Wednesday, November 11, 2009

The Lower Ninth Ward, Four Years Later

The Lower Ninth Ward 4 Years Later (EA Hanks & Jonah Evans) from EA Hanks on Vimeo.

Oh, hello old blog! Did you know you're less of a pain in the ass than my new blog? So I am throwing some attention back at you, like a guy who left you but then... maybe, sort of, regrets it? So he hooks up with you again, but maybe only a little making out, and then makes up his mind and then REALLY leaves you?


I was really blessed to be able to go New Orleans over the weekend, and while I was thrilled to spend some time with some amazing World War II veterans, I'm also grateful that I got to spend time in New Orleans away from the madness that comes along with Hanks Cola -- that is, with good friends who showed me their new home.

Jonah Evans, who you might remember from earlier in this blog, showed off his beloved new hometown, and since we were wandering around the Lower Ninth Ward, I thought I would take a chance and start filming.

Please forgive the general lack in quality in regards to: the audio, the visuals, the editing, my hair.

There's more to come of Jonah talking further about the need to save Charity Hospital.

Saturday, August 15, 2009

Hold On To Your Ego

Back when I was a teenager, and everything was about me, someone gave me a book to read. It was called The Four Agreements. My first reaction was pretty much, “Fucking hippie book!” but after I actually read the thing, I found myself pretty stunned.

One of the main tenets of the book was, to put it bluntly: Nothing anyone ever does ever has anything to do with you.

My brain farted.

What? Nothing? EVER? That seemed insane. Obviously every insult or slight was meant as an attack on me as a person, meant to hurt me in a way that I’ve never been hurt before. Every declaration was meant for me, Elizabeth, simply because I’m just so bleeding loveable.

I balked. I argued, “What about compliments? If you say you like someone’s eyes, how that possibly be about you? You don’t have their eyes!”

Ah, to be fourteen again. What stunning intellect I had. Oy.

Now, a couple years on, I know this strange little fact to be entirely true. It is never about you, and, moreover, you can’t take that personally.

Fact: it sucks when the person you like, doesn’t like you back. (this works platonically and professionally as well, but the feelings rustled up by an unrequited dramafest are the most identifiable. We’ve all be there.)

It puts you into a tornado of hurt and anger and doubt. Am I not smart enough? Skinny enough? Successful enough? Do they not like my hair? Did they notice that one of my eyelids is larger than the other (…Shut up…)? Am I not funny enough? Do I try too hard to be funny? Am I not the right kind of funny?

And then this slides right on in to anger: Well screw you! I am smart enough, skinny enough, successful enough, my hair is fabulous, my eyelids are… workable, and I am perfectly hilarious in just the right way, and if you can’t see that, well you must be an ASSHOLE and I’m GLAD you don’t like me because I DON’T LIKE YOU, ASSHOLE!

Of course it hurts when someone doesn’t like you, or likes you but not the way you want them to. Or if they want to date you, but not the way you want them to date you. It hurts when we don’t get want we want! But the truth is, it’s not about us.

That feeling of anger comes from, “I know what I want – I want you. So obviously, you want me back. How can you NOT want what I really, really want?”

(This, by the way, is exactly how a cat thinks. Proof here.)

I was reminded of this recently when I went to go see “Adam” with Goody Warren.
If you haven’t seen it, I will give everything away by explaining that the movie is pretty much “Say Anything” plus Asperger’s. Seriously. Down to the plot of the charming girl having an over-involved, charming dad who is charged with a white collar crime, and then ends up being guilty.

Any who, the charming young man (Hugh Dancy, sigh) with Asperger’s – which most people define as a milder form of Autism – is trying to woo the new girl (Rose Byrne) while also trying to explain his situation.

One night, he takes her to the park to see some raccoons, and when boy and girl are done with the montage part, he asks her “Were you excited? Sexually?”

Freaked, the girl goes to leave, and --

You know what? This all happens in the trailer, so I’ll just put that here.


So what happens after this scene is that Hugh Dancy explains that part of Asperger’s is a sort of literalness – an inability to read facial cues and interpret what they mean. When he was younger, he would assume that everyone around him was feeling the same thing he was feeling – he calls this “mind blindness.”

As he got older, he learned to ask people what they were feeling, to make sure he understood their point of view. Yadda yadda yadda, “Were you excited?”

I mention this (sweet, but uneven) movie because when I was watching it, I immediately likened the tendency to assume that other must want what we want as a sort of Mind Blindess. I like you – you must like me back!

I was reminded of this again when I saw “500 Days of Summer” (I don’t have air conditioning. Come summer, I have to go somewhere!)

Like some, I’ve had a hard time with some of the movies featuring Ms. Deschannel, mostly because they rank really high the on Manic Pixie Dream Girl scale. Namely, these roles are always about how the girls functions merely as a reflection of what the male character wants. She never has her own desires, or history, or conflict. "Now I have this loveable quirky girl on my arm, and I drop my brooding ways and finally be a happy attractive intellectual!"

Well, “500 Days” was aiming to be the mother of all those-kindsa-movies: Boy meets girl, they date, they break up, boy spends third act trying to get her back. So I was happily thrown off by the news, right at the front of the movie, that “this is not a love story.”

I’m not ruining anything when I tell you that Joseph Gordon Love Hewitt falls for his co-worker, Zoey Deschannel (vegan!) but she doesn’t really believe in love or relationships. When they start kissing, she tells him, point blank, that she doesn’t want a relationship, and while she wants to have fun, she also wants to keep things casual.

Now, in another movie, the girl would fight the boy off for as long as possible, and then would one day realize, “Wait! I DO want what he wants! Let’s be in love! End the movie!”

But, happily, this does not happen.

Well, of course the boy totally ignores the girl and what she wants, and practicing mind blindness, he convinces himself that through their intimacy, he is breaking down all the barriers the Vegan has, and she will love him as he wants to be loved.

Except, no.

That doesn’t happen. Girl breaks up with boy because things are getting not casual, which is not what she wanted.

JGLH is destroyed and goes on a bender (montage!) and eventually a bad date with someone else. Of course he spends the whole night talking about what he wants – Summer! Until the new, unwanted girl says,

“Let me get this straight. This girl told you, right up front, she didn’t want a relationship?”

Oh riiiIIIiiiight!

Remember how she was really clear about she wanted and didn’t want? Remember how you can’t make her want something else?

Now, maybe in another movie, Joseph Gordon Love Hewitt would then go apologize to Zoey Deschannel, and she would be so fucking ensorcelled by a guy actually listening to her, she would throw herself in his arms, and love him the way he wanted to be loved.

Except, no.

When they run into again, Zoey Deschannel has fallen in love. Fallen in love so much that she’s engaged. Engaged! To someone else! Boy is enraged! How can SHE who didn’t believe in LOVE, be getting MARRIED?

Ah! It’s all revealed: She didn’t love him. But that doesn’t mean she can’t love someone else. Because her entire world doesn’t revolve around the guy on the third rock from the sun.

(Yuk yuk yuk!)

She has her own deal going on. Gasp! Amazing.

Because of all this, mumblecore bedamned, I heartily enjoyed “500 Days of Summer”.

And because thing always came in threes, this Modern Love column from the New York Times also caught my eye:

A man and woman have been married for many years. One day, he comes to her and says: “I don’t love you any more. I don’t know if I’ve ever loved you. I want out.”

And the woman realizes, this has nothing to do with me. This about the man I love going through something and being unable to deal with it internally, so he’s going to try to change the externals of his life.

So she pretty much just says, “Well, I’m not letting you go, but please tell me what the kids and I can do to let you have the space you need to sort this out. In the mean time, I think I’m going to go for a swim. You can come if you want!”

And she ambles off, upset, of course, but not angry. Because she’s not taking it personal. Even when people want her to!

MY trusted friends were irate on my behalf. “How can you just stand by and accept this behavior? Kick him out! Get a lawyer!”

I walked my line with them, too. This man was hurting, yet his problem wasn’t mine to solve. In fact, I needed to get out of his way so he could solve it.

A couple months goes by, and, what do you know, the husband has sorted out his shit, and shows up, ready to part of the family again.

This column is now over my desk, and in big letters, a post –it that says,


Anyway, my point is, when you let go of the shit you have no control over, and stop taking it personally, there is an overwhelming sense of relief. Walking away from other people's neurosis-as-weapons make everything so much easier.

I can't believe no one's ever said this before!

Thursday, August 13, 2009

The Rules.

