December 29, 2009 was publication day. Not for me, though. My son, Emmett's, book, Twitterature: The World's Greatest Books in 20 Tweets or Less - which has been available almost everywhere in the world but here and in Canada since November 5 - was finally published in North America. He's 19.
Although Emmett's and his co-author, Alex Aciman's, accomplishment shouldn't seem that unusual to their parents - both fathers are in the authoring business - I confess that I'm still trying to wrap my head around the whole enterprise. When I was their age I was still trying to persuade girls to spend time with me in the back of my VW van - an adolescence that continued until I was almost 30. I mean, the kid just went away to college a year-and-a-half ago. Shouldn't he be busy with homework and whatever they do for weekend entertainment at the University of Chicago?
Hmm. Emmett and Alex were freshman year roommates; maybe this WAS their entertainment. I hear Chicago is very cold. Go outside in January after a shower and your hair will ice-over.
Full disclosure: When Alex and Emmett showed me 20 examples of how they planned to cleverly reinvent 80+ classic works of literature into no more than 20 tweets each, I introduced them to my agent. (Who wouldn't?) Of course, that guaranteed nothing. He could have easily said "get lost" if the boys hadn't brought the goods to the table. In other words, not only were they funny on the page, but it was funny and spot on because between them they'd actually read all but one of the classics they'd reimagined in the Twitter haiku.
Let's just say that with Emmett there is much to be proud of - a pleasure I know I share with local writers Marc Cooper and Marty Kaplan, both of whose young daughters also landed book deals this year -- congrats! -- not to mention Alex's parents.
Kids today! I guess it was an understatement when Emmett recently told me that whatever I'd done while growing up, that his generation was doing it three or four years earlier. So let's see: I published my first book, The Bob Book: A Celebration of the Ultimate Okay Guy, co-authored with my brother-in-words Bill Zehme, when I was 41. (Sold more than 100,000 copies, so good beginning. And let me officially start the rumor that The Bob Book might be updated and re-published for its 20th anniversary in 2011.) Forty-one minus four . . . but he's 19 ... hmmm ....and then there's the weird symmetry of us both having first collaborated on a humor book with a friend . . .
Like I said, tough to get my brain around. And it's not as if writing Twitterature - some of which was composed during U Chicago finals in May and June 2009, and the rest on our den couch in early summer - was casually tossed off. Not only had they read all the originals they affectionately teased, but more importantly they loved them. They've had to reinforce this point often in interviews lest Twitterature be mistaken for some sort of CliffsNotes. It is humor, a multi-layer inside joke, slightly higher up the brow, that resonates even more effectively if you've read the source material. The authors also caution those who might get their doublets in a twist, predicting literature's imminent demise, that Twitterature is unlikely to cause Homer, Shakespeare, Nabokov, Pynchon, Kafka, or -- no doubt as part of an ancient conspiracy -- Dan Brown, to be stripped from from the library stacks.
Ultimately, to prove their mettle, they gamely grit their teeth and read Twilight, and put it in Twitterature. As budding social commentarians they insist that this post post-modern "classic" had to be included, if only "to make the children laugh."
What they do to all all seven novels (at once) about a certain bespectacled teenaged wizard, in only 20 tweets, is hilarious. Gulliver's Travels and In Cold Blood, too. Just saying. (For a list of all 81 included titles go to www.twitterature.us and click on the US cover.)
But enough about Emmett. This is about me, after all. Can't you tell?
As I near s-ss-ssx-sixty (there, I said it), I am in obvious ways at the other end of the writing spectrum. And yet there are similarities. What I hope Emmett might consider as a productive creative outlet, if not a career or at least a sideline, I've spent the past year doing what he soon will be: figuring out what to do next.
Nothing new about that. And better than the alternative.
There is also one big difference: I've got a garage full of neatly stacked file boxes full of clippings and research and manuscripts, some so dated that the paper, when exposed to air and fingers, crumbles like so much mummy wrap, so at this point on the career continuum, I'm not writing to get my foot in the door. Instead, I'm fixated on finding passion. I always have, in varying degrees, but more than ever now I analyze each new idea almost as if it were a first date. Even though I know it's a bad habit, I immediately ask myself if this is "Ms. Right." I know I should do more digging into each idea and see if my interest sustains beyond the initial burst of enthusiasm; that is, go on more "dates" before deciding whether or not to commit, but I guess I just want to be thunderstruck.
In other words: I want to fall in love, and -- like certain young authors I know -- have all the energy and tunnel-vision obssession at the outset necessary to carry me through the process. Books take a lot, and the older I get the more they take of whatever it is they take. And I like big canvases. Can you blame me for wanting to be reasonably sure I'm enough in love to spend every waking hour with a subject, for better or for worse, in sickness and in health, for at least two years?
I also know myself well enough and have seen enough of life's cycle to understand that much I used to care about is no longer that interesting to me. So I keep looking for new worlds to discover, new facets of the human experience to illuminate between hardcovers by trying to reveal character in a way that goes as against the conventional wisdom as possible. Still, some nights I'd rather just watch prime-time dramas and then read myself to sleep on some other writer's dreams.
