Thursday, May 31, 2018

"An Unhappy Addiction"

Imagine being hopelessly addicted to something you unequivocally don’t like.

Anchovy potato chips.

I know.  But it came to me and I’m going with it.  And actually, it’s not much of a “reach.”  AtWhole Foods, they have potato chips made from everything.  Including – though in minimal supply and only “organically grown” – potatoes.   

Anchovy potato chips. 

They have the size and shape of a potato chip.  They have the salt and crunch of a potato chip.  But at their indisputable core,

They’re anchovies.

The first sampling, not at all to your liking.  Still, you find yourself uncontrollably popping them into your mouth.

“So you likethem.”

“No!  I hatethem!”

“But you finished the whole bag.”

“I know!

Someone once gave me a great tip about priming the writer’s imagination.  They said,

“Everything’s like something else.  What is thislike?”

Well, in thiscase it’s like downing a big bag of anchovy potato chips.  

The “this” in analogical question?

Bingeing a television series whose original episode you did not in any way enjoy.

Is this a typical phenomenon?  You’re the first people I am asking about it.  It just feels desperately stupid to me.

I am relatively new to binge watching.  If you don’t count six consecutive hours of Law & Order, which is not the same, because it’s individualized episodes rather than a continuing story and because I sayit’s not the same.  (Although it may actually be the same.)

Our recently purchased new basement TV came with a “Master Remote” where we can access Netflixfar easier than on “hit and miss” previous occasions.  (We have a Master Bedroom TV where, due to a replacement DVD player, it now takes four remotes to operate three machines.)

Now that it’s easier to get to, I decided to check out a Netflixseries recently praised in the newspaper.  I will not mention the show’s name to protect its reputation, and to avoid conflict with viewers who actually believe its worthwhile.  (As well as public ostracism in case it’s a hit.)

Besides, the show itself is not the issue.  I am considering the “syndrome.”

The syndrome in which you watch one episode of an eight-episode series, decide you don’t like it, then you go back to it a couple days later to watch “Episode Two”, and before you know it, you’re in the basement, wolfing down seven unpalatable episodes in a row, your proximate family members wondering if you went out, fell asleep or were dead.

An English murder mystery. I usually lovethose things.  That’s the salty “potato chip” enticement.  As an objective assessment, however, it’s the things you judiciously extract from your Caesar Salad.

Notthat it’s ineptly produced.   It’s just not worth eight hours of my rapidly receding duration on this planet.  I can imagine the actors at lunchon this show, whispering, 

“Is this thing any good?”

“Don’t think so.  But the Old Vicwas hardly clamoring for my services.”

The series is replete with the standard dramatic clich├ęs:  The teenage runaway.  The suspicious “foreigner.”  The long-concealed group “secret.”  The final product – hackneyed and pedestrian. But with a British accent.  (The irresistible “crunch” of this particular potato chip.) 

I am an acknowledged novice at binge captivity to programming I do not, in fact, actually wish to see.  I feel like a “Guinea Pig” in the classic Layspotato chip commercial, a victim of the physically impossible, “Bet you can’t eat one” experiment.

Are people with Netflix, etc. around the world irresistibly screening multi-part series while simultaneously thinking, “I’m sticking pins in my eyes and I can’t stop!”  Or do they actively disable their cognitive dissonance, believing, “This show is great!

It’s like the old joke:

“The food was terrible. And the portions were too small.”

Only here it’s,

“I hated the show I sat through seven hours of in one sitting.”

I worked hard crafting series viewers would want to return to the following week.  Never knowing the secret to certain success was airing numerous episodes in rapid succession.

I could have fabricated a hit.

The key being, notassiduous effort,

but simply mesmerizing hypnosis.

Wednesday, May 30, 2018

"I Cried Twice"

Must be “Soft and Squishy Week” on the old blogeroo…

I cried twice recently.

What’s the connection? 

Maybe there isn’t one.  

Let’s take a look.

“Backstage:  Dodgers” offers hour-long, behind the scenes documentaries, chronicling candid events of the “Home Team’s” (so far, dismal) current season. 

