Saturday, February 22, 2014

No Sweat

Thomas Alva Edison famously stated that "Genius is one percent inspiration and ninety-nine percent perspiration." (Which leads me to wonder if he invented antiperspirant, because he certainly must have needed it.)

It seems to me that the exact opposite of this formula applies to writing. (Which leads me to wonder if writers are the exact opposite of geniuses.)

Writing is nearly 100% inspiration. Without it you have nothing, and no amount of sweat is going to help. (In fact, if writing makes you sweat, you are doing it wrong. Either that, or you have a medical condition and should probably see a doctor.)

I had several ideas for today's post, none of which I found particularly inspiring. Here are a few of the best ones:
  • How depressed would Dracula be if he saw a box of Count Chocula? Or, worse yet, the Twilight movies?
  • What's the deal with memes? I don't see anything remotely funny about most of them. (Except for Lolcats. I love Lolcats.)
  • Whatever happened to Charlie the Tuna? Did Starkist finally can him?

See what I mean?

Maybe I just need to take a break from this blog—at least until I think of something inspiring to write about. That may be a week from now—or it may be a month or even a year. Until then—

Don't panic.

Saturday, February 15, 2014

We All Live in a Yellow Mondegreen

I was nine years old when the Beatles made their historic appearance on The Ed Sullivan Show fifty years ago, and I missed it. I was watching part two of The Scarecrow of Romney Marsh on Disney's Wonderful World of Color (in black and white, as we did not have a color TV). At the time, I was more interested in Disney than rock and roll, but my tastes changed. I soon became a Beatles fan, as did everyone in my family, with the possible exception of my father. (I can't say that Dad, who preferred classical music, ever loved the Beatles, although he eventually grew to appreciate them.)

We had the first Capitol album (Meet the Beatles!) and we played it over and over again until we wore it out. I was envious of my friend Steve, who had all of the Capitol albums. My friends and I used to go to Steve's house, put the whole stack on his parents' state-of-the-art hi-fi, and jump around the living room, singing along with John, Paul, George, and Ringo. Singing along with the Beatles could be a challenge. It was sometimes difficult to understand what those four young Liverpudlians were singing, especially when they were trying to sound like Chuck Berry or Little Richard.

Speaking of Little Richard, his song Long Tall Sally, covered on the second Capitol album (imaginatively titled The Beatles' Second Album) was one of the songs that puzzled me most. What was it that Long Tall Sally had that Uncle John needed? Pretty good guitars? Pretty picture cards? Listening to the original Little Richard recording years later wasn't much help (although I did learn that surprisingly, in addition to being long and tall, Sally was also bald). But now, thanks to Google and the Internet, I can instantly look up the lyrics and discover that the mysterious line that troubled me all those years ago was—
Well Long Tall Sally's built pretty sweet
She got everything that Uncle John need
When I was a kid, there was no Google or Internet. You couldn't look up lyrics. You just sang out and hoped that you would not embarrass yourself. In the song, It Won't Be Long, I always sang—
Every day we'll be happy I know
Now I know that you won't beat me no more
—and no one corrected me. (The actual line, of course, is, "Now I know that you won't leave me no more.")

Misheard lyrics are known as "mondegreens"—a word coined by someone who misheard the lyric "laid him on the green" as "Lady Mondegreen." I learned about mondegreens about the same time I learned that the actual lyrics to She Loves You are—
You know it's up to you
I think it's only fair
Pride can hurt you too
Apologize to her
I always thought it was "The rightful thing to do / Apologize to her." It didn't seem right (or "rightful"), but it sort of made sense, and again, no one corrected me. Then, a few years ago, I heard Loretta singing the correct lyrics: "Pride can hurt you too." Boy, did I feel like a fool.

Loretta is pretty good at understanding hard-to-understand lyrics, but she doesn't always get it right, either. I always thought the lyrics to I Want to Hold Your Hand were—
And when I touch you I feel happy inside.
It's such a feeling that my love
I can't hide, I can't hide, I can't hide.
This time, it turns out I was right. Loretta thought that last line was "I get hives, I get hives, I get hives."

Saturday, February 8, 2014

Let the Games Begin

The Winter Olympics have started. Or should that be "has started?" Is "Olympics" singular or plural? You'd think, as an English major, I would know that.

I do know that I won't be watching.

