Tuesday, September 08, 2009

Flame Style

"Fuck her," said the actor I recognized most recently from his stint on "Lost". He drunkenly shook my drunken hand and left. It was a nice thing to hear. Whether I agreed with the sentiment or not, hearing someone else badmouth some of my pain's source felt good. It was a tough weekend packed full of sympathetic words from both friends and strangers and something about the simplicity of "Fuck her" seemed most helpful. It may have been the (in)famous margaritas (specially infused with comedy) I had imbibed, but not feeling like a victim for a second was nice. You can't fuck a fire, but you can fuck an ex-girlfriend.

Sometime between the evenings of August 29th and August 31st, The Ranch- my home for the past four years- burned down in "The Station Fire" in Los Angeles. Over the same weekend I was informed that my ex-girlfriend (thus far the proverbial love of my life) was moving in with her new boyfriend. It was the most thorough two day life cleansing I have ever had- though it should be pointed out that I've never had a colonic.

One year prior we had been evacuated for a local fire, so when the time came to evacuate for this one, I didn't take it too seriously. Despite evidence suggesting more deliberate and serious packing was necessary (the atmosphere was orange and it was raining so much ash that you could literally hear it hitting the ground), I grabbed my laptop and some hard drives and that's about it. I drove out to Bakersfield that night for a fantasy football draft. I returned a day later with some questionable wide receivers and no access to my street. I had left my cat(s), guitars, clothes, pictures... really everything I have accrued over the last 32 years, in the middle of the largest fire in Los Angeles county's modern history.

On that first week of September, a few of us Ranchers went up to assess the damage. We had heard all kinds of rumors about the condition of our street and went up looking for either something to salvage or some kind of closure. We apparently took a wrong turn and ended up in Hiroshima. The entire street was decimated. The four of us split up and sifted through our respective fallen cabins, which were still smoking and smoldering.

I can't say that I'm intelligent, complex or advanced enough to know exactly what feelings I was feeling, but I can say that the feelings I felt were feelings I've never felt before.

Walking through the ashes of my home was surreal. Almost everything had lost its form. Metal had melted and re-hardened, forming some new and entirely unrecognizable object with all sentimental value boiled out of it. Everything else had turned to white ash. At one point I found the remains of my biggest regret other than the cat(s). I found the pile of notebooks I left behind. It was ten solid years of writing, never backed up onto a computer. You could see the shape of the pages clinging to the metal spiral, but once my fingers touched them, they floated off. I now claim that each screenplay, note and sketch in those pages was the most brilliant thing ever formed by human hands. Go ahead and argue. You really want to punch a refugee in the heart like that?

Feeling my walls and TV and student films fall through my fingers like they never existed made it hard to grasp how, just a week earlier, these things had so much meaning to me. I couldn't connect to what had happened. Then I looked up at everyone else sifting through their ashen memories (which, coincidentally, is the name of my new emo band: Ashen Memories).

Watching my friends stand in the middle of nothingness, looking for anything that still resembled meaning, was what made me realize that this stuff really was gone. Everything I had placed value on and carried with me for so long was absolutely gone. This place that had housed so many parties and served as the location for so many shoots, was now only a memory. We were all standing in the center of a life altering experience.

No matter what happens from here, this is something none of us will ever forget. It's a hard thing and the worst moments- for me, anyway- are when I find myself in the middle of a conversation and I suddenly realize, "Oh shit! The Buffalo Bills hat I got at my grandfather's funeral no longer exists..."* I suppose that will be happening for some years to come. A lot of memories will be forgotten simply because the object that memory lived in was gone. Without those little, physical reminders, my swiss cheesed brain will probably never recall certain moments again. It's depressing for obvious reasons, but it's also a great perspective builder. Much of what we hold onto is fleeting.

