Tuesday, January 25, 2011

Things I like #3: The Big Bang Theory

Penny is a hot blonde who moves into the apartment next door to Leonard and Sheldon, self-described (and actual) nerds who, along with their two friends, Raj and Howard, live a sheltered existence, working in a laboratory by day and, at night, indulging in comic books, Facebook, Star Trek marathons, anything related to Star Wars (Sheldon will only watch the movies sequentially because he prefers “to be disappointed in the order in which George Lucas intended.”), Green Lantern, Incredible Hulk, The Fantastic Four, and space travel. That’s only the beginning of the seemingly infinite list of quirks and predilections that come with being these characters.

It’s not just that they’re geeks. Sure, we laugh at them. But we also laugh with them. When Penny, the cheesecake factory waitress, gets a good one on Sheldon, we cheer. Not just because she’s hot (I guess I probably mentioned that detail already), but because Sheldon is a snob of the highest order and thinks he is vastly superior to Penny. In many ways, maybe he is superior to her…although none come to mind. We like the underdog, and Penny is it—in spite of how she looks and that she’s vastly likable. Huh.

Speaking of the underdog, Leonard is a short, bespectacled, rather awkward man-boy who pines to be with Penny and, guess what? (SPOILER ALERT) He gets his wish, becoming, to her, "my little humunculus." That’s another thing I love about this show—the world seemingly loves an underdog—someone who seems at a disadvantage in a certain arena—whether socially, intellectually, athletically, or whatever. I love an underdog and, when it comes to dating beautiful women, Leonard is the ultimate underdog, and yet he gets Penny.

See full size imageI could talk about Raj’s constant stereotyping of Indian culture even while he berates others for being “racist.” Or I could mention Howard’s penchant for irritating “the ladies”—as well as his friends—with his constant bravado regarding his sexual exploits, his Furleyesque outfits, his outrageously funny mother with whom he lives, or his various masturbatory fantasies—before he, too, inexplicably finds hismelf hooked up with a rather hot, bespectacled blonde named Bernadette.

But mostly it’s Sheldon who keeps me watching. I live for those episodes when his “Creationist” mother comes to visit, played by Laurie Metcalfe. But it’s Sheldon himself who makes it work. He considers himself to be the smartest person in any room, perhaps in any universe, alternate universes included. He cannot tell a lie, and he cannot keep a secret.

Sheldon: I promised Penny.

Leonard: Promised Penny what?

Sheldon: I wouldn't tell you the secret. (pause) Shhhhh!!!!

Leonard: What secret? Tell me the secret.

Sheldon: Mom smokes in the car. Jesus is okay with it, but we can't tell dad.

Leonard: Not that secret, the other secret.

Sheldon: I'M BATMAN!!!! SHHHH!!!

And when he gets sick, he needs someone—preferably his mother, but the reluctant Penny will do—to sing “Soft Kitty” to him. Penny eventually turns the tables and gets him to sing rounds.

I could go on and on with favorite episodes, favorite moments, but the upshot of it all is that this show makes me laugh. I know that some people consider it an intellectual sin akin to reading a romance novel or an Archie comic to own a TV, let alone watch it. And I know that if you admit to having a TV, you really should not plug it in or—God forbid—get cable. And if, by some stretch of genius, you do all of that and/ or have a satellite dish, then you absolutely must not—couldn’t possibly—be interested in a mere sitcom. You must watch Animal Planet, Discovery, Bravo! , CNN, Newsworld, or something slightly intellectual.

I choose to watch The Big Bang Theory because:

1. It makes me laugh. I need to laugh almost as much as I need water. Laughter has never attempted to drown me, unless I happened to take a gulp before I laugh unexpectedly. But I’ll take my chances.

The Odd Couple Poster2. Sheldon is a unique blend of C3P0, Spock, and Jack Klugman's character in The Odd Couple. He’s insufferable and lovable at the same time. And nobody on TV—or in movies, for that matter—can deliver such difficult lines with such perfect comic timing. And his facial expressions and slapstick abilities are pretty fine too.

3. Kaley Cuoco as Penny. Smart, funny, and sexy without trying (okay, sometimes she does try, but only for laughs because she knows the boys can’t handle it).

