Saturday, December 31, 2011

The Year in (Just Twelve) Pictures

I probably took at least 2,000 pictures in 2011. But amazingly enough, I managed to narrow this collection down to just a dozen-- one for each month-- to capture That Which is Most Important In Life. Herewith, my selection. Happy New Year, Y'all-- damn this year went fast.














Saturday, December 24, 2011

A Little Gratitude During this Godforsaken Holiday Crap

As the year draws to a close, I would like to issue thanks to the following:

Dear Everybody Who Knows and Understands How Very Much I Detest This Time of Year, and Recognizes That Holiday Depression is a Real Affliction,
Thank you for taking the time to email me all your kind words of hope, appreciation and reassurance. I wish I didn’t need that sort of thing. I wish I could will the crappy feelings away, knowing as I do that they come and go every year, but I can’t. Your kindness and tolerance of my grinchiness means more to me than I can adequately express.

Dear Time Warner,
Thank you for sending some guy out yesterday to shut my internet juice off at the house while I was away at work. I know I’ve been a loyal customer (read: internet addict) for sixteen years now and that this does not net me the courtesy of continued service when I overlook a $57 outstanding payment. Whatever pissed offedness I feel to you has been quite offset by the urgent texts from my neighbor who let me know, as I was driving home from work, that maybe my house was being broken into (again). I take so much comfort in the fact that I have such a great neighbor, a comfort I might’ve overlooked had it not been for your thoughtful efforts to get my attention (because I know that without my $57 you’d be teetering on the edge of bankruptcy). I wonder if Grande will treat me similarly when I switch over them as a tangible signal of my gratitude? I can’t wait to find out!

And speaking of utility companies…

Dear AT&T,
I want to also thank you, for giving my other next door neighbor such crappy service. When his phone went out yesterday, he had to come over and use mine, which turned out nicely, since I’ve been meaning to check in on him for weeks but got too busy with my own depression bullshit. His need of my phone and your insistence on putting us on hold for twenty minutes gave us a chance to catch up some. I just love my neighbor— he’s the best I ever had— so this unexpected together time was a real treat. It was also a chance for me to teach him, a 78 year-old technophobe, the wonders of the iPhone. He was able to figure out the elegant GUI in no time flat, and we had a good laugh over that. Plus, since you can’t repair the phone of an elderly man until “at least Monday,” I’m anticipating that we’ll have more time to catch up when he comes by to use mine again. It’s going to be hard not to show him Angry Birds, but I’m not sure if I want him hanging around until he gets to the ten gazillionth level.

Dear Steve Jobs,
Thanks for being the man behind the iPhone and even more for granting Walter Isaacson access to your inside story. I just finished the bio he wrote about you and damn, you really were a supreme asshole, weren’t you, dude? I learned a lot from your life story and I have to say that, given a choice between creating addictive technology that has so many of us constantly absorbed by our shiny little pocket computers and being nice, I really do think I would choose the latter. Powerful lesson, dude.

Dear Dante,
You big silly Labrador, thank YOU for shitting big runny shits from one end of the kitchen to the other last night while I was at an overnight babysitting gig. I realize in hindsight, after filling four poop bags, that I wasn’t even remotely irritated at the task. This was yet another reminder of how much I love you and the other dogs for all the unconditional love you bring into my life.

Dear Other Dogs,
Don’t get jealous over that personal shout out to Dante—I love you, too, and yes I did find those substantially smaller, drier poops you left in the laundry room. And no, those didn’t make me mad, either.

Dear All You Parents Who Allowed Me to Spend Time with Your Kids this Month and Who Acted Like I was Doing YOU a Favor,
To you I say au contraire! What a kindness you did me in allowing me the distraction of making arts & crafts and playing Wii and Lego and everything else. This helped me get outside of my head, the one that was filling up with self-pity and holiday gloom. I mean it when I say I will gladly watch your kids anytime.

Dear Super Cranky Postal Worker Lady,
Thank you for earlier today when I came in to pick up a package. All the times you’ve been a total bitch to me and yelled and were all talk to the hand when I protested your discourteous behavior? Those were, I must admit, slightly mitigated by the fact you were only mildly bitchy today when you mumbled an irritated and insincere Merry Christmas to me. Here’s hoping in the New Year we can both stop glaring at each other.

Dear Darling Son,
Thank you for asking, in a truly hopeful fashion, if I was going to make cheesecakes this year. You know, I really wasn’t going to, but since you put it like that, as I type this, I am making precisely one batch of two cheesecakes. Remember when I used to make thirty or forty each year and the joke was, “Keep the Oven Full at Christmas So There’s No Room for Your Head”? Well as I made those two cheesecakes today, I wondered how the hell I ever mustered the energy to make so many, and I started thinking how, wow, maybe therapy did work, and maybe I am slightly less OCD these days, so that’s cool. I also realized the house smells pretty damn good when I make cheesecakes—all that cinnamon. (But let’s get this straight: you WILL be taking the damn cheesecake home with you tomorrow because I need to stop eating crap.)

Dear All of You Who Inexplicably Seem to Enjoy this Miserable Time of the Year,
While I would ask that next year maybe you lay off the reindeer antlers on your car roof, I want you to know that I am trying (really, really I am) to understand that we all have different perspectives and that you are entitled to like this overblown, commercialized holiday. To you I say Merry Christmas, and honestly, my tone is at least slightly less irritated than that of the Super Cranky Postal Worker Lady.

Dear Santa Claus aka Carl Anderson,
Let me say to you, and not in a begrudging fashion, that what you said at the Dick Monologues show about your job for the past thirty years as the most popular mall Santa in the universe really did fill my heart. I seriously appreciate your insight.

And finally,
Dear the Rest of You Who Share My Disdain,
I totally understand, I know it’s a total double suck you/we are going through, to not only hate the holiday but to be subjected to so many misguided people who want to “cheer you up!” and make you “get into the spirit!” Please believe me when I tell you that I’ve been going through this for nearly fifty years now, and we really, really are going to get through it. Less than two days to go.
GODSPEED through the fog,

Thursday, December 22, 2011

Office of Good Deeds Asks You...

