Thursday, February 27, 2014

Write Drunk, Edit Sober

I saw that attributed to Hemingway, and it sounds like him, but research (eg: Google) raises some question.

Anyway, a friend asked once why I hadn't blogged in a while, and I said that I was afraid I had nothing interesting to say ... and I hadn't been drunk enough lately to try.  Blogging -- frankly, writing in general -- is a constant struggle to find something worth saying, and then manage to get it down in some form that you can find acceptable enough to let others see.  In a quote I know is authentic, Dorothy Parker said, "I hate writing, but I love having written."

The very crushing of inhibitions that can result in a bad late night bar hookup can also help the words flow.  So can some sober inspiration.  Neither seems to be around lately.

All this is by way of getting something on here, even though it has been two weeks since I last posted.  Work has been busy, and I have had a dearth of worthy ideas (though I do have a couple of posts in "Draft" form searching for the right inspiration to flesh them out). 

And there is a lamentable shortage of wine around here.

Saturday, February 15, 2014

Psalm 36

Sin speaks to the sinner
in the depths of his heart.
There is no fear of God
before his eyes.

He so flatters himself in his mind
that he knows not his guilt.
In his mouth are mischief and deceit.
All wisdom is gone.

That's the beginning of Psalm 36 in a modern translation.  King James is somewhat different:

The transgression of the wicked saith within my heart, 
that there is no fear of God before his eyes. 

For he flattereth himself in his own eyes, 
until his iniquity be found to be hateful.
 The words of his mouth are iniquity and deceit: 
he hath left off to be wise, and to do good.

It's almost as if the translators are seeing completely different, though vaguely similar, texts.  Anyway, the modern version struck me.  Particularly that first line: "Sin speaks to the sinner."

Sin, it says, creates a closed loop.  You begin to undercut the basic premises of morality, chipping away at your values in little bits, then reenforcing that erosion with the justifications that caused it in the first place.  "He so flatters himself in his mind, that he knows not his guilt."  You're now operating in your own little world.

It reminds me of all those characters in reality TV.  You know, the ones who become the villains of the piece, willing to do anything to win.  Inevitably, when they're caught out, or perhaps when the show airs and the viewers react, the subject in question finally cries, "I'm a good person!"   In their world, everything they did was perfectly understandable.  Maybe, confronted with their actions, they'll admit they acted poorly, but we just don't understand, because in the end they are "good."

Sin has spoken to the sinner.  As they went down their "practical" path, these people began closing the loop, failing to see it from the outside.

This is related to the whole idea of losing one's perspective.  Tim Gunn of "Project Runway" refers to it as being in the Monkey House.

Chris, from Project Runway: "Check out my fur-inspired line of clothing, it's covered in human hair!"

Tim Gunn (politely gagging): "I have this refrain about the monkey house at the zoo. When you first enter into the monkey house, you think, ‘Oh my god this place stinks!’ And then after you’re there for 20 minutes you think, ‘it’s not so bad’ and after you’re there for an hour it doesn’t smell at all. And anyone entering the monkey house freshly thinks, ‘this stinks!’ You've been living in the monkey house."

This effect is often the cause, I think, of poorly envisioned villains in movies and fiction.  (I almost said "popular fiction," but I would hope that something badly written wouldn't, in the end, be that popular.)  Anyway, well-formed villains don't get that what they are doing is wrong.  It all makes perfect, logical, internal sense to them.  Often, they are actually proud of it.

Badly formed villains are evil because someone needs to do bad things to let the hero do good things.  The writer (or usually writers, which is how so many movies have come off the rails over the years) needs this or that plot development, so the bad guy does it.  Why? Well, the author explains, because he's evil.  Not good enough, I answer.

This reminds me of an acquaintance who was interested in making horror films.  She asked my advice on cinematography (or videography, I guess, though I dislike that word as some sort of modern pastiche to create a false sense of prestige), and this naturally segued into talk on plot structure and character development.

As she described some ax-wielding villains, I asked why they were ax-wielding villains.  Well, she said, because that was the danger, the MacGuffin.  But, I said, you need to work out their back story, their reasoning for doing this, even if you're the only one who knows.  It doesn't need to come out in the movie -- Basil Exposition needn't stop the action and say, "But of course you know why Cletus wants to kill you, don't you?" -- but it drives and informs everything that character does.  Otherwise, you'll have him doing things just so they'll be done ... and it will make no sense at all.

Saturday, February 8, 2014

About Hats and Fashion ...

My father hated hats.  He's of that generation.  You know, the Kennedy generation of men who came to adulthood in World War II and built the country in the 50s and 60s.  JFK reportedly hated hats too, and rarely wore one.  He was the first president to be inaugurated without a top hat.  (Look at the pictures, it's true.  Before him they always showed up in cutaway coats with gray top hats.)

I read speculation once that the reason those men turned from hats was the rigid hat-related discipline in the military during the war years.  I don't know: that seems a bit simple.

