Wednesday, December 23, 2009

Figure, it's the holidays

Ice skating for the holidays? Check! I didn't look like this lady, but I did get into a groove, picking up speed as I spun around the rink. Calling all fans of "White Christmas:" doesn't she look like a Haynes sister?

Monday, December 21, 2009

Big Hugs

I may have hinted at it earlier, but come the next few weeks of December and well into the new year, I will be talking about my cinematic experiences a bit more often. Good movies are flowing through theaters, or at least are supposed to be. I will probably go strong in this manner straight through to the end of "awards season," and it is then that I, once again, will become utterly jaded and go back to my March-November rules about going to movies: foreign and documentary ONLY! With the exception of Woody Allen. And Kate Winslet. And...

So I tried not to get too hyped up about Pedro Almodovar's new film, "Broken Embraces." I watched no trailers, read no reviews, and limited my exposure to one article in The New York Times way back about the filmmaker and his muse, Penelope Cruz...

Nice rhyme. I know, thanks! And what a muse she is. Man, he loves her. But who wouldn't. She is beautiful, funny, and, let's face it, she is a star! She is a delicate creature who owns the room in which she finds herself, or rather, puts herself. In complete control, she encompasses the screen with that same magnetic presence characteristic of the greats: Hepburn #1 and Hepburn #2, Ingrid Bergman, Sophia Loren. I don't mean to be going gaga (oooh, Gaga...) for Penelope, but she nails the character in this film the way she did in "Volver" and the way she did in Woody Allen's "Vicky Christina Barcelona."

Cynics, romantics, and everyone in between: don't miss "Broken Embraces." I wanted to escape into something yesterday afternoon. By all means, I do not mean I wanted to tune out. Life's too short to venture out in the rain, pay $10 and do something that I can do from my couch. I wanted to be carried away to that "other" world that is a fabulous film. And I was. The landscape of an Almodovar film is like the ocean: it is mysteriously beautiful on the outside, but once you dive in, there are treasures, both surprising and haunting, and buried deep within. And they appear, illuminated, like a revelation.

The film surprised me in how a film-maker can be both modest and self-reflexive at the same time. On the other hand, it did not surprise me that, yet again, Almodovar gets close to the bottom of human beings and their nature of imperfection. The relationships he shows prosper not from cliches but from the unique way we find one another. Characters in an Almodovar film lean askew from their downfalls and weakness and it is for this reason that they stumble into, over, and upon one another. Even the most beautiful actress (Penelope) can be worn ragged by destruction, humiliation, temptation. But she is human. You can see it in her eyes.

I cherish the way this story is told, frame by frame but judge for yourself and enjoy. Sure there were problematic elements to the film, but it's a great one in a year a bad ones, which makes it lovely and memorable. I feel so often I walk out of a film and forget about it the next day. Perhaps that's the intention: to transport temporarily and let people get on. But film is an art and when it is excellent and well-made, it can be magical. I don't mean to be negative toward other films, but you know what I mean. Sometimes those feelings you get in your seat (some of euphoria, some of suspense) are strong enough to last beyond the theater. Ideally they will lift off the screen and into your head, and from there, make their way into your own work or art. One medium to the next, inspiration has the power to be boundless (if you will let it). Translation doesn't have to be limited to subtitles.

One final comment slash suggestion. And it's only a suggestion, not a requirement. Remember way back a few weeks when I also went gaga over "Women on the Verge of a Nervous Breakdown?" If not, review. I recommend watching that film (it's 80 minutes, no biggie) before heading out to see "Embraces." I won't say why, but having recently watched the 80's romp, I felt further engaged with "Embraces." Engaged in Embraces. Sounds like the perfect romantic comedy. Except Almodovar's isn't. Like many films this year, it's genre-less and leaves the interpreting up to you: the audience. Me: still pondering how films are made. "Broken Embraces:" ambiguous yet trustworthy. Like a verse that leaves you breathless...

Friday, December 18, 2009

Past, Present, and Future - It Keeps Carolling

Just think: on this day, December 18th, in 1843, the world had yet to meet Ebenezer Scrooge, or Tiny Tim, or Bob Cratchit. Readers and Dickens-ians alike would have to wait one more day for what would be Charles Dickens' heartwarming tale of what, not who, 'the Christmas spirit' really is. According to Garrison Keillor's "The Writer's Almanac," Dickens' previous novel had been a flop and he needed some success to warm his bed. He thought that a holiday themed tale would do the trick. And do the trick it did. It has all the fixings for a good Christmas story: family, loneliness, ghosts, parties, lost love, children, financial woes, forgiveness and, ultimately, the gift of giving. An absolute precursor to cinematic classics like "It's A Wonderful Life," the story is timeless in its message: life is beautiful, so much in fact, that all we must be is grateful.

