Cullen Curtiss




Thursday, November 03, 2005

in cold blood

You must see the movie 'Capote,' starring Phillip Seymour Hoffman. Even if you haven't read 'In Cold Blood,' you should see it. The movie really gets into the muck and maw of what a writer will do for a story. Yes, somewhat of a narcissistic writer, but perhaps a writer no different from many others who are convinced that they are on to a juicy story. To ensure that he gets the story, Capote engineers a way for the two convicted (and headed for death) killers to get another lawyer and to appeal their case. He just has to keep them alive long enough to get the details, but he does fall for one of the killers -- the one with the brains and the "heart" -- and tries to convince himself and those around him that he really cares.

It's interesting to watch the literati of the New York scene in the early 60s still adore Capote or perhaps the force of him, despite his obviously rotting soul; Harper Lee is among them, and she, in my opinion, for what it's worth, wrote the better book (published around the same time) -- To Kill a Mockingbird.

Perhaps life is always presenting us with the opportunity to make compromises, but the one Capote makes must be described by a different name. The movie doesn't make entirely clear whether his morally repugnant actions with regard to the murders and his book drove him crazy, or whether the ultimate hanging of his prized subject cut him to the core. The movie does indicate, however, that In Cold Blood was his last book. Harper Lee continually, however gently, reminds her childhood friend, Capote, that he did all he could to keep the killers alive not for their benefit, but for his own. I's unclear whether he really ever hears her.

Monday, October 24, 2005

Leather Jacket Vegetarian

The Leather Jacket Vegetarian is a name I would still use to describe myself even tho' it's been 7 years since I published an essay about it in the San Francisco Chronicle. Like everyone else in a seven year period, I've both changed a lot and stayed rather the same. As with back then I still think stereotyping is obnoxious, ignorant, and oftentimes dangeous. Many of those who knew me and those who didn't thought I was righteous in all sorts of ways because of my vegetarian ways. I'll admit that I have felt proud in the past because I am not contributing to the daily slaughter of senseless (and some non-senseless animals) and because I am not adding to the riches of the kingdom with the golden arches, BUT I still have a divine leather jacket that I get to wear even more often now that I live in a climate that cools down considerably in the fall and winter.

Now that I think about it, that was last fall and winter; this fall and winter, I'll have to just stare longingly at the beast hanging in my closet. I'm pregnant, you see, and there aren't many pre-preggers clothes that wrap around my happily burgeoning middle. Yes, I have a craving to wear the jacket, but I would look silly, not cool, like I used to. There are other cravings, too, like the one that gnawed at me all day long recently. A scrumptious burger from childhood popped into my head and would not give me any relief. This was odd as I had not had a burger since childhood -- since I was 13, to be exact. But I remembered it as if it were yesterday. Between two toasted English muffins, sat a smug and juicy burger, smothered in ketchup, mustard (Grey Poupon), and pickles. It was a messy affair, but one not to be forgotten.

So, on this day of dancing hamburger visions, my husband and I were in Pilar, walking along the Rio Grande. He thought I was kidding when I told him what I'd seen, but was not quick to correct my imaginings. He'd been waiting for this moment -- the moment he and would share a meal of meat. On the way home, we stopped by Sugars, a roadside take-out joint just recently written up by Gourmet magazine. My husband claimed the burgers here were the best and would find me no less than that for my march back into carnivorism.

I was mildly nervous while waiting under the shade of an umbrella for our one hamburger with onion rings order. What if I spontaneously zuked it up? What if I loved it and had to order another and another? There was really no telling. It arrived, somewhat unceremoniously, and I smothered my half in the way I was accustomed. Then I took a bite. The flavor was incredibly familar, but not fantastic. I kept thoughts about where this particular beast had roamed out of my mind while I had another bite. The thought of the burger having been made from more than one beast occured to me for a moment and I banished that thought as well. The onion rings were a good distraction.

My husband looked on with hope and commented on how my being pregnant was great in so many ways. Since this day, I've had two whole burgers of my own -- one with green chile and the works at the Cowgirl in Santa Fe, the other in front of a movie at home ... made by my husband with blue cheese crumbles mixed in. He thought this was the gateway experience, and tho' I've enjoyed myself, it just doesn't occur to me to want meat all that often. I was happy to oblige when the growing being inside of me told my brain to clamor, but until I get another sign, I'll probably stick with getting my protein the vegetarian way.

BUT I'm really looking forward to fitting into my leather jacket again.

Wednesday, August 17, 2005


The acronyms SEO (search engine optimization) and SEM (search engine marketing) are not new to me, but the whole topic is refreshed in my mind after having attended a conference last week in San Jose. It may be a bit generation baby boomer of me, i.e., like my mom, to write this, but I am amazed by the breadth of jobs in the Internet industry. While part of my work entails ensuring that my client's websites are search engine-friendly, it is not all that I do. At bigger companies, such as Williams-Sonoma or Home Depot, there are several individuals who call themselves SEO and/or SEM specialists, and there are 1 million and 1 consultants who have similar skills and can garner a pretty buck for a speaking engagement such as the one I attended. And these people are savvy. I feel as if I learned from some of the best last week, and was happy to realize that this type of work draws on some of my best skills -- writing, for instance, and the structure of information.

