Friday, April 28, 2006

Something Funny Happened On the Way To Reading This Book

I’ve been recently reading Laughing Matters by Larry Gelbart (writer of such entertainment staples as television’s M*A*S*H, film’s Tootsie and Oh God!, and theater’s Something Funny Happened on the Way to the Forum and City of Angels). The book has some great insights from a man that has worked all media from radio to cable television—and who has worked alongside great comedians like Jack Benny, Bob Hope, Sid Caesar, George Burns and John Denver. (Hey, if you don’t consider Mr. Denver a great humorist, clearly you’ve never danced to “Grandma’s Feather Bed.")

Come to the book with patience, it meanders more than the Mississippi and skews more toward patchwork than pure design. That said, some chestnuts are worth the journey. A few morsels from the book (ones hit me deepest as a writer):

“To write comedy is to report on life as viewed through a special lens, one that shows us and reminds us of all that we share in common, and all that we refuse to admit we do.
The ultimate reward of illuminating those truths, dreads, and denials in surprising and entertaining ways is laughter—the outward expression of a nerve well struck.”

A partial list of why he writes:

  1. I write for the theater because I enjoy collaborating with audiences.
  2. I write for television because it lets you serve your work while it’s hot.
  3. I write for the movies because there is no finer form of masochism.
  4. I write to find out what it is I really feel strongly about.

And, to get to the heart of what every writer should be doing, he quotes director Rouben Mamoulian:

“We must affirm and insist that the ultimate goal of a film, no matter what subject matter it deals with, is to add to the beauty and goodness of life, to the dignity of human beings and to our faith in a better future.”

Okay, add to the above his wit and humor, know that he has stories to tell, and approach it as a disjointed collection of essays, and you are ready for this enjoyable tome.

Just my thoughts,


Wednesday, April 26, 2006

Reconstructing Book Reading

I am entering a new world -- the world of novelists.

Of course this isn't completely new, as several Seattle friends write those things that you don't pay admission to see, what are they called... oh, yeah, books. Messrs. Overstreet and Walter were both in process of writing within the mysterious medium when we hung out; and Mr. Berryman already had the sweet Leaving Ruin under his belt.

But they were theatre and film people, folks who understand that words were meant to be spoken for a time, then melt into thin air, and like this insubstantial pageant faded, leave not a rack behind. Such stuff as dreams are made on! (Okay, that's the Bard, not me talking.)

And yet, these novelists and their novels... so permanent and tangible!

Alas, I hung out too long at conferences with the likes of Laura and Cindy and Lynn and John... and now I'm not only writing one of those confounded tomes, I'm reading them -- In advance!

That's right, Laura is sending me her book to read in advance. Me, the guy that can't get around to seeing Lost in the same week it airs. (I am too embarrassed to even own a water cooler!)

Fortunately, the book looks to be a clever and sassy read (not unlike Laura herself). Here's what the publicity department has to say about Reconstructing Natalie:

"A smart, funny, poignant story of Natalie Moore's journey through breast cancer and into a new kind of wholeness. Chick lit author and breast cancer survivor Laura Jensen Walker will inspire and entertain women everywhere with this compelling novel. "

Of course, reading that blurb again makes me wonder if Laura realizes that I am not a woman. Man, I have got to stop cross-dressing at those Christian Writer's conferences!

I'll let you know once I get and read the book.

Just my thoughts,


PS Notice the "Women of Faith" novel of the year sticker on the cover? Congratulations, Laura!

Tuesday, April 25, 2006


Please welcome the newest addition to my family, Triston O'Leary Chick.

I have access to a video of Triston testing his lungs at the hospital. I plan on releasing it to his prom date when he is sixteen. That's just the way I roll.

-Uncle Sean

Saturday, April 22, 2006

Defending My Pride

So yesterday I printed a swipe on Pride and Prejudice by Donald Miller. And today I tell you what I think of Mr. Miller calling the book “hopelessly boring.”

He couldn’t be more wronger (to quote his majesty in King George and the Ducky).

Pride and Prejudice isn’t at all boring, unlike Sense and Sensibility. Pride is funny and light and quite a good read. My book club tackled it a few months back, when the movie was coming out. I approached the book with a lackluster will, as I recalled banging my head against the wall to relieve the pain of reading Sense and Sensibility. For those that haven’t read that novel, let me sum it up for you.

