Tuesday, May 29, 2007

He'll Be Comin' 'Round
the Mountain

(by Simon)
It sounded a tiny bit like something from Lost, which will give you an idea of the level at which my mind routinely functions.

Thanks to a kind referral from a Jewy friend whose respect means the world to me, I was invited to join a select group of other Semites to talk about issues of identity, culture, religion and other pressing matters at a sublime hilltop resort. The event, known as the Reboot Summit, had been happening for six years or so, and was a cornerstone of the Reboot organization's efforts to draw secular Jews back into a conversation with one another about Jewishness in its many facets and manifestations. All my expenses would be paid.

I asked them to repeat that last part and then agreed enthusiastically.

Prior to my departure, I was the subject of the kind of massive document dump one might expect from the Bush administration on the Friday of a long weekend, most of it appearing in an unwieldy cardboard box. Articles about Israel, about how secular Jews practice holidays, about cultural markers and Sandy Koufax spilled out of that carton, a veritable avalanche of introspection. Then came a document at once concise and weighty: the "facebook" informed me that the other attendees of this event were about as close to a definition of the intelligentsia as you're likely to find: filmmakers, journalists, heads of innovative nonprofits, activists, academics, authors, musicians, visual artists. There were scions of families I knew only as brands.

Why had they included me, a smart-aleck scribbler from the Valley? Simply because my blog had "Jew" in the title? I became convinced that I was welcome not for my ostensible insights so much as my penchant for a well-placed Hitler joke.

I was not far wrong, I believe, but more about that in a moment.

This Jewy gathering went down in a most un-Jewy place: the glorious, mountainous confines of Wasatch, Utah. Just outside of Park City, this majestic place is home to some ski runs that would be declared "awesome" by someone who liked to ski. I, on the other hand, would say they're "vertiginous," but I mean that with a great deal of respect. More importantly, this Shangri-La in the Land of Microfilm boasts the Stein Eriksen Lodge, an enchanted place of civilized repose with stunning mountain vistas, a spa with shvitz and a landscaper who suffers from the now-arcane disorder known as Tulipomania.

But man, those tulips. I mean, look at them:

Still, meeting this insanely accomplished, frighteningly smart, appealingly funny and certifiably HOT bunch of Jews was the most beautiful thing of all.

The Summit marked my first experience with so-called Open Space methodology, wherein people who are keen to discuss a particular subject present their idea to the larger group, then smaller groups convene to bat around said issues and — where appropriate — formulate "action plans." Then everyone meets up again for reports on these conversations.

We talked about defining Jewishness, about religious belief, about geopolitics, sexuality and creativity. We even talked about the International Jewish Media Conspiracy — as both an anti-Semitic fantasy and an ironic description of our cultural penchant for writing and performance — and decided, rather glumly, that Jewish conspiracies are impossible. We can't even agree about lunch.

All told, it was a lot like graduate school, only better, more amusing and totally haimisch.

We even heard "the world's greatest Jewish joke," and though the jury's still out on the joke's ultimate stature, it did make me laugh. I will tell it to you, but only if I see you in a bar. In point of fact, the Summit helped me recognize how central jokes are to my sense of Jewish identity, and how the personality I'd formed as the youngest sibling dropping wisecracks around the dinner table was an irreducible component of my self-definition. And as soon as I sat in the giant circle of Rebooters, I thought: Oh yes, I know how to work this room.

There were also lovely, very inclusive Shabbat and Havdallah services conducted by Amichai Lau-Lavie (about whom we've kvelled before), discussions of who thought who was hot and even a talent show. In case you're wondering about the talent show, I sang "Alison," accompanied by the extremely gifted David Green on guitar; thanks to the superhot and angelic-sounding Jen Cohen for the pic.

OK, it was like graduate school crossed with Jewish summer camp.

It was stimulating, hilarious, infuriating, exhausting and exhilarating, with tons of equally impassioned chatter going on during the breaks, meals, shvitzes and evening drink-a-thons. I got about nine hours of sleep all weekend, but I just didn't care.

Reboot's strict "off the record" policy forbids me from going into detail about the intensely involving jaw-wagging in which I was immersed; suffice to say that my brain was full to bursting with ideas, concerns, conflicts and questions.