What's that feeling?... Oh, it must be the cockles of my heart being warmed.

Oh, the regality! You will give me your hand, because I want it, and that is the rule. Now, see, isn't this enjoyable? Everything I want, I get, and you will like it. And you will enjoy it. That is the rule.

Friday, August 07, 2009

Go Read This Thing: Columbine, By Dave Cullen Now With Comments From The Author Himself!

Here's my review of David Cullen's most excellent book, Columbine.


I hesitate to say that the shootings at Columbine "affected me," since whenever I hear someone say "September 11th really affected me," when they were far away and usually think of New Yorkers as godless heathens,and the city as a blight on the nation, I want to hit something, but, you know...

Columbine really affected me.

So. I'm stating here that I know this is both unfair and hypocritical (and probably douchey) of me to say.

Whether or not my innate fascination with grisly occurrences (ask me anything about Jonestown, or the Donner party, or the Hale-Bopp cult deaths!), was my impetus for reading this, or an attempt to exorcise my sort-of left over feelings of that first dousing of existential dread and anger, I don't really know. But either desires were more than satisfactorily met.

Cullen knows everything about this case. He knows the people, the time lines, the coverage, and the outcomes. Going so deep into something so senseless and violent can feel a bit like diving into the bell jar, but Cullen keeps the narrative from dipping into a fetishistic glamorization of Eric Harris' and Dylan Klebold's minds, and that could not have been easy.

While it was sometimes hard to keep track of just the second to second "schedule" of what happened during the shooting (which, if you didn't know, was supposed to be a bombing larger than the Oklahoma City attack), that all seems secondary to the main drive of the book's purpose: to explain that there is no answer to the question, "Why did they do it?" The shooters had vastly different personalities (and illnesses) and thus had diametrically opposed reasons.

This question slowly became a gaping psychological and spiritual maw that ate up everything in its path, haunting the community at large, but also the killers' parents more than anyone else. In an effort to fill that hole (or, if you like, for the more nefarious purposes of making a story tidy and sellable) the media was all too happy to collect stories and create a narrative of the killers and the shootings that just weren't true. For instance:

The killers were not members of the Trench Coat Mafia, they were not loners who were picked on, they did not target jocks and Christians, and the were no Christian martyrs in the shooting.

Who and what the killers actually were is best left to Cullen to attempt to explain. I highly recommend this book.


You can see other things I've been reading over on my Goodreads page!

Tuesday, July 28, 2009

Go Read This Thing: Locked Up Vanity Fair Intern

Many moons ago, near Yesteryear, in my salad days, I was once a Vanity Fair intern. I worked there for two (count them!) years and was eventually called an "Editorial Research Assistant." Really, I was perma-lancer who got to occasionally do some secondary reporting.

The gig alternated between a lot of fun and gouge-my-eyes-out-with-a-dull-spoon levels of frustration, but I learned a lot and made good friends who are still around to watch me mess things up and laugh at me.

(Honestly, it wasn't that long ago. If they were my salad days, I guess I'm in my Nutritious Side Dish days.)

Anyway! As a nice little visit to old stomping grounds, I interviewed current intern Thomas Kaplan, who is in the middle of a little bizarre project -- something I was never forced to do, that's for sure.

But what he's doing doesn't beat the time I had to--

On second thought, I'll keep that one to myself.

You can read my interview with the impressive Mr. Kaplan over at the Awl (while you watch him via the internets!)

Tuesday, June 30, 2009

An IMteresting Conversation With: An Anonymous Fan Fiction Writer

This week's IMteresting Conversation requires a little bit of explanation.

I read fan fiction. I do. Got a problem with that? Don't know what the hell I'm saying? Fan fiction is original fiction that uses unoriginal characters. It got started when 1970's ladies started writing gay ("slash") Kirk/Spock fan fiction, and now you can read fan fiction from almost any "fandom" you could think of. Including the Bible.

So I read this stuff. This geeky, geeky stuff. (As my rabidly devoted readers know, I don't own a tv, so I have to do SOMETHING with my down time, right? There are only so many movies on Netflix streaming. ) Yes, there is HORRIBLE fanfiction out there -- sometimes you'll notice that certain fandoms seem to only have shitty fic (Twilight, I'm looking at you.)

However, there's a pretty wide swathe of fiction out there that's, dare I say it?, really good. I mean, really good: sophisticated character development, flawless syntax and grammar, interesting well-paced plot, etc.

So I'm coming out of the fanfiction closet!

To celebrate, I asked one of my favorite fic writers if she wouldn't mind being bothered by me, and she actually said yes! (So no, this is not me interviewing me, pretending to not be me). Read on for: tween's ideas about tantric sex, battlestar dramatica on the interwebs, and the secrets between a husband and wife.

EA Hanks: Usually I start these by asking "What is your name and what do you do?" but we've agreed to keep you anonymous. So, instead, I'll ask, How are you known on the internet, and what do you do there?

Mrs. Tater: My handle's MrsTater, but I answer to Tater or even Mrs T, which is, admittedly, slightly disturbing.

EA: And you use this handle for what purpose?

MrsT: Oh, sorry! I use it because I've got that oh-so-embarrassing hobby of being a fanfiction writer.

EA: What kind of fanfiction do you write?

MrsT: Currently I'm active in the Heroes and Star Trek (Reboot) fandoms, but I've also written a lot of Harry Potter and Lost and a smattering of miscellaneous TV series/books/movies. Actually I'm about to get active in HP again, because I'm a moderator at a Remus/Tonks fanfic LiveJournal community called Metamorfic_Moon, and we've got an event coming up in just about a week.

EA:What is it about these fandoms that attracted you to them, both as fan and as a writer?

MrsT: Every time I've gotten involved in a fandom it was because I fell in love with a romantic pairing that didn't get a great deal of exploration in the original material. For example, in the 6th HP book, you find out near the end of the book that Remus and Tonks, who are both miserable for pretty much the entire book, are miserable because they're in love but not together because Remus thinks he's "too old, too poor, and too dangerous" for Tonks.

(Ed Note: You will kindly notice that writing based on characters briefly seen in another earlier work is exactly what Tom Stoppard did in the mind-boggingly good play "Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead," which fills in the gaps for two bit pieces in "Hamlet." True, it would be more fan ficky if they occasionally made out, but I'm gonna bet that's out there too.)

Immediately this set my imagination on fire about their relationship prior to that point, which we of course don't see except as incidental moments since the books are called Harry Potter, not Remus Lupin. (Even though I think they'd be a LOT more exciting if they were about Remus...) So, I went looking online for Remus/Tonks fanfic filling in the blanks JK Rowling left, and though I enjoyed most of what I read immensely, none of it really fit what my imagination wanted to do for them, so I started writing my own Remus/Tonks fics. And that's pretty much how it goes for my other fanfic pursuits: relationships in progress that demand filling in. (Sexy leading men don't hurt the inspiration, either...)

EA: How did you get into fanfiction to begin with -- how did you learn it even exists?

MrsT: Oh gosh, I've been at this for such a long time the details are getting fuzzy to me... I was about 15 or 16 and caught re-runs of the brief 90's drama Christy, which ended on a love triangle cliffhanger. I turned to the internet to find out if there were any more episodes resolving the series (there weren't), but I stumbled onto a usnet group (message board/email list ) where people were posting stories called fanfiction to conclude both the show and follow up the original novel. I started writing my own fanfic, and I haven't stopped since.

EA: You also write original work. Is there a connection between your fanfiction work and your original writing?

MrsT: Well, for one thing, I wouldn't be pursuing a writing career if it weren't for fanfiction! I've met so many talented writers who recognized my ability as a teen and encouraged me to keep writing. They gave me a lot of constructive criticism that in some ways was more helpful than anything I learned in creative writing classes in college -- I learned how to write dialogue and create clear character voices by emulating the speech patterns of already existing characters. So there's definitely that aspect of fanfic writing that ties into my original work.

There's also the aspect that I use fanfiction to practice stylistic or thematic elements I want to use in my original fiction. My original characters often share qualities that draw me to other people's fictional characters -- I like the older man/younger woman dynamic in romantic pairings, or the man with a tortured past to overcome. (So far, dabbling in the Heroes fandom has not let me to write any serial killers, but you never know...)

EA: There is some stunningly bad fanfiction out there. What are your pet peeves about bad fanfiction?

MrsT: Haha...How much time do you have? ;)

You know once I posted fanfic pet peeves on my LJ, meaning it all in good fun, but it created massive fandom drama.