I'm not sure how the rest of the Ranchers have been feeling, but I've felt like a ghost the past week. I'm trying to turn this all into a grand life adventure, but I'm having trouble starting. There is also lingering evidence that my mind is still not all there (please read this article to the end for a quote spoken by yours truly on the day I saw my burned possessions [hint: it has to do with how strong I am]: http://www.northcoastjournal.com/blogthing/2009/09/02/orange-and-raining-ash/).

Who knows what will come of the next hour or week or year. I just hope I mine this situation for all the silver linings it may or may not have. Like it or not, I don't own anything anymore. That's the deal. So I say, "Fuck fire," and why not have a tet a tet with the ocean, plow through a bottle of wine (Fuckass! I just realized I lost a case of wine Glen and Anne gave me in the fire. Assblankets!), yell at the moon and couch surf in Malibu? In a way, the world is my delicious, salty oyster right now. Just as I am jealous of you for still owning the things you find precious, I want to win at life so thoroughly over the next few months that you find yourself feeling tiny pangs of envy in regards to my freedom. That, or I want to try and be drunk for 400 days straight. Either way, I win.

* No, they do not sell Bills memorabilia at funerals in Buffalo. **

** Who am I kidding... yes they do.

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Monday, March 16, 2009

T. Alva Edison is Yelling at You!

Thomas Alva Edison once said, "Genius is one percent inspiration and 99 percent perspiration." Now, I'm the first to admit that I'm no mathematician. However, I did score higher on the math section of my SAT's than I did on the reading/writing section, so I think I know a thing or two about percentages. In addition, I have a calculator on BOTH my computer and my cellular telephone. When I, an obviously astute observer of the numerical form, take a look at T 'n' A Edison's quote, I see a truth so true, it out-trues other truths. Follow me to the next paragraph and I'll explain in further, full color detail.

I reside in Los Angeles and, like every other amazingly awesome sucker, I am pursuing a career in the film industry. I have been here for so many days that I can't even count it on all my digits put together (including toes and naughty parts). I share the same struggles and frustrations with everyone else and most assuredly understand why people drop out of this particular rat race and look back with bitterness. It's tough. It's tough like Steve McQueen's face on Sylvester Stallone's body. 

One thing that I do notice in all of our struggling artist hearts is that complacency can sometimes run rampant. "You have to know someone to even get a meeting with an agent." "All they make is crap anyway." "My face deserves money for how awesome it is." etc., etc...
We blame outside forces for our lack of production and opportunity. While there is certainly some truth hiding somewhere in that spicy frustration burrito, it's not necessarily honest. I once saw Chazz Palmenteri speak when he was more famous (so it was more true then than if he said it now) and he said (heavy paraphrase coming), "Just do something. Write something and perform it on the street if you have to. People can't know how good you are if they can't see you." He's right. It's difficult as hell to get something off the ground and get it going. Writing, finding performance space, getting costumes, filming, makeup, kraft services, lighting, singing, luring an audience and so on and so forth. We see the daunting task ahead and assure ourselves it's a ridiculous venture in the first place and we stop before we've even begun. However, if you don't love your art enough to sweat for it, do you really love it? If hard work is the thing keeping you from your goals, are you sure you want to choose something with such low odds of success? The arts are hard- and they should be! If it weren't difficult, there would be no struggle and if there were no struggle, there would be no art. "Following a pipe dream will lead you through the sewer." That's a quote I just made up, but it fit my point, so screw you. I'm keeping it.

Now, I don't mean to sound like a downer. In fact, I mean to sound like the exact opposite. An upper. Ritalin, let's say. I do believe that there is an element of magic in simply doing. There are so many reasons not to do something, but it's in the doing that you find yourself. Wait, that was confusing. Here's a real quote from a real person with real intellect:

"whatever you can dream 

or think you can do,

begin it.

boldness has genius,

power and magic in it."


I really believe that the universe bends to positive action. There are so many wonderful coincidences that occur around progress. I could meet a producer in a spaghetti shop and tell her that I'd make a great movie if only I were given the chance. I could also meet a producer at a taffy booth and tell her I've already made a wonderful short or written a wonderful script and would she look at it if I bought her some taffy. Which one of those me's has the better shot? The moral of this story is that spaghetti shops are a preposterous place to do business. There's sauce everywhere, ready to stain any contracts that might be drawn up. It just doesn't make sense.

