Friday, February 25, 2011

Women, rock?

Alternative music radio station WTMD-FM recently sponsored a pledge-drive, week-long marathon of The Top 500 Desert Island Songs of All Time. (Listeners were asked to submit the five songs they'd want on a desert island, and the radio station compiled them into a play list).

I was surprised that, in the Top Ten, there's not a single woman (unless you count The Talking Heads' Tina Weymouth, who may or may not be singing background vocals).

In the top 50, the only female solo is Etta James doing "At Last." In the top 100, there are only four female soloists/women-fronted bands: James, Brandi Carlile, Adele, and Joni Mitchell—singing "A Case of You" which is one of my least favorite JM songs. (There's also a John Prine/Bonnie Raitt duet of "Angel From Montgomery").

I can understand why there is no Lady Gaga, but how can there be no Aretha Franklin in these 500 songs? (Even Madonna made it in at no. 404, with "Live to Tell").

With the station's past theme marathons, like the 897 Greatest Albums of All Time and 897 Greatest Artists Countdown ), you expect the old standbys—Beatles, Rolling Stones, The Who, Bob Dylan, Pink Floyd—to be in the top 20. But wouldn't you miss female voices on a desert island?

When I see lists like this, I get a little depressed. It seems like women have been singing their hearts out all these years, but no one is listening.

Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Failed attempts at filming paradise

The primary reason I attended UC-Santa Cruz was for its green-gorgeous campus—the university is inside a redwood forest, on a tall hilltop overlooking the Monterey Bay. In the springtime, after the winter rains fed the fields, it was indescribably beautiful, with orange poppies and wildflowers clustering in the fields, and the sweet scent of laurel and eucalyptus permeating the air.

Santa Cruz has become a mythical place in my mind, remembering its beauty and the many weird and wonderful people I knew there. So I am interested in finding movies that try to capture its essence. But the movies I've found so far have been miserable failures—the best they offer is fleeting glimpses of its scenery.

This puzzles me. Why would such a gorgeous place inspire duds like "Creator" and "Glory Daze"?

I watched "Creator" last night on fast-forward, stopping only at recognizable landmarks, to avoid hearing the embarrassingly bad dialogue—delivered by Peter O'Toole and Mariel Hemingway and Virginia Madsen, all who have been fine in other projects. There was O'Toole looking awkward in front of Bookshop Santa Cruz, Hemingway crying in a way that suggested "first theater workshop" outside Cafe Pergolisi. Then, more annoying acting, with UCSC's McHenry Bridge, Santa Cruz beaches and the lower campus hills serving as backdrops. "Glory Daze" was just as bad, from what I remember of it.

Yet, distractingly beautiful scenery can't be the reason those films were failures; "Lost" was filmed in Hawaii, and it managed to pull off a riveting story.

Maybe it's because, in trying to capture the hippie-surfer-philosophical-eclectic elan of the place, they ended up with one-note characters. Or perhaps Santa Cruz has excited lesser talents to write screenplays about it, the brisk evening ocean air fortifying them with the notion that they had something important to say.

I'm not sure I'm immune to its seductive allure myself, even in what is now a distant retrospect. I've attempted to write stories over the years that capture Santa Cruz's everything-at-once-too-muchness, but have mostly failed. Better to concentrate on a scene in a room and a moment than to try to write about all I experienced there.

Oh well, at least I have the Boardwalk scene in "Harold and Maude" to remember it fondly and cinematically by.

(Scene from "Creator" photographed from my computer screen; the actors are walking across McHenry Bridge on the UCSC campus)

Thursday, February 17, 2011

Tripping over the ottoman into a male fantasy world

Suddenly my daughter, E-girl, can't get enough of "The Dick Van Dyke Show." She begs to watch an episode of it whenever she has any free time (it's easily accessible on Netflix Instant watch).

While I applaud its sharp writing and witty dialogue, there's one character that makes me a little uneasy: Laura Petrie, Rob Petrie's subservient, sometimes anxious wife.

