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Baltimore Comic Podcaster Brings Kevin Pollak Home

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Actor Kevin Pollak (you know, A Few Good Men; Grumpy Old Men) knows standup — he started practicing at age 10. Famous for his spot-on impressions of intense talkers Christopher Walken, Jack Nicholson and William Shatner, Pollak knows “the funny.” And our own funny local friend Geoffrey Welchman of the hilarious Inverse Delirium podcast, well, he happens to know Kevin Pollak. And now you can, too. 

Pollak performs at Magooby’s Joke House in Timonium March 8-10. He recently performed on a new Inverse Delirium podcast, too — you can play the episode right now.

Though he’d never met Pollak, Welchman wrote a sketch with the actor in mind, knowing he was due in town for the standup gig, then emailed Pollak an invitation to participate in the podcast. We asked Welchman for behind-the-sound-scene details.

How’d you entice Pollak to join the cool show you craft in your basement?

He emailed back, which was a thrill, and asked to see the script, which was an even bigger thrill. Luckily I tacked on a second idea at the bottom — about an audition for voice actors, really just a premise. It turned out he liked that better than my script, so I quickly fleshed that second idea out and sent it, and he liked it and agreed to record it. All this took place in few days, and by the end of the week I had his recording in my email.

How long have you followed Pollak’s work?

Like many people, I knew of him first from his movie roles, particularly in two of my favorites, The Usual Suspects and Grumpy Old Men. I didn’t realize he’d started as a standup comic — I only became aware of his incredible impressions from his Christopher Walken bit in the comedian documentary The Aristocrats in 2005, and I began to follow him more closely.

Then a couple years ago, I heard he had started a podcast and I was hooked within the first few shows. He does rapturously long interviews with great comedians and actors (Judd Apatow, Rob Reiner, Laraine Newman, Adam Carolla, etc.). The great thing about his show is he talks to his guests as a peer rather than an interviewer, which seems to enable a relaxed flow, full of great stories.

What has he meant to you as a comic?

I really respect his abiding love for the craft of standup, and his smart-alecky tone. And of course, his impressions… But I have to say he made an even bigger impact as a podcaster. Listening obsessively to his podcast (along with Marc Maron’s and Doug Benson’s) for three months in 2010 inspired me to start my own podcast! So even though I went in a sketch-comedy direction, Kevin is one of my podcast heroes.

Larry David + Dozens of Other Famous People Went to the University of Maryland

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We’ve always thought highly of the University of Maryland at College Park, but now that we know sitcom innovator Larry David’s an alum — he graduated in ’70 with a double major in business and history — we pretty much revere the place. More impressive yet: Life-changing, well-meaning, happy-message-sending Muppets-god Jim Henson graduated from Maryland in ’60! Super fun to read the Sun’s photo tour of famous U. of Maryland alums this afternoon. Oh, television legend David Simon’s on the list, too.

Why is it so exciting to learn that a person you admire attended college at a school near you? Maybe because it makes the broad world seem momentarily smaller, in a very good way, when we understand that giant movers and shakers, who’ve made reality of imaginative possibility, walked the same streets we walk as we daydream tomorrow.

Other Earth-Shattering Terps: Google founder Sergey Brin ’93, broadcast journalist Connie Chung ’69; Raiders of the Lost Ark’s Karen Allen took courses at Maryland for a period. See the story for more striking surprises!

Police Presence Persists on Roland Avenue

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Police presence endured last night in front of Petit Louis — Baltimore City’s frequent ceremonial show of goodwill and safeguarding after a serious crime has occurred — with an empty police Jeep parked at the 4800 block of Roland, lights flashing, and meanwhile the strong-bodied officer/driver standing watch on foot at the corner of Roland and Upland. All in response to the well publicized holdup occurring around 8 p.m. on Wednesday night at this location — civic leader Sally Michel and her 60-something friend, the robbery victims.

Staff at Petit Louis said they had no information about police agenda. Pleasant note: The restaurant was still active, with several customers finishing meals close to 10 p.m. The officer himself explained, “[The police department] will do what it wants to do until the [criminals] are caught.” He said he does not know if he, or any other officer, will be posted to the same spot tonight.

“That guy’s got the easiest gig on the force this evening,” joked my boyfriend, after we agreed that no wrongdoer would aim even to scope that particular section of Roland while a sturdy cop’s standing by. To be sure, it is a nice formal gesture on the city’s part. A comforting one.

No doubt, when an intense incident occurs, like the holdup, or even the recent instance of the car thief’s arrest, residents of an extra sleepy, notoriously safe hood, like Roland Park, are bound to be more stunned than some who live on rowdier Baltimore roads.

Here’s hoping Roland Park swiftly returns to a mild-as-can-be, civilized burg starting yesterday, and that recent crimes deserve rightly to be branded flukes, which seems mighty likely.

Better yet, here’s hoping that all Baltimore residents in all neighborhoods will live in greater peace and harmony in 2012. And cheers to the policemen and women standing outside in the cold, watching over things.

