February 22, 2013

"I don't fucking care if you like it."

by Tina Fey

I just finished. Can I blog the entire book as an excerpt?

No? OK. I'm going with two more -- the first about her father and the second about her best friend Amy Poehler. There are so many good ones, though, and honestly I can't even remember where they are exactly -- excerpts about her start at SNL, 30 Rock, breaking stereotypes about women in the workplace, growing up, being Sarah Palin, her honeymoon, her daughter. I didn't write the page numbers down the way I usually do because I was reading it all too fast.

How can I give her what Don Fey gave me? The gift of anxiety. The fear of getting in trouble. The knowledge that while you are loved, you are not above the law. The Worldwide Parental Anxiety System is failing if this many of us have made sex tapes ... Don Fey is from the Silent Generation. They are different from their children. They cannot be "marketed to." They don't feel "loyalty" to Barnes and Noble over Borders. If you told Don Fey that you never go to Burger King only McDonald's, because you "grew up with the Hamburglar," he would look at you like you were a moron.
When my face was slashed, my dad held me on his lap in the car to the hospital, applying direct pressure with the swift calm of a veteran and an ex-fireman. I looked up and asked him, "Am I going to die?" "Don't speak," he said. So, yeah, he's not the kind of guy who wants to watch people eat bugs on Survivor. It's so clear to me how those two things are related.
My dad has visited me at work over the years, and I've noticed that powerful men react to him in a weird way. They "stand down." The first time Lorne Michaels met my dad, he said afterward, "Your father is...impressive." They meet Don Fey and it rearranges something in their brain about me. Alec Baldwin took a long look at him and gave him a firm handshake. "This is your dad, huh?" What are they realizing? I wonder. That they'd better never mess with me, or Don Fey will yell at them? That I have high expectations for the men in my life because I have a strong father figure?
Only Colin Quinn was direct about it. "Your father doesn't fucking play games. You would never come home with a shamrock tattoo in that house."
That's Don Fey.
(pp. 53-5)

Amy Poehler was new to SNL and we were all crowded into the seventeenth-floor writers' room, waiting for the Wednesday read-through to start. There were always a lot of noisy "comedy bits" going on in that room. Amy was in the middle of some such nonsense with Seth Meyers across the table, and she did something vulgar as a joke. I can't remember what it was exactly, except it was dirty and loud and "unladylike."
Jimmy Fallon, who was arguably the star of the show at the time, turned to her and in a faux-squeamish voice said, "Stop that! It's not cute! I don't like it."
Amy dropped what she was doing, went black in the eyes for a second, and wheeled around on him. "I don't fucking care if you like it." Jimmy was visibly startled. Amy went right back to enjoying her ridiculous bit. (I should make it clear that Jimmy and Amy are very good friends and there was never any real beef between them. Insert penis joke here.)
With that exchange, a cosmic shift took place. Amy made it clear that she wasn't there to be cute. She wasn't there to play wives and girlfriends in the boys' scenes. She was there to do what she wanted to do and she did not fucking care if you like it.
I was so happy. Weirdly, I remember thinking, "My friend is here! My friend is here!" Even though things had been going great for me at the show, with Amy there, I felt less alone.
(pp. 143-4)

February 21, 2013

Start with a YES and see where it takes you.

by Tina Fey

Because I'm feeling a little down and because I, recently, discovered 10 years later than everyone else how awesome Tina Fey is and because, for that reason, I am just now reading Bossypants: an excerpt. Improv rules that are also rules for life. I think.

The Rules of Improvisation That Will Change Your Life and Reduce Belly Fat*

The first rule of improvisation is AGREE. Always agree and SAY YES. When you're improvising, this means you are required to agree with whatever your partner has created. So if we're improvising and I say, "Freeze, I have a gun," and you say, "That's not a gun. It's your finger. You're pointing your finger at me," our improvised scene has ground to a halt. But if I say, "Freeze, I have a gun!" and you say, "The gun I gave you for Christmas! You bastard!" then we have started a scene because we have AGREED that my finger is in fact a Christmas gun.

Now, obviously in real life you're not always going to agree with everything everyone says. But the Rule of Agreement reminds you to "respect what your partner has created" and to at least start from an open-minded place. Start with a YES and see where it takes you. 

As an improviser, I always find it jarring when I meet someone in real life whose first answer is no. "No, we can't do that." "No, that's not in the budget." "No, I will not hold your hand for a dollar." What kind of way is that to live?

The second rule of improvisation is not only to say yes, but YES, AND. You are supposed to agree and then add something of your own. If I start a scene with "I can't believe it's so hot in here," and you just say "Yeah..." we're kind of at a stand-still. But if I say, "I can't believe it's so hot in here," and you say "What did you expect? We're in hell," Or if I say, "I can't believe it's so hot in here," and you say, "Yes, this can't be good for the wax figures." Or if I say, "I can't believe it's so hot in here," and you say, "I told you we shouldn't have crawled into this dog's mouth," now we're getting somewhere. 