I'm looking forward to 2010 and I've already got a few things cooking. As George Clooney more or less says in "Up In the Air," moving keeps you alive. This aphorism has kept me in good stead. Since I started writing for my college paper in the late sixties, I knew I'd traded the dependability of the 9-to-5 for being on creative call 24/7. At first it made me nervous, and my father really nervous. Now, I wouldn't change a thing, especially today when the 9-to-5 isn't that dependable and too many of my colleagues are on the street. Anyway, my goal then was less about the writing and more about free rock concert tickets, available women, and not ever wanting to have a job. Win! And beyond that, to be rich and anonymous. I'm four letters away, but there's still time, and still more books to write.
So I'm not complaining, I swear. This is NO mid-life crisis -- even as I fervently hope being 60 IS my mid-life. Along with my wife, I'm/we're just looking to stay interested for the next act.
This is what makes watching Emmett's first act so thrilling and terrifying at the same time. I wish I was in his shoes again, but of course it's also good to know now what I didn't know then.
"You must be proud of your son," we hear again and again. Yes. We are. Sensationally so. But that's about all we can say. Mostly we're happily on the sidelines with everyone else going "Wow."
This is an experience all parents have had or in their own ways will have. We all believe that our kids are special, whatever they do. I just get to write about it, that's all.
I hope Twitterature is the first of many books for Emmett, as long as that's what makes him happy. He clearly relishes the ability to find himself in self-expression, whether he literally means what he says, or is going all Jonathan Swift on readers, while delighting in their occasional inability to tell the difference. Satire, bless its soul, is big because, let's face it, there's so damn much in this world to lampoon. And thank goodness he sees it clearly. At his age, all I wrote were befuddled romantic laments, and added a few guitar chords. My notebook diaries could all be boiled down to one interminably repeated question: why, why, why (don't you love me)? (When I quit asking, I finally found my path and my wife. Just lucky, I guess.)
Since I'm on the verge of something new, I've asked Emmett about his future writing plans -- not that I'm pressuring him; he still has 2.5 years of undergraduate college to complete, and he has grad school plans. But he also says he wants to continue being published: a novel, short stories, opinion, more humor. Of course, you never know; kids these days move so quickly from passion to passion. But if he wants to muck around in Dad's footsteps and all, that's fantastic. I'm sure Alex's father would say the same thing.
Soon enough, if not already, those footsteps will be theirs alone.
Check out Emmett's interview with Patt Morrison on KPCC.
(l to r: Alexander Aciman, Emmett Rensin)
>photo by Hana Hawker
When the men approached, the black foal might have been nursing. Or she might have been on her side, giving her wobbly legs a rest, leaning into her mother under the starry desert sky. The band of wild horses had only recently returned to this patch of scrub; the land had been stripped bare of forage by hordes of roaming cattle and it was only in the past year that some edible plants--their seeds dropped here by migratory birds who knows when--began to green up the hills and provide nourishment for the critters which brought us all westward ho. At the sound of the vehicle, the band--all 35 horses--prepared to move and did move at once, for horses are animals of prey and so their withers twitched, their ears stiffened, their perfect, unshod hooves dug into the scrub for traction and then they began to run.
The black foal might have taken a second or two longer than the others to rise. Perhaps the mare, already upright, bolted instantly, turning her head to see if the foal had followed. The headlights appeared on a rise. The men were shouting and then there was another bright light--it trained from the vehicle across the sunken bajada and it swept the sands, illuminating the wild and running four-legged spirits as their legs stretched in full perfect extension, flashing across their hides which were dun and paint and bay, making a living mural in 3-D in which the American story--all of it--was frozen here forever, in the desert as it always is, as bullets hissed from the vehicle through the patches of juniper and into the wild horses of the old frontier. It was Christmas, 1998. Two-thousand years earlier, Christ had been born in a stable.
Two months later on a cold and sunny afternoon, a man was hiking in the mountains outside Reno. Something made him look to his left, up a hill. He saw a dark foal lying down in the sagebrush, not able to get up. A bachelor stallion had been watching from a distance and now came over and nibbled at the foal's neck. She tried to get up but couldn't and the stallion rejoined his little band. The hiker called for help. A vet arrived and could find no injuries. As it grew dark, a trailer was pulled across the washes and gulleys until it approached the filly, about a hundred yards away and down hill. The stars were particularly bright that night and helped the rescue party, equipped only with flashlights, lumber across the sands and up the rocky rise where the filly was down. Four men lifted her onto a platform and carried her down the hill and into the trailer.
"She was a carcass with a winter coat," Betty Lee Kelly, a rescuer, later told me. She was covered with ticks and parasites, weak and anemic. She was six months old. Two days later, at their sanctuary in Carson City called Wild Horse Spirit, Betty and her partner Bobbi Royle helped her stand. But she kept falling. Over the weeks, they nourished her and she grew strong and regained muscle and she began to walk without falling down. Yet she was nervous, not skittish like a lot of horses are, especially wild ones; she was distracted, preoccupied, perhaps even haunted.
Because of her location when rescued, and because she was starving, her rescuers reasoned that she had been a nursing foal who had recently lost her mother. Without mother's milk, a foal can last for a while in the wilderness, sometimes as long as a couple of months. And because a band of bachelor stallions had been nearby when she was found, her rescuers figured that they had taken her in, looking after her until they could no more, standing guard as she lay down in the brush to die. As it turned out, the filly was the lone survivor of the Christmas massacre and they called her Bugz. I came to think of her as the luckiest horse in Reno.
