Sandra Tsing Loh

My husband–Mike Miller, an L.A. studio guitarist hailing originally from Sioux Falls–is a Zen master.

Or at least, he is when he is with me.

To set the stage for the strained conversation I had with my husband today, I remind you that it’s now Day 3 of My Week in Reviews. To date, I’ve seen three of them, including the Los Angeles Times. We’ve been selected as a “Critic’s Choice,” with a color photo and great placement (“Calendar,” front page, above the fold)!

I remind you this is in stark contrast to last year’s very badL.A. Times review, which washed up onto some 1 million driveways at 6 a.m. one morning like a seaweedy-smelling red tide. I recall this particular review, buried deep in the back, had a banner, “Bad Sex–Funny if not Memorable,” right over a tiny head shot of me, poking my hopeful mug up out of the Vegas restaurant ads like a cheerful St. Bernard.

In the 11 years Mike and I have been Two Artists Living Together/what a long strange trip it’s been/regrets we’ve had a few/etc. etc., the philosophy we’ve cobbled together–the mental technology we’ve arduously developed–includes the notion: “Those who live by reviews, die by reviews.” Our official position is that we don’t even look at reviews. In our perfect Zen biosphere, something as trivial as the opinion of an embittered newspaperperson is … beneath mention.

Because equanimity, in this household, is everything. Call us Lutheran-bred (which, by unbelievable coincidence, we both are). Call Mike a Taurus with a Pisces moon, call me an Aquarius with a Taurus moon … or just call us mellow yellow. Our philosophy is, if you don’t get too wildly giddy about career ups, you don’t crash and burn over career downs. (In my old life, form rejection letters from The New Yorker would flutter in through the mail slot and I would dive headlong onto the bed with a Medea-like bird shriek–but again, that was my old life.)

It was Mike who started this whole equanimity-at-any-cost thing … But–a word on my husband. It’s not that Mike has no emotions. It’s that he has too many.


Imagine you were trained as a jazz guitarist in a small town in the Midwest. Imagine one of your all-time jazz idols is Chick Corea. Imagine 20 years later, Chick Corea asks you to audition for him. Imagine he hands you a tape of amazing tunes that are all in like 13/12 e-to-the-pi time. You start practicing. And practicing. You’re a chronic TV watcher (Andy Griffith, four times a day), but the tension is so high you abandon TV completely and do nothing in your off-hours but read and re-read Emerson’s “On Self-Reliance” in some sort of bizarre hallucinatory throwback to high school.

The audition is nine hours long.

You don’t hear anything for two months.

See? At times like that, whatever it takes you to get through the day, whether it’s Dianetics or a polo mallet in the head, is a good thing. Because jazz musicians–they’re not like … the rest of us.

All very well, but in recent years, I’ve started thinking: “Must we, as artists, be so strict all the time with the withholding of emotion re the (albeit cyclical) (albeit uncontrollable) ups and downs of our careers?”

For instance, let’s take that notion “Live by your reviews, die by your reviews.”

I mean, I’ve already died by my reviews. Just last year, I remember standing in New York with that bombed-out Dresden feeling … in a Broadway deli on a filthy street in the pouring rain reading my biannual Clive Barnes jackboot-up-the-rear screed. (That’s the great thing about the New York Post–it’s like Three-Headed Baby, 10-Car Crash on the Jersey Turnpike, my review.)

Under, again, my same hopeful St. Bernard head shot, I saw the words: “Cute as a Button–A Desperate Button.”

(Although don’t you think that would be a great title for some sort of hellish, post-Valley of the Dolls, Henry Jaglom-style film about struggling, over-35, one-woman show performers? Desperate Buttons.)

Anyway, if I’ve already had my metaphorical gonads shriveled by the savage reviews (I told Mike) (even though I notice none of our conversational material ever managed to form itself into quotes in today’s account), why should I not revel in the good ones? Like look. Right here! This week’s L.A. Times! “Hugely Charismatic.” If I’ve tanked in the Dead Sea yesterday, why should I not now allow myself a Roberto Benigni belly-flop-into-the-Ocean-of-Love today?

“After all,” I say to Mike, “fate does not punish us for our reactions! Fate is impervious! We have no control anyway!”