Monday, April 01, 2013

Hey, I have a new website. It's at

Thursday, February 14, 2013

      Jill Sobule, in my office, with her iPad, and her thinking cap on.  We were figuring out our show order for the Jill & Julia Show which we did at Space, in Evanston, IL on January 26th.  We filmed the show and we're making a Jill & Julia website (should by up by the end of March.)  We have several shows booked for July, and even one coming up, March 16th in Hartford, CT at the Mark Twain House.  The Mark Twain house! That's awesome.  I'm really looking forward to it.  (Jill is an amazing rock/folk singer and musician, see her website

      Well, I'm gearing up for my book release, April 2nd. I have several appearances and book related events. I will be getting the information up soon. Oh! Oh! Oh! I'm also going to have my own website, which will help promote the book, up in a matter of... well, probably several weeks.  But still! Things are in motion.

     Okay, books read in January 2013:

     1.)  "In the Shadow of the Banyon," written by Vaddey Ratner.
     2.)  "Where'd You Go, Bernadette," written by Maria Semple
     3.)  "This Book Will Make You Smarter," a compilation of essays edited by John Brockman

    I enjoyed all these books.  Reading "Where'd You Go, Bernadette" was especially sweet because it was written by a friend of mine, one who I greatly admire and am deeply inspired by.  Sweet because I had taken so long to read it - it came out last June and I had followed it's success with joy, and yet - I think I was afraid to read it! In fact, Maria read my book even before I read hers - and that was a very good thing because I was so blown away by "Where'd You Go" that I wonder if I'd have even sent her my book if I'd realized what a great and funny and skillful writer she's become.  I mean, I knew it before, I loved her previous book, "This One is Mine" but "Where'd You Go...."  Wow.  I laughed so hard while reading this book, once I laughed so friggin hard that Mulan asked me to leave the room because she was trying to practice piano and my cackling was interfering with her concentration.  Let me tell you something, Mulan practices piano LOUDLY.  So this just shows how loud I must have been laughing.  I was completely surprised by what was happening in the book, how it turned out, how nutty it got - and yet how understandable and justified and quirky and odd and meaningful.  Poignant, even.  When I finished the book, it stayed with me for a long time. I kept thinking about Bernadette - I still think of her like an actual person, and not a character in a book.

    "This Book Will Make You Smarter" is one of those John Brockman edited books - he runs this organization called The Edge.  He runs the website for it,  And he puts out a book every year with essays by influential big thinkers, mostly scientists.  "This Book Will Make You Smarter" is the perfect bedside book - the essays are short, but thought provoking.  A couple of the essays are still banging around in my head - one by Brian Eno, the musician, and recording producer entitled "Ecology."  In this essay he beautifully distinguishes between old world thinking: religious, pyramidic, hierarchical, with new world thinking: complex, web like, "an infinity of nested and co-dependant hierarchies."  It's not something I hadn't thought about before, in fact, for the last ten years it's all I have been thinking about!  But I love how succinctly Brian Eno describes it, how starkly, and elegantly.

     The other essay in this book I keep turning around in my head was written by Gloria Origgi, a French philosopher who works at the Insitut Jean Nicod.  She wrote an essay called "Kakonomics."  She posits that most economic theory is based on the idea that people want to provide lower quality goods and receive higher quality goods.  This is logical, right?  People want to give less and receive more.  But in practice, people are wily.  People practice mutual un-spoken agreement to each provide lower quality goods.  One example she gives is one about Italian builders, "Italian builders never deliver when they've promised to, but the good thing is, they don't expect you to pay them when you've promised to, either."  The idea is that if you talk the talk about exchanging high quality work, but in fact understand that you will both actually deliver mediocre work, then the pressure is relieved on both sides and therefore both sides gain.  But of course, this behavior has an - as she puts it - an "overall worsening" effect on our society and culture.  When I read this essay I couldn't stop seeing examples of it everywhere. I'd never thought about that before!

     "In the Shadow of the Banyon" was a brilliant book too!  Wow, so many good books out there.  It's about a Cambodian family during the rise of the Khmer Rouge. Which - I didn't even realize that the Khmer Rouge means Cambodians, Red!  Communists.  I mean, I knew they were communists. But I never thought about the name before. Jeez. Anyway, it was a beautiful written book, really tragic and compelling.  I recommend it highly.

