Monday, February 28, 2005
May I see your ID, please?
I met the managing editor of The New Republic the other night, as well as a writer for the magazine, and was thrilled that they look as young as I do. Maybe over time we'll convince the world that you don't need to look a certain age to be taken seriously.
Sunday, February 27, 2005
You make me feel so alive
I am not a quintessential New York lover -- I appreciate what the city has to offer, but have yet to fall fully under its spell; every moment of enchantment (and there are many of them) is eventually snuffed out by the feeling of being overwhelmed, by the throngs of people, the noise, the pollution, the spectacle. (Speaking of spectacle, I saw the much-hyped Gates exhibit on Saturday, and it broke my heart that the city's one natural refuge had been invaded...and, by the way, the gates were orange. Not "saffron"; orange.)
But Friday night, in that bar, I had a moment of self-invention unlike any I've had in D.C. in a long time. Being somewhere with people in their 50s and their 20s, African American people and white people, girls with a lot of makeup and women who gave up makeup long ago -- I felt like I was part of the world. Being surrounded by people with unpredictable, unfamiliar stories somehow opened up room for me to have a story of my own. In a city* where at any given moment someone is writing a poem, rehearsing a scene, playing a song -- how can you help but feel the pulse of creative productivity all around you? How can you help but add your own voice?
Sometimes, of course, the city is deafening -- the noise of so many voices crying out at once, some noisy despite their silence...so many stories intersecting, like wires crossing, and nothing is empty, and nothing is quiet.
I think finding your artistic voice must ultimately be a balancing act between quiet and noise, between seeking solitude and finding company. In today's New York Times magazine, 28-year-old author Jonathan Safran Foer is quoted as saying, "Why do I write? It's not that I want people to think that I am smart, or even that I am a good writer. I write because I want to end my loneliness." Yes, and also -- though I'm not proud of it -- a desire to be left alone. I think New York is good for those of us who, if left to our own devices, might spend the rest of our lives longing for the world from afar.
[*I know the same must be true of D.C. -- but somehow, you just don't feel it here.]
"We don't see things as they are.
We see things as we are."
Friday, February 25, 2005
He and I are very different people. I would never write someone an email like the one he wrote me. I wrote an email to a friend once in college and she said, "Amanda, in your attempt to be brutally honest, you were simply brutal." That is how I felt when I read his criticism. I know he was trying to be useful - that his email was a product of the fact that he cares. But still, for 2 days, I have avoided writing, because I feel judged, and feeling judged makes me self-conscious (not that surprising).
Maybe I haven't been clear enough about what I'm trying to do here. This blog is about process, not product. It's about faith in the act of expression as a form of communion with the world. It's about having the freedom to improvise: these are not carefully polished essays. I am not trying to be profound, or to prove what a good writer I am. I *am* trying to be honest, and the fact that he thinks my voice is inauthentic is probably what hurt most of all.
As I said last week, to me this is about raw footage...you let the camera follow what interests you about your subject. Maybe you thought you were making a movie about a singer, but then you realize the singer is also the father of a child with down's syndrome, so you follow that storyline instead, and that leads you to discover the family across town whose child also has down's syndrome and how they're working with the medical community to find a cure. I hear documentary filmmaker after documentary filmmaker describe their process this way. Maybe the final film is about the original man you were following, or his famly, or maybe it's about both families, or maybe it's about the heroic doctor... the story could be told in almost endless ways. You trust your instincts and get as much footage as you can and then one day it comes time to edit, and you make some choices about which story you feel the most conviction to tell.
I am searching for so many answers in my life that I feel much more like the cameraman than the editor at this point. But I'm only giving you limited access to the footage. I am not writing about work, which is one of the main stories of my life, out of concern for my career. I am not writing about private feelings - personal ones, yes, but I maintain a line. When I feel depressed, I write about it in my personal journal, not here.
