Wednesday, March 31, 2010

Franco writes! Aaaaaand...well...don't give up the day job, Jimmy...

The story starts out simply, almost minimalist in tone. Why, it could be by another Hemingway.

But then it goes on. And on. And on.

Jeebus Christmas, James Franco is about the cutest damn thing I've ever seen on the silver screen, but he should just not try this writing thing. Nope. Acting, Jimmy; that's where it's at for you. Oh my; the run-on sentences. The meandering imagery and inner thoughts. The overuse of a certain four-letter word that begins with the letter F. Oh, my...

And before I even know it, or can enjoy the new look on Joe’s face, like a blubbery peekaboo face, so surprised, because I’m driving us right toward the vague beige shadow-filled wall, and I can only see and hear Joe for a second, a high-pitched thing that cracks for just a second, and for that second I’m with Joe’s voice on a plateau in the black of space, wherever it is that noise cracks like that and decibels live, and then it’s gone because there’s the metal sound so loud and it’s how I had always planned it to be, crunching, and a jerk and the front of my head is filled with the cold hollow sinus pain, the surprise punch in the nose that takes you back to childhood and there’s an immediate link to every other time you ever had your nose hit, by a ball, by a head, by your own knee, and after the surprise it doesn’t go away; but I’m still there and the tires behind me are screeching because my foot is still on the gas, and the car has gone a ways into the wall but it ain’t going any farther, and I look over at fat shit, and there is blood rolling out of a slice in his forehead, and some blood coming out of his mouth, and I think that it’s from the head gash until I see one of those teeth is now a black gap and he looks like a fat something-awful: hockey-player-pumpkin-cartoon-shithead, and he says,

"Why the fuck did you do that, Manuel?"

James, I want to give you writing lessons. Although I think (hope) we wouldn't get much writing done. Which, as far as the writing world goes, might just be all for the least as far as, *ahem!*, you're concerned...


Tuesday, March 30, 2010

Renée Fleming: Diva goes to the dark side

Here's an outstanding interview with Renée Fleming, from The Guardian, about Renée's unusual new CD called Dark Hope, due out in June. Renée is covering several indie rock songs, including tracks originally done by The Arcade Fire, Death Cab for Cutie, and Leonard Cohen's "Hallelujah." But the album is not what you might think -- this could be one of the most interesting releases of the year, and not just for us classical fans.

First off, I love this quote:

The artifice of operatic expression amuses and sometimes embarrasses her. "It's a kind of controlled screaming. Basically we holler – in an extremely cultivated way, of course!"

Also this comment, sure to be argued over (the writer’s comment, not necessarily Renée):

…comparing Fleming's covers with the originals, I can't help feeling that she has a musical finesse and an emotional authority to which those whiny juveniles could hardly aspire. Welsh singer Duffy gargles her scales in "Stepping Stone" while Fleming skips up the ladder with exhilarating exactitude. Songs about being crossed in love sound petulant and self-pitying when delivered by teenagers; the same words are given gravity by Fleming, who without resorting to operatic exaggeration can suggest adult disillusionment and heartbreak. "Well," she said, "what I have to contribute is life-experience, not all of it good!" She meant her divorce, and the equally painful realisation that her career makes any other permanent relationship unlikely: few men are willing to dwindle into a consort, smiling from the sidelines as the diva is mobbed by worshippers.

I think "whiny juveniles" is a bit much; thank goodness that's not Renée's attitude.

Renée Fleming hasn't abandoned opera by any means -- she's getting ready to do Rossini's Armida in May at the Met:

Characteristically, Fleming views Armida as a victim, demonised by male fears. "Sure, she manipulates men. I love it when she simpers, 'OK, now I'm just gonna go die', all in order to get her way. But it's kind of tragic: feminine wiles are all she has. She's traded back and forth, and she has to rely on the tricks that we still go on using today. She's almost a caricature of what a woman is – or what society demands that a woman should be."

I can't wait for the CD or the Rossini! And you know where I'll be come October 9!


Monday, March 29, 2010

Children take flying fox to school

Sometimes you have to be amazed at the awesomeness of life. There's a little village down in Columbia where the only access to the outside world -- including the kids' schools -- is down these ziplines (the Aussies call a zipline a "flying fox"). The kids ride down them on pulleys and control their speed with a wooden stick. And they carry their younger siblings with them in sacks. First off, I HAVE GOT TO GET ME ONE OF THESE!!! My second thought is that I have to write a story about this, probably just using the concept of a girl zipping about on a flying fox as a kickoff point. Some of the comments on this story, particularly at the Daily Mail, are a bit boneheaded. It doesn't look safe? Do these pampered first-worlders understand how people who live in places like this risk their lives all of the time just to live? Sure it's dangerous, but look how calm and confident this girl is. Do children really benefit from having everything given to them wrapped in plastic? Who is going to face life better when she grows up, Daisy Mora or your local mall rat with her cell phone and iPod and vivid warning signs everywhere?

