29 January, 2012

Don't threaten my love of Murder, She Wrote. I will cut you.

I recently received a letter from a new friend. He is in "the biz" but I did not know that, and our paths had never crossed in real life until Christmas Eve, when they crossed at the holiday party of a mutual friend. And, to be specific, by "real life" I mean the very strange thing that happens when you are an actor, where conversations go like this:

Him: Hi, I'm M, nice to meet you.
Al: Hi I'm Al.
Him: Hi.

[four minutes of totally "Muggle" type conversation occurs--about LA, the holidays, and 90s television {including a reference to Lady Aberline from Mister Rodgers}, followed by--]

Him [cont]: Oh yes, I saw you.
Al: "Saw" me?
Him: On SVU. Yes.
Al: How?
Him: ...I...watch... television.
Al: Right.
Him: You were great.
Al: Thank you.

Him: I mean I've seen you in other theatre things... like Hello Again [the hostess of this holiday party was also in Hello Again]...and you know, Master Class.
Al: Right. [it dawns on me, taking me by surprise, once again, as it always does, that a lot of people see an actor--a lot more people than an actor will ever see...think on THAT...]
Him: Anyway!

And then we proceeded to dissect the ENTIRE CANON OF 80s and 90s pop culture for the next two hours.

Recently I received the following email from him:

Al Silbs.  Happy 2012. 
I have to tell you – and I don’t want you to be overwhelmed… I don’t want things to get awkward or anything… but… in the near-month since our meeting, I have definitely found myself watching Murder, She Wrote and…  I mean.  Al.  I just don’t know.  It really doesn’t live up to my childhood memories.  Like, in my mind it was just MacGyver except with Cora Hoover Hooper.  But.  It’s REALLY not.  And they’re all in Maine!  I’m just a little conflicted.  I mean, I was able to watch all 7 seasons of Family Ties recently – and it totally lived up to my warm sense-memories.  But, Murder, She Wrote?  I’m not as sure.  

Maybe I just caught some clunker episodes?  But …I feel like you might dispute the notion that there are clunker episodes to begin with.  So, I’m not sure.

I think you might be alarmed by my festival of underlining in the previous paragraphs.  It’s a work-habit, but then I started thinking – this is a chick who pays attention to syntax and details, I have to keep it consistent.  So now it looks like I’m e-mailing you a term paper.

How are you?  How’s Astoria?

M
[**crickets**]

JB reflects my *exact* emotions to this email
"How are you?"
"How's Astoria?"
Is this man OUT OF HIS MIND? How can he flippantly ask HOW I AM when he has attacked my love of Jessica Fletcher so profoundly? [mouth sputters!] Pah pah pah! Does he think I will forgive him?! Does he think he can flatter me so simply because it is evident that he follows me on "The Twitter" closely enough to know that I am choking my blog readers with English lessons as well as unnaturally re-interested in Murder She Wrote enough to record it every day onto my DVR and watch it obsessively because Jessica Fletcher is a friend who never lets you down?! [waves her arms and stomps around in Lucy Van Pelt-style fury.]

I needed a moment.
So I took it.
I did breathing exercises and I got a grip.
Then I responded.
Thus:

Whoa.
Whoa whoa whoa whoa whoa whoa whoooa. (I hope you could hear that the last "whoa" section was sung to the first few lines of "She Loves Me"....)

I don't know what to say.

I mean. What do I address first?

The fact you opened with Al Silbs?

Your consistency with the underlining?

Or...
The "term paper" you wrote?

And SPEAKING OF "WROTE"....

Who. Do. You. THINK. You. Are?

Look.
MSW is not good. And it is not just "Family Ties and Next Gen are not good but really just dated but heartwarming nonetheless" WAY.
It is actually pretty bad.

