Book review: Clutter Busting Your Life


By the time Brooks Palmer's first book fell in my lap, I didn't need anyone to tell me that my problem with clutter wasn't the stuff itself. I knew full well that the crap I couldn't seem to keep myself from accumulating was connected to circuitry gone awry—that I was collecting things to fill emotional holes or wall off feelings or otherwise protect myself from perceived danger. But I did need someone to say it to me differently, in a way that I could finally begin to hear it. Simply, as it turns out, and with gentleness and compassion. Over and over. And over.

This is how Brooks (once a mysterious angel, now a first-name, real-life friend) works, both on the page and in person. It seems almost too simple at first—that by sitting down and bringing your attention to objects, one item at a time, you could simultaneously reduce the amount of useless stuff in your life and restore a sense of joy and hope. Until, an hour or two later, there is a carful of stuff on its way to Goodwill and the library and various other redistribution centers, and you are left in your little apartment, surrounded by freshly empty spaces and suffused with a surprising mix of energy and calm.

* * * * *

Which brings us to Clutter Busting Your Life and an obvious question: if the first book worked, why another? If the process is so simple to understand, why more pages to explain it? If your spaces remain relatively empty—or if you know what to do when they start becoming less so, and you do it—what could a second book really offer?

The answer, it turns out, is some insight into handling clutter where it intersects—and interferes with—relationships. Because while determining whether an object that is yours alone should stay or go is a straightforward process, dealing with other people's stuff—a partner's, a child's, a parent's, a friend's—is fraught. And unless we wall ourselves off from the world (a sad and horrible prospect), we are always, always dealing with other people's stuff.

Not to mention their "stuff". Because to further complicate matters, it is not just someone's actual, physical stuff that can become clutter to us, but our reactions to the stuff, and their reactions to our reactions, and so on. You cannot do a damned thing about anyone else's crap, but boy, can you ever complicate matters by your response to it: one person's magazine attachment or drawerful of half-empty toothpaste tubes can metastasize into everyone's full-blown marriage crisis if tended (im)properly.

So this book, then, is about arresting the escalation. It's about learning to removing the "clutter" in relationships—the fear and anger and frustration that accompanies all things buried, all decisions forestalled too long—so we can reconnect to each other. Which, yes, begins with reconnecting to ourselves.

Note: in the hands of your average self-helpster, navigation through this territory can get annoying and/or dangerous quickly. Again, Brooks Palmer's strength resides in his ability to keep things simple and focused. He addresses the levels of relationship one at a time, in order and through the lens of clutter, starting with our relationship with ourselves, then moving outward into our various relationships with others—current and workable, past, current and unworkable. There's a special chapter on clutter busting for two, but there are exercises throughout to help you with various aspects of the excavation process, emotional and physical, including a recap of basic clutter-busting technique for newbies or those needing a refresher course.

* * * * *

Full disclosure: if you get Brooks' new book, you will find a blurb from me on the inside front page. While "blurb" is a light, bouncy, almost throwaway word, I take blurbing very seriously. (Except as a verb. Then I laugh like a hyena, because "blurbing" sounds asinine.) Into my very serious blurb I inject one bit of hyperbole, about Brooks possibly being able to help us all clutter-bust our way to world peace. Which is probably an overstatement. There is a whole lot of clutter between us and achieving world peace.

I do believe, though, that on some level, this is holy work. Bringing ourselves back to connection with one another and the present moment is big stuff. That one road back might involve shedding a few things—and ideas, and behaviors—that no longer serve is really not such a far-fetched notion.

If it's your road, this might very well be your road map.

xxx c

Book review: The $100 Startup


For the past year, I've been traveling around the country, telling people about Chris Guillebeau. (Seriously. You can see it here, starting at 2:48 in.) One reason is that his story—of building a platform from zero to massive, of pursuing "impossible" goals like visiting every country in the world by age 35—never fails to inspire audiences. In a time when life can look rather grim around the edges, let alone when we stare into the deep, black heart of it—we need all the light we can get.

But the other reason I talk about Chris all the time is because his methodology for success is rational and replicable.

Yes, he's a quick study, but he is also a perpetual student who reads widely and never stops asking questions of people who know things he doesn't.

Yes, he has what is probably a natural facility with words, but he still parks his ass in a chair (or the floor of some foreign airport) and plunks out 1,500 of them per day. Every single day.

Or, as he summed it up himself in his first book, remarkable achievements are a result of these four prerequisites:

  1. You Must Be Open to New Ideas
  2. You Must Be Dissatisfied with the Status Quo
  3. You Must Be Willing to Take Personal Responsibility
  4. You Must Be Willing to Work Hard

So while Chris has built a fairly unconventional life for himself, filled with international travel, digital entrepreneurship, and rapid iteration, he has done so as much though old standbys like integrity and effort as he has entrepreneurial risk-taking and a 21st-Century attitude toward change.

His new book, The $100 Startup, takes a similarly old-plus-new approach to building a business. It's Chris's philosophy that the most rewarding work takes work, and that it should be done for personal fulfillment as much as for financial freedom. The 100 or so businesses used as case studies in the book reinforce this philosophy—each of these microbusinesses employs five or fewer employees (many are solopreneurs), and most are designed to stay that way.*

This is not, in other words, a book about building a massive, franchised empire from a single taco stand, nor designing killer iOS apps that get bought by Facebook for a billion dollars: it's about helping you to come up with a solid idea at the intersection of your passion and a customer's need; each of the tools within helps you tease out the one in relation to the other. There are checklists for evaluating the business-worthiness of your ideas and for prepping a product launch. There are formulas for constructing a marketing offer or creating a self-published work. There are charts that explain the different types of sales methods and that map the difference between passions that are fun for you and passions that will work in the marketplace.

It's a book filled with incredibly detailed and specific information—nutrient-dense, especially at just over 300 pages—but because it's so well-written and so liberally studded with inspiring, real-life stories, it's a truly absorbing read: business book as page-turner.

In fact, if there's a flaw to The $100 Startup, it's that the stories, lessons, and tools are woven together so artfully, it's difficult to treat casually. This is not a self-help book to be consumed in lieu of action, nor is it a reference book to be shelved and consulted via index. It's meant to be read through from start to finish, preferably while taking copious notes as you go—although as much because the examples and concepts are likely to spark ideas for your own business as to find your way back to useful ideas later.

It is, in Chris's own words, "a blueprint for change and action". He's thinking nothing less than a complete revolution, of people one by one leaving behind what they no longer need to serve themselves and the world and have a great time doing it. If you think that sounds crazy or impossible—especially with seed funds of $100—well, you don't know Chris Guillebeau: a young man who simply doesn't accept that things are impossible.

xxx c

*Size-wise, anyway. There was a minimum condition of $50,000 in net income generated per year, but no cap on the top side, and many of these very small businesses have gone on to become far more profitable. Other conditions required for inclusion in the book were: employee size (1-5, max); a passion-based model; low startup cost; no "special skills" (e.g. dentistry, law, tightrope-walking); and full financial disclosure.

Photos by Tara Wages.

Book review: The Fire Starter Sessions

It seems like every 10 or 20 years, there's one breakthrough book in the personal development category.

The chronological first of the How-Do-I-Get-There-From-Here? books to help me find my way was Barbara Sher's Wishcraft. It's gentle and playful in tone, yet still filled with the kind of useful tools and practical exercises that make a Virgo's heart go pitter-pat.*

Next in the all-star lineup was the first I came to, Julia Cameron's legendary Artist's Way. Its language is a bit soft and dreamy around the edges, but structurally, the book is rock-solid. After finishing The Artist's Way, one friend of mine followed a long-dormant dream of becoming a singer-songwriter; I finally left copywriting behind and embraced the terrifying-to-me path of acting.