Hey Y'all,
So let's see-- the economy is in the toilet, it's the holiday season during which we pressure ourselves to spend money we don't have on crap we don't need, and...

Oh wait, I'm being glum and you're not supposed to be glum when soliciting good deeds. Okay, let me try that again. Take Two:

Hi Y'all!
Isn't it the most WONDERFUL time of the year?! Well I have a way for you to make it more wonderful. This past year, I found out about Casa Marianella, this amazing homeless shelter in East Austin that, for 25 years, has been providing food, shelter, English classes, social services and legal advice to immigrants seeking asylum. Folks find Casa M often after terrifying journeys that include fleeing homelands where they have been tortured, and detention centers here in the U.S. where they have been kept, like prisoners, for months or years at a time. 

You'd think a place like Casa might be full of the broken-spirited but that's not the case. There really is a lot of hope and optimism going on. I got to spend some time over there this summer with my friend, Sarah, a lawyer who does pro bono work helping these folks out. I was so excited to find out about this resource and, having some Office of Good Deeds funds hanging around looking for the right place to land, I hooked the residents up with a really awesome badminton set. Because, you know, it can totally suck just sitting around, unable to work due to legal constraints, waiting for a shot at asylum and a life that is free of brutality and oppression. 

To speed up the process from badminton-playing, legally-mired immigrant to free and productive citizen, Casa Marianella has started a new legal clinic. Okay, here's the part where I hit you up for some dough.  Can you spare $5? Tell ya what-- you can forgo getting me a Christmas gift AND a birthday gift (what, you forgot my birthday is in two weeks?) and just earmark a portion of what you would have spent to buy me a new chicken coop and spinning wheel on helping these folks out. 

Five bucks. That's all I'm asking. You can donate online here.  Please indicate that your donation is for the new legal clinic. 


Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Rupert Holmes Salon Part 2! Wednesday, 12/21. Be There or Be On My Shit List!

So Kathy Kehoe and I have been grandly scheming to create another stunning Salon de Rupert Holmes for y'all. For those of you who missed the last one, the idea is that we want to provide a setting for folks to meet, a setting that doesn't rhyme with Ratch Dot Pom or Me Farmony. A setting that isn't about jello shots. A place where you can admit to loving books and that is a good thing.

We were sort of focusing on this Make it For Singles thing. But as we continue to re-shape the PlayDough, we have decided, WTH, why not just open it up to all? So that's this month's experiment. ALL of Y'ALL are welcome and you better show up OR ELSE. We'll meet tomorrow at The Snug, which is actually located INSIDE OF Tom's Tabooley on the Drag. Cover is $5. We start at 8 and end at 10. Here's what you do:

Show up, maybe even a little early. Order up some awesome yet reasonably priced food and/or beverages (yes, they have beer and wine) on the Tom's side, then head on over to the Snug side and grab a seat at our Big Dinner table. We'll chat and eat for the first hour. Then we'll have some amazing entertainment. This month, that means the brilliance of:

Kathy Kehoe!
Terry Bowman! (who flew in from SF to entertain you people!)
Paul Klemperer! An avid REEDER (who knows if he'll show up with sax or clarinet. Maybe both!)
Richard Steinberg aka Mr. Smarty Pants, he of Chronicle Fame!

Please join us! Please tell your friends! This is a safe harbor for book lovers, holiday haters, and all ye of good cheer AND sourpusses. Our only rule: no assholes! Isn't that easy and refreshing?!


Wednesday, December 14, 2011

I, Spike: Holiday Capitalist Pig! Please-- Buy My Stuff!!

Act today and help keep this dog from eating shit!

Hey Y'all,
Welcome to this week's exercise in hypocrisy! Even though I enjoy bad-mouthing the holidays and also condemning over-consumerism, I am here today to peddle to you my books. And I am going to suggest what lovely holiday gifts they'd make. Ready:


Okay let me 'fess up. Remember the whole bullshit with The Moth? And remember how I had that bad case of the What Ifs? As in What If this performance gets me noticed? Well part of that prompted me to acquire many copies of some of my books, which I had intended to sell at the merch table. Now I have that back stock and I was thinking... (uh-oh, not that again). If I can sell these books to y'all, I can pay my mortgage this month and still have money left to feed Rebound the delicious wet food she so loves, so she can stop eating Dante's shit and then barfing it on my bed.

So how many birds is that with one stone if you buy my books? Let's see: I keep my house, Rebound gets fed, my sheets stay clean and you don't have to fight the crowds to go shopping. I'll even sign, gift wrap, and mail the books to your recipients.

Or maybe you have all my books already. And maybe your friends do, too. So okay then, what about giving the gift of a Spike Writing Workshop? That can be arranged. Just let me know and I'll print up a nice gift certificate and mail that along. So here's info on the books and the workshops.

I've got three books in stock-- scroll down for ordering info:

Everyone's favorite holiday topic: RAGE! 

This one is safe for Moms and Grandmoms! It's about quilting.

A collection of my essays. UT Press photoshopped out my Bush is  a Punk Ass Chump bumper sticker, but I had a bunch of mini ones printed up so act now and I'll include one of those. 

The books are $20 each. Postage for 1 is $4, for 2 is $6 and for 3 is $7.

If you prefer to give the gift of a writing workshop-- my next one starts in January, runs for six weeks, and costs $300. If you email me before the 20th and tell me the secret code (which is Rebound Eats Dante's Poop) I will give you a $50 discount.

If you want to order stuff, just email me.


Monday, December 12, 2011

Zen and the Art of the After School Special

Hello Everyone!
My name is Spike and when I'm not walking around feeling totally irritated with my fellow human beings and/or being held (sort of gleefully) captive by running snarky commentary in my head about say, how the American Apparel model type in front of me in yoga class apparently forgot to wear underpants beneath her sheer stretchy pants (Wait til you're 47 honey, then let's get a look at that ass without a foundation garment!) I actually, believe it or not, LOVE BEING NICE TO PEOPLE! 

