May 2018: You Have Named The Pigeon Perfectly

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Gloria Stoll Karn, “[Woman and bird],” watercolor and gouache on board, 22 1/2” x 22 1/4” (© Gloria Stoll Karn) via Hyperallergic

When you say to me, “I hate pigeons,” I want to ask you who else do you hate. It makes me suspicious. I once met a girl who was so proud to have hit such a bird on her bicycle, I swear, I thought that it was me she hit. I felt her handlebars in my stomach and now it is your job to feel it also. The pigeons are birds, they are doves. They are the nature of the city and the ones who no one loves. 

“Pigeon Manifesto” by Michelle Tea, from her forthcoming collection (but written in 2004), via The Rumpus. I liked it so much, I cut it up and used it as a monologue in my acting class at the Boston Center for Adult Education.

Bonus bird art (with an inspiring backstory, if you click):

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Photo by Meiko Takechi Arquillos for her and Wendy’s Snyder’s article, “How Japanese Women At Internment Camp Made Their Clothes Their Own,” via Angry Asian Man

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The aspect of reflection is present in every piece in the gallery, suggesting that your touch would leave earth-shattering fingerprints, or send ripples radiating over the surface. It’s enough to make you want to step lightly, to glide through their coolness in the garden-level gallery. But the message isn’t too slippery to grasp, not when [Lidzie] Alvisa is literally spelling out “EGO” and “REFLECTION” on her mirrors, or [Donis] Llago is painting some of the world’s most famous buildings. I didn’t expect to have such a visceral reaction to a show that appears, on its slick surface, to be so understated.

From my review of “Transparent?” at A R E A, featuring two Cuban artists who are also a couple. The curator, David Guerra, shared the review with them, and told me that one said “this makes me want to work endlessly.” So, it was a good month for art feelings.

Speaking of:

It is rare for a group exhibition as hip as “The Shaman Show” to feel so warm. Maybe it’s because iartcolony is the curators’ home – a building, they will tell you, with a surprising link to Shamanism. But it’s probably because their careful commissioning of new works has a specific goal: “to cure the village of jealousy and envy.”

That’s about a third of my 1,000-character review of The Shaman Show at iart colony in Rockport, my first review for Delicious Line. Jill and Bob are totally lovely, and the show has been extended through July 9.

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“The Flick” by Annie Baker
Stage play, 200 pages
2014

I missed “The Flick,” Annie Baker’s play about workers in failing movie theater, when it played in Boston in 2013, although I did get to see all three of her Vermont plays in 2010 (and reviewed “Body Awareness” for Blast Magazine). “The Flick” went on the win the Pulitzer Prize for Drama in 2014, despite being controversially boring to many NYC audience members. This wasn’t surprising to me, having seen the Vermont plays: “Body Awareness” and “Circle Mirror Transformation” are fairly conventional in their dialogue and pacing, but Baker wields silence like a pressure-washer in “The Aliens.” It reminds me of what Christian Cruz said in the 2017 Experimental Action panel in Houston: “the duration is the medium.” Apparently these audience members didn’t get the memo.

That said, one NYT commenter did question whether the Pulitzer committee just read the play, and didn’t see it performed—I hope not, because reading it, as I did this month, is a drastically different experience. You can skim over the long sections where the characters sweep popcorn in silence, instead of squirming in your seat, trying desperately not to check your phone in the darkness. But forget that—the play is great, and, as most plays are, a fast read. Read this interview with Annie first (and note how much she hates “Body Awareness,” which I would call the most conventional of her Vermont plays) to get in the mood.

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“The Plague” by PRAXIS Stage at Dorchester Art Project
Adapted from “La Peste” by Albert Camus
Directed by Daniel Boudreau

“The Plague” is another “endurance” performance of sorts, with the small cast barely addressing each other. They instead recount events to the audience, sometimes in unison speeches. A slightly boring affair, but important message—I was impressed with the actors, especially Dayenne C. Byron Walters as Dr. Rieux.

PRAXIS formed after the 2016 election “with the goals of linking theater with activism and producing plays that enter contemporary political crisis points and ongoing cultural conversations,” and they certainly succeeded in doing that in this production. I’m looking forward to seeing what these talented company members do next.