Which brings us to today, and to Danielle LaPorte's sweeping, energizing entry in the canon, The Fire Starter Sessions.

Like her predecessors, Danielle's exercises for excavating your true self are rooted in real-life experience, emerging over time from hundreds of sessions with actual clients. Full disclosure: I attended an early Fire Starter workshop in Los Angeles, and have been a friend and admirer of the Fiery One and her spark ever since.  Further, fuller-than-full disclosure: I am reasonably sure that Danielle may count "witch" alongside other credentials on her impressive resume. She has an uncanny knack for sussing out fuzzy and/or difficult truths that training alone can't account for.

That said, the worksheets and exercises in TFSS should prove enormously valuable in uncovering your own true self. Her core discovery tool alone ("The Burning Questions", of course!) will shine considerable light on your key truths, but please don't skip ahead: the book is designed to lead you through a process, and step-skippers will miss out on valuable anchoring ideas and frameworks.

While the central focus of the book is pretty clearly self-discovery, Danielle also has an excellent grasp of marketing and promotion, especially where they intersect with personal branding, and a keen sense of what stops many of us from making money (hint: usually, prior issues around money). The Fire Starter Sessions is definitely not a business book, but as with Wishcraft, the lessons you learn about how you engage with people, places, and money will impact your work life as well as your personal and spiritual lives.

Finally, if it's not already obvious, like Sher and Cameron before her, Danielle LaPorte writes for a specific type of creative mind: searching and open, especially to the connection between mind, body, and spirit. While she is absolutely down-to-earth—her language is lively and colloquial and her practical, real-world experience abounds—as the subtitle suggests, her attitude towards change is at least as soulful as it is practical. If pressed, I'd probably describe it as woowoo-friendly, with an edge. Which is far from a bad thing, but is a very particular thing. A quick read of her enormously popular blog or a sample chapter should immediately determine if this book speaks to you.

If it does, you're in for a real treat: The Fire Starter Sessions contains Danielle's best wisdom on creating the life you truly desire. It's comprehensive, wide-ranging, and packed with valuable stuff for the journey.

xxx c

UPDATE 4/25/12, 10:50am: There's going to be some kind of a Twitter party going on tonight at 6pm PT. 10 cents for every tweet marked with the hashtag #FireSS goes to WriteGirl, nonprofit beneficiary of The 50-for-50 Project. Go! Tweet!

Book design by Maria Elias. Author photo by Sherri Koop.

*One stellar example? The woowoo-friendly version of that time-tested accountability wonder from the business world, the master mind group. Scher calls hers "Success Team", and if you've been put off by Napoleon Hill's early-20th-Century, male-centric prose, it might be the thing that finally saves you.

Book review: Design Is a Job

design is a job and mike monteiro is GREAT at his job There are all kinds of myths surrounding the arts, especially where they intersect with commerce. Myths about working when the muse strikes, as opposed to working to increase the odds that she will. Myths about success ("It's a mysterious mystery come by Twitter!"). Enough myths about money to keep the stick-shaking brigade busy for a thousand billing cycles.

But after almost 30 years of circulation in the worlds of copywriting, performance, and design, I believe the most pernicious myth of all is that artists cannot learn to be good business people. Because we absolutely can if: (a) we're willing to make what may be some uncomfortable changes to our outlook and operating style; and (b) we find the right conduit for the information on how to do it.

When you're ready to embrace that first condition, Design Is a Job brilliantly provides the how-to. Written by Mule Design principal and co-founder Mike Monteiro, it contains a no-bullsh*t framework for building a successful creative business, covering everything from what design is (hint: not decoration) to how to keep your pipeline full of the kind of jobs you actually look forward to working on (hint: it does not involve cold calling, begging, or excessive retweeting). Networking, contracts, presenting, and management—it's all in here, in a compulsively readable 130 pages. Because no one knows better than Mike Monteiro that the real secret to getting the job done is doing the job, not reading about it.

While it is specifically written for designers, like The Elements of Content Strategy, a similarly outstanding entry in A Book Apart's series of "brief books for people who design websites," it is absolutely civilian-friendly.* If you're a creative artist who needs to get paid for your creative artistry, there's something here for you—writers, illustrators, and yes, even you, my lovely actors. You may have to put on your translator headphones here and there, but I guarantee that if you do, you will come away with invaluable insight in how to be less of a goofy creative and more of a goofy creative who gets paid.

Few things are more wonderful than being paid to do work you'd do for free—and few things will grind you down to a grim nub of misery faster than failing to treat that work as a job. Design Is a Job clearly, simply, and often hilariously outlines the steps for actually making a profit doing the work you love.

xxx c

*UPDATE: And lo, A Book Apart feels similarly about the synergy between these two books: you can buy them in a bundle!

Book design by Jason Santa Maria.  Author photo by Ryan Carver.

[video] Hair today, books tomorrow

[youtube] [Long-ass video clocking in at a whoppin' 5:05]

Salutations, and apologies for the distinctly lengthy, somewhat self-indulgent, purportedly "useful" video above. In my defense (and I'm nothing if not defensive), I'm both: (a) woefully (or not) out of practice; and (b) pressed for the kind of time needed to write a shorter letter. We're looking at a rather tense couple of months here at communicatrix HQ, deliverables-wise (after which time I'm sure my essays will return to their previously scheduled interminability; my videos will return to a brisk conciseness; and my newsletters will return, period.) (Kidding. I think. I mean, I should be putting out a newsletter next Wednesday, but don't quote me on that. But you can sign up here, if you want to roll the dice.)

This video—which you may have to click through to watch if you're reading this somewhere other than on the web and an actual computer—contains two main sections.

Section the First is just a hair update. While very little has changed, hair-wise, since September, amazingly (as is abundantly evident via this video), it takes me A MINUTE and THIRTY-NINE SECONDS to state this very obvious fact. I suppose part of the issue is that I'm taking a little time to say howdy and to provide context, and another bit is that I had to shill show off my fancy new Wahl cordless electric all-in-one hair-clipper thingy. Lots lots lots more to say on this whole being-bald(ish) thing, but those are stories for another day—a day which has not quite made it on the publishing calendar yet, but which certainly will at some point.

The second section concerns books. Not just any books, but a particular ritual of reading certain books—one I've been engaged in for some time, and which I've found to be extremely helpful in keeping me focused/on-track (a perennial challenge) and non-depressed (ditto, and how).

I've actually written at some length about daily reads in my marketing column for actors, so I won't belabor it here except to say this: the daily devotional has its place in the secular world, too. Some kinds of change are particularly slippery and elusive, and the right words (i.e., from people who've been working on this stuff longer than you, and are further down the road, and are maybe not too preachy) in a manageable, portion-controlled size (for me, extremely small), repeated at the right intervals (in my case, daily) can be great helpmates. Two of the books are listed in the column I link to, above, but for your convenience, they are:

Think and Grow Rich Every Day, a carving-up of the Napoleon Hill self-help classic by two enterprising fellows, and more power to 'em. Each month focuses on a particular aspect of Hill's teachings, with one month lumping together two of the shorter chapters ("The Subconscious Mind" and "The Brain"). The authors claim to have updated the language a bit from the fusty original text, but damned if I can tell much difference. And that chapter about the sex urge is just nutso; you'll want to take October with a grain of salt, or a pinch of saltpeter, or something. But it's eminently more readable in these bite-sized morsels, and has helped me to keep my eyes on the prize. And as I mention in the video, this book was, in a weird and witchy way, partly responsible for the success of 50-for-50.

