Burn the House Down

davidsedarisOn Wednesday, I ushered for a talk given by David Sedaris (author of Naked, Me Talk Pretty One Day, and most recently When You are Engulfed in Flames) in which he detailed his hilarious personal experiences, primarily in France and Australia. Unfortunately I missed quite a bit of the show because it was a full house (the ushers were dismissed later than usual and my friend and I had to leave the show early in order to get a good spot in line for the book signing afterwards). However, Sedaris was outrageously funny yet also insightful during the part of the talk that I was able to see.

A memorable moment for me was when Sedaris talked about stove tops as a metaphor for life. He recalled a conversation with a friend in which the friend tells him that each person has four burners on their stove top: Family, Friends, Work, and Health. In order to be successful, a person will usually have to turn off one burner. The really successful turn off two. For Sedaris, those two burners were Health and Family. 

Since that night, I have been thinking a lot about my stove burners. What will I have to give up in order to achieve my goals? Although I continue to hope, I don’t really believe in having it all. There are too many examples to the contrary. So I guess the question becomes an impossible one: “What can I learn to live without?” Maybe the smartest people are the ones who answer, “Success,” but I don’t know many people who would actually go through with cutting that ambition out of their lives. I know that I tend to ignore Health until I get sick. Friends and Family also flicker occasionally when life gets too hectic. I worry that one day I’ll turn around and realise that I have nothing but Work to keep me warm at night.

The best humor tells us something true about ourselves. Even through the laughter, we learn to ask questions previously unthought of and start to think about our lives in more meaningful ways.

stovetop1

 Which stove burner have you neglected lately?

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For One Night Only

Wow, so I haven’t posted for awhile… What with GREs, research (and research fellowship applications), and three upper divs, this quarter has turned out to be my busiest. However, I’ve also been able to have a lot of fun.

Munich Symphony Orchestra

Since the last time I posted, I’ve been able to attend the UCLA Vietnamese Student Union (VSU) Cultural Night, Guillermina Quiroga Dance Company’s Tango, Historias Breves, a talk with Edward Albee (got a signed copy of Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf? :)), a film concert discussion with Werner Herzog, and a concert for the Munich Symphony Orchestra (amazing). Off the stage, I explored the LA Farmer’s Market and saw Slumdog Millionaire TWICE (that’s how much I loved it) before the Oscars. 

Unfortunately, all this activity hasn’t given me much spare time to do reviews or post on this blog, but I shall attempt to briefly make it up to you. 🙂

Everytime I step into Royce Hall, I experience the same nervous giddiness the first time I saw a show there. There’s a sort of gasping anticipation suspended in the air as you impatiently wait for the lights to dim and the curtains to draw. 

The extraordinary thing about live performance is that no matter how many times you return, everytime you see the show, it will be the first time that you have experienced it. Not only does the performance change, but so does the audience, the environment, and even yourself – all of which affect how you perceive what happens on the stage. 

Very often the modern audience forgets the magic of live performance and the need to be in the playhouse or symphony hall in order to experience it. With our iPods, DVDs, and (let’s face it) pirated downloads, we become used to seeing/hearing the same act over and over again. Because we are so used to recorded sound and film, we tend to forget that they  are simply one version of all the possibilities that could exist with that particular score or script.

And so, I urge you to go to the theatre. Yes, it does tend to be expensive (be a volunteer usher like me!), but there’s something immediate, irreplacable, and sublime about the stage that makes you feel oh so alive.

Confessions of a Theatre Usher

Before the Grammar Nazis come after me, I’d like to absolve myself by saying that I like to spell certain words the British way – i.e. theatre, realise, grey, etc. – It’s my thing, deal with it.

Also, I’d like to draw your attention to my new banner :] (I love MS paint!), which I am quite proud of since I usually get someone to do this type of thing for me. See if you can recognize any of the pictures! Finally, given the frequency that I hope to be attending performances/lectures/readings this year, I’ve added a new category “Stage Spy” for my reviews/thoughts on the events that I go to so be sure to check it out sometime if you want to see what’s new on the LA cultural/literary/intellectual scene.

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Royce HallToday I ushered for UCLA Live for the first time and it was definitely a great start for the season. I love wearing nice high heels and looking “like a lawyer” (although I will have to wait till next time to get my bow tie). I always find it so much fun to dress up and look formal/professional; it makes me feel all grown-up and smart (I silently grieve the extension of the Casual Friday to all five weekdays on the West Coast).