Bugz was a member of the Virginia Range herd, the first mustangs in the country to win legal protection. Like the other mustangs of the West, their history in this land runs deep; their ancestors flourished on this continent during the Ice Age, crossed the Bering land bridge, fanned out across the world, went extinct here and then returned with conquistadors, quickly re-establishing themselves in their homeland, blazing our trails and fighting our wars, ultimately - like many people - heading into Nevada to be left alone.
I met Bugz in 1999 shortly after her band had been wiped out. I had just embarked on the wild horse trail, compelled by the incident to write about what happened and why. The scope of this tale was vast, I soon came to learn, and it took me into deep time, vast prairies, the story of my family and my tribe - and finally the story of America. Of this I am now certain: our story is not separate from the mustang's, and as the wild horse goes, so goes a piece of our soul and our country.
Over the years, I visited Bugz many times and watched as she became part of the mustang community at Wild Horse Spirit. She slowly forged alliances though never lost her edge, and every now and then underwent surgeries for conditions that began with her ordeal on the range. Sometimes I would stand with Bugz in the corral, taking in her scent and the desert perfume that wafted in. We would look beyond the fence towards the great wide open, and in her troubled presence, I felt only hope and truth and no judgment.
But government round-ups of wild horses were escalating and around the same time Bugz began to fade - or at least her attention had turned elsewhere. She spurned her favorite mates, stopped eating, and paced the corral. Her kidney ailment worsened and her spirit faltered, and I wondered if the terror of the round-ups was carried on the wind. How much could any one horse endure? I thought as her ribs began to show, and on my last visit with Bugz, I rested my head on her flanks and suddenly I began keening. It was an Indian song that I did not know, and yet it seemed as if it had been inside me forever. It poured out and the tears came and I leaned into her mane until the song ended and then I stayed there for awhile. I knew I would never see her again and later I realized I had sung a death song.
This Christmas marks the 11th anniversary of the massacre of the Virginia Range horses. On June 2nd of this year, Bugz joined her family of origin. Bobbi and Betty sent me a clip of her mane, braided with desert sage. I keep the braid in a special place and I inhale its scent at times of need; it dispels rage and doubt and fear, and as the holidays beckon, it speaks of peace on earth, good will to all. RIP Bugz, now running wild and free forever, and thank you for your big, desert heart. I'm so sorry that my kind broke it.
cross-posted on www.huffingtonpost.com.
The local media has sounded the doom and gloom alarm over the Dodgers and Angels after a two-day stretch that saw both teams lose established players. If you listen to local sports talk radio then you might think that both teams are sure to miss the playoffs. Even today's LA Times story has snarky undertones, claiming both teams are playing "little ball."
I'm going to try and add some perspective to the events of the past two days. First, let's start with the Dodgers trade of Juan Pierre to the White Sox. In case anyone forgot, Juan Pierre is a lousy baseball player. He hits for zero power, has no plate discipline, and his defense is shockingly awful for a speed guy because of his weak arm and poor judgment on fly balls. His style has earned him the nickname "Slappy McPopup" by Dodger fans, and his 5-year $45 million contract is generally regarded as the worst deal of the Ned Colletti era. (Yes, it's worse than Andruw Jones and Jason Schmidt, because Jones was only for 2 years, Schmidt netted some insurance money, and the rival Giants almost signed Pierre instead.)
Now some people claim that Pierre filled in admirably for Manny Ramirez when he was suspended, and that's true. But as Jon Weisman points out, Pierre has never had as good of a season as Ramirez had in his disappointing 2009. The truth is that Pierre simply got off to an exceptionally hot start last year. By June he had already cooled down, and he hit only .264 after the All-Star Break with a putrid .191 batting average in September. Any MLB player who has been in the game as long as Pierre is bound to have a hot stretch at one point in their career; just ask Gary Matthews, Jr.
While Pierre is not a bad option to have as a fourth outfielder, no team should be paying $9 million a year for a backup. Even though the Dodgers will only save $8 million on the trade, that's money which can be used for something else, whether it be player development, draft pick bonuses, re-signing their good young players, or any other necessary investments. Even if it all goes to divorce lawyers, I'd rather that come from Juan Pierre's salary than from a player who is actually good. Jason Repko basically has Pierre's skill set, while Xavier Paul has some upside.
While I'm nervous about the ramifications of the McCourt divorce, I still believe the Dodgers have the best team in the NL West. The Giants have two great starting pitchers, but they really don't have anything offensively. The Rockies are talented, but they're also wildly unpredictable. The Diamondbacks prospects have fallen flat for the most part, and their organization may enter a transition phase soon. The Padres are clearly in rebuilding mode. I'd feel better about the Dodgers if Charlie Haeger wasn't tentatively slated for the rotation, but I also know that Colletti's work is not done this offseason, and he'll be sure to accumulate more starting pitching options.
As for the Angels, losing John Lackey is significant. While the Angels have gone through considerable stretches without Lackey for the past two seasons, the fact remains that he was the Halos' most consistent starting pitcher. That's something of a concern, especially since the Angels' pitching was a liability in the playoffs.