To me YES, AND means don't be afraid to contribute. It's your responsibility to contribute.  Always make sure you're adding something to the discussion. Your initiations are worthwhile.

The next rule is MAKE STATEMENTS. This is a positive way of saying "Don't ask questions all the time." If we're in a scene and I say, "Who are you? Where are we? What are we doing here? What's in that box?" I'm putting pressure on you to come up with all the answers.

In other words: Whatever the problem, be part of the solution. Don't just sit around raising questions and pointing out obstacles. We've all worked with that person. That person is a drag. It's usually the same person around the office who says things like "There's no calories in it if you eat it standing up!" and "I felt menaced when Terry raised her voice."

MAKE STATEMENTS also applies to us women: Speak in statements instead of apologetic questions. No one wants to go to a doctor who says, "I'm going to be your surgeon? I'm here to talk to you about your procedure? I was first in my class at John Hopkins, so?" Make statements, with your actions and your voice.

Instead of saying "Where are we?" make a statement like "Here we are in Spain, Dracula." Okay, "Here we are in Spain, Dracula" may seem like a terrible start to a scene, but this leads us to the best rule:

THERE ARE NO MISTAKES, only opportunities. If I start a scene as what I think is very clearly a cop riding a bicycle, but you think I am a hamster in a hamster wheel, guess what? Now I'm a hamster in a hamster wheel. I'm not going to stop everything to explain that it was really supposed to be a bike. Who knows? Maybe I'll end up being a police hamster who's been put on "hamster wheel" duty because I'm "too much of a loose cannon" in the field. In improv there are no mistakes, only beautiful happy accidents. And many of the world's greatest discoveries have been by accident. I mean, look at the Reese's Peanut Butter Cup, or Botox. 

*Improv will not reduce belly fat.

(pp. 84-5)

February 08, 2013

There it was, the Decision That Changed Everything.

The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao
by Junot Díaz

Took me long enough to read this book. Maybe more about how I feel, the characters, and my Dominican-ness (or lack thereof, in some cases) later. For now, an excerpt:

"A week later the Brothers Then hired a replacement. A new girl. Constantina. In her twenties, sunny and amiable, whose cuerpo was all pipa and no culo, a "mujer alegre" (in the parlance of the period). More than once Constantina arrived to lunch straight from a night of patying, smelling of whiskey and stale cigarettes. Muchacha, you wouldn't believe el lío en que me metí anoche. She was disarmingly chill and could curse the black off a crow, and, perhaps recognizing a kindred spirit alone in the world, took an immediate liking to our girl. My hermanita, she called Beli. The most beautiful girl. You're proof that God is Dominican.
Constantina was the person who finally pried the Sad Ballad of Jack Pujols out of her.
Her advice? Forget that hijo de la porra, that comehuevo. Every desgraciado who walks in here is in love with you. You could have the whole maldito world if you wanted.
The world! It was what she desired with her entire heart, but how could she achieve it? She watched the flow of traffic past the parque and did not know.
One day in a burbuja of girlish impulse they finished work early and,taking their earnings to the Spaniards down the street, bought a pair of matching dresses.
Now you look candela, Constantina said approvingly.
So what you going to do now? Beli asked.
A crooked-tooth smile. Me, I'm going to the Hollywood for a dance. I have un buen amigo working in the door and from what I hear there'll be a whole assembly line of rich men with nothing to do but adore me, ay sí. She shivered her hands down the slopes of her hips. Then she stopped the show. Why, does the private-school princess actually want to come along?
Beli thought about it a moment. Thought about La Inca waiting for her at home. Thought about the heartbreak that was beginning to fade in her.
Yes. I want to go.
There it was, the Decision That Changed Everything. Or as she broke it down to Lola in her Last Days: All I wanted was to dance. What I got instead was esto, she said, opening her arms to encompass the hospital, her children, her cancer, America." (pp. 112-3)

February 04, 2013

Think of all the words beneath your blades.

Via New York Magazine, Rendering by dbox/Foster + Partners

Quiet, Please by Justin Davidson
New York Magazine, 12/31/12 to 1/7/13

Justin Davidson on the renovation that will take place at the New York Public Library--one of my favorite buildings in New York City!--despite the disapproval of many. Recently released renderings show just how the renovations will transform the space. I think it sounds awesome.

"Since the day the library opened in 1911, anyone, from the barely literate to the Nobel laureate, could pass between the friendly lions and climb the imperial-scale stairs to the third-floor reading rooms, with their profusion of sunlight and carved timber, and their great oak tables burnished by millions of elbows."

"Some are still headed for exile — mostly those that have been digitized — but the majority will fit in a soon-to-be-reconditioned, climate-controlled vault below Bryant Park. Next time you glide across the ice at Christmastime, think of all the words beneath your blades."

