Thursday, December 31, 2009

And so we reach the end of another...

(NOTE: This went out to my friends and family in email form but I know there are plenty of you who keep up via the blog, so...)

It’s the end of a decade – the end of the decade nobody knew what to call. “The Shrub Era”? “The Oughts”? Now people can comfortably settle into the teens and how nice that will be… I’m sure we all hope…

I would like to say a word or two about this past year, 2009, but before I do that – a word or two about this decade. You might say this was a pretty bad year for me, unemployed for 11 months without a nibble on a job or a sale, but please consider… I began this decade with the loss of my first wife and spent four or five or six or seven years finding my way out of those mires. I’ve lost friends, Megan foremost among them. I lost my father. I went to the Grand Canyon to try and kill myself and found that self-destruction does not end when you step away from the edge. All in all, there were other years I would wish to repeat far less than the one that just past.

This past decade held more than its share of lovely memories as well. This was the decade of Vicky. I won’t say we never have our problems but there’s no one I would rather have them with. This was the decade I returned to the stage. I wrote my first play in this decade. Imagine this for a second: in the last 10 years (yes, I’m going back to 1999 – sorry – chronology sucks), I have completed nine novels and 12 full-length plays. My sales record may be abysmal but I’ve had four staged readings and I can say that with every novel or play my quality improves just a little bit. I have learned that being an artist is not about making money and I have found fulfillment in that. This achievement is due mostly to my first book on philosophy, a memoir called Climbing Maya.

I’ve been blessed – in a completely unreligious, non-spooky supernatural way, I assure you – with the gifts of so many people. Annie and Lori convinced me to write my first play. Steve offered to direct it before he even saw it. Sherryl and Chris and Stephanie and Tony have worked with me along the way, supporting me with their amazing talents – especially Stephanie who is my most dedicated fan and who has cheered me on all along the way despite my lack of monetary compensation. Eric has inspired me to take my writing to the next level and, along with the Orange County Playwrights Alliance, have provided me a home amongst peers. Sean has been a friend who has stood by me every step of the way, through some of the worst times for us both. And my family – the screwiest bunch of lunatics you ever want to meet – has popped in and out, together and apart, for too many weddings and too many funerals and not enough lottery winnings. Then, there are those I met, those who came back into my life, and those who left, all adding to a cast of characters I could never measure up to in any of my writing. And then, there is Vicky. If it wasn’t for her, I wouldn’t have started writing again after a significant drought. She married me in the good times and has stuck by me in bad. Heck, she’s kept the trains running on time while I’ve been off on this artistic excursion. (Yes, we recently acquired trains…) She started out refusing to be “a fan” and is now one of my biggest. She’s the best friend I could hope for and she’s also a colossal pain in my ass and I consider myself lucky.

It’s been one hell of a decade, is what I’m saying.

So, this year hasn’t been the worst. It didn’t need to be the best… would’ve been nice, but… Say what you want about unemployment and what you like about the economy, here’s what I got. I’ve had eleven months to pursue being an artist, which is something most people don’t get. That pursuit produced eleven plays and the beginnings of my next novel – good work including a play about finding your way after the death of a loved one, crazy work including a Marx Brother’s comedy with one protracted poop joke, political work about the death of ethics, and one very surreal absurdist piece that makes me believe I’ve finally after all these years created actual art. It wasn’t the year I wanted. It was the year I got.

This might not have been the decade I wanted when I rang it in with a certain someone so many years ago but it was the one I got. So it is with everything. So it is with life.

And so I close with a suggestion that you may not have the happiest new year and the next decade may not bring everything you want, but it will be what it will be. Find the good times, find the loveliness, and share them with those who matter to you most. That’s what one decade has taught me.

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

I guess you can say I’m all caught up…

It was spring or it was early summer. I was 16 or 17 years old. Okay, so much of it is a blur but the things I do remember were that we were all standing at the top of the stairs in front of Valley High School’s auditorium. Roy Johnson, only a couple of years older than me but more self-assured than any age would make me capable, was showing off his new short story. It was called Snails or something. The important thing was it was genius.

And everyone was saying so.

And I was so desperate for attention back then that I said something like, “So? I can do that.” I was so young that my brain hadn’t quite caught on. Now, if I said something like that, my brain would immediately be asking, “What? When did this happen? I didn’t know about this!” Which is probably why I don’t say things like that any longer. In fact, now when people ask me if I’m a writer, I tend to shrug it off.

But not back then.

And everyone knew it. The guys up there on the top of the steps weren’t just my friends in high school but the other guys from theater, who knew me well enough to know I was full of shit. Talented? Sure. Smart? Maybe. But without a doubt completely full of shit. They turned on me like a crown of young men will and very quickly had me saying things like, “Yeah, I’ve started a novel at home. I just haven’t shown it to anyone, yet.”

Nestor, a big guy who could be your best friend or most vicious adversary depending on lunch or which was the wind blew, suggested he’d really like to see that book. Yeah, Ken, why don’t you bring that book to school and we’ll let you know how good it is…

My stride was calm and confident as I walked home that afternoon, all the while wishing to run because I knew I hadn’t started a novel. In fact, I’d never written a thing in my life.

Oh sure, there were those articles and goofy comedy bits I did for the school newspaper way back in junior high. (This was before My Side, the column I had in high school and so on.) But that would hardly count. No, I had to come up with the beginnings of a novel or fess up to being full of shit.

So, I went home and wrote the beginning of a novel. I wrote several chapters of a book I’d never finish – but there it was. And it wasn’t bad. And, I thought, I really could do this. Imagine!

Roy Johnson never became a famous writer but odds are he became happy. At least, I hope he is happy wherever he is. If it weren’t for him, I would never have become a writer… and I’ve been trying to prove it ever since.

This memory popped back into my head the other day, as I put the last lines down for a new play. That makes six full-length plays I finished this year. Six. Wow. And a sudden, strange inclination had me counting all the books and plays I’d written.

One by one, I counted off the books:
My Side
This Land is My Land
A Hex Upon Rynia
The Sons of Rynia
: A Rynia trilogy whose books I never got around to naming
Vampire Society
A Grand Canyon
No More Blue Roses
With Eyes to See
Climbing Maya
Love of Your Life
Daughter of a One-Armed Man

Last Ditch

Sixteen. Sixteen books.

One by one, I counted off the plays:
Everything Changes
Whatever Happened To Me?
After You Fall
Murielle’s Big Date
Murder, Zombies, the Devil… and stuff…
Sometimes We Find Our Way
Diamonds to Go
The Death of Ethics, etc.
Friends, First
Happily After Ever

Twelve. Twelve plays.

That makes 28 full-length books and plays. This doesn’t include the short plays or short stories or poems or essays or (god forbid) blog entries…

And then I did a bit more math… and I realized that for every year after Roy Johnson and that first moment when I boasted that I could write, I’ve completed writing one book or one play. One a year since the age of 16… still trying to prove myself.

And another memory pops into my head. Ms. Von’s English class… a girl named Michelle asked, “Ms. Von, do you think Ken will ever make it as a writer?” Ms. Von tilted her glance over at me. “If he remains prolific, he will.”

If he remains prolific.

Well, a book or a play each year for 28 years… that’s gotta count, right?

And I thought of this… and I laid down the opening of a new book. This one’s called The Wrong Magic and it’s about how we rely on magic in our lives, in our relationships, and how unreliable it really is… Of course, that’s not all. I’ll tell you more later…

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

What every writer must do…

So, I’m working on this new play: Happily After Ever. This will be my sixth play this year and a damned good reason to quit for a while. I’m exhausted in a very real sense.

Strangely, though, what has happened possibly as a result of being so prolific is that I’ve stumbled onto one of the presumptions of theater and found a way to tear a hole right through it. The resulting work is better than anything I’ve seen myself produce mostly due to scale alone. It’s not just a “bigger is better” thing; it’s one of those times when you set the bar so high you don’t think you can clear it.

Which brings an important point to mind.

It may be this way for any artist but, surely, it applies to writers. When you’re producing your best work, when you look at it and think “Did I really do that?” you’re in a pickle because until you finish whatever project you’re on you are forced to continue at that level. Mediocre writing provides shelter for the lazy; you never have to work too hard to keep that up. But who wants mediocre? Your whole aim as an artist is to reach those impossible heights!

So, it becomes exhausting and exhilarating at the same time. This is why you became an artist, for this very reason. It’s the same feeling an athlete experiences, but instead of pushing your body to an extreme you never thought you’d reach you’re getting there with your mind, with your heart, with your spirit.

Then, when you finish, you realize the odds of getting there again are pretty minute. I know, I’m thinking about that right about now, thinking, “How on earth did I do this and how can I do it again?” I have to stop asking that question, though, and experience the moment so I can remember it later. Because that day will come when I won’t be able to lay down three words that make sense and I’ll wonder, “Why did I think I could do this?” And this will be why.

It’s important to realize why you commit your life to something. Just like with any romance, it keeps the love alive.

Thursday, December 10, 2009

That moment I shouldn’t enjoy but do anyway…

A year or so ago, Vicky and I sat in an OCPA meeting just after the reading of my (then) new play, Meaning. and listened to the feedback from the small audience that was there. One person groused, “You can’t write plays about the meaning of life. You just can’t do it!” Thought this probably should have worried me, I felt the edge of my mouth raise up just a touch… I liked that.

