Wednesday, August 24, 2011

War and Piece and Maybe Dick

In the past when anyone heard I was a writer, they would say. “Would I have read anything you’ve written?”
“Probably not.”
The second question was: “Has anything you’ve written been made into a movie?”
"Really what movie was that?"
"Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides."
"That was your book?"
"Yes. Except it was called Nothing To Lose and it was about a fat girl who is a copywriter for a department store in Newark."
"What part does Johnny Depp play?"
"The girl."
The third sentence from my new best friend (after a curious pause) invariably went like this: “I’m going to write a book. I have a fabulous story and I’m going to knock it out as soon as I have some time.”
‘Knock it out’ is a phrase you use for making cornbread or knitting a scarf. Outwardly, I would say, “You should.” Inwardly I would say, “And I’m going to do a remake of Gone With The Wind starring me and George Clooney.”

Today, if anyone told me they were going to knock out a book and publish it, I would believe them. Today anyone can write anything (excepting for two or three taboo subjects) publish it within minutes and sell it 24/7 on Amazon. There are a whole slew of lazy people who don’t even write original material but steal entire books like War and Peace or Moby Dick, call them War and Piece or Maybe Dick and publish them under their own name.

You’d think I’d be annoyed by this but I like it. I not only like it, I condone all of it. What I like best is that publishing has become a rough and tumble, wild west enterprise similar to the early stock market days when they hawked stock on the street. Here’s the deal: until Jeff Bezos invented Amazon, the coolest company in the Universe, publishing was so holy and so ivory towerish, every writer was a supplicant at the altar. If by some miracle God, I mean a publisher, chose you, it was basically unbelievable. You were unworthy so it could not have happened. The writer remained numb as in you could have had your appendix taken out without anesthesia. The publishers knew how you felt and took advantage of it. After the initial nod of acceptance, you never heard from them again except to receive editorial changes. Once the finished ms was in their hands, you might as well have died. They even wished you did die so they didn’t have to look into your hopeful annoying eyes and answer your pitiful and annoying questions. One day, years later, you received a hardcover book by 4th class mail and Holy Toledo - it was your book. You visited every bookstore within a hundred mile radius, tripping over pyramid displays of Danielle Steel’s book, but you never saw your book for sale. If you did see it, there were two lonely copies hidden on the highest shelf where only Kim Kardashian’s new husband was tall enough to see them.

Suddenly, as if we are all in a Woody Allen movie, the tables are turned (that’s a silly expression and I don’t even know where it came from) and the shoe is on the other foot (again ?) With the invention of the Kindle and with Jeff Bezos letting the whole world publish books for free and sell them, the ivory tower publishers are dumbstruck as in being hit upside the head by a mallet. Holy shucks - they forgot to ask for e-book rights for all those books they let go out of print. And look at those cheeky writers publishing right and left bypassing them completely. They don’t even know what they’re doing. In fact, a lot of publishers are trawling the kindle store looking for best selling independent authors and begging them to sign with them. John Locke, who has sold one million copies of his e-books has just signed with Simon and Schuster (a house that was once my publisher) to produce and distribute print editions of his e-books. My e-friend Dee Dee Scott nailed it when she said: print books have become a subsidiary right. Locke kept all of his other rights and threw S & S a bone. Am I dismayed that there’s a lot of barely coherent writing clogging up the Amazon servers? Not at all. Without the false screening of traditional publishing, the reading public has now become the arbiter of what succeeds and what fails. You don’t need the venerable New York Times Book Review to give you their imprimatur. K.C. from N.C. will review you succinctly. “I didn’t want it to end.” or “Worst book ever.” Some say there is an army of spite reviewers who will give an e-book one star if it competes with their own book. So what? I said it was like the wild west, every man/woman for herself.
Let the faint of heart go back to the ivory tower. They might even let you up.

Sunday, August 21, 2011

"They're like real richified"

I have found the trashiest show on television. It has nothing to do with sex or infidelity or gross eating in the wilderness. It resides on the Spike Channel. When I worked for a film festival, Spike was one of the sponsors and to me it was Latvia or Uzbekistan - a very foreign country, a man cave of entertainment where I would find plenty to scare me off. Here are some of Spike’s shows: 1000 Ways To Die - no metaphors here: OCD-er dies cleaning; terrorist eats himself to death; animal abuser gets dog boned; two cons get a fatal case of road rash ... you get the picture. MANswers; Hooters Snow Angels, Deadliest Warrior. The men in these shows (the leads, the extras, cameos) have sun-bronzed arms and wear faded tee shirts and worn jeans. The hosts ride in trucks, lift heavy things show an interesting camaraderie sometimes based on insults and generally act manly.

