Here’s a fun fact - I lived in L.A. for four years without a car.
Here’s a fun fact - I lived in L.A. for four years without a car.
Back in New York, people had been encouraging me to do comedy for years. But as far as I knew "doing comedy" meant either a) moving out to LA, pitching agents and studios on ideas, only to have your heart trampled on, or b) doing standup at an open-mic or "bringer" night at a comedy club after midnight, only to have your heart trampled on. And then someone suggested I try improv classes - where there are no scripts, and - kind of like "the Tree" in Empire Strikes Back - the tools you bring in with you (thought, intelligence, sense of humor, and the rules of improv - more on that below) are the only ones you have (or need).
While I wouldn't quite say that I "do comedy" (although I did move out to LA, so maybe part of me thrives on the possibility of heart-trampling), improv has changed (or in some cases validated) the way I think about things. I'm often able to detect improv training in performers on and offstage, and even watching TV, I see some sitcoms reflect improvisation training more than others. There was a lot about improv that I enjoyed - the energy of the spontaneous, the ability to find things that were funny because they were true. But chiefly, I enjoyed the teamwork, finding "the game" of the scene and playing it through, helping others on stage who were struggling by giving them something they could work with, and using my quirky (yet-I-hope-delightful) brainworks to play things truthfully while building something together. Standup is solitary and lonely; improv is group energy, a family.
When I first found it, it was like a breeze of fresh air: the merest whisper of hipster energy, a wooden interior that evoked Brooklyn and San Francisco and Tel Aviv and all the coffeeshops I'd loved before, as venues for procuring caffeine as well as for the bustling creativity that seemed to live there. This was a place that made me want to dissolve the ties I had to brand franchises whose emblems of tea leaves and mermaids promised an exotic beverage experience, but delivered a product that was ultimately manufactured to be reliable and predictable.
But that was not the case here. Not at a place with cushions on benches, with four levels of seating - couch, table, bar and above - or where teas were served in pots and lattes took up every inch of glorious space in their wide-mouthed mugs. This place had free wifi, was a great place for meetings, and was a safe space for laptop nation. It even made me want to forgive the intentionally misspelled word in their name.
I spent Sundays there, writing; aside from the occasional rabbinical student (not surprising, given the neighborhood), I was surrounded by people very different than those I worked with in the Jewish communal world. Guys in their 50s with longish hair and goatees, gesturing and posturing as they name drop minor celebrities; a series of women with increasingly larger and darker frames on their glasses; scarves, skinny jeans and flip-flops on men, women and children of all ages; the actor who plays Haley's boyfriend on "Modern Family"; women in leotards and men in cutoff sweatpants straight from the dance studio in the back, ordering tea as the sweat shows through their spandex; and the writers, like me who sat there, tapping away at keyboards, perhaps creatively inspired by those conversations and perhaps straight-up transcribing them.
These conversations were about nothing and everything, mostly things I don't get to talk about at work, things like "spec scripts," "web series," "new music dropping" and "independent film treatments." I could tune into these conversations, like the real-life radio station Pandora and Spotify never dreamed of, or I could pop in my earbuds and focus on my own words that seemed to flow so much easier in this environment than in any other one I'd found so far in Los Angeles.
I didn't remember signing up for their email newsletter, but why wouldn't I want to know what was going on at my favorite neighborhood haunt? Throughout, I bought coffee and tea, renting my space among the others of my tribe. It was wonderful.
Then, I left. For three weeks. Not as any political statement (#freelaptopnation! #occupyhipstercoffeeshops!) but because it was Passover. I try not to blame myself; due to dietary restrictions, I wouldn't have been there anyway. But absence didn't serve this particular relationship well. While I was away, my beloved had a change of heart.
It was 9 am on a Sunday and I was an hour early for my meeting - I had hoped to caffeinate and create until my date arrived. But I came back to a sign: "Welcome to Laptop-Free Weekends." A rejection of me, my lifestyle and livelihood, masquerading as a welcome mat for everyone else. I turned on my heel and left, rescheduling my appointment with Microsoft Word as well as with my date. I couldn't believe it. Betrayed.
Soon after, the newsletters started coming more frequently, sharing news of expansion - the cafe was changing into a full-on restaurant, and - although the email didn't state it directly, I knew that part of that was the crackdown on those of us who were perceived as squatting freeloaders. I had never felt more like a character from "Rent." (Which is only appropriate, because so many cafe patrons look like they were understudying roles from "Rent," and we could all learn the Mimi "Take Me Ouoooot Tonight" choreography in the dance studio in the back.)