I love it. I really do. 

I'm not going to spend a hell of a lot of time here today going over one of the big things I learned in Emo Chemo (my name for therapy). Let's just say that someone smarter than me pointed out what appears to be a pretty clearcut pattern on the part of yours truly to swing, sometimes wildly, between good girl and bad. Could it be the heaven and hell model in which I was raised? Oh sure, why not, if I can still get away with blaming my parents, sign me up. Or let's point our finger at the media for hyperbolic hero/villain breakdowns of everything. Or hey, how about fucking Santa Claus with all that Have you been naughty or nice? bullshit? What, Santa? No gray area in which I wasn't naughty enough to merit a spot on Middle Age Bitches Gone Wild nor nice enough to pass full-stocking muster? Can't I have one goddamn day (or week or month or year or decade) where what I do doesn't get judged?

Anyway, so being nice, yeah, it's the nice antidote/counterpose to my love affair with sarcasm.
Por ejemplo:

The other day, I ran into my friend Alyssa at Cherrywood Coffee. Not a surprise-- we live blocks from each other and blocks from the cafe. Nor was it a surprise that Alyssa looked beautiful. She always looks beautiful. But on this particular day, instead of keeping my secret admirer observations to myself, I decided to enthusiastically let her know just how beautiful she looked. How did I do that? I said, "WOW ALYSSA YOU LOOK BEAUTIFUL!" just like that. And when we leaned in for a hug, I noticed she also smelled beautiful (also not a surprise-- Alyssa's first book is about to come out and it's all about scents). So I said, "WOW ALYSSA! YOU SMELL DELICIOUS!!" And then me, being me, I invited her to come over to my house and make out with me, which Warren might applaud but I'm thinking maybe Alyssa wasn't so interested in and likely, too, her husband might not get behind (which isn't to say he isn't liberal or generous, but probably just, you know monogamous).

Alyssa lit up even more than her already glowy self when I told her how cheering her loveliness was to my eyes and nose. And when she lit up, I kinda lit up, too, and it reminded me of something I think I sometimes forget: Saying nice stuff to people can actually feel as good as ripping someone a new asshole! Cool! I know I know this, but damn, I do forget it sometimes so it's really nice to be revisited by the concept. Because E=each time I recover from my ongoing amnesia-regarding-the-saying-of-nice-things, a couple of things pop into my head. They are:

Your hat is so beautiful! 
No, no, YOUR hat is so beautiful!

Number One: Yeah, I guess I kind of am the crazy lady that will walk up to you, a complete stranger, and ask if I can touch your beautiful fuzzy hat, or pet your beautiful fuzzy dog, or admire your beautiful fuzzy haired baby. I like to think I have good boundaries around this-- offering a balled hand to be sniffed, a gentle hello for the kids, a non-lingering caress of the hat. Maybe some other people (Warren? Henry?) think I'm borderline nuts and possibly freaking out these people/pets/babies simply by approaching them at all. But I swear I just try to get in and get out with the niceties UNLESS, say, the clerk with whom I am discussing the benefits of buying slow cook steel cut oats in bulk vs. overly packaged quick oats wants to segue off and talk about how his grandmother, before she died in a freak Arizona snowstorm in July, used to always make him slow cook oats softened with possum milk. Then, okay, I will either a) cheerfully stick around for the extended dance mix conversation or b) stick around for the conversation and fake cheerfulness because even if I'm bored out of my skull, I can tell the clerk is feeling all warm and mushy inside (not unlike the oatmeal at the heart of the discussion) and so that's a good thing. Plus, you know, I started it, right?


Number Two: Episode 6, Season 5 of the ABC After School Special, titled Very Good Friends and starring Melissa Sue Anderson, she of Little House fame. (While I admit that this episode got stuck in my head from the moment I first saw it in April, 1977, IMDB did just lend a major assist for me in tracking down the exact episode, title and date because you know what? I'm not THAT big of a freak.) In the episode, Melissa Sue's character (described in IMDB as "a sensitive young girl") has to come to terms with the death of her little sister who, as I recall (freakishly, yes) dies when she falls out of her treehouse and breaks her neck. The moral of the story is not, as you might guess, to be careful climbing out of your treehouse.

Instead, we discover that the dead girl had a super cheerful demeanor and a self-imposed rule by which she always remembered to find something lovely about everyone she met, and to give voice to that loveliness, to let the other person know know! So when she looks at a rather plain looking neighbor and sees not her plainness, but instead a certain spark that reminds her of... get ready for it... Elizabeth Taylor! (Remember, this was '77), she says, "YOU REMIND ME OF ELIZABETH TAYLOR!" and the woman totally lights up. On the one hand, we-- the young and easily influenced home viewer avoiding pre-algebra homework to watch the program-- are now doubly horrified that this super sweet child was so rudely robbed of a future by an evil treehouse ladder. On the other hand, trauma often makes for more indelible memories than joy, so fueled by our horror, some of us-- by applause how many of you also remember this episode?-- clung to that moral and carried it with us.

Which is to say, yeah, I can't ever just compliment someone now. I have to then immediately think of that After School Special episode, the single thing that most inspired me to be grow up and become the scary lady behind you in line who no, does not want to tuck your tag in but, yes, wants to say, "Gosh, you remind me of a young Peter Frampton, sonny! Do you know who that is? Want me to show you on my smartphone?!"

I'm so grateful to Alyssa for showing up just when she did. I was having a kind of crappy day before then. But afterwards I felt much better thanks to our big happy energy swap. And even now I'm getting a nice residual boost as I discover that somebody or somebodies actually went to the trouble to list every single After School Special at IMDB, along with synopses like these:

Season 4, Episode 6: Blind Sunday

Original Air Date—21 April 1976
In an effort to understand his blind girlfriend, a teenage boy decides to spend an entire Sunday blindfolded.