One Day at a Time in Al-Anon, a compendium of teachings from the 12-step recovery programs for the friends and families of alcoholics, who (boy, howdy) generally suffer from their own addictive, self-destructive tendencies. I hope you don't need this one. I hope that you have no boundary issues or co-dependent b.s. or any other of the narsty, sticky residue of self-loathing that growing up in an alcoholic (or xholic) home can leave. But if you do, and you can put up with a little Higher Power here and there, you may find it not only steadying in stretches, but shockingly illuminating. I have taken in a few days' entries with the wonder I can only imagine Helen Keller must have felt by the family pump.

The third book I cannot conscientiously recommend yet, as I've only been playing with it since the start of this new year. (Which somehow already seems old at four days in—how weird is that?) But in the month or so since I finally got over my squeeginess over the covers, I have become quite taken with the output of Susan Ariel Rainbow Kennedy, aka SARK, reading a full two books' worth and well into a third. (I put down another one a third of the way through because the erratic typesetting was making me seasick.) But in case you want to check it out—which I did, literally, from the library—here it is.

But really, with all of these books, I'd suggest test-driving them via your amazing public library before committing your hard-earned dollars and even more precious attention. Unless you are filthy rich, in which case please buy them and anything else your heart desires via my Amazon affiliate link.

Okay! This post is already too long and my to-do list isn't getting any shorter. One short request before I go: if you have any daily-devotional-type books you LOVE, feel free to leave them in the comments. Right? Right!

And happy new year, while I can still say it.

xxx c

While this is probably obvious, for the purposes of 100% transparency, this post contains a shitload of Amazon affiliate links. Feel free to buy ANYTHING through your local bookseller, or to test-drive via your local library. Except for maybe that hair trimmer. Because (a) doubtful that anything but a chain store will stock electric clippers or that libraries carry them at all and (b) ew, gross.

Book review: The War of Art

The War of Art & author Steven Pressfield The books I re-read tend to fall into one of two categories: treasured fiction from various stages of my life which I settle into again for comfort and entertainment; and clear-headed non-fiction that serves as guidance and/or a kick in the pants during the dark times.

Steven Pressfield's The War of Art is the rare book that straddles those categories. Because while it's not a piece of fiction, to the contrary, it's pretty much the bitter and often embarrassing truth, it's a story of battling demons and conquering evil that's got more than a whiff of epic myth to it. And it's written in such an entertaining, story-like way, you hardly mind that it's 165pp of someone else's far-better-traveled boot in your very stuck ass.

Pressfield's basic thesis is this: there's a force out there called "Resistance" whose job it is push back against any kind of creative force, and especially when you try to sustain it. In Newtonian terms, it is the equal and opposite reaction to you working on any sort of meaningful generative endeavor. It's what keeps you from sticking to that diet and exercise plan you know will change your life; it's what has you turning on the TV or cracking open another beer or doing any one of a million perfectly reasonable things that push you further and further away from making meaning. (In Lucasian terms, it looks a lot like that scary dude from Episode IV.)

What I love most about Pressfield's characterization of Resistance (0ther than that it is literally laugh-out-loud funny in parts) is that it manages to convey both how fully evil and utterly impartial Resistance is. Is it terrifying and demoralizing to be so gripped with fear or plagued by jealousy you procrastinate yourself into a black hole of nothingness? It is! Don't take it personally, though, Resistance is merely a force, like gravity, to be faced up to and pushed back against. It is what dark is to light, what dry is to wet, what hot is to cold.

And while Resistance cannot exactly be considered benign by anyone serious about art or change, and while it will crush you slowly and without consideration or mercy, Resistance is also, as Pressfield points out, a very useful indicator. Are you scared? Tired? Hungry? Jealous? Bored? Horny? If any of those conditions arises while you're of a mind to really do something, there's an excellent chance that you're headed in the right direction. As the carefully selected quote from the Dalai Lama that opens the first part of the book says, "The enemy is a very good teacher."

That first section of The War of Art introduces Resistance in all its shapes and guises: rationalization; procrastination; addiction; obsession (with sex, with fame, with whatever-your-poison); and so on. Part two is about the necessity of "going pro" in winning the never-ending war with Resistance, about putting your head down and doing the work, both the why and the how. (Okay, mostly the "why", the how hasn't ever really changed much, has it?) Part three ventures slightly into woowoo territory, with its talk of the holy work of creation and invocation of the gods (or whatever you call them) to help you do it, but there's valuable stuff in there about the necessity of humility (plus some really bitchin' stories), so no skipping, skeptics.

I've bought and given away my past copies of the book to various stuck and foundering friends. This one is marked up to the gills, and I'm planning on keeping it. However, Mr. Pressfield has generously sent on some fresh, unmarked copies for me to pass along to needful souls. If that's you, explain what you're working on (or not working on) in the comments, or how otherwise you're stuck and could use a little push, and we'll see what we can do about getting one of them in your hands.

xxx c

Of possible interest: Via a sponsorship by GE, Pressfield's upcoming (April 20) book, Do the Work, the next imprint from Seth Godin's joint publishing venture with Amazon, is available for free in the Kindle format right now. It's a sort of sequel to The War of Art, and delves more into the art/shipping/fear interrelationship. So if you have a Kindle, or don't mind using the Kindle reader on your computer or smartphone, I'd jump on that, stat!

UPDATE 4/13/11: And the winners are...Hillary, Rachel, and Indre! Thank you, everyone, for your wonderful comments. I hope you will find your way to the book on your own.

Disclosure! Links to the books in the post above are Amazon affiliate links. This means if you click on them and buy something, I receive an affiliate commission. Which I hope you do: it helps keep me in books to review. This particular book was furnished as a review copy. Read my full book review policy here. More on this disclosure stuff at publisher Michael Hyatt's excellent blog, from whence I lifted (and smooshed around a little) this boilerplate text.

Book review: The Career Clinic: 8 Simple Rules for Finding Work You Love

cover of "The Career Clinic" and author Maureen Anderson I am a fan of all things that help us find, and keep, and get back on, our ways.

Mantras are good for this, as are those perfect teachers students occasionally do will into appearing at just the right time. Ditto (if less obviously) music, art, poetry, fiction and drama. And for this frequently befuddled traveler, triple-ditto for the Holy Trinity of Maps to the Self: biography, memoir and other forms of well-conceived, well-written nonfiction of a personal nature.

The solutions for everything that befuddles, the inspiration to keep slogging through the dark toward the light, these things are embedded everywhere, but never so clearly and handily as in excellent, truthfully told stories of the self.

"Hey," we say, "this person's self struggled with that same envy thing that has me in a headlock!"

Or "Wow, I'm not the first person to be broke/sick/lonely/scared/overwhelmed/blue/green/blah!"

The trick of it is, of course, to read the right thing at the right time, no small feat in this modern world with enough choices to choke an underfed herd of horses. But there are some good places to start the search: commonalities of situation, for starters; it would be madness to look to Ben Franklin, however wise he was, for particulars on dealing with the particular woes of a 21st-Century woman in the throes of perimenopause. (Although the founding father was mighty smart about things like thrift and focus and getting enough sleep, all of which apply in spades to our particular condition.)

