Saturday, September 7, 2013

A Little More London Love-- with Thanks to Jon Nuelle

Me and some of my beloved Englishmen at Night of the English 2011
I think at least a couple of the six of you know that:

a) I haven't blogged over here in months because
b) I am now blogging at MEDITATION KICKS ASS however
c) I have something I wish to share with y'all that
d) Doesn't fit over at the new blog

Something else at least a couple of you know is that I went to London recently. I am still reeling, in a good way, from that experience. I dedicated several posts at the new blog to trying to capture some of the ways my heart and mind have been changed forever and for the better by that journey to England. I seem unable to stop fantasizing about moving to the UK even though I've been back two weeks now.

Jon Nuelle, noting my homesickness for London, kindly wrote a song for me, ATX Sunsick Blues, which he based on Gary P. Nunn's London Homesick Blues. You can read the original lyrics here. And you can see a YouTube Vid of GPN singing it with Jerry Jeff Walker here. Below are the for Jon's version. What a stunning, stunning gift-- Jon thank you so much. You may come have tea with the Queen and me once I make it across the pond full time. I'll keep you posted.

ATX Sunsick Blues
(Jon Nuelle for Spike Gillespie, who was stupid enough to return from London back to Austin during August, instead of heading straight to Oregon. This is dumber, as they say down here, than a box of hammers. Forgive me my mess, Gary P. & Jerry Jeff)
Well when you're down on your luck
and you ain't got a buck
in August you're a goner.
All the Westlake kids
have packed it up
and flown to Barcelona.
I sure know why.
And I'll substantiate the rumor
that the Austin sense of humor
Ain't no match for the Texas sun.
You can bet I'll be back
but you know it’s a fact
that Portland's lookin' like some awfully cool fun.
So now I'm home with the Armadillo
It's still forever 'til ACL and Halloween
You know I'll listen ol' Joe Strummer when your London's calling me.
Well it's a hundred and five
Man alive
I wish they'd turn the heat off.
And where in the world
is that English girl
who crowned her princely feat
in such a whirl?              [GOD SAVE HER!]
And it's been so damn long
Two decades screwed so wrong
by grifters like Oops and Shrub
My mind keeps rollin'
and my heart keeps longin'
for a pint in an East End pub…

But now I'm home with the Armadillo
It's still forever 'til ACL and Halloween
You know I'd say Sir Paul McCartney that your London's calling me.
Well I decided that
I'd knit myself a hat
and take a soak in Barton Springs Pool.
Cause when a gal's had enough
She's gonna call your bluff
No prisoners will be taken
that's for sure.
And these Austin eyes
will eye a better prize
all the damn livelong day!
And so in high Oxford style
I'm gonna steep for awhile
'Til my foggy mem'ries take me away…


So now I'm home with the Armadillo
It's still forever 'til ACL or one fresh breeze
My Aim Is True Elvis Costello when your London's calling me.
So now I'm home with the Armadillo
It's still forever 'til ACL and Halloween
Why don't you call me, Billy Bragg when your London's calling me?
So now I'm home with the Armadillo
It's still forever 'til ACL or one fresh breeze
You don't know cruel, Nick Lowe, so kindly London's calling me.
For now, I'm home with the Armadillo
It's still forever 'til ACL and Halloween
When St. John Lennon's King of England,
Then you know I'll be the Queen!

Saturday, June 1, 2013

Please Check out My NEW Blog.... Meditation Kicks Ass!


Hey Y'all,
So I will totally be back here from time to time to do theater reviews and the occasional irresistible letters-to-idiots of which I am so fond of writing. But I stumbled into an experiment a couple of weeks ago and I'm enjoying the heck out of it so that's where I'll be focusing most of my energy. It's called Meditation Kicks Ass. I hope you'll check it out.

Thanks!
Spike

Monday, May 20, 2013

Time for Our Annual Check-In With the Fucking Squirrels

The Enemy after a little snack at the cat food bowl.
Yes, that's right. It's that time once again for the fucking squirrels to ruin my garden. As ever, demonstrating the triumph of hope over experience, I put in a summer garden. I did this with the wonderful help of the amazing Robin Chotzinoff and her team at Dirty Hands Garden Design. Robin is an old friend, a Dick Monologues alum, and a genius gardener. Things were looking good.

I knew it wouldn't be long before the fluffy-tailed rats moved in, but I chose to live in a state of denial. The unusually cool spring seemed to keep them at bay, and there was enough rainwater to convince them to not chew through my drip irrigation hoses as they are wont to do. Yes, I saw them digging up pecans they'd buried in the raised beds-- so much for the useless fucking "realistic" plastic bobble-head owl "deterrents." But the tomatoes and peppers and squash went mostly untouched. And then...

And then they discovered that they didn't have to settle for the ridiculously expensive organic cat food in the front of the house or the equally ridiculously expensive organic chicken feed in the backyard. Oh no, they could help themselves to the sweet potatoes I sprout in jars to be like Martha Stewart on a budget and keep on the patio. Well, okay, actually the truth is I don't set out to create these arrangements, I just sometimes forget to eat my sweet potatoes in a timely fashion, at which point I stuff them in jars, as my mother did to have green around our house and stay within her minuscule budget. In my case, the vines had taken over the house, wrapped into the spokes of my ne'er used bicycle, and attracted a rather stunning army of ants. And so I moved the potatoes outside only to discover this:  

Fucking squirrels.
Once upon a time Rebound would take out the squirrels. Once she even left half a squirrel carcass on the rug for me. Sweet Rebound. If I am to be honest though, I confess that while I am no fan of destroyed gardens, nor can I advocate death for the squirrels who are just trying, like us and the Bee Gees, to remain stayin' alive (moment of silence for all the dead Brothers Gibb). Anyway, that was back when Rebound was at fighting weight. Here is the current scenario. "HEY REBOUND!! There are squirrels in the yard!!!" 


