Sunday, December 21, 2008

The White Death is Upon Us!

I wish the entire country could watch Seattle news right now. STORM WATCH 2o08! As far as our local news stations are concerned, nothing is happening in the world except this apocalyptic blizzard. Blagojevich? Shoe throwing? Um, no. Just snow. Just the white death.

Seattle is famously hysterical about snow; on Wednesday every school in the area was closed just in case it might snow. (As it turned out, there wasn't so much as a flurry till Thursday. Oops.) But now we've got about a foot of snow on our street, and my sister's flight's been delayed into 2009, and we're supposed to get another six inches tonight.

But that's not what I'm here to share with you. No, I'm here to share this unbelievable act of stupidity with you.

This accident happened just a few blocks from my house. Three charter buses decided to drive down East Thomas, a residential street, since Denny Way was closed. The logic is inspiring: Denny Way is a major arterial, and it was closed due to ice. So the bus drivers chose to go down a residential hill that is even steeper and less traversed. And which happens to end in a guardrail and a thirty-foot drop onto the freeway. Brilliant! 

Here's hoping I see my sister and brother-in-law by Christmas. If we're lucky, they'll be here by 3am. I'm going to make their bed now, just in case. 

Thursday, December 11, 2008

The Lovely Babelanders

There are many reasons why I love my friend and Bridesman, Status. But this take on Beyonce's Single Ladies (Put a ring on it) is definitely one of them:

First, watch this.

Then, watch this.


If the characters of Pride & Prejudice were on Facebook!

Thanks to my brother-in-law for sending . . . 

Wednesday, December 3, 2008

Reading, Writing, Rehearsing: A Wednesday Update from NYC

Greetings from Brooklyn, where I'm looking out the window at a frozen sun. I'm staying with my friends Jean-Michele and Mike, and my Goddog, Baci. Last night Mike and I performed at Speakeasy at the Cornelia Street Cafe, an awesome storytelling series here in New York. I told the story of watching the coverage of Ted Bundy's execution with my father and siblings back in 1989. My parents were friends with Ted-- my father went to law school with him-- and so I've been slightly obsessed with the man since . . . well, I can't remember a time when he wasn't of interest to me.

It's damn wonderful being back in New York. I've still got a few days left here, and I'm already plotting my next trip.

But now, an abbreviated update on absolutely everything I'm reading, writing, and rehearsing:


I recently re-read Ann Rule's book, The Stranger Beside Me, which I haven't read since high school. We're approaching the twentieth anniversary of Ted Bundy's execution, so I believe Ann has a new edition of her book coming out. Which means I'll probably be re-reading it again next month. Silly, but I wanted to reacquaint myself with some dates and details before performing at Speakeasy last night. 

I've never read anything else by Ann Rule, but I love this book. It's the book that made her career; before Ted Bundy she wrote true crime stories for pulps and glossies. Her friendship with Ted (they worked together at a crisis hotline in Seattle for a year or so) made her book on the serial killer a definitive work, and deservedly so. Her story is gripping without indulging in sensationalism or gore. She reports the story as a journalist would, detailing but not dwelling on the murders. I appreciate this. My imagination is powerful enough. Ann's own story line is of particular interest to me since it closely mirrors what I know about my parents' relationship with Ted, and the difficulty they had believing he was capable of such monstrous crimes. The lines that haunt me: 

"Ted has been described as the perfect son, the perfect student, the Boy Scout grown to adulthood, a genius, as handsome as a movie idol, a bright light in the future of the Republican Party, a sensitive psychiatric social worker, a budding lawyer, a trusted friend, a young man for whom the future could hold only success.
He is all of these things, and none of them."

Ann Rule does such a good job of detailing the tragedies of Ted Bundy-- the tragedies he created for so many families, and the tragedy of his own life. Looking forward to reading the new edition when it's out next month.

I've been reading several chapters of David Henry Sterry's memoir, Chicken, each night before bed. The story of Sterry's life as a teenager in LA who is a part time college student and part time prostitute, Chicken is raunchy and occasionally excruciating to read-- particularly as he moves on from working for lonely housewives to a more complicated, emotionally disturbed clientele. David's a solo performer and an immensely gifted character actor. I saw the solo show he adapted from Chicken several years ago at the Bowery Poetry Club. It's very interesting to read the book, now. His performance was very memorable, and I see parts of it as I read-- but then the voice changes slightly and it's like I've been given access to a whole new layer of his experience. I like it. And it's a page turner! I keep going to bed at 4am, vowing to go straight to sleep, and then I do the "one more chapter" thing for over an hour. Woops. 

Before I left Seattle, I was reading Under the Tuscan Sun. This was my nightly reading for about two weeks. I helped my friend Francesca pack up her apartment for a few weeks, and naturally was sent home with about a dozen books, including Frances Mayes' book about fixing up a house in Tuscany. Kurt and I were in the throes of house projects, so it was the perfect light read at the end of each day.

It was nothing like I imagined it would be-- I thought it was going to be one of those "picking up the pieces" memoirs in which fixing up an old house becomes the central metaphor for starting over and finding new life in middle age . . . but no. It's really just a diary-- a very poetic diary-- of Mayes' experience buying and fixing up a Tuscan villa, of cooking and shopping and traveling. And there are recipes. I enjoyed the writing. It made me hungry. And it was comforting to get in the tub after a long day of painting or moving furniture or cleaning up and read about someone else in a similar boat. Our house is just over a hundred years old; Mayes' house is at least three times as old, and sitting on Etruscan stones. Her troubles were ever so much more complex than ours; made it hard to complain. 

(Which doesn't mean I didn't complain. I believe at one point I started referring to the house as the Amityville Horror House, and snarled at my husband that his Victorian Bitch was trying to kill me.) 

(It's a damn good thing he likes me.)

I've read about a half-dozen other books as research recently, but I must speed my way through this post in order to get to a dinner date with a writer friend shortly, so that'll have to do for now.

Writing: This post. Many notes for the new show, and notes from the story I told last night, to keep it fresh in my mind as I think about how it will play in Your Own Personal Alcatraz. Emails and Facebook posts to all the good folks I met last night. It's always such a shot in the arm to be back in New York and among so many interesting, talented people. 