I’ve been so busy writing this year; it’s really been the year of “Ken La Salle: Playwright”. I’ve finished:
Sometimes We Find Our Way
Murder, Zombies, The Devil… and stuff
Diamonds To Go
The Death of Ethics, The Demise of Morality, and the day we all dropped dead
Friends, First

And those are just the full-length, 90 minutes or so, plays. A list with all the shorts would be much longer. I think I’ve been writing my ass off, mostly, as justification in a way. After all, being out of work, it’s nice to say I’ve actually done something with my time. I could say I’ve been applying for jobs but with so few out there that still leaves many hours in the day.

Now, I’m ready to start my sixth play of the year, which I’m calling Happily After Ever, and my friend Stephanie gives me familiar “You can’t do that”. And I smile a bit. I think I’m most pleased (one is tempted to use the word “happiest” but this is me we’re talking about) when I’m doing something people tell me can’t be done or shouldn’t be done. Without going into details, she’s right, of course. The idea for the new play is fraught with complications and things that might kill an ordinary audience… but if I have faith in myself and in my writing, that shouldn’t be a concern.

And I find that equally amusing as I sit here late at night typing this out: me having faith in my writing. With nearly 20 novels and over a dozen plays but not a single sale to my credit, you’d think that’s the last thing I’d have. But then, I think of the staged readings I’ve had and the times when people have heard my plays at a table read and the generous feedback from those who have read my books… I’m not so stupid that I can’t tell rotten luck from rotten writing.

And I guess that as long as I’m told I can’t do something or I shouldn’t do it, as long as the very idea of what I want to write gets a reaction, it’s a far, far better thing than putting people to sleep.

As long as I can prove them wrong, at least…

Friday, December 04, 2009

Rope burns…

Just a tip to the perverts out there: No, that’s not what this will be about. Get your hands where I can see them and we’ll continue…

Vicky and I have started walking the dogs together in the morning before she goes to work. Sometimes, we’ll just go around the block. Then, there are times when we’ll walk down to the park and let the dogs get some exercise in.

Herein lies my mistake. About a week ago, Vicky and I were out on a particularly warm morning. It was so warm, in fact, that I was wearing shorts. This is an important point and one I should have considered. As we were walking through the park, Shipoopi (our little nuclear energy dog) darted around me and then darted up again so that her lead was draped across my calves…

… and then she pulled…

… and the lead pulled across my calves very quickly, leaving twin rope burns across both calves… and leaving me screaming like a little girl…

Vicky asked, “What happened?” And when I told her, her response was something along the line of “Pansie…”

The next day, the burns began to scab over. A day or so later, Vicky saw the backs of my calves and made a disgusted sound. “Wow. Those look really painful.”

And they were.

I have a great respect for those who can work with ropes and not get rope burn now that I know what it is. I also have a great respect for ropes and plan to never walk my dogs without long pants again, lest we replay that little dittie. Here it is, about a week later, and I can’t scratch them because of the scabs. They’re like two long crevices across my calves… ouch…

Let’s all try to learn from my mistake, shall we?

Sunday, November 29, 2009

Ride of the day…

I’ll preface this by saying that Vicky and I aren’t great athletes. We’re kind of round, actually. But every activity Vicky does with me is fun for me because I can be with her.

Last night, we went jogging together. I got her started with me, letting her set the pace, and I think she enjoys it. Unfortunately, she apologizes for being slow but I try to explain to her that it’s okay that she’s not as fast as me (which isn’t that fast, anyway). Speed takes time to develop. What’s important is that we’re out there together and trying our best.

This morning, we packed the bikes into her car… well, I packed the bikes into her car… and snapped off one of her reflectors – doh!... and we drove down to Aliso Creek Trail to meet our friend, Robert, for a ride. Aliso Creek Trail is one of my favorites. I took it last year when I did my first metric and was foolish enough to try and ride Santiago Canyon. This morning, the three of us started out up towards Foothill Ranch.

We parked our cars and started unloading our bikes and as Robert and I gabbed, Vicky tried to sit side-saddle on her bike. My clutzy wife must have forgotten that she didn’t have a kick-stand on her bike because it soon began sliding down, taking her with it. She laughed the whole way down, as she so often does. (I told her she’s going to be the youngest hip transplant patient in history.) Once she was up, we realized it wasn’t all laughs and broke out the first aid kit for some bandages for the scrape on her leg.

Then, we were off! A strong wind out of the foothills had us coasting for a long, long time. You don’t think of it at the time but what that means is you’ll be pedaling against that on the way back! Still, Aliso Creek is a pretty little trail and we enjoyed it quite a bit… then we started to hit the hills… but all in all, it was a lot of fun. Then, we had to turn around and we realized that it would be uphill for most of the ride back… ugh! Still, it was very nice and a lot more interesting than the boring, old Santa Ana River Trail that we take all the time.

One of these days, I’m going to have to hit it again by way of Santiago Canyon but until the day comes when I’m crazy enough to do that, this will suffice!

Friday, November 27, 2009

Late after a turkey…

I should probably be sleeping but, as usual, I’m in front of my keyboard and pecking away.

We had a very nice Thanksgiving dinner this year. As usual, Vicky’s cooking was superb. And we had her friend, Julie, over because we didn’t want her to be alone on the holiday. We invited over some other friends but they missed out. Vicky does a wonderful job as a hostess and I wish I made some money so we could afford to do it more… but, oh well.

I finished the new play this week, which I believe is my fourth new, full-length play of the year. That’s about one every three months! So, as much as I’m hurting for work, I’m still producing some good stuff. This play is a post-apocalyptic musical farce – and my friend, Stephanie, says that now I’m creating my own genres. I consider it more of a mash-up but that’s just me.

Now, I’m doing what I normally do after I finish a project… which is thinking about the next project. One of the nice things about being me – one of the benefits of living in my skin – is that I’m never short on ideas. I have two novels that I had started recently but never finished. One is a children’s book, which I think of as Harry Potter without the magic. I like the idea of a kid in a magical world who can’t do the magic, who really has to deal with being a little kid. The other book is one I really liked; it was what I called a neorealist novel. Inspired by Bicycle Thieves, one of my favorite films, I began writing a book about two people in an abandoned train station in Arizona. It was very gritty and dark and I was loving it… then, I got laid off and that screwed that up. In addition, I have a couple ideas for plays. One is inspired by an idea I have called The Eternal Jew, and the idea is of this Nazi guard in a concentration camp who keeps seeing the same Jew dying in a gas chamber. He sees it over and over, a reflection of his mounting guilt. Of course, the play wouldn’t be about these people; it would take place here and now and use that idea as a starting point. So, you have a regular guy like me who sees the same homeless person out on the street. The play would deal with what that does to a person – to both people, actually. Then, there’s your more typical “Ken” play, which I’m calling The Sandwich and deals with people looking for meaning in every act – even making a sandwich.

I list all of these ideas because I am not compelled to work on any one. This is refreshing and I’m hoping to use whatever break I might have to recharge my batteries a bit. I keep thinking, though, that I may be done with comedies for a while. Of course, last time I said that I went on to write The Death of Ethics – so take that for what it’s worth.

As the year winds down, I try to reflect on some greater narrative than “I was unemployed all year long.” As true as that might be, it feels like shit. So, it’s important to realize there was more there. For instance, I finished seven plays (four full-length) and that was pretty outstanding. I had a staged reading that went very well. I got to do some gardening and took up jogging again after many years. So there is a larger narrative to keep in mind and I’m going to try and remain upbeat.

Anyway, I know several people who are going on their second or third year without steady work so I figure I’m actually pretty lucky. That said, think I’ll go to bed now. G’night.

Saturday, November 21, 2009

Death brings new life… but at a cost…

I could have called this “We Killed it” or perhaps “Vicky’s early Christmas present” but I felt like being obtuse… again…

As I thought about what I plan to write, I considered writing, “Vicky and I went to look at computers yesterday” but was sure some anonymous bitch would call me names and say I was sponging off my wife or some such nonsense.

Let me start from the beginning.

This is Vicky’s fault. All of it. Well, most of it. No, all of it. Vicky is very hard on a computer. She downloads everything she sees – every addon, every gadget, every app, everything. She fills her computer with crap and then gets some more. I’m guessing because it’s free. Then, her computer slows down… slows down… slows down…

And then, she calls me. “My computer sucks,” she said one day a few weeks ago. “Sucks” wasn’t the word. It was more like “is dying.” Nothing was working right. It would start and stop on its own. Web pages and apps would open by themselves. Most noticeably, however, McAfee (our virus scanner of choice… a very bad choice) would not open. It couldn’t access the Internet. In fact, nobody could access the Internet on Vicky’s computer except when it decided to at random.

“I wouldn’t be surprised if you downloaded a virus or a worm,” I said. To which she replied, “Well, then, fix it.” I guess that since I’m out of work, Vicky assumed that meant I was a PC technician… either that or I just had a lot of free time. The later acknowledged, I began researching Vicky’s problem.

McAfee was no good, so I downloaded PC Tools Spyware Doctor, because I was certain she didn’t have a simple virus… and the initial scan was free. The scan completed, over 100 worms and Trojan Horses were found. Vicky agreed to buy the complete version of PC Tools to kill them off. And kill them off, it did. It also killed off every file they were attached to. So, when we were done with that, Vicky’s computer was left seizing like an ebola victim.

“I’m going to have to reinstall Windows,” I said. Fortunately, PC Club had given us our Windows disk when we bought her computer from them. It was a simple matter of using that to install Windows and fix the problems with her computer. “Before I do, though, you should back up your data.”

