Older: (with implied duh) "Today's 'Crazy Hat Day.'"
Younger: "Oh my God!!" (panicked exeunt)
I don't mean to brag, but the electricity
in this coffee shop is just
My screen is showing colors
I've never seen before.
Silver-Red? What the hell is that?!
My keyboard is warm.
The CD eject button is borderline propulsive.
I'm not sharing this
I spent a little time the other day running several different Compressor recipes so I could compare different compression options. I thought I'd share the results here, in case they're of use to other folks on the interwebs. And of course, if you're reading this and you spot anything that looks wrong, please shout out - corrections and additional input encouraged...!
For my test I was working with a 4:05 movie edited in Final Cut Express and sourced in AVCHD on my Canon HF100. I started by exporting it to a 2.4 Gig QuickTime file for archive purposes. The main attributes of my first test, which turned out to be a pretty good recipe for YouTube, particularly when in a time crunch, were:
(Full specs on this later in the post, along with all the tests and a few notes on the results.)
A few top-line conclusions:
Deinterlace: Using the deinterlace filter in Compressor chewed up my text; using deinterlace under Frame controls worked like a charm.
Resolution: Dropping resolution by 50% hurt the image and softened text but didn't really speed things up or shrink the file much, at least going from 1280 x 720 down to 640 x 360. Of course, there will be situations where you have to drop the resolution, but both YouTube and Vimeo suggest leaving HD resolutions at 1280 for HD, so in this case there was no reason to downsample.
Bitrate: Changing the bitrate had a direct impact on file size (2500 = half the file size of 5000) and a noticeable impact on the image, though going down to 2500, the image still looked pretty good for web video. YouTube currently suggests not capping bitrate, Vimeo requests that you set a max of 5000, which is what I did for example #6, below.
Multi-pass: Multi-pass adds a lot to encoding time (4X in this case) but did give me a higher contrast image with richer colors. So if time allows, it looks like multipass is better, but in a time crunch, single pass can work.
I posted a different kind of movie (for me) over the weekend -- a 4 minute micro-documentary in which my buddy Joel and I get a tour of our pal Kirk's chicken house followed by a look at how Kirk makes olives.
It features: fearsome fowl, sleight of hand, spontaneous slurry stirring, and little bit of shtick. Also, chicken trivia. It was a lot of fun to make -- hope you enjoy it.
I have a pretty low threshold for what I consider "me, cooking." Pretty much, if I add Tabasco, I'm cooking.
So, for example, if I made toast, to which I wouldn't normally add Tabasco, that wouldn't count as cooking. (Or mebbe, if I added Tabasco to toast, that might count as cooking, but it'd count as bad cooking. I think. I need to try this.)
Similarly, if I made a can of soup, like some Wolfgang Puck's Thick and Hearty Lentil, and I didn't add Tabasco (which would be crazy) that also would not be cooking.
But, in contrast, if I made a can of soup, and I chose to add a few drops of Tabasco, in my heart it would feel like I had truly cooked that can of soup. Like the culinary choices (ok, choice) that I'd made had transformed that can of soup into a lentil-laden very personal and real expression of what I consider good eats.
Tonight, the lentil is hearty, yes. Thick too. I credit Wolfgang for this. But it's also slightly spicy, and I think I've made my point.
Late at night, every night, Daphne watched The Dog Show. Odds are you've never seen it unless you're a dog. See, The Dog Show's broadcast on top of human programs in frequencies only dogs perceive. It stars a beat up mixed-breed named Lucious, missing one eye, half an ear. Each episode, for nearly 15 years now, Lucious has slowly, meticulously run through one new trick, scribbling down notes on a stand-up pad, barking out directions for the next day's event, going back to the start, dwelling in the middle, hammering home the exclamation mark.
Yap yap yap!
The whole enterprise was born from one simple question -- what if dogs, night-by-night, trick-by-trick, could learn to do everything humans do? Or, as many as could be covered in a dog's lifetime of weeknight TV shows?
It almost goes without saying, the first tricks involved filming and producing a TV show. Tricks Lucious had taught himself. After that came shows on how to make toast without burning your nose. How to open a pickle jar. How to make a pancake. Not all the episodes were about food, but the food shows got the best ratings.
About five years in, the focus switched to personal grooming. How to part your hair (extra tricky for stiff haired hounds). How to clip your own nails!
Now here they were on day 7,322. Daphne sitting in my rocking chair, nodding her doggy head, listening close, learning how to fix a carburetor. And that was when I walked in.
Scariest. Chewbacca. Photo. Ever.
The fellow at the table next to me is excited about getting on a panel with someone who's a "super high-ranking hardcore anarchist vegan." I didn't know they ranked that kind of thing. Cool.
For Tundra Wolves
to be to dogs
as lions are to cats, Tundra Wolves
which can already grow up to 7 feet long
would need to be 11.76 times
larger than they actually are
and weigh 1,460 pounds.
1,460 pounds of Tundra Wolf.
Do you see what I'm saying?
"Verner ist lonely in every part of his body" in this stirring trailer for an even more stirring film from extremely stirring 1920s German auteur/filmmaker/farmer Edelgard von Schinkenliebhaber.
Prepare to get stirred!
(Written and filmed by The Whittlers -- East Bay cohorts in mini-movie mania.)
The guy next to me at this breakfast joint just said to his date in a Jack Nicholson voice that I think is really the way this guy talks
"looks to me like you're not a fan of berries."
If he sees what I'm typing I'm a dead man.
to be brought somewhere
for some larger
or to be
for some larger porpoise?
what if the larger purpose
was to serve a smaller porpoise?
Here's the trailer for an exciting new thriller. 10% more thrilling than 2012, by volume..... Tell your friends and hide your neighbors: 2013 is nigh!
My daughter finally reached the age where she slept in so long on a Saturday, I teased her with the old "oh wow, I forgot I had a second child" bit. Much more importantly, I finally reached the age where I amused myself by delivering said tease. Woohoo!
overalls are rocking out country-style tonight.
That outrageous fiddle, the toe-tapping
outrageous lady singer and Brother Jeremiah with
his bass and jaunty
You are all outrageously dressed up like
Depression era folks tonight.
Except so much
Sam wanted to bob for apples on Halloween "just for fun." Which was a relief, because I know there are some people who bob for apples competitively, and others who bob for apples professionally. And I'm just not ready for him to make either of those leaps.
I'll be reading a few poems this Thursday night at the West's Oldest Independent Bookseller (aka, Books Inc, Alameda) at 7:30 pm along with Jannie Dresser, Julia Park Tracey, and some guy named Don. I'm not sure whether we'll be reading in sequence or simultaneously, but that's the drama, right? Bay Area folks, of course we'd love to see ya there.
me to ashamed
relationship with kale.
Maybe it's because it's
considered to be
closer to wild cabbage than
most domesticated forms?
People need to
I'm delighted to share the news that the "Conversations about Creativity" interviews on this site have moved over to their entirely new digs at about-creativity.com.
A post on the about-creativity.com blog gives a tour of the major changes we've made, but the quick version is: (1) interviews are now organized and presented in a way that should be much easier to browse through -- content burbles up, I say, literally burbles up through vents and other hot spots! (2) We've created a couple of all-new areas where you can let folks know what you're working on and share what works for you.
When you get a chance, please drop by the new site and chime in!
In related news, now that the site is up, new interviews will be following shortly, starting with a conversation with Chris Baty of NaNoWriMo (Nation Novel Writing Month), due to be posted next week.
The Novocaine wearing off
felt suspiciously like morning fog as it burns away.
Made him wonder if Novocaine is in fact
constructed from morning fog.
Or perhaps that was just
the Novocaine talking?
Puffs of cool fog.
what it means that
my local coffee shop was
so impressed I
paid for this
coffee with cash.
"Look at you!"
says my son doesn't have an adult tooth under one of his baby teeth. He's got a baby foot.
That's weird, right?
The joy of
owning your own
is that you never feel
cheated when a
gumball doesn't fall.
he said, shadows
dancing over their heads
pile of metal in the fireplace
to use later as
on the numbers page
of his mobile device,
"if you listen closely
you can literally
In Times Square, it's
there's a broken champagne
bottle at our feet,
from a pal's
Garbage floats by like kids
in a Halloween parade. Cops
clip-clop past on horseback, keeping
elevated sight lines secure.
And that's about it.
The crowd's gone.
Seeped through grating
down to the rumble.
Cold streets left to
we scattered few
too many oysters
there's a barbecued
if "the last thing
"I want to
I'm done with
all my other
for no reason.
Hoping I didn't die
and don't know it.
if next time you see me
I'm a scary ghost.
Meatballs (the movie) caused me to explain slurs to my kids the other day. Looking for a less-than-awful example, I stumbled on this lost memory:
As noted else-blog, I lived in Holland for a stretch while growing up. There I was, getting taller, all surrounded by Dutch stuff.
The American and Dutch kids went (mostly) to different schools, but we lived next door to each other, listening to our older brothers' copies of "Sheer Heart Attack" by Queen.
Sometimes we played together. For those times when we fought, we created our own slurs. "Dutchies!" we'd call the Dutch kids. Which sounds to me now like a matched-set of collectable mob bosses. Or were we really just saying "Dutch cheese"? That would be an odd thing to call someone, even in anger.
"Cray-shee Amerikahnsies!" they'd call us. And OK -- that was fair. We were crazy. Crazy about rock n roll!
Even as we launched our half-hearted catapaults, we couldn't take it too seriously. How angry could you be listening to a band whose lead guitarist had hair what looked like this?
Brian May kept the peace.
Whole Foods feels like Disneyland
today. I'm at the "Deli" ride. No one curses.
The cheese is free. The clerks have dressed up
like cauliflower and they're giving out
A while back, I wrote a little thang called "Shaved My Beard". And, you know, there was a lot of hullabaloo. I remember, I got a letter from Shaquille O'Neil about it, which really surprised me. I wouldn't have thought he'd have the time.
Shaq hasn't written in a while. So this weekend, with help from Veronica Vortex, iMovie, and a Flip cam, I revisited that piece, moving picture stylee. Herewith:
1. First few listens: My heart starts to race. This sounds nice. This sounds really nice.... Passes through quickly to...
2. Deep dive: Can last one month or four. This sound is all my brain wants to receive. Can I play it again? Again? Again? Again. Again. Joy.
3. Sudden burn out: Recoiling. I will not listen to this today. I will, um, listen to something else.
4. Return to obsession: Tentative. It's been a little while. I can put it back in rotation now. I think. Still sounds great but... something's not quite right.
5. Time apart: Could be a year. I need my space. We both need our space. I'm talking to you, 1940s Frank Sinatra.
6. The rest of my life: Sounds good again, sure. I mean, it's great music. But there's a sadness now too when I play that batch of tunes. The sparkle has evaporated. Or did the cartilage disappear? If only I'd had a little more self-control back in Step 2....
...is the phase I shouted at Ben Kingsley in my last dream last night. Is the phrase I was shouting in my brain when the alarm woke me up this morning.
You don't understand, Ben Kingsley. I didn't even know that jerk. I was lying on the grass, OK?. He ran by, playing soccer, and the son of a bitch jackassed my head with his cleats. Alright, so he gave me this pack of exotic tobacco as court-ordered reparations for the assault. I understand how that looks. It looks like I know him. But I don't know him, OK? I don't know him, I don't like him. And I'm certainly not a spy. So stop making complicated plots designed to put me away.
He jackassed my damn head!
The music flows through her head. She does not know how to dance but her thoughts do.
Feeling lucky, he realized, about two minutes too late, was not the same as being lucky.
Thinking a lot lately about the time of legends. Not as far back as dragons or unicorns. Or even King Arthur. I've been reading up on that not-so-distant moment in our American history when a band of Famous Artists put out the word that they were looking for people who enjoyed drawing.
Can you imagine that? A Famous Artists School, right here in the U.S?
"It started over 18 years ago when a group of America's most successful artists...met in New York City. They knew that all over America there were people who liked to draw who could be turned into good artists. Albert Dorne asked, 'Why can't we give these people the training they need -- including all the trade secrets and know-how we've learned over the years?'
