Sunday, April 25, 2010

The Art I Saw, and Want to See Again

Three rooms of European paintings at the Getty Center in Los Angeles, so high up in these yodeleehooooooooooooooooooooooo mountains that you have to take a tram to get to the museum. $15 for parking, and $49 for lunch for Mom, Dad, Meridith and me. The lunch was so worth it, with a $7.75 chicken burrito that actually looked like $7.75. It was stuffed that full with masterfully grilled chicken, black beans, lettuce, pico de gallo, shredded cheese, and rice. I've never seen a burrito made that quickly, not even at Taco Bell, and this person not only knew the routine, but seemed to care about the routine. There was still some inkling within her that's devoted to this museum. Not that I doubt how much she might like working for the Getty Museum. It may only be a job to her, but there was some pride in how she placed each ingredient. It was a ramrod straight stack that only fell apart a few minutes after I took the toothpick out of it at our table and began to reach the end of it. I didn't mind. I had utensils, and a cup of sour cream, and actually, a mini burrito salad on my plate. I scarfed the rest of it up, and after a yogurt parfait with granola and raspberries ($6.75, but also worth it), I sat satisfied. It reminded me of when we walked the outdoor grounds before we found the cafe. I looked at the people passing by, I admired the appearance of many of the women (inspiration can come from anywhere; simple, but I stick by it every day), and I wondered why my life couldn't be like this every day. I'm not going to badmouth Southern California here, because I've done it enough already and between this, and the new route for walking that I found in my neighborhood, I see it as a sign that we're getting the good things now that will possibly lead to Southern Nevada calling soon for my dad for a teaching position.

After lunch, we went to the Getty pavilion that housed the exhibits we wanted to see. Meridith had a yen for an exhibit of food photographs. On the table at lunch, I found a plastic, vertical rectangular ad block that pushed "Urban Panoramas," and I noticed one photo that was of an empty parking garage. I love those kinds of photos. I get more out of the tire streaks on a parking garage floor than from the painting "A Sunday Afternoon on the Island of La Grande Jatte" by Georges Seurat, which became the Stephen Sondheim musical Sunday in the Park with George.

When we got to the West Pavilion, we went to the second floor, where there was three rooms of European art. Mostly French. Some British. The only ones I really liked were the British ones, two in particular; one of a family torn up by one of their own being on trial, and waiting for a verdict, and the second one with the family in great relief after an apparent "not guilty" verdict. Reminded me of Dickens, and that's exactly what the writing next to the painting mentioned.

But that was it. I like some of Paul Cezanne's works, but I can't see having his work in frames on my walls at home. However, when we got to the exhibit I wanted to see (we saw the food photograph exhibit first, and the only two I really liked were a shot of a full pantry, and someone's freezer in the early '70s), I was stunned by the panoramas of New York City by Jeff Chien-Hsiang Liao. I never imagined photographs could be so alive. I've seen dramatic ones by newspaper photographers, but the major thing about Liao's photographs is that there are always people hidden. Not purposely hidden, but you look at what the photo is first. It's the entrance to the subway, the baseball stadium, a vantage point from Times Square. You see the immediate people, the trash cans, the big signs advertising the latest of what people should consume. But then you look further back. You see a gray-haired woman with a confused expression. You look at the photo of the storefront in Queens and you not only see the big standing box of watermelons next to the door. You see two people inside that store, still in that aisle you can see, waiting for their items to be rung up. There is always something to look at in his photographs, and the atmosphere to feel. Really feel. You can't know just by his photograph what it truly means to be in New York City, but you get at least half of that feeling. Maybe above half.

Right now, I'm looking at the photos on his website, including the ones at the Getty exhibit and also ones not featured there, and the impact is not at all there. I can't see the three guys very well who stand at the bottom right corner of the photo of the Iron Triangle (a kind of auto row) in Flushing, Queens. The guy I saw in that photo with the pen in his mouth? I recognize him by his shirt, but I cannot see the pen this way. At the exhibit, I said to Mom that if they had resized some of Liao's photos for bookmarks, I would buy them. I wouldn't. And I'm glad I didn't find any in the two museum stores we visited. These photos should stay as they are. Because of the lunch we had that was far better than most restaurants we go to, we might be back some time in May. I hope so, because the exhibit featuring Liao's work ends on June 6. I want to see those expansive photos again, and also be disappointed again that no personal photography is allowed in the exhibit. I wouldn't want to capture the photos directly, just the atmosphere of that room.