...M? Jessica is SO disappointed in you...
I will throw 80-90s TV a bone: there was totally a "style" of prime-time drama that was akin to the comparison of "people once, in recent memory, dressed up to travel on an airplane and now they wear their pajamas." (Thank you Reading Rainbow, thank you Marina Serkis and Gates MacFadden, thank you the entire cast of Diagnosis Murder for reminding us that this is ACTING...and by the way please send this memo to David Caruso because he clearly did *not* get that memo....)

But I firmly (!!!) believe MSW falls under the category of "so bad it's good" in a car crash way, as well as "entertaining purely because of nostalgia" way. It is entertainment that falls in the Venn Diagram of CSI: Miami with Magnum PI. Yay-- someone was eaten by an alligator in the Everglades but the short shorts and mustache makes it all palatable. Plus the frozen face of Angela Lansbury at the end as the credits roll fills me with Pavlovian glee.

There is a word for this kind of entertainment in England-- camp. It is CAMP. It is light, fluffy, virtuously clunky, terrible television that goes down as smooth as doughnuts for dinner-- delicious, too sweet, and you are hungry five minutes later.

The End.

[Angela Lansbury freeze frame]
*

Basically, this is the message I want to send: do not threaten my love of Murder She Wrote. I will, and I truly mean it, I will cut you.

25 January, 2012

Ex Libris

You all know about my blind, manic, intense passion for books. You are familiar with my desire to take you to school and get all blah blah blah about second person narrative and rant endlessly about the importance of a book cover, of the order of the Narnia novels, and what books to indulge in at what time of year.

I read.
I read a lot.
And I write.
And I love on books.... hard. I eat them. I am, as Anne Fadiman would say, a carnal lover of books-- taking them into the bath, marking the margins, breaking the spines, loving the body of my books as hard and fast as I love the soul which is their words.

But you know what else I do?
I sing.
So... why not combine these passions and write an all new cabaret show?
Why not bring it to the fanciest and swankiest nightclub in New York City?
Why not sing an entire show based on my love of books, writing, reading, letters, book inscriptions, libraries, librarians, basically--bibliophillic ECSTASY... my very favo(u)rite thing.

And (!!!) why not invite my dear friend Anthony Andrews to join me (in an indulgence or two based upon the books of TH White and George Bernard Shaw perhaps...)? It is going to be a veritable feast of words and music.

Join us.
Do.

19 January, 2012

Words for Interlochen Center for the Arts

"Sometimes a kind of glory lights up the mind of a man. It happens to nearly everyone. You can feel it growing or preparing like a fuse burning toward dynamite. It is a feeling in the stomach, a delight of the nerves, of the forearms. The skin tastes the air, and every deep-drawn breath is sweet. Its beginning has the pleasure of a great stretching yawn; it flashes in the brain and the whole world glows outside your eyes. A man may have lived all his life in the grey, and the land and trees of him dark and somber. The events, even the important ones, may have trooped by faceless an pale. And then – the glory – so that cricket song sweetens his ears, the smell of earth rises chanting to his nose, and dappling light under a tree blesses his eyes. Then a man pours outward, a torrent of him, and yet he is not diminished.

"And I guess a man's importance in the world can be measured by the quality and number of his glories. It is a lonely thing but it relates us to the world. It is the mother of all creativeness, and it sets each man separate from all other men.I don’t know how it will be in the years to come. There are monstrous changes taking place in the world, forces shaping a future whose face we do not know. Some of these forces seem evil to us, perhaps not in themselves but because their tendency is to eliminate other things we hold good. It is true that two men can lift a bigger stone than one man, and bread from a huge factory is cheaper and more uniform. When our food and clothing and housing all are born in the complication of mass production, mass method is bound to get into our thinking and to eliminate all other thinking. In our time mass or collective production has entered our economics, our politics, and even our religion, so that some nations have substituted the idea collective for the idea God. This in my time is the danger. There is great tension in the world, tension toward a breaking point, and men are unhappy and confused. At such a time it seems natural and good to me to ask these questions. What do I believe in? What must I fight for and what must I fight against?

