Monday, December 12, 2011

[Staglevision] thank you, LA

Dear friends and readers,

It's official. In two weeks, I'm leaving my job, leaving my apartment, leaving move home and finally finish my novel. Living in LA has nurtured me creatively and helped me develop my voice to a point where I feel confident that I can write the book I set out to write. I'm excited for what next year will bring as I finish this draft, begin the submission process, and apply to fiction MFA programs.

Thank you all for encouraging me to follow my dreams, for challenging me, and for helping me grow as a writer and a human being.

And for those of you in LA, how about one more round of Sprites and ammo this Saturday, December 17 at the Arsenal?
Drinks @ The Arsenal
Saturday, December 17 at 8:00pm
The Arsenal
12012 W. Pico Boulevard
Los Angeles, CA 90064

Hope to see you there,

P.S. A friend's house recently caught on fire. Then something miraculous happened.
Here's the video:

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Thursday, September 8, 2011

Ladder 6 - A SpiritClips Original Film

For the 10th anniversary of 9/11, we've created this original motion comic film, Ladder 6, free to watch and share at The true story of a group of FDNY firefighters from Ladder 6 company, who miraculously survived the World Trade Center collapse because they stopped to help Josephine Harris, an elderly woman who was trapped on the staircase on September 11, 2001.

Tuesday, July 26, 2011

[Staglevision] living in the tin house

Dear friends and readers,

It's been a week since I returned from the Tin House Summer Writer's Workshop, but sometimes I still catch myself wondering what afternoon lectures I'll be attending, what sugared treats await me on the dining hall dessert cart, what creative cuss words Dorothy Allison will scream out next.

Call it denial, but it feels more like a high that refuses to fade. That week in Portland, Oregon was a pure delight. Once my "ride friends" and I arrived at Reed College, it was easy to forget everything else. The green, wooded campus was a self-contained world. It was just us and the middle school math campers in their multicolored sarongs.

Our daily schedules were packed with events: morning lectures, two-hour workshops, afternoon panel discussions, agent and editor meetings (daunting at first, but surprise! they're human). Then, in the evening, we'd gather in Reed's outdoor amphitheater on the creek for cocktails and faculty readings (occasionally interrupted by intrepid joggers, and once, a saucer-eyed kid on X).

One night, a group of us explored downtown Portland. Another night, we held a guerrilla reading in our dorm's third-floor common room. At the end of the week, there was a dance party that lasted from 9pm until the airport shuttle picked us up at 4am...

My novel workshop with Jonathan Dee contained writers of diverse ages, backgrounds, and nationalities. I developed a reputation as a constant snacker, my messenger bag overflowing with napkin-wrapped baked goods. It was really productive to be in a group where everyone was working on a novel. We struggled with similar questions: Should you frame narratives set in the past? How much does a reader need to be 'grabbed' or 'hooked' on page one? What is the balance between lyricism and abstraction?

I workshopped 25 pages of my novel, beginning with the scene where Sy shapeshifts for the first time. The feedback I received was really encouraging and constructive; it not only resolved some of the stylistic doubts I had while writing those pages, but also explained why I'm having difficulty with the scene I'm currently writing. Ben's failure to react to Sy's initial transformation is, I think, what has made it so difficult to write the scene where they confront each other the next day. I've been writing backwards, trying to figure out exactly what Ben saw/heard/felt the night before.

I'm back in the real world now, fighting for time to write in a world that conspires to keep me from writing. At Jonathan's suggestion, I'm continuing my education by reading all the Paris Review interviews with famous writers from 1950 to the present. In one interview, Robert Stone said, "[Writing is] goddamn hard. Nobody really cares whether you do it or not. You have to make yourself do it." In that respect, Tin House was such a gift because everyone cared. Everyone understood how hard it was.

One important idea that our instructors reiterated throughout the week: good writing takes time. There are writers who have spent 10 to 20 years working on their novels. So take the time you need to get it right. Give yourself that permission, and don't beat yourself up about it. Don't rush the work. Agents and editors will still be interested one year, two years down the road.

I know I'll forget this later, so I wanted to say it here.

Till soon,

P.S. Here are some photos from the week!