Yeah? Who gives a shit?

And so it came to pass that I had to take matters into my own Breaking Bad hands. On the advice of a nice woman at Natural Gardeners, I acquired the following: spray bottle, mask, latex gloves, dish soap, and a shit ton of habañero peppers. As I contemplated the great potential for burnt lungs, I let the bag of peppers sit and fester and mold for awhile before I actually did anything with them.


Look at these. They look innocent, right? WRONG! 
Finally, I took action. I donned the mask, hoped the boiling peppers wouldn't choke out me and the dogs, turned on the swamp cooler fan, opened the doors, applied my swim goggles, and set to work.


And as I worked, I had just two thoughts. The first thought: Let me live through this. The second thought: FUCK YOU SQUIRRELS!


Boil, boil, toil and trouble. And bubbles. Soap bubbles, I mean, not Bubbles' cremains. That would be gross.  
Disgusting and deadly.
And then I took the concentrate, stuck it in the fridge for about a month until I finally got together the energy and daring to go out and spray the garden with the mixture. The nice lady at Natural Gardeners tells me that squirrels hate the spicy heat of peppers.


 That's all well and good, and I am hopeful this year the latest plan will work. Of course now every single thing I harvest is going to taste like habañero, totally suck, and be entirely too spicy to eat. But that's beside the point. I don't care if I don't get to enjoy the yield. Just as long as those fucking squirrels don't either. Ah, the sweet taste of victory!

Monday, May 13, 2013

It's That Time of the Year-- Disco Haiku Contest! Great Prize!



Last year I held a Disco Haiku Contest and the winner-- Chris Nudd-- got a pair of tickets to Studio 54klift the annual Disco Dance Extravaganza Fundraiser for Allison Orr's amazing Forklift Danceworks. Allison is the one who brought us Trash Dance, one of the most moving performances I have seen in my life. Now she's working on PowerUP, a performance piece featuring Austin's power workers that will be literally uplifting and electrifying.

To celebrate the genius that is Allison Orr, the wonder that is Graham Reynolds (who scores her pieces), and all the amazing folks who work with her, I am once again having a Disco Haiku Contest. Winner will receive a pair of tickets to the event which is this Saturday, May 18, 2013, at Zach. It is going to be so wildly fabulous I am going to faint with joy and excitement. My favorite human on the planet (sorry Warren) is hosting. Yes, that's right, put your hands together for

Miss Rebecca Havemeyer

                                 

I've got a note in to the Divine Miss H to see if she can judge the contest. I'll keep you posted. Contest closes at 5 pm on Thursday, May 16, 2013. Email your submission to spikegillespie@gmail.com and I'll compile them all here on Thursday. Anyone can enter but you must be able to attend the party to win. Ladies and gentlemen, start your pencils...

Thursday, May 2, 2013

The Office of Good Deeds Asks You to Lighten Your Wallet and Fatten Your Ass to Help West Comma Texas!



My favorite traditions are the accidental kind. I really can’t stand all the stuff heaped on us by the media and big boxes trying to get us to buy into, say, Christmas hype starting in September. But I have stumbled into moments in my life that continue to bear repeating. Of all of these, I think Stopping for Kolaches in West Comma Texas just must be my favorite.

I can no longer remember the first time I went to the Czech Stop off of exit 353 for those little sweet and savory pastries. But it has to be going on fifteen years or more now that I pull over, whether I need gas or not, and fill up my personal tank with cherry cream cheese and apricot cream cheese kolaches.

So many summers I tossed little Henry in the back of one crappy old beater or another—no air conditioning, windows down, whipping up the highway Jersey bound or back down again homeward bound—and always came The Stop. I was (still am) so enamored of West that when I was a lifestyle reporter for the Dallas Morning News I convinced my editor to let me do a piece that involved spending an entire day in the Czech Stop, watching the comings and goings of so many just-passing-through truckers and tourists as well as all the locals.


I’ve had so many opportunities and honors in my life as a writer—bylines in lots of big places. But I have to say of all the accolades and kudos I’ve received, nothing thrilled me more than all those years after I wrote that article when I stopped in West and there it was, my article, framed and hanging above the register.

On a quick trip up to Fort Worth this week, I felt an odd combination of dread and eagerness in the pit of my stomach as the mile markers worked there way up to 300 and then beyond, knowing that West was just up the holler. And then there she was.

I’m not sure what I expected to see in the aftermath of the explosion. And I didn’t see much to let on that so much loss had occurred. But I could feel it in the air. And, too, I could also feel the buzz of Let’s Carry On. The Czech Stop was packed with a line snaking through the store. I loaded up on kolaches—more than usual just to be helpful, you know? And I dropped a check in the disaster relief bucket. And I thought about the loss of so many lives.

These are now a permanent part of my ass.
Here’s what really got me though. Taped to the front of the store were the missing dog fliers—pets that were lost in the explosion, maybe dead, maybe on the run, who knows. With all due respect to the human loss and pain, those dog fliers were a punch to the gut for me as I still wake up sometimes and do a dog count over here and realize we are two down from where we were just three weeks ago.

