Ever since I had my devastating wrist injury caused by an act of God and in no way caused by the fact that I fully embrace my stubbornness and make poor life choices, people with injured wrists and those who pretend they have them in order to join the “One Good Wrist Club,” have been harassing me by asking the same question: How do you wash dishes with only one good wrist?
Now, days into my recovery and after washing dishes on three separate occasions, I have decided to present a guide to one good wrist dishwashing. This is to assuage my guilt after running away from anyone who asked how to, even that wee child who ,was only asking for her old-school pirate grandmother, who had been eaten by a whale, fought her way out against tiny whale minions that lived inside the whale’s body, only to hurt her wrist saving a family of four by pulling their boat out of that same whale’s mouth.
Anyway, here’s the guide. My apologies to that little girl, her grandmother Old-School Pirate Bertha Red Baron, and all the millions of others who sought guidance.
A Guide to Washing Dishes with One Good Wrist
1. Have a dish washer.
No, not hire a dish washer. The going rate on those is ridiculous. Trust me. I mean, seriously, it’s 2017 and you should have a dish washer. And yes, cabin, I know you are a “cabin in the woods,” but it doesn’t mean you must act like one.
2. Uses the paper plates and Solo cups your wife bought you before she and the kids left for their trip.
Wait, she didn’t even pay for those. They were in my shopping cart. So I paid for them. Dammit. Very diabolical, Claire. If that’s even your real name.
3. Cite your love for the environment as the reason you have failed to use neither the paper plates nor Solo cups in the entire four days they’ve been gone.
And not the fact that you simply forgot to use them despite the fact that they have been sitting on the counter where you have filled up your real plates and cups.
4. Change your objective.
It’s not about “cleaning” the dishes. It’s about making the dishes have the “appearance of” being clean. Wait, you say appearances can be deceiving. Exactly. Use that to your advantage.
5. Use really hot water.
Because hot water kills germs. Like, most of them. And if some germs survive, it’s okay. Those were the ones that would have survived even if you had two working hands.
6. Use lots of good smelling dish detergent.
Unscented is not your friend here. If the dishes can’t be clean, at least they can smell like a tropical rain forest. But rinse them out super well. Bubbles are a dead giveaway for poor dish washing.
Don’t stress about the cups. Soap them, rinse them, and they’re done. Wait, you do need to smell them. If they still smell like milk, you didn’t use enough soap.
8. Plates and Bowls
A breeze. Set them up where they are flat and go town with you dish towel. Quick rinse and they are done.
9. What about caked-on food that’s tough to get off?
We don’t have time for a battle with caked-on food. So “accidentally” break those dishes. Then get rid of the evidence. But what if it’s my wife’s favorite coffee cup, you ask? First, why does your wife’s favorite coffee cup have food caked in it? Gross. It’s a coffee cup, not a feed bin. Geeze. Still, “accidentally” break it. When she comes back and asks where it is, say that one of your kids (or a neighbor, or pastor, or pet) must have done something with it. Order her a new one and when it arrives, tell her that you couldn’t bear her not having her favorite cup so your searched yours and everyone else’s house from top to bottom until you found it. Perfect.
10. What if you have guests and they point out that the dishes only “appear” clean?
What kind of guests point out to someone with only one good wrist that their dishes only “appear” clean? Bastards. Guilt trip them into rewashing your dishes (this time not just for “appearances”) and then make them use the paper plates and Solo cups. Somebody has to use them before your wife comes back home so you can tell her you used them. Even though she didn’t pay for them.
There you go. Hope the guide helps. If it doesn’t? You’re clearly doing it wrong. Now don’t ask me anymore about how to wash dishes one-handed. Well, except for you, Old-school Pirate Bertha Red Baron. You can ask me anything.
The "Appearance" of Clean
Note: This was a monologue I wrote, based on an almost completely true story, that was performed recently by immensely talented actor Carter Coon at Forte Studios in Mt. Horeb, Wisconsin. It is a tragically beautiful tale of a love that was never meant to be. Between me and an apple.
Have you ever loved an apple? I mean really loved an apple? Doesn’t even matter the variety because there are a lot. This is about loving an apple. A single solitary apple that had fallen into your hand, perhaps from divine intervention. Or perhaps . . . from a tree, an apple tree no less, because you two were meant to be together. Sounds beautiful, doesn’t it? It shouldn’t. Because it’s a fairy tale. A fairy tale without a happily ever after. You know how I know? Because I lived it just a few short months ago when an apple fell into my hands. A Gravenstein apple, my favorite. It brought back memories of my best childhood memory. Of eating a Gravenstein apple at an abandoned park when I was but a wee child. And now, even though it was winter and there shouldn’t be any apples in trees, I was holding one. It had to be a sign. A sign that I was to recreate that cherished childhood memory. I wrapped my apple in fresh linen and got into my car and drove to that park, the same abandoned park of that treasured memory so many years ago.
