Next Generation Ultra Quirky Guide to Binging in Quarantine

Next Generation Ultra Quirky Guide to Binging in Quarantine

In a recent interview, an expert on choice warned that although we demand an unlimited array of choices in every sector of our existence, wading through them all can be exhausting.  Just to put that into perspective, it would take eight months of non-stop viewing to watch everything NEW on Netflix this year, which may sound like an appropriate challenge to some, and if so, go for it, but for the rest of us, some parameters of choice are helpful.

Lots of binging advice is out there, and those recommendations are useful for the most part, but they tend to coalesce around generally fairly widely viewed options.  This guide opens doors which have been opened less frequently with the expectation that some will cause the reader to tingle in anticipation and some to shudder.

I Like Sketch Comedy, But I’d Rather Not Have The Horrible Reality of My Life Today Thrown In My Face Again This Week      

SCTV

A tribute to SCTV, the Canadian comedy universe that aired from 1976 to 1984 will be airing on Netflix in May.  Directed by Martin Scorsese, 

the collection of clips and interviews with cast members can only whet the appetite for the sustained comedic genius of Toronto’s Second City actors, including John Candy, Martin Short, Eugene Levy, Andrea Martin, and Joe Flaherty (pictured here) as well as the “Hoser” humor of “The Great White North” featuring Rick Moranis and Dave Thomas.

Jimmy Kimmell hosts and an appreciative audience responds to the clips and commentary, but, folks, this is only the gateway enticement to a world that defies description.  

For the Comedy Iconoclasts of 'SCTV,' a Joyful Reunion Tinged With ...

The photo above includes Martin Short’s character, Ed Grimley, later teleported to SNL, but the episodes of particular note begin with SCTV’s Monster Chiller Horror Theater, hosted by Joe Flaherty’s Count Floyd.  Those who have not seen John Candy at the top of his game as Doctor Tongue ought to watch the entire run of Monster Chiller Horror Theater.  A quick jog through the titles only hints at the treasures that await:

Dr. Tongue’s Evil House of Wax, Dr. Tongue’s 3D House of Cats, Death Motel, Dr. Tongue’s 3D House of Stewardesses, Slinky – The Toy From Hell, Dr. Tongue’s 3D House of Beef, Blood Sucking Monkeys, The Making of 3D Stake From The Heart, Dr. Tongue’s Evil House of Pancakes, 3D House of Slavechicks

Your Best Bet:  Monster Chiller Horror Theater: The House of Cats, in which Dr. Tongue turns women into cats, also in which Dr. Tongue perfects the 3D experience  by moving closer or farther away.

I Really Like The Mind Bending Shows That Warm The Heart But The Next Season Of Russian Doll Hasn’t Appeared Yet … Oh … And It Could Be Set In Toronto, That’s OK, Even If This List Turns Out To Be Pretty Canadian

BEING ERICA

Being Erica – totally Toronto, and if you are ok with therapeutic time travel a pretty nifty way to combine second chance do-overs with tangling up fate, the present, the past, and dating.  

Erin Kapluk plays Erica Strange, seated here on a couch with her therapist known as Dr. Tom, played by Michael Riley.  

Erica is a moderate mess, 32 years old and overqualified for the lousy job from which she is fired in the first episode.  So far, so what, but as she has a nut allergy, the plot thickens when she drinks a cup of hazelnut coffee, ordinarily NOT the magical whatsit that carries an adventure off to Fillory, Narnia, or Oz.  In Erica’s case, screwed up personal life, professional life, family life have all been sparking like thunderclouds waiting for Erica to be hospitalized where an uninvited counselor, Dr. Tom hears an account of her dilemmas and offers to help.  When she finally hits bottom and crawls into Dr. Tom’s office, he asks her to list a lifetime of regrets.  He picks the 1992 Fall Formal as her first time trip, allowing her to return to the humiliation of having gone full-vomit after binge drinking in high school, losing her boyfriend and beginning the slide of shame from which she has not recovered. We and Erica assume she’s just going to make a few good decisions, erase the legacy of shame, and return to a world in which the unsullied Erica might have thrived.  It will come as no surprise that time travel doesn’t work that way. The lessons she (and we) learn are more complicated.

 Hey, These Canadian Shows Sound Pretty Great, Eh?  Got Any More?

