Tuesday, March 25, 2008

Keeping a Journal

Hot from FEEL FREE TO LAUGH this morning:

Keeping a Journal

You are supposed to do it
every day.
According to Tolstoy
happy people
are not as interesting
as unhappy people;
(somewhat crude translation
from the Russian

I’m having trouble
my own situation

I would like to crow
about my success;
never having made more
than 24G’s per annum
in my dirty, bloody,
working life—
I still managed
to accumulate
a million bucks,
(more actually)
of real estate
that provides me
a capitalist’s income
from just supplying
other people
with a survival commodity.

I have a wife,
with a good job
and her own fortune;
like one of those men
in a Jane Austen book
who are not quite good enough
for the upper crust girlies,
and who’d want them;
or I could be a capitalist pig parasite
sucking the blood
out of the proles;
or a feudal lord fleecing my flock
of peasants.

I don’t really have to give a damn
about anything;
not the SSO,
not Gerry Schwarz; hell,
I never could tell the difference
between a good performance
or a bad performance.
Classical music all sounds
the same to me anyway.
I don’t even know what
a conductor does, really;
or an “artistic director”.
I don’t give a damn
about “human resource directors”.
I don’t give a damn
about certain person’s traumatic pasts,
even when they surface
to destroy something
I was trying to take seriously.
I don’t need to care
whether my “music”
is worth a damn
to anyone,
or whether I have
I’m alright, Jack!

I’ve done my best
to fulfill my obligations
to society,
and if “society” don’t
like me,
then society can
buss my fundament;
K231 as Mozart once put it.

Not that I am totally without
for all the little people
I float above.
It’s more of a practical thing.

Why should I go
to any trouble
for a drowning person
when all I’ll get for it
is punched out,
or maybe sued
for some legal nonsense?

Why should I care
about child abuse
when its main symptom
is a belief
that it is alright
to abuse me
in turn?

Why should I care about
your laws when
the main effect
is to keep the price
of recreational drugs
high enough
to aid and abet
the criminals who profit
from this very
your idiot factory schools,
your psychopathic religions?

Why should I try
to commit
“random acts
of kindness”, or
“senseless acts
of beauty”?

No, I do not trust
your society,
and I don’t need to;
but I’m not one
to brag.

Hey, I did what I could
for you little monkeys
and you bit me
on the ass.
It heals
and I can still walk—
didn’t cost me a thing,
and you lose.
I wear my scars proudly.

I imagine my tombstone
“You lost more
than I did here.”

I still remember the kid
who tripped me in the bathroom
of my first grade school
and broke a big chunk
out of one of my front teeth.
Hope he got killed
in Viet Nam.

In conclusion,
live or die,
fish or cut bait,
shit or go blind,
who cares?

Doug Palmer 2008

Monday, March 24, 2008

Shapio's Rites

Shapiro’s Rites

just that lone piano,
and all those young voices,
coming through
the din of gestation,
birth and rebirth;
and a huge beach fire,
there on the eastern beach,
throngs in the darkness
dancing all night,
with their feet in a frenzy
and their eyes
on fire;
finally to make the circle,
holding hands
to greet the morning’s
blazing bloody red-orange,
drenching the residual cumulus;

and regathered
as a congregation,
a thousand voices strong;
eyes tilted toward heaven,
greeting the sweet light
of spring
through stained glass;

With one more scene
in Alex’s
heartfelt home
a helicopter shot,
north to south,
east to west,
every beautiful inch
of her isle;
every treetop,
every field and fence,
every home,
every face,
“appreciate each moment,
appreciate each friend—

Glenn Buttkus 2008

Wednesday, March 19, 2008



As lovely
as this adorable fellow
he sits
in my palm,
into whatever afterworld
little birds float to
upon hitting
a house window
at full throttle.

I heard
the telling sound—
from upstairs
earlier in the morning.
I had hoped
that like many
of his luckier pals,
this guy merely
and landed
in a dazed state;
with little cartoon stars
around his head
for a while until
he snapped to
and was able
to fly away.

In the afternoon
I stepped outside
to refill
my tree feeders
for the open woodland aviary
I have quickly created;
juncos, chickadees, nuthatches, towhees,
sparrows, finches, woodpeckers
and others
are on the dole
from the benevolent
Shapiro government.
The percentage
of my publishing income
going toward
raw oiled sunflower seeds
is growing
at an alarming rate.

I looked down
at my feet
as I passed a window,
and there
on the deck
was this beautiful

I had actually
never seen one
I consulted
my trove of bird books
to identify
this creature
that was gifted
with such beautiful markings,
and was no larger
than a hummingbird.

I hope
the next one
I see
is flitting among
the seeds
in the yard,
and that the reflections
in my glass house,
from which
I can see his world,
never tempt him
to leave it
to visit mine.

Alex Shapiro September 2007

The Shadow of My Smile

The Shadow of My Smile

The extending shadows
across this soft field
by my house
tell the tale
of summer.

We have been
by three beautiful
tempting us away
from the things
we think
we should be doing—
usually inside,
at a piano,
or a desk.

Long fingers
summon us, yes
pull us
and gleefully reorganize
our priorities;
blind to pressing
and delivery dates.

Thank goodness
for this sultry reminder
each year
to just…

The deer need
no reminding,
it seems.
Every evening
around this time,
almost twenty
or our hooved,
sweet-faced neighbors
spread out
across this expanse
for the
of fresh grass
and flowers.

I laughed
at the sight
of a gaggle of geese squatting
squarely in the middle
of the herd.
A bald eagle
glided low
and staring at
this bestial trio
I instantly knew
that there were
more important things
for me
to experience
at that moment
than whatever awaited me
at my studio.

with its insistent deadlines
will arrive,
no matter what;
but these flashes
of life
have to be
when they’re fresh
on the hoof,
on webbed feet,
and on the wing.

In turn,
the muses reward
with ideas
that spring
from a calm
and open

Alex Shapiro August 2007



SNOW CAKE (2006)

Welsh-born film director, Marc Evans, who has given us HOUSE OF AMERICA (1997), and RESURRECTION MAN (1998), with Stuart Townsent, stepped back from the Thriller/Horror genre, and was lured to the wilds of Wawa, Ontario—a small northern Canadian town of 4,000 located on the shores of Lake Superior, that is lorded over by a huge 28-foot statue of a snow goose, [Wawa takes its name from the Ojibwe word for “wild goose”], by a very sensitive script written by Angela Pell, and a powerhouse dream cast. SNOW CAKE is a film about pain, retribution, angst, revenge, inner demons, middle-aged angst and sex, disabilities, small town idiosyncrasies and politics, acceptance, and love—that can rear its beautiful mug in the dangdest places at the weirdest times.

Evans has directed 16 films since 1990. He had a big hit with TRAUMA (2004), with Colin Firth and Mena Suvarei, a chilling study of amnesia and despair. Like his pal, director Michael Winterbottom, he is an activist, and his film, IN PRISON MY WHOLE LIFE (2007) a documentary on former Black Panther member, Mumia Aba-Jamal, was not a critical success. He is in production on a pet project, CAITLIN (2008), a bio pic on the life of poet Dylan Thomas, starring Michael Sheen and Pierce Brosnan. He tried to put together a musical with Catherine Zeta-Jones, but it fell through.

Stella Papamichael of BBC.COM wrote, “It is precarious terrain for the director, Marc Evans, too, yet he manages to make an awful situation funny without undermining the tragedy.”

During the winter 27 day shooting in Wawa an unexpected warm spell melted almost all the snow. So Evan’s film crew was forced to bring in truckloads of snow picked up outside of town. They also had to lay fake snow in several places to maintain the continuity of a “winter shoot”. Ironically, the filming of SNOW CAKE might have been the last great event for that town. Several mines had closed down and the town was barely holding things together with the odd tourist, and the work at the Weyerhauser mill, east of town. But in 2007, Weyerhauser announced the “indefinite shutdown” of its mill. Considering that corporation had given 137 people good jobs, the town has suffered a devastating set back, and people have had to move out in droves. So the images of a quaint little Canadian town in the film might be the apex of prosperity for them. They could become a living ghost town, a wide spot in the road.

Angela Pell was the screenwriter, and her wonderfully personal script was the touchstone for the whole company. SNOW CAKE is her first screenplay. Living in England, she is married to writer/comedian Henry Normal, and they have co-written BAFTA winning skits for THE SKETCH SHOW, and they co-wrote a 70-minute Brit comedy drama called NORFOLK BROADS. She has had 2 books published, as well as a four-part radio play; and she is currently writing her second screenplay. She has an autistic son, 7 year old Johnny. Many of the character Linda’s idiosyncrasies are those of Pell’s own son. She has stated that she wrote the part of Alex Hughes with Alan Rickman in mind. The character’s name in the script was “Alan”, and it was Rickman who suggested the name change to Alex.

Angela Pell said in an interview, “SNOW CAKE is the first thing I have ever produced. A long time ago I was a performance poet and had a book published—but I used to get so sick with nerves before going on stage that I had to stop. I’ve written sitcoms and films over the years with other people, and as my husband, Henry, is a TV producer, I have had opportunity to read 100% of the (really awful) scripts. This is the way I’ve learned my craft. I think that when you read “bad stuff”, it gets your imagination working overtime on how you would do it differently—much better than reading published scripts of great films…how can you improve on them? I teach my 7 year old autistic son at home. We have been doing the American SON RISE program with him for 4 years now. It is a play-based program; consequently I spend all day tickling, chasing, and dressing up as monsters—ghosts—SpiderMan, etc. God it’s tough! Henry and I have been together for 15 years. We met when I was at the University in Manchester, at a poetry group called THE LIVE POET’S SOCIETY. We now live in Brighton, England. I had taught Drama to deaf kids and young offenders for seven years before we had Johnny.”

