the circular runner

Posts Tagged ‘comedy’

what my baby boy has taught me about writing discipline…

In humor, observations, parenting on July 30, 2012 at 6:25 am

this isn’t easy, but it’s necessary–at least mom says so…

If you are a parent, then you probably know what Tummy Time is. If not, it’s basically torture for babies–at least it is for mine.  Every morning, while my wife tries to catch up on her sleep, I hang out with The Boy and at some point, I put him on his play mat face down.  The baby development books all say this is good for little ones because it helps them develop the neck and arm strength they need for crawling. I know this. But still, if it were left to me, I wouldn’t do it to my kid.  I like hanging out with him as he plays on his back.  He smiles when he’s like that and he tells me the latest, greatest news from Babylandia.  But when turn him over, he becomes monster-baby–red and crying.  My wife insists that we do this.  And she’s right because The Boy is getting stronger and as a result, he’s hating Tummy Time less and less each day.

There’s a lesson here.  Actually, there’s a few. As a parent, I’ve learned that I’m going to be the softie, which I guess makes my wife the hardie.  This probably means that in the future, I’ll be the go-to parent, whereas my wife will be The Enforcer.  That said, I’ve also learned that I shouldn’t question my wife, but that’s a lesson I already knew even if I forget sometimes.

Apart from these family lessons, I think that Tummy Time also presents a lesson for writers.  How many times do we all start our writing sessions in pain?  I mean, we wake up ok, maybe smiling even, but then we get in front of the computer and it’s all sloppy sadness.  We might not yell, but on the inside, we want to.  We want to yell and scream and kick and maybe even slobber a little.  Why?  Because writing is hard–just like Tummy Time.  And yet, and yet, it’s only in the doing that the difficulty abates.  Our creativity muscles grow because we are flexing them every time we put words to the page/screen, and we need to try to do this regularly.

Look, it’s not easy. But you don’t want to be a baby.  Even my son, who is a baby, would tell you that if he could.  So, if you’re reading this post instead of writing your stuff, I want to thank you, but I also want to scold you.  Go forth and do your writer’s Tummy Time.  It’s good for you.  And if you don’t, I’ll tell my wife to pay you a visit.  She’s tough, so don’t mess.


writing through the fear..or is it riding?

In humor, life, observations, parenting, Uncategorized on July 9, 2012 at 6:31 am

Lately, I’ve been getting panic attacks on the freeways.  I’ve never been in an accident; knock on wood, I’ve never even been close to being in one.  But along the way, I have developed this lack of ease on highways.  This experience has made me wonder if this is the beginning of fear taking over.  I say this though as this weird fearful cloud is enveloping me so is a realization that I don’t get to avoid things just ’cause I’m afraid of them.

Is that a duh-statement, or what?

It’s not like I didn’t have fears before.  I certainly did.  I remember this one time as a kid.  I was supposed to compete in a track meet, but I woke up the day of so scared that I was going to fail, that I told my mom I was sick, which wasn’t a lie, not exactly.  I quit playing basketball in high school when I was a sophomore out of fear that I’d bring my team down.  To put it simply: I’m scared. I’ve always been scared.  And if you ask me what I’m scared of, I guess I’d have to say it was failure–of letting people know I suck at something.

Which brings me to writing and to making a career of it somehow.  Last week,  I met with a film producer here in San Fran.  He’s young, successful, very cool dude.  I asked for the meet-up because I wanted to get his advice on next steps–what can I do to get to a next level in storytelling–whatever the medium.  If you’ve been reading the blog, you know I’ve been reading books about branding and trying to implement a strategy to makes me some dough, but truth is the plans these books set out are not very useful. The authors make it seem like if you follow a set recipe for success then soon, you’ll be feasting on a nice, warm Success Pie.  But recipes for success are nothing like recipes for pie.  There is no set order of steps, and more times than not, you have to break the rules in order to break through.

