Saturday, July 31, 2010

F&*% You, I'm a Genius

banner ShakespeareImage via Wikipedia

Reading a review of a play in the NY Times this morning, I had an idea so amusing, so filled with promise of future pleasure, I really do have to write it down before it sinks into the boneyard of all those other little spritzes of inspiration that I thought I could not possibly forget, so wonderful were they.

Because, so often, I would forget. I would wake up remembering the fact of being inspired, but there was no meat on the bones, just a memory of the moment but not the stuff itself.

Anyway, as I read the review my thoughts ran on two tracks: admiration for the work behind the play being reviewed -- the patience; the suffering; the multiple rewrites -- and for the review itself, which was giving me such pleasure, second-hand but useful in all kinds of ways, including now having one little bit more of cocktail chatter.

And the idea came to me. Why not write reviews of my own towering works of genius? I don't mean of my actual towering works of genius, but the ones I will write or might write or could write or at least can think about writing. Two for one! Efficiency squared!!

So, yeah, I am going to be doing that from now on when I have the time and if I think of it and if someone reminds me. They don't have to be long reviews, after all. Some can be those little follow-up thumbnails you see when the book comes out in paperback or the DVD of the movies arrives or the community playhouse licenses the Broadway hit from seasons past.


Two-fisted Fighting Poet Doc Scores Again

Encumbering a one-man autobiographical play performed by its author with the thumb-in-the-eye title of "F*&% You, I'm a Genius" is the sort of provocation that begs for a reviewer's most crisp rebuttal:

No, you're not.

But it's a mark of local teacher/scholar/playwright J. Michael Robertson's talent that this reviewer came to scoff and stayed to cheer.

It's a critical chestnut: Show, don't tell.
The facts are the argument -- when they are undeniable. And when it comes to charming the skeptic, that's what Robertson did last night in a three-hour monologue describing the initial resistance to his reintroduction of iambic pentameter to the Broadway stage and, quickly thereafter, to Hollywood itself, by letting his fists do the talking.

From his first "F*&% you" to his final "and if you don't like it, you can kiss my a**," he commanded his audience, even though the performance was done in total darkness, Robertson's only instrument his thrilling baritone.

Is this what it was like to be alive at the dawn of Shakespeare?
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Thursday, July 29, 2010

Movie Clips of Killing, Maiming, Typing with a Clever Song Underneath about Writing Mystery Novels

Thank you, Gayle.

Cat on a Leash: Never Rely on Anecdote, but Still...

IMG_0042Image by Spencer9 via Flickr

A story in Salon that at least made me rethink the possibility. And what a funny paragraph.

In five years of living in New York -- a city that prides itself on its vast parade of human experience -- I've only seen one cat on a leash. (Putting the ratio of strangers' penises to leashed cats at 2:1.) The New York Times wrote about a real estate broker on the Upper West Side who leash trained his cat, which suggests just how remarkable the feat is. Even the phrase "cat on a leash" has a campy spark of the impossible, like something you'd see in a Farrelly brothers movie...
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Monday, July 26, 2010

A Friend Thanks Us for a Gift of Tea

George Bernard Shaw expressed doubts about the...Image via Wikipedia

Dear A:

D left the nicest message on the answering machine yesterday. Too bad we weren’t home to glow with pride in real time. Where we were was at a matinee performance at the California Shakespeare Festival of Shaw’s “Mrs. Warren’s Profession.” I have a notion you were exposed to that play during run-up to prelims, i.e., you came across a reference in a book saying it was Shaw’s first play and that the title character's profession was prostitute/madam and the play was controversial. And you (if you were like me) thought, “Well, that couldn’t possibly have been entertaining given the constraints of 1894 – couldn’t have been entertaining then or now.”

So it was curiosity that drove me to insist we add Mrs. W. to our CalShakes playlist, kind of “academic,” you know, feeding the knowledge center and telling the pleasure center to shut up and sit down. Thus, it was quite a shock to find so much pleasure in the production. Shaw was a champion of the well-made play, and this is well made (though a bit static in the setup: two folk sitting and talking at one another like talking heads on a news set). I don’t think it was just the acting that made it plausible that a Cambridge math whiz would excuse her mother for her life as a prostitute (an inevitable and appropriate accommodation to the oppression of women under capitalism) and then condemn her for her life as a madam (a morally indefensible embrace of the exploitation inherent in capitalism).

It plays better than it summarizes.

