Muffin #60 – Tuesday, May 19th, 2011 (on Making Your Own Mythology...)
A sketch from Monty Python
Michael Palin: You were lucky. We lived for three months in a brown paper bag
in a septic tank. We used to have to get up at six o'clock in the morning,
clean the bag, eat a crust of stale bread, go to work down mill for fourteen
hours a day week in-week out. When we got home, out Dad would thrash us to
sleep with his belt!
Graham Chapman: Luxury. We used to have to get out of the lake at three o'clock
in the morning, clean the lake, eat a handful of hot gravel, go to work at the
mill every day for tuppence a month, come home, and Dad would beat us around
the head and neck with a broken bottle, if we were LUCKY!
Terry Gilliam: Well we had it tough. We used to have to get up out of the
shoebox at twelve o’clock at night, and LICK the road clean with our tongues.
We had half a handful of freezing cold gravel, worked twenty-four hours a day
at the mill for fourpence every six years, and when we got home, our Dad would
slice us in two with a bread knife.
Eric Idol: Right. I had to get up in the morning at ten o'clock at night,
half an hour before I went to bed, (pause for laughter), eat a lump of cold
poison, work twenty-nine hours a day down mill, and pay mill owner for
permission to come to work, and when we got home, our Dad would kill us, and
dance about on our graves singing “Hallelujah.”
Michael Palin: But you try and tell the young people today that... and they
won’t believe ya’.
I still crack up
over this Monty Python sketch with the players “reminiscing” about how hard
life was growing up. Simple message today: If you think you’ve got it tough,
read the above.
I was a freshman
in college when the BBC aired the first episode in 1969. Monty Python is often
known as The Beatles of comedy. And they are. Their effect on comedy is so
profound that a paleontologist named a giant prehistoric snake after them —Montypythonoides riversleighensis. Each
cast member has an asteroid named after them and Ben & Jerry’s ice cream
named a flavor (Vermonty Python) after the troupe. The name’s origins are still
fuzzy, even to the original cast members, although the ensemble felt it was the
perfect name for a sleazy talent agent.
If you want to
do a little extra homework and you have access to the Internet, look up the
entire sketch. Google: Monty Python lived in a lake.
Now. All the
trivia and tribute to genius and hilarity aside, this is an important lesson.
LITERALLY CREATE OUR WORLD with our thoughts and words. We blurt out some
stupidity about how tough life is and, violas, it bounces back perfectly.
Bonus: We get to nod our heads and say: “See? See how tough and unfair life is
we must find these stories of living underwater and eating cold poison as a
youth so we can be rid of them. But once we do, we must stop — spelt S.T.O.P. —
these self-fulfilling and hurtful prophecies immediately.
At least they
had graves on which their fathers could dance.
(Okay. Look at
me. The above was just humor. Or at least attempted. Stop the daily recreation
of your own personal mythologies.)
Muffin #59 – Tuesday, April 5th, 2011 (on Fondness...)
“But it's also because of
something personal. My mother and father met while playing chess, so I've
always had a fondness for the game. If it weren't for chess, I might not be
— Dorothy Dunnett
Mrs. Dunnett has been regarded as one of the finest
historical novelists and writers of the 20th century. She penned Game of Kings
in 1961 and a friend introduced her to publisher Lois Cole, who discovered Margaret
Mitchell. You know? The gal who wrote Gone With The Wind?
Mrs. Dunnett was a delightful woman, painter, public
servant and historian. She attended Gillespie High School for Girls, which I
believe the Scots pronounce, “Gulls.” One of her school chums was Muriel Spark,
who would later write “The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie.
A while back, I had to, ahem, “regroup.” I sold a
lifetime of things collected and some were easily replaced: a blender, a
washer, a table saw. Some weren’t so. My old rope. A signed photo of William S.
Hart. A wagon wheel from a friend whose grandfather rode into town on the wagon
as a boy.
There are things I hope I never have to give up. My
saddle. A scarf knitted by my daughter. My nephew-like substance Coastal Eddie
made a necklace for me when he was 5. He’s 24 now. I still have those beads
hanging from my truck mirror.
Some saints tut-tut about being attached to material
things. And they’re right. But I think it’s just fine and ducky to possess the
quality of fondness. This smiling and recollecting of things makes us a little
closer to friends, family and even perfect strangers, making them all the more
precious because they do have such a limited shelf life.
Muffin #58 – Thursday, March 31st, 2011 (on Denial...)
denial. I’m just selective about the reality I accept.”
— William Boyd Watterson II
A good friend of mine, like much of the world, has
been plagued by denial. “When I sense something may turn bad or is bad, I just
turn on the Hollywood fog machine and crank up the smoke. I just don’t want to
see it,” my pal commented.
