Wednesday, December 29, 2010

New Year reflections

I am leaving tomorrow morning for a short New Year's retreat on the North Shore. A friend of mine goes every year and she told me about it. My mom and my boyfriend ended up paying for it as a gift to me, because I've been under a lot of stress lately and they both thought I needed it.

My mom insisted that I go even though my uncle, her brother, passed away last night after a long hard fight with cancer. The rest of my family is en route to Nebraska for the funeral and I hope I didn't make a mistake, not going with them.

My uncle was funny and weird and crazy and everyone's favorite. He was my dad's best friend, they were in the Marines together in the late 60s. He introduced my parents to each other. He used to write absurd, rambling letters that read like Tom Robbins books. I found one last night and read it because I couldn't sleep. I laughed and cried at the same time.

There is so much sadness in the air here in New Orleans as 2010 draws to a close. Eight people died in a warehouse fire the other night, as they burned a fire in a barrel, trying to keep warm. Apparently they were friends of the person I mentioned in my last post. A friend on Facebook linked to this great blog post about the incident. When I lived in the Quarter I was often harassed by "gutterpunks" and sometimes I responded (verbally) with hostility as well. It was tough for me, especially as a "keep to yourself" New Englander, to deal with the constant requests for money, food, and attention as I was just trying to walk down the street. But it is important to remember that everyone is an individual, no matter what they dress like, and they are not all rude. And even the ones who are...they are still young. I am rude sometimes, too.

I've been thinking about what it means to be counterculture. In some ways I feel I fit that label, but in other ways my life is very comfortable and "normal." I always loved the stories my dad and my uncle would tell about their younger days - road trips, hitchhiking, drugs, jail, and the mostly unmentioned shadow over it all - the Vietnam war. I never lived on the edge like they did, like the "gutterpunks" or "travelers" of today do. The risks I've taken have mostly been in the artistic realm - I fear too much for my physical safety to take other kinds of risks. But I think about the longing for freedom, for adventure, and that makes sense to me. More sense than most of what goes on in this thing we call society.

Friday, December 24, 2010

Another New Orleans story with a sad ending.

In 2006, I quit my full-time job to work part-time as a barista while attending massage school. My friends had bought a coffee shop and offered me a job. Many of the other employees had worked for the previous owners, and were, frankly, not very nice people. They decided almost immediately that they didn't like me. I wasn't sure if it was because I didn't look or dress like them, because I was friends with the new owners (who they didn't approve of, and stole from, despite all the new owners tried to do for them), or if they just didn't dig my personality, or some combination of all that. It made it tough to work there, sometimes.

But there was an exception. He worked the graveyard shift, and I worked the morning shift, so we overlapped a bit when I came into work at the crack o' dawn. We were given a fair amount of liberty as to the ambiance of the place during our shifts. He preferred to turn off all the lights, blast death metal, and burn incense. It was, after all, the graveyard shift. But when I came in, I knew my regulars, on their way to work, would never come in with the place in that state. So I'd cheerfully turn on the lights, extinguish the smoke, let some fresh air in, and play happier music. Strangely, though, we got along great. We'd joke around and talk about random things.

I remember one morning, I came in with my hair still wet from a shower and fresh hair gel. He looked at me and wrinkled his nose and said, "You look so...clean." His appearance tended more towards the unwashed and disheveled look. I laughed and explained that I'd just taken a shower, which he couldn't imagine was worth the extra few minutes that early in the morning. Then he walked over and put his arm around me and grinned. "Now you're dirty!" he said.

No, we didn't have much in common, but it didn't seem to matter. Sometimes we had long and fairly deep conversations. What I gathered from his past was pretty rough, though he didn't seem to think so, it was simply all he knew. He drew cartoons. Really good ones, actually.

I only worked there for a few months, before I finished massage school and was able to work as a Massage Therapist. We'd run into each other fairly often when I lived in the Quarter, and chat and catch up with each other.

The last time I saw him, I was in a hurry, and I didn't stop to say hi, figuring I'd just wait till next time. But there won't be a next time, because he was apparently murdered Thursday night. The end.

Thursday, December 23, 2010

Drew Brees loves Earth Balance

I worked at Whole Foods today, doing chair massage. It was busy and full of cheerful holiday shoppers (who tend to be great tippers - hooray!). At one point, I took a break, and got myself a couple of slices of vegan "veggie overload" pizza and a chocolate chip cookie. While waiting in the checkout line, I noticed that the man ahead of me was buying a case of Earth Balance.

Now, I love Earth Balance, which is the best vegan "butter" ever, but I couldn't figure out what someone would do with what looked like 12 or so containers of it, so I had to ask, "So...whatcha gonna do with all that Earth Balance?" I was hoping he'd say something like, "I'm opening a new vegan restaurant," but he didn't. He replied, "It's for Drew Brees. I'm buying it for Drew Brees."

I asked him, "Is Drew Brees a vegan?" and he just laughed. I think maybe Drew Brees is a secret vegan, and he doesn't want everyone to know, so he sends people to Whole Foods to buy his Earth Balance for him ;)

Or, perhaps, I suppose it's possible that this guy had a much less interesting reason for buying large amounts of Earth Balance, and made up the Drew Brees thing to try to impress me. OR, I suppose he could be a deranged Saints fan who decided to buy Earth Balance and present it to Drew Brees for his own deranged reasons.

But he seemed like an honest, straightforward guy. So there you have it, Drew Brees loves Earth Balance. And so do I.

P.S. I also saw Dr. John at Whole Foods today!

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Christmas cookies!

My mom makes 9 varieties of Christmas cookies, in epic amounts, every year. I don't know how she does it. I like baking cookies, but 2 batches (occasionally 3, if it's an ambitious year) are usually all I do. I also like to make different kinds from year to year, depending on what I'm in the mood for.

So far this year, I've made Sparkled Ginger Cookies from Vegan With A Vengeance, and these Dark Chocolate Peppermint cookies from the Oh She Glows blog, which I recently discovered. Both are awesome!

If I'm feeling ambitious today, I might also try out a recipe for almond cookies that I found in Veganomicon.

Tuesday, December 7, 2010

30 today!

