January 31, 2010

nad hen jôc eto

1/31/10

"Hither and yon" was something my Grandma used to say, an old pioneer colloquialism meaning "here, there and everywhere" and usually referring to a mess. While making æbleskivers, she would take the beaters out of the bowl too quickly and the batter would scatter all over the wall, the cupboards, "hither and yon". She was far too good a linguist to hackney it up with "thither".

While researching old English and Celtic languages for a script, I came upon the Cumbric language once spoken in the lands now in northern England and southern Scotland - one of those awesome old Celtic tribal tongues that gave us words like "bucket", "nook" and my favorite, "dad".

Cumbric has a lot of relationship to Welsh, and in fact, it seems like the old Welsh tribe once spanned into the area. The oh-so-Scottish name "Wallace" actually means "man from Wales", but in that time they could be referring to southern Scotland as "Wales". Nobody said any of this was going to be simple - when our forefathers walked back and forth across the island and changed their names, they didn't have our convenience in mind, alas.

Anyway, I was looking at the numbering system they used, in a graph on Wikipedia:

CumbricNumbers(bl).jpg

All of the variations on Cumbric numbers are similar, and some are awesome - look at the Wasdale dialect, where "two, three, four" is "taen, tudder, anudder". But then look at the Swaledale dialect, specifically "six" and "one". That is straight-up "hither" and "yahn".

Something about the phrase "six and one" seems to perfectly fit my far-off pre-memory meaning "here and there". I can't say why, but it FEELS right. And in the dialect of Cumbric, directly where my ancestors came from, "six and one" is pronounced "hither and yon".

Yes, I've looked at the etymology of both "hither" and "yon", and while "yon" does come from the word meaning "once", hither is said to come from a Germanic root "hider" meaning "on this side". But etymology is never 100% accurate; it's only a story agreed upon, and my story feels better. I can say that "hither and yon" is an ancient holdover from an extinct language meaning "six and one" but nobody likes to fight more than a gaggle of linguists, and as we like to say, they are most cunning.

Posted by Ian Williams at 11:03 PM (Permalink) | Comments (6)

January 28, 2010

the cup of a carpenter

1/28/10

As we're off to Napa Valley this weekend to celebrate my sister's bridal shower, I have the following CODE WORD question for you all. What, specifically, are your three favorite drinks containing alcohol?

Mine? Glad you asked.

1. three Single-Malt Scotches tie for first (the Clynelish 1976 by Murray McDavid, the Ardbeg Uigeadail, and the 1975 "Rarest of the Rare" Banff)

2. a Toasted Almond made by a hot chick circa 1990

3. a fkn HUMONGOUS JACK AND COKE

(honorable mention goes to the Prairie Fire shot, which is Cuervo 1800 with eight drops of Texas Pete)

Uigeadail with box.jpg

Posted by Ian Williams at 11:08 PM (Permalink) | Comments (48)

January 27, 2010

backslappy handgliding

1/27/10

Here's the thing, damn you, I refuse to be mollified and I can smell "being humored" like a fart in a car. I signed up for this, put my eggs in this wagon, because it was the one place left that still felt like a meritocracy - you know, the cream would rise, and the best work would lead to success. Instead, my sneaking suspicion has turned to an outright accusation: this shit is RIGGED, isn't it?

That's fine if it is. I'm not some shy begonia just off the yam truck; I'm more than happy to call a rake "a rake" and a hoe "a hoe" and play the game as directed. But if you are going through the motions, being the Grand Guignol in a kabuki theater to make it look like you're covering the bases, then just fucking let me know.

You've no need to mollycoddle me - I've had the view from the cheap seats for too many years to lose my innocence. I have a pioneer's expectations and descend from ancestors who kept extra coffins. But you are no longer permitted to waste my time. If I want humiliation, I'll go back home and get it delivered straight, no chaser, in the warm bosom of friends and family.

Posted by Ian Williams at 11:16 PM (Permalink) | Comments (12)

January 26, 2010

peter, i can see your house from here

1/26/10

A few months back, Consumer Reports Health released a survey that said 55% of people who had LASIK - the corrective eye-laser surgery - are still wearing glasses or contacts some of the time. 22% of patients still had the annoying side-effects (halos, starburst around lights) six months afterwards. The first statistic amazes me, the second does not.

I was one of the first LASIK patients in America. A girl I was seeing in 1998 worked for one of the head opthamologists at the University of Southern California's Doheny Eye Institute, and he was beginning his LASIK practice, with the lasers that had just been approved by the FDA. Lots of people had already undergone an older, less-reliable treatment called RK (radial keratotomy), but my doctor was anxious to get the word out about the new technique. He asked his assistant to find a good patient who could be a success story, and she brought me to the office.

He offered to do my eyes for free, and in return, I agreed to be interviewed by the newspaper, and have before/after pictures taken. At this point, there's one thing you should already understand - if there's a bizarre side-effect, I'm your guy. When I got my wisdom teeth out, they made us watch a video about how there's a .01% chance of the surgery hitting your jaw nerve and paralyzing half your face. Cut to me, writing this right now, with barely any feeling on the left side of my chin (which, admittedly, makes shaving easier).

But my terrible eyesight was one of my Four Major Fights With God (the others being acne, depression, and lethargy) and when you see a chance like this to get the upper hand, you bloody well take it. I signed the forms without even looking, strapped myself into the chair, and like Queen Victoria, lay back and thought of England.

After the surgery, I definitely saw better - my previous vision had been -7 and -7.5 with severe astigmatism, which is a short step away from being totally non-functional - but after two weeks, I went back in for another corrective round. You can't open your eyes for the first hour or so after the event, so I didn't do so until I got back home.

