the corporate job in the American theater is to work in academia. Keep climbing the ladder, and then you can finally pull a salary which, while small, is still more stable and more supported than artists will receive. Then those artists become complicit in the system, and perpetuate the cycle of abuse by passing their debt on to the next generation.

It is a broken system, and a huge number of artists and schools are complicit in this failure.

Earlier, Daisey rails against the cost of MFA theater programs:

[F]uture artists get saddled with over $100,000 in debt for many three year programs.

What makes this reprehensible is that there is no rational way for the VAST majority artists to repay this massive debt through the practice of their art.

I got my MFA in writing, not theater. Still, my guess is that there's similarities between the two programs.

I never considered an MFA my solitary ticket to professional writing success. Before graduate school I'd already made strides in the writing world: publications, solo performances based on nonfiction pieces, and the adaptation of one of my shows for San Francisco television.

I entered St. Mary's with one intent: improving my craft. No one ever told me -- before grad school, as a student, or post-graduation -- that the MFA was a necessity for good writing. Quite the opposite: Many of my professors said straight-out that they knew plenty of great writers with no degrees, but a multitude of talent and life experience. There was no attempt to brainwash us into becoming professor clones. There was no Ponzi scheme. There was the love of writing and the desire to share it with others.

I'm angry at Daisey for slandering arts professors in this manner. My professors worked their asses off to help us become better writers, often setting their own work aside for the summer months in the process. If there was a conspiracy afoot on the third floor of Dante Hall, I never knew it.

I had criticisms of my program. I never made those a secret. But I never considered the MFA a bit of trickery to get me to spend my money footing what -- again, I must repeat -- Daisey is calling a Ponzi scheme. In fact, I'm not sure where he gets this $100,000 figure. Though I'm sure some blue-chip programs cost that amount or higher, you certainly don't need to spend six figures to get a quality grad-level arts education. Look at San Francisco State University, where a full-time graduate student who is a California resident spends $2,235 per quarter. That's a total of $6,705 per academic year, and if you take summer school, a grand total of $8,940. Let's say you spend the standard two years as a full-time MFA student at SF State. That's less than $20,000 for your degree, and State offers some of the more impressive (and, I might add, competitive) programs around.

Sure, even these figures are steep considering the lack of money-making potential in the arts. Do I regret the debt I incurred? Hell no. I look at my writing today and I compare it to 2004, when I first enrolled in grad school. The words world of difference do not suffice.

I've heard the accusation that MFA students are clones, groomed and trained to produce the same art and think in similar fashions. This is not my experience. Of my classmates at St. Mary's, several have book contracts (like Mary Volmer, author of Crown of Dust), others are balancing teaching and writing, and others are using their talents to carve their own paths. Plenty of my colleagues had no aspirations to become professional writers, not did they feel their degree might entitle them to make a living at their craft. They simply wanted to improve their work.

None of us is owed a living, regardless of our profession. We are not promised top-flight jobs, nor are we owed even subsistence-level salaries. Such is the promise and pitfall of a capitalist society.

It saddens me to see Mike Daisey, arguably one of the top artists in his profession at this time, hit out at people who make choices different than his. Some learn in the classroom, others in unheated Seattle garages. The venue is not the villain, nor is it the magic bullet. In the end, talent may not truly save us, but it our one true arbiter.

Friday, February 6, 2009

Thinking about things that irritate me sometimes gets me through my workout. (Other times I try to be all meditative, which is nice but today ... nah.)

Today's irritations:

- People who don't leash their dogs. Motherfucker, what is wrong with you?
- My disappointment after having dinner with one of Adam's improv cohorts last Friday. She seemed like an interesting, intelligent person and so I wanted to get to know her. Instead I got to hear her snap at someone on her cell phone for a while and then offer somewhat snappish, bitter responses when I tried to show interest. She showed no particular interest in getting to know us and I don't plan to hang out with her again.
- Improv as an art form. Adam loves it and it's done him well, but I would go absolutely apeshit up on that stage. I am not a team player.
- Certain barnyard noises.
- People who, even when the gym is half empty, gotta take the machine right next to yours.