Carina Chocano of THE LA TIMES wrote, “Modest but well-wrought and witty, SNOW CAKE is full of unexpected moments and clever observations, and despite a sparse quality, it makes a good case for the idea that you’re never too late, or too far gone, to connect with or understand others.”

Louise Keller of URBAN CINEFILE wrote, “Angela Pell’s screenplay is fearless as it skillfully weaves together the complexities of the characters…”

Andrew L. Urban of URBAN CINEFILE wrote, “Any synopsis of this movie’s storyline will be incomplete because what the written word can never duplicate is the sense of an emotion expressed on the face of a character on screen, from its beginning through to its full flowering. SNOW CAKE is blessed with a wonderful screenplay as its starting point, but it is executed with such a deft set of performances, and with such meticulous direction, that it surpasses its premise.”

Kirk Honeycutt of THE HOLLYWOOD REPORTER wrote, “Mostly, Angela Pell presents characters out of sync with their lives, uncomfortable in their bodies, and overly protective of their emotions. There is one live wire [Vivienne], but she must die early for these people to connect at all.”

Pam Grady of REEL.COM wrote, “Filmed in the winter wonderland that is Wawa, an Ontario town on the edge of edge of Lake Superior, a place with a view and a large statue of a goose overlooking the lake, director Marc Evans and writer Angela Pell could not have picked a better location. If nothing else, every time the story looks like that it will fall into rank soap opera, Evans finds a way to move the action outside. It is gorgeous out there, and the good acting helps too—good reasons enough to check out this film.”

The cinematography for SNOW CAKE was done by Canadian lenser, Steve Cosens. He had set at the helm and photographed 22 films since 1997, like THE UNCLES (2000). A film he did for the A&E Nework really caught my eye a few years ago; THE RIVERMAN (2004), starring Bruce Greenwood as the profiler searching for the Green River killer, who finds himself interviewing Ted Bundy (Cary Elwes).

Kirk Honeycutt of THE HOLLYWOOD REPORTER wrote, “Cinematographer Steve Cosens often keeps the camera close, as if the world were hemming in on these characters. He and set designer Matthew Davies make the dusty, snowy town feel as desolate as their lives. Canadian rock band, Broken Social Scene supplies a restless musical accompaniment.”

The poster tagline was, “sometimes stopping is the most important part of the journey.” An ex-convict, Alex (Alan Rickman) was on a road trip, a painful and emotional odyssey, to Winnipeg. He harbored dark secrets and stress, and we are not at first aware of the exact nature of his “crime”. At a truck stop diner, the reserved and taciturn Alex met a loquacious, bubbly, sweet yet eccentric young woman—Vivienne (Emily Hampshire). Reluctantly, Alex offered a ride to Wawa.

Tragically, just as they pulled out onto the highway they were T-boned by an 18 wheeler semi. Vivienne was killed, but Alex emerged without a scratch. Traumatized, he decided to contact the girl’s mother to convey his condolences and regrets. When he met the mother, Linda (Sigourney Weaver), he was confronted with a middle-aged highly-functioning autistic woman. She seemed to beguile him with her lack of emotion, and she invited him to stay with her until Vivienne’s funeral—so that he could, “take out the garbage on Tuesday. Vivienne always did that. I don’t do garbage.”

Linda: Have you ever had an orgasm, Alex?
Alex: It has been known.
Linda: It sounds like an inferior version of what I feel when I have a mouthful of snow.
(Shoves some into her mouth).

Alex did stay for several days, and he found a gentle way to co-exist with Linda’s eccentricities, her obsession with cleanliness, her fascination with “sparkling” things, her need to jump often on her trampoline, her love of eating snow, and her need to keep all hands and feet out of her kitchen. Soon Alex met the attractive next-door neighbor, Maggie (Carrie-Anne Moss), and they made an attempt to “start” a relationship. Before the funeral, we discovered Alex’s pain-ridden past, and why he railed so emotionally against the truck driver (Callum Keith Rennie)—we met Linda’s wonderful parents, who had raised Vivienne, and we learned to appreciate the relative independence that Linda had carved out laboriously for her self.

The Canadian Juno Award-winning Indie rock supergroup, BROKEN-SOCIAL SCENE was approached to score the film, and it flew out to London to do so. Emily Hampshire introduced director Marc Evans to the band during their production time. The band is a “musical collective” made up of 19 members. They were formed in Toronto in 1999. Most of its members, except for its founders Kevin Drew and Brendan Canning, currently play in other groups or pursue solo careers; kind of reminiscent of a musical phenomenon like THE TRAVELING MULBERRYS, where the ensemble sound is made up of super stars who enjoy playing and singing together. The group’s “sound”, a wonderful mix and conglomerate of its member’s talents is usually called “baroque pop”; which is characterized by a very large number of sounds, grand orchestrations that feature guitars, horns, woodwinds, and violins—unusual musical song structures; all capped by an experimental, almost sometimes chaotic production style from David Newfeld.

Sigourney Weaver was astonishingly good, just excellent, as Linda. She had studied Autism, and somehow found a way to deglamorize herself, and be emerged completely in the tic-ridden, quirky yet likeable Linda. She inhabited the character completely, and when she was on the screen, her focus was so intense, and her presence so realistic, that it was hard to take your eyes off her. Even her pregnancy with her daughter seemed consistent with her childlike need to experiment and play. She injured her knee during the shooting of SNOW CAKE (2006), and was forced to stop exercising for a year; probably a trampoline accident. In preparation for her role as Linda, Weaver spent time with a highly functional autistic woman from England, named Ros Blackburn. In reality, Ros cannot read or write and cannot live independently, but many of Ros’s mannerisms showed up in the portrayal of Linda. Ros also loves “sparklies”, and jumping on a trampoline.

Sigourney, who is a statuesque 5’11” tall, has appeared in 51 films since 1977. Her film debut was a six second cameo in Woody Allen’s ANNIE HALL (1977). [Sounds a bit like my acting career; blink and you missed me.] Her career took off after she played Ellen Riply in ALIEN (1979). Some of her best roles were in THE YEAR OF LIVING DANGEROUSLY (1982, GHOSTBUSTERS (1984), ALIENS (1986) [Her salary for ALIEN: Resurrection (1997) was more than the entire budget cost of the original ALIEN], HALF MOON STREET (1986), with Michael Caine, featuring a very daring nude scene by her, GORILLAS IN THE MIST (1988), WORKING GIRL (1988), with Harrison Ford, DAVE (1993), with Kevin Kline, Ang Lee’s THE ICE STORM (1997), with Kevin Kline, A MAP OF THE WORLD (1999), GALAXY QUEST (1999), with Alan Rickman, THE VILLAGE (2004), [It is said that she suffered nightmares for two weeks after reading the script for THE VILLAGE.], SNOW CAKE (2006), and VANTAGE POINT (2008).

Susan Alexandra Weaver changed her name to “Sigourney” after reading THE GREAT GATSBY. For many years I thought she was related to character actor, Fritz Weaver, but it turns out her father was Sylvester “Pat” Weaver, who was NBC President (1953-55), who pioneered the desk-and-couch format for talk shows, and it was he that created NBC’s TODAY (1952), and TONIGHT (1953). Her mother is actress Elizabeth Inglis. Her uncle is actor Doodles Weaver. Her performance as Ripley in ALIEN (1986), is ranked at #58 on PREMIERE MAGAZINE’s Top 100 Greatest Performances of All Time. She is one of the few actresses to have been nominated for an Oscar for a performance in a horror film; others include Ellen Burstyn, Linda Blair, Sissy Spacek, Piper Laurie, Janet Leigh, and Jodie Foster. She received her star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame in 1999, right there at 7021 Hollywood Boulevard. It is said that she is afraid of using elevators. She speaks fluent French and German. She attended the Yale Drama School. In 1988 she was nominated for two Oscars, one for Best Actress in GORILLAS IN THE MIST, and best supporting actress for WORKING GIRL; one of only 11 actors to have ever achieved that honor—the others being Fay Bainter, Teresa Wright, Barry Fitzgerald, Jessica Lange, Al Pacino, Emma Thompson, Holly Hunter, Julianne Moore, Jamie Foxx, and Cate Blanchett.

Sigourney Weaver said, “Some of the most intense affairs are between actors and their characters. There is a fire in the human heart, and we jump into it with the same obsession as we have with our lovers.”

She also said, “I have always admired Margaret Rutherford. Like her I would like to play Miss Marple when I’m eighty.”

Philip French of THE OBSERVER wrote, “The film is dull, unrevealing, yet well acted, and it gives Weaver one of those roles as a handicapped person with special gifts and insights that begs for and frequently receives Oscar nominations.”

Pam Grady of REEL.COM wrote, “Weaver was assigned the role of playing an autistic woman, and she deserves special kudos for gracefully sidestepping the landmines inherent in a role fraught with the opportunity for ham-fisted tic-filled emoting.”

Stella Papamichael of BBC.COM wrote, “Ever since Dustin Hoffman twitched his way to an Oscar for RAIN MAN (1988), autism has been the subject of many a soggy melodrama. Thankfully, director Marc Evans shows a light touch with SNOW CAKE, and Sigourney Weaver delivers an infectious performance as Linda, full of childlike abandon.”

