Friday Five

1. Will, you had me at Old School. I might be the last person to have discovered the brilliance of Funny or Die. In case I’m not, I’ll describe it as SNL meets the web clip – sketch improv segments produced entirely for the web. These are not your next door neighbors making these clips (though that might be pretty hilarious). These star folks like Will Ferrell, Judd Apatow, Ben Stiller, John C. Reilly and Natalie Portman. Oh, I almost forgot The Beiber. Here Will gets roughed up by a little girl in Good Cop, Baby Cop. It’s one of their most popular with 16 million hits. That’s right…16 million. Reminds me of the irreverent SNL of my youth.

2. In this neck of the woods, daffodils are the real harbingers of spring. They start peeking out long before anything else is even thinking of blooming. We didn’t really have them around (or at least I never noticed them) in the South, so I’ve come to love their little yellow heads bobbing up and down in the breeze of a warm March day. They’re one of my favorite flowers, second only to the tulips which will come a few weeks from now. Side note: I have this crazy notion of renting a bicycle in Amsterdam and riding next to endless fields of colorful tulips with a windmill in the background. Raise your hand if you think I’ve seen one too many movies.

Come on, Spring!
Tulips aren’t far behind.

3. Speaking of movies and spring… Another thing that blooms in the spring in NYC is the movie industry. Most filming moves indoors in the winter, but as soon as the snow melts and the temperatures are on the rise, they’re back on location. You’re probably thinking, “How cool!” You’d be wrong. Well, mostly. I did watch Jennifer Aniston shooting a scene for some largely forgettable movie, and I’ve been able to meet a few Muppets, which wasn’t as much of a crowd pleaser as you might expect. All of the kids in a five-block radius came out to watch them film. No one realized how scarring this could be to the little ones when, in between takes, Kermit wasn’t quite as animated as he should be.  With tears streaming down her face, a three-year-old said, “Daddy, hims not real.”

At any rate, parking becomes even more of a hassle than usual as the streets have to be cleared for all of the movie trucks and trailers. A scene that takes place in one  building for 5 minutes will cordon off four square blocks for days. Though Reggie has stolen enjoyed a bagel from more than one craft services table.

The biggest hoopla was for Tom Cruise and War of the Worlds. That last scene? When they’re supposed to be in Boston? Nope. That’s Brooklyn, baby. On my street to be exact. True story. I couldn’t find an online clip from the movie, but here’s a real life photo as seen when Cruise and Co. approach the brownstone.

Tom wuz here.

4. Wall art. I found these wall clings at a local store and picked them up on impulse. I wouldn’t describe myself as a flowery person  – not on my clothes or furniture or  anything. It came as a surprise to me that I liked them. They’re completely removable, so I can reconfigure them easily or just take them down when I’m tired of them. They add some interest to a wall area that needed a spark, but I can’t tell if they’re retro chic or just kooky. What do you think?

5. I’ve been pulling together some notes about setting and description for the upcoming creative writing class I’m teaching on the subject. Since many of you are writers, I thought I’d mention that when I’m editing a novel, I find this is one of the most common trouble spots. (This certainly also applies to memoir and creative nonfiction.)  How to convey the setting, the characters’ appearance, anything that the narrator’s camera sees can be quite difficult, though it seems like it should be easy – just describe the environment of the characters and…done. But it’s a delicate balance.

The key seems to be thinking like the reader, to find the mental common ground between author and reader. What is it that the reader wants/needs to know about a new character or a new place? Does the reader need to know that the walls are a cornflower blue that just exactly mirrors the color of dusk on a midsummer’s eve? Is it integral to understanding the character or plot? No? When in doubt, throw it out.

To that end, I am going to throw you a bit of a curve ball. In a first (and probably last) time on this blog, I want to share a clip from an applied mathematician. Wait! Come back! It’s relevant (probably more so than the cornflower blue walls). Steven Strogatz is a professor of applied mathematics at Cornell University. He’s written a column for the New York Times about the elements of math, taking readers from the basics to probability theory and beyond. Strogatz knows the value of meeting the reader wherever they are and attempting to break down complex concepts to just what the reader needs to know, i.e. meeting them in their mental place.

Here’s the clip from the webinar A Clean, Well-Lighted Place.



    1. My heart just sank for the father. That so wasn’t the talk he’d wanted to have with his little girl right then.


    1. Thanks! I like them, but they are so far from my usual style.

      More Cowbell is a classic! Ask Jim about clips from the early SNL days with Gilda Radner and John Belushi.


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