It’s “Opening Day”, 2018. Honoring his memorable performance’s thirty-year anniversary – wow, I just noticed; the nextone’s a “30-year” story as well – Kirk Gibson, the hero of the Dodgers’ last World Series championship would be throwing out the “Home Opener’s” ceremonial first pitch.

Covering the festivities, “Backstage: Dodgers” shows a now sixtyish Gibson preparing to step onto the field for a certain reception of roaring nostalgia and thankful appreciation.  Before he appears, the stadium’s big screen Jumbotron replays Gibson’s Game One World Series at-bat, voted “The Greatest Moment in L.A. sports history.”  

Maybe you know this story; maybe you don’t.  Capturing the event’s sublime specialness, Dodgersannouncer Vin Scully quintessentially proclaimed, “In a year that has been so improbable… the impossiblehas happened.”

Briefly summarizing…

In a startling surprise, though he was believed unavailable for service due to hobbling leg injuries, the Dodgers' Kirk Gibson – who had been watching the game from the clubhouse – suddenly emerged from the dugout and stepped determinedly to the plate.  

After two agonizing, faltering swings during the game’s potential final at-bat, Gibson flipped a game-winning home run into the right-field bleachers, bringing the Dodgers a “Game One” victory and inspiring them to ultimate World Series success.  

As he rounded second base, the typically hard-nosed Gibson pumped his arm twice in uncharacteristic elation.

Though I knew that iconic film clip was coming, when it did, I found tears streaming copiously down my cheeks.  

And boy, was I embarrassed. (You don’t thinkyou can be embarrassed when you’re alone but you can.)

The next story, chronicled in a book I just finished (listening to) is exponentially more serious.

The Sun Does Shine relates the harrowing saga of Anthony Ray Hinton.   (A promising high school ballplayer, by the way.) After an egregiously flawed trial, Hinton was condemned to Alabama’s Death Row for a crime a fair-minded view of the evidence clearly indicated he did not commit.  Hinton was finally exonerated after thirty years of Dickensian imprisonment.  

I knew thatending was coming too, the story’s liberating outcome being included in the New York Timesreview that originally led me to order the book.  But when I listened this morning, during The Sun Does Shine’s“ Disc 8” climax, the reader uttering Hinton’s lawyer-of-fifteen-years’ words,

“Ray.  You’re free.” 

Well, there were those waterworks again.  (Following a spontaneous exhilarated whoop.)

Some things make me cry, and some things that probably should make me cry – the sad puppies on television – don’t.  Why the flood of tears on these particular occasions?

Of course, the two situations are unequal.  One’s meaningless sports; the other’s the unjustified deprivation of a man’s entire adult life.

But something about them is the same.  (Beyond the cathartic narrative payoff.)

What these two stories have in common, for me, is that they’re both about people facing punishing odds finding something inside them that allows them to spit statistical “likelihood” in the eye and ultimately prevail.

That’s human people… demonstrating an indomitable spirit… we hope we all have… should the challenging situation ever come up.

Why not?

If people can do this, and we’re people – Venn Diagram – 

We have it inside us to do it as well.

That’s the unifying factor.

And that’s what brought me to tears.

Either that, or old people just cry a lot.

Tuesday, May 29, 2018

"Life Imitates Art - A Joyful Fragment Of Human Existence"

Music to an old Jewish man’s ears:

“Dad.  You wanna go for a walk with me?”

There is this exquisite climactic sequence at the end of the First Act of Stephen Sondheim’s Sunday in the Park with George.  (1984 – Book by James Lapine.)

Backed by the show’s stirring title song, artist Georges Seurat takes charge of the “visitors” in the park, organizing them to duplicate the tableau of his iconic painting.

Seurat arranges things exactly the way he wants them.  He moves people around.  He gives characters actions.  He mows in the lawn in the park.

Okay, I made that one up. The point is, to create an idyllic reproduction of that sunlit excursion.  And… just when he thinks he has things “just right”, at the last moment, Seurat races into the human replica of his painting, and removes a young girl’s jarring – to him – pair of spectacles.

Now it’s perfect.  

