Thursday, December 4, 2008

Farty Towels -- Writer's Poke #132

For Writers:

Sometimes it's just as much fun to watch my wife watching TV as it is to watch the TV itself.

Linda isn't squeamish. She can watch the most violent horror movie without any problem. It's the slapstick comedy that gets her every time.

Are you familiar with Fawlty Towers? If you've somehow missed this British sitcom, please quit reading this poke right now. You need to purchase the Complete Series DVD post haste.

What makes this series difficult for my wife to watch? It's the masterful use of farce -- taking the comedy of errors to the point that laughter itself becomes painful.

Basil Fawlty, played by John Cleese, isn't a bad man, but he always brings disaster upon himself, and while viewers understand that Fawlty gets what he deserves, on another level they also recognize that he is powerless to act in any way other than he does.

Fawlty simply tries to play the role he has been culturally designed to play, and when things inevitably go wrong, we feel badly for him. He is a man trapped in own faulty misinterpretations of culture and what it means to lead a successful life.

What faulty assumptions have you had, and how did you finally recognize that they were faulty?

"Let us carefully observe those good qualities wherein our enemies excel us; and endeavor to excel them, by avoiding what is faulty, and imitating what is excellent in them." -- Plutarch

Wednesday, December 3, 2008

Dying Expectations? -- Writer's Poke #131

For Writers:

Sometimes people sit around at parties and ask silly philosophical questions. Well, maybe not the parties you go to, but they do at the parties I go to.

One typical question might be something like, "If you knew you only had six months to live, how would that change the way you lived the rest of your life?"

We're all going to die, so why should the knowledge that we're going to die in a specific period of time make a difference to the way we live our lives? Do people really live life not believing that they are going to die?

I've got news for all you non-immortals out there: You're all going to die. You might not know when, but you might as well start living like you do, because death happens -- even to you. And it could happen sooner than the hypothetical question raised at my philosophical party.

Sweet Dreams.

What do you want out of life? Do you live each day with that "want" in mind?

"Death is more universal than life; everyone dies but not everyone lives." -- A. Sachs

Tuesday, December 2, 2008

Tavi and Bret as "Deuce and Domino"

What's better than the matching white undershirt look?
I don't know, but there's just something about that Tavi. :)

2009: 50 Book Challenge

If you're at all like me, you try very hard not to let the books in your house run wild. No matter how many books I read each year, I always seem to buy even more.

So for 2009, I've decided to try something novel: the plan is to read from books I already own, and not buy any additional books for an entire year. Is that doable? I don't know.

Here's the challenge: I don't care if you buy more books in 2009 or not. I just want you to read 50 books. Are you up to it?

I tried to narrow my selection to the "Top 50 Books to Read for 2009," but I couldn't narrow it to 50. But here's an idea (subject to change) of what I plan to read in 2009 (in no particular order):

Scott Adams -- God's Debris
Scott Adams -- The Religion War
Chuck Klosterman -- Killing Yourself to Live
Chuck Klosterman -- Sex, Drugs, and Cocoa Puffs
Chuck Klosterman -- IV
Russell Baker -- Growing Up
Frank McCourt -- Angela's Ashes
Frank McCourt -- 'Tis
Lee Stringer -- Sleepaway School
Claude Brown -- Manchild in the Promised Land
Ruthie Bolton -- Gal
Luis Rodriguez -- Always Running
Jim Knopfel -- Ruining It for Everybody
Brent Staples -- Parallel Time
Mary Roach -- Stiff
Mary Roach -- Spook
Mary Roach -- Bonk
Michael Palin -- Hemingway's Chair
Eric Idle -- The Road to Mars
Eric Idle -- The Greedy Bastard Diary
Robert Greene -- Seduction
Robert Greene -- War
Carl Sagan -- The Dragons of Eden
Carl Sagan -- Broca's Brain
Carl Sagan -- Shadows of Forgotten Ancestors
Carl Sagan -- Pale Blue Dot
Carl Sagan -- Billions & Billions
Conversations with Carl Sagan
Carl Sagan -- The Varieties of Scientific Experience
Brian Greene -- The Elegant Universe
John McWhorter -- Losing the Race
John McWhorter -- Winning the Race
John McWhorter -- Authentically Black
Mick Foley -- Scooter
Nathan McCall -- Them
James McBride -- Song Yet Sung
James McBride -- Miracle at St. Anna
J. K. Rowling -- Harry Potter #5
J. K. Rowling -- Harry Potter #6
J. K. Rowling -- Harry Potter #7
Jamaica Kincaid -- Mr. Potter
Jamaica Kincaid -- Annie John
Ernest Gaines -- In My Father's House
Ernest Gaines -- A Gathering of Old Men
Ernest Gaines -- Of Love and Dust
Ernest Gaines -- Catherine Carmier
Ernest Gaines -- Mozart and Leadbelly
Tim O'Brien -- July, July
Tim O'Brien -- Tomcat in Love
Richard Wright -- Eight Men
Walker Percy -- The Thanatos Syndrome
Walker Percy -- Signposts in a Strange Land
Walker Percy -- The Moviegoer
Walker Percy -- The Last Gentleman
Walker Percy -- The Message in the Bottle
Bret Easton Ellis -- The Informers
Bret Easton Ellis -- Glamorama
Bret Easton Ellis -- Lunar Park
Chinua Achebe -- A Man of the People
Chinua Achebe -- Anthills of the Savannah
Chinua Achebe -- Arrow of God

Up for the challenge? What 50 books do you plan to read? Let me know.

The Scar That Made Her Funny -- Writer's Poke #130

For Writers:

It's just speculation, but my guess is that no one would have ever heard of Tina Fey if a stranger hadn't cut her face with a knife when she was a small child.

Anyone that's ever seen Tina has probably felt their eyes move uncontrollably to the big scar that marks the left side of her face. I hate to admit it, but that's the first thing I notice every time I see her on TV.

And I should know better. I was born with an unusual right ear that interested many people when I was growing up. The top of my ear lapped over too much on top, and my peers couldn't help themselves. They would notice. And although some were too polite to mention noticing, I could always see them looking at it out of the corner of their eyes.

In a strange way, I think my flawed ear made me a better observer, a better listener. I'm sure Tina's scar left a similar mark on the way she interacted with her peers, too. Humor certainly is a great defense.

Humor is a weapon we use to control what people are laughing at.

What scars, literal or figurative, have shaped your character?

"I just want to show off my scar proudly and not be afraid of it." -- Carly Simon

Engrish: Toliet Beard Know

I consider this a "found poem." :)

Check out

And the next time you think your teenagers don't use good English, just think about how much better their mastery of the English language is compared to the rest of the non-English speaking world.

Monday, December 1, 2008

The End -- Writer's Poke #129

For Writers:

One of my students told me that he didn't like short stories. "I'm just getting into the story," he said, "and then it's over. And I'm like, what happens next?"

I pointed out to the student that readers of War and Peace might feel the same way, wondering what happens next. In fact, all endings may seem somewhat arbitrary, and that's because -- at least on some levels -- they are.

In writing, the writer has the power to decide when to begin and when to end. Worrying about "what happens next" should not be the main objective. That's just plot. The main objective should be: Does the "middle part" that makes it to the page serve a purpose? Does it have continuity? A discernible and meaningful theme?

Bottom line: Does it make the reader think?

And is leaving the reader wanting more such a bad thing?

Start with the end in mind -- be it your life, a relationship, a piece of writing that you're working on. How do (or did) you get there, and how do (or did) you know it was the end?

"In my end is my beginning." -- Mary, Queen of Scots

"In my beginning is my end." -- T.S. Eliot