Saturday, November 27, 2010

One Thing Ann Pittman Doesn't Need...

One Thing Ann Pittman Doesn't Need: A Reason to Drink Wine
By Sam Davidson... guest poster... or post-er... or writer. Whatever.

I've known Ann almost as long as I've known my wife, Lynnette. The two were pals in seminary. No further comment.

Since then, I have seen Ann at conferences, over dinner, at Disney World, and visited half a dozen New Year's parties with her in one night. One thing that's easy to pick up about Ann: she likes to find reasons to celebrate. And most celebrations call for wine. This is a good thing.

Don't worry, Carol. Ann doesn't think that every occasion demands wine - like fifth Sundays or every Friday or noon. But she knows when people need a drink. And I often raise my glass to Ann Pittman.

There's something for us all to learn here: we need more celebration in our lives. I think this is something that is especially true to remember when we find what it is we're passionate about.

I firmly believe the world needs more passionate people. This is why I wrote 50 Things Your Life Doesn't Need. Using the excuse of clearing out clutter, I highlight how getting rid of what doesn't matter can help us find what does. The same is true in reverse: when we find what it is we truly care about, everything else can fade into the background.

We don't do enough celebrating. And most of us don't drink enough good wine. The next time you see Ann - or find your passion - feel free to do both.

Other things (actually in the book) that Ann Pittman doesn't need:
#4 - Drama
#13 - Unpassionate activism
#36 - Noise

Sam Davidson is a writer, entrepreneur, and dreamer who believes that the world needs more passionate people. To help people find and live their passion, he has written 50 Things Your Life Doesn’t Need. He is the co-founder of Cool People Care and Proof Branding, and lives in Nashville with his wife and daughter.

Click on the link in the above paragraph (50 Things) and buy my friend Sam's book for everyone you know for Christmas. I really like his wife and daughter. Plus, I read an early copy of the book. I like it too. Check out the promo video below. Peace, Ann Pittman.

50 Things Your Life Doesn't Need from Point House Films on Vimeo.

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Upon Discovering My Entire Solution...

Upon Discovering My Entire Solution to the Attainment of Immortality Erased from the Blackboard Except the Word 'Save'
by Donny Gibson

If you have seen the snow
somewhere slowly fall
on a bicycle,
then you understand
all beauty will be lost
and that even the loss
can be beautiful.
And if you have looked
at a winter garden
and seen not a winter garden
but a meditation on shape,
then you know why
this season is not
known for its words,
the cold too much
about the slowing of matter,
not enough about the making of it.
So you are blessed
to forget this way:
a jump rope in the ice melt,
a mitten that has lost its hand,
a sun that shines
as if it doesn't mean it.
And if in another season
you see a beautiful woman
use her bare hands
to smooth wrinkles
from her expensive dress
for the sake of dignity,
but in so doing trace
the outlines of her thighs,
then you will remember
surprise assumes a space
that has first been forgotten,
especially here, where we
rarely speak of it,
where we walk out onto the roofs
of frozen lakes
simply because we're stunned
we really can.

Thursday, November 18, 2010

The Live Music Capital of the World

is where I live, and this week, I experienced it in full.

Starting last Friday night, a friend had invited me several weeks ago to attend a show with him at a Presbyterian church in North Austin. Some "amazing guitar player" was performing, and after driving in from Dallas, my friend wanted someone who would appreciate some good music to see the show with him. I was happy to oblige.

We were the first to arrive at the "Open Ear Concert," and with five minutes to show time and only six of us in the audience, I was beginning to worry about what I was about to see. However, the crowd filed in at the last minute and the opening act joined us onstage. All the rage in the Netherlands, Matt Harlan was indeed a talented musician with good lyrics and a compelling voice. But he was no match for the main event: Corrine West and Kelly Joe Phelps.

