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Archive for February, 2010


February 25, 2010 By: admin Category: Coal, Faith, Filmmaking, Living, Unemployment, Valet Battleship Parking, Video

Since I bought my house there have been items and places on the property and on me that smell like skunk. It’s a semi-permanent thing. “Semi” because once I finally block up the accesses to the crawlspace under the barn where the little buggers live, the smell will fade over time (to be replaced by other more pleasant ones, I hope). But for the time being some piece of me or my life will smell like skunk.


Dr. of Animal Science and professor at Colorado State University and autistic, Temple Grandin said “Nature is cruel, but we don’t have to be.” This is the simplest I’ve ever heard The Golden Rule described. It’s not enough, apparently, to let people know that they have to be kind, you have to paint them a picture. Dr. Grandin’s phrase is as clear a picture as there is. Just watch any National Geographic special about animals in the wild and you’ll get the idea…

Nature is on my mind today as it has been almost every day since my unemployment-forced convalescence began. It’s because when I wake up I can see it and hear it all around through the many windows in my house, and because the business of nature has permeated my smell. Smell is identity. It can pinpoint time and place, and sometimes emotion. Sometimes a scent on me will be the inspiration for me to change my attitude. If I’m dirty I shower, sure, but that’s not it. Sometimes I’m perfectly clean and shower anyway because I need that fresh, organic shampoo smell to clear my mind.

I’ve been wound-up pretty tight lately because of the unemployment. It seems that no matter how many resumes I send out there is no work for me. It used to be that I could figure out what I was doing wrong, what I was saying in a cover letter that I shouldn’t say, or what I should remove from my resume to make myself seem a little less experienced (read: “expensive”). It is just fact that I’ve been doing what I do as long as I’ve been doing it, but that’s not what employers in this economy want to hear. They want to hear that you’re “inexperienced” (read: “cheap”), but have been working at this thing long enough to… you know… know everything.When I first got into filmmaking you had to have experience as a producer. Then you had to have experience as a videographer. Then you needed to know how to edit, which made you a Preditor (Producer/Editor). Then you needed to know how to create basic graphics. These days, if you can’t do all of these things as well as know a fairly large amount of motion graphics, you’re considered unhirable.

When I was at AOL I was hired as a video producer/editor. When the economy started to tank, my budget was slashed. No more video. So with the help of my immediate boss, I learned to blog and kept my job for another year. When the economy sank even more our uber boss put up another set of hoops. I jumped through them all. Whatever was required I learned not only how to do it, but do it well. I worked my fuckin’ ass off and got good at a lot of things. When I lost my job I took the time to made two documentary films and today, still unemployed, I am hard at work on the third. I work my fuckin’ ass off.

If our societal systems can’t figure out how to use people like me in the day-to-day improving of the world, then i think it’s time to reboot or rebuild the systems. We’re doing something very wrong if people with such skills can be tossed aside. Truly, I’m no different than anyone who can do something well, or anyone at all, really, because I believe that everyone is good at something. If nothing else, everyone is passionate about something and that’s a start to being good at it.

Temple Grandin saw that cattle were unhappy in the rectangular pens they were being held in, so she designed pens that catered to what made them feel good. If there was another Noah-like flood, the day the water recedes and people are allowed back on land they’ll ask each other what they can do so society can be rebuilt. You’re a carpenter? Okay, you go over here. You’re a priest? Great, go over there. You can make a mean chicken catchitori? Perfect, please design us a kitchen. You’re a documentary filmmaker? Thank goodness, we’ll need someone to look around at what we’re doing and write it all down so we remember.

I have value, and so do you.

The Month of Magical Thinking

February 10, 2010 By: admin Category: Abandonment Journal, Faith, Family, Food, Happiness, Health, Living, Love, Molly, Mom, Valet Battleship Parking

The worst night of my life I was alone. Mom was dying and I was the only one from the family in the hospital with her. Molly hadn’t arrived yet from CA. It was late, after 9:00pm, and a little while after I’d held the phone up to my nearly comatose mother’s ear, on the request of my father, so that she might hear the concert he was attending–a concert in which my brother and sister-in-law were singing, and a concert my father was trying to convey to my mother by holding his cell phone up in the air to catch the songs. That was the night I fully understood my parents’ relationship. Only then.