Season 6, Episode 4: It Isn't Easy Being a Teenage Millionaire

Original Air Date—8 March 1978
14-year-old wins the lottery and thinks all her problems are over. But she quickly learns that her real problems are just beginning.

Season 8, Episode 5: The Heartbreak Winner

Original Air Date—13 February 1980
Teenage figure skater learns to true value of winning when she meets a paraplegic youngster.

Season 11, Episode 3: A Very Delicate Matter

Original Air Date—10 November 1982
Teenage girl is shocked when a former boyfriend tells her he has gonorrhea. Not only does she get tested, she must tell her current boyfriend to get tested as well.

I think I might just stop reading all the bad news in NYT and from now on only ever read After School Special descriptions. Damn I loved that show. I wish I could run into it at a coffeehouse and say, "After School Special, you STILL look hot 35 years later!"

Thursday, December 8, 2011

Meet the Parents: Review-- God of Carnage at Zach Scott

Lauren Lane & Thomas Ward in God of Carnage
photo copyright Kirk Tuck 2011
As promised in my recent I HEART AUSTIN post, I am here to deliver Reasons Why You Must Go See God of Carnage at Zach Scott. Let me just come out of the gates with the most important reason of all:


Now order your tickets quick, before reading more, because I predict this show, which runs through January 8, 2012, is going to sell out and sell out and sell out, as it should.

Okay, got your tickets? Good. Now let us continue. First, a confession: I don’t often read other reviews before writing my own and, with rare exception, do I comment on other reviewers. That said, the other day I read what at best could be described as a tepid endorsement of God of Carnage and I had to wonder if that reviewer and I saw the same show. Because that reviewer (who shall remain nameless and genderless here) did not jump up and down and proclaim what a hilarious show this is. REALLY? REALLY? Because I laughed through the entire thing.

While I don’t usually go in for spoilers, it’s perfectly fine for me to describe the premise here, since the piece is more about character study and human relationships than some massive, convoluted plot that gets resolved in the end. We’ve got two married couples—Annette and Alan Raleigh (played by Angela Rawna and Eugene Lee) and Veronica and Michael Novak (played by Lauren Lane and Thomas Ward). The Raleighs are a wealth manager (her) and a big pharma attorney (him). The Novaks are a salesman (hardware type stuff—him) and a “writer” and part time art bookstore clerk (her). We open up with the four gathered in the Novak’s modern-y living room (are they putting on airs with this decor? Probably. ) Veronica is reading a strongly (you might say offensively) worded statement regarding how the Raleigh’s son, Benjamin, attacked the Novak’s son, Henry, resulting in the damage of the latter’s two incisors.

While the kids are discussed often in the ensuing 90 minutes (this is a one act, no intermission show), they never make an appearance. Instead the Novaks and the Raleighs discuss this “event” that brought them together literally ad nauseam, to wonderful effect. I love to keep an eye on where my free associating mind travels whenever I’m at a show, be it a Neil Diamond concert, a Broadway musical, a heavy movie, or a staged comedy. Here’s what I came up with for God of Carnage:  it’s sort of a mash-up of Elvis Costello’s Indoor Fireworks, a very light version of Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?, and Bunuel’s Exterminating Angel. We’ve got four people who cannot seem to extract themselves from one another’s company despite the fact (or likely because of it) they are driving each other nuts (and to drink).

The brilliance in this show comes in part from the wonderful physical comedy. But more than anything, it comes in the way playwright Yasmina Reza (note: it was written in French and translated by Christopher Hampton) configures and reconfigures allegiances throughout the piece. One minute the Novaks are a united front. The next, Veronica will say something that Michael finds offensive and he’ll correct her, drawing support for one or the other Raleigh. This happens over and over as couples first concur then wildly disagree in different formations. This is going to be a stretch here, but did you ever see that little stacking magnet game? The metal pieces are shaped like tiny people and you can build them up and up but then they collapse on top of one another and you have to start again? Okay, THAT’S what these interactions reminded me of, people moving toward and away from each other like magnets pushing and pulling depending on which way they’re facing.

Something else I love about this show—you are welcome to enjoy it on the surface: four lunatic, hovering, longwinded, hilariously annoying adults getting entirely too embroiled in a kids’ brawl. Or, you can dig deeper. My joke as we were leaving was that I certainly learned some great new argument techniques from the show and I couldn’t wait to try them out at home on Warren. You should feel a little uncomfy watching God of Carnage—not too much but just enough. Think comfortably uncomfortable. Because if you are a human that has ever interacted with any other human ever in your life, and if you have ever gone from being enamored with someone to totally annoyed by them, you are going to be gazing into the looking glass here.

And while I sometimes enjoy such reflection as delivered by heavier, more serious works, I gotta say that being reminded in a comedic fashion of the folly that is Being Human is my favorite sort of comeuppance. None of us are any better than the rest of us. We might not be as annoying as the Novaks or the Raleighs, but to be certain we’ve all got our faults.

Big bravos to director Matt Lenz and all the players here-- each pulls their character’s weight wonderfully. I always have to give a special shout out to Lauren Lane who, for a couple of years, was wonderful enough to make time to be in my Dick Monologues. If you need any reminder of one major reason we are so lucky to live in Austin, go see her in this show or any show she does. Hell, go watch her wash the laundry. She is a great gift to the stage and in God of Carnage her wonderful performance is well matched by Lee, Rawna and Ward.

Really, awesome, y’all. Go see for yourself. 

Monday, December 5, 2011

Austin, Texas, Come Over Here RIGHT NOW and LET ME GIVE YOU A BIG FAT HUG!!

Photo courtesy of and copyright: Sarah Bork Hamilton (2010)
Most weekends I am wrapped up in my wedding business but December is a slow month for getting hitched, so this past weekend I had an entire Saturday and Sunday to myself. There was a great temptation to stay in bed with the dogs and read-- possibly my favorite comfort activity. But the voices insisted that I get my ass up and do something. I think this might be related to Middle Aged Brain Syndrome whereby I have come to know myself well enough to recognize that the so-called Holiday Season is a potentially dangerous time of year for me. Seasonal Affective Disorder is a distinct possibility, and with it comes my holiday motto, "Keep the oven full so there's no room for your head." What I'm getting at is that common sense, at long last, seems to prevail. So realizing that lying around in bed can be the start of something bad, I dragged myself out into the world, determined to stave off holiday depression this year.