The roads were snow, mud, and road salt covered. I parked my car on top of the hill, grabbed my apple, and headed down the hill to the park. Everything was going well as I walked, with a giddiness in my step. And perhaps it was that giddiness that made me slip a little on the ice. In my haste not to fall, I loosened the grip on my fresh linen sack containing my apple and it fell from my hands. The apple hit the ground and start rolling down the hill. I screamed out “No, apple! Stop rolling!” But it didn’t listen. Because apples don’t have the ability to hear. I watched it roll under a car. I thought all was lost then but it wasn’t. It cleared that car and continued rolling down the hill, bouncing up and down along the way. I thought of running after it but I didn’t want to be seen chasing an apple. Again. So, I walked casually, though there was nothing casual about the way I felt on the inside. I watched and walked as the apple rolled and rolled and rolled down the road, through the ice, salt, mud, and perhaps a small carcass of some animal, until it finally stopped right at the spot where I had that great apple eating experience as a wee child. I was elated. Fate had decided that nothing would stop me. I merrily skipped to the spot, reached down and picked up the apple and smiled. I thought of washing the apple off but I couldn’t. Because there was nothing to wash it off with. I gently rubbed it off on my pants with a smile so wide that it almost wrapped around my entire head.
I sat down on the bench. It was cold. A side effect of being snow and ice covered. But it didn’t matter. Because my heart was warm. I looked the apple with a love that I hadn’t known for so many years and took a huge bite. One that if an old lady walked by she would “My laddie, what a huge bite.” I expected my mouth to be filled with the goodness of that Gravenstein but it wasn’t. Instead, it was filled with the taste of old apple, salt, mud, a little carcass perhaps, and other things that I couldn’t quite identify. I tried to chew through, hoping that the next bite would rectify everything. It didn’t because I bit into two giant pebbles. That’s when I knew it was over. I screamed out and threw the apple deep into the woods. I collapsed onto the ground, my tears forming a torrent stream that tried to carry my sadness away but my sadness was a boat that was too broken to sail.
My mother found me the next morning, curled up in a fetal position, almost in the shape of a twice bitten dream crushing Gravenstein. She offered me a ham sandwich. There were three slices of ham, two slices of cheddar cheese, a little mustard on a delightfully toasted sourdough bread. It was good. It really was.
My mom then picked me, threw me over her shoulder, and carried me home. She’s a really strong woman.
1. Go to someone’s office, greet them happily (it would be rude if you didn’t) and pour some wood shavings on their desk. (You should collect these wood shavings the day before. Freshness is key.) Then say, with a knowing smile, “Take a deep breath. I thought this would remind you of your childhood.”
2. Sit with your chin resting on your fist and smile kindly at someone. When they ask what you’re doing, tell them, “I’m just imagining what you were like as a small child.”
3. On Facebook, write personal messages like “Why haven’t you called me?” or “We decided to go to the mountains instead of visiting you because the mountains are closer” on people’s walls, instead of sending them as private messages like a normal person.
4. Walk into a meeting carrying quilting supplies and start quilting. After a few minutes, look up at everyone, throw down your supplies, and say, “I just feel like I’m carrying this entire quilting project on my own.”
5. Pretend you are riding a horse all day and use it as your only mode of transportation. Gallop proudly and make sure to bring some oats for your horse. They get really hungry.
6. In your school or work cafeteria, join the cafeteria workers by announcing “Time to sling some hash!” And then sling some actual hash. Which you’ve already prepared at home.
7. Go into a room full of people and stand quietly for a few moments before saying passive-aggressively, “It’s amazing how you can be in a room full of people and still feel all alone.” Then walk away sadly, looking back a few times before exiting.
8. On Facebook, go to your friend list and find your 27th friend. Then go back to your newsfeed, and for every 4th post, tag that person and write “ ________________, can you believe this?”
9. Walk up to someone that you don’t know (or perhaps doesn’t even work at your place of employment) and begin narrating everything they do. People love that.
10. On Facebook, on a friend’s personal (non-sad) post, write “This feels like fake news. Have you checked Snopes?”
11. Get to work super early and find a room where a big meeting is being held. Arrange all of the furniture in a bizarre fashion. Then find a spot where you can sit on the floor cross-legged. When people come in for the meeting and start complaining, pronounce loudly, “Abstract art. It’s meant to be appreciated, not understood!” Then storm out.
12. Go up to someone, stand beside them, and start singing your favorite song from West Side Story. Look at them and say, “Your turn.” If they don’t sing, say “You’re no longer a Shark” and walk away.
13. On Facebook, go to every third post and write “Hot.”
14. Go into someone’s office, dim the lights, and then lie down. Look up at the ceiling and say, “Well, I guess it all goes back to my childhood.” Then continue telling your story. At some point, look at them and say, “Shouldn’t you be writing some of this down?”
15. Wrap tiny blankets around each of your office supplies, explaining to everyone that it’s naptime, and ask if they could please talk a little more quietly. Then curl up under your desk and take a nap. All day.
16. Revel in the new friends that flock to you as a result of taking this advice.
I have enjoyed watching Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer ever since I was a kid. I remember sitting in front of my TV, Christmas cookies in hand, delighting in the wonderful adventures of that red-nosed little guy and his friends. I haven’t missed a year since. And today, as I eat a bowl of Christmas Crunch cereal, I’m watching it again . . . but this time, for a different reason. I am watching it today to pinpoint the moments that give me pause. The moments that cause me to question what life is really like in Christmas Town. Here, in no particular order other than order of importance, are 10 questions for which I have no answers:
10. Why does Fireball turn on Rudolph when he discovers that Rudolph has a red nose?
Rudolph and Fireball are fast friends when they meet at the reindeer games. They laugh, play, and Fireball even encourages Rudolph to go talk to that bow-wearing vixen, Clarice. But later, when they’re playfully locking horns, Rudolph’s prosthetic nose (how did this nose even get made?) falls off. Fireball’s eyes go all crazy, and he turns on Rudolph like the others. Why? Because you think he’s a freak, Fireball? Have you considered the fact that you are the only reindeer with blond hair and freckles?
