11
Sep 15

‘Kate & Allie’ go to Paris

Kate-and-AllieMy travel buddy Yiannis and I are both TV junkies so it was pretty much imperative that we had something to watch while we were in Paris. Because we were outside the U.S., we were limited in terms of what we could watch on the interwebs. Netflix (to my joy) was available although with different content.

For some reason I mentioned Double Trouble, that ‘80s show about teenage twins. It was absolutely awful (we watched one episode; it doesn’t hold up) but we sixth grade girls were obsessed with it. A few in my class even put on a “play” that was just an abbreviated version of the dance contest episode (you know the one, don’t pretend you don’t).

Anyway, I was describing it to Yiannis, who had somehow never watched it: “It was about twins named Kate and Allison…not to be confused with Kate & Allie,” which inspired Yiannis to look for it on YouTube and set us up for several nights of binge-watching.

I loved the show when I was younger, and maybe it, along with Madeleine L’Engle’s Vicky Austin series, made me want to go to college in New York. As for how it holds up, it’s way cheesier than I remember (and soooo ‘80s) although still enjoyable.

Something we kept noticing, aside from Kate’s insane outfits, were all the pre-famous famous guest stars. Here are five of the most memorable.

  1. Kelsey Grammer

The very first episode! Kelsey Grammer plays someone Kate goes on a date with, only to find that she’s not into him. Turns out he’s not into her either and prefers former Connecticut housewife Allie.

  1. Ben Stiller

In the one with the sit-in, Stiller plays a rebellious college student.

  1. Stephen Baldwin

The youngest Baldwin brother is a high school student in The Trouble with Jason, which introduces later soap star Ricky Paull Goldin as a guy who has a (rather stalkerish) crush on Emma only later — spoiler alert! — to date Jenny.

  1. Ricki Lake

Lake and her pal think they have a problem with Emma in Send Me No Flowers, but it’s actually a different Emma they have a problem with. I hate it when that happens.

  1. William H. Macy

What do you know, Kate has hurt her back and is in the hospital (really, the actress, Susan Saint James, was pregnant, which the show was trying to hide). Allie also checks in — in her case, to have a mole removed — gets doped up and runs away. Hilarity ensues! Trying to catch her are two orderlies, one of whom is a pre-Oscar nom William H. Macy.

And those are just the episodes I watched. Who knows how many more there are?

This concludes my 2015 series on Paris. Got time to kill? Read them all!


30
Apr 15

More ’80s Movies Redux: ‘Better off Dead’

betteroffdeadFor a few posts now I’ve mentioned wanting to watch Better Off Dead. The other night, I finally got my fix.

But unlike The Sure Thing and The Breakfast Club, and like Pretty in Pink, the movie is much worse than I remember.

Better off Dead came out the same year as The Sure Thing, and as always John Cusack is hilarious. (He was only 16 or 17 when the movies were made.) But unlike The Sure Thing, which is a simple focused story, Dead is all over the place.

As a kid I read a review that called the film “uneven,” and uneven it is. It’s as though it can’t decide what kind of movie it wants to be. Romantic teen comedy? Slapstick? The Karate Kid but with skiing? All three? And let’s throw in some animated burgers and cheesy saxophone playing while we’re at it.

Lloyd (Cusack) and Monique (Diane Franklin who, by the way, isn’t really French) each have too much going on too. Lloyd can ski, play the sax, and draw. Monique is a tomboy who likes the Brooklyn Dodgers (which by the way had been the Los Angeles Dodgers since the 1950s), knows car repair, and effortlessly skis the most difficult ski slope, the one that plagues Lloyd and puts the ski shop owner in traction.

While Williams and of course Cusack are youthful, the actors who play Beth and Roy look about 25.

However, there’s no denying that Dead is a beloved classic (although not beloved by Cusack himself apparently), especially for those of us who grew up with cable and watched it five billion times. Every ’80s kid knows the catchphrases, if not whole swathes of dialogue, by heart.

“French…fries. . .French…dressing. . .French..bread.”

“Christmas…Christmas…!”