"She's not exactly delicate," my friend said of Corrine when I remarked that the photograph on the flyer (not the previous picture) made them look like a bad 80s hair band. And while he was right, she was no budding flower onstage, this beautiful woman was a powerful musician. With eyes clenched closed she listened to her partner, a former Jazz guitarist, shimmy his left hand up and down the fret of his guitar accompanying her on songs they had rewritten musically after meeting each other.

And they are a match made in heaven. Their voices blend so well that at times it was hard to tell who was singing which note. It was like listening to honey. Thick honey. The kind from the comb grandma would buy at the apple orchard and bring over to your kitchen. The kind you couldn't just drip onto a bowl of Cheerios from a bear, but the kind that had to be spread onto bread with a knife. Thick honey. My friend bought me their only CD together, and I was thrilled to learn that River was on it. However, the song that most affixed me was Angels. I've always heard of people describe music as a spiritual experience and while I've always agreed with that sentiment, for the first time as I listened to that song, I felt myself almost separate from my body as if my spirit were so moved to dance that it couldn't be confined to the mass that is me.

Find these people when they come to your area and buy a ticket to their show. Their CD doesn't do them justice.

From St. Andrews, I said goodbye to my friend (who headed back to Dallas), and went to meet up with some more friends downtown at the Beauty Bar to hear one of my favorite Austin band's last show. Upon arriving I discovered there was a $5 cover charge and free drinks at the bar until 11. What? Um, awesome. The B. Sterling Band was already playing when I arrived at 10:05 and I joined B's prego wife in the front of the crowd to hear the show. Always a ton of fun, I love listening to this band whose vivid lyrics coupled with not only your typical band instruments but a steel guitar, flute and trumpet too always make for a festive evening.

However, what was also making for a fun evening was the... ahem... variety... of people at the Beauty Bar that night. Go north on Punk Rock and take a right on Hipster are my directions for how to get to this bar, so when it began to fill with big hair and big boobed girls dressed in all black and pumped up in stiletto heels, I began to wonder if it had been too long since I'd been downtown. First off, I didn't know Side Bar had closed (which used to be right across the street), but now Beauty Bar is the main attraction for 30 year old sorority girls from Dallas? As I made my way to the bar (for a second drink), I discovered the non-sequitor... Cover Girls, the main band of the evening, indeed consisted of thirty-something year old women from Dallas but with a catch. "I'll take a vodka in grapefruit juice please." I began to pull a dollar out of my wallet to tip the bartenders. "No need to tip, honey," the old man standing next to me said. "But the drink was free and they need to make money," I replied pre-judging him as some jerk-off republican. "You know the band that's playing next?" he went on. I didn't. "Well, my daughter is friends with them. One of the girl's husbands is a trillionaire. Trust me, these bartenders will be taken care of. Save your money." Hmm. I complied. I don't have a full time job. I will save my dollar for an equally needy bartender. I returned to Jess and our friends reporting the news: one of the band member's husband is apparently a trillionaire and had flown not only the band, but all their friends into town, rented out the Beauty Bar, paid for our drinks, and made the whole evening possible.

Awesome. Again, free liquor and five-dollar music. I love this town.

I did not love the Cover Girls.

They couldn't even tune their own guitars. If the bad blond hair and the fake boobs and leather clothing hadn't tipped us off, this did. We were in for a ride. And I hate roller coasters. Five Six Seven Eight, the struck their first chords. We groaned. And then, as if in a bad karaoke bar, we watched some blond bimbo sing "One way... or another... I'm gonna gitcha, gitcha, gitcha." To add to the terrible song choice, and the terrible costumes, the song was in a key way too low for this girl and she didn't have a good voice. When they switched singers for the second song and bimbo number two began her equally terrible 1980s karaoke hit, I left. Money may buy you and your fifty closest friends a trip to Austin and free drinks for an entire bar and band equipment and even non-band members to tune your guitars, but it won't buy you talent.

