Saturday, July 30, 2005

Now I've Seen Everything

Haggis jugglers.

Yes, that's what I said.

Haggis jugglers.

I saw it with my own eyes on Discovery Channel or whatever it is they call it these days. Young Glasgow men who juggle haggis for fame, fun, and profit.

It's all relative, isn't it? We pull tractors. They juggle haggis. Who knows what they're doing in my grandfather's Romanian homeland. Anything's possible.

I love pop culture. I love the crazy things we do and watch and sing along with and dance to. Every now and again when I find myself a little embarrassed by our love for Mickey Mouse and Donald Duck and the Three Stooges (okay, a lot embarrassed when it comes to the Stooges), I remember that every country has its own beloved oddities and I feel better.

Stephen King wrote a wonderful piece in last week's Entertainment Weekly and if you haven't already read it I recommend you do so immediately. Especially if you love all the crazy bits and pieces that make up the world we live in and love.

I admit freely that I'm a student of the sit-com. While I can't say I love them all, I will say that when they're good, they're downright great. Think about it: your canvas is maybe 22 minutes long and you're asked to deliver a certain number of belly laughs, chuckles, guffaws, and occasionally a tear or two. And the great ones do it week after week, year after year.

The second season DVDs of The Mary Tyler Moore Show arrived this week and I left hot and muggy central NJ behind for Minneapolis. The characters aren't fully-formed yet, they're still raw and broad in the manner of the average sitcom, but you can see the seeds being sowed. Sue Ann hasn't been introduced yet and we all know that's when the show began to take off. The first few seasons relied too heavily on "Isn't Mary fabulous!" and that fabulousness (or at least the awareness of it) weighed down the show. I think it's Season 3 where the writers and producers begin to realize they have more than Mary Tyler Moore (as terrific as she is) going for them and begin to let the other characters claim centerstage.

It's hard for people to remember the way sitcoms were before MTM came along. There was little if any continuity between episodes. Beaver Cleaver brought home a puppy in week #1 and that puppy was gone forever in week #2. No explanation. No acknowledgement that there had, indeed, even been a puppy in the kid's life. The characters evolved during the run of MTM. Mary moved house. Rhoda left Minneapolis for New York and married Joe. (Big mistake. But I digress . . . ) Phyllis became a widow. Lou and Edie divorced. Ted married Georgette. Georgette gave birth to a daughter. Ted and Georgette adopted a son. Murray and his wife adopted a Vietnamese baby. Sue Ann -- well, Sue Ann had a gooood time.

A sitcom script can be a work of art. If I had to pick the quintessential sitcom episode to slip into a time capsule, it would have to be the Chuckles the Clown episode. The one where Mary erupts into laughter during Chuckles' funeral. We've all been there, haven't we? That hideous moment that's so fraught with emotion that something snaps and you find yourself collapsing into laughter at the worst possible moment. You didn't mean to laugh. God knows, it's inappropriate. But there you are just the same, laughing until you cry.

It happened to my family when Grandpa Larry died in 1997. I was at the funeral home with my parents and we were talking with the funeral director about the various options. Grandpa Larry had had little interest in funerals and big sendoffs. He had chosen cremation and a paper bag as his #1 option. Now the paper bag was clearly a non-starter but when the funeral director reached under his desk and pulled out a cardboard shoebox for $500 we were goners. We laughed until we couldn't laugh any more. We laughed so hard and so long that even the funeral director joined in. I swear to you that for a second I thought I heard Grandpa laughing too.

Let's face it, this world would be a sorrier place without those Chuckles the Clown moments.


Wednesday, July 27, 2005

I've decided to move everything over from Earthlink. Their Trellix software is good but it can't compare to Blogger's. So here we go:

Tuesday, July 26, 2005

They say celebrity deaths come in threes and once again that seems to be the case. The music I love took a huge hit this month with the loss of Luther Vandross, Obie Benson (The Four Tops), and Eugene Record (Chi-Lites.) I still haven't recovered from the loss of Marvin Gaye and he's been gone almost twenty years.

