NFL lockout ends: are we locked in?

I’m glad to see the dispute between players and asshats corporations owners has ended and the season is back on track. But does that mean that we’re all doomed to lose our Sundays, ignore our families, and obsess over trivialities of the sport?

Maybe. At least, this writer at Time raises the issue.

But hey, we can record games and watch later, right? We don’t have to burn daylight every weekend. And if you record and watch, you can zoom through the commercials. We have them memorized before they’re produced anyway. Except for the Super Bowl. Those commercials are sometimes better than the game.

The Charlie Syndrome

I guess we can agree that there’s very little that’s funny about Charlie Sheen’s epic meltdown. And I’ll stipulate that really his sad, accelerating spiral into oblivion is out of place on a blog about writing and its peripheral concerns.

Entertainment is just entertainment, but it’s part of our culture. So maybe one short post isn’t out of line. 

I can only say that I have enjoyed the show, watch it every week, but Sheen is just one of several people who make the funny work on that thing. The laughter has always come when Charlie (Harper) is on set with Alan, Jake, Evelyn and Berta. Berta has never gotten enough screen time, for me. I don’t think the show comes back without him, but that doesn’t make him more than one member of the cast.

Sheen thinks he’s the whole deal, and that’s wrong. He’s an actor, and that’s nice for him. It’s an interesting and sometimes valuable profession. But so is a baker, a teacher, or a cop. My Dad was a lineman for the power company. He gave us lights and cold food, and the TV we watch assclowns like Charlie Sheen on. But Sheen gets 2 million for a week’s work. It’s a stupid way to run a railroad, if you ask me.

And it’s my humble, layman’s opinion that we’re seeing a rampant snafu of brain chemistry at work. Sex and drugs and psychosis. I mean, we all know crazy when we see it, unless we are crazy. It’s an insight generally endemic to the human herd.

So watching a career disintegrate is no fun, but here’s some Charlie Sheen funniness that he couldn’t possibly have done better without Jimmy Kimmel’s help. 

Going Nowhere

An open letter to The Travel Channel, also submitted online to their Viewer Relations Dept:

I like shows about travel. One would think I could find one occasionally on the Travel Channel. One would be wrong. Where the Travel Channel is supposed to be on my TV, there’s a network devoted to recreational binge eating and ghosts. I don’t believe in either one.
This is chronic. You aren’t producing shows about travel anymore, right? Anthony Bourdain travels, but then he just eats. Except for Samantha Brown  – who’s great – you’ve got nothin’. And one show doesn’t make a channel. 
Come on, guys, spring for some air fare and show us some travel.

Can you relate?

fed up

What is the duty of a cook? It is the same as the duty of a writer. You must begin where there is nothing but need, where there is an emptiness.


You must use your talent and skill, and what resources you can gather. Clean water, fresh things. And with attention to detail, create something to fill that emptiness; something nourishing; something that won’t make people sick.


There is no way to focus too much on this task, no way to take it too seriously. It is all that you are doing right now.

Last night, I decided to watch an episode of a TV show from England called Doc Martin on my computer. I’ve watched 2 and a half seasons of the show in this way, over the past few months, and I notice it’s recently begun a run on PBS in my area. You can read about the show here.

Doc Martin is about an emotionally detached, disaffected doctor who leaves London and opens a practice in a small fishing village. Maybe I identified with the concept because of my long and fervent appreciation of the American show Northern Exposure. I loved that show, never missed it, and the plot was similar, is my point.

The local people don’t get Doc Martin, because he has the bedside manner of a small table with a dim lamp. He is very hard to like, but through all the episodes I’ve seen there’s been a vague insinuation that he is about to give us some reason to think otherwise. On that score, I give up.

In fact, I’m not going to watch the show anymore, for 2 reasons: the main character is about as likeable as a stretch of frozen asphalt, and for me, the show lacks Quality. Doc Martin hates dogs. I keep thinking that’s going to change too, but no. He yells at dogs and chases them away. He is the sort of man I might enjoy hitting repeatedly with a large piece of wood. As for the rest of the townspeople, well with rare exception they’re just not growing very much are they?