4. It’s smart comedy such as I haven’t seen since the days of Mad About You, Cheers, Barney Miller and M*A*S*H. Sure, I like the occasional episode of How I Met Your Mother and I caught the occasional Seinfeld. But…

How I Met Your Mother Poster

5. This show has heart. The characters are likable, even when they’re mean to each other. The meanness doesn’t actually go all that deep; you sense the love they have for each other, but they would never say it aloud. They say it with gifted comic books, an awkward hug, or allowing Sheldon his “special place” on the couch. Of course, as his own mother would say, “He is one of God’s special people.”

The Zazzy Substitution Poster

And, once again, I care not what my love of this show says about me. It’s part of who I am. Sure, I could live without it. But I’d rather not. Thursdays at 8:00 Eastern. Anytime if you own Seasons 1-3 as I do.

Oh, and one more before I go:

Sheldon: Why are you crying?

Penny: Because I'm stupid!

Sheldon: That's no reason to cry. One cries because one is sad. For example, I cry because others are stupid, and that makes me sad.

Me, too, Shelly, me too.

Friday, January 21, 2011

Cover Story

Here's a look at the final version of the cover for my upcoming short story collection, Moonlight Sketches. The beautiful artwork comes from the mind and the pen of St. John's artist Darren Whalen, who was an absolute dream to work with. These stories are connected in that they all take place in the same small town, called Darwin, and I wanted a cover that captured the darker side of smalltown Newfoundland. The collection has a dark sense of humour, of course, and I thought the cover should insinuate a blend of dark and light, while making the association with the title at the same time. Darren's idea was that the moon should be present but not too prominent, and I agreed. It was his vision that, not only should the moon cast a glow upon the streets of this midnight town, but that it should spread light upon the entire page--which keeps the cover from being too dark. After all, you need to be able to see the title and the name of the author, as well as various highlighted areas of Darwin. The task was a difficult one, or so I thought, but Darren pulled it off brilliantly. (For the full wraparound cover, you can scroll further down.) Oh, and the solitary figure ambling down the road in the dead of night? The pièce de résistance.
Below is the full cover, including flaps,designed by Darren Whalen. Here, you get the full view of Darwin in all its rich, dark glory. There are landmarks in the sketch that mean a lot to me, as someone who has been writing about Darwin for a lot of years. I look at it and I see the places where certain characters' stories occur. I see Winnie and Francis' house overlooking the bay, the school that Benny and Dave break into and find themselves in a heap of trouble, the streets where a soldier's funeral parade brings an entire town to a standstill, and the community's only bar (Jack's Place) where several characters go for solace and a drink, but often find more. And, of course, there's that ubiquitous moon of many faces, peering down on them all like a benevolent, curious, and yet distant god. The characters often act as if no one is watching, and yet, for as alone as they are in this little cove, off the known path, there is always the sense that their stories are taking place on a larger stage, beneath the same moon as you and me, wherever we are. Somehow, Darren Whalen's artwork captures all of these textures and nuances, and so much more. The cover truly is a work of art.
(Click on the cover for a larger view.)

Thursday, January 20, 2011

Things I Like #2: The World According to Garp

The World According To Garp (1978), by John Irving, is not the favorite novel of anyone I know. But it is mine. (Disclaimer: I can’t actually limit myself to one “favorite novel” any more than I can limit myself to one favorite food. But, for the sake of choosing something I actually like about which I can talk, I choose this one.) Unlike most people, I read the book long before I saw the movie starring Robin Williams and Glenn Close.

It was a book about writers. T.S. Garp was an aspiring novelist and his mother, Jenny Fields, was a nurse who didn’t aspire to be one but became one anyway. In fact, her accidental career as a scribe far outpaced and outweighed that of her son, providing much of the humour and pathos in the novel.

There was the cast of characters—including a former football pro who becomes a transgendered houseguest and endearing friend, a professorial wife with a biting wit and a younger lover, a babysitting lover of Garp’s who bites off more than she should chew, a deranged girl from Garp’s childhood who haunts him all his life. There are tons of reasons I love this novel, despite the fact that most times I find John Irving’s ideas about literature insufferable. But he does write good stories. Sometimes they’re way over the top and ridiculously absurd, but they’re always funny and his characters are mostly endearing, despite their flaws.

