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Thursday, June 24, 2010

Nirvana's "Polly" Live (the cover version)

The slammin' Melissa Broder hosts the Polestar Poetry series, and she just tried something new*: picking an album (in this case Nirvana's Nevermind, and having a team of poets (in this case, us) write poems about it, one poet per song.

I got in early, which meant that I got one of the first picks. I chose "Polly," the song about sexual assault and boys who think they control the world. Don't ask me why.

I didn't plan it this way, but the story I'm telling -- and especially Christian -- all ties in to my story in the anthology Punk Rock Saved My Ass, an incredible little collection to benefit 924 Gilman, one of the first punk collectives in Berkeley. It's only $10, and you should check it out. In order to get what I'm talking about in the video, though, check out the adrenaline-fueled piece Kat Georges did before me.

And then go check out the whole series.

Wednesday, June 23, 2010

Punk Torah Prayerbook

On MyJewishLearning, I interview Patrick Aleph and Michael Sabani about the Punk Torah Siddur that they wrote designed, and released. My favorite part:

Some of the prayers — especially the bedtime shema — are surprisingly peaceful for, well, someone who shouts for a living. How’d you swing that?

Patrick: That’s fair. I’m in a band where I scream and roll around on the floor, but there’s a place for meditation in every person’s life. This is the best example I can give of this: I was at Jewlicious, and I was working in the kitchen patrick aleph punktorahwith Sasha Edge and her father, who catered it — they’re screaming and there’s knives everywhere, and fire. But then when it was time for Shabbos, we ended up making motzi over a vegan cookie and drinking Kedem grape juice and some of the back-of-the-house volunteers had a great, awesome, totally spiritual and peaceful moment. If you’re a rambunctious person like myself, it’s even more important.

read the rest >

Wednesday, June 16, 2010

The Rebbe and the Forty-Nine Hipsters

Last week, I told you how the Biala Rebbe was coming to our house. And I've gotten a bunch of emails/Facebooks/twittery questions back, asking the question that should be self-evident: What did he say?

First, let me tell you what I think. I think the Rebbe sees things that the rest of us don't see. I don't know if he's hooked up to any otherworldly powers or has a direct line to G*d that the rest of us don't. But I do think that he's a professional at this sort of thing. The same way that, more than a normal person, a psychologist is going to watch me chewing on my cuticle and know that it probably relates to the fact that I'm always hungry -- I mean, of course they will, it's their job -- the Rebbe also picks up on stuff. Maybe it's tiny physical movements. Maybe it's our auras. I don't know.

My wife and I sat down with the Rebbe. Immediately, before he asked our names (he always asks our names), he turned to her and said: "You're loved from above, and you're loved below. Why are you always stressing out?"

Case in point. It's not like other people aren't stressed. It's not like 98% of the people there weren't stressed. But, in her case -- this week, and the certain circumstances in our lives and what was going on -- yeah, it was pretty freaking relevant. If I would've had to pick a single topic to talk about, it would be the amount of stress that we (and, specifically, she) are under.

So, go fig.

It was a really weird night. Awesome, but weird. I'd kind of figured that it would be a party of sorts, since the Rebbe sees people one at a time and a bunch of us were waiting -- but it wasn't that kind of atmosphere at all. We sat around. We made small talk. It wasn't fun small talk, though; it was the kind of small talk that you make while you're waiting for the results of a particularly invasive exam. Everyone was half in that room and half in their own heads, thinking about what they wanted to say. When a random man with whom you have no straight connection flies from Israel, and you can talk to him about anything, it's a horrible kind of freedom. What's the most important thing in your life? How do you sum that up? What do you ask for a blessing for -- your kids, your job, your books? Everything?

In cases, like ours, you don't even decide. The Rebbe just starts talking. He spoke Hebrew, which I mostly understood, but it helped to have it repeated back in English (by Rabbi Davide, my old teacher at yeshiva) a second time. He asks the questions, and you fill in the blanks. He asked why I spread myself so thin -- to which I could only say, yes. I told him about my new movie and I asked what I should be writing now -- another screenplay, a teen novel, a real novel, or what. He said, it doesn't matter. Just pick something, and go on it 100%. Don't divide myself up.

I think we got lucky -- or unlucky, depending on your vantage point. We were the second people to speak to the Rebbe, so I had the entire rest of the night to chew on what he said. Meanwhile, people in the living room were looking at me for answers, like I'd gotten out of there successfully, so what do they do? The people on their way out didn't look at me like that. They had their own mental stuff going on.

Two Israeli girls who went in there came out satisfied, like they'd gotten the exact thing they asked for. My one stodgy, rationalist friend came out a little shaken, like the Rebbe'd pulled one of his Jedi mind-reading tricks. The person who was the most excited to go in came out crying. It sounds like a collection of riddles, or stories whose answers I'll never know, but in the moment, it was amazing -- like watching one of those grainy family videos that you shouldn't have a right to see, but you do. It really wasn't about fortunetelling. It was about what you boil your life down to, when you've only got one thing to say.