     Can I just say that reading about insane historical episodes, like the rise of the Khmer Rouge in Cambodia - people can be so crazy, whole groups of people can get so frighteningly nutty.  There are so many examples of it, not just the Nazis (the ubiquitous and overused example) but everywhere.  I used to have such a benevolent view of humanity, but as I get older, I just get more and more jaded, and frankly scared.  Scared of big crowds. It even extends to football games, all those people cheering, it just gives me the willies.

     Okay, before I drag this blog post into the mud, let's move on to movies.  During January, I had my friends Richard T. Jameson and Kathleen Murphy and Jim Emerson come for five days of movie watching.  Many of the films listed here were watched with them, a delightful group of fellow film enthusiasts.  We had a lovely little winter film festival among friends.

    Films watched in January 2013:

    1.)  On the Waterfront, 1954, directed by Elia Kazan
    2.)  The Devil's Envoys, (french title: Les Visiteurs Du Soir,) 1942, directed by Marcel Carne
    3.)   My Summer of Love, 2004, directed by Pawel Pawilikowski
    4.)   Searching for Sugar Man, 2012, directed by Malik Bendjelloul
    5.)   Open Range, 2003, directed by Kevin Costner
    6.)   Canyon Passage, 1946, directed by Jaques Tourneur
    7.)   The Gatekeepers, 2012, directed by Dror Moreh
    8.)   Celeste & Jesse Forever, 2012, directed by Lee TOland Krieger
    9.)    Assault on Precinct 13, 1976, directed by John Carpenter
   10.)   Silver Linings Playbook, 2012, directed by David O. Russell
   11.)  Martha Marcy May Marlene, 2011, directed by Sean Durkin
   12.)   Me and My Gal, 1932, directed by Raoul Walsh
   13.)   Coriolanus, 2011, directed by Ralph Feinnes
   14.)   The Beaches of Agnes, 2008, directed by Agnes Varda
   15.)   Housekeeping, 1987, directed by Bill Forsyth
   16.)   Panic in the Streets, 1950, directed by Elia Kazan
   17.)   Vicky Cristina Barcelona, 2008, directed by Woody Allen

    Whew.  Lotta good shit.  Where to start?

     I'd never seen On The Waterfront before, but I'd watched so many acting-class renditions of the seminal scenes, the ones with Brando and Eva Marie Saint, the ones with Brando and Rod Steiger - I felt I had seen it.  I have to say, it's probably unfair to the film itself, to be a person who'd never seen it, when it's such an iconic film.  A film that gave birth to so many cultural references.  It's inevitable that it both lived up to my expectations -- even exceeding them -- and also disappointed me at the same time.  I didn't realize that the film was a big mea culpa about flirting with communism - for Kazan and for Schulberg (the writer.)  That seemed to scream out all over the place, making it more of a "message" movie than I feel comfortable with.  Brando is unbelievably fantastic, you can see how he changed acting forever with his natural, animalistic, intelligent, realistic performance.

    I watched My Summer of Love two more times! I showed it to Richard, Kathleen and Jim, and then when Jill came for her show, we watched it too.  I love that movie. One of the actresses, Natalie Press, gives such a believable and delicate performance.  Emily Blunt (her film debut) is delightful too, but I'm not going to go on because I wrote about how much I loved this movie before.

     Searching for Sugar Man!  I've seen it three times now.  I begin to cry the moment we first see Rodriquez.  This film must win the Academy Award!  (Even though I have not seen the other nominated documentaries, so that is unfair, but still, I say it!)

     Canyon Passage is a wonderful western. Someday I'm going to hunker down and force myself to list my ten favorite westerns.  Canyon Passage is going to be on that list.

     Oh, The Gatekeepers.  That's probably nominated for an Oscar too - in the documentary category.  So, I have seen another nominated doc.  Okay, I have to say - it's very very very good.  It's a doc with interviews from all the surviving former heads of Shin Bet - the Israeli security agency (like our CIA.)  They basically say that the whole war with the Palestinians is deeply flawed and will only lead to things getting worse and worse.  This aligns with my own thinking already, but it's was riveting and nice to see people who were in the position of waging this war saying the same thing.