A bunch of girls talk about someone that is coming to visit. That person comes and visits, and they talk about how happy they are that the person is visiting. Then later the girls talk about how that person came and visited. Then they talk about another person coming to visit. And that person comes to visit, and they talk about it and talk about it and talk about it… And I bang my head against the wall, and the pain just won’t go away.

Pride and Prejudice was written by a wholly different Jane Austen – one of action, and heart, and humor.

The recent movie starring Kiera Knightly does an able job of condensing the book to a two hour bite-size morsel. Although -- and those who have read the book know what I am talking about – Mr. Darcy is not as despicable and unlikable as he needs to be for the ending to truly work.

Another film version worth catching has the same title, directed by Andrew Black, set in modern times. Not a perfect film, but just the right amount of froth and fun to make the trip worthwhile. (Also stars another friend, the fiery Kelly Stables – which is how I knew to look for this adaptation.)

Of course, there is the original. And by original, I don’t mean the first one made, I mean the 1995 mini-series starring Colin Firth. And I only call this the original because I know that Tamara will shun me if I imply that there could be a version without Colin Firth that may be considered primary. Haven’t seen the mini-series myself, but I understand that they take the time to make you hate Darcy. And starting out hating Darcy is one of the great joys of the book.

Just my thoughts,


Friday, April 21, 2006

The Glow

Today NPR was doing a piece on Chernobyl, which included interviews by witnesses and survivors recorded at the tenth anniversary.

One account that struck a chord was a woman describing the first night of the accident. She lived within view of the nuclear plant, and could see the fire from her ninth story balcony. As darkness descended, she and all her neighbors crowded the balconies, or the streets below, to watch the fire -- a fire with a glow unlike any seen before. Parents were pulling their kids onto the balconies, telling them to watch and remember this unique view. None of them had any clue that what they were really doing was exposing themselves even more to the radiation -- to the pretty glow.

Or, as she put it:

"We didn't know that death could be so beautiful."

Just some thoughts,


Blue on Jane

Just one more peek inside Donald Miller’s Blue Like Jazz.

I was going to pull out the section where he talks about his love affair with Emily Dickinson, in honor of my friend Barbara. And, no, I don’t mean his love of Dickinson’s poetry, I mean his actual crush on the person of Emily. But Donald was too much in love, and talks way too much about her for me to encapsulate here.

So, instead I am including his swipe on Jane Austen, in honor of my friend Tamara.

From Blue Like Jazz:

”Here’s a tip I’ve never used: I understand you can learn a great deal about girldom by reading Pride and Prejudice, and I own a copy, but I have never read it. I tried. It was given to me by a girl with a little note inside that read: What is in this book is the heart of a woman. I am sure the heart of a woman is pure and lovely, but the first chapter of said heart is hopelessly boring. Nobody dies at all. I keep the book on my shelf because girls come into my room, sit on my couch, and eye the books on the adjacent shelf. You have a copy of Pride and Prejudice, they exclaim in a gentle sigh and smile. Yes, I say. Yes, I do.”

Hee, hee.

He isn’t right about Pride, of course, but I’ll defend Jane later. For now, let me revel in whatever potential controversy I may be causing in the Austenion world.

Just my thoughts,


Thursday, April 20, 2006


I recently finished Donald Miller’s Blue Like Jazz. This book came to me highly recommended, so much so that I ignored it for as long as possible. (Is there anything more annoying than seeing that over-hyped movie only to discover that the “greatness” of it was tied directly to the specific situation of the reviewer, and not the quality of the movie? Okay, there are more annoying things -- I have siblings who think the height of hilarity is to intercept a phone call using a phony German accent and tell your caller that you are too busy working for the Gestapo to speak right now. But that movie not being great can also be annoying.)

But my friend Nolte (goes by Scott, for those that don’t know him as well as I do) actually gave me the book, so I had to read it eventually.

And it wasn’t anything like what I thought, or what it is hyped to be. In other words, it is a great book. The subtitle is: “Nonreligious Thoughts on Christian Spirituality.” Don’t be deceived – it is a deeply spiritual book. It just doesn’t read or feel like a spiritual book. And it is a deeply Christ-filled book, which automatically makes it unlike any book you are likely to find in a Christian Bookstore – and certainly a book you won’t find touted by politicians of any stripe.

