Tuesday, March 28, 2006

Happy isn't always easy

Here is the latest column as it is published in the Dodge City Daily Globe newspaper.

I used to think everyone’s goal in life was to be happy. I fully realized different people had different ideas of what would bring happiness. There were of course times someone would desire something which made absolutely no sense to me. For example, in high school a girl named "Joan" decided she would rather go to the prom with "John" instead of the more sensitive, more intelligent, and more handsome "Chris." (Some of the names have been changed to protect the innocent, but you know who you are. Don’t you, Mary? You remember stomping on the fragile male ego of a shy young man crushing his spirit like an aluminum can in one of those things which crushes aluminum cans so you can turn them in at the recycle center in order to do your part to help keep America clean and save energy. You remember, huh, don’t you?!? Sorry, I guess it is more of an open wound than I thought it was.)
As I grow older and spend more time with a greater variety of people my newest conclusion is there are a lot of people who are not only not happy but they do not seem to want to be happy. The things they say and do indicate there is some sort of perverse need to be unhappy. If you stop and think about it you probably know someone like that yourself. These are the people who see the glass half empty, but they also believe the drink in the glass is carcinogenic, laced with lima beans and has an aftertaste worse than diet soda.
I think part of what validates the negative thinking of so many people is the way people rate what is good and bad in the arts. I have named this the Oprah Disease. The reason I have given it that name is because of the daytime talk show host’s book club. When she first decided she was not only the person to decide what was trendy and important in relation to issues facing the women of today, but was also to be the bell cow for what was true literary greatness, she chose book after book with such depressing storylines it was hard to find a building high enough to jump off of after reading one. I mean really, just because the main character is an unwed teenage mother working in a coal mine whose son suffers from a rare skin disease requiring him to live his life wearing clown make-up doesn’t mean it is well written. It just means the author has mercilessly beaten the audience over the head with the pity stick causing them to put a strange value on the book.
To be fair it did not start with Ms. Winfrey. Look at the books we grew up reading. Old Yeller? The dog dies. Where the Red Fern Grows? Two dogs die. It makes you glad Dr. Seuss didn’t try to earn a few extra bucks writing for this demographic. One fish, two fish, dead fish, horribly mutated due to the accident at the nuclear plant fish. Or maybe the Woset is forced to come out of the closet and is persecuted for his alternative lifestyle. Or even worse…The Cat in the Hat is diagnosed with feline leukemia and leaves Thing 1 and Thing 2 alone and destitute in their box.
The movies are just as guilty. Look at the Oscar winners for Best Picture over the years. A comedy won when F.D.R. was president and not again until Nixon was in the Oval Office. Both are times in history when the world needed a good laugh. (Judging from the present state of affairs a comedy should be winning again quite soon.) The most recent winner stuck to the trend of depressing must be good. Crash featured an all star cast of very talented actors and an intelligent script, but was there a single likeable person to be found in the entire film? One of the most suc cessful movies of the recent past was Titanic. Everyone who bought a ticket walked into the theater knowing the boat was going to sink. The King of the World became fertilizer for a kelp bed, but that was not the worst of it. Not only was the romance doomed. Not only did Leo DiCaprio and hundreds of computer generated extras die. All these horrible things happened AND Celine Dion sang. What’s next? Hindenburg starring Matt Damon and Kate Hudson as doomed lovers traveling to New Jersey on the airship and the theme song, "Oh, The Humanity," is performed by, no, dare I even think it…Barry Manilow.

Tuesday, March 21, 2006

Return to the Blogosphere

I realize due to the extended absence no one may even notice I have started to post again. The great number of things going on in my life seem to always get in the way of writing this blog. I have decided I will start posting my weekly humor column published in the Dodge City Daily Globe newspaper.

I still hope to turn my life into one that spends more time creating than anything else. I have switched jobs back to education. The job takes a lot of energy, especially spending so much time being lied to by eleven year olds. Imum Pancy has been successful. Broken Wind has to be considered a success. The Gunsmoke documentary was a success. We have plans for more projects that should continue the success and fun.

Weekly Column ---
Always before the phrase “It’s a small world” brought to mind that insipid song. You know the one. Once it starts running through your head a severe blow with a blunt instrument is the only thing able to remove it. Note to anyone planning a trip to Disneyland: Do not go on that ride first otherwise it is impossible to enjoy Space Mountain with “It’s a world of hope, it’s a world of joy” slamming around in your mind.
Actually, the phrase is meant to refer to the odd little coincidences in life showing the interconnectedness of people. We have all had those moments. As you are checking out at the local super market the person at the cash register strikes up a conversation. At some point in the conversation you realize you both grew up in the same small town in southwestern Nebraska, you both went to the same grade school, you both had a crush on Miss Sheridan your fourth grade music teacher, but that is not all. You both have the same strawberry birthmark in the shape of the European country, Italy (without the island of Sicily included) showing you were separated at birth and you are not only brothers, but the true heirs to the throne of the ancient land of Zendovia. Well, maybe that only happens to me.
Recently, I started reading the book, The World is Flat by Thomas L. Friedman. It is a fascinating read. The thesis put forth by Mr. Friedman is the technological and political changes within the last twenty years have made the world flat. The world has been made “smaller” by the communication industries. Information which used to take days, weeks, and months to get from one spot on the world to another can now be shared almost instantly. That is not what he is talking about. The author says the world is being flattened, because people all over the world not only get information instantly but they can use it to build and create like never before. Tasks that used to only belong to the Untied States can be done and done well all over the world. The leveling of the playing field has flattened the world.
If Christopher Columbus tried his voyage today he would use satellite tracking devices which would tell him exactly where he was at all times. If he had any difficulty with the software he could call a helpline and oddly enough it would probably connect him to genuine Indians (not the Native Americans he mistakenly named after a country on the other side of the globe). A great many of the call centers helping people with credit card or computer problems are in places like Bangalore, India. No longer is India supplying spices and exotic goods to the royalty of Europe. Now India supplies young, educated people adopting fake American names and accents, to help little old ladies in Pasadena get their e-mail working again.
My favorite use of the extensive connectivity of the world has to be remote personal assistants. Many people have PDA’s (personal digital assistants) those handheld computers which have calendars, notepads, address books, e-mail capabilities, as well as the most important thing, Tetris. The other day I was attending a church meeting and the senior pastor pulled one of those electronic doo-dads out of his pocket to check a date for an upcoming event. I have to admit I had to wonder if he typed in Deuteronomy 2:15 could he get the passage? Or better yet, was there a Catholic version into which the priest could type the confession proffered by the parishioner and receive the proper penance to be handed down?
Anyway, the remote personal assistant is something big time corporate types are now using. It is an actual person. Let’s say you need a report researched and a presentation prepared for a meeting at 9:00 AM the very next day, it is 6:00 PM the previous evening, and your mind is mush from a tough day dismantling the pension fund of hundreds of life long employees in order to purchase a new jet to get you back and forth to your villa in the south of France. Joe Chief-Executive-Officer e-mails his RPA what he needs. This request is processed in an office in India. The research is done by four recent graduates from the M.I.T of New Delhi and the PowerPoint presentation is created by a computer geek working towards his Ph.D. in nanotechnology. When the goliath of Wall Street arrives in his corner office the presentation is waiting in the inbox of his desktop computer. I’d love that. I just e-mail a humor writer in India and the next day a column is waiting for me. Granted jokes about sacred cows in Dodge City might fall a little flat.