Thursday, December 27, 2007

Yes, Minister & Yes, Prime Minister

"Yes, Minister" and "Yes, Prime Minister" are British television sitcoms which aired from 1980 to 1988. I bought "Yes, Minister" for my brother as a birthday present, but had never watched it. I finally sat down one evening with him and we took in one of the episodes.

The show is brilliant. I haven't watched much TV, but it's up there with the best shows I've ever seen. In fact, I think these two shows, which always have to be taken together, might be the best thing I've ever seen on television.

The shows are about the machinations and political goings on behind the scenes of the British government. The three main characters: Paul Eddington, Derek Fowlds and a spectacular Nigel Hawthorne are perfect and have marvelous chemistry. The dialog is not only hysterical, but incredible feats of acting. Great, great stuff.

I bought "Yes, Prime Minster" for my brother's Christmas present and we watched a few episodes. The show usually concerns Jim Hacker (Eddington) as the Minister, and later Prime Minister, trying to make some progress with his policies, and Sir Humphrey Appleby (Hawthorne) as his Permanent Secretary, and later Cabinet Secretary, trying to oppose them. There's a lot of manipulation, circuitous explanations, head butting and horse trading going on. Appleby usually manages to get the best of Hacker, but sometimes he doesn't. Derek Fowlds plays Bernard Woolley, Hacker's Principal Private Secretary, and is usually caught between the two. It's easy to focus on Nigel Hawthorne's amazing Sir Humphrey as it is the showiest role, but Paul Eddington and Derek Fowlds roles are essential and just as admirable.

One of my favorite things to do during the show, in addition to having a great time and a good laugh, is to look at all the men's exquisitely tailored suits and to take note of their beautiful ties, pocket squares, and shirts. Someone there at the BBC has great taste in menswear. My brother was commenting that Sir Humphrey has the most beautiful suits. I disagreed. I explained to him that the reason they look so great on him is most of the time he is sitting up straight and many of the other characters are sitting slumped. Eddington as the Prime Minister probably has the best suits, shirts, ties and pocket squares, as he should.

Now, I haven't seen "West Wing" but I'm told it's very good, but can it be as good as these two shows? Here's a short clip from "Yes, Prime Minister - The Tangled Web" for your enjoyment:

YouTube Fun

Space between atoms/current favorite movie trailer/Miss Turtle feeds the penguins.

Hurray! An answer to one of Miss Turtle's most burning questions: What is UP with all the space between atoms? I've been wondering about the answer to this question for years and here I've found it on YouTube. Long live YouTube!

Next up is my current favorite movie preview "The Dark Knight." This shows our first look at Heath Ledger's Joker. Now the Joker comes with some serious pedigree in terms of the actors who have portrayed him, but I'm thinking this is looking promising.

Last, but not least. Someone at the Aquarium found a short video of me feeding the penguins! It was taken by someone in the audience. I had no idea the video had been posted.

Wednesday, December 19, 2007

Back to "Bird by Bird"

I don't know what the hell I'm doing. This is not a new idea, it's just that during this floppy, scrappy time of unemployment this truth has been brought to my consciousness front and center.

Last Tuesday I splurged using my finite financial resources and went to see Anne Lamott speak at the Jewish Community Center here in SF. Anne Lamott has written a number of books about religion and other topics. What she is most known for people like me is her classic book on writing "Bird by Bird."

I read "Bird by Bird" years ago and didn't like it. There was nothing new there, I thought, that I hadn't read in a bunch of other books on writing. I didn't like how insecure she was or how she seemed to flail around. True, she is a great writer, but I was uncomfortable with her brutal honesty. I didn't want to take advice or emulate a person who seemed so damn clueless. I wanted confidence and security. I set the book aside and checked it off as having read it. I would find what I was looking for elsewhere.

I don't know why I went to see her other than the fact that "Bird by Bird" is a classic now. Maybe I wanted to sit in a dark auditorium and hear someone who writes for a living speak. I hadn't read any of her other books. I was feeling, and still am feeling, lost and inefficient.

Seeing Anne was a revelation for me. She was funny, poignant, brilliant, and oh-so-brutally honest. She spoke to me and made me feel a sense of hope. She said she doesn't know what the hell she's doing either and that no matter how many books you've published, you'll still feel that way. Fortunately for me she focused on reiterating her ideas for writing and how those ideas can help you with the rest of your life.

She talked about the insecurities that she battles with on a daily, hourly basis. She talked about her feelings and how they get so overwhelming. She talked about how it is possible to be productive and to write the truth even when all this crap is whirling around in your head like a blinding snowstorm.

When I read "Bird by Bird" over ten years ago, I didn't like how she talked about all the distractions that get in the way, all the insecurities and all the feelings. At that time I wasn't writing regularly. I was arrogant. I knew I wouldn't have these problems at all. Now that I write on a somewhat regular basis and have a small body of work behind me everything Anne wrote about is true. It seems the deeper I get into this writing thing, the less I know. I feel like I'm crawling around in the mud all the time, searching for a way out, searching for a plan, guidance, a sign pointing me in the right direction. There is no sign and it's so painful. And lonely.

I don't know what the hell I'm doing. Anne said everything would be fine in her life if she just didn't have a mind that comes up with so much crap all the time. I have that problem too. I also think that all my love relationships would work out great if I didn't fall in love with the guy. Everything would be simpler and easier for both of us.

I tell myself to relax and enjoy and I can't. Instead, lurking in the back of my head is the first draft of my novel and I don't know what the hell to do with it. I have to finish it. There are at least three novels and two more short stories rolling around in my head right now, not to mention at least two or three short stories that have already been written and need to be finished. I'm not doing the stories any justice.