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“Cold Blood” by Astragales at ArtsEmerson
Directed by Michèle Anne De Mey and Jaco Van Dormael

What to say about this—essentially it’s a bunch of mini-sets on a mostly dark stage with a bunch of cameras wheeling around, projecting the close up image on a screen hanging sort of in front of the cast. So, the screen is at the forefront, but you can still see the production “crew” producing the effects. The characters onscreen are, for the most part, the actors’ hands.

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So, this is what we see on the screen, while simultaneously seeing the crew. Photo via ArtsEmerson

There’s a haunting soundtrack, too, and a narrator detailing the course of eight different deaths. The book is drippingly French, dramatic with some misogynistic undertones in places (and why a cannibal, why), but I was so fascinated by the production value and practical effects that I barely cared. Take a look for the spectacle, if they come to your city.

 

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I can’t let this month pass without noting how much I loved Kitty Drexel’s review of the Huntington’s production of Caryl Churchill’s play “Top Girls” (which I didn’t see). The quick pivots remind me of Dorothy Parker’s theater reviews (not Dorothy-Parker-as-meme), if Dorothy Parker were an internet-literate disabled activist.

Highlights (links hers):

Congrats to the Huntington for finally get that permanent ramp set up….

Sure, we can try to have it all now, but the 80’s were unconscionably cruel to women who desired a career and a family. PR/Marketing still pits women against each other. There was no having at all. There was only Zuul.… 

Marlene (Carmen Zilles) is traditionally cast with a white women because England is so white that humans go there to complete the bleaching process… But, times are changing and today’s London is much more diverse. Zilles is such a compelling actress; it must have been difficult not to cast her.

The extra-special highlight came later in the evening: listening to old, white men make noises of discomfort during the emotional third act when Churchill’s sexual politics stop being nice and start getting real…. 

The cheap seats will watch backs, and lose some of the action but that’s what you get for being cheap….

New England is home to many talented actors. The Huntington hired only one of them for this production. Please consider this information when purchasing tickets.

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I feel these are the audience’s stories that I am percolating and pushing back out at them, but in a way that makes you question your own prejudice and perception and role in this society, in this world. Theatre is deeply political for me. Drama has got to mean something, it’s got to do something to you, it’s got to make you think.

—Irish playwright Deidre Kinahan in a fun interview for HowlRound

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No work of art, no matter how incisive, beautiful, uncomfortable or representative, needs to exist. Yet the internet — the same force that has increased awareness of social-justice movements — has hyperbolized all entreaties to our fragmented attention spans. It’s now as easy to see all the incredible and twisted ways the world causes suffering as it is to waste a couple hours scrolling through Twitter. The concerned citizen’s natural response is to prioritize. It’s why so many outlets seem to invoke moral outrage as a growth strategy — and why being told what you need to read or watch starts to be appealing.

“What Do We Mean When We Call Art ‘Necessary’?” by Lauren Oyler for the New York Times. A really fantastic piece, best coupled with Beth Pickens’ “Your Art Will Save Your Life.” It made me wonder if I’ve called something “necessary” in a review… google wouldn’t tell me. But I’ll be conscious of it going forward.

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Ours wasn’t just the righteous satisfaction of justice finally served, or even the hot joy of revenge. For sure, there was real pleasure in the prospect of seeing bad men suffer. But there was also another, less flattering kind of enjoyment, floating right beneath the waterline of consciousness. For all the great to-do, all the scandal and vindication, there were certain stars of film and televisionjust a select few, we told ourselves, a special clubwhom, in a week or month or two, once the fires were out, we would find it in our hearts to forgive. That’s a lie, actually. We wouldn’t forgive them. But we also wouldn’t stop watching their shows.

“Bad TV” by Andrea Long Chu for N+1. A long, extremely human take on #MeToo.

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A story about a bickering couple does not threaten the institution of marriage. Heart of Darkness might disapprove of colonialism, but it’s not an attack on empire itself. The book deals in strict dualities and reinforces the superiority of Western culture and ideas. Africa, its jungle, is what blackens Kurtz’s heart, and just in case you start to feel uncomfortable because you find yourself identifying with him, the supposed bad apple—the Lynndie En­gland of nineteenth-century Europe—Marlow, the novel’s cordon sanitaire, is there to make you feel better. 

