Saturday, July 26, 2008

Some Events Worth Penning In

I'll have these all up on my calendar before too long, but I just wanted to put the following shows out there in the wide world. These are all shows worth seeing and keeping your eyes out for. I'm connected to each of these by a friend or colleague or just because I'm a fan of the work, but as you plan your theatre goings on for the rest of the year put these down in your calendar.

Of course, top of the list is my own "Pride and Succubus", which is a requirement if you love me (http://www.thunderbirdtheatre.com/), but here are the rest:


"Emo the Musical" put on by Beards Beards Beards: A Theatre Company http://www.beardsbeardsbeards.com/emo.html

"The Monk" put on by No Nude Men Theatre Company http://profile.myspace.com/index.cfm?fuseaction=user.viewprofile&friendid=329973207

"Third Eye" put on by Guerrila Rep http://www.guerrillarep.org/6.html

"Ubu Rock" put on by Empty Seat Productions http://www.empty-set.net/

"Macbeth" put on by Killer Bee Productions (no website yet...but keep an eye out because my boyfriend Matt is in this one.)

"Machinal" put on by SFState http://theatre.sfsu.edu/

"Doctor Faustus" put on by Actors Ensemble of Berkeley http://www.aeofberkeley.org/

"That Horrible In Between Place" put on by Ann Marie Productions http://www.amp-sf.org

"Macbeth" put on by Shotgun Players http://www.shotgunplayers.org/macbeth.htm

The Shape and the Colour

Short note today: Pictures up on Flickr!



Thursday, July 24, 2008

The Big Uneasy

Everyone should visit NazarĂ© Portugal in the off season. I’m sure there is a good reason so many tourists come from all over Europe and America in late July or early August, but in all honesty it was great to be some of the only tourists in that city. When we were there it really felt like what it must have been at one point; a small fishing village. Well, I mean it didn’t feel like that completely. There were hundreds of restaurants with table after empty table. But, there was also one of the most beautiful beaches I’ve ever seen in my life. The grains of sand were so large you could have strung them on a necklace, but they were all soft so soft laying in the sand felt like silk on the skin. The waves crashed so hard on the beach that the beach itself sloped down at a steep incline. The water was too rough to swim in, and a little cold too, but it was beautiful. And the water was so blue. So very blue. Emily and I saw postcard and pictures of the beach at peak tourist season and it was just black with bodies and the crush of humanity. But the picture above is the one that I took when we were there. No people, just the beach and the waves. At the uppermost part of the beach (and the picture) is where the luxury hotels are and were being built. All the rest of the beach front and several blocks in is guest houses. The capacity of this "little fishing village" is enormous. I'm so glad I wasn't there at full capacity.

New Orleans is different. A friend of mine commented on this picture when I posted it saying "I've never seen a picture of New Orleans without a shit load of tourists." I like to think of this picture like the Nazare picture, it's better without the people. But, like in Nazare the absence of people is good for me, but it's bad news for the economy. Both pictures are of beautiful places looking beautiful, but both pictures are really pictures of desolation and depression.


When I told people when I was coming most of them looked at me with surprised faces and said "In July?!" I'm sure the reason for their surprise is obvious. It's very hot. There is nothing going on festival wise. And it is at the very beginning of hurricane season. What kind of idiot am I? I'm the kind of idiot who can get a table at any restaurant I want without more than a twenty minute wait. I'm the kind of idiot who can get a very cheap rate at a guest house. I'm the kind of idiot who more than anything just wanted to retreat so I don't need the razzle dazzle or the bang of Mardi Gras or Jazz Fest. I'm also the kind of idiot that is missing a lot of what makes New Orleans New Orleans.

But, I think I'm getting another side too. Everyone is on edge. There is a desperation somewhere in their voices and their eyes. It says "Thank god you're here. Please spend your money. Spend all your money. Then tell other people to come and spend their money." Maybe they've had one too many tourists ask them about their hurricane stories and they just start popping out when ever anyone asks "How are you?" And it's not that I don't want to know their stories because I do, but I don't want to be a disaster tourist either. I don't want to take pictures of devastation with the same attitude someone would take pictures of the Statue of Liberty or the grand canyon. And yet I'm a writer and I long to hear the stories and take the pictures and listen. I feel extremely conflicted.

"How are you today" Owner of a restaurant.

"I"m doing great, thank you. And you?" Myself

"Good, good. It's better now. We were able to open up again right after. Not a lot of damage. But you know that wasn't the problem. There wasn't anyone to work. No workers. We were short handed for a long time. But it is better now. I'm glad you're here."

"How are you doing today. You're relaxing. You like sitting around. I like that." Waiter at a different restaurant.

"I'm going great. Really great. It's a beautiful day. How are you?" Myself.

"Let me tell you. This is a tough city. A tough city. How long have you been here?"

"Three days."

"Yeah, then you don't know yet. You don't know. But it's a tough city. How long you staying?"

"Three weeks."

"Really. Good. Good. Then we'll see you again!"

"Probably."

"No probably. We'll see you again. It's good you're here."

"Hello. Let me know if I can help you." Antique dealer

"Thank you, I will."

"Are you enjoying your stay in the city?"

"Yes, very much."

"How long are you staying."

"Three weeks."

"Really? That's wonderful. How wonderful. You'll get to do a lot of everything. Let me know if you need any help."

"I will, but I think I might be just looking. There is a lot of beautiful things in this store."

"I know. He has good taste. The owner. This isn't is primary mode of income, so he has lots of time to look for things and he comes to the city to look after the store. It's his hobby so there is a lot of love. He has good taste. But it's been though. We were lucky and didn't have any damage. We opened up right away. But, it's been slow. I haven't sold anything for three months."

"Hello pretty lady, where are you from? Wait let me guess. Wisconsin." Balloon Man.

"No. California." Myself.

"Oh, then it would be San Francisco."

"Right."

"I used to live in San Francisco. I've lived all over, but I lived out there when I was a kid up to...I guess in my twenties. Let's make you a flower. A flower for a pretty San Francisco girl. How's your trip been so far?"

"Good, good. I only just got here. But it's been great."

"How long are you staying?"

"Three weeks."

"Oohh wee! That's a long time. You should just go ahead and move here. You're going to be in love by the time you have to go away again."

"Maybe. Maybe."

"I tell you what. It's been slow slow. But it's cause it's hot. Too hot to be outside. The locals all know better. Stay in and tuck in. Wait for the weather to be nice again."