Still, a 5-year $85 million contract for Lackey is expensive, and it's perfectly understandable that the Angels would feel uneasy about giving him that kind of money. The Angels seemed to recognize that Lackey would go for more than they could afford, and traded for Scott Kazmir late last season. Kazmir has a world of talent, but it remains to be seen if he'll be consistent enough to fill Lackey's shoes.
On the other hand, Jered Weaver and Joe Saunders have pretty good arms, so the Angels really need just one more good starting pitcher to feel more confident about 2010. Perhaps the good Ervin Santana will make an appearance next season. If not, they might need to seek help from outside the organization. Either way, I think the Angels should be more concerned about their bullpen, which is hurting with the sudden collapses of Scot Shields and Jose Arredondo.
I know Angels fans are also upset about losing Chone Figgins, and he's certainly a good ballplayer. But at 4 years and $36 million I think the Seattle Mariners are overpaying for an over-30 player who no longer can take on the super utility role that once defined his career. As a third baseman, Figgins is slightly ill-cast since that's a position from which most teams would like to generate some power.
Many pundits are already proclaiming the Mariners are the team to beat in the AL West, especially since they just acquired Cliff Lee. But those pundits are overrating two moves in December and not looking at all the rosters. The Mariners have plenty of serious questions in their lineup outside of Ichiro Suzuki and Figgins, and their rotation might only be two deep. There's also uncertainty in their bullpen.
The Angels still have the best team in their division, but I can't understand that Halos fans are tired of just getting to the playoffs. Unfortunately for them, I don't believe the signing of Hideki Matsui helps much. Matsui has some power, but being a DH-only weakens them defensively as it decreases flexibility and forces Bob Abreu to play the field most days. Additionally, Matsui won't have the luxury of a short porch in right field, like he had at Yankee Stadium.
If Matsui can stay healthy, then he will certainly put up respectable numbers and help the Angels offensively. And you could argue that at $6.5 million he's something of a bargain. But his health makes him a bit of a risk, and he doesn't fit the lineup as well now that there's a question at third base. Unfortunately, Brandon Wood hasn't instilled too much confidence in fans yet.
Today's Los Angeles Times has more news on the saga that has become the McCourt divorce trial. Frank wants an early trial in February, claiming that the organization's current limbo has been a distraction for Dodgers management and that Jamie McCourt's claims to co-ownership could continue "to damage the Dodgers."
(UPDATE: The court set May 24 as the start date for the trial )
This has already played itself out in baseball operations, as ESPN's Buster Olney reports the team is essentially "frozen in action" and other executives and agents are assuming the organization is "locked down." During an offseason in which the Dodgers are one or two good starting pitchers away from being favorites in the National League, the Dodgers weren't on the radar for free agent John Lackey, and were unable to be a player in the Cliff Lee-Roy Halladay trade. The team's uncertain situation might have also led to the ill-advised decision not to offer Randy Wolf arbitration.
In the meantime, the news has also focused on Jamie McCourt's lover Jeff Fuller, who purported to represent the Dodgers in a meeting with a legislator from Taiwan, where the team is negotiating to play an exhibition game this spring. The Dodgers are considering legal action over the trip, and MLB has already sent Frank McCourt a stern letter about the incident.
Why Jeff Fuller flew out to Taiwan to con an unsuspecting legislator is beyond anyone's guess. Fuller's involvement with Jamie and the Dodgers is bizarre, to say the least. Fuller, up until October, was the Dodgers' "Director of Protocol," which apparently means he was Jamie McCourt's driver. Fuller is also the heir to the Pillsbury Doughboy fortune, so one would assume that his role is "not about the money."
In 1995, Fuller was accused of brutalizing his wife when she was 7 months pregnant. She filed a restraining order against him and the couple subsequently divorced. A few weeks ago, Jamie told TJ Simers that she's "out of practice" when it comes to dating, and given her dalliance with the younger Fuller, that certainly seems to be the case.
As far as I know, Jamie McCourt is the only owner in MLB who has openly admitted an affair with an employee. If Jamie really hopes to wrest control of the team away from husband, it seems questionable that MLB owners would approve a transfer of power to someone who sleeps with subordinates.
With a trial on the horizon, many Dodger fans are wondering who will wind up controlling the team. Frank McCourt has already joined with the organization in court documents to argue that Jamie was negligent in her job as chief executive of the team. Team president Dennis Mannion wrote that Jamie "exhibited an almost disdainful disregard for the fundamental requirements of her job and workplace etiquette."
Statements to this effect have been murmured within baseball circles for years. Jamie McCourt has not been reliable in executing the responsibilities of her job, has not always showed up for work and has used the team as a vehicle for self-promotion. She is known to be largely responsible for many of the team's off-the-field gaffes, and her comments in the press continue to be received as strange and delusional.
In regards to the ownership question, Frank claims that Jamie signed an agreement making him the sole owner of the team. Jamie claims to have been duped into signing, saying, "I signed the document because I trusted my husband of 25 years."
For those who don't know, Jamie McCourt holds a law degree from the University of Maryland and practiced law for 15 years in New York and Boston. One of her specialties is family law. She was also general counsel of Frank's Boston real estate company for 10 years. Additionally, she has an MBA from MIT's Sloan School of Management and an undergraduate degree from Georgetown.