In these crazy times of media frenzies fed by internet races to see who can outpace whom in reporting on Big News and Great Tragedy, what happened in West, Texas was overshadowed by what happened at the Boston Marathon. Not that tragedy is or should be a competition, but that’s how these things shake down.



And so, word on the street is that in a rush to be helpful, many people contributed to funds to help the Boston victims while the folks in West are still in tremendous need.

I know I am forever haranguing y’all to give to this cause or that. And recently I was thinking maybe I should just start the $5 Per Week Club, where 2,000 of us kick in $5 every Monday to go to some good cause. Ah, but that would require more organization than I can muster. And so I will just keep asking you to help on a case-by-case basis.


Please y’all—West, Texas needs us. Lend a hand. $5-- that's all I'm asking. More is great, but every little bit really does help. Here's how you can kick in:



And here’s a link for the Austin Bakes for Westbenefit this weekend—a great excuse to fatten your ass in the name of helping.


 Thanks,
Spike
President of the Office of Good Deeds



Friday, April 26, 2013

I Will Beat Your Ass (True Confessions of a Competition Freak)



PREFACE: What follows is a rather long ramble that I will boil down for you in this preface. I am trying to win a contest. In order for this to happen, I need to get about 190 more unique views to THIS VIDEO by Sunday afternoon. (The link doesn’t work on mobile devices.) If I win, I go to London. For those of you with time to kill—the long version is below. It involves cocaine, Jello, Seasonal Affective Disorder, dysfunctional sex, and an inability to throw a game of Scrabble.

From time to time I stop to consider that I never did cocaine in my life, and I am filled with wonder, surprise, and more than a little relief. Consider that the 80s were my heyday and that I began my twenty-year stint as a drunk at age fourteen and that—though rather a late bloomer in the nicotine department—I was a chain smoker for a good period of time, and it really is amazing that I never hopped on the Blow Wagon (unless you count that time in the car with a band, whose name I now forget, the members of which were snorting some cheap shit and I ran my finger across the residue on the mirror and then across my front teeth in an experiment to see if I might numb them. Didn’t work.)

I actually have a theory about why I, an addict if ever there was one, skipped out on being a Snow Bunny. I think, buried deep in the recesses of my alcohol-saturated brain, but in bold enough type that even all the booze couldn’t totally obscure it, was a large sign that said in all caps: 

DO COKE AND DIE.

I really do still believe that if I’d done the stuff it would’ve been the end of me. I saw two distinct ways this might happen. The first: one line of coke would so hyper-exaggerate my pre-existing compulsion to talk rapidly and non-stop in the company of others due to extreme social anxiety that someone would’ve taken me out back and shot me just to get me to shut the fuck up. The second: I would’ve had a contest with myself and/or others to see just how much I could cram up my nose, a competition I would’ve won even if it meant I wouldn’t live to defend my title.

See, I am at heart one of the most competitive people I know. The way I best manage this streak is the same way I manage my unhealthy enthrallment with drinking and smoking— abstinence. However, whilst I have mastered the art (I say this in all humility and with mountains of gratitude) of no longer drinking and smoking, I do still occasionally take the competition bait.

Recent example— last week, Garreth texted me that he had a great idea for me. Garreth’s ideas are actually great much of the time, so I agreed to hear his scheme. He told me that at the sparsely populated Austin Auto Show there was a little contest going on. All I had to do to win a pair of tickets to London plus hotel was go down there, pay seven bucks to get in, sit in a MINI Cooper in front of a green screen and be silly for 30 seconds, and then get all my friends to watch the video.

Initially, I was skeptical. Was this a trick? A national competition beyond any hope of winning? An attempt to garner piles of personal information from my friends?

Garreth, who’d made a video himself and scrutinized the rules, assuaged my anxiety and shot down my conspiracy theories one by one. He showed me the website where some videos had already posted. The frontrunner had fewer than a hundred views, easy enough to beat. His argument was sound. I decided to enter.

Here's the link, bitches.
Hop into the Time Travel Machine now. It’s 1975 in Westville, NJ. School lunches are a brand new concept at Parkview Elementary School. These include little dessert cups of Jello cubes (sadly sans vodka). I’m about seven years away from becoming a vegetarian at this point, so the Jello ingredients do not bother me. In fact, I’m all about the Jello and the open-faced boiled ham and swiss cheese melts. John Logan and I decide to have a Jello competition. I weigh about 63 pounds soaking wet at this point, and John is, relatively, a good bit bigger. Still, I win. I eat Jello and more Jello and more Jello. John doubles over in pain. I do jumping jacks to rub my victory in his green face.

I believe it is also John against whom I run for student council president that same year. He wins and I am handed the consolation prize—Safety Patrol Captain (ironically, I jaywalk and am hit by a car, though at least I am off-duty at the time). I don’t love not winning. I hate it. I become more competitive. I take home a pile of essay contest awards. I am valedictorian of my sixth-grade class (actually, my mom fails to tell me this until I’m about forty, but still…).

And so the competitive streak goes for me. In high school I get all A’s and am student council president. At home I can eat faster than any of my eight siblings, guaranteeing that I will get seconds when it comes to the limited meatball supply. Looking back, I’m certain this is where my drive originates. When you are one of nine you must compete for time, attention, food, clothes, all of it. Step aside or I will EAT YOU UP.