"Yeah, but I teach so I couldn't really take time off any other time."

"That makes since. That makes since. But you should. You should come back for mardi gras. Nothing like mardi gras. And they've got it mostly back up like it used to be. All the crews are back now. Some of the floats are gone, but there's some new ones. Sometimes it feels more like a funeral than anything, like it's sad some how under all the party. Jazz funerals are a celebration of life, but it's still a funeral you know? I'm not a native, so maybe my perception is skewed. There you go, a lovely flower for a lovely lady. A dollar for the clown gets him new balloons."

"Absolutely. Thank you."

"And thank you. Now go get you some breakfast pretty lady."

And now, looking around and the restaurants, I just feel tired and sad. They are empty or nearly empty. Their hours are odd or change to frequently to post. And I may just be going to the wrong places, but the food is not good. At one restaurant I had shrimp creole on rice. The shrimp was tiny and obviously just defrosted then put in the sauce. The sauce was out of a can and sort of seasoned. The bread pudding was burnt most of the way through. Maybe this was just one restaurant, and maybe it's always like this at this restaurant, but it was so disappointing. I have been to Cafe du Monde and it is as good as everyone says. My favorite restaurant so far is Coops. It's a very small place, it's packed every time I go, the food is good, the music they play is fun, and I feel relaxed. I'm surrounded by tourists, but I'm not treated like one. I'm a costumer and no one asks how long I'm staying or where I'm from. I'm in New Orleans and I'm eating and this is all that matters. But restaurants with no customers can't afford fresh food and can't afford to be open when I want to eat and I don't deserve to complain because I didn't come when they could afford to be open more or serve their best quality food. . And another problem is I'm not a drinker and I don't like to go to bars alone. But the French Quarter is all about bars. Unfortunately, they are also all about pre-mixed daqueries (you know the kind in neon unearthly colors made from powder or syrup packages) which I've always found gross and have given me a headache before I can even feel buzzed. And so many of these places are empty any way. They may be busier at night, but I wouldn't know yet. I've felt uncomfortable going out alone at night. It's mostly the alone part, but also I've had this conversation a lot:

"You are going to have so much fun." Playwrighting teacher from New Orleans.

"I know, I'm so looking forward to it." Myself

"Good good. Make sure and take a taxi home when it gets late."

"I will -"

"No. I mean it. Be careful. Take a taxi. Don't walk around alone."

"Well, have fun and good luck on the play." Producer in New Orleans.

"Thank you, I will."

"I think you're going to have a really good time."

"Thank you, I'm looking forward to it."

"Just be careful. Very careful. You sure you don't have any friends in the area?"

"No, I really don't."

"Ok. Well, take taxies to get around. But only take the ones from in front of hotels. Don't walk around at night."

"I wont. Thank you."

"I mean it."

"That sounds so exciting. You are going to have such a good time." Friend from New Orleans.

"I know. I've been looking forward to this for so long."

"Just be careful. Don't drink too much alone and make sure to take taxis. Don't walk around alone."

"I know. I've been told."

"And I'm telling you too."

"Ok, that's it. If you need more towels or laundry or anything don't be afraid to ask." Guest house owner.

"Thank you. I wont."

"And let me give you the number of a taxi company. They are the best one. Don't walk around alone. I've never had any problems, but you never know. You never know. This is a dangerous city."

"Thank you. What's the number?"

I'm in a city where nothing seems to be coming easy to the people who live in it, I haven't met a lot of people who seem relaxed and at ease with anything, and no one I've met has encouraged that attitude in myself. This is the Big On Edge.



Sunday, July 20, 2008

The Actual Work and Progress in Process

I just wanted to make a few notes about the joys of writing and working in the theatre as a writer. As far as my ambitious and all consuming project that is right now egotasticly (yes, that is how I meant to spell it) called "The Untitled David Copperfield Project." I'm working on a few scenes and a few monologues, but right now it's all pretty sketchy still. I have a pretty solid beginning that I have to force myself to not work on and just push through to latter acts. Anyone who has ever written a multiple act play knows the torture and torment of this. When a student asks me what is the difference between an act and a scene I usually say it has something to do with a dramatic emotional, story or setting change. Something so big has happened that just changing scene is not enough. It's like the difference between a new paragraph and a new chapter. Or if you think of it episodically, it's the difference between when our character was young and when he got married as an adult. The shift is usually pretty big. A mini climax has just happened and the characters have to deal with the change. Often that means re-evaluating their choices and plans so that their meta-goal can be accomplished. An act break is where a "Stay tuned" or an intermission happens. But the break is so big that writers often have to shift focus and re-evaluate choices as well. It's almost like starting a new play, just with the same characters. After Batman is punched, knocked out, tied to a large saw and everyone leaves him to die...what happens? Maybe other writer revel in this part of the process but it's one of the hardest for me and that is where I am right now.

The best way to get over this hump (push the envelope) is research, research, research. Reading up on everything that has anything to do with the subject matter at hand. Who are these people? Where are they? Where do they come from? What do they want? In my case it's looking at homes in the French Quarter and the Garden District. It's reading up on architecture and blues poetry. It's reading and rereading Dickens and Williams. It's reading about current events in New Orleans and about Katrina and the aftermath. It's reading about other interesting things like the Ursllines (an order of nuns in New Orleans) and Mardi Gras. It's g\oing to restaurants and ordering local favorites and traditional dishes. It's being in the heat of the day and writing bad poetry about it. It's going through my CD collection and looking up songs that fit with my themes. It's looking at local and popular art of the time. It's looking for the key to the second act door. And often it is writing a lot and knowing most of it will be thrown away.

But in the midst of all this my first full length production, "Pride and Succubus" is in rehearsal. I'm fortunate enough to be included on some of the best emails on production matters. This tread on props I think is one of my favorites so far:

From Kimberlee (Prop Designer)
I'm going to go over the prop list and send e-mails to everyone appropriate very soon, but here are a couple things that have occurred to me, just off the top of my head.

- JA's pen is described as a quill. Color me stupid, but is that historically accurate, and do we care?
- The chair - is that a breakaway chair, or somehow able to be broken away?
- Do we still want/need bats/chains/pipes/other sundry weapons for the JAS?

Additionally, I've gotten one reply to my call for techie help. I forwarded the contact info, but I don't know if she's done anything. I don't exactly know that she's got any technical prowess, but hands are hands, and I'll follow up with her.