I had shut this event out of my mind when to finalize my live music week, I and two friends attended John Pointer's show at Zach Scott Theater on the set of Rent and I was reminded of the full week of music I'd already experienced. But what a juxtaposition. This show finished out the week with the same flair that it had been ushered in with. A-mazing.

I admit, I'm a huge John Pointer fan. It's probably because he covers Yo Diggity (I'd like to bag it up!), but even beyond this super fun cover song, John's musical versatility is really unparalleled here in Austin. A human beatbox (yes, you heard me correctly), this cello performance major from UT plays, nay, dances on the fret of his guitar creating a whole new music experience all the while singing in that same whimsical fashion, sometimes gruff and hard, sometimes falsetto and sometimes, well, as though his voice were a turntable, snare and high hat. Trust me, it's hard to describe. But John captured his audience's attention and you could have heard a pin drop when he looped a simple guitar strum and then bounded from the main stage to upstage right on the second level where his cello, a saw (yes, a flimsy saw) and his bow were waiting.

With those loops in place he returned to the stage, this time to the piano to play keys and finally add vocals to the mix. A good 15 minute spectacle, it was a real treat to watch. Because when John plays, he is also playing. He plays with the words, the music, the beat, the audience (yes, there's always much audience participation at John's shows) and the theatricality of each piece. It is a pleasure to watch him perform.

There was a summer or a fall or some season when every Thursday night you could hear John at Cedar Street, a local outdoor venue here in town. I miss those days of amazing live music - both originals and covers - and dancing to a cello and a human beatbox in downtown Austin under the stars.

Strange, I know. But birds of a feather flock together. And you need to hear John Pointer.

(Photography borrowed with permission from Charley McCoy).

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Secret Kitty

Squee of the day via Posh Deluxe. Check out this short clip from Jezebel...

ACL 2010

I realize that I'm backtracking. But I've been backtracking for a while now, so you'll be alright.

The weekend after the big I Ran Five Miles at Disney World brought yet another adventure: Austin City Limits. Hooray! It's my super favorite weekend of the whole year.

Why? Because I love the sun, the music, the food, the people, and I love that it's all in one place. One park. One entrance and one exit.

My lineup for this year consisted of some bands I'd seen before, others I'd missed in years past at the festival and some I'd never seen or heard ever. Highlights from this year were... Blues Traveler (yep, it's true), The Black Keys (as everyone expected, a great show), Dawes (who I couldn't actually see, but sang along to in the back of the crowd on my blanket) and The National (Oh. My. God.).

However, for this post I do not want to focus on the amazingness of the aforementioned bands, but on the kookiness of several of the other shows we saw. One of the fun parts of ACL is that the selection of bands is usually vast enough that not only can you hang with the pot-smoking hippies at The XX, the Christians at Switchfoot (whom I avoided) but also with the voyeurs who show up to shows like M.I.A. and the Flaming Lips and by voyeurs, I mean those who aren't really music junkies for fill-in-the-blank-band, but just want to be able to say, "Yeah, I saw them once." We are voyeurs of the eccentricity of musicians.

I had skipped MIA several years ago at ACL when she was here to hear Damien Rice I think. A smart move on my part, but still I heard her show was amazing. So after picking up her CD that year, I was ready this year to make it over, and in 2010, several years and several CDs later, Maya had a much more featured hour and stage on which to perform. And boy did she perform. Too bad we couldn't hear her. Her stage was cah-razy with a video for the backdrop and pyro-technics on Paper Plane.

Super awesome. The crowd was wild with singing and fist-throwing. But we could hardly hear her vocals! You could hear the sound, but you couldn't understand her. Even in between songs when she spoke, no one knew what she was saying. So with that uber disappointment, my crew and I voted to leave the park early and beat the end-of-show crowds having heard our favorite MIA songs already. We left Maya on top of her speakers having climbed up there mid-song.

