Sunday, May 31, 2009

The Why's Have It

Sometimes it’s enough to know that something happened. We deal with it and move on. When it isn’t enough, or we can’t deal with it, we get out the social microscope. We trace connections, and draw lines between the experiential dots until we see a picture that tells us the almighty Why.

I blame Freud. He started explaining all those deeply buried reasons why we particularly like asparagus or don’t like clowns. He kicked “Honor thy father and mother” up a notch --- and extra credit to whoever knows which commandment that is, because I don’t. My point is that he’s the one who started the tsunami of explanation.

‘“Why” doesn’t matter.’ That’s a favorite saying of mine, whenever someone starts picking apart a situation rather than deal with it. So a guy cut you off in traffic. You will never know what he’s compensating for, or if he’s in a humanitarian hurry to save a life. Make fun of his bumper stickers and get over it.

Whatever happened to good, old-fashioned repression, suppression and denial? They may not be popular, but they sure were efficient.

There was a moth trapped inside my window all afternoon. Just now, I caught it in an empty glass and set it free in the bushes outside. If it had been a fly, I would have killed it on sight, but it wasn’t, it was pretty. That may be why I set it free, or I could have been anthropomorphizing, or maybe when it flapped its wings something happened in Iowa. Maybe I needed a closing paragraph. “Why” doesn’t matter. It happened, and that’s enough.

Wednesday, May 27, 2009

No, Prank You.

Remember when I said I’d begun a post about pranks? I wanted to write about humorous incidents, not cruelty-based practical jokes. My call for stories produced many results. You won’t see any of them on this blog. Human nature being what it is, I don’t want to encourage anyone to repeat or worse, build upon, the viciousness. (A lot of it was funny, but I feel guilty admitting that.)

I wanted “Animal House”-like memories of rambunctious teens, or more recent stories about merry adults who enjoy laughing. You know, like the people who populated 80s media, or Stanley Tucci movies. I should have realized how fictional that mindset truly is.

“If you slip on a banana peel, that’s comedy. If I do it, that’s tragedy.” I’ve heard this attributed to Mel Brooks amongst others. Aristophanes was probably the first to say it, or something like it. I bet Aristophanes was the biggest prankster in the agora.

What is a prank? There’s an element of irony, surely, in that expectations are twisted by the surprise. Sugar in the salt shaker is classic but not funny. Gelatin-solidified toilet water was considered a hoot when I was in college. Once upon a time, I sat in on the auditions for a play I wrote. A somber, Serious Actor delivered his lines dressed all in black with his fly open and his red undies showing. To this day I wonder if that was a prank.

I believe a prank should be funny, but I am a creature of the 70s and a product of network television. Reviewing the practical jokes I’ve been given makes me wish that real life could have a laugh track, so I wouldn’t feel as sorry for the victims.

Saturday, May 23, 2009

To Be Continued

There are two partial posts drafted in this Word™ file. One is on practical jokes, the other is on death. I can’t find an ending to either. You decide if that’s ironic.

We’re dog-sitting til tomorrow, and I love these beasts to distraction, literally, which is why I can't seem to finish anything.

There’s one behind me on the floor, either meditating or snoozing, I’m not sure which. Bertha, the star of stage and screen (also literally) is an elegant lady to whom even Generalissimo Jonah defers. The other is the Big Dog. He’s simply gorgeous, a mountain of love who obeys tiny Jonah implicitly and follows him around, well, like a dog.

It’s a welcome surfeit of canine cuteness and I have a weakness for such things. I’ll try again to be clever after they’re gone.

Monday, May 18, 2009

Writing Right

A little while ago, I started writing a regular fiction thing. I hesitate to call it a book, though all the other things like that I ever started ended up being books. Unpublished ones, don’t get your hopes up. But I was tired of what I saw as the limitations of the movie format, and wanted to go back to my roots, what I nostalgically saw as “pure” storytelling, with all the naïve idealism I can pour into the phrase.

Feh. Feh, and bah. I am now thoroughly screwed. While I have a nice little story going, just unrealistic enough that I don’t feel guilty not turning it into a treatment, I find myself having enormous trouble writing it. I’ve been infected by the scripting process. The differences didn’t seem like much when I went from fiction to film, but trying to reverse the process is killing me.