EA: Oh, we'll get to that in a bit. Is that your way of saying you don't want to say?

MrsT: No, no, it's cool!

Let's see, my peeves: Well, the most obvious one is it's horrible when characters act or speak...out of character (OOC). Like, when in the HP books did Remus ever growl at anybody? Or wear shorts? People do some really bizarre stuff with the characters.

EA: So there needs to be a balance between being original wtih someone else's characters, and yet still keeping true to what readers loved in them

MrsT: Right. And I admit, it's a tricky balance to achieve, and it's even tricky to state particular things that constitute OOCness.

I guess in HP one of the easier things is that there's obviously the factor that you're dealing with British characters.So you can help yourself out characterization wise by keeping in mind that they're going to naturally speak differently than American characters would.

EA: Any other big peeves?

MrsT: Badly written sex.

EA: ! Amazing. Examples?

MrsT: One of the hilarious things in fanfic, actually, is when you're reading a sex scene and clearly it can't have been written by anyone who's HAD sex.

Lots of teenagers write fanfic, so there's not always a lot of experience behind the sex that rings true with a reader. It's either over the top emotional, or physically impossible.

EA: How old are you?

MrsT: 26

EA: And married.

MrsT: Yes, to Mr. Tater. :)

EA: You mentioned drama. You're one of the most popular writers in the fandoms you write for -- how much crazy do you get sent your way?

MrsT: Well, once in the Lost fandom I got plagiarized. Someone took three short stories I"d written, posted them as chapters, and then wrote new chapters.

I've gotten a few flames -- one person read my Transfigured Hearts series, which was a fairly PG-13 series all the way through, and then had a hissy fit when Remus and Tonks finally slept together in the last installment. She did not mince words telling me I'd ruined the story by actually writing a sex scene, and that a simple fade-to-black would have done.

Which was odd considering how many people read fanfic almost purely for sex...

Mostly my fandom experiences have been really good, though. There was a bit of drama once when a post about HP fanfic pet peeves wasn't taken in the spirit of good fun it was intended to be, but I sucked it up and apologized and went on my merry way.

EA: Do you find that there's a certain sort of... rabid level of attention? I mean, you have FANS.

MrsT: You know, it's weird, I really don't think about it that much. Especially on LJ I feel like the people who comment on my stories are my FRIENDS, not FANS. Though I do find reviews a bit addictive. You don't get that level of feedback for original fiction.

EA: Do you know them, I hesitate to use the word "actually" but I guess I mean, do you know them "in real life"?

MrsT: I know what you mean. I've met a few of my online friends, yes. None in my current fandoms, but that's only because a lot of them live out of state or even out of the country. I exchange real mail with a few people.

EA: So you have a fairly delineated line between your online life and your offline life.

MrsT: I do. For professional reasons, of course, but even more than that, people in "real life" just don't usually get the whole fanfic thing. Most people don't care that much about fiction beyond watching a show or reading a book and don't understand why anyone would care enough to make up stories of their own.

It's not something you necessarily feel comfortable with telling people you do, because they give you weird looks, either not knowing what fanfic is, or knowing what it is by its weird reputation.

EA: What do you think the general consensus on fanfiction is?

MrsT: That it's just about one of the geekiest hobbies there is. Especially if you write Harry Potter or Star Trek.

EA: Do you think it IS geeky, and you're proud of it, or do you think it's NOT geeky and they're just haters?

MrsT: Kind of a mixture of both? On the one hand, I know I'm a geek, and I'm rather proud of it (especially since I don't live in my parents' basement and I do have social skills), but on the other hand, I think sci-fi and fantasy are becoming increasingly more mainstream (dare I say, even cool?) so why should it be geeky to indulge in an artistic hobby like fiction writing, even if it is with someone else's universe/characters? Of course, I did mention fanfic to a real-life friend recently, and to her, fanfic was synonymous with porn, so there's also that issue to contend with.

EA: Do you ever think about what the original authors think of fanfiction? Anne Rice wrote "I do not allow fan fiction. The characters are copyrighted. It upsets me terribly to even think about fan fiction with my characters. I advise my readers to write your own original stories with your own characters. It is absolutely essential that you respect my wishes."

And then she made sure all the fanfiction written with her characters was taken down.

I feel comfortable adding that I think Anne Rice might be nutsy mckookoo.

MrsT: I know there are a lot of writers who encourage it -- JK Rowling largely approves, and Neil Gaiman encourages it, too, even had a Chronicles of Narnia story published, not sure how he managed to swing that... I think if anyone ever wrote fanfic based on my original characters, it would be the highest compliment I could be paid, that someone would love my characters enough to want to continue their stories. And I couldn't very well discourage people from doing what I consider to be the most essential exercise in developing my own writing skills. (I read recently that Dorothy Sayers got her start writing some form of fanfic or other...) If I were ever going to teach writing, I'd have my students write fanfic. But to get back to the question....

...I guess it's Anne Rice's prerogative to say she doesn't want fanfic written about her characters, and I can kind of see her point about the need for people to develop their own characters. But then again, people might need that outlet to get a grasp on writing original characters. I know I certainly did. I actually think it's detrimental to literature as a whole to have copyrights on fictional characters. Arthurian literature, for example, is the product of people for centuries writing stories about somebody else's characters. The Greek myths...

EA: When did you tell your husband that you write fanfiction? Has he read your stuff?

MrsT: I 'fessed up not long after we started dating, and when he didn't immediately break up with me over it, or even mock me unduly, I knew he was a keeper. ;)

I'm still usually self-conscious about writing a new fandom, so I don't tell him unless he asks. (so far he hasn't asked me if I'm writing Star Trek fic...)

He has NO interest in reading my stuff. Thankfully. I think I'd die if he read any of the romantic stuff, lol.

EA: Do you fall in love with the characters?

MrsT: Oh yes. They're all my fictional boyfriends. Though I think I wouldn't want any of them in real life. Too high-maintenance. And you know, Sylar is prone to kill his girlfriends...

EA: When your original writing career kicks in and rockets you to fame, do you think you'd still write fanfiction?

MrsT: Thanks for the vote of confidence. ;) I've thought about this, and I really don't know. Not that I think my inclination to write fanfic will ever go away, but I suppose it'll be down to time and whether or not I can (or should) retain anonymity as a fanfic writer. I'd really love to know if there are any working writers out there also publishing fanfic. I wouldn't be at all surprised.

EA: Do you have any feuds with another writer, someone who works in the same fandoms as you?

MrsT: Not that I'm aware of!

EA:If someone was reading this and thinking "Good lord, what on earth is she talking about? I would never!" and you wanted them to read something you're almost SURE would change their mind and turn them into a fanfiction-reading machine, what would you send them?

MrsT: Oh, there are so many amazing fics I would rec that I have an entire Delicious account just for bookmarking my faves. I think for the HP fanfic skeptic I'd recommend "Cards on the Table," by Gilpin because it features a lovely little R/T romance surrounded by the Order of the Phoenix who are all wonderfully in-character. It's Harry Potter for grown-ups and I think really showcases what good writing is out there in fanfic land, and reminds you why you liked the HP books in the first place.

EA: And if you could say something to JK herself?

MrsT: "All was well?" All was NOT bloody well!

Thursday, June 25, 2009

An IMteresting Conversation With: Mike Sacks, Author

And you thought my freakishly small group of friends revolted and refused to put up with my stupid questions any more! Ha!

This week's IMteresting Conversation is about bringing the funny, writing the funny, and two inch cocks. Oh, and vast Jew-led conspiracies. Sorta kinda.

EA Hanks: Firstly, what is your name and what do you do?

Mike Sacks: My name is Mike Sacks, but you can call me "Da Count." That was my doo-wop nickname, when I grew up on the streets of Virginia and Maryland. I work on the editorial staff of Vanity Fair magazine and I freelance for various other publications, such as Esquire, GQ, Radar, The New Yorker, McSweeneys, and Inches.

EA: Ok, well there's no need to brag.

MS: I have an ego as large as my 2-inch cock.

EA: You and everyone else who works on the editorial staff of Vanity Fair. You have a book coming out -- tell me about it.

MS: The book is called "And Here's the Kicker," and it contains interviews with 21 famous humor writers, such as Buck Henry, Stephen Merchant, Bob Odenkirk, Mitch Hurwitz, David Sedaris and that fat guy who writes gags for the Oscars. Actually, not him.

