Wednesday, August 30, 2017

Oh Louie

Louis CK is one of my favorite comedians of all time and has inspired me on a number of creative levels. There have been allegations regarding highly inappropriate behavior of a sexually aggressive nature on his part for a number of years. Last week, the heat was turned up when Tig Notaro was interviewed by The Daily Beast and said he needed to "handle" the situation:

“I think it’s important to take care of that, to handle that, because it’s serious to be assaulted. It’s serious to be harassed. It’s serious, it’s serious, it’s serious.” - Tig Notaro

As a schlubby middle-aged white guy (who also happens to be a comedian and a writer), it's disappointing because a lot of Louis CK's best material, from his stand-up to his TV shows, focuses on a schlubby middle-aged white guy's struggles to be a "good person". Not from a stupid "poor us, we schlubby middle-aged white guys are under attack!" standpoint, but more from a "times are changing, and we probably need to change too" view. And the very best of that material challenges us schlubby middle-aged white guys with difficult questions.

We, the schlubby middle-aged white guys of the world, especially here in America, have been allowed to ascend to positions of leadership and power, many times due to no real merit other than the fact that there are so many of us. Nobody has ever been in any gathering of people, looked around and said, "you know, there just aren't enough schlubby middle-aged white guys here." And they never will.

It's been that way for as long as anybody can remember but things are different now. Women and so-called minorities are hungry to seize a fair shot at opportunities for which they've been denied. "Traditional" gender identity roles and definitions of sexuality are things of the past. Words we used to say about people that were okay not that long ago are not okay anymore. In terms of how we measure the evolution of a society, these changes are all happening at an extremely rapid place. Those of us who aren't threatened by these changes and just want to co-exist and get along are still at something of a loss when trying to figure out how exactly to do that.

CK has taken some of these issues on, and while not presenting definitive answers on how to be what we need to be, he's at least brought things to our attention that we may not have thought of. This gives us the opportunity to adjust our perspective, to at least consider the fact that times are changing and that evolution, whatever that might entail, is probably the best way to co-exist, even if actual extinction isn't really a viable threat.

Here are some examples (some of the clips are kind of long but they're all worth watching as examples of a creature who is suddenly a stranger struggling to fit into suddenly strange lands after many, many years of being very comfortable):

Anyway, what's disappointing is that even if he's not a hero or a standard-bearer or a guru with all the answers, he's been a guy who hasn't been afraid through his art to make himself the subject of uncomfortable introspection for the sake of seeking a greater truth. And as such, I thought he was better than the picture these sordid allegations paint.

Granted, they ARE "just" allegations at this point. Innocent until proven guilty still prevails. Also, of course, nobody is perfect (and boy, does that feel like a painfully inadequate and icky thing to say in response to something like this). But this really sucks for us schlubby middle-aged white guys.

Oh well. I'm too old to look up to heroes. I never was very good at that anyway.
Exhibit A: My boyhood idol.

Besides, if I was really learning anything of substance from Louis CK, I'd be able to write a better ending to this.

Wednesday, August 23, 2017

Life in the post-eclipsealyptic wasteland

It's over. The great eclipse of 2017 is finished. A time when we all put aside whatever it was that was pissing us off to go outside and look at the sky together for a few minutes and say, "hey, that's pretty cool".

What remains now are questions.
What can we do to make sure this never happens again in seven years? Sure, we can (and probably will) blow up the moon, something that would probably have no immediately-known negative consequences.
Cool! Everyone lives at the beach!

But that doesn't answer the other question: what do we do now? Specifically, how do we unheal? How do we get back to a place where literally everything and everybody gets on our nerves? A place where you would never answer the question, "can I look through your glasses for a minute?" without hesitation, if not flat-out denial.
The good news is it's already begun. Within minutes of the event's conclusion, many people were already going about the business of rebuilding their lives and returning to normalcy, thanks in large part to President Trump...

  • "What an idiot! He deserves to go blind!"
  • "Out of context! Fake news!" (also, "This proves science doesn't know anything; you can do anything you want without oppressive so-called 'safety equipment'!")
The point isn't what side people would take, the point is people took sides! They weren't too damaged by what the eclipse hath wrought to argue over stupid shit. And if they can find their way back, then we can too. All we have to do is not work together, and we can make it happen again still!

A world where people wouldn't dream of taking a few minutes to enjoy an experience with other people who don't look and think exactly like them: it's not only possible, it's likely.

Wednesday, August 16, 2017

Indy film re-boot

Lots of classic movies are being re-booted all the time. They're either crass, unimaginative attempts to cash in easily because familiar story lines resonate immediately with fans, or they're made to bring these stories and characters into more modern and relevant settings. Or both. Regardless, one beloved franchise is due to be re-done in a more edgy, dark and gritty fashion is the Indiana Jones saga. And now is the perfect time to bring the roguish Nazi-battling archaeologist kicking and screaming into the current age (and played by Idris Elba). I can see it all now...