He suggested a new kind of art school -- a home study art school -- that would give talented people the best professional art training, no matter where they live.
The famous artists agreed."
It was like something the Medici's might have dreamed up in Florence. And it happened. In Connecticut.
Why isn't this studied in school books? And where are all those famous artists now anyways? I haven't heard from Norman Rockwell in years.
I was talking with a pal
about how my 10-year-old daughter
would still like to be 8 years old,
and my pal said "You know,
a little part of all of us is
still 8 years old."
And it's really true.
thanks to these skin lotions
I've been using
for the last 32 years,
my feet are 8 years old.
At the time, I thought it was a great idea.
I don't know why. It just seemed like a
cool thing to do.
But now I think it's kind of gross.
I bought a new wallet last weekend and this time I'm gonna get it right. I think I must be 0-6 on wallets over the past two decades. Each one, destroyed by me stuffing it full of receipts. No more. I say those who don't study history, with regard to their wallets, are doomed to repeat history with regard to their wallets! Well, I've studied my history. So alright then.
In related "fresh-start" news, I've decided I'm giving up on cursive. I gave cursive a fair chance. But who am I kidding? I can't read my own cursive. What good is a writing style that the writer themselves can't read? I might as well bark at a piece of paper and then put it aside as if I've accomplished something. Arf!
Oh, I'll still "sign" for things, but if you've seen my signature you know, that's not cursive.
I know what you're thinking. "Cecil," you're thinking, "how many times have we heard you say you're going to give up cursive?" I guess three times, probably. But this is the first time I've said it sober.
So it'll be mostly print for me from here on out. Maybe a cursive "s" or "t" mixed in just to keep things rolling. Possibly a "z." You didn't expect me to give up cursive "z," did you?
Look out world, I've got a flat wallet and handwriting humans can read!
It's not a small thing, to beat the Clintons in a Democractic primary. In so many ways, it's as shocking as beating a sitting president in a primary, something that's so hard to do, Teddy couldn't pull it off with all the Kennedy glory and resources on his side, against a sad-sack Jimmy Carter.
It's not a small thing.
I watched The Passion of the Christ the other night. I'm Jewish and I've had this itch to see it and judge for myself whether it was anti-semitic.
Sure enough, most of the non-pre-Christian Jews in the movie are weasels. But then about a third of the way through, we meet the Roman guards. And they're even worse. Monstrous, in fact. Then a bit later, a few Jewish characters show up who are downright human. So it's a thick stew.
It seemed to me like Mel was accentuating the evil of all the bad guys and we just got caught up in that multiplier. Jesus' suffering is the center piece of the movie. The more villainous the villains, the greater the sacrifice. Fagan-like features on some of the Jewish characters aside, I didn't spot him going out of his way to take it to my peeps. I mean, we don't come across great. But what are you gonna do, right? It's no fun being the bad guy in someone else's liturgy.
Thinking back on kurfluffle around the film's release, my theory is that Mel's sort of the Saddam Hussein of religious-themed movie making. Both he and Saddam had mental issues that caused them to behave as if they'd done something bad that they hadn't actually done. Oh, maybe they'd thought about doing those bad things. A lot. But the bottom-line is: I found no weapons of mass-anti-semitism in this film.
Does this all mean that if we had left Saddam in power, he would have eventually been pulled over by the LA police? It's hard to say. But I think yes.
A post-script: after watching the film, I had the uncomfortable experience of dreaming that I was a Roman guard, forced to mistreat Jesus who was played (in my dream) by the character Dwight Schrute from The Office. That same night, my wife, who opted not to watch the movie, dreamt she could fly with whales.
So while I don't think the film is anti-semitic, I'm not sure I can recommend it as a rental.
This past weekend I was at a "family camp" near Yosemite. My wife and I bunked with another couple. A delightful couple. The woman lent us bug juice. Can you imagine that? A complete stranger. "My bug juice is your bug juice!" She had such a charming accent.
The guy snored like Thor trying to swallow a walrus through his nose. Around 6 am I swear to gawd I heard a pop, and I looked over, and his head was like a normal head, only it had an entire walrus inside it.
Disturbing news from the child front. My two lovely, sweet, and yes, borderline angelic children sang me a pair of gruesome songs tonight, both of which ended with Barney the purple dinosaur considerably worse for the wear.
"What the --?" I stammered. "Who taught you those horrible songs?"
"Everybody sings about killing Barney nowadays," said my lovely, sweet, and yes, borderline angelic daughter.
Look, I don't mind that there's all this coverage of the Pope in the news. The Pope comes to America. It's a big deal. I get it.
But it cheeses me off when scientists discover a 15-foot rabbi and nobody seems to give a damn.
Rabbi Arthur Rosenberg, of Holmdel New Jersey, is huge.
I just saw the most disgusting thing on CNN. Wolf Blitzer says to his guest, "May I pick your brain for a moment?" And the guest says, "Sure."
I'm sorry -- I just got up and turned off the TV. Wolf Blitzer is a creepy creepy guy.
is what this fellow shouts
at me and my chat-mate.
We're sitting on a bench,
enjoying the East Bay sun.
He comes up to us
holding a black garbage bag.
He puts the bag down
next to us on the bench.
He was so happy.
There was something
moving in that bag.
He disappears into the coffee shop.
Then pops back out like a
Grabbing the bag he crows:
"I'm making pruno!"
He shakes our hands and
cackles down the street.
I'm telling you,
it almost made me want to
make some pruno.
note: I was delighted to find out later that pruno (pronounced "prune-o") is a kind of homemade booze commonly associated with prison living.
They named a drug
designed to help men urinate
(They really did.
They called it "Flomax."
imagine the joy in
that room? "Flomax!"
"Oh my God -- we're going to
call it 'Flomax!' Somebody, do a trademark
Dave." "No Sally, you are
the incredible one. You came up with
the 'max' part!")
It makes me so angry. They
named it "Flomax"
He sounds surprised
at everything he says he's
constantly surprising himself.
"Is there food somewhere around here?" is what I asked.
"There is?!" he self-flabbergasted. "Nordic Sub Shop -- right next door?! Good food?!?"
Surprise, surprise, surprise.
I have this recurring dream in which the brakes in my car give out. The shudder these dreams share is that moment when I'm pressing down but the car careens.
I've had this dream in various forms for probably twenty years or so. Not too often -- every couple of months I'd guess. I had a version of it last night as one of my last late-dawn eye-flitters. The thing that struck me, as I yawned myself into the day, is that we're hardwired for metaphor.
Our brains could operate in a much more literal fashion. We could fall asleep and a fast-talking phantom self could give us an eight-hour lecture on exactly what it is we hope for and what we fear. But instead we close our eyes and we generate these little poems for ourselves.
In my case, my brain seems to have found a metaphor it likes and it's sticking with it. I suspect that the brakes meant one thing when I was twenty and they mean something a little different now that I'm two times twenty. But the image persists. Or maybe it's been the same mortality song all along: "hey, wait -- stop time!" And wouldn't that be nice?
That sensation of soft brakes is so real, I find myself wondering if I ever owned a car that had this problem. Was there something wrong with the brakes on that strawberry-scented Chevy Impala I drove as a teenager? Or the gold Accord that carried me from New Jersey to the West Coast?
I don't think so. These aren't real brakes, after all. Just a poem I tell myself at night.
This morning while dropping my kids off at school, it occurred to me that California is now my home. I've lived here longer than I've lived anywhere else.
I spent seventeen years on the east coast, interrupted by five years as a kid in Holland. Meanwhile, my California experience will hit nineteen years this coming July.
Oh, I've been keeping one eye out for the "when will I have spent half my life out here?" milestone -- it's waving at me from about 3 years down the road. But this subtler calendar-flip slipped past me in the night.
If I was super-dooper rich, I think I would hire someone to scan my personal numerology, looking for just this sort of Highly Significant Moment.
"Mr. Vortex, did you know that your heart has now beaten more times than a bumblebee's wings will flap, using standard bumblebee life expectancy charts and such?"
"Thank you, Harold."
"Also, if all the work emails you've sent were compiled into one document, it would be eight times longer than Finnegan's Wake."
"That's fascinating, Harold. Here's a gold doubloon with my face on it."
I'll admit that I was a little surprised this past weekend by the flurry of emails I received in response to the (arguably tepid) stand I took against eggs and feathers. Or rather, against the "egg and feather" craze that's been blighting hipster shacks like "Zack's Breakfastery" in Detroit and "The Most Important Meal" in Kansas City.
Josh from Hoboken writes: "Dear Cesil (sic): you are a big jerk. Eggs and feathers wrawk! Stop saying bad things about eggs and feathers!"
Doug in Chicago writes: "Mr. Vortix (sic): you and everyone else over the age of 25 can eat your eggs the way you like. I'll have mine with feathers!"
Perhaps the authors of these misbegotten missives think I can be startled into silence. If anything, the result has been the obverse. With each new addled assault that stumbles its way into my bulging inbox, I find myself emboldened to take up the battle cry against this repulsive phenomenon with plus vigor ("more vigor")!
Dishes like "Eggs Benedict (and Feathers)" or "Eggs Over Medium (and Feathers)" or even "(Feathers and) Soft Boiled Egg" are just the latest step in la grande decline ("the grand decline"). And I for one will not sit quietly by, tuning my viola while Rome cooks egg dishes decorated with feathers!
At an Italian restaurant last night, while I was picking at my spaghetti bolognese, a perfect little gentleman of around 2 or 3 years old came up to me and stared.
Whatever I did -- peekabo, wiggly fingers, wiggly fingers on head, big smile, surprise face -- it didn't matter. He just stared. It was wonderful. And once again I found myself so grateful that I don't live in Belgium or Austria or one of those other places (Portugal) where they take their children and send them into the forest and don't let them come back until they're 25.
You can criticize Americans and say that we watch too much TV or that we put feathers in places we probably shouldn't (egg dishes), but you have to admit: at least we don't make our young people live in the forest.
You probably can't tell from this blog, but I'm an exceptionally accomplished fellow. For example: I once taught a family of gerbils how to sign "hello" and "nice to see you." I can hold my breath for three hours. From 1983 to 1987, everything I said or thought rhymed with "cantaloupe." Nice bar of soap. I like the pope. Someone should write a book called "The Audacity of Hope."
It was a difficult time for my family.
Still, even I was surprised to learn of my latest accomplishment. It turns out I'm the creator of the world's top-ranking Google result for the search phrase want to smell something wonderful.
When something like that happens to you, you just, you know you look back on your life so far -- that dusty road leading up to the here and now, and you say, "Yeah. Time well spent."
What about you? Accomplish anything extraordinary of late?
Some people, like Hillary Clinton and my 7-year-old son, have been hammering home this "Don't Mess with Texas" message. In the case of Hillary, it's one of her slogans for the March 4th primary. With my son, it's on this t-shirt he likes to wear.
And I'm sorry, but I enjoy messing with Texas. I do. And I don't care what Hillary or Power Vortex say -- I don't intend to stop.
For example, sometimes I move Texas' seat a few inches away from where they think it is. Not so much that they fall. But just enough so they go "Whoa!" and they have to readjust themselves. And they're looking around, thinking, "Who did that? Who's messing with me?"
Or I tell Oklahoma that Texas said something mean about them, when really they didn't.
Or if Texas is shooting pool, I walk up quietly behind them and tug on their pool cue right as they're lining up their shot. They hate that!
Got any ways you like to mess with Tee Ex?
Update: Reader James in the comments gently points out that those McSweeney bastards got to this watering hole first. I guess it's true what they say about an infinite number of monkeys with an infinite number of typewriters taking it to Texas in similar fashion, where time is expressed as T and "ways Texas can be messed with" is expressed as M or perhaps (M Over Tx).
Update to update: After a little reflection, I've decided that this is a sign I should redirect my energies. Instead of "messing with Texas," I'm now going to "screw with Delaware."
today's a good day
to introduce them
to "Bicycle Race" by Queen.
On your mark, get set, go.....
