Saturday, February 26, 2011

cuckoo part two

Friday night: One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest at Portland Center Stage. So great to go with Holly, fellow writer and big Kesey fan, and be able to talk all kinds of Kesey, including her wonderful experience on one occasion of the man's birthday.

Review without spoilers: go see it.

Review with some spoilers...

First off, the set was great and used very effectively. The day room presided over by Nurse Ratched behind glass in her cubicle like a control booth in some spaceship was oppressive and claustrophobic, but the hallway leading back into the rest of the institution - that was even more oppressive. Our seats were over on the right, so I couldn't see the end of that hall, but even so - that is a dangerous corridor. Feels iconic, like the entrance to hell.

Nurse Ratched's little glassed-in room: again, really effective. It has that feel of the royal box at the Roman games, where the king pronounces thumbs-up or thumbs-down. And the control panel studded with lights in the background - a line of lights fade on and off, on and off, like the machine is breathing. A wonderful reference to Chief Bromden's "Combine."

More great stuff with light: the hanging institutional lights contrasting with the pattern of sunlight (freedom) angling down to the floor from the window to the outside.

I loved the opening. First of all, you hear a bit of the "one flew east, one flew west," rhyme, and I swear that's Kesey's voice, there. If it's not, it sure sounds like him.

Of course, the book is told from the Chief's point of view, and you can't help but expect to miss that when you see it on stage. Wasserman's script finds a way to pay homage to that part of the story, and to give voice to Chief's "Combine" ideas, among other things, with the short passages the Chief recites as if speaking to his father. The best use of this is in the opening. Chief standing in the pattern of sunlight on the floor and looking out at freedom, talking to his father, his voice "big" the way he will be "big" at the end of the story - and then he finishes what he has to say and his head droops and all that "big" and all that freedom is gone.

Just great.

I have to say, by the third or fourth time, this felt device-y and I worried that it would start to annoy me. Then it stopped. In a place where it made sense for it to stop, felt right that it would stop, because of how the character and the story had changed.

The production felt really well balanced to me between funny and devastating. I laughed a lot. I was shocked at particular moments. Sometimes it's great to have a bad memory. I forgot a couple of key moments in the plot, and when they happened, they grabbed me hard.

I thought the cast did a wonderful job. Particularly Ryan Tresser playing Billy Bibbit with pitch-perfect innocence and a beautiful stammer. When Billy tells a story about himself stuttering, that stutter sounds appropriately faked, and when he speaks normally, that stutter sounds authentic.

Here are the two biggies. I thought both PJ Sosko as McMurphy and Gretchen Corbett as Ratched were very good.

And Stephen Caffrey as Harding was just the right amount of what he needed to be. The right amount of self-confidence, the right amount of fear, the right amount of priss.

Ooh, and again: that thing about how nice it is at times to have a bad memory. I didn't remember this scene happening the same way in the book. Wasn't it different in the book? I don't know, but what happens in the World Series scene and how it was executed in this production was some lovely magic.

PCS always does Kesey proud. I loved their Sometimes a Great Notion and thought this was great too. It's playing through the end of March.

Friday, February 25, 2011

cuckoo part one

Excited to be seeing One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest tonight at Portland Center Stage. This morning, I took a look back in the old journal to see if I had said anything particular about the book when I read it (on audio, read by Kesey himself) back in o-eight, and found that I'd finished the last bit of it standing under the back awning of Portland Center Stage's Armory theater in the rain.

I did a window display at Powell's to promote both the play and the book, and also the shirt we carry that has the book cover reproduced on it.

Couple of photos...

The look comes from the promo poster PCS created for the production.

Review to come.

Wednesday, February 23, 2011


Recently, I was part of a podcast in a cool, wacky series called The Last Film I Saw, produced by writer/filmmaker Brian Padian of Northern Flicker Films.

You can check it out here.

I was the special guest and for a few moments I talked about the last film I saw. What I thought was really interesting was that he didn't ask me to analyze the film. He asked me why I watched it.

I was excited to truly have a why for this movie. However inarticulately I might have talked about it, I had a pretty strong why. The film was Gold Diggers of 1933. It's a crazy movie - part big Busby Berkeley dance spectacle, part crackpot comedy, part tear your heart out. I'm not sure these different parts all fit together, but I don't care. It's part of what I love about it.

Another thing I love about it is that, as I mentioned in the podcast, it's about the Depression and it was made during the Depression. All the screwball comedy, the sparkly musical production numbers - they're about this very serious, very scary time in American history. Which was going on at the time.