I hung up the phone after giving my father the sad news that Mom hadn’t made any response at all. She’d just laid there, out like a light. What I didn’t know until a little bit later, maybe an hour, was that the nurse–a new one. Not one of our familiar and favorites–had possibly dosed my mother with too much of something, and that that something may have put my mother into a coma. I don’t think I’ll ever know the truth of that, but what I do know was that the most genuine moment I have ever exhibited was also that night. It was when I felt my body scream “STOOOOOOOP!!!!!” as the interns assigned to her ward tried to revive her with what seemed like Draconian methods. Of course they weren’t Draconian, they were what you do to get a pain response so you can see if the person in front of you is really there or if she’s been turned into… a vegetable.

Tonight the seriousness of human relationships, of love, comes into full view. The title of this blog post is a play on the title of Joan Didion’s heartbreaking and beautiful memoir, “The Year of Magical Thinking,” in which she recounts the year after her beloved husband, John, died suddenly of a heart attack. When I returned to CA after Mom died I read that book over and over. I read it so much Molly asked me to stop, suggesting that “dwelling”–which is what she thought I was doing–wold only hurt me more. I didn’t stop. I just hid my reading of it from Molly, and that’s okay because until she loses her mother she won’t understand that what I was doing was grieving and trying to make sense of the senseless, of the loss of a great love.

The title of the blog post was changed from Didion’s original by Molly. She is using it as the title of a new album she will be writing and recording this month as part of an online contest called “The RPM Challenge” in which musicians are given 30 days to write and record a full album of ten songs. It’s very exciting and a good way to motivate yourself. Friends of ours did it last year and their album did very well.

The reason for this post, or part of it anyway, is because of what Molly wrote in the box describing her upcoming album:

“The Month of Magical Thinking is a meditation on my last relationship and why it took me five years before I could successfully end it and the abuse that went with it. I will be writing a song a day exploring my pain and loss and where, not quite a year afterward, I am now. This is how I will process my journey, by coming forward with it, finally, in song. I hope that my journey will inspire others to free themselves from abuse.”

Interesting that this is what should greet me upon my return from a weekend of meditation. Is the universe chatting me up again, perhaps?

Romantic relationships are the toughest ones of all in large part because there aren’t witnesses to everything. Only the two people involved really know what went on between them, and sometimes that’s very hard to bear. For a long time I needed validation from those around me that I wasn’t insane to be so hurt and changed and exhausted by my relationship with Molly, but I’m finally over that. I know what happened, as does she. My hope once was that we’d have a chance to talk and clear the air, finally get some closure. But her calling me an abuser crosses too big a line for that to be possible now. I know there are some things I’ve written about her in this blog that Molly disagrees with, but I never described her as being clinically damaging to me in any way. We fought a lot. Our relationship, despite the huge amount of love, was very hard. That’s all.

I am still in love with Molly, but I’m handling it. Mostly I’m just letting time pass knowing the feeling will fade eventually. It hasn’t yet been one year since we broke up so there’s more waiting to be done, but I’m confident now that the day will come when Molly is a distant memory. It’s the nature of things. Like death.

Since there is no response I could make to Molly in reaction to her horrid accusation, I have chosen to just close the door and only remember the love between us. There was a lot of it for enough time that I have some wonderful memories. I loved filming her performing, and loved waking her up in the morning. I loved making her soup when she was sick, and loved getting up early to drive her to work. I loved her funny, odd little sounds, and the way she’d stay up until dawn watching YouTube videos of other musicians. I loved how she loved food and marvel at her ability to taste every spice and flavor in a bite. And I loved sleeping with her. Climbing into bed and wrapping my arms around her as we drifted off will be one of the best memories I will ever have.

I’ll miss the moments of trust, which became too few; and the rare, rare moments when she took my hand or kissed me in public. I will miss her amazing driving skill, for she literally saved our lives more than once on the L.A. freeways. But most of all I’ll miss the sound of her noodling-away on her 7-foot concert grand piano as she worked out a song. I will forever miss the beautiful person I fell in love with. She is extraordinary and good and funny. I will wish her happiness and joy every day until I die.

A photo I took for Molly's last album, "November Antique."

A photo I took for Molly's last album, "November Antique."