In fact, I should warn you – any of us who define our religion as “Christ AND …” will be uncomfortable reading this book. So if you define your Christianity as “Christ and Republicanism” or “Christ and Patriotism” or “Christ and Liberalism” or “Christ and Dogmatism” or “Christ and Church Attendance” or “Christ and Tolerance of Everything” or “Christ and Whatever I Can Think Of To Distract Me From Realizing How Uncomfortable It Is In A Room With Just Christ,” there are places where this book will make you look over your shoulder, hoping that no one in the room is reading your soul while you are reading the book. (I know I did; good challenges, good challenges!)

Which sounds heavier than it is – part of the joy of this book is the conversational way that Donald Miller presents his story. It is a journey, a walk through the tea-time of the soul (thank you Doug Adams) as one man tries to figure out if there is a G-d, and if there is, what does that mean?

Here are some of the more challenging and titillating excerpts:

“I believe that the greatest trick of the devil is not to get us into some sort of evil but rather have us wasting time. This is why the devil tries so hard to get Christians to be religious.”

“Passion is tricky, though, because it can point to nothing as easily as it points to something.”

“And if I would have shared Christianity with somebody, it would have felt mostly like I was trying to get somebody to agree with me rather than meet God. I could no longer share anything about Christianity, but I loved talking about Jesus and the spirituality that goes along with a relationship with him.”

“There’s not a lot of work in the Christian market if you won’t write self-righteous, conservative propaganda.”

“If a person senses that you do not like them, that you do not approve of their existence, then your religion and your political ideas will all seem wrong to them. If they sense that you like them, then they are open to what you have to say.”

“Why aren’t actors in London good looking? And I already know the answer to that question, it is that America is one of the most immoral countries in the world and that our media has reduced humans to slabs of meat.”

Intrigued? You may want to read the book. But I’m not hyping it, honest…

Just my thoughts,


Wednesday, April 19, 2006

Oh, the Writer's Life for Me!

Some folk who find out that I make a living as a writing (without realizing that I am a kept man) are curious as to what the life of a writer looks like. Donald Miller, in Blue Like Jazz, captured the essence of the writer’s life rather perfectly, so I will let him explain.

“Writers don’t make any money at all. We make about a dollar. But then again we don’t work either. We sit around in our underwear until noon then go downstairs and make coffee, fry some eggs, read the paper, read part of a book, smell the book, wonder if perhaps we ourselves should work on our book, smell the book again, throw the book across the room because we are quite jealous that any other person wrote a book, feel terribly guilty about throwing the schmuck’s book across the room because we secretly wonder if God in heaven noticed our evil jealousy, or worse, our laziness. We then lie across the couch facedown and mumble to God to forgive us because we are secretly afraid He is going to dry up all our words because we envied another man’s stupid words. And for this, as I said before, we are paid a dollar. We are worth so much more.”

Just my thoughts,


Friday, April 14, 2006

The Way To A Man's Instinct Is Through His Gut

There's a new grant to study the source of "intuition" and "gut feelings".

Cath wonders if they will discover the "Holy Spirit" gene.

Sean is just glad that thinking with his stomach all these years might actually have scientific backing.

Here's an interesting press release from Caltech, "McDonnell Foundation Grant Will Be Used to Study Neurons Involved in Snap Decisions."

Caltech, as you will recall, is where Catherine works either lecturing as a Nobel Prize winning astro-physicist or selling tickets to their public events. I keep forgetting which.

-Sean & Catherine

Thursday, April 13, 2006

Roughing the Ref

Speaking of David Storrs, check out a short flick of his on Atom Films. Hilarious.

This has got to be how the world feels when we Christians start acting like the morality police. Not saying we don’t need a ref on the court, just saying this is how they must feel.

Just my thoughts,


Wednesday, April 12, 2006

Tricks, Tactics and Thomas

How do we absorb information?

My friend David Storrs is a writer and sometimes participant on Hi-Jinks, a Nick at Night reality show where parents play pranks on their kids. Two reactions that got me thinking:

Alan Thicke pranked his kids by dropping them off at a skate-board shop, letting them pick out the board and wheels they wanted, then returning them an hour later to pick up the finished boards. Except when the kids return, it is no longer a skate-board shop, it is a woman’s clothing shop. The old switcheroo.

The kids were having none of it. After going outside to confirm they were at the same place on the same street as before, they decided to trust their gut. Just because the woman at the counter said it wasn’t a skate-board shop didn’t mean it wasn’t; just because it looked like a woman’s clothing shop didn’t make it so. They began checking the walls for nail marks where the boards used to be on display; and comparing the funny-accented sales lady with their memory of the skater chick that sold them their boards.

