Wednesday, February 29, 2012

josé day

February 29th on our calendar is always José Day. Actually since there's usually not a February 29th, we have to write it into the square for February 28th. This is the first year since we lost José that there actually is a Leap Day. That makes it extra special to me, somehow - that, and the fact that this is the first year since we lost José that we have a dog again. Always at the end of February we celebrate José, and this year we'll get to celebrate Nicholas too. My hope had been to maybe get lucky with the weather and be able to take Nicholas on a nice after work walk, but since, when I got up this morning, it was raining and a little bit snowing, I think we'll end up going right to the part about food, including treats for Nicholas, and a showing of Lassie Come Home. A happy dog movie, this time. On the first leapish day after we lost José, we looked for a good doggy movie and rented Umberto D and I had to practically cry myself to sleep.

 [Look how different they are. First: José.]

[ And Nicholas.]

[the size of pictures doesn't show favoritism. just shows that i'm too lazy to load photopaint and resize them.]


March first, 2008, was the day José left us, but February 29th, was his last full day. He and I stayed home together and we did many lovely things. We napped. We sat in the sun in the bay window. We sat in the sun, in the grass, at Couch Park. We went for a walk to sniff great smells like trees and hydrants and the dumpsters behind Hurley's Restaurant. [Well, he didn't walk much at that time, so I carried him.] We had bites of chicken and licks of prune baby food from the back of a spoon [José did, not me]. We peed on my sock and we peed on the bathroom wall [José did, not me]. And then in the afternoon, I sat with him on the couch for about two and a half hours and told him the stories of his life.

"Now," I said, "I'm going to tell you the story of a dog."

In the evening, Stephen came home from work with a load of goodies from Whole Foods, including a tiny bit of roast beef for José. We sat in bed, and I told all those stories again.

Here's one I didn't tell that day but one that for some reason stays with me.

It's early morning, some day in January, 2008. José and I have been outside in the dark to do his business, me holding him up as he pees in the grass since he's not too sure on his feet anymore. Now we're in the kitchen, standing in the hum from the refrigerator, me opening a can of dog food, José just below me.

I should sit him down so he doesn't fall over, but somehow in this moment I'm distracted. Early morning fog. Not much sleep lately.

He turns, sniffing, and as he does, he loses his balance. I glance in time to see he's going to fall but not in time to put down the dog food and the can opener and get my hands free. On impulse, my foot comes out, and José's butt sits down onto it and balances there. 

He doesn't seem to think anything of it. Just sits, content.

And so I finish opening the can, standing one-footed in the morning chill of some day less than two months before Leap Day, with a tiny, old dog balanced warm on the top of my foot.

  [josé and me getting ready to decorate for christmas.]
  [josé and a camel.]
  [josé and a bathrobe.]
  [josé and my wedding dress.]
  [josé and stephen and kitty.]
  [josé and me.]

Tuesday, February 28, 2012

spotlight on songstory: interview with cymbalman

Today's spotlight is an interview with Cymbalman who will be performing and offering himself up to be played at SongStory on March 7th...

ME: What gave you the idea of creating a character made of cymbals who is played by the audience?

CYMBALMAN: The idea came kind of organically. It started out as an idea for an instrument where my creator made me to be able to play myself because he knew that I would look so much different than anybody else that I may be ostracized for it. When I was born this proved to be the case, people don’t ever quite know what to make of me I think. And when people do not understand something, they tend to take the easy way out and let the fear into them. But usually within minutes people recognize the love and we become friends and they want to bang on me, so I let them. This usually becomes contagious and the love multiplies and combines and pretty much everybody around me is playing Cymbalman. Everybody wants to play Cymbalman. At least once.

ME: When and where was Cymbalman born?

CYMBALMAN: Cymbalman was born in the head of his creator many, many moons ago but actually came into fruition in the summer of 2010. His first eye opening was at the Oregon Country Fair. He was only a baby and was only a prototype and has evolved since then. Every year my creator calls me in and he at least makes some kind of attempt to make me a better, well, not human being, but a better symbol.