Maybe partial, raw footage is ultimately not that interesting. I guess that's a matter of taste, and a matter of how interested you are in the subject. I am by no means the most fascinating person, but as I try to figure out my place in this world, I have to believe that putting myself out there is going to lead to more than holing up in my private world. Until I find a better way, this is all I've got.
Monday, February 21, 2005
This is a lot of babies.
To me, Amy is still in high school, and we still laugh hysterically with her mom at their kitchen table, drinking iced tea (they kept both sweetened and unsweetened in the fridge at all times, as was apparently the tradition in the area of North Carolina where her parents grew up). In my house we ate "exotic" things like Chinese food and portabello mushrooms; in their house they ate chicken. Lots and lots of chicken. I remember once I joked, "you guys should get that book, 365 ways to cook chicken," and Amy said, "um, yeah, we have that...we use it a lot." They also sometimes made things like pot roast, and at parties they served Swedish meatballs - I remember my husband came to Amy's graduation party with me and for years afterwards he'd happily recall those meatballs.
In the pictures my aunt and uncle sent Emily is cute and fuzzy and lovable. It's weird to think that now both of my cousins on my dad's side have extended our family with children who are connected to the same DNA I am... that in 20 years they'll be walking around as adults and they'll never know my grandmother, will never realize the ways in which they look or act like her. Will never know how much she loved parties, or how she played the piano, or how she made little creatures of out seashells.
I saw Kate's belly the other day and was reminded of the pure shock I felt when she told me she was pregnant a month or so ago. I somehow can't grasp that a life is growing inside her, that she is going to give birth and have a child... it is the first time I have encountered something too big to wrap my mind around. It's like all of a sudden I need to understand God.
I got married young, and marriage seemed completely natural to me... my husband and I had already been together for 5 years, and we knew we wanted to be together forever. In our first couple years of marriage, my single friends related to us as though we were a remarkable specimen -- either that or an intimidating one. I thought I understood -- now I do.
Saturday, February 19, 2005
Laptop, glorious laptop
A couple of weeks ago my laptop stopped working. It just wouldn't turn on. I called the nice people at Sony, and after talking me through the same trouble-shooting steps that are posted to their Web site ("yes, I'm sure that holding the power switch down for 15 seconds doesn't make a difference"), they told me I'd need to send it in for service. The next day a box arrived, and a few days after that, I shipped it off.
Sony estimated that it would be returned to me after 10 business days, so I resigned myself to 2 weeks of using my husband's (clunky, noisy, frustrating) computer. (Sorry honey.) And then, only 2 business days later: there it was, waiting for me when I got into my office one day. Oh happy day!
I bought my laptop last fall and it was love at first type. Sorry, that was corny - but seriously, as someone who has an aversion to all things electronic, it has been thrilling to have a machine that fits so seamlessly into my life. It doesn't dominate my living room like our TV, DVD player, TiVo, and stereo components (dear Lord - between these items and all the books and DVDs we have on display, our living room is media overload central!). It doesn't make a lot of noise (the other computer's fans create an ongoing and nerve-wracking hum), or come with the baggage of a bunch of ugly black wires (oh, how I hate looking at wires). I can sit on the couch or my bed or in the coffee shop down the street - it goes where I am.
Isn't that the whole point of technology? - to fit into, rather than take over, your life?
Friday, February 18, 2005
"something" deleted 2.18.05While we're on the subject of trust, I did something last month that I won't do again. I mentioned I was going out of town, then I published a few posts about being in the mountains, and then after the fact I referred to having been at Sundance. In retrospect, I should have either said where I was going or not...and if I'm serious about this blog (which I think I am), I should have seized the opportunity to post about such an interesting place/event.
1. The Web Credibility Project at Stanford
Information about how people evaluate the credibility of Web sites. Transparency is key, which is why changing Web content after it's published and acting like you haven't is not cool.
