Tuesday, January 26, 2010

The EP

I'm listening to the first master of the NRIs' first EP, titled 8:42AM. It's almost perfect now, and we're getting ready to get a bunch of copies printed, and to get the songs up on iTunes and everything. It's the first time I've been involved in something like this, and frankly, I'm really excited.

Growing up listening to my dad play the guitar, I always had this vague idea that I wanted to be in a band--sing in a band, really, because I didn't think there would be too many band opportunities for me as a violinist. It's one of those things I would fantasize about sometimes, in the shower, or after that first season of American Idol (when it was good), or if I'd just heard a song that I really liked. It's a popular fantasy. I could say something grad-schoolish about celebrity culture and all that, but I think this is more of a human nature thing. People like to be recognized. They like to know that their sphere of influence extends beyond themselves and their immediate families.

I have a fairly clear memory of sitting in front of Saturday Night Live one winter when I was supposed to be researching my junior paper on Hamlet, watching some sketch where the players left it all on the stage. I was sitting there under my laptop and books, thinking, "How did I miss my opportunity? Why am I hidden behind this computer, making these inane and mostly unoriginal observations about Hamlet and its interpreters, when I could be on a stage somewhere, putting it all out there? Where did I go wrong?"

Of course, that particular thought was imbued with all the histrionics of a frustrated student whose idea of foresight was seeing the end of the semester. At 20 it felt like the best part of my life was rapidly drawing to a close. My next stop, as far as I could tell at that point: administrative work and the "secretary spread" that came with it. It always feels like doors are closing, and okay, sure, I'm too old to be on American Idol now (not that I would want to be). But those doors have a tendency to close so loudly that they drown out the subtle appearance of new doors.

I got back into music in graduate school, and then when I moved to the DC-metro area, I eventually found some musicians to know and love. I waited for my new doors. They appeared. At the end of last year, I tried the knobs.

I've performed at the Velvet Lounge and Iota since then, two venues where I'd always gone as a spectator. Usually when I play in a string quartet, we're background music, but I performed in my very first featured string quartet at Silver Spring Stage. I've got a show coming up with the Machines on Vacation at The Red and the Black (Valentine's Day, opening for Barton Carroll). And the NRIs are going to try to do up this EP release party right: big venue (maybe), writeup in the Post, press release, everything.

Performing scares the hell out of me. I breezed through my Machines show--maybe it was because I knew half the audience, but it was probably because the lights bouncing off my glasses rendered me completely unable to see any further in front of me than where Ethan was sitting. At Iota, I had a moment of complete and utter panic ("WHAT AM I DOING???"), from the jaws of which I managed to snatch a decent performance. But what's the point of living if you never do anything that scares you?

I really appreciate all the support thus far, you guys. Why write--why make music--why make anything if nobody else can enjoy it? I wish I could promise that our EP show won't be snowed out like our last one was, but for now, please plan on coming. It will be so much fun.

Monday, January 25, 2010

Dear Blog,

I had food poisoning. It was so bad, I couldn't even blog. And then I found five dollars. Except that I didn't, I only wish I did.

The way I got it was fascinating--complete user error. When you are cooking dried kidney beans, here are the steps you should follow:
1. Go back to the store and buy some canned kidney beans.
2. Open cans.

Dried kidney beans are a nutritious staple food. But if you don't cook them enough, or if you have the foolhardiness to taste them before they are fully cooked, you are in for a world of hurt. Don't believe me? Check it: http://www.fda.gov/food/foodsafety/foodborneillness/foodborneillnessfoodbornepathogensnaturaltoxins/badbugbook/ucm071092.htm

The long and short of it: raw kidney beans contain high levels of a poison that binds to your intestines to prevent absorption (of nutrients or anything else, for that matter). When you heat the beans to about 80C (not quite boiling), the poison's strength is multiplied. Undercooked beans are even more toxic than raw ones. This sounds like a big pot of crazy, but these are TRUE FACTS. I must have had 3 undercooked beans, tops...I missed 3 days of work and am still not really eating normally.

Canned beans, however, have been cooked and cooked and cooked again. They are safe to eat right out of the can (as long as you don't get dented cans), but you can also put them in your recipes.

In case you are wondering, the chili turned out fine (delicious, actually), and the undercooked beans currently residing in my freezer will have the hell cooked out of them before I attempt to eat them in the future.

Don't say I never learned ya nothin'.

Friday, January 08, 2010

a fragment and some musings

"It's not like everyone else is having more fun than you. I mean, everyone else is probably having just as much fun as you, but there are different time zones, you know, so it's like, you're already passed out when people in California are just starting their freakin' nightcaps or are already holding some chick's hair back in the ladies' room, you know? But it's ok because when you've already had your McMuffin or some shit and you feel better, they're just waking up with cotton shoved in their ears and that film in their mouths, especially if they drank milk drinks, like Bailey's milkshakes, I love those, but that's not the point. The point is that nobody parties all the time. And you are an idiot if you think your life is boring because you don't. You dig?" As soon as she finished talking, she snapped her gum and started to pull on the ends of her hair, a habit that belied her wisdom.