“I’m really sorry your mom blew up, Ricky.”

“He’s skiing on one ski!”

And of course, “I want my two dollars!”

If only there were no sax playing or romantic ski duet.


23
Apr 15

More ’80s Redux: ‘Tootsie’ and ‘The Sure Thing’

SureThing_817Ever since rewatching The Breakfast Club, I’ve been on an ’80s kick, at least where movies are concerned. So earlier this week at my parents’ house with Netflix for some reason not working on my iPad, I settled for Amazon Prime and YouTube instead and watched for the billion time two ’80s classics: Tootsie and The Sure Thing.

Tootsie

Dustin Hoffman’s female-impersonation vehicle, I’m happy to say, still holds up. On a recent episode of The Americans, a couple of characters see the movie and the one from Russia says, “That would never happen in the Soviet Union.” The American answers, “That would never happen here either.”

And it’s true. While the film is hilarious and great storytelling, “Dorothy” is clearly a man in drag. There’s no way that absolutely everyone would be fooled.

But all the actors are wonderful, and although I’ve seen it so many times, I still laughed out loud at certain parts, like when Julie, flustered by Dorothy’s advances, answers the phone but picks up a corn cob instead.

“That’s a corn cob,” Dorothy says.

Or when a dejected Michael watches a mime “balancing” on the curb for a few minutes before pushing him over.

I also love that Bill Murray plays straight man second fiddle to Hoffman. You kind of forget that it’s Bill Murray. I read in the IMDb trivia that he agreed to omit his name from the opening credits so that audiences wouldn’t expect something like Caddyshack or Meatballs.

Some other takeaways: Dabney Coleman plays sleazy very well, and Terri Garr was rather Jennifer Aniston-esque, or rather Aniston is Terri Garr-esque.

The Sure Thing

As I said in my Breakfast Club post, I’ve been obsessed lately with 1980s John Cusack.

While I was really in the mood for Better Off Dead (as a short dark-haired Chinese girl, I always identified with the short dark-haired French girl), I only now just found that it’s available for free on YouTube, so I made do with The Sure Thing (also free on YouTube).

While there are a few very ’80s aspects about the movie — the music for one as well as the guys’ short shorts — it holds up well. Cusack was only 17 during filming and Daphne Zuniga was four years his senior, but they’re a good match and have good chemistry. While Zuniga’s character is supposed to be uptight, I actually love her preppy L.L Bean outfits, which unlike Cusack’s turned up collars and rolled up shirt-jacket sleeves, don’t seem dated.

But enough about the clothes. I’m always a sucker for a good meet-cute and two characters who hate each other but end up falling in love, and that’s what Gib and Allison are. What makes The Sure Thing well above average is that Gib and Allison have convincing character arcs as well — not only do they fall in love, they change, which makes the falling in love possible.

Next up in my ’80s queue are Better Off Dead, One Crazy Summer, Moonstruck, and 9 to 5.


04
Apr 15

Rewatching ‘The Breakfast Club’: Some Takeaways

MSDBRCL EC016I recently rewatched The Breakfast Club (purely for research, I swear).

While it’ll always be my favorite John Hughes movie (Sixteen Candles has a bit too much broad humor for me and Pretty in Pink just doesn’t hold up well), I couldn’t help but be bothered, and also surprised, by some things.

Bender’s verbal assault and sexual harassment of Claire. Or perhaps verbal and sexual assault?

It’s well-known that Judd Nelson stayed in character and continued to abuse Molly Ringwald when the cameras stopped rolling. While Ringwald “knew what he was doing” and so wasn’t bothered by the terrorizing, John Hughes was “fiercely protective” of her and almost had Nelson fired.

What’s extra disturbing is that Claire ends up with Bender, which is what we all wanted as teenagers, but now I worry that the abuse wouldn’t have ended, and might have gotten worse.

Ah adulthood, ruining everything.

I forgot how cute Emilio Estevez was. He was truly the nice guy in the movie, and for the billionth time, I was glad when Ally Sheedy’s Allison ended up with his Andrew Clark.

