Friday, December 8, 2017

"A Stand-Up Guy"

I got a gift recently. 

It’s this kind of a platform you put on your desk so you can write standing up.

I did not ask for this platform.  Though I have often complained about hunching over the keyboard when I write, and how doing so is bad for my back.

I have tried sitting straight up when I’m writing.  (And similarly while practicing the piano.)  But my concentration on the task at hand inevitably distracts my attention away from my posture.  I am not a brain specialist.  (So there will be no misunderstanding concerning my credentials.)  I do not know how many things our brains can do at the same time, though I suspect that it’s one.

What I do know is, when I am focusing real hard sitting down, my spinal musculature, seeing I am otherwise occupied, takes a break.  It’s like,

“Okay, he’s writing!  Slouch!

A thoughtful family member took in my frequent complaints and bought this ameliorating contraption.  Some people are “problem solvers.”  It’s like Superman.

“Someone’s in trouble in Metropolis”…

And they immediately take to the skies.

Never considering that the person they are rescuing simply likes to complain.  The result being, you receive action that is not urgently required.

“Sorry, Superman.  It’s just the damn ketchup wouldn’t come out.  Although, since you’re already here…”

So I now have this platform, which I am typing away on it as we speak.

I bring up this transitional switchover from sitting because… what else am I going to talk about? 

“The president’s crazy.”

You already know that.

The thing is, when I talk about making the move, I inevitably receive this deflating reaction.

Here’s an example from another arena.  Otherwise, I’d be giving an example from the same arena twice.  And nobody wants to hear that.

Or type it.

You travel to, say, Rome.  You come home.  You meet friends for dinner.

“We just went to Rome.”

“You went to Rome?”

“We got back yesterday.”

Then, almost immediately, it’s

“Did you see Julius Caesar’s preschool?”  (Not an actual place, but representative of some esoteric attraction they went to and you didn’t.) 

Your only response to that question, if you are an honest person, or do not not want to be caught out saying you visited some non-existent attraction is

(EMBARRASSINGLY)  “No….?”

And then they’re into it.

“I can’t believe you missed Julius Caesar’s preschool.  It’s got his little desk there.  They’ve got his art on the wall.  It’s not great, but he’s four.”

“I never heard of Julius Caesar’s preschool.”

“We had this amazing tour guide.  I mean, anyone can visit St, Paul’s cathedral or the Coliseum.  But if you missed Julius Caesar’s preschool, it’s like you never went to Rome.  That and St. Peter’s favorite gelato emporium.  (Also not an actual attraction.)  The gelato’s sub-par, but can you imagine standing in the same spot where a major religious icon said, “Can I try the stracchiatella?”

(I came within one “c” of spelling that right.)

I don’t know what that is, that syndrome.  Competitive one-up-person ship.  Puffing yourself up at another person’s expense.  They are so chronically depressed they can’t rest till they depress everybody around them. 

Who knows?  Maybe they work for an airline.

“Honey, we’ve got to fly back to Rome!  We missed Julius Caesar’s preschool!”

Whatever the reason, I got a paralleling dose when I announced I was altering my writing technique.

“I got this new ‘stand-up’ desk.”

“Oh yeah, my friend has one.  He said it really helped his back.  But he eventually got varicose veins.”

The next sound you hear are my dreams of a better life crashing noisily to the ground.

It’s the proverbial “trade-off” – it improves your posture but it destroys your legs.  That’s like, when I was in the hospital.

“We dried out your lungs.  But me messed up your kidneys.”

Do I really need to hear that? 

I had not started using it yet.

It’s an experiment, okay?  If it doesn’t work out, I’ll go back to the chair and I’ll live with “The Slouch.”

For now, I am “Writing Tall.”  (And when my legs get tired, marching bracingly in place.)

I am kind of enjoying it so far.


Despite shadowing fears about varicose veins.

Thursday, December 7, 2017

"Course Correction"

Boy, was I in a mood yesterday.

