Monthly Archives: May 2006

spirit of the staircase

5/31/06

I mean, really: what business was it of mine anyway?

Every time I take a cool, hard stare at myself, I’m stunned at the level of “control” I seem to desire. Why can’t I just let people live where they want to live, make the mistakes they’re going to make, and understand that my involvement, while occasionally cute and very occasionally germane, doesn’t necessarily make anything better?

I so wish I hadn’t said anything, just enjoyed the company and not worried about Changing Anyone for the Better. Perhaps it was all those years fighting to be heard by a family with too many voices and conflicting agendas, maybe we all learned the lesson that to get what you desired in our house, you had to scream, cajole and manipulate. That might have worked in that microcosm, but the greater world sees the plan, and like God, it laughs.

Everyone knows I’m just here on a thread of coincidences anyway, right? A few unmade beds and a wrong left turn, and I’d still be back in some house somewhere, suffering from a surfeit of ideas and a poverty of cash, nursing crushes and resentments on roommates and wondering if the Insurgency had begun and I missed it.

Who says I have any idea what the right path is for anyone else, when my own journey was fraught with such bullshit? I feel like the opposite of the “Footprints” parable, with the worst of times being littered with a gazillion footprints in the sand, and my path being as garbled as cursive. If someone had come to me in my lowest hour and been even the slightest bit judgmental, I’d have told them to fuck off but fast.

I am calling a moratorium on my advice. I begged my friends to move to a place that was quickly attacked with three thousand perished, what the fuck do I know? I have set people up on dates because I liked the idea of them being together, and only served to embarrass myself. From now on, I am just trying to be a worker among workers, no more dime-store interventions, no master plans.

I’m here as a favor, through the kindness of strangers, through the good graces of those who love me. In return, I can provide witty banter, an hour or three of in-depth analysis of minutiae, a three-shot latté with Macadamia Nut syrup, pretty much any pop song on guitar, and a trundle bed for you to rest on. I will try not to presume anything more.

l’État, c’est la Bug

5/30/06

Sometimes, in the whirlwind of living the trees at the expense of the forest, I keep these blogs with very little sense of the larger picture. I’ve looked back upon certain entries (since it will be me and maybe a family member who will ever do so) and wondered what the hell I was up to, you know, in general.

So, future self, we’re spending one more day in New York before gathering up little Lucy and flying to Nice, France on Thursday night. Nice the city, not the adjective, although I’m sure it’ll be much more than just nice. My dear old friend (and oft commenter) Jiffer, the beautiful maid from Door County, Wisconsin will be marrying Ingo, the handsome Italian/German lad she met the very last night she was in college.

I’ll try to blog from there, since it will be worth etching in digital stone, and apparently there’s wireless all over the Côte D’Azur. After three days there, we’re scooting up to Paris, where we Craigslisted a sweet little flat in the Marais district for a week. I plan on doing some writing, walking in several gardens with my wife, and dipping meat into a fondue pot. That is, as long as Lucy lets us. Our current refrain is “I woulda seen London, I woulda seen France, if it weren’t for Lucy’s underpants.”

From there, it’s back to NYC for a week of business (and hopefully basketball), and then we hunker down in Los Angeles for the television development season until the fall. It’s a good plan, and we’re sticking to it.

In the meantime, Paris is not a city I know that well, so I’m soliciting advice from those who have been… namely, where do you think we should go, as long as it can accommodate a stroller full of cuteness and the time it takes for me to walk off three shots of espresso? Is there anything you wouldn’t miss for the world? Qu’est-ce qu’on fait?

jarts still not unpacked

5/29/06

I’m always a bit loath to mention get-togethers on here because they can seem exclusionary or boring to those who weren’t in attendance, BUT… I had an amazing birthday, and the Jartacular went off quite swimmingly. I’m always too busy trying to get the talent show to work and trying to write questions for the quiz show to take pictures, so I usually leave that up to the infinitely more talented (Susan Stava and Lars Lucier).

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somehow, this always happens: the cows gather to watch us grill hamburgers

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Sean and Jordi got me one of those labelmaker guns from the ’70s, yo!

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the post-quiz-show dance-off went into the witching hours

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a couple of hot chix I met at the party

cumpleanos

5/25/06

Hi, I’m Ian. It’s 12:06am on May 26, and it just became my birthday six minutes ago. To celebrate, I quelled my cold with a shot (and a half!) of NyQuil. Everyone have a fantastic Memorial Day weekend and KEEP ROCKING!!!

what’s your pleasure

5/24/06

Lucy had a temperature of 105.1 last night, which was odd, not because she temporarily became the hottest human being I’ve ever touched, but because the rest of the night I couldn’t stop thinking about 105.1 FM, a radio station I loved when I was a kid. It was one of those stations that played all the new music first: REM, early Thompson Twins, Erasure, the Vapours.