You have to see it at night!
In truth, I got a running start last Tuesday night, when I headed over to Mueller for the lighting of the NOEL sign atop my beloved air traffic control tower. This activity went beyond tolerable and into the arena of downright pleasant, and thus armed I got a funny idea in my head. I thought, "Wouldn't it be funny on several levels if I went to the John Aielli Christmas Tree Caroling and Lighting Festivities at the capitol?" I mean, I was actually considering doing this in a non-sarcastic fashion. Fast forward for a second-- I did not, in fact, make it to the event, but just the fact that I considered it is a sign to me that either a) I am finally lightening up after 46 years of hating Christmas or b) I actually am exhibiting signs of early Alzheimer's.

So what did I do Saturday? I started out with a yoga class at East Side Yoga, where Lance cheerfully kicked our asses, an activity in which we joyfully and willingly participated. Lance likes to adjust my poses and gently lift me by the head and ask, "Can you feel the difference?" And I'm like, "Duh, Lance, of course I can feel the difference, you're, like LIFTING MY HEAD FOR ME!" Maybe I can start doing yoga by proxy, whereby I stay in child's pose while Lance whips through forty sun salutes on my behalf, but courtesy of some Steve Jobs beyond-the-grave technology, my ass shows the sculpted results of Lance's efforts. I like this plan.

This is a picture of a balloon release that was part of the remembrance ceremony for Chris Kern in September. 
After yoga, I hopped over to Cherrywood Coffeehouse to catch up with Simon. Simon is one of my absolutely favorite people and we met in large part thanks to the beautiful memorial bench down at Town Lake that is dedicated to the memory of Chris Kern, who died twenty years ago, the victim of a drunk driver. It's a very long story how this bench brought Simon and me together, but let me just say that bench is magic, the energy in it amazing, and if you've never visited it, I hope you'll put that on your list.

Danny at Peacock makes my hair all pretty.
After Simon, I scooted over to Peacock Salon on the East Side because my ego had insisted I make a hair appointment with Danny back when I still thought I could be part of The Moth without selling my soul. Even after I discovered otherwise, I kept the appointment because Danny has been doing my hair off and on for 20 years, and he helped to raise Henry, and seeing him is always a hoot. As he was finishing up, I asked if there was a place nearby to get a plant, and he told me GREAT news: Big Red Sun, which once upon a time had a retail space, but then didn't, now does again sell plants to the public.

Big Red Sun is BACK! Yay!
Better still, Big Red Sun is just a few blocks from Peacock. I went in there right before they closed and it was like my Narnia or Wonderland or something. Just the two nice folks running the place were there, along with two nice dogs. Leonard Cohen was singing an especially maudlin, beautiful tune. The place is so gorgeous on the inside, and outside there are tons of succulents to choose from. I walked through the massive sliding door and had the backyard to myself, and with Leonard crooning I just took my time drinking in the succulent succulents until I settled on a couple. One for me, and one for Chris's aforementioned bench. Because Saturday was December 3rd, the anniversary of Chris's birthday. I usually remember it because it's the day after Henry's. For many, many years I took flowers or plants to the bench on his birthday and death anniversary, but I'd fallen out of the habit and wanted to change that.

I want to live in a house filled with succulents.
So I took a little succulent down to the bench, and Town Lake was deserted thanks to the weather. It was quiet and muddy and wet and gray. I was just there for a minute, but it was a minute full of a million memories, the countless times I'd been to that bench, the nearly thirteen years I walked around the lake nearly every day.

A truly terrible picture of the Mother Falcon show.
Then I scooted home-- by now it was too late to join forces with John Aielli, but still I wanted to go downtown because Mother Falcon was playing at the Frost Bank Building. I LOVE MOTHER FALCON and, bonus points, Henry's got friends in the band. Jill joined me and we found a miracle parking spot (this is my secret hidden talent in life-- good parking spots). We only had about twenty minutes because we were also heading to a play. So we strolled down Congress at a good clip, and there were tons of people out for a big, orchestrated Holiday Stroll. I could hear the Minor Mishap  Marching Band behind us, yet another reason I love Austin. But we didn't have time to wait for them. So we scooted down to the MF show, and lots of folks were gathered, sitting on these yarn-bombed yoga balls that I had seen just the week before at another event. (I am being followed by yarn covered balls, people!) In the very short period we were there, we witnessed yet another one of those SPECTACULAR AUSTIN MOMENTS that makes you wonder why anyone would live anywhere else in the world ever. The Minor Mishap band had made their way to the Frost building. They gathered, en masse, behind Mother Falcon and then, in a moment of unity I shan't ever forget, both bands played Johnny Cash's  Ring of Fire. OMG-- I am getting weepy just recalling it. It was SUPER AWESOME!

I am being stalked by these yarn bombed yoga balls. Not a bad thing. 
Then on to Zach Theatre to see God of Carnage featuring the inimitable Lauren Lane. I'm going to write a full blown review of the show in a day or two (hint: IT IS SO FUCKING FABULOUS BUY YOUR TICKETS NOW!!). After that, as if the show itself wasn't splendid enough, there was a fantastic after party with food by Austin Catering. Hello, world living outside of Austin? What fools you are!

Doesn't this explain a lot about why I like to spend so much time in bed?
I got home Saturday night so elated that an idea came to me. Instead of spending Sunday reading the NYT-- (totally pleasurable once I rip that GD Texas Tribune sticker off the front ENOUGH WITH THE TexTrib STICKER!!!)-- what if I stayed on a roll and went out again, and just kept the excitement going? I was thinking a lot about my old job with JetBlue where I used to write thirteen articles every week about how fantastic Austin is. That was such a good job that it was crazy-- to be paid fabulously well to go around writing love letters to the city. I decided to re-inhabit those days, to go for it, to skip NYT and seize Day Two of the free weekend.