Her plea of ignorance - an insult to her own intelligence - doesn't hold up. Jamie also reportedly acknowledged Frank's sole ownership of the team by signing a statement for MLB before the 2009 season, and reportedly made the agreement because the Dodgers had lost money in the early-middle part of the decade and she did not want further exposure to the highly leveraged team.
However, the Dodgers are now a profitable team, and the value of the team has increased from $430 million when the couple bought the team in 2004 to an estimated $800 million today. So, naturally, Jamie wants in on the action.
Does Jamie have a case? Should she be a part-owner of the team? The general sentiment among legal experts has been that despite the agreement, California's community property laws are so strong that the team will likely be split equally between the couple.
The court will likely give both parties the opportunity to buy out each other. If neither McCourt is able to do this, then they will be mutually forced to sell. Jamie claims to have enough investors to buy out Frank, but I'm not sure why anyone would want to join with her when they might have the resources to buy the team themselves (maybe it's Pillsbury money?). One possible circumstance is if Jamie agrees to be a minority owner, a new investor would not need to put up as much capital. The new owner could give a figurehead title to Jamie, and then she could continue her community work and stick it to her husband.
Still, no matter what the court says, MLB will have to approve a sale. I'm not sure if MLB will want Jamie to own the team in light of her affair with an employee. And of course it's also still possible that the court could rule the entire team is Frank's because of the signed agreement.
But the most likely scenario, according to baseball sources, is that the McCourts will drag Dodger fans through an ugly divorce, leaving the team in purgatory until they are both forced to sell. There will likely be many interested buyers, and baseball will be more than happy to move past the McCourts.
Susan Narduli is an architect/artist who knows how to use images to make an impact on our environment.
In 2001, nervous LAX officials temporarily covered her art installation of nude men etched in the granite floor of the American Airlines terminal. Common sense prevailed and the matter was dropped after the Cultural Affairs Commission ruled that Narduli's artwork conformed with design sketches approved by the city in 1999.
Years later, Narduli continues to shape the world around us. She owns an interdisciplinary design studio in Los Angeles, which specializes in architecture, landscape design, public spaces, urban installations and light environments.
The architect/artist says the LAX episode taught her a lot about public discourse, noting "some of the coverage was less than accurate. Even CNN got basic facts wrong, and somewhere along the line the project picked up a title (not mine) which along with a few other inaccuracies stuck throughout the coverage...but most of what was written [focused] on the central issue -- that this was a question about how creative expression plays out in the public process."
Her latest project debuted this spring: an installation at California State University Fresno's newly renovated Henry Madden Library. Narduli played a significant role in the design of the complex's public spaces, including an LED display of a video emphasizing the artistic legacy of the basket-weaving skills preserved by the indigenous peoples of the San Joaquin Valley.
Narduli shares her thoughts in the following Q&A about Los Angele's rapidly evolving streetscape.
Where do you live in Los Angeles and why?
For most of my years in practice, my studio was in Venice. For a period of that time, I lived on the roof of the studio in a two room surplus U.S. Army squad tent. At night, the tent would rustle and creak in the wind, like a boat at anchor. One of the good things about living in Southern California is that the climate allows for such freedom.
Now, I live in an old log cabin in the canyons. It's built on a steep slope, so like the tent, it hovers among the treetops. A friend once called the building half tree house, half boat.
As an artist who uses LED and other digital display tech in your work, what do you think of Los Angeles city government's policies and actions to legislate electronic billboard and other display technologies throughout the metropolitan area?
I think it's a problem when government tries to outlaw expression, whether it's art or commerce. I think we all benefit from an open exploration of ideas. Inevitably, someone's going to push things further than people are comfortable with. In the Bill of Rights, we made a commitment to expression even when it makes some of us uncomfortable.
What are your thoughts on "vegitecture"-the use of living plants or material in architecture?
I like the idea of a building that is responsive and that moves in organic ways. That's what was so exciting about living in the tent. I designed a house once that had a tree growing through the living room. We had to install a rubber gasket around the trunk so that when the wind blew, the swaying of the tree didn't break the glass roof. I've been trying to figure out ways of making buildings out of light. Wouldn't it be great to live in a house whose walls were made of flame or water or wind?
You just completed an installation at the Henry Madden Library at California State University, Fresno. How did you come to be involved in the project?
David Martin, of AC Martin, and I have collaborated on several projects, and David designed the library. When he showed me what he was doing, how he had integrated the basketry forms and patterns of the native peoples of the area into this state of the art library, I became intrigued with how this once dominant culture could coexist in parallel with the culture of the bustling modern day college campus.
A library is a very powerful statement of who we are as a people, and this particular library is very much an expression of 21st Century learning, with all its emphasis on technology, speed and immediacy. But the funding for my project came from people with a different tradition, people whose ancestors lived on the land where the library is now. Those ancestors devoted painstaking care to making beautiful baskets. It could take a year to make a single basket. The project evokes this way of being.
On one level, it addresses what it means to take on a task and complete it, the personal commitment we make to what we create. It talks about focus and about tracking time through our daily, personal actions. For those on the campus, the slow and deliberate making of the basket is a timekeeper. The weaver's progress keeps pace with their own and becomes a part of their daily routine.