You think I'm psycho. Great. Don't consider it an original thought.

Up in the land of Oaf

Writing group last night. A homecoming of sorts. We interrupted each other and laughed ourselves hoarse. In between, we talked writing.

Sharing The Project with Sean and Rob is both difficult and terrific. Difficult because these guys know me and have for years, terrific because, as Sean put it in email later: "Allison, you know that I'll treat your submission with the respect it deserves and all the bitchy anal-compulsive dissection that I can't help bringing to bear." That's what a fiendishly good writing group can do for you, and these are fiendishly good writers.

We had two newcomers, Seth and Eli, and it was far less complicated to share my work with them. I'm interested to hear what they say.

Sean and Rob didn't spare me last night. They like what I'm working on, like where it's going, but the digressions stop them. As Sean said: "You love metaphor and metaphor loves you ... but you need discipline." Rob noted that the digressions don't seem to be in my voice, which Adam told me a month or so ago.

We also drank a bunch of beer and ate pretzels, both essential for any productive meeting.

Thursday, February 5, 2009

Oscar Grant's buddies to file suit

Nice to know John Burris is continuing to stoke his clients' gravy train:

Five men who were with Oscar Grant when he was shot dead by a BART police officer on New Year's Day asked the transit agency for $1.5 million Wednesday, saying their civil rights were violated when officers detained them at the Fruitvale Station in Oakland.

By submitting a legal claim against BART, Grant's friends - brothers Nigel and Jackie Bryson, Michael Greer, Carlos Reyes and Fernando "June" Anicete - signaled their intent to sue. Their attorney, John Burris, has already filed a $25 million claim on behalf of Grant's family. The $1.5 million would be divided among the five.

Look. I've lived in an urban area long enough to know this brand of little thug. They should thank their lucky fucking stars that lawyers like John Burris are aching to take their case and thereby get themselves in the headlines.

Could it be said any better?

Oh yeah!

Sean snaps out with a blithering critique of ... just read it. Between this and Adam's early-morning ponderings (Do hookers have frequent-fucker cards? If you fill them up, do you get a free blow job?), I'm having a pretty kickass morning, rain be damned.

Wednesday, February 4, 2009

Looking at a "cute-couple" picture ...

ME: He's got a lot more character in his face than she does. She's a much more traditional-looking person.

ADAM: And by "traditional-looking person", you mean bimbo?

ME: Uh ...

ADAM: I mean, come on. Why are you doing shit like that with me?


Why do the babies starve
When there's enough food to feed the world
Why when there are so many of us
Are there people still alone

Why are the missiles called peacekeepers
When they're aimed to kill
Why is a woman still not safe
When she's in her home

Love is hate
War is peace
No is yes
And we're all free

But somebody's gonna have to answer
The time is coming soon
Amidst all these questions and contradictions
There are some who seek the truth

Tell me Why do the babies starve
When there's enough food to feed the world
Why when there are so many of us
Are there people still alone

Why are the missiles called peace keepers
When they're aimed to kill
Why is a woman still not safe
When she's in her home

Love is hate
War is peace
No is yes
And we're all free

But somebody's gonna have to answer
The time is coming soon
When the blind remove their blinders
And the speechless speak the truth

Tell me Why do the babies starve
When there's enough food to feed the world
Why when there're so many of us
Are there people still alone

Why are the missiles called peace keepers
When they're aimed to kill
Why is a woman still not safe
When she's in her home

Love is hate
War is peace
No is yes
And we're all free

- Tracy Chapman

Tuesday, February 3, 2009

None of them was you.

One wanted to buy a small African country, just to learn how to run something.

One was Employee Number Nine.

One used to snort coke off the webbing between his thumb and forefinger, but gave it up to go to Stanford.

Baby, I love you.

So much talk, so little said

Warren mentioned today that he'd heard a piece on PRI about loneliness. The piece included a study that found Americans had an average of three what they called "confidantes" 25 years ago, and today have zero. This, he noted, in spite of the internet, email, and social networks.

