Monday, January 30, 2012

Be Good To Yourself

The first time I heard the expression “The Tyranny of Cool” it was about 10 or 11 years ago, during the course of an interview I did with director Guillermo del Toro for

SLW: Going back to The Exorcist, which had an impact on me as a young child, [it] was re-released a few years ago. And now Alien, a movie I saw when I was 12 or 13 and scared me, is currently being re-released on the big screen. What I find somewhat disconcerting with younger, modern audiences now is that they are laughing out loud at these movies, as if they were sheer comedy. Do you think our sense of horror has been diluted by too many spoofs, or what? Are young audiences just jaded now?

GDT: I read an article about 10 years ago called "The Tyranny of Cool". It basically implied that in the 50s there was the beatnik concept of being cool, which meant being against The Man and being laid back and doing your own thing, and not being a puppet of the system -- and sort of tweaked it into being cynical and cold just for the sake of being cynical and cold. I think that we live in a world in which there is an enormous amount of disdain associated with any act that has any emotional content in it. We live in a world where we are afraid to cry, afraid to laugh [with joy], we're afraid to show our tender side or our vulnerable side. And with some reason, because this same world has created an enormous amount of people that are ready to poke, with a very sharp stick, anything soft. And I think that The Exorcist was done in much less cynical times, and it was playing to principals of quote-unquote normalcy and quote-unquote decency that are not applicable anymore. Now it is a much more anarchic time and the audience wants to be not only with the movie, but ahead of the movie in a very post-modern way. I find these interesting times in which to be alive but not necessarily the most rewarding.

Being good is generally considered uncool. And being good to yourself? Well, that’s reserved for granola crunching Wayne Dyer fans, right?

However, one of the very coolest people I know, Ogre, always signs his emails, “Be good to yourself.” Seems simple, but they really are words to live by. The point was driven home this morning by the final affirmation in the one and only “self-help” blog I follow, MARC & ANGEL HACK LIFE. The topic this week is ‘20 Things to Start Doing in Your Relationships’, and throughout the checkpoints of advice (stuff we all know already, but need reminders), the most important one, the relationship with yourself, is ever-present in the text.

I’m the type of person who’s usually good to others, but not always to myself (only through neglect, not abuse). This past week, I made a conscious decision to recalibrate. I’ve been meaning to get back on the diet, been meaning to read more books, been meaning to start various projects, been meaning to do this or that… well, here are a few things I did to be good to myself this past week:

- I talked to my immediate family on the phone (my dad, my mom, brother and sister), and instead of the usual “how’s it going?” banter, we discussed real things about the stuff going on in our lives right now, reminisced a bit, and we expressed our appreciation for one another in specifics.

- I’m not accepting every invite out. I’m letting myself be. But I am doing the things I really want to do; with others, and alone. Mostly alone. This has been a time of reflection, relaxing, resting, running, recalibrating, and researching. I’ve been paying attention to my internal tick-tock (something I seldom have the luxury of doing; but at the moment, I’m on a mini-vacation and have a very minimal schedule to attend to) and am eating when I’m hungry and sleeping when I’m tired. I’ve got only healthy foods on hand (I have not cooked a meal in days, eating mostly fruits, vegetables, beans and whole grains… after just a short time, it’s become easy to not even look at the pastries on the coffee cart), and pretty much total quiet so I can fall asleep early and get up late (10 or 11 pm, till 630 or 730 am… the usual is 12 or 1 am till 530 or 6 am).

- Been listening to soothing music and focusing on the positive lyrics. Vintage James Taylor is in heavy rotation right now (Country Roads, You’ve Got A Friend, How Sweet It is To Be Loved By You), as is the soundtrack of my favorite hopeful romantic movie, [500] Days of Summer. That’s not to say I won’t be inching back to the more philosophical, heavy, existential stuff (hello, Don McLean, Bob Dylan, and Jeff Buckley!) very soon, but sometimes one needs a break from listening into the abyss.

- Have been going on several walks a day (shorter ones with the dog, longer more intense ones solo), and rather than beating myself up for becoming so out of shape (thanks to a foot injury and then the holi-daze [and hollandaise]) I’m realizing it’s not as bad as I thought. I do get winded sooner than I would like, but I noticed this morning I am still passing everyone else by when going up even the steepest hills. My foot twinges a bit, but not too bad and I remember to keep up my maintenance dose of ibuprofen for the inflammation, even when the pain isn’t there to remind me. Although I’m not at the level I was in August (able to run down the trail while skipping rope), at least I am doing *something* -- and I will get there again, definitely!