(And then he paints it in dots.)


Anna and Dad, strolling casually down Main Street Santa Monica, a sleeping Baby Golda “Snugglied” bondingly to her chest.  With some spare change jingling in our pockets, we stop and shop along the way. I get coffee.  (I don’t actually needcoffee but I want the walk to last longer.)  Anna picks up an infant birthday gift at the local baby emporium.

Then I decide to buy sunglasses.

I already hadsunglasses.  But owing to careless misuse, which included repeatedly sitting on them, they were irreparably lopsided.  Set unevenly over my eyeballs, people could not tell if the problem was the sunglasses or my face.  

Were my sunglasses broken?  Or had I recently had a stroke?

Anyway, we went in to buy sunglasses.

Two things to remember:

I am an extremely fast shopper.  And Anna is a consummate… knower about fashion.

Working together, we move swiftly but certainly.  (Like the painter in “George”, deftly making his considered adjustments.)  Our exercise’s objective:  

The right sunglasses for Dad.

Whose criteria include…

The style’s suitability to the contours of my face.

The aesthetically appealing shape of the circles.

The comfortable fit on the bridge of my nose.

The sunglasses’ overall weight.

The degree of darkness of the green part.

Quickly rejecting numerous options, I check the provided mirror, evaluating the latest selection.

“I’ll take these,” I announce.

The Sunglass Saleslady nods, clearly impressed by our speed and scrupulous selectivity.

And just as she’s about to ring me up, Anna professionally intercedes.

“Do you have these in brown?”

She does.  

We make the last-second adjustment.

Now they’re perfect.

And there you have it.

A memorable interlude, worthy of Sondheim.  

But instead of dots,

It’s buying protective eyewear with Anna, your beloved, precious granddaughter, sleepily along for the ride.

Monday, May 28, 2018

"The Perfect Example"

We had seen “The Visage of Evil”, and it was … uh-oh.

While engaging in this daily literary exercise, I am continually encouraged by a scene in the remarkable – to me – movie All That Jazz (1979), in which director/choreographer “Joe Gideon”, surrogating All That Jazz’s director/choreographer Bob Fosse, unveils his brilliant creation for a television airline commercial, which is ultimately rejected because it was not “sexy” but was, instead, actually sexy.

Inspired by that memorable example, I have struggled to provide these posts with not just the chronicling “It”, but in some manner or other, elevatingly “It”-Plus.  I don’t always succeed, but that motivating intention is always somewhere in my mind. Before setting fingers to keyboard, I await the perfect example.  The quintessential analogy.  The most resonating comparison.  

toldyou.  I don’t always succeed.

But this time, I believe I’ve nailed it.

Though, as you will shortly discover, that “nailing’” comes with a revelatory price tag.



(You scared?  am.  Of courseknow what’s ahead.)

Have you ever noticed that actors – of both genders, and likely the newly minted categories as well – admit to enjoying playing the villains more than they do playing the “Good Guys”?

This thespianical preference is easily explainable.  The “Good Guy”, definitionally, does good.  Such selfless actions may involve personal courage.  But, from a behavioral standpoint, that’s exactly was you’re supposed to do.  

You fill out a questionnaire:

“Is it preferable to do good or do bad?”

You go, 

“Is that the best question you’ve got?”

“Momma always taught me to do good.”  

Over and out.

“Doing bad” – the questionnaire’s troubling “wrong answer” – is more complicated, and consequently more interesting to delve into.  Immersed in the “Bad Guy” perspective, the question, “Why would my character do that?” is psychologically fascinating. That question – for good reason – is rarely scrupulously explored in the other direction.   

“GOOD GUY” PROTAGONIST:  “You do good because it is the right thing to do.  Having thoroughly vetted my character’s ‘motivation’, I shall now go to my trailer and take a nap.”   

By diametrical contrast, the “Bad Guy...”, as with “Each unhappy family is unhappy in its own way”…

Hold on.  

For an unpopular personal perspective.

Which is the following:

“Bad Guys” – fictional and otherwise – do not believe they are bad guys.