Dave Eggers had a few things to say about these fearful attitudes of our advanced world in a nice little novel he recently wrote...

Eff school buses; we could cut truancy down to near zero if we let kids go to school this way every day.

Best view of the pictures here, and as usual, Boing Boing's commenters are a bit less worried about the danger of it all.


UPDATE: Sometimes the ideas just wash right over you and it's hard to keep them from sweeping you away with them. I have the story idea now. Boy, do I ever!

Sunday, March 28, 2010

"You have to give people hope."

I watched Milk again tonight. I love this film more and more every time I watch it. I remember all of this when it happened; I was a teenager at the time and not quite yet ready to face up to being gay -- but I was getting there. It was not an easy time, and I remember how it felt to be alone with what you knew about yourself. When I finally faced the truth, I was both happy and scared. Unfortunately, the fear dominated my life for too many years. I regret abandoning that joy, which is what every gay kid should feel when he or she figures it out. Times have changed...

The "Hope Speech" was written by Frank Robinson*, who plays himself in the movie. It is probably Harvey Milk's most famous speech. The speech he gave at the Gay Freedom Day event in 1978, written by Robinson, is even more radical. Anyway, here it is. Also, if you haven't seen the 1984 Oscar-winning documentary The Times of Harvey Milk, do so now -- it's available at YouTube.

*I wonder if I would have had fewer problems accepting myself as being gay if I had known about Robinson. He's written several novels, and one I read many times when I was a boy was The Glass Inferno, one of the two books that served as the basis for Irwin Allen's disaster epic, The Towering Inferno (and, I might add, the better of the two novels, which makes up about 75% of the the storyline in the film). In those days, movies with things burning down and blowing up were catnip to kids like me. Like I said, had I known...

Anyway, here it is -- the Hope Speech by Harvey Milk:

My name is Harvey Milk and I'm here to recruit you.

I've been saying this one for years. It's a political joke. I can't help it--I've got to tell it. I've never been able to talk to this many political people before, so if I tell you nothing else you may be able to go home laughing a bit.

This ocean liner was going across the ocean and it sank. And there was one little piece of wood floating and three people swam to it and they realized only one person could hold on to it. So they had a little debate about which was the person. It so happened that the three people were the Pope, the President, and Mayor Daley. The Pope said he was titular head of one of the greatest religions of the world and he was spiritual adviser to many, many millions and he went on and pontificated and they thought it was a good argument. Then the President said he was leader of the largest and most powerful nation of the world. What takes place in this country affects the whole world and they thought that was a good argument. And Mayor Daley said he was mayor of the backbone of the Untied States and what took place in Chicago affected the world, and what took place in the archdiocese of Chicago affected Catholicism. And they thought that was a good argument. So they did it the democratic way and voted. And Daley won, seven to two.

About six months ago, Anita Bryant in her speaking to God said that the drought in California was because of the gay people. On November 9, the day after I got elected, it started to rain. On the day I got sworn in, we walked to City Hall and it was kinda nice, and as soon as I said the word "I do," it started to rain again. It's been raining since then and the people of San Francisco figure the only way to stop it is to do a recall petition. That's the local joke.

So much for that. Why are we here? Why are gay people here? And what's happening? What's happening to me is the antithesis of what you read about in the papers and what you hear about on the radio. You hear about and read about this movement to the right. That we must band together and fight back this movement to the right. And I'm here to go ahead and say that what you hear and read is what they want you to think because it's not happening. The major media in this country has talked about the movement to the right so the legislators think that there is indeed a movement to the right and that the Congress and the legislators and the city councils will start to move to the right the way the major media want them. So they keep on talking about this move to the right.

So let's look at 1977 and see if there was indeed a move to the right. In 1977, gay people had their rights taken away from them in Miami. But you must remember that in the week before Miami and the week after that, the word homosexual or gay appeared in every single newspaper in this nation in articles both pro and con. In every radio station, in every TV station and every household. For the first time in the history of the world, everybody was talking about it, good or bad. Unless you have dialogue, unless you open the walls of dialogue, you can never reach to change people's opinion. In those two weeks, more good and bad, but more about the word homosexual and gay was written than probably in the history of mankind. Once you have dialogue starting, you know you can break down prejudice. In 1977 we saw a dialogue start. In 1977, we saw a gay person elected in San Francisco. In 1977 we saw the state of Mississippi decriminalize marijuana. In 1977, we saw the convention of conventions in Houston. And I want to know where the movement to the right is happening.

What that is is a record of what happened last year. What we must do is make sure that 1978 continues the movement that is really happening that the media don't want you to know about. That is the movement to the left. It's up to CDC to put the pressures on Sacramento--but to break down the walls and the barriers so the movement to the left continues and progress continues in the nation. We have before us coming up several issues we must speak out on. Probably the most important issue outside the Briggs--which we will come to--but we do know what will take place this June. We know there's an issue on the ballot called Jarvis-Gann. We hear the taxpayers talk about it on both sides. But what you don't hear is that it's probably the most racist issue on the ballot in a long time. In the city and county of San Francisco, if it passes and we indeed have to lay off people, who will they be? The last in, and the first in, and who are the last in but the minorities? Jarvis-Gann is a racist issue. We must address that issue. We must not talk away from it. We must not allow them to talk about the money it's going to save, because look at who's going to save the money and who's going to get hurt.