One of the greatest common-denominator places to start is with work, mostly because each of us is somehow called to do it. There is rent to be paid, for one. But also, if one has more than a few brain cells to rub together after watching all that reality TV, one realizes that life is just way more interesting when one is engaged in some kind of meaningful activity (and if one doubts this, one can click to any number of examples still housed in the DVR denoting the deleterious effect of endless consumption. Cf. Real Housewives Whose Cribs Have Been Intervened On or Battle of the America's Hoarders without Talent.)

Which brings us to a book I finished long ago and have longed to share since, but have been struggling to adequately define.

The Career Clinic: 8 Simple Rules for Finding Work You Love is a great book in search of a better title. (And possibly a more enticing cover, but I'm kind of a snob about these things.) The stories, dozens of them!, are indeed about work, and are clustered around eight different topic-categories. They are not as simple as the title might indicate, though, nor so precisely and neatly prescriptive.

What they are, the stories, and the writing around them, is wonderful. Gripping. Fascinating. Delightful. And concise, distilled down to delicious, pithy essence from what must by now be hundreds of interviews with all kinds of wonderful people on Maureen Anderson's long-running, weekly show on terrestrial radio, "The Career Clinic." (I've been a guest on the show twice as of this writing, and can attest to Maureen's amazing interview prowess; some people are just really good at interviewing, and Maureen Anderson is one of them.)

These people run the gamut, endeavor-wise. Writers are well represented, maybe because Maureen is a writer, and writers like reading, which inevitably leads them to more writers. For starters, there's Dave Barry, the syndicated humorist; Marshall Goldsmith, who has written extensively on leadership; and Dick Bolles, Anderson's own guru of sorts, of What Color Is My Parachute? fame. There are interviews with Helen Gurley Brown, creatrix of the Cosmo empire; with casting director Jane Brody; with Sally Hogshead, marketing personality and best-selling author.

But the stories of the most famous personalities aren't necessarily where the gold lies, even when they do illuminate their path to "making it" (hint: paths are almost universally easier to make out in hindsight). What is most interesting about all of these stories, from potters and cowboys, peddlers and preachers, musicians and woodworkers and triathletes and hog callers, is how work done led to the work done next, and how the sum total of it all was to lead them back to themselves somehow. I know, I know, woowoo in the extreme, but there you have it.

As I mentioned, the book is divvied up into sections with purported themes, but really, it's this overall theme that is the main thing: we work to find ourselves, we work to make meaning of our lives. Work is the vehicle and work is the product but mostly, work is the process. Maureen's own journey, from unhappiness and confusion to a life and work she loves (and slightly less confusion), is as illustrative as any story in the book. She steps out of the way, mostly, to let her guests tell their stories, but her guiding hand is always there, shaping and leading us back to the main point: to make the most of a life, start where you are and adjust, adjust, adjust.

I do not know if you will find the work you love by reading this book, but I know it will inspire you, reassure you, comfort you to continue on the often-hard work of the journey. I cannot recommend it highly enough.

xxx c

Disclosure! Links to the books in the post above are Amazon affiliate links. This means if you click on them and buy something, I receive an affiliate commission. Which I hope you do: it helps keep me in books to review. More on this disclosure stuff at publisher Michael Hyatt's excellent blog, from whence I lifted (and smooshed around a little) this boilerplate text.

Referral Friday: The Adam Carolla Podcast


Referral Friday is part of an ongoing series inspired by John Jantsch's Make-a-Referral Week. For more about that, and loads more referrals for everything from cobblers to coaches to gee-tar teachers, start here. Pass it on, baby!

If comedians had radar, I'd be flying pretty far under Adam Carolla's.

I'm old. I'm female. I'm a downwardly mobile, bleeding-heart Hollywood feminist woowoo-friendly liberal who has for almost 20 years lived the kind of ratty, rent-controlled, Goodwill-appointed existence that Carolla regularly, and brilliantly, rails against in his (in)famous rants. And if you put a gun to my head, I'd have a hard time deciding which I was less indifferent to, sports or cars. I am, in short, a ladygeezer.

Yet over the past four months, I've grown to love this (literally) raging atheist libertarian-esque capitalist ex-jock gearhead comic with a fervor that borders on the unnatural.

You think you're surprised? When I was your age, I thought I'd be dead by now.


It's not like he hadn't been around for me to fall for before. Adam Carolla has been knocking around mainstream broadcast media since the early '90s, when his good friend and then-client, Jimmy Kimmel, plucked him from obscurity, a.k.a., the boxing gym, to guest-voice on a local morning-drive show Kimmel was also featured on. Carolla went on to co-host Loveline (with "Dr. Drew" Pinsky, of Celebrity Rehab) as a long-running syndicated radio show and a relatively short-lived MTV show, it ran for four seasons, each of which I managed to miss. Because I am an unwashed TV-free hippie freak*, I also missed The Man Show, Crank Yankers, the AdamCarolla Project and, most recently, Dancing with the Stars. (I'm particularly miffed about this last, as the podcast with DwtS emcee and veteran show host, Tom Bergeron, made Carolla's four-episode arc sound especially juicy and awesome.)

I miss most TV not because it's bad (although hey, no arguments here, and more power to it) but because I cannot be trusted to moderate my intake. Given the opportunity, I'd gorge myself on the bastard until my eyes rolled back in their sockets and my brain oozed from my ears. In fact, I'm pretty sure I left flecks of sticky gray matter on Time Warner's counter when, in a moment of uncharacteristic inner strength, I ripped my cable box from its mooring and hauled it back to the mother ship.

Radio is another story: when the commercial breaks become too long (which they all have) or the pace too frenetic (which, OLD PERSON, it will) or the talk too inane, I have zero issues with flipping over to my iPod and its ad-free cache of home-grown podcasts or even corporate-backed NPR goodness. And the breaks on those few stations that still catered to the demographic I barely edged into were getting longer and longer, as the morning zoos they sponsored got wilder and wilder. For Howard Stern, I could take it; for his replacement on then-KLSX, some yell-y dude with a chip on his shoulder and a faint grasp on his crew, I could not.


So I'm not quite sure what I was doing tuned in on the very last day of KLSX's all-talk, all-the-time format, but I was. And on that fateful day, Carolla shared the news that while one show was ending, another would be beginning, in his home office, with his high school buddy, Donny (a.k.a. "the Weez") comprising the sum total of his new, lightweight production "staff."

A wannabe broadcaster in my own right (I've been known to ham it up at the mic, and have been threatening my blog readers with an as-yet unmaterialized podcast for years now), I gave it a listen, once. The first episode, featuring his KLSX show cohorts, newsgal Teresa Strasser and a fellow nicknamed "Bald Bryan" (a.k.a. Brian Bishop), was a dud as far as I was concerned. The same tiresome yakking, minus the mainstream audio quality (and, to be fair, the commercials, under contract to CBS through the end of the year, Carolla is funding this entire venture out of his own pocket, an expense that's grown not inconsiderably along with the podcast's audience). Like most things, desperation drove me to a second listen: stuck in the car with nothing to listen to on the radio and burned out on This American Life podcasts, I clicked on a random episode of Carolla, his friend and fellow comic, David Alan Grier, was the guest, and within a matter of minutes, was hopelessly hooked. (Follow-up episodes with Strasser and Bishop, often rank among the best of the ACP, as it's known on the message boards.)