- I’m letting stuff go. Even though I may be in the “right”, sometimes the fight just isn’t worth the perceived reward. Example: I got a parking ticket a couple of months ago. I read all the signs, paid the meter, and set my alarm on my iPhone to ensure I’d be back in time. Came back, saw it was after 6 pm and therefore OK to park for free. Returned an hour later and there was a parking ticket on my windshield. Received 1 minute after 6. According to the ticket it was a no parking zone. I reread all the signs and so on, decided to fight it, but through a series of misfortunes (a bounced email, a slow snail-mail forward) I -- to quote Don Adams from Get Smart -- “missed it by THIS much!” and not only was my ticket deemed valid, but the fee was doubled. That’s $136 I don’t just have lying around. I was going to fight it again, and maybe I could actually be successful, but then I thought: how much aggravation would that be? What is my time worth? I’d have to drive out of my way to go and take photos of the signs; then I’d have to set an appointment to appear at traffic court; then even if I “won” chances are, the charge reversal from my bank card would be a big hassle or would take weeks. So, I got creative and found a way to earn an extra $120, and did that instead. Yeah, it still sucks the stupid City gets my $136 so unfairly, especially since I spend a lot of tax dollars in Hollywood, but… I let it go.

- Getting creative. I know I will be able to apply only some of the strategies as presented in Your Creative Brain (by Shelley Carson), and I’m not following all the exercises to the letter, but I am still finding the book very inspiring. And, I think I’m actually being creative by NOT following the instructions, but instead finding what works for me and applying it creatively. Now, *that’s* thinking outside the box. Reading the book has helped unlock a few ideas and solved a couple of mysteries… in fact, in the book, Carson mentions talking trash receptacles which say “thank you” when used. She mentions that people often say “you’re welcome” to the machine. She also says that other countries have taken the give-and-take even further. “Trash cans in Shanghai not only thank people for throwing their trash away, they have built in solar compactors for easy trash pickup (they also direct pedestrians to the nearest public restroom, although no one is sure what that has to do with trash disposal).” To me, it seems very obvious! Most people walking around are throwing away food and beverage containers… and what follows eating and drinking? Anyway, I never thought I was much of a divergent thinker (my go-to is the “Reason” brainset, according to my results of the quiz) but I have to say, I was struck by two great (or at least, unexpected), totally unrelated, ideas this morning while reading Your Creative Brain (while relaxed, drinking a cup of coffee outside in the breezy sunshine – I’m sure those were factors, too!). So, that follows the pattern of my second-strongest trait, the “Connective” brainset (one thing leads to another). I’m excited about putting them into motion. One is purely creative (something perfect to put into the script I’m currently writing) and one is creative/practical (how to make some money, doing something I like).

- I’m watching one movie I want to see, every day. Usually, I have to review movies I may not necessarily *want* to see and I don’t have tv cable for mindless channel surfing, so purposefully and mindfully watching a DVD (whether it’s a foreign film I’ve been meaning to watch for months – like, Zulawski’s THE IMPORTANT THING IS, TO LOVE or revisiting an old fave like the lightweight 70s mystery THE LAST OF SHEILA) and actually taking the time to savor it without checking my emails ad infinitum, has been quite good. To myself.

Related links

Interview with Guillermo del Toro (
Ogre (
20 Things to start doing in your relationships (Marc & Angel Hack Life)
James Taylor & Carly Simon – You’ve Got A Friend (YouTube)
Your Creative Brain (

Thursday, January 26, 2012

Childhoods of Color & Contrast

Just finished reading Low Down: Junk, Jazz, and Other Fairy Tales From Childhood, by A.J. Albany. David suggested it to me months ago, thinking I could relate, given my own Hollywood arts/celeb childhood, and I bought a copy right away but only got to it now.

While I cannot really relate (this woman’s father was musician too, and her mom a notorious beauty, but there the similarities diverge – her parents were junkies, big-time), I do love reading about Hollywood in the 60s and 70s, and I do know the ups and downs and feast-or-famine childhood of a kid brought up alone and whose parents don’t have day jobs and steady paychecks. While A.J. was raised by her dad (jazz great Joe Albany), and I was raised by my mom, I know about the gypsy lifestyle, moving from place to place to stay ahead of kited checks and angry landlords, pushing old, worn out beater cars down hills then jumping in when the engine’d catch, meeting, at very young ages, extraordinary adults, some famous, some not, some up, some down, who’d treat you as a peer, regardless.

Here is a particularly striking passage from the memoir:

“…That’s what happened to Izzy, who’d been living at the Knickerbocker for sixteen years, since ’55. He’d decided to hole himself up, surrounded by his memories and his passions. Hotels in Hollywood and downtown L.A. are full of forgotten people like that. People you wouldn’t look twice at, with their hot plates and old slippers, but you should look, because they’re often far more interesting than all the rich assholes swanning around Beverly Hills, full of themselves and nothing else.”