I know this, and still, I came home from that meeting feeling a little bit sick in the stomach because this producer told me to break one of the rules I’ve set for myself. Basically, he told me that the way to making money for creatives in this city is for them to get jobs making commercials/ads/mini-webisodes for the tech companies up here.  He gave me amazing tips to that end, and I’m thankful, but I felt a little sick, as well.  Why?  I could say that it’s because I’m an artist, because I don’t want to work for The Man….YAWN…because The Man is evil and will eat my soul like a well-baked Success Pie, etc.  But truth is I’m scared.  Writing has always been a solo sport for me, and the idea of creating narrative within a company structure when money is on the line, scares the bejeezus out of me.  Or, to put it more accurately, I’m scraed to put myself out for that kind of work because what if I find out I suck?

I kind of want a blanket or my son’s binky right now.  But I don’t get to have either.  I need to get writing, not only the fiction or the scripts I want to make, but also the emails, letters, texts and tweets that will get people to hire me to write them some kind of story.  Fear be damned. I’m hungry and I needs me a slice of that Success Pie.

praying for prayer?

In humor, life, observations, writers & books, writing on June 19, 2012 at 6:43 am

I have a few obsessions–at least I do when blogging.  My career as a witer (or lack thereof), my sense of speeding through life and the counter-need to slow down, and…goddamn it…I don’t have any other obsessions.  Jesus, I can’t even come up with three.  Three is so writerly, and I can’t come up with a third…

I’m not very obsessive, I’ll admit it.  I’d probably be better off in my career if I were.  (OK, I hit on obsession #1–check.) 

And as for obsession #2, I’ve been thinking about God today.  Well, I started thinking about God because I was listening to this somewhat ancient podcast of Fresh Air.  It was about a scholar spending time with some evangelicals who believe they have personal relationships with God.  By relationships, I’m mean hanging out with the Almighty, having a cup of coffee, taking things out.

At one level, I get a little weirded out by the sound of these people. But there is another part of me that doesn’t really think there’s anything weird at all about believing that God is all around you.  I studied Religion, not theology (there’s a difference) in college and went on to grad school, as well.  There are very few Religious Studies majors in the world who choose that major strictly out of some intellectual need.  We all have issues with God or religion or both, or at least a fascination.  I would fit in the latter.

I’m a believing Agnostic or an Agnostic believer.  I tried to explain my beliefs once already on this blog, if interested, please see this.   If you are still here, I commend you: good choice.  Let’s live in the present.

So, as I was saying, today, I was listening to Terry Gross and this scholar talk about people who have relationships with the divine, and I started thinking about my own relationship to God.  I realized right off that I don’t really like that term, relationship.  I’m old school, I guess.  I like imagining that there’s something mysterious and wondrous about this entity we call God/Yahweh/Allah etc.  It’s not something I want to imagine having a relationship with the way I have a relationship with some dude at work.  That’s how the people being discussed today see God–He’s like their buddy.  Where’s the majesty in that?

And this leads me to my point: why don’t I pray anymore?  I used to pray every night–mainly petitions.  There was a point that it was almost like a superstition, maybe even a superstitious obsession, which I could add to my poor list of obsessions if only I were still obsessed with prayer the way I used to be. Back then, I needed to pray for everyone near and dear to me or I feared  something would happen to them. I guess that’s the downside to not seeing God as buddy.  Buddies don’t smite your second cousins in Uruguay if you fail to ask for his protection. There’s something childlike in believing that God would smite your family if you piss him off, but even so, I wonder if it’s not a bad sign that I don’t make the time to talk with God at night as I used to.

It’s not guilt, mind you.  I think it does have something to do with being too much in the world.  Look, there’s a reason why as a writer of fiction, I gravitate to the surreal/magical.  I think there’s truth in that stuff.  I don’t know if I can get myself to capture some of that magic, but I think that’s my goal as a writer, and maybe, just maybe, it’s my goal as a person, a spiritual person, too.  I once told a friend of mine in grad school just about the time I decided that I wanted to write and not be a scholar of religion, that I saw writing as a spiritual exercise.  She thought I was daft at the time.  But I do.  I have to explain how next time.