2. The Digital Future Report - Surveying the Digital Future, Year Four: Ten Years, Ten Trends
According to this Internet trend report from the USC Annenberg Center for the Digital Future, the credibility of Web sites is down overall, with Web sites tied to government and established organizations considered much more credible than personal Web sites or blogs.
3. A Blogger's Code of Ethics
Adapted from the Society of Professional Journalists' Code of Ethics by Cyberjournalist.net (which is published by the Media Center at the American Press Institute). This code covers many of the basics, but while it says you should admit mistake, it doesn't say you should be transparent about any changes you make to content after it's been published.
As the comments at the bottom of this code make clear, not everyone agrees that all blogs should strive to be credible. And it's true: some blogs are all about getting attention or causing trouble, or just wasting time, while others are about an honest search for information and connection. This spectrum exists in all media - it just puts the onus on those of us engaged in the 'honest search' to work that much harder to uphold standards and make it clear we're doing so.
There's more to say on this, but I have to go to work!
Thursday, February 17, 2005
this morning, staring at the screen: nothing. this evening, walking my dog: all this and more. something.
Tuesday, February 15, 2005
Food, glorious food
I still care about those things, but lately my food choices are increasingly driven by ethics. I've always said I liked to eat like a vegetarian even though I'm not one, and this is increasingly the case. If I eat meat too many days in a week, I just don't feel right. We only buy free-range chicken. I buy organic whenever possible, and love to support local farmers. I've also developed a love of cooking over the past few years, which I think is tied to my increasing awareness of the ingredients I choose. (I read a book called The Mindful Chef that I highly recommend.)
Sometimes I think it's a yuppie obsession, this concern for the origins of your food - but if it is, I'm past the point of no return. Goodbye, elliptical trainer; goodbye, mass-produced chicken. I'm a yoga-practicing, dog-walking, gym-avoiding, organic-food-eating almost-vegetarian with a daily chocolate habit. I believe food is a spiritual and sensual thing. Call me a yuppie, call me a hippie, but I think I've finally found a relationship with food that I can feel good about.
Monday, February 14, 2005
(Growing up, when I was in school plays, my nerves always manifested themselves as an inability to stop yawning. I'd be backstage, moments before curtain, yawning away. Again, I don't think it was stage fright - in fact, I used to say I felt more comfortable on stage than anywhere else. It was fear of forgetting my lines...of messing up. I'm only now realizing that performance is about more than rehearsed perfection... it's about connecting with your audience, being in the moment, thinking on your feet. And then it's about moving on to the next one: new night, new crowd, new possibilities.)
Sunday, February 13, 2005
Autobiography as Haiku
I loved today's selections. In one of them a young woman concludes that life is like the vanilla ice cream her dead friend always ordered. He liked vanilla because you could put whatever you wanted into it. She writes, "After his funeral, I stared at a lump of vanilla ice cream and finally got it: Life is simple. It's what you put into it that makes it good."
I'm tempted to argue that no, life is more like an ice cream shop with hundreds of flavors to choose from - sometimes you stick with old favorites, sometimes you mix it up, and you're always looking for the perfect taste, even though you know you'll never get to try each flavor, let alone each flavor/topping combination. But then I wonder if the vanilla metaphor is right after all. Maybe at its core, life is that simple, and I just can't see it.
I submitted something to the Post once and never heard back. Thanks to the wonder of self-publishing, I'll share it with you here:
When I turned 26, I felt old for the first time. Closer to 30 than 20. Now high school and college feel like entries in a timeline, moments I can look at in photo albums. I got married at 23, got a mortgage at 25. Still I felt young. Then Bam!: 26. I know I have my whole life ahead of me, but I’ll never get used to having so much behind me. (December 2002)I remember I also wrote one about the first plane ride my husband and I took after September 11 - how my bra set off the metal detector at the airport, and the feeling of letting go at takeoff, the ground disappearing below us. Does that tell you everything you need to know about my life? No way. But no snapshot would. This blog is a collection of snapshots that still don't reveal the whole picture. Maybe that's frustrating to you as a reader. Maybe you wish I'd pick a theme and focus on it: Amanda at Work, Amanda the Artist, Amanda and Her Dog. Well, like I said in one of my first posts back in December, life is not a sitcom. It's not tidy. My blog is named "multitudes" for a reason.
