Monday, April 25, 2011


Nice little Easter.

First cyber, then in the flesh.

Morning computer time, me alone in the studio, a back and forth string of Jesus Christ Superstar lyrics down my facebook page with Frank.

Life lived with fingertips and words.

He started it. The opening line to Heaven On Their Minds. One of my very favorite of the songs. We rolled it out, line after line. Only sad thing: Edina wasn't on. Or you would have had the three of us going at it.

Here would be a funny Little Family Easter vigil in cybertime. The three of us in our separate corners, each with a basket of malted milk balls and jelly beans (or maybe some pizza... I'd rather the pizza) laying down a back and forth of that whole rock opera. Think we could do it? We were trying to do it without cheating yesterday, and after a while, I knew my memory for the lyrics was going a little blooey. We didn't get past Heaven, but that was enough for me to feel Easter.

In the evening, it was Mary and Stephen and me and salad and appetizers and good music and then Judy Garland and Easter Parade. Mary brought CDs of classical adagios and we sat and listened and talked. She also brought Benny. Elegant greyhound, he of the celebrated longest tail of all greyhounds around. Really: he won a prize. It was some big local greyhound get-together Mary took him to recently. The prize was a soft rubber doggie bowl you can fold up and take with you. She had it with her, in fact, and put it on her lap full of water and he got his sleek nose up there and drank. Weirdly, the doggie bowl was imprinted with an ad for some beer.

To get ready for having Mary over, I cleaned off my desk - by which I mean the little table in the living room, the only table in the apartment. I piled my piles on the other piles on my real desk in the studio, which is so full of piles that I can't write back there. This morning, I moved my laptop back on the table but left the piles in the back. I'll get those piles moved back, but for today, I might just see what it's like to write without a mess around me.

Friday, April 22, 2011

song and dance

On Thursday night, Stephen and I went to the ballet. Very exciting. We see a lot of theater when we can, but I, at least, don't have a lot of experience seeing dance. Unless Fred Astaire movies count.

It made me think a lot about the discussions we had been having as Stephen prepared for his symposium at the Tacoma Art Museum, actually. Back then, the talk was about how the body on the canvas tells the story. Last night, it was about how the body in movement tells the story. My brain always wanting to find story--but story isn't always the most important aspect of an art. What's interesting to me about dance is how minimal the elements of story become. Or can become. And they hit you as viscerally as if you were given a narrator and a plot to follow. They go to the fundamental. The body moves, the body interacts with another body, and it gives you something to feel.

We saw Song and Dance, presented by Oregon Ballet Theater at the Newmark. Part one was a square dance set to Vivaldi and Corelli. With a square dance caller, even. Choreographed by Ballanchine and originally performed in 1957. Somehow, I never realized that dance choreography could live in the same way music lives. How it can be created and written down and used again and again. How if you saw Square Dance done by the New York City Ballet in 1957, you'd see the same dance as I saw last night.

I was pretty rapt when Julia Rowe and Chauncey Parsons danced alone. Everything was so exact. And of course so light. The only way you knew they were touching the floor was that little clunk of the toe shoes against the stage. During the first intermission, Stephen told me Ballanchine was known for his very exacting choreography. I found it fascinating to watch.

Part two was called Speak and took from hip hop. It was totally cool to see this on the heels of Ballanchine. Completely different body story, movement story. About the lovely way culture can create a dance that lives in the bodies of people in their everyday lives, a way bodies communicate through movement. I think when dance goes modern it can sometimes turn out hokey, but Speak was totally great. True. Different kinds of subtle from the Ballanchine. And pretty exhilarating.

Left Unsaid was something gorgeous. Something almost surreal about the way it played with the relationships of the people on the stage. As it started, I realized I didn't know what to expect of it. I'd remembered the first one was going to be a square dance, I'd remembered about the hop hop, but I went into this one with a blank slate. And what I got was like anonymous story being born. Because I didn't have any expectations of theme, I tried to let my eyes just watch the beauty of the dancing, but it was always hints of story in my head. During one of the dances, I actually found myself letting that story take the form of one of the novels I've been following as it takes shape in my Dangerous Writing workshop. And it was another revelation of what dance can do. And I'm pretty sure I know who's going to die at the end of that novel. Well, maybe not, but beauty of movement, well-choreographed use of dramatic tension, became complete story in my head.

Stephen noticed that the woman from Speak was the principal woman in Left Unsaid. I thought everyone danced beautifully, but he has the eye for singling people out, remembering faces, and he has a more studied eye when it comes to dance. And he said she was outstanding. Anne Mueller - who apparently has been a part of Oregon Ballet Theatre since 1996.

The music was Bach. And contrasting with that, another element in Left Unsaid was apparently yoga. Which I don't know, so I can't speak for it, but I'd love to have had the knowledge to be able to pick out the "asanas" (OK, I don't even know what that is) that I read were a part of the choreography.