Step back into the Time Travel Machine. Let’s skip ahead now twenty-two years. It is 1998. I am dating a total fucking loser. He, too, is competitive and insecure. Here is how it manifests: We play chess. We play Scrabble. He hates to lose. I also hate to lose, but I have finally met someone who hates to lose more than I do. I learn, early on, that if I beat him (rare, but it happens) he will withhold sex unless I agree to stay up for a post-coital rematch, because he is sure that he can beat me then and he cannot rest until he wins. For my part, I am far too competitive to throw the game.

I don’t enter contests very often anymore. Once in awhile, I get sucked in. Every time a DJ says, “I have a free pair of tickets to give away,” I have to remind myself I get free tickets all the time. I don’t need to call in. But there’s that split second when I think… Must Win.

Last December, when I was in the throes of a major depression and suffering from some PTSD issues, I got nominated to play the role of Mother Ginger in Ballet Austin’s The Nutcracker. I hate Christmas. I hate The Nutcracker. I hate leaving the house when I am depressed. And yet… I loved being nominated. And so I was instantly In It to Win It. I bugged the shit out of everyone I know for weeks on end to pick me to play a part I had no true interest in, one that might find me onstage bawling my eyes out. (I did not win, which in itself was a sort of winning.) Because somewhere inside of – though she is fading more and more—remains the girl who wants the prize.

So now here I am. Competition girl has roared awake. Forty hours from now either I win the tickets to London or those harlots in gold lamé do. Can’t let that happen, ladies. Oh no. I WILL EAT YOU UP. I simply must.

Once again folks— Here’s The Link to the Video. Please watch it and pass it on and HELP ME WIN. Thanks!

Tuesday, April 23, 2013

Save HausBar Farm & Save All Austin Urban Farms!

My backyard garden and flock, hugely inspired by HausBar Farm

An Open Letter to Austin's City Council,

I read an article in the Austin Chronicle recently about the surprise shutdown of HausBar Farms in East Austin. I've wanted to write to y'all about this since I heard the news, but have been debating the best approach. Pardon my self-indulgent tangent here, but let's stop for a moment and consider different possible tacks I might take. I could be all sweet-- more flies with honey and all that plus I think there's some nonsense about decorum when addressing politicians. Or I could go the opposite direction-- as is my wont-- and get all New Jersey on y'all and say WHAT THE FUCK IS GOING ON HERE? 

Striking a balance is not my strong suit. So pardon me if my chapped ass flavors tone here.

I will allow that I have not been to HausBar since the shutdown, nor have I spoken to Dorsey (I left her a phone message to try to set up an interview but I can only guess she is hard at work on the farm and unable to answer every call that comes in immediately). I have not spoken to the folks at PODER either. So yes, I am going by what was written in the article.

It turns my stomach that there is even a hint of race-card-playing here. By this, I am referring to the section of the Chron article that reads as follows:

PODER accused HausBar Farms of operating commercially in a residential zone and gentrifying the area surrounding the farm. According to PODER's Daniel Llanes, the activist group had to tackle the issue because other environmental groups wouldn't touch it: "HausBar Farms and the whole urban farm movement is generally a white movement, and so here's where it clashes. You don't see SOS [Save Our Springs] over here, or Sierra Club."

I think what Llanes might be saying is that HausBar is somehow "bad" because the owners are white and, by virtue of their whiteness, it can only mean they are trying to take over the land of East Austin and drive out folks of color. Is that right? How fucking preposterous. Dorsey has been a part of East Austin since the '80s when she opened Eastside Cafe. She is an active member of the community, she loves her neighbors and she is a real GIVER in Austin. 

It's one thing to say there are code violations or odors that need to be dealt with (and if you read the article it addresses how some so-called violations are due to confusion with city ordinances, not some blatant violations). But the race card must not be played-- that is playing dirty and opens up cans of worms that are not good for composting but only good for fostering bitterness and division that will last for a long time and be difficult or impossible to mitigate. If we want to trot out some accusation of land theft, let's go whole hog (pardon the pun) and see if we can have some Tribal Nation organizations shove PODER aside. I mean, whose land is it really? 



Here's a video report I did about HausBar Farms for my KUT series Whim City. And there is a related article here.

I've been to HausBar many times. I first met Dorsey when I wrote about the farm for Edible Austin magazine. I was so blown away by the project to bring farming into the city that I decided to follow HausBar's lead. I now have three raised beds in my backyard where I grow a lot of my own food, I've got a backyard flock of chickens (which, yes, I got from Dorsey) and a badass coop. 

Besides having my own food, here's what else I have: a beautiful yard I love to show off, so I use it for concerts and, soon, fundraisers. Folks come over, see my gardens, and ask for advice on how to start their own. Community is forged, we log off the fucking internet, we are a neighborhood. I also share the food I grow with others. I also take tremendous pleasure in looking at my garden and meditating on it and appreciating where food comes from. Oh, and I also hire LOCAL companies/individuals to help me with my garden, my coop, etc. So I'm putting money directly into the hands of locals as opposed to, say, buying eggs laid by stressed out chickens locked in tiny boxes in chicken death camps somewhere far away.

HausBar is being accused of running an operation which, as described by PODER, sounds like something out of Upton Sinclair's The Jungle. That is pure bullshit. The place is sustainable, innovative, and a perfect combination of tried and true techniques and cutting edge techniques. HausBar is also being accused of gentrification, as if they're using the land to become wildly wealthy. 

Hello? Have any of you been to the farm? Have you seen Dorsey out there busting ass from dawn til dusk? Do you have any idea how not profitable an urban farm is?