I was writing this honest but frivolous piece of fluff entitled “’Night, ‘Night” about how much I enjoy going to sleep, and when I read over my first draft, I realized I was parodying my own writing style. 

Criticizing my efforts is an activity I invariably leave to others, which I subsequently ignore.  (Not emotionally, where the “Ouch!’ remains forever, but in altering my individualized approach.) 

What triggered the unconscious self-lampooning was the post before “’Night, ‘Night” entitled “Story Time”, where I recounted a “Grace” story involving the birth of my daughter Anna as an imagined storytelling performance.  The bloated silliness in that post made me realize that what I wanted to accomplish in this blog and what I was actually delivering were dismayingly no longer in sync.

When I read over the first draft of “Story Time”, I began to notice that, though I was purportedly “telling a story about telling a story” – where you would, if anywhere, expect me to “write talk” –  I was, in fact, “writing talk” sometimes, but more often than I was happy to discover, I wasn’t.

My “transcribed storytelling” sounded too much like writing and not enough like talking.  How, I wondered, had I inadvertently turned into an “author”?

Maybe it’s a generational concern.  Truman Capote once assailed Jack Kerouac’s “spontaneous prose technique”, acerbically observing, “That’s not writing.  It’s just typing.”  Since I did not want to be accused of “just typing”, I threw some adjectives into the narrative.  And adverbs, many of which, my computer tells me, underlining them in red, are not actual English words.

I am, admittedly, a sucker for an artfully turned phrase.  In the recent (listened to) Michael Connelly mystery, when Detective Harry Bosch traded cars to make it harder for him to be followed, the writer described this maneuver as “vehicular subterfuge.”  The book was ten discs long – that’s the only thing I remember.  When I heard it, I thought, like the Australians say after an admirable achievement, “Good on ya!”

I really liked “vehicular subterfuge.”  But that is not what I am supposed to be doing here.

So in the post “‘Night, ‘Night”, when I described sleep  as “sweet surrender” followed immediately by “beneficent slumber” and then said to you, “Pick one”, I was, in humorous fashion, acknowledging, “This is not ‘talk’ and I am deeply embarrassed to have included it.”

In my unfortunate “lapse into literature”, I had forgotten the original Just Thinking mandate.  Paraphrasing the sage studio head in The Three Amigos, I had “strayed from the formula and paid the price.” 

I was apparently too busy writing to remember I was supposed to be talking.

I know that blog writing – because it’s writing – is not – and cannot ever be – talking.  When you write – no matter what the format – you are required to adhere, at least minimally, to the basic writing “Rules of the Road.”  Unlike “talk”, although, as with writing, you want to communicate the story simply, succinctly, (as) truthfully (as you can) and completely – and if it’s funny nobody’s going to complain – there are further essential obligations in writing. 

One of numerous examples:

You have to produce (comprehensible) complete sentences and clarifying “bridges”, facilitated in “talk” by gestures, facial expressions and conventional speaking inflections.  (The latter replaced here by italics.)

I spend hours rejiggering sentences so they will “flow better.”  I don’t do that in casual conversation.  Who would stick around till I got it exactly the way I wanted it?

“Nice talking to you.  Call me, and tell me what you were trying to say.”

Unlike “talk”, where the communicational cadence is inherently natural, I work hard to make it sound inherently natural. 

And then also I don’t. 

For example, I assiduously avoid using the same word twice.  In writing, especially comedy writing, writers are vigilantly on guard against repeating a word when telling a joke.  Repetition distracts the listener from the ultimate payoff. 

“Didn’t they say that already?  Oops, I missed the punch line.”

In life?  Who ever thought, talking to someone, “I just used that word in the last sentence.  I’m going to stand here till I can come up with a synonym.”

So many ways – or as the writer would revise, “In so many ways” – writing is distinctively different from talking.   Paraphrasing “O, Canada”, I have to assiduously “stand on guard for thee,” the “thee” in this case being the considered balance between “Lemme tell you something” and “Lemme tell you something in print.”

