Tuesday, April 28, 2009

At War With the Should’s and Supposed-To’s

Part 1

For what feels like millennia, I have engaged in battle with two of the foulest, most irritating tribes I have ever encountered. They are cunning, ingenious, slick and well-entrenched. They work in tandem and sometimes apart; but their primary objective is to subvert my wishes and undermine my already war-weary confidence. The war is ongoing. The battlefield is inside my skull.

The Should’s chief weapon is morality. (And fear. Fear and morality…) This faction barrages me with questions. Am I spending each moment correctly? Do I make enough money? Does my life appear the way it should…

The Should’s infect the brain. I am obviously on the wrong path. I’m not where everyone else is. I am wrong.

My position as a father and a citizen and a husband and a human being at thirty-six years of age means something. These aren’t just facts to digest; they each have their own moral imperatives which make the entire sandwich impossible to swallow. My defense is simple. I remind the Should’s that they don’t really exist. They are from a fantastic world of anal-retentive lame-o’s and worrisome mothers.

The Supposed-to’s are a close cousin and use a lot of the same methods. However, they also employ the world around me. The advertisements and cinematic themes and premises and images and taglines. They are after your wallet and the collateral damage is guilt and a horrible self-image.

What the Supposed-to’s can’t stand are people who can see through them. They are fairly transparent so it is not difficult if you inspect them thoroughly. After that, you can punch a hole right through the center as if they were soft pizza dough.

Part 2

I will not worry about swine flu. I didn’t worry about monkey pox or avian flu. I didn’t worry about E coli or the West Nile virus either. I didn’t worry about space junk, lead-laced Chinese toys or bad spinach. I didn’t stop eating peanut butter, lettuce, chicken or pork for any reason.

I never sweated SARS or radon or asbestos. I never checked the threat level (but who did?). I never, not for a single second, thought anything was going to happen on Y2K.

Why? It’s simple. There are some things in this world that are binary. Act or Do Not Act. I cannot control any of those things aside from the same precautions I take on a daily basis. I cannot act, so I don’t worry. Years ago, it nearly killed me, and it was all for nothing. Worrying is dumb shit we do in this country when we feel helpless and without control. All it does is keep you watching cable news and the commercials in between. It ravages our stomachs with unnecessary acid buildup.

Do yourself a favor. Don’t watch the news. I get about five minutes a week of coverage that isn’t on Comedy Central. Don’t tell me I’m irresponsible. I get what I need and I’m not a glutton. The rest of the time is spent with fiction, literature and comedy.

Why? Because the Supposed-to’s and the Should’s are telling me otherwise. I can’t let them win.

Tuesday, April 21, 2009

Is That What I Sound Like?

I have four podcast shows whacked up and ready to go and a bunch more waiting. It feels good; but that didn’t stop me from the opportunity to self-criticize. Yay, brain!

I’ve been hearing my voice through my headphones during editing and mixing of these podcasts, and it is a unique experience. I always used to tell people to consider writing in a journal because you may have a great memory for events that happened in your life, but that kind of private reflection (keep it OFF the internet, please!) written down helps you remember how you used to think. Although the podcast is purely for fun and entertainment, I get a sense of how I sound to the rest of the world. Since it’s not an act but a conversation, you would be surprised how you speak and even more surprisingly, who you sound like.

First, I thought I was over the word “like”. It was thrown around every third word when I was a kid and it is littered in American speech. But somewhere in my mid-20’s I heard myself say it three times in a sentence. I immediately sent my brain into exterminator mode and it had orders to search and destroy the word like from my vocabulary as often as possible. Well, it’s still around. It flops out when your eyes roll up and you are searching for the perfect word to say or you are accessing the ol’ memory banks. Its filler and I can’t believe I still say it so much.

The other word is way. I think its in there because when you are trying to be funny it is a game of extremes, and that word is such a basic element of superlatives. Way cool, way funny, way stupid. Yeah, it is way stupid. Gotta work on that.

The strangest thing to hear is my approach to humor. I’ve followed comedians for so long I can tell often where the inflections come from during certain stories and jokes. Inflections to humor are like guitar styles to rock bands. There are hundreds of ways to get there, but everyone can recognize who paved the roads. I can tell if someone listened to Dennis Miller in the eighties, or Bill Hicks or Chris Rock or David Cross or even Larry the Cable Guy. So my brain is a mush of 100 comedians and I never know who will creep to the surface. Even when it’s my dad.

It is difficult to deny that at least 30% of my funny comes from my dad and his brash, brazen approach to being funny. Bitter pill to swallow, but there you go.

One more little observance. This feels good. To speak into a mike means you are sure of what you are doing and saying. You must have a modest amount of confidence. You can write without confidence and fool people. I’ve done it many times. But this is nothing like writing. It feels more like doing.