Friday, June 17, 2011

[Staglevision] simply teevs

Dear friends and readers,

There are many aspects of fashion that I detest: fashion as superficial culture (though I am superficial); fashion as a label parade (though I'm a certified brand whore); fashion without taste. I don't often spend money on new clothes. Unlike my sister, I prefer comfy over vogue and am content to wear socks and underwear until they unravel. Most weekends you'll find me in my coffee house grunge: gray t-shirt, glasses, hoodie, and jeans. I've been known--to Camille's horror--to still wear button-down shirts that I bought in the eighth grade.

What I do like about fashion is its craftsmanship. Fashion as history, fashion as art. Every few years the planets will realign, and an object will command my full, obsessive attention. To buy or not to buy? I'll hunt down the Platonic form of the object in question: memorizing model numbers and specs, befriending salespeople, clipping promo codes for the best possible deal. Family and friends will weigh in with exasperation as my decision making process spans weeks, months. They remember the infamous Kenneth Cole watch of 2005, the APC overcoat of 2008 (Jack!), and most recently, a pair of Persol eyeglasses and Aldo moccasins.

Persol Eyeglasses. PO2857V. 95 - 54 - 16 - 140. I imagine myself flashing this smart Persol frame (with Giuseppe Ratti's iconic, "warrior-inspired" metal arrows) at business meetings and nights at the opera. According to the Persol website, the black acetate is derived from pulverized cotton flowers, allowing the frame to maintain cotton's natural properties--allergy free and warm to the touch. Researching these glasses convinced me that I needed Trivex anti-reflective lenses rather than the standard polycarbonate. Trivex is lighter and has better optics; anti-reflective coating reduces computer glare. "They're an investment!" I told myself. "In my writing! And they really do make a difference.
Aldo Ballato Men's Moccasins. The Ballato's personality is in the details. With its hidden gray laces and metallic eyelets, it's summery yet subdued, a modern boating shoe. Its serious slate-gray canvas and leather exterior contrasts with its playful white and navy-blue checkered interior. Ballato means "danced, footed" in Italian, but when I first wore these shoes, they cut into my heels. That first week, I felt like the little mermaid, "stepping on piercing needles and sharp knives" whenever I set my foot down. My mom noticed immediately: "Why are you limping?" And Tyrrell, ever the bully, said, "Maybe they'll never fit." I endured the pain, washing bloody socks and hoping my foot would mold to the shoe. At last, Camille recommended a pair of heel liners that saved my life.

Perhaps that's the true power of fashion: every object signifies a story we wish to tell about ourselves. Fashion is how we choose to look, a reflection of our taste, not our genes. And sometimes that's worth the cost, worth the pain. To walk into a room reframed, to own something so sleek and well-designed it makes you reconsider yourself.

Till soon,

P.S. Next month I'm attending the Tin House Summer Writers Workshop, a weeklong intensive of workshops, seminars, panels, and readings led by the editors of Tin House and their guests - prominent contemporary American writers of fiction, nonfiction, and poetry. I'll be workshopping the fourth chapter of my novel with Jonathan Dee, a Contributing Writer for New York Times Magazine and a former Senior Editor of the Paris Review. I can't wait!
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Thursday, May 5, 2011

[Staglevision] children pursued and possessed

Dear hearts,

For the past two months, I've been obsessed. In March, I saw the LA Opera production of Benjamin Britten's The Turn of the Screw. Based on the novella by Henry James, the opera is about a governess's struggle to protect her young charges from the carnal influence of two lingering ghosts.

Britten's chamber opera reminded me of another story of endangered children: The Night of the Hunter, directed by Charles Laughton, starring Robert Mitchum, Shelley Winters, and Lillian Gish. Mitchum, his knuckles tattooed with the words LOVE and HATE, plays a sinister preacher whose nefarious motives for marrying a fragile widow are uncovered by her terrified young children.
Both works are eerie and strange, seemingly out of place in the 1950s when they debuted. Their monsters are wolves in sheep's clothing: seductive, and therefore all the more potent. Peter Quint, the spectral valet who the opera implies was "free with everyone / with little master Miles," wears a suave black suit throughout the performance. His counterpart, Preacher Harry Powell, dressed in a distinctive black vest and hat, charms the unwitting faithful with his tale of Right Hand, Left Hand, of good and evil. These villains speak an adult language. They are artful, they can pass among the guardians of the innocent. In Turn of the Screw, even the children are drawn to the ghosts' evil; over the course of the opera, we see them less as victims than as ambiguous co-conspirators.

