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Saturday, October 30, 2004

Script Update

Originally, I had hoped to complete the third (and final) episode of "Plant Your Wagon" by tomorrow. I needed somewhere between 15 and 18 pages. In the past week, I have eked out one page. Now, I'll grant you, it was a good page, but it still leaves me about 17 short. I somehow doubt (when a good writing day for me is four pages) that I'll get that done before it is time to start on the novel.

Since that's the case, I guess I'll just put "Plant Your Wagon" aside until December. And maybe by then, PRI will have come up with some moolah so that I can just worry about writing scripts every day instead of the procession of mundanities that pass for a job in my every day life.

Monday, October 25, 2004

Another Novel Approach

Well, I went and did it. As you may or may not be aware, there is a website site out there which is encouraging people to write a novel in the month of November. It has the unlikely handle of NaNoWriMo. The idea is to try to get 50,000 words of novel written between the first of November and the last. I have signed up to be part of this plague of literature.

In connection with this, is encouraging people who want to participate to do so through a blog devoted to their novel. In honor of this, I have created another blog called Michael Drayton, Detective Guy on which the novel will be written. (In theory.)

One and all are invited to keep tabs on the work-in-progress and to offer comments and encouragement.

In order to do this, I'm going to have to concentrate on finishing the third and final episode of "Plant Your Wagon" in the next seven days. I think that's possible. Then I will take a month off from writing radio scripts, although I do hope to keep up with both this blog and my contributions to Phil Austin's Blog of the Unknown.

Saturday, October 23, 2004

The Call

Many people have no idea what it is to be called or think that it is limited only to people who are joining a religious order or are seeking to persuade the unbelieving. There are other sorts of callings, though. However, this is not the way that most people find their jobs. Choosing a career usually has to do with chasing money or it seemed like an easy way to get through college or I just fell into it. This is sad to me, sad that most people never get the experience of being called.

I say this because it happened to me. When I tell people this story, they usually look at me like they've just watched me have a nervous breakdown. Since it is not an experience that they've shared, they cannot credit it. Since it did not involve deciding to shove Jesus down the throats of the unbelievers, they cannot find the proper context in which to understand it.

I was 14 at the time, in a strange period of my life in which the friends I had surrounded myself with and the activities we participated in (by this point, mostly scouting parties into the fringes of an area called Trouble) were losing their hold on me. Change was imminent, but I didn't know that. I was just some 14-year-old punk kid.

The catalyst in this story was my English teacher, Mrs Stachurski (nee' Miss Butterworth). Towards the end of 9th grade, she assigned us something that I, for one, had never been assigned before. She had us write fiction. Write a short story, anything we wanted.

A friend of mine had told me about a movie he had seen that George C. Scott was in, called "Bank Shot." It was a caper film about some people breaking into a bank. Being the lazy student that I was, I decided to steal that plot and write my own version of it.

I had study hall in the school cafeteria. There were about half a dozen of us in there, and we sat at the tables in the back, by the milk machines. I can remember starting to write and the feeling of exhilaration that built inside me. My mind raced and my pen flew. Instead of the drudgery that I had expected, I found joy.

As I've told people over the years, always to their disbelief, it felt as though the hand of God reached through the walls of Goff Junior High School, tapped me on the forehead with a giant finger and said "A writer thou art." Talk about your epiphanies.

A year later, I would step on stage in front of 2000 students and teachers in the high school play, sneak a peek at the audience, and think, "Well, this is just like home." Almost 20 years further on, I directed a sketch for a video demo I did with my former partners. After a day of scouting locations on the fly, choosing angles, and directing performances, I thought, "This is something I could do every day."

Neither of those days, however interesting as days in which to choose a career, could hold a candle to that day in 9th grade. I write because that is what I do. I'm a writer because that is what I am.