A lot of these will, I'm certain, find their way into this blog — and as my memory catches up with the headlong rush of experiences I had in Jew-tah, I'll tell you more. But for now I just want to express my gratitude to my Reboot mishpuchah. You'll never be rid of me now.

Friday, May 25, 2007

The Future, Brought To You By Sera.

I know, I know, my blogging has gone from charmingly erratic to about as frequent as Haley's Comet. I won't apologize, because I warn you all the time that I'm nothing if not inconsistent. But I will offer an excuse: it's because of staffing season. That TV-industry-wide game of musical chairs has come to an end, so here I am, ready to regale you with tales of my great adventures in the mythical land of Burbank.

Staffing season is the time of year when all the TV writers dash around in their nicest "studied casual" clothes and meet with anyone who might be able to give them a job. The majority of those anyones are the creators of new shows that may or may not actually make it onto the fall schedule.

Adding to the general chaos is the fact that many writers are under contract at shows that may or may not return. In other words, writers who might not be available are meeting with showrunners who might not have a show.

Plus, we're all writers. We're stressy and overcaffeinated -- and, often, the very portrait of Woody Allen 2.0-level neurotic Jewness -- even at the best of times. So as the upfronts (when the networks throw a big shindig in NY to unveil their new shows) draw close, everyone gets tenser and tenser. You walk into offices manned by zombie-eyed, ashen assistants making a futile attempt to organize the mountains of sample scripts sent by every agent in the solar system. They offer you water. You take the water. After the meeting, during which you are as chipper and charming as you can possibly be without coming off as a total douche, you leave with the water. Soon, the passenger seat of your Solara boasts an environmentally tragic pile of half-empty, never-to-be-finished bottles of Lake Arrowhead's finest.

I'll just skip ahead -- Spoiler Alert!-- and tell you, all those meetings went well but proved unnecessary because the show I've been working on is coming back. I'm even getting a promotion, so my name is followed by a fancier title. Don't be fooled, though, I'm still just a writer. Although in honor of the "title bump" (one quippy friend's response: "Hmmm, title bump. Sounds snortable.") I did buy a wristwatch. Not that I need one; I also bought a crackberry, from which I shall never, ever be parted for even a second unless it is the only condition under which Hugh Laurie makes sweet love to me; and said crackberry is indeed equipped with a highly accurate clock.

But I associate wearing a watch with being professional. Sure, I still show up to work in a cardigan over a dress over jeans, and yeah, maybe my hair is so unruly I tend to just tie it in a knot, and perhaps that knot just gets frizzier and frizzier throughout the day because it is my genetic legacy to never, ever be in control of what is happening on and around my own head... but now? One look at my right wrist (I'm left-handed, as you probably guessed long ago) and the security guard who buzzes me in to Warner Bros each morning will think, "Wow, look at that chic yet eminently professional Michael Kors wristwatch. I used to think she was a coffee gopher, but it's clear to me now -- that chick must be a producer."

And this goes without saying, but I went with Michael Kors so that every time I checked my watch, I'd see his name and flash to his friendly orange face as he bashes some poor Project Runway contestant's latest fiasco with ninja-like catiness skills. There is nothing I love more than a rich queen calling someone's earnest creation a fat peasant dress made out of trailer bathroom wallpaper. Every time I glance at my watch, I'll think of Michael Kors. And no matter what kind of day I'm having, I will smirk. Because for the record, the dress is totally hideous. And that's okay. In fact, it's great, because it gives Michael Kors something to cat about. See how my watch is singlehandedly going to keep me optimistic, whatever comes my way?

What is going to come my way, you ask? Well, I have the answer to that question too, for two reasons.

Reason #1 is that I read and/or saw every drama pilot produced this season. So I can tell you that this fall is going to bring me a show I have long wished to see, i.e. one that takes place inside a giant pie. I do like pie. (The show is by Bryan Fuller, who made Wonderfalls and Dead Like Me, and it's not just about pie, but the premise is definitely pie-heavy.) It's good to know that among the weekly pile of dead cop-show hookers and twittery, self-conscious professional women with catastrophic personal lives, I can look forward to an hour of TV that isn't about how sex fucks up your job or kills you.