    OMG, Assault on Precinct 13.  So brilliant!  Pulp film making at it's very best.  The director, John Carpenter is so good - the movie is really compelling, full of action and campy seventies acting styles.  GREAT.  Just great.  And the star, Austin Stoker, never had his career take off after starring in this wonderful film. He went back to his job being a union driver for other films.  Somehow this makes this film even more important.  God, I have to see Escape from New York again.

    I liked Silver Linings Playbook, but didn't love love love it.  It was okay.  I really thought about Martha Marcy May Marlene quite a bit afterwards.  Elizabeth Olsen (little sister of the Olsen twins) is quite amazing.  She's going to be a major actress, I think.

    Me and My Gal, I watched with Jill Sobule.  We liked it.  A lot.  The film is the first-time pairing of Spencer Tracy and Joan Bennett - who have palpable chemistry (they went on to star together in Father of the Bride.)

    The Beaches of Agnes might have changed me forever. I really didn't know who Agnes Varda was. Now I am all over her. I loved this documentary she made about herself.  It hits exactly the right tone.  Now I have all her other other films, I got a box set and I'm making my way through them.  How was I not turned onto Agnes Varda before?  She is so up my alley!  Right now I'm idolizing her, I'm in an Agnes Varda thrall.  But more on her next month after I've seen everything she's done.  I have seen so many of those French New Wave films, and never really knew anything about Agnes Varda - only recognizing her name.  Now, to me, she is the greatest of all those filmmakers!  Her worldview, her way to seeing, is very close to my own heart - how I try to see the world.

     I am smitten with Agnes Varda.  St. Agnes, that's what the next pope should do, canonize Agnes Varda.

     Speaking of which, what about the Pope resigning????  My mind is reeling.   I think there's a scandal embedded in it somewhere - something smells fishy about this resignation.  And, if the Church can break with a 700 year old tradition of Pope's serving until their death, why not reverse some other antiquated things?  Their views on birth control, for example.  Do you think that the Pope saw "Letting Go of God"?  Did he see the part where I play out my fantasy for the Pope to make a big apology for all the unnecessary suffering the Church has caused?

    But seriously, I am hungry for more information.  Did the Pope read "The Vatican Exposed: Money,  Murder & the Mafia"?  Or "In God's Name: An Investigation into the Murder of Pope John Paul 1"?  Did he quit because if he didn't quit he'd be whacked?  I know, I sound like a conspiracy theorist.  But when it comes to the Catholic Church, I think many of those theories have some truth in them....

    Lent just started, and although I am no longer a believing Catholic (by a very long stretch) I do love Lent.  I gave up alcohol and chocolate, which I do every year, and have since I was 21.  46 days without alcohol, people.  Can you stand it?  And chocolate!  It's hard, I tell you, it's challenging.  And speaking of fish, (above, re: the Pope's resignation)  I try to eat fish on Fridays during Lent too.  Just a part of the Catholic gal inside me that must be satisfied with some good old-fashioned denial.

    I'm going to end with a cute picture of Michael (the husband) and Mulan (the daughter) which I took recently.   Mulan wanted to paint one wall of her bedroom with blackboard paint so she could draw all over it.  I love this pic because we had such a fun day doing this.  Also, I like that Michael is wearing a "Jetpack" T-shirt - which is a Jill Sobule song.

Ta Ta until next month!

Thursday, January 10, 2013

A New Year

The above picture was taken by Michael at the Lincoln Park Zoo in mid-December.

We saw many more primates later in the month, in Costa Rica, where we went on vacation.  But this picture is my favorite.  Looking at her expression causes me to relax.

What is new?  Well, we just returned from a two week vacation in the Yucatan and Costa Rica.  We went to many ruins in Mexico.  We didn't realize that we'd be there with the crazies - the people who thought the world would end on Dec. 21st.  But we didn't have any run-ins and we mostly avoided those people.  My favorite time in Mexico was in Valladolid, a small colonial town with a great folk art museum, which is actually just a guy's house who opens it up every day for an hour or so for people to look at his amazing collection of Mexican art.  Casa de los Venados │ Oficial Site  It's really worth the trip to see this house, with it's perfectly chosen collection of art.  Some of the art was commissioned just for them, be sure to check out the dining room table with each chair back depicting the image of a famous Mexican historical figure.  I had a fantasy of going to this city for a month and just writing and reading every day while mosing around in the afternoons.