Rehearsing: See above! Jean-Michele and I are starting to talk about how we're going to get the new show up and running. I am so excited for it, especially after the performance last night. It felt great to try out new material and see where it could go with more development. 

Three more days in NYC, then back to DC for two nights, then home! Home to the husband and the kitty and the Amityville. I'll be honest: I miss them all.

Monday, November 24, 2008


I'll be in New York next week, and on December 2nd, I'll be joining a collection of storytellers at the Cornelia Street Cafe for the Speakeasy series. If you're in NYC, I hope you'll join-- I plan to tell a story that may end up in my new show.

I'm visiting my family in Washington, DC for Thanksgiving-- so far, plenty of political talk, sports talk (Seattle's pathetic show in all major athletic arenas means the sports talk is mostly shittalking and self-flagellation, and the fact that our basketball team is now playing to an ecstatic Oklahoma city only adds to the inferiority complex), and nightly games of hearts.

Today, my sister and her husband are at work and Kurt and I are staying in to read. He's working his way through back issues of the New Yorker, I'm reading about Ted Bundy. Tomorrow we'll rouse ourselves to be tourons. My sister will give us a tour of the capital,  and then I'm looking forward to revisiting the National Gallery. I have spent a fair bit of time in Washington since my sister moved here four years ago, and I must say: I love this town. 

Now, back to Mr. Bundy. (I read about him till about 4am last night and then dreamed I was a detective strategizing on a whiteboard how to convince my fellow cops that Ted Bundy was our man. In the dream, they didn't believe me. They thought it was Mayor Nickels. But the cops were Sonics fans, so . . .)

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Tracy Morgan

I've been watching 30 Rock obsessively lately, renting the DVDs and then watching six, seven episodes in a row. A nice way to end long days of painting and moving furniture and flooring around-- which is about all we've been doing the past couple of weeks.

This SNL sketch is one of my all-time favorites. I've had Tracy Morgan's song lodged in my brain since I was twenty-four, when I first heard it-- and then drove everyone I know crazy singing it. One glass of wine, fine. Two glasses of wine: Tracy Morgan's sewer man. I woke up this morning to the sound of a chopsaw outside the temporary bedroom I'm sleeping in, and this song in my head. Since I can't sing it in your ear, enjoy the original. 

Wednesday, November 5, 2008

Thank God

Last night was an unforgettable night. I couldn't be more relieved at the results of the election, and I'll never forget the round of toasts we made as soon as Obama was announced the winner. 

My mother called as soon as the news hit, and asked me to relay her own toast to the group of friends and family assembled at my brother's house. She was ecstatic. Her toast centered around a story she's told me many times, about 1968 in North Carolina. When she was twenty-one years old, she began a teaching job in Fort Bragg, North Carolina, where my father was stationed with the military. The day before school started, she was running late to a teacher's meeting in the school library, so when she arrived, she took the first seat she could find and settled in. She thought she had managed to sneak in, so she was surprised to see the entire collection of teachers and administrators turn to stare at her. It wasn't until her neighbor pointed out that she needed to move seats that she realized she had sat down on the wrong side of the room--she was sitting with the black folk.

Later that day, the Superintendent of schools stopped by to see her, and warned her that she wasn't in Seattle anymore. "The Civil Rights Act hasn't passed in North Carolina," he said. 

I love my mother. "Tonight, it's finally passed!" she said. 

It is deeply moving to think that just fifty years ago, our president-elect and his family wouldn't have found it easy to register to vote, let alone move into the White House. But beyond this, Obama is more than just a symbol of racial healing. We've gone so far astray in this country, and last night, we steered ourselves back on course. Obama's message of personal responsibility is unique-- it's not the Republican version of the individual's unfettered right to seek great wealth, nor is it a standard Democratic ideal of common good mattering more than individual liberty. He is asking each of us to work harder, to contribute more, and to reconsider what it means to be an American with both rights and responsibilities. Watching the way young people and old have been galvanized in this election has been enormously inspiring. After so much complacency and cynicism and the sense that the damage of the last eight years has been beyond our control, I believe many of us are waking up today ready to assume the great responsibilities of the coming years. It's not just the job of the president to fix things. 

Thomas Friedman of the New York Times writes about the end of the Civil War and where this nation is headed under Obama's presidency.

"But a new politics of the common good can't be only about government and markets. 'It must also be about a new patriotism-- about what it means to be a citizen,' said Sandel. 'This is the deepest chord Obama's campaign evoked. The biggest applause line in his stump speech was the one that said every American will have a chance to go to college provided he or she performs a period of national service-- in the military, in the Peace Corps, or in the community. Obama's campaign tapped a dormant civic idealism, a hunger among Americans to serve a cause greater than themselves, a yearning to be citizens again.'"

The one sad result from last night's election is the news that Proposition 8 has passed in California, banning gay people from having the same right to marry that I am currently enjoying. This is a devastating loss for many of my friends, and for all of us who believe that everyone should have the right to marry whoever they love. The fact that California voted in our first black president while stripping gay people of their right to marry only clarified that the civil rights movement of our time is the movement to recognize our gay friends and family as equal citizens. 

Friday, October 31, 2008

I Love America

Even if I live in the fake part.

From my cousin Jack, who grew up in Real America. My money says he is but a year or two of college away from joining us in Fakeland.

Wednesday, October 22, 2008


I am writing a memoir. 

It has taken me five years to admit that.

I set out to write the story of a yoga retreat gone bad in Bali, Indonesia, about five years ago. For the first year, and the first draft, it was a memoir-- at least technically, if not in spirit. I told myself I was just getting the events down on the page so that I could manipulate them into fiction later. I had little desire to write a memoir; too easy, I thought. Too boring. I wanted to write a comic novel, a difficult, serious process. An art form that relies on craft, not just memory and the luck of having had interesting experiences. (I will admit to still holding onto a slight prejudice against the voyeurism of the memoir, the ego of the memoir, the memoir-as-truth. Could be too many years in a PoMo fog. Could be that half the memoirs I've read have made me think, "If you were telling me this story in a bar, I would fake a burst appendix to get away from you and the cruel injustice that was your childhood.")

