The Trash Can Is A Treasure Trove

“For the first three months, I place each student at a table with a thousand pieces of white paper and a trash can underneath. Every day they have to sit at the table for several hours and write ideas. They put the ideas they like on the right side of the table; the ones they don’t like, they put in the trash. But we don’t throw out the trash. After three months, I only take the ideas from the trash can. I don’t even look at the ideas they liked. Because the trash can is a treasure trove of things they’re afraid to do.”
― Marina Abramović, Walk Through Walls: Becoming Marina Abramovic

Cate Blanchett in “Waiting for the Artist”

I have always loved documentaries. Now in this age of streaming – documentary watching has become like drinking from a firehose.

One time, I can’t remember where… probably a college film festival in the 70’s I saw a documentary by Stan Woodward about grits. This was probably the first transformative documentary I saw – I was a different person (at least slightly) after I saw it. I wrote about this years later, many years ago, in my first blog and lamented the fact that I couldn’t find the thing anywhere and had to be satisfied with only seeing it once. A kind reader mailed me a VHS copy.

Of course, it wasn’t as good as I remembered.

Now, in this best of all possible worlds, we don’t only have documentaries… we have mockumentaries. If done well these too can be… if not transformative at least moderately entertaining. That might be all we can ask for anymore.

There is even a series of mockumentaries, “Documentary Now!“, on IFC. A new season is under way, and the latest one is brilliant. It is called “Waiting for the Artist” and is a riff (a very close one at that) on the famous work “The Artist Is Present” about the famous (and famously insane) performance artist Marina Abramović.

Somehow, they convinced Cate Blanchett to portray Marina Abramović – and she is spot on.

If you have IFC, be sure and check out “Waiting for the Artist” – it hits the perfect place between lunacy and pathos and even has a bit of a point to it.

And the ending is really, really funny.

Youtube has a copy of the original Marina Abramović documentary. Marina is even crazier than the character in the mockumentary.

The Senility Of Obsolescence

“Why do things get weaker and worse? Why don’t they get better? Because we accept that they fall apart! But they don’t have to — they could last forever. Why do things get more expensive? Any fool can see that they should get cheaper as technology gets more efficient. It’s despair to accept the senility of obsolescence…”
― Paul Theroux, The Mosquito Coast

Like seeing a dinosaur on the street.

Mac Finds His Pride

“We immediately escalate everything to a ten… somebody comes in with some preposterous plan or idea, then all of a sudden everyone’s on the gas, nobody’s on the brakes, nobody’s thinking, everyone’s just talking over each other with one idiotic idea after another! Until, finally, we find ourselves in a situation where we’ve broken into somebody’s house – and the homeowner is home!

—- Dennis, It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia

It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia

For years I was aware of a television show called “It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia” but I didn’t watch it. No real reason – there is so much on… maybe I was turned off by the odd theme music.

One evening I was too tired to pick up the remote and actually saw a show. I enjoyed it. Basically it is the story of five people, related to each other in confusing ways, managing a shithole bar in Philadelphia. The actors are good, the jokes are funny, but mostly I liked it because the characters are such worthless, narcissistic, amoral, debauched, drug-addled, idiotic, lazy pieces of shit that it made me think better of myself. I may have my faults – but I am not as bad as these people.

Over the last year I’d watch it off and on. Mostly I’d scan the TV listings and DVR the episodes I hadn’t seen. That way I could binge watch them at odd times when I wasn’t missing anything important. With the DVR, I could fast-forward through the commercials or boring bits and see the whole episode in a few minutes.

There were a dozen seasons (It’s currently tied with Ozzie and Harriet as the longest running live-action sitcom – the only thing it shares with Ozzie and Harriet) so there was plenty to watch. I’m not sure how many episodes or seasons I’ve seen – more than a few. There isn’t much of a long-term arc, so there’s no reason to watch the shows in order.

It is fun to speculate about how dark each episode is capable of going. Usually the show doesn’t disappoint and ends up going darker than you thought possible.

And then came the thirteenth season and, especially the final, 10th episode (144th overall), Mac Finds His Pride.