Walking toward downtown Berkeley from northside of campus, I mused on a related topic. When I was in my 20s, the conversations seemed so packed. They seemed meaningful. Today they just seem like a bunch of bullshit. That's why I largely avoid the phone: With most people, there's not much at all to say.

Did life change, or did I?

Monday, February 2, 2009

When colds hit McGee's Farm

It occurs to me

That if you let yourself cry over what was, you have more room for what will be.

I want to leave that statement there, unfettered. But that's too vague, too much a target for erroneous deciphering.

I will tell you this, though: It concerns neither present relationship, laptop, nor cat litter.

From The Project

“Finished,” he said, dropping the hood and startling me with its clang. I hadn’t realized my car was so heavy, could make so much noise. I never knew it could sound that authoritative. Whenever I got behind the wheel, I felt vulnerable. It was one of those feelings that had no logic and was all that much more powerful for the fact.

“Already?” I’d wanted it to take a while, longer, all afternoon. All week I’d lived for this moment. Even as I was with someone else, I could only think of Adam’s fingers, capable and assured, fixing my car, his grin as he saw me pull up.

“Not that hard.”

The tears came from a place I’d never been, a midday lightning storm from a Caribbean sky. It was this easy for another person to support you, to help you. It was this simple for one person to make a difference in another’s life.

Words of (semi) wisdom for beginning freelancers

1) Understand what you can do, and what you can't. No one can do it all, and a niche (or several specialty areas) are far more important than advertising oneself as a jack-of-all-trades. How often do you eat at Johnny's Chinese and Donuts? Same principle.

2) Don't get wrapped up in protracted interview processes. If they've got you on the hook for six phone calls at an hour apiece, you've already wasted nearly a full work day. Motivated clients will quickly understand if your skill set fits with their needs, and will be eager to move forward.

3) Get everything in writing. Always. Standard writer's agreements minimize problems down the road. If a potential client refuses to sign an agreement, wish him or her well and move on.

4) Don't give it away. Free work is the devil's playground. Why would a client pay down the road for what they're currently getting for free?

5) Treat your job like a job. Many freelancers (including myself) resent the imposed structure of an office, but gaining your clients' respect means proving that you're a disciplined professional. Deliver on time, and make sure your work is worth what the client is paying for it.

6) Be accessible, but not a beck-and-call girl. I try to answer client emails within a few hours at most. However, I do not tend to make myself available outside of typical working hours (8 am to 5 pm, Monday through Friday), though I often will work on the weekends. Set honest, sustainable boundaries and your clients will respect you for it.

7) Keep work samples and references close at hand. Most clients will want to see samples of your work before they hire you. Online portfolios are a good idea as well, and you should definitely consider launching your own website. Most professional websites will run you between $350-$500, depending on the number of pages as well as other factors. Though I don't often procure business from my website itself, a website gives you credibility as a professional.

8) Cliche alert, but true: Have fun with your work. You're a freelancer for a reason. Enjoy it.

Sunday, February 1, 2009

Spent Super Bowl on Andrea's couch, listening to her and Adam banter and shriek at the game. Total good times.

Super Bowl Sunday

Flipping off "Another Berkeley Business for Peace."
Ozzie of Ozzie's Soda Fountain died. RIP.
Be it convertible or Corolla, Adam's always loved driving my car.
Passing the Washington School near our place.
See our colorful picket fence?
The plum blossoms are here!
Why am I ALWAYS wearing this sweater when we take pictures?
I love, love, love the plum blossoms!
This single flower blooms every year along our walkway.
The last time I had a horrible hangover, it was thanks to sangria. I vowed never to do that again.

Last night I drank sangria. And drank and drank. I told the people at the party that I was sure to be out of commission in a few hours. But I'm fine! At 34 years old, I may just have built up a tolerance.
I'm having an insomniac few hours, so to lull myself to sleep I looked up one of my favorite controversial topics: wedding etiquette.

Oh man. I'm so glad my wedding's behind me. Brides can be bitches and many grooms should just get while the getting is good. And with that, to all a good night.