ME: One of the intriguing things about Cymbalman is this sweet, silent character you’ve created. He’s not just a human instrument, he’s a very particular figure. For me, he has elements of a shaman and a of classic clown. How did this character develop?

CYMBALMAN: Cymbalman developed out of love. Really. I know that sounds trite but it is true. I try to communicate through gesture and music but as of late I found that I can actually talk in certain situations. Mostly I like to sing.  I represent all the good that humans have to offer, plus the loyalty and unconditionality of a pet dog. Peace and love and all that other hippy shit.

ME: There’s a great vulnerability in putting yourself out there to be played… with mallets. Isn’t that dangerous?

CYMBALMAN: Sure it's dangerous, but it was part of the reasons I was put on this planet. I find that if I approach people with gentleness and reverence it is reciprocated in the way people relate back to me. As a result, I don’t get too much of the bangy, bangy. I hate the bangy bangy. Sometimes when they go for the eyes it hurts a little bit, so I have to put a stop to that fairly quickly.

ME: Has your costume evolved? You’ve got the cymbals, of course, you’ve got a purple boa and tassels, you’re all decked out in the colors of royalty. Where did these elements come from and how did they become part of Cymbalman’s persona?

CYMBALMAN: My creator, he loves purple. In fact he told me once that back in his hippy days he was known as Mr Purple. I suspect he made me to wear this color as a result of that. I think that maybe he made me in his own image, but I have never seen him, really, and doubt that I ever will, so who can say for sure? I know that he made me asexual, and that I adorn anything that looks good. Whether they be boas or lovely long silk gloves or knee high platform pleather boots. I am not afraid.

ME: Do you have a favorite Cymbalman moment?

CYMBALMAN: My moments are ongoing. In the face of a two year old who is afraid of me at first but warms up rather quickly and the smile he/she gives me fuels my heart. The same holds true for everyone as as they learn and explore the love of Cymbalman. 

As far as a particular moment goes, there is one. I once showed up at a party of some mutual friends of my creator. There was a writer there, a rather famous and well revered one, I think. When I presented the mallets for him to play me, he didn’t know what to make of it. I had to show him more than once. When he finally figured it out, I think he enjoyed playing me. At least the grin and the laughter that came out of his heart told me so.
Cymbalman will be performing at SongStory on March 7th at Someday Lounge as part of the March Music Moderne music festival. Also in the program will be readings by Kevin Sampsell, Lidia Yuknavitch, Courtenay Hameister, Brad Rosen, Vanessa Veselka and yours truly.

Facebook invite is here. And info on the other great events that are part of March Music Moderne is here.

Sunday, February 26, 2012


Probably a pedestrian question, but is the ballet Giselle where we get the phrase gives me the willies? Or at least are the willis in Giselle the same willies we’re sometimes given? In last night’s production of Giselle, put on by Oregon Ballet Theatre, the willis [specifically the spirits of women jilted before their wedding day, who rise from their graves  to seek revenge upon men by dancing them to death] were something beautiful - ballerinas in white floating en pointe through the muted shadows of the graveyard. Like death is something soft and lovely. Delicate. As they made their first appearance as a group onstage, the willis were shrouded in white veils, which added a delicious creep effect to that lovely. Then Giselle herself appeared at the mouth of her crypt, and the moment that her own white veil was yanked away, I gave a little gasp of appreciation in my seat and embarrassed myself.

When we first arrived and found our seats, Stephen said it was so refreshing - surprising - to be seeing a completely classical production of ballet. "It's not a language people know anymore," he said. "Or at least that they expect." The expectation of the modern arts is innovation, reinvention. Taking Swan Lake and relocating it to the 1950s Jersey Turnpike. But classical ballet is a beautiful language, to me a perfect language, and forgive me for sounding overzealous, but it's sumptuous to be steeped in its particularness.