And now I, jaundiced eye and all, am writing a memoir. I have tossed out the novel based on the true story, because it doesn't work. I spent four + years writing this novel. It has some funny moments, and some in particular I will be sad to let go of. But in re-reading the novel after letting it lie fallow in a drawer for a year, this much is clear: it is the true stories, the events that actually occurred, that have a gleam about them, that feel true and funny and real. The fictionalized bits feel forced and overwritten. It feels like two books smooshed into one. A memoir, and a novel. For autobiographical fiction to work, it must read like a novel. It must be a coherent whole, not a hodgepodge of two different crafts. 

My gut is telling me that autobiographical fiction is not my genre. When I work on short fiction, the stories seem to come from nowhere. I start in with a first sentence and, on a good day, a world begins to emerge. It makes me understand why some people feel that writing fiction has an element of the mystical about it . . . at least for that first draft when you somehow know so much about these strangers you've created. (By the second draft, of course, the magic gives way to pure mental labor.) But I've decided that from now on, if a story is true, I'm going to write it as memoir. And if my goal is to write a novel or a short fictional story, then I will follow the path from one sentence to the next, allowing the characters and the events to unfold.

But here's the truth: Memoir is terrifying. Even trying to write funny pieces about pissdrinking and revirginization. I am terrified of revealing too much of myself. I couldn't count how many times I've overshared with people I hardly know, only to go home, go to bed, and then toss and turn wishing I could have kept myself to myself. I want to choose which aspects of my life to share and which to withhold. I'm sure it comes from my mother, who is also intensely private but not so compelled to tell you every damning thing about herself when she gets a glass of wine in her. 

I've read some beautiful, hilarious memoirs by extraordinary writers. Anne Lamott, Shalom Auslander, Chris Offutt, Mary Karr, Lauren Slater, Christopher Isherwood. These writers jackknife themselves open like oyster shells. When I think about writing as honestly as they do, it feels like doing some sort of violence to myself, that every night when I go to bed I'll toss and turn and wish I could still hit delete, that I could erase it all and go back into my cave, anonymous, safe.

I've often thought that the worst way to be imprisoned would be in an enormous, empty warehouse. Totally exposed. I like a hobbit hole, a cabin, a turret. But this compulsion to expose is starting to feel exhilarating. Terror exhilarates. Maybe I secretly want to be a literary flasher, trench coat and all. Yoga Bitch, the show, is autobiographical, and the closer it gets to the bone, the more revelatory it feels. 

Well, huh. Maybe I don't want to be exposed so much as revealed. And really? I'd like to make you laugh. And if I do my job well, some of the stupid shit I've done will make you laugh. At me. And I'm fine with that.

Wish me luck, please, for the love of God.

A Spring Chicken, Really

I turn 32 this weekend, and this essay by Malcolm Gladwell, from the New Yorker, gives me hope that 32 isn't so old . . .

Saturday, October 18, 2008

Lawrence Welk

My friend Status and I were discussing Kristin Wiig late last night, and this skit from SNL came up. The first time I saw it I nearly injured myself laughing so hard. It was the first thing I thought of when I woke up this morning, so I indulged in a few viewings. 

And now I must insist that you do, too.

Wednesday, October 15, 2008

Reading, Writing, Rehearsing: A Wednesday Update

I've been so busy with the run of Yoga Bitch at Re-bar, I haven't had time to live up to my blog's promise. So, here's the scoop:

What I'm Reading:
Several things. I finished a great book, Lauren Slater's Lying, a few weeks ago and haven't quite gotten lost in a book yet. So I've been working my way through Italo Calvino's essay collection, Six Memos for the Next Millennium, bit by bit. It's not easy reading. But I love this: 

(Calvino has been describing an image from the Decameron by Boccaccio in which Guido Cavalcanti, while standing in the courtyard of a church, escapes from a band of boys by leaping over a tomb like "a man very light in body.")

Were I to choose an auspicious image for the new millennium, I would choose that one: the sudden agile leap of the poet-philosopher who raises himself above the weight of the world, showing that with all his gravity he has the secret of lightness, and that what many consider to be the vitality of the times-- noisy, aggressive, revving and roaring-- belongs to the realm of death, like a cemetery for rusty old cars. 

I find this paragraph oddly moving. I don't want to crush it with analysis, but I will say that it reminds me, somewhat obliquely, of a production of Medea I saw at BAM several years ago, starring the great Fiona Shaw in the title role. Her performance was a revelation in this heavy, heavy play-- which I'd only ever seen performed with all the gravity of an overcooked pound cake. (I'm thinking of some of those awful made-for-TV British productions they made us watch in high school, with the actors rolling their Rs and eyes, insisting with every thunderous line that this was tragic! That we were watching a tragedy! and inadvertently making us laugh at infanticide, patricide, incest. Oedipus is hilarious!

Fiona Shaw's performance was buoyant. It was quick and sharp and light where traditionally it would be heavy. The play was all the more tragic for her lack of insistence that it would be. 

I've started reading Julio Cortazar's novel, Hopscotch, a book my husband has been trying to get me to read since our first date. I want to steal the structure of this story. (Cortazar gives the reader two options for reading his book: one way is to read straight through to Chapter 56 and then stop. The other option is to read it according to a plan Cortazar has devised, hopscotching from chapter 1 to 53 to 87 and so forth.)

Wandering along the Quai des Celestins I step on some dry leaves and when I pick one up and look at it closely I see that it is full of old-gold dust, and underneath some earth profound as musty perfume sticks to my hand. For all those reasons I bring the dry leaves back to my flat and paste them on a lampshade. Ossip comes, he stays two hours and doesn't even look at the lamp. Another day Etienne comes by, and with his beret still in his hand, Dis-donc, c'est epatant, ca! and he picks up the lamp, studies the leaves, becomes enthusiastic. Durer, the veins, and so forth.

Now, there's some lovely writing in here. And it's pretentious, kinda. (Well, is it pretense? Or is my calling it pretentious some sort of American anti-intellectual populist strain I've picked up on that makes me ashamed of education or knowledge of the liberal arts? Is that response some sort of terrible Inner Sarah Palin? Do I need an exorcism?) ANYWAY. What I find curious is that Cortazar's unabashed pretentiousness-- if that's what this is-- makes me nostalgic. (I suffer from a crippling, chronic, nostalgia, often brought on by movies, music, and novels. I'm nostalgic for times I've never lived in, like Wharton's New York and Schiele's Vienna; I'm nostalgic for every time in my life except for the years K-12; shit, I'm nostalgic for freakin' yesterday.)