For now, I’m curious.  do any of you see God/the Force/some spiritual force in your writing? Do you speak with the Almighty even writing the most Earthbound family drama?

should writers fear pictures?

In humor, observations, writers & books, writing on May 31, 2012 at 9:23 am

Today I had coffee with a wonderful illustrator named Jonathan Silence.  It was a meeting of like-minds, and I’m not saying that because we’re both Libras–that was just gravy.  We might collaborate on a project this summer, which I am very excited about.  All the more excited after meeting Jonathan and realizing that we have similar views about what good stories are.  In short, we seemed to agree on two things: 1. that the type of stories we want to tell, what we would call the best types of stories, are stories for children–at least they are labeled as such, which as anyone knows, also means they are pretty good for adults, too.  (I’m going to talk about that idea in the next post, so don’t freak out, adult writers. There will be time for debate.)

The other idea we agreed on was less an idea than it was a shared concern about the current push to digitize everything, especially books.

though I am not eating the pickle sandwich in this picture, I hope you can imagine that I would be eating that pickle sandwich at a later time

Now, allow me to make an Evel Knievel leap of logic and say the following: for me, a digital culture is a visual one, by definition.  Think about it.  The web pushes images.  It is what It does best.  It’s what it’s for.  Everything from YouTube to the very graphic interface you are reading these words on is based on image.  Jonathan and I spoke about what that means for storytelling, and though he is a creator of images, he was concerned that this need to have pictures all the time is destroying our ability to imagine. I agree (to a certain point). Look at an episode of CSI or a doc on History Channel and you see the sad trend.  Two people talking is never shown for more than a few seconds.  Even if what’s being said is completely inane, you can rest assure that what’s being said will be shown in images.  So, for example, if you filmed me talking to my wife about eating a pickle sandwich, then you can bet your life that before I showed you that video, I would have my editor fade in an image of a pickle sandwich. You, as the viewer, could not imagine a pickle sandwich, so the picture of a pickle sandwich would be necessary.

God I hate that.

Now, don’t worry.  I trust that all of you can imagine a pickle sandwich.  But then again, just in case, here is one:

Though I could see Jonathan’s point, the writer in me is not so scared about the digital world and its super-need to rely on images. I will admit that somewhere along the line, I became a little snooty about what is and what is not good writing, by which I really am talking about good storytelling.  I am going to avoid trying to define terms, partly because I’m not equipped for that kind of thing and even more to the point, I have learned not to care so much about definitions.  They are helpful, but they can also limit you.  As in I once thought I could only be a professional writer if I published a proper novel. (I have three versions of 2/3 of a book to prove it.)  That idea was definitely tied to my understanding of what literature was, which in a few words can be described this way: character-driven sadness in which nothing happens except for someone dying towards the end.

My way out of that intellectual crapper has been to think of myself as a storyteller, which I know is a bit hack, but it’s no less true for being so.  Every medium has its strengths and weaknesses.  There are some stories that I think work best for the page.  But contrary to what I used to think, the written word is not the only way to be deep.  Jonathan Silence’s images are just as deep as a Ken Kesey novel.  It’s just that the stories being told are different kinds of stories. Along the same lines, I’ve been reading a blog called Little Commas, which I recommend highly.  I don’t know who hosts it, but every day, the blogger puts up drawings or graphic art or photography, and in so doing, makes the case that images are stories.  Even a company logo is a story. You just have to know how to look at it.

For the writers out there and the visual artists, too, I’m wondering what you think.  Can a digital culture make great stories? Or are we doomed to seeing pictures of pickle sandwiches?

