(c) 2011 by John Boston, All Rights Reserved

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.


Because we 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 to me?”

Interestingly, 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.

Lucky Monty Python.

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 here.”

— 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...)

“It’s not 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...)

Harpo Marx Family Rules

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 so hard.

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...)

“You can teach a mule to run the Kentucky Derby.

That doesn’t mean he’s going to win it.”

— Abe Lemons


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:

"How hard is it to coach track? Tell 'em to stay to the left and get back as fast as you can."

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."

"One day of practice is like one day of clean living. It doesn't do you any good."

“There are really only two plays: ‘Romeo & Juliet,’ and ‘Put The Darn Ball In The Basket.’”

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.”

 I shall 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 later.

Muffin #55 – Wednesday, March 16th, 2011 (on Pain...)

“Pain reaches the heart with electrical speed,

but 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 two seconds!!”

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 laughed.

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...)

“Psychiatry enables us to correct our faults

by confessing our parents’ shortcomings.”

— Laurence J. Peter


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 a sitting.

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.”


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