Thursday, November 30, 2006

Beyond the City Gates

My Great Books Club spent the last two months on John Steinbeck’s East of Eden. I have to say, despite the daunting size of the book (I got extra air miles on all my recent trips, because the hefty tome counted as a travel companion) I thoroughly enjoyed the read.

I missed last months meeting due to my Florida trip; a blessing, as I didn’t have to rush my read. The book is that good.

I will share Steinbeck’s words on the church and how the Hebrew word for “thou mayest” might just be the most important word in human language at some point in the future.

For this post, I wanted to share a section that struck deep inside me, as it should for anyone considering entering the worlds of theatre, film or television.

This is Lee, quoting his father:

“There’s more beauty in the truth, even if it is dreadful beauty. The storytellers at the city gate twist life so that it looks sweet to the lazy and the stupid and the weak, and this only strengthens their infirmities and teaches nothing, cures nothing, nor does it let the heart soar.”

Just my thoughts,


Tuesday, November 28, 2006

Blick Van Glory, And In That Order

Todd Edwards, co-writer and composer of HOODWINKED, has a band.

And the band has a song.

And the song has a video.

And it made me laugh.

Just my thoughts,


T.J. Speaks Out

A friend sent us a new blog link. Welcome tothe twisted mind of T.J. Dallas. Warning: the site contains some language, alcohol use, and comparisons of meditation to bowel movements.

Favorite quote from the page (the section on how to start a bar room brawl): “Hey, play something by The Partridge Family, ‘cause I’m gonna beat you like a tambourine.”

Just my thoughts,


Friday, November 24, 2006

Things You Never Want To Hear...

But my family members have heard:

From the guy fixing the toilet, “It might be a little late to ask, but do you know where the shut off valve is?”

From an obstetrician, “I’m sure I can put that back in.”

From your partner in pinochle, “Are clubs the ones with the round edges?”

From a small child in a bathroom: “How did that happen?”

Just my thoughts,


Sunday, November 19, 2006

And Straight On 'Til Morning...

It’s not like exercise is my thing, but with a free-flowing diet of bite size snickers and dark chocolate kisses and sweet tarts and trinity triple chocolate ice cream, well, exercise wasn’t a bad idea.

The first night of jogging was glorious – seven out of ten retreat attenders in a group. The joy of solidarity helped ease the muscle pain and the griping lungs.

We all agreed that it was wonderful to run as a group, all looked forward to doing it again on a regular basis, and all knew that this was the last time we would all be in work-out agreement.

The more sensible stopped running at night; the half-sensible cut down the number of jogs; the insane started counting the miles in double digits. I was in the middle group, running every couple of nights or so.

The best night, there were three of us, and instead of turning left at the end of the access road – which would have led us toward the lights and comfort of the nearest town – we turned right.

Away from streetlights, into the unknown, into the dark.

Oncoming headlights were blinding, forcing the pace to slow so the sensation of sneaker on asphalt could keep us on the path. The weeds to one side whipped the legs of the one who veered too close to the edge. The swamp on the other side warned the errant jogger with a squish.

But once the cars disappeared and the lights of society were far enough behind, the sky became alive.

Orion’s outline filled out with muscles and flesh of countless stars. The three sisters stood in a group of women, nattering to the crowd. The dippers dripping with astral soup; the ram leapt over blockades of galaxies.

We ran face up, my companions and I, our feet bouncing off the earth, our imaginations bouncing off the sky.

I’m sure there is a metaphor in there; a pack of artists running away from civilization, but running together – a combination of unified isolation running into beauty.

And even more meaning could be found in the group turning back towards home, carrying the memory of the heavens back to the light of men.

But to be honest, I don’t care about the metaphor.

I just liked reveling in the stars.

Just my thoughts,


Thursday, November 16, 2006

The Writers With In

Highlights thus far of working with these writers at the Art Within retreat:

-Watching Stranger than Fiction, a pic perfect to watch with writers.

-Watching the porch furniture fly over the railing, while wondering if the tornado warning would elevate enough to transport us to Oz (the technicolor version, not the prison version).

