Tuesday, October 27, 2015

You Bet Your Life

I didn’t grow up in the United States, so much of my retro-knowledge, when it comes to popular culture, was acquired retroactively. Re-runs and YouTube contributed greatly to making me relate to the shared memories of Americans, including those from times that preceded my time on this earth.

I’m a fan of This Day in History. Goodness, we now see that Google has made a fetish of it with their daily tributes to such on their logo. So I’m not apologizing, but sounding the drum roll for this. Ready?

On this day, in 1947, YOU BET YOUR LIFE radio program premiered with Groucho Marx.


If you don’t know who he was, it’s not too late. Google and search YouTube, and you can thank me later. But just for today, October the 27th, I will wet your appetite with some awesome quotations, some specifically from that program. These will dispel any notion that popular culture has little value.

“A black cat crossing your path signifies that the animal is going somewhere.”

“Age is not a particularly interesting subject. Anyone can get old. All you have to do is live long enough.”

“Chicolini here may talk like an idiot and look like an idiot, but don't let that fool you. He really is an idiot.”

“I have nothing but confidence in you, and very little of that.”


“Before I speak, I have something important to say.”

“I intend to live forever, or die trying.” 

Groucho died thirty years later. But his perverse take lives on. These nuggets of not-much contain more insight to the machinations of the human psyche than many philosophy books taught at great universities.

Tuesday, October 20, 2015

Meeting Virtual Friends

Ever had the experience of corresponding with someone for years, and then meeting in person? I have been lucky to have had this. Twice.

It can be a bit unnerving. Someone who has shared many personal things, trials and tribulations, sweet and bitter moments, but always from the safe screen of distance, paper, or now the ethernet where the real isn’t quite, is about to become touchable. Someone once told me it feels a bit like blind dating, when you realize you are about to be exposed and scrutinized, for real. Obviously, this goes both ways, as you will be observing also.

What some worry about is that the real connection, felt virtually, will be missing somehow in person.

Not my experience. The first time, after years of a very close connection, I met a dear friend in person when life took me only four hours away from her home. She made the trek, and made my day. We made music together, dancing on the street---
^Meeting Author Evelyn Christensen in Oberlin

The second time happened last weekend. An online critique group pal whom I’ve “known” since 2008 suddenly materialized in the bay area, half a continent from his home. Lucky me—we had a delightful connection.
^Meeting Author Mark Ceilley in Berkeley

In a strange way it feels like meeting characters from favorite books, and you what? I can attest they are real.

Tuesday, October 13, 2015

Recognition & Success

Where is the reality in recognition and success?

In 1915 Charlie Chaplin entered a Charlie Chaplin lookalike contest in San Francisco. Not only did he not win, he failed to even make the finals.

©2013 From the Norton Book of Facts to Blow Your Socks Off

There have been experiments of writers submitting classics or Pulitzer winning manuscripts of others to editors, to see if they will be recognized, requested as originals, or rejected. They were rejected with personal comments that indicated they had merit, but were “not quite ready.”

J. K. Rowling’s own experiment with making it both critically and commercially without her established name nearly failed miserably. Her editor, who knew the real identity of one “Robert Galbraith,” was happy to take The Cuckoo’s Calling. But the public was less impressed, and the sales were lower than others for the genre. It was rescued by a leak of the real identity of her authorship, and rose to the rare stratosphere of mega bestsellers.

This is what I gather from our infatuation with brands: the next time anyone suggests that worldly success or failure is an indication of intrinsic worth, I can safely and assuredly ignore their assertion. But there may be many more lessons in there that I am missing.
 What do you make of it?

Onwards, to do good work.

Tuesday, October 6, 2015

The BEST Ever All-Time---

I must confess that I, too, read this feature in the NYT Book section. It’s called By the Book. They always ask the same questions of well-known writers. I find out quickly if we are like-minded by their answers.

Ursula LaGuin’s fiction is legendary, (and written as the stuff of legend) even if not what I am drawn to reading. Her tastes are both classical and also run toward the sort of books she writes.

Where I find she is a “sister” is in her distaste for “Best” sorts of questions—Best book? Best film? Most overrated? The very notion is ludicrous, but the answers are entertaining so we like this feature anyhow.
don't say it’s absurd because it is subjective, obviously, but because even for a single subjective point of view this is a changing feeling and not something you want immortalized in print. “Single most overrated” today is a different one tomorrow, depending on what you are reading. It’s fine for a dinner conversation with friends, but not so much for a public interview that will be available possibly long after you left this world.

We have abused “Most” and “Best” to death.

Blogger interviews have also taken this trend on full steam, and even lowly me (I) have had to face and fend off such questions.

I was put in my place years ago when my then-eight year-old informed me he doesn’t answer “who’s your best friend” questions. His reasons echo the ones I mentioned, and I realized how we begin this senseless conditioning of thinking about the subtle and complex as a horse race. I owe him big for it. After that, I never watched another Oscar show without seeing it as pure entertainment devoid of real substance. The Best movie of the year? Nah.

But it’s still entertaining to see the “losers” (I know, na-ah) and the glowing winners, and hope for a moment of reality, because it is live and so little isn't packaged these days.

For the record—I had a ready made answer for “favorite food,”  “favorite color,” and “favorite subject” and such while I was growing up.

Then DS set me right, and I grew up.