Category Archives: Arts

Positions

No, not that.

There’s a great Monty Python bit in which the suitor is talking to his intended wife’s father. The abbreviated version would go something like this.

Graham Chapman: “Do you have a position?”

Michael Palin: (Snort) “I cleans public lavatories.”

Graham Chapman: “And is there a potential for promotion?”

Michael Palin: “Yeah–after five years they gives me a brush.”

We spend the first quarter of our life preparing to take on a position. The next two quarters of our lives, we define ourselves by our positions. Finally, we learn that our position is what we do, not who we are.

Jackson Browne (with, perhaps some help from his neighbor Don Henley) may have said it best in “Running on Empty”:

Gotta do what you can just to keep your love alive
Trying not to confuse it with what you do to survive

We are who we are and we do what we do–don’t confuse them.

 

Elites

While we often talk about elites, we tend not to use that term. Elites are the people in any society who enjoy special privileges.

For a long time, elites were entitled to such status as a birthright, the most obvious example being royalty. If your father was King, it must be God’s will, and therefore the son must be qualified as well. Personally I don’t think God gets involved in politics, but you never know.

John Adams predicted that even though our constitution prohibited titles of royalty there would still be an elite class. He figured that those with educations would prosper, ensuring that their offspring would be afforded education and any wealth that the family had amassed, although in many cases the younger elites ended up with an education and the family debt. Nevertheless, they enjoyed the status.

The American dream is that we’re a meritocracy—anyone can achieve through ability and hard work, and sometimes this works. In fact, there have been periods in our history, such as the 1950s, when this was common, Nevertheless, it is not guaranteed.

Today, many of the elites once again obtain their status by birthright. There are many young men and women as, if not more talented, than the children of Tom Hanks, Will Smith, or the Barrymore family. However, it is the children of the elites who seem to land the acting roles. Is Eddie Van Halen’s son better than the band’s original bassist? Cheap Trick sold many albums with Bun E. Carlos as their drummer, but Rick Nielsen—the guitarist now has his son filling that spot.  Julian Lennon didn’t have to work his way up from playing wedding and bar mitzvah gigs. How many Fords have been senior executives at their namesake auto company?

Do we as a society get our best value from this practice?

Schizophrenia as an Aid to Writing

Writers of fiction need to be a bit schizophrenic; they live partially in this world and partially in the world that doesn’t exist except as printed words. It’s the characters that are to blame. As I’ve mentioned before, when I’m writing, if I know my character—and for clarity’s sake, let’s stick to just a single character—when that character is placed in a certain situation, it’s easy to write, because I know what that character would do. I can even anticipate when that character is going to do the opposite of what would it would normally do.

As a writer I unconsciously develop the character’s back story. In the story I’m working on now, I’ve got a pretty good understanding of what the protagonist’s life has been like up till now. I may not have thought through details, but since I have the overview, the events that led to a particular trait reveal themselves fairly easily when I need them.

I wrote one column for nearly twenty years, and I knew one character intimately. On the other hand, these stories included a narrator—think Dr. Watson to Sherlock Holmes. The difference was that I never really knew who this narrator was. Was it me? Was the narrator male? Female? Caucasian? Ethnic? To this day, almost 33 years after I first began to write that story, I can’t tell you.

Why? I don’t know. Perhaps it encouraged everyone to identify with the narrator. It might have been that as a character, the narrator was merely a mechanism—like the plucky comic relief character in a movie. The narrator might have been the human version of Alfred Hitchcock’s McGuffin. Hitchcock explained that a McGuffin was something like the microfilm that all the characters tried to get; what is on the microfilm is unimportant.

For that matter, the narrator back then might even have been named McGuffin. Who knows?

Mayonnaise

As promised, in order to be completely politically correct, this blog is devoted to mayonnaise. Perhaps devoted is too strong a word, but it will be about mayonnaise—I don’t want anyone thinking I have some kind of mayonnaise fetish.

Wikipedia says that mayonnaise is, “a thick, creamy dressing often used as a condiment. It is a stable emulsion of oil, egg yolk, and either vinegar or lemon juice, with many options for embellishment with other herbs and spices.”

I say that mayonnaise is politically correct, non-controversial and slightly bland.

Many of us grew up being told that the most dangerous thing at a picnic was not the poison ivy, the fire ants, or even hungry bears. We were warned to avoid any potato salad that had been out of the refrigerator for more than ten seconds because it would spoil, cause food poisoning,  and we’d die a slow, painful death. Some years later I heard on the radio that because mayonnaise contains vinegar and/or lemon juice—both acting as preservatives—this was unlikely. Of course the guy on the radio might have actually intended to be a mass murderer and slaughter thousands of gullible listeners,wielding spoiled potato salad like a deadly weapon.

