Tag Archives: open mind

Mental Rattlesnakes and Ego Implants

Birdman-Movie-Poster-Michael-Keaton

 

In Birdman Michael Keaton plays a desperately successful actor riding a new play into an uncertain destiny. His fame weighs on the new show he is opening on Broadway.

Critics unimpressed with his selling out to the big time lurk in the saloons of Time Square waiting to pounce. They are ready to fell this bombastic super star for daring to descend from Hollywood back to Broadway where he has the nerve to write, direct and star in a new show. It is a desecration.

He is rotten with doubt, miserable in his quest and racked with fear and delusion. If that is not enough the whole stinking mess backstage is hysterically pathologic to the point of being so chaotic as to be hilarious.

If we could rip open the actors head without mortally wounding him then look inside we would see that thing we were worried might kill him is waiting just the other side of his skull. It is his date with immortality.

There are a constellation of other players and people in the film. They are all there in the libidinous tumult that is opening a new show.

None of that matters so much as the fact that Keaton is in a creative corner of his own making, a predicament that took a lifetime to conjure up; a pyrotechnic head trip in wide screen living color. It’s career daredevilry in Panavision.

Birdman: The Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance is a send up to all of us who awaken to the self-inflicted fix we are caught in at this latter stage of our careers. We are suckered into taking one more foolish bite of the apple.

Now me, I am just back from being on stage six nights a week for two months. I thought I might be cracking under the pressure. I thought maybe there was something wrong, that I no longer had it. That’s what unconsciousness and questing for immortality will do.

As the lyric goes, “The road gets rougher, it’s lonelier and it’s tougher…” And then I come home to this brilliant film… Birdman!

 

“According to the package on my underwear it says that when I put on my briefs that I will be able to stride in confidence.GetTNI put two pair on now I am twice as confident.”

 

Lord of the Styles

Flatbush small

 

 

This moment’s style and fashion is so obvious. House of Cards has it, Veep deploys it, and Silicon Valley is based upon it.

Lenny Bruce skewered the sacred by roasting it atop the fires of the profane hypocrisy’s he alone seemed capable of speaking about.

And for each act taking one tack there is another cohort heading off in another. Nancy Meyers comes to mind, Seinfeld seems to wield this same aim, Nora Ephron… Then, there is the illustrative past including the direction of Frank Capra, George Cukor, and Howard Hawks.

Mel Brooks seemed to relish the hijinks of the soul of the Marx Brothers. Where Lenny Bruce failed at late night television an equally prolific and volatile Richard Pryor found the means of performing in this setting.

An adorable Eddie Izzard seems almost tame. Hedwig and the Angry Inch feature’s a transgender East German singer. The Book of Mormon if you search online will produce a vast stream of essays on the where to draw the line on what is too vulgar or obscene, and what we ought to do when sitting in a theater and what we are watching outrages us.

It is one thing to be the audience and another to be the creator. What seems clear is that once a project is conceived the skill is in working all the way to the edge of the style that the creator has invented. You do shock jock radio? You work to that edge. You do breezy afternoon commuter type banal styled talk radio you work to that side of the dial.

It comes as no surprise that given the crass bombast passing for political discourse that the cultural artistic entertainment community finds itself pulled in the same direction. Better the bomb throwing pugilistic types take their seat at the head of class. Oprah was a one of a kind and she’s off air and done.

Each of us that work’s in the narrative arts allows for some choice to approach. Any can work. We bow to the masters of one kind admiring their skills and talent while we remain on our own path.

The finger to the wind approach vexes integrity. Mel Brooks has to be Mel Brooks, and thank the gods for that. For the moment, at least this point in time, House of Cards, Veep and Silicon Valley are banking on finding their audience share by leaning hard upon one particular edge in a world that is in fact far more diverse than they can afford to allow for. In short there is a limit, every style can only take you so far, and from there you are on your own.

Will You Still Love Me Tomorrow…

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You say you want a revolution

The long term fallout to the disaster known as the global financial crisis is playing out on the right sided spectrum of the political scene. Economic anxiety translates into a turbulent, unpredictable, heated voiced, violence prone mob rule. Let’s go first to a little nugget from Andrew Sullivan. (for those not in the know, he is a gay conservative, if that is even possible.)

“In other words, this is not just a cold civil war. It is also a religious war – between fundamentalism and faith, between totalism and tradition, between certainty and reasoned doubt. It may need to burn itself out – with all the social and economic and human damage that entails. Or it can be defeated, as Lincoln reluctantly did to his fanatical enemies, or absorbed and coopted, as Elizabeth I did hers over decades. But it will take time. The question is what will be left of America once it subsides, and how great a cost it will have imposed.”