The last straw came in a scene in which the doctor goes to the home of his aunt and finds her having sex with her housepainter on the kitchen table. He is shocked. We are shocked. As I said, this show is on PBS; there’s been not one clear drop of R-rated content in any previous scene. And look at her. What manner of worthless writer would have such a character shagging where she should be shelling peas?


Now I’ve got that image burned into memory. Can anyone guess how many brain cells I lost, that I’m never getting back?

As I closed out the feed from Netflix, I thought about the people who make that show, and all the attention I have given their work, and what I was owed in return. I guess it’s basically this guy named Dominic Minghella, creator and writer. He created this occasion of Fail.

Our Duty as Creative Types

We writers owe our audience some cognizance of their attention; some fidelity to the fact that we have it as long as they’re willing to give it. Hopefully, they’re willing to give it for as long as we ask for it, but maybe not. In any case, we are creating something where there was nothing, and serving it up to feed them. We have a duty to make sure it’s fresh and honest, and the best thing we can make with what we have.

At some point, not in the shitty first draft, but by the last draft at least, we have to give our dish the old sniff test, make sure it hasn’t gone bad along the way. In the case of Doc Martin, the writer allowed the show to take a huge lurch out of its usual path – almost out of its context – and it lost its nutritional value to me.

It’s good to be brave with the spices, to write what we believe is real. But we also have to remember, if we decide to publish, that we are feeding people. Nutrition matters. Don’t leave the tater salad out in the sun, Hemingway.

Searching for Quality

I’m not saying that creative people shouldn’t be ready and willing to offend their audience. Are you offended, for example, by what happens in the courthouse in To Kill A Mockingbird? Sure. I’m saying that we owe the audience Quality. What is it, and why did I capitalize it?

Quality with a capital Q is the properties of a thing which create in the observer of it a sense and understanding of himself with respect and in relation to the thing. In other words, Quality is something that the reader can relate to.

When I watched Northern Exposure, I loved it because I could relate to it. I could picture myself living in Cicely Alaska, hanging out at The Brick, listening to Chris in the Morning on k-Bear, going fishing with Ed. And very much unlike Doc Martin, I could imagine I might trust Dr. Joel to be my doctor. (My real life’s doctor’s name is also Joel.)

Can you imagine the Old Man and The Sea and find some meaning for yourself therein? If so, that’s Quality. It doesn’t have to be as specific and personal as my Reaction to N.E., but it has to draw the audience in, as opposed to making them feel alienated. Speaking of which, does Alien scare you? Can you identify with Sigourney Weaver’s terror? If so, that’s Quality.

That is my problem with Doc Martin. I can’t relate to the writing, the setting, the characters, their motivations. I have waited time and again in hope of being drawn in and finding a way to identify – a handhold of Quality – and it has not come. I have the same problem when I’m reading a bad poem or a bad novel and I put it down. There’s just no me in it, no us there at all. So I have been known to toss a crappy novel hard against the nearest wall because I can’t relate. Not because some people don’t like dogs or older people shouldn’t have sex, but because if it’s done badly – if the shitty from the first draft is still showing thru – and if it ain’t art, then it’s alienation.

das boat

Ever wonder why the castaways on Gilligan’s Island didn’t fix the boat? It had a hole in it, but it wasn’t destroyed. They made huts and stuff, all sorts of gadgets – even a bamboo car – but they never bothered to try to patch up The Minnow.

I spotted this cool bit over at Boing Boing, on he themes and symbolism of the show:

“Without benefit of any huge bureaucracy or powerful tribunal, the castaways principally live in peace. More important than any traditional codification of laws is simply their collective treatment of one another. …The peculiarities and blunders of each inhabitant are admitted and tolerated. Their differences are simply noticed and granted — not violently opposed.