EA: Good call.

MS: Right. For his "crazy" T-shirts alone, he should be banished from the continent.

EA: That's quite a list. How did you get them all to agree to talk to you? Charm?

MS: I don't know why they offered to give me from five to ten hours of their time, quite frankly, I really don't. None knew me. But, I do have to say, that quite a few said that they weren't interested. Mostly women, for some reason. I asked about 15 top women writers if I could interview them, and all either didn't get back to me or didn't want to do it. Maybe it's a lack of ego thing, I don't know.

EA: Ah! The ol' "I'm not sexist!" disclaimer! And there goes the crux of all my further questions. What is it about comedy that interests you -- other than the chuckles?

MS: Just the bizarre process that it takes to write humor. It seems to remain as mysterious to those who have been in it for five decades as to whose who are just starting.

EA: Would you say that's something than runs throughout all the interviews? Are there are things you found that kept popping up?

MS: Yes. It's a strange thing. Writing humor is not like being a plumber or a doctor or an electrician. With those professions, the more you work, the more you know, and the easier it gets. Not so with writing humor. Larry Gelbart, who's been writing for over five decades, still expresses frustration with the process. As far as other similarities, the common one was, not surprisingly, depression. More surprising was O.C.D. I only asked them if they suffered from O.C.D. because I, too, suffer from it. I'd say that 70% of the authors have it.

EA: It's hard to talk about what makes someone funny, or what makes a good bit funny -- it's usually the easiest way to make something instantly a drag -- Did that carry over into talking about writing the funny?

MS: I never asked them that, really. But it usually came out in their answers, anyway. One thing I did ask a few writers was what makes them NOT laugh. What are their humor pet peeves.

EA: Any stand outs?

MS: Merrill Markoe, who was the first head writer for Late Night with David Letterman, had a long list, but my favorite was that she hated political-satire songs, in the Capitol Steps and Mark Russell vein.

EA: Oh yeah. Fuck those political-satire songs.

MS: The worst. I come from the D.C. area and grew up with that shit. It's the devil's work.

EA: What do you think is funny?

MS: I loved Chris Elliott when he was on Letterman in the 80s. Brilliant.

These days, I like Scharpling and Wurster, who have a show here in New York. I think they're flat-out amazing. Really smart, long-form radio comedy, which you don't hear anymore.

EA: Is there a comedian who in your minds, is the be all, end all? Everyone else is just a rip off of them?

MS: Truthfully, I'm not a huge fan of stand-up. I think George Carlin was brilliant. Today, I like Brian Regan a lot. I think he's one of the best. I don't tend to like some of the "alterna comics," quite frankly. Although Zach Galafanakis is great, especially when he's on Tim and Eric.

EA: There's a difference between people who do stand-up, or perform and people who write the material. And some times the dynamics between a team of writers and the performers can be... "interesting." By which I mean, a lot of times they want to kill each other. How much of comedy do you think comes from these sort of tensions? Writers vs. Performers. Writers vs. Depression. Writers vs... Everyone who isn't a writer.

MS: Sometimes it helps the comedy, but I think it often hurts it. When a performer doesn't understand a piece, or wants to "tweak" it, the piece usually doesn't come out as good as it could have. With that said, I think the tension between writers and depression is an interesting one. It's certainly been looked into before, but there's a definite connection. Whether comedy causes depression, or whether one deals with depression with comedy is the million-dollar question. But I've rarely known a comedy writer who smiled when he or she wrote. Or when told a joke.

EA: Only civilians laugh at a good bit. A comedian nods and says, "Good bit." (ed. note: I'm so close to deleting this because it's one of the most obnoxious things I've ever said, but I'm leaving it in because I think it's good for reminding me not to be so obnoxious.)

MS: Right. It's like when a porno star makes love to his wife. Do porno stars "make love," by the way?

EA: TUNE IN TO THE NEXT IMteresting CONVERSATION TO FIND OUT. When did you start writing?

MS: High school, but only by accident. I had no desire, but I had to switch out of biology in the 11th grade (yes, I was a year behind) and the only classes available were gym and creative writing. I love sports but hated gym, mostly the idiotic PE teachers. Anyway, I took creative writing and was forced to write creatively for the first time. But I really began in earnest just after college, when I began to contribute to some magazines. I was working in a record store in New Orleans and had nothing else to do with my time, quite frankly, besides gain weight from Popeye's fried chicken and biscuits.

EA: I think that's how Joyce started too. BTW, have you ever read his dirty letters to his wife?

MS: Not sure about Joyce, but I do know that after Robert Frost won his Pulitzer, he stopped at Libby's for a chicken-fried steak and a basket of curly fries. I have, yes. Dirty, dirty, dirty Joyce, how I love him.

EA: When and why did you move to New York?

MS: My then girlfriend, now wife moved up here for a job. At the time, I was working at the Washington Post and didn't want to come right up. So I waited a year and then applied for various jobs. Vanity Fair accepted me, most likely due to my dig ol' bick.

EA: Do you lay awake at night thinking about the death of magazines, books, the things we've spent our lives trying to be good at/loving?

MS: No, not really. Something will come and take its place, and I hope to be involved. And, quite frankly, I wouldn't mind a few of these obnoxious behemoths brought to their bony, arthritic knees.

EA: Zing!How did you prepare for your interviews with all these people? I would fuck it up by trying to be funny myself (ed. note: see above.)

MS: A tremendous amount of research. Up to 20 to 30 hours per person. I wouldn't feel comfortable otherwise. And I edited out all the parts where I tried to be humorous. No need for that, now . . .

EA: Was there someone you were shit-your-pants-nervous to meet and talk with?

MS: I shit my pants but it had nothing to do with nerves. (I'm lactose intolerant.)

No, not really. I used to be incredibly shy, but I seemed to have burned that out of my system with a daily cocktail of meds.

EA: So you live in New York. You work at Vanity Fair. You've written a book about a bunch of comedians (JEWS). Do you feel like a tried and true member of the liberal media elite (JEWS)?

MS: Yes, and I have to say that it feel really good. When I pass a Jew on the streets, or in a hallway, we'll just look at each other and wink. We know what that means. We're members of the same tribe, and we both love gefilte fish.

EA: And horseradish! This is your first book, yes?

MS: First book I've written alone. I've contributed to a few other books, for Esquire and McSweeneys.

EA: Book tour? Hotels? Idiot interviews? Are you feeling properly fetted?

MS: No. Haven't you heard that I'm extremely reclusive? I ain't leaving the apartment. Except to cheer up the homeless down at the bus depot. I put together a little magic act.

EA: I've heard it's nearly impossible to get you to leave the den, yes. What's next for you, Mr Sacks?

MS: I'm going to self-publish (Kindle only?) a collection of previously published humor pieces that no major publisher wants because some of them are "offensive." Maybe it's the story about the wild-child who makes a BM on the floor of a high school. Also, I think (figers crossed) that I am close to selling a book about a secret topic that begins with S and ends with X.

EA: Do you own a Kindle?

MS: No.

EA: Do you know anyone who owns a kindle?

MS: No.

EA: My dad has one. He's obsessed with it. So, you've got a reader locked.

MS: Good. Your dad is Dave Coulier from Full House, right?

EA: You cut. It. Out.

MS: Sorry. How may I make it up to you? A flower? A hug? A clock in the shape of a hot dog?

EA: Anything else to say to my tens of readers?

MS: The book is available now on Amazon and other sites. It will become available in stores on July 8th. I love you all. And I'll see you at our favorite hangout, the bar with "Piano Man" on the juke.

EA: Play him off, Keyboard Cat.

(Make sure to read this interview Mike conducted with the Colbert Report's Allison Silverman, excerpted on Vanity!)

Saturday, May 02, 2009

The Knowledge

I've been thinking about nonsensical, totally pointless kindness from strangers. Not why those people have been good to me -- because there's no reason in trying to figure out the reasons that they had -- but just about the moments when someone has reached out and propped me up.

If you've even had a migraine, chances are you remember the first. You probably felt like you were dying. I thought I was dying. If I wasn't dying, I was going to die from the pain. I couldn't tell if the pain was so bad it made me want to vomit, or if the feeling of impending up-chuckage was somehow part of the whole migraine scene, but I knew that if I didn't get up, I was going to throw up over everyone.