Artie Lange & Adam Carolla

Grasshoppers, you've probably never heard of a time when sound was served up in heaping helpings, not infinitesimal bites, but there was such a time, and it was Golden.

Human beings talked to each other in complete sentences and in a leisurely fashion, letting the subject meander here and there, hither and yon, where it would. You've never experienced the delight of dialectic serendipity, the dips and turns, the long, slow build of a conversation as played by two masters of the game. And, sadly, even with the wealth of experiences provided five times weekly by Adam Carolla and his deep cache of dazzling extemporaneous word-swordsmen, you may not still: even a game played at this high of a level demands a bit of its audience, and you, my ADHD, post-post-cable grasshoppers, are used to having your jokes pre-chewed and your synapses fired for you. How can you begin to appreciate the pas-de-deux that is Carolla waltzing with Birbiglia, tangoing with Florentine, swing dancing with David Allen Grier? You can't, that's how. You might snicker at some of the potty talk, Carolla and guests take liberal advantage of the lack of FCC firebreathing down their necks, but something tells me you'll tire of it quickly.

Not us old coots. Especially us old-broad coots. I've unearthed three other ardent fans in the ladygeezer (way +40) demographic, and that's without even trying. We ladygeezers love us some of that old-time conversating, and we love it leisurely and meandering. We love hearing Adam and Bob Odenkirk bat around why aging comics lose their edge, or Adam and Dino Stamatopoulos wax poetic on the rightness of family ties disintegrating when they're loose to begin with, or Adam and Byron Allen talk old-school late-night vs. the post-ironic kind. We love the unexpected clicking between Adam and Internet bazillionaire Jason Calacanis or Adam and original-Star Trek George Takei or, greatest of all, Adam and former heavyweight champion Mike Tyson.


Yes, there is the odd dud guest. Occasionally, the borderline misogyny and blowhardian political fulminating can strain even the most patient ladygeezer's inclusive sense of humor. Does the scat occasionally overstay its welcome? Is there, now and again, one tired joke too many about illegal immigrants or welfare culture? Yes, yes, and absolutely. There's also way too much about the merits of 1970s porn (or is the it the failings of 21st century porn?), but don't let that stop you.

The Adam Carolla Podcast is sprawling, burly, messy, raunchy, smart, hilarious, and FREE. Knowing the capitalist leanings of its host, it's unlikely to remain so past December 31st of this year.

Enjoy it, as you do the rest of the unexpected treasures sprouting from the wreckage of mass media, while it lasts.


*Okay, it's because I'm an addict and can't be trusted around it. THERE. ARE YOU HAPPY NOW?

Photos courtesy of the Adam Carolla Podcast.

From top: Adam Carolla and David Allen Grier; Adam and Bob Odenkirk; Adam and Francis Ford Coppola; Adam and Artie Lange; Adam with high school friends Donny, Ray and Chris.

SXSW: Movies! Movies! Movies!

alamo drafthouse Outside of plain old good times, the chief feature of SXSW seems to be overwhelm. There are more great films crammed into a ten-square-block area than I could possibly hope to see in 30 days, much less four. (The 2006 SXSW Film Festival stretches from March 10 to the 17th, but The BF and I were only there for the part that overlapped with SXSW Interactive.)

Then there's the waiting time that eats into your movie consumption. Some of the theaters are tiny, and even with the magic badge that grants you first access, you need to queue up at least an hour in advance to gain entry. (Film passes, at $65 each, get you into a separate queue that gains admission after the Badge People enter; individual tickets put you at the very back of the bus.) The weather was lovely for the festival this year, unseasonably warm for the first three days, and we met some terrific people waiting in line, but still: every minute you're standing in line is a minute you're missing another panel or meetup or film.

Which brings me back to one of the Real Things I Learned at SXSW: a festival, much like money or alchohol, brings out the truth in people. My particular truth? I lack the easygoing gene. I'm not particularly good at going with the flow, and when faced with the possibility that one of my plans might fall through, I react with a mix of anxiety and crushing disappointment. I do not know why I didn't learn this particular truth about myself 10 years ago when I would break out in hives everytime I had to improvise at a Groundlings Sunday Show performance, oh, wait...yes, I do. I am an uptight control-freak asshole.

Anyway, what was fascinating to me about the film part of the SXSW equation was that it was my first experience with buzz, or the first time I was able to watch buzz play out in almost real time, because of the compacted time frame the festival provides.

Example: we were fairly interested in seeing Darkon, the feature documentary on a Baltimore-based live action role playing group, when we first looked at the schedule. (Well, The BF was, anyway. He's got better film-dar than I.) But after two days of hearing people talk up Darkon, we put it on our must-see list. It did not disappoint. The filmmakers, who spent a year filming the players on and off the battlefields of Darkon, winning their trust and gaining access to some pretty intimate details of the players' lives. As a result, the film offers a fascinating look both on the nature of the outsider (live action role playing is hardly a mainstream pursuit) and the basic human need for drama, connection and expression. There's a sideshow factor, too, of course, it's hard for most of us to relate to a group of grownups spending their weeks duct-taping their plywood and styrofoam shields for a weekend of ye olde combat and a chance at grabbing an imaginary slice of land in an imaginary realm. On the other hand, it's no weirder than scrapbooking, shopping or, let's face it, blogging as sport, so maybe I should lay off.

There was more fine, outsider action at The Last Western, a feature documentary about the rise and fall of a small "Western" town on the edge of the Mojave desert. Pioneertown was a fully-functioning Western movie set built by the Hollywood studios to facilitate filming. It was abandoned by the studios with the falling fortunes of the B-Western, but a number of inhabitants stayed on, creating a sort of Western Island of Misfit Toys. While a bit incohesive as a film, The Last Western does a fantastic job telling the stories of the individual dreamers, outcasts and iconoclasts who populate Pioneertown.

The residents of Small Town Gay Bar are outsiders for a different reason. Choosing to remain in their small, Bible Belt towns for whatever reason (this is never really explored or explained in the film), these gay men and women are (barely) tolerated at best, persecuted or killed at worst, and severely isolated at all times. Small Town Gay Bar is a fascinating look at the need for community and how it will out (no pun intended). The filmmakers do an incredibly thorough job interviewing the various denizens of small town Bible Best gay bars past and present, as well as showing the pressures they face from the community at large and a few especially vocal, intolerant entities in particular.

There are mainstream outsiders, too, of course. In the 2004 U.S. presidential elections, they were called "Democrats", and they struggled mightily to find their collective voice and make it heard. Al Franken: God Spoke documents the plight of American liberal Al Franken, as he worked to save the American people from four more years of tyranny, lies and land-grabbing by the administration in power. I won't lie to you: while often outright hilarious, Al Franken: God Spoke was the most depressing movie I saw at SXSW by a long shot, and I saw movies about gay men in the Bible Belt and transgender males in prison.

Oh, yes, what's more fun than being a liberal in new millenial America? Being an enroute, transgender male in the U.S. penal (!) system. Cruel and Unusual is a look at the special degradation and horror the pre-surgical transgender male undergoes in prison. Aside from the obvious nightmare of having to be some bad man's girlfriend, incarcerated transgenders are routinely denied treatment for their medically-recognized condition, suffering physical withdrawal and severe depression as a result of going off their hormone meds cold turkey. For its important message, I wish I could give Cruel and Unusual the unqualified thumbs up. Unfortunately, I came away feeling that while the subject matter is compelling, the film itself didn't have a point of view other than "this is really awful." I hope it finds life on public television as a special, where its mere reportage quality would serve the community, but I can't really recommend it as a film.