“Do what now?”

“Back up your data.”

“Come again?”

“Back up your data.”


I was getting the distinct impression Vicky was not in the habit of backing up her data. And this struck me as funny (strange, not ha ha) because Vicky had my external hard-drive, which I used to back up my PC. She had it for over a year… she never let me use it… because she always said, “I’m using it.”

“Do you know how to back up your data?” I asked her.

She batted her eyes.

“Have you been regularly backing it up?”

She smiled and cuddled close.

“Have you ever backed up your data?”

And that’s when the jig was up. And I began to get a bit angry. But lecturing her on why you’re always supposed to back up your data was a moot point… so I did it anyway. And I went on and on... and it was pretty clear I was wasting my breath. Vicky’s a smart girl… just dense at times…

PC Tools had stripped so much out of Windows, Vicky’s problems were just getting worse. Now, the computer wouldn’t so much as recognize any network connection. Her USB ports were dead. When I tried to move her docs to a separate “backup” folder in case her My Docs folder got wiped out, we discovered that Windows wouldn’t even recognize simple copy and paste commands.

I knew that reinstalling Windows might screw up her My Docs folder so I asked her to do the only thing she could do… a manual backup. Yep. That means writing stuff down by hand – she took down all her passwords and typed her Quicken entries in our laptop… which she had not yet destroyed.

But maybe I’m being too hard on Vicky… because this is where I really fucked things up.

Her most essential data backed up, I went to reinstall Windows. First, I chose the repair option, figuring I’d do as little damage as possible. Inserting PC Club’s Windows disk, I selected repair… and it went straight into a full reinstall. As strange as this was, I shrugged and figured, “Oh well.” And I let it continue.

Then, I was prompted, “Insert Disk Two.”

Insert Disk Two?

“Insert Disk Two.”

There is no Disk Two! PC Club only gave us one disk! For anyone out there wondering why PC Club went out of business… here’s your answer.

There was no going back. Reboots just brought us back to that dreaded, “Insert Disk Two” prompt.

Time to go to our options. We could go out and get Windows 7…

The thing is, Vicky’s computer was pretty cheap when we bought it and was getting pretty old. Why throw good money after bad? Anyway, what Vicky needed was as idiot-proof of a machine as we could get her… and besides, she’s been talking about how much she’s wanted a Mac since we met. The time had come… has come… will come today, I think.

And so, Vicky’s getting a new computer and a very early Christmas gift. We can get a Mac Mini for about $800, which should meet all of her needs. I’ll take her old hard drive and strip out the data files for her so she doesn’t lose anything, such as pictures, music, word docs, etc. And I’ll sign her up for a free backup account at Mozy (yes, I have one and it’s pretty nice)… and hope for the best. (Anyway, you can get a complete, three-year warranty on a Mac for $99… which is a cheap price for three years of peace if you ask me…)

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

One last note about the reading…

(For those wondering if this just means I have little going on in my life, well, I can’t fault your reasoning…)

Something’s been going on since the reading of Murielle’s Big Date a couple weekends ago and it has only caught up to me recently.

Just after the reading, our friend Paula asked me, “What happens now?” She wanted to know what happened to the play and my jaded reply was a bit harsh in the face of her enthusiasm, I’m afraid. But, honestly, nothing happens short of my continuing to shop it around. It’s all a process. You keep running the wheel.

Little did I know there was a far more existential quality to her question than that. After the reading, I noticed something different with Vicky. As I say, it took a while for me to catch on. At first, it just felt… weird. It was a good kind of weird but weird just the same. Then, I recognized it.

I believe it’s thanks to the reading. Vicky is looking at me once again – not as a guy who has been out of work for nearly a year, not as a guy who has to struggle just for a job interview, not as Mr. Unemployment Check but – as someone competent and capable. She’s been speaking to me as though my potential has been made clear. And I don’t blame her. One of the great things about these staged readings is they remind me that I’m competent, that when I tell myself “I can write” I’m not completely full of shit. I hadn’t considered the reading would have the same effect on Vicky.

But it has. For instance, when I mentioned a writing idea before the reading Vicky kind of just shrugged it off. “Sure, whatever. I’m dealing with the real world.” After the reading, Vicky appears to see the potential my writing might have in the real world. It’s kind of nice.

When Vicky and I first got together, she said, “I’m not going to be one of your fans.” She was pretty adamant about it. And I’ve been working hard ever since then to make her one of my fans. As an artist, I need her to be one of my fans, my number one fan. After the reading, I think she may not be a fan but she’s certainly warming to the idea.

Saturday, November 14, 2009

Where Ethics Go To Die…

Since summer, I’ve been fighting a losing battle against my next book on philosophy. Dynamic Pluralism it was going to be called and the breakthrough idea was going to take ethical theory beyond the Pragmatists of the 20th century.

… but instead, I wrote another play…

And then, I readied myself to begin the book. I assembled all of my research. I wrote an outline.

… and then, I wrote another play…

And then, I gathered my wits and strengthened my resolve, preparing myself to write what I was sure would be a breakthrough book on philosophy.

… and about this time, I was invited to direct the staged reading for Murielle’s Big Date. This was back in October, and as I assembled my cast and began rehearsing I wondered, “Why do I keep stopping myself from writing this book on philosophy?” It wasn’t the subject matter. It was clear in my mind and from the philosophy professors I had run my theories by that this would be a breakthrough in ethics. But then, things became clear.

Many of the rejections I've received for Climbing Maya, my book on success, had nothing to do with the book itself. In fact, most of the time I’m told what a great idea the publisher or agent thinks it is. No, the reason that book gets rejected is because I’m not famous enough to get it published. That’s the thing. People don’t want to publish that sort of stuff unless they know you already have an audience who will buy it. I have accepted that Climbing Maya is a niche book and will require a niche publisher. If it ever gets published, it probably won’t sell well at all… so why would I put myself through that again?

And this is when I realized why I kept stopping myself from writing a book on ethics, because deep down I knew nobody was going to publish a book on ethics. Not from me, at least. Not until I had an audience. And maybe no one would ever publish such a book at all. Frankly, people don’t seem to care much about ethics at all.

The sad truth is that, at 44, my experience getting books published has been dismal. My record writing plays has actually been better... if only a little...

And that’s when it struck me. A book on ethics would never get anywhere… but a play on ethics… a farce about ethics… well… So, I decided to write a play called The Death of Ethics about the last people on earth after we’ve used up everything being questioned by one person why we would ever do that… in other words, questioning the ethics. I realized that poking fun at humanity’s record on ethics was a lot more fun that writing something instructive about ethics. And if people got the joke, they might just get the theory.

For instance, I could say that ethics differ from morals in that morality is based on religious practices and therefore open to interpretation. Or I could do this:

It is not the same thing. Morality is different. It’s dependent on your religious beliefs and how they’re interpreted.

No, they’re not!

What he means is that morality is only for stupid people.

I do not!

And that’s just more fun! More than that, it allows me to write comedy that’s more unique that your simple relationship play, which I’ve done so much.

So, this week, I finished the first act of the play. In that time, it has gelled into more that what I had originally conceived. It’s not just a philosophical farce… it’s also a musical! Yes, it’s my first musical – more or less – with two songs, the first of which a tune called “It Should Be Ethical To Be a Prick”.

Simply taking the idea on ethics and turning it on its head has opened an opportunity for something that transcends my usual comedy writing. And, if there’s one thing I know after the reading for Murielle’s Big Date, it’s that I can write comedy. My play had the audience roaring!

So, maybe things will work better this way. Maybe they won’t. But at my age I have come to realize I better damn well enjoy whatever I’m writing because that may be all I get out of it.

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Eating good by eating well...

The title's a play on that old saying.

I don’t normally plagiarize but in this case I like to think of it as “spreading the word”. Nicolette Hahn Niman has written a terrific article about avoiding factory farmed food that I’d love to share with you. It’s been my experience that most people want to do right and eat the right things but just don’t have the information on how. I think this is a great source:

General advice:

1. Be prepared to pay more. As the old saying goes, "you get what you pay for." Americans are used to the idea that a Cadillac is a better car than a Malibu and that you pay more for it. Yet somehow when it comes to food many of us look only at price. But getting good food could be one of the most important things we do to keep ourselves in good health. To paraphrase Michael Pollan, you pay your grocer now or pay your doctor later. And the methods for producing foods - especially animal based foods - vary radically, from farms that are excellent stewards of animals and the environment to the most industrialized, stinking, polluting facilities. Instead of just looking at price tags, think in terms of value. Remember that our government heavily subsidizes industrial agriculture, making its products artificially cheap. We should all be asking our elected officials why our government isn't supporting farming that produces food that's healthful for humans, environmentally benign and respectful to animals. Over the long term, that's the change we need to advocate for. If government policy made such a shift, wholesome traditionally produced foods could be as inexpensive as the junk coming out of factory farms. In the meantime, expect to pay more for good food. Think of it as an investment in good health, an unspoiled environment, fair treatment for animals, and of course, tasty eating.

2. Plan on reducing consumption. A typical American eats more than 200 pounds of meat per year and our consumption continues to rise. On top of that, over the twentieth century, average cheese consumption went from about three pounds annually to around 30 pounds, much of which is processed cheese in Big Macs and on pizzas. (And we wonder why we have an obesity epidemic). Meat and dairy products from traditional farms currently cost more than factory farm products. A good way to make this work in your budget is to cut back the quantities you buy (and the frequency and portion sizes when you eat animal based foods). Chances are, you're eating far more of it than you need anyway, so cutting back will probably be a good thing for your health as well. Consider adopting this as your new slogan: Eat less meat. Eat better meat. (The same goes for dairy products and eggs).