Halfway through our session, the doors to the room slid open. Rabbi Davide stood up, ready to intercept whoever was interrupting. Then my two-year-old daughter, who'd gone to sleep hours ago and who never woke up, ran in through the crack. She wasn't crying or afraid or uneasy. She just ran up, held her arms out, and demanded, "Up." I scooped her up, plopped her on my lap, and introduced her to the Rebbe, and introduced the Rebbe to her right back. Sometimes you don't even need a Hasidic sage to tell you what the most important parts of your life are. Sometimes you just need a conduit.

photos by Dan Sieradski

The Movie Gets a Little Realer

Just wanted to share two quick items of movie awesomeness with you:

1) "1/20" has an IMDB page! (No, I'm not on it yet. But my title is! Really, though, it has the movie's tagline and the actors and all sorts of official information that I didn't know anyone was allowed to know. But the big thrill is that, dude, it's the Internet Movie Database. It's the Hollywood equivalent of seeing your name in print for the first time.)

2)And we also have a movie poster:

That mohawk in the poster belongs to Xiomara, the star of the  show. The director, the producer, and I were eating hummus on Ninth Avenue and this bubbly, cute, sane-looking girl strolled by. She was wearing a pink dress. Our producer leaped up and chased her down half a block, then dragged her back by one of her ponytails (she had two). "This is Ayako," he told us. "She's auditioning for Xiomara."

I didn't believe him. Then I saw her audition tape -- it was one of those tapes that you think might have been filmed at an asylum, where one minute she's sweet and docile and courteous, the next she's ranting and screaming and about to knock the camera out of the cameraman's hand -- and I was like, okay, this is working. Then she showed up for her haircut on the first day of filming -- I ran into her the next day in the dressing rooms, all spikes and leather jackets and hair that looked like it could pierce skin -- and she blew my mind. She wasn't that bubbly Ninth Avenue girl anymore. She was Xi.

Monday, June 14, 2010

Ethan Young and me fight over comics

Ethan Young, who does the fabulous online comic Tails, asked me to fill in for a while as he reaches the end of his first book. It's hard following a comic with a bunch of straight-up words, but we're talking about our comics obsession, so maybe that will help. Also, I ended up being a character in his comic, which (hopefully) lends my entries some DVD actors'-commentary credibility...

Anyway, go read it.
Maybe I’ve just been spoiled. Reading comics — especially reading someone like Neil Gaiman, or Alan Moore, who spend hours detailing the minutiae of how each panel looks. Yes, just mentioning their names is a cliché, but it’s obvious that they were both the kind of kids who read each page of a comic a hundred times as kids. They really appreciate the graphic design of a page; you can go over the panels and margins of, say, ‘League of Extraordinary Gentlemen’ and find something new each time.

That’s what I want my books to be like. The ones I write, the ones I read, the ones I buy. I know my prose-books won’t get that way until I start self-publishing, or until I get really big — Scholastic doesn’t let their mid-range authors anywhere NEAR the design computers — but a boy can dream.

And, in the meantime, I’ve still got my comics to read. And my omnibus Sandman to obsess over.

more >

Thursday, June 10, 2010

Best Email Correspondence in My Inbox, Hands-Down

matthue roth

 to itta
show details 3:47 PM (52 minutes ago)
Ujiyyjuikuiuyuyjuuuuiiuuuuffffffdsdsddffffdddddxc   v

Itta Roth

 to me
show details 4:10 PM (28 minutes ago)
hi yalta

(I promise I won't be this cheesy all the time. Really.)

Monday, June 7, 2010

Meeting the Rebbe

Tomorrow night, we'll be hosting the Biala Rebbe of Jerusalem, Rabbi Avraham Yerachmiel Rabinowicz, in our house. Some of our friends, and a bunch of random people we don't know, will come over and ask the Rebbe a bunch of questions about basically anything.

It's pretty random. Or, if you see it that way, it isn't random at all -- in that mystical hippie-like way, or that Rebbe-like way, that everything on Earth that happens is connected.

biala rebbe
I first met the Rebbe when I was in yeshiva in Israel. One of our rabbis started taking up the habit of hanging out at the Rebbe's synagogue each week during his visiting hours, every Wednesday and Thursday nights from 10 or 11 P.M. until 3:00 or 4:00 in the morning. I don't know what he said in order to get us to come, but one night, we tagged along. There was a bunch of us. One, Dan, was actually his first cousin -- separated by marriage and cultures and languages, since the Rebbe only speaks Hebrew and Yiddish.

Our appointment was scheduled for 10:30. Of course, this was Israel, where time runs differently than it does in the rest of the world. Also, just sitting in the synagogue was kind of like sitting in a hospital lobby in reverse -- that is, instead of seeing all sorts of people in various modes of depression and despair, you're seeing all sorts of people in various modes of despair and joy. People asking for blessings to have children, to meet their One True Love, to succeed in business, to find out what the hell they're doing with their lives.