Thursday, December 17, 2009

A Secret Garden

For those of you 'angels' who frequent Runyon Canyon multiple times a week (you know who you are) you may recognize the image above. Amidst the Hollywood Hills, it's just another gate surrounding another home, perhaps historic. The last time I passed it, it made me think of Frances Hodgson Burnett's novel "The Secret Garden." I like to imagine the author found a door much like this one for which she found the inspiration for her story about a sad little girl who finds life again in a secret garden.

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Fame Monster

Eh, Eh (There's Nothing Else I Can Say)

Monday, December 14, 2009

Just Dance

What are you doing tonight?

Wednesday, December 9, 2009

My Favorite Things

On and off for the past week, I have been under the weather. The below-freezing temperatures outside don't help either, so it's been a real chore to stay healthy. On the other hand, it does make it slightly easier to hibernate. However, resting isn't something I do very well. Sure, I know how to relax and have a little lounge, but most of the time I like to be active. Even when I know I should take it easy, I lean more towards the get-up-and-go approach: the kind that often slams you into the ground. And, alas, it is the reason that last week's cold crept on me this week. In the end, the only possibility was and is rest.

Inspired by my friend Sophie (who said she was giving herself a treat by resting) I decided I would do the same and take a full day off. If I'm so high and mighty about my ability to turn the energy on, I might as well challenge myself to do the opposite. Can I turn the switch off? Here's a hint: I didn't leave the house ONCE yesterday and I loved it! It was a challenge for me, but I feel so much better today! While taking it easy, I prescribed myself subtle remedies and kept track of what worked and what didn't. Counting down, here is my top ten list of to-do's (or, aka: Mastering the Art of Cozy Resting) when it comes to feeling better:

10. Non-stop cups of herbal tea (preferably with a glob of wildflower honey dipped from a honey stick).

9. Wrap up in 1, maybe 2 blankets, and remain in a horizontal position as long as possible (socked feet may or may not poke out from the bottom of your self-made cocoon).

8. Sorry, Al Gore, but keep the heater pumping all day (but turn off when you do # 7).

7. If you're getting restless, whip up some cookies with baking goods stashed in the pantry (you know you have them).

6. Take a scalding hot shower mid-day (you know, the kind that steams up every mirror and window in the house) and then change from pajama uniform #1 into pajama uniform #2 (who says you can't feel rejuvenated?).

5. Open a window once or twice for a blast of fresh air (even when it's freezing outside).

4. Skip your favorite yoga class, sorry (no, seriously, skip it).

3. Relish in a good book (maybe short stories, like currently Lorrie Moore's "Birds of America").

2. Dinner is Won Ton Soup with dumplings (have someone you love drop it by).

1. And finally, watch a movie for the ultimate distraction (ideally, make it a classic, 3-hour long film, like "The Sound of Music") -- it'll get you singing despite the stuffy nose!

Tuesday, December 8, 2009

"Our Practice Is Japanese"

Precisely one month ago, I heard Zoketsu Norman Fischer speak at Green Gulch. The Zen Center offers dharma talks quite frequently, however this was my very first. The lecture is now posted on the San Francisco Zen Center website and I highly recommend you listen.

As both a poet and a Zen Buddhist priest, Norman Fischer is an inspiration in how he articulates ideas so clearly. He makes such sense when talking about something like religion; a universal concept which can be so complicated, confusing and overbearing. He touches on such abstractions when he asks, "What does nirvana have to do with the passing of the seasons?"

But what he says about Buddhism (specifically Japanese Buddhism as taught by the Zen master Dogan and SFZC founder Shunryu Suzuki Roshi) is so reasonable, to me at least. In the last half of the lecture, Fischer touches on Zen Buddhism as a way to be kind to ourselves through mindfulness. It is this tenderness towards life that draws me toward the practice.

One way of practicing such tenderness, he adds, is to feel with the heart and the body, rather than through over-thinking. And this is not to say we are overcoming our humanness, no. For example, this body and heart practice can be exemplified in meditation. When we sit zazen, we are opening up to our perfect way of being, our true humanness. And, in regards to sorrow and pain, these feelings and problems should be acknowledged but never something we attempt to solve. Through acknowledgment rather than correction, we discover for ourselves why there is a problem. We are learning. (It is at this point in the lecture when I lean forward and really focus).

I paraphrase, but Fischer emphasizes the following: when we seek and study something without knowing the outcome, our mind is open to everything. Such openness allows for more subtlety in attitude. As part of the Buddha-nature, as he calls it (or practice, or enlightenment) when we are seeking we are liberated. Knowing that we do not have to reconstruct ourselves (fix ourselves, solve the problem) offers a sense of healing in itself. Simply, with an open mind, we can be ourselves in order to be okay.

Listen forth, and enjoy Fischer's talk. His thoughts on Japan are particularly mesmerizing. He offers many quotes, further reading suggestions and personal stories. More importantly, his lecture for real is more comprehensive than my summary. I summarize in part to relive my experience of his talk and further understand the Buddhist way. It is still new to me which is in part why I am so interested and excited. As Fischer explains, it is most beneficial to learn about something you don't know about. It is through this journey that you will get to know yourself. Sounds like a plan.