Also, I have a costume contact; a lady who works with both the Dickens Faire and the Renn. Faire. As soon as I get the okay to forward her contact info, I will do so. She should be very helpful!

On a final, saucier note, I had a thought last night at rehearsal, but I didn't want to say anything until I was even a tiny bit sure I could actually make this happen. As a Renn. Faire participant, I have an odd assortment of connections, and I happen to know a gentleman (strictly speaking) who does some marvelous things with wood. One of his spec ialties is a wooden dildo. I was informed that a certain stake was to be considered Lizzie's "favorite" and I thought it might be... funny... to modify this design into a combination dildo cum (pun intended) stake. It's a simple matter of sharpening the tip into a point, and am fairly certain he can do it, in the range of $20-30. Thoughts? Shock and Awe? WMD's?

Till next time,

Kimberlee

From Sang (Co-Director)
Wow... phallic stake... well, its certainly been alluded to. I'll check with Max/Elizabeth (Faith) on this.

I don't think that bit of anchronism matters but right now, Rana asked to purchase the book and pen so we'll see what she comes up with and change if necessary.
No breakaway chair - that's been removed (sorry Claire).
Kai - I believe you have the new amended Society weapons. Please confer with Kimberlee. FYI, the pipe we saw in Hakeem's shop costs $10.
Thanks for the update Kimberlee!

From Max (Lead Director)
You have my attention, but I think I'd need to get a better idea of what it would look like first. I worry about it not looking sufficiently vampire-lethal and about it looking like she masochistically uses the spiky implement internally - but I'm all for sight gags! Wait! Do you mean have the handle end (shaft, yes, I know) have the rounded, knobby tip and the other side have the spike? That could work for me.

JA is living in the present, somehow interacting with both the characters and the actors who are portraying them. She will transcend anachronism.

I was unaware that we had completely dropped the breakaway chair and can certainly be okay with that as long as someone tells me what it was replaced with - or, I suppose, just dumps it back on me to find another way to end that scene.

HEADS UP: There will likely be some new prop needs arising from the fights left to be choreographed, specifically those using "black magic". Ideas are still forming and we'll let you know as soon as we do what it is that we want/need.

Thanks!
- Max

From Kai (in the role of Darcy and Fight Choreographer)
Aye, the JAS weapons are now solidified, and pared down to three: 1) a femur, which we have; 2) a (tobacco) smoking pipe; 3) a croquet mallet. We don't have the latter 2.

I'm on the fence about the phallus stake - it would certainly be amusing, but I'm not sure the laugh would be worth the distraction, and $20-30 could be used for other props. I was thinking more of a handle/grip than a... toy, but would be overruled if majority feels otherwise.

Speaking of stakes, there were two stakes made for the photo shoot. Does anybody have a bead on those?

Kim, an update on the holy water. I've taken a closer look at the fights in 5.1 and I think Lizzie should have two instead of one. Vial size/type should be small-ish but visible - maybe test tube kinda thing. In 4.1, she will be using one on Darcy, which could perhaps be hidden in her cleavage. Dorie, any thoughts on how she can carry two vials in 5.1?

Dorie, regarding Lizzie's stake holster, the throwing stakes will be fairly small in diameter - I think 3/4". I can measure this tonight at rehearsal, but wanted to touch base with you on that before you constructed something for thicker stakes. Again, this should hold three throwing stakes that lie at an angle, rather than parallel to the floor. Length is negotiable - you, Kimberlee and I can have a separate conversation about vials and the holster, if you like.

Woo!
-Kai

Test tubes marked with crosses. And the plugs should be in the shape of pope-hats! (Which, according to wikipedia are called "mitres". I wonder if you cut the fabric with a mitre saw...)

Sorry, I need more sleep.
- Max

Oh... god...

-Kai

Note: I have no idea what the "black magic" is, but I can't wait to find out. I'm not bothered by the absence of the breakaway chair, but I wonder what they will do with the lines in reference to it. I don't know what they will do with the stakes, but again I can't wait to find out!

Addiction, Retreat, and Reboot

I'm not a very good writer. I'm not saying this to be humble or to fish for compliments. And I don't mean that what I write isn't worth reading or watching. To tell you the truth sometimes I listen to a monologue I wrote and I say "Damn! Damn that was good!" What I mean when I saw this, always when I say this, is that I'm not very good at sitting down and actually writing. I'm also bad at spelling and generally bad at grammar and punctuation...and editing. I'm a terrible editor in every way an editor can be bad at something. But when it comes down to sitting down and working, I am awful at it.

I can't get up in the morning and write. I'm groggy and fuzzy and I can't focus. I don't carry around a pen and paper with me everywhere I go. Unlike writing in the morning (which I think is a personal choice) not carrying around basic supplies is a character flaw. I used to, and I used to write poems all the time. Not good poems, rarely good poems, but for some reason it rarely even occures to me any more to even jot something down that is more than a to do list. I don't write daily. Well, I have since I got to New Orleans, but in day to day life I don't write every day. When I need to work on a peice I may spend hours circling my computer, putting it in front of me with all the tools I think I'll need and then I'll turn on the TV. I don't watch TV. I want to make that perfectly clear. I turn it on and then think to myself "Why aren't you writing? Why aren't you writing? Why aren't you writing?"

I did this a lot yesterday. I moved my computer from room to room, chair to chair, configured a writing area and then reconfigured it. Then I turned on the TV and proceeded to stare at the blank screen on the lap top for hours. I mean hours. When did I finally write something? When did the creature that is muse finally jump into bed with me and move my fingers as it sang it's song...3:30 in the fucking morning. It hit me like a lighting bolt. Like a fucking epiphany. Suddenly I was at my lap top in the dark, my fingers flying and in an hour and a half I had fifteen pages of workable dialog. Then I went to bed because I was too tired not to, but I knew I could have written for a little while longer. Maybe I should have.

Sometimes I think I should sleep all day and write all night. Sit up in the dark and work. I hate sleeping alone, I'm afraid of the dark and the unknown, I leave the TV on because I don't want to hear the noises I can't make sense of, I leave the light on so I don't have to worry about shadows. But I can't sleep with the noise of the TV. I can't sleep with any light on by light coming through the windows. I lay awake sort of registering the shows that are on late late, wishing I were asleep. Wishing I was a day writer. Wishing I had the satisfaction that all day I worked and my hands were sore and my wrists were sore and my fingers were stuck in a typing position. But instead I wait. I wait for the muse to come to me in the night.