And everything changes.

I was home, exhausted after work, and noticed the DVR was recording the show. I thought I would check it out and realized that there was something else on – some sort of a dance program. The stage was dark and covered in water and a muscular man and athletic woman were doing an amazing dance number to Sigur Rós music.

It was entrancing. As I watched, I suddenly realized, “Shit! That’s Mac dancing.” It was indeed It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia.

I immediate rewound and watched the whole show. It started out like any episode – The gang was trying to get a float in the Philadelphia Gay Pride Parade to bring in business and wanted someone to dance on the float. Mac was the best candidate, but didn’t want to do it – having trouble relating to his imprisoned father and his sexuality.

One of the running “gags” of the series is the character Mac (full name – Ronald MacDonald) and his struggle to come to terms with being gay.  At the beginning of this episode Frank (Danny DeVito) had broken his nose and was constantly shoving nasty stuff up his nostrils to staunch the bleeding.

All well and good – then it happened. Mac and Frank went to Mac’s father’s prison and Mac put on a dance with a woman to try and explain how he felt.

It was transcendent.

I was gobsmacked. This piece of artistic beauty came so far out of left field and was so unexpected… yet it was so appropriate and inevitable. I some unexplainable way it summed up everything. It was the moment that thirteen seasons – 144 shows – of unmitigated nihilistic worthlessness is redeemed by one moment of excellence.

It was the most audacious, brilliant thing I’ve seen on television since Part 8 of the new Twin Peaks.

 

 

Check out this article about how much work went into this. The actor, Rob McElhenney, can’t dance – more accurately, he can only do one dance. He spent a year learning it. And you can’t help but love his incredible partner, professional ballerina Kylie Shea.

I have always loved Sigur Rós. They sponsored a series of films of their music – The Valteri Mystery Film Experiment. There are several videos of the song in the dance, Varúð. Here’s a particularly good one:

 

Nanowrimo Day Twelve

Ultimate goal – 50,000 words.
Daily goal – 1,667 words
Goal total so far – 20,004 words

Words written today – 1,862

Words written so far – 16,591 words
Words to goal – -3,413

“Game shows are designed to make us feel better about the random, useless facts that are all we have left of our education.”

― Chuck Palahniuk, Invisible Monsters

These villains creep – Deep Ellum, Texas

As I committed the other day I am doing Nanowrimo – the National Novel Writing Month this November – writing a 50,000 word (small) novel in a month. Not necessary a good novel, or even a readable novel, but one of 50K words.

Didn’t know if I could get anything written today. I was extremely tired after work, but took a nap and sat at my writing machine and hammered out a bit more than my daily goal.

Wasn’t sure what to write, so I typed out some dialog between two characters sitting in a hotel room. I find that random dialog is a good way to fill out word counts, simply imagine the two characters in some normal (or not-so-normal) situation and think what they would say to each other. It isn’t Tarantino quality dialog, but eventually you discover the personalities of the characters and sometimes they say something interesting, sometimes they say something unexpected. I started with them looking at the television in a cheap hotel room and talking about the game show that is on.

 

Snippet of what I wrote:

“What show is that?” asked Bernard.

“Price is Right,” said Willard.

“What’s the point?”

“What? of us watching?”

“No, I know there is no point in us watching. I mean what’s the point of the game? What are all those idiots doing?”

“That guy picks one of those old biddies and then the woman tries to guess how much shit costs and if they get close enough they get to take it home.”

“Man, that’s lame. I guess those old women have spent their whole life buying shit and must know a lot about how much it costs. Hey, what’s to keep them from looking it up on Amazon… like from their phones?”

“I don’t think they would allow that. Besides it’s MSRP… ‘Manufacturer’s Suggested Retail Price.’ I think Amazon sells it cheaper, so that wouldn’t help much. It’s a real ripoff anyway. The companies’ give the crap to the show for free, for advertising, so it doesn’t cost them squat – they’re giving away free shit. Plus the poor saps that win it have to pay income tax. They have to pay to take away a bunch of free crap they never wanted in the first place.”