I was fifteen, and I was in London for the summer. I was seeing a play -- it was Raph Fiennes in "Coriolanus"-- and I remember that it was in an old bruised building that had been gutted especially for the production. It was supposed to be hip, but all I could focus on was how unbearable it was to feel my skin touch anything, even the inside of my clothes. Touching metal seemed to cause a ripple of agony up my fingers which then clawed into the crown of my head, and made my right temple throb. I sat for ten minutes, before I leaned over and said, "I have to go to the bathroom" and stumbled up and out of my seat.

My stupid black velvet slides clip-clopped on the industrial chic slabs of concrete and I was shhhhhhsshed! on the way out to the fancy-version of port-a-potties they had outside of the theater. I tried to vomit in one of them, but I couldn't see straight and I couldn't tell that it was my head, not my stomach that was killing me.

When I tried to get back to my seat, thinking that if I was going to be in horrible pain, it should be with Shakespeare as its soundtrack, but the usher's said I'd have to wait until intermission. I could either lean against cinderblock and cry for the next 45 minutes, or figure out how to get home.

The problem was, I had no idea where that was. None. This was before my love affair with London, so even going around the corner, I was helplessly lost.

I stumbled down to the road, and held up my hand. A black cab promptly pulled over.

"I'm don't have any money, and I don't know how to get where I'm going," I sobbed, one eye jack-hammering shut in the light.

Without pause, the driver said, "Get in, Love."

London taxi drivers, if you didn't know, undergo an immensely, seriously difficult test called The Knowledge. It's not uncommon to attempt The Knowledge three or four times before you pass and can get licensed. Part of the test includes 400 or so combinations of starting points and ending points, along with quizzes of what pubs, hotels and restaurants are along the way -- and those points must be known by name. On top of that, during the oral exam, candidates can be yelled at, teased, insulted and ridiculed.

So the driver knew exactly where to take me, and when he saw how sick I was, he started talking to me about what he'd done that morning to keep my mind off being sick all over his cab. "C'mon, Dearie, just take your eye off the pain for a moment."

I remember he must have been in his early sixties, and he was wearing a collared shirt and pullover.

When he pulled over in front of the house, he opened the door and helped me out, delivering me to a perplexed housekeeper and told her "Poor Chuck, doesn't know what hit her."

I must have looked insane -- I've seen my face when I'm in the grip of a migraine -- it's like a death mask, all white with huge black spots under my eyes, my jaw grinding shut. I was American (I promised to pay him when I had 'cash') and young, and really close to vomiting all over his immaculate cab.

But he drove me home nonetheless. I know that as a cabdriver, that was his job, but it's not his job to drive someone who might not be able to pay them, and it certainly wasn't his job to comfort a sick girl.

Has a stranger been thoughtlessly, needlessly kind to you? Tell me all about it.

Thursday, April 23, 2009

An IMteresting Conversation With: Jonah Evans, New Orleans Advocate

This week's IMteresting Conversation is with Jonah Evans, advocate and lover of New Orleans -- and Recovering New Englander. Read on for: what happens when a white guy works for the NAACP, how facebook kills political careers, and if New Orleans is still Anderson Cooper standing in "muck."

Also! This interview is cross-posted over at Take Part!


EA Hanks: Firstly, what's your name and what do you do?

Jonah Evans: My name's Jonah Evans and I'm the producer and co-director of

EA: What is Charity Hospital and why does it need saving?

JE: Charity Hospital is a public hospital in New Orleans, one of the oldest in the country. It was founded in 1736 and has served the city since. Shortly after Hurricane Katrina hit, the hospital was closed by Louisiana State University, despite that fact that over 200 doctors, nurses, volunteers and soldiers from the 82nd Airborne fixed it up

LSU's now trying to push an ill-conceived plan to build a new hospital that would destroy 67 acres of our city, take over a decade to build, and cost us over $2.2 billion. Charity Hospital can be rebuilt for a lot less, in half the time, and help us rebuild downtown New Orleans in the process

[Editor's Note: Please enjoy Jonah's dulcet tones in this video which explains his arugment on behalf of Charity Hospital further.]

EA: How is a university responsible for this? Shouldn't this be a gubernatorial issue?

JE: Well LSU is really powerful in the state of the Louisiana. After the storm, FEMA offered the state $150 million for "storm-related" damage for Charity Hospital. But LSU has appealed saying that they're owed $492 million because of storm damage. The pictures show a different story.

EA: How long have you been living in New Orleans?

JE: I've been living down here for about a year and a half but started working down here with the NAACP National Headquarters right after Katrina.
It's an easy city to fall in love with!

EA: So you're Post-Katrina.

JE: A recovering New Englander =)

EA: Has the city fallen in love with the influx of Post Katrina transplants in turn, or is there tension there?

JE: I just read that about 10% of New Orleanians today didn't live here [before the] storm. [Editor's Note: Check out this info on page two of the "NOLA Master Plan."] There's some tension with those folks I'm sure but everyone in the city is here for a reason. For those that came back home since the storm, and for those of us that moved here to make this our home I feel like there's a common sense of purpose

If anything, there is a new commitment for rebuilding our city in a more transparent way. Which is why this Charity Hospital fight is really striking a chord in the city.

EA: You came to the city with the NAACP, and now you're working to rebuild a part of the city that is historically Black. You're also a 6'4 guy from Massachusetts who could not be any whiter.

JE: I definitely had to wear my "NAACP Staff" jacket everywhere in the beginning.

EA: You're touching a lot of live wires here -- race, class, new people moving into an old town.

JE: This city is remarkably more diverse and welcoming than most places I've lived
I remember being shocked when people called me "Baby" when I first started working here. You ever been down here? [...] It's absolutely gorgeous and so alive! I think a lot of folks still have the image of Anderson Cooper standing waist deep in N'awlins muck. We've come a long way.

EA: You're describing New Orleans as though energy of the city, and the love people have for it -- whether you're new there or old -- makes the conversation about race null, or at least, not important. Do you think that's how most people feel, or do you feel like that's your take on it, that is, a perspective that could be defined as White?

JE: I'm not suggesting that the energy of the city post-Katrina somehow overlooks the deep racial tensions. If anything, the storm showed how horrible those disparities could be.

But I feel like BECAUSE people are dedicated to rebuilding New Orleans, there's an enhanced sense of engagement in what's happening to our city and who's making the the decisions that affect our future.

And I believe that level of community engagement means that we have the opportunity to address a lot of racial, social and economic justice issues in a new way. And that reaches across racial boundaries

EA: What do you love about New Orleans?

JE: Wow. There's so much -- the people, the music, the food, but that just sounds like tourist speak. You know another tall white guy from Massachusetts once wrote, "it is required of a person that they share the passion and action of our time at peril of being judged not to have lived."

In New Orleans, every day is one where you share in the passion and action of our time.

EA: The city takes up a huge space in the American cultural zeitgeist. It feels like a city that is both the epitome of America, and completely outside of it -- with its French influences and its African influences and the sense that things just function differently there.

JE: More Havana than Atlanta

EA: Right. Do you think that one of the many many reasons that the reaction to Katrina was... such that it was, is that the rest of America doesn't really understand the city beyond Bourbon St. ?

JE: Some people think it's just Mardi Gras beads and booze, but I think that the response after Katrina was remarkable. There are still volunteers that come down here week after week.

EA: The city, and the state for that matter, have a long history of a violent and fetid underbelly -- crime is still a huge issue there. How are all these volunteers and new energy mixing with that side of New Orleans?
Your house has been broken into, two, three times?

JE: Every city has it's problems and the crime in New Orleans is a very serious one. I'm definitely not an expert in this area and not sure what the answer is.

EA: But that part of life in the city is folded into the parts that are more traditionally celebrated -- the culture of community that's built around food and music and the identity of being from New Orleans. I'm just interested in how those two blend together. Crime is a part of every city, but it's rare that it's part of a city's consciousness the way it is in New Orleans.

How did you start working for the NAACP?

JE: I moved to DC after graduating college. I think I borrow too much West Wing from you in college. When Katrina hit, one of my best friends from New Orleans moved in with me NAACP had one of those numbers that scrawled across CNN during the storm... "If your need help, call here" kind of things. I started volunteering there and fielding those phone calls. I stayed for weeks and just never left.

EA: You call yourself a Recovering New Englander. What's to recover from?

JE: I love New England. Die hard Red Sox fan. But the states are so small up there!
I've felt incredibly lucky to get to work and live in other parts of the country that aren't in the Bermuda Triangle of Boston-NYC-DC.