I'd like to say it's in protest of Russia's anti-gay policies or generally bad record on human rights issues. I'd like to say that, but the fact is, I'm just not interested. Watching winter sports makes me cold. I moved to Southern California to get away from that sort of thing.

However, I did watch the beginning of last night's endless opening ceremony. Here are a few random thoughts:

Poor Bob Costas! What happened to his eye? I guess he didn't get the memo about the bad water.

Welcome to Sochi. Please don't drink—or touch—the water.

The alphabet thing is nice. Do you suppose Putin realizes that Tchaikovsky was gay? And which Chekov are they talking about—the playwright or the guy on Star Trek?

At what point in the ceremony will Putin take his shirt off?

Didn't I see this in a Cirque du Soleil show? The flying islands are a nice effect. Are those real animals on top? I hope not, because if that horse or cow wanders too close to the edge, things could get ugly.

Cirque du Sochi

Why can't they just fly that little girl over to the Olympic rings to fix that thing? She's already up there, and at this point, she's not doing much.

Hey, kid—fix that thing!

Where can I get one of those light-up parkas? On second thought, something like that would be much too warm for Southern Califonia. How about a light-up hoodie?

Not only is Putin not shirtless, he's wearing a heavy winter coat—indoors. What a wuss.

Come on, Vladimir—take it off!

I began to doze off during the Parade of Nations, so I missed the rest. Did he ever take his shirt off?

Saturday, February 1, 2014

Don't Laugh

For years we have been told (principally by Reader's Digest) that "laughter is the best medicine." However, I recently read about a scientific study in the British Medical Journal which suggests that this may not be true. I tried to read the study, but it was a bit too sciency for me. I suspect that it may in fact be an elaborate joke, but it's difficult to tell. I have the utmost respect for scientists, but they really shouldn't attempt humor. Have you ever heard a science joke? It's usually some variation on the old "walks into a bar" joke, featuring an element, a particle (Higgs boson is popular just now), or Schrödinger's cat. Even if you are able to comprehend it, it is almost never worth the effort, as it is hardly ever funny.

A Typical Science Joke (See what I mean?)

As I was saying, I couldn't quite get through the study itself, but the article I read about the study included the following quote:
[L]aughter is no joke—dangers include syncope, cardiac and oesophageal rupture, and protrusion of abdominal hernias (from side splitting laughter or laughing fit to burst), asthma attacks, interlobular emphysema, cataplexy, headaches, jaw dislocation, and stress incontinence (from laughing like a drain). Infectious laughter can disseminate real infection, which is potentially preventable by laughing up your sleeve. As a side effect of our search for side effects, we also list pathological causes of laughter, among them epilepsy (gelastic seizures), cerebral tumours, Angelman’s syndrome, strokes, multiple sclerosis, and amyotrophic lateral sclerosis or motor neuron disease.
I must confess that I have no idea what some of the above words mean, and I didn't bother to look them up. One of the words I did understand, however, was "syncope." It means "temporary loss of consciousness caused by a fall in blood pressure."

I know all about laughter and syncope.

Several years ago we were having dinner with Loretta's brother Rob and our niece Jenny in a very nice restaurant in Paris. (Actually we were at Epcot, but I have been to Paris, and frankly Epcot is just as nice—in many ways nicer.) Jenny is a scientist, and she is an exception to the rule about scientists' sense of humor. She doesn't tell jokes about Higgs boson or Schrödinger's cat. In fact, she often complains that other scientists don't understand her humor, which should give you an idea of how genuinely funny she is. She can always make me laugh—often at the most inappropriate times, such as when I am at a very nice restaurant in Paris (or Epcot) drinking a glass of fine French wine.

I don't remember what Jenny said on this particular occasion, but trust me, it was funny. I began to laugh. Then I began to cough. Fine French wine came out of my nose.

Everything went black.

When I came to, I was being pulled, prodded, and shaken by Loretta one one side and Rob on the other. Convinced that I was choking to death, the two of them were attempting to pull me out of my chair and administer the "hug of life." I was bruised and sore. I was disoriented. There was wine on the front of my shirt. Worst of all, everyone in the restaurant was looking at me.

"Someday," I thought, "this will probably be funny."

I was right, of course. It's funny now. But please don't laugh.

I wouldn't want you to hurt yourself.