Anyways, one interesting observation I made through the course of today was how people’s manners seem to change based on who they’re dealing with.

Earlier in the day I did some tabling/flyering for Aleph (the UCLA Undergraduate Research Journal for the Arts, Humanities, and Social Sciences – GET PUBLISHED! *not so subtle plug*); passing out flyers, by the way, is probably one of the top five most depressing campus activities to engage in. I’d stand by a walkway, looking as friendly and harmless as possible, and yet people would see the flyers in my hands and veer off their original course (i.e. go to the other side of the street) just to avoid talking to me. As you extend your flyer out, most people will just shake their heads and walk on, but I’ve found that people wearing sunglasses are the worst. They hide behind their stunna shades, feeling empowered, fabulous, and anonymous enough to breeze past people like they don’t exist.

Maybe I just got rejected too many times in a one-hour flyering shift, but when I ushered tonight I was struck by how polite the patrons were. Almost every person who walked through the “center left” doors said “Thank you” when I handed them a program and several smiled or asked how I was. Yes, these are basic pleasantries and perhaps the theatre-going crowd is simply better behaved than the typical college student rushing to class, but the stark contrast just seemed so strange to me.

I realise that etiquette is often seen as an artifice, especially in modern times, but I still believe that it serves an important purpose in social interactions. I never understood how people could be so rude to one another (i.e. cutting in line, swearing, road rage), even if they found the other person to be an inconvenience. Shouldn’t a person with true manners treat everyone equally with the respect that they deserve? Or does etiquette inherently contain different rules for different “classes” of people? More importantly, do manners and etiquette even matter in this modern society of Casual Monday-thru-Friday’s, a tell-all tabloid world that blurs (or eliminates) the line between our private and public selves?

Ok, end of long tangent! I’m actually blogging to gloat about the highlight of my week: ushering for meeting John Updike!

John UpdikeI, Sophia Literaria, was in the same room with a two-time Pulitzer Prize winner (I’m actually pretty sure this is the first time this has happened… unless I unknowingly met one during the LA Festival of Books last year).

Sadly, I must confess that I haven’t read any of his novels (although after his talk, I’ve placed The Witches of Eastwick on my list of Books To Read). I know Updike mainly from his vast body of work in The New Yorker, but even without reading his longer pieces of writing, I found myself fascinated by his take on the creative process and the influences of age on his literary perspective. Plus, he was very funny/witty/(dare I say cute?) in that wonderful eccentric grandfather sort of way that always delights me.

I think the thing that struck me the most during the talk was Updike’s rule of publishing a book a year. Updike is an extremely productive writer, who comes out with short stories, reviews, poetry, and novels at an almost insane pace, especially given the length of his career. His body of work is seriously large enough to fill its own bookshelf. Yet I can’t help but wonder if this pace compromises the quality of his writing, if he could be even greater if he had the patience and tranquility to stick to one idea at a time. Updike spoke of great admiration for writers like Saul Bellow who don’t mind “not seeing his name in print” for long periods of time. I almost sense an insecurity in Updike’s admission that he feels antsy when he doesn’t see his work in the public eye for a while.

The Widows of EastwickAnd yet this is not a complete reading of Updike’s motivations for his frenetic pace. I think Updike takes his position as a prominent literary figure seriously and pushes to remain in the public eye in part because he wants to affect change and influence opinion in a world that is increasingly dismissive of writers and literature as a whole. As Updike pointed out, the position of the writer in society has greatly diminished since the times of the Great Depression onward. I feel like most people these days see fiction the same way they see the movies – as a simple form of entertainment. We don’t see our poet laureates as “prophets” or “oracles of truth” anymore. We dismiss the greatest authors of the Western canon as inferior to Rowling and Meyer simply because they are “hard to read”. We dive into racy plotlines instead of immersing ourselves in language that is beautifully wrought; because we’ve abandoned good writing for quick summer reads and trashy paperbacks, good writing has abandoned us.

However, old-fashioned writers like Updike, who still writes the first drafts to his novels by hand, continue to bravely cling to the idea that maybe they can still make a ripple in the social consciousness, despite Harry Potter, fanfiction, and blogs (*pleads guilty*).