-Crowding the men's room at the Golden Corral, as we took turns laughing at the super-powered hand dryer causing ripples in each other's arm fat.

-Figuring out how to hook up downloaded Heroes episodes to the big tv, because some things aren't worth sacrificing.

-Watching the South Park kids create a Christian rock band with a room full of people that truly get how funny that really is.

-Blocking the windows with post its of faith representations in movies that include titles such as diverse as Dusk Til Dawn, Star Trek V, X-Men II, Haunted Mansion and Beneath the Planet of the Apes.

Oh, and I think some screenwriting has been going on as well. Not sure though, as I've been distracted by the combination Scrabble/Poker games.

Just my thoughts,


Wednesday, November 15, 2006

Bob's Blue Choice

Bob Newhart was the guest on TV Land’s Sit Down Comedy with David Steinberg. David started to ask Newhart why he never used blue material in his comedy, even though David hinted that Bob certainly could have.

Newhart’s response: “Well, I know the words.”

They never got back to the question, as they veered into talking about doing Roasts, which inevitably turn blue.

Newhart gave an anecdote about Roasts, a completely clean one. David then gave his anecdote, a blue one (although a soft PG by today’s standards).

I found that interesting.

Both knew the words. Both were talking about the same topic. They just made two different choices.

I guess with enough creativity, we always have a choice.

Just my thoughts,


Tuesday, November 14, 2006

Getting Involved

So Heather kind of made me read this book.

We were talking about books that we love, pushing our favorites on each other, tsking in disbelief over the ones that the other hasn’t read, despite calling themselves intelligent and wise.

And we finished the conversation with, “I should lend this book to you,” and “Of course, I’d love to read it.”

Heather is still young, and naively handed me the book that I said, “Of course” to, not getting that insincerity is a hallmark of any good, casual “how-are-things-going, fine-and-you?” relationship. Problem is, Heather is an actual friend and treats me as such.

So I’m reading this book. And it’s turning out to be good, dag-nab it.

Getting Involved With God: Rediscovering the Old Testament by Ellen F. Davis isn’t all that deep, which is a good thing; and it is practical, which is another good thing. Her approach isn’t based off scholastic mining or obtuse interpretations. She’s more of a, “Gee, this is what it says, so let’s treat it that way” kind of gal.

Now, I’m only up to the section on the Psalms, and it may turn to mud when she gets on to Moses, but let me share a thought from the book while I’m still a fan.

In the first chapter on the Psalms, she points out that the church tends to gloss over these poems in part because they go against our man-made beliefs on what a conversation with G-d should be. She points out some false ideas that hinder modern prayer, such as (and remember, these are false ideas):

-“G-d does not have any use for our anger.”

-“There is no place for fear or despair in the Christian life.”

-“You must never, ever be mad at G-d.”

Here’s a follow up that hit me hard:

“The problem with all these notions of prayer is that we cannot have an intimate relationship with someone to whom we cannot speak honestly – that is, someone to whom we cannot show our ugly side, or those large clay feet of ours.”

Amen, sister. Amen.

Just my thoughts,


Monday, November 13, 2006

Light Thinking

I’ve been thinking a lot about the simplicity and complexity of Christ and the Christian walk. I’ve been thinking a lot about the misuse of such complexities, and the abuse of over-simplification.

I’ve been thinking a lot about James, and the sects that don’t like James and why, and the sects that embrace James when they can get away with only part of his teachings.

I’ve been thinking about my place in that spectrum, and how my thinking should be altered or challenged.

I was thinking about all that while waiting for mass to begin this morning, because Miguel and I got to the church early, so there was plenty of time for thinking.

And while I was thinking, the little girl in front of me gasped. She had spied the candles that led the processional behind us; she realized that a parade was in progress.

Her eyes went wide, her mouth forming a soundless “O”; she stared and followed the light and the cross and the Word as it moved among us.

She made a single clap, holding her hands tight around the sheer wonder of the moment, not willing to let it go.

And I thought that I think too much, and cleared my mind to make space for childish wonder.

Just my thoughts,


Saturday, November 11, 2006

I'm Half Crazy, All For the Love of You...