Reason #2 that I know what will come my way: at the mindfuckiest height of staffing season, I saw a highly regarded astrologer who read my tarot cards.

That's right, I admit it. My name is Sera, and I visit fortune tellers. I tend to visit them when I'm stressing out about things that are entirely out of my control, like for instance the future.

Basically, I am paying someone to give me some dubious shred of information to irrationally clutch in times of great uncertainty. It is totally worth the money-- because it actually works. I tend to go, okay, Mercury's in retrograde, I'm not quite sure what that means or how this stuff could possibly be real or accurate in any way, but if it proves I'll end up with a cool gig at the end of all this, gimmee the kool aid. And then I'm all calm and serene for a couple of days. Judge me if you want, but I find if I see a fortune teller once (or, um, twice) per staffing season, I can get through it without the truckload of valium that might otherwise be necessary.

So, here is what's in store for me (according to the universe, as evidenced by what was going on with various planets the night I was born and also the order the tarot cards fell into when I shuffled them): I will meet a man in June. I will also be too busy with fancy new writing projects to hang out with him. There will be a work lull in October followed by an upswing that leads to great success and my purchasing a really indulgent car, "like an Astin Martin."

There you have it. If, one day soon, you're sitting on the patio of the Santa Monica Coffee Bean, and you see what you believe to be James Bond driving down Wilshire, only when the car gets closer you realize it's a wildly successful Jewish lady TV writer with a fantastically accommodating man friend riding shotgun? Then check your horoscope, baby, cause that shit is for real.

Friday, May 18, 2007

Why Every Jew Needs A Nice Goyische Friend

(by Sera)

I had a little personal drama last week. Some of it was tangentially related to my career, but most of it was just vintage Gamble freakout. I won't bore you with the details, because they'll just highlight my ability to go completely apeshit over really unimpressive issues. So let's just leave it at, I was having a hard week. Since I don't take Xanax, I resorted to lying on the couch in my office with my eyes closed, listening to the hum of cortisol pumping furiously through my veins.

Then, eventually, I got bored of lying on my couch. But I still felt kinda blue. So I decided to pull out the big guns. I emailed my dear friend Matt the following:

Rough week. Need your services stat.

Don't get the wrong idea. Matt's not a manwhore. Waaaaay better.

He's an amateur chef.

Matt emailed me back with the following shopping list:
1 cup heavy cream
1 cup half and half
1 package thick-sliced bacon
6 oz gorgonzola cheese

It was then that I knew: everything was going to be just fine.

Matt showed up to my house with a pasta machine and a neat patty of just-mixed dough. We uncorked a bottle of Coppola because we think it's funny to drink wine made by the guy who directed Apocalypse Now, and I started cranking.

Cranking out pasta by hand is fantastically therapeutic. It ranks right near the top of awesome stress-relieving food-related activities-- above kneading dough, and just below the holy grail, squashing wine grapes with your feet. By the time I'd finished making the linguini, my worry had gone the way of the dodo. (Okay, perhaps the fact that we were on to Coppola, The Sequel helped.)

Matt cooked up the sauce while I watched-- I am so not kidding-- with my mouth agape and drooling. That sauce had more calories per ounce than any recipe I have ever witnessed. And as you know, we Jews have whole holidays devoted to deep-frying, so that's saying something. I fully expected to die from this food. But it was clear: death was a reasonable price to pay for a plate of Linguini Carbonara a la Mateo.

Matt did his Iron Chef thing, I snarfed bacon while his back was turned, and then we ate until our eyes rolled back into our heads.

You know how people say it's bad to drown your problem in alcohol and food? They're so wrong. Not only did I feel right as rain by the first bite, I've felt aces ever since. The magical bacony powers of that pasta have lasted nearly a week.

Or, more likely, the magical bacony powers of Matt. Matt, it bears mentioning, is not a Jew. He's not even Jewy. I think he's Irish or something. Clearly, he comes from a culture that has mastered the art of cooking with pig in a way my people haven't been sanctioned to. There was a moment during our meal, right before we realized we were so full we might actually pass out, when I looked across the table at his bright, goyische face and said, "This is why we need each other."

He probably thought I meant, this is why friends need friends-- to cheer them up, to share a meal, to celebrate the vexingly chaotic comedy of life with them. And that's true and all, but to be honest, not my point whatsoever.

