Thursday, January 31, 2019

"I Just Couldn't Resist"

This post is silly, redundant and self-indulgent. 

But I am doing it anyway. 

Recently, I saw something in the paper that reiterated the theme of this blog’s immediately previous outing.  Except instead of exemplifying something I’ve been saying – not for months; See:  Yesterday’s post – it reflects instead something I’ve been saying – and regularly practicing – for decades.

How’s that for being “Light years ahead of the curve.”  I hope that, though today’s post echoes the same message of the post immediately before it, it will earn at least an accepting, “Okay, fine.”  Though I am always hoping for more.

No more sniveling.  Here we go.

Yesterday, I mentioned a recognized journalist, offering an idea I myself have touted for some time, that idea being that, in anticipation of the release of the Mueller Report, in its blanketing speculations and expert predictions, cable news feels akin to an extended NFL “Pre-Game Show.”  (Lasting a year-and-half, instead of a couple of hours.)  My pre-mentioned point exactly.

Ipso facto:  “I’m no dummy.”  Point made.  Never to be revisited.

I thought.

Ten I read an essay in Sunday’s New York Times Book Review Section, and there’s someone unwittingly quoting me again.  Except this time, my original pronouncement goes way back.

And I have proof.

So there.

In her collective assessment of three books written about dealing with anxiety, essayist Judith Newman includes a selection from Matt Haig’s Notes on a Nervous Planet.

As a method of stress reduction, Haig suggests going outside and communing with nature.  Relaxing at the beach, Haig hears the beach itself say to him,

“Hello.  I am the beach… I have been around for millions of years.  I was around at the dawn of life itself.  And I have to tell you something… I am entirely indifferent to your body mass index… I am oblivious.”

Pretty good, right?


CUT BACK TO:  1988.

I have created a half-hour comedy called Family Man, based to a surprising extent on me and my family.  To avoid standard sitcom clichés, I decided that all Family Man’s storylines would derive exclusively from personal experience.  (Of me as a parent, or of me as a kid.)

I wrote an episode called “The Preferred List”, about the time when, after undergoing an “at-home” health exam, my insurance company removed me from their coverage “Preferred List.”

Receiving the “downgrading”, I felt devastated.  I was a reputable restaurant, getting a “B” from the health inspectors.  (That line wasn’t in it, but if I had thought of it then, it would have been.)

Feeling terminally vulnerable – more so than usual – guess what I did?   

I went outside… and went down to the beach.

Sound familiar, Matt Haig?

I communed with the ocean.

And the ocean communed back.

Sending me the same message the beach sent Matt Haig. 

Though the ocean was nicer about it.

The point, however, was the same.

OCEAN:  “I’ve been around a long time, and I have seen it all.”

SHELLY (SURROGATE EARLO):  “So what’s going to happen?”

OCEAN:  “Whatever it is, I go in… and I go out.  I go in… and I go out.”

That was the message.

Context and perspective. 

The indirect comfort of remembering “The Big Picture.”

I did that back in 1988.  (In the show.  In actual life, it was earlier.)

(And by the way, it helped.  And it still helps today.)

It’s nice to see somebody finally caught up.  I plan to brag about that on my next visit to the ocean.  Although I know its reaction.

It’ll go in…

And it’ll go out.

The good thing is,

I’ll know exactly what that means.

“Stay humble, my friend.  Your illuminations and insights… as well as your personal difficulties…

“None of them… are new.”

Wednesday, January 30, 2019

"It's As If They Were Listening"

When I hear a joke – on TV, or someplace – that I originally made up – Martin Short did one once, Jerry Seinfeld did an entire routine – my reflexive reaction is to feel flattered. I mean, look at those names.  Two comedy aces, if ever they were one.  Or, more accurately, two.

My response on those occasions is not an irritated ”Hey!” but an exhilarated “Wow!”  Not “They stole my idea!” but instead “Look who’s thinking like me!”  I am not lying about this.  To me, it’s a compliment.

Unless I amlying about this.  

Which is not entirely impossible. 

Okay.  That’s comedy, where, by the way, creative coincidences are hardly exceptional.  All comedy people have a perceptual “screw loose.”  It’s no surprise, finding identical screws.

Well… stay with me because I am about to make a move… if I get excited when someone duplicates my comedy – comedy being my natural patois– imagine my even greaterexcitement when someone in a respected alternate enterprise – I do not recall who because, as usual, I did not know I’d be writing this post – describes a situation the same way I’vebeen talking about it for months.  Maybe just to myself.  But I’ve been talking about it.

I’ll tell ya, I felt like Hedy Lamarr!

