Sunday, April 27, 2014

Gentrification of the Mind

Tonight, in one sitting, I read Gentrification of the Mind: Witness to a Lost Imagination by Sarah Schulman. It was impossible to put down this important and compelling work. Part memoir of the AIDS crisis and ACT UP, part socio-economic history of the last 50 years in New York City, part elegy, part urgent treatise on the need for accountability, Gentrification of the Mind read to me as personal wake up call:

I was eating a $25 piece of fish at the bar of a restaurant in Park Slope when I started reading it on my kindle. This initially and casually struck me as "ironic", but as I read on I was forced to reflect on the complexities of my position. Irony is too often mobilized as a way of dismissing -- not confronting -- uncomfortable realities. And Gentrification of the Mind makes it painfully and poignantly clear how important it is to be uncomfortable and to resist social, political, emotional, intellectual, sexual, and artistic complacency.

The relationships between the AIDS crisis, the transformation of NYC in the 80s and 90s, and the loss of artistically vital communities, are eloquently drawn through details of personal and public tragedy. The lives and deaths of Schulman's friends, and their connection with the larger changes in American culture, such as widespread homogenization of neighborhoods and the professionalization of the arts, are narrated with deep thoughtfulness and sharp intelligent reflection.

This very thought-provoking work literally brought me to tears. Although it concludes optimistically looking toward the future, Gentrification of the Mind affected me in a very personal way, as I looked back at my own trajectory as a queer native New Yorker and former poet throughout these decades. I think the important thing is not to knee-jerk indulge in nostalgia, but to hold myself accountable for the ways in which I've become comfortable with my own internal gentrification.

Tuesday, April 22, 2014

I Wear the Black Hat

I just finished I Wear the Black Hat: Grappling with Villains (Real and Imagined), Chuck Klosterman's engaging collection of essays.

Examining what makes us think of some people as especially bad -- as "villains", Klosterman analyzes moments in recent cultural history in wonderfully clever ways. From Sandusky to Linda Tripp to OJ Simpson to Perez Hilton -- why do we see these people as particularly villainous? This is not a lesson in morality; it is more subtle than that, and much more interesting.

Because I am out of it pop-culture-wise these days, I was relieved that many of the incidents and people he discussed were prominent in the 90s. But, even if he was discussing sports figures of whom I know nothing, his writing was so enjoyable and his ideas were so presented so eloquently that familiarity with the point of reference was not always necessary. I Wear the Black Hat is both thought-provoking and entertaining. My favorite combo.

I was disappointed that he didn't address the movie Megamind, which chronicles the existential crisis of a super-villain deprived of his arch enemy. I would love to read Klosterman's review of that movie. As it is, I will definitely be reading more of him in the future.

Sunday, April 20, 2014

The Brady Bunch Movie

Yesterday I watched The Brady Bunch Movie, which I had seen when it first came out in 1995. Back then it was hilarious and it still holds up. It lacked the pow of freshness it had back then --- the surprise of the brilliant satire, but still is very good.

Amazingly they captured how creepy The Brady Bunch was. Although we watched it over and over and over as kids, we were unaware of how odd and campy it was. The creators and the actors of the movie nailed it, spot on.

I had many favorites, but the things that tickled me the most was Cindy, and the parents' dorky banter.

Friday, April 18, 2014

American Beauty

I should probably gather my thoughts together more *before* I post about American Beauty, but I'm going to write and think at the same time.

I first saw American Beauty in the theater when it came out in 1999. I thought the critique of suburbia and the meaninglessness of the American Dream was a bit of a literary cliche, so at the time I felt slightly superior to the movie. However, I got completely caught up in the spirit of it -- I remember thinking Spacey was cool and hilarious, and I identified with the smart, unhappy, non-conformist perspective of the teens. Annette Bening's character cracked me up. Mena Suvari was beautiful and sexy. I got the humor, I got the beauty, I got the sadness. And the whole thing worked -- the idea that if you paid attention to *anything* , anything at all, really looked at it, it would be beautiful. Even a dead bird or plastic bag -- the problem is no one is looking.

