Think fast: exercise, write, or sleep?

•January 12, 2010 • 4 Comments

I’ve never managed my time gracefully. Not when I was 5 years old (“Mom! Five more minutes of sleep, ok? Just FIVE MORE!”). Not when I was 10. (“Mom. 10. TEN MORE MINUTES OF SLEEP. That’s it!”). Not in high school (my mom stopped bothering). I am always, as they say, flying by the seat of my pants.

Yet, I have gotten a lot done in life. I’m not quite sure how, but there is a paper trail to prove it. But then I wonder, how does anyone get anything done, especially journalists, who are constantly reacting to breaking news, getting in early or staying late, keeping our cell phones at our sides at all times just in case a source, or a copy editor, calls at the very last minute?

In the old days, there were plenty of explanations for one’s inability to finish everything on your plate: there was, I imagine, crop-tending, animal husbandry, butter to churn. Our modern world is just a very updated version of those chores: Twitter posting/checking, Starbucks lines, the checkout aisle at HEB.

But I’ll admit, I’m at a real loss about how successful people manage to fit in everything, like going to the gym at 5 in the morning and then being charming and productive at work. Are you people magic? Are you…are you unicorns? I don’t even have kids yet and I feel like I’m flailing sometimes.

My overall new year’s resolution was to stop avoiding in life what I’ve gotten skilled at avoiding for a long time. This blog was an answer to one of those things, which was my refusal to sit down and write, just for me. Another thing I do but not regularly enough is exercise. So I’m attempting to add more regular gym visits to the list. I also want to actually learn how to cook things, simple but tasty things, and yes, this is a challenge for me. Oh, and I want to produce better stories and videos at work, and I want to pursue documentary. And I want to sleep more.

Sleep. Mmmmmmm. Sleep.

So yes, how does this all get done? Andy Borowitz wrote this hilarious New Yorker essay on how to make the most of “quiet time.” At the beginning of the essay, he quotes the Disney CEO who says he recharges every day by getting up at 4:30 in the morning. Of course he does. He’s working for the magic kingdom, where a giant mouse is a celebrity and not a health hazard.

So I’ve already decided if I try to blog every day, I might be setting myself up to fail. In fact, I already failed because on Sunday night I zonked out around 10 p.m. without meaning to and last night I caught up with a friend from grad school on the phone and then tried to sleep off an ear ache. Oops.

I know if I also  vow to exercise every day, that might not work out either. Because there is still work (a lot of work– remember, these are journalists’ hours we’re talking about) and meals and news and art and family and friends and real, genuine quiet time, that I can do with whatever I please.

Now I know — I know — not everyone has half the luxury I have, because they have families or responsibilities that wouldn’t allow them the time to get to the gym or write an inane blog like this one, even if they wanted to. Clearly, I don’t know what real time management is all about.

People, I respect those of you who are doing that much. I respect you a lot. I wish I was more like you. I’m just trying to manage my time my own way.

So here’s a compromise: blog several times a week, period. Blog every day if a particular topic strikes me. Make a vow to AT LEAST either exercise OR blog every day, but no week can pass without some exercise. Is this the right way to go about this? Suggestions? Anyone want to be my exercise partner so I can’t get out of it?

Nocturnal transmissions

•January 10, 2010 • Leave a Comment

Well, I just ended a six-day work week, which was also my first week back at the Express-News after a glorious vacation (when did a week and a half vacation become glorious? Since I entered this thing we call the news biz). I am tired, quite tired, but energized by the week.

But I’m a little worried. I see a pattern forming when it comes to this whole blog idea — when I get around to writing these posts too late, they are likely to get a wee bit random. Don’t hold this against me, please. This is a new experiment. I’m still in the caterpillar phase of this blog life cycle.

Anyways, here’s a sampler pack version of a blog.

Chapter 1. I had to write another weather story today, but I was told homelessness was too overdone. So what did we chose? Plumbing. Naturally. Readers, you’re probably wondering, why? Well, it’s tricky to make weather new every day. And you know someone would complain if we didn’t write about it in the paper. So, we get creative. Cold snaps like this one tend to freeze and subsequently bust water pipes. I know. So sexy. But what else are you going to write about when you’ve only experienced a hard freeze and no precipitation, ie, no snow, no sleet, no calamity? I need to start compiling a list of ideas so I’m prepared for the next cold weather go-round. How about, where do the taco trucks go when it’s below freezing? Who are these chicks who still wear heels and short skirts when it’s glacial outside? Why is God smiting us right about now with these frigid, frigid temperatures?