You’re staring at me. Hedy Lamarr.  The 1940’s movie star who, during the war, developed a radio guidance system for Allied torpedoes – later incorporated into “Bluetooth” technology – whose work earned her induction into the “National Inventors Hall of Fame.”

“Take that, Marlene Dietrich!”

And if you’re not familiar with Hedy Lamarr, it was the same thing with Paul Winchell.  PaulWinchell.  Who areyou people?  Paul Winchell was a well-known ventriloquist – working with dummies Jerry Mahoney and “Knucklehead” Smith – who invented the first mechanical artificial heart.

“And real cardiologists said it was good!”

Hedy and Paul know the same thing.  It’s a kick, scoring in an arena, not primarily your own.

Returning from “Analogy Mode” back to me, that’s exactly whatIdid.  Nobody knows about it, but come on.  How many of you knew Paul Winchell and Hedy Lamarr?

Okay so here’s me, getting validating support in a venue loftier than comedy.  You may not believe it but there aresome.

A guy in the paper is writing about the spiking popularity of cable news networks. Why the measurable uptick in viewership, even on CNNand MSNBC, whose recent accomplishments include blowing the presidential election? 

The journalist’s rationale for this phenomenon runs thusly:

The most popular programs on TV are the NFL“Pre-Game” shows, where experts speculate concerning upcoming events.  

“What’s going to happen?”

“Will there be any surprises?”

“Who’s going to prevail?”

The journalist then makes the connection.

For over a year, there’s been an ongoing investigation, concerning possible illegalities between the Trump campaign and the Russians.  And since it began over a year ago, while awaiting the report’s release, cable news has delivered nothing but expert speculation concerning the upcoming event.

“What’s going to happen?”

“Will there be any surprises?”

“Who’s going to prevail?”

Ergo, the networks’ increased popularity.

Cable news is the longest “Pre-Game” show in broadcasting history.

Which is exactly what Isaid.

To myself.  Possibly to others, I no longer remember.  I’m telling you nowbut so what?  Somebody said it in the paper.  You’d think I was copying him.

Still, just like hearing my jokes emerge from somebody else’s mouth,

It’s nice to know you’re on the right track.

Though it won’t hurt to know who said it first. 

Tuesday, January 29, 2019

"How Long Is 'Too Long'?"

In the tradition of answering questions nobody asked me.

Except me.

My first professional writing job – at age 24 – was a two-year stint, providing weekly columns for a Toronto newspaper.  (Oops.  I just mistakenly typed “a two-year stink.”  Those letters are not even that close on the keyboard.)

At the paper, they told me the “top limit” on length was 700 words.  So I wrote 700 words.  I actually counted them before delivering my copy.  (Sometimes, I’d lose my place and have to frustratingly start over, the repeated counting taking longer than actually writing the column.  Not really, but it was definitely less fun.)

Later, I did pieces of national radio.  (Providing “comedy bits”, some of the silly; others, more frequently, with a “point.”)  The stated requirement:  “Three minutes, and ‘out.’”  I’d time them at home, when I was practicing.

I also wrote and performed – I get a special “jolt” including “performed” – a series of radio commercials for a local delicatessen.  They had to be sixty seconds, precisely.  One of my “takes” came in at 59 seconds.  I had to record it again, determining how to make my performance precisely one second longer.

And, of course, there were the half-hour comedies down here, whose lengths – as time went on and the networks got greedier – diminishing from 24 minutes to 21 minutes, and change.  (Providing more time for commercials.)  What did not vary was, whatever the temporal “ceiling”, you had, without exception or argument, to “Fade Out.”

Wherever I worked, I found these “boundaried constrictions” on space (in the newspaper) and on time (everywhere else.)

And I liked that.

‘Cause that’s the kind of person I am – a “slavish adherent to ‘The Rules’.”

Following my natural proclivity – and “orders” – wherever I worked, I dutifully “colored within the lines.”

And then, I began blog writing.

No boundaries. 

(Note:  We are not talking about content.  There are no boundaries there, either.  But, hey, it’s me.   How “far afield” am I going to go?)

There I was.  With no “limiting guidelines.”

Oh, my.

Not a paralyzing “Oh, my” – “No boundaries” and I curl into a ball. 

“And he never wrote anything again.”  

Despite the “No boundaries” in blog writing, I believed I could handle it, by allowing each post to be “as long as it needed to be” and no longer, going entirely by “feel.”

Boy, can a person be fooled.

Or, more precisely, fool themselves.

