Saturday, January 25, 2020

a moment in the day: practice

Out loud in the car:

That way the noise is. Tyrant, show thy face!

As I drive, I’m practicing for the Shakespearean house salon we’re doing this Saturday where a whole group of us will be reading Macbeth. I don't know the text well enough, so for a lot of the drive I'm just speaking the same passage over and over. The pages with my parts are sitting on the passenger seatbut no peeking unless I’m at a stoplight. A glance to jog the memory and then recite, recite, recite.

That way the noise is. Tyrant, show thy face!
If thou be'st slain and with no stroke of mine,
my wife and children's ghosts will haunt me still—doggy!

A woman walking a little, brown poodle along the sidewalk.

If I don’t practice to the point of near-if-not-complete memorization, I am not a good reader, especially in public. I'm bored of the repetition. I want to stop and switch on the radio but I need to focus.

I cannot strike at wretched kerns, whose arms
are hired to bear their staves: either thou, Macbeth,
or else my sword with an unbatter'd edge I—dude, dude, dude!!

I slow the car as I approach the intersection. I'm sure the woman with the pink hair who just nearly barged into the crosswalk on a green light didn't hear me, but she stops and backs up the couple steps to the curb. And for the moment quietly unshakespear'd, I continue upon mine own way.

Thursday, January 16, 2020

My first book

Recently I was rummaging around in a box of my old kid things and I came across the first book I ever wrote. Paper stapled into cardboard and illustrated. My spelling and grammar did eventually get better, but I doubt my handwriting did.

I think my favorite part is where I almost wrote "by Gigi Little" on the cover and then fixed it, writing a bolder letter d in place of the b.

The ending was a shameless plagiarism of the ending to Maurice Sendak's Where the Wild Things Are.

...but Max stepped into his private boat and waved good-bye 

and sailed back over a year 

and in and out of weeks 

and through a day 

and into the night of his very own room 

where he found his supper waiting for him 

and it was still hot.

I wasn't old enough to understand just why those last five words were beautiful, but somehow I knew they were. And I stole accordingly.

Sunday, January 12, 2020

On the occasion of her fiftieth birthday, some passages about my friend Shena in my old kid diaries, with the spelling and punctuation errors intact


January 27—I sang on a tape. I got to keep my tape. We got or had to find the write batteries for it.

January 30—I almost didn't get lunch. But I did. Shena got to talk on the tape with me.

February 7—I went to Shena's house and I got to speek to the women that plays the Bionic women on the phone.


March 8—I went to the roler rink it was flooded. I went with Shena.

May 5—Shena And I found a meeting place; hidaway 1 and 2. At the camp. Went to Sea World.

May 13—today I went to Magic Mtn. I went on the revalusion. We saw a lady and a man fighting seamed like killing. Heather came too and Shena, Mara, Edina. Heather's birthday party.

May 17—I went to a piano odition then out to lunch then to a supermarket. i was in the Toy area with Shena and a cloun jumped out and scared me.


May 9—It's Heather's birthday. We're going camping. Shena and I went back to highway 1 & 2. I got a rock from h. 1. Tomorrow we'll go to Sea World.

May 10—We didn't go to Sea World. it rained. We saw a movie Kramer Vs. Kramer. I went to Farrels. I got to be in a comercial for Campland. I got an autograph of Gayle Sue and Keven. Shena lead us back. I saved Tom from getting hit by a car. (God did). Gayle and Keven sang happy birthday to Heather.

May 11—Today I got in another comercial. I was a background. We made a mound of sand for friendly the wolf to sit on. Shena, Heather, Tom, Edina, Mara, Ryan and I walked in the background while friendly the wolf talked. We went home. I watched video taped movies.


September 20—We slept at Shena's house. I went to "couch" at 1:30.


June 20—I got 2 new coins from Isriel, from Shena for my collection.

September 17—Shena is over we're making a nativity scene. Shena once had a dream (after her grandma died) that she went up to heaven & saw her. She said goodbye right before she woke up. Today Shena turned off the T.V. & it turned on again. I heard far away piano for an instant before going to bed. I kept seeing teath and spirits in my head.

October 16—We played our soap opera. You see, about a weak ago we made a soap opera. I'm Lisa Van Jua, a snob. Mara's my sister Andrea. Heather's Stephany Shore. Edina's her 16 year old sister Kathy Morgan. Shena is Jackie Benit. Frankie is Christopher Shena's son & Heather's adopted son. I'm a modle. It's a lot of fun!

December 7—The McLittle Theatre is going to do "Best of Friends" in Feb. when noni & Coco come out. I'm Jenni. Frankie's Jonathan, Heather's Susan Evans, Edina's Dad, Shena's Mom & Mara's Mary. & I just can't wait! It was soooo! windy at night!!!!