I haven't been very posty lately...I've had a lot on my mind, not all of which I can share right now. But! Today is my 30th birthday. I have to do one massage, but other than that I have the rest of the day free. I'll probably spend it reading and relaxing, for the most part.

I took the GRE last week, and was happy with my scores. I surpassed my goals for both verbal and math! Granted, the math goal was not particularly lofty, but as someone who, until recently, could no longer do long division, I think I did pretty well! And now I have a more expansive vocabulary due to my verbal preparation.

On Sunday, I had a tea party with friends and family, and NOLA Playback performed. I think this was the first time I've ever watched our group do a show...I'm usually on stage! The show was all about me, so I loved it ;) We're hoping to perform at more birthday parties in the future. As one of my friends pointed out, it's nice to share stories about someone while they're still alive, rather than waiting for the funeral!

My mom's delicious vegan apple butter cake was a big hit as well.

Friday, November 26, 2010

Let the bean-soaking begin!

Thanksgiving was lovely. The pumpkin pie and green bean casserole were quite tasty, even according to my non-vegan family.

Today I'll be studying, not shopping (though I did allow myself to buy some shoes I've been coveting from Vegan Essentials).

I'm also going to start preparing my chili for a Chili Cook Off I'm participating in tomorrow! I'm excited, and I've got my eye on the "Best Vegetarian Chili" prize! NOLA folks should come on out and eat some's for a good!

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Tofurkey Day nears...

The play is over, and it was a lot of fun. Our last performance, this past Sunday, was PACKED! The success of the show is definitely something I'm thankful for this year.

I'm going over to my mom's for Thanksgiving. She's veganized her apple pie and mashed potatoes for me. I'm going to make a vegan green bean casserole and pumpkin pie (using Vegetarian Times' recipe). Except I'm cheating a bit, and bought a pre-made crust for it.

We actually had an early Thanksgiving dinner a couple of weeks ago, when my younger sister and her fiance were in town from Massachusetts. I decided to try Field Roast for a turkey substitute.

I loved the Field Roast! But today I couldn't find any at Whole Foods, so this time I'll spend Thanksgiving with my old friend whose name causes me to be teased mercilessly by family members year after year.

Happy Thanksgiving!

Saturday, November 20, 2010

A break for the night

I'm getting a bit panicky about my upcoming GRE test, and I'm also cranky because New Orleans' water supply may or may not be contaminated, so I have to boil it and can't take a shower. Some people aren't overly concerned about it, but I'm a germ phobe and I don't want to get cholera. Also I was annoyed by the behavior of some of the Fringe crowd last night, as I mentioned in my last post, and I think I might need a brief break from crowds. So I've decided to stay in and study tonight.

More Fringe tomorrow!

Friday, November 19, 2010

Fringe so far

First, To Moscow You Betcha! got reviewed by the Gambit's blog! Neato.

Second, I've decided to write mini-reviews of the Fringe shows I see this year. I am by no means a professional critic, nor an expert of any kind, but I love seeing and thinking about theater. I have somewhat unique taste, so keep that in mind. Mostly I just like to identify what works for me and what doesn't, to help me learn and grow in my own work.

Fringe started on Wednesday, but we had two shows so I didn't see any of the other Fringe shows.

Thursday (yesterday), I saw three shows:

The Women of Tu-Na House
I picked this show because I love solo shows (I've done a couple of them and hope to do more in the future) and because it was about a topic that annoys me. You see, as a Massage Therapist, I hate that my profession is often associated with prostitution. I've often wished the Massage Board had more power, or the cops weren't corrupt or something, and the "Massage Parlors" (of which there are many, here in NOLA) would get shut down once and for all. This show portrayed women who work in this type of establishment, in New York. So I was intrigued.

Nancy Eng was a wonderful actress, and the women's stories were quite engrossing. One thing that I thought was kind of strange, though, was that there was a note from Nancy in the program that said something along the lines of women freely choosing this type of work, however most of the stories seemed to describe such desperate situations that it didn't seem they had much of a choice.

My only issue (and it's a small one) was with the design of the show. It looked really sloppy, and if that was on purpose, I guess I didn't understand why. There were clothes and props and shoes strewn around the stage with no apparent thought. Overall, a very good show, though.

Before the next show, I stopped by the Fringe tent and listened to some energetic and talented young musicians.

The Liar Show
The premise is that four people tell anecdotes from their lives, and one of them is lying. The performers were funny, but my feelings about this show overall were kinda meh. (Hey, I told you I'm not a professional critic). I guess it just didn't feel very Fringe-y to me. It wasn't edgy or challenging or even that thought provoking for me, just kind of funny and cute. Maybe I would have liked it more if I'd won a t-shirt ;)

Snow and Flames
I almost went home after The Liar Show, because it was cold and I was tired. I'm so glad I stayed for this show! It was outside, and the performers had brought a fire pit. There was a smallish audience, and we all huddled around the fire pit in the cold to watch the show. It was lovely, actually. The performers were a mother and daughter who are both puppeteers. They used just about every form of puppet there is: rod puppets, marionettes, shadow puppets...even non-puppet objects that came to life through their skill. The show is hard to describe, but I found it beautiful, powerful, and immensely creative.

Tonight (Friday), I went back for more! I have to say, it was not as positive overall as Thursday. I ran into several drunk obnoxious people, who were being rude to fellow audience members, and even one who heckled a performer (thankfully, he was escorted out, but I was distracted for a good bit of the show by wishing I could sock him in the nose). Anyway...

I'm a big Southern Rep fan, so I had to check this out. It was a comic noir-type story, done as a radio play. The actors spoke into microphones and they had live sound effects. The script was very clever and wonderfully acted. I think it worked quite well as a radio play, in fact I had a hard time picturing it staged traditionally. My only complaint was that it ran longer (90 minutes) than most Fringe shows, so a friend and I had to rush to make it to the next show.

Home Made
I'd seen work by the dance company tEEth before, at the Sidearm Gallery a couple of years ago, and I must have signed up for a mailing list or something, because they send me emails. Anyway, I think their work overall is weird and wonderful. This show was very brave, with the two dancers naked throughout a lot of it (and dancing non-stop for an impressive amount of time). It was amazingly creative. The dancers filmed themselves for part of the show, with the live images projected on a screen behind them. It was passionate, often funny, weird, sexy, and very well executed. Bravo!