Music is a powerful force. So powerful that there are songs I love but take great pains to avoid because the emotions they unleash are almost more than I can bear. I think we're all inextricably linked to the music we loved and danced to in high school. Did you ever wonder why you hear so many oldies wafting through the air in the supermarket? I have a theory about that. How better to bring us to our knees (and open our wallets) than to bombard us with the songs of our youth, the music of happy (happier?) times. You can't think straight when your heart is breaking. You can't count coupons or sniff out sales when you've been hurtled back in time to your first date, your first kiss, your first--

You get the picture.

Luther, Obie, and Eugene: thanks!

Monday, July 25, 2005

I am probably the only living literate being on the planet who hasn't read any of the Harry Potter books. I'm not telling you this because I'm proud of it. To be honest, I'm neither proud nor ashamed: just amazed. I bought the first book, curled up on the deck with it, thoroughly enjoyed two chapters, then put it down and never picked it up again. I have no idea why. Same thing with the Lord of the Rings books. God only knows how many times I've tried to commune with the Hobbits only to find myself face down, sound asleep with my nose pressed into the pages of the book. Tolkien's ideas fascinate me. His imagination is awe-inspiring. I even took a course on-line which explained the derivation of his Hobbit language, the worlds he created, the whole nine yards, and I loved it. But I still can't seem to get into the books.

I'm the same way with movies and television shows. I stumble onto treasures years after the rest of the civilized world has loved, awarded, and forgotten them. MYSTIC RIVER is a great example. (Movie, not book.) I'm not a Clint Eastwood fan by any means. I don't like grim dusty Westerns. I don't like angry cops on a mission. And don't get me started on BRIDGES OF MADISON COUNTY. Even I know you don't want to see Clint Eastwood reduced to plucking daisies along the side of the road and shyly presenting them to his lady fair. So I'm not sure why I Netflixed MYSTIC RIVER but I'm glad I did.

The story was powerful. The acting was sublime. I was torn between heartbreak and revulsion more than once but somehow heartbreak won out every time. The scene where Sean Penn realizes his daughter is dead will be with me forever. It burned itself into my memory bank with Penn's intensity. And the scene where Laura Linney absolves him of all guilt, indeed turns him into a small G god, plays and replays in my mind.

Eastwood is a movie-making genius. He won me over. I don't know what he brings to the table but time and again he coaxes memorable Oscar-winning performances from actors. Think about it. Sean Penn. Morgan Freeman. Tim Robbins. Hilary Swank. They all won but Marcia Gay Harden, Laura Linney, Kevin Bacon deserved to win too. And I'm probably forgetting a dozen more.

You won me over, Clint. I am officially a fan.

Sunday, July 24, 2005

Ideas are funny creatures. They pop up when you least expect them, flirt outrageously with you, then disappear the second you try to take them up on their offer. Every now and again an idea comes to me full-blown and ready to leap onto the pages of a book but it doesn't happen offer. Mostly what happens is that an idea creeps to the edge of the creative woods, peeks at me through the leaves like a shy deer, then totals my car. I'm kidding. (You knew that, didn't you?) At least the bit about the car. I've discovered that the gestation period for an idea is anywhere from one to three years. Depressing, isn't it? Ideas have to simmer in the back of my mind for a very long time before they're ready to make the transition. SOMEONE LIKE YOU (my July book) simmered four four or five years before the bits and pieces came together and I was ready to begin writing. Names changed. Places and occupations too. But the basic structure, two sisters with a bond of trust between them, never varied.

I'm in the early stages with a few ideas right now. This is the fun part, getting to know the characters, trying them on for size, peeling away their defenses until you finally get a glimpse of the real person lurking behind the facade . . . the real story waiting to be told.

Saturday, July 23, 2005The Long Hot Summer
I'm not a summer person. Every now and then I try to pretend I am but the truth is I go into reverse hibernation every spring and I don't pop out again until the leaves begin to fall. This year it's been particularly odious: day after day of 90+ degree heat coupled with 100% humidity. The term super-saturated was coined for summers like this. (The Weather Channel equivalent of ESPN's "He gave 110%.")

Isn't writing about the weather a sure sign that your brain has finally been drained dry of creative thought?


It's summer. It's the best I can do.