Ally Sheedy and Anthony Michael Hall are really good in this. So are the others but those two especially. And Hall was only 15 when shooting started!

I identify much more with Allison now than before. When I was younger, I probably wanted to distance myself from someone like her, but now that I’m older, I really admire her, dandruff, purse full of tampons, and all.

How did the library not reek of pot smoke? And while we’re at it, wouldn’t have the principal noticed the broken glass of the language lab?

I’m now obsessed with imagining John Cusack as Bender. Apparently John Cusack was close to getting the role of Bender. Ringwald said Cusack was great but different, “funnier and more sly and cute,” and, it seems, “not enough of a dick.”

Now I can’t stop imagining an alternate Breakfast Club universe with a cute, funny, sly Cusack version of Bender, rather than the scary and dangerous Nelson. I guess I’ll have to make do with One Crazy Summer, Better Off Dead, The Sure Thing, and Say Anything, all of which I guess I’ll have to rewatch as well.


03
Jun 13

My inner monologue during the ‘Red Wedding’ of Game of Thrones

Spoilers follow. (Duh.)

Okay, something bad is supposed to happen in this episode. Someone or someones die. Which important character will it be? Those Green People? Osha maybe? That would be sad. I like her.

Everything okay so far. Is it Jon? Maybe he loses an eye from the eagle? No, he’s okay. Oh, and he’s running away. Hmm, nice.

Is that the caretaker guy from Harry Potter? I think it is. Wow, what a dick. Maybe Robb will kill him? No. So which girl will Robb’s uncle have to marry?

Oh, he hasn’t even met her yet. Well, luckily she’s pretty. God forbid she were ugly.

That sucks they’re not letting in the Hound and Arya. Oh good, Arya ran inside.

Hmm, Catelyn seems nervous they’re closing the doors. I wonder why. And the music is more somber. Hmm, is something happening? Why is she staring down at that guy’s arm? Wait, is that chainmail?

Oh no. Oh no! OH NO!!!

[Silence. Hands over mouth.]

Oh no, Arya don’t go in there. Why does this keep happening to her?

Okay, Robb is still alive. His wife and baby are dead but at least Robb is still alive, and Catelyn. Jesus, that’s that guy’s wife? Cold-hearted.

Oh no!!! Holy shit!!! NOOOOOOO!!!!!!!

GoT_redwedding

[Silence.]


30
Dec 12

2012 in Retrospect: What I Watched

Another year, another 365 days of television. Let the idiot box recap begin!

Most Disappointing

Copper looked so promising. BBC America plus New York City in 1865 – how could it not be awesome? But it wasn’t. It wasn’t terrible but it was just blah. I felt nothing for most of the characters, and aside from a storyline involving a child prostitute, couldn’t get into any of the conflicts.

The If-I-Hear-That-Song-One-More-Time-I’m-Going-to-Break-the-TV Award

The show was Awake and the song was Bohemian Rhapsody, or rather one refrain of Bohemian Rhapsody sung over and over. WE GET IT. THAT’S THE TURNING POINT. OKAY. Thank goodness the show was canceled so I don’t have to hear it again.

Awake also gets the Most Unbelievable Mom of a Dead Teenaged Son Award. First of all, the actress Laura Allen, who is 38, looks about 33, and was way too smiley and chipper for someone whose son just died in a car accident.

Best Soap Opera

Let’s face it: Downton Abbey is basically a soap opera, albeit a classy one, with British accents. But that’s why people love it so. Plus the clothes! and Dame Maggie “What is a week-end?” Smith! and the British idioms! How can you go wrong?

Best Show That Only My College Roommate and I Watched

Unlike Downton Abbey, people didn’t seem to give a tweet about Call the Midwife. But I didn’t care. It was my private Sunday night, old-fashioned girly indulgence.

Set in 1950s East London, the show focuses on a group of young women trained as midwives. Every episode we meet different mothers-to-be and their ordeals. When I saw my college roommate, SB, in November, we discovered that we both loved the show. “I don’t know anyone who watches it!” she said. Call the Midwife would have totally been that show we watched religiously in college on her tiny portable TV.