I've never believed in writer's block. It's the wrong word for what it happening when I sit down and I have a hard time breaking through a barrier. In the movie "The Right Stuff" we see Chuck Yeager go up into the sky again and again and always he and the other test pilots are talking about pushing the outside of the envelope. Always they are working to break a record, a sound barrier, or a personal fear. Writing feels like that sometimes. I'm working fast and hard and a lot, but always on the edge I can feel that I'm getting to a point where either I wont know what will happen next and I push and push and push. Sometimes I feel that point coming and I work right past it like a speed bump, sometimes I don't feel it coming and it hits me like a brick wall, sometimes I feel it coming and I give up before I even get there. It's the envelope. The unknown. I am always pushing to work past and through it. Sometimes I just don't know how. Maybe that's just another way of saying writer's block, but I don't want to think of it as a wall. More like factor X. I am trying to solve for X and sometimes I just don't know the right equation.

I am right now working in a coffee shop. Community Coffee is not unlike Starbuck's or Seattle's Best or something along those lines. I wish I had one of these in my apartment. The light is just right, the air is cool, but not refrigerated. It is not busy in here, but it is not empty either. There are several people working on their laptops as well. A few who have been here longer than I have. Maybe I need to accept the vanity of writing and reading in public. 'Look at me! I have a laptop and I am working on it!" always felt silly, but it's productive at least. Unfortunately, I don't want to cultivate a coffee addition. It gives me a headache if I don't get it, it is expensive, I like the over sugared coffees that had pounds, I don't like the jittery heart racing feeling. And if I eat the wrong foods with coffee or after coffee my stomach feels funny and I have weird digestive issues.

Many writers cultivate additions because they are cultivating writing habits. Coffee in the morning with a notebook. Tea in the afternoon with the typewriter. Liquer in the evening at the writing desk. And cigarettes. So many cigarettes. Even I can imagine myself with a stick in my hand and a work table in front of me. When I need a pause to think about the words I can take a drag and breath in the next hit. Wait while the smoke pours out of me and then dive into the writing again. Taking a break to work on the pack and doing nothing else but thinking about the writing. My hands feel so useless when I'm walking and passing about the room working through a monologue. If only I had a cigarette in my hand to keep my hands and mouth busy.

But this is all ridiculous. I do not want to cultivate any of these habits but the habits of writing. I've never really been a disciplined person. I've always hopped that the discipline of others would somehow work it's magic on me. It worked in college when my room mate Tanya would work on school work. What else was there for me to do but work and study too? And Tanya was good at studying. Then it became a kind of competition. It might have had bad repercussions on our friendship, but that competitive nature that she instilled in me through her ardent work ethic got me through college and worked on me through grad school. But it hasn't worked quite so well for my personal work and art...or my personal life. I want to schedule out day. Get up at a certain time, sleep at a specific time. Eat this at this time. Need that at such and such time. And write. Write write write. But this is a place I don't know how to get to.

But this is what this trip is really for. How do I work? How do I become a writer who writes? How do I accept the way I need to work and ensure my life builds itself around that?

Waves of Literature, Mountains of Paper

Day two in New Orleans and I decided to continue my UPS saga just a little further. (By the way, the end of that saga really is that Matt had to go pick up the package on Monday and I'll get it when I return home. No more tears, just an acceptance that sometimes I over react, and that I picked the right time to go on an extended holiday.) One of the books I had ordered from Amazon was David Copperfield. Do I have my own tattered and warn copy? Yes. I brought it with me. My plan is to tare it apart, literally. I’m going to re-read it and take out the pages that apply to me, past them into a notebook and make notes on them and I work on outlines and scenes. Necessary? Maybe not. Fun and interesting? Yes. But, I wanted to have a not ripped up copy on had for re-reference and… you know…so that I could have a not ripped up copy. Through my long love of book stores the literature section has always brimmed with Dickens. Used bookstores usually allow him to take up several shelves in the same way that their drama section might as well be called “variations of Shakespeare paper backs”. It never occurred to me that I would not find David Copperfield on the shelves. Unfortunately, it seems that people who own copies of the book keep it while selling or getting rid of Bleak House and everyone had David Copperfield on their summer reading list. Hence the ordering of the book on Amazon.

But all is not lost, I told myself. After all, New Orleans may be in the process of rebuilding but it has not lost all it’s book stores. The travel book even says that New Orleans is a well read literary city. “Of course it is.” I thought to myself. Think of the writers who have lived and written there and the books they have written. The plays. The foundations of our history are just as locked up in the events of our past as our writers recounting and retelling of it. Whether in fiction or non-fiction, New Orleans can sport close relationships with the greats and the most popular of the popular. I’d never call Anne Rice a great writer, but the power and popularity of her writing is undeniable.

The travel book told me that the French Quarter sports several bookstores. Because they are all in walking distance, I decided to walk to all of them. The first one I actually visited on my first day when I came across it accidentally. The Book Exchange is new bohemian, in other words punk. Operating on the idea that these are just books and their material value is not important as the knowledge with in them, which should be free, and the price tag reflects that. They are all used, most of them used to the point of tattered. The clientele when I visited were myself, another young woman about my age, and an older woman who was looking for a Star Trek book along the lines of “The Wrath of Khan.” The proprietor was kind and gentle and found the book right away and was paid about twenty five cents. The woman was course and rough. She sounded like a woman who had lived on the streets, the exercise of talking long and loud makes so many homeless people sound like actors in a strange way. She talked about how she was getting free lance work fixing computers, a trade she taught her self. “I just woke up one morning and I knew that I had it in me. It’s like talking to horses.”

Now, how that woman found that book still boggles my mind. Except I think that there was a Star Trek section, but I guarantee the books were not in any particular order because they certainly weren’t in the rest of the store. They were sectioned off into genres, but no alphabetizing of any kind happened within. My two favorite sections of the store were one called “useless information” which contained the Guinness Books of World Records, sports histories, old geography books, and a few old almanacs. I love that not only had she had made this section and every book within was her judgment on what was generally useless, yet she knew someone would find something in there so the books all remained. The other section was called “Fiction/Non-Fiction” and reminded me of a time when my friend Emily worked in one of those stupidly huge book stores and someone came up to her and asked her where the Non-Fiction novels were. If she only knew then she could have told him “New Orleans”.

