Tuesday, January 10, 2017

Mary Miller's Consecutive Owls

As you know I don't "blog" anymore unless I read a book with an owl in it, which I then add to my big list of books with owls in them. Yesterday afternoon I walked up to Square Books and was delighted to see a stack of Mary Miller's new story collection, ALWAYS HAPPY HOUR. So I bought one and came home and read the first eleven stories in a single evening. There are sixteen stories in the book. You do the math! I guess that means I read almost 3/4 of the book in a single sitting but I'm not sure because I'm going to let you do the math, as previously stated. But that's how riveting Mary's new book is. And I am pleased to inform you that two consecutive stories have owls in them. "Owls are predators. They could take off with a small dog, easy," says a character in one. "There's an owl at my house," says a character in the next. As to the former point, I was thinking about it just the other night when Dr. Theresa and I were watching SLEEPING BEAUTY and the owl was overly friendly with the squirrel.

Monday, January 02, 2017

Owl Grease

THE BIRDS came on TCM yesterday and I thought, "I wonder if Messiaen ever saw this movie?" That's considered a real knee slapper around here. But then I really started wondering. And I remembered there was a book on the case right next to me all about Messiaen. But I looked through it and it's not that kind of book. I thought maybe Messiaen would have enjoyed the soundtrack to THE BIRDS - in fact it was the soundtrack that made me start thinking about him - but disapproved of the bird behavior. Or maybe he would've found some mystical interpretation of the bird behavior. And you know, maybe he would have hated the soundtrack. I guess we'll never know. I did open the book to some diary notes of Messiaen, which is how I know that he heard the call of a pygmy owl at Bryce Canyon, Utah, at 5:20 in the morning on May 5, 1972. In related news, Chris Offutt told me he has been reading my "blog." And I was like, "WHAT!" Because as you know I don't "blog" anymore. But to save me some time, Chris sent me part of his next novel... JUST the parts with owls. I believe I counted five owls, though as Chris pointed out in his accompanying email, some of those could be the same owls. Chris gave me permission to quote from his owl passages but I'm hesitant to spoil anything. The piquant title of this "post" comes from Chris's manuscript and already I feel I've said too much.

Friday, December 30, 2016

Living

We watched DESIGN FOR LIVING the other night and now I am going to give you some big spoilers. So Miriam Hopkins is in love with best friends Gary Cooper and Fredric March, and they're both in love with her. So at the end they just all stay together! I am reminded of a possibly hallucinated article I read about Joe Orton trying to write a script for the Beatles. I may be imagining this. I think the Beatles were all supposed to marry the same woman in the final scene. Yes, that may be entirely imaginary on my part. So let's forget it! But I think you'll agree that in conventional moviemaking Miriam Hopkins would have "chosen" either Gary Cooper or Fredric March. (In fact I was stunned when I put it to Dr. Theresa that surely anyone given such a choice - between the two actors as mere physical specimens, I mean - would choose Gary Cooper - why, no decision could be easier! - and Dr. Theresa blithely informed me that she - Dr. Theresa herself - thought she might pick Fredric March!) As I have just spoiled for you, however, DESIGN FOR LIVING just sticks with its original concept, or situation, and stubbornly follows it through. I was impressed by this rigor! And it reminded me of some other movie I couldn't quite put my finger on. I thought about it all night and couldn't remember. I was thinking of some other movie, and I knew I had written about it somewhere. I remembered talking to Adam Muto and Kent Osborne about it. I remembered saying I admired the way the writers put themselves in a box right at the beginning and then just spent the rest of the movie marching toward the inevitable conclusion. But I couldn't remember the movie. (Parenthetically, I now recall that back when I was teaching I once tried to explain to some undergraduates - at their request - what a "story" was. And I said, "Well, if there's a man standing on top of a mountain and he rolls a snowball down, and there's a man at the bottom of the mountain and he just stands there in the snowball's path, and the snowball gets bigger and bigger and it rolls over the man at the bottom of the mountain, who's just standing there, and crushes him, that's NOT a story." And then I said, "Wait a minute, maybe that IS a story." And now we see again why I'm not teaching anymore. But I went home and wrote the story and it was printed in a small literary magazine so I guess that makes it a story.) So! I searched through all my emails and couldn't find any reference to this mysterious other movie that reminded me of DESIGN FOR LIVING. So then I searched the "blog" for any "posts" containing both words "logic" and "structure," and as you can imagine, there were none. And then somehow it came to me that the movie I had in mind that reminded me so much of DESIGN FOR LIVING was ICEMAN, in which Timothy Hutton is part of a scientific team that digs up a Neanderthal played by John Lone. And they unthaw the caveman and he's alive. And the rest of the movie - which I won't spoil for you as much as I did DESIGN FOR LIVING - is a bunch of filmmakers trying to figure out what would happen if a scientific team unfroze a Neanderthal. And you can imagine right from the outset that somebody said, "Well, this isn't going to end well for the Neanderthal." And maybe, "Well, let's try to make it as nice for him as we can." I figured out that the place in which I had written about ICEMAN was the 1,000-page book that is not to be published until after my death. It really exists! And why am I writing about ICEMAN in a 1,000-page book that is not to be published until after my death, if ever? That's a great question!