Indy is briefed on the situation by a couple of shadowy men from the government...
Major Eaton: Doctor Jones, we've heard a lot about you.
Indiana: Have you?
Major Eaton: Professor of Archeology, expert on modern race relations, and how does one say it... black guy.
Indiana: That's one way of saying it. Why don't you sit down, you'll be more comfortable.
Colonel Musgrove: Yes, you're a man of many talents. Now, Doctor Jones, you must understand that this is all completely confidential.
Indiana: I understand.
Major Eaton: You see, for the last eight months, the Nazis have had teams of archaeologists running around the world looking for all sorts of covfefe. Trump's a nut on the subject. He's crazy. He's obsessed with tacky shit. And right now, apparently, there is some kind of alt-right archaeological dig going on in Charlottesville.
Colonel Musgrove: Now, we have some information here, but we can't make anything out of it and maybe you can. "This represents a turning point for the people of this country. We are determined to take our country back. We are going to fulfill the promises of Donald Trump. That's what we believed in. That's why we voted for Donald Trump. David Duke, US."
Indiana: The Nazis have discovered anus!
Major Eaton: Now just what does that mean to you... 'Anus'?
Indiana: Sorry, I meant asshole. David Duke is a racist asshole. He's the former Imperial Wizard of the Ku Klux Klan and he tried to run for president in 1988 and 1992. He's resurfaced and is staking a a desperate attempt to reclaim relevance.
Colonel Musgrove: Seriously? President? Like, of the United States? Twice??
Indiana: Shit's been crazy since long before 2016, man.

Indiana needs his bullwhip to swing across a chasm...
Indiana: Give me the whip.
Satipo: Throw me the idol.
[they both see a stone door closing]
Satipo: No time to argue! Throw me idol, I'll throw you the whip!
Indiana: [throws the idol] Give me the whip!
Satipo: [drops the whip] I refuse to participate in the perpetuation of cruel and inhumane treatment of a marginalized culture by giving a black man the whip.
Indiana: No, no! I'm asking you to give it to me as a symbolic gesture. This would be me reclaiming power by acquiring an instrument traditionally associated with inflicting pain and suffering used against me and my culture.
Satipo: Oh. I can dig that. [picks up whip and throws it to Indiana]
[stone door slams shut]
Indiana: Well, shit.

Indy is walking the streets of Charlottesville with his girlfriend Marion and her pet monkey...
Indiana: Do we need the monkey?
Marion: I'm surprised at you. Talking that way about our baby. He's got your looks, too.
Indiana: ...
Marion: Oh god, I'm sorry! I wasn't thinking! I'm so sorry! I just meant...
Indiana: (sighs) Don't worry about it.

Indy encounters a UVA college student...
Student: I can only say I'm sorry so many times.
Indiana: Well, say it again anyway!
Student: Sorry.

Marion accidentally clicks on a link to ...
Indiana: Marion, don't look at it. Shut your eyes, Marion. Don't look at it, no matter what happens!

A mechanic discovers Indy attempting to sneak aboard a Nazi plane...
Mechanic: [to Indy, in German] Hey, thin man! Come here! Come here! Come here! Come on, fight! Boy, come down! Down now!
[Indy turns and the mechanic sees his face]
Mechanic: [to Indy, in English] Whoa! Hold on, bro. It's cool. I didn't realize... We're cool. We're cool.

Indy finds himself face-to-face with Trump...
Trump: You and I are very much alike. Racial division is our religion, yet we have both fallen from the pure faith. Our methods have not differed as much as you pretend. I am but a shadowy reflection of you. It would take only a nudge to make you like me. To push you out of the light.

Indiana: Fuck you! I have a white girlfriend!

This, plus lots of scenes featuring Indy punching various Nazis.
Yeah, I'd watch this.

Wednesday, August 09, 2017

Condole? Can do!

A friend recently lost someone (they died) and I have been seeing people express their sympathies on Facebook, where I've learned some things about how to and how not to do that, funky-fresh for the 2017s-style. Think this is a difficult position to be in? Think about yourself and how hard this is for you!

