Happy birthday — September 13, 2014

Happy birthday

to the funniest man alive. He’s 47 today.

Here he talks about turning 40 and having your body fall apart.

The shadow — September 8, 2014

The shadow


This Salon essay was written by Chris Schumerth, whose brother Shane killed the headmaster at the Florida high school where he had just been fired as a Spanish teacher, and then turned the gun on himself, back in the Spring of 2012. The writer describes what Shane was like growing up, and how he and the rest of the family were increasingly puzzled by Shane’s behavior in recent years. Part of what makes the story so captivating is how mundane it all sounds. Social awkwardness, difficulty talking to women, friction with members of his family. Many of the warning signs were so trivial, they were easy to dismiss. But very slowly, in incremental steps, he went from a sweet, shy and sensitive kid to a deranged killer.

In an effort to find an explanation for what happened to his brother, Schumerth explores Carl Jung’s concept of the shadow. The shadow is the dark and unloved side of all of us, that wishes to remain unknown. All the qualities we’re ashamed of, or deny, or repress, because we can’t bear to think that we have them. They all get shoved out of the way, into our unconscious. The shadow is partly personal material and partly collective material, meaning it comes from all of us. Civilizations have a shadow, too, and America’s shadow is loooooooooong.

Jung wrote that “The change of character brought about by the uprush of collective forces is amazing. A gentle and reasonable being can be transformed into a maniac or a savage beast. One is always inclined to lay the blame on external circumstances, but nothing could explode in us if it had not been there. As a matter of fact, we are constantly living on the edge of a volcano, and there is, so far as we know, no way of protecting ourselves from a possible outburst that will destroy everybody within reach.”

So applying Jung’s theory on shadow material in the unconscious, one might say that Shane Schumerth’s personal shadow material might have been triggered by a surge of collective shadow material from the society he lived in. He had strong political and religious beliefs. He also had access to an AK-47 and a hundred rounds of ammunition.

On the one hand, this view of mental illness is terrifying. It says that “falling into the volcano” is possible for any one of us. But part of why it appeals to me is that it doesn’t say that mentally ill people are wrong and sane people are right. It doesn’t separate “us” from “them.” It says we all have a dark side. The best we can hope for is to acknowledge the shadow inside us and bring it to the surface in healthy ways.

My Brother’s Unspeakable Crime


The Price of Admission — August 29, 2014

The Price of Admission

Here’s a video of Dan Savage, breaking it down beautifully and simply, as always. A reader asks why he (or she) never manages to stay interested in a guy for longer than two months. Savage goes on to explain what one must do to stay in a long-term, romantic relationship. (spoiler alert: it’s not easy)

His reply rings brutally true. If this is something you want but has eluded you so far, you might want to spend the next five minutes watching this.


Discovered on Brain Pickings

Louis C.K. makes it look easy — July 11, 2014

Louis C.K. makes it look easy


Louis C.K. was nominated this morning for the show “Louie” on F/X and his role in it. Chances are you haven’t been watching – the ratings were below a million viewers per episode at the start of the 4th season – but you should. It’s confident in a way that only a show that’s written, directed, edited and starring the same person can be. It was nominated in the comedy category, but manages to be deeply moving. But it’s also surreal and absurd, throwing continuity out the window in a way that implies that entertaining himself is more important to Louis C.K. than making sense.

This interview in an issue of GQ magazine earlier this year calls him the “undisputed kind of comedy.” It provides a little glimpse into why he’s so good. The hard work, the attention to detail. The willingness to explore the darkest parts of himself and human nature. Louis C.K. is trying to reach a deeper understanding of why we do the things we do. Watch his stand up if you want to hear him lay out his philosophy. But on the show over which he has complete creative control, he’s a jack-ass and a clown about 85% of the time and the rest of the time he’s a hero. Some scenes are jarring, including a cringe-worthy and awkward attempted seduction and Louie punching a beautiful woman in the face.

Your move, every other show-runner in Hollywood.

“So Did the Fat Lady” introduces perhaps the most fully realized, complicated female guest starring role I’ve ever seen on TV. A waitress at a comedy club points out a sexual double standard that nobody ever talks about. Actress Sarah Baker delivers a jaw-dropping monologue about what it’s like to date in New York in your 30’s as a fat girl. Although Baker wasn’t even nominated this morning, the academy should deliver a truck full of Emmys to everyone involved in the production of this scene:


In “In the Woods,” Louis creates a deeply touching short film (90 minutes, including commercials) about adolescence, starring a bunch of fantastic, unknown child actors (and one Academy Award winning actor in Jeremy Renner). That’s really hard to do well. But Louis does – and calls it episode 12. At that point, he’s just showing off.

And then in the season 4 finale “Pamela, part 2,” he does what could arguably be the bravest thing he could possibly do on screen. Viewers see as much of Louis C.K.’s body as cable TV will allow as he strips and gets into a bathtub while a beautiful woman makes fun of his body.