“Oh!  I need to include this!  “Oh!  I have to clarify that!  “It needs a modifying descriptive.”  “It needs an additional word for ‘rhythm’.”  “Oh!  This reminds me of that!  “‘Interesting Side-Trip’?  Why not?”  “Let’s throw this in for fun.”  Oh, and this ‘structural framework’, delivering ‘context and shape.’”

With that approach, each succeeding draft I wrote – till my recent “Awakening” – became longer and longer.  To my startled surprise and chagrin.

“I only ate one cracker.  Really?  I ate twenty?”

Shameful Confession:  Over the years, I published every post, believing it was “exactly the right length.”

And I was wrong every time.

(I received ignored proof of this “insidious bloat” when a posts was requested for “outside publication.”  Re-reading it before final submission, I’d belatedly think, “Do I really need that?”, invariably realizing I didn’t.  It is possible I don’t actually need this.)

In the end, referencing the song in the play and film Enter Laughing,

“It’s up to you to do the ha-cha-cha.”

With a pointed emphasis on “you.”

Contrasting the other arenas I worked in – with their strict instructions about “length” – when writing a blog, the buck stops unwaveringly right here.  If my posts progressively “bulk up”, it is inescapably “on me” to, as they say in half-hour sitcom writing, “Kill my babies”, a tasteless allusion to ruthlessly taking stuff – once deemed “thoroughly indispensible” – out.

The duty to assiduously “monitor length” conjures the culminating lyric from “O, Canada.”

“We stand on guard for thee.”

Hey, I grew up there.

It is naturally in me to do that.

Wait.  Do I really need “naturally”?

Oh, and what about “really”?

“Do I need the word ‘naturally’?”

Wait.  I just added two words.


This thing is going to be tough.

Wait.  Do I really need “thing”?

Monday, January 28, 2019

"The Road... I Had No Idea Existed"

Recently, with, as usual, plenty of time on my hands, I started to wonder…

Could I have been a history teacher instead of what I was – a career participant in an endeavor, wherein “Everything about it is appealing”?

This hardly a frivolous question.  Unlike, for example, “Could I have been a trapeze artist?”, to which the suitable answer is, “You mean in the air?” 

I notice that what I almost entirely read now is history.  I have called it “Soap opera with real people.”  Sounds exciting, doesn’t it?  Though it can admittedly also be frustrating.  You research some historical figure, “What were they like?”  The answer comes back, “It depends who you ask.”

I just completed a short biography of John F. Kennedy.  It’s hard to speak ill of the assassinated.  Historian Arthur Schlesinger observed,

“He had accomplished so much… Lifting us beyond our capacities… he gave the country back its best self…”

Still, commentator Malcolm Muggeridge curmudged,

“John F. Kennedy, it is now coming to be realized, was a nothing man – an expensively programmed waxwork…”

Leaving me, going, “Which was he?”  And did those dueling perceptions have anything to do with their unequal relationship to Kennedy and how proportionately envious they were that the late president regularly “liased” with Marilyn Monroe.  Evaluating validity, one must always ask, “Who’s talking?” and “What’s up with that guy?”   

MALCOLM MUGGERIDGE:  “We had the same initials.  And yet she never read me!              
Uncertainty in history is not always an issue.  Some facts are unequivocally… “It’s that.”

There is this story about two Belgians, meeting after the end of World War I.  One of them says,

“I wonder what history will say about this war?”

And the other replies,

“I know what history won’t say.  It’s won’t say, ‘Belgium invaded Germany.’”

Some historical pronouncements you can comfortably take to the bank.

Pondering my future, I never thought about being a history teacher.  Or anything else for that matter, as I harbored these long-shot “Hooray for Hollywood” aspirations.  My behavior was totally insane.  Somebody offered me a full-time job in advertising.  I said, “No, thanks, I’d rather stay in show business.” 

And I wasn’t in show business at the time.

Teaching history was never a consideration.  And I now wonder “Why not?”  If I like history so much today, I must have liked it at least somewhat back then.  But it does not feel like I did.  And I think I know why.

Back then, for me, “History” specifically meant Canadian history.

And nobody likes that.

Because, as I recall it – and I recall very little – in Canadian history,

Nothing… happens.

Not totally nothing.  Otherwise, it’s (KNOCK, KNOCK) “Are you in there?”

But it’s “minimum.”

“Highlights in Canadian History” in two sentences?

In 1759, England fought France for Canada and England won.

In 1867, Canada petitioned England to become its own country and England said, “Fine.”

That’s it.  That’s our whole history.

Okay, that’s an exaggeration, but check this out.  A comparison between The American Revolution (“Give me liberty or give me death”), and the “Ontario Rebellion of 1837.”