“Comforting Myths” by Rabih Alameddine for Harper’s, exploring who gets to tell stories and who truly threatens the status quo.

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Please peruse this brutal, beautifully-photographed parade of the makeshift gas masks of Gaza.

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Image tweeted by Yousef Munayyer

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In 1922, [Man] Ray took ​Gertrude Stein and Picasso’s Portrait, which shows her seated perpendicular to Picasso’s portrait of her, with the painted Stein regarding the real one…. Stein had granted Ray the exclusive right to photograph her, but this arrangement—and their friendship—ended in 1930, when Ray billed her for his services. That base mercenary request was out of place in the prestige economy. “My dear Man Ray,” Stein wrote. “We are all hard up, but don’t be silly about it.”

“Gertrude Stein’s Mutual Portraiture Society” by Anne Diebel for the Paris Review. I’m always up for a reference to Man Ray being a clod (more later on why I am slogging through his autobiography, ugh), but it does make me consider how we barter as artists now, particularly from writer to artist. I wonder what a literary portrait would look like now… or is a literary portrait just a positive review? An homage through poetry? And what’s the exchange rate on those items?

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As women, we slowly learn, the greatest thing we are expected to do with our lives is love and be loved in return. No matter what else we might want to do, this is the height to which we’re expected to aspire. Men who love are enlightened beings, heroes of musicals. Women who love are just doing their job, what we were born to do. And so we hit the rose quartz ceiling.

“The Rose Quartz Ceiling: When It Comes To Love, Men Are Praised For What Women Are Simply Expected To Give” by Jaya Saxena for Catapult. Incidentally, I just bought tickets to see the new Moulin Rouge musical in July, for the exact reasons laid out in the intro.

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“As a faith leader, my moral duty is to speak in support of a woman’s sacred and constitutional right to make decisions for herself,” [says Reverend Millie Peters]. “Christian scripture tells of Jesus doing good and never judging nor shaming anyone. We are compassionate people who respect human dignity, and our responsibility is to speak for quality healthcare; a basic religious value.”

“The Religious Coalition Blessing Abortion Clinics Across America” by Caroline Kent for Broadly

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The Hot Spring at Lake Tecopa is an impermanent work.

The land is not the setting for the work but a part of the work.

A spring is not a pool but a process.

Heat is the method by which the water pulls us back into our bodies.

“Naked in Death Valley” by Claire Vaye Watkins in a non-fiction piece for Guernica. I should have known it was her, having read “Gold Fame Citrus.” She has a stake in this landscape.

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A quick poetry recommendation: “So Long The Sky” by Mary Kovaleski Byrnes. Mary is a poetic force of nature in the Emerson community and beyond — she was actually the grad student assigned to call me when I was offered a fellowship, to try to convince me to attend. Obviously, it worked. She was one of the first guests on my radio show way back when, and co-founded EmersonWRITES, where I taught playwriting. Now her first book is out, and it’s wonderful, traversing the world and family histories with an un-boring soft touch.

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Russ Tamblyn joined Twitter and I love it:

 

December 2016: Romantic Retrospective

 

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I chose this picture months ago. An unwitting memorial to George Michael, now…

 

6 takeaways, 1 paragraph about good things, 4 favorite art shows, 6 other frissons du coeur, 1 call to poetry action, 23 baby pandas

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A few truths from 2016:
Let people mourn in their own way.
There is no way to exist without hurting others.
We have choices about who we hurt.
We have choices about what we consume.
Hate speech is not free speech.
Talk to yourself like your encouraging editor, not your unhelpful editor.

I’ll figure something out in 2017.

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Amazing friend and family visits in 2016. Parents, J&N and S came to Houston in the Spring (at different times). I learned that an entire rock band can sleep in our living room. Paul and I saw family in the summer and again at Christmas. We learned to road trip together. I made new friends, saw great art, started giving blood, and admitted to myself that my time is valuable enough to justify getting my own car. I’m coming at Trump’s America from a place of strength, which is a blessing and one of countless privileges I enjoy.