My mom, a smart, beautiful, intellectual, somewhat tragic at times and certainly flawed, knew a lot of characters like Izzy.

I remember an artist hippy, bearded and rotund, Teddy Burger, who traveled back and forth from San Francisco to L.A. in his VW bus (which doubled as his home) with his two treasured Saluki dogs, named Footloose and Fancy Free. Teddy always had the most egregious B.O., and the biggest, sweetest smile. I remember the Lady Pamela, a renowned reader of tarot cards (she gave me her well-worn Aquarius deck, which I still have), who was elegant and aristocratic, in her long Indian skirts and her willowy scarves. And James Bryon, who repped the likes of Jane Mansfield and Yvette Mimieux (and my mom, when she cheesecake modeled as Buni Bacon), spoke with perfect, measured elocution, and carried himself like the Lord he’d named himself after. Pleasurable pastime as a kid was to get his goat to see if I could get the composure to crumble – played a lot of pranks on Uncle Jim, and his favorite curse was, “You beastly child!” He always had a pristine Cadillac, which was his baby, and one of the best April Fools was telling him someone had hit and run him while parked outside. But Jim could turn the tables just as easily; he helped me TP the neighbor’s house once (or at least, called the shots from the sidelines). Then there was my mom’s literary agent, Earl Mills, who’d once managed Dorothy Dandridge, and carried a torch for Dorothy (and my mom, unrequited) for years and years. A hopeless romantic, who could roll his R’s like a linguistic wonder. Composer Rick Marlowe, comedian Tommy Smothers, one of Rosemary Clooney’s sons (who was dating a flat-chested bottle blonde who’d wear stuff like tee-shirts with a picture of two fried eggs over the chest, or ones with slogans like “Itty Bitty Titty Committee”), novelty songwriter Allan Sherman, an insanely handsome professional gambler who’d done time, an heir to a fortune in France who gave my mom a ruby and 24-karat gold a ring of his family crest (which she gave to 9 year old me when they broke up, and which I still have)… There are more, many more – photographers, poets, agents, actors, alcoholics, singers, gays, straights, heads, squares, growers, groupies, hipsters… I remember dribs and drabs of them all.

While I did have to grow up in a hurry due to parental addiction (alcohol, pot) and her life-threatening illnesses (cancer, radical double mastectomy), my childhood memoir is truly a fairytale compared to A.J.’s – her mom turned tricks, her dad shot up constantly, she was molested, and her little friends suffered even worse fates.

What I really liked about Low Down was its complete lack of self-pity in the recollection, A.J.’s never-ending optimism (of a kind; she was hardly a Pollyanna, but very philosophical and accepting while remaining hopeful), her appreciative love music and cinema and literature, and most of all her devotion to her father and his to her. It’s a truly beautiful and touching (sentimental, but not sappy) tale.

Here’s another passage which struck me:

“Dad rarely looked too hard or too long at the madness of his own addiction, but he often lamented the toll drugs took on the lives of his friends. Dad and Chet Baker had known and liked each other for 40 years, though they hadn’t met up since the early 70s. [in ‘87] An extremely down and out Chet approached Dad and asked if he could spot him a little cash, as he was at a real low end, and God knows it wasn’t easy “to find one kind face in all of cold fucking New York,” as Dad used to say. At this point, however, Dad had hit rock bottom himself, sometimes barely making it through the few gigs that still came his way. “Chet, you know I’d spot you if I had the bread, but I spent my advance and I don’t even have cab fare home. You’re welcome to crash at my pad tonight.” Chet took Dad’s hands and squeezed them. “Thanks, Joe. You’re a sweet guy.” Dad was looking at a reflection of his own devastation, and told me that at that moment, he felt like crying. In the land of the poor blind Chet, my one-eyed Dad was king on that particular night.”

She puts things in perspective so very well. She’s quite the writer. This, too, when her dad was in N.A. with a sponsor 30 years younger than him, and at the end of his long, productive, wasted life:

“Where did an old, lifetime user like my dad find help? The answer was nowhere. Dad and others like him were banished to the netherworld of methadone maintenance at best. “It’s a young man’s world,” he’d say with a tired smile. I would hug his huge head, cursing my powerlessness and the futility of comforting words that fell flat and died and soon as they hit the air.”

It’s one of those books you read, and you want to tell everyone about. So, there you are. If you liked memoirs such as Danny Sugarman’s Wonderland Avenue, or Anthony Kedis’s Scar Tissue, or Augusten Burrogh’s Running With Scissors, you must read this one.

Next up, I’m going to flip flop between Your Creative Brain, Vintage L.A., and a Louis Wain biography… and work on my script! Viva la solitude in Laurel Canyon for the next week. (Thanks, Lee.)