9. Who trained those in charge on how to work with their staff?
Seriously, both the coach and the head elf are terrible leaders. Coach finds out that Rudolph has a red nose and then mocks him in front of his peers by sending him away and then saying “We’re not going to let Rudolph play in any reindeer games – right, guys?” What a jerk. And the head elf is no better. Hermie tells him that he doesn’t like to make toys. So what does the head elf do? Does he pull him aside, away from all the other elves, and explain to him the importance of what he does? The happiness that he brings to children everywhere? No, he doesn’t. He blasts him in front of everyone, openly mocking his life choices and then yelling out “Hermie doesn’t like to make toys!” This leads to all kinds of gossip right in front of Hermie, like an elf version of the telephone game. And now Hermie feels awful. I’m sure he’s really motivated to be a team player now.
The actions of both the coach and the head elf lead to one very important question: Who trained them? Let’s go straight to the top.
8. Why is this Santa a bad CEO?
Sure, he makes toys for all the good girl and boys (although the naughty list is never mentioned, perhaps because almost everyone in Christmas Town would be on it). But if you examine those in authority who report directly to Santa (see #9), their poor treatment of subordinates must be learned. And is. From the big man himself, who clearly cares only about the bottom line. When Rudolph returns after being gone for months and asks Santa where his family is, Santa says they went looking for him. No mention of a search party, or the fact that a child (Clarice) is missing too. All that Santa cares about is not having Donner to lead his sleigh.
And his day-to-day interactions with his employees perfectly exemplify the type of CEO he is. A day after Christmas, A DAY, the elves are performing a song that the head elf just wrote. And sure, the choreography is dreadful, but the song is delightful. But Santa hates it and criticizes them – harshly. Mrs. Claus tries to defend the elves, but her feelings are dismissed (the way all the females’ feelings are in this special). Santa leaves in a huff, telling the elf choir that they better improve.
Why? Their job is to make toys, not to entertain him. Especially the day after Christmas. I would imagine that they’ve been a little busy. MAKING TOYS. (As a side note, the head elf appears to have somewhat of a Sybil issue in this scene because he has two distinctly different voices.)
7. Why would anyone want Hermie as their dentist?
Hermie learned everything he knows about dentistry from a book. No training except for his using a hammer on dolls’ teeth. A HAMMER. His only living client, Bumble, is treated by having all his teeth yanked out. So, two clients: one who gets hit with a hammer and the other who loses all his teeth. What?
Not only are his techniques suspect – his schedule management is highly questionable too. Near the end, Hermie schedules an appointment for the head elf. For like two weeks later. I’m not sure why he can’t do it, I don’t know, like tomorrow. But I do know this: If I’m the head elf and the elf I made leave in shame wants to work on my mouth and I know what he considers “dentistry,” I think I’d stick with a mouth full of cavities.
6. Speaking of Hermie, why is he living in a snowbank?
After Clarice finishes singing “There’s Always Tomorrow” and she’s yanked away by her father, who later shows zero concern for her whereabouts (there’s that treatment of female characters again), Rudolph falls into a snowbank. Hermie pops out, looks at Rudolph, and says “Oh, is this your snowbank?”
Okay, A, why would it be anyone’s snowbank, Hermie? And B, was THIS your plan? To run away from Christmas Town to . . . live in a snowbank? That’s terrible. Then Rudolph and Hermie decide to be freaks together, and Rudolph says they can hang as long as Hermie doesn’t mind his red nose. And Hermie says “Well, as long as you don’t mind me being a dentist.” You’re not a dentist yet, Hermie but you were living in a snowbank. And if I were Rudolph, I’d be more concerned about that.
5. Why won’t Santa eat?
Mrs. Claus makes it abundantly clear that, even though it’s not healthy, people want a fat Santa. Okay. So why doesn’t he eat? Has he became health conscious? Is he eating too much between meals? Is he being a stubborn petulant elf? No. The reason he won’t eat is clear. Ms. Claus feeds him what appears to be purple clay. It doesn’t even look like food. It looks more like the fork. And the plate. And the walls. The only people who would eat that are three-year-olds, and then only accidentally.
Notice that when Mrs. C finally feeds Santa something real (soup, of all things), he gains 300 pounds instantly. So why doesn’t she do that at the beginning? Why the purple clay?
4. Is Ms. Claus happy in her relationship with Santa?
This one I can answer: No. And why would she be? They clearly aren’t getting along, and Santa sees her more as a mother figure than a wife. Where’s the romance? Where are the moonlit dinners? Where’s the thank you? Nowhere – because this Santa clearly doesn’t value the others around him, especially not his wife. So Mrs. Claus stays in the shadow, feeling unappreciated, and doles out purple clay as if everything’s okay. But it’s clearly not. And I don’t think Ms. Claus can put up with this one-sided relationship for an eternity. If Santa doesn’t change his ways, his Christmas present may be an empty bed.