Stephanie Zacharek of SALON.COM wrote, “Sigourney Weaver, an actor with extraordinary wit and smarts, plays Linda, a woman with autism. She shows little emotion and lacks compassion for others. Childlike at times, when she gets excited or agitated, her hands curl up like little claws. Is this a believable and accurate portrayal of what a high-functioning autistic person would be like? Maybe. Did the role demand tons of preparation and concentration on Weaver’s part? There is no doubt. And yet the performances feel like a stunt, not a true marvel—a case of an actor playing a condition, not a character. You can see the actor’s gears grinding away in Weaver’s every expression, every movement.”

Andrew Urban of URBAN CINEFILE wrote, “I am rarely convinced by actors trying to play characters with such disabilities, but Sigourney Weaver nails it with a wonderfully gutsy characterization—and I mean gutsy as in the character is gutsy.”

Xan Brooks of THE GUARDIAN wrote, “Rickman was probably shell-shocked by the antics of his co-star. Weaver’s performance is so extravagantly awful, you cannot take your eyes off it. When she is happy, she gurgles, and waves her arms like a demented mime. When she is upset, she flaps them in a fury, frets over the housework and shrilly orders Rickman to take out the trash. “I don’t do garbage!” she roars, although in this case she has gallantly made an exception.”

Linda: Perfectamundo.

An interesting note here, both Rickman and Weaver were runners-up at the SEATTLE INTERNATIONAL FILM FESTIVAL, as Best Actor and Best Actress.

After reading the script for SNOW CAKE, it was Alan Rickman who suggested Sigourney Weaver to play Linda. He even telephoned her and told her to read the script, and consider the part.

Linda: Do people like you, Alex?
Alex: Not much, no.
Linda: I’m not surprised. It’s because those glasses don’t look right on your face—you have a long face and those glasses make you look shifty.

Alan Rickman of the dour smirk, quick wit, and carefully phrased speech, found a character in Alex that was flawed and still redeemable, middle-aged sexy, very capable of terrible anger, yet equally capable of growth, of an epiphany, who at the end of his journey in Wawa discovered some form of acceptance and patience. He is a very generous actor, and the scenes he had with Sigourney Weaver and Carrie-Anne Moss shined because he quietly listened and stayed so focused. He feels that Canada is like his “second home”. During the course of making SNOW CAKE, he chose not to research the subject of autism; allowing himself more realistic responses.

Rickman said in an interview, “Alex was a character I could live inside. It is very rare for me to be sent a script, read it and say I’ll do it. It is a film about relationships, so inevitably it’s going to be complex; otherwise, what’s the point of doing it? But it was also very camera-ready—more than any other screenplay I can remember. A change happens to Alex in the course of the film, and there is time in here to do it. It is a very patient script, and it says an awful lot about how we set our moral compasses.

Stephanie Zacharek of SALON.COM wrote, “Alan Rickman gives a fine performance, one that is heartfelt as well as characteristically elegant (not to mention “sexy”). It’s wonderful that Rickman—with that handsome, hawkish profile, that voice like the purr of a disdainful jungle cat—gets to play such a sensual character here. In the movies, sex is so often presented as just a young person’s game, while “older” actors are shuffled off to play parents and granddads.”

Alan Rickman has appeared in 49 films since 1978. The first few years of it he did mostly British television in things like SMILEY’S PEOPLE (1982). His breakthrough role in cinema came as Hans Gruber in DIE HARD (1988), helping to establish a “franchise” that star Bruce Willis is still mining. Playing another bastard in QUIGLEY DOWN UNDER (1990), he helped co-star Tom Selleck get his film career into gear. Another heavy role as the Sheriff of Nottingham in ROBIN HOOD: Prince of Thieves (1991), elevated that film above Kevin Costner’s wooden Robin. He also was quite good in BOB ROBERTS (1992), MESMER (1994), SENSE AND SENSIBILITY (1995), with Emma Thompson, RASPUTIN (1996), MICHAEL COLLINS (1996), with Liam Neeson, GALAXY QUEST (1999), doing his Mr. Spock send-up, with Sigourney Weaver, DOGMA (1999), with Matt Damon. Then he found perfect sourness at Severus Snape in HARRY POTTER AND THE SORCERER’S STONE (2001), going on to play Snape in (4) sequels so far. He was also wonderful in LOVE ACTUALLY (2003), THE HITCHHIKER’S GUIDE TO THE GALAXY (2005), and SWEENEY TODD (2007), with Johnny Depp. Rickman is just putting the finishing touches on HARRY POTTER AND THE HALF BLOOD PRINCE (2008).

As a young man he attended the Royal Academy of Art, wanting to be a graphic artist. At age 26, he won a scholarship to RADA (the Royal Academy of Dramatic Arts), where he spent 3 years. Although a successful film actor, he has passed up several film offers to return to theater. He considers acting on the stage “magical” and his “first love”. He received rave reviews for his part in the revived Noel Coward play, PRIVATE LIVES, and was nominated for a Tony Award when it played on Broadway, and when it played in London, he was nominated for a Laurence Olivier Award. He was also nominated for a Tony Award for the 1987 Broadway production of LES LIASONS DANGEREUSES. Ironically, he was only given the role of Snape in the HARRY POTTER series after actor Tim Roth backed out—but I read where he was author J.K.Rowling’s personal favorite choice to play Snape. He was the original casting choice for the lead in FOUR WEDDINGS AND A FUNERAL (1994). When Rickman declined the offer, casting director Richard Curtis reluctantly cast Hugh Grant. For his death plunge in DIE HARD, he actually had to drop 20’ onto an airbag. Director John McTiernan had to jump first to convince Rickman to do it.

Carina Chocana of THE LA TIMES wrote, “ Alex’s story, though it is eventually revealed in teased-out driblets, remains more or less shrouded in obscurity—but Rickman’s performance is nuanced and intriguing enough to make his character engaging and compelling.”

Xan Brooks of THE GUARDIAN wrote, “Despite mooching around town like the saddest camel on earth, Rickman improbably attracts the attentions of every woman he meets. A middle-aged busybody accosts him in the street to explain that she is a divorcee. The beautiful next door neighbor (Carrie-Anne Moss) promptly drags him into bed. Even the cute veterinarian’s assistant appears all set to fellate him by the rabbit hutch at a moment’s notice.”

Carina Chocano of THE LA TIMES wrote, “With his velvety baritone and his sour puss (you half expect him to leave a trail of lemon husks, sucked dry, in his wake), Alan Rickman is the ideal actor to play a very particular kind of brooder—fierce but harmless, in pain but blessed with a high threshold for it.”

Rickman said, “I love America because whenever I go home—there’s something about England and coming from England, but as soon as you walk down the steps of the plane you shrink—and you have to start saying “sorry” and being polite and curtsying and things like that. America just lets me be the klutz I am. So I do feel more myself in America. I can regress there, and they have roller coaster parks.”

Kirk Honeycutt of THE HOLLYWOOD REPORTER wrote, “Performances in this film feel like performances. Rickman and Weaver have so carefully thought through their roles in such minute physical details that nothing feels spontaneous. By contrast, Maggie is warm and natural, but her urban character is so underwritten and alarmingly out of place in this small town that all Maggie can do is act as a catalyst for other people’s healing.”

Stella Papamichael of BBC.COM wrote, “The real power of the film comes in slight shifts in the relationship between Alex and Linda as they try to fit around each other—like icebergs, they collide in slow-motion and their innermost fears show through in the cracks. Ultimately it is a deeply moving, life-affirming tale; the many scathing one-liners are just icing on the cake.”

Alex: (to Maggie) Being with you. Being with Linda. Being with myself again. Hey, and I’m having sex and these muffins are great—that sort of thing.

Carrie-Anne Moss presented us with a Maggie who was outspoken, an outsider in a small town, sexually emancipated, fiercely independent, well read, well versed, needy yet giving, warm and real, yet still vulnerable, and of course incredibly sensual. She took what was essentially a “nothing role”, embraced it and breathed life into it.

Maggie: I like you, I really like you, and I hate having sex on a full stomach—so can we just skip the main course and move next door?

Moss was born in British Columbia. At 20 she moved to Europe and became a fashion model. While in Spain, she fell into acting in a soap opera. This brought her to Hollywood. She has appeared in 40 films since 1989. Ironically she was in several episodes of a television series called THE MATRIX, and it was not science fiction. She did a BAYWATCH in 1994. Her breakthrough role was in, of course, THE MATRIX (1999). In 2000, she had a busy year, appearing in CHOCOLAT, RED PLANET, and MEMENTO. Both MATRIX RELOADED and REVOLUTIONS were released in 2003. I really liked her in SUSPECT ZERO (2004), with Ben Kingsley, and in THE CHUMSCRUBBER (2005), and DISTURBIA (2007).

Interestingly, she has appeared with all three actors who starred in THE ADVENTURES OF PRISCILLA: QUEEN OF THE DESERT (1994)—Hugo Weaving in THE MATRIX (1999), Guy Pearce in MEMENTO (2000), and Terence Stamp in RED PLANET (2000). Moss is married to an actor, Steven Roy. They have been married since 1999, when her career took off. They have two sons. She was named after a hit tune “Carrie-Anne”, done by the Hollies in 1967. Her best friend is actress Maria Bello, and she is still good friends with Jada Pinkett-Smith.

Andrew Urban wrote further, “As Maggie, the sensuous neighbor who has “gentleman callers” these days, and a broken marriage behind her, Carrie-Anne Moss is superbly multi-dimensional; she is at once warm, decent and caring, and totally selfish when it comes to men and relationships.”