52 Man Pickup
I was a bit worried that this show would consist entirely of bragging about sexual conquests, but actually it was heartfelt, quite poetic at times, and courageously honest. Oh, it was also hilarious! Two feminist thumbs up!

Off to bed now...more Fringe tomorrow!

Thursday, November 18, 2010


Last night we had two performances of To Moscow, You Betcha!, at 7pm and 9pm. They both went well...I was especially pleased with the second performance (because I managed not to mess up my light and sound cues). I put myself on the light/sound board for two reasons: first, it's hard to find good, reliable people who will do tech for free, and second, it's good if I have a task, otherwise I'll die of nerves.

I felt so honored and supported as an artist (I know that sounds cheesey, but it's true). It really means a lot to me that I was able to round up a group of smart, talented people to give up large chunks of their time and devote so much energy to my project.

Today I feel like this:

Our next (and last...sniff) performance will be on Sunday at 7. Tonight I'm going to check out some other Fringe shows.

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Opening night!

Last night we had a great dress rehearsal for To Moscow, You Betcha!. The play is being performed in a bar, and there were patrons there who had no idea that we were going to rehearse last night. But they watched, and laughed, and loved it! Even the Republicans!

After that, we all headed over to the Fringe Fest pre-party a block away. There was free food (including great vegan options!) and booze and a cool crowd. I met some new people and we talked about the shows we're working on.

Now I'm looking at the Fringe schedule and trying to strategically plan my free much to see! It's a bit overwhelming.

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

The final countdown

With Fringe only one week away, I'm in that excited/nervous/overworked phase of the rehearsal process, watching the final pieces of To Moscow, You Betcha! come together. I'm still having these annoying coughing fits, but I'm too busy to take more time to rest, so I'm trying to take a romantic view of it by pretending I'm an artistic genius tragically ill with consumption.

Last weekend this consumptive genius went to the Mirliton Festival and the Book Fair, where vegan Mirliton muffins and an array of vegan cookbooks were happy procured. I ran into several friends who were also out and about enjoying the festivals and lovely weather.

I have to renew my national massage certification this year, so I was looking through old emails trying to remember when I took the test. Then I realized that I scheduled my GRE exam for the exact date, time, and location that I took my national massage certification exam back in 2006. I didn't do it on purpose, but I suspect my subconscious mind thinks of that date and time as "time for the big scary test."

So when I'm not rehearsing or preparing for rehearsal or working, I've been studying for the GRE. I've been known to work on vocabulary flashcards in the bathtub (with only one accidental drowning...sorry, "voluble").

Tuesday, November 2, 2010

Listen to me, I am feverish and feeble!

I've been busy preparing for the play, finding and putting together costumes, props, and promotional materials. I'm also studying for the GRE, and then of course, there's work. I skipped Halloween this year because I just wasn't feeling it. I wanted to relax more than I wanted to party. I spent Sunday night over at my mom's house on the North Shore.

Now I seem to have caught a cold, so I plan to spend most of today on my couch, eating the banana bread that's currently in my oven, making my apartment smell delicious. I promise I'll drag myself out to walk 2 blocks and vote at some point, though.

My mom watches this program on public TV called "Steppin Out," which features a theater reviewer who used to work for the Times-Picayune. She was telling me about his comments on the most recent episode, which is available online here. My mom was happy to report that he brought up the issue of actors missing too many rehearsals, which has been one of my main complaints since I started directing. Mr. Cuthbert thinks that this is a recent problem, and states that there used to be a higher level of commitment in New Orleans theater. I always figured it was just the um...unique sort of work ethic that people have here.

OK, I know I'm on some dangerous ground here, as a Yankee and all, but I do have to say my experiences in New England were much different than my experiences in NOLA when it comes to work ethic and commitment. I remember when I was in college I was twenty minutes late to a rehearsal once due to car problems or something, and I got a very stern talking-to from the director and made sure I was never late again. Actors didn't miss rehearsals unless they had a VERY good excuse. Here? Not so much.

Then again, I don't think it's only limited to theater. When I worked an office job, people came in late, left early, and missed work often. People just don't work as hard in NOLA as they do up north. They have a lot more fun, though.

Maybe we should all start serving alcohol at rehearsals...

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

What I spent way too much time on today

I will probably tweak it some more, I seem incapable of "finishing" it. I'm using GIMP which I never used before, so I have to spend forever searching the internet to figure out how to do things.

I also made the happy discovery that my laptop's CD drive is actually not broken, it's just that apparently iTunes decided it doesn't like it anymore. I needed to burn a disc of songs to use for rehearsal and decided to try Windows Media Player instead of iTunes and it worked. I've thought my drive was broken for months...I even bought an external drive (which iTunes recognized when importing discs but not when burning).

So basically the small things I achieved today took far, far longer than they should have.

Yay, DIY theater.

Monday, October 18, 2010

Personal experience, playback, and talking to men about feminism

I read this post on Feministe called Unreality and the Politics of Experience (go read it!) and it was interesting timing, considering some other things that have been bouncing around in my head for the past couple of days.

In the post, Chally talks about having her personal experiences questioned, and how she thinks this practice helps to reinforce oppression. And I agree. In the comment section, a disagreement began over whether Chally is advocating for validation, and against "rational thought."

What's interesting to me is that the "rational thought/debate" model is the type of discussion that is more closely associated with males, and the "emotional support" model is the type of discussion that is more closely associated with females. Is this a coincidence? Nope, it's patriarchy.

The best explanation of the concept of patriarchy that I've ever encountered (and I forget where, so I can't give anyone credit for this) is "that which is associated with maleness is valued over that which is associated with femaleness." Note that it's not necessarily saying "men are valued over women," it's more complicated than that.

Recently I was trying to explain to a man who is very dear to me how I personally feel about feminism. I ended up getting emotional about it because it's an emotionally loaded topic for me, and because our discussion was frustrating for me because I felt that his focus on bringing up his points of disagreement with feminism was causing him to not really listen to me. He seemed genuinely surprised that I was upset, because he thought we were having "an intellectual discussion." And we were, but for me, it was also a discussion about my personal experiences, and talking about my personal experiences can make me emotional.