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I’m grateful for my continued writing gig at aeqai: a monthly issue is enough to get me out and about in town, and editor Daniel Brown is a joy to work with. Favorite art reviews I’ve written in 2016 include:

Gonzo247 and the Nation’s First Graffiti Museum
My friend is sister-in-law to Gonzo, whose art and art advocacy has literally shaped Houston. He and his wife, Carolyn, are so fantastic and forthcoming—and the art ain’t bad either.

The School for the Movement of the Technicolor People
Permission, erasure, inclusion—challenging and inviting at once. A show to linger in.

“I should have brought a philosopher”
Kristin Lucas’s “Refresh” zine is something I still think about on a regular basis.

Black & White, the KKK, and the Enduring Banality of Evil
Vincent Valdez’s painting chills. We need it to tour extensively.

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Other Favorite Art/Literature Frissons Du Coeur in 2016:

“Intimate Apparel” by Lynn Nottage at the University of Houston
Nottage’s tale of a black seamstress in 1905 New York is devastating and Romantic. The key players were phenomenal, the set ethereally period. Completely agree with director Sarah Becker in this preview: “Some plays could just as easily be movies—with a matter-of-factness about their locations and clothing. But this play has theatricality; a dreaminess to it.”

“The Hunchback Variations” by Mickle Maher at the Catastrophic Theatre
This was the only review I could find of the play (it’s from 2015, but they brought it back in 2016), and I don’t agree with “the verdict,” although the author is right about its weirdness. It’s the only thing I’ve seen at Catastrophic so far that’s been really satisfying, which is strange, seeing as “Hunchback” is a 40-minute play that answers no questions.

“The Nether” by Jennifer Haley at the Alley Theatre
The Alley has so much well-produced fluff on its main stage, I was almost proud of it for bringing such a provocative play to Houston. (Here’s another review for background—again, I don’t entirely agree with it, but it gives a good sense of the show.) I don’t think anyone in the audience was fully prepared—I saw at least three people walk out once they realized it explicitly dealt with child molestation and murder (in a virtual realm, but still). Not exactly something the Alley could dare to advertise. The physical presence of a child actor made the play powerfully disturbing. You couldn’t tell this story on TV, even though the play was inspired by “Law and Order”-type procedurals, or in a movie, because then the shocking, graphic acts would have to be portrayed. While we don’t see the child harmed in the action of the play, the internet-padded, lace-lined undertones of violence—and humanity—overwhelm.

“Hunt for the Wilderpeople” (film)
Of course I’m going to love a film directed by Taika Waititi. Just majestical.

Bob Parks at the Brandon
See September entry

“We Love You Charlie Freeman” (novel) by Kaitlyn Greenidge
See November entry

“The Judgment of Fools” by Bernardo Cubria/Horsehead Theatre Co. 
See November entry

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[Poets] are, I believe, deeply sensitive. We are barometers, like roaches are. We have our little antennas up. We know when the light’s gonna come on—we are picking up on the currents of what is happening in our society right now. We would like to heal and awaken people. That’s part of the power poets have always had.

—Loueva Smith, delightful Texan and stellar poet. Read my full interview here.

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23 baby pandas:

Happy New Year to us all.

Image/Pinterest

November 2016: I thought I’d have a different caption for this photo

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I thought the caption would be about Hillary defeating Trump and soaring into the sunset to prepare for four years of especially gross misogyny. I guess I was right on one count.

3 interviews, 1 art review, 1 Terrance Hayes, 2 novels, 1 therapeutic theater date, 7 action items, 5 righteous reads, 1 Thanksgiving road trip

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Here’s what I wrote on Facebook on November 9 as an intro to my inverview with John Pluecker: “I was aggravated that (by total coincidence) my first interview for Public Poetry came out today, of all days, when we are mourning, not self-promoting. But it’s actually pretty relevant. John Pluecker is an activist (and experimental poet, with a cool new book), and we talked about language justice and what it means to be a social justice interpreter, among other things.

Check it out and get motivated, because that’s what has to happen next. Make sure to drink a lot of water because crying will give you a headache.”

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Our focus here at the museum is to educate the entire community — not just the Jewish community — on the importance of the lessons of the Holocaust: fighting hatred, apathy, and prejudice. Taking those lessons and communicating them effectively to the public is our mission.