I can, on the other hand, heartily recommend The Life of Reilly, a filmed version of actor/teacher extraordinaire Charles Nelson Reilly's electrifying one-man stage show. Most of us of a certain age know Reilly as a mainstay of 70's crap TV. (Most of the rest of you don't know Reilly at all, which a funny montage in the movie takes pains to point out.) But Charles Nelson Reilly had a major career as an off-Broadway and Broadway actor before his TV years, and an active life during and after as one of America's preeminent acting teachers (he took over Uta Hagen's class when she died). Reilly is smart and funny and a consummate performer; while there are a few awkward "openings up" in The Life of Reilly, for the most part it is a hilarious, breathtaking telling of a fascinating life and a great insight into what makes performers tick.

kustom karMy chief issue with Tales of the Rat Fink, the story of kar kulture icon Ed "Big Daddy" Roth, has to do with the opening up of its story. Director Ron Mann is known for his iconoclastic takes on documentary subjects, but there were so many crazy elements in Tales, animation, talking cars, strange interstitial bits, the end result felt a little disjointed. According to Mann, there was virtually no archival footage of Roth; when Roth died shortly after Mann started the project (it was shelved for some time), the director had to come up with some alternate way of telling the story. To be fair, the cut we saw on opening night had been rushed through to make the premiere, but I think there are structural issues beyond tightening up a few odd editing gaps. To be even more fair, I am on my third Toyota Corolla, which is to say I am so not a kar person. If you like kars, or cool illustration, which Ed Roth is also known for, you'll probably love it.

The only narrative film we saw during our entire SXSW trip was The Notorious Bettie Page. We were mainly interested in seeing films that we weren't sure would get distribution, and Bettie is scheduled for release in April. But we thought it would be fun to see at least one biggie before the general public, since that's part of the thrill of the festival. For a thrill, and a fairly risque, fairly thrilling subject, The Notorious Bettie Page was pretty disappointing. The acting was solid and the cinematography was gorgeous (at least, I thought so, The BF was less impressed). But the script was pretty lame, lots of bad dialogue and a cringe-inducing first fifteen minutes, and the whole thing came off as more of a made-for-TV biopic than a great narrative film.

The BF saw another picture or two without me while I was geeking out at the SXSW Interactive panels, but no big recommendations, so we'll let them lie. I may post some mini-reviews from our new Austinite unicyling friend, Steve Wiswell, if he grants permission. And if you're into it, there are more great mini-reviews on some of the pictures I didn't see at SXSW by Andrew O'Hehir at

Of course, you can always just go to Technorati and hit the SXSW and film tags. SXSW is the nexus of all things arty and geeky.

I miss it already...

xxx c

PHOTOS of the exterior of the fabulous Alamo Draft House and a kustom kar outside the Rat Fink premiere taken by me and The BF with my spiffy new Razr.

Book review: Freakonomics

Everybody knows that economics is about measurement and money and things numerical; that's why most of us find it so damned dull.

But as approached by offbeat economist and Freakonomics co-author Steven D. Levitt, economics is also "the study of incentives": what it takes to get us to do a certain thing, or to not do it, as the case may be. Which makes it human, and therefore fascinating.

This is what I love about this delightful new book by Levitt and journalist Stephen J. Dubner: that it comes at things sideways or upside-down or head-on, but never the usual way. I'm still not sold on some of the more radical hypotheses Leavitt coaxes from the data (the link between abortion and falling crime rates being the most widely reviled and quoted), but I'm 100% there on the importance of throwing the numbers against conventional wisdom to see what sticks. The numbers may not always tell the exact truth, but neither do they lie, making them extraordinarily useful in the exploding of myths.

Levitt and Dubner tell fascinating stories about how to combat crappy teaching, bring  down the Ku Klux Klan and what happens when you call your kids "Winner" and "Loser" (answer: not necessarily what you'd think on any count). But really, they've written a book celebrating the heart of truth: asking questions, and hacks to stay open to the real answers.

As an interesting side note, the prospect of reading something that seemed like it would rock my world long and hard was too enticing to wait for a library copy to become available, but not enticing enough to get me to part with $26 of my hard-earned money. My break point? A 25¢/day rental from the Beverly Hills Public Library, and pushing the rest of my reading to the bottom of the pile. Some might call that cheap, but I'm betting Levitt would come at it sideways and say that I was already giving up time I'd committed to other reading to explore this book, and therefore it was of great value to me.

And you know what? He'd be right.


Book review: Shopgirl

I am a fan of the old Steve Martin. The SNL/L.A. Story/"The new phone books are here! The new phone books are here!" Steve Martin. I don't get the New Yorker pieces, and the thicket of hype was too thick around Lapin Agile to entice me into seeing or even reading it.

I picked up my copy of Shopgirl, the book, years after it was first published; this particular softcover had an inside cover price of one dollar when I picked it up at a Salvation Army store on the West L.A. And I walked around with it for a bit before I committed even to that.

It was its heft that was the deciding factor. Shopgirl is a slip of a novel, a novella, as the cover proclaims, slight and ever-so-slightly precious, like most self-proclaimed novellas. It feels good in the hand, though, much like I imagine the gloves that introduce its two main characters must feel.

It is undeniably elegant on the inside as well, both in its faintly-stilted prose and the strange, spare atmosphere it conjures up. Shopgirl evokes a Los Angeles more like the one depicted in 1950s L.A. Confidential than the post-millenial version I tool through daily. The archetypes are modern, but they feel quaint, like girdled Suzy Parkers instead of juicy Carmen Electras.

It's not so much that the characters are unreal as it is they are remote, real seen through glass, real seen from one cool remove. What the novel(la) did more than anything was make me want to see the movie; I want to see actors inhabit these characters and bring them to life because I could not connect with them on the page: this Seattle millionaire, this alt.rockboy, this Silver Lake artist/shopgirl. Everything is a clean, sleek surface, with no grubby human bits to grab onto.

Steve Martin has the dark side down, like most funny people. He sketches out a sad, beautiful, believable story of two people running up hard against their limitations. But like Capote, a film I reviewed here recently, it's curiously unaffecting given what the characters are going through. I suspect Martin is a fan of order, and imposes it where he can, thinking the discipline serves the storytelling.

But it's the mess that makes a good story interesting. A writer can clean it up; a writer and director and editor can't.

Which is why I enjoyed reading Shopgirl. But I can't wait to see it.


Buy Shopgirl, the book, on Amazon.
Buy Shopgirl, the DVD, on Amazon.

UPDATE: Marilyn & Neil brought up the whole book-vs-movie thing in the comments, which reminded me that this rare movie-being-better-than-book thing has happened to me before, with Sideways, a delightful film which turned out to be much more tedious and blathery and self-indulgent in book form:

  • My review of the film Sideways.
  • My review of the book Sideways.

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Keeping it in the 323

From the time I decided to become an L.A. actor, my life has been one telecommunications nightmare after another, a hellish mix of pagers, cell phones, forwarded voice mail, forwarded home phone, dedicated fax lines. (And a P.O. Box, because yes, even Gapâ„¢-casual fake moms have stalkers.) This year, my descent into the Hades that is the Los Angeles telecom megalopoly accelaterated sharply when I started spending copious time at The BF's pad, a.k.a. my country house, a.k.a. that place dead-smack in the middle of The Silver Lake Cone of Silence.