Roland Park Nighttime Arrest: Mystery Solved

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Last Wednesday, we reported observing a mysterious arrest in Roland Park the evening prior, in front of Petit Louis, around 9 p.m. This week, we have confirmed with Detective Jeremy Silbert, a city police spokesman, that the arrested (and bespectacled + bald, I can attest) male, 55, was driving a stolen vehicle through the area. The investigation was conducted at 8:35 p.m. on January 17 — the car apprehended in the 4700 block of Roland Avenue. Silbert said that the Regional Auto-Theft Task Force, with reps from various law enforcement agencies, helped with the investigation. Car was towed upon discovery. I know, we’re all wondering if the man in specs stole a Porsche or a Taurus, but no further information is available at this time. Go here to snag tips on keeping your car safe, from the Maryland Vehicle Theft Prevention Council.

 

Drawing for Passersby: Living Art by Jowita Wyszomirska

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Jowita Wyszomirska, one of Baltimore Fishbowl’s first resident artists, this month installed a new show called Tenuous Connection at the Temporary, the innovative gallery space positioned curbside at MICA’s Student Center, beside Joe Squared at Station North. Address: 113 North Avenue. Jowita makes work daily at her art studio at School 33, where she first began to dream up these incredible, high-concept drawings months ago. To complete the project for the Temporary, she spent eight long days working on public display through picture windows. This space is curated by Hyejung Jang.

Show celebration happens tomorrow night, Tuesday, January 24, 7-9, with back-and-forth art partying between Joe Squared and the unique exhibit, which is on view strictly through windows from outdoors. Take note: Your last day to catch the work is this Friday, January 27.

Jowita’s stunning, large-scale wall drawings feature imaginative sculptural elements; her compositions conjure connections for me of a vast and playful solar system, a strange geometry of floral and architectural structures, a beautiful techno song brought to step-inside-this life. I talked to her about her show and her ongoing creative process.

How does the Temporary’s building structure inform the pieces, or what is the role of the window and the gallery-setting in the show? Did you consider the actual art-making part of the exhibit?

I think the change between the day and night is pretty interesting with the work surfacing when it gets dark. I like the daytime too with all those reflections of the street because I love using layers and there it just happens on its own. Connection #3 was the most improvised piece with almost no plan ahead of time. When I got to it, I started tracing the lines of the sidewalk onto the window and that informed my composition.

[Throughout the installation,] I was completely visible to the street. I thought I would be timid to work in a space where all the passerby traffic could see me; at first I considered blocking the windows with brown paper. But when I started working, I basically didn’t want to waste any time on that and really quickly got used to being on view. People were pretty interested, some even knocked on the windows to give me thumbs up. For several years, I worked in museums building exhibits and I always thought that behind-the-scenes is really fascinating. I think a lot of the people enjoy seeing the process of making things.

How did you first get inspired to create these pieces?

One day in search of liberation from the support (of paper, canvas, etc.), I just started drawing on the wall of my studio and surprisingly worked much faster than I imagined I ever could. This opened up many other possibilities for me. As much as I still enjoy making small drawings, it is plainly so physical and fun to just go straight onto the wall!

Can you describe the journey from studio work to site design to completion?

I like to think that my work is almost site-specific… During the day, the reflections on the windows are so strong that they obscure and dominate over the work in the exhibits in the gallery. I thought I could use that to some degree, so I traced the outlines of the buildings and used that as my main composition in Connection #2. The outcome is still very abstract and I don’t think my strategy is very obvious, but that makes it almost site-specific for me. 

But getting back to the process, for over a month I worked in my studio and used vellum to make a lot of the drawing to then figure out the final layout in the gallery. I think I work best if I prepare ahead of time but leave myself enough room for improvisation when I am installing my work in the actual space. I have been using a lot of masking tape (which originally I tried just to speed up my process and I liked it a lot), markers, paint. I also incorporated LED lights into one of the pieces — I really want to explore that more in the future.
 
How would you define your current vision or your work’s personal meaning right now?

My work is pretty abstract and dictated by my process. I am inspired by architecture and… schematic diagrams. In my current work, I can make a connection back to the time when I was taking organic chemistry and really was in love with the visual aspects of the class but also the content; I loved my notes with drawings of the molecules and compounds. I enjoy making something that can easily shift between micro and macro scales. I guess for this reason it is also good for me to make this physical shift (back and forth) between small drawings and wall drawings.
 

Mysterious Nighttime Arrest in Roland Park

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I’ve lived in some sketchy neighborhoods since I moved to Baltimore nine years ago, and I’m accustomed to hearing police and ambulance sirens wail at all hours. Like most of us, I’m no stranger to the sad scene of a guy (more often, it’s a male in this situation) getting cuffed by cops along the side of the road. But it’s not every day — or ever before tonight — that I’ve witnessed an arrest in my newest place of residence, Roland Park. Roland Park, where most everyone smiles hello on the sidewalks and the illusion of complete safety seems to make even the resident dogs extra friendly. Tonight, at approximately 9, I jogged past Petit Louis and observed a bald fellow in a striped scarf (possibly Burberry) and black plastic art glasses getting cuffed and carted off. Two giant police SUVs hogged the lot, their lights twirling. A call to the restaurant revealed that this man had not stepped inside the eating establishment at any point, but had been spotted “in the neighborhood.” Curious. No further information available just yet, but we’ll follow up as more comes to light.