Also, the Actress Best Suited to Play a Young Julia Child Award goes to Miranda Hart, who plays the delightful Chummy.

Best Show to Re-watch from the Beginning with Your Boyfriend Who Has Never Seen It Before

Unbelievably, MB had never watched Buffy the Vampire Slayer, and it had been a few years since I last saw the show, so we thought we’d watch it from the start. It was a lot fun to relive the show and to bite my tongue when MB would ask questions, as well as to see how bad the special effects and makeup were in the beginning (“He’s more like a were-monkey,” MB said of Oz).

To avoid Buffy withdrawal, we’ve started watching Angel. I couldn’t get into it when it was on the air, but now I’m really enjoying it.

Best Show to Watch Before Going to Bed

I realized this year, also unbelievably, that I had never seen an episode of Star Trek: The Original Series. I’ve seen almost every episode of The Next Generation and Deep Space Nine, but not TOS. I’m not going to critique it here except to say it’s totally fun and hokey, especially the overly dramatic, drawn out reaction shots. First this guy reacts! then this guy! then this guy! then this guy! And the men wear so much eyeliner and eyeshadow, and the women’s wigs are hilariously ridiculous.

But the reason I like to watch it before bed is because it’s very soothing. I don’t know what it is. Maybe the calm, leisurely pace, or the way everyone talks.

Another Show I Can’t Believe I Haven’t Watched Until Now

Last year I became a fan of Torchwood, but had somehow never watched Doctor Who. I tried watching an episode when I was in high school, mostly because my good friend SG was so into it, but I didn’t see the appeal. Now I’m a total fan. What I like best is how excited the Doctor and his various companions get whenever they travel. I would totally be the Doctor’s companion.

Most Reliable

I’ve been a fan of Fringe from the beginning. The show has been consistently good the whole time, never tying itself into gordian X-Files knots. And while I’m sad that this is its last season, I’m glad it’s going out on a high note.

Best Closing Scene

SPOILER ALERT! If I had to pick one word to describe this latest season of Breaking Bad, it would be inevitable. Everything that happened was bound to sooner or later. But inevitable isn’t the same as predictable. We didn’t want that bad shit to happen, but it did and in unexpected ways.

Which brings us to the last scene of the mid-season finale: Hank on the toilet, looking for something to read, finding the Walt Whitman book and the inscription from Gale, and all the pieces coming together in his head. Tingles! Reminds of that scene in Godfather 2 when Michael realizes (ANOTHER SPOILER for the two of you who haven’t seen the film) that Fredo was the one betrayed him.

Breaking Bad had some great words too.

Best Comeback

MORE SPOILERS. The first season of The Walking Dead gave me nightmares (a good thing). The second season nearly bored me to walking death. I was wary about this season. Would they spend the whole time talking? What they be safe (read: boring)? They are fairly safe from the zombies, but not from those who aren’t supposed to be a danger: other people.

Plus, the Governor is one fucked up motherfucker, and I love Michonne.

Want more TV stuff? I wrote about the best in TV words too.


17
Sep 12

Anachronism Watch: ‘Copper’

When I watch TV, I like to keep my ears peeled for interesting words. What do I listen for? Idioms, lingo, slang, technical words and jargon. Hell on Wheels does an excellent job, as far as I can tell, of having accurate language for its time. For instance, last night Bohannon called Reverand Cole “mad as a hatter,” and I wondered if the term would have been used at that time. The answer is yes: the show takes place in 1865 and the term originated around 1829. (I had always assumed mad as a hatter came from Alice in Wonderland, which by the way came out the same year that Hell on Wheels takes place, but there’s not even a character called the Mad Hatter. He’s just the Hatter and it’s a “mad tea party.”)

Copper is another period drama I thought might be good source for period idiom and slang. But five episodes into the series, I haven’t heard anything interesting yet. True, I’ve been watching sort of lazily (ie, playing Words with Friends at the same time) so last night I watched and listened actively. Still nothing – except for two anachronisms.

steamy

Eva: “You’re looking steamy, Corky.”