The other show that I'd chosen against in previous years was Flaming Lips. Supposedly their show was really entertaining a few years ago when I had gone to hear Robert Plant or someone else instead. I remember thinking at the time that I'd made the wrong decision, but after seeing their show this year, maybe not.

The Flaming Lips are known for being... well... different. I mean, I'm different. But they're different. For example, it would never occur to me to put a giant painting of a woman in birthing position on the giant screen behind my stage and then come onstage myself, get into a giant ball and roll from the stage (and thus from the woman) onto the people who had come to see my show and proceed to crowd surf in a giant blown up ball.

Neither would I consider it creatively advantageous to have a man in a bear costume come out onstage during one of my songs. Even if I did consider this, I would not then climb up on the bear's shoulders and ride him like a bull while continuing to perform. What the...?

But even if I had chosen the theatrically precarious ball surfing or the just plain peculiar bear riding, I definitely wouldn't choose to ask my audience to do what Wayne Coyne instructed us in next. "Okay, if I say bird, I want to hear you chirp like birds." We all looked at him onstage like he was speaking alien. "F*cking chirp I said!" And a few people chirped. Then he called up his drummer to the microphone and said that he would willingly demonstrate and help us along. "If I say lion, I want to hear your roar!" Raaaahhhhrrr began the drummer and the potheads began roaring with him. The rest of us began looking at one another in disbelief. That's what i say to Chris and Michelle's 17 month old daughter, "Roar like a lion, Lauren," to which she replies, "rahr!" I digress. Then Wayne began performing the song, and with every noun he offered, we were to pretend to be that noun either vocally or physically. "Wind!" he shouted and people began blowing into the air and swooshing. It was like being in a high school theater class. Only worse. The sun was in our eyes, and most of us were high from either first or second-hand smoke. And our buzz was quickly wearing off. "Race car!" It was at this point that a wave of high schoolers weeded their way past us leaving the show. "See, they get it," I said to my ACL partner, Meredith Holladay.

They have to chase one another on all fours like crabs on a dirty gymnasium floor during P.E. class at school. They're sure as hell not going to do it at an ACL concert. And after Wayne asked us to be the ocean, we too left.

This experience was in part redeemed for me by getting to hear the Flaming Lips perform Vaseline, but Meredith never heard her favorite Pink Robots song, so it was with mixed emotions that we braced exiting the crowd. Thank God, I muttered, and began humming "Nothing" sung by character Diana Morales in A Chorus Line as we moved away from the insanity and toward the port-a-potties.

Austin City Limits. Always an experience!

Monday, November 08, 2010

Tagged By Joy

In her blog about being a doulah, Joy Kusek tagged me to respond to a post "A Little Something About Me." (as if you didn't already know enough about me). So here are my answers to the following seven questions...

1) What is your dream occupation?
Ugh. Please read previous two months posts. Um... I would enjoy being a professor, an actor, an itinerant preacher and a vocal performer. Please feel free to lend your hand or connections to make any of the aforementioned come true...

2) What is the best dish that you can cook?
Ha. All together now... Crazy Carol's spaghetti or Tuna and Noodle casserole. The only two dishes I know how to cook, unless of course you count cereal...

3) Have you ever been mentioned in the newspaper? What for?
Yep. I made my paper debut in the second grade when I dressed up like one of the founding fathers of our nation at Noyes Elementary school and some St. Joseph News Press photographer came over and wrote a story on us and took our picture. After that, I was in the local paper mostly for shows at the community theater in St. Joe. My favorite was probably the pic of me with a cat during the play, I Remember Mama. We had a real cat on stage. Awesome. I'll try to dig up some of those old clippings. My piano teacher, every time I was in the paper, would cut out the article and put it in her piano bench for my next lesson when she would pull it out and tell me she was proud of me. What a wonderful woman.