Pam Grady of REEL.COM wrote, “If anyone ever had any doubt that great actors can elevate a movie, they need look no further than SNOW CAKE for the proof that they can. What might have been a mediocre disease-of-the-week melodrama is utterly transformed, thanks to stars Sigourney Weaver, Alan Rickman, and Carrie-Anne Moss, and a fine supporting cast. As Linda and Alex sit down to play a game of “comic book scrabble”, the film threatens to collapse under a weight of treacle. That it never happens has everything to do with Weaver finding some reality in the collection of extreme traits that is Linda, and with the always magnificent Rickman who manages to make Alex’s isolation and loneliness palpable and moving.”

Alex: I know how you must be feeling. I had a son….
Linda: You don’t know how I’m feeling because you are not me.

Emily Hampshire gave us a Vivienne that was manic and charming, loquacious without being chatty, eccentric yet attractive, willing to hitchhike across Ontario in order to meet “interesting and lonely people” that she might use later for her writing; because, “They had the best stories to tell.” Raised by her grandparents, she had only lived with Linda, her autistic mother for a couple years, but she was so accepting, and so open to life in all its forms, that they were forging a very workable relationship. She makes such a strong impression in her few scenes that her presence is felt for the whole rest of the film. When Linda visualizes her while dancing at the wake, her exuberance and lovely zaniness makes us miss her even more, and be more touched by the marvelous scene at Vivienne’s funeral when her grandfather read her manuscript for a children’s book.

Hampshire is primarily a Canadian actress, and most of her 47 film appearances since 1996 have been on Canadian television. She was in the mini-series THE LAST DON (1997), and people took notice when she did BOY MEETS GIRL (1998), with Sean Astin. She was in THE HAPPY FACE MURDERS (1999), with Ann-Margret, and played Rosa in the mini-series EARTHSEA (2004). She has starred in three Canadian TV series, THIS SPACE FOR RENT, CARL SQUARED, and NORTHERN TOWN. Presently, 2006-2007, she has done the voice for Misery on the animated series, RUBY GLOOM.

Andrew Urban of URBAN CINEFILE wrote, “Wonderful too, albeit all too briefly, is Emily Hampshire as the daughter tragically killed. In her brief amount of screen time, she creates a remarkably vibrant and complex, interesting young woman.”

Alex: My brother is handsome, and fit, and a very successful stock broker.
Vivienne: Behind every successful man there is a truly astonishing woman.
Alex: He’s gay.
Vivienne: My point exactly.

Louise Keller of URBAN CINEFILE wrote, “Everyone and everything is surprising in this arresting film whose heart is as warm as its setting is cold. The circumstances may be tragic, but the outcome is miraculous as we discover that the pathway to salvation is as unexpected as the weather. Continuously uplifting while being surprising, it is a wonderful film in which world-weary melancholy dances with innocent bliss. Director Marc Evans’s sensitive direction makes the impossible seem to be the norm as we become enveloped in the film’s engrossing reality. It is “dazlious”.”

Ella Taylor of THE VILLAGE VOICE wrote, “Marc Evans Indie drama does sidle up to the brink of mawkishness, but it pulls back so nicely into Weaver’s rich, hard-headed evocation of Linda’s limitations that one forgives the eye-popping speed with which Alex, grieving for two people he has never known, re-enters the human race and falls hard for Carrie-Anne Moss.”

Kirk Honeycutt of THE HOLLYWOOD REPORTER wrote, “SNOW CAKE tries to wring sweet intimate drama and sweet epiphanies from a collection of oddball characters, peculiar circumstances and doubtful coincidences in a middle-of-nowhere Canadian town. In this film, written by Angela Pell and directed by Marc Evans, the key dramatic moments feel as forced as they are predictable.
This low key Canadian/British production, the opening night selection for the Berlin International Film Festival, has a chance at art house exposure with its stellar cast, but theatrical opportunities will be limited.”

Not all the critics like the idea of a super star taking on the role of a disabled person, or to be cast against type. This is an absurd notion, harkening back to the Studio system of the 30’s and 40’s, where character actors never could play lead roles, and the beautiful people could never tackle difficult or unattractive roles. That being the case we never would have seen John Hurt as THE ELEPHANT MAN, Hilary Swank in BOYS DON’T CRY (1999), Linda Hunt in THE YEAR OF LIVING DANGEROUSLY (1982), Charlize Theron as Aileen in MONSTER (2003), Meryl Streep as a Rabbi in ANGELS IN AMERICA, or Cate Blanchett as a Bob Dylan clone in I’M NOT THERE (2007)—and the list goes on infinitum. Give me a damned break Stephanie Zacharek of SALON.COM who wrote, “Somewhere, somehow, someone came up with the idea that it is always good for actors to “stretch”, to tackle roles that no one would ever imagine them playing. Catherine Deneuve as Golda Mier? [Hey, Ingrid Bergman did a fine job at one point] George Clooney as the Elephant Man! Nicole Kidman as Virginia Woolf! [She was fantastic in that part in THE HOURS (2002)] I am not talking about the practice of deglamourizing stars by sticking them in serious, ponderous roles. I am talking about performances in which an actor takes the very things we love most about him or her—expressiveness, timing, sharpness, even just wily charm—and wrests them into awkward pretzel shapes just to prove that it can be done. We are supposed to walk away marveling at the brave spectacle we’ve just seen, when too often what we have really witnessed is a display of craft at the expense of characterization. Maybe challenging our expectations is easier than actually filling them.
Sigourney Weaver will not only rebound from SNOW CAKE; she will probably win an award to two. At the screening I attended, I heard various allegedly serious-minded types humming about how amazing they thought she was. Her performance is, at the least, a well-executed acting exercise, and Rickman, with his dry powers of observation, serves as a kind of protective foil for the extremely vulnerable character Weaver is playing. Still as I watched Rickman’s Alex express incredulous curiosity as Linda packs snow into her gob, I couldn’t help wondering what would Snape make of all this?”

Andrew Urban of URBAN CINEFILE wrote, “But there’s so much more to this film than could be written here; each scene in invested with emotional payloads, striking observations and a wry humor that makes it possible to label the film as upbeat, despite its contents.”

The British critics could be harsh. Xan Brooks of THE GUARDIAN wrote, “Director Marc Evans offers a mesmerizing bonfire of the vanities, crowned by the ludicrous pairing of Alan Rickman and Sigourney Weaver as a depressed murderer and live-wire autistic woman who likes bouncing on trampolines. Perhaps SNOW CAKE will blossom into a lucrative comedy franchise, with a bevy of sequels involving more odd-couple escapades, more romantic misadventures, and more trampolines.”

SNOW CAKE like other Canadian winter dramas, reminiscent of Atom Egoyan’s THE SWEET HEREAFTER (1997), and Sarah Polley’s AWAY FROM HER (2006), created a movie malleable microcosm of humanity and human nature—that touches us as it teaches, that provided a lively peek into the lives and hearts of several unique and “special” characters. It is a quiet film that nevertheless grips our shoulders firmly, a stern but patient tutor who had an interesting lesson to share.

Glenn A. Buttkus 2008

Monday, March 17, 2008

The Sixth Beatle

Doug Palmer had a song buzzing around his brain pan, and so he whipped it out, and wrote the lyrics for us on FEEL FREE TO LAUGH yesterday. For some reason, that only Paul McCartney would fully understand, the lyrics seemed very "Beatleish" to me. You judge:

I feel a song coming up

Nobody wants you when you're down and out -
Nobody wants you when you're up and about -
Nobody wants you -
Nobody wants you -
Why don't you just go home?

Nobody wants you when you're looking like that -
Nobody wants you when you're wearing that hat -
Nobody wants you -
Nobody wants you -
Why don't you just go home?

You come around here with a face full of hair -
You got some vain notion that somebody cares -
You think you're so great -
But you can't keep a beat -
Do something useful with your big ugly feet -

(Dynamite guitar solo)

Why don't you just go home?

Doug Palmer 2008

What I hear in my mind is a driving beat like HEY, BULLDOG.

Glenn :)

Friday, March 14, 2008

The Decade, Not the Condition

Discussing a quote in a book on Winston Churcill, Lane Savant made his own comment:


A time of
accumulating prosperity
and jolly times
for all.

Ask your grandparents,
or your great grandparents
about it,
or ask Pete Seeger
or Joe Hill.

Look up
the concept of
"work ethic";
from where
and whence
does it come?


Doug Palmer 2008

My Sesquac

For those of you hardy enough, and intrepid enough, who have read my previous posting on BUTCH' GREAT ADVENTURE, realize that in addition my "Incident at China Lake", where I came into contact with a UFO on the high deserts of California, I also believe in Sasquatch. I love the website for BIGFOOT FIELD RESEARCHERS ORGANIZATION, aka BFRO. It is a very literate and easy to read compilation of Bigfoot sightings all over the United States, naming names, and citing evidence and witnesses, and publishing a lot of articles and essays on Sasquatch.

For those of you who read my lengthy narrative SPIRIT MOUNTAIN, which discussed my week on Mt. Adams as a guest of the Yakima Tribe, you would have been treated to a lot of data regarding Bigfoot. Most of it I pulled off of the BFRO website: www.bfro.net The site has been up and running for several years:

What is a Bigfoot, or Sasquatch?

The term sasquatch, for the North American primate under consideration in this website, is an anglicized derivative of the word "Sésquac", meaning "wild man". The original word, in the Stó:lõ dialect of the Halkomelem language, is used by the Coast Salish Indians of the Fraser Valley and parts of Vancouver Island, British Columbia. Indian tribes across North America have a total of more than sixty different terms for the sasquatch.

Bigfoot was a journalistic term generated in the middle of the last century during a rash of sightings in Northern California; its use is not unreasonable since the species has proportionally much bigger feet than those of human beings and, furthermore, the word has come to be recognized widely. A goodly selection of fanciful terms have been used by pioneers and later non-native inhabitants of North America for the occasional published and repeated encounters with sasquatches.