We also have another issue that we've started in some of the north counties and I hope in some of the south counties it continues. In San Francisco elections we're asking--at least we hope to ask-- that the U.S. government put pressure on the closing of the South African consulate. That must happen. There is a major difference between an embassy in Washington which is a diplomatic bureau. and a consulate in major cities. A consulate is there for one reason only -- to promote business, economic gains, tourism, investment. And every time you have business going to South Africa, you're promoting a regime that's offensive.

In the city of San Francisco, if everyone of 51 percent of that city were to go to South Africa, they would be treated as second-class citizens. That is an offense to the people of San Francisco and I hope all my colleagues up there will take every step we can to close down that consulate and hope that people in other parts of the state follow us in that lead. The battles must be started some place and CDC is the greatest place to start the battles. I know we are pressed for time so I'm going to cover just one more little point. That is to understand why it is important that gay people run for office and that gay people get elected. I know there are many people in this room who are running for central committee who are gay. I encourage you. There's a major reason why. If my non-gay friends and supporters in this room understand it, they'll probably understand why I've run so often before I finally made it. Y'see right now, there's a controversy going on in this convention about the gay governor. Is he speaking out enough? Is he strong enough for gay rights? And there is controversy and for us to say it is not would be foolish. Some people are satisfied and some people are not.

You see there is am major difference--and it remains a vital difference--between a friend and a gay person, a friend in office and a gay person in office. Gay people have been slandered nationwide. We've been tarred and we've been brushed with the picture of pornography. In Dade County, we were accused of child molestation. It's not enough anymore just to have friends represent us. No matter how good that friend may be.

The black community made up its mind to that a long time ago. That the myths against blacks can only be dispelled by electing black leaders, so the black community could be judged by the leaders and not by the myths or black criminals. The Spanish community must not be judged by Latin criminals or myths. The Asian community must not be judged by Asian criminals or myths. The Italian community must not be judged by the mafia, myths. And the time has come when the gay community must not be judged by our criminals and myths.

Like every other group, we must be judged by our leaders and by those who are themselves gay, those who are visible. For invisible, we remain in limbo--a myth, a person with no parents, no brothers, no sisters, no friends who are straight, no important positions in employment. A tenth of the nation supposedly composed of stereotypes and would-be seducers of children--and no offense meant to the stereotypes. But today, the black community is not judged by its friends, but by its black legislators and leaders. And we must give people the chance to judge us by our leaders and legislators. A gay person in office can set a tone, con command respect not only from the larger community, but from the young people in our own community who need both examples and hope.

The first gay people we elect must be strong. They must not be content to sit in the back of the bus. They must not be content to accept pablum. They must be above wheeling and dealing. They must be--for the good of all of us--independent, unbought. The anger and the frustrations that some of us feel is because we are misunderstood, and friends can't feel the anger and frustration. They can sense it in us, but they can't feel it. Because a friend has never gone through what is known as coming out. I will never forget what it was like coming out and having nobody to look up toward. I remember the lack of hope--and our friends can't fulfill it.

I can't forget the looks on faces of people who've lost hope. Be they gay, be they seniors, be they blacks looking for an almost-impossilbe job, be they Latins trying to explain their problems and aspirations in a tongue that's foreign to them. I personally will never forget that people are more important than buildings. I use the word "I" because I'm proud. I stand here tonight in front of my gay sisters, brothers and friends because I'm proud of you. I think it's time that we have many legislators who are gay and proud of that fact and do not have to remain in the closet. I think that a gay person, up-front, will not walk away from a responsibility and be afraid of being tossed out of office. After Dade County, I walked among the angry and the frustrated night after night and I looked at their faces. And in San Francisco, three days before Gay Pride Day, a person was killed just because he was gay. And that night, I walked among the sad and the frustrated at City Hall in San Francisco and later that night as they lit candles on Castro Street and stood in silence, reaching out for some symbolic thing that would give them hope. These were strong people, whose faces I knew from the shop, the streets, meetings and people who I never saw before but I knew. They were strong, but even they needed hope.

And the young gay people in the Altoona, Pennsylvanias and the Richmond, Minnesotas who are coming out and hear Anita Bryant on television and her story. The only thing they have to look forward to is hope. And you have to give them hope. Hope for a better world, hope for a better tomorrow, hope for a better place to come to if the pressures at home are too great. Hope that all will be all right. Without hope, not only gays, but the blacks, the seniors, the handicapped, the us'es, the us'es will give up. And if you help elect to the central committee and other offices, more gay people, that gives a green light to all who feel disenfranchised, a green light to move forward. It means hope to a nation that has given up, because if a gay person makes it, the doors are open to everyone.