Sunday, April 18, 2010

Where is David Henry Hwang?

It's 2:30 a.m. (yesterday morning), and I'm sitting on the floor near my dad's chair at the dining room table, checking what books I want to return to the library in order to pick up some of the books on hold for me. To return 30 in order to pick up all the holds would be impossible. I always have that futile hope that somehow, in a week, before picking up the next round of holds, I can read everything I decided to keep.

The books form a half moon in front of me. With my favorite click pen in my right hand, a blue ink Pentel R.S.V.P., and my eight-page library card printout in my left hand, I make sure Bright Sided by Barbara Ehrenreich is next to Architecture of the Old South: South Carolina, a hefty coffee-table book that I checked out to get a sense of home for others, ahead of the maybe-in-a-few-months possibility of finally regaining a real home, this time in Boulder City, Nevada. Last time was when I was a kindergartner in Casselberry, Florida. My elementary school, Stirling Park, was actually in the neighborhood.

I look over at the playwrights I intend to return. Tennessee Williams ("American Blues: Five Short Plays") is at the top of a small stack. Christopher Durang ("Baby with the Bathwater and Laughing Wild: Two Plays") is below him, followed by Terrence McNally ("Frankie and Johnny in the Clair De Lune"), Arthur Miller ("Danger, Memory!: Two Plays"), Ellen Byron ("Graceland and Asleep on the Wind: Two Short Plays") , Robert Anderson ("You Know I Can't Hear You When the Water's Running"), and Edward Albee ("Counting the Ways and Listening: Two Plays"). Michael McClure ("The Beard") sits in front of these noteworthy names. He's small-looking enough in size that I don't want to lose him when he goes into my tote bag. When my father had a week-long spring break two weeks ago, we went to San Manuel Indian Bingo and Casino during the week, and I got a few ideas within this setting for either a play or two one-act plays, involving only two characters. I intended to read these to learn about the form, as all of these playwrights had written exactly what I was looking for. But other writers got in the way, as well as myself, finishing my first book and sending the results to my writing partner. Since then, he e-mailed me back, saying that he's "extremely proud" of what I've "put forth." It's a huge relief. It took a year. Actually, a little over 365 days was all I had. It's a lot shorter as a deadline, though I suspect forthcoming ages will cut it even closer than that.

I put checkmarks next to these writers on my library card printout. I always reach the limit of 50 items. I count the books in front of me. 17. Eric Puchner ("Model Home") makes 17. As said before, other writers got in the way. My reading desires vary wildly each week. Plus, with returning to writing reviews for Screen It, I need to figure out what my priorities are in books. Being that I strive for at least 99% accuracy in my reviews, I try to get dialogue exact when applicable, gunfire described completely, including what character shot what weapon and at whom, and profanity. My first film back will be Goodfellas. You can imagine how much time that may take. It's for parents, however (with the only slant in each review being the section reserved for the standard movie review, called "Our Take"), and they should have the most information possible. Plus, I get paid for this and I want to do the best job possible. I also have to begin the process of financial aid and signing up for classes online from Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University. My future career lies in aviation, definitely at an airport. I'm not sure exactly what I want to do yet, but I have a few ideas.

I shouldn't have 17 books to return, though. I should have 18. Where is number 18? Where is David Henry Hwang ("FOB and Other Plays")? I walk over to the stack I have within a winding faux-marble stand that exists to hold some of our dogs' toys and other things. I use one shelf for my books. I look at the nine-count stack that's there, and I can't find Mr. Hwang. I go to my room to look at where I kept a few of these playwrights, figuring that if they were in my room, I'd be quick about getting to know them. He's not there. There's that book about presidential history, and on the bottom of that stack, that large book of cartoons by Roz Chast, but Mr. Hwang had not decided to spend time near my copy of Around the World in 80 Days which would have been adjacent to him.