Many men I've encountered are far more comfortable with conversation that could be described as "intellectual," "rational," or a "debate." My dad is a prime example of this. He loves to argue about anything and everything. If you agree with him, he'll change to the opposite view, to try to steer the conversation back to debate. But my dad, and many other men, are far less comfortable talking about anything involving feelings. Whether this has something to do with biology, or is purely based on cultural messages about what it means to be a man, it definitely seems to be a strong pattern.

My issue (and this is where patriarchy comes in) is that emotionless, intellectual debate is often presented as the correct way to talk about issues, and personal experience and emotions are portrayed as inferior and less important. And from this comes the tendency to argue with someone's interpretation of something that happened to them.

I'm not saying we should never question someone's interpretation of their personal experience. But I think that questioning should only happen after listening and trying to understand where that person is coming from.

Most of us are taught how to debate more than we're taught to relate. I'm not sure about you, but my high school didn't have an Empathy Team. I think if there were such a thing as an Empathy Team, though, it would look a lot like a Playback Theater troupe.

In Playback Theater, we "play back" stories and experiences offered by audience members. When you're a player, you stand silently on the stage (in "neutral" position...always a challenge for me) and listen while the audience member (called "the teller") tells their story. You have to pay attention, or you'll be screwed when you try to play it back. You also can't talk at this point, so you can't argue with them. I admit, I have stood there listening to black tellers talking about an experience with racism, and felt an impulse to say something along the lines of "maybe your boss didn't mean it that way...I'm sure she wasn't trying to be racist...are you sure that's what she said?" That impulse came from a place of being uncomfortable with what I was hearing and wishing it could somehow be explained away. But, because of the nature of the form, I was not able to voice any of this (thank God), and instead I just had to listen. And then I had to validate the teller's experience by playing back their story. And you know what? I've learned a hell of a lot through this process.

I believe that learning to listen and empathize is just as important as learning to debate and justify one's position. It frustrates me that the latter is often thought of as more valuable. Trying to change that is one of the reasons I am a feminist. It's also one of the reasons I am an artist.

Friday, October 15, 2010

Fun with chickpeas

Chickpeas are one of those vegan wonderfoods that you find in all kinds of recipes. When I first went vegan, I became obsessed with hummus, but after a while (a year and a half or so), I became kind of sick of it. Recently on a vegan livejournal community I read, people were talking about making "tuna" salad out of chickpeas.

I was pescatarian (for lack of a better term, though that one annoys me) for a while before going vegan. I miss fish and seafood more than anything, even dairy. You can totally find a vegan substitute for ice cream, but smoked salmon? Not so much. My cat misses smoked salmon, too (I used to give her some, and she would go crazy and meow and crawl all over me like a crackhead, seeking more. Or, like I imagine a cat crackhead would act, I guess).

Anyway, I actually used to *love* tuna sandwiches. So I decided to give this chickpea recipe a try. The key ingredient is kelp granules, to give it that ocean-y taste. This is the kind of thing I would never buy before going vegan...I mean, kelp granules? Sounds delicious, right?

Basically you just mash up the chickpeas, add vegan mayo, and sprinkle liberally with the magical kelp granules. I also added a little dijon mustard, seaweed gomasio, and sea salt. The end result tasted only vaguely like tuna, but was pretty damn good regardless. Surprising.

Now I just need a smoked salmon substitute...

Monday, October 11, 2010

This just in: college students drink and have sex!

OK, maybe I'm a bad person, but I read the entirety of the Duke Powerpoint Sex List Thing and I found it pretty amusing. I'm sure it's an embarrassing situation for the guys involved, especially the ones who Karen found somewhat...lacking...and I'm sure it's an embarrassing situation for her, too, since apparently she only intended to share it with a couple of friends.

Still, I thought it was witty and it gave me a glimpse into a very different kind of college experience than the one I had. She seemed to exclusively go for athletes. In fact, at one point she wakes up in the morning next to a stranger, with no recollection of how she got there, and her biggest fear is that he's a townie. When she realizes he's a baseball player, she's so relieved that she hangs out with him for a while, watching ESPN.

Anyway, I was never into jocks, which is convenient, since they were never into me, either. I thought maybe I'd enjoy this oversharey list more if it were about theater majors. So I tried to imagine how that would go.

"I first noticed Subject 5 in Linklater class, when we did this exercise where one person lies on the floor and the other person puts a hand on their stomach to see if they're breathing properly from their abdomen...whoa, totally felt like he had a six pack! Later that semester, we were rehearsing "How I Learned to Drive," and we stayed after rehearsal, talking about how it just wasn't feeling genuine. So then we decided he should actually feel me up so we could use that experience in the work. Well, one thing led to another and we ended up in the lighting booth, it was getting really hot, but then he suddenly stopped and said, 'Wait, I never told anyone this before, but I think I might be gay.'"

OK, that's why there isn't a Powerpoint Sex List about theater majors.

P.S. Happy National Coming Out Day ;)

Thursday, October 7, 2010

Messing with Chekhov...apparently a trend?

Nerve has an...interesting story about Lindsay Lohan and Stephen Colbert, based on a Chekhov short story. The author has written a whole book of this stuff. I hope Sarah Palin doesn't make an appearance, because I like to think I came up with the idea of tossing Palin into Chekhov first.

I've *finally* got a complete cast (knock on wood) and rehearsals for To Moscow, You Betcha! have just begun. We've got a smart, funny, creative and weird little group of people putting their heads together on it. It's exciting stuff.

Tuesday, October 5, 2010

It all makes sense now.

I'm not crazy, it's just this Saturn Return thing. Upheaval? Check. Restructuring? Check. Reevaluation? Yep, constantly.

I can't seem to stop obsessing about my upcoming 30th birthday and what does it mean and where am I going and what do I even want and...

These past couple of years, I've pushed myself a lot, especially artistically. The results were not quite what I'd hoped, but I've learned so much, and I have to hope I'm on a good path. I'm proud of myself for writing a novel, but I feel like it's not quite what I want it to be, and right now I'm stuck trying to revise it and get it to the next level. I've shelved that for the time being, hoping when I return to it I'll have some new brilliant ideas.

I've started my second directing project (since college, and my first was earlier this year), and I have high hopes for that, too.

OK, this blog post is beginning to sound like an Obama campaign speech with all of this "hope" stuff.