This one's narrowcast to my fellow Bay Areans. Just wanted to share the fun fact that my daughter (aka Shonny Vortex) is making her big-time stage debut this very weekend in Virago Theatre Company's staging of Candide, with music by Leonard "don't call me Spock" Bernstein and lyrics by (among others) Dorothy Parker, Lillian Hellman, and Stephen "don't call me Spock either" Sondheim.
This is an actual grown up performance. The New York Times described Bernstein's score as "shimmering" and claims that Shonny's performance is likely to be "the greatest stage appearance of the new century." I think they're overhyping it, but who's gonna argue with the New York Times?
Special Twofer Deal
The show opens this coming Friday, and they're offering a crazy two-for-one deal on advance tix for the first weekend -- two tickets for the low price of just $20. You can secure that snazzy deal by calling 510-865-6237 or by dropping me an email....
Days and Times: Friday February 22nd, 8pm, Sat February 23rd, 8pm, Sunday February 24th, 7pm.
The show runs from Feb 22 through to March 9th. For more information: click away.
That's what this lady at the table next to mine just asked her gentleman friend.
"Yes! Dear lord yes!" I want to shout.
I'm drinking vanilla mighty leaf tonight.
The most macho tea.
Tough guys smell this brew they
back down. They should back down.
It makes me French with rage. Like some
French Bruce Banner. "Petite l'hommes!
Je crushez vous!"
A while back, my better half worked on a full-length independent science fiction feature called "Homeworld." Well the movie's now done and ready for it's world premiere -- this coming Sunday, January 13th. The tickets are free, and the theater is pretty huge, so we're encouraging one and all to come and join us for the event. I'll be the one who looks like the picture over on the right, only without the goatee and with both a top and a bottom part to my head.
Here's all the info:
When: January 13th, 2008 @ 5PM
Where: Rheem Theater 350 Park St., Moraga, CA 94556
Rating: Not rated yet, but think "PG." Kids are welcome.
More info, including directions: Homeworld Site
Hope to see ya there!
OK, time to wander out on that limb. At 8:58 am on Wednesday the 3rd, based on, well, very little, I'm calling Iowa for Obama (largely because I wish it so) and Romney (organization).
Fortunately, I can edit this post tomorrow if I get it all wrong.
Any other predictions out there?
I dreamt last night that I was throwing a party and someone brought Georg Wilhelm Friedrich Hegel-themed Kraft Cheese Lunchables.
Der Wikipedia tells us that Hegel (1770-1831) talked about "a relation between nature and freedom, immanence and transcendence, and the unification of these dualities without eliminating either pole or reducing it to the other."
I'm trying to find the connection my subconscious was drawing between Hegel and Kraft Cheese Lunchables. The best I've come up with so far is that Kraft Cheese Lunchables are free from nature. Transcendentally free from nature.
the last thing I'm
gonna do is check my email.
You know -- blinding chest pain,
Hit refresh again. Pull down some spam.
this mortal coil.
So I have this new idea for a movie. It's the most completely original idea I've ever come up with. And tonight I'm giving it to the world because that's how much I love the world.
The movie's called "Gnome Alone." And the idea is, I've gone away for Christmas vacation and I've accidentally left my gnome home, all by himself. Two bungling crooks try to rob the place, but my gnome fights them off with a series of slapstick Rube Goldberg-style defensive maneuvers. And then he stabs them in the heart.
I'm proud to say, this idea is entirely fiction. (I don't even have a gnome!)
It's sort of a send up of all those gnome movies from back in the late '50s. "The Third Gnome." "Gnome on a Hot Tin Roof." Remember those? "12 Angry Gnomes"? What was up with that?
Update: My family reminded me that Meg Ryan also had those pair of gnome movies in the '80s and '90s: "When Gnome Met Sally" and then a few years later, "You've Got Gnome."
This hurts my brain:
disclosure: I work for the publisher that distributes No Starch Press' Forbidden Lego.
more disclosure: Somebody should get the Nobel Book Titling prize for calling a book "Forbidden Lego."
I've been thinking a lot about toast and how everyone takes it for granted. I mean, how many foods taste great uncooked and taste even greater after you've heated them up? 10? Maybe? Maybe 12? It's not a lot.
So I've started working on some new slogans that I hope will help turn things around. See if you can incorporate these into your daily conversations. You know, virally.
OK. Enough jibber jabber. Let's get this toast party rolling!
The bliss starts about 45 seconds in.
(As an aside, I first discovered this video about 13 years ago, and for a stretch I must have played it 15 times a day. Good times. Good times.)
It's the year 2007. 2000. 7.
I'm calling bull-ass* on that one.
* "bull-ass" was my 7-year-old's best-guess attempt when we asked him if he knew the curse word that started with bull. "Bull-ass?" he said. And oh, how we laughed at his feeble stab at sailor talk. Then we promptly started using the term ourselves.
have fallen away.
No fennel. No onions any more. No rosemary, no cheese.
All these, pulled beneath the surf
like Godzilla, turning her scaly back on us, taking our
early egg experiments down with her
in a foamy splash.
It's Tabasco now, every time.
Salt, pepper, chili powder. Basil, fresh when possible.
Big old curds. Not too dry.
Come back Godzilla. Come back
and we'll make
The pasta that I had tonight at Pastino's in Oakland
was the worst pasta I have had in my entire life.
I am an old man. I have lived 300 years.
In all my years, I've never had pasta this bad.
And make no mistake -- I've had bad pasta.
For about 60 years I lived in Bangladesh,
I was a reporter at a local newspaper
and -- I kid you not -- my "beat" was bad pasta places
and the pasta they made.
Most of which wasn't
It was a difficult time.
As it turns out, those thin, flappy, granular strands of my discontent
were just the first course in an extended meal
at the heavy center of which, I now discover, sat
tonight's fettucini bolognese.
I'm about to go to sleep. And all I can think about
is the fact that some small part of this pasta will probably become
my toe skin, or a ligament. My hip. A crumbly eyelash.
I have been cheapened by this pasta. I do not recommend you go to
In case you find yourself in the Island City on November 3rd, be sure to drop by Alameda Literati where I'll be speaking on not one, not three, but two panels -- one on (yes) blogging at 10 am, and the other on scriptwriting at 11 am, which will give me a chance to plug that night's performance of Mankind's Last Hope.
(And yes, that was a meta-plug, in which I just used mention of a plug to plug again!)
I liked SCB's suggestion in the comments that I get an HBO special entitled "Uncorked." I'm thinking I could carve out a niche as "the guy who complains about his small town with specifics no one outside of that town can understand."
"What is the deal with all those 'no left turn' signs on Park? Anybody else find themselves driving in circles trying to get over to C'era Una Volta for some of their delicious housemade Pasta alla Boscaiola? Come on now!"
"I'm thinking the ice cream at Tucker's is like crystal meth, if crystal meth came in Rocky Road and Orange Sherbert. Am I right? Am I right? Am I right? Am I right? I'm right about that, aren't I?"
"Boy, all those stacks of books over at Kevin Patricks Books on Encinal are wild, don't you think? Who would stack books like that in an earthquake zone? It's an unusual choice, I say. Good books though, at reasonable prices."
I flipped someone the bird today. I haven't done that for a lot of years. It didn't feel that great, but now that I've done it, I can't seem to stop.
We live in a pretty small town. Slowing down to look for a parking spot, I put my left hand out the window and waved this guy in a VW around me. And the cranky son of a gun honked at me.
Now I hate honking in a small town. I just hate it. Save your honking noises for the big city, I always say, with its fancy ways and complex speech patterns, and its honking. Around here, no honking. Please.
So he honks at me and I can't help it -- I give him the finger. It's like my finger lifted itself, smooth and swift, like a helium balloon. My hand was already out the window, right? And my middle finger just uncorked. And he honks again! Short, snippy. And I honk back! Then I park my car and go get a small pot of darjeeling. Deeeelicious.
And there it is. Some 10, or 11, or possibly even 12 years of no-bird-flipping. Gone. Just whisked away. Like a burp in a sandstorm.
I gave three or four more people the finger on the way home. I flipped off a poodle. I was out of control. And then when my seven-year-old forgot to say "please" when he asked me for a pony, you guessed it. The bird.
He said, "Pop -- what's that? What's that strange gesture mean? Does it hurt?" And then, "Hey, I'm doing it too!" And I started to cry in a way that looked like I was laughing at something really really sad.
I can't live this way. I'm going to try to cork it again tomorrow. I hope it doesn't hurt.
I'm borderline religious about To Do Lists. For example, when I go to bed, I often remind myself that while it's easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than it is for a rich man to get into heaven, it's easier for a rich man to get into heaven than it is for most individuals to complete three projects with overlapping deadlines on time, unless they have a To Do List to help them prioritize.
So I got to thinking about To Do Lists, and religions, and how some Mormons used to baptize people after they'd passed on. And I thought I could perform a similar service by creating To Do Lists for the dead.
Here's what I have so far:
Got any you'd like to add?
update: a pal just pointed out that Dr. Katz had the exact same idea 7 years ago. Dang you Dr. Katz! Why are you always 7 years ahead of me with everything?!
I've been trying a little witnessed consciousness of late, hoping to get a better handle on that age-old question, "Daddy, where do jokes come from?"
What I discovered surprised me. This isn't true every time, but a lot of the time, right before I make a joke, it turns out that there's this moment when I realize a joke's hanging out there, ready to be made before I actually know what the joke is. Someone will say something, or I'll read something, or a cat will jump on something, and my "shtick sense" will start tingling. "Potential comedy, now in vicinity."
So I'Il start poking around to see if I can find it -- it's like I'm trying to locate a chair in a dark room. Sometimes the chair's small and the room's large. Other times the chair's large and the room's small.
I'd never picked up on this before in part because the whole process tends to move pretty fast, and in part because I think I'm just generally too dang giddy with, "Hey! A joke!" to stop and take notes.
But it's a little odd, isn't it?
I'm going to make a leap and assume this isn't just a quirk of me, but it's the way shtick is sometimes formed. If that's true, what does it mean? What does it mean that our nether-brains can sense the presence of a joke before our conscious minds know what's so funny? And that those same nether-brains don't bother to share the joke with our conscious minds, but instead just give a nod to say, "Hey -- pally -- joke opportunity here"...?
Does it mean that our subconscious mind likes to tell jokes to itself in nether-brain-ese, and is sort of a jerk?
"The Sun Also Ebbs"
we were supposed
to need less sleep
when we got older.
I thought I was completely burned out on the whole Talk Like a Pirate Day thing, and then I bumped into this lovely gem, which is worth playing just for the music:
who's been worried about whether, in this post-9/11 world, what with the war, and the economy, and health care, and the general state of things, the cable news channels still had it in them to babble on and on (and on) about painful but not really very important OJ-type celebrity uglinesses?
You can imagine what a relief the last few days have been....
My 7-year-old just offered this interesting observation (which I reproduce here with apologies to my 81-year-old readers): "Death is OK. It's OK if you die of old age. Dying at 80 just means that God thinks you've had enough time." To which my 9-year-old added, "A soldier dying in war isn't OK."
The proximity of these two thoughts led me to the kind of rare insight that comes only once every few weeks, to whit: Why aren't we sending our 80- and 90-year-olds to war and leaving our 20-year-old kids home to play with their video game contraptions and text messaging?
I know, I know, this is kinda politically incorrect, and I apologize for that. And I certainly mean no disrespect to 90- and 100-year-olds. But seriously, I'm picturing a wave of 30,000 pissed off 110-year-old soldiers, tossing grenades, pressing lethal buttons, shouting "take that you ratzis!" I would run away from a wave like that. Wouldn't you run away from a wave like that? I think I would poop myself. And then I would run away.
"Did you find everything you're looking for?" asked the guy at the grocery store checkout.
"Yes. Spiritual wholeness. Physical well-being. Companionship. Chick peas."
"Do you want paper or plastic?"
Handing over a medium-sized paper bag and my change he said, "Enjoy your happiness."
At the airport today, the Aloha Airlines employees were wearing Hawaiian shirts and lovely flowers in their hair, all designed to send the message: "You're already there."