The film opens with Ginger Rogers singing We're In the Money in pig latin. How weird is that? And scores of dancing girls dressed in giant coins. Singing, "You'll never see a headline / About a breadline today." What must audiences have thought, having passed breadlines to get to the theater and watch girls dance under towers of giant money? It's a triumphant declaration of the awful irony of it all. Plus pig latin.

My why was that I was afraid of losing my job and afraid for friends losing their jobs during a big layoff at work. Which of course was happening partly because of the recession we're in - which we call a recession, only a recession, but I'm sure the word depression felt innocuous enough before people had lived in it long enough.

It was the first day of the layoffs, and I'd spent all day in such worry that by the end of it, I came home and was too mind-exhausted to write or do much of anything. There was something about the strange combination of real and unreal of that film that made it the perfect escape that night. That stylized reality of 1930s films, the artifice of the stage, and the Depression right there in the middle of it all. During the podcast, I told Brian I might have to watch it again. The layoff process was not finished, and I wasn't sure if I'd be watching the film in celebration or defeat, but I figured I'd be watching it again.

It took a week but I finally knew neither Stephen nor I were losing our jobs. That night it was me again in front of the TV, Ginger Rogers in extreme closeup--that one crooked tooth--singing E're-way in-ay the oney-may.

The other reason I watched it a second time is that, the first time, I'd had to stop the movie before the end of the final musical number, to go pick Stephen up. And that's my favorite part, that number. After a whole lot of plot kookiness, here comes this surprise heart-wrenching anthem:

Remember my forgotten man.

You put a rifle in his hand.

You sent him far away,

You shouted: Hip-hooray!

But look at him today.

It's really an amazing number. Again, the artifice of the stage and of 1930s Hollywood, but a heavy truth at the bottom of it all. This was how America was feeling at that time. Betrayed. And they put it on the screen in this triumphant tableau.

Somewhere mid-point in the film when play producer Barney Hopkins (who is putting on a musical about the Depression during the Depression - in this movie made during the Depression) hears the music for the song for the first time, he's transfixed by the sound and the rhythm alone: "Men marching! Marching in the rain!" he shouts over the piano. "Marching, marching! Doughnuts and crullers! Jobs, jobs, marching, marching, marching in the rain..."

Brian Padian describes his The Last Film I Saw Podcast as:

A weekly and/or biweekly investigation of cinematic undertaking w/a minimum of fancy-pants language.

You can check them all out here.

Saturday, February 19, 2011

family fun

I love stories about wacky families. One of my February window displays celebrates these stories, including one of the wackiest of all, Jessica Anya Blau's Drinking Closer to Home. For the rest, I asked friends at Powell's what their favorites were. But there've got to be a million great stories about family dysfunction or kookiness out there. Anyone want to add a favorite?

First, the poor quality, full-of-glare window picture:

And the image by itself.

Thursday, February 17, 2011


And here is the image from the Valentine's Day card Stephen made for me:

The French translates to something like, from your slightly childish husband. Wait, does it mean childish or childlike? Whatever it is, he makes an adorable cupid...

Tuesday, February 15, 2011


Post-Valentine's Day show-off time. This'll have to come in two parts since Stephen's still sleeping and I wouldn't go into his computer files to get his. My card to him references one of his pet artists, Franz Winterhalter. This is Empress Eugénie Surrounded by her Ladies in Waiting (1855). We have a print of it on our bedroom wall.

I figured Stephen could be the Empress and I could be all his ladies in waiting. I did some cropping and moved a few of the ladies over to keep all those little faces as large as I could on the card. Even with all that, there were a couple faces I had to leave just a tad too large because with Photopaint I lost too much of the quality in the shrinking. And of course, having to scour pictures for the perfect expressions of adoration at the right angles (to at least make it look like all the ladies are gazing in Stephen's direction, even though, really, most of them probably aren't), I had some that fit better than others. Some that I couldn't get bright enough without losing quality. The Empress Eugénie has a pretty good farmer's tan going there.

Saturday, February 12, 2011


Weeks don't usually come this full.

Standing in a huge group of people at Winston Wächter Gallery, glass of champagne in hand, listening to Stephen speak about his art, with his paintings on the wall behind.

On-the-clock / off-the-clock dread at work, waiting to find out if Stephen or I will be one of the ones laid off.

Good friends losing their jobs.

Noni in the hospital with pneumonia, fear but then favorable reports from home of how she's doing.

Learning wonderful secrets from friends.

On-the-clock / off-the-clock dread, waiting to find out if Stephen or I will be one of the ones bumped by one of the ones laid off.

