Camille Reyes

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The Decemberists Warm January

In Culture, Uncategorized on January 26, 2011 at 12:10 am

A monument to build beneath the arbors

Upon a plinth that towers t’wards the trees

Let every vessel pitching hard to starboard

Lay its head on summer’s freckled knees

-Don’t Carry It All, The Decemberists

How many “pop” songs are this eloquent and evocative?  This is just one verse, but it sums up the gorgeous lyrics typical of any Decemberists song.  I saw the band, five members strong, play the first night of many sold out shows at the Beacon in New York last night.

I’d seen them previously three times in Portland, Oregon, where the band lives.  The day their instruments were stolen out of a van, it made local headlines.  No one fucks with the Decemberists, especially in Portland.  Even Mayor Sam Adams recorded the band’s intro for the current tour supporting the wonderful album, The King is Dead.  The mayoral salute was bizarre, but fitting for a quirky band (celebrating ten years together) madly attached to their Northwest roots.

Their tuneful terroir was especially evident this go around.  Bespectacled lead singer Colin Meloy was clad in a red flannel shirt, and the backdrop was a forest of evergreens (like the album cover—where is Carson Ellis?).  They are all gifted musicians, switching from fiddle, to guitar to upright bass.  Keyboardist Jenny Conlee frequently played the keys with one hand, and a xylophone with the other, throwing a harmonica in every now and then to really rub it in.  She’s almost as entertaining as Tori Amos, and she doesn’t even make mad love to her piano bench.

The new album has a roots or bluegrass flavor, but I hear a lot of REM from Document days and old New Order in the hooks.  In a potent encore of The Island, they also channeled a prog rock frenzy worthy of Yes.  This is not to say they are derivative.  In fact, they treat each new record as a unique experience.  I enjoy the ride every time, although I must confess I still miss the horn section smuggling my heart throughout Picaresque (2005).

They played my favorite song, Engine Driver, a painful ballad about unrequited love.  They eschewed the crowd favorite Mariner’s Song.  Since my neighbor was drunk and rude, I was relieved to miss her pitching back and forth with the faux boat on that one.  My only unsatisfied, secret request was to hear I Was Meant for the Stage.  Is there any performer who does not adore that song?

They transported me back to Portland for a spell, spinning a sonic valentine to my adopted hometown.  I could almost imagine the bouncy spring board floor at the Crystal.

I was meant for the stage,

I was meant for the curtain.

I was meant to tread these boards,

Of this much I am certain.

Oh, Colin.


Behold the man who thinks himself kind, as he marginalizes you with a smile

In Uncategorized on April 4, 2010 at 5:14 am

A friend just passed along a link to a disturbing blog post by Orson Scott Card re: the gay marriage debate.  I promise I’ll get back to non-sexual-political-religious topics in the media soon enough, but I must, in good conscience, respond, even as it delays my considerable grad school work.  If you can stomach the piece, it is worth a full read.  I address his particularly insulting conclusion here.

Dear Mr. Card,

“What’s the hurry? Why the hostility toward even the slightest opposition? Can’t our opponents wait to get their way until they have persuaded a clear majority? Can’t they listen to people with ideas that are different from theirs?”-Orson Scott Card

While you wrote these sentences, I’m sure a same-sex partner somewhere was denied visitation rights (afforded by marriage) while their dearest died.  How dare we be in a rush?  How dare we seem upset?  How dare you, a member of a faith subjected to violent persecution in history, a fellow minority, seek to disguise your prejudice and justify your political gamesmanship in the name of religious freedom?  Your ancestors fled to Utah to build your own community away from the tyranny you found in Missouri.  Now you seek to actively interfere with a different community in California.  Where would you have them go to seek equality under law?  I’m afraid I already know the answer to that, and I’m not a fan of your brand of heat.