Kelly Zúñiga, CEO of the Holocaust Museum of Houston

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The way I see it, we’re not in business just to make money. Of course, that’s a big part of it but we want our efforts to mean so much more. Growing up, I watched my family act in ways with such big hearts towards other people that it just became a part of who I am.

Moon Jamaluddin, principal/founder of Events By Momo

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Reclaiming Material Responsibility: Blake Rayne and Analia Saban at Blaffer Art Museum

I loved one of these artists and was lukewarm on the other, so yay, I got some practice trying to write a not-glowing review. One of my favorite pieces, “Draped Marble” by Analia Saban, is pictured below.

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I had no idea that the brilliant poet Terrance Hayes is also a visual artist. Luckily I found out about a presentation he was doing at the Menil Collection at the last minute, about the relationship between drawing and writing. I had a little bit of trouble finding his work online, but this article in 1839 has some great examples.

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“We Love You Charlie Freeman”
Kaitlyn Greenidge
2016, Algonquin Books

I read most of this fantastic debut novel in a day. It’s about an African-American family who move to the Berkshires in 1990 to “adopt” a chimp named Charlie and communicate with him via sign language (in which they are all fluent). But it’s really about their family, and the deep wounds of racism throughout American history that have yet to heal. In light of the election, themes of casual (and overt) white supremacy, guilt vs. shame, and desperate stabs at happiness are especially poignant.

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“Hag-Seed”
Margaret Atwood
2106, Hogarth Shakespeare Series

Shakespeare’s “The Tempest” is a silly yet beautiful work, and Atwood’s is no different, albeit touching in more immediate sense. Artistic Director Felix, our Prospero, is ousted by his theater company just as he is about to mount his “Tempest” onstage. He becomes a hermit and eventually winds up teaching Shakespeare at a prison, with inmates as performers. When he starts directing them in “The Tempest,” his own plot for revenge unfolds. Yes, it’s ridiculous, especially the words Atwood puts in the inmates’ mouths. But Shakespeare’s “Tempest” is no less ridiculous, and who expects anything else than storytelling mastery from Atwood? I hope that high schools start teaching this alongside “The Tempest.”

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Speaking of cathartic theater: I saw Horsehead Theatre Co.’s “The Judgment of Fools” on November 12, four days after the election. The actors (Fool 1, Fool 2, etc.) mingled with audience members before the show started, taking selfies and chatting about the finer oddities of their costumes. The opening recording encouraged guests to not to turn their cell phones off — “Because what if this play is fucking boring?” — and the “head fool” encouraged us to heckle the actors at any time, or to run onstage and stop a scene with the big red bullhorn perched just offstage.

The fools enacted scenarios, and we were encouraged to vocally judge them. “Shout ‘slut’ when I reach a point in my story in which you think I was acting like a slut,” said one actor. (When someone jokingly did so after two words of her story, she genuinely asked why, ready to hear his answer.) An unwitting volunteer became a contestent in a “stereotype pageant.” One audience member’s facebook page was projected onto a screen, and the audience encouraged to judge him by it.

It all sounds very vindictive and awkward, and maybe it was with certain audiences, but people were largely kind and fair (or at least, they were when they shouted out). A cast of good and good-natured improvisors helps. I asked one of the “fools” if they always got this kind of reaction from the crowd, and he said that our audience was much more vocal than those they’d had before the election. People were ready to play (and in any cases, drink). So thank you, Horsehead Theatre Co., for producing new work that’s so damn fun, and — especially at this particular time — vital.

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Action items:

I worked for Congress for 6 years, and here’s what I learned about how they listen to constituents. 

A 70-Day Web Security Plan For Artists and Activists Under Siege

“We’re His Problem Now” Calling Sheet

Trump Syllabus 2.0

Why some protests succeed while others fail. 

The Case for Normalizing Trump (bad headline, good article)

The “Stronger Together” facebook group (I’ll add you if you want)

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Righteous reads on the wild internet:

‘It’s unprecedented in our history’: Trump’s election inspired millions in nonprofit donations

After this election, I don’t owe anyone my silence or my unity. 