[in my head, i keep thinking "bumped off" which is kind of fun because it makes me feel like i'm in a gangster movie.]

Arriving at Dangerous Writing to find a thick stack of completed manuscript in the middle of Tom's table, ready to be sent off to his agent. A book we in the workshop have been privileged to watch come to life over these past couple years. Tom says, touch it for good luck. Later, Tom says, kiss it with your red lipstick. I kiss right at the edge of his name on that top page. Then one by one, first the women, then the men, pinking their lips, covering the page with color.

Learning unhappy secrets from friends.

A night of amazing pages, then I read last. The very final chapter of the second draft of the novel. Hoping Stephen arrives in time to sit in but he doesn't. But Sage is there - lovely surprise. Finish reading, and Tom starts clapping, then it's a full-out standing ovation around the room. I want to fly and I want to hide under the table. Stephen doesn't arrive until just as it's over, but I say, "Ladies and gentlemen: Michael," and they applaud him too. I tell him to get some lipstick on.

We all agree Charles looks pretty damn good in that shade of red.

Blue Monk later, drinks all around, hanging out and talking writing and other things. Taffy and She-Yeti don't make it, but Carrie does, even with a marathon reading of Moby Dick ahead of her. A toast to Charles for creating my website. Emily and I conspire to get champagne to toast Tom and his book, but I get waylaid in a conversation. Suddenly here's Emily with lots of glasses with a bit of champagne in each, passed around, a toast to Tom and to me--I feel privileged to have my toast folded up with his. Lovely night with so many of the very important people in my life.

Top it off with an evening with a couple more of those people (the very important kind), amazing, enriching conversation, the kind where you feel like you must be the dumb one in the room, the bar is so high, and talking some of our favorite topics. Delicious dinner and a surprise recording session to be part of a very cool podcast series.

This isn't even a week, it's five days. Who would have thought the biggest part of our week would not be Turandot?

Thursday, February 10, 2011


It's been quite a week. Stephen's artist talk (lovely as usual), the bittersweet of probably saying goodbye to some beautiful paintings I won't see again, the fun time chatting up and back from Seattle with Mary, the turmoil at work... Such turmoil that it's made it difficult to enjoy the enjoyable things. And here I have all sorts of enjoyable things coming up. Dinner with great friends on Friday, Turandot on Saturday. Valentine's Day on Monday. And tonight. I'm promising myself I'll let it all go and just enjoy my Thursday night. Dangerous Writing can do that to you. Sink into some stories and forget all the other stuff. Tonight, if I read, I'll be reading the very end of the novel. My second time all the way through. After workshop, we'll be heading down to the Blue Monk. I'm looking forward to hanging out with some great writers and hoisting a glass at my little website launch hang-out tonight.

Can't help it: shameless self promotion #googolplex, and then I'll stop talking about it:

Website here.

Event invite here.

Monday, February 7, 2011


It was quite a process for me, helping put together my website. After I started negotiating with Charles Dye on the project, I stalled the project for some three months just to work on the first step. The masthead... or what I've been calling the masthead, although that's probably not the technical term. I knew I wanted the image at the top to be a piece of a painting I did called Still Life With the Devil - which you can see in full at the top of the blog. Doesn't seem that difficult to take a thin slice of a painting and run your name across it, but it was quite a math problem, fitting it all together just right, especially since the book in the painting is slanted just slightly.

Charles was so patient with me as the weeks wore on and I played around with try after try...

That's a lot of time spent looking at your own name.

I've never been quite comfortable with that person, that person with that name*, so it was an odd process to be creating a rather large cyberspace devoted to her, to me. And here I am, now, launching this thing, and Charles says let's have a launch party.

Let's throw a party to celebrate the me that put together a website to celebrate me. Heck, when I was a kid I was mortified at my birthday parties to open presents from friends because it felt too selfish.

But he's right, of course. Charles knows more than just how to frame a website that looks professional and contains just the right stuff in the right places. He knows about promotion, he knows what it takes to get people to look, which is why you put together a website in the first place.

He also knows that we writers are strange people--writing all the time to have our voices heard but often wanting to hide in the closet and not be seen. Really, this event on Thursday is more than a launch party for a website - it's another little step in my life, toward being comfortable as that person.

In the end, the masthead I went with was this one. And we were off and running, putting together the site. Charles asked me what I wanted out of a website, gave lots of great suggestions, and was never pushy if my ideas were different than his. I thought this was the perfect combination in a webmaster. It made me feel supported, made me feel I had an expert giving me expert advice, but that I was also creating something that was uniquely mine.