War? Famine? Intolerance? Shortages
of resources? Weather changes? I suspect denial may be the top problem facing
us now or in any other age. How we loathe to realize that a certain leader is
nuts. Or that we’re chronically unhappy. Or scared. Or bored. Or that this is
not the life we want to be living.
Denial is a cultural and spiritual rust. It’s always
working. Worse, because of its very essence, we refuse to face denial. From
that, Solution cannot reach the problem. Countless lives have yet to be lived
because of this malady.
The solution is easy. The application, sadly, is
impossible for most. It takes a huge amount of courage, intent and will to face
that we are in denial, in such areas of relationships, work, health, happiness,
goals — even, who, in essence, we are.
With a help of a special magic tool that comes with
the price of this book, denial can be fixed. Get out a paper or start typing on
your laptop. Write at the top: “What I Am Denying.”
And then, just fill in the blanks. Start writing. Without
editing. You’ll be amazed at what you’ve been denying all these years.
As for Mr. Watterson #2:
Years later, many of us still turn inconsolably
round-shouldered at the mere mention of the “Calvin & Hobbes” cartoon
strip. “I LOVED that strip!” we moan with dull passion. C&H was created by recluse
and humorist, Bill Watterson in 1985. Abruptly, 10 years later in 1995, he
issued a simple note, resigning from the syndicated cartoon business. For one,
he had vehemently argued with Universal Press Syndicate for their merchandising
the famous small boy and his imaginary tiger, Hobbes. He felt that selling the
likeness deluded the suchness of the strip. Mr. Watterson first drew a striped
predator, Mortimer, that became his high school mascot in Chagrin Falls, Ohio.
The retired cartoonist is more reclusive than Osama
bin Ladin. Several times, newspapers have sent reporters to hunt for the award-winning
humorist in his hometown of Chagrin Falls. They never found him. He used to
autograph copies of his books, but stopped when he found people were selling
them for huge mark-ups on eBay. To date, he has sold about 50 million copies of
the C&H books in 45 countries.
Calvin, by the way, was named after Protestant
reformer John Calvin and Hobbes after the philosopher Thomas Hobbes.
More power to Mr. Watterson for not being in denial
and doing it his way.
Muffin #57 – Monday, March 21st, 2011 (on Pool Cues...)
1) Life has been
created for you to enjoy, but you won't enjoy it unless you pay for it with
some good, hard work. This is one price that will never be marked down.
2) You can work at whatever you want to as
long as you do it as well as you can and clean up afterwards and you're at the
table at mealtime and in bed at bedtime.
3) Respect what the others do. Respect
Dad's harp, Mom's paints, Billy's piano, Alex's set of tools, Jimmy's designs,
and Minnie's menagerie.
4) If anything makes you sore, come out
with it. Maybe the rest of us are itching for a fight, too.
5) If anything strikes you as funny, out
with that, too. Let's all the rest of us have a laugh.
6) If you have an impulse to do something
that you're not sure is right, go ahead and do it. Take a chance. Chances are,
if you don't you'll regret it - unless you break the rules about mealtime and
bedtime, in which case you'll sure as hell regret it.
7) If it's a question of whether to do
what's fun or what is supposed to be good for you, and nobody is hurt whichever
you do, always do what's fun.
8) If things get too much for
you and you feel the whole world's against you, go stand on your head. If you
can think of anything crazier to do, do it.
9) Don't worry about what other people
think. The only person in the world important enough to conform to is yourself.
10) Anybody who mistreats a
pet or breaks a pool cue is docked a months pay.
Dear me boy howdy I just adore Harpo Marx (and his
brothers). There are memories I will never lose of my young daughter, sitting
on my lap and the two of us trying to catch our breath because we’re laughing
Harpo (born Adolph Marx) taught himself how to play the
harp (hence the nickname). He learned how to hold it from a picture he had seen
of an angel holding a harp. A few years later, he was already an accomplished
harpist and didn’t know that he had learned how to play on an incorrectly tuned
instrument. After he made money from his films, he hired some of the world’s
best harpists to teach him to play properly. They sat in his studio, mesmerized
at his gift and to a person confessed that they could not teach him a thing.
I suspect there have been many a Sunday sermon that do offer
as much love and insight as Harpo’s “10 Family Rules.”
Muffin #56 – Friday, March 18th, 2011 (on Mules...)
teach a mule to run the Kentucky Derby.
That doesn’t mean he’s going to win
The simple translation is
that we so often entrust that someone is going to somehow magically change their
behavior or grow abilities nosebleed levels above their pay scale.
I mean, it happens. They write books about it.
This malady is a close and ugly cousin to denial.
I remember philosopher and mystic Joel Goldsmith spouting
the simple common sense that when he needed a lawyer, he looked for the very
best lawyer. Ditto with accountants, dentists and roofers.
Not too many people outside of sports have heard of Mr.