  • Don't LOL - If you know what 'LOL' stands for, you probably already know you shouldn't do it. If you don't know what it stands for, you still shouldn't do it.
  • Maximize the minimization - Your friend feels bad, because they're burdened by overwhelming grief and sadness. Of course you don't want that. You want your friend to feel good, and the way you do that is by minimizing their grief and sadness. Take it down a notch! Helpfully remind them of things that they may have forgotten, such as "death is part of life", "he/she is in a better place" and "God has a plan". Don't be harsh in pointing these things out; they might have just slipped their mind. 
  • Make sure everyone knows how you feel - You want to relate to your friend in this situation. Establish common ground by telling a story about how you knew someone else who died once and how sad you were and how that means you know exactly how your friend feels. Don't be afraid to dig deep (side note: try to avoid metaphors like 'dig deep' when possible) to find common ground (side note: maybe avoid mentioning 'ground', while you're at it). If their mom died and yours is still alive, tell them that you knew somebody once who had a mom but that was a long time ago and she's probably dead by now (you've lost touch over the years) and even if she might not be dead, just the idea that it is likely true has affected you profoundly, because that's how deeply you feel things.
  • Don't waste an opportunity - When you post on a social media platform like Facebook, you have to think of it as posting to the entire world, because that's how pervasive the reach is. With that in mind, it would be downright silly to not let folks know what side projects you have going on, even as your friend deals with the aftermath of a loved one's absence from their life: "I'll miss (person who died) and I'm very sorry (he/she) didn't live long enough to read the new book I'm writing that will be available on Amazon as well as several local, independent book stores in the Tampa Bay area. I know (person who died) would have wanted it that way, and by 'it' I mean global distribution via the world's leading on-line retailer while also supporting local 'niche' merchants."
  • Go big - Try not to be the first one to express your condolences because there's a lot of pressure that comes from setting the bar and you don't need that in a time like this. Wait until a few people weigh and then be better than them. If someone says "You have my sympathies", say "You have my deepest sympathies". If they say, "I know this is a difficult time", say "I know this is an extremely difficult time". Adjectives will be tremendously helpful but be judicious; avoid extreme modifiers unless circumstances warrant. Somebody's 91-year-old grandfather passing away peacefully in his sleep might qualify as "tragic" but probably not "horrific".
  • Be inclusive - Kind of along the same lines as the previous bullet point: If someone says "I'm holding you in my heart", say "I'm holding you and your family in my heart". This is a great way to earn points with cousins and other outliers. If someone says "You are in my thoughts", say "You are in my thoughts and prayers". A great philosopher (I don't recall the name) once posed the fundamental question, "Conjunction Junction, what's your function?" Think about it.
  • Spelling matters - It doesn't matter how casually you normally regard spelling and grammar; a situation like this requires that you buckle down and do it the right way for a change. Don't say "I'm sorry for your lost" because that doesn't make sense and it doesn't matter how sincere your condolences are, nobody wants to hear from a dumbass when they're trying to deal with a lost. 
  • Don't say "I'm sorry" - It's trite. Plus, why would you apologize? It's not your fault. Unless it is, in which case it's probably best that you not say anything at all. Until you talk to a lawyer, at least.

Wednesday, August 02, 2017

Writer: blocked

I had to buy some stool softener the other day.
Assuming I didn't just lose everybody under what I completely understand could be construed as an imminent threat of incoming TMI, let me offer assurances that this will not be a crude, graphic post about poop.

Listen, I'm getting older and certain bodily functions need a boost sometimes. It's nature, that's all. But like so many things in life, natural or otherwise, necessary or not, it's an avenue that is fraught with peril.

For starters, once I was presented with the obvious evidence that led to an immediate, successful and unfortunate self-diagnoses, I had to do research. What is the difference between a laxative and a stool softener and which one would best suit my needs?

Again, I don't need to give you graphic details but it was immediately apparent from what I read on-line that the stool softener presented the best plan of action.

Off to the drug store I went, where I was confronted with more questions.
How soon would it start to work? What if I took too much at the wrong time of day. I had visions of Turbo-laxing myself, producing results too immediately. A sudden gurgling from down below telling me I shouldn't have taken a fast-acting remedy before getting in my car. The key question being, where do you want to be when your stool softener starts to work?  Or, more accurately, where do you NOT want to be?
This requires using math and a clock to back into an optimal time to take the medicine. The instructions said to expect results in eight to twelve hours. That four hour margin makes a big difference. I decided to take it when I got home from work, expecting it to kick in during the middle of the night rather than chance that happening while I was at work. And also hoping that I wouldn't be experiencing an especially sound sleep that night.

Second, and only slightly less important, you don't want to go up to the register with just that. I decided to enlist the strategy I used when I was a teenager, trying to buy porn at a convenience store...
"Yes, let's see, I'll have this bag of potato chips, these two bottles of root beer, and if you could get me a comb, this month's issue of Juggs magazine, some baby aspirin and a pine-scented air freshener for my car, I'll be all set, thanks."
"Huh? Juggs magazine? No, clearly I said Jet magazine. Yes, that makes much more sense, since I'm a white 16-year-old male. Ha ha! Okay, can I leave now?"

It didn't work then, I didn't expect it to work now. Still, I didn't want to walk up to the cashier with my bottle of poop plunger (I'm so sorry) and nothing else, like there's nothing else going on in my life at the moment, even though that's an accurate assessment. Because when you want to go and you can't, well, everything else kind of takes a back seat (again, I am so very sorry).

I'm fine now; the product worked as advertised and without embarrassing incident which is a huge relief on a number of levels. Now I just have to live with the internal stigma that comes from the fact that I'm a person who has used stool softener.