Cultural Compass

Today is the first time in several months I’ve had a block of time to work on the May 18th Marsh Rising show. Holy Moley, it’s a month away!!!! The orange clock in the kitchen ticks. I set up the video camera. I angle my boots in front of my chair “just right.”

Harpoon. Check. Boots. Check. Performer. Unh unh.

Despite vowing I would be on my feet today, not rest on my you-know-what whittling down the years, I sat at the kitchen table and wrote out a rehearsal schedule instead of rehearsing. I would stick to it like a flea on a dog.

But when I finished with that phhhhhhttttttt. That sound you heard was the air going out of my inspirational tires. What had gone wrong? I had SO looked forward to time with myself and my script.

After a few mini-hearted attempts at afixing blame (my new day job, asthma, the Republican primary circus) I pulled out my Superpower cards and rifled through them. My heart ears pricked up when I got to Cultural Compass.

I’m paraphrasing here…

“You need a reminder of who you are at your best. You need encouragement to stay true to yourself.”

True to myself.

So why am I spending time and treasure doing this? Why is this show, The Moby Dick Diaries, important to me?

This show is important to me because like many young artists, without a trust fund, rich husband, doting parents or fat paycheck career, I learned the hard way that a level-playing field in not what the Arts in the Bay Area happen to be. Thirty-six years I’ve kept going except for six months working at a full-time job and some months when my two children were newborns. This show is important to me to connect with my younger artistic self and my hopelessly deluded full-steam ahead engine of desire.

This show is important to me because when I was a young artist, freshly minted from UC Santa Cruz and before that the Central Valley, I had days of only a bag of white rice, a jar of salsa and a backyard patch of chard to eat, a rat-invested Berkeley student house to sleep in, teaching kids dance and gymnastics constantly sick with walking pneumonia and no health insurance and too poor to afford the prescription for antibiotics anyway. This show is important to me to reconnect with that person who managed to keep going by hook and crook.

This show is important to me because I had a dream. To always dance. I was sure dance would keep me alive behind the eyeballs. I didn’t see many people past the age of 16 in Porterville with eyeball light. I found light in the dance department at UCSC. I was hellbent to LIVE!!! Every single minute. Because I loved someone who died at twenty.

This show is important to me because there is Allison at my day job who hails from the Central Valley. She’s chock full of spunk and ambition splashing around in a bucketful of naivete. She wants to be a theater director. And she will.

Because Allisons are why The Moby Dick Diaries is important to me.

Please join me May 18th at The Marsh Rising in San Francisco at 7:30.

Buy tickets here:

Marsh Rising

Chapter Three –Home, Sweet Closet


Banality of Evil.png

I woke at dawn. My closet wasn’t bad. The best part was I had a window that if I held my head at the right angle, I could see Alcatraz Prison floating in San Francisco Bay.

While Emilee slept, I went downstairs to explore the rest of my new home. The hallway was piled floor-to-ceiling with books, textbooks, cookbooks, almanacs—every kind of book—crammed into unpainted wooden bookshelves. Over the doorway hung a painting of a whale reading a book, The Banality of Evil with the Berkeley Campanile poking up in the background.

The night before Emilee explained it broke the rules to turn the heat on and told me a whole list of hippie house rules about composting, cleaning, and what foods in the refrigerator were solely-owned and what foods anyone could eat.

Here’s the craigslist ad for a new roommate posted on the fridge:

WE…are an intentional raw food community. We do not promote racism, sexism, materialism, or factism. We gladly invite all beings who desire to reach our high standards. After an Outward Bound weekend, we’ll let you know if you’re pure enough.

THE ROOM…has a floor, a sloping ceiling on one side, and is located conveniently under the stairs. It’s windowless but cozy, a “room of one’s own” for that height-challenged someone who doesn’t mind sharing their space with athletic gear. $400 month.