And yet - as I become increasingly convinced that improv is a microcosm of life, I hear the words of my improv teacher echo in my brain: "You have great energy. I can't teach that. Now you just need to harness it. Focus."
The beauty of the Post feature is the juxtaposition -- this story next to that one. A blog about any featured individual's life would be less pithy, but it would reveal a different kind of truth. A blog may be too much like unedited documentary footage to be compelling, but if you don't shoot the footage, you never get the film.
Saturday, February 12, 2005
Thursday, February 10, 2005
Wednesday, February 09, 2005
Tuesday, February 08, 2005
Monday, February 07, 2005
At the end of "The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou," all of the characters are assembled in a submarine when the jaguar shark they've been seeking appears, and Sigur Ros' song Staralfur begins playing. If you haven't heard this song, please find it and listen to it; it's the kind of song that makes you never want to talk again.
Back in the submarine, they are all overcome with the beauty of this creature that they seem to have forgotten until just now, even though they've been seeking him. And Bill Murray, playing Zissou, starts to cry, and he says "I wonder if he remembers me," because he's seen this shark before. This made me cry. And there they are, a bunch of humans suspended underwater in a machine, surrounded by beauty that makes everyday human business screamingly irrelevant.
The other gem from this movie is when Zissou meets his grown son for the first time. His son asks him why he never tried to find him all these years; Zissou says, "I hate fathers, and I never wanted to be one." In some ways, the moment I describe in the submarine is the point at which Zissou comes full circle from that statement. This is a movie about taking ownership of things. There was some odd violence I could have done without, and in general the story could have been tighter, but when I saw that ending, all was forgiven.
Sunday, February 06, 2005
Today, I'll work on my screenplay - I haven't touched it in a while, and I feel inspired. I miss my characters. This is the first time I've written something where the characters live inside me... I think because with a screenplay, you develop the structure upfront, so when the time comes to write, you can just write...you can focus exclusively on what the characters are saying and doing without worrying about what happens next, or whether the story is even worth telling. You've committed, and now it's just a matter of bringing these characters you love to life.
My main character is an introvert, and I'm trying to figure out ways to make her interesting without forcing her to say more than I think she'd really say. I decided to check out My So-Called Life for inspiration - I never watched it when it was on the air - and it's perfect... the same feel I'm going for, of being on the cusp, only my story's about 21-year-olds instead of 15-year-olds. I read something the other day about how every coming-of-age story is as much about a culture trying to figure something out as it is about a character trying to figure something out, and I think that's right - at least for coming-of-age stories that are well-told.
There's a line I loved from the MSCL pilot:
It just seems like, you agree to have a certain personality or something. For no reason. Just to make things easier for everyone. But when you think about it, I mean, how do you know it's even you?I remember feeling that way for the first time in high school - suddenly watching the way I interacted with people, instead of just interacting with them; feeling trapped by some of my friendships, like they were forcing me to be someone I no longer was. On the one hand, my identity today feels much more genuine than my identity then, since it's a closer reflection of values I've actively defined; on the other hand, sometimes I find myself longing to remember what it felt like to just be me, before I started wondering who I was.
--Angela (main character - age 15)
Saturday, February 05, 2005
Regardless of whether I'm any good or not, improv has become a full-on addiction for me. At the end of every class I just want it to keep going. At the end of the show the other night I wanted another turn. Nothing has made me this greedy in a long time. There is something about the way that I respond to improv that is unlike anything I've ever experienced...writing is more like scratching an itch. Improv is like heightened living.