The pleasures of living in the Bay Area in a nutshell: Too much good stuff. And we hope you drop by – singly, or with D, or (like James Dickey) with some woman you met on the plane. (But we would much prefer D.)
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Saturday, July 24, 2010

Let Me Die Obscure and Forgotten

Reading the newspaper: Brookgreen Gardens in P...Image via Wikipedia

Journalists do have their loyalties, to their former colleagues and thus, by extension, to themselves. A day or two ago the Chron ran an obit for Bob Bartlett, whom I remember from my own newspaper days. He quit in 1985 to practice law in Montana.

But the wine remembers. Or maybe I mean the drinkers remember.

For, indeed, I do not recall socializing with Bob in the newsroom but do recall having drinks with him at the old M&M, my own dear newspaper bar my association with which plugs me into something greater than myself, that is, the damp lies of clever journeymen content providers from back in the day in which the providers actually went out there and waded in the content.

He was kind of a blowhard, I recall, and *that's okay*. Modesty is ingratiating, but it's not very interesting. (And I will play the fool for you if you play the fool for me.)

Anyway, he died and some old guys in the Chron newsroom followed the accepted practice: When a former colleague dies, you give him an obit -- which is more or less an act of giving the profession, and thus yourself, a valentine because, as you read the obit currently on the table, you imagine your own obit when the time comes and how noble the great enterprise was.

I put in 11 years at the Chron and have stayed local as a "journalism educator" -- note the sly,self-effacing irony of the quotations marks -- so if I die tomorrow I will get my obit. (Here's looking at you, Nanette.)

But as I wrote to old Chron colleague JC, in his retirement fortress in Arkansas, it is my goal (as it should be his) not to have such an obit, not by declining the honor, but by outliving the very newspaper in which it would appear. (Sad: We will be dust as will the horse we rode in on.)

If we but only endure, it would seem the Chron will be a web-only enterprise, compiled by algorithm or outsourced to India. A tree will fall in the forest, except it will be the last tree in the forest.

And thus we will have the last laugh with no one to hear it.
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Among Other Things, This Would be Good for My Advanced Journalism Students to See and Ponder

Friday, July 23, 2010

The Lady Rose and Her Attendants

This is the continuing saga of our visit with Big Pat's dog Rose while he cavorts in Brazil, a big man in a small thong on a bright white beach. Rose (like the kids) is all right. She sleeps a great deal and eats quickly. Pat has Rose on a regimen: She eats at 8 a.m., noon and 5 p.m. She is to be given *slightly less* than one scoop of dry dog food moistened for exactly 20 minutes.

She is to be given no treats and no table scraps, though any tidbit that falls to the floor is fair game for her, assuming we are not inordinately sloppy. She gets five walks a day for the purpose of elimination, though we take her out more often than that because we are both afflicted with "weak bladder," so we empathize.

This visit isn't going to turn us into dog people, but we do appreciate Rose's individual appeal. She is a gallant little thing, given the fact she has epilepsy, and occasionally gets the quivers, and has some back problems, so she can "hardly wiggle" (as E's mom use to say at the end of a hard day).

Rose in a nutshell: quivering but not wiggling, if you want to get technical.

I don't know why this is, but when I take her out in the yard -- she likes being on her leash; it seems to give her security -- we do what needs to be done with dispatch. She sniffs, she eliminates, she totters back toward the house.

But when E. takes her out, Rose is far more adventurous, leading E. down the walk toward the neighbors where The Madness That is Torri the Neighbor's Jack Russell Terrier jitters and yips behind their gate.

E. says it is because E. is easily dominated, but I say it's a simple case

Cover of "Thelma & Louise"Cover of Thelma & Louise

of Hot Girls Together, just another chapter of Thelma and Louise.
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Tuesday, July 20, 2010

The White Squirrels of Brevard, North Carolina

I wasn't skeptical enough to think I was being "sniped" when our friends Al and Demi insisted one of the attractions of their new home town was its white squirrels -- not albino squirrels but offspring of the mating of local squirrels and an Asian white squirrel brought home by a serviceman after World War II that escaped into the woods.

That's the local legend, anyway. (Here's another version, with a carnival atmosphere.) I don't know what in the hell they are, but they're oarful cute.

I don't think I was skeptical when they shared tales of ebony and ivory -- the regular squirrels and the white ones -- cavorting in the treetops. I don't think I seemed skeptical. But certainly our hosts were inspired -- driven, even -- to spend a couple hours taking us around Brevard until, dammit, we saw a white squirrel.