I go back to the living room, back to the books still on the floor. I upend the playwrights I've already collected, hoping that I merely overlooked him. I look on the dining room table, where I've placed books I checked out the previous week, and am now only beginning to get to know. He's not there either. I begin to worry about having to pay for Mr. Hwang taking up residence in my house. I also worry about if I might have accidentally left him behind at the library the previous week. Did one of the librarians find him and put him back in my box after scanning his barcode and finding out that he had already been checked out to me? When I walk into the library, will one of them tell me that they found him and here he is?

I go back to my room. I look at the books in the stack nearest to the head of my bed. Cory Doctorow is waiting with Makers, Michael Dobbs wants to tell me all about the delightfully nefarious politician Francis Urquhart, and believes three books ("House of Cards," "To Play the King," and "The Final Cut") should be sufficient enough for the task. There's other writers waiting, such as John Kiriakou ("The Reluctant Spy: My Secret Life in the CIA's War on Terror"), but none of them know of Hwang, and he's not in that stack either.

I begin to wonder: Is Mr. Hwang miffed that I didn't have time for him? Is he hiding out of spite? Is he so eager for me to get to know him that he's hoping I don't find him so that I only go to the library with 17 books, and therefore can only pick up 17 of my holds? He's not due back at the library yet anyway, but I need to let in Elif Batuman. I've waited long enough for her to arrive with her obsession over Russian literature ("The Possessed"). Besides putting other writers on hold on my card, I check every day on what writers wait for me to pick them up, and four people were always ahead of me on her dance card. That number didn't move in my favor for weeks. Now she arrived, and I wanted to know what she knew and loved about Russian literature.

I go back to the stack sitting on a shelf of that stand. Bottom to top. Noel Coward is at the bottom with his diaries. At the top, a bunch of writers are clustered together with much to say about Mark Twain in The Mark Twain Anthology. Below that is something dark. I can't see it very well because the living room light shines into my parents' bedroom, and I can't use it. The dining room light remains on its lowest setting overnight so they can sleep soundly. That's the deal we made about two months ago, unless I really need the living room light, but I don't.

The darkness below The Mark Twain Anthology becomes what I call "hallelujah light." Even though the light's not physically there, I feel it brightening. I found Mr. Hwang. It's a relief vastly different from passing a math test despite no confidence in the studying having done any good. I don't mean any disrespect toward Mr. Hwang. I want his help soon in understanding how a two-person play works, the possible ways of writing it, the necessary beats to keep an audience interested.

With him accounted for, I fill my tote bag. He's second from the top. I can't promise him that I'll ask to have him back right away, since I have to begin my education with Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University, and refamiliarize myself with the routine of writing reviews for Screen It. But despite the work involved in both, I think he'll be back with me soon enough, teaching me what he thinks I should know.

Wednesday, April 14, 2010

Here I Am, A Nearly-Published Author

It's been less than 12 hours since I finished adding more details to one of my sentences in my Paul Lynde essay. It's 1:10 a.m., and at 2:04 p.m. yesterday, that marked the completion of my share of my first book. I'm done. It's over. Well, all over but the possible editing. We'll see what my writing partner determines about my essays. My Judy Garland essay is 12 pages, and though he said some of it should be trimmed, I honestly can't see what to take out. It's not because of my writing that I say that, but because I've put in every possible thing important to learning about Judy Garland's life if a few of my readers haven't already. Do I take out the process of reaching the start of filming on The Wizard of Oz? Does the start of her career at MGM not matter? Of course it does. As I see it, all details in that essay matter.

But for now, before I begin that part of the process of this book, before thinking about what to write in my blurb (the one detailing the author's origins, living space location, and previous accomplishments, if any), and what photo I should use for my little square, or take a new one, I'm sitting here wondering how the hell I did all this. There were many times I wanted to quit writing this book, such as when I spent last July 4th evening sitting at the dining room table, reading Gerrold Frank's Judy Garland biography, watching the fireworks on CBS from there. I told my Mom many times that I didn't want to do this anymore, and she told me I needed to push ahead because this kind of opportunity, where I was simply made a co-author, with publication guaranteed, would probably not happen again. At 26 years old, this is my first book.

