a little something extra

Thursday, September 29, 2005

but it's a dry heat

The Santa Ana Winds are paying us a visit, bringing heated air from the deserts to the east. The ordinary dominant wind pattern brings cool, moist air in off the Pacific to the west. Yesterday, when I'd been indoors for many an hour, my boss popped into my office and apologized for the Santa Ana. (He was joking.) I didn't know what he was talking about. The weather had been normal when I came in that morning, and I hadn't been outside since 9 a.m. By the time I left, it was noticeably hot. I actually turned the A/C on before I left home this morning.

The area where I live is, as above mentioned, a near-desert zone. Wildfires are a big problem, and right now there's one hard at work chewing up dried vegetation well to the north of anyplace I actually go. The Santa Ana is only encouraging it. The L.A. Times ran this article about the wind/fire combo today. Again, let me stress, for those of you who worry -- this fire is nowhere near me.

Tomorrow, SCR opens this show, the first for which I've served as production dramaturg. At 5 p.m. I'll do an hour-long onstage talk with the playwright, who is blessedly loquacious, so he'll do most of the work. I just had to get the questions ready. At 6 p.m., we'll repair to a nearby restaurant for a swanky dinner with the donors who gave so generously that they achieved Honorary Producer status on this show. At 7:45 the figurative curtain goes up, the show ends around 9:45 and that's when the eating, drinking and being merry on the terrace starts. It's a shorter show than Caucasian Chalk Circle, so I hope to make it through the party this time. Last time I bailed; too tired to entertain other people anymore after a work day that was 14 continuous hours and counting.

Wednesday, September 28, 2005

Who wouldn't believe Dixie Carter?

I'm filling a time gap between the end of the putative working day and the preview performance of Dumb Show. It is not, in fact, a dumb show; I sort of admire the playwright's gutsiness in giving critics such an obvious handle to grab. I'll watch the preview tonight, share my thoughts with the director in the morning, and that will pretty much be my last swipe at influence over this production, which opens officially on Friday night.

As I've continued to chew over Ben's writing assigment about "home," I've been thinking about a line in a play I read last year. The character, a Southern lady of a certain age, delivers herself of the opinion that "Everybody winds up living where they're loved the most."

To which I say, "Yeah, nice work if you can get it."

There are never really two kinds of people in the world, but for purposes of this posting, there are two kinds of people in the world: people who live where they want or need to live and get work there, or people who go where the work they want to do, happens to be located. I have a history of being exclusively that second kind of person. This has meant I've lived in some odd, but surprisingly hip, places.

Austin TX is the sort of town that people (other than me) fall in love with immediately when they arrive, and immediately start complaining about when it changes, as towns inevitably do. The old slogan "Keep Austin Weird," which was an unrepentant call for stopping change, has recently been coopted as a marketing slogan. **sigh**

I started working on leaving Austin for two, well really three, reasons.

1. It is too hot to breathe in Austin for eight months out of the year. Really. The climate is ridiculous and not suited to human life. Another of those "there are two kinds of people in the world" moments -- it seems like everyone is born with a preference about whether to be too cold or too hot, if you have to be uncomfortable in one way or the other. I'm in the "too cold, please, every time" camp.

2. I couldn't make my living in Austin doing what I do, and I didn't have anywhere near enough wisdom, age or grace to start teaching yet.

3. Grad school, which had originally brought me to Austin, was a bloodbath. I loved the company I worked with once I had wrested my degree from the clutches of Sauron, but the school scars ran very very very deep.

So. Away from Austin, to Minneapolis MN, where I was sure to get plenty of "too cold." I had the Job of my Dreams, so I didn't care that the weather outside was frightful. I did, however, develop a habit of calling my mother each winter on the first day that the temperature reached 40 below. Somehow, that just seemed like a milestone worth acknowledging, complaining about, marveling at. But the producing world came calling, so I went...

Down to Atlanta, which proved to be a much foodier town than I had known the first time around. I had some great meals here (site of my introduction to red Zinfandel), and here (where I convinced many a guest artist that Atlanta could actually be hip). But most of all here, which upon my first visit became my top choice for special occasions.

I was lucky enough to find at least some people in each of those locations, with whom I could build loving friendships. And then my brother Joe moved to Atlanta, bringing a premade loving relationship that we could just keep building. Still, I'm not sure that any of them qualify as the place where I'm loved the most, because most of my large nuclear family base themselves elsewhere.