And that's when the clouds parted, and the sun shone through. Somebody was watching a television two rooms away, and I could read the credits. I nearly started crying. From that day forward, I could read the spines of books through windows across the street. As of a couple of years ago, I'm still better than 20/20. Sometimes I walk outside and look to the horizon of the ocean and spot distant boats, just because I remember a time when I couldn't have distinguished the sea from a parking lot.

Yes, I saw pretty noticeable halos around lights at night, especially while driving (caused by your pupil dilating past the treated area) and I did have annoyingly dry eyes for about a year or two (caused by the tiny laser scar keeping your tears from spreading uniformly) but those abated, and I can't BEGIN to tell you how thankful and blessed I feel.

To go back to my original statement, I find it hard to believe 55% of people still use glasses or contacts after LASIK, unless they had a disreputable doctor - or didn't go back for another correction, like I did. As for the halos and starbursts... man oh man it was worth it. No more losing glasses, no more walking into a party and having them steam up, no more contact lens solution, no more eye migraines, and no more random bursts of helplessness.

I have a statistics counter that shows how people end up on this site through Google searches - among plenty of other things, many of you are looking for Olympic volleyball goddess Misty May and her awesome ass, my wonderful stepsister Cyia, or our old friend Laurie Dhue... but lots of you got here looking for LASIK stories. Here's mine in a nutshell: find a doctor with a ton of experience (thousands of eyeballs with virtually no infection rate), plan ahead for a possible 2nd surgery, and go for it. Then throw your glasses off the nearest bridge, and watch them hit the water in glorious detail.

AnusolBlurry(bl).jpg    AnusolSharp(bl).jpg

Posted by Ian Williams at 11:37 PM (Permalink) | Comments (30)

January 25, 2010

just bring kindling and some good stories

1/25/10

There's a pretty cool editorial in Wired this week that tentatively suggests something that many of you have already figured out without trying: an online presence with too many followers may actually stop good discourse in its tracks. Put simply, if somebody has 957,400 Twitter followers - or routinely gets 350 comments on each blog entry - the person in charge becomes a figurehead, and the online community degenerates into crap.

Greater minds than mine have dissected what the perfect size of a community should be - if you read any Robin Dunbar (or Malcolm Gladwell, for that matter), you'll see the number 150 crop up again and again. Apparently 150 people was the perfect upper limit for early tribe gatherings, Roman squadrons, close-knit villages, and any other group that had a vested, efficient interest in staying together.

Any bigger than that, and things got unwieldy. More draconian laws would get passed, the sense of "belonging" vanished, and the sheer size of your community would escape your peripheral vision, leading you to balkanize and stop giving a shit about big swaths of your group. I'm pretty sure companies could save themselves a lot of money by not hiring a consulting firm and just reducing their self-contained pods to 150.

Of course, with the commoditization of Twitter and Facebook, we start to use our old capitalist rules on a medium that doesn't bear the weight as well as you might think. I'm sure there's some monetary value in having a million Twitter followers, and if you're in it just to receive blasts the same way you'd get information from a radio station tower, that's awesome - but there's certainly no "community" worth a damn.

Currently on Facebook, I have 602 friends. That's pretty good for not being in high school, where you automatically befriend 350 classmates just by showing up. My friend count is largely due to UNC (where I was excessively social), this blog (which makes me easy to find), and the fact that I'm 42, lived lots of lives, and haven't grown totally complacent. But that number doesn't (and shouldn't) convince me I'm remotely cool. In fact, once that number crept over about 250, I started to feel meaningless on there. Almost like we were all collecting friends the way we would collect pretty shells on the beach.

I hardly ever invite people to things via Facebook, because I feel like it'll get thrown into your daily vat of invites and quizzes, and end up being one more thing you've got to wade through. Don't get me wrong: I love seeing all of you on there, and I would be overjoyed to be your Friend, but the sense of community there is cacophonous.

So, naturally, I started looking at the statistics for this blog. I added up how many hits we were getting each month, and how many "unique visitors" we get per workday, and then adjusted for spam and image searches. If you follow the Zipf curve of Participation Inequality, or the "90-9-1" rule, turns out our lurking community is very large, but the 10% of you who comment either frequently or intermittently throughout the year is just over 100 people.

Nice fucking work, y'all! They said blogs were old-fashioned and would die out once YouTube and MySpace took over the world, but we gots ourselves the Perfect Online Community™! As Clive Thompson said in Wired, we're the...

...group of people who are passionately interested in a subject and like arguing about it... willing to experiment with risky or dumb concepts because [we're] among intimates... It was, after all, small groups of marginal weirdos that brought us the computer, democracy, and the novel... what if they warned us when our social circles became unsustainably large?

Posted by Ian Williams at 11:33 PM (Permalink) | Comments (19)

January 24, 2010

homina homina homina

1/24/10

CaffeineMolecule.png

I've asked a version of this question before, but how many of you consume caffeine at some point each day? Also, what form does the caffeine take (coffee, etc.) and would you say that you definitely need it? Further, do you suffer any side-effects from it (or the lack thereof)?

Posted by Ian Williams at 11:39 PM (Permalink) | Comments (27)

January 21, 2010

1 cup vitriol, 2 tsp. profanity, mix w/powdered loathing

1/21/10

I was just giving Tessa a headrub and she fell asleep on my chest - prompting me to tap her on the eyeballs and telling her to move. "Why?" she asked.
"Because I have to write a blog," I said.
"Is it going to be all sunshine and light?"
"Oh yeah," I said, "Absolutely... oh wait, I mean NO."
"You know your readers come to you for sunshine and light."