Thou preparest a table before me in the presence of mine enemies.  Thou restoreth my soul.  -Psalm, 23:5

While you execute your own brand of tyranny in the name of majority rule, you ignore your own history and the countless examples of minority triumph in American politics, often gained through the courts first, and later society at large.  I would still not have the right to vote were it for people espousing the kind of arguments you make.  Black people would still not be a part of your congregation, I venture to guess, had the courts not first established that such prejudice was unlawful.  The Southern states, most notably, made similar pleas about their autonomy with religious zeal and even violence, yet through the courage of a few and the slow moral hand of the law such offensive bigotry (notice I do not say intolerance) is at least somewhat pushed to the fringes of our society.  The KKK wears veils now less for the attraction of a secret club, and more out of fear of discovery, less they be lynched in the court of public opinion.

Anything that can be used for good, can also be used for harm.  The law is far from above this basic fact.  To suggest that we homosexuals, of ALL people, should be keenly aware of this, seems silly, especially coming from a Mormon.  Mormons have found themselves on the “wrong” side of the law for their beliefs throughout their history, yet you still fight for your freedom with all urgency, as you should.  I accept that I will not change your mind about homosexuality, and I acknowledge your right to public dissent.  What I object to is a religious organization throwing around financial weight in a civil matter, especially with funds largely from Utah, a far cry from the community of California.

I realize the LDS church is not alone in such manuevers.  Catholics have intervened in health care/reproductive law time and time again, for example.  You claim the lack of majority in California as some sign of societal norm, yet by flooding Prop 8 with Utah/LDS dollars you showed little faith in the majority opinion you so prize.  You obscure the actual will of Californians.  I am sure many other groups, including pro-Gay ones, pour money into questions outside of their jurisdictions, too.  Yet I would expect you to stop pretending like your church dollars do not hold sway in the majority when you actively seek to control that majority.  If the majority in California has spoken, it is partially because the LDS church in Utah tampered with the majority.

On Easter, I am reminded that our, yes our, Lord and Savior Jesus Christ rolled the stone away from his tomb, overcoming the ultimate persecution, on this you and I no doubt agree.  He preached a gospel of love, teaching us to go after the lost sheep, not fence them in, preventing them from leaving in the first place.  This is what you seek to do by blocking, through political/religious rhetoric and cold hard cash, the benefits of a legal contract to a different kind of family.  I happen to think I am not a lost little lamb, but let’s say you’re right and I am wrong; why not follow Christ’s example and allow the freedom I seek?

Expanding the definition of marriage does no harm to your reproductive agenda, anymore than a new bar opening in San Francisco hurts your ability to teach your flock to “choose the right” and eschew alcohol.  To say otherwise is to bear false witness against your neighbor, and frankly, sir, you should know better.

Papa Smurf at the Pulpit

In Uncategorized on January 18, 2010 at 9:17 pm

The day after the Golden Globes and I just wish the media elite would give James Cameron a break.  He doesn’t need the break; he’ll be just fine with his awards and billions, yet I am annoyed at what some of the press and other intellectuals do not see in Cameron’s work.  That being said, I do agree with the sentiment so eloquently expressed by David Brooks.  Avatar is another white messianic tale of saving people in the way the white man thinks is best.  This is a time honored, disturbing trend and I do not take it lightly.  However, Cameron’s science fiction masterpiece (yes, I said it) deserves much praise not only for its jaw dropping special effects (a Cameron specialty), but also for its power as a piece of propaganda.

Propaganda is a problematic word more often connoting Nazi Germany in our society than anything else, but I define it differently.  Well, at least I think my definition is different.  I have not studied this type of communication yet, and my sense of humor aside, I never viewed the kind of PR I did for my clients as propaganda.  I see propaganda as a powerful tool of persuasion, an instrument that deftly hides the complexity of various issues to meet the ends of its makers.  Avatar, imperialism aside, is a sort of preaching to the choir, or “good” propaganda.  Most among liberal Hollywood, the press and my personal friend list do not need to be persuaded that putting people and trees before oil interests is a very good thing.  We sing Cameron’s tune here even while we look down our overeducated noses at his gross, overstated script.  We don’t like to be whacked in the head.

