The beginner conundrum

Truth from Ira Glass — on storytelling, but also on every creative discipline, and maybe on life itself.

I learn this again every day, on every skill or practice area that I embark to learn and practice. Please, join me in the awful feeling that we don’t meet up to own our aesthetic. Eventually, we will.

You think we need one more? You think we need one more. OK, we’ll get one more.

The 2001 remake of Ocean’s Eleven is one of my guilty pleasure movies — pretty to look at, full of quotable lines, underpinned by a plot that, though full of holes, is witty and twisty. Plus the clothes! George Clooney’s suits, Brad Pitt’s pointed collars, Elliot Gould’s blinged out chains and florid, floral shirts…. Delightful.

It also has a terrific soundtrack album, with classic tunes and electro-jazzy backgrounds. It’s perfect music to work to, and it’s punctuated with some of those quotable lines from the film. It’s my go-to playlist when I’m on a deadline, and I recommend it highly.


NOTE: As much as I enjoy the 2001 remake, I dislike the original Ocean’s Eleven. It’s not that Frank Sinatra and the rest of the cast do a bad job. It’s that the story is so ridiculously ridiculous. I don’t just not recommend it; I urge you to avoid it at all costs.

Tucked away

By my bedroom door, there’s a big porcelain cat that my parents gave me years ago. I’ve blogged about it before.

Next to it, there’s a stack of framed diplomas. They’re my diplomas. I’m quite proud of the degrees they represent. It was hard to get into MIT and into the graduate school program I attended, and also hard to get through to the other side.

My dad had the three diplomas framed. I didn’t ask him to do it, and ever since, I’ve been pretty uncomfortable about them. I suppose I should hang them somewhere.

But anywhere I think of hanging them feels wrong. At work, our office is open-plan, with 8 or more of us working at tables grouped together, all communal and shared. I wince to even think of hanging them there. And I don’t have a home office.

Could I hang them in my kitchen? No, that would be odd. I have a little living room in my apartment, but I don’t want to weigh that area down with the ponderousness of my educational credentials.

The bathroom has some wall space. But no, it would be insulting my school and myself to hang them there. Hanging them in my bedroom feels odd too. So much pressure. Maybe the hallway? Mmm, no.

So there they sit, stacked on the floor against a bookshelf. Next to the ceramic cat.

I’m proud of my schooling, yet I’m embarrassed about being proud of it.  And I love the big, awkward porcelain cat my parents gave me, full of memories and sweetness, guileless. But I hide all of them away where I hope no one sees them but me.

Michael Sheen on Speakeasy

I watch a select few series on YouTube: There’s a world of interesting stuff, but only so many hours in a lifetime, and one must choose carefully.

One series that I adore and watch without fail as soon as each new episode is posted is Speakeasy with Paul F. Tompkins. These are interviews, over drinks, by actor/comedian Tompkins with a range of people — mostly actors but also comedians, writers, and performers of many kinds. There are thoughtful and funny interviews, never confrontational but always having some unexpected element.

Many of the interviews I’ve enjoyed most were with actors I didn’t know at all, people who have played roles in series that I don’t watch, for example. This week’s interview is with Michael Sheen, who played David Frost in the play and then film adaptation of Frost/Nixon, Tony Blair in The Queen, and a variety of other roles on stage, on TV, and in film (Twilight, Tron, Midnight in Paris). He currently has the lead role of William H. Masters in Showtime’s Masters of Sex. These are big roles, and I’ve never seen a single one them.

But this interview is delightful not for the behind the scenes views of these roles, but because Michael Sheen turns out to be a brilliant storyteller of his own experiences, which are themselves funny (or sound so when he recounts them). I could watch him be interviewed all day.

Watch on YouTube here.

Writing (or Any Creative Activity) and the Fear of Being Less Than Amazing

If you’ve spent most of your life cruising ahead on natural ability, doing what came easily and quickly, every word you write becomes a test of just how much ability you have, every article a referendum on how good a writer you are. As long as you have not written that article, that speech, that novel, it could still be good. Before you take to the keys, you are Proust and Oscar Wilde and George Orwell all rolled up into one delicious package. By the time you’re finished, you’re more like one of those 1940’s pulp hacks who strung hundred-page paragraphs together with semicolons because it was too much effort to figure out where the sentence should end.

from “Why Writers Are the Worst Procrastinators: The psychological origins of waiting (… and waiting, and waiting) to work” by Megan McArdle in The Atlantic, via John August.

Networking in style

New Moo business cards plus case


Lately it’s seemed that I’ve never had business cards on hand when I wanted to hand some out. This is largely because I’m between houses right now* and most of my worldly possessions are packed and piled up, and so a number of things that I would ordinarily be able to find I’m now having to do without. The last box of business cards I had printed earlier this year is somewhere in the pile.

* This is not to say I’m homeless. Rather, I sold my house and have not yet bought a new one, and I’m temporarily living with my lovely and gracious mother. My cats and I are ensconced in the attic bedroom, which was my sister’s and my room when we were teenagers. It’s become our home away from home. Continue reading “Networking in style”

Crazy cozy

Max is a cat of extremes. One minute he’s running around the room chasing a fly; the next he’s slinking under the bed, scared by the sight of someone outside the window.

Some days he naps on the very top platform of the cat tree, but today he’s decided to curl up in a box on the floor.


Little tramp, big city

City Lights film posterLast night I attended the Butler County Symphony Orchestra‘s November concert, in which they performed the film score to Charlie Chaplin’s City Lights as the movie played.

The symphony sounded amazing, well-timed to the film and perfectly attuned to the emotional ups and downs of the film. The film itself was a surprise to me. I thought I’d seen it before, but no, I’d somehow missed this one — all the more surprising since this is considered one of Chaplin’s greatest works.

The physical gags and running jokes in the film are excellent, as I’d expect in any Chaplin movie. But what surprised me was the emotion, particularly that of the Little Tramp. I think of Chaplin films as broad and silly, light-hearted and fun, and on the whole this followed that recipe. But the end of the film isn’t light at all. It’s touching and open-ended, and it’s not clear — at least not to me — what might happen next. I’ve found myself thinking back to it all day.

If like me you’ve somehow missed this particular piece of film history, seek it out. It’s being rereleased on Blu-ray this month, or you could rent it on Amazon Prime. Or if you’re very lucky, you might find it being shown with live accompaniment, which is the very best way to see it.

Image source: wikimedia.