[our principals for the evening, haiyan wu and chauncey parsons. interestingly, in this production there will be different sets of principals throughout the run.]

Oregon Ballet Theater did right by that classical language. It was a lovely production, with beautiful sets and costumes shipped in from Italy, all soft colors. Beautiful choreography and dancing. I was interested to read that Giselle originated only about a decade after the technique of dancing en pointe was introduced, and there are moments in the ballet where the technique is used to quite a spectacular effect, both in group numbers and in solos. Some fantastic moments in solos. And of course you also get willis dancing in a graveyard and new love and death and madness. 

Giselle goes mad like a tiger in a circus ring. Or at least that was what came to my mind. The way she danced into madness in a wide loop around the stage took me to a moment during my lighting director days when I watched the rehearsal of a very new tiger act, and in a leap over the trainer, the tiger took off low and completely plowed into her. As the trainer collapsed on the floor, the panicked tiger did the only thing a panicked tiger can do in the big cage - run in circles and circles and circles. Giselle had tiger grace and tiger panic as she danced her circles, sometimes skirting the arc of dancers who stood watching like the bars of the big cage, sometimes slamming through and scattering them. I was so caught up in the beauty of the ballet that the fun fiendishness of this drama, which closed the first half, took me by surprise.

Lovely evening. Giselle is playing at the Keller Auditorium and runs through March 3rd.

Saturday, February 25, 2012


I’m not a fan of Rothko or abstract expressionism, especially the types of paintings that appear – literally and figuratively – in the play Red, which we saw last night at Portland Center Stage. Big canvases covered with huge shapes of red and black. At times, I can enjoy the free association thing that happens in your brain when you look at nothing but color or shape, but I tend to be in the “my kid could do that,” camp. Not that I have any kids, but it’s a line Rothko himself delivers in the play when talking about and scoffing over what critics say about him.

And of course my date for the evening was Stephen, who can get up as high on a high horse as I can about art. As we sat down in the theater, he mentioned some Portland art personalities he’d seen in the crowd.

“I feel like…” he said, “what’s that expression where you’re the enemy hiding in the grass? A sheep in wolf’s clothing? No, a wolf in sheep’s clothing. No, that’s not right.”

“A snake in the grass?” I said.

But I think both of us felt that way, out of our element. Out of our art comfort zone. My art comfort zone is being able to enjoy talking about why I don’t like art like Rothko. Did the play change my feelings on this? No. It didn't have to. For me, the play was more about human obsession, fear of death, fear of getting old.

It’s a simple set-up - a young guy [Ken - played by Patrick Alparone] and an older guy [Rothko - played by Daniel Benzali] in an art studio together. Ken, an artist himself, has been hired by Rothko to stretch his canvases, clean his workshop, help paint the primer coats. It’s 1958. Rothko is the current old-school and Ken is new-school, and much of the play is figurative swordplay, the two philosophizing and arguing about art and what it means. Rothko is also a monomaniac and on the defense, so the art studio is quite a crucible. At times the dialogue feels cliché and over-sentimental – on both sides – but each of the men is quick to call the other out for being cliché and over-sentimental, so the humor of it keeps things in check. After all, this is how two men obsessed with art talk. A lot of what Rothko says in the play comes from true quotes during his lifetime. Daniel Benzali delivered his lines with power and with a nice sense of comic timing.

Here’s a spoiler – I want to talk about one particular scene, the moment where the two men are priming a canvas together. Their backs are to us and they work fast, sending paintbrushes across an enormous canvas and covering it with red. Because it’s so large, this takes some time. For a while, the audience is just watching them work—although it’s frenetic work, performed against booming classical music. For me, part of this moment felt like story, guided by what I’d learned in the play up until then, and part of it felt the way looking at abstract art feels, how you let your mind go and free associate. When you look at a painting that’s nothing but color and shape, everything that comes up is you, is your life. It's not really the work of the artist laying down those squares of red and black. Rothko talks about the conflict between the red and the black, but in the priming scene, there is conflict in story, in character. Ken attacks the canvas like it's a contest to see who can finish first. Rothko seems to be fighting to keep up. I guess what I was doing wasn't so much free-associating as free-speculating, thinking of all the reasons and shades of this particular fight. And what I kept coming back to was age. 