My snobby part was affronted by the lack of organization and general carelessness in the store. In fact the “Fiction/Non-Fiction” section was the part that upset me the most. How cold a book store operate this way? I mean really! I left disappointed in this “literary” city.

But all was not lost. There were several other bookstores, and I was sure to find what I was looking for in one of them. The first stop was actually not a book store, but a shrine to one of my favorite playwrights: Tennessee Williams.

My dear friends, many of whom are in theatre, I’m sure you will understand the utter shock, dismay, disappointment, revolution and disillusionment when I tell you this: Tennessee Williams house is for sale. It is not a shrine. A plaque on the building has the few years he spent there and that he wrote “A Streetcar Named Desire” there, but other then that there is nothing but a for sale sign. Not a book store or even a crappy souvenir shop. How could this happen! In a city where there are drinks named Stella! This play is an homage to the poetic duality that Williams found when he got here. One of his best plays is built on existing themes in the city itself. Jazz plays throughout as an emotional landscape, there really was a tenement called Elysian Fields, and there really was a streetcar named Desire. There were all of these things, before The Hurricane. Gone. There is no place for Desire to go, so they stopped running it. Not that it was a streetcar anymore anyway. The streetcar is in San Francisco and is part of a moving museum of streetcars. Tourists get on it and laugh and think it’s a funny joke. Here, the rails for the car had been ripped out and it became a bus called Desire. Gone with the horrible housing it took people to. Gone is Elysian Fields, built so horribly in the first place there is no way it would withstand the abuse of the storm and the flood that followed. And with so many of those old houses in the French Quarter for sale, maybe I shouldn’t be surprised the Williams house has no tenants. But it left me a little cold inside.

Around the corner is Faulkner’s house. For being a street called Pirate Alley, this one was by far better maintained. Some one lives in Faulkner’s house, where he wrote “Soldiers Pay.” There is also a book store on the ground floor. No bigger than my living room at home, this little shop was beautiful. The books were almost all new and displayed with care and joy. Here I found Faulkner, Williams, and all the other writers who ever wrote, mentioned or lived in New Orleans. But no Dickens. Who ever owned the shop had an obvious affinity for poetry and there were shelves and shelves and shelves of poetry. Everything was clean and bright. Stark contrast to The Book Exchange. A pretty little bookshop and the bottom of a pretty little yellow house.

The next book store was…amazing. Just amazing. I tried to take pictures, but I felt it was rude to go into someone’s business and take pictures. I’m sure someone else on the internet has done it and I’ll use theirs, but I just don’t know if I’ll be able to put it into words. The books were stacked and piled in such away that it seemed the architect of the mess had a mind to creating a replica of the labyrinthineian mountains of Afghanistan. Any good San Franciscan would cross themselves twice before entering this shop as they tilted their heads up toward the literary leaning towers. It seems there was such a rush to get all the book just into the space that not a thought was put into anyone ever seeing them. I felt like I as in a storage unit, not a store. Most of the spines where turned away from me, so I couldn’t even read them. I thought to myself “Here, here is where I will find a treasure! Here is where I’ll find a forgotten tome, a lost legacy, a priceless prize.” I found a section that contained books on movie stars and realized drama books couldn’t be far. Sure enough, deep with in a cave between Beatles 8 Tracks and Marylyn Monroe I found plays. I reached out and pulled, only to find the shelf above my beloved section had split under the weight of the mountain on top of it. When I pulled the whole of the 15 feet of books above me shuttered. I called off the treasure hunt and left the store. Later I met a woman who worked at an antique store in the Quarter. She told me that she hadn’t sold a piece in three months. I looked around and saw that nothing was priced under a hundred dollars, and those things weren’t antiques just normal things painted up and lacquered by an artist. I wasn’t surprised she hadn’t sold anything. She told me the owner was independently wealthy and didn’t really need this store for anything more then a hobby to occupy his time. Thinking back to that death trap of a bookstore I think the same must be said for that owner as I don’t imagine there are a lot of people buying things from him. Only four people can fit in the store at any given time and I doubt more then one of them would be brave enough to pull at some anonymous book just to see if it is worth a stack falling on there head. Of course, a first edition Wizard of Oz might be worth it, but you’d have to find the section first.

The other book stores were normal, tiny, used book stores. One of them I even bought a significant amount of Tennessee Williams from. Mostly because I found the section easily enough, the books were alphabetized, I was never in fear for my life, and it was the last book store I visited and I needed something to eat. I never did find any Dickens, not a one.

But, when I got home very tired and very hot I did find out how wonderful it is to lay back on a floating mattress in a pool with my feet in the water, a cold lemonade in one hand and Tennessee Williams in the other.

Wednesday, July 16, 2008

New Orleans – The Adventure Begins

A few days ago I started to reconsider the wisdom of traveling to New Orleans by myself. The city is a city of legend for so many reasons. Always when it comes up, whether in books or movies or plays, it is a city of dangerous magic. The city is always a character, and that character is a Janis (look up.) One face is the fun loving big easy, the other is extremely poor and disenfranchised. One face is elegance and charm, the other is dark and dirty. In the days leading up to my trip I worried whether is was safe for me to travel alone, if I would be a target for thieves or worse. I often feel, even in San Francisco, that I have a sign painted on my head. “Easy mark.” I worry that grifters (look up), pickpockets and the like look at me as easy pickings. Not that anything has happened to me yet, but I think the theatre has taught me something I’ll never be able to get away from: everyone believes they are basically good and everyone wants something. Those two things are what make humans inherently selfish and dangerous. I don’t trust this city. True, I only just got here. But from what I’ve read, seen and been told even the locals don’t trust this city all together.

The plane trips were pleasant enough. Nothing out of the ordinary to report. People always ask “How was your trip” first thing. Usually I chalk universal questions and small talk up to not having anything else to talk about, but “How was your trip?” is a question that is really asking for a story with a follow up for current needs. It’s a fabulous question.

“How was your trip?”

“Fine, thank you. There was a rough landing or two but over all everything was fine. But the stewardess never came back after she dropped of my drink. I’m so thirsty.”

“Can I get you something?”

Isn’t that lovely. What a fabulous question. My trip was fine, both of the landings were a little rough, but Southwest always has two things: funny stewards and rough landings. I drank ginger ale the whole time. I love ginger ale, but I only think to drink it on planes. I think mom had us all drink it once when we flew from Denver to Albuquerque and ever since that is all I drink on planes. She probably did it to keep our stomachs settled. Anyway, ginger ale tastes better at 10,000 feet so I rarely drink it on the ground. I did need to use the bathroom right away when we got in.