Then one day they said they were switching to an “Urban Contemporary” format. And sure enough, I tuned in at 8am as the station switched over. Their first song? “Celebration” by Kool and the Gang. I have never been so depressed by a song in my life, and now, when I hear it, I feel gloomy.

Lucy’s temperature is back to around normal – you know, because babies are made of rubber and titanium – but her worried parents need a little more time. Plus, I need a song to get “Celebration” out of my head. Suggestions welcome.

hearts and bones

5/23/06

After my “entertainers, don’t bore me” rant yesterday, Sean wrote something that shouldn’t be ignored, namely that the general populace has less respect for artists than the artists do for the general populace. Also, any rallying cry for art to be entertaining can necessarily be like Homer pounding the set, screaming “stupid TV, be more funny!”

I’d like to clarify the point. I have been to a lot of productions over the last fifteen years that have had several fatal flaws. In no particular order, here are some:

1. Artist writes play or movie and thinks that sarcasm, snark or pop culture references can take the place of plot.

2. Artist writes play or movie and purposely obfuscates the material, and when you wonder what the hell is going on, you are told it is “non-linear” or “a tone poem” and thus artist can get away with whatever he/she wants.

3. Artist writes perfectly brilliant pop song, then purposely dumbs it down or makes it sound bad so as not to appear “twee” and then calls it “lo-fi.”

4. Artist releases slightly sub-par material into the universe but figures nobody will notice, and besides, they’re lucky he bothers to make art anyway.

Obviously, I think number 4 is the worst because I’ve seen it in myself, or at least I occasionally see it in things I’ve done since 1990. This is going to sound like braggadocio, but everyone in my family has always been effortlessly good at pretty much everything they try. Not GREAT, mind you, but good enough to seem impressive. It has always been this ability to impress that has made us – or should I say, me (not to speak for anyone else) – unbelievably lazy during certain times when I should have been working the hardest.

I won’t say which things I’ve done that have borne the mark of this sort of nonchalance, but it pains me even now to think how much better certain projects could have been. It was only when I dropped 45% of my ego that I was able to see these compromises for what they were. You don’t have to be in AA to realize you’re just a worker among workers.

Here’s the double-edged sword of modern artmaking: most modern artistic success seems just random enough for a lot of folks to give up trying hard. Also, there is this persistent idea of “the natural,” the person who walks into an artistic endeavor with absolutely no training and is better than everyone else (this is talked about in acting circles all the time). However, I don’t think would-be artists understand how impossibly rare a “natural” is, especially in anything that requires more than instinct (everything from writing… to, say, the violin).

And artistic success still comes from an unbelievable amount of dedication. It’s when you start confusing fame (a cast member from “The Real World”) with talent (a cast member of “Wicked”) that you fool yourself into a level playing field.

My bigger point is this: excellence. It is a word that means everything when it comes to people at the highest form of their craft, and at some point in the last fifteen years, it also became a punchline. But when I exhort artists to “have their characters move from Point A to Point B” or to “SAY SOMETHING,” I don’t necessarily mean to be funny, to shout, or to have stuff explode. I only mean to be excellent.

Before, I’d work on long projects, like a novel or a screenplay or a musical, and invariably, at some point, something wouldn’t quite work. I used to glom over it, figure than none of you would catch it, and it was good enough anyway, and besides, you were lucky I was doing even THAT much work. I don’t behave that way anymore.

Those little errors, those little compromises went from being unseen hangnails to full-blown infections, too late for treatment. Any sliver, no matter how small, works its way to the surface. These days, I stop in my tracks and FIX THE PROBLEM right then and there, in the pursuit of excellence. You may not actually “like” what I come up with, but god dammit, it’s not going to be for the lack of giving a shit.

I’d rather “go for something” and fail, even if that something was a small, quiet reflection. Listen to Paul Simon:

One and one-half wandering Jews

Free to wander wherever they choose…

If you aren’t going for excellence, even in a tiny moment like that, I’m through with you. Oh, I’ll stay after the show and congratulate you and buy concessions to promote the idea of art, but you’ll have wasted the biggest joy: true commiseration with a fellow human being who, for a split second, actually knew who you were.

wake up!

5/22/06

Every May sees the finale of your favorite shows, but it feels like I’ve been saying goodbye to a bevy of them lately. I’ve already bemoaned the short-lived wonders of Heist, Eyes, In Justice and Arrested Development (among others) but the last few weeks, two of my favorite shows ever have shuffled off this mortal cathode ray coil: “The West Wing” and “Alias.”

Series Finales are very hard to pull off; the best ones in history came from eleventh-hour bursts of inspiration, like “M*A*S*H” and especially “Newhart” (where Bob Newhart wakes up in his apartment next to Suzanne Pleshette and says “I had the weirdest dream…”). Usually, however, they’re self-indulgent, plodding and sad in the wrong ways.