SLINGS AND ARROWS

Bunches of them, but the next option offers the rare opportunity to combine the occasionally venal, always absorbing life behind the scenes ala Waiting For Guffman with some surprisingly 

effective performances of  Hamlet, Romeo and Juliet, Macbeth, and King Lear.  Rachel McAdams (left) is the ingenue in the first season, replaced in the second and third by Joanne Kelly.  

Mark McKinney of Kids In The Hall, playwright and actress Susan Coyne, and Comedian Bob Martin created this excruciatingly wonderful account of three seasons in the life of the New Burbage Festival, a down-at-the-heels Shakespearean repertory company.  The cast of characters includes every sort of theatrical type, exercises in boundless egotism, directorial choices that defy description (A Romeo and Juliet in which the actors do not touch), and a fumbling executive director who fancies himself a musical comedy star.  Three wonderful seasons.

I Like British Humor, But British Situation Comedies Are As Lame As The American Versions

TASKMASTER

For sheer amplitude of wit, almost certainly obscene, the panel shows – Eight Out Of Ten Cats, Eight Out Of Ten Cats Does Countdown, The Big Fat Quiz Of The Year, Would I Lie To You – cannot be matched.

Taskmaster, described as “Clever and Stupid in Equal Measure” is a game show of sorts.  Host Greg Davis (Seated on throne) and flat-affected adjudicator Alex Horne, the show’s creator (Taking punishment on right) set tasks that comedians must complete in order to win the game/season/nothing?  The completion of tasks often strains credulity as in “Do something that looks impressive in an hour” which yielded Romesh Ronganathan’s short film classic “Tree Wizard”.  Other tasks (Knock all the rubber ducks to the ground) was widely hailed as “Stupid, stupid fun”

And what more can we ask of fine television after all?

If I hear Dick Wolf’s “Dun Dun” sound effect one more time, I will personally carry out a crime to be solved on Law and Order, but I like gritty police procedurals.

NO OFFENSE

OMG, nothing like this anywhere on American television.  Turn on the captions as this procedural is set in Manchester, and for all I know, the accents are accurate, certainly indecipherable at times.There are a number of extraordinary qualities to the show, the first of which is the indelible cast of characters, many of whom are pictured here.  Detective Inspector (DI) Vivienne Deering (Holding the badge above) runs a division of the Manchester Metropolitan Police with blunt (more than occasionally obscene) tough love and good humor.  She and the several female detectives that make up this force are clever, tough, kind, and eminently competent.  This is definitely NOT a jiggle and bend Bay Watch company of kewpie dolls.  Imagine buddy cops who are smart, complicated, and completely developed characters.  The men on the show are as compelling, including a forensic specialist who may be among the most curiously effective odd characters to hoist a corpse.  Each season presents a complex of criminal and personal activity resolved for the most part by the season’s end, although as is true of the best of series procedurals, actions in one season have consequences in the next.

You said before that too many choices makes our heads hurt.  SO, Is that it?

HALT AND CATCH FIRE – THE COMPUTER REVOLUTION PICKS UP IN SEASON TWO

WIRE IN THE BLOOD – CRIMINAL PROFILING

THE OA – STILL AROUND – DIVE INTO SEASON TWO

PEEP SHOW – IF YOU’RE EAGER FOR MORE BRITISH HUMOR

BETTER OFF TED – YOU MISSED IT?  REALLY?

March 20, 2020: Twenty Things I Did Not Worry About Today

March 20, 2020:              Twenty Things I Did Not Worry About Today

  1.  Washing my car
  2.  Losing weight
  3. Remembering the name of that guy at the gym
  4. Renting the equipment to sand the deck down to bare wood
  5. Avoiding kids and moms selling Girl Scout Cookies
  6. Making sure there’s no dog hair on my sweater
  7. Avoiding Cadbury mini chocolate Easter eggs
  8. Being stuck behind the person who smells like sausage and sage in line at Safeway
  9. Music Award Shows
  10. Getting my bracket ready for March Madness
  11. Getting tickets on line for reclining seats at the movie theater – not too close to the screen
  12. Losing my car keys
  13. Losing my wallet
  14. Finding stations to listen to diurng the NPR Fund Drive
  15. Returning the call from the dentist’s office
  16. Making reservations for a cruise
  17. Wondering when Steph and Klay might both be healthy
  18. The state primaries
  19. Returning overdue library books
  20. The Royals, aliens, celebrity breakups – gossip papers and magazines at the checkout counter

Democrat’s Hoax Inconveniences millions in China, Iran, Italy, and South Korea

Democrat’s Hoax Inconveniences millions in China, Iran, Italy, and South Korea

There’s nothing funny about absurdity that puts lives at risk, but satire is the only response some of us have left.  