So if there is a message I have to give, it is that I've found one overriding thing about my personal election, it's the fact that if a gay person can be elected, it's a green light. And you and you and you, you have to give people hope. Thank you very much.

A great documentary, especially if you love Gus Van Sant's Milk.


Thursday, March 25, 2010

Capturing the Magic of Childhood

Somehow I missed this great review of WTWTA by Marshall Fine when it first appeared. It talks about the way the film portrays childhood, but doesn't get quite as, um, morose (too serious? or can one be too serious about play and childhood?) as my earlier interpretation. Both views speak equally to the greatness that is WTWTA. This isn't a movie that is easy to pin down, that's for certain.

...Jonze has made a career out of subverting genres and expectations, whether in “Being John Malkovich” or “Adaptation.” In this case, Jonze and Eggers have written a film that truly captures what it’s like to be a 10-year-old, in all its mood-swinging glory. This film is fueled by imagination, not driven by plot or built around structure. It’s a film about play and the sudden shifts it can take when someone gets upset or hurt or hatches an unexpected idea.

Beautiful, and absolutely correct.


Sunday, March 21, 2010

Tell Them Anything You Want

Okay, someone needs to tell Spike Jonze that I can't take more than one movie in any twelve month period that leaves me all broken up inside, and WTWTA already has that honor for a few more months. Sheesh! I just watched Tell Them Anything You Want, the HBO documentary about Maurice Sendak made by Spike Jonze and Lance Bangs. It's only 39 minutes long, but I was all tied up in knots by the time it was over (and I could have watched another hour of it). I remember the Sendak documentary Mon Cher Papa that was run on PBS' American Masters series in 1987. That film moved me deeply, too. Is there something about Sendak that speaks to whatever it is in me that is creative? Hell, I dunno. But this HBO doc is wonderful. Get this DVD and watch it! Watch the extras too, especially the Q&A with Sendak and Spike.

I love Sendak's dog. I love the shot of Maurice with the box on the table next to him that has an image of a medieval Virgin Mary icon on the side, and a Mr. Incredible doll behind it. I love the life-size Barack Obama stand-up in Sendak's living room. I love his crankiness. I love his drawings. I simply love this man.

And Spike looks pretty darn sharp with a beard, eh?


Pollini Plays Bach

Speaking of classical music favorites, here's my favorite pianist, Maurizio Pollini, playing my favorite composer, J.S. Bach. Another birthday gift, I just popped this on to celebrate Bach's birthday today, and it is gorgeous -- intricate and meditative, as The Well-Tempered Clavier should be.

Pollini's Chopin works (Etudes, Preludes, and Polonaises) were among the first classical albums I bought thirty years ago, when I first discovered the joys of classical music. I have loved Pollini's playing since then, and I've been waiting twenty years for this Bach CD -- it was that long ago when I first heard that Pollini was going to record it.

I'm already salivating for book 2 of the WTC. Beautiful, beautiful music.



Saturday, March 20, 2010

A Scheherazade with Snow and Wolves

I just received this for my birthday, too. Wow! I had heard that Valery Gergiev's performance of Scheherazade was controversial, but I love it. Usually this piece is done with an air evoking its Arabian Nights setting, all flowing lines and phrases shaped to conjure up your usual exotic, Western-centric view of the Middle East. Gergiev ain't having any of that, baby! He muscles his way through this work and reminds you that Nikolai Rimsky-Korsakov was Russian, through and through. I already heard how Gergiev made Mahler's "Resurrection" Symphony into a thoroughly Russian piece as well, making me think, as the organ, bells, and choir go all out at the climax, that Boris Godunov was about to show up. (Gergiev is conducting Boris Godunov at the Met next season, BTW.) Like I said, I love this Scheherazade. You almost expect a Russian winter with snow and wolves to show up during this. Definitely worth it.

And Gergiev has become, without question, my favorite conductor.


Friday, March 19, 2010

Coming Soon: White Fire

I learned yesterday that my story "White Fire" has been accepted by Gypsy Shadow Publishing. There's no date set when it will appear, but it should be up soon. I'm pretty excited about "White Fire," as I am about "Gryphonwind" appearing at Piker Press. "White Fire" occupies the same universe as "Gryphonwind," and the stories share a few overlapping events. But the characters in "White Fire" are new, and the story is both exciting and touching. More to come as details develop!

Pictured: Gypsy Shadow creates covers for each work they publish, so I'm trying to come up with ideas and images of the characters to give their artist some ideas. The sketch above is one I made today of By'yalt'r, the main character of "White Fire."


Wednesday, March 17, 2010

Shawn Records and the Capture of Now

I've been trying to think about how I might explain the ways that Spike Jonze's movie Where the Wild Things Are has affected me, not only on a personal level but on the level where I create and appreciate art. I didn't expect the amazing movie that I saw on the screen, and that movie, along with Spike's two previous films (which I finally caught up with after seeing WTWTA), shook up my thinking about art, writing, painting, sculpture, music, films, photography, and so on. It's not easy coming up with that kind of analysis directly derived from the effect of the film itself, and one runs the risk of explaining too much and taking the magic away from the movie. So, let's look at the periphery instead -- in what ways did WTWTA change, affect, or influence the way I look at artistic creations?