“West Wing” was an offender in this case: it seemed like a lot of busy work, very little plot, and people looking at empty rooms with wistful smiles. I liked watching it because I love the characters, but they did not “dance with who brung ’em,” given the repartee associated with Aaron Sorkin’s creation.

“Alias” fared much better tonight, if only (as I have) completely suspended all disbelief and stopped groaning at some point in Season 3. Here’s the thing about “Alias” – as crazy as it was, it was always human. Even in tonight’s finale, as Sydney was kicking someone’s ass in a maximum security Italian prison, she was on the earpiece to her dad Jack, who was back in Venice rocking her child to sleep on the kitchen counter.

I will miss Marshall, Lena Olin, Carl Lumbly, and even the wooden Vaughn. Most of all, I think a Series Achievement Emmy should go to Jennifer Garner, who kept that show afloat with stunning intensity and wonderful acting that belies her genetically perfect/bizarre face. The casting in that show, clear down to minutae like Sark and the “Sloane Clone” (Joel Grey) was always spot-on perfect, and Michael Giacchino’s score was consistently brilliant.

My soft spot, in both “Alias” and “West Wing” goes to Allison Janney (C.J.) and Ron Rifkin (Arvin Sloane) because they’re both friends with Tessa’s crowd, and they’re both some of the nicest people on earth. Ron even played with Lucy in the front yard a few weeks ago!

with Allison Janney and my hair, 2002

The bigger point is this: it was always cool to talk about how both “West Wing” and “Alias” weren’t as good as they used to be; “the show lost focus when Sorkin left,” “Season 2 was the only good one on Alias,” all that crap. For me, that meant that those two shows were merely 20 times better than anything else, rather than the usual 40.

Coming up with a good TV series pitch is hard. Coming up with a pilot is very hard. Coming up with one good season of a show is very, very hard. And getting a show to stay on the air for five years with millions of viewers weekly is damn near impossible, but these two shows did it, and usually did it with magic.

I’ve been to a lot of theater lately, and I’ve sat through a number of movies and plays, and what has struck me is how disrespectful certain artists are with my fucking time. In a play, you’ve got what – an hour or two? – to say anything you want, and you’ve chosen to say nothing? I saw a showcase full of short plays the other night, and I was FLABBERGASTED that each writer had five minutes and did almost NOTHING with it.

Life is too fucking short, and you’ve got me captive. I’m there, in my seat, I’ve paid money, I drove, I’ve gotten a babysitter, I’m yours. Tell me something. TELL ME ANYTHING. You’ve had weeks of preparation and a lifetime of experiences. GIVE ME ONE OF THEM!

In medicine, the Hippocratic oath begins, as everyone knows, “First, do no harm.” I would like to demand a Hippocratic oath for entertainment: “First, do not bore.”

People may have had their problems with “West Wing” and “Alias,” but things MOVED from Point A to Point B, usually with a flurry of activity and a soupcon of intrigue. They may have been silly, they may have gone over-the-top, but they NEVER bored.

If there’s one thing I try to do with your time each weekday, it’s NOT TO BORE YOU. When the day comes that I have truly nothing to offer, I will close up shop, no questions asked. Everything I’ve done in my artistic life has been in the service of avoiding boredom for both you and me. I don’t always bat a thousand, but I’m still swinging; in “The Pink House,” I tried too hard, in our TV specs, we got it right.

Either way, I’d like to issue a declaration to my generation, to those writing novels and movies and television shows: wachet auf! Arouse yourself from your solipsistic slumber and make some art that MOVES! Write something where a protagonist goes from A to B! No more looking out the kitchen window at a swingset, no more using the word “azure,” no more stories where the lead never gets out of the bathtub! STEP UP TO THE PLATE AND SAY SOMETHING!

let my cameron go

5/21/06

Hey starfuckers! Who would have thought we’d see more fah-moose people in NYC than a month in Los Angeles? Here’s how it works: Tessa and I end up next to – or in the vicinity of – famous person. Being from Eastern Iowa and the South, I still believe in the magic of movies and entertainment and haven’t been jaded by decades of celebrity. Thus I start wagging my tail like a Labrador puppy.

I nudge Tessa and say “hey, isn’t that [insert famous person here]? She says “no, it’s [insert another famous person here], what the hell is wrong with you?” I tell her to talk to the famous person, because Tessa is always one degree of separation away from all of them, and I’m usually about three.

She tells me to quit bugging her, so I go up to Famous Person and say, “aren’t you [insert first name here]? My wife knows [insert other name here] and she said you were awesome to work with.” Almost always, the celebrity is delighted to chat with any kind of inside pool (or theater gossip) and before long, they are playing with Lucy, and then Tessa comes over and she and the famous person talk about stuff. It’s awesome.