The trouble is we listen to our tune with equal thumping from the likes of The Daily Show or other more hip sources all the time.  Stewart and his gang distort as much as the Fox gang, although I believe they go about this distortion in a more ethical, modern journalistic manner.  From screenplays to “fake news,” storytellers make gobs of choices.  The stuff on the cutting room floor (what a quaint cliche´that has become) contains layers of information that someone does not want you to see.  The art house film lovers among us, myself included, yawn at Cameron’s script choices–the static depiction of the military in Avatar, and the predictable plot.  We stomp our feet and hurl blue tinged insults at Cameron.  Yet, we are not normal and we are not special.  Who among us doesn’t break people, States, ideas into red and blue?  Our idealistic melting pot is burning at the bottom, replaced with a dangerous, political game of Red Rover en masse.  I am no better.  I cringe at every person who would impinge upon my right to marry the future person I will love.  Imagine if I actually wanted to wed this person now?  How much more intense would I feel?  My cutting room is already littered with evil “family values” rhetoric that I can’t stomach.  It is pretty simple to me.

My point is that before we take a collective piss on a film that actually has a message of change, unity and hope in the face of certain evil, maybe we should pause and reflect; pick a different tree.  Don’t get me wrong, I can’t wait to pay my $12 to see Colin Firth get his gay man on in what sounds like a complex, richly rewarding film.  But I’m also going to admire the world Cameron and his cast/crew created with dazzling skill.  Hollywood also begat Mel Gibson, the anti-Cameron.  Maybe we desperately need this kind of Cameron-esque preaching as a counter-measure?  He could be winning hearts and minds to “our” side.  Am I contradicting myself?  Didn’t I just say such simple divisions were destroying us?  Yes and no.


Before my first screening of Avatar in the tiny rural town of Brooksville, Florida where my grandmother lives, my entire family was treated to a jingoistic, frothy brouhaha of an advertisement for the U.S. military.  The media buyers assume that people are stupid, that the military industrial complex so simplistically portrayed in Cameron’s film could not possibly resemble our own military.  I hope by the power of good old-fashioned American storytelling that the media buyers are wrong and that our propaganda is better than theirs.  It just might take bigger cinematic guns, three dimensions and giant Smurfs.  If Avatar persuaded even one potential recruit not to enlist in a military that too easily trades blood for oil, that too easily sacrifices a disproportionate number of poor people, then I say give Cameron the Oscar, just not for screenwriting ;).

P.S. James, for the love of huge trees, please stop using James Horner to score your films.  I can defend your scripts (see above), but there is no defense for an endless loop of My Heart Will Go On.

The New Me?

In Uncategorized on October 20, 2009 at 6:43 am

I just received a typed page of notes on my paper, my first in 14 years, from a professor at NYU.  She opens, “Well you can truly tell you are a writer.”  How strange, and wonderful, that in my first college paper at Principia, I received a similar note, although not one nearly so affirming.  Dr. Campbell told the little freshman me, “You could be a writer if you wanted to be, but you’d have to give up family, fame and fortune to do it.”

I have been haunted by that sentence for nearly two decades.  I have even avoided the use of the word “writer” in any sort of meaningful identity sense, opting instead to see it as a skill I enjoy.  Better to be a publicist, because I won’t lead a life of misery, as described by my former prof.  To be fair, he was an excellent teacher, making me a far better writer by insisting on “a sparkle in every paragraph.”  You see, I remember the good stuff he said, too.  I’m not sure professors know the full extent of their influence, at least on me, at any rate.