We are all at risk, of course, most notably those over the age of 50, but given the disservice partisan denial does to those who are told to discount the certainty of viral infection, the subgroup most at risk may be Republicans over the age of 50.  

Fox news and other right wing pundits have downplayed the risk of the novel coronavirus, explaining to viewers and readers that the pandemic panic is yet another ploy on the part of the left to attack the presidency of Donald Trump.  Fox host Sean Hannity observed that the current concern about novel coronavirus was, “Like they’re (Democrats) hoping Americans get sick and die and that we’ll all lose a fortune in the stock market because of the jittery stock market.”

Wow!

After the President’s disturbingly underwhelming press conference was cooly received by those who are concerned about the spread of the virus in the United States, Hannity put it this way:

““All the same people who have done the same thing for three straight years. … Russia, Russia. Ukraine, Ukraine. And impeach, impeach. Now, corona, corona.”

He’s not wrong that those issues have been and are being raised by the same people, those issues being attached to perceived assaults on the Constitution, but the tenacity with which Hannity and others make global pandemic a partisan issue is confounding.  Apparently, there is efficacy in playing fast and loose with the truth in order to gain and keep power, and people only know what they are allowed to know, but …. an observable world does exist outside of Fox world, and one would think, well … one would think.

Ainsley Earhardt on Fox and Friends encouraged travel right now.  Apparently it’s not only safe to fly; now is THE safest time to fly.  Why? “Everyone I know (sic) that’s flying right now. (sic) terminals are pretty much dead.”

Uh huh.

One would think.

As has been true since the start of his term, the president’s relentless egoism and self-interest has been enabled by a Senate majority that has abdicated moral authority.  Vice President Pence’s gushing testimonial to the president’s leadership provided an Alice in Wonderland upside down window into the attitudes of the coalition of yes men and women standing in El Jefe’s shadow, but the impeachment process which offered Senators the opportunity to consider the president’s vow to support and defend the Constitution revealed the reality of partisan politics.

Today’s reality, however is not about politics.  It’s about all of us. Today our hearts might be with the sons and daughters of parents languishing in nursing homes and critical care facilities.  As reported by CNN, yesterday’s declaration of National Emergency a change in guidelines for nursing homes and long-term care facilities from the CDC. 

“The guidelines now urge facilities to restrict all visitations except for “certain compassionate care situations, such as end of life situations.”

“She said she woke up crying this morning,” Bridget Parkhill said, whose mother is in the Life Care Center in Kirkland, Washington. The center has been linked to 25 coronavirus cases, according to the Associated Press.

Parkhill and her sister, Carmen Gray, sat outside their mother’s window with a picnic, trying to soothe her on the phone. They say their mother came to the center for rehab from a knee replacement and ended up getting coronavirus.

Parkhill says the process has been horrible and both sisters try their best not to show their mother the dread they feel.”

The dread we feel.

Good News! If You Have Symptoms, You May Be Able To Wait For Testing

Good News!  If You Have Symptoms, You May Be Able To Wait For Testing

Good News!  If You Have Symptoms, You May Be Able To Wait For Testing!

What do the NFL, the NBA, Broadway, the Pope, and the Disney Corporation understand about this pandemic that the Trump team has yet to figure out?  

Only moments ago, the president of the United States declared what he called a National Emergency, as he put it, “Two very big words.”  Apparently that declaration arrives even as he contends that “we are in very strong shape.” Disregarding the best advice of every practicing physician, clinical care giver, and ordinary informed citizen, he then shook hands with the ranks of corporate chiefs flanking him in this celebration of the union of government and business.  The declaration was buttressed by the insight that the president had memorised the Stafford Act which allocates funds to states and localities in times of emergency.  