Even this lofty theme is not the primary thesis. … The most remarkable message of the tale lies in the paradox of the concentrated lust of the castaways — their burning desire to go back. Back to a time and a place that is more familiar and romantically remembered as "better."

The tragedy of the tale is not that they can never go back. The real affliction is the wish itself. They are all so preoccupied with the notion of going back that they never realize they are already in paradise.”

It’s true, they never do get off the island, though they might have if the show hadn’t been cancelled after 3 seasons.

So it goes.


Have you seen that new show, Sliced? It’s on the History Channel. This guy uses power tools to slice things open and see how they work. Tonight I flipped by, and he was dissecting one of those arcade games with the claw that comes down and grabs the toys. There’s one in a Denny’s about 20 miles from here. He showed how it’s rigged using a compressed air regulator to control the grip of the claw. You don’t have a chance, kid.

Wouldn’t it be more reasonable just to use screwdrivers and wrenches to dismantle stuff? Yeah, but it would be as much fun; it wouldn’t be made for television.

So here’s what I’m thinking about: what would I like to slice apart with a huge circular saw. Hmm. It would have to be something I’ve never taken apart to repair before. Well, I’m thinking one of these.


An essentially unoffending mechanism, in the right hands. In the wrong hands, extremely annoying. the same could be said for one of these.

STIHL S295E001  4CDS

But I’m told that chasing one of these down and chopping it up, while satisfying, interesting, and arguably justified, is illegal everywhere but Texas. There, they have a “he damn sure needed killin” defense to homicide.

So, what would you like to dismantle today? Here’s a little movie inspiration for you. (Language alert.)

Hey, I wonder if the guy who invented those arcade games is still around, and whether he likes baseball and rap.

Wild Bill

James Butler “Wild Bill” Hickok, famous gunfighter and gambler, was only 39 years old when he died in Deadwood SD, in 1876. He was shot in the back of the head in a cowardly attack, and died holding aces and eights.

I find it interesting, because in the movies he’s generally been portrayed quite a bit older. As here, by Keith Carradine, in Deadwood.

Carradine is 59, but he can still wear his guns, is my point.

gin, tv, and time

A really clever read:

If I had to pick the critical technology for the 20th century, the bit of social lubricant without which the wheels would’ve come off the whole enterprise, I’d say it was the sitcom. Starting with the Second World War a whole series of things happened–rising GDP per capita, rising educational attainment, rising life expectancy and, critically, a rising number of people who were working five-day work weeks. For the first time, society forced onto an enormous number of its citizens the requirement to manage something they had never had to manage before–free time.

And what did we do with that free time? Well, mostly we spent it watching TV.


Obama, Clinton stress job creation

Yahoo! News: “Obama, who is on a six-day bus tour through Pennsylvania, also toured a factory that makes the wires that eventually become Slinky toys.

The Illinois senator played with a Slinky through the visit, meeting with a small Saturday work crew.”

Oh, those presidential candidates get to have all the fun.

I think you probably need to hear the Slinky song at this point, don’t you? Here you go; don’t say I didn’t hook you up.


  • I have removed from my TV’s preset channels the one for CNN Headline News. It is lost to the vortex of the trivial and tawdry, and I can’t be bothered to keep clicking past it. Nancy Grace and Glen Beck simply suck. And what happened to the premise of Headlines? Talking heads are not the same thing.
  • I find I write best and with most alacrity with music playing. Lately, my best and favorite music is the soundtrack from the movie Garden State. Wonderful. I recommend it for the ills that ail the writer and poet.

    And if you took to me like
    A gull takes to the wind,
    Well I’d a’ jumped
    From my trees and,
    I’d a’ danced like the king of the eyesores
    And the rest of our lives would a’ fare well.

    I’m looking in on the good life
    I might be doomed never to find
    Without a trust, or flaming fields
    Am I too dumb to refine?

    When You Notice The Stripes, The Shins

  • I hear dead people. I have their voices in my dreams.