4) What’s the worst and/or most memorable job you’ve ever had?
Other than my three month stint at Applebee's in the ghetto of Wacky Waco, my most memorable worst job was at Morton Reed and Counts law firm in St. Joseph one summer. I was in seminary at the time, but had left Texas for the summer to return home and act in the local theater. I think we were doing Into the Woods that summer and I played the Witch. But to make money, I worked as a secretary at this law firm (at the time I tried to keep that under wraps from my seminary friends who would have died at the thought of me taking a secretarial position). Suffice it to say, I was probably the first and last feminist they hired to woman their front desk...

5) When you were a teenager, at what age did you envision yourself getting married? How old were you in reality when you got married?
I thought I'd get married at 22 just like my mom. And ten years later I'm still not married.

6) What’s your most hated household chore? What’s your favorite?
I hate putting sheets on and making the bed though I love sleeping in clean, new sheets. I do this chore frequently even though I hate it. Some of you who have been reading me a long time may remember this post and remember that I also hate cleaning the bathroom which, unlike the make bed chore, I rarely do. I usually wait for my mom to come into town and then she cleans it for me :) My favorite chore? Is that a joke? Maybe putting dishes in the dishwasher?

7) What’s your earliest memory?
It's a funny thing, memory. I have a memory of me eating a worm at age 2 in the backyard of our house on Folsom Terrace, but I think that memory is only from hearing my parents tell it so often. I remember the Hindery's basement, I remember spinning in circles to Annie in the living room of our first house. I remember seeing the concentric circles around my ankles as I spun faster and faster. I remember waking up and seeing orange peels on the roof outside my bedroom window Christmas morning (Santa liked oranges and apparently his reindeer did too). I remember yelling at Paul Kuhlman at school later that week insisting that Santa Claus was real because, like my dad would climb up on the roof in the middle of the night to put orange peels out... Probably my earliest memory though is a sad one. I remember waking up in the hospital after some procedure - tubes in the ears I think - and crying for my mom and watching a nurse come over to console me only to have me scream on anyway. I can remember continuing to cry and watching her walk away through the bars of the crib I was in. Weird.

So, now I tag: I sort of gave up reading blogs for a while. Weird I know, but I got tired. But I'll tag Sam Davidson anyway and also Patrick and Taylor (two seminary friends who occasionally read my blog).

Sunday, November 07, 2010

Shadowlands, a review

Shadowlands a drama written by William Nicholson and produced by Trinity Street Players at the black box theater on the fourth floor of The First Baptist Church of Austin Texas.

While it seems strange to review a theater troupe I started three years ago and a play I picked just nine months ago, I'm doing it anyway, because you need to see this play.

You need to see this play.


Many reasons. Namely, it's an excellent play. Well written, a fine piece of art. But put the words on the page into the mouths of actors and put the actors on the stage next to scenery and under lights and the art takes life. And art is, I believe, the most natural expression of humanity. Shadowlands as presented by Trinity Street Players is good art. But in addition to being a good play that is performed well, you need a good laugh, and you need a good cry, and you need to think about the issues this play raises.

Is friendship a lost cause? Is love worth it? Is pain God's megaphone to rouse a deaf world? Are we walking in the shadows of what is to come? Are we trying to be offensive when we put limitations on the heart, soul and minds of our companions on this journey or are we merely stupid?

Here's the thing about intellectual elitism. I can write this because I went to seminary with men who went on to get PhDs in Philosophy, Theology, etc. I was taught by such men in higher education courses. Men who never stepped into a pastorate but only observed it from afar with their academic posture guiding them through their relationships with their community and really through their relationship with God. And of course, there are those intellectual elitists who turn away from all religion because anything emotional that could be presupposed by our need to feel safe is simply an artifice humanity (or rather "man" as most elitists don't pay much attention to political correctness for indeed there are intellectual superior beings to whom enlightenment has been bestowed and if they happen to be men, well, why recognize anyone else?) has created... God, the ultimate figment of our imagination. The thing about intellectual elitism is that when we experience suffering, the playing field is leveled. It doesn't matter how thoughtful we are, how well we can ascribe language or theories to explain certain situations, how educated, how rich, how poor, how simple how unenlightened, how beautiful, how homely, how stagnant, how progressive we are. When we suffer, everything we know and believe about life - no matter how hard we try to intellectualize it - everything is thrown in limbo, and we all end up at the same place, on the same ground, asking the same questions.