Sci-Fi Story Contest for Teens: Win Cash/Change the World!

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Attention: Thoughtful young writers between the ages of 14 and 18. Do you have what it takes to write an original, highly imaginative science fiction story that scores cash money? Give it a try! Write it up — keep it under 2,500 words — and submit to the Jack L. Chalker Young Writers’ Contest sponsored by the Baltimore Science Fiction Society by March 31st — electronically or by snail mail.

If you’re intrigued but don’t know the science fiction genre all that well, check out anything by Ray Bradbury (The Martian Chronicles), Robert Heinlein (Stranger in a Strange Land), or Philip K. Dick (A Scanner Darkly, Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?), whose works were often adapted into blockbuster films, like Androids which became Blade Runner — and you might consider certain works by literary goddess Margaret Atwood (The Handmaid’s Tale, Oryx and Crake), who won the first Arthur C. Clarke sci-fi novel award in 1987 for “Handmaid.”

Visit the equally geeky and intriguing webpage, Resources for Science Fiction Writers, to absorb 10 reasonable, recommended “Rules of Writing Sci-Fi,” including, “Good science fiction is good science, good science fiction has a sense of wonder, and good science fiction changes the world for the better.”

Jack Laurence Chalker was an award-winning sci-fi author as well as a history teacher in Baltimore City Schools for 12 years. He helped to found the BSFS in 1967. Chalker was best known for his Well World novel series–most of his stories involve the radical physical transformation of the main character. The author died in 2005, and the writing contest was named in his memory beginning in 2006.

Contest judges will be plucked from the membership of BSFS, Inc. Winners will be contacted before the May 25-28 Maryland Regional Science Fiction and Fantasy Convention, their names announced to the public at the next Balticon on Memorial Day weekend “just before the Masquerade at 8:30 pm.”

Submissions ranked first, second and third will receive cash prizes of $150, $100 and $75, respectively. The three winners also receive complimentary registrations for Balticon for themselves and their parents or one guest each. Underage scribe victors will also receive a free Balticon T-shirt. Convention’s guest of honor this year is prolific American sci-fi writer Jody Lynn Nye.

For complete writing contest rules and guidelines, go here.

For past winners’ stories since 1998, go here

Best of luck, young earthlings!

Resident Artist Tremain Smith: Grids upon Grids Give Way to Spiritual Mystery

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As a child, painting talent Tremain Smith, a Baltimore native and Bryn Mawr alum who now lives in Philadelphia, took Saturday art classes at the BMA. Today, her work hangs in the Metropolitan Museum of Art as well as corporate and private collections around the country. We’re pleased to present Tremain as our latest Baltimore Fishbowl resident artist, a dreamy, visionary maker and meditator, who layers abstract shapes dictated by an intuitive geometry, generating planes of glossy and gauzy color and form that make a hidden world momentarily accessible, a place of spirit and of Tremain’s own brand of beauty. Each grid is a ready-made departure point. Her more recent work, pictured right, puts me in strange mind of a psychedelic quilt, sewn by Kandinsky, doubling as a silk magic carpet, or maybe a kaleidoscopic construction site. Whichever metaphor I choose, the images feel happily fresh and challenging.

A seasoned craftsman and instructor in the ancient skill of encaustic painting, also known as hot-wax painting, which involves adding colored pigments to heated beeswax, Tremain applies “a mixed-media technique composed of layers of oil glazes, collaged elements and transparent beeswax fused by an open flame or an iron.”

In her larger creative life, Tremain passionately pursues another specialized practice, as quaint and rare as encaustic painting, the close-reading of sacred texts, a ritual she performs daily before entering her studio, for an hour or more. She describes this scholarly and meditative focus as the embrace of certain “systems,” which build upon one another to form a collage-like whole, a result much like her painting style, and definitely informative to her art’s creation.

“These spiritual disciplines deeply impact my life and my art. They include forms of divination — ways of discerning invisible influences,” Tremain explains. “I see painting as a pathway to discovering larger understandings using the elements of line and shape, color and texture. It is a tangible means of getting to the intangible.”

For now, Tremain works with abstract geometric forms as a way to ponder and depict abstract spiritual meaning, symbolic of life force, she says, and endless, intricate possibility.

“This direction began when I saw a geometric diagram made up of circles and connecting lines in an old alchemical text — I was immediately drawn to its visual impact and began to study the tradition behind it,” Tremain says. “This tradition depicts the tree of life as a system of spheres and connecting pathways, and assigns numbers, letters, colors, sounds, and other symbols to these paths. The shapes themselves provide unlimited possibilities in art-making and open whole new possibilities of visual and spiritual discoveries as I apply my technique of painting to them.”

Early in her career, Tremain was greatly influenced by the abstract-expressionist painter Joan Snyder, whose works she describes as emotional, raw and free.

“I admire artists like Snyder, who take risks and point out the beauty in ‘ugly’ things,” Tremain says. “I allow order to emerge from seeming chaos, point out the patterns found in deteriorating things, and am attracted to the sometimes frightening aspects of birth and death. These things are reflections of the inner mysteries that I’m after when I paint.”