So, according to that line from that play, there is no such thing as "home" in my life. And even though that idea that "Everybody winds up living where they're loved the most" is very attractive, and most convincing in the steel magnolia voice of Dixie Carter who played the role in the reading in NYC last winter... I remain unconvinced.

Tuesday, September 27, 2005

Straight to the limbic system

Scientific literature has it that the human sense of smell is the sense most closely tied to the individual's emotional life. Doubt my word on this? You must have guessed that I'd have references... try here. Or here. Or here.

When I was living in Austin and going to grad school, I lived in a student co-op with roughly 50 other grad students. Each member of the co-op agreed to put in 5 hours of labor per week, which helped keep costs and therefore rent, low.

My school schedule was not conducive to 5 hours a week of anything except classes, teaching, meetings and rehearsals. But I did find a couple of labor assignments that I could commit to, the best of which was making Sunday brunch. Yes, brunch for 50. You can imagine how strange it felt to start cooking for one when I moved out of the co-op after graduation.

I usually made vegetarian menus, since I had been vegetarian for about three years when I moved into the co-op. I had ulterior motives for my menu planning -- I wanted to make sure there would be vegetarian leftovers available when my fellow cooks chose meat-based dishes for other meals during the week.

Cooking brunch was actually pretty peaceful. Menus had to be composed and submitted at the beginning of the semester, so the kitchen chief could organize them such that we didn't have six people making six different versions of the same dish in a week, and the food buyer (another labor assignment) could make sure that the ingredients for a given menu were on hand when they were needed.

With all that taken care of ahead of time, I would go into the kitchen at about 8 a.m. I'd turn on the radio to Austin's KUT radio station and listen to volunteers read articles from newspapers and magazines, in a program intended for KUT listeners who were blind or reading-impaired. Prep work usually took the lion's share of the time, but at 11 a.m. two minions would appear to spend an hour helping me get the meal ready to serve. I don't think I ever hit noon without the food ready to go.

Though I had my vegetarian habit going, I usually created one or two meat-bearing menus per semester. One spring, I decided to include my mother's very simple Spicy Rubbed Chicken recipe as the cornerstone of one of my menus. The dish doesn't take long to prepare (a plus when you're cooking for 50), so the first time that menu came up I didn't actually start making it till the last hour, while the minions were around. I had a big bowl of the mixed spices and about 5 million little bite-sized pieces of chicken to work with. I heated up the oil and got started....

WOW. The entire kitchen smelled like HOME with a capital H. I didn't even eat meat at that point, but somehow that spicy rubbed chicken had assumed the ability to signal Home to my limbic system.

I'm still a vegetarian. I haven't made this dish since 1994 at the absolute most recent. But here, for you, is the recipe. Enjoy!

Spicy Rubbed Chicken

1 tsp dried thyme
1 tsp dried oregano
1/4 tsp cayenne pepper
1/2 tsp ground coriander
1/8 tsp allspice
1 1/2 tsp salt
4 chicken breast halves
1 tsp olive oil

Heat the oil in an oven-safe skillet, and the oven to 450 degrees.

Mingle all the spices on a plate or in a wide, shallow bowl.

Coat the chicken in the spice mixture, pressing it in well.

Brown the chicken breasts on both sides over high heat.

Put the skillet with the chicken in the oven to finish it. It should take about 10 minutes.

Serve hot. Think of home.

And the prize for best comic writing goes to...

Sarah, for her synopsis of the movie Transporter 2.

I had never heard of Transporter 2. Heck, I'd never heard of Transporter 1. Still, Sarah's synopsis had me rolling in the theoretical aisles.

Go forth. Read (right now it's her second blog post down). Laugh. Come back and thank me.

Thursday, September 22, 2005

And who is Colleen?

It occurs to me that some of you who are not related and can't read my mind, won't necessarily know that Colleen is my youngest sister, who lives with her husband and their baby in northern Virginia and works for the Third Best Company to Work For in the U.S., according to Fortune Magazine (which won't let me link to the article without subscribing to their publication. Feh.)

Five Fabulous Things About Colleen

It was Colleen's birthday yesterday. I intended to make this post yesterday. But, I spent much of yesterday evening driving up to Pasadena and back to attend a friend's play reading. By the time I got home it was midnight and I was in no shape to blog.

Therefore, the Post in Celebration of the First Day of Colleen's Next Year. In Which Shall Be Listed Five Fabulous Things About Colleen. (Those of you who are related to me by blood or marriage, similar posts will come with your own birthdays. Look out!)