So now, I am told I am a writer without the nasty, arguable baggage.  I have achieved that state of being, and in her eyes, the sentence ends there.  Period.  Ah, glorious punctuation!  Praise aside, my current professor also gave me valid and ample constructive criticism.  Frankly, I suspected I need to be more precise and get “closer to the texts.”  I’ve always leaned on the lyrical quality she praises, and used it to “get away” with stuff.

This was not born of a lazy attitude, but rather a warped sense of time.  For 14 years, I excelled in promoting ideas at an extremely rapid pace.  Breadth over depth was richly rewarded.

The well-fed writer I accidentally became viewed time in terms of billable hours and “client delight.”

Now, not only do I have the luxury of time, I must demand myself to use that time to go deep into the texts.  This is my new job.  The writer aspires to be the scholar.  I have a lot of unfamiliar work to do.

A Grocery Fairy Grows in Brooklyn

In Uncategorized on September 6, 2009 at 1:37 am

I discovered a Key Foods grocery store only a short walk from my apartment the other day.  This is noteworthy since I had a back busting adventure recently on the subway stairs with “carty,” my little laundry/grocery cart.  So I rolled on over to Key to buy my staples (fizzy water, turkey, Amy’s organic honey bunnies, <other items requiring no cooking whatsoever>).

I get in the check out line with one person in front of me when the universe grinds to a halt due to some special coupons from the shopper ahead.  Like every other narcissist on the planet, I engaged in a short soliloquy, “I always pick the wrong line.”  Inside, I was thrashing as if I were a three-year-old mainlining pixie sticks. My face, however, was the picture of calm, like sleepy Gulf coast waters.  Grocery chi.

Finally I moved up, but the woman in front of me was lingering.  She kept looking at my groceries and the cash register.  At first, I felt slightly violated.  Maybe I don’t want a total stranger to know that I own a kitchen magnet that says, “If it fits in a toaster, I can cook it!”

Then, she repeatedly asked the check out clerk the amount of my bill.  Comparison shopping?  Surely no one eats like me.  Then, she says, “Don’t worry, I got it.”  She swipes her credit card before I realize I’m having a fairy godmother moment.  “Why?” I asked in complete shock.  “Because you had to wait so long,”  she replies.  “Who are you?” She would not tell me her name as I stood there flashing a smile to the space station.  I thanked her profusely.

Gives the expression, “only in New York” new meaning.

Fire, Brimstone, and Academia

In Uncategorized on June 20, 2009 at 3:37 am

At age 35, I’m about to chuck a rocketing PR career well over a decade in the making in order to go to grad school.  I’m leaving the best company I’ve ever worked for (Waggener Edstrom) and moving across the country (that seems to be the only way I move) to enroll in New York University’s Media, Culture and Communication program.  I think I might even want to drink the tequila worm and get my PhD.  We shall see.  Some might call my choice ill advised, especially in these (cue announcer voice) “uncertain economic times.”  I call it liberating–a big fat present to me that I will be paying off until I have tennis balls on a walker.

I intend to update this blog with my new adventures in media.  I pledged to cover miscellany too, and for tonight’s installment, I want to share what a co-worker told me in the hall yesterday.  Upon learning that I was moving to NY, she said, “Oh, you’re pretty much guaranteed to get mugged or worse while you’re there, so be safe.”  First of all, have you no filter, woman?!  I’m single, five feet tall, with no meaningful right hook.  Don’t you think I’m already scared out of my mind without you, a former New Yorker, feeding me lines like that?  Listening to a sermon from Revelation would be more comforting.  

Aside from my certain doom, I think I’m going to love NYU.