It is others – most prominently their victims – who angrily – and vindictively, according to the defendants – paint them with an indelible “Bad Guy” stigmatization.   

The actual “Bad Guys” themselves?

“Bad Guys” variously see themselves as imaginatively “ahead of my time.”  Or as “takers” who believe “You either ‘take’ or ‘get taken’.”  Or they are blithely oblivious to the consequences of their actions.   Or they are “culturally misunderstood”, awaiting the more generous verdict of “history”.   (See: “Jesse James robbed the railroads for robbing ordinary people.”  Which, as a rationale, seems, to me, egregiously self-serving.  What happened to “an angry letter to Congress?”  That works, doesn’t it?  And does not involve shooting the guards.)

I deliberately “buried my lead” in the previous paragraph, as a temporary “stalling” technique.  It is now time to belatedly “face the music.” 

The Condensed Version of the Story

After 26 years of dutiful service, it became necessary to resurface the bottom (and adjoining sides) of our backyard swimming pool.  People were cutting their feet on the deteriorating original surface; plus, there was a detected leak in our hot tub.  

So we emptied the pool and prepared for the refurbishing.

Days after the water was pumped out, a team of workpeople arrived, after which, for the next five consecutive hours, there was this hellacious jackhammering, emanating poundingly from our backyard.

It was extremely loud. So loud, in fact, that a friend living a block-and-a-half away called, asking, “Is that you?” and I was compelled to confess it was.

Available Excuses For Our Noisy Behavior:

- This was a one-time intrusion, after years of dependable “pool silence.” 

- We were not told when the contracted repair process would begin.  (Keeping us from alerting affected neighbors in advance.)

- We did not know what was procedurally involvedin refurbishing our pool. (Leaving us unaware of the coming intolerable racket.)

- We wet told how long that intolerable racket would last.

- No one experienced the intolerable racket more agonizingly than we did.

Not to mention,

We are genuinely good people.

Or so we believed.

The next day, while gathering the day’s mail, we find this note, affixed to our front door with six pieces of tape.  (A note, similar to a posted announcement of more onerous taxes imposed by the Sheriff of Nottingham, if they’d had Scotch tape available in Sherwood Forest.)

Retrieved from the recycling bin for this post, after we originally, cringingly threw it away…well… you can read it for yourselves.  

We had seen "The Visage of Evil."

And startlingly this time,

It was us. 

Friday, May 25, 2018

"What I Learned While Faking My Way Onto A Canadian Game Show"

“‘Faked your way’?  You?”

I know, Blue Italics “catches everything” Person.  As man-child Lou Costello used to say when he got caught with his hand in the cookie jar,

“I’m a ba-a-a-a-a-d boy.”

I enjoy telling this story. I may be writing this entire blog post just to include it.  “‘Good Boy’ Does Bad.”  It’s so deliciously subversive.

Sadly, abject shame had deprived me of the details.  I was in Toronto during my twenties, I guess not doing that much.  I heard about this Canadian game show called “Party Game”, a north-of-the-border rip-off of “Charades”, featuring Canadian celebrities – which to some, barring William Shatner and Leslie Nielsen, and I will likely hear about moreis an oxymoron – as the game show’s teamed-up participants.

Hungry for show biz involvement, I called the “Party Game” production office, volunteering my services. Making no effort whatsoever to keep them from thinking I was my more recognized older brother who, with his then partner Lorne Michaels, was starring in nationally broadcast television specials. 

It was only when I showed up for the taping that they discovered it was me.  You could read the suppressed disappointment on their faces.  It was like,

That’snot John Travolta.  That’s Joey.”

“Too late.  You got me.”

But you know what?

I was pretty good.  I got numerous laughs, and proved a talented charades player.

I learned something very important on “Party Game.”  (I actually learned two things.  The other was that they gave the show’s participants all the answers.   Okay.  But I was highly adept at pretending they didn’t.)

After the taping, the “Party Game” producer thanked us for coming and presented us with our checks. (Partially, a payoff to stay “Mum” that guessing the charades was itself a devious charade.)

Referencing my successful comedic approach, the producer told me something I had never considered before but I believe to be correct.  