The newsletters kept coming, in greater frequency: it felt like they were laughing at me. Finally, I unsubscribed, and the unsubscribe page had allotted space for customers to explain their departure from this news cycle. So I told them why. Because the cafe had been a home for me, helping me to tap into my creativity, and now it was closed to me. Because I felt marginalized. Because it seemed to indicate an assumption about me and the rest of laptop nation, that we don't feel obligated to pay for the space we take up in their establishment. Because it felt like they were maligning us as a population that doesn't contribute to their reputation or income, despite the fact that we have meetings there, lunches there, buy cups of coffee to fuel our creative spirits and provide little breaks from staring at the screen. As if we hadn't aided them in their success at all. If not for laptop nation, would they have any Yelp rating at all?
The frequency of the missives, shouting about how well they were doing - adding a dinner menu, a comedy night, a concert - all at the expense of having kicked laptop nation to the curb, getting that in my inbox on the regular was like constantly answering the phone when an ex calls to crow about how much fun he's having without you.
And so I left. I can't say for certain that I'll never take a coffee meeting there again, but I am on the lookout, for something that provides me with what this other place took away. Because sometimes, a lady and her laptop just need a latte. And as for my ex-cafe? I have no acts of revenge planned. I even left their name out of this post. But I can't speak for the rest of laptop nation. They might not be so forgiving. I guess time, Yelp, and the rest of the social web will be the judge of that.
Courtesy of IKAR, a progressive egalitarian spiritual community in Los Angeles come the stirring sounds of a man, his shofar, and his red hoodie. Who is this elusive shofar-blowing man? What is he doing in the streets of L.A.? IKAR explains:
[T]he upcoming High Holy Days are nothing short of a call to transform our lives, our city and our world. So we sent our Sexy Shofar Man to hit the streets with his sweet shofar blowing to beckon the people of Los Angeles to wake up and think about what’s possible in 5773.
We call them the High Holy Days, but Yamim Noraim can best be translated as "Days of Awe." These are days in which we step out of our daily routines and wake up to the mysterious gift of life itself. The message of the High Holy Days: everything is possible. Things don't have to be as they are. We don't have to be the people we have become. We can repair, redirect, reframe the contours of our relationships and our lives. Reflect deeply, dream boldly, and discover a renewed sense of wonder and purpose.
“Street Shofar” is directed by Isaac Feder and features Michael Brous (AKA, brother of IKAR Rabbi Sharon Brous) as Sexy Shofar Man. Still tracking down the person in charge of wardrobe, who gave SSM his soon-to-be-signature look.
To find out more about IKAR - and to join me and other creative and eclectic individuals there for the holidays - visit: www.ikar-la.org.
Pitchfest! Jewish Stories Go Hollywood!
Join G-dcast's Producer, Screenwriter, and a panel of celebrity judges in an interactive Hollywood style pitchfest. Each team gets a (very) colorful Jewish story that we promise you've never heard before and develops its own red carpet, scene-stealing pitch. (We'll coach you on how the experts do it.) Then send your best rep up on stage to dazzle the executives and convince us why YOUR story should be turned into an animated film. Big sunglasses provided. (Session produced by Sarah Lefton, with supporting cast turns by Sean Mandell, Josh Walters, and Esther Kustanowitz)
Since I'm the "celebrity judge" who lives and works closest to Hollywood (geographically, Beverly Hills ain't far), bringing the celebrity glamour will undoubtedly be my responsibility. So, who will I be wearing? Stay tuned to this blog for details about the televised red carpet coverage. (Jewels will of course be by Harry Winston - some traditions you just don't mess with.)
You can check out my new TribeFest speaker's bio here.
I am honored to be attending and co-facilitating at Opening the Dor, an event in Berkeley, CA, geared to engage East Bay Jews between the ages of 21-45 in creating a collective vision for a vibrant East Bay Jewish community.
Areas of focus will be Arts & Culture, Social Justice, Spirituality, Gender and Judaism, Technology/Social Media, Leadership Development, Philanthropy, and others, with focus groups facilitated by local organizations of the Jewish community. (One guess where I'll be.) Participating organizations include Birthright Israel NEXT Bay Area, G-dcast, Moishe House, Progressive Jewish Alliance-Jewish Funds for Social Justice, ROI Community and others.
Bay Area peeps, hope to see you there on Monday, September 19. (Check out the Facebook event page or the registration page for more info and to save your place.) And if you can't be there in person, follow us on Twitter at #openingthedor.
Post-LimmudLA, a bunch of us put a bunch of suitcases into a bunch of cars, and then met up later for dinner to redistribute the stuff. But not everyone drove to dinner, and those who did, parked in a bunch of different places.
So in discussing whose stuff was where and how we were going to get it, we were dangerously close to "Who's On First" territory, and not terribly far off from the goldfish ending up in the cowboy hat. Pay extra close attention for the shoutout to a 90s sitcom and to see my friend pinch-hit for the waitress, who (accidentally?) left a tray of glasses on our table.