Remember a few posts ago when I said I used names in fiction dialogue to make it easier to follow? Now I “hear” the lines (a useful skill professionally) and they sound unnatural to my mental ear. But if I take the names out, then it’s all “he said”/”she said” which looks unwieldy on the page. I never had this problem before.

And the dialogue itself is tough. I’m conditioned to keeping it under a third of a page (one page = one minute, screen time, about) only when all the audience sees (why didn’t I say “reader” just then, Dr. Freud?) is ink and paper, then that’s not enough to advance the plot.

There’s more. Fictional characters, when you can’t see them, have to be more clearly defined but quickly enough that the story isn’t bogged down by long descriptions. Rex Stout was a genius at that. I used to be fairly good, now I’m accustomed to keeping them vague so the casting people have a broader range of possibilities. This is useful in a script, but it’s quicksand in a story.

Fortunately I’m going back to script work this week, so all this will soon be moot.

Thursday, May 14, 2009

Can We Talk?

Was it Sartre or de Beauvoir who said, “We see ourselves in the eyes of the Other”? I’m pretty sure it was him in ‘Being and Nothingness’ but it’s been a while, please correct me if I’m wrong.

Let’s talk about talking. I know, we’ve been doing little else for the last week or so, but I’m on a roll here.

Tonight we had dinner with a dear friend. (Hi, Scott!) Then later, while walking Jonah, we had a conversation with a nice neighbor. This made me think about the difference between just talking and having “a conversation.”

When it’s someone I’m comfortable with, I just talk. I don’t think about what I’m saying, any effort I make is merely to be sure that I use words corresponding to whatever is in my head at the moment. Ideas move forward, carrying the people with them. Eventually we stop talking and go home. Although there is a beginning and an end, those are arbitrary. We know we’ll talk more next time.

“A conversation” seems different. Information is exchanged in an almost capitalistic way. At first, the information is biographical: I tell you what I do and you tell me about your job. That’s a reasonable exchange, fair enough. A “one sided conversation” is just that: an unfair exchange, a bad deal, someone didn’t get their share.

That’s when I thought about the Sartre quote. People often use conversations to present themselves as they want to be seen, or as they want to see themselves. Words become a static image of variable reality, depending on how honest we are or what we want to get out of it. Which leads me to thinking about Facebook, (talk about image control!) and if Jean Paul Sartre had a Facebook page, would he update his status and what would he say?

Thursday, May 7, 2009

Back To The Future

We have an unbelievable level of technology readily available to us. It’s really space age stuff, although I’m not going to watch any old Jetsons to see how much of it was predicted. Segways, iPhones --- hell, regular cell phones (even non-camera versions like mine) are pretty amazing if you think about how your diapers were fitting while I was still rotary-dialing old style.

And what do we do with all this micro-circuitry? We go on Facebook and reconnect with people from our childhoods, our adolescences, our Good Olde Days.

Now I don’t know about you, but I spent the second twenty years of my life trying to forget the first twenty. Of course I’m delighted to be contacted by old friends, they’re not what I tried to forget. Overall, Facebook is good, as is technology, but please don’t tell anyone I said that.

No, this is about incongruity. This is about chintzy 80s junk being sold on Ebay for massive amounts of current recession-era dollars, or movies of dubious quality finding cult status when re-released on DVD--- when the fact of Ebay and owning movies would have been unimaginable thirty years ago.

My question is, does the super-cool information highway lead backwards, or do we just throw ourselves into reverse once we get on it?

Saturday, May 2, 2009

Name Calling

Ever notice how rarely people say names? I mean directly, to the person whose name it is.

One of the differences between writing regular fiction and writing scripts (for me, anyhow) is the tendency to use names in dialogue to make it easier to follow.

In real life, people don’t use names casually. We say someone’s name for emphasis, or to get their attention, or to refer to them in the third person. We don’t throw names at people--- at least I don’t, and I don’t hear it done often.

My personal exception to this: two women at my gym, both of whom use my name repeatedly whenever they see me. It’s noticeable because I never told either of them what it is. This is true of one man also, but I ignore him.

There is a cliché, the awkwardness of having forgotten someone’s name. I’m used to that and I bulldoze through it directly and honestly. It’s like buying toilet paper. Why be embarrassed by a universal experience?

No, I’m not going anywhere with this. This is a rant, not a manifesto. I’ll let you know when I actually have a point.