In other words not only do we have to worry about our ice caps melting and climate change sparking an extinction event, but wait for it, now we get to worry about the primitives and tribalists who are so sure that they don’t like what they see that they are willing to do whatever is necessary to insure that nobody likes what they see.

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Where to get your food while the tribes quarrel

But, all is not lost. Politics is one thing, but a skilled economist is another, and for this we turn to John McCain’s economic advisor during his run against Obama, punching way above his actual weight, let’s listen now to Mark Zandi, a man working for Moody Economics

The stalemate in Washington also may have long-term economic consequences for the U.S. as international investors grow wary of investing there, Mr. Zandi said.

“You will hear increasing calls and actual efforts to diversify away from the U.S.,” he predicted. “It could in fact impair this very strong economy that we have.”

The solution? Washington should “do nothing. Literally nothing,” Mr. Zandi said. “No change at all for the next three-four years. Let the private economy do its thing.”

Once the economy starts growing at a faster cliff, policymakers should consider making changes to rein in government spending and cut the U.S. debt, he said.

Nothing trumps something when if you try to do something what crawls out of its hole looks like Sarah Palin, spits nonsense like Grover Norquist, and has the face of Joe McCarthy (hi Teddy Cruz). The vast sea of ordinary citizens trying to enjoy the ride of one lifespan here on earth have literally been drawn into a grand coitus interuptus.

I can explain in shorthand what needs to happen, anybody can. Raise taxes on corporations and the wealthy, get control of health care spending, and do something about climate change.

There, see, it isn’t that difficult now is it?

But, as it sits at this moment the mob would become so flipped out by anything other than getting their way or the highway that we can go back to Zandi’s prescriptive and of course even that milk toast proposal, the do nothing proposal will not be easily sustainable against the right wing heavyweight championship of the post-confederate-cause that will be playing out across the country.

Nothing really here that a few decades on holiday in Costa Rica might not cure…

http://blogs.wsj.com/economics/2013/10/16/corrosive-political-conflict-is-holding-back-u-s-growth/ http://dish.andrewsullivan.com/2013/10/16/the-tea-party-as-a-religion/

Voluptuous Economics and Stingy Sweethearts

MONDRAGON Corporation is a business-based socioeconomic initiative with deep roots in the Basque Country… Fosters participation and the involvement of people in the management, profits and ownership of their companies, developing a shared project which unites social, business and personal progress.

From Mondragon’s website

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If the Best is Yet Come, Exactly What was All of That?

Answer: Global Financial Crisis

There is a challenge to making economics sexy while at the same time making sexy economical. I suppose we all know sex sells, but what a writer needs to do is find the means of selling elements in a story that at first blush don’t look as alluring. I was at the Commonwealth Club of San Francisco last night listening to Sadhguru and Paul Hawken’s enter into a freeform conversation. One an Indian mystic (he didn’t disappoint) while the other a bestselling ecology author (heart in right place) go back on forth on the vast topic of nurturing into this earth a capitalism of sustainable and transformational economics. All of this came by way of my being introduced to Yale’s Literary Theory scholar Paul Fry’s extraordinary lectures (all for free at iTunes University) regarding the use of economics authors use when writing narrative fiction. Paul Fry explains in no uncertain terms that all modern fiction is rooted in Marx and Engel’s works. By use of their framework and reference point we can locate where we fit. So, for example capitalism is off to the right of communism, while cooperatives are somewhere left of capitalism. I’ll leave it to the scholars to explain where our revolutionary-socialist-Muslim-Kenyan President fits into this scheme. Making the economics of a thing isn’t all that sexy, but for a books success you damn well have to try. So, try this… First, how does an individual fit into a particular system? Second, how does the society benefit from each individuals effort? And last and most important of all! Can we tell a story about that relationship? A narrative that arouses passion, a story that makes some kind of sense, and can we do it soon? If you haven’t noticed our current story is at risk of a not so happy ending. “Okay, everybody, quiet on the set, let’s take it from the top…”

HOT SPRING HONEYMOON

Tallula jutted her jaw out. She walked around the other side of the fire pit, skinny in jeans, smallest woman of them all, “I remember, first off,” Tallula said unbuttoning her shirt, “you started dating Sharlene, and one night you came knocking at my door, you called out through the screen all innocent like, pretending as if you didn’t know exactly what you were doing, you said, ‘Sharlene’s not feeling so good,’ that’s what you said, ‘maybe we might sit on the sofa, have a beverage, and talk a while, before I go home.’ Those were your exact words. I’ll never forget.”