I'm so disgusted that PODER is trying to permanently shut down HausBar. Do they not realize that prior to Dorsey taking over the site it was a bunch of illegally built crack houses, an eyesore and a crime magnet? Now it is a majestic, out-in-the-open model for ways we can live that don't involve constantly driving our SUVs to HEfuckingB to buy a bunch of GMO processed "food" that has been shipped in from filthy factories run by enormous profit-driven corporations.

I wrote another article for Edible Austin about a Smithville Judge Ronald Jones (who happens to be African-American, which seems to fly in the face of PODER's accusation that only white folk engage in urban farming) who has started a series of big in-town gardens in his small town. He actually sentences youth offenders to time working in the gardens to show them the value of gardening. He also works side-by-side with them. He also started a garden near the elementary school to show the kids that food does not originate on a grocery store shelf-- sadly there are countless Americans who seem to think this. 

By having the gardens in town, where folks can see them (and come by and help themselves to food) Jones is doing countless great services for his community. So is HausBar farms and all of our urban farms in Austin. 

According to the Chronicle article, there have been some zoning/permit questions, and these are due in part to confusion coming from the City of Austin. It is time for y'all to get your fucking ducks in a damn line, people, and get this straightened out. Our city is viewed with awe by so many people around the country and around the world. We have a reputation for being friendly, green, and smart. Let's keep it that way. 

Please, please, please, please do not delay on rewriting and clarifying the urban farm ordinance. And please, please, please do the right thing and encourage MORE urban farms. This is not about gentrification or racism. This is about learning-- and teaching others-- sustainable ways to live. 

Thanks,
Spike

Wednesday, April 17, 2013

Take My Book-- Please! I'm Giving Away 200 Copies of The Maine Event!


Hey Y'all,
And I'm back. That was a hard couple of weeks-- if you missed the news I lost two dogs in six days. Thanks so much for all the condolences, the cards, the emails, the food, the love. I am so grateful and it has made my loss that much less unbearable.

I've been meaning for sometime now to push the marketing part of getting The Maine Event out there in the world. It's been slow going thanks to everything from health issues to an abundance of wedding work and to not wanting to feel like I'm constantly harassing y'all to buy the book. So I came up with this idea...

I'd like to give away TWO HUNDRED e-copies of The Maine Event. Info on how to claim yours is at the end of this note. First, let me clarify: This is not a trick. I'm not collecting data so I can add you to a mailing list and sell you photos of Rebound later. I'm not going to follow up and hound you for cash (already did that with my thanks-to-you successful KickStarter campaign). I am going to ask a couple of favors but bear in mind this is not quid pro quo. If you just want to take your free copy and that's the end of it, so be it, thanks for reading the book.

If you do want to help out a little-- you can do one or more of the following:

1. If you like the book and want to send a copy to a friend, you can send me $6 (a bargain) and I'll send an e-copy to your friend.

2. If you like the book a lot you can also please leave a review at Amazon. Hey, if you hate the book you can leave a review at Amazon because who ever believes that a writer only ever gets great reviews?

3. You can tell others about the book. My friend Michael made a beautiful website for it over at SpikeMaineEvent.com

4. If you know an indie bookstore that might carry some hard copies, please let me know. I only have a few hard copies left but would love to get them out there.

I'm giving away the book because I really, really want it to be out there in the world. I had no plans of trying to make a windfall when I wrote it. I am just so happy to have readers. So if you want your free copy, just email SpikeFreeBook@gmail.com and please pass this on. Offer is good til I get 200 takers.

Thanks!
Spike

Tuesday, April 9, 2013

Meet the Amazing Molly Gipson-- Gold Award Candidate Extraordinaire!



I’ve known my friend Molly Gipson since she was a little kid. Now she’s a senior at LASA and she’s working on a project to get her Gold Award, the highest achievement in Girl Scouting. Here’s a Q&A I did with Molly to find out about the program she has developed to help young women prepare for independence. I wish I’d had a shot at this when I was her age. Thanks Molly—well done!

SG: You're currently working on a super cool project. Tell me about it.
MG: The gold award is basically where you assess a problem in your community and then propose a solution. The problem I have found is the lack of college readiness in the senior and junior girls at my school. There are some dangers and demands that we will all experience in college that we aren't quite prepared for.

I'm holding four successive workshops to alleviate the problem. I already had one last week where I asked an Austin self-defense instructor, Bart Brooks, to my school to teach a beginner class. The other three workshops are surrounding different ways to live healthily in college (socially, mentally, nutritionally and exercise wise), how to pick your major and get involved on campus, and how to stay safe at parties.

SG: Why are you doing this-- I mean, tell me about Gold Star and how that's a goal, but also what motivated you to choose this particular project?
MG: I came up with this idea over a year ago. I read a lot of news articles and heard a lot of stories about women getting attacked in Austin. I realized that it was a major issue and a lot of women don't know how to defend themselves, including me. So, I wanted it to be the basis of my Gold Award project and it evolved into not just self-defense but college readiness as well.

SG: How did you come up with the components for it? Did you talk to experts or base it on things you'd like to learn yourself? 
MG: I talked with my troop members and based it on things I also think I should learn more about.


SG: How did you recruit speakers?
MG: Well, I haven't recruited all the speakers I need yet. The main way I contact them is by calling them or emailing. My counselor at school helps a lot with ideas about who I could recruit to speak, which includes a lot of people from UT.

SG: What qualifies this as a success for you— I mean what were your goals heading in and how are they working out?
MG: My only goal was to improve myself and my classmates' readiness for the independence that college entails. So far it's working out wonderfully and the girls that attended the self-defense workshop learned a lot. 