Some scenes from the snowpocalypse of December 2010 at JFK Airport. Taken around 7am, the morning after we were stranded at the airport. No additional music was added (except in the intro and outro) to preserve the eerie silence that we were all trudging around in.
Where are the opinionated Jewish women? This cry of yearning comes (certainly) not from the profiles of men on JDate, or from the comics who pronounce Jewish women as totally, (in some cases) intolerably, overbearing and overopinionated. This question hails from the halls of Jewish journalism, but echoes into other areas -feminism, relationships, work/life balance, attitudes and work methodologies - in none of which have I received a degree, but to all of which I can speak from my experience and the experiences of my female peers.
During her tenure as the interim op-ed editor at the Forward, associate editor Karen Loew noted - in a piece titled "Missing Half of the Potentially Best Ideas" - that most unsolicited submissions came from men. This led her to wonder why women weren't speaking up.
I don't have an opinion about this. I actually have several - from the list below, looks like five of them. (This post is an expansion of the response I posted on the Forward website). And I've given each of these opinions a dual title from the world of TV, just because.
1) Mad Men vs. Designing Women. The key word in describing the Forward's submissions may be "unsolicited." Most of the writers I know are women, and most of us tend to design our approach to publications: we do our research on the publication, find an editor who might be receptive to our pitch on a certain subject, and submit to that person. Instead of throwing a lot of stuff at the wall and hoping for publication, engaging a strategy to hit a specific target seems like a more reasonable option. Sometimes this process results in a delay on conveying the opinion to the editor-in-charge, and by that point, sometimes another writer - for the sake of this argument, perhaps a (mad) man who just fired off a response and didn't go through any channels, gets there first.
2) Desperate (for free time) Housewives / The Real Housewives of (Your Jewish City). Perhaps married women with children (certainly with another job, but even without another job) have less time than married men with children, not fewer opinions.
3) Damages / How I Didn't Meet Your Mother. Perhaps single women (with or without children) can damage their marital potential if they are perceived as "too opinionated." If there is indeed a paucity of female op-ed articles, perhaps there is also a social reason: it's unfortunate, but true, that Jewish women are often criticized for being overbearing and overopinionated, especially in the dating realm. Jewish women who write opinionatedly are often seen as "too opinionated," or too strong-willed and independent, which can threaten potential suitors. Yet, somehow, Jewish men never damage their marital potential by being "too opinionated," or even obnoxious, in print. Having spent several years writing about singles issues, I can tell you that this "challenge to authority" through assertive opinions, educational achievement or humor presents a real challenge for strong-willed women who are trying to find meaningful relationships.
4) Gilmore Girls vs. Sons of Anarchy. Perhaps women in general are more collaborative than accusatory - a work style which sometimes translates to a perception of weakness because it's not perhaps as strongly stated or unilateral as another piece on the same subject written by someone who is more of a leader and less of a collaborative thinker who is committed to conversation. We see this all the time in the Jewish blogosphere, although I won't name names. But while I'm generalizing, think about the division of labor even in the emergent social media world: you'll likely find many more men who are designing wireframes for websites, and many more women who are engaged in the work of audience-building, which relies heavily on relationships, establishing trust, and providing content that's valuable.
5) Community / Who's the Boss? If you scan most Jewish newspapers' opinions sections, you'll find that Jewish op-eds are often submitted under the names of Jewish organizational execs, a population in which women are underrepresented. Within this explanation is also a sub-explanation that many people don't talk about - it is entirely possible (and, in some cases, probable) that organizational op-eds are ghostwritten completely or partially by women, and then sent out bearing the name of the organization's leader.
Loew closes her piece with an invitation/challenge: "Women, it’s time to start typing. I’ll make it easy: Forward Opinion Editor Daniel Treiman awaits your submissions at firstname.lastname@example.org."
I realize that I've made some generalizations above about men and women and how we operate, and that there are exceptions to every rule. I fully expect that some of you will disagree with me. But I'd like to close this piece with a wish for all writers: may we always be blessed with opinions, the words to express them, venues where our work is valued, and the ability to make respectful and positive contributions to communal discussions. I hope that some of those discussions may begin here.
Last year, I walked all over the beach looking for the group from IKAR, that had gathered together for tashlikh, the rite in which we toss bread into the ocean to symbolize our desire to cast sin out of our hearts. But I couldn't find them. This year, I found them, eventually.
Some people tossed bread, and a few - apparently - tossed waffles (which, admittedly, sounds like a euphemism for what you might do after drinking too much). And if you pay attention to the "film" in its final frames, you'll see that while IKARites played guitars, drums and something resembling a banjo, one guy opted for the simplicity of "playing his feet." You really have to admire that.