The description given here is derived from a compilation of thousands of eye witness reports from the entire continent, some of astounding length, detail, and corroborative evidence; the Patterson movie, taken in 1967, and a recent computer-based image analysis of it; and statistical analysis of a large database accumulated over the last fifty years, primarily by John Green. For the sake of brevity, the description will not be couched in the customary cautionary terminology with the usual “weasel words”. Hence, the seemingly dogmatic style of the text is used only in the interest of terseness and it should be leavened by reference to the literature cited at the end of this article. This discussion refers to the state of knowledge as of February 2002.

W. H. Fahrenbach, 2002

My wife, Melva, and I spend several wonderful weekends a year over on the Olympic Pennisula, on the north beaches above Ocean Shores. We stay at a wonderful resort in Pacific Beach, between Copalis and Moclips. We drive many of the logging roads and forest ranger roads between Toholah, where the Indian Reservation is, and over to Lake Quinalt, criss-crossing up through those parts of the rain forest that are accessible by car. In Ocean Shores, there is a museum that shows off a plaster cast of a Bigfoot "footprint". It was made up by the Grays Harbor Sheriff's Station, after they investigated several Bigfoot sightings. When you talk to the residents of Aberdeen or Hoquiam, or the loggers and hikers all along the north beaches, or up into the Olympic National Park, and you ask about Bigfoot--and you get that "look". This is serious business to a populus that not only believes in Sasquatch, there have been two dozen investigated "valid" sightings in Grays Harbor County over the last decade.

BFRO number the sightings, and name the names of the witnesses.
August 2005; there was a Sasquatch sighting on the beach near Pt. Brown.
October 2005: Deer hunters had a sighting near Aberdeen.
September 2004; a motorist had a sighting near Humptulips, off of Highway 101.
David Klinghoffer in an article in the NATIONAL REVIEW MAGAZINE made reference to several more sightings:
1997; a motorist had a sighting north of Moclips, and west of Copalis Beach near 101.
1997; a motorist had a sighting near the east side of Humptulips.

Klinghoffer wrote, "In never having contemplated 'Sasquatch possibilities' till he saw one, or thought he did, the deer hunter is like most of the other folks whose stories are collected on BFRO. Their accounts are plausible. They don't seem mad, obsessed, or paranoid--rather almost grateful. Suddenly there has entered into their lives tangible proof that reality has dimensions beyond the everyday, the scientifically provable, the secular.

Vernon Herrington, a former Sheriff's deputy, said, "We sit on the edge this time of year. March through May is the time that either people go out and make tracks, or whatever is making the tracks--and is on the move." Herrington reported seeing a creature, between 8 to 10 feet tall, weighing probably 500 pounds, with a shoulder span of 4 feet, sighting the creature in 1969 near Hoquiam "75 feet away on DeKay Road, off Ocean Beach Road, north of Hoquiam".

So Melva and I are returning to Gray's County, to the site of the sightings on April 25, 2008. We are going to make some late night drives up some lonely roads. I have had a strong feeling for more than a year that we will see a Sasquatch soon; like a premonition, a foregone conclusion. It might be wishful thinking; probably is. But Sesquac and I have an appointment one of these days, and I am looking forward to my glimpse into the para-normal, adding to the ghosts we see in our home often, and the UFO, and the visualizations I get when I meditate. Hamlet was right, Horatio, there is more to this world that what is in heaven or in men's minds.

Glenn Buttkus

On Any Given Day

Alex Shapiro wrote a piece of music titled UNABASHEDLY, running 13 minutes.
Alan Chapman wrote about it, "It is music that defies gravity."
Alex described it in the CD liner notes:

On Any Given Day

On any given
in any given
my emotions span
a very wide range.

I am not depressed, manic,
nor schizophrenic;
at least not
But I am deeply
sensitive to
the extremes
of joy and pain
on this little planet
of ours.

In the midst
of such a spectrum,
we need beauty
and truth
for out sanity.

I try to create
an open conduit
for those qualities
through music;
that the sounds
will elicit
a similar response
from you—
as that which
spurred me to string
these notes together.

Uneasy melancholy,
anger and despair,
quirky acceptance
and calm,
and yes,
complete elation.
This is just a glimpse
of the world
around us,
on any given day,
in any given order.

In art
we can put
these emotions forth
in a very specific order, if
we so choose,
and in a very direct
We can communicate
as passionately
and blatantly
as we wish.
And I do.

Alex Shapiro 2006

Thursday, March 13, 2008

Drought Dirge

I found a posting on NOTES FROM THE KELP, and made my comment to Alex:

There you were, damp and delighted with your new digs in July 2007, and Santa Barbara was choking on cinders and ash from California fires. You felt their pain. It was still quite recognizable. But today, many months later, the tongues of fire have not sung to you in some time. They may never again. Glenn

Drought Dirge

Here I am
bathed in Northwest
caressing thick moss,
as I hear—

from the trees,
technicolor green,
deeply fragrant,
very beautiful;

We should all be
so lucky
to age
this well!

Every time it
drizzles a bit
here, or
thick fog rolls in,
I do
a little rain dance
of celebration.

Having lived
in a fire zone
for so long,
and having had
to evacuate
more than once
in the face
of oncoming flames,
I realize that I
suffer from
Post Traumatic Drought Syndrome!

your hair is on fire,
and I will do
my best rain dance
to bring some
of this moisture
to you.

Alex Shapiro July 2007

Wednesday, March 12, 2008



Santa Claus -
Easter Bunny -
God -
Love -
Honor -

I'm beginning
to fear
that when I get to -
Death -
That'll turn out
to be bullshit,

Doug Palmer March 2008
4 short days after his birthday.

Tribal Welcoming

Growing up on a concrete island like Manhattan, Alex then spent many years along the California beaches, learning to love the sea, swapping the Pacific for the Atlantic; finding inspiration in driftwood, kelp, and tide pools. When she moved to San Juan Island, she got the best of both worlds, surrounded by the sea, a return to the island, and the alure and comfort of a small town; getting a microcosm of Americana married to the song of the sea.

Tribal Welcoming

is sometimes contextual;
like these shore pines,
one can stand
and still be bolstered
and protected
by others nearby.

When a strong wind blows,
surrounding neighbors keep
the damage
to a minimum.
Without them,
a lone tree
could easily topple.

Such is my growing,
happy experience
on this little island
in the foremost
upper left hand corner
of the United States.

Lots of independent thinkers
lots of folks
with open minds
who choose not to tell others
how to live
and prefer not
to be instructed
on that

Yet the palpable sense
of interconnectivity
is everywhere.
Living on an island,
just about
every person you meet
is framed
by a musical repeat sign:
you will see them again,
and often
in a different milieu
than where you last met.

the jazz version;
different harmonizations
and third times

It is a far more
tribal level
of awareness
than one would ever find
in a city;
and it is a fascinating
in the simultaneous truths
of independence
and interdependence.

Alex Shapiro July 2007

Tuesday, March 11, 2008

The Meaning of Home

Last June, after having only lived in the San Juans for a couple months, Alex took one of her many trips to NYC. Returning to her island home filled her with insight and contentment.

The Meaning of Home

Words do little
to describe
how glad I am
to be back
from Manhattan.

A volcano,
a boat,
and an archipelago are
to my senses,
a vast improvement
on a skyscraper,
a subway,
and a few
siren and soot-filled boroughs
New York City.

But that is just me,
When I was growing up,
I was
A quintessential
New Yorker,
who couldn’t have imagined
living anywhere

I mean,
what else could there
possibly be
to do
and see
and experience
that wasn’t in
the greatest city
in the world?
Why leave?

And then at 21,
I left,
and my world

I still love
New York,
the way
one still loves
difficult relatives;
but my heart
lives here.

Alex Shapiro June 2007

Monday, March 10, 2008

Whale Watch

Most of this poem was written as poetry by Alex. What a nice surprise to unearth it.

Whale Watch

We waited.
We watched;
two mourning doves,
three tiny lizards,
four adorable squirrels;
no whales.

Where did they go?
Did the Union
give them
a lunch break,
and no one
informed us?

Are they striking,
in protest
of the commercial squid boats
whose flood lights lure
the cephalopods,
and deplete
the whale’s food source?

Or maybe they knew
I had my camera
to capture their grace,
and like the Amish,
didn’t want their souls

Alex Shapiro March 28, 2007



Long fingers move
and Piano takes
the lead,
as Clarinet grasps
its busy hands, both
happy to welcome
who breathlessly joins
the venture--
the joyous search
to discover
the tattered tales
of each individual
piece of driftwood,
while swaying
to the log rhythms.

together now,
were once solitary
rooted on distant shores,
before each journeyed
to this spot,
to become something more;
a community,
an integral part
of a Poseidon sculpture,
bleaching together
into one great White;
all there,
still wearing the sand
they picked up
rolling across the welcoming
beach after
riding the tall waves
like war canoes;
adrift yet resolute,
as they searched
in their way
for sanctuary;
feeling compelled
to mingle,
to tangle,
to add themselves,
to become part
of their very own
sea wall.

Glenn Buttkus March 2008


I know, I know--it seems like Alex Shapiro has started up yet another blog site; but actually that is not entirely true. She contributes to this one effortlessly by just posting comments on NOTES FROM THE KELP, and then I, in my way, take her prose, her comments, and tweek them, and reprocess them. She has the eye of a poet although she has never fully realized it. It is important to understand that for her, composing music is a total body and total spiritual process, and her writing, her sketching, her photography, all contribute to the music that pours out from within her, that magnificent magma that scortches us all, searing its message within our aura.