Vegan Fascists at Whole Foods

In humor, life, observations, writing on December 12, 2011 at 12:03 am

Whole Foods, need I say more? Yeah, I better. There are a lot of things you can say about the store. I once got into a little bit of an argument with some people I work with about Whole Foods. They work for the “Community”—a word that doesn’t really mean anything unless it’s rooted in a context, which is great for people who work in non-profits. Though we are not corporations, we are corporate in one sense: we like acronyms and long meetings and phrases like community that sound so meaningful that no one ever dares to ask what that word actually means.

But I digress.

I got into an argument because someone was going off on the hack joke that whole foods should be called whole paycheck—LOL. It’s true, the place can be expensive. But then again, it’s not really more expensive than any other market if you’re comparing the same products. I mean, if you want Oreos, then you don’t really need the organic variety at Whole Foods, which are overpriced.  But, on the other hand, if you want a nectarine or a head of lettuce that isn’t funky and pestacized to death (your death) then I think Whole Foods is, relatively speaking, not outrageous. My defense of Whole Foods won me no friends in the room, but I was trying to be fair. I can live with that.

I say this even though now, I’m starting to think that fairness can suck it. Because last night, I went to Whole Foods and the cashier gave me a little lecture about my purchase, specifically, he was concerned with my purchase of meat. I know that in a recent post, I said that fascist is an overused word, so I wouldn’t let myself join that bandwagon. Well, originality, like fairness, can suck it.  I gotta call this one like I see it. My cashier was a vegan fascist.

The guy was classic San Fran. My wife thinks that means unwashed, but I’m not so sure. I think the point is to look unwashed because actually being unwashed is hard if you’re working—even in SF. It’s cooler and more ironic—qualities inherent in veganness—if you just pretend to be unwashed.

Anyway, so this guy had one of those giant ring-earing that was expanding his earlobe beyond reason. And he had the multi-colored arm tattoo running up and down most of his arm., which was pretty cool. I’m ok with all of it. I actually admire the commitment to that much body ink. I know I’m wrong about this, but I always assume that someone who looks like that will be cool, mellow, not judgmental, but no, inside this subversively faux-unclean self, was the heart of a fucking puritan.

Meat? Do I really need that it? That’s what the guy asked, and maybe he’s right. I don’t need the meat. But on the other hand, I don’t need the judgment, either.

Five Minute Rant: My Bank and Its Zombie Employees

In humor, life, observations, Uncategorized on December 6, 2011 at 10:10 am

Wells Fargo, Noe Valley Branch in San Francisco–people, if you are reading this AND you are within this bank’s range, watch out! Walk away!  There’s something going on at that place, and I’m thinking cult, or maybe, Zombie-haven.  When I walk in, I have to pass by a bunch of people who don’t seem to have purpose but who have desks, and they are all smiles and creepy nods. I usually rush by them with eyes down and headphones a-blasting.  I don’t listen to angry music, but I’m thinking I should add some Korn or some other band whose music sounds like Satan on a bad day–would Satan sound happy on a bad day?  In any case, I look at my visits to the bank as being a type of game in which I move quickly, in hopes that the creepy-niceness that’s dripping off every surface will not contaminate my person somehow.  The desk-dwellers are not a problem.  They’re slow. I think too much mindless surfing the web makes them slow in body and mind.

But eventually, I can’t avoid the creepy-niceness because I end up in front of one of the tellers. They’re always on their feet, and they tend to be younger than the desk-dwellers, which makes them quicker and a more difficult opponent. These guys are relentless.  I have my headphones on, and try to avoid eye contact as I walk up for my banking needs, but these guys don’t care about banking. They’re all about questions, which would be fine if the questions were asking questions about banking. Being a poor teacher, my transactions aren’t exactly complex, but still, I could understand “checking or savings?” “direct deposit or cash-back?” These questions are answered on the forms I turn in with my check, but I could deal with repeating myself.  That would be so much better than what I do get because these quick-moving, overly-friendly Zombies. They’re all, “Hey, it’s a wonderful day out there. You got any plans for the day?” “Are you working today or do you have the day off?”