Mostly, if you couldn't guess, I was in that last category, although at times, over my year in Israel, I fit into almost all of the other categories. (Almost. That having-kids thing was still way over my head, at that point.) I wasn't sure about anything. Whether I'd gotten married (which I had a few months ago) for valid reasons, or just because we were Orthodox and we both figured we had to. Whether I should be in yeshiva or trying to get more writer gigs. Whether writing my memoir about struggling with dating girls and being Orthodox, which I'd sold to a publisher just before I left for Israel, was a bad idea, or whether it was going to help other people with the same issues.

I never felt like I shouldn't be saying any of this, talking to the Rebbe about hooking up with girls and wanting to be friends with girls or missing my best friend, who'd just died. Weird, yes. Awkward, no. I just sat down, let my bad Hebrew fly, and with it all of the stuff I'd been holding in when I spoke to other people. Even my best friend. We were too much a part of each other's lives. This strange, quirky man with the massive beard and the wise smile on the other side of the table, I felt like I could say anything. We didn't have any of the same friends. We never ran into each other on the street. We didn't even speak the same default language -- and for me, when I said something in Hebrew, it didn't feel like I was saying actual words. Instead, it felt like a dream, a foggy half-reality where you have memories but you aren't totally sure what you're saying until it's already been said.

So tomorrow night we're hosting him in our house. We wanted to cook him dinner, but he doesn't eat these days -- he just drinks raw juices. Good thing we have a juicer. Itta ran to the store today and stocked up on some extra carrots and apples. That part, at least, we know what to expect. What goes into the Rebbe's mouth, we'll be prepared for. What comes out of it when we ask our questions -- that'll be a whole different story.

Friday, June 4, 2010

Almost a Restaurant Review

There's a new kosher restaurant right near our office. It's called Tiberias. The food looks yummy and the decor looks great and, rarest of all for a kosher restaurant (or, as I'm given to understand through reading way too many Anthony Bourdain books, rare for the restaurant business in general), the owners are actually perched by the door, welcoming people, and happy for you to be there. Oh, and hey -- they're giving out free coffee.

And yet, I'm not there.

Let me start from the beginning: Last night, I made the Best Sandwich Ever. (I know because I Twittered about it and everyone else on Twitter agreed.) best bagel everAnd, over the course of arguing with one daughter about the social propriety of wearing a bathing suit to school and changing the other daughter's diapers, I kinda forgot to put it in my backpack.

So here I am, at work, starving, and the day is close to half over. I weigh my choices with all the usual overanalysis -- can it be vegan, or do I need protein? how cheap is cheap enough? when's the last time i ate pizza? -- and decide to hit the local kosher Dunkin' Donuts for a bagel.

And, on the way, I stumble into Tiberias.

At first I don't even know what's going on. All I see is two grinning guys out front, kissing hands and shaking babies and looking like they just won the lottery. One of them stops me -- the owner, it turns out. Today's the first day of business. He's super excited to be there. There is, he mentions several times, free iced coffee.

But the reason I stopped drinking iced coffee is the same reason my brain is working overtime: because I have an anxiety disorder, and I think too much, and caffeine only exacerbates it.

I'm peeking in the counters, and there are actually vegetables (another kosher restaurant rarity) and they look beautiful -- the eggplant sliced thick and juicy; corn as yellow as a field of radioactive flowers; perfectly grilled zucchini and red peppers. The menu in my hand lists the prices, and there's nothing less than $6.95. Except for soup, but I'm talking real stomach-filling food. The real meal meals are closer to $15.

I do the lunchtime math in my head. Packing my own sandwich costs $2 or so. Buying pizza, which is filling but not healthy, is $5 or $6. For another dollar or two, I could eat here, except that that's 20% of a meal, which is to say, I could eat out 5 times at a junky restaurant for every 4 times that I eat at this place. Or I could just pack lunch, save all that money, and spend it on my kids instead. Or save it for our trip to Australia. Or that subscription to McSweeneys that I really want.

But, really, is all this worth arguing about (or doing math over)? Kosher food, as Tamar says, is expensive. Kosher food in Midtown is expensive squared. We pay for convenience, and that convenience is multiplied when you're Jewish -- you're not merely paying for the food to be made for you, you're paying for someone else to pick out your vegetables and look for the kosher markings on the hummus carton and the bagels you would otherwise be checking out yourself. Elie Kaunfer wrote a couple months ago that most Jews don't know how to make their own matzah, and that's true, but that's just the tip of the iceberg -- there is no Jewish working class. There are upper-class people who can pay $20 for lunch, and there's this scraping-the-barrel class that packs our own lunch...or forgets to.

I do the Walk of Shame. I shuffle my feet the three storefronts down, to the donut store. I order a bagel.

The woman beside me turns around and checks out my yarmulke so deliberately that she's either making sure I'm Jewish or sizing me up for her niece. "You know," she remarks casually, "there's a new kosher restaurant that just opened up down the street. They're serving free iced coffee and it looks really good."

My face goes from zero to blushing. "I know," I manage to stammer. "I'm going to check it out when...when I'm eating lunch for real."

"I'm sorry," she gasps, seeing that she's offended me, but not knowing why. Meanwhile, I gaze at the intrepid worker who's currently toasting my bagel, enabling me to make it to 5:00 today...and wondering whether I shouldn't be toasting my own bagels instead.

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