Oh, and here are some pretty photos of ice that formed when sprinkler systems went off in an empty lot near my apartment:

Chapter 2. The Conan v. Leno fight continues, (if you don’t know what I’m referring to, please turn to your preferred online search engine and look it up, and then, choose a side. Now’s not the time to be Switzerland). As I was leaving work yesterday, I overheard two of our security guards discussing this topic. “Isn’t it awful I?” I exclaimed. “How can they mess with Conan.” “Oh, I hate Conan,” said one guard. “I like Leno.” “Really?” I answered, trying not to reveal my true feelings, that clearly he and I would never understand each other on a root level. I looked to the other security guard, sitting behind him. “What about you?” “I don’t like either one of them,” he said. At this, we all laughed. He doesn’t like Letterman either, so I guess he’s an equal opportunity hater. Can’t argue with that.

Chapter 3. Today’s music selection. I looooove the Bat for Lashes song, “Daniel.” I read awhile back that Natasha Khan, aka, Bat for Lashes, was inspired by Karate Kid when she wrote this number. Well, the video certainly has that look to it. It is also very, very weird. Thus, I cannot look away. If you don’t really like the folks in black tights with weird cloth balls tied to their heads (and yes, this is an accurate description), just close your eyes and listen. You’ll feel like you’re running away with Ralph Macchio.

Man, I really, really want that Bat for Lashes hoodie.

Also, here is a short “making of” video, which pretty much proves “abstracty things” were the concept behind this particular work of art.

Baby, it’s cold outside

•January 9, 2010 • Leave a Comment

Once again, after a long day, it’s difficult to work up the energy to write. Today, I was on weather duty at the Express-News, taking over for rockstar EN reporter Jennifer Lloyd, who had handled weather duty earlier this week. I can relate to this situation: last summer, I was the “no rain in sight/this drought really sucks” reporter. It’s a dirty job, but there is nothing more universally interesting to most folks than whether or not they should wear a parka or a tank top today.

Inevitably, when writing winter weather stories, the subject of the homeless comes up: what will they do in these frigid times? So today, I joined badass EN photog Lisa Krantz on a ride-along with the director of one of the Salvation Army shelters. It was a fascinating journey, even though my hands felt like they might fall off the entire time. First, we went to the South Side, behind a Lowe’s, where there were reports of a homeless man. We found him walking through an empty lot, littered with trash that included mattresses and a graffiti-covered love seat and other signs that someone had made this their home. Like many others, he refused to go to a shelter.

Later, we stopped by a massive building just north of downtown, an abandoned apartment complex. It was a five story structure that had been transformed into a surreal ghost town: again, graffiti on the walls proclaimed this a homeless community. We found mattresses and bags full of products and signs of real people, living real lives here. But the place was empty. Either the residents had found shelter, or they were hiding very well, waiting only for us to leave their self-made kingdom.

I know — it’s an old story. What will the homeless do in the cold? But it is no less relevant just because it is typical. It is not less cold this year just because it gets cold every year. (and, practically speaking, this really IS the coldest winter we’ve had for the better part of a decade). It’s amazing to go these places and see how people live, even if it’s for a weather story that is getting old fast.

I think of the homeless man that sits near where I park every day. He never bothers me. His hair is mussed and matted. He is usually sitting beside a vacant building, reading a book or a newspaper. We say hi now. Hello. Hello. I think I asked once what he was reading, but I still don’t know his name, or how he ended up here. I meant to bring him a Christmas present, either a book or a blanket, but that hasn’t happened. I haven’t seen him lately, because it’s been too cold to park where I normally do, several blocks from my office. But I wonder if he’s gone to one of the shelters during this cold snap, or if he is braving it, outside, like so many. And I wonder how big of a bleeding heart I sound like. But then I think, so what?

So what if I do?

Thor’s Day

•January 8, 2010 • 1 Comment

So what to write about today? Technically, I’m a few hours late. But in California, it’s still Thursday, so I’m in the clear.