Tuesday, April 14, 2009

I Watched TV My Whole Life And I Turned Out TV

I saw the 348th article today about how awful TV is to our kids and how it affects everything from weight to motor skills to socialization to creativity. I’ve been reading these since I can remember and I think most of the information is correct. TV sucks. I was severely addicted to it for most of my life, and our relationship now is frosty.

I thought about writing a piece about how I struggled with my bond to TV, but that is a well-trodden path. So are bits about the decline of TV or the perceived increase in quality in some areas while others are slipping into shit soup. All valid and worth talking about. But I just don’t feel it. I also would hate to defend TV because I am sure it has hurt my life more than helped.

Maybe, just for today, I’ll talk about the nice stuff it has given me.

First, I’ll get the maudlin section over with. I was painfully shy. And, on top of that, as I’ve just realized; I was afraid of everything. I watched TV because I was scared of life and the world and playing baseball with kids who could play baseball better than me. I was home alone all of the time and the house gets very quiet with no TV on. Its part of the reason my TV is on right now and I’m nowhere near it. I used it to drown out arguments and painful silences and everything. Me, Don Knotts, Underdog and Abe Vigoda.

Because this took place mostly in the eighties and cable really wasn’t anything, I watched a lot of TV that was not intended for me. There were movies and sitcoms aimed at my parents and my grandparents. But it was all that was on.

However, I did get something out of it. If I were outside in a giant field sitting in amazement of junebugs and butterflies this would have never happened. As for me, I developed a curiosity in our culture. It was a strange porthole for such a little boy who didn’t know why he could remember everything his teachers sometimes could not. What were all these old words and phrases they said that no one used? Black and white movies were old movies, but they also spoke differently. The women dressed differently. Was that how they really dressed or was it just for the TV? Why did that joke get a laugh? What is a “diaphragm” and what is a “bigot”?

I still contend that Bugs Bunny has more to do with my love of history and timelines than any other influence. He was bringing up references that were before my mother was born. I knew this because I figured out Roman numerals and they appeared at the opening credits of each cartoon. WWII, the Army, music, political figures and timing. Man, Bugs’ timing was Groucho Marx’s timing and it was near perfect. I learned to speak more maturely. Didn’t help much in fourth grade but I liked it.

Speaking of school, when I eventually clung to a few other TV nerdy types we had a shared experience to talk about. It was the cartoons and the crappy movies we watched that helped to bond us. That’s why Trekkie conventions and the like exist. It’s exactly like a football game. Shared love for a thing. There are costumes, toys and snacks. And we’re all tubby! God bless this country.

I read a lot. I liked to ride my bike and took a ton of walks. I wasn’t homebound. But I was seriously addicted. Luckily the intended audience for TV shifted somewhere in the early nineties and I was able to slowly wean myself away. I felt awful for a very long time and considered it a waste of an existence. Then, I had to accept that TV was there for me. It wasn’t great all the time, and it hurt my eyeballs. But when the house got too quiet and the power wasn’t out I could turn it and on and at least feel like I was connected to something.

Monday, April 13, 2009

Big Fat Loud Announcement

After a month or so of screwing around with editing, recording and trying to understand what an XML sheet is, I’ve finally done it.

I have a podcast!

What the hell is a podcast, you ask? Well if you have iTunes or an iPod, you probably know. They are free shows you can automatically download to your mp3 player for fun and enjoyment. It’s talk radio without commercials. Adam Carolla, Ricky Gervais and Kevin Smith have their own, and now I have one. Its called “Shouts From The Lawn” to tie in with my whole grumpy guy with my fist shaking…wearing dark socks motif.

I interview friends and family and mostly attempt to be funny. I cover a bunch of stuff that isn’t fit for a nice, albeit tangential essay for this site. I want to shoot for one a week, but who knows?

So download, listen and enjoy. Forward any reactions, questions or suggestions to shoutsfromthelawn@gmail.com. Also, one favor. Spread it around! It is way more fun to do this type of thing in front of a crowd. An unseen, silent crowd…but its still a crowd.

(Is the tone of this thing uncharacteristically gleeful? I know, it’s weird.)


For those with an iPod and/or those with iTunes – Got to the iTunes Store where you would browse or buy music. Put ‘Shouts From The Lawn’ in the search bar and my podcast will pop right up. Subscribe (for free) and your iPod’s default setting should automatically update when new episodes come up. If it doesn’t, you can adjust it or just go back to my page in iTunes and “get” each episode.

For those with other MP3’s or want to listen to the podcast on the computer – Bookmark or add this link to your favorites. I will up date this page on my site when I update iTunes. I’ll have a list going and links you can click on. Same show.

Also, the cool graphic for the podcast was made by Kaity Curry. She also suggested that “View From The Lawn” be changed to “Shouts”. She was right, dammit. And you know how I love to name things.

Thanks. And spread the word!