WHAT THE F…?  Are they asking me on a date? Am I getting propositioned? OR, do these people work for law enforcement?

Either way, I want to yell out, “None of yo beezwacks!!” I have fantasies of saying this with all the fervor of an elementary school kid. But I’m polite–maybe I’ve been infected by some of the niceness. No, I’m sincere, it’s not creepy-niceness.  The best I can do is to mumble something as I look away, or make an ordeal out of pulling my headphones away from my ears.  “Sorry,” I say, “I was just listening to my podcast.  It’s host is a cranky comedian who I love because he’s cranky and hateful. Did you ask me something that is truly important?” OK, I don’t add the last part.  I should, though. Not that it would matter. These are Zombies. They are mindless and a little awkward socially. They don’t know what they’re doing.  All I can do to avoid them is to get direct deposit and hope that I will not be infected and start being strange and asking inappropriate questions of people who come before me.

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Channeling My Inner Turetz

In life, media, observations, writers & books on December 2, 2011 at 6:23 pm

If you’ve been reading this blog, you know I’m kind of obsessed with Marc Maron‘s podcast, WTF. When I work out, I have to force myself to shut off the podcast and put on the Rocky theme, or the Elzhi or the Foo Fighters songs I need to pump my fat ass harder than I would if I were listening to people talking. But apart from that, if I’m not working or hangin’ with the wife, I’m listening to the anger and seething that is Marc Maron, and it’s affecting me.

Obsessions of any kind are not healthy, I know it. I’m also kind of obsessed with double espressos right now, and I know that’s not good, but the Marc Maron thing is affecting me more deeply than even the espresso. I can sleep the caffeine off-eventually. Maron’s affecting my speech, my thoughts. What the fuck?

Maybe it’s because I’m a writer, but if I listen to people talk for too long, I start to mimic them. At first, it’s kind of an afterthought. I’m talking and then out of the blue, some word or phrase comes out and I think, wow, that’s so-and-so’s line. My best man and ex-roommate in Brooklyn is one of the funnier people I know, and I can’t tell you how many catch-phrases that I make people laugh with are really his. I even say them with a southern twang because he’s from Alabama and that’s how he talks. I remember one summer, he told me about this really cheesy guy at work who was full of himself and who every time he tried to hit on a woman in the office, would come up to him and say, “You like that, Jeff? You like that?” The guy was a New Yorker with a Bronx accent, so Jeff started randomly repeating that phrase all summer with his Alabama-version of a Bronx accent, which I then took on as a California-version of an Alabama-version of a Bronx accent. To this day, if I see some cocky dude, it just pops out: “You like that, Jeff?” Jeff lives 3,000 miles away and I’m not talking to another Jeff, either. But that’s the phrase, goddammit, and I gotta say it the way I learned it.  YOu like that, Jeff? You like that? (Right now, I’m actually asking Jeff because I know he reads this blog.) So, Jeff, do you like that? I do.

Words, I guess, are kind of like shoes. There are phrases that fit and there are others that don’t. I work with young people and sayings like, “You feel me?” don’t get felt by me at all. They sound awkward and they get locked up in my throat like a chicken bone going in the opposite direction. (I’m using a lot of metaphors here: shoes and bones and…well, not that many.) So, it’s not like I’m a parrot. I guess I connect to Marc Maron, who doesn’t use metaphors at all.

But let me give you an example of what I mean about how Maron is seeping into my mind. If you listen to his podcast, and you should, he always does this slurping thing with his coffee followed by a hearty “POW!” There’s just something about the sound of the slurp and the percussive-P that makes me laugh out loud. It’s like all the saliva in his mouth water-logs his tongue making him sound like he’s drunk or old. I love it. I love it so much, in fact, that I now catch myself yelling out, “POW!” at random and sometimes inappropriate times. In the classroom, a kid finally gets fractions, and I’m like, “POW!” Another kid struggles with subject-verb agreement, he also gets a “POW!” right before I correct him. Driving down the street, my mind wanders and, then…”POW!!”