And I was struck by the idea that a flower in someone's hair can be all it takes to lift your feet, to change the temperature, to shift your sense palette and drop you on the far side of a wearying journey,
And then later on, I'm waiting to go through security, and I'm looking around at some of the smiling folks, blissed out, and I thinking, "You bastards! You're already there!"
Me, I'm off to Boston. Would it have been too much trouble for the JetBlue employees to sport Samuel Adams wigs?
This fall (specifically, late October/early November), Virago Theatre will be staging an evening's worth of sitcom good-times that I cowrote with an old pal. The aim is to film it, 3-camera-style, before a live studio audience. You can read all about the show, including a character list and a little more background on the show's premise, here.
If you're a Bay Area actor or theater person and you'd be interested in learning more, and either working on the production or auditioning for a part, consider yourself formally exhorted to drop me a line.
I've been wondering lately how my kids will be affected by these times. How will it shape their view of politics and patriotism to go through their early years with an unpopular war, with a President so widely disliked and distrusted by people in both parties, one who seems to have, well, obvious contempt for the rule of law? What kind of people will an era like this breed?
Oh yeah, I realize. "A doi now," as we used to say. It's me. My gang. Folks born in the mid-to-late '60s, with Vietnam and then Nixon on TV alongside Romper Room and the Electric Company. I guess, for better and/or for worse, times like these breed folks sort of like us.
If you're making me a smoothie
don't make the yuck face when you
look in the cup
right before you put on the cap
and hand me
Third grader 1: [wistful] I love my new catch phrase.
Third grader 2: What is it?
Third grader 1: When I'm happy I say: "I feel happy inside." When I'm sad I say: "I feel sad inside."
I read a Vonnegut quote the other day worth sharing. This is from A Man Without a Country (Random House, 2005):
I have to say this in defense of humankind: In no matter what era in history, including the Garden of Eden, everybody just got here. And, except for the Garden of Eden, there were already all these games going on that could make you act crazy to begin with.
And I'm not sure it was meant that way, but I find this idea comforting, the image of all us hopefully doing the best we can, but still basically looking around, trying to figure things out, once in a while going: "Sooooo...you're saying if I push that lever, it makes the whoosie go off? Every time? Crazy!"
It reminded me of some advice I got from a friend way back in high school. At the time I was sweet on a girl who lived across the world. And I was bemoaning her across-the-worldness to him, and he said, "It's not like she's going anywhere." By which he meant, mortality aside, she wasn't about to jump the planet. She was still going to be here, looking up at the same moon, gripped by the same gravity. So what was the big deal?
OK. So (1) no matter our age, we basically just got here. And (2) until we die, here is pretty much where we'll stay.
That works for me.
I was just getting quizzed by my kids about the tooth fairy, and her castle, and the fact that it's 100 feet tall and 5 feet wide and only has two rooms -- the main room and a bathroom. And my third-grade daughter asks, mouth full of toothbrush and toothpaste:
"Is it as I expected? Is her whole house made out of teeth?"
Not-so-astonishing fact #1: Actor Creed Bratton, who plays the character "Creed Bratton" on the hit NBC TV show "The Office," is actually named "Creed Bratton."
Really-quite-astonishing fact #2: Back in the '60s, this selfsame so-called "Creed Bratton" was a member of the band "The Grass Roots," best known for their hit "Let's Live for Today." Creed in turn was best known as "bandmember most likely to streak."
Breathe. Just breathe.
It's going to be OK.
Whatever did we see in Tekton?
There was a time -- back in the early-to-mid '90s -- when we loved that font with a love that was shameless. We were puppies, licking the face of Tekton. Or perhaps Tekton was a puppy. And we let it lick our face for twenty, thirty, forty-minute stretches. And we didn't even care that she had funky breath.
We put Tekton in our fliers. In our magazines. In our computer books.
Tekton for A-heads and running heads! Tekton for body text!
I remember going to parties where we all dressed up as Tekton letters. Everyone wanted to be the lower-case "t." There were lower-case "t"s running around all over the place, getting drunk on "gin and tektonics," taking whippets. It was crazy.
Now you look at '70s fonts, for example, and no matter how dated they are, you can still understand their appeal -- not just the nostalgic, looking-back appeal they have today, but the magic they must have had in the moment. You can picture someone in some 1976 font-mine wiping the ink from their hands, tilting their lantern toward the day's work, and their buddy says: "that's fat and freaky." These were fonts with flair.
With Tekton, I don't know. I mean, I remember that we felt that way. I was there. I have photographs. But I find myself incapable of recreating a mental space in which our response to Tekton seems plausible.
Did we burn out on Tekton -- is that all this is? The way you can kill a favorite tune by overplaying it?
Does our perceptual shift reflect an innocence lost in this post-9/11 world -- the ability to dip and swoon before a font that looks kind of like handwriting, but not really?
Or was it just that we were out of our minds?
Taking Place on the Windshield of a Moving Car, goes to this feller.
If I end up founding my own university ("Cecil Vortex University" -- or perhaps "the University of Cecil Vortex") the CVU/UCV hymnal will include the following words:
"I'm not laughing at you.
I'm laughing with me."
The downright deviant number of flip-flops
we have in my house. We have, like,
fourteen pairs of flip-flops in my house.
And I don't wear flip-flops. They flip too much.
So that leaves three people in my house with fourteen pairs of flip-flops.
Why? Why? Why?!
You can't wear more than one pair at a time.
In seventh grade I read Cat's Cradle, my first Vonnegut book. I remember standing in front of the class and giving a book report. I played a newsreporter delivering the play-by-play from the book's closing scene ("a tragedy today, here in the beautiful island of San Lorenzo..."). There was an ad in the back of all those Vonnegut paperbacks that said, essentially, bet you can't eat just one, and they were right.
No books, aside from Steve Martin's Cruel Shoes, had a bigger impact on my brain in middle school and high school. I'd sometimes hear folks disparage Vonnegut's novels as lightweight, comparing them unfavorably to, say, Catch-22. That always seemed off-point to me. These weren't book you were supposed to roll around in for a month. They were a different kind of beast. Thin, portable devices that delivered high voltage electric telegrams direct to the nervous system. And if you read them in a certain frame of mind (and most especially at a certain age), they really did change the way you saw the world.
If you're planning on reading a Vonnegut book today, may I recommend Sirens of Titan? Or perhaps God Bless You, Mr. Rosewater? Or mebbe Slapstick? Or what about Bluebeard? Oh, who are we kidding? The book to read today is Mother Night.
Mother Night, a book so gigantically good that when I finished it back in freshman year of college, I hopped up, flung it down the hallway, and scrambled out to the street to recover with some New York City air. And see, if it had been Catch-22, I might have really hurt somebody.
Kurt Vonnegut 1922-2007
Dyngus Day is finally here! And you know what that means -- beware kids sporting pussywillows and water guns. Especially if you live in Buffalo or South Bend.
In an almost entirely unrelated development, So-Called Bill was angered by advertising over the weekend, which reminded me of this marketing copy I found on the box for Rob Reiner's Rumor Has It, starring Kevin Costner, Shirley Maclaine, and Jennifer Anniston:
At last there's a movie for everyone who's ever looked at the eccentrics and oddballs in his or her family and wondered who are these people?
Like until now, we were left to ask, "Doesn't anyone else have a crazy uncle who thinks the Theodore Roosevelt part of Mount Rushmore is making googly eyes at his wife? Am I the only person in this whole country with a quirky family? And if I'm not alone, why doesn't anyone make a movie that finds comedy in those sorts of situations?"
And then -- at last! -- along comes this groundbreaking film. And now you're not alone anymore. At last! At last! Grrrr.
Speaking of bad things, here's what may be the worst pick-up line ever: "Either this place smells like really good Indian food, or you smell like really good Indian food."
I just learned something so wonderful, I felt compelled to use the world wide web to let people know about it. Were you aware that the Monday after Easter is a Polish holiday called "Dyngus Day"? It's true! Dyngus Day! Pronouced "Dingus Day!" How cool is that?!
Dyngus Day involves boys and girls splashing and slapping each other with water and pussywillows. Here's a translation of a fair-warning poem they sing, knocking on doors:
Smigus! Dyngus! All for fun, Dump some water with a smile! If not from a cup, then from a pitcher, Smigus-Dyngus starts at dawn! It's an old Polish custom, just so you'll know and not yell, when on the second day of Easter, your jacket's all soaking wet.
And where, you're probably wondering, is the Dyngus Day Capital of the USA? Not suprisingly, Polka Music Hall of Fame luminary Lenny Gomulka has an opinion on that:
"I have enjoyed the excitement of Dyngus Day in several cities and towns," he says, "however, no where is this holiday celebrated unilaterally and dynamically as it is in Buffalo, New York."
See? I told you humans aren't all that bad. How can you not love a species like this?
Thought for the day: Trying to write dialogue without first getting a bead on your characters' motivation is a little like trying to move a car by pulling on its bumper. Oh sure, you can do it. If you're really strong. At least, some people can do it. But there's an easier way.
Reflection number 1.
It's just a matter of time before "Happy Feet: The Musical" hits Broadway. So if, like me, your chest starts to constrict at the thought of 100 people tap dancing their hearts out while wearing penguin suits, just consider this fair warning. The time to implant that cyanide capsule in molar #32 is now.
Reflection number 2.
Although I certainly enjoyed the movie and I laughed and laughed when the birdies bumped into each other and went falling down, I was left with the nagging feeling I'd just seen an exceptionally deviant film. (spoiler alert) The message appeared to be that humanity would stop destroying nature if only animals were more...entertaining. Even weirder than that -- it's not enough that the animals sing really well. They need to dance. So dance my fluffy friends! Dance or die!
(It's not every day that someone asks you to write a short poem about Carl Sandburg.)
was a dangerous man
always creeping around
on little cat feet infecting
let it fly
spread it around
like spilling blue coffee
on your neighbors, the family
a cup of the "things I'm bummed about" grind.
if everyone has a
blue coffee stain on their shirt
who's going to get all in your face about
that blue coffee stain
on your shirt?
I just told my kids that Scooby-Doo has a speech defect. But now I'm not sure.
Even though the dog speaks and functions in a very human way, is he not still essentially a dog? And given that, should we not therefore judge him as some sort of super-freak dog speech genius, relative to the dog-normal-speaking-ability curve???
If I spoke Chinese as well as Scooby speaks English, compared to how most dogs speak English (eg: not at all), let's just say: I'd speak really good Chinese.
Perhaps the so-called "defect" lies not in Scooby's speech, but in our hearts and their collective inability to judge things relative to a dog-normal-speaking-ability curve.
The deer liked to race around this particular meadow. Maybe it was the grass. Or the smell of the grass. Or the smell of last year's deer. Whatever the pull, the meadow was packed with deer, and they were running.
Across the lake, Spencer sat against a hard rock that didn't quite fit against his back and shoulders. Squinting he could make out individual deer as they sparked in and out of the herd. The echoing roar of their hooves pushed out over the lake surface. He kept waiting for a warm rain to fall. The air was heavy that way. Cozy.
It all reminded him why he'd parachuted down to this lake in the first place. Better to bleed to death hundreds miles from nowhere with a sack of money at your side than to slump your way into old age, clanking trays around some prison messhall.
Of course, that would be great if he actually had a bag of money instead of stolen laundry. Or if he was bleeding instead of just a little bruised on both thighs from where he'd squeezed his way out that window. What a surprise -- to find it so small. It hadn't looked that small.
As it was, no one was hunting for him. And odds were he had several years of hard living ahead. Plenty of time to relax, sort through his bag of clothes, wait for the rain, and listen to the thunder of the deer.
I am the just fy
the optional information
the only information
you do not need
to act on me.
Have no fear old friend.
No change no motion
Remain as you were
more or less
absorb me and
and really might well do if I left him alone in the house for twenty minutes, a partial list:
Anything you fear he might do?
Steer clear of the drunk barber. His
blade sways. He shaves shapes
in the air.
Putting on the ritz everlasting.
Broad headed. Forever young.
Most of the press requests I get nowadays have to do with my ongoing "Bands-I've-Seen Project." I'm sure you've stumbled on coverage of it while clicking past Entertainment Tonight, or read articles about it in The New Yorker. Well, everything you've seen, or read, or perhaps first saw as letters and then subsequently read -- it's all true.