3. Seek food from a known source. The best way to ensure you're getting food from non-industrial farms is to buy from sources with full transparency, those where you can see how the animals are raised, and what they were fed, as well as learn from what farm or farms the food actually came. If I can't get the basic information about how the farm animals were raised, I just don't buy it.

4. Ask questions (even if it sometimes seems futile). Few people these days ask where the food comes from when at grocery stores or restaurants. Americans have become accustomed to the idea that there's some giant commodity trade of fungible meats, eggs, and dairy products. But there is real power in simply asking the questions: "Where is this from? How was it raised?" Get into the habit at meat counters and restaurants of asking where the meat is from. If they don't know the answer, suggest (in a friendly way, of course) they find out. When we eat out, Bill and I always ask servers where the meat comes from. If they don't know, we ask them to ask the chef. If the chef doesn't know, Bill doesn't order it. I believe the simple act of asking this question - if enough people begin to do it - has the potential to spark a massive change in our food system.

5. Know your labels (and their shortcomings). Food labels are helpful but imperfect. Knowing what they mean (and do not mean) is important. For example, the term "free range" has one connotation with eggs and another with poultry meat. Weird, huh? This is something you'd never know just by looking at the labels in the store. Most labeling is regulated by the Department of Agriculture (USDA), so they are fairly reliable sources of some information. (More on labels shortly).

6. Baby-steps are OK (as long as they're in the right direction). Factory farms are ubiquitous and so are their products. So avoiding them, admittedly, takes some effort. If you try to change everything in one fell swoop you're likely to feel so overwhelmed that you'll get paralyzed and give up. If, on the other hand, you allow yourself to move forward deliberately, one step at a time, chances are you will enjoy the transition and will stick with it.

7. Consider it an adventure. Going to the supermarket to pick up all your food is convenient, true, but it's also dreadfully boring. Good foods from real farms do not look and taste the same 365 days a year. They are less predictable, varying depending on the particular breeds of animal, the seasons, and the farmer who raised them. The diversity of the foods you'll get from real farms is just part of what makes eating more fun. It's also a pleasure to meet and talk with farmers, butchers and other purveyors of real foods. They can be tremendously helpful in providing cooking advice for the particular foods you are buying (such as a cut of meat you've never tried). Following the pathways that lead you to good foods - farmstands, CSAs, farmers markets, co-ops - will take you to interesting places you've never been and to people you'll enjoy meeting.

Where to look:

1. Stop being a supermarket zombie. Supermarkets' primary appeal is convenience, and there's no doubt that they are convenient. They are also offering more organic foods these days, which is a good thing. But because their business model is based on large volumes of uniform products, supermarkets rarely carry foods from real, traditional family farms. In my experience, places like Safeway, Albertsons, and Kroger are wastelands for those of us seeking animal products that don't come from factory farms. That's why (other than Trader Joes and Whole Foods, which are better than the rest) I have almost totally stopped frequenting them. The exception to this general rule is for those farms who've joined together to co-operatively process and distribute their products, thus they have sufficient volume to work with major supermarket chains (examples of such companies are Niman Ranch and Organic Valley).

2. Explore alternative stores (independent grocery stores and co-ops). Independently owned grocery stores tend to be more willing to work with traditional farmers, and their staffs are generally much more knowledgeable about the meats, eggs and dairy products they offer. It's worth the effort to seek them out and explore their offerings. Good examples of such stores are: Bi-Rite Market in San Francisco; Marczyk Fine Foods in Denver; Gateway Market in Des Moines; and Poppies Gourmet Farmers Market in Brevard, North Carolina. Co-ops also tend to source from local farmers and have member-employees who are interested and concerned about good food. Examples of some of the excellent co-ops I'm familiar with are: the co-ops in Boise, Idaho and Bozeman, Montana, and "The Wedge" in Minneapolis.

3. Frequent your local farmers markets. The popularity of farmers markets has exploded in recent past decades, going from about 350 in the late 1970s to more than 4,400 today. This is excellent news for those of us seeking non-factory farm foods. With a little effort, you can find a farmers market near you and begin learning what's offered there at what times of year. Many excellent farms and ranches sell their wares at farmers markets but remember not to assume anything about how the foods were produced. Ask the farmers you're buying from how the animals were raised and what they were fed. Locating a farmers market is easy: many states and localities have lists available, as does USDA.

4. Look for CSAs. An excellent way to know exactly where your food comes from is to join a CSA (community supported agriculture). You buy shares of what a farm produces. Generally, each "shareholder" (member) gets a box of farm products each week, which members pick up at a certain spot. Many CSAs encourage their shareholders to visit the farms for themselves, so they can really know where their food is coming from and how it was raised. When they first started, most CSAs were just doing produce. But in recent years, I've spoken with people from all over the country that are doing CSAs that include meat, dairy and eggs. Some farms and ranches are even doing CSAs that are exclusively animal-based foods. CSAs can be found by searching and

5. Look for farms online. Many smaller farms and ranches sell directly to consumers with a website. The other day, for example, I was speaking at a Sierra Club conference in Kentucky and met a local farmer who's raising Bourbon Red heritage turkeys. She told me she says most of her birds through her on-line store. Be sure that the website provides plenty of photos and information about how they raise their animals. If it's just showing photos of the food products, that's a bad sign.

6. Seek chefs committed to sustainable sourcing. It can be especially hard to trace the origins of your food when dining out. However, if you seek restaurants whose chefs are dedicated to sourcing from sustainable farms and ranches, they can do the work for you. Fortunately, the number of such restaurants is growing. Here are just a few of my favorites: Lumiere, near Boston; Savoy and Green Table in New York City; White Dog Café in Philadelphia; North Pond in Chicago; Zingermann's in Ann Arbor, MI; Highlands Bar and Grill in Birmingham, AL; Chez Panisse in Berkeley, CA; and Oliveto in Oakland, CA. An organization that promotes sustainable sourcing to chefs (and on whose board I sit), Chefs Collaborative, has a website listing of participating restaurants throughout the country which buy all or some of their ingredients from sustainable farms. Another good way to find such restaurants is Even fast food is possible: Chipotle Mexican Grills buy all their pork from traditional farms.

What to look for with all animal based foods:

1. Domestic, please. Whether you're worried about your food's carbon footprint or how much you can verify about its source, there are lots of good reasons to support farms close to home. I am generally skeptical about claims (like "organic") on food imported from foreign countries. US government authorities barely police imported food's safety nor the validity of its label claims. We always try to buy domestically because we want to feel confident about how it was produced. We also want to help build the demand for traditionally farmed foods so that more and more American farmland is occupied by real farms and ranches instead of factory farms. Of course, when you're shopping at a farmers market, this is generally not a concern. But lots of stores offer imported meats and fish. In particular, 90 percent of lamb comes from Australia and New Zealand and most seafood comes from Asia.

2. Pasture is the gold standard. All animals, not just grazing animals, benefit tremendously from being outdoors daily on natural vegetation (such as grass and clover). They exercise, lie in the sun, breath fresh air, and generally live much happier, healthier, more natural lives. For cattle, sheep, and goats, their ruminant digestive systems miraculously turn vegetation that is inedible to humans into digestible nourishment for themselves. The omnivorous animals -- pigs, chickens, and turkeys -- gain minerals and as fiber from their foraging. Winter weather makes year-round access to pasture difficult in some parts of the United States, but animals can and should have access to grass for most days of the year. They live healthier, better lives and the food humans take from them is safer, tastier and healthier. If you're buying directly from a farmer or rancher, ask if the animals were on pasture. If you're buying from a store, read the labels or ask. If it doesn't say the animals had pasture access, assume that they did not.

3. Grass fed is very good (but the label is weak). Certain animals, including cattle, goats and sheep, have evolved as grazing or browsing animals. Their bodies are designed to spend their waking hours slowly foraging and walking to gather their food over many hours. Bovines in the wild, for instance, spend most of their waking hours in a state of slow, ambulant grazing, walking an average of 2.5 miles a day, all the while taking 50 to 80 bites of forage per minute. In other words, cattle - both those raised for beef and those raised for milk - should live on grass. In 2007, USDA finally proposed a standard for "grass fed" meat. However, the standard has lots of problems, not the least of which is that it doesn't require animals to be on pasture and allows them to be fed lots of stuff that definitely ain't grass. That's why it's preferable to buy grass fed meat directly from the farmer or rancher rather than relying on a label.

4. Organic is very good, (but the label isn't perfect). USDA regulates the use of the term "organic" on food labels. If you see the official "Certified Organic" label on a food, that means that USDA is maintaining a certain degree of oversight and that the food item was (or at least should have been) produced in accordance with USDA's standards. In many ways, especially with respect to animal feeding, the standards are stringent. Animal based foods labeled organic must be fed only organic feeds (which has at least 80 percent organic ingredients and does not contain slaughterhouse wastes, antibiotics, or genetically modified grains). These are important distinctions from typical factory farm foods. The organic standards also provide some assurance about how the animals are housed and handled. They require that organic livestock and poultry be provided: "living conditions which accommodate the health and natural behavior of animals," and specifically mandate that animals have some access to the outdoors, to exercise, and to bedding. These too are crucial differences from factory farms. The problem, however, is that the standards have not clearly mandated access to pasture. Thus, much organic milk (and other dairy products) comes from cows that are housed in enormous metal sheds and spend most of their days on cement floors, having no access to pastures. For this reason, I prefer to know precisely where and how the animals lived that produced my food and do not like to rely on the organic label.