To make things even weirder, I also always laugh after I say this, which freaks me out because it’s like I’m channelling my inner Marc Maron “POW-ING” that then channels my inner-inner Me who is listening to me channeling my inner-Marc Maron and laughing at my…POW! I lost the strand of meta-stuff I was throwing out there.

Is this the start of Turetz? Can you Turetz-ify yourself? I’m a little bit of a hypochondriac, as is Maron, which is scary at another level, but it is also why I’m probably loving the guy’s podcasts. POW! Help me, someone. POW! I need…h…POW. POW. AND one more for the road, POW!

That’s it. I’m done. Time for a double espresso.

Marc Maron - Caricature

Image by DonkeyHotey via Flickr

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Bobblehead Hospitality

In life, observations, Uncategorized on November 29, 2011 at 1:43 pm

So, I had to go the Genius Bar today, and as always, the geniuses were helpful. I imagine they can’t all be geniuses at the genius bar, but for the sake of brevity and my love for Apple products, I will refer to them as such. Anyway, genius that I am–I am not–I managed to take off a button from my computer a couple months ago because something got underneath the keyboard and because the geniuses had no problem doing that when I’d been with them previously, I thought I’d have no problem taking off the button, either. The problem is that since I am no-genius I was able to take the button off while also removing the little spring-thing that goes underneath.  So, I was chagrined, but the geniuses are good and nice and they went right at it and started fixing me up. LOVE IT!

But as I’m waiting for the genius to geniusificate over my MacBook, I look to my right where I see one of the non-genius Apple workers (I’m sure he was smart but not being at the genius bar, I am not willing ti give him the benefit) was speaking to an old lady about some technical thing that I don’t think she understood very well. Maybe it was empathy, but I think it was more like corporate-induced politness that was making this non-genius’ head bobble all around as she spoke. I could tell by his expression that he was trying to seem understanding and caring and attentive, but the bobblehead-stuff took it to a new level–an unreal level, a Apple corporation induced level of interest.  That type of motion could not come out of sincerity. I am no doctor, but eveolution’s need for efficiency had to have removed that kind of excessive cranial motion millennia ago.

Now, I know I live in the Bay Area and we’re friendly up here. We’re not quite southern-hospitality, but we’re not the Bronx. And so maybe the non-genius Apple worker was intensely interested in this old woman’s I-Calendar issues. I’m willing to admit it’s possible as I’m willing to admit that the young man might’ve had loose tendons in his neck making it impossible for him to keep his head steady. Yes, these things are possible. But I’ve worked enough retail positions to know that managers prefer over-the-top friendliness to sincere-disinterest. I guess I’m fine with it. I guess I don’t have a choice. But man, this Apple. I don’t need bobbleheads. I need geniuses and cool stuff and these stores have both in abundance. They are way ahead of the game compared to their mall brethren who kind of suck. I think the Apple worker–npth genius and non-genius alike–could breathe a little. Relax. De-bobble. Hell, they could even try a little bit of sincerity. It’s just an idea.

EXCLUSIVE: Jess Cagle on the Launch of ‘The EW Interview’

In media, observations on September 23, 2011 at 10:28 pm







EXCLUSIVE: Jess Cagle on the Launch of ‘The EW Interview’.


Pretty good interview, though the reporter looks a little pasty and a little hungry–as in Jon Stewart’s brains would be great with some fava beans and chianti.

Whip My Hair with Jimmy Fallon and Willow Smith

In media, Uncategorized on June 2, 2011 at 8:31 am

OK, so I know I need to be doing research and writing query letters, but before I get started, I’m going to put my procrastination to some good use.  If you haven’t seen this, it’s Jimmy Fallon being Neil Young doing the Willow Smith song, “Whip My Hair“.  For those of you who haven’t heard the original, I’m posting it below.  I can’t decide which is better, which is sad or a sign that I need to get cracking on my letters.  Have a nice Thursday!

Now, for the original:

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