If that's the case, my friends, turn away now, because we got ourselves a Bad News-a-palooza!!! Why, just in the last two days:
• Massachusetts replaces Ted Kennedy with a teabagging douche
• Barring miraculous testicle growth, the Democratic agenda is dead, and Obama will end up like Jimmy Carter
• The Supreme Court ruled that corporations can give as much money to Republican candidates as they want, overturning decades of precedence (and rational thought)
• Air America got shitcanned to the dustbin of history
• The UNC Tar Heels got drubbed by Wake Forest AT HOME, making it the third straight loss, with seemingly no answers for a turnaround
• It has pissed down rain in Los Angeles for the sixth straight day in a row
• and some other things I can't really mention.

Let me use this blog right now to let out an ear-shredding, glorious
FuckCursive(bl).gif
just so those of you at work have to scroll past it. FUCK THIS FUCKING WINTER!!!

*ahem*

In the meantime, let's set a few things straight.

1. I've been taken to task for "giving up" on the political process and told "all liberals fold and take home their toys when things don't go their way" and "if you do nothing, the worst people in the world win" and the like. Let me reiterate: I will still give money to my local progressive politicians. I will raise money for Gillibrand. I will affect change in my 'hood. But I am not going to immerse myself in the news anwmore, because THE NEWS IS ALWAYS BAD, AND I FIGHT DEPRESSION REGARDLESS.

I'm not even listening to NPR for the next few months, and that's saying something, coming from a pinko pill-popping leftist stooge monkey like yours truly. What the fuck, I already had to give up lattés and granola because of IBS, I'm sure Linda Wertheimer won't miss me.

I say this, even though 95% of me thinks this country is too stupid to save, and even if it weren't, there's absolutely nothing I can do about it - even for my daughter - and the Supreme Court ruling just made that even clearer. All I can do is open up my home for friends and weary travelers and lend money and grow vegetables. Anything more is a waste of stomach lining.

2. Regarding my beloved Tar Heels, I'll reiterate something I wrote to friends earlier today: I don't think any of us realized what a psychic blow it was to lose Tyler Hansbrough. He brought superhuman focus to our team and did it for four years, allowing us to infantilize in his presence. Now we are adrift, without a student leader or, really, a personality we can get behind.

I've always said that every team is merely a custodian for the higher philosophy of Dean Smith, and every time we've broken from that path, we not only lose, we cease having much meaning. I know that sounds fruity to many of you, but you can suck it; the Carolina Family stands for something bigger than basketball, and it's the only religion I've got.

Of course, this is where you Christians have an advantage - your God is great every year, whereas I can have a really crappy season.

3. When it rains in Los Angeles, it's like a magical spell wears off. You wake up and wonder what the fuck you're doing here. Of course, I'm always wondering that anyway, which means the rain is making me insane. And don't come to me with that "you don't know winter like I know winter" bullshit... six days straight of pelting rain and 45 mph winds is bad for anywhere, even London or Seattle. And we've got another week to go.

4. A word about the The Top Ten Handwritten Labels to Give Your VHS Videotapes So Nobody Will Watch Them and Find Out They're Actually Porn blog from a few days back. I've been getting lots of emails about it, but let me say this... you've got to be careful with this particular genre.

Remember, this was 1991, and in a house full of 22 and 23-year-old guys who were underemployed and had a finely-whittled sense of the absurd. If you made your VHS label too boring-sounding, or too ludicrously mind-numbing, any one of us might have popped it into the VCR in a fit of ironic pique. "Oh!" someone might have said, "The video feed from a closed-circuit camera in a middle-school library? Let's put this on during a party while cranking Soul II Soul!"

So you had to make the label just right. "Citizen Kane" sounds like a bit much, but you can imagine somebody saying to themselves "I've never watched it, and it's raining... fuck it." And then your porn is discovered. On the other hand, as good as it might have been, nobody on earth is ever going to pop in "Agnes of God" because it's raining. As The Budster™ or I might have said, "it's never a "'Norma Rae' night".

Like everything in life, it's a matter of balance.

So I bought a bass.

RickenBass(sm).jpg

Posted by Ian Williams at 11:00 PM (Permalink) | Comments (30)

January 19, 2010

goober grape (sour version)

1/19/10

Already I get the gloating emails from conservative friends who want to preen about the Massachusetts special election yesterday, and I have two words for them: fair enough. Brown ran the perfect campaign, and cleaned the Democrats' clock in their own cloakroom. Anybody who has spent time on these pages knows I'm a frothing, foul-mouthed progressive who would rather be dipped in molten lava than vote for a Republican, but you know what? I'm beginning not to give a shit.

Sure, I will always fight for my hometown heroes: specifically Kirsten Gillibrand in New York, and Larry Kissell in North Carolina, but caring about the bigger picture - the "national debate", if you will - has already begun to fade. In return, I don't expect anyone to give a damn about my opinion, but here are my reasons:

1. The Democratic Party's views and my views have diverged. We now live in a country where NOBODY is asking to repeal the death penalty, and the dialogue of abortion uses nothing but terms invented by the right wing. The "left" of the Democratic party would have been considered radical Republicanism twenty years ago.

Even if the Democrats talk a good game about their agenda, they turn into dithering milksops once they're in power. They have allowed homosexuals to be vilified again and again over the last four years and said nothing, let alone offering abject resistance to DADT and DOMA. My views have remained consistent, but they have wilted so far to the right that I'm having trouble giving them any more money.