Sunday, December 25, 2016

Stop Smoking the Disney Way

After you write a book about something you immediately forget everything about the subject you were researching and never want to hear anything about it again. That's a tidbit about writing. Okay! But once I wrote a book about cigarette lighters and just for a month or two after it came out I would run across an item that I wished I had been able to include in the book. That stopped happening quickly and also I stopped "blogging" forever, as you can see. But now - after what I assumed would be an eternal hiatus - I just read something that I wish I would've heard about in time to put in my book. Okay, in this part of the Walt Disney biography that Megan Abbott and I are reading, Walt Disney has turned kind of scary to everybody: "layout artist Ken Anderson inadvertently singed Walt's mustache while lighting a cigarette with a new lighter during a storyboard session." Disney leaps from his chair and showers Ken Anderson with invective we shan't print here. "Anderson threw away the lighter and never smoked again." There are a couple of good places in my book for that anecdote, though based on my royalty statement I'm pretty sure there's not a clamor for an extended second edition. In a poignant aside, the author Neal Gabler adds, "Anderson admitted he cried."

Monday, December 19, 2016

The Certainty of the Jelly Factory

WARNING! Walt Disney murders an owl in this "post." I don't even want to type it up but I have my rules. Megan and I are reading this Walt Disney biography (WALT DISNEY: THE TRIUMPH OF THE AMERICAN IMAGINATION by Neal Gabler) together and I was ahead of her because I just sit around the house now and she has to ride around on subways all day in New York City and you can't take a giant brick of a book on a subway! But anyway, one day she took it on the subway - to her eventual regret! - and got ahead of ME. And sent me an email that said, "I can't believe we haven't discussed the traumatic owl incident!" I had to confess I had no idea what she was talking about. But I read on, filled with trepidation. And finally I got to Walt's memory of killing an owl when he was a boy. He caught it and when it tried to get away he threw it on the ground and it died. I am sorry to tell you! If it makes you feel any better, he never forgot it, it haunted him, and he had terrible nightmares about it for the rest of his life. Try telling that to the owl who was just minding its own business being an owl. And then the owl floodgates! I mean, two pages later, someone describes the way Walt looked during a pitch (as we call it in the business): how he would "bend forward unconsciously and become like an old owl - hunched up, and his bill would clack a little bit." And in the NEXT PARAGRAPH we are treated to Walt's capacity for acting out a story. He would "suddenly transform himself uninhibitedly into Mickey or Donald or an owl or an old hunting dog." I thought, what, is this book going to be all owls all the time now? Have we unleashed something? But no, on the next page Walt is obsessed over a minuscule mistake in a shot where Mickey Mouse is staring at his own reflection in some Jell-O. So then I started thinking about all the time I've squandered contemplating and calculating how many books I read that have Jell-O in them. Jell-O seems to be a quintessential American literary metaphor! Kerouac! Mailer! Portis! Roth! Gidget! Mickey Mouse! But let me stop myself. Is this what has become of me? Even though I don't "blog" anymore, has "blogging" changed the way I read, keeping me on constant alert for Jell-O and owls at expense of true enlightenment? At least this gelatinous aside gives me an excuse to relate my favorite phrase in the book. Walt tells his father he wants to quit his humdrum duties at the jelly factory to become an artist. But his father "could not possibly see why Walt would sacrifice the certainty of the jelly factory for the uncertainty of art." When you put it that way! I don't know, the jelly factory sounds magical enough to me. During the occupation, just after World War I, Walt drives out to "the birthplace of Joan of Arc, where [he eats] fried chicken on the lawn in front of her shrine." I put that in just for Kent Osborne, who loves fried chicken so much, and also loves to eat at Walt Disney's favorite restaurant in Los Angeles. I think he would enjoy the image of Walt Disney eating fried chicken at the shrine of Joan of Arc.
[A long twitter discussion followed the original "posting," in which Craig Pittman directed a group of us to a 1938 interview with Disney in FAMILY CIRCLE magazine. Disney informs his interviewer, "In my terror, I stamped on the owl and killed it" - a horrific detail omitted by Gabler and one many of us strove not to believe - the description at the beginning of this "post" does its best to posit a kind of terrible accident - against the evidence of Disney's own testimony. Megan put it down, rather beautifully, to "Disney hyperbole and the hyperbole of guilt." Disney, on the other hand, calls it an "unhappy adventure." Seems like a mild way to put it. - ed.]

Monday, December 12, 2016

Three-Eyed Christmas Owl

You know I don't "blog" anymore unless, say, I read a book with an owl in it, but what am I supposed to do with this picture Jimmy sent me? He was walking in Brooklyn, USA, when he came upon a crèche with this toy novelty owl sitting on the roof of it. He also shows the owl from another, closer angle which bolsters his claim that it has three eyes, but I shan't affright you with that. Surely there is some terrifying occult significance we shouldn't think about. This reminds me of a McNeil email from early November, in which he told me of walking his dog at midnight. "I heard a loud noise in the air - similar to a cat's cry," McNeil wrote. "I shined my flashlight toward the heavens and heard it again!" It turned out to be "a giant owl resting on the peak of [McNeil's] neighbors' roof." I didn't tell you about it because I wasn't "blogging" at the time and I'm still not "blogging."

Saturday, December 10, 2016

Madonna and Clint Eastwood

I was watching DESPERATELY SEEKING SUSAN and Madonna - or the character Madonna was playing (the Susan in question) - started bippin' and boppin' to her own song - I mean a Madonna song - as she leaned against a jukebox and I was like, WHAT IS THIS? Is this a movie where Madonna exists and also someone who looks and dresses exactly like Madonna exists? It reminded me of that Clint Eastwood movie where Mel Tillis sings a song about Clint Eastwood. Obviously there is a big difference. And big similarities! I don't "blog" anymore but I guess I should "blog" in circumstances like this, when something reminds me of something else I "blogged" about, right? But the main thing is how great John Turturro looks in this movie, I want to look just like him.