Tuesday, October 19, 2004

The Only Way I Lettered in High School

I was about 14 or so when I discovered "The Groucho Letters," and it was with that discovery that my checkered career as a correspondent was born. As an adolescent, I didn't have many opportunities for epistolary brilliance, but I bided my time. At the end of my sophomore year of high school, a friend moved from Pawtucket, Rhode Island, to Harrisville, a tiny hamlet out in the sticks. In the meantime, my folks had moved me (with them, of course) from Pawtucket to North Kingstown. Now, that distance may not seem very big for people from big places, but in Rhode Island terms it was the equivalent of lightyears. Since calling her would have meant message units on the phone bill and since message units made my father's blood boil, our best chance for staying in touch was the US mail. At last, my time had come!

From time-to-time, I would shape my half-witticisms into letter form and mail them off. For every two or three of mine, I would get one reply. Life was good.

As time went on, more friends went more places and for a time my correspondence bloomed to its fullest glory. Then, as will happen, the friends slowly became strangers and there were jobs to worry about and lives to figure out, and my correspondence dwindled to mostly a memory.

With one exception. This past weekend, I wrote to the adult version of that young lady I had started corresponding with so many years before. We're down to one or two letters per year now, each. The mad rush of life leaves little time for the well-crafted half-witticism, although the urge to correspond remains. I'm trying to correct that, trying to carve out some time each week for a few people in my life who I don't get to see or speak to as often as I'd like. Like most resolutions, the odds are against this one, but if I don't try at all, it will definitely fail.

And so I reach out, one envelope at a time, waiting for the ever elusive return.

Thursday, October 14, 2004

Another One of My Big Ideas

I guess it was about a year-and-a-half ago that I came across a website used by a prominent (by current standards) radio dramatist to put forth his pronouncements on the medium and the craft. Among his many rules, he had specifically admonished the neophyte radio writer to avoid submitting any script to any producer of radio theatre that was typed using a manual typewriter. Now, the first thing that struck me as funny was the thought that anybody (including me) was going around sending out scripts typed on manual typewriters. I just couldn't see that as being a common problem.

The second thought I had was that this might be something of a short-sighted policy. I mean, there are well known authors who compose on manual typewriters. So, I e-mailed the Prominent Radio Dramatist and asked him if he would reject a script from, say, Gore Vidal or Don DeLillo because they used manual typewriters. He replied in the affirmative. I don't think he knew who DeLillo was, but I do, and I'd take a script from him if it were written on a napkin with a crayon.

And in that exchange an idea was born. Figuring that, after two or three series, I'd probably be getting burnt out on churning out scripts for "Next in the Series," I thought that maybe I could do a season called "By the Manual" in which I solicited scripts from authors who work on manual typewriters as well as throw in a couple of my own. In addition to Vidal and DeLillo, I know that Ian Frazier uses a manual. And now I've found out that Bob Dylan used one to write "Chronicles, Vol. 1." I have a couple of other names scribbled down on a slip of paper somewhere, and there's plenty of time to collect more.

Now, as a result of the postings on an earlier thread here, I'm toying with the idea of including the proviso that the scripts, in some manner, deal theme of technology and how it affects us. Other than that, the authors would have a free hand.

Sometimes an interesting idea can arise simply from wanting to give the finger to someone who seems like a pompous ass. And for that, I will always be grateful to the Prominent Radio Dramatist.

Tuesday, October 12, 2004

You Don't Call, You Don't Write

I sent my proposal for my radio show to Public Radio International (PRI) on February 10, 2004. Since I sent it by 2-day Priority Mail, there's a pretty good chance that they received it on February 12, 2004. By the testimony of their website, their goal is to "respond to each proposal within two months of receipt." So far, in my case anyway, they are off by a factor of four.

Now, I'm more than happy to wait as long as it takes them to make their decision, but I have to tell you that the acid in my stomach has started percolating to a Latin rhythm. It's like waiting to hear whether or not you've won the lottery, but they just haven't gotten around to picking the last number yet. This is something I walk around with, wearing it like a lead-lined necktie. I wish I didn't, but I have to. And as much as I try to tell myself that each day brings me one day closer to hearing, the strain of having spent eight months in anticipation is quite tiring.

Now, don't get me wrong. I like PRI. I think we could have a beautiful partnership and that, together, we could make a nice dollar. I am not withdrawing my proposal or even beginning to think about considering withdrawing it. I'm just impatient to get the deal done and the contracts signed. There's much to be done and a good thing to be brought into the broadcast world. Let's just do it!