More recent influences include Swedish artist Hilma af Klint, Swiss artist Emma Kunz, and Agnes Martin, whose words, Tremain says, embody her mission: “If you live by inspiration then you do what comes to you.”  

The artist has had solo exhibitions in New York, Los Angeles, Chicago, Atlanta, Philadelphia, Scottsdale, Maine, Delaware, Florida and Hawaii. Group exhibitions include SOFA Chicago, Art Miami, the Painted Bride, the Philadelphia Art Alliance, and the USArtists American Fine Art Show. Tremain was awarded a residency in 2004 at the McColl Center for Visual Art in Charlotte, North Carolina. In 2006, she served as an instructor in encaustic painting at the Penland School of Crafts in Penland, NC.

Tremain has been reviewed widely, including critiques in The Philadelphia Inquirer, The Chicago Tribune and LA Weekly. Her work is included in The Art of Encaustic Painting: Contemporary Expression in the Ancient Medium of Pigmented Wax published by Watson-Guptill, and in the art journal New American Paintings. She studied at the Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Arts, Tyler School of Art, Carnegie-Mellon University and the University of Pennsylvania. Tremain balances her studio work with lectures; she leads community workshops and teaches art through various venues.

 

To learn more about Tremain’s work, contact Oriet Milmoe: www.orietsfineart.com; oriet@orietsfineart.com.

Field Honors Yeardley Love’s Memory at Notre Dame Prep

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As the year ends, and we continue to contemplate the vibrant life and tragic death in 2010 of UVA lacrosse and field hockey star Yeardley Reynolds Love, and as we await further disturbing trial news come February, it’s uplifting to consider the new growth sprouting in her gentle name. This spring, Notre Dame Prep in Hampton will break ground on a $1.2 million turf field to honor Love’s memory. “The project pays homage to the 2006 graduate who excelled in lacrosse and field hockey and was a strong student, leader and volunteer,” writes Mary Gail Hare in The Baltimore Sun. Actual construction is scheduled to begin in the summer.

A gift of $165,000 from the Charles T. Bauer Foundation plus matching funds will pay for the $500,000+ field project. NDP has worked in collaboration with The One Love Foundation, an organization established by Yeardley Love’s family in her memory. The Bauer Foundation issued a challenge grant in 2010, which has helped secure funds for the field and an NDP scholarship after Love as well.

“This project honors both Yeardley’s love of sports and her connection to her alma mater, and it keeps her spirit alive at NDP forever,” says Sister Patricia McCarron, SSND, Ph.D., headmistress — quoted on the NDP website.

We encourage readers to visit the One Love Foundation website to donate — we also recommend reading the honest and affecting essay written by Yeardley Love in ninth grade, posted on the homepage.

An excerpt: “Since I was about nine years old, I have wanted to go to the University of Virginia for college and play Lacrosse there. After college, I hope to attend Virginia Law School for three years; and after that I wish to have a family and become a lawyer. If I had to wish for three things in my life, they would be to go to the University of Virginia for college, have a happy and healthy family when I grow up, and to always keep in touch and stay close with my family. So far my life has been filled with joy and happiness, and I hope to keep living my life that way.”

Late Night Noodling: Delicious Kitsch at the Szechuan House

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My boyfriend and I are night owls — freelancers, we work late; we eat around 11; we might sleep in later than you. Dining out presents a problem. In Baltimore, it’s almost impossible to find a restaurant open past 10 beyond the Paper Moon (get ready for a line) or Wendy’s drive-through (and another line). Enter heavenly Szechuan House, which is somewhat mysteriously open till midnight, throughout the entire week. Eccentric Hours of Business account for just one of six seductive reasons we’re addicted to this Chinese restaurant nestled in a nothing strip mall in Lutherville.

Reason Two: Killer Cuisine. Huge Hunan shrimp mixed with crisp vegetables, broccoli florets the size of a rose, all decked in exactly the right amount of brown sauce. Healthful brown rice is an option. My boyfriend, a vegetarian, can choose between several hearty tofu-centered dishes. The soy stuff is yummy, too, fried to the perfect firm texture. Popular noodle soups emit S’s of steam. A side sushi menu, which regulars tend to dabble in, exists too, though I stick to the proven Chinese options. One low note: Szechuan’s General Tso’s chicken and their sweet ‘n’ sour chicken are nearly equal parts meat and greasy breading. Otherwise, the old-school Chinese favorites are all really excellent. Entrees arrive magically fast, usually quite hot, and you’ll likely leave with leftovers. Not an exaggeration: The average entree costs less than 10 dollars. Oh, and as you scan the menu making up your mind, if your waitress likes you, or for whatever random reason, you may receive a silver bowl of shelled pistachios in addition to your guaranteed fried wontons. After dinner, the requisite fortune cookie comes sweetly set atop a scoop of rainbow sherbet. When the check lands, my boyfriend and I both offer to treat…knowing the total will be under $23, despite the fact the we’ve each downed a couple of glasses of wine while we feasted.