“You’re a ‘counter-puncher’,” he astutely observed.

And so I am.  This personal attribute going way back.

At a friend’s daughter’s recent wedding I was reacquainted with fellow wedding guest Rick Moranis, whom I knew from Toronto, but only as a seven year-old, racing rambunctiously around at his Auntie Selma’s backyard barbecue, Rick’s Auntie Selma being one of my mother’s best friends (which was why we were invited.)

At the wedding, Rick remembered seeing my teenaged older brother, accompanied by a large reel-to-reel tape recorder, allowing him to record his prepared stand-up routine later that evening.

I recall that performance as well.  But from a slightly different perspective.

With his tape recording whirring, my brother stood in the dining room, doing his act before a small gathering of assembled adults.  Standing unnoticed in the corner was me, quietly “counterpunching” his performance. (Earning serious laughter myself. Sometimes actually more than the “Headliner.”)

Setting aside the inappropriateness of my behavior – making it three disreputable acts in one blog post – faking my way onto the game show, colluding with the cheating when I got there, and sabotaging my brother’s post-barbecue performance – I am apparently not the angel I thinkI am – my reactive comedy M.O. was on view at a substantially early age.

As I said yesterday, my comedy has to derive from somewhere.  (Like someone else commanding the attention.)  That’s why I always had difficulties starting a script.  You’re facing a blank page, and it’s like,

“‘Counterpunch’ this, Big Shot!”

How couldI?  There is nothing to counterpunch.

Even worse was what they called the – always dreaded to me– “Free Joke.”

I hated the “Free Joke.” The “Free Joke” nearly singlehandedly sunk my career.

What, you may ask, is a “Free Joke”?

“What’s a ‘Free Joke’?”

Too late.  

A “Free Joke” is this.

The scene – or, frequently, the entire episode – begins.  But before that show’s storyline walks into the room – comes over the phone, is delivered in a letter, or accompanies the arrival of a long-lost “half-sister” – the writer is instructed to first insert, a “Free Joke”, a free-standing setup-and-punchline to “get the ball rolling” that has nothing at all to do with the episode’s story.


You know, like in school, they said,

“Write a composition about what you did last summer”?

Okay.  I went to camp.  Here comes the story where I didn’t know I was going.

But if they instead said,

“Write a composition about anything you feel like.”

That’s a “Free Joke.” In the form of a paralyzing assignment.

If I had two weeks to write a script, I’d spend one-and-a-half of them on the “Free Joke”, knowing– and here’s the insane part – that it would inevitably be replaced on “Rewrite Night.”  Because, though it took a week-and-a-half to come up with the “Free Joke”,

It still stunk.

How do you ‘counterpunch’ a “Free Joke”?  There is nothing before it to play off of.

(I just experienced a retroactive “Wa-a-a.”)

It occurred to me while thinking about this that “counterpunching” is the “Official Comedy of the Introvert.” Counterpunchers initiate nothing. But once the game is afoot, we respond impressively to the surroundings.

It’s an admittedly secondary attribute.

Which is fine with me.

You may not garner the accolades.

But the extrovert innovators take all the heat.

And you know what?  (I hate this even more than the “Free Joke.”)

It hardly even slows them down. 

Thursday, May 24, 2018

"I Wrote A Joke Once"

And I am quite proud of it.

As iconic baseball announcer Vin Scully, concerning a dribbling single into the outfield would say, 

“‘Tis a small thing but thine own.”

That’s how I feel about my joke.

‘Tis a small thing but mine own.

Classically structured jokes did not come easily to me.   Which is a problem in a business that expects them in busloads. 

Jokes are the “raw meat” of successful sitcomery, particularly those filmed in front of a live studio audience.  And, like the plant in Little Shop of Horrors, the demanding beast is continually ravenous.

I have been in the company of many superlative joke writers.  I marvel at their ability to conjure something – something truly hilarious – out of nothing.  

Great joke writers are comedy initiators.  Their jokes are entirely sui generis– which has surprisingly nothing to do with generous pigs.  (I shall now move to the next paragraph so that the of stench of the previous sentence does not contaminate my subsequent remarks.)