And I'd tell you about the shambles that has become of the schedule I did on Microsoft Project, but it's just too difficult to think about. No, no (sniff), I'm fine. That's just a fiber of asbestos in my eye. And I always get misty on anniversaries.

Monday, October 11, 2004

I'll Be in Touch

Every morning on my way to work, as I make my way up from the platform to the world outside Atlanta's Five Points MARTA station, I do my best to go through the same turnstile every morning. This started on my first day back on this job (after a year-and-one-half interregnum), almost seven months ago. And I'll bet that in all those days (excluding the occasional time I've gotten off at a different station in search of the wild donut) that I've only missed that turnstile two or three times.

The first time that this happened--I think because the turnstile was closed for some reason--I had a mild panic attack. I didn't want push my way through the next one over, but as I forced myself to, I thought, "What a strange reaction." Why in the world should it matter?

But then that's when I realized that that is how we make our ways through a very complex world. We look for touchstones. We fashion routines. As we make our way through the chaos of the average day, we look for anchors anywhere we can find them.

On my lunch half-hours, I'm currently reading a novel called "Old School" by Tobias Wolff. It's what the Germans would call a Bildungsroman, a novel of education. Set in a boys prep school in the school year of 1960-61, it's the first person narrative of a young man who is trying to understand himself as both an individual and as a writer. In the part of the book I was reading today, the unnamed narrator examines several of the short stories of Ernest Hemingway. And in the portion of the discussion concerning "Big Two-Hearted River," I found this:

You saw everything Nick did, in precise, almost fussy descriptions that most writers would've left out. How he drives the pegs of his tent until the rope loops are buried, and hold his pants and shoes in his hand when leaving the tent at sunup. How he dampens his fishing leaders. Exactly how much flour and water he uses to make his pancakes--a cup of each. I'd liked being in on all these rough solemnities but I had missed the fact that Nick observes them so carefully--religiously is not too strong a word--because they keep him from falling apart.

It's just funny that I had been thinking about these touchstones this weekend and then come across this passage today. And just for the record, I went through the wrong turnstile this morning.

Friday, October 08, 2004

The Vanishing Boy of Pacific Heights: The Sixties

Since I was born in 1959 and since my parents decided to move to San Francisco in 1963 and since I have two older brothers, I was able to experience the '60s in the manner ABC Sports used to call "up close and personal." I remember watching Lee Oswald being murdered on live TV. I remember the Beatles on Ed Sullivan. I played softball with Yippies in Julius Kahn playground in the summer of 1969. (Despite their disinclination to use me, I singled to right in my only at bat. Not long afterwards, everybody else got the munchies and went home.)

But enough of my credentials.

Although the right wing commentators would have us believe differently, as a culture, we are still trying to make sense of the time between John Kennedy's inauguration and that lone helicopter lifting off from the embassy roof in Saigon. And while the right wingers do have some valid points to make about the excesses, they miss the good and the point of the good that went on.

In fact, I'm going to come right out and say that I have a problem with PJ O'Rourke and the ilk he represents. In the '60s, when it was hip, they were radical leftists. By the '80s, when it had become hip, they became radical reactionaries. And here's my message to all of them: Hey, according to actuarial tables you dolts have another 20 years coming to you. Still enough time to flip once more. Don't pull a Lee Atwater and wait until you have a brain tumor to come to your senses.

But enough of them. They are intellectual midgets who put more value in being "right" than in gaining wisdom or knowing Truth.

I keep thinking of John, Martin, and Bobby, and each sought to ennoble us--all of us, not just the most affluent or those who subscribe to a checklist of viewpoints. I think that the American liberal experiment that began with the New Deal died on a motel balcony in Memphis and in a hotel kitchen in Los Angeles. The idea that we were a community with common interests died and was replaced by the notion that we are merely a collection of factions with competing agendas.