1. When Colleen loves you, she loves you completely, even when you totally screw up. She tells you about it when you totally screw up, but she does it because she loves you.

2. Colleen is a fiercely committed mother to her son. She loves him, has fun with him, and makes sure that he gets the best in every facet of his life.

3. Colleen has an open mind to music, books, media, and people. Rather than sinking into the comfortable beanbag chair of her past choices and dwelling there in perpetuity, she keeps drawing new ideas and friends into her life.

4. It goes without saying but it has to be said -- Colleen has a gorgeous singing voice.

5. Colleen keeps ties going with more people in a more extended way than most other people I know. She is generous with her time, energy and personal good humor, and that keeps people coming back for more.

Y'all should feel free to add your own Fabulous Things About Colleen in the comments!

Wednesday, September 21, 2005


I thought I'd start the series of "home" postings by describing the place I live now. I'm going to try to give a satisfying level of detail without making it too easy for any Internet drive-by to stalk me.

I've been living in my present apartment for about 6 1/2 weeks now. Long enough for me to know a few different ways to get here; long enough to know where the nearest fire station, police station, library, grocery store(s), church(es), municipal buildings and parks are. Long enough to realize that I actually picked a really good location, even though I had not a blessed idea what I was doing when I made my plan to move here.

The apartment is in a complex. I have complex feelings about that.

Generally, I'm not into cookie-cutter architecture. I would rather have a place that looks individual, as my townhouse in Georgia does. It's part of a larger community and is physically connected to the houses on either side, but every house in the community looks slightly different on the outside, as well as being subjected to its owner's decorating whims on the inside.

But this post is not about that house, it's about this apartment. Which is a one-bedroom, one-bath flat in a building of eight identical flats. Mine is one of four on the second (top) floor. I hate having upstairs neighbors, and since I generally don't wear shoes at home, don't play music loudly and walk very quietly, my downstairs neighbors usually get a good deal. I don't have downstairs neighbors now. Which makes me happy, because my second night here the person who lived downstairs spent the entire night having a knock-down, drag-out, screaming building-shaking fight with the person I can only presume was her boyfriend. After that fight, I hope he's her ex.

Anyway. She's moved out, and I live upstairs from nobody at the moment.

My place has vaulted ceilings, thanks to the upper-storiness. The living room has a wood-burning fireplace, which I devoutly hope it will get cold enough for me to use. The living room and the bedroom both have sliding doors that open onto the balcony, which faces south-ish. I haven't furnished the balcony yet, but I expect that when I do I'll make much use of that space.

Not that I've furnished the living room either. It's about half done. My desk is in here, with my filing cabinet and the bookshelf I bought at IKEA last weekend. (Imagine the shelves dark brown instead of birch-colored.) The home electronics are in here, and a string of fabric birds my friend Becca gave me hang in front of the sliding glass doors. You're supposed to hang these birds by your front door, but I have no good way to do that.

The dining room is separated from the living room by a half-high wall. It also has a big double window onto the ubiquitous balcony, so it gets good light. The kitchen has oak cabinets and a surprising amount of usable space, given that the apartments are 20+ years old. The dishwasher is running right now, since I tried a new recipe earlier this evening. Note to self: there just is no good vegetarian substitute for bacon. Don't even try.

The bedroom is at the back of the apartment, with the bathroom opening off it. There's a somewhat irritating quirk of California architecture which places the sink in the bedroom, and the commode and bath/shower in a separate little room. I'd rather have the sink in the little room too, unregenerate Yankee latte-sipping East Coast elitist that I am.

The washing machine, dryer (also presently running) and water heater are in a small room of their own off the balcony. There's an interesting-looking spider occupying a web outside my front door. I've discovered that California has very few bugs but lots of spiders. You'd think there would be a food-supply/demand problem there, but Mother Nature seems to have worked it out somehow.

There's a lot I still have to unpack properly and put away. The sofa and chair I ordered are to be delivered a week from Sunday, and I'll tell you, I am very much looking forward to having a comfortable place to sit and read. I have to acquire more bookshelves (used, preferably) and put up the paintings and photos I have collected from people I love and past experiences.

But for now, I have to balance my checkbook and fold my laundry. Ah, the glamorous life of the theatre artiste.

Have a good night.

Tuesday, September 20, 2005


It rained last night, for the first time since I moved here. It was pretty impressive, too -- thunder loud enough to be heard during my choral rehearsal, lightning, the whole nine yards. Some folks in the area have their power out, but I was lucky enough not to be affected by that.