EA: do you see yourself staying in new orleans?

JE: Definitely.

EA: What do you think will happen to Charity Hospital?

JE: I think we're going to win. If there's one thing I saw [working on the on the Obama campaign in Georgia and Michigan] it's how committed people are to having a say in what happens in their community.

Good health care and smart planning is too important to the people in New Orleans for them to let these decisions happen behind closed doors.

EA: Do you see yourself running for office? Does that interest you at all?

JE: Absolutely never ever ever! What about you E.A.? High priestess of New York City?

EA: There's one too many photos of me being a raging liberal out there.

JE: Facebook has destroyed many a fledgling political career.


Wednesday, April 15, 2009

An IMteresting Conversation With: Alicia Menendez, Democratic Strategist

This week's IMteresting conversation is with Alicia Menendez. In this photo, she's with her father, Senator Bob Menendez. Just so you don't think she's a old man who just stands behind a podium for fun sometimes. Read on for backstage drama with Anne Coulter, what Obama has fumbled, and wild nights with Sudoku.

EA Hanks: What is your name, and what do you do?

Alicia Menendez: Alicia Menendez. Communication Consulting.

EA: What does that mean?

AM: Good question. The "consulting" element is rather new (for me). I do a variety of things: build press plans, write online content, and handle incoming media requests.
I think about how the different mediums: radio, television, print, online can all be best integrated to convey a cohesive message.But the consulting part means that I don't have to work for just one person/group/organization.

EA: In politics.

AM: Mostly. But even within politics, there are campaigns, and non-profits, and specific issue based campaigns. So there is variety under the politics umbrella.

EA: How did you get into this line of work?

AM: Quite by accident I suppose. I thought I wanted to be a lawyer. Well -- no -- that's not true. I always thought getting a JD and becoming a lawyer would be a very sensible thing to do before running for office. Running for office was the real goal.
But in 2006, I worked as a paralegal (which will make you not want to go to law school).

EA: I'm quoting someone, but being a lawyer seems like a lifetime of doing homework.

AM: And I also began to question whether or not I wanted all of the limitations that come with public life.So I found myself 22 and never having thought about what my plan B would be. And staring at computer and boxes full of files.I had underestimated how important it was to me to have creativity in my work. Once I realized that I'd like to have a creative component to my work, law school was out. And after working on my father's 2006 campaign I was tired of being poked and prodder. So I worked at a small television station thinking that poking and prodding would be more fun than being poked. It wasn't.

EA: Ain't that the truth. Your father is Bob Menendez, the Democratic senator from New Jersey. Was politics dinner table talk, or was it left at the office?

AM: He always wanted to leave it at the office, but even as a kid I loved talking about politics -- it felt very grown-up. And if you're a curious kid, then you pick up everything - even things that aren't meant for you: one side of telephone conversations, the front page of local papers -- y' know.

EA: Do you believe in the phrase "the personal is political"? Does that phrase have meaning for you? And is it different than "Politics is personal"?

AM: The personal is, of course, political for those who view the world in a political light. But I think that is one of those points of differentiation =- people who see problems, challenges, limits and think "Politics/policy/good government could change that!" -- even if there notion of changing that problem/challenge/limit might be making the government "smaller." And then people who are rather apolitical -- whose brains don't synapse that way. I think there is great limitation to anyone whose politics rely solely on the personal.

There needs to be a certain respect for empirical data, and an intellectual ability to grapple with conflicting ideas -- even if they are outside one's own realm of "personal" understanding. Likewise, the idea that politics is personal depends upon the individual -- which perhaps makes it undeniably personal. But they are different ideas to me -- in that the former indicates a causal relationship and the latter is more relational.

EA: Is being apolitical the same as being apathetic?

AM: In some cases they are exactly the same. But in others, someone can care deeply about an issue or cause but not identify the solution with one political ideology or party.

EA: You've recently started to be featured on news programs as a talking head, if you will. What on earth is that like?

AM: It's a lot of make up.

EA: You're introduced as a Democratic Consultant? What's the title?

AM: Democratic Strategist. It's a very generic title that has little meaning to most people (including anyone in politics). The idea of a "strategist" is pretty much a television creation -- even when you're talking about people who have been working in politics for 20 years. They do something much more concrete than "strategy." If you watch some of the cable stations you'll see them trending away from the generic chyron and towards more specific resume points.

EA: When you go on these shows, are you offering a personal opinion or an opinion that pushes an organized message, or agenda?

Alicia: It depends on the show! On the questions! Hannity's show, for example, on Fox News Channel, is much more about the individual expressing their views with the understanding that the producers have specifically crafted the group to feature a political range.

EA: Right.

AM: But there are certainly occasions on which it's a role-play of sorts.

EA: When it becomes a role play, does anyone win? Besides the host?

AM: If there are two good role players and a good host absolutely! At a minimum, it can be a controlled point/counter-point. At best, it can be a really enlightening exchange over when the ideologies overlap and where the diverge. And a clarifying glimpse at why each side believes their way is the right way. And I think that helps people who don't have an opinion to form one.

EA: Don't people who watch CNN or MSNBC or FOX already have an opinion?

AM: On Fox in particular, I feel my role is to give the audience -- the majority of which one imagines leans Conservative (whatever that means these days) a reason to question their views -- or at least the absolutism of their views. I think CNN ends up having quite a few people who tune in to watch news and stay for the political shows. So who knows?!

EA: Is it fun? Doing these shows?

AM: I think it's such fun. I get a rush right before and then the feeling once it's all done (minus the hate mail) is great. I worry sometimes that it's all an exercise in vanity -- but I think at its core, there is value.

EA: What is the hate mail like?

AM: Well that depends on the show I've just been on. I went on O'Reilly maybe more than a month ago and I am still getting mail about "going to Mexico and fighting for my country," "being a stupid greaser," "killing my anchor babies." I mean tons of hateful stuff. The Hannity hate mail is more crass: "Stupid bitch," "You good use a good..."

You get the idea.

EA: What were you talking about on O'Reilly?

AM: Immigration. And the best part is that my blog allows me to see the Google search terms that bring someone to my site. I have learned that it is very difficult for people to spell my name. And many searchers would like to know if I have a boyfriend, am married or engage or am a lesbian.

EA: Any greenroom/make up chair antics you can report on? Your tweets from the green rooms are always hilarious. I feel like I've snuck into a Masonic ceremony -- so secret.

AM : Best run-ins include Mike Huckabee, Ann Coulter and Karl Rove. Ann Coulter was most interesting.

EA: Wow. That is quite the list. Go on.

AM: Because she feels so comfortable extolling her views as though her audience is A. captive and B. in agreement. She was holding court in the Green Room.

EA: With regards to her assumptions, isn't that what Bill O'Reilly as well as Keith Olbermann does?

AM: Right, but the show has [their names] on it. [They have] a network and a platform. Anne Coulter was in a room full of other guests and she just started telling stories like she was the star. On one hand, just hearing her talk is like nails on a chalk board. On another level, I have to admire her bravado. I can't tell if she's incredibly confident or insecure. Or if maybe she's just so completely un-self aware that she is able to talk and talk and talk without checking in on non-verbal cues to see if anyone is listening.

EA: What is the state of the GOP right now?

AM: Disarray! I think there are two separate but related conversations going on simultaneously. There is at once a struggle to define conservatism, and a visible fight for the soul of the GOP. The conservative conversation is much more intellectual - much more academic.

EA: Than before, than the Dem's then.. what?

AM: Than the GOP conversation.(Editor's note: Connoting a difference between the Republican Party as it stands, Base voters and Conservatives who feel left behind.) And [the GOP] is being under minded by folks who are more concerned with better TV ratings than with the actual question of how we define conservatism.

EA: So how do you define the GOP "conversation"?

AM: The GOP conversation is about a few things. First of all, there is a lot of ego.
You can practically see the supposed 2012 front-runners (apparently we didn't learn from 2008 that this speculation is useless) elbowing each other out of the way.Governor Sanford isn't thinking about the people of South Carolina when he turns away stimulus money. He's thinking "this is a major gamble and if I hit this right, I will be President Sanford." I think the alternative budgets we saw from Republicans was a good, tangible example of how they don't know what their minority game plan is.

EA: Which is the same gamble Jindal and Palin are playing.


EA: What about the Dems? Because the Democratic party is not the same thing as the Obama administration, and the party seems to be as lost and incompetent as it ever was, only know it's an incompetent majority rather than minority.