Although I am proud of how I've challenged myself and what I've learned, I am full of uncertainty. I want to make bold moves forward, but then I question the direction. I've found myself wanting things I previously had no use for, and starting to doubt what I thought I did want.

In the past, I've had challenging periods, full of uncertainty, but they were reactions to circumstances. Hurricane Katrina, for example, ultimately caused me to question the direction my life was headed and make some big changes. Now, it seems to all be coming from inside me. Or from Saturn, apparently.

The strange thing is, I'm not unhappy. I have a pretty damn good life these days. Best of all, I have some friends and relatives who really "get" me, which is great on those days when I don't "get" myself. So, why mess with a good thing? But I want to be better. I want to do something remarkable. I want to push boundaries, including my own.

And in a couple of months, I want a big party, and I want to have my vegan birthday cake and eat it, too. We'll see what happens next.

Thursday, September 23, 2010

Cookbook love

I was never really that into cookbooks before I went vegan, but now I adore them. Seriously, I want every vegan cookbook that exists.

After geeking out for about an hour on the floor in front of the vegan cookbook section of Barnes & Noble in Baton Rouge recently, I finally settled on this one:

The guy who wrote it seems so awesome...if only he were single ;)

So far I've made two things: Candied Walnuts (fast and yummy dessert when I was having a sugar craving the other night) and Chocolate Pecan Pudding Pie. For some reason I struggled with his pie crust recipe, though. After two tries, I really could not get something that behaved at all like a pie crust. The recipe calls for solidified coconut oil, and mine kept melting quite quickly, so that may have been the issue. The A/C in my apartment doesn't make it into the kitchen, which is roughly the size of a shoebox, AND I had the oven on. Still, I think a "soul food" recipe should be compatible with a hot Southern kitchen!

Eventually I gave up and went to Whole Foods and bought a frozen crust. And the pie turned out to be just as awesome as it sounds.

However, none of it was consumed last night, because my dinner guest and I proceeded to stuff ourselves with Seitan and Herb Stuffed Mushrooms and Maple-Mustard-Glazed Potatoes and String Beans, two recipes I hadn't tried yet from one of my favorite cookbooks, Vegan With A Vengeance. I ended up with WAY more stuffing than I could fit in the mushrooms, so I'll probably buy some more mushrooms and stuff them later.

Then the pie became breakfast this morning.

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

Recipe: RAW corn salad stuffed tomatoes

This is what I ended up making for the Raw Food Potluck last week. I'd never eaten raw corn's delicious!


10 medium-sized tomatoes
2 ears of corn
1 red bell pepper (mine was big, I think we used about 3/4 of it, and my sister Becca ate the rest while chopping)
2 green onions
1 handful fresh cilantro
1 avocado
2 cloves garlic
1 1/2 limes
approx. 1/4 cup olive oil (um...I didn't measure and sort of just dumped it in. Oops)


1. Slice tomatoes in half *vertically* and scoop out the insides with a spoon (I saved the inside goop and threw it in some chili a few days later.)

2. To prepare the dressing, juice the limes and add the avocado, garlic, and olive oil. Pulse in the food processor until creamy. Add more olive oil if it's too thick.

3. In a large bowl, slice the corn off the ears with a big fun knife. Dice the red pepper, green onions and cilantro. Add the avocado dressing and mix it all up. Fill the tomato halves with the corn salad.

Monday, September 13, 2010

Current food obsessions

I have a crockpot of red beans simmering in my kitchen. It smells amazing, but it's not ready yet, so I've been eating everything else in my house while I wait, because the smell makes me so hungry!

A crucial ingredient is this stuff, which according to the internet is vegan, but which I find completely perplexing:

I mean...what? Regardless, it's quite helpful in making vegetarian food taste...not quite so vegetarian.

Another magical food which I ate a lot of while waiting for my red beans is this stuff:

This is the best vegan "ice cream" I've ever tasted. My guy showed up on my doorstep with Coconut Bliss on Saturday night (yeah...I think he's a keeper). It has very few ingredients (especially compared to Soy Dream and Rice Dream and stuff) and the texture is perfect. I think the reason it works so well is that coconut milk has so much saturated fat. But I don't really want to think about that right now, since I ate half a pint in one sitting.

Tomorrow I'm headed to a raw food potluck. Red beans and rice is obviously a no-go, so I'll have to create something else. More on that soon.

Wednesday, September 8, 2010

Still up to no good

I painted my design today. Painting is so calming and therapeutic...even when you're painting Sarah Palin.

Tuesday, September 7, 2010

Up to no good

Today I worked on an idea for the poster design for my Fringe Fest play, To Moscow, You Betcha! If you hadn't figured it out, it's a Sarah Palin Russian nesting doll. Just a rough sketch, I'm going to paint it later. Visual art isn't really my strong point, but it's a pretty simple idea so hopefully I'll be able to pull it off.

The play is a theatrical mash-up of Chekhov's The Three Sisters and Sarah Palin.

Monday, August 30, 2010

The basics.

A group of NTI alums in New York recently formed a collective, and they offer acting classes taught by NTI teachers. I'm on their email list, and reading about these classes makes me wish I lived in NYC. Except, you know, that it's cold, expensive, and eats little starry-eyed artsy types like me for dinner...

Anyway, in his description of an upcoming class, Michael Cadman said something that resonated with me:

I am most concerned to make opportunities for the students to overcome what seems to be a major obstacle in much of their acting: themselves. Without ridding ourselves of the need to be constantly monitoring our work, constantly worrying about what others might be thinking of us, we cannot hope to stay in the moment and be truly and freely reactive. I think we all recognize this, both from what we've read about acting and from frustration in our own experience. Until we have felt the power of simply listening and responding and realized the beautiful simplicity of it; until we have let go and trusted ourselves in the hands of our creative partners, be it writers, directors or most importantly our fellow actors; until we have sort of discovered it for ourselves, it is difficult maybe to believe this power even exists.

The pressure to come up with a clever way of delivering a line can be so distracting. It's easy to see when an actor is doing this, and it usually falls flat. Truly listening to the other actor(s), and responding to their offerings, is more powerful. I've seen actors come up with something funny in one rehearsal or performance, and then refuse to let go of that choice even as it continually fails to work as well as it did the first time. The thing is, theater is live. A play is a living thing. It's never exactly the same show twice. That's why the great choice you made last night may not be the right choice tonight.