One of the things that really stood out was discovering the work of Shawn Records. For an obvious reason connected to WTWTA, I looked up Shawn's work at his website and studied the pictures to see what sort of art he created.

And I found myself liking Shawn's work.

This is after I saw WTWTA a couple of times, of course. To understand, you have to realize that for me, photography used to be all about the human figure, interesting animals, big dramatic moments, and great, stirring landscapes. Shawn's pictures are not like that; they focus primarily on the ordinary, on things we see around us; on cloudy days and wet streets and power lines. Look at this picture.

I love those trees, but if I had taken a picture of this scene, I would have tried desperately to remove the power lines from the picture, either in the original picture or in later cropping. I would have despaired otherwise -- why, there are power lines ruining my tree picture! And yet, by drawing the background of the everyday into the picture of the tree, Shawn has done...what? I'm not sure, but I only know, as I looked at the pictures on his site, that I liked them.

I would not have paid much attention to them a year before.

Look at this picture.

It's something you might see while walking along on a cloudy day. "Look at the pretty flowers," I might say before I went closer to take a picture of the red flowers on the table, their blood-red color filling the frame. Instead, Shawn has stepped and shown us the grey day and the two shots of color like eyes, like wounds, like another time breaking through the grey.

I love grey days, but I would never have thought to compose a picture like this. A year ago it would have been all about the flowers. Who needs the rest of that boring grey stuff? And yet, the misty skies, the roads winding away in the distance, the ordinary people or the lack of them; secure in loneliness; haunted by the everyday.

How did Shawn influence the way I see photographs, even the way I take my own photographs? Look at two pictures I took recently, back in December of 2009.

This one was taken on the Plaza, a shopping area in Kansas City. It is not a picture I would have even thought to take a year ago,. and yet I love this picture; they grey feel of the day and the empty tables and chairs. Now look at this:

I've always loved the ways snow lines up in patterns on wooden pallets; but of course when you have pallets, you also have trash bins and loading docks. I would have never taken a picture like this a year ago, except now I see how the entire scene works together. And instead of always focusing on the most interesting thing I can find, I see a way to step back, to take in the context, to even make the context the subject of the picture.

Look through Shawn's pictures at his website. Sometimes you find interesting juxtapositions; sometimes you see stories, with Shawn as the silent recorder of life --

-- sometimes you find whimsy --

-- sometimes you find beauty evocative of personal memories --

-- or surprising beauty out of everyday objects.

I didn't expect to like this. I didn't expect to find beauty in pictures like this. And a year ago I wouldn't have found such beauty here. Something crashed through my mind, made me see. A lot of it came from WTWTA.

Honestly, it has more to do with than just Spike's movie -- some other realizations about myself and life contributed to this. It all happened about the same time, though, and I wonder if the end result would have been the same had the events and realizations occurred in a more spaced-out timeline. Either way, WTWTA was jarring, a look into human reality (the pain of childhood) in a way for which I was not at all prepared. There are other ways WTWTA affected me; I'll see if I can't get those emotions down into words and try to relate them as well.


(Except for the two identified as mine, all pictures are by Shawn Records.)

Coming Soon: Gryphonwind

A nice little online magazine called The Piker Press has graciously accepted my story (really a novella), "Gryphonwind." I learned today that the story should appear in the April 19 issue, and it will probably be put up in installments due to its length. "Gryphonwind" is an epic tale about gryphons and flying knights, dragons and witches and wizards, love and bravery and loyalty -- and it's based on a true story! I'll post another update when "Gryphonwind" goes online. Meanwhile, go check out the offerings at The Piker Press. I'm sure there's something there to keep you busy until April 19, right, Bruce?


Tuesday, March 16, 2010

The Complete Stories of J.G. Ballard

I received this book for my birthday, and I started reading it tonight.

"Short stories are the loose change in the treasury of fiction," Ballard says in the introduction, "easily ignored beside the wealth of novels available, an over-valued currency that often turns out to be counterfeit. At its best, in Borges, Ray Bradbury and Edgar Allan Poe, the short story is coined from precious metal, a glint of gold that will glow forever in the deep purse of your imagination"

The inimitable Christopher Hitchens reviews this collection of Ballard's stories here.

I just read the first story in the collection, "Prima Belladonna," about an overworked man, a golden-skinned woman with insects for eyes, and a shop full of flowers that sing classical music.


Monday, March 15, 2010

About How Much It Hurts To Be a Child

(Photo by Shawn Records.)

What makes Where the Wild Things Are difficult to watch is that it's not just about the happiness of childhood, like most children's movies.

It's about the pain of being a child.