A signature
of this island
is the impressive amount
of driftwood
that wanders
to its shores.

Not just
small branches
flung by a few gusts afar
to become suddenly afloat,
but entire trees
blown over and out
to sea
from violent storms;
and very large logs
that tumble
from barges while en route
to a less sandy substrate.

Our beaches
are a repository
for the thousands
of stories
those wooden immigrants
might tell.

I’ve arrived
to these shores,
right alongside
of the driftwood—
all of us
no longer
at sea,
no longer

Alex Shapiro March 2008

Thursday, March 6, 2008

My Vista

My Vista

A few footsteps
up the path
from our house
leads you to the edge
of the bluffs,
from which
you can face
up the coast,
or spin
on your heels
and look down
the coast.

I think
days like this
are the most exhilarating
of all;
the air is charged,
and there is
the anticipation
of not knowing
which patio chair
may go flying
in which direction.

There is nothing
between us
and the Pacific.
It feels exciting,
and great
and alive
and intriguing
and dangerous
and thrilling
and real.

The sky is at
its most compelling,
with constantly shifting
of dark and light,
which double their efforts
in the colors
reflected in the ocean.

I will never get over
just how stunning
this expanse
of sky and water
and how in turn
it opens
the expanse of something
within me.

Alex Shapiro March 2006

Big Blue

Picture this; Alex standing on the coastline near Malibu, with her hand over her eyes, straining to see the Channel Islands, to see Catalina. As she mused about them, her future island kingdom, cabin, and lifestyle was in its incubation period.


Some days
just look blue,
no matter how happy
you may be.

We had a good
thunder and lightning storm
last night,
and it blew brisk
clear air
across the sea.

Even though
the buffalo-spotted land
on Catalina
is actually green
and brown,
gazing across the ocean
to it,
everything is pale azure
and beckons
like a lost
magical place.

In fact
it is a found

My trips there
over the years,
by commercial ferry,
or by
my own sailboat,
have all been wonderful
that fill me
with thoughts
of what it might be like
to live
in such a place;
so close
to a major city,
and yet remote
in significant ways.

Alex Shapiro 2006

Sea Hues

In February, 2006, Alex wandered the beach at Malibu, stared at the waves crashing at her feet, and came up with this observation.

Sea Hues

There is so much
color and form
everywhere I look!

Dark green kelp
and eel grass
get cycled within
the other-greenly green
of a wave’s last curl.

Blue-ness is followed
by more and deeper
of oncoming tides.

The vibrancy is mirrored
in a clear,
brisk air
that smells like
these colors.
Just think of it.

Alex Shapiro 2006

Longing For You

Alex Shapiro shared 1:59 of her Jazz melody, Longing For You on her blog site. It is mellow, and sad, and makes when feel the wind off the water, as she gazes north across imaginary borders to the islands of British Columbia. So this little ditty, just some morning treacle, emerged from my listen to her composition.

Longing for You

When we are
you still reside
within my heart.

So how does one
how much
I miss your
your smile,
that will always
and charm me
out of a funk;
transform a fugue
to a jazz trio;
turn melancholy
to just
turn my gaze
toward the bright horizon
where gray water meets
gray clouds,
as I send out, and
project my message
in heartspeak,
sans bottle?

Glenn Buttkus 2008

Wednesday, March 5, 2008

Alex Shapiro Tells All

This article was reprinted from TOKAFI, the cyber newsletter.

Interview with Alex Shapiro

POOF! ZAP! That's right, after Alex Shapiro left us with a big BANG! when we last talked to her, it is now time to discuss the more intricate details of her work. There could hardly be a more suitable moment for this conversation, since the release of her first CD consisting entirely of her own material dates merely a couple of months back, yet memories of the album are still fresh. "Notes from the Kelp", named after (or in accordance with) her webblog, is a selection of recent tracks, a collection bulging out in many different directions, taking in whatever deemed necessary, exciting or simply fun - Shapiro is one of the select few contemporary artists who openly admit that emotions and personal experience are at the heart of their ouevre. Consequently, there are pieces about intimate moments, times of happiness and joy to be found on the disc, whose stylistic outreach incorporates dark sound art and string quartets to arrive at a place simply called "music". Of course, our interview takes on a similarly open path, as we discuss video clips, the physical side of music, her first failures as a nine-year old composer and... nail fungus. Until the next time - KAZANG!

She blogged:

Hi! How are you? Where are you?Hello! I write this sitting at my desk on beautiful San Juan Island, where I moved from Malibu last Spring. It finally dawned on me that since I love the nature-based peacefulness of artist colonies, I should create my life so that I can live in my very own artist colony full time. Now I own a home in the woods, up the road from the beach and across from a wildlife preserve island I can kayak out to any time. I see more animals than people many days, and I've never been happier, living a rural life in a somewhat remote location. Thanks to the web, my career is even busier than when I lived in the city. And thanks to the recent invention of, uh, the airplane, I can still participate in urban events when I choose!

What’s on your schedule at the moment?

Playing with my two cats. Best procrastination technique ever! I'm taking a 24 hour breather right now, because I just finished a commission from the U.S. Army for a concert wind band piece, titled "Homecoming," which premieres shortly in Newport News, Virginia.

Tomorrow I jump into a completely different sonic realm, and begin composing a work for contrabass flute and electronics for the tour and CD of a terrific flutist in Australia, Peter Sheridan. I deliver that within the month, and then I'm back to more collaborations with a master 32-string veena player in New Delhi, Thakur Chakrapani Singh, with whom I wrote the electroacoustic raga "Chakra Suite" a couple of years ago.

I suffer from an incurable love of talking, and in the next three months I'll be speaking once again at the ASCAP Expo in Hollywood, moderating and presenting at a long running series in Los Angeles called the Composers Salon, and speaking on and moderating a panel for the enormous National Performing Arts Convention in Denver. The right brain/left brain balance of my life is great fun; I'm either writing music or gabbing about it.

The reactions to your latest CD, “Notes from the Kelp” were refreshingly unacademic and honest. Did that confirm your conviction that music is strongest, when it sets out to be a dialogue with the listener, instead of working along the lines of intellectual constructs and concepts?

Absolutely! I've been thrilled with the great responses the disc has received, and it's fascinating to see that among what people have to say, two comments repeatedly arise: that music (mine, in this case) can be very well crafted without being "academic," and that music can defy genre categorization and still be taken very seriously. Listeners don't hear the process a composer used to create a piece. They only hear the end result: the music. To me, that's all that matters, with my own music and with any music that I hear. I was especially touched because people kept saying that they were really moved by the pieces on the CD, and that's the whole point: to express myself honestly and in doing so, elicit emotion from others.

I was bemused to discover that various retailers had placed my CD in different bins: classical, new classical, new age, jazz and rock. I kid you not. This is hilarious to me, and proves my point that music is music, and the terms we use to define it are ultimately unimportant. Pop music suffers from stultifying definitions to a greater degree than other current genres, because radio play on those stations is geared toward such narrowcast audiences due to advertising constraints. But in much smaller niche markets like mine, no one really knows what to do with any of the music composers like me are writing, anyway, so I felt very free to produce the kind of diverse album I did.

The downside to the concert music niche is that there's often not much money in it, but that's also the upside: there's a lot of artistic freedom when thestakes aren't as high.

"Notes from the Kelp” is a very openhearted album. As its title coincides with the blog you started roughly two years ago, I was wondering whether this public diary may also have inspired you to open up even more in your music?

I think that all forms of expression in our lives are related-- composing, blogging, essay writing, public speaking, friendship, cooking... We get into trouble when we compartmentalize our activities. None of us is just a composer-on-legs, we're each fully assembled humans and every aspect of our daily life affects our musical output. My music is a reflection of what I observe and experience, just as my photos reflect my surroundings, and my essays reflect my thinking. My cooking, on the other hand, reflects my desperate need for cooking lessons.

I do love having my blog, Notes from the Kelp , because the photos, music and commentary on it are asynesthetic expression of many things that define my life. One form of creativity feeds and incites the next, and I think that the more open I am in one arena, the more open I remain in all the others.

The pieces on “Notes from the Kelp” are purposely arranged to offer listeners both a picture of you as a composer and as a private person. On the other hand: Could you imagine there being issues which you’d find too private to be used for a composition?

I dunno... nail fungus? Ha ha! The most private issues often elicit the most honest art, specifically because they're so raw. Painful topics like death, emotional insecurity, loss of love, physical challenges, and joyous ones like romance, birth, and heart-wrenching beauty, bring out the most emotion in people.

Published compositions offer listeners a form of voyeurism; the music takes you into the soul of the creator. That's something I want very much in a listening experience: to be taken into the composer's heart, into his or her confidence. When a piece leaves me cold, I sometimes wonder whether the composer was being too polite, too cautious and careful, and withholding their emotion from the piece and thus from other people.

Where else, if not in art and love, is it more natural and imperative, even, to express private emotion? I always feel so fortunate to have this means of communication, when words just fail me. And even for someone as loquacious as I, they do fail me quite often.

"Notes from the Kelp” started in January of 2006, but it took a while before the comments-sections was used as vividly for debate as it is now. Would you say that this could be a good metaphor for your progress as an artist as well: Staying true and faithful to your work and allowing for a gradual ascent, instead of expecting things to fall into place right away?

Most of what we accomplish, as artists or non-artists, is the result of everything that's come before. Most careers ramp up gradually, not overnight. A composer's professional life requires a steady combination of working hard and being prepared, plus taking the initiative to build good relationships with others. It's difficult to have a career without both components: the relationships can't serve you if you're not prepared with a lot of good music, and all your preparation and hard work isn't going to see the light of day if you can't network and get your art out there!