A Republican President once said, "A house divided against itself cannot stand." (For the record, he was not the current Republican President.) Julius Caesar used "divide and conquer" as the basis for his military theory. And since that horrible spring in 1968, divisiveness has reigned supreme and commonality of purpose has been lost to the mists of time. If the American Experiment is to have any lasting meaning, we have to again understand it as a common enterprise on which we are all embarked.

And I leave you with one final thought: Happy Birthday to John Lennon, wherever you are.

Thursday, October 07, 2004

The Return of Mr Controversy

I'm really not a true Luddite. I like the dishwasher. I like air conditioning. I like TV and CDs and DVDs. However, I think that it's a mistake to just accept technology wholesale, as we have done.

Most things that come with memory chips assume that you are an idiot. And while this might be true, I've found that in most cases it's not. I mean think about it. How many items do we deal with every day that attack our memory? There's speed dial, there's the thing in Windows that remembers all your IDs and Passwords. There's the favorites menu. (I've reached a point in which I can barely remember what most of the things on my "Favorites" are!) There are reminders and ticklers and alarms. There are PDAs. And memory, unfortunately, must be used, like a muscle, or it begins to atrophy. We remember less and so become more dependent on the machine.

My wife and I were having a discussion this morning about the influence of spreadsheets. Ask anybody. What's the best thing about them? They do the math for you. Again, math is good for the brain, and yet most people (myself included) will rely on a calculator or Excel if we want to add up a simple column of numbers. We calculate less and so become more dependent on the machine.

Quite often, high technology is a drug, and we have become a nation of addicts. Again, I'm no Luddite who wishes to wipe away all traces of technology. However, I think it would behoove us to be less accepting of all technology and to try being a bit more choosy in terms of what we rely on and what we don't.

I think another way to look at things is that having low tech alternatives is good for the national defense. I can tell you from personal experience that a manual typewriter keeps working even when the grid goes down. And don't even get me started on the pencil!

Wednesday, October 06, 2004

The Letter "CBS Sunday Morning" Dared Not Air

Back on August 29th, Ben Stein appeared on "CBS Sunday Morning." Mr Stein has started appearing quite frequently lately, espousing his opinions of the American scene. This is fine with me. I'm all for free speech, whether I like what's being said or not. The problem with Mr Stein, however, is that he makes arguments which are simplistic, shallow, and fundamentally absurd. His monologues are floor shows of lazy thinking, and if there's one thing I hate, it's lazy thinking.

His topic on that day was his vacation getaway in Idaho. Pretty harmless stuff, you say? Not after he spins it into a lot of political buncombe. I sent the following as the text of an e-mail to "CBS Sunday Morning," but they have not, as yet, had the wisdom to either read the letter on the air or to give me a job like Ben's.

In his commentary this past Sunday, Ben Stein showed that it is possible to still look through rose colored glasses even if you have an asigmatism, cataracts, and night blindness. First, I was taken with his statement that this idyllic and rural vacation spot in Idaho (which, by the way, thanks to his big mouth, will soon sag under the collective weight of thousands of TV-watching idyll seekers) is the place that we are pledging allegiance to when we pledge allegiance to the flag. I hate to be the one to break it to him, but the flag that we pledge our allegiance to flies over cityscapes just as regally as it does over the countryside. When we make that pledge, we pledge ourselves not only to the vacationer, the farmer, and the rube, but also the city slicker, the office worker, and the guy who sells hot dogs on 49th Street. Even Democrats and other dissidents are included in this pledge.

The second part of his rural rhapsody that raised an interested eyebrow was his depiction of the place as an enclave of the 1950s, a Lost Valley in the midst of turn-of-the-century post-modernism and moral relativism. The place comes across as a summery sort of Currier and Ives print, or perhaps as a Norman Rockwell caricature of an episode of "Leave It to Beaver." All the Moms wander around their self-cleaning houses draped in pearls, while the Dads, who wear ties even while showering, cheerfully spend the day working at some unnamed job "down at the office." The well-scrubbed, semi-literate children never bother their cowlicks or freckles over anything as dirty as the world and never chirp a sound harsher than "gee whiz."