I like hats.  I think they're helpful (I dislike both umbrellas and having rain on my head) and stylish.  I miss the social signals that could be sent with them.  In the day, you knew that a man in a top hat was of the upper classes, and a man in a soft hat (like a fedora or a panel cap) worked for a living.  You knew where a person was headed by his dress and headgear (see above re: cutaway coats and top hats).  You could make a political statement by, say, wearing that soft fedora as a member of the aristocracy, thus showing you weren't as stuck up as your parents and peers and sympathized with the working man.  And if you wore a bowler, you were a stand up, respectable member of the middle classes, a pillar of society.

from Tumblr

Hats seem to be making a bit of a comeback on the fashion runways, but we all know the connection between that magical fantasyland and reality is a distant one, made more of symbolism and metaphor.  They may show guys dressed in crepe paper suits tie dyed in vibrant neon hues with flip flops and ties made of lettuce, but the signal to be read for the everyday streets is: the fit's a little snugger this year.  Still, it would be nice if this meant something.

Of course, it's not like I couldn't buy a bowler.  They're more than available today, but then again we return to the question of social signals ... and frankly of looking like a fool.

That's not to say I'm in favor of all hats.  Lately I've been seeing a lot of pictures in fashion-related stuff of women wearing these big, boho, floppy hats, both casually and sorta' formally.  Ladies: these are ugly.  They're big and ugly.  Someone may say it's a great, funky way to just throw something on when you're having a bad hair day.  They're full of it.  It just makes everyone wonder: What's she trying to hide with that big, stupid, shapeless hat?

They should be burned.

Friday, February 7, 2014


Okay, so we all know what "TMI" means: technically, "Too Much Information," intending to warn the speaker that he is getting into uncomfortable, overly personal territory.  But this morning I was recalling a moment yesterday, and wondered about the phrase's literal meaning.

One by one, my daughters insisted I watch segments on YouTube about how each of the My Little Ponies got their "cutie marks." (That's a mark on the rear flank which symbolizes the pony's special talent, for those who have lived life without the privilege and pleasure of the show and accompanying toys ... or is that the other way around?)

At any rate, the segments are rather cute, the message -- though obvious -- is positive, and I had the time to stand and watch.  Besides, I like to try to treat their interests and fascinations with some respect, to not be that parent who thinks anything the kids do is trivial and a time waster for adults.  I don't always succeed, but I try.

So this morning, leaving them asleep in their beds, I am thinking during my commute that I may never have need of knowing why Pinkie Pie or Fluttershy or Rainbow Dash have their particular talents, or what they are for that matter, but is there really some information that is a complete waste to know?  Is it possible to have too much information?

Wednesday, February 5, 2014

I'd Be More Interested If You Were Dead

I saw a T shirt in a catalog recently that said: "History Buff: I'd be more interested in you if you were dead."  I thought that was funny ...

I compliment myself to think that I could live quite comfortably, and even happily, in a 19th Century environment. Even though I work in television and enjoy the product, and though I obviously blog on the internet and enjoy that, books remain a boundless pleasure.  Electricity is nice; central heating is something that I would be reluctant to surrender, but I've lived in houses with wood fireplaces and stoves that not only did a good job, but sometimes too good a job of keeping it warm.  Air conditioning?  Well, yeah, I guess that's important.

Society, though, I think was more pleasant in its way.  I finally got to see the new Coen brothers version of "True Grit" the other night, and was reminded of the baroque language of the day, for which the film was justly celebrated.  It reminded me of T.R. Reid's excellent account of his time as the Washington Post's bureau chief in Tokyo, Confucius Lives Next Door.  In it, he speculates that the equally elaborate way of Japanese speech presents an insight into the structured  society and very low crime rate in that country.  I like that idea.

I think it would be nice to live in a somewhat more formal and polite society.  I grew up in the 1960s, when youth (and the media culture) rebelled against what they saw as the restricted, limited, rule bound world of the gray flannel man.  Though Victorian art (like Art Nouveau) was enjoyed and celebrated in the psychedelic culture, to label something "Victorian" then was to mark it as closed minded and unacceptably, even ridiculously, structured.  Everyone was to be free to do as they pleased, and "why can't we just tell the truth all the time, instead of being so ... polite."

Well, 40 years later, I'm not sure it has really worked out.  I saw a piece on the internet on this.  Discussing the current  culture of self-obsession and self-esteem, the author turns to a quote from Marilyn Monroe: "I’m selfish, impatient and a little insecure. I make mistakes, I am out of control and at times hard to handle. But if you can’t handle me at my worst, then you sure as hell don’t deserve me at my best."

"Out of all the profundities ever uttered," Matt Walsh then explains, "what does it say about our society that THIS is the quote we’ve decided to take to heart?"  Absolutely right, and explained better than I could later in his blog.

Or perhaps, on the opposite side of the thought, there's this from NPR's "This I Believe" series. Author Dierdre Sullivan explains why she thinks her father was wise to demand, even as a child, that she attend viewings and funerals of friends and acquaintances as well as family.  "'Always go to the funeral' means that I have to do the right thing when I really, really don't feel like it," she says.  "I have to remind myself of it when I could make some small gesture, but I don't really have to and I definitely don't want to."  Being polite, caring enough to not force people to deal with you at your worst, that comes in the small things.

Maybe we could all try a little harder ...

Be kind, for everyone you meet is fighting a hard battle.