25 August 2010

Iraq War Protest - The Early Days

I've always really liked this photo. I shot it while I was in film school, making a short documentary called Peacekeepers, about the juxtaposition of the Santa Fe liberal/peace community and the nuke capital of Los Alamos, less than 30 miles away. This was a very early protest, shot in the months before the US invaded Iraq in March 2003.

20 August 2010

Lithia Park

Lithia Park
Ashland, OR
August 2010

19 August 2010

We Vacationed in Cambodia and All We Came Back With Was A Wedding Centerpiece and a Recipe for Viet Cong Flan

Perhaps I have worked a few too many weddings in my time. Seen a few too many spray-tanned CA girls dragging their new esposas by the ear. Watched a few too many garters being awkwardly removed by teeth and hurled toward waving bachelors. Seen a few too many overdressed middle-aged people attempting to dance coolly to Kid Rock's “All Summer Long.” And watched an extended series of $50,000 parties that no one would remember in any detail the next day.


My last gig just about broke me. It was held at an egregious vineyard staffed by oenocentric martinets, just outside of San Luis Obispo in the Edna Valley. That’s right, the EDNA VALLEY VINEYARD. Whose event coordinator, Tina, is probably one of the most hideously psychotic people one could ever work for. In fact, the entire staff is, verily, a psychiatric treasure trove just waiting to be tapped.

As I wended my way through the stream of Range Rovers and Mercedes SUVs, I could feel a certain tension start to build. I immediately sensed a snotty truffle-pig vibe, which, despite the cost of weddings here on the Central Coast, is more the exception than the rule. Unless of course you are visiting here from, say, the former Soviet Union, in which case the whole culture probably appears as one big batch of Coppertoned, blonde-highlighted bourgeois lunacy. (“Back in Russia, girl caught wearing Coppertone go to gulag for 10 years, split rocks with teeth!”)

As I walked through the kitchen door in my penguin suit, I was greeted by an alternately sullen and nervous collection of coworkers, all of whom looked like they’d rather be ironing in a Libyan sweatshop. My manager, who seemed ready to calve triplets, started plying me full of very, very, VERY specific instructions about things like what color pitcher to pour the iced tea into. Her eyes darted back and forth nervously across the kitchen like an animal spotting her own reflection in the crosshairs. When she informed me that my job was to keep the beverage pitchers full at all times, I could tell that this was a critical mission indeed and applied each and every one of my brain cells to the task.

But my first round involved setting up chairs in the postnuptial tent, where guests would be drinking, dining, and generally trying to impress a tableful of strangers with their rides, outfits, jobs, and knowledge of embarrassing incidents in the bride or groom’s adolescence. I glanced down at the centerpieces—usually a tasteful bouquet or petal-in-vase—and discovered that these kids had dreamed up something a little different. Special, if you will. Each table held a framed photo, taken at a remote point on the globe.

The first one I spotted was “Cambodia. Summer Vacation, 2007.” The next, “Oxford, Study Abroad, 2004.” And then, “Fiji and Auckland, Honeymoon, 2009.” The next, “Mediterranean Coast, Vacation, Summer 2005.” And then, “South Africa, January Semester, 2003.” On and on it went, this globetrot through Mr. & Mrs. Evolved’s trendy village, with each stop more precious and endearing than before. Clearly these 25-year-old jetsetters had climbed more 17ers in the Himalayas, tied more flys in saltwater flats in Quintana Roo, received more arcane transmissions and secret initiations from the highest-ranking Bon priests in Tibet, and built more road, bridges and tunnels for underprivileged vehicles in Maori settlements than FDR could shake a WPA Project at.

But little did I know that, lurking in the background behind the 5 photographers, 2 videographers, 2 DJs, 4 psychotic winery managers, and legions of other minions lurked another very special innovation. It was—can you stand it?--cieramarriestrevor.com. That’s right, Ciera marries Trevor dot com. A specially assembled site telling the Story of this adorable couple and the highly fascinating way they began dating as Cal Poly students and then got engaged on someone’s mom’s couch in Pismo Beach. A few clicks reveal complete footage of their Engagement Shoot, where we witness such delights as the bride-to-be’s hand-with-honking-rock resting against the groom-to-be’s jean-clad buttocks. Romantic Beach Sunset Strolls. Casual Fun Spontaneous Moments in the Great Out-of-Doors. And a close-up of their 2 feet in the sand, 2 Very Special Individuals no doubt bracing themselves against the high tide of narcissism, while revulsing Indian viewers everywhere.

I have to say that, after all of this hoopla, I felt compelled to get to know cieramarriestrevor.com and co. a little better. So after the wedding party had been seated at the nice long table for 50 of their nearest and dearest, I ventured over, ostensibly to begin filling water goblets.  Now, apparently there is a CA custom that involves potential brides not eating for at least 650 days before the wedding. This produces a long, lean look that not even Pilates can replicate. In this case, perhaps the calculations for required slenderness were based on the number of graven images to be struck: If video adds 10 pounds, then…5 photographers and 2 videographers could potentially add… OMG!! I need to lose, like, 70 pounds tonight! (I think a few smart brides should start filing suit against wedding photographers, claiming their trade as the reason for their anorexia. I believe this is a rich vein that a few good limo-chasers would be wise to tap.) 

Like many new brides, the royal celebration’s raison d’etre looked agitated, overwhelmed, adrenaline-fueled, thrilled, terrified, controlling, mildly ballistic, and, mostly…hungry. She looked quite distinctly hungry. By the time I returned to her chowing down on the main course, she had but one question for me, asked while chomping,

“What part of the cow is the tri-tip made from?”