“La Tempete,” September 16, 2012

I think this is what she says. I’ll have to watch it again. But if Eva did say steamy meaning “erotic,” she has apparently traveled back in time from 1952.

bug

Corcoran: “My leg’s been bugging me.”

“La Tempete,” September 16, 2012

Another time travel moment! Bug as a verb meaning “to annoy, irritate” didn’t come about until about 1949.

Of course I’ve got nothing on Ben Schmidt, anachronism king, but I’ll keep watching Copper, and if I happen to notice words that are out of place, I’ll be posting them here.


05
Aug 12

My Weekend with Marilyn (and Katie and Michelle and Vivian and Marlon)

Today is the 50th anniversary of Marilyn Monroe’s death, and I had no idea until this morning.

Why is this significant? Yesterday I happened to read a story about Tom Cruise and Katie Holmes which questions whether or not Holmes is a real victim, or if she’s the real fame-monger in this situation:

[Holmes’s NYC] building has a privacy-friendly underground garage, but. . .Holmes hasn’t even been taking advantage of it. If she wanted, she could exit the garage in a car with dark windows, and paparazzi would never catch a glimpse of her or Suri. Instead, every day, when she’s left the building for errands or meetings, she has promenaded out to a waiting car, in full view of photographers. Nor, when on foot, has she used the side entrance on 25th Street: She’s been stepping out right into the paparazzi maw for the sake of trivial grocery shopping. How about FreshDirect?

My interest piqued, I started down a garden path of links and lookups. The article says, perhaps tongue-in-cheek, that Holmes was apparently “enraged” by Dawson’s Creek costar Michelle Williams’s success:

While Holmes was playing Jackie O. in a mini-series that ended up airing on Reelz—that’s Channel 238 in the Time Warner NY cable system, if you’re wondering—Williams was playing JFK’s sometime-mistress Marilyn Monroe, in a feature film, en route to a third Oscar nomination.

That led me to this GQ story about Williams, which led me to the movie, My Week with Marilyn (which I had no interest in before but now want to see). I was curious about the dancing scene in The Prince and the Showgirl, which led me to this fantastic clip.

Her little dance is so simple yet utterly captivating. That led me to Williams’s re-creation:

While Williams is charming and captures Monroe’s spirit, Monroe has something more. She has a lot more dancing experience so it isn’t really fair to compare the two, but there does appear to be something intangible about Monroe, that something that made her not just a star but an icon.

That led me even further away. The Wikipedia piece on My Week With Marilyn describes the scene: “Vivien [Leigh] comes to the set and watches some of Marilyn’s scenes. She breaks down, saying Marilyn lights up the screen and if only Olivier could see himself when he watches her. Olivier tries unsuccessfully to reassure his wife.” That led me to an article about Leigh, and this line: “Her irreverent and often bawdy sense of humour allowed her to establish a rapport with her co-star Marlon Brando.” I loved that for some reason: the fragile Leigh joking about sex with the brutish Brando.

That led me to look up Marlon Brando, which led me to this: “Singer-actress Courtney Love has claimed to be Brando’s granddaughter, making Frances Bean Cobain (1992) his great-granddaughter.” What the what? Apparently, Love’s mother, Linda Carroll, was adopted and discovered that her birth mother was Paula Fox, a well-known writer. Crazy enough right? Well, Carroll claims that Fox had an affair with Brando in the 1940s, and that she “she had DNA tests done to prove” that she is Brando’s daughter. But this seems not to be true at all, according to this People article: “Carroll, however, emphatically denies the reports. ‘First of all, it’s crazy, it’s not true,’ she told the Gazette-Times in Corvallis, Ore. ‘Second of all, my book doesn’t say that.'” How do these rumors start?

Anyway, the Brando piece led me to stuff about his first wife, including this famous picture; the tragedy around his poor kids, Cheyenne and Christian; and Cheyenne’s son and Brando’s (real) grandson, Tuki Brando, who is apparently a successful model and, not surprisingly, easy on the eyes.