"The Bands-I've-Seen Project" is a three-phase effort to paralyze time by recalling bands that I've seen and then focusing on those shows with both my eyes closed.
The first phase was taking a crack at compiling this list for myself. That was the part that got all the press interest.
The second phase has just kicked in -- earlier today I posted a draft of the list as a stripe down the left side of the site. I'm leaving out opening acts that angered me, but including shameful moments from my youth because why have shameful moments in your youth if you can't display them in public later in life?
The third phase is the really innovative piece, and as such I'm sure it will be completely ignored by the mainstream media. In this stage, you are an active participant. Here's how it works:
If you and I have seen one or more shows together, please give the list a skim. Then, if you spot anything missing, drop me an email or post a comment here. For example: what was the name of that choral robe-flowing band that opened for Bowie? UPDATE: Thank you e! ("Polyphonic Spree")
Once I have what looks like a complete list, I will return to focusing on these shows with both my eyes closed. And if I'm successful, we may well stop time, at least for a moment. Although what it would mean to stop time for a period of time I'm not quite sure.
Good luck to us all!
We've all used the old "behind you!" trick to get someone to turn around. Was a time, that was a real effective hustle. The mark turns, you pocket his change. Done and done. But word spreads. Stuff gets incorporated into TV movies. And then one day you notice nobody's buying it any more.
Tonight my six-year-old son executed an exciting new take on this old chestnut that I thought was worth sharing with the rest of the grifting community.
So, he's trying to tickle me but, frankly, he can't, because I'm just too fast and canny. Then he says: "Look, behind you. Momma's trying to give you a potato." I turned to look. No potato.
Later, after he'd gone to bed and I could find some time to think -- to think! -- I sat down and puzzled through why this had been such an effective swindle. It came down to two key elements: (1) who runs a grift with potatoes nowadays? Just about nobody. And (2) why "trying"? What was that about? He'd hit on just the sort of extra detail that fogs a mark's mind.
Anyways, all you grifters out there, enjoy. And to the rest of you, please don't spread the word by incorporating this technique into a TV movie.
I've been working on a sitcom script for the last little bit and that's meant wrestling a lot with dialog. I know good dialog starts with being a good listener, and I've been trying to get out a little more to coffee shops, dude ranches, laser tag emporiums, and other places where "real people" hang out, to hear how they speak and to pick up language I might not have used myself.
I'm also trying to come up with a handful of basic working techniques that'll help me get more consistent and credible results. I thought some of the folks who drop by this site might be interested in sharing techniques we've been taught or figured out. If you're feeling generous, add a comment to this post -- no technique too small, too cheesy, or too obvious.
Here are a few of the things I've been messing around with:
backstory-a-licious: The clearer the character's backstory and driving motives, the more personal their reactions to any situation. This week I finally figgered out the backstory for one key character in the sitcom. It was a pretty simple sketch of a backstory, but even that really helped turn his words from "generic Cecil banter" to something more specific.
messing up the tennis match: I find I too easily get into dialog volleys of "Ingmar, what'd you have for dinner?" "Well Dave, I had tacos for dinner. How about you?" Dialog can start to get into this predictable back and forth as I race toward a particular plot objective (for example: "feed Ingmar and Dave!"). The aforementioned backstories help remind me to stay focused on what drives the characters, not just the plot point that's driven me to write this particular scene. I've also been encouraging characters to interject more tangents, and I've been occasionally allowing them a genuine word fumble -- something that'll surprise the other characters and hopefully the audience.
keying in on key phrases: for some characters I focus in a phrase or two that they use. They don't even have to actually use it in the piece, it's just something I keep in the back o' my mind as I write their lines. For example, in this micro-musical I was messing around with, there's a character whose voice keys off the phrase "How 'bout that?" (stolen from a kid who played Tom Sawyer at Disneyland -- as he walked away he called out to my kids with a light twang: "I'll come back later and we'll go look for treasure -- how 'bout that?") Whenever I thought I was getting off track on that character's voice, I'd ask myself "is this the sorta thing my 'how 'bout that' guy would say?"
So that's a few from me. How 'bout that? And how 'bout you? -- any dialog tips/techniques/tricks you'd be up for sharing?
It's comforting to know we still have fire fighters amongst us -- people dedicated to finding fires and then fighting them. Fire needs to be fought.
There are other primal forces that need to be fought, of course. I'd like to be a wind fighter. I'd go around putting out dangerous winds. Or perhaps a dirt fighter. Or I could combine both, and I'd fight hazardous dirt-wind constructs, like dust storms. But there doesn't seem to be a market there. It's hard to fight wind and dirt, sure. But also, maybe we just don't fear wind or dirt as quite much as we fear fire. Certainly, we don't fear them as much as we should.
We have disease fighters, and we call them doctors, nurses, researchers. We have crime fighters, and we call them police or detectives. Some people call them "bobbies."
It's different with fire. It's a different kind of fear. Our fear of fire makes us smaller, crouching, even cold. We need to be reassured straight-shot with a steady gaze. A roundabout word won't cut it. We need to be told yes, there are fires. There will always be fires. But have no fear.
There are fire fighters too.
you'll ever get from your six-year-old
is the one that comes
after you've taken him and a friend of his trick or treating
two skipping ninjas out in the dark
going as long and as far as they want
extracting candy ninja-style from houses
you were sure weren't open for trick or treat business.
Then later, back at the house, they eat a kit-kat or two
they play, they're pooped, friend goes home.
House goes still. CD plays Tony Bennet
bouncing off the evening's plates and glasses.
You sit down.
And you get
I'm 39 and convinced that I'm middle aged.
Which is fine by me. In fact, I like it. It's kind of like I'm floating around in the middle of a lake in an inflatable tube. There's lots of water on all sides. My feet are trailing in the water while my head leans back onto the perfect cushion that is the side of my inflatable tube.
I'm not sure what the tube symbolizes. Possibly just that I really like floating around in inflatable tubes. I think the water may be time. And my feet are probably standing in for "actions considered but not taken."
Anyways, however the imagery shakes out, it's really not a bad place to be.
I've been asking my fellow 35-40+ year-old friends what they think the last few days -- "Are we middle aged?" -- and many of them seem pretty sure that we have a ways to go. "Didn't you get the memo?" they ask. "40 is the new 30."
But I don't know. I'm not so sure the 30-year-olds are ready to sign off on that.
If I had a coffeehouse, this would be my motto:
"A frightened clientele is an obedient clientele."
"A nervous clientele is a loyal clientele."
I'd spray my customers with hormones as they
walked through the door.
To mark them.
I'd control the colors they wore.
I'd make the colors dance for me.
Dance pretty colors, dance!
The lemonade would always
be out of season.
pop spin slice.
My 6-year-old son's having a playdate right now. There are clinking noises and murmurs coming through the open door to his room. And then I hear my son say this: "I'll trade you a Jewish Bible." A what?!
You heard right, he's trying to trade his friend a Torah, that ancient fount of sacred wisdom. "What are you gonna trade for?" I call out, hoping it's a Koran or The Book of Mormon or somesuch -- something we can use. But no, it's for Lego pieces.
And that's what the world's come to, my friends -- 6-year-olds trying to trade their Torahs for Lego pieces.
This never would have happened when Bill Clinton was president.
Shampoo was nice enough to publish/post one of my poems this week in Issue 28 (under my so-called "real name"). It's an excellent issue, including a poem by Rodney Koeneke, one of my favorite living Americans. If ya get a chance, checkitout.
This little wahoo got me to add a Published category over on the left side o' the screen. Nine pieces in there now, so that leaves literally hundreds of pieces still available for purchase at reasonable prices....
Buying sushi tonight, the bill comes to $19.80, and the nice guy at the register laughs "1980! -- that was a good year!"
"Yeah!" I sez. "Yeah." And I hand him my credit card.
"You had hair down to your ass!" he says to me, "I bet." And this gives me pause. Where exactly did that come from? Down to my ass?
"No, I had big puffy hair," I correct him. "My hair doesn't grow down, it grows sort of out and up. Like Art Garfunkel." And I show him what I mean with my hands, using the universal gestures for "big" and "puffy."
"Oh," he says. I think he may be a little sad now, around the edges. But he picks himself back up pretty fast. "You wore high heel shoes!" he says.
And I say, "No, no I didn't.
"We all did!" he says.
"No," I say, a little more firmly. "I was 13. I had braces." I don't tell him this, because I don't want to bum him out, but I'm pretty sure I was wearing wallabies back then, which are almost the exact opposite of high heels.
"Oh," he says, and hands me my card back with a receipt to sign.
He's tried so hard to turn me into some sort of heavy metal call girl, back in 1980. Like maybe one of the secondary prostitutes in Risky Business. But he's failed. He can't change the past.
to name me
that movie one better be wouldn't
with neil patrick harris.
with neil patrick harris.
with patrick neil harris.
It was another busy day at Amalgamated Skills -- "Where we bring you the skills that you use to do things better than you would do otherwise, if you didn't have the skills that we bring you." Rhett Kronkhead, the ever-flustered Production Manager, was in a blood purple rage.
"Confound it!" he hollered, shaking a phone bill in one purple fist and storming out of his office. "Would you look at these confounded phone calls? It's ridiculous!"
"Simmer down Rhett," said Vilma, A.S.'s ever-wry Art Director. "And pull up your pants." Rhett had a lot of enthusiasm, some great acid-tinged stories from the sixties, and a good heart. But he had no ass.
"How can I simmer down?!" said Rhett. "Would you look at this bill?! Who is this clown?! He's making 30 calls a day!!"
By this point, a small crowd had gathered around, murmuring like nervous spoonbills. "I'm going to make an example of this clown!!" Rhett stormed back into his office, flopped himself down behind the desk, and reached for the phone. "I'm gonna call him right now!!" he shouted.
There was a moment of silence and then -- a ferocious slam, as the phone came crashing back down. "Busy!! Typicall!!" Rhett sputtered. "Who is this clown?!"
"Let me see that," said Vilma, reaching over for the bill. She gave it a quick scan. "Rhett," she said. "Rhett, this is your phone number."
"My wha --?" said Rhett, his waking mind drifting off into a babbling dream space as he slipped down off the chair like a spilled Slurpie. "I don't ... I mean ... my wha --?" he said again, his whole body now somehow sliding through a thin crack in the baseboard, deep down into the darkness below.
And only his pants remained.
As some of you already know, I'm taking a hiatus from the 9-5 life so I can spend more time walking my kids to school and working on my writing. Whenever this has come up in conversation, the question back has been: "Hunh. OK. So what are you going to write?" And it's been a real point of shame for me that I haven't had much of an answer. Until now. Now, I have very much of an answer. And the answer is that I intend to use this time to create an entirely new TV genre, one I've dubbed: the "situation tragedy" or "trag-e-sit." I'm still working out the details, but here's a rough sketch....
Trag-e-sits offer a half hour of episodic entertainment starring 4-6 whacky neighbors and/or family members and/or co-workers who move the plot forward through a series of short, tragic, situational interactions. The whole thing is punctuated by a "cry track" -- the sound of a studio audience weeping, designed to induce a similar reaction in the home viewer. Some of the literally several trag-e-sit treatments I'm currently developing include:
update: so-called "t. philter" writes: "I wish you'd been more specific about the awful consequences of Gork's confusion." Well, I don't want to give away the store, but I will tell you that he puts his fingers in other people's sodas. Also, he keeps trying to hump grandma.
We've all noticed that many top Hollywood-type stars have sidekicks.
And yet, it's amazing to me that here in the 21st century, there are still literally dozens of A-listers who wander the streets alone, no shoulder to cry on, no raised hand to high-five. For example: Carrot Top.
I think I'd make a pretty darned good sidekick, and I'd like to take this opportunity to offer my sidekick services at a very reasonable to-be-determined-I'm-sure-we-can-work-something-out price.
Some of the reasons I think I'd make a good sidekick:
1. I have a firm yet unintimidating handshake.
2. I have complete faith in your talent, and I'm prepared to put that in writing.
3. My best side isn't my right side or my left side, but rather a sort of isometric view -- picture me respectfully angled toward you, while you face the cameras. Hunh? Hunh? Nice, hunh?....