Great joke writers are self-starting machines, in the most awe-striking sense of the word.  They are not “married to the moment”, or any specific joke they come up with.  Their only concerning moment is the practical “reality moment” in the arduous rewrite process.

The moment that needs someoneto come up with a joke.

With their ingenious invention, a once “dead spot” in the script now embeds an exploding canister of laughter.  It’s like they plucked “hilariously funny” out of thin air.  Saving the rewrite night, and getting us home before breakfast.

I was a different kind of joke writer.  (Or, as my first half-hour comedy boss once described it, not a joke writer at all.) Still, I somehow got laughs.

Unlike the “pure” joke writers, my favored M.O. involved jokes rising from a contextual underpinning. Dramatic, emotional, emerging directly from character.  Sometimes, the generating source was a vague knowledge of the territory, laced with personalized silliness.  

I recall a vignette in the Best of the Westpilot.  Daniel, Sam Best’s disgruntled eleven-year old son had just insulted his Dad’s new wife, Elvira, a high-born aristocrat from the ante bellum South.  Sam insists Daniel apologize to her.  And from that we get this:


DANIEL:  “I’m sorry, Mammy.”

SAM “Daniel!”

DANIEL”  “I thought in the South they said ‘Mammy.’”

ELVIRA:  “They do. But not to their Mommy.”

DANIEL:  “You’re not my Mommy.”

ELVIRA:  “Well I’m certainly not your Mammy.”

So there’s that.

By contrast, the only joke I can remember that I both liked and that fit the standard joke-writing template is the following, which comes from Taxi.

Yada-yada-yada – Tony is boxing a far superior fighter.  His supportive friends ponder the encouraging “upside” of this impending lopsided encounter. 

ALEX:  Y’know, playing tennis with ‘A’ players, it somehow steps up my game.

BOBBY:  “I know. Working with more experienced actors, I amazingly rise to their level.”

ELAINE:  “It’s the same thing with sex.”

ALEX:  “You get better?”

ELAINE:  “They do.”

That joke got a pretty good laugh.  Although it’s not what I normally shoot for, sometimes, it takes mimicking others to get by. When there’s no nourishing context to draw from, the “formula joke” is the only available bridging “B”, moving the dialogue from “A” to “C.”  Of course, I dohave my preference.  Or is it my natural proclivity that makesit my preference?  I never know which one of those comes first.

Again from Best of the West, a distraught Daniel runs to his Stepmom for comfort, his nose buried in her voluminous attire.  There is a touching bonding moment.  At the end of which a near smothered Daniel curiously inquires,

“How long has this dress been in the trunk?”

(ALA W.C. FIELDS)  Ah, yes.  “Exploiting the moment.” 

Anyone who understands traditional joke construction can concoct some version of a joke.

But I like to think the foregoing was entirely earli generis.

That’s not me, bragging. I was different and lucky.  

The successful rewrite room combines a variety of writing styles.  

Thankfully, one style they included was mine.

Wednesday, May 23, 2018

"Go Easy On The 'Bad'"

What immediately comes to mind is the childrearing expert who, when expressing his professional opinion about spanking children proclaimed,

“If you promise never to spank your child you will end up spanking them just the proper amount.”

Having promised – myself– never to call a movie I don’t like “bad”, I believe I have called movies I don’t like bad “just the proper amount.” 

That amount being less often than if I had made no promise in that direction at all.

(Note:  There’s a lot to be said for that “spanking” rationale. The number of spanking episodes goes down, making your children less likely to abandon you when you’re old.  Which is ultimately all it’s about, isn’t it?)

Anyway… recent exception...

When exiting the theater recently, after seeing Wes Anderson’s Isle of Dogs, which we did not care for, I heard my disgruntled voice say,

“That movie was bad.”

Wait.  Can I stop for a minute?  Thank you.

We don’t see closeto as many movies as we used to.  Let’s leave out “Why?” for this outing and go straight to the consequence.  The consequence being that when, on those, now, infrequent occasions when we dogo to a movie, and we don’t like it, we inevitably get angry. It’s like,

“We decide to show up, and you reward us with that?