Continued from the previous post on “Bicycle Built for Two” and my father:

#3 -- It is a bittersweet song.

The melody is bouncing and joyful. The lyrics are about a rejected proposal of love. There is a sense of joy – or maybe it’s peace – being brought into what could have been merely tragic or merely tearful.

I suppose this speaks to an entire worldview, a perseverance combined with insight into all things working for good that makes the unbearable bearable.

If I were to get all psycho-analytical about it, I would guess that bringing up “Bicycle” on that particular subway ride with Mimi was a way of bringing the comfort and wisdom of my father into a situation where I didn’t have my father himself.

When I was a kid, another student in my class passed away. Not someone I knew real well, but that was the first death of someone my age. My dad took me to the wake.

He didn’t say much on the ride there. He let me ramble; I can’t remember what I talked about.

He didn’t say much on the way back. We stopped at a drug store, and he bought me a small bag of M & Ms.

He didn’t say much; yet he shared with me a great wisdom. There are times when the most astute insight is silence -- quiet comfort. And where the only appropriate answer to big sorrows are small graces.

Mimi and I would sing that song often after that. It was always a celebration; always a connection.

#4 -- It is a self-deprecating song.

My dad, as I said before, was a judge, which implies a certain comportment of dignity. But one can’t take oneself too seriously, and choose to be on the receiving end of “You’re half crazy if you think that that will do!”

I find it interesting that my dad enjoyed being on the goofy end of a goofy proposal song.

Not that there is any of that false humility going on here – in fact, it takes a level of security in oneself to be open to a decent ribbing. It is said of Johnny Carson that he was funny when he was “on;” but he was hilarious when he bombed.

It was in taking the badness of the joke onto himself – transferring the failure into human foible – that redeemed the joke. And in the process, bolstered his dignity. (As opposed to a selfish “I don’t get any respect” tack.)

My dad has a humor that, by embracing the goofy, embraces humanity.

It is a humor of grace.

I suppose to be complete in my profile, I should also do an in depth analysis of his other song.

Would it be too much of a stretch to find spiritual profundity in “Little Brown Jug?”

Just my thoughts,


Friday, November 10, 2006

Happy 231st Birthday!

Our niece, Elena (daughter of Luke Gaffney, 2nd Lt. US Marines currently stationed in Iraq) would like to wish a happy birthday (and a round of applause) to all the Marines who have served and are currently serving our country.

November 10th, 1775, the Corps was born as the Continental Congress raised the "first and second battalions of American Marines."

We're praying for you!

Semper Fi

PS: Thanks Sarah for the link and photo!

Thursday, November 09, 2006

Daisy, Daisy, Won't You Please Answer True...

I was listening to an NPR feature that has someone talking about the most influential song from their childhood. That got me to wonder about my own influences. Hence this entry.

My father isn’t known for singing. Outside of church, I’ve really only heard him sing two songs, most often “Bicycle Built for Two.”

May seem on odd choice, but I think one can learn a lot about my father by examining this song – and perhaps even more of my view of my dad. So, what does “Bicycle Built for Two” say?

#1 -- It is a funny song.

Most of my friends thought my dad was scary. I suppose it was because he was a judge for his day job, and carried the gravitas of his work life home. He didn’t have an infectious laugh, and certainly was not a giggler.

But in truth, he was a man of off-beat and sly humor – one hidden behind a straight face.

In our family, if you missed school you wanted my mom to write the note. She would mention illness, barfing bouts or visits to the doctor. Dad didn’t think inside that box.

He was more likely to send you in with a note such as (true story): “Sean didn’t make it to school yesterday. He got lost in a phone booth. He has since found his way out, and is now able to return to school.”

Did I mention off-beat?

#2 -- It is a duet, and thus a communal song.

The story is that my dad would sing that song as a kid with his cousin. Sure, one could sing it alone, as my dad often did. But it was made clear that the song was meant to be sung with another.

And not just any other, but one that you are connected with. You can’t sing, “I’m half crazy all for the love of you” with just any old body. Nope; you duet on this song with someone, and like it or not, you now have a bond.