From The Oxford History of the American People by Samuel Elliot Morisson…

“(William Lyon) Mackenzie… took the road to rebellion… drafted a declaration of independence on 31 July 1836, armed and drilled thousands of settlers, and set a date, 7 December 1837, for the patriots to capture Toronto… Under Mackenzie’s vacillating and incompetent leadership, the rebels were defeated in their march on Toronto by one volley delivered by a loyal sheriff and 27 militiamen from behind a rail fence.”

There is no way that will ever be a movie.

“One volley, and it’s over?  We’re going to pass.”

Canadian readers – help me out here.  Am I missing something?  They wrote a “declaration of independence.”  They didn’t even use capitals!

Though I wound up where I wanted to be, I’d hate to think I never thought about doing something because it was too dull to think about doing by mistake.

Who knows?

I could have actually had options.

Friday, January 25, 2019

"How 'Writing' Interferes With My Idea Of Writing A Blog"

The way to “connect” is to be as natural – Read:  “as genuine” – as possible.

At least that’s what I think.

To do so in blog writing, I “simulate talk”:  The written approximation of one person – me – talking to another person, which would be you.

A “stenographized podcast”, if you will.

The thing is, for me at least, once the element of “written” enters the mix, the finished product becomes different.  Suddenly, I am not “a guy talking on paper”, or in this case, cyber-paper.

I am, it feels like, recognizably, a “wri-tor.”

Obligated to say things in “wri-tor-ly” fashion.  

Which makes my blog posts inevitably expand.

Feel like some tangible evidence?  I’ve got some.

Over the years, I have written…a boatload of posts.  And during the rewrite process – involving numerous rewrites – the published versions of those posts are invariably longer than their original drafts.

Which, to a professional sitcom writer, seems odd.

In my career preparing half-hour comedy scripts for production, our final draft “Shooting Scripts” would get “tighter” and “sharper”, and hopefully funnier.  They were also invariably shorter.

Not here.

Here, they get longer.

The primary reason for that:

“Wri-tor-ly writing.”

Interesting Side-Note (which, by the way also makes posts longer:  When immersed in a “Book-On-CD”, I am powerfully influenced by the “wri-tor-ly writing” of the book I am listening to.  Patrick O’Brien’s Master and Commander series, with its detailed description of ships’ “staincl’s” and “tergalents”, subtly permeates my approach.  Suddenly, I’m going on endlessly about “multi-camera” filming versus “videotape.”  End of “Interesting Side-Note”… which I picked up from listening to Eddie Izzard’s autobiography.

It’s not just the modifiers – those insidious adverbs and adjectives Mark Twain specifically warned us about – he’d be unhappy about “specifically” – it’s just, generally, instead of saying things simply and directly, I’m verbally “over-decorating the room.”

Here’s a fabricated example of making things longer for no purposeful reason.  (Other than not appearing to “write lazy.”)

I once mentioned how I personally “made a difference in this world” by writing a local traffic department, suggesting how to reduce the maddeningly logjam at the freeway entrance close to our house.  And they actually responded.  Not the solution I suggested, but it did exactly the same thing.

Succumbing to temptation – as one succumbs to an available donut – I can easily see myself, during a rewrite process, changing “… it did exactly the same thing” to “… the ultimate outcome was virtually identical.”

I know that’s the same number of words – making it an imperfect example – but look at the unneeded “flourishiness.” 

That’s not “talking.”  At least, it’s not me talking.  That’s me, abducted by lengthening “wri-tor-liness.”  (I originally wrote “seduced” but I got embarrassed.)

My goal, moving forward, is to stay true to “Stylistic Intention.”  An encouraging signal in yesterday’s post:

First Draft:  697 words.

Second Draft:  674 words.

Third Draft:  654 words.

Fourth  Draft:  644 words.

Fifth Draft:  638 words.

Sixth Draft:  623 words.

That’s, ladies and gentlemen, is a “First!”

A “Just Thinking” blog post, getting progressively shorter.

Let’s see how I do today, as that could possibly have been a fluke.


Having covered the “What?” of this eleven-plus-year exercise and looked at the challenges of the “How?”,  a brief comment concerning the “Why?”, as in,

“Why do you do this?”

Simply put:

I love writing this blog. 

And I will do it until I don’t.

The End.

Or, more accurately,

To be continued…

Original Draft:  694 words.

Published Draft:  579 words.

Take that, “Ingrained Conditioning”!

By the way, “shorter” does not at all mean faster.  (As I have just discovered.)