Archive for March, 2014


James-Dean-room-keyMarfa’s Hotel Paisano famously housed the stars of “Giant” during filming in 1955, and you can, if you like, throw rooftop terrace parties in the Rock Hudson Suite; the Elizabeth Taylor Suite has a kitchen and sitting room. Up-and-coming actor James Dean got a single room with its own bath, not a given in hotels of the day. Most of the hotel has been redone – Dean’s room is clean-lined, simple, with a pretty iron desk – but the 1920s bathroom fixtures are unchanged since the Paisano opened.


westtexasiceSo, before we headed out to a fancy restaurant that night, I got to hop into James Dean’s shower. The vicarious movie-star feeling, though, really set in while I was getting ready to go out: If you want to feel like Elizabeth Taylor, then swanning around James Dean’s hotel room in a full slip while you put on your eye makeup will do the trick. You feel like he’s about to come back in with ice for the drinks.



Pics are mine except for Dean outside West Texas Ice by Richard Miller.

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This week was the first Shakespeare Week in the UK, a nationwide deal where they try to bring the big guy’s works to life for elementary kids, a terrific idea and a tricky thing to do. Hell, it’s hard to bring Shakespeare to life for grownups; that’s when you get the faux-important approach, simply reading lines out in posh accents and hoping it looks intelligent. Here’s what it looks like when a brilliant pair of actors really speak the words as though they’re just talking to each other. (Kenneth Branagh has just been set up by his friends, who have told him Emma Thompson is in love with him)

Stunt casting can help keep viewers’ attention — who doesn’t want to watch more of Catherine Tate being snarky and David Tennant doing, you know, anything? But so little of the comedy here has anything to do with Shakespeare’s words. Tennant wears a Superman T-shirt and bumbles around the stage — quite charmingly, but it’s just that: charming slapstick. Same scene:

It’s very funny, but they’re cheating. They barely try to make the big wodges of Elizabethan understandable, just play the funny lines we can all get, then shovel the hard bits out the sides of their mouths to get to the next gag. As a way to get young people to watch, it’s not bad. But you never really get to meet Beatrice and Benedick. How are you supposed to care later when they’re forced to admit they’re in love?

The epitome of the stunt-cast and faux-important approaches is “Shakespeare in Love,” which contains 0% true Shakespeare, just some pretty people, posh accents (some quite fake indeed) and a few gags on the level of “Romeo and Ethel the Pirate’s Daughter,” for God’s sake.

Puke. Shakespeare isn’t sexy Joseph Fiennes leaping in and out of boats. He’s a 32-year-old father of three when he writes “R&J” and “Midsummer Night’s Dream,” a middle-aged businessman imagining himself back into the hot tights of a teenager and imagining himself into the mind of a short brunette who is furious with a tall blonde for taking her boyfriend. They’ve been friends since they were in school together, these women, and they don’t understand at all what has just happened to them.

The next clip, of those two women in an epic catfight, is the actual moment I fell in love with Shakespeare.

I was ten years old and saw it on PBS. Yes, it’s the 1980s so the hair is floppy, and yes they play some of it broadly. But watch what they’re not doing: skipping the hard words. They’re making them work. Watch Helena get through that speech about her and Hermia as schoolgirls, a block of almost incomprehensible English. It’s like trying to convey emotions in Martian.

But it sets up how betrayed both women feel, and sets up that perfect payoff, a comedy catfight with real human love and pain underneath it.

So playing Shakespeare today requires actors to communicate really hard, and the modern viewer’s experience is different from the groundling’s, but there’s a different payoff too.

If you follow all the parts, the hard bits and the Elizabethan impenetrability and so on, then when you see that moment, a phrase or a joke or a feeling that skips over the centuries in between, it springs out with total clarity no archaeologist can dig up: Four hundred years ago, a person felt exactly the same way you did when their heart broke.