Okay, I've prattled on and I haven't even begun to get to the point of this whole damned blog (that's an internet word. it means "well structured and edited article stemming from the professional minds of the interweb."). What I want to talk about is the show I went to see for the second time this past weekend. The official title may or may not be:

"The Loft Variety Hour
Naughty Nancy"

It is essentially a two-part show running in downtown Los Angeles. It is live theater that includes, but is not limited to: comedy, music, nudity, puppets, love, dancing, glow sticks and Telemundo. I would love to talk a bit about the group that put this show together, but I have wasted time with my extremely important introduction. I will provide you with a link (another internet invention that means, "portal to time.") that will lead you to their site at which they provide actual information:
Shame on all of us for not attending more theater and shame on all of us even more for not attending more original theater and yes, shame on us even the most for not attending original theater that is actually fluid. The first half of the show I'm currently yelling at you about is a wonderfully mad-cap comedy adventure. A group of actors dance, sing and play on stage, exuding such energy that it actually made me sweat through my shirt and into my seat (so if you go to the show, you can soak some of my old back sweat back into your pores). Part of what is so fun about the show is its fluidity. As with any live performance (music, theater, stripping), there are numerous adjustments that occur based on audience reactions, actor energy, pole slickness. With this particular variety show, there is something more. I saw this back in October when our president was a lame whitey and then again this past Sunday when our president was black. There were some new actors, new skits, new songs and new puppets. It was an exciting treat- not unlike some hispanic snacks that my white-boy palette finds frightening and sexual- and I dare you to experience it for yourself. While I fully support theater in the classic sense of performing a play, I can't tell you how cool it is to see something that has changed and will continue to change over time. It's a living thing. Pieces get cut, pieces get added. Where a performance of "True West" is always going to include lots and lots of toast, this variety show may have an Ohio Jones sketch one month and then a murderous pizza sketch another. 

-- Wow. Hold on. This blog is far, far too long by my standards and I still have a few brilliantly idiotic and disjointed things to say. What I'm going to do is talk briefly about the second half of the show and try to wrap this up. Are you ready? I don't care, I'm going either way. Plus, I have no way of knowing if you said, "Yes, I'm ready now, Andy," or, "Hold on just a second as I do this thing that I have to do before I continue reading."

The second half of the show is far different than the first. It is a one act featuring Christina Howard as the titular character, Naughty Nancy. Nancy is a prostitute living and working in the red light district in Amsterdam and we follow along as she discusses and lives a life that has worn her down. She's a fascinating character who reminded me far too much of an ex-girlfriend for me to discuss for too terribly long. Ms. Howard puts in an amazingly strong performance as a woman who won't allow herself too much pity, nor will she allow herself to walk away from this life. I'm likely butchering this as I try to explain the nuances of a piece that should be seen and not read about on a douche's blog. What I will say is that going from the wackiness of the first half to the progressively sobering and sad story of Nancy is a strong experience in itself. It is a rare opportunity to watch an ensemble give you two different flavors in the same evening and with such dedication that you can't help but feel just about every emotion in the rainbow. Naughty Nancy is the Yang to the Variety Hour's Yin. 

It is an impressive duality that this group lays before you. I feel as if it is perhaps your duty as an artist struggling and/or succeeding in Los Angeles to see other artists throwing their genius at a wall and seeing what sticks. They put in the all-important perspiration after the inspiration came and they invite you to witness their creation. To see other artists put in the work might perhaps inspire you to put in the work for your creation living somewhere in your brain. Go see it, then be inspired and create your own genius and then show that to the world and give me a 5% cut for giving you the inspiration to be inspired in the first place.

"I never did anything worth doing by accident, nor did any of my inventions come by accident. They came by work." - TnA Edison

Times in Important Places