The concepts Cadman describes are so simple, but so easy to overlook, especially in the high-pressure settings of audition and performance. Since I can't travel to NYC every week to take this class, I've been trying to apply these concepts to my own work here at home.

(Another cool thing about NYC is that I hear there's a ton of vegan food options there. Like, say, if a vegan found herself craving donuts, I bet she could find them in NYC. If said vegan lives in New Orleans, she has to make her own vegan donuts.)

Monday, August 23, 2010

Group projects and deadlines

Earlier this month, I worked as part of a team to create a short film for the 48 Hour Film Project. I had participated in this project once before, in 2007. That year, I was only involved as an actor. Our day of shooting started early in the morning on Saturday and continued until well after midnight. Still, most of the other members of the team had been writing all night on Friday and still had to edit all day Sunday. This made my job relatively easy.

This year, I was more involved in the whole process, mostly the script writing. I also had a small but fun non-speaking role.

Our team didn't end up winning, but I thought our final product was funny and quite polished, considering the limited time we had to create it. The process was both stressful and exciting, and it made me think about my experiences with group projects and deadlines in the past.

In fall of 2002, I spent an intense and life-changing semester at The Eugene O'Neill National Theater Institute. One of our first assignments was to dramatize a portion of a novel, working in small groups. Staying up late to work on the first night, I became completely giddy and useless to my group, joking and - literally - rolling around on the floor. This was not amusing to the poor folks on my team who were actually trying to complete our assignment. One of them had prescription medication for ADD which she gave me, as a last-ditch effort to try to get me to function like a normal human being. Unfortunately the pill only caused me to be more focused on my mission to distract the others.

Looking back on this amusing but embarrassing moment, I think I was overwhelmed by the challenge of the group project, and my antics were a way of pretending I didn't care about it, when in reality I was so afraid of failure that I essentially gave up. I was also attention-hungry and wanted everyone to think I was funny, a common but terribly annoying trait many of us theater people suffer from. Thankfully, the next day I more or less snapped out of it and got down to business, but I'm sure I still caused our group to lose precious time and hurt the process overall.

Over the course of that semester at NTI, with classes 7 days a week and little contact with the outside world, I was presented with so many "impossible" projects and tactful but ego-bruising criticism, that I emerged a far better team player than I had been on that first project.

Working with a group is still a challenge for me, and there are a few questions I use to "check-in" with myself throughout group projects:

Do I need to let this idea go? So often, as the clock ticks and the deadline approaches, we can't seem to stop ourselves from obsessing over a small detail. Why can't the other group members see how brilliant our little idea is? I try to remind myself to pick my battles. It is absolutely OK to spend a few minutes selling the group on an idea that you feel really passionate about. But you are not allowed to get over-attached to every little thing that pops in your head. This will just hold the process back. The flip side of this is...

Am I resisting an idea that one of my team members is passionate about? Sometimes someone else may suggest something that seems a bit off to you, but is really important to them. If you kinda-sorta disagree with them, but they have strong feelings about their idea, step back and let them run with it.

Is it too late in the process for my awesome new idea? At some point, the group has to commit to an idea. Sometimes you reach a point where it actually is in the best interest of the group to trash that entire idea (and all the work and time devoted to it) and start fresh. But that is a last resort, and if you keep doing that, you will never meet the deadline. This means you need to let go of some new and awesome ideas that unfortunately popped into your head a little too late. Jot them down in a notebook and save them for a future project.

Is my awesome idea worth all of the additional resources needed to make it happen? To use the 48 Hour Film as an example, you lose precious time if you have to move to a new location or locate a new actor or drive to store after store looking for that elusive perfect prop. Is it worth it? Sometimes, yes. But not all the time. There may be a more simple solution that will work almost as well. Don't let perfectionism drag you down.

Basically, all of these questions are various ways of asking Am I listening to my ego or am I doing the best thing for the project? I know this is something I struggle with. But after many years of practice (also known as fucking up), I do think I'm getting better at honestly assessing my motivations. Group projects with deadlines are excellent learning opportunities, useful for all artists to seek out and participate in. Try it, fuck up, and learn :)

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

Adventures on the North Shore

It's been around 10 years since my mom moved to Lacombe, and it's kind of amazing how much the North Shore area has developed since then. My mom recently went on a mission to find vegan food options in her area to try to lure me over to visit more often.

Tonight we shared an awesome vegan pizza at Mellow Mushroom in Covington, and it reminded me that I'm still annoyed that Naked Pizza here in New Orleans no longer offers vegan cheese. It will probably take me a while to get over that one, vegans are good at being bitter ;) I no longer "like" them on Facebook. YEAH, THAT'LL SHOW 'EM. Thankfully, they do make a great vegan pizza at Whole Foods, and I have leftover Mellow Mushroom pizza in my fridge, which, let's be honest, I will probably eat for breakfast tomorrow.

For dessert we got cupcakes from KC's Babycakes in Mandeville. KC's vegan cupcakes are also available at Fair Grinds coffee shop here in NOLA. The kind I had today was chocolate with coffee frosting and toasted coconut, and it was YUM. I think I need to try all the vegan flavors. Margarita and Fresh Lemon Macadamia sound especially intriguing.

Thursday, August 12, 2010

Mathilda Savitch (Another great read)

So, another of the three books I decided I desperately needed while killing time at Barnes and Noble was Mathilda Savitch by Victor Lodato. Just look at this cover:

Creepy girl? I'm sold.

Thankfully, the book was just as awesome as the cover. Having once been a weird adolescent girl, I think Victor Lodato did an excellent job with Mathilda's voice. Her take on the world was bizarre and hilarious, and the writing was sophisticated and beautiful while staying true to a young sensibility - not easy to pull off.

A quote:

"There is so little imagination in the world. A person like me is basically alone. If I want to live in the same world as other people I have to make a special effort."

See? Now don't you want to read this book?

P.S. I am working on the third book, I'm finding it to be not as much of a page-turner as the first two, but still promising. Also, Broken Glass Park, which I wrote about in my last post, mentioned the Russian band Nautilus Pompilius, which has become a current obsession. I have no clue what they're saying but whatever.