To me, the conflict in the play is old versus young as much as art versus art or personality versus personality. In one of his many rants, Rothko talks about how he and his fellow abstract expressionists killed the cubists, stamped them to death. He likens it to the classical oedipal conflict, that son must kill father. And that's what you're watching when they prime that canvas. That's what you're watching through all the bandying of philosophies, through talk of Pollack and Nietzche and Warhol, through Santa Claus and Satan [see the play and you'll know what i mean]. 

Always lots of food for thought down there at Portland Center Stage. And always a good production. And if you do like Rothko, you can see the play and then go to the Portland Art Museum and see his pieces in person. The play runs through March 18.

Friday, February 24, 2012

spotlight on songstory: mine

Here's a little taste of what I'll be reading at SongStory, at Someday Lounge, coming up on March 7th.

Tackle Box

I took a career test in college, the kind where you answer questions about your interests by filling in the little circles and then the computer spits out proposed careers and courses of study. When I got the results back, they said I had unrealistic goals and would have to readjust my aspirations if I ever wanted to amount to anything.

What the computer didn’t know is that what I wanted to amount to was a circus clown. At the time, I was dating a circus clown—and, in my nineteen-year-old sureness and my nineteen-year-old naïveté, figured I’d be marrying a circus clown. And whereas my nineteen-year-old sureness was more like thirty-five-year-old sureness, my nineteen-year-old naïveté was really probably twelve-year-old naïveté, which means I was really, really sure. I was going to marry him and go off on the road with a brand new, readymade career and a brand new readymade dream, to match all the overblown and under-accomplished ambitions of my earlier days.

My first ambition in life was to sing Annie on Broadway. I saw the musical in L. A., and as I floated there somewhere between the dark of my seat and the bright of the stage, there seemed nothing more delicious than tragic, singing orphans. Annie’s voice, so big and brass, I could feel that sound like it was coming right out of my chest. I decided in an eight-year-old instant that this was the life for me. In order to attain this goal, I sang Annie’s songs quietly into a cassette recorder and only showed my mom.
[i'm the one on the right. i don't know if i ever noticed before but mom and i are both wearing the same kind of flop-neck turtleneck, striped.]

I'll will be reading with Kevin Sampsell, Lidia Yuknavitch, Courtenay Hameister, Brad Rosen and Vanessa Veselka on March 7th at Someday Lounge as part of the March Music Moderne music festival.

Facebook invite is here. And info on the other great events that are part of March Music Moderne is here.

Wednesday, February 22, 2012


Have I mentioned how much I love to look at Blogger stats for the entertainment value alone? Here are today's stats showing the Google searches that have led unsuspecting folks to my blog...

Detail #1: the one I get almost every day:

Detail #2: um?

Detail #3: my favorite.

Sunday, February 19, 2012

spotlight on songstory: vanessa veselka

[wow, i like how the angles in the little logo make it look like the logo is breaking loose and about to fly off the screen.]

I'm excited to have such outlandishly good writers in the lineup for my reading SongStory, which is coming up fast - March 7th. Vanessa Veselka is up for the Oregon Book Award, for Pete's sake! Here's a little taste of what Vanessa will be reading - a piece of fiction called "Flora in Pregnancy."