They investigated.

I like that.

The second was a prank played on a series of individuals. A youngster would be left in a receptionist’s office. The clerk would excuse herself, and ask the child for a favor: if Bob dropped in, give him a package. Once out of sight, she called the desk phone to ask if Bob had dropped in. As soon as the kid said, “No,” BAM! A man would crash through the ceiling and bounce off a desk.

I loved one little girl’s response. She said “no,” and the man crashed through the ceiling, landing at her feet. She then, matter-of-factly said, “Wait, he just dropped in.” Then, on prompt, she handed him the package. No disbelief, no outrageous surprise. She was told an adult would drop in, and an adult dropped in. Not the way she imagined, but he did indeed drop in. The action fit what she was told, so she calmly accepted it.

I like that too.

I guess this is why I’m a moderate. Investigate everything, do not take things at face value; and yet, when something fits, accept it – even if it requires a leap of faith to do so.

I wonder if this is the kind of dichotomy Jesus was getting at with Thomas after the resurrection. He sanctions Thomas’ need to investigate (he does not rebuke Thomas for doubting, check out John chapter 20 if you doubt me on that), and at the same time blesses those that believe without seeing.

Thomas chose to investigate when he heard things that contradicted his senses. But when events fit what Jesus had told him earlier, even though in a way Thomas never could have imagined, he readily accepted and believed with his whole heart and mind.

May I ever be like Thomas.

Just my thoughts,


Tuesday, April 11, 2006

There's Code In Them Thar Hills

“Just sloppy rumors on the playground. If you’re going to bring up adult topics, do adult research.”

That was an aside by my Pastor, Mark Brewer, this Sunday in reference to the umpteenth rediscovery of the Gospel Acording to Judas. His words aptly describe my feelings on the “research” that created the theory on which Dan Brown’s The DaVinci Code is based.

I do have to admit that it was amusing to me to follow the recent trial, as Dan Brown was sued by the authors of Holy Blood, Holy Grail, who claimed Dan stole their nonfiction work in his fictional book. (Mr. Brown won, by the way.) What I found amusing was that the researchers had to argue that their purely historical research could not possibly be copied by another researcher, essentially since they pretty much made it all up. But they had to make that claim without coming right out and saying they made it up. As I said, amusing.

As the book is approaching its launch onto the silver screen, I thought I would share some of my “best” thoughts on the subject:


I’d go secular, preferably with the PBS doc: The Real DaVinci Code, hosted by Tony Robinson (of Black Adder fame). He gives the novel and the theories their fair due; and approaches the topic from a historical and scientific point of view. And has a fun, humorous journey in doing so.


Dan Brown pointing out his work in the church choir as a defense of his faith. His faith isn’t in question – it is his work not his faith that is a bestseller (I don’t presume to know anything about his faith, as I can’t read hearts). And the work is based on the principle that Jesus wasn’t divine and the church is, from beginning to end, a fraud.


Erik Metaxes providing Screwtape’s response to the book on Dick Staub’s blog. Not a recent article, but recently brought to my attention.


The Othercott. As readers of this blog know, I am not a fan of boycotts. However, Janet Batchler is promoting an alternative for those that do not want to encourage Hollywood to make movies that are intentionally offensive to people of faith. When The DaVinci Code opens (the weekend of May 19), do NOT stay away from the cinemas. Go. But don’t go to The Code; instead vote with your dollars by going to another movie (like Over The Hedge).

You see, the studios put great stock in the numbers on opening weekend. If a lot of people go to the Code (and they will), and a lot of people don’t go to the movies, then the Code numbers will look relatively huge. But if a lot of people go to the Code, and a lot more people go to see, say, Over The Hedge, then it will look like people are more interested in movies like The Hedge than in movies like The Code.

If one wants to/plans to see the Code, see it the second or third weekend. Or wait for the video.

I can get behind that idea. Let’s see if it works.

Just my thoughts,


PS This entry is in no way intended to impugn the beliefs or values of Ron Howard or Tom Hanks, or any of the folks involved in the movie. I am a great fan of Mssrs. Howard and Hanks, of their work, their work ethic, and the choices they make; and will continue to support both of them in their artistic endeavors. I’m just not a fan of the content of one particular project. So don’t go accusing me of Hank Hatin’, it just won’t stick.