2. The Democrats don't know how to rule in the modern era. The Republicans may be assholes, but they're effective assholes. They sure as hell wouldn't have allowed one or two senators to hold their administration-defining agenda hostage. Either the Dems played it cool and vastly miscalculated, or they just don't see modern politics as a blood sport - either way, it's dealbreakingly infuriating. "We are the ones we've been waiting for"? Are you kidding?

As I've said before, I'm a believer in Mamet's idea of Capone's Chicago: they put one of yours in the hospital, you put one of theirs in the morgue. Republicans will not fight fair; they will lie, distort and impugn... and if that doesn't work, they'll brazen it out. They don't care about Americans, they care about getting and holding power by any means necessary. Attempting to negotiate, or playing nice, gets you NOTHING with these people. It's like offering a rattlesnake some lettuce. And it's a confrontation the Democrats are clearly not up for.

A lot of Americans are hurting right now, furious because they've lost their jobs and/or have no health insurance. Their home is worth nothing, and their prospects look terrible. And SOMEHOW, the DEMOCRATS HAVE ALLOWED THEMSELVES TO TAKE THE BLAME FOR ALL OF IT. Never mind the facts. Our party has become the firemen who are blamed for the fire.

3. The public discourse on all political issues has become poisonous. News media, especially now that the internet has destroyed their previous financial models, has all their eggs invested in keeping political news at TRAUMA STATUS forever. This means constantly creating a news cycle with its own narrative, and that narrative is a lie... until it's repeated so often that it becomes the truth. Which leads to...

4. The American Populace has simply gotten too fucking dumb. I mean, really, think about it. George Bush hands us two wars, a global economy teetering on collapse, a Homeland Security system predicated on torture, and put us a decade behind on the two things that could have gotten us out of this mess (alternative energy and stem cell revolution). His party destroyed the middle class, sped up the demise of the American Empire, and made us the most hated country on the globe. So one year after we elect someone else, we're going to swing power... back to the Republicans?

That's a dumb fucking country right there, folks. Especially in Massachusetts, when everyone knew it was a referendum on the pivotal vote in the Senate. You gotta have the attention span of single-cell bacteria to make that mistake again, but here we go. Three years from now, mark my words, all the "independents" will be up in arms about their "new" Republican overlords, and how they screwed everything up, and the progressives will (again) beat their heads against the goddamn wall.

But not me this time. Fuck it. I'm not "giving up" or anything - I'll still give the maximum to my politicians at a local level - but my days of endlessly reloading 538 or HuffPo or always buying Newsweek at the airport are gradually coming to a close.

I've got one thing in common with these teabagging thugs: I'm furious too. I'm furious at the way I relaxed decades of protective cynicism to feel a smidgen of hope last January, but at least I was no dummy. I'll reprint a couple of sentences I wrote almost exactly a year ago today, not just because I'm a self-aggrandizing twat whose momma didn't pay him enough attention, but because it makes me feel better in a sick sort of way:

I take it on the chin, I understand my place in the 20th and 21st century timeline. 2004 was my last gasp of trying too hard, and as I've said before, something in me broke. Never again will I trust Americans to do the right thing; the revelation of that disgusting, pockmarked underbelly is all I care to take, thank you very much.

Does that mean I miss out on the joy of this moment? A little, yes. I appreciate it intellectually, and I did cry with joy a few times this year. But that's a fever I had once before, and like every virus, it's very hard to catch again.

And with that, I will start meditating again.

Posted by Ian Williams at 11:48 PM (Permalink) | Comments (24)

January 18, 2010

on golden blonde

1/18/10

Sure, technology is always getting better, faster, smaller and easier... but in the transition, there are a few valuable skills that are inevitably lost. There are some of you who could re-roll the ink ribbon on a typewriter; that skill is now unnecessary. There are many of you who could make the perfect 90-minute mix tape, with each side ending exactly at 45 minutes according to mood; your services will no longer be needed. Calling all calligraphers: your epoch has passed.

But there's one skill set I'll miss most of all. Y'see, long before movies were stored as binary forms on distant hard drives, they used to be kept on clunky plastic VHS tapes that could be played in your VCR. Each tape came with a sticky label, where you could scrawl the title of the video inside. So I'd like to present to you a special treat from me and The Budster™ circa 1991:

The Top Ten Handwritten Labels to Give Your VHS Videotapes So Nobody Will Watch Them and Find Out They're Actually Porn

10. Montana vs. Boise State, Big Sky Conference Women's Hoops Quarterfinal
9. Norma Rae
8. Taconic High School Presents "Crazy For You!"
7. Golfing Left-Handed, Lesson VI: Approaching the Green
6. Conversational Welsh
5. Getting to Know Your 1988 Jeep Cherokee
4. Pittsboro Town Council Minutes (tape 5 of 7)
3. Snails! Our Slow Gastropod Neighbors
2. "Charles in Charge" season 2 (partial)
1. Agnes of God

vhs_tapes.jpg

Posted by Ian Williams at 11:45 PM (Permalink) | Comments (18)

January 14, 2010

we didn't need dialog, we had faces

1/14/10

I quite enjoyed my brother Sean's blog today, and I know people have issues with clicking to other pages, so if you don't read it on his his site, I've reprinted it here:

****

Sylvester-Stallone-Demo.jpg

There's a lot of head scratching going on, and a sure sign of stupidity is when everyone else is confused and you think there's an easy answer. I'm pretty obviously, then, a little stupid, because it seems pretty clear to me.

Broadway has had a series of really well reviewed shows close before they could see any return on their investment, and a Neil Simon play never even made it because the other Neil Simon play was hemorrhaging money.