I was thinking about how fucking good bacon tastes in a sauce of heavy cream. And how if we Jews only hung with other Jews, we might never get to experience that ridiculously sublime taste. Even bad Jews like me; my family may not give a crap about kashrut, but none of our traditional dishes feature the slightest hint of bacon. It's just not what's for dinner in Jewy households. So I rely on my non-Jewish homies to cook up the contraband when I really need the pure sweet protein-n-fat Prozac on a fork.

And Matt knows-- one day he'll catch a cold that kicks his ass like a soccer ball, and I'll appear at his door with a crock pot of the good shit. He can google recipes all day; he won't come up with a chicken soup half as magical as my grandma's. This is why those cute Irish foodie types need a solid Jewish friend like me. See? We need each other.

And I think you see where I'm going with this: the healing that took place in my Santa Monica kitchen last week could, if we want it to, be just the beginning. I think that just maybe my non-Hebe pal has inadvertantly handed us all the key to world peace: food.

Don't you think? Don't you think if Israel's Prime Minister showed up with a really rockin' pot of chicken soup at the next summit, everyone would be in a better mood? More inclined to give just a little, because goddamn, that's some good soup? Don't you wish George Bush talked less and barbequed more? I bet he flips a mean burger; the dude's from Texas. Seriously, why do they not serve snacks at the UN? I'm pretty sure it would make all the difference.

Want to make the world a better place? Think global, act local. Like, your own kitchen local. Here, I'll lead the way. If you need me, you can find me in the ice cream aisle at Whole Foods.

Sunday, May 06, 2007

Genre Is Jewy

So your favorite Chosen pals were perusing the mountain of press about Michael Chabon — you know, the Jewish-American (and excuse us, but hot) novelist who knocked your socks off and nabbed a Pulitzer with The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier & Clay — and we had an epiphany.

OK, we read about Chabon's epiphany and sort of rode his epiphanic coattails. Whatever.

The point is, Chabon (pronounced, in his words, "'Shea' as in stadium, 'bon' as in Jovi") had earned serious clout in serious fiction circles writing serious novels about serious people. You know: realism. Solidly plotted, insightful portraits of real people undergoing crises large and small, having breakdowns, experiencing loss in the despairing glow of the digital readouts on their clock radios.

But writing K & C caused him to fully embrace his love of writing genre fiction — his deep fondness not only for comics but also monsters and time travel and swords and sorcery.

His new book, The Yiddish Policemen's Union, has an openly "fantastic" premise — in an alternate reality, Israel was never created, and Europe's Jewish remnant was instead relocated (per an actual plan pondered by FDR) to Alaska. Within that premise, according to the first tantalizing reviews, Chabon weaves a mystery informed by the great noir raconteurs and throws in a ton of other fab genre elements.

Are we eager, nay, salivating to read this book? You could say that. But something Chabon says in one of the articles truly resonated for us both: that embracing genre was like "coming out."

Because genre love is kinda queer, in the cultural sense. Rather like an overtly Jewish sensibility in an overwhelmingly Christian mainstream.

In fact, when we think about Jewish expression, we keep coming back to pop, and pulp, and genre.

Not just Chabon's superhero-inventing, second-generation smart alecks, but also Marc Chagall's fantastic, surrealistic tableaux and the Marx Brothers' Vaudevillian anarchy. We envision the Three Stooges bitch-slapping each other in a haunted house. We dream of the spoofs and homages of Woody Allen, Mel Brooks and Gene Wilder. We see Jewish magic in Spielberg's sharks and aliens and robots — perhaps even more than in his "serious" work. We picture the Coen brothers' noirish riffs and absurdist mayhem, and Sam Raimi's zombie gorefests and Web-slinging blockbusters. And Eli Roth's dungeon nightmares.

To quote one of the least Jewish moments of all time, these are a few of our favorite things.

We love genre. We are not ashamed to tell stories about monsters or superheroes or time travelers or weary private eyes or ronin on a mission of vengeance. We do not consider these modes to be debased or unserious or a distraction from "real people" or "real problems." These are ways to tell stories that allow the storyteller — and the audience — to fly, like Chagall's lovers, or E.T.

Genre is Jewy!