Friday, March 3, 2017

"A Foolish Question I Occasionally Ask Myself"

I ask myself this question because nobody else appears interested.

(Reminding me of the line, “He’s a self-made man.  Nobody else would help.”)

And, of course, exploring a question no one is interested in is, for me, the inevitable starting place for a blog post.  Why?  I don’t know.  Maybe it’s a test of loyalty.  I offer an issue nobody’s interested in and I see who jumps ship and who stays the course.  If it were me… well… let’s hope you’re not me.  I bail shamefully easily.

(You would think a “First Person Narrative” would be more flattering to the “First Person.”  And yet, it is invariably Flaws R I.  Another mystery.  For another occasion.)

Anyway… here’s today’s question.

“Which show would you want to work on if you were starting out today?”

It seems like a reasonable question.

Thank you. 

But it isn’t. 

I shall explain why momentarily.  But first, let us begin here.

I’m a writer.  I write things for a living.  Or at least I used to.  I still write things – Duh!  You are reading it! – just not for a living.  Which reminds me to jettison one entry-level option – a career in blog writing. 

My family would be out on the street.  Since our children now have places on their own, by “family” I mean Dr. M and myself would be out on the street.  Our kids might possibly take us in but that decision would be theirs and we would be bound to abide by it.

Those pusillanimous ingrates!

Nah, they’d do the right thing… I’d like to believe.

Hold on.  I am ignoring the second half of the question.  “… if you were starting out today”, meaning I ws 40-and-then-some years younger – I would not have a family.  It would be just me thrown onto the street.  And what an interesting blog that would make… Just Panhandling… imagining an “on the street” guy with a computer… and a street with reliable Internet access.

Okay, I’m stopping this nonsense… and apologizing for hijacking your time.

My self-asked question implies (or should imply to be of practical value), “What would you want to write for a living if you were starting out today?”

I look at today’s comedies and virtually nothing sparks my enthusiasm.

Note:  We have a Netflix subscription, but A) I am not consistently conversant with its operation and B) Netflix and Amazon are, by definition, “niche programming” and, to the degree that I understand it, I am not a compatible participant in that niche – a niche garnering, for me, head-scratching critical accolades such as “Comedy does not have to be funny” – so though I have almost never watched them, they are unlikely to be shows that, were I starting out today, I would passionately desire to work on.)

I watch Mom on occasion, enjoying, when it’s at the top of its game, its courageous blend of the serious and the comedic.  However, Mom’s episodes are precariously “hit and miss.”  Plus, I am less than entirely comfortable eliciting comedy from the perilous minefield of multiple addictions.  (It unquestionably limits me but my selected comedy M.O. assiduously sidesteps the sad.  That’s what, I possibly mistakenly believed, was what comedy was for.)

The remainder of the video landscape leaves me shruggingly indifferent.  Nothing to quietly aspire to, nothing compelling me to make “The Big Leap” for, nothing whose daunting parapets I ache desperately to ascend.

(And you can see why writing drama would be totally out of the question.)

The Mary Tyler Moore Show?  I adored it, and then I worked on it.  It wasn’t a perfect fit.  But I stuffed newspaper in my shoes and I successfully walked the walk.