I want to discuss a scene from each production that really stuck me: Turn of the Screw's Act II, Scene 1/Variation 8: Colloquy and Soliloquy and the scene in Night of the Hunter where Preacher murders Willa Harper, the children's mother. Both scenes are set in the bedroom, a place of safety, the altar of our rest. In both scenes, this refuge is violated. Malevolence penetrates our innermost chamber, the sanctuary where our grown-up imaginations still run wild. Turn of the Screw's second act opens with the two ghosts poised over the children's beds. Quint and Miss Jessel speak of their dependence upon one another, and upon the children.

Quint and Miss Jessel:
Day by day the bars we break,
Break the love that laps them round,
Cheat the careful watching eyes,
'The ceremony of innocence is drowned.'
'The ceremony of innocence is drowned.'

The children cannot be protected. The wolves are already inside.
Light and shadow play a significant role in both works. Famous cinematographer Stanley Cortez shot Night of the Hunter on high-contrast Tri-X film to achieve deep blacks and pure whites. In the murder scene, Willa's a-frame bedroom looks like the nave of a church. She prepares for spiritual salvation, haloed in light, while her romantic waltz commingles with the preacher's dark chords. Preacher tilts his head, listening to the voice of his God. Then he descends on her with his knife, and now the children are truly alone.

What is the romance of so much dark? As a child, danger seems ever present. Creativity and imagination feed fear. Both Night of the Hunter and Turn of the Screw blur the lines of reality and imagination, unleashing the children's subjectivity onto the world. A subjectivity where Preacher's animal howl chases John and Pearl down the Ohio River, where Miles and Flora's governess begins to doubt her own sanity. Like a Grimm fairy tale, these stories tap our most primal fears. It's good versus evil, and innocence is at stake, innocence relentlessly hounded.

Bedroom Scene from Night of the Hunter:

Trailer for Turn of the Screw:

Till soon,

P.S. My media diet the past two months:

Performance: The Turn of the Screw conducted by James Conlon (William Burden as Quint)
CD: The Turn of the Screw conducted by Benjamin Britten (Peter Pears as Quint)
CD: The Turn of the Screw conducted by Steuart Bedford (Philip Langridge as Quint)
Book: The Turn of the Screw and Other Stories by Henry James
DVD: The Turn of the Screw BBC production (Mark Padmore as Quint)

DVD: The Night of the Hunter directed by Charles Laughton
DVD: Charles Laughton Directs "The Night of the Hunter" edited by Robert Gitt
Book: The Night of the Hunter by Davis Grubb
Book: The Night of the Hunter: A Biography of a Film by Jeffrey Couchman
Book: Heaven & Hell To Play With: The Filming of "The Night of the Hunter" by Preston Neal Jones

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Wednesday, April 13, 2011

[Staglevision] waking in banksy's la

Dear friends and readers,

In the weeks leading up to the Academy Awards, British graffiti artist Banksy swept through LA with a unique campaign to promote his Oscar-nominated documentary, Exit Through the Gift Shop. The day of the Oscars, Tyrrell and I embarked on a nine-hour odyssey to photograph ten new pieces of Banksy art. Our expedition took us from downtown to Malibu, through all different neighborhoods of LA.

1. Caution, Fun Sign #1: East Cesar E Chavez Avenue & Pleasant Ave
Parodying the signs warning drivers of immigrant families sprinting across the highway, Banksy's Caution, Fun depicts the sprinting family holding a kite. The two signs were strategically placed in neighborhoods with large Mexican populations.