Sunday, June 5, 2005
Today's Quote

One marries many times at many levels within a marriage. If you have more marriages than you have divorces within the marriage, you're lucky.
--Ruby Dee, I Dream A World

Saturday, June 4, 2005
A Very Bad No Good Positively Terrible Day

I suppose I should be grateful it didn't include any Emergency Room visits, but today definitely ranks among the Top Ten Really Bad Computer days. I was telling D. about it this morning and I said to her, "Would you believe any of this if you didn't know me?" She laughed and said, "Not one single word."

Which pretty much sums up what's been going on around here.

Let me quote from a letter I sent to a friend this afternoon:

The ancient Compaq laptop I resurrected to do emails, etc., while I debate what to do with my Perfect But Injured Laptop happened to find itself on thekitchen table which happened to find itself under the overhead light whichhappened to find itself under the bathtub in the main bathroom which happened to be occupied by my husband who happened to be taking a shower which happened to splash water against the tiles which happened to have a tiny chip in the caulk which happened to let in the water which happened to drip onto the ceiling which happened to find a path to the light fixture which happened to lead it to drip onto the keyboard of the ancient Compaq laptop I resurrected to do emails, etc.

The result is that I can start up the laptop just fine. I can open various programs. I just CAN'T TYPE! No matter which key you press, it gives you either T or 5. That's it. Hit enter and you get a string of capital Ts racing across the screen. Try to arrow up and 5s come at you with guns blazing. There's a moral to this story but I'm too disgusted to try to figure it out right now.

Don't keep your laptop on the kitchen table? Stay out of the bathtub? Raincoats for computers?

Thank God for eBay. (Remember them? Yes, my hacked account.) I ordered a new keyboard for $29. Let's hope that's the only problem.

I told Roy cooking was out of the question tonight. Putting me in close proximity to sharp objects wasn't a great idea. We brought in Thai food, watched a very bad movie (Boogeyman -- I should be ashamed to even admit that) and I went back to work.

Oh. This isn't work, is it?

Never mind.

Today's Quote

The story of a love is not important -- what is important is that one is capable of love.
--Helen Hayes

Friday, June 3, 2005
Easily Distractible

The thing about blogging is that futzing around with the mechanics of it all is every bit as much fun as actually writing. I could spend hours poring over various design templates, adjusting spacing, fiddling with font size and color, toying with backgrounds . . . you get the picture.

I've tried maintaining a blog a few other times. I'd been keeping a knitter's blog complete with photos but somehow I let the hosting contract lapse and it all vanished into wherever things like that vanish. I called the hosting company yesterday but tech support was already gone. And, of course, I forgot to call back today. I'm hoping that my data is stored away, just waiting for me to sign a new contract. (I can dream, can't I?)

The very old one at Blogger still exists. It dates back to 2002/2003. It's sparse but worth a peek if you're interested. You can find it at Threads or -- scroll down to reach the good stuff. (Such as it is.)

See what I mean? I can fool myself into believing this is work but it isn't. Not really. It's work-related but it has nothing to do with getting words on the page.

Which is what I need to do right now.

Thursday, June 2, 2005
Picking Up Speed

Some of you probably know that I run two mailing lists -- Writers Daily Quote and He Said She Said. Today's HSSS really struck a chord with me and I thought I'd share it.

The pleasantest part of a man's life is generally that which passes in courtship, provided his passion be sincere, and the part beloved, kind, with discretion. Love, desire, hope, all the pleasing motions of the soul, rise in the pursuit. --Joseph Addison (1672-1719)

Could that explain the enduring popularity of a good romance?

Wednesday, June 1, 2005
Death to Electronics

Well, the strange dark cloud of bad electronic karma struck again. Somebody hacked into my eBay account yesterday and posted $600 worth of electronic equipment under my name. I reported it to eBay and they immediately suspended my account.

I'll pause while you re-read the last sentence. Yes, my account.

There went half the day as I tried to reinstate the account, change all my passwords, try to remember the new ones, and fight down the very strong feeling that I would be better off relying on smoke signals like my Chippewa ancestors did.

Did I tell you that I've been without my real laptop since April 13th? No? How much time do you have? One second it was working and the next -- poof! The ability to use a dial-up connection vanished as completely as if it had never existed and I was left floating silently away on an electronic ice floe. This wouldn't be that big a deal if we had access to a high-speed connection but we don't.

Then it took out System Restore. Then it shut down completely.

I'm beginning to take this personally.

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