3. Why are there misfit toys?
Seriously, think about it: Let’s say that Santa and his elves make all the toys. That would mean that they originally made these misfit toys. That some elf made a train with square wheels, a gun that shoots jam, a doll suffering from major depression, a cowboy riding an ostrich, an elephant that has spots but is completely adorable, and many others. Why would they be made if Santa knew that they would be unwanted in the first place? It seems rather cruel. And their only dream is to get back into Santa’s bag and be given out by the same person who made them misfits in the first place?
How could this possibly be a good idea? Have you seen how misfits are treated in Christmas Town? And when Santa promises to find them a good home, why didn’t he do it the first time? Because the truth is . . . he doesn’t like things that are different. Misfits.
2. Why does losing all of his teeth make Bumble humble?
He’s still huge. Still has giant claws. And he hated anything to do with Christmas. So why did losing all his teeth change this? Shouldn’t he be angrier? He’s a carnivore who’s now going to eat what? Snow? Ms. Claus’s purple clay? He shouldn’t be humble. He should have ripped them apart with his bare hands. (Note: I’m not saying that should have actually happened in the movie, I’m just saying that it would have been logical if he had.) Later, adding insult to injury, he lets Yukon pull him by a rope around the neck, so that he can brag to the good folks of Christmas about crushing his spirit. Making him “humble.” Then Bumble puts on the star on tree for a holiday that he doesn’t even celebrate. Why? Perhaps his teeth were like Samson’s hair. I don’t really have an answer. This one really bothered me as a kid too.
1. Why is Rudolph’s nose the thing that keeps Santa from canceling Christmas?
It’s clearly a major storm. Christmas trees were damaged, shingles were ripped off buildings, and homes were completely buried in snow. So Santa quickly cancels Christmas until he finds he has a red flashlight to guide his way. What? It’s not even that bright. And how did you see all those other years in the dark without Rudolph’s nose? I thought the problem was the storm, you know, the snow and the gale-force winds, and a red nose doesn’t stop any of this. Or does it? When you watch the end, you see that there was no storm. Just a regular night. Which kind of negates Rudolph’s unique usefulness.
Even accepting all of the above, you’re still left with an absolutely charming Christmas special. Because in the end, Rudolph does the right thing. When Santa asks him “Won’t you guide my sleigh tonight?” logically, he should have said no. And walked away. But he doesn’t. He says yes. Perhaps he did it for the kids. Or to take his dad’s spot because his dad was clearly not part of this year’s team. Most likely, though, it was to show Santa that so-called misfits have a place too. Which is something I think we should all be grateful for.
Or are you? Perhaps you are merely being judged by your outward appearance and your resting mean face. Maybe it’s not meanness at all. Maybe you are lashing out at a society and a people, our delightful yet not diverse Whos (except for one random human), who enjoy a life of excess in a beautiful mountain community full of wonderfully bizarre contraptions, while you spend your days in a cave with a dog?
I love Christmas specials, and since I believe myself a writer of things, I have decided to evaluate those specials every year. This year, I’m taking a look at that Christmas classic How the Grinch Stole Christmas by Dr. Seuss. And, as always, after watching it, I have some questions.
1. Does the title actually work?
Short answer? No. He did manage to steal everything during the transition between Christmas Eve to Christmas day but . . . (spoiler alert) Christmas still came, despite his efforts. So maybe How the Grinch Almost Stole Christmas would be more appropriate. Yes, I realize that title would give the ending away, but a) most people would likely assume that the Grinch doesn’t actually succeed in the stealing of Christmas because, well, it’s a Christmas special and b) if you don’t change the title, it’s a bald faced lie.
3. Is the reason for the Grinch’s not liking Christmas really because his heart is two sizes too small? After eliminating tight shoes and his head not being screwed on just right, we are told that the Grinch’s meanness is caused by his heart being physically two sizes too small. But if his heart is the size they want it to be, it won’t make him more loving. It will make him more dead. Severe cardiomegaly, anyone? Maybe the reason he’s mean is because you call him “The Grinch” and he has no other companionship besides a dog? Are there no other Grinches somewhere? Why is he the only one, like Tigger or Gonzo? What a lonely, depressing life he must lead. Perhaps, Whos, if you opened your heart and invited him to celebrate Christmas with you, he would like Christmas instead of wanting to destroy it.
4. Who names everything after themselves?
The Whos, that’s who. The name of the town that the Whos live in is Whoville (try doing that in the real world), and pretty much everything else was named Who something or other. And what the heck exactly is a “rare Who Roast Beast?” Is it just their arrogance shining though, or are the Whos actually cannibals? I don’t know, but I do know that our narrator (Boris Karloff) can’t stand the rare Who Roast Beast “in the least.” I have no idea why he had to call it out, though. Well, he is really condescending to the Grinch so maybe it makes sense. Also, why are there like five servants serving Cindy Lou Whoman personally? Is it a strawberry? No. It’s a Whoberry.
5. The thing the Grinch hates the most should make it abundantly clear why he feels the way he does about Christmas.
He complains that the Whos “Stand close together, hand in hand, and sing.” I have no idea why that would bother someone who spends all his time alone except for his pet who’s terrified of him. Oh, right. Because hedoesn’t have anyone to stand close together with, hand in hand with and sing. Empathy, Whos!