December 8—We're not doing Best of Friends.


January 11—I finished "the talking skull." I watched the 2nd part of "Nicolas Nickelby" I got Shena a crystol & 3 prints (pastel) for her birthday tomorrow. I also got a crystol & a print & a copy of "Young Miss" (magazine) which I'll be getting soon. I got an autographed picture of Sally Struthers. (with my name on it.)

February 6—We figured out the whole play & finished posters (I did bar scene) & now we most likely have to wait till next year to do it 'cause we only have 2 more weekends & we're going to the lake house & we'll need Shena & Mara to learn they're lines. I saw part of "Winds of War."

February 20—We went to a mission. Then we ate breakfast out. Then we went home. Noni had a big get-together, the Butlers came. I was so mad. Shena and Mara were acting all hot. I got to Special on Lady bug again. We had sundaes.

May 14—Shena came over. After I finnished cleaning my room, we went to her house. I spent the night there. I saw "An officer & a gentleman" twice off of their rented video tape. Shena & I talked over 'old times'

May 15—We (Shena & I) had 2 doughnuts each when we came to my house to get some Atari cartages to play at Shena's house. I went with Shena & Peg shopping for a shirt for Shena to wear to model some homemade pants in a fashion show. 

June 18—Shena & Heather spent the night. We ate the table & talked about the end.

June 30—We sleaped at Shena's and saw "Best Little Whorehouse in Texas".

Friday, January 10, 2020

a year in the life of a knife

January of last year, we stepped up to our porch to find this tiny pocket knife sitting on the top step. No idea where it came from. Then we just left it there. All year.

I took a few pictures.

January. First appearance.

February. Sun and creeping shade.

February. With snow and birdy footprints.

April. With small flower.

May. With raindrops.

July. Knife on top, walnut shell on bottom. I kind of pictured the squirrel who probably put the shell there finding the knife and squirreling it away for future tough nuts to crack. Or maybe for street fights.

August. I came out to find the knife gone one day. I thought the story was over. Then I was weeding the edges of our flowerbeds and turned and there it was lying in the grass.

So I put it back.

September. With turning leaves.

October. With rose.

December. With holiday lights.

January again. Under dog.

Wednesday, January 8, 2020

a moment in the day: noise

It's ten after five in the morning and I hear a noise in the house. Me at the computer desk, Nicholas on the little futon bed across the room, he hears it too and his head comes up and he looks at me.

We're upstairs where I sometimes sleep when I have to get up early-early or Stephen or I are sick. First thing I do every morning is wake up my computer because sometimes it takes a long time. But today it powered right up and I got sucked into an article—OK, about Bunnicula, if you must know—and I'm still here reading when the noise happens.

Thud! My eyes on Nicholas, his eyes on me. Stephen is asleep downstairs.

Prowler? My brain is equal parts go down there and don't go the hell down there.

In the next second my brain goes where it's always gone when I've heard a noise in the house this past year. Ever since the huge thud in the middle of the night before New Year's Eve when Stephen fell out of bed and we awoke groggy and confused and headed to the emergency room.

I get up from the computer. Nicholas, weirdly, puts his head back down, unconcerned. I creep down the stairs to where the door is shut at the bottom, and listen. Nothing. Open the door. It's all black in the house.

Fear sits on top of the background hum of general anxiety that I have lately. Somehow the immediate fear seems to magnify those other fears. Fires in Australia, earthquake in Puerto Rico, the U.S. baiting Iran. War, climate change, war, climate change. Growing old.

I creep through the dark kitchen, into the dining room. The Christmas tree is a black shadow in the corner.

I stop at the open door to the bedroom. All I see is black. I try to hear him in there, breathing.

I have to touch him to make sure he's there.

Don't want to wake him up. I could shine a light but I forgot my cell phone upstairs.

What would be worse? Touching him or blasting a light in his face?

I step forward, quiet. Creaky, old floorboards in this house. Reach a hand out. Touch lightly.

A lump in the bed. A leg.

He doesn't stir. Good. OK. It's OK. I can get on with the day.

Tuesday, January 7, 2020

Books in the world

When I design a book cover, I'm fixated on the creation of a thing, that design, that look, but down the line, those designs become part of real books and those real books have lives of their own, and I love to catch glimpses of those lives. Recently, I asked authors and publishers of books I've designed covers for if they'd like to share some favorite photos of their books out in the world, and this is what I got.

Liz Scott signs her memoir This Never Happened, during her Powell's book launch.

Liz Prato ordered this Bowie bag specifically for her book tour for her short story collection Baby's On Fire. She took this fab shot as she was prepping for the 2015 AWP.