But today it was all about Marilyn. What a hard life she had growing up. Reading about her mentally-ill mom, her getting passed from foster home to foster home, being sexually assaulted, all I kept thinking was that poor kid. As for her death, I couldn’t help but think, Look at all the people she had around her, but still it wasn’t enough. The timeline says she had a “casual meal” with a couple of “local playboys”; the son of Joe DiMaggio called her to talk; then actor Peter Lawford called to invite her to dinner. Afterward, worried about her, he called throughout the night but her phone was busy.

D.R. “Duke” Haney has a wonderful essay on Monroe over at The Nervous Breakdown. It’s interesting to learn that early in her career Monroe “cultivated” journalists into publishing stories about her “with Dickensian embellishments about her childhood, already so poignant that embellishments would seem unnecessary, supplied by Marilyn herself”; that “at especially desperate moments, she paid the rent by hooking”; and that she could be mean. For instance, she apparently once responded “to an assistant director’s knock on her dressing-room door: ‘Go fuck yourself,'” which cracks my shit up, imagining her dropping that breathy baby voice to say that.

Monroe, according to Haney, meticulously cultivated her look, her brand if you will (try not to barf). So much of what we see, what we think of the Marilyn, was orchestrated, like Katie Holmes’s encounters with paparazzi, Suri in tow, her divorce and current image as a free woman escaped from the clutches of a weird religion and possibly even weirder marriage. These are the stories that are fed to us, and we, or I at least, can’t help but eat them up.


27
Jul 12

Tiger Eyes: Through eyes older and young

Last weekend I had the chance to see the movie version of Judy Blume’s classic novel, Tiger Eyes.

When I was devouring Blume’s books as a kid, I didn’t know much about her. It was the early ’80s, before the internet and having access to all the information a person is willing, and sometimes not willing, to give. All I knew was that she had grown up in New Jersey and danced ballet like her titular character, Sally J. Freedman (there was black and white photo of 10-year old Blume in a tutu on the inside cover of the copy I borrowed from the library). I assumed she had a perfect life, imagining her as one of the easy-going, understanding moms in her novels, the mom I often wished I had.