Which we did. Look, see, marvel at some real Hollywood rats, ready for their closeup and/or the red carpet at a Hollywood premiere.

Monday, July 19, 2010

The Renaissance Fool

Cover of "Renaissance Man"Cover of Renaissance Man

Better get that phrase out there so I can start collecting royalties. By it I simply mean that if the growth of the net is turning us all into shallow water fish, then the Renaissance Man who knew a lot about a lot has become the Renaissance Fool, who knows just enough to crack wise over a broad range of the topics.

Oxymoron! One becomes vigorously lazy if you know what I mean, and you would if you felt like going to the trouble.
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Sunday, July 18, 2010

We Have a Visitor!

Brazil-<span class=Image via Wikipedia

Patrick is off to Brazil, and we are entertaining Rose while he is gone.

She's a very quiet dog. She needs to piddle five times a day, an activity she does not like to undertake off-lease, which is interesting. Apparently, she likes the security of limits, which may (or may not) be analogous to child raising.

Not having any -- dogs or children -- we are theoretical rather than practical. Because she is very old (and very short; she is a dachshund), we are not supposed to let her sleep on the bed with us because she might fall off. That's our great fear: Rose expires through fate or illness while Patrick is gone.

I'm not sure any friendship could survive that because there would always be suspicion.

Well, possibly not in Patrick's case. He's a pretty good Buddhist. Anyway, we are scrutinizing Rose closely. Yes there she is breathing. I'm looking straight at her. And she just quivered. Unless it goes on too long, that's a good thing I'm pretty sure.

Saturday, July 17, 2010

I Now Have an iPad

Image representing <span class=iPad as depicted in CrunchBase"

... because I am fortune's fool? No. It's just that I am wondering if some device might make paying for news so easy or cool or glamorous or beautiful or convenient that, in fact, being a journalist will not become some version of the artist's life, something one loves but at which someone starves.

I think it was Paul Fussell who wrote some decades ago that being a journalist was one of the few bohemian life choices in America. But I don't recall what exactly he meant by that, if it was the low remuneration that drove his notion. I have certainly told the kids over the years that journalism did not pay well at entry level and not spectacularly at the higher levels -- unless you make it to the TV big time.

And now things are even worse with -- from one point of view -- no hope at all. Whoa. When I say something like that I am allowing myself to mingle my worries about the willingness to the public to pay for "professional" journalism with my general despair over the public's disinclination to want information that challenges its self-satisfaction at knowing enough -- Keep those nasty facts *away* from me.

Step back and refocus. Let's see if the iPad does what I have the read the iPod did, that is, coax people into paying a little for what heretofore they were stealing.

I will keep you posted. I am part of a group at USF sharing perceptions of the value of the iPad in the classroom.

Thursday, July 15, 2010

Why Shouldn't I Start Blogging Again?

Cover of "Funny People"Cover of Funny People

It's not like my words are polluting the Gulf of Mexico (which puts the bar pretty low, but at least there's a bar).

Anyway, here's a thought. Since Netflix uses one's movie ratings to predict which movies you will like, a feature I do find useful when I'm in doubt, I now find myself putting up an early "in mind" rating as I watch a movie. This corresponds roughly to the practice I assume most reporters follow of grabbing onto a tentative lead as they report a single-interview story.

(You are not at ease until something is said or seen that would work as a lead. You do not want to become complacent and cease being vigilant for something better, but your anxiety level drops because you know you have, at least, *something*.)

Point is as E. and I recover from the virus we picked up traveling in the Great American South for the past two weeks, I watched some cable TV, including Judd Apatow's "Funny People." In the first half hour it earned a tentative four stars with its sour portrayal of Adam
Sandler as a hack comic actor -- which may not have been Apatow's intended reading --suffering from a terminal disease. But then AS is cured, and it became a kind of domestic comedy of reclaiming a lost love by breaking up her family, and my rating slid back to three stars, as any surprises in the script evaporated.

That's all I have to say, though (again) it applies to certain kinds of feature writing, which I will be teaching this fall. Better a flawed mishmash with bits of sparkle than coherent mediocrity -- for me anyway.

Good summer fun: thinking about what I am going to teach in the fall and hoping this time I will get it right, though considering what I have just written, better to get it really right some days at the cost of getting it really wrong others.

I can do that. I always have.
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