So which topic do I choose? UT lost to Alabama in the Rose Bowl. Sad. As a child, I made that important choice every born and bred Texan must make: UT or A&M? Hook ’em or gig ’em? I chose burnt orange and have stuck with it since, though eventually I became a Rice Owl, and lord knows we won’t go to a bowl game anytime soon. (They should start the Rice Bowl just for us!)

But besides major championship games, I’m not an avid football fan. So scratch that. Here’s another topic: I’m disturbed about rumors that Jay Leno will take back the Tonight Show (because his prime time show is an incredible disaster) and Conan O’Brien will go places not yet disclosed. Lame. So lame, I don’t have the words to describe it.

To be honest, it’s late and I’m tired. Thus, I’ll turn to my favorite topic: music!

Pitchfork just tweeted about Denver’s Pina Chulada, comparing the band to Mazzy Star. Um, hello, my favorite thing! Mazzy Star partly got me through my junior year of high school (along with some The Smiths, The Cure, Bjork and Tori Amos). So when I hear a comparison made to this stargazing, shoe-gazing, weird little band, I get curious.

Here’s the Pina Chulada song “Someone Like You”. I’m a fan; parts of it remind me of Coco Rosie (that shaky voice that’s asking for a little love, a little help or a little therapy). The lamp shade in this video is a wee bit confusing. So is the chick crawling in and out of the cabin. In general, the video reminds me of a hipster version of the Blair Witch project. But I dig the song.

But for the real deal, here is Mazzy Star’s video for one of the greatest songs EVER, “Fade Into You.” The video is from 1993 and, well, it FEELS like it’s from 1993. But seriously, this song does not get old. And I wonder, where on earth is Hope Sandoval? I hope she’s somewhere smiling for once, and eating something:

And if you are too depressed after these songs, or if you’re a Conan fan, I present this. Keep the faith:

Nightcrawler

•January 6, 2010 • 1 Comment

As I said in yesterday’s blog post, I had to wake up quite early this morning for an assignment with my Express-News colleagues, reporter Colin McDonald and photographer Billy Calzada. When I say early I don’t mean crack of dawn/rooster early. I mean middle of the night early, as in, the bars just closed early. We had our reasons for doing this: three, giant air conditioning units were being installed on top of Nix Hospital in downtown San Antonio, with the help of a massive crane that we thought might prove visually interesting. I was the videographer on the assignment, which meant arriving at the site with Colin by 3:30 a.m.; this was about an hour after Billy, that amazing photographer, had already arrived.

In his book “Something Wicked This Way Comes,” Ray Bradbury writes that 3 a.m. is the time when the body feels closest to death.

I’d have to agree with him.

If you can’t tell, I am not a morning person. I go to sleep at 2 and 3 a.m. on a regular basis, and it’s not because I’m out partying. I just always think, but I can’t DO anything when I sleep. Thus, I was the kid who did anything to get out of nap time. I was the kid whose parents couldn’t give her caffeinated soda past a certain hour, or else I’d bounce off the walls all night. Of course, this has resulted in permanent dark circles under my eyes and a lifetime of getting up later than I should.

But forget morning people. Who are the middle of the night people? And how do they do it?

My master’s thesis at UC Berkeley was a short documentary about Henry Valadez Jr. and Henry Valadez III, two overnight news photographers here in San Antonio. Making that film was difficult for many reasons, but one of the main ones was the schedule — I don’t care how much coffee I’ve had, or how often I put off going to sleep. All-nighters are a different ball game. In their line of work, there are moments of frenzied action. And then, there are those moments of extreme, disturbing quiet. Then you wonder, where is the rest of the world, and what is up to? Who are the other night owls, and how did they end up here?

However, I had a really good time filming the video. Nighttime video work is a challenge but it is incredibly fulfilling and fun. The nighttime lights transform a city into the land of Oz, at least in my opinion. And, you feel part of a secret society of night dwellers (Batman, vampires and me!). So here’s the finished product; several hours of sleep were lost for it:

Oh, and in case you were wondering how I looked later in the day, please check out this informative “Golden Girls” clip. There are several life lessons included in this video, mainly, sleeplessness and writing don’t mix:

What’s in a documentary?

