Tuesday, November 28, 2006

Across America

Mom and I made it from Baltimore to LA in five days this Thanksgiving week. We took the 81 down Virginia's Shenandoah Valley to the 40, through Tennessee, Arkansas, Oklahoma, Texas, New Mexico, Arizona, and California. Whew!

It went well. The restrooms at the rest stops along the 40 are remarkably clean. Thank goodness. Above is a shot of Mom at a rest stop in Tennessee along a stretch of the 40 dedicated to Al Gore, Sr. and the men and women of the Armed Forces. We encountered some snow while we sped through the beautiful Smoky Mountains, but Mom's gold ol' Honda Accord soldiered on without a hitch.

We got off the 40 in Oklahoma to find Eakly, a tiny town along the 58 where Mom used to visit her cousins every summer. We asked a guy in a pick up truck where the cemetary was, and he pointed up the hill, near the water tower. Sure enough, there it was. There we found Mom's biological father's grave. His name was L.T. Moore, and we know little else about him, except that his mother and father and baby brother are also buried nearby. But the graves include photographs of the deceased. It's the only record we have of what he looked like. He definitely had Mom's eyes. Or she has his eyes, I guess I should say.

I futzed in IPhoto with this photo, and it got a lot more interesting. Who knew they grew corn in Virginia?

We got back to LA on Thanksgiving Day, grateful for a safe trip and the opportunity to do it. Sick of the car, we walked to El Compadre to have Mexican food on turkey day.

I'm still downloading photos. More soon.

Friday, November 17, 2006

On the Road Again

I'm heading out of town tomorrow to join my Mother for a major road trip. She's moving back to Hawaii after many years of exile on the East Coast. Huzzah! We'll be driving from Baltimore, MD through this great land of ours, all the way to Los Angeles. We'll get up early each morning and drive until it gets dark, then find a cheap motel and crash. We figure on it taking us five days or so, depending on weather.

Along the way we hope to stop off in Oklahoma, where my mother and grandmother were born, to place my grandmother's ashes on the graves of her parents somewhere near Eekley, OK. My mother drove across country with my grandmother a couple of times. And now I join Mom on yet another journey. It's like we're coming full circle in a wonderful way.

I feel optimistic and curious about the trip. America is a huge, beautiful country. I can't wait to see more of it! Sure, the weather may not be great this time of year, and we'll be staying in Motel 6's, but still -- it's an adventure. Making it more exciting will the presence of Mom's huge white cat, Jake. He's a scaredy fellow, so it should be interesting trying to get him in and out of his carrier each morning and evening. I won't have reliable access to the internet, so you won't find any new posts here for awhile.

But if you're driving through the lower Midwest next week and see two women and a cat in a gold Honda heading west, be sure to wave hello.

Wednesday, November 15, 2006


I recently did a rewrite of a script I thought I'd finished months ago. It's based on a terrific YA book called Mara, Daughter of the Nile, which I read and loved many years ago, when I qualified as a young adult.

The book is fantastic, featuring a clever heroine, sexy hero, and a plot full of believable twists and turns. I wrote what I must say is a terrific script. A friend of mine has the option on the book, and we've been pitching it around town.

But the cool and horrible thing about being a writer is that your work is never done. With another meeting looming to pitch the script, my friend and I decided to polish the script up a bit and make it even better.

Here's the weird thing - it was easy.

Normally, writing is fun and rewarding for me, but it's hard. Scriptwriting is a strict medium - you must know how to tell a story visually, using only action and dialogue. A feature script should run between 90 and 130 pages. You must capture your audience within a few pages, spilling out action, exposition (cleverly disguised), character, setting. Every single scene must advance the plot. Every single line of dialogue must serve at least two puposes, often more. (What purposes? Well, it must advance the plot, show character, and contain subtext -- just for starters.) You can't just maunder on aimlessly, like I'm doing now. Tighten, cut, sharpen.

So I was amazed at how easily this rewrite went. My fingers tripped happily over the keyboard. I made major changes that flowed seamlessly.

The reason? The rewrite makes sense.

This is key and not as obvious as you'd think. In Hollywood, you get notes from producers/actors/development people like: Why don't you give the hero a brother on the front lines of the war, so we can see the action there? This, when the story never involved anyone's brother or the front lines of any war. That's an exact note we got on this script. We were also told to change the female protagonist to a male and to make it more occult. This about a script about a clever young woman who saves an empire thanks to her wits - not due to some supernatural causes.

We didn't incorporate any of those notes. What we did do was (writers take note) ADD MORE CONFLICT. Drama equals conflict. By simply adding conflict to the setting, we upped the ante, sharpened the characters' dilemmas, and added color. That, and I blended two of the villains into one. Never underestimate the power of a fascinating antogonist. The book had several, and I boiled two of them down to one, and he became the main bad guy -- and a much more interesting character.