The equivalent of Mary for me today?  Nada.  Maybe Jon Stewart but he’s gone, and I am unsuited for screamers.  And arguably for everything else on the schedule today.
Then, coincidentally, I was reading the Neil Simon biography Memoirs.  On Page 29 – towards the bottom – struggling with his determination to depart the arena of television and turn his prodigious talents to the stage, Simon writes,
“An out-and-out failure {in playwriting} would mean the end of a dream, the beginning of poverty, and the awful prospect of moving permanently to California and writing episodes of ‘Gilligan’s Island’ for the rest of my life.”
Reading those words led me to realize something for the first time.
It is not only today’s shows that would have inhibited my rolling the dice on an uncertain career in show business.  Shows before my time (such as Gilligan’s Island) would not have fueled that insanity either. 
Not the half-hour comedies (like Mr. Ed and The Flying Nun.)  Not the “Big Joke”, leering variety shows (The Red Skelton Show and Dean Martin.)
Reading that Neil Simon lamentation, I was suddenly aware that my “Window of Opportunity” was startlingly narrower than I had previously considered.  
Imagine two trains, hurtling in each other’s direction – one carrying the “Shows of the Day”, the other carrying me – and when they race past each other – in the mid-1970’s – that was my only chance to jump trains and successfully take part.
I don’t know, can our genetic encodement really be possibly that precise? 
“You have a natural proclivity for comedy writing.  But for only a particular boundaried period of time.”
It seems unlikely, don’t you think?  Though I am demonstrably ignorant about genetic encodement – which my computer reports is not even a word – I cannot imagine it decreeing our destinies that specifically.  I am surmising it is a “cultural compatibility” concern.  
They were ready for me when I was ready for them. 
Beforehand, no; and afterwards, no again.  But for one fortuitous sliver of history, our creative hearts beat synchronistically as one.  
That’s why “What would you work on today?” makes no sense as either a question or as an area of inquiry.  (Maybe that’s why nobody asks me about it.)
You are a creature of your times.
And those times are never “forever.” 


Wendy M. Grossman said...

The times are never forever, but people are also the product of their times. In tennis, people like to imagine: what if Pete Sampras played Rod Laver? Who would win? Well, but, when are they playing and with what equipment? Are we imagining a time machine to make them the same age? Sampras was taller, had the advantage of money to pay for any expert he wanted to consult, and had better shoes, a more powerful racquet, and breaks at changeovers. So are we imagining Laver in 1970 with his wood racquet or Laver in 1996 at the age he was in 1970 with the benefits of modern training, equipment, and childhood nutrition? The smart people (IMO) concede that if Laver had grown up when Sampras did, or vice versa, it's very difficult to say who would win because the things that made them champions would still have been at play in both cases.

So to comedy. Had you grown up a few decades earlier, you'd have written radio comedy. A few decades before that, perhaps been a humorous columnist (Franklin Pierce Adams, Robert Benchley, Art Buchwald, Dave Barry...) or comic novelist (Mell Lazarus, etc.). Were you trying to break in today, you'd have grown up with all the shows you name and while your fundamental personal characteristics might well be the same, your experience of life would be vastly different (see Beloit College's Mindset list). Today's 30-year-old was 13 on 9/11, and has grown up with the web and mobile phones, The Onion and XKCD. The fish-out-of-water theme you're so fond of is still a durable theme, and I'd bet you'd be writing that. But your mindset would be different.


Pluto said...

As many great philosopher-coaches have uttered, "you have to play the hand you're dealt." That's true for all of us, regardless of occupation.

JED said...

It would be interesting, to me at least, if there was some way to really know who is reading your blog and what their ages and other interests are. But we don't have that information but that has never stopped me from making things up.

I think that a lot of people read your blog and enjoy it. I think the people who read your blog are all different ages. I think the people who read your blog like other contemporary entertainment choices (movies, plays, YouTube channels, podcasts, radio shows, books, magazine articles) that are different from your style - but they still like your style because they don't want to be entertained the same way all the time. I think if your friend Al Franken wasn't busy holding the line against tyranny, you and he could take another try at LateLine because there is so much material and we don't have Jon Stewart on a regular basis. Maybe Al could recommend someone.

Think of the good you can do, the laughter you can bring and the fun you can have. The current offerings on TV etc are horrible. You could only improve things.

FFS said...

Is it just me or did wg send anyone else to Google to see see what the hell XKCD is? That may be one way to segment your readership - people who know what XKCD is and old farts.

Brian Fies said...

It's often occurred to me that the best downhill skier in history probably lived in 15th century Bermuda, or the world's best stand-up comedian was a goat herder in ancient Egypt. They just never got their chance. Glad you got yours.