•January 5, 2010 • 3 Comments

This post will be slightly shorter than some, because I have to wake up in a few hours (for reasons which I will likely turn into a blog post tomorrow). But today, I noticed a Tweet from Independent Lens — a delightful independent film program on PBS — about some of the decade’s top docs. They linked to this list on Kino-eye.com, a blog by filmmaker David Tames that includes some other great documentary resources.

First disclosure about his list: I have not seen many of the listed films. Second, I loved many of the films he chose, most notably “Grizzly Man,” Werner Herzog’s obsessive exploration of self-proclaimed naturalist Timothy Treadwell’s obsession with the grizzly bear. It’s not just a documentary; it’s art, both horrifying and compelling. “Spellbound,” the story of students’ desperate quest to win the national spelling bee, paints a hilarious picture of what is, for many, a rite of passage in the public school system. I also adore last year’s “Man on Wire,” again, a film that is more art than just documentary, the story of the man who walked a tightrope strung between New York’s Twin Towers.

And yet, there is one film I’m quite upset was missing — “Capturing the Friedman’s,” Andrew Jarecki’s 2003 film about a family torn apart by accusations of rape and incest. It is both about the secrets families keep but also about how lies, and subsequent witch hunts, can spin out of control. Jarecki (who, by the way, co-founded Moviefone — go figure!), set out to make a film about a popular New York clown, who performed at children’s parties. Then he learned the story of the man’s tragic past, about how his father and brother were accused of raping dozens of teenage boys in their suburban basement during what were supposed to be after-school computer classes. What’s more shocking is that nearly all of the drama that unfolded between the family members after the accusations came to light are recorded on VHS tape — the father’s sons were obsessive about capturing everything on film, a habit they learned from their father’s habit of filming them as children. The contrast of the old, silent, 8 mm footage and the angry confrontations that unfold in the present are shocking and spellbinding. I remember watching this film gripped but also moved, and I couldn’t stop thinking about it the next day.

Of course, one person’s art is another person’s straight to video, I guess. We don’t have to agree on every documentary. But I thought surely “Capturing the Friedman’s” was more compelling than “Super Size Me,” another film on the Independent Lens list.

This got me to thinking about what documentary is supposed to do. In terms of cultural influence, I’d argue the effect of “Super Size Me” is huge, though it’s not necessarily a graceful, subtle film: a guy eats McDonald’s for every meal for 30 days; and he explores the physical and cultural ramifications of his experiment. I think a lot of people who haven’t seen this documentary at least heard about it and know its implications: this stuff will kill you, and we don’t just mean give you a heart attack.

But if the measure of a good film is it’s effect on a wider audience, it’s interesting to note what other films are not on this list: no Michael Moore films, anywhere. I don’t want spend too much time on Mr. Moore; whether you agree or disagree with the premise of his documentaries, and whether you think he misleads his viewers, his name and his films became part of the political fabric. “Enron the Smartest Guys in the Room” also wasn’t listed here, though that was an incredible look at the meltdown of a behemoth corporation in the midst of insane greed. And guess who else wasn’t here? Ahem, calling Ken Burns? Are you crying somewhere or staring at a majestic landscape? Again, whether you like him or detest his style, the man makes BANK, and everyone knows his name.

Obviously, this list was based on opinion. But I think it’s interesting to ask what documentaries should do or what we want them to do. Are they reflections of ourselves? An interpretation of a place and time? “Nanook of the North,” made in 1922 about life in the Arctic, is considered the first feature-length documentary, though it’s full of inaccuracies. But did anyone care? We got to see igloos being built! And seals getting speared! And who in 1922 had seen that or knew it even existed? There’s a value in that, somewhere.

Ok, so clearly I lied — this wasn’t short at all. Oops.

So I’ll leave you with one of my favorite scenes from “Encounters at the End of the World,” another Werner Herzog documentary, which did not make this list. But the clip does feature penguins!

Is it 1984 again?

•January 4, 2010 • Leave a Comment

I really, really like this song by The Drums, a new Brooklyn band that Pitchfork told me I should like, and the video is a bizarre throwback (well, so is the song). Oh you kids from Brooklyn, you crazy, crazy kids —  I just can’t help but looooove the music you make.