I love this picture Melissa Duclos took as she was heading out on book tour for her novel Besotted. She tells me that she was on the way to Dallas. What better way to celebrate than with a little airplane mimosa?

A multiplicity of Jackie Shannon Hollis' memoir This Particular Happiness. I like how the name and logo of the shop creates a shadow across the books.

Joe Bardin's doggy Marco relaxing with a good book (that's Joe's memoir Outlier Heart).

Susan DeFreitas offered up this favorite picture of writer Lidia Yuknavitch cuddling with her novel Hot Season as well as Jenny Forrester's memoir Narrow River, Wide Sky (which I didn't design for but did read and it's gorgeous).

Jeff Johnson sent this pic of his book The Animals After Midnight, the third in his Darby Holland series, relaxing on vacation in Eastern Oregon.

Publisher Leland Cheuk of 7.13 Books offered this shot of three of his titles, all of which I designed covers for, sitting on his dining room table.

And one of those authors, Alex Behr, shared this pic from Instagram because social media is one of the many ways books live in the world. She had this to say about it: "I like this photo bc my friend Cookie got it in the mail and I named a character after her. I've never met her in real life."

I like how Cookie describes Alex in her post. Feminine, bloody, and strange.

And I love how there are people we can call "friend" and yet never have met in real life.

Ellen Urbani sent me two pictures with this wonderful story:

When I was 7, I made the front page of the school newspaper, holding up my artwork alongside my childhood best friend, Bob Felker, in Darby, PA. Nearly 40 years later, at Park Road Books in Charlotte, NC, we staged a redux.

Frankly, I think we've held up pretty damn well. As has the art.

Mary Wysong-Haeri does these wonderful wine pairings / reviews of books, and she recently did one for Ramiza Shamoun Koya's forthcoming novel:

Though not due out until early 2020, Ramiza Shamoun Koya’s debut novel, The Royal Abduls, is one to look out for. Both entertaining and thought-provoking, it is the story of a family trying as hard as they can to be “normal” Americans, despite being of Indian Muslim descent. Amina Abdul believes they have succeeded until her young nephew, Omar, begins to speak with an Indian accent. Told from alternating points of view, the novel explores what it means to be different. Omar can’t decide if he is Indian or American; to be both doesn’t seem possible. As Amina struggles to help him, she discovers that she too is trying to answer this very question. Calling to mind some of the struggles of my own family (I am married to an Iranian), I found myself finding extra reading time in order to learn what happens to these characters. The wine I chose to pair with this rich and timely novel is a 2018 Stoller Dundee Hills Chardonnay. A distinctly beautiful Yamhill County wine, full of the flavors of Bosc pear and sweet apple balanced by a touch of bitter orange, its finish is long and soft and not unlike the affection I feel for Ramiza Shamoun Koya’s book.

Saturday, January 4, 2020

Hedwig and the Angry Inch at Portland Center Stage

Man, I miss rock 'n roll.

I've realized in the last year or two that I hardly listen to music anymore. When I drive to and from work, I'm listening to the news. On my lunchtime walks, it's podcasts, and when I'm working on a design project and want something in my ears, it's old-time radio shows. In part, I think, because I don't have children, I've lost the thread of modern music. I don't know what it is anymore. But music used to be nearly everything to me.

And Hedwig and the Angry Inch, the film, was huge to me when it came out. What year was that? Wow, 2001. I was nuts for that film, especially the music, so I was equal parts excited and trepidatious when I heard Portland Center Stage's was going to be producing it. Would their Hedwig stand up to my revered image of John Cameron Mitchell? Would the music be tight enough? Would the show (feels silly for me to say, but) rock enough?

(Feels silly for me to say, but) The show totally rocks! And is hilarious and is raunchy and is complex and is a wonderfully immersive experience in the Armory's intimate Ellyn Bye Studio. And the set!

But wait.

Let me give you a recap if you don't know the story. You're in a mall. Yes, you. You're part of the show because you're a member of the audience as Hedwig, the genderqueer (I use that term specifically because that's how John Cameron Mitchell describes her) front-man for the broken-down rock band The Angry Inch, performs a show in the food court of an equally broken-down mall.

As she performs, she tells her story—being a boy in Germany; escaping from East Berlin to America with the aid of a botched sex-change operation (hence the "angry inch"); mentoring young rocker Tommy Speck; losing her way as Tommy Speck became superstar Tommy Gnosis, stealing her music as he left her behind.

Delphon "DJ" Curtis Jr. as Hedwig

But now, relating her story on stage, accompanied by her four-piece band and her backup singer/husband Yitzhak, Hedwig is head-up and haughty, audacious and sexy as she rocks the house in that sad, dilapidated mall—oh, but I was telling you about the set!