It's about the loneliness and the long nights crying; it's about not knowing who you are in a world where everyone else seems to have figured that out already; it's about not knowing if you can trust the grown-ups in your life, or even if you should, or even if they really know everything about life, like you always believed they did.

In WTWTA, Max begins to see all that goes on inside the people around him (through the wild things he lives with), but I also see a boy finding his own space, defining his own life, because no one else is going to do it for him.

I love Max's mother in this movie. She's willing to let him be who he needs to be (despite his wildness, and maybe I only see that because I didn't have that kind of understanding when I was growing up), and that is a strong first step toward letting the child become who he or she needs to be. I grew up slotted into a role, and no one understood or even saw, when it was obvious, that I was breaking out of that role whether I (or they) liked it or not. I didn't want to be different, but in the end we all must be; both Max and me, and all of us. The wisest parent realizes that their child is another life that must be allowed to grow. Part of the pain of being a child is finding out that every parent's imagination is limited, because few of us can encompass in our minds the amazing universe of another person's life set into our hands to shape and nurture. Parents fail; children fail. Somehow, we all come out okay in the end...most of the time.

WTWTA is about finding out who you really are, and how much it hurts to realize that, ultimately, you're on your own.

This movie really speaks to me. I grew up gay and in hiding, and there's not one thing "gay" in this film; and that is certainly not the only tale being told here. But I don't think I've ever seen another movie that captures so well everything about what I went through while I grew up and dealt with all of what I had to deal with; not on so deep and universal a level as this. If you don't see your own childhood in Max's tale, then maybe you didn't have a childhood yourself. You grew up; that's all. Real children, like Max, live, and hurt, and survive.

I'm not alone. If you're in touch with what you were when you were a child, if you aren't just another face in the crowd, if you really know what it means to be alive while trying to find out why...this is your story.

That's one take on all of this, and maybe it's just my take. Let me know what you think. More to come.


Will Phillips and the Pledge

This kid is totally full of teh awsum!

The world of bigotry is disappearing rapidly, thanks to kids like this.


h/t Joe My God

P.S. Wow, he just gets even better here! What an amazing kid...

Wednesday, March 10, 2010

Young adult lit comes of age

A great article in the LA Times about the popularity of YA fiction amongst adults.

"YA authors are able to take themselves less seriously. They're able to have a little more fun, and they're less confined by this idea of themselves as Very Important Artists. That paradoxically leads them to create far better work than people who are trying to win awards."

I’ve written a lot of stories and novels with young people as central characters, although I wouldn’t classify any of them as YA – I like to reserve the right to use appropriate levels of sexuality, violence, and vocabulary in my work where needed. (You can understand why I so love Spike Jonze’s description of his film Where the Wild Things Are as a movie about childhood, and not necessarily for children.) And I have known for years that if you want a ripping good yarn with memorable characters and, very often, trenchant observations about life, you should give YAs a try. I felt quite vindicated when Harry Potter became a success. (I read them all, and loved them.) Expect more of this from my writing – the world caught up to me once, maybe it will do so again.

The article doesn’t mention one of the most popular adult writers who has crossed over more or less full-time (at present) into YA and children’s books, and that is the inimitable Neil Gaiman. Pictured at the top of the post is one of my favorite YAs, China Miéville’s Un Lun Dun, about an alternate world existing parallel/underneath the real London. Miéville cited as one point of inspiration for this book Gaiman’s Neverwhere, another book I love. Compare the two sometime.

Young adult lit comes of age (LA Times)


An Italian Antihero’s Time to Shine

I have long admired Caravaggio -- he's my favorite painter. I love the earnest reality of his works, their power and emotion and beauty. I love Michelangelo, too, but I understand how Caravaggio might speak with greater strength to this day and age.

Caravaggio, on the other hand, exemplifies the modern antihero, a hyperrealist whose art is instantly accessible. His doe-eyed, tousle-haired boys with puffy lips and bubble buttocks look as if they’ve just tumbled out of bed, not descended from heaven. Coarse not godly, locked into dark, ambiguous spaces by a strict geometry then picked out of deep shadow by an oracular light, his models come straight off the street. Cupid is clearly a hired urchin on whom Caravaggio strapped a pair of fake wings. The angel in his “Annunciation” dangles like Chaplin’s tramp on the high wire in “The Circus,” from what must have been a rope contraption Caravaggio devised.

Was Caravaggio gay? The idea meant nothing back in his day; there were acts, not identities, as James Saslow so masterfully relates in his book Ganymede in the Renaissance. But, since I agree with Harry Hay's notion that gays differ from straights in more than just the people we find attractive, I think Caravaggio's rebel status says more to his "identity" than any catalog of sex acts might reveal.

The painting above is Caravaggio's St. John the Baptist, which calls the Nelson Gallery in Kansas City home. I've seen this painting, and no picture can do justice to the brushwork and the colors you see in real life. Anyway, I like this article. It's stirring to think that Caravaggio died 400 years ago this very year.