I just wanted to throw that in.  The fewer movies you attend, every screened clunker exerts a disproportionate negative impact.  

“I ate an achovy once, and I hated it.  (Batting average for “Anchovy Appreciation” – Zero.)

“I’ve eaten hundredsof anchovies.  And I have only hated, like, 78 of them.”

I will not mess with the math there.  (And not only because I can’t.)  But you see what I’m saying?  The smaller the sample size, the heavier the weight on each anchovy.  Or attended movie.  Or dating women with red hair.  Or whatever.

Okay, back to wherever I was.   Which was where?  Oh yeah.

I’m a professional writer. 

Wait, no.  First this.

No, forget that.

I’m a professional writer. Wait.  I just flashed on a meeting I had with the manager of the star of a show I developed about a Marine, and as it turns out, the manager himself had been a Marine.  In the course of our less than amicable conversation, the manager said, “Now, putting on my ‘Comedy’ hat…”  And I thought, “Wait.  I don’t have a “Marine” hat.  Because I did not earnone.  When did this bird get a “Comedy” hat?  (“I took it off a dead funny PLACE NAME OF MARINE BATTLEFIELD OPPONENT HERE.”) Because he’d certainly not earned one.      

I may have belabored that distinction just to get in the “hat” story.  (I keep mistakenly typing the “hate” story.  I wonder why that is.)  Anyway, through time and experience, I have paid my dues acquiring a ”Writer’s” hat. (With a comedy “Cluster.”)  Resulting in an area of assessment where I can authoritatively adjudge a movie as to being “good” or “bad.”  That area of assessment involves specifically, 

“How successfully did the film’s writer execute their story?”

And that’s it.  Beyond that, my opinion of a movie is no better or worse than anyone else’s.

A professional writer, evaluating the storytelling.  How can I reliably do that?  Because I have learned over the years that, whatever the subject matter, storytelling itself does not essentially change.

In our culture, throughout history, good storytelling conforms to an unwavering narrative template.  I mean, think of the Bible – Samson, David and Goliath, Jesus – crucified and comes back? – Who the heck saw thatcoming?  There is no question.  Those Bible stories really hold up!  Why? Because they unfold generically “the right way.”  

The way that consistently works.

The “right way” may vary between cultures.  (Or it may not.  I am only familiar with one culture.)  But, in thisculture at least, a right and wrong way of telling a story actually exists.  (See:  Joseph Campbell’s theory of mythological storytelling.)  (Confession: I once found its delineated parameters overly constricting.  But now I am entirely on board.  What changed?  The experience of telling 2600 stories in this venue.  The best ones seem to organically shape themselves.)

Signals of substandard storytelling include:  Logical plot holes – as distinguished from pot holes – inconsistencies in the characters’ behavior, unclearstorytelling, excessive length due to cluttering extraneities, an unsteady climactic build-up, an unsatisfying resolution – any or allof these elements, and others I cannot currently access – a meandering self-indulgence, though I’d go easy onthatone –producing a leaky ship of a narrative approach. 

Untutored moviegoers simply react with their gut.  Yet their verbalized reactions – “It was good; it was bad” – reflect a, to me, misplaced and unjustified, evaluative response.

Why not just, “I liked it” or “I didn’t like it”?    
No one can say to those reactions, “No, you didn’t.”  Or tell you, “You’re wrong.”  

“I’m ‘wrong’ about what I don’t like?  Well you know what else I don’t like?  You!

People have differing reactions – imagine that. But, whereveryou stand, “good” or “bad” has likely nothing to do with it.

Final point.

If saying “That was bad” is simply your colorful way of saying, “I didn’t like it”,

Never mind.

But if you really meant it was bad,

Maybe you’re spanking that child just a little too often. 

Tuesday, May 22, 2018

"The Miraculous Workings Of The Mind... And It Can't Be Just Mine"

It was a great thing that happened yesterday.

And I had virtually nothing to do with it.  That’s what made it so special.  My mind put it all together.  And I just stood by and watched.