Man, I should just memorize how to spell hemorrhage. I really like using it and I'm tired of looking it up.

There are a lot of people coming up with a lot of ideas about why these plays just aren't bringing in audiences. I would like to tell you why I think it is, and I'm gonna say all of this without providing a single bit of supporting evidence. This is all conjecture, and based exclusively on my perspective, which is ridiculously skewed.

In the 70s, people made really awesome movies. Or so the story goes. Then Jaws and Star Wars killed the whole thing because people wanted to make blockbusters. This is a ridiculously simple way of looking at it, but there definitely was a shift away from a single artist's vision (the director) to a system where each element of a film was given equal responsibility to provide a return on an investment.

Score? Regardless of the movie's style, get John Williams. Actors? Regardless of the roles, get Bruce Willis or Sylvester Stallone or Arnold Schwarzenegger. Script? Get the guy that wrote the thing that just made money, whatever idea he's got, it's probably great! Direction? Just... get someone who can take notes from the producers.

Fast forward a decade or so, to 1993. Last Action Hero comes out. Remember, at this point, it was in vogue to cast European legitimate actors as bad guys, thanks to Die Hard, so we had Schwarzenegger as the hero, F. Murray Abraham as the bad guy and... Jesus, every actor you can name was in this movie. And every one of them showed up on set with, at minimum, their agent, manager and make-up artist, but very probably with their own script doctors.

What opened against it? Demolition Man, which had Nigel Hawthorne as its propped up English actor cred, and Sylvester Stallone in the lead. Wesley Snipes also ate through about a hundred cameras as the "charming bad guy". In "Last Action Hero", the alternate reality has Sylvester Stallone appearing in all of Schwarzenegger's movies, in "Demolition Man" they have (in a weird bit of prescience) Schwarzenegger as the President of the United States.

Ahnol.jpg

These movies are remembered for their suckiness, but the truth is, they were exactly as good as the crap that went before them. In fact, they have a fair bit of charm when compared to "Cliffhanger" and "The Pelican Brief", which were also released that year. But a little movie called "True Romance" snuck in there as well, and everyone suddenly got very excited about what movies might turn in to...

1994? We had Pulp Fiction, The Professional, The Shawshank Redemption, Natural Born Killers, Ed Wood, Clerks, Heavenly Creatures, Shallow Grave, Once Were Warriors...

I can't believe I lived through 1994 and didn't simply eat popcorn and sleep on the floor of a movie theater. The movies that weren't even watershed films were certainly pop culture touchstones, like Ace Ventura, Priscilla Queen of the Desert, Reality Bites, Four Weddings and a Funeral...

My point for all of this is this - In Acting Skool, they teach "Don't play 'Drunk', play the circumstances of the scene, and play 'trying not to be drunk'". In "Art", you can't *try* to make money. You have to try to make art, and that art will then either make money or not. But as consumers of art, we can tell when you're switching the price tags on the old meat in the cooler. The minute you think you've got a system for popularity, you're actually taking a step closer to failing.

So, why did these shows close on Broadway? My feeling is that it's because Broadway has become too Broadway, the meat's been in the cooler for too long. Broadway producers who are interested in making money need to be willing to *lose* money on an auteur, on a singular artistic voice that might be a touchstone for a generation. Neil Simon and established musical re-treads don't speak to the audience specifically because they seem to be engineered to entice the audience.

We want that from fast food, but we don't want it from our art. Some of the avant garde is off-putting and, like all art, a lot of it feels insignificant and confused. I refuse to call it bad, but sure, that stuff won't translate. However, MOST of the avant garde stuff is really very fun, totally digestible and could make a producer somewhere a fortune.

The guy who didn't buy The Blue Man group when he saw them on the street is probably the same guy who's losing millions of dollars trying to turn Spider Man into a musical. To that guy, I'd say, "the lessons are there, they aren't even from that long ago, and if you really love theater, you'd know what to do."

Come find the individual voices. Don't look at the MFA programs, come an see what the punks are doing. There are men and women in the off-off world who are SWINGING FOR THE FENCES. And we can do it because if we lose four grand, WE'VE ONLY LOST FOUR GRAND. Most of the people who are writing and being incredibly brave because... because when nobody's looking, bravery is easy. EVERYONE sings in the shower, and that's what we're doing at our 53 seat houses.

When Tracey Letts wrote Superior Donuts, he had no intention of it going up at a Broadway house. Which was probably a little bit naive on his part, he'd had a successful play on Broadway which means EVERY THING HE WRITES will go up on Broadway from now on. Until he flops. And then NOTHING HE WRITES will go up on Broadway. Until he succeeds again. And then EVERYTHING HE WRITES... This is how it works.

The voices of a new generation are currently bellowing at the windmills. If someone wants to take the money they've got, and print ten times the amount, they should dig in their backyards, because I know, for a fact, the backyards are full of diamonds.

****

Posted by Ian Williams at 11:30 PM (Permalink) | Comments (12)

January 13, 2010

okay, time for trust falls

1/13/10

Generally, I can't write about anything career-wise on the blog - not since we made the move into television/film and could risk losing an awesome gig because I cracked wise about some entertainment executive with clever Google skills. But this Leno/Conan/NBC brouhaha imbroglio is a pretty fascinating reminder that no matter how big the players are, life is essentially still a lot like middle school.

People tend to vilify NBC for their decisions, but that's a cruel synecdoche; NBC is just like any other company, in that it's filled with some wonderful people who keep showing up to work every day in order to fight the good fight. A few of my favorite folks in Hollywood work in development there. Also, making successful TV shows is becoming more and a random game that CBS is currently winning - but these things always change.