AM: I think at the end of the day there is much more unity than folks realize.
Unity doesn't sell papers (though one has to ask what DOES sell papers these days).
I think folks are just getting accustomed to the idea of being able to get things done. They are also still struggling to figure out how to communicate that we are where we are because of eight years of wreckless Republican spending - and I say that not as a political talking point - seriously - but as a generational perspective on how the GOP has really disappointed millenials.I don't agree with the GOP, but I can respect their basic logic. They spent the last eight years acting out of step with their own credo. And now Democrats need to find a way to explain that they are good mechanics with a hell of a lemon and they're doing the best they can as quickly as they can.

EA: It would seem to me that Obama has literally changed the game. When I see the Dems and GOPers flobbing talking points at each other, (or at the administration) it's like they're trying to get in a gunfight with some dull rapiers...When the GOP attempts to paint the Obama budget plan as "vague"and goes back to grinding on and on about earmarks, which are actually a miniscule part of any budget.

AM: I suppose. [But there are questions that should be asked of Obama.] Like - did Obama make a major mistake by setting standards for his nominees that were unmeetable?
What does bi-partisanship look like? Should Obama have tackled the "how" of bipartisanship sooner?

EA: How would you judge the Obama administration's first 100 days?

AM: Predictably rocky but generally well-executed. The notion of the first 100 days - and I'm sure you'd agree - is rather inorganic.

EA: What do you think will happen with the midterms?

AM: Senate races should be fine - maybe even a few pick up opportunities for Democrats. On the House side, I don't think - pending a major disaster or a major upswing-that we'll see much movement either way. Much like people voted Bush back into office in 2004, I think most people prefer stability at times like this -- especially in light of the recent and dramatic change we made to our elected body.

EA: You live in DC -- what's it like to live there and what's it like to live there as the daughter of a Senator?

AM: Well I am like a little old lady so it's what it's like to live anywhere as a little old lady.

EA: I know what that's like.

Alicia: I wake up, I take the metro to the gym, I go to the gym, I stop at Starbucks, I work, I take the metro home, make dinner and watch The Wire with my boyfriend. On a really crazy night I might do a Sudoko puzzle on the metro home or pick up some ice cream but that's about it.
I do appreciate that my friends here (all two of them) are able to talk politics but also able to shut it off. That's the weird thing about DC. It's politics, politics, politics all the time. Is LA like that with entertainment?

me: FUCK IF I KNOW. We all just sit around talking about GOOP -- Oh wait, that's Brooklyn. So you are outside of the social/power scene.

Alicia: I think the idea that there is a social/power scene is ridiculous. I have dinner with a United States Senator once every two weeks. It's not much of a scene.

EA: In my conversations with Meghan McCain, she's talked a lot about people who come on to her as a way of starting THEIR political career.

AM: I don't think I've ever had that happen. I also have to wonder how much of that is reality and how much is perception. What is that quote?
I think it's Sharon Stone about how you can sleep your way to the middle; you have to work your way to the top. That is what that reminds me of!

EA: Last thing: any comment for those Fox viewers who want to know about your love life?

Alicia: Nah! Let's keep them Googling.


Photo via DayLife

Tuesday, April 07, 2009

An IMteresting Conversation With: Sam Wasson, Author

Hold on to your hats and glasses folks, cuz this blog's the wildest ride in the internets!

I'd like to introduce you to a new feature here at Impudent Ways, IMteresting Conversations, wherein I interview my friends like they're famous over IM (GET IT!?) Some of them might be a little famous or more, and a lot of them won't be famous at all, but the goal is to talk to interesting people who do interesting things.

Hopefully, you'll be able to check in here every Tuesday for a new interview. I've thought about it, and Tuesday has nothing going for it -- it's not even the hump day -- so I thought this would be a good day to start.

Our inaugural interview is with Sam Wasson, author and cinefile, whose book A Splurch in the Kisser: The Movies Of Blake Edwards will be available in September 2009 from Wesleyan University Press.


EA Hanks: Firstly, what is your name and what do you do?

Sam Wasson: My name is Sam Wasson and I'm a writer. Are we done yet?

EA: Nearly.

SW: Okay.

EA: What sort of writing do you do? Have long have you been doing it?

SW: Right now I'm writing books about the movies I've been writing casually - well, not really casually - about the movies for a long time, but then...

EA: What projects are you working on now?

SW: A book about Breakfast at Tiffany's. The history of... The production...The incredible legacy...

EA: A book about a movie based on a book.

SW: You got it. It's a massive phenomenon.

EA: What came first for you, movies or writing (about movies)?

SW: Writing! But before that Movies! So I guess my answer is: First, movies. Then, writing. Then writing for the movies. Then writing about the movies.
Got it?It's confusing, but those were confusing times.

EA: What do you like about movies? What about the medium appeals to you? Do you like the cultural phenomenon around them, or the substance of the art itself, or a mixture of both?

SW: Mostly the art. I love that movies combine all the arts, at their best, I mean: sound, picture, literature, visuals. And time and space can be transcended.
The cut is a beautiful thing! As is the close up! These are two things that you don't have in theater, but you have them in film.

And emotion - let's not forget that. Because, honestly, nothing moves an audience like a movie.

EA: Do you think that's what the masses are attracted to in movies -- transcendence, in however they understand it? Because of all the arts, there's a huge argument to be made that movies are the most popular.

SW: They are the most popular! I think, yes, sometimes, but they don't always call it that.

EA: What do they they call it? Escapism?

SW: Escapism is a kind of transcendence -- some people go into the movies to shut off.
I tend not to like those kinds of movies, but then I'm accused of being a snob.

There is another escapism, though, that takes you out of your head and into - for lack of a better organ - your heart. That's the kind of escapism I like to write about
because that's the kind I see in my favorite movies. But that isn't specific to Fellini or Antonioni or Bergman -- it happens in popular movies too
Like The Naked Gun! That to me is pure transcendent bliss!

EA: You've mentioned the difference, or the space between, the phenomenon around film, and the films themselves. In terms of Breakfast at Tiffany's, how do you see that playing out?

SW: It's trickier. With BAT, you're talking about a less tangible kind of excellence.
It's not as much about aesthetics as it is about nailing the zeitgeist -- in other words, why people love the movie, I think.

EA: Has the movie has earned that love, by its quality?

SW: I don't think so, no. It has less to do with its artistic components than its progressive attitudes. That is, I think it's more about the meaning of Audrey -- a new kind of Audrey, one that has SEX, and lives ALONE, and wears PROVOCATIVE clothing, none of which were the custom of 1961.

EA: The public had only really seen her in films like Roman Holiday, fawnish and innocent.

SW: That's right. Suddenly, the princess has a night life. And young women across the country are going, "What the--Hey, wait a second! That looks fun!"I want that!"They're thinking, if Audrey does it, it's kinda okay.

EA: I remember telling a friend in high school that Holly is a prostitute, and she refused to believe me until I explain "$50 for the powder room."

SW: Exactly. You're talking about a message so well coded, even girls today miss it.
But that's proof of how progressive it was.

EA: Do men like this movie? Do you think Audrey has sexual draw for men's tastes today?

SW: Audrey was not as sexual draw, no. Not in the way that Marilyn was. That's not to say that people didn't find Audrey sexy, but that she was not [cast] with sex in mind. That's another reason she appeals more to heterosexual girls and women.

EA: Do you think that the fact that Audrey wasn't an overtly "sexy" actress was part of why the movie could get away with what it got away with?

SW: Yes! You know, Marilyn was an early casting choice. But imagine the movie with Monroe as Holly!She loses her intelligent hold on men. Marilyn's hold was purely erotic, and a little pathetic. You wanted to take her to bed, and then, when you saw how mushy she was, you wanted to cradle her like a baby. That's a male fantasy.

EA: And Audrey?

SW: Audrey is different! You want to BE Audrey.
Because she conforms to no one and nothing. In the fifties, there was no one that looked like her. In this era of pervasive commonality, she was saying, "I can be me, and far from being strange, it's actually fun!" James Dean was dangerous in his rebellion.Audrey was polite.But subversively polite.

EA: This is where I have to ask about Mickey Rooney in that movie: "What the fuck is with Rooney in that movie?"

SW: Haha! You're in Blake Edwards' world, don't forget.That means you're never far from a pratfall.

EA: Do you think the movie sacrifices subversion of race to push the boundaries of sex?