The show that held me spellbound recently because it lacked even a token nod to good taste was called: RepoGames. The premise of RepoGames has Josh, the Repo Man arriving with a tow truck in somebody’s driveway ready to repossess a car or truck. Do I need to add that the owner is less than pleased to hear and see that hitch lifting his car off the ground? After the pandemonium of expletives and shadow punching dies down, Josh says, “I’m going to ask you five questions. If you get three right, you get to keep your car and I’ll pay off what you owe.

The hapless victim (in this case a shirtless and shoeless man named Wilbur) surrounded by the army of people who live with him/her grunts and calms down. We soon learn that Wilbur has eight children by three baby mamas that he has not married. His teen-aged son stands next to him ready to help him answer. Intermittently, out of joie de vie or nervousness, he pinches his father’s nipple. I won’t re-create the entire show but this one question will tell you all you need to know.
Josh: What are names of Barack Obama’s two daughters.
Wilbur: Who’s that man?
Wilbur’s son: (grinning in disbelief) Barack Obama. The president.
Josh: Have you ever voted?
Wilbur: No.
Josh: Do you know the names of Barack Obama’s daughters?
Wilbur: Vanessa?
Wilbur’s son: That’s white people’s name. They’re like real richified. What comes to mind is Destiny and Maria. Yes, Destiny and Maria.
Josh: Incorrect. The names are Sasha and Malia. Wilbur shake it off now. Shake off the dumbest answer I’ve ever heard. (to Wilbur’s son) Did you just tweak your father’s nipple?

In the end, Wilbur only got one answer right. After appearing to be in a fog for most of the segment, he came to life with a question about a show hosted by Jeff Foxworthy and answered crisply: “Are you smarter than a 5th grader.” His son was ecstatic and tweaked his nipple and playfully punched him several times.
Alas, one right answer did not win the game. Josh and Craig with the repossessed car (a 1997 Honda Accord) roar away while Wilbur and his son shout after them: “*#%@*# I played your dumb ass game. Who knows Obama’s daughters’ names?”

So while the pundits argue back and forth about Barack Obama’s ability to govern, Wilbur (from Dallas, Texas) had to be reminded he was the president and his son thought the Obama family had become real richified.
I love television.

Friday, August 5, 2011

Free the Wales

The other day I tried to imagine how it would be to live in a well-appointed, well-furnished house with big airy rooms and a semblance of elegance. First I had to imagine myself in decent clothes. I could not go into a house with coffered ceilings, a ligne roset sofa and an antique Mahal rug wearing ten year old j.crew madras shorts and a tee that says free the Wales with a faded pix of Charles and Diana.

After ten minutes of rummaging, I imagined myself in a black linen suit with an a-line skirt and short double-breasted jacket with big white buttons. I wore high heels with the toe cut out. My hair was styled and I weighed thirty pounds less. I tried to imagine my face fighting the urge to see it drawn and saggy from the sudden weight loss. I imagined walking into the beautifully constructed living room and standing still. What would I do in there? In real life, I spend little or no time in the living room - unecessary space we’ve been told is necessary. In my new persona I sat on the short end of the sectional whose seats were molded to hold you and looked around. I glanced to my left and saw that someone had placed my mail on a small mission desk that backed up on the sofa. In front of me was a square coffee table made of a matte stone in tones of beige and black with tiny wormholes. I thought of looking through the mail but decided instead to look through my mind. How did I think in these unfamiliar circumstances?

I looked for my old thought catalogue: this house is falling apart I can’t stop eating Katie Couric looked good on The View. I haven’t been outdoors in two days the lawn needs cutting the big tree in back is going to fall over and kill me where is my hairbrush I’m afraid of taking Tylenol p.m. because I might not wake up my feet still look good the gutters are filled and there’s no one stable enough to climb a ladder and get them out I can't stop looking at J.Lo I need a manicure and a pedicure my eyebrows need shaping the ground turkey that is a staple has been recalled but I already ate it I love Alec Baldwin why did I think I could manage my own brokerage account if I thought about the money I’ve lost, it would make me pass out and why did I sell the New York apartment so soon when now it’s worth five times more the rich guy next door has the loudest air conditioner I’ve ever heard and it runs 24/7 he waters his lawn so much there’s a perennial puddle in front of my house where mosquitoes are breeding by the millions but I am annoying the neighbor on the other side with my huge tree that sheds leaves and other debris all summer long and keeps his driveway filled with stuff and oh, the kids.