Everything in me told me that I could not respond to this precious query in the way I wanted to:

“Mostly from its asshole, brains, and testicles.”

I simply smiled, knowingly, and replied, “You’ll have to ask our chef.”

As I moved toward her newly betrothed, I sensed the same slightly dazed look that all the grooms this season have worn, which though subtle and complex as a fine Edna Valley wine, combining many simultaneous notions:
1. Damn! I’m glad I’m not paying for all this. 2. I’ll bet the sex is gonna be great later. 3. Glad I didn’t have to do all the running around and plan this thing. 4. I’m still hung over from the rehearsal dinner. 5. Her cousin sure looks hot in that dress. 6. I didn’t screw up the vows too badly. 7. Whoa, steak! Awesome. 8. Wouldn’t it be funny if I smashed the cake in her face? 9. Dude, I get to go surf in Hawaii next week. Totally stoked!

Meanwhile, back in the kitchen, my psychotic friend Tina was sharpening her teeth in preparation for taking a piece out of me. In the midst of all the commotion it seems that a few drops of iced tea had fallen on the floor and on their way down collided with a few unfortunate knives and spoons, “LOOK AT WHAT A FUCKING MESS YOU ARE MAKING! YOU’RE GOING TO HAVE TO TAKE OUT AND WASH EVERY SINGLE PIECE OF THAT SILVERWEAR YOU JUST RUINED. MOVE THE FUCKING ICED TEA SO YOU DON’T SPILL ANY MORE. WHAT IS THE MATTER WITH YOU, ANYWAY, YOU STUPID IDIOT?”

I spun around and stared at her, realizing that I’d just been spoken to like a 12-year-old and trying to decide what the jail time might be for punching her straight in the jaw and/or potentially splitting her head open. In true Scorpio fashion, I opted for a longer range plan that would include well-timed acts of retribution that would affect her life, children, transportation, home, business, and leisure pursuits in small-but-powerful ways.

To be continued...

14 August 2010

On Letting Go

Excerpted from Eat, Pray, Love, by Elizabeth Gilbert

[Elizabeth Gilbert is in an ashram in India, talking about her lingering feelings for her ex-partner, David, with her friend Richard.]
“What’s got you all wadded up?” he drawls, toothpick in mouth, as usual.
“Don’t ask” I say, but then I start talking and tell him every bit of it, concluding with, “And worst of all, I can’t stop obsessing over David. I thought I was over him, but it’s all coming up again.”
He says, “Give it another six months, you’ll feel better.”
“I’ve already given it twelve months, Richard.”
“Then give it six more. Just keep throwin’ six months at it till it goes away. Stuff like this takes time.”
I exhale hotly though my nose, bull-like.
“Groceries,” Richard says, “listen to me. Someday you’re gonna look back on this moment of your life as such a sweet time of grieving. You’ll see that you were in mourning and your heart was broken, but your life was changing and you were in the best possible place in the world for it – in a beautiful place of worship, surrounded by grace. Take this time, every minute of it. Let things work themselves out here in India.”
“But I really loved him.”
“Big deal. So you fell in love with someone. Don’t you see what happened? This guy touched a place in your heart deeper than you thought you were capable of reaching. I mean you got zapped, kiddo. But that love you felt, that’s just the beginning. You just got a taste of love. That’s just limited little rinky-dink mortal love. Wait till you see how much more deeply you can love than that. Heck, Groceries – you have the capacity to someday love the whole world. It’s your destiny. Don’t laugh.”
“I’m not laughing.” I was actually crying. “And please don’t laugh at me now, but I think the reason it’s so hard for me to get over this guy is because I seriously believed David was my soul mate.”
“He probably was. Your problem is you don’t understand what that word means. People think a soul mate is your perfect fit, and that’s what everyone wants. But a true soul mate is a mirror, the person who shows you everything that’s holding you back, the person who brings you to your own attention so you can change your life. A true soul mate is probably the most important person you’ll ever meet, because they tear down your walls and smack you awake. But to live with a soul mate forever? Nah. Too painful. Soul mates, they come into your life just to reveal another layer of yourself to you, and then they leave. And thank God for it. Your problem is, you just can’t let this one go. It’s over, Groceries. David’s purpose was to shake you up, drive you out of your marriage that you needed to leave, tear apart your ego a little bit, show you your obstacles and addictions, break your heart open so new light could get in, make you so desperate and out of control that you had to transform your life, then introduce you to your spiritual master and beat it. That was his job, and he did great, but now it’s over. Problem is, you can’t accept that his relationship had a real short shelf life. You’re like a dog at the dump, baby – you’re just lickin’ at the empty tin can, trying to get more nutrition out of it. And if you’re not careful, that can’s gonna get stuck on your snout forever and make your life miserable. So drop it.”
“But I love him.”
“So love him.”
“But I miss him.”
“So miss him. Send him some love and light every time you think about him, then drop it. You’re just afraid to let go of the last bits of David because then you’ll be really alone, and Liz Gilbert is scared to death of what will happen if she’s really alone. But here’s what you gotta understand, Groceries. If you clear out all that space in your mind that you’re using right now to obsess about this guy, you’ll have a vacuum there, an open spot – a doorway. And guess what the universe will do with the doorway? It will rush in – God will rush in – and fill you with more love than you ever dreamed. So stop using David to block that door. Let it go.”
“But I wish me and David could —“
He cuts me off. “See, now that’s your problem. You’re wishin’ too much, baby. You gotta stop wearing your wishbone where your backbone oughtta be.”

For my review of her latest book, Committed, see: