Thursday, April 28, 2011

"The Elusive Mystery Of 'Can'"

Sometimes, though not often enough to my liking, people come up to me and say, “Earl, it simply amazes me that you have the fertility of imagination to be able to write five always surprising postings every single week. How the heck do you do it?”

They may not use those exact words, but I know that’s what they’re thinking. They just don’t want to embarrass me by saying it out loud, so they resort to a less effusive version of the same idea. Sometimes, it’s just a look, which, with my natural insight, I infer as astonishment and admiration. I am a skillful reader of hidden compliments.

Anyway, back to the question.

How am I able to write five postings a week?

I have no idea.

Sorry if that’s disappointing, but what can I tell you? It’s a mystery.

The simple explanation is, “I can do it, because I can do it.”

Which to people looking for the key to successfully accomplishing difficult tasks may be equally disappointing. My apologies again. If you want helpful answers, try Drew Pinsky.

When I started writing here three years and three months ago, I was undeniably more wobbly in the certainty department. And now still, on those days when I’m scrambling for an idea. But most of the time, I can just do it.

Why? Because I can.

Repetition breeds confidence. And confidence instills certainty. Repeating what I mentioned once before, I have never started a blog posting I didn’t finish. Once the idea for the posting captures my enthusiasm, it’s pretty much clear sailing. And a boatload of fun along the way.

It was the same in my other job – the job that paid money – writing sitcoms. You write a fifty-or-so page half-hour comedy script – over the years, I either wrote or co-wrote close to a hundred of them – and doing the next one becomes predictably possible. (I assume it’s the same for heart surgeons, only with more blood.)

As with the blog postings, I never abandoned a sitcom script I started.

(With one exception.

Bill Cosby wanted me to write a Cosby Show episode about the sexually explicit lyrics in popular music, triggered by Dr. Huxtable’s catching his six year-old daughter mindlessly parroting some age-inappropriate “Rap” lyrics.

Cosby wanted me to contrast this corrupting-of-minors outrage with the G-rated music of his youth. The problem with this idea was that Dr. Huxtable’s musical preference growing up was the blues. And blues lyrics, though cleverly euphemized, are…I mean…they’re just…equally as dirty, if not worse. For those with delicate sensibilities, I will respectfully dispense with the examples.

After making my most determined effort to ignore the gaping hole in Cosby’s story, I informed Dr. C that I was unable to complete the assignment. To his credit, Bill replied, “If you can’t, you can’t”, and that was it. This was the only time in the sitcom world that I recall not finishing what I started.)

What helps in both situations – blog and sitcom writing – is that at some point, your brain starts to act like flypaper. Workable episode, or posting ideas, start sticking to it. Once you become sensitized, those ideas seem to be everywhere.

A waiter says, “An excellent choice” to your companion’s lunch order, putting you suddenly on the spot to order something equally “excellent.”

That’s a posting. Which I immediately record in a notepad I’ve started carrying around.

A writer, toiling for the Old Testament, agonizes over whether it’s “The Shadow of the Valley of Death” or “The Valley of the Shadow of Death”, and his wife tries her best to help him.

That’s a posting. “A Writer’s Curse.”

Chris Matthews, who plays on my ideological ball club, takes to stooping to the schoolyard strategies of the other side.

That’s a posting.

My friends babysit my goldfish while I’m away, and when I get home, the goldfish is dead. Boom! – an episode of Taxi. (Reprised in an altered form on Cosby.)

With sitcoms, and now with blog postings, I became comfortable believing that I could do what I’d done before. Where I got stymied in my career was when I was confronted with the challenge of doing something I had never tried.

That story is considerably less smile inducing. I will tell you about it tomorrow.

I’d like at least one more day of people thinking I’m amazing.


Anonymous said...

I don't think you will need to worry about people not thinking you are amazing. I'm of the opinion that you are always pretty amazing and one blog post is not going to change my mind.

Frank Paradise said...

I'm amazed all the time!