SW: No. Casting The Mick as Mr Yunioshi was a move Blake regrets.He fucked up. He did.
But let's not forget: Rooney's damn funny. Those two things need to be kept separate

EA: You've mentioned close ups. Let's talk about this in terms of what it does for the whole medium. What does it do, for story, for the art of cinema?

SW: The job of the director is to tell the story in pictures. And close-ups can tell you that story by showing you what a character is thinking. Either by showing that character's face or hand or some body part that carries emotion, or by showing you what he's looking at, like a point of view shot. Theater can't do that, and neither can books.

EA: Can you think of some of your most favorite close ups, and why they're so near and dear to you?

Sammy: Well, one that comes to mind: Ingmar Bergman's movie Autumn Sonata...With Liv Ullmann and Ingrid Bergman.

EA: Talk us through it.

SW: Mother and daughter, full of resentment for one another. They have it out in the living room in the middle of night. Bergman cross-cuts these close ups that put us right in their faces -- he NEVER lets us look away. Rather, instead throws us into the middle of their hurt. It's one of the most visceral experiences I've ever had in a movie. Of course, Bergman has been holding back on close-ups until this point. Mostly, the movie is shot wide: open spaces, furniture.And then WHAM! It's like he grabs you by the fucking neck, and shoves you into it.

EA: I like in Bringing Up Baby, Hawks waits until Hepburn realizes she's got a window of time wherein she can lure Grant out of his engagement and into her arms. Hawks slams the camera in, gets right into the flat planes of her face, framed by the car window. And you get a whole sense of how tenacious and ludicrous this woman is going to be. The close up is a device that works in both drama and comedy.

SW: That's one of my favorite movies -- I remember that. Exactly.

EA: You went to Wesleyan for undergraduate. What did you study?

SW: Film and English.

EA: And then you went to USC for post-graduate work in film as well. Did you find it worth your while?

SW: Yes, I did. The only way to learn how to make movies is to make movies.

EA: You've been writing about film professionally (in that you have two books coming out) -- do you think you'll go back to making films yourself?

SW: 3 books!

EA: Well fuck my soul.

SW: HAHAHAHAHA! Can I HAHAHA in an interview? ... Yes, I do think I'll go back to making films.

EA: All the films you mentioned (...with the exception of the Naked Gun) have been older. What do you think about current cinema?

SW: Hollywood? It's a poop show. How's that for insightful analysis?

EA: Thrilling. What makes it bad?

SW: Oh so many things make it bad. But, at risk of oversimplifying, one thing in particular: it isn't run by showmen -- it's run by suits.

EA: Go on.

SW: Money has always been the bottom line - as it should be - but guys like Mayer, Selznick, and Thalberg before dreamt of good pictures, too. Bucks were half of it.
Quality was the other half.

EA: When did things change?

SW: End of the 50's

EA: A lot of people hail the 70s as the last real heyday of moviemaking

SW: Oh it was! Definitely! And I would add: the real independent scene of the 90's.

EA: With such films as?

SW: Metropolitan!

EA: I have a theory

SW: Lets have it.

EA: That something else that has change significantly is that in the "golden" years of films, there was no real difference between high caliber actors, and "Stars" -- whereas now, there are two definite groups, with maybe one or two crossovers.

SW: Well, there were always stars, but they were employees.Now they're running the show.

EA: Do you think celebrity culture helps film or kills it?

SW: Depends. There was always celebrity culture in Hollywood.The problem now is that celebrities make the movies.

EA: Go on. What are the direct consequences?

SW: Often, that is not a problem. Many celebrities make great movies! But too often there is a casualty.

EA: In that they become star vehicles?

SW: Yes, but idiotic ones. Don't get me wrong - a movie star is a wonderful thing!
But with power comes responsibility. And when they make decisions, sometimes story goes out the window.

EA: Have actors always been paid more than actresses?

SW: For the most part, yes.

EA: Why do you think that is?

SW: That's a really good question. Well, I don't think it's very clear.
I just think it depends on the market. There's no limit to how much a studio will pay for talent. Liz Taylor was the first actor or actress to get a million for a movie.
Carole Lombard was once the highest paid actor at Paramount. But the biggest star in the world is Will Smith, so he can demand the highest fee. If Jada became bigger, she'd get more money.

EA: You live in LA, which IS Hollywood, and vice versa. Do you like living there?

SW: Yes. I love it.

EA: What about it do you love?

SW: That's a huge question! LA has the highest concentration of creative people anywhere in the world. It's like Paris in the 20s - but always. That's what I love.
And Hollywood is not evil.It's not a sinister place. It's a business like any other.
But it's my favorite business because when it's good, it doesn't make cars, or canned goods, or diapers, it makes great entertainment. And sometimes art. That's my kinda town.


Wednesday, April 01, 2009

Goodbye To All That

Do you sometimes feel like this is all a dream, and Barack Obama didn't win the presidency? That after eight years of... you know, all that, we've all just retreated into the cozy hallows of our brain and are playing pretend?

Well, he did win! Hurray!

And because of this, I'm gonna let some things go, because I'm tired of dragging them around. This is a new time, and I'm eager to move past the anger and cynicism that I pretty much made my religion for the past eight years. Cheesy? Yes! I don't care!

One of the only things that made the previous presidency livable was some of the great art (although, there was some pretty embarrassing stuff too), and satire that came out. And I was really grateful for it, at the time, but times have changed and it's time to move on. Timey time times on times of times recorded by time in timey timed time.

But as a last huzzah, here are my two favorite Previous-Presidency pieces of art.

The first is "Windowsill" by Arcade Fire.

Arcade Fire has a way of treating subjects that we are all familiar with, in a way the manages to escape sigh-inducing obviousness. There's nuance here, which is the difference between art and... I don't know, poop? (...Speaking of a lack of nuance.)When Win Butler sings

World war three, when are you coming for me?
Been kicking up sparks to set the flames free
The windows are locked now, so what'll it be?
A house on fire or the rising sea?

I can feel that stymied, hysterical disbelief that simmered in my gut, and in the collective guts of everyone who I would commiserate with -- whether it was my room mates, as we watched coverage of the war getting worse and worse, or with complete strangers as we were pelted by Bush supporters at his second inauguration -- for eight years. The relief of that feeling, that angst, prompted me to burst into tears as President Obama finished his oath of office. Seriously. I didn't understand the phrase "burst into tears" until I was standing there like a normal person, and then suddenly tears went flying out of my eyeballs and I was grabbing strangers (also crying) and hugging them. One woman kept saying "It's over! It's over!"

I'll never, ever forget looking up and realizing that everyone else around me was crying as well. Ok, since I'm getting all teary-eyed even thinking about it, I'll move on.

As far as I'm concerned, Stephen Colbert's 2006 speech at the White House Correspondent's dinner is the bravest, most patriotic, most... good thing, I've ever seen. Ever. EVER EVER. He spoke truth to power -- yeah, but the power was sitting RIGHT THERE. Literally. He was standing feet away from the President, tearing him to pieces with some of the best material, political or not, I've ever heard.

I'm proud, very very proud, to know someone who worked on this speech -- which you can read the transcript of here. Actually, I will probably never ever be really comfortable around them, because I know they worked on this speech. When I die, I'll think to myself, "Well, at least I knew someone who worked on Stephen Colbert's 2006 White House Correspondents Dinner speech. So, I did something good."

Have you ever had to speak in front of people? Not necessarily do stand up, it could be a wedding speech, or just trying to be funny in class -- you make a joke, and there's no response? It's the worst feeling. You flounder. You try to laugh off your bad joke. You make another joke, and that one falls flat too. You attempt to get them back, you plead to get the crowd back, and they are not having it. Finally, you give up and just start talking really fast so you can sit down and disappear as soon as possible.

Stephen Colbert essentially bombs the entire length speech, and it's a long speech. Most of the crowd's reactions are either shocked gasps, a few nervous laughs, and a lot of moans of disbelief. But he...just...keeps...going.

He doesn't speed up. He doesn't give a look of "C'mon, gimme a break!" he doesn't break for a moment of an iota of a second. He sticks with it the entire time, and walks away like... Nothing. Like he didn't just completely rip the facade off the event, the Presidency, the war. Like he didn't just expose every lie and falsehood that resulted in thousands of needless deaths.

Ok, I'm getting all faklempt again, so I'll end there.

These are the two pieces of art from the previous presidency that I'm letting go of. What are some of the things that made YOU feel better during the past 8 years that you're willing to part with?