Ben has assigned me to blog about "home." I'll put up some home-oriented thoughts and stories throughout this week.

Wednesday, September 14, 2005

Conveyor Belt Sushi

That's what my lunch companion today called the restaurant where we went to satisfy my tofu craving. And the sushi dishes, edamame, iced sake, shabu shabu dunkables and individual cellophane-wrapped desserts that were very mysterious to uneducated Western eyes, were all in fact on a conveyor belt that went around and around and around at eye level. It was dizzying, but cute.

The wave of sushi broke over the U.S. a couple of years after I became a vegetarian. So I've never had proper sushi or sashimi. Many of my friends pity me greatly in this regard. But hey, I literally don't know what I'm missing!

So my lunch was really good miso soup and tofu salad, with most of an order of vegetable roll to take home for dinner. Even though everything is in small dishes, it's really easy to order too much food at Conveyor Belt Sushi.

The conversation ranged from industry shop talk to reading habits (which is almost shop talk for me) to adoption proceedings, since one of our coworkers is just about to return home from China with her husband and their newly adopted daughter. I was very happy to discover that they've been blogging about the experience. I hope to share the URL with a cousin who is heading into the Chinese adoption process with her husband later in the year.

And speaking of cousins, I heard from a semi-distant cousin today. My father has a cousin who settled out here on the West Coast, and one of his kids emailed me this afternoon. I hope to get together with her soon. My dad grew up in close proximity with his cousins, so the bonds there are strong. They are totally charming people (no, I'm not biased) so I fully anticipate that the charm has worked its way down into the next generation.

Tuesday, September 13, 2005

Citius, Altius, Fortius

"Faster, Higher, Stronger." The motto of the Olympic Games, coined by a Dominican priest.

Ben asked me to blog about sports. Actually, he asked a question about sports in an email, and I responded, "Sounds bloggable. Yes?" He agreed.

Ben watches and plays tennis. Both for fun, recognizing that the competitive spirit can be a big part of the fun. I do neither. I don't watch any sports, live or on TV. I don't follow any teams or individual athletes. This might lead one to believe that I have no use for sports.

One would be wrong in that conclusion, though. I think of myself as a natural athlete. In my first, aborted career, I pursued professional dance and achieved pretty remarkable results for someone who doesn't fundamentally have the "right" body for ballet. When I was in high school, the head of the P.E. department was mystified by me. I kept outdoing my classmates, yet I was on no sports team, not even intramurals. Once I clued her in to what I did with my extracurricular hours, she remarked no further -- thus demonstrating that she wasn't really trying to recruit me for one team or another, she was just being a good teacher and making sure I was doing something with my time and energy.

I swam competitively when I was little. When that started to compete with ballet, swimming lost. Everything that competed with ballet lost, for a good long time.

Oddly, I was later involved briefly in what is sometimes termed "dance sport" -- that is, competitive ballroom and Latin dancing. I picked it up during my last year of grad school, and it wound up serving three simultaneous purposes:
a. keeping me from going completely berserk, as would inevitably have happened if I hadn't had a place to blow off steam
b. incubating some excellent friendships that continue to this day (Blair and Cristopher, I'm talking about you!)
c. getting me in the best physical condition I've enjoyed in my adult life

I haven't taken a dance class or gone to a studio in years. Now I just show off at wedding receptions. :-) My "sports" life consists of gym membership, where woe betide the person who tries to talk to me at 6:30 a.m. when I hit the treadmill or elliptical trainer. (I love the elliptical trainer. Lots of cardio with no knee pain!) Home yoga, which helps offset the fact that I spend way too much time in my job reading, often curled into unlikely postures in my chair.

But earlier this year, I met a friend of a friend, and she turned out to be an Olympic athlete. Megan (hereafter referred to as Mehgan, to avoid confusion as far as possible) was, or perhaps still is, a diver. The last time I saw her, she talked a little about the Olympic ideal as she experienced it.

That conversation lives in my mind to this day, though it's now a good couple of months in the past. Where sports really connect with my life is in the focus on and endless striving for excellence. The individual excellence which no one can achieve for you, and the team excellence that reconfirms for us all that people working together can do miracles. The miracle might be breaking the four-minute mile, or finishing a marathon (as Shannnnon is aiming to do next month, huzzah!) or pulling off a team triumph that no one ever would have expected (U.S. vs. U.S.S.R. hockey in '80, anyone?)