This has allowed me to meet several of my heroes from youth, as well as folks from movies whose lines I use every day. For instance, last night at The Caine Mutiny on Broadway (starring our fabulous Geoffrey Nauffts, I ended up sitting right next to Jeffrey Jones, known to you as Ferris Bueller’s principal.

Anyway, he has a line in “Beetlejuice” about Otho “viciously rearranging his environment” that pretty much defines Lucy wherever she goes, so we struck up a conversation with him, and eventually he and Tessa started talking about theater stuff. Score!

Earlier in the week, we were in Massachusetts buying baby food when Lauren Ambrose (Claire from “Six Feet Under”) ambles up to the bulk aisle and dispenses some oats. Five minutes later, she and Tessa are talking about the high school they both went to.

Oh, and later last night I slid against Bradley Cooper in the men’s room (I’m a huge “Alias” fan) and then we ALMOST thronged ourselves into Julia Roberts, whose play is up right next to “Caine Mutiny”.

Sean always makes fun of my little adventures in starfucking, and I admit it’s fun, but here’s my ground rules: I only talk to people when there’s an “in,” I only bother people if I’ve actually loved a specific thing (or piece of art) they’ve created, and if there is none of these things, I don’t even look at them as they pass out of respect to their privacy.

You know how many times Jeffrey Jones hears “there goes Ferris Bueller’s principal” whispered each time he passes a crowd? Think of how much worse it is for the truly famous. They don’t need someone else looking deep into their eyes in a frantic longing to see what makes them so ineffably special. I’m more than happy to embarrass myself in front of a private hero and let the A-list superstar glide by.

these robeez were made for stumbling

5/18/06

There was a request from one side of Lucy’s godmothers for pictures of The Bug, so please allow me to indulge a little. I can’t say these are rampantly iconoclastic, because we’re just enjoying Lucy’s newfound toddler status and bask in the glow of her penumbra. Truly, it’s her world, and we’re just living in it.

Probably her best friend is Hank Drucker, son of Jesse Drucker and Nell Casey. Hank is six weeks younger than La Luce, and the two are like twins, the same size (she’s 15th percentile in weight, and so’s he) and they totally love to hug and eat with each other. Platonically, of course:

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She’s been demanding her own spoon to feed herself, which meets with mixed results. I know every kid has a picture like this, but the diaspora of mango covering the kitchen was insane. She got most of it in her eyeballs:

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She loves the farm and the cows, especially now that she getting the idea she can actually “go” where she wants, by, you know, “walking.” This spring has been especially beautiful upstate:

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This picture is for my mom, who got her the jammies for Christmas. She has another 4-5 months before they’ll fit, but she loves to tool around like a spacewoman:

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Oh yeah, she loves to be naked. I don’t know why Tessa took her shirt off for breakfast, but it was met with immense pleasure:

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God, I love this little punkinboots! (Although you’re lucky you weren’t in the car with her for two hours this afternoon)

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would you pour me a martini, lovey?

5/17/06

All this talk of Catholics, recovering or otherwise, coincided with a question Tessa asked tonight: namely, is WASP – White Anglo-Saxon Protestant – a redundancy? More specifically, are there any White Protestants who aren’t already Anglo-Saxon? If you take “Anglo-Saxon” to mean any Germanic tribes that invaded the Celtic island of Britain and thus became “the English,” you’ve got precious few white people left to work with.

I came up with a semi-lame answer, and Tessa thought of a semi-good one. I seem to recall that the French Huguenots were Lutherans (or Calvinists) at a time when the rest of 16th-century France were all Catholic. They were accepted at first, but by the time Louis XIV came around in the 1680s, they were all getting their ass kicked and fled to various places, including America.

Thus, any descendents of the French Huguenots that landed in America – notably New Paltz, NY and parts of South Carolina, would not technically be WASPs, they’d be WFNPs (White Franco-Norman Protestants). Yes, I know the Normans conquered the Anglos and Saxons and messes that up, but you gotta give me some props for getting that far, dontchya think?

Tessa’s idea centered around the Scandinavians who settled the Midwest part of America, folks like Kent’s wife (my sister-in-law) Melissa, who has lived in Iowa her whole life and comes from Norwegian stock. The Norse were polytheists with an extensive mythology until Christianity came around in the 1100s to make them thoroughly boring (no more raids, pillagin’ – nothing!)

Since they are primarily Lutheran, that would mean that Melissa is no WASP – she’d be a WVP (White Viking Protestant) – along with all her friends in North Dakota and Minnesota.

Look, I know the term WASP was invented to describe preppies and monied families who send their kids to Exeter and Dartmouth, as well as a way to differentiate between themselves and other White People like Catholics and Jews, but if we’re going to use a term, why can’t we just call them White Protestants? It seems like a weird way to set yourself apart from a couple of Huguenots in Charleston and my sister-in-law. Or am I missing something?