I, like Will Ferrell as Mugatu, feel like I’m taking crazy pills.  For example, I’m pretty sure I heard the President offer this opinion two days ago:

“The vast majority of Americans (sic): The risk is very, very low.  Young and healthy people can expect to recover fully and quickly if they should get the virus.  The highest risk is for elderly population with underlying health conditions. The elderly population must be very, very careful.”

Careful to …?  Come on, we’re elderly.  Throw us a bone. What’s the drill?

Ah, cover our mouths when we sneeze and stay away from people with symptoms.  Oh, and wash hands.  

The clear message from the assorted sycophants was that most people don’t need to be tested, this will pass, and that should people get sick, the new rules will allow doctors from another state to jump in to help.  Oh, and wash your hands.

In a press conference that went right past self-congratulatory to celebration, the president’s coterie thanked him effusively for his far sighted leadership in avoiding a health disaster in the United States.  Recalling yet another high point in unfortunate prognostication, the phrase “Mission Accomplished” comes to mind.  

Dr. Fauci, who also endorses hand washing, declared that the administration was, “proactive, leaning forward, trying to stay ahead of the curve.”  Unfortunately, both he and the president seemed somewhat confused about what had brought the downsizing of the Directorate for Global Health Security and Biodefense, often known as the pandemic office.  “I didn’t do it,” the president reminded the press, also clearly advising them that he was not responsible for the lag time in making test kits available. His words will ring through the annals of time.  “I don’t take responsibility at all,” a bold assertion for any head of state to offer a nation in crisis.

And even more good news:  We got a great deal on oil.  Apparently we are now “energy independent” which will be good news for all those flights, cruises, and auto trips … oh … wait.

Apocalypse Watch 2020 is getting tricky.  On one hand, the former governor of Alaska and former vice presidential candidate appeared on The Masked Singer as a bear rapping Baby Got Back, which, I gotta say, drove the dial pretty deep.  On the other, the unleashing of the full power of the federal government and the business partners in emergency response was displayed by Dr. Deborah Birx holding what appeared to be a Science Fair’s C minus poster upon which the path to testing was presented.

Actually, the poster was not really necessary, as the president’s opinion is that, “We don’t want people to take a test if we feel they shouldn’t be doing it and we don’t want everyone running out and taking(sic),  Only if you have certain symptoms.”

Ah Hah!  And it is this directive that brings Google into the picture.  The president seems to believe that Google has 1700 engineers working on a website as he spoke, a website that would allow virtual triage, probably in place by Sunday night.  Yesterday, Sundar Pichai, the Chief Executive Officer of Alphabet sent an email to employees advising them that Google is working on testing, also asking for volunteers to work on that task.  It seems that the president’s description may have been premature as Google immediately sent out a statement that the work was in the very early stages.

We can expect the Google product to match Dr. Birx’s poster, but it too essentially asks the responder to respond if symptomatic. A “YES” allows the subject then to begin the process of seeking testing, which we are lead to believe, will take place in a Walmart parking lot.

Tough choice as I post this piece.  Picture of the Birx poster or of Sarah Palin in a bear costume?  Pretty much a toss up when it comes to meaningful response to a pandemic already very much here.

Free Bacon For Life

Free Bacon For Life

Just scrolling around, reading urgent nation-threatening stories from the Washington Post when the article on NATO was interrupted by a quarter page picture of bacon, the announcement, “Free Bacon For Life”, and the invitation to do whatever would happen were I to actually cick on the banner.

I don’t eat bacon or anything taken from or derived from mammals, observing that when I look in my dogs’ eyes, I see someone in there. The which is actually beside the point, as even if I were able to justify eating a slice of pig, one of the most intelligent of mammals, I’d really only need so much. And, there’s something about being attached to an endless supply of bacon for a lifetime that strikes me as oppressive.

“Honey, the bacon truck is here. Did you hose down the bacon vat?”