Perseverance is a large part of the process, because you can't allow yourself to become discouraged. You have to be patient and have faith that if you're offering something beautiful, people will eventually find out about it. Along with your patience, it helps if you're [politely] dogged about following up with people and pursue a variety of avenues that could lead to your happiness. So there's a natural momentum that builds exponentially, sometimes faster and sometimes slower. It's rewarding to see things really come together from a good dose of sticktoitiveness. That's a great word, isn't it?!

There’s a hearty dose of fun and joy on the opening track of the album, “Slipping” and a very grave and sad mood on “For My Father”. Mauricio Kagel once said that only people with a lot of humour could be very serious as well. Can you relate to this feeling?

Very much. The crying clown is a common metaphor, right? In my case, I have a goofy and sometimes rather dark wit and I call upon it often. Sometimes regrettably, as not everyone gets my sense of humor! But, I persist anyway. I wasn't the happiest kid growing up, and I think that my sense of irony was-- and continues to be-- a good coping mechanism. I was lucky to be born with a big DNA dollop of great brain chemistry, And so even in unhappiness, I could divert my thoughts elsewhere and not suffer from depression.

Music has always been a safe outlet for anger, sadness, and hopelessness. All the things that I'd prefer not to allow in in daily life, I can wallow in with my music. I've said before that composing (among other artistic pursuits) is a socially acceptable form of insanity. And speaking of musical insanity, I chose to put "Slipping" on as the first track on the CD, because it's one of the few comedic pieces of concert music out there and I thought it would be fun to confuse the heck out of people right off the bat, and then of course hit them between the eyes with some of the other deeply serious and emotional pieces on the CD. It's just a representation of me as a person: if I've got this wide emotional span, and presumably my listeners do, why shouldn't the music on my CD reflect that range of humanness?

To me, “Current Events” is one of the highlights of the record. Are there any plans of continuing work in this direction and maybe publish a longer string quartet?

I'd be thrilled if an ensemble were to commission a larger work in this vein. Writing for strings is somewhat intimidating because of the huge repertoire that precedes everything one begins to compose. The canon of great quartets is imposing-- so much so, that my advice to other composers would be to ignore it as much as possible and create your own new paradigm for what an intimate group of strings should sound like! I did this with my flute quartet, "Bioplasm." That being said, I ignored my own advice in "Current Events," and took a pretty traditional approach with that quintet that unabashedly declares my adoration for Beethoven, Brahms and Bartok.

One of the things I love to do in my chamber music is make a few instruments sound like many more. I've always been very moved by the wall of sound that the great composers of the past created in their chamber pieces: dense, thick, pulsing works that affect me very directly. Strings are amazing; so human, so much power and frailty at once. I'd love to find further opportunities to explore these sounds.

You’ve mentioned that “so much of music has to do with texture and frequencies”. Is “Deep”, with its subsonic undulation, possibly a music-made concretization of that thought?

Oh yes. Like sex, music is a very physical, sensual thing (at least, when it's done right!) and I'm always looking to immerse myself and my listeners in something that will transport them. The joy I find in working with electronics is that I can create frequencies and sounds that can't be found elsewhere.

Talking about “Deep”: The video shot for the composition is tremendous! Do you feel there is still a potential to the visual üresentation of your music, which you could tap into in the future?

Thanks! That video you refer to was done by contrabass clarinetist Marco Mazzini in Belgium, and it's wonderfully haunting. He is a really talented guy. I'd love to meet more video artists who'd like to collaborate. I'm a very visual person: I grew up in New York City not only with a lot of music but also with a lot of fine art, and it's probably not a surprise that my career in Los Angeles was in film and TV scoring for about 15 years before I switched over to concert music -- for the enormous amount of fame, money and glamour, obviously :-).

I think that the majority of my music is visually evocative, and that video and dance would be well suited to it. I've been told for a long time that I should get my pieces to choreographers. There's never enough time in the day.

You’ve worked with a plethora of artists on “Notes from the Kelp”. What was working with so many different personalities like? Did you allow for different degrees of interpretational freedom with different performers?

The joy of composing music for humans as opposed to for machines lies in the ever-changing interaction between the notes and the players. I encourage every musician's input; I want their interpretation and their humanness. Even their mistakes! That's part of the humanity, too. People forget that, due to the ubiquitous illusion of perfection we can achieve from recording sessions now. But I'm not one of those producers who sterilizes a performance simply because I've got the digital tools to do so. I don't take out every gasp of breath or every bow knock or chair squeak. I want people to remember that there are living people behind these beautiful sounds.

Some of the 23 performers on Notes from the Kelp are very close friends of mine, and others I have a friendly but more formal relationship with. I certainly am more relaxed in the studio when I know the people on the other side of the glass really well, and it makes giving direction easier, too, because there's a shorthand and inherent sense of humor between us.

I deliver my scores with very thorough tempo, dynamic and phrasing indications. I think of those markings like the photo of on a box of cereal, showing the milk in the bowl with the flakes and stating in small print, "suggested serving." Ha! Sometimes I'm just so close to the work having heard a piece in my head many times over and over the same way, that I lose sight of other performance possibilities. There are always different ways to play and hear the music that I just hadn't taken the time to think of. This can be due to my brain becoming inured to the music by repetition, or because I'm almost always on to the next piece and the next deadline, and I don't have much time to curl up with a new work after creating it.

There's usually only a few weeks between when it's been written and when it's premiered and/or recorded.This is one of the fun things about concert music: each piece is performed and, hopefully, recorded repeatedly, and so the interpretation continues to evolve. It's never set in stone, unlike a movie score which is recorded once and stays with the film forever. I've heard a lot of performers talk about how much their presentation of a new piece changes over time, and that they now play something very differently from the way they recorded it X number of years ago.

New pieces need time to seep into our consciousness and become themselves, just as repertoire has had a hundred or more years to do so. Much of the classical music on my piano desk I've played since I was an adolescent, and even in all these many years, I rarely play a piece the same way twice. Music is a living art, like language. It's meant to change. I have little patience for purists who think that there's only one correct way to interpret something.

It has been said of James Cameron, that the thing which made it easy for actors to work with him (and hard on anyone else on the set) was that he knew nothing about acting. Vice versa, he took control of all aspects he was an expert in. As a trained pianist, do you feel you have a greater urge to take charge of the immediate playing aspects when participating in the recording of a piano piece than with your ensemble scores?

I've never had that urge, thank goodness. I think if I ever expressed it, the pianists would want to smash my little precocious fingers with the fallboard. Ha! I always defer to the musicianship and abilities of the pianist who has spent the time to learn my piece. I'll usually offer a MIDI mockup I've recorded to speed up the pianist's absorption of the music as they make it their own, but the point here is for them to indeed make it their own. Otherwise, I'd record a CD of Shapiro playing Shapiro, and frankly, it wouldn't be nearly as wonderful, for all the reasons I describe in the previous question. When I'm asked whether I perform, I'm fond of saying that no, I just compose and make other musicians do all the hard work.

You obviously believe in an immediate composing process, which fully preserves the emotions flowing into a piece. Does it sometimes happen that you feel the tools at your disposal are inadequate to express a certain idea, thought or sensation? If so, how do you cope with such a situation?

The most inadequate tool is my own brain. Or rather, its two sometimes warring hemispheres. I try to stay as much in the initial moment of inspiration as possible by literally drawing the essence of a new piece, with pencil and unlined paper, and initially staying far away from a score pad (or a computer notation program). I ain't no Picasso, but being able to express the gesture of the sounds that are swirling in my head without the need to simultaneously translate them into mathematics-- and that is what notated music really is-- is very freeing. This is a treasured technique that I learned from John Corigliano when I was a student at Manhattan School of Music, and it's been one of the most helpful things I've ever been taught.

I'm fascinated by the right brain/left brain dilemma: how challenging it is to stay in the groove of the artistic right brain activity, while calling upon the left brain to be a scribe for what the right brain is busy creating. No matter how fluent you are in musical language, the minute you have to think about how to translate something as abstract as sound into something readable for other musicians, it interrupts the creative flow, even if only for a blip. The more rhythmically complex or texturally original the musical thought is, the worse the dilemma, because the math problem must be solved in order for the gesture to be notated. Sometimes it's manageable, and other times it can nearly derail my composition process, taking me too far afield of that magic world of pure imagination.

I find that when my composing work is going very well and five hours swoops by as though it's been 20 minutes, it's a lot like being in a dream state, where ideas just flow and I'm not the least bit aware of how they're showing up. But just as when I awake from a dream, consciously try to remember it, and then POOF!, it vanishes, the moment I become self-conscious of how well things are going with my writing,ZAP!-- I'm suddenly taken out of the moment. A cruel joke, isn't it? It's like when a computer glitch derails an otherwise groovy recording session and you're flung from the happy place of recording music to the frustrating task of trying to troubleshoot a purely technical problem. All so that you can go back to that happy groovy place again. If you still have any energy and spirit left by the end of the day of troubleshooting!

In our last interview, you felt it impossible to answer the question of art-subsidies with a simple true/false statement. After having listened to a couple of other interviews you’ve given on the subject matter in the past, would it be correct to say that you feel there is a great deal of responsibility a composer needs to take in order to obtain necessary commissions and that, essentially, “life’s what you make it” (and that maybe there is nothing wrong with that)?