Protect our soldiers, as they protect us

In Uncategorized on March 25, 2009 at 2:52 am

I watched a chilling story on CBS News tonight about a family fighting for the memory of their fallen soldier, Carmelo Rodriguez.  He didn’t die in a fire fight, nor at the hands of a suicide bomber.  No, his doctor and the military murdered him.  According to military medical records, Rodriguez had been diagnosed with a melanoma-ridden mole, but no one told him and it remained untreated.  Eight years later, the cancer had spread so much, he died.  We’re not talking fall and break your neck kind of dying here.  He suffered.  In fact, my one criticism of the story is that CBS did not warn viewers of a disturbing image–one of Rodriguez on his death bed, surrounded by family, literally moments from death.  They flashed from the photos of a healthy, ripped Marine to video of a man (?) barely alive.  It looked like something out of a mummy movie or the cover of a Sci Fi effects magazine.  It could have been prevented.

The Rodriguez family wants to change the law that forbids active military or their family members to sue the military based on medical malpractice.  It stems from a 1950 Supreme Court case which said, in part, that the doctrine was important to maintaining order and discipline within our military.  Allowing a treatable cancer to ravage a human being takes more than discipline.  It takes unconscionable cruelty.

Please write your senator/representative and ask them to support the Carmelo Rodriguez bill.  I did.  CBS makes it easy for concerned citizens to get involved here:


A Wiki Wiki Way?

In Uncategorized on March 21, 2009 at 4:56 am

I think I’ll start writing some movie reviews here.  I used to be a freelance performing arts critic for the St. Petersburg Times.  Why do I feel like an ass writing this statement or any statement that begins with, “I used to…”  Perhaps my shame is born of a force much stronger than this little five foot frame of mine.  Our youth culture and the Internet are a potent combination hell bent on eradicating the virtues of experience and credentials.  Hell bent in a totally casual way, of course.  I am no Luddite; however I do mourn this nasty side effect of technology.    I marvel that anyone, regardless of talent, can broadcast their views to the world in a nanosecond.  The free speech loving, red tape hating woman in me laughs as the barriers tumble, as the gags of money and power rip apart.  Yet, I wonder everyday how the talented, the balanced, the ethical will be heard amidst the cacophony of tweets and tags.

In a world where the citizen is journalist, where the journalist is analyst, where the analyst is vendor, where the vendor is government, who do we trust; where do we go for knowledge, advice or entertainment?  Theories around credibility are central to the answer and I’ve been reading a lot in this department lately.  Drs. Miriam Metzger and Andrew Flanagin at the University of California, Santa Barbara, are exploring this topic with fascinating research.  It would appear that a less hierarchical, peer based model of credibility is emerging with the advent of digital media.  Any kind of credibility would be a salve on my worry, but in a different study we learn that some who say they verify a source, actually do no such thing.  This lack of self-awareness or worse, a propensity to fit an image perceived to be desirable (i.e. I tell you what you want to hear) is even more disturbing.

The Internet is aiding and abetting, producing Jayson Blairs like so many copulating bunnies.  Maybe I’ve got it all wrong though.  The Blair analogy is funny because the vaunted New York Times had plenty of warning about his poor–borderline criminal performance, yet he was not fired.  Maybe my bastions of ethics, integrity and authority were always suspect and it is those very citizen journalists, the unwashed, the un-credentialed that will congeal in some magical, Internet wiki wiki way to become the new mass media.  All I can say is: beware of bunnies.

I Do, Keith

In Uncategorized on November 13, 2008 at 2:05 am

To quote a friend of mine, “I kind of want to marry Keith Olbermann right now.”  I am stunned by his passionate plea to those Americans who vote against gay marriage rights.  As he says, he has no personal stake in the debate; an impartiality that makes his words all the more powerful.  I seldom want to shout at my television like a preacher looking for a witness.  Thank you Keith and MSNBC for making a bold stand here and for making a deceptively complex situation quite simple.  As Keith makes clear, the issue is about loving your neighbor.

We should all be so blessed to find such love in the face of terrible odds, in the face of a country that allows hatred to masquerade as religion or false tradition or “decency.”

Could we map her brain next?

In Uncategorized on October 6, 2008 at 3:51 am

Kitty Burns Florey takes me back to the 5th grade and socks Palin in the mouth.  I love gifts from strangers.