I am happy to say it holds up today. Watching it 15 years later, I am now older than the Kevin Spacey character. (I have also in these years come to realize that I very much dislike this actor.) The first 20 minutes where difficult -- I found him irksome and childish and his lack of empathy, compassion, or awareness of those around him was immediately apparent. But then I softened, and realized I didn't have to like him -- the character is a bratty, immature, selfish, and confused person. I didn't need to think he was cool to appreciate his role and his performance. It was less funny for me this time around, though. For instance, I felt very moved by Annette Bening's performance, whereas in 1999 her character read to me mainly as the butt of a joke. Almost every character (Alison Janey's was an exception) was given dimension. The whole gestalt of the movie was clearer for me, all the characters crisp and equally important and necessary. I'm glad I watched it again.

Now I'm wondering if I should give Ball's True Blood a try even though I don't usually like vampire shows.

Samaras at the Met

Today I went to the Metropolitan Museum to check out a small exhibition of works by a modern painter who I was unfamiliar with. Lucas Samaras: Offerings from a Restless Soul filled two rooms, mostly with small works on paper, although there were sculptures and mixed media as well. I was drawn to many of the pastels, as well as some paper cuttings and pen and ink drawings. But for the most part I was not very excited by this show. Although I had never seen any of it before, the work had a very familiar feel.

Ballet Hispanico

Last night I saw Ballet Hispanico at The Joyce. They were marvelous. The first dance, "Umbral" was dark and moody, very intense and mesmerizing. It started out a little too slow and stark for me, but I was gradually fully drawn into it. The program says it is about the Day of the Dead, and the piece began with spoken words, in Spanish, which I couldn't understand. Perhaps comprehending those words would have helped through the piece. It also featured a central dancer in face makeup and a red costume when all the other dancers were in black. I was unsure of this dancer's role. There was an incredible duet towards the end, although my favorite sections were when all the dancers were on stage together.

The second piece "Somrerisimo" was a complete shift in tone. This dance featured only men, dressed in button down shirts and hats. They used the hats as props throughout the uptempo, fun, and snazzy number.

Finally, "El Beso", about kissing. There was kissing in this dance. It was sort of a cross between the first two in terms of mood.There was something architectural and brooding about parts, although humorous and fun in other parts. Again, my favorite sections were the long stretches toward the end where the whole company danced in unison.

All the dancing throughout the evening was fabulous and a delight to watch. I'm glad I finally saw this company and I will look out for them again.

Thursday, April 17, 2014


I've been binging on poetry (yay!). After reading kari edwards' Bharat jiva, I dived into Amy King's I'M THE MAN WHO LOVES YOU. This whirling and intelligent collection is transcendent and concrete -- navigating gender, sex, urban life, ego, love, and language.

The details, the turns of phrase, the confident voice -- these make for unique, memorable, and delightfully, almost decadently charismatic poems.

"We bachelors of approximate projects
go on to wing it and fly above the serenade"

And, the ending of another favorite:
"I'm on day two of the body, its remedial surfaces,
a charmed night air to sound itself home with: I use
these places for my own constraints and as a reminder
there's a storyteller within, if you'd only let her loose."
 -- last lines of "YES, YOU".

I can't wait to read her more recent book!

Wednesday, April 16, 2014

Bharat jiva

Today I read Bharat jiva by kari edwards. This beautiful, evocative, deeply conscious book, a long poem, delves into language in an intimate but also earnestly, powerfully public way. There is an insistence in the poet's voice, a human cry for a human world to hear human utterances.

I confess I was in and out of the text, sometimes immersed, sometimes at a distance. edwards' words, for the most part, worked a magical number on me, and wherever I found myself in relation to them, I was always in awe of this wonderful creation.

My copy is now filled with pen marks and underlinings, as so many moments captured me in a way I wanted to hold on to. "there is nothing else but reiterative/mornings and days with varying permission"

Much of the text is printed in block style, so I am not sure how to quote with the line breaks. I will share a section that seemed particularly special and important, but realize it looks very different on the page:

"and again in the usual word place, can we
please, please, watch the thing that slowly
breaks the finger, moves along the body,
records codes, repeats to someone for some
kind of salvation?"