I also remember not long after I accepted Phil's offer to be co-author, being at the Ontario Mills Mall, sitting on a squarish metal bench at a Skechers store while Mom, Dad, and Meridith were looking around, silently freaking out over all there was to do for this book. All the books to check out of the library (I think 20-25 is the final count. I'll pinpoint it more accurately in a few days when I look over all my notes again to see), all the websites to visit, all the experts to find to have them speculate on what these actors might have done with their careers and their lives had they not died. I'd never done this before. I had only written, at most, 1,100 words in movie reviews. Screen It does take up a lot more words than that in every review, but that's online, and I was, and still am, comfortable enough with the format.

A review for Film Threat maybe reaches the top of page 2 in Word, and a few lines down. That's it. I knew, in my all-over worry, that each essay would have to be more pages than that.

I remember one night early in the project when I was reading a biography about the silent film comedian Roscoe "Fatty" Arbuckle, and I was so frustrated with having to read and take notes at the same time (I'm a speed reader. I've been reading since I was two years old), that I couldn't possibly continue without something to distract me and yet allow me to keep on working at it. From my local library, which was then Valencia, I had checked out The Prince of Tides on DVD. You already know which one got more attention. I never saw it, but had seen Yentl and The Mirror Has Two Faces, Barbara Streisand's other directorial efforts. I couldn't work while I was watching it. All throughout the film, I was stunned by her artistic sensibilities. She's truly an artist behind the camera, in shepherding performances, deciding on cinematography, and picking out those locations which best embody the story. I wish she would direct more movies. Three are not enough.

I'm not sure what book I was reading and taking notes on (Maybe it was Mabel: Hollywood's First I-Don't-Care Girl by Betty Harper Fussell, about silent film comedienne Mabel Normand), but another time, boredom set in heavily again, and I rewatched, over and over, my favorite scenes in Angels in America, which I bought from Marshalls for $6. A treasured bargain, and I also picked up Truman for $3. I particularly like the scenes between Mary Louise-Parker and Justin Kirk in that Cocteauesque room with the red curtains.

I remember not doing anything for this project last December, nursing an addiction to Farmville and Cafe World on Facebook. I didn't play them all day, since there were books I wanted to read, and certainly not all night, because I had, and still have, the freelance writing newsletter to work on, but it took up a goodly amount of time. It was partly that I didn't feel like working on the book, but also because of a total lack of confidence. It was never, "Can I really do this?" It was always, "I don't think I can do this." There were many nights for months when I laid in bed, staring up at my ceiling fan, feeling that acute stress over all the essays I still had to write, the people I still had not interviewed, the facts that seemed hard to arrange into a readable order. In early February, I was thinking about how the hell I was supposed to read about '40s actress Carole Landis in preparation to write an essay about her, while overseeing these other 19 essays. The book I bought from Amazon, Carole Landis: A Tragic Life in Hollywood by E.J. Fleming, was $35.95, and it was so badly written, without any editing to guide it. Fleming made the same point three times in the same paragraph, and I didn't like having to slog through so many facts pressed together. There was no detailed context, no real description. Based on all the research the book contained, I saw Fleming's passion, but I couldn't see myself spending more time reading this book just to get plenty of notes to turn into an essay. By e-mail, Fleming was agreeable to speculation about what Landis might have done in her life, but I couldn't take it. Plus, at that point, the deadline for the book had been March 15 (Phil then moved it to April 1, and finally, April 15, tomorrow). I had written only six essays, with 13 more to go. I e-mailed Phil, told him about the book and that I couldn't do a proper job with this essay, and asked him to take it. For me, that meant 19 essays instead of 20, but 19 is better when you're interested in the many figures you're researching. And despite the price of the book, I pitched it into the recycling bin. Not that I have that kind of money regularly, and I know I could probably have given it to the Salvation Army store location near me, but I didn't want that book in my room anymore. But I did get to claim it on my taxes as an expense. At least I got something good for my trouble.