Blaming political correctness on Trump is like blaming the civil rights movement for Jim Crow. 

Trump excuses the white working class from the politics of personal responsibility. 

Please stop saying poor people did this. 

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We took an amazing four-day road trip across Texas and New Mexico over Thanksgiving break. Being from the east coast, I’d never been exposed to that kind of extreme scenery. For example, a prairie so sparse you can see an entire train plowing through it. And it’s been awhile since I could see the Milky Way at night. Even driving wasn’t all that bad. Plus, it was incredibly therapeutic to have limited internet access for a few days.

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Me, in awe of nature, not missing the internet at all.

Lead image/Paul Nicklen

September 2016: A perfect Houston evening

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3 interviews, 1 play, 3 books, 100+ nuns, 1 [long] joyful art experience, with videos

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That’s my lesson to all the young students: pay your parking tickets, or you could wind up in the slammer, and believe me, it’s no fun.

Brent Spiner, aka Data from Star Trek. I talked to him on speakerphone for 30 minutes while parked in a Syracuse rest stop – incredibly nice and funny guy, and probably my longest-ever conversation with a proper celebrity.

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At first, I wanted to go into scripted filmmaking…. [but] there was a moment in time where I started to watch documentaries, and I became enamored with them — just in love with the truthful quality that you get from real human interactions which is impossible, really, to replicate in a work of fiction. To sift through hundreds of hours of footage to find a real, human interaction that you captured on film — there’s not one single fictional moment that can beat that, not one.

Kathryn Haydn, non-fiction television producer. Before we talked, I sat in on her presentation to a documentary filmmaking class, which was chock-full of practical advice and fascinating showbiz tidbits.

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One student in my class wrote a beautiful poem that mentioned Taub Hall by name. That was a revelation to me, that art could be made about a dorm room, about the mundane things surrounding us. At the time it seemed to elevate experience, to transform it.

Melissa Ginsburg, author of “Sunset City.” I read the book (a gritty Houston noir) and we corresponded via email. What’s interesting is that she’s primarily a poet and professor at Ole Miss, but she felt compelled to cross forms to write “Sunset City.”

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More than just a great headline: Hundreds of nuns trained in Kung Fu are biking the Himalayas to oppose human trafficking

“We wanted to do something to change this attitude that girls are less than boys and that it’s okay to sell them,” she said, adding that the bicycle trek shows “women have power and strength like men.”

– Jigme Konchok Lhamo, 22-year-old Nepalese Buddhist nun

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“Buried Child” by Sam Shepard
Catastrophic Theatre at MATCH

I read this play on a Saturday afternoon at the Emerson College library while it snowed outside, which was about the coziest and most exhilarating play-reading I’ve experienced, and I couldn’t wait to see this production. Fie on my memory because the play was not like I remember it at all, mostly because I pictured it being performed at a fast pace, and the talented actors on a perfectly drab set took an eternity to pull out the scenes. Some parts of this play should be slow, some explosive. Of course, it was treated to a round of gushing reviews by Houston’s breathless theater critics, which I’m learning to ignore not because their opinions aren’t valuable, but because it’s dangerous to let myself get over-excited about theatrical performances.

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“Crooked Heart” by Lissa Evans
This would make a fantastically whacked musical, with Rex Harrison-style talk-singing. Then, the completely dark scene in the bomb shelter, wherein shelterers start nervously, laughingly calling out the luxurious food they’d like to eat, would be beautifully jarring. It’s no surprise that Evans is a TV producer. I’ll eat my library card if it hasn’t already been optioned by the BBC.

“Animals” by Emma Jane Unsworth
I believed in these characters, and their un-obvious wit is irresistible. The ending is the part that felt a little obvious, and I can’t say I appreciated Tyler in the same way I appreciated Laura, but the ride is worth it. Do not believe lazy people who will compare this book to “Girls” or “Trainwreck” and dismiss it.

“The First Bad Man” by Miranda July
Truly unique, funny, relatable and uncomfortable. I like July’s films for the same reasons, I suppose. But the discomfort extended into novel form was not really what I wanted to read before bedtime. The ideal reading scenario for “The First Bad Man” would be to sneak into waiting rooms without an appointment and read it all there.