5. Free range is okay (but the label is seriously flawed). The term "free range" is most commonly used for poultry. Strangely, it can mean different things depending on whether it's applied to poultry raised for meat versus egg-laying poultry. When "free range" is used on poultry meat, USDA requires that the birds have some access to the outdoors. However, there are no standards for what type of outdoor area it must be, and therefore might be a small cement patio. Even more problematic is "free range" when it's used for eggs. USDA has failed to create any definition of "free range" for egg laying hens. Arguably, then, companies could label their eggs "free range" even without providing any outdoor access (and I suspect that's what some companies are doing).

6. Antibiotic free doesn't mean much. Some poultry and red meats are labeled "antibiotic free." This is slightly better than your average factory farm product because the animals were not continually fed antibiotics. But there are several serious problems with this label. Most importantly, "antibiotic free" meat can be (and usually is) from a factory farm. Secondly, many companies are calling meat antibiotic free even though they used other anti-microbial drugs to raise the animals. In other words, it's largely a matter of semantics.

By category:

1. Beef: Beef has taken the most hits from journalistic exposes but when it comes to animal treatment issues, no one can deny that beef cattle have by far the best lives of all farm animals (much better than dairy cows, in particular). The problem with beef cattle raising is that most cattle are implanted with hormones and are fed a variety of drugs, including antibiotics. Moreover, large beef feedlots are a major environmental hazard because of the enormous amounts of air pollution they cause and the potential to cause serious water pollution. It's important to remember that cattle are grazing animals. The best beef is beef that allowed the cattle to graze for their entire lives. Unfortunately, USDA has created a "grass fed" label that has been criticized by the American Grassfed Association as not being nearly stringent enough. Look for beef that was raised entirely on grass (didn't go through a feedlot), was not implanted with hormones, and was feed only vegetarian feeds. If you can't find totally grass fed beef, opt for beef that was neither fed antibiotics nor implanted with hormones (which is the standard for "natural" beef). Remember that "organic" is not the best label here. The largest producer of "organic" beef in the United States finishes its cattle at a large feedlot.

2. Pork: More than 90 percent of US pork is produced in large, total confinement operations with liquefied manure systems. Most pigs are continually fed antibiotics and other suspect substances, including arsenic and slaughterhouse wastes. Look for pork that was raised on pasture or in deep straw bedding. (Both systems afford the pigs a high quality of life and are environmentally friendly). Make sure the feed was free of drugs, slaughterhouse byproducts, and arsenic. Ask whether the sows were confined to gestation crates or farrowing crates, which are cruel and unnecessary. Make sure the pigs were not raised in confinement buildings with liquefied manure. The liquefied manure system is the lynchpin to the public health, animal welfare, and environmental problems associated with industrial pork. This is one of the few places I will recommend a specific brand: Niman Ranch. (Note: my husband is the founder of the Niman Ranch company but we no longer have any association with it). All of the Niman farmers follow a stringent set of standards that forbid liquefied manure systems; forbid sow crates; forbid feeding drugs or meat byproducts and require humane animal handling.

3. Lamb: Most sheep, like most beef cattle, are raised outdoors. They are grazing animals and belong on grass. There is little factory farming of sheep at this time although many Colorado lambs are finished at feedlots. Recently, however, I learned of a large confinement operation for breeding ewes in Iowa. The facility was so disease ridden that it had to be shuttered. Look for lamb that is born and raised in the United States and make sure that all of the animals, including the breeding ewes, are living on pasture.

4. Goat: Goat is the most frequently consumed meat in the world but most Americans have never tried it. However, as the US population changes and as palates broaden, goat meat is gaining popularity here for the first time. One advantage to eating goat meat is that this is a non-industrialized part of the meat sector. There is no such thing as a goat factory farm. In fact, goat is probably the most environmentally friendly of all meats, because, when properly managed, goats do little damage to the landscape and consume naturally occurring undesirable vegetation, (like poison oak and coyote brush). Look for it at your local farmers market. The best goat meat is from animals raised specifically as meat goats, (rather than dairy goats), especially the Boer and Spanish breeds.

5. Chicken: Like pork, almost all chicken produced in the United States today is from enormous confinement buildings. Instead, look for chicken that was raised on pasture. If it does not specifically say that it was raised on pasture, assume that it was not. Factory farms all raise the same white chicken from a narrow genetic pool. Their bodies are unsound and would be unfit for life outdoors. Thus, even better than just pasture raised are heritage breed chickens raised on pasture, such as the Plymouth Barred Rock, Cornish, and Silver Laced Wyandotte . To the greatest extent possible - buy whole birds, which mean there's been less processing of the meat and it makes it more affordable. Remember that most "antibiotic free" comes from factory farms. Remember, too, that "free range" does not mean the birds were on pasture but it does mean the birds had outdoor access, (so it's somewhat better than non-free range).

6. Turkey: Almost all turkeys raised in the United States are of a single, over bred, white variety called the broad breasted white. They are raised in continual confinement in extremely crowded conditions and normally fed antibiotics for much or all of their lives. Their bodies are horribly unsound. They have trouble standing upright when they reach maturity and they are literally incapable of mating. The only way to get a physically sound turkey is to seek out heritage breed turkeys. Look for heritage turkeys that were raised on pasture. If you cannot find pasture raised birds, get ones that at least had access to the outdoors. Here again, buy whole birds for better safety and quality.

7. Eggs: Eggs from factory farms are particularly unappetizing. Hens are crammed into small cages (called "battery cages") which are stacked on top of one another. The hens are literally defecating on the hens below them. But avoiding them may seem tricky because egg labels are so vexing. There's cage free, free range, organic, vegetarian fed. Remember that "free range" has no meaning when put on an egg carton. Cage free is better than the factory farm norm (in which hens are crammed into crowded cages in which each one has less room than a sheet of paper) but the birds are still continually confined and terribly cramped. The only way to totally avoid the factory farm scenario is to look for eggs from hens that are on pasture. Other than a farmers market or CSA, the best place to find eggs from hens on pasture may be in your own backyard of your neighbor's. A growing number of Americans are keeping backyard flocks and many sell their excess eggs. These eggs are beautiful and taste so much better than supermarket eggs that once you've tried them, you'll never want to go back. Keep in mind that non-factory farming of eggs varies considerably by season because hens' naturally lay in harmony with nature's seasons. The number of eggs they lay corresponds with the amount of daylight. So be prepared for periods of shortage. You may have to go without eggs from time to time, but it will be well worth it.

8. Milk: Fluid milk is generally not transported very far because it cannot be done so economically. This means you need to find a good local source of milk. (If you live in New York, you may be lucky enough to have access to Ronnybrook Farms milk, which is excellent). Remember, you're looking for a dairy where the cows are on pasture as much of the time as possible. Some sell directly to the public. Organic milk, unless is says that the cows are on pasture, may come from confined cows. The local co-op is often a good place to find pasture based milk from a local farm. Remember with milk, if it doesn't indicate that the cows were on pasture, they almost certainly were not. It's always good to keep in mind, if you are unable to find pasture based or organic milk, at a minimum try to avoid milk with growth hormone (called rBST or rBGH). Generally, if the milk is free of growth hormone it will be labeled as such, so if it's unlabeled, it probably came from dairies using hormones.

9. Cheese: Cheeses made from cows on grass are incredibly tasty and are becoming easier to find. There is even a growing movement among traditional American dairies to make their own cheeses right on the farm (called farmstead cheeses). Check your farmers market, co-op and local cheese shop. An excellent source for good cheeses from traditional farms is Murray's Cheese in New York City, which has an exceptionally knowledgeable staff and an online store. Another outstanding source is Cowgirl Creamery, in Point Reyes Station, CA, which has an online store. There are also now many pasture based dairy farms that make and sell their own cheeses directly to consumers. (Always look carefully at the websites to make sure they actually show how their cows live). One particularly impressive pasture dairy I have visited several times is owned an operated by the Klessig family in Cleveland, Wisconsin. They now make and sell their own cheeses under the name Saxon Homestead Creamery.

10. Butter: The key is finding butter made from cows on grass. We like Straus Family Creamery, which is supplied by organic farms that graze their cows. It makes an excellent butter, available in California.

11. Yogurt: Yogurt from pasture based dairies can also be found. The Straus Family Creamery also makes an excellent organic yogurt from cows who live on grass. If you cannot find a good yogurt in your community, you can easily make your own from organic milk. (I have my own yogurt maker but haven't used in years because the Straus yogurt is so good).

Monday, November 09, 2009

Passing notes…

After the reading of Murielle’s Big Date, the audience was handed comment cards on which to make notes about how they felt about the play. After the show, Eric handed them over to me so I could see them but, me being me, I didn’t dare look.

Okay, I took a peek. I looked briefly at each and saw what I was hoping for:

… which is what you want from a comedy.

Then, this morning, I decided to read them all.

And I was shocked.

Some people said the play made people hopeful about the future. Some said that it showed how good people are. Others said it made them feel warm and fuzzy.

Were we at the same play?

But the thing was… that was exactly what I was hoping for when I wrote it. I was just too jaded – am too jaded – to say it out loud. (Actually, this is as close to “out loud” as I’ll probably get.) I touched people. I got through.