We arrived not knowing where to look, what to expect. "Do you know where we can find the Banksy graffiti art?" Two garage mechanics told us it had been tagged and painted over the day before. "Yesterday there were a bunch of people here taking photos," they said. "Who is Banksy?" We'd missed the piece by one day. And so the clock started ticking.
2. Caution, Fun Sign #2: 2446 E 1st St and Soto
A Mexican guy with a lollipop and a bag of laundry slung over his shoulder showed us where the piece had been cut from the wall. "That landlord never fixes anything," he said, nodding to the adjacent building. "But when the guys on that Clint Eastwood pic told him it was valuable, he took it down right away. I bet he kept it. It's not even his building!"

"I bet they only steal them on the east side," I told Tyrrell.
"On the west side, they paint over them," Tyrrell said. "Who's smarter?"
3. Crayon Foreclosure: 1547 E Washington Blvd
Here's how to spot a Banksy: look for hipsters snapping pictures. Once you make it through the cluster of plaid shirts and skinny jeans, the reveal will take your breath away. This was our first Banksy, shielded in Plexiglass by some kind soul. "I'm working here on a shoot tomorrow," a woman said. "I can't believe it's right here."
4. Wall Art in Parking Lot: S Broadway & W 9th St
During our hunt, I found myself doing things I hadn't done in a long time. I climbed a tree downtown to photograph a Banksy piece on the roof of a building. I did it partly to impress Tyrrell, but also because the hunt renewed an exuberance and a sense of adventure I hadn't felt in a long time. Nestled in the tree, dirt streaking my jeans, I felt like anything could happen.
5. Valero Monkey: S La Brea Ave & Melrose
Tyrrell called me on the road. "I found one," she said. "I found a Banksy." While she posed before the wall imitating the monkey's hunch, a man walked by with his boy. "That's a piece by a very famous street artist," the man told his son.
6. Banksy Oscar Homage by Mr. Brainwash: S La Brea Ave & Dockweiler St
Even before we saw Mr. Brainwash's name scrawled in white paint beside the piece, we knew it wasn't a Banksy. The man would never place himself on an Oscar statuette. And what's with the Stormtroopers, anyway?
7. Charlie Brown Firestarter: Sunset and La Cienega
Goodbye, the board said. Goodbye, with kisses. The piece cut from the wall of the burned-out building featured Charlie Brown with a gas tank and a cigarette dangling from his mouth.  It reportedly sold on eBay for $8000.
8. Pissing Dog: Camp JEM, Beverly Hills
So many of the Banksy pieces had been stolen or defaced that we were anxious to see how Beverly Hills would respond to its Banksy. When we arrived at Camp JEM's parking lot, we found that a security guard had been posted on site. A security guard to protect a dog whose piss arced over the concrete wall.

"Who hired you?" I asked. "Was it the city? The landlord?"
"I don't know," he said. "I just got a call."

The guard gave the place an air of formality. Someone had hauled in a toilet with the words Photos Here. It was safe and touristy. It was Beverly Hills.
9. Crayon Shooter: Glendon Ave & Kinross Ave
In the alleyway behind Urban Outfitters, the Crayon Shooter had been defaced and then restored. Gray paint smeared the green wall like smog. UCLA students on the hunt asked us if we'd seen others. Veterans of the scene, we shared our pictures with them and told stories from our day around the city. We hammed it up in front of the camera.
10. Elephant Water Tower: Between Channel and Temescal
Dusk fell. We ran along Pacific Coast Highway, cars whizzing by at 80 miles per hour. Tyrrell, motherly, kept telling me to stay out of the street. Running through the brush with the sun setting behind me, I felt a rush of excitement. At any moment, the elephant would appear.
Banksy's canvases are stolen space, yet the beauty and renown of his work often increases the value of the properties he vandalizes. He entrusts his art to public spaces. They're left to us--unprotected, ultimately accessible--and what becomes of them is a reflection of our communities. The art Tyrrell and I encountered that day was stolen, tagged up, defaced, and painted over. It was photographed, guarded, discussed, and protected. The work provoked different reactions from different neighborhoods. Oftentimes, our access was limited by the owners of the surfaces Banksy altered, complicated by the fame of the artist himself. Banksy's art made the city a little less familiar. It renewed LA's magic and proved that there is still much to be discovered.