It's perfectly awful. And I mean perfectly in the positive sense. The overflowing trashcan, the broken candy machine, the half-burnt-out neon sign over the entrance to the mall-embedded Chili's restaurant. I love the signs that advertise the place as the "Star Court," a branding that's also on that broken vending machine. But the pièce de résistance is the tongue-in-cheek irony of the poor, dead escalator, standing in for the luxurious staircases of the musicals of Golden-Age Hollywood.

Hedwig is played by actor Delphon "DJ" Curtis Jr. His vocals seemed a little unsure at the start of the show, perhaps opening night jitters, but it didn't take long for him to find his footing. As an actor, he mixes Hedwig's haughtiness with just the right amount of bitterness and poignancy, and his sexy banter with the audience brings lots of laughs. I enjoyed the moments when he was playing both Hedwig and Tommy, switching back and forth between voices, accents, genders. When he more fully takes on Tommy's character toward the end of the show, it's a fabulous transformation.

As a singer, Curtis has a lovely voice. What an incredible range. It can take him from quite low to beautifully high, as in the surprising opening to his performance of "Hedwig's Lament." And when he's in full-on rock 'n roller mode, he hits some high notes that blow you away.

Delphon "DJ" Curtis Jr. as Hedwig and Ithica Tell as Yitzhak

If you're familiar with the film, take a tip and see the play. It's beautifully constructed around the device of the shopping mall performance, with the story of Hedwig's life perfectly weaving in and out. You're immersed in not only the drama of the stage play but the joy inherent in a rock show. There's a wonderful moment from an editing standpoint where Hedwig is telling you just how it came to pass that she was persuaded to have the botched sex-change operation. Suddenly the music starts and she sings, "When I woke up on the doctor's slab." From the moment before to the moment after—and you go from this very dark place right into music. Powerful, driving music. That's when I thought to myself, "Man, I miss rock 'n roll."

You could have a blast at Hedwig and the Angry Inch for the music alone, but it's also a surprisingly moving show. Stephen said the same thing to me, leaving the theater: "I was surprised, I got a little teary." (OK, me, I got very teary.) Stephen talked about Hedwig's emotional transformation, and I'm going to leave it at that because there's a surprise twist not only for those of you who, like me, were enamored of the movie but unfamiliar with the stage play, but also for those of you who've seen the play before, and I hate spoilers. But what was interesting to me was that while Stephen's emotional reaction came for Hedwig, mine was for Yitzhak.

Both characters have their moments of emotional climax (man, after all the double-entendres in that show, my brain has a little slant to it today). The thing about Yitzhak is that he's so in the background for much of the show that the conclusion of his particular story arc, at least for me, hits surprisingly strongly. I'll leave it at that because again with the spoilers, but let me talk for a moment about Ithica Tell.

Ithica Tell as Yitzhak

I loved her in a recent production of The Color Purple, and I was intrigued to see her name in the cast list as Yitzak. I thought she was a wonderful choice. She does great deadpan straight-man work as Hedwig's long-suffering husband, and her quiet smolder of in-the-background bitterness provides a great build-up of tension as we follow her own story as it rides secondary to Hedwig's.

Like Delphon "DJ" Curtis Jr., Ithica Tell also has quite a range on her, vocally. She's able to go from very feminine to very masculine as she sings backup on Hedwig's songs. This range combined with her beautifully masculine look gives Ithaca Tell's Yitzhak the perfect gender mix for the show, I think, and makes her seem just right as Hedwig's other half. 

I thought she did a sweet turn on her solo "The Long Grift." Her voice on that was clear and lovely feminine. Then elsewhere her sound would be surprisingly masculine, like on the backup vocals of a certain song where she was so deep and angsty she reminded me of the heavy metal music of my youth. It was very different from what I remembered of the same song in the film, and it felt so much more effective, so much more powerful. I loved the interpretation. So much that I wanted to tell you all about it, but one day later, and I can't remember which song! I've been wracking my brains. That's what a lot of my experience of theater tends to be like, actually, with this incredibly flabby memory of mine. The next day I'm basking in the reminiscence of a lovely evening, but the particulars have faded and what I'm left with is the memory of feeling. Of all the laughter, of the joy of music, of the surprise of tears from a moment unexpected. Portland Center Stage's Hedwig and the Angry Inch is a very full show and even as we were leaving the theater, I was craving another look. "Makes me want to watch the movie," I told Stephen.

Stephen countered with, "Makes me want to see the play a second time." 

We may just do that.


Hedwig and the Angry Inch is playing now through February 23rd at the Armory. More information is here.

Photos by Owen Carey/Courtesy of Portland Center Stage at The Armory

Poster art by Mikey Mann