I'm still learning how to swim and the hardest thing for me is learning how to breathe. Yesterday, I took my second lesson and struggled with exhaling with my face in the water, then turning my head to the side and taking a breath. I sucked in water. I coughed. I got scared. My swimming instructor is wonderful and was able to keep me going. He told me how he's taught people how to swim who were terrified to be in the water. It's all about taking one step at a time and putting it together slowly. And practicing.

I realized while blowing out bubbles during one of my drills that I don't have to force the air out. I can be quieter and gentler about it. I don't have to rush. I don't have to push. I can just let myself be in the water. I figured out that even if I start to get scared as it kick my way across the pool, even if I get that sudden fear that I won't be able to breathe when I have my face in the water, I can still gently do my breathing exercises and I can still make to the other side of the pool. And I can continue to go back and forth across the pool like that.

Anne's suggestions:

1) Short Assignments - All you have to remember is you just need to do one piece of whatever it is. For writing, all that means is you need to focus on one paragraph, one small scene, one exchange, one inch of writing.

2) Shitty First Drafts - Anne says everyone writes terrible first drafts. Unreadable. Awful. Cringe inducing, painful first drafts. She says it's all right. All you have to do is get it down on paper (or the computer). Only after you've done that will you have something you can fix up.


This is where I'm stuck for I have lots of first drafts of stories/novels. I don't know how to fix them up. Well, okay. I think I've figured it out finally at least for this moment with this novel, but for the most part I don't know what the hell I'm doing.

And the older I get, the less I know, but when I say that I'm not just saying it to be cute or cliche. When I say the older I get, the less I know, I mean in a despairing, God-help-me-as-I-crawl-across-the-harsh-muddy-swamp-with-horrible-bugs-biting-at-me kind of not knowing. Usually I lie there among the bugs, the mud, the smell. I cry in frustration. I exhaust myself. The result is I end up doing nothing. I've got plenty of time to do anything and I spend much of it doing nothing. Despair. Pain. Desire.

One inch of writing. Keep doing my breathing exercises in the water as I'm swimming across the pool even when I'm convinced I'm going to drown. The first draft does and will suck; write it down anyway. Keep moving forward, slowly and gently.

Saturday, December 08, 2007

What I've Been Doing With Myself

It's amazing how much of your time is filled when you're not working. My biggest problem is I stay up too late and then get up late. I haven't been getting as much done as I'd like. I feel like a slacker. I feel very inefficient.

I read that the purpose of our lives is not to be efficient, just like the purpose of objects is not to be useful. I'm not sure how that applies to me, but the principles are sound enough.

Here's how I've been filling my time lately:
  • I've been taking swimming lessons. The new penguin display pool is going to be three times the size of the one now and eight feet deep. Everyone who works in there is required to take a swim test. Since I have the time I've been taking swimming lessons and practicing at the pool. I can swim a little (more of a dog paddle), but I'm not comfortable in the water. These lessons are really good for me. A huge challenge for me is learning to how to breathe and getting used to the rhythm. After I get a job and get proficient with swimming, I want to take a climbing wall class.
  • I've been running errands once a week for one of my friends. She pays me a good hourly wage for my efforts. It gets me out of the house and doing something useful for someone else.
  • I've been doing some poking around with the job hunting, but nothing too serious. I did manage to get a phone interview for a company I very casually sent my resume too. That was a nice boost.
  • I've been volunteering at the Aquarium. It's a really exciting time since we're gearing up to do the transfer back to the new Aquarium in less than a month.
  • I've been working through the online classes the employment placement agency offers on their website. The company gave me access to the employment placement agency as part of my severance, and it has been very helpful. In fact, I worked through the "interviewing" module class just before my phone interview and it was really helpful.
Things I should be doing:
  • Working more quickly through the online classes.
  • Reviewing my health insurance/COBRA information and figuring all that out.
  • Calling people I used to work with to see if they'll be a reference for me.
  • Revising my novel. I'm sounding like a broken record now.
  • Finishing the Gotham Writers' Workshop book I've been really enjoying.
  • Working through my Netflix queue. It's pathetic how many movies I haven't been watching lately when I have all this time.
  • Exploring neighborhoods in this City so I can do some of those blog posts for a change.
Things I should not be doing:
  • Obsessing over a lost love.
  • Sleeping in every single day.
  • Going to see "No Country for Old Men" a fourth time. I just found out the DVD is not due out until March of 2008. Grrr.
  • Buying unnecessary items. Earlier this week I bought two new bath mats. They were on a shopping list I had. It's true the old ones were over 15 years old, but they would have done just fine until after I got a new job.

Thursday, December 06, 2007

City Life: At the 76 Station Near 19th Ave. and Judah

"Well, I guess I better go outside now. I can't eat in front you and I really need to finish this sandwich."
- A guy I was talking to at the service station while waiting for my tires to be changed.

I walked into the tiny waiting room and sat down next to this guy who looked like a goofier version of Bono around 1991 or so. It also looked like he was wearing foundation that was a touch too pink for his skin, but no matter. He asked me what I was doing there and then told me about the van he'd just bought for $1,200 that was being checked out. Then he kept talking about how the mechanics at the gas station were ripping us off. It was raining outside. Joe, the owner of the station, kept calling me sweetheart as he walked back and forth. Cars came and went with steady frequency.

The price of gas was $3.45/gallon.

The goofy Bono look-a-like guy kept talking to me about...whatever. How the mirror opposite of us could be a two way mirror. About his new, used van and how it was costing him $400 to get checked out. When he told me about having to go outside to finish his sandwich I told him I could turn my head and not look at him while he was eating and how it wasn't necessary to go outside in the rain.

I didn't see him after that. It didn't seem like he even came back to pay for his car and I was there for a long time. Strange.