My less-than-natural imagined storytelling post came as a… there, see?  I am trying to conceive of an appropriate descriptive before, “Wake-up Call.”  I would never do that when I’m talking; I’d either get it or I wouldn’t.  Maybe just “Wake-up Call” is enough.  I throw in a colorful adjective and it’s like,

‘WAKE-UP CALL”:  “Why are you doing here?”

Fashioning the ideal combination of writing and “talk.” 

It’s not going to be easy.

But I need to get closer to my intention, whatever that mystical amalgam might be.

And that’s the last time you’ll hear, “mystical amalgam.”


I hope.

Wednesday, December 6, 2017

"'Night, 'Night"

I always knew I enjoyed it, but I was not aware of how much.

And then, last night, I was climbing the stairs and I realized that arguably the best part of my day was about to begin.

I was going to sleep.

I felt almost giddy about it.  I know that sounds silly, but I am only reporting what my beaming visage reported to me.  Sleep was the next thing on my agenda.  And my quickening steps upstairs proclaimed,

“Yippie!”

What a wonderful thing it is that sleep comes at the end of the day and not at the beginning.  Were it the opposite, I would have nothing to look forward to after a long day’s travail.  It would be, “The best thing is over; now, a long day’s travail.”  Sleep is the day’s “Extra Added Attraction”, which belongs at the end.  You want the cherry on the top of the sundae, not buried somewhere at the bottom.

(At least I do.  That way, I can easily toss it away rather than eating it by accident.  I don’t like those candied cherries.  Making that, in retrospect, an inaccurate analogy.  And yet, it stays in.  By the way, in the southern hemisphere, along with the flipping of the seasons and the toilet water circling in the opposite direction, sleep, in fact, does come at the beginning of the day.  You might want to double-check me on that.)    

I know there are people who brag about needing only three or four hours of sleep at night.  One of them is our current president.  (Which deeply saddens me.  How much less damage could he do if only he slept longer?)  To me, choosing to curtail the duration of “sweet surrender” or “beneficent slumber” – pick one – is like going on some celestial game show, winning “Two glorious weeks in heaven” and announcing, “I only want one.”

That’s how much I like sleep.  And how far one can strain for an appropriate analogy.  I think I’ll stay off them for a while. 

“Major Penalty:  Number Seventy-two and Three Quarters:  Pomerantz – Five minutes for ‘Artless Analogizing’.”

This could be tricky.  I am now playing the game one literary allusion short.

Okay.  Straight talk.  No ballooning artifice.  (And I probably did not need “ballooning.”) 

Ten Reasons Why Sleep Is So Wonderful 

(I may need to alter that number.  At this point, I have nothing.)

One Reason Sleep Is So Wonderful:  You almost never drown when you are asleep.  (The qualifying “almost” being for waterbeds.) 

Reason Number Two:  You cannot go downstairs and eat that fourth slice of pizza when you are asleep.  (Unless you are a somnambulant, sub-section:  a “Pizza-Eating” somnambulant.  It’s rare, but it happens.)

Three:  You cannot make an embarrassing gaffe to when you are asleep.   (Extraneous Tidbit:  Political journalist Michael Kinley once opined, “A ‘gaffe’ is when a politician tells the truth.”) 

Four:  You cannot write a check to Spectrum cable and send it Mastercard by mistake when you are asleep.

Five:  Nobody ever loses their keys when they are asleep.  (Unless – and trust me, this almost never occurs – they are somnambulant “Key Swallowers.”  And even then, the keys will eventually – naturally or surgically – come back to you.

Six:  You cannot accidentally mess up your Internet order for Altoids and wind up getting cartons of Altoids shipped to you every month when you are asleep.  Regular readers will remember the same thing happened to me with Kind Bars.  It has now happened with my Altoids order as well.  And on both occasions, I was awake!

Seven:  You cannot ruin your eyes watching six Law & Orders in a row – all of which you have already seen – when you are asleep.  (Bonus Advantage:  Your eyes are rested so you can watch more of them tomorrow.)