The Living Room, written & performed by Amanda Palmer.

ala Nilda

February 03, 2010 By: admin Category: Blogging Dinner, Coal, Cooking, Family, Food, Happiness, Health, House, Humane Food, India, Love, Michael, Molly, Mom, Recipes

Before I go another back-breaking minute of transcribing a long interview for my coal film, I’ll pause to tell you about a treasure I just found…

When Mom died I did three things: gathered all her clothes and jewelry and farmed them out to family, friends, and charities; brought home my third of her ashes (morbid, I know, but I really wanted “her” near me); and collected as many of her cookbooks as I could find. Specifically, I searched for books that had her writing in the notes and margins. Mom thought in recipes all the time and when she had an idea, she’d write it down. Everywhere. There are bits of loose paper, newspaper articles, notecards, and books written all over in Spanish and English. Names of spices and proteins, temperatures, and cook times.


Today, as a break from the transcribing and in the name of finding something yummy to make for dinner, I pulled out one of her stacks of random recipes clipped together with a metal binder and looked through them. What I found are recipes and memories:

“Chicken Curry, Juthica.” Juthica is an old family friend and a good one to begin this list with. Mom and Juthica met through their Yale connections in New Haven, CT in the 60s and became good friends. Mom always liked strong, independent, and smart people and Juthica was certainly that. One day while I was in my sophomore year in college in NYC, I got a call from Mom telling me to come home immediately, that she had someone she wanted me to meet. It was in the middle of the week and so I reminded my usually VERY academically-minded mother that I’d be missing a day of COLLEGE if I came home. “I know. It’s worth it. Come tonight,” is all she said. I got on the commuter train early the next day and met Juthica that afternoon. Like my mother before me, I was instantly entranced by charismatic Juthica–a native Bengali of Calcutta–and resolved to help her with the humanitarian aid project she’s started only a few years before. Little did I know that this would be the first spark in a film career that would have it’s first international accolade (“Soma Girls”) because of Juthica.

“Alfajores.” These are basically the cookies to end all cookies. Think of an oreo where the chocolate cookie-part is a butter cookie and the middle squishy part is half-hardened caramel spread. My brother would beg for these.

“Roast Pork ala Nilda.” Nilda was my mother’s name and almost nothing in her repertoire of savory dishes would exclude cumin. That’s where the “ala Nilda” bit comes in, I think. Not surprisingly, therefore, this dish has a bunch of fun spices as well as cumin and on the notecard includes the instruction: “Let sit for ten minutes, then serve with the pan juices.” Neither my mother nor I have ever met a pan of juices we didn’t like. The theory is that if it’s slurpable with bread, it’s “FOOD.”

When I was much older and had only a modest number of recipes that I could cook well, my mother bemoaned her former strictness in the kitchen. Even though she came from a traditional culture where women were suppose to learn the “domestic arts,” she hated having me underfoot when she cooked. True, I did have an annoying habit of grazing as things got prepared (something I also plagued Molly–another fabulous cook–with), but that wasn’t it. I think she just needed her space clear. The kitchen was her church, her fiefdom, her production studio and she needed it controlled in order to create her masterpieces. Thankfully, I have a very good sense of smell and memory for the flavors and dished she created and so even though she made me stand at arm’s length, I saw most of what she did and how she did it.

Today I still cook only a few of my mother’s dishes–I’m slowly building up the amount that I memorize–but the ones I know have their impact. Recently, I made Mom’s Bolognese sauce for Michael and Laura. Michael flipped when he tasted it. I saw the memories and joy fly across his face. It must have been almost ten years since he’d last had it with pasta. That sauce has a Molly memory too: her family loved it so much that they used to commission it. Or, sometimes, when I was making it for just Molly and me word would get around that “Alexia is making meatsauce,” and before we knew it we’d have many more at the table for dinner. :)

Mom’s meals used to feed armies of children in New Haven, mostly Michael’s friends who, if they became “regulars” soon saw themselves being cooked-for specifically. “I’m making the pie for David,” Mom would say of Michael’s best friend. I’d have to have children in order to have those kinds of numbers of people climbing through my house, but when there’s a group event that I’m either hosting or contributing too, I always make something of Mom’s. It’s an easy way to make people happy and introduce a whole new crop of devotees to “ala Nilda.”