Mark me down as pleased… for the next 20 minutes or so, I can allow myself that much.

Shades of Way…

It’s one of those “good news/bad news” things.

Actually, it’s a lot of those “good new/bad news” things.

Here are a few…

So, we had the staged reading on Saturday for my play, Murielle’s Big Date. It was very well. The audience was roaring with laughter, which is kind of what you want in a comedy. All the folks from the theater kept telling me what a terrific play it was. That said, there were only about 15-20 people in the audience, in a theater that sat about 200. That was pretty disappointing. Of the “friends and family” I invited, only about ten showed.

I know of several people who read this blog who are bound to take a great deal of pleasure in the misfortune tied to this event. I will chose to observe the fortunate aspects.

Friday, I found out my old job was open again, the one I got laid off from. Today, I learned it wasn’t my old job after all. My position had already been filled. It was filled shortly after I was laid off. It was filled by a floozy who could barely spell but whom my ex-boss really wanted to fuck, which is how everyone assumed she got the job. This is how I was replaced. This is how replaceable I am. This is what I’m worth, it would appear.

I know of several people who read this blog who will find this pretty damned funny and who will probably send me messages telling me how this proves their theories about my worth. And I agonized over whether I should mention this or not on this public forum but I decided to because I know I’m not above life’s absurdities. I’m not infallible. I’m just as prone to the cruelties of life as anyone else and if knowing how shitty this is for me makes it any easier for someone else to deal with the crap life throws their way then it’s worth it for me to mention it.

Lastly, there’s the issue of how this blog has become a magnet for people who hate me. Because I’ve never been the kind of person to think anyone would hate me. In truth, I just thought I was worth ignoring – so whenever I said anything I thought could be considered controversial I just thought, “Well, they’ll walk away and ignore me.” But the opposite has occurred and struck by the many blows life keeps throwing me way, finding myself able at most to just keep trying and hoping that things get a little better, I wonder to myself more and more what the point is of writing on this blog if the most I can hope for is to make more people hate me. I think of these people - they aren't many but they are loud - and I think I should stop writing in this blog. And when I think of why they might hate me, things get more absurd. Because I don’t do hateful things, things worthy of hatred.

But that doesn’t matter. Life isn’t fair. It’s hard and it’s cold and sometimes people are, too. They don’t care who you are. If you get in the way of someone looking to hate, it’s like standing in a urine stream; you’ll get wet.

So, what’s the good news to the bad news? Why is this called “shades of way”? Because they good news is there’s always another way. I’m going to sidestep the hate as I always do – because I’m very sure I’ll receive comments or emails in response expressing extreme dislike though I won’t really deserve it. I suppose, if I had to guess, one might say that my lack of friends shows I’m not worthy of friendship or that the ease with which I’m replaced shows my lack of professional worth or perhaps that I’m misogynistic in claiming that the woman who replaced me was a floozy – and I’m going to remind myself about how I don’t have to respond to hate or to my job situation or to the small turnout as any indictment against me. Sometimes, shit just happens. And that’s the good news.

Shit just happens. I’ll keep on working on plays, on books, on whatever fulfills me as an artist. You don’t create art just for the audience, after all. And my worth as an employee isn’t determined by what my ex-boss chooses to do in replacing me, and though it might make me feel pretty shitty, it doesn’t mean I don’t have value. And people are going hate you sometimes. You can try to be the nicest person you can be, the best person you can be. It doesn’t matter. Someone once said I was just like one of the people who hates me – but that doesn’t mean it’s true. All it means is they don’t know.

Shit just happens.

And that’s the good news.

Thursday, November 05, 2009

Despite appearances to the contrary…

Woke up this morning just feeling wretched. Not sick, really. Just unable to really move.

We had the final rehearsal for the staged reading last night and I have to say I walked in just thinking, “This is shit. This is crap. Just kill it while you can.” Since the last rehearsal there had been theater problems, friend problems, family problems – all relating to the reading, and I felt like why even bother if it’s gonna be such a pain in the ass, you know? Had the rehearsal sucked just as badly as the previous days, I would have told everyone to piss off for sure.

But the thing is… it didn’t. In fact, it exceeded all my expectations. Please understand that when you’re doing when of these readings, you pretty much have to slap everything together in a matter of days. So there’s really no time for subtleties or nuances – or even fucking getting your steps right. You’re basically throwing shit against a wall and hoping it comes out chocolate pudding. But this was chocolate mousse! It was phenomenal. I found myself laughing so hard, I actually hurt myself.

And I realized, of course, we had to do this. No matter what the problems were. For myself, personally, I’ve finally shown that I can write straight comedy, joke a minute comedy, without all the insecurities I used to have about “Will they like me? Will they think I’m stupid?” No, because you have to be pretty damned smart to write comedy like this. Watching my cast last night, I was pretty damned proud of myself – and that’s a good thing considering how few of my friends or family actually are. As I mentioned before, you really get a feel for who is in your corner during times like this. The guy who says he’s too busy or can’t go because his spouse won’t let him ain’t nothing compared to the guy who offers you his home to rehearse in and comes by to get a look. Anyway, I walked out of there last night like I had a new lease on life, like I was actually a worthwhile person (for a change), and it was wonderful.

Then, as I said, I woke this morning feeling completely horrid. I lay in my warm bed and thought, “Why? Why? Why?” And from out of somewhere came a reply. It said, “Your work is done, isn’t it? No more writing. No more directing. You’ve got everything taken care of. You’ve done your part. Is it any wonder you’re exhausted? Here’s a thought: Rest up. Relax. When Saturday comes, you’ll be able to sit back and enjoy the show and enjoy everyone else enjoying the show.”

Good idea. But I still feel like crap.

Oh well. That’s okay.

Wednesday, November 04, 2009

Checking in…

Hello. I know. It’s been a while. But, hey, I’ve been busy.

For an unemployed bloke, I’m really busy.

… how the hell am I so busy?...

Got me. But it seems I never have a minute these days.

We’re getting ready for the big day, the big reading. It’s this weekend and, as usual, I have mixed emotions. Oh, the actors are doing a great job, of course, but the folks at the theater can’t be less cooperative. And while I’ve heard great news about people being there from several theaters, I am learning who really is my friend and who isn’t. The folks who are suddenly very busy when you need them. This kind of thing separates the friends from the phoneys, let me tell ya.

Of course, I expend a lot of energy looking for work. Finding nothing. Very frustrating. So, I’ve also been focusing on sending as much out to agents and publishers as I can – and find myself met by rotten news about the economy there as well. Turns out plenty of them will be very up front about only wanting to work with people who can guaranty big sales numbers… and here I thought writing a good book would be enough...

It’s easy to lose faith when things are down like this but I’m trying not to. Even if I have to go through the motions, I’ll do that so long as the motions move me forward. Even as a terrible panic, the one that set in the day I lost my job, looms larger and larger and I make myself busier and busier in the hopes that something will help, I try to remember how fortunate I am. Because I honestly am.

And then, I forget to drop a blog on a regular basis… so to speak…

Anyway… hello.

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Let them eat quiche…

Several years ago, I was given a quiche pan. (You can read all about that over on My Side.) Though I held onto the thing, I never made a quiche. It wasn’t that I didn’t like quiche – which surely makes me something less than a “real man” – but while I could eat it, making it was a different matter.

After a while, Vicky told me I either needed to use it or get rid of it. (And, honestly, the thought of “regifting” it was a tempting one.) Well, recently I broke down and did it. I made a quiche.

And holy crap! It was really good! And relatively easy! And… good!

So, here you go. A little quiche recipe from me to you. A quiche is basically a baked omelet so I’ll divide the recipe into egg parts (or base) and everything else.

In a blender or food processor (or a big bowl if you don’t mind a lot of stirring) combine and mix thoroughly:

• 6 large eggs, beaten
• 1 1/2 cups heavy cream
• Salt and pepper

That's your Base. Seriously, that’s it. Mix them well. I haven’t tried substituting half-and-half for cream because it tastes so damn good with cream. (And, in case you’re wondering, I bastardized this from a Paula Deen recipe.) Salt and pepper amounts are up to what you like. I like to throw in a heavy pinch of essence as well. Later, I plan to experiment with other herbs but I think you’ll want to go light no matter what you use.

Now, at the bottom of your quiche pan or pie crust, you’ll want to layer your additions. These can be anything you like in eggs. For my first quiche, I used:

• 1 cup chopped fresh baby spinach, packed
• 1/2 pound bacon, cooked and crumbled
• 1 1/2 cups shredded Swiss cheese

Since then, I’ve also used tomatoes and cheddar. (The swiss adds more of a tang.) I’m planning on using mushrooms, broccoli, and green peppers – though not all at once. Vicky really wants me to try goat cheese.

You put this into an oven preheated at 375 degrees (F) and bake for about 45 minutes or until your knife comes out clean. Then, take it out and let it set for about 5 minutes. You’ll notice it puff up a great deal in cooking and “deflate” at it sets.

Now just sit back and enjoy the goodness.

Honestly, the eggs and cream are all you really need. The rest can be done with leftovers much of the time. I have the feeling I’ll be making a lot more of these in the future.

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

… and the day we all dropped dead…

Life is circuitous.

I say this not just because it happens to be true but also because I like the sound of the word circuitous.

Here’s an example…

A few months ago, I decided to start doing research on a new philosophy book. It was going to be a book about ethics, contributing to ethical theory. It was going to be called Dynamic Pluralism: Ethics for a 21st Century World. I completed quite a bit of research, enough to know that I had something substantive to add. And then, I stopped.