"Our species is the only creative species, and it has only one creative instrument, the individual mind and spirit of a man. Nothing was ever created by two men. There are no good collaborations, whether in music, in art, in poetry, in mathematics, in philosophy. Once the miracle of creation has taken place, the group can build and extend it, but the group never invents anything. The preciousness lies in the lonely mind of a man.

"And now the forces marshaled around the concept of the group have declared a war of extermination on the preciousness, the mind of man. By disparagement, by starvation, by repressions, forced direction, and the stunning hammer-blows of conditioning, the free, roving mind is being pursued, roped, blunted, drugged. It is a sad suicidal course our species seems to have taken.

"And this I believe: that the free exploring mind of the individual human is the most valuable thing in the world. And this I would fight for: the freedom of the mind to take any direction it wishes, undirected. And this I must fight against: any idea, religion, or government which limits or destroys the individual. That is what I am and what I am about. I can understand what a system built on a pattern must try to destroy the free mind, for that is one thing which can by inspection destroy such a system. Surely I can understand this, and I hate it and I will fight against it to preserve the one thing that separates us from uncreative beasts. If the glory can be killed we are lost."


- John Steinbeck, Chapter 13, East of Eden


17 January, 2012

10 January, 2012

09 January, 2012

Where memories go...

Have you ever wondered where memories go?

Do you suppose memories are stored in a kind of great Library? Like the ones of antiquity, and a comprehensive card catalog (filled with time-worn cards all dog-eared, fingered, and browned with age) notates the time, and place and subject of each encounter, vision, smell and feeling in alphabetical, or chronological, or other kind of order of significance. And as you collect more and more memories, the aisles and rows of books all magically lengthen! They expand alongside our experiences and nothing, not even our less than impressive lunches, or boring school lectures, or the scent of a stranger’s perfume, goes uncatalogued. Prim librarians with pinched mouths shush you as you run up and down a long unexplored aisle, children you recognize guide you to sections of the place you thought were long destroyed. These guides often sit you down and insist you pour and pour over the pages of newly rediscovered volumes, or point the way toward your favorite titles, reminding you (harshly or gently) that you may have your favorites, but there are millions of unexplored volumes, not to mention a world beyond the library itself, begging to be explored.

From the time I was little, I have always clutched fiercely onto ordinary moments. If I shut my eyes tightly and memorized every detail, I could paint and re-paint the moment with white-knuckle accuracy, then will myself to remember, over and over again. Writing it down felt like cheating, so I would stare and think and contemplate and document with my mind alone as I stored more and more details away, terrified that even one might escape me.


Would I remember the way I wept on my first day of school at El Rodeo School (in First Grade) when Tara Pascal denied it was the first day of Fall and called me a liar? Would I recall how I cried because I didn’t know anyone at my new school, and because my Mom had told me it was the first day of Fall, and I felt so alone? Or how Mrs. Divine held me and told me it was indeed, the first day of fall, and that everything was going to be alright?

Would I remember the taste of a Flintstone's push-up ice cream? the way the card board would get soggy, the way my heart sank when I reached the bottom?

Or  recall being disheartened every time that girl Rebecca beat everyone else to the gold shoes in the dress-up box in pre-school? 

How about the exact way mom’s eyes changed in the light? 

Or the way my skin stuck to my Dad’s black leather work chair as I spun round and round accompanied by the beats of his vintage IBM typewriter?


What of all those seemingly forgettable everyday moments?
The thought of losing even one iota, one single shredded oddment, one miniscule scintilla, petrified eight-year-old me.
No matter how unremarkable they were,
even then
    I wanted them.
I wanted them all.
I still do.


But would they be there in twenty years? Would the bookmarks of my discarded volumes remain in their place, right where I had left them? Or, like all natural things would I return to find them turned to dust? Disintegrated by time and neglect? Might I return to the Great Memory Library to find that entire sections had been destroyed by a fire, or ravaged in a flood, or sold off to another city to pay for modern repairs? 