An Italian Antihero’s Time to Shine (NY Times)


Tuesday, March 9, 2010

Book tour? More like a safari

"Mmm, yes; this was a very delicious writer! I wonder if his book is any good..."

Ah, work hard, put up with rejection, and then someday...someday! You finally publish that book have to handle your own book tour! Oy!

Writing just isn't cracked up to what it used to be:

It's a shame because, for all the hoopla surrounding the latest celebrity memoir, readers are rarely drawn to books by hype machines. We get turned on by trusted friends, by the local bookseller, by a reading, even by a newspaper review. "It was exciting to get a lot of different reviews in regional newspapers," Chaon says, "but it just doesn't happen that much anymore."

Oh well; back to the writing table...


Tigers Into the Pool!

Yikes! I would not try this at home. My friend Wendy asked me today if this sort of thing was safe. Umm...if the tigers are very, very familiar with the people involved and have spent tons of time around together, then it's "safe" in an extremely relative way. Tigers are never 100% safe; just ask Roy Horn. Anyway, there are some pretty impressive pictures at this article. Enjoy!


Sunday, March 7, 2010

Sharks Like Calamari!

Oooooo! Great white sharks battling giant squid in the ocean depths? This is way cool!

Few sea denizens match great white sharks and giant squids in primitive mystique. Both are the subject of popular mania; both are inscrutable. That these two mythic sea monsters might convene for epic battles in the stark expanses of the Pacific is enough to make a documentarian salivate.

The heck with salivating documentarians; I think someone needs to get James Cameron some clean underwear! Now if I can just write him a decent script...

Leviathans may battle in remote depths (LA Times)


Man, I wonder if I can work in killer whales, too?...

Saturday, March 6, 2010

Something To Do With Death

Once Upon a Time in the West was received coolly by most film critics on its initial release in 1969*, but has since come to be regarded as one of the finest Westerns ever made. It pulls apart the narrative of your usual Western and digs down deep into the meaning of many things, most of which have to do with being a man in a time when such a concept was dying. "Just a man," says Frank about himself, to which Harmonica replies, "An ancient race." Their time is up; the world is changing. Men have their own concerns that fly in the face of progress; "Something to do with death," as Cheyenne says about the character of Harmonica.

*For fun, read a rather negative review from 1969 of OUATITW by some young kid named Roger Ebert.

Sergio Leone was about a half-step shy of being a full-blown Marxist, and you'll get the full effect of this movie if you keep it in mind. There are numerous references and homages to classic Westerns of Hollywood's past throughout the film; catnip for serious movie fans as well as a commentary on the genre itself.

This film is as emotionally devastating as Don Giovanni and Eugene Onegin rolled up into one. I said this film was operatic, and the importance of Ennio Morricone's score to the whole concept of the film cannot be overstated. Unusually for a movie, the score was recorded before filming began, and the film was shot and edited to fit the music. Listen to the main theme and tell me if that isn't the most beautiful film music ever written.

Hank Fonda once said this was his favorite film role, and how could it not be? For once, in a career filled with lots of characters who were nice guys, Fonda got to portray a villain of such unmitigated evil that he could eat Mr. Blond for breakfast, and hold his own against Heath Ledger's Joker.

There are, of course, several flaws in the movie, especially in some post-synch that could have come out of a badly dubbed Japanese monster movie. But overall, the searing emotional weight of OUATITW overwhelms such finely-detailed critique.

See this movie. It is utterly amazing.


I have visions of Carol smashing little gold statuettes...

"The Motion Picture Academy TOTALLY sucks!"

The True Best Picture of 2006: Brokeback Mountain
The True Best Picture of 2007: Ratatouille
The True Best Picture of 2008: The Dark Knight
The True Best Picture of 2009: Where the Wild Things Are

So when I'm not watching the Oscars tomorrow night, you'll know why. Oy...

Meanwhile, enjoy Chris Orr's Orrscars for 2009! Featuring awards like these:

The Dumbledore Award for Mystic Beardiness: Christopher Plummer as Tolstoy in The Last Station

Runner-up: Christopher Plummer as Dr. Parnassus in The Imaginarium of Doctor Parnassus

Enjoy! And, tomorrow night, watch a good movie instead of the stupid Oscars.


No Man's Land

The last of the real men?

Interesting take on Brokeback Mountain and masculinity from The New Republic's Chris Orr. He maintains that Brokeback Mountain, apart from its gay themes, touches deeply on issues concerning a man's place in the modern world. About Jack and Ennis, Orr says:

It's no coincidence that, with the exception of their first, hurried reunification, their time together is spent not in discreet motels or open-minded cities but in the great outdoors. There, Jack and Ennis are free to be not merely gay men, but men--cooking over a fire and sleeping under the stars, unburdened by the neutering demands of domesticity, of children and wives and bills to pay.