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hewittvioladagambaviolsideI saw this beautiful thing played at a concert by La Follia Baroque; its player, James, told me about its history. Designed and built by luthier Timothy Johnson of Hewitt, it is a division viol (which the VdGSA says is an English type of bass viola da gamba). Johnson says the inlaid pattern is acanthus (scrolling decoration used since the ancient Greeks and based on a Mediterranean plant), “created using an intarsia technique called tarsi a incastro which was brought to a high level of perfection by George Boule, furniture maker to King Louis XIV.  It became a very popular decorative style of the late 17th century for both furniture and musical instruments.”

More photos of this viol’s inlaid back, sides and details here.

La Follia is a wonderful group that plays Vivaldi, Mozart and contemporaries on the original instruments — sitting in a small chamber with them is a bit like really, really pleasant time travel.

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Psychology researcher and author Shawn Achor gave this quite funny TED talk in 2011, with five quick, science-based ways to increase happiness daily that he explains further in the video and in a blog post:


Scroll to the bottom of this post for links to most of those research papers and others. Achor talks about why those first two methods work here:

If I put my hand in front of my face and look at it, area 17 in my visual cortex lights up. Now if I close my eyes and think about my hand in front of my face, that same part of my brain actually lights up, area 17 in my visual cortex. Which means my brain actually can’t tell the difference between visualization and experience.

That last bit’s funny, but it might be a stretch; at least some research indicates that Brodmann area 17, the primary visual cortex, responds similarly but not as strongly to an imagined image as to the image itself.

Changes in MRI signal intensity in different parts of the cortex, from Le Bihan, Turner, et al, 1993.

Changes in MRI signal intensity in (top line) visual cortex and (bottom line) non-striate cortex; Le Bihan, Turner, et al., 1993.

Achor says that if he writes for five minutes about some small good occurrence that happened to him that day, “I’m actually doubling the amount of positive experience that I have.” Maybe so; I know that when retelling one of my hi-larious college stories for the 18th time, really what I enjoy is briefly re-living the feelings of fun/embarrassment/panic/legal consequences. And subjects who did written “gratitude exercises” in the 2003 project Achor cites became measurably happier.

So I’m thinking I’ll try the impatient-person version — writing down three good things, things you’re glad about or grateful for, every day — and from time to time if I’m not too shy I may tweet my #3glad things, with a link back here (http://bit.ly/3glad).

Yeah, it sounds like happy fluffy fuzzy bunny foo-foo, but here’s why I think it can work: Newspaper columnists. Once you start to write a newspaper column, the most important thing in your life becomes coming up with three things a week that are interesting enough to fill 13-18 inches of newsprint. These are not so thick on the ground, and your brain rapidly adapts to help you. Everything you see and hear, it starts to consider, “Could I get a column out of that?”

All day, your noggin is considering the fastest ways to get through a task, plotting where you’ll need to go in the grocery store, fretting over a problem even while you’re asleep, and if it knows you have to write down three good things every day, maybe it’ll begin watching for good things all day. And I can see how having that program running in the background might affect your mindset, which is, after all, your interface with the world.

Achor says that only 10% of a person’s long-term happiness can be predicted by looking at their circumstances and 90% can be predicted by how their brain “processes the world.” The research he cites breaks that down as 10% circumstances, 50% genetics (your inherited internal “set point” or average happiness level) and “as much as” 40% “intentional activities,” defined as “the wide variety of things that people do and think in their daily lives.” The potential to affect 40% of your happiness makeup ain’t hay. Cheers!

Mmmm, science:

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At least I hope the directions are clear! I thought I would share with y’all a website I made to help fellow journalists post resumes on the web, but of course it works for anybody. 

Go to sueowenresume.wordpress.com and I’ll walk you through the steps of setting up a WordPress site like this one — with a static, unchanging front page that is your greeting to the world, and inside pages to showcase your work and a blog, if you choose to blog.

For $18 you can customize the URL  to yourname.com or whatever, and I offer tips to set up Gmail with your new domain (like my sue@sues-news.com address).

build free resume site

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