Thursday, February 03, 2005
I only saw part of the State of the
"Bush has a special talent for avoiding tough questions and reporters who ask them. Here's what the White House press corps should do to smoke him out."
I can't count the number of times I've been OUTRAGED by how the press has avoided the tough questions. As the bumper sticker says, "When Clinton lied, no one died" -- why aren't reporters more doggedly following up with the president about some crucial and unanswered questions from the first administration? --such as, as this article suggests, "Who was responsible for the faulty intelligence about
The press needs to be vigilant about making this point in its coverage of Bush's second term, rather than just blandly reporting that freedom is on the march. Journalists are so scared of being accused of bias (unless they work for Fox News or other ideological media outlets) that all too often they resort to an accounting of events that a robot could muster...."he said this, she said that." It's cowardly. I think part of the problem is the obsession with achieving the impossible goal of objectivity. Reporters are people, and people have opinions. The editors of Slate.com capture my feelings on this topic to a T in explaining why they disclosed who their editorial staff planned to vote for in election '04:
"Rather than bury our views, we cultivate and exhibit them. A basic premise of our kind of journalism is that we can openly express what we think and still be fair. Fairness, in the kind of journalism Slate practices, does not mean equal time for both sides. It does not mean withholding judgment past a reasonable point. It means having basic intellectual honesty. When you advance a hypothesis, you must test it against reality. When you make a political argument, you must take seriously the significant arguments on the other side...By disclosing our opinions about who should be president, we're giving readers a chance to judge how well we are living up to these ideals." (read the full article)The article goes on to propose that "Repressed politics, like repressed sexuality, tends to find an outlet of one kind or another." They suggest that if the editorial team at 60 Minutes had been allowed to disclose their feelings about the president, they may not have rushed the story about Bush's service in the National Guard. I think this hypothesis holds water.
Wednesday, February 02, 2005
Didn't see that coming
Who said this?
(A) My yoga teacher
(B) Jennifer Aniston
(C) Our president, George W. Bush
The answer is C - our president. That comment was part of an interview he gave to C-SPAN on Sunday, and I have to tell you... I have never heard him speak so freely before.
C-SPAN said there had been so much coverage of Iraq and the Presidents's domestic agenda in recent weeks that they were going to take the opportunity to speak more broadly about his governing philosophies. Whatever your views on Bush, but especially if you've been as intensely critical of him as I have, I really encourage you to check it out. I'm still intensely critical of the majority of his policies and of the secrecy of his administration, and I still find it outrageous that someone with such poor communication skills (to put it mildly) is the President of the United States (since I firmly believe that communication style is the best indication of thinking style). To that last point, it's still clear he's no intellectual - he seemed more like an enthusiastic college student taking a really neat history class. But at least I got a glimpse of what seemed like a genuine person, and I have to say I felt relief. I'm not sure what that means - "relief" - but I think it means I'm a little less afraid. Of course, it's sad that I feel a glimmer of hope when after 4 years the President finally speaks like a human being...and of course, his response to the only policy question (about censorship) was the weakest...but hope is hope, however brief, and it can coexist with outrage. I think.
By the way, if you check out the interview, be sure to watch the video to see what I mean - it won't come through strongly enough in the transcript. He really loosens up after the first couple of questions. I think more than anything this interview underscores how much fear and anger he feels for the press generally - this is an example of what happens when he (apparently) really trusts the interviewer.
Tuesday, February 01, 2005
And another thing
This all led me to my belief that instead of continuing to find NEWER! FASTER! BETTER! ways to communicate with each other, we should focus on learning to *actually* communicate. So many of the world's problems come down to a fundamental human inability to listen and understand, and express and be understood. Or, as Robert Frost put it:
Fire and Ice
Some say the world will end in fire,
Some say in ice.
From what I've tasted of desire
I hold with those who favor fire.
But if I had to perish twice,
I think I know enough of hate
To say that for destruction ice
Is also great
And would suffice.