What a splendid choice.

Sunday looked like this:
Meditation at East Side Yoga

A slow drive around East Austin with Ross-- Ross and I raised our sons together. We stopped at East Village Cafe, an awesome, seemingly undiscovered cafe on 11th Street. Then on to Cisco's for the migas-- my favorite place to get migas.

Cisco's Migas. Food of the Gods.
After brunch, I scooted home to put on my church clothes because I had a memorial service to attend. For those of you who did not know Joe Gracey, you can learn more about him here and here. He played an absolutely pivotal role putting Texas music on the map. I only met Joe once, when I had dinner at his place with him and his wife, the amazing singer-songwriter Kimmie Rhodes. Joes's story is stunning-- a DJ from age 14, cancer took his tongue and his voice when he was 28. He reinvented himself. He was so beloved. His memorial service was held at the new ACL Moody Theatre and around 2000 people attended. Joe Nick Patoski gave a great send-off, as did Joe Sears dressed as a preacher. The Flatlanders played and so did Alvin Crow and others. I don't think Joe would mind me saying that Austin is such a bad ass town that even the funerals rock.

Water bottles with Joe Gracey's picture on them at the memorial service.
Flatlanders open the memorial service. That's Joe Sears in the vestments-- he did a hilarious "sermon."
Post-memorial service, it was off to Jo's on Second Street for some hot chocolate. This was very good, but I confess that I will spend the rest of my life desperately seeking the chocolat chaud experience I had in Paris in 2009. I know it's not going to happen. But damn, I keep trying.

Drinking Jo's hot chocolate makes me look a LOT younger! JK, JK-- this is Jill, my weekend partner in crime.

From Jo's we went over to the Alamo Ritz for the Master Pancake Christmas Show. SILENT SHIT, HOLY SHIT, PEOPLE! Have you seen this? Owen Egerton, John Erler, and Joe Parsons ad lib their way through a bunch of Christmas show clips and they also throw in sketch comedy. I laughed so hard I think certain parts of my body won't ever recover. The show plays through the rest of the month and you really need to go see it. Sweet Baby Jesus these guys are hilarious. 
Me and the Master Pancake Geniuses!
You might think that by the time I got out of there I'd be ready to collapse. Au contraire! I was totally energized and even, oddly, felt like maybe I didn't hate Christmas after all. So I insisted that Warren and Anderson go with me over to this house in Clarksville behind Jeffrey's, where every year the place is covered in lights. A year ago I performed a wedding on this lawn, and that was one way I fought off the threat of Holiday Depression 2010. (I am really starting to get the hang of Not Hating the Holidays So Much.)

Then I popped by Toy Joy for a second to grab a magic wand for a friend of mine. I carry a magic wand with me wherever I go and it really helps me magically improve people's moods (including my own). I think I need to just carry a case of them and hand them out.

Toy Joy!
Post Toy Joy I swung by Wheatsville and procured some local chevre, some brie, and some Honey Crisp apples. These I shared with friends, before finally-- FINALLY-- going home to collapse in bed with the dogs.

A cheesy finish to a fantastic weekend.
What an absolutely fantastic weekend in Austin. I had been so busy for so long with weekend weddings that, while I never ever forget what a great town we live in, I sure had forgotten precisely how fun it is to go out on the town like you're a tourist. Seriously, you should try it-- forget about decking the halls. Just clear the decks instead, screw the housework and errand running, go out and enjoy our fine town, goldang it. OMG we are so lucky to live here!

Friday, December 2, 2011

You're the Best Thing That Ever Happened to Me

I woke up this morning feeling ten tons lighter thanks to my decision yesterday to gather together my Moth balls and withdraw from that project. But it gets better. I was feeling all Day-day-enu, when, as I came to the surface, a surge of additional SUPER GRATITUDE filled me as I remembered the last thing I'd been thinking before I fell asleep. Today, this very day, is  THE 21st BIRTHDAY of HENRY MOWGLI GILLESPIE!

Put your hands together people! And don't just put them together for Henry and me. Give yourself a round of applause. Because holy mackerel-- you want to talk about the whole whole village thing? This child was raised by so many people that I truly, truly cannot begin to count. People across the city, the state, the country, the world. We did it together and here's just a little of your ROI:

Together we are delivering into the world of adulthood a young man who is, above all, deeply compassionate. Of all the things I could have hoped for, that is at the top of the list. He is also happy, healthy, well-traveled, hilarious, and almost gives skinny jeans a good name. He's a badass guitarist and a puppy worshipper. Little kids dig him. He's had the same job he got when he was 14-- his very first job. He is so loyal. He is so beautiful. Raising him has been the absolute best thing I ever did in my whole life (sorry, Warren-- I know I said it was going on that first date with you...)

If I knew I wouldn't be leaving out folks-- my addled brain can't remember every name of everyone who helped us over the years-- I'd make a list here and thank each of you one-by-one. Let's give thanks for my forgetfulness, because if I could compile such a list, it would be so long the Internet would blow up.

Thank you all. Thanks to those of you who took him on dangerous adventures that I never would have done myself. (And thank you for mostly not telling me the details). Thank you for the lessons, the travel opportunities. Thank you for coming to his shows, his soccer games, and his infamous birthday art auctions. Thank you for helping us when we were very poor. Thank you for all the time and patience and good energy you invested. Thank you for the LOVE!!

OMG y'all-- we truly just stumbled into this town when that child was just ten months old. We had no idea (not consciously) of just what a perfect fit it would be. Austin has been our playground, our homeland, our School of Life. From our first days living at that truly shitty motel-style apartment complex with the big sign out front that looked like a cross between a water theme park entrance sign and a logo for a heavy metal band to our rocking lives in Cherrywood (where we live just blocks apart) and everywhere in between we have had the time of our lives. (Aside: and a shout out to our friends in Knoxville who gave us love and shelter the short period of time we left here.) From Montessori school --where Henry once excitedly told me, "I know why the dinosaurs are extinct, Mom! Because a giant Meat Eater crashed into the planet!!"-- to martial arts training and yoga classes to all of the musical mentoring Henry has received from so many rock greats in this town, we could not have hoped for better educational opportunities.