Sharlene was on the other side of the fire pit with the others, “thought it was the right thing to do. I wasn’t in love with Fletcher, not yet.”

Fletcher’s eyes shot toward Sharlene’s.

Market Testing Narrative Or How I Celebrated My Vegetative State of Mind

boom

 

Solving Equation of a Hit Film Script, With Data New York Times May 6, 2013 Front Page (Below the Fold)

 

Time heals all things. Yesterday while flying back from Seattle I choked down this front pager from the NYT on the notion of using data before the making of a script into a movie. Wounded as the feral writing animal I am the notion of data supplanting the intuition, experience, and imagination incensed the very core of my humanity. Of course the bottom lines of feature films more and more resemble narrative equations that temporarily beguile the viewer, but like so much that is disposable in this moment in the world of commerce the viewing makes us full yet unfulfilled. For the humanity in us requires that we be immersed in experiences we expected yet until this moment had never found. Great narrative is the commitment to explore the cosmos, both its most interior parts and its most eternal. The artist is the indispensable gills that net out of the world’s waters the truths that will yield life sustaining insight.

“Gregor Mendel uncovered the secrets of genetic inheritance with just enough data to fill a notebook. The important thing is gathering the right data, not gathering some arbitrary quantity of it.”

Christopher Mims,

Most Data isn’t Big, and Businesses are Wasting Money Pretending it is

 

HOT SPRING HONEYMOON

“I am not a sacred type being,”

“Fletcher McCrea,” Keefe argued, “You are just what the good lord needs.”

“I don’t even go to church,”

“Everybody knows that,” Keefe said. “What’s even better there isn’t a soul in town less likely to invoke a sense of the divine.”

“I should stick to what I’m good at.”

“The last thing we need is someone actually pretending to be truly sacred come out here and muck up everything.”

 

 

The Truth of the Thing

“I asked Norman Mailer which of the other art forms he thought being a novelist was closest to. “Acting,” he said.

Under the Influence, Andrew O’Hagen.  April 27, 2013 Financial Times

Petaluma Turning Basin

Following the River, Guided by the Light

WHAT WE USE

Most of us are familiar with the list of elements that the novelist utilizes in the building of a story. Here and there the best of the writers point at one element or another. How a character reads off the page influences our sense of the truth of the thing. Their behavior allows us to be swept along trusting that what will happen corresponds to our understanding of humanity. And so the actor/writer feels their way into the scene. We inhabit the scene and stake out what a character would do if placed in circumstances such as those we find in a story. What may not be as obvious is that regardless of the premise, the plotting, the outline, character sketches etc… there remains the task of entering into the realm of the situation. We net out the truth and dispose of what rings false. Most of it is by trial and error. Sometimes we nail it on the first attempt while at other times the task eludes us completely and we are forced to reconceive the entire circumstance we’ve concocted. Story proceeds by characterization. From there anything can happen so long as our expectations of how that person might act or speak rings true.

HOT SPRING HONEYMOON

“Hazel Harwood! I aim to peel you like an apple, lick you like a lollypop.”

Hazel froze in her tracks. She knew that voice. She slow turned and bent down picked up first thing she could find. It was a rock.

Keefe smiled and waved his arms wild like over his head.

She threw that rock at Keefe as hard as she could.

Keefe was so excited that she’d noticed him. “Ain’t she something…”

When Comedy Goes for Help

Make them laugh, make them laugh..

 

Today I’ll harvest sage wisdom from two comic minds. One is a silent clown, the second a gypsy magician.

The silent act has spent much of the past few decades doing cabaret inEuropewhen he wasn’t doing odd arena style opening work for major musical acts. The magician by contrast has played everything from children’s cartoon show feature, to authoring of the Klutz Book of Magic, from large venue stage shows to very intimate venues where he roves the crowd performing close up.

Having blended my life from all show business, on stage, full time, 300-500 shows per year, into part show business full time novelist, completing a novel about every 21 months, and presenting some 100-150 shows per year, my comic muscle remains in shape while the minds and imaginations of my two associates remain honed and their instinct for what is funny sharp.

Literary fiction is a realm with a different set of rules than the set that comes with a variety show stage act. There is an intersection, a place where they overlap, and one can inform the other. The secret is to know not just what to do (entertainer) but knowing something about how to do it (author.)

Still, in developing the outline to Hot Spring Honeymoon what I have is now a set of potentials. My friends are relentless imaginations. The silent clown is ever obsessed with any slight, least, moment he can exploit for his own mirth making purposes. He is granular, sees the world through a lens that is of its own kind.