I know that year I spent on the book is gone. It's strange, though, that I can't feel now all the little things that bothered me during the research and the writing. Now it's like sitting serenely on a deep green hill, a slight, pleasant breeze around me, and the sun beginning to set. I didn't expect trumpets to blare when I finished writing my share of this book, or a ticker tape parade to happen. The world keeps moving. The traffic is still worse. Some of the prices at my local supermarkets are still too high. It's important to know that, because I can, and should, write anything I want. I'm already thinking about what I want to write next, and I think I have an idea for another book, but I'm not sure if there will be enough material to merit a book. I plan to do some research over the next two months to see if there is. And even though I won't have a publisher this easily again, I want to try it on my own. In January, I'll have one book to my name. That's a fine start.

Monday, April 5, 2010

It Feels Better This Time. It Swims in the Background.

Maybe I can have Reese's Peanut Butter Cups, M&Ms, Dr. Pepper, Cheez-Its, butter pecan ice cream, chocolate chip cookie dough ice cream, fettucine alfredo, pizza, and all other kinds of happily fattening things once in a great while now. But I don't feel like I want it anymore. Last night, we had leftover stuffed cabbage and salad. Mom, Dad and Meridith poured extra-virgin olive oil and red wine vinaigrette on their salads. I left mine dry. Those might be the least of dressings to put on salads, least fattening, least calories, but I don't want to chance it until I've done more research on my own about what dressings might be low in nearly everything. I don't want it to be tasteless, but I also don't want to add more pounds to my body than I already have, which is already enough to try to shrink off.

Yes, I've gone on another diet, though it's more like a free floating one, at least in guidelines. I know now to eat when I get up, be it late morning or mid-afternoon, but that's the only solid rule I've set for myself. I don't have much bread anymore, and I've upped the fruits and vegetables. Most importantly, I've begun exercising again, though for now, it's walking, and so far, Dad, Meridith and I have gone from the house to the park that's about, well, I'd say 0.4 miles. There and back, 0.8. Every day. On days we can't, which aren't many, at least not right now, we go for a lot more distance to make up for that lost day.

On the first night I vowed not to rummage through the fridge during the night, it was hard. Again, I remembered all that was in there, from the cream cheese to the peanut butter to the yogurts and some leftovers, including some leftover lamb, which I devoured on my second first night, the following night. On my third first night, following that, I did it. My brain was still insisting on going to the fridge and loading up the bulging skin tank, but it wasn't as vocal. The next night, a little less. Last night, nothing. Oh I do still think about the fridge's contents, but now it's only in relation to my needing more oranges, possibly more pears (I think I got a bad Bartlett the other day, not at all juicy, and it tasted like office cardboard), and I'm thinking about also venturing into apples. Now, it should be understood that I'm not turning into a vegetarian. That's not my intent. The stuffed cabbage had beef in it, with rice embedded in the meat, so I'm not giving that up, especially with thinking about chicken. More chicken. No more fried chicken. Being at KFC last week, having that Variety Big Box Meal with the breast, the Crispy Strip, the popcorn chicken, the coleslaw, mashed potatoes with gravy, the biscuit, and the big-ass 32 oz. drink, that was the final time. Roast chicken sounds good to me now. And I know what has to happen. I have to give up the skin. Before this diet, the skin was the first thing I ate off of any chicken. It was especially nice as extra crispy from KFC. I don't feel any pang of regret from having to do this. In fact, we went to Caruso's II Italian Restaurant toward Saturday evening, and split an antipasto salad and one of their giant pizzas. Two slices remained on the serving tray. A few weeks before this, I would have grabbed one of those slices. I didn't this time. I let it go, it was brought home, and it's probably gone now. I haven't looked closely in the fridge as I have before.

I'm still aware of the diet every day. I have to be. I have to be reasonable now in what I eat. The big test will be the lunch buffet at San Manuel Indian Bingo and Casino one day this week, but I don't think I'll be piling on 20 plates (that's what it seemed like) on the first walk-around, as I did at the Carnival World Buffet at Rio in Las Vegas. My sister writes down in a notebook everything she eats, along with a calorie count, so that's good. Some of it matches what I eat, and it's helpful. I do feel like I'm losing some weight. My chin's gotten smaller, my feet don't hurt as much after long walks, and fortunately, my, yes, love handles are starting to get smaller again, and will stay that way. I'll make sure of it. It's a proper start.