My friend went to a screening of a movie full of great black actors, and the film's director told a story of how he pitched the movie around town and was asked if he could turn an educated black character in the script into a downtrodden white man. This naked sort of racism, talking down the audience, and just plain stupidity is what you must constantly face in Hollywood.

So when the notes make sense - the rewrite flows. When the notes don't make sense - throw 'em out.

Thursday, November 09, 2006

The Elections are over now, so...

...this quote is particularly relevant.

"The occasion is piled high with difficulty. As our case is new, we must think anew, and act anew. We must disenthrall ourselves, and then we shall save our country. "

Abraham Lincoln, 1862

Stylish Elements

I'm crazy about Maira Kaiman, a New York artist who illustrates children's book, teaches design, exhibits her work, and who has a monthly column in the New York times. In it she paints and writes and inspires. Alas, you need a subscription to view it, except for this week! Go now! View as many as you can before the free subscription is gone!

Go to: http://kalman.blogs.nytimes.com/index.php?cat=6

Maria Kaiman has now contributed to every writer's friend, "The Elements of Style" by William Strunk, Jr. and E.B. White (one of my favorite authors). She has illustrated it! What a brilliant idea.

Check out more at:


Tacky Jacky

I wish I had the guts to put a photo of Tacky Jacky up on my blog. She's one of the comedians I saw at the Improv last night. She was hilarious! But the only photos I can find show her sitting on the toilet.

The Improv in Hollywood is another great reason to live in LA. Okay okay, they've got Improv clubs in other cities (Hello, Brea, California!) but because we're LA, we get all the good folks.

We get a few stinkers too. The first guy who got up to make us laugh last night -- didn't. I can't remember his name, which is just as well because I'm a softie who doesn't like to slam people for trying something as hard as stand-up. This dude had low energy, little confidence, and talked about subjects that were tough to relate to. But after him, things looked up, as one comedian after another made me giggle. A very out lesbian comic named Sabrina was a particularly funny. This woman really knew who she was and what we might find funny about it.

Then came Tacky Jacky. She's a friend of a friend, so I was prepared to smile and be nice no matter what. Then she made me laugh my ass off.

Her comedy, my friends, is not for children or the faint of heart. Be prepared for references to every bodily function, sexual act, and humiliating truth about the human heart. You can listen to her songs at www.tackyjacky.com, but I don't think the mp3 files quite convey how funny she is. She's 4'11", with pixie pigtails and a wide eyed demeanor that quickly give way to songs like "Shave Me" and "Irish Cock." She's not just shocking for its own sake though. In "Loser" she talks about how she's happy to support her no-job boyfriends because she just wants to, well, to put it nicely -- have sex with them. The refrain of the song features repeated use of the word "fuck," naturally. Anyone who's every been a woman can relate.

(In a dry, academic voice): She's poking fun at both herself and our society's prudery.

Easily shocked or offended? Stay away. Otherwise - await her arrival at an Improv near you. Maybe one day she'll get a TV sitcom of her own.
Los Angeles has a beautiful new train station building downtown. It's probably been there for a few years and I just didn't notice. Yes, the traditional, lovely old train station building remains where it has stood for lo! these many decades. But on the other side of the tracks the city has built a grand, rather nice modern entrance, with a broad smooth road (see above) circling past the entrance (see below) that can fit far more people.

Please pardon lousy photos - they were taken with my camera phone.
Los Angeles is an underappreciated city. We've got world-class museums, a great newspaper, fantastic weather, every kind of food you could ever want, and an attractive, spacious new train station that provides incentive to take public transportation all over the Southland.

Wednesday, November 08, 2006

Drawing Lessons

I've embarked on an attempt to draw.

Let's be clear - I can't draw. At least not yet. I have no intention of trying to become an artist who draws for any reason other than my own pleasure. I have two friend who are terrific artists and who make a living at it - one as a designer and one as an animator. And I have no illusions that I will ever approach their skill.

But, in the spirit of a creative type, attempting to foster her creativity in whatever way possible, and sort of as an experiment, I'm going to try to follow the lessons in a book I found that helps folks like me learn to draw better. I'm going to follow the assignments as best I can and see what happens. Maybe it won't work! Maybe I shall always draw sucktastically (hey! Shakespeare made up words.)

So the first assignment was to scribble. Part of the point of the book is not to judge yourself, and to realize that all kinds of drawing are valid and have artisitic possibilities. The author showed an adult scribble drawing of one student right next to a Jackson Pollock, and you could see the similarity. Of course, the Pollock was better. But still!

So here's one of my scribbles, drawn to fast music, per her instructions. Just using drawing pencils and pastels. At this point I had yet to purchase my very cool drawing markers. (More on them in an upcoming post.)