The magician is different still. He is concerned with illusion, trickery, surprise and revelation. It isn’t what the performer sees from stage, but what his audience sees, and as an illusionist first and funny guy second, he understands the intermediation that good narrative demands.

Both know situations that are inherently funny offer a power that a singular funny line does not. They have a nose for circumstance, have strengthened their instincts to respond to opportunities.

I will go with a hundred ideas and return with a thousand. A few of these ideas will be worth their weight in fools gold. We write alone at a desk. We write what we know. Pieces of what we come to know have been generously donated to us. Sometimes it comes as a gift from the well seasoned comic minds of veteran showmen.

Available at Amazon and Barnes and Noble

 

 

Resisting Change

Chattering Change

 

Things change whether we want them to or not. I recall that turning twenty-one could not come fast enough and that sixty is coming up too quick. What’s that about? Winter is too long, the weekend too short. Curiosities perhaps or a clue to something else going on. Giving our attention to change around us is different than wanting things to change. Placement of our desires in the path of change can put us right into the path of an oncoming change we might not be an advocate for. On the other hand we can make it even worse by reacting as things swing back and forth. The basic idea of the thing is to watch as the world does what it does and try not to get in the worlds way. We can go in the direction we feel best while appreciating that even that isn’t good enough sometimes. Creating a fictional character asks of an author to figure out how a character reacts to change. Our best choices are not necessarily our first choice. Sometimes it is choiceless. What is extra is our reacting to change. Here is the high art of change. You train yourself not to get too excited about things going your way and not too bummed out when they don’t. Sometimes we exaggerate our influence upon change. Often we have not influenced the changes at all. A seasoned loser is in some ways entered the fray with an advantage over a consistent winner. If on the other hand you see yourself as being just along for the ride, in the audience, going with things as they are instead of how you wish they would be… well, I am wondering out loud. I don’t know I’m convinced of the thing. What say we do our best, hope it works out, but learn to accept the fact that things can’t possibly always go our way…

Monumental Change

The Monumental Mojave

Among the greatest achievements of my generation is how little we have done. In California where I live we are in the midst of building a new bridge that will link the Oakland, California side of the San Fransico Bay with San Franicsco, California. In the middle of this sits Treasure Island and Yerba Buena Island. The bridge we are replacing is a cantilever affair that is insufficient when put up against an earthquake. On the other half is a suspension bridge that is more likely to withstand an earthquake. My generation seems to be a bunch of moochers, we literally are living off the past and not all that interested in creating a robust infrastructure for the future. Instead we are tied in knots about all manner of things doing with doing things and thus we resist contributing to the future because right now is so dang vital to our present moment. It is the most profound form of insanity…because soon an earthquake will hit here and we will have to fix the damage and we will have to reckon with the fact we did not set aside sufficent funding for this predictable event. Instead we ate our seed corn in this present moment fixation with what? This blog is not just a report on change it is about reporting on the insanity of not embracing change…sometimes we must wake up to the reality that nothing we were born into is about what we are living in and what we will leave to our children. High speed rail, big collosal bridges, super highways, new more advanced electrical grids………….maybe this is what we are supposed to be leaving in our journey of being here….otherwise why go visit the pyramids?

Weather to Change Course

 

Late Summer San Francisco Bay

Noel spoke to June, soft enough so she could make out what he was saying,  “Been a best day for me too.”

June smiled tenderly, and glanced up into Noel’s eyes for a brief moment. She patted him on his leg.

“Never know what a day will bring.”

Highway Home

As they say a collision at sea can ruin your day. In all things human we seem
wired up to an either or proposition, on the one hand or the other, some see it
this way and some that, I’ll give you half and I take the other. We advance
technologically and seem to be in full retreat when measured by the unintended
consequences of hubris. We know that deep water oil wells are dangerous, that
coal mines can explode, and that nuclear power can be harnessed but not
perfected to operate at a level safe enough to merit their being sited just
upwind of a place such as New York City. (Who thought that one up?) The last
week has exhausted tear ducts. There must be something awful hidden in wind
powered electricity generating turbines, photovoltaic solar panels must have
embedded within their core some unintended consequence, fuel cells must spew something
other than water, natural gas cannot be so wonderful, and the advances in shale
oil developments across the frozen tundra of the north must have disturbing consequences
far beyond anything yet contemplated. I used to ride motorcycles. If you were
going to be in accident it was said you hoped not to be blindsided. Your
survival depended in part on being able to see the accident and to react to the
situation and with luck you might save your own life. We need a good old
fashioned visit down to the river of new thinking…We need to be honest with
ourselves. This is the way we are going and we need to figure out what to do
and whether to change course….