“Louie” had a stunning fourth season, and deserves all the critical acclaim it’s getting, and lots of awards. My only complaint is that the show has too many commercials. But I can’t even hold a grudge at F/X because I’m so glad they give Louis C.K. his own show and let him do whatever he wants.

Entertainment Weekly review

Another trip to Oregon — June 27, 2014

Another trip to Oregon

Most of the time, I suppress the wind chimes and composting side of myself because I live in the San Fernando Valley and that sort of thing is somewhat frowned upon here. But when I visit my sister, brother-in-law, and 6 year old nephew in Oregon, the wind chimes and composting side of me can breathe freely. I just got back from a short visit. And as always, we went to places so pristine and green, it was almost like we were the first ones to arrive. We picnicked and skipped stones into the Willamette River at the Dorris Ranch. We soaked for an hour in the Belknap Hotsprings and then my nephew led us through the woods to a secret. freaking. garden. where we played hide and seek. We played video games in a kick-ass arcade and drank excellent local beer. On the morning I had to leave, my nephew gave me a makeover. He sprayed pink streaks in my hair, applied blue eyeshadow, lipgloss, painted my nails two different colors, then adorned me with multiple rainbow loom bracelets and rings, and (blessedly) a peacock mask. IMG_2390 IMG_2391 IMG_2395 IMG_2393 IMG_2401IMG_2396 IMG_2402 IMG_2422  

unscripted classic movie lines — May 27, 2014

unscripted classic movie lines


I realize that as a (very rarely) working writer, my opinion on this is blasphemy, but actors can absolutely make or break a script. That’s why I love this list of ten well-known movie lines, all of which were improvised. Or at least not in the shooting script. Who knows what conversations were happening between the actors, writer, and director on set between takes. In many cases, the famous line in question is the only one anyone remembers. I wonder if the writers of these screenplays cringe when they hear a line they didn’t write quoted in association with a film.

Ten Classic Movie Lines that Were Completely Unscripted

The comments section has lots more juicy movie stuff.

Father John Misty — May 25, 2014

Father John Misty

imgres-1 Father John Misty’s songwriting is sublime. His voice and guitar playing are fantastic. He dances like a stripper and he’s funny as hell between songs. A lot of musicians have great banter, but I’d argue he’s the funniest touring musician I’ve ever seen. Here’s a link to a Pitchfork interview he did last year. It’s a cool format where the writer gives FJM a bunch of scenarios and he has to answer what music he’d want to listen to in that moment. He tells a bunch of random stories, including one about walking through a snowy farmland in a Pizza Hut uniform, listening to Leon Russell. Here he is, not being particularly funny, but bleeding profusely and cavorting with models.


Sponsorchange — May 22, 2014


Here’s a brilliant idea about a great way to pay off student debt. Sort of like Americorps or the Peace Corps, but with a wider variety of ways to serve. This is how it works: Graduates with student loan debt sign up to volunteer at organizations that need manpower. The grads help their community by putting in hours toward that organization’s goals. Then donors who have also signed up at SponsorChange reimburse volunteers by paying down their student loans. So the donors help the nonprofit get free manpower rather than making a traditional donation. The volunteers get help with their student loans—and gain useful work experience along the way.

best TV show ever —

best TV show ever

imgres Because I’m a big fan of Breaking Bad and posting things long after everyone else has done so, here is a fantastic video tribute to the show, by a French filmmaker. It lays out Walter White’s character arc over the course of the series. In just a few minutes you can watch him break bad. G-D I miss this show so much. I watch a lot of great TV but I don’t think anyone’s ever achieved what Vince Gilligan did. So thank you, Alexandre Gasulla, for reminding me why. My only beef with you is – what do you have against babies? #hollyhater

Suicide is 100% preventable — May 17, 2014

Suicide is 100% preventable

 Every day, 22 veterans take their own lives. That’s a suicide every 65 minutes.

Most of these veterans are young, have just returned to civilian life, and they’re enrolled in the Veterans’ Affairs health program. They’re not being treated for mental health issues, but for other medical issues. And they’re suffering. It could be due to longer and more frequent tours of duty. Some have post traumatic stress disorder. Some have traumatic brain injury. Most come home and – like the rest of us – they can’t find a job. Nobody can pin-point the exact reason why, but  young veterans are killing themselves at an alarming rate.

Going back to at least 2008 and in other years since, more American soldiers have committed suicide than have been killed in combat.

Today, we find out about delays in appointment making and inadequate treatment at the VA.

workers were “gaming” the books to disguise excessive wait times

I don’t come from a military background. I’m a pacifist. But this is basic human decency – to take care of the men and women who risk and sacrifice so much. They deserve to be carefully looked after. Instead, we’re ignoring them and hoping they get so frustrated by  paperwork and waiting that they don’t seek mental health services. Or maybe they’ll kill themselves before they’re ever seen by a doctor. USA Today story from January 2014 CNN story from November 2013 The Guardian from April 2014 Los Angeles Times story from May 2014