SG: What are you going to do with your future? 
MG: I definitely plan on going to a four-year college starting in the fall, although I don't know where yet. I think I want to study psychology, more specifically social psychology, but not many college freshman let alone high school seniors really know what they want to do. In a way I do think this project connects with social psychology. There is a lot of human interaction happening within planning like contacting people or advertising my workshops. It will be intriguing to see which workshops are most interesting to the junior and senior girls and that definitely has to do with psychology.

SG: What else would you like to tell me?
MG: I guess I would like to say that this Gold Award project has been a lot harder than I anticipated, but I really think it will pay off in the end. I'm very excited to be wrapping it up. I hope I can reach out to the juniors and seniors at my school and help them feel at least a tad bit more ready for college next year.

Saturday, March 30, 2013

You Must See Adam Sultan the Play


Purely coincidental to this being Holy Week for some folks, I am fixing to head out to the desert to meditate. Thus I haven't time to post a proper review of Adam Sultan (the play) starring Adam Sultan (the man, the myth, the legend), written by Steve Moore and Zeb L. West.

I will tell you this-- it is so stunningly gorgeous, so moving and sad and funny and contemplative and joyous and... oh wow. It is just so OH WOW! I was truly verklempt and then some throughout and afterward, too, as I tried to process all that I had just taken in.

So many people came together to make this happen-- Steve and Adam and the Trouble Puppet folks (there's this one scene with Caroline Reck who, in her puppet ninja outfit and a pair of green glasses, manages to express so much emotion in such simple gestures that I just wanted to cry out at the gut punch of it all) and design people and sound people and jar people... Wow. WOW WOW WOW.

I am just beside myself. GO SEE IT.

I leave you with this. In the program all of the players get to put in a little bit about themselves, CV, etc. Holly Jackson, set designer, decided to forego the usual description and instead use a Kurt Vonnegut quote. It sums up how I feel about Adam Sultan perfectly:

"I urge you to please notice when you are happy, and exclaim or murmor or think at some point, 'If this isn't nice, I don't know what is."

This show will make you murmur and exclaim. Trust me.

More info can be found Right Here.

Thursday, March 28, 2013

Almost Ready to Launch Le Sac Free Range Plastic Bags!


For those of you who might've had the grave misfortune of missing the original notice posted on FB a couple of weeks ago, Warren and I are PSYCHED to announce the launch of our new business. The working title is Le Sac Free Range Plastic Bags, though maybe we'll change that to Le Sac Commando? What do you think?

Anyway, necessity being the mother of invention and all that, here's how our exciting new leap into entrepreneurship got started. We were off minding our own business one day, visiting cemeteries around Austin-- great cheap date, I'm telling you. Then we spotted it! A bag stuck to a fence. This was just after the bag ban had gone into effect and it dawned on me-- we could make a FORTUNE capturing loose bags all around the city and selling them. Come to think of it, maybe we should say "adopting them out" or "re-homing them"-- right?

So we're going to do a KickStarter to raise $200,000 so we can buy a 50 year-old rotted out AirStream and pay some hand-crafty hipster of integrity (HCHOI) to refurbish it using only his/her bare hands and maybe some organic moustache wax. (We will only consider applicants who spell moustache with an "o" and, preferably, come from Portland.) We'll let you know when that KickStarter campaign is up and running so you can cash in your 401ks to be part of this noble project.

Next, we plan to park the Le Sac Commando AirStream in front of Whole Foods Market (flagship) and also maybe at the 750 Farmers Markets. We will sell our Free Range Bags there, and each will, of course, come with a personal narrative-- where we found it, when, what we were doing, what we wished we had been doing instead of what we were actually doing, etc.

I'm thinking, based on the Individual Cupcakes for $7 apiece model, that we can start out selling Le Sac Commando bags for, what? Like $12 each? $15? Somebody, help me out here. I think we can justify the price since these bags, being banned and all, are a hot commodity, a true model of the whole Supply v. Demand thing that drives this fine country of ours (toward the brink of bankruptcy and destruction).

In preparation for our business, Warren recently acquired an environmentally sustainable, made-from-recycled-materials-only holding pen where we plan to keep the bags until we can transfer them to the AirStream. Here's a sneak peak of our operation, which is happening at a top secret location that may or may not be added to the E.A.S.T Tour if the price is right...

Entrepreneurship starts at home! Warren was able to hunt this batch of beautiful babies not far from his personal property. One blew in all the way from the Phoenicia in Houston! Please don't worry-- these bags have merely been stunned, not injured.
Here, Warren keeps close watch over our new charges as they acclimate to their pen.  
The bags did get a little surly at one point, necessitating Warren bravely stepping into the pen with them to get them back in line. 
Sadly, there was that one rogue bag that just had to be taught a lesson. Don'w worry-- it was quick and humane, we promise you. And the hole from the BB gun is so small we will likely be able to sell this bag anyway, so it's a real company/client win-win and will help us meet the ROI we are projecting for our KickStarter backers (that would be YOU!!)

Wednesday, March 27, 2013

All Bow to Adam Sultan-- and Steve Moore!

Adam Sultan with Adam Sultan
I told the six of you I was temporarily stepping away from my year-long sabbatical for just a moment this week to provide you with two bits of Austin theater info. The first was my review of SLOWGIRL at Hyde Park Theatre-- in short: Go see it!! 