I don't have an opinion on who is being unjustly pilloried, who is owed what, or any of it, really. I made a decision in 1992 or so that if I were watching late-night talk show television, I was avoiding something. So I absolutely never watch any of those shows on any channel, except of course The Daily Show, or if a friend happens to be on.

But this current debacle reminds me of the botched transition of the UNC basketball coaching staff when Coach Guthridge decided to step down in 2000. What should have been an easy transition instead led to Roy Williams publically fretting about the job before going back to Kansas in front of a packed stadium and telling them "I'm stayin'". It was a slice of jackassery that makes UNC fans involuntarily wince, but it was also jackassery UNC could have been avoided a week earlier with a few well-placed phone calls.

Put simply, I don't understand why these big decisions get played out in press releases volleyed back and forth, allowing every yokel to opine one way or t'other. In 2000, Dean/Gut/UNC should have brought Roy in, told him the deal, given him a few days, and then moved on to plan B. No muss, no fuss.

Similarly, at NBC, it seems like friendly grown men could have agreed to meet in a conference room with all the players, aired all desires, grievances and contingencies, and taken two weeks to come to a consensus. Anything else is theater, bullyism, gossip and cockfighting.

All of these people, at UNC and NBC and everywhere else, play golf. Golf was created so that the 430 people who run the world can do so without seeming untoward. It boggles me why they would throw their spaghetti around an entire town to see what sticks, rather than teeing off and sipping a bourbon while their cooler heads prevail. What can us kids count on if the pentumvirate start arguing?

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Ben Hogan, 1-iron, 1950 - photographed by Hy Peskin

Posted by Ian Williams at 11:17 PM (Permalink) | Comments (9)

January 12, 2010

c'mon get haphazardly dispirited

1/12/10

This week's Journal of the American Medical Association has a study sure to rumble the foundation of everyone taking and prescribing antidepressants, at least until we all agree to forget about the study and continue on as usual: drugs were found to have minimal effect on those patients who were slightly depressed. Except the study only focused on one random drug (Paxil) and the weed-out process guaranteed the result before the study even began.

If you're into this SSRI porn like me - or take any antidepressant - Peter D. Kramer (he of "Listening to Prozac") has a great article on doubleX right now about this study, and a much better one done by Northwestern that clarifies what these drugs are actually doing. In essence, they aren't curing depression, they are changing your personality's way of dealing with adversity.

But Kramer buries his lede by waiting until page 3 (an eternity on the web) for the much more important study from the University of Michigan: in layman's terms, we are a excruciatingly sad country walking around with no help. Check it out:

• The average person diagnosed with depression had severe depression. Average equals severe? That is, as they say, BAD.
• 34% of depressed people received medication, and only 11% of those got adequate medication.
• Only 9% of severely-depressed people got adequate medication combined with the right psychotherapy.

My mom once described a woman she truly loathed as being "over-therapied", a kick-ass rebuke that says it all: someone who tries to solve all of their (and your) problems with half-baked drugs and daddy issues, and worst of all, rationalized their worst behavior at light speeds using psychological syndromes they barely understood. I have no doubt I can be one of those people when I set my mind to it.

But the real American tragedy is the opposite. In some ways, it's oddly comforting to know how miserable everyone else is - it makes you feel less crazy knowing half the people you see each day are cloaked in mystifying sadness. But it's not doing any of us any good, that's for motherfucking sure. Hundreds of you reading this, right now, are sedated by melancholy, saddled with chronic, free-floating anxiety, and you're not doing anything about it.

I've always thought the mere act of getting help for being depressed was true bravery - not for the usual canards (only sissies talk about their feelings and only addicts use drugs), but because one's misery becomes the last thing we can count on. It becomes a spell that keeps us from moving too quickly. Seeking help, getting out of the house, disrupts the reverie and allows true pain to pour through. It's temporary, sure, but searingly real.

If there is anything I can say, it's this: you will earn no medals or gain valuable personal experience by being depressed. Not at this stage, anyway. By now, all it's doing is eroding everything your parents, your friends and you have ever built for yourself. This is not a dress rehearsal; this is it. Turn off the computer, there are no answers here. I say this as lovingly as I can.

And if you want a terse, mean-spirited quote, here is one of my favorites:

"Despair is the absolute extreme of self-love. It is reached when a man refuses all help from anyone else in order to taste the rotten luxury of knowing himself to be lost."
-Thomas Merton

Posted by Ian Williams at 11:17 PM (Permalink) | Comments (5)

January 11, 2010

no more touchin' m' privates

1/11/10

But enough of my yakkin'... I know research shows that New Year's Resolutions are, by definition, destined to fail, BUT have any of you made any, kept any, or already let it go?

Posted by Ian Williams at 11:29 PM (Permalink) | Comments (9)

January 10, 2010

matt 5:44

1/10/10

Every two years or so, I write something on here that invokes the wrath of many Christians, leading to tons of comments and emails - and subsequently I write an apologia and then try not to talk about it for two more years. I'd like to take a different tack this time, and (very briefly) explain why this cycle keeps happening.

I think there is a very under-reported and badly-needed story taking place in this country, a phenomenon I'll call The Quiet Rage of Agnostics and Atheists in America. Put simply, there is a group of people who have (for one reason or another) opted out of organized religion, but still feel bombarded by it on all sides.

When a political figure mentions his religious faith guiding his decisions, we shudder, not just because we think he means it (which is horrifying enough), but because he has to mention it at all. When religion gets involved in our school system, many of us feel like it's time to move to Finland.