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Bob Parks: artist talk

I wrote a feverish journal entry after this experience so I wouldn’t forget anything, and given the nature of Bob’s art and personality, I figured it would be best to include an almost-unadulterated version below. Note: I didn’t watch the documentary related to the two clips included here. The exhibition was visual art and artifacts.

It was what I’d like to call a perfect Houston evening, what you hope for when you go out, really. I found this artist conversation on Glass Tire with Bob Parks. The photo was of an eccentric looking guy, an older Weird Al type with a big British nose. I figured it was some art student’s photo of his grandpa, but it was actually a picture of Bob himself, wearing a Hawaiian shirt in his garden. The weird list of topics drew me in. 

A stub of a bulldog ran to meet us at the gallery. There was no one else inside except the curator, who followed the dog and introduced herself and the dog (his name was Boo), and another worker, a very young woman who was not introduced. An immediate awkwardness because we were the only people there. I was worried no one else would show up for the conversation. She gave us a flyer and we looked around for a few minutes. Weird mementos and photographs. Incredibly detailed drawings. Detailed logs of physiological health written in tiny, neat capital letters. A lot of “light constipation.” The dog sat on his bum looking at the ceiling, flailing his head back and forth in an especially groovy Stevie Wonder impersonation. He stopped eventually, and sat down near us.

The curator said she would go get Bob, and I expected him to arrive shortly. But then I heard a Skype noise, and realized she was flipping Skyping him in from England. She gave him a tour of the show by holding up her ipad, and we said hi when she got to us. No one else was coming in. 

She asked Bob how he came to be in a documentary (that’s how they found about him) while we were waiting in vain for more people to show up, and then he read an account of what he dictated to his mother about his “murderous rages.” Basically, he won’t ask questions of people he wouldn’t want asked of himself, so he’s dying for anyone to ask him a question so that he can ask it of them. He has quite a struggle with mental illness and is not on meds, we found out later, when the curator awkwardly asked him. “But you seem so well-balanced!” she said.

But, that was after he read the account of his murderous rages, as dictated to his mother, whom he dearly misses, and after he read a poem (“shall I do a poem then?”) about taking his parents on a tour of the national parks of England, when he was constipated and his dad was, shall we say, the opposite of constipated, and after he played two songs on his flutes, which made him very red-faced, and after he sang bits of two songs from the 50s (“before the beatles, a lovely sort of music”) and a song called “big nose” that he wrote and performed in the documentary. It was so weird and fabulous. We couldn’t leave, we were the only ones there and it would have been too conspicuous. The ipad kept slipping down from where it leaned against the back of the computer, and the curator kept propping it back up.


(Bob’s mum features heavily in this trailer.)

She asked him, first, about the dictation to his mom, but she misunderstood and thought that his mom had composed it (I kind of thought that too, he may have not explained very much) and expressed how nice it was, and how everyone wants to be listened to. He corrected her about the composition of the statement, and turned around the question on her: it sounds like you want to be listened to. Why do you feel like no one’s listening to you? You’re the curator, but not showing your own art? And she was flustered, first of all because oh no I’m not the curator, so first denying that talent, and then flustered because she doesn’t have any talent, “I’ve always been a facilitator for other people’s talent.” It felt very personal. Then the mental health thing. It got him on a roll about how everyone’s been psychotic since the first world war, and how no truly original and creative ideas had sprung forth since we started killing people on a global scale. Then I asked about media, and what he’s working in now. And he said something about Stanislavsky or Stravinsky and how an idea is transferred from the person to the canvas to another person, or something, but the message was really that medium is irrelevant, that the idea just has to be expressed. I’m probably butchering that. He also said, more practically, that he’s working class, and that means he often ends up just writing lately because it’s most available.

Then he went to bed, as it was midnight there, and we hung up on him. The curator offered to buy us a drink and chat for a bit, because she felt like she really needed to talk. We bought our own drinks, but did stay. We spent about half an hour talking about art in Houston and how Bob’s comment about her sharing her work struck her (“He was right, I don’t create my own work”). She was great, about our age, and we ended up having a lot of the same connections. We got her email address and promised to return.

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Image/screenshot from Bob Parks advert