Monday, April 10, 2006

A Few Flickering Moments of Insight

Two quotes on writing from Anne Lamott's Bird by Bird thatI am finding relevant and challenging as I work on my novel (yes, I am working on a novel. Sheesh, is that so hard to believe?):

"Risk being unliked. Tell the truth as you understand it. If you're a writer, you have a moral obligation to do this. And it is a revolutionary act -- truth is always subversive."

"Telling these truths is your job. You have nothing else to tell us. But needless to say, you can't tell them in a sentence or a paragraph; the truth doesn't come out in bumper stickers. There may be a flickering moment of insight in a one-liner, in a sound bite, but everyday meat-and-potato truth is beyond our ability to capture in a few words. Your whole piece is the truth, not just one shining epigrammatic moment in it."

Just some of her thoughts,


No Bowl No More

Sad to report that due to cuts in program length, my wife will not be performing at the Hollywood Bowl this Easter.



Thursday, April 06, 2006

A Genius Prank

Apparently, the curriculum at MIT is just too easy, leaving students with WAY too much time on their hands.

On March 28th, the Caltech cannon was stolen...

First reported as grand theft, the news of its abduction made headlines today.

This is how smart people spend their days. Crazy!

Tuesday, April 04, 2006

Joss of the Future

Joss Whedon, among my favorite of television writers, did a guest column on the TV Guide website. In it he predicts the future of television. In a humorous, Joss Whedon kind of way.

Thanks to Jeff for the linkage.


Moving Faster Than My Body

The setting is the airport in Seattle, where I am waiting for the red-eye to Virginia so I can try and sleep my way into Eastern Standard Time. My teaching and consulting requires a certain amount of traveling – if you need to know how much travel, it is just a few trips more than my wife can stand me being on.

So I’m sitting here thinking – the moving walkway in the last stretch between gates A10 and A11 threw me a bit. I held firmly to the handrail, already in the sleep-deprived stupor that I hoped to take advantage of once in flight, when I realized that my feet were moving faster than my hands. Or, more accurately, the treadmill part of the walkway was moving faster than the handrail, and my body was being slowly pulled back away from my legs.

I was moving faster than I could move. Or at least part of me was moving faster than I could keep up.

Easily solved; let go of the handrail and straighten up. Works on the moving walkway; but does that work as a metaphor in life? When moving faster than your body can keep up, should one let go of that which is moving slower?

Or is the real answer to not be on a walkway that moves faster than the handrail?

Sometimes, I imagine, the latter. Perhaps more often, the former.

But I so love clutching the handrail.

It makes it easier to go through life in a sleep-deprived stupor.

Just my thoughts,


Monday, April 03, 2006


The newest game sensation sweeping the nation: Airport Please-Don’t-Sit-Next-To-Me Bingo.

Contestant number one: The screaming baby over by the window with the pacing mother. Mom looks frantic and too young to have a child. Will the put-upon woman be able to assuage the child’s pain during take off and landing? Will any sleep be achieved on the flight if the adorable child practices her vocal prowess in the seat next to yours? Will her high soprano shrieks shatter the windows in the plane, causing you and all of your belongings to be sucked out into space?

Contestant number two: The guy with the controlled but loud voice, insisting, “I don’t care if you get an abortion, I just want to know why. Are you looking for a better gene pool? Is there something about my D.N.A. that just doesn’t pass muster?” Curiosity over the other side of the phone conversation is quickly dismissed as it becomes clear that he isn’t on the phone; the voice he is responding to is in his head. His conversation gets louder and more insistent; then, in an unexpected twist, changes to a faux Scottish accent. Suddenly, Willie the groundskeeper is graphically insisting in full voice that he’ll match his genetic material to any man’s in the country. Who wouldn't want to be strapped next to this guy for a five hour flight?

Contestant number three: The angry, angry man who is literally stomping on his luggage. His stomping has a purpose: he is forcing the overstuffed Samsonite bag into the metal “your bag must fit into this space or be checked” frame. The bag squeezes down inch by inch, and the man stands triumphant, one foot still on the bag, as he turns to the airline personnel with a bitter, “See?! I told you!” The woman at the gate tries hard to keep a straight face as the man knocks the entire apparatus on its side, attempting to free his bag from its enforced imprisonment. His is the rage that turns a man green, and rips his purple pants.

And the winner is: The pre-toddling opera singer in training, who is positioned two rows in front of you. But mom does all of motherhood proud: the babe only makes her presence known on take-off and landing. One would guess Angry Bagman remained agitated for the entire flight.

Just my thoughts,