Apparently, the wealthy folk whose million-dollar homes ring the Silver Lake Reservoir do not like tatty cell towers cluttering their views or mutating their DNA. Which is fine for them but sucks for me, since it takes my brilliant telecom workaround, forwarding my land line to the cell, and metaphorically drops it on its head from a 15-story window.

And even if I wanted to forward my phone to The BF's land line (which I most decidedly do not, a girl has her limits), I couldn't, since the BF, self-employed in the VFX world of film & TV, is doing the same forwarding between cell-and-home dance I am. Nothing like having your best corporate client ring your boyfriend's pants while they're on a bell.

Anyway, about a month ago, in utter frustration over shitty cell reception when there was some, missed calls when there weren't and a few really scary races to auditions, I gave up my main land line (the other is for the fax/DSL) and ordered Vonage.

Holy-fucking-crap! My number rings at home! My number rings at my country house! And it really is my number, my one and only number, because Vonage lets you port your old landline number to your new Vonage account!

There are a few small kinks I need to work out. Hauling the Vonage router around with me is gonna get old, I can see right now; I'm looking into the possibility of a second router or at least an additional power supply (the heaviest part of the gear). There's a little dropout now and then, thanks to less-than-perfect DSL.

But for anyone splitting their time between two places, especially two places with crummy cell reception, or fearsome of losing their actual, memorized phone number in a cross-town move or another area code split, Vonage might be just the ticket.

xxx c

Somewhere in the Night

Lesser noir is fun. Like all noir, it's generally filled with Famous Character Actors of the Golden Age: faces that started looking 35 when they were barely 20 and never looked too pretty to begin with, your Harry Morgans and Thelma Ritters as opposed to your Alan Ladds and Veronica Lakes. But with lesser noir, whatever didn't make it to the top of the pile along with The Maltese Falcon or Double Indemnity, you get to figure out what about it didn't work. Somewhere in the Night is chockablock with Famous Character Actors, Harry Morgan is so far down the list, he's not even credited, and sports direction by Joseph L. Mankiewicz and story adaptation by Lee Strasberg (er...come to think of it, that could be the problem right there).

But if you ask me, what doesn't quite work about it is that its stars we say, 'less than luminary'? John Hodiak has a reasonably long IMDb, but he also sports this farkakte moustache that says "dashing-but-dangerous leading man" less than it does "Rodolfo 'Chance is the fool's name for fate' Tonetti". And Nancy Guild ("Rhymes with 'wild!'"), while unquestionably hot, is...well, when you've done almost as many films as you have husbands, it's no wonder you're not a household name 50 years later.

The story, an amnesia plot with a pretty predictable twist, is good-ish noir, and whoever lit and styled the thing did a damned fine job, but the really absorbing, fun element of the film is (are?) the performances.

Not as much fun as the new Wallace & Gromit DVD release, of course (run! don't walk!), but not a bad way to pass a late-Friday night.

Bourbon optional. Well, in some households, anyway.

xxx c

OTHER FILM NOIR REVIEWED HERE: Out of the Past, with Robert Mitchum

Image via the loathsome whose so-called customer support makes the USPS look like Neiman-Marcus.

10 reasons why Elizabethtown may be the best movie of 2005

etown ctown

  1. Proves once and for all that an actual script is not necessary to secure major financing.
  2. Replaces ho-hum filmic "tricks" like plot and character development with highly illustrative musical montages.
  3. If you don't like the ending, you can wait around five minutes and there will be another one. Twice.
  4. Will rid your boyfriend of that pesky crush he's had on Kirsten Dunst.
  5. Will rid you of that pesky crush you've had on Legolas.
  6. Not enough quirky romantic comedies invoke the memory of Martin Luther King in the name of cheap emotional credibility.
  7. Will ensure that no one accidentally spends tourist dollars in hillbilly flyover states for years to come.
  8. Provides much-needed outlet for Susan Sarandon to show off her famed facility with broad physical comedy.
  9. Overproduced website provided much needed salary and health benefits for at least two code monkeys and a web designer.
  10. Provides the communicatrix with a much-needed outlet to vent her considerable spleen.

xxx c

Book review: Requiem for a Dream

I was introduced to Hubert Selby, Jr. via the movies, specifically the 1989 film adaptation of his debut novel, Last Exit to Brooklyn. Politely put, that movie beat the crap out of me. As I staggered out of the theater, my faux-cosmopolitan self reduced to a sorry tangle of nerve endings, I remember thinking this probably wasn't the best movie to have suggested for a sunny Saturday outing with Dad. The joke, however, was on me: Dad had known exactly what he was getting into; he'd read Last Exit when it came out, in 1964. When I was three.

I felt the same way, jangly, tense, vaguely ill, after seeing the 2000 film version of Requiem for a Dream, so much so that it took five years and running into a $1 used-paperback copy of the book at a thrift store to get me to give it a maybe. Because that's what I do with the "maybes", stick them on an ever-growing, three-dimensional "to read" list somewhere near the bed. Mostly, they molder away unread until they're trundled back to the mouth end of the thrift store (or sometimes, the used-book store, where they pay me in more books I'll never have time enough to read). But this kept nagging and nagging at me; what sort of source material inspires a director to do that on the screen? How do you make despair and addiction and wild-eyed, groundless hope so real on the page that someone else can translate it so perfectly into a completely different medium?

Or is Darren Aronofsky just a total, fucking genius?

Aronofsky knows his way around a camera, alright, but everything in the movie is, amazingly, on the page. And unlike the filmmaker's language of jump shots, pace, music, film stock, the novelist's language is just...language. Selby dispenses with pesky, confining rules of grammar and punctuation, using crazy, run-on sentences and run-on paragraphs and sometimes run-on pages to lay bare the urgent, non-stop hum of desperate junkymind. You clock the descent even you're drawn into the story, with the result that each step downward, while horrifying, makes perfect sense.

Like any language vastly different from our current one, it takes some will and effort to get into Requiem. I liken it to Shakespeare, where, even if the actors are really great and the production top-notch, the first 10 minutes can feel like a bunch of well-dressed chimps nattering on in some imaginary, improvisitory language with too much sound and fury: they might as well be hurling poop at the audience to communicate their feelings. Then, once your give yourself over to the experience, your ears adjust and it's almost like were listening to things at the wrong speed before the curtain rose.

It's a difficult journey, this trip into the heart of despair. I didn't need to read it for the cautionary tale, either: I grew up with a healthy fear of addiction and the idea of using needles for sport is anathema. The capacity for self-delusion, though, is a thing it never hurts to be reminded of. Especially in these times of wild-eyed lying by them what's in charge (and willful looking away by them what's not), it's good to dip into some serious truth via this grim, almost-30-year-old paean to it.


UPDATE (12/3/08): In a shameless and transparent act of caving, I've been replacing book and DVD links with Amazon affiliate links throughout the site. I MAKE MONEY WHEN YOU CLICK ON THESE. Like, a full 1/4 cent or something. Whatever. I'm happy if you borrow it from a friend or the library, or buy it used (I like and alibris online) or, praise Jeebus!, from your local independent dead tree retailer. Seriously. The main thing is, read. Absorb. Enjoy. Pass it on.

Prison Break

A brief quiz: The communicatrix would like FOX's hot-'n'-juicy new episodic to kick ratings ass because:

(a) The OC jumped the shark and she needs SOMETHING to look forward to, for fuck's sake

(b) it stars a former acting class acquaintance whom she got to kiss once in a scene* and would like to be able to brag about without having to explain who he is

(c) the hopelessly juvenile in her gleefully anticipates people calling it "Pee Break"

(d) who doesn't like a good prison story, dammit?