6. Why did it take him 53 years to come up with the plan to steal Christmas?
Seriously, it seems pretty straightforward. If he hated it so much, shouldn’t he have come up with the plan like, say, I don’t know, at least 45 years ago? Why would “steal everything” take so long to come up with?
7. That song.
Highly insulting and offers no specific reasons why he is so awful. Just opinions. And why should we value this narrator’s opinion? Because he can’t stand rare Who Roast Beast? Because he’s omniscient? Because he has a striking voice? Well, I for one don’t value his opinion. Give me facts, Boris, you elitist.
8. Why doesn’t Santa wear pants?
So you create a coat, a hat, and even boots, yet . . . no pants for your Santa? Or even decorative underwear? Questionable. Also, there was no mention of Santa until now. The Whos had no “Santa” themed decorations, so why are you dressing up like Santa? Bringing in a character this late in the game seems more like a plot device. And if you’re going to play the Santa card, would Santa let the Grinch take everything? Doubtful. And where was Santa when the Grinch was robbing everything? Shouldn’t they have crossed paths at some point?
9. Who goes to sleep holding candy canes?
10. Who’s going to catch him? Cindy Lou Human, that’s who.
Oh wait, the Grinch tells a terrible lie and Cindy falls for it. Man, humans ruin everything.
11. How in the world did that dog make it up the mountain with the complete contents of an entire town?That’s super impressive. There must be like a billion pounds of stuff and the dog who struggled going down the mountain (taking a route that, by the way, was completely illogical) valiantly makes the climb. That dog is a beast.
12. Despite having everything taken, Christmas still came. And the Whos sing.
Okay this is beautiful and meaningful. Christmas isn’t about what you get, but before singing, shouldn’t someone call the police or something? The contents of every house have been stolen. That’s bad. And alarming. Shouldn’t someone in Whoville be the voice of logic and say “Guys, guys. Let’s just hold off on the singalong until the authorities get here.” I mean, you clearly know who did it and you even have an eyewitness. Shouldn’t take too long to wrap this case up and get back to the singing.
13. After seeing that Christmas is so much more, what happens? So many more questions. If his heart grew three sizes (not the two it needed), how will it fit in his chest? Does he need a new name? Is he now an accepted part of the community? Will he be arrested or at least forced to pay for damages? Will the Grinch and his dog work through their abusive relationship or go their separate ways? Will the Who Servants rise up and form a union? Will the Whos force the narrator to try rare Who Roast Beast again? Will the Grinch be allowed to carry on half- or full-on naked? Will the Whos put up a wall after what happened with the Grinch, or will they realize, after spending time with the Grinch, that they should be more open to all types of people and work to make sure that everyone feels like they belong? Will the Grinch and the Narrator work on a new theme song for him?
There you go. So as you sit and watch How the Grinch Stole (or didn’t steal) Christmas this year, ponder these questions and perhaps . . . create some of your own to ponder.
My oldest daughter begins middle school this year. That’s right. She officially moves into that dreaded territory that I refer to as the “Jan Brady Years.” For those that don’t get the reference, Jan Brady was the middle child in the 70s TV show The Brady Bunch. She wasn’t the pretty and popular one – that was the oldest daughter, Marcia. She wasn’t the cute little one – that was the youngest daughter, Cindy. Jan was the awkward middle child. The one that no one wanted to be.
So, middle school is the “Jan Brady Years.” Very few people look back on their life and say, “Man, middle school was the best time of my life!” I certainly don’t. Which is one of the reasons that I wanted to teach middle schoolers: to help students do the best they can to survive and perhaps (at times) even enjoy these three years of their life.
And when I harkened back recently to those often dark days to come up with some tips for C, I thought about the things that I wish I had known back then. Below is what I came up with. And yes, I am aware that middle school in my day, the 1600s, was vastly different than middle school now – but middle schoolers, in most ways, are still the same. So here are the things I wish I’d known in middle school:
1. No one is actually cool. Yes, some middle schoolers are cool compared to their middle school brethren, but that’s like being the best fish in a pond full of dogs.
2. Keep your friends close. What’s worse than being in middle school? Going through it alone. Find one or two people that you know you can play with, talk to, hang out with, and trust – and don’t let them go. Forgive them when they do something dumb. And if those real friends aren’t considered cool? See number 1.
3. Being clean and not smelling bad is a good thing. Bathe. With soap. Wash your hair. Wear deodorant. (Of note, cologne is not deodorant. Spraying forest scent over odor just creates a scent that’s akin to a forest where everything in the world dies, decomposes, and evacuates all of their waste.)
4. Know that you’re not alone. Every single one of your peers is struggling to get through these years, no matter what you see on the outside. Think of clowns here.
5. If you are lucky enough to have a supportive and loving family (like I was), embrace them. Talk to them. They are your shelter through rough times and your biggest fans in the good times. The instinct here is to shun your family and run to your friends. Fight that urge. Most friends come and go, while family (however you define it) is always there.
6. Be the friend you wish everyone would be. The whole “Do unto others” thing? Pretty spot on.
7. Avoid having braces in middle school if possible. Trust me on this one. It just adds another name for you to be called.
8. Learn to laugh at yourself and don’t be easily offended. You’ll have plenty of opportunities to practice both of these.