There’s phony mayo, labeled either “Salad Dressing” or “Phony Mayo.” Considering that a dab gets added to a sandwich filled with several kinds of meat, cheese, lettuce, tomato, pickles, and jalapenos, I’m sure most people couldn’t tell which dab had been added to  the sandwich they were eating.

Spices are often added because mayonnaise is slightly bland. You must be careful, though since adding things to mayonnaise, changes it. Add mustard to mayo and you have remoulade. Add chopped cooked potatoes, eggs and celery and you have deadly potato salad.

I hope you have enjoyed today’s politically correct, non-controversial, and slightly bland blog. Please do not leave this blog outside in the summer sun as it may spoil and kill you.

The Play’s the Thing

We went to The Perfect Crime, which has the Guinness record for the longest running play, with Catherine Russell as the leading lady since the play began in 1987 (she is reported to have missed four performances throughout that entire time).

The plot has so many twists and turns that they give you an answer key after the play so you can clearly understand who killed whom, how, when, etc.

Wouldn’t it be helpful if someone gave each of us an answer key from time to time? Here’s why you changed jobs; this is what your spouse is thinking; or even what your teenagers really mean.

On second thought, maybe it’s best to keep those things as unknowns.crime

To Our Friends Down South

To Our American Friends:

As you know, we share a rather long border (8891 kilometers), but so far, no one has threatened to build a wall. Perhaps it is because we have a lot in common. Much of our population is just north of the border and has been used to American entertainment for the better part of a century. However, as much as we love our neighbor, we also like to think that we’ve managed to remain a bit more civilized and courteous. Perhaps it’s that Commonwealth bond that we’ve maintained with Great Britain. Mind you, we’re not stuffy—we like our back bacon and beer, and we’re not above adding “‘ay” to the end of a sentence.

In any case, given our commonality of entertainment, for nearly fifty years, we’ve been exporting actors and comedians to see if some of our more genteel habits might rub off. Here’s a partial list; please note that I did not include our younger contributions—you probably wouldn’t recognize them anyway. Here, therefore, is a sampling:

Michael J. Fox
Jim Carrey
Pamela Anderson (Not our best. Sorry.)
Rick Moranis
Martin Short
Mike Myers,
Dan Aykroyd
Eugene Levy
William Shatner
Donald Sutherland
Catherine O’Hara

So far it hasn’t helped.

Put another way, if you wish to get New Yorkers out of a swimming pool, you shout, “Everyone into the pool!” If you wish to get Californians out of the pool, shout, “Chemicals have been added to this water to kill harmful micro-organisms!” On the other hand, if you wish to get Canadians out of the pool you speak just loud enough so as to be heard, “Will everyone please leave the pool. Thank you.”

Sincerely,

Your friends in Canada

P.S. We are in no way responsible for Ted Cruz. We had no control over the actions of his parents. If you noticed, we handled the paperwork denouncing his Canadian citizenship with all do haste; we certainly did not wish for him to attempt to run for office up here.

Open Letter to Magazine Publishers

I read. I read a lot. I’ve read a lot ever since I was a kid.

My kids, on the other hand, seem to prefer media that can be delivered via smartphone—podcasts, videos, cute kittens, pictures of someone else’s meal, and who knows what.

I subscribe to nearly a dozen magazines; my two kids who are still at home currently subscribe to one magazine—between them. I figure this is average, or possibly even above average..

Now that we have all that out of the way, here are some suggestions from those of us who actually pay for and read magazines:

  • Please use a font size that does not require an electron microscope to read.
  • When you MUST continue an article on one of the last pages, PLEASE make sure that the pages near it have visible page numbers. It seems like the last 20 percent of the pages in a magazine only have a few marked with page numbers.
  • We get it that you’re trying to be all stylish, modern and such, but trendy colors don’t work. Ten point grey type on beige backgrounds, or white type on undulating backgrounds don’t work. Contrast, such as white pages with jet black print works. (Wired magazine, did you read this? You can still have snazzy covers and illustrations to appeal to—–whoever likes the pictures more than the words.)

You notice that I’m not criticizing content. I may not agree with what other authors write, but we seem to have a lot of talented writers out there, which is a very positive sign. I paid the extra money when my cataracts were removed so that I would have 20-20 vision AND be able to read without glasses. Much of the time it works, but for some of the trendy printing I need a carbon-arc lamp for illumination and reading glasses—with an eye loupe handy for some sections.

Publishers, you might want to try to appeal to your audience. Just a thought.