I've been making a lot of music recently. My husband is assistant directing Ariel Dorfman's Death and the Maiden at Silver Spring Stage. As a special opening night thing, I'll be playing the first two movements of the Schubert quartet with my friends Theresa, Kellie, and Kate. I know the quartet is used to great (negative) emotional effect in the play, but it's still my very favorite piece of music in the world.

I think I like Schubert because he was squarely between periods (Classical and Romantic) and just happened to be working at a time when he had this solid Classical framework to innovate around and all this nascent Romanticism going on around him. That's a bit technical, but the upshot is that this quartet tells one of the greatest stories (ill-fated lovers--you know it's a great story because it's always retold) and really conveys the romance of youth, the passion of maturity, and the finality of death. It's amazing.

There are lots of rehearsals on my calendar, in addition to a random recording session that Kate recruited me for on Tuesday. There are going to be some extremely talented local musicians at this session. I'm terrified, of course, but at the same time I'm excited about it. I'm a musician because I love it, but I have to work pretty hard at it. That's not a bad thing, as I've been discovering recently. It's good to pour my creative energy into things that are somewhat immediately gratifying, such as performing music.

In other news, I'm trying to get 8-9 hours of sleep per night. Have you noticed that my blogging has been more frequent? The sleeping is why I'm coherent again. Hooray!

Readers: are you seeing results from your New Year's Resolutions?

Thursday, January 07, 2010


Serious posts kind of bum me out, but I've been reading a lot of things lately that are showing how our culture busts on women...maybe without even meaning to. Felicia Day posted a link yesterday to an article in Vanity Fair about the women of Twitter. Here's the article. But if you click it, promise me that you will also click the link right after it:



You can read it in the url: Why does this Vanity Fair article hate the women of Twitter? The geekweek blogger summed it right up, and Ms. Day herself reposted the second link when someone sent it to her. She said that she was finding it difficult to argue with the blogger's points (although the pic was sweet). It's outright misogyny. I mean, yes, Twitter celebrity is a little bit of a fluffy topic. But the women they chose for this article are highly impressive entrepreneurs, creative powerhouses, and--at the very least--pioneers in the successful use of social media technology. If they were men, this article would be "Six Social Media Pioneers To Watch" or something with equal gravitas. But instead, we get this horrible fluffy profile that talks about these powerful women like they're the frontrunners in the race for homecoming queen.

It reminded me of this article I'd recently read, in which a female author analyzed the new PW Top 100 books of 2009 list. Women in the top 10? Zero. Women on the total list? Twenty-nine. But women are, by and large, keeping the book publishing industry afloat--we are the largest segment of book consumers in the market.


What's going on, here? It doesn't matter, as Ms. Baggott explained, that the author of the offensive VF profile was a woman herself, or that there were women on the committees that chose the PW list. The male hegemony (oh crap, a graduate school word...now I know I'm in trouble) may be so deeply ingrained that outside the domestic sphere, the accomplishments of men are automatically given more weight than those of women. Women have to work twice as hard to be considered as equals (but are still earning, according to some reports, less than 80 cents for every dollar a man earns for equal work).

I've never really considered myself a feminist, precisely because feminists who came before me paved the way for me to have choices in my life--opportunities that women in previous generations only dreamed about. But now I'm a person who has written a book. And maybe someday I'll sell that book. And if it's good, maybe it'll be considered for prizes or honors. But if I were to lose that prize to a man's book of equal (or possibly lesser) quality, simply because the author is a man, that would be pretty soul-crushing. Even though it hasn't happened to me yet, my soul feels a little crushed knowing that it has happened to someone else.

What do we do about it? Is there anything we can do about it?

Wednesday, January 06, 2010

Tying up the loose ends from 2009

I left you hanging on a number of fronts, and for this, I apologize. Please have some closure, on me:

Screenwriting Contest
After the guy in charge claimed to have confirmed that my score had been re-sent, I continued to send him enough extremely polite e-mails to prompt him to ask me to send my entry directly to him so that he could score it himself. He did this quite promptly, and I was surprised to receive a fairly decent score and some rather positive comments. In fact, it was quite conveniently the highest score one could get without qualifying for the second round. I wonder how scoring my entry on time would have changed the outcome of the contest.

Novel Queries
I heard from one other agent, who is currently not taking any new clients. That's rejection #2, I suppose. I believe this means that I currently have one query (to two agents at the same firm) still floating around in the wait-space.