9. Stand up for yourself. And others. The only reason that bullies do what they do is because people let them. If everyone stopped standing silently by, there would be no bullies.
10. Don’t isolate yourself. Join groups, don’t hide in the library, talk to new people, make yourself uncomfortable, be a part of stuff. In the end, you’ll be happier that you did.
11. Know that middle school won’t be awful. Sure, there will be bad moments, even really bad ones. But there will also be good moments, even great ones. Yes, I wasn’t a fan of middle school overall, but some of the best times of my youth happened during those years.
12. No matter what, be you. Don’t let the world silence you or take away your joy, hope, passion, empathy, or fun. You define who you are and own it.
When you’re an adult, your middle school years will be but a distant memory. You will recall some things about this time, good and bad, but those memories will not feel as important or as permanent as they will while you’re going through it. And you will get through it. And, who knows, you may actually enjoy it.
If you don't enjoy it, keep this in mind: Even Jan Brady eventually made it out of the “Jan Brady Years.”
I’ve never been a fan of curtain calls. I used to say that that it was because I wanted to “maintain the truth of the world we created onstage,” which sounded sort of cool in my head. But then I realized that I really just didn’t want to go back out there because I thought my smile would be weird.
Another thing that troubled me about curtain calls (besides my potentially weird smile) was that no matter how the performance went, we would always get applause. Sometimes we’d even get a standing ovation, whether or not the performance actually deserved one.
Now I include a talk about curtain calls early on in all my acting classes. I tell my actors that no matter how good or bad the performance is, their audience (usually parents, relatives, or friends) will applaud for them. But then I tell them not to be satisfied with something they’re guaranteed to get. I want them to know that they deserve the curtain call. So after that talk, my job becomes putting them in a position to “deserve the applause” – while at the same time, taking the focus off the applause.
So how do we accomplish this apparent contradiction? By stressing certain key points that I believe are vital for young actors. Or really, for any actors. Here’s a partial list, in no particular order.
A side note: To be able to do this, you must actually know what your character wants. That’s why we do character bios and spend a lot (perhaps too much) time talking about the characters. But in the end, the more you know about the character you’re playing, the easier you’ll find it to immerse yourself in the world of your character instead of your own.
4. Come through. Your fellow actors must be able to trust you, to know that you will do everything you can to come through for them, for yourself, and for the play. That means doing the work before rehearsals, doing the work while at rehearsals, and doing the work after rehearsals. It doesn’t mean never making a mistake. It means setting up yourself and your other actors to have the best chance of success. That’s the only way that you can truly take an audience on a journey through the world and events of your play. What people sometimes don’t realize at first is that the majority of that trust is developed offstage, even (especially) when you’re not at rehearsal. In class, in the hall, wherever you see each other, you are always creating either a community of trust or one of distrust. And only one of those creates success.
5. When you’re onstage, don’t act. It’s one of the worst things you can do. When I first tell my actors this, they often stare at me with confused looks and then one will say “But aren’t we actors?” Then I explain that sure, you’re actors. Off the stage. When you’re doing the work, learning the basic tools that will allow you to interact with the audience during the show. That’s the performance aspect. And if you develop those skills, they should be an afterthought during the show, because you will just automatically do those things – they should become as automatic as locking the door without actually remembering doing it.
But onstage, you are your character and you must respond as such. You listen. You respond. You work for your character’s goals and wants. You forget what’s going to happen, because this is the first time any of this has happened. You can’t plan how you’re going to say something or how you’re going to respond or listen only for your cues, because the moment you do any of that, it becomes a performance and the truth of the moment, the show, evaporates. Maybe not for your audience, but for you and your character.
Those are just a few of the things that my actors and I discuss. Are they difficult to accomplish? Absolutely. But my goal isn’t for them to actually accomplish them. If they do, awesome. But really, it’s all about being aware of them, working to accomplish them, and getting better at them each time. To me, it’s not about the end result. Or even the performance. It’s about the process. And if you focus on the process and work hard, the performance will always take care itself.
And the actors will know that they deserve that curtain call.
Another year has come and gone. I was thinking of writing about the passing of time, the hope each new year brings, and . . . actually, I wasn’t. I knew what post I wanted to write: I wanted to make a simple list that allows itself to be defined by the reader (you!) without imposing my own meaning on each item.
So this post, as you can see by the title, is about 33 things that I hope you will embrace this year. It’s merely my opinion, of course, and in no way should be seen as either factual or instructive. So please interpret and use these however you see fit, and I hope that the coming year is full of whatever you wish it to be. Well, as long as it makes you and the world better.
I love Mickey’s Christmas Carol, and if I reviewed it like I do other Christmas specials, I would only gush about how great it is – so instead, I’ll talk about . . . casting decisions.
In the original opening, Mickey explains that he and his friends performed a version of Dickens’s Christmas Carol. (This intro is often left out on TV now.) It was a much shorter version – some script cuts were necessary (made by Mickey, who also served as director) – but still manages to hit the high points. The question is: Did Mickey get the casting correct? Let’s take a look.
Scrooge McDuck as Ebenezer Scrooge
Obvious choice, with his name being what it is. Did I feel like Scrooge merely plays himself? At times (though his happy skipping near the end and the line “I’m going to make you my partner” feel authentic). The major impact of this casting decisions is that Mickey Mouse is not the lead. Did he do it to put the show first or did he really have no choice (because of the name thing)? I don’t know because he declined my many requests for comment. It did, however, have ramifications for another well-loved mouse. More on that soon . . .