But like Madeleine L’Engle (who I also assumed to have a life like those of her characters), Blume’s life wasn’t “cupcakes all the way” (my new favorite phrase, by the way). She and her first husband divorced, which perhaps is depicted in It’s Not the End of the World. Her second husband, a physicist, moved them to New Mexico, but the marriage lasted just a year. “It was a disaster, a total disaster,” Blume has said. I can’t help but wonder if Walter in Tiger Eyes is based on this man. He’s a scientist in New Mexico, and is very rigid. In the book he’s somewhat more sympathetic, but maybe there wasn’t room in the movie to explore him more fully. Also, Blume’s father died suddenly when she was just 21, the core theme of Tiger Eyes and also touched upon in Sally J. Freedman, in which 10-year old Sally is afraid that her father will die early, the way his brothers did.

~~~

In Tiger Eyes, fifteen-year old Davey Wexler’s father has just died suddenly. While in the book you know how from the beginning, the movie doesn’t reveal this until later, so I won’t reveal it now. Devastated by the sudden death, Davey and her family take up the offer of Bitsy, Davey’s aunt, to spend some time with her and their uncle Walter in New Mexico. There, Davey, her mother, and brother all try to deal with, or avoid, their grief.

The first time I read the book, I was 10 or 11. I hadn’t really deal with any tough issues by then. My grandmother died around that time, but I wasn’t close with her. The biggest troubles I had faced were a hardass mom and being embarrassed at school.

This may be why I never cried while reading Tiger Eyes. It made me feel sad, but it wasn’t like in Blubber when suddenly Jill, the protagonist, is the one being bullied. The movie was another story. I cried pretty much from minute one (and having no tissues, had to use the sleeves of my T-shirt to wipe my eyes and nose).

All of the actors were excellent. Willa Holland, best known perhaps for a recurring role on Gossip Girl, was terrific as Davey. She had the perfect blend of vulnerability and toughness, and her reaction to weird Danielle (of the fuzzy creature pinned to her shoulder) is priceless. Amy Jo Johnson (who I first thought was Hilary Swank) was also great as Davey’s mom, as well Lucien Dale, who played Jason, especially for one so young. Dale had me absolutely sobbing during one scene. I literally had to cover my mouth to keep quiet.

Overall, Tiger Eyes was a lovely movie. I was glad to see that it was so faithful to the book (not surprising since Blume co-wrote the screenplay with her son Lawrence, who also directed the movie). Of course some changes were made: a few parts have been cut or collapsed with other scenes, some elements have been updated (in the book Davey refuses to wear a bike helmet while in the movie it’s a matter of course that she does), and there’s one big change which I won’t give away, except to say it doesn’t really change the plot or feeling of the book, and it’s probably something that most readers wanted anyway.

If you’re a Judy Blume fan, you’ll love this movie. If you’re a fan of Judy herself, you’ll love it even more.


11
Apr 12

Being Elmo: Unexpected Inspiration

I totally expected to enjoy Being Elmo (which I did). I expected it to be cute but not cloying, like Elmo himself. I even expected to cry a little, which I did when Elmo played with a Make-a-Wish child. But what I didn’t expect was to be so inspired.

What may be construed as spoilers follow.

Kevin Clash has always loved puppets. When he was a kid, he ripped out the lining from his father’s overcoat and made one. Only after the fact did it occur to him that he might be in trouble, but all his dad said was, “Next time just ask.”

From then on, Clash was all about puppets. He performed for the kids in his mother’s daycare, at the local hospital for the sick kids, and eventually ended up on local TV and then the Captain Kangaroo show.

Kevin Clash performing for local children in Baltimore in 1975.

Of course he worshipped Jim Henson. He saw a TV show about one of Henson’s puppet creators, Kermit Love (Kermit the Frog was apparently not named for him, by the way). He was so interested in what Love was doing, his mother got in touch with Love, and eventually he became Clash’s mentor. This led to a fateful meeting with Jim Henson, working on the puppets for Labyrinth, and the creation of Elmo.

What I found so inspiring was that Clash didn’t seem set out to succeed. He just loved puppetry, and was obsessed with learning all there was about it. From the time he was a kid, he put himself out there constantly. He performed in the backyard, at hospitals, on local TV. He reached out to people he admired, not to make connections, but because he wanted to learn from them. Plus of course he’s immensely talented, but talent means nothing if you sit at home and do nothing about it.

I started thinking about my writing. For the past few years, I’ve been so focused on getting published. Instead of primarily writing something I’m interested in, I tailor my writing for contests and magazines. I’m writing my novel as something people would want to read. Not that I don’t try my best with my writing, and try to create something artful, but writing simply from inspiration or a random idea is rare for me these days.

When I was a kid, I wrote for the pure joy of writing. Sure, it was also usually for a school assignment, but I enjoyed every one. I wrote crazy science-fiction stories, magical tales set in medieval times, and Sweet Valley High ripoffs. My junior year in college, I took a poetry class, and I remember staying up late at night, one meager desk lamp burning, scratching out poem after poem, and feeling both enthralled and peaceful. (I think part of what helped was taking a Chinese class, which made my brain think in a different way.)

Now it’s mostly a struggle. Of course I know that not every minute of writing can be joy. Sometimes it will be drudgery. But I miss that feeling of “I want to write because I love it, because I have to get down this story,” and I want to get that feeling back. I want to, yes, be Elmo.

The question is how? Usually when I think of an idea for a story or essay, I jot it down in my idea “parking lot” with the intention of tackling it later. “Later” inevitably becomes later and later as I write for work, work on my novel, and blog. Before this job and the novel, I think I did write a lot more short pieces. But now it’s harder.

I need to somehow find time to work on my parked ideas, to just start writing stories and essays when the ideas occur to me. I always worry that once I start on a short piece, my novel will suffer. But I always get back into it eventually, and now that I have a deal with MB that for every day I don’t work on my novel, I give him $10, I should feel even more encouraged to keep noveling.

To keep trying to be Elmo.

 [Photos: from Being Elmo]