Monday, November 11, 2013

"An Invaluable Life Lesson"

His name was Cjeron Lazdins.  I have remembered that name for forty-one years.  I had never met a Cjeron Lazdins.  I had never even met a Cjeron.

(WRITER’S SIDENOTE:  Yesterday, I had terrible stomach flu – projectile hurling of Olympian proportions.  {NOTE:  A possible event in “The Unhealthy Olympics.”}  Since I was some posts ahead, I decided not to write, fearing my infirmity would affect my writing, possibly projectiling it right over my computer screen.  That’s silly, but I am essentially serious.  I have mentioned before that, given the option, I do not write when I’m ailing.  Today, I feel better, so I decided to give it a shot.  The above opening paragraph told me I was sufficiently back in the game.  I include this to highlight an element rarely mentioned in the writer's arsenal – energy.  Without energy, you can’t write, at least not up to your standards and expectations.  That’s why octogenarians like Philip Roth give it up.  Their imaginations are still vibrant, but they haven’t got the oomph.  I just thought I’d pass that observation along.  And now, back to our story.)

Cjeron Lazdins was an impeccably mannered, sixtyish gentleman who came from Rumania – Romania – Roumania – which I believe is also a song.  (I love making light of my ignorance.)  Our paths crossed when I took him on as my driving instructor, a then budget-busting but essential necessity, since I had failed my Driver’s Test twice before without one.  I had failed once at eighteen (already two years past when everyone’s driving and doing things in cars that I was not doing anywhere) and again at twenty-six (the extreme trauma of my first failure bumping me eight years into the future.)

I was now twenty-seven, and ready to try again.

But I knew I would require assistance.

Cjeron Lazdins had a relaxed demeanor and a gentle, Eastern Europeanly-inflected voice.  His instructorial strategy was patience and watchfulness.  Without comment or reaction, he sat back, and let me show him what I had.

He then, like the best teachers, critiqued my performance, not mechanically, but by offering an indirect, out of left field, and entirely unexpected analogy to driving. 

He analogized it with boxing.

(An immeasurable improvement to saying, “You need to do a helluva lot better, Mister, or you are never going to pass your Driver’s Test!”, the direction I most likely gave myself on the two previous occasions.)

What he said instead was this.  (I shall eschew any transliteratorial efforts at an accent.)  It’s what they call in TV writing an “overall note.” (Though, unlike a network note, he did not say “I hated the whole thing.”) 

In his soft Continental tones, Cjeron Lazdins said:

“You know, Earl, when a boxer sees that he is about to get hit, there are two ways he can react.  He can throw his hands up in front of his face, jerk his head awkwardly to the side, and tighten up in his brain.  Or he can calmly and consciously tilt his head ever so slightly, allowing the arriving punch go sailing by.”

Cjeron Lazdins had diagnosed the situation perfectly.  Fueled by anxiety, I had been egregiously overreacting.  The problem had nothing to do with my driving.  I was simply “crazy behind the wheel.”

Overreacting.  Doing more than is necessary, thereby doing less than is helpful.  The diagnosis was simple.  My (albeit conscientious) intensity made things worse rather than better. 

Cjeron Lazdins’ advice was counterintuitive to my way of natural way of behaving, but it was eminently productive.  (I passed my Driver’s Test.)  

In time, I came to see this fortuitously received insight for what it actually was – an illuminating lesson, not just for driving, but for life in general:

“Try less hard for superior results.”

Have I applied it to my everyday life?

Not yet.

But there is still time.

Hey, at least I know what it is.

And now, so do you.

(Not my best ending, but remember, I was sick yesterday.)
Happy Remembrance Day, Canadians.  Buy a poppy for me.
On Friday, Mike asked if I knew of any sitcoms that ran for five years and didn't get worse.  My immediately thoughts went to two series from way back, "The Sergeant Bilko Show" (also called "You'll Never Get Rich") and "The Dick Van Dyke Show."  Both series ran five years and remained consistently strong and fresh.  In both cases I believe the plug was pulled by their creators, who believed they were running out of gas and wanted to leave before it showed.

It should also be noted that today, with the gargantuan payoffs in syndication, there is little incentive, other than the creative one, to stop making shows.  Any show that lasts five years today will try to last ten, or at least as long as it can.  Let it also be mentioned, however, that shows in the fifties and sixties made up to thirty-nine episodes per year, so five years, from a product standpoint, is considerably longer.

I did not think I'd be writing this much.  I could have made this a separate post.

Oh, well.

I hope I never run out of gas.  Not because of the money - ha ha - but because of how much I enjoy doing this.

But you never know.


Wendy M. Grossman said...

Speaking of stopping making shows, I remember seeing Jennifer Saunders interviewed on Letterman once, shortly after she and the others involved had decided not to make any more episodes of ABSOLUTELY FABULOUS. Letterman couldn't get over it, kept trying to nudge her to come up with an explanation. (I will also note that subsequent to that there *were* more episodes of ABSOLUTELY FABULOUS that I think entirely justified Saunders' original decision that it was time to quit).

I think SEINFELD stayed true to its quality for more than five years (though not the entire length of its run).

Sadly, no one will ever accuse me of trying too hard.


Mike said...

Thanks for the answer, Big Earlo.
Bilko was a big hit in the UK and is still occasionally repeated on a main channel.

When I see Bilko, Van Dyke or Honeymooners, quintessential American sitcoms, I ask myself "why were the Americans able to do this, when we weren't?" But we wouldn't have tried. US and UK sitcoms are completely different, surprisingly so given the commonalities. Partly through the differences with films to which you alluded the other day. Some of our best films work because they don't have happy endings.