I wrote another play.

Then, I got this staged reading I’m working on.

But I’ve been dying to write and, all along, I’ve been telling myself, “You really should start writing that books on ethics, you know?”

I knew. But something was stopping me. When I realized what it was it made a sad, regretful kind of sense. Plainly, I knew that it didn’t matter what I had to add. Any book I wrote on ethics would be just as ignored as if a 12 year old wrote it. Those who publish books on philosophy – those very few left in the world – are only looking for writers who are already famous for writing books on philosophy. I learned that all too well with Climbing Maya. It was a two-edged slit to the throat: nobody wants to publish philosophy unless you’re famous for writing philosophy. How many famous living philosophers can you name?

I carried this knowledge around with me for a few weeks, with no idea what to do. Then, a few days ago, an alternative began pushing its way through my thick skull. It began with a phrase: The Death of Ethics. That phrase came to me and I thought, “Indeed. Philosophy itself is dead so long as people think it doesn’t relate to them.” And, of course, they don’t. They don’t see the world around them being in a philosophical quandary; nobody looks that far.

Then, it occurred to me that any death of ethics would equally spell demise for morality, as they are roommates on the same coin. But I thought it was something rueful coming out, something morose… far from it.

After about a day of these things spinning through my head, I wrote: The Death of Ethics, The Demise of Morality, and the day we all dropped dead… And when I smiled at the thought, I realized what was happening. Just because I couldn’t write a book on ethics didn’t mean I couldn’t use all these ideas I have. I just had to put them into something I can do.

That’s when I realized my next play would be set in the near future, just as mankind has used up everything on earth. No oil, no animals, no fish, no clean water, no clean air, no plants – the earth is all used up. Typically, people are ignoring that. They’re throwing a wedding. And someone asks, “How the hell did we get here? Who is to blame?” Of course, it all goes back to ethics. So, the play will be called The Death of Ethics, The Demise of Morality, and the day we all dropped dead…

The whole thing seems so funny to me – darkly, sickly funny – that I’ve even written a song. Based on the diseased consumerism we’ve all been addicted to for the past 50 years or so, the song is called “We ate them all!” and it’s a list of all the things that are long, long gone because we ate it all up.

Of course, the play ends with everyone dead, poisoned from feasting on shit. A fitting end if ever there was one.

I don’t know if I’ll really be able to write this but if I do it’ll be far and away a new level for me, beyond the rom-coms I’ve been writing. It’ll be almost as worthwhile as a book on ethics…

Thursday, October 22, 2009

The play’s the thing… that is driving me crazy…

I always go into these things thinking they’ll be easy. They’re easy to write, after all. How difficult could it be to get some friends together and put on a show?

Answer: it is murder.

With my staged reading approaching, I decided that since I don’t know any directors, don’t have access to any directors, and don’t have any Instant Director (just add water), that I’d direct. After all, I directed the last staged reading and that was… well, not a complete disaster… With that decided, I knew who my dream cast would be. I asked and they agreed.

And there we were. I wrote it. I was going to direct it. And I had my dream cast together who…

And then, one of them dropped out. The male lead. Great. But that was okay. It was a fun part that I would love to play so I decided I’d act also. Vicky had to remind me that my roundness wasn’t exactly actor-caliber… so it was crash (and burn) diet time. Time to get out there and jog jog jog (stupid blister)! But then, one of my actresses (to be totally non-PC) recommended someone who could do the role and, after seeing a video, I agree. It was torture, complete hell, but we got him on-board to play the role. Yea!

I went out for ice cream to celebrate.

Then, the guy didn’t call… or return my calls… in fact, he still hasn’t!! And my other actress is worried about the long commute – she’s down in San Diego and out of work and can afford the gas and… With only four parts, somehow I find myself losing 50% of my actors!!!

I mention all of that to tell you this: As I went to bed last night, Vicky asked, “Were you this bad in your other shows?”

“This bad?” I asked.

“You know, this crazy, this stressed, this neurotic.”

And I thought I was handling it all rather well!

So, I told her about my first play, Everything Changes. As we got that one ready, I was going through a nervous breakdown, one that would last the better part of half a year. Was I this bad? Oh, I was far, far worse! But, of course, Vicky came along far too late for that fun. Any stress I’m going through this time doesn’t need to come from my own insecurities or neurosis. I have others helping me along.

And we haven’t had our first rehearsal yet… not even our first!

This should be fun.

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

The Adventures of Blisterboy…

I’m not normally one to get blisters. I suppose this explains how when I got one I ignored it until it was far too late.

Last Wednesday, I was out jogging and felt a terrible pain in my left foot. Must be a rock in my shoe, I thought. I figured it would go away…

Last Thursday, I jogged six miles. Heading back after three, I realized there was a rock in my shoe, which was moving around on the left side of my left foot. On the right side of my left foot, there was that terrible pain again… and I still had a couple of miles to go…

By this time, I figured it had to be a blister. When I took off my socks and shoes, I looked at my foot. I couldn’t find the blister and realized, after a bit, that was because the blister took up much of one side of my foot! I stayed off my foot for the rest of the day and Vicky was kind enough to buy some blister bandages, with medicine that’s supposed to help them go away.

Friday. Dizzyland. I had the bandage and comfy shoes but I was still limping quite a bit. But that was okay. Then, we went on Splash Mountain. In the first two seats, we wanted to get wet because it was so hot out. We got drenched. Saturated. We were so wet no amount of standing out in the sun was going to help. So, we hit the Haunted Mansion and took off for home and a change of clothes. That’s when I saw my blister bandage torn off… along with part of the blister… ouch…

Another bandage later – make that two – and we were off again. Saturday. Vicky had bought us tickets to see The Firesign Theatre up in Hollywood. (I can just hear “Jane” getting worked into a lather. Well, for you Jane-itics out there, Dizzy was free and Firesign was half off and her idea!) (Twits.) We parked at the bottom of a large hill, which is where the only parking in Hollywood seems to be, and commenced hiking. The Firesign Theatre wasn’t just funnier than I’d ever heard them being, this being my first time seeing them live; they were funny than I had imagined they could be. Even Vicky, she of the Vow of Never Laughing, was busting a gut next to me. We returned home to find the bandages pulled from my foot and I gave up…

So, no jogging for me for a while. I rested Sunday and cycled yesterday. Today, it’s back out on the trail for me and my tootsies. Wish me luck. I think, this time, I’ll pay more attention… maybe…

Friday, October 16, 2009

Eleven years at a time…

Wow. Forty-four. Really?

Even as I write this, forty-four years ago I was coming out “the shute”… As I look back, the one thing that strikes me is how unlikely it all is and how I should never presume to know how it’ll turn out.

When I was just a quarter as old as I am now, I had no inkling I’d live this long. When I was eleven, I didn’t know I’d end up a writer or an actor. I had dreams. I thought, “Wouldn’t it be cool if…” but I had no idea what it meant to write or act… just as I had no idea what it meant to grieve or to love…

At half my age, I had very clear ideas. At 22, I knew what I’d be, how I’d do it, where I’d end up… the lot. And I was wrong about nearly all of it. I was sure I’d never act again, that my first novel would sell, that my first wife and I would be together forever, and so on. If you counted up the misconceptions of my life, I’m sure they’d add up to at least 22 but the biggest one would be that I knew anything about my life.

Just one quarter of a lifetime ago, at 33, things were quite the opposite. Nothing was sure. Things were falling apart in my marriage, I’d become so discouraged in my writing that I was hardly moving forward, and though I had a house and a new car I never really felt sure.

At 44, so much is the same even as so much is different. I can sympathize with my 33 year old self because things still don’t feel very sure, an unfortunate side-effect of my divorce. It’s taken half my life to learn that when you think you know everything, that’s when you don’t. I’ll make no wagers as to where my life will be at 88, should I live that long, because I know things could change as much between then and now as they have in the first half (or more) of my life. Fortunately, I’m blessed with still retaining that eleven year old’s dreams of “Wouldn’t it be cool if…”

There are some real surprises for me this morning. At 44, I’m in better shape than I’ve been in years. I am more the person I had hoped to be at eleven than the person I was sure I’d end up as at 33. Somewhere, hope returned. And the comedy in my saying that may not be obvious to you, the reader. What you don’t know if that I had an absolutely awful interview yesterday. One of the highlights of the meeting with four execs, interviewing for a job planning strategies for e-commerce, was the one guy who saw on my resume that I’d done some technical writing and decided not to read any further than that one line. “You’re just a technical writer. You don’t know anything about any of this,” he told me, repeatedly, refusing to listen when I explained the rest of my resume to him. Things look pretty grim right now but that’s just right now. They’ve been better and they’ll be better still… at least, I hope so.

Thursday, October 15, 2009

Too busy to do nothing…

As usual, or at least as recently, the title is a dig against myself. I have a lot I want to do but I also have a lot I have to do while simultaneously having nothing to do.

Wait. Let me try that again.

I’ve got a big interview tomorrow for an e-commerce job, developing strategies for e-commerce sales, etc. etc. I felt pretty prepared. I had a great Powerpoint presentation ready to go that showed how the company could effectively innovate their e-marketing with little outlay… and then I received an email, which said in effect, “We want you to change everything but please don’t change anything. We like things just as they are.” So, I’m supposed to impress them by being unimpressive. No matter, it just means I’ll have to tap dance better than I thought.