There’s not going to be a baby shower because there’s no one to plan it. Everyone thinks someone closer to me is taking care of that but they aren’t and I’m sure as hell not going to ask people to come over and throw a party for me.
I ran into Jenny Blitz at the Laundromat.
 “When’s the baby shower?”
 I told her it was on my calendar at home.
My midwife says I should look at my pregnancy as an opportunity to get closer to my women friends. But I figure they’ve had their chance. Ten years of punk shows, basement parties, and having sex with all the same people should have been enough to break the ice.
“Don’t you have any female friends?” asked my midwife.
 “None I’d let near a child.”


Vanessa will be reading with Kevin Sampsell, Lidia Yuknavitch, Courtenay Hameister, Brad Rosen and me on March 7th at Someday Lounge as part of the March Music Moderne music festival.

Facebook invite is here. And info on the other great events that are part of March Music Moderne is here.

Vanessa Veselka is a writer and musician living in Portland, Oregon. She has been, at various times, a teenage runaway, a sex-worker, a union organizer, a student of paleontology, an expatriate, an independent record label owner, a train-hopper, a waitress, and a mother. Her work has appeared in Bust, Bitch, Maxmum Rock ’n’ Roll, Yeti Magazine and Tin House. Zazen is her first novel.

Saturday, February 18, 2012

bounty deconstructed

Here's a blog post Stephen wrote that explains in more detail just what those skirts were doing hanging in the hallway and what that lace around his wrists was for. With pictures!


a moment in the day: bounty

Kale, broccoli, walnuts. Jewel-colored carrots so thin I can cut them with scissors. Juice stains the cutting board purple-red. I make coffee and call it all breakfast.

Late-winter six o'clock dark in the apartment, and hand-sewn skirts hang against the walls, white and shadow against white and shadow, like petulant angels with their backs to me. Stephen has made these to wear for photographs so he can get the drapery just right for his lovely paintings of himself in dresses. He's just up, now, and moving around in the bedroom, and if he were to have an impulse to model one of his creations, I'd be hungry for more than just breakfast.

In a moment, he comes into the kitchen wearing PJs and a hoodie. At the wrists of the hoodie hang wide ruffles of white lace [separate, of course, not sewn into the hoodie], also recently made, and he gives me a tiny glance that means he hopes I notice. An eighteenth century nobleman in twenty first century pajamas, reaching to the cutting board for the coffee.

Wednesday, February 15, 2012


When I opened Stephen's Valentine's card yesterday, I said, "You'll be surprised how similar mine is."

I kind of love that we had the same creative impulse leading up to this year's V-Day. But I ask you, how could we not?

Nicholas as cupid. Above is Stephen's card to me. Valentinian Arithmetic. Who says Stephen is a Scrooge when it comes to Valentine's Day?

And below, mine.

There he is. Not only Nicholas as cupid again, but we used the very same Nicholas picture. I used two, but still. Here's the detail:

 [here's the

cherub whose


I usurped

for nicholas'


 Up close, you can see the various parts of the piece have different textures, but I tried my best to get something close to the original image I was playing with, which was a vintage, Victorian-era valentine. I tried like mad to find a texture for Nicholas that would emulate the card, but ah well - this was as good as I could come up with, and for a small, printed card it was good enough.

I kind of love that in the vintage valentine, it looks like the gentleman is groping his fair lady's breast...

Here's the original. I tried to find a picture of Stephen that was close enough that I could keep the moustache, but alas. Biggest part of the job was slowly recreating sky at the top and sides of the piece so I had room for my doggy cupids. All the extra sky came from those tiny bits of blue bordering the flowers, so it was a painstaking process.

I should mention that Stephen's just as obsessive about this stuff as I. The shadows around Nicholas on the satin sheet? All recreated by Stephen via Photopaint.

Tuesday, February 14, 2012

a moment in the day: valentine's romance

I stand at the bathroom mirror making up for our Valentine's dinner. Out in the studio I hear a most romantic sound: the whirring of Stephen's sewing machine as he zips himself up a red satin dress.


Stephen and I have been together for seven years, now.

uh oh.