Interested top Hollywood-type stars, please contact me at: email@example.com. And of course, if you're too busy and would like me to contact me for you, that would be fine too.
Coulton's the creative cohort of John Hodgman (author of The Areas of My Expertise). He's also borderline irresponsible. Best known for Flickr, a brilliant song/video written around images found on the image sharing site, Coulton's been putting up a free song a week on his site for, well, a while.
Coulton's music is a little bit folk-Randy Newman, a little bit TMBG. Sometimes it's like Dan Fogelberg, only evil. As high quality, representative samples, may I recommend: Millionaire Girlfriend, Chiron Beta Prime, Soft-Rocked by Me, and Re: Your Brains. But really, there's lots more than that. You can find a big mess of them here.
Probably worth noting that some of these tunes use potty words (specifically: "First of May"), and I haven't yet played them all myself, so who the hell knows what's out there.... But what I've played so far, I'm sort of stunned by. Four monkeys up!
There's a Kenneth Cole poster outside of Nordstrom's that shouts out:
"You are on a video camera over 20 times a day. Are you dressed for it?"
Cole is known for its hip, ironic, outrageous statements, all in the name of selling clothes. And hats off for another winner there.
But this one, I think, sort of tips over to the other side. Because we really are that casual about omni-surveillance. People don't walk by the Cole poster and stop to stare. They just walk by. Or maybe they pause to see what pants they're wearing.
And there it is, on the streets of San Francisco -- one of those futures we were warned about as kids.
I have no idea what this means, but it turns out that if you take 1 part conservative pundit Charles Krauthammer, and blend it with 3 parts conservative pundit Ann Coulter, the result looks suspiciously like Fabio's hard-living older brother.
conservative pundit Charles Krauthammer
conservative pundit Ann Coulter
conservative super-model/pundit Fabio Krautcoulter?
As a married guy, a lot of my female friends and acquaintances have been asking me for years to tell them how to snag a fella -- to reveal the big secret of exactly what it is that men like. And until now, I've always said "I shant."
But then recently, I saw the movie "An Inconvenient Truth," and it got me thinking. Who knows how much longer we have on this shimmering blue-green marble orb? And if the world were in fact to end tomorrow, and I never revealed to women how to snag a fella, how lame would that be?
So, OK. With a tip of the hat to Al Gore, here goes:
There are basically two kinds of guy. The first kind wants to be treated like a baby. I call them "baby men." Baby men like it when you let them sort of lurch around and put their hands on everything. They leave fingerprints on your walls. And they'll eat whatever you put in front of them, so long as you puree it.
The second kind of guy -- I call them "old grandpas" -- wants to be treated like an old person. Old grandpas like it when you talk really loudly at them. They say things like "I have the right to drive in front of you," and they're very precise about their schedules.
Alright, you're thinking, that sounds pretty straightforward. But what about when you can't tell which kind of guy you're dating? Sometimes it's not so obvious, and the stakes can be very high. For example, if you talk loudly at a baby man, he might make doody.
Fortunately, there's one thing every guy likes, whether he be a baby man from Mumbai or an old grandpa from Galveston. And that's the big secret I'm now about to reveal.
Guys like it when you give them money. At the end of your second date, give your guy a dollar. Not change -- men don't like the metal clangy sound coins make. It makes them anxious.
Give your guy a paper dollar, and then sit back and watch him fall head over heels. A dollar is light, yet strong. Fibrous, yet flexible. To a guy, giving him a paper dollar is like saying "I respect you. And I value your time. And I'm going to show you how I feel by giving you this paper dollar."
And there's nothing a man likes more than that.
On the long list
of "things not to snort"
"pepper" is very close to
Over the holidays, my family converted to one of those new religions you've been reading so much about on MySpace and Google. We chose the "Cheese Promise Keepers," a group that restores the authority over all family cheese decisions to the man of the house. While the "Cheese Promise Keepers" may not be for everyone, we've found a lot of joy in their teachings, and I wanted to take a minute to share the good news in case they might be a good fit for you too.
Here's how it works: if my wife or one of our kids wants to have some cheese, they'll turn to me and say "should I have this cheese?" and I'll say "yes" or "no" depending on my sense of what would be best for the family.
Sometimes they won't be in the mood for cheese, and I'll say "try some cheese with that." Or if they're having Swiss cheese, I might say "how about some Gouda instead? It's Dutch."
While these probably sound like suggestions, they're really more like commandments. As in: "thou shalt have some Gouda instead!"
My family appreciates the fact that the "Cheese Promise Keepers" have taken all the pressure out of their cheese-related decisions. And I like the fact that they've made me feel more like a true man.
Before the "Cheese Promise Keepers," cheese used to play a disproprtionately large role in our family dynamics. There were arguments over cheese. Slap fights. But now we're putting people first, instead of putting cheese first. And isn't that the way things ought to be? After all, in the Bible it says that God created Adam and Eve, not Adam and edam.
I had a dream last night that I was applying to be a referee in the the local "ring around the rosie" league. But they rejected my application because I was just too big. They were afraid I'd frighten the kids on "all fall down."
I mean, that's not fair, is it? That I should have such a dream?
I voted today on plain old paper. No computers for Alameda County this time around. And I dug it. It was great, voting on paper. Some things are just better the old-fashioned way. Am I right?
For example, ice cream. I for one liked it better when ice cream was made by cows instead of by robots.
When the cows made ice cream, their hooves would go "puck puck puck." But when the robots make the ice cream, it's always "clang clang clang."
And I'm like: "shut up robots!"
On a somewhat related note, I voted for Angelides. Because I'm pretty sure Steve Westly is a friggin' robot.
I saw Nipsey on the streets of NY once, sometime in the mid-80s.
I shouted, "Hey -- it's Nipsey Russell!"
And he looked over at me,
and for the first time I think in his whole life, Nipsey stopped smiling.
It was like I could hear the planet itself
slow to a loud, crunching halt, its rotation full-stopped
by the sour expression on the face of this game-show icon.
The air puckered.
And then some super villain -- I forget which, maybe Electro?
dropped down in front of me, picked up a car, and tossed it over my head.
OK, maybe it wasn't Electro then. He isn't that strong.
Anyways, he tucked Nipsey under his arm
like a smallish bale of hay
and he was gone.
Sometime later the world started turning again.
But I never forgot that day.
And I'm pretty sure neither did Nipsey Russell.
Can you play a nun?
Can you play a nun's hand?
Can you play
a quirky nun's hand
so filled with life and laughter and the real stuff,
it can't help but make us smile?
"Say -- who was that?
Who just pinched me?
I didn't expect to be pinched like that,
much less by a nun's hand."
Oh that Robin Williams.
This one, the fourth in a series of desktop-sized painterly images of individuals engaged with a glowing orb, set against a blue/textured frame, goes out to Kim and Zoro, whose comments today made me pause to reconsider the only-partly-realized genius and, yes, the big bag of pathos that is Jeff Goldblum.
Remember that scene in Close Encounters where Richard Dreyfus was compelled to make a mountain out of mashed potatoes? Something very similar happened to me not too long ago. Except instead of a potato mountain, I found myself forced to make a trifecta of images, each sized for a 1024 x 768 PC/Mac desktop. They featured Danny Kaye, Kurt Vonnegut, and Al Gore engaged with a glowing orb. And they were set in a bluish textured frame.
The experience left me shaken. I had so many questions. For example: Why is Danny Kaye wearing that outfit?
At first no answers came. And then I heard a voice as cool and reassuring as a Dairy Queen Flurry. It said:
"Now more than ever, Americans needs heroes. And if they can't have heroes, they should at least have Danny Kaye, Kurt Vonnegut, and Al Gore desktop images set in a bluish textured frame and featuring a glowing orb. Post these images on cecilvortex.com. Tell people they can click to see the full-sized image, or right-click to save an image out and use them as desktops. Then wait for our next transmission."
And so I did....
you shouldn't eat
so much of any one thing
that if they found out
that a really really
of that one thing
you'd stop and say:
The "Patrick Swayze/North and South" web page is terrible. There are lots of good web pages out there, covering a wide variety of topics. So there's really no need for you to visit the "Patrick Swayze/North and South" web page.
Here's just one of the many terrible things about this web page. It says, and I quote: "In my opinion, 'Orry Main' will always be the character most closely associated with Patrick." Now that's just ridiculous. I can't even begin to tell you how ridiculous a statement that is, on so many levels.
Won't you join me in boycotting this terrible web page?
Am I the only one a bit put off by the panda craze that's been sweeping the nation, what with everyone and their brother buying panda bears and then bringing them with them *everywhere*?
I mean, come on! I'm not saying pandas aren't cute. I'm just saying, there's a time and there's a place. And when I go to the men's room at a baseball game, the last thing I want to see is some rube in an "I heart pandas!" baby-t, hosing down his cotton-candy covered new-best-friend and looking at me like *I'm* the crazy one.
Wallace Shawn is Daffy Duck. (At least In The Princess Bride.)
I wonder how much time
EE Cummings spent
searching and replacing?
Because I spend a lot of time searching and replacing
and I wonder if that was a big part of his life too?
I'm topped off with liquids.
And it was like
he was bragging.
tipped too soon
how was I to know
your service would suck so
said my five-year old tonight, dressed in full Batman togs, before delivering 360 degrees of pain to the sides, the back, the seat of our oversized wooden rocking chair.
"Hunh? Chairie?" he cooed. "You want a piece of me, Chairie?" And somehow that familiar name only made the beating more savage.
I'm surprised you'd
say that. I mean, you've
read the articles, right?
I sent you the articles, so you must have read them.
Which means you know all about my generation
and the way we
from a sort of kid's sort of
crafty project into a serious art form
and then, finally, a competitive sport.
I was at the center of that movement.
I was near the center of that movement.
And you can sit there
with your bucket of light-shifting beads and your horse-brown pipe cleaner
and you can lecture me
on the importance of varying color and closing out the sequence with a half-twist
because you know, that's your prerogative.
But I'm surprised.
When your kid tells you they love you
and they're laughing when they say it
wandering off toward slow down
toward stop and sleep well
everybody sleep tight.
sleepy tight everybody.
Jake has lived with these dogs for four years now. They pace around his cage on dry paws. He rotates as they pace, tracking their progress but never catching their eyes.
He learned this truth in the first few weeks: catch the eye of a hungry dog and it will bark. And not a yippie bark, but a rough angry thing that feels like a scraped knee somewhere inside your head. He doesn't need that.
Meanwhile, there were these other guys, the ones pacing around the dogs, pacing around him. The dogs smell almost sweet -- light-rain-sweet -- but those other guys smell bad. One day, Jake asks them to shower.
"Sedates the dogs. Keeps them from barking so much. You know that."
"Oh yeah, I forgot."
"Hey, at least we don't smell like Fish People," one of them jokes. "Oh wait, you'd probably like that."
"Ha ha." Jake drifts back to the war, five long years ago. What had he been thinking, aligning himself with those Fish People? That was a huge mistake. And now here he was, paying the price.
Just a really gigantic mistake.
The kind of place
where they name
their kids "Hunter"
and mean it.
This weekend my 5-year old asked: "wouldn't it be funny if 'Justice League' was 'Justice Legal'"?
Like it was some hit ABC show, where big-city super heroes
practice the law wearing costumes.
Never using their super powers
just, you know
arguing the case
fighting over turf
falling in love in spandex.
Flash is bucking to make partner.
And maybe Batman is the D.A.
The car was a used Chrysler LeBaron convertible
parked just around the corner.
Dark blue and dented, it had lived
a bumpy life.
They got in and Cal started the engine.
And when he shifted, the car rumbled
and fought back, and to Greg,
it felt like Cal was shifting something
inside Greg's ass cheeks.
He projects things on her
like she's a drive-in movie.
He plays whole movies on her.
I found this spam comment on a friend's site yesterday (minus the line breaks). I've swapped out the thing they were selling and replaced it with "clown shoes" because, well, I don't want to sell their stuff.