Once upon a time in a kingdom far, far away, I did enter an All-You-Care-To-Eat establishment, let’s call it The Captain’s Trough, a spacious establishment with the aforementioned trough running the length of the building. There are many issues at play in considering a dining option that promotes itself as a tribute to gluttony, the most unexpected of which is the mechanism by which the “food” is replenished. I’ll return to the actual “menu” and the actual “diners”, but it was in observing the teams assigned to the replenishment of the various tubs that I understood the scale of operations such as these. The runners (and they were moving!) sped from the kitchen to the groaning board pushing carts laden with comestibles defying description. Mashed potatoes, boiled cauliflower, sticky rice, Clamlike-chowder, the mixed vegetable medley, the lamb curry, the chicken curry, the gravy – all indistinguishable. Good news! The Pork entrees (B-B-Que Pork, Pork Choplets, The Ginger Pork, Chinese spareribs, and ham) were all fire engine red. Easy to spot. The chicken entrees, similarly color coded, were chartreuse, the beef dishes a coffee brown.

Once off-loaded, the steaming trays were quickly emptied then filled again. Did the same patrons return more than once, I wondered? Indeed they did. And again. Here too, my attention was hijacked by the same eager crew hit the tables, scooping up dishes as they emptied, clearing space, not allowing the feeders diners to rush the trough with plates dripping with the remains of the previous foray. The diners stood, the crew swept in, clearing and wiping, preparing the table for the next round.

I ought to find an illustrative photo to accompany this piece as words alone cannot convey the distance between recognizable and familiar protein and the approximation sitting in their approximated sauces. Some came closer as they were bound to a bone of some sort, but even I, no student of chicken anatomy, knew these bones were of a different species.

The trough, as I suggest, was unguarded, as was the chocolate fountain and the dessert bar, but drink were charged separately, and the establishment’s signature yeast rolls were parcelled out with a keen eye on each tray. The replenshing crew feigned ignorance when asked for another basket. “Huh! Rolls? I’ll ask in the kitchen.” This subterfuge raised a question that ought to have come to mind much earlier. “If the cost of providing rolls is a limiting factor in generating profit, how inexpensively has this chicken broccoli surprise been tossed together?”

Best not to ask the unanswerable question.

To return to the provocation of this reflection, I do wonder exactly how this Bacon-For-Life thing works, and thus the quandry. In order to find out what this offer actually entails, I have to click on the banner, and with that action a chain of events is launched, immediately out of my control. Not only do I place myself on the this-guy-is-nuts-about-bacon data base, I am tagged forever as a consumer eager to buy and buy again, as long as the product is offered in bulk … and for a lifetime.

Some things are best left to conjecture. The mind wanders through a labyrinth of untended thoughts, now tinged with the aroma of soggy bacon.

Another good day.

“Not The First Dead Thing I Kept In My Freezer” … Overheard At The Coffee Shop

“Not The First Dead Thing I Kept In My Freezer” … Overheard At The Coffee Shop

A cozy corner, a cup of coffee, time to think deep thoughts. The clack of my computer keys is often an effective barrier, preventing strangers from intruding on the hatching of the whimsical notions I ply as my stock in trade. “I’m working here,” my posture shouts. “No time for idle conversations.” Clack, clack.

And yet, from the table directly next to mine, the words penetrate even the most resolute defenses. “… not the first dead thing I’ve kept in my freezer.”

The choice now is mine. Take a deep breath, store the overheard confession in the discarded conversations storehouse with thousands of other unwelcomed thoughts, or drop my guard, pretend to be cleaning the screen of the computer, and indulge in the guilty pleasure of purposefully eavesdropping.

I lean back in my chair, a writer stretching, nothing out of the ordinary, certainly not arching closer to the voice to my left. I extend my arms, strike the about to yawn pose, fold myself as one might in yawning extravagently and slide just an inch or two closer in time to hear the unexpected.

“I jammed him in while he was still warm. So devastating. Only fourteen. But beautiful in his own sweet way, right until his last shriek.”

OK, Jimmy Hoffa, D.B. Cooper, Amelia Earhart. Who, exactly, looked sweetly hot until the screaming ended? Fourteen? Fourteen? The mind goes where the mind goes. Jeffrey Dahmer’s fridge. Uneaten fortune cookies. Oh God!

The thoughtful reader will note that there has been no mention of intervening phone calls or cries for help. “9-1-1, what’s your emergency?” “Well, I can’t tell for sure, but I think the lady at the next table stuffed a dead fourteen year old in her freezer. Not the first time, either.”

But then, second thought. Not the first time for this body, or not the first time for any number of bodies? What are we looking at here? Casual, first timer in the freezer game or serial freezer feeder?