It was raining when we touched down. The cab ride was fine, everyone getting off the planes were taking cabs. I felt stupid in a line of tourists and conventioneers. I wanted to shout “I’m not one of them. I’m a writer.” But of course I am one of them, I’m just staying longer. But no one seemed to be renting cars, and when I got to the city I realized there wouldn’t have been much of a place to put them anyway. There isn’t an awful lot of parking. In the cab were signs about the fare, this wasn’t a meter situation like in San Francisco, there was a flat rate to the French Quarter and to Down Town. There were flate rates for a lot of things, but there was also a meter somewhere, I just didn’t see it. The fair rates read like a menu. Here are the places you can go and how much it will cost. I was also warned that I should set a price with the driver before we go and make sure that is the price we stick to. I was also warned that air conditioning is free by law. It all seemed very complicated. I tipped the driver too much when we got to the apartment. I hope all tourists tip too much.

But I have to stop that practice because I have yet to find a Wells Fargo ATM and if I want to be able to tip at all I need to find one, other wise I’ll be giving a lot extra to both the city of New Orleans, the ATM machines, the businesses where I find those ATMs and Wells Fargo for NOT using their ATM. I’m sure I’ll find one sooner or later.

The apartment I’m staying in is beautiful. It’s a creole style construction built in the 1800’s. It has four rooms. The living room which has a full bed, a couch that pulls out into a bed and a full futon. There is a satellite TV, air conditioner and broachers for things to do in New Orleans. Elmo, the man I’m renting from, laughed when he took me to this part of the room. “But you kids have the internet these days with what all on it and I’m sure you have a thing with your trip all planned out.” I’ve always been a broacher gal myself, but that did seem like a reasonable assumption. The broachers are all dusty and unused even though I think this place get a lot of action. The living room in a forest green with those tall shuttered windows looking out on the street. But the shutters don’t work and the other window has a broken window covering that is always down, so the room is very dark and cool feeling. I typing this on the couch. I’ll have to try out several writing stations before I settle on one. This room leads to the bedroom which is where I’ve set up camp. It has a full bed and a little cot that folds out. It also has an air conditioner and a little TV. The room is painted a dusty rose pink. There is only one window, so this room is also very dark. This room leads to the kitchen. It is fully stocked with dishes and has a large refrigerator. It is painted a fall gold and reminds me of my grandfather’s house. Off to the side is the bathroom which isn’t much more than a large closet. There is just barely enough room for the large bathtub, toilet and sink. Elmo kindly stocked this room as well with soaps and such. I don’t think I’ll be using them, but it’s nice to know they are there. The kitchen leads to the back yard with is taken up mostly by a small kidney shaped pool. I’ve never had a pool at my disposal before, and I’m not quiet sure what to do. It isn’t big enough to really swim, it seems like it would be more fun to have with lots of people over. But I think the same thing goes for this whole place. It is a party rental. Elmo commented that he does usually get a lot of people, but that with there only being one bathroom it must get uncomfortable. I agreed completely. He showed me the little ins and outs of the unit. I paid him and then took a look around.

After the initial shock of everything being so nice wore off, I realized I was in a vacation rental like any other. The furniture all picked out with a loving hand with an eye towards making the place feel old and a mind to keep the budget small. The effect isn’t far from feeling like I live in an old woman’s house. There are doilies and old rugs and teapots and fake flowers (some with the price tags still on them.) I can smell the cigarette smoke of past tenants, and here and there I can see their ashes. The bed seats have the telltail burn marks. The air is so full of room sanitizer and air freshner that there is no way this room wasn’t used by smokers. But there is a genital sort of honest charm to it. Drunken revelers my not appreciate it, but I do. I read on a review of a hostel “It’s not great and there isn’t much to it, but if you came to New Orleans to just sit round a room all day then you came for the wrong reason.” I did come to sit around a room all day, so a hostel wasn’t really the place for me. Also, I’m into food, but I’m not into drinking, so I would like a place that feels good to be in. I’m so happy with this place, which is called “Night of the Iguana” by the way, that I’m considering coming back here next year at about the same time and staying for another week or two. This time Matt will come with me the whole time.

Feeling at home is hard for me. It is one thing to lay about a room or make food in a kitchen, it is another to take a shower or sleep. Making one self at home seems to imply a general sloppiness of living. Don’t be afraid to get in the fridge and eat anything, put your shoes where ever, leave your dirty clothes about. But making your self at home means you are comfortable being vulnerable there. In short, I didn’t sleep at all last night. I left the TV on so I couldn’t hear the house noises, I left a few lights on so I couldn’t see the house shadows. I’m pretty good at scaring myself silly. I’d imagin little noises were people trying to break in, that I’d wake up with a stranger standing over my bed, that there were ghosts in the house. Also, it is hard to sleep without Matt. Even at home I have a hard time. It’s odd, I can’t sleep with lights on, or TVs or Radios, but I’ll have them on the first few nights I’m alone because I don’t want to face the dark. I think I finally found sleep around 5am, when the light coming through the windows was enough to scare the ghosts and villains away. I turned off the TV and slept a good sleep for three hours. Consequently I got up later than I wanted to because my body was finally getting rest and resisted by urges to rise. But I needed to get up. I have no food here and I really don’t want to spend all my money eating out. I heard there was a farmers market and a French Market, both of which I wanted to try. Also, I needed to recon a grocery store, maybe a Walgreen’s, a Free WiFi source (if you are reading this in July I found one) and a Wells Fargo ATM. Also, I wanted to see the place with out my camera. I just wanted to walk around a little and look.

The French Quarter is beautiful. All the tall shuttered windows and the lace like embellishments in iron and wood. The rainbow of painted homes and the hanging plants. And everywhere I looked I saw for sale signs. That was unexpected. Hanging in front of those old doors, hanging off the balconies, posted to walls and in windows. That many for sale signs never look like a good think, it always looks like a bad thing.

The other thing I saw were lots of closed signs. Take heart dear readers, I do not mean they were closed and gone away, I just mean that I got up earlier then I needed to. The city wasn’t up yet. Myself and the other tourists were wondering about will silly looks on our faces wondering what to do with ourselves. Most shops don’t open up until 9am…and those are just the T-Shirt stores. The ones I wanted to go into didn’t open until noon. I had always planned on staying in and writing in the morning, now it was cemented. I can sleep in too. Silly me. In a city of drinkers, what was I thinking getting up before noon?