But I loved this spam comment. And I thought you might too:
"Clown Shoes said...
Have you seen
on personalized baby clown shoes?
I just have
not had the best results
when blog surfing today.
back to my endless search
Everything is black and white here.
They shine bright lights on us and shout
"Passports? ID? What is your country?"
We moan and
claw at our eyes with fingers
cracked and crooked.
Sometimes the light is swung about and
I think I see a form, stout -- squat -- three arms?
This is Florence. They
speak English here too.
What our crazy neighbor said to my wife the other night
not realizing that my wife is
"the woman before you"
and that we'd recently fixed the porch light,
"I'm glad you're here
because the woman
was a devil
they lived in darkness
and you know about darkness."
"Did you hear that?
That's the sound of
Dale Carnegie book
into the trash."
Eventually, so few people
bothered to vote any more
all they had to do was
gas the voting booths on election day
to get rid of the remaining
A girl lives in a castle, surrounded by enormous wealth. She is ignored by virtually everyone. Unbeknownst to her, she is also the source of all this wealth.
A woman she believes is her mother lives with her in the castle. This woman is very sad and still, quiet and pale.
The castle is run by a cold man with a ridiculous mustache.
Even though the girl is surrounded by great food, pastries aplenty, etc., she can sense something's wrong with the situation. You can too. So you apply for a job as their chimney sweep. And you get it, because you've got a certain spark.
Every day, as soon as your work is done, you get to work cheering the girl up, bringing a little fun back to her life. Once you've gained her trust, you tell her the truth of the situation, which is this:
The girl's parents died years ago. The woman she thinks is her mother is actually an employee of this corporation which has taken over their assets. All the money is really the child's, and if she can only get herself to a certain vault, hidden deep within a set of far-off mountains, she can prove her identity (fitting her hand into a flexible, metallic machine designed to preserve the shape of the left hand as a child grows).
And so off she goes. Off you both go. And the adventures you have!
If you love yourself even a little, check out TMBG.com -- They Might Be Giants home on the web.
I have enjoyed this band for, like 19 years. Gack! After sort of burning out on them, I went to a recent show and I was shocked at how much fun I had. They opened with a sequence they call the "Venue Songs." And man, I'm telling you, I was so thoroughly entertained by these tunes, I actually bought them. Shake before my love!
And now they're posting free videos from this set, one per week, on their ever-lovin' web site. Gack gack! So-called Cars fans (and you know who you are), don't miss "Vancouver." Is all I'm saying. Click through to the main site for lots more free goodness. It's like all of a sudden they're the Crazy Eddie of cerebral pop goof-rock vibrations.
A few years ago I finally figgered out a really obvious thing: that writing's only one part inspiration/ability. Duh, I know. But there I was, waiting for the spirit of F. Scott to sieze control of my spine, to toss me into my deskchair and start my finger bones pounding out Gatsby II: The Reckoning. And it weren't happening.
Through fits and also through starts, I figured out a few get-yourself-to-write techniques that seem to help. For a while now, I've meant to blog about these, to keep track of them, to share them, and to see if anyone out there wants to jump in with a technique or three of their own. One of my habits changed recently, so I thought that might make for a good opportunity to kick this off. I'm talking of course, about notebooks.
I subscribe to the big-notebook, little-notebook school o' thought, wherein a little notebook is kept in pocket to jot down random ideas, dialog, observation, and shtick that arrive at unexpected moments (this came from Anne Lamotte, author of my beloved Bird by Bird) who talks about always having a few index cards shoved in your back pocket.) The big notebook is for what Julia Cameron (author of The Artist's Way) calls "morning pages" -- three pages a day, written every day, to uncork whatever ferment you've got in ya.
For the last six months or so, I've dropped from doing morning pages most days to writing three pages once or twice a week. Part of the problem was that three pages was a big enough forced-writing mandate that it only fit into my two chunks of scheduled writing time on the weekend. Also, it had pretty much devolved into pure journal. Which is not entirely a bad thing. I like having a running record of life as it's lived. But it wasn't really what I was looking for.
So I made two minor changes about a week ago that seem to be helping: (1) I cut down my per-page obligation to just one little page a day. A small enough bite that I can work it into my commute, or my the-kids-are-being-read-stories-by-my-better-half time. (2) Journalling is still part of the process, but each day I make sure I also write at least one paragraph of fiction. And I try to keep it a little random. No more of that "there's a guy, and he's sitting in a coffee shop stuff" I tend to write when, as a guy, I find myself sitting in a coffee shop.
So far, it's an improvement. I wrote all but one day over the last week. And with the no-pressure-groove that comes with the one-page minimum, I find I'm shpieling a bit and ending up with a few extra pages most days. All told, I have something like 16 pages from the last week instead of the usual 3-6. Oh yeah, it helped that I also went to a smaller size notebook....
So OK, enough about me. What about youse? Any writing techniques you care to share today, notebookly or otherwise?
I have seen you eat eggs, and it's a fearsome sight.
If I was an egg, and you looked in the window, I would start to cry. I wouldn't have any legs, so I'd just rock back and forth, thin tears tracing down the hard shell of my face.
Now maybe you'd surprise me and not eat me. Maybe you'd wipe off my shell and make me your pet.
But still, if you ever ate eggs in front of me, with a fork or something, that would gross me out. And I'd be like: "Dude, don't eat eggs in front of your egg pet."
And you'd say: "Don't worry, I only eat dead eggs."
Like that made it OK.
The absurdity of sports was really bothering him now.
The idea of rooting for this team or that team.
Some group of people wearing a costume
similar to a costume
he used to react favorably to
when he was young. Or at least younger.
Some subset of super-athletes whose contracts matched.
Whose agents got along.
"You might as well root for a cloud,"
"Or for some portion of a cloud."
He's walking around
like he's just eaten an orange.
This gives him strength.
My stomach doctor, who looks a lot like Elliott Gould -- I mean, even more than I do.
Anyways. He's someone you don't want to startle you.
And he's also. I mean.
For reasons I really don't care to discuss.
Let's just say.
He's someone you don't want to picture 15 feet tall.
Someone I don't want to picture 15 feet tall.
Anyways, so I'm driving to work.
And there he was, by the freeway, as you get on the bridge. 15 feet tall.
And when I told him I saw him, the next time I saw him, he was so proud.
That I saw him.
Just picture Elliott Gould in a white doctor's coat.
Guest: Studies have shown that two-thirds of what people buy, they weren't planning on buying when they walked into the store.
Host: So you're saying, if I go into a store to buy a pair of socks, I'm going to walk out with three things I didn't want?
And I screamed at the radio: "No! No that's not what he was saying! You idiot! That would be 3/4s! Or, if you counted each sock individually, 3/5s!"
And I drove my car into a pole.
Please... write what you know but also:
know something interesting.
They're telling shapeless stories
at the open mic
reading from travel diaries
picking up where they left off last week
and Yaniv wants to shout:
"Get a blog!"
she always delivered.
To you who live in states that vote today I say: Happy voting!
only the vertical blink-blink on the horizon
gives any sign of
all these emails
in the blink-blink
Teach a man to catch worms and perhaps
he will be fortunate enough
to find some worms.
Or perhaps not. Perhaps
they will elude him.
Because worms are crafty.
But give a man a worm, and he can split it in two!
And then he will have
I'm asking nicely now:
Won't you give a man a worm?
If I can
I'll let myself
I am late to this particular party.
In fact, the party has rolled on. And yet here I am.
A little shameless self-promotion. Red Hills Review and C'era Una Volta (one of my very favorite Italian restaurants on the planet) are hosting a poetry reading and were nice enough to ask me to read. So I'm bustin' out my top hat and cane and I thought I'd use this old web site to spread the word.
I'll be reading various poems and related shtick along with two great east bay poets -- Julia Park and Andy Crockett. We'll try to keep it light 'n breezy. Except for the part where we suddenly, unexpectedly strike a nerve and you begin to weep and weep and weep some more. And then, just as suddenly: back to the shtick!
John Wright, a good pal of mine and an outstanding musician, will be starting the evening off with world-class acoustic guitar.
If you're in the area, we'd love to see ya there.
Here's the information:
Date and time: Tuesday, October 18th, 7 pm
Place: C'era Una Volta
Address: 1332 Park St. Alameda (call the restaurant at 510.769.4828 or just ask me for directions)
Admission: Free as the day is long. And the day is long.
I don't usually use this blog for "links to funny things"(tm) but this one has earned an exception.
See, there was this contest to create trailers for movies that sorta mess with what the movie's about. And this piece for The Shining won.
that I get to pick up a brand-new Big Star record. (One of my favorite bands just put out its first new record in 30 years yesterday.) For Big Star aficionados I will say, as ya might expect, it's more of an "Alex Chilton and the Posies" record than the old Big Star sound. But still: fun fun fun.
If you're a Big Star fan (and our market research shows that 31% of cv's readership self-identify as "Big Star fan" or "fan of Big Star" or "person who is or would like to be identified as 'Big Star fan' or 'fan of Big Star'"), you may already know that they've got a new record coming out later this month. But did you know that three full songs from that long-playing disc are now legally available for play right here?
Not that you need me to say this
and anyways, who am I to say this
besides which, knowing you,
as I do
you've probably already done this
or else are getting geared up ya see
what I'm trying to say is:
please consider giving
what you can
to a charity to aid
For example (and this is just one example): The Red Cross.
Alameda's own Red Hills Review is the gift that keeps on giving. They're hosting the second reading for their current issue Wednesday night at 7:30, at Books Inc., in the heart of the Island City (also known as The City That Looks Suspiciously Like a Whale.
I'll amongst them what're reading their wares -- love to see yer there.
Not just thank you very much.
But thank you very very
Boy am I glad that
trout don't eat cats.
Because if they did
we'd have to use kittens for bait.
Mosquitoes avoid the sunlight.
Likewise, vampires avoid the sunlight.
Think about that.
It would be eerie almost
except for the fact that
vampires aren't real.
And I'm not 100% certain that
mosquitoes avoid the sunlight.
Alameda's own Red Hills Review was nice enough to recently publish a few of my poems in their issue #2. But wait: the editor of this journal has seemingly inexhaustible lit-related energy and will be putting on a few RHR-related readings over the summer. The first of these is coming up -- this Thursday, June 30th, at 7:00 pm, at a stylin' indepedent Alameda bookstore called Spell-Binding Tales.
I'll be one of the folks reading that night (under my real name, no less). If you're in the area, it would be swell to see ya there. In case we haven't met afore, I'll be the one who looks like the animation in the corner of the screen, only without the facial hair that magically grows before your very eyes. Which I'm sure comes as a relief to many if not all...
I knew you
when you didn't
have a card with
Abe Vigoda's signature on it.
And I was nice to you then.
So just you remember that.
"When the Fish People come," the General said, "you'll want to have ice nearby. Lots of it. In this heat, the Fish People can overpower you like that!" He snapped his fingers.
Suzie scribbled a quick note in her pad and circled it:
* * *
"When you get to Earth, start decomposing right away," David FishPeople told his class. "Your smell will reduce their ability to resist. The sooner you start to decompose, the easier it'll be on our troops."
The students nodded, and Daphne FishPeople spoke quietly into her digital recorder:
She's a stay-at-home mom pulled back into the biz by circumstance.
"Who stole the binkie?"
"I'll tell you who stole the binkie."
"He stole the binkie!"
My four-year old daughter:
I thought it was under the couch and
I also tried to look for it everywhere, but
I was having so much fun that
I couldn't find it.
So it was very sad that you lost your wallet.
Well, I was perplexed that we couldn't find the wallet anywhere in the house.
I was worried that you were so depressed about it.
I felt blue about having more paperwork. And then,
when Chris showed up with the wallet,
I was so happy, I gave him a hug.
I want to thank everyone.
This has been a wrenching experience.
And now, I'd like to take watch TV.
Catch the game.
Eat a big chocolate model of my brain.
Not so long ago, I was just like you --
sitting around, waiting for the scientists
to discover cheap and safe nuclear fusion.
So they could take us off to Mars.
In ships the size of Delaware.