I laughed hard at this production. The text is naturally humorous at times as any well-written play about relationships, men, women, friendship, love and sex will be. However, it would be lost on a naive or unprofessional cast. The balance that director David McCullars brought to the weight of the subject matter the audience already knew was both necessary and well played. Laughter too is a part of pain and a part of joy. And Joy. She was a smart, funny woman whom most of Lewis' friends resented, brought back to life by local actor Linda Miller Raff. Not a nuance was lost by Linda as she played the Jewish, materialist, atheist, communist Christian, Joy Gresham. And Jose Shenkner as Lewis, well, he was beyond remarkable. Check out this clip...

I cried a lot. I practically cried just watching that trailer again.

Maybe I cried because I gave up my job at FBC, gave up producing Shadowlands, gave up running this program, creating art and indigenous ministry in this beautiful theater that I once called mine. That's the apple we used in The Diaries of Adam and Eve, I thought as Douglas pulled it from the wardrobe. That's the chair Don York brought in for the witness stand in Inherit the Wind. That's the logo I paid my friend Joy Kusek to design to represent this unique theater. That's motor oil on that box - motor oil David loves to paint with, motor oil that Cathy Jones fell into four gallons of during Steel Magnolias. And the narcissist wept.

Maybe I cried because one of my former parishioners at FBC who happens to be one of my former actors at Trinity Street Players and one of my good friends, drove into town to see this play with her mother, a woman resigned to a wheelchair and also dying of cancer.... Like Joy Gresham, she too had her miracle recovery but this time, like Joy, she too will die. I could not watch the play without the keen awareness that I was experiencing the play too.

Maybe I cried because "everybody hurts... sometimes," and this play grapples with the profundity we all will experience at some point in our lives. Everybody loves and everybody loses. "The pain now is part of the happiness then. That's the deal."

Suffering, you can't escape it.

I know it sounds like a downer... but this play! In addition to Jose and Linda, Ben Eynon as Riley was spot on, if obnoxious. Joe Grady Moore the third, an FBC favorite, was the brother to Lewis we all long to have. And the innocence of eight-year-old Ryan Ramsey, a character in Lewis and Joy's story, but a metaphor for the loss we all experience in life.... Oh my God, the beauty of this play! To hear the words of scholar, novelist and Christian, C.S. Lewis, articulated in the context of his life with the academic, the religious, and the drunk dons at Oxford, is an extraordinary experience. Even if you aren't familiar with Lewis' writing or are not a person ascribing to faith or spirituality, his words will move you, startle you and compel you to wonder...


I'd share some of my favorite quotes with you, but I lent out my copy of the script to the director.

So go experience it yourself. Two more weekends. November 12-14 and 19-21. Call 476-2625 for reservations Mon-Fri or email now. And it's FREE!! "The best no-money I've ever spent," my new roommate said! (But take along some cash cause it's non-profit and theater is expensive). If you don't want to take our word for it though, read another review at Austin Live Theater.

Oh, and David McCullars, I want my script back, please.

Thursday, November 04, 2010

Riders by Frost

The surest thing there is is we are riders,
And though none too successful at it, guiders,
Through everything presented, land and tide
And now the very air, of what we ride.

What is this talked-of mystery of birth
But being mounted bareback on the earth?
We can just see the infant up astride,
His small fist buried in the bushy hide.

There is our wildest mount—a headless horse.
But though it runs unbridled off its course,
And all our blandishments would seem defied,
We have ideas yet that we haven't tried.

by Robert Frost