It's hard for me to imagine/remember a culture where smart women were destined to wait on men hand and foot: making breakfast just for them, accommodating uninvited guests with a smile, serving dinner in a spotless kitchen without the presence of children—all while wearing high heels, false eyelashes and tight capri pants. I suppose the high heels and glamor were a screen writer's fantasy, but that makes me dislike this part of the show even more, that it perpetuated an unachievable standard for the average woman.

The Mary Tyler Moore character I'd rather she watch and emulate is the older, wiser and independent Mary Richards (on the "MTM Show"), who works at a TV station among interesting colleagues and dates whom she likes.

And yet, I realized as I started to write this, I am more like Laura Petrie than Mary Richards. I had the apartment and lived alone as a newspaper reporter and I hated it, perhaps because I didn't work among interesting colleagues but in a windowless bureau office by myself, in a town where I knew no one. I craved companionship more than anything else then.

Now I am married. I work at home, by myself most days, not polishing furniture but polishing copy as a freelance editor. I usually have dinner on the table by the time my husband comes home, though he's never found me at the stove in high heels and makeup. The house is unapologetically chaotic most nights.

Perhaps I am a combination of both women. Except that I'm not sure that either of them ever spent the day in sweat pants.

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

Web sites that list writers' contests, markets and grants

Instead of having to search for individual web sites for contests, here are some sites that compile them for you:

Poets and Writers Submission Calendar - a month by month calendar that lists contests, fellowships and awards

• Poets and Writers' Writing Contests, Grants and Awards database - includes details about creative writing contests—including poetry contests, short story competitions, essay contests, awards for novels, and more—published in Poets and Writers Magazine. The magazine promises: "We carefully review the practices and policies of each contest before including it. Ours is the most trusted resource for legitimate writing contests available anywhere."

• It's worth noting separately that the Poets and Writers' database lets you search by genre. For instance, here is the link for listings of Upcoming Fiction Contests.

• Less useful is the's Contest and Awards listing, which offers 70+ screens of alphabetically listed contests, seemingly without any selective process. (This is the free version; perhaps a subscription to WM offers search capabilities?). [Note: if this isn't a permalink, you can link to it from the WM Paid Services page. According to the site, Paid Services puzzlingly includes services for writers "for which they do not get paid"; I think they mean services for which they must pay.]

Thursday, February 10, 2011

Baltimore: Life on the streets

Thanks to David Simon, I am terrified of driving to Baltimore.  As an avid viewer of Homicide: Life on the Street, and now The Wire, I have come to think of Baltimore as a thug-infested, open drug market, full of people who would just as soon kill me as not.

I know this isn’t (entirely) true. Baltimore has neat museums and shops and restaurants, but I hardly ever go to any of them unless someone else wants to drive me there. This puts me in a dependent position I was hoping I’d outgrown.

I have always been deeply affected by violent movies and TV shows, so it was sometimes a struggle to sit through all 122 episodes of Homicide and 60 episodes of The Wire (though I sometimes watched particularly violent scenes in The Wire behind a screen of closed fingers). But the writing on both shows was so good, I fought my involuntary panic at the first note of ominous music or flash of a gun (though I was sometimes trembling by the time the final credits rolled).

What made those shows more convincing is that they were shot in identifiable places, often with local people, not on some California set dressed up to look like the inner-city with beautiful, smudge-faced models pretending to be drug addicts. It’s is a real place I can drive to in under 40 minutes—not some distant, inaccessible fantasy.

I’m afraid if I tried to drive there and took a wrong turn, I’d soon be in the midst of Avon and Prop Joe and Marlo, separately or all together. Rationally, I know this is unlikely, but I can’t shake that fear from my unconscious mind. It doesn’t help that our car window was busted out the last time we were in Baltimore last November, parked on a busy street in front of expensive condominiums.

The only way out of this predicament, that I can see, is to review episodes of The Wire, trying to figure out where its worst characters are unlikely to be and to head to those areas, convinced of my safety. Maybe if I’m lucky, though, I’ll run into Omar.