And now today I bring you more tidings of great joy. Tomorrow, Thursday, March 28th, marks opening night of Adam Sultan, a play by Steve Moore that, natch, involves the real life Adam Sultan one of Austin's most amazing, gifted guitarists and a performance genius (among other roles, he is the Melodic Cat half of Mistress Stephanie and Her Melodic Cat). I've been friend and fan of both Steve and Adam for many years and am super psyched to witness this collaboration, a project that has been in the works for sometime. It was workshopped (or mini presented or something) at last year's Fusebox Festival. Now it is time for the big, official unveil.


Along the way, Steve has been collecting items from local performers, which have been put in jars* and... omg damn you middle age, what's the word for when you log information about something? Well, anyway, it's all been organized. I was excited when I was invited to bring stuff to put in a jar, which I did at some big kooky party at Salvage Vanguard Theater. I was whisked into a back room and asked to answer a series of questions so they could determine my cause of death, which I think will be part of the show. Confused? Good. Let that confusion rightfully pique your curiosity and GET TICKETS TO THIS SHOW which I am confident is going to be SUPER AWESOME.

For those of you who insist on having a little more info to go on, the press release describes the show as a "speculative biography." It's set forty years in the future and Adam's friends are dead. He's got these jars full of mementos. It's like that Veronica video by Elvis Costello. Only completely different.

I'll see y'all there.

*The objects, not the local performers. Though there's an idea...


Here are the nitty-gritties:


WHO: Physical Plant Theater
WHAT: Adam Sultan
WHEN: March 28-April 13, 2013; shows at 8:00 p.m. Thursdays-Saturdays.
(Two additional shows as part of the Fusebox Festival: April 18 and April 19 at 7pm.)
WHERE: Salvage Vanguard Theater, 2803 Manor Road, Austin, TX 78722.
COST: $12-$25 at http://www.physicalplant.org/adamsultan/ or at the door
LENGTH: 90 minutes

Monday, March 25, 2013

Review: SLOWGIRL by Greg Pierce at Hyde Park Theatre



Greetings Earthlings,
Technically I’m on sabbatical this year, not doing theatre writing. However… I’m resurfacing this week because there are two theatrical happenings right now that will thrill you, and I can’t resist being the bearer of good news. I’ll tell you about Thing Two tomorrow or Wednesday. For today, a quick, super enthusiastic review of SLOWGIRL, which is playing at Hyde Park Theatre through April 27th.

SLOWGIRL, by Greg Pierce, debuted at Lincoln Center up there in the Big Fancy City. The Hyde Park Show marks its second production and, as ever, Ken Webster – who directs and stars in the show, along with Molly Karrasch—sinks deep his teeth into a nice, juicy script.

Let me remind the six of you, since it’s been awhile since I’ve written about a show, that Spike does not do spoilers in her play reviews (she saves those for Downton Abbey updates on Ye Olde Facebooke). So you won’t get much in the way of plot description here. But I will tell you that, in the eerie way that life and art keep mimicking each other, SLOWGIRL happens to echo— if not precisely then close enough— some current headlines about some Ohio high school football players who were just convicted of a crime involving teens and alcohol and video recordings and social media. It’s a hot topic, and explored really well in SLOWGIRL.

Molly Karrasch’s portrays 17 year-old Becky, who is— for reasons I won’t go into— visiting her Uncle Sterling (Ken Webster), who is holed up in his golden cage of an existence in a hut in the jungle in Costa Rica. Karrasch is the quintessential screeching, manipulative, self-involved pain-in-the-ass adolescent female. Because I once lived—briefly, though it felt like an eternity at the time— with a screeching, annoying, manipulative, self-involved pain-in-the-ass teenage girl, I can tell you, Karrasch nails it. I certainly had my friend Southpaw Jones’s awesome anthem The Cruelty of Teenage Girls running through my head by show’s midpoint.

There is this sort of irony to Karrasch’s skilled channeling. There are definitely points when you want her character to shut the fuck up. Sort of like you wanted Javier Bardem’s character to fall off the face in No Country for Old Men—you know? But in the end, you keep watching because you can’t not.

Uncle Sterling is a complex character and Webster captures the nuance with aplomb. I’m biased, yes—I am such a fan of Ken Webster’s acting that he could mount a production of the live nativity and cast himself as the burro Mother Mary trots in on and I’d be tickled to watch. Check out the show and see for yourself and if you agree (you will) let’s get a KickStarter going to get that nativity thing up and running, okay?

While I won’t reveal the plot, I will say that the theme here is that universal one about perception. How we perceive ourselves. How we perceive others’ possible perceptions of us. What we will say and do to shift those perceptions in our own minds and in the minds of outsiders. Tricky business and explored deeply enough here to make me squirm a little reflecting on representations of myself I have sometimes put out there.

In the end, let’s call SLOWGIRL a mashup of the Odd Couple and No Exit. Webster and Karrasch play off each other really well. She’s not precisely a manic pixie dream girl, but she does shake him awake a bit and he—far more gently—brings a vulnerable version of her to the surface, too.

Before I sign off and resume sabbatical, a big shout out to Ia Ensterä, whose set is MAGNIFICENT. OMG. I don’t know how she does it—I am in love with all of her sets and I think with each one it can’t get better and then it does. Super Bravo Ia! You can come redesign my house anytime.

SLOWGIRL runs Thursday – Saturdays through April 27th. Thursdays are pay what you can night. Show time: 8 pm. Ninety minute runtime, no intermission. For info go to the Hyde Park Theatre website or call 479-PLAY to reserve seats. 