Szechuan House is Bring Your Own Alcohol and they’re totally friendly and supportive when you yank the bottle of Yellow Tail out. “Need wine glasses?” “Yes, please!” “Need opener?” “We brought one.” No fee for the privilege, however, if you ask them to uncork.

The Comfy/Tacky Decor and Low-Key Location Rock. If the food weren’t so fantastic, and the waitresses friendly without coming on too strong, Szechuan House’s strip-mall residence might not appeal. But there’s something so fun about driving to Lutherville late at night to park in a nearly empty lot shared by a nail salon, a dry cleaner, and a creepy gym called Spunk! It’s not the Gen-X irony that I dig, but the notion that I’m about to gain passage inside an alternative realm, in which the action rolls after hours, a semi-well-kept secret world, camouflaged by neon signs. (Though Szechuan House has earned glowing reviews and “Best of” nods from local publications, I find that many of my friends have not heard of the place till I suggest we meet there.) Inside, the carpeted restaurant is warehouse-roomy with the vibe of a grandparental dining room — arrive after 10, you’ll encounter maybe half a dozen patrons, maybe fewer; before 10, it’s busy, but the wait won’t ever be too long. (A suggestion: As a courtesy, show up before 11 on a weeknight, since traffic slows and the staff surely wants to go home once delivery orders are filed.) Most tables feature booth seating. Table cloths are pressed to impress. Aquariums swim with pebble-nibbling pet fishes. The electric chandeliers brighten the already way-bright white room too much, but too much is exactly what you want at Szechuan House. (Incidentally, don’t skip a trip to the bathroom where you’ll find a trademark “Lotus toilet” complete with a touch-pad menu of options for personal cleanup assistance. They probably got a deal on the high-tech thing. Don’t partake–no one does that!–merely observe.)

Wait. The Music alternates between extra-bombastic show tunes, like, “Man of La Mancha,” and melodramatic Chinese pop music, certain songs featuring a woman who sounds like she’s laughing and crying at once. We make a monthly trip to the House — at this point, we can sing along with certain bars as we meanwhile pig out until we just can’t pig anymore. Then it’s time for us to say in unison, “Listen, let me get the check!”

1427 York Road
(410) 825-8181

The Psychology of Shopping: What’s Your Retail Personality?

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For me (and my ancestors before me), the day after Thanksgiving has always meant jumbo turkey sandwich, nap, movie, repeat. More ambitious Americans evidently embrace the busiest shopping day of the year, when sale prices are killer but so might be the crowded superstore.  Black Friday has always struck me as the kind of activity that slightly neurotic, type-A morning people pursue.

Whether you passed on Black Friday or not, the busiest shopping season of the year is upon us and Mary Ellen Brown, personal shopper (via her service The Witch and The Wardrobe), counsels us to reassess our long-standing shopping tendencies, reevaluate strategies, and exchange bad spending habits for smart ones, to become grounded and thoughtful consumers.

Habits can be hard to break. For me, the words Black and Friday serve mostly as a bleak reminder I’ve failed to begin my Christmas shopping entirely, and won’t for another two weeks. Why do I wait so late year after year? Well, thinking about shopping for everyone on my list is stressful enough. I want to buy my sister’s four kids totally surprising and ingenious expressions of my love, to make up for almost never seeing them. Instead, I freak out, freeze up, and don’t begin. My lame gift solution is often iTunes certificates for all family members under 60.

At least I’m not alone. Psychotherapist Mikita Brottman says America’s relationship with holiday shopping is downright “anxious, stressful, complicated, ambivalent, and tied up with all kinds of complicated emotions going back to childhood.”

Shopping Personality Types

According to Brown, typical shoppers are either mindful and mature or basically fearful: Some* are post-Turkey-Day early-bird Bargain Hunters who make the money-saving most of Black Friday’s markdowns (of course, if you prefer to shop online, you can roll out of bed today and shop Cyber Monday deals in your PJs); some are Finders who pace themselves and buy precious/thoughtful/glowing gifts all year long, when the right inspiration strikes them; others, like my people, are Procrastinators, pure and simple. Procrastinators may become Binge Shoppers as well. Depending upon our budgets, Bingers will last minute load up on random clearance items (e.g. an extra large neon green hoodie, recipient to be decided) or expensive jewelry or electronics intended mainly to impress, rather than express our heart’s least selfish wishes.

Good-Shop/Bad-Shop

When we Procrastinators prepare to buy a gift for someone we care about, we feel a mixture of excitement and intimidation, not to mention pressure. “We [feel pressure] because the identity of the giver is totally bound up with the gift,” Brottman says. “This gives it a kind of magic power that compels the recipient to return the favor. What we’re really giving is part of ourselves, so we don’t want it to seem cheap or cheesy.”

We may also feel pressured by the salesperson waiting on us.

If you’re of the Procrastinator variety, pressure rules your mind. But Brottman confirms there’s a second sort of unhealthy/anxious shopper type to add to the list, the Addict — the person for whom anxiety prompts purchase (on location and online) of so many unneeded goods on a regular basis that he or she can’t be certain what lies in wait in the closet. When it comes to holiday shopping, chaos ensues. (The Addict a close cousin to the less regular Binge Shopper.)