I love that Garp goes running, as well as being a writer. I love that he chases down a speeding driver who endangers his children. I love that the characters are able to forgive each other almost anything, but even when they don’t forgive—or forgive easily—their reasons are completely understandable. I love the “Undertoad” and the tragedy it brings. I love the scene where he loses a chunk of his dignity in the driveway.

But most of all, I like the inimitable way that Irving’s story—like many of his novels—makes me smile, from beginning to end. Many of my favorite novels (more on those another time, I’m sure) are intellectual experiences, books that make me think, that cause me to see the world in a different way, that mess with ideas of linearity in time and narration. Irving’s novel does much of that, too, but mostly it just makes me smile because, you know, life is just so damn funny, even when it’s tragic, according to Garp.

The full trailer of the movie, The World According To Garp:

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

Chix with Stix: Something New

Things are coming along nicely for the launch of Moonlight Sketches in March. Meanwhile, I'm working on some other projects--writing the ending of my novel-in-progress, adjudicating a short story competition, and penning a new, soon-to-be-published article (details to come) about my journey towards publication, which will also include some advice for the unpublished. I'm finding I've got a lot to say and there's hardly any way to shut me up once I've begun.

Speaking of which, I was pondering last night about my newfound admiration for certain singers and songwriters. I've always had somewhat of a thing, shall we say, for female singers with guitars and pianos, especially those who write their own lyrics and melodies. In fact, I'd go so far as to say it's my favorite kind of music, somewhat of an obsession, of sorts.

All of this pondering got me to thinking (it's not quite redundant, as this new thinking is on a deeper level, you see): why don't I blog about this predilection? Why not just tell people what you like and why you like it?

Well, that started off a firestorm in my head--why, there are dozens, even hundreds, of things I like, and I could blog about one every day for a month and not run out of things to say. Furthermore, it's not only in keeping with my desire for authenticity, but each blog entry would say far more about me than I could ever say by explaining what I'm like. Not that anyone really cares what I'm "like," but you know what I mean--showing instead of telling, and all that. So I'll show you what I'm like by telling you what I like.

So here it is, starting with "Chix With Stix," these are a few of my favorite things! Drop the snow from the rafters! Change the set to a sparkly winterwonderland! It's Gerard's favorite things! (Can't help thinking about that recent classic episode of "How I Met Your Mother": "It's Barney's FAVORITE THINGS! YOU get a lap dance! YOU get a lap dance!"

Okay, no lap dances. But I like female singers with guitars and pianos, and who write their own songs.

Why? Because they're cool. They almost always look good--something about the guitar. Something about the fact that it looks like they have skills and talent. I mean, looking useful is key to being an attractive person, right? I'm more likely to listen to you if I sense that you can do something besides just talk.

Being able to write your own lyrics means you have something in your head, something worth listening to (hopefully). I'm talking about Laura Marling. I'm talking Sarah Slean and Sarah Harmer. I'm talking Jenn Grant, Florence and the Machine and Amelia Curran. I could go on and on. But the fact is, when I want to relax, it's a female voice I want to hear. I'll blog another time about my favorite male voices, and there are tons of them--and I can relax to the best of them, too. But this is about my #1 obsession, my go-to girls, the ones that make me feel good inside. I love the sound of the female voice, especially when it's wrapped around biting lyrics and beautiful harmonies.

Maybe as the month goes on, I'll find myself blogging about particular songs or singers. I dunno. I'll see where the month takes me. I might even blog next month about the things I don't particuarly like--i.e. the things I hate. My most obnoxious things!

But for now, here's a video, if you wish, of my absolute favorite Laura Marling song. You really should check out her music, if you're so inclined, along with some of the others I mentioned. There'll be more to come, for sure.

Laura Marling:

Sunday, January 9, 2011

Virtually reality

First entry for 2011—it feels like an important one. But I admit to not feeling up to the enormity of such a moment. Christmas, although I usually love the season, was more of a slog than usual this year. With family gatherings, which always includes family politics, I really got no writing done at all and that’s when I really get bummed out. More than that, I get irritable.

All that aside, I’ve decided to be a more authentic me this year. Life is so full of expectations from people. I find that, for the most part, people crave to know the real you until you actually show them some authenticity and then you find out what they really want is the fake you—the one that tells them what they really want to hear. And what they really want is assurance that you’re just like them—not odd or eccentric in anyway. They want to know that you’re rowing the same boat in exactly the same way, that you hate the same things and love the same things and have the same experiences and perspectives on the world. But it’s just not true.