Cortazar has written about a collection of bohemian South Americans living in Paris, and it reminds me very much of the year I spent hopscotching around Europe with a cheating South American boyfriend. He and I debated the merits of Gunter Grass, Nikos Kazantzakis, and Eduardo Galeano; we read all of Milan Kundera's books in the Prague Spring . . . of '97; we smoked hash and listened to Built to Spill after breaking up for the thousandth time in Budapest. I'm only a few chapters into Cortazar's book, but it makes me wistful for a time when I pronounced every country's name with the appropriate accent (a practice I mock when I hear it now, as if applying a crude corrective to my former self) a time when we were broke, and we hadn't showered in weeks, and we collected pine cones in a Parisian suburb to take home because when they burned, they made the fire more beautiful.

Ah, sigh. Fucking nostalgia.

Okay, so that's it for reading. I hope to either commit fully to one of these books in the next day or two, or give up on all of them and start in on the stack of books my friend Annie lent me a month ago. 

What I'm Writing:

A project I'm not at liberty to speak of yet. Also, this post.

What I'm Rehearsing:
Yoga Bitch closed at Re-bar on Saturday, after a really wonderful month-long run. I adore the good folks at Re-bar, from producer Ian to doorman Free, to the bevy of marvelous bartenders. We were blessed with warm audiences and some great press. I couldn't be happier.

Now I'm beginning to think about an outline for my new show, Your Own Personal Alcatraz. More on that to come. 

I'll leave you with this helpful bit of advice from one of the kajillions of lifestyle magazines available at every Whole Foods in the nation:

From Real Simple's article on How to Give Yourself a Pedicure:
(time noted below is in minutes)

0:00 to 3:00 Soak: soften skin by soaking feet in warm water.
3:00 to 6:00 Exfoliate: pat your feet dry, then slough off dead skin cells with a dry foot file.
6:00 to 10:00 Trim and File: Trim nails across using a straight-edge clipper. Use three cuts on each nail, as clipping the whole nail at once can cut too close to the skin.
10:00 to 11:00 Moisturize. 
11:00 to 12:00 Stop Drooling.
12:00 to 14:00 Wake up, and seriously, stop drooling.
14:00 to 14:30 Realize you can't read.
14:30 to 15:30 Go back to gouging your toenails until you bleed. Also note that you're wearing a diaper. 

There's only one name for this kind of reporting: fascism with a friendly face! Yet another example of the liberal media elite trying to run your life for you. Clip your damn toenails any damn way you want, my friends! This is Amurika! Shoot a moose from a helicopter! Yee-hah!

Tuesday, October 14, 2008

Read Giles Coran's Letter to Times Subs

Thanks to Kathleen for this post from The Guardian. Priceless!

I don't really like people tinkering with my copy for the sake of tinkering. . . It was the final sentence. Final sentences are very, very important. A piece builds to them, they are the little jingle that the reader takes with him into the weekend. 

I wrote: "I can't think of a nicer place to sit this spring over a glass of rose and watch the boys and girls in the street outside smiling gaily to each other, and wondering where to go for a nosh."

It appeared as: "I can't think of a nicer place to sit this spring over a glass of rose and watch the boys and girls in the street outside smiling gaily to each other, and wondering where to go for nosh."

There is no length issue. This is something thinking "I'll just remove this indefinite article because Coren is an illiterate cunt and I know best."

Well, you fucking don't.

Wednesday, October 8, 2008

Advice for Seattle's Theater Artists

An interesting piece from The Stranger, by theater critic Brendan Kiley. Some points I enjoyed:

#5: Offer child care on Sundays. This is a great idea. Simple, but the grant proposal writes itself. You keep young parents coming to the theater and teach young kids about theater while they're entertained with drama games for two hours. The only thing I'd add to this is that all of the Seattlites with kids who've come to see Yoga Bitch at Re-bar have wanted nothing more than to have a drink or two afterwards. (They're like escaped convicts! Dropping the f-bomb! Bumming cigarettes!) But if you also take his advice and implement #7, Build bars, then the kids can just keep on playing Zoom-Zorch-McFigliano while the parents have a nightcap right there in the theater. Everyone wins!

#8: Boors night out. Kiley wants us to encourage audience participation. Well, at Re-bar, they sometimes don't need encouragement. That's where #7, Build bars, comes into play yet again.

Two Fridays ago, I had a lively house of mostly women who arrived well before the show started to get lubricated in the bar. By the time the lights came up, the energy in the room was a cross between a Girls Gone Wild video and-- well, like an audience full of mothers who've left the kids with their dads. (See above re: escaped convicts.) They were so excited they nearly gave me a standing ovation the moment I walked on stage. Like, before the show had even begun. One threesome in the front laughed heartily at everything I said, and then turned to one another to affirm the funny. "Isn't it true?" "It's so true." "So funny!" "So funny and true!" 

Another collection of women at the back called out responses and suggestions throughout the show. One in particular had a fondness for calling out my name. "Suzanne! Suzanne. Oh no, Suzanne. No. Suzanne. Noo." (That was during the pissdrinking bit.) (The first time she called out my name, I thought, Do I know her? Which one of my drunk friends is that? But, no. Just a theatergoer blowing off some steam.)

So, for better or worse, I'm doing my part to support #8.

Finally, I laughed out loud at #10: Drop out of graduate school. Hell yeah! I'm all for honing your craft, folks, but what I'm absolutely against is debt. Particularly when you'll be lucky if you ever see a penny for your art. The rhetoric of the MFA, with its lists of famous and quasi-famous alumni, exists to seduce young, wannabe Meryl Streeps into going deep into debt in the hopes that when they get out of grad school, the world will suddenly recognize their talent in ways it never did when they only had their BAs. Now, saddled with debt and depression and probably a sick feeling in your uterus any time anyone says the words Suzuki Method, the only thing you can do with that MFA is find some college to hire you to teach acting so you can pay off your student debt, thereby becoming yet another acting professor who never actually did all that much acting. When debating whether or not an MFA acting program is right for you, best to consider this: Would a smart, savvy actress pay $100k to spend three years being told by professors who once had bit-parts in Scary Movie 3 that the Suzuki Method will help you in Hollywood? Ladies and Gentlemen, I call bullshit.