When he turned the keys over to me, he taught me really easily how to drive it on my own. He was very patient, he explained things well, and the transition was very smooth.

I'll be updating the site plenty. Soon, I'll be posting info about some upcoming reading events I'll be doing in conjunction with the next issue of Thumbnail Magazine. In the meantime, drop by the Blue Monk on Thursday night...

When: Thursday, February 10, 2011 9:00pm-ish

Where: The Blue Monk, 3341 SE Belmont, Portland

Facebook event invite is here.

[* it's not the name, of course, it's just the insecure inside the person. i think it's a perfectly fine name...]

Saturday, February 5, 2011

spotlight on diane rios

I've put a new Employee Spotlight display up at Powell's City of Books. This month, I'm highlighting Diane Rios [self-portrait above] who works in the French section and who is quite an accomplished artist. Here are some of her lovely stencil pieces, along with the interview she gave me about her life and her art.

me: How long have you worked at Powell’s?

DR: I’ve worked at Powell’s for 2 ½ years now! I started as a cashier, then moved to a Generalist position, and am now in charge of the French section. I post a blog on about the most interesting French books both new and out of print that come into the store.

me: Has working at Powell’s or being around books had an influence on your art?

DR: Oh yes, I’ve made several prints of Powell’s itself, and am constantly inspired by the books and what they’re made of. As well as the beautiful covers of course, I love the delicious papers, old typeface, and lovely old ink illustrations in the books. New books are such a glossy, decadent treat, but the old books are my favorites--dusty, foxed, and with that bookish smell. I’m working on a very large print of a big stack of old books right now.

me: Which book has made a profound impression on your life?

DR: I would say Traveler by Richard Adams. I loved the books Watership Down and The Plague Dogs by him, so I tried Traveler which, strangely enough, is told from the perspective of Robert E. Lee’s horse in the Civil War. I learned so much about the Civil War and completely fell in love with Robert E. Lee and Abraham Lincoln. This led me to read several books about Lincoln and the Civil War which led me to love American history, which led to an interest in European history and now I’m a huge history buff and can’t get enough of the 1700 and 1800’s. And it all came from that one book told by a horse.

me: What are you reading right now?

DR: High on Arrival by McKenzie Phillips. It’s sad, but a really interesting snapshot of the 1970’s boho scene, which, being a hippy kid from Southern California, I can relate to.

me: Are you willing to identify a cheesy book that you like?

DE: There are so many! How about Mrs. Harris Goes to Paris by Paul Gallico? It was made into a movie with Angela Lansbury! There’s nothing like a salty old London Char woman to make you smile. You know he also wrote The Poseidon Adventure? He had real range!

me: What is your ultimate goal with your art?

DR: I want to sell my illustrations to national magazines and newspapers. I think my style would lend itself very well to editorial art. I would also love to do a children’s book with my stencils. I have one started called “Lulu in Paris” that I will shop around.

me: Who do you feel are the biggest influences on your art?

DR: Definitely early commercial art and turn of the century poster art from Paris--Toulouse Lautrec, that kind of thing. Also, I used to be a street artist, putting my stencils on walls until I was caught. So other street artists still influence me, but my work is a little softer than what I have seen come from other spray paint artists. More bears, horses, and French angel dogs, than is usually done.

me: Do you have anything exciting on the horizon?

DR: I just got back from a trip to New York where I met with Disney/Hyperion and Penguin/Dutton publishers. They were excited about my unusual style and gave me a list of artist reps to contact. I am submitting work to local publications as well as national ones, so stay tuned for exciting developments. I’m looking forward to 2011!

All images: copyright Diane Rios.

Check her out at her blog and on her website.

Wednesday, February 2, 2011

website launch

Tom Spanbauer says, "We write because we always wanted to be invited to the party."

So, I'm a writer and now gotta throw the party?

Alright, maybe not an out-and-out party, but we're gathering after Dangerous Writing the Thursday after this one, to hang out at the Blue Monk for drinks. I never would have thought to get up a get-together to launch a website--and that's one of the reasons I needed the guidance of my webmaster Charles Dye--but more on him later. In the meantime, the info on the event:

What: Gigi's Super Cyberspace Extravaganza (Or: The Website's Done [lookee-lookee])

When: Thursday, February 10 at 9:00pm [that's 9-ish, as we're never completely sure when the workshop will end]

Where: The Blue Monk, 3341 SE Belmont, Portland OR

You can view the facebook invite here.