Then we went to Costa Rica, and joined a group.  It was a family-active-travel-vacation kind of thing.  Every day we did some different active thing: surfed, zip-lined, hiked, biked, white water rafted, kayaked.  It wasn't too exhausting, but kept us on the move.  We all had a fabulous time.  Mulan didn't want to come home.

Jill Sobule and I are getting ready to do a little tour in the summer with our Jill & Julia show.  We have a show here in Evanston at Space on January 26th.  I will get the rest of the schedule up soon.

I'm having a website designed, and it will be launched in a couple of months, maybe sooner - we'll see how it goes.

I'm also getting ready to start promoting my book, "If It's Not One Thing, It's Your Mother" which will be published on April 3rd by Simon and Schuster.  I will have a schedule soon for that too. I want to do as many book store readings as possible, I'm so excited to do that.  I know I'll be at the 92nd Street Y in NYC on April 2, and then I'll be doing a week of publicity there.  More on that soon.

But for now, I thought I'd list the books I read in December 2012:

1.) The Bin Ladens: An Arabian Family in the American Century, written by Steve Coll.
2.) Private Empire: ExxonMobil and American Power, written by Steve Coll.
3.) In Praise of Messy Lives, written by Katie Roiphe
4.) The Neighborhood Project: Using Evolution to Improve My City, One Block at a Time, written by David Sloan Wilson
5.) Miss Minimalist: Inspiration to Downsize, Declutter, and Simplify, written by Francine Jay

Of all these books, the Bin Laden book was the most fun, the most informative, the most engrossing, and maybe even the best written (Although they were all very good.)  I saw Steve Coll on "Up With Chris Hays" - my don't miss political show, and they were talking about his ExxonMobil book.  So before we left on vacation, I got that and the Bin Laden book which he'd written in 2008 and loaded it onto my Kindle, along with the Miss Minimalist book. I was so absorbed with the Bin Laden book, and after each chapter I had to tell Michael and Norma (Michael's mother who was travelling with us) what I'd just read.  God, that book, that story - the story of the Bin Laden family - it really should be a mini-series on HBO or Showtime or something.  Just astonishing.  I had no idea!  So many interesting characters.  I only had the most rudimentary understanding of that family, how they came to power, how friggin' many of them there are!  I didn't know that the family had basically disowned Osama for years before 9/11.  It's a complicated story, and Coll is a magnificent writer - so clear and stark and dispassionate, and letting the facts speak for themselves.  Salem!  Salem is the oldest son, who died years before 9/11 in a plane accident (the father died in a plane accident too - lots of exploding planes in this family's history) and Salem is such a bigger-than-life character, he seems fictional.  He is obstinate, silly, smart, insightful, indulgent, superficial, but a great person-manager. I mean a wonderful connector.  Anyway, I would recommend this book above almost all others for the month.

The ExxonMobile book was enlightening, I mean, I know nothing about the oil business.  It's not a take-down, just once again, Coll dispassionately relating the facts.  I found myself much more sympathetic to ExxonMobile, and more angry at ExxonMobile after reading it.  I really was an idiot when it came to this area of our world.  It was a long, often boring slog however.  I think Coll made it as interesting as possible - and he did a good job. There is actually a lot of intrigue and action - and I'm thankful I have this understanding now, I think reading this book has made me a much more aware and informed person... But I didn't go gaga over this book like I did the Bin Laden one.

Katie Roiphe is a very good writer, and I enjoyed her essays so much.  I love the title.  I also enjoyed "The Neighborhood Project." I read David Sloan Wilson's book "Darwin's Cathedral" and even heard him speak at Cal-Tech in Pasadena several years ago. That's a good book too...

"Miss Minimalist" became this wonderful way for Mulan and I to have several great talks on our trip. Mulan finished her book, "To Kill a Mockingbird" about halfway through our vacation and didn't have another book. So she began nabbing my Kindle and reading Miss Minimalist.  The book is just a 99 cent Kindle single - but it's so much more than a how-to guide. It's really about morality, about a whole world-view, and getting away from the consumerism that can encroach on our lives and shape our expectations, and ultimate enslave us. I love Francine Jay - I am really a fan.  I already read "The Joy of Less" by her - her hardback book.  I have a ways to go to get where I want to be with my "stuff" but she is helping to show me the way towards where I want to go.  What struck me about this Kindle Single was that it went beyond stuff.  It was about keeping our lives simple in general. Not having such complicated "to-do" lists, and accepting the fact that the most valuable thing we have is time, and spending that time mindfully means not being able to "do" as many things as we might want to.  The book was perfect for Mulan to read at age 13.  And it was perfect for me to read as well.  We had a great time discussing this book all through Mexico and Costa Rica.