Tweet Me a Story
Those who follow me on Twitter may have seen a few plaintive tweets from me, asking for votes on my 140-character stories for this contest. That's partially what the title of the last post was referring to, but I'm not bitter. (I'm not, really. Amused sarcasm doesn't really translate to the blogosphere the way I'd like it to.) I did not move on to the second round of the contest, but I still consider it an accomplishment to have two stories that made it into the top 25 in my group.

Economic Crisis
Oh, sorry...I don't actually know how this one ends.

National Novel Writing Month
You may have noticed that I went on blogging hiatus for National Novel Writing Month. Happily, I achieved my word count (as seen in the celebratory graphic at right). The story leaves something to be desired, though. I won't be finishing it without massive revisions. I learned, in this experience, that third-person omniscient storytelling is not a strength of mine. While it may be a bit limiting to write in character in terms of being able to express what other characters are thinking and feeling, I find it much more personally satisfying. This particular story may require 3rd person narration, though...hence the massive revisions.

Yes, I am doing that again.

Tuesday, January 05, 2010

more letters = more majesty

people drive fast/people drink deep/people smoke weed/people skip sleep

"Pimpin'. Ain't. Easy," she said. "And neither is this." The wintry air was beginning to penetrate the layers of sweaters she'd told me to wear under my wool overcoat. She plastered a bright white smile onto her face and turned toward the cameras. How did she stand there for so long, just smiling in her thin sweater and puffer vest? It was a cheerful Hollywood knockoff of a winter ensemble, the kind that looks perfect but doesn't have the wherewithal to block out the cold. A sympathy shiver shuddered down my limbs as I thought about how many more takes they might need to do before they let her go inside.

A man wearing headphones as big as his head started waving his arms and cursing at the wind, which was whipping through the trees. "Take ten," the director said, his voice at once authoritative and defeated. "Let the wind die down." It took less than fifteen seconds to clear out the set as people bolted for the little cabin. Inside, craft services had laid out a few snacks and what seemed like one hot beverage urn per person.

"Is it always like this?" I asked her. She smiled again, handing me a styrofoam cup of steaming brown liquid. I wasn't sure whether it was coffee, tea, or cocoa, but at least it was hot.

"It's not always so cold," she said. "But I wouldn't trade it for any other job in the world." She smiled again, a couple of smiles in rapid succession. I think she was testing her face for thawing. After sipping in silence for a few minutes, I felt the hot drink start to work its magic, warming me from the inside. She looked at her watch and caught someone's eye across the room. Then she said, "Well, I guess I'd trade outdoor commercials in New York for outdoor commercials in California. But when I get out there again I'm going to look like I love it. All of it. And I won't even be acting."

I thought about her while I was driving back home later that night, the window rolled all the way down to accommodate my chainsmoking. The cold slapped my bare hand until it was numb, but it was easier to mark time in cigarettes when I drove long distances. I stubbornly squeezed each filter between my fingers until the smokeable part burned itself out. Three-pack trips always went faster with the window down and my foot pressed firmly to the floor.

We were friends from when I first knew she'd be an actress and she first knew I'd be a n'er-do-well, which was shortly after we entered the third grade. I spent a lot of that year indoors at recess, always writing about how I could work to be a better person until the teacher was satisfied that I'd "learned a valuable lesson about myself." She spent a lot of time indoors at recess too, acting like she had migraines or something so they wouldn't make her stand outside where the popular girls could taunt her.

"They're jealous of you," I'd said once. A kid who spends a lot of recesses forced to think about how to be a better person learns some interesting things about human nature, even though all I thought I'd learned was better penmanship.

"You're on crack," she'd said. That was a very popular thing to say at the time, despite the fact that most of those sheltered, suburban third-graders didn't actually know what crack was.

"No," I'd said. "You're cute, like a kid in a commercial. And you always seem to get what you want."

"I guess that's true," she'd said. "I'm inside, right? Maybe they are jealous." And that was how I found myself, 20 years later, speeding down I-95 once or twice a month and burning through gallons of gas and cartons of cigarettes like someone who could afford either luxury.

I knew that my roommate (another n'er-do-well) would be passed out on the couch when I got back. He'd have spent the evening smoking a bowl and eating ramen on Doritos, which is pretty much only appealing after smoking a bowl, at which point, it's the best food on earth. He went to med school but dropped out to be a full-time bartender--"The hours are about as grueling, but you get free booze and it's rare for anyone to die during your shift," he'd said--and just spent the rest of the time going to rock shows and playing video games. He paid the lion's share of the rent, though, which allowed me to use my meager freelancing income to drive back and forth to New York. So even though he was kind of an asshole, I never told him that to his face. It was a sweet situation, most things considered.

If I were to consider all things--like the fact that she isn't my girlfriend, and the fact that she will never be my girlfriend, and the fact that I couldn't hack it in New York as a writer, which is why I have to live in Richmond with my asshole roommate--the big picture would be a bit less sweet. Let's just say I try to think about this as little as possible.