YOU…should are gender-fluid but pay strict attention to personal cleanliness while abstaining from soap, fragrances, deodorants, gels, and perfumes. In the interests of water conservation, one five-minute shower is allowed once per week.

INTERESTED? Please respond with a detailed life plan, projected income for the next three years, six month’s rent as a non-refundable deposit, no more than four references but no fewer than three. (If you have more than four friends we’re suspicious you’ll have sufficient time for house meetings that occur four times a month.)

Chapter One – Loomings


Dear Diary,

Call me Lee, Lee West.

I’m your basic white girl, a goat-roper who wears Justin boots, western snap shirts and drinks Starbucks. Diary, if you don’t know, a goat-roper is a cowgirl too poor to afford a horse. I come from Porterville. That’s in California. Fifty miles north of Bakersfield. Out town’s been on the front pages of all the newspaper because our wells ran dry on account of the drought. Now we have to cook, clean, and drink bottled water which is expensive.

I wanted to vacation where water still came out of the tap, so I tracked Dad down in his Man Shack. Lucky lifted an ear flap, stood on all fours, barked ferociously then fell under Dad’s workbench and closed his eyes.

“Hey, Dad. What do you think about me living with Emilee this summer?”

“In Bezerkeley? What kind of crazy pill did you take this morning?” Dad dropped a thin layer of oil onto his chamois then polished the barrel of his .22 rifle.

Buttering up Dad should be as easy as shooting fish in a tub. I pulled a double-barreled shotgun from the rack. “Barrel cleaning, yes or no?” If Dad’s heart was a mall, his gun collection was the anchor store.

Dad grabbed the shotgun out of my arms. “Only idiots think cleaning messes up the trajectory.” He removed the bolt, took down a nylon brush from the shelf and stuck it down a barrel. “You have to scrub out each chamber like this.” When he finished demonstrating, he threw me the gun back. Dad’s head nodded as he wiped the rifle butt. “You’re sixteen. It’s time you pulled your weight.”

I pumped the brush in one barrel. “Last summer, Emilee worked me real hard.” Emilee let me stay with her at Sequoia Crest, population 10. She made burgers at the resort’s café while I let my hair grow long.

“Two daughters live in that crazy town? I won’t have it!”

“No, sir.” I asked. “Now do I polish the metal?

Dad’s voice softened. “Here.” He handed me his chamois. Dad gave me a bottle of red oil. “Do this right, and you’ll get an excellent patina only acquired by decades of loving care.”

“Yes, sir.”

Dad held up a bullet. “Be sure you dip the .22 bullets in carnauba wax. That way the bore gets a glassy-smooth polish after shooting.”

“Yes, sir.” I sat down and dipped a couple of bullets. After that, I wandered over to stare at a glass-eyed bobcat’s head on a taxidermy plaque.

Happy Artist or Sad Artist

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Enough promotion, now for my post. Lately folks (not in the arts) have been saying how wonderful it is that the arts are not competitive. For instance, at brunch today for an investment banker’s birthday. Once I finished snorting coffee through my nose, I thought about why this perception exists. My guess is folks in other professions want to believe there’s a world Over the Rainbow where work is always lemon drops and never sucks dead donkey dicks.

Personally, OMG I’ve found the arts to be HYPER-competitive because a lot of smart, talented, people fight for a tiny teensy slice of whatever financial or other carrot pie is held in front of our noses.

This makes me sad. At times, it makes me want to

  1. give up
  2. get out
  3. grow up and get a REAL job

And then I come to my senses. Literally. Lately I’ve been taking “Perception Walks” (TM, no just kidding). I walk out the door and stop the words in my head like “tree”. This stops the march of judgments like “pretty tree”, “ugly tree”, “mediocre tree”. I wordlessly perceive. I notice when I name whatever and give it a pass. The words in my head are the enemy. Any words. I listen to the sounds, see the sights, taste my spittle, feel the biting wind. It’s goal-less, relaxing, fun and addictive.