“You should be worried if you go shopping as a way to self-medicate, as a response to anger or stress — when you find yourself with closets full of unopened and unworn merchandise, when you buy multiple copies of the same item, when you find yourself fantasizing about shopping, planning your next opportunity to go shopping…feeling guilty or ashamed of your shopping behavior, feeling anxious if you haven’t shopped in a while,” Brottman explains. (The chick in L.A. with the pepper spray, who had to get her discounted-Xbox fix, just might fit the profile.)

Encouragingly, Brown says everyone can learn to morph into the mindful, well-paced Finder, who buys thoughtfully and creatively for herself and others, whether or not childhood baggage weighs down her shopping sacks. Brown, who serves as personal shopper to some of the busiest people in Baltimore, believes it’s easiest to learn how to shop well under the guidance of a pro for hire. But since many of us can’t afford the luxury, she hands over an early present now, a smart, doable checklist for becoming our most effective shopping selves. Read, memorize, shop.

Make Lists of Things You Need and People for Whom You Intend to Buy

When you shop for yourself, make a careful list of what’s missing from your closet and, like a marksman, take aim. “With Christmas shopping, make a list of who you’re buying for. Names alone will conjure up enough ideas when you’re in the stores.” Look at each friend’s name, reminisce and free associate about the person as you browse.

Leave Enough Time to Shop and Shop Again

“Set aside a whole day and know that you can go another time. This way, if you don’t find it, you don’t buy it.”

Keep Your Eyes Peeled for Meaningful Items All Year Round

“A lot of the good stuff is gone by December, the stuff that reflects your personality. Be out there and let the stuff find you! I have a friend who buys for her boys in summer.” Another tip: If you’re traveling for business or pleasure, window-shop with the holidays in mind, no matter what time of year it is. In a new city, your eye will be especially alert, and you might find the rare gift of a lifetime.

 

Be a Finder Who Braves The Sales

“In the department stores, a lot of merchandise will go down in the first markdown by 40 percent. You hit Saks at 8 a.m., you can get some great stuff that might be gone by the afternoon. Two and three weeks later, it’s down another 20 percent, but by then you’ll be left with items nobody wanted.”

Broaden Your Shopping Horizons; Strategize New Locations According to Budget

Look beyond the mall, beyond the department stores. “Go to great alternative places, shop the locally owned boutiques.”

Work Out/Eat Breakfast Before You Shop

When you’ve had breakfast you think clearer; when you’ve worked out, you feel better about your body, in case you spy something you need that you’d like to try on. Which is A-okay any time of year.

Buy for Yourself at the Holidays Guilt-Free

“Yes, it’s really okay! If you rarely shop for yourself, kill two birds with one stone. If you’ve got nice black velvet pants, buy a new blouse. Don’t feel guilty. It’s good time management.”

Listen to Your Inner Voice, Not the Salesperson

“It’s a real mental game. Don’t trust the salesperson — don’t buy something if you feel uncomfortable or don’t like it.”

Remember: Every Gift is a Personal Expression

“When you open something it says a lot about the person who gave it to you,” Brown says. And while she does occasionally purchase gifts for clients to give their friends and family, she draws the line at ultra-personal presents. “I don’t like buying for [clients’] husbands at the holidays. I won’t. It’s too personal.”

To Become a Self-Actualized Shopper, Replace Retail Therapy with Real Therapy

Brottman adds, “It’s so easy to click on a button and send someone an automatic gift rather than taking the time to write a letter, make something by hand or actually to go and help somebody out. Buying a new dress or getting a new haircut is a quick fix, but a poor substitute for actually making real, lasting changes to your life. Objects seem more concrete, more real than ‘inner’ changes that might be far more substantial but can’t be seen to the outside observer or in the mirror.”

(*Shopper type nicknames were devised by reporter not professional shopper.)

Miracle of the Loaves and the Side Dishes at MD Food Bank (How to Help without Leaving the House)

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With Thanksgiving a week away, amid contemplating how to cram sweet potato casserole, green bean casserole and cheesy scalloped potatoes in the same tiny oven at the same time, we found ourselves remembering that many Marylanders have far more serious problems concerning food, like not enough of it. That got us thinking about the amazing Maryland Food Bank, which procures food and distributes meals to 600 small and large partners, like emergency shelters, soup kitchens, and food pantries — including the CARES Food Pantry in Govans and the Helping Up Mission in Baltimore.

The Food Bank feeds thousands upon thousands of people, not just on Turkey Day, but every single day of the year!

“More than 460,000 Maryland residents are ‘hungry,’ in our service area, which is the entire state except Prince Georges and Montgomery County,” explains Amanda Knittle, interim communications manager at the MD Food Bank. “Unique to Maryland: 45 percent deemed hungry are not eligible for federal food assistance programs; their incomes are considered too high.”

While your first generous thought might be to bag up canned goods for the organization, that’s actually not the most efficient approach. The Food Bank receives regular donations in bulk, from the M&T Bank Stadium and Oriole Park, Oakcrest and Charlestown retirement communities — the latter donate 400 pounds of food weekly. Capital Grille shares 100 pounds of food twice a week. The organization also receives good grub from McCormick and Schmick’s.