Doctor Zhivago

Yesterday I watched the two-part 2002 BBC/PBS mini-series version of Doctor Zhivago. I was skeptical, who could and why try to improve on the Omar Sherif 1965 epic?

But this one, starring Hans Matheson, Keira Knightley, was wonderfully acted and the epic was just as sprawling and intense. The love story had similar power (maybe the 1965 version conveyed that better, I'm not sure). There were more characters, more developed tertiary characters, and the violence and turbulence of the times seemed more realistic and scary and dramatic. I really liked it!Watched the whole thing in one sitting and was bawling at the end.

Tuesday, April 15, 2014

Waifs and Strays

I was moved, gently transported by Micah Ballard's collection of poems, Waifs and Strays. The lines have an effortless flow to them. There is an intimacy here that is patient and does not overwhelm. I was also drawn in to a distinct sense of place, and recalled my days living in the Mission of San Francisco.

I really enjoyed the collection. My favorites tended to be the sonnet-length ones, though the longer ones were engrossing and captivating. I will quote here in its entirety one that I particularly like:

The Pines of Rome

Like orbs
An eventual eternity
Silver mirrors
& a punch mark in the celluloid
A sonic flashback
To perpetuate myths with Barbara Stanwyck
You see tanks & airplanes
Visiting troops to slip the veil
Multiple exposures
Ethereal & out of focus
Then you buy something invisible to wear
& bring your own life
A seamless narrative of voiceovers
Immediate means
Bright deliriums known by none

Monday, April 14, 2014

Dear Nobody: The True Diary of Mary Rose

I just finished reading Dear Nobody: The True Diary of Mary Rose, edited by Gillian McCain and Legs McNeil.

This is the collection of diary entries by a teenage girl suffering from Cystic Fibrosis in the late 1990s. Her writing is raw, powerful, angsty. Not always polished, but always full of emotion.

Mary Rose's life is a chaos of drugs and alcohol, a blur of other teens that are sometimes her friends but mostly not. She writes with anger and pride and dismay, but what comes across most is her loneliness. It is heartbreaking to read her entries and not be able to reach out to her.

It is also interesting to see her writing become more developed as the years go by. I found myself becoming more and more drawn in, more and more appreciative of her unique voice.

One entry I want to share:

"Dear Nobody,

Love is the creator of hate and the daughter of disappointment, as no two people could hurt each other more than two people in love. Don't put too much LOVE into love. Love is a whore to poets, musicians, songwriters, an artists; they use it as fodder to sell their frustrations and personal impotence -- and love is TOO BIG a responsibility. No human can live up to the capacity of love's expectations. A person will build you up so high, but once you are elevated, it's all the harder when you both fall. You become something to that person which is impossible to live up to. Love has power, not the lovers."

Tuesday, April 8, 2014

Live from Moisture Fest in Seattle via Concert Window

Last night was so fun. I was sitting staring at my computer with nothing to look forward to when I got an email inviting me to a "concert" that evening. A "Concert Window" concert via the Internet. It was so cool! I got to watch Christine Lavin, Raun MacKinnon Burnham, Larry Murante, Scott Katz, Mark Ettinger, Matt Price, Stuart Zobel and Emily Groff perform fun, beautiful and unique folk music for 90 minutes. All in the comfort of my own home. What a great concert experience. No bathroom lines. And terrific musicians, great sound, great songs, lovely voices, amazing lyrics. I'm going to be downloading a lot of music today from itunes....

I think this is a great way to share music.

The Iceman Interviews

Yesterday I watched The Iceman Interviews on HBO. The Iceman is a former hit man for the mob who killed over a hundred people and felt no remorse. During the course of his interviews he spoke slowly and deliberately, maddeningly slowly actually, describing his crimes with precision but without emotion. The documentary included biographical footage of him growing up in difficult circumstances in New Jersey and having a traditional and seemingly happy marriage and home life until the authorities captured him in the 1980s. I found this documentary to be disturbing and frustrating. Frustrating because there is no answer as to why he became who he was, how he could do what he did.