On a very different level, I was thinking about the streams of history, knowledge and memory that come together in society. They mesh, more or less, in a kind of societal current. But some less dominant streams are half-glimpsed. The video reminds us of this.
Your practice is so eclectic, merging seemingly conflicting disciplines like public space design, architecture, light installation and environmental/landscape design. How do you see them inter-relating in the 21st century urban landscape?
The urban landscape has always been built on the integration of ideas and imagination. But what has changed in the urban landscape is our understanding of public space, as our sense of community identity has evolved to include like-minded people around the globe. I think that the challenge for those working in the urban landscape is how to create public spaces that are relevant for the 21st century. Too often urban design is no more than a rehash of the familiar.
How will the expansion of the Metro and other light rail systems change the urban design of the westside of Los Angeles?
The trend is definitely toward increasing density and we've all been told by the New Urbanists that this is the shape of things to come. That's probably true for Los Angeles as well. Still, I think L.A.'s light rail system will ultimately look very different than that of any other major city.
We will see development around rail stops, and it will likely be comparatively dense. But I don't see that same density spreading out into surrounding residential areas, at least not in the immediate future. The suburban single-family dwelling is a very real part of the fabric of L.A. life. It's part of what people move here to find and part of how the city understands itself, so I don't see that going away entirely any time soon.
Economic factors will play a role as well. We're on the bust end of a boom cycle. Building in general is slowing down. We have a very slow recovery underway and that might mean that the rate of change isn't going to be what it looked like five years ago, light rail or no.
But I hope that people will move around more. L.A.'s balkanization is especially distressing because it can seem entirely voluntary - but it's not. We have this myth of the open freeway, but the reality is more complicated. People stay sequestered in their own neighborhoods because fighting the traffic is daunting. There are people whose commute lasts far longer than it should because our public transportation system is so poorly coordinated. It can be made to work, and it can transform things.
Failing to make it easier for people to get around has political and societal consequences. These come to define us as individuals and as a city. It does Angelinos good to be able to travel the length and breadth of LA. And the only way that's going to be feasible in the years to come is through the expansion of light rail.
Editor & Publisher is closing.
I know this because it was reported by The New York Times.
So far, The New York Times is still in business. But Editor & Publisher isn't going to be for much longer, and, ridiculous and sappy as it seems to get emotional about a trade publication, well ... I am.
Like a lot of journalists, I wouldn't be where I am without Editor & Publisher. I'd still be a journalist, of course, but I definitely wouldn't have followed the same path, which means many of the important stories I fought to report might never have been reported. I might not have met the same friends. I might not have even met my wife.
I'm in Los Angeles today because E&P sent me to Idaho ... and then New Mexico ... and then ...
As I approached graduation in the late 80s, the classified section of E&P Magazine was the most valuable item in the newsroom. It was to me, and every other journalism grad hoping to land a job at a newspaper, the only link to our future, the only publication that listed what few jobs the industry had to offer.
Unlike most of my friends, I applied to all of them. Regardless of whether I met the qualifications, I wrote each and every newspaper that placed an ad.
In addition, I tapped the E&P Yearbook for the addresses of newspapers that didn't have jobs posted, but which were publications that I respected, and hoped to someday join.
I must have typed more than 60 letters on my Remington portable typewriter that spring, and maxed out my credit card on photo-copied clip sets, 9x10 envelopes, and first-class postage.
Thanks to E&P, I received five jobs offers, including one on the British Virgin Island of Tortola. The editor of that one apologized for not being able to pay my moving expenses, but, by way of consolation, she assured me that both rent and rum were very cheap. Needless to say, I didn't take that particular job.
But, the job I did take also resulted from an E&P classified. It was in Ketchum, Idaho, a weekly with an editor who let me crash in a spare room at his house for a few days until I found a place of my own.
Less than a year after that, still in Ketchum, I received a phone call at work from an editor in Santa Fe. He said he'd kept my letter of application for a job they'd advertised in E&P long before I took the job in Idaho. He'd tracked down my whereabouts by calling the references I'd listed. He said they'd already filled the investigative reporter slot, a post for which I clearly wasn't qualified, but they had an opening in sports and wanted me to fill it.
Sports? The closest I'd ever come to sports reporting was to take agate while working the late-night shift on the sports desk at the Lexington Herald-Leader. I wasn't a sports writer. I was an investigative reporter, or, well, I was going to be.
The editor didn't care about that. "You don't belong in Idaho," he said. "You belong here."
Two weeks later, I was again packing everything into my little, gray Chevette and driving hundreds of miles to live in a place I'd never been, all because of a job I'd found through E&P.
Like many of my colleagues, I continued to refer to E&P's classified section many times in those pre-Internet years, usually in response to some newsroom nonsense that had pissed me off. At one newspaper the editor eventually took to hiding the company copy of E&P, an apparent response to the many pay raises he was forced to offer to keep his best staffers on staff.
But E&P has always been far more than a collection of classified ads. As my experience in this industry increased, so did my appreciation for E&P's reporting, and its role as a watchdog of the industry. E&P has been the first place many journalists turn to report unethical behavior in their own newsrooms, situations that would probably never get dealt with were it not for the watchful eye of E&P.