"It’s not clear from the provisional renderings, but this reimagined space — an old-fashioned lending library, despite fears of a bookless techno-center — could prove as spectacular in its high-gloss, millennial way as the ornate rooms of a century ago. A dozen new steel trees would rise 60 feet, branching at the top to carry the weight of the reading rooms above. Three mezzanines, clothed in warm brass and wood, will hang in this airy atrium. The cast-iron endplates retrieved from the old stacks would be affixed to the new shelves. The circulating library will face the back of the building, where a façade of vertical stone piers turns with startlingly modern austerity towards Bryant Park. In the new atrium, those existing piers are visible from inside, too, linking old exuberance and new sleekness."

February 03, 2013

Almost instantaneously, the boys of the Tabarre neighborhood of Port-au-Prince fell madly in love with America's pastime.

The Little League at the End of the World by Mark Warren
Esquire, December 2012

Another great 'Americans of the Year' story about two volunteers who started a baseball league in Haiti after the 2010 earthquake. Extremely heartbreaking and heartwarming.

An excerpt:

When your day job has you immersed in extreme poverty and death, you need relief, no matter how strong you are. In addition to building the schools and the water systems, both Mooser and Darg also helped an American priest, Father Rick Frechette, run the crematorium on the day of the week devoted to unclaimed bodies. But as meaningful as they found the work, unrelieved bleakness makes the soul sick. So when the hectoring boys set upon them, they decided to engage them, because is anything more full of life than a ten-year-old boy? They wanted to do something for these boys in the evenings, something organized, to best channel their energies.

"They said they wanted to play soccer, so we got them a ball and tried to organize a game, but they were all so malnourished that after five minutes they were listless, just sitting on the field, having lost interest completely," Darg says. "This was going to be a bigger challenge than we thought. We wondered: What game do boys love that doesn't require as much energy as soccer? Baseball."

Having grown up mostly abroad, neither Mooser nor Darg knew much about baseball other than the basics, but that was enough. A couple of random balls and bats had arrived in a container, and they managed to scrounge up some gloves from somewhere. They began meeting evenings with the neighborhood strays, all of whom had lost their homes, all of whom had lost some if not all of their families. And almost instantaneously, the boys of the Tabarre neighborhood of Port-au-Prince fell madly in love with America's pastime. And just as instantaneously, baseball practice became Mooser and Darg's favorite time of day, a bright beam of life at the edge of all the death. In no time, the lethargy from the soccer pitch was gone. Practices happened most weekdays, and with every practice came a meal that Mooser and Darg paid for out-of-pocket. They'd had no intention of starting an actual team, much less a Little League, but before long the Tabarre Tigers were born, followed by two other teams. Leading the Tigers was a rambunctious assortment of characters, including one kid in a wheelchair who somehow managed to swing a bat anyway.

It is a bizarre fact of life that across the island, the Dominican Republic produces 10 percent of the players in the major leagues, while it wasn't long ago that most baseballs were manufactured in Haiti, where the sport is unknown. "We had this crazy idea," says Darg, "that we'd get these boys playing really well, then we'd go find a team in the D.R. and kick its ass."

He declared on his résumé, somewhat ambitiously, that he was seeking a job in advanced spacecraft design.

Photo by Jono Rotman. Note how the title copy mirrors the rover model in the photograph. Nice work by the design team.

The Hardest Thing to Do in Space by Mike Sager
Esquire, December 2012

Loved this profile on Tom Rivellini, whose NASA team placed the Curiosity Rover on Mars last year after 10+ years' hard work. The opening paragraph explains how Rivellini (a Syracuse alum!) got his start:

When Tom Rivellini was finishing his master's degree in aerospace engineering, he declared on his résumé, somewhat ambitiously, that he was seeking a job in "advanced spacecraft design."

This was 1991; the Berlin Wall had recently fallen, the so-called Evil Empire was kaput, the space race and Star Wars weaponry were looking a lot less mission critical. President Bush and Congress had pulled back funding for the aerospace industry; it was a hard time for a guy who admittedly loved difficult math problems and groan-worthy puns and pocket protectors full of colored markers. After a few months of hearing "No, we don't have anything," Rivellini revised his CV.

Advanced spacecraft design? That's kind of cheesy, he told himself. Nobody actually calls it that in the real world. 

Then one day, his career counselor at the University of Texas, Austin, suggested he try NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, California. A native of upstate New York, the son of Italian-immigrant parents, he'd attended Syracuse University as an undergrad. Ugh, he thought, California.

Reluctantly, he called JPL, the federally funded space-research-and-development center managed by the nearby California Institute of Technology. After being passed around a few times, he finally got a person on the business side. One of the group supervisors, she said, was "actually looking for somebody."
"What's the name of his group?" Rivellini asked.
"Advanced Spacecraft Design."