Eight:  You cannot go outside wearing your gym pants inside-out when you are asleep.

Nine:  You cannot receive terrible news when you are asleep.  You can dream it, of course, but when you wake up, it’s not true.  Unless you are a sleeping clairvoyant.  And how many of those are there? 

Ten:  You can die in your sleep, but, as opposed to “dying awake”, you will be unaware of it until you do not arise the following morning.  (Show of Hands:  “Dying in your sleep” at the appropriate juncture.  Anybody against it?  There you have it.  The worst thing of all is better when you’re asleep.) 

An Encore Inclusion:  Sleep is absolutely free.  Rich and poor sleep for the exact same price and fexactly the same way.  Unless one of them has a guilty conscience.

Ta-da.  I did it.

(Pomerantz struts majestically around the ring like a victorious wrestler.  Rapturous applause:  deserved but unnecessary.)

I admittedly enjoy other satisfying pleasures in life:  Meditation, unforced “regularity”, a nice cold glass of water – How well do you think that list would serve me on eharmony.com?  But for me, the Gold Medal Winner of the “Joys of Life Olympics” is unquestionably sleep.

Which at the moment, is a full half-a-day away. 

I suppose I could in the meantime consider a list of “Waking Pleasures.”

Let’s see, now…

One:  Making this list will help distract me until it is time for me to go to sleep.

I am not sure this is going to work.

For me, sleep is quintessential perfection.

The rest is just running out the clock.


(Additional Question:  How come you can watch yourself going to sleep but you cannot experience the transitional “changeover?”  I’d like to know what that feels like sometime.  Wouldn’t you?)

Tuesday, December 5, 2017

"Story Time - Part Two"

Wherein the writer recreates on this surrogate for paper the personal story he did not tell at an event in which the thematic subject of the evening’s exercise was “Grace.”

(Note:  I imagined what I’d have said during a recent ocean-side excursion.  The rendition was spectacularly “on the money” in organization, clarity and flow.  I have never once been able to produce such spontaneous lucidity in print.  My experience informs me that my “think-talk” connection is demonstrably superior to my “think-write” connection.  For a writer, the disparity is extremely frustrating.)

I knew exactly what my opening line would be, had I been selected after volunteering to relate my impromptu anecdote before the audience, there to witness professionals in action.  As I planted myself onstage behind the microphone, the first words out of my mouth would be,

“What did I do?”

The rest is an approximation of my performance, if I had delivered one, which I didn’t. 

“On the subject of Grace.”

I’d take a breath that said, “Lord, I know I am not a believer but help me”, and off I’d go.

“In about two months, our daughter Anna who is now 34, will be having a baby.”

(ACKNOWLEDGING THE AUDIENCE’S APPLAUSE)

“Thank you.  I’ll let her know strangers are excited.  This upcoming blessed event reminded me of how, it seems like two weeks ago, my wife and I had had Anna. 

Sunday, March the twentieth, 1983, a good day to have a baby because there’d be less traffic.  I, of course, would be the one driving us to the hospital.  Judging by the traditional signals, it was now time to get in the car. 

My wife is, um… she does not care for the way I drive.  I am too pokey and deliberate, and she’s like,

‘Make the light!!!

So between my driving and her increasingly frequent contractions,

It was not a fun drive to the hospital.

We get there, I park the car… after a couple of attempts… and we go inside for the impending ‘Miracle of Birth.’

We are immediately ushered to to the “Birthing Room”, with flowered, you know, like,
‘Liberty’ print wallpaper.  It was apparently scientifically determined that flowered wallpaper is calming.  The room’s message was, ‘Yes, you’re having a baby, but you are having it in an English seaside motel room.

After being examined it was determine that it was not time for the baby to come out…  to use the medical vernacular.  We were invited to watch TV, and they would see what was what later in the day.

We watched this movie, “The Master of Ballantrae”, a 50’s sword-fighting picture, with capes and kilts.  I imagine that was my choice.  The imminent ‘mother-to-be’ was surely otherwise engaged.