(Unless you get into Yale. Then the connections you'll make might be worth $100k in the long run.)

That said, every time I have a bad day, when I'm overwhelmed by the difficulties of creating theater, or writing, or promoting my work, I invariably think: Grad school. Grad school. Oh, grad school. So, I get the allure. But even then, I don't think MFA in acting. No. I think Iowa. Columbia. Fiction workshops! Because there sure as hell isn't anything wrong with spending three years of your life paying out the nose to sit in a room with other whinging fiction writers, right? No waste of money there, right?

Tuesday, October 7, 2008

The Ambition of the Short Story

A nice essay from the New York Times about the short story:

The short story-- how modest in bearing! How unassuming in manner! It sits there quietly, eyes lowered, almost as if trying not to be noticed. And if it should somehow attract your attention, it says quickly, in a brave little self-deprecating voice alive to all the possibilities of disappointment: "I'm not a novel, you know. Not even a short one. If that's what you're looking for, you don't want me."

Wednesday, October 1, 2008

The Offutt Guide to Literary Terms

By Chris Offutt, who wrote one of my favorite memoirs, The Same River Twice. One of the few books I will find the time to re-read.

From Harper's Magazine: 

NONFICTION: Prose that is factual, except for newspapers.
CREATIVE NONFICTION: Prose that is true, except in the case of memoir.
MEMOIR: From the Latin memoria, meaning "memory," a popular form in which the writer remembers entire passages of dialogue from the past, with the ultimate goal of blaming the writer's parents for his current psychological challenges.
NOVEL: A quaint, longer form that fell out of fashion with the advent of the memoir.
SHORT STORY: An essay written to conceal the truth and protect the writer's family.
NOVEL-IN-STORIES: A term invented solely to hoodwink the novel-reading public into inadvertently purchasing a collection of short fiction.
CLANDESTINE SCIENCE FICTION NOVEL: A work set in the future that receives a strong reception from the literary world as long as no one mentions that it is, in fact, science fiction; for example, The Road, winner of the Pulitzer Prize.
PLOT: A device, the lack of which denotes seriousness on the part of writers.
CHICK LIT: A patriarchal term of oppression for heterosexual female writing; also, a marketing means to phenomenal readership and prominent bookstore space.
PERSONAL ESSAY: Characterized by 51 percent or more of its sentences beginning with the personal pronoun "I"; traditional narrative strategy entails doing one thing while thinking about another.
LITERARY ESSAY: Akin to the personal essay, only with bigger words and more profound content intended to demonstrate that the essayist is smarter than all readers, writers, teachers, and Europeans.
LYRIC ESSAY: An essay with pretty language.
NATURE ESSAY: An essay written by a person claiming to have a closer relationship with the natural world than anyone else does; traditional subject matter is sex, death, and how everything was better in the past.
POP CULTURE ESSAY: An essay written by someone who prefers to shop or watch television.
ACADEMIC ESSAY: Alas, an unread form required for tenure.
COMPOSITION WRITING: An academic development in response to the economic needs of recently graduated MFA students.
EXPERIMENTAL WRITING: The result of supreme artistic courage when a writer is willing to sacrifice structure, character, plot, insight, wisdom, social commentary, context, precedent, and punctuation.
POEM: Prose scraps.
PROSE POEM: Either a poem with no line breaks or a lyric essay with no indentation. No one knows.
DECONSTRUCTIONISM: A moderately successful attempt by the French to avenge the loss of Paris as the global center of literature.
ANXIETY OF INFLUENCE: A term popularized by Harold Bloom to suppress poets and elevate the role of critics.
TEXT: A term used by critics to conceal ignorance of precise definitions.

Saturday, September 27, 2008

Paul Newman

From the NY Times:

"We are such spendthrifts with our lives," Mr. Newman once told a reporter. "The trick of living is to slip on and off the planet with the least fuss you can muster. I'm not running for sainthood. I just happen to think that in life we need to be a little like the farmer, who puts back into the soil what he takes out."                

Wednesday, September 24, 2008

Seattle Weekly Review

Virginia Zech of the Seattle Weekly writes here

"Ambitious, ballsy, and hilarious, Yoga Bitch is surely the best one-woman show I've seen all year."

Monday, September 22, 2008

Breathing through the shitshow that is the economy

Here's a piece from the New York Times offering advice on how to deal with the current economic crisis. Basically it offers the same advice everyone offers right now: Keep calm. (One can only assume the New York Times is speaking to everyone but those people who are losing their homes or jobs, yes?)

Keep calm. That's not what interests me. What's fascinating is the unexpectedly yogic bent. Apparently we're all supposed to make like the yogis and "breathe through it." 

I've been writing a lot over the past few years years about how yoga is being used to sell everything from credit cards to herpes medication, but seeing yoga in the business pages as advice (as opposed to its usual presence in these pages-- as an industry being breathlessly analyzed for its unexpected longevity and frequent reinvention) strikes me as extraordinary. A page has been turned.

As for what's on that page we just turned, how far through the book we are, and what, even, the book is called or about, I cannot tell you. Sort of how I feel about the economic situation. Generally speaking, I'll only read the business pages if there's a story about yoga or the arts in them, or if there's a particularly interesting Enron-esque scandal going on. (I can hear my father sighing in disgust right now, and it's making me feel guilty enough to read this.) What can I say? It's a character flaw, I know.

What I can tell you is that despite my many years of yoga, and the fact that I get what is meant by the analogy and who it's directed at, I still think it's kind of lame to compare the idea of breathing through a difficult yoga pose to the reality of losing your home or job or retirement funds. I think it's lame to say breathe through it when taxpayers are going to be paying for this for the next couple of decades. When our hopes for universal health care, a better education system, improvements to our crumbling infrastructure will likely be shelved while we bail out Wall Street. I think the appropriate response is not to breathe deeply but to freak the fuck out.

Brent Kessel is the man with the yogic take on the crisis, and his shtick is marrying your finances to your spirituality. Um. Speaking of my character flaws: I believe I've already done this, right here

On the other hand, you gotta love this country. So long as people are repackaging the get-rich-and-happy-through-eastern-philosophy bestsellers, the economy can't be doing that badly, right? Suze Orman and Eckhart Tolle, lookout! Now we can get you both in one book. But don't freak out, Suze, Eck. Just breathe through it. 