Mickey Mouse as Bob Cratchit
Mickey pretty much plays Mickey in this movie, kind of like a mouse version of Kevin Costner. But I really like his version of the ever cheerful but put-upon Bob Cratchit. It has a level of depth that is not normally associated with Mickey. His tear in the final scene while putting Tiny Tim’s tiny cane on his grave . . . wow. Just wow.
Donald Duck as Fred
Okay, I get it. Donald had to be Fred once his uncle was cast in the role of . . . his uncle. To me, Donald has always been ill-tempered, destined to be that old drunk duck at the bar talking of days gone by when he was a success. Only no one would understand him – and not because he’s drunk, but because he’s hasn’t learned how to speak clearly. How does he have a career? I mean, explain to me how his uncle and Daisy can speak perfect English but Donald’s speech is still duck-like? Is there no voice training at Disney? The only line I can clearly understand is “I will! I will!” They even had to cut Fred’s famous monologue – and no, it wasn’t a time issue. It was a Donald issue.
Goofy as Jacob Marley
I’ve always appreciated Goofy’s work for what it is. He’s limited but likeable. That being said, he was horribly miscast as Marley. There is no way that Scrooge would have worked with someone as inept as Goofy’s version of Marley. Even if he had, Scrooge and Marley would’ve been out of business in days. Who should have been Marley, you ask? Pete, who would have been awesome in that role. But more on Pete later.
(P.S. Why isn’t Goofy called Goofy Dog? I mean, you have Mickey Mouse, Donald Duck, Minnie Mouse, Jiminy Cricket and countless others with a last name of their species. Is it perhaps because we don’t want the audience making the connection that Goofy and Pluto are actually the same animal, but one gets to speak and wear pants, while one gets to live in a dog house and be the pet of a giant mouse?
Jiminy Cricket as the Ghost of Christmas Past
Jiminy, who was more popular in Disney’s classic era, was probably hoping that this performance would lead to a career resurgence, a la Betty White’s role in Lake Placid, but alas – it did not happen. But he’s made a nice career of playing the wise cricket nonetheless.
Daisy Duck as Belle
Much like Donald, this was the only role she could be cast in. Unlike Donald, she nailed this role. She plays the early Belle, before Scrooge finds another love, with a sense of childlike innocence and hope, and then manages to bring some anger when Scrooge chooses money over her.
(By the way, can we talk about the lack of roles for women in this production? There are only two females in it, and only one of them has a speaking part. Why didn’t Minnie say something to Mickey about this? Or wait, maybe she did. That would explain what happened to Mrs. Cratchit’s lines.)
Morty Fieldmouse as Tiny Tim
Super cute. The Michelle Tanner of the cast, and it works. He’s my second favorite Tiny Tim. After Robin Frog in A Muppet Christmas Carol, of course.
Pete as the Ghost of Christmas Future
Pete is amazing in this role. Hands down, the best GoCF ever to don those robes, which doesn’t actually say much when you consider that none of the others talk. That being said, he was still the best. However, I do feel that this classically trained actor gets typecast too often in villainous type roles, which means he’s seldom used to the fullest extent of his talent. Yes, he has carved out a nice little niche career as the foil to everyone – but clearly he wants more. And I want more for him. Unfortunately, as long as Mickey’s in charge, he will be stuck in these types of roles. At least he nailed the best line in the story . . . “Why yours, Ebenezer. The richest man in the cemetery!” He, my friend, is destined for the bright lights of Broadway once he breaks free of the shackles of the great mouse. Here’s hoping it happens sooner rather than later.
Minnie Mouse as Mrs. Cratchit
Is Mrs. Cratchit a mute in Dickens’s novel? No, she is not. But in this production, she is. Zero lines. None whatsoever. Minnie’s talents, and the character of Mrs. Cratchit, have never been so underutilized as they are here. She’s nothing more than scenery, much like Mr. Toad, who plays Fezziwig. So Mrs. Cratchit comes off as docilely accepting of her fate instead of that spunky woman who exclaims “Founder of the feast, indeed!” when Bob gives thanks to Scrooge. And Minnie would’ve have nailed that line. Perhaps Mickey and Minnie were having relationship issues at the time. Maybe about Mickey’s lack of casting females.
A Charlie Brown Christmas, based on the much-loved Charles Schultz comic strip Peanuts, came on TV last night and is celebrating its 50th anniversary. Many people view it as a classic Christmas tale, and I support their right to that opinion. I, however, am not really a fan because I find Charlie rather self-absorbed and really into this whole martyr thing. If you focused less on Charlie, and more on the rehearsals and production of what will clearly be a disappointing retelling of the Nativity, that would be fantastic. Like a Peanuts version of Noises Off. Anyway, I decided to revisit Charlie and his non-pals to see if perhaps I was missing the magic and the meaning that so many other people found in this tale. So without further ado . . . 12 Observations on . . . . A Charlie Brown Christmas.
Observation 1: As a lead, I find Charlie Brown depressing.
His first grimace occurs before the show even starts and then pretty much doesn’t leave his face for the rest of the show. And he complains. A lot. About everything. But never asks what he can do for someone else. Good grief, indeed.