WOW! I love this day. I love this day SO MUCH! I love it because it is a reminder every year to stop and be truly grateful. And the day before I always reflect on how, late on December 1st, I went into one of the worst labors in the world. And I remember how Henry came very close to dying once he did arrive. And I remember how the NICU nurses and doctors saved his life. Here is our big tradition on this day: I always make my son squirm by suggesting we reenact his birth (though, really, I have stopped actually lying down on the floor when I make the plea). 

One more round of thanks and then I have to go tend to the other tradition-- making a dark chocolate raspberry cake with fresh whipped cream. Parenting-- as I don't have to tell those of you with kids-- is really the most humbling activity in which one can partake. To say I made a few errors along the way is like saying... oh somebody help me here, what's a ridiculous funny analogy? Uh... well it's to say that Springsteen wrote an occasional decent song here and there. The mistakes I made using my patented Error & Error Parenting Technique (TM) could fill many tomes. Along the way so many of you stuck by us, helped me through the first shitty divorce, the second shitty divorce, and many questionable decisions in between. I thank you more than you can ever know.

And most of all, I thank my son for being born. Because along with all of his other fabulous traits, the one I might just be most grateful for is his capacity for forgiveness. He was born an ancient soul, and he came imparted with wisdom I'm still working on attaining: that letting go of shit is a really, really excellent way to live. He has gotten over, past, and through any number of my questionable decisions, he has accepted the apologies I've offered (to the point of telling me I can go ahead and lay off the apologies already, since often they remind him of stuff he long ago forgot), and we have come through it all as very best friends.


Thursday, December 1, 2011

Zen and the Art of Squandered Opportunities

A couple of hours ago, I emailed the director I’d been working with at The Moth and withdrew from the performance. I’d wrestled with the decision most of the day, really wondered if I would regret it, and knew that I couldn’t be certain how I’d feel until I hit send. So, okay, the verdict is in and, you know, I feel pretty okay about it. I’m a teensy bit sad that I won’t be taking the stage at the Paramount next Tuesday night, which had been the plan. But in the end, I think this was the right decision.

So what happened? Well let me preface by saying I love listening to The Moth. If you aren’t familiar with it, it’s an NPR distributed program that comes out of NYC. Folks tell amazing stories from their lives and I’ve heard more than a few that have stopped me in my tracks or inspired a busted gut. So when I got the interview call to see if I’d be right for the live show, I was pant-peeingly excited. I also told myself not to have expectations, that they were probably interviewing lots of people, and that only two folks in Austin would be picked.

I talked up a storm to the director who at one point stopped me and asked me to give her more details about something I mentioned in passing. “I can tell you that,” I said, “But really it’s nothing I want to perform in public or potentially have on the radio.”

Those were the magic words. I think we both thought the same thing when we heard me say that, “Okay, this is the story,” though I had some reservations. The story was about how after a seven-year estrangement my sister and I are mending fences. I worried if she heard it that process would end. So I called her to check in and she said to me basically the same thing that I said to the director, “Nobody in our family listens to NPR so go for it.”
I was really grateful to my sister for this attitude, since for me to tell the whole story would be to expose some parts of her she might not appreciate. (And yes, this did make me wonder about myself and if I am a little too willing to sell out people when a microphone is dangled in front of me.)

So the deal was done, the process begun. The director said to me that we’d be talking on the phone several times, and that a lot of people she works with are surprised when they find out how much time it takes. I took that as a warning and made some adjustments—cleared the decks, set aside the book I’m writing, didn’t schedule many appointments. I wanted to fully focus on the task at hand.

At first it seemed to go well. I was asked for a written draft and when I turned it in I got feedback that went like this, “THIS IS GREAT!!” And then, despite the greatness, I was asked to make changes. Lots of them. That was not terribly surprising. The Moth has a very set format – any big programs or print publications do. I’ve written enough for the New York Times (not that much, just enough) to know when you start working with national folks, you are going to have to bend to their will or you are going to get cut.

A pattern established itself. I’d hear the requested changes, maybe wince a little bit, but agree to make them. I’d then make them. I’d get a call and an email saying GREAT JOB!!! absolutely riddled with exclam points. But then there’d be more changes requested. I’m just going to give one example here, because in the end it’s the one that annoyed me the most. At one point in the story, I talk about how difficult it was growing up with my dad who was a Holy Roller and a racist. I wrote in an early draft that he used to tell us that if we left our small town, we’d be raped, tortured and killed by a black man. I also wrote that he didn’t actually use the term black man.

I thought that it was pretty clear that I meant he used a racist term. But the director said I needed to cut the line or clarify. So I rewrote it and changed the word to my father’s actual terminology—nigger. I did not feel good typing it then. I do not feel good typing it now. And I knew, as I included it that, saying that word could be a showstopper in a bad way. But how else to clarify?

After I’d done more drafts than I can remember (a dozen perhaps?), and around three weeks into the process, the director said it was time to have A Fresh Listener weigh in. This involved a conference call where I was supposed to “just talk it through.” By this point, I was having nightmares about the whole thing. I don’t usually perform without pages in front of me—I’m a writer/reader, not an actor— so there was the fear I’d go blank. But also there was the fear that in my head all the drafts would get mangled and I’d wind up blurting a hybrid that made no sense at all.