Wednesday, September 17, 2008

The Year of the Man?

Teresa Rubick writes here in response to the New York Times' declaration that 2008 is the Year of the Man. (In the theater, folks. Don't worry, it's still the year of the woman everywhere else. For reals.)

Year of the man? Please. It's the year of the Bitch!

Monday, September 15, 2008

Friends, Family, Yoga-phobes-and-philes,

I'll be performing Yoga Bitch in a month-long engagement with Seattle's kickass performance space and drinking establishment, Re-bar, starting this Friday, September 19th, and running Fridays and Saturdays through October 11th. 

I couldn't be more excited about it. We had a tremendous response from audiences at Bumbershoot over Labor Day weekend, and I'm hoping many of the good folks who were turned away from those shows will make it now. Re-bar is a great space, with a great bar, and great, comfy booths-- so you won't have to go far to get that after-show drink.

Come on out! I'll do the yoga, you do the drinking, and together we'll reach some approximation of enlightenment. Seriously. We'll palpate your chakras.



When Suzanne Morrison arrived in Bali for a two-month yoga retreat, she thought she was on the path to inner peace and killer abs. She imagined that she would return to the States a changed person, no longer a cynical, chain-smoking cocktail waitress but instead an enlightened being who would greet each day with a salute to the sun, and at night swaddle herself in cashmere apres-yoga wraps to welcome the moon. But the universe had other plans for her . . .

In a show Time Out London called "New Age Nirvana," Morrison explores her attempts to find her higher self in a strange world where blenders become possessed by spirits, Prada lust is at a fever-pitch, a milkshake can throw a guru into a rage, and everyone around her tries to make her drink her own pee.

Directed by Jean-Michele Gregory (How Theater Failed America, 21 Dog Years), Yoga Bitch comes to Seattle's Re-bar after playing sold-out shows in London, Oxford, and Maui, offering both yogis and skeptics alike an irreverent glimpse at what can go wrong on the road to enlightenment.

Created and performed by Suzanne Morrison
Directed by Jean-Michele Gregory
Re-bar, 1114 Howell Street
Fridays and Saturdays, 8pm
September 19-October 11

"Morrison is engagingly honest whilst still being downright hilarious . . . Yoga Bitch will likely keep you laughing no matter if you've practiced yoga, and even if you've never even heard of a 'kundalini' experience." -- Daily Info, Oxford

"Accomplished and entertaining . . . aside from the humour, the play also intelligently offers a window into the world of those peculiar souls perpetually clamoring for 'enlightenment' and the next spiritual high. Impressively, it did so honestly, neither with condescension nor reverence." --

"Virtuosic . . . Morrison hit all the right notes." -- Maui Weekly

Speaking Out About Sexual Abuse and Stretching Outside Yoga Perfection

That's the title on Sound Focus's home page regarding their show today.

When I first looked at it, knowing that the "Yoga Perfection" mentioned here has to do with my show, Yoga Bitch, I thought to myself: Did I talk about sexual abuse in this interview, too? I could have said something-- it's entirely too possible-- about what in more repressed times we referred to as self-abuse. But, huh. I mean, I was really wracking my brain to come up with something. 

Then I noticed that I wasn't the only person being interviewed that day. Ding-ding-ding! Answer!

I'll be on KUOW (94.9) today at 2pm, talking about the difficulties of living an extreme yogic lifestyle when all you want to do is smoke, drink, and screw. Um, and when you're also a total narcissist. 

Sound Focus's charming Jeremy Richards conducted the interview.

Wednesday, September 10, 2008

mf Magazine interview

Here's a link to an interview I did at Bumbershoot with Erik Schultz of mf Magazine/European Weekly. 

It was great fun chatting with Erik about Yoga Bitch and the process Jean-Michele and I went through in developing the show. 

Back story: I had just come from the Gage Academy drawing room, where I sat in lotus for just under an hour while artists both professional and amateur drew me looking muy serene. When the Gage coordinator asked me if I could sit like that for an hour I acted very nonchalant: Of course I can. I am a yogini. See the poster? Yoga Bitch, bitches. 

By the time I met Erik at the Center House to conduct the interview, I could barely feel my legs. I had to tell myself how to walk. (Step, step. Step step. Step again. And again.) I haven't sat in lotus since. I effing hate lotus.

Saturday, September 6, 2008

Reading, Writing, Rehearsing: A Saturday Update

In an effort to make good on my promise to deliver everything I'm reading, writing, and rehearsing, here's today's update:

What I'm Reading:

Just finished Joyce Carol Oates' collection of short stories, The Female of the Species. I love mysteries and creepy stories, and this book did a mostly-good job of satiating my desire to get lost in a good plot. One thing, though: I don't dislike stories narrated by a young child, but when they're written in the present-tense, I think it almost never works. I'm thinking about Oates' story The Haunting. What I dislike is when the narrator, in this case a first-grader, is supposed to be quite young, and says all sorts of cute, young-sounding things, but then, mid-cute, starts making observations that are far too sophisticated and/or dramatic for a child to be making. As if suddenly this six-year old begins looking at the world through the eyes of a much older person. A person that sounds a lot like Joyce Carol Oates. Example: 

"I shut my eyes and rub them. It's like there's woodsmoke in my eyes, they burn and sting. I feel myself freeze like a scared rabbit. . . When Daddy went away, and we were told he would not be coming back, you could see in people's eyes how they didn't know what words to use. They could not bring themselves to say Your father is dead. They could not say like Calvin, Daddy is dead. Dead-daddy. My teacher can't bring herself to say Every morning you look so haunted, for this is not anything you would say to a little girl whose father has gone to hell to dwell with his own cruel kin."

If this were written from the perspective of a woman recollecting an event in her childhood, that's one thing. But this story is narrated by a six year-old. Do you know any six year-olds who talk like this? I don't. 

Just starting Lauren Slater's Lying: A Metaphorical Memoir. So far, it's just lovely. And here's a good example of writing that captures the feeling of being a child but without the cloying cuteness of being narrated by that child:

"My mother believed that will, not love, was what made the world go round, and I agreed. I was a wrong girl but I had always worked hard at what I did. I owned a pair of skates, nubby tights, and a white muff made from real rabbit fur. I had gotten my ears pierced when I was only eight years old, and all dressed up in my skating outfit, I looked like a holiday."