Monday, December 7, 2009

Country Baby

This is the time of year when the best movies come out. Commonly known as Oscar Season, Hollywood supposedly saves the cream of the crop for the end of the year. So why am I not impressed? Yes, some films have knocked me out of my auditorium seat. "Bright Star" anyone? And some have left me moved and devastated. Anyone brave "Precious" yet? Sometimes, we have to wait all the way until Christmas Day for the real goods. So far, this year is looking bleak and I'm not looking forward to anything! However, I am excited to see "It's Complicated," the new film by Nancy Meyers (a woman who not only makes films but makes them extremely cozy, like, quite possibly the coziest movies in human history.) I know I will love her new movie, even if it's bad, but I still have to wait.

In the meantime, I can watch any one of her movies and feel the warmth and love of life. Last night during a torrential rainfall, I had an itch to watch "Baby Boom," the 1987 classic in which the life of a career woman (they call her the Tiger Lady) is flipped upside down when she inherits a baby (Elizabeth) from a deceased cousin. I won't give anything away, but there might be homemade baby applesauce, a Maple Syrup festival and maybe even a row boat. You'll just have to watch to find out. Years ago, when I spent my first night alone in my very 1st apartment of my own, I watched it for comfort. It's so eighties, so Diane Keaton, so Vermont-y. Yep.

Saturday, December 5, 2009

Thursday, December 3, 2009

How to be Seized

Flew through Lorrie Moore's book of short stories, "Self Help." You'd never know it was written when I was age 3 (aka in the 80's). Its tales are timeless, funny and heart-breaking. As I write the word, heart-breaking, my review becomes trite. I don't mean for it. I want to be as gifted as Moore, with her consistent voice and gripping style. Her prose makes me want to write prose. Her poetry makes me want to write prose. Should I start writing short stories? Wow, watch me ponder out loud my life as a writer, watch me guess my future. David Aloi, thanks for the critique by the way. He says, left justify your blog! Why read sentences centered in the center? It's not natural! Oh, Lorrie Moore. Those stories, and all their endings. Writing is so hard to end, it's true. But you do it so well, as if, the whole time we readers are reading, someone's foot has been pressing on our chest, and suddenly, you pull us out from under its sole. On endings: we could all go on, with ideas, ideas, ideas. Wrap them up, or go on? Not possible. "Go Like This." My favorite of the stories. If anything, visit Moore for this.

Wednesday, December 2, 2009

Hollywood, Forever

I go where the skies are blue and the plants grow lush. This is Hollywood, where bougainvillea is a hotel. I'd like to book a room, please

scoop me up. Guinness chocolate ice cream doesn't get you drunk. A little taste hear feel see smell and there you are: bliss

out of your town and in a new one. Cities change but appetites stay the same. The farmers go to stand with their strawberry tomatoes picked by hand. Vine off the vine at Hollywood and Vine

yard plants. I love vegetables that come in purple. Cauliflower, eggplant, now this. The leaves are the treasure. And the heart is the gold

pouring out these Hollywood dreams onto real life sidewalk stars, nothing is as sweet

but we are all rambling tumbleweeds, and can't remain in the same place

forever, even when we're on top of the world.

Tuesday, December 1, 2009

Home, Thankfully Home

Thanksgiving is probably my favorite holiday. It's not why we celebrate, but how. I can't count the years that we would watch Martha Stewart's Thanksgiving Special (from a million years ago and on VHS, I might add), dreaming up our feast. Inspired and motivated, we go all out which is why I have never missed a Thanksgiving dinner with my family. Every year it gets better and better, and this year naturally followed the pattern. Even though there was an apple pie mishap (the crust fell off mid-bake, thanks Martha) and my chewy Molasses cookies merged (thanks, again, Martha), the kitchen was crisp, cozy and gastronomically scented. Below are some highlights from the night.

With gravy makers eagerly waiting, my dad carves a 23 pound turkey.

With squashes and flowers strewn about as decoration, my mom sets the dinner table, impeccably.

Creamy goodness seeps from baked brie wrapped in puff pastry---my favorite appetizer in living history. Did I mention the layer of pumpkin butter inside?

Whether or not you're bursting at the seams (stuffed turkey style), it's time for desserts: pies of pumpkin, pecan and apple, then cookies of molasses, gingerbread and chocolate. Sweet tooth anyone?

p.s. Re: chewy Molasses cookie merge.
Yes they did and after about 5-7 minutes of cooling, I got handy with a perfectly round cookie cutter. One large flat cookie turned into 22 perfect circles, which I find hard to do anyway. In the end, voila! Cookies! And, scraps from all the cut-outs, to munch on pre-dinner.