Put yourself in our shoes, just for a minute. Millions of people believe in a sentient Creator who communicates with humans, and that he sent his son down to be a person to be killed for our sins, and then was resurrected. People who lived many, many years after the fact wrote a book about it with hundreds of rules - many paradoxical to each other - and now that book is supreme law.

I'm sorry. Many of you are used to it. Many of you follow it and find light, love and happiness. But we find it downright scary. We love many of YOU, to be sure, and would defend your honor because we call you our friends, but your religion absolutely flummoxes us. And we're not allowed to say anything about it, even though your rules make laws that govern our bodies and what we can do.

Say what you want about Michael Moore, but his thesis in "Bowling for Columbine" is right-on: a government that kills its own people sends a tacit message to its people: killing each other is an acceptable solution to a problem. I would say the same thing about a government or a President that stresses their Christianity. Claiming Christian values sends a tacit message to its people: it's okay to believe anything, regardless of facts.

I was called a "bigot" a few days ago on here, and I don't think that's fair. I should be allowed to put up resistance when a public figure uses mass media to further a Christian agenda. What people do in their own churches and in their own homes is none of my goddamn business, but when it explodes out - as it does more times a day that many of you are aware - ill-mannered agnostics like me should be here to say enough's enough.

And if I use strong words to do it, well, then, grow some thicker skin. Christianity has a lot of nerve carving any moral high ground given the imperialism, oppression, subjugation of women, gay-baiting and general misery done in its name for over two thousand years. It's also got a lot of nerve claiming any persecution, when at this point, everyone's already Christian. Congrats, you've won. You get the Presidency, 97% of Congress, most of the Supreme Court, millions and million of Americans... and I got this blog.

Your belief system must be capable of withstanding the occasional assault. I know mine is, all the time.

Look, I love you. Many of you are my friends, many of you are my family. You can think I'm a know-it-all asshole who is in dire need of an epiphany, and I can think you're slightly insane - it doesn't mean we can't laugh and give toasts over dinner. It also doesn't mean we can't commiserate over thousands of other subjects. But when I occasionally get exasperated and rude about your God, I hope you get why.

Posted by Ian Williams at 11:24 PM (Permalink) | Comments (34)

January 7, 2010

clean up on aisle 73

My Problem With Specific Retail Stores, Volume I

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1. Target - Okay, for the sake of argument, let's leave out how all these stores killed Mom 'n' Pop establishments downtown, and just look at them for what they are. Target is fuckin' awesome, but sometimes I don't know if it's awesome in comparison to what it used to be, or awesome empirically. I do know this: buying cheap crap in a clean new store with good décor is better than buying cheap crap in a dirty store that has flu strains on every cart. It's like Virgin America - I'd rather be cramped with ambient purple lighting than cramped on US Air.

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2. American Apparel - I know the kiddie porn ads are offensive, and everyone seems to be stuck in a heroin re-imagining of 1981, but you can't beat the thin, comfy cotton, and it's all made here in the USA. But I just don't understand why they have to make all their T-shirts so long. T-shirts that go down to your thigh will only work on anorexic drug addicts - every time I buy a shirt there, I have to stitch it up six inches, and I'm six feet tall. Could they stop being such jerks about it?

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3. The UPS Store, Mailboxes Etc. - There is a prerequisite for working at a box-n-ship place, which is "MUST BE A SHORT-TEMPERED, ILL-SOCIALIZED ASSHOLE WHO HATES HIS FELLOW MAN". Because of our frequent travels, I wind up in these places all the time, and 95% of them are manned by some of the meanest people imaginable. Does packing tape make a person crazy? Fuck it - if I wanted to be ignored and humiliated, I'd go to Home Depot.

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4. Home Depot - Getting help at a Home Depot is like wandering around Kyrgyzstan with a blind dog. It's like they put every single building tool under a roof the size of the Matterhorn, and then abandoned it, leaving only two cashiers and one guy aimlessly driving around in a forklift.

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5. The Gap - Oh, The Gap. What happened to you? It used to be the place you could always get solid basics, but now I just can't find anything I'd actually wear. Why does it feel so... cheesy? Did you change, or did I?

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6. Orange Julius - Actually, there's absolutely nothing wrong with Orange Julius.

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7. Brookstone - I see one of these places and I salivate with the kind of operant conditioning that comes from a lifetime of gadgeteering. But once you're actually in the store, I'm consistently amazed at how few things are actually appealing. And that's saying something, because most of you old friends know how hard it is for me to say no to a USB deep-fat GPS dongle. Plus, not to get all Howard Hughes or anything, but like fuck if I'm gonna sit in one of those massaging chairs after 700 people already did.

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8. Barnes & Noble - B&N is beginning to be a place we'll tell our kids about, a holdover from a dead era, a little like the Illuminated Texts display at the Getty. If they really wanted to port themselves into the future, they'd have a little button in front of each book that would allow you to wirelessly download it to your Kindle, iPod, etc... sure, I'll still get Sector 7 in hardback for Lucy, but unless you gots big pretty pictures, why can't I just read it without felling trees?

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9. Foot Locker, Athletic Attic, etc. - I don't get it - all you guys do is shoes, but if I want real shoes, I have to go to Modell's or Dick's Sporting Goods? I buy basketball shoes because I play basketball in them, god dammit - and all you've got are flimsy green Nike throwback low-tops? I'm not going to a barbecue, boys - I'M GOING TO THE MOTHERFUCKING RACK! Stop giving me fashion choices and GIMME SOMETHING THAT FEELS GOOD AFTER I THROW DOWN A THUNDEROUS MONSTER JAM!!!