The perp at the next table continued.

“My last cockatiel made it to sixteen. Henry was more fit, a healthy bird. I hold myself accountable. I should not have over done the treats. That was all about me. Me. Not Henry. Henry needed leafy greens and fruit, and I was tossing coffee toffee in the cage. He liked it. Ate it anyway. Seemed fine. Then dead.”

The world just became slightly less grim. No children were frozen in the making of this conversation. I hunched back over my own table, ready to take up my endlessly amusing attempt to turn 1960’s brainless TV shows into Broadway musicals. Diverting as heck but apparently not of interest to anyone else. Hogan’s Heroes, The Musical? Come on, who doesn’t want to hear Sergeant Schultz warble, “I know Nussing” as the plucky prisoners prepare a drag act for the compound’s talent show?

Work. Work. And yet.

OK, cockatiel, but not the first? And why the freezer? Need time to prepare a formal farewell? Out-of-town relatives flying in for a service? Relatives of yours? Of his? Taxidermy an option? Is freezing the way to go if stuffing an old and beloved friend? So many questions, none of which were answered. Off they went on some other tangent. Saving the planet, whatever, blah, blah, blah.

I’m looking at my screen. Trying to come up with a musical number for Arnold Ziffer, a pig, the most sentient of the life forms appearing on Green Acres. Arnold first appeared on Petticoat Junction, the show that introduced Hooterville, a show which was, itself, spawned from an earlier laugh riot about country folk, The Beverly Hillbillies. Arnold is a wunderpig; he makes Wilbur, Charlotte the Spider’s porcine pal, look like the even-toed ungulate that he was. Compared to Arnold, Wilbur was lunchmeat on the hoof. The gag on Green Acres is that the whole town responds to Arnold as though he is an actual human child of Fred and Doris Ziffel, an academic standout who watches Walter Chronkite to keep up with current events and whose work as a painter if the school of abstract expressionism has won him the title of Porky Picasso.

Thus the dilemma. There’s no fun to be had in exaggerating Arnold’s absurdity; it’s already over the top. It was that sudden opening in the fabric of the universe – nothing to write – that brought a curious memory to mind.

I’m very fond of guinea pigs; we had one or more for years, until the pain of grieving the latest loss became too great, and we went without. All of the guinea pigs were named after islands – Samoa, Fiji, Java Lava, etc. I can’t remember which of them died as we were in the act of moving from Detroit to Connecticut, a horrific tale of misplaced ambition to be told elsewhere. The movers were an ad hoc lot; they forgot to move our bedroom, for example. Suffice it to say, the moving was not going well, and then we discovered that we had lost a dear pet and friend.

The truck is rolling. What to do?

We packed a shoe box with newspapers and gently place the departed in a comfy nest of papers, a nest he/she would have liked had he/she been capable of being alive.

Moving is hell. Boxes stand unopened for weeks, months on end. In this case, the shoe box was relegated to a side porch outside our new home, stacked on other boxes we knew we had to get to quickly. Somewhere in the first afternoon a new neighbor stopped by, not to meet and greet, but to snoop through our things, get a sense of who we were by hefting the things we owned. His thoughtfully designed plan went south when he opened the shoe box on top of the pile.

I’m pretty sure it was curiosity rather than responsibility that brought him to our front door. He stood, puzzled, shoe box in hand, and said, “Did you know there’s a dead animal in here?”

We did, but understanding in an instant that this shared reality could not have happened without some rifling of our boxes, we nodded, took the box, and asked, “You didn’t open the big box on the bottom, did you?

Farewell, blithe cockatiel. Here’s hoping a stranger sneaks into the freezer looking for ice cream.

Medically Proven Cure For Writer’s Block

Medically Proven Cure For Writer’s Block

Summers in Santa Barbara are or have been blissfully mild, allowing every sort of diversion or recreation.  I spent two as a Teaching Fellow at the South Coast Writing Project working with teachers who hoped to teach writing.  The Director, Sheridan Blau, brought in a host of writers, some nationally celebrated, some academic, some amateur, all of whom described the processes by which they got words on the page.  He’d build on their comments, set the class a set of assignments and wait for the inevitable throat clearing and, yes, dare I say, whining. “Why is this like opening a vein?” Sheridan inevitably barked.  The bark was delivered frequently enough that the class pitched in for a t shirt emblazoning the phrase surrounded by blood spatter.