I like Orr's list (after the article) of Westerns that re-write the genre, including John Wayne's fascinating turn in The Searchers (don't ever let anyone tell you Wayne didn't have chops; he did), Clint Eastwood's magnificently bleak Unforgiven, and what may be my favorite Western of all, Sergio Leone's operatically intense Once Upon a Time in the West. As a writer (and gay man) who seeks the freedom to practice his craft as a way of life, I can relate to a lot of what Orr says here about men in conflict with the soul-destroying characteristics of quotidian, modern life. Fascinating stuff.

Bronson in OUATITW. Every line in his face tells a story.


Wendy's Tiger

Wendy Barsotti is a co-worker at my day job, and like me she spends her spare time being creative. Some of the thing she likes to make are custom, hand-carved rubber stamps. Earlier this week she surprised me with the lovely stamp above, taken from a picture of Tynne, one of Cedar Cove's tigers. Here's the photo Wendy used:

Remarkable, isn't it? Anyway, go check out Wendy's creations at her Etsy site. And thanks for the tiger stamp, Wendy!


Friday, March 5, 2010


On the surface, it's a story about a boy who runs away to a secret land with a bunch of monsters.

In the movie, it's a nine-year-old boy and a bunch of guys in fursuits. And there's some conflict, and there's some insight, and there's some reconciliation; blah, blah, blah.

So why is it that this movie makes me a total wreck every time I see it?

I tear up at all kinds of movies; even Die Hard gets me all verklempt at the end.

The first time I saw Where the Wild Things Are, I was wiping tears from my eyes after I left the theatre, while I was walking to my car. That was a first. And it still does it to me. Even while watching the closing credits of the DVD, I was shaking my head and wondering what the hell was going on...

I know this much -- you can find clues in Spike Jonze's awesome first two movies.

I don't know why Where the Wild Things Are does this to me; makes me a complete wreck. But I'm going to find out. It will take a few more viewings of the film. But I will dig down and figure out why this movie breaks me down, and why it has totally altered the way I see art and hear music and view films and read books. And the way I write.

Best freaking picture of 2009. Eff the Oscars. This is the one.


P.S. And Max Records is freaking awesome. But you already knew that.

Wednesday, March 3, 2010

"The Price," by Neil Gaiman

Oh, to be able to craft such a perfect, perfect little story as the one Neil Gaiman has written here. The tale is called "The Price," and it is the story of a very special cat. A remarkable tale, with an appropriate amount of shiver down your spine. Pull up a chair, grab a cuppa, and enjoy!

BTW, Neil Gaiman is the only author I know of who can successfully pull off making himself the main character in fictional stories, as he does here. Amazing.

"The Price," by Neil Gaiman


Monday, March 1, 2010

Where Killer Whales Belong

An interesting blog post from Susan Orlean appears at The New Yorker; it's about how we interact with magnificent animals like orcas. I didn't think this entry was much different from other posts I've seen the last few days about how we probably shouldn't keep orcas in captivity, until I got to this part:

And here’s the problem: even though I was convinced that whales should be wild and that we should instead just take fabulous videos of them and project them on gigantic high-definition screens, I simply couldn’t resist. I begged one of the trainers to take me to the dock where Keiko was lolling around and let me pet him. I will never forget the soft spongy feel of Keiko’s rubbery skin or the sensation, when he lifted his huge blocky head just above the water, that we exchanged a real look, eye to eye, full of primal meaning and connection. That’s exactly why it’s so hard to do what is right with regards to wild animals, because having such a creature that close really is magical.

My emphasis. It's funny because I sometimes wondered the same thing when I worked with tigers. There's no other word than "magical" that better describes being up close and interacting with an animal like a tiger. It sometimes occurred to me: were we, the humans, being selfish in our justifications for keeping tigers captive? There are many ways to answer this question. In the case of our tigers at Cedar Cove, I think we give them a happy and satisfying life in which they are somewhat pampered, and in which they don't have to worry about hunting down their next meal. And with the rapidly declining tiger population in the wild, it may well be that the only place tigers will live at all in another twenty years or so will be places like Cedar Cove and your city zoo.

But with orcas, you move into a whole new category of animal: An enormous creature for whom movement is essential to life, possessed of high intelligence (I love tigers, but they are not the smartest felines out there) and a tremendous need for social interacting and environmental stimulation. I do think it may be wrong to keep them in captivity. Of course, taking a captive orca and freeing it can lead to the animal's death, as Ms. Orlean manages to avoid mentioning (completely) about Keiko, the whale from the movie Free Willy. But I give her credit for the observation I quoted above, and her post is as a reminder that as humans we always need to keep in mind what's best for the animals we domesticate, give good homes to, or hold captive against their wills. I truly believe the tigers at Cedar Cove are happy. But I know that many other captive tigers aren't, especially those forced to perform for the public (ours at Cedar Cove don't, and never will); and I think about Tilikum, the whale involved in last week's tragedy in Orlando, and about Tatiana, the tiger in San Francisco who was so ill-served by both those who were charged with her care and a few of those who came to see her. I have no absolute answers. But don't forget, humans can cover our own selfish desires in a great deal of knotty justifications. These creatures exist in real time and deserve our best consideration and judgment, always.