Our treasure map:

Our full photo set:

Till soon,

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Sunday, February 27, 2011

[Staglevision] leak 2

Dear friends and readers,

Nothing in this exhibit room but a snare drum and a whirring fan.

"Is that leak supposed to be there?" a visitor asks.

Water leaks from the ceiling above the snare drum. Every few seconds, a drop forms and falls. The drop should hit the drum. You can almost hear the sound it would make. But an electric fan blows each drop off course, over the drum and onto the floor.

You can't see the drop diverted. I narrow my eyes, try not to blink. I watch each drop grow full, tremble as gravity pulls it down. A spotlight catches the drop as it falls towards the drum. I don't see it again until it splatters the concrete floor. A brown, oval stain has formed around the leak on the ceiling. A puddle gathers at the foot of the drum. Where water has evaporated, minerals in the water leave amorphous white rings. Stain on ceiling, stain on floor. The invisible leak makes itself visible.

Water droplets fall over and over. They can't help falling, can't help yielding to the whirring fan. The silent drum is seductive, tantalizing. If just one drop were to hit. One drop. It's possible, isn't it? The sound of water hitting the instrument as present as an echo in my head. Try to isolate another sound. Can you hear droplets smack the floor? Or is that sound imagined too? I want water to gush from the ceiling. I want to beat the snare drum with my hands.

The piece becomes an orchestration of failure, of mistakes we make again and again hoping for outcomes so nearly realized.

Fernando Ortega
Gotera 2 (Leak 2)

A leak, directed toward a snare drum, is diverted by the air of a fan placed next to the instrument.

Fernando Ortega's conceptual works involve performative and nonperformative actions in which he recreates an event or situation that he has observed in the world or arranges a set of parameters and waits to see what will happen.

All of This and Nothing is a current exhibition at the Hammer Museum.

Till soon,

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Wednesday, February 2, 2011

[Staglevision] tradition and superstition

Dear friends and readers,

Last week, Nico and I attended Maxine Hong Kingston's reading at the Hammer. It was an event I'd been looking forward to for a long time, since from her picture, Maxine looked so adorable: a little old Chinese lady with long white hair and a mischievous twinkle in her eyes.
Here are some things she told us:

"A writer takes on the responsibility of making culture."

Throughout her work, especially in The Woman Warrior, Maxine combated stereotypes of Chinese people on TV and in the movies. She described Chinese culture as a culture in which writing is sacred. It's a culture where you can send letters to your dead by burning them as offerings. Where every scrap of writing used to be collected and incinerated separately from the trash, the ashes scattered in the ocean. There's a Chinese saying, she said, that you can squeeze poetry out of people.

I've never thought about my writing as a cultural inheritance, so I was proud to discover this ancestral appreciation of writing, as if reverence for the written word was coded into my DNA.

"I have a superstition that as long as I--as any writer--have things to write, I keep living."

Maxine is a dragon in the Chinese zodiac. In Chinese culture, the dragon is a water dragon like the mist that hangs over the mountains. She said her writing came out of that mist, a description of inspiration as poetic as I've ever heard.

She told us she often succumbed to magical thinking. She'd see an ancient Chinese whistling arrow in a museum and wonder whether she saw it in the past and subconsciously incorporated it into her fiction, or whether the arrow itself existed because she'd imagined it in her fiction.

Don't all writers think like that? The world you imagine and the world you perceive can't be too different. I often take cues from my writing. People have walked into my life after I've written them into stories. People who look like my characters, who share their names. I'm drawn to people who remind me of the characters I've created. And the characters I create often reflect those close to me.

"A writer's life is so terrible. Everyone's having a party, but you can't go because you have to sit at home and write."
Pretty self-explanatory!


For Christmas, Ellen gifted me a gorgeous black wood bookshelf from Ikea. The bookshelf stands 8 feet tall. It could kill you if it fell on you. It looms over the TV and hungers for books.

I brought books from home to fill it. Now I have a periodical section, a poetry section, a modern first edition section, and a critical theory section.
I moved my old bookshelf (black bookshelf minor) into the dining nook for additional periodicals, library books, cooking and LA reference. What goes better with tea and cookies than a back issue of One Story or LA Magazine?

Till soon,