(e) all of the above

xxx c

*For the record, while he was a very good kisser, there were no sparks on either side; it was strictly a "duty" kiss**.

**I said "duty".

Image of the glorious Wentworth Miller in Prison Break via FOX's official Prison Break website and lots of snapshot-taking and Photoshop re-configuring because the #@$%&*(s did it all in Flash, damn their eyes. 

The Ditty Bops

Have I mentioned how my mildly (ha!) obsessive-compulsive nature manifests itself in my car? Well, firstly, it shows up in my serial purchasing of the same car. (Corollas ain't sexy, but boy, are they dependable.) In my annoying moving-around of objects (garage-door clicker, change for meters, Stim-U-Dents) from one storage cubby to another in search of the ergonomically perfect resting place.

But mainly, it manifests itself in the constant replaying of whatever CD "sticks" in the player. For awhile, I listened to a lot of Madeline Peyroux. Before that, I listened to even more William Shatner.

Lately, as in, for the past month, it's been all about the Ditty Bops.

As usual, I am late to the game. I first heard of them via Koga on my other bloggy home, Koga is both way geekier and way cooler than I can ever hope to be, so you know the Ditty Bops are happening. But according to The BF, The DBs have also been featured on Prairie Home Companion, which is, um, pretty dorky and not very hip, albeit groovy in its own way.

So you see, the Ditty Bops are clearly the perfect band: quirky, musically adept and unclassifiable. They are certainly a little bit country, there's a lovely little waltz called "Two Left Feet" and plenty of pickin' & strummin' throughout. But they are also a little bit Hawaiian ("Wishful Thinking"), a little bit Tin Pan Alley (nifty nouvelle-vaudeville cover of "I Wish I Could Shimmy Like My Sister Kate") and plenty perverto-pop, that cheerful, foot-tapping stuff that has one smiling and singing along, even as it diverts immediate attention from the smart, darker lyrics.

The Ditty Bops remind me a lot of another fave weirdo girl group, The Roches. Close harmony, a multiplicity of influences, an appreciation for old and useful things, a deft hand with lyrics and arrangement (both musical and vocal) and that occasional freaky-deaky stress on the odd syllable. Maggie, Terre and Suzzy (kick-ass in concert, btw, which I understand the Ditty Bops are, too) came out of the gates so strong with their first two albums, it was almost inevitable that follow-up albums fell a bit short.* It'll be interesting to see where the Ditty Bops take their act.

In the meantime, of course, I'll just hit "replay"...

xxx c

*If anyone can lend me the later/newer albums so I can be proved wrong, I will gladly fork over the dough to buy them ALL!

Photo of the Ditty Bops in concert at Bricktops by Jason DeFillippo, via

Tiny picture of the Ditty Bops' actual album from Barnes & Noble, because FUCK YOU, amazon, I FUCKING HATE YOU!!!

Book review: Home Land

Home Land is filled with great characters, their sharply-observed characteristics and film-worthy comic exchanges. There is no end, apparently, to Sam Lipsyte's invention, and dude not only has an eagle eye for the bullshit we try to pass off as character, he can turn a phrase like a fine (albeit filthy) woodworker turns a fancy-ass chair leg.

Oh, and final disclaimer: while I did laugh in many parts of this sharply-written comic novel, I suspect I am too dumb to get some of the jokes, as (a) The Boyfriend, who is demonstrably smarter than yours truly, laughed far oftener (and more heartily) than yours truly and (b) I had to look up several words in my handy, bedside, pocket-Oxford dictionary, which will kill a joke faster than you can say "A piece of string walks into a bar."

So maybe I'm jaded or maybe I'm stoopit or maybe a little of both, but I felt like Home Land, while undeniably smart and clever and funny and, to an extent, true, had the same fragmented feel of so much postmodern fiction written by authors raised on TV and film.

Briefly, it's the story of a too-smart fringe dweller who ramps up to his high school reunion by submitting a cavalcade of submissions to the alumni newsletter cataloguing the sad truths of his loser life. Sad, funny truths. Funny, cinematic truths.

I have nothing against imagery that leaps off a page, and I'm not some freaky purist who rails against the corruption of sacred text by the evil cinema. To the contrary, I actually think that occasionally, the movies do a better job of telling the story than their source material. But I can't help but feel as though, more and more, smart, funny writers are writing novels with an eye to how their material will play out on the screen. It's been awhile since I read a new book that read...well, like a book. And I'm old and curmudgeonly enough to miss 'em.


UPDATE (12/3/08): In a shameless and transparent act of caving, I've been replacing book and DVD links with Amazon affiliate links throughout the site. I MAKE MONEY WHEN YOU CLICK ON THESE. Like, a full 1/4 cent or something. Whatever. I'm happy if you borrow it from a friend or the library, or buy it used (I like and alibris online) or, praise Jeebus!, from your local independent dead tree retailer. Seriously. The main thing is, read. Absorb. Enjoy. Pass it on.

Book review: Main Street

It's hard for me to believe that Main Street was ever a groundbreaking work of fiction, but then, it's hard for me to believe that I ever thought 256MB was a lot of RAM.

Was there ever a time when we (America, not the royal "we") weren't aware of our dissatisfaction with the status quo? Of the stultifying, enervating, soul-killing small-mindedness of small-town American life? And really, even way back when, were 500+ pages what it took to get the point across? I mean, if the definitive book on English grammar and structure can clock in at just over a hundred, how much space need be devoted to descriptions of uninspired home decor, gorgeous Minnesota in the raw and the dialectic journey of a main character who is more stock mouthpiece than compelling, flesh-and-foible heroine?

On the other hand, given the current state of domestic affairs, I can easily imagine some fellow American "a-yup"ing his or her way through Main Street, thumping the denizens of Gopher Prairie for being tasteless, visionless rubes before heading out in the Suburban to grouse about the ridiculousness of gay marriage and the righteousness of those who condemn it over an MGD and a blooming onion at The Outback. So there's probably still a need for Main Street, or something like it.

I'm casting my vote for the latter. It takes a level of determination (or insomnia) for me to slog through Sinclair Lewis that, say, Theodore Dreiser doesn't require. (I'm just 50 or so pages into Babbitt now, and granted, it's more engaging than the obvious polemic that is Main Street, but it's still...well, windy.) Jane Austen wrote scathing social commentaries that still stand up as ripping good yarns. Even Dickens crafted a more compelling read than Lewis and he took at least twice the ink to do it in.

What's most irksome to me is that I used up credit at my favorite used book store to buy a crumbling, yellowed copy when I could have purchased an EZ-on-the-old-eyes Dover Thrift Edition for just $3.50. Or better yet, read it online or even downloaded as an eBook, for free. It's not bad idea to revisit the classics once or twice in a lifetime and I'm glad someone's preserving copies so I can do so, but good authorial intentions, and Nobel Peace Prize, notwithstanding, I just don't see Main Street as a wise allocation of precious bookshelf real estate.


UPDATE (12/3/08): In a shameless and transparent act of caving, I've been replacing book and DVD links with Amazon affiliate links throughout the site. I MAKE MONEY WHEN YOU CLICK ON THESE. Like, a full 1/4 cent or something. Whatever. I'm happy if you borrow it from a friend or the library, or buy it used (I like and alibris online) or, praise Jeebus!, from your local independent dead tree retailer. Seriously. The main thing is, read. Absorb. Enjoy. Pass it on.