Tuesday, March 19, 2013

Weddings Are a Racket


When I started performing weddings in 2006 I had no idea that this would become my main gig. That's how it has shaken down, though, and I have been ridiculously fortunate. I get far more requests than I can take, I work with happy people, I get to be useful, and I work in gorgeous settings all around the Hill Country.

Louis Pasteur said, "Chance favors the prepared mind." Going with a variation on that theme, once I decided to shift performing weddings from my sideline work to my bread-and-butter, I got my butt in gear. Over the past three years or so, I've worked with a friend who coaches me on SEO, I've played around with advertising, I've courted reviews (which I used to wince at the notion of, but apparently all the kids are doing it these days). The payoff has been great. And so I have transitioned from hippy business owner-- just figuring things would take care of themselves-- to someone more organized. I now have a bookkeeper (amen!) and some actual infrastructure to keep track of my clients. 

Yesterday, I decided on a next step. I'd been looking at my Google Analytics, and noting that one place I advertise-- The Knot, which is sort of a virtual mega-mall for brides-- was generating very few leads. On the advice of my SEO coach, I called to suspend my account, to see if it would affect my leads. If not, then I'd cancel and save around $1000 per year. If so, then I would resume advertising. 

The phone calls I had to endure were just another reminder of how fucking haywire the world has gone. I had a simple request-- turn off my account-- and, as is so often the case with customer service these days, I was greeted on the frontline by a young pit bull of a rep who was not going to hear me out. Because I am a bait taker, instead of just being silent until I had my request met, I decided to engage (pardon the pun) with her. She wanted to know why. I explained the user interface had changed, that even I could not easily find a way to view my advertisement as potential clients might, and that all the changes they made pretty much sucked. I also told her I'd analyzed stats on my end and they just weren't delivering. 

She went on to chastise me for not participating in their free webinars. Really. Can you even say webinar without giggling madly? So they want me to pay them a pile of money and then take classes on how to use their product which, in essence, should be a simple advertisement? 

I asked about 70 more times for the manager and finally I was put on hold for a good spell and then, no surprise, disconnected. I called again, and finally got a supervisor whose tone wasn't as bad. But she, too, did a full-court press, telling me what I was missing by leaving. Again-- I am so stupid sometimes-- I took the bait and told her how their competition, Wedding Wire, was just way easier to use and yielded me much better results. 

It was like I'd set a jealous, negligent lover into a rage. I got a lecture on all that I'd be missing by leaving. I repeated I was leaving. I was sent a follow-up email listing point for point how badly my life was going to turn out if I walked away. I responded, reiterating that I was done, and that I was better off spending my advertising dollars elsewhere. In this last note, I mentioned that Wedding Wire sends me 90 million leads. 

I'll spare y'all the entire email exchange, but let's pick up with where the supervisor sends me a note back asking me to back up this claim of 90 million leads, shall we? 

HER: Spike,
One thing I forgot to ask.  Can you please explain the 90 million leads from Wedding Wire?  Are those actual brides that are interested in YOUR specific services, or are you receiving a list of brides that are joining WeddingWire?  That seems like a lot…just curious

ME: 
You're fucking kidding me, right? Let me spell it out for you-- I specifically chose the number 90 million because it is, in fact, a preposterous number. Armed, as I am, with an English degree from the prestigious University of South Florida, I do, from time to time, whip out my poet's license and engage in what is known as hyperbole. If you are unfamiliar, this is a rhetorical device in which the writer or speaker (in this instance me) conveys to the reader or listener (in this case you) a point by using great exaggeration. You can go here to find a ton* of other examples of hyperbole.

Since you're holding my feet to the fire in your demand that I substantiate my claim of 90 million leads, I will take still more time I don't have educating you. The truth is-- and I hope you're sitting down-- that Wedding Wire does not in fact send me 90 million leads. They do send me A LOT of leads. Far, far more than The Knot sends me. Exponentially more. 

I want you to know that yesterday, when I placed the call to your company, I did have it in mind to ask about possibly just suspending my account and seeing if that made a significant difference in my leads. I figured it wouldn't, but keeping my options open to resume advertising a few months down the line seemed like not a bad idea. Now that I have had to deal with Belligerent B____, and have been lectured by you both on the phone and in multiple follow-up emails, you can be certain that I will not be back at the Knot. I would sooner wear a sandwich board with nothing underneath it and parade around those ridiculous "Bridal Extravaganzas" than work with a company that uses client bullying as a technique. 

I recently purchased the url WeddingsAreARacket.com, which I am planning to use to expose people in the business who exist to convince brides that if they don't have fifty million accoutrements (that's French) their wedding will suck and they will live unhappily ever after. Lucky for you I am so busy performing weddings right now that I probably won't get around to starting that website for awhile. But I'd like to thank you and especially B___, for offering me fodder for my first post. I love coming out of the gates strong, and I'm sure the story of my experience with y'all will easily help me toward that end.

I ask now that you cease and desist with your ridiculous emails. I am going outside to play in the sunshine and revel in the fact that I am not in one of your webinars. 

Spike
*in this instance, "a ton" is also an example of hyperbole. Clever, right? And since we're swapping education tips-- you on the importance of me continuing to pay money for advertising that doesn't work, and me on the amazing wonders of the English language-- let me teach you one more thing. When I use hyperbole in my definition of hyperbole, this is called being meta. I'm going to let you look that one up on your own. 
p.s. Yes, this note does, in fact, contain some sarcasm, yet another rhetorical device, although in New Jersey it's just how they talk regularly.