So for the Fresh Listener, I kind of read from the page, but also tried to look away from the page and just tell the story. I could tell it was a wooden delivery. I am totally perplexed by the concept of rehearsed spontaneity/ pre-written extemporaneous. When I finished, the Fresh Listener was asked to weigh in with her thoughts. She immediately zoomed in on the word nigger and gave me a speech about how and why it doesn’t work and that cunt is the other word that doesn’t work. I kept trying to cut in to say I knew that, but she wouldn’t let me cut in. By the end of her speech, which she probably didn’t intend to be condescending but which sure sounded like that to me, I knew that she was from Alabama, that her family uses the word nigger, and that this embarrasses her in front of her Jewish husband. Not that this had anything to do with my story, but she wanted me to hear HER story. FINALLY when it was my turn to speak, I explained that I never wanted to say nigger in the first place, that there was no need to sell me on the idea of cutting it out, and that I only put it in because that’s what I thought the director meant when she asked me to clarify. (Not to mention that the director did not herself, after seeing the word, ask me to cut it out, which in hindsight seems kind of weird.)

For her part during the call, the director—who just hours before had written to heap high praise on the draft— made a few comments like, “You have to understand that sometimes things that really read well on the page just don’t work out loud.” Really? Like I didn’t know this? What upset me was that this was the same person who’d given me all the revision requests that got me to the draft that didn’t work for the Southern Fresh Listener with the Jewish Husband and the Racist Family.

And then I got another round of revision requests. At this point, I was becoming very vocal in my discomfort to my closest friends. I didn’t want to give up this BIG CHANCE but it felt like the life had been sucked out of my story. I felt like I’d been to Oz and had an unfortunate glimpse of the man behind the curtain. I wanted Cher to come over and sing a song about how if we could turn back time I could just go back to listening to the show and not know the process of how they Moth-ify people and that would be just fine with me.

Seriously, people, I thought about all of this WAY too much and WAY too hard. I mean, talk about your First World Problem with a capital FWP. I’m having a breakdown over the fact that my ego agreed to do a show so I could hear a bunch of people clap for me and so that later I could have bragging rights? Really? And then, oh I didn’t do it, did I? Oh shit, I DID— I started to drift into the dangerous Seas of What If— as in What If This Moth Gig Leads to Bigger Things and Changes My Life and Makes it BETTER!!?

WHAT bigger things? That’s what I finally had to ask myself. I don’t want bigger things. I’m 47, almost 48. My grandmother lived to be 94 so if I follow that pattern, I am, as of right now, halfway finished. Not having a national spotlight the first half of my life didn’t only not harm me, I’m pretty sure it was a good thing.

Wait, see the above paragraph? A bit defensive, no? See that’s still MORE of the stuff that was running through my head. Jesus H—this little ten-minute performance had taken over my life. I decided they call it The Moth because it eats holes in you. I dedicated close to 20 hours to the thing before I finally sent in that email and quit. Twenty hours I’ll never get back. Twenty hours and my paycheck was going to be $200. Plus tickets were $50 to $90 and I was only allowed one comp. Several of my friends wrote to say they were sorry but they couldn’t afford to attend. I wrote back to say that for $90 (or less) I would come over, do a private reading of the piece AND have sex with their dog. (That offer still holds for any of you who want to pony up $90.)

Somewhere in here I need to thank Garreth, the world’s best realtor, for stepping in when Warren cleverly failed to answer his phone. Garreth listened to me lay it all out there, and really think it through. I told him that, though it might be narcissistic of me, I was feeling a bit bad, like I was leaving them in a lurch on very short notice. He helped me to calmly see that I was in a lurch of my own, without a final draft to focus on, which left me with no time to adequately rehearse.

Another friend of mine, an actor/director, talked me through it, too. He said he turns down roles to act in other shows just because he prefers to be in shows he directs, to have it his way. So maybe I’m a control freak, but man that resonated with me. I like the Dick Monologues. I like just getting up there and being chill and doing it my way. I detest writing by committee—and there’s a difference between incorporating thoughtful edits and just rolling over and letting others dictate how it’s going to be and with each new revision I felt like my story was disappearing entirely.

I’m no Melville, but I’ve been amusing myself imagining how it would be for him if he lived today and turned in a manuscript. These days the whole world of writing (and so many other things) is so geared toward homogenization, marketing, branding, and pleasing the masses that no manuscript escapes unscathed. “Uh, Mr. Melville? This manuscript, it’s GREAT!!! Super!!! Really, all we need is for you to change that whale to a hamster, tighten the whole thing down to 250 pages, and come up with a sub-plot that we can parlay into a blog and you’ve got yourself a deal!!”

Two more quick thoughts. This whole thing reminded me of watching the Wilco documentary, I Am Trying to Break Your Heart. Spoiler alert: in the end, Tweedy and the boys turn in a carefully crafted record to a very disappointed label exec. The record gets rejected. They turn around and sell it to another label. Bonus: The second label was owned by the first label. Double bonus: The record, Yankee Hotel Foxtrot, landed on just about everybody’s Best Record of the Year list that year.

Really, it’s so hard to know when to stick to your guns and when to give in. I tried really hard to give in, but I reached the point where I just couldn’t compromise anymore. After I sent in my withdrawal note, Warren and I went for a walk so he could listen to me process—I was feeling stressed at first, sad about a squandered opportunity. But as we walked along in the gorgeous weather, and I looked at the dogs, and thought about how good my life is, I felt really, really fine. Relieved even.

And then Warren reminded me of my favorite joke: A writer and an editor are the only survivors of a plane crash in the desert. They crawl along for days, dying of thirst, when at last they come upon an oasis. The writer plunges his head in and begins slurping away thirstily. The editor drags himself to his feet, pulls down his zipper, and takes a piss into the water. The writer stops slurping, looks aghast, and croaks out, “WHAT ARE YOU DOING?” and the editor says, “I’M MAKING IT BETTER.”

I guess we all have to decide in the end what draft works for us. Bummer that the draft I liked won’t be heard by the masses. But I’m pretty sure I’ll survive.

Anyone interested in having me come do a private reading while servicing your dog can email me directly. Also, I was going to be allowed to sell merch, which I paid for upfront, hoping to recoup my money. Now I’m sitting on a bunch of my books over here. So, not that I believe in the holiday or anything, but if any of y’all want to buy my books, you can also Email Me