“Our drivers go out and pick up these donated items,” Knittle explains. “To make it worth the investment of drivers and gas, it’s more efficient to have a larger donation.”

Ongoing support is essential! You can enhance the Food Banks phenomenal efforts this Thanksgiving season and beyond by merely going online to give.

“Our business is to procure food — we have people who are food sourcers. They find the best food at the best prices. Somebody’s dollar can go much further through us,” Knittle says.

So, check out the virtual food drive.

Give money. Every dollar means serious nourishment.

Are you a Ravens’ fan? For every $10 worth of food that you donate through the Ravens Online Food Drive, you’ll be entered to win two tickets to a Ravens vs. Colts home game in December.  $10 = one entry, $20 = two entries, $100 = 10 entries! Deadline for entry is November 20.

You can even help on Thanksgiving weekend, when Mr. Rain’s Funhouse the restaurant at the AVAM will collect funds to benefit the MD Food Bank.

Heartwarming end note: More than 9600 Thanksgiving “End Hunger” holiday boxes have already been assembled, through the MD Food Bank, containing kale, green beans, mashed potatoes, stuffing, mac and cheese, and pumpkin pie fixings. Each feeds 10. They will be distributed with a turkey, too. (Orioles’ wives sponsored a fundraiser this summer. Other donors include: C&S, Shoprite, Giant, WYPR/Eddie’s.)

Go online and help the Maryland Food Bank multiply modest money into miraculously nourishing meals. You’ll have a happier holiday for it!

Jennifer Bishop: 30 Years of Dynamic Photos

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Jennifer Bishop snapped her first photo in 1965, when she was eight, using a Kodak Instamatic she’d received for her birthday – a shot of her doll, housed protectively in the mailbox during an Ohio snowstorm. Though I’ve not seen this early image, the child’s-game composition seems distantly to foretell Jennifer’s trademark documentary style — quirky and deeply humanistic — her compassionate knack for capturing people, often moms and children, in character- and circumstance-revealing moments. Take “South Baltimore,” for instance, the photo on our main page, in which a serious-looking little girl wearing dark nail polish presents her baby doll to the camera, as if it’s a real child, a small boy two steps behind clutches a toy pistol, and a grown woman seen through the banister looks on expressively, holding her own real live baby.

I’ve been a fan of Jennifer’s photography since I discovered it a few years ago, but of course she’s been working as a photojournalist in Baltimore since 1975.

One of several Hopkins students who started Baltimore’s City Paper, she published a weekly stand alone photo in every issue for 17 years (1977-1994).  These photos were comprised of “small, revelatory moments that define the strangeness of everyday life…and seek to chronicle the soul of Baltimore,” wrote Glenn McNatt in The Baltimore Sun. She also worked as a staff photographer for The News American, and since 1981 has freelanced, shooting pictures for a variety of magazines, agencies, and institutions all over the world. In 2006, she started Maryland’s first Heart Gallery, a photo exhibit to promote the adoption of children with special needs. Recently, she has focused on projects that advocate for better lives for people with disabilities, such as the award-winning “What’s Possible.”

Photographer Henry Horenstein notes, “Jennifer Bishop’s beautifully crafted photographs manage to blend sympathy, optimism, and even humor while describing everyday events and critical conditions. She is one of my favorite photographers.”

Tour 27 of Jennifer’s favorite images up close and personal starting this week. From November 14 through January 6, “30 Years of Photographs by Jennifer Bishop” hangs at the Chesapeake Gallery at Harford Community College in Bel Air. Don’t miss the reception and talk (including Powerpoint presentation) this Wednesday, November 16, from 6 to 7:30 p.m.

We talked to the artist about her photo show, her philosophy, and what’s she working on lately.

 


Fells Pt. Mother, 1981

 

How would you describe your eye, your best strength?

I’m good at spotting unlikely beauty and moments that have some element of quiet drama or suspense, but I can’t conceptualize or make those things up. I look for them in real, ordinary life, documentary style. I love pictures that make you want to look twice, because they’re more than the sum of their parts. Sometimes there’s a little uneasiness to the scene. I often don’t know if I captured that until later when I have more time to look at what I got. I’m working in the realm of photos that are journalistic, not fantastic or surreal or digitally manipulated.

What made you want to keep taking photos after your age-eight doll composition?

Well, I’ve long since lost the doll, but I still have her photo. And nosiness drives me. I’d like to see everything, especially the things I’m not invited to. My camera is my ticket to many sights, and it can shield me and help me endure scenes that are intense, and let me hold onto moments, places and people I love. So how could I not keep taking photos? Specifically the street photos are so fun for me. On a hot summer’s day, there is a lot of life to be seen out on a Baltimore street. I love driving around not knowing what I’ll find.

 

Teenaged Mother, 1992

 

Which are some favorite images from each of the three decades you’ve been working?