Well, I do maintain that, barring ill fortune like health crises, etc., life is indeed what we make it. I'm a big believer in visualizing what you want your life to be, to look like, to feel like, to be filled with, and then going about building that vision into a reality. It's how I've lived, and since my mid-thirties, I think I've managed to conjure up a very happy life by envisioning what I want and by working hard.I've noticed with alarm that the culture of artists tends to be one of negative messages: "no one wants the art I create," "there's no money to be had in the arts," or, "there's no way I can accomplish [name yourdream here] because it's out of reach."

One of the tricks I've learned is to retool the language I use and the thoughts I think, and instead of reiterating what I can't do, I instead say "why not? other people can, and so can I." I don't think about whether I can do something, I think about the methods I'm going to use to do it. By turning the messages I give myself from negative ones to positive ones, a lot of doors suddenly burst open.There is nothing wrong with subsidies and grants. I've received them on occasion and have always been grateful. A dependancy on grants is, however, the absolute weakest position an artist can put himself orherself in. Period. Applying for grants, never knowing whether you will receive one or not, is like being a child with a hand out to a parent, hoping to gain approval and get allowance money for the week. If you'relucky enough to get some funding, it's often for a short term project, and not something with which you can support yourself for very long. And there's something inherently emotionally unhealthy about constantly putting ourselves in a position where others judge us and deem our passion to be worthy or not.

I like the adage, "give me a fish and I eat for a day, teach me to fish and I eat for a lifetime" (with apologies to vegetarians). If an artist believes that what they do is worthwhile and if they are willing to work hard at both the artistic and the business side of their career, then they have a good shot at finding a fan base willing to pay money to them for what they create. I am not necessarily saying that they will be wealthy or that this is an easy task, but my own experience taking this approach has led to great happiness. It begins with a sense of self worth, which I write about in this article for NewMusicBox . It continues with creating a lot of art, retaining ownership of the rights to that art, and then learning where the income streams are so that all that art you've created can earn you more money to be able to live and create... more art!

I was very lucky to have worked for a long time in commercial music, because being in that world taught me a great deal about the business and of music and the potential worth of what I compose. I'm able to take the knowledge I'd gained in the film and TV world and put it to good use as I pursue my concert music career. Every concert artist should know the worth of their copyright.

Artists who wish to have their art be their main source of support, have responsibilities just like anyone else, to find a connection between what they do and how they are remunerated for it. They cannot just wait for opportunity to drop from the sky, they have to actively create opportunity by creating circumstances that will attract it. My response to your question about perseverance above addresses this, as well, and as you've robably noticed, I'm pretty passionate about the subject matter!

After reading the liner notes to the release, some reviewers have come to the conclusion that you’re an idealist - or even a utopianist. Does it sometimes bother you that offering an optimistic view of the world and the possibilities (rather than the difficulties) of life as a contemporary composer is often mistaken for a “hippie”-mentality?

Well, reading my utopian answer to the previous question will certainly codify people's thinking along those lines! Ha ha. I'm not bothered in the least if other people assess me as being idealistic or... god forbid!... happy. Is it actually legal for an artist to be ebulliently happy??! Those are compliments, really, and I can think of many other things that would be much worse to be called. I do spend a lot of time, in print and in public speaking, encouraging my peers to think outside the box and to realize just how much power they possess that they might not be making full use of. I'm certainly not making full use of my own tools, and I'm not sure whether I ever will. There's so much to learn and to do. Maybe the point-- the fun in the journey-- is to keep striving and never quite achieve every possible thing. Otherwise, what would we want after that?

Your biography mentions you started composing at the age of nine. Would you like to share the details of these first pieces with us?

Oooh, those pieces were mostly dreadful, I'm sure! Mozart-the-Wunderkind, I wasn't. Even then, as now, I was all over the map stylistically, writing ditties in every genre from neo-Classical to rock songs to musical theater to bad lounge music. I actually asked my parents for piano lessons when I was ten, because I had been composing for a year or two and wanted to be more facile with playing and with notating. I was a true nerd. I do remember coming into music class in fourth grade when I was 8 or 9, where we all played recorder, with a four-part recorder arrangement of the then-popular theme to the PBS series Masterpiece Theater (otherwise known as Jean-Joseph Mouret's "Rondeau," from the first movement of his "First Suite in D").

I handed it to my very sweet music teacher and suggested we all play it. She looked at me with an unforgettable expression, somewhat shocked, and explained that it was too hard for the class. The first rejection of my music career! But it didn't stop me; I kept composing and arranging things. Even as a kid I just powered on, regardless of "reality." As I mentioned earlier, I was blessed with great brain chemistry-- pure luck! For that, and many things, including the opportunity to share my thoughts about these questions here on Tokafi, I'm grateful.

By Tobias Fischer

Discography:Notes from the Kelp (Innova) 2007Homepage:Alex Shapiro Alex Shapiro’s blog “Notes from the Kelp”
By Tobias Fischer, published 2008-03-04

Tuesday, March 4, 2008

The Humor that Stalked Alexie

Alexie sends strong signals

Writer spares no one from barbs

Milwaukee Journal Sentinel

Posted: March 9, 2002

Sherman Alexie steps to the center of the stage. Dressed in black with a tan suede shirt, his long black hair falls to his shoulders. He peers through his glasses and sips a bottle of water as two men carry off the podium used by others to introduce him.

Watching the two lug away the podium, he pauses.

"One of the benefits of being a successful Indian writer is that you get white guys to do all the work for you," he says.

The standing-room-only audience explodes in laughter.

Delivered in a monotone, the words startle and surprise a bit. That's the point. It's part of Alexie's reality. Like his poetry, writings and movies, it's truth that reshapes myth and stereotypes. It's perception mixed with heart, history and humor.

His topic one recent evening before more than 1,000 at the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee Student Union, is entitled: "Killing Indians: Myths, Lies and Exaggerations." But that's just a provocative title for talking about every subject under the sun from religion to politics, homophobia, war, morality, humor, and, of course, Indians.

A Spokane/Coeur d'Alene Indian who grew up on the Spokane Indian Reservation about 50 miles northwest of Spokane, Wash., Alexie has published 14 books.

He adapted his book "The Lone Ranger and Tonto Fistfight in Heaven" into the movie "Smoke Signals," believed to be the first movie made by American Indians about American Indians.
It won the Sundance Film Festival Audience Award and Filmakers Trophy in 1998 and was distributed by Miramax films. The film also received the Christopher Award presented to works that affirm "the highest values of the human spirit."

In 1999, The New Yorker called Alexie one of the top writers for the 21st century.
He's just completed another movie that was shown at the Sundance Film Festival, an adaptation of his book of poems, "The Business of Fancydancing."

Alexie, 35, describes himself as an Indian, liberal, progressive pacifist who is bipartisan in his hatred for politicians.

"Democrats and Republicans, they all lie, lie, lie," he says.

"We have a president who choked on a pretzel, and we're letting this guy make our decisions. Do you really think he choked on a pretzel?"

Even presidential contender Ralph Nader came in for scorn.
"Come on you romantic, foolish jerks. Would you really want this guy representing the U.S. when he doesn't even look like he knows what an iron is?"

Here's what he had to say about a variety of subjects:

The war in Afghanistan: "It's the Jetsons bombing the Flintstones . . . Is it because I'm Indian that I'm suspicious?"

His solution to the war: "Let's have a soccer game with the Afghans, and they will win because they're better at soccer, but we won't care because it's soccer. It sounds like a joke, but it has meaning because we have such different values."

On Sept. 11: "I was leaving my gym in Seattle when a guy in a pickup truck pulled up on the street and yelled: 'Go back to your own country.' I laughed so hard. I tried to run after him to say, 'You first,'"

Homophobia: "It's the only universally accepted hatred across all religions and cultures and it makes no sense. . . . Find me a country where gay men started war on straight men. . . . No movie would ever be made again ever without gays. . . . Trust me I go to the parties, and I see who is dancing with who."

On the question, is Indian gaming immoral?: "Not any more immoral than selling tobacco. Capitalism by definition is the exploitation of vice. My brothers and sisters work in the bingo halls because they want to feed their families . . . You want to help an Indian? Write a check."

On using anger as motivation: "Anger is liberating, not consuming. It's an honest emotion . . . It's not anger as much as disdain . . . with everyone, especially myself."

On Indian influences: "People want us to be the K-mart of spirituality. I don't talk about religion . . . You really shouldn't have a dream catcher in your car while your driving. And you don't have to wear Indian jewelry when you come to hear me talk. I'm going to like you because you came."

A serious side

The talk turns somber when he talks poignantly about the birth of his son, now 5, who nearly died at birth and who has been left with some disabilities.

"Everything we believed of in the world was shaking and falling apart," he says. "We began a lawsuit against the hospital because we believed there was negligence, but we stopped it.

"The lawsuit would tell our son we didn't want him the way he is. It would have said we're not capable of forgiveness and that those people in the room were inherently evil. It would have said we were morally superior. It would have been all about our hatred. We let it go."

The lesson, he says, is this: "We're all wrong almost all of the time."

Rambling through a world of ideas and experiences, Alexie is thought provoking. But one of his hallmarks is the humor that he makes look easy. It's not, he says. "I work hard at the ideas in the humor. I construct the humor like a serious poem."

A tradition of humor

Humor was abundant on the reservation where he grew up, he says. He turned to humor because he was different and got beat up a lot. "You can't run as fast or throw a punch if you're laughing," he said.

And the more traditional the person on the reservation, the funnier they were, he says. "My grandmother was hilarious. My whole family was funny. I was the least funny. My family thought I was depressed and angry. "

Finally, someone in the audience asks the question: Are you Thomas, the nerdy Indian boy in "Smoke Signals" who is always telling stories.

"I'm everybody in the books," he says. "They're me."

[Well put Sherman, speaking for all authors, poets, and quasi-activists--Glenn]