Sunday, August 1, 2010

Broken Glass Park

I needed a couple of tires for my car, and decided to head to Lacombe, the small town on the North Shore where my mother and stepfather live. There's a tire shop near their house that my stepfather recommended. Besides tires, they also sell homemade fig jam and pickled quail eggs, if you're into that sort of thing.

Anyway, they didn't have the tires in stock when I arrived, and offered some vague explanation about the tire truck driver "coming from Thibodeaux." I gave them my cell number and decided to wait at the Barnes & Noble in Mandeville, where, of course, I found three books that I absolutely needed to buy. Between the books and the tires, it turned out to be an expensive day.

I read one of the books in its entirety that day: Broken Glass Park by Alina Bronsky. It's a harsh story about a 17 year old Russian immigrant living in Berlin. There are no chapter breaks in the book, and the story is told in a sometimes rambling, indirect manner. But it works. I loved the distinct voice of Sacha, the protagonist.

I was happy to find a book with a teenage protagonist that was written for adults. My own novel (which I seem to be endlessly revising) has a protagonist who is 17-18 for most of the book, yet I feel that the subject manner is a little much for a Young Adult audience. So it was great to see an example of what I'm trying to do.

I highly recommend Broken Glass Park. I don't recommend pickled quail eggs, however, because they're not vegan.

Friday, July 16, 2010

Fame and fortune

Since I've been ordered by a physician to spend all day on my couch eating,* I managed to finish the book I was trying to save for my upcoming flight to Massachusetts: High On Arrival by Mackenzie Phillips.

It brought me to the conclusion that I'm so, so grateful that I was not raised by rock stars. Sure, my parents were hippies, but they were relatively grounded and actually put a lot of thought and energy into raising their children.

It's made me think about fame. Mackenzie's mom was John Phillips' first wife - she married him before he got famous. John Phillips then left Mackenzie's mom for 16 year old Michelle, and they formed The Mamas And The Papas. Fame gave Mackenzie's dad (who, it seems was never exactly responsible to begin with) money and adoring admirers, allowing him to live in a hedonistic, drug-filled alternative reality where he could do whatever the heck he wanted. Sure, he may have still been a crappy dad if he'd never gotten famous, but he probably wouldn't have had the resources to expose his children to the kind of environment that money and fame allowed.

One thing that Mackenzie said about her dad toward the end of the book was that he had wasted a lot of his potential. She thought he could have achieved more as an artist if he hadn't let drugs and partying completely take over his life. I thought this was an interesting point, especially because he did achieve so much artistically. But he could have done more, she thought, could have continued to grow as an artist, and he chose to party instead. Because he could.

It got me thinking about myself, and other artists that I know. I think for many artists, fame and fortune are the worst things that can happen. This is not to say that I think starving artists are more pure or legitimate, just that many of the crazy, envelope-pushing tendencies that make for great art can become warped into self-indulgent excess when they're not kept in check.

*I should note, though, that she stressed that I was to eat healthy food :)

Monday, July 12, 2010

An actor tries to write

When I started working on my novel, I noticed that writing dialogue came naturally to me. Since the only writing I'd done for years was for theater, this made sense. But I soon noticed, flipping through my first draft, that the manuscript was mostly dialogue. It didn't look like a novel. It looked like...a script. Oops.

My sister said, "you're expecting the set people and the costume people and the lighting people to take care of everything else. But there are no set people and costume people and lighting people."

So I worked on adding description to break up the dialogue. Anyone who's ever taken an acting class is familiar with the concept of motivation. You read the lines, and figure out what the character wants from the person they're speaking to.

My novel is told in the first person, so I ended up with several variations of "I wanted him to..."

Not good. I needed action. This is where my theater background actually started to help me instead of hindering. I acted it out.

I would mentally put myself in the situation, say the lines of lovely dialogue I'd already written, and observe myself. Sometimes literally, in front of a mirror. But more often, I just noted what my physical impulses were, then wrote them down. I should note that it was at this point that I gave up on the idea of writing in coffee shops.

My training in Playback theater was especially helpful for this process. Playback is improv, but not the comedic type. We listen to stories and experiences offered by audience members, then we act them out on the spot. I've found that Playback helps me get into the heads of others by connecting to universal emotions instead of focusing on differences. I often have to play someone who is not my age, gender, race, etc. It's the kind of role I would never be cast in for traditional theater, but it happens all the time in Playback.

One time, I remember I was acting out a scene and I actually made myself physically ill. I got so upset that I felt nauseous. I had to stop and remind myself that not only was it "just a story," it was a story I freakin' made up!

What can I say? Actors are intense.

Thursday, July 8, 2010


People often ask me if being vegan is hard. It's a tough question to answer. What makes it hard for me is that it's less convenient. Eating out is definitely more of a challenge than it used to be.

Before going vegan, I thought the really difficult part would be feeling deprived of all the yummy non-vegan foods I used to love. Not so, it turns out. It was a pleasant surprise that I actually didn't feel deprived. Two of my dietary downfalls before I went vegan were dairy and sugar. I adored cheese and baked goods. Vegan baked goods certainly exist (as does vegan cheese, and the only brand worth bothering with is Daiya...the others are not so good), but they're not as readily available. I either have to go to Whole Foods, a select few coffee shops, or make my own. The end result is that I eat less sugar overall, which is a very good thing.

Sometimes, though, I get a craving for something decadent, and I will go to the effort to satisfy that craving. I think I brought this on myself by mentioning La Crepe Nanou yesterday...I was totally craving crepes today.

I made some, following this recipe on veg web, and filled them with Tofutti "Better Than Sour Cream," sliced bananas, and vegan chocolate chips. Topped with real maple syrup (I'll eat fake sour cream, but don't mess with my maple syrup).

They were pretty damn good!

Wednesday, July 7, 2010

A sad goodbye to Cafe Bamboo, a happy hello to DixieBee!

I recently learned that Cafe Bamboo on Esplanade closed :( That was my favorite restaurant in NOLA since I went vegan (before going vegan, it was La Crepe Nanou, but I'm pretty sure nothing on the menu there is vegan...though I would love to be wrong about that).