What I'm Writing: Emails. Lots and lots of emails in preparation for the run at Re-bar! A birthday card to my sister, Jill, who turns thirty on the 12th. Also considering editing a chapter of Yoga Bitch in which a Prada bag is an object of erotic interest, but I'm also considering writing nothing creative at all and instead going downstairs to watch episodes of Arrested Development.

What I'm Rehearsing: A memory. For the past few days, I've been thinking about a book I read a very long time ago. Floating in My Mother's Palm, a collection of linked stories by Ursula Hegi. I read it when I was about fourteen years old, while camping out on a couch at my aunt & uncle's house on the Cedar River. It was the end of summer, and I had been swimming in the river all that day, and in the evening there was a fire in the fireplace, and the couch-bed I was lying on was warm, and the house had one of those particular smells-- of the river, of green plants, woodsmoke, and in certain seasons a faint scent of the bloated salmon that had spawned upriver and now lay dead on the banks of the river-- that I can still conjure in my mind. That house is long gone; after the Cedar flooded their house for the second time, my aunt and uncle moved out and now live near the ocean. But I can smell that house when I think of that night, and remember what it felt like to be a kid. 

I've been thinking about this book because it was one of the first books I read that wasn't a sordid young adult novel (I loved the ones where teenagers actually had sex) or an Agatha Christie mystery. It was considered literary fiction, and I had no idea what that meant. The stories in the book centered around a young girl in Germany who lives in an apartment building, and her relationships with her neighbors. I loved it. I'm curious to know if the child's-eye perspective would bug me now, or if I'd still find it as magical and beautiful as I did when I was fourteen. But I don't know if I want to risk a re-reading.

The summer is ending, so the nights are colder in Seattle than they were a month ago. Even though I know I'll miss the sun in a few months, at this time of year I always get excited for the fall, and I always think about that night on the Cedar River, reading what felt at the time like the very first book I had ever read.

Friday, September 5, 2008

Back to School at Live Girls! Theater

Tonight I'll be reading a new section of my book, Yoga Bitch, at Ballard's Live Girls! Theater. Details below-- and yes, there will be drinks.

The Live Girls! Cabaret is bringing you some Back to School action!
Friday, September 5th, 8pm
Tickets $5 at the door

Doors open at 7:15
Live Girls! Theater in Ballard
2220 Market Lower Level 

Feauturing straight A students Polly Wood and Miss Elaine Yes, 5th year seniors Keli Carendar and Saskia Doloroes, glee club president Joanna Horowitz, dance team captain Sylvie Davidson, class clown Jessica Strauss, "health" teacher Lanelle Guiste, new student Adra Green and our PE teacher who's dabbled in enrichment classes, Suzanne Morrison. And MORE!

Thursday, September 4, 2008

Yoga Bitch at Re-bar!

Hey lovelies!

Thanks to everyone who came out to see Yoga Bitch at Bumbershoot this past weekend. We sold out both performances and had to turn away over 200 people. We packed the audience so full there were two rows spilling onto the stage, which gave the performances a fun, informal vibe I thoroughly enjoyed.

Thanks in particular to the grand folks at TPS who sponsored my show. They put on an entire season's worth of shows in one weekend and made it seem easy. I can't wait to work with them again.

For those of you who waited in line and missed it, I'll be performing Friday and Saturday nights at Seattle's Re-bar from September 19-October 11. I've been in meetings all week to prepare, and I must say, I can't wait to begin.

You can purchase tickets here.

One highlight from the first Bumbershoot performance: After most of the audience had cleared out, I walked back onstage to clear my yoga mat, meditation cushion, and a discreetly stashed urine sample container. The mat and cushion were exactly where I'd left them, but the urine sample was not. It was in the hands of a male audience member, who was in the act of unscrewing the lid and smelling its contents. 

I won't reveal our conversation here, as portions of it will give away crucial plot points in the show. But allow me to present the image of a man sniffing a stranger's urine sample to you here, because he represents everything I look for in an audience member: a strong-enough stomach, a dash of moxy, and a compulsive urge to sniff out the truth. If that sounds like you-- see you at Re-bar.

Monday, September 1, 2008

Final Day of Bumbershoot

In two hours I'll be back onstage at Bumbershoot! Yesterday's performance was so much fun, a great big warm audience that made my work easy. If you are trying to make the show at 1pm today, get there early; we sold out yesterday's show twenty minutes before show time, and had to turn away a lot of people.

Hope to see you there!

Wednesday, August 27, 2008

Yoga Bitch at Bumbershoot

Here's a link to an article about Yoga Bitch in this week's Seattle Weekly:

Suzanne Morrison is tired of spending money on fancy yoga pants. But like so many of us, she continues to buy them despite herself-- a contradiction she explores in her one-woman show, Yoga Bitch. "It's a brilliant industry," says the itinerant local writer and performer. "Spending $150 a month on yoga makes me feel like I'm doing something better for the world," she says sarcastically. "I don't think it's quite on the same level as Gandhi's hunger strike."

I spoke with Anna Ross by phone from LA last week, after accompanying my girlfriend Jessica to her first prenatal yoga class at Santa Monica's Yoga Works. I had accidentally spent a chunk of money on some super-cute yoga pants, thinking that I might need them for future costumes for Yoga Bitch, since the hue of my current ensemble is starting to look less like the gorgeous purple of an eggplant's skin and more like the sickly grey vegetable matter inside of one.

I may have also been buying them because they had this neat belly-obscuring swath of material that was very slimming, and being very much not pregnant at the time of this prenatal yoga class, I was horrified when the teacher spoke to me on three separate occasions about the baby growing inside of me. "Seriously," I wanted to say, "it's beer."

But of course the truth is in-between. I liked the pants for the show, and I liked the sexy swath of belly-flattering material, but there was also that familiar little frisson up my spine that tells me that if I buy some sexy, flowy, comfy yoga clothes, I will start to feel as sexy, flowy and comfy as the women who are forever flowing on sandy beaches in Eileen Fisher ads. Make no mistake: I am a sucker for wellness propaganda. And these pants, all $71 dollars worth of them, make me feel more flexible, more well. Until I wash them three or four times. Then they just feel like sweats. Rinse, repeat.