It's good to know so much now about a marketing strategy that can truly be quantified, and is more or less insulated from scammers. The community is far too vigilant and you can be shunned instantly if you attempt to screw the system.

Wednesday, July 27, 2005

santa fe jane

I decided to ride my bike across town to independent Garcia Street Books last Saturday morning, rather than drive. Jane Fonda's popularity was one of the reasons. She would be speaking in the parking lot of the bookstore and I expected gobs of people. Gobs of people there were. She's a beloved figure here and elsewhere of course and some of the stuff she said only made her more so. I was struck by how big her voice was. She had a microphone, of course, but I had a feeling it would not have mattered. Ironically (or not), her talk was about VOICE, and about finding her VOICE. At 67 she says she's now more aware of who she is and what she wants, much of it because she's been able to use the words to make it all clear ... to herself, to others, to anyone who will listen.

I have to say that what I knew about her before I went to hear her introduce her autobiography would fill a short sentence: I used to sweat to her aerobic tapes, and she's anti-war. Now I can't quite put my finger on what more I know, but I really like her. And as far as I can tell she's standing up for many of the things that I believe in as a woman and as a creative, thinking person. A woman from the audience thanked her for "standing up" and said that it was so important that someone of her celebrity would declare her convictions, and be so honest about her weaknesses. She said that the rest of us make no splash when we do such things. Of course Jane Fonda responded by saying that we were all powerful people. Yes, yes, she's right, but when I do a reading at my house, there will most likely be plenty of parking spaces on the street.

Friday, July 22, 2005

project life stories

I went to a performance last night put on by a local group called Project Life Stories. The life stories were those of teenage girls from Israel and Palestine, who are all part of Creativity for Peace Camp. In their own words and in their own voices, they described life in a part of the world very few of us understand. They, too, seemed overwhelmed by the details of the conflict and wished only for a focus on the future and not the past. While each may have joined Creativity for Peace Camp with notions about the "other," each has matured in her thinking. One girl said there were so many times in her life that she wanted to find an Israeli girl her age and just scream at her to stop killing her family and friends, but now she knows better that both Palestinian and Israeli girls are exactly the same -- they want to go shopping, talk about boys and dreams, and they all still depend on their families for support.

I was so moved by the girls' candor, composure, and bravery. They know their lives are different from their peers in other countries and they can even fathom exactly how. They know that what they have to live through is not right and they are asking to be heard so that things can change.

I think this type of project proves that our oral tradition is still very alive and powerful.

Monday, July 18, 2005

a connected life

Before leaving for a little vacation on the East Coast where I am originally from, I went to hear the lovely and talented Julia Alvarez read and answer questions at St. John's College. Much of what she said made sense to me ... as a writer, as a woman, and as a human being searching for the meaning of home. This Dominican woman's home is now the United States and she has done all of the hard work it takes to make it so. That said, it seems all of the color in her speech and her imagination comes from the contrast between the Dominican Republic and America. This is relevant to me because I feel like a stranger to New Mexico and New Mexico is a stranger to me. This is always apparent, but having just returned from a tour of my roots, I am particularly curious about what it all means.

In answer to a question about how she comes up with ideas for her stories, Ms. Alvarez declared that if you live a connected life, your mind will be ripe. Family, friends, community, an awareness of lanscape and a sense of global curiosity and responsibility all play a part. I gather that while her people weren't necessary next door, they were close, she was connected. I realized that she had put a nifty name to something I strive for. While I was on the East Coast with my family and friends in a landscape that raised me, I felt so connected that flying away was a bit wrenching. Like leaving the bosom, leaving the womb. But I take all of the feelings to heart. If Ms. Alvarez can find home in Middlebury, VT, I can certainly try my very best in Santa Fe, New Mexico.

Thursday, June 23, 2005


I can't think of a form of music I would rather spend a weekend with than bluegrass. Having just returned from the Telluride Bluegrass Festival, which is in its 32nd year, I am still aglow with the wholesome sounds of picking. Were the festival not in such a drop-dead gorgeous valley, perhaps I'd feel differently, but I think it's safe to say that bluegrass gets to you ... with its stories and its enthusiastic tempo. And the people it attracts are some of the loveliest. I'm a huge fan of big band swing as well, so much so I had a 15-piece swing band perform at my wedding, but I most likely couldn't listen to a whole weekend of it. If bluegrass is a new concept for you, check out Gillian Welch or Alison Krauss for two very different, but fantastic introductions. | 510.847.0570