I have been told that I have a photographic memory. But nearly thirty years of life on I have really only ever managed to hold onto what feels like a few measly scraps...


Neuroscientists say every memory is actually the memory of a memory, and every time we remember the same memory, it gets distorted slightly over and over again until at some unnameable point, all we are left with is the skeleton of truth draped in the fabrics of our imagination.

The Great Memory Library

01 January, 2012

Glove Love

Sometimes it is called “The Land that is Shaped Like a Hand.”
That would be because it is.
Some people call it “The Mitten.”
Some “The Glove.”
All of these are equally valid and as far as I am concerned, inter-changeable.
But one thing remains constant: whatever the identifier, my love of the state of Michigan is forever, steadfast and true. The real deal. Real like Ross loving Rachel. As a real a thing as Henry James’ The Real Thing. Or Tom Stoppard’s The Real Thing (Or Vanessa Williams’ or Kurt Andersen’s or ...) Like the French loving cheese… like teen-vampire love

Michiganders legitimately, and with a full sincerity free from all whimsey or irony, declare where they are from in Michigan by referring to the area on an actual real-life hand.

Examples,
    “I am from Bad Axe,” this fictional Michigander will say to you in a flat-vowel-ed Michigan accent (so flat, in fact, that you will swear they just said “BEE-ad EE-ax”). And you, after deciphering what they just said, and being a Normal-Non-Michigan-Muggle-type will reply,
    “...Where in Christ is that?”
And they, smiling as broadly as their vowels in a manner in which only Michiganders can, will reply,
    “Why, it’s in the thumb!”
And then, this person will without question get out their hand and SHOW you exactly where they live on their portable hand-map as if you didn't know where a thumb was located, but perhaps you don't and these people are so friendly they really don't mind the demo. 

Um… isn’t that the most charming thing you have ever heard?
                     
                        ...Like, in the whole of your life?

*

Okay, now, all that said, here is how you do the Michigan Hand shake…that I may-or-may-not-have, made up.

The entire act is what I like to call…

[*drum-roll please*]

GLOVE LOVE.

[: ::confetti:: :]

To mirror, of course, the Glove Love in my heart that shall never die. (Not even if I give birth to a werewolf baby...)

STEP 1 - PRESENT THE “GLOVE”

Hold up your right hand in front of you (recommended distance is approximately 10 inches from your face, perpendicular, as if touching a window before you)




STEP 2 - DECLARE YOUR “GLOVE LOVE”

Say aloud, “Glove Love” to the handshakes’ recipient, followed by a sincere, generally appetizing look that evokes anything from flirtation to unwavering brotherhood, or everything in between at once.



STEP 3 - INVITE THE “GLOVE LOVE”

Instruct your recipient to match your upheld hand as one might do in a “mirroring” exercise, and feel the “love” as your hands touch.



STEP 4 - TAKE IT “U.P” A NOTCH

If you are really feeling the Glove Love, then you need to take it up a notch, and by UP, I mean the “U.P” and by the “U.P,” I mean the Upper Peninsula.

Invite the recipient to “Upper Peninsula me!” by extending your left hand sideways and crossing it over and above your already presented hand (thus, vaguely resembling the Northwest geography of the Upper Peninsula of Michigan) and having them match that in the same, intoxicatingly adorable manner. (Have you taught James Earl Jones my now not-so-secret handshake...? Um... because I have. So you can stop making fun of me and buzz off! Because a certain Michigan-native named James Earl Jones loved it. He hand flirted with me by interlacing his fingers post “Upper Peninsula” and laughed that signature “HA HA HA!” laugh he did at the beginning of Coming to America. He loved it. HE GLOVE LOVED IT...)



STEP 5 - BASK.

Do.
Do bask.
Go on…
Bask in the love…

    …The Glove Love.

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