Yeah, amazing, ain't it? (cough cough) Or perhaps it could better be described as -- dull. Ah well. Moving on. Here's another scribble, done to more fast music, which is at least more colorful.
See how easy drawing lessons can be when you don't actually have to be good? What I'm hoping is that after a few more months of effot, we shall all look back at these sad little things and compare them to my later masterpieces in astonishment. Either that, or I'll just die of embarrassment.

The best thing to emerge from this so far is my childish delight in my drawing materials and in putting a pencil in my fist like a kid. Life is full of responsibility and attempting to act like an adult. So it's fun to have permission to be silly and childish. I do believe that most good artists are playful. I can always use more of that.

Here's the book I'm using, by the way:

I know, I know. It's for teens. But the subhead says "A Creative Method for Adult Beginners Too", so I hold onto that to preserve a few shreds of dignity. The book got some great reviews, and so far it is very upbeat, encouraging me not to judge myself.

Yeah, that's gonna happen.

Stay tuned for more efforts. Or wince to yourself and click past them. It's all good.

Friday, November 03, 2006


Today's theme: flight.

The guy who shot this photo is my favorite so far found on Flickr. His handle is Antimethod, but his real name is Cole Rise and he's only 21 years old.

Access his photostream at: http://www.flickr.com/photos/antimethod/

Bird in Flight

Found this shot on Flickr (www.flickr.com), a fabulous website where anyone can post as many photos of their own as they like. I wish I'd written down the photographer's name and could give you a link to see his other stuff.

I've got a thing for birds, lately. When I was a kid, I decided that if I had only one wish, it would be to fly. Guess that's why.

Thursday, November 02, 2006

Brian Wilson - Rocking Genius

Brian Wilson rocked the house at Royce Hall on the UCLA campus last night in concert. You wouldn't think an over-60 seriously medicated relic from the Beach Boys would give one of the best concerts ever in the history of the world, but Brian and his band did just that to celebrate the 40th anniversary of "Pet Sounds," Wilson's acknowledged masterpiece.

It didn't hurt that I was there with my best friend, a musician himself who, when he hears "God Only Knows" or "You Still Believe in Me," tends to smack himself on the forehead and shake his head in disbelief at their beauty.

For the unintiated, it's hard to reconcile the thought that the composer of "Little Deuce Coupe" is a certifiable musical genius. But it's unequivocally true. Check out the snippets of Wilson's harmonic brilliance at
http://www.amazon.com/Perfect-Harmony-Beach-Boys/dp/B000002TLO (click on #14 - "Our Prayer" and you'll see what I mean.) Wilson can hear these fantastic, haunting, unusual harmonies complete in his head. He's Mozart writing about surfing, love, and loneliness.

So the evening alternated between the abiding melancholy that infuses Wilson's work (Listen again to "Surfer Girl." The sense of longing is palpable.) and rocking good times. The set started off with the band grouped around Wilson, singing "Surfer Girl" with nothing but a couple of guitars and some bongos accompanying them. Wilson was animated, and the band was tight, infused with energy and love for the music. After a few more songs "unplugged," they fanned out to their instruments and were joined by original Beach Boy Al Jardine, who led them in a rousing version of Phil Spector's "And Then I Kissed Her," originally released by the Crystals as "And Then He Kissed Me." Jardine was in good voice, and the crowd gave him a well-deserved standing ovation, since this is the first time in recent memory these two original Beach Boys have sung together.

A series of hits (like the amazing "In My Room," one of my all-time favorite songs) and catalog songs (a blissful "Sail on, Sailor") followed in quick succession. The band's joie de vivre took hold of the audience and never let go. That set ended with the magical "Good Vibrations" (another of my faves), but after a quick five-minute instrument change, everyone came back out to do the entire album of "Pet Sounds." Beginning with the sweet/sad "Wouldn't It Be Nice," they lilted through every track on this classic record. Wilson took a moment before "God Only Knows" to say how proud of the song he was. Then he and the band transported the audience to a land of swirling, heavenly harmonies, infused with sadness, gratitude, and wonder. My friend stood up at the end of the song, and everyone in the auditorium followed suit to give a standing ovation. Wilson was visibly touched.

The first encore was perhaps the greatest encore I've had the privelege to witness. With everyone on their feet, Wilson and the band ran through a string of rabble rousing rock 'n roll, starting off with Chuck Berry's "Johnny B Goode," running through "Surfin' USA," "Fun Fun Fun" and a hilarious "Barbara Ann." We all danced and clapped in time, singing along with the familiar lyrics. Heard live and fueled by the love of the audience, these hits crackled with energy and excitement. You remembered what rock 'n roll was really all about.

In a seemingly impromptu final encore, Wilson came out unexpectedly to serenade us with his gorgeous, heartfelt solo hit, "Love and Mercy." It's a song that means even more today, in the midst of war and uncertainty, than it ever did.

"I was lying in my room
And the news came on TV
A lotta people out there hurting
And it really scares me.

Love and mercy, that's what you need tonight.
So love and mercy to you and your friends tonight.

Love and mercy tonight."