Alas, back in the actual, living 1950s, things were a bit more complex. The prospect of nuclear holocaust held the world hostage, people's lives were destroyed by McCarthyism and a paranoiac fear of Communism, and Jim Crow ruled all those Americans whose forebears had hailed from Africa rather than Newport. As I understand it, there was even murder and spousal abuse and alcoholism. They even had bad news!

Mr Stein needs to learn, as do many of his friends and cohorts who are cavorting around Madison Square Garden this week, that the citizens of rural America are no more profoundly American than is the person who prefers to roam the wide open concrete, and that the 1950s were not an idyll, but merely another stretch of history that existed in space and time. And if he won't believe me, he should try reading Allen Ginsburg.

Tuesday, October 05, 2004

The Crow Flies at Midnight

To: All Conspirators
From: The Planning Committee
Date: Classified
Re: Conspiracy Update

We have several items on the menu, so I guess I’ll just jump right in.
First, I’d like to announce that this week’s conspiracy meeting has been cancelled. There will be no conspiracy meeting this week. One of the chief conspirators is taking his family to Disneyworld and would, therefore, have been unable to attend. This is a vacation he has had in mind for sometime and was cleared through the normal channels. Really. The forged paperwork backing up this claim is on file in The Conspiracy office, behind the third trashcan in from Front Street in City Center Park.

Second, I want to remind everybody that this year’s Lookouts and Fall Guys Picnic is only two weeks away. Sign up to bring a dish by leaving a note in the hole in the side of the oak tree just behind the grassy knoll. So far, most people have signed up to bring desserts, so we need a few more casseroles as well as someone to bring some soft drinks and chips. Forks, knives, guns and knockout drops will be provided by The Organization.

We regret to inform the membership of the passing of Shorty Levine at age 58. Shorty started getting nervous and therefore had to be killed. We encourage the membership to attend both the wake and the funeral, but please do not attend in a group as we did with Shakes Tamblyn. The group of us sitting together in one pack all wearing sunglasses made certain parties suspicious and they subsequently had to be killed. As we all know, inflationary pressures on assassination are currently pretty high and our ability to make it look like a coincidence diminishes as the number of people killed rises. So, take care and don’t go in until you see another member of The Conspiracy coming out.

Also, while you’re there, try to find out if any members of Shorty’s family are aware of our operation so that they can be killed, if need be.

Finally, I would like to say that this has been a very good year for The Conspiracy, that planning is coming along splendidly, and that specific assignments should be coming along soon. If you do not get your assignment in the next month, do not worry. That does not mean that you are about to be killed. Really. I mean, if you can’t trust your fellow conspirators, who can you trust?

Keep up the good work and let’s pull together to make sure that Operation Nuthatch is the best conspiracy ever!

Monday, October 04, 2004

Declaration of Principles

In "Citizen Kane," a young Charles Foster Kane composes a "Declaration of Principles" to publish in his newspaper. Since I make it a personal policy to clip as much as I can from the Orson Welles canon, I've decided to do the same thing for my radio show. Of course, Kane loses his way as the movie goes on, but all I have to say is this: "Don't worry, Jedediah. These will be kept."


1. I will never write characters who are six and yet talk like jaded 40-year-old comedy writers.

2. Ditto with old ladies.

3. If I'm ever tempted to compile a "clip show," I'll just shut the whole thing down since I will then be officially out of ideas.

4. I will never do commercials for Hawaii or Disney resorts or cruises or similar vacation-related venues camouflaged as an episode of my show.

5. I will never write a piece of dialogue such as, "Gee Dad, I'm really happy you decided to take the three of us to the Freak Festival even though Mom disapproves." Decent exposition is my guarantee.

6. I will never do a parody of "A Christmas Carol," even though I've had a corker of an idea for years that is more of a sequel than a direct parody.

7. I will never use the plotline about the unconventional cop teamed with a by-the-book cop.

8. I will never use any plotline that involves two people having to work or live together who start out hating each other, but develop grudging respect and then love.

9. I will never introduce some object or person who, although never referred to previously by anyone, turns out to be the favorite person or thing in the world to one of the major characters.