Tuesday, August 26, 2008

Monday, August 25, 2008

This time last year

I was performing Yoga Bitch in the UK and having a helluva good time with Lizzy and Felix:

Drinking pints with my sweetie at the Latchmere Pub below the theatre . . .

Rehearsing with my dear friend and director, Jean-Michele Gregory in the lobby of Theatre 503. . .

Hanging out with producers Lizzy & Kathleen, stage manager Emily and JM after opening nights in London . . .

And Oxford . . . 

Enjoying the brilliant Robert Wells and his kilt in Oxford, at the Burton-Taylor Studio . . .

And closing the show at Oxford:

Sunday, August 24, 2008

A tear in the fabric

I had a dream last night that I was walking up the street to get a coffee at Top Pot when I ran into some old friends I hadn't seen in years. As soon as we parted ways, I turned to my husband and said, "That was so crazy, running into them like that. It was like Facebook, only in real life." And I marveled at the thought all the way up the hill.

Saturday, August 23, 2008

Christopher Isherwood

I've been reading Christopher Isherwood's memoir, My Guru and His Disciple, off and on for several months. I've read so many yoga memoirs, and I'm writing one myself, but Isherwood's is my favorite. I relate to it ever so much more for the fact that he rarely, if ever, has a spiritual epiphany. I don't trust yogis who are forever having breakthroughs and catharses and feeling great about themselves. I respond to them much in the same way I respond to my fellow countrymen who come back from vacations abroad convinced that they're no longer American. As I see it with travel and meditation, wherever you go, there you are . . . an American. 

I love Isherwood's memoir because he's not looking for an epiphany, per se. His time spent meditating isn't a sexy international vacation or an opportunity to heal after a bad breakup. It's something he does because he feels compelled to do it-- because he has a nagging suspicion that there's a God. But mostly I love his memoir for his sly sense of humor about his own contradictions; Isherwood was a man who liked his sex, his booze, his smokes, but who also felt called to meditation and contemplation, and to occasional experiments with asceticism. 

He was celibate and practicing a devotional yoga (meditation, chanting, etc.) with his roommate and would-be lover, Denny, when he tried hatha yoga for the first time. Here's a passage on why it didn't quite work out for him: 

(Warning: if you're lily-livered when it comes to bodily functions . . . why are we friends?)

Through the Huxleys, we heard of a lady who taught hatha-yoga exercises. We wanted to learn these for purely athletic reasons, so we were glad to find that she didn't set herself up as a spiritual guru, like some other hatha-yoga practitioners. 

I felt that I ought to tell the Swami about our lessons-- guessing that he might not altogether approve of them. The violence of his disapproval surprised me. He didn't object to the postures and the stretching but he warned me sternly not to practice those breathing exercises which require you to hold your breath; they can cause hallucinations, he said, and end by damaging the brain. . . 

Then, however, our teacher began to urge us to learn the yoga technique of washing out the intestines by muscular action alone; you squat in a bowl full of water, suck the water in through the anus, swirl it around inside you, expel it again, thus cleansing yourself of poisons. Until this technique has been mastered, you should use an enema every day. And meanwhile, the sphincter muscle of the anus must be made more flexible, through dilation . . . A set of rectal dilators now appeared. I use that verb advisedly because I can neither remember nor imagine our serpent lady actually giving us such unlady-like objects. Did Denny perhaps procure them? The largest was a wicked-looking dildo, quite beyond my capacity but dangerously tempting to my curiosity. I told Denny that, at least as far as I was concerned, our lessons would have to stop-- lest sex should sneak in through the back door. We parted from our teacher but continued to do some of the exercises at home. (Years later I took to using the breathing exercises occasionally, because I found them helpful in clearing up obstinate hangovers.)

I am slightly hungover myself. A birthday barbeque for my brother Frank last night culminated in my cousin Johnny bringing out the Jack, yikes. So I'm considering sitting for a round of bastrika and another of alternate-nostril breathing, to test the theory above. But who am I kidding? I'm just going to get in the bath with Isherwood. 

Friday, August 22, 2008


I know I'm stressed when I dream that I'm bolting from one neighbor's house to another, desperately seeking a source of flame with which to light the five cigarettes in my mouth and the three in each hand. 

I've been feeling a bit manic from working on too many things at once. I've been staying up too late, drinking too much coffee, and getting cracked out on internet stalking. I woke up this morning looking for some clarity, a mental or physical tonic, if you will, so I went to the source of ancient self-help: The Roots of Ayurveda. Here's some advice on wellness from Vagbhata's Heart of Medicine, circa AD 600:

"One should avoid the following: getting wind, sunshine, dust, frost, or harsh gusts in one's face; sneezing, burping, coughing, sleeping, eating, or having sex while in a crooked position; the shadow of an embankment, a traitor, a predator, or an animal with fangs or tusks; the company of low, ignoble, or calculating types; rifts with one's betters; eating, sex, sleep, study, or fretting during dawn and dusk; food received from enemies, public rituals, group distributions, prostitutes, or tradesmen; making music with one's arms, legs, mouth, or fingernails; shaking one's hands or hair about; passing through the midst of fire, water, or dignitaries; the smoke coming from a corpse; addiction to alcohol; and either dependence on, or independence from women."

Okay, so I've totally tried that, and it didn't work for me. 

So, how's about a medicinal cure?

Cow's Urine Potion

Cow's urine is cooked in about three kilograms of ghee, together with about 200 grams each of asafoetida, dark salt, and a mixture of black pepper, long pepper, and dried ginger. This is the best thing for banishing insanity, demons, and epilepsy.

That's cool, but I seriously can't stand asafoetida.

This one's my favorite:

Good Luck Ghee

"This Lucky Ghee is used in cases of demonic possession, insanity, cough, epilepsy, and sin, and also in cases of pallor, itching, poisoning, consumption, delirium, urine diseases, poisoned drinks, and fever. It is used when there is no semen or there are no children, or when the heart is oppressed by fate. It is good for a lack of intelligence, for a stutter, when good memory is desirable, and when the digestive fire is weak. It builds strength, luck, long life, attractiveness, good fortune, and plumpness. It is also the best thing for conceiving a male child."

I love the thought that eating clarified butter will soothe a heart oppressed by fate. This is the kind of advice I can use.