That catalogue was back in my old house. In my new house the mind was quiet and the person thinking was calm and focusing on her surroundings with satisfaction. I didn’t know what to make of this person. She had no self-doubt. Her thoughts were sequential and outward directed: the masseuse was coming, the novel was at a good point, she would take a run at four and shower before dinner. There was not one thought in there that was trying to make sense of the world. She wasn’t wondering where she went when she was asleep or what dreams were all about. She wasn’t still brooding about the Yahoo news story where a mother had shoved her toddlers out of the path of a runaway truck or the girl who had sold more Girl Scout cookies than anyone and then died at her graduation dance.

I decided to stay for the masseuse and then go back home.

Now that I think about it, I wrote a book with a similar plot. It’s called One Hundred Open Houses.

Tuesday, August 2, 2011

Edward Scissorhands has been in my closet

I took a stroll through my little high-end resort village and looked at the fashions in the windows. The hemlines on jackets, tops and skirts are crazily uneven this season, as if Edward Scissorhands had gone mental in the closet.

Ah Fashion! I still wear a dress from Ralph Lauren’s Prairie Collection and even though I’ve cut off all the skip-to-my-Lou ruffles, it still makes me feel as if I’m traveling west in a covered wagon with a passel of young un’s and trying to keep the milk from curdling.

Why do designers suddenly want to dress my sisters to look like irrepressible tweens, thumbing their nose at convention with their jagged hems. Maybe because it’s the exact opposite of APPEARING TO CARE a.k.a being vulnerable a.k.a. having been bruised by life a.k.a living in Loserville or Needy Town.

Women who wear the current fashion must feel invincible - as in “You think I’m just a DINK (double income, no kids) with a six-figure salary, but in fact, I’m an in-your-face outlier with all the vulnerability leached out of me.

Let’s talk about vulnerability for a minute. I happen to be a sucker for vulnerability. When someone I don’t particularly like expresses vulnerability, I become insanely nice to them even if it’s someone I only know casually. I have a neighbor two streets over who can’t stop talking. My goal when I meet her is to say anything that will get me on my way. “I have internal bleeding and I’m rushing to the doctor. “(BTW she would hardly hear this as talkers seldom listen.) One day the talker said she had been crying because her daughter was mad at her. I went into insane mode and offered to take her to lunch so we could discuss it.

Expressing vulnerability even in business situations can result in social bonuses, especially if it is some charming frailty like claustrophobia and providing you’re able to perform like the ambitious young Turk they hired. The person you confess to suddenly knows a secret about you and it makes them a tad protective and generous because if you don’t suffer from claustrophobia, it sounds like a silly thing to have. I have the opposite of claustrophobia. I don’t like leaving my house with its tiny rooms. There, see? I just expressed a vulnerability but, happy day, you don’t have to do a darn thing except cluck in sympathy for a few seconds and feel superior. Vulnerability can be a good thing if you don’t use it too often.

This week four separate people wrote to express thanks for posts in my blog that gave them that jolt of recognition. Whenever I get a comment, I go back and read the post again to see it through their eyes. It is the ultimate satisfaction for a writer and makes me want to jump for joy. Thank you, readers.

Monday, August 1, 2011

Coming out of nowhere to win it all (re-run)

I posted this in April and I wanted to post it again.

This morning I watched (video clip) Jacob Tucker an “obscure dunker” take the slam crown winning the NCAA dunk contest. This is not territory I usually cover but I’m a sucker for people who come out of nowhere and win something. Possibly it’s because I always thought I was going to come out of nowhere and win something and when someone else does it, it re-kindles the idea that it could happen to me.

I don’t really know what it is I want to win. Yes there is the obvious - lots of money, a house without dust, great sinuses, a private chef. But there’s something else nagging at me: I don't want to be ordinary.

At the very least, I want to get life right - stop doing things to look good to those who know me and cobble a stand alone balance of purposeful activity and compassion. I like compassion more than love. Compassion (if you strip the word of any nuance of sadness) implies that you have put yourself in someone else’s shoes and acknowledged his/her burden. We all have a burden. It is the sum and substance of our hidden idea of ourselves. The shadow government that defines who we are.

Jim Carey said something that stayed with me during his interview with James Lipton. He said: "We start out with an erroneous idea of ourselves and build a life around it.

We need to have at least one person acknowledge our burden. It is at the root of what we talk about and whine about and dream about. If just one person fills that need, we are satisfied and free of both the need and the burden. It could be a miraculous release.

I don’t know if I’ve got this exactly right but it’s what was on my mind on this Saturday morning while I was watching the newly minted celeb, Jacob Tucker, slam dunk king.