I did stop by CafĂ© du Mond for bingets and coffee. They were tasty, but really, how hard is it to mess up a square of fried dough? I’ll go again, but not until after I’ve tasted the other similar places around. A balloon man made me a flower and we chatted for a while about San Francisco. I walked up and down French Market and Decatur. I didn’t get as far as Canal, but not far. I went out and looked at the Mississippi River then walked around some more. I found a used book store and video rental place I want to try on Chartres. Again, open at noon. A grocery store that I had found on-line was the first store I went into, but on closer inspection it was higher end Italian food. It looked good, but not really what I was looking for. I put my basket down and decided to head back, but I’d go up a different street, and maybe I’d find something. First thing I found was a Walgreen’s, where I got bug spray (four bites already!) So I went back up Saint Philip where I passed a coffee shop called Community Coffee (CC’s) that said it had WiFi and then I found the grocery store on Bourbon. I now have breakfast and snack supplies. I think after writing I’ll turn on the TV, mark some possible dinner and shopping places for tonight, eat a little something, then read and then head back out. If it’s a nice night I may go for a swim, but I don’t know. I saw a Lush and I might stop in and get some bath supplies and take a nice long self spoil bath. I did buy a bottle of whine, so that may be really pleasant. Unfortunately, when I set down to lunch (on cherries, cheese and crackers) I found the crackers had completely EXPLODED in their little bag in the box. The box had not sustained any damage, but there was not a single survivor. I had to take a picture of it.

It is also very hot here, but at the moment it is not unpleasant. I know it is not all that hot, and not all that muggy. I’ve felt worse and been warned about worse in New Orleans. But the humidity is down and the sun is out. It’s hot, but it’s the kind of summer hot I don’t get a lot anymore. Also, the knowledge that air conditioning is only a shop away is pleasant. Plus, the muse willing, I’ll be in writing one opus or another.

Here’s to retreating!

Friday, July 11, 2008

F*%K You UPS, F*%K You Very Much

So this is not really that big a deal. What I need to do is take a chill pill and get over myself. But, on the other hand this should not be that difficult.

I ordered a package from Amazon. Usually I don't have any problem with Amazon packages. They show up with the mail. I usually order very small packages (books and music and movies) so when I get home BING! there they are. It has always been a pleasant experience. UPS on the other hand can take their brown little outfit and stick them where the sun don't shine. This may even be to soon for me to write about this because it JUST happened and I should calm down first but I am so angry!

I had a book and CD rush delivered to me. The CD I have been having a hard time tracking down in stores and I ordered the book because I thought "As long as I'm ordering this other thing." I wanted them both before I left for New Orleans. Could I get them in New Orleans, it's not an impossibility. The book is David Copperfield, and while I've had a hard time tracking down a new copy in the City (it seems to be on everyone's summer reading list), that book isn't and wont be out of print. The CD is the Dead Presidents sound track, an awesome sound track I recommend to anyone. One of the best of all time. I had a copy but lost it and this was to replace it.

Now, again, it's not like I have to have these things before I leave...but I would like to. That's why I paid almost the total price of my purchase to ensure they got to me on time.

UPS leaves one of their notices on my door yesterday. They tried to deliver the package, but I wasn't home. They will try again Friday (today) between 2:00 and 5:00. Shit, I think. I'm not going to be home. I have work all day and then I have the play. I wasn't expecting them to use UPS. Usually it's just regular mail. Shoot. I don't get the notice until 11:30pm, so I can't call their automated system to rearrange the drop off place. So I call this morning.

"Can I have it dropped of at my local UPS store? "

"No."

"But I've done that before. I know there is a charge and I'm willing to pay it."

"You have to call the store and ask them if it's ok."

"Really?"

Really, I'm thinking. I have to call the store. Really? There isn't just an agreement about this? Really? So I call the store. It's fine. The guy doesn't even take my name. It's fine. It's all fine.

So I call back. I confirm that the store said it was OK. The guy then tells me the package can be picked up on Monday. Wait. Wait. Wait. I'm not here on Monday. I'm on a plane on Monday. Can't it be sooner? No. But the store is only a few blocks from me. Can't they just drop it off there so I can pick it up on Saturday? No.

I'm to angry. I don't want to cry to the UPS guy. I hang up.

I chill out. I call again.

"Fine, I say. Fine. I'd like to arrange to pick it up at the package center." Mind you, the package center, while in SF and technically less then 10 miles from my house, is actually a 45 minute drive and in a not so nice industrial unlit neighborhood. There is no official parking, the pick up center doesn't even look like non employees can enter. It is very intimidating and uncomfortable. "Great." He says. "The package will be available to you on Monday." WHAT!!!!!

The pick up center isn't open on Saturdays (when I'm around.) "But you don't deliver on Saturdays. What am I supposed to do?" He doesn't have an answer. So I hang up.

Chill, I say. Chill. But I can't. I can't chill. What if this package had been important. And more importantly, that doesn't matter. The package is important to me! That is why I ordered it. I start writing. Then I remember the old rule with customer service. The customer is always right. And I'm right. I deserve my silly package of silly things. So, I call back.

We go through the whole thing again. This time I plead.

"But the Store is only a few blocks from my house? Couldn't it be dropped of there today instead of my apartment?"

"No," she says sticking to the party line. "No. That transaction can't happen until Monday. Can't you just go to the package center?"

"No. No I can't."

"Is it very far away?"

"Yes. Yes it is. "

"Ok, then what do you want me to do?" This is good. I'm in the right. I tell her I expected this to be delivered regular mail. I expected this to be just dropped off. I need it before I leave town on Monday. I had it rush delivered for that very purpose. I can't go anywhere but the places I need to be at today.

"Can you have a neighbor sign for it?"

"No, not at this point." I don't have their phone numbers and even if I did, I'm not sure they know who I am or if they hate me or if they'd understand what I was saying. The ones who would be home would be older ladies who don't speak English. One even says, "Hello mama" as I pass her in the hall. I think she thinks I'm pregnant, which is horrible. I want to tell her I'm pregnant only with my own laziness and just need to loose 20 pounds. But I think she'll get the hint when no baby comes and I still look bloated. I don't know the people in the buildings around me. Plus, I am no longer home to leave UPS a note on my door about what to do with the package.