Times change. Life goes on. There are now and will continue to be watchdogs to keep the journalism industry honest. But we owe a lot to E&P.
I don't know where I'd be without it.
My 12 Favorite Things From the Guadalajara Book Fair
1 - Seeing Los Lobos perform La Pistola y El Corazon to an adoring crowd with author Jervey Tervalon and the NEA's David Kipen (rocking out in a suit), then trying not to squee like a fangirl while meeting the band at the after-party.
2 - Tequila in the Green Room. American literary festival organizers, take note!
3 - Giving a talk to college students at El Centro Universitario de los Lagos two hours away. Also loved the fields of planted agave along the highway on our drive there.
4 - The crispy crickets at Lonche-rita were eaten purely to impress my Fear Factor boys of 11 and 13, but the most sublime dish was the tortas de pato (duck) floating in a fragrant achiote bath which will doubtless be described more lyrically in Jonathan Gold's next column.
5 - Meeting J. Michael Walker, author of "All The Saints of the City of Angels," perhaps the most brilliant high-concept book I've ever read outside of Mike Davis. Walker visited each of the 100-plus LA streets named after saints, researched and then created exquisite paintings of each one (the patron saint of gardeners is depicted with a leaf blower on his back) and a page of text. Y'all run out and buy it, it's a postmodern sacred relic.
6 - Hearing the Southwest Chamber Music Ensemble perform works by four 20th century composers, including John Adams and Mexican composer Carlos Chavez.
7 - Chatting books and walking with Susan Straight through a lush, leafy residential neighborhood near our hotel. Think Hancock Park with guard dogs, high walled gates and um, armed security guards stationed outside.
8 - Sitting with Michael Jaime-Becerra and his wife Elizabeth eating yummy tortas at a crowded local place recommended by the taxi driver while checking out the menu at the taco stand next door. "I've never heard of tacos de ojo," mused Michael. Besides eye tacos, there were also lip tacos and cheek tacos. I wonder if they have those in L.A.
9 - Never knowing who you'd see and chat with each morning over breakfast in the hotel, from screenwriter Michael Tolkin to authors Richard Rayner, Luis Rodriguez, Hector Tobar, Nina Revoyr, Carolyn See, Gary Phillips and Alex Espinosa. I also really enjoyed hanging with science fiction authors Larry Niven, Greg Benford and Kim Stanley Robinson. For someone like me who works in isolation all day, has two young kids and is rarely able to trek across town at rush hour for readings or dinner with author friends, this was heaven.
10 - The Lowrider car exhibit at the Festival, which might have drawn the consistently biggest crowds of curious Mexicans gawking at our fantastically imagined cars with their wildly colorful, cherried out paint jobs. How fitting that this art/design style conceived in large part by Mexican immigrants to the United States are so exotic in Mexico. A perfect example of how culture morphs as it is re-imagined over time and across borders. Whoever designed the L.A. Exhibit with its Blade Runner-like balloons streaming video, floating author names and touch screen deserves major props too.
11 - Chatting about L.A. literature with Hector Tobar and J. Michael Walker on La Tertulia, a one-hour national radio show devoted to literary topics that is broadcast throughout Mexico each Friday night. Imagine how wonderful it would be to have such a literary program in the U.S.!
12 - And lastly, the incredibly hard-working, organized, dedicated and enthusiastic Book Fair workers who schlepped us everywhere, got us to gigs and airports on time, translated, offered bottled water, coffee, sweets, hugs, their computers and made it all seem effortless. Thanks to them, the Feria Internacional del Libros, the NEA and the LA Department of Cultural Affairs for allowing us rabble across the border and letting us turn Guadalajara into LA South for one terrific week.
Six cubic feet.
As Bruce Lisker packed up the last of his belongings and wedged them into his car, he was reminded of that number. As a prison inmate, Lisker had just 6 cubic feet for all his worldly possessions. For those of us with storage spaces, packed garages and bursting closets, it's hard to imagine getting our possessions down to that bare minimum. Lisker had no choice. That's why he could make a new career for himself as a personal packer. You get really good at consolidating things when you have such limited space, he says.
Now Lisker can spread his wings a bit. He is leaving his temporary home, the North Hollywood condo of Jerry Weinstock, the husband of his stepmother Joy, and moving to Marina del Rey, where his new girlfriend lives. He and Kara have been corresponding since before his release. She first wrote to Joy after the 2005 article about his case appeared in the Los Angeles Times. Joy encouraged her to write to Bruce directly. Eventually she did, and became a friend and supporter, encouraging him as he waited and hoped for freedom and exoneration.
Lisker remembers going to her home for a birthday party just three days after his August 13 release. "She bounded out of the house, she looked gorgeous and she gave me a big hug. She held my face in her hands and said, 'I can't believe you're out!'"
They were just friends, but soon after his release the friendship turned romantic and now they are moving in together. Lisker is excited, grateful and happy. They have been spending a lot of time together, so moving the last of his clothes and papers out of Jerry's place feels like a formality, kind of a pain in the neck.
He fastidiously cleans every scrap of paper, careful to leave the place spotless. Another trait you learn in prison, he says — you make up for the lack of control over your life by controlling your belongings and your space. According to Bruce, most prisoners are extremely neat and don't want their things touched or disturbed.