Observation 2: What’s my motivation? I have no clue, Charlie Brown.
Is he trying to find the true meaning of Christmas, or he is lashing out about the commercialism of Christmas? It alternates throughout. If his motivation is to make Christmas less commercial, then one would think he already knows what Christmas is all about. But he says he doesn’t. Or does he? I have no idea.
Observation 3: Never mock someone who doesn’t give you a Christmas card.
Early on in this tragic tale, Charlie walks to his mailbox, opens it, and it’s empty. He then talks about how he doesn’t need a reminder that no one likes him. (Somewhere, his loyal and saintlike friend Linus is crying into his blue blanket.) Anyway, he sees Violet and thanks her for the Christmas card she sent him. She scoffs at him by saying she didn’t send him one, and he mocks her for not understanding sarcasm. My question for you, Chuck, is . . . how many Christmas cards did you send?
Observation 4: This entire group knows nothing about putting on a play.
It’s clearly just a few days before Christmas, which means that the play should have already happened – but since it hasn’t, surely they’re ready to perform. No, they are not. They don’t even have a director, until Lucy, trying to help Charlie (sounds like a friend thing to do), names him director of the Christmas play.
What? How do you not have a director yet? Why haven’t you been rehearsing? Why don’t the actors have their parts or scripts yet? Why does Lucy have unilateral director-designating powers? Why did they cast someone as the “shepherd’s wife?” Where’s Franklin?
Observation 5: Charlie Brown . . . sexist?
As soon he becomes director, Charlie begins demeaning Lucy by calling her “script girl.” So . . . you’re calling the one who has the power to name you director and is currently the only one in town running her own business . . . “script girl?” For shame, Chuckles.
Observation 6: The first rehearsal goes poorly.
Shocking. But Charlie Brown does exactly what any good director in his shoes would do: He goes to buy a Christmas tree. Wait, that’s not what a good director would do. A good director would, I don’t know, rehearse the actual play.
Observation 7: Charlie really needs to appreciate what he has more.
If the message of this fable is that we need to stop wanting for what we don’t have and appreciate what we do have, then that’s a good message. Charlie has the best friend that anyone could ever ask for (no, not you, Snoopy. You’re kind of the opposite of man’s best friend) in Linus and all he thinks about is the people that don’t like him. I hope he at least sent Linus a Christmas card.
Observation 7: It’s “Christmas tree,” not “Christmas branch.”
You had one job: To get a Christmas tree. A good one. Sure, you were bothered that the other kids wanted an “aluminum tree” – but let’s face facts, you said you would get a tree. A Christmas tree. And you did not. Despite Linus’s warning, you got . . . a Christmas branch. And then you’re shocked – SHOCKED – when your friends bash your branch tree. Sorry, Charlie, consider that bashing deserved
Observation 9: Did anyone read the script of this play?
After his choice of trees is ridiculed, Charlie laments that he doesn’t know what Christmas is about. So Saint Linus calls for the lights (Who’s running the lights? Woodstock, perhaps? Or is that where Franklin’s hiding?) and begins to recite the story of the nativity. And that allows Chuck to understand Christmas. But wait: Aren’t they doing the nativity play? Shouldn’t he already have read this story in the script that he’s directing? Shouldn’t everyone in the play have been able to tell him? Amateurs.
But at least Charlie gets the message of what Christmas is about. Oh wait, he doesn’t. He makes it about proving that he was right to buy a branch for a tree? Am I missing something? Wait, is this branch a metaphor for baby Jesus? Well, this story is way deeper than I thought. Though now I keep envisioning a branch wrapped in swaddling clothes and laying in a manger, which is weird. Anyway, Chuck takes his branch home and all of the kids follow him. Am I the only one that cares about the need to rehearse? I hope you’re not charging for this “play” because it will be terrible. Terrible, I say.
Observation 10: Branches are not meant to hold ornaments.
Charlie gets home and notices that Snoopy won the decorating contest. Is he happy for his dog? Of course not. He then proceeds to take an ornament off Snoopy’s house and put it on his branch, and the branch topples. Charlie says that he broke it. Well, actually you just bent it, and if you took the ornament off . . . never mind.
Observation 11: His friends are magic.
The friends arrive and see that the “tree” is bent over. Seriously, guys, you can just take the ornament off. Linus wraps his blanket around the branch and says that he always thought it was a good tree. (Actually, you didn’t. You’re reasonable.) Then the gang steals all of Snoopy’s ornaments and turns Charlie’s branch into . . . a full-grown Christmas tree. See? Magic.
Observation 12: We finally have a nice moment.
Charlie comes out, sees the tree and is shocked. I am too, Charlie. Then the others wish Charlie a merry Christmas and sing “Hark the Herald Angels Sing.” Finally, a sweet moment. And their rendition of the song is flawless. Clearly, they rehearsed this song. Unlike the play.
Well, those are my observations. And after pondering it more . . . I’m still not much of a fan, though I will continue to watch it every Christmas. Why? Perhaps it’s because I first watched it as a kid while eating Christmas cookies from Revco. And that right there is reason enough.
Oh, and also I keep hoping that this time, Linus will finally appreciate what he has in Sally.
Here it is. Steven's blog, where his thoughts about things are revealed. Good luck.