As sort of a consolation prize, though, a lovely little juice bar/sno-ball/gelato shop opened up recently just a few blocks from my apartment: DixieBee. Not only do they have a wide variety of juices and healthy sno-balls,* but their gelato is made with coconut milk, not dairy. They will even make non-dairy shakes! Check it out, locals, whether you're a freaky vegan or not.

They're on Magazine across from Whole Foods.

*Flavored shaved ice, for those not familiar with this favorite NOLA treat. MUCH BETTER than the sno-cones you can get up north at fairs and such.

Tuesday, July 6, 2010

Work and results

A friend posted this article on Facebook, which is about trades and manual labor. It's a great read. I could relate quite a bit.

I graduated with a degree in Theater Arts in 2003, and moved to New Orleans six days after graduation. After about a month of temp work and frustration, I got a full time job as an Office Manager for an IT consulting company. I worked there until 2006, when I quit to go to massage school.

I never fully understood what exactly the company I worked for did. Nor did I feel that the work I was doing was important, beyond general helpfulness to my co-workers. I spent a lot of time bored out of my mind, and tried to learn new things to fill my time. There were a few things I enjoyed - the IT guy showed me how to make ethernet cables and we re-wired the office (that was fun!), and I learned enough about various programs we used that I was the support contact for my co-workers (that was fun, too!). But overall...yeah. Bored out of my mind.

I remember one day, one of my co-workers, who was not usually someone I would consider very sensitive to the moods and feelings of others, said to me, "You look like you're suffering from a lack of artistic opportunities."

This was a surprising statement, coming from this particular person, but it was, of course, completely true. When I was working on a play, I found that I could tolerate my "day job." Sure, it meant long hours of rehearsal on top of long hours in the office, but I felt like I was doing something meaningful. When I wasn't in a play, I got depressed.

I used to worry that I would always have to have a "day job" that I disliked, because it seemed unlikely that I'd ever make a living doing theater. I am so happy that I discovered Massage Therapy, because I love it and people seem willing to pay me to do it.

One of the great things about massage is that you can feel results. This is something the author of the NYT article talks about - tangible results. If I client walks in the door stressed out and in pain, and leaves happy and pain-free, you can't argue with that result.

But I think this concept also applies strongly to theater. When you've rehearsed a show for weeks, and then it opens and you've actually managed to pull it off, it creates this amazing euphoria. You hug everyone backstage, even the annoying people that drove you crazy throughout the rehearsal process.

And sure, part of that euphoria is artistic fulfillment, the feeling of connection with the audience, the risk of the live moment. But another very large part of it is simply seeing the results of your work.

And audiences love to see "the work" happening on the stage. When a performer is fully immersed in their work, their role, the audience gets to witness the result of hard work. It's immensely satisfying. As audiences, we want to see them pull it off.

As the NYT article mentions, we live in a society where work is often about vague concepts and corporate absurdity. It's natural for human beings to long for honest communication and visible results. The theater can provide us with that. Now, if only it would also pay our bills...

Friday, July 2, 2010

The drive to create

Last spring, I decided to write a novel. There was an idea I'd tried unsuccessfully to write as a play for years, and one day, while I was doing a massage, I began to think of the story as a novel instead of a play. Suddenly I had so many ideas that it was almost overwhelming. I couldn't wait to rush home and start writing. I had the next day off, so I ended up writing all night, and all the next day. That was at the beginning of April. By early July, I'd finished the first draft of my novel.

Looking back, I think there were a combination of things that put me in the mindset to pour all of my energy, my free time, my self into this project. First, I'd just been dumped. It wasn't a very serious or long-term relationship, but something about it hit me really hard. I was so depressed that I could hardly function. I desperately needed something to think about, something to have feelings about, other than the breakup. Once I started writing, I got over the pain of the breakup almost instantly. It was almost freaky.

A second factor was fear. I was afraid that if I stopped writing, I'd abandon the project. I've abandoned lots of projects in the past, but for some reason I knew it would be unthinkable to abandon this project. So I resolved to work on the novel every day. Even if I was suffering from total writer's block, I forced myself to open up the Word file and at least re-read what I'd written so far. That was usually enough to get me going again. One day, I remember I felt so blocked that all I did was type two new words, then I closed the file and went to bed. The next day I deleted those two words and wrote three thousand more.

I'd always thought of myself as a "theater person." All the writing I'd done since college was for theater. It was very strange for me to spend so much time in my own head, interacting only with my laptop. Everything about the process felt unnatural to me. But every single other thing in my life - my job, even basics like eating and sleeping - felt like an annoying distraction. I just needed to finish the novel. Somehow.

I'd had shorter periods of that kind of feverish compulsion in my life, but nothing like the months I spent writing the first draft of my novel. It's probably for the best that I'm not like that all the time - even if I didn't burn out, I'd become so detached from the world that I'd be left with nothing to reflect upon.

Still, I loved that crazy feeling. It reminds me of the characters in Close Encounters of the Third Kind, who become obsessed with Devil's Tower, though they don't know why. "This is important...this means something."

This is when you know you're an artist. People might think you're crazy. That's are crazy. If you can't get a little unbalanced when you're lost in the drive to create, you may have to ask yourself, is it important? Does it mean something?

All aboard the spaceship!

So, I've started a blog. This will be a space for me to spout off my numerous opinions about my life in New Orleans (and beyond!), especially pertaining to the performing arts scene and being vegan. I've lived in New Orleans for over seven years now. I moved here on a stiflingly hot summer day with no job, few friends, and very little money.

NOLA has been kind to me, for the most part. One of the things I most enjoy about living here is the arts scene. Not only is it alive and active, but supporting the arts seems to be a fundamental part of the culture here. Now, when I say "supporting," I'm not necessarily talking about money. In fact, when I ask my friends to see a play or a concert with me, the response is usually "how much does it cost?" There are plenty of relatively cheap fun things to do in NOLA, so pricey arts events are often a tough sell. Thankfully, there are plenty of cheap or free arts events here. But what makes the arts "work" as well as they do here is the general sense of encouragement and camaraderie within the arts community. Other areas can be harder to break into, without a lot of influence and money. Here, artists welcome other artists, and support their efforts.

I'm speaking generally, of course. There are petty snobs here, too. But I haven't encountered many of them.