That striving for excellence resonates with a lot of disparate elements of my life. So while I experience no temptation to participate in or watch sports, I will always admire and respect committed athletes, delight in the uncommitted pickup games and fun runs that can unite a neighborhood, and remember how extraordinary athletic accomplishments can renew our sense of human capability and push it just a little bit farther.

Tuesday, September 06, 2005

what to say?

The late Hon. Barbara Jordan almost always knew.

"Do not call for black power or green power. Call for brain power."

I felt somehow for many years that George Washington and Alexander Hamilton just left me out by mistake. But through the process of amendment, interpretation, and court decision, I have finally been included in "We, the people."

What the people want is very simple - they want an America as good as its promise."

I think a lot of us are groping for what to say right now. What to say to lead us into action on seemingly insurmountable environmental problems. What to say to give us hope in the face of a resisted, I will even say hated, present Administration. What to say that can let us believe that the idea of America means anything at all given the recent debacle and ongoing suffering in the wake of Hurricane Katrina.

My groping was a little more specific, today. My friend Erik is letting me kibitz tomorrow on the ceremony to open the semester and the school year at Cal Arts. He invited a bunch of playwrights to come read 90 seconds of their work, and I'm tagging in even though I'm not a playwright.

But there are those 90 seconds to grapple with. I can't read from my own work; though I write copiously in my daily job nobody really wants to hear a section of a research synthesis, program essay or script response.

So I thought I would seek something to read that would address the student artists as more than just students and more than just artists. I wanted to address them as citizens.

I wound up pulling an excerpt from Congresswoman Jordan's keynote address at the 1976 Democratic National Convention, where Walter Mondale was nominated for the Presidency. It's probably the first Democratic convention I was even vaguely aware of (I would have been about 7 years old at the time). Most of the students I face tomorrow will not remember either 1976 (before they were born) or Barbara Jordan. But I want them to know that the questions before us can be faced bravely, head-on, as Congresswoman Jordan clearly and eloquently outlines in her speech.

Now, I'm a pretty good public speaker. But I am no Barbara Jordan. I hope to do justice to, and perhaps with, her words tomorrow afternoon.

Monday, September 05, 2005

in praise of Trader Joe's

Let it be known, I am an amateur food person. I love to eat, I love to cook, I love to feed other people. I've never been tempted to take it to a professional level, as my sister Shannon did with great effect, but I thoroughly enjoy the way food can bring people together, or serve as a way that a solitary person can self-parent when necessary.

I have various friends who have lived or now live on the West Coast, and to a person they all sang the praises of Trader Joe's. As much as I resisted making this move to CA, I secretly comforted myself by thinking, "At least I'll get to check out Trader Joe's."

And my wildest expectations have now been exceeded. As my friend Emily put it, "Megan, I think you and TJ's were made for each other." The fresh whole ingredients are terrific, the prices are great, and so far I've been able to resist the blandishments of most of the prepared stuff. Most of. I readily capitulated to the dark-chocolate-covered caramels, and have evil plans to expose my mother to them when she comes to visit. She won't stand a chance.

A weekly-or-so visit to TJ's has become part of my routine. When I walk in there, it reminds me of Wheatsville, the food co-op I belonged to in Austin, and the Wedge, the co-op that was within walking distance of my apartment in Minneapolis. TJ's doesn't go for the world produce the way that the Dekalb Farmer's Market has done, and it's not as obviously upscale as Whole Foods. But between TJ's and the weekly actual farmer's market that happens a couple of miles from my apartment, I am pretty much set for foodstuffs.

I still think it's kind of weird that one can buy hard liquor in any California supermarket. And as time goes on, I hope to start growing some culinary herbs and easily managed veggies on my south-facing balcony. For now, though, I think I'm well taken care of.

Thursday, September 01, 2005

be careful what you wish for is coordinating an effort by which people who have space to house people temporarily displaced or made homeless and looking to start over again after Hurricane Katrina, can do so.

I have an empty house less than 500 miles from where the storm struck.


FAMILY, please check this link to familiarize yourselves with what they're up to. I'm going to start an email round within the next 24 hours, to seek your advice and possibly your support.

Since I accepted my job in CA, I've been deeply conflicted about what to do with this house. I was spectacularly unsuccessful recruiting tenants before I left Atlanta, and I've been utterly unable to get my butt in gear about setting up property management since. It's extremely rare that I have trouble getting my butt in gear about anything. In the last couple of days, I'd been thinking that perhaps I should put the house on the market after all, because it's feeling like a millstone around my neck. Now, this possibility crops up to make the place do some good for some people who really need some good in their lives right now. We shall see what we shall see.