As he and Weinstock said their goodbyes, they reminisced, chatting as Lisker packed up the last remnants: unwashed laundry, a frozen steak and a few pairs of shoes. "How long has it been?" Jerry asked. Lisker was released from prison on August 13 and has been staying with Jerry ever since.
"Four months. A season," Weinstock figured. He will miss Bruce, but was happy to be there for him. "He didn't just come out into the world alone," he said. "He came out to a big support group. And over the years, Joy really mentored him and taught him how to forgive."
Jerry knows from personal experience that "there is nothing like the love of a good woman...and the arena of a relationship to grow. This will be really good for him."
This first season of Lisker's freedom has been full. He took his first plane flight to Chicago to speak on a panel of exonerees at Northwestern Law School. He loved the gig, hated the plane flight. In fact he swore he'd never fly again: "I spent all that time in prison protecting myself for the day I'd be free. I'm not going to put myself in danger now that I'm out." But Kara, a world traveler, has already convinced him to apply for his passport and they will be flying to Europe before too long.
He visited UC Irvine to speak to law students in Professor Henry Weinstein's class. "I was definitely impressed with Lisker. He seemed remarkably together for someone who has gone through what he has experienced," said Weinstein, a former legal writer at the Los Angeles Times.
As part of his reentry to Los Angeles society, Lisker has been to his first Dodger game, sailed through a pod of whales off the coast of San Pedro, and attended his first fancy awards dinner, for the British Film Academy, with Kara. When the governor walked in and everyone stood, Lisker stayed seated...just because after years of being told what to do and when, he could.
And he joined his sister and her family for his first real Thanksgiving in 26 years.
"Thanksgiving was amazing, and sad," he said, hesitating. "I missed my mom. She had pumpkin covered...pumpkin pie, pumpkin muffins, all of it. So it was hard. But I did get to play with my niece. She's warming to me now. She recognizes me now. I'm not that scary bald guy who keeps showing up. That was nice."
Indeed, travels with Lisker through LA are a mix of excitement at seeing new things, and nostalgia at seeing the old places he remembers. As he forges his new life, it's obvious that there will always be that tinge of the bittersweet, coloring his experiences.
"I am very guarded and the kind of person who doesn't share my tears a lot. It's difficult to see how much has changed without me," he had told me a month ago. And money is on his mind. He is trying hard to find a job or create a niche for himself. In this market especially, and given his circumstances, that will be tough.
Not that he's complaining. "I am surrounded by amazing people who are trying to do what they can. That really helps. But there are going to be those touchstone moments. I was driving the other day, listening to the radio and they were playing "I'll Be Home for Christmas." Every year while I was sitting in prison that one always nailed me. This time, I heard it in the car, on the way to my sister's. I just started laughing. It was sheer joy."
This is the third part of Iris Schneider's series following Bruce Lisker as he returns to society. He was released from prison in August after 26 years, following a court vacating his murder conviction.
Most ballet dancers have performed in The Nutcracker since they first put on tights. Every holiday season, they have to get excited all over again by the Sugar Plum Fairy and Drosselmeyer. The Nutcracker is a perennial favorite with families that introduces ballet to new audiences and helps pay a company's bills.
I was allowed to observe up close as the Los Angeles Ballet prepared for this year's performances. About two dozen dancers arrive in the morning at a nondescript studio on Exposition Boulevard in West L.A. They take class and rehearse the iconic roles with co-artistic directors Thordal Christensen and Colleen Neary, the husband and wife team that started the ballet company four years ago.
The Los Angeles Ballet's production features homages to L.A., and while the Tchaikovsky music is familiar, the choreography is original. In the accompanying slide show, Before the Costumes, you'll see and hear Christensen and Neary at work and meet dancers Katie Tomer, Justin Liu, Monica Pelfrey, Matthew Dowsett, Nancy Richer and Alexander Forck.
Performances begin Saturday at the Alex Theatre in Glendale, then move to Royce Hall at UCLA on Dec. 19 and 20 and the Redondo Beach Performing Arts Center Dec. 26-27. Ticket info.
Audio slide show by Judy Graeme
Barry Morse, a filmmaker whose short film "Ookie Cookie" will appear in the transvestite-themed Beyond Drag film festival held at Downtown Independent Theatre tonight, gave his sculpted body to the science of Tranimals dressing at a workshop held at Machine Project the other night. The alternative art space in Echo Park played host to about 75 people who lined up, assembly-line style to get stockings pulled over their heads, crinolines draped across their shoulders, wigs on their heads and air-brushed paints sprayed on their bodies in the chaotic workshop led by two transvestite performance artists: Squeaky Blonde and Fade-Dra.
Platformed boots were in abundance, as were lots of fishnet, sequins and false eyelashes. Everyone seemed to be channeling their inner Divine in preparation for the upcoming film festival. A good time was had by all as they lined up to get their photos taken by Austin Young, who had succumbed to the pull of the makeup table and was shooting through a stocking covering his face.
"I love playing with makeup," said one huge guy in the audience, his face barely visible through the fishnets, black paint and wig. "I do it all the time at home."
Photos by Iris Schneider