And, as a bonus, it was less downbeat than usual.

A welcome alternative, don’t you think?  From writing about things that can’t change, or things that canbut nobody wants them to so why are we talking about this? 

A welcome break from Quixotic futility.  And not just for the reader.

Tomorrow, it’s back to “business and usual.”  (Because temperament is destiny.)  But today, I am bouncing giddily on the front parts of my feet, the back parts going rhythmically up in the air with no idea why that’s happening.

“We like the whole foot on the ground.”

Soon as I’m finished.  I promise.  Although it is not easy bouncing and typing at the same time.  It’s like typing on a ship.


Yesterday morning, on my traditional “Thursday Walk” to the Groundworkcoffee emporium, my mind worked magnificently, with no outside pressure or provocation.  

It did it all on its own.

And I amazingly watched it transpire.  Or is it “amazedly”?  Or is it a completely different word entirely?  Oh, dear.  You see what happens when you intellectualize too much?  You get tied up in knots.  

About nothing!

Okay.  I’m calm now.

So I go outside for my traditional “Thursday Walk”, and I give my brain this instruction:

“I have a vague notion about today’s blog post.  I will now stop thinking, and let you miraculously ‘fill in the blanks.’”  

Not that it writes the whole thing.  But this perambulatory “Zen Mode” provides useful material that, more often than not, winds up in the post I will inevitably write later and then post on the Internet for immortalizing posterity.

“Grandiose”, but what the heck.

That’s the procedure. I essentially switch my brain to “Play” and recede passively into the background. 

Here’s what took place on this particularwalk, though the described phenomenon is rewardingly reliable.

I hear a bird go “Chee-chir-ree.”  

And everything instantly changes from that point.

I abandon my intended post idea – which I will likely write later –  “Waste not, want not” – and proceed in the direction suggested by the bird.

The bird reminds me of spring, because it’s a returning migrating bird, whose cheery “Chee-chir-ree” had been audially “Missing in Action” since autumn. 

From there, my mind totally “Takes the wheel.”

The bird reminds me of spring.

Spring reminds me of the “Signs of Spring” scrapbook project, assigned at The Toronto Hebrew Day School.

Which reminds me of the only otherscrapbook project we were ever assigned, celebrating the coronation of Queen Elizabeth the Second of England. 

Which reminds me of the commemorative coin distributed to all the schoolchildren in the (then) British Commonwealth around the world.

Which reminds me that the schoolchildren attending The Toronto Hebrew Day Schooldid not receive a commemorative coin.

Which reminds me that I had never forgotten that unjust exclusion.  (Discovered years afterthe discriminatory event.)

Which sparks the idea to write Queen Elizabeth The Second herself, “petitioning” remedial redress for the undelivered commemorative coin.

And so it went. Writing, by virtual “Auto Pilot.” I’m telling you, it was my mindthat said, ”Do it as a letter”, not me.  

Iwas just going for coffee.

Anyway, that’s how I got yesterday’s post – one connection leading to another, leading to another, and yet another, and still another, eventually crystalizing into the format for a post, which I went home and immediately typed up.

And I must say, though it took three hours to complete, there was surprisingly minimal revision. (Why did it still take three hours? I don’t know.  I guess I’m a really a slow typer.)

You know, I have written, to date, more than 2600 posts.  The thing is, if I essentially write what I intended – concisely, coherently, persuasively and, hopefully, somewhat entertainingly – I consider the completed post a success.  

In that regard – minus a couple of personal favorites – if you asked me to compile a list of ten or twenty of my “best posts”, I would be unable to do so, considering a large number of them – based on the above-mentioned criteria – equally successful.

Having said that – and at the risk of hurting the other posts’ feelings – I liked yesterday’s blog post a lot.  It feels alive and spontaneous, with no discernible patchkying around.  (Minimal fingerprints of effort and exertion.)  

“A petition to Queen Elizabeth the Second of England requesting the commemorative coin that was never delivered.”

I think it’s really good.

I can say that because I did not essentially write it.

So it’s not entirely bragging if I do.