Last up was Eyes on You, which was all Cole Porter music. Sometimes piped in, sometimes live with a vocalist and piano. It was really cool, getting these very different types of music and of dance in these four different segments. Really reminded you of all the many worlds you can get to with just bodies and music. Well, bodies and music and a simple bit of costume and stage set. The use of color and contrast, visually, worked really nicely in Eyes on You. I liked the costumes all in white against the changing color of the backdrop. It seemed like the costuming was a successful reference to the Thirties - didn't seem like a bad imitation, which most imitations of that time period seem to turn out to be. Stephen's the expert on time and costume, and if he says something is successfully period, I figure it must be.

Overall, a lovely evening. Here's another picture I found on OBT's Flickr site:

Anne Mueller from Speak. Can't you just tell how cool she is?

Song and Dance goes until May 1st. Here's a link to their site if you want to check it out!

Saturday, April 16, 2011


When we got home last night, after seeing Opus at Portland Center Stage, I told Stephen I could tell that the play had been written by someone who knew music. Who knew what it was like to be part of a quartet. Then I said that, of course, I have no idea what it's like to be part of a quartet - but you can tell when art and story is infused with authenticity. For me, the writing of Opus worked in the way music works. There's the part about numbers, about order and interval and brain. And there's the part about emotion and tension and heart. I've always been fascinated by the way that music is about mathematics, how this thing (math) that I used to think of as the exact opposite of creativity is what gives music its... music. The play Opus works this way. In terms of people, Opus is about what 4 means. What 4 minus 1 means. What 4 plus 1 means. What 1 plus 1 means. And within those numbers, you find feeling and tension and beauty.

And, oh man, tension. The human story is so taut. The way the particular violin and viola are used - at times it was excruciating. In Dangerous Writing, Tom Spanbauer often talks about "loving the object." Fully putting that object on the page, using it as it can best be used. In Opus, the writer (Michael Hollinger), the director (Brendon Fox) and the actors poured some great and effective love on those two objects. Overall, Opus is a tense, human and smartly written play. Moments that could be melodramatic in another story are handled with delicacy or humor. There's the right balance of headiness and emotion.

Of course, music can be great, but it has to be played well. I thought Opus was very well staged. The set seemed the right amount of minimalism, and the fluid and geometric backdrop provided a tiny bit of magic. I thought the actors all did a great job. Particularly Matthew Boston, who plays Dorian, and Chris Coleman, who plays Elliott. I was naturally pretty curious how Coleman was going to be as an actor, since he's worked as Artistic Director of PCS for over ten years now. He was very, very good. Totally engaging and particular. The two of them in the scene introducing the violin and viola were just beautiful. All the actors made their characters distinct and real and worked well with the smart script and the timing of the "documentary" moments.

That Behind the Music aspect of the play was something I didn't need - turning the moments when the characters spoke directly to the audience into pieces of a documentary. I understand that it's a way to remind the audience of other famous musical feuds, like the Beatles, but what it reminded me about more was reality TV. It wasn't something that bugged me in the play - just something that made me aware that I would have been fine with the characters speaking to me, without needing a reason for it.

Maybe the writer felt like it would widen the appeal, help keep the classical music aspect of the play from scaring people who just want to go out and be entertained. Well, Opus is highly entertaining as well as being heady. You leave the theater feeling smart and moved and, yes, entertained. And you so wish you could play the violin.

It goes until May 8 on the main stage of Portland Center Stage.

Tuesday, April 12, 2011

thumbnail celebration

Stephen and I are consummate celebraters. And particularly, each art show or publication must come with a celebration to honor it. Usually this means food and/or a movie. The night after Stephen's symposium in Tacoma, it was The Leopard, a film so influential he'd spoken about it and shown images in his presentation. When Portland Noir came out, we had dinner at Everett Street Bistro, and Stephen had them make me a blue drink even though they didn't have one on the menu, since a blue drink (and subsequent blue teeth) make an appearance in my story.

Saturday night was a little celebration in honor of the publication of the April 2011 issue of Thumbnail Magazine, and my essay "Mariel at the Tent Flaps." [Which is just out - you can check it out and order print or e-copies here. Just saying.] The unique thing about Thumbnail is that everything in it is small. Flash fiction, tiny essays, short poetry. I told Stephen we should have a tiny celebration. Everything small. He not only indulged my whim, he went a little hog wild at the store while I was still at work.

Tiny pizzas. Tiny spanakopitas. Mushroom pockets that looked like little pasties. Grape tomatoes. Other little hors d'oeuvres. Stephen had mini chicken tacos.

[full disclosure: after we took the pictures, we dumped everything from the small plates into something more manageable.]

Tiny bottle of champagne (why it's blue, i don't know - you could also buy one whose bottle was pink like pepto bismol).

[full disclosure: after the tiny champagne, we opened a full-sized bottle.]

Tiny dessert.

And the movie? Time Bandits. A childhood favorite - one we had on video and watched over and over when I was a kid. It also happens to have a cast of small people.

When we popped the tiny champagne, I told Stephen we had to have a toast.

"A small toast," I said.

I raised my [shamefully regular-sized] glass. "To," I said.

And drank.

Stephen laughed the way you laugh when you're being sweet and indulging your wife's sense of humor.

He raised his glass. He said, "You."