Now all I want is
a machine that can make a
big chocolate model of my brain.
I want to watch
the game on
a plasma TV
and eat a
big chocolate model
of my brain.
I've been writing poems for a few years now, but it was just in the last little bit that I finally got my [insert obscure yiddish word here] together enough to start sending a few batches out for publication. And in a bit of a milestone, this very week, my very first poem got published. On paper even.
So if you happen to find yourself in SF over the next few weeks, keep an eye out for issue #7 of the San Francisco Reader, in finer coffee shops and bookstores throughout The City....
We got snapped at this weekend, asking for directions. We pulled up next to this pleasant seeming, elderly type lady, and we rolled down the window, and we said: "Hi! Excuse me! Can you tell us how to get to thusandsuch? Do we take this turn?" And she said, with a huge twinkly smile, "Yes, you take that right and go straight for 17 miles." And then, still smiling, but now sinister and suddenly cold, the moisture on her eyes flash-freezing like a splash of water zapped to the far side of Planet X: "Why don't you buy a map?"
For the next two miles we ran through different scenarios. What was her problem? I mean, I love to give directions around my hometown. Drive up beside me. Roll down the window. You'll see how inappropriately pleased I can be, showing off my vast knowledge of the local grid -- "Oh yeah, you're almost there -- just three more lights up!" or: "OK, so. Go down past the park with the climby train, take the first right and then the soft left at the high school -- you can't miss it. Hey, you have a nice day too!" Great stuff.
We swung around a wide curve in the road and a jagged stretch of coastline came floating into view. From our vantage point driving along the high cliffs, the beach looked a lot like a squiggle drawn by satellite sensors. And then of course. It was so obvious. What incredible bad luck! -- an angry cartographer! We'd stopped an angry cartographer and asked her for directions. It all made sense. No wait, not angry. Just sad, really. In a bittersweet way.
"Why don't you buy a map?" she'd said. And it echoed echoed echoed as we rolled along toward thusandsuch. "I'm so hungry. No one will hire me. I hate mapquest. Please. Friend. Why don't you buy a map?"
My wife was reading the last few pages of Pooh to our kids the other night and it made her cry. So I took over, and yes, yes it nearly made me cry.
Flat out, Pooh is one of the great tragedies. Which got us and our good pal "So-Called Bill" ruminating over how much sadder even the saddest story would be with Pooh in the lead.
Of Mice and Pooh. "Do I get to take care of the bunnies? I want to take care of the bunnies." I mean come on. What's sadder than that?
Flowers for Poohgernon. In which Pooh becomes really really smart. And then gets reduced back to being just a bear of little brain. I'm crying right now. You know? It's amazing. I'm typing this, and I'm actually sobbing.
The English Pooh. In which Pooh is left in a cave. To die.
Or worst of all: Old Pooh. In which Pooh gets rabies and, and Christopher Robin, he has to go get a shotgun and -- and he -- I'm sorry. I need a moment.
OK... Deep breath. So Old Pooh. In which Pooh gets rabies and he starts to foam around the mouth and Charlotte, she's just dead. And it doesn't matter if three baby spiders stay because Charlotte's still dead and Wilbur, he's all alone. And then Wilbur gets a gun and shoots Pooh.
A tad over twelve months ago, I blogged my first post. It's been a fun year, writing these poems, reading that book, collaborating on that cauliflower, making that monkey noise, and whatnot. Thanks to everyone who's been dropping by. And special mad props to xian who makes this all possible and who suggested I getta blog in the very first place back in March 2003.
On a related note, I've been really enjoying the blogs of comrades such as RaptorMage, Kim Said, and the notorious Mrs. T. I know blog blog blog, we're all pretty burned on that word. But the thing about blogs is, they're an amazing gift to folks who like to write -- just a really powerful way to get yerself off the stone. Or perhaps on that stone. Or just by the corner of said stone. In a writerly way.
All to say, let me highly recommended the blogging life to any of youse writers what want to be writing a little bit more, and you know who you are....
In other news, as the Gravity's Rainbow Deathmarch nears its wrap, here's a heads-up that we'll be starting DM2 with a somewhat smaller though still challenging book right around the end of May. More details soon. Hope to see ya there,
for a defective roller coaster.
a waste of time.
but more than that --
just a bad idea.
Here's a joke my four-year-old told us at dinner tonight. I enjoyed it and thought you might too:
Knock knock. Who's there? You know what's broccoli made of? You know what's broccoli made of who? Peas.
Go out into the world today.
Go out and find the knowledge.
Bring it home.
That place in my heart
where I should want a tattoo --
that place where my tattoo desire
is supposed to brood --
it's a dead place.
I don't even have that place.
Last night I dreamt that Shaquille O'Neal dropped by my house. He had a lot on his mind and he was looking for a distraction -- a chat, maybe a movie. I was happy to see him.
We talked for a bit, Shaq and me. Then California Representative Maxine Waters showed up, and she was even more beautiful in person. We were both really struck by her grace and her dignity, her almost shimmering presence.
After Representative Waters left, Shaq Diesel and I sat down to watch the movie Sideways. He really liked the part where the one guy lies about why he's so late. And we both laughed at the scene with the alligator in the back of their car. That was crazy! It was a living alligator! But before too long, Shaq got up to go home.
It wasn't that it was a bad movie, he told me. It was just a little bit boring, alligator and all. And he had a lot to do the next day.
Shaq's a very busy guy.
In the future
all our children
will be born
with carpal tunnel.
Something a bit more upbeat to end the day -- a moment: Heading home with two good pals after a weekend spent canvassing in Oregon.
OK, OK. So I haven't written a feature-length movie about returning to New Jersey. But I ask you this: has Hollywood bigshot Zach Braff ever written a song about Yu-Gi-Oh!? And more to the point, has he ever written one in both the faux-classical and faux punk-folk traditions?
No? I didn't think so.
Now me, on the other hand....
Everybody's playing Yu-Gi-Oh!
Yu-Gi-Oh! is what folks like to play
and when the cards are --
-- the cards are flying
folks are playing
Faux-classical and faux punk-folk recordings...coming soon.
ed note: turns out, not everyone is Yu-Gi-Oh! savvy. So in case yer excessively puzzled by this here entry: Yu-Gi-Oh! is a card game, much like Pokemon. Or pinochle. But more like Pokemon. Now Zach Braff, Zach Braff I explain to no one. He can go to hell.
you: I have to put the cat to sleep.
you: he's leaving the dentist's poop all over the house.
me: how does he get the dentist's poop?
you: I give it to him.
me: yeah, why?
you: because he's bored. he needs something to play with.
she: but how do you know it's the dentist's poop?
you: I am the dentist.
Am I the only one
freaked out by all
these blind people?
Taking our jobs -- ?
our women -- ?
our German Sheperds?
A post-apocalyptic romantic comedy.
You know, like, it's the big first date
and he's all wigged out
because he doesn't know if
the girl's a girl
or if she's
a flesh-eating zombie.
Starring Mathew Broderick.
And introducing: a flesh-eating zombie.
"This is better than some lollipops I know."
I'll be gone for a couple of days, so I thought we'd try something a little differemt this morning -- an open thread. The idear is that you folks keep the site crackling in my absence -- overflowing with woosh! -- by adding your own snippets of dialog, slices of lyric, poems, demi-poems, stories, or rants as comments to this very entry. Whaddya think? Itto? Heroic Imp? Captain Marsupial? other Dan? Folks unknown? Shall we give it a shot?
More than one entry welcome, nay encouraged! No need to be shy, it's just us chickens. Click comment below and...let 'er rip.
Enjoy! And watch the skies, -Cecil
Waiting around for
as an activity.
She has a hard, twisted smile
like she's just taken poison
and if you say
one more word
well, she'll let some of it leak.
Her jaw, it will slack
and the venom will bubble
oh there'll be lots of trouble
when she opens up that beak.
please don't call on me.
I'm writing poetry.
Walking is a kind of dance.
Dancing is the only way to move.
(this from my 6-year-old back when she was a 4-or-5-year-old.)
I walk into the restroom
and there are these two guys in
there and it already stinks
and they look at me like
I did something wrong
and I'm thinking hey --
I just got here and then
one of them leaves and then
the other one leaves
so now I'm all alone for
like two-and-a-half heartbeats
and then some new guy comes in --
some third guy, or fourth, really,
if you count me, and he's
walking right in, through that same door
and he's looking at me
like I did something wrong
and I'm thinking damn.
I mean damn. I'm spending
altogether too much time
in this stinky bathroom.
Yes I am on a cell phone.
You're right about that.
And I'm driving. Yes I am. I'm driving at the same time.
I'm on a cell phone right now. And I'm driving. Yes. At the same time. Yes.
And screw you too.
Scanning the site's traffic log tonight I learned two incredible facts:
(1) Because of a pair of lines in a pair of poems... if you search "exotic bird parks" and "Utah" in Google, not only is cecilvortex.com the first choice you get, cecilvortex.com is the only choice you get.
(2) Somebody -- some actual human being -- appears to have actually searched for "exotic bird parks" and "Utah" on Google and then clicked through to this site.
And!: Not only is all this true, but it's a genuine double-true fact that my writing about this whole thing -- right now! will only reinforce cecilvortex.com's dominant position in this space.
Now I have to say, it's not like this is anything I ever really aspired to. I mean, it wasn't part of my master plan when cecilvortex.com started up or anything. But of course, now that I'm here, now that I've arrived, I plan to hold on like grim death.
So for this magical moment and for the foreseeable future, also magical, if you've come here in search of information regarding exotic bird parks in Utah, let me just say:
In somewhat related news, and I know pretty soon it's gonna start to sound like I'm bragging but... it appears that cecilvortex.com is also the number two (and perhaps soon, number one...?) Google result for "he peed in me." Triple-true that. Check for yourself, if you dare.
All in all, I feel like I finally have a small feel for what it must be like to be Spider Man. The challenge now, if I can loosely paraphrase Ben Parker, is to find a way to use this awesome power for good.
So my 3-and-a-half-year-old son is busting kung fu moves in the living room yesterday. And his godfather asks him: "Did you learn that from Jackie Chan?" And my son replies: "No, I learned it from Chuck E. Cheese."
It was a hard laugh. A cold laugh. The kind of laugh that savages the funny.
It pulls the funny outside. Stuffs it into the trunk of a '79 Chevy Impala.
Takes the funny for a ride.
It was a hard, joyless laugh. And it kept on coming.
I should have gone to the bathroom when I had the chance. I should have got myself a coffee before the coffee shop closed. I should have not said that thing that I said. I should have just let it go. Let it go.
With the biggest smile, my headed-toward-four-year-old says:
And I say "Yeah?"
And he says:
"Since it's such a beautiful day, I love you."
And that line, complete with matching catchy melody, has been stuck in my headbone for nearly 72 hours now.
The perfect Cole Porter lyric, showing up nearly 40 years too late, at least from Cole Porter's perspective.
RIP Cole Porter.
Tony Randall too.
He was a rock star, wearing an orange t-shirt while the rest of the band wore gray.
Showing off his practiced dance moves on particle board.
Strumming a big guitar. Stomping one boot in rhythm.
Sending out bass and drum
to a crowd of sun-sweat smiley college boys and girls
who sat and stood and stared
and clapped and vibrated.
And the middle-aged guys were out in numbers.
Bald under favored baseball caps.
Pants stained from the gogurt
their kids ate that morning.
And everyone had bottled water.
And then the vibration closed
and cooled and stopped.
And the crowd roared at the rock star.
And they roared at each other
And they roared at themselves.
(image from the show -- with the orange and gray swapped out for white jumpsuits -- here.)
How come nobody's building arks?
Everybody's building boats.
I wish someone would build me an ark.
Pray that it floats.....
True-fact dialog tonight between my 6-year-old daughter and my 3-year-old son:
She: "Why is 6 afraid of 7?"
He: "Cuz 7 is a monster."
And I don't know. I just find that funny.
I mean, yeah, the more traditional response would be "because 7 8/ate 9."
And sure, that's what they want him to say.
But really, strictly speaking, he's right.
9 is gone. 7 is a monster.
And 6 is wise to fear.