Fetching.

So, Writer’s Block.  It’s a real thing. I’ve seen it for years and have had an occasional bout of blockage myself.  Over many, many years of reading the work that came from blocked imaginations, I devised and borrowed assignments that were intended to liberate the writer.  My colleagues may have insisted on quality; I wanted fluency. Revision is a separate and exceedingly helpful skill, but one that can only follow fluency. There has to be something to revise.  I won’t trot out every stratagem in one tip sheet, but I will explain one of the most effective and provide live footage (on paper) of a writer galloping down the path I suggest.

Borrowing from those who compose music, I’ve called this, “Writing In The Key Of And…” , by which I mean asking the writer to summon up a memory of any sort, any subject as long as there is some immediacy to it, then describe the event without using any punctuation – no capitalization,no pauses, ellipses, periods, question marks.  Nada. However, every separate thought or description has to be introduced by the word “and”. There’s some resistance at the outset, and many questions, but then the magic often happens.

There is something about a headlong rush through the describing of a moment that can bring breathless urgency to a piece.  Part of the process is that it shoves together the essential and the transitory, the observed and the imagined, self-reflection and the emotion of the moment.  I say, “Throw attentive self-editing to the winds. No room for doubt. Keep the pace. Go wherever your mind takes you. Then let’s see what you’ve got.”

My car’s battery died last week.  Not a particularly notable event. As it must to all batteries, last week death came to mine.  Here’s my Key of And:

“What the hell the car is just not working and lights are flashing and then not flashing and then nothing at all and I am supposed to be going to volunteer at the Hospice Boutique and I like volunteering and I hate being late and I hate ditching even more and I have ditched many many too many things in the course of my life and what the hell is the course of my life and is it a course as in path or is a course as in academic course and that’s exactly the sort of question that serves absolutely no purpose and the expression that comes to mind is tits on a bull and that is a vile expression and how do I get things out of my head that I do not want in my head and songs are among those things and I have a song in my head literally around the clock and I don’t know actually if I do when I sleep and I do know it’s there when I wake up and many of them are from God knows where or when and that put the song who knows where or when in my head and that’s not one I want in my head and I have to do a quick recasting of songs and I’m trying as hard as I can and come with que sera sera and that’s not much better in terms of existential panic and I do like the tune though and I can keep that on in the background and think about other things and one of those things is death and dying and that’s two things and maybe one after all and I won’t know until I know and that’s if I know and what am I doing spilling my guts here and where am I supposed to spill my guts and I wish I had a guru or master who welcomed gut spill and I actually really don’t want a guru or master foraging through my guts and I have to get out of this assignment and this will be the end.”

Cautionary note.  I am remembering how hard it is to return to a crafted sentence after having enjoyed the literary wind in my hair, and, of course, I am tempted to go off on a riff about my hair or lack thereof.  So there are some issues with fluency that will need attention. On the other hand, I am reading Anna Burns Milkman, a book that won the Mann Booker Prize and one that I find fascinating.  It’s not quite written in the key advertised above, but there are moments that come close.

From page 200, randomly selected:

“ ‘It’s creepy, perverse, obstinately determined’ went on longest friend, she said, ‘It’s not as if , friend,’ she said, ‘glancing at some newspaper as this were a case of a person glancing at some newspaper, as they’re walking along to get the latest headlines or something.  It’s the way you do it- reading books, whole books, taking notes, checking footnotes, underlining passages as if you’re at some desk or something, in a little private study or something, the curtains closed, your lamp on, a cup of tea beside you, essays being penned – your discourses, your lubrications.  It’s disturbing. It’s deviant. It’s optical illusion. Not public spirited. Not self-preservation. Calls attention to itself and why – with enemies at the door, with the community under siege, with us all having to pull together – would anyone want to call attention to themselves here’.  

Why indeed?

Some readers will have arrived at this point having read both passages, and some may come away with an appreciation of fluency as an end itself.  Others, not so much. All I can offer at the end of this exercise is that no veins were opened in the making of this essay.

I’m done, and it is probably not necessary to say that the last bit in the last sentence sent me to the exculpatory note at the end of movies in which no animals, they say, have been harmed, and from there …