“Are you sure? That seems really stupid.”

“Yeah I’m sure. And it is really stupid.”

“Well, then why do you watch it?”

“I don’t usually, but there’s nothing else. Besides it makes me feel better. I may be a hopeless loser, but at least I’m not as bad as all those dumb assholes.”

“Hey, that guy doesn’t look right. I remember my mom watching this, isn’t that guy supposed to be Monte Hall?”

“No, Monte Hall was on ‘Let’s Make a Deal,’ another show… though it’s kinda like this one. You’re thinking about Bob Barker, and he’s not on it anymore. That guy’s Drew Carey.”

“Bob Barker? Yeah… I remember. Didn’t he get in a fight with that actor dude… Sandler? Adam Sandler?”

“Bob Barker and Adam Sandler? No, they were in a fight in that golf movie, ‘Happy Gilmore,’ but not in real life,” said Willard.

“You sure seem to know a lot about this stupid shit,” said Bernard.

“I’ve had a lot of spare time during the day,” said Willard. “So have you.”

They both let out a long rolling chuckle.

“Yeah,” said Bernard, “I guess the two of us share a strong dislike of going to work, don’t we?”

“Nobody likes going to work.”

“But not too many hate it and avoid it as strongly as we do. The two of us work harder at avoiding work than anybody I know.”

“That is a true statement,” said Willard.

The Anticipation of It

“There is no terror in the bang, only in the anticipation of it.”
― Alfred Hitchcock

Mural on Construction Fence
Farmer’s Market
Dallas, Texas
Chris Hoover

I couldn’t sleep last night, so I turned on the television. Tuning around I came across the start of an old Alfred Hitchcock Presents. It caught my eye because it featured a very young Burt Reynolds. It also had Harry Dean Stanton (- who looked like he always looks) and Murray Hamilton (don’t worry, you don’t remember the name but you’ve seen him). The show was from 1960, season 5, episode 37 – “Escape to Sonoita.”

The thing wasn’t perfect, but the story was crackerjack with a nice twist ending. The good guys are good, the bad guys are bad, and the woman in distress was beautiful. What more can you ask for?

If you have a few minutes to spare, you can watch it here.

Memories Warm You Up

“Memories warm you up from the inside. But they also tear you apart.”
― Haruki Murakami, Kafka on the Shore

Decatur, Texas

I remember when I was a little kid loving the Texaco commercials on TV. The TV was small, full of static (with rabbit ears and bits of foil on top), and only black and white – but it had an amazing effect on my tiny self. “You can trust your car to the man who wears the star.” I barely can remember my PIN number now but I remember that jingle from more than a half-century ago. I would bug my father to buy some gas from Texaco, but he never would. He said it was more expensive than his brand (not sure what it was, but I do remember getting a big green inflatable dinosaur from Sinclair). Now, of course, it seems silly to get excited over a stupid commercial, but I was only a little kid. What did I know?

Daily Writing Tip 16 of 100, Beware Of Stale Ideas

For one hundred days, I’m going to post a writing tip each day. I have a whole bookshelf full of writing books and I want to do some reading and increased studying of this valuable resource. This will help me keep track of anything I’ve learned, and help motivate me to keep going. If anyone has a favorite tip of their own to add, contact me. I’d love to put it up here.

Today’s tip – Beware Of Stale Ideas

Source – Building Fiction by Jesse Lee Kercheval

As you gather the materials of writing, be careful about drawing on television and movies. When you rely too heavily on mass media, whose messages are available to almost everybody on the planet, it may be hard to write a story that will strike readers as fresh or original or worht their time. It’s the difference between fresh and stale air.

In the writing classes I have taken, it is surprising how often, when discussing plot and character, we would discuss films rather than literature. It’s simply where the shared experience lies. Everyone has seen Star Wars – but only a rare few have read Mill on the Floss.

So much the shame.

I’ve found that when I’m trying to get some writing done, the absolute worst thing is to turn on the TV. If I do that, no matter what I watch, I’m not going to be creating anything for a long time. When I was young, we called it the idiot tube. Well, at least the tube part is gone.