I feel like most of my life I’ve been secretly myself and publicly whatever people want me to be. That’s not to say I’m not unique. I think people actually see me as unique, even a bit strange. Some even see me as likable. Others don’t quite know what to make of me. Mostly we call those people family.

This year I’m continuing on a trend I started last year, which is to be more and more myself, no matter the situation. It’ll keep me from worrying about people’s reaction to what I’m saying and doing. I never mean to offend anyone by what I say or do, or what I write, but then again, if they are going to be offended, then they’d best just do it and get it over with and, if possible, get over it.

I’m embracing my eccentricity this year. Owning my oddness. And if anyone doesn’t like it, they can kiss my self-righteous, earnest, playful, artistic, sodden, unsorry arse.

I’m starting with this blog. I haven’t written much in it for the past year, except for the occasional mention of The Book and how plans for its imminent release into the world are going. I’ll continue to do that because mostly I’m hoping that those who read my fiction will also want to read the blog—it’s tough keeping up with it, but I consider it a bonus of sorts. Sure, I’ll use it as a place to work some stuff out, but it’s also meant to be entertaining.

Having said that, though, I feel I’ve restrained myself. When I started this blog—making it distinct from my academic blog which is mostly for students and academics—I promised myself, and readers, that this blog would show me for my true self. While I haven’t written anything false, I admit to also holding back—of virtually hog-tying myself because I didn’t quite know how to go about this—of how to make a clean break from “Professor Collins” to “writer Gerard Collins.” Fact is, they’re both me. But I’m different in a classroom than I am anywhere else. This blog—which I’ve renamed “Moonlight Sketches,” after the book itself—was supposed to represent all shades and variations of me and my authentic self, but instead it has become a mere store window where I say “There’s a book—hope you read it.”

But I want it to be more. It’s a tough transition from being one kind of public persona to being another kind of public persona. Fact is, I’ve always just been myself, no matter where I am. But sometimes, in some places, some people make you feel very uncomfortable when you’re just being yourself. Again, they don’t really want that from you, especially when they’ve gotten used to something else.

I don’t want to reassure anyone that I’m just like them. I’m not.

I mean, sure, I have worries and concerns, personal issues—things that keep me up and awake at night. My body ages like yours. I watch a lot of the same movies, read the same books (mostly), and generally am human in every basic way. In fact, it would be tough for me to be a writer without being able to understand and empathize with your/our species. It's one of the necessary tools of the trade. Plus, I do like being a member of the human race, warts and all.

But I’ve never known anyone quite like me. ("That’s just like me!" you might say. "I’m unique too! So that means we’re the same!")

Uh, no.

The only real justification for me to keep this blog going is because I am different and I have things to say that no one else would possibly care to say. More and more, I find that when I try to fit into certain groups, I don’t really belong. The goal for me is not to pretend—to just be who I am and hope that that’s good enough for people. It’s harder to do than it sounds, or so I think.

More on this another time.

Meanwhile, I also wanted to mention something else: The Facebook Experiment has been going on for two years now and has been fairly successful. With only a handful of exceptions, I have made a policy of not inviting people to be my friends, but accepting friendship wherever it is offered. I think it’s worked well and, for the most part, I will continue in that vein. Again, it allows for, and even fosters, a more authentic connection for me—if people seek me out, it means they are genuine in their desire to be friends or good acquaintances, or even professional connections. To me, it’s all good. And I do realize that it seems a bit snobbish, but for someone such as myself who is so unsure of people’s real intentions, it’s best that I keep it this way for now. If anyone is reading this and would like to join me on Facebook, by all means do. http://www.facebook.com/home.php? I would love to hear from you and would genuinely embrace your friendship. I toy daily with the idea of leaving Facebook, but I know I won’t. I have too much fun there. And even there, the experiment continues—to be more and more authentic, to let no one stomp on my freak flag, to entertain a few people, to let people know I care about the world and thus let them know, by example, I think it’s okay to care.

It’s a cynical age. It’s dangerous to be seen as serious or caring. You risk much.

But at least it’s real. And it’s worth the risk.