I taught the song to Mimi on the subway, returning from a funeral – a friend we lost during our college days. We dealt with the oddity of grieving and the enormity of the mortal world with “It won’t be a stylish marriage, I can’t afford a carriage…”

To be continued…

Just my thoughts,


Wednesday, November 08, 2006

On the Road Again

This time I am in Florida, working with a screenwriters’ retreat. This trip is a couple of weeks, which I suppose isn’t that long in the grand scheme of things.

What is long is that I didn’t have internet capability until now. I had to spend five whole days focused on things at hand, paying attention to my fellow human beings that share my time-space continuum.

I’ve had to talk with people without typing; looking at each other with no screen protecting us.

I’ve had to play cards with people at the same table as me, relearning how to laugh without the use of parentheses and colons.

I’ve had to figure out what the weather was like by looking out the window, or going the extra drastic phase of stepping outside and experience weather corporeally.

I may even be experiencing life corporeally.

Man, existence can be hard sometimes.

I could take a walk right now on the beach, feeling the sand between my toes and giggling at the shock of a cold wave, all while marveling in G-d’s creation… But the internet is back up, so maybe I’ll just download a few ocean screenshots instead.

Just my thoughts,


Friday, November 03, 2006

Good Grief

You’re a Good Man, Charlie Brown is an oddball of a musical. More of a revue, really, a collection of four-panel comic strips put into the mouths of actors, book-ended by music.

I am a huge fan of Charles Schultz’ strip.

When I was a kid, I thought I was Charlie Brown – right down to a crush on a little red-haired girl. And recently, when my wife took me on a surprise trip to the Grand Canyon, I made her stop at Needles, Ca. (Extra credit for the person that knows why…)

So I was glad to relive the old four panels – Charlie not having the courage to talk to the little red-haired girl, Snoopy refusing to chase rabbits, Lucy planning her future life with a musician.

But with no overarching story – only a vague character arc for Charlie – this is a hard musical to pull off. When my wife and I saw a production recently, she leaned over to me half-way through and asked, “How does something like this become a success on Broadway… Twice?”

The answer lies in the imagination of the production, requiring the same outside-the-box thinking that Schultz used to fuel a strip that had a dog flying a sopwith camel, a kid hero-worshipping Joe Shablotnik, and a second baseman able to throw out a runner using the whip action of a security blanket.

Fortunately for my wife and I, the choreographer of the Vox Humana production we saw had such an imagination in spades. The show sparkled every time someone started to dance (the cast was mostly non-dancers – a sign of brilliant choreography that the audience didn’t notice); the best laughs and most heart-felt moments were contained within the movement.

Schultz would have been proud.

In the spirit of full disclosure, the choreographer, Jodi Shilling Little, is a good friend of mine. But then again, if I didn’t like her work, you wouldn’t be hearing about it at all. So there.

As to the rest of the production… It didn’t hold up as well.

The direction was pedestrian – suicide for this kind of piece. And the actors, with some exception (most notably Charlie Brown – played by an actor’s whose name escapes me, and thus forfeiting the shout out he deserves) played adults pretending to be kids – in direct opposition to the spirit of Schultz, who created a world of real kid commenting unfettered on an adult world.

So, the final review of this production? Inspired in parts, flat in others.

As to the original strip, I suppose Snoopy’s (and therefore Schultz’) words will do for me:

“It warms the cookies of my heart.”

Just my thoughts,


For more cookie warming, head to the Peanuts official site.

Favorite Family Halloween moments...

that I wasn't there for.

Story time with Uncle Mark. (NY)

Elena monkeying around. (NC)

Olivia bumbles her way through the evening. (CA)

Wednesday, November 01, 2006

Hood is Good!

Friend Cory's movie, Hoodwinked, has some great news -- but I will let him tell that at his blog.

While there, read the entertaining updates on his writing life -- including the new Turtles movie (of the teenaged, mutant kind) and the Escape from Planet Earth update.

I've been wanting to mention his involvement in Turtles for some time, but as I heard about it first through a certain studio that I have a certain non-disclosure agreement with, I couldn't tout it -- until now!

Just my thoughts,