Posted by Ian Williams at 11:21 PM (Permalink) | Comments (18)

January 6, 2010

that'll be three hail marys and seven our fathers

1/6/10

Brit Hume, you are a sad, pathetic slab of granite worthy of our pity. I have to give thanks to you, actually, because you gave me my first whiff of cultural criticism: at a time when I considered all journalists beyond reproach (in my early teens), I remember you at ABC covering the White House, and I suddenely realized there were actually professional broadcasters who were utterly full of shit.

I know that sounds like faint praise - that's because it is. But it's important for all kids to have that moment when the curtain is pulled back and the puppeteer is revealed to be a mediocre sham; it inspires us to greatness. We think "if this schmo can do it, why can't I?"

Brit Hume's son killed himself in 1998, and that made the newly-minted Fox anchor turn even more whole-heartedly to Jesus - which is none of our business, since losing a child is the hardest thing anybody has to endure. It's just too bad that his headlong dive into evangelical Christianity gave him such a woeful grasp on any other religion.

But that's how Evangelicals are: they focus all of their wants, desires, unspoken daddy issues, self-loathing and lust for certitude into their Christian fantasy - while all other faiths, facts and philosophy immediately atrophy into nothingness. They become so theologically brittle that they cease understanding how they sound to other people.

When Brit Hume offers Tiger Woods the Christian faith as a way towards forgiveness and redemption, it's obvious he's being sincere... but it's also obvious that Hume can't begin to understand what a fucking moron he sounds like. He gave up that self-awareness in his religious conversion, and speaks with the kind of righteous moral certitude that makes the rest of us want to vomit.

Buddhists don't offer forgiveness and redemption because, by and large, they don't allow you into such self-hate in the first place. They don't even speak that language. Most Buddhism is about inner well-being, accepting the ever-shifting nature of the world, and recognizing "you're only very small and life flows on within you and without you." If anything, it's the most humane, humility-based belief system in the world.

I'm redoubling my efforts to get back to meditation and the tenets of Buddhism this year, but since I haven't yet, I'd like to say this: I am so fucking sick of Christians talking about Christianity outside of church. It's all so boring. PUT A SOCK IN IT. What I wouldn't GIVE to hear a pundit singing the gracious praises of agnosticism.

"Come to agnosticism, Tiger! We offer forgiveness and redemption because WE DON'T GIVE A SHIT!"

Posted by Ian Williams at 11:58 PM (Permalink) | Comments (26)

January 4, 2010

between the woods and frozen lake

1/4/10

My mom once told me about an event I'll call Her First Major Freakout, an afternoon in 1939 or so when she came home from 4th grade expecting the usual bustle of her mother and sisters, and instead found nobody. It threw her into an indescribable pit of depression, of unanswered anxiety, gave her the horrifying realization that she was capable of such misery.

It's a special thing, this capacity for depression, and it sets you apart from the others who may feel blue, but lack an all-encompassing dread so thick you can't imagine it ending. I know it set her apart from her sisters, who all found solace in the capable hands of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints, and it's something she imbued in her five kids to varying degrees.

I always remembered my mom's story about coming back to an empty house and appreciated it as metaphor, while escaping the farther reaches of unfathomable depression myself. Of course, that paper wall was ripped down in 2001, and my solipsistic journey in those minefields has been eye-rollingly well-documented on these pages.

I have not been doing so hot for the last couple of years, for various reasons: geography, chemistry, tummy issues, and a few other things I can't share. I've been concerned that my medication has occasionally not been up to the job, and if it weren't for the unbridled joy of Lucy and Tessa, I'd begin to feel the familiar clutches of what Andrew Solomon called the noonday demon. Already I know I've lost a lot of the effortless... "charm", I guess you could call it... that I possessed in my thirties when I wasn't so wrapped up in my own bullshit. Charisma is not like riding a bicycle; it's a skill that can be lost.

Yesterday I dropped Tessa and Lucy off at the train station in Hudson, NY and set back on the journey home - it was blowing snow with 40 mph gusts, already a foot deep on the ground, wind chill well under zero. I tried putting on music to soothe the violence outside, but I felt myself falling deeper into some kind of awful trance.

The sun set, all of the country turned pitch-black and forbidding, and it took all I had to wheel our car up the icy, steep driveway to the farmhouse. A day earlier, the farm had slept 18 people, six concurrent conversations at all times, air hockey, pool, scotch, woodstove fires. Now there was nobody, a quiet old house nestled in the small mountains, and I was alone. Just like my mom.

I tried to tackle the list of things to do, then tried to rehaul the script expected by the network in a few short days, but I felt trapped by a hundred discordant voices of sadness. In the kitchen, Lucy had left a half-eaten avocado sandwich, and I nearly cried when I saw the perfect half-circle of her bite. Yes, this is what it'd come to.

So I got on the computer and booked a flight home as soon as humanly possible. Just that simple act, and the fog lifted. I finished the script, I packed up all our clothes.

I wanted so much to stay in New York a few more days, to play basketball with the guys on Thursday, to hang with Sean, Jordi, Barno, my mom and the other folks in the city, but I need to get my act together. Sometimes the woods are neither lovely, dark, nor deep, and you just want to bask in the long, sunny glow of blue eyes and nothing notable to worry about.

Posted by Ian Williams at 11:27 PM (Permalink) | Comments (14)

January 3, 2010

ellipses

1/3/10

Yeah, so how was it???

Posted by Ian Williams at 11:10 PM (Permalink) | Comments (7)