In the early 80’s I took a picture of a mother dangling her baby across her lap which I affectionately refer to as the Fell’s Point Pieta. The look on the mother’s face, the turned away man, the half-hidden sibling, and the stain on the wall…all hint at a darker side to a sacred kind of love. As do two other similar images from the next two decades: a teenaged mother lying on her bed in an embrace that almost crushes her son…and a Remington “Pieta” from 2011, of a mother holding her daughter in a wading pool. I like the intricate mother/child dynamic in each of these.

How has your POV or way of making photos changed over time, if at all?

Always, I’ve felt affection for my subjects, but I think my earlier photos were more cynical, funny one-liners, and now they are warmer, sadder and/or more hopeful. The older I get, the more I see people as complicated and sympathetic.

What is the most challenging thing about being a photographer, technically and emotionally?
 
Technically: There are endless mistakes to be made, and I’m still discovering new ones. I refuse to carry heavy equipment, so my photos are never as perfect as they might be. Emotionally: Behind the camera, I get to be a silent, detached witness. But getting in the habit of splitting consciousness that way, I miss being fully present. I can shoot it, or I can experience it, but I can’t do both at the same time. For that reason, it’s most challenging to photograph my own children.

What are you shooting now?

Incongruous, man-made Baltimore landscapes for www.whoweam.com.

 

Remington Pool, 2011

Sidewalk to Nowhere? N. Charles St. Saga Continues

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Last week, in response to our Charles Street repave-take-two report, a reader wrote, “Would love to know the story behind the sidewalk to nowhere that sits alongside the new bridge at Charles Street and the Beltway…” She’s talking about the incomplete sidewalk at Charles at Bellona, and we appreciate her astute infrastructure question. A phone call to super-personable Valerie Burnette Edgar, director of communications for the Maryland State Highway Administration, solved the mystery. We asked Burnette Edgar a pile of concrete questions: Is this a sidewalk constructed by Historic Byway money? If not, where do funds come from? What is the purpose of pouring one here? When will the project be complete?

An engineer on top of the sidewalk job emailed the following, “The project is constructing continuous sidewalk along both sides of Charles Street from Kenilworth Avenue, which has existing sidewalk, to Bellona Avenue, and then along both sides of Bellona to the east of Charles Street to Orchard Hills Park at Othoridge Road and along the north side of Bellona west of Charles, to provide pedestrian access to the businesses. Note, not all construction is complete yet. Funding was not from Historic Byway money, but was provided from the federal and state transportation funds as part of the interchange reconstruction.” The work will be finished by summer 2012.

Is this a walkway you will use? Got an infrastructure puzzler? Please post below!

American Buffalo: Way Realer than Real Housewives of Beverly Hills!

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Ready for a fresh plot? Turn off the TV. Go out and see American Buffalo at Centerstage — running now through December 11. It just might make you want to turn back on the TV and experience some of Mamet’s satisfying screenwriting.

Seasoned actors William Hill (Don), Rusty Ross (Bob), and Jordan Lage (Teach) rock a Mamet script that zigs and zags in stunningly unpredictable directions, even for Mamet, from whom we’ve come to expect twists both organic and blindsiding. Without giving anything away: The three men–Don, a junk shop owner, Bob, his dim protege, and Teach, Don’s misanthropic “friend”–conspire to steal a coin collection from a wealthy guy. Their hungry planning and anxious manipulation rule each scene, and because the performers deliver the (no-doubt-difficult-to-memorize) dialogue so effectively, we’re reminded how thrillingly well Mamet writes his talk. Gritty vernacular + rhythmic poetry = language that sounds realer than reality. As you may know, the playwright invented his speak cribbing notes from daily life in Chicago, day and night.

As Kellie Mecleary, production dramaturg, explains in Centerstage Magazine, “…Mamet spent his time wandering around the city with a spiral notebook, recording bits of conversation in ramshackle bars, gyms, old Jewish bathhouses, and junk shops. One junk shop on the North Side he frequented…the location for an ongoing poker game… The players distrusted Mamet at first…until they discovered a mutual connection: the Pontiac Correctional Center, where Mamet taught and many of the men had served time. This earned him a spot at the table and the nickname Teach. The shop and its hardscrabble clientele provided inspiration for American Buffalo.”

Director Liesl Tommy, making her Centerstage debut, does an inventive job with a play that, despite its nuanced narrative, keeps its cast rooted in one setting the entire time–Don’s resale shop on Chicago’s North Side.

While each actor impresses, Hill (kind-hearted Don) is hard not to favor. During the intermission, he emerges from backstage to sweep his shop in the shadows, sipping coffee from a Styrofoam cup and waiting impatiently for the night’s darkest action to unfold. He makes us want to urge dawdlers back to their seats.

So, anyway, we say go see the fine production, then explore more Mamet classics (five stars to the forgotten film House of Cards) or review your favorites, but don’t feel bad if you can’t ever divine the final scene.

“Anyone can write five people trapped in a snowstorm,” the playwright said. “The question is how you get them into the snowstorm. It’s hard to write a good play because it’s hard to structure a plot. If you can think of it off the top of your head, so can the audience. To think of a plot that is, as Aristotle says, surprising and yet inevitable, is a lot, lot, lot of work.”

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