I told him it would be funny to rent The Seven Year Itch for Valentine's Day. [Actually, what we rented was the Bogart film High Sierra.] Seven years ago, the movie was Amelie. There was a time, somewhere in the middle of things, where we realized all we do is watch movies and discussed the fact that we should be more creative and find other things to do. I think we're both glad we gave that up.

When we were first together, I always hated when the movie was coming to an end, because there's always that moment afterward where you feel like you have to discuss it, and I was still too afraid to give my opinions about things. That's what seven years means - not an itch but a comfort place, where we lie in bed after the movie and talk easy and just enjoy each other's company.

I didn't come here to tell you that. I came here to tell you that on our first Valentine's Day together, there was a moment when Stephen walked into the room and said, "Here, this is for you." And presented me with a dryer sheet he'd just found stuck to his shirt.

Monday, February 13, 2012


I probably shouldn't admit this, especially since my uncle is one of the most learned Shakespeare scholars in the country, but it scares me to see Shakespeare. I'm always afraid I'll find myself lost inside his language.

And I really shouldn't admit this, since before I became Merchandising Coordinator at Powell's, I ran the Drama section, which includes a whole aisle on Shakespeare, but I assumed Cymbeline was a woman's name. Turns out, it's the name of the king. Although the play is more about the king's daughter, Imogen. Although in Portland Center Stage's version, called Shakespeare's Amazing Cymbeline, the star is really the piano player.

I saw the show on Saturday night, and I was a bit on the fence about this new character, who plays the piano and provides commentary throughout the performance. He frames the show nicely - his entrance and exit give context and a poignancy - but he was basically explaining what was going on. On the other hand...he was basically explaining what was going on! In other words, it's kind of nice to sit there in the theater all proud of yourself for being decidedly not lost during an obscure Shakespeare play - but knowing you have a safety net just in case.

Part of why the piano player worked was the acting. You have to have a delicate touch to pull off a part like this, and Michael Keck has that delicacy and a storyteller's panache and a nice hint of humor.

All the acting in this production is top-notch - particularly, I thought, Kelley Curran who plays Imogen. She has a great, weighty voice and the ability to be completely convincing in moments of personal anguish even when Shakespeare's plot line is...well...pretty ridiculous.

And that's another thing about the role of the piano player. As he plays his music and ruminates in the moments between the action, he muses about story. "Who will win the kingdom?" he says. "That's what every story is about."* With his appearance in the play and with his musings, the piano player reminds us of the artifice of story - and makes the convolutions of this particular story easier to swallow.

One of the most interesting aspects of Portland Center Stage's version of Cymbeline is the fact that, though there are lots of characters in the original play, PCS gives us only six actors.The whole production is a leapfrog game of quick-change artistry and character juggling. In fact, at the end, the dressers were brought out for a very deserved bow.

Cymbeline is performed in the Ellen Bye Studio, which is a lovely, intimate space to see a play, and that made it extra surprising to see all the quick changes of the cast - particularly at the climax when most of the characters were on stage together. Actors would deliver their lines, then simply step out of the room, leaving it up to us to imagine them still there, while they leapt - poof - into a whole new character and stepped back in from some other entrance, to deliver the next line with perfect Shakespearean aplomb.

 The show goes through April 8th.

*[OK, so I can't remember exactly what the line was, but I hope that's close enough.]

Thursday, February 2, 2012


Nicholas, tail in the air, head down, goes in for the kill. 

He sinks his teeth deep into the rope toy, those teeth the end result of hundreds of years of wolf-to-dog evolution. He gnaws and chews, but always his eyes come up over the chew toy, then down again, up over the chew toy, then down again. A break in canine concentration. I think canine can mean dog or wolf, but if we were talking wolf concentration, it would be straight on that toy, riveted on the prey, no room for distraction.

Brown eyes up over the chew toy, then down again. Nicholas relaxes into his butchery, tail and butt down, paws around the victim, strands between his teeth.

Eyes up over the rope toy.


To make sure I’m watching.