10. Once such a character or object is introduced, they will not then disappear like a Chilean dissident.

This is a start. I'll happily take nominations for more principles to be observed.

Len Foster Kane

Friday, October 01, 2004

Mr Controversy Strikes Again!

Well, I went through the other things that I've sent to The Times in recent months, and there really wasn't that much that made sense outside of the time and context in which it origianlly appeared. So, here I am, stuck for wordage and aching to be the kind of controversial loudmouth (each side of the political spectrum has its example) that people really sit up and pay attention to. What to do? What to do?

After much thought, I finally realized what heartfelt statement I could make that would best stir the embers in the ash heap of the reader's soul, and it is this: I prefer writing on a manual typewriter to writing on a computer.

There. You have it. When left to my own devices, I still write using a manual typewriter. Episode Three of "Plant Your Wagon" is being drafted on an Olivetti Lettera 35 that I bought new (that's right; they still make them) about a year-and-a-half ago. I also own a Lettera 25 (also new) that my wife gave me for Christmas a couple of years back. This is a great machine for letters (another discredited artifact that's preferable to its modern equivalent).

Now, you might be asking yourself, "Why on earth would this dimwit want to go back to the Dark Ages? What's he going to be in favor of next? Burning witches? Curing disease with the application of leeches?" However, I would assert that the rush to a digitized life has been frantic, hysterical, and ill-considered.

Let me list a few of the advantages I've found in using a manual typewriter. First, it never has to boot up, and it requires no password. The only thing I have to do to start it up is insert paper. No Windows A-Week-Ago-Thursday® starting up. No Instant Messenger, no indexing, no icons, no wallpaper. No adware or spyware. Just me and the blank page staring each other down in the duel of the ages.

Second, there are no distractions embedded in the machine, such as Freecell or e-mail or Instant Messenger or the friggin' pop-ups that I can't figure out how to stop. If I want to be distracted, I have to actually get out of my chair to do it, thereby at least getting some modest amount of exercise.

Third, since it doesn't have all the cut-and-paste editing options, I actually have to write carefully. I have to think through each sentence before I commit it to posterity. And having looked back over some of my posts here, I wish I could blog with a typewriter. Perhaps then there would have been fewer maze-like sentences and less camouflage for the meaning.

Fourth, if it crashes, that means that it's fallen off the table and on to the floor. Workaround: Pick it up and put it back.

Fifth, the keys move. They absorb some of the energy that I exert by pounding on them. My wrists hurt less.

Sixth, when I rewrite, I have to go from stem-to-stern. I can no longer just fiddle with one word here and one word there. Every part of the manuscript gets re-evaluated, each word, each sentence, the structure of the whole thing. Using a typewriter forces me to think.

Seventh, given a fresh ribbon and a reasonable supply of dryliner, I can produce a manuscript that is very easy to read. Also, I'm never tempted to put it in some strange font, such as Herzo-Govingian Slanty.

Eighth, it does what I want it to. It never repaginates. It never automatically makes corrections that aren't really corrections at all. It never loses my work if the power goes out. It saves my work as I'm typing it.

Ninth, it has the feature I call InstaPrint. One of the problems with word processing programs, one of the reasons why they actually slow down the work process, is that they separate typing and printing. My manuals join typing and printing into one smooth process.

Tenth, I can see the entire page I'm working on at a glance and can easily read every syllable. When I need to go back a few pages as a reference, I can thumb through the pages in a second or two. I'm not dependent on a machine to do my searching for me.

Eleventh, I am the software, goo goo ga joob. And I'm my favorite software package. My default settings suit me perfectly. I'm user friendly. Working with software is like learning an endless number of variations on the minuet with a very obstinate partner, a partner who gets to make all the rules and who rules with an iron fist.

Twelfth, my typewriter never tries to make me feel like a criminal just because I'd rather use "which" than "that" or because I might want to use the passive voice once in a while. I mean, come on! Get off my back!

Well, I guess that twelve is a good number to stop with. Maybe tomorrow I can defend the old fashioned missive or the card catalogue. Until then, to quote The Firesign Theatre, "Forward into the Past"!