Lemons, a coaching combination of Mark Twain, Henny Youngman and Will Rogers.
With 599 victories, he is one of the winningest coaches in college basketball
history and, by far, the most-quoted.
Some of my favorites:
is it to coach track? Tell 'em to stay to the left and get back as fast as you
When asked how
to stop illegal recruiting Abe said, "Just give every coach the same
amount of money and tell them they can keep what’s left over."
of practice is like one day of clean living. It doesn't do you any good."
really only two plays: ‘Romeo & Juliet,’ and ‘Put The Darn Ball In The
He was born
into poverty in Ryan, Oklahoma with a first name of just the initials A.E.
Despite all the comedy, he is still regarded as one of the greatest coaches who
ever lived. When asked what was his secret to success, he answered: “Having the
addresses of everyone who ever played for me.”
never forget meeting the man. I was 21 and was one of the lucky high school
coaches to attend a UCLA clinic hosted by John Wooden and featuring Marquette’s
Al McGuire and Mr. Lemon. I am a smarter man for it nearly a half-century
Muffin #55 – Wednesday, March 16th, 2011 (on Pain...)
“Pain reaches the heart with electrical speed,
truth moves to the heart as slowly as a glacier.”
— Barbara Kingsolver, Animal Dreams
My daughter has the best mom and the best dad who live in
separate houses. My girl was five. It was a Sunday afternoon and she
sensed it would soon be time to drive her to her mother’s home. My girl sobbed
and said she didn’t want to leave. I certainly don’t interject how someone, especially
my own flesh and blood, should feel. But I told her that her dad sometimes cried,
when she was gone and that I missed her. I passed along a method I had learned.
“I get to feel,” I told her. “I get to be sad and cry.
But I can decide how long I want the pain to last. For two years? For two
months? For two weeks? For…”
She interrupted me, wiping her eyes and laughing. “For
I have to confess. I gave her a sour look and said, in
mock seriousness: “I hope it’s not going to be THAT easy for you…” We both
I really have trouble liking Barbara Kingsolver. As an
alleged writer, whenever I read a passage of hers, I end up throwing the book
on the floor, swearing then asking: “How can anyone write so well?”
Ms. Kingsolver has lived all around the world and studied
to be a classical pianist. She changed her major to biology when she realized: “classical
pianists compete for six job openings a year, and the rest of [them] get to
play 'Blue Moon' in a hotel lobby.”
She is a member of the band, Rock Bottom Remainders, a
rock ‘n’ roll group made up of published writers Stephen King, Matt Groening
(“The Simpsons”), Amy Tan and Dave Barry.
Muffin #54 – Monday, March 14th, 2011 (on Blame...)
enables us to correct our faults
by confessing our parents’ shortcomings.”
— Laurence J.
Blame may be Earth’s current and
all-time favorite participation sport.
It certainly is most people’s drug of
choice. How many times in an hour do we swallow a handful of these pills? It’s
a dangerous viewpoint, the parent of many deformed children: Anger, Hatred, Narrow-mindedness,
Bitterness, Self-pity, Impatience. Blame allows you to spend your
entire lifetime as an addict.
Blame doesn’t have to be anything
terribly deep or operatic. Within an hour, we blame politicians, family
members, ex-spouses, bosses, workers, liberals, conservatives, poor strangers
who happen to play for the Oakland Raiders or the local high school coach. The
result is multi-faceted. We build an ever-growing reality and growing
population of monsters running around in our head (and sometimes in our actual
lives). We create a self-image of ourselves as victims. We fill ourselves past the
dotted line with bile and suck on self-righteous lozenges.
The darn problem with blame is that
it’s the world’s cheapest and handiest form of entertainment. Blame is a drug.
It allows you to dreamily escape to a world where it’s someone else’s fault, not
yours. Or mine.
I would not presume to tell you how to
live, but what has worked for me is to catch myself in the act of blaming.
Recognize I’m doing it. Remind myself that I really don’t want to carry around
that kind of stupid weight. Then, I bless the very thing I’ve been blaming. It
doesn’t have to be a prayer stamped by the Vatican. Sometimes I just say: “Yay
for So-&-So. Wish you the best adventures today.”
Sometimes I have to do it 100 times in
But you know what? The blessing aspect
of the object de blame works to free me.
Some of you might recall the name of
Laurence J. Peter. He was the fellow who wrote “The Peter Principle: Why Things
Always Go Wrong,” which interestingly was about if not blame then the
observation that "in a hierarchy every employee tends to rise to
their level of incompetence."
Funny bit of trivia. This Peter Principle has been
around for centuries. In 1767, playwright Gotthold Ephraim Lessing wrote the
comedy, “Minna von Barnheim.” Here’s a telling line: “To become something more
than a sergeant! I do not think of that. I am a good sergeant; I might easily
make a bad captain, and certainly a worse general.”