After the movie, they came in and checked her again.  Finding her still not ready to deliver, they offered two alternatives:  We could go home and have the baby tomorrow.  Or they could medically ‘move things along.’

Imagining another drive to the hospital, we decided to have the baby that day.

Then, things went fast and crazy.  

My wife experienced what she later described as one long contraction, which was apparently not how that was supposed to procced.  When she was quickly whisked out of the “Birthing Room” to a nearby Operating Room, I started to worry.  Not just because I am a congenital worrier, but because the medical professionals looked worried.     

We had done our obligatory six-week of Lamaze Training.  I knew my job:  ‘Breathe, honey.”  By I was immediately told to ‘Shut up!’  First, by the woman having the baby, and then by a leathery nurse, who took over, delivering us capably to the ‘Finish Line.’

The baby was born at 5:25 P.M.  It was a girl.  Which surprised me, since, although my wife secretly knew otherwise, I was assured it would be a boy.  In one of my greatest ‘on my feet’ rewrites, Benjamin Alexander transformed immediately to Anna Benne.  

There was a moment of indescribable elation.  Then newborn Anna Benne was taken off to the ‘Baby Room’ and I was shipped back to the paisley ‘Birthing Room’, while the medical professionals wrapped the loose ends.  As it were.   

Whatever they were up to was taking quite a while, and once again, I began to worry.  Finally, after what felt like a lifetime, I was called back to the Operating Room.

The doctor reported that after the birth, there’d been some concerning post partum bleeding, and if they were unable to stop it, they would have to perform a hysterectomy. 

THE SPEAKER SIGHS

I write comedy for television.  I am not good with reality.  The thing is, the person who handles the serious problems in our family was currently anaesthetized.  People were looking to me for direction.

I told them to do their best to stop the bleeding.  Adding… and these were my exact words:

“‘If she wakes up with less parts than she went to sleep with, she’s going to be really angry.’

Now back in the “Birthing Room”, my anxious waiting is augmented by feverish pacing.  Moments later, the door opens and a nurse walks in, carrying my newborn daughter Anna.

She tells me that they had to take her out of the “Baby Room” because her constant crying was disturbing the other babies.  I could not get my head around that.  Somehow, newborns, who are unable to communicate, had circulated a petition to have my daughter Anna thrown out of the ‘Baby Room.’  

And they listened to them.

The nurse walked out, leaving me, alone in the “Birthing Room”, cradling in my arms an amoeba with my face, as my sleeping wife underwent emergency surgery in a nearby Operating Room.

Not my usual situation.

Worrying and pacing are now supplemented by unceasing moaning.  And not from the baby.  I am alone in a predicament I am unsuited for, having nowhere to go and no one to turn to.

And then it happened.

A man steps into the “Birthing Room”, another about-to-be or recently-become new father – paunchy, a dark mustache, slicked-back receding hair, I believe of Hispanic descent, but I’m from Canada so what do I know?  And what difference does it make?  A man had suddenly materialized like some comforting angel, and he told me what I needed to hear most at that moment, which was that everything was gonna be okay.

The man remained with me a while, and then left.  Not ‘Poof!’  But it felt like it.

Some time later, I was called back to the Operation Room.  Alone.  Apparently, the newborns in the ‘Baby Room’ had agreed to give my daughter Anna a second chance.

I was informed they’d been able to stop the bleeding.  A precautionary night in ‘Intensive Care’ would determine what treatment, if any, would be subsequently required. 

The next morning, she was fine, and not long after that we went home. 

There was no discussion about my driving.

Flash Forward, as they say in movies, to fifteen years later.  We are attending a ‘Meet the Teachers’ event at Anna’s High School.  I look around, and there, across the room, for the first time since that time in the ‘Birthing Room’…

I see the man.

I go over, tell him the story, and say thank you.  A long hug may have also been involved.  And why not?  A miraculous thing had happened.  And that guy had saved me.

That’s my story about ‘Grace.’ 

As close as possible to how I remember it.

Thank you.”