Okay, movies I watched in December, 2012.

1.) Big, 1988, directed by Penny Marshall
2.) Bad Lieutenant: Port of Call - New Orleans, 2009, directed by Werner Herzog
3.) The Bakery Girl of Monceau, 1963, directed by Eric Rhomer
4.) Suzanne's Career, 1963, directed by Eric Rhomer
5.) Sunrise, 1927, directed by F.W. Murnau
6.) Letter to Elia (documentary about Elia Kazan) 2010, Martin Scorsese
7.) Gilles Wife, 2004, directed by Frederic Fonteyne
8.) My Night at Maude's, 1969, directed by Eric Rhomer
9.) A Tree Grows in Brooklyn, 1945, directed by Elia Kazan
10.) Boomerang, 1947, directed by Elia Kazan
11.) Once Upon a Time in Anatolia, 2011, directed by Nuri Bilge Ceylon
12.) Gentleman's Agreement, 1947, directed by Elia Kazan
13.) Pinky, 1949, directed by Elia Kazan
14.) A Streetcar Named Desire, 1951, directed by Elia Kazan
15.) Viva Zapata, 1952, directed by Elia Kazan

Oh, what a great movie month. As you can see, I got the box set of Elia Kazan movies, and I'm making my way through them. In fact, the other day I watched On The Waterfront (but that's a January movie...) for the first time.  The box set is quite nice and has a lot of tantalizing extras.  Frankly, I think Kazan's "A Tree Grows in Brooklyn" is his best film so far!  I watched the movie twice, and the then with the commentary.  Even with the commentary going I cried my eyes out when the dad dies.  Of course that movie resonates deeply with me, the alcoholism, the Irish stuff, the daughter who loves a dad who is tragic.  The whole thing just gets me. I hadn't seen it as an adult. It's even better than I thought it was.

The one thing that I have to get over (and over and over again) is that Kazan casts women who don't fit in the part they're playing, sometimes to a hilarious degree!!  Dorothy McGuire did a great job in the part of Katie Nolan in "A Tree" but she does not seem Irish working class in any way whatsoever.  In Pinky, Jeanne Crain is supposed to be playing a mulatto woman and she's hilariously Nordic looking. It's just ridiculous.  Even in "On the Waterfront", Eva Marie Saint's character seems like a WASP Connecticut waif with perfectly straight teeth and a patrician bearing and it's very hard to accept that the nun's boarding school really took every wisp of lower working class mannerisms and vocal tone out of her.  But once I get past that, I enjoy the movies a lot.

Speaking of commentaries, on "Sunrise," there is a lovely commentary by John Bailey, the renowned cinematographer.  Now that I've watched so many movies with commentaries, I realize there is a big range - some of them are just people rambling on and on about almost nothing. Some are really informative and enlightening - John Bailey's commentary on "Sunrise" is FANTASTIC.   Really a don't miss.

I watched "Once Upon a Time in Anatolia" AGAIN.  Oh god I love that movie. I could watch it several more times. Andrew O'Heir at Salon described it as a CSI episode written by Anton Chekov. That is the most perfect description. This movie might have changed my life, I don't know. I love it SO MUCH.  I've seen it four times now...

I saw "My Night At Maude's" in college, but was glad to see it again. It was both better and worse than I remembered it.  "Viva Zapata" is great! Marlon Brando - I'm kind of obsessing about Marlon Brando right now.  God he was so good.  The way he behaves in film - it's like he knew how to mainline heroin - what I mean is, he does not get in his own way. He really seems like he is the person - he just takes your breath away - even when he's playing a Mexican revolutionary!

I have to write a shout out to "Gilles Wife" - a lovely nuanced film. I hate the ending, however. It doesn't belong with the film.  A subtler ending would have made the film absolutely perfect.  But the film is still wonderful - great performances.

Okay, I am getting ready for my friends Jim Emerson, Richard T. Jameson and Kathleen Murphy - who all live in Seattle - to arrive this afternoon so we can commence our annual winter film festival here in my house. For five days we will be watching at least AT LEAST two movies a day.  I can't wait!