"Are you sure you can't go to the pick-up place after 7pm?"

"Yes. I'm sure." I'll be in costume at that point. I'll be doing vocal warms ups and stretching and quite probably bitching about my UPS experience. And I don't want to leave work early because it's my last day here for three weeks and I don't want to leave Coleen in a lurch. Plus, Coleen isn't here today so if I leave I may be leaving someone else hanging. Even though I spend so much time doing nothing, part of my job is sitting around waiting for something to happen. And even if I leave work at 1pm and get home by 1:30 there is a chance that that package will have come at 11:30. It's happened before. There is a chance it wont come until after 5pm. It's happened before.

"Could you have someone else go to the package pick-up center after 7pm to pick it up?"

I think about Matt. I think about how Matt has worked hard all day at his job and how I'll be leaving him for three weeks. I think about how he could do it for me and about how I'm always asking him for silly favors and this would be the silliest of them all. And how it's a book and a CD I could get almost anywhere and I really shouldn't have bought them so last minute anyway and how I'd be making him rush around and deal with stupid UPS for me. Go into a scary neighborhood after 7pm to maybe meet with the driver and maybe get my package. And it's just not that important.

"Maybe." I say defeated into the phone.

"I'm running out of options here." She says. So am I, I think to myself. I thank the heavens that this isn't a really important package, and I reconsider ever using UPS again, and never having anything rushed from Amazon again.

"Well, if you do find someone. Contact us before 7pm with their name. Send them with a note that they are authorized to pick up your package. Make sure they have their ID." She says this in her best "I'm sorry" tone.

I feel so defeated.

"I'll see what I can do."

"Ok. I'm sorry." And I know she is, but I don't think it matters. If I don't get that stupid package somehow today, then Matt will have to pick it up from the UPS store anyway. And then he'll just hold on to it, because mailing it out to New Orleans would be stupid. And I'm going to cry. I can feel it building up in side of me. I'm going to cry because I'm stressed about going to New Orleans. I'm worried I won't write a word when I get there. I'm worried I'll be robbed, lost, lonely, alone, too hot and uninspired. I'm worried that I shouldn't be leaving Matt at all. I'm worried that I'm not prepared, that I'll forget something. That I'll do something wrong. And Matt. I don't want to leave Matt. I was so happy to months ago when this all seemed like an adventure, but now (as it was right before I went to Europe with Emily) I don't want to be separated from him. Who in there right mind makes that choice? The man I love is in San Francisco, and I'm in New Orleans. For three weeks. What the f*%k was I thinking.

And I've spent the last five weeks crying my heart out at least four times a week. Not just crying. Weeping. On stage. To get there, to this place a woman who just lost her husband to a bad bad war, to get to that place I think about the closest thing to my heart. I think about Nathan. I think about him in all the contexts that thinking about him could get me to cry. I think about playing the game of Life with him, and how poetic that is. I think about him at one or two running around in a Micky Mouse belly shirt that children in the 80's wore. His blond hair falling into his eyes, and his silly silly smile. I think about his big rough hands that he never seemed to be able to hold in a way that was comfortable. I think about how he doesn't really like a lot of touch. I think about him in uniform. I think about him holding a gun. I think about fresh turf and a head stone with his name on it and I weep. I weep dangerously. I weep uncontrollably. I don't act. For five minutes on stage I weep for my living brother and my living fears. I weep for all the times I never said I loved him and all the times I did. And I fight with myself in my mind. I don't want to cry. I don't want to think about it. I don't want to use this to "get there." I don't want this, and then I cry more. And I'm so tired. I know if I call UPS again, it will be that person crying. The scared, worried, sad, tired actress.

I feel like such an asshole. Because it's not about this stupid package. It's about me and all the stuff I need to just breath out. I will be fine in New Orleans. It will be wonderful, and Matt and I will road trip back to San Francisco and that will be wonderful. Nathan will come home from Iraq, I have to believe that. I need to just breath, breath, breath.

I'm going to call back one more time and try to talk someone into doing something. I'm the customer, and I'm always right. And I shouldn't have to f*%king deal with this bullsh*t.

UPDATE: Called again and got a very nice woman who said all the same things. This time she also said I could arrange to have it delivered at my local UPS store and then call at like 7am tomorrow morning and see if there is a driver who can drop it off tomorrow. She said they do that sometimes. I have my doubts. But it will be at the store and if anything, Matt pick it up from there when it is convenient for him and then it will just be at home waiting for me. This should be easier. There should be a motherf*%king system in f*%king place.

Thursday, July 3, 2008

Truck'n

The Great American Road Trip! It's an American thing to happily get into a car and happily charge forth into the unknown. Maybe there is something distinctly Gypsy in our blood that makes us itch for the road. Having taken more then a few road trips in my life, I can say there are long periods of unpleasant followed by brief periods of pretty great, followed by longer periods of boredom. None the less, I feel more connected to those places I spent so many hours trecking over. I feel more connected to the long stretch of road between Albuquerque and Portales New Mexico then I do to any street in San Francisco. It's an odd tradition. Often my mind turns toward "The Grapes of Wrath" and their long trip to California. The trip is so full of hope and anticipation, regret and fear, sorrow and anxiety, but it is also this part of the book that I think most American's connect to be cause it is this part that in our history we all share. So many of our stories start with "When my ancestors came here..." it is a journey story. They escape, they are captured, they are brought, they are released, they search for freedom, they come for work, they all have hopes of a better life. Maybe better than what they had, maybe just better than the journey itself. But it is that journey that American's just can't get over. Then, once here it wasn't enough. Out West, out beyond. It wasn't just a need to settle, it was a need to not settle. To move, to find, to forge, to plant, and then to move on. A restless country with itchy feet we now circle it in our cars and planes and try to recapture that hope that journey that trek.

Or maybe we just want to get from one place to another and we have a personal vehicle we can do it in. Matt and I will be under taking a journey of our own this summer.

View Larger Map

And why not? We have family all along the way, and it's a good part of the country I've never seen before, as well as parts of the country I hold dear to my heart.

Do you have suggestions of things we should see along they way? Worlds biggest such and such? Prettiest little house you ever did see? Best catfish in the country? Let me know. We're taking about a week to see it all. It should be fun...well. It will be moments of fun intermingled with sheer boredom but you get the idea.