Things for the reading are coming together as they fall apart. I lost one actor. His father is sick and, after losing my own dad, I know how much it means to spend what time you can with an ailing parent. Now, the call is out to an LA comedian that might just fit the bill. He’s tied up to two other shows in addition to his own so I’m not entirely sure he’ll be up to it. If he’s not, I figure I’m going to step in and fill the part. I’ve done it before – the writer/director/actor thing – so it wouldn’t be the first time. Meanwhile, it turns out one of my actors just happens to have they keys to a local theater where he’s allowed quite a few liberties – so we may just have an unexpected source of rehearsal space. This is good because as helpful as Sean is being I hate to impose impose impose. (I prefer to keep it to twice.)

So, I’m getting things ready for this interview and assembling blocking notes for the reading… all the while wanting very much to start writing something new. I just finished a long string of comedies: Sometimes We Find Our Way, Murder Zombies The Devil and Stuff, Diamonds To Go… I don’t have a joke left, couldn’t be funny if you paid me. (Okay, maybe if you paid me.) Right now, my thoughts are turned to writing something angry and emotionally messy. Once I get some time, I’m sure I’ll do just that – the dig in the title is a reflection on how much success I’ve met with my plays. But I keep writing them.

And that brings up a point I’ve been considering all day. Anyone out there with artistic inclinations of any kind may relate to this. After all the books I’ve written and plays I’ve written, somehow from somewhere deep inside me they keep coming. I’ve known writers who gave up in their teens. I’ve know other writers who still write but it’s the same story they’ve been writing for twenty years. They never grow. So, I’ve got to wonder when my turn is coming and if it will come before I find any success off the crap. After all, I’m not getting any younger. In fact, I’m pretty damn old. Every new book or play could be the last one I write and I’m very aware of this, so I consciously set out to make sure I’m getting the most bang for my creative buck. They day will come when I won’t be able to produce anymore. I want it to be worth it.

I actually have two readings in November, which caused some confusion with one of my actors. I could think of far worse fates than that, believe me.

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

A fine mess…

Updates. Downdates. Sidedates.

Theatre of the Mind

Vicky gave me a birthday surprise last night, this after I repeatedly told her we were broke and I’d rather just stay home and eat Chinese food. (Granted, for me that’s every day.) In addition to hitting Dizzyland on my birthday, we’ll be going to see The Firesign Theatre live in Hollywood!! Wow!

Talk about “Forward into the Past”!

The idea has struck me as the best way to make me feel old – you know, to go see a group of elderly comics – but what a better way to celebrate the last 44 years? After all, I can think of no single greater influence on my comedy writing because these aren’t guys from another country (like Monty Python) or another time (like the Marx Brothers). These were four or five guys from southern California who got together and recorded absurd sketches and theater of the mind. They didn’t need a film crew; it was something me and my friends could do… if we were funny enough…

Theatre of the Soul

And speaking of funny enough, I’m happy to announce that one of my plays will be having a staged reading in just a few weeks down here in Southern California! I’ve put together my dream cast, some of whom I’ve worked with before and others I haven’t yet worked with, and I’m directing. It’s a very exciting, if stressful, time.

The worst part, though, is that I can’t really tell you when or where or what… I can’t tell you much at all, really.

You see, this blog attracts so much inexplicable hatred from people that I’m afraid of what might happen should one of my least friendly followers decide to go. I’ve had threats on my other blog because I had the audacity to suggest that torture might not be Christian and this has just moved over to this blog as well. Even when I took my more political writing over to the other blog, it seems that people are going to hate me no matter what. Just a couple of weeks ago, when I suggested that my wife and I could not afford a new TV, some anonymous crackpot decided to call me a hypocrite. I couldn’t begin to tell you why.

But those of you who are my friends are more than welcome to come to the show. I extend a laurel and hardy invitation. Just shoot me an email and I’ll give you the details. It is my hope that those who find it so important to spew their hatred at me will eventually grow tired of it and move over to read Glenn Beck’s tirades, where I’m sure they’ll be far more comfortable.

Theatre of the Body

So, I rode my second metric (100 kilometers) of the year this past weekend. I was very pleased because not only was that twice as many metrics as last year but I’m also getting more accustomed to it.

I left here around 8:30am, setting out down the Santa Ana River Trail. I knew it would be cold at the beach but – YIKES – it was freezing! But I kept going up the coast to Long Beach, where I turned around and headed back. It was a beautiful day for all the cold and, though I hurt when I returned, I never once wished I was dead… and that’s new for me!

Cycling season is pretty much wrapped up for me. The weather had taken on an autumnal feel and mornings are just too cold. (I’m a wuss, of course.) So, I’m packing up the bike and putting it in the garage for a few months. The upside to this is that now that I’m jogging, I’ll remain active anyway. I went out for a five mile jog today, bundled up in sweats, and it felt good to be out running again. My body still hates me occasionally but it’s getting better.

I surely prefer this to smoking!

Theatre of the Paycheck

I didn’t know how else to put this but it applies… I guess…

I had a pretty good interview a couple of weeks back and this week will be round two. Round two consists of… well.. how to put this? You see, I went in for a Marketing Communications Writer position – you know, typical Ken-job kinda stuff. Then, they saw my managerial experience and the position changed to Marketing Communications Manager. Then, they saw my experience as a marketing manager and the position changed again. Now, I’m interviewing for an E-Commerce Specialist role, setting goals and creating strategies for online sales.

I’m going in this week with a ten minute presentation on how I believe the company can do just that.

The thing is, of course, that I feel like a fraud because this position is now one I’m normally considered for. You know, there’s a part of me that believes – hey – I’m just a writer. But then, this isn’t that much of a stretch. After all, I did this back at Allied. Somewhere between the two, stress is created… and I’ll just be glad to get this over with. And I hope they like it. Because it would be nice to see a regular paycheck again… it’s been a while…

You know, when I get all that down on paper things look pretty busy around here. They are. And I forgot to mention how great Vicky has been through it all. She has. I can’t wait until she sees my show. Of course, I’ll need to get her to listen to a little Firesign Theatre so she knows what she’s in for up in Hollywood. My guess is she wonders what’s so funny – but that’s just me.

Anyway… lots to look forward to…

Thursday, October 08, 2009

Ode to a jalapeno plant…

WARNING: Cats like the taste of jalapeno pepper plants!

… well, mine do…

… well, at least one of mine does…

Yes, I transplanted the jalapeno pepper plant that was growing so well. I got it into the ground and it began to flourish.

Then, my cats ate it… or cat… anyway, it’s dead now... chewed to bits... Sob.

There you go. Lesson learned. I guess I’ll wait a bit before I plant another…

Tuesday, October 06, 2009

My life in five minutes…

I thought I’d give you a brief update – because as good as Facebook is it certainly does eschew details. That said…


I’ve been waiting for the right weather to ramp up and get ready to cycle my second metric of the year. (A metric is 100 kilometers.) Every time I think I’m ready we get crazy heat or stupid winds or something like that. This week, it’s cool and while it is breezy it is rather nice. So, I’m getting ready.

The thing about riding a metric, for me, is that it’s basically sado-masochism on wheels. Yesterday, I rode 25 miles (about 40k). I thought, “That hurt,” and went to a 36 mile ride (about 58k) today. That hurt more, so I’ll ride further tomorrow – until I get to 100k this weekend. This I call fun…


I had a rather interesting job interview recently where the employer changed her mind and decided that rather than consider me for a writing position she would consider me for an E-commerce Specialist position. Now, let’s ignore how very under qualified I am… ignoring that, yet? Next week, I’m supposed to give a volley of managers a PowerPoint presentation showing how I change their online strategy and improve their online presence… sure… no problem.

So, I’ve begun working on a strategy I think will work. This job would be mostly strategizing with management possibilities (or so I’m told), so I guess I’ll be ready for a career of improvising should I get the job…


Can you believe I’ve written six plays in the last eight months? Neither can I! Of course, it would be nice to find a theater that would buy one of them… which, of course, if why nobody should ever be encouraged to pursue writing. Seriously.

And lastly…

Yes, I’ve been negligent in keeping this site up. But when you’re unemployed there’s just not much to talk about. You want to hear about how Vicky and I talked about how we couldn’t afford a new TV? I didn’t think so. Just bear with me. Okay?

In the meantime, I’ve got a birthday coming up. So you’re bound to hear all about a trip to Dizzyland really soon!

Sunday, September 27, 2009

Times like these, I wonder…

As you can probably imagine, I face a lot of rejection as a writer. After all these years, I’m used to it. I’d probably die of shock if someone actually offered to publish me.

But enough of that.

The reason I’m writing today is to give you an example of what rejection is like as a writer. Now, in case you didn’t know, publishers are incredibly, insanely specific about what they want. Some publishers only print work about dog. Small dogs. Some publishers only print work about the south winning the Civil War. Some publishers only print work about New England Housewives Under 25 Who Walk With a Limp on Their Left Foot Caused By a Childhood Injury.

It’s strange.

Just about the strangest rejection I’ve had, however, I received last week. It was regarding my book on success: Climbing Maya. I was rejected because (and I’m quoting here)the title was a little suggestive”. Suggestive of what?! Even I, a lifelong pervert had to take a few minutes to figure this one out!

So there you go. One publisher is avoiding this book because it could possibly be misconstrued as PORN! It terrifies them so that they couldn't even suggest changing the title! They were scarred by the smutty name!

... maybe I should change it... to Cattle Fuckers...